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…

Everything Is Horrible

A couple of years ago I’d have said that the situation we have today was impossible. I mean, come on: an incompetent, racist, sexist, criminal traitor, ushered into the White House by a foreign power – and still there eighteen months later despite all the damage he and his gang have done and continue to do; and on top of that a significant portion of the people who voted for him are still behind him even, claiming to stand by the constitution as he tears it up and burns it a page at a time. Yeah, I know: half of any population is below average intelligence – but this is the country that put men on the Moon. You’d think people wouldn’t be so okay with being lied to multiple times every day. But they don’t seem to care. Rather, they seem to love it that they can bring out the inner racist without shame. And boy, it’s an eye-opener to see that so many people are racist douches.

It’s depressing. It was bad a few days ago, but what’s being done to the families of asylum-seekers is too much. It seems to get worse with everything passing day. (The thing that prompted this post was an article pointing out that the immigration issue is heading in the direction of ethnic cleansing. Here. In America. And what’s really scary is that it’s believable.)

I’m having problems staying focused on day-job concerns, and writing is out of the question at the moment. I feel a need to get the hell out of the house – head out and take a long walk somewhere, maybe take my camera and get some pictures. But (sigh) I can’t – responsibilities and all that. So it’s back to the grind, and try to take my mind off the bad crap for a while.

More Progress YAY

For the first time in weeks I’ve actually hit a thousand words in a day, and I’m not done yet. That might not sound like much but given the problems I’ve had over the last few months getting back into writing, that’s a big thing for me. I got started, and it was slow, then something just kind of broke – the dam burst and suddenly everything just started to flow.

20151006_181845

I need to take a break for food, then it’s back to work. If I can make this a 2,000 word day, I’ll be really happy.

UPDATE: it’s about 8pm and I’m stopping. This has been the BEST writing day for a long, long while – 2,500 words, no less. One more scene and Chapter 4 is done. Man, does that make me feel good. Time for something to eat and a Dos Equis, and some Father Brown on Netflix.

Progress

It’s slow, but it’s some progress: work on Britannia One (sequel to Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia) is grinding along slowly. I set a personal deadline of the end of August to complete the first draft, but at the moment I don’t think I’m going to hit that mark; I’m averaging only couple of hundred words a day, and I need to be doing much better than that. It’ll be done when it’s done, I guess…

Too Many Projects…

I’ve been trying to work on too many writing projects at once. Some people can manage that. I thought I could manage that. It turns out I can’t. I’m paralysed by too many things in my head – while I’m working on one thing, thoughts about the other projects start to surface and get in the way.

Enough. I’m taking the rest of today off to sink a bottle or three of Dos Equis and watch a few episodes of Shetland. I need to take my mind off the writing projects and clear my head.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be working 100% on Britannia One. Nothing else will be allowed to intrude until I’ve made some serious progress.

That is all.

Two Projects

It’s been a while since I posted…

Things have been kinda hectic. Again. So this is just a short post, to say that I’m currently working on two projects in parallel:

The first is the Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia sequel that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts. That one’s going a little slower than I’d like, mostly because it’s so long since I wrote the timeline, it’s actually a bit difficult to work out the story.

That sounds weird so let me put it another way. Start with a story – any story. As you tell it, everything fits in place, right? Something happens, and that leads to the next thing that happens, and it all makes sense. There’s a overall Big Picture – a beginning, middle, and end, and the things that happen – the scenes – are the bricks that make up the story as a structure.

Now take that set of scenes and stick it on a shelf for three years, then look at it again. At first, all you see is… a set of scenes. No continuity – it’s as if you can’t see the thread of the original story; it’s hidden away behind the scenes.

That’s kind of where I am with that. It’s as if I’ve forgotten the Big Picture of the original story and I’m having to reconstruct it from the individual bricks of the scenes in the timeline. At this moment I’m reading and re-reading the timeline scenes to get my head around the Big Picture. Once I’ve got that clear in my mind, things should go along much faster.

The second project is a screenplay…

BMOGtitleSnip

I’ve written a handful of screenplays, but it’s been a long time since I did one (I just checked… the last one I did was in 2006). Something I was reading a couple of weeks back got me thinking about screenplays again, and suddenly I felt the urge to do another one. My old screenwriting software died when I “upgraded” the old laptop to Windows 10 (“All Your Software Is Compatible!“*) so the first thing I had to do was find a new program for that, and I ended up getting Fade In.

At the moment I’m working on the timeline of the story, which is a Science Fiction thing (as you can probably tell from that title: Box Made of Gravity). That’s coming along nicely and I expect to be able to start actually writing a spec script in another couple of weeks.

It occurred to me that I could/should create a new site page with the PDF versions of those old screenplays… they’re WGA registered, after all, but at the moment the only place anyone can find them is on the Zoetrope web site. So I’ll be doing that sometime soon. Watch this space.

snarky reference to the earlier post about Microsoft

Gunn & Bohemia: The Sequel

If all goes to plan I’ll have three – count’em, three – books coming out in 2018. Exciting times!

The Artemis Device* is under contract and currently undergoing copy editing. That’s been slow going, but I’m hoping that the pace will pick up now that the holidays are behind us.

Phantasms & Magicks* has been submitted to my publisher and I’m waiting to hear if they want to take it on. Fingers crossed, but if they decide they’re not interested I’ll almost certainly self-pub. Either way there’s no reason it can’t be out there this year.

Last but far from least, Britannia One* – the sequel to Mr. Gunn & Dr. Bohemia – is at the writing phase; I expect to have a first draft completed around the end of April, which could put publication somewhere around October**.

There’s a little bit of a story behind Britannia One. I actually started work on a sequel in 2014, not long after G&B was published. Then, life happened. We moved house, which threw writing work into a tailspin for a while. On top of that, while I thought the story I’d developed was pretty good, I wasn’t happy with the timeline. So for various reasons I put it to one side.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that I was ready to pick up from where I’d left off. For some reason I was under the impression that I’d stopped somewhere in the middle of developing the timeline.

So I was pretty surprised when, just the other day, I went back and reviewed what I had. The timeline was done; not quite correct – it needs a couple of changes – but complete. I had a line drawing of a map showing the area where most of the story takes place. Not only that, but there were two first-draft chapters already written. What was most surprising was that, until I looked at it, I’d completely forgotten that I’d got that far.

That’s why work on it is already at the writing phase, when I hadn’t mentioned anything about the prep work here; all the groundwork is already done. I just need to tweak the timeline a little bit, and I want to make a couple of changes to the supporting characters. That’ll take a day or so, then I can start pounding keys.

I’m planning to post regular updates here as the work goes along. Watch this space.

* working titles

** total guesswork