Archive for category Computers & Technical
A podcast is a digital audio file which can be downloaded from the internet and listened to on a variety of devices such as a laptop, smartphone etc. It’s rare to find a one-off podcast, they are usually made available in a series. Podcast is a combination of the words iPod and broadcast.
This week I was the subject of a podcast which will form part of a series about agile workers, produced by the co-working organisation Dispace. An agile worker can work where, when and how they choose.
I’d never thought of myself as agile until Dispace invited me to be part of their project. For three days a week I’m employed by a multi-national IT company – which definitely isn’t agile; even though I’m home-based I work set hours and can’t take my laptop out in order to work from a coffee shop or wherever else I might choose. Into the remaining two days I fit my writing, occasional public speaking and anything else that comes my way; this is agile. Lucinda from Dispace was interested in these agile strands and how they fit alongside my ‘proper’ job.
The podcast recording took place at 1000 Trades in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The microphone and camera (yes, it was filmed as well!) were all set up when I arrived. Lucinda had just finished an interview with Dan Braithwaite, a workplace trainer. Amongst other things, he goes into offices to help workers minimise the potential physical problems of sitting at a desk all day. Perhaps something that us writers could benefit from!
We started straightaway with Lucinda asking me about the different strings to my bow. She’d done her homework by reading Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners and we talked about Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club and public speaking in general. We went on to discuss why I write psychological thrillers, how to promote books, how I see the future of work, how I structure my week and my ‘writing’ days, plus lots more. The time went quickly, the space-age microphone (pictured) and the camera were hardly noticeable and the whole thing felt like a chat with someone who was very interested in me! By the end I realised that, for at least part of my week, I am an agile worker. The only question I stumbled on was: Where can people find out more about you? In the same way that I can never remember my mobile number, I couldn’t remember the website address of this blog. Hopefully that will be edited from the final take!
Conclusion: I enjoyed my first podcast experience and when the final edited version is ready I’ll share it here.
This is a post for those of you who have self-published on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or are planning to do so.
KDP requires a Product Description for each book. This is the equivalent of the blurb on the back of a traditional book and it is very important in selling the book. These short paragraphs help readers decide whether or not to buy the book. Therefore the product description must be set out in an easy to read format. This is not as straightforward as it sounds because Amazon doesn’t provide any formatting options within the box where the the product description is keyed i.e. it’s not possible to use bold or italics or bullet points. This means the product descriptions of many self-published books appear flat and uninteresting.
But there is a way to slip formatting into the product description and thus make it more attractive. HTML can be used. HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language and is the standard markup language for web pages. DO NOT GLAZE OVER OR RUN AWAY! This is simpler than it sounds.
For example, to make the word ‘thriller’ appear in bold in a product description, use <b> and </b> immediately before and after ‘thriller’.
And, to make the word ‘scare’ appear in italics, use <i> and </i> immediately before and after ‘scare’.
Put ‘A <b>thriller</b> guaranteed to <i>scare</i>.’ in the product description box and it will appear as ‘A thriller guaranteed to scare.’ on the Amazon page.
It’s also possible to use HTML to underline, create lists and give other text effects. This page lists the HTML acceptable in the product description.
To complicate matters, when publishing in paperback through KDP, the product description has a tendency to lose the line breaks. Use <br> to manually indicate where the line breaks should go and use <br> <br> to create a blank line between paragraphs.
Why not experiment with HTML to liven up your book descriptions?
Three things prompted the writing of this post.
Firstly, I received a phone call from the Serious Fraud Office to tell me that my bank card had been used fraudulently. I’ve had cards misused in this way before but the informant has always been my bank or credit card company. So I queried why the Serious Fraud Office was involved.
“We have someone in custody with a cloned copy of your card.”
“Can you tell me which bank the card is for?” Like many people I have more than one payment card. Also, alarm bells were ringing – the Serious Fraud Office surely wouldn’t bother with my little bank card?
There was a long silence and then the SFO man named a bank. I don’t have an account there and so put the phone down. If he’d named my bank, I hope I would have had the sense to still put the phone down and then call the bank direct.
The second prompt came via an email from a follower of this blog. He told me how he’d been one click away from falling for a scam and transferring a large sum of money to an unknown bank account. Fred (not his real name) received a call from someone well-spoken, supposedly from his bank. This man was querying a large payment that had just been attempted via internet banking from Fred’s account. Fred said the payment was nothing to do with him. The well-spoken man said there had obviously been a security breach and that he would put Fred through to someone in the Security department who would sort things out. According to the security man this meant setting up a new account and transferring over the whole balance from old to new account. He gave Fred the ‘new’ sort code and account number and talked him through doing the internet transfer. Fred was just about to hit the ‘Confirm’ button when he began to feel suspicious, the ‘new’ sort code wasn’t like the ones usually used by his bank.
He didn’t press confirm and instead rang his bank direct. They confirmed it was a scam. Fred had been one click away from losing almost £2,000.
