Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Simplenote And The Case Of The Disappearing Note Text

Simplenote has an intermittent issue with text disappearing from notes, but a third party app may be the cause.

Trouble In (Writing) Paradise

Pencil Buddies, by Taco Ekkel, CC-BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr
Problem with disappearing text in Simplenote?

Here's one possibility as to the cause.

I've had one or two "hiccups" in my writing life recently.

One of those hiccups has been the demise of Squidoo and the other has been an issue in Simplenote.

Simplenote is a note taking application which I sometimes use for quickly typing up blog posts and book chapters when I am away from my home desktop.

It really is simple to use and has a clean interface, without loads of bells and whistles.

It also has an iOS app, so I can write on my iPod Touch on my lunchtime walks in the park.

To be honest, I tend to use Evernote more for my blog posts at the moment, just because I am so used to it being part of my standard workflow.

Simplenote And Scrivener

However, Simplenote has one thing going for it that makes me want to move all my writing there: it synchronises with Scrivener.

If you've not heard of Scrivener, then know that it is one of the best pieces of software out there for writers, some would say the best.

I'm still using the (fully functional) trial version of Scrivener at the moment, but I know I will end up buying it eventually, because it is so much better than Word for writing books.

It allows me to order - and reorder - my thoughts as much as I want, make changes to the text while keeping snapshots of how it was before, keep character studies, research and ideas alongside my draft ...and so on.

The only problem is that Scrivener is currently desktop only (I have it on Mac. There is a Windows version too, but the last time I looked, the sync I am talking about here was not available).

The saving grace here is that I can set up some chapters to go across to Simplenote, edit them while I'm away from my desk, and then sync the changes back again on my return.

Trouble In Simplenote?

I'll get round to telling you more about Scrivener another time, but let's get back to the point.

I've been working on some short stories, which I have been publishing individually on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing.

I've been happily splitting the stories into smaller scenes in Scrivener, to make them more manageable, and then syncing them with Simplenote.

The sync appeared to work perfectly, but recently I have found text disappearing from individual notes in Simplenote.

I would open it up and find a note was completely blank: it was present as a note, but there was nothing in it.

Losing work is obviously every writer's nightmare, but to be fair, it wasn't too big an issue for me, because I was able to use Simplenote's "time slider" to restore the previous version.

It happened a few times, but only intermittently, so it was difficult to work out what was happening.

It wasn't the sync itself, because the notes were disappearing hours or even days after a sync had taken place.

So I had a small mystery on my hands.

Finding The Culprit

Then one day, I opened up a note, checked its settings (I couldn't remember whether I had formatted it to use Markdown or not) and on closing the dialog, wham - the text disappeared.

I carefully restored the previous version and then checked again.

Sure enough, bye bye text!

Now I knew how to reproduce the issue, I sent an e-mail off to Simplenote support.

I was surprised when they came back with, "do you happen to use Lastpass?"

Well, the answer to that was a definitive, "yes".

Lastpass is my go-to application for all my online security needs, generating and remembering passwords for me, so I don't have to.

Surely, Lastpass couldn't be the culprit?

Support asked me to go into my Lastpass vault, find the entry for Simplenote and then untick the auto-login feature for that site.

I followed the instructions, went back into Simplenote and tried it out and everything was fine.

Third Party Apps

So there you have it.

A third party app, in this case Lastpass, was causing my woes.

I have contacted Lastpass to find out their opinion on the matter, so when I hear back I will let you know.

Don't let that put you off Lastpass, by the way.

It's the best password manager around in my opinion, and it's never let me down.

In fact, it has saved my bacon on several occasions and I have written about it here and here.

In the meantime, if you have a problem in Simplenote, don't be too hasty to lay the blame.

Have you encountered similar issues with Simplenote or another note taking app?

What apps do you use for your writing and note taking needs?

Let us know in the comments.

Friday, 15 August 2014

How To Make Disqus And Blogger Work Well Together

Blogger and Disqus work well together - once you've got it configured correctly.

I recently posted about changing Timbo On Tech over to the Disqus comments system.

I'm happy to report that it is working well.

I'm not sure whether I am receiving any more comments than before, but the quality of comments appears to be going up and I since the change, I have had zero spammers (long may that continue).

Installing Disqus into Blogger was simple and it was up and working within a few minutes.

However, I did come across a couple of minor issues in the first 2 - 3 weeks, which might catch other people out, so I thought I would share them here.

Photo credit: MBE Small Business Stakeholder Meeting (cropped), courtesy Flickr.

Blog Author (Me) Appearing As The Commenter

I noticed the first issue when I was sent my first automated e-mail from Blogger to say that I had received a comment.

