Making Adjustments

Both visitors to Carrying Stones will notice some changes.
Gone is the overgrown path to my writing, which is now featured front and center where it should be. My trials on the web during the past year focused on polishing HTML skills, learning CSS, picking up a little JavaScript and jQuery (with a side of perl), then figuring out where those tools intersect. The result was a mediocre site that only a determined sadist could bring themselves to visit every day. OK, once a week. What? Less than once a month?! Come on!

The journey is more important than the ship.

The astute reader will notice a redesigned keel guiding this ship, so allow me to clear the deck before moving on to reflect on and redefine the purpose of this site. After tinkering with Movable Type for about year, I am giving WordPress a whirl and may switch to yet another platform soon. You may see some schizophrenic changes happening as I settle into my new home. I may talk more about this later for the nerds in the audience, but that’s all for now. The journey is more important than the ship.

Missing the Boat

Jimmy Buffett recorded his story A Pirate Looks at Forty in 1975.

The song contains the bittersweet confession of a modern-day, washed-up drug smuggler as he looks back on the first 40 years of his life, expresses lament that his preferred vocation of piracy was long gone by the time he was born, and ponders his future.
Wikipedia, A Pirate Looks at Forty

As long as we agree to disregard my early days on Usenet, we can agree I have no claim on the pirate’s life. ((I have vague memories of going to bed with a 33.6k Global Village Teleport Modem struggling to download hundreds of segmented files to reassemble in the morning, or maybe that was someone else. Yesterday’s BitTorrent.)) It’s the longing in Buffett’s song that pulls me in with a wish to go back in time to my first contact with computers was the Tandy TRS–80s in junior high school. My first personal computer was a TI–99/4a (should have gone with the Commodore 64) and time was screaming past when I bought my first Mac in 1994, a clumsily-named Performa 6116CD. I was a 22-year-old college English student working full time to support to support my wife and 4-year-old son. My course seemed clearly charted, except it wasn’t. Anything can change if you let it, and all of the signs were there if only I had read them. Here are a few of the beautiful shiny buttons, the jolly candy-like buttons, I strolled past as if they weren’t even there.

  1. Growing bored with Mac OS 8 and itching for a challenge, installed LinuxPPC (still active as PenguinPPC) on the aforementioned Performa and later migrated to Yellow Dog Linux.
  2. A preview release of BeOS PR2 was among the software CDs bundled with the Power Computing PowerCenter Pro 210, a Mac clone I bought in 1997. Of course I ran it! Jean Louis Gassée’s folly screamed on Motorola’s PowerPC processors (@gassee still shares his strong opinions on Twitter) and may have overtaken Apple’s OS if not for Steve Jobs’ decision to stop licensing the Mac operating system. Nonetheless, I dreamed of buying a BeBox.
  3. In 2000, I attended the final Atlanta Linux Showcase toting a new Blueberry iBook (triple booting OS 9, OS X beta, and LinuxPPC no less) before the event moved to Oakland, Cali. I chatted with Eric S. Raymond, saw Larry Wall from afar, and watched what happens when you mix free alcohol and nerds at the after-party hosted by A manic performance of a punk-Devo karoake version of Madonna’s “Vogue,” en vogue at the time, is forever burned in my brain. I corresponded with lead developers at LinuxPPC prior to the event and met that inner circle of nerds devoted to running Linux on PowerPC processors, even working with them to write early drafts of documentation. ((The Internet does not forget. I found evidence of early correspondence with fellow PPC pioneers on comp.os.linux.powerpc from 1999!))

These memories begin to illustrate my lifelong interest in computer technology starting as early as computer classes in 1984, ballooning with with my first Mac in 1994, and exploding with my introduction to *nix around 1999. Now, at 41 years of age, I remain what people used to call a computer hobbyist and look back with bittersweet lament that I never pursued those passions as a career. All of my websites since the first hand-coded vanity blog christened in the late 1990s have been experiments; portals for me to learn new things about computers, technology, and the Internet.
The ocean is full of tech bloggers who began building their audience (which included yours truly) while I turned a blind eye to what I wanted to do, instead doing what I thought I had to do. Hindsight reveals I neglected the opportunities of being in the right place at the right time. Maybe sharing my errant past will clear the path for others who feel stuck to know they can change course at any time, a valuable insight I still struggle to accept at 41. As a nerd with a college education steeped in English literature and writing, my secret goal was to build an audience of readers who return because they enjoy what I write. As I breathe, it is not too late for me to refocus on that goal.

