Category Archives: Technology and Software

Mission Mind Map

In the iPad App Store on Monday, I downloaded this week’s free app — MindNode, a tool that helps set out the groundwork for projects. I love new apps, and it doesn’t hurt when they’re free, but I absolutely adore making plans… probably more than carrying them out. When it comes to organizing in general, my computer groans with deeply-nested files; defolderifying is required when my system proves more of a hindrance than a help. I should probably delete redundant files altogether — those awful old merged fractals from 2007, for instance… I can do a lot better nowadays.

An image bright, cluttered and rough.

Why did I think this was good?

It can be hard to let go, sadly. My middle name should be Squirrel.

As any squirrel knows, sorting resources into careful heaps and folders is calming. It’s an acceptable way of gloating over your hoard while allowing you to feel more in control… so I had hopes this mind-mapping thing would be a useful weapon against the encroaching world. In my experience, plans morph into action surprisingly quickly, leading to greater self-confidence and a lot less of the energy-sapping procrastination I’m prone to.

“Incredible — I sorted that out myself! No dithering for days on end wondering what to do!”

It astonishes you to discover you’re a rational adult and can take on many comers, regardless of their role in life. Usually that phenomenon is attributable to pencil, paper and copious notes, and it’s also why MindNode now lurks on my iPad.

So far, so good.

You can’t, however, be a rational adult without questioning yourself and others, so there are reasons for me to be sceptical as well as hopeful.

First of all, mind-mapping looks and sounds terribly technical and arcane, and you wonder if you’re doing it right, particularly when not learning anything from it. You suspect it’s an attention-seeking gimmick that does the job no better than merely writing lists. Mind maps don’t present with a neat appearance, so how could they be better? They start in the middle of the page and sprawl in different directions… what if you ran out of room and started writing on the table by accident? A mouse could make a nest in someone’s mind map and feel completely at home.

Secondly, I know myself too well! A helpful and instructive tool becomes a blunt instrument in my hands. I bludgeon myself with it remorselessly, then give up, disillusioned and bruised.

It’s one thing ‘actioning’ a highly-targeted plan when there’s a time limit and a specific outcome in mind. It’s another to ‘improve’ myself or my daily life with something like a Chart of Chores or a To Do List, because these tend to be grandiose, pernickety, perfectionist schemes, quickly tired of and forgotten.

Who wants all of their time earmarked in advance, even for pleasant pastimes like watching Blackadder’s schemes on TV? Years ago I created such a time chart in an effort to combat a bad spell of procrastination, but I never tried it out. It’s still in my nested folders somewhere. I could draw up a new one specifying “read blogs at 10 every Sunday morning”, but it’s unlikely to happen. This is real life: I read blogs at different times during the week and could be there for anything from two minutes to two hours. I’m not a robot, and there’s no point trying to programme myself as though I am one.

iNotRobot. Depressing but true.

There’s a To Do List app in my arsenal, but it wasn’t at all long before I deleted it. For the right kind of people it’s excellent, and they doubtless use it the right way. I, on the other hand, use it completely the wrong way, so for me it wasn’t working. There’s something about being told what to do that makes me dart like a spooked squirrel the other way — even if the person telling me to do it is me.

Before discovering the app, my usual organizational methods included (and still include):

  1. Lists — I love lists
  2. Databases
  3. Spreadsheets and charts
  4. Journaling
  5. Calendar

I don’t use the iPad’s Reminder app as it’s never worked for me… too limited, or so I thought when I tried it. I can’t remember much about it now, but a lingering impression is that there were only so many items I could add to a page. I would tell it to alert me to something, and either the alert wouldn’t arrive, or I’d be uninterested and ignore it when it did.

By ‘journaling’ I don’t mean bullet journals, which I haven’t yet tried — I mean ordinary ‘dear diary’ journaling. This has surprising strengths which I should probably go into another time. The gist is that you start with a problem and enter into a conversational spiral, one thought leading to another… ending up fairly consistently with an idea of what will work and what won’t. Sometimes when you re-read, you pick up on things you forgot, which is all to the good. It’s like an old-fashioned ‘text’ version of problem-solving mind-mapping, no neater than a pictorial mind-map, and though I’ve filled out most of my thoughts fairly satisfactorily, you are left with a mass of text you might never read again. Unless you type your diary on computer and remember the keywords you used, you’d find it difficult to search for a particular event or idea.

That said, I love journaling, and wouldn’t stop for all the tea in China (or anywhere else in this globalized world). Mind-mapping should be just my cuppa, shouldn’t it, even if I don’t have carte blanche to waffle on?

