A Christmas gift of battery power

December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays again, friends and followers. December the 25th is almost over in this time zone, and I hope you had a great Christmas, (or an alright day, if you don’t celebrate Christmas today.)

I went up to Kitchener to celebrate with my family, and had a great time – catching up, exchanging presents, throwing things at each other in the traditional Christmas wrapping paper fight, then a great turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, and dessert after.

But the present that I’m thinking about wasn’t something that anybody in my family set out to buy for me, but just a simple favor of a moment’s time that was given without hesitation.

As I’ve probably mentioned several times, my Alphasmart Dana has been having some issues for several months now. I think I first  noticed it in the spring, with little things – it was taking more time to respond after powering on and showing weird screens occasionally. Over the months, as I used it to work on short stories, to do Block Revision and start the first draft of “The Witches of Arion,” it became clear that the battery was no longer as strong as it once was, and all of the other issues might relate to insufficient power.

During November, I got to the point where I was nervous about losing my words on the Dana in the middle of a write-in, so I started taking the netbook instead, and I backed up frantically after every screen when doing the Block Revision for “Storm Mirror.”

Now, the Dana comes with a rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack, and on my particular unit, the battery compartment was screwed shut with a tiny screw that I’d never been able to loosen. Today, I packed Dana along with my Christmas cards and wrapped presents, and asked my brother-in-law for his help. He’s an engineer, a generally handy guy, and I was pretty sure he owned more screwdrivers than I did.

Quickly the two of us and Dana were down in his basement, and after trying half a dozen screwdrivers he found one that worked. Together we figured out how to pry the rechargeable battery pack out of the compartment, and unclip it from the power cable. He even had some AA batteries sitting around, and we were able to use them as a replacement power source, (which is an option listed in the Alphasmart manual.)





I’m not sure where I go next with my Dana. Probably it’ll be worth using it with the AA batteries for a while to see how much they last, and I’ll look around to see where I can get a replacement recharge pack here in Canada, and how much it’ll cost. But I feel blessed just to know that this wonderful writing tool has more life left in it, that I wasn’t going to see it fade further and further away until it couldn’t even write a single word for me.

I also got eight lessons in Holly Lisle’s ‘How to Think Sideways’ course from my sister! Not quite sure when I’m going to be able to focus on these, especially since I haven’t finished ‘How to Revise your Novel’ yet, but I’m sure I’ll have fun when I get to them. Oh, and here’s a picture of the Christmas tree, just because it’s nice.



My Dana Alphasmart software is now in open Beta!

October 26, 2012

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about my Dana programs other than that vague notion of ‘Gee, I said I was going to do an open release on those before Nano started this year, huh?’ Well, this morning I’m finally doing something about it.

I’ve written two programs for the Alphasmart Dana portable word processor, that have been very helpful to me, especially during Nano or similar challenges, so I’ve done my best to pretty them up, write some useful manuals and basic freeware licences for them. If you have a Dana device and are interested in trying them out, please feel free to download, redistribute to other Dana people, (but please keep the packaged files together!) and let me know if you’re having problems or can think of more improvements.

Multicounter: This is my on-the-go word count tool for Dana. It works in conjunction with Alphaword or any other word processor program that will give you an overall word count for a file – most PalmOS programs running on a Dana device don’t support word count for selected text, because it’s hard to select long ranges of text anyway. So Multicounter lets you type in the starting and ending word count for a writing session and does the math to tell you how much you wrote – it’ll also total up multiple writing sessions on a single scratchpad, (along with the date, chapter, and comment for each session,) supports daily quota targets, (50,000 words in 30 days, anybody?), 8 different scratchpads, and export to .CSV format on SD cards. If you’re doing Nanowrimo with a Dana, I really believe that this is the tool you need to keep track of your word count progress. Click here to download Multicounter.