Defining a Purpose

It is now clear to me why, with the exception of a very close circle of friends, each iteration has been a failure. Reflecting on my shenanigans on the World Wide Web is akin to looking at photos of myself as a pudgy pale kid bedecked in striped athletic socks up to my knees, or wearing a Jacque Costeau-style diving mask and flippers at the beach, or wearing a sleeveless black muscle shirt in the driveway of my future wife (that part worked out OK bless her heart). My focus has always been more on the nerdery than the writing, though I cannot ignore both passions and promise to stride forward with less navel gazing.
How do I define Carrying Stones? CaSt is the nexus of my love for writing and technology. My influences include a cast of characters ranging from David Foster Wallace to Hunter S. Thompson with special thanks to Patrick Rhone, John Gruber, Merlin Mann, and Dan Benjamin. I am thankful to these mentors whether they know it or not.
This readers’ guide will help you get your sea legs as I continue my journey:

  • Carrying Stones—This site, which will focus on the posts I write for readers.
  • TerrazzoMy Tumblr blog will host the digital detritus that washes up on my shore (e.g. links, interesting stuff by others, pointers to items of interest).
  • Twitter—For personal (usually silly) conversation as @ELBeavers.
  •—Staying in touch with my nerd self as @ELBeavers.

I hope you stay with me. Let’s go.
N.B. Looking Back While Moving Forward: I considered wiping the slate clean and moving forward with a fresh start without the broken links and mishmash of prior posts. For good or ill I decided to leave it with this post standing as a totem marking a turning point. Kindly take all past work with a grain of salt.

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A couple of months ago, an eye doctor diagnosed me as slightly nearsighted with a slight astigmatism in one eye before handing over a prescription for eyeglasses. A few days later, I picked up my first pair of glasses and my life changed.

I had no idea what I was missing.

My eyesight used to be nearly perfect. I ferrying a group of friends to a movie when I was younger and reading the movie marquee en route to the theater. We were still nearly a mile away and they thought I was making it up. They were shocked when we got there and discovered I was actually reading the sign.

My vision has steadily and gradually declined over the years and I never gave it much thought. Who needs to read a movie sign from a mile away anyhow? It’s not like I’m training to be a sniper or something (and even they have scopes to home in on their target). But the amount of time I spend in front of a computer screen at work and play was taking its toll. I would get tired, then the headaches would come and I would get grouchy.

The first time I put my glasses on was like the first time I rode steady on a bicycle without training wheels. I was popping optical wheelies! I was visually bunnyhopping over curbs! I should have gone to the eye doctor years ago.

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My website has gone through many iterations over the years.

Hand-coded HTML. Template-based sites uploaded in chunks via FTP. Blogger. WordPress.

Not only that, but it’s divided and come back together like amoeba or a healing wound. At one point, I thought I would create a blog for each topic that interested me. Macs and producitivity, design, and several others. I felt like I had to write in a different voice for each audience. It was maddening and mentally exhausting so I narrowed it down to the two that exist today, which is this Carrying Stones site you are reading now and a Tumblr blog cleverly named Terrazzo.

Terrazzo: a mosaic flooring consisting of small pieces of marble or granite set in mortar and given a high polish

My idea was to publish my original writing on this site and post links to things I find interesting on the Tumblr blog. Get it? Small stones? My I am clever. Anyway…

With a few days off work I have been writing and thinking about how I want this site to function. I have decided there can be only one! I’ll leave Terrazzo hanging out there like a vestigial tail, but all posts are going to land here at Carrying Stones.

Thanks for reading!

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Our Kids Have an Awesome Orthodontist

If awesome is measured in Mac capacity, our kids’ orthodontist is the awesomest. A quick scan of the office during our visit there today turned up:

  • 3 iMacs at the front desk
  • 1 iMac in the consultation room
  • 5 or 6 13″ MacBook Pros at each workstation

The oddball in the bunch? A Cisco router, but I won’t raise a fuss. My guess is there are some iOS devices in the mix as well.

Maybe I should have been an orthodontist.

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What Do I Want to Be?

This is the second of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

  • What are three things I want to do?
  • What are three things I want to be?
  • What are three things I want to have?

This my response to the second question.

Be Bold

My respect for those who immediately speak their mind is tremendous. Sometimes they sound stupid or arrogant. Sometimes they hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

Other times, their boldness leads the way to new ground. Sometimes, being brutally honest is the only way to reach your destination. And there is a clear distinction, in my opinion, between brutal honesty and just plain meanness.

Examples are everywhere and often earn labels. Eccentric. Entrepreneur. Icon. Iconoclast. Bombastic. You don’t have to think too hard to pick them out. Hunter S. Thompson (You can still buy top-notch Gonzo gear to support his beloved Owl Farm). Seth Godin. Anne Lamott. The late Steve Jobs. Duh! Jim Henson, Salvador Dali, and Walt Disney.

All capable of creating amazing art that stays locked in your brain for good or ill, holding sway over generations of fans and pundits alike. These examples I hold up here for you (and for me, too) obviously excel at what they do, but all of us are capable of the same influence in our own particular areas of expertise. The fact is the Internet has democratized the ability for anyone to publish and share their craft in a global market and it’s practically free.