To get to grips with my use of the MindNode app…

This isn’t intended as a review or how-to page, and I’m not going to focus on the technicalities of how to use it, but I’ll just comment that it’s easy for beginners — you don’t need an instruction manual, other than a couple of starting tips. Fiddly to use at times, but it’s good to be able to move things around or delete them altogether — an aspect which must blow pen and paper mind-mapping out of the water.

My first experiment

When trying it out for the first time, I mind-mapped an established creative process in digital art. My aims were to (1) provide a reference to keep me working quickly without getting bogged down; (2) potentially to inspire. I hoped mind-mapping might live up to its reputation and work some mindspace voodoo. Who knew what it might do? I lived in hope.

In the process of creating my nebulous map of creativity, I ran up against a few problems.

  1. I got confused about what should come under certain tags. For instance, radiating away from the word ‘artwork’, a key word in the map is ‘organize’. I read somewhere that you should use one-word terms rather than pin yourself down with something more specific. OK, keep it loose. Should I then go on to list organizational methods like folders and databases — or platforms like the iMac — or the type of resources to be organized, such as Bryce master files, Photoshop brushes, tutorials and so on? These are long lists — how do I put everything in one place without making the mind map explode?
  2. This led to the possibility of repeating the terms like ‘organize’ elsewhere in the mind-map, but I feared that might be against the rules. Also, how do you tie in ‘platforms’ with ‘software’, specific creative processes and different types of resources in a neat and orderly fashion, seeing as the software all worked together in some cases but not others — while working from different platforms in different ways — so I couldn’t list everything neatly in one place, moving in a sedate direction therefrom?

Gah.

The results of this, my first experiment in mind-mapping:

  1. No benefit. I had no room for all the items I wanted, and it was as though I hadn’t got to grips with the problem — if there was one.
  2. The process I tried to clarify showed itself in its true colours. It’s a creative process that pulls in resources and inspiration from everywhere, and you can’t list these, slot them in one logical place or plan them robotically. This is something I should already have realized, and I didn’t need a mind-mapping session to tell me that.
  3. I found no inspiration or new ideas.
  4. If used as a reference to keep me on track, it would add an extra, unnecessary step. It wouldn’t improve matters, being more likely to throw me off.

Even so, I realized I’d used the process wrongly with a subject too big (or not properly broken down to something more rational), while having no clear and specific aim. It would be unfair to condemn it on such grounds. I’ve never before mind-mapped, and needed time to consider how best to use it. Some of my first attempts are bound to be duds.

Ploughing grimly on

If I was not to discard the baby with the bath water, it was clear I should do more research. It wasn’t looking at all good for my experiment, which I now viewed with a degree of irritation. I was hot all over, my heart raced, my brows beetled and I was starting to pout.

I recognize that soul-destroying feeling from other projects I’ve not been good at.

Baking is definitely one, when I start off with fond ambitions of delicate, beautifully decorated little cakes and wafting cinnamon smells, and end up feeling it’s all more hassle than it’s worth. After which I start chucking flour around in lumps and slamming badly-shaped objects in the oven. Another recent project was mindfulness — I was determined to give it a go because I might learn useful life skills, but every time it asked me to do something such as imagining a peaceful scene while repeating a senseless question over and over, dull rage surged up and I had to put the book down. So I’ve not yet read it.

That doesn’t mean I won’t read it… the real reason I’m irritated is it’s something I want to do but it turned out not to be that easy or pleasant. Also there’s still the worry it’s overhyped and I won’t get what I wanted: a better life and a better me. I’m not the perfect person I was fondly imagining.

Oooh. We have now reached the point in this narrative where I was getting these dangerous rumbles over mind-mapping. It was distinctly worrying but I grimly soldiered on. The only way to turn this around was to find out what other people use it for.

One site provided me with some real ‘ah ha!’ moments, and I gleaned the following:

  1. Mind-mapping is used for problem-solving. (I’d been thinking in terms of organizing and streamlining; not quite the same thing).
  2. Think of the keywords in terms of headers rather than processes. If I was planning a party, I would have lists for food, guests, games, music and ‘things to do’ before the big day. The chances are low that I would head one of my lists ‘Organize’!
  3. Leading on from this, I can see my worry about repeating keywords doesn’t matter… it’s flow and direction that matter. You are trying to get somewhere, and it’s not a crime if there are half a dozen information offices in your map, provided they are all well-located and useful.
  4. The biggest break-through for me was when it was pointed out you could use mind-mapping to plan blog posts.

A better attempt

All my pouts vanished, and in no time at all I was embarking on my second experiment: Mission Mind Map. If that term seems a little familiar, it’s because it is!

Shortly after starting, I knew I was onto a winner.

  1. I was now thinking in terms of headings and lists, and didn’t get stuck.
  2. Item order mattered. Things don’t just spring up in the middle of nowhere, and the map finally had a direction.

