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Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Somersby Cider ad mocks the Apple store

Anyone who finds the Apple Store environment (and techno-evangelism) creepy should enjoy this advert for Somersby Cider, which gently mocks the whole business (and language).

I love a good, refreshing cider and I have been drooling since I saw this!

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What an iPad can’t do…

For those of us obsessed with new technology, such as tablets and e-readers, this 40 second French TV advert is a useful reminder that there is still a place for paper in our lives. (BTW, you don’t need to understand French to enjoy this!)

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The interactive future of e-books goes mainstream?

The Observer today (Sunday 10 March 2013) has an interesting article on the future of publishing – Top novelists look to ebooks to challenge the rules of fiction – looking at how ebooks can facilitate an interactive story.

It is unfortunate that the article starts with the usual “downer” on fantasy novelists, a set of comments worthy of the “How Others See Us” section in Dave Langford’s Ansible. Why wouldn’t a fantasy or SF author use such tools? We tend to be in the vanguard of new technology yet get sneered at whenever mainstream “literary” (read subtext = “good”) novelists finally catch up.

Rant over – the article is still worth a read.


Indie ReCon – a final round-up

Indie ReCon may only have been a three day event but being accessible online meant it always felt longer, especially as there has been a vast amount of content. Three days after it finished I am still finding things I missed during the event itself. All in all, I have to declare the con a great success.

So, what are the highlights? Well, the Con organisers produced their own list of “Lessons Learned and Tips from Indie Authors” which is a good place to start. Two of their quotes stand out for me.

“Write [emphasis] your story. No one else can tell it exactly like you will tell it. Publishing multiple books in a year isn’t necessarily a good thing if the quality suffers. Take your fime and get it right!” – Heather Self

“Patience. Nothing– and I mean nothing– happens when you want it to or expect it to. It’s a very slow process. And that writing a good book is only step one. You have to be a better marketer than writer it seems.” – Sarah Ross

There was an interesting post from Ali Cross on “Building An Author Brand”. I tend to go queasy at thoughts of “branding” and “social media” – you see I even feel compelled to put words that smack of “marketing” in inverted commas. However, Ali’s observations on the topic, and what the images and icons you use tell about what you write, are astute and provide some good insights into how these things work. After this, some really useful stuff on working out how to present yourself online, use of blogs and Twitter plus how to represent yourself (consistently!) online.

Related to that was another post: “How Can You Use Social Media to Your Advantage? by Jason Letts of the Kindle Fire Department” which plays to why I have a lot of doubts about social media, especially Facebook (which I have refused to use):

2012 was the year social media showed its true colors. 2013 will be the year we fight back. …let’s fully accept the current social media landscape: every service you use to connect with your fans is trying to make money from you off of that relationship. The mission is threefold: (1) play the game by their rules, (2) know when to spend, and (3) find a way to own access to your fans.

Jason then delves into each of the three in turn around how to take back control. It makes a lot of sense though I am not sure I like the message that with 1 in 7 minutes online being spent on Facebook that is where I might have to be if I “play by their rules”. Urgh!

Since my blog looks at technology, particularly as it affects writers (and not just reading and writing genre fiction), the final items to highlight are:

    Lori Culwell’s “Importance of SEO and Metatagging” which focuses primarily on WordPress blogs
    Richard Smith’s “Your Book as an App” which looks at the difference between e-books and apps. This will also be the subject of a separate post soon.

In summary: Indie ReCon has a wealth of information and it will stay up a while on their blog. This is too valuable a resource though to just leave to the vagaries of the Internet. Fortunately, the closing post, the organisers hint at an e-book collating the information. I think it will be an essential resource for anyone delving into indie publishing.

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What’s best (so far) at Indie ReCon?

So far, I have been having a great time checking out the Indie ReCon blog posts. There is a wealth of material being put up: tips, ideas, suggestions and stories about author experiences.

It is quite difficult to pick out particular highlights to recommend from this until I have had more time to reflect and absorb the wealth of material being posted. However, several items have had a specific impact for me already:

An Editor Reveals Her Best Secrets by Cheri Lasota: this probably resonated most from the first day’s posts as I am struggling with editing a novel at the moment. The first part contains some great tips on editing while part two focuses in on the different types of editing: developmental, substantive, proof-reading – and how to approach each.

Reaching Your Readers Online by Brittany Geragotelis: the list of social media one could use seems to grow longer with each passing month. Brittany outlines the huge amount of effort she puts into reaching out to potential readers, not just online but also face-to-face. The most interesting tip? Wattpad – a site to post stories (for free) and build an audience. In a way, this seems to take the writer a step beyond writing workshops, to gain live feedback from readers. The payback? For Brittany, her first novel distributed free over Wattpad generated sufficient buzz to lead to a very decent mainstream publishing contract.

Indie Recon continues on Thursday but the organisers say all blog posts will remain up as an archive for future reference.

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eReader snoopers: Is Big Brother on your Kindle or iPad?

Every now and again, I come across a website I just keep wanting to revisit. Dennis Baron’s The Web of Language is one, full of fascinating information on the use of language and technology.

One particular article has caught my eye: the e-reader over your shoulder.

I dislike the idea that my reading habits are monitored, assessed and sold. Yet that is the trade-off I entered into when I started using a Kindle (and the same goes for Apple products too). As Baron comments:

Kindles and iPads track what we read and when, record our bookmarks and annotations, remind us what we searched for last, and suggest other titles we may like. They collect our personal reading data in the name of improving… our digital reading experience, and along the way they may sell the metric of how and what and when we read and use it to improve the company’s bottom line as well. … CCTV may monitor our comings and goings from the outside, but e-readers have spyware that actually looks inside our heads. And e-books provide the ultimate interactive experience: they read us while we are reading them.

