Friday, January 31, 2020

The Font Of Knowledge


Something is happening in the Twitter sphere that caused the book world to panic. The Guardian newspaper weighed in on the act and I think it’s time the Murder Is Everywhere bloggers stood up and spoke out for what they believe to be true and right.


What font do you write in?

Be honest!

 Do you believe, as fantasy writer Rebecca F Kuang does, that anybody that doesn’t use Times New Roman 12 point is a monster.

          Courier New

Maybe we spend so long looking at that blank page, staring at the words we produce that we need the actual form of those words to be pleasing or relatable to our eyes.

                       Comic Sans

So Arial 12 point works for Sophie Hannah. John Scalzi he likes to work in Georgia, but when he’s done he goes back into Courier. The phantasy novelist Guy Gavriel Kay likes to work in something called New Century Schoolbook which I had to google and then I was quite impressed.

Even the Times New Roman people are starting to fight between 12 point and 14 point.

I could argue that’s an eyesight thing and also ergonomically, how far away the screen is from the eyeballs.


Iain Rankin, Sadie Jones and Marian Keyes all are Times New Roman users. Some authors like to use different fonts in the same typescript for flashbacks, pieces of internal narrative, in my case I’ve never changed font in the same TS but I have been known to go Italic. After much championing of the times New Roman the Calibri crowd came out in defence of their own personal choice. Some authors use Calibri when they’re writing factually, and then changing to something like Garamond when they are being more creative. Another Twitter user said that they look at so many fonts, designs and art while at work, they really like the blank style of Arial the minute they go home and are typing recreationally.

                        Book Antiqua

In the Guardian piece, graphic designer Sarah Hindman makes and interesting  that everybody is an individual yet when a computer defaults to Times New Roman everybody becomes identical and the creative person doesn’t like that.

              Bookman Old Style

I’m now wondering if all those little characteristics I give to people in novels should also include their default font. Do these terrible spreadsheet people who pair their socks properly and drive clean cars go for anything Sans Serif? Do the dog loving chocoholics who roll around the floor because the novel is not going well a little more Lucida font? Maybe reining it in to Bookman Antiqua for a second draft before behaving themselves and changing to Times New Roman for the publisher. Or have I just given myself away.

                Ariel Black

There’s an interesting comment made at the end, any font is fine but it should never speak lounder than the words it represents.

Caro Ramsay 31st Jan 2020

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The spy without

Michael - Thursday

Tuesday was Data Privacy Day, and the Washington Post celebrated it by publishing an article titled “Facebook will now show you exactly how it stalks you — even when you’re not using Facebook.” It’s a well-written, useful article, and I advise anyone concerned about data privacy to take a look at it. What it is not, is surprising. In fact, if the article had claimed that Facebook and the other tech giants listened in to your conversations, I still wouldn’t have been surprised. My philosophy is that if you don’t want something to be public, don’t put it on the internet. Once you do that, there is always a way—legal or illegal—for someone to discover it.

For that reason, I haven’t resorted to any of the password vault software that generate passwords for all your internet accounts for you. However, I’m beginning to weaken. As the password requirements become more and more challenging—must have special characters, may not have special characters, must reach a certain level of complexity that none of my usual passwords do, etc. etc.—I have to resort to writing them on a piece of paper. (You remember? The flat, thin, white stuff?) However, I write them in code. Then I have to remember the codes. And where I put the piece of paper. I think that a password vault that takes care of all the passwords I don’t care too much about and simply remembering the few others may be the answer.

The WP article is about a new tool that Facebook offers called “Off-Facebook Activity.” The new tool allows you to discover what information Facebook is gathering from your actions, not only from its associates, Messenger and Instagram, but also in lots of other ways from lots of other internet sources. And while it won’t allow you to actually stop the collection of such information, it will allow you to prevent it being used so that advertisers can target their advertisements to you. However, the data is still there. Presumably, it’s to be used to obtain statistical information of value to…the advertisers. Neither will it reduce the number of adverts you receive. (You have to pay websites for that privilege.) So let’s understand the gain here. If we turn off this advert targeting, what we get is more random adverts. Is there not actually some benefit in at least getting adverts that you might possibly find interesting?

As you probably know, the European Union has made some efforts to prevent people being flooded with spam-like emails, and I support that strongly. You now have to explicitly sign up to receive newsletters and the like, and the default option is that you do not receive the marketing material. The penalties for violations can be severe. Like most authors, we've changed our newsletter so that it only goes out to people who explicitly asked for it. That cost us quite a few subscribers, but presumably the ones we have left actually have some interest in our books, and the others don’t have more emails to delete without opening. Good for both groups.

