Writing event – 9 Oct Littlemoor Library, Weymouth

event poster image

Writing event

Why not come along to Littlemoor Library, near Weymouth, a week today (9th October) where Kathy, Judi and I will be taking part in this event next week. Come and join us for some insights into the factual, fanciful and fictional world of writing.

An opportunity to see, and buy, from a cross-cutting range of books highlighting the range of output from our local authors. A cornucopia with something for everyone as we span the range from Tudor to modern, from mystical islands to the heart of academia and from coast and country to the heart of industry. Come and discover the world of writing, editing self-publishing and output via traditional outlets.

If you haven’t been to the venue before the Library is adjacent to the local shopping centre with free parking available; alternatively use the local No.2 bus service which stops close by.

writing event poster image
Poster for the 9th October event

Stoptober

Only a brief update in today’s post but if anyone has a bit of cash to spare then Stella and I are taking part again this year in stoptober/Go Sober to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.  Any sponsorship welcome towards this extremely worthwhile cause.

 

Jottings for August

Image of Yorkshire Rose

It’s August

Image of a Yorkshire Rose.
Yorkshire Rose – original creator unknown.

Firstly why the Yorkshire rose? 1st August was Yorkshire day, a day when we can all celebrate the best of the county and our heritage.

I was going to head up this up as August jottings, however, that would perhaps have suggested a gravitas for the post far greater than justified. The problem being positioning of the capital letter, would it get read as August (the month) or august (the word)? Conversely, the revision immediately suggests the blindingly obvious retaliation of “no s**t Sherlock”, although, when placed in the listing of blog posts sorted by title, it will be logical.

Why add this jotted note? July, for me, had been one with a high output of writing, 5000 words of academic prose for a Conference, interspersed with fiction pieces at two writer’s groups plus some work on the first draft of an ongoing work of my own. Together those generated around another 5-6000 words. The style swapping was an interesting challenge.

Today’s blog post therefore just a few observations on writing, publicity and the related software used.

Heat

Indoors, or outdoors, where to write in a heatwave? The dilemma of going outdoors is that whilst the concept is ideal, the practicality of working with a laptop screen in the outdoors not so. Indoors though is hot and stuffy unless all the windows are open; opening the windows attracts in the flies. Not only that but the very Mediterranean nature of the weather is a distraction to aid procrastination. How did those writers who deliberately based themselves in the Med’ cope?

Facebook changes – adding complications

This appears to be a company, for whatever reason, trying its hardest to shoot itself in the foot. They have decided that blog posts can no longer be linked to a Profile but have to go to a Page. (See quote below from my ISP)

“Facebook no longer supports Publicize connections to Facebook Profiles, but you can still connect Facebook Pages. Please select a Facebook Page to publish updates to.”

That doubles the hassle and faff for the content provider. I do not currently have a separate author page; for the SLS where I manage the FB content, we have that split and there are some issues, for example people Friend one or the other – not both, and content often shows up twice in the main FB feed. That experience is why I have, to date, neither needed, nor wanted, a second FB page; my serious stuff is on my website.

(Updated) It initially it appeared the back-door cheat for a blog link still worked, that a twitter post forwards onto a FB page, as it appeared to work when first tested. It appears that is not the case for blog posts – out to Twitter – then on to FB does not work. Only Twitter posts started on Twitter hold the FB link.

FB are also, allegedly, messing about with their filtering algorithms, probably forced on them by the fake news scandals, although the cynic in me suggests this is entirely from a need to boost income via paid for content promotion. I will await this outcome with interest. FB generally is a poorer service than it was (personal opinion obviously) with many posts from people I am friends with on FB never showing up: either they have moved on to other social media providers or the filters stop me seeing their posts.

That generates the last observation – social media was a great  invention when there were only a few providers. Now that there is a wide spread I find there are too many to monitor or push content into all, it therefore decreases the usefulness of social media to both content providers and readers.

Software changes generally

More changes on the way, this time in the WordPress editor. I don’t mind changes where it adds functionality, although relearning can be annoying when they move items from one menu to another (needlessly from a customer perspective), or even worse removal in the new release of a useful piece of functionality that was in the older version. The latter something done over the years by both Adobe and Microsoft.

