One of the problems with writing….


One of the biggest problems with writing are not about grammar, spelling etcetera. As far as I am concerned the biggest issue is lower back pain. Most of my problems arising from poor posture for long periods, like sitting the wrong way in the wrong chair at the wrong height for hours at a time while writing. Which is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in the craft.

When you’re ‘in the zone’ and focussed on your work, it’s easy not to notice what you’re doing to yourself. Nothing matters but the web of ideas you’re spinning and the fact that your own hip and back muscles are about to turn traitor is immaterial. You leave sensible at the office door and spend long hours twisted and cramped into the wrong posture. Which is the source of my problem.

Now I’m not talking about some relatively mild discomfort you can shrug off with a good nights sleep or a couple of painkillers, this is the real deal. Pain like someone’s sticking a butchers blade into the top of your pelvis. Pain to almost make you cry. You can’t put weight on the afflicted limb. The discomfort is so acute it locks down your lower spine, making it impossible to bend, turn, stretch, walk up, or even down a short flight of stairs. Pain over the counter painkillers hardly make a dent in. A relaxing nights sleep becomes a stranger and every waking step becomes a purgatory in microcosm. It’s also depressing. When our new Canadian passports arrived on Friday I didn’t much feel like celebrating.

For the last two nights I’ve been tied in knots, hardly able to sleep and unable to get out of the house to visit a doctor. Now I’m fine. For a given value of ‘much better’.

The simple little video below came as a complete revelation. A lacrosse ball under the buttock? Who knew the answer to my problem was so simple? My relief was almost immediate, and a succession of cold packs further tamed the fierceness of my lower back’s agony to make it jump through flaming hoops.

Which is not to say that the pain is completely gone, simply reduced to manageable proportions where the painkillers work and I can actually function again. Fabulous.

Update January 3rd; Pain is gone. Completely. Last painkillers were taken 6pm 2nd January. Remarkable. Work chair has been changed for something a little more sensible.

Posted in Observations, Video | Tagged , , , , , ,

The implications of printed food


New year, new story detail. I was hunting around for a novel type of ‘crime’ for my sci-fi detective character to get embroiled with yesterday afternoon and found myself wondering about the implications of food replicator technology or 3D printed food like Pizza or Gnocci. What are the base materials? Would they be able to work off a basic amino acid powder mix, or something a little more familiar? How much adulteration would one of the units be able to take in the form of cheaper bulking agents before it broke down, as manufacturers try to minimise outlay? Adulteration might become a problem because, notoriously like white bread in Late Victorian times, ingredients like Chalk and Alum were used to bulk out and bleach wheat flour. At the time, the practice of adding these bulking agents were credited with leading to widespread malnutrition until the abuses were (mostly) stamped out. However, A more detailed analysis, shows that the situation was a good deal more complex than it might appear. So while all is not doom and gloom, instances of adulteration might occur as organised gangs infiltrate the 3D food replication chain. Maybe even instances of illegal drugs accidentally making it into the food supply.

Household replicators as an extension of 3D printing technology will initially be a status symbol, producing everything from a new pair of shoes to Sunday dinner or special order Pizza. Eventually reducing the need for agriculture as more people turn away from food productions less palatable practices, like slaughtering for meat, or simply even the messier end of cooking. Why bother with all that tedious slicing, mixing and dicing when a single machine can produce perfect hot meals every time? 3D food printing technology may be closer than we think. As for broader applications, a German company (Bizoon) is actually working on easy to chew versions of 3D printed food for Senior Citizens and high energy ‘Sports’ foods.

The possible social implications are enormous. A shift in the employment market away from manual fast food production, and there’s plenty of scope in there to experiment with crime related storylines. Ergo, I’m currently playing around with a bunch of short story type works (4-10,000 words) using the technology as a sub-theme. Maybe they’ll turn into something, maybe not. At the moment I’m purely in the note taking stage of research.

As for bribery and corruption; while technology advances so rapidly it’s often hard to keep track, it is my sad observation that human nature evolves at the speed of a heavily sedated slug.

Posted in General musings | Tagged , , , , ,

Apologies….. #VATMESS


… To anyone in Europe who wants to buy an eBook via Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es, and Amazon.it.

The 20% UK price hike from 1st January 2015 is not due to publishers and authors getting greedy. Far from it. Collectively we’ll be taking a sizeable pay cut. Because in the New Year (2015) eBook downloads and similar are being subjected to Value Added Tax. This will hit anyone who is an ePublisher, both coming and going. Especially the small independents.

