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.
As Jack was joining the M5 northwards, John was settling
down in his house, having finally made his way home. Making a cup of tea he
considered the tablets prescribed carefully, turning the plastic container
round and round in his hand. Although he felt weary – dog beat he told himself
– he felt that the tablets were causing more problems than they were solving.
He watched some afternoon TV, and managed to make and eat a simple sandwich by
early evening. It was about eight o’ clock by the time he fell into the
bedclothes, dragging them around his aching frame. Despite his tiredness he
found that sleep wouldn’t come to him, instead he was haunted by daydreams
where Karen watched the accident at the works time after time. Eventually he
arose, at about eleven, and succumbed to the tablets downstairs on the kitchen
table. Ten minutes later he was in a fast, dreamless sleep.
Arriving back at the house Jack was greeted by a note explaining
in general terms that Karen and the kids had gone to her parents’ home for some
tea. When he phoned to speak he found out about the stranger who had visited,
how Karen’s father had felt it better that they get away from the house for the
afternoon and that they were all about to settle down in front of the
television to watch a block-busting film with a take-away meal. Karen was
generally dismissive of Jack’s concern about the stranger, she had had several
hours to rationalise the events and had come to the opinion that she had
over-reacted. She was, however, less than enthusiastic that Jack intended to go
to the pub that night and terminated the call more quickly than Jack would have
expected. Foregoing the delights of the fridge and freezer, Jack decided to
call in at the local fish and chip shop on his way to the pub, having decided
to walk there. It had been his intention to drive, have at most one pint of
bitter and then return. The terseness of Karen’s conversation at the end of the
phone call coupled with the frustration of his wasted day had convinced Jack to
reconsider that strategy. Picking up the notebook he had removed from John’s
house, he donned his coat once more and headed out of the house for warm grease
and cooler beer.
Alan Parkinson was at the bar when Jack walked in, standing
talking to two young girls, his eyes roving freely over their slightly clad
bodies. The girls were, Jack guessed, humouring him and probably enjoying a
free drink before they proceeded onto the clubs and bars in central Manchester.
Alan swigged the remainder of his beer down swiftly as he spotted Jack,
expansively ordering a top up and indicating that Jack and the two girls could
have a drink on him. The girls declined, Jack decided, in part because there
were now two old farts trying to chat them up. They had exchanged looks that
were indecipherable, but were clearly a message that each other understood. As
they left the bar, Alan remarked:
‘You must be the kiss of death, Jack. I rather fancied my
chances with the blonde.’ Jack snorted, picking up a freshly poured pint.
‘I think you stood a good chance of being fleeced for
drinks. Don’t look so hurt, they could’ve been your daughters. I think they
left in case you and I decided this was a date.’ Alan laughed before swallowing
a fair sized draught of his beer.
‘You’re probably right. Still, I enjoyed their company
while I was waiting.’ Alan looked around the bar, eventually nodding in the
direction of a small, round table in the corner of the room. ‘Want to sit over
there?’ he asked. As the two men sat down, Jack put the notebook carefully onto
the table, having extracted it from inside his coat pocket as they walked
across the bar. Alan clearly held no significance for the tattered book,
reasonably enough in Jack’s opinion. Instead he pitched in with sentences
punctuated by sizeable gulps of beer.
‘I never got in touch with that Staples fellow, Jack. No
answer to his phone or his door. He might be on sick leave, but he doesn’t seem
to be spending it at home.’
‘Unless he was in bed?’ suggested Jack, noting that Alan
was already halfway down his pint, while Jack had only skimmed the head. He
resolved to drink faster, at least initially.
‘Hmm,’ mumbled Alan, froth running along his top lip as he
put his glass down. ‘Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter, not to me, anyhow. I got a
phone call from the importers of that valve I removed the other day, late this
afternoon. I’d asked them to have a look at the valve, to see if it had been
tampered with. Apparently not, they said, but it seemed that it was quite old
stock and had failed in the closed position.’ Alan reached for his pint again,
leaving a narrow passage open for Jack.
‘Still doesn’t prove anything, does it? He fitted it.’
‘Ah, but he got it from your stores the day it arrived from
the distributors. It seems they made a minor cock-up; the distributors, not
your stores. The valve was a little out of date, they called it obsolescent as
opposed to obsolete. Seemingly they try to support the obsolescent items as
long as they can, and had had this item on the shelf for a tad longer than
normal. That in itself isn’t a problem, but as a matter of policy they normally
carry out some tests on stored items over two years old before despatch, just
‘And this valve was over two years old?’
‘Nearly three. You not thirsty?’ Alan drained his glass and
half stood, ready to get himself a top up. Jack took the initiative, sinking
the remains of his own pint.
‘I’ll get these, it’s my round,’ he said, removing Alan’s
glass from his hand. ‘I take they didn’t test it before despatch, then?’
‘No record of it, they’ve held their hands up and suggested
that they have probably cocked up. Fact is, there’s nothing to suggest that our
Mr Staples did anything untoward to the valve, and there’s nothing to suggest
he had any involvement with the tragic trail of events leading up to the
accident. That’s why I was reluctant to call in the authorities, police in
particular, because when you start these things it’s very difficult to stop
them.’ Jack hovered by the table for a few more seconds, deliberating before
pitching in with his revelation.
