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msknight

Michelle's corner

Michelle Knight. Writer, photographer, programmer, truck driver and general, all round nut case. Life is a journey and that's what this blog will probably end up being. Let's see where we go, eh? ;-)

Currently reading

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics
Dalai Lama XIV, Ian Coghlan
Progress: 23/433 pages

Secret Books In The Public Domain

The headline was too long to have in the title of this post, but here it is...

Libraries and Archivists Are Scanning and Uploading Books That Are Secretly in the Public Domain
Millions of books are secretly in the public domain thanks to a copyright loophole, a new project seeks to put them on the Internet Archive.

A coalition of archivists, activists, and libraries are working overtime to make it easier to identify the many books that are secretly in the public domain, digitize them, and make them freely available online to everyone. The people behind the effort are now hoping to upload these books to the Internet Archive, one of the largest digital archives on the internet.

 

Full article here - https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/a3534j/libraries-and-archivists-are-scanning-and-uploading-books-that-are-secretly-in-the-public-domain

 

So what's happening?

The trials and tribulations continue. I can't see myself returning to writing until next year. Work is undergoing some major change. I survived the reorganisation, but we've got a heap of new staff coming in, and we're being moved out of our office while ours is refurbished. It's all strain and not conducive to writing.

 

When I do pen something, I think I'll return to the comedy book first, though. The sci-fi adventure is a little generic and run of the mill.

 

Brexit is having an effect on independent publishers. Processing tax on purchases is proving to be a nightmare for small publishers and I've received notification that mine won't be able to sell directly to EU countries due to the overheads. They're putting in an alternative via a service outside the UK. I'm an exclusive author so they'll do the heavy lifting for me, which is a relief. It's probably for the best right now, that I'm not doing much business or writing.

 

Is the UK going to come out without a deal? I wouldn't like to call it. It looks like the UK prime minister has been forced to ask the EU for an extension, but there's no guarantee that the EU will grant it. People on all sides of the argument are mostly saying, "Just get on with it," so I wouldn't like to put money on any particular outcome.

 

The impact on people and businesses, particularly the smaller ones, is telling; and the book industry, especially the indies, are caught up in all this. It's probably for the best that life has stopped me from writing right now.

SPOILER ALERT!

Review - Executioner: Pierrepoint

Executioner Pierrepoint - Albert Pierrepoint

Few books offer an insight into human nature and its multi-faceted existance as the autobiography of Albert Pierrepoint, one of the longest serving and most respected executioners in Britain.

 

An extremely controversial subject and one which was subject to as much, "fake news," back then as we see in our modern press today.

 

I was brought to this book by the film which starred Timothy Spall. The American version erroneously subtitles the film, "The last hangman." He wasn't. After his resignation, two others who trained under him performed a number of executions, the last of which was a double hanging at two separate locations; so effectively there was never a last hangman for the record. There are also a number of dramatisations in the film which are not corroborated by the auto-biography.

I never knew the force of the word Jealousy until I was an executioner.

Pierrepoint conveys so much about humanity and society throughout his life, in just a couple of hundred pages. A rare book in this regard.

 

He goes from historical details...

In 1832 there were two hundred and twenty offences for which the punishment was death. By 1837 the number of capital offences was reduced to fifteen, and in 1861 the death penalty was confined to the offences of murder, treason, piracy with violence, and arson in the Sovereign’s vessels, arsenals and dockyards.

... to commentary on what he saw as inconsistencies in society...

One of the most glaring inconsistencies occurred in September 1922, when on the same day a reprieve on the ground on insanity was granted to the well-connected Ronald True, convicted for a commonplace sordid sexual murder, and simultaneously a reprieve was refused for the page-boy Henry Jacoby, convicted for what, at its worst showing, was a bungled and unpremeditated assault  during the course of an “inside” hotel robbery which led to the deal of Lady White, a well-connected person.”

...to accounts of his family in war time Britain, including personal loss...

