More Ways of Thinking about Relationships in Writing

Following his earlier post about a Relationships Thesaurus, PG was intrigued while considering the enormous number of various types of relationships and shades of relationships between people (and groups of people) as compared with the more limited scope of relationships he sees in many books and stories.

Here a single sub-part under Relationships from WordHippo that PG picked because most of the synonyms had little or nothing to do with romantic or family relationships.

Noun

The state of cooperating, being allied or working together:

cooperation

partnership

union

communications

confederation

rapport

collaboration

conjunction

alliance

hookup

linkup

association

liaison

affiliation

connection

tie-up

coalition

relation

compact

federation

trust

axis

league

cartel

coterie

clique

copartnership

society

brotherhood

club

combination

fraternity

sisterhood

sorority

co-partnership

joint venture

strategic partnership

contractual cooperation

strategic relationship

strategic alliance

mutually beneficial alliance

mutually beneficial relationship

cross-holding

mutually beneficial

partnership

equity alliance

confederacy

guild

combine

consortium

group

syndicate

organization

block

order

bloc

congress

sodality

organisation

labour union

workers’ association

labor union

trade union

Bund

companionship

consociation

faction

link

ring

party

fellowship

mob

friendship

togetherness

body

gang

community

participation

enterprise

crew

chumminess

cahoots

bargain

arrangement

contract

deal

link-up

protocol

understanding

settlement

covenant

entente

accord

bond

accommodation

coordination

hook-up

tie-in

business arrangement

The cheap pen that changed writing forever

From The BBC:

On 29 October 1945, the New York City branch of Gimbels department store unveiled a new product. Billions upon billions would follow in its wake.

Gimbels was the first to sell a new kind of ink pen, the design of which had taken several decades to come to fruition. The pens, made by the Reynolds International Pen Company, promised an end to the messy mishaps users of fountain pens encountered – leaking ink, smudges and pooling ink blots.

The new ballpoint pens did away with this, using a special viscous ink which dried quickly and didn’t leave smudges. At the heart of it, the rolling ball in the nib – and gravity – ensured a constant, steady stream of ink that didn’t smear or leave solid pools of ink on the page.

The new ballpoint was clean and convenient. What it wasn’t was cheap.

The new Reynolds ballpoint cost $12.50 – convert that to 2020 money and it’s more than $180 (£138.50). Today, if you were buying your pens in bulk, from stack-‘em-high superstores, you could end up with more than 1,000 for the same price.

. . . .

The creation of the ballpoint pen is usually credited to a Hungarian-Argentinian inventor László Bíró, whose name inspired a catch-all term for modern ballpoints. But it is, in fact, a lot older.

An American, John J Loud, received the first patent for a ballpoint pen back in 1888. Loud, a lawyer and occasional inventor, wanted an ink pen which would be able to write on rougher materials such as wood and leather as well as paper. His masterstroke was the revolving steel ball, which was held in place by a socket. In his 1888 patent filing, he wrote:

“My invention consists of an improved reservoir or fountain pen, especially useful, among other purposes, for marking on rough surfaces-such as wood, coarse wrapping-paper, and other articles where an ordinary pen could not be used.”

Loud’s pen was indeed able to write on leather and wood, but it was too rough for paper. The device was deemed to have no commercial value and the patent eventually lapsed.

Various inventors tried to improve on Loud’s design in the coming decade, but none were able to take it into production until Bíró in the 1930s. A journalist in Hungary, Bíró used fountain pens daily and was very familiar with their drawbacks.

“He was used to the fountain pen which was very leaky and left ink on your hands and smudged and he was very frustrated by it,” says Gemma Curtin, a curator at London’s Design Museum.

. . . .

Simply adding fountain pen ink to a ballpoint pen was not the solution, however. The ink itself needed to be rethought.

László turned to his brother, Győrgy, a dentist who was also a talented chemist. László had realised the ink used in fountain pains was too slow to dry and needed something more like the ink used on newspapers. Győrgy came up with a viscous ink which spread easily but dried quickly. What’s more, the pen used far less ink than the spotting, dripping fountain pens.

“Other people had thought of it before, but it was down to him, working with his brother – who was a good chemist – and getting the texture of the ink right,” says Curtin. “It is very like printer’s ink, and it doesn’t smudge.”

The principle at the heart of the ballpoint pen mimics the action of a roll-on deodorant – gravity and the force applied smear the rolling ball with a continuous stream of ink as the ball rolls along the writing surface When the pen isn’t used, the ball sits tight against the end of the ink reservoir, preventing air entering and drying out the ink. Most often, ballpoint pens run out of ink long before they dry out.

. . . .

László received a patent for his new pen in Britain in 1938, but World War Two put paid to plans to market his new invention. As László and his brother were Jews, they decided to flee Europe in 1941, and emigrated to Argentina. There, László returned to his new invention, helped by a fellow escapee, Juan Jorge Meyne.

The first “birome”, as it became known in Argentina, was released in 1943, while war was still raging in Europe and the Pacific. The design piqued the interest of the Royal Air Force (RAF), who put in an order for 30,000: the pens were able to be used by aircrew at high altitude unlike fountain pens, which tended to leak because of the pressure changes. Otherwise, the original pen was little-known outside its South American home – the few original models current all for sale on online auctions all hail from Argentina.

. . . .

In 1945, two US companies – the Eversharp Co and Eberhard Faber Co – teamed up to licence the new pen for the US market, having spent half a million dollars ($7.2m or £5.6m in today’s money) to sew up the rights to North and Central America. But they were too slow on the draw. American businessman Milton Reynolds was visiting Buenos Aires and was impressed with the new pen – he bought several, and on return to America set up the Reynolds International Pen Company to market a new design.

Crucially, the Reynolds design had enough changes to sidestep László Bíró’s patent, and was the first to go on sale on October of that year. It was, almost instantly, a must-have accessory. As Time magazine reported, “thousands of people all but trampled one another last week to spend $12.50 each for a new fountain pen”, noting that the new pen only needed refilling once every two years. Gimbels had ordered 50,000 of the new pens and had sold 30,000 of them by the end of the first week. According to Time, Gimbels made more than $5.6m in sales ($81m or £62m in 2020) from the new pen in the first six months.

. . . .

The masterstroke which would change the ballpoint pen forever came not from the US but from France. Michel Bich was an Italian-born French industrialist who ran a company making ballpoint pens. “No one understood better than Marcel Bich that potent 20th-century alchemy of high volume/low cost,” ran his obituary in the UK’s Independent newspaper when he died in 1994. “To this formula he added the magic catalyst of disposability. He invented nothing, but understood the mass market almost perfectly.”

Bich realised the ballpoints so far had been premium products – an alternative designed to be regularly replaced could be a lot cheaper. Bich acquired a dormant factory near Paris and set about creating his new company, Societe Bic. An advertising executive had suggested the industrialists shorten his surname to create an instantly recognisable three-letter trademark. The company’s trademark logo, the Bic Boy, had a smooth featureless orb as a face – a reference to the metal ball in the point of the pen.

“The first ballpoint pens in the UK cost around 55 shillings (£82.50/$107.50 in 2020 prices),” says Curtin. “One of Bic’s biros only cost you a shilling. It combined functionality with affordability.”

The new pen had an equally dramatic effect on the act of writing itself, says David Sax, the Canadian journalist who wrote the book The Revenge of Analog. “The ballpoint pen was the equivalent of today’s smartphone. Before then, writing was a stationary act that had to be done in a certain environment, on a certain kind of desk, with all these other things to hand that allowed you to write.

. . . .

“What the ballpoint pen did was to make writing something that could happen anywhere. I’ve written in snow and rain, on the back of an ATV and in a boat at sea and in the middle of the night,” says Sax. Biros don’t drain batteries, they don’t require plugging in in the middle of nowhere, and even the tightest pocket can accommodate them. “It only fails if it runs out of ink,” Sax adds.

Link to the rest at The BBC

Winning NaNoWriMo with Scrivener

From Writer Unboxed:

Whether you’re plotting in advance or completely winging it, Scrivener can help you win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Here are some of my favorite features to help you hit 50K in November, or whatever your writing goal is, any month of the year.

Handling Ideas, or the Lack Thereof

When you’re writing for speed, you can’t afford to be slowed down by ideas for future scenes, or get stuck trying to conjure the perfect piece of dialog. Nor do you have time for additional research.

Instead, make a note and get back to writing. Scrivener offers several options for leaving notes.

Annotations and Comments: These are notes you can leave at a particular point in your text, which makes them great for reminders about fixing a bad description, looking up precise medical details for an injury, or anything else that’s spot-specific.

. . . .

Documents: For manuscript-level notes and ideas, you might instead create a document to jot down things as they occur to you. I also like the idea of having a Change Log document for notes on scenes I’ve already written, so I’m not tempted to fix them when I should be writing new material.

Another use for documents is to create one when you have an idea for a future scene, and use it as a placeholder. You can enter a brief description of what you think will happen in the Synopsis card, or maybe quickly write out the conversation or piece of action that came to you before you forget. When you get to that point in the manuscript, the scene will already be waiting.

. . . .

Synopsis: For those who plot—either the whole book in advance, or each scene immediately before you write it—the Synopsis . . . is a great place to keep a reminder of what’s supposed to happen, in case you forget. If you don’t plot at all, you can add a short description of what happened after you write the scene, to help you keep track as your story builds.

The Corkboard lets you view the synopsis cards storyboard-style. If this is your thing, I recommend not grouping your documents into folders until you’re done using the Corkboard to view, plot, and reorder your story.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG hadn’t thought about Scrivener for a long time.

