Martyn K Jones

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Google and Facebook


Is there a better alternative to Google and Facebook? I ask because I travel periodically, and every time I do, I have to reverify my Facebook and Google accounts, which not only shifts my immediate focus away from the task in hand, but is one of those nagging ‘man from Porlock’ irritations. I’m using the same machine through various secure and insecure Wi-Fi network points, the same fairly strong passwords and access protocols, yet still having my email and access to Facebook arbitrarily cut off is less than funny. I know they’re ‘free at point of use’ services, but they do make their advertising revenue from clickthrough traffic and various other means. Yet my Facebook account and two of my Gmail accounts are now ‘locked’. They may remain that way as I can’t be bothered with the fuss of reopening them. Those who need to know will be notified of changes.

We’re currently in a bereavement crisis on the UK front, scooting between relatives and care homes, and these pernickety and unnecessary interventions to both work and essential on the fly problem solving are less than welcome. My LinkedIn account is globally accessible, as is WordPress and several others, no problem, so why not Google or Facebook? We have an alternative paid for domain with available mail aliases and server, and I’m inclined to build a web site there and activate the email accounts. It means the small expense of changing business stationery, but we can handle that.

Over dinner last night, my eldest stepdaughter was talking about building a service similar to LinkedIn for younger professionals. I’m inclined to buy a new domain name and some extra web space for her to play with. Give her the wheel and see what she can do. It’s just a question of time and effort. Facebook and Gmail are all very well, but I’m thinking that they’ve had their day.

Anticipating future fashion


I’m in the middle of a story sequence that takes my hero and his not so dumb girlfriend through Rome on their way back to solving the main mystery in ‘A falling of Angels’. In the story, they are being stalked by a Sardinian boy with an unknown agenda. Also in the story, Rome, like so many major cities, is beset by a plague of enforcement cameras and sensors. Much to the annoyance of the public at large, and in response Paul Calvin, mind reading Detective Sergeant.

In response to such a circumstance, I find myself wondering if veiled hats might not make a comeback.
Audrey Hepburn Veiled hat
Originally part of ‘Widows weeds’ or to keep direct sunlight off delicate skin, the history of the veiled hat goes back to the 1200’s. Since then, net veils and veiled hats have popped in and out of western fashion for centuries. At present they are perennially popular at events like weddings and funerals, and occasionally as part of a stage outfit. Not so much at street level, but even there appearing more of an upmarket status symbol.

Perhaps using some form of Anti-infra red fabric, or ‘dazzle’ configuration, they might even cross the sex barrier to be adopted by security conscious men. Stranger things have happened.

I’ll write it and see how it feels.

Update: As an alternative, perhaps polarised sunshields might take off. Sun or ski goggles that cover most of the exposed face, or at least the visible brow and cheekbones most facial recognition software relies upon for its efficacy.

See this link for how modern facial recognition software works.

The dark art of prophecy


The nature of science fiction is all about how a change in scientific knowledge or technology can alter human society. To play the ‘what if?’ game with a vengeance. It is a literary tree with many branches. From the ‘hard’, based on an extrapolation of historical understanding, real life human psychology and proposed technologies, to space opera and sword and sorcery fantasies. It’s a prophesy game, which is the key dark art of the genre.

Most of the early prophets, like H G Wells in “War of the Worlds” and “The shape of things to come” had elements which have been since come to pass; substitute lasers for ‘heat rays’, mass airborne bombardment, poison gas. Wells saw all these things in humanities future. Jules Vern’s “Voyage to the moon” and “20,000 leagues under the sea” foresaw moonshots and submarine warfare, but not in quite the way he surmised. Arthur C Clarke is credited with predicting communication satellites, and in one short story the widespread availability of pornography via satellite TV. In Clarke’s version, his protagonist was going to use the technology to subvert Western society. Forget the title or what collection it’s in. Either “The Nine Billion names of God” or “Tales of Ten Worlds” I think. Used to have copies, but they either got read to death, or lost in one of many house moves.

