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software Archives

Wednesday
Mar 25, 2009

Quick Look Dictionary / Thesaurus feature in OS X posted by Martin

If you’re a Mac user, here’s a great little-known tip for quick access to the built in dictionary and/or thesaurus.

Place your cursor over the word you’d like to target and hold down command + control + d.

dictionary-1_tn.png


A window with the dictionary definition of the word under the cursor will pop up.

At the bottom of the window is a pulldown where you can select thesaurus, or at the right more....


dictionary-1_tn.png


This will open your selection in the Dictionary application.


dictionary-1_tn.png


This is hands-down the most used trick in my book.

Comments (1) — Category: software

Wednesday
Jan 25, 2006

Software Beat: Between The Lines posted by Martin

In my previous griping about the state of screenwriting software, I said I wanted a native Mac OS X program that was cheap, and saved in an open-sourced, or at least human readable format. Today I stumbled across an obscure program called Between the Lines, currently at version 1.0, that seems to fit the bill. Does it? I hope to answer that, and more, on the first installment of SOFTWARE BEAT.

BETWEEN THE LINES

Icons I found a reference to the program somewhere online—hey—screenwriting software I’d never heard of! And for OS X alone! Whoo-hoo!

I downloaded the demo, which seems to be created by http://www.storymind.com/, which has the distinction of being one of the worst designed websites I’ve ever visited. The graphics are illegible, the layout and feel cheesy, and the overall effect busy and hard to find what you’re looking for. If they were a client of mine, I’d remind them of the golden rule of websites: user experience is your brand. I’ll bet they could quadruple their business by hiring a good design team.

But I digress. Somewhere on their site, you can download Between the Lines, an awkwardly named OS X application. At least, ostensibly you can. Despite the fact that the “purchase this software” link in BTL links to storymind.com, I couldn’t actually find anywhere on the site to buy and/or download the software. A Google search reveals this spot, which is where I grabbed it.

First impressions: Oh man, you guys need a new icon! OS X (and, now Windows and Linux as well) apps are often judged by the coolness of your icon. Yours: fugly. And not in the cool way. But, I’m game. I click on it and open the program.

TOOLBAR NONE

Full screen shot
My gripes about the website appear to spill over into the app—it’s clunky looking, with a total of eight (nine if you count the drawer) icons across the toolbar that use the exact same icon. Just a little software 101 here—different icons are kinda necessary for instant recognition of what you’re doing. Otherwise, I need to read the labels every time I try to use a function. Nobody actually reads the labels when they’re working, which means that you’re gonna be hitting the wrong button all the time here.

What are the buttons? Usually software has a hierarchy of information. The title bar on OS X software holds icons for prominent functions—save, open, etc. The title bar of BTL, instead, holds modes for the typing engine—INT, EXT, comment (comment? Let’s play a little Sesame Street which-one-of-these-does-not-belong here), etc. All of these are available through a menu as well, and through key commands—so there is really no reason to put them here, but here they are anyway. A quick comparison to Final Draft reveals their much-smarter mode of thinking—the modal commands for script definitions are available through a pull-down menu.

A drawer pops out to the right that lists your scenes—and has two buttons—our friend, the document button for EDIT, and extremely oddly, a green horizontal line for “delete.” Why oh why a green horizontal line? I guess it’s a “minus” sign, but green means go, baby, not stop. And Apple has a perfectly good busters symbol to use that everybody knows gets rid of stuff!

BETA BLOCKER

I had to check a few times—this, the icon—is this a beta or alpha app that I stumbled across? Nope—it says version 1.0, copyrighted 2004. Let me just say that if they had called it beta, I might have tempered some of my comments with enthusiastic go-team-go suggestions, but anybody who releases software in this state deserves to be spanked. As I will continue to do just for the outrageous fun of it, and in hopes that I’ll actually spark the developer to do better work—I mean, we’re all pulling for you on Spitball! We want your software to succeed—and if you do it right, I think there’s a real market for it. (HINT: Spend a few weeks / months reading these docs: http://developer.apple.com/ue/ — they’re free and will tell you everything you need to know and more).

