A.J. Walker

writerer

Have tech, will travel: and write

For ten years I’ve had a MacBook Pro and it’s a lovely bit of kit (I’m still using it ten years later and use it for my website and writing). But let’s face it at 5.5 kilos it’s not designed for walking around on the off chance you may want to pop a few words down. For that you need a notebook and a pen. Yeah, but then you need to type it up when you get home. That’s some double handling you can do without, surely. As well as being large and heavy a proper laptop like that is very attractive to thieves. It’s not like you can have a coffee or beer and walk away and leave it without worrying about it not being there when you safely got back with a lighter bladder. No: not conducive to carrying, opening, running software, writing and saving, closing, packing away, bringing back and repeat.. etc. For the sake of the odd hundred words or so you just don’t take it out in the end.

iPad2

I’ve finally bit the bullet and gone for the cheapest of the standard iPads and got an integral case with keyboard. It is brilliant for me. A friend offered me a none Apple tablet (which he didn’t want , nor could think of anyone else that might either) but as I mainly wanted it for writing it had to Apple so that I could link it with Scrivener on my Pro. Not knowing anyone with the same set up it was a little bit risky in case it didn’t work. But I did plenty of online research. Now I have it... what was I worried about? It is perfect.

If you’ve got a Dropbox account, it’s flawless. If you haven’t, just set one up. It doesn’t take long. Then save your Scrivener projects into Dropbox and you’re away. An iPad is 5 kilos less than your laptop; it’s like carrying a small book.

iPad1

Smaller and lighter and less obvious than a laptop. Easier to open, close, save etc. Less of a risk and at the same time more likely to be used for your writing whilst you’re out.

I’m sure it would be great without Scrivener and Dropbox, but it’s just so seamless the way these two bits of software work if you already do.

iPad3

One of the first things I did, which I hadn’t planned to do , was create a diary using Scrivener, knowing I’d pick up the iPad once every day or two. It’s so much easier than guaranteeing doing that with a paper copy book. I simply created twelve folders for the months then the requisite number of pages for the days of the week. Then saved that as a Template I can use for later years. Now I find me typing out a simple diary each day - it’s been a few years, but I used to keep a regular diary and loved it. It’s nice to get back to it. So far I haven’t thought about adding anything other than words to it - but if I wanted I could add photos, links, anything to the diary. We’ll see how it evolves,

Anyway, in short, if you are away from home, your PC and (hardback) notebooks regularly then having the option of a tablet to put your notes or stories into can be a massive plus in multiple ways. I’ve only had mine for a week or so and reckon I’ve written at least 4k additional words than I would have without one. Even this blog post has been written in one sitting at a pub, with a single pint (of Oakham ‘Citra’, in the Dispensary). It certainly increases productivity and options - and I reckon writing habits.

iPad4
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Returning to Zevonia

It's getting close to holiday time. Yep, in a couple of months I'm returning to Zevonia and Zevonistan and I'll be taking a lot of you with me. I introduced the little known countries when I last held the VSS365 baton - and I'm getting passed it again shortly. Last time my prompts were all words associated with beer (hop varieties) and Liverpool pub names. This time…? Well, we'll see.

Obviously as the VSS365 train has been rolling for some time now there have been lots of words used. But there are plenty left out there running wild in the environment. So I have started choosing my words (have got my first twenty) and have checked that they have not been used in this challenge before. There's nothing wrong with reusing prompt words, but I really don't want Sal to recycle her old VSSs. For anyone prompting in the future it's easy to check whether your chosen words have been used before, just search in Twitter for: #VSS365 and #proposedprompt (where 'proposed prompt' is the word you are considering using).

Little clue on my prompts: I will not be using Liverpool pubs or hop varieties this time. That's all I'll say.
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Bloody Phones

Been a mixed week on the IT side for me. Whilst I am doing a delivery job the mobile phone is second only to the vehicle (or third if insanity is counted) as a requirement to undertake the job. Amazon stopped providing equipment years ago so drivers have to get their own phone that will run the delivery application. This saves Amazon money and time in caring and charging for equipment but means the drivers have to have a decent phone - but not too decent. Taking it out for deliveries all day, whilst carrying parcels and asking people to sign on it - in all weathers - there is a great risk of dropping the damn thing. Once there's even a tiny crack on it the phone becomes useless once it starts to rain.