Although the comment was clearly from someone else, Blogger thought that I had written it.

I checked new comments in the Disqus dashboard and Disqus knew it was me, so what was going on?

It turned out that the problem was due to my Blogger comments settings, which were somehow interfering with the synchronisation between the two.

To correct this, all I had to do was update the Blogger setting for "Who can comment?" to "Anyone - includes anonymous users" (see screenshot below).

Blogger Settings

This seems a little counter-intuitive to me, but it works.

I must also report that Disqus support were good, responding reasonably quickly when I emailed them about it.

They also took the extra step of updating their online help.

Merging With My Own Comments

Disqus is an interesting system, because as well as providing an administrative interface for blog writers, it also provides a central location to view all your comments as a reader.

I was keen to see how this would work, as I regularly comment on Squidoo as well as on other blogs where Disqus is also used.

Once again, the initial setup was simple enough: I went to my account profile and checked the Merging section (see help article).

Sure enough, there were some comments listed there, so I clicked the button and a short while later, all my blog comments were listed in my profile.

...Except for my Squidoo comments.

Initially, Disqus support indicated that there was no way to merge in those comments.
They thought that it was because Squidoo was hosted within Wordpress, but with its own authentication method.

So I thought that was that. - Not terrible, slightly irritating, but liveable.

Fix My Comments

To their credit and unprompted, Disqus support came back to me several weeks later with a solution:

The issue was that the merging of profiles is based on e-mail address - and I had registered with Squidoo under a different e-mail to the one I use for Blogger.

The fix was simple:
1. Temporarily change my Disqus profile to the "Squidoo" e-mail
2. Validate the address via the automated e-mail from Disqus
3. Go to my Disqus profile and perform the Merge
4. Change the e-mail address back to the original and re-validate

Worked first time!

Have you had any issues integrating Disqus into Blogger?
What did you encounter and how did you fix it? 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Blog Changes To Disqus Comments System

Timbo On Tech is now using the Disqus commenting system, making it even easier to take part in the conversation.

Comments Please

You may have noticed that the comments area at the bottom of posts on Timbo On Tech looks a bit different to how it used to be.

That's because I have changed the comment system over from the default Blogger comments to Disqus, a popular third party application.

In this post, I will explain why I made the change and what it means for you, my dear reader.

Don't Panic!

First of all, don't worry if you have participated here previously.
The full history has been migrated across to Disqus, so your contributions are all safe in the new system.

Don't Leave Me This Way

So why have I changed things over?

The main reason is that while the Blogger comments system works, it is a little restrictive.

From an admin point of view, it is awkward responding to people under the default set-up, as I can only write replies by viewing the live post first.

When I have written replies to people, then sometimes my comment has appeared as though it was a general comment, not a reply to the person I was talking with.

There are other details I won't bore you with, but all in all, it was rather disjointed and not very conducive to a proper conversation.

From a user perspective, it wasn't always clear how to take part and to my mind, was all rather impersonal.

Join The Disqus-sion

With the Disqus tools, it is easier to see where everything is and who has responded to who.

You can login to Disqus using whatever profile you like, including your Google+ and Facebook/Twitter identities.
Or you can set up a separate Disqus profile, if you prefer.

As an added bonus, you can keep your Disqus profile across other blogs and websites that use the system.
- Disqus is the most popular 3rd party comment system on the web, so this can be a huge help.

However, if you're not comfortable with logging into Disqus, you can still leave a message as a "guest".

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to this site.

I value all your comments, feedback and encouragement.
I hope you'll like the change and continue to take part.

I couldn't do it without you!


What do you think about the new way of doing things?
Do you love it, loathe it, or somewhere in between?

Let me know ...in the comments.

Want to know more about Disqus?
Then check out their website.

Photo credit: Discussion, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Over 20,000 Visits!

Summary: 20,000 pageviews is a real achievement for me. Thank you all for reading!

Because I'm Happy

I'm Happy
This week has been a great week for me.
I have fulfilled one of my goals to become a published author with my debut short story on Amazon.
Even better, Timbo On Tech has surpassed 20,000 visits in the time it has been running.

I know from the Google stats that a number of you have come back to the site on multiple occasions.
So I want to thank you all for reading and being a part of things here.

Top 5 Posts

To celebrate, here is a list of my top 5 most popular posts of all time for your enjoyment.

It seems those hard disk file transfers have got no easier for Xbox 360 owners.

The ultimate mouse is vertical - or is it?

These little beauties may help stop your hands hurting.

Everything for the desktop, from break timers to app launchers

Flip a mouse on its head and what have you got?

