Perhaps my most eclectic shopping basket ever… What story do these items tell?

I had to pop into my local Target yesterday to grab a few things. As I stood in line at checkout (behind approximately seven thousand other people…couldn’t they open a couple more lines??), I realized I had the strangest collection of purchases. Judging by the looks I got from the people behind me, and subsequently the puzzled young lady behind the register as she scanned them, others thought the same. So of course, this being 2015, I took a picture.

What story does this basket tell? What lay ahead of me when I got home to use them? Any (clean) thoughts? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?


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Paralysis by Analysis: My Writing Tools Dilemma (resolved?)

I’ll be the first to admit, I have a short attention span. Some may brand it as a touch of ADHD, others impetuousness, others a lack of focus. It’s probably a bit of all three, with a sprinkle of impatience thrown in. I do believe it’s helped me in the business world – as in, get to the point, I have other things to do – and it’s made me value efficiency above most all. However in writing, it is most certainly a hindrance. One of those nasty drawbacks to being impatient and my strong desire for efficiency is my never-ending quest for the best writing tools. And it’s paralyzed me. I know I’ve spent a metric crapton of time on trying new tools and methods out, looking for the “a ha” moment of THIS IS THE WAY TO DO IT. So nothing gets done…

Time to narrow down the focus. A good carpenter never blames his or her tools, but a good writer shouldn’t worry about those tools – they are really secondary to the work at hand, which is creating a story.

As many of you reading this may know, I’m a big proponent of Scrivener, and have been since day one of my career. Every published work I’ve written has been written, noted, formatted, and created in Scrivener, right down to exporting the various ebook files. It’s a crazy powerful tool, and one I’m not sure I could do without, except for one fatal flaw which has reared its head in my busy worklife over the past few years: no mobile app. There have been rumors for years; there’s a cottage industry in online forums of discussing when and where it will be released, but so far, nothing. And since I physically need to remove myself from the dayjob workspace to get any writing done (I don’t attribute that to lack of focus; instead that’s a “if I’m sitting here, I’d better be working an paying my bills” attitude, which is not a bad thing), I’ve been bouncing around on Scrivener alternatives, hoping to find the magic solution.

I’ve got a Mac desktop, Chromebook laptop, iPad, and iPhone. To date, I’ve tried the following:

  • Google Docs – Specifically to use the Chromebook, but it’s unwieldy, gets bogged down with larger files, and still has a lot of quirks when offline
  • Writebox – Nice distraction-free web-based editor, but very limited file management capability (only one doc open at once, no note file, etc.)
  • WriteRoom – Not much different than Writebox
  • Apple Pages – Very nice word processor, far more capable as a page layout application than Word, but like Google Docs, gets unwieldy with one long document
  • LibreOffice – Yep, installed Linux on the Chromebook on an external SD card to be able to run an office program offline. Sheesh…
  • Simplenote – Nice cross-device syncing, decent file management, but very simplistic
  • Evernote – Very good cross platform compatibility, comprehensive file management, great for note taking including files/photos/web pages, but can be slow
  • Scrivener – The end all, be all, but only works on one device, the Mac I’m trying to avoid
  • Storyist – A program very similar to Scrivener (just Google “scrivener vs storyist” and you can settle down with a pot of coffee for a day full of reading), but with one massive advantage: an iPad app.

And that’s probably not even a complete list. You see, here’s the deal. I’ve come to the realization I need to consolidate my workspaces and tools. Keeping the Mac for work (mentally when I sit down at my desk and see the monitor, I’m in dayjob mode – no escape), and keeping the writing totally separate. And with the power of the iPad plus a slick little Bluetooth keyboard case I have for it, it appears the Chromebook is going to be the odd man out. It’s a great little machine – very portable, light, killer battery life, nice keyboard – but it’s got limits. The only applications that I can use for writing are either stripped down writing environments (nothing wrong with that, but I guess it’s not my style) that sometimes have offline issues, or full-on Google Docs, which taxes the poor little guy beyond his capabilities when the manuscript gets too long. And neither of those options give me any kind of file/chapter/scene management, or character/plot/timeline note capabilities. (Probably putting the poor little guy up for sale soon…)

