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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Where Does Your Lap Go When You Stand Up?

This has always been a favorite question my Dad asks little kids, and I think it's pretty funny too. Ask a 4-year old and see what kind of reaction you get!

Which brings me to the topic du jour: laptops.

I've been a desktop computer writer for a long time. Never bought a laptop, primarily because I never had the money for one. But they've gotten really inexpensive, and though I'm not sure I can afford one this second, I can probably buy one soon. So...

What kind of laptops do y'all have? What do you like or dislike? What would you say is a necessary feature, or an unnecessary one? How do you feel about buying extended warranties? Necessary? Anyone got any good deals they know about? (I saw a pretty good deal on the Dell website, but maybe there are others.) Does anyone out there have a PC desktop, but a Mac laptop? I'd love to hear from you guys too. I know Macs are somewhat more expensive (at least on the low end), but there may be some good benefits to it. Thoughts there?

I'm relatively certain there will be almost as many opinions as there are readers of this site, but I'd love to hear y'all chime in. I believe that with a laptop, I'll hopefully get a lot more writing done, because I can go somewhere else to write, and not be distracted by all the other things in my house. So I think it will be worth the investment of money.

And to add a bit more screenwriting content that is related to this post, I just saw an ad on Craig's List about a new writer's cafe, the Creative City Cafe, that has just opened in West Hollywood. Sounds like a cool place. They say they are:

a coffee shop that caters to local writers. At the cafe, writers can purchase a cup of Java, eat, hang out, connect to the Internet (for free), write, purchase supplies, and even print their material. The cafe is located at 7310 Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood with plenty of free parking.

They also say they will have writer events there,and are open to writing groups meeting there, and the like. They've started up a Yahoo group. Cool stuff!

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Anonymous Daniel said...

I'm a Mac user through and through, since I switched several years back. Would never dream of touching Windows again – wretched piece of bloated liver. (At least out of the box it is.) That's just partially me, though. I personally find them far more conducent to my productivity and creativity. Others are not exactly like me, though, as I've found out.

I'd really encourage you to stop by your local Apple Store and give 'em a test drive. A 12" iBook or PowerBook seems to suit writers perfectly.

In reality, the amount you pay for everything you need to get your Windows machine running (virus software and subscriptions, media software, etc.) more than cancels out any savings you might've had when compared to buying a similar Mac that doesn't need all that extra stuff. (It works right out of the box.)

Extended Warranties are a mixed bag. Depends on who they're from... and never buy one except directly from the manufacturer, although most retailers will try to sell you theirs. Generally, with laptops though, you need to make sure they're covered under something.

Apple's warranty deal is a standard 1 year free with the computer purchase, and up until the very end of that year, you can purchase an extended AppleCare warranty (for 3 years, I think?). So if buying from Apple, I'd say hold off on the extended warranty until closer to the end of your first year. You can better gauge whether you really need it then.

Oh, and the all-important piece of advise for writing on a laptop in a cafe with wireless internet: create a second, stripped-down user for your computer that allows you to access nothing BUT your word processor. Distractions will go bye bye if you simply make sure they're not there in the first place. :)

I look forward to seeing what choice you make!

4:08 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Hey Daniel! Thanks for chiming in. I particularly like your "all-important piece of advice." Makes a ton of sense.

The one thing working against your claim regarding $. The software, etc, I'd have to install isn't an issue, since I already have it from my laptop. Still, something to think about.

4:20 AM  
Blogger The Awful Writer said...

I bought my laptop on ebay. For $450 I got a used IBM Thinkpad with a 750 Mhz Pentium III, 20 gig hard-drive, 128 Megs of RAM, a Cisco Wi-Fi card, a D-Link wireless router, and a leather case. It also has a 13.3 inch screen which I thought would be too small, but I've gotten used to it and don't even notice.

4:51 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Awful --

Straight used, or refurbished? How long u had it? Problems? etc.

5:01 AM  
Anonymous Neil said...

Don't get an extended warranty. Do you have a desktop computer? Don't get a Mac unless you also have a Mac desktop. It's not worth the trouble of communicating between the two. And unless you're doing video or graphics, you don't really need a Mac.

