Books

Books
Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 31 October 2011

Beginner's Guide to E-Readers - Part 3

Choosing an e-reader is getting more complex by the day as we approach Christmas watching the major players jockey for market share.  Before I discuss specific devices, let's look at what we can expect.

Well, first of all the selling points of the various devices will include capacity (the number of books that it will hold), screen size, methods of connecting to the internet, other features.

So, let's take these points in turn.

Capacity - that is, the measure of how many ebooks it can hold, typically.  This, of course, will always be an estimate and as there isn't an industry standard way of measuring it so just assume they are quoting the highest possible figure.  There's nothing wrong with that, just don't get too hung up over it.  Typically lower end devices will quote 1000 books can be stored - I'm guessing they're quoting average sized books  - and slightly more money will promise around 3000 books.

Additionally, and increasingly, e-readers are allowing external storage such as micro SD cards to keep books on.  For example the Kobo Wireless and Touch can take up to 32GB in external storage and will consequently store an incredible number of ebooks no matter how you measure it.

I'm personally in two minds over this expansion.  On the one hand I think it's great to have as few limits on any device and external drives technically make the capacity unlimited.  However, on the other hand I'm not sure I'd expect my e-reader to still be operational after 3000 books.  OK, maybe I would expect it to be good to go, but even if I read a book a day every day it would still take me over eight years to get through that many.  Given how fast technology is moving, and considering we are in a throwaway world, I would expect to be on e-reader number three or four by then.  And I don't read a book a day, anyway (after all I do write novels, hold down a full time job and, you know, writing blogs takes up time too). 

So, capacity is one of the measures you will look at, but probably it isn't as big a deal as is made out unless there are other, capacity soaking, functions in addition to the ebooks featured on the device.  Some allow MP3s to be played while you read, a feature of the Kindle 3 I've not yet explored in my ten months of ownership, but one I guess some people have.

The screen size is important, obviously, but not necessarily for the reasons that spring to mind initially.  Obviously you want a screen that holds a reasonable sized page on, otherwise you'd be happy with reading books on your mobile phone.  But the critical thing about screens is that they have a defining impact on the overall size of the device.  They're not the only size defining component; navigation controls as found on the Kobo Wireless or the keyboard on the Kindle 3 also drive physical size.  To my way of thinking, the main thing to consider is how you intend to carry your device around (if at all - you may intend to leave it by your fireside chair to curl up with).  If you are a commuter and want something to read on the train, a compact device, which implies a compact screen, may well be the prime choice so that it will slip into a pocket when walking from the rail station to work.  Alternatively, you may want something you can get to grips with, so a bigger device may be desirable.

Methods of connecting to the Internet should be fairly straightforward. Generally it's through WiFi, which is great if you have ready access to that.  Amazingly, not everyone does have a WiFi router at home or lives close enough to a free WiFi spot to consider it a resource.  Some e-readers allow 3G access, at a price, which is useful for those who don't have WiFi or have a burning desire to buy books on the hoof.  As far as I know all devices will allow you to transfer books from a computer, so as long as you have access to the Internet you may not need to consider the additional costs of 3G.  Of course, if you have to buy books wherever, whenever then 3G is the only way to go.

Other features currently vary considerably from device to device.  Amazon, for example, provide text-to-speech, a feature that allows you to have your ebook read out to you by a synthesised voice.  I very much doubt anyone has made it through a book from e-cover to e-cover using this feature unless it's a very short book (and believe me, there are a lot of very short books out there - a subject for a differernt blog rant, I guess).  It is novel, I'll grant you, and after a few drinks it can be very amusing, especially as it struggles with certain non-American terms.  It's also very much a monotone, so it fails to convey emotion or action.  To be fair to Amazon, it's listed as experimental. 

I've also mentioned MP3 playback - I can't personally comment as I have access to other media for playing music and rarely feel the need to listen to Joe Bonamassa while reading about a murder in Yorkshire, but I'm sure others do.  Internet access is another feature that has left me pretty well cold on e-readers so far, partly because the screen refresh is slow in surfing terms and the monochrome screens are too basic for my taste. 

So, there's a number of features that we can look at in part four when I actually will discuss specific e-readers!

I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores

Now on WH Smith!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Da Dan Brown Code Chapter Eleven


This page used to house a chapter of 'Da Dan Brown Code', which was serialised on this blog between October 2011 and January 2012, then it was published as 'The Last Simple'.  The story is now available as both an eBook (from all major eBook retailers) and as a paperback from Amazon.  I left it in more or less totality on thDa Dan Brown Code chaptere blog for free until April 2013 as a gesture of goodwill to those who follow my blog and enjoy my writing.  However I have chosen to remove most of it from the blog and make it available only from those pesky eBook retailers (and Amazon for the paperback, of course).