Click to enlarge

Storyist for OS X

Which brings me to the iPad, and Storyist. I’ve used it in the past; matter of fact, several incomplete WIPs sit in there as we speak. It’s got a lot of the same capabilities and features as Scrivener, like scene/chapter separation and management, index cards, outlining, character/plot/etc note sections, and so on. (It does have one personal drawback, in my opinion: though it has separate chapters per se, it’s still just one long block of text that looks for the hashtag character to separate chapters, which can get sloppy if misplaced, and ongoing word count is hard to determine based on chapter at a time.) It’s smooth, quick, light, flexible, and fits how I work, just like Scrivener. What it has all over Scrivener is the iOS app, and when used with DropBox, enables syncing of the projects across my Mac/iPad/iPhone.


Storyist for iOS

With a Storyist project, I’m able to view/modify/edit/add to/blah blah blah from basically anywhere. No more copying/pasting from one app into another; no emailing myself a text document I worked on at Panera; no more wondering which app had my most up to date work. I can make notes in the Notes folder (imagine that!) from the iPad or Mac (or even the iPhone if on the go), and it’s perfectly synced with one tap*. It’s still a little complex of an application for quickie adds, so I’ll supplement it with Evernote (which again is on all my devices), but the whole of the project will be housed in Storyist.

* Storyist 3.0 is currently in beta testing and they promise “zero tap” syncing, which will be nice to not have to remember to sync before typing, ending up with those dreaded “conflicted copy” notifications. Plus 3.0 is adding iCloud support, so I can relegate DropBox back totally to the dayjob.

I know Scrivener has Simplenote syncing capability, but to me it was just too many steps and not perfect; I found myself still copying/pasting just to be sure. I don’t want a middleman just to sync, I lose efficiency. Scrivener won’t be going anywhere yet, as I still plan to use it for final formatting (its ebook export is excellent), and if the writing gods ever smile upon the company and an iOS app is born, I’m all in. But for now, I’ve decided it will be Storyist + Evernote, all the way.

I think.


UPDATE: It seems the fine folks at Literature & Latte (creators of Scrivener) would like to throw some more doubt on my newly-acquired sense of focus!

I won’t get my hopes up…but I’ll be sure to stay tuned…


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noun pag·i·na·tion \ˌpa-jə-ˈnā-shən\

  1. the act or process of putting numbers on the pages of a book, document, etc.
  2. the page numbers on a book, document, etc.
  3. random musings from the warped scifi mind of Steve Umstead

About Steve

Steve Umstead has been the owner of a Caribbean & Mexico travel company for over ten years, but never forgot his lifelong dream of becoming an author. After a successful stab at National Novel Writing Month, he decided to pursue his dream more vigorously…but hasn’t given up the traveling.

Steve lives in scenic (tongue-in-cheek) New Jersey with his wife, two kids, and several bookshelves full of other authors’ science fiction novels. Gabriel’s Redemption was his debut novel, published in February of 2011; Gabriel’s Return, the second in the trilogy, launched in August; the finale, Gabriel’s Revenge, book 3, hit the virtual shelves in December.

Steve loves talking in third person, and Steve would love it if you took a glance at his books. Steve happy.

Complete Gabriel Trilogy

The complete Gabriel Trilogy
(Yes, I know there are five books – call it a bonus!)

Steve says the reason why the date of this post shows up on the front page image is that he is very proud of the site redesign that launched that day. The actual reason is that Steve couldn’t remove that date without removing dates on all the posts, and he was too lazy to figure out how to remove just that one.

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What in the world happened to my blog?

Wow. Just… wow. I simply cannot believe how neglected this site is. Who’s driving this ghost ship anyway? Who’s in charge around here?!

Oh, right… me. I suppose I should do something about it, especially considering it’s been sitting, languishing, for over a year now. Downright embarrassing. And what’s with the free WordPress theme? Good god almighty. That’s what I do for a living, for Pete’s sake – design and marketing. And here’s this site, bearing my name, littered with stock images and standard disclaimers. Powered by WordPress and Graphene theme. Good god almighty…

It’s been a very busy couple of years day job-wise, and over the past eight months in particular. No excuses, no begging for forgiveness — a man’s gotta feed his family, you understand — but I’m going to make a concerted effort to get myself back online here. Why? Sanity, my friends… pure sanity.

