Tag Archives: iPad

The writer’s workbench, the writer’s tech

My apologies.  I have been writing all day every day and this means I have been neglecting the blog.

I have assembled my own little work bench and I thought I would share with you the tech in question.

Upper right hand corner of desk

This is my iPad now serving as a time keeper.  I am using Clock Pro, specifically the Count Down function that shows that I have 5 hours, 22 minutes and 19 seconds till the manuscript (this version of it) is due in the hands of my editor.  That means I will be writing til 5:00 today.  

Upper left hand corner

This is Molly, a grumpy Siamese cat.  Cats are not optional.  You must have one if you want to write well.  Strictly speaking, you should have several.  I do.  Vivienne and Zsa Zsa are asleep somewhere.  When they wake up they will want me to make breakfast and throw things for them to fetch.  So the idea is to see how much work I can get done before all hell break lose.

Pile of magazines

This is a pile of magazines, each of which represents a blog post I have not written. This is the only paper that allowed on the desk.  (Well, except for the letter you see between Molly and the iPad.  This was type written on antique stationary.  So an exception is made.) Sitting on the pile of magazines is a little Canon camera which serves as an excellent paper weight (and camera).  

Coffee cup

This is caffeine that enters my body in the form of coffee that begins in the kitchen as the  Starbucks whole bean "house blend" which the package tells me is "lively and balanced" but I prefer Dark Roast because this is, the package tells me, X – Bold, and I am pretty sure my prose needs every little bit of momentum it can get.  

Book on desk

This is the LiveScribe system.  It captures anything written, stores it in your computer where it becomes searchable.  I have the bad habit of writing on anything that handy and then I can’t ever find it again.  Now I have everything in one place and it is finally findable!  Highly recommended.

Computer on desk

This is a MacBook Air.  I just converted from a Windows ThinkPad and boy am I grateful I did.  I recently had to fire up the ThinkPad and it reminded me of an occasion some years ago when I had to go from my computer based word processor to an IBM Selectric II.  Talk about time travel.  On the Air, I am running Google Chrome, Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, Zotero, Things, Gmail and assorted other programs.


This is invisible but it is the biggest thing in the room.  The idea is to write for as close to 12 hours a day as I can manage.  I never get much more than 8 hours done, but if I don’t aim high, I get, like, 4 hours done.  The trick is to keep distractions at bay.  Email, Twitter, Blogging!  I just try to keep my head down and write as much as possible.  Oh, I do take a walk.  

Your assignment

Every writer has his or her own system.  Please share yours!  

How to read a book now

Sometime in the late 1970s, I was sitting in the Rare Books Room of the Cambridge University library.  I had just come back from lunch.  

I was reading a leather bound book published in 1588, and all of a sudden and for the very briefest moment, I imagined myself immensely fat, covered in grease, and sitting on a groaning wooden chair that seemed ready to burst.

And then the sensation was gone.  If you are inclined to this sort of thing, and I am not, you would say that I made psychic contact with the person who owned this book, that I was for a split second an Elizabethan.

I don’t think this.  At all.  I recall the moment, because for all our differences, this book owner and I had a lot in common.  At least when it came to the activity called reading.  We held something made out of paper in our hands and gazed upon the page.  We may have been separated by half a millennium and differences of every imaginable kind, but when it came to books, we were one.

And now even that has passed.  Sometime last week I started to read books in a new way.  I buy them from Amazon.  I have them installed on my iPad.  i underline and makes notes as I go.  These notes are then transferred to the Amazon site, where I can visit them anytime and add comments.  (It is a little bit as if the book falls away.  The focus of my attention is now the highlights and notes.)

It’s truly mind boggling.  We can go to http://kindle.amazon.com and they are all there.  Best of all, all this content is clippable so it can be ported it to Zotero (highly recommended) or a research document or a blog post.   

My Elizabethan pal, the very fat one, would be thunderstruck at this development.  I am hoping for another moment of transportation so I can tell him all about it.  

Why the iPad will flourish

[This essay was written in the first week of the iPad, when some were saying it would be a flop.  Now that it sales have reached a million, everyone accepts that the iPad is here to stay.*  But in this first week, my title was a little riskier.  I would have published it that week, but of course my blog has been down for a month.]

