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Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

MaxThink and OrgMode make good partners when set up properly. The hardest part of the setup is getting the information from MaxThink to OrgMode. The first time I tried I wrote a perl script that accepted the MaxThink file and spit out an OrgMode compatible file. The script was rough around the edges and I never finished it because I discovered a much simpler solution.

MaxThink has an Options choice from the main menu that takes you to a series of screens where you can customize Max to your liking. Today’s tutorial will show you how I set up Max to suit the way I work and most important, to output files in OrgMode format.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Access Options using the Options choice from the main menu. The screenshot above shows Screen 1 of 6. Navigate between the different screens using PageUP or PageDN and use the arrow keys within each screen. IMPORTANT! The first thing you must do when creating a new set of options is  give the Description (first item on screen 1) a new name. This ensures that you don’t accidentally change an existing setup.

The rest of the entries on this screen allow you to set preferences. I recommend you read the manual for an explanation of each screen. You can safely ignore the Date Stamp option, Max doesn’t do dates after the year 2000. I never use dates with Max. No reason when you are brainstorming.

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Click to enlarge

Screen 2 controls the screen settings. I’ve never changed the defaults. Again, look through the manual for explantions of the settings.

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Click to enlarge

I’ve probably played with this screen more than any of the others. Here’s where you can change the colors. The screenshot above shows how I set up mine. It’s easy to experiment because you can always change what you don’t like. Hint: make a quick note of the number sequence you like so you can return to it.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Here’s the screen where you set up Max for printing. I don’t use print but you could if you are running Max inside dosemu. I changed the Page Formats to the maximums and the minimums because when you WRITE a file (the way I move the info from Max to Org) you don’t want the output formatted for a printer. Be sure to set print headers and footers to ‘n’ for each.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

This screen, specifically the Numbering Scheme on the first line is how you tell Max to WRITE the file with asterisks instead of numbers, etc. This is because OrgMode uses asterisks to identify outline headings with one asterisk as the top level, two one level down, three two levels down and so on. My setup gives me six levels if needed.

I also changed the next two items to y to align left and n to attach prefix.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Screen 6 finishes the setup for Writing to an OrgMode compatible file. Use my settings. Change the indent between levels to 0, make sure spacing formats are set to their respective minimums and enter the control codes that will work with OrgMode. I deleted the topic end sequence and changed the Line End Sequence to 10\ to be Linux compatible, i.e. single line feed.

I haven’t run into any situations yet where my orgmode setup didn’t work (so far). When you want to transfer an outline from MaxThink to OrgMode all you need to do is choose WRITE from the main menu, enter a file name and hit the enter key. Bingo, switch to OrgMode and use the file insert command to insert the contents of the file you just created. I’ll explain more about this phase next time.

As always, if you have any questions please leave a comment or feel free to send me an email.

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John_irishA happy St. Patrick’s Day from a 185 lb., 6 ft – 1 in leprechaun aka John. I saw the silly hat I’m wearing in the dollar store and had to have one. Gives me a one up on the wearin’ of the green.

But this post is about installing and running the old DOS version of MaxThink. You can try the Windows version for 30 days and buy it for $29 from Neil Larson, the author of the program. Neil tried to incorporate the best features of the DOS versions of MaxThink but the DOS version works better.

I started using Max back in the DOS days of the 1980s and 1990s. I upgraded several times but put MaxThink aside for a number of years when I switched to Windows.

I prefer Linux over Windows for a number of reasons even though I have several computers, one running Linux Mint 16, the other Windows 7 professional. I’m writing this post on my Linux machine using Org-mode.

I tried several times to get MaxThink up and running in the past with mixed results. DOSBOX is a program that emulates DOS. It’s a good solution for playing old DOS games and Max runs fine except for the fonts. DOSBOX emulates the old VGA text fonts which are rough, hard to read and ugly, but it works. One advantage of DOSBOX is that it’s available for many different operating systems including Linux and Windows.

Dosemu is another way to run old DOS software. Dosemu is a Linux only program that emulates DOS on a virtual machine. Unlike DOSbox, Dosemu requires DOS and comes with FREEDOS already installed. “DOSEMU is a PC Emulator application that allows Linux to run a DOS operating system in a virtual x86 machine. This allows you to run many DOS applications…” from the Dosemu documentation.

The first time I tried Dosemu I could not get it to work. The reason was because the Linux distro I was using at the time had a poorly compiled version of Dosemu in the repository. The program would only run as root, a real no no in my view.

I thought I’d give dosemu another try and I’m glad I did because it works well and has better text fonts. If you use Dosemu in graphic mode, the fonts are decent and scale OK to a full screen. But there’s a better way. Run Dosemu in terminal mode. Have a look at the screenshot below — nice!

Screenshot from 2014-03-17 15:57:24

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dosemu_launcher

I like making a launcher for programs that I use frequently. It’s simpler than digging through menus or opening a terminal session. The screenshot above shows how this simple launcher can do all the work for you. And here’s how to do it:

Fill out the three fields in the launcher properties window and be sure to check off Launch in Terminal? Where to find the command? Dosemu installed in the main menu under Administrative on my machine. I simply went into the menu editor and copied the /usr/bin/dosemu command and added the -t so the program would run inside a terminal.

