Category Archives: Technology



No, not the stuff you use to light a fire, though there have indeed been occasions in the past weeks when I would willingly have lit a fire under Kindle and all its works. I am in fact referring to the process by which a logical but not particularly technical person attempts to format a book for Kindle.

Kindling is a sure fire way to turn anyone into a raving loony. (I imagine the thought police will get me on that one. I’m past caring. That’s what Kindling does to you.)

Forget the fact that Kindle in its wisdom has brought out at least five different versions at the last count. Though even as I write I imagine pointy headed little sadists clustered together cackling evilly as they think up yet more versions. Forget the fact that your ‘formatted’ book has to be checked against every single one of these benighted versions plus iPad and iPhone and Android. And promptly turns itself into something that resembles the result of a nasty accident with a printing tray. So that you have to start all over again.

The fun actually begins way before you reach that point. It starts when you turn to the guides, either the ‘official’ Kindle ones (*sigh* as they say on Twitter), or any of the ‘helpful’ advice scattered around the Internet or in a series of e-books. All I can say is that if these guides were in charge of a party of climbers on a mountain they wouldn’t even get to first base. The mountain would be littered with broken bones, splattered bodies and severe cases of hypothermia.

Metaphorically speaking, these klutzy Kindling guides have forgotten to bring any crampons, will advise on the best type of climbing boot but forget to mention thick socks, offer chocolate crampons and, while some of them may remember to tie everyone together, they will totally forget to tie the end of the rope to the mountain. And in all likelihood they’ll be shouting the instructions from an entirely different summit. Some many miles distant.

Maybe I’m being harsh but pity the poor beginner. It’s something I’ve ranted about before so I will rant about it again. When people who know how to do something set out to instruct people who don’t know how to do it, their logic goes out of the window. Especially if they are techies. There are now maybe 10 different versions of Word. OK, you can’t cover them all but wouldn’t it be nice if you actually said which *expletive* one you are talking about. It would help. Or even demonstrate a sliver of awareness that other versions even exist.

It is beyond frustrating when you are told to go to X, click on the pull down menu and click Y, only to find that Y doesn’t exist. Like Monty Python’s parrot it is no more. At least not in the benighted version of Word you happen to be working on. My bookmarks are crammed with sites, all of which have a few bits of useful information the rest being either incomprehensible or utterly contradict something that’s been said on another site.

Much as it doesn’t seem so, I am grateful, I really am. Grateful that people are trying to help – those that are not doing it with an ulterior motive that is, and even some that are. But please, I beg of you. Think. Think clarity. Think logic. Write down those words, put them on a sticky, attach it to your screen. And always remember. You may have reached the top of the Mount Everest of Kindle but others are still in the foothills. And you need to guide them every step of the way. In case you didn’t get that I repeat – every step of the way. And, while you are at it, please make sure that, at the very least, you are all climbing the same mountain.

Posted in Blog, Kindle, Self Publishing, Technology, Writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Project Gutenberg – a library for our times


Source: Wikimedia

I only have eleven books on my phone at present. Not many, you may think, for someone who is such an avid reader. However, I do most of my reading at home, have bookshelves stuffed with everything from battered Penguins to unwieldy hardbacks and I also use the library. So far I have seen no need to get a Kindle, the phone is perfectly adequate.

Nevertheless it is a bit of a double-edged sword, so to speak. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say it is the technological equivalent to a Swiss Army knife. Not only does it have books on it but it also has Angry Birds and a notepad, radio and TV and Lord knows what else.  So distracting. However, now that I have mastered the keyboard ( ironically touch keyboards are not good for touch typists like me) I try to do some writing when I’m commuting. So, one way or another, when I am out and about there’s not a lot of time for reading. Indeed, should I wish, I could have not eleven free books on my phone, not even one hundred and eleven for, currently, there are over 42,000 free books available for downloading through Project Gutenberg.

The aim of the project is “to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” The oldest digital library in existence, it was founded by Michael Hart in 1971 and takes its name from Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press and moveable type. Run and sustained by volunteers, it digitises and archives cultural works and makes them available to anyone who wants them. They can be downloaded onto virtually any computer or phone.  Michael Hart stated that his goal was “to provide as many eBooks in as many formats as possible for the entire world to read in as many languages as possible.” Another stated objective is to help spread public literacy: in that respect Gutenberg might be likened to a digitised version of the public library.

All books have to have copyright clearance before being added to the archive. Project Gutenberg claims no copyright of its own on the titles it publishes; most are distributed as pubic domain, according to U.S. copyright law, though there are some restrictions. Many of the books are out of copyright in any case. All eleven of ‘my’ books are out of copyright – among them the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Wuthering Heights and several works of Dickens.

