Tag Archives: tips

Amazon’s Research Assistant

Research imageResearching a new book is not my favorite part of the publishing process. Which is why I am delighted to have found a
little wheeze that makes the job a bit easier. It has actually been around for years, but I’ve only just discovered it, which I suppose enhances my techno-thicko credentials but I don’t care. It doesn’t pay to be too cutting edge; you’re always the first up against the wall in a revolution. Just look at what happened in Cambodia.
Anyway, this concerns the downloading of pdf files from my computor to my Kindle.
When you’re trawling all over the internet during the course of research, you will very often come across a paper or report in pdf. format which contains plenty of interesting information. Being a pdf file makes it easily downloadable, which is great if you want to read it later, at your convenience.
Now, even more convenient is the fact that you can transfer this file from your computor to your Kindle device, so that not only can you read it at your convenience, but you can read it IN your convenience if you want to, as well as in bed, in the shed, on the plane or when you’re driving (just joking!)
In case you don’t already know, in order to do this you connect the Kindle to the computer using a USB cable. The Kindle then appears as a removable drive. Click on its icon to open and you’ll see a set of folders. All you have to do is drag and drop or copy and paste your pdf file into the Kindle’s Documents folder and it appears as an item on the Home page.
The problem is, though, that very often pdfs transfered this way don’t display properly. Usually on my machine the font size is so miniscule that it looks like a series of lines and even at maximum resolution I have to squint like Mr Magoo in order to read anything at all. This is because the pdf is not in a proper Kindle format.

The easier way
Which brings me to that little wheeze I was crowing about at the beginning of this article. It seems that those clever folks at Amazon have already thought of this and have come to the rescue by making it easy to convert your pdf into the proper format.
Here’s how it works.
Firstly you have to make sure that your device is registered with Amazon and has its own approved email address (log on to your Amazon account, go to the Manage Your Kindle web page (Manage Your Device > Personal Document Settings) and set it up.
Then all you need to do is send the pdf to the Kindle email address as an email attachment with “convert” in the subject line and it’s automatically reformatted into Kindle format and sent back to your Kindle.
Easy eh?
photo credit: barnimages.com Business still life via photopin (license)

Keep Calm and Carry On Grounding!

Can Grounding be bad for your health? Some people think so.

Whilst grounding naturally outdoors bare skin to the ground is completely safe as long as you watch where you put your feet and the ground itself is clean and uninfected and not electrically charged, grounding indoors whether by wire and rod-in-the-ground or via your home’s electrical system is thought by some people to be unsafe in some circumstances.
In their view, the problem lies with those bothersome emfs again.

Here, in very simple terms, is the argument.

We live in an increasingly wired world, and EMF emissions, also known as electromagnetic radiation, are all around us. Wi-Fi routers, cordless phones, wireless smart meters and even those possibly life-saving wireless baby monitors fill the air with microwave radiation. (According to PowerWatch, http://wiredchild.org/sciencealias/43-what-the-science-tells-us/67-what-the-science-tells-us-wireless-products.html a wireless baby monitor positioned less than 1 metre from a baby’s crib was roughly equivalent to the microwave radiation experienced from a cell phone tower only 150 meters away. Just think about that next time you stick that whiz-bang piece of hi-tech gadgetry next to the little loved one’s head.)

Just as—possibly more—troublesome are the frequencies from your home’s electrical wiring and appliances, especially the modern energy saving types. These generate ‘stray electricity’ which spreads throughout a building and even to other buildings via electrical wiring, ground and plumbing currents, and power lines. It radiates into living and work environments, exposing those inside to potentially harmful electromagnetic fields. Mounting evidence suggests that this ‘dirty electricity’, as it’s also called, has an adverse affect on health.

The problem with indoor grounding therapy according to some, is that by artificially grounding yourself by plugging your pad or blanket into an electrical socket you turn yourself into an antenna and actually attract these harmful stray frequencies to you. Worse still, in certain areas the electrical distribution produces ground current and here you may even pick up stray current back up from the ground outside.

In other words, according to this theory, grounding may do you more harm than good.

But do these arguments stack up?

