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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.

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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.

Wednesday! Wednesday! Wednesday!

In Apple, iPhone, iTunes/iPod on September 6, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Apple Events. It’s like having more than one Christmas each year. And according to my clock, it’s about time Apple comes out with new iPods.

Oh! What do we have here? Yes, it’s the yearly (pretty much, now) September event. I’m eagerly waiting for new iPod touches. I can only hope these will pack the same “S is for Speed” power Apple gave the iPhone 3GSes. A camera is pretty much a given at this point, as well. Anyway, I’m going to be close to an Apple store on Wednesday so if they become available on the 9th, I might be able to make a few videos about the new touches. Or just play with the new touches and let other people record stuff.

What I’ve Been Playing

In iPhone, iTunes/iPod, Like a Drug, Windows, Windows on a Mac on July 11, 2009 at 9:45 pm

One game that I’ve been getting into recently is Beat Rider for iPhone/iPod touch. Here’s the iTunes link. While it’s somewhat a competitor to Tapulous’ Tap Tap Revenge 2, since both make you tap to music, it has an advantage and/or disadvantage: You can use what ever song you want. Because of this freedom, the gameplay resulting from songs isn’t always very good. On the other hand, there are some songs that shine. Try out Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. It works surprisingly well.

Another game that might be worth checking out is Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion for Windows. It’s not new but it’s pretty fun, if a bit demanding at times. You connect with trains, boats, road vehicles, planes and trams, cities, factories and resources to make money. It’s not bad for $10. Plus it’s from the guy who brought you RollerCoaster Tycoon.

All I Want For Christmas Are iPod Games

In iPhone, iTunes/iPod on December 23, 2008 at 3:51 pm

I’ve almost stopped using my DS at all. Why should I use it? It’s just another thing in my pocket and the only games I have left for it is Elite Beat Agents and Brain Age 2. With the App Store, I’ve been playing a bunch of games. Unfortunately, there’s been a recent surge in interesting games in the store and now I have a whole list of games I’d like to get. I’m not sure which I’ll choose… they all look pretty good.

Sim City (Get it)

I love Sim City. The love started with Sim City 2000 and went on up until Sim City 4 and its Rush Hour expansion. Then came Sim City DS. It seemed good but after having a few issues with it, I stopped playing it at all. But here comes (what I understand to be) a full Sim City 3000 experience for the iPod touch. I’m no longer as interested with simulation games as I was before but hey… I thought the same thing of MMORPGs. Then City of Heroes came along.

i Love Katamari (Get it)

I’ve never played a Katamari game but I was always fascinated by the series. You roll a ball around and collect items that stick to said ball. Simple, yet interesting. The original release on the App Store apparently sucked but a new update has the game back on my radar.

Puzzle Quest (Get it)

I loved the DS version and I was excited to get it for my iPod. It’s a shame then the game is being split up in to 3 instalments. How much will each chapter cost? How much of the game do I get with the 1st chapter? This “Must-Buy” has been downgraded to a “Maybe.”

Monopoly Here and Now: The World Edition (Get it)

I really love Monopoly. Like, really love it. That’s all you need to know.

Here are some other interesting games:

Tap Tap Dance (Get it)

Tap Tap Revenge is a great free game and Dance seems to bring it to a whole other level.

Rolando (Get it)

It’s been getting some high praises and it looks well done. Who knows? I might get it.

Heroes of Sparta (Get it)

This one looks interesting too.

Well, At Least we Got it, Right?

In Apple, iTunes/iPod, TV on July 23, 2008 at 6:34 pm

I’m really hating iTunes right now. Not only because of Apple but because of other parties involved.

-Let’s start off with Apple. Wouldn’t you know that Canada has laws that forbid Apple to sell Apps with anything but a credit card. Apparently the same rule applies for the 2.0 upgrade… despite the fact I was able to give them $20 using a iTunes Card in January for that upgrade. I’m just glad I knew this before buying a $50 card…

Yeah, I actually didn’t know. Fun.

-Now for Nickelodeon and/or YTV. I’ll admit it. I love Avatar : The Last Airbender. I bought Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD… before they came on iTunes for about half the price. But that’s not why I’m annoyed. The series just ended on Nick in the States but the final episodes are rolling into Canada right now through YTV. Unfortunately, none of the latest episodes are available at iTunes Canada. Not even the ones that already aired. And I missed them. Fun.

The Doctor has arrived in iTunes. You can download series 1 to 3 of the new Doctor Who. Well, you could if you lived in the States. Despite the fact that they fund the damn thing, neither CBC or BBC offer Who in Canada or the UK. So much for our tax dollars at work…

*sigh* And what do we get? American Gladiators. It seems that it’ll be joined soon by other MGM shows on iTunes Canada, with entries for Dead Like Me (which rocked) and In The Heat of The Night appreaing, although no shows are available as of yet. Well, at least we got something, right?

