Recreational Writing

Recreational Writing

Last week I self-published a little ebook called Recreational Writing — a coaching guide to writing for fun and insight. It’s currently available in various formats including EPUB and MOBI at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/36742.

It will soon be distributed to the major ebookstores such as Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, and eventually Amazon. It’s priced at $1.99 US.

Recreational Writing was a project I started last summer when I was casting around for something new to do. I had originally thought I’d be working on my Credit River project, but the summer’s intense heat kept me out of the field so I needed something else to work on.

Much of the drafting of Recreational Writing was done on an iPad, using Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard and Doc2 HD as a word processor. As the project went into its final editing, my Macbook Air had arrived and I finished the book on the Air.

It’s a small work that can be read in one or two sittings. The concept behind it was the same as what Amazon is calling a “Single.” An extended argument or article on some topic. It’s not comprehensive by any means and is certainly not a textbook.

Yet I think, and hope, readers will find it encouraging and useful. Above all I hope it inspires others to take up writing for fun.

For, bottom line, fun is what this is mostly about, whether in the form of a journal, memoir, or a blog posting like this one.

Next I’m turning to a set of personal essays and if the weather cooperates this summer, I’ll restart the Credit River project. More on those topics later.

In the meantime, it was fun to join the “Indie” publishing phenomenon and to learn how to create an ebook.

MacBook Air

MacBook Air

Having sold my fine Dell Mini 10v Hackintosh and given my iPad to my wife, I was ready and primed to order an 11-inch MacBook Air computer. It’s the one I’ve been waiting for: a Mac netbook. I ordered one from the Apple Store.

It arrived late afternoon, New Year’s Eve, and I spent the evening customizing the setup and adding programs. I loaded OpenOffice, MacTeX, LyX, X Code, TextWrangler, and WriteRoom. As on all my systems, I loaded Firefox and used Xmarks to sync all my bookmarks and logins.

On a whim I downloaded Google Chrome to try. It ended up staying on the system. It’s so quick and perky I find I’m enjoying it after the decidedly pedestrian speeds of Firefox. Why not use Safari? I just can’t work up any love for Safari. I don’t know why, but I never get a good vibe from it when I’m using it. Probably something in my genes.

So, how do I like the Air? All I can say is, WOW!!

Well, that’s not really all I could say or I wouldn’t still be writing. I like the size and weight, the screen is excellent, and my fingers love the keyboard. It’s a writer’s machine if there ever was one.

The past week I’ve put it through its paces doing some heavy editing on the minibook I’m nearly ready to self publish. For this project I had to add Office 2008 for Mac so I could have access to Word. It’s a requirement at Smashwords. My fingers were flying over the keyboard all week, busy with this project, writing in my journal, and sending emails to friends.

The more I use the MacBook Air, the better I like it, and I liked it right out of the box. So far I can’t find anything to fault. Other than when using finger gestures on the touchpad there’s a slight lag between when I push it to increase the size of fonts and when the fonts show up resized. Other computers should have this problem.

I’ve been using laptop writing devices since picking up my first Tandy Radio Shack Model 100 in 1983 (and which cost more, at the time, than my MacBook Air) and this is easily the best one I’ve yet acquired.

Salut, Apple!

Autumn Weather

Clouds

Autumn is the start of the photo season for me. I’ve never liked shooting in summer because of the generally hard light. This summer was too hot to enjoy being outdoors much anyway, so I spent more time writing.

But, as this view of the harbor shows, the autumn weather is returning, and that generally means more interesting light combined with good cloud covers. The kind of sky I find irresistible.

Autumn also brings Photokina and a bunch of product announcements. The one that grabbed me by the ears this year was the one for the Fuji X100 — a retro rangefinder camera design that even includes shutter speed and aperture dials where Barnicke intended them: on the top and around the lens. It also has an exposure compensation dial on the top, à la Bessa. It’s likely to be too expensive for me to take seriously, but one can drool.

On the writing front I’ve written a short story and am busy with a nonfiction book project. More on that once it nears publication, but I intend to self publish it as an e-book.

