Friday, 19 September 2014

Tools of the trade...

A couple of months ago I bought a keyboard on Amazon and posted a review, now and again I get a question asking about the device, a Perixx Periboard 805 Bluetooth keyboard.

I was looking for a more flexible replacement for a piece of kit I'd worked to death over the last five years. My use of portable electronics started with a Palm T/X PDA, linked to a Freedom Universal Keyboard; a full size folding Bluetooth keyboard. With five years of work under its belt it was showing its age and when I switched to Android phones and tablets I needed a replacement. I wanted a device that would keep the on-board keyboard display tucked out of sight and leave more of the screen available to see and work with.

The Freedom Keyboard worked with a dedicated driver tied to the Palm and in spite of numerous attempts I couldn't divorce the pair. Hence the scouring of the internet and computer stores for something more flexible.

I knew what I was looking for, it had to be small and lightweight, yet physically big enough to cope with the size of my hands. (My weakness in texting boils down to predictive text, small keys and large-ish fingers - the results can be cringe-worthy and hilarious by turns) It had to be adaptable enough to work with multiple devices, switching it from the phone to the tablet and back again was not an option.

Starting locally, a visit to the nearest Maplin's led me to Maplin Mini Bluetooth keyboard, by Cerulian Technology;  at 218 x 92 x 22mm ( 8 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 3/4 inches) and weighing 215g it was larger than I was ideally looking for. There is no hinge to make it more compact it will fit snugly into a bag.

The manufacturer claims a keyboard life of 10 million strokes and the device is well constructed and solid to the touch. The Bluetooth connection is straightforward with Android and Apple devices and once the pairing code has been entered on the keyboard the link is positive and with a quick response. The Full 78 key QWERTY layout is clear and angled slightly and four rubber feet give it a good grip while you type. The keyboard, lacking any hinge mechanism is solid enough for lap typing and has a working range of 5 metres between the keyboard and the connected device. The keys click slightly when they are struck but respond quickly and the effort required is not great, this makes the keyboard suitable for prolonged use; much easier and therefore more practical than using the on-board keyboard.

Powered by a Li-ion rechargeable battery with a considerable working life between charges and supplied with a retractable USB charging cable it retains its functions while being charged. The cable is a charging cable and cannot be used as a USB connection to a PC or laptop. The Cerulian is compatible with Apple iOS, HID and Android 4.4


Periboard 805 (Top)
Cerulian Bluetooth Keyboard

As an interim it was a reasonable buy, but not what I was really looking for, so the search continued on-line. That brought me to the Perixx Periboard 805. This was more like it; compact flexible,, and like the Cerulian, powered by a Li-ion battery. The Periboard is a Bluetooth device, and again, like the Cerulian cannot be used through a USB connection. The dimensions, folded, are 146 ( 290 opened) x 96 x 17mm and weighing 253g.

The Periboard is compatible with Windows XP/Vista/7/8, supports HID, Android up to 4.4, iOS and with IBM and compatible PCs.

It had what I was looking for; folding, Bluetooth, lightweight and with large enough keys to avoid Fat Finger, the rechargeable battery has a long working life between charges. The key strokes are responsive and comfortable, a keyboard for long bouts of writing, ideal for churning out the word count for a dissertation or a novel in relative comfort. There is no click, the sound of the keystrokes is soft making little noise at all. On the downside; there is no support behind the hinge so lap typing is not possible. The Periboard 805 needs a firm surface underneath. That aside, the advantages far outweigh that consideration. It is lightweight and compact enough to be genuinely portable. The folded dimensions make it roughly the same size as a Moleskine pocket notebook and about 50g heavier.
Moleskine notebook and Folded Periboard 805
Hooking up the device is straightforward, and pairing it with a tablet or smartphone takes no more than a few seconds. If lap typing is your thing, you should look at the Periboard 806. The outer case is designed so that the back slides under the keyboard and locks in position making it rigid enough torest your lap.