Alphafiles: This program might not fit everybody’s writing process on a Dana; I started writing it because I wanted to move my Alphaword files back and forth on SD flash cards, and found that neither the Alphaword ‘open from card/save to card’ or the various generic file managers were convenient for letting me do this quickly. Alphafiles uses a ‘back and forth listboxes’ interface to show the Alphaword files on your Dana and the .pdb files in a single SD card folder, to easily copy or move them around. You can switch to a different card or different folder, rename, copy, or delete your files. It works really great in conjunction with the WSCONV utility on your laptop or desktop computer, so that you can quickly transfer your writing from the Dana to Windows without needing to hotsync or send – or transfer a file the other way without hotsync. Click here to download Alphafiles.

On a sadder note, my own Alphasmart Dana is having battery problems. I haven’t used it in a while, and I think that I’ll probably have to be careful to plug it in every night if I want to be using it the next day for Nano, as opposed to letting it run for weeks between charges. Maybe I should look into replacing the rechargeable battery pack or switching it out for alkalines soon. But I don’t think I’m going to futz with that before November.

Alphasmart Dana deserves a Camp merit badge

June 5, 2012

It’s been a while since I pulled out my Alphasmart Dana portable word processor for doing some writing on the road – nearly a month, when I took it to Toronto for ‘The Avengers’ and got a decent start on my contest story “Tough Love” riding on the subway.

But I grabbed it before work today, and got over 1600 words written on the bus, working on my third short story of the month, “My Perfect World.”

I’m a big fan of taking netbook computers with me on the go, especially if I’ve got editing or critiquing or any similar tasks to do. For flexibility as portable computers, they’re hard to beat – until really good hybrid tablet-keyboard devices finally get here. 😀 But when I just want to concentrate on writing a first draft, the low-distraction environment of my Dana makes it a great tool.

EDITED TO ADD… I meant to say something about the technical difficulties I had when using the Dana to create a list of my music CDs, as part of organizing the living room. Thanks to Elizabeth for reminding me! What was going on was, I’d wake the unit up out of sleep, and it would freeze for a long time, maybe half a minute or a bit more, possibly go back to sleep, and then show a message window talking about charging state, that the unit was plugged into a DanaHub, the battery was charging, and the touchscreen and keyboard deactivated. But when I pressed a keyboard button, that message window would go away, and everything would be fine.

That didn’t happen yesterday, and I think part of the reason why might be that I’m being a bit more careful about how I recharge it – not taking the USB plug out while it’s asleep, for example, but waking it up first. Hopefully that’ll continue to do the trick.

Getting the Dana software ready to beta-test

March 8, 2012

So, I posted open calls today for beta-testers of my Dana Alphasmart programs on the Alphasmart flickr group and the Nanowrimo Alphasmart users thread.

I thought that both programs were as ready as I could make them, but as I tried to explain what they did, I thought of a few other features that would be nifty for the Multicounter… ‘Does it export to the onboard Memo Pad yet, or just to SD card’? ‘What if you could get a grand total word count for ALL of your scratchpads at the touch of a button?’

That led me to opening up the source code, with more questions – I actually don’t think that the version of the source code I was looking at at the time was the most up to date, because I was sure that I’d tweaked the export to SD card routine so that the export format output looks like the UI layout. And I noticed a few places where I wasn’t correctly testing the results of my DB calls for errors – bad Chris!

Hopefully it won’t take too long to iron out these few little details – it may have to wait until after Toronto Comicon though!

In search of Freeware licences that are NOT open source.

February 11, 2012

Warning, this is going to be a very geeky and somewhat rantish post.

As I vowed a little while ago, I’ve been making progress on some programming to-do items, including fixing up some programs for the Alphasmart Dana that I want to post for free download. I’ve got the manual for one program done and the other nearly ready, and I wanted to include a very brief legal licence that laid out the requirements I had for people who downloaded the package, mostly:

  • If you distribute the program anywhere, keep my name attached to it as the author
  • If you distribute the program anywhere, keep the manual and this licence with it.
  • Don’t sell it or charge anybody anything for the download.

I looked for examples of this kind of thing, but didn’t have that much luck. I found some licence examples that were evidently designed to represent a deal between two established parties, as opposed to a somewhat open-ended contract between me and whoever ends up downloading it. And I found an awful lot of template licences for ‘free software’ or ‘open source’.