You see, I was finally getting the hang of it, but my pernickety nature ensured I aimed for at least two items per heading. You can’t have a list of one, can you? In a mind map it’s really about flow, like in my diary… one thought leading to another — but while thinking of thoughts as lists, I wanted two leading on from one, and would fish for another point just to make up numbers.

That’s the feng shui approach to mind-mapping, I guess — or plain OCD.

I enjoyed it; it was a lot of fun. I was able to go into detail without forgetting minor points or losing the shape of what I was writing about.

The next worry, however, was how to get the mind map into my document. The idea of swiping back and forth between it and my blog post didn’t appeal.

Of course, MIndNode wouldn’t have been a proper app if it didn’t have a solution! I was able to convert it into a column of text in my favourite writing app. First of all it arrived in a mad jumble, starting with my last point and ending with the introduction. So I went back and moved everything round the other way, reimported, and this time items appeared in the right order.

When I remembered things I’d forgotten, I made direct changes to the text column rather than edit the mind map itself. I was tempted to think of the map as a finished product, like a picture, but it’s only a stage. It had already done the main work and was not part of the equation any longer.

Some of my changes and additions in the text column arrived as long lines and paragraphs, which is how I’ve always written. I put ‘brief’ ideas in the right places, and these immediately start growing, forming the nucleus of the post itself. In contrast, placed in a mind map, they would remain short snippets of text to be fleshed out later rather than ‘now.’ The process of allowing your notes to expand immediately can take you in new directions, and these are sometimes worthwhile. On the other hand, it’s confusing if these weren’t directions you meant to go in, leaving your original point jostling for place.

Perhaps the mind map is not a hindrance to the evolution of your post — more a temporary postponement of narrative in favour of deeper structure. It still reminds me of my use of journals to ‘problem-solve’… one thought leading to another and ending in a plan. It’s certainly keeping me busy and I’ve not yet abandoned this mass of text! I’m polishing sections of this before I’ve even written the rest of it — it’s partly procrastination; partly because in some sense it’s been written already, and I can relax and not worry that I’ll forget things.

A few days ago, I was listening to a song that has stayed in my head all the time I’ve been writing this. Long Time Coming (David Sneddon).

And in a deeper part of me
A stronger soul is breaking free
And I want you to know
Can’t hold me down for any more
Pull myself from off the floor
And I want you to know

Final thoughts

Based on my short experience of it, pros and cons for mind-mapping as part of a writing process?

Pros:

  1. Cuts down the usual muddle, though not completely.
  2. Possibly you would axe redundant topics before spending much time writing them.
  3. Otherwise short and lazy posts would become longer and more detailed, though I don’t entirely know if that’s good!
  4. It becomes less intimidating to deal with your blog topic overall; you don’t need to put it off to a later time when your thoughts are less scattered.

Cons:

  1. Tendency to waste time tidying the map — trying to balance it out and make it beautiful.
  2. Mine was inside-out and back-to-front, but there’s a setting to adjust that.
  3. This way of laying out your thoughts seems difficult to read. I showed it to a friend who commented: “I couldn’t get my head round it! It’s too much like the kind of thing the office used to produce as one of their many flavour of the month initiatives!” I can sympathize because I dreamed about mice (the ones nesting in it) and have no love for the corporate environment myself.
  4. The map is transformed into a column of indented headers. Why not write them that way in the first place? This is one I find hard to explain away.
  5. There’s a risk it disrupts one’s usual thought process. My style is conversational, but what if the mind map keeps me so much on the straight and narrow that I fail to follow some enticing side-path? On the other hand, the map probably makes sure I see the side paths, shoehorning all of them in. Both aspects could be bad.
  6. I already write long posts which could now become three times as long. Maybe you waste time overwriting it initially and need to trim it down later. The length of the text column generated from the mind map was putting me off, so progress was quite slow. I would ‘flesh out’ a section then scroll hopefully down, thinking, “There, I wrote quite a lot, I must be near the end?” Unfortunately, the tail of the mind map trails forever into the distance…
  7. My initial structure is too rigid. When I know what I want to say and look for somewhere to add it, I see what’s already there and there’s no logical place. Reading all the previous stuff, I promptly lose track of my new idea. Normally I write down phrases in my head before they are gone, fitting them together later. Perhaps it’s not the mind-mapping itself that’s at fault, more my use of the technique — I need to start with a looser structure and not break things down too much in the first place. It would leave me more room to move. Though that begs the question — why change from your existing method?

In any case, here it is… my mind-mapped blog post.

I am glad I persevered and didn’t give in to my attack of the blue devils. In the future I can see myself using MindNode for jotting down blog ideas, perhaps in combination with a page of ‘fully-sprung’ paragraphs, ‘use or lose’.

