A Familiar Formatting Problem

TotenUniverse

Most self-published authors will have encountered Smashwords’ notorious ‘meatgrinder,’ and few of them survive unscathed.

They know what I’m talking about, but for those of you who haven’t come across this Gilliamesque monster, it’s the automated system Smashwords uses to convert uploaded files into various ebook formats.

And it doesn’t work.

6-who-among-us-v1Take a look at the book cover on the left. It’s the cover of Who Among Us… the third book of the TotenUniverse. It’s been on the Smashwords site since 2015 and we’ll come back to it in a moment.

The cover on the right is the new cover to Who Among Us… and partwhoamongus of a newly edited version of the book. All the books in the TotenUniverse have been given a makeover, with new interior content. It’s all on Amazon now, available in Kindle format and over the weekend I started to upload the new versions to…

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All in One, All at Once

Imminent special edition of the Herbet West series by Audrey Driscoll…

Audrey Driscoll's Blog

So many books…

You know how it is — you read an ebook, think it’s pretty good, wonder if there’s a sequel. In a day or two, other books and life in general overlay the memory. Weeks later, something reminds you of that book. Now, what was the title? The author? You try to find it in your e-reader and your computer. So many books… You pick one that looks interesting and start reading, the book you were looking for forgotten.

This shouldn’t happen to readers of the Herbert West Series, because now they have the option to acquire all four novels at once — the complete series.

I started writing the first book on November 7th, 2000. November 7th, 2016 is Herbert West’s 130th birthday. In honour of the occasion, I have published a “box set” of all four novels, with a bonus — Chapter 1 of the…

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Pencils, Rubbers et al

Why does a rubber rub out pencil?

People are so nasty and horrible these days that if you ask a perfectly reasonable question they’ll say, ‘why don’t you google it, asshole.’ (It is possible to make these people look stupid by asking a rhetorical question…)

Back in the day, when I were a lad, I spotted a gap during a chemistry lesson, raised my hand and asked: “Why does a rubber rub out pencil?”

The class erupted in hysterics and I didn’t get a straight answer from the teacher. Later I asked my mate Paul Reid why everyone laughed. “Because only you would think of asking a question like that.”

Nearly four decades later I still don’t understand the physics of pencil erasers, so if anyone knows (serious answers only, no speculation) do leave a comment.

It’s not the only trivial bit of science that baffles me. Inkjet printers. We all take them for granted, hate them when they go wrong, and we know they’re designed to waste ink and therefore waste our money. But have you ever wondered how incredible they are from a technological point of view?

They can deposit a microscopic blob of ink anywhere on a sheet of paper no matter how big. This from a mechanical object. It’s not like a computer screen using algorithms and formulas to calculate which screen pixel to electrify. Printers have to move bits and pieces backwards and forwards, accurately, every time until the cyan cartridge runs out.

We don’t think about brilliance when the brilliance has become the everyday. What we take for granted seems simple, but it seldom is. Live events on television should astound you if you took a moment to think about what’s going on. All those tiny people running around a football pitch in Nice are not actors, it’s not a recording or a computer simulation, they really are there, thousands of miles away kicking a ball nanoseconds before you see it happen.

The technology, the speed of light broadcasting of an electronic signal is related to mobile phone technology. Take a look at that small oblong of plastic. Press the right button and some invisible connection is made to a mast somewhere, miles away. And the invisible connection travels through walls, through people’s heads, that passing bus is no obstacle. Everything between the phone and the mast is a conduit for the signal: electrons in the baby’s pram, the dog’s tail, the back fence, the cake display in Galloways, all vibrating and jumping to the next electron level to carry that mobile signal. No wonder everyone’s going mad with all the electromagnetic stimulation we’re bombarded with every day.

Hundred ton planes flying, thousand ton ships floating. It’s simple physics say the egg heads, but simple is still extraordinary.

I suppose if Aristotle had jumped out of his bath shouting eureka ten minutes earlier we might have had mobile phones forty years earlier and then I could have used mine to find out why rubbers rub out pencil. There’s nothing on the internet. Not even on google.

 

Why The Private Sector Is Better

Ha! Fooled you. Clickbait, you see. It’s what the private sector is good at: discovering ever more devious ways of diverting you away from what you want to what it wants.

