Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Do You Prefer E-Books or Print?

I'll choose e-readers - no contest.

  • Whilst I too love the smell and feel of a book, we buy them for their content not their smell and feel. If the lack of 'paper smell' bothers you you can buy a 'book smell' perfume to spray on your e-reader.
  • I'd much rather carry an e-reader than the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica. I think my library of 3,000+ paper books probably weighs about a ton. Most of them could fit on my Kindle Keyboard 
  • I've just finished reading a hardback book I've had since 2009. Stephen King's 'Under the Dome.' I had not read it because it weighs 1.3 kilograms (2.3 pounds) - too heavy to read unsupported. (Enjoyable book if you want to read it - get the e-book at B&N because Amazon seem to have a problem with it's publisher)
  • Putting another book on the bookshelf may satisfy some people but I have trouble finding a space for an extra book on my shelves. I've used up all the normal space (two books deep) and have run out of space between the book tops and the next shelf! 
  • I like to read relaxing in a bath. I may fall asleep and a soggy book is not easy to salvage. Your e-reader may not like water either but you can read it inside a ziplock plastic bag far easier than a paper copy! 
  • My e-readers play music and can read my book to me. The only paper book I have that does that was bought years ago for my children. 
  • Can you get Internet on a paper book? Maybe this will be possible in the future when flexible screens become available. My Nexus 7 has full Internet, plays movies, makes video calls and takes pictures also. (OK - not excellent ones)
  • Price? In general e-books cost less than a new book. Second-hand paper books may cost even less but that may change.
  • When you buy an e-book you buy a licence to read it. Most people are not keen on this but if you face a disaster which destroys your library - a fire,  your ebooks will still be there in the cloud whereas your paper books will be in the smoke.
  • The 'wicked bible' error.
    Few books are perfect. They contain typos, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, timeline errors, sentences which could be phrased better. Once you've bought a paper book - you're stuck with the errors but ebooks can be updated.
That's my choice. What about you?

Friday, 8 March 2013

What if science discovered a way to stop and reverse ageing?

If humans were immortal...

