Ghosts in the Amazon machine.

I have been advised by more than one person that I should use CreateSpace to get books onto Amazon. So I have. It wasn’t easy. That program is fussy enough to force me to re-do all the photographs.

The second edition is now on CreateSpace and will appear on Amazon US in a few days. Then I can look at wider distribution.

There is a free story coming up that has a dig at the fake psychics. I just need to get the formatting right. The cover is already done and looks like this:

None of those people are me. It uses my ‘fiction’ name as usual, to separate it from my more academically-inclined endeavours.

There’ll be another post when it’s ready.

UPDATE

Turned out it wasn’t a short story at all. It was a Chapter One. There is now a Chapter Six and counting.

It won’t be as quick as I expected.

What’s that thing?

It looks like the result of some deranged cross-breeding experiment involving a guitar, a banjo, a violin and a hubcap.

He’s using a bottleneck on his left hand and banjo picks on his right. It makes an impressive array of sounds but I’ve never seen one of these in the UK.

So what is it?

Free stories update.

A month ago I mentioned a scheme by which I would give away free stories with adverts for other books attached. The reasoning behind this was that if I put a story into a magazine, I could expect a one-off payment of ten dollars/pounds at best. It seemed a better use of a short story to forgo that little payment and use it to advertise the books.

The end-of-year roundup seems a good time to see how it’s going. A new trick in this game is the release of an unannounced free story, ‘A Christmas Contract‘, which I put out early Christmas morning without much fanfare because I wanted to see how it would do on its own. It has not yet passed Smashwords approval and escaped into the world but that’s not surprising. Smashwords’ approval system is manual and there won’t be anyone working over Christmas. If they were based in Scotland then judging by my own experience of the last few days, they wouldn’t be sober yet. I was still at a party at 5 am on January 2nd and am only now regaining control of my fingers.

Likewise, none of the booksellers will report over this period so it’s a good, quiet time to take stock.

For the Smashwords downloads, the figures for each story are now –

A Christmas Contract          129
A Little Knowledge           229   (200)
Room Service                      404   (365)
Bernie’s Bargain                   190   (163)

The figures in brackets are those from December 3rd.

The most popular is Room Service which is odd because it’s the only one that doesn’t have a five-star review. Once again, even though I didn’t push this new story, the stats for the previous ones rose when it came out. The way these free stories work on Smashwords is that they appear in the order they arrive, so they scroll off the screens after two to three days and few people bother looking that far. A new story links to the older ones so interest is renewed until the new one scrolls away too.

I’m trying the same with an extract from ‘Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator’ but it’s too early to say whether that’s doing any good. I see it selling on Amazon and Apple in the first edition but the second still has to get through to those sites. More on that when there’s something more tangible to say. It will need another freebie soon because that one will have scrolled away by now.

The retailer downloads of free books via Smashwords up to the end of 2011 were as follows:

Barnes and Noble   305
Sony                       172

I haven’t split them into individual books because that would take ages, but Room Service is definitely the most popular. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned what those readers like best.

There is small uptake on Amazon for Kindle but that’s because I can’t work out how to make them free on there without giving up all copyright. Free Kindle versions are on Smashwords but those who don’t know about Smashwords have the Amazon minimum price of 99 cents to deal with. On Amazon, it seems ‘A Little Knowledge…’ is the favourite.

Reports can be intermittent and these don’t include paid sales (not many as yet, but free and paid sales are reported separately by most retailers) so at this stage it’s too early to tell whether the ads are having an effect. I see nothing coming via Diesel so will concentrate on those that are generating sales. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple and Sony seem most effective so far. I run the Amazon uploads directly, Apple is almost all through Lulu, Barnes and Noble through Smashwords for some and Lulu for others and Sony entirely through Smashwords.

Smashwords also distribute to Diesel and Kobo but I have no updates on those yet.

As for Jessica’s Trap, no evidence of the ads producing results yet but then I started this experiment with the first free story on 25th September and given the long delays in booksellers reporting, it might be too early to be sure. Kobo and Diesel might yet have surprises in store.

I’ll continue the experiment since it costs nothing, and hopefully will see some results when it’s been running for six months or so.

It’s probably best to wait until the end of March for the next update unless something spectacular happens in the meantime. By then I should have a better idea of how well this is working.

Now I have to fiddle around with the ePub version of Ghosthunting 2 so that Lulu can get it onto B&N and Apple. The first version is doing well there and if I can get the format right on the second, it might do well too.

I can but try.

New Year

This one’s on a timer because I’m not really here. I hope it works.

We are supposed to have some impressive Auroras over these few days because of a solar storm. Typically, it is overcast and raining here.

Anyway, have a Happy New Year and let’s see if we can get a decent photo this year.

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 infrared.lighting. 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.

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?

No.

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.

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.