Man Versus Machine

I continue hearing that desktops, keyboards, and laptops will soon be a thing of the past. There was a time when I agreed with them.

As a person who began writing with a Sears portable typewriter back in the early ‘60s such a change could only bring positive results. So in the midst of my 2014 National Novel Writing Month Challenge – producing 50,000 meaningful words within the 30 days of November the middle finger of my left hand went sour. I had succeeded the year prior with 50,254 words in 27 days,) This year, however, switching from 10-finger to two-finger typing wasn’t going to cut it.. Rushing to my neighborhood Best Buy I purchased a Nexus 7 tablet with voice recognition.

My first surprise was to learn it didn’t speak English. It had to be taught. So I read a novel to it. When its vocabulary equaled mine I put the novel away and my 50,000 word challenge…sort of.

My second surprise came when I discovered I didn’t pronounce some words clearly. When this occurred the Nexus 7 ad libbed. The results were a disaster.

My third surprise came when it was time to edit. It was no longer man versus story. It was man versus machine. If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine a Bostonian and a Charlestonian sharing a voice recognition machine. I wasn’t writing a horror story, but that’s what I had.

I suppose if I had stuck with it I would have eventually developed a stilted lingo this machine could deal with, but fighting a two-front battle – a machine and a story – brought the words of either John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway into very sharp focus: The secret to good writing is effective editing. Those words caused me to learn two-finger typing on my Nexus 7.

Eventually, my finger healed enough where it will tolerate a couple of thousand words before sending me back to the tablet. So I alternate between the two.

Reflecting on my personal experience, I’ve concluded that the folks who are predicting the demise of the keyboard have never met a deadline head on. They’ve never tried what they preach

For Want of A Delete Key

I wonder if a copy of Microsoft Word would have made any difference in my education had there been access to a copy in the 1950s?

Like everyone else back then, I flogged an Underwood upright. It did a fine job for many of my fellow students. For me? Well, had the teacher not been so high-strung, and had I not taken advantage of her flashpoints things might have gone better.
Speed was not her concern. Perfection was. She demanded assignments be done over until they were perfect. And Moving ahead was not an option until that occurred. When I was finally twenty-five pages behind everyone else I’d given up. I knew typing career was over.
“Time is up,” she said, referring to some drill.
I had nothing to lose, so I ripped the paper from the machine rather than rolling it out.
“Get Out!” she shouted, pointing to the door as I approached her desk.
In her opinion my writing days were over. I was finished. But after enlisting in the air force and I had some change in my pocket I bought a Sears portable and taught myself what I could never learn under her critical eye. It was not easy. The typos were waiting to happen.
After receiving a positive response to a query letter to Overdrive Magazine I polished my ten-page story by pencil. Then I retyped it – with carbons – eleven times before I thought it would pass the editor’ critical eye.
In the grueling process I developed a new respect for authors like Harrison Salisbury who used a small portable for 40 years.
I sold the story.
But had Microsoft Word been available for me … well, you know the answer to that.

Writers of words

We writers occupy a host of interests that seem to spring from as many experiences, whether they be escape routes or chosen professions. My mother belonged to the former group. I first became aware of this activity during World War II,  perhaps 1942. It must have been how she coped with the uncertainties that controlled her life.

During that period the telephone was affordable own. They were necessary in case of emergencies – accidents and house fires, but little else. If someone was coming home on furlough for the holidays a telegram was wired, but more often a letter was written. Since soldier mail as free of any postal charges the choice was obvious. Another advantage: letters were delivered twice each day and once on Saturday. Who needed a phone?

One stormy night, probably in 1942, I awoke to see a sliver of light beneath my bedroom door. I found Mom seated at the table penning a letter. The window over the table faced north and it was taking a beating, the pane rattling with from the force of each gust. Too many years have passed for me to recall who that letter was for. It could have been any one of her three brothers or brother-in-law serving in Europe and Iceland.

A number of years then passed while I served in the air force and raised a family. In 1982, two days after Christmas, my father passed away. We moved Mom in with us.

She was still writing letters, perhaps more than any time previously because she was an active member of several pen pal clubs.

Fat envelopes arrived in her mailbox bearing as many as a dozen letters. She might be three or four days reading all the letters before removing her letter and replacing it with a new one. One of her clubs focused a hanky exchange. Another exchanged doilies.

She continued with her writing well into her eighties. We will never know how much longer she might have forged on had Alzheimer’s Disease not gotten in the way.

Leo and the Penny Dreadful


Image Source: Internet

I suppose I’ve seen a few hundred Penny Dreadful novels during the course of my life, but didn’t know them as such. In my shallow literary world they were called Pulp Readers. The name was probably derived from the quality of paper they were printed on. I was no paper inspector by any stretch, but even I could tell it was carted off to the press before the paper maker was finished. That was why they cost a nickel. From those pages I learned about Tom Mix, Tom Horn, Buffalo Bill, and a host of others who, in my world became larger than life. One day while I wasn’t looking they vanished from the magazine rack and I forgot about them for some thirty years.

About 1982 I replaced my Sears portable with a Commodore 64 and a dot matrix printer. Spinning yarns was never so easy. I wrote stories for paying markets – columns and articles that paid anywhere from five cents per word to $50 per story. It was money, but the day job was what kept the whole bunch of us eating three squares. But my favorite targets, in spite of the money,  were the small, backroom presses and regional rags. Barb and I were cyclists during those years and I became a voice for middle-aged tandem bicycle cyclists.

