Ray Sullivan publishes science based fiction adventures on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, WH Smith and other good eBook retailers as e-books. Additionally all of his books are available in paperback on Amazon. He also muses on technology, posts comedic books in serial format and discusses the world of self publishing.
The news report about the aircraft crash was absorbed and
forgotten within minutes by Jack as he sat at the kitchen table sifting through
the mound of paperwork he had brought home. Some of it was routine paperwork
that he had to keep on top of for the engineering department to continue to
function; requisitions for high value spares and requests for manpower overtime
for the forthcoming maintenance shutdown. Most of the papers on his desk,
however, related to the information requested by the Coroner’s office to be available.
Jack wondered how Alan was hoping to swing this with the
Coroner. He knew only the official side of the plan, how he was being called to
confirm that certain specific engineering records were accurate, to agree that
the signatures on all of the documents called for were, in his opinion,
authentic and that as far as he was aware that all of the work had been carried
out. What he didn’t know was what Alan had reported to the Coroner’s office
regarding John Staples. He knew that the company had been requested to bring
along all paperwork pertaining to John, including his Human Resources file, and
that the company had been advised to consult their legal department and arrange
for necessary legal representation for the day of the inquest. Alan had intimated
that the hospital was being pressured to contact John through various channels,
but he wouldn’t reveal exactly what that meant or involved. Jack assumed that
Sam Jackson had kept most of his tracks covered, but would have to stay in
contact with the hospital. Presumably he would be sensitive to reasonably high
level enquiries via the hospital administration from official sources, and as
it seemed likely that what he was doing with John was almost certainly not
sanctioned or known about by the hospital then he would react by producing him
as called for.
Upstairs Karen lay awake, wondering about the events of the
previous days and her involvement in it. For the hundredth time since ‘turning
in for an early night’ Karen had puzzled how she and Jack had been sucked into
a conundrum that was of little relevance to them. Both of them, she mused,
avoided becoming ‘involved’, did not take part in local events, were
uninterested in other people’s lives as a rule. And now she was planning and
plotting, scheming and manipulating on behalf of someone she neither knew or
ever wanted to know. Had Karen known about the plane incident she would have
contemplated about the vulnerability of the medium, would have felt concern
momentarily for the persons involved but would have forgotten the event very
quickly. As it was, by the time Karen would hear another news broadcast or read
a newspaper, this item would be long gone and forgotten.
Back in the day when I spent a lifetime implementing software solutions for industry there was a lot of focus on how many clicks should be used to reach a given software goal. It is commonly believed to be a fact that website users will navigate away if they can't find what they are searching for within three clicks of the mouse.
In fact, while the concept is intuitively attractive, compelling even, there isn't any analytical evidence to support it. The most relevant research suggests that the success of a search is more relevant - if after your three clicks you cannot see yourself getting anywhere near where you wanted to go then you will start to get disillusioned.
Anyway, regardless that the rule has no basis in fact, it has become a bit of a holy grail for some webpage designers. While that may seem like a good thing, it does mean that some searches have to be unnecessarily blunt.
I mention this here because I've just read a message from Smashwords' CEO, Mark Coker. He's excitedly reporting that since the 25th of this month - don't know if the date is relevant - there's been a massive uptick in sales of Smashword titles in the Apple iBookstore. In fact sales are up by 76% on a week earlier, already much improved by 65% on the same week in 2011. In fact, sales of Smashwords titles have rocketed from diddly-squat a couple of years ago to pretty impressive numbers. It's probably not a surprise that Apple have taken to promoting Smashword originated titles in recent months.
In fact, the infamous top 100 sales lists and targeted promotions are probably the driving force behind these sales because, as I've mentioned in earlier blogs, it's devilishly difficult to look for books on any site, Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble et al. If you have a whim to browse for a book, three clicks to find what you want is not only fantastic, it's virtually unthinkable.
But if Apple are making it easier for you by pushing lists of books that have shown promise or by featuring books they think may be good to read then that's got to help. Amazon are at it too - I've mentioned their 'Deal of the Day' for Kindle books before. It started off promising, then slid downhill for a while before picking up again. In the last month they've been featuring at least three books a day in their daily email, often on a theme. They featured ten in one mailing recently. From what I read on the Kindle forums, the authors don't know they're going to feature or that their books are going to be discounted - it's probably in our terms and conditions next to the bit about our first-born, just ahead of the option to hand our soul over.
Anyway, apart from some tedious novels I've ended up wading through recently - perhaps it's just me that thinks listing every tool in a van in minute detail is a bit thorough when the author just wanted to let the reader know that the hero had some ad-hoc weapons to hand - I've ended up with some cracking reads for £0.99 - a Barry Eisler novel - 'The Detachment', 'Red Flags' by Juris Jurjevics and for the princely sum of £0.20, 'Zero Day' by David Baldacci. All of these are currently selling on the UK Amazon kindle store for between £3 and £5.
Like the Apple books suggested to their customers, these books were suggested to me by Amazon. As well as ticking my box for good quality but low price eBooks they saved me trawling through page after page of books on Amazon or Smashwords. But it does mean I do miss out on the many good books that probably will never be listed as an Amazon deal of the day - my own books won't appear there at present as they are all priced at $0.99 or the Pound Sterling/Euro equivalent at all the eBook stores (apart from The Journeymen, the Sci-Fi thriller I'm giving away for free until New Years Day on Smashwords - see this link for details) as Amazon don't usually discount the 0.99 priced books.
But, as Mark Coker also mentions often, it's discoverabilty that drives eBook sales. That's important for authors like me - you've found this blog entry and can now make a rational decision to look at my books or move on - but it's also important for readers, again like me. Sure I want people to buy my books but also I want to find and buy other author's work as well. Writing is one part of my enjoyment of books; reading is what rewards the most, though. But trawling through page after page of books, dipping into blurb if a title or cover sparks an interest (what a terrible way to choose something to read) is a time-consuming and ultimately unrewarding way to search for books.
