Six Months After My Switch to Linux

Last year my Macbook finally gave up the ghost and I was forced to buy a new laptop. I elected to go with my gut and use Ubuntu instead of a new Mac. I’ve been using Ubuntu on my secondary PCs for years. But all my writing and other web-design work was performed on the old, white Macbook.

In deciding to go with Ubuntu instead of Mac, I was forfeiting the use of my primary writing tool – Scrivener. Sure you can mess with an unsupported Linux port of the program, but really I was going to have to start over with something else. Most writers would have been appalled at having to go back to Word or LibreOffice, but I had reason to believe that life after Scrivener would go on.

I purchased a new Dell 13″ XPS and booted into Ubuntu, never looking back. The computer worked great and the OS was a breeze to use. Then I found a Scrivener-like program that was designed to work on Linux. Plume Creator has proved to be a great program for writing and plotting my novels. It works enough like Scrivener to make me happy.

In the past few month lots of interesting developments are happening on Ubuntu. The OS is being used on everything from phones to computers and the acceptance level by companies not normally accepting of Linux is growing. Gaming platforms like Steam are coming to Ubuntu and developers are continuing to filter over from Apple. Mind you, its no land rush, but many folks are realizing that they can live without the Apple and Windows.

As for the Dell, it has performed really well so far. My only issue is a hardware one. The screen has developed a few bad pixels. I wonder if I can send it back and have them replace the screen with the new higher resolution one? ;-)

I don’t miss the Macbook at all. My coding and writing processes have not changed, many of the same tools I used on the Mac are available on Ubuntu, some are actually better in my opinion. Would I recommend everyone leave Apple and Windows for Ubuntu? No. Only the hardy ones, willing to use something better and take all the social abuse for being different. Mmmm, that sounds familiar.

Things I did over my break

Built my son a computer

I went to a local PC store and purchased parts for a new, low-cost desktop computer fo my youngest son. I then had my kids watch as I built it up. They learned about how computers are designed and I learned that new mother boards require two power connections. The end result is a shinny new Minecraft server running Ubuntu 12.10. We also set up the router to let in a few select friends for him and his brother to play with on their server.

Almost finished my GCU Sokol model

I put many hours and more money into this bad boy, and I’m within spitting distance of the finish line. You can see all the build pictures in this Google Plus photo album. I also posted a few more parts to the blog on building the model.

Played Halo 4 for about 4 minutes

Watched my kids play through Halo 4 in about 4 days.

Watched tons of College Football

Boise State won their bowl game and finished 12-2 during a rebuild year. Not too shabby. Now to wait half a year for the rematch with Washington in Seattle.

Creative recharging

And that’s about it. I didn’t write on my novel, but I did outline a few more chapters. I wrote maybe a few hundred words on a short story but didn’t finish it. The lack of writing and complete attention to modelling was intentional. Sometimes I need to recharge my batteries when it comes to writing. Last week was that.

Read APE

I read Guy Kawasaki’s book on self publishing. Overall, a good book if you are a complete newbie. But please, you don’t need a Macbook and Word and In-Design to self publish. I just launched four ebook novels last month and I don’t own any of those high priced, over rated things. In fact, all the software I used was free and I had NO ISSUES.

Ready to get back to work in 2013

Next week, I’ll be getting back into the swing of things and pressing on with completing a short story for my newsletter subscribers and jumping back into the novel. Starforgers, Book 2, The Rising is at about 12% complete at this point in time. My goal is to finish it before summer.

Oh, I’ll be a panelist again at Norwescon in Seattle this year. Hopefully I’ll have some paperbacks of my Star Series for sale. We’re working hard right now to get Starforgers, Starstrikers and Starveyors in paperback by March. Hope to see you there!

Interesting to note all the writer resolutions to write more in 2013. Speaking for myself, welcome to the club. I’ve been writing a novel per year for six years now. You should be focusing on writing and not marketing or social media or whatever the latest make-a-buck scheme is.  At least until you have a dozen books and the “required” million words under your belt. My philosophy is write it, publish it and then start over again. There is no substitute for time in grade.