So as you can see, there's a bit of a theme here.
On the one hand, it saddens me that so many people suffer in this way.
On the other hand, I guess my original vision (to help people) must be happening somewhere along the way.

Which is your favourite article?
Leave a comment to let us know.

Meanwhile, here are the links to my new book (shameless plug ;).

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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

SwiftKey Note Review - and Top Tip!

SwiftKey logo copyright, SwiftKey
Summary: SwiftKey Note is an iOS app for quickly getting notes into Evernote via predictive typing. What they don't tell you is that you can get your notes out of Evernote too.

Slow Note To China

As much as I love Evernote (and I do), one of my frustrations with it is how slow it is to write notes from my iPod Touch.
I don't have an iPhone, so I take my Touch with me wherever I go and if I think of an idea or need to jot something down, then I would naturally want to do it in Evernote.
However, it takes Evernote such a long time to open, then synchronise my notes, then add new new note and finally allow me to actually start typing that I'm sometimes left hanging.

To be fair, Evernote recently updated their synchronisation engine with some massive performance improvements, but I'm still left with an app that displays the loading "splash" screen - a bright green background with a white elephant silhouette - for far too long.

Previously, I have managed to get round this by using the built in iOS/iCloud Notes app, which opens almost immediately and allows me to get typing.
If I really needed to keep and categorise those notes, then I would copy and paste them into Evernote later.

This works fine for short notes, but what if I want to write longer notes?
I'm thinking specifically about the text of my blog articles, which are easy to update from a desktop PC, but not so easy to add to from my iPod.

Enter the Dragon

Enter SwiftKey Note, an application for iOS which appears to kill two birds with one stone.
The app itself is deceptively simple, giving you access to your Evernote notes, notebooks and tags, with a replacement text editing and keyboard screen.

It's the sister of a similar app that SwiftKey has for the Android phone, although "Note" doesn't have the same bells and whistles as its sibling yet.
It starts up quickly and after authorising the app to access your Evernote account, lets you add a new note and get typing extremely quickly.

Predictive typing in action
Nonetheless, speedy typing alone is not enough to get me to move from Evernote over to another application, particularly when they are installed on the same machine.
But SwiftKey has another ace up its sleeve: as you type, it tries to predict what you want to write and displays 3 words in the area between the keyboard and the text (see right).
Simply select the one you want and the program puts that word in the right place, so you can carry on typing.

The app is intelligent enough to place spaces and punctuation in the right locations and is supposed to get better at guessing what your next words will be, the more you use it.
In addition, when it links to your Evernote account, it analyses the text in your existing notes, so that should place me at an advantage with nearly 3000 notes in my account.

Return To Sender

I have only just started using it in the last week, so I can't promise amazing results as yet.
However, I can report that it is already learning and on a few occasions has successfully predicted 2 words in a row - that means 2 taps to write 2 words, where it would have been a tap for each letter before.

The downside to all this, as an iOS user, is that SwiftKey Note only works with one app at the moment.
While it taps into Evernote, there is no integration with the built in Apple apps, such as Notes or Mail, or any other apps for that matter.

This is in stark contrast to SwiftKey's Android app "Keyboard", which I understand will work with any 3rd party application.
One can only hope that they will update Note to mimic Keyboard - and that they do it soon.

There is obviously much promise here, but not much indication as to where it will lead.
I will update this article later to let you know how things go!

Top Tip

In the meantime, one oddity I have found with SwiftKey Note is that it is easy to get a note into Evernote from SwiftKey (just add a note in SwitKey and will magically be there when you next sync Evernote), but it's not so obvious how it can work the other way around.
Even the help text doesn't explain it, or at least, I couldn't find anything that told me.

The answer lies in the tagging that is used in both SwiftKey and Evernote.
When you first open up SwiftKey, it grabs all your existing Evernote tags and notebooks, so you can add them to new notes that you create.
If you watch closely, you will also see that any new notes you add are also given the tag "SwiftKey" automatically (see Screenshot, below).
SwiftKey Note adds "SwiftKey" tag to all notes

It turns out that this this is all we need to do: just go into Evernote on any device, add the "SwiftKey" tag to any notes you are interested in and then sync.
After that, go back into SwiftKey Note, sync it by swiping down on your screen and voila, the tagged notes will appear in all their glory, ready for you to wreak havoc.

You can get SwiftKey Note from the App Store.

Do you have a top tip for SwiftKey Note or Evernote?
Let us know in the comments.
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Friday, 24 January 2014

Squidoo Stories: I'm The Video Game Rockstar!

Summary: Squidoo has invited some of their members to be Contributors in a number of niche areas - and I'm one of them!