I'm not totally mean,  though, so I've left the ten most visited chapters on the blog still available for reading and, to make it even easier, I've left links to all ten below.  Enjoy the ten selected chapters and please consider visiting the book page on my website (link below)












------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                                          Visit my Book Website here

        Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

        Join me on Facebook -  use raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com to find me

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Beginner's Guide to E-Readers - Part 2

So, you’ve looked at the range of e-books, free and paid for on the sites you think you’d use and the next stage is choose an e-reader, right?
Well, possibly. There is a potential alternative choice to using dedicated e-readers and, just to make it a little more complicated, it isn’t even a either/or decision.
So before I start to discuss the dedicated e-readers I’d like to discuss the alternatives. Well, for starters there’s your phone, as long as it’s a smart phone such as the Apple iPhone or a HTC/Samsung etc Android phone. Amazon and Kobo, as a minimum (there may be others) provide a free app for these phones so that you can buy and read books on the phones. It’s not an outrageous thing to try and while it isn’t the best reading method around it is used by millions of commuters world-wide. Why not download an app and a couple of free e-books before you write the idea off?
Alternatively there’s your PC or Mac. Similar Apps to those available for smart phones are available for these devices from the same suppliers, again still free. However it’s not necessarily an ideal way to read (especially if your computer is a desktop model) but many people do read e-books in this way quite happily. The opposite is also true. Computer screens aren’t a fixed image but a constantly flickering one, admittedly a flicker that is too fast for many people to discern. However not being able to see the flicker doesn't mean it isn't there and many people find that after a day at work in front of a screen they can't take to sitting down in front of their own for an extended period.

Out of all the devices you can read ebooks on that isn't a dedicated e-reader, though,is the tablet computer.  Leading the pack clearly is the Apple iPad which has it's own bookstore through iTunes and can load Apps from Amazon and Kobo, for example.  Not only do you get a pleasant reading experience (although I know of one user who can't read books on the iPad after a long day in front of his screen because of the flicker) you also get all the other functionality that comes with it, including surfing the web anytime you're near a WiFi hotspot.  And you get to see your book covers in full glorious colour.

There's a host of other tablets out there too and the field is about to get bigger.  Amazon and Kobo are about to launch tablets in the US over the next few weeks in time for the Christmas rush.  It remains to be seen if these will bring enhanced ebook functionality to the table compared to Apple but they will be looking to steal a chunk of market share.  Unfortunately there's no forecast for the UK launch of these new tablets and I suspect they will hit Blighty after Christmas.

So, what are the pros and cons?  Well the pros should be fairly easy to work out - by virtue of the fact you are reading this it's likely you have ready access to one or more of these devices, so no capital outlay to start reading ebooks apart from the cost of the books themselves.  Tablets in particular have the form of a book, although the iPad is larger than your average paperback, and they have an intuitive way of turning pages (swipe as though a page and your finger is sticky).  The cons vary from device to device but probably the two largest objections to them are the screen and the battery life.

You see, dedicated e-readers have a screen featuring what is known as e-ink.  Unlike conventional computer (or mobile phone) screens they are not backlit, so cannot be read without some ambient light.  In fact, the way they are designed they don't draw any power once a screen has been 'written' with a page - until you change page they won't require any more energy.  That's why their screens look so like real pages - in fact many people assume the page they see at first is a screen protector with an image of words on waiting to be peeled off.  Not so, what you are seeing there is the real thing.  One of the benefits of this type of screen is that it can be read in bright sunshine (try that with your iPad and see how far you get).  Critically, there's no flicker.  Another consequence of the way the screen is managed in dedicated e-readers is the power consumption - it is minimal compared to the devices discussed above and some e-readers can last up to a month between charges. 

So the two largest objections to non dedicated e-readers turns out to be two of the dedicated variety's strengths.  While we're on dedicated e-reader strengths we should consider any others.

Well, they tend to be compact and light - they're not all the same size but in general they are fairly compact and thin.  Also they are designed specifically as reading devices and  are fairly well optimised to that activity.

The cons?  Well I guess you need to buy one, where you've probably always  had access to one of the alternatives.  Also, ultimately they are one-trick ponies - OK, they do that trick particularily well but so far attempts to extend their capabilty has tended to leave me, for one, cold. 

Another element that I feel will be a limiting element for e-readers in the long run is the predominantly monochrome screen.  Sure, when you're head down in a book, turning page after page as you approach the heart thumping climax the monochrome appearance won't bother you, in the same way as it doesn't in a conventional book, but the abilty to view book covers in colour isn't an unreasonable aspiration.  At least some e-readers are starting to show the covers, admittedly in monochrome, as icons now but colour screens has to be an aspiration for the near future.  I'm aware of at least one colour model, the Nook, but I'm not convinced without seeing one in the flesh that it shares the daylight viewing capability and so far I haven't seen any claims about battery life.