Tablets, No Thanks

iPad 3G and iPad Wi-FiCreative Commons License Yutaka Tsutano via Compfight

I still don’t own a tablet. Not an iPad or a Nexus 7 or anything in between. How can a tech savvy guy like me not own the shinny that is the modern tablet? I must be a techno Luddite. How can I live without apps and flat, thin  screens that beg for my fingers to caress them? Don’t I know that everyone who’s anyone has at least one tablet, if not more? What is wrong with me?

Nothing. I just don’t need one. Tablets are consumer candy for first world gadget nuts with more disposable money than common sense. But they are so cheap now, surely I can afford one. Oh yes, I can afford lots of tablets, even the Mac ones; but I prefer to use that money to pay down my mortgage or pay off my car faster. Unlike most people, I understand that we are in a depression and my budget reflects that.

But, don’t I think they are cool? Yes. Because, Star Trek. But do I actually need one to get my work done, or to make my life easier? Nope.

I have two consumer grade items that I use on a regular basis. A smart phone and a laptop. I use the phone for just about everything except producing content. It’s my portable, always connected to the internet entertainment device. I get to use my fingers to use apps, play games, read books, get information and news, be social, navigate my car, make phone calls, send email, take pictures, watch movies and listen to music. Aside from size, how is a tablet better than that?

My laptop gets used for content creation. It runs a modern, full sized operating system – Linux. I use it for writing books, programming, creating art and making ebooks. It’s light weight and the battery lasts longer than the usual time I have available to create anything. I can listen to streaming music, or watch a movie on it. It also has a great keyboard, and a clear, 13″ screen, perfect for long form writing.

I can go off to any location that has cell service and use the internet with my computer through my phone. So portability is a key feature. I can carry my light, laptop for a long time and not be burdened by it. My phone fits snugly in my pants pocket.

So tell me again why I need a tablet?

Geany IDE and Python Programming

I’ve been helping my youngest son, Spencer, learn to program in Python by designing an RPG game. We’re following this guy on YouTube and will then branch off and add to his framework. Spen’s using my old netbook running the latest Ubuntu and he decided that he liked the Geany IDE the best. I checked it out and have to agree with him.

The screenshot shows our first class and a bit of test code to see if it works. The IDE will let you hit Run and open the program in a terminal to see the results. Very handy. Personally, I’d just use Scribes with an open terminal, but since he’s new to programming, I think it helps to have an IDE.

We set up our project on Dropbox so we can both access it from different computers. We have a Windows laptop that he also uses and yesterday I set up Python on that and wrote a quick batch script to run the current test class automatically. I think we are set for some fun times ahead.

Sputnik Program Updates PPA Location

The ppa that I linked to in my post about installing the kernel fixes by Kamal Mostafa has moved to a Canonical server. Please update your Dell XPS laptop to get the latest fixes.

Type the following lines into your terminal one at a time, hitting enter after each one to update your system:

sudo apt-get-repository  ppa:canonical-hwe-team/sputnik-kernel 

sudo apt-get update

This will start the updater program and get you all the latest fixes from Canonical.


Plume Creator Update

Thought I’d show off the latest look for Plume Creator, the writer’s program for Linux. It’s starting to come together nicely. I use it full time now for my next novel. Here is a list of new features and fixes in the latest version:

v 0.521
– bug fixed : when pasting plain text, line breaks weren’t pasted
– bug fixed : crash when tabs are all closed and showing previous scene
– bug fixed : notes an synopsys right margins wrong in new scenes
– New Project Manager
– Wordcount centered under the sheet.
– “Tree” dock renamed “Project” dock
– Closing Project dock is now forbidden
– Project button removed in vertical toolbar
– “Show Previous Scene”, “Outliner” and “Fullscreen” buttons are moved to the side tool bar
– Plume is now lightly styled
– added a basic spreadsheet Outliner
– removed the sheets Outliner (temporary)
– added a “View” menu
– added a few icons

I haven’t had much time to play with this new version, but I’m excited to give it a try.


