Category Archives: Books

In Which I Bow To The Inevitable

The front of the Amazon Kindle DX

Image via Wikipedia

No, I haven’t bought an iPhone, don’t be silly. Anyway, I’m happy with my Symbian based Nokia 5800XM and when I tire of it I’ll get an Android based phone.

No, the inevitable is a little different. For background, I love to read and always have done. As a child, if I didn’t have a book, I would read the back of the cornflake packet. And that is not an exaggeration. As a result, despite losing/giving away/selling/etc many many books over the years, I have more than 700 of them at home. And there is no sign that this number will reduce. Serendipitously, I read something that meant that this could change…

Amazon have finally brought the Kindle to the UK. In fact, if you go to the Amazon UK homepage, there’s an announcement stretching down the centre of the page. We can finally read books on a book sized device that isn’t a book! In fact, there are two models on offer – the all-singing, all-dancing 3G/Wifi version and the Wifi only version. I have gone for Wifi only as I can only imagine needing to download books via a wifi connection and not when I am out of range. Also, I am cynical about the “Free 3G Wireless” offer – in this country it usually means for a time or as long as you don’t use it more than we like.

So, with a capacity of 3,500 books, from late next month, I can stop clogging up our house with dead-tree media and can also carry loads of books with me. The only problem will be “which one do I read first?”

everything in this post has been written by me as a personal post. I am not being paid by Amazon or any of their businesses to write this. though if Amazon do want to give me money and gadgets so that I’ll write about them, I will not complain or stop them.
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2 Piles of Excellent Please

As a notoriously lazy person, I like to receive free things for very little effort. It makes me almost want to exert myself. So,when  one of my satirical stops launched a competition to receive 3 free signed copies of new detective novels and all they wanted was for entrants to retweet stories, well, I was all over that. Especially as the stories were already in my Twitter feed, so I didn’t have to find them.

The NewsGrind is a satirical online newspaper. It’s updated daily, is very funny and you should be reading it. In fact, I’ll wait while you do that now.

Done? Good. Well, they ran a competition to win 3 signed copies of Nick Brownlee’s novels, Bait, Burn and Machete (available via Amazon). They are set in Mombasa (a region under-represented in fiction) and here’s some knowledge for you:

Nick Brownlee is the author of the acclaimed Jake & Jouma series of Kenya-based crime thrillers. His debut novel Bait introduced the unorthodox crimebusting partnership of ex-cop turned fishing boat skipper Jake Moore, and veteran Mombasa detective Daniel Jouma. The sequel Burn was published in 2009 and the third book in the series, Machete, which sees the two men face their deadliest opponent yet is on sale from July 1.

So that is one pile of excellent. The second is a bit rude and is below the fold. Read the rest of this entry

The Full Facts book of Cold Reading by Ian Rowland

The Full Facts book of Cold Reading

The Full Facts book of Cold Reading

This is the post I had planned to make before I messed up.  As someone with an interest in the various tricks that psychics, mediums, tarot readers and similar use, Ian Brodie‘s suggestion that I read this book was welcome.  Ian Rowland is a very clear and concise writer and clearly has a love for his subject.

This book cannot make you into a cold reader any more than a Haynes manual can turn you into a mechanic.  What it does do is to take the reader through the steps that any cold reader takes, consciously or otherwise, in a way designed to make the client believe that the reader has more knowledge than they really do.  This is the essence of cold reading – as the reader you need to convince your client that you somehow know things that you shouldn’t be able to.  Whether you are posing as an intuitive person, a psychic, an astrologer or a tarot card reader or whatever, cold reading gives you a way to draw information out of your client without their knowledge.

Firstly, the one thing that jumped out at me was that Ian Rowland really does not want a discussion on whether psychics are real or not within the book.  He discusses the methodology and mentions that this is one way that a psychic could operate.  He also makes it clear that he does not know whether their are real psychics out there or not.  This is in line with skeptical thinking – just because he has never met one does not mean that one is not out there.  I was annoyed about this at first and felt that he should express an opinion.  However, I then realised that this book (despite the content) is not the forum for that debate and he has neatly sidestepped it.

The book is broken down into 6 sections: the first section is about the book itself, the section is a long section on the theory of cold reading and the elements of it, the third section is transcripts of real readings that Ian Rowland has carried out, the fourth (importantly) explains how to block a cold reader, the fifth is “additional notes” and the sixth section gives details on real life non-psychic uses for the techniques and uses a police interrogation as an example.   It is difficult to express the wealth of ideas that the author has put into a seemingly short book.  Cold reading is easy to learn but tricky to master – look at a John Edwards reading as an example of poor cold reading!

