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Someone on the Nanowrimo forums mentioned WikidPad a few months back and I have now tried it out and decided it's awesome.  WikiPad is a program for taking notes, organizing and cross-linking between them in a file tree format.  It saves all your information on a single database file on your harddrive.  Unlike a lot of other free wiki software, WikidPad stays on your computer and doesn't connect to the internet at all.  This lets you keep control over your data and allows you to work on it anywhere, regardless of connectivity - that's a big plus from my point of view.  It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, is 100% free and its open source!  WikidPad is great for writers who do a lot of world-building but it would also be great for students taking notes, genealogists organizing their research, and all sorts of other applications.  Another Pro- it autosaves frequently.  1 important con - 1 file means it only takes one bad error to destroy the whole file tree so be sure to manually back up your file periodically.
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Title: GNU Terry Pratchett
Fandom: Discworld
Genre: Code!, Terry Pratchett Tribute

Author's Summary:
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, the clacks are a series of semaphore towers loosely based on the concept of the telegraph. Invented by an artificer named Robert Dearheart, the towers could send messages "at the speed of light" using standardized codes. Three of these codes are of particular import:

G: send the message on
N: do not log the message
U: turn the message around at the end of the line and send it back again

When Dearheart's son John died due to an accident while working on a clacks tower, Dearheart inserted John's name into the overhead of the clacks with a "GNU" in front of it to as a way to memorialize his son forever (or for at least as long as the clacks are standing.)

Fan code! This is really cool and a lovely tribute. Installing this script automatically places the phrase "GNU Terry Pratchett" in the "overhead" of your blog posts (variants available for tons of different sites) like the GNU John Dearheart in the clacks in Going Postal.

GNU Terry Pratchett (on own site)
makoyi: (Default)
I don't know if any of you are teachers or professors or otherwise forced to write exams regularly for your work but if so, this post might be helpful to you.  I've been wanting to learn to write LyX layout files for awhile now and my previous experience learning CSS and LaTeX suggests that jumping in with a practical problem to solve is the way I learn coding best so I've spent the last few days writing up a .layout file to make exam class work in LyX (software that's sort of halfway between a word processor and a LaTeX processor).  LyX's automatic numbering and formatting makes writing exams quick to do and it's handling of equations, linguistic symbols, and tables/graphs/figures is great since the program is based on LaTeX.  You can find the contents of that layout file: here.  Be sure to read the class documentation for all the options the class offers for headers, footers, printing answer keys and points tables, etc.
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I've been looking for a good break reminder app for Windows lately because I tend to lose track of time when I'm reading and it hasn't been good for my eyes (staring at book pages is bad enough but staring at a computer screen, even with the brightness turned way down, is so bad after awhile), but I've finally found one that does everything I want without any silly "inspirational quotes" or silly pictures of people stretching or whatever.  BreakTaker has a simple popup from the system tray that lets you know whatever time you set has elapsed.  That's it.  You dismiss the message when you've taken your break.  You can also right click the tray icon and say "Take a break now" and it lets you, then resets the timer when you get back --- that's an important feature for me.  You can also see exactly how long until your next scheduled break by hovering over the tray icon.  And if you're one of those people who leaves your computer on constantly, then before you go to bed each night, you can pause the break timer - just remember to start it again when you sit down to work.  The one and only thing I'd like that this app doesn't have is I wish the popup would refuse to be dismissed for a user-set length of time, but I'm a big girl - I can trust myself to actually get up and move around instead of just dismissing the popup and ignoring it.  This app is free and available for download on CNET (be careful that you opt out of all the crap they try to bundle with it) and from the developer's website (linked above).  This one is for Windows only, which is a bit disappointing, but will work for some people at least.  I like it a lot and definitely recommend it, especially if, like me, you get caught up in reading and don't keep track of how long you stare at the screen.
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This post isn't really about writing, or fanfiction, or even really related to that stuff.  But I used to have this guide up on deviantArt and people thought it was helpful so I thought I'd post it.  It's good for making any kind of pattern where you need to provide to-scale pattern pieces for people to cut out and trace.  If you've never used a printable to-scale PDF pattern before, they can be kind of unwieldy --- they involve taping together a lot of pieces of printer paper --- but they're the main method for distributing amateur and semi-professional patterns online.  They do work, they just aren't as intuitive as tissue paper patterns from the craft store.