Today I finished a dark, ironic, even cautionary little story about the misuse of satellite technology. What starts out as the ultimate weapon against individual terrorists gets hijacked by a couple of bored slacker programmers, who inadvertently create devastation by tinkering with what they think is a ‘simulator’ package. The premise and outcome are fairly straightforward, the mechanics of the story not so much.

At six thousand, six hundred and sixty six words I find myself, for my own perverse reasons, liking both length and content. What gives the story punch is the proposed technology is one of those ‘on the horizon’ things. Just on the cusp of possibility. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if something very similar hasn’t already crossed some defence analysts desk as a serious weapon systems proposal.

Without giving too much away, I drew heavily on my knowledge of computer networking and security, wide area networks, orbital mechanics and ablation in order to tie various elements into a plausible, dramatic whole intended to both amuse and stimulate. For some it might prove a bit too geeky, for others overly simplistic, but that’s the fine line walked when you’re trying to mix in complex story elements with the cynicism of experience. What can a character do when their carefully defended world is going to hell, and everything that happens seems to make matters worse? Simply because they’ve been pushed into making a beta level system fully operational.

When I have another few of these stories completed, at present I’ve half a dozen as ‘works in progress’, I’ll put them into a little eBook collection and give it a punt into the great nowhere. See what happens. In the meantime it’s back to working on ‘Darkness’ and ‘A falling of Angels’.

Today’s ‘what if’


This morning I’m busily rounding off a 3000 word short story. Essentially it’s about a brand new anti-terrorist technology so good it not only eliminates individual threats, but also cannot be traced back to its source. Just another tale set in the not so distant future. Called ‘Keyhole’ it’s not part of my main story timelines, just one of those oddball tales that pop out of the woodwork between my ears every now and then.

Don’t know what I’m going to do with the story once finished. Despite what I think is rather a deft and savage twist in the plot, I don’t really think it’s that commercial a piece of work. Maybe I’ll do nothing. Perhaps lump it with a few others as part of a short story collection eBook at some stage.

Research and random directions


While researching the ‘Freemen on the land’ movement for ‘A Falling of Angels’, I’m beginning to see where they derive their philosophy. This is an incredibly complex world, both politically and financially, and I don’t really think that anyone outside of a few obsessive actuaries and lawyers really understand how and why it works, and exactly how fragile our western socio-economic structure actually is. And how dependent we are on it from a global perspective.

I also appreciate that there are people who can ‘game’ the system to increase their wealth, and use their subsequent economic leverage to obtain even greater power. It has always been thus. This competitive urge is part of human nature, hard wired, so to speak. Likewise, there will always be those who resent domination. This too is part of the human condition.

Therefore todays random story direction came from noting that arch economic manipulator George Soros is getting married, and how the guest list was going to be packed with the ‘great and good’. This kicked the ‘What-if?’ generator in my head into gear, and out popped a story idea. What if ultra high definition ‘Keyhole’ satellite coverage was available like in the movies, and ‘what if’ there was a weapons package that could be dropped from Low Earth Orbit into a guided trajectory which could hit and destroy a target within a centimetre? A system specifically created to eliminate specific ‘Terrorist’ threats without the bad publicity created by massive collateral damage. Too small and fast to be detected or intercepted. A literal ‘Sword of Damocles‘ to be used to eliminate threats to the greater public. Now let’s extend this conceit. What if said technology was hijacked? What if an event like a high society wedding, packed to the rafters with high level politicians and the ultra rich, was targeted? What if, despite multiple layers of protection, the great and powerful became as vulnerable as the rest of humanity? Their own weapon systems turned against them?

Oh, I’m going to have a lot of fun with this one. Amazing what random story ideas a little research kicks off.

Just as an aside, I first used a variant of this concept in ‘Falling Through the Stars‘ where a President who tries to tries to buck the ‘system’ is targeted by an anti aircraft missile meant to protect Washington DC from an airborne attack. This concept has a similar flavour. In ‘Falling’ this protagonist isn’t a rather mindless Terminator like ‘Skynet’, set to destroy all of humanity, but a non-human intelligence which is simply selectively protecting itself and the philosophy it is programmed with.

