Category Archives: writing

Fountain Pens

I have been using a median tip Lamy Safari fountain pen for several years. I enjoy how the pen writes – the easy flow of ink is a delight to see as apposed to the hard push I need for the cheap ball points at work. I also like not having to throw plastic pens away. But, the medium tip flow of the Lamy Safari tends to produce a thicker line than I like. I purchased a fine tipped Lamy Safari. It produced a finer line and my letters were clearer but I always felt that pen was scratching the paper. I missed the smooth flow and writing was not so much fun. But, I persisted with the fine tip until I could not.

The other problem I have with the Lamy Safari series, is that the cap of the pen sits on by friction only. This is not good. There have been several times where the pen has fallen out of my pocket because the cap came off. Unfortunately, the last time this happened, the fine tipped Lamy Safari hit the floor, nib first. It was horrifying. No matter what I did, I could never fix it properly.

So I went on the quest for a new fountain pen. It had to be an inexpensive, because I do not live in a protected work environment. I noticed the TWSBI Eco . Secondly the price is right. Unfortunately was a little higher in Canada specially with shipping and handling. but, Wonderpens is an excellent company to deal with. They are a brick and mortar store in Ontario. Their shipping costs and prices are less than the store in town.

The TWSBI provided a delightful writing experience. The TWSBI medium tip pen creates a finer line than the medium Lamy Safari. I was pleasantly suprised with how the pen flows smoothly along the paper. The ink supply is much much larger than the Lamy Safari and as the body is clear plastic, the remaining ink can be seen at a glance. Filling the ink depot as a matter of priming the pump and then just twisting it all the way up. One concern I have is lubricating the pump when the time comes. The pen comes with silicon grease and a wrench. But the instructions I’ve seen online seem to indicate that this is a trivial matter.

With its smooth flow and secure cap, my current favourite fountain pen is the TWSBI Eco. The Lamy Safari medium tip in a favoured backup.

Life as a Dictater… or Getting Dictation to Work

I have been struggling with Dragon for Mac for a few years.I was ready to quit Dragon after my initial frustration. I could not get the thing to work and I was mad after having payed over $100 for the software. But listening to the sound files I found that the Apple Router created interference with the Dragon headset. Placing the router further away from the computer saved my sanity. Dictation worked well enough but not enough that I would trust it. Besides, I “thought” with my keyboard.

At some point the headset that came with my Dragon software stop working. I upgraded to a Plantronics audio 628 exterior USB headset. It worked fairly well for a number of years. It was better than the original headset that came with Dragon and it was less cheaply made. But transcription never worked as smoothly as I thought it could. Afterc listening to the Mac power users, I was sure I could to better. One of the hosts , David Sparks had dictated serveral books. What was he doing that I was not .

I finally read the book by Monica Leonelle: “Dictate your book”. But I never quite believed it. I always thought that my Plantronics headset did a good job in terms of rendering sound. Then I listened to an interview Monica Leonelle on the Creative Pen Podcast . That gave me the impetus to replace the headset with an AT 2020 condenser microphone.

It has made an incredible difference in how smoothly the dictation occurs. My words seem to flow much faster and smoother. I no longer have to distrust my software quite as much. The equipment that I used:

The next mental hurdle is getting over the ingrained habit of thinking with the keyboard.

I am not a Coder – Why Would I Learn Vim?

I have been trying to learn Vim. Why would I want to learn the 20-year-old editor? What are the deficiencies of modern editors that make me want to choose something so ancient ? Efficiency of movement. Vim was created before the mouse, so it has much more efficient cursor movement and text manipulation shortcuts. Vim’s commands are snippets of text that have meaning, grammar and structure .The commands are “composable” . This means that you can figure commands out based on a logical structure without having to memorize arbitrary keyboard combinations or codes.It is almost like lego for editing.

Learning Vim commands is not easy.But, small snippets of text with a consistent grammar are easier to remember than abstract keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are abstract because they have no meaning by themselves. Mac Os X keyboard shortcuts for cursor movement are not as powerful as Vim movement commands. There is no way to move or manipulate sentences as a unit. You can jump by words and paragraphs but not sentences. There are Emacs keybindings, but they require holding down the CNTR key. I wanted to avoid having to press multiple keys. This is hard on the fingers and not at all pleasant when trying to write with a DVORAK keyboard. But, why all this keyboard magic, what is wrong with the mouse?

The mouse is easy to use. It does not require much training, but it requires more precision. Carefully having to select between words is easy enough but it gets tedious. I seem to work slower with a mouse when editing text. I do not know if this is an illusion or not. But, I just don’t like the strain of switching between the mouse and the keyboard. Is this more efficient than taking the time to remember keyboard shortcuts ? I think once a shortcut is memorized, it is much easier and faster to stick to the keyboard rather than reach for the mouse.

There is no easy way of integrating Mac Os X terminal Vim and the system clipboard. Of course the file system is inaccessible with anything but the CLI. There are concerns about formatting which I still haven’t quite figured out yet(extra tabs and spaces appearing). I will also hit some mysterious combination of letters and the text rearranges or disappears.I wonder if the time I’m spending learning Vim is not better spent actually writing? Since using MacVim instead of terminal Vim, my concerns about integrating the editor into the Mac Os X are unfounded and I get to use Mac Os X keyboard shortcuts (the very thing that I said I wanted to avoid -turns out I don’t want to avoid them that much, but would prefer not to have to use keyboard cursor movements.)

