Off the Rails

I’m crossing my fingers while writing this that the internet will hold on long enough for me to post it. Since the Great Outage, I’ve bought a new router, jumped through more network hoops than I care to think about, worked ten hours a day at the day job with the exception of the day I drove the Junior Mad Scientist into the city for an appointment, and even that day I didn’t arrive home until late, and had dental work done. Still, the ‘net is iffy at best. Today, it is hoped, a technician shall arrive and figure it out, because I’m stymied.

What that means for you, dear readers and fellow writers, is that I am knackered as of the time I write this post, and have not had time to do my proper research for the requested topic of the day: formatting books for those who eschew Microsoft Word. I know there are more than a few of you out there who can’t afford Word, don’t want to partake of the MS Koolaid, or for that matter, the Apple Juice that it would require to run Vellum. I get it. I still recommend Open Office, Libre Office, and Gimp for folks on a budget, because I’ve been poor. Er, thrifty. Heck, for that matter my beloved husband is balking at putting Adobe pdf reader on his computer, and while I don’t blame him because Adobe is evil even if I do use their products, I really need for him to be able to handle opening and reading pdf forms on his own instead of on my computer.


Sometimes you have to touch the evul to get stuff done. I’m not fond of Google’s omnipresence in a Big Brother way, but I’m drafting this in a Google doc file on my tablet because I can, and if I want to swap to my computer I can seamlessly access the file there. I could, in theory, write while I was sitting waiting on a kid to get out of class, or the doctor, or Civil Air Patrol, or… If I wanted to share it with the First Reader and collaborate, we could literally both be in this document at the same time, with a chat bar on the side, and working in real time to create something beautiful. Yeah, I know that I’m the product – heck, I pay for storage. Every year, because I like multiply redundant backups, although I did learn recently that I needed to start that earlier because a client needed a file from four years ago and I can’t access it. Because a power cord for an old backup drive got lost in the move. And because I need to be better organized. Which is why I have Google Drive, even if there are theories that they can steal my content at will. Until there is a better option, I simply haven’t got the foxes to give. Behold my foxes, and see? There are none.






Honey, I’ve fallen and can’t get up. Can you splash cold water on my face?


Ok, that’s better. Yeah… There’s been no writing. I can’t even see the tracks from here. I went from ‘we don’t have anything planned this weekend!’ To we have PT appointment, and Fencing Class, and my son’s friends are coming over and next week is the last week at the First Reader’s job and he would like to spoil them with cookies one last time and I miiiight have said I’d take Pumpkin Bread to work for snack Monday. Oh, and the Internet Tech is coming. So I should probably make sure the most obvious weirdnesses in our bedroom are tucked away tidily. What? You don’t have Vallejo and Bell and Freas art on display? Ahem.


I’m breathless and wordless and given my day at work on Friday, quite possibly brainless. Did you know salt expires? I was wandering through the lab muttering ‘our salt’s not salty enough. It has lost it’s savor! Turned to…. what’s the opposite of salt?’ But fortunately I work with a lot of Mad Scientists and they were just contemplating why an orange flame has to be called a yellow flame. I ask you, if you put table salt in a flame, good ol’ sodium chloride, what do you get?


I’ll give you a hint. It’s NOT YELLOW.


So how was your week? Can you recommend helpful freeware for writers? Give us a shout in the comments, then.

(Header Image: “Upside-Down” photo by Cedar Sanderson)

33 thoughts on “Off the Rails

  1. My week has been one of copy editing and falling asleep at the drop of a hat. Started on second DMARD tablet for my rheumatoid arthritis. Re-read/ing my unfinished first novel with the intention of finishing what I started. Having written three other novels in the meantime I can truly say it’s like reading another authors work.

  2. I had MS Word for years, but last year I decided I’d had enough of its bloat (not to mention being charged a fee for MS Office every year, instead of the one-time purchase in days of yore). I dropped my Office subscription and shifted to LibreOffice. No problems whatsoever, and it’s working as well for me as MS Word ever did.

