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Does Grammarly Work?

Grammarly is a free service which checks your spelling and grammar as you type via a Google Chrome plugin. There are other ways to use Grammarly – Word plugins and so forth – and also a paid version with a desktop app.

You people – yes you – seem to like the Chrome plugin – over 10 million of you downloaded it, and it’s got a lot of stars for the reviews. Silicon Valley likes the notion too – $110 million was put forward by eager venture capitalists in 2017 to help the company grow.


So Do I Use Grammarly?

I did. For a bit.

GrammarlyExampleI learnt grammar four decades ago. I’d like to say I’ve forgotten more about grammar than you’ve ever known, but that’s so blatantly untrue – I can’t even remember learning any grammar in the first place. I have pretty shoddy grammar most of the time, but don’t realise it. The odd time I do a writing course, people very gently tell me about “dangling modifiers”.

My brain thrives on the ambiguity of most English sentences. When I say thrive, I really mean, gets easily and frequently confused by.

So in theory, having a writing assistant and editor constantly helping might seem like a good thing. I could be clear of word and meaning. My sentences could be very highly graded by readers and google alike. ( google the great false god to which we worship, hoping to get more reads, likes, shares, subscribes or whatever to gain some external validation for our meaningless lives).

paperclipAnd I liked it for a bit. Who doesn’t love red pen on your exercise jotter – at least it means someone is reading your heartfelt missives right? (Oh that’s right, no snowflakes like red pens. Even less people like red pens than like cheery paperclips  – thanks uncyclopedia for the  reminder image of word processors of nightmares gone by.)

Do I Use Grammarly Now?

That would be a no.

Why Did I Like Grammarly?

  • I felt my writing was being read and critiqued
  • It seemed I was learning some grammar rules, even though it was at a glacial pace. Very hard to steer glaciers from the downhill.
  • I liked arguing with it when I thought my sentence was better (though perhaps less technically correct)
  • I passed it along to my former boss and former assistant, as I arrogantly thought their written communication was much worse than mine – it felt like I’d discovered a silver bullet for poor writing.

Why Don’t I Use Grammarly?

  • I’m sick of plugins. They each have a lifespan of a few weeks before I boot them out of the pram.
  • I don’t like sending everything I type to someone if it’s not going to be public.
  • It’s like when I use a satnav – it takes me 10 times as long to learn a route to somewhere if I’m using the satnav (GPS for you American people) to navigate. (Yes grammarly would have whooped my ass for the last sentence and my full stops are all wrong).
  • I’m sick of freemium upsells and have no intention of spending $30 monthly on anything that doesn’t at least give me a foot massage.
  • Gmail already reads most of what I write – it also suggests what I might type to people and does that thing that really annoys my family when I do it – finish the sentence. At some point, my half-bot gmail will be conversing with someone else’s half-bot gmail while I play video games in a bath of nutrients in a waking dream, but I’m not sure if I want to dilute my half with Grammarly.

Would I Use Grammarly Again?

Possibly. I might install it for a while during the great book writing push. (Yes, I’m aware that every person has a book inside them, and that’s perhaps where it should stay.) For now though, I’ll just keep splitting my infinitives, making my antecedents vague and occasionally see what grammar and punctuation errors the masses are making and steer clear of them as much as my human brain can manage.

Should You Use Grammarly?

It only takes 90 seconds to sign up, but that doesn’t make it okay. I’d give it a whirl so that at least you can have an opinion at last year’s dinner party when it was still interesting to talk about it.

Why Am I Writing About Grammarly in 2018?

About 90% of the ads I see on YouTube are for Grammarly, so I thought I’d check in to see what it’s about.


Death of the Cellph Own


The timing couldn’t have been better – a weekend meditation retreat at the Maharishi Peace Palace coinciding with sending off my smart phone for a battery replacement. I would be digitally untethered. Except for the Kindle that I inherited from my mother – the charmingly named “Next of Kindle”. I had promised to read a screenplay for a friend which makes me sound terribly important, whereas in fact I believe I am just a soft target for enthusiastic feedback. Send me yours if you don’t believe me.

At the last moment before departure, I decided to scrape most of my memoir together into a pdf, convert it to a mobi file and send it to my Kindle in case the retreat allowed some time for introspection, beyond the navel gazing and transcending. The memoir, I reasoned, would remind me of what my youth had been like, when I last documented it in 2014 or thereabouts. It also made me a published author in some way – having a book I’d written (really a set of Evernote documents pasted together in haste) available (to me) on the Kindle. Tick that off the bucket list again.

