Longer Time No Sea

That thing I mentioned in a post in March, about me going back to England? Still happening. And although I could probably say a bit more today about what’s been going on, I’m not 100% comfortable with that (mostly because other people are involved and I don’t want to upset anyone by saying something that should wait until later). Which is the main reason I haven’t been able to post here as often as I’d like.

So right now all I can say is that things have been moving along, if slowly, and with a little luck I should have much better idea of where things stand sometime around the end of the month, if not sooner.

What is certain: I’ll be moving back to the UK. What’s not so certain at the moment is when. Hopefully before this year is out, and ideally before the end of September.

Watch this space. I’ll try to update a bit more regularly than I have been.

#AmWriting

Timelining work, to be more accurate, on the Untitled SF Project. I just finished the first cut of the timeline for the first of three connected stories. It’s short – thirty-three scenes when I it really needs to be fifty to fifty-five. I’m not going to try to fix that yet; I’ll timeline the other two stories first then come back to it and see what, if anything, can be done. I’ll post progress here, so watch this space.

Freewrite Reviewed. Again.

I had some negative things to say about Freewrite in my original review from a couple of posts back.

I take it all back.

I had some problems, sure. It turns out that the machine can be a bit picky about which kinds of USB chargers will work, and which won’t. As it happens it didn’t like any of the ones I had, and then there’s the bit where I bought a charger that should have worked but it didn’t, and it was my own damned fault for not reading the instructions. As long as the charger is a generic one, not built specifically for one device, it should work.

Long story short: I couldn’t get the battery to charge; I sent the machine back; Astrohaus couldn’t find anything wrong with it, and they expressed it back to me. I got it back on Monday. It’s now Friday so I’ve had several days to play with it.

And I love it. I can use it on a desk, on my knees lying on the bed, or sitting in a chair in the living room. I don’t think I’d have any problems using it on a train or a plane. The screen may be small but I can see the text just fine, backlight or no. (The text size can be changed; there are only three options – small, medium, and large – but I’d say those are enough.) The keyboard feel is really good. It’s a joy to work with.

In my earlier review I said I wasn’t sure if I would get used to not being able to go back to fix typos (beyond being able to backspace). It turns out that after a little while I was able to forget those typos and just keep banging keys. And that on its own more than doubled my hourly word count.

Another thing I had reservations about was Astrohaus’ support and the fact that they’re not around at weekends. It turns out they’re a small concern and don’t have the manpower for 24/7 support. But when they are on the clock, they get busy. They’ve been more responsive to emails than several much larger businesses I could name. And as I said, they didn’t hang about looking at my machine and then getting it back to me. I’m not worried about support any more.

So forget the negatives in that first review. I no longer have anything bad to say about it, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

One last thing: I mentioned earlier that you can get a 5% discount by using this link:

https://getfreewrite.com/discount/HG8EMZSXZXJ9?rfsn=2434446.cd73b71&utm_source=refersion&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=2434446.cd73b71

(And I get a kickback for the referral, too.)

Until next time…

Review: @Astrohaus Freewrite – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Note: See the update at the end of this post.

The Freewrite I ordered was at last delivered yesterday. Exciting! I’d been looking forward to getting it all week, so I was itching to get the box open and start playing with it.

The good:

There’s a lot about it that I like. The case is metal, solid, tough. The keyboard has a great feel – positive without being too click-clacky. Unlike a laptop, the thing sits nicely on my lap, even sitting in a comfy chair in the living room, without feeling like it’s going to tip backward, and the underside has enough friction that it doesn’t slide around on the knees. The e-ink screen is good and clear, with or without the backlight, and I had no problems seeing it clearly even sitting upright in said chair with the machine on my knees. The switches controlling the folder and wi-fi have a solid, positive feel. All in all, the mechanics of the machine are great.

The bad:

Anyone reading this who owns and loves a Freewrite will almost certainly disagree with me on this one, but I don’t like that it doesn’t allow any editing beyond the backspace and delete-last-word functions. Yeah, I know: part of the point is that it encourages you to work forward and think about editing once you have the first draft. I get that. My problem is that if I see a spelling error at the top of the screen, it’s like a big ugly zit that I have to do something about. Not being able to go back and fix it quickly is frustrating. Could I get used to it? Maybe. But that for me is a rough one. Even using my old Smith-Corona, there was always the Wite-Out option.