I still don’t see mind-mapping as a problem-solver — my problems may never have been that complicated. For me it’s: ‘Do research, write email or make purchase. Done!’

In decision-making I write lists of pros and cons; I can’t imagine using a mind map for that normally, but it was more complicated when choosing a new camera recently. I set up a chart composed of what I wanted from the new camera, showing how different models fulfilled these points compared to each other. Using this, I wrote lists of cameras in each context from best to worst. Different cameras came out on top in different contexts, but some listed high more frequently than others. There was a clear winner and it wasn’t the most obvious, being an older model I’d initially dismissed. I only added it belatedly for the sake of comparison, but it did so well (and blew off the roof in a number of reviews) that it seemed the only real option.

The newer camera model I nearly bought, praised in several reviews, would have been a pleasing choice as it was nice in its way… but it was not as good a camera, or as appropriate for me.

The above was in part a visual decision-making process but was not mind-mapping!

The idea of a mind map as study aid is interesting. In history, for instance — you could put main events in order and break them down. It would certainly help you write essays.

I’m still not sure why a mind map would work better than a series of lists. It was a great relief to me when I saw mine laid out as an ordered column of text. The ‘visual’ aspect doesn’t work when it comes to writing, as my usual need is to establish direction, not relationship.

I lost the plot towards the end of writing this, but it’s probably my fault for including too much detail and moving away from the visual map to an unbroken text column!

Will I continue to use it? Yes, I want to, and can make it work for me. Time will tell in the end, though my horoscope yesterday offered the following:

Someone’s ‘good idea’ could have you captivated – even if it means shifting things round yet again. The prospect of advance both at work and in financial matters could bring a smile too. With encouragement from someone who’s good at focus and who knows exactly how to present things on paper, you could enjoy a day of ‘personal development planning’.

Lovely.

The mind map looks like a many-legged spider !

Mission MInd Map

The Treachery of Things

In my last post I talked about being over-connected by tech, so wasn’t surprised to find the following article in the Scottish Daily Mail:

The ‘smart’ clothes left languishing in wardrobes that can text their owner

If these alerts are ignored, the garments will get in touch with a clothing charity and ask to be recycled

In this brave new world that’s to be our future, I can see myself and my clothes falling out *big* time.

If they stalked off to the local charity shop and I had to fetch them home again, they’d be in the dog house for sure. Even worse would be if something I used to own gossiped about me all around town.

It was her over there; I used to be her skirt. She got tired because my label was always digging into her back… like so!… so that was me out on my ear. By the way, she paid £5 less for me than you did. Bwahahahaha.

Doesn’t it just make you want to kick that skanky rag down the stairs?

I found myself wondering if people would be able to buy ‘smart’ teddy bears. They would send you random emails… not too regularly or too frequently… just often enough to keep you guessing.

Dear Delilah

I was just thinking about you yesterday. I know you’re still alive, because I can hear you walking around the house. It’s cosy inside this bin bag and I get on well with the others, but feel somewhat taken for granted.

Ratzo next to me says he’s thinking of emailing Save the Children. He reckons he might be bought by a nice careful eleven year-old girl, someone who carries him around everywhere, but I said if he’s unlucky he will end up as a dog toy. So I wouldn’t do it.

I think I persuaded him, but you should come and talk to him yourself. He really needs to get out of here soon — I fear for his sanity.

Wait a sec, my phone rang… just off to see who it is.

Love and hugs,

Edward xx

It would be bad enough if you only had a few bears, but if you had a collection of over a dozen bears and they all sat around texting and emailing you, it would drive you to distraction.

What would be even more unbearable would be if some of your bears were wearing clothes, and those decided to start texting and emailing as well.

I’ve been on this bear for three years without a break… he doesn’t even take me off at night, which is truly abysmal. Is there a chance of a nice soothing soak in warm water with a gentle eco fabric conditioner? A jasmine-fragranced one would be perfect.

Pure fantasy, I know; it wouldn’t get that bad. But even if you only had one ‘smart bear’, it would become difficult on a whole other level. Normally, when you have a bear, you have your own idea of his character… his likes, dislikes and the kind of conversations he would have with you. It would definitely jar if he was sending emails that sounded nothing like your idea of him.

Take, for instance, the Little Witness.

He and I like all the same things, of course. We appreciate our iPad a little too much. We enjoy the games we play on it — such as Trolls vs Vikings — and are happy when Inspector Montalbano brightens the TV. We have all the time in the world for each other, and our spats and arguments are few.

