Technology

My Top 5 Ted Talks of All Time

Inspired by Vicky over at Single Mother Ahoy! I decided to list my top five favourite Ted Talks. I absolutely love Ted, the whole idea is amazing. People come together in venues all around the world to give inspirational talks on all manner of subjects. It was hard to narrow it down to just five, but here goes.

5. Hackschooling Makes Me Happy – Logan LaPlante. Learn from a teenager how unschooling works and why his home education is focused on what really matters.

 

4. The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer. A wonderful and inspirational talk from one of the most successful crowdfunders ever. Palmer describes her experiences of interacting with her fans.

 

3. Why we should give everyone a basic income – Rutger Bergman. I’ve been an advocate of universal basic income for a few years now and whenever I get into a discussion online about it I direct people to this video. It’s a simple explanation of the idea and why it would work.

 

2. The Power of Introverts – Susan Cain. Our society tends to value the traits of extroverts far above those of us introverts. Cain explains why we shouldn’t try to change introverts and how we can contribute to society.

 

And finally, my absolute favourite Ted talk of all time…

1. Changing Education Paradigms – Sir Ken Robinson. All of Ken Robinson’s Ted talks are brilliant, but this one, with the RSA animation, is my favourite. It’s my go-to video whenever I have a wobble about my children’s education.

 

I hope you enjoy these talks! Let me know your favourites in the comments below. I’m always keen to broaden my horizons so would love suggestions of what to watch next!


People Power in the Digital Age

The publishing industry is changing faster than ever before. Previous upheavals include things like…. paperbacks (gasp!), and online retailers (oh no!). Each revolutionary idea was heralded as the death of quality literature or the end of book shops. The cynics were wrong.

kindleSome people have seen the tide turning and flowed with it, changing their business to keep up. So some book shops have survived, they’ve adapted to the digital age and are offering their customers something more, an experience. Many have seen that the future lies in the digital and have adapted their business model to accommodate that, such as Barnes & Noble putting out their own e-reader device, the Nook. The small independent book shop has been a dying breed for a long time now, which is a great loss, I grant you. But people are still reading.

The digital age spawned the single biggest change to the industry: self-publishing. People have been self-publishing for decades, but it used to be a costly business, with authors having to pay out a small fortune for thousands of prints of their book, which will have largely ended up sitting in boxes in their garage or loft. What most people never realise is that the vast majority of traditionally published books only ever sell a handful of copies. So ambitious authors would print themselves scores of books (often because they had no choice, as printers would only accept print runs far in excess of the number of books the author could ever hope to sell) and end up pulping them, just like the big publishers do.

Self-publishing had a bad reputation for a long time, it still does in some corners of society. The big publishers were seen as the gate-keepers, the guardians who were there to protect the public from “bad” writing. A book couldn’t physically be purchased from a book store without it going through the vigorous machine that was supposedly there to weed out the slush. A writer first had to find an agent willing to represent them, then a publisher, who would assign an editor and trusted cover designer. The marketing department would do their thing to get the books into shops and onto billboards. Then the royalties would come flowing in. Right?

Wrong. The big publishers never really cared about quality writing, they cared about selling books. That didn’t always mean the best quality writing, let’s be honest. We’ve all read a bad book that was traditionally published. We’ve all spotted typos in store-bought books. The big publishers have never been infallible.

In the face of the digital revolution, some of the major publishing houses have panicked, and ended up picking up utter trash to put out, because they know it will prove popular (mentioning no names, nor colours or shades). A book doesn’t always have to be well written to capture an audience and the old school publishers know that. Yet they have thrived on the reputation of being the ones to impress, the ones to protect the public and introduce them only to the very best writing.

booksIt has always been the case that some excellent books never sell well, while some terrible ones do. It’s always been part luck, part vigorous marketing as to whether a book succeeds or not. A few years ago, even getting picked up by a publisher didn’t mean much for most writers. Even IF their book made it to launch and got into book shops, chances are their book would be one of thousands of spines on the shelves, not placed on a table in the doorway, or even face out on the shelf. Most writers with a traditional publishing contract could not reasonably expect their books to sell. Most would go to pulp and the writer’s contract terminated. Such was the life of the author.

So if quality never really mattered, why place so much respect at the traditional publisher’s door? Why assume that a self-publishing author isn’t able to do a better job?

I knew I would self-publish Echoes of the Past because I just wanted to share the story with people. I knew it was a powerful one that could move people and I didn’t want to spend years knocking on the doors of agents and publishers only to potentially end up not having a single other person share that story with me. I knew I needed to put it out there myself. It still might not sell many copies, but at least it would be out there for anyone to read if they want to.

