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Archive for April, 2007

Everything’s connected

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

One of the great things about this job is that the material I deal with is so very varied, and yet from time to time things link up in entirely unexpected ways… Over the last couple of days I have been editing the latest newsletter from Deryn Lake – the Queen of the Georgian Mystery – and posting it on her web site. She describes a cruise on which she sailed as visiting lecturer, and it sounds as if she had a wonderful time. How’s this for the life of luxury, for example?

I just want to recount the story of John’s birthday, which was on 12th March. He answered the door of the cabin at eight o’clock in the morning – very scantily clad, I might add – to find a waiter bearing a bottle of champagne, a half lobster each, poached eggs, a card and a present. He was both delighted and surprised I can assure you.

Which has the added charm for me that John (that is, actor John Elnaugh) apparently shares his birthday with Roger, whose “end of the 50s” celebrations have appeared in previous posts.

Deryn’s cruise took her – among other places – to the Canaries, whose over-development she deplored: And I was able to nod wisely, because another site I manage is that of artist Alan Mann, who lived at Los Cristianos in Tenerife between 1985 and 1996, and has been writing a fascinating series of reminiscences of life in the Canaries at what was very obviously a time of great change.

A new scam

Friday, April 20th, 2007

We had a phone call yesterday from a friend – not a client, because although he runs his own business, he does not yet have a web site; that’s part of the story. He had been telephoned by a woman claiming to be from an organisation called "the Internet Verification Agency", or something along those lines. There was a new piece of legislation, she told him, which meant that if someone tried to register a domain with the name of your business, you had the right to get in before them. And someone had just tried to register the name of his company, so he had two hours to register it first. Fortunately, she could do this for him, and she recommended registering for five years at £30 per year. And why not also register the .com domain at the same time? And .net, .info… Needless to say, there is no such legislation, there is no point in registering every possible variant of your chosen domain, and £30 per year is well above the going rate.

We suggested our friend contact the Trading Standards Service.

Anne Fine shortlisted for Carnegie Medal

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Our client Anne Fine has just been shortlisted for the 2007 Carnegie Medal, for her book Road of Bones. Anne has won this award twice before, in 1993 for Flour Babies and in 1990 for Goggle-Eyes. The judges said:

Set in a totalitarian state this is a brave and uncompromising novel. In spite of dealing with brutality in society, it is never negative and it will have political resonance for young people. Incredibly well written, the author stands back enough to allow her characters space to reflect on their actions.

We’re naturally pleased, particularly as this follows so closely on the news about David Almond’s short story Slog’s Dad being in the running for the National Short Story Prize.

Displacement activity

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers will do anything rather than write, and, if absolutely compelled to write, will write anything but the thing they should be writing.

This morning I received the following e-mail from Michael Jecks, whose murder mysteries bring fourteenth century Devon to life – and to violent death.

Dear Jean

Well, I was planning on making five gallons of beer tonight. My daughter wanted to help, but since Jane was away, I had to wait until I’d got Billy Basher to sleep before I could make a start. So that was all evening until 7.30 before I could chuck him in his bed and tell the little monster that two stories was his allocation and he’d had three already and wasn’t getting another “Winnie the Witch” tonight. So downstairs.

And I had a brainwave. You see, I have three pressure barrels. So I reckoned, hey, why not brew up twice the quantity in my kettle, and then water them down? That way instead of brewing only five gallons, I’d be making ten. Double the beer for the same effort, eh? Good idea? Yup. That’s what I thought. So I chucked in fourteen pounds of grain to the water. And then . . .

You see, you go ahead with the best of intentions, and then there is the law of unintended consequences.

I had now brewed enough to fill two five gallon containers with beer. Good. Fine. Except I only had one that was ready to be used. I have several others – most are so old they won’t do. Three are fine. One had five gallons of ale I made last week. OK. One was empty. Good. Um. The other was also full, though, waiting with five gallons of lager, until I could be bothered to clean, disinfect and wash intensively forty bottles. Bugger. So I had to clean forty Grolsch bottles ready to be used, disinfect them, rinse them, and then fill them. Then I had to disinfect and rinse the main barrel. Brilliant. That cost me another three hours. By now my little helper had been sent to her pit. And I carried on. The lagers are now out in the shed. Great. And I had to carry on cleaning out the beer barrels. And I succeeded. Yippee! The things were ready and done, and no problem. So I sparged (oh, bloody well look it up) the malt and got all ready, then put everything back in the brew kettle. Except suddenly the bleeding kettle sprang a leak, and Berry, the Ridgeback, was all over the floor licking like a puppy in heaven. I had to empty the kettle, hoping like hell I’d not compromised the cleanliness etc, then check the seal on teh tap, change it, bugger about for an age, and then watch for another hour and a half while the hops boiled. And I didn’t have the right hops. This is not, I thought, a good evening. Still, all done at last. My second boil’s hopefully done now. It’s one fifteen. I have to be up in six hours for the puppy.