I started writing as a hobby; had been doing it all my life, really, but only sat down and really did it when I was at that big four-oh (and I don’t mean my high school grade point average). I did it as an escape, a way to keep sane after long days buried in website design, SEO, pay-per-click ads, content creation, employee management… you get the picture. And so I did it, and maintained my sanity. For a while. Not saying I’m insane now (debatable), but I have become a little too one-track-focused, and I fear my little creative muse is losing his voice, being shoved aside in my gray matter behind Cascading Style Sheets, PHP mailer code, and the like.

No promises, save for one: the first thing I’ll be doing is tearing down this amateurish site and rebuilding it. If you’re seeing this now*, it won’t look like this for long. Content will soon follow, and perhaps some long form content, written in Scrivener, subsequently.

*Your now and my now are much different. If you’re reading this at my now, otherwise known to the outside world as March 13th, 2015, my site looks like shite. If you’re reading this at your now, which may be two weeks from my now, perhaps it looks beautiful. If you have some way of entering my now from your now and telling me what it looks like, I can then design the site around that. In other words, “how do we know he didn’t invent the thing?

Signing off now. Will spend a wee bit of time shortly on some redesign. And hope to chat with you soon…



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Finally got around to watching Pacific Rim. My thoughts…meh…

pacific_rim_ver12_xlgOkay, when commercials for Pacific Rim first hit the airwaves, I thought it looked silly (I was probably right, but I’m getting ahead of myself). It kinda looked like Transformers meets Cloverfield meets Independence Day (I was very right, but again I’m getting ahead of myself).  I resigned myself to not watching it, but then when it came out, my Twittah was abuzz with like-minded folks (or at least who I think are like-minded) who seemed to enjoy it, if for nothing else than the absurdist entertainment value. So I thought I’d wait until DVD time, and last night I sat down and watched it.

Verdict? Entertaining, looks great in HD, wasn’t necessarily a waste of two hours of my very valuable (ahem) social life, had some cool tech, but really an average movie overall. But my biggest takeaway, what I can’t get out of my head, was the incredibly difficult time I had suspending my disbelief and hearing the echoes of plot holes in my head. And I’m usually very good about that when it comes to big, blow-em-up flicks. Just so I can clear my conscience, I’m going to list a few of the doozies even my 13 year old was scratching his head over.

Warning: There Be Spoilers Ahead

1 – In one of Pacific Rim’s mid-act battles, when the kaiju are surprisingly taking the upper hand on the jaegers, Gipsy Danger (the protagonist jaeger of sorts; I’ll hereafter refer to the machine itself instead of the pilots) is heavily damaged and about to bite the big one, plasma cannon down and so on, when it pulls out a weapon of last resort, a giant sword. Like it was a second thought, “oh wait, we have this giant sword left, hope it helps”, and without so much as an overused television SHRINNNNGGGG sound effect, the kaiju is dispatched. My immediate reaction: “WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY START WITH THAT?” I mean, it makes for great drama, but…WHY? And the very end battle, this same sword bifurcates a Level 4 kaiju. In one swipe. Shouldn’t all the jaegers have a sword? Maybe TWO?


2 – The plan is to drop a fairly big (1.2 megaton) thermonuclear device into the breach to seal it, so Striker Eureka straps it onto its back and heads into battle, hoping to do the drop and save the world. Battle goes awry (no way!), so Striker decides to sacrifice itself, detonate the device, kill two kaiju, and allow Gipsy Danger to jump in and self-destruct its own nuclear power plant instead. So this big boom happens, underwater, just a few miles offshore from Hong Kong. Like, within sight of the beautifully lit skyline. Yes, it was deep, but wouldn’t this big ol’ pressure wave do something above? Like, maybe wash away the east coast of China with a massive tsunami, or at least half of Hong Kong? (Disclaimer: I am not an oceanographer or nuclear scientist, so I may be wrong about this…just looking at it from the surface, no pun intended.)

3 – Giving Max Martini a ridiculously bad Australian accent. He’s played essentially the same character (hard ass military dude) for a decade plus now; why make him struggle through this role sounding like a drunk Crocodile Dundee with marbles in his mouth?

