How To Use Dictation For A Healthier Writing Life

From The Creative Penn:

The word ‘writing’ has become associated with hitting keys on a keyboard to make letters appear on a screen or inscribing by hand onto paper.

But the end result is a mode of communication from one brain to another through the medium of words. Those words can be generated by your voice, just as people can ‘read’ by listening to an audiobook.

Famous authors who have written with dictation include diverse creatives John Milton (Paradise Lost), Dan Brown, Henry James, Barbara Cartland and Winston Churchill. When Terry Pratchett, fantasy author of the Discworld series, developed Alzheimer’s Disease, he found he couldn’t write anymore, so he moved to dictation in his final years.

. . . .

So, why dictate?

(1) Health reasons

You can dictate standing up or while walking, or lying in bed with injuries, or if pain stops you typing.

I started using dictation when I had RSI and used it to write the first drafts of Destroyer of Worlds and also Map of Shadows, plus some chapters for this book, which I dictated while walking along the canal towpath.

Dictation can help alleviate or prevent pain right now, but learning how to write with dictation can also future-proof your living as a writer in case of problems later.

(2) Writing speed and stamina

Dictation is faster at getting words on the page than typing, especially if you are not self-censoring.

I’ve made it up to around 5000 words per hour with dictation, while I only manage around 1500 words per hour typing.

There is a trade-off with ‘finished’ words as you will have to at least lightly edit to correct transcription issues, but if you want to get that first draft done faster, then dictation can be the most effective way.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

During his professional career, PG has dictated approximately a trillion letters and documents (give or take), but he’s never been able to comfortably dictate anything remotely creative. Of course, while he was doing this, he usually had a couple of very intelligent secretaries/assistants/paralegals who turned is spoken words into something that wouldn’t get him disbarred. Alas, those valuable people have turned to more remunerative and fulfilling pastimes when PG moved into executive roles in some large organizations which occupied him for quite a few years..

However, Joanna has given him incentive to try dictation again. We’ll see how it goes.

Don’t like the way you write? An artificial intelligence app promises to polish your prose

From Quartz:

I am a professional writer, but I often hate my writing. I wish it was more concise and powerful. And it certainly doesn’t read as smoothly as the work of my literary heroes. Recently, I began to wonder: Could a software program make me better at my job?

The Hemingway App, an online writing editor created in 2013 by brothers Adam and Ben Long, promises to do just that. “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear,” the site claims, so that “your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.” If you listen to the app’s advice, it will rid your writing of run-on sentences, needless adverbs, passive voice, and opaque words. There’s no guarantee you’ll crank out the next Farewell to Arms—but the goal is to get you closer to Ernest Hemingway’s clear, minimalist style.

The app uses a crude artificial intelligence that recognizes writing problems through natural language processing. When you copy and paste your text into the Hemingway Editor, it highlights sentences with possible issues in different colors and offers suggested changes. For example, if I write, “This Editor has been used since around 2013,” the words “been used” are highlighted green because I am using the passive voice.

Most of the recommendations offered by the Hemingway App are based on research into readability—that is, how easy it is to understand a given text.

. . . .

I also ignored some of the app’s suggestions. A few were just nonsensical. It suggested I replace the word “demonstrate” with simpler synonyms “prove” or “show,” but I was talking about people going to airports to protest. I rejected other suggestions for stylistic reasons. The app wanted me to remove “really” from the sentence “As it turns out, protest size really does matter.” But I wanted to keep the conversational tone.

In the end, I was able to bring the grade level of my story down from 13 to nine, and shed 34 words along the way. Then I gave the updated version to Kira Bindrim—a Quartz editor who’d edited the original story.

“I think my gut reaction is to prefer the original,” Bindrim wrote to me after reading the Hemingway version.

Link to the rest at Quartz

PG wonders if there’s an app that really works for professional authors.

PG also suggests that Hemingway might crash if he fed some typical legal documents into it.

Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories

From The New York Times:

A pencil is a little wonder-wand: a stick of wood that traces the tiniest motions of your hand as it moves across a surface. I am using one now, making weird little loops and slashes to write these words. As a tool, it is admirably sensitive. The lines it makes can be fat or thin, screams or whispers, blocks of concrete or blades of grass, all depending on changes of pressure so subtle that we would hardly notice them in any other context. (The difference in force between a bold line and nothing at all would hardly tip a domino.) And while a pencil is sophisticated enough to track every gradation of the human hand, it is also simple enough for a toddler to use.

