IPad Note Taking Apps Review 2012 / 2013

November 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

The iPad comes with a memo pad – it’s OK but it’s very limited. Once you start taking notes, you start to realise what other features may be of use. So let’s look at some that are available. Using current Note Taking Apps you can:

  • Write or type on to a “page”
  • Organise pages into note books
  • Export what’s created into different formats (docs, pdfs, etc…)
  • Send your notes out via email, or to cloud type storage systems
  • Synchronise to the same app or others on other devices
  • Format the information
  • Add images which can be written or drawn on, or used as illustrations or backgrounds
  • Draw or write freehand with multiple mark making tools (e.g. pens, markers, paint brushes, and erasers etc.)
  • Use automatic shape makers (grids, text boxes, tables and solid shapes)
  • Record sound and synchronise it to what’s been written or drawn as the recording takes place so that it can be reviewed by clicking on the typed text or drawn images
  • Insert images from the camera, or image library
  • Insert information found on the internet, including words, images, audio, and video
  • Write large letters but have the text appear small on the page
  • Convert handwriting to text
  • Integrate with other software such as mind mapping, organisation or project Apps
  • Include some formula / calculation functions
  • Allow copy, cut, and paste of all content, within a page, notebook, or multiple pages
  • Add check boxes
  • Give good tuition, support and updates

If you just bothered to read through that list then you may be a little disappointed to find out that there isn’t one App that does all these things. Even the brilliant non iPad, Android Galaxy Note S Note App doesn’t have all these features!  So, when choosing which Apps to invest your minutes, megabytes and money into, try to work out what features would be really important to you.

For instance, I imagine many journalists would find the ability to make synchronised recordings invaluable, whereas someone researching a subject using the internet, may find the ability to drag info from the internet very useful. Given the costs of the Apps and the ability to transfer data between the Apps, I can see that many people will probably go for a collection of note taking Apps. So now let’s take a look at some of those I’ve had a look at recently. If there’s any that you think I should include, please drop me a line and I’ll see if I can add them.




Notes Plus 9/10 £2.99 plus £1.50 for adding the writing to text plug in.


I’m going to start out with Notes Plus which is one of the most feature rich Apps in the note taking category. For me this scores a 9/10 because, having tried all the other ones, this is the most useful one out there – BUT let’s look at its shortcomings first. Although this can record sound and attach the recording to a page, it cannot tie both writing and drawings so that, upon playback, the user can tap the words or drawings to prompt the recording to play what was recorded as those words or images were created. I know I’m going on a bit about this but I personally think this is an important feature and should exist in the top note taking Apps. The second criticism is the lack of ability to choose any colour one would like from the colour palette for text or drawing tools.

OK now for the good points: I have this App on both my main iPad and my mini iPad, which are both kept up to date with each other when I use this App via drop box…. Brilliant!!!  What is also great is that I can write freehand in a “close up” box which writes my writing out on a line on the page in a much smaller form than I could have written without this feature. I can then draw a line around my writing and, if I’ve paid for the add on, can opt to have my writing converted into text. I found copying the handwriting first to another page useful when doing this so that I had the original to refer to in case some of the conversion was less than accurate which, with my scribbly scribe, it was! (be warned the installation of the handwriting to text add on was a bit of a palaver)!

The interface for dragging information from web pages, including pictures and writing straight into the document, was simply excellent.  However, it couldn’t drag videos in, which was a pity and IS an option in Scrapnote.

Notes Plus is easily the most useful all-round note taking App if you wish to use handwriting and draw.  However, if you’re going to be sticking to just typing, then I’d seriously recommend Evernote. It’s one of the best note taking Apps out there and, on top of that, it’s free.

Evernote – Free 9/10



Evernote is more like a word processor, which automatically sync to my other devices, including my Android mobile phone, and my computers (PC and Mac) so that any of the text, recordings and photos I’ve inserted into the note, are added to all devices logged into my Evernote account. Sadly, Evernote does not allow you to sync recordings to notes in the manner I described earlier but recordings can  be attached to notes.

It is also possible to use third party Apps with Evernote that will allow you to write and draw things and then import them.  However, this is not a very seamless way of working. It is also possible to handwrite something in one of those Apps and get Evernote to use it to do handwriting recognition, although I haven’t worked out how to do that yet… any help would be gratefully received and credited!  Even though Evernote lacks built-in freehand functionality and the ability to sync notes to a recording, it is still a top scoring App in equal first place. A must-have (especially because it’s free)


Noteshelf 7/10


This app is more orientated toward freehand and drawing but does allow Notes be written in text. I found this quite good when using it with Evernote as they seem to compliment each other  and Integrated with each other well but ultimately I think it would be better to just have this as part of Evernote rather than a separate App.


Scrapnote 9/10


Scrapnote is more of a scrapbook App than a notepad one as it allows you to bring in multimedia from the internet as well as one’s own creations. For me this is one of the must-have Apps.  However, it isn’t necessarily the best note taking App. I especially think this is good if you’re trying to research and collate information from the internet or build up digital scrapbooks. It also allows you to create a function within the browser that allows you to pull web pages straight in to Scrapnote whilst browsing without having opened Scrapnote in the first place… a kind of add to Scrapnote favourites button.


Notability 8/10


Possibly one of the most useful notetaking Apps because it allows you to record and sync your writing to what you’re recording so that you can click on your writing later and it will play back the recording at the moment you wrote it.  For instance, you may be listening to a lecture and writing notes, and later find that your notes don’t make much sense.  However, you can click on the note in question and you’d be able to hear the part of the lecture in question play back. This would also be especially useful for journalists (who are renowned for getting their facts wrong). If it is essential to have recordings that can link to drawing too, then you really should look at SoundNote too, which is far simpler and has this feature.


SoundNote 7/10


SoundNote is a basic version of Notability and for the difference in money, I would say go for Notability… However, it does allow you to play back from drawings so if that’s important get this one too.


