Saturday, December 24, 2011

The annual Jacobite investigation.

I don't know what the weather was like in December 1745. If it was as cold as last year, wading across that river would have been nearly impossible. If it was something similar to this evening, crossing the river would have been far less traumatic.

This year, the temperature was around 3 C (about 29 F), there was no snow, no wind beyond a light breeze and sparse cloud cover. This was both a good thing and a bad thing.

It meant that standing out there for a couple of hours wasn't a problem. However, there is not much light available for photography so a layer of snow and some low, heavy cloud would have brightened things up considerably. I won't bother putting up video, it's just a black screen. The photos are similarly dark. Next time I have a snow-free winter I'd better take along some infrared lighting.

I saw and heard nothing this time but something interesting happened. The freshly-charged batteries in my camera flashed up the 'nearly dead' warning as soon as I turned it on. Not remarkable in itself, those rechargeable batteries are capricious beasts and have been known to spontaneously die for no reason.

The battery in my watch died and stopped the watch at 4:22 pm. Freshly-charged batteries in my phone, my video camera and my backup camera all showed 'last gasp'. Having one set of batteries die at an inconvenient time would be an annoyance - having them all die at the same time is too much of a coincidence.

I saw nothing, heard nothing, the night was still, the river slow. Now I think of it, I really mean I heard nothing. No birds. No rodents in the long grass. Nothing at all. There was absolutely no sign of life.

Something happened this evening and I'm not sure what. I have a feeling I'm getting close to this one. Still haven't seen it but I am now sure I have the date, time and location right. The conditions seem better when it's a mild winter with not too much water in the river. I suppose that would be the sort of conditions that would make it feasible to mount an attack by wading across. With no snow and no clouds reflecting the town lights, it really does get very dark at that part of the river. Again, that's what you need to sneak up on an enemy.  Unfortunately it's exactly what you don't need if you're trying to take photographs!

I have not yet examined the photos in detail. Here are a couple with the brightness increased but be aware that increasing brightness can increase pixellation and that risks forming shapes that weren't really there. The pictures should enlarge if you click them. Feel free to download them and see if you spot anything.

Even with the brightness increased there's not much to see. I'm going to have to go against my own advice next year and make use of Bright lighting would just attract gawpers.

I feel as if this investigation took a step forward tonight. Not a big step, but in the right direction.

With luck, it will be mild again next year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Turin Shroud - does it matter?

Oh yes it is!

Oh no it isn't!

Oh yes it is!

The pantomime surrounding the Turin Shroud continues with the news that the image can only have been produced by a blast of intense short-wave light. Something that only modern equipment could achieve. No fifteenth-century faker could have done it.

So it's real?

The answer is, and probably always will be, maybe.

Nobody has tested the actual image on the real shroud. The Vatican will not allow it and is never likely to. Not because 'they are scared' but because they consider it a holy relic and don't want scientists poking holes in it. So it has now been proven that no ancient faker could have made the image using short-wave light, but maybe that's not how it was made. It could be made that way but that doesn't prove it was.

There was an attempt to carbon-date the shroud using a little bit of cloth from one corner. Unfortunately the shroud was fire-damaged at some point in its history (there are burn marks still) and was repaired with less ancient cloth. So the carbon-date can't be considered reliable.

At the moment, nobody knows the how, where, when or who of this artefact. It is entirely possible that nobody ever will. I don't think it matters anyway.

Let's suppose that someone finds definite proof that the image was of an actual crucified corpse, that it dates from around 35 AD, and that there is no known explanation for the image that would fit with any technique known to have been available at that time. Would that prove that it is the image of Christ?


It would only prove that it was the image of someone crucified at roughly the time Christ was said to have been crucified. The Romans were big on crucifixion. Every Saturday night they hit the town, drank wine, ate bread, impregnated women and crucified some random men. So even if we knew the time, the place and date, that still leaves hundreds, possibly thousands of victims who could be the one imprinted on that sheet.

