The Outdoorsy App: A Non-Review Review

The best part about the kids being in a scouting program is the excuse it gives us to get out into the great outdoors. The worst part about scouting is then sleeping out there.

After a series of shivering through near-freezing nights and huddling under nothing but a thin piece of treated nylon during thunderstorms, I decided that as much as I enjoy hiking, it might be nice to actually stay under a real roof during our next trip to the mountains. Luckily for me, my other half mentioned he was thinking the same thing.

He told me about an app he’d found called Outdoorsy.

Think of it like Lyft/Uber meets Airbnb/HomeAway. Only, instead of it being a ride-sharing program or app to let you rent out an unused room, you can use it to turn that depreciating asset/eyesore you call a recreational vehicle parked out front into a potential profit center. It also gives a person like me, the chance to actually try to see if RVing is the way to travel.

1998 Coleman Mesa – our home away from home for the weekend

It may be the fact that I live in an urban area and am centrally located between the mountains and the sea, but there were more than a few options for us to choose from when planning our trip. In the end, we decided to go with a 1998 Coleman Mesa pop-up trailer, which, thanks to its low profile, would allow us to travel around the sharp turns of the Blue Ridge Parkway and under NC’s historic stone bridges with ease.

It would also mean we would have a regular sized vehicle during the long weekend for taking us from one trailhead to the next. We thought that extra vehicle would be our truck.

Unfortunately, the holiday weekend meant we weren’t the only ones to hit the road for the weekend. Unseasonable highs hadn’t helped either as people, like us, sought higher ground and cooler temperatures.

We’d been stuck in slow-moving traffic for more than a couple of hours when suddenly the check engine light appeared on the dash. The truck began to groan. If that wasn’t bad enough, we were at the base of the mountains by this point, meaning our cell reception had already begun to degrade.

My other half looked none-to-pleased. He’d just gotten the truck, which is still relatively brand new, checked out by a mechanic prior to our departure. We pushed on, but at a slower, more careful rate. What choice did we have?

Her Royal Highness Approves

We finally limped into the campgrounds where my mom and stepdad (who’d had the foresight to drive separately) sat waiting. The sun hung low in the sky–too low to worry about pesky details like how we were going get home. We sprang into action. One crank raised the roof. Another lowered stabilizing blocks. We sweated in the effort, but it made me glad our rental harkened from good old 1998 when vehicle systems were still more mechanical than computer driven.

The most challenging part about the setup was figuring out where the various poles needed to shape the more tent-like portion of the camper, especially as the sun had fully set by this point, but even that didn’t take too terribly long. Soon we were settling in for a much deserved night’s rest.

Did I sleep better than I might in my regular tent? You bet I did. Though the camper shook anytime someone tried to sneak outdoors to … er… commune with nature, I remained thankful for the mattress under my back and the solid walls that could protect us against any unexpected change in weather.

We spent the weekend hiking and enjoying food cooked over the open flames of a campfire. My kids spotted waterfalls and at least pretended to be interested when the park ranger regaled us with the story of how the river running beside us got its name. Spoiler – it was violent.

Then it was time to return home. Cranks were turned in the opposite direction and support bars were safely stowed. The truck even managed to get us back home. Then all we had to do was drop the keys and the camper back with its rightful owner.

Would I use the Outdoorsy app again? Absolutely. I only wish I could give our truck an equally high rating.


Here are some additional pictures from our trip, which I hope you will enjoy:

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Dragon NaturallySpeaking – A First Take & Quick Review

This post may contain affiliate links

One of the continuing challenges I faced over the years, and particularly so over the last several weeks leading up to the new year, has been trying to find time for my personal writing when more and more of my time was being taken up by other things. Luckily for me, Santa was kind enough to bring me a Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software.

Dragon is better than something like Word’s built-in word recognition because it not only asks you for your language during setup, it also asks you to specify your accent. The downside is it still isn’t omniscient out of the box. Therefore, in order to get it to work fully, you have to take the time to train it so it can adapt to you your dialect and your particular speaking patterns.

There are a few versions of the software: Home, Premium, and a version designed for medical transcription as well as variations that differ by included equipment. Mine came with a corded headset and installation disk, though I understand there are other versions out there with Bluetooth enabled devices for people who prefer to walk and talk.

I have a PC and was somewhat concerned that it wouldn’t support my operating system as it shows only Window 7 and Windows 8 icons on the box, especially when the program took ages upon ages to install. At one point during the installation, I started to wonder if I had missed a step. Maybe in order to get the program to launch, I was supposed to hold the box and walk into a firey pyre like Dany did in Game of Thrones in order to hatch her dragons. However, the installation meter did eventually move forward before it came to that and, at the end, I saw an ‘installation success’ message appear on my screen.