Jotter 5/10


This is quite a sweet App as it allows you to write in quite large freehand and then it shrinks the writing. It will also allow basic sketching, You cannot, however, type or dictate into it. It does allow images to be imported as backgrounds but not as images that you can insert as part of your notes. Given that all these features appear in some of the other Apps mentioned earlier, I would say don’t bother with this one if you can get them.


Paper 7/10


This is more of a drawing program than a notetaking one.  However, it is so simple and so beautiful, that it’s worth a mention here because it can be used for freehand notetaking and graphical journals. I see it more as a sketchbook program and not really a proper drawing one either. It pretty much has its own niche but it is worth having a look at the free version, and, if you like that, you can pay the extra money for brushes and colour if you so wish.


Magicalpad 8/10


This is a complex notetaking and mind mapping App.  Presently, it only allows for typed text input but apparently, in the future, you will find multimedia and freehand dimensions to it too. Meanwhile, for those of you needing to take down complex notes which need to be moved around and connected in different ways to each other, then this is the App for you.


Well that’s my quick round up of note Apps for late 2012. Sorry I didn’t create a table showing comparative features or include all the prices. I hope it helps and, if you have any suggestions,https://www.facebook.com/simon1a then please feel free to leave comments or message me.


Thank you to Susan Baldock for proof reading this for me.

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May 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I probably can’t do this subject justice but it’s one that is close to most of our hearts, I know it’s close to mine, and it’s been haunting me lately, because I see so many people who feel unable to let go and move on and I feel for them. So this is about the things we tell ourselves and our partner when we’re in love that can keep us stuck in a painful situation if the relationship ends when we should be moving on and letting go

Of course the last thing we feel able to do soon after a separation is move on. Even if we try by seeking out someone who looks similar to the person we’ve lost, we know deep down that we have to go through a process of grieving. But a lot of people seem to get trapped in the grave of a relationship, unable to move forward. This article is about this process and hopefully may help some.

There’s a fantasy about love and connection that it will be happily ever after, we all know it’s not true but as the reality of a relationship starts to hit us, most of us feel a bit shocked by some of the painful feelings that may arise alongside the good feelings. For instance we may feel insecurities about losing our partner, having needy / missing feelings, fears they may not love us properly; that others may try to steal them; that they will change and won’t love us anymore and there are loads more fears that can bubble to the surface. We’re all different so some people are lucky enough to just have a lovely, secure experience together for all their life, but many others don’t.

I’m being a bit dark but I feel I need to remind us that it ain’t as much fun as we’re led to believe on TV. To be fair though during the process of bonding we start to feel lovely things too, like a sense of connection and completion, peace, acceptance, intimacy, and aliveness. As we feel these things we pour out our hearts with promises and thoughts that come from the depths, but these same things may well serve to trap us later too. So let’s start to take a look at some of these lines:

The first and possibly most powerful statements go along the line of “You are the only one for me”, here are a few examples:

“You are the only one for me”

“We are soul mates and we’re meant to be together”

“We fit together perfectly”

“It feels so right when we are together”

“I have never felt as comfortable with anyone else”

“I will never find anyone as good as you”

“It feels so right when we were together”

“I know many others but no one feels as good as you”

There’s often a honeymoon period of about 6 months at the beginning of relationships where the couple create a shell in which the relationship takes place, but after this initial period one of the couple will often start to make a move towards more independence, like wanting to spend time with other people, not coming round every night etc… How the couple deal with this often decides the fate of the relationship. So even after a relatively short period we may have bonded so well and said so many things that separation can still be devastating. All those ideas listed above result in us telling ourselves that we have lost the one and only person we could ever be with, and therefore our love life from now on will be completely compromised. Our emotional life is essentially over and we have nothing to look forward to.

Some people will be stuck in this position for the rest of their lives, unable to move on whilst many will slowly heal and either come to the conclusion that in fact there are many other people we can have powerful connections with or if on the other hand they believe that there’s only one person for them then obviously that last one wasn’t the right one.

As a break up starts to take place most people will take on roles, one tries to pursue whilst the other tries to distance themselves. If each person were able to see the reality of a situation they’d probably have a more mixed point of view, but people aren’t normally able to do that, so instead each takes to their entrenched positions and battle commences. The main battle is one person saying why parting is a good idea and the other saying why carrying on should be pursued at all costs. Here are some of the lines commonly used:

“Relationships are difficult and we shouldn’t just give up at the first sign of struggle”
“We are true friends and our friendship and love should be fought for”
“We like the same things, are on the same wavelength, this is so special it mustn’t be thrown away”
“We feel like we have known each other forever and we have a psychic connection, so don’t abuse this privileged position”

I personally am not advocating that people should just throw in the towel at the first provocation, however in the early stages of a relationship people can be very fickle and I have learned that when that happens it’s often better to just let go, stop being the one who does all the work to keep it going and instead let the other person feel their own doubts so that you too can feel yours. Of course it’s easier said than done but if you can it does seem to help.

We may feel that this relationship is the best friendship we’ve ever had but that’s partly because the scenario allows us to feel that. During the honeymoon period we may well tolerate a lot and not even know we’re tolerating it. Often sometime after a separation many people realise it was for the best and even though they stay friends with the person the friendship isn’t particularly any greater than their normal ones. In other words the persuasive arguments we use on others are just as much geared towards persuading us too. In desperation we daren’t face our own doubts because we are in “Love Saving” mode, and we must keep our mind focused on the job in hand.