I wouldn’t be happy if he took to sending emails that clashed with my picture of him.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I was looking on Amazon just now and ordered a 7″ Kindle Fire. It’s a better tablet than that over-priced Apple rubbish you have. Incidentally, we watch too much TV and lie in bed too long — it’s time we started going for some nice long walks in the early morning air. If we haven’t made it to the top of yonder hill by noon tomorrow, I will contact the local gym and book a life membership with your credit card. You don’t need to worry about the expense, as I suspect you don’t have much life left anyway, so the membership will soon expire.

I’m sorry if you don’t like me lecturing you… it’s all for your own good. The boffins at the EU told me to keep an eye on you.

Yours,

Little Witness

It would be the end of a beautiful friendship.

Over-Connected?

I recently listed a few pestilences of modern life in my diary.

(1) Corporate arrogance and technology in general… lack of customizability and options; the forced pace of progression (whether real or artificial). Products becoming obsolete long before they’ve actually broken down or outlived their usefulness. I can’t afford to keep updating or subscribing to everything. Things aren’t always matching up so that everything works together at the same time… like camera, different kinds of software, the hardware, scanner, printer… there’s always something that’s not able to use something else because it’s too old. Everything and everybody is supposed to be seamlessly connected, but it’s not working out that way. I’m starting to ask myself why I bother — I’d like to dump all of this stuff and just knit, tend my plants, watch a few DVDs and read paperbacks!

(2) Apps (and subscription software). Sometimes a project is interrupted (temporarily or permanently) because the way the app works changed in an update. It’s not progress to have goal posts constantly moved or options taken away.

(3) Keeping everything in the cloud. Huge security risk. And what happens when we lose connection?

(4) An increasing number of ads. It’s reached an impossible level. It doesn’t help when a website doesn’t let you zoom in on the text… their print is too small and my eyesight is not what it was.

(5) Increasing number of photos, podcasts and embedded videos. When an online news article is packed with them, you have to scroll cautiously to get past these obstacles to the next little dollop of text without losing your place… sometimes needing to scroll slightly back because something on the page changed and pushed all the text away. Some videos I’m able to watch, but a few aren’t captioned, or are captioned poorly. It’s frustrating when everyone’s saying how great a video is, but you don’t know what it’s about.

For poorly captioned videos, I’m thinking mostly of YouTube type captions — automatic? I’d rather have them than nothing, but they are hard to follow because, for instance, ‘Brexit’ becomes ‘breaks it’ or ‘breakfast’, and UKIP becomes ‘you kept’. I can barely remember what was said by the end, whereas I have a clearer grasp of content if I read an article or transcript. I don’t know if others find the same? Possibly too much of my concentration is taken up with decoding the captions — it’s as though there’s a filter between me and the information.

Earlier tonight I found the following two articles, both of which are food for thought. They reminded me of the grumbles listed above. Life doesn’t seem richer or smoother — instead it’s becoming more frustrating and not a little frightening.

The Perils of Globalization: An Interview with Gerry Mander

The New Luddites: Why Former Digital Prophets Are Turning Against Tech

The Rolling iPad Gathers No Moss

My iPad's lock screen

My iPad’s lock screen

I was going upstairs with an armful of stuff when suddenly the bluetooth keyboard and the iPad rushed together down the stairs. I didn’t see the keyboard fall, and it landed off to the side near the letterbox, but as I watched in horror, the iPad cartwheeled merrily from step to step, gathering speed. When the smart cover flew open, the screen flared out briefly, then the iPad smacked against the cupboard at the foot of the stairs… and all went dark.

In the ominous pause, my mother came out of the sitting room and stared at the still figure lying at her feet, some distance from me at the top of the stairs. Giggling in an embarrassed way, I started down.

I’m sure the iPad’s life flashed before its eyes when it was falling, but what flashed before mine was the price of a new one. Fortunately there was no damage — both machines were intact and started working immediately. In fact the lock screen was waiting blandly for me as soon as I lifted the cover.

It’s an old iPad. Yesterday I was trying to update it to iOS 9.3 and it kept telling me it couldn’t verify because I wasn’t online. I found an article explaining that some older mobiles were shutting out their users after updating, so Apple has temporarily withheld the release from all elderly devices.

Ahhhh… OK.

That explains why the red flag suddenly winked out on my Settings icon a couple of days back. I thought that was odd — it was as though someone had been there… I almost felt the wind of his passing. The ‘please update’ nagging boxes kept appearing, though.

Well, it may be an old iPad that has had its share of ‘ups and downs’, but I’m not yet ready to pay the price of a brand new one, whatever way it gets ‘bricked’.

And after all
You’re my wonderwall

—–

Daily Post prompt: price.