So I'm going to suggest something radical - the three click rule. When you find a book worth reading at a price worth paying then choose three friends from your email list and send them links, a click apiece. If we all do this on a regular basis then the better books will be discovered.
These are hard times for many. In some parts of Europe, in the mature economies, unemployment is running at over 25%. That's a tough gig for anyone. I know some will carp about the Social State and the amount of benefits available in such-and-such a country, but I'd rather earn a wage than be on the dole.
Those of us who have kept earning through the last five years have noticed a reduction in the purchasing power of our wages, in the main. Taking a dive in spending power might seem trivial compared to not having a job, and I'd agree, but it is still unpleasant. It is also galling to many that there is still an apparent strata of society that seems largely unaffected by the economic downturn - there's a significant amount of people who appear to be able to spend money like there's no tomorrow. Senior bankers appear to be in this group.
Of course, whether you have experienced a pay cut, job loss, or just an erosion of your spending power, or even if you are one of the lucky few who are relatively unaffected by the economic situation, the impact of the current financial situation will not have passed you by. However all of us are likely to be affected by the cuts in public spending to some degree.
Now this isn't a political rail against any particular party; this blog is read across the globe in both hemispheres in countries that have widely differing political systems so that would be a pointless exercise. And I fully accept that some readers believe whole-heartedly in the cuts to public sector spending while others will think it needs to be balanced and another group will insist that any cut is a bad one.
Now I'm a bit of a pragmatist by nature. I recognise that we are always going to have a public sector of some size and consequently there are always going to be taxes needed to fund them. Plus, apart from the extreme right wing in this country (at least) I guess we all want roads, schools, hospitals and all the other embodiments of a public infrastructure. In the UK at the moment the drive is to reduce the public sector while maintaining the tax burden to reduce the deficit, mainly because that's the only obvious route to doing it other than raising taxes.
Like many other countries the UK is now taking a firmer stance against those who choose to not pay the right amount of tax, however this isn't always an easy task. It is for those of us who are normal wage earners, but for the well heeled and large corporations with the cash to pay smart people to scrutinise the tax laws there are many ways to avoid paying too much.
This has caused a bit of a furore in the UK recently as it seems many of the global tech companies such as Amazon and Google are paying little or no tax in the UK and global coffee house Starbucks has managed to avoid making any profit, in a technical sense, for a decade, consequently not paying any tax.
Actually, despite the public outrage about the Starbucks side of the picture, they did pass on a sizeable amount of tax in the form of VAT and staff Paye-As-You-Earn (PAYE) income tax. What they did do was reduce their Corporation Tax liability by legally shifting money around Europe and leasing their own logo from the US. As far as I know, and I'm not an accountant or a lawyer, they didn't break any laws, they just exploited gaps in the legislation of the country.
The same goes for Amazon and Google. They employ a lot of people in the UK, who all pay income tax. A lot of the goods we buy from them are subject to VAT, so that feeds back into the public coffers too. But they do seem to have spent a lot of effort in reducing their tax burden. But I'm guessing they quite like having roads to drive on and hospitals for their employees.
Anyway, there's been a bit of a stink about the tax avoidance tactics of these three companies. I'm sure they're not unique but it would appear that they are amongst the most effective at the avoidance thing. As a result of a newspaper campaign backed by outraged politicians, who quite recently spent a lot of their inventiveness in fabricating expense claims that bled the taxpayer pretty well dry, the three companies are getting a lot of public scrutiny as 2012 draws to a close.
Predictably Starbucks caved in first - avoiding buying a latte in Starbucks is a lot easier than avoiding using Google to search for an alternative coffee house in the area or using someone other than Amazon to do your on-line Christmas shopping. But Google have also felt the pinch as advertisers have decided that associating with them might damage their corporate image. Amazon may come out of all this unscathed and virtually untaxed - they hold that much sway in the public shopping mind that it's difficult to imagine any other business ousting them right now.
But the real issue is the tax rules. None of these companies, as far as I'm aware, did anything illegal. Sure, they may have been inventive, wilful even. Morally challenged probably doesn't even come close. But law breakers? Almost certainly not.
Simplify the tax rules, then make it clear - you trade in this country, you pay the taxes due. If any Government gets that wrong and makes it too unprofitable for the likes of Amazon, Google or Starbucks to trade here then they'll do what any rational commercial enterprise would do - they would turn their backs on the country and millions of vote bearing, coffee drinking, Google searching and Amazon buying people would ensure the Government got it right pretty quickly.
Sorting the tax rules out should be a priority, although I don't see any move from my armchair, just lots of outraged politicians attempting to bully Amazon (good luck there guys). However, getting the tax laws is likely to be a big job, will take time to get right. So I guess a bit of moral pressure on these three and any others that are legally avoiding tax will have to continue.
In the meantime, why not avoid paying any tax - or indeed any money - at all by 'buying' my second novel, The Journeymen for free using the special code in this posting. Offer good until January 1st 2013, don't ask exactly when, it's in Pacific time zone. Best you get your copy from Smashwords earlier than later.
The Fokker regional transport sat on the threshold of the
East Midlands Airport, both turbo prop engines idling at around 40%. The
captain ran through his cabin checklist, confirming the serviceability of the
various essential services. In the rear of the aircraft sat a mixture of
commuting businessmen and overnight parcels being delivered for one of the
newer courier companies in the United Kingdom. Hungry for success they had
persuaded the airline management team to delay the flight headed for London by
twenty minutes already to allow one of their contracts to be fulfilled – a
project proposal needed to be delivered securely to the Capital before the day
Captain Roland Smith had resented the delay but had used
the time to review the weather conditions and the aircraft systems while he
waited. The forecast had been full of warning about the freezing temperatures
and he had exercised the anti-icing systems several times, checking his cockpit
readings and getting the groundcrew to physically check the operation outside.