But I’m not here to bore you with pinko-commie anti-capitalist ranting. I want to examine more closely the often-heard assertion that the private sector does things better than the public sector.

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Spontaneous Human Combustion

I love the supernatural, I love the unexplained, the paranormal, a good mystery. In the early 1980s, the perfect magazine was published. Called The Unexplained, it was all about the unexplained.

It nearly scared me to death. Literally.

The adverts started to appear on telly and I was soon hounding my parents to buy it. I was at school at the time and someone else beat me to it. Another lad, Jeffrey Westwell, no stranger to the unexplained himself after turning up for school one day in a pair of inexplicably flared trousers, told me all about the first edition and a terrifying phenomenon called SHC: spontaneous human combustion.

When someone standing in a school corridor describes the human body going up in smoke it doesn’t have quite the same impact as seeing the after effects in print. The article had several pages of ugly black and white photographs of a solitary leg or the top half of a torso, surrounded by ash, the rest of the room virtually untouched.

At the time, the phenomenon was little understood. The surroundings unaffected by the heat, the burning apparently confined to the body and nothing else, baffled experts and with no obvious source of the fire the primary explanation was that the fire came from within, starting spontaneously. Hence the name.

Spontaneous combustion is not unknown. Haystacks, wood shavings, bales of paper, can heat up internally to immense temperatures and if the ignition temperature for that material is reached it spontaneously combusts. I’ve seen and felt a fire brick left inside a pile of tree bark mulch. After several hours the brick was too hot to handle without wearing gloves.

And spontaneous human combustion isn’t new, as anyone who has read Bleak House will know. Dickens, no stranger to the unexplained, created a seminal scene in which Mr Krook dies after spontaneously combusting.

It was a perfect storm. Grisly photos and a teenager already possessing a distaste for charred bodies. In 1975 following the IRA bombings in Guildford and Birmingham, the BBC helpfully displayed a police poster asking if witnesses could ‘identify this person.’ ‘This person’ being nothing more than a carbonised lump. I never forgot that image.

After reading the magazine, I lay in bed that night waiting for it to happen. Every twitch was the first stirring of the flame, every tingle round the ankle, every mild rumble of the stomach was the beginning of the inferno. I didn’t sleep for a week and got so worked up I had to sleep in a spare bed in my parents’ room.

I survived and life returned to normal until about two years later. We had moved house, my sister was married and one evening her husband bounded up the stairs with a question I hoped I’d never hear: “Chris, have you ever heard of spontaneous human combustion?” The anxiety began again.

But what exactly caused this bizarre form of death? There were two elements that had originally confused the experts: no apparent source of the fire (no bomb, no flame thrower, no anti-tank round, no exploding petrol tank. . . .); and the fire seemed to be contained to a very limited area (no burned furniture or walls, the only damage being to that immediate area where the body lay).

Experiments eventually concluded that the fuel was body fat and everything else fell into place when all the victims were considered as a group rather than viewed as individuals.

Many of the victims were elderly and living alone. Many of them were found close to an open fireplace or heater. The best explanation was that they caught fire from an exposed hem of clothing or a dropped cigarette end after they had fallen asleep. What happened next was rare, and by its rarity, exacerbated the explanations. Instead of going up in flames, the victim would lie burning, the fire fuelled by body fat which burns very slowly at high temperatures. They were in effect, cooked from the inside out. And because of the slow smouldering and internalised fuel source, there was little damage to the objects around them.

What these victims didn’t do was spontaneously combust.

Little comfort to me back in 1980, lying in bed shaking like a leaf, terrified of turning into a human candle. It ruined my birthday; the magazine was one of a number of gifts which included a 7 inch single of The Big Match theme tune, which to this day still reminds me of the torment.

And if you’re wondering why there are no images of spontaneous human combustion in this post, there are plenty on the internet if you want to search for them. But maybe leaving it to your imagination will be enough. It’s where the unexplained sometimes belongs, not in front of you in the real world.

Emergency! The Head Office Has Vanished

In a remarkable act of corporate conjuring, Apple has succeeded in making its head office disappear. This raises serious issues for CEO Tim Cook: has his chair disappeared too? Has Tim Cook disappeared?