Approach life as a craft, and be bold about it.

The examples I provided above and my mindset in this response reminds me of the commercial Apple introduced in 1997 to launch its powerful Think Different advertising campaign.

Be Independent

Independence was one of the three things I wrote about in my first of three articles in this series and I feel it’s worth mentioning again in this second response. My indendence won’t become fully realized until am able to embrace boldness. This yoke of political correctness around my neck has prevented me from being as bold as I would like, and I’m struggling to shake free of that harness.

The constant worry of who I might offend has made me timid, which ipso facto prevents me from being bold. Sometimes, a verbal whack on the head is what the doctor ordered and I need to sack up and start dealing out the right medicine when I know I should.

Be Happy

Happiness is crucial. Some say happiness makes you live longer. Happiness makes you worry less (or maybe worrying less makes you happy?) Hey, let’s take a break for a shiny diversion!

Happiness comes in many packages. Happiness can be wild and out of control and it can be quiet and peaceful. You can find happiness in your work or at the beach. Happiness can be found in the early morning hours, in being the first one awake, in the solitude of just being while the aroma of fresh-ground coffee brewing in the French press tickles your nose before the sun has a chance to rise.

Being bold and independent may lead to happiness, but they aren’t necessary ingredients. You can pull happiness out of a top hat just like a white rabbit if you know where to look, just like magic.

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Third-Grade Writing Lessons from 1980

My third-grade teacher was infuriating.

Memories of 1980 include learning to read using advanced phonics (man-u-fac-ture), struggling with multiplication tables (I still do), and writing sentences using our vocabulary words. Ms. Robinson (no, nothing like that) wouldn’t let us start sentences with the words “I” or “The.” Furthermore, if my memory is churning correctly, our sentences had to be at least nine words long.

Put your third-grade brain in and let that settle a minute. Those limitations were hard for a third-grader struggling to memorize his 12’s (the 11’s weren’t so bad). I hated her for making our vocabulary so hard. I could crank those sentences out in no time if not for her stupid rules.

  • I like watermelon.
  • The rock was enormous.
  • David Bowie was androgenous.

But noooooo. She had to go and make us think.

  • Watermelon was one of my favorite things to come out of my grandmother’s garden.
  • While our family was on vacation we found an enormous rock by the lake.
  • David Bowie was among the most androgenous progressive rock musicians of the 1970s.

With her simple restrictions, Ms. Robinson graduated a class of third-graders who were better writers than when they first met on a warm day at the end of summer in 1980. My senses still recoil when I began a sentence with one of those two words. “The” or “I” immediately triggers a rewrite that is always better than the first draft.

Thank you Ms. Robinson for making me think. Thank you for making me a better writer.

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Site Redesign and a Renewed Focus

As a recreational blogger who struggles with commitment to write on a regular schedule, I have been slow to pay cold hard cash to a web host for my site. I would love to slap a CMS on there and take off to the races.

I have a long list of excuses to draw from to keep me away from writing. I’m tired. I’ve worked all day. Our kids all have performances tonight. This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. Where’s the third bowl?

Then I read about David Sparks wrangling his own family in California, working as a successful attorney, writing at his own MacSparky blog, recording the MacPowerUsers podcast with his partner Katie Floyd across the nation in Florida, and publishing two books in the past year: Mac at Work and iPad at Work.

Did I mention pocasts? Yes I did. Look at Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 podcast network. He’s been committed to recording audio since he was a kid and has built his current empire in just over a year. He manages production of 18 successful shows and is cohost in 10 of those. During the past year he and his wife had one youngster running around the house, another one on the way (congratulations Dan!), and orchestrated a move from Florida to Austin, Texas, while only missing a few episodes.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing to whine about. I need to shut up and get busy.

For now, I’m dressing up this free website with a new (to me) theme. I hope you enjoy my implementation of Dusk to Dawn.

What would I run on my own server? I enjoy I’ve been using it here on the free hosted site for years now and wouldn’t mind rolling my own installation of the .org variety; however, the latest version of Drupal is enticing as well. For the record, I have been using Drupal Gardens at work and can vouch that it provides an excellent hosted version at a reasonable cost.

I’m going to percolate a little longer in the womb here at and continue to focus on writing more before seriously considering a move and rebirth of sorts with a hosted provider.

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So Saith Gandhi

Yeah, I hope to get there too. Noble goals running my mind tonight.

(Via Garry Tan)

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What do you want to do?

This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

  • What are three things I want to do?
  • What are three things I want to be?
  • What are three things I want to have?

This my response to the first question.

Write passionately

Writers don’t have to heave up turgid prose in countless cheesy paperback romance novels to share their passion. Hardware. Software. Computers for desks and laps, phones smart and dumb, and apps free and paid for all. When you love what you write about, your passion shines through.