I’m not happy that certain settings can only be changed through the Postbox page on the web site. Want to change the font size? You have to change that in Postbox – so wherever you are, you need a device with internet access, and the Freewrite also needs to be connected via wi-fi so that it can pick up the change. I set the timezone on Postbox last night but the Freewrite didn’t get the memo until this morning . . . would a font size change take that long? I don’t know, but if so that’s pretty horrible. Couldn’t Astrohaus have put a settings screen in the machine?

The ugly:

Those couple of bad things are, at least, something I could get used to over time. But there are other things that are killers, to my thinking.

When I first switched the machine on, it flashed an Astrohaus logo; after a few seconds, that changed to a Freewrite logo. Then it went back to Astrohaus. Then back to Freewrite. And it did that for probably a couple of minutes before it came up with a message. “Booting”. That doesn’t look right. It smacks of something inside having a problem starting up. As a software developer, I’d say it smells wrong. But boot it did, eventually, so maybe it was just running some kind of self-test before starting the real boot process. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, though.

Once it was up, I checked the battery level; it looked like it was about 70%. Fine. So then I set up the wi-fi connection and started playing with it. This morning I checked the battery level and it was down around 50%, so I used the supplied USB cable with a regular charger (for some reason, even with a $549 price tag, it doesn’t come with its own charger) and plugged it in. It didn’t start charging (it’s supposed to show couple of little lightning-bolt icons in the status window, but it didn’t). I tried a different charger, and a different cable, and plugging into my laptop; no difference. For such a solidly-built bit of kit, that’s surprising and disappointing. It’s plainly faulty and will have to go back.

I hit the web site to find a contact form, and put in the details of the charging problem. Submitted. A couple of minutes later I got an email saying that they don’t do support at weekends so I wouldn’t hear anything until Monday at the earliest. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL.

So then I checked the Community forums to see if any other users had seen a similar problem, with the hope that maybe someone had a fix. But the Community is really badly named, because there are only two forums: Around The Haus, which is written by Astrohaus staff and read-only for everyone else; and Release Notes, with details about the various firmware updates. That’s it. No actual forum where users can swap tips and tales. No support forum where people can discuss problems and solutions. No actual Community.

Astrohaus: I find your lack of support disturbing.

So: hardware problem right out of the box, no support at weekends, no support forums, no community of users to consult with. That’s too many red flags for me, for such an expensive item. I’m sorry to say that on Monday I’ll be making use of the return label and sending it back. I’ll stick with my $180 Chromebook and Google Docs.

Update 25-Mar-19: I received not one but two responses from Astrohaus; the reason for the lack of support at weekends is that they’re a small company and don’t have the resources. The fact that they got on the ball first thing Monday makes me feel somewhat better. As such I decided to return the Freewrite for repair or replacement and give it another chance. Let’s see how this goes.

Long time no sea

I haven’t posted since November because of a major life-changing event that started in December and is still happening. I can’t say much more than that at the moment, except to say that as part of what’s happening…

  • I’ll be moving back to England, hopefully before the end of the summer but definitely sometime this year;
  • I’ll be Darn Sarf1, a short walk from the sea – something I’ve missed since moving to ‘Murika;
  • When that happens I’m planning on putting forty years in software development behind me and becoming a writer pretty much full-time.
Margate beach & harbour – credit Thanet District Council

Hey, get 5% off a Freewrite

Update: please read the next post in which I review the Freewrite (not very favourably, sorry to say) and check other reviews before spending the dosh.

On the subject of writing, I just bought a Freewrite! I wasn’t going to because $550 is a chunk o’ change to find in one hit. Then I found out you can finance it for $49/month (and if you make double payments so it’s paid off in six months, it’s interest free). Mine shipped this morning and I’m hoping to get it tomorrow. I can’t wait.

Now here’s the thing: I signed up for the referral program, which means that anyone who uses this link…

https://getfreewrite.com/discount/HG8EMZSXZXJ9?rfsn=2434446.cd73b71&utm_source=refersion&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=2434446.cd73b71

… gets 5% off the price of stuff from the store. (It also earns me gift cards that I can use to buy more myself – and of course if you buy something you can then enter the referral program and get the same benefits.)

That’s all I have time for right now, but expect a review of the Freewrite when I’ve had time to play with it some.

1 – “Down South”

#NaNoWriMo2018? Maybe.

