North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

This still on?

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I never imagined when I wrote the previous post about Obama’s candidacy that it would be over a year before I hit the publish button again. It’s been more like a year and a half since I was posting regularly. What can I say about that? I was seriously burnt out from blogging, and blogging about the topics that had come to drive North Western Winds: Darwin, Abortion, religion and Catholicism, as well as Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada.

Removing those bows from my quiver left me with little ready at hand to write about, and the whole blogging thing had become, in my mind, burdensome. I found myself turning to a different longstanding interest of mine – technology. I got some new toys and started reading some very different sorts of sites.

In April of last year (2008) my family was involved in a serious car crash. It occurred, of all places, early on a Sunday morning on the way to Mass. Our SUV was written off by the insurance company, I had three cracked ribs and missed weeks of work, Rebecca has shoulder pain to this day, and my mother in law was in hospital for weeks with minor fractures and a concussion.

That event had a deep impact on life in our house this past year. We’ve had a lot to deal with and it isn’t over yet. I’m doing well and have been back at work for some time now. Rebecca has changed occupations and is working on getting that shoulder right. My mother in law has had the longest journey back but she is turning a corner.

On Christmas eve this year (2008) I fell ill – literally! – after supper and was down and out for a week, and weak for a time after that. It was some sort of stomach flu that made me feel like my insides were melting away. It was hard to eat and I spent days tossing and turning on the bed, wishing it would stop.

Those events put a dent my church going, which was becoming dangerously monotonous even before then. I’m still Catholic and I still attend, but my tolerance for religious ‘enthusiasm’ is even lower than it was previously. My religiosity remains literary  and philosophical but I have a gained heightened awareness of my own differences from the Church Cheerleaders. My attitudes towards Darwin and abortion have not changed though. They preceded my churchgoing, so perhaps that’s no surprise.

I find myself having a falling out with the Conservative Party of Canada. Whether it is the relentless pursuit of free market liberalization or harsher penalties for everything, Harper’s Conservatives are too ideologically driven. A proper Tory party has the good of the Canadian people as its goal, and uses every tool it has to that effect. Harper’s team, on the other hand, wants everything it does to cohere with certain ideas that strike me as cheap, simple, and reductionist. I voted Green in the last election and I would do so again.

In an interesting way, it is my interest in technology that has brought me to writing this post. Rebecca and I have been trying out Twitter for a couple of months now. She – no surprise really – has been quite taken with it and has a lot of followers. Introverted egghead that I am, I have been less interested in posting than I am in seeing what people do with the service. Rebecca is threatening to start a new blog (yes, again) for those times when “140 characters just isn’t enough.” Seeing her work on that project reminded me that I have a project here, one that I might be able to remake in a way that makes writing and interacting fun once again.

I make no promises about what might or might not be posted here. My most recent interest, one that has gobbled up oodles of my time, has been working with a virtual Linux machine on my iMac. I don’t have much to say about Obama other than I still don’t like him.

Let’s see where this goes, yes?

Written by Curt

May 5, 2009 at 3:02 pm

The future of text

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The New Yorker still does great prose:

The Google Library Project has so far received mixed reviews. Google shows the reader a scanned version of the page; it is generally accurate and readable. But Google also uses optical character recognition to produce a second version, for its search engine to use, and this double process has some quirks. In a scriptorium lit by the sun, a scribe could mistakenly transcribe a “u” as an “n,” or vice versa. Curiously, the computer makes the same mistake. If you enter qualitas—an important term in medieval philosophy—into Google Book Search, you’ll find almost two thousand appearances. But if you enter “qnalitas” you’ll be rewarded with more than five hundred references that you wouldn’t necessarily have found. Sometimes the scanner operators miss pages, or scan them out of order. Sometimes the copy is not in good condition. The cataloguing data that identify an item are often incomplete or confusing. And the key terms that Google provides in order to characterize individual books are sometimes unintentionally comic. It’s not all that helpful, when you’re thinking about how to use an 1878 Baedeker guide to Paris, to be told that one of its keywords is “fauteuils.”

Taken from a story about the future of text by Anthony Grafton. 

