More About Computers As Writing Tools

Can’t believe I haven’t posted for two weeks.  My only excuse is that I have been without my dear old Dell computer, which was only returned to me yesterday (Friday, 21 February), with a new hard drive, but not running any faster.  The technician who sourced, fitted and installed it, told my One and Only Husband that it was running faster – in his workshop in a town seven miles away.  I believe him, but our rural broadband is such rubbish that I’m sure that any benefit of having a new hard drive is more than offset by our poor connection.

In the meantime, I have used my iPad (with a Bluetooth keyboard – see 9 February post) and borrowed computers from other members of the family.  Arrgh.  Nothing ever feels quite right, does it?  You can’t relax with someone else’s machine, can you, and, if you can’t relax, you can’t write.  One of them was my Beloved Daughter’s new laptop, with – horror of horrors – Windows 8 on it.

“Oh yes, Mum.  You can have your own SkyDrive, and I can share photos of the baby with you.”

“Lovely darling, but where’s Microsoft Office which I installed – with many trials and tribulations – yesterday?  Yes, I realise you got it working eventually.  How was I to know that you had had a trial version in the past and that Microsoft would get fixated on its product key?”

“You switch to classic view.”

“You mean get rid of the swanky Windows 8 desktop that is trying rather too hard to look like an iPad?”

“Of course.  I’m sure Microsoft will scrap Windows 8 soon.   They always do when nobody likes something.  I mean, they moved on from Vista pretty quick, didn’t they?”  (Vista.  Now there’s a sore point – more later.)

So, last Wednesday, while she was feeding my Darling Grandson, I played with her Windows 8.  Dear Reader, a Windows 8 laptop is an entertainment machine, with links on the desktop to apps for ‘Sport’, ‘Health and Fitness’, ‘Music’, ‘Video’ (but not YouTube), ‘People’ (a natty little link for joining everyone in your address book to your SkyDrive whether you or they like it or not), the inevitable ‘Games’, more games and other stuff I can’t even remember.  I left in the news and weather links, the SkyDrive and Internet Explorer, but more or less everything else went, with the result that I was soon looking at a very empty desktop.  Then I got started.  As if I were playing patience, I moved displayed links to all the Microsoft Office applications I use on a regular basis (Word, PowerPoint, Access, Excel and Publisher), Google Chrome and Dropbox and shuffled them around into what was to me the ‘right’ order.   Within a few minutes, DR, I’d converted it into a machine for writing.

Now the beauty of it is that, although I was doing all this on my user area on Beloved Daughter’s computer, which I had to sign into using my ‘Microsoft’ user id and password, it’s there for me for keeps.  When this old Dell finally curls up its tootsies,  and I’m compelled to buy a Windows 8 computer (or later  – presumably), I can log into it with same ‘Microsoft ‘ user id and password and see the same desktop, use the same settings and access my files through the SkyDrive.   Suddenly, Windows 8 becomes worth having.

Now back to the dear old Dell.  I remembered to send it off to hospital with Microsoft Office, but I’d completely forgotten that, when I bought it, the OS was Windows Vista and that a few weeks later I’d installed Windows 7 using a disc from Dell.  I still have this disc, but when I tried insedell studio laptoprting it in the optical drive, it rattled ominously and wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do.  So here I am using a discredited and very old operating system and at a loss as to how to sort it out.  Also the computer has been very reluctant to re-acquaint itself with Adobe Acrobat, Flash Drive and Evernote, although it did the the wifi, the printer, and Dropbox without blinking – thank Goodness.   I can’t begin to count how many user ids and passwords and other security paraphernalia I’ve had to dig out over the past few twenty four hours.  Fortunately I keep them on a file on my (external) hard drive – except for the very old ones, like Kaspersky, which, as you might expect from a computer security company from the country which invented the KGB, is almost impenetrably secure.  Then there was Firefox and its Bookmarks to reinstate, to say nothing of Autocorrect and other settings.  Wouldn’t it have wonderful to have logged with my Microsoft id and just got on with using the computer?

Am I boring you, DR?  Hope not.   Nowadays, writers don’t write but type and we are dependent upon our writing machines.  Would I go back to the A4 lined pad, pencil and rubber?  No, I don’t think so.

(Image from Wikimedia, accessed 22 February 2014.)

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Technology for Writing – The Bluetooth Keyboard

If you want to write, you need a Windows computer, Microsoft Surface or an Applemac.  It is accepted that iPads are for viewing and keying in the odd email, Facebook or Twitter post, but not much more than that (although my Scottish writer friend once posted on Facebook that he had started writing a short story on his iPhone, because he happened to be out at the time he felt the urge to write).  However, I am now looking forward to the prospect of a whole seven days (possibly more) without my dear old Dell laptop, which is going to have to go to the computer hospital to have an operation on its hard drive.

For the next week or so, I will be stuck with the iPad, which has never been my favourite piece of equipment, although, being small and compact, it’s invaluable on holiday.  So, I’ve bought a Bluetooth keyboard – the Cerulian Technology Mini Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad and iPhone.  I’m using at the moment.  Connecting the thing to the iPad was a bit hit and miss.  I had to switch it on, press down an ‘ID’ key, which initially I couldn’t find, wait for the iPad to detect it and then key in a PIN number.  I had to do this three times before it actually connected.

Here is a list of things it doesn’t do or have:

  • Capitalise beginnings of sentences
  • Have home or end keys
  • Have a shift on both sides.  It only has shift on the left hand side, which makes capitalising the letters on the left hand side awkward.
  • Implement the spellcheck/autocorrect in the iPad build.  I have to do the capital P on iPad manually.