I haven’t yet added any Shakespeare – though should I wish to do I’d be spoilt for choice. Not only regarding the amount of works available, but also the languages. If I was that way inclined I could read the Bard on my phone not just in English but also in French, in Catalan, in Esperanto and in Tagalog. A delightful name for the language spoken in the Philippines. However, what with the classics I have already, the pile of paperbacks beside the bed, the lure of the TV and radio not to mention those irritating but addictive birds I don’t see myself embarking on the Complete Works any time soon.

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Some thoughts on the lack of clarity and logic in manufacturers instructions. Or, to put it another way,  a great big fat rant!

A couple of weeks ago my printer got sick. It developed a strange disease that caused it to believe it was a rainbow.  Of course a colour printer should make rainbows, but only when asked. My poor machine had what appeared to be a severe identity crisis. What should have been mono print came out green or green and yellow. And then it would change its mind and print exclusively in pink. Attempts to rectify it sent it into further vibrant hysterics. Although there were diagnostic thingies to help, in most cases I find them virtually useless. The reason? Language. And logic.

Way back, when I was training to be a social worker, I signed on for an optional course called ‘The Use of English’. Some of my friends thought it irrelevant – what had use of English to do with being a social worker? The answer is ‘everything’. It’s all to do with clarity.  It’s not only writers who need to make their meaning clear. For them it’s a matter of reputation and personal pride. But in other professions it can be a matter of life or death – literally. Think doctor. Think air traffic controller. Think engineer.

While computer and printer technology may not be a matter of life and death, lack of clear instructions can lead to hours of wasted time, great frustration and dent any good will felt towards the manufacturer of the equipment. While perhaps unquantifiable, this is nevertheless undeniable. Just take a look at some of the reviews next time you are buying a piece of technology.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learnt from that ‘Use of English’ class was this. If a piece of writing doesn’t make sense, don’t immediately assume it’s because you are not clever enough to understand it. Think instead – is it me, or is it badly written? You will find that in many cases it’s the latter. The meaning hasn’t been made clear in the writing.  Punctuation plays a large part here. The placing of a comma, for instance, can alter the entire meaning of a sentence.

To get back to the matter of technical instructions. Language is critical, but so is logic.  In my experience, people who know a subject really well make an entirely unconscious assumption that everyone else does too. When I started to read ‘A Brief History of Time’ I was delighted that I appeared to understand it. At first.  I can’t remember where I got lost but it was quite early on. Later I worked out the reason. It began well enough. A to B, B to C, C to D. Then suddenly we had jumped to J, K, L and another leap to Q and so on. The bits just didn’t link up; I couldn’t follow. As I result I gave up on a book that I had really wanted to read.

I gave up on my poor printer too. My attempts to recalibrate it were frustrated by the incomprehensible instructions. The words bore no relation to the images in front of me. The instructions for my new printer were not bad, but still left a great deal to be desired. If there is a choice between using the printer to set up or using the computer, why not say so? If you want me to return to a section later – and presumably it’s important as you are asking me to do it – why don’t you tell me how to get back to that page?

Since beginning this post I have spent a frustrating half hour trying to set up the ePrint function on the new printer. (Why I’m not sure because I doubt that I will ever need it.) It asked for my password. I entered it. It told me the password is wrong – or at least up popped a little cross, in red in case I am too dim to know what a cross means. After several futile attempts I wondered if perhaps I didn’t have an account after all (although in fact I do). So I tried to create a new account. Only to be told that my email address is already registered. So I attempted to change the password. Simple, you’d think. Not. I was directed to a completely different site, a commercial site that prints photographs. I do not want to use a commercial site that prints photographs. I have just bought a printer that does just that. Doh!


I’ve given up for now. Maybe for good. There’s no phone number so I can ask a helpful person for the information that should have been there from the start. Which account are you talking about? Do you mean the same one I always use for Hewlett Packard’s products? (There! I’ve said it.) If not that account, why don’t you tell me which one you are talking about? Why am I obliged to sign in to a totally random account that I don’t want in order to get a password for an account that I do want? Or might conceivably want in the future? Can you please direct me to your communications department? I would willingly accept the task of writing logical, fool proof instructions in clear English for you. Please ask them to get in touch. You can contact me via the contact page on my website. You won’t need a password.

Posted in Blog, Computers, Copywriting, English, Language, Technology, Words, Writing | Leave a comment