Friday, December 18, 2009

Who is spying on the spies?

In my thriller KILL CHASE the villain is finally nailed by a Hellfire missile fired from an Israeli Predator drone plane in the Gaza Strip.

Information revealed today in the Wall Street Journal explains that the US built Predator has been spied upon. The biter bit, you might say.

The unmanned spy plane is flown by wire via a military satellite. Its designated pilot sits thousands of miles away at a desk. The plane has 'eyes' of its own and cameras on a gimbal beneath its nose that stream pictures to the high command. On finding its target a Hellfire tank buster delivers death and destruction from above.

Unbelievably, its video data stream has not been encrypted for the last ten years. Perhaps the Pentagon figure that Al-Qaeda isn't smart enough to work out how to exploit it? Iraqi insurgents have been using a $26 Russian software programme called SkyGrabber to intercept the Predator's pictures and discover where it is. Then, of course, they scarper swiftly the other way.

As my heroine, Henrietta Fox, in Kill Chase might say, "you couldn't make it up."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

So what's next after the e-reader?

How many times have you heard or read the bleat,

“Nobody wants to read books onscreen. E-readers will never catch on.”

Well, I’ve heard similar moans over the years.

“Television will never replace radio” (anon)

“Nobody wants colour pictures in newspapers.” (Rupert Murdoch).

“The Internet will never replace news in print.” (Rupert Murdoch)

They even said the motor car would never replace the horse. Well, this year in the US alone they will have sold 3 million e-readers by Christmas. Forresters predict sales of over 6 million in 2010. There are no sales figures for the UK but what happens in the States follows here.

Next year will be the year of the e-reader. Nine new e-readers already on the market are battling for first sales to the new generation who want to read onscreen. Storage goes up - the new Nook stores 1,500 books. Battery life extends from hours to days. Free offers abound - the Libre eBook comes with 100 free books preloaded.

All it takes now is for the retailers to get on board. They don't understand them yet. The staff are confused by the customers questions. What format can I download? Where from? Eventually the tipping point will come. If Dixons could explain all that gadgetry we bought ten years ago surely this is not beyond a modern store? Of course it will come.

But what’s next after the e-reader? It's this. The QUE.

There it is at the top of the page. Developed over 10 years by two Cambridge University professors, the Que will be unveiled on the 7th January 2010 at a trade show in Las Vegas, USA.

And this is where it gets interesting.

Made by Plastic Logic, the wafer-thin e-reader is exactly that. ALL of it is plastic, including the electronic circuitry. No silicone. This makes it lighter and flexibly shatterproof. It’s 1/3rd of an inch thick, weighs less than a magazine, is 3G wireless capable with a large touch screen of 8.5 x 11 inches. It’s format compatible with PDF, Word, PowerPoint and Excel so that it’s perfect for business documents, news media or just good old novels in EPUB.

Plastic Logic is already doing deals with publishers to download newspapers and periodicals like the Financial Times and USA Today. Maybe the print newspaper publishers’ dream of a smooth transfer to a subscription based e-reader is not impossible after all. Imagine the money they would save by shutting down all those presses? Saving all that ink and those trees?Just give one of these to each reader who subscribes.

The first Ques will be sold by the giant Barnes & Noble book group in the US. Their library enables them to compete with Amazon’s Kindle before moving later into the European market.

But what then?

Next, the ultimate dream. Research on until it becomes electronic digital paper, able to be rolled up and stuffed in your briefcase or folded in your pocket like a handkerchief. Pull it out, flatten it and wirelessly download today’s newspaper edition on the train to work.

Pure Issac Asimov!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Queen warns the paparazzi

The Queen has decided to take action against paparazzi photographers who picture senior members of the royal family on private property. She has written, through her lawyers, to newspaper editors warning them of her intentions.

With memories of the hounding of Diana, Princess of Wales, still fresh in peoples’ minds and with fears of similar treatment meted out to Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, this might seem to be a sensible thing to do. Quite right, you might say. They make themselves available to the Press at official functions and public events, which should be enough.

Every Christmas Day newspapers in the UK rely on pictures of the royal progress to church on the Sandringham estate to fill their front pages. Indeed, there’s little else happening that day to compete. I relied on it for thirty years to get me out of trouble each festive occasion for three different newspapers. So, are they at risk?

Believe me, the royals have enough protection, both legal and firepower, to deal with a small invading army. You try approaching Her Maj without accreditation. Your tootsies won’t touch down till you hit the cell floor. So why this draconian action now?

The Christmas break always sees the royals gather at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk where they enjoy doing what they like best.

Shooting things that fly or flee.

Pheasant that are especially bred for the guns. Stags that can be stalked and brought down with a distant shot. All that’s missing is their traditional love of chasing down a fox. It’s now illegal. Prince William hunts with Kate Middleton. By definition this involves death and blood. Imagine the front pages with those pictures splashed across them?

Last year photographs captured by a paparazzo, who hid in the bushes with a long lens, caused uproar. They showed the Earl of Wessex allegedly beating two gundogs with a four-foot stick. The RSPCA were so outraged they launched a cruelty investigation. The Queen is its Patron. The prince was exonerated.

In 2000 the Queen herself was snapped wringing the neck of a pheasant injured in the Christmas shoot. The pictures went worldwide. It’s not good PR.

Interestingly, says the Telegraph, last year the Queen’s grandchild, Peter Phillips, sold his wedding pictures for £500,000 to Hello magazine. His sister earned £125,000 from the same mag for pictures of her home with her boyfriend, Mike Tyndall. Every paparazzo’s dream.

