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Monday, 29 April 2013

I'll be a log in a minute...

The Kalq keyboard designed at St Andrews University

I've caused quite a lot of amusement since I acquired my new smartphone - sending unintelligible messages which seem to be immune  to predictive text. So it is with interest and trepidation that I read of the introduction of the new Kalq keyboard, designed at St Andrews University and soon to be made available as a free app on Android.

I'll be a log in a minute,' I texted my friend the other day.
'I always thought you looked a bit wooden,' came the quick-fire reply...

Trusty old Qwerty, which I've used since I first learnt to type, has me racing along on my laptop at around 120 words a minute, as opposed to the  20 words per minute most people manage on the average tablet.  Not surprising, then, that an idea developed in the late nineteenth century has finally found a  serious rival.

Apparently a lot of thought has gone into the study of thumb movements which, as all typists know, are usually reserved for the pressing of the humble space bar.  So, as I'm all fingers and thumbs at the best of times, I suspect I should  give it a go. Kalq, by the way, represents the four letters on the bottom line of the screen, which shows the keyboard split into two.

The developers are due to present their research work at a computing systems conference in Paris on May 1. Paris in the Spring?  I'm beginning to think this is a very good idea after all...


Thursday, 25 April 2013

An expert on men - at ninety-one - will she tell all?

A loud cheer for the appropriately-named  Eileen Younghusband  whose book 'One Woman's War' has been shortlisted for The People's Book Prize.  The ninety-one-year-old started writing her wartime memoirs four years ago when many women might be content to spend the day knitting socks or pottering about in the garden.

Last week on this blog I championed the demise of the typical granny with her grey bun and steel-rimmed specs.  Now we have the proof! Eileen's latest book discusses the numerous men, famous and not so famous, she has met in of the course her life. 'Men I Have Known' gives some surprising insights, from  encounters with Rex Harrison and Dylan Thomas to her meeting with Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher's infamous predecessor, who apparently  'had no desire to talk to a woman.'  In the most unlikely quote from this book, as seen in The Times this week, Mrs Younghusband says

'Among these men it is for you to know and me to wonder how many I slept with...'

One Woman's War, describes  Mrs Younghusband's life in the Filter Room of RAF Fighter Command, collecting data from radar stations in order to plot the path of German bombers. After that she spent time in Belgium studying the  flight paths of V2 rockets. Even after the war she continued to help the  RAF by showing officers round a Belgian concentration camp, before settling back in Britian to run pubs and hotels.

Meanwhile, this indomitable lady has been studying creative writing, socio-linguistics and philosophy in her spare time.

'One Woman's War' is available from Candy Jar Books priced £8.99
'Men I Have Known' will be launched in Wales this summer  on the author's 92nd birthday.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Mother can you spare some time?

My mother around the time that I was born

 If we could pick our mothers, just as we pick flowers, I wonder what they would be? Prime Ministers or primary school teachers?   Celebrities or stay-at-home mums?

'What do you want to be when you grow up?' I asked the nine-year-old daughter of a friend of mine the other day. 'Successful' came the reply, 'like my mum.' Her mother is a respected artist who works from home, sharing her time and her talent with those she loves most.

The greatest gift a mother can give her child is time. Looking at the grieving Carol Thatcher this week I couldn't help wondering if this is where The Iron Lady went woefully wrong. What do you think?

Thursday, 11 April 2013


A friend of mine has reached that time in her life when  hot flushes have taken over from hot dates.
        'I'd rather stay in and read a good book,' she said to me glumly the other day.
        'Oh well, I said, grinning,  'I knew you'd see sense in the end.'
With sixty being the new fifty and botox available to the masses, I'm surprised anyone feels old these days. Our facebook pages are filled with adverts for anti-wrinkle treatments, 'fat tummy' busters, hair extensions and  lip enhancement, making sure we all spend our money on chasing our long-gone youth.

My daughter found an old book the other day about growing up in the war years, or more accurately, what life was like in 'granny's day.'  The granny on the cover was sitting in her rocking chair knitting, had grey hair in a bun and steel-rimmed glasses. I wonder what the updated version would look like?  She'd probably have died red hair, matching lips, a nose piercing and be posing in a  pink and green Zandra Rhodes dress. Oh, and be called by her first name, of course.

The other thing about oldies these days is that they tend to get married again, something that rarely happened years ago. The tabloids seem full of couples who got together during the war, lost touch, have  met up again and decided to share a seaside bungalow till the end of their days. And why not? Why should being old stop people enjoying themselves?

Meanwhile today's women's magazines are full of photos of actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman looking exactly as they did fifteen years ago. They don't eat, rarely drink, spend four hours a day in the gym and update their fianc├ęs on a frighteningly regular basis. So what's going to happen when Hollywood runs out of' 'mature-looking' women? You never know - there might  be a chance for me yet...


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Twenty eighty four? Time for another Orwellian novel...

Sunrise in the Lincolnshire sky
'It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen...'

What makes an author see into the future? Watching a science fiction film the other day, one made way back in the 1940s, I saw a saucer-like  spacecraft glide silently to the ground. As  it came to a standstill the doors opened seamlessly, as if by remote control. Yet remote control hadn't been invented.

My favourite book of all in this genre is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the first line of which is quoted above.  Written in 1948, it's a  breath-taking insight into the world of Big Brother where cameras tracked  the minutiae  of Oceania  'inmates' as they went about their daily lives.

Described as 'the definitive novel of the 20th century,' the book was translated into 65 languages and sold millions of copies world wide.

The name Big Brother is now sadly famous for a very different reason - the popular reality television programme devised in America.   In 2000, the Estate of George Orwell successfully sued CBS for copyright infringement and received undisclosed damages.

Robert McCrum, in an article in the Observer in May 2009, suggests 'The irony of the societal hounding of Big Brother contestants would not have been lost on George Orwell.'

In the book, Big Brother is the dictator of a totalitarian state where everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mostly by 'telescreens.' Now that we have reached the age of CCTV  what, I wonder, are the next generation's fears for the future? Will Britain still be a green and pleasant land or a place where law and order no longer exists? Are our children aware of the power of the technology they have in their own hands,  a power that is constantly evolving even as I write.

Now may be the time for a bright young graduate to pen a ground-breaking novel about life in 2084.  I can think of an ideal publishing date - 13.13.13.  When the clock strikes thirteen, of course.