More Thoughts on Twitter

The more I use Twitter, the more I’m getting the hang of it.

A program like Tweetdeck definitely helps. I’ve been organizing all the folks I follow into categories like friends and writers, and I’ve gotten around to following writers like Neil Gaiman and Mur Lafferty, (that’s been good) lesser known writers like me who are just starting out, and big name groups like Writers Digest.  So that’s been really helpful, but there’s a downside to all of it.

This past Sunday, while I was cleaning my room, I kept Tweetdeck open and I was amazed at all the prolific tweets that kept coming through. Man, do people even have a life anymore? Then I realized that most of these tweets were coming from people who had cellphones, so they would text their tweets anywhere and not be tied to a computer all the time.

Sigh. I wish I had a cellphone.

Not that I had anyone to call. That was the main reason we don’t have one. We don’t really need one, not with both my hubby and me working at the same place, and no one really calling us except at home, and I don’t care I want a cell phone because i want to text people all the time and I want to look cool walking down the street and i want a phone that plays the first opening bars to "We Are Pop Candy" and i want to pull it out in meetings and fiddle with it when i’m bored and if i want to do something i want to text all my girlfriends and tell them to meet me at the mall and i want one iwantone IWANTONE!!!!

Um, okay. I think that’s the first time my inner child took control of the keyboard. That was…weird…

It does bother me, though, that it seems it’s much easier to text people than to actually call them up. When I was a teen, I used to gab on the phone all the time, even when I had nothing to say. Especially if I had nothing to say. In fact, there would be long stretches of time when me and the caller didn’t say anything, because we would be watching TV on the phone and we would remark occasionally. But now, I can’t really fathom calling people on the phone. It makes me nervous. Something about running out of things to say and sounding pretty trite. It feels easier just to send them a comment on Facebook. Or tweet them.

What does that say about our generation? About future generations? Is communication going to get reduced to a few characters thrown off a keyboard rather than face to face?

Okay, this is getting too deep. What was I talking about? Oh. Twitter.

I realized that I forgot to mention my Twitter name in the last post. If you want to follow me, my handle is TboneJenkins. Feel free to follow me; in fact, you’d probably stand a better chance to follow me on Twitter than Facebook. I’ve grown pretty picky over who I allow as a friend on Facebook, since I tend to do stuff towards close friends and family like post photos and whatnot. However, with Twitter, I want to keep things more writing related—post my writing updates, tweet links to stories I like, share a comment or two on the writing life. Of course, I’ll tweet when I post updates to the Cafe.

Also, if you wish for me to follow you, let me know in the comments section. Always looking for new folks to check out.

And now, if you excuse me. It’s a mere two days before Wiscon. I gotta get preparing for that.  Even though I’m just going for one day.

The Amazing Super Colossal Technicolor Twitter and Facebook Juggling Act! (Or how to waste time poking nothingness…)

I don’t get Twitter.

I never got on board with it when it came out a couple of years ago. I didn’t see a need for it. Why would I want to let the whole world what I’m doing at that very exact moment? Folding my hubby’s underwear doesn’t work for an interesting status line. Well, okay, yes it does, but that’s only because my hubby isn’t on Facebook or Twitter. But really, who would want to read that? So I pretty much stayed away from Twitter.

Then Facebook grew popular and it seemed like everyone I knew was getting on it, so I shrugged and gave in. And everyone’s right. It is addictive. Which is odd because Facebook is only Twitter expanded with more features. You get the benefits of photo sharing, chat, email, groups, you name it. But really, I mainly use FB for the status updates of my friends…which isn’t all that different from Twitter, now that I think about it. However, whereas people could tweet every few seconds, Facebook doesn’t seem all that urgent. I’m happy to update my status every day or so. Some people do it more, others less.