I much prefer working on a desktop than a laptop, but like you said, it is nice to be able to go to a coffee shop and work. Since you are msotly buying the laptop to do writing, you don't need all the bells and whistles. A Dell, and HP, or Toshiba are all good brands. Just make sure you get a nice screen, the bigger the better.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Melville said...


let me second Daniel. I'm a writer and a Mac User since 10 years. There are some very important reasons for a mac:
- Never ever any problems with viruses, trojans and all that annoying stuff. This is for a writer, using Internet for research, storing his beloved scripts on his HD, of enormous importance.
- In ten years, I had not one crash. Not one. I never lost one bit of data.
- It's a JOY to use. It's beautiful desgined and just working fine. Considering I spend so many time with my labtop, this is a very important point.
- Apple is just a cool company. Thinks different. :)
- Neils argument about compatibility is clever, but not really a reason not to switch. Once you'll have the Apple Labtop, you will not use your desktop PC anymore. Bet!

Wait 2 days. Rumours talk about new hardware.

Take care!

12:06 PM  
Blogger stu willis said...

I'm a Mac user through and through. They're just, well, elegant. If you appreciate elegance, you'll appreciate Macs - especially their laptops. Whats more, is that *developers* appreciate the elegance and design elegant software.

For someone who lives with their computer, like a writer, then elegance is a necessity. Spotlight will save you time wading through your notes, e-mails, word documents, etc. Dashboard widgets like for wikipedia are great for quite fire research. OS X has some of the most innovative and well executed shareware on the market for writers: voodoopad, omnioutliner, netnewswire.. iChat is pretty damn common amongst our studio clients for both text and video conferencing. (We use iChat with Cinesync for client reviews) The lack of required maintenance makes the machine far more elegant. Secure encryption of your documents is easily activated with a click (and its vital if you have anything requiring an NDA on your machine or nothing you want leaked). Apple's .Mac suites includes *great* tools like Backup which will automantically back up your documents [encrypted] to Apple's own servers... The best executed wireless software I've seen. Bluetooth implementation that's actually useful... Being able to print to PDFs from ANY application... A built in text editor which can read doc files (great if you want to ditch word). There's all the functionality of quicktime... preview... iphoto.... blah.

All these things are more than the sum of their parts. Its moves a computer from being a mere appliance into something approaching an experience. Which is hard to understand. Hmm. Perhaps its the difference between a mac and a Pc is like the difference between reading a 1000 page novel printed in 10 point on newspaper, to reading a 1000 page novel printed in a legible font (14 point palantino say) on nice, rich paper that's proper bound. The *result* may the same, but if I'm going to spend serious time with something - I'd rather pay for the latter. Or, if you prefer: Macs are like a finely aged single malt (Talisker 18 years), whereas Windows is like straight Black Douglas. Still get you pissed, but if you drink for a living it ceases to be about getting pissed.

As for interoperability between Macintosh and Windows boxes... Its a fairly non-issue, worst case scenario you simply e-mail files to yourself. BUt you won't bother, cause you won't touch your box again.

And remember, just because you have a laptop doesn't mean you can't treat it like a desktop. I have a nice 20" display (which can be used portrait!) which I plug my laptop in at home and use a proper keyboard. Sure, its a little more money but you get the ergonomical advantage of a desktop without being tethered.

If you're not a power user - or simply can't justify the money for the sexy sexy Powerbook - I'd consider an iBook. They're a bargain and rather rugged.

Get an extendy warranty too. Its a bet thats not worth losing (especially as its a business expense) - if you need more economic justification, it adds a lot to the resale value of your machine. More than the proportional cost, I would say.

If you want to really understand the mentality of Macs, Mac users and Mac developers then I heartily recommend this article on a shareware program that epitomises it:



4:31 PM  
Blogger stu willis said...

whoa. that was long.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Yeah, Stu, it was! ;-) But thanks for the info. I expect nothing less from Mac's rabid fans.