Any paparazzi trying to get a sale from the bushes this year had better watch out. They might be mistaken for a pheasant.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Please welcome Jamieson Wolf!

Hi, Jamieson. Welcome to the blog. Thanks for stepping off the virtual coach on your 14 stop tour to talk with us. You have an exciting new book for release? Tell us a bit about yourself whilst I put the kettle on. Did you always want to write? How long have you been writing?

Thanks for having me Ron. Do you have any Earl Grey? I’ve always written. Even when I was a young child, I was always writing stories and making storybooks. Something about the written words and story telling really called to me.

I didn’t start writing seriously until I was eighteen, though. I’m not sure why it took me that long to clue in to the fact I was born to tell stories; but I guess I had a lot to learn along the way.

I’m thirty one now, so I’ve been writing for quite some time; and plan to keep writing for as long as I can.

Q: Can you please tell us about your new book and why you wrote it?

Well, my new book is called HARD and it’s about a man named Owen. Here’s a bit about the book:

"Owen’s best friend makes him hard.

He’s been in love with Daniel for years, but could never tell him. If Daniel knew how Owen felt about him, Owen knew that he would lose him. And that his heart would break.

Owen dreamed of kissing Daniel, of touching him. But the most they had done was look at porn together. Owen knew that his dreams would never become a reality…

…until Daniel rents some gay porn by accident and he becomes just as hard as Owen…"

HARD came about in an odd way. Like most people, I am haunted by the past. Sometimes, when I’m not thinking of anything, memories will pop into my head; things I hadn’t thought about in years. One of these thoughts was about the first guy I ever fooled around with, a guy I’ll call Jason.

We had a falling out when Jason realized I was gay, even at that young age. But I never stopped thinking about him.

Years later, I realized that I was more than likely in love with Jason at the time. But I didn’t really know what love was. Heck, I didn’t even know what being gay was, not really. I just knew I was different; I just didn’t know how different.

When I sat down to write HARD, I had only one thought in my mind: what would have happened if my own story had gotten a happy ending? What would have happened if things had gone differently?

And the story of HARD was born.

Q: How did Hard come to be published and by whom?

Well, HARD was published in an odd way too.

I originally wrote it to be a free story that would be available at Breathless Press, a fantastic publisher of quality romance books. But they loved the story so much that they wanted to publish it instead of giving it away for free.

Even better, they wanted HARD to be their first m/m romance novel and have it launch their new m/m romance line!

So of course, I said yes.

Q: When and where is Hard available?

Hard will be published by the lovely people at Breathless Press on December 11th, 2009, just in time for Christmas! You can find Breathless Press here:

Q: What else have you had published? Do you have an agent or do you think you need one?

Oh gosh, quite a few books, actually. I write gay paranormal romance and erotica for Cobblestone Press, straight paranormal romance for Breathless Press, speculative fiction for Cambridge Books and Write Words Inc and a variety of other books. At last count, I have over twenty books. If you want to take a look, why not click over to

I don’t think you need an agent to get published. There are lots and lots of independent publishers that would be willing to take you on if they like your writing. In fact, its easier to get published than it is to find an agent.

The only time an agent might come in handy is getting the attention of the bigger publishing houses. But the independent publishers have a real love for what they’re doing and will treat you right. Not to say the big houses won’t, but it depends on which direction you want to go with your writing.

Q: You write on many subjects. Is gay romance your preferred genre?

I kind of stumbled into gay romance, actually. It’s what I’ve written the most of, but I actually started with speculative fiction and fantasy horror. It’s my favourite genre to write in.

But after writing so many books with speculative elements, I was getting kind of bored. At the time I started writing gay romance, I was reading a lot of Harlequin romances (still do in fact). I thought to myself: Man, I could do this, but I’d do gay romance.

So I decided to do something completely different and write a gay historical paranormal romance. Nothing like throwing it all in the fire to see if it’ll cook, right? I had no idea what I was doing, but it felt good. It was fun, enjoyable and frightening all at the same time.

That first romance novel was Valentine which was published by Cobblestone Press in 2008. I’ve had seven other gay romances published since then, not including HARD. I find that in all my other work, I restrict myself, I box myself in. In the world of gay (and straight) romance, I let myself have fun.

Q: Describe your most favourite place to write. Do you have a routine?

Well I do all of my writing at my desk in my office. I share the office with my husband, but thankfully we don’t share computers.

I don’t have a routine except to write every day. Because I work full time, this means writing for at least an hour every evening. Sometimes I get a page, sometimes I get several. It just depends on the story and where it is at the time.

Q: Do you have a ‘trick’ to make the ideas flow? Is it a ‘Eureka’ moment? How does it work for you?

Well, after I finish a novel and its been sent off to the publisher, I usually give myself a week off. I think of it like a little holiday. I usually know which book I’m going to work on next so I spend that week thinking about that book.

During the week off, I won’t write at all. Instead, I’ll let the story and the characters build up inside of me until they’re ready to come out. By the time the week is done, I’ve been with the characters for a week and have worked out most of the plot. I never work out all of it as there are usually problems with the best laid plans.

Meaning, a novel never goes the way I think it will, even with all that brainstorming. I don’t plot or keep notes, usually, except if I have to research the story behind a book. Otherwise, I just simply sit at the computer and hope that something good comes out.

Q: Have your favourite authors influenced your style?