My sister Ivy was working at the emergency hospital at Winwick, near Warrington, in Lancashire when the lads came home from Dunkirk. For a considerable time she was on duty in the operating theatre for eighteen hours a day. She was, I know, a great healing influence in the wards. She collapsed and died of exhaustion. All she left was her autograph book. I have it now, with messages and home-made rhymes from men in the South Lancashires, the Green Howards, the Gordon Highlanders, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.
….
There was the light-heartedness of youth: a soldier wrote, “Always remember, Ivy,  when you make a bed, make it properly – you may have to share it some day. Lawrence G Royal Horse Artillery, 23.7.40”  To which my sister had later added a postscript: “Some hopes you have, Lawrence. I.O., 27.7.40”

He details his upbringing as being typical of many working families of the time, a childhood made all the more strange, but yet all the more normal, by having a father and uncle who were also executioners. As such, the lure of being able to work at a young age and earn a pay packet was something that he came to regret a little...

I think education is the finest thing in the world. Any money I had I would spend on educating children, and never worry about leaving them money afterwards. I often think about this, the education I have missed.

During his closing years as an executioner, there was an enquiry at which some common assumptions were turned on their heads...

“Have you ever known a case in which it was too much for a woman at the last?”
“I have never known it. I have never seen a man braver than a woman.” But not the sort of glamorous bravery you used to see at the end of a spy film, with a disdainful Mata Hari slinking sexily to the execution post.

...and the final conclusion of the book, which is actually given at the very beginning in the preface, although he does expand on this at the end of the book...

The fruit of my experience has this bitter after-taste: that I do not now believe that any one of the hundreds of executions I carried out has in any way acted as a deterrent against future murder. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.

Pierrepoint was a man who is detailed as taking a silent pride in his work; but not the sort of pride that many might conclude. The book details his explanation of paying respect to the last moments of any human life, no matter what they have done; for they are paying the ultimate price. He recalls the words of his training...

Cap noose pin lever drop. You've got to get it right. There's no allowance for error.

Perhaps the one thing I was looking for in the book, I did not find. Whether his execution of one of his customers and good friend, "Tish," took him to the point where he could no longer accept the duties of the executioner. The explanation for his resignation remains a secret; although who knows if it may be uncovered in years to come as various documents become unsealed. Maybe this will never be known. Who knows. It is certainly painted in the film as being an extremely emotional time for Pierrepoint.

 

Will we see capital punishment brought back to the UK? I don't know. Society seems to have periods of swinging between extreme conservatism and liberalism, at a much slower rate than we change parties. At the moment there is a rising burning for revenge among the population. Revenge on who... for what... who knows... and perhaps that is the most dangerous type. Hang everybody, and when a load of people are laying dead... then try some introspection as to whether anything has been achieved.

 

Certainly from my own perspective of learning about humanity, this has been a very worthwhile read.

This is what 200 destroyed books looks like

 

Let's be clear about a few things before we start...

 

1) I'm not giving up as an author. I have more books in me and I'm just coming out of a very long depression. The desire to write is still within me and I expect to pick up my laptop again some time in the next few months. The only question is... which book to write.

 

2) These books were never going to be read. They've been unsellable and occupying space in my house for years. It's taken me all morning to slice the hard covers off, and now it should be easier to separate the thin paper from the spines. They are here because I know that sometimes, a picture is worth a gazillion words and can evoke strong emotions in a heartbeat... and for those who care about books, I can almost feel the blood trickling from their eyes as their pulses rise and their jaws clasp in anger.

 

3) I'm not seeking fame. I've seen enough of what fame has done to people over the last few years. The disaster stories have been plastered all over social media and the truth is that no matter who you are, no matter what you say, do, write or anything, there will always be haters out there.

 

4) I believe that some wonderful gems of authors are out there, and they are being missed because the book world is so skewed that it's unreal. No, I don't count myself among them. I've got a long way to go as an author. As I've said before on this very channel, it's my job to write something that good enough for people to want to read.

 

5) On my fridge door is the following magnet...

 

 

I believe that we need new channels of discovery. There are some, but they've been a patchwork and some have failed. Goodreads was borged by Amazon ... it's not as if Bezos needs the money, he brings in so much from his web services that one tech pundit described Amazon as a tat bazaar that was tagged on the side of his empire. Yet the corporate entity is a consumer censorship disaster.

