Writing Apps

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Are you a writer?

What software do you use to write? It’s a question I’m asked a lot.

The truth – cliched and as obvious as it is – is that there’s not one single application that is the writer’s tool. Everyone writes differently, so everyone will find different tools work better for them.

Here’s some I use:

When I’m sitting by a computer, just trying to get some ideas down, I’m a big fan of OmmWriter. It’s a distraction-free writing tool that provides a sound-scape, inspiring backgrounds and encouraging clicking sounds as you type. There’s a few options, but it’s basically a text-editor and all the tools get out of the way when you start writing.

When I have a general idea of, say a novel I want to write, I use one of a number of iPad apps to “block out” the story. One I’m currently using quite a bit is Index Card, because of it’s integration with Scrivener (which I’ll talk more about in a moment). But Scrivener is supposedly releasing an iPad app in its own right that I’m looking forward to, so that might be my go-to app for planning a story in the future.

And that’s because when it comes to putting a novel or long-form written piece together, for my money, Scrivener is currently the best app I can find. I use the Mac version, so I can’t say anything about the Windows version (which I hear has fewer features) but it’s fast and nimble. Whether you are working on an empty new document, or one with thousands of documents, images, notes, and chapters making up a 250,000-word masterpiece, Scrivener remains incredibly responsive.

It’s cheap for what it is, and is feature-rich. But the real beauty of Scrivener is that you only need to learn the features you need, and you can discard the rest, or use them when you find a use for them. Not learning everything (and there is a lot to learn) doesn’t hamper your ability to get a lot out of this remarkable and well-thought-out app.

But that’s just me, your mileage my vary.

I say try everything out you can, and you’ll find a workflow that works. This “software experimentation” requires time and patience, but it’s worth investing that time as it could save you hours (or possibly months) of time later when you find yourself knee-deep in an epic project and only then realise you’d rather work in a different way. Get it right for you from the start, and you’ll avoid lots of headaches later. And I speak as someone who has made that mistake far too many times.

If you’re really inspired, a simple notepad and a text editor will do the trick. But using some of these tools allow the difficulty and mechanics of writing to get out of the way, leaving you with your ideas and the tale you want to tell.

Happy writing and good luck!

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The NHS: Britain’s State Religion

Stethoscope“The NHS is Britain’s national religion” stated then Prime Ministerial hopeful David Cameron before the last election. The phrase was meant to show he understood how preciously we hold the NHS to our collective heart, and that he wasn’t going to “tamper” with it too much.

He’s right that we hold it dear, and he’s right that we in the UK treat it as a religion, but he’s way off if he thinks this is a good thing.

A religion is a belief that operates on faith – without any evidence. Indeed, often the absence of evidence is a requirement. Even if there is evidence to the contrary, it merely serves to boost the congregations faith and proclaim their beliefs in a louder more vocal way.

The overwhelming evidence is that Britain, with it’s nation health service, has one of the worst healthcare outcomes in the western world. Everyone (almost) can provide some anecdotal story about how their Aunty Mabel received great treatment and that the nurses were very kind, but it’s just that – an anecdote. The fact is, even lucky old Aunty Mabel would have better treatment if she’d have been treated in Singapore, or Germany, or many other countries.

I have big problems with the healthcare system in the US. But those problems are the SAME as the ones facing Britain. The narrative in the UK is you either have our post-war NHS system, or you have an “evil” “private” system like the US. But what about the other systems, many of which, unlike both the UK and US models, are fairly free-market solutions?

The thing is though, pretty much all the ills with the American system are to do with the fact that it’s not a free-market system when compared to say, the cellphone market, or the grocery business. If the grocery industry was run like the US healthcare system, millions and millions of Americans would go to bed hungry every night. And more than a million every year would starve to death. But luckily, the comparatively free market grocery “system” in America means that the problems with diet over there are down to over-consumption (type 2 diabetes, heart decease and obesity), not starvation. I appreciate there are hungry people in the US, but I think we’re all smart enough to understand the problem in context. Tens of millions in the US will not go hungry tonight.

The US government contributes about 75 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare. There are anti free-market rules about not buying coverage in a different state to the one you live in, and if you do buy insurance, (or what they laughably call insurance but is really a system to pay for everything in advance, not just to insure yourself against unforeseen problems) you’re forced to pay for coverage for things irrelevant to you. But all that is for another post.

Basically healthcare the the UK and the US is faced with the same problem: the distance between the customer and the seller. If the majority of us had to directly buy your own health services and goods, the prices would fall and the quality would rise, at levels we can’t imagine now. That’s what happens in every other comparatively “free market” capital-intensive, zero marginal cost business/service. The problem in both systems, is the state stands in between consumer and service.

