We The “Peeple”

If you despise Facebook and don’t use it because you consider it too intrusive and even at times a bit, uh, creepy, well, brace yourself…. because as the Washington Post tells us:

Screen capture of the Washington Post.
Screen capture of the Washington Post.

I have no idea how many of you read me and never make yourself known. And that’s fine. That’s entirely your right, of course.

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Future Academics Will Find Lots Less Paper

Good morning. This might be called PART II to yesterdays’s post:

Screen capture of title of yesterday's post.
Screen capture of title of yesterday’s post.

That retired English literature professor’s disdain for “social media” embraced by “young people” led me to thinking. How much has changed in novel writing over the last few generations. One aspect of such change has zero to do with annoying kids insisting on using Twitter on holiday when, AS WE ALL KNOW, they should be sitting on Bournemouth Beach immersed in The Great Gatsby.

“The Great Gatsby” first edition cover, 1925. From Wikipedia.

I don’t write my novels longhand. True, there is nothing new in someone doing that of course. We know typing has been around for over a century.

But a typewriter is just another form of physical writing. What’s changed in the last two generations is increasingly everything is on computers. And those computers are becoming ever more sophisticated.

As you may know, I’ve been proofing the Distances manuscript using a Word file emailed to my Kindle. (The last part of that sentence would’ve totally baffled F. Scott Fitzgerald.) I’m not inking out lines and words and scribbling in planned changes above them or in the margins and handing those changes to my devoted secretary…. who is invariably a lovely, ever-helpful woman who works for close to nothing because I can barely pay her, and she can type, because, being a man, as you know I’m a pathetic typist….

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“You kids….and get off my lawn too!”

In a world full of young adult fiction readers who are also “social media” users, who could seriously argue the likes of Twitter are destroying novel reading among the young? For the two streams of entertainment aren’t mutually exclusive: reading a novel is one thing, while networking and socializing is another. Most people can walk and chew gum at the same time.

However, this retired English literature professor lumps them together:

Screen capture of the Daily Mail.
Screen capture of the Daily Mail.

His summation of novels in single tweets is amusing. However, his tweets are obviously not replacements for reading the full novels themselves. That said, I’ve also never seen the issue positioned before in that thrown back on itself manner.

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The Office

Like great athletes, we world changing novelists have our writing superstitions, peculiarities and habits. I’m discovering mine include “routine” and “order” – which I sorely miss when I lack them. Meaning this is just not gonna cut it for much longer:

The heart sinks a little. What will be the office. Trowbridge, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]
The heart sinks a little. What will be the office. Trowbridge, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Ahhhhh! That’s to be our office here! Eventually!

I’m trying desperately to finish the sequel. Sigh. In recent days, I’ve been working (when I can) on the last bits on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – a nifty device that is part PC/ part tablet. Unlike iPads, it has Word, which is indispensable. It also has Flash; again, iPads don’t.

You may think you don’t “need” a PC anymore, but you do. We also don’t have proper broadband yet either. (Sky says that’s coming Monday.) So I have to use mobile internet, which flickers… 3G to 2G, to GPRS, to E and back to 3G, and so on…. unpredictably.

But I have also learned that the other day I had a paperback sale out of our friends’ Chipping Sodbury shop! I won’t mince words: when people buy your work, it’s an immensely satisfying feeling. You must be doing something right! :-)


The Winds of War novel arrived on Sunday. More reading! Lots more!

The Winds of War,
“The Winds of War,” by Herman Wouk. [My photograph.]

The first order went astray, so Amazon.co.uk dispatched another. The historical timeframe in which Winds is set got me thinking about how, pre-internet, pre-blogs, I’d have informed you I’d received the book at last. I might have sent you a telegram:


Telegrams were once probably the best means for non-telephonic near instant communications. They were common pre-war and during World War II. How quickly we forget.