But lately, it seems that Twitter has been growing more popular, particularly among the writing world, as the language of tweets began to evolve. You can now reply to someone else’s tweet using ‘@’ in front of their username.  Tweets that are about a certain topic are preceded with a #, so if you want to search Twitter on, say, Amazonfail, you can just put #amazonfail in Twitter’s search box and you get all the tweets on that. And, of course, you can put tiny URLs in your tweets. So it seems that Twitter has evolved from a “Hey, look at what I’m doing” to an informal message board/newsgroup of sorts. How do you think AmazonFail got exposed in the first place? If it wasn’t for Twitter, people wouldn’t have found out.

Stuff like that makes me think that it’s time for me to stop being so standoffish about Twitter and just knuckle down to learn about it. Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools. It’s a good way to connect with writers and agents, hear about the latest writing news, and keep an eye on the marketplace. Plus, it’s a good place to get freebies. Authors and publishing houses would post free books, games, etc. And I’m going to figure out how to utilize Facebook better. I can see the appeal of Twitter, but I also really like Facebook in that it’s more personal. I’ve been leery of letting strangers become my friends on Facebook, because my friends are people I really want to keep in touch with. Twitter, on the other hand, is good for getting word out to as many people as possible. Good for short story updates and whatnot.

So what is the purpose of this post anyway? Mainly to get me excited about Twitter. I mean, for all intensive purposes, it’s still got a sucky interface (although someone did alert me to Tweetdeck for organizing both FB and Twitter, so I’m playing with that.) And there are still a lot of tweets that are mainly “just put a load of laundry in the wash” or “Awww, I’m all out of candy” and really boring stuff like that. Course, with Facebook, there’s all the “What type of Disney Princess are you” and all the “Send your Friend a Flower/Chocolate/Smiley Face/Dancing Toadstool/Mardi Gras/Cheating Alien/Moose” gifts that pile up in my request box until I sweep them all away with one click.

But I guess for using these things for free, I really shouldn’t complain now, should I?

Saturday Links: Educational, Functional and Just Plain Fun!

I got three links on today’s menu for your reading pleasure.

The first one is a educational initiative. Long ago, a while back, I wrote about watching the 1st season of Electric Company. Well, it looks like they want to bring it back. The people behind the Sesame Street Workshop are applying for a $1.5 million project grant from American Express–but they need votes to get their project, ‘Bridging the Literacy Gap for Millions of Kids’, nominated onto the voting round.

The deadline for the first round of voting is September 1, 2008. To vote, go to the Project Voting Page at the American Express website and nominate the ‘Bridging the Literacy Gap for Millions of Kids’ website. You will need to sign up as a Guest Member, but once you do, you’ll be able to vote for the project. Let’s bring the Electric Company back to the airwaves!

The second one has me bouncing on my toes in excitement. A new upgrade has been released for Writer’s Cafe. Far be it from me to promote another cafe here, but Writer’s Cafe is an excellent writer’s program I’ve been using for roughly two years now. It consists of many tools that help you organize your writing: the scrapbook, for instance, keeps track of your research, websites and notes. The Storylines tools is a storyboard where you can pin scenes of your story up and move them around as needed. The program also comes with a journal, a notebook, writing prompts, a timer, and an option to display inspirational quotes and writing tips upon startup of the program.

The new version is vastly improved over the old version: in the past, Storylines and Writer’s Cafe were two separate programs. The upgrade meshes them together in one. It includes a name generator and a pinboard where you can post notes and ideas. It opens on a start page where you can place shortcuts to your works-in-progress, Wikipedia and other pages, shortcuts within the program, etc.

What I like most about Writer’s Cafe program is the technical support. The program was created by Julian and Harriet Smart, the latter being a novelist. They are constantly looking for ways to improve the program and welcome suggestions. While I was beta testing the upgrade, I found myself using the Notebook to freewrite first drafts of stories and wanted to know how many words I’ve written. I suggested this to Julian, and with the next beta release, the word count feature was included in both the Journal and the Notebook! That was pretty nice.

For a download of $45 bucks ($65 if you want a CD-ROM version), it’s well worth the price. If you’re wary, you can download the beta and test it out here. But to me, this is the best writing software out there. Check it out now!