‘Problem is, John Staples tried to suggest to me that the
accident would happen, over a year ago. And he wrote this…’ Jack opened the
notebook at the passage that was now ingrained in his memory.
I guessed that the relief valve had failed….
As Alan picked up the book, Jack headed for the bar. He had
only just finished ordering the two pints when the sound of Alan’s voice boomed
across the bar.
‘Bloody hell!’ Jack turned to see Alan swiftly skipping
through the book, as a desperate student does minutes before a vital exam.
Paying the barmaid, Jack returned to the table, setting the pints down
carefully, losing only a small amount of froth from his own drink.
‘I don’t quite understand a lot of what he writes about,
but there’s something in there that stops me throwing that book away.’ Alan
looked up, clearly bemused by the rambling text he had just dipped into, and
deeply concerned about the passage that explained John Staples had predicted
the accident. Jack continued:
‘I’m about to reveal something to you that until this week
only my mother, myself and my wife knew. But it appears John knew it as well,
and I can’t explain it.’
Amazon have been running a lending library for eBooks for some time in the US, but this week they have extended the facility to the UK and Europe. They claim that members can borrow from thousands of books - they don't identify how many thousand but do mention that there are more than 100 current and former New York Times bestsellers on the list. Sounds like a good scheme, how do we join?
First and foremost you need a Kindle device. Well, maybe you don't, any device capable of running the Kindle App will probably do, but please check before you sign up. The critical point is that you can only borrow books to an Amazon environment, which is probably quite reasonable given its an Amazon initiative.
You also need to sign up for Amazon Prime. This is a scheme where you pay Amazon £49 a year, just under a pound a week, to qualify for free one day delivery for a very large number of items purchased on Amazon. And it's available for up to four persons from the same household so that's a useful consideration if there are multiple Amazon customers under your roof. If you're a frequent purchaser from them and have a burning need to have your purchases the next working day, Prime is probably a good option. Me, I plan a little ahead and generally can wait a few days, so I get free shipping from them anyway. And I don't buy shed loads of stuff from Amazon. I shop around instead.
But if you do sign up for Amazon Prime and want to access free eBooks from their lending library - I understand all the Harry Potter books are in there, not my bag but they do seem quite popular - then it could be for you.
I don't know how comprehensive this library is - my books aren't in there, or at least I hope they're not - but I'm sure that won't sway most people. Your other favourite authors may not be represented either. You see, there's another facet to the lending library. To be listed, authors have to commit to giving Amazon exclusive rights to any books that are to be listed. To be fair to Amazon, they're putting up $700,000 a month to be shared amongst the authors whose books are borrowed - no wonder they've just posted a quarterly loss.
Me, I don't like this exclusivity. I think books are undergoing one of the most liberating processes since Mr Gutenberg invented the printing press. My books, and the books of many other authors are available from Amazon as eBooks and for those of us prepared to wrestle with Amazon's subsidiary Createspace, in paperback too. They are also available on the Apple iBookstore for those who prefer to buy their books from Apple. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, WH Smith and many other bookstores stock them as well. The pure existence of these bookstores provides the competition that should keep prices keen.
Amazon are attempting to bribe authors to starve their competitors of books. And the lending library, good an idea that it is, is part of that strategy. I don't think Amazon need the exclusivity to succeed in this endeavour. I would suggest that if they dropped the exclusivity clause they would do well. they'd also have a lot more books to include in the library, which is really an added incentive for their customers to engage in Prime, which in itself is just a way to try and get people to shop with them by default. They would have an enlarged library that also encouraged readers to visit them often.
The winds are howling, the storm is brewing and America is bracing as Hurricane Sandy starts to whip the Eastern coastline. It would be churlish to trivialise the events on the coast and parallel in line with it, with families battening down the hatches, boarding up the windows and being urged by the President to listen to the emergency planners and leave for the hills if in the track of the storm. It has affected the NY stock exchange, interrupted thousands of internal and International flights, ships are securely berthed rather than venturing out to sea and Google had to cancel their announcement.
It's been a big week for announcements. Apple, of course, have launched the iPad mini to favourable reviews. Amazon snuck in the launch of the Kindle Fire HD over here in the UK and that seems to be picking up rather well and Google had a couple of exciting things to shout about. The weather, not for the first time, stopped play though. So Google decided to host the party online instead. I'm sure they were ready to walk on a stage holding devices up like trophies, but to be honest that's getting a bit same-looking.
Anyway, Google are announcing a whole, consistent family of Nexus devices - you know, a 4" phone, a 7" tablet and a 10" tablet. Until a couple of days ago that would have seemed a pretty unique offering, so it's no wonder that Apple had a pop or two at Google at the iPad mini launch. It's what people do when they're worried.
The trio are designed to complement each other in style and function. The Nexus 4 is the phone element, featuring a quad core processor and the latest Android OS. Screen size is 4.7" so it's very nearly the Nexus 5 and I reckon that will be next year's offering. It's packed full of new Google features including the new Photo Sphere software that takes photos all around you and also above and below before stitching them together into one mega photo.
The Nexus 7 is improved, as suggested a couple of blog entries ago, by having the 8 Gb version dropped, with the 16Gb version slipping into base position and taking up the old 8Gb price point, with it being replaced by a 32Gb Nexus coming in at the same price as the 16 Gb used to be sold at.
