Sunday, November 19, 2017

Freewrite—A Review

"The Freewrite is not a typewriter." So states Adam Paul Leeb, one of the founders of Astrohaus, the makers of the Freewrite.

OK, that still doesn't stop me from referring to mine as my "21st Century typewriter." Opinions, you know how they are, though Adam's may carry a little more weight than mine.

This review is also an opinion. One based on my experience, my usage. Different usages may lead to different opinions, and different conclusions.

I backed this project in Kickstarter, because the concept looked really interesting. I learned to type, a long time ago, on a manual typewriter, and it's left me with the ability to type reasonably well. The keyboard on the Freewrite is a major help. It caused me to order a gaming keyboard for my laptop (I am *not* a computer gamer because few, if any, games hold my interest) because it had a similar kind of mechanical keyboard.

The product was late, by something like nine months, if memory serves. No Kickstarter, or similar crowd-funded project I've backed, has delivered on time. It's the nature of the beast. At least they delivered. Two projects I backed did not.

But, what joy when it arrived! Setup was straightforward. It connected to my home Wi-Fi without issue, and the keyboard was all I'd hoped it would be. Other than the fact that the keys were white, which caused them to stand out dramatically against the black of the rest of the device. The effect, for me, was slightly jarring.

I am using the US format keyboard, so I freely admit life has been easier for me that for others using French, French-Canadian, etc. keyboard layouts. There have been problems with those layouts, some addressed swiftly, some perhaps yet outstanding.

I configured the cloud connection to drop all my files into DropBox. I have Evernote and Google Drive locales also, but keeping my Freewrite documents in one place seemed saner for me.

I was surprised when the files delivered to DropBox turned out to be Microsoft Word .docx files. Nothing against MS Word (apart form the usual) but .txt had been promised given its ease of loading into *everything* and because its longevity as a document format. .txt isn't going out of style any time soon.

An update to the firmware, 1.2, delivered over the air, and to the backend Postbox cloud service, allowed for the delivery of .txt files to DropBox (and the other endpoints.) The Astrohaus people (Patrick) were very responsive and provided an interim fix and, subsequently, a fix to the Postbox configuration.

I've written poetry (and not just free verse) with my Freewrite. And short stories, and longer format documents, and technical documentation. For this last I experimented with Markdown formatting, and was pleasantly surprised with the result. Using pandoc to generate Word .docx files from the .txt gave me a good start on a formatted Word document.

Editing...this has caused much debate on the Freewrite community forum. You can't. Not on the Freewrite. Well, you can delete the previous character, or the previous word. Possibly the previous paragraph, but I haven't gone there.

And it can be annoying to see, four or six lines up from where you're typing, "teh" rather than "the" or worse. Sometimes it's bothered me enough that I delete whole sets of words, but that's generally because what I wanted to say (write) isn't exactly what made it to the screen, and I fix it.

Typos, I don't care enough to worry. That can be taken care of in Scrivener, Word, or whatever else I dump the text into.

Once or twice my text remained in the Freewrite and did not sync to Postbox (and thence to DropBox.) I can only attribute this to work being done on the Postbox site itself. I've worked enough with web development tools to know that hiccups can arise from time to time. The interruptions were never long-lived and synching began again without issue. But an indication that this was going to happen, or was happening, might ease troubled minds.

Battery life is not what was promised, but Astrohaus is working on it. I've learned to keep Wi-Fi off on my Freewrite until I'm ready to use it, unless I'm at home and in easy range of power outlets. I have experienced the "Critically Low Battery" situation, and the Freewrite takes some time to recover from that. But I've learned to adjust how I use it (not the perfect solution, our tools should adjust to us, but reality is what it is.)

The other disappointment I've had is screen refresh. Much of the time this is not an issue. Words appear soon enough after key presses that I don't notice. But I'm using my Freewrite for NaNoWriMo right now, and I wanted to keep it all in one document—because the Freewrite keeps track of my word count.

This was ok-ish to about 20,000 words. Then word appearance began to lag badly. By 25,000 words I had to start a new document. Now refreshes are great, but for my word count I have to do math. This is not ideal.

As I understand it, there is hope that the third firmware update (V 1.4) might do something to address this. I am hopeful. In the meantime I have to adjust what I do to overcome the lack in the tool. Not tragic, but it would be good to have this addressed by Astrohaus.

(By the way, don't those black keys, purchased from Astrohaus and very easy to install, look gorgeous!)

My final thoughts on the Freewrite is that it is very close to a distraction-free writing device, optimized for getting text out of my head and into a format that can be edited...later.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017 here I come...

So, I'm doing this thing. There's a story to be told, a character to follow as she journeys. And I have the month of November to do this in.

I've done NaNo before, five times if memory serves. And "won" twice. The competition is against myself, my laziness—not to put too fine a point on it.

The first was a real win, because "Not by Dark Alone" came from it. A story I've reread a few times. I still think it survives the rereading.

To all who are venturing down this crazy paving path this November, best of luck. Have fun with it.

I'm kjmackey on the NaNoWriMo site, should you wish to connect.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

For the night is...

...dark and full of terrors. So they say on Game of Thrones.

I'll not patronize and say these terrors are just our own fear of the dark, a fear that seems to spring from our very DNA.

For there are real terrors, and there is real darkness, and to fear such is an adaptive trait.