Digital publishing means that self-publishing no longer requires massive outlays on boxes of books, now we can reach people relatively quickly and cheaply; it actually costs nothing to get an ebook onto Amazon. However, if an author wants to sell any books at all, and wants to be well-received, they had better make sure their book looks as good as possible. With no publisher to cover the costs, we have to hire our own editor and cover designer. Unless a writer also happens to be a whiz with image software, then outsourcing the cover design is essential. Because readers really do judge a book by its cover, and now all the covers will be seen, perhaps only as thumbnails, but they will be displayed on all of the websites that sell the book. Readers aren’t just seeing the spine when they browse.

I’ve come across writers who insist that they don’t need an editor, and even one who was scornful of any writer who did hire an editor! But I’m a realist, I know that editing is a very different skill to writing and accept that I am too close to my own words to see them honestly. The editor I work with assures me that my writing is very clean and that working on my books is an enjoyable experience, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t benefit greatly from her input. She notices if I overuse a phrase and can suggest alternatives; she spots any inconsistencies and typos that I missed during revisions; and so on. For any fellow writers reading this, I highly recommend Zoe Markham, by the way, she is a genuine pleasure to work with.

Then there are the other costs of running a business, which is what self-publishing is. Writing is more than a hobby to me, I am an author, this is my vocation. So I have a website to maintain, server costs, administration, marketing, and so on. It all adds up.

As I said, I desperately want to share Echoes of the Past with people. I want others to read the series, I want the books to be seen and devoured. That won’t happen if I don’t make the books as good as possible. It starts with my writing, of course, but it requires input from other professionals, whom I have to pay. I scraped the money together for the first two books in the series, but my circumstances have changed and mean that I’m no longer in a position to do that with the third book. So a few months ago I began to look seriously at crowdfunding.

I’ve contributed to several crowdfunding campaigns in recent years and really love the whole idea. So it seemed a natural step for me to run my own. For those new to the idea, there are various platforms, the most famous being Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. People with an idea who need to raise funds can do so on one of these platforms. They offer incentives/perks/rewards for contributors, who then pledge to support the idea. Usually, contributors only pay out if a target is met, though this does vary from one campaign to another.

It seems to me that people are very keen on taking power back right now. People want to share their ideas and can’t or don’t want to rely on old institutions, like publishers or banks, to help finance their ideas. Crowdfunding is a natural accompaniment to self-publishing. We’ve taken back our power from the big publishers, and now we’re freeing ourselves from the tight controls of traditional investors. People power has achieved some amazing things, and I believe that it can do the same for literature.

pubslush-sig-logo200-2I chose to run my campaign with Pubslush, a platform dedicated to funding independent authors. Their name comes from the idea of the slush pile, the rejected manuscripts that should have made it to print. Money shouldn’t be a barrier to new authors getting started, a great idea should be shared. One of the great aspects of choosing Pubslush, aside from the expert support that they can provide, is their wonderful non-profit wing. The Pubslush Foundation works tirelessly around the globe funding literacy programs for the most disadvantaged communities. Illiteracy locks people into poverty, increases likelihood of them turning to crime and shortens their lifespan. One in five people in the world are illiterate, two thirds of whom are women.

Equality is something I am passionate about and most of my political and community activity is based on tackling that. So I’m donating 5% of the total I raise through crowdfunding to the Pubslush Foundation. My campaign launches on 1st July, so save the date and come check it out here: http://tidesofspring.pubslush.com/

I mentioned small book shops at the start of this article, well, to round off I wanted to mention two local book shops who both turned to their supporters on the internet to save their businesses. Bradford comic book shop, It’s A Trap, and Saltaire Bookshop were both bolstered by their supporters when in need. The digital age doesn’t have to spell the end of independent retailers, it can and should be a tool to aid them. So do please go out and support them with your custom, as well as supporting hard working independent authors. Thank you.

 


Star Trek Saw the Future, And It’s Here!

I’m a self confessed nerd. I love sci-fi, super heroes, zombies, and technology. Gimme all da stuffs. I’m currently lamenting the premature demise of my Blu-Ray player and researching a replacement. It has to have all the right toys. So I was thinking about technology and the way that popular sci-fi, such as Star Trek, has predicted, or could it be that it has inspired the development of new technologies.

So I decided to compile a list of some of the tech that Star Trek has depicted in the past that now exists.

Trek Door1. Sliding doors!

It’s THE classic example. When Star Trek first aired in 1966 the sliding doors of the Enterprise were manned by stage hands on set because automatic sliding doors didn’t exist yet. But the doors in Star Trek seem to also have some sort of telepathic link with people, as they never open when someone walks past in the corridor outside the room, or close on two people having a conversation across the threshold. A Japanese company has developed a more intelligent sliding door that responds the the size of party approaching, and even the speed at which someone approaches them! I look forward to seeing these intelligent sliding doors appearing in shopping centres worldwide!