Good advice from Goodreads


Pleased to say I’ve been accepted for GoodReads as an author.  As a matter of course I spent a few minutes going through their ‘Author Guidelines’ and found this solid little gem;

From time to time, Goodreads authors have responded to readers who gave their books negative reviews or ratings, and the results have been disastrous for the authors’ reputations. Goodreads is not private; other readers will see a hostile reaction from the author, and a single negative interaction is often enough to turn a reader against an author permanently.

Couldn’t agree more. Don’t engage with hostile forces unnecessarily, and you’ll never lose the fight. Make the trolls punch smoke. Sound thinking there from the Goodreads team.

There’s also a mechanism for flagging, downgrading and even removing pointlessly hostile reviews. Splendid stuff.

I have a feeling we’ll get on famously.

On the domestic front we had a minor panic last night. Around half past ten I was convinced I could smell burning insulation in the kitchen. Called Angie, who agreed; yes, that’s hot wiring, not my over active imagination. Called Mark, our landlord, who checked out the wiring and circuits, which were all running cool as frozen yoghurt. After he’d gone I checked underneath the fridge, which seemed to be the source of the hot insulation smell. Plenty of fluff on the evaporator coils, so I set to work with a long crevice nozzle on the vacuum cleaner. At one stage in a highly undignified posture with the fridge up on blocks and me scrunched up between it and the wall, straining to clear greasy dust off electric motor stators. This state of affairs continued until midnight, and I ended up sleeping with a fire extinguisher by the bed. Electrical fires, especially in frame built housing, are no joke.

It’s not like we don’t clean the kitchen regularly, but from what I could see, this was the accumulation of airborne muck from the day the fridge was installed. I’ve seen this phenomenon in old server rooms where the air conditioners were faulty or didn’t have decent air filters. Fine dust in the air builds up over time until you have motherboards that look as hairy as a Yeti in full moult, and there’s a growing smell of hot insulation. Even the odd soft ‘zipping’ noise of a static short circuit. No-one’s fault, but it can be quite worrying to see what people in ‘clean’ offices are actually breathing. Same for the fridge.

This morning; no smell, and the fridge is cool. We’re all good. The sun is shining and think it’s going to be a really good day.

Getting on to Goodreads


Struggling a little with Goodreads yesterday.  Spent a good three and a half working hours learning and navigating their Author program, and still no idea whether I will be listed.  Especially as I share an author name with a guy who writes spiritual and religious tracts.

According to one LinkedIn poster, I’m probably wasting my time as Goodreads is ‘Troll City’.  Frankly I’m not bothered.  There are few opportunities for the self publisher to get out there, and if a few whack jobs want to play bougres stupides , well that’s just fine by me.   In three years walking street patrol, getting verbal abuse every working day my skin thickened, and I can give far worse than I get, if it’s even worth responding.  My tongue and pen are honed to a razors edge.  If I really have to waste the time, there are ways and means to deal with mere abuse.  Bring it on.

It all goes back to the simple truth about self publishing in a niche market.   Getting your work into the public domain is all about networks.  Listing on Amazon, listing on Barnes & Noble, listing on iBookstore, on Kobo,  Authors Den, Goodreads.  Not to mention other distribution platforms.  They’re all networks with their own quirks and special requirements.  There’s a learning curve associated with each one.  Boxes to be ticked.  Procedures to be followed.  Teeth to be gnashed.  Hair to be torn out by the roots.  Pass the antidepressants matron, I’m just off to my padded cell to have a quiet little scream.

You get there eventually, but it takes time and energy better devoted elsewhere.  No wonder others prefer the Traditional Publishing route.

Writing, rewriting, repeatedly re proofing and editing a hundred and fifty thousand word novel is a piece of cake by comparison.  That’s just the third in the Stars trilogy.

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