And yet the same DNA seems to drive us to hope, to seek the light, to remind one another of its return. This capacity to hope, to believe that which cannot in that moment be seen, has fueled the festivals, the celebrations that mark this Mid-Winter time here in the Northern Hemisphere for as long as we can remember.

Our species has left its mark on the stone, the land, the oral and written record of our peoples, talking of the darkness, the terrors, and the light driving out the darkness. Twenty-six and more centuries ago a voice was raised saying:

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light..."

Yet the odd thing, the salient thing for me, is the speaker/writer is not talking of the past. He spoke of the future. I have written before that we are a hopeful species. That seems to be as much part of our makeup as our fear of the dark.

So, look up. Look past the terrors. Look past the dark. On they who dwell in shadow...a light will shine.

Our truths tell us this.

*Image from:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Time: a creeping, leaping thing

*She walks in beauty...or it may be that she runs so, or jogs.

Walking out in the world some time ago I smiled at the sun, warm on my face. As I paused she ran by, lean, lithe, her blonde ponytail swaying with her strides. Perfume, perspiration, and the slap-slap of jogging shoes against the unforgiving pavement.

She rounded a corner and was gone.

Not very long later I rounded the same corner and moved further through the city. A little distance away from me she stood. An older her, a young man by her side, between them a golden retriever. The light changed and the three crossed the street, the retriever straining against the leash wrapped around her outstretched arm. I heard her young man laugh as he walked by her side, his hand in her free one.

They were quickly lost to my view.

Later in my walk, after turns both right and left, I saw in the distance the blonde young woman, a mother now, pulling a golden-haired boy in a little red wagon, a litheness still present in her gait, a curve to her belly hinting future joys.

The golden retriever was now leashed to her young man. They kept pace behind her, the years lying heavy on the dog.

I stood and watched. Her ponytail was gone, her hair a more sensible style. Her young man...his hair already fading...still smiled easily in response to something she said.

I lowered myself to a nearby park bench, not eager to hurry them through further stages. There would be time enough for college-age children, for grandchildren, for a time alone after her young man was gone.

I closed my eyes, letting the early summer sun warm my face, smiling at life.

* My thanks to Lord Byron for the phrase.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Freewrite is here

Freewrite is here.

I never doubted it. Honest. Yes, it's a year later than they said—well, maybe just eight months. Some might have doubted. Not I.

Another project I contributed to, a tablet with the world's greatest operating system and interface, didn't make it. But I never doubted that till one day they said they couldn't do it.

Still, the Freewrite is here. A typewriter for the 21st century. Web enabled, internet connected.

Will this make me a writer? No. I am one. Will it make me a better writer? A harder question to answer. It may, because with it I may write more.

That was the idea behind the product in the first place, and why I thought to support it.

For I am kid, distracted by shiny new toys. And the Internet is full of shiny new toys, and email, and music, and interactions with friends, and...

It doesn't hurt that this Smart Typewriter qualifies as a shiny new toy. I know me: my strengths...and I'm conscious of many of my weaknesses.

So this blog entry, the resurrection of my blog if you will, is a start with this new toy. This new toy designed to help me do what I love to do. 

Tell stories.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Out of darkness unto light

The days, at least here in the northern hemisphere, grow longer. The nights, at this late stage of the year, have begun to be shorter, the light returning earlier and earlier.

In the depths of this dark night I lift my eyes to the sky and face the steady sheen of a full moon. The darkness—lessened, leavened, lightened.

Unbidden, though unsurprising, the words—old even before being written down—sound in my head, out in the world:

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined."

Whether those words were actually said in that form, they state a truth that resonates deep within us. That can resonate across our lives, across our world.

With each of us reflecting that "great light" or shining with that light that lives within us, our world can be leavened, lightened.

And the darkness in whatever form lessened.

"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

Friday, May 08, 2015

From the sea they came

"You'll be going, so," she'd said to him that day long ago.

Half-grown, as he was then, he still towered over the old woman, his mother. Not so old, he supposed now, not so old in the terms he now understood. But he was young then. Everyone was old.

He could still see her, there in his mind's eye. Graying hair tied back from her face, severe. Some strands had fought free and flew in the wind streaming off the ocean. She'd looked him in the eye, her gaze unwavering.

"Everyone gone now, and I alone."

It wasn't a complaint. He knew that now, had known it even then. She'd buried her husband, his father. Buried the wife of a neighbor also. The neighbor himself had gone away. His house burned down.

"Mind yourself on the road as you go." His mother's last advice to him. "There are those who'd take advantage of a young man making his way in the world."

He'd not said anything, just turned his face to the morning sun and the road that rose before him. He stopped, later, on the crest of the hill east of the huddle of houses that passed for the nearby village. He could just make out her small figure, standing on the beach, face to the ocean waves.

Chanting. He couldn't hear. But he didn't need to.

He'd made his way in the world. There had been those who had tried to take advantage, as she'd warned him. But she'd gifted him with more than milk when she'd nursed him. And so they'd failed.

He was grown now, and successful. And so he'd now returned. The huddle of houses had grown and then diminished. Few in number had any light showing and those lights turned out abruptly as he passed.

His own home was without light. No surprise. He had been away for a long time. But he had returned. It was time for a new generation.

He made his way down to the beach. The waters were gray and restless in the fitful moonlight. He faced the ocean, the salt stinging his skin.

Faintly, carried on the wind, he heard it. Chanting. He was silent, for a moment, for a time, remembering. Then he opened his mouth, adding his voice to the chorus.