Probably not because Apple have kicked up a fuss following the EU’s demands to pay back corporation tax owing to the Irish government who, in a twist of irony bordering on the pornographic, don’t want it.

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I Read The Guardian, But I Don’t Know Why

A few weeks ago I came across a free copy of the Daily Star. For those higher mortals who don’t live in Britain, the Daily Star is a tabloid newspaper. Noted for its bums-and-boobs approach to journalism, the Daily Star makes the Sun look like the Encyclopedia Britannica.

It’s a throwback to an age when humans shared the earth with Neanderthals. In fact you might say the Daily Star came along forty thousand years too late. It’s original editor was a toothy Cockney called Derek Jameson, nicknamed Sid Yobbo by Private Eye. The Spirit of Yob lives on in the Daily Star; brief of sentence, limited in intelligence, it isn’t read by white van man, it’s read by the van.

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Latest Spam no.4

There’s been quite a lot of spam recently in response to The Agent’s Cipher blog post, but that is now closed to comments, so those adverts for American football shirts will be coming your way soon.

Today, I received a very nice comment from a man called Xoy Chaopi, who might be Aztec, I’m not sure. Anyway, here’s my line by line response.

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Match of the Day v Kick Off

If you don’t like football, switch off now. This is a 100% footie post, with a difference. It’s not about football itself, but a television phenomenon that may outlast the pyramids.

Saturday nights in the 1970s had a certain pattern to it: The Generation Game, Starskie and Hutch, and the evening finished off in the smokey company of Parkinson. Sandwiched between Huggy Bear and Michael Parkinson being attacked by a puppet emu was Match of the Day.

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The Museum of Childhood Toys and Games

In 2015 I took a walk around the estuary of the River Kent and nearly walked my feet off. Half way along the route, passing a farm with a load of fairground rides in storage, an idea came to me: a museum containing all the toys and games of my childhood.

A search of Ebay revealed a lot of these games and selling for a lot more than we paid for them at Christmas and birthdays in the 1970s. I made a list of some of the exhibits. It would be an interactive museum with visitors free to play the stuff on display:

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Subbuteo

Falco subbuteo, to all you thickos who don’t know yer birds, is the Latin name for the Hobby. And with that sentence we learn why a table-top football game entered the world with such an obscure name. It makes sense in hindsight.

At its peak of popularity, Subbuteo was more realistic than the real game. To the aficionado there wasn’t a single element of the game you couldn’t buy. And it all came in the distinctive green Subbuteo boxes. In any sports or toy shop, the Subbuteo section was a wonderland in waiting.

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Who Leaked the Fonseca Papers?

The news has been circling the world for a couple of weeks following the massive leak of 11 million documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The documents contained information we already knew, summed up best by Noel Cowerd in The Italian Job: ‘Camp Freddie, everybody in the world is bent.‘ Or, to put a little more accuracy on it, every member of the super-rich elite is bent.

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Latest Spam no.2

Another lonely communication between the nether regions of the internet.

And continuing my generosity in helping the sad and confused (kindred spirits) I’m sharing another message in the hope that some of you might find sympathy and empathy with our less fortunate cousins.

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The Evolution of Corporations

A question came to me the other night. Having read an article in the Guardian about the high street pharmacy Boots turning into a corporate retail monster, I sat listening to Going for the One by Yes, one of the first albums ever lent to me by a schoolfriend.

As Jon Anderson warbled over Chris Squires’ squirming bass lines two issues coalesced. Corporate greed and recording albums. You see, back in the day, when I put an album onto a C30 cassette (which in the case of Going for the One, meant losing about ten minutes of Awaken), record labels were run by music enthusiasts. They were business men, don’t get me wrong, but they knew about blank tapes and how they were used.

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Latest Spam no.1

I often read posts and articles about people who are inundated with spam, bothered by scamsters and what have you. Unfortunately for me, the TotenUniverse is such a lonely place even the spammers don’t come by very often.

But occasionally one gets through, like today, so instead of hitting the delete button I thought I’d share the message of this other lonely tosser trying to make a buck (or earn a few quid as the Americans say).

