Sunday, 1 December 2013

Auto-Indents Please

Indented paragraphs
found everywhere in fiction
So much about writing is about your relationship with the interface. A good interface is invisible and functions at several layers. The first layer is of course between the tips of your fingers and the keys. My choice is the scrabble style of the Mac. So then we get to the software layer of the interface.

I have two writing modes if you don't count procrastination, which are fiction and non-fiction. Scrivener is the fiction interface of choice, while the non-fiction is IA Writer. Both these require licences and installs. If I'm writing on any machine other than my own, which happens frequently, my non-fiction is poured into Writer via Google Chrome.

The strength of Scrivener is the total writing environment. Of IA and Writer it is the small footprint and quick accessibility, the no clutter interfaces.

There are numerous reasons why Scrivener might not be available to me, mostly around portability. I'll fire up IA Writer or Writer with the intention of fiction writing. Except both these applications don't support auto-indents. What are auto-indents? You might ask.

Take a look at any page of any fiction novel, printed either onto paper or digitally and you will find every paragraph after the first is indented.

When I'm in non-fiction mode my mind is perfectly calibrated to the fact the paragraphs are not indented. The interface is invisible.

Trying to write fiction without the auto-indents is distracting. The double tapping of the return after each paragraph. The lack of indents while parsing the flow of paragraphs, especially dialogue, makes the whole process cumbersome. The interface stops being invisible.

Such a simple thing, as auto-indents, you might wonder, would be universally available with the proliferation of fiction writers these last years. Sadly not.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Requesting Reviews


I love to write product reviews, especially for books and movies. I've been doing this on Amazon for over ten years, high ranked the last five. I work hard to be fair in all product reviews, knowing how much effort and often love, has gone into producing the product you want reviewing. If you would like to have your product reviewed than drop me an email at the address listed on my Amazon Profile.

Here are a few things you should know about book reviews beforehand :
  • Send me a link to your book on Amazon and I will read the sample. If I like it I'll buy it and review it.
  • If I don't I'll drop you a line saying why.
  • If your book gets a ranking of three stars or over I'll write up a review and post it on Amazon and one of my sites with appropriate tags.
  • I do not write one or two star reviews unless specifically asked. I will drop you a line telling you why the product got the low score.
  • If you do not want a three star review posted then let me know at the outset.
  • I'll always read the first 100 pages of a book. If I am struggling at that point it is unlikely I will continue or that it would get a ranking over two stars.
  • If your book contains many typos and lots of grammar issues then I'll keep reading if it's a good story. You will lose one star for multiple typos/grammar alone though.
  • I don't read Chic-lit or Romance but will try anything else including non-fiction.
Best wishes.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Mount NLSU2 EXT3 drives in WIndows 7

Linksys NLSU2
My trusty Linksys NLSU2 NAS device finally gave out the other week after eight years of faultless performance. It has fulfilled a number of tasks these years, for the last three functioning as a dedicated media store.

When it failed the NLSU2 would give access to the files for 3-5 minutes and reset itself to the factory default IP setting and disable SMB. No amount of reconfiguring and rebooting made any difference.

I routinely backup the media across the wire to a 1TB portable 2.5" disk. When I plugged the portable disk in this time I got the dreaded: click, click, click, as the drive head struggled and failed to access the disk. Lots of trials later on various machines and the backup disk joined the NLSU2 in the skip queue. I now had no access to any of my media.

Ripping all my DVD's again was very low on my list of priorities, so I was faced with a need to get the data off the drives that had been plugged into the NLSU2. This turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.

The NLSU2 creates three partitions on the main attached disk. Two 118Mb system partitions and a main EXT3 partition to store and share your data. I tried a few different utilities for accessing the EXT3 file system with the disk plugged into the USB port of my Windows 7 PC. The few that even ran on W7 and did read the EXT3 file system couldn't actually copy off any files.

Eventually I came across this excellent post conveniently titled MOUNT EXT4, EXT3 OR EXT2 PARTITIONS IN WINDOWS 7 OR XP, which describes downloading, installing and using a utility called EXT2FSD - code written by Bo Branten and supplied by

I got the same error the blog author mentioned but a post install reboot solved it. You need to remember assigning a Drive to a disk won't work, you need to assign the drive letter to the bigger EXT3 partition on the disk, which may be listed to the bottom of the utility screen. The letter took a few seconds to assign and then the disk and all its contents appeared as a natural extension of windows. I immediately backed them up.