There’s some lines from the Leonard Cohen song “I’m Your Man” that go something like this:

“But a man never got a woman back
Not by beggin’ on his knees
Or I’d crawl to you baby
And I’d fall at your feet
And I’d howl at your beauty
Like a dog in heat
And I’d claw at your heart
And I’d tear at your sheet
I’d say please
I’m your man”

We all know that throwing ourselves at someone is to be avoided at all costs, but many of us still do it. Here are a few of the things people like to say just at the worst moment:

“No one will ever love you as much as I do”

“I love you so much”

“I will still love you when you are old”

“I love the smell and taste of you”

“I love the shape of your… [Fill in as desired]

“I cannot stop thinking about you, you are in my mind all the time”

“I will never find anyone like you”

“Even if you don’t want to be with me I will still love you”

“Please I beg you, don’t leave me, I need you”


Although some of these lines may make you smile, if you’ve loved and lost then you may well know the desperate pain that can cause us to utter them, even just to ourselves. The reason why we do it may be that we know it will push them away. That we are trapped in a dance, and we cannot do anything but push, but why?

Some therapists may say we’re repeating patterns and somehow we get some sort of advantage by doing so. It might also be an automatic response, like panicking, or possibly we know deep down that the other person is not right and we are helping to bring about the end of a relationship we know ought to be ended. Some may like the drama. It may even be about us playing out a role where we end up alone because for some reason we prefer that, even though consciously we don’t feel that at all. For instance the romantic idea of being alone waiting for our true love to come back to us may be preferable to the day to day claustrophobic reality of having them in our lives.


Once the person makes it clear that they are off we are very likely to show them that by leaving us we shall be damaged or even die,

“I will die without you”
“I cannot cope without you”
“I am a wreck without you”
“I would do anything to be with you”

At this point we may reach out wanting to be rescued; it may even be that we have engineered the whole scenario to bring us to this point to see if anyone could love us unconditionally, especially if we felt we weren’t loved unconditionally as children. But the person on the other end will probably just fear becoming our slave so will probably get away pretty quickly.

And if they allow us to manipulate them, then what?  Wouldn’t we rather someone came to us of their own free will? Well in an ideal world we may but in the panic stricken world of being left, the desire to possess and control may well take over. If it was about love then maybe things would be different, even those with the slightest sense of love would know that love puts those we love first, at our own expense, because underlying it is a sense of compassion and empathy. When we are caught up in a failing relationship we probably end up using all the words of love we said, to fulfil our own desires not our desire to fulfil those we love.

I once read that someone felt that separation was a process of untying many little ribbons that had been used to tie us to each other, it’s a long sad process and some of the hardest connections to break are those in the mind:

“When we are not together I still converse with you”
“You were in my dreams”
“All the coincidences that meant we were destined to be together”
“Fate has brought us together, our whole life has been drawn to this one particular point”
“All the similar things we believe mean we should be together”

The magical psychic world, that many of us can’t help but secretly believe in, keeps our thoughts trained on the person we lost, as soon as we wake they are there, they weave between every thought, and are there with us as we fall asleep and maybe in our dreams too. We know deep down that they are as much a dream to us as they were real, and without a focused attempt to let go they will remain there for far longer than is necessary. It actually takes a disciplined approach to start making someone less dominant in our internal world.

Firstly we need to realise we’re thinking about them, then we need to consciously deal with those thoughts, for instance by using visualisation techniques to imagine them getting smaller and fading off into the distance. In the real world we need to stop seeing them for a while if possible, in the virtual world stop looking at their online presence and slowly we can get to a point where they are not in every other thought. Then one day we get to realise that we haven’t hardly thought of them at all.

I’ve often found that during this period I have tried to visualise sending them off with my blessing to find the person who they can really be happy with, to let go with love will help you more than wishing ill upon them.

Given all the beautiful feelings and words experienced during the relationship it’s very hard for the person who’s still in love and being “abandoned”  to understand why anyone would want to walk away from something so beautiful, “there must be something I can’t see, there must be a problem” they say:

“You need to see the truth, we are meant to be together!”
“I cannot understand why you don’t feel the same it must be a problem with commitment that you have”
“If you want other people it is because you’re damaged and you need to be healed”
“If we spend a lot of time together you will come to your senses”
“The only reason you don’t want me is because I want you, it’s a problem you’ve got”
“The only reason I want you is because you don’t want me, but I’m going to choose to ignore that”
“You want me you just don’t know you want me”
“One day you will realise that we are  meant to be together”
“Other people think we make a good couple”
“Why waste your time with those others we are right for each other”


Understanding that we can’t always understand why things are as they are is often hard to accept but often there’s no alternative if we want to let go. For some people there are obscure but powerful advantages to not letting go. As said previously facing the reality of a normal non-romantic relationship may not be what some people want, in fact living in a romantic illusion may be far more suitable to them, in its own way the pain of loss may make them feel like they are living on a higher, more meaningful plane. There is also the idea that pain gives a sense of aliveness to some people whereas the drudgery of a mundane existence seems like death. The romantic may feel that by grieving forever that it shows they are able to truly love.

Death and separation are the main catalysts that people experience that can bring them to their psychological knees. If you feel devastated by such things there is a way forward, it’s not quick or painless, but maybe out of respect for the feelings of love you felt it shouldn’t be.

There are choices though, as in do you want to feel better, are you willing to work at it, by not picking at the wounds or returning to the same situation, or spending time looking at the person (virtually or otherwise)? If you start to walk away and let go you may get a sense of hope again and feel it’s possible to connect with others and have a different, but just as valid experience in pastures new.

One has to be brave, and if you feel you want to find a meaningful love in the future then helping to heal yourself for your future partner’s sake is worth bearing in mind. One should try to be as nostalgic for the future as the past.

Meanwhile as the healing process occurs it’s worth keeping track of your state of happiness or anxiety, by giving a grade to how you feel whenever you feel a bit overwhelmed, so if you feel down you can say to yourself “I feel a pain level of 4/10” as this helps you to keep it in perspective. Likewise if you’re feeling anxious try to focus on where you’re feeling the sensations in your body as that too will help you ride them.

