Monthly Archives: January 2016

Amazon Clamps Down on Poor Spelling

There are thousands of e-books on the Amazon Kindle Store that have content errors. They may range from a series of simple spelling mistakes to a total mishmash of misspelling, appalling grammar and non-existent editing.
In an attempt to counter this and provide a better reading experience, Amazon will, from third February, begin showing customers a warning message on the Kindle store detail pages of books that contain validated quality issues. The warning message will be removed as soon as Amazon receives an updated file from self-published authors or publishing companies.

amazon kindle content warning message
Whilst this is good news for readers like myself who have bought and downloaded a book only to find that it’s almost unreadable, as an author I have some reservations.
Take spellings, for example. As a Brit I write colour, which is different to the American spelling of color. There’s aeroplane and airplane, authorise and authorize and a whole host of words that have different national spellings. You will no doubt think of many yourself. Both versions are correct, but my UK spell checker flags up the US spelling as wrong.
And what about arcane technical and scientific terms like Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism, which is a medical condition? (Boy did my spell checker have to think about that one before it marked it up!)
When we throw in dialect, slang, conversation and deliberate misspelling, not to mention foreign accents, intentional spoonerisms and bastardised and “new” words, one can’t help wondering just how Amazon and its presumably automated editing is going to sort out what is correct and what isn’t. Much of meaning and spelling is derived from the context, and anyway what is the good of correcting spelling if you ignore poor construction, punctuation and grammar?
My fear is that in trying to cure one problem, Amazon is opening a large Pandora’s box of others.
Unless the AI  (for I’m sure the editing won’t be done by humans) is more sophisticated than anything we’ve seen before, this new initiative will surely catch good, well written works as well as bad ones.
Which will leave the readers no better off than before.

Wassail!

Had enormous fun last night when we went wassailing over at Colwall village, just in the lee of the Malvern Hills. This was our first time here – we usually attend the Weston’s Cider Wassail – and I’d like to thank the Colwall Orchard Group for organising such an excellent event.
Wassailing is a traditional—actually pagan, probably Anglo Saxon—English midwinter festival which is celebrated to awake the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the Autumn. It’s also thought to be the origin of Christmas Carol-ing.

Although it’s a very ancient custom, and enjoying a resurgence especially amongst the younger folk, wassailing is really only celebrated in the cider apple growing counties, and the wider English public is not generally familiar with it. Which is a pity, because not only is it a great traditional English antidote to the commercialisation of Christmas, it’s also a really good excuse to get out on a cold Saturday night, eat, drink hot spiced cider, make lots of noise, meet nice people, wear silly hats, process down lanes holding flaming torches and generally have fun. It also raises lots of money for charity.
So if you’re in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, or  Dorset next midwinter, try and attend a wassailing. You wont regret it, and you’ll keep the cider apples healthy!
I had intended to illustrate this with my own photos from last night, but I’m afraid they weren’t really good enough, so I’ve included a video from last year’s Colwall event which will give you a flavour of what goes on.  Also, for a good explanation about wassailing, see here.
Waes Hael ! ( Good Health! )

Sunglasses may promote sun-damage

having_fun_with_beach_ball_198036We all know that sunglasses are necessary to help prevent sun-damage. But did you know that there is a theory that  sunglasses can actually increase your chance of sundamage?

The roll of sunglasses in the prevention of sundamage is now widely known, and every sensible person includes a pair of sunglasses in his or her anti- sundamage arsenal.

But take care. Sunglasses may seem to be that happiest blend of style and substance—a cool fashion accessory which also protects your health—but the truth may be a little more complex.

Because strangely it seems that sunglasses may actually promote sun-damage!

According to Dr. Sharon Moalem and Jonathan Prince in their book “Survival of the Sickest, shading your eyes from the sun for a long period of time can actually increase your chance of sun-damage.

Bizarre I know, but their reasoning goes like this.

The process of tanning is controlled by the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the production of a substance called melanin. When the sun shines the pituitary gland kicks into action and orders up more supplies of melanin. Melanin, which is the body’s natural tanning agent, then pigments the skin to protect it against the harmful UV rays which cause sundamage.

The trouble is that the pituitary gland takes it’s information regarding sunlight from the eyes. Moalem and Prince contend that by artificially shading the eyes with sunglasses for lengthy periods you fool it into thinking that the sun is less strong than it actually is. This in turn inhibits the production of melanin, making sundamage much more likely.

So by trying to prevent sundamage by wearing sunglasses, we are actually encouraging it!

It’s a bit of a Catch-22 position, but the solution seems to be quite simple. Rather than avoiding the sun altogether, or, even worse, discarding the sunglasses, just remove them for two or three minutes every fifteen or twenty minutes or so.

It’s an interesting theory, but it’s not universally accepted. There are many medical professionals who dispute the findings. But in my humble opinion it’s a no-brainer. If the theory is correct, then we are risking major skin sundamage just for the sake of looking like a rock star for an extra two or three minutes every quarter of an hour.

It just doesn’t seem worth taking the chance.