 

It has been a rough ride for Amazon who have been censoring books which are perfectly legal in various countries. Whichever side of the fence you're on, having the law trumped by corporate decision making undermines democratic society. Every retailer has the right to choose what stock they will and will not carry, but when that extends to owning the sites that review books and controlling the income of reviewers that rely on affiliate income to pay the bills... how are you going to know that you're being censored if you don't even know that a book exists?

 

And to be so censored by a company that is perfectly willing to ban a book for having too many hyphens? https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/dec/18/amazon-book-hyphens-graeme-reynolds-high-moor-2-moonstruck

 

The New York Times Bestseller list which was formally established in 1931 has nine controversies listed on Wiki... six of those are in the last seven years - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times_Best_Seller_list#Controversies

...and criticisms abound - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times_Best_Seller_list#Criticisms

 

Not least, this one -

 

"Fast sales. A book that never makes the list can actually outsell books on the best-seller list. This is because the best-seller list reflects sales in a given week, not total sales. Thus, one book may sell heavily in a given week, making the list, while another may sell at a slower pace, never making the list, but selling more copies over time."

 

There have been independent attempts to serve the readership, BookLikes is one. Others have closed their doors, including IndieBookDiscovery.  Many of what's left have been swallowed by commercial interests and either destroyed or twisted behind the scenes.

 

So where do we go from here? In my personal opinion, libraries should have a corner for local authors. Waterstones did have such a program but it seems to have gone to the way side; at least I had no joy trying to track it down and engage with them on it.

 

I only know now, that I'm writing for me. The last few years have knocked a few corners off the old block and I've learned a lot; but I have more to learn and I suspect that Norman Lovett's assessment of me will turn out to be true, "You'll be famous when you're dead."

Review - Won't You Be My Neighbour

One of the questions asked very near the start, is whether Fred Rogers made a difference with the many, many years that he ran his show on TV.

He knew communication. Things which we know today, such as being a good listener and treating children not like children... not quite like adults but sort of... if they can understand the question they're asking, then they deserve a decent answer... he knew all those decades ago.

"There are so many people who will just lump them all together and say, 'Hey Kids, come on we'll see the next cartoon,' and they couldn't care less about what that cartoon is saying to the child about such things as human dignity."


He tackled so much in the way of really tough subjects like death, assassination, race, divorce and other things which would otherwise have been thought to have been off a child's radar at the time. It's as if people forget that all these things happen around children; and they need help to make sense of these things, but no one would talk to the child about them. Well, not Fred Rogers; he talked about them.

Look at us now. It's 2019 and we're starting to talk about it being OK to not be OK.

First and foremost, we need to love ourselves and children are looking around for validation... and they're not finding it. So they turn to anywhere that makes them feel valued; and certainly in some societies it's the criminal element that are capitalising on this. Commercial and other interests are also; like, "buy this product and you'll be liked." Just look at how Rogers closed his shows, "You've made this day a special day, by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you; and I like you just the way you are."

The next is to love each other. He did much in his shows to diffuse some of those tensions. Officer Clemmons was played by coloured actor François Clemmons who said, "I have always felt policemen would be the most dangerous person in the neighbourhood. So to have me playing a police officer, I was tremendously hesitant; but there was something reluctant about Fred to let go and I said, 'Mr Rogers, I would be very happy to be on your programme as long as it doesn't interfere with my singing." Then it moved to the critical episode 195 on the 9th of May 1969 ... before I was even born. It was the episode where Mr Rogers shared a foot bath with Officer Clemmons as a statement against the incident with the hotel manager tossing cleaning chemicals in a swimming pool where people of various races were enjoying the water.

He also said, "I think that those who would try to make you feel less than who you are; I think that's the greatest evil." I sat and wondered what he would have made of what the internet has turned into and how he would tackle the issue of cyber bullying that seems to have taken an entire generation by storm.

