28 March 2020


Recently I started using an Alphasmart Neo. Today I wondered if the rechargeable battery-packs are still available; my search brought me to Reddit and then this page.

The Neo is obsolete but still has plenty of fans (like me). It automatically saves every keystroke to non-volatile memory. Reddit user 'ZuffsStuff' says: 'I got a Neo2 last week and just got the USB cable today. The first four files are leftover from previous owners (who knows who wrote them?). I thought it would be a shame to delete them forever, mundane as some of their contents are. So here they are.'

The text he/she found in File 2 runs as follows:
Left wings and right wings still belong to the same beast. That two headed bird. You've seen it before, so many times. Just look around and notice the duality. Never plurality. Always one side against the other. Heroes and enemies. Profit and power through eternal chaos. Those who know stay tucked safely and securely in the center of the mess. Those who don't know pick a side and throw their life force away, fighting for ideals and opinions that are never one-sided. Short-sighted are those fools. And the rulers always stay one step ahead by concocting new things for the peons to fight over. What's your favorite sports team? Are you a democrat or republican? Are you pro-life or pro-choice? Who the hell cares... We lose sight of what really matters when we fight over inconsequential labels and alliances. What about focusing on health, happiness and prosperity by sharing and caring for all. What about an ethos of "do no harm" and everything else is fine and dandy. What about stopping the fighting? What about bringing down the duality and replacing it with broad-minded plurality? Treating all peoples and ideals as equal. We must learn to swallow tradition and swallow our pride. Look how our forefathers plot in secret from beyond the grave, concocting their elaborate schemes of nothingness from their stone fortresses of cowardice and nepotism. We must move forward and not dwell on the way things have been. For we are still living in an era of kings and slaves. Only the kings conspire in secret, while the slaves fight publicly. Until the slaves see the maze laid by the secret kings, the never-ending battles of duality, they shall remain slaves. And the bird will flap its wings faster and faster. The left wing then the right wing. The two heads forever snapping at one another while the world weeps.
I thinks this bears repeating, especially now.

7 August 2019

How to scan documents with an iPad

It is not immediately obvious that you can scan documents with Notes (one of the apps that comes with the iPad), but, once learned, the process is both quick and easy. The scans can be uploaded to your iCloud drive, then downloaded to your Mac or PC.

(My iPad is running iOS 12.3.1.)

1. Open the Notes app.

2. Tap the ‘pen on paper’ icon at the top right. This will open a new note and the keyboard appears.

3. Dismiss the keyboard.

4. Tap the plus sign at bottom right.

5. A dialog appears. Tap ‘Scan Documents’.

6. The rear camera is activated. Position your document so that it fills as much of the screen as possible, whether in portrait or landscape view.

7. Four icons are visible on the right of the screen. (Notice that they switch position if you change from portrait to landscape view and vice versa. If you are using landscape view, position the iPad with the home button on the right so that the camera lens is not obstructed by your hand.) The large, white circle is the ‘shutter release’; the smaller icon above it (three overlapping circles) lets you choose whether to optimise for colour printing, greyscale, monochrome, or a photograph. Optimisation of a scan can also be done later (see Step 12). ‘Auto’ allows the shutter to operate by itself when it thinks it’s got the edges right. The iPad will try to determine the edges of the document for you; this can be assisted if your document is placed on a black, or at least a strongly contrasting, background.

8. A yellow rectangle indicates the area the iPad thinks you want to scan. Even if it is mistaken, press the shutter release icon. A pale rectangle now appears with a small circle at each corner. If necessary, drag these circles to the corners of your scan.

9. If you’re not happy with the result, tap ‘Retake’ at the bottom left; or ‘Keep Scan’ at the bottom right.

10. Now you can scan another document, up to a total of about 15 if you wish to create a single PDF (e.g. a year’s bank statements). Once you have made all the scans in the series, tap ‘Save’.

11. A new view opens showing you your notes. If necessary, scroll to ‘Scanned Documents’ and tap on it.

12. Four icons appear at the top right. The first lets you adjust and crop the scan; the second activates the optimiser (see Step 7); the third lets you rotate the scan anticlockwise in steps of 90º; the fourth lets you share or save the scan. If you tap the fourth, a self-explanatory dialog appears. Scroll the lower half of this to see the ‘Save to Files’ icon.

13. Tapping this icon lets you save the scan to your iPad or to a selected folder on your iCloud drive.

An iPad cannot replace a dedicated flatbed scanner if you need to make high-quality image files or run OCR software, but it is very handy for processing documents such as bank or credit card statements, receipts, etc., that you would rather have in digital form. One advantage of using an iPad for scanning is that it can cope with odd paper sizes such as foolscap, which is too big to fit ordinary consumer-grade scanners, most of which are limited to A4 size.