If you think writers can’t be passionate about technology then you haven’t read the Daring Fireball. Do you think high-tech mumbo-jumbo is just a bunch of boring topics stuffed with technical terminology nobody understands or cares about? Let’s talk again after you read Robert Noyce and His Congregation by Tom Wolfe. Can’t have a little fun with it? Spend some time at Andy Ihnatko’s Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA)

Flipping bits from the latest microprocessors to the lowly index card can’t be any better. Right? Merlin Mann was passionate about the value of index cards when he published Introducing the Hipster PDA in 2004. If you heard him talk about them with Dan Benjamin last week on his podcast Back to Work (s1e36 Writing on the Wind), then you know he is just as passionate about them today.

Paper can’t be cool? Check out Moleskine. Even better, take a gander at some products by Field Notes. Paper is magical even today. Put paper and technology together and you’ve got a horde of productivity nerds shouting mantras (Do it, delegate it, or delete it!) and waving copies of Getting Things Done in the air like it’s a street preacher convention. I can say this because I have practically been there myself, like, literally.

Live independently

One of my goals is to write for a living. Technically, I did that for a while as a newspaper staffer reporting the news to readers of local weekly and daily newspapers. The life of a general assignment reporter wasn’t as grand as it sounds.

No, really.

Sure, you can get hooked on finding the inside scoop and breaking a story before the competition, but most mornings and nights are spent with city council members and county commissioners, with school board members, police officers, and emergency responders. Just listening to the grinding sound of that bureaucratic sausage in production.

Like the man pleading with the genie after getting what he wished for (I mean, like, literally), I need to revisit my definition of writing for a living. Make that writing about something I love to write about for a living. I’m not saying I want to get rich, though as “side effects” go that’s not a bad one.

I want to earn enough to provide comfortably for my family and feed my gluttonous (not glutinous or gelatinous, which popped in my head immediately after thinking of the word gluttonous and are related by more than the letter “g”) desire for technological crack. iPhone 4S? Yes please.

Here’s what I think I’m trying to say. I don’t want to write to make money, but wouldn’t mind earning money while writing. If you’re writing with the goal of making money, chances are you won’t make a lot of it and probably won’t be happy during or after the attempt.

Stay hungry, stay foolish

Steve Jobs gave oodles of great advice during his time with us and bundled some of his best ideas in one speech given to the Stanford University Graduating Class of 2005. If you haven’t seen it yet, well, as they say here in the South, “Bless your heart.”

I’m making this easy for you. The video is embedded here, runs about 15 minutes long, and worth every second. Gobble it up now if you have the time (or sling the transcript over to Instapaper to read later).

Jobs shares three simple stories. One about connecting the dots, another about love and loss, and a third about death. A paragraph in the third story–the one about death–leapt out at me.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The bow around this gift he left us was his memory of the final edition of The Whole Earth Catalog, its back cover decorated with a photo of a country road and a simple caption. “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

I hope I can do that.

This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache.

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Nailing the Workflow

I’ve played around long enough. It’s time to commit to my writing tools and stick to them. Here’s the list.

On my Mac

As far as I’m concerned, Scrivener is the winner on Mac. I’ve tried them all and have no more questions. Scrivener is it for me.

On my iPad

Discovering Writing Kit made this decision easy. It quickly became the de facto app for writing on my first-generation iPad.

On my iPhone

I’m still waffling here, but since growing to version 2.0 Writing Kit has the edge. It not only syncs with Dropbox (natch) and handles Markdown beautifully and mimics the writing environment I enjoy on my iPad. Elements 2 by Second Gear Software still runs in my stable on my iPhone and iPad because it allows me to send HTML-formatted emails from within the app.

By setting my default Dropbox folder to the root directory, I can move within both apps from one project to another. For instance, I just swapped from my Mac to my iPhone and back to edit this article within the Scrivener hierarchy. Cool huh?

Note: I’ve heard it’s best to close Scrivener when you leave your Mac if you plan to edit files while you’re away. I hear that’s bad juju.

Other Notes

Just because I’m nailing my workflow to the apps I described above doesn’t mean I’m excluding apps–such as OmniOutliner for iPad and iThoughts–that support my work.

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from Seth’s Blog: Talker’s block

Michael Schechter (@mschechter) pointed out another great article about writing shared by the always-great Seth Godin titled Talker’s Block. Here’s an excerpt to round out my hat trick of sharing writing about writing.

Seth’s Blog: Talker’s block:

Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.

Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

The first two posts:

  1. Writing in the Margins

OK. I’m done for now.