None of these cons are show-stoppers for me.  e-readers do their primary task well and I wouldn't be without one - however I firmly believe there will be more functionality in e-readers in the next couple of years, including viable and affordable colour e-ink.  I also believe there will continue to be convergence between tablets and e-readers in the sense that the former will get around the limitations they currently exhibit with ebooks (particularily the daylight reading, however the batterly life probably won't ever be improved to e-reader levels due to the multitudinous tasks asked of tablets, leading to a general acceptance that they need charging daily).  Conversely, I expext e-readers to start doing tasks other than let you read ebooks better than they do at present - anyone who's tried surfing the new on a Kindle will tell you that it's a painful experience right now.

But those changes are a generation away (probably 12 - 18 months) and as always new developments add cost initially.  So, if you're in the market for ebooks and you've decided against the non dedicated route, then you need to choose a device.  That will be explored in the next part.
I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores

Now on WH Smith!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Da Dan Brown Code - Chapter Ten


This page used to house a chapter of 'Da Dan Brown Code', which was serialised on this blog between October 2011 and January 2012, then it was published as 'The Last Simple'.  The story is now available as both an eBook (from all major eBook retailers) and as a paperback from Amazon.  I left it in more or less totality on thDa Dan Brown Code chaptere blog for free until April 2013 as a gesture of goodwill to those who follow my blog and enjoy my writing.  However I have chosen to remove most of it from the blog and make it available only from those pesky eBook retailers (and Amazon for the paperback, of course).

I'm not totally mean,  though, so I've left the ten most visited chapters on the blog still available for reading and, to make it even easier, I've left links to all ten below.  Enjoy the ten selected chapters and please consider visiting the book page on my website (link below)












------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                                          Visit my Book Website here

        Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

        Join me on Facebook -  use raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com to find me

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Beginner's Guide to E-Readers - Part 1

In this short series I'm going to focus on the pleasant problem I reckon a lot of people are going to have this year - choosing an e-reader as a Christmas present or for themselves.  Certainly in the UK the e-reader market looks set to explode over the next twelve months and the products being lined up by just two main suppliers alone - Amazon and WH Smith - indicate the Christmas period is likely to be very aggressive.

I'll look at the various e-reader choices soon, but before that I want to explain the advantages and the differences in the various devices that can be used to read e-books and to discuss some of the techno mumbo jumbo that can confuse consumers venturing out for the first time.

So let's let's look at the raw material for e-readers - ebooks - first.  Essentially these are books in electronic format, just as this blog is. 

Historically books have been typed, then typeset, then printed on paper, bound and covered before being shipped to the local bookstore.  In more recent times the typewriter has all but been replaced by the word processor, a term that has meant different things to people over the last twenty years or so but now pretty much means a program such as Microsoft Word or the various products that aim to cover the same ground.  Books that were written many years ago may never have existed in electronic format and may never do so if the book owners choose that to be the case.  Similarily, there are a growing number of ebooks that have never appeared as a printed book and I suspect never will.

The trend is currently for a significant number of mainstream books to be published in traditional book format and also in ebook format.  It's not universal and it certainly isn't being fully embraced by all traditional publishers.  It's also not always the case that publishers of ebooks from the traditional end of the market pass on any of the production savings, either, and that's a bone of contention with me.  For the purpose of this series it suffices for me to point out that ebooks aren't always the most cost effective way of buying books, especially when dealing with mainstream authors, however there are also a lot of more competitively priced books from independent authors as well as a huge amount of free books ranging from out-of-copyright classics to new authors trying to get some market exposure.  Additionally, and this really is a personal opinion, I believe that as the ebook market matures the pressure to market all books at more realistic prices will increase.

Although all ebooks will be created in a program like Word initially, the format they are distributed in varies.  Many e-readers will 'read' Word documents, however generally ebooks aren't distributed in that format.  To all intents and purposes there's two distinct formats that ebooks are produced in - EPUB, which is an industry standard that's used by Sony, Apple, Kobo and many other device manufacturers - and MOBI which is primarily used in Amazon Kindles.  Most e-readers will also allow PDF documents to be read, however if you are thinking in terms of dedicated e-readers (as opposed to multi-function devices such as the Apple iPad) then PDF format really won't make the best use of your device. 

So, the first decision you need to think about right now, if you're on the fence wondering if ebooks and e-readers might be for you, is this:  can you obtain the range of books you would want to read and is the price of those books acceptable.  If you already have a strong opinion about which device you would buy if the answer to the question is yes, then spend some time researching the relevant websites - Amazon for Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo, WH Smith, Barnes & Noble plus many others if you favour EPUB.  If you're reading this with a view to buying someone an e-reader as a surprise, then try and do the same activity, but focussing on their likely reading choices.

However you may want to wait until the next posting in this series before investing in that activity, because I'm going to discuss the broad options available to you in terms of dedicated e-readers and multi-function devices.