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Ads and Adblockers

I was in a shop recently, a real bricks-and-mortar high street shop. I bought a magazine and the shopkeeper said “no, it’s free.” Free? He pointed to the walls of his shop, floor to ceiling advertisements.

“Everything in the shop is free. My income comes from the adverts.”

“Good for you,” I said before realising the doors were locked. “I can’t get out.”

“No,” said the shopkeeper. “You can only go when you’ve looked at all the adverts.”

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A Typical Job Advert

In Lancashire there is a popular garden centre and they regularly have job vacancies on the website. Let’s, for legal purposes, call them Horton Close Garden Centre.

On their website they describe what makes a good employee, what they call a ‘Horton Closer.’ But based on the details found on their website I think their job vacancy posts should be reworded as follows:

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Marketing And Creating That Killer Brand By New York-Based Consultant Theo Rand

Following the arson attack in Managua during the central American leg of Toten Herzen’s Malandanti world tour (unofficially retitled the Let the Insurance Cover It tour) Alien Noise brought in brand management consultant Theo Rand of New York firm Solid Gold to advise on damage limitation.

Alien Noise, in an uncharacteristic act of altruism, invited Rand to offer marketing and promotional advice to indie authors and this is what he had to say.

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Decent Writing Places

What makes a good writing cafe?

Well, the one I’m sat in at the moment. Quiet, stylish, refined. Has a touch of class about it, which suits my status as a professional internationally acclaimed author. In fact, I should have worn my new watch, a Christmas present that sits on my wrist like something built by Thomas Telford. A watch that says ‘this wearer has arrived.’

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The Agent’s Cipher

No, it’s not a new book by Dan Brown, it’s an earth shattering discovery revealed on an obscure website so secretive I’ll be hung from Blackfriar’s Bridge if I reveal its name. Every UK literary agent’s rejection letter contains a secret code.

You thought rejection letters were standard replies? You and me both. Assuming agents are too busy to reply in person to every indie hopeful and debut author, we all thought these letters were pre-written, which they are. But what we didn’t know is that the reason for rejection is contained within the carefully worded brush-offs. Read on to find the five main reasons they don’t want your novel.

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Are We Idiots?

I recently wrote a post asking if we were weird, now I’m asking if we’re idiots. A lot of companies seem to think so, the latest being Lulu, the book publishers. They’re giving away free money.

Read on to find out how you can get free money. In fact, not even free money: FREE MONEY!

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Apologies

I should start by apologising for the inclusion of football in this post, but I won’t because this post is not about football, it’s about apologies. Institutional apologies. But quoting Valencia football club (which some would say is still not about football) leads me to my conclusions on when things go wrong and someone needs to apologise.

Non-footballing statistic: Valencia have gone eleven games in the league without a win. Two more and they equal the club’s all-time record. Over the past few weeks of unmitigated misery and underachievement the following ‘apologies’, explanations, and random justifications have appeared on their website.

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Are We Weird?

I’ve never seen myself in a film (not a big screen film), but a video, home movie or anything more flickering than a dropped photograph. And even photographs are rare.

Until we see ourselves moving, walking and talking, we never really know how we come across to other people. It’s why there’s a big industry in teaching professionals how to present themselves. Unless you have video evidence to the contrary we have no idea just how big an arsehole we might appear to others.

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What Is Going On At The Kindle Store?

I’ve learned that keywords for books uploaded to Kindle don’t have to be single words, the phrases vampire mystery, paranormal suspense would be counted as two keywords by the system if they’re separated by a comma, so with this in mind I’ve set about changing my keywords.

I’ve also been using a technique which involves typing keywords and phrases into the Kindle Store search box to find  sub-categories with fewer books in them. (Fewer books, but falling under popular keyword phrases.) However, I’ve discovered something that may or may not be, let’s say . . . not quite cricket!

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2015 Awards and Review

Around about this time of year I meet up with a friend and we dish out our Annual Awards for the year. The awards are highly prized even though the recipients don’t know they’ve won. (That’s how exclusive these awards are)

Most people hold some kind of annual review, but I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll look back at the last twelve months to tell you what were the highlights and the lowlights. It won’t be in chronological order because I can’t remember when things happened. I should also warn you, there’ll be some blatant self-promotion in here too.

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