I realise a lot of who we are is far more complex than what I have brushed up against here, but if you can keep some hope, look forward to the future, and accept (at least intellectually) that everything comes to pass, both good and bad, then you may be making some room for healing to take place. One of the ideals that I find helps is this very famous one. “Do not ask what life has to offer but what it is you have to offer life”. By focusing on helping others rather than just our own pain we can find a way to give real love as much as we may feel it has evaded us.

© Simon Mark Smith 2012




iPad 3 vs iPad 2

March 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

I just received the “iPad 3” for review. No long wait to get it and, on first impressions, it’s not surprising. The screen is better; much better quality but, by definition, you have to look closely to see the difference. However, photographs do have a quality about them which wasn’t apparent on the iPad 2.  The iPad 3 is slightly thicker, has a 5-megapixel iSight camera, (which is a big improvement to the old 1-megapixel one); there are also new features for the camera including touch to focus, face detection and image stabilisation. Even so, it doesn’t compare to many of the camera phones that many users will have at hand anyway so I doubt many people will be too worried. The inclusion of HD video, with video stabilisation, may feel a bit of a waste on a tablet device.  However, coupled with iMovie, some people may find it quite a creative addition.

The next obvious difference is a useful dictate function added to the keyboard which seems to be ok (even high end dictation systems are problematic), but the lack of Apple’s SIRI has been quite a disappointment for many.

The rest of the differences are even more subtle. Here are some of them:

The new iPad has a 42.5 watt-hour capacity, compared to the 25Wh one in the iPad 2 but it’s still the same 10-hour life between charges. The new screen uses a lot of power, hence no noticeable extra battery life.

LTE (long-term evolution) networking is another new feature. Apple says using LTE will only reduce the battery life by one hour. For the most part, European buyers – unless they’re going to the US – should expect that LTE won’t be of any use as the UK version runs on a different frequency to the IPad’s one. There is also HSPA (high speed packet access) and DC-HSPA (dual-cell HSPA), which telephone companies (namely Orange / T-Mobile) describe as “3.5G”. Once again, for most people, this won’t be of any use.

No SD slot, or USB connection, HDMI, Network file sharing and Flash compatibility as standard but with a few Apps and / or some cheap hardware add-ons most of those problems, except Flash, can be got around.

If you’re not bothered about a better screen, the dictation or camera, then the introduction of the iPad 3 will mean the iPad 2 will be quite a bit cheaper (especially second hand) . If you’ve already got an iPad 2 – don’t bother upgrading unless those features are particularly important to you. In conclusion, there’s no big deal about the iPad3 – except for the lovely new screen -but, all in all, it’s a good move for consumers.




Put your seat belt on, I want to try something. I’ve seen it in a cartoon, I think I can do it!

January 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

To see this post on my main blog please click on this link http://simonmarksmith.com/wordpress/uncategorized/put-your-seat-belt-on-i-want-to-try-something-ive-seen-it-in-a-cartoon-i-think-i-can-do-it/

This is a post about driving safely.  I’m a well trained driver but I still drive badly sometimes so, if you read this, prepare for a bumpy ride!

“Put your seat belt on, I want to try something. I’ve seen it in a cartoon, I think I can do it!”

A few months ago I was driving down a dual carriageway when I came across a car sitting in the overtaking lane.  There were no other cars nearby so I flashed my lights for them to move over but they ignored me. For the next mile or so, the road was quite windy as it went down a steep hill so I thought I’d wait till we got past this area before pressurising them to pull over. Once we got to the bottom of the hill and we got to a three lane section of the road, they still didn’t move over. I started to consider undertaking when the car finally moved out of the way. I kicked down my accelerator, partly to get around them quickly and partly to let them know I was annoyed.  As I did so, I noticed a police speed check van on the bridge about 400 metres away, I checked my speedometer which read about 87 mph so I hammered the brakes to get me down to around 77 mph.  As I sailed closer, I looked up at the policeman who continued aiming his radar camera towards where I’d come from.

Sure enough, a week or so later, a letter from the police arrived saying my car had been recorded doing 83 mph in as 70 mph zone and they wanted to know who the driver was. I wrote back saying it was me and, after a few days passed, another brown envelope arrived offering me an option to take part in a driver safety course rather than get points on my licence. I decided to take up the invitation. I went on the course today so I thought some people might find it interesting to hear about some of what happened on it.

I  probably sped a bit to get to the course; not much, just a little but, a few days ago, I’d been  in a situation where I’d pulled off from a set of traffic lights and the driver in the lane to my left started to race me. I was sure my car was faster so, rather than just let it go, I raced him. Ahead of us was a car parked in my lane so I checked my mirror.  I could see I was ahead of him so I pulled into his lane.  I knew he wouldn’t like it but I thought “tough luck mate; you wanted to race and you lost”. As I pulled into his lane, the car that had been previously parked in my lane pulled into the left lane too, revealing another car parked ahead of him, so that both lanes of the road ahead were blocked. I had to slam down hard on my brakes; I felt my anti-lock system kick in and the car’s automatic braking system took over, bringing me to a very harsh stop. The car behind sounded his horn and drove close up behind me. As we passed the parked car, I pulled back into the right hand lane to continue on my route.  Of course, the driver who’d raced me, passed me so I slowed down ready to confront him. He gestured at me and I stared at him; he looked around at me but, as he did so, the car in front of him came to a stop, which meant he only just managed to avoid going into the back of them.

*             *             *

“How do we learn?” David, the Driving Safety Instructor asked us. “We learn from bad experiences.  However, sometimes bad experiences can kill you.” These words resonated with me as I remembered the “racing” incident.

A few minutes beforehand, I’d arrived at the council buildings where the course was to take place.  About 30 people were sitting in silence in the foyer.  I signed myself in, made a joke to one of my co-attendees which made us “course buddies”, and then we were directed to a room full of tables at angles to each other.

As the course progressed, I wondered if what we were touching on could get to the root of what makes people speed. This is some of what we covered.