Finally, the company I work for is extremely hot on all security issues. It has a particular thing about phishing emails which, if a single employee clicks on a ‘bad’ link, can invite hackers into the whole of the company’s system. Last week we all got sent a warning about fake charity emails. Apparently charity scams are particularly prevalent in this season of goodwill. The email will appear to come from a well-known charity, it might even be one that you support. The email might ask you to click on a link to check the record of donations you’ve already made or it may be inviting you to make a donation. Don’t click on any links you are not absolutely sure of! Instead abandon the email and go direct via the charity’s main web page to donate or check your account.
Tip: By hovering the mouse over a link in an email, you can see where it will take you.
Be vigilant and stay safe!
If you write for children it’s important to know that the language and sentence structures within your work are suitable for the age range of your target reader. For the rest of us, it can be useful to get an idea of how accessible our writing is, i.e. is it understandable to most people or are our sentences and words too long?
The children’s author Lorraine Hellier recently introduced me to a function within Microsoft Word that measures the readability of manuscripts. It’s very easy to set up. Within Word take the following steps:
- In the ‘File’ tab, click ‘Options’.
- Select ‘Proofing’.
- Ensure the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box is selected.
- Select the ‘Show readability statistics’ box.
Next time the spell check facility is used within a document, at the end you will be shown a ‘Readability Statistics’ pane. Among other things this shows the Flesch Reading Ease Index, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and the percentage of passive sentences.
The Flesch Reading Ease index works on a 100 point scale, the higher the index, the easier a document is to understand. A score between 60 and 70 is acceptable for most documents.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level gives a manuscript a US school grade level. This link gives a conversion from US school grade to age and to UK school year. Roughly, the US grade + 1 = UK school year. For example 5th grade = year 6 = age 10/11.
Writers for adults will find the passive sentence percentage most useful. Eliminating passive sentences makes any writing more immediate and effective. We often write passive sentences without noticing, so this is a great tool for highlighting the need to go back through a story and rewrite these phrases.
How easy to read (and active!) is your work?
I’ve been looking at laptops. Until now all my writing’s been done on desktop PCs and, if I’m out and about, in notebooks and typed up later. Currently our household has two desktops, one on Windows 7 and one on Windows 8 but no tablet or other ‘on the move’ device apart from smartphones. But I like coffee shop writing and my husband fancies sitting with his feet up in the lounge when he’s on the internet, rather than at a desk upstairs – hence the decision to look at laptops.
A new Windows 10 laptop demands a new version of Microsoft Office. Microsoft are trying to move towards an annual subscription model but there is still, currently, the option of a one-off fee version, which will not get any software updates. Both of these are expensive on top of the laptop cost. So I’ve been looking into the free open source alternatives.
There are two main free open source alternatives to Microsoft Office: OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Both contain a Word equivalent and an Excel equivalent. Both can read and write in .doc and .docx formats (making them Word compatible) and have similar capabilities to Word. Both are compared to Microsoft Office in this useful article by Techsoup.
I decided to give LibreOffice a try on the Windows 8 desktop PC prior to making any laptop decisions. Downloading and installing was straightforward and the install automatically put a nice little icon on my desktop. I created a document in LibreOffice Writer and saved it as .docx and then opened it in Microsoft Word, amended it, saved it and opened it in Libre. Everything seemed totally compatible (that was one of my worries about not using the ‘proper’ Word) within the simple document that I used as my initial test.
LibreOffice Writer feels like Word but without the final ‘polish’. I haven’t tracked down how to do everything yet but I’m sure a quick question to Mr Google will get me the answers. First impressions make me think that LibreOffice Writer will do the job on our new laptop – especially since I’ll still have access to Microsoft Word on the desktop PC to give manuscripts a final once-over before submission.
Does anyone else use ‘free’ word processors?
I put ‘free’ in inverted commas because LibreOffice does encourage donations towards the software’s further development and support. I didn’t donate on download but if the software turns out to be as useful as I hope then I will return to their donation page. But first we have to make a decision on which laptop to buy…
Over the last few months my btinternet email account has become flooded with spam – up to 70 emails a day offering me Russian beauties, gambling facilities and endless opportunities to get a ‘free’ store gift card. The BT spam filter catches virtually none of these (but does catch stuff that isn’t spam!).
So I asked BT for help in stopping this deluge and they recommended setting up ‘rules’ to indicate what should be filtered out as spam. That was an impossible task given the ever changing email addresses, subject lines etc. used by the spammers. And it involved opening the emails which indicates an active email address and then you get sent even more!
Enough was enough and I decided to try Gmail which I’d heard had a stronger spam filter. I set it up so that all the mail from my btinternet account was automatically forwarded into Gmail.
Using Gmail over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been impressed by the following:
- The spam filter is much stronger and catches virtually all the spam forwarded on from btinternet
- The automatic separation of social media related emails and retailer promotions from the main inbox makes it easier to see at a glance if there’s anything important
- Emails related to the same conversation are kept together
I am not so impressed by Gmail’s use of ‘labels’ instead of ‘folders’. When I ‘label’ an email it remains visible with everything else in my Inbox – the BT folders completely separated such emails. Plus there appears to be no easy way of importing my BT folders into Gmail (unless anyone out there can help me?).