(Via Michael Schechter)

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Writing In The Margins

Another great meta-post about writing in the same vein as my recent find from Andy Ihnatko. This excerpt is by Michael Schechter:

Writing In The Margins:

So often we think of writing as this pristine thing. Something precious, something that requires a special place and a special time. This is crap. Writing is getting words out of your head and on to some media. No matter what, no matter how, no matter where. Don’t get me wrong, some writing is better than others, but the gist of how it’s done is fairly universal.

(Via Eddie of Practically Efficient)

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You are what you read

Some blogs are comprised of audio, photos, or videos, but most of them are still brewed the old-fashioned way, by stringing together a bunch of (hopefully) related words and publishing them to the Internet for everyone to read and discuss.

Rinse. Repeat. Rinse again. Seriously, go wash up. People are beginning to talk.

My first thought as I began to think about which direction to steer my blog was, “What do I want to read?” I reviewed some of my favorite writers and major influences and found a few common threads:

These folks are the cream of the crop. It’s ridiculous to set my goals so high, but that’s what I’ve done. I’m not here to compete with them and surely don’t claim to join them. I do understand the craftsmanship that goes into what they do and I’m a huge fan of their work.

¡Mios Dio, man! This could get embarrassing!

By the way, most of my reading happens in Instapaper, which Marco Arment (@marcoarment) updated to 4.0 this week. You really should go and buy it now.

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Ithnatko is so good. Writers, read this article. Here’s a piece of it for you.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITERS’ BLOCK. – Andy Ihnatko’s Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA):

As a writer, you are never “blocked.”

Here, let me say it again, with more markup tags:

***As a writer, you are never “blocked.”***

The fact that you’re not actually writing doesn’t mean that you’re not actually working. You’re also working when you’re thinking. Figure out what the problems are and _solve_ them. Solve them in a half-assed way if you have to; slap enough duct tape over the problem that you can proceed to the next step. Go back later and improve it in the editing process.

Or! Just put the whole thing aside. Just for now. Even in the worst, most frustrating situation, you’re not “blocked.” You just can’t make any progress on this one thing.

So write something else.

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So, BBEdit happened

BBEdit is a Mac text editor. It’s the Mac text editor. If you aren’t a nerd, this probably means nothing to you. For those of you with a firm footing in the nerd camp this is terrific news, but it brings some challenges.

I learned about the BBEdit 10 release from John Siracusa on Twitter:

@siracusa on Twitter

OK. It isn’t such huge news that [Bare Bones Software] updated the longtime editor. It feels like the program practically launched alongside the Macintosh and has been regularly updated (It’s only been around for about 20 years). Version 10 launched alongside Mac OS X Lion with a shiny new price tag. The cost of a license dropped from its high of $199 to $39. That’s the introductory price good through October 2011. Even after the deal ends, it looks like the app is still going to be an awesome value at $49.

I used BBEdit Lite back in the day and was excited when Bare Bones brought revived their free version of the text editor with the new name Text Wrangler. Then I found TextMate at about the same time that I found Markdown and fell in love with monospace all over again. Cranking out stylized text from a simplified markup language and exporting to PDF or into LaTeX for further editing made me feel like a wizard. It was magical.

TextMate dramatically simplifies some editing tasks, such as working with Markdown. If you’re a writer, Markdown will change your game.

But times change. Like Merlin Mann said in Back to Work (My Food Court of Functionality: S1E25), at some point you have to take a step back and analyze why you are using a product. Are you using it because you’ve talked about it so much or because it’s the right tool to use? He compared it to his experience during the fabled Quicksilver to Launchbar Migration of 2009 (citation needed).

The challenge is migrating from TextMate to BBEdit. I love TextMate–it’s been my default writing application for a long time–but it feels like it’s been abandoned and there is no dispute that its update cycle has dropped off the chart.

I’m going to miss TextMate, but I look forward to moving back into BBEdit.

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iPad: My review one year late

Using an iPad (first generation) for a few weeks now improved the way I work.
Taking notes

Taking notes helps me stay focused and engaged during a meeting or conversation. If you saw me in a meeting, it was a safe bet a notebook or legal pad (yellow paper please) wasn’t far from my side. The physical act of writing with a pen or pencil is one of my simple pleasures, yet as a prolific notetaker, the problem I found with collecting mounds of handwritten yellow pages is the lack of an easy way to search them. Proper filing makes pages easier to find (sometimes), but without a meticulous and impractical concordance I know of no way to search those files beyond simple topics. Using the iPad, I can tag my digital notes and search them with ease.
Not only can I take notes at work and church, but the combination of my iPad and iPhone constitue a digital filing cabinet I always have with me. I have used notebook computers exclusively for nearly a decade and an iPhone for about three years now, but the iPad has taken mobile computing to a whole new level for me.

Creating new content

Lots of people–naysayers and devoted iPad users alike–say the iPad is only for consumption and unsuitable for creation.

I disagree.