Sometimes data collection behaviours of websites can be uncanny. One lunchtime in Cape Town, Stan and I headed off to a restaurant he likes. We asked Google for the address, which it promptly gave to us. When we arrived, we discovered that the restaurant was closed. As soon as I returned to Google, it immediately offered restaurants near to the closed one, even though we'd never turned on the GPS option. How did it know where we were? Well, of course it can tell that from where the signal is being picked up by the cell phone towers. (Yes, I believe Google would have access to that information.) Or did it know the restaurant was closed and so we would be searching for another? Modern AI does that easily. Or maybe it was simply the most probable thing we would want after searching for the address of a restaurant that was in that part of town.

So Big Brother is watching us. And it’s not the people in Washington or London or name your favourite capital city, but Big Tech. (Of course, those other people are also watching us by using the same and other technologies. And they don’t play by rules.)

I think it’s not good, but I have to admit that it’s worth it. How many of us could live without Google let alone the internet as a whole? But how concerned should we actually be about the information we freely give away?

I don’t know the answer. What do you think? Probably Google and Facebook already know the answer to that, but I’m not smart enough to get them to tell me.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

From India with love

Sujata Massey

I’m filing this on my last day of a wonderful three weeks in Mumbai.
I was taking a walk through a shady, old-fashioned passageway in a typical 19th century shop building in the Colaba neighborhood. It was a delightful meander just steps from the historic Royal Bombay Yacht Club, where I spent my las few days.

With any trip, there are ups and downs. Over this trip, I haven’t had a moment of stomach trouble. However, I had a laptop fall very ill (and then recover, thanks to the geniuses at Maple Shop, as India’s Apple licensee is called. I switched the places and neighborhoods I was staying in three times and never really had a quiet night. Well, I guess it’s Mumbai, right?

lovely old flat building in Bandra

I managed 20-plus interviews over this trip; I saw a new film, a popular play about a legendary actress and a dress rehearsal of another play with a Bollywood connection (more on this one in another post). I attended an Odissi dance debut of a teenage artist. I shopped at a modern art show and filled my eyes with masterpieces of at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum of decorative arts and the Asiatic Society of Mumbai. I attended to a university lecture and was able to chat with students. I visited a historic Parsi colony and several courts of law—one of them the former coroner’s court, which I expected had been swept away since this legal process is no longer a necessity in Bombay. What a thrill to find the high-ceilinged room where cause of death was determined by a jury still exists, albeit filled with cubicles.

The Bhau Daji Lad museum offers a doll-sized view of history

The one thing I could have done but missed out on was being on set for a Bollywood film shoot. Do I regret not going because it was starting close to midnight? 

As I sit in the airport, I admit I should have blinked away my fatigue and gone.

Therefore, I don’t have star photos for you, but in upcoming posts I aim to share what I loved so much about this trip to Mumbai.

And that even in 2020, it’s such a joy to be able to tread through the passageways of the city back to the Indo-Victorian world of my fiction.  

Historic Wilson College is an inspiration for the next Perveen book

Whilst in India, I received the great surprise of a nomination for the 2020 Bruce Alexander award for historical fiction, and the 2020 Sue Grafton Memorial Award for a mystery featuring a female protagonist. The Lefty historical winner will be chosen by conventioneers voting at the Left Coast Crime convention in San Diego this March, and the Grafton award has been chosen by a judging committee and will be announced at the Edgars Dinner in New York in April. I am very excited and grateful that The Satapur Moonstone was enjoyed by both fans at LCC and a committee of professional writers serving as judges for the Edgars. I encourage you to check out the whole Lefty List and the Edgars List for books you might enjoy.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Of Politics and Football

Annamaria on Monday

This coming week, a huge percentage the United States population will be obsessed with these two subjects.  If you have been hiding in a cave from the news of the world (perhaps the sanest possible behavior these days), let me fill you in: this week’s American fixations stem from the coming Super Bowl of American football next Sunday and the on-going impeachment of the President.  For those of you who live in other cultures, allow me an audacious attempt at analyzing these peculiar forms of insanity.

 Caveat: I used to kinda like football and was preoccupied with following politics.  Now I can’t stand to watch either.  Why?  Because they have both turned into blood sports.  And my intolerance of violence makes me shudder on a cellular level.

The parallels between these two forms of mud wrestling are many.  Both are played to win, of course, but both also involve nefarious strategies.  Tempting the opponent to make fatal mistakes, for instance.  Or famously (infamously?) to injure a key player of the opposition so that he has to drop out of the game.  Both involve a strategist in a leadership role.  Both have enormous payoffs in money and fame.