There is a problem, we all know it, even if, thankfully, most of us haven’t experienced it, and it’s this. Every 6 seconds, someone is killed in the world in a road traffic accident and around 60 people are seriously injured. ( www.makeroadsafe.org ). Speed is logically a major factor in accidents that cause serious injury and death.  I mean, if someone is hit in a modern car at 20 mph, they’re likely to survive without getting seriously injured. Most occupants of vehicles are well protected in modern cars so it’s not surprising to find out that a large proportion of those who die or get injured in accidents are bikers or pedestrians who get hit by cars. It was at this point that we homed in on the issue of community; that, by speeding, we are putting at risk people who we may care about.

Something happens when we get in a car; it’s almost as if we inhabit a slightly make-believe world.  We feel like we can take risks, we become knights of the road, where we challenge others, become abusive to others and generally take our feet off of the ground and lose contact with reality. There weren’t any graphic photos or videos from real life crashes but we were shown a few. Here’s one that touched on the sense of community.

As you can see, when a crash happens, it affects many people, especially those we love. Maybe we become stigmatised, or lose our job and, consequently, our family home or, worse still, our family. Maybe we find the reality of damaging someone else’s life, or even killing them, kills a part of us that we’ll find unbearable to live with.

There are many consequences of crashing at speed, however, even though many of us are aware of the risks,  we still do it. We listed the reasons and of, course, none of them tended to be justifiable. Even those “noble reasons”, such as taking someone to hospital in an emergency, were deemed unlikely to save that much time. So, in my mind, I was thinking that many of us speed because we kind of like it and think we’re going to get away with it.

Over the next 10 years, the world will focus on making it much harder to get away with speeding, with the introduction of satellite spy cams, cats eye cameras, digital speed cameras and many other detection devices. Many people believe that speed detection is about raising revenue for the government.  However, whether that’s true or not, the reduction in deaths on the roads has been close to 30% (from around 3000 to 1800) over the last 10 years and much of that has been attributed to slowing people’s driving down. I’m not sure if that’s true but that’s what we were told.

A great deal of emphasis of the course was put on reducing speeds in urban areas; the obvious reason being that there are more pedestrians at risk here. Many of the course members felt it was OK to speed slightly at night time, however, but we were informed that a great proportion of accidents occurred between 11pm and 7 am as, of course, the chances of people either drink driving or drunk people falling into roads was far more likely during these hours.

Another factor that was focused on was the difference that driving at 40 mph would have compared to 30 mph in terms of stopping distances and damage to a human. In many incidents, the impact occurs before any braking takes place.  This means that the chances of someone surviving being hit at 40 mph are almost zero whereas, at 30 mph, it is much higher. “The thing is, 30 mph seems so slow” cried the group (well it was more of a swelling murmur). I pointed out that, generally, most police forces allowed a 10% plus 2mph leeway and, given speedometers have to legally show higher speeds than are actually being driven at, that most of us could really drive at 35 mph on the clock (and not get prosecuted) which actually doesn’t feel too slow.

At higher speeds, the effect of speeding becomes more dramatic. Let’s say you’re going 70 mph and have to do an emergency stop. The distance you need to do that in, we’ll say is around 315 ft. (96 m). Well, if you were to try stopping from the same point at 80 mph, you’d hit the same spot where the 70mph vehicle would have stopped at 38 mph and, had you been doing 100 mph, you’d hit the same spot at 71 mph.

So if you want to curb your speed what can you do?

The first trick is to use cruise control, if you have it, the second thing to do is use a lower gear, e.g in town, use 3rd gear (it’ll have a negligible effect on fuel but it will make you keep your revs and speed down.) Another thing to do is drive with your window down so you can get a sense of your speed from the outside noise.

There were quite a few things that came up on this course that I didn’t know. Here are a few of them:

  1. A dual carriage way is not defined by having two lanes on a road but by the fact that there are two roads separated by either a barrier or a verge. So, if you’re driving on a two lane road  in a car at 70 mph, you can be done for speeding because the national speed limit may actually be 60 mph there as, technically, it’s a single carriageway.
  2. That, if you drive for your job, your employer must provide you with a policy in terms of your driving, possibly some training and most, likely, a contract relating to your driving for them, otherwise they may also be liable to prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.
  3. Want to save on fuel? Then drive smoothly, only fill your tank halfway, keep your tyres at the correct level and you will probably do 10-20% more miles per gallon (annually saving someone who drives 12000 miles per year between £250-£500)
  4. Most of us know to keep a gap of around 2 seconds between our vehicle and the one in front but, “when there’s wet on the floor, make it 4”.
  5. Look properly when pulling out onto a main road.  Recent experiments have shown that the third look we do (especially to our right in the UK) is done so fast, and not far enough to the right, that we don’t really see any fast approaching threats, especially small object such as cyclists, motorbikes and drunk skateboarders.

So you think you’re good at paying attention? Well check out this video.

Finally, this wasn’t mentioned on the course, but many of us are really tempted to deal with our mobile phones as we drive.  I’m not talking about taking a call on  a hands-free device but dealing with a text or looking up a number. I’m not sure why we can’t wait but we often feel compulsed not to.  However we are 23 times more likely to crash when texting. One option for those of you with smart phones, is to get an app that will read out your texts to you and let you dictate a reply (sadly that bit often doesn’t work very well) but if you don’t have an app that works and you get that urge to deal with a text etc… then try to force yourself to wait until you can pull up somewhere as so many people are swerving when they do this and many accidents are occurring due to this kind of distraction. Really, the phone makers and car companies should be working together to make communication in cars much more integrated, given the seriousness of this problem

I had spent a year after passing my test practicing driving, including being taken out for lessons by a police driver and, at the end of the year, I passed my advanced driving test.  Even so, I know there’s a lot I don’t know about driving and this course reminded me of that. At the beginning of the course, one of the instructors asked us what we hoped to get out of it and I had facetiously said: “I’d like to get out of here!” but actually, by the end of it, I wanted more and felt sad it was over. For those of you in the UK who’d like to do further driving training, here are a couple of useful links.