Such radical simplicity is surprisingly complicated to produce. Since 1889, the General Pencil Company has been converting huge quantities of raw materials (wax, paint, cedar planks, graphite) into products you can find, neatly boxed and labeled, in art and office-supply stores across the nation: watercolor pencils, editing pencils, sticks of charcoal, pastel chalks. Even as other factories have chased higher profit margins overseas, General Pencil has stayed put, cranking out thousands upon thousands of writing instruments in the middle of Jersey City.

. . . .

Other parts of the factory are eruptions of color. Red pencils wait, in orderly grids, to be dipped into bright blue paint. A worker named Maria matches the color of her shirt and nail polish to the shade of the pastel cores being manufactured each week. One of the company’s signature products, white pastels, have to be made in a dedicated machine, separated from every other color. At the tipping machine, a whirlpool of pink erasers twists, supervised patiently by a woman wearing a bindi.

. . . .

In an era of infinite screens, the humble pencil feels revolutionarily direct: It does exactly what it does, when it does it, right in front of you. Pencils eschew digital jujitsu. They are pure analog, absolute presence. They help to rescue us from oblivion. Think of how many of our finest motions disappear, untracked — how many eye blinks and toe twitches and secret glances vanish into nothing. And yet when you hold a pencil, your quietest little hand-dances are mapped exactly, from the loops and slashes to the final dot at the very end of a sentence.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG recommends you go to the OP to see wonderful photos of industrial age machinery with contrasting bright colors of colored pencils.

If you are having problems accessing the story, here’s PG’s tip for the day for those of you using a Chrome browser: Right Click on the NYT link above, then choose the third item from the top in the drop-down menu – “Open link in incognito window” and you may find success.

Better Writing Begins with the Right Tools

From JSTOR Daily:

I have a theory that for writers, digital writing tools are just as influential as the mason’s choice of a particular compass or square.

Historian Lon Shelby wrote extensively about the building practices of the medieval masons behind the creation of such cathedrals as Chartres, iconic buildings that owe their creation and execution to the specific tools masons adopted for measurement and layout. “[U]ntil the history of their tools is adequately described,” Shelby writes, “the achievements of medieval masons cannot be properly evaluted from a technological point of view.” Shelby locates the geometry of these iconic buildings in the specific types of compass and square that masons had access to in the medieval era.

Is it really so different for current-day scribes? It’s not hard to goad writers into drawing virtual blood by asking them to expound on the relative merits of Ulysses and Bear, Markdown and rich text, or Microsoft Word vs Google Docs. And who isn’t a writer these days? From academics and students to corporate bloggers and analysts, there are few professionals who don’t spend at least some of their time cranking out paragraphs. Email alone ensures that most of us distribute more words per day than our grandparents might have sent forth in a year.

For all the time we spend cranking out words at a keyboard, however, we rarely stop to ask how all that keyboard time affects the way we write and communicate. It’s not just the keyboard that shapes our prose, of course; far more influential is the software in which we do our writing. That’s why it pays to think about what we want from our writing tools: not just as individual writers and communicators, but as readers and human beings with a stake in the ongoing evolution of our written culture.

The impact of our writing environment is on my mind because my writing process has just been transformed by Scrivener, an writing application I purchased several years ago but have only begun to properly use. I am a bit of a software junkie, so there’s nothing unusual about me trying out a new app as part of my endless quest for productivity perfection, or returning to an app I’ve tinkered with in order to take it for a more dedicated spin. I regularly cycle through new email clients, task managers, note-taking applications, data analysis tools, and image editors.

. . . .

If you’ve been using the same writing software for years and years, as I have, it’s easy to stop thinking about the impact your tools have on the day-to-day experience of writing. For the past decade, almost all my short-form writing has been drafted in Evernote, and for twenty-five years, all my long-form writing has taken place in Microsoft Word. I’m not giving up either of those tools, but spending the past month writing in Scrivener has reminded me that new tools enable new thoughts and new ways of working.

Because Scrivener makes it so easy to slice up and reorganize pieces of a document, it profoundly changes the process of writing and revision, and the balance between them.

. . . .

Matthew Kirchenbaum has written an entire book on the impact of word processing, the seeds of which appear in his article on how it transformed the work of John Updike:

Like many others [Updike] was at first captivated by the strange new device, declaring it “dazzling” more than once. Evidence of writers test driving their first word processor is a minor genre in their personal papers. One of the best known examples comes from Russell Banks when he was writing the novel that became Affliction: “STILL VERY MUCH LEARNING TO THINK ON THIS MACHINE,” he wrote in all caps at the beginning of a document that is a kind of stream-of-consciousness exploration of its capabilities. “STRANGE EXPERIENCE, UNFAMILIAR MIXTURE OF SPEED AND SLOWDOWN.” A similar page by Salman Rushdie survives in his collection at Emory University. Stephen King, meanwhile, wrote a short story, “The Word Processor,” which was published in Playboy and stands as the first extended fictional treatment of the technology.