The whole article is well worth a read, running from teachers being able to monitor student study patterns, through Amazon and Apple selling your reading habits through to the implications of DRM and the fact that one never “buys” but “rents” through their stores.

It makes uncomfortable reading.

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Abandoning Amazon because of their tax position? Waterstones not ready to take up the slack

In recent weeks there has been a lot of chatter in the UK press about global firms such as Starbucks and Amazon avoiding local taxes in the countries the operate in through accounting devices increase local costs and route profits through lower tax locations. Not illegal, but is it ethical?

I have been a regular and satisfied customer of Amazon in France and UK for some time. I am also, when in UK, habitually drawn to Waterstones excellent book stores which have received a generous portion of my custom over the years.

In the light of the discussion about tax and supporting local businesses, when I needed to buy a book for my daughter’s birthday, I decided to try Sadly, it has been a frustrating and, ultimately, fruitless endeavour. The web site was not quite as easy to navigate as Amazon but I found the book and, with a competitive price and an indicated delivery date of 4 to 7 days, ordered it on 22 December. An acknowledgement indicated estimated delivery date of 29 December so some days ahead of the birthday.

Delivery date came and went, birthday arrived and still no book and no email indicating status or despatch. After waiting a fortnight from ordering, yesterday I phoned the customer service desk. Relatively straiight-forward set of menus and a UK landline number for customers phoning from abroad (rather than the costly 0845 numb ers that drive me mad) meant I got through easily. After confirming the order number (twice) I was told the book had not been desptached yet.


And there was no indication when the publisher would be supplying it. So it is “out of stock”? I asked. Yes. Why could this not be indicated on ordering? Response: that was why they said 4-7 days delivery originally. They then said they would investigate with the publisher and would send me an email updating me on the expected delivery date.

Going into email today, two emails from Waterstones waited for me. One automated, the other from Customer Services. Both said the book is now out of print and cannot be supplied. Aggghhhh!

Given it is intended as a present and is related to my daughter’s up-coming visit to Korea this left me up the creek unless…

Amazon’s UK site showed they still had two copies left. I immediately ordered it. Estimated despatch date Saturday 12 January with free delivery within the week. However, within three HOURS of ordering I received an email from Amazon confirming despatch, estimated delivery date: next Tuesday, 15 January.

Result: birthday missed, no sale for Watersones, one hacked-off customer and the book ordered late from Amazon… but at least it seems to be coming.

Oh! Final point: When on the call to Waterstones, I was offered the opportunity to feedback on the Customer Service. Pressing the button to do this I was informed all I had to do was hang on at the end of the call. Yeah, sure! I hung on and hung on and… nothing. (The suspicious side of me suspects a light illuminates so that they know this will happen and, if the customer is less than impressed, the call gets dropped. This is the main reason I decided to blog about this experience.)

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Apple to trademark a “personal pronominal inanimate graphical mark or figure of the first person singular nominative, roman minuscule”?

I have already posted on my irritation with Apple for trying to patent rectangles with curved corners, etc.

I was amused to read this article about how far this this has gone and where it could be taken –
Apple patents page-turning. What’s next, the letter i?

By the way, the blog this is was posted to is worth reading by anyone interested in language and technology.

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The only “air safety” briefing worth watching all the way through!

Air New Zealand’s “Middle Earth” air safety briefing is inspired. Using “Middle Earth” imagery and special effects from WETA Workshop, it is the only air safety video I actually WANTED to watch all the way through.

Best bit for me? The demo of the floor lighting to the emergency exit.

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Musing on SF magazines

At the start of the year, in my enthusiasm for my new Kindle, I added several electronic SF magazine subscriptions (Analog, Asimov’s,Clarkesworld and Lightspeed) to my existing paper ones for “Fantasy & Science Fiction” (F&SF) and Interzone, both of which have been running since the 1980’s. So how have they done?

I have cancelled Clarkesworld, which I felt was too reprint-oriented. I have kept up Lightspeed on the Kindle. Asimov’s and Analog I have switched to paper subs. So why did I go counter to the current trend with these two?

    I am a browser of magazines, often flicking through to find stories and articles that interest me even if I intend to read the whole magazine cover to cover eventually. The Kindle is best for reading through.
    I find the Kindle’s indexing / contents listing unhelpful: listing by type – novella, novelette, short – then within these categories, showing the title without the author’s name. I look out for particular authors and like to turn to their stories first.
    Assessing the cost of Analog and Asimov’s, I found a two-year international postal subscription is not that much more than I was paying for the electronic version.
    Unless you consciously “keep” a magazine issue, Amazon deletes it when there are six or seven more recent issues. I like to be able to go to my collection and re-read from time to time (eg: Hugo and Nebula winners, or if I am reading a follow-up in a linked series)
    The content is DRM-protected. I can’t back it up to Calibre to read on my laptop nor can I pass the magazine on to anyone else, such as my daughter who is becoming almost as much as an SF fan as me.

To me it was “no contest” against the Kindle, though I find that great for reading novels and novellas (I am finding some excellent self-published ones I would not otherwise have discovered).

What of the future? Will I find myself a Luddite? Now my wife has an iPad, it will be interesting to check out reading a magazine (in colour) on that (if she’ll let me near it… which is unlikely given her current attachment to it!)


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