    To format my work for publication, I use Vellum (about which I’ve written here on MGC). However, that doesn’t necessarily require that you buy an Apple computer, if you don’t have one: you can use one of the online Mac emulators (a quick search will find them). Also, Amazon’s Kindle Create software is almost as good (although it doesn’t produce a print-ready .PDF file), and if you’re going to use Amazon’s KDP paperbacks, you probably don’t need anything else.

    Do a search for LibreOffice or Kindle Create to be taken to their home pages.

  3. I’m enjoying FocusWriter. It’s a stripped-down word processor, but it allows me to save in Open Office format. From there, I can go to Open Office and Sigil.

  4. I like LibreOffice over OpenOffice, now that I can’t upgrade MS Office to my upgraded laptop (MacroSnot only lets one install it three times, and I’m not springing for “subscription” software if I can avoid it). Both OpenOffice and LibreOffice are good, but LibreOffice has a 64-bit version, whereas OpenOffice at last inspection did not.

  5. I’m using SumatraPDF, which is a) free b) not produced by Adobe. My recollection is that it can fill in forms, and print filled in forms, but cannot save the filling in. Come to think of it, if I could find an open source print to PDF thing for Windows, I probably could save the filling in.

  6. It’s years since I used Windows at home, so it might be outdated… but I found FoxIt would read pdf’s and not spend forever ‘starting’ so it could advertising Adobe garp at me. When I used that, I finally found that it was not PDF itself that sucked.

    1. Acrobat’s long startup, aside from Adobe’s coding sucks (13 years of complaints later, they are finally getting around to maybe halfassed fixing Illustrator’s menu scaling problems… yeah, I finally got around to installing the replaced edition of CS2, and now that the effing thing finally runs, discovered it has issues that older versions didn’t) ….. happens on every PDF *except* a PDF produced BY Adobe themselves, like for the documentation that comes with CS2. Then it opens almost instantly. Implying that the delay is deliberate. Need to check headers on the Adobe-made PDFs and see if there’s a flag or something that can be diff-patched…. BTW if you own CS2, can’t figure out why it won’t reactivate, and aren’t aware of the activation server fiasco and death, there is now a free downloadable replacement direct from Adobe, no activation required.

      Right now I’m resisting installing the Acrobat Pro part, even tho I could use it, because I use a really ancient version (6.0!) of the reader for everyday and don’t want it overridden. New enough that it handles everything except newer-encrypted PDFs, old enough to not be a PITA otherwise (and to test for too-new encrypt versions for someone else).

      I can’t stand Foxit (even tho the advertising part can be bypassed). Sumatra is fast but just about feature-free. I really like Okular; it’s one of the reasons I installed KDE for Windows, but first startup is slow as the KDE support junk has to load too (and it’s not real stable so I don’t leave it running all the time). The one big drawback of all of these? None of them respects system colors, so I don’t get at least most PDFs with a nice restful grey background, as I do in Acrobat.

      1. Ah, outdated (my info) as I recall no ads and no spying and such. As it is, I’ve abandoned Windows. And am beginning to wonder if I need to go all the way to *BSD.

        1. I haven’t noticed ads on Foxit being any worse than the ads on Adobe. Either way, they’re encouraging you to upgrade.

          I like Foxit. It does pretty much* everything I need it to and more, is free, boots quickly, and doesn’t crash. It could be a bit more intuitive at functions beyond the basic, but the documentation is pretty complete.

          *it does occasionally have difficulty with official federal government forms that are specifically coded for Adobe.

      2. Adobe’s laissez-faire attitude about leaving gaping security holes open is another thing to consider. And their habit of telling you that files created with earlier versions of Acrobat are corrupted, when they’re perfectly readable by non-Adobe software.

  7. Actually, iodized salt DOES expire — the iodine sublimates off after a few months, so if you rely on table salt as your iodine source, it should be replaced every 6 months or so.

    Had similar internet (DSL) problems when I moved into this house… many hours of frustration later, their tech guy replaced ALL the phone wiring from jack to street (including new buried line to the box), and the problems went away.

    1. …assuming you need iodine supplements in your diet to start with. A great many people don’t.