4 – Requisite goofball scientist character shows that the kaijus are clones, identical DNA, essentially being grown. But at the end, one is pregnant. Why? Did the kaiju high council suddenly think that was a better way to clear a path to owning Earth? Hey, forget cloning, it’s too easy and predictable. Let’s let them fool around in the back of a kaiju car, steaming up the windows, yeah! Or was it just a convenient (yet predictable) way to get rid of a terribly-underused Ron Perlman?

5 – Who installed the giant Cuisinart food processor in the COCKPIT? What is this, Galaxy Quest?


6 – Several of the kaiju show quite a bit of dexterity and leaping ability, not to mention brute strength and size. So our defense after they got too powerful to stop with giant rockem sockem robots was…a WALL? A wall that takes years to build, and that the next kaiju broke through in an hour? Did they have some special concrete they were using they thought would be better than titanium clad, nuclear powered Transformers with plasma cannons? Shouldn’t they have made the wall with millions of those frickin’ swords?

7 – Did Pacific Rim have to pull SO MUCH from other movies? Isn’t anything original anymore? Leaving out the obvious Transformers and Cloverfield stuff, this was almost Independence Day 2: Underwater. When the marshall was giving his “today we are canceling the apocalypse” speech, I fully expected him to follow it up with “this is our Independence Day!” Or maybe Gipsy Danger smoking a cigar, flashing two fingers at the under-breach overlords, and saying, “Peace!” One thing they did leave out: the Statue of Liberty, which is always the last place to be when global disaster strikes (since it’s always destroyed, just for movie posters I guess). But I suppose that’s because this was Pacific Rim, not Atlantic Rim. Just you wait for the sequel…


8 – And just to wrap it up, a quick line of dialogue. The last half hour or so of Pacific Rim was destruction porn as kaijus and jaegers pretty much raze Hong Kong to the ground. Skyscraper after skyscraper, vehicle after vehicle, street after street, gone. Crushed like ten Avengers movies. So after a ‘victory’, the marshall says to everyone that “this is no time to celebrate, we lost two crews.” TWO CREWS? You just lost a million Hong Kong inhabitants, man, a quarter of whom you squished under titanium jaeger feet! I get it, you have a responsibility to your command and your people. But maybe, just maybe, give a little shout out to those hundreds of thousands of corpses first.

Okay, thanks. I feel much better. And Pacific Rim was a watchable flick. Good effects (easier to follow the battles than Avengers, that’s for sure), good editing and sound, meh acting, loved the term “neural handshake”, some holes. But watchable.


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And just like that, I’ve been put in my place. Another new Chromebook announced, and it’s…what I expected.

Patience has never been my strong suit, I’ll be the first to admit. So when HP announced the new Chromebook for 2013 this week, I was underwhelmed, to say the least. How could they possibly release an all-new device with last year’s tech and still call it new, plus at a higher price point? I still don’t know HP’s reasoning for that, or Google’s for that matter, but late last night I stumbled across another announcement.

I’ve never been one to shirk  criticism or responsibility, so I’ll take my impatient lumps. Both on Google+ in a discussion with Alex Williams, and in yesterday’s post in a couple of comments with Joel Pomales, I expressed my doubt that any other 11″ model would be introduced, at the same or close price point, that would be any better. I thought they’d leave the HP as the entry level and go up from there, and I’m not in the market for an expensive Chromebook (oxymoron). Lo and behold, Acer, the creators of last year’s DOG Chromebook (heavy, terrible battery, slow HD vs SSD), went and shut me up:

Acer Chromebook previewed at IDF forward angle_678x452

Now this is what I expected. The Acer, now sporting a 16GB SSD (larger would be better, but the point is the Cloud), has significantly better specs than last year’s model, and improves on the Samsung quite a bit:

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 11.45.53 AM

The biggies I complained about yesterday? Pretty much taken care of, and they stuck with a $249 price point. A solid state drive, 4GB of RAM, a Haswell-based Celeron (albeit a slow one) vs the ARM chip, a very nice 8.5 hour battery rating, and they shaved its weight down to 2.76 pounds (still a touch heavier than the Samsung and HP, but close). Oh, and HP’s brilliant idea to eliminate the SD card slot, HDMI out, and USB 3.0? Acer puts them back in.

