Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Writing Digital Literature

untitled20design202My article “Crossing Genres in Digital Writing” is available at the Macmillan International Higher Ed blog. They are my publisher for A Writer’s Craft. I decided to write on digital writing because it’s an area I’ve been exploring recently.

One of the most fun classes I get to teach in The W’s low-residency MFA program in creative writing is a course we call Writing for New Media. We chose that name because we didn’t want to limit ourselves in scope for the future, but the reality is right now most of what we cover is digital literature. This class take students (and me) into the worlds of kinetic poetry, twaiku or twit lit (and other uses of social media for literature), hypertext fiction, mapped stories and poems, and even gaming as a means of storytelling. Our goal is to see what happens when we leave the confines of the page, how forms blend and narrative or lyric structures transform in new media.

ehpiugcxkaap8fbThis fall, after writing this post, I was invited to speak at the Middle Tennessee State Writers’ Conference, and I decided it would make sense to adapt some of what I talk about in the article and teach in the class to a workshop setting. Obviously, everything had to be very compressed for an hour and fifteen minutes, so I decided it would be best to do a little digital writing of my own to demonstrate. Since the conference was right before Halloween, I decided to write “River Hill: A Ghost Story” on Twitter, Google Maps, and Google Sites, which is what I decided to use for the hypertext component of the story.

Follow any of the links above to the story. Start with Twitter, if you want to read it in order, but in true hypertext fiction style, it’s meant to be started anywhere, and there are multiple links back to the other parts of the story to follwo whenever you want. I even left the story unfinished for now, hoping my workshop or other readers might write or suggest their own endings. That hasn’t happened yet, but you’re welcome to try!

Writing literature on Twitter is easy enough, either attempting to write a complete story in 140 (or 280) characters or by linking tweets using hashtags or by replying to successive tweets to create a tweetstorm story. Images or even video can be included with the tweet for a more multimedia effect. Some of my students have experimented with using Instagram instead of Twitter. You can do many of the same things, though it’s a little harder to link posts on Instagram compared to Twitter, though you can use hashtags. Facebook or Tumblr could also be used, I suppose, though each platform has its own culture and its own quirks about how posts are displayed. It might even be fun to aggregate posts across different platforms using Pinterest, for instance, by pinning images from each part of the story to a board.

Google Maps is a little more complicated to set up, but doesn’t take a ton of technical know-how, once you figure out how to get to your My Maps. The most straightforward way I know to do it is to open Google Maps, use the menu to go to Your Places, then click on the Maps tab, then Create A Map. Or you can try going to https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/home, which might take you directly to your maps or you may need to login with Google before you do that.

Using Google Sites for a hypertext story worked well, and any web hosting platform ought to work to build a simple linked story. However, in my class, we get a little more complicated, so working with Twine has been better. Twine allows you to map out your links using in graphical user interface, which can be helpful when links multiply exponentially. It also allows you to do more with the code and even create some fairly sophisticated games. There are lots of examples on the Twinery, and there’s an active user support group that can be searched to learn tricks and techniques. You can download the Twine app or write your story online using either Twine 1 or Twine 2, which each have different features and templates.

Word Processors for Poets

Today’s my birthday, so my gift to you is a recommendation of free software.

Poets get a bum rap for never having money (it’s true!), but that’s not why I’m recommending two free word processors today. And it’s not because poets are so anti-establishment we have to fight against Microsoft’s domination with alternatives to MS Word, though that may be a noble cause.

Even Apple with Pages (free with your Mac, so not exactly free) might be worth fighting against on those terms, but I don’t mind it as much as Word. Pages doesn’t do the things that bother me most about MS Word, so it might be a good alternative if you already own a Mac, but for the rest of the world (PC or even Linux users), there are a couple of great free options to Word. (Sorry Google, I’m not thinking about Docs!)

First, what’s so annoying about Word, especially for poets? I’ve always struggled with its default settings, which are geared to an office environment. For one, I always have to instruct my poetry students how to force Word to single-space their poems. They set it to single space, but Word thinks every new line is a new paragraph and every new paragraph needs to have extra space between it and the previous one. Can we spell business letter, anyone?

(There’s an easy trick to fix that, actually: edit your default document template to set your default font and paragraph spacing options. It will affect every new file, but most of us don’t mind. Or create a poem template that has your settings for poetry, so you can keep your business letter template as default, if you must.)

The other annoying habit of Word isn’t quite so easy to fix. Word likes to have a capital letter at the beginning of every new line. It apparently thinks it’s a new sentence as well as a new paragraph, so in order to turn this feature off, you have to turn off capitalization at the beginning of a sentence. But then all sentences are affected, not just the ones at the beginnings of lines that aren’t really the beginning of sentences.

