Tag Archive for workflow

The Chromebook for Road Warrior Writing

Samsung Chromebook

The Samsung Chromebook

We’ve invested heavily in the Chromebook at my day job, and it’s given me an opportunity to evaluate several models and use them on a day-to-day basis. After using one for several months now, I’ve found they offer a lot of options for those of us looking for a simple, portable, and affordable setup for writing.

First up, consider the price: with some Chromebooks available as low as $170 these days, they’re about a third of the cost of an iPad and a decent keyboard or cover. For that price, a writer could lose or break one without too much heartbreak. Take a thousand-dollar MacBook Air to Starbucks, meanwhile, and one hesitates to leave it sitting on the table during a bathroom visit.

The ChromeOS is also simple to operate and very snappy. Power up a Chromebook and you’re ready to work in seconds, and battery life ranges from a few hours to 12-14 hours for some models. There are shortcuts to all of the major Google Apps, and you’ve got access to the Chrome Web Store and, soon, the Play Store for Android apps. Chrome browser users will also find their browser settings like bookmarks, history, and extensions automatically synced to the Chromebook.

That said, don’t go expecting to install Word, PhotoShop, the latest games (for your kids, right?), or other software. ChromeOS is a bare-bones operating system with enough juice to get you online. You’ll have a webcam, some USB ports, and sometimes an SD card slot, but this is no full-on desktop replacement. 95% of the apps run through the Chrome browser and are Internet apps; the rest are simple apps like the file manager, the camera app, or the calculator.

Chromebook with video

Of course, entertainment’s not completely out of the question

Most of your data will live in Google Drive. Chromebooks have small hard drives for local downloads and for offline file storage, but if you don’t buy into the Google ecosystem, your options are limited. The benefit to Google Drive is you have instant file sync and you’re not juggling file versions or sweating backups and lost data. Writing in Google Docs, writers can log in to any computer with a browser, or use Docs apps on most modern mobile devices, and pick up right where they left off on a Chromebook.

No Wi-Fi available? No problem. With offline file sync, a writer can create or edit a file and the changes will be merged to Google Drive the next time there’s a connection. I actually prefer to use my phone as a hotspot than go without a connection, but I’ve been able to work both ways seamlessly.

Brand-wise, there are more to choose from all the time. I’ve been happiest with Acer for the lower-end models. The Samsung units aren’t bad, but the Acer is a little more durable. Asus units are nice, but I’ve had some bad support experiences that have soured me on their brand for now.

For performance purposes, spend a little more for a unit with 4GB of RAM if you expect it to be a workhorse, otherwise the 2GB models are fine for basic surfing and productivity. There are also some variances in processor architecture, but the only one I’ve really been disappointed in is the HP Chromebook 11, which I found very sluggish with multiple browser tabs open.

Chromebook, iPod, Moleskine

Traveling companions.

There are not a lot of downsides when you consider what you’re paying for. You’re not going to have the variety of apps there are for an iPad, or for an Android tablet, but then again, that’s not why you’re buying a Chromebook. The plastic construction is more fragile than the metal iPads and MacBook Air, but is comparable to most plastic PC laptops. I’ve seen Samsung screens break with just a little flexing, but the good news is they’re very easy and inexpensive to replace, especially compared to standard laptop screens.

Again, be prepared to buy into the Google ecosystem. One could work around it by writing in Evernote or another online service, or by juggling plain text files with Dropbox via their website, but it seems to me that would get old fast. If you’re not into Google’s Terms of Service, then you’ll want to invest in an inexpensive notebook. Or maybe you just prefer the friendly confines of the Apple ecosystem? I don’t judge.

If printing is part of your workflow, don’t plan on hooking up a printer. You’ll be printing through Google Cloud Print, which will allow you to print either to another computer’s printer (with a little setup in your Google account) or a Cloud Print-enabled network printer. Or, of course, you could just print the files from Google Drive on another computer and skip Cloud Print altogether.

All in all, I’m very happy with Chromebooks. If I take one to a Starbucks or a similar joint to work, the Chromebook is up and ready to go before they finish making my drink. I’ll typically have four tabs open: Google Docs, for whatever project I’m working on; Slacker Radio, for tuning out the environment; Evernote, for referencing my notes; and Moosti, a Pomodoro timer. Paper notebook on one side, drink on the other, and I’ve got a nice, self-contained environment I can set up anywhere. It’s even perfect out on the front porch with an adult beverage and a cigar.

If an iPad is too spendy, or tablets and keyboards just aren’t going to cut it, one could certainly do a lot worse than a Chromebook. They’re inexpensive, there’s no farting around with maintenance or antivirus, and there’s no sweating backups or file management. Just travel, open it up, and go to work.

Smells like win to me.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why I Love Evernote (and You Will, Too)

I use a lot of apps, but Evernote has become the single app I’m not sure I could replace. Word processors, task managers, and social media apps are all fairly interchangeable. Operating systems? I have my favorites, but they don’t much matter in the end. Even the device isn’t very important anymore.