Although I’m a long time grounding fan I barely know my ohm from my ampere, so I decided to put these concerns to the people at Groundology. Here’s what Seb, who has a background in electrical engineering, has to say. I’ll quote his answer in full, and then we’ll see what we make of it.

“First the question of whether it is beneficial to ground the body in an environment where Emfs are present:
The key principle to understand is that grounding has a shielding effect on the body. An analogy would be a coaxial electrical cable which has a central part carrying a sensitive electrical signal, surrounded by an outer sheath that is connected to Earth.
To get a bit more technical about it…
There are two principle mechanisms by which shielding works: reflection and absorption. When an electromagnetic wave travelling through space encounters a shield, firstly much of the energy is reflected and then secondly some of the energy that is not reflected is then absorbed by the shield. In this context ‘absorbed’ means drained away to Earth.
So yes, part of the mechanism of shielding is that very tiny electric currents flow to Earth. However, even in a relatively high EMR domestic environment, these currents are extremely small.
The exception to this is when someone is physically touching a device that has a high voltage present on the outer case. These tend to be things like laptops, tablets and mobile phones, using badly designed ungrounded power supplies. Apple devices (MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, etc.) are notable culprits, but some other manufacturers’ devices also have the same problem.
When using such devices, I recommend either:
(a) Unplug the device from its charger during use, definitely while you are grounded, but preferably at other times too if practical. (The high voltage is only present when such a device is connected to its charger.)
(b) Ground the case of the device itself, rather than your body (e.g. by placing on a grounding mat) – this will drop the voltage right down and prevent it going into your body.
I must stress that this is about direct physical contact with such devices. There is a huge difference in the amount of current that flows to Earth with physical contact to a voltage source, compared to the mechanism of shielding an electromagnetic wave.

As to the question of whether grounding the body via the mains Earth could actually introduce electrical noise into the body:
This depends a great deal on the quality of the mains Earth and the type of mains system in use. In the US, for example, the mains Earth is a relatively recent introduction and because of the way it has been implemented retrospectively in many buildings, it can carry significant electrical noise. That’s not to say that every house in the US has this issue, but there is a good reason why the US websites selling Earthing products always bundle a grounding rod kit with every Earthing product, as well as the means to connect via the mains Earth.
In the UK however, and other European countries that I am familiar with, the mains Earth is generally of a high quality. By this I mean two things:
(a) it has a low impedance to The Earth, and
(b) it does not carry any return current in the domestic electrical circuit. (Sometimes the electricity supply companies may ground the supply Neutral, but this is always outside of the domestic circuit.)
The only time that the mains Earth may carry a significant voltage is during a fault condition of a connected appliance. This can happen very briefly during the time it takes for the circuit to trip or fuse blow. This is one of the reasons why Earthing products contain a 100KOhm safety resistor – to limit any possible current to a safe level.
One further point which I think is important: while grounding is very effective at mitigating the effects of low frequency EMFs in the environment, it is only partially effective with higher frequency EMFs (such as WiFi, mobile phones, cordless phones, etc.)
While these higher frequency EMFs generally have a lower strength, some people can find them particularly problematic. So it can be beneficial to take practical measures, such as:
– use a wired landline phone, rather than a cordless or mobile, particularly for long calls;
– use a computer connected via a network cable, with WiFi disabled (e.g. ‘Airplane’ mode);
– for devices that can only connect wirelessly, switch to ‘Airplane’ mode when not in use, to avoid the constant WiFi/2G/3G/4G chatter.
Proximity is a significant factor as the EMF strength decays quickly with distance (it’s proportional to the inverse square of the distance). In simple terms, the further you are from the emitting device, the better.  Dense physical obstructions such as walls also attenuate these higher frequency EMFs.

Still with me?  A very comprehensive answer, and one which concurs with the majority of research I’ve done on this subject. Let’s summarise.

Stray (dirty electricity) does not adversely affect the benefits of grounding in a normal domestic environment, and will help protect against it, unless you are actually touching a device that has a high voltage present in the case, in which case you should take the precautions outlined above.