All had worked well, and he felt confident that there was no reason to postpone
the flight any longer than necessary. Due to the late hour and regional status
of the airport Roland didn’t have any concerns about getting air traffic
control clearance for the delayed take-off, but had pandered to the requests
and requirements of the officials on duty in any case; to aggravate the land
based personnel was tempting problems in Roland’s experience. His number two
slid alongside of him, having just supervised the loading of the proposal –
itself a minor affair compared to some of the cargo stowed on board – and more
importantly had ensured that the cabin doors had been secured correctly
afterwards. Last minute changes had a habit of introducing needless errors in
otherwise routine activities. Roland turned to his Co-Pilot.
‘All sorted?’ he enquired, knowing the answer before he
asked. Roland had flown with his partner for several years and knew he wouldn’t
have sat down if there were any problems. His partner nodded, busying himself
with his part of the mandatory take-off checks. Roland contacted Air Traffic,
to advise them of the current status and to request permission to taxi. After a
couple of interchanges the Fokker was cleared to taxi and the idling engines
were exercised a couple of times while Roland awaited the push back crew who
had hooked the aircraft up before leaving to undertake other duties earlier.
Within minutes the aircraft had been pushed clear of the
loading apron, and was moving forward under its own power along the perimeter
track which criss-crossed the main runways at several points. The route
supplied by Air Traffic Control tonight crossed just one main intersection and
was soon reached by the Fokker. Roland eased the throttles to idle at the
intersection, awaiting further clearance to proceed. As he waited, an aging
Boeing 727, wearing the livery of one of the cut price operators, accelerated
past the Fokker. The Boeing’s nose wheel lifted gently as it passed, the dimmed
internal lights revealing the multitude of holiday-makers bound for a winter
break in some southern Mediterranean locale gazing out of their side windows
for a last glimpse of home, before settling back to watch the in-flight movie.
As the Boeing passed it was followed by a shower of icy rain which danced and
skidded on the runway behind it, sparks of colour as the red, blue and green
taxiway lights delineating the edges and centre of the runway shone through the
ice melting in the wake of the jet exhaust. It was another fifty seconds before
Roland was authorised to continue, allowing sufficient time for the wake of the
departing aircraft to disperse.
Given clearance Roland eased the throttles again and
released the brakes. The aircraft moved forward, but more sluggishly than
expected, crossing the threshold much less smartly than Roland would have
liked. Out of preference he would spend as little time crossing a runway, in
any conditions, as he possibly could and was perturbed at the lack of response.
His Co-Pilot was busily scanning the gauges and information panels for a clue to
the lack-lustre performance on the taxiway while Roland continued to move the
aircraft forward to clear the area. Halfway across an impatient query from Air
Traffic Control served only to distract the two men, wasting a couple of
seconds. In desperation to clear the area Roland pushed the throttles for both
engines forward, far harder than he would have used for ground manoeuvres
normally. The right hand engine speed ramped up dramatically, while the left
hand one remained at virtually idle, the difference between each engines’
individual performance emphasised by the relevant gauges being aligned side by
side. The Co-pilot raised his voice above the heightened engine noise to report
that the number two engine was “over-temping” and he would need to shut it
down. Roland was about to call Air Traffic but they raised him first.
‘Alpha-delta-three-er-niner-tango, we require you to clear
the runway immediately, repeat immediately,’ barked the controller. Roland
keyed his microphone.
‘Air Traffic Control be aware that we are experience
taxiing and engine problems. I am attempting to clear the runway area and will
require ground assistance to return to dispersal,’ replied Roland, releasing
his microphone switch gently, belying the tension he now felt in his stomach.
‘Noted alpha-delta-three-er-niner-tango, we still require
you to clear the runway immediately. We have an inbound passenger aircraft
returning to land with severe control problems, it is unlikely that they can
hold off or manage another circuit. Clear the runway any way you can.’ Roland,
working feverishly throughout the message, looked to his number two, indicating
he needed ideas.
‘Only way we can clear the runway is to dump onto the
grassed area. Port brake unit appears to be locked on and I can only manage 20%
on the port engine. I can ramp up the starboard engine, but the risk of fire
will be high,’ the Co-pilot said, not looking directly at the Captain, instead
constantly monitoring the gauges in front of him.
‘Do it, shut down as soon as we’re clear,’ shouted Roland,
feeling for his microphone switch absently. The Co-pilot ramped up the
starboard engine, feeling the aircraft slew sidewards, pivoting around the
locked up brake unit. As the aircraft rolled bumpily onto the grassed area, the
starboard leg beginning to sink into the soft ground while the starboard engine
threw flames forward, razing the side of the fuselage as far as the front
passenger door, blackening and blistering the paintwork. The small number of
passengers on board, having maintained an unnatural silence in the preceding
seconds, started to shout involuntarily. Roland initiated the fire suppression
system while his partner shut down both engines.
As the crew were preparing to evacuate, the Boeing 727,
having managed to circle the airfield nursing multiple hydraulic failures that
had occurred within seconds of passing through rotation, the point where the
aircraft was committed to taking off, landed two hundred and fifty metres
behind the crossing point. The violently braking airliner’s port wing struck
the tailplane of the Fokker, which in turn tore a slice down the Boeing’s front
fuselage. Sparks lit the cold night air as the damaged aircraft slid skewed and
falteringly another two hundred metres, until its starboard undercarriage,
wrenched by the sideways slide, collapsed, bringing the battered tube to an
eerie stop. The Fokker, spun on its axis, was also listing badly, the sinking
undercarriage unit forced deeper by the collision. In a ballet like symmetry
both aircraft deployed their evacuation equipment, orange inflated tubes
extending outwards from the shining fuselage sides.