Choosing between the too, The Cerulian and the Periboard, comes down to portability the Cerulian is good, but lacking the fold it is too bulky for a pocket Good for a bag or a briefcase, but the folding Periboard has the edge. Genuinely pocket sized and portable.




Saturday, 6 September 2014

Update:The Obedience of Fools

Just arrived at smashwords.com, the latest update of the 2013 NaNoWriMo entrant The Obedience of Fools, a work in progress free to download. Grab yours and keep up with the action!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Virtually real!

I like surfing the net, not just in an idle sort of way, but following a hunch to see what I can unearth chasing the connections. It is usually someone who offering a service, I want to know whether they are who they say they are.

Self-publishing on a tight budget makes you tread cautiously, and consider carefully anyone promising the deal you can't afford to miss that may be the one to run away from screaming loudly. When the alarm bells start jingling and you've read to the bottom of the page and noted the address; indulge your inner detective!

A couple of weeks ago Green Shore Publishing flashed on to the radar. Reading through the blurb and testimonials left a strange itch, and it needed a good scratch. I scratched away

A new start-up with a prestige sounding address, an office in the centre of a major city. On a street that has been there for centuries (Not difficult when some urban street plans are unchanged since the eighteenth century), and the property may have been in the same hands all that time. Inner City properties come with a price tag, higher rather than lower; so how?

Writer Beware posted a warning detailing the elements of the website that didn't up; the comments attached to the blog make interesting reading. The question cropped up, what is real, how much of what was on the screen was genuine, the whole set up bordered on the unreal, and the scratching revealed an answer to the start up question.

Was any of it real; the virtual office; a working space in a shared address, secretarial cover and mail forwarding; emails go direct. The postal redirect could be as basic as the clerical cover opening the mail, scanning it and emailing the scanned documents (A small publisher using this system would accept only email submissions) and the originals would be stored for a limited time or shredded depending on the individual arrangements.

Fiction is our business, the making it up stuff and no resemblance to the living or dead is grist to the creative mill but what happens when the people you are working with in the real world edge toward fiction. A prestigious address may be money in the bank, your money in their bank. Scratch away, type in the company name followed by "complaint" and look at the results. View it from any angle you can think of and add the results to your list. 

Check everything, work through the links, use all your tools and if you're curious about where they are, street view is a handy piece of kit. The little orange man can drop you on the street where they live and check out the neighbourhood. Unscrupulous, straight up, decent and honest, the hunch could
lead you to any of these. Tread carefully.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Muddy Waters

Amazon's much discussed letter to authors yesterday morning has received much comment for and against and probably been dissected more thoroughly than decency should permit. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current situation I personally found the Amazon letter to be a carefully and craftily worded document. RJCrayton makes a valid point that a call to arms should be at the head of a two page document not at the bottom; if the subject doesn't grab the reader they may give up long before the end. The suggestion she makes that writing to authors was targeting the wrong group is interesting, proposing that it should have been aimed at readers.

David Gaughran re-posted a guest post by Ed Robertson from November 2012 his blog. The piece discusses the historical similarities between the arrival of the ebook; the introduction of the paperback at the outbreak of World War II and the curious case of the inflation adjusted price. Making that adjustment a paperback and an ebook cost roughly the same amount. Then came the gradually increasing price of paperbacks over the years and the growth of the conglomerate publisher.

Much of the discussion regarding the price of ebooks runs against the traditional publishers and their efforts to keep the prices high that discourages purchases. Amazon's letter puts the point based on a hypothetical price comparison and projected return from sales. Is the simple truth that being forced into a market grants some influence but really, when you strip everything away the best solution for them is to kill off the ebook and let the world slide back into the old ways of print and...nothing! So any tactic that reduces the popularity of the ebook is a useful one. The big problem; there are so many outlets; digital stores, distribution sites and individual websites providing an outlet for the digital version, and the print copy that any hope to control the situation by either the traditional corporations or Amazon is pointless. They must adapt to survive.