NB Post subsequently updated regarding Facebook.

April – the missing month

Why no April post?

Due to the increasing pressures of my SLS workload since taking on the role of Journal Editor, plus other work related to the new GDPR system there was no time to write and publish an April blog post for which I apologise.

I had content to write, just not the time to write it, therefore it became the first missing month in over two years.

 

March blog entry

Brief blog update

Another very brief blog post this month as whilst workload seems never ending time, sadly, is inelastic.

Railways – Three weekends out with events.

With a conference planning meeting for the Early Mainline Railways Conference (In York), The London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and then back to York for the York Model Railway Show you can see where the time has gone.

Add into that mix, as I am now the Editor, getting The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal out on time and you can appreciate the problems.

Another lunatic IT system design

Another really classic example of outright stupidity from the last few days. On checking my Nectar account I discovered I had not updated it when my last email address was deleted. After updating the link to the current one I discovered the change could only be stored by entering a validation code. Fair enough, except it gets sent to the obsolete email with no option offered for an alternative. Duh. What numpty did the systems check on that as a process.

Hopefully April will see two updates

I have content to write, so hopefully April will see two updates.

 

Non-stop editing!

Photo - dippy

A month of solid editing

I ended last month’s blog expressing hopefully “What would have been the January content will therefore appear during February when I get back home and resume normality.” Well that hoped for return to normality during February went well, or not! What it ended up as was a month of solid editing to get my second SLS Journal and Newsletter out on time. My problem; not the page layout et al, but all the catch up reading of back submissions to find the content ready to drop in. It is easing, the third edition will be a bit easier again from the experience gained from editing the first two. I am already planning content for the issues through to December.

Is there a lesson to be learnt by other Societies – yes – succession planning. That said, we did try, but no other suitably experienced member volunteered. My lesson learnt, if you know at the back of your mind that reality is you are going to get roped in regardless, give in early and take the longest lead in period you can get.

image of Journal cover
The March/April cover (C) SLS/AISLT with thanks to the A1SLT for permission to use the image.

The earlier editing job

Image Front cover NG & Miniature
Front cover NG & Miniature
Image Eclectic Electrics the front cover design
Eclectic Electrics the front cover design

 

As mentioned in the November blog post I was also Production Editor for the SLS in producing the first two volumes of material from The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives.(Cover images above)

  • Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
  • Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)

Sales went live on the Society stand at the NEC and copies will also be available from us at the London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace and over the following Easter weekend at York Model Railway. They can also be ordered from me direct by post. The SLS Board has approved electronic selling but I have yet to get the system into place on the Society website.

PayPal and other computer gremlins

The most recent editing nightmare, a fault with the way the Google app on i-phones and i-pads interacts with the code we got from PayPal to sell tickets on the York Model Railway Show website. (I am Website Manager) The culprit is not Google Chrome, that is fine, but their search app. The app ignores the shopping cart it is supposed to open and tries to log directly into the customer’s PayPal account. This system has worked properly for eighteen months, why does the mighty Google feel the need to make changes that then b*****s up other systems that were working properly. Not good customer care by them, although I like to think our own response was better than the other customer care issue discovered recently – Apple repair fault logging and repair protocols (See next item).

Apple’s appalling customer care protocol

This final item is a bit of a rant and gives me another Victor Meldrew feeling about the sanity of some modern ways of doing things. Have organisations learnt nothing about customer care?

Scenario – I drop my Apple laptop it needs a fix as the display becomes intermittent. Oh yes I think to myself there is an Apple dealer in Bournemouth, I’m in Bournemouth tomorrow, I will drop it off for repair. Off I duly tootle to the said Apple shop (Solutions inc) who I have used before. To paraphrase –

“I’d like to drop this off for repair please.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No I just want to drop it off for repair.”

You can’t without an appointment.” (Duh thinks I – a shop that doesn’t want you to buy the service!!!)

“So I have to waste time and money driving home today, ring you, and then come back again? That’s madness and unacceptable!”

“But it is Apple’s policy Sir, no appointment, no drop off, no fix! (Shades of Jobsworth, or worse, me thinks)

At this point I got very firm and eventually a techie deigned to appear from the bowels of the shop, discuss my issue and take the lap-top in.