You are unlikely to pick up stray current from the ground outside the house within Europe. There is some risk of this in the US, where the electrical distribution system has developed slightly differently. Therefore the use of grounding rods rather than the domestic wiring system may be preferable, and as I mention elsewhere grounding rods are the favoured option of the purists.

The situation is not quite so clear on the subject of grounding and the higher frequency emfs created by wi-fis, cell phones and cordless phones etc. Indeed, as far as I am aware there has been very little research done on the subject. However the debate over the dangers or otherwise of wireless electromagnetic radiation generally is a long running and wide ranging one which extends far beyond the “grounding” fraternity. The jury is very much out on this issue, and until definitive evidence is produced either way you would be very wise to limit your exposure to this type of radiation as much as possible. My next book “Killing Fields” explores this issue in greater depth.

Until then, take the precautions listed above, and Keep Calm and Carry On Grounding.

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.

Million Dollar Howlers

According to Amazon, more Kindle books are returned due to bad spelling and grammar than for any other reason.
It’s not hard to see why the Kindle in particular should be so singularly prone to typos.

  • Authors are human (mostly), and make mistakes.
  • The rush to publish and the DIY nature of the Kindle process means that many authors are dispensing with the quality control processes which were integral to the traditional publishing process. Specifically, instead of using the publishing house’s professional copy-editors they are correcting their own manuscripts which, as I know only too well,  is almost impossible to do successfully.

Copy-editors are trained to pick up those howlers and faux-pas that slip unnoticed into the work of lesser mortals. Most professional organisations wouldn’t dream of publishing or releasing any information before it had been throughly checked over for errors by copy-editors or other specialists.
Which makes the following blunders and boo-boos as puzzling as they were expensive.

Penguin Tales

Back in 2010, Penguin Australia had to pulp 7000 copies of ‘The Pasta Bible’ because it contained a receipe for tagliatelle and sardines which called for ‘salt and freshly ground black people. . .’ It should, of course, have read black pepper.

The most expensive hyphen in history

On July 22, 1962 Mariner 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, marking the United States’ first attempt at an inter-planetary mission. Unfortunately a hyphen had been ommitted from the coded computer instructions, resulting in incorrect guidance signals being sent to the spacecraft. (Actually there was some speculation that the problem might have been caused by an ‘overbar transcription error’—whatever that is—or even a misplaced decimal point, but the missing hyphen was the most likely culprit. Either way it was an editing error.) As a result, five minutes after launch the Range Safety Officer issued the destruct command and the $80 million spacecraft was blown to smithereens. The spelling error ended up costing each and every US taxpayer about one dollar each.

Chilean disaster

ChilecoinHow’s this for a high profile spelling mistake?
In 2008, 1.5 million Chilean 50 peso coins were released with the South American country’s name spelled as ‘Chiie’ instead of ‘Chile’. The mistake was not caught until a coin collector reported the error. By that time, 1.5 million coins were already distributed to the public. Although the mint has so far refused to remove the coin from circulation the mistake has caused the country significant embarrassment, and several Chilean mint employees lost their jobs because of this massive error.

It’s unlikely that any of us Kindle writers will be responsible for howlers on the same scale as these, but maybe we should learn from them.
If the people responsible for such important projects as these can make such gigantic cock-ups, what chance have we got to catch our own mistakes unaided?
So get a professional copy-editor to check your manuscript. Don’t be tempted to scrimp on this stage.
You may not lose a million dollars. But it might cost you your reputation.

The Writer’s Secret Weapon

If you’re writing and self-publishing book of any sort, but particularly a non fiction book containing facts and figures, here’s a great tip that will save you possibly hours of time in the correction and editing stage.

Write yourself a style-guide and stick to it.

Let me explain.
Look at this rough draft extract from a book about electric bikes.

On the urban commutes and similar short journeys which account for eighty per cent of electric bike usage, the electric bike is about 15 percent quicker overall than than any other form of powered vehicle. Although cars are capable of much greater absolute speed, traffic conditions in towns and cities reduce their average speed on an urban journey to below 9 mph, which is some 9 % slower than the average speed of an electric bike (just over ten miles per hour).’