The kinds of praise that many writers, students, and writing teachers lavished on the emergent technology of word processing points to the very particular ways it changed the practice of writing. In an anecdotal assessment of her college students’ use of word processing in her English, Dawn Rodrigues writes that

I observed various ways in which the computer was affecting my students’ progress. First of all, the computer seemed to help reduce the students’ writing apprehension. Students who at the beginning of the semester wrote (in early journal entries) of being nervous about writing showed no anxiety at all as the course progressed. For instance, one student who couldn’t even think of an idea for a journal entry on the second day of class blossomed when he began writing on the computer. He explained in his journal that he wasn’t afraid to express himself because he knew that he could immediately delete any sentences which embarrassed him. Another student said that he liked writing with computers because he forgot to worry about what he was saying. He just enjoyed seeing the words appear.

. . . .

I’m no stranger to doing large-scale edits in Word; there was lots of big-picture rearranging involved in writing my dissertation, and later, in writing my series of ebooks. But it was a painful process, because Word (like most word processors and text editors) is set up as if the complete article (or essay, or report, or book) is the fundamental unit of work. Sure, you can move stuff around by cutting and pasting, but you have very limited options for keeping the overall structure of your work in mind as you do. Word is fundamentally a tool designed to facilitate the modest changes described by Collier.

Scrivener, on the other hand, is set up to facilitate what Dave and Russell refer to as “global revision.” It encourages writers to slice their work up into the smallest viable units: not just chapters or even sections, but individual scenes, quotes or arguments. (To write this article in Scrivener, I imported each of the quotes you read above as individual documents, so that I could pull them in and rearrange them at will.) When you look at your work through the constant lens of its component parts, it’s much easier to undertake ambitious restructuring—not just technically easier, but conceptually easier, because you can see the parts that make up the whole.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

PG still misses WordPerfect.

An Exemplary Mouse

PG just wore out a lovely mouse.

Fortunately, he had a spare so his online life could continue without tears.

Animal cruelty had nothing to do with this. It was the other kind of mouse, the one his hand grasps many times during a day without the conscious intervention of his mind. PG suspects that, over many years of computing, his brain has developed a lobe devoted entirely to sliding his right hand around his desk in precise patterns.

It would be unfair to call PG a mouse connoisseur. He’s not at all snobbish about his mice. French designs and limited edition mice hold no attraction for him.

He is, however, persnickety about his mice. Long ago, he learned he could work faster and longer at a computer if he used something other than the cheapo mouse that arrived in the same box as as a new computer. He is similarly particular about his keyboards.

PG doesn’t regard his high finger and palm standards as moral failings. Collecting Italian sports cars is far more expensive.

For a long time, PG was partial to a couple of different Logitech mice and used each until his palm wore off the silkscreened company logos and they stopped working.

A couple of years ago, PG had a wrist problem that required a wrap. Unfortunately, it was his mouse wrist and the wrap made it difficult to use his mouse.

A family member suggested an ergonomic mouse made by a company called Anker. PG had tried a couple of ergonomic mice in past years and found them both overly expensive and, while comfortable, not terribly good at being mice. Evidently the manufacturers had put all their money into the cases and scrimped on the quality of the inner works.

Back to Anker. Here’s a photo:

Here’s a photo of a hand belonging to an unidentified human holding the mouse:

.

PG was not instantly adept with this mouse, but his wrist felt better and, over the course of a couple hours, using the mouse became automatic (perhaps his large brain lobe had something to do with that). And the mouse was comfortable. In a few days, the wrap went away but the mouse stayed.

Tweaking photos often requires much more precise mouse control than dealing with documents, so PG used his prior mouse with Photoshop and Lightroom for a few weeks, but the Anker quickly came to dominate his right hand for all purposes.

Did PG mention that this mouse doesn’t cost a lot of money?

PG had looked at ergonomic mice prior to learning about the Anker and typically prices ranged from $75-150 on Amazon. The Anker mouse currently sells for $19.99.

PG keeps a spare mouse as a backup (although this is the first of the Ankers to wear out) plus another in the computer bag he takes on trips, so the demise of his original Anker mouse (with the logo mostly worn off) has not slowed down PG a bit (although he has, of course, been distracted enough to write this post).

Here’s a link to PG’s favorite mouse of all time.

Your carpals and metacarpals will thank you.