Don’t Worry

image

Snippet from my Social Folder

If you notice comments and ‘likes’ from me appearing on progressively older and older blog posts you’ve written, I’m not prowling. It’s just that I discovered blog post notifications have been sneaking into a separate Gmail mail folder which I never realized I had. A few random blog posts still appear in my main in-box, which is why I never wondered why I wasn’t hearing much about the blogs I followed. Everybody goes quiet for a while, right?

Anyway, this ‘social’ mail folder (which I didn’t personally set up) has a huge number of notifications, going back months, and most likely years. Gah!

Still catching up. Anything you regret posting, better delete it now. I’ve got to about…ohh… 1st February 2016.

Just Nipping out to Peru

“Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?” WordPress prompt.

I used to think it would be the invisibility cloak, as I don’t particularly like drawing attention to myself. Faced with the other two items, though, I’m wavering!

Anyway, there’s a difference between being the only one and being one of many. If these were made available to everyone, there would be invisible people everywhere. Would you see other invisible people when you were invisible yourself? One might as well not spend money on the technology in that case!

If I thought there were invisible people everywhere, I would probably become paranoid and refuse to sleep till my door was locked and the room properly scanned. It would be like wondering if there was a virus on your computer that was keeping very quiet. Everyone else would worry too, and there would be a market for things that could scan for invisible people — everyone everywhere would do a sweep before having meetings or settling down to relax. As a result, donning an invisibility helmet would not do anything to ensure your own privacy… it would be a way of ensuring you’re noticed. People would scan, find you, and tell you you are not wanted. You would be better to save your money… you can be more invisible just staying part of the crowd.

The scariest thing on the list is the time machine. Perhaps I could go back and change a few things I did or said wrong. You question how it would work, though. Do I go back to be myself in the moment? In which case, would I remember this was a re-run? Where would the time machine be in the meantime? Or would it just dump me in the moment and leave me to relive all of that time again?

What if it could take me both ways, but broke down? You can’t complain to Currys from 1347, or even from 1987.

And what if changing my actions made things worse? Things are the way they are for a reason.

I wouldn’t like to have to make decisions about every little thing I did anyway. If I could smooth out absolutely everything I believed I’d done wrong, would I be sitting here thinking “should I go back to that dentist and tell her I don’t want that particular tooth removed?” Or “I feel awful today so I’ll go back to two days ago and refuse the flu jab!” (and maybe die later in the winter… who knows?) Everything would get in such a muddle that I would end up uncertain how to untangle all the different things I’d changed to get myself to a different place.

Added to which, if we could all buy time machines, perhaps I’d get back to someone to change my response, only to find that person was no longer there… he or she has used a time machine to change something in his own life, and everything is so completely different that they never met me, or aren’t alive any more. Not only would I get in a muddle about my own sequence of events, it would be made still more complex by the meddlings and self-edits of others.

So much for the time machine, then. That leaves just one thing — the anywhere door.

I can imagine if there was such a thing, people would start to call it the suicide door. Because, why jump in front of a boring old train when you can really go out in style… step out onto the surface of Venus?

In one way it would be worse than the invisibility helmet. You can guard against invisible people by scanning, groping, or perhaps donning your own helmet for a quick check around. With the anywhere door, though, there would be no locked doors; no privacy at all. People would be dialling wrong numbers and popping up in your locked bedroom as you sleep.

If those drawbacks could be contained, though, it sounds the most convenient, useful and positive of the three gadgets. You won’t be using the anywhere door because you’re shy, sneaky or obsessing over how perfect you can make your life. Imagine the difference it could make! You could visit friends who live very far away, just for coffee. Or, if you like to take landscape photographs, you can pop out to some famous beauty spot and back, regardless of where you live. If I wanted a photo of a snow leopard taken by myself (so I wouldn’t have to credit someone else with it), I could nip out in my slippers and take a series of shots, and be back before you know it, downloading pictures of a startled big cat to my Mac.

OK, it probably wouldn’t be quite that easy… The idea has its attractions all the same!

Bring on the anywhere door… though I suspect in reality it would be ruined by laws, Customs, scanners, disinfectant and red tape.

Trapped inside Brushes

I’ve been desperately trying to make space on the iPad, but that doesn’t stop me downloading stuff from the App Store!

BRUSHES

I recently discovered Brushes 3 is now open source and free in the App Store… it’s this app that’s famously used by David Hockney.

I painted a picture I really liked, and it’s huge… takes over most of the screen on my big desktop Mac! (Not as big as it could be, but big enough). Which was when I realized I had a problem… the only way to get the master files off Brushes and onto my Mac (for back-up or further work) is by exporting to Dropbox or emailing it to myself. There is no iTunes option. When you have huge layered paintings like mine, the network can’t take them. It doesn’t help that you can’t see what size images are in Brushes… not till they reach Dropbox.

