Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Possible Book Club Books

Here's a list of books I've read this year any of which I'd be happy to discuss at the #la1bc Twitter book club:

  • Ian McEwan - Sweet Tooth
  • Wool Trilogy - Hugh Howey
  • The Crimson Petal and The White - Michael Faber
  • Rivers of London - Ben Aaronivitch
  • The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson
  • The String Diaries - Stephen Lloyd Jones
  • The Book Thief - Markus Zusack
  • Labyrinth - Kate Moss
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
  • Inferno - Dan Brown
  • Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
  • Fatherland - Robert Harris
  • The End of Mr Y - Scarlett Thomas
  • The :Lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan
  • Bedit Disco Queen - Tracey Thorn
  • Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookshop
  • Great North Road - Peter Hamilton
  • Going to See In A Sieve - Danny Baker
  • Peaches for Monsieur le Cure - Joanne Harris
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

And here's the list of those I've got ready to start which I'd also be happy discussing (as it will help me choose what to read next):

  • Black Chalk - Christopher J Yates
  • Proxima - Stephen Baxter
  • A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
  • The Never List - Koethi Zan
  • Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
  • The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood
  • MaddAddam - Margaret Atwwod
  • Terms of Enlistment - Marko Kloos
  • Wolfhound Century - Peter Higgins
  • You - Austin Grossman
  • Robocaplypse - Daniel H Wilson

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Social Innovation: Rugby League Refs take to Twitter

Most of you won't follow Rugby League.  If you follow a team sport it is more likely to be football or cricket and, if it is rugby, it is more likely to be Rugby Union.

That's ok.  Whilst Rugby League is huge in Australia, the fascination with it in the UK tends to cluster along the M62 corridor between Widnes and Hull where most of the top-flight Superleague sides ply their trade, accompanied by a single team from London and, even more obscurely, for those who don’t know the game's history, a team based in Perpignan in the south of France.

You might imagine, therefore, that the support for a game played across only a relatively specific geography might be somewhat lacklustre.  Although, you might not be surprised to find that the fans are vocal, active and come together to form a family which unites fans of the sport from all clubs in a way which is scarcely replicated in other sporting arenas.  Tickets for the sport's flagship events, the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley and the Grand Final at Old Trafford are snapped up by fans months in advance and well ahead of any certainty as to which teams might actually be competing.   Rugby League fans simply love watching Rugby League and yes, they're happiest watching their own team, especially watching their own team win, but they are also passionate about the sport as a whole, often going to watch their own side play and then supplementing this by watching as many other games as are televised each weekend from February to October.

Another unique aspect to the game is that of the role played by the referees and other match officials.  Drawn from a relatively small pool, Superleague referees are all known by name to the fans and attract their own "support" and criticism based on their reputation, or where they reside (particularly where it is uncomfortably close to the opposing team!).  In football (the association variety), only a few high profile referees tend to be known by name to fans. 

Innovations in the Rugby League have seen the use of two referees per game (at least in its televised form in the UK - in Australia, they even have two refs on the pitch!).  Recent Challenge Cup coverage on the BBC (as opposed to Sky which picks up all Superleague broadcasting) even allowed viewers not only to see what the video ref was scrutinising as he mulled over his decisions, but they could even hear his comments as he went through the thought-process leading up to his decision.

However, one of the newest and most significant of the recent innovations implemented by the Rugby Football League is Ask The Ref.

The officials have recently banded together under a single Twitter name:  @RFLReferees and announced to fans that any (polite) questions sent their way via Twitter... in fact any tweets containing the hashtag #asktheref... will be reviewed by them as a group and several of them selected and retweeted from the @RFLReferees account with an accompanying answer and the initials of the referee who's written the response.

After the weekend's games, the referees (amongst many other things) review these tweets and the responses are shared on Twitter on a Tuesday afternoon.  For Superleague afficionados, they make fascinating reading.  For the onlooker, perhaps not so much.  But I'd urge those with an interest in social media to take a look, if only to consider the implications of this innovation, admire the spirit of the RFL in implementing this approach and imagine what the impact would be on other sports if direct contact with match officials was enabled in a similar way.

Take a look.

Monday, 13 May 2013

I bought what?

I love my Kindle and find that I read many more books now than I used to do in dead-tree days.  

