Of Desktops and Writing Environments

I can’t use a desktop anymore. Growing up and all through college I used a desktop. It’s all I had and all I used. When I wanted to compute, I sat at my computer and I computed. Sitting in a chair, at my desk, in my room.

Now, I can’t bring myself to be tethered to the desk. I have a couple of desktop computers around my apartment. They mostly sit and do repetitive tasks which need always-on and always-connected status. They download files and backup data. They keep my information safe. They sit and serve. They are not what I used everyday. They are not the device I reach for when I get home.

At work I have a desktop still, primarily because there’s no “business reason” for me to have a laptop ((If you ignore the netbook the company bought me as a test group to see whether it was worth getting for other employees. It’s not.)) and that works out.

When I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit down at another desk. I rather grab my iPad or a laptop and sit on the couch or out on the balcony, or even lounge in bed with comfy pillows. Sitting at a desk is constricting. I can’t sit next to my wife and be with her. I can’t interact with her because I’m stuck in a single place.

I prefer the mobility of laptops and the iPad. It fits my lifestyle. It fits who I am and what I want to do.

What I reach for when I arrive home all depends on what I want to do. The iPad is mainly for reading. When I want to read, 90% ((Not counting Instapaper reading time)) of the time I pop open the Kindle app and dive into the latest book I’ve borrowed from Lendle.

In that remaining 10% I turn to iBooks and read one of the PDFs or free eBooks I’ve downloaded. I will fill my water bottle and settle into a comfortable place and watch the pages fly by.

When I am in the mood to write I reach for a laptop. Even then, there is some question about what I grab. If I want to write ((as I am now)) and not be distracted or have to lug a heavy weight with me, the Google CR-48 Chromebook it is. It is super light and has great battery life. ((Currently 7 hours remaining at 92%))

I will open a new window and start making the clackity noise in either Simplenote or my new love, Pillarbox.

When I want to do more serious writing which requires research, referencing and piles of tabs and notes I reach for my main laptop, a Lenovo T61 ((I yearn for the day when I can afford a MacBook again)). It is a serviceable machine. WIndows 7 works well enough though it is no Mac OS.

I turn to Windows only when I need to get serious work done. Usually this means I will open Simplenote in half the screen and WriteMonkey on the other half. It is not the “distraction-free” nature of the writing environments that draws me to them, it is their simplicity and stark design. I like having a color palette other than black text on white background. I like the ability to see the word count and little else.

I can stay on task well enough, flipping between my Simplenote notes and Writemonkey’s clean, dark backdrop to my words. I write in Markdown so I prefer plain text to any fancy WYSIWYG editors. I am a big fan of simplicity and portability since I am a very nomadic writer and often use my iPhone to write on my commute. ((I write far more on the iPhone than I do the iPad, even with the external keyboard))

SimpleNote is textual nirvana

You need to back up. Everyone says it but most people don’t. There is no excuse not to back up your data. If it is important enough to write down and save, it is important enough to back up.

Here’s an example. The head of a large media company is composing the eulogy for a friend of over two decades. He has written four pages of heartfelt prose. He pours out his thought sand feelings to be read to a crowded room of friends and family about his dearly departed friend. Upon completing his missive, he presses send on his mail client and sends the important document to his assistant for proofreading and editing before it becomes the final document to be practiced and delivered.

Or so he thought. Upon arriving at the office to meet with his assistant and go over the eulogy, she had nothing. She has never received the document. He went to look for it in via sent items. Nothing. He checked the deleted items. Nil. He checked the drafts folder. Perhaps he had forgotten to send the document and there it was!

Out of his four written pages, less than one remained. Sitting in the Drafts folder mockingly offering him a copy. A poor copy for sure. His words were lost.

Does this sound familiar?

How many times have you written a brilliant blog post, long, well-reasoned comment, or essay for class in a browser window or email client? How many times have you lost an important note? Did you take it down in a text file but never saved and your computer rebooted or crashed? I did not ask if you lost data because I know you have.

Enter Simplenote. The idea is so simple you’d wish you have thought of it first. In Simplenote for each note you start, it not only lives right then and there in the moment you wrote it. It will also push a copy to the “cloud” for safe keeping. So now your information lives in two places. Congratulations! You have now backed up. Wasn’t that hard? But what if you delete your note you ask? Well first off, you did something to delete it. It wasn’t a computer error or something out of your control. But we’re all human. We all make mistakes.

Enter versioning. This big scary looking word just means “more than one copy” of your document. What if you make a change to your document, delete a large portion without meaning to, or at the very worst delete the entire thing? Click a button or drag a slider and your hard work is restored just like that.

Simplenote is perfection of textual nirvana. Write words and don’t press save. Write more words and they’re all safe. Write your words and never worry about whether they’ll be there when you need them. It’s something we all take for granted, until it fails us.

Things I love: Windows Edition


I’m about to save you $50, the going price for Snag-It. Welcome my friend called Greenshot. With Greenshot, you can capture single windows, selected areas, or the entire screen. It even includes a simple image editor for annotation and minor edits. You can choose whether you want to save, print, or copy your screenshot to the clipboard or a combination of the three. If you need to take screenshots, you need Greenshot.


Now that you’re taking screenshots like a pro, you need something to edit them in. Enter Paint.net. No, this is not the same bitmap-loving Paint program that’s shipped with Windows since the dawn of time. Paint.net is all grown up. It allows for history, layers, a plethora of effects and best of all, has a weightless price tag. Don’t think of it as a more robust Paint but rather a slimmed down Photoshop.


From pixels to prose, if you write anything worth saving, you need simplenote. Now take 2 minutes and read why. Now that I’ve gotten you hooked on simplenote, you need a Windows client. ResophNotes is that client. ResophNotes offers you a simple interface to simplenote. One pane is the list of notes, the other is the note itself. It offers all the same syncing as simplenote and will export Markdown and HTML. You can save your notes in an, optionally encrypted, database or as plain text files. If it’s worth writing, it’s worth writing in ResophNotes.


You’re running Windows. It’s taking forever to startup. But why? Soluto will tell you. Once installed, Soluto will keep a running clock when you boot up and analyze exactly which applications are starting when you login. In addition, it will group the applications by levels of importance and offer suggestions based on what other users have chosen to remove, disable or delay running at login. Never again wonder why things are taking so long. Take control with Soluto.


You’re a nerd. You compute at night. The bright lights of glaring LCDs strain your eyes. You need F.Lux. As the sun goes down, F.Lux will dim your screen and give it a warm glow making it much easier on the eyes. If you need to do image work it has a “Disable for one hour” check box for color-sensitive work. Ever since I started using it, I could not imagine using a computer without it. Give it a try. I know you’ll feel the same way. As my college roommate used to say, “It’s like tasty roast chicken for the eyes.”