The 10" tablet is designed to provide cinematic standard viewing and features a micro HDMI port for exporting to your TV when needed. This tablet is designed to be shared and to that end Google have embedded the ability to host multiple accounts on the machine so that all family members can have their own Nexus space to view emails and store apps on. This is on top of the very useful functionality of the Nexus 7 that lets you host multiple email accounts to be viewed separately or together as you wish.
I think that Google have realised what Apple have been moving towards for a while now. We all have our own personal phones and increasingly this is a smart variety. They've also realised that Steve Jobs knew a thing or two and when he resisted 7" tablets he did so because the larger screen real estate is so useful for many tasks. However they've also realised the usefulness of a more portable device, hence their Nexus 7 launched earlier this year. The future is 7" tablets used as the go anywhere devices backed up by the more domestic variety in 10".
They are also pushing personal usage further, interestingly in the field of music. There's no doubt that Apple have played a long and clever game with iTunes and to tackle them head on is almost certainly going to fail. Google are tackling it obliquely instead. Not only can users purchase music from Google Play, they can also upload up to 20,000 of their existing songs to their Google cloud space for free. In fact, if you try to upload songs that are already in their catalogue you won't even need to spend time transferring the file to the cloud - Google will do that for you from their copy. Now, given the squabble going on between Bruce Willis and Apple, this is an interesting twist.
Will Google stand a chance against Apple? Don't know, but I really hope so. I don't have anything against Apple, in fact I really like their style, but I'd like to see some real competition coming their way. This family might just provide it.
Jack’s journey, by contrast, had gone exceedingly well, and
he was parked up looking at the grand edifice that fronted his mother’s nursing
home by early afternoon. It took the reception staff ten minutes to accept his
bona fide; it always did, a reflection on the frequency of his visits, he
guessed. He found his mother sat on a red leather chair, it’s arms cracking
through years of use and too little attention. As usual she smiled on his
arrival, but irritation showed in her eyes.
‘You never said you were going to visit,’ she opened with,
curtly. Jack had never quite got used to making appointments to see his mother,
but that was how she had wanted it since she found it too difficult to cope on
her own. She had managed until she was nearly sixty, had held down full time
jobs all through his youth and while he was away in the Army, but had finally
succumbed to the ravages of time – arthritis in particular. When Jack, now about
to marry the Manchester girl he had met whilst on leave, had volunteered to
look after her she had rejected his suggestion, and would not listen to any
talk of his leaving the Army despite his arguments that he had seen enough
soldiering to last him a lifetime. Four years later, when he actually was
leaving the Army to settle down with Karen and James, their two year old
toddler, he tried again to persuade his Mother to move in. She wouldn’t have a
bar of it then, noting that she couldn’t possibly be expected to move up to
Manchester, especially as he was always away, and anyhow she was far too
settled in the nursing home. Jack knew then that he had missed his opportunity
the first time around, he hadn’t pushed hard enough and she had realised he was
besotted with ‘this northern girl he had met.’ She had been right, too.
Virtually everything he did at that time, unless it had been centred around
Karen, had been half hearted. His career had faltered and his mother felt she
had been failed when he should have been there. She never complained, but he
was never allowed to forget how, and who, he chose.
‘I need to talk to you, about my father,’ he said. His
mother stiffened in the chair, her back arching defiantly.
‘What of him?’
‘Who else knows. About him and me?’ Jack had rehearsed
several questions on his way down, but none of them seemed appropriate now.
‘No-one. No-one else ever knew. I told you that. My mother
beat me, she said it was to get the evil out but I knew it was to make me say
who he was.’
‘Did he know? My father?’
‘No. He was killed in an accident in Germany three weeks
after I fell pregnant. I didn’t even know at that time, let alone him.’
‘National Service, with the airforce. His family were
unaware we had met. It was just one of those things, I didn’t want to add to
their sadness. It wasn’t as though I had been in love with him. So I kept quiet
and reared you myself, on my own.’
‘I hadn’t realised he meant so little. I know you never
spoke about him, I always assumed you had been hurt badly, or, when I was
older, that you had been raped.’ Jack flushed as he spoke, not addressing his
mother directly. Sons, he knew, did not generally speak with their parents like
this, but this was not a usual situation. The suggestion of rape caused Jack’s
mother’s eyes to flash momentarily, but if he had struck a sore nerve he wasn’t
going to draw her further.
‘I knew so little about him, really. It was all a mistake,
something that got out of hand. But I loved you with all my might, and I never
let you down, not once.’ Jack wondered if this was another barb to snag him on,
or simply her way of expressing what all mother’s should and generally do feel
about their children. Then she looked directly at Jack again:
‘Why did you need to come and ask all of these questions?
Why travel all of this way without phoning or writing, when you hardly ever
visit at all?’ Jack shuffled, wondering if he should mention any of the events
of the last few days. He could hardly tell her that a man named Staples seemed
to know his father’s surname, had written it down in a notebook. Even if she
knew anyone called Staples, from what she had said they couldn’t possibly have
known his father’s name. If they did, why was it in the book, with all those
‘I think someone else knew.’ Jack could hear the response
he would have had, if he had been sat on the leather chair: ‘So what? What if
someone did? How’s that a problem?’ His mother sat thinking, possibly the same
thoughts, possibly not. Eventually she spoke, quietly:
‘If anyone ever knew, before I told you, then it was
without my knowledge. Naturally there was a lot of speculation, I was a thirty
year old spinster in a small town, and I reckon every single man, as well as
most of the local married men, had been accused of being your father in the
first twelve months. But they tired of the guessing, and as far as I know they
never guessed right. I took to not commenting when asked outright, it was none
of their business and I didn’t take a handout from anyone. I paid my way, including
my mum for looking after you while I worked, and that was that.’