In less than an hour the details of the accident were being
broadcast on the late night news channels, with the consensus of opinion being
that the freezing rain had caused the event. Ironically the hacks, in relative
ignorance, were correct in that it was the freezing rain that had locked the
port brake unit on and immobilised the engine controls on the same side of the
brakes, but this detail would not be determined for some days, and the reports
broadcast insisted that the freezing rain had been responsible for the control
problems on the Boeing aircraft. None of this was immediately important to the
two passengers who died that night, one of a heart attack, the other through a
combination of physical trauma and hypothermia; nor was it particularly
important to the other one hundred and twenty seven passengers and crew who
suffered a variety of injuries, or the remainder who were discharged by the
local hospitals as officially unscathed – to a person they were glad to be
alive, pleased in some cases to be able to feel the pain of the bruises and the
sting of the cuts. In days to come all would wonder about the cause, consider
how close to death they had been, contemplate the risks they had run for a
commute to London or a late season holiday. But it was of immense interest to
several people listening to the news in darkened rooms on a remote Royal Air
Force base in North Yorkshire.
To obtain your free copy go to Smashwords and 'purchase' your copy using the code RT67P. Here's a link to the Smashwords 'The Journeymen' page for you to complete your 'purchase'. You will have the opportunity to apply the code at the checkout. Enjoy the read, feel free to share the promotional code and please leave a review when you have read the book. ------------------------------------------------
Sam was shaking his head, turning from the comatose figure
in the bed, tubes and wires feeding into and out of monitors, drips and
machines; then back to the sheaf of papers he had clutched for the past ten
minutes. He ran his eyes down the hand-written notes, noting the times recorded
and the interpretation given by Michael. One item, regarding a bomb explosion
in Tel Aviv, was of particular note as it dramatically mirrored a news report
he had heard on the way in, perhaps an hour earlier.
The news, described as breaking, had been regarding yet
another tragic suicide bomber. That much wasn’t remarkable, from the viewpoint
of the project. The turmoil in the Middle East had been increasing for months
and several suicide bombs had exploded in Israeli territory over the last few
weeks. Almost anyone could feasibly predict such an atrocity with very little
risk of missing the mark. A ceasefire prediction would have been more
remarkable, if true. But it was the detail that had made Sam sit up. An Israeli
suicide bomber, attacking a hotel housing a contingent of envoys representing
the more moderate Arab nations, was a twist in the fate of that region. Sam was
unsure if there were any recent similar events, or if an Israeli citizen had
ever taken it upon himself to retaliate in this way ever before. As his memory
served him the report had stated that the location of the hotel used by the
envoys had been regarded as a secret, and that the Mossad Head of Operations
had been recalled to the Israel Parliament to answer questions about internal
All of this had been written, no, scribbled down at least
three hours before the event. Some of the details were different, notably the
time of occurrence. Additionally the notes were less detailed than the radio
report but that wasn’t remarkable, most laymen would distil such a broadcast
into fewer words, with considerably less prose, than an experienced broadcaster
would. Ultimately the information would have provided enough detail to prevent
or minimise the atrocity, had a system been in place to forewarn the Israelis.
As Sam turned back to the page he noted another event,
taken from the same session that had identified the suicide bomber. It
detailed, much more vaguely, a report about an aircraft crash in the Midlands.
There was little or no detail about the type or size of the aircraft, or
whether there were casualties. Even the location was indistinct. What intrigued
Sam was the mention of the weather at the time of the incident – freezing rain.
He hadn’t heard of any aircraft accidents on the news but he had heard of a
forecast for freezing rain believed to be sweeping across from the east coast,
traversing the Midlands and petering out in mid Wales, with the worst showers
expected in the early hours. As he mused this information he was joined by
Michael and Martin, who lagged behind the white coated scientist. Michael
recognised the sheet that Sam had been reading.
‘Brilliant, or what?’ he asked rhetorically, excitement
brimming over. Pointing to the information about the bomber he continued, ‘I
expect they only missed him by a few minutes. If we had the system set up
correctly we could have averted this tragedy.’ Sam looked up, surprised at the
speed that the project was moving.
‘This was reported?’ He couldn’t keep the incredulity out
of his voice. Michael nodded, flicking his head towards Martin.
‘Yes, Martin arranged it,’ he said, taking the sheaf of
papers out of Sam’s hand in order to locate another substantial piece of
supporting evidence to their theory. Sam looked at Martin and saw in the
blankness of his eyes that no attempt to forewarn anyone had been made. That
much was what he had expected, and was what he believed to be the correct
procedure. Michael saw the exchange of glances and turned to Martin.
‘You did try, didn’t you?’ Martin shifted uncomfortably,
rocking his head to one side.
‘There wouldn’t have been sufficient time and we didn’t
know whether we would have been able to persuade anyone in Israel that our
intelligence was sound.’ Martin trailed off, not wishing to be drawn further.
‘Michael, we need to convince ourselves first, treat this
as a scientific experiment.’ Michael wasn’t listening, he turned and thrust the
sheaf of pages at Martin’s face.
‘How would you know there wasn’t enough time? We don’t know
yet what the time correlation between dimensions are, or the reliability of the
events. But we did know the name of the hotel, the names of the victims and the
purpose of their gathering. How hard would it have been to confirm the hotel’s
existence and the forum? Our intelligence people, your bosom buddies, they would
have found out that much. If it had proven to be rubbish, the hotel didn’t
exist, the location was different or the meeting was unknown about then we
could have sat back and sifted other information. But we could have found out
enough to warrant warning the Israelis, they could have intercepted the bomber,
reduced the loss of life and still proven the method. It was an ideal
opportunity,’ screamed Michael, throwing the papers onto the floor in front of
an indifferent Martin.
