Monday, September 27, 2010

Tip top

Oh my, it's over a week since I posted here.

Last week was consumed by real life stuff of the most boring variety and this week seems to be starting the same way. I'm writing in my head only, but that still counts, doesn't it?

Today I stretched my legs with a little walk to the corner shop, where for once I found myself drawn to Prima magazine rather than the chocolate. Opening it up when I got home, I was delighted to find that they have printed another of my tips, the second since I started submitting them earlier this year.

And if anyone else is magazine buying the current issue of Writers' Forum has a great article about literacy consultancies by lovely Helen Hunt, in which I am quoted on my positive experience with BubbleCow.

I tried to buy a copy of Writers' Forum on Saturday, but the queue for the tills in W.H.Smith was so ridiculously long that I gave up and skimmed through the article in the shop. Sadly they don't sell that magazine in the corner shop, so I'll have to try again in town next weekend.

Edited: I've just realised that Julie Phillips is included in both magazines too. I'd read her blog post but forgotten!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Even More Tonto Short Stories

I've been away, and when I returned home yesterday I was delighted to find my contributor copy of Even More Tonto Short Stories had arrived in the post in my absence. My short story, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, is the final one in the anthology, but do make sure you also read all the others, there are some fantastic writers included, many of them already published novelists. It's thrilling to finally have the book in my hands and I can't wait to read all the stories.

Even More Tonto Short Stories can be purchased from Amazon, directly from Tonto Books or from any other good bookseller.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Me and my Kindle

So, I have had my Kindle for just over a week and I am in love with it.

I've already written here about my reasons for wanting one, so now I must report back on whether it is meeting my expectations, I guess. I haven't yet explored all the features and some I may never use, but here is my verdict so far:

1.The design is sleek and generally user friendly, with buttons which are small and firm but not stiff. The Kindle comes with a USB cable and a very lightweight plug into which the cable can inserted so the machine can also be recharged away from a computer. It all arrives in beautiful packaging which appears to be made from recycled materials. A quick start guide is in the box, the main manual automatically arrives on your Kindle and can also be downloaded as a PDF file from the Amazon website to read in advance or print out.

2.The Kindle arrives already registered to your Amazon account and as soon as it is started any books you have bought in advance are downloaded. Books are easy to purchase and download onto it. Almost too easy, so I shall have to be very controlled in how much I spend. I've already downloaded quite a few books but many were free classics and some others were under £1.

3. The Kindle software for other devices, such as a computer or phone is very useful. I have it on my laptop and if I want to download samples of books I am interested in I usually send those to the laptop rather than clogging up the Kindle itself (though files are very easy to remove from the Kindle). I also found it useful to keep the Kindle manual on the laptop, so if I have a problem I can read on the PC while following instructions on the Kindle.

4. The reading experience is very positive. The contrast is so good that I can read comfortably in very low light. For Kindle books there is not only a choice of 8 font sizes but the font type, line spacing and words per line can even be changed. Kindle books can easily be searched for keywords to find content. Each book reopens at the point it was last left (and readers on PC or phone can be synchronised to this) but it is simple to return to the start via the 'go to' menu.

5. The PDF reader is good and keeps formatting intact as well as having a search facility. To read PDFs comfortably the screen needs to be put into landscape mode with the machine turned round and I have found that most of my PDF books can be read easily like that, though using the page turn buttons is more awkward. The exception is academic textbooks, where their original larger size means that the type is still very small. Readable, but barely for my eyes. There is a zoom in facility, but even on the first zoom level that means several clicks to move across each line which I find very slow and annoying, so I think I will use it on 'fit to page' and use a small handheld magnifier if necessary. PDF files can be transferred directly onto the Kindle via USB or sent to Amazon by email to download. I found the USB method very easy and much quicker for multiple files, as the Kindle just acts like an extra storage device to drop files into. I have also successfully emailed Word documents to Amazon for free download.

6. There are quite a few menus and functions to learn, but once you get the hang of the various keys and menus it is fairly straightforward, even to me. The keyboard buttons are tiny but easily pressed with a nail. Having to open the symbols menu to access number keys is, however, rather a pain.