Conclusion? Overall, Gmail makes dealing with my Inbox easier so I’ll stick with it and keep forwarding from the old address until everyone’s been informed (and is using!) the new one.
A lot of IT Operations work is fire-fighting. Things go wrong, the users of the software that’s failed jump up and down and shout, then (hopefully) IT Operations fix the problem and everything goes back to the status quo. The things that go wrong are classified according to their impact on the business. For example a ‘P1’ might be a major failing in the software that allows customers to place orders on the internet – no orders means no profit for the business and this issue would receive the highest priority. In contrast a bug found on a little-used report would receive the lowest priority, perhaps ‘P5’.
The Phoenix Project opens with Bill (who is newly promoted) facing a ‘P1’ issue in the payroll software. He has to find a way of making sure people still get paid and thus avert a labour force walk-out. The stress that Bill is under leaps from the page and, if you’ve ever had to sort out major software problems as part of your job, your heart will increase, you will start sweating and you will empathise fervently with what Bill’s going through.
But the clever thing about The Phoenix Project is that it’s a novel-cum-textbook, so readers learn something too. It is written by three advocates of the DevOps movement (if you’re not in IT don’t worry about that term) and takes the reader on a journey with Bill as he improves the IT landscape for his organisation. It explains the thought processes and practice behind encouraging software developers to work more closely with IT operations colleagues in order to streamline the implementation and testing of new programs.
WARNING: This book should not be taken on holiday or read at bedtime because it will increase not decrease your stress levels.
To 99.9% of you this book will sound deadly boring. But it is a bestseller in its genre. At the time of writing it is #4,052 in the whole UK Paid Kindle Store, out of the four million plus Kindle e-books available. I’m not aware of any marketing for this book – it seems to be all word of mouth from colleague to colleague.
We’re always told to write what we know and to utilise our everyday experiences and working lives. But I’ve always shied away from stories set in computer departments (apart from one Christmas story published by My Weekly last year) because most people would find them tedious. However, The Phoenix Project shows that, with some clever thinking, it is possible to turn the mundane into a successful book.
I wish I’d thought of it first!
Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of independently-published e-books. It also sells directly to the public in a variety of e-book formats. I decided to use Smashwords in order to make Bedsit Three available for libraries to add to their e-book collections. Many libraries worldwide use Overdrive to source their e-books and the only way for an indie author to make a book available on Overdrive is to go through Smashwords (as I mentioned before in my post about the 2016 Self-publishing Conference).
Smashwords accepts a Word document which it then puts through its ‘meatgrinder’ to change into .epub format – so no great technical knowledge is needed on the author’s part. However, I hit a couple of snags during the uploading process.
Firstly I tried uploading a .docx document, this was rejected because Smashwords only accepts .doc documents i.e. those created by older editions of Word. So I had to use the ‘Save As’ function to save my document and change it from .docx to .doc.
Secondly, when I previewed the .epub produced via the ‘meatgrinder’ there was a blank page between every chapter. It took me a bit of fiddling and Googling to solve this one. I had to remove the page breaks between chapters (which Amazon and Kobo had seemed quite happy with) and replace with a few carriage returns. I think this is because Smashwords automatically inserts its own page break when it comes to a chapter heading.
The Overdrive catalogue is updated from Smashwords each Tuesday, so Bedsit Three should appear there by the middle of next week. If you’d like to read Bedsit Three for free please ask your library to add it to their e-book collection.
Incidentally, authors don’t receive PLR on borrowed e-books, they only get the one-off royalty for a single sale.
A girl has been buried in a shallow grave. Rain starts to wash away the earth covering her.
A used pregnancy test and a scrap book about a suicide are abandoned in a bedsit.
Every mother tries to do her best for her child. But sometimes that ‘best’ creates a monster.
Bedsit Three is a tale of murder, mystery and love. It won the inaugural Wordplay Publishing/Ian Govan Award and was shortlisted for both the Silverwood-Kobo-Berforts Open Day Competition and the Writing Magazine/McCrit Competition.
Amazon has introduced a new feature to help authors generate book sales from their websites and social media activities. A Kindle Instant Book Preview can be embedded into a webpage using HTML or shared as a link via email, text and social media. This enables readers to preview a book (in a similar way to the ‘Look Inside’ feature found on Amazon product pages) with only one click and without leaving the webpage they are currently browsing.
Try clicking on the book cover image below left and you’ll see what I mean.
If the reader likes what he sees there is a direct link to purchase the book from Amazon. A Kindle Instant Book Preview retains traffic on an author’s website because books can be viewed without diverting your website visitor to Amazon.
To obtain the Preview link, search for the book on Amazon.com (not UK), click the ‘Embed’ link on the right next to the other sharing options, copy the URL or embed the HTML code onto your website.
N.B. It’s not possible to embed the HTML into a wordpress.com site (like this one) because wordpress.com doesn’t allow certain HTML codes such as ‘iframe’. So I’ve displayed the book cover image with the Preview link behind it.
Full details can be found at http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=13489836011&tag=viglink20273-20
If you’d like to read more on Nick’s original post, you’ll find it here.