Did Fred Rogers make a difference? I think he did, but I believe that he has been part of an ongoing change that we are maybe not seeing until now, and it's a shame that he isn't here to see it. He had self doubts about his ability to do all this, but here we are; in spite of his own childhood experiences. As he grew in notoriety then more difficulties were put in his way by society questioning him; and he overcame it. What he achieved is still playing a part in how our society is going forward. If that wasn't the case, then this film wouldn't have been made. But it has... because he did.

"Sometimes we need to struggle with a tragedy to feel the gravity of love. Love is what keeps us together, and afloat."

Pencils

I was reading an article on the humble pencil and I thought to share -https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48383050

 

For some time now, I've returned to pencils in the hope that the friction of the lead would slow me down and help improve my scrawl. Not much luck with my pencil of choice, the Palomimo by Blackwing. Next time I might try for their 602, but as the cost of import is so high, I'll have to finish the current box first.

 

What do you write with? And why?

 

Yeah, yeah... so I'm reading it.

To be happy is to be safe, socially active and mentally stimulated. Our workplaces should reflect this, with furniture contributing to our wellbeing.

The vast majority of my life will be sat at desks, in chairs which will either help or wreck my back. I regarded it as being in my own best interests to give this book a chance. But it actually goes well beyond furniture.

 

I saw a number of things; I was technical lead on a project which was part of an overall system where an organisation went to majority hot desks. It failed badly. In these pages is the explanation as to why...

 

We are human and our interpersonal space determines how comfortable we are at work.

 

Employees do not have any legal territorial rights over their workplaces; but that doesn't mean they have no territorial feelings. Humans are the only mammal that walks upright with our vital organs exposed and are instinctively protective of our personal space.

 

In the 1960's anthropologist Edward Hall defined our invisible personal space boundaries with, "proxmetrics," discovering that we all need room around us to claim as our personal space and use to orient ourselves with others.

 

We use this perceived ownership of space to demonstrate our claim of territory, even if it's for a short while. We also use it to define our personal comfort within any situation.

 

We need the stability of ownership, even if it's only perceived; or seen as a reward for our progress, like the coveted corner offices. Running to hot desks for everyone, is a recipe for upset people, just like not allowing a plant to set down roots.

 

So ... yeah... I'm reading that book.

 

Books I never knew existed

Add this to the list of books that I never knew existed, but makes sense in hindsight - "It's All About Me ... The power of people-first workplace furniture" ... but no, I won't be reading it. It was on a colleague's desk.

 

Making an honest sense - page 22 of 433

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics - Dalai Lama XIV, Ian Coghlan

To me, religion and belief have been a journey of decades, talking with a number of scholars throughout my ponderings.

 

To put it bluntly, I have come to believe that organised religion is the antithesis of freedom of religion; as they tell you what to believe and how to believe it. If you refuse, then you're ostracised from the club. I didn't find much freedom in them.

 

Combine that with Darwin whose work was a discovery of what was already there; documenting how the world actually works. He didn't dictate what he found... the world was already working that way all along. Trying to discredit Darwin's work is trying to ignore the realities of nature itself.

 

Many high achievers in the world of science are religious people; which all leads me to conclude that if you believe in a god and want to read the word of god, then you don't read scriptures written by the hand of man... you study the word of nature that is written all around us. If anything was written with gods authoritative hand... it's the very world we're standing in.

 

Further to support this is the fact that over the years, scripture has had to be re-interpreted to match the truths of nature that science has discovered. This is happening more in our modern age than ever before.

 

That's what I'm finding in the Dalai Lama's words so far. He isn't preaching a belief, but an observation of science; of using the tools available to understand the world as it actually is. I'm finding comfort in the Dalai Lama's encouragement of connecting with nature and using science as the tool to achieve this goal.

 

Some of what was written in early scripture is understandable as an explanation of what was initially discovered, in a world where our modern scientific equipment didn't exist. He isn't preaching to me, but encouraging me to open my mind and look around.

SPOILER ALERT!

Review - Stan and Ollie Blue Ray

There are films that go beyond films. Documentaries that go beyond documentaries. This, is one of those rare films.

 

 

On the face of it, it doesn't seem like it. At the start, I was obviously aware that I was watching Coogan and Reilly. As the film went on, that didn't matter any more. It told the story of two legends of cinema.

