Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Failed politicians

It always amuses me when rejected politicians try to re-write history. For an example:"Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said: "Schools improved under Labour, and more students now leave with good results. People forget how bad things were: in 1997, half of all schools failed to reach the basic benchmark of 30% of students getting 5 GCSEs graded A*-C, including English and maths - that number is now fewer than one in 12." " from the BBC website.
Andy - all I can say is the British public are no fools. We realise the secondary schools public examinations have been allowed to be dumbed down during the last government. Kids on average nowadays have the same intelligence level of kids twenty or thirty years ago. The exams have got easier. Stop trying to kid us otherwise.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Blair Lane closed on M4 motorway

I'm pleased to note that the Bus/Taxi's only lane on the final stretch of the M4 motorway into London has been closed by the new government here in the UK, the road space will be released to normal road users. It earned the name the Blair Lane when the police used it illegally to give Tony Blair's motorcade priority over other users; classic politburo government. It was in effect a monument to the Nu Labour style of management. "We know we cannot really justify the reduction in road availability, but our ideas are the correct ones. We will fine you if you have the temerity to break our rules."

We have enough problems here in Edinburgh with the trams, but in London it is a lot worse with the bus lanes. The local transport authority (Transport For London) have got it in their mind that more people will be forced into buses if they can slow down the speed of other legitimate road users. To achieve this TfL  have hijacked a major proportion of the road system in London and declared it to be "Bus Lanes". Motorists who stray into the bus lanes will be fined heavily by operators of an expensive CCTV based enforcement system.

So the idea is "Reduce road capacity to reduce traffic congestion". It is a totally crackers idea! Insane!

The hours of enforcement of the bus lanes designated by TfL appear to be unrelated to the actual usage of the bus lanes. These bus lanes can lay unused for 99% of the day while motorists suffer delay and queues in the unclaimed areas of road. The other crazy decision of TfL is to project bus stop bays out into the road, thus forcing the traffic to build up behind the bus as it loads passengers. In the good old days the bus would pull into a bus stop and avoid delaying the traffic.

I ask who are the guardians of the public interest when it comes to the arbitrary and authoritarian decisions of the bloated Transport for London?

Friday, 12 November 2010

Excess spending in the NHS

The UK National Health Service is one of the largest employers in the world in terms of number of employees. It has an enormous wages bill. It is also quite inefficient, part of the reason for that is that it is almost impossible to fire someone from the NHS. The process of industrial tribunals is unfairly and heavily biased toward the employee. Decisions are made by the tribunal panel with no responsibility for the additional cost to the public purse (i.e. you and me; the tax payers). I've come across the case where a candidate lied at the recruitment interview about his availability to work shift hours. The specific question was asked at the job interview by the the recruitment interviewers "Do you understand the hours of employment? Is there any reason why you cannot work those hours?"
When the new employee arrived he announced, within two days, that he could not work the shift pattern. He requested that the shifts should be changed to meet his personal family needs.The hours changes could not be met without imposing additional burden on the existing team. After consultation with the local HR department it was decided the man should be dismissed because he could not meet the contractual conditions (which he'd agreed to at the interview). 
The man called in the union and the case was taken to Industrial Tribunal. The tribunal chairman ruled that because the hours had not been explicitly laid out in the job advertisement (it had stated "shift work"), even though they'd been explained in interview, that they found in favour of the employee. So the local Primary Care Trust is landed with a bill for a "compensation payment", plus expenses from both sides and the cost of agency staff to cover the gap created by this liar. Subsequent off the record enquiries revealed that the person concerned had an appalling reputation in his previous job, but of course that was not reflected by the references provided by his previous NHS employer.
It is small wonder the NHS administration is over-cautious about removing failing or dishonest employees.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Where has the student money gone?

I've just been reading the latest news on university fees for students in the UK. The present government is to allow university fees to rise to £9000 a year per student. The government will then allow students to borrow money (interest paying loan) to pay this education tax. 
When I was of university age the situation  in the UK was an absence of course fees and a grant for living expenses. Students from non-rich families could go to university without incurring a mountain of debt for themselves or their parents. In the near future students will now accumulate a debt of close to £70,000 to attend university for a degree if living costs are taken into account. Surely in my day the would be student would have to study hard to gain good qualifications (which I didn't, my own fault) in order to gain entry to university, but at least everyone had the opportunity to go to university if they were academically up to scratch.
My big question is: "What has happened to the money?" Why are University fees so high and why has government funding of university students dried up? Have the government reduced the proportion on GDP once dedicated to educating our students?  Are the University professors and establishment paying themselves so much that they pricing themselves out of the market?
I foresee students taking advantage of Internet distance learning University Degrees from places like India, where academic standards are high and costs are much lower. Why should students direct their tax payments to the costly inefficient UK Universities?

I'm really surprised that students are not out on the streets in revolt. Can they trust the politicians anyway?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Tragic foresight in the Dangerous Donkey book

I’m feeling a bit sad today. I was reading the Sunday Times article about Linda Norgrove. She was the aid worker in Afghanistan who was kidnapped by the Taliban or other locals. Linda died during a rescue attempt by USA Special Forces. There were reports that a suicide bomb had been detonated during the rescue attempt.

She was a British national, working for USAID, helping to improve water availability in North East Afghanistan.

There are some eerie parallels to the plot in my book “Dangerous Donkey” where one of the heroines is taken hostage in Afghanistan while she is performing private aid work for the local farmers. It is not the main plot, but it did send a shiver down my back. I feel sympathy for the Norgrove family.