I also find that I buy more books.  I do tend to get around to reading them, but I am definitely more impulsive than previously.  Some of this is to with the occasional promotional offers and price reductions.  Some of this is also to do with the ease of purchasing books via the Kindle store. I can over hear a conversation about a book and quickly Google the title; I can click on the link in an article or review or, as I did this morning, I can cast my eye across the train carriage and nosily wonder about the book being read by a fellow traveller and more-or-less immediately start reading it myself.  Of course, and somewhat ironically given the social components now built into the Kindle-reading experience, the passenger across from me needs to be reading a physical book if I'm to have any clue about what he or she is reading at all!  (I'm sure some kind of smart-cover technology will fix this soon enough, although who'll then joyfully admit to enjoying 50 Shades of Beige whilst on public transport?)

Anyway, that's not the point I'm making here.  Well, obviously it is, but only as an aside, if you will.  No, the point I'm making is that I accrue as-yet-unread books in my Kindle library at a rate of knots, sometimes so enthusiastically that I forget I've made the purchase.  So, after finishing a book, when I consult the library on my Kindle I'm often pleasantly surprised to find things in my possession but just as often perplexed when I can't remember what a particular book is about or what prompted me to buy it in the first place.  

Now this is where things are a bit broken.

What I'd like to do very quickly, on my device and within my Kindle library-listing itself, is click through to the book description also used in the main Amazon bookstore, and possibly the reviews.  You know, just to remind me why I was stimulated to make the purchase in the first place.  But of course I can't.  On a traditional Kindle device, all I get is the title and author.  At least on a Kindle Fire, or by using a Kindle app on an iOS or Android device I get to see the cover, which may go some way to jogging my memory, but it's not as good as having quick access to a review, for which I need to fire up a browser and trek across (first-world-problem alert) to the Amazon Kindle store, search for the book, find the description and reignite my memory, before closing the browser and reopening the Kindle or Kindle app and starting to read.

I fairness to Amazon, this did used to be a little easier on iOS devices when access to the store was available from within the app and before Apple implemented one of their famously counter-intuitive waves of control-freakery and banned this little boon to customer experience, but even then the descriptions didn't really accompany the title in the library listing.

Anyway, there we have it... 

In summary:  Can we have a precis of a book's description accompanying it in individual Kindle libraries across apps and devices please?  Thanks.

Friday, 29 March 2013

A Design for Reading

The great thing about Kindles and other tablet devices is that you don't need to lug around more than one book...  you carry your whole library with you.  This might not sound like a big deal if you just read one book at at time, but if you're anything like me you've got a few books on the go at the same time.

I have some little rules around this.  For example, I can't read two novels at the same time, but the minute I finish one I'm immediately on the lookout for what to read next, so I always have some fiction in progress.  I'm reading The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan at the moment.

Whichever novel I'm reading, it is usually accompanied by a biography or autobiography...  currently in the midst of David Mitchell's Back Story... it's pleasant and clever but disappointingly slight.

In addition, I'll often have a business or self-help kind of book on the go.  This week I tore through Clarity by Jamie Smart and I highly recommend it if you ever feel somewhat overloaded, or stressed, or simply can't think straight.  He brings home some simple, universal truths which literally make you think... in the right way.

I'll also have either a travel or a history book in progress either to widen my horizons or to offer some perspective on current events.  Andrew Martin's Underground Overground is currently ticking both boxes for me.

Then I'll often be reading a graphic novel or series of comics.  The non-fictional aspect seems to clash with my difficulty in focusing on two novels at once, but somehow, I seem to be able to manage comics alongside novels.  I'm currently enjoying Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples via the ComiXology app and really recommend it.

Lastly, I'm often in Flipboard, Pocket and any number of social apps catching up on news, etc.

This approach might sound overcomplicated but it seems to work for me.

What works for you?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Thurstonland Tea Towel Photographs

Upper FoldUpper FoldOld Co-opOld ChapelOld ChapelRose & Crown
Rose & CrownPub Sign - Rose & CrownLow FoldThe VillageOld VicarageThe Green
Cricket PavilionSt Thomas ChurchSt Thomas ChurchThurstonland First SchoolSt Thomas ChurchThe Village
War MemorialEast View

Some photographs taken around the village today. Don't know if they'll make the cut for the proposed village tea towel.

Panasonic Lumix GF3; 14-42 lens

Thursday, 17 January 2013

I like my tools simple and good looking...

Today I learned that Omnifocus is going free... at least until the new version is released.  I also learned on taking a look at it, that it looks like a real time-sink.  I know that I'd spend more time curating my todo lists than actually doing the tasks.

The best task management tool I've found in recent years is Clear.  I like my tools simple and good-looking...

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Is Kindle really a browsing service for real books?