In terms of e-book reading, I recently finished Stephen King’s The Shining, and am reading through his short stories in Everything’s Eventual. My current novel is Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

My apologies for such a time gap between blog postings. I shall try to update it more frequently.

Five by Five

How am I doing? “Five by five”

This was the strange, meaningful-sounding, but-no-one’s-quite-sure comment given by Faith, the other vampire slayer, whenever anyone asked. If it’s good enough for Faith, it’s good enough for me.

Actually, except for the way-too-warm summer, things have been fine. Photography has been in a slump during the warm weather, but reading’s gone way up. I just finished Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and enjoyed it hugely. It’s a page turner.

I read it on my Kindle, which I think attests to the Kindle’s readability. In print form I’m told it’s a 1000-page novel.

I’ve been writing like mad for the past 4-6 weeks. I had four magazine assignments due nearly all at the same time. Last night I filed three of them and I have a week to finish the fourth. My favourite was a feature article on e-books and e-publishing written for Here’s How! Once it’s in print, I’ll provide a link.

In other news, I’ve ordered an iPad and expect to take delivery around Aug 30. I’m curious to see how it compares to the Kindle as an e-book reader, but I got it as reading, writing, and entertainment gadget. A reward to myself for hitting my deadlines.

Summer viewing fare has been thin, although I did catch up on a couple of older movies: Dirty Harry and The Exorcist. It was my first time viewing for both. I also re-watched a couple of classics: My Fair Lady and Blowup. I watched the entire TV series Twin Peaks, and though it rather fell apart part way into season two, overall I enjoyed it. The music haunts me.

We’re into the part of summer I hate the most (I don’t like summers in general). The dead zone. The zombie zone. The period between when nothing happens and school begins. For me September has always been the start of the year.

Not that I’m taking any classes. I have enough learning on my plate in terms of new computer programs. I purchased the Adobe Design Standard PS5 suite and now have the make the transition from PageMaker 4 to InDesign PS5. I should pick up a little Illustrator while I’m at it. The core of the package, for me, is Photoshop CS5, and it has enough new features to keep me learning for quite awhile.

The only disappointment I have of late is my lack of any creative writing projects. I hope to fix that soon. I have a couple of creative nonfiction pieces I want to work on. Maybe when the iPad arrives …

Creating e-Clippings

Cover of sample article e-clipping:

hh-cover

One of my banes, as a writer, is that I often write for publications that don’t feature an online edition of their issues. Among other things, this makes it difficult to have small moments of “writer’s pride” by sending someone a link to a new story. A parallel bane is that I’ve accumulated a large number of clippings and magazines I’ve appeared in, and I have no way to share them.

It occurred to me, as I’m sure it has to others, that this problem could be addressed by making digital photocopies available via a scanner, using PDF format. These can be posted online as examples of my writing, with the added benefit that PDF’s print well when I want a hard copy.

It only took a small leap for me to realize that if I had the entire magazine, I could also photocopy its front cover to provide a visual reference context to the article, the way Amazon includes an image of the cover of a book.

There may be some rights issues embedded in this method of exhibiting my work, but I suspect it’s largely theoretical. I can think of few publishers or advertisers who would mind their artwork or ads getting a bit more viewing by readers. It’s what they strive for.

After a number of experiments, here’s what I’ve developed as an approach:

1. Scan the magazine pages at 150 dpi (dots per inch) in jpeg format. 300 dpi looked good but made for very large files and downloads. 75 dpi looked scruffy both on screen and on printouts.

2. Create a cover page in a word processor that can also handle graphics. I use NeoOffice on the Mac, a variant of Open Office. Word should work just as well.

3. Insert the scanned jpeg images, each on a newly created empty page.

4. Save the original word-processing file, then export the file to PDF.

5. Place the PDF on your website so you can send out links. Preferrably, include a titles page on your site so those looking at your credentials as a writer can check out some of your work.

That’s it. Well not quite. Back up your files to other media. Take one copy offsite for additional protection.

You can sample my first online test of concept here: Digital Reading.

If you have additional ideas about creating e-clippings and e-reprints, I’d love to hear about it. Contact me at gene.wilburn@gmail.com.