As a Kindle Direct Program Author I received an email containing this bombshell;

On January 1, 2015, European Union (EU) tax laws regarding the taxation of digital products (including eBooks) will change: previously, Value Added Tax (VAT) was applied based on the seller’s country – as of January 1st, VAT will be applied based on the buyer’s country. As a result, starting on January 1st, KDP authors must set list prices to be inclusive of VAT. We will also make a one-time adjustment for existing books published through KDP to move from VAT-exclusive list prices to list prices which include VAT. We’ll put these changes into effect starting January 1st; you may always change your prices at any time, but you do not need to take any action unless you wish to do so.

One-time Adjustment for Existing KDP Titles:
Starting January 1st, for any titles already published in KDP, we will make a one-time adjustment to convert VAT-exclusive list prices provided to us to VAT-inclusive list prices. Subject to minimum and maximum thresholds, we will add the applicable VAT based on the primary country of the marketplace to the VAT-exclusive list price provided. For example, if an author had previously set £5.00 as the VAT-exclusive list price for amazon.co.uk, the new VAT-inclusive list price will be £6.00 because the applicable VAT rate in the UK is 20%. Please note, if an author had set a consistent VAT-exclusive list price for all Euro based Kindle stores, those prices will now be different due to varying VAT rates for the primary country of each Kindle store. For example, if an author had previously provided a €6.00 VAT-exclusive list price for amazon.de, amazon.fr, amazon.es, and amazon.it Kindle stores, the list prices including VAT will be €7.14 (19% VAT), €6.33 (5.5% VAT), €7.26 (21% VAT), and €7.32 (22% VAT) respectively.

Minimum and maximum list prices for the 35% and 70% royalty plans will now also include VAT. For books published before January 1st that would fall outside these new limits after VAT is included, we will adjust the list price to ensure the book remains in the same royalty plan that was previously selected.

I have only one title available on Kindle alone and that’s ‘Head of the Beast’ special Kindle edition. Which has me thinking of withdrawing said ‘Kindle only’ eBook and producing a new edition for general distribution on all the main platforms.

In the interim, there is a way around the EU’s tax grab, which is to surf Amazons listings via a VPN service like TunnelBear. Avast! antivirus also offer a reasonably priced VPN solution for subscribers. Or go to your chosen author’s offshore web page and purchase a download directly from their US or overseas publisher. In my case Lulu.com (See sidebar). This is a win-win for both independent author and reader, as the author of a chosen title will probably get a bigger royalty than if purchased via Amazon. In my case that works out at CAD$3.46 (About GBP1.90) from Lulu.com out of a CAD$4.99 priced title (Currently about GBP2.75) or CAD$1.92 (About GBP1.05) if the same title is purchased via Amazon and the reader can duck the EU’s tax hike. Currency conversions are based on the current rate of 1.82 Canadian Dollars to one British pound.

We should have seen this coming like a twister on the horizon. Staring at this dark cloud but not quite believing it was heading our way. A tax on eBooks? Surely not. Too late. If you can’t use technology to duck the extra tax, buy all the eBooks you can before the 1st January 2015 deadline. For my part, I’ll try to work out how to trade direct to consumer with a virtual currency like Bitcoin.

The UK’s Daily Telegraph is not impressed. Neither am I. It’s hard enough trying to make a little money in the writing game without being subject to daylight robbery.

Pass it on.

Posted in Distribution | Tagged , , , , , ,

Commerce and the world wide web


I’m old enough (Don’t remind me) to actually remember the ‘world wide web’ being ‘born’ in 1994. At the time I was trying to be a Business Development Executive, writing PR pieces for an IT consultancy amongst other things. Wrote a few trade piece articles, did a couple of local radio interviews. I do so hope they no longer exist. Cringe. I might be lucky as these low points of my career predated even the Wayback Machine. Everyone was trying to work out how to use the Internet to sell stuff and apply old business models to new technologies. Which still happens.

Back in the mid 90’s I recall penning a piece called “The Cybermarket, the future of retailing?” about how virtual 3D shops might work on line if sufficient bandwidth was available. Forget where I managed to place it. Didn’t foresee the rise of Amazon, Craigslist or eBay of course, but you can only get so much into five hundred words. With today’s big plasma screens and cable connections, creating virtual stores like in Second Life would be relatively easy. Think of an HD shopping channel connected to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so you could gossip with friends while doing the weekly shop. Cruise along behind your virtual shopping cart and not block the aisles for those with more pressing needs on their mind. No unruly children or other people’s personal issues. No waiting in line at the checkouts. Virtual shop assistants.

