Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and reading resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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January 7, 2013: After some hard thought, I've decided to officially shut down this blog. I know I haven't updated it in a while, but I thought I should let you all know so you can remove it from your RSS feeds, etc.

Reason: I've decided that I need to find ways to make more time to read and create books.

I had great fun working on illustrating I'M BORED (written by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Sept/2012) and am now working on writing and/or illustrating new book projects. In addition to my picture book projects, I also want to get back to my novel writing.

My challenge: I want to do too many things and am currently involved in too many projects. My solution: To prioritize and cull.

You can find out what I'm working on at DebbieOhi.com or follow me on Twitter at @inkyelbows.

Thanks so much for your support and interest in my projects.

-- Debbie

Entries in my reviews (8)

Sunday
May232010

iPad apps for writers: iAnnotate - PDF reader & PDF annotation tool

(Note: Also see my list of notetaking apps and other useful iPad apps for writers.)

 

iAnnotate PDF | iAnnotate FAQ | iAnnotate User Guide | User forums

Version 1.1. Updated May 19, 2010.

Developer: Aji, LLC. $9.99

Up to now, I've mainly reviewed apps that writers can use to take notes as well as write. Editing, however is a big part of the writing process, so I figure I should mention iAnnotate, which lets users read PDFs as well as mark them up. I've already used this to add handwritten edit notes on some manuscript pages. I just convert my MS-Word document to a PDF first -- to try this, go to the Print dialog box (on a Mac, anyway) and select PDF -> Save As PDF in the lower left corner:

There are several ways to get files from your computer into iAnnotate, but for larger documents and libraries it's recommended that you download and install the free Aji PDF Service app. That way you just need to move files into a folder on your desktop, and they'll automatically appear in your iPad folder as well. However, you can also transfer your documents using a web download, iTunes File Sharing, or open docs from Mail and other apps.

I recently used iAnnotate to import a PDF schedule of the SCBWI Summer Conference and marked it up with notes about what workshops and talks I'd like to attend. 

There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out how everything works, and you really DO have to read the manual to fully master the basics, but so far I've found it well worth it.

My experiment with importing a PDF from Dropbox:

I wanted to see how easy it was to import a document from a Web storage service like Dropbox, so went through the process:

- Clicked on the "download" icon in the top left corner, which looks like a down arrow.

- Of the two choices of "Aji PDF Service" or "Web Download", I chose the latter. At this point, an integrated browser opens up inside the iAnnotate app.

- Went to the Dropbox site and logged in.

- Found the PDF document I wanted to import. At this point it got a bit confusing. When I clicked on the file name, a tip appeared VERY briefly at the top of the screen but disappeared before I could read it. By experimenting, I discovered that clicking on the date to the right of the file prompted a small down-arrow symbol to appear. Clicking on the down-arrow gave me a menu that included "Download File." Clicked on "Download File." (Update: The developer said to use "Open in...iAnnotate" from the Dropbox app...I'll have to look for this.)

- Was given a message that the file would be put in my Web Downloads folder.

What I liked about iAnnotate:

- Wide range of annotation options, including text notes, highlighting with different colours, underlining, free form drawing, and bookmarks.

- Lots of documentation, including a user guide and in-app help & tips.

- E-mail and forum support.

- Toolbars are customizable.

What I didn't like:

- When I went to read a copy of my annotated documented that I had e-mailed myself, I found that all the annotations were missing. :-(  Apparently I'm not the only one experiencing this problem, so hopefully the developers can fix this soon. (Update: The developer pointed me to this link for an explanation about why annotations may not show up when e-mailed out.)

- Failing a successful e-mail export, I tried exporting via iTunes. While inside my document, I chose "Prepare for the iTunes upload." A message popped up saying that all my documents were up-to-date and could be accessed through iTunes. When I went to my ITunes file sharing folder for iAnnotate, however, my file wasn't listed. I also couldn't open the folders that were listed. (Update: The developer said that for iTunes, I need to highlight the folder, then use "Save As" -- apparently it's an iTunes limitation.)

I'm going to do more tests before officially reporting this as a bug, but it's definitely an indication of the learning curve that is involved in properly using this app.

On my wishlist:

- Undo gesture.

