Scrivener and Alphasmart

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AndreasE
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Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:44 am Post

I would like to create a little corner for those few enlightened ones :wink: that use Scrivener and an Alphasmart together.

As we know, this combination almost only has advantages. No discussion needed whether Scrivener should support the Alphasmart (as with its opposite, the iPad) - in fact, the Alphasmart supports Scrivener! Plug in, press a key, and there you go.
________________________________________

Okay. Seriously: I would like to discuss the usage scenarios of the combination Alphasmart/Scrivener. How do you use each of both? And when?

I take my Alphasmart when (a) the weather is so good, I have to go sit outside and (b) I have scenes I can write without much reference material or with reference material I can take with me (books, magazines, cutouts etc.). I usually take a notepad with me as well, but this is because I can hardly write anything without jotting some notes down before, mindmapping what I am going to write on a very bottom level.

When I'm done (or the weather changes, which happens usually quite often here en Bretagne), I plug the Alphasmart in (USB-cable, the Y-cable collects dust since I left my old PC), put the cursor in the right document and press "Send".

I have a little trouble with the transfer speed. 3 (standard) is a little too fast, sometimes characters get lost, and 2 is rather too slow. (Maybe because I have TypeIt4Me running which processes all keyboard entries - one day, I'll check that. On the other side, this way I can use all my abbreviations I am used to.) So, what to do with the waiting time? Because I don't really want to clean up my desk while the text is dripping into Scrivener, I came up with the idea to read out aloud what I have written while it appears on the screen - and this works really great, because doing so I usually come up with a lot of ideas how I could improve the first version. And once the text is transferred, I immediately do so. (Too sad one can't stop the transfer, change some words and then let the transfer continue again. But on the other hand, maybe that's not as bad as it appears at first thought, because this way, I have an over-all view on the text and can edit it from this viewpoint, which might end up in a better result. Plus it trains my memory.)

I have to emphasize that I use an Alphasmart 3000, the predecessor of the Neo that's available meanwhile. I have no idea in which way the Neo might behave differently. Actually, for what I have read about the Neo, I believe the Alphasmart 3000 fits my needs better.

Anybody else? How are you doing it?

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Apollo16
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Wed Aug 18, 2010 6:47 pm Post

I use a Neo. You can stop an upload with the esc key but then when you hit send again, it does start over. This may or may not be a problem depending on how you use the file system and the length of your individual scenes.

I use my Neo to write outside. I live in Northern New Mexico (high desert) so rain is rare except during the monsoon season of July and August when sudden spot thunderstorms do occasionally pop up. Then, all I need (besides avoiding a lightening strike) is a Ziplock bag.

You have already described how to upload each file into a separate scene in Scrivener by hitting the send button. (The alphasmart becomes a de facto keyboard.) The upload is slow but I tend to upload the minute I get into the house so I'm feeding cats, dealing with the mail etc. and the slowness doesn't bother me.

I use the alphasmart in two ways: (1) the initial first draft (NaNoWriMo get it out method) where notes are limited and (2) in the rewrite where I am missing a scene or the one I have isn't working and I really need to start over.

In case (1), I will write down a scene goal at the top of each file (my Neo had 8 files buttons) and go. I am free to write any of these scenes and the idea is to get as much out as possible before my inner editor sleeps off his bucket of margaritas.

In case (2), I reread the offending scene and pack up my Neo and leave. I find a spot, sit down and rewrite the scene sans notes. I may even write it two or three different ways all under different files. (I have also done the POV check this way too. I write the same scene using two different POVs and see which works better.) I usually find something salvageable before I run out of file buttons.

I go back home and upload into Scrivener and continue the process. I LOVE Scrivener but I find that I can waste hours with the BS of snapshots and rewriting and command K and command D and command M. However, if the scene's awful, putting lipstick AND eyeshadow on the pig won't help. Sometimes you have to suck it up and delete the scene and start over. This is where my Neo brings home ... you know it's coming... the bacon.

I do not like to use the Neo for editing a scene because I LOVE the mouse and I keycode with my left and position with the mouse in my right. The six lines is not enough to see what I am doing.

However, it is perfect when I need to brainstorm. I have posted elsewhere how I will often have a conversation with a character to help me fill them out. I can do this on the Neo as well. None (or practically none) of this conversation ever makes it into the novel and so I dump this "conversation" into my research folder.

