Sean's Technology and Writing Blog

New article: Top tools for writers

24 January 2013

Before Christmas I was talking to a friend about writing. She was struggling with structuring her story and avoiding over-writing. The perfect tool for that, it seemed to me, was Excel. You can keep a plan of the whole book, keep track of word counts, and easily notice if one chapter constitutes 10% of your intended book length, instead of the 5% it's planned for. I use Excel as a planning aid for every major project I do, but after this conversation I realised some writers might not have considered using it.

It occurred to me that there are probably a few tools like this that I use to increase my productivity and effectiveness, so I've written a short article with my 7 essential tools for writers. I use most of them daily, and all of them often. I hope that they give you some ideas to make your writing time more effective!

Do you have any tips for tools I missed, or any other tools you've found valuable while writing? Leave a comment below!

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How to play classic arcade games on the Raspberry Pi with PiMAME

11 January 2013

Shea Silverman has ported MAME to the Raspberry Pi, which means you can play classic arcade games on your Pi.

MAME is short for Multi Arcade Machine Emulator. Emulators are programs that that enable software designed for one machine (in this case an arcade cabinet) to run on another (your Raspberry Pi). As another example, you can use an Amstrad CPC emulator to play the games I wrote in the 1980s on your Windows PC. Emulators are popular because they're convenient (it's easier to use an emulator on your current PC than to set up a dedicated machine). Some people believe early video games are as historically significant as early black and white films, and emulators can also help to preserve software for future generations.

To use Shea Silverman's PiMAME, you need to download the SD card image and flash it to the SD card as you did for the Linux operating system originally. For example, you can use Image Writer for Windows to copy the image file to an SD card using your Windows PC. You need to take special care with this process, because anything on the SD card is wiped, and if you specify the wrong drive, that might be erased by mistake.

PiMAME comes with Gridlee (pictured), which was never released when it was made, but has since been made freely available for non-commercial use by its creators. Other games have also been made freely and legally available by their creators and can be downloaded here.

You add any additional games in the /home/pi/roms/ directory on the SD card. The PiMAME SD card image includes the desktop environment so the easiest way to copy or move files is using the File Manager. When you switch the Raspberry Pi on, the SD card boots into PiMAME, but you can press Escape to go back to the shell prompt and use 'startx' to go into the desktop environment. Alternatively, you can download the ROMs using the Raspberry Pi itself and save them in that directory. You don't need to unzip them: zip files work fine.

The default keys are 5 to insert a coin, 1 to start, cursor keys to move, and the buttons are (in order) Left Control, Left Alt, Spacebar and Left Shift. In practice, that usually means Left Control is fire.

Not all games I've tried work. Some won't load and some have problems with the sound, including Gridlee. It's a little bit hit and miss then, but when it works, it's fabulous. Shea Silverman has done a great job on bringing classic games to the Raspberry Pi.

My book Raspberry Pi For Dummies is available for preorder now.

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iPad for the Older and Wiser is now on Facebook

04 January 2013

I've set up a page on Facebook for iPad for the Older and Wiser, which I'll use to post little bits of iPad news as I come across them.

It won't result in a lot of content appearing on your Facebook stream, but it gives me a more effective way to get news and updates to you than posting them on the blog here or putting them on Twitter.

If you've got the book, or you're interested in the iPad generally, please visit the page and click the Like button.

Thank you!

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iPad for the Older and Wiser enters Amazon's Top 100 books

03 January 2013

I was amazed and delighted to see that iPad for the Older and Wiser entered Amazon UK's top 100 books across all genres over the Christmas period. A friend told me she saw it at #9, but the highest I saw it at was #67. It was in the top 100 for five days in total, and it's currently ranked at #167.

The rankings change hourly so there's a lot of volatility in the chart, but it's amazing that for a short while the book was ranked higher than almost all celebrity memoirs and novels.

I've received some great feedback on the book too from readers, and I particularly appreciated the reviews that said they liked the tone of the book. When writing it, I wanted to make sure I respected the reader's experience using other devices and in life in general, and I'm pleased that the feedback suggests I got this right.

The team at John Wiley has done a fantastic job of creating a high-quality book and successfully marketing and selling it. When in Kuala Lumpur recently, I was excited to see some copies of it in a book store, so far from home:

Thank you to everyone who's been buying it, for themselves or as a gift, and I hope you're finding it useful as you get to grips with your new iPad. Happy new year!

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Power up your Microsoft Excel skills with this powerful pocket-sized book of tips that will save you time and help you learn more from your spreadsheets.

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This book, now fully updated for Scratch 3, will take you from the basics of the Scratch language into the depths of its more advanced features. A great way to start programming.

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Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Set up your Raspberry Pi, then learn how to use the Linux command line, Scratch, Python, Sonic Pi, Minecraft and electronics projects with it.



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