Notice anything? In one short paragraph I’ve written percentages in three different ways, (eighty per cent, 15 percent, 9 %), miles per hour in two different ways (mph, miles per hour), and rendered numerals in both number and letter formats (9, nine, etc.)
It makes the thing difficult to read, it lacks clarity, and it looks sloppy. It’s just not consistent. It gives the impression that the writer is careless, and unconcerned with the quality of his writing. Which might also leave a reader concerned about the quality of his information.
And there are many more stylistic traps for the unwary.
How about ages, for example? Do you write ‘She was 30’, or do you write ‘She was thirty’?
What about dates? Should you write ‘April 1 1914′, or April 1st 1914? Or even 1 April 1914, or April first 1914’?
How do you deal with abbreviations (e.g. or e.g or eg?), Dates? Times? Titles?. . . The list of possibilities for inconsistent formatting goes on and on.
Of course you may argue that that your job as an author is to get the stuff down on paper in the first place, and ensuring consistency is the job of the copy editor (or should that be copy-editor?). And you’d be right—if you or your publisher can afford one. But many new self-publishing authors are their own copy editors, and I speak from experience when I tell you that trawling through a 300 page manuscript for the fourth time just to address these elements of consistent styling leaves you with an empty feeling of despair and a need to reach for the medicinal whisky bottle.
Believe me, it’s better to aim for consistency right from the start.
So, my advice to you is to put together your own style-guide as soon as possible.

A guide to your style-guide

A style-guide is not a guide to the basic rules of good grammar, correct spelling and clear communication, which should already be familiar to you. (If not you’re in the wrong job.)
A style-guide sets out your own house-style, which is just a posh name for a set of rules which ensure uniformity of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, numbers and all those other little rascals that are open to inconsistency of style.
In most cases there is no right or wrong way. Miles per hour is just as valid as miles-per-hour or mph. Thirty is no more correct than 30. (Unless it starts a sentence, but let’s not get too technical here.) It’s mostly a matter of preference. But the important thing is consistency. Be uniform across the whole document. Decide what your house-style will be, and stick to it.
Although there are generally no hard and fast rules, common practice, evolving modern parlance, and the need for clarity have led to some usages becoming widely accepted by the major style manuals (which we’ll look at shortly). You might want to adopt these rules.
Your own style guide will be tailored to your needs and what you’re writing. If you’re a writer of murder mysteries for instance, you might only need a few notes clarifying your treatment of dates, or ages. If you write history books you might also need to decide how you will handle foreign names, or titles, or references. A writer of a technical or scientific book may need a more chunky guide, addressing elements such as mathematical formula, percentages, numbers, statistics, equations, and anything and everything under the sun.
Sounds like a lot of work? It really doesn’t take that long.
As a starting point you could look at some of the major online style-guides. These have been developed by major publications with many contributing writers. The guide (often called a style manual), ensures that each writer adopts a tone and style consistent with the company’s wishes.
There are many out there, and a simple internet search will give you plenty to choose from. Here are just three.

The Chicago Manual of Style Online : A very widely used style manual published since 1906 by the University of Chicago Press

Garbl’s Editorial Style Manual: Writing and editing advice about abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, numbers, organization terminology, plurals, possessives, punctuation, spelling, word usage, and the World Wide Web.”

Telegraph Style Book:   The ‘official guide to house style’ for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, and Telegraph.co.uk.

These are massive resources, and can cover anything from the correct spelling of Abbottabad (the city in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was found) to the correct use of the word ‘Zionist’. Clearly they are far more comprehensive than anything most authors need, but they are worth looking at for several reasons:

  • You can see how they address the styling issues that you face. . .
  • . . . which you can adopt yourself, if it suits your own style.
  • You can, if you want, identify and adopt those usages which are widely accepted as best practice.
  • They are handy to refer back to for guidance should any unexpected stylistic issue raise its head.
  • They are fascinating references in themselves, and a good way to waste half an hour if you’ve got the time to spare.

OK. I know that you are a writer. You’ve got a book in your head which needs coaxing out, and you need the diversion of concocting a style-guide like you need a snake in your bed.
But it needn’t take long. And take it from me, it’s not wasting time. It may be a pain, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.