I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores

Now on WH Smith!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Will This Be The Kobo Christmas?

Last Christmas was definitely the Kindle Christmas. Amazon are famously reticent about stating their sales figures for the Kindle, only resorting to platitudes about it being a ‘best seller’ and ‘market leader’, however I don’t think there’s any doubt that the e-reader sold extremely well in what was an almost virgin market.
Prior to the Kindle 3, Sony had the initiative with its e-readers, albeit a share in a decidedly niche market. However the Kindle 3, backed up by a serious advertising campaign that’s been maintained and a significant price reduction on earlier versions, has absolutely outsmarted the Sony products. To be fair, apart from being outmanoeuvred on price, Sony had made some changes to their range that hadn’t been particularly well received so Amazon were able to drive their product into the mainstream with little resistance.
However, although it’s fair to say the Kindle is now established in the British consumer consciousness as the e-reader of choice, it could still suffer the fate of becoming the Hoover of e-readers. That is, the generic representation of e-readers without necessarily leading the market.
My perception of the UK market is that although there has been a move into mainstream e-book acceptance, it probably only constitutes a small fraction of the potential market – there’s still plenty for the other products to play for. For every e-reader owner I know of personally (1 Sony, 10 Kindle) there’s dozens that are watching the development with a mixture of interest and confusion plus an even larger number who are currently adamant that they couldn’t envisage reading a book any other way than the conventional way.
Which reminds me of the conversations ten years ago about emails – I can clearly remember colleagues stating that email would only be useful for short notes and wouldn’t replace the hand-written letter. Today most communication, business and private, is electronic and even the few letters that I do receive, usually accompanying the seriously doomed Christmas card, are predominantly typed on a PC and printed out.
So, as Amazon enter their second Christmas, presumably as market leader, we see WH Smith joining the fray with the Canadian Kobo range. They’re coming in aggressively, with very competitive pricing and armed with the 2.2 million Kobo book list (about to be swelled by at least three of my novels in addition to the one there already when Smashwords ports the remainder of its premium catalogue). Currently the WH Smith website appears to be using their current software to access the Kobo catalogue but it’s been rumoured that Kobo are writing an entirely new interface for Smiths.
Will WH Smith give Amazon a run for their money? Well, as I reported in my blog last week, WH Smith have a certain cache in the UK consumer consciousness that will help. They’re also investing in media advertising that has already started, two months ahead of Christmas. Every WH Smith store in the UK should, by now, have a dedicated Kobo promotional stand where the two models they are offering are sat side-by-side, powered up and loaded with a number of free classics so that potential customers can play with them. I took a stroll down to my local WH Smith store, in Chester city centre, yesterday and took an initial look at the offerings.
The first thing that strikes you is that both models are compact, significantly smaller than the Kindle 3. The e-ink screens appear to be comparable to the Amazon offering in terms of contrast and clarity and the operation is intuitive.
The cheaper, and physically larger, offering is the Kobo Wireless – a strange name given that both models feature wireless connectivity as standard – and its larger profile appears to be driven entirely by the four way navigation panel on the lower right hand side.
This pad, covered by a silicon membrane, allows navigation through menus in use and specifically provides the page turning commands (right to go to next page, left to retrace a page) that is analogous to the buttons running up and down the sides of the Kindle 3. The up and down directions provided by the navigation button increase and decrease the size of the text, which is a bit more convenient than the Kindle approach. I’m predominantly right handed, so the location of the navigation button will almost certainly prove to be convenient for people like me (I used to be left handed until primary school ‘cured’ me). As the device was clamped to the display stand I can’t comment at this point on how easy it would be to operate the navigation left handed, however I’m hoping to have a hands-on trial later this week, so can evaluate then.
Down the left hand side are four buttons. The top button is the ‘Home’ button which takes you to the page that lists books you’re currently reading. The next button down is the ‘Menu’ button giving you access to Books, Settings and Help pages. Next down is the ‘ Shop’ button which will wirelessly connect to the Internet, assuming a WiFi spot available and will browse the Kobo store or update your library and bookmarks. Finally the bottom ‘Back’ button, to retrace your previous selection. In addition to these buttons there’s a USB port for data transfer, synchronisation and charging of the device (in lieu of an optional mains adaptor - £15 and seemingly not available for four weeks).

However, compared to the Kobo Touch's 7 font styles, 17 font sizes and 'up to' 1 month battery life the Kobo wireless features only 2 font styles, 5 font sizes and 'up to' 10 days battery life.  I don't know if any of this is a deal breaker - I rarely feel the need to modify the font size on my Kindle, and then usually because I'm demonstrating its capabilities to someone.  Without putting my laptop down and digging my Kindle out I honestly couldn't say if I can modify the font style on it at all - I certainly haven't in the ten months I've been using it.  The battery life is certainly indicative that the Touch is more flexible across the board; it's a fact of life that battery usage is to some degree dependant on how you use your device but all things being equal a longer battery life has to be desirable.

