Friday, July 31, 2009

How to get a free eReader

I'm getting a bit canny now at this book downloading lark. Certainly by e-shopping around you can definitely get good value when buying your download books. It pays to look in America. If you have problems using a UK credit card over there (which I did) get a PayPal account. Then it's no problem.

BooksOnBoard is worth a visit. I downloaded Patricia Cornwell's The Front for $5.59. That's £3.38 converted to UK. The same title from WH Smith downloads at £5.13. That's £1.75 more. It's £5.47 at Waterstones.

Sony's e-library is compatible with Waterstones. They are okay as long as you stay off the new release stuff which gets expensive.

But here's where the real savings are. Do you buy a newspaper each day? My wife reads the Daily Mail, mostly for the features and book reviews on Fridays. A Mail costs 50p daily and 70p on Saturday. A yearly total of £153.

Do this: Buy a Sony PRS 505 eReader from Waterstones who are selling them for £179. Download Calibre for free onto your computer or laptop. Tell Calibre to download the Daily Mail each morning and send it to your Sony eReader (it's easy.)

In one year you save your £153. Within months later you have bought your eReader for free! If you read the Daily Telegraph or the Times it gets better. The D.Tel costs £293 per year. You've paid for your eReader by September! Try it with the NY Times or the Washington Post.

Calibre will download for you many other titles such as: New York Times Top Stories, Washington Post, The Guardian, Irish Times, Glasgow Herald or even Al Jazeera and many others. My wife's taken to reading the Moscow Times translation.

It's a whole new downloadable world in your palm - and free!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is the globe warming up my gin and tonic?

I want to be planet friendly. I really do.

My problem is I don't believe politicians. If they tell me to turn off a light bulb I assume there is something in it for them. I guess I was a journalist for too long.

Now Greenpeace have come up with a new report. I'm not sure about them, either. The one statistic in it that sticks in my craw is this one:

'China's three biggest power companies produced more greenhouse gas emissions last year than the whole of Britain.'

The Greenpeace report says that in 2008, Huaneng, Datang and Guodian — the top three firms — emitted more greenhouse gases than the whole of the UK.

So it's vital that I don't put my telly on stand-by? The words politics and band wagon spring to mind.

And another thing. Global warming melting the arctic and the sea rising to engulf us all. When I put ice in my gin and tonic it fills the glass to the top. As that ice melts, why doesn't it overflow, eh?

These, and other weighty thoughts fill my mind tonight. I'm feeling flippant. I blame the double measure of 16 year old Lagavulin.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Do we own what we buy?

In the digital age are we consumers and owners – or subscribers and renters?

Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell’s 1984 from people’s personal Kindle ebooks caused a furore of protest. What a book to choose for such an authoritarian, Big Brother act. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

These people legitimately purchased their copy of the classic. They believe that they own it. Like buying a tin of beans. Tesco’s doesn’t send a till girl to your kitchen to demand it back - unless you nicked it.

‘A copyright issue’ says Amazon. ‘We got it wrong. We didn’t have the rights to sell it to you.’

So their cyber fingers reached out silently into the Kindles and took it back – without the knowledge of the new ‘owners’ until they got a refund statement.

Here’s where the fun starts.

Users on the Kindle Boards website are apoplectic. They say:

"Amazon offered a product, which I legally purchased, and had in my possession until their electronic burglar stole it from me."

“This is analogous to Amazon selling me a hard cover book and then later sending someone to my home to steal it back after learning that they erred in offering it for sale in the first place! Ridiculous!!!”


“They've essentially invaded MY PRIVATE KINDLE to remove MY books, WITHOUT MY ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE OR PERMISSION. Ironic that my George Orwell collection has now been stolen back by "Big Brother," isn't it?”

Oh, the wrath. A bit like the old ‘My house is my castle’ arguments of yesteryear, before we discovered that anyone from the cops to the gas board could invade our ‘castle’ at will.

The Guardian opines:

‘ It's as if they walked into a bookshop to pick up a new best-seller, only to discover later that the shop was actually a library and they had to give it back.’

This is the problem with ‘cloud-enabled’ products like Kindle or iphone. Very sexy to own as long as you realise you have an appliance controlled by the manufacturer and not the owner - you. Apple can reach into your iphone and delete an app at will.

Imagine your kettle is 'cloud-enabled'. You get a message saying. ‘Your megaKettle has been updated. It now cooks rice, too!’

The following day comes a deletion: ‘Apologies. MegaRice corp own the rights. We’ve deleted the upgrade. It’s just a kettle again.’

The key to this, as ever, is to BACK UP. Then 1984 would still be in your computer.

So, you don’t ‘own’ your appliance – you’re merely leasing it. You bought a husk of plastic. They control what goes into it and what it does.

