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Tools for NaNoWriMo

I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but if you are, here are some tools that might help those of you who are.

First of all, for those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which is, according to their website, “… a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”  If you’ve never heard of it, and would like to know more, then pop over to their site and read up on it quickly.  And, if you’re considering doing this, it’s not too late!  Everything kicks off tomorrow morning so there’s plenty of time, especially if you use the tools I’m about to share with you.
(Okay, these tools really don’t have a direct effect on how much time there is before starting, but they may help if you start writing.)

First of all, there are an amazing array of tools for writers, whether you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month or not.  PC Magazine has a good round-up in their article Tools to Help You Write a Novel in 30 Days.  I’ve written about several of these before, including Scrivener.  Scrivener is a pretty main-stream tool that runs on Mac and Windows.  It has a fairly long list of endorsements from authors of many stripes.  I’ve been personally reluctant to start using this tool mainly due to cost.  But, now, not only has it gotten less expensive, but you can get a free, trial copy especially for NaNoWriMo that will last until December 7th, which is a little bit longer than the regular 30 days.  And, if you complete the NaNoWriMo challenge, you can get a 50% discount via a code that will be included on your “Winner’s Goodies” page at NaNoWriMo.  But, even if you don’t “win” NaNoWriMo, you can get a 20% discount with a code found at the trial download link.  You can also find a special NaNoWriMo template there to help you with your work in November.
If you’re still not ready to commit to a paid bit of software, you can try Plume, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before, in 2012.  It’s free and has many of the same features as Scrivener.  On the other hand, if you want yet another bit of free software that has similar but different features, check out the recently updated opensource project oStorybook.  Again, it has a different look-and-feel, but it’s based on the same code as another popular, opensource software project that went dark.  It’s free and should give a novelist all the tools they need to write their book and keep track of, well, everything.

Or, you can go the simplest route of all and just use a text editor, like I often do!
Either way, let me encourage you to take a risk and give NaNoWriMo a try if you have any interest in writing fiction for a living.  It will be an eye-opening experience!

 

Free eMagazines

I don’t have much for you this week.

Seriously, it’s been a long, tiring week and I’m kind of burned out, but I have to work part of the weekend, too, so I’m afraid this week isn’t great.   Basically, I’ve just got one thing, but at least it’s free.
If you like to read, especially magazines, and don’t mind reading online or via an app, then check out Issuu, the free digital publishing platform.  Yes, it’s basically a news stand in digital format.   But, it’s a news stand with about 19 million magazines about everything from photography to the San Diego Zoo.  You name it, they’ve got it.  And, they have apps for your iOS devices, so you don’t have to just read on the web.

Also, if you’re so inclined, you can publish your own magazine here for free.

So, yeah, that’s all I’ve got.  It’s free, and searchable, so go, find what sets your heart on fire this week and read to your heart’s content.
See you next week!

Destroy All Robots!

Or, at least, all robocallers.

So, lately, I’ve been digging through my files, finding links I saved ages ago to share with you, my few loyal blog readers, and I’m the first to admit that it’s been a mixed bag.  Some have been fun.  Some have been lame.  But, this one actually solves a problem for you.
Do you get automated calls?  Maybe you signed up for a catalog ages ago, or maybe you thought that timeshare in Miami was going to be a real deal and not a scam.  Whatever happened to get you there, you’ve gotten on a list of a robocaller and they keep calling.  Over and over and over again.  Wouldn’t you like to make them go away?
Now you can with NoMo Robo!  This FREE service lets you sign up any phone line, home or cell, and when an annoying robocaller calls, they stop it after the first ring.  That’s right, anyone who’s on their blacklist of spam robocallers will be blocked on the first ring, for free!

Now, I admit, I haven’t used this service myself, yet, so I don’t know how effective it is, but it’s free and you can unsubscribe whenever you want, so I figure it can’t be too bad.
And, that’s all I got for you this week.  Work has been super busy and I’m just drained of all creative juice, so this will have to do for now.
Enjoy your weekend!

Freebies for Friday

Traditionally, I’ve tried to give you free stuff on Friday.
This week is no different.

But, I’ll be honest, it’s been a crazy week with budget planning and strategic planning for the next five years at work, so I haven’t really prepared anything special.  And, that means I’ll be digging into my collection of strange links for two totally random freebies for you to enjoy!

First, since I always fool around with designing websites, or at least talk about it a lot, I bring you the free, beta, Google Web Designer!  It’s a GUI, point-and-click tool to make HTML5 compliant websites with animation and complete Google integration.  It’s a complete tool to let you quickly make webpages without having to really know too much code.  But, mostly, it’s easy to use and free.

And, I’m sure it’s about time you changed the wallpaper on your desktop.  It doesn’t matter what operating system you use, sooner or later, there’s a background graphic and sooner or later, it gets stale.  So, while the Google Web Designer downloads, get over to LouieLand and download a wallpaper to spruce up your desktop.

So, there it is.  Short and sweet.  Two freebies for Friday.
Enjoy your weekend and next week there’ll be …  Well, something.