Written by Curt

November 2, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Tech, Uncategorized, Writing

A bit of Bakhtin

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Terry Eagleton reviews a new book on Mikhail Bakhtin:

Bakhtin’s central concept of dialogism does not mean bending a courteous ear to others, as some of his more liberal commentators seem to imagine. It means that every word or utterance is refracted through a host of other, perhaps antagonistic idioms, through which alone its meaning can be grasped. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Curt

June 28, 2007 at 4:00 pm

Nisus Writer Express

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Today is my first day experimenting with Nisus Writer Express, a Mac Word-processor that has been around a while, but which is new to me. I have a number of word processing programs available to me but have to admit that all of them have issues to some degree or other that make them less than ideal homes for composition.

On the PC, I used to use the free and open-source Open Office suite. It wasn’t beautiful, but it fit into the Windows desktop and did everything I needed it to do. It was also reasonably quick. Open Office is available for Mac OS X in two forms, neither of which is what I want in a Mac word processor. The main port of Open Office for Mac runs in the Unix environment called X-11. That isn’t a terrible problem, but it does give it some behaviors that are unlike those of normal OS X programs. The menu-bar doesn’t function normally, for example. It also looks and behaves just like Open Office for Windows. That might be a bonus for people who work in both environments, but since I made the switch to Mac I have tried to work in the Mac environment whenever possible. In truth, I like it OS X such that in it’s wince inducing to go back.

There is an Open Office port that is designed to fit into the Mac environment and play nice, and I have taken a long look at it. Neo Office, as it is called, is getting better with every release but it is dogged by two problems. The first is that it is a terribly slow program to fire up. The other is that while it does play nice with the Mac, it still does not feel like a Mac program. It looks like an open source copy of MS Office running on a Mac. That’s probably because that’s exactly what it is. You can see this phenomenon in screenshots of various Linux distributions too. In trying to appeal to Windows refugees, the designers’ slogan appears to be something like “our gulag is better than their gulag.” As a result, their programs look like cheap-o versions of Windows. Crashes, bugs and security issues aside, the Windows environment is not something designed for the use and enjoyment of human beings and I’m loathe to let it find its’ way back into my life.

What about Apple’s light Office suite, iWork? The short and sweet answer is that it’s OK. Pages, the word processor, looks nice and behaves as one would expect from an Apple program. It’s clean, functional and not difficult to use. It’s strength appears to be document formating, so that you can quickly make shorter documents that look great and will play nice with Keynote, the other half of iWork. Pages isn’t, however, the trusty companion of the long distance writer.

I’ve been playing with Nisus Writer Express for all of about fifteen minutes and this feels like the best word processor I’ve used in some time. I’m writing in a razor sharp full screen mode. It’s easy on the eyes and offers no distractions. I haven’t had this feeling while writing since using Word on DOS, and that certainly wasn’t as pretty as this. If I had to run it windowed, Nisus Writer makes it very easy to knock out all of the toolbars so that you’re composing in a window that looks like it could be a simplified TextEdit. When you need to do formating, the toolbars come back with one or two clicks.

Nisus also offers four clipboards, for pasting frequently used text, and an “auto correct” feature that you can add words to. Or shortcuts to words. These two features are huge time savers and very sexy. They may not be original, but neither is sex. A replacement tool is available as a stand alone product called Textpander, which sells for $30. I suppose it has the benefit of working in all of your programs, but Nisus Writer Express costs only $45 and has a lot more functionality. Why not compose there and just export/import any text you need in another program?

Nisus Writer is also fast enough that it can plausibly serve as a notepad, a function that I sometimes like to have when I’m gathering information on the web. I had been auditioning Mac Notepad, which is not a bad little program, but it doesn’t have nearly the functionality and is expensive ($20) for what you get. Those two programs alone would be more than Nisus and still wouldn’t match it. Then there’s another thing I like about Mac software – you can often buy “family packs” and get more licenses (usually three) at a reduced rate. Nisus offers a three pack for $80, which works out to $27 per copy.

For someone like me, who likes to write, and with other family members who could use a good Mac word-processor, this looks like a good find.

Written by Curt

April 13, 2007 at 11:46 am