The most successful politicians and football players end up multi-multi millionaires.  Even the minor players are pretty much guaranteed easy, well-paying jobs, if only as glad-handers, after they leave the field.  And both depend HEAVILY on television to attract adherents.

’Twas not ever thus in sport or elections in the USA.  Time was when people cared about the outcomes of elections and football games, and their expectations were that the people who played the game would play to win.  But not for blood.  In these endeavors, players used to be admired for their sportsmanship or patriotism.

On the football field, the strategy used to be to block or intercept the ball, not to sack the quarterback in such a way as to deal him a disabling blow.  Fans did not demand and then cheer the sight of the opposing star player lying on the field writhing in pain or being carried off on a stretcher.

In politics, oh there was some—mostly minor league—cheating by political bosses on local levels.  But by and large, the worst thing political candidates did was make promises they knew they couldn’t keep.  Then along came Karl Rove, who showed his party how they could tear off subsets of voters by turning them into one-factor decision makers.  Ramp up the anger of Catholics against the availability of abortions.   Convince the gun owners that the second amendment to the Constitution entitled them to own weapons for mass killings and to shoot cop-killer bullets with them.  And that anyone who said different was taking away their inalienable rights.  Also, tell the hyper wealthy that taxes are not, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “what we pay for a civilized society.”  Tell them taxes are the most despicable form of robbery.

Once an election was over, it used to be that those in office would attempt to do what was good for the country, not to declare—for instance—that their “job for the next four year is the make Obama a one-term President.”

 I could go on, but I am getting nauseous describing how these strategies shredded the fabric of American society.

The weapons used to win both in football and in politics used to be skill, capability, and using the rules to one’s advantage.  Now they are money and television.

 In football, they use that money to buy the best players with annual salaries roughly equal to the total budget for public education in a small city.  The teams earn the money back with fees from television contracts.  The TV stations charge more per second of Super Bowl advertising than the average U.S. elementary school teacher earns in 3.7 YEARS.  Having a rabid fan base to watch that advertising really pays off. 

In politics, rabid party adherents provide the cash directly.  The angrier the parties can make their followers, the more money they can collect.  More money means more TV advertising time, and the conventional wisdom is that TV ads win elections.  The elected officials will end up rich.  The citizens will get… I was going to say bupkes, but they do have the chance to live in a country where football is now the most popular sport.

You might think all of this is useless blather, but—

The rending of American society has turned us into a nation that puts children in cages.

And Super Bowl Sunday gives my country its highest daily incidence of violence against women.

Breaks my heart. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Occupational Hazard: Author's Elbow

Zoë Sharp

Over the years, I have put my series main character, Charlie Fox, through the mill. She has been shot (more than once), stabbed (also more than once), pushed off her motorcycle and then shot (OK, that was just the once), shot down in a helicopter, mildly tortured, Tasered, experienced various broken bones, been punched more times than either of us can count, and buried by an earthquake.

So, I suppose it’s only fair that for the past month or so I’ve been suffering from the process of actually writing about all this stuff. Despite not attempting to play tennis since I was about twelve, I am now the proud owner of tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, if you want to be proper about it.

Charlie Fox would, no doubt, be greatly amused at my expense.

The problem is usually caused by ‘strenuous overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, near the elbow joint’. In other words, too much chipping away at the word-face and using a computer mouse.

I began to realise I’d got a problem on the run-up to Christmas. Pain in the outside of my forearm up near the outer knobble of my elbow, problems picking anything up that also entailed gripping with my hand, and discomfort regardless of my arm being bent or straight. Gripping and twisting motions, such as opening a jar, turning on a tap, or using a screwdriver produced the worst effect.

If the muscles and tendons in the forearm are over-strained, tears and inflammation occurs near the bony lump (the lateral epicondyle) on the outside of the elbow. I’ve previously had similar problems with my left elbow, although on the inner side, which is golfer’s elbow.

And no, I don’t play golf, either.

I confess that, since the beginning of November, I’ve been working pretty much continuously on the sequel to DANCING ON THE GRAVE. (And yes, I know I originally said that was a standalone but events have somewhat overtaken me.) And now, as the end of January approaches, I’m almost done. In fact, I’ve just extended my self-imposed deadline by a week into February, just to give my elbow half a chance to recover.

My problem was not just caused by too much keyboard time. I think I can also put it down to poor ergonomics. I was using an old table in lieu of a desk, so the height of seat-to-desktop was never quite right because of the frame. It was also not quite deep enough for me to get the keyboard far enough onto the surface, and the top was slightly warped, leading to a raised ridge under my forearms.