I don’t think so. In fact, because I love them so much, I try not to write like them. I love Stephen King, Anne Rice, Armistead Maupin, Caridad Pineiro, Nora Roberts, Jasper Fforde, L. Diane Wolfe, Sandy Lender, Caroline Smailes, JK Rowling.

Because I love these authors so much, I am always conscious of making sure I’m not copying them and making sure I’m always staying true to my voice. I do learn from them though; I watch the way they handle stories, observe the way the tackle conversation and dialogue, watch how they develop characters.

Reading makes you a better writer. You just have to find your own voice along the way.

Q: All writers get rejections. Do you handle it well, or throw teacups?

It depends, actually.

On a day where I get one rejection letter, I’m okay with it. My usual attitude is “Meh, you don’t know good writing when you read it.” And I’ll move on and keep writing.

On the days where I get more than one rejection letter (the highest amount of rejection letters I got in one day was eight) then I get down on myself. I’ll brood for an evening (or for a day or two) and beat myself up and wonder why I do this, why I put myself through all of this crap…

And the next day, I’ll sit down at the computer and tell stories again. I think if I couldn’t write, I’d go crazy.

Q: What kind of responses do you get from your readers?

I’m still surprised that I have readers at all! It’s always thrilling, fabulous and baffling that people read and love my books. I love getting random emails from readers who’ve read my books; they are a highlight of a day whenever I receive one.

I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a bad email from a reader; of course, now that I’ve said this, I’ll receive twelve emails telling me I’m crap.

Q: If you won the lottery would you still write?

Yep. If I didn’t write, I’d go crazy. If I won the lottery, I’d be rich, but I’d still be a writer.

Q: What delights you – and drives you nuts - about publishing?

What delights me:

  • Knowing a publisher loves my work enough to publish it
  • Having readers react to a novel or story I’ve written
  • Discovering what kind of story I had inside of me
  • Seeing the cover art for the first time
  • The release date

What drives me nuts:

  • The editing
  • The editing
  • The editing
  • Waiting for reviews
  • The release date

Really, it’s all about finding a balance. If there was no bad things involved in publishing, I wouldn’t enjoy the good things when they came along right?

Q: What do you plan to do next?

Well I’m between books at the moment. I actually completed the National Novel Writing Month from the 1st to the 30th where the goal is to write 50, 000 words. That’s A LOT to write in a month but I’m happy as a clam to say I did it. I am taking a well deserved break while I brainstorm the next novel I’m working on titled The Written Word Book Five: Ghosts. I haven’t been in the world of The Written Word for a while and I miss it terribly.

Then it’ll be on to Invoking Darkness: The Other Book Two. After that, I’ll be writing A Subtle Magic: The Written Word Book Six and then on to Harder, the second book in the HARD Trilogy, then I Wish I May, the second book in the Wishing Star Series.

And after that? Well I still have to write Times Malaise, the second book in the Gods of Love Series, then Keeping Beauty, the third book in the Owen Diaries Trilogy. And then, after all of that, I hope to write the seventh and final book in The Written Word Series. And then, after all of that, I hope to write Valentine’s Promise, the final book in the Valentine series…

But, then again, I could change my mind completely. But that’s the order everything is in for now. However, the one thing I have learnt is that in order, there is chaos…

Q: You also make great video book trailers for other authors. Do you see them as an expanding market for you?

I do indeed. They’re a great way for authors to promote their novels in a visual format. The advantage of book trailers and book movies is that they reach those who might night read, or who prefer a more visual media.

I started Night Wolf Design ( because there is a growing need for authors who want book trailers. For me though, it is just like telling stories, only with pictures instead of words.

I think of it as a visual form of storytelling.

Q: Do you have other work besides writing? How can we find out more about you?

I’m also a graphic artist, a photographer (amateur) and an artist. I’m working on a web site that puts all of my visual media art together in one place, but for now if you want info on me, check me out at

Q: Our usual final question. Will the e-reader take over reading as we know it?

You know, I don’t think anything will ever take away from the incredible pleasure of holding a book in your hands and reading it. Nothing will ever take that over.

I think, though, that ebooks and e readers are on the rise and their popularity is growing in leaps and bounds. Instead of taking over real books, I think the e readers and e books compliment paperbacks and hard covers.

And think about it; e books give people the convenience of reading where ever they are, when ever they want. That’s pretty cool, wouldn’t you say?

Q: It's great chatting with you, Jamieson. We wish you great success with Hard.

Thanks so much for having me Ron, it’s been a pleasure! That tea was delicious!

Tomorrow's Special Guest

I have a treat for you male/male fans out there. Tomorrow an author of prolific talent and prodigious output will be stopping by on his whistle-stop blog tour. I can't reveal his name yet - but if I tell you he's written over twenty titles in many genres as well as being a super video maker and artist, you might figure it out from previous postings.

He has a new book released this December and it's hot. He's dying to tell us all about it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Wildlife Awards

Here are just two winners from the stunning British Wildlife Awards. I showed you in an earlier post some great winners of a separate international awards collection. This is an awards focused on wildlife found in Britain.

"Red Squirrel in Kielder Forest" won Will Nicholls the under-18 British Wildlife prize whilst "Blackbirds Fighting" won David Slater the Wildlife Behavior crown.

All the brilliant pictures are on show in a travelling exhibition. The itinerary is found here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bored? Why not dance around the world?


In his own words Matt is a 32-year-old deadbeat from Connecticut, USA who tired of playing video games and got bored. So he decided to dance his way around the world. He got sponsorship from a chewing gum company (clever him) and off he went.