1 July 2019

Phoebe Rising

I have at last finished writing this novel. It is the longest and one of the most ambitious I have ever attempted. The process began with only a vague idea (of a girl arriving on the ferry from France) and grew from there, so it qualifies as what they call a ‘pantser’, plotted by the seat of the author’s pants rather than from a synopsis.

The period is the early 1960s, a rather simpler time and one to which the very English flavour of the piece is suited. The setting is Kent, on the archetypal white cliffs around Dover, but the village of Pelling-on-Sea is imaginary, combining elements of a number of English seaside resorts.

The central story is about the struggle a sensitive little English girl, Phoebe, undergoes to recover from a disastrous upbringing among the super-wealthy in the South of France. Her mother dies when she is seventeen and Phoebe returns to England to meet, and live with, the father she has not seen or heard from for nearly nine years.

The extent is 141,000 words, and you can read the first chapter here.

Phoebe Rising: First chapter

Friday, 8 June 1962 

From his desk, Howard was watching the grey procession of incoming waves. As ever, they were approaching without cease; but then other waves would be going in the opposite direction, towards the French side. How did that work? Was there a central, equidistant boundary where a wave decided, or was directed according to some obscure law of physics, which way to go?
     The waves were crested here and there by the same south-easterly breeze that would be blowing aslant his cousin’s face were she leaning on the taffrail, assuming the taffrail was where he thought it was, at the stern. He rather supposed she might be, puffing on a Gitane she would flick into the sea a quarter finished, deciding after all that she hadn’t wanted it. Above her would be a flapping ensign on a slanting pole, below her the ferry’s broad and ever-dwindling wake.
     Situated below Howard, at the moment, were the French windows of his uncle’s dining room. These opened on a balustraded terrace and thence the gardens. A hedge, mostly of escallonia, formed the eastern boundary. Beyond this lay bramble-strewn turf sloping down to the cliff.
     He turned back to the task in hand. Today he was especially regretful about his algebra, though his knowledge of geometry was even worse.
     Leafing hopelessly through these notes, he came across a caricature of his current maths master in the process of having his hair cut by a machine driven by two donkeys harnessed to a windlass. Other drawings, many just as intricate, swarmed all over his notebooks. Often they obliterated important matter he had failed to memorise: more than once this afternoon he had resorted to holding a single page up against his desk-lamp in hope of deciphering what lay beneath.
     Maths was his chief terror. The first paper was to be sat on the third of July, so twenty-five days of grace remained. Fewer, in fact, because the exam would be held in the morning and the time now was nearly five. If he needed a nightly minimum of six hours’ sleep and a couple of hours a day for other things, such as feeding and going to and from school, he had far fewer than four hundred hours in which to absorb what had engaged his more diligent classmates during five years of attention to Mr Ince and his mathematical predecessors – because, besides maths, the boys were to be examined next month in several other subjects. Of these he was weakest in chemistry and physics. Last year he had been entered for, and passed, English and Latin, so at least he had those under his belt, and he was reasonably confident about his French. As for Greek, Howard, together with everyone else in his group (everyone but Hinde, of course, late recipient of the Golden Tongue), had long ago resigned himself to failing that and was even in two minds about showing up for the exam.
     If he failed the maths exam alone, he might be able to retake it in the autumn. But if he failed it again, or failed the hard sciences too, he might very well not get into the Sixth, which meant he might very well have to leave school, which in turn meant he might very well have to make a start on something resembling work, and that was a terror indeed.
     His disquiet today was coloured by the expectation of meeting again his only cousin. He could barely remember her, a dark, sober child, a year older than himself; he had been seven when last they had met. There were half a dozen ageing snaps of her in the family album, including one marked Juan-les-Pins, 19.vii.53. In a hooped bathing costume and squinting sulkily at the camera, she was perched on the edge of a recliner on a terrace by a swimming pool, railings and palm trees behind.
     She might no longer be as skinny as that, or as snub-nosed. In fact he had little idea of what she looked like now. He was afraid she might be pretty. Equally he hoped she would be, even though – since they were first cousins – there could hardly be a question of … not that he knew anything about girls, anything whatever. In any case, she was older than him.
     He wished she were not coming, not just now, at least. Her arrival would disrupt the household and interfere with his revision. Then when the results were announced during the summer holidays he would need to manage undivided his uncle’s reaction: no easy matter at the best of times.
     ‘If a polynomial in x is divided by a factor,’ he read aloud, trying to drive the words, one by one, like screws, into his brain, ‘then another polynomial will be produced. If the polynomial is divided by a non-factor then a remainder will emerge in addition.’
     His voice trailed away to nothing, because what he was reading was incomprehensible. Incomprehensible too that people wasted their time on such rot. The world, freedom, lay just outside his window, albeit under this dull June sky, and yet here he was, chained to a desk by the expectations of his uncle, of his teachers, of the whole of society, when he could have been doing any number of pleasurable things. For some reason he wanted most at this moment to be catching a bus to the seafront and its penny-in-the-slot machines.
     Just down the corridor the vacuum cleaner started up.
     ‘That’s that, then,’ Howard said to himself, pretending to be annoyed. No good trying to concentrate now. Mrs Davey had been galumphing about like that all afternoon, making ready for the Grand Arrival.
     It was not due till seven o’clock at the earliest. Dinner might be late. He got up from his desk, went down to the kitchen and speculatively opened the fridge.