Get it at Amazon http://smarturl.it/avi
or iTunes http://smarturl.it/iavi
Let's suppose a medical research team did discover a way of reversing old age and the effects of illness, effectively making people immortal. What should they do with their 'fix'?
  1. Should they sell it at a huge price so that only the rich could afford it?
  2. Should they make it freely available to everyone by using a life virus to infect everyone it comes in contact with?
  3. Should they make it available for a small fee to anyone who wants it on condition they are sterilized first?
  4. Should immortality be reserved for those who have proved they deserve it?
  5. Should they hide their discovery in fear of the chaos it would cause?
I think you'll agree that option 1 is just simply wrong. The only way it would be successful would be for the discovery to remain a top secret. Once the knowledge got out - and it would get out - those who had benefited would be universally hated and would die at the hands of a mob probably.
Option 2 takes away the right of people to choose. There would be some who would say that this was playing God and was just wrong. Expect riots from these people. Another group would resent their lack of choice and would press for assisted suicide programs - who wants to live a long and unhappy life?
Can you see option 3 being popular? What if the 'fix' undid the sterilization. Would people pay to have this reversed once they were immortal?
Who chooses the 'worthy' in option 4? What if you are a worthy individual but never got a chance to prove it?
Would any doctor agree to option 5? Isn't the whole purpose of medicine to extend human life? Do people have the moral right to hide such a discovery?
In our book A Vested Interest - Immortality Gene the story chooses option 2. If the story in 'A Vested Interest' were to become reality, just what would be the effect?
  • The book suggests a lifetime of 1729 years. That's not immortal but assumes a human will stay healthy until killed by an accident, starvation, war, an 'Extinction Level Event' (ELE) or some other overwhelming event. According to insurance tables I found that would happen on average in 1729 years.
  • Damaged tissue would be regenerated. An amputee would re-grow a limb, hair would re-grow on the bald, lost teeth would be replaced and body parts lost through surgery would be replaced. That includes contraceptive surgery! Cosmetic surgery would be stable if it was to repair physical or age damage but would reverse if it were done to change appearance.
  • What would happen to the population of the world? The population could be expected to soar initially putting a huge strain on the food supply and the demand for resources and energy. Many millions would starve. However, gradually the desperate 'urge' driving us to reproduce and replace ourselves would be brought under control - we would, after all, have plenty of time for that 'later' when we felt more secure. No longer would we feel the need to have children to help us in our old age. Eventually the population would be brought under control at a level a great deal higher than it is now.
  • Food would be scarce initially but again this would be resolved as more areas became cultivated including sea farms, 'arid' areas and underground. It's likely that new food sources would be developed including bacterial cultures, fungal sources and direct synthesis. Cellulose from plants - wheat straw, bamboo, kelp and grasses would be converted to edible food. Meat would be cultured from cells taken from living animals.
  • Water would be scarce in many areas for some time. A grid taking water from where it is plentiful to other areas would eventually be created.
  • The natural inclination would be to fight for food, land and resources. Initially that's exactly what would happen but we would eventually learn that cooperation produces better results.
  • Soldiers might think twice before fighting for any other principles - it is one thing to give up 30-40 years of life but an entirely different thing to give up 1000+ years. Those who didn't see things this way would probably not be missed!
  • A career would probably not be a lifetime decision. It would be changed many times. You would not want to stay in a hated job and would have plenty of time to learn new skills. The demand for education would be high as older generations go back to school to learn new skills. As far as normal K12 education was concerned the pressure would be off and there would be more time for 'fun' in school with lessons being devoted to leisure activities. K12 would become K15?
  • Politicians would want to remain in power for much longer, the climb up the political ladder would be much harder. Maybe we would someday elect 'reluctant politicians' who would see it as their civic duty to serve for a time rather than out of a desire for power. After all; anyone who wants to lead a country is probably the last person you should give the job to!
  • Premeditated crimes of violence would eventually decrease. Those inclined to violence would, over time, be eliminated from the gene pool by that very violence. Crimes of passion would no doubt continue!
  • The urge to move to a better place would be overwhelming - even if that meant transforming a harsh environment to make it liveable.
  • Undersea and underground communities would be set up - anywhere there is space available. The Earth's surface might eventually become a park for leisure.
  • Space would be colonized; the Moon and asteroids first, followed by Mars, the satellites of other planets and finally other solar systems.
  • Raw materials and energy would be at a premium. Both will cause problems initially but will be solved as nuclear fusion, deep robotic mining and resources from space become available.
  • Waste heat would become a major problem. Much of it will be recycled though.
  • Recycling of waste would be a major industry.
  • Concerns about global warming would soar for a while then prove unfounded as people realize that sea levels just are not rising. and the temperature starts to fall around 2040 as we enter the next ice age. (Try reading Michael Crichton's 'State of Fear'). The drive to reduce carbon emissions would continue though since we wouldn't be able to burn fossil fuels needed as raw materials.
  • Technology will continue to develop at an ever faster rate. Computers and nanotechnology especially. Look forward to a personal computer you can talk to, carry with you, display within your eyes and hear through your teeth!
  • The average intelligence of the population would increase slowly. A surprising number of 'Darwin Award' candidates would fail to breed.
  • Most medical staff apart from those dealing with accidents and research would be out of a job. An end perhaps to the ridiculous hours they work?
  • Retirement and pensions would be a thing of the past. The working week would be shorter and holidays longer.
  • There would be less 'haste' in everyday life. You now have 'plenty of time'.
  • Leisure demand would soar.
  • Drug companies would mostly convert to biotechnology, go out of business or convert to supplying chemical resources and producing food.
  • People would have an increased awareness of natural disasters and put more energy into averting or nullifying their effects.
  • Languages would be less of a problem, people would have the time to learn them and eventually we could see a common language developing from bits of all.
  • Euthanasia centers would be accepted. Who wants to live a long and unhappy life?
  • We would run out of fossil fuels and resort to biotechnology, nanotechnology and asteroid mining to replace them. Biofuels from products such as corn would prove to be a dead end since the raw materials would be needed to produce food. Algae farming would become important.
  • Meat (and leather) would be grown from cells extracted from living animals rather than from slaughtered animals. It would cost less and be better for the environment. Those animals still seen in the countryside, would be there to keep open grassland.
Is it possible? According to Aubrey de Grey the first person to live to 1,000 is probably alive now.