He liked it so much he did it again. So many people on his travels liked it they said "come back and dance with us, too." So he did. This is the result. Sheer human exuberance. I found watching it a joyous experience. How can you wage war on people who like to dance? See what you think?

Here are the links: MATT and his SPONSOR Stride Gum.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

iPhone art. Fun in a cell.

I love the way art moves right along with us as we evolve. It seems our human species can't live without it. Since the early daubing on the walls of our caves depicting matchstick men bringing down a woolly bison we can't resist our arty side. Whether it's paint on canvas or spray can on metro train, we have to express ourselves somehow.

So what about the digi world in which we live? No problem. From photoshopping to electronic paint boxes all is possible. Now, even on the move we can splash and daub.

The ubiquitous iPhone has apps for the budding artist in us all. One is Jackson Pollock by Miltos Manetas (top picture.) It's a brilliant programme that turns your iPhone screen into your own blank studio canvas. Each touch onscreen creates Pollock-like artwork to your own design. It's addictive but dangerous. Show it to someone else and you risk never getting your phone back.

If you don't own an iPhone, don't worry. Go here and download it for any computer. It works just fine. When you get there watch the YouTube video if you want then enter 'JacksonPollockorg' onscreen.

If your bent is for typography here's a great way to unleash your typo skills on your iPhone. It's called 'TypeDrawing' and uses your choice of font and size to create your own artwork (pictures 2-4). It can be found here.

Go paint pictures!

Monday, November 2, 2009

One for PetrolHeads

I'm an admitted speed freak. This means I love Ferraris. How about this old video of refuelling an F1 Ferrari by AIR! I still love it! Jensen Button, eat your heart out. Well done, Shell.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Awards season is with us again

The fun part of Christmas for media people starts with the picture awards. Last post was the stunning Wildlife Awards. Now it's the turn of the landscapers. This beautiful shot of the sun through the clouds over the Isle of Skye won Paris based snapper Emmanuel Coupe the £10,000 prize as the best of thousands of entries in the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2009 competition, set up by landscape photographer Charlie White. Anyone can enter. There is even a category for cellphone pictures.

The contest is supported by Natural England and the English National Park Authorities. The best 100 photographs can be seen at the National Theatre in London from December 5th. You can see past  brilliant entries by following the link.

The picture is Emmanuel Coupe's copyright.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brilliant photography from the Wildlife Photographer Awards

UK Photographer Danny Green took this stunning picture entitled 'Starling Wave'. It won him the Nature Black & White Award in the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. He patiently stalked the birds to this huge roost at Gretna Green, using a slow shutter-speed to capture the swooping movement of the birds' flight. He says, "at its peak there were 1.5 million starlings in the sky."

Spanish photographer Jose Luis Rodriguez was the overall winner with this incredible shot of an Iberian Wolf jumping a gate in search of lunch. He explained, "this picture defines my career. I had dreamt of taking one like this for years but could only realise my vision now with electronic and infrared photography."

One of the great pleasures of picture editing has always been publishing the winners from these annual awards for great environmental photography. News event award pictures are an immediate fix as they document the ticking of life's clock and I have enjoyed judging many of them over the years - but these brilliant wildlife cameramen work to a different beat. I think their pastoral pictures touch the very soul.

The Natural History Museum in London co-sponsor these great awards with the BBC's Wildlife magazine and produce a superb exhibition of 100 of them from the 43,135 entries. You can see it there from October 23rd until April 11th 2010.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Multi-Talented Mr Wolf

I spend numbing hours searching out sexy names for characters in my novels. However, Jamieson Wolf was lucky enough to be born with his ready-made. A moniker fit for a bond-like hero or as an alternative to Heathcliff.

That's where the luck bit stops. Jamieson, from Ottawa, Ontario, is a prolific creator. A super hard working, imaginative writer who's creative output is not only endless but multi-faceted. He lets his mind roam, meandering his right-brain corridors, then writes romance fiction, fantasy fiction, short stories, non-fiction, anthology and reviews, pouring it out unfettered by genre 'labels.'

Isn't that how writing should be? He's only 31. The older one gets the easier it is to be set in the mind about what you write. Does it really matter? If you can write, do it. The joy of childhood is that nobody labels our output. We don't know, or care about genre. Cinderella doesn't tote a piece. Paddington Bear might be lost, but he's not whining to social services about it. Only writing about what we're 'good at' surely diminishes our creative wellspring?

So, if you want to write about a cat on a mat or Obama's philosophy on Muslim fundamentalism, do it. If your prose is creative and original, like Jamieson's, both will fascinate your reader. If it isn't, keep learning your trade, like me.

Did I mention Jamieson also teaches? This October his wisdom is expounded at the Muse Online Writers Conference. A change from his writing workshops.

Are you not feeling inadequate enough yet sitting in front of the telly? Let me mention he's also an accomplished artist. He works in mixed media, charcoal and pastels.

In between writing and art he finds the time to design and produces fabulous book trailer videos for his fellow authors. You will see them on YouTube. He obviously must read and notate their books to make the sense he does of the videos. Their content is informative and exciting.

So when does our Jamieson sleep? A good question. He's either found the solution to 24 hour wakefulness or he's learned the skill of being super-fast. I suspect the latter.

As one who tried (lamely) to produce my own book video I salute his undoubted talents. A rising star in both words and movies.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The thin end of a fashionable wedge?