I’m happy my Sony Reader doesn’t phone home – yet. With Sony’s DRM track record it’s only a matter of time. Or have I missed the control button already?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Brave New World of eBooks

As I told you, I bought an eReader. A Sony PRS700. And jolly nice it is, too. I use an iMac G5 computer which, of course, isn't compatible. (Sony say a Mac version of eLibrary follows in late summer.) So I use a clever little prog. called Calibre for free by Kovid Goyal to download my books and transfer them to the Reader.

That's the last time you will hear the magic word Free.

I downloaded Vince Flynn's ebook version of Extreme Measures. At Waterstones it cost me £11.95 after a 20% discount. This is a book they don't have to print or post.

At Extreme Measures as a paperback would cost me £4.89 with free delivery in the UK. And they had to print that one and post it.

Look to Amazon's merchant sellers and you can get Extreme Measures, the same book new, for £2.45 plus post.

That's £9.50 difference!

My Sony Reader holds 350 books as standard. Multiply Extreme Measures by 350 and the Reader will cost me £4,182,50 to fill. Add to that the horrendous cost of buying it.

If I go to Amazon merchant sellers, 350 books will cost me £857.50 plus post.

That's a saving of £3,325! So, Sony and Waterstones are relying on the power of owning a brand new toy to make them a fortune. They want to be the iPod and ITunes of print but that's not how iTunes does it. They do it by being cheap. (Beyonce album £6.87).

And that guarantees they will eventually fail to do so.

ps. I sell the downloads of my books for £4.81 ($7.95 €5.59). I don't have the overheads of a bookshop or a manufacturer. I make enough to be happy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Want to be an outcast? Buy a Sony Reader.

I bought a Sony PRS 700 ebook Reader. I believe in the future of downloaded books. Always have since the first digitalization's of the 80's. That's why I offer my readers a choice of my thriller novels in paperback or download.

But don't publishers and manufacturers make it difficult for us to join the digi revolution? You'd think I was a train robber. I feel criminalized.

I am in Spain now. Can I buy downloads of popular titles for my new pride and joy over the internet for money? Not on your life. It comes with a Sony eLibrary CD with a nice link to the Library service. There I find all the shiny bestsellers just waiting for me.

Excuse me, sir. You must register. Do you live in the USA or Canada? No? Sorry no downloads.

I cyber move to the Sony UK site at Waterstones. You want to download across the channel to Spain? Don't you know anybody in England you can download to? And what do I do then?Burn it to CD in a mate's garden shed in Croydon or somewhere and smuggle it across two borders like diamonds or drugs?

It's a book for God's sake and not even a real one. Just a series of 0's and 1's in an invisible programme.

But surely nobody over there in Spain speaks English?

Only one million expat Brits desperate for entertainment in their own language - with money to pay for it.

Sorry, Sir it's the rules. UK only.

So I have now joined the band of dark forces who live in the sewers and tunnels of the internet who can get anything for you. Like the French Resistance we exist in the cyber shadows. A search here, a patch there and suddenly Tom Clancy's latest appears on my Reader screen. Oh joy!

We readerholics will get our fix of words despite the publishers and makers working so hard against us. Vive la resistance!

note: It's 11.00am Monday. Waterstone's site reply. 'Unable to contact e-book fulfillment. Please try again later.'

1.00pm Hooray! 12 hours later Waterstones appear and download Vince Flynn's Extreme Measures. Very appropriate!

What can one say?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The power of a smiley baby

Don't leave home without a picture of a baby in your wallet. Even if you don’t have a baby.

Scientists in Edinburgh carried out a cunning plan to test our honesty. They scattered wallets about the streets to see how many were returned. And prominent inside each was a different picture. Each wallet had either:

a) a smiling baby

b) a cute puppy

c) a happy family or

d) an elderly couple.

Amazingly nearly half the 240 ‘lost’ wallets were returned. Well done, Britain (Scotland?)

But those wallets with a picture of a pretty baby inside were the most returned. 88% of them came back. Next was the puppy wallet with 53%. Happy family dropped to 48%. The old couple staggered in last at 28% returned.

The conclusion Dr Richard Wiseman and his team of psychologists came to here was that we all have an inbuilt compassion towards vulnerable infants. A compassion that has evolved to ensure the survival of future generations of our species. Even any hardened criminals who found the baby picture in a wallet must have gone all soft and gooey and returned their booty.

I think most parents could tell the good doctor that information for free.

Interesting that the puppy came second? Just shows what a pushover we are for animals. (I certainly am). But the mega low score for the elderly picture suggests what we already know. That Britain is not the place to be if you’re old.

