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Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

New Site: snowy2004.com

In Blogs on November 30, 2010 at 11:06 pm

This site will no longer be updated. New posts will be available at snowy2004.com. You can still roam the archives, however.

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New Posts: Fringe Reviews

In Blogs, TV on November 1, 2010 at 3:17 am

I’ll be doing Fringe reviews for The Signal starting with the next episode this week. I have a post up there to catch people up on what has been happening.

How I Write with What and How

In iTunes/iPod, Mac, Writing on July 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Hello to the 2-3 of you who come by this blog (usually for a couple of blog posts I did years and months ago that somehow are still getting hits). I don’t blame anyone other than myself for such a low number; it’s hard to get views when you don’t do much to add new content. There are a few reasons for the lack of content. The first is my laziness. Case in point: I’m behind on my Doctor Who reviews for The Signal. If it’s any consolation, I refuse to let myself watch any new episodes until I finish my reviews. I know nothing of series 5 beyond “The Hungry Earth.” The second is being busy: I started a new job about three weeks ago. The third is that my writings and interactions are now much more spread out: As I just said, I write periodically for another blog. I use Twitter (see my feed in this blog’s sidebar) when all I need to do is post a short comment or offer an interesting link. I also share many links using my Google Reader shared list (also in the sidebar). Another thing that’s taking up my writing time is a project I’ve been working on: a script.

Back in high school, during my final year, I had an idea while coming back from a Christmas party. Since, as with most of my ideas, it was pretty ambitious, I just kept it in my mind for a while, planning out how a television series of it would play out if I had skilled and talented people helping me. Finally, I decided since that would’t happen quickly enough, I should just go ahead and make a novel out of it: no need for big budgets or large teams. All I needed was me and something to write things down on. Having shit handwriting and not wanting to deal with a thick dictionary all the time, I went the electronic route. I think the first words I wrote for the novel were on my iPod touch – and this was before it had the Notes app. I think I used the (very unstable, especially when trying to type large texts) Contact App: I made a new contact and wrote stuff in the notes field. I would then sync up what I wrote with my computer. Later, I did move to using the more reliable Notes app (I don’t think it ever crashed on me) and Gmailing myself what I wrote on my iPod. I also used Google Docs to write while at school, at the library computers, during my spare period. The final product was compiled in a Pages document.

When I went to university, the project pretty much died. I did finish it (I had typed a complete story of about 57,000 words) but it needed a good re-read and some correction. With the new university workload (and yes, laziness), the editing just didn’t get done. Despite the setbacks, I never forgot about the characters and the story I created. During the last few years, there were many moments when I started working on remakes of the original story: new settings, tweaked characters, better story. Since the original, I also learned how to write scripts so making the original into a script also came into play. All of this comes down to what I’m doing now: I’m entirely rewriting my original French manuscript into six English scripts, each 10 minute long ideally. I’m hoping to use the scripts to convince an animator (or many) in my University program to team up with me to make an animated web-series for the final practicum project.

And so, I’m going to post here about my experiences regarding writing these scripts. It’ll be a kind of useful procrastination: I’ll avoid working on my actual scripts while still creating some content for my blog. If we’re lucky, someone might learn something too.

This post will be about the tools I’m using for the rewrite. I already explained what I used to make the original: my iPod touch, my Mac, Google Doc, Gmail and Pages. Now I’m using newer versions of the same hardware, less web services and all new software.

The Main Rig: MacBook Pro

The apps: Scrivener, Dictionary, iTunes

I have some skill when it comes to typing on my iPod’s virtual keyboard but nothing beats a real one. So for long sessions where I force myself to do some work, I’ll probably work with my Mac. I also enjoy getting out to do any writing… or more or less anything at all… so having a portable computer is very important. As for Scrivener, I’ve taken it for trial runs on many occasions and was always interested by it, but never enough to commit to buying it. Well, it was on sale last winter so I gave myself a Christmas presents and finally got it. The appeal of the app is that you can organize everything about a project however you like, including the research and background notes, into two main sections: “Draft,” the actual work, and “Research,” anything else about the work. Some of its great features include the script mode, with the correct formatting you need for scriptwriting, the outline mode and the corkboard mode (which is pretty much that: notes written on contact cards pined to a virtual corkboard).

One of the first things I did was determine what worked and what didn’t work with the original story. I also listed what I wanted and didn’t want this new version to do, story-wise. In both cases, I could make a new note, organized in a Draft sub-folder named “What I want/Don’t want” for example, where I just named the note and wrote a bit of text to explain what I was thinking. With each note, Scrivener let’s me label it with a colour and a category so I categorized the note as Green/Good, Red/Bad or empty if I was unsure. The notes can be shown in outline or corkboard mode, whatever you prefer. I also have some simple notes with no labels, about settings or other things, in the Draft section.