Battery life is also important. My rule of thumb is that the app makes the phone use about 1% battery per delivery. This means if you've more than 100 deliveries (or start with less than 100% battery) you need to leave it connect to a power source as you go for a great deal of the day.

After dropping my previous phone several times (a Redmi one) the crazed screen meant it only really worked on dry days. After that the route was all in the lap of the gods. In addition to that one more little drop and it would no doubt be useless. So I had to bite the bullet and buy another phone. After a bit of research I went for the Blackview 5500. A reasonable price and very rugged. It worked well and survived several drops completely unscathed, with its inbuilt rugged cover and toughened glass. And the battery life was fine. It was ideal for the job.

Until Tuesday. Suddenly it went wrong. The battery didn't charge up fully overnight and then it was using the battery up rapidly through the day. Changed cables over the next four days and could get it to 100% charge, but the battery was dropping faster than West Ham in the league. Hadn't put on any new apps. Went through and deleted some - just in case - and made sure all the notifications and locations were turned off for everything but the work App. But to no avail.

Couldn't find any information online about current issue and in the meantime I could barely finish a day at work when I only had 63 drops - let alone a day when I would get over 100. I needed to sort it. Only advice I could see was trying a factory reset. This would be painful: having to reload all the apps (and fail to remember all those usernames and passwords). In the end this was not a problem I had to deal with… as when I attempted the reset it failed and the phone will not even boot up. I think they call this a 'soft brick'. So basically I have no phone to do my work. Arghhh! I may be able to fix it but it may take some time - and still may fail. A lost day for not being able to work due to phone is the same as buying a new phone. So, I'll have to bite that bullet.

So I'm off to buy another one. And then yet again another bloody case. I'm not going for the Redmi again as it was too full of bloatware that couldn't be deleted, or the Blackview as now I don't trust the software/firmware. Think I'm going to go for the Motorola G7 Play: good deal at Argos at the mo. Will have to get a case online.

Anyway, thanks goes to Amazon for not providing equipment, and to gravity for causing screen breaks, the weather for causing difficulties in the rain, and software issues for affecting batteries: thanks to all.
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Reading the Numbers

I love listening to podcasts about books - especially the New York Times Book Review (every Friday) and the BBC Radio 4 ones from Alan and Mariella - but when they talk about all the books they are looking forward to in the coming months (or year) I feel a bit bemused. I don't know what's coming from many authors at all. I don't follow them like I do favourite bands waiting for their next album. Maybe I should. It made me think though about my reading and I thought I read mostly older books. In no small part due to my frequent appearances in any Oxfam or British Heart Foundation (or other) shop browsing for little prizes.

So I thought I'd look at my reading for the last couple of years to see how old the books were that I have been reading. And I was surprised to find the majority are actually only from the last five years or so. In my head I was sure I was reading a lot more from the 50s and 60s. Just goes to show how much I know about what I actually do myself - what chance has anyone else. And yes I have even graphed it - didn't take long, don't shout at me. I've only broken it down into decades at this point, but if I were to do it by year the greatest numbers would be for 2016-2019.


Book Reading

The numbers of more recent ones are skewed a little by reading the anthologies that I have been featured in but not that significantly. I guess I'm more modern than I thought. Basically I just read what I want, when I want. May have to show some of those missing decades some love though.
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Yay! First Open Mic of 2020

Yesterday was the first Open Mic of the year at the Sanctuary Bar. I was told variously it was on/not on. And only got told it was definitely on near the start time. By then I'd arranged to watch the Liverpool league match against Wolves in the Head of Steam. I was a little disappointed, as originally I'd said I'd miss the football to go to Open Mic, but once it was arranged it was too late to change things. In any case, I don't like missing games on the telly when they are on. Had a nice couple of pints in the HoS with Ste - watching Liverpool win again. Woohoo!