Thank you to the post author over at WEB UPD8, Bo Branten and Sourceforge.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Review: All you need is Kill - Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Kindle)

Five Stars
It goes like this - I'd watched Oblivion and despite its flaws rate it as the best cinema so far this year (2013). I got the blu-ray and listened to the excellent commentary by Tom Cruise and Joseph Kosinski, which led me to the audio commentary for Jack Reacher, a movie headlined by Tom Cruise late last year. There's a lot you can say about Tom, but when it comes to entertainment, there are few that do it better. So I got to wondering what Tom was currently working on, which IMDB told me was a movie called the 'Edge of Tomorrow', based on a Japanese novel called 'All you need is Kill'. There was barely anything online for the movie so I checked out the book on Amazon. It had been translated into english. Three minutes later I turned the first page. It's not a long book, about 230 pages. I started reading Friday night, slept a couple of hours and started reading again Saturday morning. Finished it a few hours later. It was so good and so clever, my first impulse was to read it over again.

Keiji is a rookie soldier fighting for the Japanese army in a global future war against an alien invading force. A war now decades old against an alien enemy called 'Mimics', far superior than human armies. The alliance of nations have joined forces not only in combat but in developing technologies, the height of which are armoured 'jackets', suits worn by male and female soldiers alike, that bring them closer to the physical characteristics of the invading 'mimics'. Having been trained to the peak of his physical capabilities Keiji is propelled into combat for the first time and instantly fatally wounded. Realising he is going to die he makes a last effort to kill the nearest mimic to him. He is torn to pieces and then wakes up in bed, thirty hours before he died. He dies just as quickly that day too and wakes up in the same bed. Realising he has become trapped in a time loop Keiji determines to become the best soldier he can, so that he may survive and live out the day.

In a word: fantastic. There is of course a similarity in the structure to Jake Gyllenhaal's 'Source Code' but this book predates that. I wouldn't be surprised if AYNIK was the inspiration for Source Code. The quality of the story for me is that it introduces wild concepts to crank up the tension but come the end there are no loose ends. Everything is explained, our understanding of the time loop becomes a vital part of the ongoing story. The story has a real sense of humanity laced with the action and sci-fi. I'm not a sci-fi guy generally but this was so grounded in a progression of the human story, great action and character, there was not a line or page that wasn't totally captivating. The invention is just superb.

What didn't I like? Absolutely nothing. I did struggle to fully imagine the mimics - a cross between a starfish and a bloated frog - but that was it. All in all if you like sci-fi, time travel, action or originality, then check this out. Very highly recommended. Can't wait to see the movie.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Review: Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman (Kindle)

Anyone spending any time online during 2013 will have struggled not to notice a TV series called 'Orange is the New Black', which was the most viewed show commissioned by Netflix (a comedy filmed by Lionsgate) during the year. I had a holiday coming up as autumn approached and for a whole bunch of reasons went straight for Piper Kerman's original book, on which the TV series was based. Which for the sake of clarity will make you smile but unlike the show isn't written for laughs.

Piper Kerman comes from a middle-class family, is smart, well educated, is a pretty blond with blue eyes and possessed of a love for male and female partners. She also has an irresistible bohemian itch that leads her on all kinds of adventures and ultimately to jail.

During her mid-twenties she couriered drugs money as a favour and to pay a debt to a long term partner. She was arrested for the crime years later, when the drug syndicate collapsed and her ex-partner gave her name up as part of a deal. More than half a decade after being found guilty and being sentenced, Piper finally ends up in jail. The main focus of the story covers her thirteen months in jail.

The quality of the novel is that most educated, relatively law abiding citizens, will relate to Piper. She is a largely innocent everywoman, catapulted into the American penal system. And before anyone gets bent out of shape on the question of innocence - if you see this modern world in the black and white of right and wrong, the good and bad, then read on, this book might open your eyes.

Aside from the sincerity and lightness of touch in Piper's writing, the human story is what shines through. Piper waves away her fiancee and middle-class life, some ten years after her freely admitted crime, and goes from citizen to con, keeping her head down and trying to stay out of trouble. As she eases into life inside we meet a wide number of characters and rather than the violence you might expect, we are treated to people trying their best to deal with an inhumanity inflicted on them by the system, the size of the system and the futility of jailing people who have few choices in life but to return to that life. It is the interaction of the characters and Piper's enigmatic attempts to deal with these new experiences and the people who change her, that makes this such an enthralling read.

The last time I read a book that felt this honest and insightful was Belle de Jour, for completely different reasons. There is a very compelling and perceived sincerity in the detail of every page that doesn't sensationalise the reality. The focus here is on the human, a very female story, captivating for its raw honesty.