Remember, if we don't know how it was done, the possibility remains that some grieving relatives used a technique that is lost now, and that the image isn't Christ at all but someone who once called Caesar a bad name.

It can never be proved that the image on the shroud is Christ. Never. It has also not been proven that it is not Christ and while that might be possible, it might never be achieved.

Some people believe it is definitely Christ. Some believe it is definitely not. I doubt a single one of those people would change their opinions even if some scientist spent his whole life on it. It's a religious icon. It really doesn't matter if it's real or not, all that matters is whether the religious find it affects their faith.

To me, its existence is irrelevant. I am not going to spend time proving or debunking it because it just doesn't matter. It should not matter to atheists, although some like to target it as if by proving that it's just a bedsheet once used by a painter who never bothered to wash, they will somehow bring down the whole of Christianity. Debunking the Turin shroud would have no effect on Christianity. Many Christians don't believe it's real either.

Prove or disprove, it will not affect Christianity and it will not affect the atheists. Therefore, I should conclude that any study is a waste of time. Shouldn't I?

No study, of anything at all, is ever a waste of time. If the Turin shroud interested me I would study it but I would neither be trying to support nor debunk Christianity. I would do it for my own interest, my own satisfaction.

It's really no different to my own work. I study ghosts to satisfy my curiosity. I don't care whether any sceptic is ever swayed by what I find. Let them rage and rant that I'm wasting my time. It's my time, and that's the point. I choose to use it to investigate something that interests me.

That's why I read about research into the Turin shroud, Bigfoot and all the rest. I am interested in the research and am impressed by the tenacity and methods of many of those involved. They might find proof that they consider satisfied their curiosity and maybe I won't believe them. Maybe I will look at their photos and think 'I could photoshop that'. Many people could, these days. It's getting appallingly easy.

I hope they think as I do, that finding the proof to their own satisfaction is all it is about.

Because, really, that is all it is about.

The sceptics will never be swayed. Some people just don't want their comfort zone invaded. Leave them alone, let them live as they wish and believe as they wish.

In the end, it won't matter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Playing away.

Today I have a guest article over at the Book Boost blog. There will be a prize draw among the comments for a signed copy of each of the first and second editions of 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator'.

I have also revamped the old first edition into a pocket-sized book. It did mean shrinking the photos but it looks and feels more like a 'book' (a very small one) than a pamphlet.

There will be a third edition at some point and I think, with that one, I'll try my luck with a publisher.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Apple download

There are many reports of odd things dropping from the sky. Fish, various crustaceans and frogs seem to be most common and these are usually put down to tornadoes/waterspouts lifting them from their habitats and dropping them somewhere else.

That's certainly plausible. The UK does get a fair amount of tornado activity, not usually with the strength of those seen elsewhere in the world but once in a while a big one does come along.

Apples though, are an oddity. Especially in December, when they should all have been harvested in September and October.

There are more strong winds forecast. Perhaps there'll be another bizarre celestial delivery somewhere.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Do ghosts die?

It's nearly time for the annual (hypothermia permitting) visit to the riverside to look for Jacobites. This year is much less severe than last year, it's cold and icy but it's Scotland and December so that is only to be expected. There's been very little snow so far and none of that -20C nonsense we had last year. Even though it's now 5 am I don't have the heating on because the house insulation is enough. It's looking good for this year's visit.

This Jacobite haunting is a replay event, if it's still there. The images do the same thing at the same time every year. No ghosts, no spirits, nothing to communicate with and about as scary as a movie - because that's exactly what it is. A three-dimensional recording that repeats the same way every time. Christmas is a most appropriate time to watch repeats, I think.

These can be lost if the ground is worked over for new building or for demolition. How the recording is laid down and what makes it replay is not known and it might not be the same in each case. Some just fade over time as if the tape is wearing out. Unfortunately, since we have no idea how these recordings happen, we have no way of preserving them and no means of boosting the signal. Any meddling might ruin the thing for good.

