Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Screen: Volume 2

Reading a bit of John August’s blog about writer’s workspaces, as well as Lifehacker’s interviews with productive people, I’ve been thinking about my own.  Since the completion of the Behind the Screen book and my typing this, there have been some new games and new tools added and, while I’m waiting for an breakfast experiment of Raisin-French Toast with Maple syrup and bacon, now seems like the time to pick up one of those tools and write about it.

HARDWARE

Right now I’m writing this on the Asus Transformer Prime.  I’m not sure why Steve Jobs ever said a laptop with a touchscreen wouldn’t work because a laptop with a touchscreen is awesome!  It separates for consuming media (such as PDF rule books) and combines into a Voltronesque tool for mindmaps, documents, spreadsheets or anything else that is literally at my fingertips.

Keeping it in the Android family is the Samsung Galaxy S3 which is pretty much my more convenient portal to news, RSS, etc.  Gaming-wise I’m very nearly all Android, making me wonder why I don’t run more sci-fi based games…

A word about Android:  The learning curve is steep but the rewards are worth it.  Most of my gaming stuff is stored on Dropbox and manipulated by Kingsoft Office on both tablet and phone.  It’s gotten so good that I’ve installed Bluestacks on the computer to work with these files further.  But one more thing before I talk about software…

Livescribe Echo 8GB Smartpen:  Probably the most significant tool in the box.  This pen records audio and indexes it based on what you’re writing at that time.  It is brilliant for the fortnightly gaming schedule I’m keeping, just so I can keep myself (and my players) honest.  It is also mammoth-sized in terms of capacity as I’ve recorded around thirty games and haven’t blown through its capacity.  There are some things that need to be noted, but I’ll address that in the Improvement Section.

Anyway…

SOFTWARE

Mindjet:  An Android/Windows mindmapping application that I’ve found useful for running Marvel Heroes RPG.  It’s simple with layers of complexity that can be ignored or drilled down if you want to pretty up your map.  It can store hyperlinks, JPEG’s, sound files or other files that you want atyour fingertips during the game.  I don’t bother with the Mindjet Connect syncing option but I have it saving files to Dropbox for access from phone, tablet or Bluestacks.  Best of all it’s free (though I did shell out $2 for Thinking Space Pro before Mindjet bought them out).

KINGSOFT OFFICE:  Most of my writing and spreadsheeting was done through QuickOffice, which is nice but has been hit or miss in a couple of places.  Mostly its sluggish.  Libre Office came with the phone and Polaris Office came with the tablet and both of those are just too half-baked to use productively.  Kingsoft Office is nice, quick (thought it could be quicker) and has a UI for tablets and phones.

ezPDF Reader:  Before the tablet, my PDF rulebook purchases were minor.  Post tablet and it’s nearly all I buy.  Adobe Reader has improved since my first foray in it, but ez PDF Reader has annotate functions which are VALUABLE for marking up rules and quickly finding them again.

Springpad:  While it’s possible that I’ll return to Evernote, Springpad has brilliant sharing and storage options.  I create notebooks for each game I’m running and share articles, pictures or create notes to store for ideas later.  It has some other features that I’ll wax on about in the Improvements section, but it is my hive of choice for research and ideas between computer, phone and tablet.

Google Reader:  Before Google Plus ripped out its sharing features, it was a great tool for tagging articles, keeping up to date with websites and pulling out random articles from places that I wouldn’t normally visit.  After Google Plus, it still serves two of those functions.  Articles move to Springpad or Pocket, the websites still get checked through Google Reader but I’ve had to manufacture that random gem that comes from Recommended Items.  Basically I subscribed to a dozen random feed aggregators across politics, design, science, gadgets, geekery, fashion and cooking (and I’m pretty sure there’s some other shit thrown in there for fun) and then culled out the duplicates.  It does a decent job though I now have a perpetual 1000+ unread items and the phone runs hot on some heavy reading days.

Pocket:  Another app I purchased (Read-it-later) before, months later, it changed its name and went free.  Still, it got some nice features out of the deal and is able to strip the heavy content for easy reading later.  Doesn’t quite handle video as well as I’d like but it’s simple, easy and pretty so we don’t complain.

Dolphin Browser HD:  Gesture interface!  Find a page you like, draw an up arrow on the screen and off it goes to Pocket, Springpad or anywhere else I can share an article with.

Basically the whole Android ecosystem becomes brilliant when I can search Google Reader for stuff, fling it to a notebook or somesuch and access it later from anywhere!  Workflow is simple and effective.

Livescribe Connect gets a quick mention while I remember because you can upload and store your pencasts to your computer, Facebook, Google Docs or Evernote.  It also has a searchable handwriting feature that actually bloody works!

THINGS I WOULD IMPROVE GIVEN TIME AND MONEY

Asus Transformer Infinity has just came out, as well as HTC One X’s 1.7mhz Quad-core beast (althought Samsung Galaxy Note 2 has quad-core and 2GB RAM…) which creates an itch, but most of the things would be in the process around Livescribe.

I.  Love.  This.  Pen.  But there is simply no way I can run a game and take notes at the same time.  That’s fine because that’s what the recording function is for, but then I have to listen to it and write notes to refer to for future games.  It’s kinda the point and Livescribe has the capacity, its just separating the gaming bits from the bullshit that wears on me.

I will say that Livescribe pen does have a setting for increasing playback speed, which helps when going through five plus hours of recording.  It also (magically?) doesn’t chipmunk the voices making it easier to follow.  And you can replay recordings and add notes for index; its all lovely.  It’s just an onerous chore that I wish I could work around.

I’m hoping, at some point, to make Springpad accessible to the player group to share articles for games they are in.  Just need to think about how to keep some surprises from them first.  I’d also like to use some of its other features a little more, but they don’t seem to be useful from a gaming perspective.  More investigation is required.

At some point I’ll work out some way of placing that random but great piece of information in front of my phone.

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