Long ago, he tried out an earlier iteration for creating legal documents, but decided it wasn’t going to improve his efficiency.

PG would be interested in what real authors think about Scrivener these days (if they think about it at all). Feel free to comment.

An AI Breaks the Writing Barrier

From The Wall Street Journal:

Word has been making its way out from the technology community: The world changed this summer with the rollout of an artificial intelligence system known as GPT-3. Its ability to interact in English and generate coherent writing have been startling hardened experts, who speak of “GPT-3 shock.”

Where typical AI systems are trained for specific tasks—classifying images, playing Go—GPT-3 can handle tasks it was never specifically trained for. Research released by its maker, San Francisco-based OpenAI, has found that GPT-3 can work out analogy questions from the old SAT with better results than the average college applicant. It can generate news articles that readers may have trouble distinguishing from human-written ones.

And it can do tasks its creators never thought about. Beta testers in recent weeks have found that it can complete a half-written investment memo, produce stories and letters written in the style of famous people, generate business ideas and even write certain kinds of software code based on a plain-English description of the desired software. OpenAI has announced that after the test period, GPT-3 will be released as a commercial product.

The name stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, third generation. Like other AI systems today, GPT-3 is based on a large, organized collection of numeric weights, known as parameters, that determine its operation. The builder of the AI trains it using large digital data sets—in this case, a filtered version of the contents of the web, plus Wikipedia and some others. The number of parameters is a key measure of an AI model’s capacity; GPT-3 has 175 billion, which is more than 100 times that of its predecessor, GPT-2, and 10 times that of its nearest rival, Microsoft’s Turing NLG.

. . . .

I copied and pasted the first paragraph of George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address: “The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.”

GPT-3 gave me its translation: “I am not going to run for president.” Take a bow, HAL 9000.

I got similarly cogent summaries when I entered the First Amendment and other sources. I wondered whether GPT-3 was simply lifting language from websites, but I couldn’t find any evidence of that.

Yet when I gave it the famous first line of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”—“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”—the AI was puzzling to watch. In the course of my first four tries, a few of its answers were sort of in the ballpark without being quite right. (For instance, “A man with a lot of money must be looking for a wife.”) Then on my fifth try, it seemed to crack up: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man with a good fortune must be in want of a wife, because men are very vain and they want to be seen as wealthy, and women are very greedy and they want to be seen as beautiful.”

. . . .

If the price is right, there’s a good chance that GPT-3 will make major changes in our working lives. For a range of knowledge workers—news reporters, lawyers, coders and others—the introduction of systems like GPT-3 will likely shift their activities from drafting to editing. On the plus side, the biggest barrier to getting work done, the tyranny of the blank paper or the blank screen, may become much rarer. It’s simple enough just to keep clicking GPT-3’s “generate” button until something halfway usable appears.

The tyranny of the blank screen, though, forces us to think through a problem in a way that editing does not. Human nature probably means that people will often be more intent on massaging an AI’s output to the point that it looks acceptable than on doing their own work to sort through ambiguous data and conflicting arguments. Like GPS navigation, which started as just a tool but has reduced our engagement with the act of navigating, AI language generators may start by sparing us labor but soon spare us thought. (With regard to possible misuse, a representative of OpenAI told me that it bans uses of GPT-3 that may cause harm, including harassment, spamming, deception or radicalization.)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Marlowe, A.I. for Novels

From The Book Designer:

I recently had the opportunity to evaluate Marlowe, Authors A.I.’s analytical software for novels. Created by Matthew L. Jockers, Ph.D., and his data team, Marlowe is an artificial intelligence that serves to help authors improve their novel before sending it off for professional editing. The goal of this software is to “help authors refine their manuscripts and identify new market opportunities for their works.” (Note: I searched their website but did not find any reference to helping authors “identify new market opportunities for their works.”)

Marlowe is relatively new—first released in January 2020—and so I was a little skeptical about the reliability of the algorithms, fearing its creators could still be working out the kinks. Also new is the Authors A.I. organization itself, a June 2019 venture.

The manuscript I submitted to Marlowe was the final manuscript for my latest novel Nineteen Hundred Days, a book in the literary fiction genre that had gone through three levels of professional editing:

  • manuscript critique
  • line editing
  • copy editing

The 24-page report I received for this manuscript includes 15 areas of analyses.

Plot Structure

This section of the Marlowe report is about narrative arc and major turning points in the story line. Below is the visual representation provided for my novel.

The dotted line running across the graph indicates emotional neutrality.

The purple line represents conflict and conflict resolution. Upward slopes mark instances of conflict resolution where the story takes a positive turn, and downward slopes indicate the story taking a darker turn or some level of complication.

The more peaks and valleys, the more of an emotional roller coaster the character(s) is going on, which could be an indication of how successful the novel is in engaging readers. If the purple line doesn’t veer away much from the dotted line, the story is likely flat and uninteresting.

According to Marlowe, a good story will result in this line vacillating between above and below the dotted line with highs and lows throughout. And it’s not just about the number of spikes, it’s also about the depth of each one.

The green line represents the narrative arc. Marlowe claims there is no optimal shape for the narrative arc, and they are working on obtaining some comps from bestsellers for future reference. But my experience is that fictional stories are best structured if they include these narrative arc components:

  • exposition
  • conflict
  • rising action
  • climax
  • falling action
  • resolution

When optimally included in the story line, these components form a definitive narrative arc.

My interpretation of this analysis for Nineteen Hundred Days is that it has a typical narrative arc (at least according to my knowledge and experience). With respect to the level and depth of conflict in the story line, I can only compare it to the sample report that Authors A. I. has on its website for The Da Vinci Code which has five peaks (compared to my six) with approximately the same depth and occurrences above and below the dotted line. While my novel is not in the same league as The Da Vinci Code, I can only feel good about this comparison.

. . . .

Pacing

Marlowe analyzes the story’s pacing by plotting where it thinks readers will turn the pages more quickly (peaks on the graph) and the slower moments (valleys) where there is likely scene setting and background information given, claiming that the most successful writers vary the pace of their story to provide variety.

When I saw this analysis for my novel, I immediately wondered what was going on at the 57% mark to cause such a prominent “valley.” So I looked at chapters 20 through 25 and found three significant events:

  • the protagonist’s best friend dies of cancer
  • he is asked by police if he can identify someone they are looking for
  • he learns of his mother’s jail sentence

I would not call these “slow moments,” so I am at a loss as to why the graph dips so low at the 57% mark.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

How Studying Psychology Has Influenced My Writing

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

This is a ‘what came first – the chicken or the egg’ kind of question for me, or as my daughter asked me last week – the seed or the tree? Did my study of psychology influence my writing, or did my love of stories and characters develop into a love of psychology? 

Even as a child I was fascinated by both. When I was around seven or eight years old I designed a quiz that I gave to everyone who came to the house. It was only basic questions like favourite colour, best friend, dream job, but I loved reading the answers. I found it interesting that people in the same family, who lived in the same house, were so different. And when I wasn’t designing quizzes, I was either devouring every book I could get my hands on, or I was filling notebooks with my own stories about children who could fly, orphans starting new schools, and evil witches. 

. . . .

A few years (OK a decade) after I’d finished my degree, I had an idea for a novel about a distraught widow (Tess) and her young son, and what happens to them when a charismatic grief counsellor comes into their lives. I knew immediately that this was a novel that would need me to draw on my psychology degree. I dug out my old text books from the loft and poured through them for days on end, reminding myself why I loved the complexities of the human mind so much. This idea became my debut, The Perfect Betrayal

I wanted to pull the reader into Tess’s daily struggles with her grief and depression and I wanted them to feel the full range of emotions that we can feel for those around us experiencing mental illness. Feelings like sympathy, pity, desperation, exasperation, and frustration.  There were times when I was writing the book when all I wanted to do was tell Tess to snap out of it. Unfortunately it’s never that simple with mental illness. 

With my second novel, One Step Behind, I once again pulled out my psychology books and delved into the murky waters of what drives obsession, and how even the most moral person can be driven to cross the line if pushed far enough. The main character, Jenna, is a doctor who has dedicated her life to saving others, but when she is asked to save the life of the man responsible for destroying hers, will she do it?

I write these stories because the themes fascinate me, but one thing that studying psychology has instilled in me is the need to do the behaviours of my character’s justice. Readers are a savvy bunch, and won’t buy into an anxious character suddenly not caring anymore. While we are complex individuals, we all have certain traits that guide our behaviour. Equally, if I’m going to write about a character struggling with a mental illness then it’s important to me and the readers that I portray that illness as realistically as I can. With Tess and her depression in The Perfect Betrayal it was important to me that she didn’t get a little bit better every day. She had some good days but they were often followed by bad ones. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Pens, Ranked

From Writer Unboxed:

Like cameras, umbrellas, and getaway cars, the best pen is the one you have with you. We writers tend to have a dozen pens with us at any given time, though—when the muse comes to you and whispers profundity into your ear, which pen do you grab to write your masterpiece? This month, the Hacks for Hacks team looked at hundreds of pens, from ball points to gels to smear-resistant models for lefties. Using our scientific rating criteria, we ranked the best pens available.

10. Pilot Precise V7. I have one of these in my pocket at all times. Versatile and affordable, the V7 is perfect for everything from a novel to a grocery list. Don’t take it on an airplane, however, as the differences in altitude and cabin pressure will cause some leakage. As long as you’re on solid ground, though, the Pilot V7 will remain a trusty friend your whole life long.

