Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Software for Biographers: 2

In my last post I said that there were two ways in which you can run PC-only software MS Access on a Mac if, like me, you want to use Mac-only software Scrivener for organising your thesis.

The first way is to use Boot Camp to partition your Intel-based Mac's hard drive and to install Windows (XP, Vista or 7) on to one part, leaving the other part to your Mac's operating system. You can then decide on rebooting whether to use your computer as a PC or as a Mac. This may be satisfactory if you don't want to run a program from each operating system at the same time. If you are happy with this solution, then the Boot Camp Assistant (accessible via Search on Finder) enables you to do so without further cost other than that of a Windows installation disk.

The second way is to create a 'virtual machine' on your Mac and to run your PC software on it. This involves you with the additional cost (around £65) of the software to create this machine. I chose Parallels Desktop for Mac, described on Wikipedia as "hardware emulation virtualization software, using hypervisor technology that works by mapping the host computer's hardware resources [i.e. those on the PC] directly to the virtual machine's resources. Each virtual machine thus operates identically to a standalone computer, with virtually all the resources of a physical computer."

As so often is the case, installing Parallels software was nothing like as easy as claimed on the box, but it was finally successfully done on the second day of contact with Harsha, the company's excellent support engineer in Bangalore.

This now enables me to have my MS Access database open in a window on the left of my screen and a Scrivener page open on the right of it. A major feature of Scrivener is that it enables you to store bits of text on virtual index cards which you can re-arrange to your heart's content on a virtual corkboard before exporting selected text on them to the text editor and eventually exporting to your preferred wordprocessing program.

On the Scrivener website it points out that "Writing a novel, research paper, script or any long-form text involves more than hammering away at the keys until you're done. Collecting research, ordering fragmented ideas, shuffling index cards in search of that elusive structure—most writing software is fired up only after much of the hard work is done."

I agree, and contend that the ability to move bits of text around on screen like pieces of a physical jigsaw puzzle will make my actually writing my thesis (once I have stopped blogging and have finished my prosopographical database) simple and straightforward: I also contend that attempting to do this merely by using cut-and-paste within a wordprocessing program would be much harder and slower.

Even if you agree with my contention, you may well feel that the expense of the hardware (iMac), virtualization software (Parallels) and document-structuring software (Scrivener) would be unnecessary if there was a decent means of creating shufflable index cards on a PC. I have to confess that if I knew last summer what I know now, I might well have not gone to all the trouble and expense of moving from PC to Mac. You see, I have just discovered Stickies.

Stickies are virtual Post-It notes that you can create in Windows but not on Macs. You can create them and move them around the screen, where they will remain till you remove them or put them on to a wordprocessor file of which you may just have written the chapter title. When you close that file, the stickies disappear with your text: when you reopen it, there they are again. Stickies software is, amazingly, free!

I do not have the time at this stage to do anything further about Stickies, but if there is some demand by biographers for a comparison of these methodologies, then I will show how I could have used them when producing my thesis. In the meantime I am going to use the following model, based on the Untersuchungs-Ordnungs-Realisierungs Prinzip.

Collecting (research material stored as gobbets/factoids on records on an MS Access database)
leading to
Selecting (created by copying research material from relevant database records onto Scrivener index cards and shuffling these into the right sequence for each section)
leading to
Perfecting (copying the research material into a [Word or Pages] wordprocessor file before expanding and polishing research material, then adding link passages etc.)

No comments:

Post a Comment