And, if I recall correctly, they were used in Winds. You paid by word, so tried to keep messages concise. This below is a classic about how a telegram could be “misunderstood.” In 2013, the BBC told us:

A reporter wanting to know the age of actor Cary Grant sent: HOW OLD CARY GRANT.

The actor’s supposed response?


Hilarious. A bit of a smile for a Monday. :-)

Rip Van Winkle Wakes Up

It was widely reported the other day that when Facebook went down for a time, some of the web site’s users actually dialed 911. The L.A. Times noted:

Officials at one Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department station were not happy after getting calls from residents because Facebook went down Friday morning.

“#Facebook is not a Law Enforcement issue, please don’t call us about it being down, we don’t know when FB will be back up!” Sheriff’s Sgt. Burton Brink of the Crescenta Valley station wrote on Twitter. In a later tweet, he said an unknown number of people called 911 about the outage….

Notice how the Sheriff dealt with it? He went on Twitter. But if this from Media Bistro is accurate, that would not have helped:

The Smartest People Prefer Twitter To LinkedIn And Facebook, Research Shows [STUDY]

Meaning the Sheriff would have been addressing the wrong audience in terms of, err, brainpower. ;-)

I love Twitter…. although I’m not a genius. And I do also use Facebook – but primarily as a keep in touch with family and friends sort of thing; and I’m not on it much. (I’m not on LinkedIn at all.)

Which led me to thinking about where we are here: WordPress. When I first used it for another blog about 10 years ago, I had found it refreshingly straightforward.

However, when I returned to it last autumn to start this blog after several years’ break, I felt far more out of it than if in my absence someone had merely moved the furniture around. It seemed more like I had been dropped into another technological era. To borrow from Catskills literature, it felt rather Rip Van Winkle-ish.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\'s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\'s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.
Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\’s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\’s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

On the Dashboard, very little was where I remembered it. There were vast changes throughout the site. Trying to navigate, I sat there utterly lost at first.

“What is that blue screen for? How do I get back to the Dash? I clicked on that, and it’s leading me here? And what the heck does THAT symbol mean?” (Uh, I didn’t always say “heck.”)

What happened to my Atari 800?

That was then. I now have matters under control. Well, mostly anyway. :-)

Have a good [grumble, grumble] Monday….

Among The Best 25¢ I’ve Ever Spent

Got a bit of a surprise on Monday in Key West. It wasn’t, as you know, at Hemingway’s house. I mean down at the docks behind Conch Seafood:

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

As I tweeted the other day, a manatee appeared seconds after we had fed the fish, resulting in a marine encounter the two kids – the 9 year old girl especially – loved, and which I later joked to my Irish friends was perhaps the best value for 25¢ I had ever gotten in my life. Yet the fish-feeding had proven itself to be an unexpected learning experience too. However, not in a way you might think.

It had all started when I had given our friends’ 11 year old son a quarter to slot into the dock edge (environmentally safe) fish food dispenser, which resembled an “old-fashioned” gum ball machine. Bear in mind he can no problem handle iPads and land 747s using Flight Simulator. Indeed, he is so sharp that early last year, after his mother, “Maureen,” had explained to us at their Dublin breakfast table how she was flying Emirates to Abu Dhabi on her way to India to join our now late friend Kam there, while munching his toast he flat-out contradicted her idea of her own travel itinerary:

Young son: “Mum, you aren’t on Emirates. You’re on Etihad. You’re going to Abu Dhabi.”

Maureen: “No, darlin’, I’m on Emirates.”

Young son: “You’re stopping in Abu Dhabi. You can’t be on Emirates. You would be going to Dubai.”

My wife grabbed her iPad and checked the web. Yep, sure enough he was the one who was right. “Good luck you didn’t turn up for an Emirates flight!” my wife laughed.

But that same lad in Key West the other day didn’t understand he needed first to slot the 25¢ coin into the machine and turn its handle until the coin was swallowed…. and that he needed next to position one cupped hand below the chute to catch the falling feed…. as that feed would be sliding out and down into that hand the second he raised the chute’s cover with his other hand.