Any Way You Choose – Trism Review

In iPhone, iTunes/iPod on July 20, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Name – Trism (Version 1.0)

Price – $4.99

Controls – Touch Screen, Tilt

Purchase on the App Store

The App Store is here and it brought a few games with it. Today, I’ll be looking at one : Trism. The idea behind the game isn’t new. You line up groups of 3 shapes, in this case triangles, by sliding rows into place. What sets Trism apart is its use of the iPod touch’s or the iPhone’s accelerometer.

You are able to choose from which direction the board gets filled. Let’s say you clear three triangles at the right side of a horizontal row. By tilting downwards the device to the left, new triangles will appear from the right of the screen. By tilting to the right, the part of the row already in play will fill the void. With this new mechanic, the genre receives a new aspect of strategy. While you previously only wondered which piece to move, now you also have to choose which way to tilt the device.

The game also has special pieces such as locks which block movement and bombs that make you loose the game if they aren’t eliminated. Some pieces and combos have abilities that aren’t covered in the game’s tutorials. Nothing to make you unable to play but you’ll certainly score better and play longer when you learn about them. I’ll leave you to discover what they are.

The game comes with a classic mode where you play until you are unable to disarm a bomb, another where you must complete matches quickly or have locks and time-delayed bombs appear, a free play mode without any obstacles, levels or score and a puzzle mode where you tilt the play field to eliminate the triangles. These give you the chance to play however you want.

Trism lets you post your score to an online leaderboard and collect achievements. You can even let multiple people do so by creating multiple Trism accounts. You’ll be able send in scores and achievements (even those you got previously while you were offline) after completing a game. Be warned: make sure to send in your info before switching users. I learned that the hard way and lost some achievements. Your game is saved if turn off the screen or exit the app, a useful feature for busy people. If you are colour bind, Trism also has you covered.

The controls act a bit buggy at times. They seem to “stick.” When letting go of the touch screen, a triangle might stay selected and triangles that should slide, according to the orientation of the device, don’t. In the puzzle mode, the game nags you to restart if you go over the number of recommended moves to complete a level. It’s annoying but the glitches have a minimal impact on the gameplay.

The game’s visuals are simple but of high quality. The game has no soundtrack and only has some unobtrusive sound effects which go great with the fact you can play while listening to music. I found the battery performance to be very good (with an iPod touch) even when playing with the music on.

Final Verdict

Trism isn’t based on anything new but it does bring something different to the table. And even if it didn’t, the game is only $5, a bargain compared to other App Store games. It’s an easy purchase if you enjoy casual games or are just looking for a time-waster.

EDIT: I added information about the battery and the colour bind mode and a few pictures.

EDIT 2: Corrected a spelling mistake, cleared up the explanation for the freeplay mode and specified that the battery life was tested with an iPod touch.

The iPhone 2.0 Launch – App Store News And Game Reviews

In iPhone, iTunes/iPod on July 12, 2008 at 11:22 pm

iPhone 2.0 is now available for both the iPod touch and the original iPhone. So is the iPhone 3G. Hope you’re having fun. I do have a warning to any Canadians out there : The Canadian App Store doesn’t accept iTunes Cards as a payment option for some unknown reason. I sent an e-mail to Apple to learn more but I haven’t gotten a response yet.

Anyway, I was able to upgrade to 2.0 and download a few pay and free apps and games. I definitely want to review :

-Trisim, a match and tilt casual game

-Super Monkey Ball, Sega’s tilt-o-rama launch game

– Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D, a racing game based on the video game series

-Tap Tap Revenge, a rhythm game that uses both the touch screen and the accelerometer.

I’m also playing around with other apps and games and might talk about those too.

The iPhone 2.0 Launch – iPod touch Owners : Get 2.0 Free

In iPhone, iTunes/iPod on July 4, 2008 at 10:06 pm

This might just be for Canadians. Heck, it might have just been at my location, but Costco is selling $50 iTunes cards for $34.97. That’s $15.03 of free money, enough to cover the price of the $9.95 upgrade to iPhone 2.0 for iPod touches. Best of all, it’s charged tax free.

The iPhone 2.0 Launch – Blog Coverage

In iPhone, iTunes/iPod on July 4, 2008 at 8:58 pm

In one week, Apple will launch the iPhone 3G, and with it, the iPhone 2.0 software. Canada’s an interesting place to be with the launch since we’re getting a raw deal. But, there’s still stuff to get excited for and I’ll be covering it.

-Getting ready for the Canadian launch.

-Where to send comments and complaints.

-An iPhone 2.0 for iPod touch review.

-App reviews.

-Maybe even a look at the 3G.

Pre-launch coverage goes on until… well, the 11th. Then, I’ll keep going and review the software and a few apps.