Not so for Evernote. Sure, it has competitors offering some of the same features, but it’s so entrenched in my workflow, and I have so much data stashed in its cloudspace, that it would be difficult for me to migrate away from it, even if I wanted to. I have a premium account for the extra features, but I’m also happy to pay up to ensure they’re not going anywhere.

The following video sums up the basic idea and features. Check it out, and then I’ll get on to how Evernote’s been useful for me in so many ways.

Now let’s talk about why you might want to sign up.

I Use It For:

The Day Gig

I juggle a lot of information in the day job, and there’s not a lot that doesn’t find its way into Evernote. Software manuals and instruction booklets can be stored on several services, but Evernote makes them searchable, lets me tag them, and lets me add my own notes. The extensive federal paperwork I have to fill out every year goes into Evernote, along with all of the notes, dates, and filing information that goes with it.

It also makes a great repository for software license codes and activation keys. For a while I’d type in anything I couldn’t cut and paste, but now I just take a picture of the keys. For example, when we purchase interactive whiteboards, there are activation keys on both the board and the CD case. A couple of taps and a photo of every new key is added to the same note as the others.

Separately, I make extensive use of Evernote Skitch to mark up screenshots for passing instructions and tips along to coworkers. With Evernote integration, I have those same notes and annotations to share again later.

Research

This one should be a no-brainer. I record it once, I keep it forever, no matter the subject. If I’m shopping for something, I can snap photos and take notes about pricing and/or features. If it’s a newspaper or magazine article, I can snap a photo and Evernote will make its text searchable.

This is also where the Evernote Web Clipper comes in handy. Web articles, blog posts, Wikipedia entries, and more can be saved and tagged with a couple of clicks. Just yesterday I grabbed an io9 article on powering a starship with an artificial black hole for possible use in a writing project.

Fitness

There are a handful of print fitness magazines I’ll pick up from time to time, but my shelf space is far too limited to keep them around to look up a workout routine once in a blue moon. In those cases I’ll scan and tag the article and slide it into Evernote.

It works the same for digital magazines on the iPad. Whether I’m reading them in the Kindle app or Apple iBooks or Newsstand, a screenshot works as well as a scanner, and Evernote filing is handled on the same device.

Even better, I don’t have to think about them anymore. Magazines go forgotten on shelves, but if I search for “bench press” in Evernote, it’ll turn up a handful of useful articles I’ll have forgotten about.

Recipes

This is how I hooked The Wife. She has a cabinet full of recipe books, magazines, and hand-written cards from her mom or her friends. I do most of the cooking these days, and I can never find the right books. If we go shopping, we would inevitably forget an ingredient or two.

With Evernote, I snap a picture of our favorite recipes. They’re instantly available when I’m cooking, and if we’re at the store and suddenly decide we’re going to make shrimp chowder, I can pull up the recipe right there. I’ve used Web Clipper to collect several new recipes, too.

Now The Wife has an account, and I’ve shared the entire recipe notebook with her. She can browse them on her phone, or she can add to our collection.

Martial Arts

This is where the workflow gets a little strange because I take notes by hand at first. I’d love to use an Evernote Notebook by Moleskine, but my handwriting is way too messy for Evernote to make any sense of it, especially when I’m writing in a hurry in class.

Taking a few minutes to retype them, however, is worth the time. I have research, history, kata breakdowns, judo articles, and more piled up in there, and I often include links to videos I’ve stashed on YouTube for reference. As such, it became an invaluable study guide for my black belt test last March, both for the written test and the board exam.

We also have a class where my instructor has a handout from time to time. We have a binder we keep for these papers, but scans or pictures of these, too, go straight into Evernote. Instead of digging up the binder, I just pick up my phone.

Writing

And now we have the big one. Aside from the writing itself, there’s not much I don’t do in Evernote (though there’s no reason I couldn’t write in a note if I chose to). Let’s just make a list:

  • Character descriptions. Sure beats searching back through a manuscript, and I’ll often paste in passages alongside my own notes.
  • Timelines and continuity. Character histories, plot timelines, back story, all of it.
  • Plot notes. Best way to keep the story straight.
  • Outlines. I’ve been known to use ’em.
  • Submission tracking. Dates, editor information, all of it.
  • Contracts and contract terms. Of course I keep the paper, too, but sometimes I need to look things up.
  • Production notes. Artwork, thumbnails, layouts, cover mock-ups, and so on.
  • Publication details. Street dates, blurbs, reviews, ISBNs, and links.

I’m also using Evernote to collaborate on a project. We have a small pile of notes and reference material in a shared notebook. We’re gearing up to do the actual writing in Google Docs, but Evernote is better for organizing the rest of the material.

I Don’t Use It For:

As much as I love Evernote, there are some things I prefer other apps for. Most notably, I use an entirely different task manager, as Evernote’s task/todo list is a bit unwieldy for my taste. And I haven’t used its reminder feature much because Google Calendar is faster and easier.

All in All:

Evernote rocks. I love it, and at the day job I encourage the staff and students to check it out. There are more uses for it, and there are more videos and articles about those uses than you can possibly keep up with. Project management, going paperless, research, running a business, the possibilities are endless. There’s even a private investigator using Evernote for case management and field work.

If you think it’ll help you, by all means, sign up for an account.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.