These are, I repeat, not ghosts. Not spirits. Not time-slips and not really paranormal in the strictest sense. Somehow, certain events are recorded on the environment and can be replayed. They do not interact with the observer any more than a politician on the television reacts to the things I say to them. Which is probably for the best because you can be arrested for saying some of those things these days.

Actual ghosts interact, we can converse with them and they are mostly recently deceased. I touched briefly on one aspect of that in the second edition of Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' and will go deeper into it for the next edition. We see Edwardian and Victorian ghosts, sometimes there are reports of cowboys in the USA and even a few, very few in the UK from the reign of Charles the First. Further back, little or nothing.

The few reports of ghost Romans in the UK all sound like recordings. They are re-runs. There are no signs in the UK of ghost Druids or ghost Picts or ghost Anglo-Saxons or ghost Cymric or ghost Vikings or even ghost Normans. Where did they go? There aren't even recording-type phenomena to associate with them.

The older recordings might have been overwritten. In the absence of solid data we have only speculation but suppose that some places are more likely to record events than others. A high level of a particular mineral, maybe, I don't know.  I also don't know the required conditions for the recording to start. So let us suppose that certain places can record when the 'record' aspect is active and that if that 'record' aspect is reactivated later, the old recording is overwritten with the new. If it isn't, the old recording stays but fades over time.

Let us further suppose that pressing the 'record' button is not easy and requires some specific and rare combination of conditions, and they might not occur in all recording-places at the same time. That would allow Roman recordings in York to still be there and Jacobites in Scotland and monks at various abbeys in England and cowboys in the USA and Aztecs in Peru and so on.

Back to the point. There are still old recordings around but where are the old ghosts? Scotland is littered with stone circles and menhirs and dolmens with Pictish carvings but none of them have any Pictish ghosts. There are not even ghosts of the Norman invaders here. What happened to them?

Did they all move on to some kind of spirit world or is it worse than that? Did they simply die?

The first response in most people's minds will be 'Don't be silly. They can't die if they're already dead' but they're not dead, are they?

Their physical, flesh and bone body is dead but those spirits move, think and interact. They are not alive in the sense that we are alive but they have a form of life and any form of life could potentially end. Physics demands that they must take in energy in some form. It's not in the form of burger and fries but they must take in energy in order to be active. They are still part of the natural universe and still bound by the basic laws of physics.If they run out of energy and cannot find more, does the same thing happen to them as happens to us?

Over time, those old ghosts vanish. Do they die?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The free story experiment - first results.

Some time back, I decided to try out an idea for getting those books known at zero cost to me. I have no marketing training so the thought of throwing money into ideas that might be utterly pointless did not appeal.

From this non-marketer's viewpoint, it seemed to me that the first hurdle to overcome as a writer is getting known as a writer. Publishing is no longer such a hurdle, I have one book with a traditional publisher and prefer to send novels through that route but I have a growing number of self-published titles too. It helps if you are obsessive about spelling and grammar and it's essential to get someone to read over the book before releasing it. If you release a terrible book full of spelling errors and meandering plot lines that lead nowhere, you will certainly get known but for the wrong reasons. It will not improve your chances with the next book.

The idea I came up with was to put out a few short stories as free eBooks and include advertising for the other books in the back. These went to Smashwords because that site allows me to track page views and downloads of the free stories and to examine their effects on pageviews of the other, advertised books.

Smashwords is a terrible place to sell books. It's well known among writers but not so much among readers. Readers tend to go to their preferred large-scale online bookstores such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and others. If your book languishes on Smashwords you won't sell many so it is essential to format it and prepare it correctly so it gets through the 'premium' screening.

Once through that, Smashwords will distribute your eBooks to the major retailers (there seems to be some issue with Amazon but it's easy enough to put eBooks there yourself. It just doesn't seem possible to make them free). That is where people who read will find them.

My zero-cost marketing plan involved, so far, three short stories. These went up some weeks apart as follows:

A Little Knowledge...           25th September
Room Service                      15th October
Bernie's Bargain                   29th October

The pageviews for each peaked after two days and then declined. My guess is that two-three days is how long it takes to scroll far enough down the 'free' listings so that nobody sees it any more.