I hope you found this interesting.

Be careful out there!



This video was also shown on the course

This one is very graphic but a warning for those who think the risks of texting while driving are low

Text related


August 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Going to spend the next few months promoting our music. We have no record company behind us and hardly any money, so I thought some of you might find it interesting to see how it goes.

I’ve tried to keep my objectives slightly limited, try and get some articles written and a bit of radio play then ask a few record companies as to whether they’re interested in dealing with us.

Please join me for the ride.

Simon Smith

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F14874587 Facebook192kb-Simon Mark Smith by simonmarksmith

Day 1

Before going ahead with anything I decided to try to create a strategy with limited objectives, this would allow me to have end points in view and measurable outcomes… not because I’m particularly organised but just so I’d know when to pause.

So here are my main objectives:


Get coverage in the media: Get interest from local and national media, maybe get some interviews and hopefully get noticed by bloggers.. so I’d better research a list ASAP.

Try to get tracks on the radio: Send out CDs to all the appropriate DJs / So get a list, contact people, send out packages and follow up.

Create a bit of a buzz and contact Record Labels

Work towards 2 release dates: Album release date:  10th October 2011 and Single Release Date 10th December

So with all this in mind I started by getting a 4 week free trial to Music Weekly and buying a cheap copy of the music directory from Amazon for £16 compared to £40

I also looked up a load of CD printing services and came across 1 which seemed quite reasonable however when I got a quote it was for more than their own special offer, a quick phone call remedied that though… I felt like saying “Don’t try that old Jedi shit on me”.

So the next job is the design, however as this is for radio stations and the press it’s a whole different approach, it’s not about looking good but about looking like what the industry normally submits. More about that later though.

Tonight I’ll design the CD print, re-master the album so the tracks I want radio stations to consider are first, and work out the blurb for the labels on the CD envelope and any accompanying paperwork.

I’ll hopefully have something to show you tomorrow.

Day 3 ~ If you want to make God laugh show God your plans ~

I’m in to “next week” and still designing the CD cover. I already had one set up, but it needed a bit of colour correction. I’ve printed out quite a few trials and I’m not getting the strength of colour I need so sometime this week I’ll have to visit a print house and get some help… Ker-ching!

The other development has been a decision to create another CD, this one will have the same tracks on but in a different order (basically the more immediately impacting songs first) and an 8 page booklet, this CD will be available for those who want a more luxurious product and for use as a promotional disk. The other CDs tracks are ordered as Id originally wanted but as it’s an on demand service (as in the company manufactures and sends out the CDs when an order is placed) there was a limit on the book size, which is 4 pages. Getting 19 songs to fit over 3 pages has been quite a challenge for both me as a designer and no doubt anyone trying to read the bloody thing. Anyway the upshot is, 2 CDs, one is cheaper because it has a smaller booklet and the other is slightly more expensive but is more luxurious. Plus I can also send out signed copies of the 8 page one. Phew, did you get all of that… the messes I get myself in to sometimes. So this week is about getting the new Master CD and graphics out to the UK manufacturers and getting a corrected set of graphics out to the US ones.

Meanwhile I’ve just done 2 email interviews, I’ll post the links on here once they’re published, and I am trying to produce a new song too.

As the saying goes: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it” Hold on! Everybody is doing it!!!

Be back soon~ish.

Two Weeks Later

The designs all got sent off, but both the US and UK companies made mistakes, fortunately it hasn’t affected my schedule. However the main problem has been in terms of printing. The Uk company printed the tray card even though I’d informed them the proof showed the file was corrupted, I mean it had big pink and green stripes running across it. Plus the print out of the cover is too dark. The US version has come out pretty close to my mock ups, but the UK one is way off. If there’s any more runs I’ll be making sure they get it right  next time.

Whilst I was waiting for the CD’s to be manufactured I created a database to collate information about radio, magazines and other media that might help run articles or add my music to their playlists. Just going through Radio and magazines created a shortlist of over 600 entries. I still have to add newspapers and music blogs to the list, but one thing at a time. I’ve spent this week contacting college radio stations and specialised medium readership magazines. This has helped me get in to a work flow and become more focused when it comes to phone calls. Next week I’ll move on to higher profile organisations. So far the response has been minor, a couple of companies have got back to me, but given how many of my messages were written directly and relevantly to those concerned I’m surprised by how little feedback I’ve had. Next week I’ll try to establish more contact via the phone than just by email and send promo disks out to the majority of contacts, hopefully that’ll establish more engagement.

So far one highlight has been chatting to DJ’s using their studio chat module whilst I listened to them talking back to me on the show. Also two articles have been published so far. I shall leave them with you for now, and will report back soon.





October 17 2011

It’s been a few weeks since I last reported back on what’s been going happening promotion-wise. I’d say sorry about the delay but I think it’s probably been for the best.

It’s really hard not to come over as sounding a bit bitter, but that’s how I feel. I have emailed around 200 radio stations, I mean these are college, community, hospital and local commercial stations and I’ve only had 6 replies. I’ve also sent out disks to about 20 stations and once again only had one reply. I’m annoyed, not because they’re probably inundated with disks and can’t cope, but because it’d be good if they just had written on their webpages, “Please don’t bother sending emails or disks”. Of course it maybe that our music isn’t up to scratch, but we now have over 85,000 followers on the Internet so I don’t think it’s that, but of course I can’t be sure. What it maybe is this, and tell me if I’m wrong please, is this:

Commercial radio stations need to play music people want to hear in order to bring in audiences to listen to the adverts that keep the station going. Most people want to hear music that’s in the charts because that’s what’s deemed as good. What gets in to the charts is music that is played a lot on radio and TV, and what gets played a lot is music that’s placed on playlists. Music that gets on playlists gets on to those lists through a few main ways. Firstly panels on some stations choose the list, sometimes DJs get to choose what gets played, but in the background are pluggers, record companies and companies interlinked in some ways to the radio stations. In the UK Global Radio owns most of the major radio stations, what they play becomes the chart music and consequently that gets played on the BBC.