My iPad has left the factory!  I woke up this morning to discover it entered the UPS system in Shenzhen at 4:30 AM China time.  It will take several days to cross an ocean and a continent.  This leaves me plenty of time to wrestle with Apple expectation and my buyer’s remorse. 

Apple expectation is a wonderful place to be.  It’s that gap between hearing about the latest gizmo from Cupertino and owning one.  It is encouraged by press coverage, fan boy speculation, wild rumors and eventually those lines at Apple retail.  The only real question: will this gizmo be as great as Steve says?  Or will it be much, much better?

Buyer’s remorse is another matter.  This uncertainty haunts the purchase of every big ticket item.  And it’s a special problem in the tech world.  I bet 20% of our tech purchases disappoint; phones, computers, cameras and software we didn’t like or didn’t use.  When it comes to technology, you pays your money and you takes your chances.  

There are special grounds for buyer’s remorse in this case.  Some experts say the iPad must fail.  Smart phones deliver music.  Laptops deliver movies and ebooks.  The iPad is fighting for an excluded middle, they say, a market that doesn’t exist. 

I think the critics are wrong.  I think the iPad will be a smash hit.  I think it will find a place in our lives by making a place in our lives.  I think it will change the way we use media. 

Here’s how.  My smart phone is too small to show movies.  My ThinkPad, with its 256 GB of cluttered storage, is too small to store them.  I need is a big screen.  And I need storage doesn’t act like a loading dock, with me shuttling things in and out.  I want room enough to install several movies and leave them there. 

Is this just me?  Surely, everyone needs access to movies and TV.  These are the great conduits of our culture.  Perhaps, more important they are our respite in times of crisis.  Like being being stuck in an airplane or an airport, surrounded by crowds and screaming children.  The moving image, as Jet Blue discovered, is a great palliative.  One wants to be prepared.  iPad looks like preparation.  It will be our prophylactic against the horror of air travel.

Second, most of us now most hours of the day, laptop in place.  Even when we break for newspapers and magazines, we remain on line.  So the laptop remains in place.  This is a problem.  It means carrying our work frame of mind into our reading frame of mind.  

When working, we are hard-charging and results oriented.  When reading, we are more contemplative.   We read each story and opinion to see if it’s a) interesting, b) useful and if it isn’t, we spin it on an axis to see if and how we can make it interesting.  (For some reason, I find squinting seems to help this process, but probably that’s just me.)  Getting my news and editorial into the right form will help me use the right frame of mind.  If this gives me access one better idea a month, the iPad will pay for itself in short order.

Third, too much work makes us dull boys and girls.  The last thing I want to do at the end of a long day on my ThinkPad is to watch a movie on my ThinkPad.  The very point of the exercise is to put a little separation between work and leisure.  Without it, my leisure time doesn’t have the same recreational effect.  If the iPad can help restores this, it will serve me very well.

In all of this, iPad is creating its own market between the smart phone and the laptop.  We could call this a “white space” or a “blue ocean” but I prefer to think of it as a “third space.”  In the manner of Zeno’s paradox (and, yes, Starbucks), Apple managed to split the difference between existing categories, and honor the way the consumer sees entertainment, contemplation and recreation.  The iPad critics can’t see this third space because they work from a utilitarian point of view.  For them, iPad will create economic value only if it solves practical problems.  But Apple has always seen the economic proposition as a cultural one, as an opportunity to speak to the entire consumer in all of his or her complexity, not just the problem solver.  

So I say the iPad will flourish.  Now if only the doorbell would ring.  

Post script: I have used iPad for several weeks.  It’s strange to go back to a paper newspaper.  It feels like going back to a IBM Selectric typewriter after the launch of personal computers, really clumsy and laborious.  How quickly we adjust.  And, against Scitovsky’s "joyless economy" notion, it seems to me that it will be a very long time before the pleasure of using an iPad turns to mere comfort.  


Scitovsky, Tibor. 1976. The Joyless Economy: An inquiry into human satisfaction and consumer dissatisfaction. New York: Oxford University Press.

* This just in: Carl Howe says "Apple’s iPad will likely take the crown for the fastest consumer product growth to the $1 billion revenue mark in history, taking less than 120 days from announcement to reach that milestone."  Howe, Carl.  2010.  A New Record for Apple.  Seeking Alpha.  May 5.  here.