So the quicker, easier, and perhaps more gratifying solution is to switch to OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Both are free, open source office suites that are perfectly stable and secure. They do everything Word does, but the don’t treat poets like business execs (or their assistants). You don’t have to do anything to get them to work the way you want. They work well for poets right out of the box!

Both also include a database program, which might be more useful for keeping track of submissions than Excel. I’m currently working on that, and if I get it to work, I’ll post about it later. They both also have spreadsheet applications and other common office suite apps.

From what I’ve read, OpenOffice and LibreOffice are virtually identical, though if you want to save your files in Word format, then LibreOffice is the way to go. Both will open files in and save to a number of different formats that Word can see, and OpenOffice can save to a .doc file, just not .docx (which many people hate), so if you want to look like you’re using the latest Word when you exchange files, then LibreOffice is probably the way to go. Otherwise, choose the one whose icon or interface you like best or flip a coin. You can’t go wrong with either word processor, and you will be thankful for the reduced number of headaches they cause you, esp. if you write poetry!

Or you can do like a lot of Instagram poets I’ve seen recently: buy an old typewriter, type your poems, take a picture (typos and all), and post it online!

My First Decade as Occasional Blogger

Screen Shot 2019-07-23 at 10.01.10 AMRecently, WordPress was kind enough to inform me that this month is my 10th aniversary of writing this blog. As I looked back, I noticed the very first first post was July 24, 2009. What a long, fun, and a little crazy trip it’s been.

I started blogging mostly as a dare to myself. I’m a poet, and writing a blog seemed like a good way to give myself some writing goals that didn’t have to be poems. I didn’t expect to write daily or even weekly, as most blogging advice tells you to do. I also decided that I wouldn’t stick to just one subject, though that is also good advice.

What I wanted was an author’s website and blog, and I wanted to write about all aspects of my life, including poetry and teaching. Writers are people, too, and I wanted my blog to reflect that. So I went along for quite awhile, quietly blogging about poetry, teaching, food, etc., and I was getting a few people viewing and even following the blog now and then. My stats were modest, and I was fine with that. It was a good outlet for my thoughts, and that was enough.

1946motorette-croppedOne of the first posts that took off unexpectedly was one I wrote about my father’s 1946 Motorette motor scooter. I wrote it mostly as memoir and to chronicle something from my childhood that my mother was thinking of getting rid of. I didn’t really expect to sell it, but someone contacted me, one thing led to another, and we sold it — not for a lot of money, but to a new home where it would actually run again (and my brother even got to ride in it once, since he lived not too far away). That’s a post (along with its follow-up about the sale) that still gets a hit now and then, and it may be the post that has gotten the most comments over the years. People want to know where to buy one or where they can sell one. When I can, I try to point them in the direction of a group who may know.

But the biggest surprise post I ever wrote was the rant about my DSL modem from ATT. This is a post I wrote in May of 2013. It got a few hits at the time, but eventually started picking up steam, probably because someone linked to it. For awhile, it, along with a series of follow-up posts, was driving over a hundred visitors to my blog every day. Following on this popularity, I wrote more about technology for awhile, including some posts about my trackpad and our smart TV that still get the occasional hit.

Barrier Island Suite front cover imageBut after awhile, I wanted to bring the blog back closer to its original focus and began posting more about poetry again, especially with the launch of my third collection, Barrier Island Suite. The publication of my textbook, A Writer’s Craft, and the beginning of The W’s MFA in Creative Writing led me to post more about creative writing pedagogy. And yet, some of my other most popular posts are on cooking or buying and selling a car. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what will resonnate.

Over the years, I’ve had periods when I didn’t have time to blog much and times when I posted fairly regularly. I’ve written a lot about food, and have always been suprised at the popularity of buttermilk, which I first wrote about feeding to our dog when she was very sick, but later included in many of the recipes I’ve shared. It’s one of my standard ingredients for which I’ve found a lot of uses. As a cook, I’m as eclectic as I am as a blogger. I rarely follow recipes and use the blog write down what I did for myself as much as for anyone else, but the recipes I post tend to get a fair number of hits every now and then.

I’ve also used the blog to memorialize some of the teachers and friends who have passed away over the years. As long as I have a public forum, it seems right to use it to pay tribute to those who have contributed to who I am, both as a writer and as a person.