Monday, 27 September 2010

Mr Bean at the Bank of England

When I heard that Mr Bean worked at the Bank of England I naturally assumed that he would not be the bungling fool played by the actor Rowan Atkinson. Sadly I fear I was mistaken. This afternoon I read in the London Evening Standard and also on the Press Association that Mr Charlie Bean (Deputy Governor) was urging savers to spend their savings to help the economy.
This stupid fool deserves to be shown the door! Fired! Thrown out!
It used to be prudent to save for one's retirement, to put money aside for a rainy day. A responsible citizen would ensure they have enough money to tide them over economic problems. No, the Bank of  England proposes fiscal irresponsibility by the savers. Go on a spending spree and buy more imported goods? How on earth will that help the UK economy? Is he not content with punishing savers with artificially low interest rates? This man favours the people who spend spend spend with money saved from their ultra-low mortgage rates.
The printing of money (quantitative easing) by the Bank of England will effectively devalue our savings by devaluing the pound, now the absolute buffoon wants us to fritter away the money put aside for our futures.
The man is a Brownian Dinosaur and should be removed from post.

I'm so glad I moved my money into gold when the Bank of England was selling our reserves. Now it is "worth" four times what I paid for it. More realistically it is a glaring measure of how much the pound has fallen and how poorly the idiots at the Bank of England and the previous Labour Government  managed the economy.

Some common sense over children at last

The UK coalition government are showing some common sense over the vetting of adults who make contact with children other than their own. The BBC reports on it's web site there is going to be a proper review of the overbearing draconian rules developed by the previous Labour government and its Vetting and Barring Scheme.
The clue is in the title of the scheme, it assumes all adults are guilty until proven innocent. It would have been an expensive and ineffective scheme that would help destroy the trust between adults and children. Predictably the boss of the children's charity Barnardo's, Martin Narey says the scheme is needed. That self appointed guardian organisation does more harm than good. Instead of being a well paid lobby organisation it should go back to its roots and actually provide care for orphans.
In my Teen Valour series of books I take care to show how children can develop without the need for government interference. The officialdom of the previous Labour government has help prevent good honest people from volunteering to help lead children to their development. Hopefully some balance will be restored.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The consequences of Terry Jones

Pastor Terry Jones in Florida announces the planned burning of the Koran. The cost of his ignorant blind intolerant irresponsible actions:

Bad feeling against hundred of thousands of Christians;
Recruiting Sergeant for Al Qaeda;

Shot & Wounded in Afghanistan - 3 people
Shot & killed in Badakhshan - 1 person

How much blood does this stupid man want on his hands?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Connecting the NotSpots

The welsh village of Erbistock had been quoted a price of £550,000 by British Telecom to connect them to the Internet. Rutland Telecom will deliver the same for £50,000 according to a report on the BBC website. It seems that BT is not the super-efficient public guardian of the Internet that it claims to be. From my viewpoint it is still a bloated monopoly charging high fees for poor service, its latest price increases are a clear example. They chose a Chinese manufacturer of network equipment over a British one to supply the network equipment for the upgrade of their whole network. It seems it is a massive corporation which feeds off our nation rather than investing in it.

I well remember in the early days of the Internet when two BT Account Executives came to my office in the City of London and offered a dialup 16K internet connection at a special price of £150 a month. It was such a special bargain I laughed in their face! I already had in my home the same service (via Demon) for £10 a month.

It seems like history repeats itself.


Friday, 27 August 2010

Has Barnardo's lost its way?

I note this morning that the children's charity has chosen to pass comment on the school selection criteria. This venture into the political area is dangerous ground for the charity. The schools policy is something for the government to resolve. The government which was recently elected by the UK electorate. The Barnardo charity was set up by Dr Barnardo to look after the welfare of orphans and abandoned children. The charity no longer provides orphanages for these children, but has chosen to designate itself as as an un-appointed mouthpiece for all children. It is now largely an irrelevance which sucks in charity donations to keep itself running. They should either revert to their roots and focus on orphans/abandoned children or close down.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Lewisham Council - Park land care

I've just visited my publisher's home for a coffee. It is located in a pleasant part of South East London (SE4) and is blessed with a large open park area nearby. The park is called Hilly Fields. He took me for a walk in the park with his dogs. Our peace was disturbed by the noise of large mechanical diggers and graders gouging out the ground in the middle of the level ground used by football players. At weekends the local soccer club uses the area for providing training of around 50-60 children. That soccer club has been active for at least 15 years. During the week a lot of people use the area for casual football playing. The place is a valuable social asset for the crowded urban area. 

So why has the council allowed the football area to be dug up? Well, at the end of the school summer holidays and the real start of the soccer season, they are allowing the construction of a cricket pitch! No doubt to avoid damage to the cricket pitch they'll ban the use of the area by footballers. Football is far more popular than cricket at the site. I wonder who was consulted before the work was allowed to destroy the football area?

My publisher tells me the Council has also given the local girl's school to annex part of the public park land on Hilly Fields for the purposes of building "temporary" classrooms. In fact it is not the school but a limited company who own the school who have been granted permission to move in the bulldozers and take over the public parkland. Good for their profit potential, not so good for the public park land obtained for the whole community over 100 years ago.

It seems to me that Lewisham Council are being rather careless in their management of this public land. Once lost it will never be recovered. There will be some feeble excuse like "We'd really like to restore the land, but unfortunately there is no budget this year.."  The public money was probably wasted on building a cricket pitch, which few people want, over the ground used by the much more popular football.


Note: 13th May 2012
The "temporary" class rooms remain on the the park land with planning "permission" extended to December 2013.  As of today the "Cricket Pitch" is unused, footballer have to play around the area..