So, for Christmas, my pressie to myself was a custom desktop, made from 15mm plywood on an Ikea height-adjustable frame. I’ve even covered the surface in dark green pleather, like a proper olde-fashioned desk. I also got a new upright mouse when my old one gave up the ghost, and a padded wrist rest. I have been using a curved ergonomic keyboard for years, plugged into a separate monitor.

But, nevertheless, this is a case of fitting new padlocks to the stable door, long after the horse has naffed off into the distance.

In lieu of being able to get a doctor’s appointment, I’ve been treating this in a number of ways. (As many as I can think of!)

I’ve looked up the appropriate exercises, and while doing any kind of strenuous work I’ve been using an elbow brace that consists of a Velcro strap with a padded lump that goes on top of your forearm. In theory this takes some of the strain off the inflamed area.

I’ve also been using an ice pack at regular intervals. I have one that contains gel and never freezes solid, so I’m not in danger of frostbite when I forget and leave it on for far too long. It’s in a cover that Velcros around my arm, which means it stays in place nicely.

I borrowed a TENS machine to zap myself with. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which uses low-voltage (or should that be low-amperage?) current through two or four pads placed strategically around the elbow. It’s like being constantly prickled but better than the alternative.

The scientific jury is still out, apparently, on the effectiveness of a TENS machine but I used one when I damaged my back a few years ago and it was about the only thing that allowed me to function. It’s having much the same effect this time.

Just as long as I don’t shuffle my feet across a synthetic carpet and then grab a metal door handle, I should be fine.

Apart from that, I’ve just been on occasional doses of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’m all ears!

Like I said, Charlie Fox would be laughing her arse off…

This week’s Word of the Week is selenology, meaning the study of the moon. Also, selenography, the study of the features of the surface of the moon. From the Greek name for the moon, Selene.

Upcoming Events:

May 1-3, Newcastle City Library, Newcastle upon Tyne.

June 4-7, Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel, Bristol.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

And Now for a Break from Impeachment News...


For those of you wondering what’s going on in Greece these days—as if anyone in the US media seems to care about what’s happening outside Washington, DC—here’s a quick primer.

+          The Turks and Greeks are at each other’s throats, the Turks claiming rights to Greek islands and energy resources.

ATHENS – Greece’s Foreign Ministry immediately rejected claims by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who said there are “gray zones” in the Aegean as Turkey is moving to claim waters off Greek islands and in the Continental Shelf.

“The legal status of the Aegean and of (the Aegean) islands is clearly determined by international treaties and there is no room for dispute,” Greece’s Foreign Ministry said, adding that Turkey’s interpretation of the UN Law of the Sea is “unfounded” and “illegal.”
“Greece has chosen the path of international legality,” the ministry said, urging Turkey to do the same, although Turkey doesn’t recognize the Law of the Sea unless invoking it in its favor against Greece and Cyprus, where Turkish ships are drilling for oil and gas.
Speaking to CNN Turk, [Cavusoglu] said that, “There are islands whose sovereignty has not been established” either in the Treaty of Lausanne or in the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t recognize the Lausanne treaty that set borders between the countries and openly covets the return of some Greek islands.
—The National Herald.
+          The Turks have allied themselves with one-side in the battle for control of Libya, and the Greeks are siding with the other.

ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who leads a rival force in his country that’s battling a United Nations-recognized government, sided with each other in a meeting where both want to thwart Turkish ambitions.
Their sit-down came just ahead of a European Union meeting in Berlin to talk about how to deal with Libya where the fighting in the oil-rich country has the international community worried it could come apart.
Mitsotakis, upset that Greece was excluded from the meeting despite Turkey and Libya signing a deal dividing the seas between them, with Turkey claiming waters off Greek islands and planning to drill for energy off Crete, said he would veto any agreement in Berlin that doesn’t reject that seas pact. 
—The National Herald.
+          Turkey, a key transit point for Russian natural gas into Europe, is being faced down by a new alliance formed by Greece, Cyprus, and Israel to conduct gas drilling in the waters off Cyprus.

Cyprus, Greece, Israel

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended in Athens Thursday the signing ceremony for the accord to construct the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas pipeline…

The accord comes just as tensions are increasing in the region after Turkey’s contentious agreement that delineates maritime borders with Libya and affirms claims to areas of the Mediterranean the pipeline may cross. The three signatory countries all oppose the deal.

Israel’s cooperation with Cyprus & Greece “adds to security and prosperity in the region” and “we are not turning against any other country,” Netanyahu said. 

—Houston Chronicle

+          Refugees are once more streaming onto Greece’s Eastern Mediterranean islands through Turkey, and conditions in Greece’s refugee camps are going from horrible to only God knows where.