I recently went to an AIM (Association of Independent Musicians) meeting with the top brass of Radio One and their take on it was that their playlists were formed by a multitude of influences. Submissions, pluggers, chance hearings and so on but at the end of the day how different is what we hear on Radio One to any of the other major commercial stations? Not much, so the proof is in the pudding.

Now BBC Radio has made a gesture to opening up opportunities to new artists via their BBC Introductions scheme which is also expanding to its other stations e.g Radio 2, as well as making a proportion of air time available for the scheme in every program. However it has already received 55000 applications so it’ll be interesting to see how well it filters through such a massive submission.

Meanwhile I’m sitting here re-assessing the situation. I’m aiming to contact the major radio stations and record companies over the next few weeks whilst at the same time approaching more prominent publications, but I’m already beginning to get an idea as to what I’ll be saying to you at the end of this process and that’s this. The Internet is going to be the place for me, the mainstream is tied up. MTM (An Internet radio station that promotes new artists) has already featured me and my music and wants to do a second interview about the album, GMH Café Radio and Stray FM have also featured us, so some things are happening but there’s definitely a feeling of impasse in the mainstream if you don’t get picked up by a record company. In fact the BBC guys said the same thing when they told us that they would avoid non-label artists, mainly because of the worry that they would not be organised enough.

So as you can see it’s a funny time, I don’t really know if I’m coming or going. The CD is ready to sell and is available on line at www.simonmarksmith.com/store even though its “Impact Day” is scheduled for November 28th 2011. I’ll announce its availability to my followers sometime over the next fortnight.

One thing that has sunk in is that promotion isn’t something that one stops and starts around albums but is continual so if anything this project has given me that realisation. I’ll let you know how this next stage goes and I’ll post links to the radio appearances as and when they become available. I’ll post them here: http://simonmarksmith.com/epk/articles1.html

Talk soon





The Straits at The Albert Hall May 22 2011

May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

I knew this wouldn’t be a simple affair, there was baggage, isn’t there always when you get to a certain age? We’d normally met with such a bang, but that was some time ago, maybe 20 years or something like that. This time the approach was far more ambulatory. A couple of mutual friends to reintroduce us, in their own right they were entertaining… but really it was you I wanted to see.

The lights went down, and we got straight in to some Private Investigations. But within seconds, what I’d been warned about hit me, you weren’t all there. And whilst it was you, (it looked like you, and sounded like you), it didn’t completely feel like you. As your words vibrated in to me, I felt a sadness, like a friend had died, had come to haunt me, and would be going away again soon… but you didn’t fade away, instead you wound yourself around me, lifted me from my seat and straightened me up again. I realised that my sadness was partially self-inflicted … I had grown older and your very presence served as a constant reminder for a while.

As you danced with me to songs the old you had sung to me and the new you had once played with the very same hands, movements neither of us could never forget, those same hands guided me still, and I let go. Your new look had its own appeal, something of you belonged to the old you, enough to keep me attached.

Now I am home, looking at the photos, uploading the videos, and rewinding my memory, I can feel it was a bitter sweet meeting. Oh you truly had me dancing, you made my spine tingle, and  your touch just blew me away, but the bit of you that wasn’t there, was always there, conspicuous by its absence. You were always good at being magical and this was definitely your latest trick.

*      *     *

If you’re a Dire Straits fan go see “The Straits” and take a trip down memory lane, it’s well worth it, but don’t expect it to be a particularly straight and narrow route, it’ll be rocky too… but we both know you like that.

For more info go to http://www.thestraits.com

Here’s a video I made:

The Straits performing Private Investigations May 22 2011 at The Royal Albert Hall

Simon Smith




I Want To Hear Leonard Cohen In The Tower of Song

November 12, 2010 § 2 Comments

Someone once said to me that when the tram lines were taken up from our roads it was as if the tram lines that guided us in society also disappeared. There is a general consensus in the UK that we should try to be as free as possible in how we choose to live our lives without infringing on others’ right to be free, and I reckon most of us feel comfortable with that. But…

A couple of years ago I went to see Roger Waters perform at the O2 arena near London, which is a big venue. Throughout the whole performance people wandered in and out, pushing past me, falling on me, mostly in order to get to the drinks kiosk. Perhaps the size of the venue meant that people felt they weren’t really at a concert, but after that experience I felt I wouldn’t want to return to that venue and consequently missed the now legendary Leonard Cohen concerts held there.

Steve, my co-song-writer, told me that he’d once gone to see Daniel Beddingfield play and the audience was so loud during the warm up act that Daniel came out and sang with her because he was so disturbed by their rudeness. The audience wouldn’t have been able to know if she was worth listening to as they hadn’t given her the chance to be heard in the first place.

I have a video of one of my first live performances and during it I rather unprofessionally looked at a group of people who were talking so loudly I could hear them over the PA system and said “Yeah and see how you feel when I speak over your band”… a slightly embarrassing moment for all concerned. But in a way I was right, if you’re in a music venue it’s not like being somewhere where someone starts performing whether you asked for it or not.

So my point is have we got to a time when we need to re-define some social decorum again or is too restricting to do so? Is this just a phenomenon in the UK or are there other places that have it too?

I’d be interested to hear what you think?

Best wishes



Fame, Money, Success and Connection

August 20, 2010 § 7 Comments

I want to talk about a paradox, it’s one that most of us have experienced and it relates to money and success.