I’ve been playing with mine for a couple of weeks now and it’s getting a little less awkward each day, though I now suspect Her Royal Highness is rolling her eyes behind my back at my hypocrisy considering I always am asking her to tone it down when she talks to herself during the day. In my defense, her barking monologues don’t magically transform into written text on the screen.

Thus far, I haven’t had to add too many words to my dragon’s vocabulary, though I’ve been studying up on how best to train it (there are books on the subject specifically for writers). I can’t decide if it is a compliment regarding enunciation or more praise of the software’s programming. (I’m guessing the latter) That being said, it didn’t recognize the word Megalodon and instead returned ‘medic for all,’ when I said it. You might think this isn’t exactly a word that comes up in daily conversation, however, you don’t know my youngest. It comes up in our house. It comes up a lot.

(It also hasn’t recognized any of my swear words either – not that I use too many of them. Clearly, my dragon is of a genteel nature.)

Based on that experience, I realize that it may be a while before it (and I) am ready to tackle more traditional epic fantasy writing based on character names alone. Even so, I managed to write a full day’s personal word count quota in half the time, which is super promising. That even includes all the times I’ve had to go back and add punctuation manually as remembering to say the word comma or period while dictating isn’t natural for me yet either.

As a result, I am feeling quite good about what I might be able to achieve this year. I might even finish the first draft of book three in my Project Gene Assist series before the weather warms. Who knows?!? But if nothing else, at least know I’m trying.

Now, how about you? Are you trying anything new this year?

5 Alternatives to Vellum, or How I Spent My Weekend

5 Alternatives to Vellum - www.alliepottswrites.comVellum. It’s not just for illuminated scrolls. For those of you not in the self-publishing world, or those newer to book formatting, Vellum is also a popular software option that helps magically transform your manuscript from a document processing file into something the non-publishing world might call a book. (This post includes affiliate links)

I know plenty of authors who basically describe it as the bee’s knees when it comes to formatting your book. But what if you are allergic to bees? What do you do then? I say that as a bit of a joke, however as Vellum is limited to Mac users and isn’t cheap to use, it isn’t for everyone. Nor is the entire process of book formatting for that matter, but that is an entirely different subject.

So what is an author intent on publishing a new book to do?

I’m glad you asked as I have recently spent far too many hours getting An Uncertain Confidence ready for its upcoming publication date by experimenting with Vellum alternatives offering formatted files I could then take to a professional printer.

Microsoft Word

This has been my trusted go-to method of getting my books in shape as it allows me to tweak font sizes, add decorative flourishes, and basically customize my book’s size and content any way I see fit. However, Word has an annoying habit of inserting blank pages, “helpfully” adjusting page numbers, and text can be overly stretched with funky spaces between the words if you don’t know some of the advanced tricks.

  • Pros – High degree of control
  • Cons – Takes forever and a day if you don’t know what you’re doing, or haven’t written your entire manuscript with Word formatting in mind (i.e. you didn’t take advantage of Word ‘styles’) and may just drive an author to drink.

Adobe InDesign

InDesign offers a lot of the same customization capability of Word, which can help your book stand out from the competition (caution – this isn’t necessarily a good thing). It also does a better job handling the space between words on the page, making your book look cleaner and more professional. However, this is another option that takes time to master and InDesign isn’t cheap.

  • Pros – Improved readability compared to Word in terms of text spacing. Much easier to control pesky things like blank pages and funky page numbers
  • Cons – it’s an Adobe product, which means a steep learning curve and a high price tag though there is a free trial option.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a word processing and story organization tool specifically designed for books. You can copy and paste your manuscript from another word processor into the software, or import it depending on the file type, and export the Scrivener version as a print-ready PDF. However, it is probably far easier to write the entire project in the software from the get-go. While Scrivener is designed for print books, it also has a partnership with Vellum if you prefer their templates over Scrivener’s offerings provided you are willing to pay the price for both services.

  • Pros – Super easy to export your complete manuscript into a print-ready pdf
  • Cons – The product works best when you write your manuscript from end to end in the tool rather than try to import it from another processing program, and doesn’t offer the same level of customization in your book’s format as offered by Word or InDesign (once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing as some people can’t handle the awesome power that is font selection).

Reedsy

In addition to editing, Reedsy includes a free book formatting service. All you have to do is copy and paste your manuscript into its online user interface, designate elements of your book like chapter name or section separator, select a book size, and a theme. It also is partnered with Blurb, which is a print on demand service, making it easy to print your book once it has been formatted.