And finally, a YouTube video from CollegeHumor called “Font Conference”, for all you people who work with finding the right font to write in. Enjoy!

It’s not you, RoughDraft. It’s me…

Dear RoughDraft,

I’m sorry, but I’m leaving you.

It’s nothing to do with you. I like you. I really, really like you. You’re a wonderful program. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been able to start all my short stories and essays. Well, I would have to use Word, that bloated behemoth who always leaves hairs in the sink, and that would’ve depressed me.

I remember when I first met you. You touted yourself as especially “designed for writers”. Remember when I downloaded you, and you opened up the possibilities of my writing career with your side panel for jotting down notes? That impressed me. Really impressed me. But it was your tabbed multiple documents that blew me away. To think that I could have several open documents that don’t clutter up my taskbar the way Word does–you really captured my heart in that. And your clipbook and file viewer, those were extra brownie points. You took my writing to a whole new level, and I deeply appreciated that.

Lately, I’ve been finding that I’ve been wanting more from you. Yes, I love that you have automatic formatting for prose and screenplays, but I want more flexibility about where I choose my tabs and indents. You wouldn’t do that. I wanted bookmarks so I can automatically go to the last paragraph I edited, but that wasn’t in your specs. And I wanted not just word counts–I wanted to see how many pages I written. But the only way to do that with you was to go to print preview.

I know leaving you will mean I will give up the notes panel and the file viewer. That really breaks my heart. But let’s face it: I’ve changed, and sadly, you haven’t. You haven’t been updated since 2005.

So, I’m going to look for a new writing program. One that’s freeware, or at least a decent price. I’ve been checking out Jarte, as of late. It looks real promising. It has some of the features you have, plus a lot of ones you don’t. Granted, they don’t have your note panel, though you can attach a note in their paid version. But they said they’re also working on it a comments feature similar to Word’s, and with that possibility, how can I not be charmed by that?

Don’t take this personally, RoughDraft. I’m not getting rid of you completely. I’m still leaving you on, in case I need to use the file viewer. It’s just that I won’t be using you exclusively for writing anymore. Maybe one day, when you do decide to update your features, you and I can have a working relationship again.

Until then, we’ll always have “prose mode”.

Love,

LaShawn

Outlook Tasks is my crack (and organizes it well, too…)

Being April 1st, I had a joke all set up for today. Had it all planned–was going to turn the Cafe into a squirrel’s paradise. All squirrels, all the time. I had pictures of squirrels doing all sorts of tricks, water-skiing, wearing little crochet hats. I was going to replace Daniel’s Word of the Month with Squirrel of the Month. All sorts of goofy stuff. It was going to be funny, trust me.

However, instead of working on the blog yesterday, I spent it on reinstalling Outlook 2000. Yeeeuck.

Sometime last year, Microsoft released their beta of Office 2007, which meant that anyone could test it for several months. We already had Office 2000, but my hubby downloaded it because hey, free software. I was more ambivalent about it. I had no problems with Outlook–getting an upgrade for several months was fine and good, but I didn’t really see the point. It’s not like we can afford to get 2007. Why play around with features we’ll probably never use again?

Actually, I have more of a bone to pick with Outlook 2007. Sure, the categories are all color coded in Outlook, you get an expandable to-do list bar, you can hide the toolbars, keeping only what you really use. But it really screwed with my email layouts. It wouldn’t download embedded pictures, so if you’re sent me a email card, it breaks it apart into pieces that I have to view bit by bit. All done in the name of security, but a royal pain for viewing most of my email. What was worse was that it viewed any attachment with high suspicion–even attachments that came from its very own program. I once attached a journal shortcut to a task, and not only did Outlook disabled the shortcut–removing it from the task completely, but every time I closed the task, an annoying window popped up stating that I had attached an unsafe shortcut and that I must delete it. Dude, first of all, it’s an shortcut to to a Journal item–your own program. Second, since you removed it anyway, I can’t delete it! How stupid is that?