‘I expect your wall of silence wasn’t too popular,’ said
Jack, admiring his mother’s strength, if not understanding her motives. She
‘It did, and there was some bad blood over it. I never took
part but some girls assumed that my silence confirmed their suspicions. The way
I saw it, I didn’t want anyone to know – that was my choice – but to tick each
and every man in town off one by one as not being the father more or less would
have reduced the possibles to about five or six. Probably most of them could
provide alibis if they really tried, I guess, so I left ‘em all guessing.
Served them all for gossiping.’ After a silence she added ‘I don’t see that it
matters now. I only told you in case you wanted to find out about your roots.
But I don’t see how anyone could have found out, unless you’ve mentioned it to
someone, and it has spread.’
‘Only Karen knew, and to tell the truth I had to remind her
of his name this week. She didn’t even tell her own folks.’
‘She says.’ The sideswipe wasn’t unexpected. Jack had
anticipated more of them, to tell the truth, and had been pleasantly surprised
that she had left Karen out of the conversation. She didn’t dislike Karen, but
then again she wasn’t an unreserved fan either.
‘I believe her. She wanted me to find out more initially,
but when I decided not to pursue it, she put it aside. The subject didn’t come
up again until a few days ago.’
‘Doesn’t prove she didn’t tattle about it, though. Either
way, I still don’t see that it matters.’ A bell chimed in an adjacent room and
Jack became aware of other residents starting to congregate. ‘Afternoon tea. Is
there anything else?’ she stated and asked in quick succession, with Jack in no
doubt as to which answer he was expected to give. Within five minutes he was
stood outside of the grand entrance, pulling his coat around him to ward off
the dropping temperature, whilst fumbling for his car keys. He had felt the
visit would be vital, would clarify the outstanding questions. But it had done
no such thing, he knew no more now than he had known before travelling down and
had only succeeded in opening a wound that had only recently starting to heal,
having been rent open originally by his mother’s revelation. Disturbed, Jack
started the return journey to Manchester.
I don't know about you, but whenever I read anything about Apple that includes numbers, my head spins. I'm not bad with numbers generally, my degree is in maths, but it's just that whatever seems reasonable in the normal world just doesn't cut it in Appletown.
Take the number of iPads sold since the device was released two and a half years ago - over 100 million devices. Given that the iPad is expensive by any measure (another Apple number that makes my head spin) and that the world has in general been in the longest financial squeeze since the depression, that's a remarkable number.
Now look at the optimism surrounding the iPad mini, with ten million units ordered and the intention that five million will be sold before Christmas. At the time of writing this optimism is technically unproven as there isn't a single iPad mini physically sold, but judging by the discussions I'm being dragged into I have no doubt that Apple's optimism will be justified.
But the biggest numbers that stop me in my tracks is the stock price, the value per share that determines what Apple is technically worth. We all know a little about stock prices - they reflect more than the value of the company inventory and it's liquid assets. In fact, the stock price, in very bad circumstances, can actually value a company at less than the known value of it's inventory, however in reality the valuation is way above that simplistic number and factors in intangibles such as intellectual property rights and customer loyalty. Of course these intangibles are determined by highly qualified individuals following agreed protocols and algorithms that make the whole process easy to understand. Or not, but there you go.
Mid September Apple was estimated to be worth somewhere in the region of $563 billion. That's one heck of a lot of greenbacks, with shares trading at $702 each. Since then it has launched the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini to an expectant world and with little in the way of criticism. In fact, despite a few bloggers carping about the launch price of the iPad mini, mainly by me, by all accounts, there has been little but raised expectations about the company.
However, when Apple ceased trading on Friday it had lost nearly $80 billion off its mid September value, nearly 14%. Market analysts are throwing reasons into the air like confetti at a wedding, with about as much effectiveness. Some are suggesting its a small slump (small??? - $80 billion ain't small by any reckoning). Others are suggesting that Apple are releasing too many products in succession - that may be true and if they weren't selling it might have been a good analysis, however there isn't anything to suggest there's likely to be a stock surplus hanging around in iPad minis or iPhone 5s anytime soon.
Some are suggesting that having peaked at over $700 a share, investors have taken their profits and are now looking to reinvest - either in artificially depressed Apple stock or maybe in Amazon or Google stock as they gear up for the Christmas war for tablet sales. I think there could be a fair amount in this. I don't know if Apple are worth $563 billion - hell, I'll stick my neck out and say that they are almost certainly not worth that much. Don't ask me how much they are worth, my teeth fit my mouth and I don't wear brightly coloured braces over a striped shirt, but I'm certain that no company making mobile phones, tablets, laptops and selling other peoples music and books is ever going to be worth that much. So some speculation in early September and profit taking over the last five weeks sounds likely to be the main reason for the price drop. Normal activity for the parasites that drive the economy, I guess.