Picard Data Pad Stack2. Tablets

Today we take for granted our iPads, Kindle Fires and so on. But they are a relatively new technology. Apple’s first serious attempt at a tablet computer was the Apple Newton in 1993. But the first touch screen tablets that we would recognise today only hit the market in 2010. Star Trek have been using data pads since The Next Generation began in 1987. The beautiful thing about this example is that we have already far surpassed the technology portrayed in Trek. TNG was set in the year 2364 and onwards (mostly, they time travelled a bit!), yet their data pads seemed to be quite limited in function, with separate pads required for different projects. It makes me wonder what the future of this technology might look like. Where will we really be in 2364? Will information be directly downloaded into a microchip inserted in our brains? Eek!

3. Communicators

samsung-s300-lI got so excited when I got my first “flippy phone” in about 2004! FINALLY I held in my hands some tech reminiscent of something from Star Trek. It was a glorious day for me. It was the Samsung S300, and I still think it’s the most beautiful phone I’ve ever owned. Sigh.

Anyway, where was I?

kirk communicatorStar Trek led the way with mobile communication devices and it took us over thirty years to really catch up. But now that we have we’re zooming ahead. We’re even perfectly used to the combined technology of comms devices and data pads, with smart phones being an every day item that millions of people already own. We also have Bluetooth. Remember Uhura’s earpiece? Not quite as widespread an application of the technology, but it exists.

We haven’t quite got to the com badges seen in TNG onwards, but we can’t be far off them. Our phones can be used to track our location, a common use of this kit seen in Trek. It’s also at the whim of the environment, as in Trek. “The away team’s lost on the planet, Captain, a severe weather system is interfering with the comms channel.” Yep, sounds familiar!

Another related technology is the good old video call. We all remember the crew of the Original Series seeing aliens and alien worlds on their enormous view screen. Throughout the evolution of the franchise, this technology has remained a staple means of communication. Today we think nothing of Skyping a friend on the other side of the planet, or conference calls that incorporate video communication with absent colleagues.

isolinear chips4. Portable Memory Devices

Probably not one that most people would think of, but way back in the Original Series the crew used disks that resembled 3.5 inch floppy disks. It’s already the case that an entire generation of young computer users will have no idea what I just said! My parents ran a shareware business from home when I was growing up, and I spent many an hour sat in front of (now very dated) desk top computers copying disks for them.

The Next Gen had their isolinear chips that were closer to USB sticks or SD cards. The Enterprise seemed to rely on a huge number of these devices for the smooth running of its systems. (Can I get an enraged “Wesley!”) Though it’s unclear exactly what they do, but they seem to contain information or software. Given that we can buy SD cards today that can hold 512GB of data, it’s easy to imagine similar storage devices in the future that would power vast star ships.

Star_Trek_Replicator5. Replicators

Yes, seriously. 3D printing is the beginning of replicator technology, as seen in TNG onwards. Go to a hole in the wall and order your favourite drink, and it materialises in front of you. It’s a technology in its infancy, we’re a far cry from being able to feed all the world’s hungry with this technology, but give it time. In Grey’s Anatomy they’ve shown 3D printing being used to create working body parts for transplants, and I honestly believe that’s where the development of this tech will flourish first.

6. Voice Activated Interactive Artificial Intelligence!!!

This is the one that struck me the other day and really prompted me to write this blog. Voice activation isn’t especially new, but it’s finally entering the mass market for everyday application. We now have hardware that we can talk to, and that talks back! And it’s widely commercially available in the form of the latest smart phones. Owners of iPhones can ask Siri to complete tasks for them and report back its findings, Microsoft phones now have the gorgeous Cortana, named after the AI in flagship Xbox game, Halo.

Majel BarrettOur computers are getting there too, with Google now supporting voice input for searches. But Star Trek saw it coming decades ago. The fabulous Majel Barrett voiced Star Fleet computers from the beginning until her death in 2008. The crews of later Enterprise models, Voyager and DS9 had the opportunity to ask the computer to perform complex tasks, such as programming the holodeck and analysing data. It won’t be long before we can do this in real life. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to discover some lab geeks somewhere in the world already doing just that.

Other sci-fi creations have predicted technological advancements too, some more advanced than others. Self-driving cars, as seen in Minority Report will very soon be commonplace, they can park themselves these days and we’ve had cruise control for ages. Getting us from A to B is the next logical step. I give the boffins a decade to get us there. Jules Verne first saw us launching ourselves into space and exploring the depths in submarines, long before we could do either. And I just discovered that a vehicle closely resembling the hoverbikes from Endor in Star Wars could be available to buy from as early as 2016!!!

So, my wish list for emerging technologies based on Star Trek includes: holodecks (of course!), transporters (duh), and interplanetary travel (obviously!).

I love to hear from you, so leave a comment if there’s a sci-fi technology you’d love to see realised, or your favourite from the many, many more out there already that I didn’t have time to cover here!

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