I am enjoying the experience of editing in Vim. But, I’m anything but efficient.This is more a matter of learning and experience, but is the payoff of learning this system worth the effort? Perhaps, I would be even more efficient if I just spend more time writing rather than having to fiddle with a 20-year-old editor. But, editing with Vim is almost like a game; what magic combination of codes do I need to make my change?

Markdown for General Writing

Author, David Hewson has written a post about using Markdownfor general writing.


The title of the post is “Markdown: For general writing I really don’t get it”. But, Hewson later qualifies this.

OK. Stop the shrieking. I’m not saying that Markdown is, unlike IA Writer Pro, rubbish. It’s actually a very capable invention. Just one that’s not made to be used for creative writing.

In spite of the inflammatory title and prose, I have to agree in part with this sentiment. Markdown might not have much benefit for the purely creative writer(Fountain is another story though). Writing in plain text will not make you more creative than writing in rich text.

But, to me general writing encompasses more than creative writing. When I write I want to be able to define headings, bullet points, lists and footnotes quickly.

Hewson misses the point by disparaging the time it takes to type markup for bold and italics…


Most Markdown editors do actually format text too. So you get the italic styling and the marks as well. Plus, if you type out the marks instead of using keyboard shortcuts, you do more work for some — four keystrokes for bold and six for bold italic, against two and four keyboard combinations. And if you’re using keyboard combinations… what’s the difference anyway? You might as well be in a real text editor such as Scrivener or Word.

Why is it better to write in Markdown than using the standard formatting shortcuts we’ve all learned over the years? No really… why?

If all I wanted to do was bold and italics , Markdown would be overkill. This is where a markup language outshines WYSIWYG. I can define these things much quicker with markup rather than a laborious trip to the menu bar to find some obscure item to accomplish the task.

I suppose I would eventually learn the keyboard shortcuts for that particular editor to learn footnotes etc… but with markdown, I can use my knowledge in any text editor without having to worry about program specific keyboard shortcuts. I can also write using my iPad without having to worry about syncing issues or being tied once again to one specific editor.

Cool factor

The trouble is fashion — and nothing else — has now dictated that it’s cool to use Markdown as a general word processor too. That stripping out conventional text formatting — the kind you see in uncool but universal apps such as Microsoft Word — somehow unlocks the creative process by removing the supposed distraction of WYSIWYG.

I do not use markdown because it it “cool”. I use it for it speed, consistency and ubiquity. For me this means the ability to use multiple editors for the same text. Markup is faster that a trip to the menu bar and if there is a problem with formatting, I can see where things have gone wrong and correct them as opposed to madly deleting unseen returns and hoping for the best.

Rich Text

Books are read in rich text — and for most of us that’s surely how they’re best written.
And when you come to deliver your manuscript to an agent or a publisher they will, I promise, shriek if you go all geek on them and say you’d like to deliver it in any other format than Word. So if you write in Markdown you have to export it to rich text anyway.

Sometimes, I like to write in one font and print in another. Some fonts just look better on the screen. Markdown makes the option available. To be fair so do good text editors like Scrivener.

I have never submitted anything to a publisher, but markdown to rich text conversion very easy, using any competent markdown editor. In addition you have the option of exporting to Latex, Word, ePub, Open Office etc…

Writing in plain text will not improve your creativity. But, I think that assuming

Markdown was never meant as a replacement for an industrial strength word processor. It’s a superb minimal markup language for people dealing in computer code or writing for the web

is too narrow a focus. Markdown has great application for general writing. I suspect that most people do not need the bloat (power?) of MS word for their day to day writing.

I suspect I am on the losing end of the argument because WYSIWYG makes things look like typing on paper. There is more of a learning curve initially with Markdown, but what you have to learn is some basic syntax. The biggest stumbling block is wrapping your head around markup as opposed to WYSIWYG.

I can write things faster in markdown than in a WYSIWYG editor because I do not have to rely on style to define headings, bullet points or footnotes. The words I type are potentially readable for generations because they are in plain text( I am not dependent on MS Word maintaining backward compatibility). If I write in markdown, I am not restricted to an editor, device or operating system and I do not have compatibility issues.

Markdown has application outside of writing for the web in spite of what Hewson contends. If you are interested some great applications that are useful are:

Scrivener and Non-Linear Writing

I write more deeply if I don’t focus on writing about a topic and instead concentrate on one idea and then the next. Scrivener helps me write as if I had ADD. With this Mac OS X program, I can write in a non-linear manner with an ease that is refreshing. Each snippet(text grouping) of writing can exist in one project. A snippet can be as small or as large as you want—from chapters to paragraphs. Collections of snippets can be further grouped in folders. By narrowing the focus to one idea rather than a whole blog or paper, a topic can be explored it great detail, one idea at a time. Stringing ideas together can come later, the most important part initially is getting them down in the first place no matter how they appear.

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