Tools of my trade

As a break away from the everyday, I thought I’d share a look into what tools I use to indulge my writing fetish.

I discovered Scrivener quite by accident. I took it for a test drive and was hooked almost immediately. In the same breath I discovered its publisher Literature & Latte supports an ongoing beta of their product on Linux. I bought the x86 license (which is nice and flexible) and set it up as my composition environment of choice. I did this mainly for two reasons: buying the license felt like a good way to support L & L, and because I do most of my revisioning in Windows.

Discovering the Linux application gave me a great excuse to reinvest myself in my long-standing flirtation with Linux. I am not a superuser, skilled amateur is probably overgenerous. I cut my teeth on the early flavors of “Linux Live” that came out of Gentoo about a decade ago; I have FreeBSD and FedoraCore around in my collection of old CDs, but I never really built anything that I usedas part of my recipe for life. Fiddling was fun, trying to work wasn’t.

Scrivener induced me to look again, and while I’d been away Ubuntu had gained a good deal of popularity. I’m even reading about it as a next-generation cellphone platform (okay, given that Android is based on Linux, that’s maybe not too exciting). Anyway, Ubuntu 12.04 running on my old 2.3lb HP Compaq 2510p has been reliable, stable, and generally pretty lovely. Throw in the “extra life” battery and I’ve got about 8 hours of use on a laptop just over 3lbs. It’s a good thing.

My home-office desk itself is primarily given to my professional life; the dock for my employer-provided laptop is there, with the dual-display expansions, and I use Synergy to connect it to my personal computer – a whitebox gaming rig a couple years out of date. Both of these systems are running Win7: work is Win7 Pro, personal is Win7 Home Premium. The personal PC is where my editing and revisioning takes place. I also use it for image manipulation, and before the intervention it was the home of my hopeless addiction to EVE Online.

Ubuntu One offers 5M of free cloud storage to anyone wanting to sign up. It gave me this nifty way to move Scrivener files from Linux to Windows without having to email them around or attach my portable “Scrivwriter” to my LAN (the work and personal computer sit behind a very unforgiving firewall so I don’t communicate with them from the wireless DMZ). Ubuntu One doesn’t claim to be encrypted, but some on-disk encryption is available. Transmission is via SSL, but file encryption is up to the user. I’m just starting to look at solutions for this. Suggestions are welcome. I understand Viivo (formerly SecretSync?) works with U1 and Dropbox, but is it cross-platform? Boxcryptor, same question.

Since I do travel from time to time, Ubuntu One provides a reasonable backup for Scriv files with the cloud-connected solution. As long as I remember to close down Scrivener when I’m not using it, I’m good to go. A note to anyone trying this, Scrivener uses lock files to manage its data across shared environments, and if you don’t clear them (by closing your project) and let the sync software update, you’ll be grumpy when you go over to your remote system and try to open your Scriv files. Can you say borked? What does that mean? Kill Scrivener before you go into standby. Caveat emptor.

Given my gypsy tendency to tweak, I’ve started sniffing around other distros again; I want to try a newer iteration of KDE, and similar such things, which has me pondering VM or multi-OS implementations. I’m on the fence here. I’ll keep pondering; hell there’s another laptop around the house somewhere if I get really impulsive. I haven’t looked to see if Ubuntu One runs on other distros reliably (can’t imagine why not), but I do know that Dropbox works. Scriv files are pretty lightweight; if you remember to archive off old stuff from time to time, no problems with storage space.

I also use Evernote, installed on my personal PC, installed on my phone, and when I need it on Linux I get it through web login. This provides me with access to my pocket notes, drawings and photos. In a pinch I even use Skitch to draw, or, interestingly the Moleskine app syncs with Evernote, which makes it easy to push my infrequent doodles into the e-notebook. As this blog matures, I’m sure some of those doodles will appear.

These are my e-tools.

So, what’s the rest of the world do?