There is both an upside and downside of course. You couldn’t choose exactly what Oranges or Avocados to buy or do a first hand check for freshness. Unless there’s a real time arrangement where a robot arm and camera can physically pick and test the exact fruit / vegetable selected. Which is now possible. Delivered directly to your door by Drone. Fewer jobs in the retail sector as the need for physical supermarket premises shrink. More employment in non-public contact jobs like in legal departments thrashing out customer disputes. At first only available to the rich or avid early adopters, then as costs reduce over time available to the rest of the population. Should they want it. Rather like Amazon, eBay or Craigslist.

Posted in General musings | Tagged , , ,

Is the Internet over?


Commenter Misha tells me that ‘the Internet is over’ and that ‘I won’. Oh dear, did I break something? I’ll try and fix it. Didn’t realise it was that delicate. After all the Internet was first designed to survive a first strike in a nuclear war and even famous rock stars haven’t been able to stop it (Even though they have subsequently changed their mind). Hmm. Maybe I can glue everything back together and no one will notice. All that TCP/IP and subnet mask setup, the horror, the horror. I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to.

Yes, I know I was being teased. No offence taken and none, I hope, given.

Seriously; there’s an idea here for a new collective noun. An “Internet of argumentsfirst seen here. The Internet is full of argument and debate; from polite, studied discourse to flaming and virtual fist waving. There are virtual feuds and even death threats. People actually losing their jobs for making bad jokes (Which is a greater wrong than any original perceived wrong or slight). Which tells us that there are certain people who really should step away from the keyboard and take a chill pill once in a while. Which we all should do occasionally before adjusting our viewpoint and returning to any given discussion. That or become crazed obsessive compulsives.

In closing I would argue that arguments are very rarely lost or won, but they can achieve resolution. Even lead to new understanding if we learn to use such a useful sounding board as the Internet intelligently. Although this is only my opinion of course. There are others. Billions of them.

Posted in General musings | Tagged , ,

Why does the world have to be doomed?


In many Science Fiction movies there’s one plot device that, like a broken down show pony forced to perform despite old age, is dragged out time and again to strut its stuff. That of the Earth being ‘Doomed’ somehow by mankind through overpopulation or environmental disaster. Something that only a ‘hero’ can ‘save’ a sacred few from. It was a tired idea by the 18th Century CE (Seriously) and it’s worn to a nub of nothingness now. This premise is what’s put me off going to see the movie ‘Interstellar’.

In looking at possible (or impossible) futures I’ve always found it a good idea to examine what has sparked human migration since our species first learned to walk upright. From observation, the biggest motivator is that the grass will grow greener over the next hill. Fresh ground to occupy, new resources to develop, new ideas to explore. It’s part of the human condition. Only in the very early days of bipedal endeavour has environmental disaster played a significant role in mass migration. In the more modern era, migrations tend to be generated more by politics, war and economics than simple resources. To illustrate by analogy; when the fattest of cats have locked the dairy, the kittens will go elsewhere for their cream. And they will cross continents, even galaxies if the means are available.

It’s also worth noting that most of us simply want to get away from our parents and make our independent way in the world. Visit other places, learn other languages, meet other peoples. It’s been part of the human condition ever since we evolved to spread out a little. Mate, carve out a patch for the next generation and expand. If anyone were to ask me the meaning of life, that’s how I’d describe it. The Earth may well be our mother, but frankly wouldn’t it be embarrassing to tell other intelligent life forms that we still live in her basement?

Posted in General musings | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Next….


Now I’m a fully sworn in Canadian and don’t have to worry about renewing residency, I can get back to overcoming the distribution issues I’ve been nagging at for the last few years. I’ve also been talking to my brother in law over the weekend who is one of the prime movers of the ‘Inanimate Alice’ educational project, about the benefits of games and interactivity. While Ian and I don’t agree about everything, our discussions sparked off a few thoughts.

I’m coming to the conclusion that a well made interactive computer game is an excellent aid to teaching. Particularly in terms of conflict resolution. And yes, this is one of those “There’s a story thread in this…” moments, where children (and grown ups) use interactive games as a means of working out real world frustrations, and at the same time hone their decision making processes using an Artificial Intelligence type game engine. Navigate everyday moral conundrums. Demonstrate causality and methods of obtaining positive outcomes from potentially negative circumstances without getting all preachy. Tricky, but do-able with the right resource. Computer games as a stepping stone to world peace? There’s a Nobel Peace Prize in this for someone.

Now, how might it all go completely pear shaped? There’s the rub.

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