7.The browser is, as expected, rather clunky to use and quite difficult to read in shades of grey. Key websites such as Google, Wikipedia and the BBC come already bookmarked and I have been able to get into email accounts on BT Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. The browser is a nice extra, but it would probably only be used if no other internet access was available as it does have a tendency to freeze or crash the machine. I think this is due to the number of clicks needed to navigate a page.

8.The new Kindle does seem to have a few problems with stability, for which Amazon are apparently working on a software fix. Mine has both frozen and crashed, but I believe this was due to me pressing buttons too quickly in my impatience. Speed is not of the essence with this machine. There are instructions for both a hard reset and a soft reset in the manual and the soft reset via a menu sorted out a problem I had with a corrupted font in the early days, without me having to ring Customer Support.

9. It took me three goes to get my Kindle to connect to our home WiFi but I suspect that was due to user error in typing in the network key because of my manual dexterity issues. Initially I just used the inbuilt 3g and found that at home I can get the 3g speed during the day but it tends to drop to GPRS in the evening.

10. The Kindle doesn't come with any sort of case or protective cover, so buying one is essential. The 'official' case seems expensive but is sturdy real leather and seems well made. I didn't buy the case with a light, instead I have a small clip-on reading light, very cheap from eBay, which I can attach to the cover. But the screen contrast is good enough to read the Kindle with just a bedside light anyway so I will probably use it very rarely.

11. The battery life on my first charge was poor, just 4 days with the WiFi left on and a lot of experimentation (including a soft reset). I now turn the WiFi off except when I actually need it and this second charge is lasting much better, though I still think Amazon's own estimates are rather optimistic, especially if the browser is used at all.

12. I haven't tried any of the audio facilities for audiobooks or mp3 files, I will probably stick to my mp3 player for those as they would drain the Kindle battery. Nor have I yet attempted to annotate books, though that does appear to be straightforward.

13. The Kindle comes with two inbuilt dictionaries but the default dictionary is the American one. This can be changed to the Oxford Dictionary of English via a menu. I have also downloaded a Roget's Thesaurus for under £1.

14. Books can be catalogued into 'collections' but as far as I can tell this can only be done on the Kindle itself. That takes a while, but the result is worth it for the increased ease of finding what you want.

15. The Kindle puts itself into sleep mode after 10 idle minutes or when manually switched off, and comes with a lovely collection of literature and art related screensavers. It is always fun to see which one emerges at the end of a session and they do give the machine a classy appearance. My current favourite is the portrait of Virginia Woolf.

So, a few little niggles, but generally the new Kindle is meeting all my expectations. Is it worth the money given that most of the current books are around the same price as the print versions? Well, probably, I think, and for me, with my specific needs, definitely yes. I will be road testing it on a trip next week.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Summer Reading 2 - Not So Perfect

Oh dear, I meant to blog about Not So Perfect ages ago, but life got in the way. And now Hubby has run off with the book (which is in itself a recommendation).

I've 'known' Nik Perring online for a while now so I was delighted when he had this collection of very short stories published. Every story is a gem, they are succinct, quirky and moving. It's hard to pick a favourite, because the quality of the collection is very even, but if I really had to I think it would be When You're Frightened Honey, Think of Strawberries, a story which I'd previously read online and which had stayed with me for a long time.

The book itself is a small square design, perfect for popping into a handbag, and it accompanied me to coffee shops and hospital appointments. I was genuinely sad to reach the end of the final story, as it's a fine debut collection of flash fiction.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Busy, busy, busy

Last week just rushed by too.

On Wednesday Son 2 returned to school, but this time to the Further Education unit on a new site. He'd been well prepared by the school, who also sent home a transition book for us to look at together over the summer. He seemed a little apprehensive just before the transport arrived, but all was well when we found his old escort had been transferred onto this new route. There were big smiles all round.

He seemed happy when he returned in the evening and the good mood continued in the following days, so we can only assume that all is well in Son 2's world. It is so hard when they can't really tell you what goes on.

Son 1 had two induction days at his new college and work starts in earnest on Monday. He showed me a photo on his phone of the view from the classroom window, this time he looks out onto fields rather than a tube station. There is a fair amount of travelling to get there, but the London Underground app on his new BlackBerry will help with that.

And finally, and most excitingly, my Kindle arrived! An early font problem induced panic, but eventually I discovered how to reset the firmware and all is well again. I will report back in more detail next week when I've explored all the features...