The go-​​to writing app for iPad: Notebooks

With National Novel Writing Month approach­ing in November, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that inter­est has picked up in writ­ing apps for iPad. Within this group there’s a sub­set of demand for “distraction-​​free” writ­ing programs.*

I’m not entirely sure where this trend toward min­i­mal­ism is com­ing from, though Pages may have a lot to do with it; it’s a lovely portable lay­out pro­gram, but as such it offers a fea­ture­set that’s usu­ally too elab­o­rate for straight-​​up text crunch­ing. It’s essen­tially Pages (the desk­top pro­gram) or MS Word adapted to a touch­screen envi­ron­ment. Thus many of its func­tions, such as auto-​​formatting, are either unnec­es­sary most of the time, or down­right inva­sive. (I don’t usu­ally want auto-​​bulleted lists, for instance.)

To this we can add Pages’ some­what clunky file han­dling inter­face. Its orga­ni­za­tion of mul­ti­ple files (such as chap­ters) is essen­tially nonex­is­tent; if you’re a writer like I am in terms of mechan­ics, you don’t write out long works in one sin­gle, lin­ear doc­u­ment. Rather, you use a pro­gram such as the out­stand­ing DevonNote to orga­nize your chap­ters into indi­vid­ual files, con­tained within fold­ers. This is — for me, at least — a far bet­ter way to break down a book-​​in-​​progress into man­age­able sec­tions. Switching back and forth among these chap­ters in DevonNote is sim­plic­ity. It’s much harder to do with the desk­top ver­sion of Pages (or Word), and even more frus­trat­ing on the iPad Pages.

Many soft­ware devel­op­ers have been work­ing to fill the need for a sim­ple text edi­tor that exists pri­mar­ily to let you com­pose on the iPad with­out hav­ing to muck around with too much for­mat­ting, with­out hav­ing to worry about stor­age and retrieval on desk­top machines, and with the abil­ity to orga­nize your work into a bite-​​sized, sen­si­ble set of files and fold­ers. Some apps pro­vide sync to Google Docs, oth­ers to pro­pri­etary servers, and still more to cloud sys­tems such as MobileMe and Dropbox. Some have oblig­a­tory net­work reliance — you effec­tively can’t work if you’re not in range of a wire­less net or don’t have a 3G iPad — and oth­ers offer a lit­tle too much of a distraction-​​free envi­ron­ment in that they lack real orga­ni­za­tional con­trol such as nested fold­ers within fold­ers. Most of them seem to have most of the fea­tures I want in a portable writ­ing envi­ron­ment, but only one seems to com­bine them all into a sin­gle, coher­ent package.

I came across Notebooks some­time in early August. I was look­ing for an iPad text edi­tor that pre­sented me with an envi­ron­ment sim­i­lar to DevonNote, which is the only desk­top pro­gram I use for writ­ing. (Layout and for­mat­ting hap­pen in InDesign. Word and any other sim­i­lar DTP pro­gram always strikes me as a poor hack, nei­ther a work­able text edi­tor nor a lay­out envi­ron­ment.) After look­ing over the iTunes reviews and com­par­ing it with other apps, usu­ally by blog com­ments, I decided to take the plunge and put out the $9 for Notebooks.**
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Clipart abuse

I know it’s not really fair to rip on cli­part, because it’s such a mixed bag, and par­tic­u­larly since I’m not the best free­hand artist to begin with. It’s hard to feel safe in my lit­tle glass house. Photography and vec­tor art seem more my forté. But every once in a while I run into some­thing that just makes me roll my eyes.

Today, I got three.

Here’s what one illus­tra­tor thought of when she or he heard the word “strength”:

My stron­gity stron­gi­tude is so strong that I can lift this bar­bell made of pure ura­nium! Clipart is a quick way to get things done, but come on. Even I have some standards.

On a related search I was look­ing for images that went with “strong” and ended up see­ing … well, this:

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I’ll never win the lottery

But that’s all right.

She did an amaz­ing, very coura­geous thing over the week­end of the Fourth: She went to Phoenix and met my folks.

Now you have to under­stand some­thing. The arro­gance and sharp sense of humor evinced herein is come by hon­estly. I got it from my dad, who got it from my Grampie. (Though it was my Grammie that got me into Godzilla, so … well.)

Over the Fourth of July week­end she was a hit. Got on beau­ti­fully with the most prickly parts of me pa and his fore­bears. On the Monday of our tak­ing leave, she hit it out of the park when one of them made a com­ment about some­one not being so bright, and she flicked at an imag­i­nary bulb and said “tink tink”.

My half brother, in his laugh­ter, looked at me in some­thing like envy. How, really, how? Really? he seemed to be saying.

I’m still not sure myself.

My dad got it right when he said, “You did far bet­ter than you deserve.”

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More logo madness!

Well, not mad­ness, at least not now. The mad­ness actu­ally kicks in near the end, when I go off on a rant about the one type­face I truly love to hate.

I men­tioned recently that I’ve been set some logo-​​design tasks by sev­eral depart­ments want­ing to inter­nally brand their work, pur­pose, or func­tion. One of those designs was finally greened last week, the one deal­ing with our EMR team and its sev­eral subgroups.

First is the over­all logo (and yes, it really is called iCare):

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Words and logos

They’re on the minds of a few peo­ple around work lately. We’ve got some pretty sig­nif­i­cant changes com­ing over the hori­zon, many hav­ing to do with a multi-​​year roll­out of an EMR system.