 

iTunes link for iAnnotate



Saturday
May222010

Notetaking apps for the iPad: iNapkin 2 Review

(Note: Also check the list of iPad apps for taking notes and writing that I've reviewed so far.)

iNAPKIN 2 | iTunes link | Website

Last updated: Apr. 27, 2010 - Version: 2.0.3

Size: 2.4 MB | Price $2.99

Developer: David Lukas

 

This newer version is big improvement over the first that I tried. The basic theme, as you might have guessed, is paper napkin note-taking. The default background image (768 x 1024) is a folded napkin, but you can switch to a yellow notepad if you prefer. Orientation can be locked, and you can rename your napkin note to anything you'd like.
Export options include saving to your photo album and e-mail. When saved to the album, the image includes the background image.
What I liked:

Easy to use interface.

I know it's corny, but I did like the background napkin graphic! 

Font size can be easily changed.

Pen line width can be easily changed, and there's also a choice of ink colours.

You can use the pinch gesture to pan and zoom.

You can have more than one text block per note. You can also resize each text block and move it around independent from the others. You can also drop text blocks on top of the images you've drawn.

On my wishlist:

Would be nice to change the font.

What I'd use this for:

Because the background image is included, this would be a fun way to send an informal note / ideas to someone, especially if you're including a doodle.

Great brainstorming/doodle pad.

What I wouldn't use this for:

Text that I want to use in another application. Whether you e-mail the note or save it to the photo album, only the image is saved, not the separate text.

iNAPKIN 2 - iTunes store link

 



Thursday
May132010

Review: Office2 HD for the iPad (view, create, edit MS-Word & Excel files)

(Also see my reviews of other writing and note-taking apps for the iPad.)

Office2 HD (iTunes link) (Website)

Last updated April 20th, 2010 (Version 3.2.1)

Size: 2.9 MB - Price: $7.99

Developer: Byte Squared Ltd.

In my continuing search for the perfect app for writing, here's my review of Office2 HD...

Overview:

Enables a user to view, create and edit Word (DOC) and Excel (XLS) files on the iPad. I didn't test the spreadsheet part of the app at all, so all comments below relate only to the writing-related features.

What I liked:

- Unlike the other apps I've reviewed so far, Office2 HD lets you store documents in hierarchical folders (yay!)

- Lots of formatting options, including bold, italics, underline, paragraph indentation. You can insert pictures, tables, bullets and numbering.

- There is an Undo and Redo option (though you have to scroll to the end of the options bar to get at them, reducing their convenience).

- Great customer support. Each feature/bug I reported got a quick response from the developer.

- Integration with other services like Google Docs, MobileMe, Box.net, and more.

What I didn't like:

- Not as intuitive an interface as some of the other apps I've reviewed. To rename a file, for example: Instead of just tapping on a filename and typing the new name, you have to: (1) Tap on the "greater than" sign to the right of the filename, tap on the "greater than" sign again to bypass the "e-mail file" option, type the new name, click "Done", then click "Save."

- I couldn't get any keyboard shortcuts involving arrow keys to work. This is a deal-breaker for me since I'm starting to use the Bluetooth keyboard a lot with my iPad, and find that I can type and edit much more easily if I can keep my hands on the wireless keyboard most of the time.

- No way to set a default font and font size. The default is always Helvetica 12 point. If I prefer another font and/or font size, I always need to manually set it before starting a new document, or do a "Select All" and change for an existing document.

- When I imported an MS-Word document (which I could read fine in MS-Word) from one of my critique partners, the app turned everything black (and unreadable). Turns out that the problem was a few lines of red text. However, I imported other docs with coloured text as well as creating docs within the app with coloured text, and there was no problem. I eventually got around the all-black document by changing the red text to regular black, then importing again. I haven't been able to recreate the problem since, so this might just have a problem with the one document.

Overview:

Good writing app for those who need the formatting options and again, I -loved- being able to store my documents in different folders. If the user interface was streamlined and keyboard shortcuts added, I'd be using this app much more often.

Office2 HD iTunes link



Thursday
May132010

Review: Corkulous for the iPad - collect, organize and share your ideas

Here's a list of the iPad apps for taking notes and writing that I've reviewed so far. Corkulous isn't so much about writing long pieces, but is great for keep track of shorter notes.

CORKULOUS ( iTunes link ) ( Website )

Updated: April 26th, 2010 - Version 1.2

Size: 12.3 MB - Developer: Appigo

Price: $2.99

I love the fun Corkulous interface, which closely mimics a giant corkboard. I've seen a lot of apps that try to mimic a corkboard, but Corkulous goes beyond a simple "notes on a corkboard" idea and lets users attach a wider variety of items including not only typed notes but also pictures, images and contacts, to do items (which you can check off with one tap) and labels.