9. The fancy pen you got as a graduation gift. Doesn’t it look nice on your desk? Don’t you feel like an author just looking at it? These are stylish, and will never run out of ink because you can’t bring yourself to actually use it.

. . . .

2. The white, cap-less, dried-up Bic ball-point pen in your desk drawer that you can’t bring yourself to throw away. Once upon a time, this had blue ink, and still does if you shake the hell out of it and scrawl on a nearby napkin to get things flowing. You have lots of pens, and you don’t even remember how you got this one; why don’t you just throw it out? But we both know you can’t. And that’s why it’s ranked #2.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

For PG, there is only one pen to rule them all:

Microsoft Editor

From Microsoft:

Get intelligent writing assistance

Write with confidence across documents, email, and the web. With features that help strengthen your spelling, grammar, and style, let Microsoft Editor be your intelligent writing assistant.

. . . .

Have help anywhere you write

See Editor’s suggestions in Word, Outlook, and on your favorite sites. Try Editor in Outlook and download the browser extension to have Editor’s assistance across the web.

Get suggestions in different languages

Receive basic guidance in more than 20 languages, and spelling suggestions in more than 80, to help you communicate clearly, no matter what language you’re writing in.

. . . .

Get help with the basics of spelling, grammar, and punctuation for free. Receive advanced grammar and stylistic feedback on clarity, conciseness, formality, vocabulary, and other premium features with Microsoft 365.

Link to the rest at Microsoft

PG and Mrs. PG aren’t likely to move away from Grammarly unless/until MS Editor becomes substantially more effectively than Grammarly.

However, PG would be interested in the experiences of others with MS Grammar. Feel free to drop a comment to this post or click on the Comment button on the main toolbar, just below the banner image.

A New Writer’s Tool: Glossary Generator

From author James Murdo via Indies Unlimited:

Writers face competing demands for their time, many of which are highly manual and slow processes. One such process, which is especially important for Science Fiction writers, is glossary generation. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple piece of software to speed this up? Well, that’s what ‘Glossary Generator’ is for. Simply input your manuscript and wait for the generator to do its work!

. . . .

As an author of what has been referred to as “cerebral sci-fi”, I include glossaries in my books to remind and provide additional information to readers. However, this was not initially the case.

When I first received the feedback from my proof-readers and editor that ‘your book needs a glossary’, I was relatively disheartened. Another lengthy process! It took some time, but I was very pleased with the outcome. Furthermore, the response was singularly positive: everyone, from the proof-readers and editor to the final readers themselves really liked it too. Now, every single one of my books contains a glossary.

Then why complain, James?

(1) The creation of glossaries is tedious and slow.
(2) You don’t want to miss important terms by accident.

The creation of Glossary Generator

After four books, I decided to do something to address my issues with the glossary creation process. I wrote a computer program to do it for me. Initially, the program sat idly as code on my computer without a proper user-friendly interface, patiently waiting to be run on my unsuspecting Word files. However, I realised the program could be used to help other authors too. I put a user interface together and called it ‘Glossary Generator’! Following this, creating the glossaries for my last two books (shameless plug: Siouca Remembers is just out…) was far simpler.

. . . .

The Glossary Generator can be used to create a glossary from scratch, although you should sense-check the results. Some words may be incorrectly flagged as glossary terms (i.e. if they are obscure), or you may simply not wish to include them for whatever reason, since determining which terms should be included is subjective. On the other hand, the generator may fail to find some terms you wish to be included (that have no “flaggable” characteristics to alert the Glossary Generator). Personally, I find the glossary generator has a 90-95% hit rate before I use any of its “additional parameters”. An additional benefit of the software is that it can help you to identify errors – for example, if you have a character called “Oberon” and you misspell the name once, as “Oberin”, the Glossary Generator will display both.

Identified terms are displayed in alphabetical order within the program, which can be copied and pasted elsewhere, and there is also the option to export them to a text file. Please note – the Glossary Generator identifies terms, but it does not write their descriptions for you. To complete your glossary, you will then need to write the descriptions for each term.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

PG was surprised that Microsoft hadn’t included a glossary generator in MS Word. You can use the Word Table of Authorities generator (a Table of Authorities is a portion of a legal document used by some attorneys on occasion) to sort of help you create a glossary, but it’s a definite kludge.

Here’s a link to James Murdo’s books

And his latest book:

A Couple of Potentially Helpful Sites/Services

PG went looking for a couple of new tools for keeping track of various and sundry things he needs to do.

  1. Finding a simple way of keeping track of small to-do lists, shopping lists, etc., and
  2. Finding a system to monitor progress on more complex multi-step projects that may include coordinating with others.

He had been using a combination of calendar reminders and Evernote for these tasks previously and was (and is) not averse to continuing to use these tools if he can’t find better ones for his jobs.

So far, he has identified two candidates, one for each of the two jobs, but would be interested in experiences, opinions, etc., of the those in the TPV universe about these topics in general and alternate ways for PG to skin this Cat address these challenges.

  1. For various lists and small reminders, PG has been impressed by Any.do. One nice feature is that Any.do integrates well with Amazon’s Alexa, so PG can issue verbal directives to add items to shopping and to-do lists.
  2. For keeping track of more complex projects, PG has heard nice things about Trello for some time. So far, Trello allows for more multidimensional tasks/planning that Any.do seems to support. While PG currently isn’t involved in a lot of team projects, Trello seems to support those nicely as well.

Any thoughts, suggestions, disagreements, etc., are welcome.

Life is too complicated not to be orderly. ~ Martha Stewart

From ReadWrite:

What is the one thing that connects millions of workers around the world? It is the desire to have more productivity at work, work fewer hours, and stay on top of all projects. But is this wish truly attainable? Productivity at work — it is possible.

. . . .

Ironically, working long hours does not increase workplace productivity. As a matter of fact, it can totally backfire and make you less efficient, due to stress, fatigue, and other factors. Moreover, it can negatively affect your physical health. It has been recorded that the risk of heart disease increases markedly by 67% for people who work long hours compared to people who work the standard 7-8 hours a day.

. . . .

1. Create a to-do list to improve productivity at work

Lists help give you a plan for what needs to be accomplished and increases your productivity in the workplace. You could also have one for the week or even the month from which you pull daily tasks. There can be few work-related things more satisfying than checking off a long time item off your list.

You can even take this to the next level by blocking out time each morning to review and add/remove from your to-do list. You will find that it will quickly become a part of your routine and will increase your productivity at work with a more focused view of the day.

. . . .

2. Start with a tough task

If you have 15 things on your to-do list for the day, consider starting with a hard task. While it might seem unpleasant, it’s often easier than trying to tackle it later in the day once you’re tired. When doing this, your day is already successful and productive once that hard task is complete.

Stephen Covey called this your “big rocks.” It is not only easier to tackle them earlier in the day, but it will also help you to feel success and build momentum towards a full day of being productive at work. Even if you don’t get other things on your list done, you still know you were productive and finished something Important.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no

. . . .

Remember that you don’t always have to deliver a hard “no.” If an opportunity seems like a good fit, you can ask someone on your team to investigate it.

. . . .

You also have the option to kick the can down the road. “You’d be surprised by how easily you can delay certain opportunities,” Smith says. “You may miss out on some that don’t fit your immediate strategy, but you can focus on maintaining a relationship that may bring that same opportunity to you again when you are better suited to fulfill on it.”

. . . .

5. Automate when possible (and don’t be afraid to outsource)

Are repetitive tasks taking up a great deal of your time? Consider automating these tasks to improve efficiency within your company. In fact, it can handle up to 45% of repetitive work, such as appointment scheduling, reminder emails, and marketing management.

If tasks are taking up your quality time that can’t be automated, consider outsourcing them, so you have time to handle your more critical items.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

PG knows a lot of the OP is stuff you’ve heard before, but sometimes hearing something at the right time is more important than having heard it before.

Particularly when he is near his computer, PG has a lot of shortcuts he uses to speed up routine tasks. As one small example, “Link to the rest at ” which PG uses at the end of each quoted item is accomplished by PG typing “ltr” which causes his computer to spit out the longer version.

“Period, close quote, return, open quote” would seem like a beneficial macro for an author writing a lot of dialogue.

How to Choose a Writing Instrument and What It Says About You

From The New Yorker:

Cormac McCarthy purchased a powder blue Olivetti Lettera 32 mechanical typewriter in a Tennessee pawnshop, in 1963, for fifty dollars, and used it for the next five decades, producing an estimated five million words tickling its ivories. An author’s instrument is more than a tool; it is an extension of his very soul. With that in mind, choose your weapon carefully. (I use the Olivetti Lettera 22—an earlier model—myself.)

Ballpoint pen: Let me guess—you probably have a great idea for a book that you’ve been meaning to write but haven’t actually got around to starting?

Fountain pen: You don’t use contractions because you think that they degrade the language, and your epigraphs are all in Latin. You include epigraphs in everything you write.

. . . .

Manual typewriter: You spent six hundred dollars on a typewriter that you’ve used twice.

No. 2 pencil: You keep one behind your ear because you think it looks writerly, but exclusively use it to jot down to-do lists.

Pencil you can only sharpen with a pocket knife: You have gone camping two or three times in your life and bring it up at least once per conversation.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Favorite MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

From InfoWare:

1. CTRL + Spacebar – Remove all character formatting (font, bold, size, italics, etc.) from selected text. This keystroke saves time by not having to re-highlight text and remove an exact attribute. An entire document may be highlighted and all character formatting can be removed at once. This is helpful when you are reformatting old documents , making changes to one from opposing counsel, or if you are changing firms and need to update your precedents to meet the new firms document standards.