What's your view? Which of the five options above do you think would be chosen - or can you think of a sixth?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Blogging to promote your book

What sort of blog post should an author make?

John Locke in his book How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! suggested that the best method an author could use to use blogging to promote a book was not to write about the book itself but to produce a blog post designed to go viral and which contains subtle links which encourage the reader to find out about your book. Although John is currently in 'author disgrace' over the paid for reviews issue, he's spot on with his blogging technique.

John Locke's famous blog post

John Locke
John wrote a post Why I Love Joe Paterno and my Mom! in which he blogged about how his mother encouraged him to find a role model, his choice being Joe Paterno, a longtime football coach at Penn State. The blog makes only a minor reference to John being an author but is hosted on his website where his audience can read more about his work. John promoted the blog by sending the link to it to Penn State University related bulletin boards, blogs and people tweeting about PSU. It quickly went viral, being read not just by football fans. Part of its attraction was his choice of title - we may not all know Joe Paterno but we all have a mother.

My attempt at a John Locke style post

I had a go at writing a John Locke type blog post myself. Here's what I came up with:

Bio-terrorism and the cure for the common cold

How to catch a cold

Everyone knows how easy it is to catch a cold but there are some things about the process that aren't common knowledge. Let's try an experiment. While you read this don't touch your eyes!

Imagine someone with a cold gets in a lift. They sneeze and a fine mist of spray spreads everywhere. It quickly settles though. They get to their floor and exit the lift. You call the lift from two floors down and the first thing you do when you get in is to press the button to select your floor. A button covered by a fine spray of cold virus.

So now you have the cold virus on your finger. Not a big problem, it's unlikely to get through the skin on your finger. Of course you could infect yourself with a cold by now eating something.

Touched or want to touch your eyes yet?

As you've probably found out by now, we touch our eyes all the time and as soon as you do, that  virus finds a warm, moist very thin membrane and promptly infects you. Ever noticed how a cold can make your eyes sore?

Deliberately spreading contagion

Now imagine a terrorist intent on using biological warfare. A good way to spread contagion would be to spread their substance on anything which people frequently touch. Lift buttons, push plates on doors, door handles, shopping cart handles, magazines in a shop,  newspapers and books in a library. Money! Forget the idea of sending letters. There are a huge number of ways of spreading any virus using things we touch.

Why there's no cure or vaccine

Now imagine a genetic researcher who has made a fantastic discovery. He/she has come up with a genetic fix which will forever stop people from catching the common cold.

Would you buy it assuming it's 100% safe and costs little? Of course you would!

So if this had been produced do you think you would get the opportunity? Frankly you would have as much chance as a celluloid cat being chased by an asbestos dog through the fires of Hell!

"Why?" I hear you ask. "If it was safe why wouldn't it be available?"

The answer is simple. The people who would be marketing this are the very people who make a fortune  every year by selling cold remedies. Are they ever going to willingly give up those billions of dollars of regular income?

That's why there are really no serious research projects into curing or preventing the common cold. None of the so called remedies actually cure a cold. If you buy them you might, if you are lucky, get some slight relief from the symptoms ...and you can get that effect with a simple home remedy. Here's the recipe:

A home remedy

In a tall glass:
  • add 2 fingers depth whiskey (cheap stuff)
  • add 2 fingers depth honey
  • add 2 fingers depth lemon juice
  • Fill the glass with hot water, stir well and drink.
  • Go to bed with a good book and relax or sleep it off.
If you find your symptoms are not better after an hour or so repeat.