To all:

Before this devolves into a full-on Mac vs. PC discussion (not really what I'm looking for, though the info is appreciated), I was thinking more about laptops in particular, and regarding Mac laptops, my only real question was about those people who use a Mac laptop and a PC desktop. Despite Stu's ideas, I don't suspect I will ever be getting rid of my PC desktop. Too many reasons for me to keep it. So I'm more thinking about the ease vs. difficulty of having two different platforms on two different computers.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Oops -- I missed Melville in there. Oddly that comment never got emailed to me with the others. Thanks for your thoughts as well. I still don't believe I will ever completely abandon my PC desktop. It is just too convenient to keep. Easier when I work with lots of other PC users, too much software and files already on here, and too much of a pain to transfer. Etc.

But I do dig the idea of no crashes. That's HUGE.

BTW, Melville -- like the icon. Too bad I can't read your blog. I don't know any German. (And for good comedy fans, please follow that up with the line: "Oh I know a little German. He's right over there!")

4:48 PM  
Blogger The Humanity Critic said...

I've stuck to the desk-top as well, about to make the switch pretty soon though...

1:01 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Well then, Humanity, I'll let you know what I finally settle on!

1:46 AM  
Blogger writebrother said...

I have a Gateway 4026GZ with an 1.30GHz Intel Celeron processor ,480 MB of RAM, an a 35GB hd. I got it for like $500 new through a hookup from one of my friends, but I think it retails for maybe $700 or so. It's pretty decent and I haven't had any drama with it so far. I didn't do much research and I before this one I hadn't bought a computer since 1999, so I'm not sure what kind of rep Gateways have. If you have the money get a Mac though.

2:44 AM  
Blogger The Awful Writer said...

Bought it used from an individual Ebay'er about 6 months ago. It came with a unlicensed, boot-legged version of XP which I promptly replaced with a licensed version. I basically had to rebuild the system from scratch after it arrived. Loaded up licensed versions of the usual Office apps, then installed my screenwriting-related apps.

I've had no major problems with it, but it needed more RAM so I just added more the other day. One annoying quirk I have to deal with is that after repeated cycles of suspend/recover it gets slower and I have to reboot.

I do all my screenwriting stuff on my laptop and therefore I really don't have any two-system issues. My desktop PC is older and it is used primarly by my wife for e-mail and my daughter for games.

5:50 AM  
Blogger Rock said...

Believe it or not DELL consitently offers great deals. I sold my desktop to convert to a desktop and I got a DELL Inspiron 9200. This is a beat of a machine, but I needed it to take over a lot of my desktop duties (some occasional editing, etc... and ok, the occasional video game). Anyway, I got this thing for about $1300 on sale, knocked down from about $2000. The machine is amazing in the least. My brother recently just needed a laptop to do some on the road work on, and he picked up an DELL as well, and he said it's great. I forget the model, but he paid about $700, and he said it operates just as well, if not better then his $1500 desktop.

Dell across the board has freequent sales and deals, and if you find it at the right time you can really get a steal you won't find anywhere else.

Good hunting!

6:57 AM  
Blogger Melville said...

Thx Joel,
love the german-line. will post it in on my blog, if I may?

Think a long time about posting in both, german and english. Maybe I'll have a try.

About the labtop: Maybe you go in an Apple-Store and take one in you hands. You'll never touch a PC again :)

As you see, a true Mac-User is always a little missionaric.

Stay vertical!

12:13 PM  
Blogger Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

My laptop has been the most important thing in getting my first draft completed.

Most nights I would go up to bed an hour early with it and type away. With my 2 year old running around, it was impossible to write anywhere else.

BUT REMEMBER THIS: The cd drive has just packed up on mine after 2 1/2 years. £200 to replace! If it were a desktop it would be around £30.

2:06 PM  
Blogger CharlieDontSurf said...

I've owned Dells, and IBM's
I bought a used powerbook a year ago...I'll never buy a non mac computer again. Never.

Everything is better...and you don't have to worry about spyware.

4:17 AM  
Blogger Melville said...

Ok, Joel,

fasten seat belt: here are the new ones, fresh out of the oven.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Violet said...

If you are basically a desktop user who wants to be able to write in cafes, I would recommend keeping your desktop machine and buying an Alphasmart. It is basically a full-size keyboard with a palm pilot sized screen on top. It runs on AA batteries (which last for hundreds of hours).