Wings of Saint Nazaire

I feel like I’ve been slacking lately, so this week, I’ve got a free game for you.

Well, at least it’s a free alpha version of the game, which is still in development.
But, they do say that they plan on making it free when it’s finally complete.  The game is called, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, Wings of Saint Nazaire.  It’s a pretty retro space shooter inspired by X-Wing and Wing Commander.  You can see some animated GIF screen-shots at Screenburn, if you need your appetite whetted before going to the main site to download the game.  For gamers who are as old as me, the interface and graphics should all look very familiar.  This is retro gaming at its best, as far as I can see.
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge gamer, but this really looks like a fun “blast from the past” as it were.

If you’re willing to install a plugin, you can even play Wings of Saint Nazaire right in your browser!
And, since it’s Friday and you all are slacking already, I bet that’s what most of you all will do!
Have fun!

The Medium Is The Message

Marshall McLuhan said that, and it may be one of the few things I remember about him from my Marketing classes.

And, I’ll be honest, outside of it being a catchy phrase, I’m not entirely sure it applies to this post.  But, I suppose, in a way, it does.
Take a look around you and think about how you receive information.  While a “picture is worth a thousand words”, the vast majority of the way we communicate information is via the written word.  Those words are transmitted to us through print of some kind, even if it’s on a computer screen.  The way those words are formed, the shape of the letters, are a typeface. Thanks to a misunderstanding and some naming conventions, we often erroneously call this a “font”, but a font is actually a particular typeface in a particular size and a particular style, like italic or bold.  Computer-based typefaces are variable and may contain many fonts, even though we generally refer to the entire thing as a font.

So what’s this all got to do with my regular Friday freebie?
Well, I love type.  Okay, you may not be able to tell from the current theme on the blog, but I virtually worship the printed word.  My poor wife had to work so hard with me to reduce my collected books to a manageable level, I don’t even know why she married me, the poor thing.  In any case, that obsession has led to me being way, way too fascinated with typefaces and then, of course, with computer fonts.  I have even spent some significant money to get fonts from on-line type foundries, though, I have to admit, I haven’t done that recently.  And, thanks to a number of open and free initiatives, I haven’t had to spend money to get some great fonts and font tools.
And,that’s what I’m bringing you this week; free fonts.

Below are six fonts that I got with two other templates for self-publishing, but they’re free as part of the SIL OpenFont License initiative, which means they’re free to use and distribute.

TheanoThumb SofiaThumb QwigleyThumb CandalThumb AmaranthThumb AlegreyaThumb

But, there are more free fonts where that came from, so be sure to check out Font Squirrel who has a lot of free, commercial fonts, as well as a web font generator.    Then, there’s the League of Moveable Type, who also has some cool free fonts and encourages designers to release at least some of their fonts for free.  And, also, exljbris Font Foundry, who has some free and some limited use fonts available, as well as some paid fonts.

But, if none of those fonts will do, you can always make your own with Font Forge, a free, OpenSource font creation and editing tool.  It’s pretty sweet, if you’re into fonts and typefaces.  Also, it’s free.

So, surely one of those things will amuse you or help you in some way, at least if you’ve read this far and didn’t get bored by now.  Personally, I think I’ll be working on my own font this weekend!

Western Martial Arts

I thought I’d get out of my rut and show you loyal readers something that has fascinated me for years.

Granted, I haven’t had the real opportunity to actually participate in historical Western martial arts, but I have read quite a lot about it. In fact, back in the day, I used to subscribe to Hammerterz Verlag, which was the only semi-regular newsletter on the subject, published by the foremost expert on the art of historical Western combat of recent years, J. Christoph Amberger.
Times have changed!
Earlier this week, I saw a video of what may be the most spectacular sport most people will never see; Longsword Fighting.  It’s about the people who actually practice the nearly lost art of single combat in the Medieval mode.  Specifically, it’s about a tournament called Longpoint, which is an annual gathering of historical Western martial arts practitioners who compete against each other for the thrill and fun of it.  I see it as something like the attraction of boxing gyms a few years back.  It’s a violent sport that gives otherwise staid and sedentary people a bit of good, vigorous exercise.  It does take a bit of gear, but it doesn’t seem like it would be all that much more than lacrosse and that seems fairly accessible, so I don’t see that cost as much of a barrier.
Now, keep in mind that this isn’t like the Society for Creative Anachronism.  The folks in that video tell you straight up that they’re not interested in the courtly manners and all, just the combat.  Sadly, I don’t see anyone active down here in Houston, or I might have to investigate it myself!

Well, in the mean time, you all can watch the video like me and just enjoy the folks enjoying themselves.
Personally, I think the best part is that one of the people held up as one of the best Longsword combatants is a rather compact, female engineering student.  She’s a pistol!
So, ignore my mixed metaphor there and watch the video!

Download The Latest Themes From Automattic

It’s a great time to be a blogger.

No, seriously!  For one thing, if you’re an old guy like me, who’s been blogging for ten or fifteen years, the golden time we all knew was coming has arrived; according to The Atlantic, Millennials are finally craving long-form reads.