The lock key (top right, above delete) is a pain, as it keeps blanking the screen and forcing me to log back on again.  Your point, Mr Cerulian?

Good things about the Cerulian keyboard:

  • The numbers are at the top of the letters, as on a normal (ie Windows) keyboard, and also function keys (F1, F2 etc).
  • The punctuation keys are in the normal places too.
  • It has cursor keys like a normal (ie Windows) keyboard and, unlike the navigation facilities on the onscreen version, they work and don’t stall.  Moving back through text and making edits and corrections is a dream.  This probably makes up for everything else!
  • The delete key is in the place where you would expect the backspace delete to be and it behaves like a backspace delete.  There is no ordinary (forwards) delete.
  • Selecting text can be done by pressing down the (one) shift key and then moving along using the cursor keys, as you would do in Windows.  (I did this without even thinking about it.) I can see all of my iPad screen, without having to obscure part of it with the onscreen keyboard.  However, you can use both keyboards together without upsetting either or the iPad.

What is bugging me is that the short list of ‘key functions’ detailed on the minute slip of paper that came with the keyboard leaves me wondering what to do with the rest of its functions.   So let’s experiment.  (Who knows, I might lose the lot in a moment!)

§§§§ ±±±± ~~~~ ∫∫∫∫∫∫∫∫∫˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚ßßßßßßßßß  That’s me experimenting with the § and alt keys.  Is that it?  …No!  Miracles will never cease!  I have found a substitute for home (Control and left cursor goes to the beginning of the line ) and end (Control and right cursor goes to the end.).  Hurray!  It would be nice to get into the menu at the bottom of WordPress … you know, bold, underline, bullets and all that.  Let’s try again.

Command and B does bold. Command and I does italic. Command and U does. (To cancel any of them, you just repeat command B, I and U again.)

I’ve just found a manual for the keyboard but, as it doesn’t include any of the things I discovered above, I’m leaving my pennyworth in here.

It’s physically possible to import Word documents saved in Dropbox into Pages and edit them, so I will do it, using the iPad and the Cerulian Bluetooth keyboard.  Unlike my Scottish writer friend, I’m not so desperate as to use on my phone (a Galaxy Ace with a tiny screen), but I have the technology to write.  No excuses!

Review of ‘Mad About the Boy’ by Helen Fielding

Available from Amazon.

A few weeks ago, one of my posts could have been summed up in the phrase ‘I HATE CHICKLIT’, so why, oh why, did I download and then read the latest by Helen Fielding, the author who, arguably, invented the genre?  Well, Dear Reader, I have to confess that I did enjoy Helen’s previous two Bridget Jones novels, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary‘ and ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason‘ and I have a particular affection for Cause Celeb, Helen’s before-she-was-famous novel about famine relief in Africa.  However, I did read all these books when they came out, about a decade ago.  My then teenage daughter enjoyed them together.  I watched the first Bridget Jones film on a cross Channel ferry with my son, the revolutionary, and he even laughed at it.  I suppose I committed myself to ‘Mad About the Boy’ out of a sense of loyalty and because I’d read the others.  However, it seems that my tastes have moved on, but Helen’s literary style hasn’t.

As this book has been widely reviewed in the newspapers, I’m not revealing anything I shouldn’t when I write that ‘Mad About the Boy’ opens with Mark Darcy – the man of Bridget’s dreams, who she eventually married – dead, and Bridget herself a fifty-five year old widow.  However, even though she has two primary school children, she hasn’t changed a jot; still she writes about her calorie intake and how she’s exceeded it, worrying about the rules of dating and behaving like a love-sick schoolgirl over various unsuitable men.  Even the least mature fifty-five year old grows up a bit, methinks.  And, how is it that Bridget and Mark, having married when she was about thirty-five, waited so long to have children?  By my reckoning, their offspring should be starting university, not be at primary school.

Jude is still there and apparently ‘running the City’, also Daniel Cleaver, now a (partially) reformed character.  Bridget’s mother remains a caricature.  Shazza Picture of moon on dark skyhas been pensioned out of the story.   Of Bridget’s two children, the youngest, Mabel, little more than a tot, is by far the most interesting, with a lisp, saying things like ‘The moon followeth me’, and her massive conscience mortified when she discovers that she has given her class nits.   (Perhaps this ‘Mabel’ will inspire a resurgence in the name, one of the few Victorian monickers which hasn’t made a come back.)  In the background were a bevy of private school mothers, who might have been funny, but there were too many for us to get to know, and the fact that Helen didn’t didn’t get on their side indicated that she didn’t properly know them either.

Roxter, the toyboy, was a well-drawn character and very believable, a man with a great sense of humour and, as a contrast to Bridget’s constant dieting, a trencherman, but he figures in less than half the story.  Moreover, the timeline is confused, Bridget with Roxter at the beginning, then not with Roxter, and further on we read about how Bridget and Roxter meet.   Towards the end of the book, Bridget appears to act her age at last… but then she loses her maturity again in the last hundred pages by running after another male, who has only had a vague, walk-on part up until now.

It was an easy read, making no demands on the reader at all.  The book contained some vivid descriptive passages.  Helen stuck to scenarios she knew and understood well (the media), hamming up the sex and the humour.

So, Dear Reader, would I recommend it?  I wrote, in an earlier post, that I wouldn’t review books I didn’t like and that my silence must speak for itself.  I’m afraid I’ve broken my rule.  I am, however, not the best person to review it.

(Image copyright free from Wikpedia.)