Once I had the program running in the terminal I created a new terminal profile with a new, larger font. Running Dosemu in a terminal is a no brainer because MaxThink is text only, you can use your favorite font and you can size the terminal window to suit your preferences.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

All this assumes you have a copy of DOS MaxThink. I still have my copy from years ago. If you don’t have a copy and want to know what all the fuss is about, feel free to download and read Neil Larson’s wonderful Max94 manual. “…in MaxThink, the real gold mine is the manual. Not because I wrote it, but because MaxThink is a new concept — computers to expand your high-level thinking skills.” Neil Larson from the Max94 manual, p. 1-2

If you’re interested in the DOS version of MaxThink, contact Neil Larson and ask him if he’ll sell you a copy or if you’re an old time customer who lost their copy, Neil is the guy who can help you out.

So then, the screenshot above is the autoexec.bat file that lives on the Dosemu virtual C: drive. Here’s what I added to the file:

  1. added the path of my max directory to the path (on line 3)
  2. d: (switch to the d: drive on line 21)
  3. set MAX=d:\max\MyMax (on line 22)
  4. cd MAX (switch to the MAX directory on line 23)
  5. cls (clears the screen on line 24)
  6. max (runs MaxThink on line 25)

Why the d: drive? Because the d: drive is a virtual drive that points to your home folder. I put the MAX.exe file in d:\max and all the other files including the long list of help files in a subdirectory d:\max\MyMax so the max directory (where Max saves all your files) stays clutter free. The set command tells Max where to look for the files. cd (dos command for change directory to change to the max directory). cls (clears the screen — I did this to solve an issue with FREEDOS info cluttering the Max Screen). Finally, max runs max. I put that last command in the autoexec file because I only use Dosemu to run max. So, when I want to run MaxThink, I simply click on the panel launcher and I’m on my way.

I have a lot more to say and show you about MaxThink and how well it integrates into a modern workflow, especially when used in partnership with OrgMode. But this is enough for this time. Please feel free to ask questions, point out flaws in my reasoning, or to just say hello. Until next time.

PS — I just tested another feature of Dosemu. I was able to copy a list of items from OrgMode, switch to Max and paste the list into Max by pressing the mouse wheel. This is a DOSEMU feature because Max has no idea what a mouse is. This is another good reason to use DOSEMU instead of DOSBOX because the latter cannot paste from Linux to DOS.

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Screenshot from 2014-03-08 13:18:59

I have an original, 221 page printed Max94 manual that I’ve kept preserved for 20 years. After I scanned the entire manual and made a pdf file yesterday I contacted Neil Larson, the brain behind MaxThink and received his permission to upload the pdf file so anyone interested may download the manual for their own use.

Left click here: MaxThink to view the MaxThink manual or

Right click here: MaxThink and choose Save Link As to download.

As promised, I’m working on the tutorials. Making the manual available was a priority. Enjoy, please leave feedback and please respect Neil’s copyright.

And please be patient. The manual file is 8.5 Mb and takes a few seconds to view or download (depending on download speed).

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It’s late and I don’t have the time for an in depth article but here’s a taste.
Screenshot from 2014-03-05 22:20:56

You’re looking at a screen-shot of an Org-mode outline on the left and a terminal window running MaxThink on the right. I’ve been trying to get these two to work together for a few years and I finally got it right. So far so good. I generated a small outline with 85 songs, songs I’m picking out of my fake books so I can learn them on my harmonica.

I will put together a comprehensive tutorial of my entire process once I have my thoughts organized. Meanwhile, it’s been too long since I posted anything on The Aware Writer.

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Org-mode is a great outliner/editor and I’ve been doing all my writing with it. The more I use org-mode the better I like it. But org-mode can’t do everything. BrainStorm excels at rapid sorting, reorganizing and brainstorming. Put org-mode and BrainStorm together and the synergy is terrific.

BrainStorm is a windows only program that I’ve been trying to get running properly on my Linux machine under Wine for almost four years. Wine released a new stable release earlier this month and BrainStorm is finally behaving.

I tried an experiment this morning. I used my portable AlphaSmart Neo for a freewriting session. When I was done, I dumped the file via USB cable to an org-mode file. Then I went through the file looking for interesting ideas, etc. Highlight some text, then press Ctrl-c x and the text is appended to a list in another buffer. When I reached the end of the text, I saved my list and fired up BrainStorm (BS).

Then I merged the list file with the file open in BS and sat down to play. BS has powerful tools for sorting and moving topics around, for creating order out of chaos which is what I did.

Now what? How to get my BS file back into org-mode? I wrote a perl script a few years ago that would take a tab indented file written from BS and create a file that I could load into Lyx (a front end for LaTeX). I spend hours trying to modify that program to translate the BS file into an org-mode file without success. I found a perl script on the old BS bulletin board that was posted there almost six years ago by Tony. His script takes a BS file and translates it so LaTeX understands it.