 

We are all too used, these days, to fame and the trappings and riches they can bring. Fame in the modern age is seen as shallow and worthless. However, in the time of Laurel and Hardy, things were different; and the people behind this were something special.

 

The film is set up with Delfont being the greedy one after the money, and Stan and Ollie actually caring about their fans, their art and the joy they bring to people; despite the rough treatment they received from some quarters. 

 

In real life, Laurel is said to have his number available in the phone book so that people could readily call him, and it is said that he spent a lot of time on the phone to those that wanted to connect with him, especially in those closing years.

 

Hardy's health is reported to have cost him the small fortune that he made while alive, and both died in less than fairy tail circumstances. 

 

The film ends with their love of their fans, of each other, and giving their style of joy to those who loved their shows. The obvious crescendo at their last performance together in Ireland, is a key point in the film which pays tribute to the gift that they gave humanity through their work.

"It was fun while it lasted, wasn't it Stan? I'll miss this when we're gone."

Ollie, facing serious ill health, still giving his last on the stage, with the pair of them never to perform again.

 

This film does more than simply tell their story. I view it as a final recognition of the pain and effort that went into their career together, and a, "thank you," for the legacy of laughter that they left us.

 

 

 

An update

Life has meant I haven't written for a while. The Wrap has sat, untouched for months and I'm fine with that. I'm not going to force it. My department is being restructured and it isn't looking good. I'll be taking a drop in wages and that's assuming I keep my job, as I'm having to re-interview for the new post.

 

I've read about other authors who became successful after being made redundant and sinking it all into writing books... but I don't think I'm like that. For a start, I have responsibilities... other people depend on me. I can't take a risk with their futures. Apart from which, writing is something which I now do for pleasure. I don't want to force things. I want my imagination to come out on the page when it's ready... and I don't want to be a story grinder, if you know what I mean.

 

Of course, I've been doing other things. One of them is that I've donated my voice to VocalID. It's a system that takes a surrogate's voice and infuses it with the guttural sounds that someone who can't speak, can make. Those sounds are infused through the surrogates voice to make a digital voice that is unique to the person, who needs a digital voice of their own. And to boot, they're going to use my voice as their demo voice. Super cool. As I'm transsexual, they've actually listed me under "other" rather than male or female. I am a bit pissed at that, but hey ho. You can find it here - https://vocalid.ai/ - just scroll down to the voice demo section and select "other" from the gender option.

 

But I'm not up to much else right now. I did get something called MOFT for my laptops. It was on kickstarter and it requires that the laptops have no venting underneath, so for my Toshiba and Mac Air, it was ideal. Glues to the bottom and folds flat underneath when not in use. It doesn't unpack quite as neatly as it does in the promotional videos, but it definitely helps my wrists. Worth looking into if you write on the go.

 

Review - Bloom - 5 stars

Ari is young, working in the family bakery and isn't sure what he wants to do with his life, but he wants to get out of there, and tries to hire a replacement for him, so he can become a star in a music band with his friends.

 

Along comes Hector, a lover of baking and looking for a job.

 

This book is 350 pages of story and art. If you are looking for a book, but in graphic format, then this is it. 

 

Panetta and Ganucheau do a wonderful job of this book. It's a book, but it's a comic... but it's a book. The story line has the same ups, downs and twists that I'd expect to find in any written book that I'd read, except that it's done in pictures.

 

It's amazing that they have produced something of this size, with not only graphic quality but a solid standard of writing to boot.

 

The authors have a quality of humour that is fresh. Observational and connecting with people's lives, but avoids the tired cliches that are all too easily found in other works. They've used this medium, and the size of the book, to tell a good story. I very much enjoyed it.

 

Author's novel being cancelled

This one interested me on a number of angles, especially being an author and 25 year veteran of the internet myself. - https://eu.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2019/05/11/natasha-tynes-book-deal-halted-amid-metro-shaming-backlash/1176291001/

 

A publisher says it has postponed a book's publish date and is seeking to officially cancel the project after author Natasha Tynes was accused of shaming a black woman who works for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for eating on the train.