Traditional and Vanity, the establishment who decided what you can read, or the sub-par Vanity published. A market dominated by the big 5 surrounded by the minnows of the small publishers. The situation survived the introduction of the paperback because it was cheaper but still required the infrastructure of the traditional system, physical print and distribution with bricks and mortar sales, warehousing and bookstores.

This time it is different, a new format has arrived; stored as electronic data, portable and requiring no storage facilities, distribution network or bricks and mortar outlet. It isn't destroying the landscape, but changing it dramatically. Seismic shifts and tectonic upheavals are creating a new world and the independent publisher and author, often the same person  has a way of reaching the public unheard of less than twenty years ago.

Old alliances crumble and new ones are created, even with the untouchables of publishing. The big publishers and the Vanities - with Author Solutions topping that list and exploiting the newly forged links to further their activities. Unfortunately the hoped for positive influence of the traditional over the Vanities has failed to appear.

Paperbacks still need printing presses and the technology to put the economically viable short run, and print on demand in the hands of the small publisher and independent author is reality not science fiction! That is the world changing shift that cannot be ignored, and the technology cannot be uninvented!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Best Before

Smashwords Discount codes for Control Escape are due to expire at midnight on the Ist of August (that's midnight in California). Don't worry if you miss the deadline, Iceline is available free on all channels for new readers and there willl be news about Control Escape and the other Grange Stories soon. Editing What You Ask For is progressing well, sort of...

You can help me with something, do you have any experience of working with mailchimp, or any similar service? Drop me a line through the comments, I'm interested to discover more.

Thanks.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

30/50000/0

Thirty, Fifty thousand, Zero; days, words and excuses respectively and the essence of NaNoWriMo, but what does it mean?

People ask me questions all the time, an intrinsic part of my daily life is answering questions, and some have to be given time to reach an answer. A friend (and a reader of The Grange Novels,) asked me earlier this year, what does NaNoWriMo mean to me?

A simple question and  harder than I thought!

The smashwords interview asks about my choice of eReader. I have a Kobo mini, a slim pocket sized device, inside a sleepcover and the most frequently read book is Chris Baty's "No Plot, No Problem," the guide to surviving NaNoWriMo. I read it at least once a year, especially in the late summer as preparatory reading.

NaNoWriMo means a lot to me, it's an unbridled release of creativity, a raucous adventure of clacking keys, word counts, hit and missed targets for the day and at the end of all the fun; 30 and fifty thousand completed with no excuses. It is about letting go, chucking the rules out of the window and having a ball; why do it if you don't enjoy it?

My writing breakout is encapsulated in NaNo WriMo; that stories can be written the way they are told; one shot, no rehearsal (no opportunity for a rubbish first draft!) With the essence of the idea in your head and letting it pour out. The ludicrous challenge to write a novel sized chunk with a high word count and a short time limit creating a built in deadline!

In less than a week the happy, and probably tired campers from Camp NaNoWriMo will be winding down after their literary excursions and some of them may be ready to start thinking about the November challenge. that's it; the challenge!

The landing gauntlet clutching a pen asks: can I - on top of everything else - face the prospect of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days and make no excuses - Just Do It!

I borrowed the title of my second NaNoWriMo winner from a quote attributed to the British fighter ace, Douglas Bader, as famous for being a double amputee as anything. He is quoted in the film biography "Reach For The Sky" saying "Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools." Portrayed as a man for whom things can be done; earlier in the story he argues that the Regulations may not have said he could fly, they didn't say that he couldn't; He flew!

NaNoWriMo sets the challenge; thirty/fifty thousand, and the zero excuses are down to me. It doesn't matter whether you say it can be done or not. I know it can! Roughly ten per cent of those who sign up reach the target on or before the deadline. It is down to me, am I self-motivated enough to plough furrow after furrow of words across the page or screen until the clock strikes midnight on the 30th?

Entered twice, finished twice (2012, What You Ask For; 2013, The Obedience of Fools) the extra element is can I do it again (2014, and no idea at the moment)? Sticking my neck out - am I going to take up the gauntlet for the third time. Fifty thousand words in thirty days breaks down to an average 1667 words a day. Of course I am.