I’m no artist, but the tools on the market appear to be amazing. Adobe Ideas, Sketchbook Pro, and Brushes are three that come to mind and the number of high-quality photo editing apps is virtually overwhelming.

Words are my craft, and there is no shortage of tools to help writers. I’m juggling several apps right now until I find a home. IA Writer is my favorite so far for creating narrative content (this article for example). I haven’t settled on a favorite app for taking notes, but I’ve narrowed the field. Nebulous Notes is great and I’ve used PlainText and Elements. The new player on the field is OmniOutliner for iPad from the software ninjas at The Omni Group, and it looks perfect for taking notes.

Like any writer/geek these days, I use Scrivener on my Mac and and look forward to paying for final release of the beta version running on my Windows netbook. Sharing files between Mac OS X and Windows is seamless, but there are no plans to bring Scrivener to the iPad. A wise developer decision, but I’m still flailing about until I can find a pleasing way (for me) to edit writing contained in Scrivener projects while I’m on the go.

About that consumption

I disagreed with those who believe the iPad is only good for consumption, but I don’t disagree that the device is a terrific tool for digesting everything the Internet has to offer (unless it runs in Adobe Flash, which is fine with me). This is another area where my workflow has transformed.

The iPad is as close to perfect as anything I’ve seen for plowing through RSS feeds and other news sources online. I’ve been using Reeder on the iPhone for a long time, but more for triage than actual reading. I have to admit that I’m getting older, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and the larger screen makes reading easier and following up on the Web a pleasure when necessary. Videos on YouTube, Vimeo, and Netflix run like a technicolor dream (unless you’re into black & white recordings, and those work fine too).

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Taking a deep breath

My family and some friends recently spent our week of spring break in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Julie and I led a group six kids to a cabin in the mountains. Jordan, Meg, and Kat each invited a friend with parents crazy enough to let us bring one of their kids. All told, there were eight of us sharing a three-story cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Pool. Hot tub. The whole deal.

We left a knot of anxiety and work tension behind and were able to relax. After my GPS announced we arrived at our destination I sighed a deep breath. Then I took another. And another. Huge lungfuls of simple, relaxing breathing made me realize that I had been suffocating and it felt good.

This week off with nothing to do gave all of us time to breath. I relaxed on the veranda. I relaxed while we cooked S’Mores over a campfire. I relaxed in the hot tub. I relaxed while we grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. I listened to lots of music. We hit the tourist traps and drove around the countryside watching to properties blur from trailer to horse farm to shanty to mansion and round and round she goes. We had a blast.

Two promised amenities were missing: WiFi access and the heated pool. Julie and I were more upset than the kids. This limited our access to our respective office networks to a weak 3G signal. This blessing in disguise meant less work and more time on our hands than we expected.

Here’s the secret sauce though. The most therapeutic and cathartic aspect of this vacation for me was carving out a large amount of time to write.

Breathing again

I can’t remember a more concentrated writing session than this week of reflection. With a day remaining I had written more than 10,000 words. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but a found a few pearls in the sand alongside a few themes:

  • Work – yeah, the wheels kept turning the first day or two and I cranked out some writing for work
  • Vacation diary – a journal of what we did during vacation
  • Fiction – just the tiniest little smidgen
  • Blog – revisioning my blog

This blog is dead, long live this blog

That last bullet, the one about my blog, that’s the one that should have your attention because it absorbed most of mine. Carrying Stones has been festering online in one form or another for eons, all the way back when modems cranked out a noisy 28.8k. My blog has been a dumping ground for whatever was most immediately on my mind. That isn’t always a bad thing, but most of the time it’s not a great idea. There is a reason writers talk about first drafts, and editing, and (ugh!) revisions.

This is a revision of my blog, and my goal is to share something valuable with you. Everything you read here is provided gratis. I hope to provide content of the same high-quality craftsmanship that discerning readers such as yourself would expect from the books and magazines you buy.

I’ve invested my time designing a useful site for you and welcome your suggestions or requests to help me improve it for you.

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So, I got a netbook

Coming soon… Posts that aren’t so nerdy!

Julie gave me a netbook last week. My last PC was a 386 with an 80mb hard drive and 8mb of RAM. I replaced it with an Apple Performa 6116CD, which science can carbon date to the early 1990s. I have been a dedicated Mac user ever since and have long-since forgotten how to parse the specs for a Windows machine. The netbook is new to me although this model was released about a year ago.

The keyboard isn’t too shabby compared to other netbooks I’ve used. While it isn’t full size, the keys are large and responsive enough to make it a decent and very portable writing tool (until I can afford a MacBook Air). The additional couple of pounds compressed into my white plastic MacBook seems unbearable now compared to the netbook.


One big step forward for me was securing a Windows license for 1Password, the premiere password management solution for iOS, Mac OS X, and Windows produced by Agile Web Solutions.