Why Digital Note-Taking Will Never Replace the Physical Journal

From The Literary Hub:

 Some fortunate writers possess steel-trap memories and rarely need to jot things down. Their images and ideas materialize, as if on cue, when required for the cauldron of composition. Most, however, have developed different methods for taking research notes and roughing out early drafts. They collect scribbled-on scraps of paper, bar napkins, the backs of receipts, whatever is at hand, on their roundabout way to the writing table. Others thumb-type notes or pencil marginalia in books they happen to be reading. Still others dictate memos for later transcription. The most sensible perhaps, myself from time to time among them, keep a pocket notepad handy for capturing a bit of delicious eavesdropped dialogue or observing something, anything, seen or heard or tasted or smelled or touched that might be relevant to whatever writing project they have underway.

My memory is good, but capricious at times. My scraps of paper get misplaced or wind up in the laundry. I don’t want to figure out dictation software. And my thumbs are hopeless, which is only part of the reason I hate texting. In an era of smart phones, palm-sized digital cameras, and featherweight laptops—also known as “notebooks”—the very idea of lugging around a heavy, folio-sized, hardcover Boorum & Pease record-ruled 9-300-R ledger or oversized black spiral-bound artist sketchbook, would seem at once masochistic and medieval. Yet, these behemoths, straight out of some Dickensian accountant’s office or landscape architect’s atelier, have served as my notebooks of choice for well over 20 years.

I don’t tend to use my notebooks as diaries or journals. With rare exceptions, everything that I write, draw, paste, and tape in them has to do only with the novel I’m currently working on.

. . . .

Why do all this? Why carry around this antiquated technology? It would have been far quicker and easier to snap pictures of those gravestones and petroglyphs, scan those clippings, maybe set up a computer spreadsheet for my various invented progeny. I’m not, after all, a visual artist by any stretch. And my handwriting has continued to devolve toward illegibility.

Simply put, it has to do with the pure visceral nature of the act. When I draw a castle, a two-trunked willow, a billboard, a bird, the process of limning their outlines and angles—their optical information—makes them, for me, far more animated, individual, and finally more memorable than if I’d photographed them. Similarly, if I manually form the letters of my words, scribe out sentences, snatches of dialogue, however disjointed or inchoate or fragmentary, they register on my consciousness more fully than if I were to type them. This is especially true when I’m researching a novel—the stage in which I’m most impressionable, longing to learn, there at the foot of the mountain I must build as I climb.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests that any essay that includes the words, “never replace” in the title will almost certainly be erroneous unless the words, “for me” appear somewhere.

7 Free Online Tools for Writers and Authors

From Digital Book World:

“All you need to be a writer is a pen and paper,” is something you might say if you’re one of those smug savants who can just sit down and write an entire novel longhand.

But for the rest of us? Well, we can take all the help we can get. Naturally, there are the everyday low-fi accessories that every writer should already have in their arsenal, like notebooks and a reliable pen. But there are also a bunch of high tech tools that the interwebs can offer us.

In this post, I’d love to share seven of my favorite free online tools for writers. They’ve helped me to manage my time, improve my creative flow, and publish better material. And, most importantly, they haven’t cost me a dime!

  1. Trello

“Trello…? Is it me you’re looking for?”

Trello was designed as a project management tool for small business organizations, which is exactly where I first came across it. Having used it for my day job for an entire year, I was able to adapt it to my writing work pretty quickly.

Trello is pretty much a virtual cork board — but better. I use it to keep track of small tasks (“buy new ink cartridge”) as well as organize my ideas as and when they occur to me. Best of all, Trello’s bulletin-board style interface lets me create “cards” relating to each section of a book, allowing me to move parts of the manuscript around as I’m grappling with the structure.

. . . .

  1. Buffer

As a writer in 2017, I know it’s a part of my job to maintain my public platform, meagre as it is. At the very least, that means regularly posting words of wisdom and sharing funny writing memes on social media.

I tried a handful of tools like HootSuite that allowed me to schedule social activity ahead of time, but I prefer the simplicity (and price point) of Buffer. Now I just spend 30 minutes scheduling posts every Monday — and for the rest of the week, I’m free to write without distraction. Right?

Well, as you’ll discover in the next section, it’s maybe not that simple…

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG doesn’t use Buffer with TPV but he’s a big fan of the tool for other projects involving social media.

Good Reasons for Writing by Hand

From Self Publishing Advice Center:

This isn’t another one of those ‘how to write’ posts, it’s a post about the actual physical nitty-gritty of how we go about putting our stories down into words.

Lots of writers now use the ubiquitous laptop – some have even found a way of writing on tablets, and others still, as recent discussions following the recent BEA Indie Author Fringe have shown, have been talking about how they use voice recognition software for dictating their stories.