  • Pros – Easy to use with a price that’s hard to beat. It even inserts back matter pages for you like your social media links, description (with images) of your other books, and a note about how people can join your mailing list.
  • Cons – You have to copy and paste each chapter one by one, which is time-consuming, and you are limited to three themes and three book sizes. Also, you don’t get your formatted file right away, though I only had to wait for a few minutes before I received the email saying my book was ready.

Outsource it

Of course, you also have the option to outsource book formatting if, unlike me, you are a sensible person who would like to actually spend time with your family or friends on the weekends (or be working on your next book) rather than seated in front of a computer screen waiting for swirling wheels or flipping hourglasses to say your file is ready.

  • Pros – You keep your weekends
  • Cons – You have to trust that your formatter knows what they are doing and, if you find that edits are required in your final proof, it can start getting costly.

But in the end, no matter which path you choose, holding that end product in your hands for the first time is always worth the hassle. Trust me.

Books by Allie Potts - www.alliepottswrites.com

and then there were four…

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesignEarlier this year I featured a mock-up movie poster based on a conversation I’d had with my youngest son. The image produced more comments than anything else I’d published that day. It was a good reminder as to the importance good visuals play in getting a message across.

In full disclosure, I created that image using the Adobe Creative Suite of products, which are powerful, professional grade tools, however, I wanted to find out if I could create similar images with easier to use (and less expensive) applications. Because – why not?

My selection criteria

  • Must be able to use masks and layers – This eliminated Microsoft Paint (to be fair, Paint was never really in consideration)
  • Must be able to edit photos (meaning change colors, erase bits, etc. not just add filters) – This eliminated Canva
  • Must be able to upload as well as download edited images without a subscription – This eliminated PicMonkey

For those of you unfamiliar with the terms above, layers allow you to move and edit isolated elements of a design while masking aids with an element’s transparency and shape.

The experiment

I found Sumopaint and clicked on it’s “Try Online” option. (Note – Sumopaint does require Flash so may not be available on all devices)

SumoPaint Screen ShotI expected another window to open, but instead, a screen similar in appearance to Microsoft Paint appeared at the bottom of my browser window.

For the purpose of this trial, I planned to add and edit multiple image layers, adjust transparency (opacity), add text, and alter an image’s size and shape (free transform tool).

Now, I had to upload the first image to edit.

I found a nice background photo from www.pixabay.com showing a number of posters hanging in a row. I then used the File>Import To Layer Command to import my mock movie poster for Poisonous Zombie Tsnumani Sharks. SumoPaint automatically created a new layer.

My poster was originally larger than the background. I resized it using CTRL+T which is the shortcut for the Free Transform Tool.

I recommend you resize your image immediately upon import as SumoPaint has a tendency to crop out anything exceeding your window otherwise.

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

I wanted my poster to go where the map was in the original image, but I also wanted it to look like it was behind the frame.

I moved the layer with the Poisonous Zombie Tsunami sharks to the back so as not to mess it up as I worked on the map.

I selected the layer with sidewalk frames and used the eraser tool. Unfortunately, rather than creating a transparent area as I expected, this resulted in a white area.

Ultimately, I was able to find a workaround by selecting everything in the background image except the white area where the map had been and copying and pasting it as a third layer.

A little decrease in brightness here, a little blur there, and a little more adjustment using the Free Transform>Distort tool and voila.

The results

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

Having passed my initial test, I decided to try out some of SumoPaint’s additional features such as its filters, color, and text adjustments as well as layer effects resulting in some other mock-ups.

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

The planet was created with gradients and 3D filters

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

The scales were made using a rock texture which I then recolored

How to amaze friends and edit images for free with Sumopaint - www.alliepottswrites.com #graphicdesign

The font for the title is Impact which I then stretched for well… um… greater impact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, now I want to write the books to go along with all these covers, but that is a problem for another day.

Final Review

Things I like:

  • Can’t beat the price
  • The learning curve is relatively short (compared to Adobe Creative suite)
  • The User Interface was relatively straightforward and easy to navigate
  • The built-in filters can be customized for a unique look
  • Colors and gradient maps can be added and adjusted with a click of a button
  • Text can be stretched, warped, or otherwise transformed, giving it an edge over most other online editing tools

Things I didn’t like:

  • Text can’t be edited once you have released a text box
  • I couldn’t find a way to make the background transparent once an image was loaded short of adding a new layer and deleting the old
  • Layers would only allow for a handful of text boxes before the program became buggy.
  • When transforming an object, the object automatically reverts to 100% opacity until the transform is completed which is problematic if you are trying to distort an object so it matches the shape of something behind it
  • There are no rulers or align tools so object placement requires some guesswork (Canva has a clear advantage here)

While Adobe still remains the gold standard in my mind, it is good to know I have another option when I need to perform quick and easy edits on the fly, and now I hope, so do you.