My other guess is that within the next few weeks some of that 14% will recover, but probably we won't see Apple hit anywhere near $700 a share until after the Christmas results are released. If they continue to slide, then there is a deeper problem than pure greed, I guess. Surely not the new connector!! So, if you're in the market for Apple stock, be on the phone to your broker first thing if you want to make a small profit quickly. Or do like me and just watch on the sidelines. $600 a share might look like a steal, but I'll hang onto my cash for the time being.
Warning/caveat/get out of jail free card below.
Please note I'm a Sci Fi thriller writer who also writes comedic novels, I'm not a financial expert. While I take a passionate interest in the technology around eBooks, eReaders and tablet computers I am not a financial advisor. And virtually every share purchase I've made has failed to make any money, or I've hunbg on so long I've missed the boat.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a fan of eBooks. I'm also a bit of a biased observer, given that I have an eBook or six up for sale, but at least I'm up front about that. I've mooted on several occasions that the days of brick and mortar bookshops are numbered, save for a few specialists, and that we'll be reading our newspapers and magazines on tablets in a few short years. OK, the timing is part speculation, part based on research in the US. And the bit about tablets is based on the technological flavour of the moment - there could be some fantastic evolutionary development just around the corner but I suspect the tablet has some distance to run yet.
However it seems there's a fly in the ointment that may play into the hands of the naysayers of eBooks. It's about what you actually buy when you pay for an eBook. Or a digital download of a music track, or a download of a movie or computer game. Now, when I buy a paperback - I do still now and then, just to check out the alternative technology - I can pop it in my bookcase and let other family members read it too. Friends as well, at a push. I don't have the right to photocopy the book and sell that on, nor do I have the right to type the story out and sell it as my own. But I can let others read it.
When someone downloads one of my eBooks I kind of assume they have similar rights, just as I do when I download eBooks from Amazon or Smashwords. But it seems that may not be the case. Recently a Norwegian lady found that Amazon froze her access to her Kindle books after her Kindle developed a fault. Somewhere between her reporting the fault and Amazon replacing the Kindle they decided for some undisclosed reason that she had breached their rules. That meant that she couldn't access her books on her iPad through the Kindle App and of course, as her Kindle was Kaput she couldn't read them there, either. Initially Amazon stonewalled her but, in the face of a very public complaint reinstated her access. There is a technological answer to this, though - run your Kindle books through Calibre to remove the Digital Rights Management code and store a copy somewhere safe.
This isn't isolated. There was a situation over a year ago where Amazon were slapped for letting someone sell books through the Kindle store that didn't belong to them - as I say, people don't have the right to type out someone else's story and sell it as their own. Amazon responded by, amongst other things, sucking books off Kindles that had been bought in good faith. A bit harsh, seeing as the mistake was essentially Amazon's and to be fair they have promised not to do that again. The point is, once you sync with Amazon, or Apple, or Kobo etc, they can re-write your digital library according to their wishes.
It's even bigger than eBooks - as if anything could be bigger! No other than Bruce Willis, the star of the Die Hard series, is challenging the rights of Apple to dictate that when he dies, his iTunes account dies with him. Not literally buried in the same casket, of course, but all those iTunes he has bought over the years will not be available to his family to play. Now when I shrug this mortal coil my family will have a substantial amount of vinyl records and CDs to play or hawk on eBay, whatever - and I guess that Apple, Amazon and any other digital purveyor will have to get over it. But anything I've bought on Apple etc may not be available. Of course, unless I experience a dramatic reversal of artistic fortune I guess that Apple et al are more likely to hear of Mr Willis's demise than mine. Bruce (I hope I can get away with using his first name) is apparently considering legal action, however at least one commentator reckons that the Apple claim to his music is at best bluster. I'll leave it to the lawyers, at least it's an honourable topic to take to court. Way better than arguing about who owns the right to apps bouncing back a fraction. Or whether a rectangular phone with curved edges is legally cooler than other rectangular phones - with or without curved corners.
But this does need to be resolved. eBooks are the future of reading, of that I'm sure. However if there is doubt about legitimate ownership, as opposed to sharks and low-lives hawking other people's work on eBay for an unearned profit in 'compilations', then it will take longer to establish. DRM probably isn't the answer and anyone who buys a book from Smashwords, for example, get that book DRM free. Ultimately, the digital sellers have to realise that for years we've all had access to our parents' records and books and perhaps as kids that was what we listened to and read, but in the real grown up world we tend to listen and read our own generation. Sure, it's a great nostalgia trip to go back to our parents' faves now and then, but most of us don't do that often or even willingly.
For the record, I think we chould be buying, not renting.
There's a board game that's sat in my cupboard gathering dust, not because it isn't very good, but because everyone thinks I grow horns as soon as the dice start rolling. The game is called Risk and if you've never tried it then have a go. Just make sure you don't play with someone who creates characters such as Barry Liam O'Feld, the megalomaniac evil genius anti hero of Project: Evil.
The idea of this game is to achieve world domination - there is no second place in Risk and definitely no such thing as a draw. You play to win. Initially you are allocated countries randomly, to which you spread your limited 'armies' across. Your competitors do likewise and then you wage war on each other. The only vocabulary you need is the following few words: Stomp, stomp stomp and stomp. The attacker throws up to three dice and the defender chooses to throw up to two in defence. Highest scoring attacking die is matched to highest scoring defending die, second highest attack versus remaining defender if applicable. Throwing two sixes in attack is a great attack, two sixes in defence is superb, unbeatable. Sounds easy, is easy, but requires the tactics of Sun Tzu and the luck of the Irish. A good game lasts for hours, great games last for days. That's probably the other reason it stays in the cupboard, come to think of it.