We Blog

In a previous article, I discussed the merits of writing on Squidoo, versus your own blog and came to the conclusion that it is worth doing both.
Well, now I have even more reason to continue with that policy.

One of the problems of writing a blog is that you are pretty much on your own.
You write articles about the things which interest you and hope that readers will come and well, read what you've written.
If you've written something really interesting then your readers may even participate by leaving a comment.
This is great, because all of a sudden, what started as a monologue becomes a conversation.
However, it does take time and a lot of effort to get to that point and there is no-one there to tell you if you are doing it right or not.

Squidoo You?

Squidoo is different because it is a website created by writers for the community of writers and since it has been around for a while, it already attracts a large audience.
I have been writing on Squidoo for just over a year and am at the stage where I am earning a few dollars here and there.
In that short time, I have become a "Giant Squid" - a trusted member of the Squidoo community - and have over 35 articles to my name.

More importantly, I have made friends with a number of other writers from all sorts of backgrounds who I can ask to critique my work, discuss the latest Squidoo developments with, and so on.
I have been able to take the lessons I have learned and apply them back to my blog and other writing.
In short, I'm loving being on Squidoo and would recommend it to anyone.

Super Niche
See my reviews on Squidoo...

But wait - there's more!
Squidoo HQ (the team that run the site) recently announced a new program where Giant Squids can become contributors to a specific niche areas.

The idea is that the Contributors will become leaders in the Squidoo community within their niche area.
They will build up and promote their niche with articles and reviews and create opportunities and challenges for others to join in too.

There are all kinds of niches, everything from Country music and knitting to "Spot on UK".
And I'm now the "Video Game Rockstar" contributor!

I'm planning on covering as many aspects of games and gaming as I can over the coming weeks and months.
I'm an Xbox 360 man myself, but will endeavour to give fair coverage to all platforms, from Playstation to PC to Steam box.

If you are at all interested in video games, then check out my page "I'm The Video Games Rockstar Contributor"
If you would like to write a review, then why not join Squidoo here (just click the "Join Us" button at the top of the page - it's free) and then try out penning an answer to my challenge Review Cut Price Video Games?

I'm an official Squidoo contributorHave you written an article on Squidoo yet?
Do you want to join the Video Games community on Squidoo?
Then let me know by leaving a comment below.
Update: now it's even easier to take part in the Squidoo community - just click "Join Me" in the image to the right!

Photo credit: all photos mine and you can see them over on my Video Game Rockstar page too!
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Friday, 3 January 2014

How To Reset "Furthest Page Read" On Kindle

Summary: you can keep your reading position synchronised across all your Kindle connected devices, even when re-reading a book you have read before. 

Mark My Words

If you have a Kindle device (and even if you don't), you may have been curious about the ability for it to remember your place on multiple machines - an automatic electronic bookmark, if you will

This works very well the first time you read through a book. I have started books on my Kindle, read little bits from my iPod, after syncing it over the wifi at home, and occasionally read some from my desktop PC, via a browser window.

Each time, my progress has transferred perfectly from one place to another and the only thing I had to do was make sure  my device was synced once more before opening the book up again.

Even when I have forgotten to sync manually, there have been several times when I have opened the book, only to be reminded that I had read a little bit further and would I like to go to the "furthest page read"? Well, yes I would, thank you very much! How kind of you.

Photo Credit: My Fire by KCXD

Read It Again, Sam

The problems start when I want to re-read a book that I have previously finished. I have a couple of books which I like so much that I want to read them again ...and again. And in this situation, it seems like the system suddenly falls apart - at least, that is how it appears at first.

Once or twice I've been offered to "move to the furthest read location", only to find  myself at the very end of the book and then struggled to get back to where I was before.

Looking on the Kindle itself, there is nothing in the menus that allows you to set it back to the start (as though you have downloaded it for the first time).

Mr Fix It

However, there is a fix for this and you can find it on the Amazon website. Hopefully, Amazon will see fit to include this option directly on the Kindle device by upgrading the software at some point in the future.

in the meantime, you can reset your progress, by following these simple steps:
  1. Sign in and go to "your account" on Amazon and find the "manage your Kindle" area. 
  2. Find the book within your list in the Kindle library.
  3. On the right hand side you will see a button next to the book, labelled "action".
  4. Hover over the action button and you will see some options. Select "clear furthest page read..." (see screenshot below).
  5. Next go to the place where you most recently read from that book (most often, this will be on the Kindle device itself). Open the book, check you are in the right place, and then synchronise.
  6. That's it! Try opening the same book from somewhere else, such as your web browser, and it should open in the same place.
Clear furthest page read

Now you can enjoy your book - again!

Have an opinion? Did this work/not work for you?
Then let us know in the comments.
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