2. CTRL + Q – Remove all direct paragraph formatting. We’ve all experienced spacing issues that are troublesome to fix. This keystroke removes all of those at once and is applied only to the direct formatting by selecting the text and applying Ctrl + Q. This allows the block of text to go back into the style it was applied as. This is incredibly useful when spacing and paragraph issues arise as a result of exchanging document versions between colleagues.

3. ALT + Shift + Up/Down Arrows – Move a paragraph or table row. Click in a paragraph or row or select more than one and hold down Alt + Shift with your left hand. Use the up and down arrows to move the text up or down to a different paragraph. This is helpful in legal documents where you need to change the order of your arguments and saves time from the usual approach of copy and pasting and moving text around the document.

4. Shift + F5 – Return to the last three (3) edit points. If you have moved edited text and then moved to another location within your document, pressing Shift + F5 will move your cursor back to your previous edit. This is helpful in all documents, but specifically in contracts, pleadings and agreements, when you want to quickly return back to your last change without having to manually search for it.

5. CTRL + G – Navigate to a specific part of your document. This keystroke is especially helpful when working with larger documents. Using GoTo will take you to a specific page, section, bookmark or footnote within your document. If you are making changes to only a few clauses or sections, this tool is useful to find the relevant text faster. This keystroke can also give you access to Advanced Find and Replace in the same dialogue box, helping you get more done, faster.

Link to the rest at InfoWare

PG loves anything that will speed up his creation of documents, including TPV posts, emails, legal documents, etc.

He’s mentioned AutoHotkey before and uses it for almost every TPV post and lots of other things.

He also uses TheFormTool document assembly plugin for Word for a number of the legal documents he prepares on a recurring basis. He uses the free version, but has been thinking about upgrading.

HotDocs is another document creation program that has been around for a long time. PG hasn’t tried it out recently, but may need to do it again.

If anyone has any suggestions for other document assembly programs/plugins, etc., leave a comment.

One of PG’s complaints about a number of different classes of software, including document assembly, is that it seems like almost everyone wants recurring revenues for their software and is asking for monthly payments. In other words, software is less a product than it is a service.

AI Augmentation: The Real Future of Artificial Intelligence

From Forbes:

I love Grammarly, the writing correction software from Grammarly, Inc. As a writer, it has proved invaluable to me time and time again, popping up quietly to say that I forgot a comma, got a bit too verbose on a sentence, or have used too many adverbs. I even sprung for the professional version.

Besides endorsing it, I bring Grammarly up for another reason. It is the face of augmentative AI. It is AI because it uses some very sophisticated (and likely recursive) algorithms to determine when grammar is being used improperly or even to provide recommendations for what may be a better way to phrase things. It is augmentative because, rather than completely replacing the need for a writer, it instead is intended to nudge the author in a particular direction, to give them a certain degree of editorial expertise so that they can publish with more confidence or reduce the workload on a copy editor.

This may sound like it eliminates the need for a copy editor, but even that’s not really the case. Truth is, many copy editors also use Grammarly, and prefer that their writers do so well, because they usually prefer the much more subtle task of improving well wrought prose, rather than the tedious and maddening task of correcting grammatical and spelling errors.

As a journalist I use Cisco’s Webex a great deal. Their most recent products have introduced something that I’ve found to be invaluable – the ability to transcribe audio in real time. Once again, this natural language processing (NLP) capability, long the holy grail of AI, is simply there. It has turned what was once a tedious day long operation into a comparatively short editing session (no NLP is 100% accurate), meaning that I can spend more time gathering the news than having to transcribe it.

. . . .

These examples may seem to be a far cry from the popular vision of AI as a job stealer – from autonomous cars and trucks to systems that will eliminate creatives and decision makers – but they are actually pretty indicative of where Artificial Intelligence is going.

. . . .

What’s evident from these examples is that this kind of augmentative AI can be used to do those parts of a task or operation that were high cost for very little value add otherwise. Grammarly doesn’t change my voice significantly as a writer. Auto-transcription takes a task that would likely take me several hours to do manually and reduces it to seconds so that I can focus on the content. Photoshop’s Select Subject eliminates the need for very painstaking selection of an image. It can be argued in all three cases, that this does eliminate the need for a human being to do these tasks, but let’s face it – these are tasks that nobody would prefer to do unless they really had no choice.

. . . .

When Microsoft Powerpoint suggests alternatives visualizations to the boring old bullet points slide, the effect is to change behavior by giving a nudge. The program is saying “This looks like a pyramid, or a timeline, or a set of bucket categorizations. Why don’t you use this kind of presentation?”

. . . .

However, work with an intelligent word processor long enough and several things will begin to configure to better accommodate your writing style. Word and grammatical recommendations will begin to reflect your specific usage. Soft grammatical “rules” will be suppressed if you continue to ignore them, the application making the reasonable assumption that you are deliberately ignoring them when pointed out.

Ironically, this can also mean that if someone else uses your particular “trained” word processing application, they will likely get frustrated because the recommendations being made do not fit with their writing style, not because they are programmed to follow a given standard, but because they have been trained to facilitate your style instead.

. . . .

Remembered history is actually a pretty good description for how most augmented AIs work. Typically, most AIs are trained to pick up anomalous behavior from a specific model, weighing both the type and weight of that anomaly and adjusting the model accordingly.

. . . .

In some cases, the model itself is also somewhat self-aware, and will deliberately “mutate” the weightings based upon certain parameters to mix things up a bit. News filters, for instance, will normally gravitate towards a state where certain topics predominate (news about “artificial intelligence” or “sports balls” for instance, based upon a user’s selections), but every so often, a filter will pick up something that’s three or four hops away along a topic selection graph, in order to keep the filter from being too narrow.

This, of course, also highlights one of the biggest dangers of augmenting AIs. Such filters will create an intrinsic, self selected bias in the information that gets through. If your personal bias tends to favor a certain political ideology, you get more stories (or recommendations) that favor that bias, and fewer that counter it.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG thinks the author of the OP is precisely correct for a variety of different reasons.

(Note: Grammarly suggested that PG use “precisely” instead of “exactly” in the prior sentence and was, as is often the case, correct.)

First, tools like Grammarly are just so darned helpful. Perhaps PG is alone in this shortcoming, but there are a few words, not complex, for which PG is perennially uncertain about the spelling. He’s not certain why, but he never remembers with certainty exactly whether it’s spelled one way or another that seems equally as likely. In olden times, PG would have to look these words up in a dictionary.

Then came spell-check, which did the trick, but in a mechanical-seeming fashion. Grammarly is definitely a few steps above the simple spell-check in that, over the many years PG has been using it, the program has become notably more graceful and more subtle in its sense of taste than it formerly was. “Precisely” is more graceful than “exactly” for PG’s sensibilities.

PG has also noted the changes referenced in the OP in Powerpoint, but, perhaps because Microsoft is new at this stuff, the suggestions for alternative slide layouts have generally struck PG as being pretty mundane and not much less unboring than the originals. During the past several years, PG has tended to do more hand-crafting of his Powerpoint presentations (perhaps because he doesn’t’ have to make a Powerpoint presentation 2-3 times per week as in former days). If the Grammarly experts took a shot at Powerpoint, that is something PG would pay attention to.

 

 

Bring Back Handwriting: It’s Good for Your Brain

From Medium:

Not so long ago, putting pen to paper was a fundamental feature of daily life. Journaling and diary-keeping were commonplace, and people exchanged handwritten letters with friends, loved ones, and business associates.
While longhand communication is more time-consuming and onerous, there’s evidence that people may in some cases lose out when they abandon handwriting for keyboard-generated text.

Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Since the 1980s, studies have found that “the writing cure,” which normally involves writing about one’s feelings every day for 15 to 30 minutes, can lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include everything from lower stress and fewer depression symptoms to improved immune function. And there’s evidence that handwriting may better facilitate this form of therapy than typing.

. . . .

“When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component stroke by component stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor emerita of education at the University of Washington. Hitting a fully formed letter on a keyboard is a very different sort of task — one that doesn’t involve these same brain pathways. “It’s possible that there’s not the same connection to the emotional part of the brain” when people type, as opposed to writing in longhand, Berninger says.

. . . .

A 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that brain regions associated with learning are more active when people completed a task by hand, as opposed to on a keyboard. The authors of that study say writing by hand may promote “deep encoding” of new information in ways that keyboard writing does not. And other researchers have argued that writing by hand promotes learning and cognitive development in ways keyboard writing can’t match.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG’s mother had him take a summer typing class when he was about eleven years old. (Yes, my child, this was at a time when dragons were still found on the earth and a keyboard was always permanently fixed to a typewriter.)

Later, in high school, he took another typing class (and massively aced it because of his original typing class). At the annual high school awards program, he received an award for being the fastest and most accurate typist in the school. (It was a very small school, but still.)

During his early years of college, PG charged an exorbitant price per page for typing papers for other students. His particular target market was procrastinators who hadn’t finished their papers until the evening of the day before they were due. PG would type papers at all hours of the night, for a price. (Yes, keyboards were still attached to typewriters.)

PG remembers the first time he saw a word processor, in a law office where he worked part-time during law school. It was used by the secretary for an estate planning attorney. PG learned two things – 1. Word processors could turn out perfectly-typed documents faster than anybody could type. 2. 99% of the contents of an estate plan created for Client A were the same as an estate plan for Client B, so a skilled secretary could modify 1% of the standard estate plan template in about ten minutes, then feed sheets of paper into the typewriter without worrying about mistakes. (The earliest word processors were essentially typewriters with some minimal memory hooked up inside. Sometimes, there was a dial next to the keyboard that allowed the secretary to select one of ten numbered documents that were stored in the word processor.