Anyway, it would appear that Apple have been burning the midnight oil playing Risk. I mean, nobody is doubting that world domination is an aim of Apple and to be fair, they seem to be succeeding. For starters, they've sold enough iPads since its launch two and half years ago to provide one to every three Americans. Or one to every Brit in the UK with change. Their latest bid for world domination is through their Apple iBookstore distribution network, which has just added pretty much the whole of Central and South America from Mexico down to the tip of Chile, and New Zealand. This takes their distribution to fifty individual countries worldwide and positions them ahead of their competitors as far as I can tell.
The Central and South American stores are a great move - the whole region is a major expanding collection of countries that are tipped to be highly influential Internationally in the near future and Apple have obviously recognised this. There's an opportunity for Spanish and Portuguese language writers to gain greater exposure in these regions and in Europe, but also for English language writers to gain exposure to this wonderfully diverse range of countries.
The surprising addition, though, is New Zealand. Not surprising that it should be included but that it wasn't already. In September Apple's book sales were, in descending order of sales rank, from the US, Australia, UK then Canada - all predominantly English speaking (with a bit of Spanish and French thrown in for good luck). I know New Zealand is a distinct and unique country to both Australia and the UK, but it is a no-brainer that it also shares many of the same qualities and characteristics of both of these countries. I expect Apple will start seeing some great sales returns from New Zealand real soon.
In an unannounced aside, I note that Amazon have added Japan, ostensibly from the same broad geographical region as Australia and New Zealand, or at least that's how Risk sees it. I understand that Australian eBook readers can use the UK Amazon site to buy books, not at all sure about NZ - but Amazon have no dedicated facility for either.
So I welcome all the new arrivals in the Apple community; Central America, South America and New Zealand. I only have one question. How did Apple get to New Zealand via South America? In Risk you can only get there via Asia. But win NZ and Australia and you have the safest continent on the board. Amazon might want to think about that!
However Apple got there, I think they must have thrown a couple of sixes on the way.
What a week. Launches from Apple for the much hyped iPad mini, Amazon with a Fire in its belly and Google next to Nexus with excitement.
And then there's the Microsoft Surface tablet. It was described by Microsoft President Steven Sinofsky as the best tablet he's ever used, the best laptop he's ever used. To be fair, given his share exposure to Microsoft he's hardly the least biased person to comment and anyway, what's he been doing using other tablets? He also pointed out that this was a monumental launch for Microsoft, up there with the top three which included, apparently, Windows 95 and two others. I was driving and I didn't want to hear him claim Windows ME as being up there too, in case the shock caused me to crash, so I missed the other two. To his credit, Windows 95 was a game changer in its day. ME was probably the worst days' work MS ever did - I assume they only spent a day on it! I spent two years regretting it.
So, is the Surface going to change the game? Well, it does have a number of strong selling points, most notably being that it features a compatible version of MS Office. You can read Office documents on your iPad and Nexus tablets, but creating a Word document from scratch is a bit of a problem. With a bit of luck MS will have also decided on how to get documents to print from the Surface as well - I don't know if they have but I've sure struggled for hours with the iPad. And before you email links to the many Apps that claim to make it a print friendly device please include some testimony about your own personal experience as I feel I've bankrolled a whole industry and still have to email documents to my PC to print them off.
The critical point about the Surface is probably the price - MS are coming in way late and are up against a lot of stiff competition. According to the UK Microsoft Store the basic Tablet retails for just under £400, and when I say just under don't expect any folding change. This does give you a 32GB tablet which, in most real worlds is a great starting point. But we're talking Microsoft here and they do have the reputation of sucking all the system resources up in a blink of an eye. I'll wait until someone has had a chance to really test it in the real world before I decide if 32 GB is usable or not.
If you want the much vaunted clip on keyboard then expect to fork out an extra £80. To put that into context, you can get Bluetooth keyboards for the iPad for a quarter of that price - suer they're no brand products but I've used one and they seem pretty good to me. If you buy your Surface without the keyboard (or touch cover as they insist of calling it) then the purchase price is £100 for the tacky white model or £110 for the sexier black variety. So, if you are buying a Surface, buy the keyboard with it, I guess.
Looking at the spec sheet it does include some useful standard items, such as Bluetooth to drive mice etc. Front and rear facing cameras are there to let you Skype (or video-conference if you're trying to get the boss to authorise one of these) and of course to take photos. Apparently the rear camera is angled so that it points straight when the device is set on the built in stand - I'm not sure how that affects hand held photography. Perhaps photos of feet will be a giveaway trait. Or the ceiling, I'm trying to get my head around this one.
Will it succeed? Don't know, but I reckon it's going to be an uphill struggle given the lead Apple and Google have. The business machine angle is Microsoft's best chance, and only time will tell if that has worked. I don't think they will get many bites at this - er - apple before they lose the race. We need a tablet that uses Office documents without hoop jumping, that interfaces with our work intranets effortlessly and runs our legacy business applications. If the Surface does this then it may, just, be a success.