. . . .

When it comes to practicality though, I have always and still do, favour pen and paper. Specifically fountain pen and leather-wrap journal. It’s what works for me.

Of course writing this way is not without its downsides. Principally there’s the typing it up afterwards (‘though this too does have its own pros, but more of that later).

. . . .

The Advantages of Writing with Pen and Paper

  • Accessibility: Take the pen and notebook and you can literally write anywhere, at any ime, and be putting down your story in as short as time as it takes to flick off the lid and turn to the next blank page.
  • Portability: The leather-wrap journal is the ultimate in portability.
  • Power: It never runs out of battery, or crashes.
  • Legibility: You don’t have to worry about the glare of sunlight on the screen.

I’ve been known to write (as those dreams would have it) for hours in my favourite coffee shop or library, or in snatched moments at the end of lunch breaks at work, or on the bus whilst commuting.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing Advice Center

This Machine Learning-Powered Software Teaches Kids To Be Better Writers

From Fast Company:

Every time students take a writing exercise on Quill.org–a writing instruction platform for schools–their responses are logged by computers and analyzed for patterns. Algorithms take account of every false word they type, every misplaced comma, every inappropriate conjunction, deepening a sense of where the nation’s kids are succeeding in sentence-construction and where they need extra help.

The algorithms substitute for human intervention. Instead of teachers having to correct errors late at night with a red pen, the system does it automatically, suggesting corrections and concepts on its own. The goal, says Peter Gault, who founded Quill three years ago, is to reach more students than traditional teaching methods, including those who need support the most. About 400,000 students in 2,000 schools have used the (mostly free) writing-instruction platform so far.

. . . .

Kids today write all the time, perhaps more than previous generations. Whether it’s texts to their friends, or posting on Facebook, they’re constantly hitting the keys one way or another. But all this composition doesn’t necessarily make for better writing, at least not in the formal, academic sense. Just 24% of 8th- and 12th-grade students are “proficient” writers according to the Department of Education’s “The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011,” published in 2012. Teachers often complain they lack professional development to teach writing well. And, there’s a widespread acceptance in education circles that writing instruction is less developed and successful than, say, math or science teaching.

“Teachers just don’t have enough time in the day to offer feedback on everything students write, and that becomes a huge blocker to students moving forward,” Gault says in an interview. “Using machine learning to detect these patterns really unlocks a lot of options that allow us to bring this to thousands, or millions, of additional students in the coming years.”

The New York-based startup trains its algorithms with about 200 responses to each exercise, submitted by its programmers (it has about 300 exercises so far). As the students offer up thousands of their own responses, the code is then able to detect patterns without additional human intervention. When it prompts students to correct their sentences, it does so based on the collective trial-and-error of thousands of other users of the service.

Link to the rest at Fast Company and here’s a link to Quill.org.

Microsoft Adds Read Aloud Feature to Word

From PC Magazine:

This week Microsoft rolled out a number of new features heading to Office 365. The stand out addition is a feature called Read Aloud in Word, which you’ll eventually find available under the Review tab on the Word menu.

Microsoft offers a range of tools that come under the heading of Learning Tools in Word. They exist to “help you improve your reading skills by boosting your ability to pronounce words correctly, to read quickly and accurately, and to understand what you read.” Read Aloud falls squarely into the “read quickly and accurately” category.

When enabled, Read Aloud allows you to hear any given Word document being read out loud while each word is highlighted simultaneously. By going through this process, Microsoft believes it is easier to recognize and correct errors. And because Read Aloud happens within the existing work flow, it’s easy to rectify each error as soon as it becomes apparent.

Microsoft also views Read Aloud as beneficial for users with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. It should allow for improved reading and accuracy, and ultimately more error-free documents.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

Creating Personas

PG thought he knew what the OP would be about, but he was mistaken.

From Prototypr.io:

The first thing a good UX Designer should tell you about creating a persona is that if you just blindly follow a template, you have missed the point. User research should inform the layout — don’t let the layout constrain the research.

Put simply, don’t just follow a template.

Sadly, this advice is not very helpful when you are starting out, staring at a blank sheet of paper trying to create a set of personas.

‘Isn’t making a persona a waste of time? What’s the point?’

Personas are all about building empathy amongst your team. Great software gets made when the people who make it care about the people who use it. That means during every meeting, when making any decision, in every design and with every line of code, you should first be thinking about your users.

. . . .

‘What should I put in a persona?’

To answer this question with a question: what is it about your users that your team should know, remember and reflect on every day?