Now, those are not the same thing as freeware. Freeware means that the program is free to use, but implies nothing about being able to see how the mechanics of it work, or being able to improve it yourself. I like a lot of things about the free software/open source concept, but I’m not a huge fan of it; I guess I’d want to make the decision on whether to release something as open source or not on a case by case basis, unless I was building off something else that was open source, in which case the deal is usually ‘if you improve this, then what you make with it is open source too’, and that seems fair.

For these Alphasmart programs, I just don’t want to deal with open source right now, especially because I used a software development environment that isn’t free, so if I did release it as open source I could just picture some open source fanatic telling me off for the fact that he can’t use my free source code without paying somebody for the development environment. I don’t really have a problem with sharing my source code, but I’d rather talk to the people who are interested in seeing it, and if there’s some really good reason that it HAS to be open source to merge with an existing open source project, then I can always re-release it on that basis later.

So, I eventually found out about Creative Commons, which sounded like what I wanted – they have a tool where you can enter what kind of content licence you want, and they provide a licence to match it. So I set up an ‘Attribution No-Derivs Non-Commercial’ licence, and that seemed good.

Until I found out that Creative Commons doesn’t recommend using their licence for software, on the grounds that they’re not compatible with most open source licence standards, and instead suggests a couple of prominent open source/free software licences.

There seems to be this kind of preconception there that ‘Of course you want to be open source – that’s the point, isn’t it?’ and it really pisses me off. I even found it stated outright in this blog post from last year:

“f you use a Creative Commons License your software probably won’t be free software/ open source software, and therefore won’t be re-usable by others including developers (which is what you want right?)

No, that’s not what I want!

I don’t want other developers to necessarily be free to study it or evolve other programs for it. I just want people to be free to use the program as it currently stands.

There are certain elements of the Open Source community who seem to be single-minded to the point of bullying when it comes to this point, and that annoys me. So the plan, at this point, is to go ahead with Creative Commons.

It’s a bit funny – most authors would never stand for it, if there were people telling them that they should release their work for free, and allow anybody who wanted to the chance to edit their words, cut one storyline, change which lover a character ended up with, and then republish it. Why is the situation so different with software? 🙂

Belated Deja Vu blogfest – Dana by Alphasmart

December 17, 2011

Sorry I spaced on the Deja vu blogfest yesterday, guys – it just went outta my head. 😦

I’ve picked, somewhat arbitrarily, a post from last May to rerun, about one of my favorite writing tools. And it’s one that served me in good stead during Nanowrimo 2011!

* * *

I’ve told you about some of my other writing writing devices during the A-Z challenge, but I don’t think that I’ve ever mentioned my Alphasmart Dana portable word processor on this blog yet, other than just casually in passing.

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Dana by Alphasmart

May 2, 2011

I’ve told you about some of my other writing writing devices during the A-Z challenge, but I don’t think that I’ve ever mentioned my Alphasmart Dana portable word processor on this blog yet, other than just casually in passing.

So, let’s see. The Dana has a big, comfortable keyboard, about the same size as that of a wide-screen laptop, built into a molded plastic case. The screen is monochrome LCD, a little bigger than two inches high by seven wide, with a backlight option to make it glow faintly, which is useful under dim lighting.

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Nanowrimo Nov 10: Kind of an ‘off’ day.

November 10, 2010

I’ve only written 575 words today, which was one 15-minute war’s worth in the #nanowrimo IRC chat room this evening.

My overall word count is up to 24,625 so I’m nearly half way to 50k, and I guess it was good to take it kind-of-easy for one day. I didn’t write at all on the bus to or from work, I watched videos instead, and carried in extra lunch so that I can take the Alphasmart Dana in my bag tomorrow.

And this evening, I had another driving lesson, my first in nearly a month – during which I had to miss an appointment because of the broken-key incident.

Another write-in marathon starts tomorrow! And sometime soon, also, I’ll need to begin really packing for San Francisco.

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