Previously, I worked on character details so that I can get an idea of who I want them to be before I go and write the story. I might also do the reverse: work on the story, let the character play itself out and then sum up who they are. Either way, in the Draft Section I have a “Characters” sub-folder and a sub-sub-folder for each character that needs some fleshing out. Each character sub-sub-folder contains thus far five notes: Role, Personality, Dramatic Need and two notes for physical appearance (I’ll probably explain that later). The folders are set up in the corkboard view so that I can quickly change things or so that I can just take a quick look to verify something or get inspired as to what to write about next.

Now for the actual story: Under the Draft section, I have each episode set up as a folder. In these folders are notes, each roughly representing a specific scene. Using the outline mode, I do exactly that: outline the story. The mode comes with a few fields you can add and modify. The title field is where I put the scene description. The synopsis field is where I write up the quick outline of what’s happening in the scene. The other two important fields can be customized: One of them is the previously mentioned colour/category label field. The other is a text only label field. I’m not yet using the colour/text label but the other one I am using to organized which scene deals with which storyline.

I have yet to write a word of the actual script but I have used the script formatting from Scrivener in the past… with pretty poor results. The fault mostly falls on me for that: I didn’t really test the feature out enough before relying heavily on it and at the time, I had to make sure I was using a specific kind of script format, one that was different from Scrivener’s. Now that I don’t need to follow someone else’s style guidelines, I’m confident that I’ll be much more happy with the experience.

As for the other apps, while I don’t think I have yet used the built-in Dictionary app that comes with Mac OS X extensively with this project, which has both a dictionary and a thesaurus, it is definitely a writer’s best friend. While I was trying to shape my characters’ personalities, the app came in very useful with a great explanation about the difference between words such as “keen” and “shrewd.” A quick tip: In the Dictionary app’s preferences, switch the “Contextual menu” option to “Opens Dictionary panel.” Now, even in Scrivener, when you right-click text and choose “Look Up in Dictionary,” you can get short definitions as well as synonyms in a small pop-up, without opening a new window. As for iTunes, I sometimes enjoy listening to music when working. There’s a lot to say about music and my writing so I’ll keep that for another post.

The Mobile Rig: iPod touch

The apps: GoodReader (and GoodReaderUSB for the Mac), Dictionnary.com, Antidote, Music

Despite the lack of a good keyboard, I’ve trained myself to use the virtual keyboard pretty well (yes, even in vertical mode). I think I even typed a full chapter or nearly a full one only on the iPod touch while I was working on the original novel. I’ve never been a big fan of the iOS’ auto-correct feature but I’m pretty certain that my writing would be worse if I didn’t keep that feature activated. One nice thing that came out of the recent iOS 4 update was the inclusion of your classic, red-lined spell check. Another feature, and easily the most important one, is the new fast application switching. For example you can copy a word in your writing app, flip to your dictionary app, paste the word to check the definition and flip back to the writing app with no loading time. The apps must be made compatible to use this feature but fortunately GoodReader, Dictionnary.com and Apple’s own music app all have the feature while Antidote still loads quickly on my 3rd gen iPod touch and remembers where you last left it.

GoodReader, at its core, is made to read documents, not write them. I have, for example, a PDF map of the TTC transportation system. It takes a while to load and navigate but this is the kind of file that’s big and clunky even on my MacBook Pro. However, it’s good with writing too. You can create and edit .txt documents. Unlike the included Notes app, you can organized your notes into folders and change the font you use to type. Plus, no more self-emailing: You can transfer documents using wi-fi or using USB with iTunes or with a free desktop application, GoodReaderUSB, that’s still available but no longer shown on GoodReader’s website, likely at the request of Apple. (A warning, however, that I have an issue where accents like “é” don’t export correctly when using USB.) GoodReader is a great deal for only 99 cents.

One problem that will come up is that unlike Scrivener, GoodReader offers no script formatting. Writing the outline isn’t an issue: I take a few notes from my Scrivener document, put it in a .txt, upload it to GoodReader, work on it, download it and add the changes to my Scrivener document. I’d like to be able to do some script writing on my iPod, however. The app I’m looking at is Scripts Pro. It apparently interfaces well with Celtix and Final Draft, neither of which I’m using. It can export to .txt however so we’ll see.