As it happened we went down to the Sanctuary and I got a slot to go and play. After a few beers I'm usually not great remembering all the lyrics (at least not in the correct order) so it was a risk. However I ended up playing four songs and did pretty well. So all was good: I saw the game and played some tunes and listened to some too. Win, win, win.

Went for four of my most usual songs:

  • Somewhere Down the Road
  • Couldn't Get Arrested
  • Sweet Carolina
  • Splendid Isolation (with a wee segue from Knockin' on Heaven's Door)

Ste hadn't seen me for ages and commented he was surprised how good I was now. Which basically means I was shit when he first saw me.

Onwards and upwards. I need to get some songs written and learn some new ones too. Here's to many more Open Mics throughout 2020!
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Plans

Not going to put the gubbins of my plans here but here are the very broad outlines. Needless to say there's a lot to do.


This year’s plans to include:

  • Writing
    • Finish story for anthology I’m working on
    • Finish at least first draft of one novel length book
    • Start another novel or novella
    • Keep an eye out for other submission options
    • Aim: get Published a minimum of FOUR times (eek!)
    • Write for local website
    • Keep my website and blog up to date
  • Work changes
    • Look for other work opportunities
    • Consider re-training if appropriate
    • AND GET ANOTHER JOB
  • Guitar
    • Fix the Takamine
    • Continue with Sanctuary Open Mic
    • Expand repertoire
    • Write own songs
    • Take some lessons to identify best way forward to improve - esp. strumming
  • Reading
    • Same as last year a minimum of 40 books (tracked on GoodReads)
  • Food & Fitness
    • Eat better (more cooking/fewer take outs)
    • Run and/or walk
    • Consider other options eg cycling
  • Activities
    • More gigs than last year (shouldn’t be difficult) to include at least one festival
    • Walking (I’ll put it here as well as the food/fitness as it’s for photo/story opps too
  • House
    • Needs a lot of work chucking and some repair/maintenance
    • Basically turning it from A house to my HOME.
    • Lot's more (and similar) shelving for all me books (and CDs)
    • Priority is to turn spare room into an office/music room.
      • Would clear things from downstairs, whilst being a better environment for writing and strumming the geetar.
  • Transport
    • Need to consider a lot here too. Re: car/bike/motorbike et al.

All in all a lot to consider and move on.

Some of these, including the food/fitness, guitar and writing may well result in a weekly update on my blog (a fine reason to keep the website ticking over whilst also acting as a prod to do better at some things).

Next thing is to firm up some/all of these and more importantly act on them. Eek!

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Planning on Planning

The last few months - and longer - have been difficult one way or another. And I have not bothered with New Year's Resolutions. Then again, there shouldn't be a time for resolutions. If you decide you need to do something don't wait til January 1st to get it into motion. Anyway, it's the well into the second half of January and I ain't doing resolutions, but I am doing planning. In that I am planning on planning with respect to all sorts including; work, writing, reading, guitar, and fitness.

Will put some of the planning up here and then track progress as the year goes on.

But now I've got to get some of these plans down. Catch yer later…
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Flower of Scotland

You may have noticed that I have been a bit quieter on the blog recently - usually I write 7-9 blogs per month. But I've had good reason for disappearing a little as my dad died in the second half of December. He hadn't been ill and it was a shock. There's never a good time I know but coming up to Christmas it is a complete bugger on multiple levels. It is doubly difficult for us as mum died in the same week of the year 4 years ago. Christmas is going to be a bummer going forward. I nearly hid from Christmas this year - we were to have it at my dad's - but in the end I did go to my sister's family and I am glad I did.

One of the other problems around Christmas is if an autopsy is required then you can't arrange the funeral for weeks as the coroners office is closed over Christmas and New Year. In our case the funeral, which was yesterday, was over four weeks after he passed. It is frustrating and extends many of the immediate issues (you can't contact anyone important to cancel things (or claim for funeral)) without a Death Certificate. Anyway, we are there now.