You can move around and resize items. I can have one big post-it note, for example, that can have as much writing on it as a page in another writing app. I can choose the colour of the post-it note, a choice of four fonts, adjust the size of text, choose the type of text alignment.

Looking at the sample screenshots, you can already see how useful this app would be for planning out a book. You could collect idea snippets, images that inspire you, post goals and deadlines, build up character backgrounds, etc. SO many possibilities for writers!

Here's a promo video that will give an idea of the app's potential:

What I liked:

- Very easy to use. You can select the type of item you're adding by opening up the virtual set of drawers at the bottom of the screen.

- You can imbed corkboards within corkboards.

- You can export PDFs of your whole corkboard. Or, of course, just take screenshots and save them to your Photo Library.

- You can resize a post-it note so that it can hold a lot of text.

- Easy to select and move or edit items.

- You can search the content in your corkboards.

What I didn't like:

- Not being able to resize labels and to-do items the same way as you would a post-it note. Granted, the size of the item expands as you type more text, but I'd like the option of having a giant label (looks like a small piece of paper stuck to the corkboard with a piece of tape) with smaller items contained within it.

Wish list:

- Have the option of e-mailing corkboard content WITH the corkboard texture behind it. 

- Be able to draw on a post-it note.

- Would be nice to be able to use the pinch movement to zoom in and out to get a quick overview of a corkboard instead of having to scroll around it full-size to navigate.

- Would be great to have an iPhone version that syncs with the iPad Corkulous.

Overview:

I love this app! Priced at only $2.99 (introductory price), it's a steal.



Tuesday
May112010

My current favorite writing app for the iPad: My Writing Nook

(Also see my reviews of other writing and note-taking apps for the iPad.)

MY WRITING NOOK FOR THE IPAD (iTunes store link) (Website)

Last updated: April 27th, 2010, version 1.0.5. (developer has told me he has just submitted a new version to the Apple store)

Size: 0.6 MB. Cost: $4.99.

Developer: Peter de Tagyos

 

I've been using my iPad for writing quite a bit lately, both with and without the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I can type and edit much more quickly using the keyboard, but have no trouble typing with the on-screen keyboard if I don't have the keyboard with me.

I have half a dozen writing and note-taking apps on my iPad right now, testing them all out with various writing projects and waiting for future versions. Each of them has good points but so far none of them has everything I want. I'm still hoping, though!

I haven't had a chance to try iWork Pages yet, since it's unavailable in Canada until the iPad officially launches here.

What I like:

Right now, my favourite is My Writing Nook. It doesn't have all the formatting options of an app like Office2 HD, but I find it easier to use. The controls are intuitive: it's easy to create, edit, rename and delete files. The interface is clean and simple. Changing font and font sizes is straightforward. You can export a file by e-mail or sync with the My Writing Nook web app. It has an autosave, an integrated word count for each document, and a dictionary/thesaurus reference tool.

Love the fact that I can use keyboard shortcuts to select, copy, paste, edit and navigate when I'm using my Apple Bluetooth keyboard. This makes things much easier since I can just use the keyboard instead of having to keep leave the keyboard to touch the screen.

I like the fact that I can set a default font and font size.

I like being able to password-protect my documents. Not that I have anything super-confidential right now, but it's good to know that someone (especially young children) won't be able to accidentally modify my work.

I like being able to change the colour of the tab in front of each document title, to further organize my docs. 

It's handy having the ability to look up words in a dictionary and thesaurus (you need to be online to access those references). 

Coming in the next version (1.0.6):

The developer's told me that he's JUST submitted a new version to the iTunes store which will include:

- TextExpander integration

- Always visible word counter (previously hidden when the screen keyboard was visible).

- "Dark and Stormy Night" mode, with white text on black.

I'm especially excited about the TextExpander integration, which saves me even more typing since I have all kinds of shortcuts for text I use fairly often.

On my wishlist:

Ability to use folders to organize my documents.

Ability to re-order my documents. Right now, they're just listed in alphabetical order, though you can also order them by the coloured tab.

Formatting options (bold, italics, etc.)

Summary:

The clean, simple interface and intuitive controls make this app easy to use. This is usually the app I open when I'm showing my iPad to someone for the first time, and they want to try typing.

My Writing Nook For iPad iTunes link