You may have seen the Ralph Lauren ad for Blue Label jeans that features an impossibly thin model named Filippa Hamilton? Filippa is, of course, not this shape at all. See the real girl above. She is quite perfect as she is, thank you. The controversy surfaced in the London Daily Mail after an ad agency graphics man went mad with the photoshopping.

To be fair a Ralph Lauren spokesman quickly put the record straight, explaining, "after further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body. We have addressed the problem and, going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately."

Fair enough and good on them. It was a mistake quickly and openly corrected. I don't want to get into the 'thin versus real' model debate. There are others better qualified to do so.

 I do want to talk about using enhancement in press photos. That I am qualified for, having been the first to use it in the UK national papers. I'll tell you how it all begun because it was me who started it.

On March 4th 1986 Eddie Shah launched Britain's first colour national newspaper. He called it TODAY. There had been colour in papers before, of course, but it was pre-printed weeks earlier. TODAY was 'on-edition.' Real news, sport and features in colour as they happened. I was its launch picture editor. I built, recruited and ran the picture departments. It was the magic of digitisation that made it possible and we were the first to use it. We had to use slide film and scan it into .jpg images. All highly innovative at the time.

Enter the first Adobe Photoshop. I had it but how to use it responsibly? For the first time we could change anything we wanted in a news picture. Before this, small armies of retouching artists were employed to 'airbrush' press photos, relieving the background and throwing forward the main characters. Occasionally an artist would cut and paste two people closer together to fit inside a tight layout. Famously, the Daily Mail once 'airbrushed' the genitalia off a prize-winning bull to save the lady readers' blushes. The farmer sued and won a fortune for defaming his champion.

Now my problem was where to stop. Would we 'shop' Maggie Thatcher hugging Arthur Scargill? Lord Lucan sunbathing in Barbados? It seemed to me that the answer was to forget it was new technology and apply the same principles we had adhered to successfully without it.

a) Only photoshop for quality improvement. i.e. remove physical print scratches, blemishes etc.
b) Absolutely no changes in news photos that altered the context of the event - ever.
c) Absolutely no changes to the physical appearance of any subject.
d) Feature page pictures could be manipulated for effect as long as it was not derogatory to the subject and with their approval. i.e. a showbiz star who always yearned to be a footballer heading a ball in Man Utd kit, etc.

note: An overzealous  TODAY deskman on 'nights' once remodelled Steffi Graf's distinctive nose whilst on a training exercise - then left it in the news queue by mistake. We used it big on page three as a news story. It cost us a fortune and an apology.

The road to hell, of course, is paved with all our good intentions. It won't be the good doctor on the BMA ethics committee who clones Robert Mugabe or the DNA of Adolf Hitler. No, it's the fringe loonies who go too far. Once the polecat is out of the sack, everyone's at risk.

25 years have passed and photoshopping is rife with no obvious guidelines in place. Superstar X demands approval for her magazine front cover shot. "Dahling, just get rid of this, and this." Suddenly she's a size 8 looking ten years old. (not our Filippa, who was oblivious to her starvation photoshopping.)

Eventually we do not believe our own eyes. All credibility is lost. Who thinks stars on magazine covers really look that way anymore? The answer is, nobody.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The rise of the citizen-cameraman

Have you taken a news picture on your iPhone or cell and sent it to a newspaper? Maybe a TV station? Many folk have. It’s become the phenomena of modern news coverage. Within minutes of a big event the call goes out for citizen cameramen/women to submit their snaps.

It’s an obvious and sensible move by news departments to call in every source available. They already have contracted news feeds. Worldwide agencies for news, sports and feature material. So why do they want yours?

Because new technology allows it. Any cell phone has the ability to transmit a picture anywhere. With paparazzi and news agencies charging thousands per picture a punter on the spot, pinging in their offering for pennies, is good news coverage and good business. (If you take a news value picture, fix a fee before they use it. Afterwards you might find it hard to get the picture editor’s attention.)

Picture coverage wasn’t always this easy. At the close of World War ll millions of men returned from the war front. These winning heros could not be consigned to the unemployment scrapheap. The government of the time offered huge financial incentives to industry and to newspaper proprietors to ‘overman’ their offices and plants.  Some newspaper presses had ten men per single job to rake in the subsidies. Later this became the union wars of the ‘80’s, but the proprietors laid the foundation to soak up the government’s money.

After the austerity of the war years the public wanted entertainment. In the fifties the national papers and radio supplied it. The BBC was a static camera operation. Great for major events like the Coronation and royal weddings, especially with the incomparable Richard Dimbleby commentating. ITV had not yet arrived.

National newspapers had huge staffs of cameramen (and a few women).  With the new miniature cameras, Leicas and Pentaxes, shooting 35mm mono film, this allowed them to travel fast and light. (relatively, a mobile darkroom weighed 30 lbs.)

The Daily Express was the big seller at 5 million a day. Then a broadsheet, it had 51 photographers in London, 27 in Manchester and 31 in Glasgow. Plus staffmen all over the UK and Europe. I was its picture editor in the late '60's early '70's. One snapper’s sole job in Southampton was to meet the transatlantic liners arriving from New York. It was the Hollywood stars’ favourite form of travel. Liz Taylor arrived on the Queen Mary, a blushing first bride, with husband Nicky Hilton, causing panic in Fleet Street.

The problem was sending the pictures to Fleet Street. The legendary Express snapper, Bill Lovelace, explained that, for any foreign assignment, his preparations began at Heathrow. He would strew presents along his journey, deftly aimed at those who would become his return chain for news film. These would include air hostesses, pilots, (it was legal then) hotel receptionists, switchboard girls, taxi drivers, etc.  All would be recruited. Lovelace’s films rarely went astray and often beat his opposition cameramen to Fleet Street. It was all part of a photographer’s skills.