Each story caused a temporary rise in pageviews of the two short story books on there, Fears of the Old and the New and Dark Thoughts and Demons. Each subsequent story also boosted views of the previous ones. Sales of the short story books were not noticeably improved but on Smashwords, I didn't really expect them to be. I needed those free shorts to get through the 'premium' screen and onto Barnes and Noble and other sites. They did.

As of today, Smashwords downloads for those free stories are as follows:

A Little Knowledge...            200
Room Service                      365
Bernie's Bargain                  163

I don't know how this has affected Jessica's Trap but even if I assume that the same people are downloading all the free ones, then 365 people have adverts for Jessica's Trap and the two short story books. They might not have bought them yet but they are now aware of their existence - and mine - and that's a start.

The main distribution sites report roughly every three months or so. Today Barnes and Noble reported that two of those free eBooks have been picked up from their site - downloads were as follows:

Room Service                     268
Bernie's Bargain                   37

I don't know what happened to the other one. Maybe it didn't make it through the strict B&N requirements.  It doesn't matter. I have at least another 268 readers who now know I exist and who have ads for the other books. This little scheme has reached at least 633 people worldwide and it has cost me nothing but a little time. I don't yet know the figures for Kobo, Diesel, Apple etc but I do know there have been sales of the short story books on Kobo and Apple at least.

Best of all, it's still going. New readers are still trickling in through those free eBooks and I have another planned which should, I hope, boost activity again. I will definitely have one out for Christmas because lots of people will get shiny new Kindles and Nooks and they'll be looking for things to fill them up.

The frustrating part is the time it takes to get sales information. I will get a sales report for Jessica's Trap at the end of December but will it show increased sales? Well it depends. It depends on whether there has been any effect on sales and it will also depend on when the retailers report back to the publisher. If they don't report until January then those figures won't be in the publisher's December report.

It's going to take a long time but then this is a new line of business for me, and involves developing an entirely different set of skills from what I am used to. My natural impatience will have to be curbed.

If you decide to try this, here are three important tips.

First, read the Smashwords style guide and do what it says. You really, really need to get through into premium distribution. It costs nothing and it gets those books onto the sites that readers use.

Second, don't include links to books you've published elsewhere in your 'by the same author' pages. Put in your own website, put in publishers' websites, but don't put any bookseller websites. Amazon will not list books that advertise Barnes and Noble, and vice versa. The best option is to have your own website and link to that.

Third, if you have already placed books with Amazon or others, remember to opt out of Smashwords distribution for those sites, otherwise you will just cause confusion. And make sure the prices are the same.

I did this again with 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' using a separate Smashwords account because my fiction is under another name.  You can load books onto Amazon using different names but Smashwords don't allow this unless you want to set up a publisher account. They do allow second accounts.

I put up both the first and second editions and not much happened. I then put up an extract from the second edition as a free sample and the downloads started - as did the pageviews on the main books. No sales there yet, but some on Amazon and the first edition is already selling on Barnes and Noble and Apple via, who also do the print versions. I always thought the print version of the first edition cost far too much for such a small book. The second is three times the size and doesn't cost much more in print. As an eBook, that first edition sells pretty well.

Using freebies to boost market reach does seem to be working. It is, at least, getting my name known among readers and it is not costing me anything. Any book sales resulting from this attempt are all profit, no cost.

Am I wasting a good short story? Well, if I sell them, I'll get a one-off payment of $5-$10 and that's all. It's not as if I'm giving away novels here. If those shorts result only in two or three book sales each they'll have made as much as a magazine would have paid anyway. I think this is a more effective use of these shorts, although I will also continue to send them into magazines. I no longer care if the magazines pay - the stories are adverts now.

I will return to this subject in future. There is no point looking at these figures more than once a month because they are subject to the whims of bookseller reporting and won't change much over a week or so.

There might be something to report after Christmas. We'll see.