So, on to the Kobo Touch.  What isn't immediately obvious from the promotional images WH Smith have been putting out is that the Touch is quite a bit smaller than the Wireless.  Again, because it's fastened into the demo housing at the store I have to fill in the gaps a little, but I believe it would slip in a jacket inside pocket quite comfortably, which is a really powerful advantage.

The external controls on the Touch are far less numerous that for the Wireless.  The only control to consider, apart from the on/off at the top, is the home button just under the centre of the screen - so no bias towards right handed users there!  Everything else is accessed by touching and dragging the screen and to be honest, it all seemed very straightforward and intuitive.  I did feel that the model I tried seemed a little under-responsive at times, however both devices had the removable shipping screen protectors fitted (sensibly, given the amount of rough handling they are likely to receive on the demo stand).  The screen change time seemed a little slower than the Kindle (which, let's face it, isn't startlingly fast)  however I'd like to carry out a semi-scientific side-by-side test to confirm or refute that impression.  But all-in-all I found the interface easy to navigate and reasonable to use.
The tech sheet for the Touch indicates that in addition to supporting ebooks (in EPUB format) it also supports PDF, JPG, GIF, PNG, TIFF and 'more'.  There wasn't anything loaded on the demo machines apart from some classics so I wasn't able to evaluate the capabilities with regards to these formats.  The Wireless only claims to support PDF.
Considering that the Touch is retailing at just under £110 versus the £90 price tag for the Wireless, if you were split between choosing one over the other, I'd say go for the Touch.  It certainly packs more than £20 more punch than the Wireless and the compact form factor makes it a true alternative to carrying paperbacks around.  WH Smith are claiming that it is being discounted by £60, however looking at US prices this doesn't seem to be unique to Smiths - if it is truly a discount, I suspect it is driven by Kobo.  there is always the fear that the discount could disappear if you delay too long, but my best guess is that the e-reader market is going to be a very aggressive place over the next two months.
If you are in the market for an e-reader, then I recommend you hot-foot it over to your nearest WH Smith and take a long look at the Kobo Touch.

I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores

Now on WH Smith!

Da Dan Brown Code - Chapter Nine


This page used to house a chapter of 'Da Dan Brown Code', which was serialised on this blog between October 2011 and January 2012, then it was published as 'The Last Simple'.  The story is now available as both an eBook (from all major eBook retailers) and as a paperback from Amazon.  I left it in more or less totality on thDa Dan Brown Code chaptere blog for free until April 2013 as a gesture of goodwill to those who follow my blog and enjoy my writing.  However I have chosen to remove most of it from the blog and make it available only from those pesky eBook retailers (and Amazon for the paperback, of course).

I'm not totally mean,  though, so I've left the ten most visited chapters on the blog still available for reading and, to make it even easier, I've left links to all ten below.  Enjoy the ten selected chapters and please consider visiting the book page on my website (link below)












------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                                          Visit my Book Website here

        Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

        Join me on Facebook -  use raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com to find me

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Da Dan Brown Code - Chapter Eight


This page used to house a chapter of 'Da Dan Brown Code', which was serialised on this blog between October 2011 and January 2012, then it was published as 'The Last Simple'.  The story is now available as both an eBook (from all major eBook retailers) and as a paperback from Amazon.  I left it in more or less totality on thDa Dan Brown Code chaptere blog for free until April 2013 as a gesture of goodwill to those who follow my blog and enjoy my writing.  However I have chosen to remove most of it from the blog and make it available only from those pesky eBook retailers (and Amazon for the paperback, of course).

I'm not totally mean,  though, so I've left the ten most visited chapters on the blog still available for reading and, to make it even easier, I've left links to all ten below.  Enjoy the ten selected chapters and please consider visiting the book page on my website (link below)












------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                                          Visit my Book Website here

        Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

        Join me on Facebook -  use raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com to find me

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Blue Sky Thinking - Part Two

OK, so now we've got all the electricity we need to run our houses at minimal cost, what next?

Well, electrical efficiency will still be needed to be a major consideration, if only to help minimise the amount of power each household needs to buy off the grid.  If you look around your house right now it's probable that you've got dozens of electrical devices, and many of these probably didn't exist ten years ago.

For example, how about your large screen TV set, your Sky box, hard drive recorder, iPad or Android tablet, Kindle, iPod dock, wireless printer, X Box, Wii, other gaming consoles?  And that's just touching on your leisure devices.  There are dozens of devices ranging from washing machines through to stoves and standard lamps dotted around the average household.  Add to that list all the fixed electrics such as your lighting circuit.  So, what's my point?