Where there was a Cable and Wireless office, Bill would hook up his Muirhead drum scanner to the local telephone system and ‘wire’ his print to London. This was a hit and miss affair with lots of swearing at both ends.

On one celebrated occasion in May 1972 the QE2 was threatened by a bomber. The man claimed to be dying of terminal cancer and wanted to take the old liner with him. He said six devices were aboard and wanted $350,000 to disclose their whereabouts. Bill had to be there. The liner was 1,000 miles out, having left New York full of rich American passengers. Only a 707 could make the return trip. Lovelace bought off the entire passengers aboard a BOAC Boeing 707, with Express gold. He commandeered it with a reporter to fly the Atlantic solo. They had six air hostesses for company.

The Special Boat Service flew a bomb disposal team in for a military drop. These brave men parachuted into the raging mid-Atlantic, splash landing beside the QE2 but the threat was declared a hoax. Lovelace had his exclusive. Captioned QE2 yesterday in the Atlantic. In those days national newspapers had a barrel of gold in the front hall for extravagances such as these.

Soon the world went digital and so did news photography. But not without a fight. In March 1986, Eddie Shah, launched the first true news colour paper, naming it TODAY. The paper was digital but not the cameras. Photographer, Tom Stoddard, dragged a machine the size of a small car from their Pimlico offices to Tokyo to transmit the first colour picture of Princess Diana in a kimono. The Scitex scanner he used cost £350,000.

So when you send your citizen-cameraman picture to the media, having taken it and sent it with your humble cell phone, a tiny handset worth a couple of hundred quid, spare a thought for Lovelace and hundreds like him who would have sold their grannies for such luxuries.

How the world changes.

Footnote: The Express now has one photographer – worldwide.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Even more on Kindlegate. Justin gets his money

In an August post we discussed the great Kindlegate saga. (see Blog Archive More on Kindlegate.) Amazon cyber-snatched back purchased copies of George Orwell's 1984 from the hard drives of the owners of Kindle eReaders. The company discovered they didn't have copyright clearance to sell the work in the first place. Angry Kindleers protested at Amazon's high-handed snatch back, claiming the first they knew was when a refund appeared in their bank statements. Some even described Amazon as "electronic burglars."

I reported that U.S. 17 year old student, Justin D Gawronski, was so incensed that he sued the company for the loss of his notes on the book. He was using Orwell's classic for high school course work.

Today the enterprising Justin got his reward. $150,000 dollars worth. Amazon settled with a grovelling apology from CEO Jeff Bezos. He says "it was stupid, thoughtless and painfully out of line with our principles." see The Register.

I flippantly suggested that Justin had found a new way to impress the posh girls at his school. A cheque for $150,000 should go a long way toward that. Save the last laugh for Justin.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Birte Person - wildlife photographer extraordinary


Birte Person is a Danish wildlife photographer who lives in Australia. Passionate about the plight of our planet's endangered species Birte travels the world with her cameras, recording them to make us all aware of what we have to lose. She is a brilliant photographer whose pictures are a joy to see. She will tell you that the world would be a better place if it was ruled by animals and not us.

 "You have never seen a monkey put a fence round a coconut tree and proclaim it his. No, he calls the rest of the tribe to share it instead. Isn't it strange that a man who likes to wander in these places (rain forests) is called crazy and a vagrant but the man who cuts down all the trees in these places is called an entrepreneur."

Her home in Australia is in a rain forest setting. She breeds endangered frogs there to release them into their natural habitat wherever they are low in numbers.

You may have seen these great shots above of a rare white Bengal tiger at feeding time in the Singapore Zoo. Nearly extinct, there have been only 12 sightings of one in the wild. They occur naturally in one in 10,000 births. The result is a tiger with white fur, black stripes, blue eyes and a pink nose.

Birte explains, "I was on my way to another conservation shoot in Asia but decided I had to stop and look at these magnificent creatures. They sit in anticipation on the rocks, waiting for the first morsel to be thrown, then it is a huge lunge into the water by all of them (five). It carries on until they all get some food."

Bengal tigers are fully grown at two to three years of age. Males weigh in at 200 kilos and three metres in length. They live up to fifteen years in the wild.

You can visit Birte's brilliant gallery of wildlife pictures here. The pictures are her copyright.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pap zapping

pic:Bojan Pancevski

One of the definitions of 'celebrity status' has always been how you treat the Press. The relationship is fickle at best. Mostly either party wants something from the other. A bit like the old Hollywood casting couch auditions. The Press has it's 'needs' and the auditionee needs her/his five minutes of stardom. It's a marriage of convenience. They can't live with or without each other.

Up to a point. At Level One the wannabee celebrity is pointed by agents, PR's, managers or their mum to the latest hangout to mingle with the other aspirants, knowing that the paparazzi pack will be in waiting. For their part the Paps must make a living, servicing the tabloids and magazines. It's an agreed alliance. Mayhem often ensues because demon drink is taken and the 'celeb' goes into exhibitionist mode, having no experience of how to behave before the cameras, which is an unforgiving beast at best.

There are, of course, exceptions. Joan Collins went from a Rank starlet in these venues to become queen of Hollywood.  Jack Nicholson made headlines with his early hours exits with a blonde, a beam and a cigar. They were beloved by every paparazzo and journo they met.

