Creative Workflow

I've spent much time and effort constructing the best creative workflow for myself. These are my thoughts on the process and the tools I use to bring out those bits of creativity that I can direct into my writing.

My Tools

  • Evernote Evernote (Free) :I store everything in here. Well eveything but my actual writing. In conjunction with IFTT, I have an automated service that stores all the information I deem important to remember. It can store, web articles, PDF's, images, screenshots, notes to yourself, emails, most text files, small movies or audio clips, links to other websites; the only limitation on the free tier is the upload size limit of 50mb (can be upgraded to 1gig) There is no limit on how much you store. This I find invaluable, the longer one uses the service, the amount of information is astounding. Its my own personal wiki.
  • IFTT (Free) :IFTT is an automation service that allows me to setup recipes that are simple to create; these is even a large library of recipes that is shared by other users. Setting up is as easy as drag and drop. The gist of the service is that you will setup channels ---those being things like facebook, twitter, gmail, dropbox, evernote, etc---- and triggers that will automatically perform actions with those services. IFTT means If this then that. I'll give examples further on in the article.
  • NVAlt NVAlt (Free) :For simple note taking and backup. It is quick and works well with plaintext and markdown. I backup exclusively to Dropbox that later on when notes rumerate until I'm ready to work on that idea in iA Writer.
  • Dropbox (Free) :The only backup service you should be using. Its simplicity and openness along with its widespread availability is unparalleled. I still only use the free tier but the IFTT triggers available greatly greases the wheels in my workflow.
  • iA Writer (iPad: .99, MAS: 4:99) My simple text editor of choice. It allows me to sync with iCloud or Dropbox. It has just the features I want and nothing more. Handles markdown documents flawlessly.

How I use these tools

  • Using IFTT and GMail (my main public facing email), IFTT will trigger everytime I label an email as receipt and store it in an Evernote notebook titled Receipts. *Anytime I put a PDF in a particular Dropbox folder, IFTT will upload that PDF into Evernote and tag and label it properly. *Everytime I am tagged or post a photo to facebook, IFTT will download that photo to a certain Dropbox folder.
  • I can call a particular number IFTT provides and it will transcribe that voicemail and upload it to a Voicemail notebook in Evernote. Great for quick todo's or ideas.
  • Everytime I star a news item in Google Reader, it automatically gets uploaded to Evernote into a ReadLater notebook. I used to use instapaper but my overall goal in my workflow is reduce the number of apps I use.
  • Whenever I get a hankering to jot down an idea, I will either write in a paper notebook for later adding to NVAlt (which is always running on my Mac) ,or I jot down in my memos app on my phone which I will email to my Evernote email address. When you sign up for evernote you reiceve a personal email address that you can email things to, attachments or just plain text and it will file it into your inbox for later processing. *Using the evernote mac app, I can take screenshots and they will get uploaded to a screenshot folder. This is great for UI and design work or just funny pictures, or even whenever I need a quick screencap of a bug I've found while working.
  • I archive all my FB status updates into a single file in Evernote using an IFTT recipe. *Everytime I check-in on Foursquare, IFTT will send that location along with GPS on a map or a and photo if I uploaded one into a Check-in notebook in Evernote.
  • Also, IFTT will text me in the morning weather information. Not something so useful but i was my first recipe to use and its consistent.

I am a techie and thus I can be easily distracted by new and shiny tools. But, I've learned these are just distractions. Find an app that is useful, fullfils your needs and is beautiful but simple and you won't turn back. The older I've gotten I've discovered I've slight ADD so my thoughts can be everyway. But using technology to capture those thoughts for later processing is key to my success. Set aside some time everyday to go through your inbox. Set aside some time everyday to get through your Reading list. Lastly and most importantly, you must force yourself to act on those thoughts and write. Wise men have said your should only work on one piece at a time; I've yet to master this technique. I currently have three things going that I am working on: a rewrite from The Druids Cycle (My first novel), a short story called The Veteran, various ideas for future blog articles. There always seems to be something new I'd like to work on, its endless but that is good.

Additional Notes:

  • IFTT has channels for all Google services, so the possibilites there are enumerable. I wish they would add channels for Apple services and iCloud but I highly doubt this until public API's exist.
  • Channels are constently being added so keep an eye out or follow the IFTT blog.
  • My organization in Evernote is constantly evolving but find what works for you.
  • I do all my final writing in Scrivener which I find is the key to actually finishing the first draft of The Druids Cycle. All serious writers shoudl eventually acquire this program ---available for Windows also.
  • I write mostly in Markdown. For those that don't know what it is, it is a plaintext file with little inline syntax that adds formatting for display on the web. Its a "learn in 5 minutes" format and is used by countless writers on the web. Essentially, anything I write that will eventually end up on the web gets put in Markdown. Otherwise, I stick to plaintext.
  • Take advantage of Dropbox's versioning of your files. Especially with writing.
  • Any service you use online, it behooves you to make sure its just as easy to get your information out of said service as it was to get information into it.
  • Keep It Simple Stupid.

This is my workflow and it serves me. Through much trial and error, it is what I'm sticking with for the time being. But find what works for you and stick with it. Automate as much as you can and use as few tools/services as I only need.

Node.js: Avoid the Noid

"If I am happy with the same code I wrote a year ago, I am not improving as a coder."

In an effort to improve my skill set, I have taken the plunge into 3rd party javascript frameworks.

The Rails world has taught me so much. Ruby opened my eyes to a beautiful language that is unparalleled in its succinctness and subtly. With a shallow learning curve and a vibrant community, anyone can pick up the basics in a couple weeks. I will continue to keep with the trends and hone my RoR knowledge.

Now, everyone has suggested Backbone.js. Its lightweight and modular. Written by the same guy who developed coffeescript, one can quickly build organized and beautiful webapps. Moving work from the server side to the client side is the future.