Been there, done it, got the tee shirt(s);  what matters now is what comes next -another Tee shirt - got to go for it!

Now all I need is a story - no problem!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Interview with an author

Smashwords author interview, an idea from the people at Smashwords to bring the author and the reader together.

The first question came before I started the interview; how to answer?  Do I think about it for hours and come up with something deep and meaningful, or as a live interview, taking each question in turn and answering off the cuff. I stayed with the pre-set questions and answered off the cuff and published. There is an option to write your own questions, to unpublish, edit the answers and republish; effectively giving the chance of re-interviewing the author on  a regular basis. 

A couple of the questions made me, asking me to reach back into the recesses of my memory for the first story I wrote and the first book that had a major impact; I tweaked the answers, I honestly don't remember the first story I wrote,and so many stories have made an impact it is difficult to choose the one which made the greatest.

Put something in front of me and I will read it, even the cereal packet at breakfast has been seconded as reading material. As a youngster I read very little fiction, apart from the weekly comics and Commando war stories (Kurt Langhers' name comes from a character in the Commando War Stories), Instead I devoured reference books and factual accounts. This may be why I prefer to write stories based in reality rather than science fiction, fantasy, or any other genre.

I was challenged to read a Mills and Boon romance after making  disparaging comments and forced to admit I hadn't actually read one (Cautionary note; research first then open mouth). I was pleasantly surprised, a well crafted story in an enjoyable style. Judging by the number of romance novels sold and distributed through ebook channels the readers are not a community any writer would wish to hack off.

I digress, flying off at a tangent again. The upshot of the questions was a look at where The Grange came from, along with the inhabitants and visitors. The original idea was focused on an officially sanctioned security team based in the country house scenario, the shift to a freelance operation came slowly and by degrees.

The idea was kicked around and played with for the best part of twenty years before Iceline was written and back then Steel wasn't Steel and Josie was someone else too. Bill Jardine appeared with the house, and I really must find out how he came to be there. It feels like that sometimes, that the writing process is based on an interview with the characters, and every so often a new one appears, like a guest arriving for the week-end.

The Thirty Nine Steps, Casino Royale. Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, The Eagle Has Landed are all part of a long list of books which have influenced me, and the authors; Ian Fleming, John Buchan, Alistair Maclean, and Jack Higgins. There are others, remembered for fragments rather than the whole story.

John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps is always a favourite, a simple plot of one man against the conspiracy with only his wits and stamina, unsure of who he can trust. I like the idea that he's a relatively ordinary man, given the period he may have had some military experience. Richard Hannay, a mining engineer had recently arrived from South Africa and grown tired of London, he is on the point of going back when his adventures begin. 

Jack Higgins is different, "The Eagle Has Landed" was his breakout. He was advised to allow his characters to tell the story, not force them to fit the plot.  "The Eagle Has Landed" was a massive success.

That idea: of letting the characters tell the story struck a chord with me. The first Grange Novel was the culmination of a long journey and arrived at a distinct way point (Twenty Five years service in post), and through a lot of forced planning and preparation, false starts and frustration. The more detailed the planning and preparation the greater the frustration. I was itching to get on with telling the story!

In NaNOWriMo terms I write by the seat of my pants, start at the beginning, usually with an end in sight and let the characters show me the way. Bare notes and jottings are the sum of my preparation, years of fighting the frustration ended in the local bookstore chatting about an interview with Philip Pullman. Who apparently admitted that he rarely planned his novels, and the one occasion he did the planning found he couldn't write the story because he had already done so. 

Pieces fell into place with a battered laptop and printer and the determination, or desperation that it was now or never happen kick started a four month dash through a hundred thousand words and the first draft was finished by the second week in December 2002.

I struggled for years, frustrated by the detailed planning everyone said was involved and  fighting the urge to throw it all away and sit down and write. I finally sat down, told the story and bounded through Iceline, and then I discovered NanoWriMo.

I'll talk about that another day...