Class will out and the very few who can handle it go on to Level Two.

Have you ever wondered why you don't see the true stars weaving drunkenly out of nightclub doors at 4.00am?  Firstly, they are clever enough not to go to the same venues. Secondly, they don't get raving drunk before the cameras (with some notable exceptions.) The true stars smile sweetly, say nothing outrageously stupid and move on like proper pros. If they want publicity for their latest project their management sets up an interview/picture op with selected journalists, usually in a swanky hotel.

So the link between media and celebrity is managed one way or the other.

There is a Third Level. We'll call them the 'Ghosts.' Men and women who seem, with fame to disappear from view. Now this takes serious money. Did you notice how JK Rowling vanished as Harry Potter became famous? The harassed, single-mum look vanished, too. Then she reappeared at selected events, suddenly svelte and beautiful. Paul McCartney has spent a lifetime as a 'ghost.' Even at the biggest event the organisers don't know if he will turn up until they see him, often late through the back kitchens. This is the price of true fame, and it costs giga bucks in management and security. For sure, in their shoes we would all do the same. Such is the insecurity of the modern world. The 'global village' also means the villains get closer, too.

Now Level Four is something else. The shy billionaires. Men and women who will do anything not to be photographed at all. The reclusive Howard Hughes was moved around in a fridge in public by his staff. The twin Barclay Brothers, high on the Sunday Times Rich List, live in a castle on the Channel Island of Brecqhou, shunning all publicity, only photographed when they were knighted by the Queen.

Then there's Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Owner of Chelsea F C. Said to have lost 4.7 billion sterling in the financial crash, he's now only worth 7 billion. Just enough to commission the world's largest private yacht, Eclipse at 724 million pounds and 557 ft long. Two helipads, two swimming pools and a retractable roof over his bed so that he and his girlfriend, Daria Zukhova, can watch the stars as they plough the world's sea lanes. It also has a French missile defence system and an escape mini-submarine. Presumably all the 60 staff can't fit in it, so it's just for him and her, then? James Bond would love it.

Now what is his crowning glory on the Eclipse, which wants for nothing? It's this:

An anti-paparazzi shield. Infra-red lasers detect the electronic light sensors in any cameras, known to photographers as charge-coupled devices, that are pointed at the Eclipse. If the system detects such a device it fires back a focused beam of light into the offending camera, thus disrupting it's ability to take  pictures. The staff can shoot it manually, too at any loitering paparazzo on a quayside.

So we come full circle. Happy paps outside Chinawhite, making wannabee celebrities famous. Hapless paps zapped by Roman's guards with their laser guns. Who would be a photographer!

ps. My pap, Henrietta Fox, wouldn't be put off so easily! Try zapping a 1000mm lens in a bush, 200 yards away.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The school with no books - only readers

A Boston prep school headmaster, one James Tracy, has made this amazing leap into new technology. A school library with no books. Instead he has replaced all the books at Cushing Academy with 18 eReaders. So reports

Mr Cushing apparently sees books as "outdated technology," so out they went into the trash. In their place he has installed 3 TV's, laptops and the 18 eReaders. Plus a coffee bar, presumably for use whilst students wait for an available eReader to become free. Reported cost? $500,000.

Good luck to the far sighted Mr Tracy. A pioneer indeed. But do I want my kids to be the first at Cushing to use it? As the Americans say, I'll take a rain check on that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

If you're Jane Austen - avert your eyes

I love the new movement for book trailers. I have one myself but their are lots in production by the big publishing houses. The place to see them is on YouTube, of course. Most take themselves seriously but a few are more irreverent. A bit like TV ads. Why is it only beer commercials can be funny?

Here's a fun one by Quirk Publishing. If you're the ghost of Jane Austen - avert your eyes. HERE.

Mine is HERE.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Oh! The frugal joys of eReading

I told you about my purchase of a Sony PRS700 reader. It wasn't cheap and my wife thought I was mad. I also showed you how it pays for itself if you are a daily paper buyer.

After that my quest was to download 112 books into it for a fiver and have change for a pint. Which I achieved.

But, I hear you cry, what about new, up-to-date releases from famous authors? Well, I decided to buy Philippa Gregory's hot, new book, The White Queen. My wife loves her and Ms Gregory is first rate at what she does best. Historically based fiction. This was random. It could be any new release.

But I wouldn't pay more than 6 quid.

The List Price set by Simon & Schuster in America is $25.99. No way would I pay that! In the UK it is £18.99. A quick currency conversion tells you it should be £15.79 but that's good old, rip-off Britain for you. Why is it never less? However, I digress.

Waterstones sells The White Queen at 20% off for £15.19 although, if you bought it at full American price, that's only .60p off.

WH Smith do a little better at £14.24 suggesting it's 25% off.

The Sony eBook Store offers The White Queen for $14.29 - that's £8.68 converted! Have you noticed something fishy here? Sony is the partner of Waterstones (£15.19) for book downloads.

Now, you can wait. Older titles by the good Philippa go for £5 to £10. No doubt The White Queen will tumble down the price lists in future. But I didn't want to wait.

So I turned to good old

The White Queen? No problem. That's $9.95 to you, squire - or £6.04 converted! Full epub format. They also have a rewards scheme for past purchases. So what did I pay?

£5.39 ($8.87) What should I do with the .61p change?

Monday, August 17, 2009

This message will self destruct in 8 hours

What's the closest we get to infinity? The endless reaches of outer space? The time it takes for the taxman to repay an overcharge? An apology from a banker?