I took Tony’s perl script as the basis for a new perl script that makes an org-mode file out of a BS tab indented text file. It works! So now I have a two way street and can go back and forth between org-mode and BS.

I have high hopes for the synergy between these two programs. You might wonder what happened with MaxThink. Well, as good as MaxThink was, it’s too old, and has to run in a separate environment. I bought a licence for BS during the summer of 2006 because MaxThink was old and tired then. The reason I resurrected MaxThink was because the behavior of BS under the older version of Wine was quirky enough to keep me away. I’m happy that BS is working nicely now (knocking on wood). Stay tuned for further adventures.

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Org-mode is a structured editor that combines the best features of a powerful outliner and a powerful editor in one package. I’ve been fooling with org-mode a lot lately, digging into capabilities, solving issues and fine tuning, always asking the question — is org-mode the best environment for my writing? The answer is an unqualified yes.

Emerald Ring Outline -- click to enlarge

The illustration above is a screenshot showing the outline I used to write “An Emerald Ring,” a short story I wrote at the end of last year. Org-mode uses stars to distinguish heading levels, one star for the top level, two for the next and so on. You create a new headline by pressing either the Ctrl or Alt key together with the enter key. You cycle headline visibility using the Tab key.

As I progressed, I created a new top level heading for each new draft of my story with the latest draft at the top. The first four lines in this outline are structural markups that begin with #+. The markups don’t print. They tell org-mode what to do when the file or part of the file is exported to LaTeX, html or plain text. I put the latest draft at the top of the outline so that when I highlight the structural markups and the first headline, only the latest draft will be exported.

When you’re deep into writing a story, an article or even a book, and you have ideas, where do you keep the ideas so they don’t get lost? Well, I created headings for Story outline, characters and notes lower in the outline. I didn’t lose anything and my notes are right there when I need them.

The screenshot shows the outline partially expanded. Org-mode shows three periods after any headline that has subheads or text below. Yeah you say, all this is lovely but doesn’t it get kind of messy when you want to concentrate on writing a passage of plain text in the middle of an outline? Glad you asked because org-mode has a neat trick.

Focused headline -- click to enlarge

I put the cursor on the headline for the 8th draft and told org-mode to narrow the focus with a simple shortcut command. Here’s the screenshot. Try that one with your word processor. Now I have an uncluttered screen where I can write with no distractions. I wrote this post with org-mode using this trick. I created a new headline, told org-mode to narrow the focus and had a clean screen with the subject line at the top. Works for me.

There’s lots more to come. I figured out how to get the old DOS MaxThink and org-mode to cooperate but that’s another subject for another time.

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I want to be able to do all my creative writing in a single, plain text environment. Org-mode provides outlining and organization, so what’s next? Well, org-mode is an Emacs major-mode and Emacs, like most text editors was written with programmers in mind. Emacs only added a real word wrap (visual-line-mode) with the last version, an absolute must have for a writer. But printing from Emacs doesn’t do proper word wrapping. So, I dug around and found GNU enscript, a printing program that takes plain text and outputs to a postscript printer with word wrap and lots of other command line options that give me what I want.

Once I nailed down the options (margins, word wrap, extra vertical space between each line, page numbers where I wanted them,etc) I wrote a function (defun) that automated printing with enscript. I also reassigned a key combination and put both in my .emacs (config file). Now when I want to print all I need to do is highlight the text region and press Shift <print>.

I use org-mode to export to Latex and get a professionally typeset copy that’s far superior to anything you can get using a word processor. The latest version of org-mode can export to Open Office / LibreOffice format and if I wanted, I could save to Word format. I use org-mode to export to html and with a few tweaks to the html source and a run through kinglegen, I have a file that can be sideloaded into my Kindle. But for draft copies, I export as plain text and use enscript to print. The graphic at the top of this post is an example of a plain text printout. All this from plain text files that can be read and edited with any text editor.

So what’s next? I need to add some ‘rules’ and tools to my org-mode creative writing environment. I’ll keep the actual story text at the top of the outline with story or chapter as the top level headline then use the next level down for scenes. That’s it — two levels. Then I can use the rest of the outline headings further down for character sketches, plot ideas, notes or whatever strikes my fancy to keep things organized. It’s easy to export only the text but I don’t want headings so what to do?

I solved that issue earlier this evening when I built a regular expression (regexp) that can find all the scene headings:

^.*\*\*.*$

Org-mode uses asterisks to mark headlines, with first level *, second level ** and so on. The above regexp finds the entire line for each scene heading.

I can replace each instance with the latex markup (\bigskip) that puts extra vertical space between scenes. And I can also insert the Latex markup for no indent for the first paragraph of the new scene. Sounds complex but it’s not, especially since I’ll write a function to automate the process once I have it ironed out to my satisfaction.

Now that I know I can tweak org-mode, I’ll lay off for awhile and do some serious writing instead.

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