To answer your question in a more detailed (and longwinded) way, I have put together this worksheet that I use to guide my research:

Link to the rest at Prototypr.io

There is a second page to the worksheet at the OP. PG was interested in the similarity of the persona worksheet for a software user interface to a character sketch.

A Dozen Awesome Gmail Hacks

PG posted a Wall Street Journal video discussing eight Gmail hacks yesterday.

Nate Hoffhelder at The Digital Reader was not satisfied with the wsj piece, so he wrote his own:

Gmail is possibly the most widely used email service, but are you getting the most out of it?

The following 12 Gmail hacks will help you take control of your inbox and go from being a Gmail user to a Gmail expert.  Read on to save time, avoid mistakes, and add a dash of style to your inbox.

. . . .

Use smarter searches

Everyone knows that you can use the Gmail search bar to look for emails to and from specific names (To: and From:) or under specific labels (label:) but did you know you can also exclude labels, senders, and recipients?

It’s true!

If you want to exclude a sender from a search in Gmail simple add a dash “-” before the From tag. For example, “-from:authorearnings@gmail.com ” will exclude any search results.

The same trick works for the To tag and the label tag.

Don’t fall for phishing emails

Scammers are getting pretty good at sending emails which you can’t tell from the real thing. This is why everyone warns you to not click a link in an email but instead visit a company’ website.

Luckily, Gmail has an experimental feature which can help you separate phish from fowl. Look in the Labs tab of the Settings menu and you will find an option called “Authentication icon for verified senders”.

When enabled, this feature checks the sender’s email address and adds a key symbol whenever it can confirm that the email is legit.

. . . .

Dropbox for Gmail

Do you like using Gmail and want to pair it with Dropbox rather than Google Drive?

Dropbox for Gmail is a Chrome extension that adds a Dropbox button to Gmail’s Compose window. This button makes it easy to share Dropbox links in an email, and it allows you to bypass the process of attempting to email large files — and saves valuable space in your inbox.

Yes, Gmail solves this problem by uploading large attachments to Google Drive, but if you already have all your docs in Dropbox then why not simply share a link?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

The ergonomics of writing

From Mad Genius Club:

Writing is a freelancing business. Like all other freelancers and most hourly positions, you can’t get paid for new work if you’re too sick or injured to produce more. (And, as a massage therapist friend learned when she broke her arm, hospital bills tend to pile up when the money’s not coming in.) Therefore, it’s a good idea to not only prevent the work-related injuries to hands, wrists, neck, back, eyes, and arms, but to also keep the rest of your body and your immune system in as good a shape as you can.

The first way to stay in healthy & uninjured is to avoid doing things that’ll get you injured. So, let’s discuss your writing setup. While curling up  on the couch with a laptop occasionally is fine, if you’re going to be spending much time on the computer (and all the internet, email, and gaming time counts, too), you should have an ergonomic setup.

. . . .

The next step up is to make a standing or walking desk; this allows you to get out of the chair, and give your body a break from sitting. Walking desks range from homemade setups on garage-sale treadmills to expensive custom jobs.

. . . .

When I do sit, I have a yoga ball to sit on at the ancient media laptop’s desk, which keeps facebook isolated and unable to suck my time away until I sit down there. It also lets me work on core strength and stability, even though I’m sitting.

The second way to stay healthy & uninjured is to take breaks and stretch regularly. You can search for “computer & desk stretches” or “office stretches” and come up with hundreds of variations; pick the set that work for you, and try to work them in regularly.

. . . .

However, if you’re working from home, don’t feel limited to chair stretches: you can get up and do plenty of other things to loosen up. Whether it’s getting up and doing five minutes on a chore (putting a few more dishes in the dishwasher, sweeping a room, folding a couple clothes or moving a load over to the dryer), or getting out of the house and walking up and down the block while muttering over plot points, you can incorporate giving your eyes and body a break in many different ways.

Link to the rest at Mad Genius Club

PG would add that a good keyboard is also extremely important. He’s never suffered from repetitive stress injury, but he knows some people who have. RSI can put you out of the typing business in a big hurry and for a long time.

Ergonomic keyboard manufacturers have come and gone in part, because it’s not a huge market. Fortunately, Microsoft started selling its ergonomic keyboard several years ago and appears to be in the business for the long term. PG couldn’t remember the number he has purchased, but Amazon says it has sold him five. He currently uses the 4000 model.

Ever since IBM stopped making laptops, PG has detested the keyboards on portable computers. If you use a laptop as your principal writing tool, there’s nothing to prevent using a separate keyboard, wired or wireless, with it. During a period of time when PG was doing a large amount of business travel, he purchased a compact external keyboard to use with his laptop in hotel rooms.