Now I know what some of you are going to say. "I don't like whiskey," but believe me - this tastes nothing like it. It tastes good, relieves a sore throat, relieves congestion and after three of them you won't care about the cold!

OK - free advice over; now let's consider something else.

What bio-terrorism has to do with a cure

Get it at Amazon http://smarturl.it/avi
During the course of researching our 'A Vested Interest' books I had occasion to investigate gene therapy. Imagine a genetic researcher has produced that cold cure. It really works and he knows it's safe. But he/she can't market it for the reasons explained above. He/she can't announce it either without putting their life at risk. There's a multi-billion dollar industry at stake here remember?

The researcher knows the people of the world want the cure though. Does that researcher have the right to deny them it? Should they risk the wrath of the drug companies to make it available?

I think you'll find that the researcher would adopt the bio-terrorist tactics to release his/her product.

Sooner or later some well meaning person will do this!

So how did my post do?

Well I followed the John Locke formula and wrote a post which replaced the common to all factor of 'Mum' with 'Cold' - something we've all gone through the misery of. Like John I made a subtle reference to being an author and didn't over emphasise 'the book'. I used a buzzword 'Bio-terrorism' instead of 'Joe Paterno' which played on media fear factor rather than hero worship. I even got some well known authors, including John Locke, adding comments - which I responded to. You can see the original post and comments here. My post didn't go viral however. John Locke's Joe Paterno post had 100s of comments and mine had 10. Where I failed was in promoting the blog.

  • I failed to seek out people posting about having a cold or bio-terrorism 
  • I failed to use Twitter effectively. At the time John made his post he had 1000s of Twitter followers whereas I was new to Twitter, had only 200 followers and didn't know about hashtags or searching Twitter.
  • I didn't know about Triberr either and wasted the opportunity to have it promoted there.
  • My blog was hosted at blogspot rather than at my own domain and in the original post I didn't have links to my site.
In two areas my blog post was better than John's though. 
  1. I included a graphic. People like pictures - they are attention grabbers. Use relevant pictures!
  2. I used lots of sub-headings. Subheadings allow the reader to quickly skim an article to see if it's what they are really interested in without having to read the whole thing.

What you as an author should do

  1. Write about a blog subject which you know well and which you feel others should know about.
  2. Don't write 'Buy my book' blog posts. Reading those is as popular as sitting down to watch just the adverts on TV.
  3. Include subtle references to your author craft and books. Give the reader the opportunity to find out more if they wish.
  4. Use pictures and break your blog down with subheadings.
  5. Unless you have a massive blog following already, you are probably wasting your time if you don't have a good understanding of how to use Twitter and Triberr to promote your posts. 
  6. Seek out those who have blogged, discussed and tweeted about similar subjects and make them aware of the link to your post. Don't be afraid of posting to other authors. Authors are usually prolific readers - I read 64 books last year just on my Kindle.
  7. Your aim is for the post to go viral!
  8. Try and finish your blog post with a question. One which your readers will feel inclined to answer in the comments. Of course I didn't do that in my post. What do you think a good question to end on would have been?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

What if my book on Amazon gets a bad review?

No matter how brilliant your book, sooner or later, someone will give it a bad review and you are going to hate it. You may even be convinced it's responsible for a sudden drop in sales.

Now you would expect that if the bad review was on Amazon that it would be hidden away from prospective readers to encourage sales but Amazon's policy is to be open about bad reviews and not hide them.

Why did you get a bad review?