BY AND BYE

btw-greenarrow.jpg So, let’s move past the toolbar I was presented with the title page pre-filled in with generic info—not on a separate page, such as with Final Draft or the other big boys, but at the top of the scroll. So, I fill in my title SCRIPTY MCSCRIPTERSON, and then I tab to go to the next field — OOPS—tab actually tabs. Okay, I use the arrow keys and move it down to the BY and hit erase. I might want to say WRITTEN BY, or BRAINSTORMED BY or CREATED FROM WHOLE CLOTH BY, but suddenly all goes dark and BTL goes down. CRASH! Turns out you can’t actually erase the pre-installed BY without crashing the program. Hmmm—that doesn’t bode well.

But, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. Do people really change the BY line that often? Can we leave that as a given (assuming, though, that it doesn’t crash the program)? Okay—we’ll move on—-I type in my name, and then go to the body of the screenplay. The first files you open are pre-filled with a faux-script that has tips, instructions and ideas for using the software. Included is a scriptnotes feature, along with a cool little green arrow. It is cool—must be clip art—but it’s sort of bright. You’ll never miss a script note, but I’ll bet your eye will dart to it all the time as you’re working along. I would push it back to a light grey, and then give it the green tint when somebody mouses over it.

RIGHT—BUT HOW DOES IT WRITE?

Okay—the writing, I hear the voices screaming—what about the writing? Well, I decided to start a new, blank document to get rid of all the cruft and start with a blank page. Oh—I guess any time you start a new document it auto-fills all of that helpful base information. Well, that sucks. I guess you have to start a doc, erase everything, and then you can start writing. Don’t you love software that makes you do a little work? So, I select all on the title page, which does select all, and feeling a bit gun shy after being bested by a simple preposition, I hit delete. Hmmm—well, the title is gone, but nothing else—the infamous “by” and name stayed. I move to the first page, select all the cruft and hit delete. Ah! Okay, now we’re talking. Content gone.

So, I start typing. Oh—wait, it tried to make my INT into a character dialogue heading. Uh-oh—so, hit the button for INT. It automatically inserts a script note in front of the heading. Type the heading. Man, it feels sluggish—the typed character is at least a word behind my typing fingers at any given time. Well, I was crunching something else, so my computer was a bit slow—I try again and it’s fairly responsive, although not quite as a normal text processing engine. Not as fast as Final Draft, or text-edit for that matter. It must be crunching as you’re typing.

I get into some dialogue, and things move pretty quickly. Type a character name, it return and it drops to dialogue. If you need a parenthetical you’ll need to hit the button (now, which one was it? I have to read the damn text!), but in a nice feature, if you hit the tab key after typing your name, it will change the mode to heading and/or action.

Oh, but why go on. You know that I’m just going to rag on the writing part too. Fill in your own complaints here, and let’s move on.

CAN IT BE SAVED?

Two words: Proprietary (fucking) format. You can export until you’re blue in the face—but I want the native files to be plain text human readable. I used to write on an old Epson computer, and those files are gone forever now. I’m thinking that 30 years down the line, so might your program I still want to read my files then, and I don’t want to save a stupid export for every file I make. That’s ridiculous. If you ain’t open and human readable, you get a big raspberry from me. Here’s my new mantra: SAVE IN A HUMAN READABLE OPEN-SOURCED FORMAT.

WHY RELEASE THIS SOFTWARE?

I’m not a total cynic, but part of me is really wondering—did they push this onto the market hoping that people who don’t know what they’re doing buy it because the price is much cheaper than the big packages? I would hate to think that this is true, but we’re either left with the option that the software engineers really don’t know what they’re doing, or they trying to cash in. Let’s hope the latter isn’t true at all.

MUCH ADO ABOUT DESIGN

I know I harped on design and usability here (everybody with me: the experience is the brand!). But tell me, what else is there? If this was a retail store, you would have backed out slowly after walking in. Basically what we have here is a nearly unusable product, but one that claims to have a great philosophy—getting rid of the cruft of all the other screenwriting programs, and giving a clean interface. Yes! I want that—but it has to be combined with a knowledge of what’s current and most usable on OS X. The programs I use most every day disappear and let me do my work in them without actually having to think about them. Some time spent with an interface designer with this program could mean the difference between it tanking, and it taking off. If this was pulled from production, re-worked and re-released, I would happily retract everything I’ve said here. I will trumpet it to the high heaven.

And the great thing is—nearly all of the best Mac Developers are very cool people who are open and not phased by competition. They will help you if you ask for it. Get thee some tickets to Mac Developer Conference this spring. Just hang around out front with a sign “Need help with interface. Will give credit and thank you publicly.” Don’t even pay the entry fee.

