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Are you taking your books with you?

Moving house – and I have quite a lot of books. And several people have asked me, “Are you taking all your books and records and CDs with you?”

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I find it incomprehensible that anyone would ever ask this question. I mean, the books you read, and the sounds you listen to are part of you. Part of your history, and part of your mindset. Even the ones that you haven’t listened to or read for some time. You might as well ask, “Are you taking your left foot with you?”.

All right, slight exaggeration. I have got rid of a few books that I bought and was given and didn’t enjoy, or felt were so lightweight as not to be worth the rereading, but it’s a few books, not a lot.

There’s a first time for everything

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And this is the first time that I have ever started an online petition The UK government’s current laws on the immigration of non-EU dependents of UK citizens demand that there be a lot of money involved (earnings of more than £18,000/year or savings of more than £60,000 – together with a very high visa fee (total of over £1500 for the first 2 1/2 years).

These conditions have been ruled to be unreasonable by some UK courts, but this ruling has been overturned on appeal. However, the Conservative Party in the UK, which claims to uphold “family values” is actually breaking up families in the name of their “not creating a burden on the taxpayer”. However, in a  Guardian article, it has been stated:

A Home Office impact assessment published in June 2012 estimated that the chosen income threshold would prevent 17,800 family visas being granted every year.

Furthermore, some sources have claimed that preventing these (often qualified) spouses and dependents from entering the country will actually cost the UK millions per year.

Accordingly, I have started an online petition asking the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to address a group of British Japan residents and their family members when he comes to Japan for the G7 summit, and explain his position on the asymmetry of the issue, given the relative ease with which UK spouses of Japanese nationals are allowed to reside in Japan, and the difficulty that the current law creates for Britons in Japan.

I have also asked the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, to raise the question with David Cameron at the G7 summit.

If you feel that the current situation needs a detailed explanation from the Prime Minister, made directly to those whom it concerns, please sign the petition and share the link. Thank you.

(photo by dannyman – http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannyman/4672474943/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15312430)

A FREE Steampunk Adventure – The Untime Revisited

RevisitedCover2.pngJules Gauthier is back, together with his bride Agathe (née Lamartine), and cranky old Professor Schneider.

Blending elements of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and H.P. Lovecraft, The Untime Revisited will be available as a serial in 12 parts, to be published at weekly intervals.

In Paris of the 1890s, an outbreak of nightmares leading to insanity leads Jules and Agathe to the horrifying conclusion that the monsters from the Untime which Jules battled in the past are now attempting to break through to our world.

There is only one answer – to revisit the Untime, and save humanity from these creatures.

But some surprises are in store for Jules and Agathe as they journey on their mission, accompanied by their friend Louis, making their way through the mysterious dimensionless and timeless state that is the Untime.

Each of the 12 instalments is free, downloadable in formats that may be read on computers, tablets or e-readers. There will be a coupon that allows you to purchase the paperback edition (available after the last instalment has appeared online) at a discounted price.

Available from Inknbeans Press – 1st instalment available from April 2, 2016 (PDT).

The first volume, The Untime, is described here.

Magnetic poetry

FullSizeRender 19.jpgFor my birthday this year a friend gave me a set of magnetic poetry words. She is an accomplished poet in her own right, and she’s actually inspired me to write a few (non-magnetic) poems (nowhere near as good as hers, though).

But this makes for a slightly different experience. The words have been pre-chosen, and some very strange words they are, too. Or rather, they can be combined into some very strange phrases.

Essentially, this is a verbal Rorschach test, both for the “author” and for the reader. By its nature, this method of stringing words together tends to the cryptic, and much meaning is condensed or implied. The choice of words is, of course, left to the “author”, but the act of scrabbling in the tin for the right word can be a little tedious, and so after the first few words, may become a little more random.

However, sometimes a theme emerges, and a coherent set of words appears.

The lack of punctuation as part of the kit also tends to obscure meaning, or at least to provide a number of alternative meanings.

But even so, the “poems” I have put up on Facebook and Pinterest seem to have attracted a lot of interest.

Enough for a book? Let me know what you think after viewing the pages below:

Four (was three) spooky predictions that came true – from my book At the Sharpe End

One reader of my book At the Sharpe End said that he was part of the way through the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when he picked up At the Sharpe End which he started reading, and couldn’t put down, thereby ignoring Dragon Tattoo It’s a good read, for sure, but there are several rather spooky aspects to it which are only just becoming apparent to me.

InknBeansATSE_front_smaller.jpgApart from its being a story that involves intelligence services, corrupt diplomats, yakuza gangsters, there’s quite a lot there about everyday life in Japan – and about financial IT systems.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I am not an expert on these things. I have worked in the IT department of Wall Street banks in Tokyo (as has the eponymous hero of the book, Kenneth Sharpe), but somewhat on the periphery of the action. I was actually headhunted about 20 years ago by a major Swiss bank to join a team writing object-oriented software for derivatives trading, but that is another story of another life. Even so, I do know more than the average bear about these things, and that’s what I started to write about.