Sam watched, not believing the scene he was witnessing. He
had known Michael for many years, on and off, and considered the man to be a
reasonably impassive scientist. And Michael, Sam guessed, would have known
Martin for some time, much longer than Sam had known him, and the few short
days since their first meeting in the Manchester pub had confirmed how Sam
expected him to behave. Like Michael, Sam had met several ‘Martins’ over the
years, while engaged on secret Government research. They were all of a
muchness, usually bright, well educated, secretive and controlling. Martin
wouldn’t use any information at this stage, even if the theory was proven to be
correct beyond all doubt. He would be working with others of his ilk to find
ways to exploit this intelligence to Her Majesty’s Government’s advantage. All
this Sam knew, and had expected that Michael understood it as well. Martin
looked briefly at the pages strewn about his feet.
‘A remarkable outburst, and quite out of character,’ he
said quietly. ‘Perhaps the strain of the last few days, your obvious good
fortune in finding the correct medication levels so quickly, the noted long
hours you have put in and your clear concern for the well being of your patient
have contrived to shorten your humour. I would prefer you to maintain a better
perspective in these matters.
‘Still, I can help you in one of your concerns,’ continued
Martin, consulting a folded file he had brought with him. ‘As requested I have
had his various fluids tested and the analyses have been interpreted both by
the doctor supplied by the RAF and one of our own. Both conclude that, with the
exception of minor renal dysfunction, the results are consistent with a man of
the patient’s age. The dysfunction itself is not considered a problem, but they
have both recommended the monitoring to be stepped up to twice a day.’ He
looked directly at Michael. ‘I trust you can arrange that.’ With that Martin
pulled another piece of paper from his jacket’s inside pocket, unfolded it and
glanced over it in silence before continuing.
‘Despite that reassuring medical report I regret that we
will have to suspend the experiment by the weekend, and more importantly we
have to return the patient to a state of reasonable compos mentis.’ Sam and Michael looked at each other, puzzled.
Michael was still angry, cheeks flushed red, so Sam asked the obvious question.
‘Why? We’ve just started to get some progress, we’re
drilling into fresh dimensions every time as far as I can tell from the draft
reports and he’s holding up medically. More importantly, I understand the
nightmare scenario is starting to form a pattern. Time off the programme before
we have completed a full run of tests may well result in us losing the
initiative. We may find doors shut all over.’ Martin raised his hand.
‘It’s not my wish, and I have argued at the highest level
available to me to ignore this, but John Staples is required to appear before a
Coroner’s court next week to give evidence. If he doesn’t show then your
hospital will be hit with a writ for Habeas Corpus. We could get him Sectioned,
but that is likely to raise the profile unnecessarily; or we could simply
disappear him. Given Mr Watson’s misgivings over my handling of the primitive
intelligence gained so far, I very much doubt if either of you would
countenance such an approach.
‘Besides, we believe Staples’ boss and some friends of his
know more or less where Staples is,’ continued Martin, ’and that has made a few
of our people nervous.’ Martin examined his fingernails for a few seconds
before continuing. ‘Can we get him in a state that will appear consistent with
a man undergoing minor psychiatric treatment without drawing too much attention
to him. I don’t want the Coroner, or anyone else for that matter, starting to
think he is mad enough to have caused that accident.’ Martin looked directly at
Michael. ‘Well, can we?’ Michael, still obviously flushed, attempted to regain
‘I expect we could, but it seems an incredible waste of our
time,’ he said, ‘I would have thought your people could have circumvented this
kind of problem. It’s what you are noted for.’ Michael struggled for something
more tangible to accuse the Government spook of, but found that he had very
little to say. In the best tradition of his calling Martin had developed a
strategy of avoiding carrying out his work in anyone’s sight. He obviously did
things; arranged, sorted and manipulated things, but always in private, quietly
and without fuss. It was without doubt the man put the hours in, probably long
into the small hours, most days. But you’d never guess unless you were used to
this breed of person. After a pause Michael continued: ‘Can’t you pull anything
to prevent this, get the Coroner’s court postponed a few weeks or something?’
Martin seemed to weigh up the suggestion, as if it was sufficiently unique to
have not been considered previously.
‘To be honest, this isn’t my call any more,’ he stated,
lying through his back teeth, ‘nor yours, to be blunt. We’re co-operating on
this one and we’ll make the best of it.’ Martin felt disinclined to appraise
the two men that he had suppressed most of what had been carried out, including
the successes. With that he left, leaving the two Doctors staring at each
other. Sam broke the silence that had fallen momentarily.
‘I don’t like this. We’re committed to what we’ve started,
and we’re both exposed more than we’d like. This isn’t how I expected things to
pan out.’ Michael, shaking his head in resignation, walked away.
Well, first of all, Merry Christmas. If you've stumbled across this post on Christmas Day then it's probable that you've been given an eReader or maybe a tablet computer as a present and want to get into the eBook world.
For those of you not convinced that eBooks are a substitute for the printed variety then, for what it's worth, here is my view as a person who has been reading eBooks on a variety of devices for the last couple of years. So, OK I'm a little bit biased as I sell my own novels as eBooks, but I'm also a consumer of the genre. You'll have to persevere and try the eBooks out for yourself before you're fully convinced, but in my experience every person who has insisted that they didn't rate reading eBooks over print books had, with one exception, never tried reading eBooks. Of those who have subsequently tried the eBook thing, they love it. Sure, there's a tactile element to print books, as well as allergy inducing paper particles, but you try lugging a couple of dozen of books around with you all day long and you'll soon realise there are disadvantages to the paper versions.
But you're reading this because you've opened a package and found a Kindle or a Kobo, maybe a Nook, possibly a Google Nexus 7 or even an Apple iPad in one of the two variant sizes. Where do you go next?
