Writing Magazine

When I’m not writing technical features for money (or DIYing the boat) I try to write fiction. I attend a local writing group and a while ago a publisher, Collette Smith, from Writing Magazine joined us. For her it’s research, trying to get inside the heads of her customers, but it set me thinking. Writers use software and, it often seems to me, pay over the odds for it. I’ve used free software for years and written about it in techie magazines and on industry websites, so why not try a simple guide to free software for writers?

Here it is. (PDF approx 400KB)

And here is a sidebar I wrote to go with it which the magazine put online rather than in the print version.


Back to business, we’ve finished moving stuff and got the house sorted. The office is functional the server is running and online, I got my accounts sorted in time for HMRC deadline day and I’ve no excuse for not touting for more work. But first, need to post some recent samples from Diesel Car magazine.


Ofcom’s annual report is out, but knowing that most people, even most tech jouralists wouldn’t read it they sent out a media release featuring some simplistic quotes. The one that got all the attention was a bizarre claim that 6 year-olds are more tech savvy than 45 year olds. To make things even more contentious they backed it up with a quiz so that we could all test ourselves.

Most of the questions are subjective and only test opinions. Each has a four option multiple choice format which is very limiting. So I decided to give some real answers:

Thinking about the following gadgets and services – which statement best describes your knowledge and understanding?

4G mobile
Seems like a good idea but coverage is patchy and the service expensive. It’s not available where I live, where I work or anywhere I visit regularly so my failure to use it is not a reflection of my Tech Savvy.

Superfast broadband – internet
I’ve used ADSL since it became available in my area, and 56k dial-up before that. What the UK government (and Oftel) is pleased to describe as Superfast is much slower than that considered normal elsewhere, and even that won’t be available in my area for many years. Once again not my failure, yours.

Smartphone or tablet ‘Apps’
Yes, I have both. Smartphone for over three years, the Tab for more than two. Do I get extra points for rooting the phone within days of purchase, removing the phone companies bloatware and installing Cyanogenmod? No.

Smart glasses such as Google Glass
Yes I’ve heard of them, read about them, seen them online and on TV. Don’t know anyone with a pair.

3D printers
I haven’t used one since 2005 so my experience is a bit out of date, though I have read about new models. They are a bit useless without 3D CAD software though, and using that requires a lot of training and a lot of experience. Very few people in any age group have 3D design skills.

Please tell us how much each of these statements applies to you…

I tell my friends or family about new technology
Sometimes, if I think it’s relevant to their lives. None of my friends are interested in virtualisation though, or NoSQL databases.

I like working out how to use different gadgets
Yes, and sometimes I read the manual too.

I am one of the first to try out new technology
Very much depends on price and availability. I do try out new Linux distros, but have yet to use Windows 8. I didn’t buy a smartphone until the price dropped to under £100 on PAYG.

I like to find out about new technology
Yes, I read a lot of blogs, media reviews and so on.

My friends or family ask what I think about new gadgets
Sometimes. No good asking me what I think about sewing machines, but I do have opinions on cordless drills.

I know how to use lots of gadgets
Too vague. Lots? Do you mean only digital electronic gadgets?

I watch TV shows online (e.g. BBC iPlayer, 4OD)
Yes. And TED, YouTube, Arté

New technology confuses me
All new devices take some getting used to, but if the user interface is well designed they don’t confuse me.

I wouldn’t know what to do without technology
Again, vague. Digital technology, or all? Given a spade I reckon I’d be pretty good as a subsistence farmer but without the backing of a metallurgical industry I’d struggle.

I do lots of different things on the gadgets that I use
Yes, I make bread in the breadmaker and coffee in the cafétiere, not great the other way round though.

I upload photos and videos online (e.g. on Instagram, YouTube)
Never on Instagram, not for many years on YouTube. But I have had a personal website since 2004 and I share files via ownCloud.

I prefer to contact friends by text message than by phone call (e.g. by SMS, BBM, iMessage)
Depends on the contact and the message. SMS is useful for simple Q&A sessions, not good for complex discussions. BBM and iMessage are proprietary and only useful if you and your contact use the same system, which they often do not.


Once again, sloppy tech journalism supported by sloppy ‘research’ from Ipsos-Mori who really should know better. If you want a thorough piece of writing on a technical subject, contact me.

More Biofuels work

Two new commissions today for 24th Sept:

1. Sustainability – NTA 8080 certification system recognised by the European Commission, one of the few recognised schemes, along with the ISCC, that is not only applicable to biofuels, but also to solid and gaseous biomass. 2500 words.

2. Aviation fuels from biomass -a general look at the role biomass will play in creating renewable jet fuels. 2000 words.

Better start the background reading then…


I will Blog More. Probably. Maybe.

