Monday, January 23, 2012

Indispensable Writing Resources

I recently loaded a fresh version Windows 7 onto a new SSD (Solid State Drive) for faster boot-ups, and just because I wanted to take an SSD out for a spin.It's always interesting to me to see what apps I load first to get back up and writing as quickly as possible. Here's the list this time.

Any (Windows) computer with a good always-on broadband connection is open game for all kinds of nefarious shenanigans. I bought a site license for Trend Micro on my primary computer but even with rigorous protection, recently found myself a victim of an exploitation that got in, I think, through a self-updating Java update. I woke on my anniversary in December to discover that my computer had become infected while I slept. It took me most of the day to clean my computer. That was a pain.
So I went to install an antivirus app first thing on the new SSD and, lo-and-behold, Trend Micro said I was already using my three licenses. I rolled my eyes. Yes, it's loaded on my other hard drive, but it's still just protecting this computer. But happily, I'd recently read an article at Lifehacker on this very topic, and they ranked the Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus app as the best performing free antivirus app. That was good enough for me. I loaded that up, did a quickscan, and have been utterly happy ever since.

After loading antivirus protection, the first thing I do is hop into Internet Explorer. IE has gotten much better since the bad old days when it was a standards non-compliant virus-magnet. While I've been a Firefox user forever, I've discovered that I'm using Google Chrome for more and more, and it has some spectacular surprises (more on that in a bit). It loads Hulu and Netflix faster for me, and I particularly like the way it integrates with other Google products I use everyday, including Gmail, Google Reader, and the next item on the list.

Social Networking
My social networking needs change from season to season (remember those awesome days with MySpace and Shoutlife?). I've since left both those communities and have standardized on just three: Facebook, Twitter, and the new Google+. The upstart newcomer already has over 100M users and is quickly expanding. After setting up rigorous Circles, I find I don't use the circles much at all but the free video hangouts are brilliant, and I find the tenor of the posts in my stream are more techy, more thoughtful by and large than the more family-life and browser games discussions I detect in my Facebook stream. Twitter remains its own thing, and I enjoy having specific lists of people I follow there.

I prefer to do single-source posting, writing one thought and automatically forwarding it to a number of services. I used to use for that, but with the advent of Goodle +, I now cut out the middle man and do all my posting right at G+. I write-once, post-many, crafting my thoughts on Google+ (where I can edit an existing post, whee!) and then automatically forward my posts to Facebook and Twitter. If my posts are longer than 140 characters, my posts are shortened and a link is inserted to my primary post on Google+. (It may be annoying to people in my Twitter stream, but it works for me.)

Extensions / Add-ons
Which leads to my next tool,, an extension for Chrome and Firefox which allows me to auto-forward my posts to Facebook and Twitter (among others). And the cool thing is I can uncheck Fb or Twitter or both to customize each post to determine what posts go where.
I also made sure that AdBlock was running, because really, why not?

Adobe Apps
I quickly loaded Adobe Reader, Air, and Flash, because I know I'll be using these things to do stuff on the internet. Add in Microsoft Silverlight for Netflix and I'm good to go.

Forget Word, Scrivener is the most powerful, most fun writing app I've discovered. I can export to any file format I need, I can write and move scenes around to fit my writing style, and I can even use the Snapshot feature to go back to an earlier version of the story. There are versions for both Windows and Mac, and I keep my working files in the cloud on Dropbox for easy and secure access anywhere.

The Old Standbys
I've written about most of these before so I won't spend much time on them here. I can't live without them or something like them:
  1. Dropbox - I keep copies of all my documents in the cloud and can access them anywhere there's an internet connection and a browser. Up to 2 gig free.
  2. Evernote - Whenever I see something interesting online that I want to mark to read or save for later, I clip it into Evernote, another cloud-based app. I tag my articles for easy use later, such as AuthorCulture, Resource Roundup, Writing Stuff, and so on.
  3. DU Meter - This is a little bandwidth monitor I keep in my Windows sidebar that shows me download and upload speeds in real time.
  4. Pidgin - Open source IM client. 
  5. Apple iTunes - automatically downloads podcasts easier than anything else I've found.

Browser Bookmarks / Favorites
On Firefox, I'd normally go through a process to backup and save and recover all my bookmark favorites, but with Google Chrome, that's not necessary. I logged into Gmail / Google+ and I noticed that shortly thereafter, my Chrome bookmarks had automatically updated. I had the following already in my bookmark favorites toolbar:
  1. Gmail - brower-based e-mail I can follow my computer or any smartphone
  2. Google+ - social networking (with the best integrated way of keeping up with threads I've commented in, and with animated .gifs if you so desire!)
  3. Google Reader - with the demise of Blogspots, this has become my go-to RSS reader. I'm not crazy about the latest face-lift, but it is powerful and ubiquitous.
  4. Facebook - the big kahuna among social networking sites. I remain here because so many of my friends and family don't know there's anything else (no matter how hard I try to edumacate them).
  5. Twitter - taught us the merit and simple addictive joy of microblogging, 140 characters at a     <---- this is a joke
  6. Hulu - free streaming TV with a robust Plus version.
  7. Netflix - streaming movies
  8. Pandora - free streaming radio
  9. Grooveshark - free streaming albums
Next to last, I set up my Windows Sidebar gadgets, including a calendar, clock, countdown reminder, CPU / RAM monitor, moonphase thingy, Weatherbug, and DU Meter. I've added other things as I think of them, but have been pleasantly surprised with how fast I was able to get back up and running.

Finally, I was surprised by the apps I haven't yet loaded because I haven't needed them. (Microsoft Office, I'm lookin' at you.)
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