But you can’t make that argument in the UK. Because our Aunty Mabel said those nurses were so nice to her. Even when she went in for a chesty cough and contracted the norovirus on the ward. They were lovely. And the only alternative is the evil private American system where people die on the street because they can’t afford healthcare, right?

Amen.

The Help To Buy “Time Bomb”

The classic definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time.

British Prime Minister David Cameron seems very chuffed that his new Help To Buy Scheme is seeing such a large number of applicants right away. But I wonder if this isn’t another financial ticking time-bomb that’s set to go off, in a similar (if not smaller) manner that the last housing-related bubble went off?

Why is there this obsession with making people “home-owners”, foresaking decent economics in the process, even when those decent economics can steer you clear of a financial meltdown?

Buy all means, build more homes if there’s a market for them. That might curb prices and make a mortgage more economically viable. But when the government uses the banking/lending system as another tool for social engineering, you get, well, you know, what happened last time.

Some interesting views on this in the Backbencher, which is always well-worth a read.

The Libertarian Age?

I came across this article by John Stosel today, defining now as the Libertarian era. He says that today’s young(er) people self-identify more as libertarian than any other group. And their numbers are growing:

I’m not optimistic about most people recognizing liberty’s benefits. Old politicians—and old voters collecting Social Security—may never change their minds. But libertarianism is growing fastest among the young, and groups like Students for Liberty give me hope. These young people certainly know more about liberty than I did at their age.

And he quotes the articulate and always-engaging Matt Welch of Reason Magazine:

“Poll after poll show you that Americans are much more fiscally conservative than their elected representatives,” says Welch. “A majority of Americans thinks that we should balance the budget. Seventy-five percent think that we should not raise the debt ceiling … Growing majorities—especially young people—are more socially tolerant. They think that we should legalize marijuana … they’re in favor of gay marriage.”

Younger people – which I suppose you can define as those of us who can claim to be ‘Generation Y’ – are enjoying much more decentralised, hyphenated lives: the like of which our parents and their parents have never known. It makes sense that young people are linking their way of life with their life philosophy, and maybe – just maybe – their brand of politics moving forward.

Syria, Chemicals and War

Several days ago, I posted this on Twitter:

I know, it’s a flippant, loose, possibly ignorant response to what was (then) our possible response to the chemical weapons deployment in Syria. That’s what you get for only having 140 characters to play with on Twitter.

But I stand by it. And I’m pleased that our Prime Minister took the issue of war/a clinical strike to the legislature, and that they voted against it. The media were hyperventilating over how this result weakened David Cameron, but I think it’s one of the strongest, most mature things he’s done since walking into No. 10.

And now that Obama has followed suit – citing the vote in Westminster specifically – I think Cameron will come out all the stronger.

I’m still deeply concerned that the war drum beats on in D.C. though. And it seems like the majority of the legislative branch will vote for war. There’s even worrying talk that Britain’s parliament may vote again once we get word that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack.

The civil war in Syria is horrific. I mourn the loss of innocent people there, I really do. if someone wants to set up some refugee camps and needs monetary support, then tell me where to sign up. If you want to advocate clearing the trade embargoes and restrictions in Syria and anywhere else in the world, then I’ll stand by that – the only real way to guarantee security and peace in the long term. (I’ll show you a Penn & Teller clip tomorrow that perfectly explains why this works).

But we’re talking about picking winners and losers in a intricate and difficult war with too many complexities even for the Syrians themselves to understand. It’s not a war with “good” side (i.e. “the rebels”) and a “bad” side (i.e. Assad).

Yes, Assad is a monster. Maybe he or his supporters deployed those chemicals that John Kerry claims killed 1,400+ people. But the only other significant time chemical weapons were used in Syria, a UN inspection found it was rebel forces who had deployed them.

And “the rebels” are not one group. It’d be great if they were like the plucky American minutemen, fighting for freedom and independence, simply pursuing a classical liberal democratic republic. But they’re not. There isn’t two sides to this war – there’s at least seven at the last count. At least two groups of rebel forces are directly linked to Al-Qaeda. So we’re going to fight Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and back them up in Syria?

I’d love to see Assad removed from power – but replaced with what? The two million or-so Christians living in Syria are protected by the Assad regime. What happens to then once he’s gone and replaced with – possibly – something even worse?

Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe whoever from the rebel forces rises to the top will be much better than what they replace. But in a situation so complex, and with Iran, China, Russia and more involved and looking on with interest, surely the most dangerous thing for British and American political leaders to have now is certainty?

Matt Ridley: Fossil Fuels are ‘Greening’ the Planet

In a special talk for the guys at Reason, an encouraging and fascinating talk from Matt Ridley:

Obama and climate change alarmism

Ronald Bailey dissects some of the inaccuracies in Obama’s ‘climate change’ message in the SOTU.