With my dumb phone in hand (a trusty Nokia I had bought for £10 when I last decided to give my smart phone and more hopefully my scalenes a break from too much chin-jutting social media) I looked at my iPhone. The ever unreliable, ever-uncharged 6s model – the subject of lawsuits the world over. Turning it off actually filled me with more dread than anticipated. No more WhatsApp messages for work or my family. No more tracking every excruciating detail of each run in the CouchTo5k program. No more email. No more incessantly checking the weather instead of poking my head out the door.


Getting a new battery and feeling like a new man / phone – image courtesy of iFixIt

For the first time in about 4 years, I put on my email autoresponder – Ron has left the building. I told a few business partners that I would be AFK. I gave Mrs. Malibu the phone number of the meditation centre and told my kids not to expect photos, facetime, videos or any of that. For me, this was all much, much bigger than I thought it would be.

So much so, that after I carefully put the SIM card from smart to dumb phone, I was actually shaking. Putting the iPhone 6s into the protective package and then the post was harrowing. And as I walked with my bags packed towards the train to the meditation palace, I actually wondered if I was dying. Going to a place I couldn’t contact my loved ones. What had I left behind? Was my legacy just some property and some memories? Good job I’d written that book about my life and published it – don’t want to die with that inside me. (Though I don’t want anyone to read it either – it’s too sordid in places for my family to see it.)

There’s nothing like a  4 hour 42 minute train journey that ends up taking over 8 hours to reinforce the feeling of dying. I arrived at the centre and was shown my room. Everything was white. Large. Exactly how heaven is depicted in western movies (from the West, not Clint Eastwood) though it might be depicted that way in eastern movies too – I just haven’t seen them. White walls, light carpet, white bed sheets, white hair on the graceful lady at reception. Not just blonde hair. White hair.

I read the schedule and learnt that in an effort to reduce plastic bottles, I could swap out my stoppered glass water bottle in the foyer, and that I wasn’t to drink the tap water. I drank deeply from the bottle and lay on my bed, weary from the journey. As I bust out my Kindle and read my autobiography, I was losing my battle with consciousness. Three thoughts went through my mind:

  1. What’s in the water – I’ve been drugged – I’m slipping away
  2. Is this my life flashing before my eyes in the Information Age? A set of words on a Kindle being the last thing I’ll ever see
  3. I’m dying. I’m not ready to die.

Over the following days, I drank much more water, and my metabolic rate dropped significantly. Through yoga and meditation and instruction I became more peaceful. I slept an awful lot. Most often when a DVD of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself was played. I slept sitting up. I slept face down on my bed. I slept in class. It was like being at university only without the kebabs or alcohol, and come to think of it, everyone was a fair bit older, and for the most part I didn’t skip the lectures, preferring to sleep through them instead.

At dinner I would sit next to a senior gentleman with a long white beard who gave very thoughtful answers to any questions. My god!

My graceful instructor for the weekend asked politely if I thought I’d be coming back. By this time it was day two, and I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t dying at any appreciably faster rate than normal, and quite possibly the opposite. I think the gentleman with the white beard had too much interest in steam trains of the Isle of Man to be any kind of deity, and I’d spotted a few cracks in the building that helped me think this wasn’t child christian’s heaven.

At the time I wasn’t sure I’d go back, but now I’m away from it, I definitely plan to do another retreat. It’s like a holiday that you come back from feeling better rather than nursing a sore liver.

And I still haven’t unpacked the box I received in the mail which I imagine contains a rejuvenated iPhone 6s.

iRon Malibu was depleted, but rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Long live iRon Malibu.



Motivation and Getting Things Not Done

As a master procrastinator, I have found a new way. I’ve avoided my actual to-do list inadvertently by looking at an item from my to-done list.

I use a bastardized version of Getting Things Done in Evernote to record tasks, projects and all that kind of stuff. However, rather than figuring out the next action or the most important task, I often daydream about whether the ladder I’m climbing is leaning against the wrong wall to the point where I stop taking steps and gaze myopically into the distance at hints of other walls.