Well, if the device you have unwrapped is a dedicated eReading device then you are largely limited to the bookstore supporting it for your books - that is, for Amazon Kindle devices look at your local Amazon eStore for books, for Barnes & Noble Nook devices, the B & N store that serves your region and so on. There is one other legitimate route for you (and the implication that there are illegitimate routes is intended - books can be obtained over the internet through eBay and other sales channels that imply they are free but many of them are illegal copies). The legitimate alternative is Smashwords - a US company that lets authors self publish through them non-exclusively and acts as an aggregator, a company that distributes those books to B&N, Kobo, Apple etc. Not every book on Smashwords is distributed to the other bookstores - that's down to the author choosing whether or not to and then jumping though some technical hoops if they do choose to. Anyway, Smashwords provides dedicated eReader owners with an alternative source of eBooks. Downsides are that you'll have to download the correct format (Smashwords makes that very easy for you) onto your computer. From there you'll have to drag the file onto your eReader by connecting it via a USB cable. It may sound techno, but it isn't that hard to do. The other downside to Smashwords is that it does seem to attract a significant number of 'adult' books, some only a few thousand words long which technically makes them an essay. You should be able to filter these books out if they're not your bag and by default Smashwords signs you up with a 'prude filter' engaged.
If you have just unwrapped a tablet computer and want to use it for reading eBooks, then your options are better than ever. Sure, you can use the product store associated with the tablet, if it has one, such as the Apple iBookstore or Amazon store for the Kindle Fire family, as well as the Smashwords option - by the way, if you buy books for an iPad through them then the book pops into the iBookshelf as if it came from Apple.
But the better news is that pretty much all the major eBook sellers have their own eReading apps that you can download for free onto your tablet. So, if you have just opened a Google Nexus you can download the Amazon Kindle app or the B&N app for it. Same goes for your Apple iPad and any other tablet computer. The one bookstore that doesn't seem to let you do this is the Apple bookstore - if you don't have an Apple device you don't get access to their bookstore.So the world really is your oyster as this allows you to shop around a little and perhaps find books not listed on your device's bookstore but on someone else's.
That evening, as the Government Jaguar containing Sam
Jackson, sat between two silent and bulky Government personnel, left the M62
motorway, having joined it via a variety of back roads and various alternative
routes, Jack approached the MD’s office nervously. Oblivious of Sam’s journey,
Jack’s thoughts were on the reaction the MD was likely to have regarding the
four page fax he was clutching. He was reeling at the speed Alan had moved, not
feeling fully prepared for another roasting despite notionally agreeing to the
Knocking on the glass pane of the MD’s office he was
greeted by the MD, one hand clutching a phone to his right ear, the other
waving to indicate Jack should enter. He closed the door behind him and sat in
the chair indicated while the boss completed his call, a personal one with a
business colleague. Clearly he had calmed down sufficiently to allow Jack to
sit, and Jack wondered how long that would last. Within a minute the MD had
finished his call and had leant forward on his arms, palms resting down onto
the leather edging on his desk writing pad.
‘Jack, I’m glad you’ve called by. I’ve been thinking about
our meeting this morning and I believe I was a bit hard on you.’ The MD sat
back a little, choosing not to add that he had also consulted the company
solicitor and an independent organisation following the meeting, confirming
that his and the company’s exposure was low. Jack swallowed as he proffered the
rolling fax sheets.
‘You may wish to reconsider again. The message I’ve been
getting from the HSE has been reversed, they now think the company has been negligent
and are going to call you, me and several company personnel to give evidence at
the Coroner’s enquiry a week on Wednesday.’ Jack waited while this sank in,
watching the MD’s face draw in, his lips pursing together.
‘What has changed, Jack? Why are we now the bad guys?’
asked the MD, controlling the anger welling up again. He looked to the side of
Jack at a wall full of publicity photographs depicting him meeting dignitaries
local and national. Jack lay the fax sheets on the desk.
‘I don’t know,’ he lied, ‘it’s just that the messages I was
getting implied that they were reasonably content with all we had done, before
and since the accident. I think there may be pressure from above to be seen to
cover all the angles due to the death. My contact at the HSE hasn’t given me
any information, which implies it isn’t his call.’ The MD breathed in deeply
before picking up the fax.
‘Who do they want, apart from us two?’ he scanned the
pages, not reading the tightly typed words, merely appreciating the formal layout.
‘One of the production managers, two of the maintenance
crew and the new guy running stores, Alinson. The MD nodded, placing the
document back onto the desk top, parked his anger to one side and switched on
his operational head.
‘OK, I’ll get Sandra to clear my diary for the day,
although these things don’t usually take too long. I’ll get the company legal
expert to prepare a briefing for all involved tomorrow, probably in the
afternoon. I doubt if I can raise him tonight. Can you get the others to
attend?’ Jack shook his head.
‘Most. One’s off sick at the moment and I can’t raise him
at home. He might be in hospital, he was seeing a psychiatric doctor a few days
a go. I’ll try and get some info from the hospital in the morning.’ The MD nodded,
‘Good. You might not get a lot of information from the
hospital, they’re not usually too forthcoming about their patients, for good
ethical reasons I expect. I presume we’re talking about the local hospital?’
Jack nodded. The MD continued, ‘I expect you know I’m a trustee of the
hospital. Any problems, see me and I’ll use my contacts. I want to make sure we
have the best chance of preparing for this enquiry, and not fielding all
required personnel isn’t the way to win hearts and minds.’ With that the MD
picked up the phone, which signalled to Jack that he was finished for the time
being. Picking up the fax sheets, Jack stood up and paused. Lying didn’t come
too easily to Jack yet he was starting to make a habit of it at present, all
for the best reasons he believed, but he was certain that in the end the truth
would out. For a moment he considered sitting right back down and starting at
the beginning, but deep down he knew it would be a waste of time. The MD looked
back up, more aware that he hadn’t heard the door open and close than of Jack
still standing there.