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Google Adwords

We've been running a Google Adwords advert for the second book Company Mole. The click-through response rate has been low and even those click-throughs have had a poor conversion into sales. It's been costing in the region of only $30 a month, so we let it runfor a few months to see if things improved. It hasn't. We thought we'd improve the advert by providing a direct link to the Amazon Kindle page where the book is on sale.. 
The Google editorial staff have decided that the shown URL link and and destination URL link are not related, though if they'd taken the effort to actuually check they would rapidly realise there is a very strong link.
Given the poor performance of the Adwords and Google's careless rejection of the revised advert we've as a business have decided to give Google Adwords a miss for a while. It's their loss, not ours. We're diverting the advert funding for this and our other Adword adverts to other marketing.

Dumnosity Quotient

At the start of the year some elderly relatives were visiting the UK. One of them suffered an injury which necessitated an immediate operation and a hospital stay. Fortunately reciprocal government health cover arrangements covered the cost of the treatment. What wasn't covered was the cost of the accommodation whilst this elderly relative had to fully recover before being able to fly home. The couple had sufficient funds, but no credit history in this country. To help out I purchased, on their behalf, a SIM only monthly mobile (cell) phone contract. It avoided the complexity and expense of setting up a land line for a phone to their rented accommodation when they had no credit record. I gave them a spare mobile phone handset.
Things progressed well and the couple were able to return home about a month ago. I was in the position of being able to cancel the mobile phone contract with 30 day's notice. I tried to log onto the mobile phone company web site to cancel the contract. Even though I'd regularly been able to use the site before I couldn't because they'd chosen to impose the requirement to enter a verification code which they'd sent to a switched off mobile phone buried in a suitcase the other side of Europe.
So I telephoned the Help Desk at the mobile phone company and said "I want to cancel". After a couple of security questions I explained the background and said I was giving 30 days notice. "No problem Sir. We'll send you a final bill in 30 days. By the way would you be interested in Broadband to your home?"  In reaction to their polite handling of the query so far, I said: "Not really, I already have two DSL links, but your guys can contact me and discuss. My own personal mobile phone is still remaining with you guys." The Help Desk clerk said someone would call me the following day and we finished the transaction there.
I didn't receive any calls about broadband from the mobile phone company, not on my home phone, my business phone nor my main mobile phone. The mobile phone company has all of those numbers.  No! The dumb sales guys called the mobile phone I'd cancelled. How do I know?  I called the relatives and asked them to switch on the mobile phone for ten minutes. It reported five "missed" calls from the mobile phone company the day after the cancellation. It looks like their dumb Help Desk system ignored/couldn't record my warning I'd not be using the temporary mobile phone again.
It deserves a high Dumnostity Quotient Score.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Amazon Kindle - publisher commission

I've just noticed the commission rates on Kindle Amazon.com. If we load up an e-book in Kindle format on Amazon.com we can retain 70% of the sale price. The remainder goes to Amazon. As a consequence we were able to bring the e-book price right down and still maintain a reasonable margin. However if someone from outside of the USA downloads the same e-book we as publishers are only given 35% commission on that sale.
The "effort" on the part of Amazon for the sale is no different if the customer is based in the UK or the USA, there is no logic with their pricing.

Ho hum, I guess we'll have to increase the price of the Kindle versions of the book to make a reasonable recovery rate. So the customer suffers. There are other e-book distributors who do not play games with commission rates, we'll make the lower price version available there in other e-book formats. Amazon should learn that in the digital book world the logistics equation is rather more flexible.

Similar Terms

It looks like David Cameron touched a nerve with his comments on Gaza being turned into a prison camp by the Israeli blockade. The ageing Shimon Peres has shown a similar lack of diplomacy when he confuses anti-Israeli sentiment with anti-Semite activities. They are similar terms, but have very different meanings.

I have a number of Jewish friends, but the activities of the Israeli's in Gaza and other occupied territories appals me. No amount of Israeli spin is going to change the evidence on the ground.


Sunday, 1 August 2010

Notes on Dangerous Donkey

Dangerous Donkey will be loose on the streets soon. No doubt it will attract reviews. Some of those reviewers may have read the two earlier books in the Adam Cranford series; Teen Valour and Company Mole. One of the first things to note is Dangerous Donkey is considerably shorter than the two previous volumes. It is not for want of plot ideas in the book. There were many more concepts and scenes I wanted to add to the book. However feedback from the readers of the two earlier books was that the younger readers would prefer a shorter book. We decided to meet those observations.
As always, a lot of research went into this book to find some of the tools and apparel used by Adam Cranford. I’m considering writing a separate companion book giving a lot more detail on the underlying technology and the design of some of the buildings, but as always that will depend on reader reaction. If there is enough interest I’ll do that.
In this third book we see a darker side to Adam as he becomes more familiar with his new power and wealth. Toward the end we see the Council of Elders beginning to wonder what kind of beast they have created in the shape of Hermes. In the book I examine how a teenager might react if his family was subject to attack from his enemies. Finally you see Adam manipulating other people in order meet his view of the world. In a way he is beginning to lose his innocence. I also take another swipe at the Banks, their rocky business foundations and lack of morals.In the victory of good over evil I suggest ways we could help the poorer countries of the world avoid producing more carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

Add to the plot the greater exposure of his female friends as heroines.


Saturday, 31 July 2010

Royal Mail - A cut too far!

I was reading a BBC News report this morning on a Royal Mail proposal to drop county names from the postal address in the UK. They've cut collections and deliveries by half during the past few years At the same time they have increased postal charges way above inflation. Now they propose to cut counties?!

Using just a post code and street name/number may work in majority of cases, but it is a recipe for wrong and delayed deliveries. What on earth do Royal Mail gain from this latest idea?