I heard a discussion on Radio 4 this week about the relative merits of ebooks vs physical books.  The upshot of the debate seemed to be that, despite publishers' initial wariness, people were beginning to impulse-buy more books than ever before, due to the always available ebook-stores.  Certainly, people seem to be buying much more than they read and, as there are no bulging shelves to show for it, it's very easy to do.  

However, the radio conversation went on to suggest that people are purchasing ebooks to decide whether they like a book and, if after they have read it they have enjoyed it, they then trek out to the local bookshop and buy a physical copy... in effect, buying the same book twice.  I'm sorry but I just don't believe that.

Friday, 4 January 2013

I like books and I like music... but which is best?

There's only one way to find out...

You might have seen that Spotify has withdrawn the facility for UK users to purchase and download tracks, in favour of concentrating on its primary offering of streaming music.  

My guess is that it was because no-one was bothering to buy and download when they could stream.  Premium subscribers can also save playlists locally to iOS or Android devices as part of their deal.  What's more, those iOS users with an Apple TV can also stream their Spotify tunes through their sound systems at home too... so why buy?

Setting paid-download options alongside streaming options within the Spotify app has never made much sense to me, so it's not really a surprise to see it disappearing

Since picking up a Spotify Premium account when they first became available I've rarely bought anything from iTunes or other download stores.  I listen to hundreds of tracks new and old every month so, for me, Spotify represents great value for money.  Setting paid-download options alongside streaming options within the Spotify app has never made much sense to me, so it's not really a surprise to see it disappearing.

In discussing this on Twitter earlier, I entered a conversation where it was implied that streaming was an effective model for the distribution of audio-books too. With the assumption that the user can store local playlists in the same way as Spotify, I'd agree.  However, for me the subscription model for audio-books is a much more thorny problem.  With Spotify Premium I might listen to hundreds of tracks over a month, plus many albums in part or in full... with the equivalent cost of purchasing individual tracks averaging 99p each and albums between £7.99 and £9.99 Spotify Premium is well worth my £10 per month subscription.

With the streaming of audio-books, however, the subscription value is less clear-cut.  An audio-book might cost £10 or more, but given that they are often hours long, I'm unlikely to get through more than one a month.  What's more, with music and actually reading books competing for my time and attention, there's a good chance it might take me even longer to get through it.  Suddenly a £10 per month subscription doesn't look that attractive.  

I suppose that some of the problem is down to the fact that audio-books have a very specific demographic... including, for example, people with regular lengthy commutes, whereas music fans are more widespread.  You can listen to a track in three minutes and then move onto doing something else, you can treat it like radio and let it roll on in the background all day, or you select a specific album and dedicate an hours attention to it... either way, it fits in more people's busy lifestyles than an audio-book streaming service might.  

If they had a model where for, say £2.99 per month, I could stream a maximum of one or two books per month, that might be more interesting.

Case in point for me is the fact that I undertook Bardowl's 14-day trial last year and started listening to a great book.  However, after a couple of reasonably efficient listening sessions (whilst watching local cricket I seem to remember) I then went to the app to find that my free subscription had expired before I'd reached the end of the book.  Instead, of opting for the subscription, I simply bought the book for my Kindle instead, in the knowledge that I would never realistically listen to enough audio books to warrant the monthly subscription fee.  

I should add, that this is a shame really because I love the concept and I love the Bardowl app, but it comes down to the subscription model not meeting my needs really.  If they had a model where for, say £2.99 per month, I could stream a maximum of one or two books per month, that might be more interesting.

photo: bjmccray

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Email vs Social Media in the Enterprise

This post is actually a comment I have just left on Euan Semple's blog:

When email hit the corporate workplace I'd had it at home for years but I was unusual. For most people, the use of email at work was quite often their first run-in with it. The thing with introducing social media into the workplace is that... on the upside, many are very familiar with it in a non-work environment, but this is also the downside. 

I've run a number of projects recently introducing social platforms into the work environment and one of the major hurdles is convincing people to use it and overcome their out-of-work social media prejuduces (whether they be pro or anti). 

If employees are pro-social media outside work, the relative constraints and differing etiquette required within the organisation can be so off-putting they resist making the leap. Those who've taken against social media outside of work for whatever reason are even harder to convince... "social media is just not my thing". In the early '90s did employees say... 'oh... email is just not my thing'? Probably not, because it was new to them and it was being mandated as a business process by their employer. 

I'd be quite happy with employers taking a firmer line on mandating the use of social media, but they might need to think about removing the comfort blankets of email and other enterprise platforms in some instances in order to force the issue. 

photo: jimapics

Tuesday, 1 January 2013