The goal of these instructions is to help you create a PDF sewing pattern without having to buy pattern design software.  The progam I use for doing this is LyX which is free for download and multi-platform (Windows, Mac, and Linux).  While it's designed more for word processing, it is possible to make a clean-looking pattern, with to-scale pattern pieces, step-by-step instructions and images all in the same file so you can distribute your pattern designs online fairly painlessly.  In my previous post, I went over some of the pros and cons of LyX so check that out for a bit more info.

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The Internet is not your friend.  Whether its a scammer trying to steal your logins, a hacker trying to trick you into installing a virus to take over your computer, or your favorite site selling your personal information, these days, everyone seems to want a piece of you online.  Before you share another piece of personal information, before you buy or sell one more thing online, before you download that spiffy gif, you may want to do a few things to take back a little control over your own online life.  This list is designed to include only the tips I have that work mostly passively (in the background) while you browse normally so that the less tech savvy can get the benefits without having to learn a lot of new things.

6 Tips behind this cut... )
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Have you ever been writing along in your story and suddenly realized you need to know more about something slightly shady in order to describe it? Maybe you're writing about a character attempting suicide.  Maybe they're about to commit a crime.  Maybe they're gay or transgender.  Did you have to stop and think if you really wanted to research that, just in case someone else found out and made assumptions about your reasons for researching that particular topic?  Maybe you share a computer with family and perhaps you don't want your granny to know you write explicit gay slash fiction.  Maybe you're using a college internet connection at one of those colleges that expels LGBTs or maybe your college has monitoring software in place to alert someone to students looking up information about violent crimes or suicide methods.  Well, if you have had these worries (or if you do now), this might be the tool for you.

Tor Browser is a really nice 100% free browser for doing research anonymously. Anytime you have a question you need an answer to that you worry might give your network admins the wrong idea or even put you on a watchlist somewhere, you can use the Tor Browser to search and read about it without anyone being able to connect your IP address or your Internet account to your search terms or viewing history.

Another thing that Tor is really fantastic for is finding quick answers to daily life type questions for contemporary characters that live in a different country than you do.  You just force a particular country for an exit node by opening the torrc file (in the Data>Tor folder) in a text editor and type ExitNodes {} at the end then type the two letter country code for your character's country between the curly brackets.  Save and exit, then open Tor again.  Now google will think that's your country and give you results tailored to it. That's helpful if, say, you want to know where the French might shop for bed linens or what OTC pain reliever a German character would reach for. It would take more time and some creative keywords to find an answer like that on a regular browser.

You can read more about the Tor Project and their browser at The Tor Project's website.

To get started:
1) Go here to get the browser package. Be sure to download the proper one for your operating system (Windows, Mac, or Linux).
2) Extract the file by double clicking the downloaded file.
3) Open the folder created by extracting and double click on the "Start Tor Browser" file (the one with the little onion icon).
4) Wait. It's a little slow to start up. After about a minute, it should connect and open the browser for you automatically.
5) Success! Configure the browser as you like it or just browse straight to your search engine and do your research without fear.

There is no installation because this browser is designed to be portable. This means all the files the browser needs to run are located in the unzipped folder. You can place the folder on your desktop for easy access or keep it on a USB drive so you can take it with you to a workstation at your school or library. You can also "pin" the exe file (the one with the little onion icon) to your Quick Launch or Start Menu in Windows or put a link to it on your desktop in Linux.

There are a few things to be aware of when using Tor Browser and the Tor network.
1) Don't log in with usernames and passwords to non-encrypted sites. That means don't input passwords to sites that have http instead of https in the URL [That includes this one!]. That said, you can run the Tor Browser at the same time, on the same computer as any of the other major web browsers (provided your computer can handle that workload) so you could be logged in on your regular browser while doing research on the Tor Browser.