A year or so ago I posted here about why I wasn’t doing NaNoWriMo 2017; basically, I didn’t have the time to map out a story and write a couple of thousand words a day and be able to hit fifty thousand words in thirty days.

This year was going to be the same… but then I had second thoughts.

Some background:

The last three or four months has been pretty rough; a family member has been through the wringer with medical problems and everything else has had to take a back seat, including writing (mostly because with all that going on, focusing on anything writing-related has been all but impossible). And then of course there’s been the downward slide toward hell that is the hallmark of the current political climate — not a day passes without yet another sign that we’re getting closer to living in a fascist state. It’s depressing, and makes thinking about writing and other creative things just that much harder.

Then things changed. The medical problems haven’t gone away but things have improved and continue to improve. On the political front, the last week or so saw the run-up to the midterms and the situation has looked a lot more hopeful.

And so a few days ago I decided to use NaNoWriMo as a boost to get some actual writing done. A small, new, stand-alone project just for this month.

Yes, I know, we’re already a week into November. That’s fine; I’m not worried about really, actually, religiously following NaNoWriMo rules. I’m just using it as a kick in the pants to get me writing again.

So: I thought up a story idea, and the last three days I’ve been slamming that into a timeline. It’s not big; only thirty-three scenes, which is half what it needs to be to have a chance of hitting the fifty-K threshold. But that doesn’t matter. It’s writing, and that’s all that matters. I’m using my own book, Finish Your Book, as my guide.

FinishYourBookKindle
Finish Your Book (Kindle)

This morning’s good news about the midterms has been cheering. It might not have been the Blue Wave we were hoping for, but we took control of the House, among other good things, and that means some of the dark clouds have dispersed. Overall, today is a much better day. Today is a good day to open that timeline and start getting scenes down. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Photog

Way back in the days before digital cameras, when we all used film, I used to take a lot of pictures. I had a Pentax ME Super, which was an awesome little camera, and most weekends I’d be out and about taking pictures. Almost always black & white because I also used to develop and print the pictures myself, using my kitchen as a darkroom. It was fun, and I got some pretty good stuff back then. But all that kind of fell by the wayside when I moved to the US, and for the last couple of decades I haven’t had anything more than a pocket digital camera, or more recently of course the one built into my phone.

A few weeks ago I got to thinking about photography again and decided to treat myself to a new DSLR as a daddy’s day gift to myself. After doing some comparison shopping I decided on the Nikon D3400. (The other one I looked at was the Canon EOS Rebel T6; both cameras are, or were, available in a kit with two lenses and a case which saved a bunch of cash, but in the end I decided that the Nikon had more going for it despite the additional $50 on the price tag – 24 megapixels vs. 18, for one thing, and the Nikon has much longer battery life. The T6i is much closer to the Nikon in specs but is significantly pricier.)

I’ve taken the kit out a couple of times so far, and I’m planning on a short trip out later today. One thing I learned is that the 70-300mm zoom lens that comes in the kit isn’t up to much, because it doesn’t have Vibration Reduction; that means when I zoom out all the way I need to find a way to steady the lens otherwise I get a bunch of motion blur. So yesterday I replaced that lens with a VR equivalent – which cost more than what I spent on the camera kit in the first place, but I think it’ll be worth it – and I’m looking forward to getting out later to see how it compares.

(Which reminds me of a Rule Of Thumb from my old camera days, when we didn’t have VR and other neat features: to minimise or eliminate camera shake, use a shutter speed matching the focal length, or faster. For example, if you’re zoomed out to 250mm, then set the shutter speed to 1/250 seconds or better.)

We have a bunch of designated Natural Areas and Open Spaces within easy driving distance of the house, and these are great places to get some nature photos. So far I’ve visited a couple, and got some pretty good pictures of ducks (with added bonus ducklings), dragonflies, a Monarch butterfly that settled on a thistle not six feet from me, as well as some landscape shots of lakes and rivers and trees. And ants, because one of those designated natural areas is riddled with ant hills. Here’s an example (resized down from the 24 Mpix original due to file size constraints):

DSC_0207_00002

Want to see more? I signed up as a Shutterstock contributor, and I’ll be uploading the best pictures there. As of this moment there are only a couple of dozen pics in my portfolio but I’ll be uploading more regularly, so if you’re interested check in from time to time. You can see it here: https://www.shutterstock.com/g/peterjford.

Until next time…