A couple things I hope to master in the coming weeks:

  • Explore the various ways backbone can interface with the server via a RESTFUL api. I want to be able to write my own api and the options here are intriguing, whether on sinatra server, or integrated in a Rails backend where my restful routes would be setup automatically for me could be convenient, there is also the Java and JSONP way which seems to the most basic, also ive seen alot of implementations where the routes and db is local via Couchdb or IndexxedDB etc
  • Master the best practices in regards to app organization. There seems to be not one way to do this, backbone gives you a theory but leaves it up the developer to organize, probably best, id definitely want to namespace my code. This also leads me to Ember.js or require.js, I understand require but it seems overkill for now, ember seems a good starting off point for me, its very secluded by nature like Bundler in the Rails world.
  • How easy is it to test my app? Being quite familiar with RSpec integration testing and Cucumber acceptance testing, will I have any problems migrating to a Jasmine approach, or QUnits(may be wrong here) Testing for me has typically slowed down my development but it is invaluable in keeping a good record of development and the more I do it, Ill get better of course and down the road I'll be able to refine my approach and see what works for me.
  • I already validate all my javascript via JSLint but I'd like this to be in real time, this leads me to tools, I've been on Sublime Text 2 for a while now and I'm comfortable in it, but is this the best way to write my code, I do miss real time code feedback like in Eclipse or XCode.
  • I really need to pay more attention to jQuery, its so powerful and quite ubiquitous now, I've always used it when I needed it to solve a problem. I rarely delved down into the docs and consider the true purpose of the library. I mean I understand ajax but I always used the shortcut .get or .post, my animations always worked but reading some blog posts on the animation queue showed me how incorrectly I was doing things.

In school they taught us in C and Java but at least it was a good education and they focused more on theory. This allowed to pick up a language in the real world quickly but that was 5-6 years ago. My mind hasn't been challenged, I hope this new trek into a serious MVC JS frameworks challenges me and I'm able to write beautifully functioning code.

Stay tuned for such projects as: * A test website designed solely to explore the feasibility of keyboard only navigation * A grid framework tailored for Metro/Win8 sites * A personal analytics site. A 'you give me data, I model it for you'

Microsoft Surface tablet is just that... a surface.

So Microsoft when up and done got themselves a tablet

I took the news of Microsoft unveiling their new tablet initiative with a meh reaction. Until, we actually get to hold it in our hands and experience the real world performance of the device, there really is no point to get invested. We do not know when it will ship, how much it costs, how will they distribute it? These are all answers they should be revealed for a product such as this at product launch. The industry needs to move away from these teaser events that only serve to appease stockholders and industry journalists. It serves the customer a disservice.

The announcement marked a shift for Redmond. What will become of their existing business partners? Will they eventually do the same with Windows Phone? I believe so, though Nokia makes some damn good hardware.

If they can innovate, I believe they will be successful. They innovated with Windows 95, with the XBOX, and their Metro UI. And now they will bring all this experience to the tablet form factor with complete control over hardware. Customer can tell the difference when their is a gap between the hardware and software side --the state of market bears this truth. So, they must innovate like Apple.

What can Apple advance with the New iPad

The new iPad serves as a warning that Apple could be running out of ways to significantly advance the tablet art form.

-Jon Phillips Is This the Last iPad That Really Matters?

What short sighted idiocy.

Mr. Phillips offers some unoriginal tidbits in his recent Wired article ---I lament the state of reporting coming from Wired these days.

Phillips believes the new iPad is a wall of innovation attained by Apple, essentially he proposes Apple has engineered themselves into a corner.

I offer these rebuttals to his views on each new feature of the iPad

Yes, the new screen makes using all the previous generations feel as if one is using an old 9 inch CRT, but isn't this basically what technology does. Apple will continue to improve on this retina display; new display technologies will be developed, better reproduction of colors, lower battery life etc.

Honestly LTE adoption by Apple did surprise me, I felt the battery drain I've seen on all the Android devices wouldn't fit with Apples design practices. But they still did it and solved it. Naturally you can assume this will only get better and LTE in itself will evolve much like wifi did from the late 90's to today. My only issue with LTE is with the carriers, so a fat pipe and they maintain the same 3G era data plans. This has to change.

New Camera?

Though one may look foolish holding an iPad to take a shot, I think you might be able to take actual better pictures with one. Stabilization is much easier when holding a larger device. Maybe Apple just had a surplus of iPhone4 camera sensors and felt it might be cheaper to just include. Does it hurt? The front facing camera received a huge upgrade, this makes a lot of difference on those Skype and FaceTime calls. Video calls on the iPad feel so natural. This also lead Apple to just go ahead and upgrade the rear, it just made sense.

The story here, folks, is that Apple didn’t make a dramatic processor upgrade, but rather made the right processor upgrade. --Jon Phillips

Finally some sense, how fair of you Mr. Phillips.

So, he write an inflammatory misleading article title but most of his piece is just a run-of-the-mill overview of the new iPad. No originality here. He asks a question but fails at answering it, nor does he leave any valid answers to this question for the audience. He contradicts himself in the very last statement

Whichever path it chooses, Apple has work to do. The new Retina display effectively punctuates the iPad lineage as we know it with an emphatic full stop.

Maybe this was just bad writing and Mr. Phillips is a nice guy.

Addendum:

  • A retina screen requires a two-three fold increase in application sizes, flash will continue to just get cheaper and Apple will bump the minimum amount of storage we have. More services currently run on the iPad may eventually start to reside in the cloud, additionally alleviating some of these concerns.
  • I know Apple is dying to remove the area around the screen of the device and just make it one giant screen. Thats essentially what a tablet is right?