If you asked me if I thought commercial success was a true measurement of achievement, I’m pretty sure that, philosophically speaking, I’d say it wasn’t. In reality though, when I meet people who have done well in their fields, (commercially I mean), then I can’t help but feel more impressed than those who have not done so. I can do that because I’m a hypocrite. We all know that loads of people who get rich and famous are probably there more by luck than by measure. Often people who seem to be far better at what they do than other, more well known, people often go unrecognised. It’s just a fact of life. So what is it about commercial success and fame that a lot of us are so impressed by?

Perhaps one thing it particularly relates to is the “Pursuer, Distance Dynamic”, again this is one of those things that most of us have experienced. It’s basically the more someone wants us, the less we want them, and of course the more they don’t want us, the more we desire them. It’d kind of the first rule of love as well. The second rule of love is: When you’re single no one wants you and when you’re with someone people won’t leave you alone, but I digress.

So when it comes to fame there’s a connection between these principles. People who are desired by others may trigger our own desires for them, because a subconscious message tells us, “Well they must have something, if everyone else thinks so”. I mean if you were to see two restaurants next to each other and one was full and the other was empty, which one would you be most likely to enter? So in a way fame feeds on itself and that’s partly why it doesn’t always relate to ability.

One of the other ways we measure success is by how much others will pay for their services. I would happily pay £40 to see Leonard Cohen, it would be an experience well worth every penny for me. There may be other artists who are “almost” as good, (not likely), but they haven’t been in my head for as many years, and to me, seeing Leonard Cohen in real life would be like bringing my inner and external worlds together. Again my willingness to pay to see Leonard Cohen isn’t just about his ability it’s about our relationship. So what’s my point?

The thoughts that motivated me to write this article came about because I saw a video in which, Chris Cox , a marketing consultant, suggests that artists give their music away for free. His main argument is, that in a world of pirating and media companies that dominate our world, he believes, artists who want to sell their work without, or sometimes even with, corporate help are going to have a hard time doing so. Therefore he suggests that one option, is to give the music away, at least that way it’ll get heard and connections with people all around the world can be made.

The only thing is, in the past when I’ve paid for albums, if I didn’t like the music at first I would still struggle on because I had made a financial commitment to it. I wanted to see if by digging a little deeper there would be anything worthy of my hard earned cash, and more often than not there was. BUT if I was given a disk for free and didn’t like the first track I’d probably just put it aside and never come back to it. So by giving one’s music away there are two possible side-effects. The first is that people may feel you can’t be any good because you’re unable to sell your work and secondly they probably won’t even listen to it because they haven’t made any commitment to it. There is a third effect which is music that needs to be struggled with may be abandoned too early so both the artist and audience end up losing in the long run.

When Leonard Cohen is in concert and says to his audience: “I want to thank you friends, I know some of you have had to undergo financial and geographical struggles to be here tonight” the audience cheer. He touches them because both he and they realise there is a connection, a deep emotional one between them. Plato said that we recognise something inside others that is inside ourselves too and that’s what contributes to us becoming true friends with certain people. It’s also true that our closest friends are often very different from us, that it’s something in their essence that connects us.

When I write songs my music comes from a deep part of me, so as it moves around the world it touches some people and they then link up with me, for instance via my Facebook music page.  What ensues between us is a two way dynamic, well more so than the traditional musician and audience relationship. Perhaps as the Internet changes the nature of how music is distributed, the type of relationships between artists and audience may well change too,  becoming much more intimate. Ironically that’s probably quite like relationships that existed between many musicians and singers when society was more of a community. People would often gather to make music and sing together. Also the isolation caused by the relationship, or lack of it, between artist and stars, might be why so many stars have collapsed emotionally after they found their “dream”.  When TV and radio took over, the “stars” sang to an audience that didn’t really exist in any real way to them, and though the audiences might have waved and thrown their under garments at the TV, the person singing to them would have been blind and deaf to their antics. But now, now there’s the Internet and it’s becoming a two way process, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens next!

If Not Now Then When?

August 16, 2010 § 1 Comment

Apart from being a memorable saying “If Not Now Then When” was also the title of one of Tracey Chapman’s hits in 1988. These words have been echoing in my mind (lots of echoes there!). I watched my father die in front of me a few months ago and maybe it was that which reminded me that I too ought to get on, but get on with what? I have been doing my thing, you know all that creative stuff I do, for decades now, and still much of what I do remains insulated, so I thought it was time to put some of my work out there more. It’s not that what I do is particularly great, but it is something and some people get something from it.

I thought I’d put some adverts out on Facebook to see what would happen and so far I’ve been quite moved by the response. It’s not so much that people like my music that’s so touching but more a case that multiple connections with people all around the world are starting to take place. As each person links in to my page I normally have a look at what can be seen of their profile, and many of them have interesting links about themselves there. So in a way it’s been a two way process and I’m hoping this is the beginning of some interesting adventures.

Even today I was feeling quite angry with someone who had betrayed a deal we’d made. In fact I was having a bit of a Sopranos meets Tarrantino moment when I read one of my “new connections” poems page and was quite touched and calmed by the lines:

“This life taught me to forgive and forget,
Each of its trivial and unpaid debt.”

It’s been an interesting ride this last week, and I hope to tell you more of my travels, and if not now, then when I can.

Simon Smith

You’re my first.

August 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Apparently the first time is normally filled with anxiety, I’ve practised a bit before hand, by myself and with others, so I’m hoping it won’t be so bad, but then I can feel a slight tingling sensation. I’m certainly worried about my “performance”, just one wrong word, one wrong action and that could be the last we share together. Then there’s the size of my words, too long, too short, will they fit with your expectations. I’m not even sure how long I should, or am even able to, go on for. I could do with a sign, but it’s hard to see in the dark and the noise from the commotion in the rooms next door is almost deafening.

I can feel our excitement, our expectation and it’s driving me to distraction. I know it’s about flowing, about connection about reading the writing on the wall, between the lines and in your eyes.

Are we flowing together?

Are we there yet?