Privately Printing a Journal

Reflections 2009

Journalling is an exploration. An attempt every day to slip into a mindstream of passing thoughts, ideas, events, memories, and feelings. It’s mindfulness of the flow of consciousness and netting a few fish from the stream. It’s looking below the surface and finding both wonderful and disturbing things. Here be dragons. Here be visions. Here be here.

A year’s worth of daily journalling amounts to a lot of recorded events, hopes, disappointments, and occasional victories. It’s fascinating to look back on the previous year and dip into moments of then which become relived moments of now.

Looking at scribbles in a notebook or browsing through text files doesn’t have the same quality of experience as holding and reading from a book, so it occurred to me that since I already had all the text files for the year, it would be fun to print them in book form — a private printing of a few copies for my family and me.

I’d used Lulu.com before and knew that this could be done if the book were prepared as a PDF or Postscript file. Choosing which tool to use to prepare the file was the first step. After looking at various options, I chose LyX and LaTeX because of the beauty of the typesetting. They’re also free.

I’d previously used them in Linux and was a little surprised to find that they worked so well on a Mac. The procedure is to first install MacTex, then the Mac version of LyX. This combination installs all the tools you need to typeset files.

I chose to print my 2009 journal in 6×9-inch format with perfect binding. Using the “child document” feature of LyX, I edited each month as a separate .lyx file, bringing them together in a master document. LaTeX offers a variety of book styles. I used Memoir.

I gave each month a quick edit for things like typos that escaped the spell checkers, missing words, and I occasionally rewrote a particularly awkward passage. For the most part, though, the entries were printed just as they were written.

When I had edited all twelve months, I output a Postscript file and uploaded it to Lulu. Then, using a pre-existing Lulu template, I created the cover, using my photo montage of a swan, an enlarged moon, and a textured background as the cover illustration.

The total cost, to me, was under $15 a copy, so I ordered three. Shipping to Canada was a bit of a stinger, as always, which is why I ordered three copies at the same time.

About three weeks later the books cleared customs and arrived in the mail. It was a special moment to see a year’s work printed as a book. It felt good in the hand. It looked good on the shelf. It encouraged me to keep journalling.

Due to time constraints, I didn’t index my 2009 journal, but because I intend to print 2010 in the same way, I’ll edit and index each 2010 month as I proceed through the year.

Privately printing my journal is one of the best morale boosters I’ve ever experienced. If you’re a writer, nothing gives you the same rush as seeing your rambles printed as a book.

Last Post

Shadow Photographer

After several years of indulging in personal blog writing, I’ve decided to call it quits. It’s been fun to come up with topics and I’ve greatly enjoyed your many comments.

I’m moving on to more content-oriented writing and might, if my plans work out, start a blog on Exploring the Credit, taking day trips along the length of the Credit Valley from the harbour to the headlands, and sharing that information in blog format.

I feel myself getting stale in thinking up personal topics and my personal posts have become more infrequent and, consequently, less interesting. There are so many personal blogs out there that the absence of this one won’t be noticed.

Thank you for your kind support.

Gene

Where Are the Keyboards?

T-Rex

I have a beef with Steve Jobs. Here I sit with a brand-new iPod Touch that I think is the neatest techno device I’ve ever carried around, and I can scarcely type on it. Sure I can thumb my way through a bit of email text on the Touch’s virtual keyboard, but come on! That isn’t real typing.

And for what reason? Because Steve Jobs doesn’t like keyboards. He loves clean lines, thin lines, and lack of clutter. Admirable. He’s led the charge for some of the nicest computer designs we’ve yet seen. But the idea of someone using an external keyboard on his little design jewel must cause him grief, because the technology to support one is built in. It’s called BlueTooth. But there’s no BT external keyboard support driver for the Touch or iPhone. If there were, believe me, the keyboards would be out there.

I think the designers justify the decision not to support keyboards with the observation that if you need a keyboard, Apple has the solution for you. It’s called a Macbook.

Hey, Macbooks are cool. So are netbooks. I own one. But I don’t always want to carry one around. There are many times I prefer not to wear a backpack.