Dictionnary.com is good to have as a mobile equivalent for the built-in Dictionary Mac app. It’s free, works offline (a must for iPod touch users), and has both a dictionary and a thesaurus. Antidote is a similar dictionary app except it’s for French. It might not be too useful for me this time since this is a rewrite and not a simple translation I’m doing but if you ever need to do some work in French, get this app. It’s almost $20 but is full of definitions, synonyms, antonyms but it also gives you the conjugation of verbs, quotes where a word is being used, many guides on how to correctly write in French and more. It’s the mobile version of a much more expensive Mac/PC/Linux app that, on top of those features, also has a full and extensive correction feature that I used a bit when working on the original French manuscript. Finally, there’s the built-in Music app that I use for music.

That’s it for now. I might come back here to update my workflow as well as post further on how I write. But, really, I should stop meta-writing and just, well… write.

BBC Listener: Good Idea, Bad Content

In Apple, iPhone, iTunes/iPod, Radio on June 12, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I discovered an interesting app today. I haven’t tried it myself, though. It’s not exactly what I’d be interested in, in terms of content. What I find interesting is the monetization behind the app. BBC released an app called BBC Listener (iTunes LinkOfficial Site). To sum it up, it’s a radio app without the radio channel. Every week, 20 new shows are made available on top of an archive of 400+ shows. You can also download shows for when you’re offline.

Now this is what I found interesting: The app costs 99 cents and offers you 30 days with the service, with a $9.99 subscription lasting 3 months. And what’s really interesting: It’s a BBC Worldwide offering and only available, as of yet, in the US and Canada.

At first, the price might seem silly. I’m pretty sure you can even get most, if not all, of the BBC Radio stations live for free – something I don’t think even this app does. And for that matter, I’ve checked: you can listen to past episodes of one of the BBC Listener shows, Americana, for free online. The app itself seems to be not much more than a fancy curated service of shows the BBC is trying to make a buck off by making non-UK users pay for them… despite offering some for free to desktop users and (as I’ve just found out) having at least the latest episode of some shows, such as BBC Listener’s In Our Time and Desert Island Disks, available as a podcast – for free – on iTunes and thus on iPods and iPhones. On the flip-side, at least one of the BBC Listener shows, Life Story, doesn’t seem to be available online.

It’s kind of infuriating. The only good point I can give for the app is the fact that it does at least curate the content and offer what the BBC believes would interest US and Canadian listeners. But if the fact you make people pay (a subscription, at that) for less or the same amount of content than they get for free – the 400+ archive being possibly this app’s only saving grace – is fairly sad.

But think of this: What if the BBC wasn’t undermining its own pricing model by offering the same content for free? What if it was only available as a paid app? What if the back catalogue actually reflected the back catalogue of the people behind the app (I’m sure the BBC has much more than just 400 shows that it could offer online)? What if we stopped talking about the BBC but instead talk of a smaller, newer media organization?

This simple subscription model the BBC is using might work well to fund a smaller podcasting network that tailors directly and specifically to it’s subscriber’s interests. The less pretty example of this – depending on how you define “pretty” – might be porn but more useful examples might include a service offering shows related to a small community not being well served by a city’s radio station or a service offering video guides for using Mac software (I’m talking about ScreenCastsOnline’s premium service). It’s not a new idea, clearly, but what seems to annoy me about the BBC Listener app is the fact the BBC could have done exactly that: offer an app with new, original shows tailored to a North American audience. The shows and app would be self-funded through a subscription fee and thus not use up UK tax payer’s money on content that probably wouldn’t interest them.

But they appear to have decided to just charge you for some stuff that’s free anyways. I will admit that I haven’t tried it yet and probably won’t seeing how they seem to be charing for new and past BBC radio shows, something I wouldn’t pay for even if there wasn’t a free alternative. If you’ve tried the app and think I’ve gotten the app all wrong, please tell me.

Interesting Site: Kickstarter

In Interesting on May 23, 2010 at 12:55 am

I found my way to this interesting site called Kickstarter where you can get people to help you fund various projects. I might use it when it comes time to start work on one of my projects. — http://www.kickstarter.com/

New Post: Doctor Who Reviews

In Blogs, TV on April 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I’ll be doing the reviews for Doctor Who at The Signal. My first, for the Series 5 premiere, is up.

New Blog: The Signal

In Blogs on March 7, 2010 at 5:04 am

I will be contributing articles and reviews to the Internet’s newest TV review site, The Signal. Expect a few articles here and there from me until I start reviewing the latest season of Doctor Who in April.