At no time does Ian Rowland talk down to you, he is an able teacher with an obviously high regard for his subject.  According to the transcripts provided he has an extremely high success rate (higher than that of professional psychics!) but at no time does he use his knowledge to make money dishonestly.  Some of Derren Brown’s early work was taken from the techniques laid out in the book.  Something else which is very important: this book does not hold back.  I have read books that promise to give you knowledge and discovered that they do the opposite.  Ian Rowland’s book does exactly what it says on the tin.  He explains the techniques and methods.  The book alone can only give you the methods, to properly make this work you need experience, some acting ability and a lot of seemingly trivial knowledge.

If you are interested in cold reading, whether academically, to learn to spot and block it or because you are an unscrupulous sort who wants to fake psychic ability you should definitely add this book to your library.

Links

The Erast Fandorin Mysteries

I enjoy reading a good detective novel. I prefer the more “hard boiled” detective, but once in a while I like to read about a more cerebral detective. The most famous of these is, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Erast Fandorin could well be described as a “Russian Holmes”. He applies logic to his dealings with the criminal mind and always, at least, unmasks his prey. Though, like Holmes, he doesn’t always keep hold of them. Written by Boris Akunin, the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili, the Fandorin mysteries have sold more than 18 million copies in Russia alone. The translations are, I believe, faithful – though I have to take that on faith as I don’t read Russian!

Despite being set before the turn of the Twentieth Century, these tales are always thrilling. They show us a Europe before the various wars and revolutions that have helped create the world as we now know it. At that time monarchies were the norm and it was accepted that the monarch’s word was absolute law – all served at their pleasure. It also shows that the world wasn’t very much different: poverty was everywhere, travel around Europe was the norm (despite various border controls it appeared to be easier than now), art, politics, intrigue and international politics were as much in everyone’s minds as they are now.

We first meet Fandorin as a young and naive clerk to the police service. He is eager to make something of himself and is brought to the notice of a young and progressive superior and is enlisted to help with a case where young people are committing suicide in public places. Through this first book we see him fall in love and lose his innocence and naivety in a most brutal fashion. Through the series of books we are shown different parts of Europe, introduced to a war in Turkey and finally discover what became of Jack the Ripper! Throughout this we are taken along with Fandorin and learn how the young naive becomes a cold and ferocious thief taker.

The similarities with Holmes really end with the methods and some of the coldness. We know that Fandorin can love – romantically, fraternally and platonically. He has respect for women – as much of a man of his time can be allowed to. That period was a time of discovery and invention – we are introduced to an early telephone, for example, and learn that the uniqueness of ears and of fingerprints can be of great help to a detective – and the novels never fear to use them as a plot device. Fandorin is a great fan of physical exercise, rising early for stretches, bends and lifts; he learns Japanese martial arts while posted there as a diplomat and returns with a Japanese manservant and new skill.

Akunin clearly has a love and respect for this character. This admiration for his creation carries over into the tales and the adventures can be followed with ease and with a certain respect. If you want a slice of Imperial Russia and a detective who works primarily with his mind, I would recommend this series to you wholeheartedly.

See also:

Flat Earth News

Thanks to the Private Eye for running excerpts from this excellent book in the magazine. To step away from my main story, you should try to read at least one copy of the mag, it is the only real satirical magazine in the UK and the only publication which investigates and attacks all the parties and all the people who shape our lives. It has long had a history of hard hitting investigative journalism and prints the stories the papers and TV don’t want to or dare not.

Flat Earth News is a book about the media and written by a journalist. Nick Davies explains, throughout, where the once proud tradition of journalism has now become “churnalism”. Where once a journalist may spend weeks tracking down and verifying a story, they now rewrite PR pieces, government pieces and whatever they can get from the newswires. He takes us through the means by which outright and blatant lies can be placed on the front page of every newspaper and why they are never challenged. And the book is somewhat frightening.

If you get your world news and views from the media, you are being very subtly (and not so subtly) manipulated to think the way “they” think you should think. This is the sort of thing that would be at home in a Cold War thriller or science fiction story, and yet is happening right now and has been for many years. Welcome to the future.

What can we do about it? Depressingly, and in my opinion only, not a great deal. The lack of journalistic integrity is a massive by product of the new rise of the media barons who cut staff and demand ever more product, governments who think less of doing the right thing than getting away with it and PR companies who will do whatever it takes to make us think in an approved manner.