Karen had been in about thirty minutes when the doorbell
rang. Scooping up some of Josh’s toys as she breezed to the door she checked
her hair in the hall mirror. Upon opening the front door she found herself
facing a scruffy, if vaguely familiar, man about her age. If he had been clean
shaven and less pale she might have been drawn to such a man, certainly if she
wasn’t married with two kids. He stood there for a fraction of a second longer
than Karen would have liked, and she looked closer into his dark eyes, sensing
that they were changing rapidly despite a surface glaze. Karen spoke:
‘Yes?’ The question seemed to waken the man.
‘I’m looking for Jack Howells. I’ve been told that he had
left work, they gave me this address.’ Karen started to feel a little vulnerable,
not sure how to handle this man. Deep down she felt he was safe, but on the
surface he had an air of unpredictability about him. She couldn’t fetch Jack,
he wasn’t there, but did she risk hinting Jack was going to be back soon only
to find the stranger on her doorstep inviting himself in to wait; or should she
tell the truth and risk letting him know he had several hours to play with,
should his intentions be bad. She decided to stick with the truth, but
resolving to not let the man in and to call her father as soon as she had
closed the door. She put on as bright a voice as she could muster.
‘Jack’s away for the day, he’ll be back later.’ Then she
braced, inwardly. The man looked crestfallen, and Karen knew he truly had
wanted Jack, not her. Deep relief and, perhaps perversely, slight
disappointment flushed through her. Embarrassed by her secondary response,
Karen closed the door on the man, who had turned apologising, slurring several
words as he went. Fitting the chain on the door she hurried through to the
lounge to watch the man walk up the street, dragging his feet slightly as he
moved slowly along. Eventually she was relieved to see him turn the corner,
without any attempt to look back. Holding Josh to her chest Karen phoned her
John had found the strain of dragging his weary body along
the road to the corner, resisting his inclination to turn and look again at
Karen’s house, almost insufferable. Once he had turned the corner he sat on a
low, angled wall that had been whitewashed many years earlier and was now a
testament to domestic neglect. His body ached and his muscles felt heavier than
he could ever remember. The fog that served for a memory was thickening as he
urged himself to find his way home, but the shock at seeing Karen again, after
all this time, was overwhelming. He had looked for her after the memory of the
accident, had hung around her parents’ home, had passed them in the street, but
he hadn’t seen her again until today. More importantly her parents hadn’t shown
any flicker of recognition when he passed them, which fitted in with his ‘new’
memory that she wasn’t a part of his life any more, wasn’t a part of this life
at all. That absence, more than any other factor in his memory, was the single
most compelling reason for not revealing his story to anyone. A part of John
could not believe that anything that strong, that consuming, could disappear
without a trace; it caused him to doubt his own beliefs, yet to deny it was to
throw away all hope, something he had refused to do completely. And there she
was, married to Jack Howells. Karen, John’s lover. And part of him knew she
recognised him, her eyes showed that light reserved for long lost
Standing with difficulty, steadying himself against a gate
post, John continued on the journey that had taken all morning and part of the
afternoon. Inside he knew the journey had taken longer than that, it had
started when he had arrived home the previous evening, weary after the rough
night in the hospital and the two long days following the accident at the
works. Feeding the cat while the kettle came to the boil, John had decided to
take the prescribed sedatives a little earlier than he might of, to try and
catch up on his sleep. He remembered surprise as the chemicals in the tablets
rushed around his body, sapping energy and motivating him to turn to his bed
within minutes. He had managed to make it up the stairs, but that’s as far as
his memories for Tuesday evening extended, with John waking up at eight o’
clock Wednesday morning still half dressed and without a single dream to
recall. Brushing his teeth he had resolved to have a quiet day, to breakfast,
shower, perhaps dress, perhaps not; then sit and read the newspaper and watch
some daytime TV. After preparing his cereal John had walked through to the
living room to eat it sat on the sofa, a luxury he rarely allowed himself (a
throwback to Karen, he believed). Sitting down he had realised that the
notebook was missing from the bookshelf and, after a cursory glance around the
room and on the floor immediately adjacent to the bookcase, he’d surmised that
Jack must have taken his request more seriously than he had expected; he’d
assumed that Jack had been humouring him in the hospital.
The revised plan had been to catch the bus to the works,
pick the book up from Jack at his office then to drive the car, sat at the
works’ car park since Monday, back home. As it happened he had missed Jack by
minutes, then had abandoned driving the car when he came close to striking the
boundary wall, recognising that his judgement wasn’t up to scratch. More bus
journeys on routes less familiar, and a reasonably aimless wander around a maze
of Victorian streets had sapped John’s remaining energy. Eventually a helpful
newsagent directed him to the address Jack’s receptionist had furnished. And
then he had met Karen.
I don't generally discuss politics on the blog, in fact I rarely discuss it in real life. It's not that I'm not political, it's that I feel politics is a personal thing. And I really don't discuss international politics - I don't want a team of black ops guys coming over here to silence me. I've met black ops before and generally they're nice guys - I'd hate to have to be mean to them.
But it hasn't escaped my notice that we're about to witness another US Presidential election. In one way I don't care who wins - it's not my country after all. But in another way I can't help feeling that I'm not immune to the result. If a good, sensible President is elected then that should reflect in a stable, growing US, which should help the UK, among other countries, stay stable. Elect a nutter, then Gawd help us all.