Book reviews are another category I’ve tried to come back to fairly regularly. I read a lot for class, and usually don’t review those books, but I try to write at least a few reviews of the best books I read for the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium: expect a few more of those in the coming weeks as I’m very excited about the current slate of writers. Still, I probably won’t find time to review them all because there’s lots of planning to do just to pull off the event!

I’m glad to see that writing is still the category I’m most prolific in, even though technology has certainly brought more people to my blog, and MFA advice is another category that is taking off, thanks to some outside links to my posts. Recently one reader commented that she first came to get help with her modem, but has kept coming back for the writing. I hope that’s true for some of you, but whatever brings you here, if you find something that’s useful or just entertaining, then I’m happy. I plan to keep writing, keep cooking, and occasionally keep ranting about technology or posting about a fix I’ve uncovered for a problem that I’m having. I’d like the blog to be moslty about poetry and creative writing pedagogy, but as an occasional blogger, I know I’ll probably write about whatever’s on my mind when the mood strikes me and I can carve out a few minutes from my day to write it down.

Thanks for reading this, and for following my blog if you do. It’s been a great ten years; here’s to the next decade!

Facebook, You’re Such a Nag

Or Why writers Should All Say No to Constant Content

I don’t know about you, but I manage several groups and pages on Facebook, and one constant source of annoyance is the notifications that my readers haven’t heard from me in awhile. The only thing more annoying are the ones telling me a post is performing better, so I should pay Facebook to advertise it.

Let’s consider the logic here. Facebook’s business model is to get people on their platform because we enjoy sharing our news with others. But that isn’t enough for them. They know they have billions of free content creators, so they constantly remind us that they need us to create the news, entertainment, memes, personality quizzes, challenges, and other mindlessness that will keep their users coming back. Then they use algorithms to control what we see and convince us that we need to pay for ads, so our posts will stand out from all the drivel. They act like drug pushers, luring us in, then creating a need that will sustain their business. But the drug isn’t even real.

As a writer, I resent anyone who tries to get me to create content for free. If I’m going to do that (like I do on this blog), I want to do it on my own term and my own schedule. Often, I’m busy and don’t have time for Facebook. Or (like this week) I’m on vacation and don’t want to work, though I may respond to emails, etc. Or there simply isn’t anything I need to tell my “readers.” I want the content of these pages to be useful, informative, and timely. When the people who like my pages see my content, I want it to be something they want to read, not something they choose to ignore, so I resist Facebook’s near constant reminders.

Twitter, for all it’s flaws, is much better in this regard. It is more laissez faire. Twitter could care less when you post or even whether you post at all. Yes, you can buy an ad, but Twitter doesn’t seem to give a hoot whether you do or not. Maybe they’re just that much bigger than their immature rival or maybe it’s part because of their lawless culture. Lawlessness has it’s own issues, but in this regard, it creates a more positive environment for writers.

I want to guard my time and to create time for my own writing. Rather than writing a post so Facebook can profit, I’d rather write a poem. I want to use social media on my terms, go there for the information I want, and provide content when it suits my needs, not so Facebook can profit coming and going. Until Facebook comes up with a model that pays writers for their content (don’t hold your breath), we should all be very judicious about the time we spend there, and we should ignore the nagging call to create more free content than suits our needs.

Facebook, I’ll write on my page when I’m damn good and ready. It’s more important for me to write a poem or hang out with my nieces and nephews or visit with my mother. Life is more important than Facebook, and my writing is mine. I’ll give it to the world on my terms and in my own time.

Twitter for Mac, a 2-App Approach

I’ve been a fan of the Twitter app for Mac since I started using Twitter several years ago, so I was sad to see it discontinued. What I liked about it was that it was very streamlined, yet gave me the information I wanted. I’ve gotten used to seeing my notifications for all my Twitter accounts, and knowing what had been liked or retweeted. I was also used to managing these accounts in a single small window, which worked well on my laptop with minimal screen real estate. I also liked that the app was free. So as you might guess, I haven’t found a good alternative yet.

Tweetdeck is the most logical replacement, since it is also free. But my first reaction to it was negative — the number of columns quickly got overwhelming, and I didn’t see a good way to manage my multiple accounts (which seems odd, since that’s supposed to be its strong suit). I’m logged in with my main account, and all my other accounts get associated with that, so I can tweet easily from any account. But if I want to see all of their home streams, for instance, then I have to create several columns, and those aren’t easy to tell apart unless I look at the top of the column — on the icon bar to the left, I just see a number of identical icons for the type of stream I’m viewing.