That was about the time I met Leo.

Leo was a writer bent on reviving the Penny Dreadful Reader. He had placed an ad In what we called compte Newsgroups – kind of a redheaded stepchild to today’s Yahoo Groups – searching for writers for his Penny Dreadful venture. I responded and since he was local I drove by to see him. Leo and his wife Tweedy were living in what resembled a fabled gingerbread house where in exchange for rent he watched over a building contractor’s supply yard.

We soon learned that we both licensed amateur radio operators – another story – and had also attended air force electronic school during the same years. He became a maintainer of an early warning radar site on a Nevada mountaintop while I went to South Carolina to maintain airborne navigation equipment.

The fact that our paths crossed once again after 45 years is mind-boggling.

Funds kept Penny Dreadful from becoming a reality. But we had a lot of fun with projects we shared.

Our friendship continued into 2001 when he passed away.

A memory to two

Miss Griffin taught high school English. If I wasn’t her worst student ever I was a close second. She had a thing for dangling participles. That and the many hushed discussions as to whether or not her hair was her own are the two things I remember most about her.

Joining Independent Sentences


I found these two paragraphs embedded in my tablet dictionary blog this morning. It explains how and when to use semicolons.

A semicolon links two or more independent clauses that are closely related. An independent clause is any group of words that contains both a subject and a verb and could stand alone as a complete sentence. For example: “Chocolate ice cream is delicious; vanilla pudding tastes good, too.” Notice that the two clauses don’t need a conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) because the semicolon takes its place. The semicolon helps establish a strong relationship between the two sentences, and it also helps give the two food items equal importance in the sentence.

You can also use a semicolon with connecting words (such as nevertheless, thus, or besides) to combine two sentences. In the following example, note that the first word in the second sentence (however) isn’t capitalized: “My little brother likes worms; however, I think they’re disgusting.” Capitalization isn’t necessary in this instance because the two sentences form a complete thought.

My granddaughter loves semicolons. I don’t share her enthusiasm.

Maybe semicolons is a quick-fix for run on sentences?

Cormac McCarthy states that a properly written sentence requires nothing more than a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end. I’ll go along with that. However, quotation marks relieve the reader’s burden of figuring who said what and when.



Our Familiar Old & sign – Ampersand

Found this on my dictionary yesterday.

[am-per-sand, am-per-sand]
This strange punctuation mark has a fascinating past. The ampersand emerged over 2,000 years ago as the Latin word et meaning “and.” The cursive writing of Latin scribes often connected the “e” and “t,” giving rise to the shape of the ampersand. The name did not appear until the 1830s when “&” was the 27th letter of the English alphabet. The mark concluded the alphabet with “X, Y, Z, and per se and” with “and per se” meaning “and by itself.” This final phrase was slurred by English school children during recitation and reborn as “ampersand.”

H.M.S Bounty

<a href=””>Bounty</a&gt;

The word bounty always leads me off on a tangent from other posts. I always think of H.M.S Bounty and Pitcairn Island. And how Fletcher Christian set Captain Bligh and his followers adrift at sea. (After these many years Bligh still holds the world’s record for surviving at sea. No on perished because he forbid it.)

As many folks know, Fletcher sailed to Pitcairn Island and set the H.M.S Bounty afire in order to escape Bligh’s wrath. They survived and flourished.

Fast forward to about 1991.

For many years fuel was delivered to Pitcairn Island once each year. If the residents experienced a normal year those who were amateur radio operators were able to run generators and work the world for one day. In 1991 such a year occurred. And they set an operating schedule.

I had yet to earn my general class license, so I was not authorized to operate on the frequencies the islanders were using. But my close friend, Jim Isom (now a silent key) operated that day and made contact with Mary Christian, Fletcher’s granddaughter.

And that is what Bounty means to me on this Christmas Eve Day.


Sometime in the early 1950s one of my uncles was stationed in Japan. During his tour a reporter for the Argosy Magazine arrived to do a story on an aged Japanese man who could walk across hot coals barefoot.

A teenager, one of the watchers, decided he could do it if the old man could. But after a few steps be began running a cursing in Japanese.

“What’s he saying?” the reporter asked his interrupter.

“The boy says ouch,” the interrupter said.

Nexus 7



I bought a Nexus 7 about four years ago after I injured a typing finger on my left hand I thought the voice to text would do the trick. Well…I speak so poorly even the Nexus doesn’t know what I said. It became what a friend calls “A BOUGHT EXPERIENCE”. For a year or more the only thing it had going for it was speed.

After giving my iPad to Barb I started doing some blogging with it, and it works better than my desktop HP. My fingers are too large for the virtual keyboard, so I spend extra time choosing suggested words or going back to manually correct typos.

Saturday I ordered a wireless keyboard from Amazon – $20. It’s supposed to be here Friday.

I’ve been using an iPad for several years, typing with two index fingers rather than 10-finger.  While recovering from two heart attacks Barb has developed some exceptional skills with the Sims game. She keeps a second iPad busy. So she needs it more than I do.

I’ll have to provide a Nexus 7 update soon.