Not long thereafter, PG was working General Counsel for a very small tech company that also retained a large Los Angeles law firm for some matters. The law firm had a glassed-in portion of its office where its word processors and their operators sat. PG Again, these were dedicated machines that only did word processing, but they used separate monitors and keyboards. They still used impact printers, so it was very noisy in the room when multiple documents were being printed.

These dedicated word processors were quite expensive (PG remembers something like $40,000 each), so the law firm was anxious to have them in use as much as possible. The word processing room was staffed 24/7, so lawyers working late or very late could have documents created or updated at any time. PG had a couple of late-night projects and became familiar with the talents of the word processing workers. They were very fast and very accurate.

When PG opened his own law office, he sprang for a dedicated word processor for his desk and his secretary (Yes, my child, that was a common and perfectly respectable job title) used an IBM Selectric. A year or so later, PG bought a personal computer from the local Radio Shack store, moved the dedicated word processor to his secretary’s desk, and hasn’t looked back since.

That is a very long preface to a very short conclusion. PG believes that whatever areas of his brain that would otherwise be devoted to handwriting have been hijacked by keyboarding. He isn’t aware of any intermediary steps happening in his brain between his thinking of something and the words describing that something showing up on his computer screen. He doesn’t believe that handwriting holds a special place in his brain any more. Your experience may vary, but PG has typed so many more words than he has handwritten during his life, he thinks his handwriting brain has either gone completely dormant or been occupied by his typing brain.

Editor’s Toolkit

PG received a promo email for a program called Editor’s Toolkit and was intrigued by some of the features it claimed.

From An American Editor

The new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018 has a wealth of new features, but I’d like to alert you to a few of my favorites, some of which are not immediately obvious but can be enormously useful.

. . . .

If I had to pick a favorite out of all the new features, it would be this one. The previous version of Editor’s ToolKit Plus made it possible to select a heading, press a key (or click the mouse), and properly title-case the selected text. For example, a heading like this one—

THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE

or this one (Word’s default)—

The Ghost In The Machine

instantly became capitalized like this—

The Ghost in the Machine

with commonly used articles, prepositions, and conjunctions lowercased. That was great as far as it went, but why not make it possible to properly title-case all of a document’s headings without having to select them? That’s what this new feature does, for any text formatted with a heading style (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on—or your own custom heading styles).

But this feature takes things even a step further, allowing you to automatically title-case headings in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder — your choice. Now, rather than painstakingly capping and lowercasing by hand, you can have this feature do it for you, in seconds rather than hours.

But wait — there’s more, as they say on TV. This feature references a list of words so it knows what to lowercase, and you can edit that list to fit your needs. Obviously you’re going to want such words as and, the, of, and an, but what about beyond? How about through? Add or remove words to meet your own editorial style.

In addition, you can add text that you want to remain in all caps: USA, NASA, AARP, and so on.

Finally, you can even specify mixed case, with words like QuarkXPress and InDesign.

. . . .

As you almost certainly know from hard experience, sometimes Microsoft Word documents become corrupted. (The technical term for this is wonky.) The standard fix, known as a “Maggie” (for tech writer/editor Maggie Secara, who has made it widely known to colleagues, although she did not invent the technique), is to select all of a document’s text except for the final paragraph mark (which holds the corruption), copy the text, and paste the text into a new document, which should then be free of wonkiness.

That’s simple enough, but section breaks can also hold corruption, so if your document has several of those, you have to maggie each section separately. Paragraph breaks also can become corrupt, in which case they need to be replaced with shiny new ones. The AutoMaggie feature in Editor’s ToolKit Plus takes care of all this automatically.

. . . .

If you’re fond of using macros that you’ve recorded yourself or captured online, you’ll find MacroVault a truly revolutionary feature of the new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018. It was included with the previous version of the program as a way to easily access the macros you use the most, including automatically set keyboard shortcuts to run those macros. Now it takes your macro use to the next level, allowing you to run any of your macros on the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder.

Not only that, but you can specify which parts of a document you want to use — the main text, text boxes, footnotes, endnotes, headers, footers, and comments. This brings enormous power and flexibility to your macro collection.

. . . .

FileCleaner has lots of new (and useful!) cleanup options — so many, in fact, that I’ve had to put each kind of option on its own tab, one for each of the following:

Breaks, Returns, Spaces, Tabs
Dashes
Hyphenation
Formatting
Text
Punctuation
Miscellaneous

. . . .

But I think the slickest new feature in FileCleaner is the ability to save entire sets of options for future use.

Just enter a name for a set of options (for a certain client, a certain kind of manuscript, or whatever). Then click OK to clean up those options. The next time you use FileCleaner, you can activate that set of options again by clicking the drop-down arrow on the right. When you do, all of the options for that saved setting will become selected. You can save up to 20 different sets of options.

Link to the rest at An American Editor

Here is additional information from the product’s website about various modules in the program:

FileCleaner

FileCleaner cleans up common problems in electronic manuscripts, including multiple spaces, multiple returns, unnecessary tabs, improperly typed ellipses, ells used as ones, and so on. It turns double hyphens into em dashes, and hyphens between numerals into en dashes. It can also remove directly applied font formatting (such as Times 12 point) while retaining styles (such as Heading 1) and character formatting (such as italic and bold), quickly cleaning up those messy documents imported from other word processors or OCR programs.

. . . .

 ListFixer

Microsoft Word’s automatically numbered and bulleted lists are fraught with problems. They’re hard to understand, they’re unpredictable, and, worst of all, they don’t use real characters, which means they can’t be imported into typesetting programs like QuarkXPress, making them useless for real-world publishing.

ListFixer converts automatic numbers and bullets into real numbers and bullets in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder. In addition, it can be used instead of the Bullets and Numbering buttons on the Formatting toolbar, making it possible to select text and instantly apply or remove real numbers and bullets as you work.

If you like, ListFixer will apply special paragraph styles to your lists, allowing you to easily adjust indentation, line spacing, and tab alignment for list items simply by modifying the styles.

. . . .

MegaReplacer for Microsoft Word

MegaReplacer finds and replaces multiple text strings (characters, words, or phrases), text formatting (such as bold and italic), or styles in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder—automatically or with your manual approval. The perfect tool for achieving complete consistency in a manuscript. No more looking through document after document for each item on your editorial style sheet. Simply list the items and have MegaReplacer find and fix them all. Or, if you’re writing a novel and want to change a character’s name in all of your chapters, MegaReplacer will do it for you in seconds.

Link to the rest at Editorium

At Casa PG, Mrs. PG writes the books and PG formats them, using MS Word and Kindle Create at the present time.

However, Mrs. PG, like many other authors (except those who stop taking their OCD Meds while writing) is focused on creating a story, not precisely formatting her manuscripts and maintaining coding consistency throughout the document. She and PG each have Grammarly installed on their machines for basic grammar-checking, but that doesn’t do much for formatting.

Part of PG’s formatting job is slapping the manuscript’s MS Word formatting into a consistent shape prior to pouring it into Kindle Create.

Over the years, PG has created various little shortcuts to speed the process along. However, while Mrs. PG writes on a consistent basis with a few short breaks during the year and is quite prolific, her books inevitably come at intervals long enough so PG may not remember all his little formatting tweaks between books. He has made some lists, but the formatting still takes longer than PG thinks it should.

Hence, PG’s flitting and fluttering attention seized upon the Editor’s Toolkit promo email when it drifted into his inbox. He’s checked out the website and it looks interesting and located a reviewer/editor online who says it’s a useful program.

But, PG would be interested in any experiences of visitors to TPV with Editor’s Toolkit or another tool that performs the same general group of manuscript cleanup tasks.

PG gave up writing litigation briefs and law review articles a long time ago, so he doesn’t need powerful footnote/endnote, citation-checking, etc. tools, just something that can efficiently transform a creative work of fiction into something resembling an attractive book. He’s also familiar with and has used Calibre, but is looking for something a little faster, automated and more focused on actively helping him catch errors instead of just giving him access to the nuts and bolts of an ebook file.

Here’s the link for the Editor’s Toolkit product page for the latest and greatest comprehensive version of the program (you can apparently buy separate tools in the toolkit if you so desire).

Here’s another link for the review of Editor’s Toolkit at An American Editor mentioned above

Here’s a review of Editor’s Toolkit and four other similar programs for the Mac

Here’s a link to Intelligent Editing’s Perfect It Proofreading Software which seems to be designed for a somewhat different job than Editor’s Toolkit (see video below)

Here’s a bonus long, long, long list of Copy Editing Resources from Journalist’s Toolbox

 

Is Grammarly Worth It?

From The Write Life:

How do you write faster with fewer errors?

No matter how long you’ve bonded with your keyboard, it’s almost impossible to avoid errors, typos and grammatical mistakes.

. . . .

Grammarly is an AI-powered product that checks online grammar, spelling and plagiarism.

While our writers have tried a number of the best grammar checker tools, Grammarly is different because of its ability to check subject-verb agreement, article and modifier placement, punctuation and irregular verb conjugations. As an added bonus, it helps you improve your writing by offering synonym suggestions.

Creating a Grammarly account is free. A free account includes basic grammar and spelling checks. When you upgrade to Premium, you get access to advanced grammar checks, vocabulary suggestions, a plagiarism detector and style checks ⁠— which we’ll discuss in-depth in this review.

. . . .

Is Grammarly Premium worth it?