Stumped by how to operate it, he hesitated. I bravely took charge of the archaic technology. Oh, and, by the way, it is “technology” that had once been commonplace in the Republic of Ireland too.

Good grief, young people these days. ;-)

And The Wifi Code Is….

Hello from South Carolina – on a stopover. Quick question: Have you noticed how much one aspect of routine U.S. travel has changed vastly in hotels in just a few years? It seems to have progressed sorta like this:

c. 2004: “Wifi? What’s that?”

c. 2009: “We have wifi available in the lounge. The password is in your guest directory in your room.”

2014: “Here’s your room keys. The room’s wifi code is on the back [of the paper key sleeve].”

That last greeting was what we received at the check-in desk at the hotel where we stayed just off I-95. You don’t even have to bring it up anymore. They simply thrust the code at you…. here, no need to ask, style.


Also, I realize I can’t recall the last time I made a phone call on an in-room hotel telephone? ;-)

“I’m not being unsociable, I’m working…”

I’m finding one of my better moves has been pulling together a combination of the iPad, a bluetooth keyboard, and a word processor app that can be shifted into a standard Word document.

The convenience of the iPad means it’s easy to get sudden ideas into written form almost immediately. A laptop is now, actually, “awkward.” No longer do you need to be tethered to a desktop PC (thank goodness). And a typewriter? What’s that?


As we know swiping and tapping is now commonplace both at home and in public. Yesterday, I got the core of a chapter down in about half an hour. I did so while having a coffee at my in-laws’ kitchen table.

I’m sure you have family who are much the same: current technology sometimes baffles them. Bank cards and pins are fine; but my father-in-law – a bank manager who retired some two decades ago – still occasionally wants “to speak to the top man” at the branch. (Bless him, he was born probably about three decades too late.) Sky satellite is okay too; but they are also probably among the last of the breed in which operating the TV remote can still present a challenge. (Don’t even mention Sky Plus.) Their shared mobile phone (a Nokia, c. 2004) is lying around somewhere and possibly usable (assuming they haven’t lost about the 12th charger); but it’s never on, and forget leaving a voice mail (it will probably never be retrieved), and even resorting separately to leaving a message on the landline will likely prove problematic. (“It’s doing that beeping dial tone again. It’s been doing that for weeks now. Do I press, uh, that 1571 now?”)

So you never quite know what will prove a tech stumbling block. They know of the internet of course: you can buy things on it. But their kids and grandkids are the ones who actually have to make the online purchases on their behalf. “Oh, isn’t that marvelous,” my mother-in-law is apt to remark, pleased, when shown airline tickets just bought online, or the Amazon purchase that will arrive the next day, or the lottery ticket numbers played.

On another day, all of that experience has been forgotten, and we have to start all over again. Have you seen Groundhog Day? While watching TV, seeing us around her on tablets or iPhones, the disdain in her voice is unmistakeable:

“What is on those things you’re all so fascinated by? How did we ever live without them?”

Usually I leave the retort to my wife. However, if I desire to feel ridiculous, I may actually try to meet the challenge and attempt to explain…. again:

“You managed as everyone always has, but not as efficiently. It took longer to do everything. Right now I’m flicking through about ten newspapers at once. And CNN. [I stand up, walk over and show her the iPad.] And here’s the BBC. Here’s France 24. I’ve got my manuscript open here. [I then tap that so she can see it.] There’s lots more. Being chained to a desk and a landline is over for many; that’s how your sons work from home now and then. [I return to my sofa seat.] In most jobs you can’t cope today without technology. The world of a bank manager having his secretary typing out paper memos is gone.”

Still, I often get a puzzled look in return:

“We can’t handle all of this change. We’re old. How do all of your brains not hurt? Robert, when you go out, would you please stop in at the newsagent and buy me a newspaper?”

By that, she obviously means the newspaperliterally.

I hope you’re having a good weekend, wherever you may be. :-)