Why should ‘online’ be the only way of moving files?

I saved a PNG to Dropbox (2048 x 2048, 8.2 MB… it went quite slowly!) but can’t save my layered files. They are stuck inside the Brushes app for the time being.

I remembered reading about something for the Mac called Brushes Viewer… perhaps that allowed export of some type? Searching online turned up a discussion about how Brushes Viewer wasn’t available any more. People who needed to exhibit their paintings were stuck… unable to export high-resolution images from their iPads.

Doesn’t bode well. Will stop using the app meantime, even though I loved the results. I get the impression (from searching around) that there are people looking seriously into developing a new Brushes Viewer, or perhaps a companion Brushes app for the Mac. So it’s a space worth watching.

Pauses hopefully…

INKPAD

Inkpad is now open source and free in the App Store too, so I downloaded it… it seems very highly thought of. Export options might still be problematic. SVG files (amongst others) can be exported, but only via email or Dropbox — or to other apps on your iPad. It appears to have been updated since it went open source, with the export options improved, which is a good sign.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with vector apps… love what they can do, but hate using them! I can never get used to anchor points, nodes, handles and so on…

PRETTY PLEASE?

I’d love to see more tutorials (and full manuals) for both these apps. Brushes is particularly infuriating because of its name. If you search for ‘brushes tutorials’, you find pages of links to creating custom Photoshop brushes… no mention of the Brushes app.

I prefer text tutorials to video tutorials, which are so often not captioned. I found an Inkpad tutorial in Youtube that I had to abandon for this reason.

Meanwhile, my iPad continues to fill up…. it’s a losing battle!

Delilah’s Lost Mountain Pattern

Finally finished my Lost Mountain doodle!

It began as a rough abstract but I started drawing things, so it wound up being a strange landscape. Just made it difficult for myself when it came to joining up the edges…

It’s supposedly seamless and can be used as a repeating pattern or texture, but I don’t think it makes a particularly good brush. You are welcome to try, though I reserve the full-size image of 1800 px. 🙂

I have an issue with creating ArtStudio custom brushes… maybe someone out there has the answer? They look absolutely fine right up to the moment I use them — then appear on their side (in landscape mode). When I go into the brush settings to check, it’s the right way up in the preview. I can set the angle to 90 degrees to force it round, but that makes it even softer than it was initially.

Procreate has the useful brush setting ‘orient to iPad screen,’ but I don’t see one in ArtStudio. I’ve not found similar complaints yet, so probably I’m missing something! The setting might still be there somewhere, and I’ve just overlooked it.

Ho hum.

The Mountain that Walked

Was horrified when resuming my doodle in ArtStudio to find my newest mountain had vanished! Layers were missing, I thought, then realized the work itself hadn’t been saved. As I’d spent a lot of the previous night on it, it seems strange nothing was saved during those hours. I normally save a lot, but possibly I was lulled into a false sense of security by autosave…. and simply forgot?

According to the ArtStudio forum there’s an autosave.art file that you can only see in iTunes when you back up your iPad. If you get to that autosave file early enough, it might have what you lost.

Originally I misunderstood what autosave was doing. I thought it saved the file I was working on, not a hidden copy that might change according to which drawing I was in. I looked for it in iTunes and found it, but it was blank. Same dimensions; one white layer!

Maybe that was because I turned off autosave before I even knew that it saved to a separate file. I thought it had somehow caused a problem but wasn’t sure what. But IF disabling autosave reverts the autosave file to a blank white file, that’s something else… people might think they were protecting their autosave file by stopping ArtStudio saving new stuff to it in the meantime.

Well, my mountain’s gone, and I don’t know why… but I’ve re–enabled autosave now that I understand it better.

I managed to retrieve my work by using a jpeg I created last night on a whim. The white areas show blotchy JPEG artefacts; I don’t know how it manages to do that on what should have been a pure white background! I cleaned it up but the lines are jaggy (had to erase the white completely, which took away from the smoothness of the black lines).

For the rest of the night I just cleaned, tidied, merged layers and duplicated copies of the file. Sent a PNG to the camera roll and saved a PSD ready to export to iTunes. Closing the stable door after my mountain had bolted!

Doodling time has not been wasted… I found several useful tips in the ArtStudio forums. For instance, I kept wanting to remove white areas without having to spend ages with the eraser. I went to the affected layer, made sure the palette colour was set to white, then went to the menu and chose Adjust > Color to transparency. The white bit just disappeared.

It didn’t work on the JPEG mountain because it left shadowy artefacts behind, but it worked on other layers. Saved my bacon!

Nine iPad Games

iPad Games in FolderThis is a screenshot of the iPad games I most often play (click thumbnail for better view). All these run in iOS 7 on an iPad 4… I can’t guarantee they would play on older systems and iPads. More about those little nuggets of goodness below.