Interesting to ponder what the results might have been in other countries? Certainly baby would always come out on top. But in what order the others?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sound familiar, Mr Brown?

It is said that nothing is new. Just history repeating itself. Does this quote have a familiar ring?

It has been very judiciously observed that a commercial country has more to dread from the golden baits of avarice, the airy hopes of projectors and the wild enthusiastic dreams of speculators than from any external dangers.

John Millar, An authentic Account of the South Sea Scheme 1845

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Happy birthday, Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp is 68 this week. The famed Annie Liebovitz took this top picture of her at 66 for Gap.

At 5.30am every morning of her life Twyla’s day begins in the gym. She was a renowned dancer, as this 1974 picture below it shows. Twyla moved on to even greater glory as the choreographer who merged modern dance with ballet. She began dancing at 4 years old and hasn’t stopped since.

Twyla created original works for the New York City Ballet, The Paris Opera Ballet and The Royal Ballet amongst many others. It is rumoured she had a famous affair with Mikhail Baryshnikov. She weaves classics, jazz and pop music into her original works.

She is an admitted obsessive, expecting an almost religious allegiance from her dancers. Her works are world renown. When she speaks on the creative process – it’s best we listen.

Her book ‘The Creative Habit – learn it and use it for life’ by Simon & Shuster ISBN 978-7432-3527-3 is a brilliant guide for all. Whether you are a dancer, painter, writer, musician, businessman or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, this is the one to have to unlock your head.

Refreshingly, it isn’t about getting that lightning bolt of inspiration people call ‘talent’ that’s supposed to split the ‘great’ from the ordinary. Instead it’s about how good preparation, routine and good habits are the artistic necessities that will lead to unlocking the creative process. And they are available to everyone.

She says it’s the rituals of that preparation that matter. Creativity is the result of developing good work habits. There’s no such thing as a ‘genius.’ Hard work creates them. A kind of ‘muscle-memory’ that leads you on to be better.

She starts with a simple box. Into it she puts everything connected to the work in progress. Notebooks, news clippings, CD’s, videos, photographs, poetry, toys. It makes you feel organized. That you have your act together and you know where you’re going. Then writing the name of your project on the box states that the work has officially started in your head. You can’t walk away from it. It’s there – on the shelf - in the box.

To read this book is to be immersed in the brilliant Twyla’s thinking process. Her many secrets to the everyday problems we all face trying to create something. I guarantee that after reading it you will come away with some solutions.

Here’s to many more birthdays, Twyla!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sumxu - Is it a cat or a nightmare?

At last I've found a Sumxu! Or I think I have. What kind of moggie is this? Doesn't look like my cat, Buns.

I used the breed in The Deadline Murders. In it I describe it as 'a glossy, yellow-haired Chinese cat with pendulous ears, believed to be extinct 300 years ago.'

Charles Darwin mentioned it in his diaries. Now this 1666 drawing from a book in latin has surfaced. The only known illustration of the breed in existence. Apparently much sought after by the ladies of the Emperor's Court in the 17th century.

Unfortunately, in my book, they come to a sticky end along with their owners. That's what happens in thrillers. Hey, it's only paper. Not real life.

The latin translation explains that this drawing was made in 1666 from descriptions of the beast by those who saw it. It may, of course be another animal altogether? I'd like a glass of whatever they were drinking when they described it. A nightmare in your living room.

This cat site looks very useful for moggie lovers like me. It's in South Africa. Try it for yourself here.

note: Buns is a rescue cat from the hillside around our house. Why buy a cat when so many in shelters need a home.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A new use for Parliament?

Monet's Houses of Parliament 1905

Now I'm not much of a revolutionary. During uprisings of any sort I'm usually to be seen walking away. I'm too old for zealotry and overthrowing stuff. What if the incoming dictator bans drinking decent wine or going down the pub?

Perish the thought. I struggle to overthrow my cat from my favourite seat.

However, my previous post on MP's and the House has brought out some closet Che Guevaras.

And with some pretty good ideas, too.

'We should consider turning the current Houses of Parliament into something completely different, for example an art gallery or historical museum.The silly and pretentious 'security wall' outside it, which represented yet another flagrant waste of taxation, should be covered in peaceful graffiti, in the manner of the Berlin Wall. It could then be subdivided into pieces, and each one could be then sold off on internet auction sites, which might gain us a small amount of revenue to help us deal with the gargantuan tasks ahead.'

What an excellent suggestion. There are plenty of deserted offices around in the great Crisis. Give MP's one each with a sofa bed and video conferencing. No more dodgy charges for 'London accommodation' and no more middle-aged men in tights parading about the House with swords, maces and black rods. No more baying cries of "Hear hear" and "Shame" in a half empty chamber.

Power to the people I say.