No. It's the cyber Elephant. It's the longevity of storage of our personal data on computer banks. Like the prehensile-trunked mammal, servers remember everything forever. Your laptop has a copy of your e-mail, of course. So does the recipient, naturally. Your IP provider stores one. And then the many servers en route.

Those messages might contain bank details, personal info, legal contracts, business secrets, job offers etc. that you really don't want hanging about in cyberspace. The Times tells us a recent US survey revealed that one in five Americans had written something online they regretted later. Whilst one in eight teens had posted revealing photos of themselves.

Divorce lawyers love to obtain old e-mails which can be used in a court settlement. That message from the oil rich husband to his Liechtenstein bankers. His ex-wife's 'secret' liason with the poolman. These e-mails live like ghosts, lingering forever. Deleting doesn't really clean them out. A judge's subpoena will release them. A thief might steal them. Government agencies have no trouble squeezing them from IP providers.

Sometimes there are good reasons that this should happen. Nobody in their right mind wants a paedophile protected or a bank robber. But what, you may ask, of the privacy of the rest of us?

Now Professor Hank Levy of Washington University and Roxana Geambasu may have found an answer. It's a programme they call Vanish. Any message written under Vanish self destructs in 8 hours. Like the old Mission Impossible messages. It will disappear in all it's forms, wherever it is held. Pouff! Like a magic trick. It also applies to social network messages. Facebook, etc.

Vanish scrambles your text into a string of gobbledegook letters. It then splits the digital key to decode your message into 10 pieces. These are hidden across 1.5 million, randomly selected computers across 200 countries. As each user logs off his machine then reboots, refreshing its memory, they disappear, one by one. The prof. reckons that averages an eight hour span before the decode keys are gone.

He's offering it free as a research project HERE.

The picture is from HERE.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spooky - they know where you are

In an earlier post I asked 'Do we own what we buy or are we just subscribers and renters.' (Thurs July 23rd)

My point being that the nice, new, shiny iphone or kindle you bought with your money is just a plastic shell. The real owners are still the manufacturers, unlike home appliances, because, in their etherial 'cloud' they control what's in it and what it does. And what to snatch back, as in the case of George Orwell's 1984 in Kindlegate. (Tues Aug 4th)

Now new evidence (paranoia?) comes to light. This time concerning the Palm Pre. This smart phone (pictured above) is a rival to the iphone. Apparently, IT developer and Pre owner, Joey Hess discovered that his beloved smart phone was secretly being unfaithful to him with its creator. It was phoning home not only his precise location at any given time (it has GPS) but all his personal data like what apps he was using and for how long, etc.

Joey explains he understands the sending of crash data but what about the rest? As ever the 'explanation' by the manufacturer is a convoluted, double speak statement that is so boring you'll have to read it on this site: HERE

Joey's argument, and I believe it's a good one, is that most appliances ASK before sending personal data, as is only polite. Certainly my Apple gear does and, I believe Microsoft stuff, too.

The thought of your appliances betraying you behind your back is a worrying one. Grounds for cyber divorce.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Challenge - 112 ebooks for a Fiver

I've set myself a little challenge suited to the Financial Crisis. I have a fiver to spend and I want to download 112 books for it. Easy, I hear you say. Just go to Project Gutenberg. Have you tried that?

It's an archive. It smells of dust and parchment. Half a million frayed books to wade through, with little weevils running out. That's what it feels like.

So, I hunted further with my fiver in hand.

I found Girlebooks. (not that kind of girliebooks, pervert.)

This one is run by Laura McDonald and her mum, Joyce. The website at is a wonderful site. Laura and Joyce are dedicated to finding books written by women, mostly by plumbing the depths of Gutenberg and making them available as ebooks for free. But that's not all.

Cleverly, they find suitable paintings to convert as covers for them and they look great. They offer five or six formats for download (whatever Gutenberg offers). They are, of course, old favourite classics. Elizabeth von Arnim, Louisa May Alcott, Katherine Mansfield, etc. A great opportunity to add them to your e-reader and computer e-library. Just to dip into whenever the mood takes you. An antidote to a rainy afternoon. Or to introduce to your children when the time is right. They offer 89 of these classics.

You can salvage through Gutenberg yourself but I found it hard going. I added The Herries Chronicles by Hugh Walpole. That's Rogue Herries, Vanessa, Fortress and Judith Paris.

That's 4 more. I added Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll for my kids and grandkids.

Next came Harlequin Books. Great offers here. It's their 60th birthday. To celebrate they are giving away 16 books to download absolutely free. How could I resist! All Detective or Romance with a big following. So, in they go.

Next, the turn of the Sci-fi brigade. Suvudu Books are offering 5 free downloads of their latest titles.

That's 110 books so far, and not a penny spent.

Then I came to run by Matthew McClintock. He has 24,461 free e-titles! It was time to stop.

In an effort to spend my fiver I went to Waterstones and downloaded The Third Pig Detective Agency for .78p.

I searched on. An intriguing and, I hope legal site was I felt I might be slipping into one of those old naughty bookshops in Soho. Titles like Discover the 100+ Lovemaking Toys Already In Your House or An Amazing Guide to Finding A Thai Wife.

I made my excuses and turned to leave then found on offer Save Your Driving License, secrets of how to get off when the cops stop you. All about slipping out of speeding, radar guns, totting up points, etc. That seemed an investment at £2.

That's 112 ebooks for nothing.

So, I have £2.22 left. I think I'll have a pint with that.