This merits serious consideration for those of you who can use a Chromebook. It’s not an everyday workhorse by any means, but if you have that niche use capability (like me: writing, email, web research, the Twittah), this looks to be a faboo value. And I dig Chrome OS. Stable, quick, easy to use, constant updates, secure (nothing stored locally so theft isn’t a concern), virus free, and so on. There is actually very little I can’t do “web based” (my one loss is Dreamweaver for web design, but I’ve actually been able to screen share from my Chromebook into my Mac desktop to do it – like webdesignception).

WAIT. As I’m typing this, a thought just occurred to me… my current Samsung Series 3 (with an Exynos ARM chip, basically a mobile/tablet processor) is set up to dual boot into Ubuntu Linux from the external SD card. Scrivener, hands down the best writing tool out there, has a flavor that runs on Linux, but NOT on an ARM chip. Now I wonder – would this model, once Ubuntu is installed on the SD card, run Scrivener? Scrivener on a Chromebook? As in, SCRIVENER ON A CHROMEBOOK? Oh, you had me at Haswell…



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So much for upgrading to a new Chromebook after a year. Very disappointed in the new model…

I must say, I’m very disappointed in the new Chromebook announcement this week. I’ve owned the Samsung Series 3 since last fall and love it, but was hoping in a year they’d come out with one a bit more powerful with some extra doo-dads. And when I heard the rumors a few weeks ago, I was psyched. But then they release the “all-new” Chromebook 11 by HP, which:
stacked-chromebooks– Uses the same Exynos processor as the Series 3
– Has the same onboard 16GB SSD as the Series 3
– Has the same RAM as the Series 3…meaning it’s going to have essentially the same performance as last year’s Chromebook. It’s also listed at a fraction less than last year’s in battery life, but then also:

Eliminates the SD card slot (no more dual boot Ubuntu from a card, or plugging in a card full of photos from my camera)
Eliminates the HDMI out (so no more easily plugging into my LCD TV; now I’d need a micro-USB to HDMI adapter)
Eliminates the USB 3.0 port (not that I’ve ever taken advantage of it, but seems to be quite the step backwards)

It does apparently have a better screen (IPS), but from all accounts, it’s much glossier (read: sun/light glare) than the Samsung’s matte screen, with the same resolution. Oh, and it can use a micro-USB cord to charge it. Well, okay.

With using all of last year’s technologies and removing ports and using a less capable battery, it must be quite a deal, right? Uh, nope. It’s $30 more than the Series 3 ($279 vs $249).

I love using my Chromebook. It’s absolutely perfect for writing. I don’t need a new one, but I would have happily scratched up another $250 this year for a whiz bang upgrade to it, especially if it made a difference in performance or storage. Guess not.

Oh wait, I can order it with one of five colored lines on it.
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Finally found the Holy Grail of writing in Google Docs on the Chromebook…

My writing buddy...

My writing buddy…

I’ve been using Google Docs on my Chromebook for writing since, oh, day one. Day one of my Chromebook days, that is. My tech ADHD always has me jumping around from device to device, from app to app, but I do try to do nothing but write on the Chromebook so that somewhere deep inside me, my brain knows that by me sitting in front of that particular device, I should be writing.

I’ve always been a devotee of Scrivener, but nothing like that exists web-based or Chrome App-based, so I’m relegated to simple text documents. Google Docs is a natural for the CB, since it’s fully integrated and synced, and the offline mode works just fine for those rare times when I’m either (a) on a plane without wifi (scary thought) or (b) in heavy solar flare activity where neither local wifi or my iPhone hotspot work. And GDocs works just fine, with one exception: that sucker bogs down when the document gets too long.

It had gotten to the point where I was writing individual Docs for each chapter just so I didn’t have to go through the pain of loading the document and scrolling down to the bottom of 30,000 words to pick up where I left off. Unlike a standalone text editor (Word, etc.) GDocs ‘starts over’ at the beginning of the doc each time it’s opened. And the Chromebook, an ARM-based lightweight laptop (basically a tablet with a keyboard), doesn’t have the guts behind it to power through the scrolling. I had resorted to dropping a bookmark at the beginning of each chapter with an ad-hoc table of contents on page one so I could jump to where I left off. Silly stuff.