While he’s at it, PG will also add some commentary on computer mice. Ergonomic design can help there as well and external mice work with desktops or laptops equally well. For a long time, PG was a fan of Logitech and bought several Logitech Performance Wireless mice which worked fine.

About a year ago, he was introduced to the Anker Ergonomic Mouse and has been a huge fan ever since. It looks and feels weird at first, but PG has observed that it’s more comfortable for his wrist after a long day at the keyboard. It’s only $20, which is cheap for an ergonomic anything. He also tosses one into his computer bag when he travels.

One final ergonomic suggestion – put something under your monitor or laptop to raise the monitor from the top of your desk. PG’s current favorite height is nine inches from the top of his desk to the bottom of his monitor screens. He has a couple of cheap plastic monitor stands something like these. His third monitor sits on a stack of books that brings its height up to the same level as the others. (Fiction or nonfiction books will work equally well. Ebooks are a nonstarter for this job.)

PG currently has one large monitor flanked by two smaller monitors. It looks cool to persons under the age of ten, but if PG were to do it again, he would probably opt for two large monitors since he rarely uses the small monitor on his left.

Espresso is all that stands between us and creative defeat

From The Guardian:

Ideally I write in a silent room with a magnificent and inspiring view of the natural world. I do not always have access to such a room. Instead I have street noise and an inbox full of administrative email, and if I’m really unlucky, actual phone calls to make. When I was depressed and unpublished and in my early 20s, I developed a full-blown phone phobia. I could put off the simplest call for days at a time. I still hate having to talk to the bank or the accountant, and find it hard to concentrate on writing until I’ve dealt with that kind of task.

Both Katie and I write at home. When the sitter turns up at 10am, the household settles down. I used to waste an improbable amount of time, but I don’t have that luxury now. I create my space with headphones, big over-the-ear cans that block out the world. I play music, usually something very minimal at low volume, just enough to trick myself into the meditative concentration I need to write. No vocal music for obvious reasons, though vocals can be OK if they’re in a language I don’t understand. When something works, it disappears and becomes an environment in which I can think.

. . . .

I have a desktop computer and a laptop. For a novel I make a single Word document, but rename it every morning, so I have a way to track versions if I need to dig out something I cut. I make notes on paper, in spiral-bound notebooks, but my handwriting is terrible, particularly if I’m trying to set ideas down quickly, and it’s much faster to type. I back up. I can’t understand writers who don’t back up. I look at a monitor jacked up to eye height on a pile of books. My desk is usually cluttered. I recently bought myself a good keyboard (one with mechanical switches, but that’s not too loud) and I wish I’d succumbed to keyboard fetishism years ago. What can I say? It’s a nicer ride. I spend a lot of time on the internet, but some of it’s research. My concentration is better when I’m not toggling between my Word doc and 30 different tabs on a browser.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

New Word Editor

From Inc.:

Last week, as I was trying to finish a document in Microsoft Word 2017, a new feature caught my eye. It’s called Editor, and it is a little frightening. Here’s why.

I remember the good old days when Word would happily suggest passive voice fixes and offer to correct spelling. Long before that, Word stayed out of the way. Back when Bill Gates was in charge, Word was more like a blank page for my creative ideas.

Now, it has become much more aggressive.

When the app started telling me about weak words like “maybe” and “possibly” I was OK with that.

. . . .

I’ve realized, however, that Word is now using machine learning to look for much deeper problems. Troubling problems. Problems that have lurked in my writing for 16 years. Word is now analyzing my word choices, looking for contextualization problems, flagging words that are overused or too casual, hinting when a word is overly complex.

It’s trying to improve my writing, and I’m having some issues with that.

First off, don’t you dare try to use AI to fix my writing! I’m OK with AI helping me drive better in a Tesla, or shutting off the lights in my living room when I’m not home, or finding a better deal on travel when it sees how much time I spend scouring Expedia for good flights to Vegas. I can handle AI probing my email and weeding out the fluff, or even suggesting better web sites. Someday, I might have a discussion with Amazon Alexa about my health conditions, and I’m perfectly fine revealing all of those details.

But flagging me for Too Many Determiners? Calling me out for an Incorrect Auxiliary? You’ve gone too far and you know it. I was perfectly fine living in my cocoon of illusion, never knowing I had issues with Vague Adjectives or an Indefinite Article. I liked being indefinite! Now, I am carrying around all this excess baggage realizing I have some work to do. For example, I really should not have ended that sentence with the word do. (There I go again.) There are ways I can improve, and I’m not happy about that.

Link to the rest at Inc. and thanks to Dusk for the tip.