So, you can finally setup that blog you’ve been dreaming of and write to your heart’s content.  And, while you can always setup a free blog on WordPress.com, I would personally suggest that you NOT become a digital share-cropper and invest in your own website with a self-hosted copy of WordPress, freely available from WordPress.org.
You can install free or premium themes on self hosted WordPress as well as WordPress.com, but what if you want a theme for your self hosted WordPress that’s only available on WordPress.com?  Of course, you can probably find it free on WordPress.org, but what if you want to modify it, or maybe even use the free, open source code as a basis for your own, very special theme?  Well, then I have good news for you!  Automattic, the folks who run WordPress.com and are responsible for a lot of the greatest stuff for WordPress.org, maintain a free repository of their themes.

Now, you could just go to https://wpcom-themes.svn.automattic.com and laboriously download each theme, one file at a time.  But, if you’re like me, you’re too lazy for that.  So, do like I did and get an SVN client installed and use it to download the lot of them!
I used Tortoise SVN because it’s free and easy to use.  So, go grab that and install it.
Once it’s installed, make a folder somewhere on your computer to hold all the themes.  And, make sure if you’re on a network to make it on your local machine.  If you do it on a network, Tortoise SVN will keep timing out when you try to download the files.
Right-Click on that folder and select ‘Tortoise SVN’ then ‘Export’ if you just want one copy of the files and don’t plan to update it frequently.  If, however, you want to periodically check for updates, choose ‘SVN Checkout’, instead.
Where you’re asked, enter the URL of repository as ‘https://wpcom-themes.svn.automattic.com’ and click on ‘OK’, or ‘Export’, depending on your goal.
Then, kick back and watch the themes download!

Once you have the theme you want, upload it to your self-hosted WordPress blog/site and activate it and enjoy the beauty of the latest and greatest theme from the folks who are the power behind WordPress!

(And, I know this might not appeal to everyone, but, hey, at least it’s not another photography post!)

 

Style Maker

Hopefully, you all won’t be too disappointed to not see links to a bunch of other blogs today.

I hate to admit it, but I wrote this at the last minute because I’ve been so busy.  So, if you all think this is lame today, well, I don’t blame you.  I’ll try to do better for next week and the rest of the month.  No promises, though.
As you may know, I dabble in WordPress, which just updated to a new version yesterday.  Along with that comes dabbling in both plugins and themes.  While I’ve actually created a couple of fairly basic plugins, I have yet to write a theme from scratch.  Still, I obsessively collect books and tools with which to make themes.  Today, I’m bringing you one of those tools.

This link comes to you thanks to WPTavern and is a website that lets you autogenerate style guides from other websites.  The site is called Stylify Me and it’s quite simple.  You just go to their site, then put in the URL of a site you want to use for the basic style.  The site then goes and analyzes the target, bringing you back their color palette, the fonts they use, and the sizes of pictures and thumbnails they use.  It takes all that, wraps it up with a sample graphic of the home page and gives it to you as an easy-to-save PDF style guide which you can use to make a site, or theme, with a similar look and feel.

So, yeah, unless you’re a hard-core geek or designer, not so cool.
But, if you are, well, then it’s the coolest!

Anyway, it’s been a long week for having a holiday, so it’s the best I’ve got.
Next week will be better.
I hope.

Photography Blogs to Follow, Part Two

As implied last week, here are some more photography blogs to follow.

I spend a fortune on camera gear.  I try not to, and lately, I haven’t had the spare cash, but it’s hard to resist the lure of that new, shiny bit of gear!  Thankfully, there’s a blog to help me with that; DIY Photography.  In fact, over the years, if you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you’ve seen me link to these folks regularly.  They have tutorials for everything from building your own sets to super cheap flash modifiers.  But, they’re not just about gear!  They also have lots of great tutorials for getting different shots without breaking the bank on new gear!  Definitely worth a look!

And, if you want to keep up on some of the latest trends in photography or the latest photographic news, I personally find that PetaPixel is a fantastic site for that.  The link I linked, for instance, takes you to a post showing GoPro video from a photojournalist who’s embeded with a special tactical squad in Ferguson.  It’s pretty crazy.
Not everything they talk about is quite as controversial, but they keep pretty well in touch with what’s going on it a lot of areas of photography today.

And, if you want the opposite of that video linked above, head over to the Photography Is Not A Crime site.  These folks keep watch on police officers and departments who abuse photographers in one form or another.  Whether it’s trying to keep us from taking perfectly legal photographs in public or legally and openly filming the police doing their job, PINAC, as they like to abbreviate their name, is watching and, in some cases, standing up to lawsuits to protect our rights as photographers!

Finally, there’s Photofocus.
This started out as a single photographer’s website that grew from his educational site into a much larger site filled with some of the best tutorials, commentaries and inspirational pieces around.  They’re another site that my regular readers will recognize me linking to quite a bit in the past.

So, there you have it, more blogs to thrill, inform and inspire the budding photographer!
Come back next week to see if I share more blogs or something completely different!  Even I don’t know!