Dear Apple – Either the staff at your dealership are a complete bunch of numpties or your accredited repair logging system, they claim they have to use it, is the most ridiculous state of BAD customer care I have ever come across. How about this – It’s a shop and authorised repair dealer, you walk in with a repair job, they take the order and any due examination/inspection fee money and then a techie looks at the job later in the queue (customers are not stupid – we understand queues and waiting lists), it then gets fixed/can’t be fixed and the customer is rung and advised either it is ready or is bust beyond economic repair. How difficult is that?

Finally – Dippy the dinosaur in Dorchester

Despite the horrendous monsoon like half-term weather on the day over half term we had booked, and the car failing to start, we visited Dippy with the family. The outcome was two awed grand-children and four very impressed adults.

Photo - dippy
Dippy the dinosaur ‘on tour’ at Dorchester Photo: C) John New (Has had some minor digital adjustment/de-skewing)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS A final note

It’s not that February was a hectic month or anything but this update for the month got posted almost at the deadline of midnight on the 28th. Final editing took place today, Thursday 1st March!

Changes

old-style printing set up

Change versus progress

When I started to write this blog post about changes and progress, I felt a bit like a real life incarnation of Victor Meldrew whilst at the same time trying desperately not to fall into grumpy old man syndrome.

old-style printing set up
Old style printing presses.

There have, undoubtedly, been many changes that are progress. As just one of those positives I could have written, produced, and distributed this article by analogue means at any time since Caxton brought the printing revolution to Britain. My father taught printing and I grew up around printing presses. Those originally used individual type, the industry later introduced hot metal casting systems before later moving forwards again to more modern offset litho’ press; I now work with IT based word-processors and publishing systems and have not touched a typewriter in years.

Old style, when properly done, may have produced a slightly better impress output but it was hard, demanding, physical work; working digitally is so much easier, quicker and cost effective. There are downsides, however, as the following examples from the last couple of months show:  the latest upgrade by Apple has made my iPad, on which I started writing this piece, obsolete for software upgrades and that from Adobe significantly slows up my old tower PC. Do I care?

At present the answer is no, there is currently nothing I want to do with the i-pad I can’t still do without this latest system update but you can bet that behind the scenes Apple will have some tricks up their sleeves to render more of the systems unworkable. Like all technology companies they make their money selling new stuff, trying to persuade us the new is better. The tower will get updated in due course, I’ve had it a fair while, but it is an example of creeping obsolescence, it still works, it is other things that have passed it by.

A sad parallel observation though is the fact that after you’ve bought the latest thing you find that often it is less robustly made in order to keep the prices down and operationally isn’t either better, or a progression on what went before. This fact of life is apparently beside the point, the suppliers want us to believe that it is better. I already have two suites of software applications where, although I have the latest versions, for some tasks I am forced into loading the older version as the new iteration has had useful functionality withdrawn. Yes the new versions do new things, some of which I need (e.g. e-book publishing tools), but the suppliers ignore the fact that some of their old tools are (a) still necessary and (b) made the workflow for doing some tasks quicker and easier to achieve.

Another annoying issue is suppliers making changes for change’s sake. Again from experience working as a user side rep’ in software development teams; a minority of clients yell loudly for changes so the provider makes the changes in order to keep them sweet/sell more copies. The other 75% (the silent majority) i.e. all the clients who were happily using it because it worked for them get brassed off at changes they neither wanted nor needed! Those changes, which were unwanted by the majority, never get reversed.

Obsolescence is planned, even getting a replacement protective cover for my existing i-pad rendered more difficult by subtle changes in the design of the devices by Apple. Covers for the latest issue don’t fit the older kit; it looks the same but isn’t quite the same size! We do notice, but are powerless to stop the changes. The final piece of design stupidity to mention, the recent i-phones that are sized too big to fit into a standard size shirt pocket. What’s that all about? No matter now good the technology, too big to use!

To paraphrase a famous quote from the economist J K Galbraith, under capitalist economic models man exploits man, under other economic systems it is reversed!

New Roads & Street Works Act 1991

black insert in red road
Black reinstatement into red tarmac. One of many in this street despite it being a conservation area.