Now I'm not immersed in the characters involved. Obviously I've watched the incumbent President for four years, the guy who has had to steer a course through the hardest economic waters since the depression, just like all other contemporary governments have had to (with mixed results). I know hardly anything about his opponent - there's no shortage of supporting and opposing information available but sorting out which is balanced reporting and which is pure pro or anti propaganda is too time consuming given I don't have a vote in the matter. But I'm sure the American readers will have a view, one way or the other.
It's my opinion that democracy works best when people take part. We all know people who harbour extreme views, or who will always vote for a particular party no matter what it is saying or who it is fielding. We get that here as well. Where I live it is considered wisdom that any vote not for Labour is a wasted one, and a review of the local and national election results for the last fifty plus years would support that. But I insist on not voting that way, not because I've anything against the Labour candidates per se, but because I want them to realise that we, the voters, have a choice.
The most important choice isn't about policies, or about left and right. It really isn't about colour or religion, although those relatively meaningless points seem to be getting a disproportionate amount of airtime in the US. The most important choice is whether you vote or not. There are plenty of dyed in the wool believers of the right and the left, a significant number of party activists who want their views to predominate regardless of the majority. And in the middle sit the majority; normal, none-activist people who have views based on what they see and what they believe, people who can make a rational choice for themselves. They all think differently to each other to some degree. The whole spectrum of beliefs exist in that set of people.
Yet statistically, while 100% of activists, who represent a minority of the views of the country, will vote in the election, a far smaller percentage of 'normal' people will vote. Many will decide that it doesn't matter if they vote or not - because where they live one candidate or the other will win anyway. And if they don't vote, that will definitely come true. Voting won't, of course , by itself change the course of your State, let alone the final result but if enough people turn up for the polls then the result will be the right person, as decided by a true majority, not a significant but ultimately biased minority. And this isn't me having a go at the activists - they are an essential part of any political movement. But their day is up until polling day, their opportunity is to convince voters who to choose. Polling day is your day, I urge everyone with a vote to use it.
And I urge you to umotivate everyone else you know who is eligible to vote to do so too.
I don't know if you've noticed, but there's a three horse race going on right now. In the lead, by a country mile, is Apple who have just this week notched up their 100,000,000th iPad sale. 100 million iPads! Just in case you were wondering why Apple is the richest company in the world right now.
Second place is being hacked out by Google and Amazon with their Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire offerings. Amazon are on their second generation of the Fire and about to launch in the UK for £169 for the HD version or £129 for the lower spec offering. The Nexus 7 kicks in at a notional £159 for the 8GB version, rising to £199 for the 16GB model. I say notional because it appears the 8 gig version is now unavailable and the word on the street is that Google are muscling up to launch a 32 GB version, announcement in the next seven days. My guess is that they will drop the price of the 16Gb to the price of the HD Fire or perhaps a tenner above.
So it would seem that Apple have two horses to outrun on the trot up to Christmas. Well, obviously yes but in an incredible act of self denial, no. First off, Apple have another competitor. You may have noticed they have launched their own mini tablet, the iPad Mini. Come on, you know I've mentioned it once or twice recently, as have one or two other bloggers. Well, they've pitched the iPad mini at £269 for the 16GB version which is probably at least £20 more than it needs to be. Apple estimate that they will sell five million iPad minis between launch and Christmas day but that the product will take 1 million full sized iPad sales away from them. So there's one competitor not factored in above.
So why £269 for the iPad mini? Well, given that the device is pretty much a shrunk version of the iPad 2, which costs £329, it is getting dangerously close to the price point where consumers will either choose to pay the difference for the full sized version or will choose to buy an alternative and cheaper product. As I said above, it probably should have been pitched at £149, which is virtually the US price with VAT stuck on. Apple want to differentiate their product from the others and have chosen to decide that the Nexus is their biggest threat. So much so that they made overt negative references to the Google tablet in the iPad mini launch and,as far as I'm aware, didn't mention the Amazon Fire.
Is it just that the Fire doesn't present the same amount of commercial threat to Apple that Google do with the Nexus 7? Maybe, but I think the price point is more critical - by being reassuringly more expensive, but hopefully (from their perspective) not excessively so, than the Nexus they are saying - hey, we're better than that device and only £60 more. To identify against the Amazon Fire is to say, Hey, we're better than that device and only £100 more. Which might seem reasonable but I'm not aware that the Nexus has made any major inroads into Apple's sales so far, however it was clear last Christmas that the Amazon Fire, launched in the November, did punch a hole in the Apple numbers in the US.
Hence Apple is targeting Google, because that makes their product seem less unreasonable. However, if the 32 GB version of the Nexus is released and that pushes the 16GB price down a tad it will surely put the iPad under a lot of pressure. Perhaps they've factored that in and are prepared to drop the price once the initial surge has taken place.
So where does this leave the consumer and for the betting fraternity, is the race already decided? Well I think Apple will maintain their lead initially but may lose some ground if they keep the price so high. I wouldn't disregard the Amazon Fire, either, even if Apple have. They are promoting the Fire heavily on TV right now and offering a real good price for the device. I'm not a fan of the concept of push advertising that comes with the Fire to keep the price down but understand a one-off fee of £10 removes that. Don't know if that can be paid retrospectively or not, though. The Nexus is a fine machine and one I'm enjoying on a daily basis, so deserves to be in the race. If the 16GB drops in price then the pressure is really going to be on Apple and Amazon to compete, so perhaps Apple are right to target it.