EMRs are basi­cally there to store patient records dig­i­tally rather than on paper. This is a stu­pe­fy­ingly obvi­ous con­cept, and it might be shock­ing to real­ize that a lot of med pro­fes­sion­als don’t use EMRs at all, par­tic­u­larly those in rural areas.

The rea­son is because of HIPAA. The law makes it plain that any dis­clo­sure of priv­i­leged med­ical infor­ma­tion to any­one not need­ing it will result in cen­sure, fines, fir­ing, facil­ity decer­ti­fi­ca­tion, the vio­la­tion of Brownie Scouts by Satanic biker gangs, and Earth falling into the sun.

Since there are always secu­rity con­cerns, par­tic­u­larly deal­ing with digitally-​​stored and network-​​accessible data, there’s a lot of resis­tance to adopt­ing the systems.

Anyway, the secu­rity group, com­mu­ni­ca­tions group, sys­tems group, etc. each want their own logos to inter­nally brand their work, which does make sense in a facil­ity that cov­ers a fairly wide county, deals with about 130 or so physi­cians, and ten times that num­ber of employ­ees. The trick is to do up a design that actu­ally meets those goals.

That’s a work in progress, though. More recently, I cranked out a design for a sur­gi­cal prac­tice with the ini­tials MSS. The physi­cian in charge there asked for a caduceus — hardly sur­pris­ing — but one that incor­po­rated the “MSS” into the design.

The thing about a logo is that it really needs to be a rec­og­niz­able sym­bol, some­thing that con­veys a con­cept while at the same time brand­ing a prod­uct or ser­vice. The term logo itself is rooted in the Greek for word, or pos­si­bly word-​​image. So even while it might not con­tain text, a logo has to con­vey some­thing that could be put across in words as well.

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iPad wallpapers

Yup, just get­ting into the same swing of things as every­one else. I’ve got a cou­ple of warm, rich graph­ics, ini­tially designed to act as a back­ground for Notebooks, but use­ful for iPad wall­pa­per too.

These are scaled to 1024 x 768 at 132 DPI, basi­cally match­ing the reported dis­play res­o­lu­tion of iPad G1. They were com­posed in InDesign, com­prised of three basic lay­ers: Two gra­di­ents (pur­ple and pump­kin) with ink effects applied, with a wood­grain image laid atop.

After com­posit­ing, I PDFed the images, then con­verted them to JPEG via PShop.

The first one is just that; the sec­ond has an addi­tional image, branches with buds on them, to add a lit­tle more richness.

They’re below the fold. Enjoy!

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A Time Soldier’s Story, conclusion

I had a bit more fun with this one, espe­cially on the voice. If “fun” is the right way to describe how this thing closes. It’s not meant to be a happy end­ing, after all.

So here’s the end of A Time Soldier’s Story.

To wrap things up, we have a brief coda as well.

Hope you liked listening!

If you own an iPad…

…don’t bother jail­break­ing it. No value added, and quite a lot of the JB apps just flat don’t work on it. It’s far too dif­fi­cult to change the root pass­word, too. I ended up say­ing to hell with it and restoring.

Which was also an exer­cise in oy gevalt. Sure, every­thing gets backed up — except what­ever music, videos and iBooks you might have had on it — you have to put them back on by hand. Gigantic pain in the ass.

A Time Soldier’s Story, pt. 5

Even longer on the expo here. Again, no script — and work­ing on the fly it can be a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to know when I’m over­do­ing it, or using a ham­mer to drive home ideas that are best set into place with a gen­tler tech­nique. Perhaps by sonic screwdriver.

Anyway. We’re nearly done with A Time Soldier’s Story; this is part 5 of 6.

A Time Soldier’s Story, pt. 4

Might be a bit long on the expo­si­tion here, but what the heck.

A Time Soldier’s Story part four! Woot!

Shame them

Last week some dis­turb­ing news broke in my neck of the woods. The long and short is that a school in Prescott, Arizona was paint­ing a rather joy­ous and exu­ber­ant mural that included some of the school’s students.

Certain indi­vid­u­als drove past the school and shouted racist com­ments. A local dem­a­gogue got on the radio and fomented action. The artists were instructed to “lighten” the skin of some of the kids’ faces.

Then there was an about-​​face, and the radio com­men­ta­tor got fired. (In this econ­omy, I hope that means he’ll starve to death under a free­way under­pass in six months.) The artists were called back in to re-​​darken the kids’ faces.

And if you think this is unre­lated to SB 1070, you’re sim­ply not in the room. This overt big­otry is a direct con­se­quence of that filth-​​encrusted excres­cence of a “law”.

Wonkette lev­eled on this one, as did The Stranger — and then none other than Roger Ebert, whose blog is prob­a­bly the sin­gle great­est as-​​yet still partially-​​hidden jewel on the internet.

What he had to say is some­thing you’ll want to read, but I also posted a reply to his site. It’ll get there even­tu­ally — he actu­ally self-​​moderates, read­ing every com­ment before approv­ing or reject­ing it — but I thought I’d put it here as well.

After all, I live in this god­damned state.
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A Time Soldier’s Story, pt. 3

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she has to come into mine, wav­ing her eye­stalk around and scream­ing “exter­mi­nate”. And I thought the Nazis were bad.

What will our sol­dier do in response to find­ing his mor­tal enemy is shar­ing the same planet? And where will he get the water he needs to steam his foe?

Find out in this install­ment of A Time Soldier’s Story, an unscripted lit­tle dra­maette for your hear­ing pleasure.