As an additional note about write-ins: I'm an ML for NaNoWriMo and I have to attend almost all of the write-ins. I get distracted at these sorts of events and so having eight scenes picked out with a starting sentence and a goal really helps me to make progress in a non-nominal writing situation. Plus, the control W key combo gets me my word count and I can use separate files for word wars and not completely wipe out my outline and writing goals for the day.

I think this is a great thread. I'm looking forward to see how others use their alphasmarts.

Apollo16

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AmberV
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Wed Aug 18, 2010 7:25 pm Post

This is well timed, as I've been informed by UPS that my Neo is currently on the truck and should arrive later today. The excitement is palpable!

Off the cuff, I wonder if speed might be improved by sending to something much simpler, like TextEdit or even a plain-text editor. It sounds like the send process is basically no different than what an insanely fast typist would produce, if not practically, at least technically speaking---if type expanding utilities are getting triggered and such. It would seem then that producing into the most efficient window would be help speed things up, especially on Snow Leopard, where there are type lag issues even for human typists when lots of text is in the window.
.:.
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AmberV
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Thu Aug 19, 2010 3:09 am Post

An update: now that I have joined the club, I have what appears to be a better solution (at least for Neo users). If you install the Neo Manager, in the first tab of this program you can view all of the files on the device (or at least, those in the eight active slots). You can either view each file independently, or save all of the files to plain-text files in one shot. This will create a "NEO USB" folder in the location you select, with all of the text files in it (or just some if you prefer). These can just then be dragged straight into Scrivener, or if you are like me, use the Import MultiMarkdown file. :)

This seems way faster than using the Send feature, though slightly less convenient.
.:.
Ioa Petra'ka
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AndreasE
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Thu Aug 19, 2010 2:18 pm Post

On the Alphasmart it's the same: ESC cancels the upload, but SEND starts from the beginning, not from where it stopped. But that's not really a problem, each file can have 25.600 characters maximum, which is more or less 14 pages. Even that amount I only reach when I take the Alphasmart with me on a travel: Then I use every file up to it's last byte.

Neo Manager: Unfortunately, there is no such thing for the dinosaurs. I read that there once used to be an Alphasmart Manager, but either PC-only or for the 2000 version (even older than mine), anyway, nothing for me.

When I bought my Alphasmart about five, six years ago (I have changed my batteries only 3 times since; it's unbelievable how long they work), I was still on the PC, and because there was a utility available to upload text from the PC to the Alphasmart, I ordered it as well. Waste of money! I only used it ONCE! I simply could find no reason why I should do this. Upload a text to an Alphasmart to EDIT it there? This would be foolish. For editing, you need the big screen, the bigger, the better. At least I do.

No, the Alphasmart is a machine to create content. And it's a good thing that you have only so many lines at the same time, because this way, your inner editor becomes helpless. On the big screen, he can always shout: Stop, I see a word you've written five minutes ago that's maybe not in order. On the Alphasmart, the words get out of sight within seconds. So, you simply type along and edit later, just as it should be.

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AmberV
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Thu Aug 19, 2010 4:23 pm Post

I did play with the upload feature, and came to the same conclusion that it would largely not be worth it. However I can think of a few interesting uses for their “Linked file” feature. This is probably something on the Neo only, and it looks like it was designed so teachers could place assignment notes and checklists into a student’s Neo, but it can be easily used for other purposes. The feature basically loads into a file slot some existing material which can be switched to instantly with `Ctrl-L`. The linked file portion is uneditable, and so thus can serve as a reference for what you are writing. The software keeps track of your scroll position in both buffers, so as you run down the reference document you don’t have to keep scrolling to get back to the same position. For myself, I could definitely see this as useful when composing longer e-mail responses to friends and such. It’s very useful for that. For writing, it might be useful for complete rewrites. It would be a bit like having your old snapshot handy in Scrivener. The only real drawback to the feature is that its name is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t actually a linked file, but more like a hidden portion of the same file. This means whatever you pre-load into that slot as a linked file will take up space in that file’s register. However, since the Neo’s file size maximum is around 50kb, this will not be an issue in most cases. I’ve been known to write 30–40kb e-mails, but usually in response to something more in the 10kb range. So even on the extreme end of things, it would still all fit. On the flip-side, since it is loaded into the same file, it makes switching back and forth instantaneous, and thus an advantage over loading a reference file into one of the other file slots.