I’m updating my website, new theme, some new pages, some old ones deleted, some edited. Just noticed my last blog post was 10 months ago. I should do more. But they’re funny things blogs. Some are just vanity, some commercial ones are just banal, some are just designed to attract clicks and win a few pence in advertising revenue. I try not to be vain, or banal and I don’t have adverts on my website because it is there to advertise me, I don’t want potential customers being distracted.

Once you take out the vain, “I’ve just been approached by a major online agency to edit their new site”, the banal, “I’m hoping the window fitters will call soon about making good around the new windows” that doesn’t leave a lot to write about. But I will. Probably.

Medical Devices

Long ago I was in the St John Ambulance, as were my father, grandfather and my kid brother. Biology was my favourite science at school and if I’d been smart enough I’d have liked to have gone into medicine. Now I seem to be a regular contributor to Medicaldevices-network.com writing mostly about medical IT and other technical stuff. Here’s a selection.

Medical Device and Pharmaceutical supply chain management.

Logistics, Asset Management and Traceability

Silicon Valley Effect

The next one is about intra and inter-hospital data transfer, making sure patients’ details from many different departments and different establishments are available to the medics that need to know,

Supermarkets are so 20th Century

Once again there is a possibility that someone will develop a supermarket in Llangollen. Once again a few people get seriously wound up in support or in opposition. And once again the prevailing mood seems to be one of resignation. A belief that if the one of the big supermarket chains wants to build in Llangollen they will, so why argue? Its the sort of fatalism we used to sneer at in other nations; Britain, and Wales in particular, was fiestier than that.

Continue reading “Supermarkets are so 20th Century”

Qhotels Cambridge Belfry

Our daughter was married on Saturday (4th Dec) so my wife and I stayed at the Cambridge Belfry hotel from Friday – Sunday. Several other members of the party stayed for varying numbers of nights during that period. Those I have spoken to were in varying ways disappointed by the experience. Fortunately the wedding itself was elsewhere and went very well.

On Friday night my wife and I had dinner in the hotel restaurant with my wife’s aunt. According to the company website, “Food is something we are passionate about at QHotels”. The prices are much higher than restaurants we normally use, so we were looking forward to something special.

I started with a paté. It was described a ‘parfait’ but was more like a rough country paté. Not bad, but 50p worth of paté and a couple of bits of toast is a disappointing start to a meal. My wife and her aunt had melon. It was frozen. So frozen the aunt was unable to separate hers from the plate. How hard can it be to slice a fresh melon when required? Fruit tastes much better at room temperature, even chilled it loses flavour. Frozen is just incompetent.

For the main courses we had steamed white fish, bland but OK for an elderly aunt. Chicken and Mushroom tagliatelli, with the mushrooms missing and Caesar salad with Salmon. The latter consisted of lettuce (iceburg I think not romaine) an over-liberal supply of (presumably bottled) dressing, a few soggy croûtons that had absorbed twice their weight in dressing and the thinest salmon fillet I have ever seen.

I can’t judge the Traditional Cambridge Cream since we’ve never had it before. It’s not as good as a basic Crème Bruleé in a fairly average bistro though.

And so to bed. With the noisiest heating system I have ever heard. Eventually we realised where the noise was coming from and turned it down a bit but but didn’t make much difference. We slept very little.

The following morning I asked for a change of room. The duty manager gave me the key cards for one on the same corridor. It had the same problem. I returned to the desk. ‘Oh,’ said. ‘Well, there might be a random noise in any of the rooms’. I asked for one without. In the end he found one where the heating went quiet if you turned it almost off.

Breakfast was as poor as dinner the previous night. The first spoonful of grapefruit tasted of soap. It may have been a badly washed spoon. I speared a piece on a fork to give it a chance. It was tasteless and far too cold.

My wife loves scrambled eggs and mushrooms. Normally. The company website praises their cooking, “Every dish, from a simple scrambled egg to the most tantalising pan-fried fillet steak, has more than just a little je ne sais quoi.” Well in the case of the scrambled egg, the quoi qu’ils ne savent pas would appear to be dried egg. Hope that clears up the mystery. The button mushrooms were tinned and stewed.

I went for fry-up option. Pretty average supermarket standard sausage and bacon, a nicely done fried egg, it’s only fair to mention that, and a couple of tepid hash browns. Reheating from frozen is so tricky to get right.

We packed hurriedly and the hotel staff moved the bags whilst we were out. Of course they left the heating almost off, so when we returned after midnight the room was cold.

We cranked it up for a while, got ready for bed then turned it down. It was better. Cool, but better.

“…no Cambridgeshire hotel comes close to The Cambridge Belfry in Cambourne.” It says on the web. If that’s true it can only be because there is no Travelodge nearby.

I sent a version of this to customer-relations@qhotels.co.uk on our return (Monday 6th December). I haven’t had a reply yet. I phoned on Monday 13th, customer relations was away from her desk. I left a message. She hasn’t called back.