There are lots of free online proofreaders and spell checkers. Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages can even detect grammatical errors, so is Grammarly worth the bang for your buck?

We tried out a premium membership, and here’s where we found the tool to be most helpful.

Polish your writing and eliminate grammar and spelling errors

There are a lot of ways to edit text based on context, tone or purpose ⁠— and Grammarly delivers on all fronts. Once a document is scanned by the AI assistant, suggestions are organized based on spelling, grammar, punctuation and clarity.

Spell check

Like most word processors, Grammarly identifies spelling mistakes in your document. If the word it spots isn’t an error, just add it to your personal dictionary.

Grammar

View mistakes on your articles by clicking on text with a yellow or red underline. You’ll see errors on subject-verb agreement, suggested corrections and the rationale behind those suggestions. Incomplete sentences and rewrites are highlighted in yellow.

. . . .

I personally think their grammar suggestions are useful, especially for students and professionals who want to improve their writing. It’s often hard to pinpoint grammatical errors and why they’re a mistake in the first place, so I appreciate that once you download Grammarly, it provides detailed explanations.

Punctuation

We know most sentences end with a period, so when do you add commas, em dashes or colons? Not only can Grammarly suggest punctuation, it also detects inconsistencies like different styles of apostrophes or quotation marks. And it comes with an “update all” option so the entire document uses a consistent style.

. . . .

Vocabulary

Have a tendency to use certain words again and again? Grammarly underlines those commonly used words and suggests specific synonyms to improve your work.

Grammarly makes suggestions based on variety, clarity, conciseness, consistency and so much more. Most online editing tools don’t go so far as to explain the rationale behind the mistake, so that’s a Grammarly feature I really appreciate. If you’re an aspiring grammar aficionado, this tool will help you learn!

Plagiarism checker

Ever received a guest post for your blog? How do you make sure some parts weren’t plagiarized?

Grammarly’s plagiarism checker scans the article and determines whether the text has a match with any page on the web. It also underlines the plagiarized text and determines its original source, so you can make sure you’re in the clear.

. . . .

Grammarly Chrome Extension

Marketers who often send email or create social media posts will be happy to know that Grammarly has a Chrome extension. Grammarly for Chrome is pretty brilliant — it lets you use the tool while writing emails and crafting social media posts.

. . . .

Set goals for writing

Here’s a feature that sets Grammarly apart from other grammar checkers: it suggests edits based on your content’s goals and audience.

Before you start writing an article, you can specify whether you’ll target general or expert readers. Choose the level of formality, and the editor can accommodate slang for informal pieces. You can even select multiple options to describe the post’s tone, domain and intent.

. . . .

For example, if I target a general audience and opt for an informal tone, I’ll get a high performance rating when the text is readable for younger audiences.

. . . .

I’ve tried several online editors — and I have to say that Grammarly is the best I’ve used so far.

I love the detailed explanations for grammatical mistakes because it helps me improve my writing in the long run. If I’m not a master of subject-verb agreement? Not sure where I should add commas? Grammarly’s got my back.

I frequently write lifestyle articles for news sites, and it’s a hassle to switch to an online thesaurus to find synonyms of commonly used words. With Grammarly’s suggested synonyms, there’s no need to find a thesaurus, which saves me time and effort.

The plagiarism checker is also useful, especially for online editors. It can be hard to spot bits and pieces of copied text, and this is the perfect solution, without needing to purchase a separate tool for this function.

Link to the rest at The Write Life

PG has used Grammarly for almost forever, but, like more than one computer user, has fallen into the trap of using it for the same things he always has. For him, the OP highlighted some additional features he needs to use more frequently.

Free VPN Services to Stay Anonymous

PG came across an item about VPN (Virtual Private Network) services during some of his online technology meanderings. He was about to move on when he thought about authors using restaurants, libraries or other places with public wifi for their writing locations.

The same concerns for those sorts of settings would also apply to those who live in apartment buildings or complexes and use wifi there. Those who use wifi in single-family homes in a traditional US neighborhood will likely be able to locate a few of their neighbors’ wifi nodes as well.

If you can “see” others’ wifi router names, they can likely “see” yours as well.

First, some VPN basics from Learning Hub:

Over the past three years, a record 73 percent of all U.S. businesses have had [their] data breached – 67 percent globally.

Some of these breaches – like Equifax, Target, PlayStation Network, and others – have exposed the data of hundreds of millions of customers.

Even more unfortunate is that an estimated 93 percent of these breaches could have been avoided by putting data security fundamentals at the forefront, according to an analysis by Online Trust Alliance (OTA).

. . . .

One of the easiest and most popular ways to secure both you and your customers’ data is through something called a virtual private network, or a VPN.

. . . .

A VPN masks your IP address to prevent outside parties from obtaining your physical location and identifying your internet provider. They can be used in personal browsers, business endpoints, and any other device you can think of.

VPNs protect business users anywhere – even in coffee shops and other locations that are renowned for having unsecured internet connections. A VPN can also facilitate the secure transfer of information across networks, both public and private.

. . . .

For an internet connection to work, there needs to be a mutual transfer of information from your device, to an internet service provider, to the internet itself, and back. This process is constantly in motion.

Users without a VPN run the risk of having personal data exploited by hackers, internet service providers, and even government surveillance agencies. This risk is multiplied when placing trust in unsecured internet connections.

. . . .

Link to the rest at Learning Hub

The Learning Hub lists Ten Free VPN providers with descriptions of each.

Here are a few ways you can use a VPN that you might not have thought about from ReadWrite:

 

2. Access better deals on travel.

Travel sites don’t treat all traffic equally. You could see different prices on your smartphone, your tablet, and your computer for the same flights and hotel rooms. The game of travel savings gets frustrating quickly, but through a VPN, you can mask your intentions from travel sites and gain access to unbiased pricing.

Use your VPN to spoof different locations and see how prices change. The same flight from Dallas to New York might cost far less if the airline website believes the person searching lives in Australia. Over time, VPN travel searches could save your business thousands.

. . . .

4. Protect devices on public Wi-Fi.

Hackers sit on public Wi-Fi to scour data from unsuspecting users. Business users regularly access strange Wi-Fi locations to do their work, which makes them common targets for information thieves. If you want to keep your company’s information safe, don’t let employees use public Wi-Fi without protection.

Make it easy for your employees to use a VPN to create a more secure connection before using public Wi-Fi. Even if hackers manage to view their activity, they won’t be able to learn anything of value or steal passwords. With a VPN on your side, your employees won’t have to wait until they get back to the hotel to finish working.

. . . .

6. Prevent websites from gathering your information.

Do you spend a lot of time on your competitors’ pages? Are you worried that websites are collecting your data and selling it to third parties?

No matter where you browse, a VPN can mask your location from websites and prevent outside parties from collecting data that identifies you or your company. Personal VPN users lean on this function to prevent sites like Amazon and Facebook from tracking them across the web. By hiding behind a VPN, you can spy on your competition as much as you want, and no one will ever know.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

Typically, when you sign up for a VPN, it will provide you an app or a browser link to access the VPN.

PG has a VPN app sitting on his computer’s desktop. Just like any other app or program, when PG wants to turn on his VPN, he clicks on the link and is connected within a few seconds.

PG uses Nord VPN (but has no relationship with the company other than as a plain-vanilla customer). He has a paid account at the company’s lowest-cost level.

When he clicks a desktop icon to start the VPN, it opens and automatically connects to one of thousands of Nord nodes in the US (if PG is in the US) after quickly locating the one that’s providing the best speeds when PG signs on.

If PG wants to connect through a VPN note located in a different country, the Nord app lets him pick from a list or click on a map to choose. PG just clicked on Mexico and was connected to a VPN server in that country in less than 10 seconds.

The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Template is an ambiguous term in writing. It can refer to a writer’s personal style sheet used when developing a story, tools for brainstorming, or worksheets to figure out various plot and story arcs. However, it can also refer to an exacting form that promises the perfect story by following blindly along.

When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.

. . . .

Cooking is a forgiving skill. If the recipe calls for half a cup of tomatoes and you like tomatoes and put in a whole cup, odds are the meal still turns out yummy. But baking is hardcore. Add too much salt and your dough fails. Whip cream too long and it turns to grainy mush.

Writing is not dissimilar. Great stories contain similar elements, but how we mix them results in completely different tales. When we treat writing like an exact science, with every beat measured to the page and every major turning point exactly the same, the story suffers.

Instead of a delicious mental meal, we get generic packaged cookies. They might not be terrible, but they don’t make you want to eat more than one, and they taste like dozens of other bland, generic cookies on the shelf.

. . . .

The danger of writing templates is that instead of finding the right details for the story we’re trying to tell, we’re looking for details that fit a particular template at a particular time. We think, “This is when something has to die,” and twist ourselves into knots forcing it in. Or we think we need an emotional character arc when no arc is needed. We add mentor characters who have no business in the story, and rely on cliched characters to fill roles a checklist tells us we need.

When we’re cooking a novel, those literary ingredients are mixed to flavor the story in the way we want to tell it. But when we’re baking with a template, we’re adding ingredients exactly as the recipe states, even if the story suffers for it. Templates far too often force us to bake a cake when we really want to make a scone.

When you understand how to tell a compelling story, you know what aspects of storytelling to use to create the desired emotional response from your readers. You pick and choose the details, beats, and turning points that serve your story, and ignore the aspects that don’t.

. . . .
The difference between story structure and a writing template is this:

  • Structure uses proven story constructions that humans have used since stories began.
  • Templates suggest the only way to write a novel is to follow an exact plan to the letter.