Orange is the New Black is a rare book that has you experience the story, laugh and cry with the characters. We turn the last page grateful it wasn't us but also better for the shared experience.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Review: Never Go Back - Lee Child (Kindle)

Through the seventeen years Lee Child has delivered Jack Reacher as the hardest hobo in the Americas, we've had avenging sibling murder, hostage and wacko clans, serial killers and political assassinations, gun runners and the war on terror. At other times we've had small rural towns hiding wider crime networks. These last four years Reacher's adventures have been built around his quest towards Washington and the HQ of the 110th special investigations - Reacher's old unit, so he can take the new C/O out to lunch.

In a real world where the American (and British) governments pursue the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, NGB is thematically that of an all knowing big brother. Never Go Back begins with Reacher making the HQ, only to find the C/O locked up for taking bribes. Reacher also finds himself at the wrong end of a paternity law suite and manslaughter charge. Forcibly re-commissioned into the army so he can be prosecuted, it all seems as bogus to Reacher as it sounds. But why would anyone go to the trouble?

As with last years 'A Wanted Man' I struggled with NGB, largely in its 400+ pages, excesses of superfluous detail and flawed plot. In contrast to all the other Reacher books this lurches into the realm of Tom Clancy political thriller and as such it's long and sadly there's barely an ounce of thriller throughout. None of the bad guys come close to giving Reacher a hard time, half of them are given a good drubbing in the very first chapter. Once more with Lee Child we get violence far removed from the real world. NGB IS full of detail and exposition and the comings and goings that made last years, 'A Wanted Man', so difficult. Once more we spend a good portion on the road with no great plot reason. Historically if Reacher needed to go somewhere you turned the page and he'd be there. These days we get thirty pages detailing the journey, some tame sex and a fairly standard crowd of 'Deliverence' hill billies routinely taken out.

Lee Child has been for me the premier thriller writer of the early 21st century. His last two books are different beasts though, full of excessive detail, ponderous and meandering, a threadbare plot. This year it's so thin it seems implausible from the get go and never redeems itself. Anyone well versed in thriller plot devices will be screaming for someone, anyone, to track the money of the initial bribe, a routine process in any bribery investigation you might assume. We go through the whole book and despairingly discover at the very end why tracing the money isn't covered, because it would have closed down the investigation right away. Likewise the premise of the charges against Reacher are deliberately designed to make him RUN, except the story states the baddies have access to a special investigation explicitly stating Reacher never ran from anything from the age of six onwards.

These are not the casual slight of hands we have come to expect from Child nor the kind he should expect his biggest fans to swallow.

A final footnote. Child in an interview with Playboy about the time Jack Reacher was released at the cinema, took the opportunity to state he thought David Baldacci was overrated. To the point one of the heavies Reacher routinely uses through NGB as a punchbag is named Baldacci. Having read Baldacci's books, lately the entertaining Zero Day, Child is a better thriller writer, but not by some distance on the strength of these last two novels. Will the real Lee Child please step forward.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Mayer and a Logo and Playground Journalism

A potent mix of
smarts and looks
It's been a while now since a pregnant Marissa Mayer took over at the badly faltering Yahoo! Fourteen months in-fact. A LOT has been written about Marissa since then and a large portion of it has been read by me.

From the vast array of narrative it is possible to read between the lines and get a feel for the sort of boss Marissa is. You do feel she is control obsessed, that she does have very specific ideals within an industry she has proven herself over a number of decades. You certainly get a sense she could be a pain to work for, but then I've never known anyone truly successful who isn't. They have to be a pain. There are of course variations of painful.

Before Marissa left Google she was a mostly beloved figurehead. The largely male orientated tech. hacks tolerated the pretty blond who knew her code much as they might the efficient blond in the office - with a kind of distant reverence. She was largely harmless and they could rest assured the real brains, the driving force behind the company's success, in this case Google's, was down to men.

But now she's the head of a giant tech. company and her drive along with prevailing winds is bringing the behemoth back on course. Except if you read the established tech. press every single step Marissa has made in the last six months, because really; it doesn't do to be outright mean to a woman while she's pregnant, has been derided as a disaster.

Of course journalists have to write about something and recording how swell the Yahoo! world is under her leadership doesn't make for great copy, but for the love of god guys, give the woman a break. The new Yahoo! logo looks great, it's just different.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Review: 600 Hours of Edward (Kindle)

My wife has been bugging me to read 600 Hours for ages. So, I finally did. Turns out it's one of the best books I've ever read.

Edward Staunton is different. He suffers from OCD and Aspergers. He sees the world from a perspective few of us do. He has a strained relationship with his father and his mother is distant. His closest relationship is with his psychologist and he wistfully hopes to be more like Sergeant Joe Friday from the Dragnet TV show, which he watches every night at exactly the same time. Mostly Edward likes facts and data and he likes his data to be complete. When Edward's schedule dictates he must paint his garage door, a boy from across the road wanders over and says hello. As a result Edward's world slowly starts to change around him.