Friday, 30 July 2010

Technology ghosts

It spooks me every time it happens. I know what is happening, but the ghostly voice still sends a shiver down my back. I refer, of course, to my TomTom satnav device. Nowadays I'm mostly to be found in the centre of a city and usually use public transport to get around. So, I don't often have to often use the satnav device for my car. However, if I go somewhere unusual I'll take the satnav unit into the car, plug it into the power and let it quietly tune into the satellites as it recharges its batteries. Sometimes I use it to check the route if I'm uncertain. Once home I'll switch it off and chuck it on a shelf for a few weeks until the next trip requiring navigational assistance.
It seems that pressing the off button does not totally power down the satnav unit. It will continue to operate in an almost quiescent mode, but showing no signs of life. As the internal batteries drain they gradually get close to a level of electrical exhaustion. For some reason at that point the satnav unit autonomously switches itself back on and attempts to navigate the last chosen route. Suddenly while I'm quietly working in my study, a ghostly voice will drift down from the shelves above my desk advising me to: "Turn left at the end of the road".
This suggests a plot for a future book... people being monitored in their own homes by devices they thought they'd switched off.


Monday, 26 July 2010

A first order for Dangerous Donkey

My new book Dangerous Donkey (ISBN 978-1-907250-07-1) is not due to be released as the printed version until the middle of next month. We had the first pre-order drop into our email box this morning from one of the major book distributors in the UK They are not Amazon, who order their stock of my books direct from Lightning Source. You can of course already by the book via Lulu, but their Print on Demand prices make that an expensive option. I do have some copies available for reviewers.
Strangely enough we also have had a surge of orders for Teen Valour (the 1.3.1 edition) via Lightning Source. It is good to see things moving.


Saturday, 24 July 2010

iPad replacement for $35!

An interesting development reported in the BBC news. The Indian government has announced a touch screen tablet computer that will cost $35. From the news article it looks a little bit primitive, but it is early days yet. This announcement reminds me of back in the 1970 when we were amused by the cheap cars by an obscure Japanese company called Honda. If this type of technology is available becomes available at those prices it will be another nail in the coffin of the printed book publishers.

I understand the new device will work for left-handed people too.


Friday, 23 July 2010

Teen Valour review

I've just seen an interesting review of Teen Valour by a young lady. She rightly spotted the editing errors of the early edition in her free review copy. Those faults have since been remedied. However, she then went on to question the realism of some of the action scenes. She questions whether being at sea some 150 metres away from a dangerous overfall in a fast moving tidal channel in a small open boat in the dark of  night would be terrifying? She possibly needs to gain some maritime experience before making such comments. Sound travels a long way at night over the sea and no one who has experienced it would treat the powerful sound of sound of an overfall lightly. I've been in that situation; you know the danger is there, you can hear it but cannot see it. There are powerful currents of water moving over underwater obstacles. It is a boat wrecking environment. She should check out the Corryvreckan some time!


Printed publications for your business

My publishers Oaksys Tech (OTL) agreed to publish my book series because they were interested in having the capability to print manuals for their clients. There were a variety situations where they have found this useful. Their business is the design, creation and operations of financial market trading floors and data centres. During such projects OTL are often asked to produce formal printed operational manuals, training material and procedure manuals. There has also been a requirement to produce documentation for Business Continuity Planning (BCP). The usual response, depending on the client, was to produce photocopied binders and/or electronic documents such as pdf files either on a CD or on an Intranet Web Site. 
The principals of OTL decided that in some circumstances there was a strong business case for a properly printed and bound book. Typically this was when there would be a wide range of geographically dispersed recipients, such as in branch offices of banks and insurance companies. It is further characterised by the need to have the potential to supply high volumes at short notice to dispersed locations to a closed community.
After some investigation OTL have settled on two suppliers for printed book production. These are Lightning Source and Lulu.  Lulu is targeted more at the low end market, it is easy to use and has zero set up cost other than an implied commitment to buy a proof print of the publication. For small runs Lulu.com is ideal. However its print cost per page is higher than Lightning Source. Lightning Source has a much commercial/industrial feel to its business operations and they do charge set up fees which total around £100 (GBP) per publication and the publisher is expected to stand on their own two feet when preparing print ready material. Print costs are around a penny per page for black and white. There are a range of book binding options. In the end the choice of printing company comes down to the size of the print run and the physical size of the book you want to produce.  You can use both Lightning Source and Lulu to provide distribution of the printed books at a reasonable cost; you don't have to hold stocks of the books in a warehouse or store room as they both operate a print on demand business model.

If you want to sell the publication both suppliers have arrangements where the large book vendors order direct from the printer without the need for intervention by the publisher. The printers pay you the difference of the wholesale price less the the print (and distribution) costs.


Kindle fixed

The missing Kindle volume (Teen Valour) was promptly and politely fixed by the Amazon DTP support staff. Three cheers to them. It is great to be able to offer my books with the print cost stripped out.


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Complaints from readers & Libraries (UK)

Recently I've been having complaints from the reading public that none of my books appear on BookArmy. I was quite surprised as the web site has a good reputation. Sure enough none of my books appear on the site, even though they appear on Amazon, Google and other book sellers site. I've had a delve around and seen that there do seem to be gaps in the publishers they allow to be displayed on their site. Perhaps there is a bug in their publishers feed handling. I've made a couple of enquiries with them and they say that it normally takes a month or so for a book to reach their electronic catalogue. I don't think they are showing any bias towards any particular publisher, but it would be good for them to confirm that they don't.

In the UK it is very difficult for new authors to get books on the shelves of libraries. In many cases the selection of books to be displayed is not actually the decision of the Library staff. In many cases this process is outsourced to external commercial organisations. These external organisations have a choke hold on the supply of books to libraries. Their published "discount" rates demanded is often higher than 50% of the list price. In fact I've seen one set at 65% of list price. In that case they demand a £10 (list price) book is sold to them for £4.50. Deduct the cost of paper, printing and distribution and you see the profit(?) margin left to the actual publisher, The publisher might then give 10% of their margin to the original author for their royalty payments. You don't often get to see new author's on the library bookshelves as a consequence of this restrictive market. 