Using a structure that suits your personal storytelling style to help keep you focused and give you a foundation on which to build a story is a good thing. It’s a tool, nothing more.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

The Mouse

PG discovered ergonomic keyboards and ergonomic mice a long time ago.

Given how many hours he has spent and continues to spend at his computer, his hands and wrists are grateful for those discoveries.

PG has used the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard for a very long time. Although he would still like to combine the refined key clicks of the legendary Northgate OmniKey Keyboard of the distant past with the Microsoft layout, he’ll live with the less assertive feel of the MS keyboard for now.

 

PG is pretty much in love with everything he’s purchased from Anker. He used now-discontinued Logitech Performance MX wireless mouse and the Logitech MX Ergo Wireless Trackball Mouse, but his initial contact with an Anker mouse was love at first touch.

He started with the original (he thinks) Anker vertical mouse and still keeps a couple of his older ones handy as backups. However, when he tried the more recent updated version of the Anker Ergonomic Mouse, he liked the somewhat more palm-filling feel even more.

In addition to feeling better (at least for PG), PG’s keyboard and mouse choices are also made to avoid carpal tunnel problems, which PG most definitely prefers not to experience.

Although he thinks he occupies the best of all present keyboard and mouse worlds, PG would be interested in the experiences of visitors to TPV with various keyboards and mice and their current favorites.

 

Science Just Settled One of Type Design’s Oldest Debates

From Fast Company:

Ever since the invention of movable type, the debate has raged: Are two spaces after a period better than one? The French said “Non!” from the beginning, using one space only. The British said “Aye!” and established their own two-space rule.

Now, three psychology researchers at Skidmore College are settling the debate with a study published in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. Their study demonstrates that using two spaces makes reading “smoother.” In other words, your eyes spend a few milliseconds less on a period if it’s followed by two spaces rather than one. But before all you two-spacers out there start gloating like the annoying pestiferous bunch you are, here’s the caveat: The study also shows that it doesn’t actually make overall reading faster or your comprehension any better–unless you are a two-spacer to begin with.

The war of sentence spacing has been a long and tortuous one. Back in the 18th century, some printers used French-style single-spaced sentences and others the English double-space rule. It wasn’t until the mass printing era after World War II that most American books turned to single-spaced sentences to reduce costs and speed up production. The 1941 IBM Executive typewriter also introduced proportional spacing–which meant that each letter took only the horizontal space it needed instead of being monospaced. Things looked much better that way when using a typewriter, since it effectively eliminated the need for two spaces after every period. Today, computers and proportional fonts make the two-space rule absolutely useless–even while recalcitrant two-spacers continue to write eye-twitching emails using the English rule, claiming the rest of us rational people are wrong.

. . . .

The results are pretty conclusive: Reading speed wasn’t slowed down with either single or double space after a period. The two-spacers experienced a marginal speed improvement while reading double-spaced sentences.  Reading and comprehension was completely unaffected no matter the spacing rule they used. The paper argues, however, that readers spend “fewer milliseconds” looking at periods when there are two spaces after them, which they claim makes for a “smoother” reading experience. On the other hand, when they added an extra space after a comma, the reading speed diminished across the board.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

The ghosts of Mr. Schrupp’s high school typing class (hands-down, the most useful class PG ever took in high school, college or law school) still haunt PG’s relationship with the space bar.

Once in a while, he can master his thumb long enough to generate a single space after a period, but thumbs have a mind of their own and he’s back to two spaces a couple of lines later.

He hasn’t paid attention to what Word Autocorrect does with periods preceded by two spaces lately, so he may be either fashion-forward or out-of-date with respect to most of his punctuation.

The Thesaurus Is Good, Valuable, Commendable, Superb, Actually

From The Outline:

As reference books go, the thesaurus, these days, is one step up in respectability from the rhyming dictionary. To use one is to betray something embarrassing about yourself. To be accused of using one is to be accused both of pretentiousness and of using words whose meaning you don’t really know. (For instance: I originally wrote “accused of malapropism” in that previous sentence, but then checked the dictionary and discovered this refers to mistakes based on sound.) One goes to the thesaurus to find, as they say, a “ten-dollar word.”

Perhaps the best example of this sort of condemnation comes from Simon Winchester, the author of a book about the Oxford English Dictionary, who once wrote in The Atlantic that Roget’s Thesaurus “should be roundly condemned as a crucial part of the engine work that has transported us to our current state of linguistic and intellectual mediocrity” and concludes that it provides “quick and easy solutions for the making of the middlebrow, the mindless, and the mundane.” Or, by way of a more recent (and certainly more mild) example, from The Morning News’s “Tournament of Books”: “Milkman seems to be overly occupied with its own style, its difference, and its reliance on a thesaurus…to notice that the poetry to justify that stylistic occupation is simply absent.”

. . . .

As originally conceived, Roget’s Thesaurus was a slightly different sort of book than the kind of online thesaurus one might consult today. It was instead a fairly rigorous if idiosyncratic taxonomy of language. And it was not a book of synonyms, such books already existed. Synonyms, in terms of words that can be completely substituted for each other, are fairly rare. “Inferiority,” “minority,” and “subordinacy” might all be related words, but they carry slightly different meanings. “Sunset,” “dusk,” and “twilight” all encompass roughly the same time of day, but each has a different tone. So Roget called his book a “thesaurus,” or treasury. He was showcasing and organizing language, not simply providing lists of matching words.

. . . .

In Winchester’s article, he notes that one student changed “his earthly fingers” into “his chthonic digits,” which I’d agree is pretty dreadful. But that error is easily corrected, and that student presumably gained the word “chthonic,” which if nothing else is a fun word to know. Just look at it there, announcing itself with an improbable collection of consonants. And if a thesaurus can be a trap for the unwary, who don’t realize the next step after browsing a collection of words is to go look those words up in a dictionary, this, again, seems like a problem with a one-time solution.

But the alternate problem is that people are too afraid to test new words — even words that are correct, but obscure — because they are afraid of seeming foolish and they either stay within the bounds of a safe vocabulary or (if they are a certain business-managerial type) cope by inventing hideous new words. Fear of the thesaurus has unleashed horrors a Chthonic god could only dream of, like synergy and incentivize.

This seems to me to be a worse problem, not only because people do learn by making mistakes, but because the sphere of “correct,” accessible English will only get smaller and smaller.

. . . .

The decline of the thesaurus is similar to the kind of loss that you experience when you visit a digital resource rather than the library. Browsing the stacks, you are struck with the multitude of books within a particular category. You go looking for one thing and come out with the book you didn’t know you were looking for. Much like a thesaurus, somebody often has to teach you how to use the classification system in the library for you to get the most out of browsing there. But what you get out of browsing really is something qualitatively different than you get from searching a library catalog.

Link to the rest at The Outline

9 Lesser-Known Word Features

From TheFormTool:

One thing that makes Word stand out is its simplicity. The ability to just open a tab and start writing like you would in a book is impressive. It needs no training. But this ease of use is often overlooked by the professional text-editing market. When it comes to more complex tasks (e.g. handling data, tables and equations), users tend to drift towards other programs. They don’t always realize how versatile MS Word is.

From 2007 to 2016, Microsoft made Word appreciably more productive and easier to use with every update. New features were constantly added. In some cases, features that people thought to be new were there before.

. . . .

1. Customization

Whatever industry you work in, you can set Word preferences to reflect the output you need. For example, you can add exceptions to the dictionary so they don’t show as typos every time you write them. You can alter the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) so it displays the commands you feel are most handy. That way, you don’t have to dig around for the tools you need (e.g. quick print, email, draw table).

The good thing about customization is that you can turn it off and on. When you need to write a creative text, for instance, you can switch off auto-correct to allow a bit more artistic license. For formal writing, you can make it stricter again.

. . . .

3. Distraction-Free Reading and Editing

The working area of Microsoft Word is customizable. You can create a clean, uncluttered writing environment by collapsing the ribbon. If you want, you can make the whole screen a writing area by switching to “Web Layout”. The view becomes even cleaner in “Read Mode”, with an extra option to hide the reading toolbar if wanted.

. . . .

5. Writing Style and Readability

As well as technical mistakes in spelling and grammar, Word also highlights other possible errors in writing style. For instance, it can show you instances of the passive voice, which is undesirable in excess. It’ll help you avoid wordiness and jargon, too, among many other things. You can even choose whether to favor the Oxford comma.

MS Word also grades your text with a Flesch readability score. This will penalize you for overly long sentences or too many long words. Careful writers often aim for a Flesch rating of 60 or more, though this is not always realistic with technical texts.

. . . .

8. Multiple Clipboard Items

Office work involves a lot of copying, cutting and pasting, which are all standard Word features. However, the clipboard aspect of these features is less well-known. Many people return to the same spot over and over to copy text, and they often lose it when they highlight another section. The Word clipboard holds up to 24 selections for use in different parts of the document.

Link to the rest at TheFormTool

Computer Stories: A.I. Is Beginning to Assist Novelists

From The New York Times:

Robin Sloan has a collaborator on his new novel: a computer.

The idea that a novelist is someone struggling alone in a room, equipped with nothing more than determination and inspiration, could soon be obsolete. Mr. Sloan is writing his book with the help of home-brewed software that finishes his sentences with the push of a tab key.

It’s probably too early to add “novelist” to the long list of jobs that artificial intelligence will eliminate. But if you watch Mr. Sloan at work, it is quickly clear that programming is on the verge of redefining creativity.

. . . .

