Monthly Archives: January 2013

About this project: Email vs Letters

I want each of the letters to show under the name of the person who wrote it, so all Ted’s letters will have “Ted Berryman” as their author, and so on.  This has been a minor scutter to set up. To do this, I must set each of them up an author on the website, which means they each need their own email address.

I’ve been creating email accounts for dead relatives.

This felt decidedly odd, especially when I realised I want to quote from my mother’s book directly. I simply cannot bring myself to create an email using her name (she died in 2001).

It’s been awkward in practice too. Google’s Google Apps service seemed a straightforward way to manage the email addresses, but it turns out that Google discontinued the free service without warning on the 6th December, a week before I opened the trial account on the 13th.  At least it was a clear week, and not a day before. If I continued with the service, these changed goalposts would cost me a couple of hundred quid I didn’t plan to spend, all for no real benefit.

In the end, I set up email addresses with the company that hosts the website. The downside is it will be harder to move the site if I need to, but at least there’s no additional cost.

It’s bizarre though; so often in the letters Ted, Ben, Richard and Paul write about problems with sending and receiving mail.  They all write their letters in time to catch the weekly mail service to England, Paul takes his letters to neighbouring ships for posting and a lot of them get lost as a result. All the siblings make sure their mother has a reliable address to write to, so her letters will wait safely until they can be picked up. They often mention mail that’s gone missing (gone down with ships sunk by the Germans in some cases). I guess it’s no surprise that letters should be about letters.

Email is more reliable and it’s certainly quicker (less than a second compared with a couple of months).  But in other respects it’s far more fragile.  I’m just about to blast the emails in the Google Apps account into their constituent ones and zeros.  I am entirely dependent on my mail host doing back-ups and not going bankrupt.  But the letters themselves are 100 years old; they are physical letters sitting in boxes in the Imperial War Museum, they have stamps and postmarks, some are marked with scribbled notes about their contents (“letters from my shipwrecked sons”) others are written in pencil and smeared with mud from the trenches.  They’ve come from India, from Iraq, from France, they were stored in the tin box for more than 50 years, and they sat for months on my mother’s dining room table in the 1980s.

There’s a poem in there somewhere.  Maybe I’ll write it when I need a change from setting up dummy email accounts in the names of people who no longer exist.


Posted by on 13 January, '13 in About, Imperial War Museum


About this Project: Typo Woes

When I convert the scans into a format which I can edit the end results are still full of typos.  The software is not as self-learning as the brochure would have you believe, it can’t cope with the type face, and correcting the errors is too time-consuming to be practial.

Back in 2011 when I first got the scans I opted for Abbyy PDF Transformer.  I’d have looked at the options at the time, so it must have seemed the best choice for some reason.  However, it struggled with the strange 1970s typeface and so I upgraded it to Abbyy Finereader in December.  For a while that looked as if it was up to the job.

The letters from Paul were all typed on a normal typewriter in Courier and Finereader can cope with that. But now I’m working on the letters from Ted and Ben, I’m discovering that Finereader really cannot cope. There are four problems with the text it produces

  1. it mistakes letters, substituting b for h for example
  2. sometimes it inserts bizzare characters instead of letters, so like becomes 1;|<e,
  3. it flags up a lot of correct guesses as problems for checking so even clean text involves a lot ot checking
  4. i t  o f t e n  p u ts in e x t r a  spaces b e tw e e n letters, which is insanely time-consuming to correct

The unforgivable thing is that it does not learn from all these run of the mill corections, only when it is in a special letter-by-letter learning mode.

As a result, I’m back to looking for OCR software. I’m going download a trial version of OmniPage, which will be £80 if I opt for a single user licence.  The reviews also recomend Presto! but I can’t find a price for that.  I’m annoyed about spending money on FineReader and then having to ditch it, but it’s really proved to be unusable.

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Posted by on 8 January, '13 in About


About this Project: Pepys Diary published online daily

I’ve listed all the letters and other items in date order in a spreadsheet – there are a total of 640 of them, so two a day or 14 at a weekend, and I can get them posted this year, and spend next year on bells and whistles, like maps and references. I’ve also found a second Christmas Day truce letter which I’ll publish on Christmas 2013; this one is from Ted to his sister Jane.  

Elsewhere on the interwebs, I’m really pleased to find out that the Diary of Samuel Pepys is being published one day at a time over the next 10 years at

Pepys Diary

There are so many reasons why I’m thrilled about this.  It’s on my “to read” list and has been for decades, it’s available via email updates which require two clicks to set up (an obvious idea I’d not thought of), it’ll be a treat to read each day on the train, and there has to be so much I can learn from this project.

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Posted by on 3 January, '13 in About