What is great about it for writers is that it is a pure input device. All you can do with it is write new material. You use a USB cable to download your writing back onto your home computer. No games, no surfing, etc. And it was invented for the school market, so it is fairly indestructible. My roommate had one, I borrowed it all the time. I use Word templates for formatting, wasn't too hard to tweak.

My current on the road setup is a Palm Pilot with a wireless keyboard. A bit less elegant than the Alphasmart, but it fits in my purse.

9:01 PM  
Blogger robert said...

I have used Apple, Windows, and Linux, have my own PC desktop at the home and use a little Apple ibookG4 at the lowest configuration I could purchase (stripped down RAM and only a CD burner/DVD player-- no DVD burner) and love it.

It has allowed me run around airports, train stations, my living room, back patio, where ever (did make a purchase of an inexpensive AirPort wireless hub-- works great). The built in software was pretty much all I needed. I only purchased MS Office for Mac (because I get excel stuff from production people) and Fetch (so I could ftp to my server). My Final Draft software I already had on my PC installed just fine (you get two installs).

Been travelling around China and Hong Kong with it for three months now and have had no problems. A had to buy the proper outlet plugs, but Apple sells them all in one package. Because the AC converter works at 110-220 there was no need for any special converters.

Wouldn't give up my PC desktop because of the horsepower on it, but wouldn't trade in the Apple laptop either.

3:57 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Wow! Thanks all of you for your wonderful and insightful advice. I'm thinking I prob will go with a PC system, not MAC, even though I know I'll love it, if only for the cost reasons. In honesty, I can get a workable PC laptop for about 1/2 the cheapest Mac. I will definitly consider getting a Mac down the road, however. So who knows.

Melville -- feel free to use the German line, but make sure you give proper accreditation. Not to me. It is a quote from the underrated movie Top Secret. Check it out!

Rock -- I knew about Dell's great deals, and if I don't go to Ebay, I'll prob do that. Found a good one for 500, 600 after tax, shipping, etc.

I think that sums it all up. I'll fill you all in when I finally decide!

5:19 AM  
Blogger Lamarette said...

I work in a building that is partially PC and partially Mac so believe me when I warn you to run as fast as you possibly can from trying to work the PC/Mac combo. What makes it fun is that it's easy to go from Mac to PC, but a royal pain to go from the PC to the Mac.

The people visiting your site wouldn't be trolling screenwriting blogs if they weren't all Powerbook-toting members of the cult of Mac. And they're right about everyting. Gates is evil, Jobs is God, and Macs don't crash. I'd tell you to go join up if you weren't locked with the desktop. But you are and you should save yourself the hassle. On the bright side, you'll be seen as unique individual among screenwriters.

I myself am actually a PC user, but it's because I'm a student and I use a tablet to take notes. I absolutely adore my TC1100, but I wouldn't recommend spending the extra cash for a pen unless you feel the need to draw diagrams. Good luck.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Scoopy said...

I work on a PC during the day (at work), and own a powerbook at home as my one personal computer. I emphatically don't recommend a cross-platform home office.

A year or so ago my boss decided to get a G5 tower and a powerbook. We are a cross-platform office and oh, the joy. Of course my boss refuses to put me on a mac, which would save a lot of time, money and frustration.

Working on both PC and Mac keeps me up to speed on both systems, which I suppose is good for day I pack in this "writing tomfoolery" and go get a job as a legal secretary. Still, there are better ways to flesh out one's resume.

My only issue with coffeeshop writing on my powerbook is the tendency for my cursor to jump around the page suddenly -- triggered apparently by my wrists leaning on the, er, wrist-space below the keyboard. I set the preferences to avoid this problem, but it still happens, and it's annoying. You have to keep an eye out for sudden highlighted blocks of text, and to make sure that you're suddenly not typing over a paragraph halfway up the page.

Lastly, working on laptops is fun and promotes more relaxed work, but if you have back problems a laptop will not encourage good ergonomics, especially at a coffeeshop with tables and chairs that may not always be appropriate for your frame.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous cheap computers said...

I myself am actually a PC user, but it's because I'm a student and I use a tablet to take notes.

12:04 PM  

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