 

I don't think anyone can argue with the fact that we, as humans, need to be courteous to each other at all times, unless there's an obvious reason... like someone running towards us with a knife in their raised hand and blood lust in their eyes. Diversity training (which we had to go through... along with some personal life experience) taught me that the assumptions I made about people and circumstances, are usually wrong. The conclusions I jump to, are pits of death (or more often embarrassment) and as such, if I publicly externalise any of my assumptions, then they are more likely than not, to come back on my face, omelette style. Spanish, Denver, Hangtown Fry, they're all messy and none of them are overly positive for the complexion.

 

When you engage with social media (and BookLikes is very much a part of that) then you've got to police yourself. The extremists have got away with being extreme for so long, but law makers are now starting to come down heavy. Recently in the UK, a senior police officer called for effectively banning/blocking platforms if they don't cut the social mustard - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48236580 - a move which is likely to receive sympathy in some circles.

 

But the critical thing that's missing here is that if someone finds themselves self-policing a comment they wanted to make... then just maybe, that comment/thought was wrong in the first place. A jumped-to assumption, with no basis in fact except to re-enforce an already screwed up personal belief. And in order to self-police... then the person knows it was wrong in the first place.

 

Is there wiggle room in Tynes' actions? After all, the employee was not only eating while it was banned on the Metro, but is/was a Metro employee and in uniform; they should have been setting an example to customers, if anything. In this case, perhaps she should have sent it to the Metro privately. For all we know, the person might have just pulled a double shift and had no chance to get a rest break... or be one of those Americans who Bush lauded for having three jobs, just to make ends meet. The problem is that we rarely have the full story before jumping to our conclusions.

 

At the very least, Metro should have had the chance to investigate deeper; if that employee was, indeed, having trouble, then a responsible employer would take steps to help them out.

 

It's easier to hold a company to public account for certain behaviours, than it is an individual person. These judgement calls aren't easy; but one thing is for certain... if you're going to do that, then you'd better be prepared to be judged for your own judgement of others.

Punished by reading

This was an interesting article that popped up on my radar today. Kids daub racist graffiti, and end up with a punishment of reading...

 "These kids had no prior record so there was no way they were going to get a custodial sentence at a penitentiary. The sentence I gave was harsher than what they would normally have received. Normally it would just be probation which would mean checking in with a probation officer once a month and maybe a few hours of community service and writing a letter to say sorry. Here they had to write 12 assignments and a 3,500-word essay on racial hatred and symbols in the context of what they'd done… It was a lot of work."

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-47936071

 

Amazon do it again

Another author is reporting that Amazon has examined their Twitter account, and used what they found there, to terminate their Amazon Associates account, and withhold any money they owe her.

 

More information here - https://twitter.com/violetblue/status/1111372655007944708

 

If you want to do your favourite authors a favour, ensure you follow them on multiple platforms, and consider which purchase means would give them the most % of the deal.

 

If you're an author, don't rely on Amazon. They have been known to pull books for having too many hyphens. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/dec/18/amazon-book-hyphens-graeme-reynolds-high-moor-2-moonstruck - make sure you've got multiple presence points.

Review - Mister Miracle

This isn't your average superhero comic book. In fact, I had a bit of a time working out what, exactly, it was.

 

Long story short, two warring gods (one good, the other evil) end the war by giving each other their new born sons, so that each son would be raised by the opposite god.

 

The son given to the evil god has a hell of an upbringing (almost literally) and escapes to Earth, becoming a famous escape artist... drawing no doubt on the experiences escaping his torment.

 

Then another war breaks out and the book swaps often between Earth and the far away war, and the decisions, dealings and double-dealings going on.

 

In some places, I found it was difficult to keep track of what was going on, especially when people who were dead kept popping back up, and I was wondering whether they were Mr Miracle calling them back in his memory, or whether this was going to be another one of those, "wake up and it's all a dream," books.

 

There was a deal of humour and references dashed in here, but in the end it failed to engage me and also lost me in a few places; with occasional bits of unbelievable thrown in for good measure. Different, certainly. Engaging... no... especially as they try and tie up a few loose ends before announcing that this is it and there won't be any more in this series.