I've queried this with a couple of librarians at branch libraries and they freely admitted they have little control over what reaches the library shelves.  Apparently this 'outsourcing' saves public money. I doubt it. As a trial my publishers offered the books at less then cost price to the libraries. The publishers were turned away and told the library would only take books through their book sellers "regardless of cost".

Not good! The public are losing out and local librarians are over-ruled.


Kindle problems continue

We've now got past the formatting of the books by the Kindle conversion programs, essentially by taking steps to avoid and bypass their formatting process with the use of only .mobi input. However now we find that some books, which have been previously uploaded and attracted sales, are not included in search results on the Amazon Kindle sales pages. We can see the books from the publisher pages and they are marked as "live", but the public cannot access them. The books just dropped off the (Amazon) market after a reload of an updated text body file.

We await the response from Amazon support.


Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Company Mole reloaded

I've just checked out the e-book version of Company Mole on Amazon Kindle. It was one created using the Amazon file conversion tools - in effect the old regime. Sure enough it contained formatting errors; so this morning I've reloaded a .mobi file prepared in the way described in yesterday's post. Hopefully in a couple of days the updated version will be available to the general public.


Monday, 19 July 2010

Howto go from Indesign CS4 to Amazon Kindle ...

So how did we get on with migrating printed documents to Amazon Kindle via Adobe's InDesign CS4?

This is a summary of the eventual route we took. It seems to work ok.

  1. We created new versions of the books in InDesign. The books and chapters are free standing copies away from the printed InDesign versions.
  2. We stripped out most of the formatting of text:
    a. Chapter titles were reduced in size
    b. Chapters were allowed on the next page (no odd/even setting)
    c. We removed page numbering from the books
    d. We removed the contents pages
    e. We assigned new ISBN codes on the verso pages
    f. We removed tables and converted to lists.
    g. We created new InDesign paragraph styles for the e-books; this helps to eliminate stray styles when you load the pages into the “template”. You delete the old style and assign one of the new e-styles.
    h. We eliminated special fonts like Drop Capitals at the start of each chapter.
  3. We set up the books to a page size roughly equivalent to the e-book display size so we could get a feel for how it will look on the eventual device.
  4. We exported to pdf for an eyeball check of the format of the new book.
  5. Once we'd worked out all of the formatting bugs, we exported the books to .epub format from InDesign CS4
  6. Then we imported the .epub book into Calibre software (fee/donateware) and converted it to the .mobi format using Calibre.
  7. We then used Amazon's (free) Kindle-for-PC viewer to view the converted .mobi book (Calibre). We scanned through each page looking for formatting problems. In some cases where we'd over-ridden a style in InDesign we'd find it would not accurately convert from the indd format to .epub. The over-ride formatting would be applied to the whole paragraph. We also found some corrupt characters; these seemed to be tied to left/righthand quotation marks in the original Microsoft Word documents, but it was not consistent and had not shown up when the books were printed. We needed to delve into the innards of the epub files to fix this; this is not as hairy as it sounds!
  8. The .epub file is essentially a bunch (directory) of HTML format files all compressed (zipped) together in one .epub file. If you can get at the HTML files you can edit them manually with HTML editing software (we used Dreamweaver software) and re-compress the files.
  9. First rename the file extension from .epub to .zip then double click on the resulting file name in windows explorer. Windows will offer an option to expand all. Accept that ant give it a suitable place to store the expanded files. Once that has been done follow the directory tree for the expanded document a couple of levels and look in the OEBPS where you'll find the XHTML files corresponding to each of the chapters/sections in the InDesign Book.
  10. Start up Dreamweaver, or similar editing tool, and load the XHTML file corresponding to the chapter you want to edit. Make the changes and save the file.
  11. Continue with each chapter needing change.
  12. Recompress the expanded directory to reform the .epub file. Change the file extension from .zip to .epub and you should then be able to reload the file into Calibre (go back to Step 6... until editing is fixed). Windows provides a free compression utility, from the file explorer right-click on the name of the directory you want to compress; select send to ... and chose the compression option.
  13. When you are satisfied with the .mobi output from Calibre, upload it (the .mobi file) toKindle, wait two days and your e-book will be ready for sale.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

InDesign CS4 to Amazon Kindle

What a tortuous web we weave. My books are prepared using Open Office Writer and also Microsoft Office Word 2007. My editor works on them in Word 2007 and then returns the file for final editing and review. We then take the .doc files and import them (place files) into the templates in Adobe's InDesign CS4 to provide the typesetting in preparation for printing. When we are ready to print we use CS4 to produce a pdf file which is then sent to our printers. They work from the pdf file to print out book blocks.  We use CS4 because it is great at producing accurate output and it also is great at getting rid of the various print fonts that Microsoft Word seems to want to maliciously slip into the body of your text without your knowledge and consent.
That all works fine.
Now we decided to publish an E-book version of our publications, Boy, does the immaturity of this branch of technology show or what?! Eventually we decided to use Amazon's Kindle format as a distribution platform. It takes a wide range of input formats and converts them to a Kindle format of e-book. The process is pretty slick, but has some bugs.
Firstly there is no point in using the pdf files prepared for a print house. The e-book readers are no great at handling all the different styles employed in paper printing. The book layout really has to be much more primitive. InDesign CS4 nicely produces an e-book format called .epub. That format is used by many ebook readers, but it isn't used by Kindle. So the first thing we did was to produce a different edition of our books for the e-versions, We stripped out text justification, tables etc ready for the ebooks. We removed things like always starting the next chapter on an an odd-numbered page. It just isn't relevant for modern day generic ebooks. Sure you can do this type of formatting for e-book readers, but you'd be tied to the physical screen size of a particular reader. 
Great - now all we have to do is to zap out a pdf file and upload it to Amazon, then wait 2 days and Voila your e-book is available to the public. That is what appears to happen, but it doesn't. Your pdf file can look just fine on visual inspection, but when it is shredded by the Amazon conversion programs, odd things can happen. (I think the cause of this lays back somewhere in Microsoft Word.) We had Chapter headings mysteriously disappear from the e-book. When I inspected downloaded files from Amazon, the xhtml code generated by the Amazon programs things started looking worse. Lines of text that should have been continuous were terminated with a [br /] html code for a new line. In some cases where the [p ... /p] paragraph markers were expected they wouldn't be present. What was worse was that there was no apparent pattern to the failures. The pdf & InDesign stuff looked fine, it certainly printed okay.
Amazon's help files suggested that you manually edited the HTML code and then reloaded it on to their site. If your book is 180,000 words long that just isn't workable.
After a Sunday spent investigating a way around this we think we've found a way through!! I'll resubmit the upload to Amazon, and let you know how it works out.