Having used Macs exclusively for nearly 20 years now (20 years?!) it seemed like a no-brainer to pick up another Mac license for 1Password with the MacUpdate Spring Bundle I bought three weeks ago. It didn’t take me long after cracking this netbook open last week to realize my mistake. I needed a Windows license for 1Password!

I already own a license for Mac so I crossed my fingers and emailed customer support at 9:22 EST on a Wednesday night asking them to revoke and replace my latest Mac license. “Happiness Engineer” Nik L. responded 13 minutes later at 9:35 with a Windows license. 13 minutes! “Computer Whisperer” Marty S. (love the titles) even followed up at 1:11 a.m. EST to ensure the new license worked for me.

So many people limit their opinions to the bad times. I spent enough time in the service industry to understand the value of positive comments. The company had no obligation to grant my request, but they did.

The folks at Agile Web Solutions displayed unparalleled customer service for what I already knew to be a superior product. My experience was like staying at a hotel and realizing a day or two later you want a different room. You don’t have a good reason, but their staff happily moves all of your things to an identical room across the hall.

There are other password managers for Mac OS X and other platforms, but I have never heard anyone rave about them. Users treasure 1Password. Merlin Mann and others on Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 podcasts mention it regularly. Agile Web Solutions sponsors the MacPowerUsers podcast, but I think hosts Dave Sparks and Katie Floyd would flaunt the cross-platform value of 1Password whether they were paid to or not.

1Password is superior software and Agile Web Solutions’ customer support is prompt and impeccable.


Text editors get regular use on all of my devices all tied together with the indispensable twine Dropbox provides. I rely on nvALT (a variant of the open source Notational Velocity) on my Macs. I never can settle on which horse to ride from my stable full of iOS text editors. My top three picks are:

  • Elements – for search capabilities and general use
  • Nebulous Notes – for macros and superior Markdown integration
  • Notesy – for user interface and choice of using a monospace or proportional typeface per file

My search was quick; ResophNotes fills the void on Windows. Because the interface is nearly identical to nvALT on my Mac, ResophNotes dovetails perfectly into my workflow.


Scrivener is my choice for composing longform articles, research-based writing, and incubating book ideas. I committed to using Scrivener several years ago after finding Literature & Latte. Software developer Keith Blount knew exactly how to make writers happy because he happens to be an author himself. He wrote the program to serve his own writing needs and selflessly shared his work with us.

The Windows version is a relatively new venture–still in beta as I write this–but should be available for release soon. I look forward to adding a license soon after Scrivener’s imminent non-beta release.


It seems like everyone has something good to say about Dropbox. The company’s version of cloud storage is a must-have tool that should be installed by default on every single new computing device on every platform. If you don’t have it, get it.


The netbook came with a relatively impressive collection of fonts, but I had to add two more free ones–Inconsolata and Bitstream Vera Sans Mono–to keep my wits about me in a text editor. I’m still debating whether I need something as powerful as TextMate for the netbook and I’m open to suggestions for a Windows replacement.

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Why Quickcursor?

I recently wrote about how I use QuickCursor to switch between Scrivener and TextMate, which left at least one reader wondering, “Why?”

“I’d like to know why you sometimes feel it’s necessary to jump from Scrivener to TextMate…via QuickCursor.” –@drdrang

Scrivener is perfect for organizing writing projects and providing a focused writing environment, yet it lacks the formatting mojo I have come to adore in TextMate. In short, I use Scrivener to write and TextMate to format, particularly for posting to the web.

QuickCursor is the glue that binds the two apps together. I almost forgot to mention it because I often don’t realize its there, which is a tremendous compliment.

Most of my words are prepared in some sort of markup these days, usually Markdown in MultiMarkdown. This blog is hosted by, which doesn’t doesn’t directly accept Markdown, so I have to convert it to HTML for posting using MarsEdit. My fellow TextMate users out there already know how well that app handles Markdown-to-HTML conversion. Ctl-Shift-H. Done!

Yes, I know I can post directly from TextMate and I used to use it that way. Now, I prefer to use MarsEdit for its near perfect integration of Flickr, which is where I host my photos.

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Writing Anywhere and Everywhere

Writing applications are growing as plentiful and affordable as the number of platforms on the market to help me record my thoughts. I am using this blog to review and define my system of capturing ideas.

I no longer have to wait until I have my favorite notebook and pen or return to my computer desk. Smart phones like the Apple iPhone and other devices running Android are great for capturing ideas or even making progress on longer work.

For the record, I prefer the iPhone and will focus on iOS apps and work on a Mac so you can stop reading now if that’s not how you roll. I didn’t write this to tell you what you should do, but if it works for you then that’s terrific. This article is selfishly focused on helping me work better.