So, I tried Twitterific, which was reviewed highly in the TidBits newsletter. I like the look of Twitterific, and it does many of the things the Twitter app did. I can switch between accounts more easily than I can in Tweetdeck, for instance. And for each account, I can quickly view the Home feed, Mentions, Messages, Likes, Lists, and Searches. This is all great, but I have a few quibbles — the Likes stream shows me the tweets I’ve liked, for instance, but there isn’t a quick way to see which of my tweets have been liked or retweeted (unless my account was quoted or replied to in the tweet, when it would show up in Mentions). Twitterific also doesn’t allow me to see what I’ve recently tweeted.

So I decided to go back to Tweetdeck to deal with these issues. In Tweetdeck, I set up a column for each of my accounts that has Notifications (likes by others, retweets, and new followers). I also set up a column for each of my accounts that has the User stream. This way, I can view all of this information in one place by opening Tweetdeck, but by removing all the other columns, it isn’t so overwhelming.

I’ll use Twitterific for reading my Twitter Feeds, checking my mentions, managing my lists, checking messages, and seeing what I’ve liked. But I’ll switch to Tweetdeck to see what Notifications I’ve received and what I’ve tweeted (and whether those tweets have been liked, etc.). This 2-app solution ought to do almost everything I’m used to doing.

So far, I haven’t checked out the third recommended app in the Tidbits article, Tweetbot. Maybe it would do everything, but from what I could gather from the article, it would probably leave some things out as well. So for now, I’ll try these two and then decide if I want to check out Tweetbot, too.

Of course, Twitterific costs $7.99 (discounted right now form $19.99) and Tweetbot costs $4.99 (down from $10 it seems), so replacing the Twitter app isn’t free unless you can get everything you need from Tweetdeck. If I had a huge monitor or fewer accounts to follow, then Twitterific might be enough for me, but as it is, it will take more than one app to replace my old Twitter app on a Mac.

In Praise of Old Tech

One bad habit I have (or maybe a good habit) is that I don’t get rid of all of old computers. That’s a problem when there are old machines that don’t work kicking around (maybe waiting to salvage a drive or something), but I have a few that will still boot up and can be useful now and then. Tonight was one of those times.

We’ve been working on college applications, and realized we needed to make a correction on one. The college sent a form that they require you to fax back for security reasons because it has sensitive information. I get that, but who has a fax machine anymore?? Sure, I could perhaps have used an online fax service, but that would be a pain and no more secure than emailing the form. I could take it to a print shop and pay someone to fax it for me, or I could have even gone to the office and used the fax machine there (but this is purely for personal use, so that seemed wrong).

Fortunately, my eye landed on an old laptop I had gotten out when trying to hook up a scanner (I eventually got the scanner to work on my new computer, thankfully, but hadn’t stowed the old G4 Powerbook. Glancing at the ports reminded me that one was a phone port, so I  thought I might see if I could get it to fax for me.

I cranked it up, logged into my network, set the date on the clock to 2018 (why not?), and then transferred my pdf file from my MacBook Pro to the desktop of my Powerbook. Then I had to figure out how to fax again — it’s probably been close to a decade since I’ve done it. Help told me to install the Internal Modem in Printers and Faxes, then I printed the document, chose Internal Modem as my printer, entered the number (after connecting the computer to the phone wall jack, of course), hit print and listened to the good old-fashioned sounds of the modem dialing and connecting to the fax machine on the other end. After what seemed like forever, the fax was done and the print job went away.

That saved me a fair amount of time and possibly money, and while I was at it, I looked at a few photos on my old desktop for nostalgia’s sake. Sure, I could recycle the Powerbook, but now and then it still comes in handy!

Simple Work-Around for old iPhone and 2-Step Authentication

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to cell phones. I’d rather not be that connected all the time, so it took me awhile to even get a smart phone. I inherited my old iPhone 4 from my wife when she upgraded (to a 4S — we’re still behind the times, but we can get a much cheaper pay-as-you go plan with PagePlus Cellular if we’re not 4G).

The problem comes when I have to change my AppleID password, which happens now and then with a software update. The first time I tried to use my old iPhone 4 with iCloud, I realized its iOS won’t work with Apple’s 2-step authentication. I would try to enter a password, but couldn’t enter the code Apple sent me. Eventually, I figured out a work-around.

What I do is turn off 2-step Authentication temporarily on my account. Then I can enter the password into the iPhone and connect to iCloud. Then I can turn 2-step back on and enable it on my other devices. The iPhone stays logged in.

Did I mention that I pay $10 every 120 days for my phone service? I’m on wifi most of the time, so I don’t need a lot of data. There are things I can’t do on this not-so-smart-anymore phone, but it more than meets my needs. A few hassles like this one are worth it for the savings.