It was this Act, or rather being caught in the outcome of the ignoring of some its’ key principles, that sparked several Victor Meldrew moments recently. Back in the 1980s I was part of the Association of District Councils national development team working on this. The various strands of industry and government agencies came together and the new Act improved many things. Yes back in the day government was still about trying to improve quality not maximise the profits. Sadly recent observations whilst travelling show that with all the cut-backs in highways inspection teams and a cavalier attitude to strategic planning have led to many key aspects being ignored at both the macro and micro level. For example:-

  • Reinstatements – poorly done and with materials that are not the same as the originals. It is a reinstatement; the key is in the word. All done to cut costs, the public and compliance don’t matter if that corner cutting exercise can be got away with as there are no inspectors to enforce it. Councillors don’t bother, there are no votes on it, only hard work to get the jobs redone.
  • Signing – non-compliance with the set standards and just badly done to cut costs. An example recently was a Road Closed Ahead sign placed at the roadworks, not the 200 yards away at the entrance to the street where it would actually have been of some use to motorists! 
  • Conflicting works – the worst and most annoying aspect from Highways England (or whatever it is badged as this week!) and their motorway/trunk road schemes down to local levels. Coordination processes to avoid this were a key aspect introduced with the Act. Nowadays, it seems, the idea of having HAUJC meetings to do this coordination is totally ignored; again doing it properly in compliance with the Act to benefit the public costs money. All to often you these days long term roadworks and overnight closures are happening  with the obvious diversionary alternatives being worked on at the same time. That is true on both motorways and local roads; no one in authority seems to care any more.

There is more I can add but when you find yourself diverted from one long-running major scheme into the chaos of another the thoughts of “why did we waste our time and effort” come to mind. The biggest indictment is that I’m just glad I’ve retired from that career and am no longer part of it.

Music release formats

I note the latest trend in music is rereleasing tracks on vinyl. After being originally on vinyl, then probably on cassettes, CDs, as mp3 and now once again on vinyl as a supposed vinyl revival. Just my cynical view but is this the latest cunning plan by the technology providers to get us to buy yet another version of a music track we’ve already bought in several previous iterations and formats? If they are really lucky they will also sell some people a new record deck too. 

Change is always change, it is not always progress.

Images and text above remain copyright John New and are not released into the public domain.

A literary month

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals

A literary month

Two connected, but disparate, sections to this blog post describing my literary month. The first a completed task and introduction to a new role as Editor of The Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal; the second related to local theatre productions.

Stella, my wife, stage managed Me and My Girl so a lot of work in the household went into that both in the months leading up to the show and in show week itself. To add to that drama connection the local Royal Manor Theatre here on Portland recently ran a production of Old actors never Die and as a consequence we got that title at Weymouth Writing Matters as one of our a prompts. Given it will soon be time to assist as a volunteer with the Weymouth Pavilion Panto prep’ time it seemed appropriate to also add my own small tribute to the thespian’s craft below.

A teaching day

The other generator of workload was an invitation to give a talk on the history of railways to a group of Polish exchange students staying over at Clevedon in Somerset. The students had come over to the UK to get experience of a range of topics and issues prior to selecting a career: one of those careers being the option of working on the railway back in Poland, hence this talk. Initially envisioning the usual hour to an hour and half of talking (as for a local club/society evening) it eventually turned out to be a four hour, full day. My recent BACOM experience and training at Bournemouth in presentation skills certainly came to the fore; it went well. A day’s teaching, a first for me, and an experience I found surprisingly satisfying.

Photo from the history talk.
An image used in the presentation. 150 years of progress in one picture. Left – The gas turbine APT – 175 mph in 1975. Centre – Iron Duke (Replica) 60 mph – 1840s. Right – Rocket (Replica) 32 mph in 1830. Image (C) John New

Editing time

Picture of the new books and SLS Journals
The final proofs for the two new SLS books. The final editions are perfect bound NOT wire bound. Images (C) John New.

Since coming back from summer holiday life has been hectic with book editing for The Stephenson Locomotive Society. A deep end start to the role I’ve also just taken on of Editor for the bi-monthly Journal; first edition will be January/February. But back to the books – launching at the Warley Model Railway Show at the NEC on 25/26 November the first two volumes of material from the SLS Archives.