Or even better: Open Mail on Tiger. I know, I know—the buttons. Huge controversy—well, do as I do and hit the minimize button for the toolbar. Look at panes, look at the lack of borders—look at the gear menu tucked nicely at the bottom of the sidebar. Now, copy it. Copy everything (except the buttons—hire a good icon designer to do that—and make you a cool icon. It’s worth it! Ask this guy.). Measure every window. Copy it all. Let this be your guide, padawan programmer. Go forth and { may the curly brackets be with you.}

But until then, Spitball! gives it the hock-phoey rating. The lowest we can muster.

Comments (0) — Category: software

Wednesday
Jan 18, 2006

Re:[2] The State of the Software posted by Martin

Okay—let’s go with Celtx as our engine. Hear that Celtx? We pick you!

I have to confess I’m rather curmudgeonly about software. I wish I was a true hacker so that I could craft these marvelous things out of thin air, typed commands and lots of { } brackets. A good piece of software is an amazing thing to behold, and a marvelous thing to use.

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Wednesday
Jan 18, 2006

Re: The State of the Software posted by kza

Actually, I don’t have any problem with using Celtx for Spitball!, and I think it might be fun to try. Regardless, tho, the next thing I write, I’m gonna take a shot and try and write the whole thing in Celtx. There are still some issues that make it weaker than FD (the “stay at the bottom of the page” thing, and the Tabbing isn’t as intuitive as FD), but I like where they’re going with the latest release (the character and scene notes section is nifty).

I am curious about this Montage thing, however. What does “create your script as a live outline” mean, exactly?

(If you know Burley and me, you know that we salivate like huskies with a gland condition at the mention of “outline” and “software” in the same sentence.)

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Tuesday
Jan 17, 2006

The State of the Software posted by Martin

A few months ago I was so mad at Final Draft, that I started writing a spec for a screenwriting software for Macintosh. In my mind, it would by a Carbon or Cocoa app, and write to an open, human readable format that—should someone stop using the software—they could open with another program. Ideally, that format would be open sourced, and any other program that wanted to write to it could. The program would retail around $30-$40, in the range of a lot of other cool software that I use almost daily.

I was sparked on this quest by an exchange with the Final Draft tech support. I asked them about how I could go about exchanging my disk. I use Final Draft 6, not having found in the newest version any compelling—or, really any—reason to upgrade. I bought Final Draft with version 5, and updated to six only to get OS X support (Both Urban and I are Mac users), since it really lacked any other revolutionary feature additions. When I bought my upgrade it came on a CD-R, which, as anybody can tell you, is a cheaper and softer substrate. Much more prone to scratches than a manufactured CD.

And see, I have this problem that I have to haul the disk everywhere. I have a desktop and a laptop, but I do most of my writing on my desktop. Final Draft kindly allows you to install the program on two computers, but not-so-kindly insists that you boot the program on the second computer with the CD in the drive. This, after the serial number, and having the program “authenticated” by remote connection to the Final Draft headquarters. So, I had to chose: either put the disk in every damn time I start the program on my desktop, which is quite often when we’re deep at work and authenticate my laptop which I rarely use, or do the opposite and carry the stupid disk with me. Which I do. Everywhere. So, if I’m inspired, I won’t have to open the program in “demo” mode. Which has happened to me. More than once. And I couldn’t write.

But, the goddamned disk is scratched up, and it’s gonna go bad. I carry it in a CD wallet with soft sleeves, but it’s a cheap CD-R and will scratch if you look at it funny. So I contact Final Draft, figuring for shipping they’ll give me a new disk, since the one they gave me is pretty much defective—but nope. $20, and I have to send them my disk first. I’m sorry, but $20 on a program I already own, that I need to run the program as licensed, and I have to send it to them first? I hear you loud and clear Final Draft: LICENSED USERS OF OUR SOFTWARE ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED FOR ANY REASON. THEY COULD, YOU KNOW, NOT SEND THE DISK AND THEN GIVE IT TO SOMEONE WHO WOULD STILL NEED A SERIAL NUMBER TO RUN THE PROGRAM, BUT THEY COULD GET THAT AND THEN WHERE WOULD WE BE? I mean, I accept the serial number, the license, the bloody expensive software to begin with—but this just ticked me off. I hate being assumed I’m a criminal, when I’m jumping through their stupid hoops.