I’d like to say that I spent my time moving my ladder towards a better wall but in reality I just get high up enough on the ladder so that my feet don’t get splashed by the rising tide of age, debt and anxiety, and then stand stock still, eyes fixed on the distance.

Maybe this is my own personal enlightenment, or maybe it’s just acrophobic  suspension. Either way, I’m sure it is frustrating to those around me.

This is the to-done note I found in Evernote and which brought me out of writing retirement to comment on:

[X] Call Ruth before 1p to confirm walk in access to bike:
[X] Also call Sea Hawk Motel to confirm room at 843 448 4154
[X] Call redline: 843 236 0758 – they service bikes / carry spares. They do have honda battery or $170
[X] Find water camel pak
[X] find headphones
[X] Get boots from Army Surplus
[X] Bungee cords
[X] Bandana
[X] Get boots
[X] Find bike lock
[X] Hi visibility vest
[X] Knife tool
[X] Tire pressure guage – 42psi
[X] Dot 4 brake fluid
[X] Get good audiobook

Look at all those boxes with and X in them. How I must have cherished the tasks, been delighted to achieve them. Whereas now I have tasks so large and varied that I can’t even bear to look at them, preferring to bask in past glories of tasks notched off.

As my Captain Kombucha buzz wears off, I’m trying to abstract some learning from the comparison between what I do now, and what I was doing then. There might as well be a point to this onanistic rant.

Back then I was picking up a motorbike I’d bought in a police auction on the East Coast of the US which possibly didn’t run. It was ostensibly a method of transport for my visiting uncle, though perhaps more of an escape for me. An adventure across thousands of miles with a screaming amount of time pressure (get back to sign papers to sell a house and for my son’s 4th birthday) and very little wiggle room for error.

It was a short lived challenge. Something I’d not done before. A test. A trial. A feat of endurance and cunning with no stable to clean and no-one threatening to cut my hair. And I was doing this so my visiting uncle could have his own freedom and adventures when he came to visit.

Now I have a broad goal of financial freedom, for my own selfish ends. I can claim that I’m helping other people (tenants are my customers) and assisting other people trying to do the same. But really it’s just about personal freedom. I’ve lived so long without total freedom of schedule that I almost can’t remember what it’s like. So I’m headed towards a longer term goal with a slightly nebulous feeling at the end of it. I  haven’t managed to fold the micro steps in my to-do list into the macro-step of making enough money to cover my bills while I twiddled my thumbs.

So there’s a difference. There’s also a movable finish line – what does freedom of schedule mean? If you’ve ever played the Cashflow 101 game you’ll know the idea. Get enough passive income to pay your monthly expenses. As the roll of the die might give you more expenses, and take away what it giveth, you choose how to employ your funds. As the goal is to get to a number each month of money coming in, you know when you’re there. As goals go that ticks all the SMART boxes, whereas the real life “financial freedom” doesn’t.

But how much money do I need to break free? It depends on the kind of life the Malibu family live. Allow me the impudence of thrusting an example upon you.

We went to Argos to pick up a wheelchair for my mum. Mrs. Malibu picked up an Argos catalog – hardly the embodiment of a luxury inventory of life’s commercial pleasures. Her idea was to give it to our children to inspire them to choose Christmas gifts for themselves from the realms of the mundane and affordable. My objection and hasty recycling of the offending literature (since tomecide is too hard) was based on the idea that you are manufacturing desire and hence moving further away from a Buddhist enlightenment which admittedly none of my family are trying to seek. My point if there ever is one, is that you don’t want what you don’t know exists. Which might be a blinkered way of seeing the world. Why don’t we all just stay at home and stare at our navels –

“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”, as Pascal might have said.

Or the removal of indexes of things we don’t have (curse you internet) might mean we can focus more easily on what we do have. So my modest “passive income = expenses” equation has a huge amount of variation depending on how much travel I do, how many remote motorbikes I buy, and how I choose to live my life.

Nevertheless, I do have a monthly income number for a modest lifestyle, so rather than moving those goalposts, it makes sense to keep climbing the current ladder until I get there. Which means that the mundane tasks which clutter my to-do list can be subsumed into my desire for freedom of schedule (subject to family). Maybe I can motivate myself to look at them.

I’m sure when I get to that goal, my perceived needs will expand. The view from the next step of the ladder may reveal a false peak – I’ll need more. As Camus said, “we must imagine Sisyphus happy”.

Back to shoving the rock up that ladder then.