If you read an unfavourable review you'll quickly find it will fit one of these categories:

  1. The reader didn't like the story because it didn't match his/her expectations. Maybe they expected a medical thriller and saw only romance.
  2. The reader wrote a detailed review pointing out flaws in the plot and explaining why they spoiled the story for them.
  3. The review picks out spelling, grammar and formatting problems. That is your problem - make corrections urgently.
  4. The reader had problems downloading or displaying the ebook. That hopefully should not be your problem but you might like to make Amazon aware of that.
  5. The reader wrote a review which has nothing to do with your book! Maybe they have reviewed the wrong book?
  6. The review is obviously hateful and indicates flaws which don't exist, trashing your book.
We've had our share of poor reviews
for our free book - Immortality Gene
(and some brilliant ones).  We changed
the description, edited the book again
and bit our tongue over the #5 and 6.
If your poor review is #1 then it may be that you have to look again at your book description and the genre it's placed in. You'll quickly recognise the truth or not of what the reviewer is saying. let it be a learning experience.

For poor review #2, again learn from the review. Maybe your story needs revision? I doubt there is an author in existence who does not believe their work could be improved upon later.

Review type #3 means you are going to have to work harder at the proofreading stage or better still, employ a professional editor and a book formatter to do the job properly. One other cause for a spelling comment in a review is where the reader is unfamiliar with standard English spelling from a different country. Those writers from England, Canada and Australia often get taken to task over their spelling by reviewers from the US. They are apparently not aware that the words 'colour', 'centre', 'tyre' and 'defence' are not spelling errors.

Reviews #4 and #5 might be worth mentioning to Amazon. In the first case the reviewer should have the opportunity to download a functional copy of the book. In the second case it may be a reviewer error which can be withdrawn and applied to the correct book.

It's type #6 that is the greatest problem. If it contains swear words or personal attacks then complain to Amazon. This would be against their guidelines and aught to be removed. Amazon will not remove other reviews since everyone is entitled to their opinion. It may be the reviewer genuinely hated your book. If that's the case - why did they bother? It may be that this review was placed by a competitor in your genre who is deliberately trying to move you down the top 100 lists so that their book can take its place. Something like this would be very hard to prove. Unfortunately there are people who will do this! It's possible also that you may have offended someone and they are taking it out on your book. As an author you must learn to be very careful in what you say in social media sites. You do NOT want to create enemies on Internet who know about your books.

So what do you do to correct the #6 review?

The best advice is - do nothing! Try your best to ignore it and hope that you'll get more favourable reviews to overwhelm the poor one.

Whatever you do, don't comment on a bad review and draw it out into a discussion. All that will do is to draw further attention to the poor review and make it's position on Amazon more prominent. You might also put more people off by your attack on a review. If you really must make a comment - do so either as a separate review or better still by making reference to it in a favourable review you have. That way the favourable review will gain prominence.

Making a Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX load apps NOT in the Amazon store?

If you get a Kindle Fire as a Christmas present or as an upgrade then by now you'll probably have found its limitation - you are tied to those apps which Amazon has decided you need.

The Problem

The Nook reader on a Kindle Fire HD!
Amazon's Appstore for Android contained 50,000 apps back in early September 2012 but that was nowhere near the 700,000 offered by Google Play and Apple App Store then. The obvious solution would be for Kindle Fire owners to download Android apps from Google Play - except you can't. The Kindle Fire HD simply won't allow you to connect to the Google Play store and download the app you want - you have to get it from Amazon. That's very understandable. Amazon tell us they are not making a lot of profit from sales of their Kindle Fire. Instead they expect to make their profit from sales of books, video, music and apps. To do that they make it easy to obtain these from the Amazon site and difficult, but not impossible, to get apps from elsewhere.

The Solution

Android is an open source operating system and the Kindle Fire HD has version 4.0 of it. So most of the apps in the Google Play store should work just fine. In fact most of them do work, you just have to get them on your Kindle. Here's how to do that using a technique known as sideloading.

You are going to need some equipment, most of which you probably already have:

  • An Android device (we'll call this 'device 2') such as a mobile phone or tablet which you can connect to the Google Store
  • A USB to micro USB lead which fits your computer and Kindle Fire/device 2
  • A computer 
  • Your Kindle Fire
  • An app - ES File Explorer installed on the Kindle Fire HD/HDX and device 2. (yes this is available from the Amazon Appstore and on Google Play. It's free!)
Now you need to know what to do. As an example I'm going to show you how I installed the Nook ebook reading app on my Kindle Fire HD and my Kindle Fire HDX. Naturally this competitor app is not an app available on the Amazon Appstore for Android but it's very useful to have if you earlier purchased a Nook ereader and want to read your Nook books or epub books on your Kindle Fire.