The best books are the hardest to review, so I will not go on. If you want a read that will make you smile about every other page, laugh out loud very often, that will reveal a little of yourself and wrap you in a hypnotising life affirming narrative, then look no further. Easily up there with my all time favourite books.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Kindle)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a book about marriage and people and how time and the scars of life can often desensitise us to the loves we once held so precious. It is a unique and clever book with an evocative and emotional message, but ultimately for me it overreaches its remit and in the process loses a beautiful story about two people to a brow beating insight to society that is neither clever or original or particularly insightful.

Harold and Maureen Fry live a heartless marriage. Forty-seven years and that wonderful genesis for love has evolved through the estrangement of their son almost twenty years ago to a silent hatred, with only the fear of being alone keeping them together. When Harold receives a letter from a once dear friend now terminally ill, he realises he has failed her and their friendship by not ever keeping in contact. Determined to resolve this immediately he writes a letter in apology and strides out in his yachting shoes to find the nearest post box. But a casual observation by a young woman on the healing nature of faith sends Harold on past many post boxes, until he determines he will deliver the letter by hand, by walking the 500 miles from Dartmoor to Berwick.

The premise of a pensioner walking from one end of England to the other rests squarely on the author's ability to build momentum into the narrative where none exists in Harold's step by step. The Unlikely Pilgrimage takes at least a quarter of its length to set-up the premise and get going. Despite being extremely well written, getting through this early part of the book feels as daunting as walking the length of England. With the help of a 'foreigner' Slovakian Doctor at the quarter way point, Harold is jettisoned into sublime narrative that kept me up all night, painting first and foremost an evocative and beautiful landscape of England and the people that live in it. As the countryside unfolds before Harold so does his memories of the forty seven years of marriage, and equally in missing her husband Maureen has to face her memories and failings - the blame they have apportioned each other. This is the core of Pilgrimage, it is a story of love, both of man and wife and parents of a child and what happens when the triangle is broken. The central relationship and each character's realisation for what is now important to them is beautifully and emotionally rendered. Like I said, it is sublime.

But then as we should be turning to the ending, half a mesmerising book later, and three quarters through the narrative we are suddenly presented with a raft of new characters that echo the failings of Harold's past and the ills of society in general. We are confronted with each new character and their discovery for what the journey means, as we did for Harold in the difficult first quarter, and for me the narrative died a death. It was a shallow and thin attempt to mirror the failings of society that took all the power of the relationship between Maureen and Harold right out of the story. It made getting to the end something I could only do by speed reading and eventually skipping to the last chapter to make sure going back and wading through the turgid cultural introspection was worth it.

I got a sense this somewhat shallow look at culture might have been to satisfy a certain type of readership quite advanced in years than my forty-six. It is a lurch that stands out like putting down the Guardian and picking up the Daily Mail. I'm baffled because everything else was so informed. But thankfully when the story literally dispenses with this burden and returns to the core theme of Maureen and Harold, we are once more plunged into their emotion and all the things they have hidden in the name of love and I wept, I can tell you.

A brilliant look at lifelong love that is almost ruined by an overreaching narrative for morality. If it had stuck to the core premise, had been one hundred pages shorter, this would have been an all time great.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Review: World War Z (Cinema)

Sometime in the near future for reasons fleetingly covered but not explained in World War Z (WWZ), a terrifying virus will spread across the planet and mutate mankind into non-conscious zombies with no free will, the zombies sole desire is to colonise the world and make everyone just like them, terrorising mankind in the process as they orally pass on the virus and transform the remaining humans into zombies.

Anyone walking out of the cinema believing they've just watched two hours of frequently anti-Islamic symbology, well, you're not the first.

WWZ has budget over the normal horror movie, I think because it's positioned more as a thriller with occasional gnashing teeth. I don't recall there being any blood at all. There were some extremely tense moments during a great opening twenty minutes, one epic sequence in Isreal at the midpoint, a zombie attack on a plane and some shenanigans in a laboratory that felt it should have been the springboard for an epic end and not the end itself.

WWZ is good. Brad is good. For the first third the tension is really cranked up and in 3D, I've never been more aware of seeing a 3D environment. But the story quickly evolves down to Brad and co., globe hopping through near zombification moments to the very end. It's frenetic, it is near death but it all feels popcorn with little actual threat. For a movie about a global epidemic there is little other than the frenzied zombie attack on Jerusalem to give any real sense of the global. An attack as it happens, caused by happy clappy religious types singing to the glory of god for sparing them, which drives the zombies into a frothing rage.

WWZ has a lot of promise and serves up some great entertainment but nothing better in my opinion than your standard Friday night DVD.