We are all aware of the manipulation – how many thought the “limited” number of Wii console stories were put there just to make us panic and buy one? I know I did. But it doesn’t stop there, the rush to war on Iraq is covered, the supposed Al-Qaeda operatives are covered, methods of winning elections and many other stories. The links page on the Flat Earth News website has links to sites that cover this sort of thing in more depth.

If you care about public manipulation, media integrity and about how the world is viewed, you should read this book. In my view, this is one of the more important books of this decade to be published.

About the Author:

Nick Davies has been named Journalist of the Year, Reporter of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year for his investigations into crime, drugs, poverty and other social issues. Hundreds of journalists have attended his masterclass on the techniques of investigative reporting. He has been a journalist since 1979 and is currently a freelance, working regularly as special correspondent for The Guardian. He also makes TV documentaries; he was formerly an on-screen reporter for World In Action. His four books include White Lies (about a racist miscarriage of justice in Texas) and Dark Heart (about poverty in Britain). He was the first winner of the Martha Gellhorn award for investigative reporting for his work on failing schools and recently won the award for European Journalism for his work on drugs policy.

Writing a Book? Use WordPress

Slightly misleading title maybe. If you have written a book (or books) and would like to put it online, you can use WordPress (either .com or .org) to organise the book to make it readable. These instructions will probably also work on other blogging platforms, but please check your software first and make necessary adjustments.

Thanks to the WordPress FAQs for these instructions. The FAQs are necessarily short, so this expands on those instructions. With screenshots! As there is no real difference in the software itself between the self hosted WordPress blogs (.org version) or the WordPress hosted (.com version) blogs, I won’t be making changes to reflect this.

Enough with the chat, let’s get on with it!

Firstly, you need to create a new page to be the front cover of your book. Go to your WordPress Dashboard and select Manage and Pages.

Manage>>Pages

On that page, select Create a new page

Call this new page “Front” as it is the Front page of your new book. If you are artistic, I suppose you could call the page after your book’s name and create some cool artwork, but that sounds like more work than it’s worth.

If we now look at the header of my site, the Front page has been added:

Front Page(I added the red box for emphasis, it won’t show normally)

If we follow the FAQ, it then says to continue by creating another page called Index and a third called Chapters. My problem with this is that it assumes that you only host your book on the site and don’t have (as I would) other things that aren’t necessarily related. Luckily, there is a workaround for this.

When you create the Index page, go to the right hand side of the page creation page and click the plussign.png sign next to Page Parent . This expands the section and you can then choose to make the Index page a child page of the Front page. What does this do for you? Well, if you plan to host multiple books, you can use different titles for Front and keep all your books separate. It also stops your header from being cluttered and incomprehensible.

If we continue reading the FAQ, it says that we should make Front into the front page of the blog and the Chapters to be the posting pages. My method does away with this though. Obviously, if you create one blog per book and only have your book there, you can happily continue along the path shown by the FAQ.

If we follow my method, however, we have some more similar steps to follow. To recap, we created 3 pages and made 2 of them children of the main one. This means that right now we have 3 pages, all blank and ready to go.

Go to your “Front” page in the dashboard (Manage >> Pages and then click “Edit” in the list). Under the Page Content you will need to create a link to the Index Page. I use the Code editor because it’s less clicking around.

Create your Index Link

This will then give you a small “Front” page:

Front page with Index link

By clicking the Index link, you will see the Index. Obviously. Next steps are very similar, but again I am diverting from the FAQ:

Rename your Chapters page to Chapter 1 and rename the Post Slug to be “Chapter-1” so that link in the index will work correctly. Create as many more child pages as you need, naming them after each chapter – so Chapter 2, Chapter 3 and so on. Then edit your Index page to link to each of the chapters in turn:

Chapter List

This makes your Index page look like this:

Index page with chapter listings

Once you have set up the bare bones of your book, you can then add the meat of it: this means, write the book and put each chapter into the relevant page. Since the Front page looks a little bare, I would also suggest putting a brief outline of the book itself onto the page, to let your readers know what’s in store for them. Additionally, I would also add a link at the end of each chapter to take the reader to the next chapter – if they have to keep clicking “back” they may just stop reading.

Setting up your site to host your work needn’t be difficult. It can be used for any book and, because WordPress also allows you to post pictures, you can illustrate it too. There are plugins out there which will do something similar, but you end up doing some parts by hand and then letting a plugin do the rest. This is fine as long as the plugin works and doesn’t conflict with another, different, plugin. This how to also disregards protecting your work, you could make each chapter an image of the page or use a plugin to provide a digital fingerprint, but really that is beyond the scope of this.