Further on editing, there is a feature with the current version of the word processor that lets you use the file as a table of contents. It works on a newline quantity basis (which can be customised). So if I insert three newlines for a double-space between paragraphs, that would be established as a “section” that I can jump straight to using the section browser. For me, this means inserting an extra newline before MMD headers, and I end up with a nicely browsable file. This makes editing a bit easier, not too bad at all actually, once one forcefully forgets how fantastic editing is in Scrivener. :)

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like you can browse sections in the linked file segment, so you couldn’t set up a Scrivener compile to produce a reference document with newlines set up to trigger sections. That would be nice.

So far, I’m seeing my Neo->Scrivener usage as MMD based, which only makes sense since I prefer that format for everything anyway. It’s really easy to add MMD syntax with the full-size keyboard (unlike the iPad!), and the monospace font on the device makes it look good too. It also means I can “outline” on the Neo, since Scrivener’s MMD import translates headers into hierarchal binder structure. So of course, the plain-text aspect of it does not bother me in the least, either, anything that can output an asterisk here and there is rich-text enough for me. ;)

For sheer and frequent writing, I am thoroughly impressed. Ever since I had to abandon my Palm Pilot and foldable keyboard combination, I’ve felt a little gap in mobile writing. Laptops are too expensive and fragile to haul around everywhere, especially if you are a cyclist, and devices like the iPod Touch and iPad are nearly worthless for anything more than short edits and such (at least for me, I know some like it).
.:.
Ioa Petra'ka
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Hugh
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Thu Aug 19, 2010 6:51 pm Post

AmberV wrote:Laptops are too expensive and fragile to haul around everywhere...


Did I read here or elsewhere that an iPad is considered very "sof-able" (meaning that you can chuck it an easy chair without harm and then use it reclining on your back)?

Well, by the same token I'd say the Neo is very Jeep-able. As I mentioned in another thread, three weeks ago my Neo in its neoprene case (worth purchasing, by the way) was bouncing around on the back seat of a little Jeep on unpaved roads in 42-degree heat. For me its capacity was just right for about ten days away. I don't think a laptop, unless one of the armoured kind, could have provided the same levels of robustness and convenience for what I wanted to do.

H

P.S. A good subject for a thread.
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AmberV
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Thu Aug 19, 2010 7:09 pm Post

Jeep-able, that's a good way of putting it. :) For me it's "floating around in my backpack while weaving amongst massive SUVs"-able. The thing looks about as solid as my old Speak-n-Spell, and I know for a fact that thing took a monstrous beating in its term of duty. I'd bet the only weak spot on it is the screen, which would have to take a very unfortunate and direct blow with some sharp corner to damage it, since it is so recessed. I would also bet it wouldn't be too expensive to replace. The screen looks about as sophisticated as a Palm III display.

I have no problem tossing my iPad around onto soft surfaces. The thing is encased in a solid chunk of aluminium, after all. The one time it bounced against the wall, I was more worried about the wall getting damaged than it. But even so that glass surface is a very large weak spot, and I don't think I'd want to have it floating around in my backpack even with its protective case (one stray piece of gravel slipping between the case cover and the screen would probably ruin my week. That aside, I couldn't imagine writing more than a few hundred words with it, sans the keyboard dock. I have no reason to believe that typing for seven hours on the Neo would be any more stressful than on a desktop keyboard, assuming the same good posture and frequent breaks that I take from keyboarding on my Model M.
.:.
Ioa Petra'ka
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Ap
Apollo16
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Fri Aug 20, 2010 12:24 am Post

Jeep-able


I like.

But don't forget the Ziplock bag. Neoprene is nice but NOT water safe.

I did drop a mac titanium off a cliff. It bent it to snot but it still works. (Landed on bottom corner so it didn't pop the screen.) And people wonder why I love macs. Try doing that with a pc.

The durability of alphasmarts is excellent. Have you seen what fifth graders do with them? That's what sold me. (Worst thing ever to happen to my Neo was when a wrimo accidentally knocked it off the table onto the floor. Couldn't even tell. Not even a scuff on the plastic.)

Apollo16

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AndreasE
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Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:49 am Post

Thinking about it, I see a stunning cousinship between Scrivener and the Alphasmart:

  • Both are content-creation-machines.
  • Both impress by how rock-solid they are.
  • Both do their best to not distract you from writing.
  • Both are designed basically very simple.
  • Both save every keystroke you do, enshrine every word you write.

Conclusion: They are made for each other! :D

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Graybyrd
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Fri Aug 27, 2010 12:22 pm Post

Not much I can add to this refreshing topic, except to concur.