Trackpad Sensitivity in Ubuntu on Dell XPS 13

The biggest annoyance I have found since I moved in to this Dell XPS 13 laptop running Ubuntu is the over sensitivity of the trackpad.When I was typing, just the slightest touch of my wrist pads on the trackpad made the cursor jump around to some random place in the manuscript. It was becoming quite annoying for someone who spends a great deal of time writing on their laptop.

Then I came across a web page that recommended a program to download that would help tweak the trackpad’s sensitivity. I gave it a try.

From a terminal:  sudo apt-get-install gpointing-device-settings


Here’s a screenshot of my settings. After I used this program I was able to type without changing the cursor’s location all over my manuscript. I’m not sure if the settings will hold after a reboot. But things are running much better using this handy GUI. There is no About menu to tell me who is responsible for this handy app, but I really appreciate their efforts.

Now back to the novel.

Leaving Apple for Linux

Tux PhonepaperCreative Commons License mlabowicz via Compfight

When I got my new Dell laptop and put Ubuntu on it, I was doing more than just setting up a new laptop. I was defecting from the most popular creative arts platform for one that is mostly known for being a geek’s dream. Apple’s marketing machine has always catered to the rich and to the creative. So it’s not surprising that some of the best creative arts tools are only available on the Mac. But times are changing.

More and more creatives are realizing that Apple may not be as shinny as they first appeared. For me it was definitely about the shinny at first. I was attracted to the polished white plastic lines of the MacBook. It’s no myth that Apple makes beautiful products. But over time, the shinny wears off and you start to realize that no matter when you buy a new shinny product, it is always a few months away from being obsolete. I’m not rich enough or vane enough to keep up with that treadmill.

After six years of mostly loyal use, I retired the MacBook when it began to physically fall apart and was no longer supported by Apple. In this business, six years is a lifetime. So you know the product was well built to have lasted that long.

Forced with looking around for my next laptop, I considered a new MacBook. After all, they now make the most awesome laptop ever invented – the Air. It would have been so easy to just get the Air and carry on with my writing. Then I started to look at what reasons were keeping me on the Mac platform. I-tunes? Nope, never use it. I-Bookstore? Nope, never use it. Mac apps? Nope, never use them. I-Phone? Nope, don’t have one. So exactly why was I still on a Mac? Scrivener.

The one totally awesome creative tool that was keeping me on the Mac was a program not made by Apple. Huh. Could I get Scrivener for Windows? Yes. Could I get Scrivener for Linux? Not really, but kinda maybe someday. That’s when it started to be clear to me that I didn’t really need to get an Air. I mean one program does not a loyal customer make. I don’t need Scrivener to write novels. Does it make things easier for that task? Yes, it sure does. But there were other programs that made writing easier out there, I didn’t have to run with the cool kids and only use Scrivener.

Then I found a program that worked on all platforms and was being built from the ground up for writers, just like Scrivener had been. I was one of the early adopters of Scrivener. But the programmer never offered to let me help him make it better. It was not an Open Source project after all. The program that I found is called Plume Creator and I’ve been asked to help the developer make it better by testing it and reporting bugs and offering suggestions for improving it. In other words, Plume Creator was an Open Source project.

So I had a decision to make. Was I going to continue to live in a walled garden where the only application I truly used was not open source or was I going to return to my Linux roots and be a force of positive change? Easy decision. I went back to Linux.

It’s not just one unknown writer turning away from Apple products and moving to Linux. There are other writers and film makers, musicians and artists making the same move every day. You may not hear about them in the news, but they are there. Most of us are moving so that we can have the freedom to build our own tools and be creative bad-asses on a platform that doesn’t shut us out or fence us in.

Join us. If you dare.

First Week with the Dell XPS 13

I’ve had my new Dell laptop for over a week now and I have to say, I’m loving it. It’s fast, sleek and a pleasure to work on. I’m running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64 bit Operating System as my only OS. Some people run shrieking from the room when I tell them I run Linux only on the laptop, but when they see it in action, they usually change their tune. Ubuntu is a really slick operating system and there is very little that I cannot do.