I’ve narrowed the types of words I capture to three types, and use different applications on different platforms depending on my environment.

1. Notes

My iPhone is always at hand, making it a nearly perfect “ubiquitous capture tool” (to use the lingua franca of GTD) for basic notes. If I overhear something interesting or funny, I jot it down. Think of something I don’t want to forget? This is the perfect tool to help me remember it.

One offs. Lists. Scribbled thoughts. Nothing formal here, just random thoughts. A few bits of reference I want to have with me all the time. I periodically review and process these notes to create or supplement projects or delete them.

How I get notes into my iPhone depends on the situation. I use JotAgent to fire off a quick note. The app creates a new file stamped with the date and time down to the seconds. This ensures I won’t have two files of the same name and I can add a description later when I process my notes.

Applications I Use: JotAgent and Elements on the iPhone. [Notational Velocity][41] on the Mac (I prefer Brett Terpstra’s variant [nvALT][42]).

Honorable mention: MarkdownMail, Nebulous Notes, Plaintext, Simplenote, and Writeroom (for iPhone and Mac).

2. Research

Some notes are more refined than others, and I am going to call these research notes. These are notes that may drive my writing to some end, or maybe notes from meetings I attend.

This is an area where I struggle. I still take notes the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, and I haven’t figured out how to digitize those notes. I know the LiveScribe pen is one option, but it just doesn’t sound right to me. I don’t think I would like it.

I tried pairing an Apple bluetooth keyboard with my iPhone. It works, but it’s still a clunky kludge and not much better than using a laptop.

The iPad 2 is appealing—the MacBook Air, too—but I don’t have the spare capital to swing either purchase right now.

Applications I Use: Elements on the iPhone. Scrivener and TextMate on the Mac, which I keep coupled together using QuickCursor.

Honorable mention: DEVONthink Pro and Yojimbo for data storage and retrieval.

3. Work

Snippets grow into notes, and ideas develop into a novel, a blog post, or a research paper. A note captured while walking to the mailbox could grow into a masterpiece to export later into LaTeX or some other formatted output for publication.

Applications I Use: Scrivener and TextMate, MarsEdit for blog posts, Pages for print.

Honorable mention: Mellel, Microsoft Word, Pagehand.

Text Editors

BBEdit, TextMate, Text Wrangler, Ulysses

All of my writing that ends up being worth anything spends a good deal of life in a text editor before publication in print or online. TextMate is my weapon of choice, and my bullets are written using Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown, which extends the formatting capabilities of John Gruber’s original Markdown.

MultiMarkdown is a markup language that allows for semantic text editing. As a plain text file it is infinitely portable and flexible. The file can be exported to Rich Text Format, LaTeX, HTML, and other formats for further processing before publication.

Ulysses is another kind of semantic text editor worth a closer look.

Word Processors

Mellel, Microsoft Word, Pagehand, Pages

Word processors do more than edit text. They allow you to pick different fonts, adjust margins, and all kinds of other fiddly activities you should really avoid unless you are actually finished writing. Until then, I’ll stick to a text editor and recommend you do the same.

You would be amazed how liberating a simple monospaced font can be for your writing. Try it.

Microsoft Word is my least favorite word processor, but it’s a necessary evil because it is so deeply ingrained in office culture. If you need to share a file and preserve formatting, you’re probably going to need Word.

Having said that, I only use it when I must share my files with someone else. If someone sends me a file, I open it in TextEdit or Path Finder’s text editor.

Outliers and additions

Evernote is a terrific application. I keep trying to work it into my workflow, but it just doesn’t fit. David Sparks summed up my feelings during the podcast he records with fellow attorney Katie Floyd. About 19 minutes into their episode titled Taking Notes on Mac OS X and iOS he said, “Evernote is, in my case, an elegant solution where I don’t have a problem.”

That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking but lacked the eloquence to package my thoughts.

OmniOutliner Pro can’t be beat for making outlines, but for some reason it slips off my radar when I’m at a point where it makes sense. I crank out most of my outlines in a Markdown text file, but OmniOutliner is the ultimate outlining tool on the Mac.

TextExpander (and it’s iPhone counterpart TextExpander Touch) is the glue that holds my writing life together. Apps that have a hook for TextExpander to grab onto don’t get a lot of use from me.

Thoughts on file names

I’ve tried some naming schemes that got awfully convoluted, but they got to the point that I couldn’t remember what was what. I’ll probably make it difficult for myself again, but for now I stick with dating each file and providing a brief descriptive name. Like this:

2011-03-06 brief descriptive name

See? Easy!

Just remember to lay down some context for your notes or you may find yourself a bit lost in the days, weeks, or months to come.


Like I said in the beginning, this article is an exercise to help me define how I work. I hope it helps you in some way, but recommend that you try several options to see what works best for you.