26 Apr

FocusWriter for Linux, My New BFF

Windows makes it very easy to get and install software without having to work or think very hard (or much) about the task. That’s good and, if you ever need or want to switch (or really know what’s going onto your computer), not so great. The PR says that autoamazations like this make it easier for you to focus on the real work. Until the real work becomes trying to fix something relatively simple yourself without paying a tech (or auto mechanic or carpenter or plumber or other specialist to do the work).

Even the slickest of Linux distros require you to be more aware of how the file system and OS work and how software plugs into that system. For example, my new install of Linux Mint 10 makes it very easy to add from a select set of software that’s been vetted by a Mint team.  But Mint will also run a lot of software built for the comparable Ubuntu core–in my current case, Maverick Meerkat, and that requires a little extra research and work. (I wrote and then deleted a brief and obvious discussion about freewheeling nifty naming conventions for Linux vs. Windows.)

My #1 priority after installing Mint last weekend was to find writing software that was more of a small tacklebox than rolling toolchest. Last night Debby and I and my netbook snuggled down to Dancing with the Stars and, during the breaks and handful of  train wreck dances, I narrowed choices down to FocusWriter. The reviewer and user accolades matched my requirements and the negative criticisms weren’t deal busters. But it wasn’t available via the Mint Software Packages tool (where currently the only writing toolset other than text editors is OpenOffice). I found install packages for Ubuntu but nothing specifically for Mint. I remembered reading that–due to a complex familial relationship–Mint will run some Ubuntu software, Ubuntu being the father of Mint (and its cousin, godfather, and possibly its guild leader and future nemesis). So I googled for the version of Ubuntu that matched the current version of Mint and selected that matching FocusWriter PPA, which Mint said (yes, it spoke to me in articulate dialog box) that it would be happy to download and install.

Five minutes later I was in the mysterious fogbound fullscreen landscape of FocusWriter where mousing to the northern border opened a simple but very functional toolbar, while the southern border laid down minimal tabs for the open file(s), word count, timer, and some simple file-based functionality. (Word count and timer are optional settings–allowing you also to set daily goals for both or either.) FocusWriter also includes options for modifying the background, fonts, and basic styles via simple themes.

I miss the simple visual organizational tools that came with my Windows-based writing tool, PageFour, but I think this is a fair trade with, ultimately, fewer distractions (and PageFour has some annoying bugs around non-sticky styles). The author of FocusWriter has also written a portable version that runs on a USB key, which means I can haul the files and key with me to other systems and work as needed. I’m using Dropbox for redundancy across computers and backing up to an external hard drive, and I’m copying complete chapters to a private section of this blog (which is also backed up). There’s more I could add or tweak, but then I wouldn’t be writing. Next steps are to get back to said writing and, in-between, regain an understanding of Linux basics. Right after I make a donation on gottcode.org, the FocusWriter author’s home page.

25 Apr

Freshly Minted Netbook

Linux Mint LogoMy netbook is now dual booting with Windows 7 or 64bit Linux Mint 10 (“Julia,” the mainline release). I’m really pleased with the overall nimble performance and UI for Mint, and found the install (from a USB key) to be fairly simple. I’m not so thrilled with the performance of the Broadcom wifi driver, but I’ve read there’s a better option (to investigate later). My most important next task is to find the right set of writing tools. I have the “DVD” version of Mint, which includes a variety of built-in software packages, including OpenOffice, but I’d like something lighter and more focused. I was initially more enthused about the number of writing tool choices for Linux but, like for Windows, software PR is better than the tools themselves. I tried installing the Scrivener beta for Linux (which I still have hopes for), but the instructions left out some key aspects I need to research. Still, I think I’ll find something that’s nimble and provides an explicit and focused feature set aimed at writers. The biggest rumple in the covers is the UNIX model for app and file management–an environment I “grew up in” and am emotionally very comfortable with but, as I suspected, have forgotten how to use. Thankfully, there are a bunch of Mint tutorials and a reasonable user’s guide out there.

Once I’m sure this machine really plays well with Mint, I’ll zap the Windows install and stick with a VM for any Windows needs (WINE, Virtualbox, or some other).

06 Apr

Objects On My Desk

Empty 12 oz. clear plastic cup with the dregs of a matcha** green tea slurpie and stamped round with a “floral motif representing the earth in bloom.” The bloom recycles but the underlying description has an initial cap and full stop, separated by a 10 mm translucent void. The message is clear as the cup: pictographs rule, words drool.

Also, an old cell flip phone that loses signal often enough to remind me not to rely on convenience, a gloomy black digital desk phone that semi-randomly forwards my calls (out of boredom?), an old photo of young Debby in beret and Travis in bunting at the beach when Trav was 6 months (still one of my favorites), two computer monitors, a wireless keyboard that also doubles as a crumb collector, a Dundee marmalade jar that has been my pen container since 1992, a lamp with a long thin neck bent like the swan’s when he tried to look three ways at once, infrared wireless headphones (I can’t have infrared vision, but I can have infrared hearing), a brown ceramic head of a French–really, Gallic–gnome to which I’ve taped a phome rubber beret phormerly attached–as they say–to a phone headset, a rumpled 4×6″ napkin the color of brown rice, and a homemade family photo collage printed on white card stock.

Most importantly, there’s a small charm to ward off the Evil Eye (and certain management)–a flattened shiny round stone with a gravity of 9.6 m s-2 and viscosity of 3-6 • 1019 Pa·s painted to look like a piercing sky blue eye, with a small hole drilled at the top of the sclera and strung with a short lanyard of matching sky blue: a gift from a friend’s visit to Turkey, along with a long gone box of addictive Turkish delight. My friend, who had no wish to bewitch me, gave me the ward first, then the candy. I also just noticed that my coffee mug, which I can only describe as the orange eye socket of a whale, is decorated with variations of the same charm.

I’ll end our journey across the tableland at the edge of my 2 drawer file in the tangle of a steadfast succulent vine (esculentus stabilis) that is older than at least one of my children. I won’t bore you with the walls, floor, small bookcase with its trail of river rock and sand dollars left by my daughter, or the contents of the file–which would give too much away.

** As in, “Matcha wattah wit me! Matcha wattah wit you?”