PG doesn’t think he exactly replicated this behavior. The OP refers to Microsoft Word 2017, but PG thinks the latest desktop version of Word is 2016. The latest Word 365 also shows it as being the 2016 version.

PG thinks he sumbled onto grammar central on Word 2016 under {File} {Options} {Proofing} then clicking the Settings button under the “When correcting spelling and grammer in Word” section (way to be intuitive, Microsoft).

After clicking the aforementioned Settings button, the following box popped up:

He’s not certain he found the same place that originated the behavior described in the OP or if it is another 15 levels down in the MS Word menu system.

PG welcomes comments that will illuminate his understanding.

The laptop is dead

From TechConnect:

You may never buy another laptop.

Ten years ago, laptop sales overtook desktop PC sales to become the dominant hardware platform for computing. Now smartphones are about to do to laptops what laptops did to desktops.

But wait, you may ask. What’s wrong with laptops?

. . . .

For the past decade, Apple has led and dominated the laptop market with design and innovation. The company has been moving toward better quality, so-called “Retina” screens. Apple’s keyboard designs and unibody aluminum construction have been heavily imitated. The company used to dazzle the industry by sweating the small stuff, like the MagSafe power connector and lights that shine through aluminum.

It’s not just that Apple innovated. It’s that its laptop innovations evolved their products toward elegance and usability. And that’s over.

After years without a significant new laptop design, their latest release, last year’s MacBook Pro, landed with a thud. The laptop was seriously underpowered — called by some a MacBook Air at a MacBook Pro price. The company ditched its incredibly popular MagSafe power connector in favor of USB C power.

. . . .

The best thing that can be said about the MacBook Pro is that it’s faster and has a better screen than previous models. But this is inevitable and expected, not revolutionary.

There’s nothing about this laptop that’s going to drive the industry to imitate. Rivals are more likely to see the new MacBook Pro as an opportunity to provide something different, not something similar.

. . . .

The U.S. and U.K. governments recently banned all non-medical electronic devices larger than a smartphone as carry-on for U.S.-bound flights on specific airlines from specific airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Passengers are required to check their laptops.

. . . .

There are several assumptions we can make about the ban.

First, like so many security measures, the ban may spread globally and eventually include all flights. For the next few years, it may become impossible to use a laptop on a commercial flight.

Second, such a ban will affect laptop sales. Many travelers won’t want to place an expensive laptop in checked luggage for fear of loss or theft. The general fear, uncertainty and doubt around laptops on airplanes is enough to change consumer behavior. And the frequent flier is the laptop industry’s best customer base.

Third, the ban will be an incentive to develop alternatives so passengers can travel without laptops.

. . . .

Samsung announced this week its upcoming Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones, and the public is impressed. But even more impressive is a Galaxy S8 peripheral called the DeX Station.

The DeX is a smartphone dock into which you plug a keyboard, mouse and monitor. DeX enables you to use your Galaxy S8 as a desktop PC. (Instead of a monitor, you can also plug in a TV or projector.) The dock outputs at a 4K resolution, and it supports Ethernet for faster connections.

I expect some of you business users to buy two — one permanently installed in your office and another in your home office. That would enable you to use your smartphone full time as your only device, even as you benefit from the giant screen, full-size keyboard goodness of a desktop PC everywhere you work.

You can take it with you on trips, and use it in hotel rooms to plug into the room’s big TV.

Link to the rest at TechConnect

 

Making Your Phone Take Dictation

From The New York Times:

 Q. I am a writer and ideas for stories come to me at the most inopportune times. I usually end up making voice memos on my iPhone, but in the end I really need to transcribe them to text. Is there an effective and efficient app to automatically transcribe voice recordings?

A. Third-party apps and services that convert spoken words into text files on iOS devices are plentiful in Apple’s online store, but depending on when you need the transcribing to happen, you may not need to download anything extra. For example, the Siri assistant software built onto iOS can open the iPhone’s Notes app and transcribe your words as you speak them.

Hold down the iPhone’s Home button (or say “Hey Siri” to wake up the software), say “Make a new note,” and then speak your thoughts — reciting the punctuation like “period” or “comma” aloud. The resulting note can be emailed, copied, pasted or shared with a compatible text app.

Siri may be the quickest way to dictate a quick set of thoughts without fumbling with other apps, but if you do not use the Siri assistant, you can turn on the Dictation tool in the iPhone’s Settings app. In Settings, go to General and then to keyboard to find the Dictation option buried at the bottom of the screen. When the setting is enabled, a small microphone appears on the keyboard of text-entering apps like Notes, Google Docs, Microsoft Word for iOS, or Apple’s own Pages word processor.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Jan for the tip.