Mr. Sloan, who won acclaim for his debut, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” composes by writing snippets of text, which he sends to himself as messages and then works over into longer passages. His new novel, which is still untitled, is set in a near-future California where nature is resurgent. The other day, the writer made this note: “The bison are back. Herds 50 miles long.”

In his cluttered man-cave of an office in an industrial park here, he is now expanding this slender notion. He writes: The bison are gathered around the canyon. … What comes next? He hits tab. The computer makes a noise like “pock,” analyzes the last few sentences, and adds the phrase “by the bare sky.”

. . . .

Mr. Sloan likes it. “That’s kind of fantastic,” he said. “Would I have written ‘bare sky’ by myself? Maybe, maybe not.”

He moves on: The bison have been traveling for two years back and forth. … Tab, pock. The computer suggests between the main range of the city.

“That wasn’t what I was thinking at all, but it’s interesting,” the writer said. “The lovely language just pops out and I go, ‘Yes.’ ”

. . . .

His software is not labeled anything as grand as artificial intelligence. It’s machine learning, facilitating and extending his own words, his own imagination. At one level, it merely helps him do what fledgling writers have always done — immerse themselves in the works of those they want to emulate. Hunter Thompson, for instance, strived to write in the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald, so he retyped “The Great Gatsby” several times as a shortcut to that objective.

. . . .

A quarter-century ago, an electronic surveillance consultant named Scott French used a supercharged Mac to imitate Jacqueline Susann’s sex-drenched tales. His approach was different from Mr. Sloan’s. Mr. French wrote thousands of computer-coded rules suggesting how certain character types derived from Ms. Susann’s works might plausibly interact.

. . . .

[T]he Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce company, said in January that its software for the first time outperformed humans on a global reading comprehension test. If the machines can read, then they can write.

Mr. Sloan wanted to see for himself. He acquired from the Internet Archive a database of texts: issues of Galaxy and If, two popular science fiction magazines in the 1950s and ’60s. After trial and error, the program came up with a sentence that impressed him: “The slow-sweeping tug moved across the emerald harbor.”

“It was a line that made you say, ‘Tell me more,’” Mr. Sloan said.

Those original magazines were too limiting, however, full of clichés and stereotypes. So Mr. Sloan augmented the pool with what he calls “The California Corpus,” which includes the digital text of novels by John Steinbeck, Dashiell Hammett, Joan Didion, Philip K. Dick and others; Johnny Cash’s poems; Silicon Valley oral histories; old Wired articles; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Bulletin; and more. “It’s growing and changing all the time,” he said.

. . . .

He’s restricting the A.I. writing in the novel to an A.I. computer that is a significant character, which means the majority of the story will be his own inspiration. But while he has no urge to commercialize the software, he is intrigued by the possibilities. Megasellers like John Grisham and Stephen King could relatively easily market programs that used their many published works to assist fans in producing authorized imitations.

. . . .

As for the more distant prospects, another San Francisco Bay Area science fiction writer long ago anticipated a time when novelists would turn over the composing to computerized “wordmills.” In Fritz Leiber’s “The Silver Eggheads,” published in 1961, the human “novelists” spend their time polishing the machines and their reputations. When they try to rebel and crush the wordmills, they find they have forgotten how to write.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Computer-Assisted Authoring Tools Help to Create Complex Interactive Narratives

From Phys.org:

Visitors to interactive virtual worlds want the ability to significantly affect the outcome of a story, but authoring these digital experiences is extremely complex. A new platform developed by Disney Research will help fulfill the medium’s promise by automating some aspects of the authoring process.

Disney Research has developed a new design paradigm called interactive behavior trees (IBTs), a graphical modeling language that accommodates multiple story arcs. They also have created authoring tools that can automatically detect and resolve narrative inconsistencies that arise as these various story arcs play out or when users interact in unexpected ways.

. . . .

“We want interactive narratives to be an immersive experience in which users can influence the action or even create a storyline, but the complexity of the authoring task has worked against our ambitions,” said Mubbasir Kapadia, who recently left Disney Research to join Rutgers University as an assistant professor of computer science. “Our method of modeling multiple story arcs and resolving conflicts in the storylines makes it feasible to author interactive experiences that are free form, rather than constricted.”

Computer games, for instance, often include isolated interactive segments but all players ultimately experience the same plot. In other cases, interactive narratives may allow different outcomes, but writing these experiences is so complex that the user is given only limited choices and can alter the story only at certain key points.

IBTs address these narrative shortcomings. Like behavior trees, a modeling language used by software engineers to keep track of the mind-boggling number of requirements for large-scale software systems, IBTs help the authors of interactive narratives to spin multiple stories while providing users with great freedom to interact. The hierarchical IBT structure enables each story arc to be defined as its own subtree; at the same time, user interactions are monitored independently, as are those interactions that trigger new story arcs.

“With this structure, increased user interaction does not make the author’s task more complex,” Kapadia said, “so we can now imagine ways of giving the user more freedom to interact freely with the virtual world.”

. . . .

For instance, in a narrative involving two bears at play, if one of the bears lacks the beach ball he was supposed to throw to the other, the tool will detect the inconsistency and offer a narrative fix, such as allowing the bear to ask the user for the ball, or to buy a ball from a vendor with money from a treasure chest.

Link to the rest at Phys.org

This is The Best Work Keyboard

From Co-op:

After much debate, our readers chose the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 as their favorite work keyboard. This was a really tight contest with each entry netting over 15% of the vote. In fact, each of the runner-ups are worth checking out.

. . . .

Here’s why our readers picked Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000:

. . . .

I have a couple of MS Ergo 4000s sitting on a shelf at home, because I’ve got 3 in use (2x at Home, and 1 at work) and they’re fantastic, until they get grungy. My only complaint is that they are virtually impossible to clean right, so when they get gross, just toss it and deploy another.

I am an *extremely* heavy user, and I can get 2+ years out of one. I can type at speed, and for a membrane, they are great. If MS could get off their ass and make a high-end version with mechanical (replaceable?) switches, it would be damn near perfect. Also, if you have large hands, it’s wayyyyyyy more comfortable than many other more compact ergos. -ellomdian

Link to the rest at Co-op

PG has been typing for a long time.

His first experiences with a variety of keyboards came when all proper keyboards had their keys lined up in perfectly straight rows.

PG’s mother was a very fast typist, even on the ancient manual typewriter that was the only one available when PG was but a sprout. She provided excellent advice to him on a variety of topics, but one of her best pieces of advice was that he should take a typing course in high school.

That typing course introduced him to Smith-Corona electric typewriters, which were a definite speed improvement, particularly since PG could hit a key for a carriage return instead of lifting his hands from the keyboard and slapping a lever to physically move the carriage to the left so he could start a new line.

While PG was still in high school, he had his first experience with an IBM Selectric, which was a big step up from the Smith-Corona in speed and in the visual appeal of the finished product. The Correcting Selectric was even better. It removed the concern about typos which invariably slowed typing.  You could fix the typos very quickly and easily and Whiteout was banished forever.

With the advent of personal computers, PG quickly became a keyboard snob.  His first upgrade was Northgate keyboard, which add a wonderful mechanical “clicky” feel to it. He used various Northgate keyboards for several years before trying out an early Microsoft ergonomic keyboard.

He’s used Microsoft keyboards ever since. He is on MS Ergo keyboard number five or six at this point.

Bullet Journaling

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bullet journaling is an organizing strategy developed several years ago by Mr. Carroll [Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method] that has attracted something of a cult following. It involves writing out tasks and daily events by hand, which helps you think about whether they’re worth doing. A table of contents or index in the front of a bullet journal allows you to include everything from exercise logs to project plans and to find notes quickly. There are different types of “bullets” for events and tasks, and tasks that aren’t completed in one daily log are moved onto the next day’s roster.

All of this can read like “stereo instructions,” as Mr. Carroll jokes. (“When you notice a Master Task is spawning a lot of Subtasks, it can indicate that this Task is growing into a project.”) Yet the point is to de-clutter your mind and make life more organized than it would be with mere to-do lists.

Bullet journaling is a serious system that takes itself a touch too seriously. Mr. Carroll notes that detailing how you spend your time helps you remember that life includes more than daily drudgery: Drinks with old friends, dinners out with spouses and other pleasures are more common than we recall at first. But it’s hard not to laugh when, as an example of the range of bullet journaling, Mr. Carroll tells of a guy who used his journal entries to figure out why things didn’t work out with his girlfriend. (She was distant, apparently.)

A common criticism of bullet journaling is that, with its emphasis on hand-written entries, the journals themselves can begin to look like adult coloring books, and a cursory search online reveals devotees who have spent hours curling bubbly letters and other adornments. What a waste of time for a method aimed at making the most of your time! Credit to Mr. Carroll for assuring his readers that you don’t have to be an artist to reap the benefits of bullet journaling.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG is engaged in an attempt to become more efficient with his time after realizing that some parts of his working day are extremely efficient, but other parts are inefficient.

He’s pretty certain that he’s not going to write anything down on paper because one of his inefficiencies is not processing the paper which enters his life with any pretense of efficiency. He believes he needs less paper, not more.

A bit of online research disclosed that (surprise!) there are a lot of Bullet Journal apps. However, at the moment, PG is deapping his phone and tablet. His winnowing method is very simple – if he doesn’t immediately know what an app is used for by looking at its icon, he’s not going to use it and it’s going into the bitbucket.

However, during his brief look at bullet journaling, PG discovered a couple of articles about using Evernote for bullet journaling (here and here).

Since PG does use Evernote on a regular basis and has done so since the program was in beta, he’s going to go that route.

He thinks.

At present.