      And considering how many people consider salt to be something akin to cyanide or heroin, your target population isn’t nearly as big as it used to be.

      And then there’s the flouridation of water issue…

      Just because *some* people might see some benefit in it doesn’t mean you have to mindlessly force it upon everyone.

  8. When my Win 7 machine was getting too hard to update (I wanted complete control over updates, and this goes against the Wishes of Redmond), I switched the main desktop machine to LInux. I’m started with Libre Office 5, and recently updated to LO 6, with few snags.

    For using pdf files, I’ve been using Okular. It handles fill-out-forms all right, with some double-vision ugliness in forms-mode. It looks fine when forms mode is turned off. PDF files from other sources look fine. I rate it as easy to use as Adobe Reader. The Wikis say it’s only on LInux and other Unix type operating systems, and is part of KDE. No idea if it would work on Apples.

    I kept a Win 7 machine as backup, but we haven’t used it for a year.

    1. Be aware that the Linux kernel has been forked, and folks may want to look into one of the other forks. Mint may still be viable, as the guy who runs it has pretty much given middle fingers to SJWs

      That said, LibreOffice is not tied to just Linux.

      1. I’ve seen the articles on the SJW code of conduct and Linux, along with the attack on a key contributor as a “rape apologist” (which attack is itself a violation of the CoC, but shut up, h8ter).

        As far as I know, the kernel itself hasn’t yet been forked, but I think it could happen rather soon. I saw a comment by a kernel contributor who thought that there could be a split between corporation vs individual user kernels.

        Sounds like times are going to get more interesting. Yikes!

          1. I think we’d need Deep Thought to keep all the SJW attacks and reactions to them in order. 🙂 Added to Life Happens, and yeah. No problem.

            Prayers and happy thoughts for the little one.

  9. If you are trying to escape Adobe, you may want to look at Serif’s Affinity products. I’ve replaced Photoshop with Affinity Photo and haven’t looked back. Affinity Designer is another package of theirs, and Affinity Publisher is in a free beta at this time. Each product is $50 for a regular license (not an Adobe style subscription.)

  10. What? You don’t have Vallejo and Bell and Freas art on display?

    No, I have Foglio and Janesko! I bought some Buck Godot and XXXenophile original pages at a (coughcough) Worldcon many years ago, and the original painting of this (NSFW) from Jennifer at a con that was so dead she ran over and hugged me because I was a familiar face.

    Amusing story: when I bought my house, I needed to fill all the big white walls, so I took a bunch of stuff into the local framing shop and worked with the manager to pick matching styles. A few days later, the regional manager walked into the back room, saw the erotic cartoons and lingerie-clad beauties, and let out a gasp. The manager looked over her shoulder and said, “he brought in 17 pieces”. “Never mind!”

    (the Janesko comes down once a year for Halloween, because it’s 30×40 inches and visible to anyone standing at my front door, which is fun when the Witnesses show up, but not something I want to explain to trick-or-treaters and their parents…)


  11. For art, there’s a program called Krita. Runs on Mickeysoft or Linux, excellent drawing program.

    For solid modeling there’s one called ZBrush, that one costs money. Extremely cool program.

    Recent revelations about just how insecure Win10 really is have been rolling it. Something else that’s irritiating is the networking keeps breaking. Every time there’s an update, my network dies and sometimes can’t be restored. Then a couple day/weeks later, every thing is fine again.

    It may be time for me to do an other Linux experiment. ~:( Always disappointing to date. Linux is the OS that’s always -almost- able to do what you want… but not quite.

      1. Yeah, that’s a pretty big deal.

        Essentially the same “people” (I use it as a technical term) who have been busy ruining science fiction and fandom as hard and fast as they can have been attacking Open Source as well. They have succeeded in convincing Linus Torvalds he needs to “step back” from Linux kernel development because his unrelenting focus on quality code over Pronouns is “problematic.”

        Meaning he can’t get anything done because SJWs are swarming the kernel forums with bullshit. So he’s taking his amazingly valuable bat and ball, and going back to his mansion to play with his kids.

        And we thought we had SJW problems. ~:D

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