Well, you may recall from my last Blue Sky Thinking post I mentioned that during the evolutionary process most devices go through various phases including ones where they are essentially ugly and disjointed but starting to converge.  I think it's fair to say that domestic devices are having 'Form' put on a higher agenda than in years gone by, possibly thanks to the likes of Apple who have always driven the aesthetic agenda.  But our devices are disjointed and essentially stand-alone.  This is where my wish list starts to kick in.

For starters, I think that all electronic devices should be able to be monitored and, where appropriate, controlled remotely through independent devices such as the iPad or other tablets.  As an absolute minimum we shouild be able to determine the running time of any given device and know its power consumption.  At a very basic level this would allow you to anticipate a device failure, so limiting the opportunity to be left high and dry by a failed device at the only time you ever really need it to work.

So, in my utopian world, you'd know when any device was running, when it stopped and how much power it consumed.  This is fairly standard data collated in industry, so we're not necessarily talking about major development work here.  The trick part is getting an open standard agreed so you don't have, say, Sony's proprietary system running on their equipment and Apple's take on the process running on theirs. 

I also see that data as the starting point.  How about being able to programme your hard drive recorders from your iPad, perhaps when away from home?  A good start would be the ability to have a common programming interface - sure, let the device makers determine their own look and feel when hooked up to your TV if we must, but let the consumer choose one interface product to run on their tablet that allows them to programme different makes of hard drive recorder in a common way - no need to relearn a different interface when you change devices or have different makes in various parts of the house.

And what about being able to identify which lights are still on and doors still unlocked before you blow the virtual candle out as you turn in at night?  Checking on the status of the washing machine when at the shops? 

None of this is difficult technologically, the biggest struggle is in deciding how it is implemented.  Nobody wants anyone to achieve total market dominance, hence my point above about open standards.  If this was tackled then in a generation we could have all but a minority of legacy devices controllable remotely and being monitored to check their health.

It's got to be worth thinking about.

I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores

Now on WH Smith!

Friday, 21 October 2011

E-Reader War Steps Up

Hot on the tail of Amazon's announcements regarding the Kindle light and the Kindle Fire, Kobo are positioning for a major slice of the UK market.  They've teamed up with WH Smith to launch two models aggressively priced just before the Christmas rush and critically ahead of Amazon's release.  In the US they've also announced a tablet that will go head to head with the Fire, and again they're beating Amazon to the starting post.

Those of you from the UK will understand the importance of the WH Smith link up, but I appreciate that a significant number of the readers of this blog are from outside of the UK, so I'll try to put them into perspective (although apologies to my Russian, Far Eastern and Indian readers, amongst others, for not finding local stores to compare them with).

WH Smith are a UK institution, much in the same way as Woolworths used to be.  Their core day-to-day business is ostensibly as a newsagent, selling newspapers and magazines.  However it's many years since they've restricted themselves to those products and as long as I can remember they've been a popular port of call for the sale of books - not to the scale of, say, Waterstones but for popular titles -absolutely a safe bet.  Add to that paper, printing supplies, CDs, calendars, pens, games, toys, small electronic devices (my first pocket calculator, in 1976, was bought in Smiths, as they are affectionately known) and you will get the idea.

The main thing about WH Smiths, though, is that they are a safe bet in the eyes of the British public, a place you know you can do all your Christmas shopping in if you've reached Christmas Eve, haven't got a clue what to buy, have a flexible credit balance and don't expect to buy extra special presents.  The closest I can get to WH Smiths to US retailers is to cross Target with Barnes & Noble.

Trust me, WH Smith is an institution in the UK and it's significant that they have aligned with Kobo, effectively shunning Amazon, possibly to differentiate itself from the bulk of e-reader sellers in the UK now who are plumping for the Kindle.

They are currently offfering two e-readers.  There is the Wireless eReader, aggressively priced at £90 to compete directly with Amazon's cut down device.  The specification looks similar to Amazon's in size and capabilty with one notable exception - it has an expandable memory (up to 32 GB SD cards can be  used with it)



 The 6" screen and small factor body makes it suitable to slip into a pocket and take anywhere, is the claim being made for this device.  But for not a lot more cash they are offering a more advanced device, the Kobo touch, priced at £110.


This comes in four different colours and has what Kobo are claiming to be an intuitive touch screen with three different ways of viewing the book covers.  Anyone who uses a Kindle will be used the frustration of searching through the book titles to find a specific book - there's a place for everything and book covers are meant to be seen in the e-reader, not just in the sales pitch.  Admittedly the screen is still monochrome but it looks like Smiths are sweetening that pill by making the price so affordable.

But they still have an uphill struggle to take on Amazon.  For one, Amazon have established themselves pretty much as the de-facto e-reader in the public imagination.  I never get asked which e-reader I'm usiing, just 'is that one of them Kindles?'  The relentless advertising campaign all year long coupled with Amazon's superb whispersync and backed up by their canny free distribution of Kindle apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, etc has firmly established their product front and centre of the public imagination.