Here's a hint.


I should have guessed it was too easy!

I'm currently battling with the Kindle file conversion facility on the Amazon web site. When converting from pdf files I seem to get unpredictable results. Most of the output looks good, but as you look more closely there are some bad formatting errors by the Amazon Kindle programs. We've temporarily pulled the Kindle version of our books while we sort this out. Making use of Calibre looks promising at present.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Kindle - Teen Valour

I was pleased to noted that within a couple of hours of Teen Valour being added to Amazon's Kindle books someone has made a purchase. It spurs me on to have Company Mole available through this route. There will be some cost to have the book reformatted, but it will be worth it in the long run. It will have the benefit of keeping the costs down to the followers of the Adam Cranford series. I'm delighted that we can save people around $9 or more by avoiding the printing costs and shipping costs.When Teen Valour goes high volume, I'll be able to justify high volume print runs; that will allow us to reduce the cost of the printed book to the public.

I was a bit concerned about making the book available only through Amazon, but they do provide free software for PC's and other readers such as the iPad that will allow Kindle books to be read in many places. Sure it means that Amazon will receive a commission, but they are after all providing the infrastructure.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Kindle and proof prints.

We just setup my first book Teen Valour on Amazon's Kindle website. I must say it was a very easy process, though we did get the InDesign CS4 whiz-kid to prepare a new layout for the e-book. We eliminated a lot of the format and the contents page as the viewers on the market don't always handle those consistently. Freed from the costs of producing printed books we have been able to reduce the price significantly. My publisher does not believe in charging the same price as the list price of the printed book.
I'm just inspecting the first proof print of Dangerous Donkey. It is looking good. I think the smaller format will be much more to the liking of the younger readers. Despite the book going through at least four edits I spotted a missing word - arrgh! Ah well, that is not too difficult or expensive to fix. We should still be able to release by the August publication date.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Dangerous Donkey released into the public domain.

After a slight delay I've released the first edition of the third book in the Adam Cranford series. It is called Dangerous Donkey. It can be purchased direct from www.lulu.com with an ISBN 978-1-907250-06-4
It is in the pocket book format and has 260 pages. This one is action packed and sees our teenage hero sky diving over the mountains of Afghanistan to rescue a friend. Lulu also provide an ebook version.
In a few weeks I'll be releasing the book in a different format and it will be available through major book sellers such as Amazon and B&N. The new format will be slightly cheaper, reflecting lower printing costs.
This book follows on from Teen Valour and Company Mole.


UK NHS - Poor Management

I've just hear from a friend of mine in London about a Primary Care Trust. The interim managers (external contractors) have suddenly discovered that the local PCT is exceeding its budget. So now they are in panic mode, rapidly trying to slash costs, which if they'd managed them properly in the first place would not be a problem. They are trying to cut costs by reducing the number of nurses and also recruiting lower grade nurses where an essential vacancy occurs. For this particular clinic the funding was supposed to have been ring fenced.

The result is that the senior experienced nurses are voting with their feet and leaving what was a highly skilled and stable team that has taken years to build up. The management response, stopping any temporary staff needed to cover sickness/maternity leave, bullying to get the senior nurses to agree to unrealistic rotas and expecting nurses to work unpaid overtime to fill the gaps. These senior "managers" are paid four times what the nurses are paid. The managers have no clinical skills or experience of nursing.

It is ironic that this particular service attracts payments from other PCT for treating "out of area" patients. The "income" is twice the running cost of the Department. The whole service is funded by external commissioners and there are agreed service levels. If there are not sufficient nurses on site, the public will be turned away and their ailments not treated.

I say - fire the managers and not the nurses! Just another demonstration of the difference between managers and administrators. These people are definitely not managers, but probably can craft excellent powerpoint slide shows.


Saturday, 26 June 2010

Hotmail shenanigans

I'm part of the e-book drop scheme for Coalition Troops. It is organised by Ed Patterson. He collates the email addresses of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who have requested to join the scheme. Participating authors then send invitations by email to the troops for a free download of e-books versions written by those authors. The troops normally visit www.smashwords.com to use a voucher code to download the books free of charge.
I've discovered recently that hotmail is rejecting a lot of emails either wholly or to the junk queue of individual email accounts.  I've been wondering why the level of response to the programme has been quite low, but checking through the list of addresses it turns out a lot of them are using hotmail.com.  The microsoft email system may be free but it's crude email filtering means that opportunities like the E-book drop scheme are being lost to the account holders. Sometimes free is not cheap!

Monday, 21 June 2010

University Student Fees

When I was of unviersity age life was a lot easier. If you obtained good GCE A-Level examination results you could obtain a place in University. There were no University fees and if your parent's income was low the student was given a grant to pay living costs.