So let’s back up in time. I bought a Palm Pilot 500 many years ago, and not long after I bought a Stowaway keyboard for it. It folded like an accordion and fit in a spare pocket. The Pilot would perch on its physical connector and the Stowaway provided a great keyboard experience. I took to writing short articles and journal entries with it.

A number of years later, I bought a Palm TX, which I still have, and a Palm BlueTooth wireless keyboard. The keyboard folds in half, fitting easily in a spare pocket. The keyboard even stores a little tray for the TX to sit in. With the TX set to fullscreen, landscape mode I can write with it as fast as I can on my netbook. As a technology, the TX is nowhere near as sophisticated and fun as the iPod Touch, but it demonstrates how productive a pocketable device can be as a writing tool. All that’s required is some kind of text editor. In the Palm TX I use Wordsmith.

In the iPod Touch I use WriteRoom, a $5 iPhone app. It’s a good little text editor with excellent sync’ing features. I sometimes poke short notes and passages into it with the Touch’s virtual thumbboard. But hey, that isn’t writing writing. Fine for Twitter, but very unfine for short stories.

So, my question: where are the keyboards? Why cripple a potentially powerful writing device for the sake of a misguided design principle?

Here’s the ante. I’m watching for the next generation of combo touchscreen, notebook, e-reader tablet devices rumored to be coming from both Apple and Microsoft. And by the way, Mac devotees, don’t assume Apple has a huge lead here. Microsoft has extensive touchscreen design experience. Bill Gates was very keen on tablet PCs, pushing them a few years ago when they were a little ahead of their time.

The first company that offers external BT keyboard support for their device gets my vote, meaning my money. No external BT keyboard support, no buy.

My single customer boycott is no threat to the financial well being of either company, but that’s my rant for the day, and I’m sticking to it.

Self-publishing a Book with LyX

Screenshot-LyX

I write 1000 words in my journal nearly every day. Some days I miss, and other days I write up to 2500 words or more.  The result is that I produce between 25,000-30,00 words a month of personal observations, notes, story ideas, rants, and records of what’s going on with the family — a hodgepodge of private material where I feel free to write anything I want. Material never intended for anyone else to read. My writing compost heap, as it were.

A year’s worth of this journalling produces the equivalent of a novel in terms of length. It recently occurred to me that there was nothing to prevent me from turning this into a privately printed paperback, through a self-publishing site such as Lulu.com. I can think of a few reasons for doing this: it’s easier for me to dig out material I’ve written if I can see it on the printed page, it can become part of my family legacy after my demise, and it’s a good exercise in book creation. Above all, it’s a reward for my efforts. I can have three or four copies printed so I can mark up one of them and keep the others from getting dog-eared.

Once I’d decided to proceed, the next decision was what software to use. I’m not a fan of Microsoft Word for long documents. It’s feature rich, but sometimes unstable. Open Office Writer is a better choice. But better than either is LyX, a graphical front end to the LaTeX publishing system. The typeset ouput from LaTeX is superb, with exceptionally fine font kerning, and there are several well-defined book classes to select from. I’m working with Book (Memoir), a newer class that’s highly adjustable.

My Dell Mini 10V netbook is a dual-boot Windows/Linux computer and I prefer to work with LyX in Linux because it’s easy to set up all the LaTeX components. In Ubuntu you simply select and install LyX from a menu of installable programs, and everything else you need gets installed along with it.

LyX uses several LaTeX utilities in the background to create final output, including excellent PDF, the format preferred by Lulu. I’ve set my book size at 6×9″ and have re-learned how to create master-child documents so I can work on each month in a separate LyX file. LaTeX has a strong indexing module, so I intend to index my journal fairly extensively. Things like family events, camera equipment notes, writing ideas, health notes — things I want to locate easily.

So far I’ve set and edited January and February 2009 but I’ve not yet started the indexing. Is all this effort worth it? For me, yes, though I can understand how others might prefer to access their journals electronically. I like having a physical book in hand. I’ll post updates on this project as it progresses.

Addendum, 5 Oct 2009

I realized that my journal might make too fat a book for the binding at 6×9″, especially after indexing, so I’m beginning to think 8.5×11″ and double-columned.