Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cool Tools: Zulupad Is Fucking Brilliant

Every now and again I run across a chunk of software which is just so damned clever and useful that I latch onto it, and keep it for years. I still do a lot of drafting in a thing called Yeah Write, for example. Reason being that it's the only word processor I've ever seen in which the user interface is deliberately designed to look like, and work like, a filing cabinet. Of course, Yeah Write is also small, clever, neat-looking, robust and reliable -- but seriously, have you got any idea just how good it is to have your own virtual filing cabinet to keep all your ideas and shit?

Still, Yeah Write isn't today's gem. As a matter of fact, I came here to talk about a thing called Zulupad.

Zulupad is fucking brilliant.

Essentially, it's a programme that creates self-contained wiki documents. The maker(s) describe it as "a notepad on steroids". It's a beautifully simple concept. You open a new document, and the first thing it does is create an index page. Write whatever the hell you want there. But here's the good bit. Pick anything you've written. Select it with the mouse. Tell Zulupad to "link" it -- and instantly, it becomes a hyperlink, creating a brand new page based on that link.

Suppose you're writing a book. On the index page, you start listing scenes, characters, locations -- anything. One of your characters is called "Karen Proctor". So you select that name, and you make a link. Immediately, Zulupad creates a new "Karen Proctor" page, and you can write anything you want on that page. Not only that, but wherever you go in the document thereafter, any and every time you write "Karen Proctor" the text will instantly become a hyperlink connected to that page.

Get it? Continuity. I don't know about you, but over the course of a novel, I tend to have difficulties recalling little details about minor characters. But if every time I write the character's name it instantly becomes a link to a page telling me every detail I want to know... hey. That works. That works well.

Then there's the planning of larger projects. Young Genghis is doing a science paper. I put the basic Zulupad programme on his computer (the basic version is free. The pro version costs all of $15) and made an index page for him: Abstract, Introduction, Materials & Methods, etc. Each one of those headings I made into a hyperlink, and on each new page created, I wrote a single sentence explaining what was expected of him.

Before I did this, he was hesitant. Afterwards? He's happier than a pig in shit. And of course, he's making links for all his subjects and his ideas and everything else. The whole paper is coming together.

Now, those of you who write anything lengthy will immediately understand why this is an exciting bit of gear. But let me go a bit farther, and point out that with the pro version you can incorporate images and the like, and you can even save the whole damned zulu wiki as an HTML file. Turn it into a web page, or open it in something like Open Office Writer to print it as a full-length document. Sure, it won't have the whole WYSIWYG desktop publishing look -- but it's so easy to organise your ideas and your information! You can add the layout, the bells and whistles, all of that stuff you can add later.

One final note. Back when I was doing a lot of Game Master stuff for various role-playing games, I would have fucking killed for this little bit of software.

Imagine: you're setting up an adventure/module for the players. You've got a few maps, some images, and a shitload of characters and notes. How fucking good does Zulupad look now?

Put your main map up on a Zulu page as an image. Underneath it, write your outline. List the characters. List the salient points on the map. Make a link out of each and every one.

Now when the characters say "We enter the Old Barn. What's inside?" you don't shuffle through your notes. You just fucking click on the "Old Barn" link, and there it is: all your notes describing the building, the interior, and anything, everything to be found. Not only that, but any significant characters or items therein will appear as hyperlinks. Click on them, and you instantly get the information.

Seriously: I would have happily massacred somebody to get my hands on this back in my gaming days. And now?

Well, I know a lot of people who like to lay out the outlines of novels or scripts by using a big sheet of paper or a corkboard, and a bunch of pushpins and file cards.

Fuck. That. Primitive. Shit.

I've got something faster, easier, and more adaptable.

One more point: when I hit the Zulupad website and tried to buy a Pro version, Paypal spat the dummy. I couldn't manage to get a payment through. I'm still not sure why. But by that time, Elder Son was planning his Education/Extension project with Zulupad Free. And Younger Son was working on his science paper using the same -- so I thought I'd send an email to the maker of the programme, and ask him if there was another way I could get hold of Zulupad Pro.

The man behind the software is a chap called Tom Gersic. He got back to me within forty-eight hours, and provided me with an alternative download.

I am extremely grateful, and highly impressed by his willingness to help out a simple punter. Zulupad is fucking brilliant, yeah -- but Tom Gersic seems like a pretty decent kind of person too.

Thus, my fellow writing-type individuals, I urge you to consider Zulupad. It's small, fast, reliable, efficient -- and it's going into my personal arsenal of tools, where I expect it will do me no end of good.