The current tertiary education system is a massive con trick! Now students have to pay fees and do not get a grant. It is in effect taxation of students. Part of the con trick is to loan the students money to pay/living costs. That "loan book" is then sold to investment bankers who then recover the loan money from the students. In other words the tax money is spent now, but paid back later.

Universities are now pushing for annual fees of at least £7,000 per student. This is totally outrageous. Most students will only get a few hours lectures a week in what is effectively a 30 week year. Universities in the UK are very poor value for money.

I wonder if the need to have increased fees is not unconnected to the massive salaries now paid to the professors and senior management of the universities? Over recent years these payments (& pensions) have risen in an uncontrolled fashion. Rather that double the Student Fees we should see a halving of the salaries paid for the professorial sinecures.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Shouldn't do that to a camel

It's amazing how a slightly screwy headline can attract the attention. If I'd written Russians declare war on Apple it may have the same level of attraction. It does seem that the Russian antivirus software house Kaspersky is doing just that! Last night I tried to browse the www.apple.com website only to find that the site was "hanging". At first I suspected my own network, but there was no problem with other sites. Then I thought maybe apple.com was getting some form of DDOS, but when I used a Linux computer to browse the site there was an immediate display of the Apple home page.

Eventually my suspicions fell onto the recently installed business version of Kaspersky 2010 Internet Security. After some hunting around on google I eventually found the cure on Kaspersky's own technical forum. To access to the www.apple.com website you have make a specific entry in the depths of the configuration screens to tell Kaspersky that www,apple.com is a trusted site!! The are no problems with any other big name sites. I didn't have the problem with earlier versions of their product on the same PC.

I wonder if there is a software developer working in a dark room in the Moscow offices of Kaspersky who has a grudge against Apple? I have a great respect for Russian software, but this has put a serious dent in my confidence in the impartiality of developers of the Kaspersky software.

It may be useful as a sub plot in book number 4 of the Adam Cranford series though!


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Financial Services Authority

I've just had one of those letters from the UK Financial Services Authority warning me that I may be targeted by Boiler Room Fraudsters. What a laugh! I've been having calls from Boiler Rooms once every couple of weeks for the past four years. They usually mention my shareholding in Pilkington Glass that I had briefly a few years ago. The calls are obvious and a source of entertainment for me. I love extending the fraudster's phone bills and where possible try to get them to post me big heavy glossy brochures, it must cost them a fortune.

Sadly though the Financial Services Authority failed to do their job in spotting the biggest fraudsters of all, namely the Bankers. I lost far more of my savings (and interest payments) as a direct consequence of the FSA being asleep at the helm when the bankers were driving their own ship onto the rocks. The boiler rooms are small fry compared to the bankers.


Rolling back the repression

It is excellent news that the new coalition government in the UK is rolling back the repressive government introduced the previous Nu-labour government. They are cancelling the child abuse vetting scheme. Don't get me wrong, we need to protect children from abuse, but the way the scheme was proposed was authoritarian and pretty ineffective in achieving the desired end result. The way it was proposed was to treat all people as guilty until proven innocent. Volunteers could have been banned on the basis of unproven gossip. What a waste of public money it would have been.

They were proposing to register 9,000,000 people rather than the actual previous offenders. The Labour establishment were deaf to complaints about the proposed "service". Of course the other good piece of news was the scrapping of the National Identity register and also the national child register (Contactpoint).


Thursday, 3 June 2010

Massacre in Cumbria

I feel great sadness at the deaths of 12 people in Cumbria UK at the hands of a deranged gunman. This will be a great tragedy for the families of the innocent victims involved in these shootings. 

Monday, 31 May 2010

Twitter Censorship

An amazing consequence of the Israeli State killing 10 civilians on the Turkish relief flotilla to Gaza is that Twitter appears to be taking action to prevent the use of the keywords "Israel", "Flotilla", "Gaza". If you enter other keywords in Twitter you get a response fairly quickly. If you try to use "Israel", "Flotilla" or "Gaza" there is no response on the Twitter Search. 

Coincidence? Other people are noticing this. Here and here, here, here


Sunday, 30 May 2010

The consequence of false fears

The Chief Scout of the UK Scout Association, a TV adventure presenter, Bear Grylls is running a series of events to encourage adults to volunteer to take part in leading tween and teen children in adventurous scouting activities. It seems that the Scout Association is having problems recruiting enough adults interested in leading Scout Troops. 
From my view point, one of the main contributory factors to this reluctance to take part in leading scouts is the attitude of of national and local government officials. Regulation after regulation has been introduced which treats any person showing an interest in leading children as likely criminals until proven innocent by a series of intrusive and ineffective official examination. Add to this this risk averse nature of officialdom where simple activity plans have to go through layer after layer of stifling and unnecessary evaluations. In essence, voluntary youth leaders are treated with a barrage of mistrust and a lack of respect.
I used to be involved in the Scout Association many years ago, but no way would I involve myself to the indignities of the present vetting procedures. This is not really the fault of  the Scout Association. It is the poorly thought-out legislation introduced by the recent Labour government and also nameless jobsworth officials in the various unelected Quango's and local authorities. They love to exercise authority, but shirk the responsibility of causing this negative atmosphere in the youth leadership environment.
The insurance companies also bear some of the responsibility. Their risk averse approach leads them to placing unnecessarily high insurance premiums on any activity that is not padded in cotton wool.
I'm a responsible person, I've raised a family and guided my kids through University and they are on their way to raising their own families. It is ridiculous that people like me would be treated with suspicion if we offered to help out in the youth community. It is in essence disrespect of elders.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Further drain on UK economy

It is interesting to see the rumours that Infosys, the giant India based offshoring company is proposing to buy the UK IT Consultancy called Logica. Apparently the large government departments are now not keen to be seen to "Offshore" work to companies like Infosys. 
It is sad really, I remember working for a Logica Consultant, who was embedded in the UK Civil Service, on a major government project over 40 years ago. This is more evidence that these India outsourcing companies are draining the UK economy of skilled job.
It is amazing that the previous Labour government used to promote offshoring as good for the UK economy. 