Text generated on either my Dana or Neo in markdown format is attractive and readable; this is flowed into Scrivener for writing projects. (I use the simpler markdown syntax; I don't need the enhanced 'multi' markdown features.)

Scrivener output (text with markdown coding) is generally opened in Text Wrangler where I Perl-filter the markdown text into an HTML document. I use a macro to add a head/foot to make a complete web document; generally this will be a chapter or short story posted to a website such as FineStories.com.

I have to confess that I've not much explored the multi-markdown export feature of Scrivener, since the uptake and filter through TW has been so quick 'n dirty effective for me. Also: typeit4me is immensely useful in both Scrivener and Text Wrangler. The shortcuts are entered on the ASmart and get expanded during the send process.

If I need a PDF version, I'll open the markdown-generated HTML file in iCab or Firefox, and print to PDF. Or, if its an RTF version I need, a simple copy/paste from the browser screen into TextEdit or Bean gives me that flavor.

In short, one single markdown text file from the ASmart unit, into Scrivener for big projects or TextWrangler for short stuff, yields a universal text file that generates HTML, PDF, or RTF versions.

All I ever archive is the final-edit markdown text version.

My needs are much simpler than formal papers requiring full-on footnotes, bibliography, etc. but this process is the simplest and most efficient I've found in many years of word-smithing. In short, I love it.

My ASmart machines go sailing; they live down in the cabin in zipper cases. I do try to limit their exposure to salt air. On a three-week cruise my Dana is the perfect companion to my navigation laptop.

=GB=
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AmberV
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Fri Aug 27, 2010 5:58 pm Post

Touch of a sidetrack here, but one of these days you should try using the MMD->HTML exporter on your MD Scrivener documents. The nice thing about MMD is that it is a superset of MD. If you don’t need all of it, you don’t have to use it. Straight Markdown should export just fine to HTML using the Scrivener compiler. The part that makes MultiMarkdown, “Multi”, is largely outside of what you type while writing. There are a few extra features, yes. Tables, automatic cross-references within the document, footnotes, that sort of thing, but these are all extra syntax that does not conflict with Markdown. MMD documents are backward compatible, and Markdown documents are upward compatible. Of course, there is the RTF exporter which is available, too, which is just fine for simple RTF files (which copy and paste out of iCab is going to be, no matter what anyway).

In other words, you might want to give those compile options a spin. You won’t have to change a single thing in your writings or your methods, but it might make the post-production step a bit easier.
.:.
Ioa Petra'ka
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Graybyrd
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Sat Aug 28, 2010 6:49 am Post

Thanks for the suggestion. I made up a simple test and compiled it out through MMdown. It does save several steps and eliminates support software; I'll need to study up a bit more, but it seems a better way to go.

I'm fascinated by the intricate web that the menu configurations have become with everything that's been added & patched into Scrivener. I first tried an "export to HTML" thinking that would do it; but was shocked to see my markdown text very carefully preserved in the output. Scratching my head, I soon deduced it must by the "compile" feature that invoked MMdown translation, and there it was, way down at the bottom of the menu banner. :idea:

Obviously there's a lot about the output configuration choices I've not tumbled to yet, but I'll go looking and ferret them out.

A mild concern is that I'll become comfortable with all the 1.54 menu structure, and then have to relearn it all when 2.0 comes out. Not a complaint, no, not at all ... as long as 2.0 is compliant with my Tiger OS, I'm a happy camper!

Thanks again,
=GB=
On my honor, I will do my best not to do anything unlawful, infringing, disruptive, harmful, threatening, abusive, tortious, defamatory, libelous, lewd, profane, obscene, hateful or otherwise objectionable. Pinky Promise. :mrgreen:

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Lee.Hauser
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Sun Sep 05, 2010 1:21 am Post

I use the upload capability of the NeoManager all the time...not because I do much editing on my Neo, but because I move the same manuscript-in-progress between Mac and Neo on occasion. I can't imagine being restricted to one machine or the other during the creation process, and little revisions do get done on either machine, even the Neo.

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StaceyUK
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Tue Oct 05, 2010 3:29 pm Post

Hi,

People in the UK, where did you purchase your alphasmart neos? Is there anywhere out there apart from Ebay that sell them at a discount?
Blessings, Stacey

System Specs

[b]Windows 10
Scrivener 1.9.7 / 2.8 /3.0.3/1.1.5 (1301)
Scapple 1.0.0.0
Windows 2.9.9.17 Beta