Now, I’ve also been re-reading Michael Lewis’ book on high-frequency trading and dark pools, Flash Boys, and his view of how the Wall Street banks and other traders have been systematically ripping off your pension and insurance companies to the tune of billions of dollars. If you are interested in the subject of just how Wall Street and the money men continue to make billions in a recession, read this book. You need to concentrate a little, but Lewis is (IMHO), one of the best writers of financial non-fiction out there and he makes things pretty clear, even to non-technical readers.

Spooky prediction Number 1 (not so spooky)

I wrote in At the Sharpe End about an electronic gizmo which allowed traders to get an edge on the competition through what was essentially time travel (though actually, time travel isn’t involved – it’s artificial intelligence and pattern matching). High-frequency trading is all about this – but rather than allowing the winner to look into the future, it condemns the loser to live in the past (ever see the end of The Sting? It’s like that, played with microseconds). The fictional technology was initially disguised as face-recognition pattern matching software.

Furthermore, I’ve recently written several articles for a major Japanese company about their AI systems which do exactly what I described – taking past trends and extrapolating the future from them. And, just to make it even more spooky, this company has a global lead in face recognition systems.

Oh, and my fictional system was offloading the heavy lifting (from the computer’s point of view) onto Digital Signal Processing chips (DSPs). I believe that auxiliary chips such as GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) now form a key element of Bitcoin mining and other similar compute-intensive operations.

None of this is really earth-shattering, I suppose – but it is interesting that I could foretell the basic principles of the relevant processes without prior knowledge.

Spooky prediction Number 2 (and this is really spooky)

I gave the family name of Katsuyama to the inventor of my fictional gizmo. A plausible but none too common Japanese name. Lo and behold – in Flash Boys, one of the real-life heroes of the piece is called – Brad Katsuyama, who was the driving force behind the development of technology to defeat the dark pools and HFTs. Yes, he’s a real person, and you can look him up on Wikipedia. And no, I didn’t lift the name from Lewis’ book. The book was actually written before the events described in Flash Boys took place. I have never had anything to do with the Royal Bank of Canada, where the real-life Katsuyama worked.

How did I come to pick that name? I have no idea.

Spooky prediction Number 3 (perhaps obvious in hindsight, but still scary)

When I wrote the first draft of At the Sharpe End, the tipping point of the plot was a massive earthquake off Tokyo which knocked out power, destroyed buildings – and caused a near meltdown at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, situated close to Tokyo. For those of you who may have forgotten (and a lot of people outside Japan probably have), there was a massive quake/tsunami in March 2011, and three reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi melted down. The cleanup will take many decades and cost the taxpayer billions, if not trillions, of dollars.

I predicted the loss of power, and the other things that go with a quake, and also the breakdown of the financial services systems. And guess what? Mizuho, one of the largest financial institutions in the world (ninth by market cap) actually broke down. The cause was ascribed to too many charitable contributions flooding the system. In my fictional financial meltdown, I just assumed the data centres were knocked out, and the disaster recovery and business continuity plans of the Japanese banks were inadequate (based on my knowledge of these things, which is once again more than that of the average person).

As it turned out, when I came to first publish At the Sharpe End, the 2011 quake had not occurred – but the subprime-fuelled crash (known as the “Lehman shock” here in Japan) had taken place. I therefore rewrote that part of the book. However, I kept my previous ending, and it was printed as an appendix in the Inknbeans edition – and I am making it available here. Click to read full-screen and navigate with arrow keys or swipes (there are 34 pages here, including a few blank ones), and you can download a PDF, if you want.

Spooky prediction Number 4 (actually more gruesome than spooky)

At the Sharpe End involves a part of a human body being found in a coin locker at Tokyo station. Guess what? These things happen in real life. And the locker was close to the one I had chosen.

Want to read the whole thing?

The whole book is available as paperback or as an ebook.

Webinars? Not for me, thanks.

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I recently received an email from Goodreads inviting me to a “webinar” (if you haven’t met one of these things, it’s an audio lecture with visuals delivered as a YouTube or other video). Maybe it’s just me not being a “visual person” – I slot into the bottom 1% of TV watchers according to an online quiz “Which of these classic series have you watched?” and the bottom 8% of movie viewers on a similar survey. Whatever, I find these things to be tedious in the extreme.

Let me add something – this Goodreads thing was aimed at authors. People who work with the written word. Wouldn’t you assume that authors are also probably readers?

People who work with writing almost certainly prefer to read. I read fast, and I am guessing that I am not alone as a writer in reading fast. I probably absorb information about twice or three times (maybe even more) quickly through reading.

Furthermore, if the information is presented in written form, I can search through it, flip from section to section easily, and I can store it later and read it at leisure.

So, if you’re a book site, and you want to educate authors – please give us the information in written form. Preferably in a nicely formatted PDF which we can download and (gasp!) print on paper. Because that’s what we do, however much we love ebooks. We read. We have this nostalgia for decent typography and sliced dead trees.

And many of us resent the waste of time that is a “webinar”, no matter how valuable the information it contains.

I am apparently a fast reader!

My reading speed was 722 words per minute, according to this.

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Source: Staples eReader Department