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Low cost e-shop options.

Most authors rely on their publisher to handle sales of their books, but circumstances may arise where the author wants to be able to offer their books for sale on the Internet. One method of achieving this is to rent a “Shopping Cart” service from an ISP. This is then tied into some form of Credit Card acceptance which is activated on the shopping cart. The process of initiating the on-line shop is not terribly complicated, but one can easily end up paying $30-$60 a month in service fees.
Nowadays there are some cheaper options:
If you open a business account with PayPal there is no regular fee for their basic service. It allows you to send payment requests/Invoices to anyone with an email address. The addressee can then settle the payment, either through their existing PayPal account or using a Credit/Debit card without having to register for a PayPal account. One benefit of PayPal is that they handle foreign currency conversions. Their fee is in the region of 3.5% per transaction.
A standard PayPal business account allows you to generate shopping cart “buttons” to embed in your website (or email). If you know some basic HTML coding, you can set up a shopping cart in less than 20 minutes. Finally add a “checkout button” using the code automatically generated by PayPal and you are in business.

I’ve added some examples in the previous blog entry. In the next blog post I'll demonstrate how to use Google Forms to capture Sales orders. If you want a preview have a look at my site.


PayPal coding examples

Here's a cart button:

Here's a checkout button:

These took just 10 minutes to set up on the blog page; and they are Live!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The theme for Book 4 of the Adam Cranford Series?

I think I've found the theme for Book 4 of the Adam Cranford series. Whilst each of the books has action adventure there is an underlying plot for teenagers (and adults) to consider.. In Teen Valour I touched on population control. In Company Mole it was illegal drugs. The recently written Dangerous Donkey mentions the issue of green fuels.

For the fourth book I'm thinking about looking at the issue of global water shortages and what mankind can do to recover water in the planet. As part of my initial research I came across a video on Re-greening the desert. It is fascinating stuff. It shows with a little knowledge and some physical effort it is possible to fight back against desertification. Here's another link from the same source. My wife would kill to own this garden,

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Technology Clash

We use Adobe's InDesign CS4 to prepare the books I write for publishing. The process is a bit counterintuitive, but produces good results. Imagine my feelings when I discover that having used InDesign on my PC yesterday that the prouct no longer works on the same PC. It would not load.  After much experimentation I uninstalled and reloaded the software. The joys of finding the original DVD's last used a couple of years ago. Then finding the earlier software for the serial number because CS4 was an upgrade.

I rebooted the PC - InDesign would not restart!  To cut a long story (5 hours) I tracked down an obscure reference on the Internet. My PC also has Rapport software provided by my bank to protect my web browser connection when using on-line banking.

Removing Rapport cured the problem. 

Monday, 10 May 2010

Dangerous Donkey is at the Editors

I've just released the manuscript to my editor Autumn Conley. She's a treasure! Here's an extract from the start of the book.

Dangerous Donkey Technology

In writing the Adam Cranford books I always try to research a lot of modern and exotic technology and incorporate it within the story. I try not to put too much detail and thus bore people, but I provide enough hints to encourage people to do some research on the internet. Many of the technologies mentioned are likely to have a significant effect on people's future lives. I well remember watching a (now dead) presenter called Raymond Baxter on a BBC television programme called Tomorrow's World. He was demonstrating a technology where he had two small sheets of glass about 15 cms square, the glass sealed at the edges contain a liquid. He was demonstrating that it was possible to change the light transmission ability of the fluid by applying an electric current to wires attached to the glass. He told us the technology was called Liquid Crystal. My reaction as a young boy was "huh, so what?" If only I'd known then that the technology would be developed to have a major impact on our lives, such as the LCD screen I'm using to display the text I'm typing now!
There is a lot of fascinating technology research happening right now. It will have a similar impact on our future lives. I just hope that somewhere there will be a boy or girl who reads my books and as a result gains interest in this new research. Maybe they will go on and develop great uses for the technology.


Saturday, 8 May 2010

Finished at last

I've just finished the first draft of the third Adam Cranford book. The provisional title is Dangerous Donkey. I'll have to go through all the editing of course, but I'm quite pleased with the ending of the book.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Book 3 Adam Cranford series

Today I shall sit down and sort out the title for the third book. I'm writing the penultimate chapter so soon I'll have to track down my hard working editor Autumn Conley to knock the narrative into shape.
If anyone wants to have a peek at the new book, please get in contact.

Published Author Network

I've just transferred over from ning.com to the Publisher Authors' Network. It is set up by Shelagh Watkin's who is an author and editor based in the UK.

It seems reasonably active so let's hope it goes well.


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Westminster Equities

I just had another unsolicited phone call from Westminster Equities. Their caller Id was withheld and the person on the other end of the line had a mid-atlantic accent. The usual noise of a call centre in the background. These people always claim to have a previous association with me and then go on to try and push some kind of "Research Report" on equities in my direction.  I always tell them never to call again, but they come back with monotonous regularity. I wonder if these are the same people who are listed by the FSA as a boiler house operation.
I regard Boiler Houses as being the financial equivalent of Pubic Lice (Crabs). A blood sucking irritation that can be difficult to remove.
I suppose that they must be legit (ROFL) because they list as clients: Rolls Royce, BP, Carphone Warehouse, Cairn, Sibir, Vodafone, Volkswagen, Nokia. I wonder how those robust organisations would react to that news.