  • Narrow Gauge & Miniature (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 1)
  • Eclectic Electrics (From The Stephenson Locomotive Society Archives Vol 2)

On launch weekend they will be available on our stand (Hall 5, Stand D44) at £9.50 each (£7.50 to Society members). Postal sales will be available post-Show once the P&P situation is finalised. (When available generally it will be announced on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, the SLS Twitter feed and the SLS Publications page)

Old actors never die

They say old actors never die; like the ancient pagan gods they remain alive as long as they are adored, worshiped, remembered. Their old posters and fading photographs line the walls of musty corridors and theatre bars, slowly fading as the plays they starred in pass from living memory.

The ephemera of a craft, the passing of time, each show a snapshot, unlike cinema, where time remains frozen. The youthful face of the craggy old star shambling from Hollywood café to occasional TV studio appearance, their old movies endlessly repeating on obscure channels; a cruel reminder of past glories. The long legs dancing the kick line, the piercing smile of the male lead, forever captured, reality the decline, the baton passed to the new replacement.

Times change, tastes change, the star of yesterday’s western unnoticed in Wallmart, the silent queens of the silver screen, glorious in mono, passed over in colour. No more repeats of the Keystone Cops to entertain the kids at the Saturday flicks: 633 Squadron flies to face the deadly Hun no longer, the Eagles Dared but the Empire Struck back.

The house lights dim, the curtain rises, the new crop take the stage; from the wings the old look on, coaching, training, remembering. The words they spoke last the ages; for some their memory will be immortal, names spoken in reverent tones, their routines rehashed and recast, even perhaps immortalised as a new sweet desert, fruity, tangy, was Dame Nellie like that in life?

As they say in showbiz, another opening of another show. As the door closes for one for another it opens. For some, the very best, it will stay revolving, but sadly, for most, like a child’s spinning top the hum and buzz will gently fade away.

Copyright on all the above remains with the author – not released into the public domain.

Website conversion and a brief retrospective.

1987; the year we began

An Amstrad PC1512. This image is reproduced under Creative Commons rights. Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg: KoS derivative work: Ubcule (talk) - Amstrad_1512_DD.jpg
An Amstrad PC1512. This image is reproduced under Creative Commons rights.  KoS derivative work: Ubcule

When I began this task of website conversion from hand coded pages into contemporary WordPress format it struck me just how far on the industry has come from the first iteration of the Island-Publishing business. Back in those days I had been using computers since 1981 and extremely primitive models they had been too. Then came the IBM PC revolution, and in due course I obtained an Amstrad IBM clone.

Although I had been published as a writer before this it was with an Amstrad that I can say Island Publishing began, initially producing simple ribbon banners for a few local clubs and together with, what now seem very primitive, newsletters printed on dot-matrix printers for photo-copying. That all seems so primitive looking back but was a big advancement over spirit duplicators and typed stencils.

Traditional printing gear
Traditional printing gear as used into the 1970s.

When I started the modern internet was way in the future, networking was carrying a disk from one unit to another! The printing press had evolved from impress type machines like that above to more modern off-set litho’ processes but the thought that in the not too distant future we would have quality laser printing available to everyone was the stuff of science fiction.

Desk-top publishing began the revolution that has, today, encompassed the e-book and self-publishing.  All ideas undreamt of back in 1987. My late father had taught traditional printing, fine-art and illustration; I like to think he approves, even though the gear he used is now almost all scrapped or only existing as museum pieces. Absolute quality in writing and printing may have declined but we have gained from the low-cost availability of the published word.

The key of course as a consumer is to seek out the material that suits you, we may be swamped via social media, e-books of varying quality and citizen journalism, but it isn’t all froth and there is still good stuff out there if you care to seek it out.

However, those primitive beginnings do mean that next year we will be celebrating Island Publishing’s  3oth year!

Website conversion

This site is being converted, not only because the upgrade is long overdue, but also as a test-bed for updating The Stephenson Locomotive Society‘s web-site too. As it is a pioneer project for me there is a learning curve, there will inevitably be conversion changes and issues arising and being overcome as I go. For these changes I apologise in advance, however, I think the end product will be worth it.