‘Was there anything else, Jack’, he asked, ‘because I
reckon we’ve both got busy days tomorrow. I suggest you clear anything on your
desk that needs sorting now, and then push off home, sharpen the blade so to
speak.’ He produced a wan, insincere smile that said, ‘now leave before I’m
forced to throw you out.’ Jack nodded, turned and left.
The rumbling court battle between Apple and, well anyone prepared to make a mobile phone or a tablet computer but mainly Samsung right now has hit a new stumbling block.
It's not the first stumbling block since Apple were awarded a paltry $1 billion in damages for alleged patent infringements but it is a significant one. You see, the basis of the argument is that Samsung infringed six specific patents. Many hours of legal argument have been spent on this topic in three different countries with three different results, but the US result that awarded the eye watering fine is the most spectacular.
That result is being challenged at the moment because the Jury foreman at the trial is alleged to have failed to declare an incident that may have prejudiced his opinion about Samsung. Apparently Seagate, a company Samsung bought into a year or so ago, dismissed the man about ten years earlier resulting in his bankruptcy. From what I have read, the man wasn't asked a direct question that would have revealed the link, but that's one for the lawyers to work out for certain.
Then there are the two non-US court cases over the patents; the South Korean courts found that both Apple and Samsung had stolen ideas from each other and awarded each fairly trivial damages. The UK high court, in a ruling that is applicable across the whole European Union, found no case to answer. In fact, they forced Apple to make a statement on its UK website and in selected UK newspapers stating that no infringement had taken place, a statement Apple made eventually after some prodding from the court.
And now the US Patent Office have decided that at least one of the six patents Apple claim were infringed was not a unique patent, that is, there were earlier patents that covered the same ground. Probably not identical, but close enough to demonstrate that it wasn't a unique idea. The patent was for the 'pinch to zoom' feature that is popular in many smartphones and tablets, and increasingly used in crime dramas on oversized capacitance screens - like public law enforcement agencies can afford that level of technology in this current economy!
And the other patents? Well, one appears to be around the concept of a rectangular shaped device with rounded corners. I think Hershey or Cadbury could challenge that idea quite easily. OK, they never used the shape on a mobile phone but they did make objects that shape that people wanted to put near their mouths and loved. Certainly the UK courts weren't too supportive to Apple on this matter, stating that Apple's products were cooler than Samsung's, but not infringed.
And there was the App bounce-back that Apple use to show you've reached the last page of Apps. Somewhere between Newton's Laws of Motion and Einstein's Theory of Relativity sits the model for a dimensionless, massless image travelling towards an implied theoretical wall. Another failure to impress the UK courts, it seems.
This is probably a hiccup in this long running saga that doesn't give many clues to the ultimate outcome. I suspect that by the time a final binding decision is made the technology being argued about will be as relevant as a Betamax recorder is today and $1 billion won't be enough to buy a round of coffees at Starbucks. In fact, I suspect we're almost at that threshold right now.
At least, as far as the round at Starbucks is concerned.
The call arrived at Fylingdales at about five thirty PM,
forty minutes after the first deep session on John had started. Martin had been
called away, reluctantly, from the interview observation room he had had
constructed hurriedly at one end of the under-utilised medical centre.
‘Yes, what is it?’ his impatience boiled up and overflowed.
God damn it, this project was looking like it could bear some fruit at last.
Already he had a number of potential problems he could place on file, to await
results, and Staples had referred to at least two events he could not have
known about, due to the deep level of sedation he had been under. Once the big
wigs, the lords and masters, got wind of this the project would be elevated a
rung or two and he would have reciprocal benefits. Sam Jackson spoke.
‘I think they know,’ he said. Martin, usually considering such
an opening in a conversation to be quite normal, was thrown. His evaluation of
Sam included a deep routed belief that he would blurt out State secrets to
anyone who cared to say boo, for whatever reason. Enigmatic openings that would
reveal nothing to eavesdroppers didn’t figure in his assessment.
‘Who knows what?’ he said, biting his tongue as he realised
he had just broken about every rule in his own book, the one he would only
write in his head to prevent anyone else reading it. He tried to follow up with
a caution before Sam could speak, but was too late.
‘Staples’ boss and his wife. I think they know where he
is,’ said Sam. Before he could proceed he was interrupted by Martin:
‘No names, of people, places or anything. Just try to tell
me what you know within those constraints.’
‘I had a visit. She said she had checked all the possible
places that…’ Sam paused, trying to comply with the request that sounded like
an order, ‘…he could be. She said she knew he wasn’t there. I know protocol.
They wouldn’t say one way or the other. The only way she could know would be if
she knew exactly where he was,’ said Sam, unsure as to whether he had complied
with the instructions or not. He was about to continue when Martin pitched in.
‘OK, I think I understand,’ he lied, ‘could you get here
tonight?’ Sam thought quickly.
‘I guess, but I can’t stay. I’ve got appointments tomorrow
that I have to follow through on.’ Martin thought about this, not really
understanding the lack of commitment, in his opinion, that the man showed.
‘No problem, we need to talk more freely. Don’t take your
car, I’ll arrange something.’
‘Don’t you trust me?’ asked Sam, affronted.
‘Not one inch. If I’ve understood what you have just said
than you’ve either let someone follow you last time, or you’ve been talking.
Whichever, it isn’t good news. You’ll be picked up from your house at about six
thirty. Be there.’ Martin slammed down the phone in an untoward fit of anger,
then picked it up again to make some more calls. Twenty minutes later he slid into
the observation room, to be greeted by an excited Michael.