Because of this, I wasn’t really broken up as the end date for the beta testing approached. I didn’t mind going back to Outlook 2000. In fact, I looked forward to it. Until my hubby said, “I don’t want to reinstall Office 2000. It’s too buggy and it doesn’t have a decent spam blocker.”

Whaaaa…?

Now, I know all you Microsoft haters will come rallying to his cause. Microsoft is evil, blah, blah, blah. Use Thunderbird. It’s free sourceware and much, much better. And you are right. Thunderbird works very well as an email client. If all I used Outlook for was emails, then I would have switched to Thunderbird a long time ago. But here’s the reason why I open Outlook every day and keep it open:

Its Task function make for an awesome, kick-ass manuscript tracker.

Back when I was a working woman at the Reformed Church in America, I stumbled upon the ability to customize forms in Outlook. It’s actually pretty neat. You can find the feature under “Forms” “Design a Form” toolbar. Basically, you can add custom fields to any Contact, Task, Journal or Calendar form in Outlook. I did a lot of playing around with it when I needed to keep a database of churches and their givings to missionaries. Instead of duplicating all the contact information in a standalone database, I decided to redo the Contact form to reflect more of the type of information I needed instead of the generic info Outlook already displayed. For instance, I put in mission chairperson names, church information like pastor info, mission giving history, etc. I even pimped it out a bit by adding some pictures of anime characters, changing the background, etc. It wasn’t simple–I spent a lot of time on it, particularly since I never really had any training on say Visual Basic or anything. I simply did a lot of creating and dragging of custom fields. But dang it, I was proud of what I ended up with.

When I started writing full-time at home, I soon realized that with all the stories I wrote, I needed a way to keep track of them all. I had downloaded manuscript tracking software and tried them out, freeware and shareware, but none of them really had what I wanted. There was one that did meet my needs pretty well, but it was shareware, it had several modules that could only be open one at a time (for instance, its publisher contact module was separate from the others).

What I wanted was a way to keep things in one place. I wanted to keep track of my writing, to show If it was an essay, short story, or a Willow chapter. I wanted to see its status, whether it was in editing mode, ready to send out, or if I should shelve it. I wanted to list at a glance all the stories I had out circulating among markets, or to show uncompleted projects. If a email comes from a market I wanted to keep, I wanted to make a note of it, maybe a shortcut. What I needed was a way to manage all my projects from conception to print, and keep contacts of all the publishers I sent it to. Hmmm…what could keep contacts and projects at the same time?

Redoing the form was easy, though I’ve forgotten how to change the backgrounds. But when I finished, I had something like this (click on it to see a larger image):

My Task Form

Once I finished created it, all that was left was to set up the Task pane views. Using filters and automatic formatting, I could set a view in the task list so that it only showed all my writing projects, which ones I was waiting to hear from, which ones I was currently working, etc. I could even show what stories needed following up (again, click on the image to get a larger view):

Writing view

With Outlook tasks, I could link projects to Contacts or keep a log of time I spent on each project using Journal. I didn’t need any extra programs to keep track of my writing. Outlook was all I needed. And besides, I also used Outlook tasks for my daily tasks as well. I practically live in Outlook tasks. It’s my crack, so to speak. I can’t work well without it. How else can I keep my life, such as it is, organized?

So I asked my hubby to let me keep Outlook, though instead of using the intelligent argument outlined above, I resorted to foot-stomping and whining. “You can’t just take it away just like that! I need Outlook! Ohpleaseohpleaseohpleeeeeeeease let me keep it!”

Finally, my hubby relented. He’s going to look into getting a license for Outlook 2003, which is a step up from 2000 and a little better on security issues. In the meantime, I took off 2007 and reinstalled 2000, which meant that I had to recreate my task views, but in light of keeping my sanity, I felt it was necessary. When I want to go back to writing on Monday I don’t want to deal with spending several hours refamiliarizing myself with 2000 again.

So, in a nutshell, that’s why I didn’t do any April Fool’s Jokes. And now that I look at the time, it’s no longer April 1. Oh well. Happy April Fool’s Day anyway!

squirrel

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