The woman at Final Draft was extremely helpful. I could upgrade, she explained to me, and since they’ve fixed this strange reason they need my disk back in the next version. Kind of her, no? Only $89.00.

So, I started writing my spec.

But, here’s the thing: I like the usability of Final Draft. It’s a fast program to write in. From what I hear, Movie Magic Screenwriter is pretty much the same (in every way—same copy protection, same pricing, same pain-in-the-ass, but good usability). And so bloody expensive! Sure, huge movies might be written on them, but more than likely, the products belong to wanna-be’s with little cash—which, when you think about it, is probably why they put the copy protection in. Another option might be, you know, actually pricing the thing reasonably, but I digress.

See, there’s a big inherent problem in writing the perfect screenwriting package: once you write a usable text editor, there’s really no need to keep upgrading it. Sure, you can add feature after feature, but Final Draft’s sharing feature is a total and complete JOKE (which, crashed continuously on our computers every time we tried to use it). Compare this to the amazing Coding Monkey’s SubEthaEdit (free for personal use, but if you’re a big bad company it will set you back $35.00. Reasonable!), and how they handled the sharing. So easy I wrote to them and begged them to license it to Final Draft. But, they ignored me. So, I was back to just hating Final Draft and writing my spec.

Before I got to far, though, I did a Google search for open source screenwriting software, and was totally jazzed when I found Celtx. Celtx is free, and available for Mac and Windows, so go grab it if you don’t have it. As of this writing, it’s nearing the end of its beta life, although each revision brings tons of changes. It’s very promising software, which will include screenwriting and production capabilities. But, and there’s always a but—the usability is not great. It’s built on the Mozilla programming framework, so looks and feels like Firefox, which is admirable, but not so great and less than elegant. And, it doesn’t currently add (more)s and (con’t)s. But, in a stroke of absolute, unadorned, crazily amazing brilliance, it stores all of your screenplays as a html files. Because of its price, and open-sourciness, and the openness of the file format, we will likely use this as the software of choice for posting the script when we get to writing it.

But what will we write it in? Well, another contender in the mac world was just announced. I have high hopes, although I won’t hold my breath until I see how it works. Also, it’s announced price—$150—is still high, in my book. I’ve begged to be a beta tester, and I’ll report back on my findings if allowed by the license.

But since Mr. Shockah and I both own licenses to Final Draft, I suspect that will be what we use. Until some awesome hacker comes along who loves Macs and wants to make some coin undercutting all of the competition with a sweet little package….Let me know. I’ll work for free on it.

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What is Spitball!?

Spitball! is two guys collaborating to write about writing and collaboration. We're writing partners who have worked together since 2000, and placed in the top 100 in the last Project Greenlight for our script YELLOW.

Currently, we are both working on multiple screenplay, short story, and novel ideas independently and together, and collaborate on this blog.

What Spitball! used to be

Spitball! started as an attempt to collaborate on a screenplay online in real time. From January 2006 to July 2007 we worked on an interactive process to decide the story we were going to make. A full postmortem is coming, but you can find the find all the posts by looking in the category Original Version.

During this period, we affected the personalities of two of the most famous spitball pitchers from the early 20th Century. Look at our brief bios for more info about this, and so as not to be confused as to who is talking when.

We rebooted the franchise in early 2009 in its current form.


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Our Twitter account, where we note when longer articles are posted. While we're at it, here's Kent and Martin's Twitter accounts.

Kent M. Beeson

Urban Shockah pic

Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah) is a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home writer, living in Seattle, WA with his wife, 2 year old daughter and an insane cat. In 2007, he was a contributor to the film blog ScreenGrab, where he presciently suggested Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in the Watchmen movie, and in 2008, he wrote a film column for the comic-book site ComiXology called The Watchman. (He's a big fan of the book, if you couldn't tell.) In 2009, he gave up the thrill of freelance writing to focus on screenplays and novels, although he sometimes posts to his blog This Can't End Well, which a continuation of his first blog, he loved him some movies. He's a Pisces, and his favorite movie of all time is Jaws. Coincidence? I think not.

Martin McClellan

Burleigh Grimes pic

Martin (aka Burley Grymz) is a designer and writer. He occasionally blogs at his beloved Hellbox, and keeps a longer ostensibly more interesting bio over here at his eponymous website. You can also find him on Twitter.