‘I think I’ve found the exact balance of drug. This could
have taken days but I’ve stumbled on the amount almost without trying. I ramp
it up, he glazes. I let it decay, he talks. Have you called in any of these
yet? I think the bomb in Tel Aviv should be checked out, if it’s going to
happen here the information he gave should prevent it.’ Martin tried to mirror
the doctor’s excitement. Despite the realisation that this was potentially the
most dramatic medical and scientific discovery ever he couldn’t feel the
child-like sentiments that Michael obviously felt. Deep down he resented and
envied those emotions, expressions he had never been able to show.
‘Sure,’ he lied, back on home ground, ‘and the rest. I’ve
been out of the obs room awhile. Any other big ones?’
‘A couple, but I think I read about one of them yesterday,
it’ll have to be verified. I’ve had a few nightmare scenarios, as well.’ Martin
looked up from the note he had started to jot at this comment. They had dubbed
this the nightmare scenario because it blew the whole project apart. When it
hadn’t happened, when Staples had been able to reveal events that had happened
while he had been sedated plus events that were, as yet, only potential events,
then the spectre of the nightmare scenario had diminished, pushed into a dark
corner away from sight. Martin caught Michael looking at his watch.
‘I’ve dropped his levels, I’ll call it a day for him now.
He may need a counsellor when he comes out of the stupor, I’ve arranged for a
damn fine one to arrive sometime this evening,’ Michael said. Martin looked
perplexed, felt anger.
‘Why? We decided the counsellor wouldn’t be needed until
after we had finished with the patient. You’ve only touched on his potential,
you should keep him pumped up,’ Martin exploded. Michael, taken aback, defended
‘We’ve proven the principle, at least as far as events that
have happened. What we can’t be sure of is whether he became contaminated in
the hospital this morning, I believe he dropped into semi-consciousness at one
point, he could have overheard stray conversations. I think we need to do two
things. First we need to verify that a proportion of the events he described
occur or, better, are prevented by the intelligence he has provided. Then we
need to present him with the facts, appeal to his public spirit.’ Martin was
shaking his head at this suggestion. He had expected this much from Michael,
having followed his every step for the last couple of years. The man was too
soft, too ready to put the patient before his country, that much Martin was
sure of. He had respected the decision to allow him into the DTRU, after all he
had the makings of a scientist who could deliver what he promised. But deep down
he was just like the rest of them, concerned with ethics and, worse, scientific
procedures; the same procedures that insisted potentially life saving drugs for
cancer or AIDS should be “rushed” through ten years after discovery. No matter
that ten thousand people would die with or without the drugs, the scientists
refused to release them until small scale trials had been completed ad
infinitum. And ad nauseum.
But worse than all of this was the risk that the nightmare
scenario was kicking in. It had been modelled, but by proper mathematicians,
not medics with their half baked approach to the subject. And not with
Michael’s knowledge either. He might guess, but he would never know. If the
modelling was right they could have between half an hour and five weeks, with
an eighty three point diddly squat chance that they were nearer the half hour
than the five week point. It all depended on who found John first.
‘That’s all very decent of you, but I think we need to
gather as much information as we can. Staples is out of it for now, he can be
kept there for a while longer. If you bring him down and he needs counselling
then he’ll need it again next time. I’ve seen those counsellors in action, you
shouldn’t inflict it on him more than once.’ Martin was desperately trying to
keep the discussion at a level that could be recovered easily. If he went in
hard then he could lose Michael, and therefore the project, in one swift move.
He had that ego seeking prat Jackson coming in, he would keep Staples under for
months as long as he believed he was heading to be top dog. If Jackson had
proven to be more reliable previously then he would have been at this facility
now. He would need careful monitoring, that was obvious, but if Michael was
about to go all ethical on him then he will have outlived his purpose.
What Martin needed to ensure was that the technical matters
were transferred completely. He needed to rein Michael in until the process was
complete. After that he would re-evaluate. Michael spoke, clearly and
‘We run this my way, or the whole thing stops here and now.
My concern is for the patient. That cocktail we’re giving him now is likely to
cause long term damage to his vital organs in short order. Truth is, I can only
guess what the time scale is as they are a unique combination. We owe it to
John Staples to check he’s OK.’ Martin considered this for a while before
responding. He realised that he was in a tricky position.
‘I agree,’ he lied again, ‘but before you do that I’d like
Sam to have a look. He’s on his way as we speak.’
‘You brought Sam into this? I knew you were going to talk
to him this morning but I didn’t expect you to react this quickly,’ said
Michael, picking up immediately.
He’s on his way, and he tells me he has a pretty busy
schedule back at work so he can’t stop long. He won’t have much time, so I
think you could run him through what you’ve achieved today.’ With that Martin
started to turn. As he moved he continued, seamlessly. ‘On balance I feel it
would be better if you kept Staples sedated, but use the next couple of hours
carrying out tests on his blood, urine and whatever else it is you measure to
confirm his well-being. Obviously if you get serious contra-indications then
Sam will miss the show, and I guess you know how cut up he’ll be over that.
Still, as you said, the patient comes first.’ Michael thought quickly.
‘Sounds sensible. Sam would hate to miss this and I guess I
owe him it. I’ve had some samples of Staple’s fluids sent for analysis, and I
reckon I can have them expedited. His real time indications, heart rate, blood
pressure, alpha and beta activity seem reasonable at present.’ Michael nodded,
more to himself than to Martin. ‘Yes, I agree, I’ll keep him balanced just
under the optimal level until I get the results and if there isn’t any problems
I can put him back into the probing condition within minutes of Sam arriving.
After that Sam and I can decide on the best method of treatment.’ Michael felt
a weight of responsibility lift off him as he unilaterally transferred a sizeable
portion of the treatment decision making across to Sam. ‘I’ll make a start
now,’ he said, moving back towards the ward, a sense of purpose re-ignited.