∗ ∗ ∗

Even though he had spent the whole afternoon at the club-house, Silvanus believed the course his Majestic was taking to be acceptably exact. However, it now occurred to him that it might be a mistake to be driving with such exaggerated caution. An observant constable might become suspicious. For this reason he introduced a certain vagueness into the luxurious and barely audible passage of his automobile as it left the golf course behind, passed through the village, and began the long ascent that led, after a narrow side-turning, to his house.
     He knew he should not have drunk so much, especially as he had planned to drive into Dover himself. Curry had been to Bromley the previous night, so Silvanus would send a taxi instead and give its driver a placard to hold up.
     It pleased Silvanus that his daughter had chosen to keep his surname rather than assume that of the person who had cuckolded him. Otherwise, on the whole, he did not view the turn of events with pleasure. He had not seen her for nine years and had only the vaguest idea of how she had developed. Nor, except for her recent letters, had she sent him so much as a Christmas card. At seventeen she was surely old enough to fend for herself. Even his ex-wife could not have run through such a fortune before she had died.
     What would Phoebe do with herself in this backwater? Had she already finished her education, or would she want to go on with it here?
     Despite his various misgivings, her first letter had impressed him. Not just for its spelling and grammar, nor for the quality of her handwriting. The italic script she had been taught at prep school had shed some of its rigour, suggesting flexibility of mind, idiosyncrasy, even charm, and all these, especially the first, would be welcome. No, what had impressed him most about the letter were her choice of words and their concinnity. She had managed to imply regret while simultaneously shielding herself from rejection. It was quite a long letter, and when he had come to the end of it he had realised that he had had little choice but to grant her request.
     The car, more or less independently, safely found its way home and into the garage.
     ‘You’re drunk,’ Joyce observed.
     ‘That is quite true. Where’s Howard?’
     ‘He went out.’
     ‘Where’s he gone?’
     ‘I don’t know.’
     ‘When’s he coming back?’
     ‘No idea.’
     ‘Why are you so angry?’
     ‘I’m not angry.’
     ‘I like you better when you’re angry. Even better. Do you think we’ve got time to …?’
     ‘Would that be possible, in the circumstances?’
     ‘Oh, I don’t know.’
     Unable to prevent herself from smiling, however faintly, she shook her head in reproof.
     The word ‘nubile’, both in its original and modern senses, might have been coined specially for her, except that she was wonderfully averse to remarrying and quite content with the way things were. Silvanus counted himself blessed. Her features, her fair complexion and her gentle grey-green eyes, her Irishness, pleased him greatly, but most of all he valued the eager softness of her embrace. Besides all that, he loved to admire her from behind, especially when for any reason she bent down: an instant transport of delight. ‘Ah, Mrs Davey,’ he said. ‘You are not only a sublime cook and housekeeper and a paragon among women, but wise beyond your years.’
     ‘Not really. I’m forty-three.’
     ‘Oh, did I forget? I’m sorry.’
     ‘You always forget my birthday, you selfish beast.’
     ‘I am a bit of a beast, aren’t I?’

3 June 2019

What to read next

If you have read one or more of my novels but not all of them, and wish to read another, the following list may help to guide you.

Each title is numbered. After its name, in brackets, are four follow-up reads suggested by their tone and content. These are listed in descending order, so that if you have enjoyed, say, The Drowning, I recommend sampling Adrian’s Wall next.

Because I self-publish and am not beholden to external influence, I enjoy the luxury of being able to write what I please. Hence some of my books are very different from others and not all of them may appeal to everybody.

1. The Stone Arrow (2, 3, 4, 5)
2. The Flint Lord (1, 3, 4, 5)
3. The Earth Goddess (1, 2, 6, 7)
4. The Penal Colony (5, 1, 2, 9)
5. Refuge (4, 1, 9, 2)
6. The Tide Mill (7, 3, 10, 11)
7. The Drowning (10, 6, 3, 11)
8. Darling Brenda (11, 10, 6, 4)
9. Dismemberment (5, 8, 4, 1)
10. Adrian’s Wall (7, 11, 9, 6)
11. Phoebe Rising (7, 10, 8, 6)