How to sideload an Android app to a Kindle Fire HD

  1. Install ES file explorer on your Kindle. It's available free in the Amazon store.
  2. Install ES file explorer on your other Android device. It's available free at Google Play
  3. Install the Nook reader software on your other Android device from the Google Store. Again it's a free app from Google Store.
  4. On the Kindle use More > Settings > Device and set 'Allow Installation of Applications from unknown sources' to 'On'. Accept the warning.
  5. On the other Android device use ES File Explorer. Choose 'app manager' from settings. Long press on 'Nook' and choose backup.
  6. Connect the other Android device to your computer using the USB cable. You should see it appears in an explorer window as an extra drive under 'Computer'. 
  7. Navigate to the Nook.apk file you just backed up. In my case, since I was using a Nexus 7 as my 'other Android device' it appeared as Computer\Nexus 7\Internal storage\backups\apps\NOOK_3.3.0.26.apk Copy this file to your PC.
  8. Connect the Kindle fire to your PC and transfer the Nook.apk file to it. The root folder will do.
  9. Load ES File Explorer on the Kindle Fire and find the file you just placed there. Once you select it you'll get the option to install it. Do that and try it out.
  10. On the Kindle use More > Settings > Device and set 'Allow Installation of Applications from unknown sources' to 'Off' again. 

How to sideload an Android app to a Kindle Fire HDX

The Kindle Fire HDX is even better. Ours took just one day
to arrive from Amazon at http://smarturl.it/KindleHDX
The method works for the Kindle Fire HDX with some minor modifications. I used it to install the Firefox android browser (Sorry Amazon but your browser Silk is rubbish), the Nook e-reader software, Dropbox (which Amazon insist is incompatible but works just fine), and some games not available in Amazon's store. Here's the method for the Kindle Fire HDX. Again I've used the Nook app as an example:
  1. Install ES file explorer on your Kindle HDX. It's available free in the Amazon store.
  2. Install ES file explorer on your other Android device. It's a free app available at Google Play
  3. Install the Nook reader software on your other Android device from the Google Store. Again it's a free app from Google Store.
  4. On the Kindle HDX use go to  Settings > Applications and set 'Applications from unknown sources' to 'On'. Accept the warning.
  5. On the other Android device use ES File Explorer. Choose Tools >'app manager' from settings. Long press on 'Nook' and choose backup.
  6. Connect the other Android device to your computer using the USB cable. You should see it appears in an explorer window as an extra drive under 'Computer'. 
  7. Navigate to the Nook.apk file you just backed up. In my case, since I was using a Nexus 7 as my 'other Android device' it appeared as Computer\Nexus 7\Internal storage\backups\apps\NOOK_3.3.0.26.apk Copy this file to your PC. On a Samsung Galaxy S4 the files appeared in Computer\Galaxy S4\Phone\backups\apps
  8. Connect the Kindle fire to your PC and transfer the Nook.apk file to it. The root folder will do.
  9. Load ES File Explorer on the Kindle Fire and find the file you just placed there. Once you select it you'll get the option to install it. Do that and try it out.
  10. On the Kindle use Settings > Applications and set 'Applications from unknown sources' to 'Off' again. 

Whichever Kindle you're using...

It's a little involved but really quite simple.

Of course the same technique can be used to install almost any Android application which isn't available on the Amazon Appstore. There are a few which don't work, Sky Go for one. It installs and you can see what programs are available but it won't let you play them.

You can also download apps to your PC from other sources and install them BUT - a word of caution. Although the apps available from Amazon and Google are generally safe, the same can't be said for all app sources. It's unwise to download and install apps you are not certain of. You might install a rogue app which could cause a lot of problems.