New Toys for my Computer

A few weeks ago I started having problems with my email program running away with me.  I was sending empty emails, and duplicates, and I had no idea why.  And the problems spread to the web site I usually use to look up the TV schedule.  I’d click on a program description, and the box would snap open and shut too fast for me to read it.  Same thing with Twitter–it took several attempts to open a picture (Twitter was invented to disseminate pictures of cats, right?).

In due time I realized that the problem had to be related to my mouse.  I went to the control panel and tried adjusting the click speed, but that had absolutely no effect.  I tried googling terms like “hair trigger mouse,” and found nothing.  Then last weekend, I finally figured out what was actually going on–the mouse was randomly sending out double clicks when I was sending out single clicks.  Not every time, but often enough to be really annoying.  By then it was even affecting my attempts to select text.

When I googled “mouse sends double clicks,” I found plenty of folks who’ve had the same problem with aging mice (and mine was coming up on four years of steady service).  It makes sense–even optical mice must have some sort of physical mechanism for transmitting clicks.  I found instructions on taking a mouse apart to fix it.  Yeah, right.  Back in the day, I had no trouble removing the ball from the underside of a mechanical mouse to clean it, but that day is long gone.  The obvious solution to this problem, and the most common advice, was “buy a new mouse.”

So yesterday I stopped at the local Office Depot and found myself staring at a display of at least thirty different mice, about two thirds of which were wireless.  I wanted corded–this was for a desktop computer that never moves, and a corded mouse doesn’t require batteries.  I thought I might as well pick out something a bit higher up the scale than the simple mouse that came with my computer, so I settled on an ergonomic critter with some extra buttons and features (Logitech model M500).

The trickiest part of installing it was tracing the old mouse cord to the back of the computer to detach it.  I don’t know what I unplugged on the first try, but it wasn’t the mouse.  Once I had the new one plugged in, Windows took over and made it work.  There were a couple of features that needed the Logitech driver, so I downloaded that, but it wasn’t needed for the basic mouse functions.

The new mouse solved all the problems I had attributed to the old one, and even a few I hadn’t recognized.  It has a control that switches the wheel from free spinning (and very fast) action to line-by-line motion.  And it has two buttons on the side that function as back and forward clicks on web sites.  The Logitech driver lets you program various buttons to do all sorts of things.  Highly recommended for right-handers.  If there’s a leftie version I did not see it at Office Depot.

I have a new piece of software to play with, too.  The folks at Literature and Latte, the source of Scrivener, have released Scapple for Windows.  I’ve been envious since they released it for Mac, and this fall I downloaded the beta version of the Windows release.  The full release came out a few weeks ago for the princely sum of $14.95.  Scapple is a brainstorming, note-jotting, what-you-make-of-it program that turns your computer screen into an expanse where you can make notes, move them around, connect them, and generally play with them.  My first Scapple file is full of plot notes and ideas for the story I’m working on, thrown all over the screen.  A friend recently showed me the extremely neat plot outline she’d made with Scapple on her laptop.  You can pull Scapple files into a folder in your Scrivener project, too.  Here’s a sample:

Scapple sample

 

 

Scrivener Features: Auto-Complete

I stumbled across the Auto-Complete function the other day when I was doing a menu-crawl around Scrivener’s nooks and crannies.  It’s not the same as Auto-Correct, which I’ve had to turn off.  Either Auto-Correct is too imaginative or I am: when I had the feature turned on, Scrivener kept changing my characters’ names and “correcting” other words that I didn’t notice until I reread my pages.  Or worse, until I read them to my critique group.

Auto-Complete, on the other hand, only does what you’ve told it to do, offering up long or difficult-to-type words or phrases when you type the first letter.  For novelists, I imagine this would most often be character or place names.  In my collection of unpublished novels, I have a parallel worlds tale set partially along a Texas Coast dominated by the Aztec Empire.  Tenochtitlán popped up from time to time, and I was glad to have whatever word processor I was using at the time let me assign a short-cut key to it.  And the words Señor and Señora, with their tildes, were all over the manuscript.

AutoCompleteScrivener allows you to set up a separate Auto-Complete list for each project (under the Project menu, or with ctrl+shift+4).  When you type the first letter of one of the words or phrases on your list, up it pops in an unobtrusive little box.  If that’s what you want, hit enter.  If not, just keep typing, and chances are you won’t even notice the pop up.  Say you’re working on an essay on American history—just how many times do you want to spell out Articles of Confederation?

I didn’t find much on Auto-Complete in the Scrivener documentation, so it took a little experimentation to make it work.  You enter the words you want to escape retyping in the Auto-Complete list box (to get the accent on Tenochtitlán and the tilde on Señor I typed them in my text, using the Character Map located at the bottom of the Edit menu to find my special letters, and then copied and pasted them into the list box).  But you also have to go to the Corrections section of the Options box (under the Tools menu) and make sure that “suggest completions as you type” is checked.

OptionsCorrections

You may never have to look up that pesky accent or umlaut again.

Scrivener Features: Project Targets

Earlier this year, I was asked to give a talk on Scrivener to the May meeting of the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter.  When I finally got around to putting it together last weekend, I had done so little writing in the last couple of months that I found myself practically rediscovering the software.  The program more than proved its worth, if I had any doubts, when I used it to organize and write up my talk.

In the process I also discovered that it is very difficult to compress a piece of software as large and complex as Scrivener into a relatively brief presentation.  I probably confused my audience (which fortunately wasn’t large), but I got some laughs, and some questions, and two people in the group have told me they are trying Scrivener out, so I must have done something right.

If a tour of Scrivener is a stretch for an hour’s workshop, it’s certainly far too much for a blog post.  But one feature at a time, now that’s doable.  So let’s start with one of my favorites, Project Targets.  This little widget floats anywhere on your screen.  Project TargetsDepending on your point of view, and/or your progress on your manuscript, it will either inspire you or kick your butt (hopefully into gear).  Here’s an example lifted from my current work-in-progress; as you see, I haven’t been making much.

To use the Manuscript Target section, you simply fill in the number of words you’re shooting for in your manuscript, and the widget shows you how many words you have, and where you are on a scale of zero to completion.  The bar starts out red and gradually changes color as it fills in; it turns to yellow and then green as you approach your target.

The Session Target is for more immediate word counts.  If you have a personal target of x many words per day, or you need 5,000 words to meet your editor’s deadline, just fill in the number and Scrivener will tell you exactly where you are.

In the same section of Scrivener (the Project Menu), you will also find the usual word processing info.  Project Statistics gives you Words, Characters, Pages (Printed) and Pages (Paperback) for the complete project and for the document you’re working on.  The Options tab lets you adjust which documents are included in the project count, the word count per page, etc.  Text Statistics gives you Words, Characters, Paragraphs, and Word Frequency for the document you are working on.

Eyes lit up in the audience when I talked about Project Targets at our meeting the other night.  Clearly I’m not the only writer who needs a measure of her progress, and Scrivener makes it easy to see.

Now I just need to make some progress worth measuring!

Novelists5

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries