Welcome to Random Wednesdays

Right.  I hope you’re all paying attention today because I’m going to have a few words with you about discipline.  750 of them, in fact.

I’m trying to write a book.  Have been for a while now.  Occasionally – last November during National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org), for example – I manage to sit down and blast through a few thousand words but then it just sits there.  I promise myself I shall spend time working on it and then stuff just seems to happen.  If I didn’t know better, I’d believe that the Little Grey Men from Michael Ende’s “Momo” were stealing all of my spare time and smoking it.  Maybe they are and I’ve just not noticed.

So the key to writing is, apparently, to just do it.  Make the time, sit down, and just get on with it.  And that’s why I’ve started using a website called 750words.com.  You sit down, you write 750 words (more if you like) and it keeps a track of when you’ve written.  Across the top of the page is a tracker showing you how many times you’ve managed the 750 in a month.  You score points for days, points for streaks of continuous days, and it nags you if you’ve not written in a day.  But in a nice way.  I don’t know what happens if you manage to write for a complete month, I’ve not been using it long enough.For writing, it’s a beautiful, uncluttered workspace.  It looks like this:

750words.com screenshot
Just a blank space with a cursor and a word-counter in the bottom corner.  Nice, plain, simple, very conducive to getting your ideas down on the page.When you’ve completed your words, it does some analysis and tells you a bit about your writing.  How was the language? What you were feeling, are you in an “Us and Them” mood, a mostly “Us” mood, a “very negative and thinking mostly about the past and yourself” mood?  And it tells you not only how long you took to do your writing but charts up your words-per-minute.  I’ve thought about cheating on this one, typing everything into Notepad first and then pasting it into 750words, but that defeats the purpose and I’d only be depriving myself of the statistics.

One thing that does come out of using the site is the realisation that (a) 750 words is actually quite a few and (b) some days are better than others, Section Leader.

And it tracks breaks and distractions.  If you spend more than 3 minutes not writing, then you’ve taken a break.  And it will tell you at the end.  So this makes it all the more important to those vital writing statistics that you don’t take a break and get it done quickly.
As a first-draft, rough ideas, tool it’s superb.  I don’t have to worry about not having the file with me, about finding a computer with yWriter (www.spacejock.com – just wait for next Monday’s Application-of-the-Week post) or about whether the portable version of yWriter will work.  It’s all there on-line, safely protected behind the security of my username and password.

There are, of course, alternatives.  You could do this yourself with a personal wiki, a notepad file or take the retro approach and use a genuine pen and paper!  Actually, if I’m not typing I *do* use fountain pen and a lovely hand-crafted leather notebook I bought up here on Shetland and I’ve usually got at least one Moleskine notebook about my person if I’m properly dressed.  Somehow the connection to the paper is so much better, so much more *personal*.  I can’t imagine writing character notes on screen, for instance.  It’s just not done.

If 750 words is a little too much, then there’s the twice-Twitter site 280daily.com.  As any Twitter user will know, you’ve got 140 characters to express yourself in.  280daily lets you double that but it’s a personal log, not a public timeline, and you only need to do it once a day.  It, too, nags you but you don’t get any of the nice statistics.

Using these sites is a matter of discipline.  A matter of setting aside the time to let the words flow freely and without interruption.  During this post I’ve had to field queries about Excel references, the fact that a SharePoint site has been moved and that the new colours are a little eye-watering, and that yes, Internet Explorer 9 has been released and no you can’t have it as it doesn’t work on XP.

So there you go.  750 words, give or take, about writing 750 words a day.  Definitely worth a try.

In case you’re interested, the 750words.com statistics for this post were:

  • Weather while writing: Partly cloudy, 9C (No, definitely dreach and a lot colder)
  • Rating: PG with some violence.  (I managed a PG-13 the other day.  I think that might’ve been down to the swearing)
  • Feeling mostly… Upset (hmm, not sure)
  • Concerned mostly about… Success (yeah, I can see where that might have come from)
  • Mindset while writing…  Introvert / Positive / Uncertain / Thinking (Okay, yep)
  • Time orientation: The Present
  • Primary sense: Sight
  • Us and them: You

It’s all about Browser Choice.

Today’s application, and the one to start the ball rolling, is one most people will spend the most time using.  I’m talking about the window to the world wide web: Your web browser.