However, WH Smith have two main weapons, outside of their aggressive pricing.  First, they're Smiths, right?  Remember what I said about a safe pair of hands above?  Second, they claim they've invested a huge amount in training staff to demonstrate the Kobo in their 750 stores across the country, backed up by a planned advertising and media blitz.  This shouldn't be underestimated - the potential e-reader market in the UK are currently sat firmly on the fence or stood resolutely on the wrong side, swearing blind they'd never trade their tree books for e-ink.  This could be the push that knocks the fence sitters onto the e-book side and lifts the naysayers onto the fence.  Amazon can't compete on the shop floor with Smiths approach as they are essentially a distance seller.

There's actually a third advantage.  Kobo have access to 2.2 million eBooks in its catalogue.  That's a stunning amount.  They've linked up with Smashwords and are in the process of transferring the Smashwords premium catalogue across - I have Parallel Lives listed there right now and expect my other three books to be ported in a week or so.  For British authors, this is the equivelant of how being listed on Barnes & Noble should be to US authors.  It's a deal, a big deal.  I for one will be trawling back through my old blogs to add the WH Smith link, just because I know for many readers it will be the port of first choice.

Over in the US, Kobo (a Canadian company, BTW) is about to launch a tablet, the Vox.


It's full colour, runs on Android (but doesn't have access to Android market, so some limitations) and is looking at giving the Fire a run for its money.  Because it is an Android device I can't see any reason why users couldn't run the Kindle app to read existing Kindle books in their library as well as accessing the Kobo archives.  It is being pitched at just under $200 in the US, which in a sane world would equate to about £130 this side of the pond, but I'll reserve judgement until I see it released over here.  Exchange rates seem to have a habit of becoming less relevant in this industry.  A 1:1 ratio seems to predominate!

I'm sure Amazon won't sit back and watch its market share stolen from under its nose, so I'm expecting a bit of a price war any time soon.  How many shopping days to Christmas?

I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores

Now on WH Smith!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

How to self publish books - part six

I didn't plan this part of the series, but I've been made aware of an outrageous practice by Amazon that needs to be advertised.  I'm not going to go into the nitty gritty of the subject - that's amply detailed in David Gaugran's excellent blog entry here - I just want to make those who have followed my series aware of something I'd previously not understood.

Basically, when you publish with Amazon you determine a price for your book starting at $0.99 upwards.  As I've explained in earlier blogs in this series, Amazon puts the book out on its various sites worldwide, adding local taxes such as VAT (Valued Added Tax) where applicable.  For books priced between $0.99 and $2.99 they pay the author 35% royalties and for anything above, 70%.

So far, so good.  Except for those readers purchasing e-books outside of the US, UK, France and Germany.  For many such persons, it appears Amazon are charging an additional $2.  This makes affordable books such as mine quite pricey; mainstream authors selling their ebooks at hardback prices (despite no manufacturing, transporting and/or storing costs involved) even more ludicrously overpriced.

As David points out in his blog, the authors don't share any of this $2 surcharge.  It's almost as though Amazon are applying a private tax.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press he started a process that democratised literacy and  knowledge.  Ebooks are a continuing part of the process he started; this surcharge would appear to be counter to that ethos.

So, what can we do?  Well, if you have a Kindle and you aren't affected by the $2 surcharge then there's no reason why you should shun Amazon - their whispersync is an insidously easy way to buy and manage your ebooks, especially if you have multiple devices set up to synchronise such as a Kindle, a smart phone and a netbook.  Fair dues where they're justified.  But if you, or your friends or family, are affected by the surcharge then please look for other channels to buy your books from.  Smashwords provides access to many of the books that are available on Amazon, in a format suitable for your Kindle. OK, no whispersync, meaning you have to download to a computer and transfer, but no surcharge either. 

If there are books you want to buy that aren't featured on Smashwords, then try to track down the author through their website or blog and urge them to parallel publish their books on Smashwords.  Send them a link to this blog, or David's original, to explain why they should.

Once you have purchased books from Smashwords that you could have bought from Amazon, then send Amazon an email explaining what you have done and why.  The more emails they get, the better the chance is that they'll cease the surcharge.  After that it's up to you who you purchase from, the whispersync is always going to be a draw but you may feel that Amazon have let you down.  It's your choice.

Authors, of course, should publish through both channels.  If you are an author who only publishes on Amazon then you should also publish through Smashwords.  Apart from Smashwords giving you access to many other markets including the Apple market, they pay much better royalties than Amazon do at the cheaper end of the price spectrum.  To me it's a no brainer from a business perspective.  If you only publish through Amazon then you're handing over a monopoly without any reciprocal benefits.  However, given the $2 surcharge, there's the moral argument as well; none of us individually are going to make Amazon play ball, but collectively, if we let Amazon realise that there are choices for the consumer, they will realise the commercial sense of dropping the levy.