I haven’t finished the newsletter.



Success for Flambard Press author

Friday, April 13th, 2007

David Almond’s short story, Slog’s Dad, has been shortlisted for this year’s National Short Story Prize. His story appears in the anthology So, What Kept You?, published by our client Flambard Press in September 2006. The National Short Story Prize is the largest award for a single short story in the world, with a prize of £15,000 for the winning story, £3,000 for the runner-up and £500 for the three other shortlisted stories. The winner will be announced on Monday 23rd April; meanwhile the shortlisted stories are being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and you can hear Slog’s Dad at 3:30pm on Thursday 19th April.

Update (23rd April): Slog’s Dad was runner-up in the competition. Our congratulations to David Almond and to Flambard Press.

‘Flash is the new publishing tool of the century’

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

That’s the headline of an article in last Thursday’s Guardian: it is still available online, but you have to register to read it. It’s an interview with Mark Anders, the senior principal scientist at Adobe Systems, and the man whose job it is to develop Flash for the internet of the future. Flash is the technology behind many web sites, and the more the site design relies on animation, moving images and eye-catching graphics, the more likely it is to have been built with Flash.

This hasn’t made it popular with everyone. The article quotes useability expert Jakob Nielsen, who once condemned Flash as “99% bad”; he saw it as a temptation to bad design, and a distraction from the real purpose of the site. If you have ever clicked a site proposed by Google, and then sat tapping your fingers while the front page downloads and the company logo does its dance, waiting for the magic words “skip intro” to appear – well, you’ll know what he meant.

Anders’ response at first seems less the case for the defence, more a confirmation of this criticism: he says “Developers loved it, though. It was always very effective for advertising, and over time people used it for new and unique experiences.” Good web design is not about what the designer loves, it’s about making sites that the user loves; new and unique experiences are only new and unique the first time round, but what if you visit a site repeatedly (as we hope you will)?

There is still plenty of self-indulgent design around. Here’s just one random example: I had reason to Google the name “Daniel Fox” the other day, and the results showed that it’s a name shared by a variety of people: a Walsall footballer, a polymer chemist (the inventor of a plastic called Lexan), an estate agent in Birmingham. But the link at the top of the list ( wasn’t giving any clues about who it belonged to, took forever to download, offered me a pretty picture and left me to guess what I had to do to see some text (clue: some of the flowers are clickable) … And I have a fast broadband link: if you’re on dial-up, this Daniel Fox just doesn’t want to know you.

Yet Flash doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Two years after his original assessment, Jakob Nielsen conceded that Flash was much improved, and drew up guidelines to make it more usable. Certainly, Flash can be used without making sites inaccessible to visually disabled surfers. It’s not about the technology, it’s about what you do with it.

As The Guardian points out, many people use Flash sites without being aware of it – like the Flickr photo hosting site. Roger used Flash to display one of Valerie Laws’ embedded haiku (scroll down to the bottom of the page). Flash on these sites is a tool, a means to an end: it doesn’t draw attention to itself, and that’s why it works.

The End of the Fifties again

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Another birthday present which helped to make Roger’s birthday very special (see previous post) was this poem:

For Roger, ending his fifties.

A Durham Rambler sweet as any rose,
He clothes in protecting arms the city’s stones,
Shielding the ancient walls, but turning to those
Who’d bring them down, his fiercest ranks of thorns.
True to his name, despite his love of home,
This hardy plant will wander far and wide,
His roots are deep, but still he loves to roam
Thriving in streets or leafy countryside.

Yet in another world he flourishes,
The virtual paths of web and internet.
He keeps their rights of way, and nourishes
Their frail connections like a cherished pet.
To writers, artists, business folk alike,
He gives a home, a carrying voice, a face
Which invites a hit, but never goes on strike;
An aery castle, with a sense of place.

His busy brain with elegant equations,
His days with work and walking fully crammed,
He still makes a fine show at celebrations,
A glass of red wine blooming in his hand.
So now he’s grown to reach his sixth decade,
Let’s hope this is one rose that will not fade;
A hard drive never needing a defrag,
A ‘jolly Roger’ who will never flag.

Valerie Laws


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