Over the past few years, I’ve used all of the main web browsers plus a few more minor ones. When you’re asked to choose, this might help…

Opera. This browser is a real hotbed of development and interesting ideas.  It might not get as much publicity as Firefox or Chrome but an awful lot of very good ideas started out in this closed-source browser.  Tabs for browsing? Yup, they did it first.  The shrunken menu-come-file-button Firefox are using in 4? Opera did that first as well.  Widgets and plugins? First in Opera.  It has integrated mail and bit-torrent clients and an active developer community for add-ons.  Fast to load, a very informative and useful status bar and a load of nifty things built in.  Want to disable images? Click there.  Stop Javascript on a page? Just there.  Reload a page every few seconds (invaluable in the last few seconds of an eBay auction)? All on the right-click.

Downsides?  Well, none that I can think of for day-to-day use.  The torrent client doesn’t work behind my works proxy but apart from that nothing.  Why don’t I use it then?  Not sure.  Might have to spend a month with it to the exclusion of all others.

Firefox Possibly the biggest threat to Internet Explorer the world has ever seen.  Well, it’s certainly dented Microsoft’s browser share here in the UK and it’s the one I picked as the browser of choice for the systems I administer.  It’s not as rich in features as Opera straight out of the box but the sheer wealth of extensions available is amazing.  With the right extensions you never need to leave the browser.  We install a standard suite of extensions to make our users understand why we changed to Firefox – Ad Block to remove all those unsightly adverts on websites, Fast Dial to give them a range of big shiny buttons to press, Colourful Tabs to make it all look pretty.  Oh, and IE Tab to make sure everything they’re expecting to work (*cough*Sharepoint*cough*) works properly.  And then we set them loose in the add-ons area to search for stuff they might find interesting.I used Firefox exclusively from its initial release right up until I spent some time using Chrome.  Now I dive in for tearing websites apart using the fantastic developer extensions.

Downsides?  Rebooting the browser every time you install or update an extension.

But my browser of choice (at the moment) is…

Chrome I’m typing this post from my WordPress dashboard in Chrome.  My browser here at home synchronises with my Gmail account – history, passwords, extensions, themes, the lot.  I know Firefox can do this but Chrome’s synch always seemed to work so much better.   Chrome’s extensions started out slowly, it took a while for some of the important ones (Ad Block, for instance) to get there but I now have some 30 extensions installed, most of which do something useful.     It’s faster to load than Firefox, has a marginally more useful start page straight out of the box and you don’t have to reboot every time you install or update an extension.  The thing that really raises it head and shoulders above the others at the moment is the App Store.

I know, everyone has to have an App Store nowadays.  Apple started it, but Chrome took it to the browser.  There are some shining gems of applications – Tweetdeck for Chrome is a genuine beauty – and there are some shining, polished, turds – applications that are nothing more than links to websites.

All of the big 4 browsers support the new HTML5 specifications with differing degrees of success but that’s improving all the time and there’s a lot of fun stuff coming up.

Most websites will work with any browser you choose.  If you’ve got to use a particular browser to view a site, then that’s the sign of some dodgy programming – the SQA website uses a bit of code that only works in Internet Explorer because IE uses a particularly daft interpretation of one of the date functions and all the other browsers do it right.  Huge chunks of SharePoint only work in IE because it’s so strongly tied in to the operating system. I can forgive SharePoint, though, as it’s more like an extension of Office and everything I’ve tried works in IETab so far.

Anyway.  Long story short.  Pick a different browser, install it and give it a go.  http://www.multibrowsers.com/ has them all, as far as I can see.  I’m going for http://www.flock.com/ for April, see how it goes.#

Thanks for reading, see you Wednesday for  Doctor Who!  Castles & Crusades! Carcassonne! Running!  And other random stuff…

New Structure to the blog…

Right. I have a new plan.  Plans are good.  They're better than the Pl I had earlier as it was only half-formed.  From now on, 3 updates a week:-

  • Monday – Application of the Week.  At heart, I'm a geek and I've got a lot of cool programs on my computer that other people should be using (and probably are) but I'm going to use Monday to tell you about the one I'm concentrating on learning more about that week.  It might be a piece of software, a javascript library, a content management system, anything!
  • Wednesday – Randomness.  Whatever happens to stroll through my mind at the time when I sit down.
  • Friday – Cook-along Fridays.  I do my best cooking on a Friday afternoon, usually a curry of some kind, so I'll blog the recipe I'm using and we can all have a go together.
So that's the plan.  See y'all on Monday!

Posted via email from Claytons in the Far, Far North