2) Don't log in to Google and then make your searches because Google will connect your login with your search queries just like with any other browser and that would defeat the purpose of using this browser to research anonymously.

3) Google doesn't always work – you can end up in a Captcha loop because is doesn't believe you're not a bot. If that happens, just switch to another search engine for a while – Yahoo, Bing, Ixquick, etc. After awhile, you'll end up with a different connection, one that's not so busy, and you'll be able to use Google again if you prefer.

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With Nanowrimo coming to a close soon, I'd like to point out a great program I use for turning a novel into a beautiful pdf. 

LyX is a free-to-download, multi-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) typesetting word processing program.  I love, love, love it for novel writing for a few reasons:

The Pros:
1. It typesets gorgeous pdf files.  This is because its a word-processor built over a LaTeX base - but don't worry, you don't actually have to know LaTeX language to get results - you can use the basic code at the end of this post.  Though if you do want to, you can customize it in millions of ways to get beautiful output (there's tons of guides on LaTeX online so just google what you want to do and you can probably find out how in the first few search hits).
2. It has a convenient outline feature so I can always see which chapters are finished and which scenes still need written and can navigate to them with a single click.
3. It saves your cursor position when you close the file and takes you right back to the same place when you next open it up!  This sounds minor but when you've got 100k+ words plus extra chapter outlines, it saves time and if you've loaded the program to try and pin down a sudden spark of inspiration, those are a valuable few seconds you don't have to spend  scrolling to the part you're working on atm.
4. It doesn't lag on autosave, even for very, very large files.  If you've ever worked on a 25+ chapter story in Word, Open Office, or LibreOffice, you may have noticed that it autosaves without warning and if you're not watching the screen, you may be halfway along the next line while it's still hanging to save your work and it may or may not catch up and add what you've typed in that time when it finishes.  LyX doesn't have that problem, thank goodness.
5. You can easily insert your cover as the first page of the pdf.  Just save the cover as a pdf page using a program like GIMP and then with the cursor at the top of your document, go to the Insert menu, select File, then External Material.  In the pulldown menu under Template, select PDF Pages, then click the Browse button and navigate to your cover pdf.  Lastly, click the LaTeX and LyX Options tab and then uncheck the box next to Show In LyX.  Click OK and it's done.  (The process for inserting illustrations is very similar - put your cursor where you want the illustration and use Insert > Graphics).

The Cons:
1. You need diskspace for the install.  You need not only LyX but a LaTeX install as well (there's a Windows installer bundle with both parts, just look for the one that says it includes MikTek).  Compared to Microsoft's Office Suite or a full Photoshop install, it's not outrageously huge, but it's no lightweight like Abiword so just something to be aware of.
2. There's a bit of a learning curve.  It will take some time to get used to the quirks of LyX - probably figure that it will take about as much time to learn to do the basics on LyX as it did for you to learn to be a Moderate-to-Advanced Microsoft Word user.  It's taken me about 9 months to get up to speed with LyX to the point that I can customize a lot of the pure LaTeX stuff with a little help from the internet.  Personally, I think the results are worth it, but YMMV.
3. LaTeX, which LyX is built on, is designed to tell you in programmer-speak what went wrong when it fails to compile a document (into a PDF or an RTF, usually) so you will probably get a scary error message at least a couple of times.  In LyX, this pretty much always refers to something in a red L-box or in the preamble (because that's the only custom coding there is to screw up).  Fiddle with whatever you've changed since compiling worked correctly and by process of elimination, you should be able to get it working again.
4. Copy-pasting from LyX into Word or into Rich Text fic submission can cause weird formatting.  If you're writing for those media rather than PDF, don't use the red L-Boxes and don't customize in the preamble.  Just use Memoir class as is, then export to RTF which will open in Word.

Overall, I think the Pros outweigh the Cons.  If you agree, give it a try.  Here's a guide to get your started:

Step-by-step to noveling in LyX (behind this cut)... )


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