Cave Quest HD

A beautiful adventure involving treasure, mountain spirits and a missing family. It offers a series of tile puzzles and ‘find the object’ scenes. I found it relaxing to play… to me it was everything an iPad game should be. Even the free trial version was exemplary… it gave me enough to get my teeth into, and didn’t annoy me into refusing to buy it, which some other games have done!

It got me through a bout of shingles. Every so often I would look up and dutifully swallow a dose of Rhus tox. It’s a weird experience being handed a bottle of poison ivy by your mother… “take this, dear, it will fix you!”

Plants vs Zombies HD

A strategy game in which you deploy a range of plants to keep zombies away from your house. I have a soft spot for the old grandfather zombie who gets upset when he loses his newspaper. When the crush gets too much in Walnut Bowling and I have to let one zombie through while I go after the others, he’s the one who gets to hirple past the finishing post.

You can play through the adventure or choose from the mini games, puzzles and quick games. In the quick games you are offered a set of options: weak zombies or strong? Night, day, poolside, rooftop, fog? Perfect if you don’t have much time and just want to relax (or experiment with different plants). And because there’s a lot of variety, it’s more addictive than the sequel.

Plants vs Zombies 2

Some of the plants and zombies in this one are new, operating in three different worlds. It is free-to-play and can be played all the way through without any purchases, but is all but impossible without certain ‘power-ups’. Power-ups can be slowly earned as well as bought… I won through without them, except in one game.

It’s fun to start with, but you eventually find it drab and repetitive compared to the original. You would like to explore the worlds a little, but the spot where you fight zombies is always the same. It would be nice if a set of fantasy mini-games was made available, such as It’s Raining Seeds or Zombotany, but there really isn’t much variety.

Worst of all, there’s a zombie I refuse to play against now that I don’t have to…. the parrot! As soon as I see it waiting in the wings, I quit. That means I haven’t got any further than Level 6 in Dead Man’s Booty. If you can get further than that without having to play against the parrot, let me know! I’ll be incredulous.

Roads of Rome

You are directing teams of workers to build roads for Caesar, interrupted occasionally by wild animals. It’s not free to play, but that’s its strength! It doesn’t make you feel you might win more quickly or have more variety if you buy something. It’s peaceful and attractive, and you don’t have to play against the timer unless you want to.

There’s an expert mode, however, and if you can win all the games in that mode, a bonus level is unlocked. (At the moment I can’t remember if ROR has bonus levels, or if it’s just parts 2 and 3). At first I thought I would rattle through those in a matter of hours, so it was a shock when I found it wasn’t that simple! I got annoyed about playing levels over and over, missing the expert time by a fraction of a second in some cases. The workers would get home and the celebratory fireworks would be popping AND I’D STILL LOSE! It’s really just a challenge to do everything within the time, however, and I’m glad it’s there. It offers something more to strive for.

Roads of Rome 2

An extension of the above, though with improvements and different animals. I actually played this one first, as I read somewhere we should get this one and ignore the first one, which is clunkier. I think that was a mistake, though — I’ve enjoyed all three.

Roads of Rome 3

This is my favourite version. This time we don’t build roads… the barbarians have run amok, damaging the roads and setting things on fire. Our task is to douse the fires, rebuild the settlements and mend the roads. I was delighted not to have to sit and watch the workers slowly hammer their way along, plank by plank. When you’re up against the clock, it’s excruciating!

Cut the Rope

Cute little thing, loves his sweeties. I enjoy thinking about how to deliver them to his mouth without losing any stars along the way. He doesn’t care if you haven’t won them all yet… once the sweetie comes within reach, it’s gone.

I don’t spend all my time playing this, though, as it’s not all that relaxing! I play a level or two then potter off to bed.

Two Towers

A fantasy card game, not particularly expensive. I’ve not seen another like it; it’s unusual. I liked it enough to buy it twice (for Mac and iPad). It’s about battling to win strongholds with the cards in your hand, sometimes aided by magic spells. At one point I was a bit addicted to it!

Le Vamp

Ah. Another cutie. I love the way he looks quizzically out of the screen at me, as though hoping I’ll do something to save him, but not really caring all that much. He’s got such sangfroid! You have to keep him from the angry mob for as long as you can (they get him eventually). I do love it, but I wish the scenery would change and something else would happen. I don’t care about his selection of hats and cloaks, and some of the curses and charms seem a bit odd. (I don’t understand how the ‘armored heart’ works, but maybe I’ll figure it out).

I do like the wee vamp, though, and hang out with him from time to time.

I’ve got a cold, so I think I might be playing a few of these over the next few days!