The hardware has a very sturdy feel to it and the build quality is exceptional. Nothing feels cheap or looks anything but beautiful. The laptop does get warm in my lap, but no warmer than any other modern machine. I think the only design flaw in that regard was to put the cooling vents on the bottom of the laptop. That’s where your legs go and thus they get warm.

The keyboard is smooth and meets my back-lit requirement just fine. I like the feel and key placement just fine. The track pad is smooth and elegant but still gets touched by my thumbs while typing and this makes the cursor go astray. This may require a tweak to the  touch pad drivers. But if I keep my thumbs off the track pad, everything works fine.

The screen is completely adequate for what I do with the laptop. I don’t paint pictures or edit movies, I just write books and surf the web. I also don’t share the screen with anyone, so I don’t mind that the best view is directly in front of the machine. That’s where I operate it from.

I’m beginning to really enjoy Unity and the whole lens concept that comes with it. Unity is the dock to the left of the screen that serves as a combination of task bar and launcher. I’ve never balked too terribly at Ubuntu for moving to Unity, because I like innovation more than stagnation. Free software is all about changing the rules and redefining how things work. If you want things to stay the same use those other popular consumer operating systems. You know the ones. Or switch to a different distribution of Linux, as many have.

I’ve taken to finishing up my novel in FocusWriter, so here’s a snapshot of that in action, not in full screen mode. ScreenCloud is the app that I used to snag these desktop images and share them on their cloud based server. Pretty slick. The RSS reader that you see in another image is LightRead. I love how I can make it use Ubuntu’s native font and it makes my RSS feeds look great.

I’ll update you again in a month or so, to let you know if my opinions have changes in any measurable way. For the time being, I’m loving the laptop and the OS.


Plume Creator a Writing Program for Linux

I have recently come across Plume Creator, a one-man effort to create an Scrivener-like IDE (Integrated, Development, Environment) for writers on a cross-platform toolkit known as QT. That’s programmer lingo meaning you can run it on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Plume Creator is being coded by Cyril Jacquet. (No, I’m not kidding you about his name. Cyril is the name of a female alien in my novel Tyrmia. No relation, but interesting coincidence.)

Here’s what the editor looks like when you have a project open and are writing. You have space for notes and a synopsis at the bottom, writing with tabs in the center and to the left you have a timer and word counter. All very useful things to have at your fingertips while writing.

(You can click on these pictures for a larger version.)

Plume Creator unfortunately doesn’t handle the Unity interface of a standard Ubuntu install very gracefully. But if you are running KDE, an alternative desktop, it would look much nicer. Maybe someone will code up a native GTK version if this program takes off.

This is what the program’s full-screen capability looks like in Unity. I couldn’t find a way to make the margins larger, so the text is all bunched up in the middle, wasting screen space. I’m not a big fan of full-screen writing, so this doesn’t bother me much.

There is a tracking program for keeping up with what characters and objects are in each scene. It’s called the Attendance Manager and to my knowledge there is nothing like it in Scrivener. If you keep up with this as you write, it could be a very useful tool. But if you let it slip or spend too much time fiddling with it, it could become a distraction for you, and wind up working against you.

There is a slightly unconventional Outliner that comes with the program. I personally prefer to have a spreadsheet and generally don’t like cork board or antique paper looking interfaces when I’m trying to work. I guess I’m more business than fun with my writing. Some folks love this kind of thing, others don’t. It would be nice to have a more traditional handling outliner or spreadsheet like interface as an option here.

This is how I have set up the main editor set up for my testing. There are some pretty cool features in this program and it’s not even to a 1.0 version yet. I encourage you to download it and take it for a test drive. Let Cyril know what you think and if you are a programmer, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind some help with it.

I’ll be testing Plume Creator a bit harder over my vacation, but I wanted to show it off to you now because I just love that someone has stepped up like this on Linux.