So in conclusion, if you are an author, publish in as many channels as is possible (noting that Smashwords gives access to multiple channels on top of its own).  If you are an ebook reader affected by Amazon's surcharge (or know someone who is), use Smashwords!


I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores.

Now on WH Smith!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Da Dan Brown Code - Chapter Seven


This page used to house a chapter of 'Da Dan Brown Code', which was serialised on this blog between October 2011 and January 2012, then it was published as 'The Last Simple'.  The story is now available as both an eBook (from all major eBook retailers) and as a paperback from Amazon.  I left it in more or less totality on thDa Dan Brown Code chaptere blog for free until April 2013 as a gesture of goodwill to those who follow my blog and enjoy my writing.  However I have chosen to remove most of it from the blog and make it available only from those pesky eBook retailers (and Amazon for the paperback, of course).

I'm not totally mean,  though, so I've left the ten most visited chapters on the blog still available for reading and, to make it even easier, I've left links to all ten below.  Enjoy the ten selected chapters and please consider visiting the book page on my website (link below)












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Monday, 17 October 2011

Blue Sky Thinking - Part One

I have a view is that most major technology evolutions, or even revolutions, are initially a little ugly in hindsight, functionally over ambitious and destined to be hi-jacked by others in the same field who don't have the same emotional investment.  I think we also see a progressive merging of technologies over time and eventually get to a state where the end product is more than the sum  of its parts.
With that thought in mind I'm going to discuss some of the daft ideas I have for a brave new future - I'm expecting some rolled eyes and critical comments, bring them on!

For today, I'm going to look at the issue of power - electrical power.  We all know that the country is heading for an energy crunch and we've seen how vulnerable we are due our dependancy on gas from abroad.  Now there's been a lot of development in roof mounted solar panels in recent years and a scheme, about to be canned next April by the Government, has encouraged people to have solar panels fitted to their house roofs.  The scheme allows power generated in this way to be used by the household with the panels, with anything not used being sold back to the national grid at four times the cost of buying units.  The householder pays for the purchase and installation.  Some commentators say the payback period is twenty-five years, others claim  just four.  The crux of the issue to me is two-fold, regardless of the payback period.  First, the scheme only works because of an unrealistic subsidy (which is going to cease soon) and second, the finished panels are aesthetically awful.

Now my view is that the core idea has a lot of merit - look at any street in your city, town or village and think about how many square metres of roofing there is.  The current scheme of plonking a few ugly panels almost at random is only scratching at the surface of the potential (if the electricians don't mind the pun).  Here's my view on how the scheme should run:

First, there should be development of tiling materials that are individual solar panels but mimic the look, feel and weatherproofing capabilities of current (sorry, electricians) ceramic tiles.  I can foresee ceramic tiles manufactured using traditional methods being treated post manufacture in a suitable voltaic material, preferably one that looks natural from the ground.  In time, I would expect the tiles to be manufactured with the voltaic capabilities in one manufacturing step.

An obvious objection to be raised here is that the average electrician probably doesn't have the life disregarding temperament of the average roofer; the average roofer probably shouldn't be let anywhere near an electrical generating device with the potential to burn down a house if not installed and maintained correctly.  This implies a re-skilling process is needed, especially as I would consider such an installation would need certifying on install and on periodic maintenance.

I also don't think the roof should be installed by the householder, nor paid for by them.  In my blue sky world the initial target for the roofing material would be new build houses, with the roof installation paid for, and owned by, the energy companies.  The owners of the houses would own and be responsible for everything up to and including the soffits, but the roof would never belong to them.  Their responsibilty would be limited to not doing anything that could compromise the roofing and ensuring appropriate access for maintenance.

The benefit for the householder for relinquishing the ownership of the roof is that any power generated would be allocated to their house before anything else.  Any surplus would belong to the energy company owning the roof.  Additionally, any power drawn in excess of the instantaneous generation would be paid for at the normal rates.  Which means the houses should be self sufficient in energy terms during the day, even in the winter, but would incur energy costs out of daylight hours.  At least that's a starting point.  As we're discussing new build at this point they would be designed to optimise the electricity generated to minimise their need to buy power back.

Over time there could be a retrospective programme to address the existing housing stock.  Couple this with energy storage schemes, the amount of energy needed to be generated in the long term by power stations could be a fraction of the present amount.

In the next blue sky blog, I'll be moving inside the house, briefly.

I can be followed onTwitter - @RayASullivan

email me on raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com

Visit my books on
Amazon (for Kindle owners) and Smashwords (for access to all other formats and access to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony and many other good ebookstores.

Now on WH Smith!