Dad 1 - 2013

The funeral went as well as such a day can go. Lots of family and friends turned up, apparently with some people not even able to get in the room. Dad was a respected man and will be missed. Many came back for a drink and a sandwich later at the Fleetwood Hesketh, where my dad used to go every week. The service itself was nicely presented by the chaplain from Southport Hospital and the music choices went down well. I still can't get Flower of Scotland out of my head.

Will probably write a couple of follow up blogs on this and dad. I'm always a bit unsure about how much personal stuff to say and how much to keep to one's self: my dad would say nothing I know. We'll see, after time, where I get to on thinking about that.

In the meantime it was a nice goodbye with everybody. Like mum, he has gone too early.

MumAndDad
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Books 2019

I made it to my goal of reading 40 books in 2019 and just got to 42 before the year was up. Life sometimes got in the way but in the main I made steady progress through the year. Usual suspects in terms of style and types of reads (lots of SF & F with some non-fiction) with a few new authors too. My last book was 'Embers of War' a SF saga from Gareth L. Powell, which was a nice easy read. I am in danger of mixing all my SF reads up though with reading that so close to reading books from James A. Corey's 'Expanse' series and Stephen Donaldson's 'Gap' series. Reckon I'm going to have to refresh my head between each SF book by resetting with another style else my head will explode.


Books2019-1
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I have set my goal for 2020 for another 40 reads and I can but hope they are as good as last year's. Bring them on. I'm not going to plan what I'm reading in advance as I always seem to veer off and just go with the flow.
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Volcanoes, Guitars, Aeroplanes and Motorbikes

When I was a young kid there were four things I wanted to do at some point in my life. One was learn the guitar, another was to fly in a plane and I wanted a motorbike. Lastly, but not least, I wanted to climb onto and into a volcano. I've got a couple of guitars, I've flown countless time and I've had a couple of motorbikes (and want to return to that too). I've also climbed up (or been driven up) few volcanoes.

Seeing the people in New Zealand on White Island (Whakaari) it is horrible to see what has happened, but I understand the desire they had to go and see a volcano, preferably an active one. I'm sure they'd have preferred it a little less active, but they probably wouldn't have wanted to go there if it had been dormant. Then it would just be a hill.

Arenal1
Arenal, Costa Rica
Arenal2
Arenal

I've been up a few active volcanoes and a few dormant ones. My most disappointing one was Arenal in Costa Rica, because for years it had been bubbling away reliably putting on a lovely show at night with the lava plopping up into the air. But I got there about a year after it had stopped - and I don't think it has restarted again yet. The locals want it back as the tourists come for the volcano (and the natural heated waters - albeit in awful naff attractions). The two best volcanoes I've been to were active in so much as there was a great deal of steam and sulphur coming out of the craters which I walked into. These were El Chichon in Chiapas, Southern Mexico and Mount Sibayak in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

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Mount Sibayak
Sibayak2
Sibayak
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Sibayak

The first one, El Chichon, I went into with mates from work back in 1996. It was an epic day which I have described previously (click here). The latter was several years ago when I was travelling in Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra. I expressly went to Berastagi so that I could climb one of the volcanoes - either Mount Sibayak or Mount Sinabung. As it happened, on the day I chose Sibayak as there was a trail which went right by my hotel and it should have been a bit shorter. It turned out to be a more difficult walk than I expected as for every thirty metres you went up it seemed you went down another twenty before going up again. It was really tiring. But when I got up I was rewarded by colourful lakes, steaming vents and sulphur. It was everything a volcano should be–minus the lava and pyroclasts. Still, it felt safe and I was glad to have put the effort in. As it happened the other volcano, Mt. Sinabung, exploded about ten days after I was there causing 10,000 people to be evacuated. There but for the grace of whatshisface and all that.

Irazu
Irazu

Vesuvius and the other dormant volcanoes I went to in Costa Rica were all impressive - especially the latter ones with the beautiful lakes in the crater - but being dormant or extinct they weren't the same. I can understand the desire to go to an active volcano and would do it again and again given the chance.

Anyway, about that motorbike…
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