AP/Petros Giannakouris

In 2019 74,600 people arrived, 50 per cent more than last year. They are mostly families with children from Afghanistan and Syria. 59,700 arrived on the islands and 14,900 at the land border.
Conditions in the islands’ reception centres are now dangerously overcrowded with 36,400 people sharing the space and services intended for 5,400.
—Relief Web, quoting UNHCR Fact Sheet
+          Will America back Turkey or Greece? is the question on the minds of most Greeks.

ATHENS – Fear there could be conflict with Turkey over the Aegean and East Mediterranean and a rekindling of a refugee crisis is high on the minds of worried Greeks with a poll finding those issues vexing them.
Some 62 percent of those surveyed by the Pulse firm for SKAI TV said they were worried about Turkish provocations that have included violation of air space and Turkey’s drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus and planning to do the same off Crete after signing a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them…
But they didn’t like the way that Germany, the United States and the European Union are responding. The US has a military cooperation deal with Greece but President Donald Trump backs Erdogan and the EU has given Greece press statements of support only…
A surge in some 50,000 more migrants and refugees coming to Greece after New Democracy was elected, most to already overwhelmed Greek islands, found Greeks divided over how it is being handled.
The government said it would speed asylum application processing as well as deportations back to Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants to Greece after they had gone to Turkey first, fleeing war and strife in their homelands.
—The National Herald
+          Domestically, with the far left out of power, protesters are returning to in-your-face, confrontational political protest, and being met with Greece’s new center-right government’s “the rules are different now” approach.  

Reuters/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police fired teargas … at students protesting against the shutdown of a prominent Athens university that authorities raided at the weekend to confiscate materials they said were typically used in violent demonstrations.
It was the first time police and protesters had clashed inside university premises since the Conservative government’s abolition of academic sanctuary earlier this year…
Leftist parties say the concept of academic sanctuary, which prohibited security forces from entering universities, protected students’ freedom of expression. But the government, which came to power in July, said it had been a cover for lawlessness.
+          The fiscal crisis remains front and center in the minds of many Greeks.

A near decade-long economic crisis that created an exodus of some of Greece’s top and youngest talents, unable to find work or fed up with a clientelist system holding them down and rewarding political friends stripped the country of skills the New Democracy government wants back…

Under the ambitious scheme, dubbed Rebrain Greece, returning recruits will be guaranteed at least two years employment, the first of which will be financed by the state by 75%. Highly skilled professionals and scientists aged between 25-40 will be targeted first off…

About 470,000 Greeks have left the country since 2008 when hiring freezes started popping up in anticipation of economic woes that really hit hard in 2010 when the then-ruling and now-defunct PASOK Socialist government sought the first bailout of 110 billion euros ($123.33 billion.)

Signs of wariness remain, however, Greeks who’ve been burned by broken promises of volatile governments hedging their bets for now and about 40 percent who left it was goodbye for good even if there’s a recovery.

—The National Herald

+          Tourism is up once again, drawing all sorts from around the world to join in a feeding frenzy for tourist cash, especially on price-is-no-object destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini.

Passenger traffic at Greek airports reached 65.4 million in 2019, breaking all previous annual records.
According to the statistics of the Civil Aviation Authority, in the January-December period of 2019, there was an increase of 5% in the air traffic of the country, with the total number of passengers travelling in January-December 2019 reaching 65,385,004. In the same period of 2018, 62,292,191 passengers were transported, meaning the number was up by 3,092,813.
A 3.7% increase was also recorded in the total number of flights to Greek airports, reaching 538,956 (of which 213,098 domestic and 325,858 foreign), compared to the corresponding period of 2018 where 519,548 flights were operated.
[Mykonos] ranks first, along with Santorini, in terms of hotel visitor satisfaction for 2019 in the so-called Mediterranean “premium” destinations with competing destinations in Sardinia, St. Tropez and Ibiza.


+          The Greek Parliament has elected the nation’s first female President, a largely ceremonial role, but still a first.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou


Jeff's 2020 Speaking Engagements and Signings (in formation):

Thursday, March 12-Sunday, March 15, 2020 
San Diego, CA
LEFT COAST CRIME—San Diego Marriott Mission Valley
Panels yet to be announced

Monday, March 16, 2020, 11AM-2PM
Saddlebrooke, Arizona 85739
30th Anniversary Authors Luncheon
SaddleBrooke Clubhouse
40010 S. Ridgeview Blvd.
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, June 4--Sunday, June 7, 2020
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel

Panels yet to be announced