The magic of the Interwebs pointed me to the Holy Grail. Microsoft Word and its equivalents have end-of-document key combinations, like Shift-F5, or Command-Page Down and so on. The Chromebook has neither F keys or a Page Down key, so nothing was working. Until I stumbled across a Google Groups post from a John McFarlin that shone the light as follows:


ctrl + search key + left arrow

ctrl + search key + right arrow

ctrl + alt + up arrow

MOVE TO END OF LINE (move right)
ctrl + alt + down arrow

ctrl + shift + left (or right) arrow

ctrl + shift + search key + left (or right) arrow

alt + backspace (replaces DELETE key)

alt + search key, to turn caps lock both on and off


And so my life just became much easier…


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The Royal Gibraltar Regiment performs…INSIDE the Rock

An absolutely stunning show last night in Gibraltar. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment performed in St. Michael’s Cave INSIDE the Rock, surrounded by stalagtites, stalagmites, and dripping water through the limestone above. Easily the highlight of the trip so far. Just…stunning. Hope my quick iPhone pics do it justice.



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First time traveling without a Mac. My plan is as follows:

Those of you who “know” me (inasmuch as anyone knows anyone online – I could be an 85 year old great-grandmother of seven, for all you really know), know that I’ve been a diehard Mac/iDevice user for quite some time. And while that’s still the case (I live in, and will always live in, a Windowless house…get it?), I’ve modified my “mobile” usage over the past year.

I’m jumping on a plane tomorrow (well, walking slowly so as not to alarm TSA) to Spain for an 8-day business trip, and for the first time since my pre-laptop days (right around the time the mammals rose up) I will be traveling without a Mac of any sort. This is a BIG step for me. With the lone exception of a one-night trip to Milwaukee last year (which totaled less than 30 hours away) when I brought only an iPad, this trip will be Mac-less for the first time.

homepage-promoAs sad as this may sound, I’ve been preparing for this Mac-less trip for a while, knowing how my mobile habits were changing. And now, for the first time since those mammal days, I don’t even technically own a Mac laptop. The trusty MacBook Pro is now in the extremely capable hands of my son Zack, who will surely put it to great use. I am now down to the eclectic mix of:

  • Main computer: Mac mini (running dual-core i5 processor @ 2.3 GHz, 8GB RAM, added in a 256GB SSD drive – smoove)
  • Laptop: Samsung Chromebook (installed Ubuntu on SD card, so it dual boots to either Chrome OS or Linux…muahaha)
  • Tablet: Nexus 7 (completely replaced my iPad 3 – just much more portable & convenient)
  • Phone: iPhone 5 (I haven’t moved away from iOS, but I am curious to see the next Nexus phone…)

On this trip, the latter three will be joining me. No Mac at all. Weird. But what I’ve done is set myself up to be completely Mac-less on a mobile basis.

I’ve switched my business emails over to GMail – matter of fact, I now have five different email accounts feeding into it, so the Chromebook easily handles it. With Chrome OS, you can’t “install” apps – everything is web-based, and I’ll be the first to tell you there ain’t no decent web-based IMAP service for email.

I’ve got all email accounts running into K-9 Mail on the Nexus tablet, meaning I have a true separate IMAP system for each one when needed. I’ve also got movies and books, of course.

And finally, the iPhone is jailbroken, so I am able to create a wifi hotspot wherever, whenever (even in Spain next week). Meaning even if I’m running the Chromebook in Chrome OS (as opposed to the LInux side, where I can use LibreOffice, Gimp, etc. even when offline), I am able to fully use the web-based stuff.

I’ve even got an app for the Chromebook called Code Anywhere, meaning I can log into my business’ website via FTP, change HTML code, and reupload. My biggest fear to being Mac-less on the road was losing the ability to use Dreamweaver to change web pages, but Code Anywhere works in a pinch.

So now my out-of-office work is done on those three devices. Which on a side note, combined cost less than the MacBook Pro…hell, the Nexus plus Chromebook total cost was the same as a base wifi-only iPad…and they weigh less!

And it should work just fine…right?



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