The value of content

Last week I finally got round to making a donation to a podcast that I enjoy and listen to regularly, "No Agenda". Yes, it's controversial and yes, I don't always agree with what is discussed on the show and it is rather US-centric, but it does make me think about the spin that is put on any news disseminated nowadays. The podcast has no sponsors; it is funded by listeners, so is able to maintain a level of independence. I decided this was worth some of my money, so I donated. I was very fortunate to be the only person donating at a certain level, so got an executive producer credit. At some point I will donate again, as long as I keep listening to the show.

Many people have written on the subject of getting things for free, particularly on the Internet, so, unfortunately, here is more of the same. Nothing new, just my thoughts on the matter - and how my view has changed in recent years.

Like a lot of people, I used to think it was absolutely fine to have information and/or entertainment available for free on the internet. I grew up before the internet was even a thing, so I have seen it grow from an entertaining diversion, to the all-pervasive behemoth it is today. I think there was a time, somewhere along the way, where information was available as a public service, intended to help and inform. That is, largely, no longer the case. I have also matured and become disillusioned with a lot of things in the world. One of these is the lack of truthfulness (I don't go so far as to say it's a lack of basic honesty). Questions asked of politicians are evaded, with no straight answers given. People are generally lied to by their elected representatives, yet nobody seems to hold them to account. Gradually I have become more aware of the amount of manipulation that we are being subjected to all the time; in politics and in our daily lives. I sometimes wonder if any truth is written/spoken by the media nowadays. Certainly the news programmes in the UK do far more than present the facts. There is always someone who explains the story, or pontificates on the impact, or what might happen as a result. Me, I generally just want the facts on the news; if I want to hear dissection and discussion, I will tune in to one of the magazine programmes.

I digress, though, as the main reason for starting this post was to put down in writing some of my feelings about being manipulated and "owned" by big corporations. As I get involved in more social media I become aware of the amount of data that is collected and used. For example, I understood that Facebook would collect data about what I liked, who I followed what I posted. It took a while for me to realise that it tracked what I did outside the app. Adverts appear on Facebook related to things I have browsed for in Safari. That unnerved me more than a little and I don't like it at all, but I still have my Facebook account, because it's a convenient way to keep in touch with people. However, I don't post a great deal. I joined Twitter before Facebook and enjoyed it, which I still do. I use a third party app, which makes the experience a little better, but it is still a shouty place, which exists to serve up ads (that I don't see).

As a result of all this, I mostly interact on 10centuries.org, which is a platform run by one man (and his dog). He hosts my blogs, runs a social media element and is developing more facets to the service. I pay for this (not a lot) and because I pay, I am the client. People have said: "if you aren't paying for the product, you are the product" and this is so very true. Over the last few years I have all but abandoned my Wordpress blog, along with some other free services. I'll admit to using Instagram, though, as I enjoy it. I have moved to paid services for rss feeds (Newsblur) and for saving links (Pinboard). I have also been looking into the Indieweb more and more recently, although I don't really understand it. The way I see it, the only way I can really own my data is by self-hosting, which is something I don't have the time or skills to do. For now, I will be content with paying for hosting, both on 10C and, more recently, micro.blog. This is clearly a journey I am on, with the learning that accompanies it. To that end, I am grateful for all the advice and assistance I receive from people far more experienced in the web than I.

April Books

The Last Paradise by Antonio Guarrido

Started 22 March

Finished 9 April

I downloaded this book as my March Kindle First choice. I didn't really expect to enjoy this, to be honest this; a novel set between depression-era America and the Soviet Union. Consequently I was very pleasantly surprised, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fairness, it wasn't a fun book, as it was quite stark and brutal, but it was an epic-feeling story.

I hadn't known that many Americans fled the US in the Depression era, in search of a worker's paradise in the USSR. I also have no idea how accurate the tale is, but, for me, it painted a vivid picture of the hopes of the immigrants, the brutality of the Soviet regime and how these hopes soon faded. In addition it had plenty of plot twists, so all in all, a book I would recommend.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Started 9 April

Finished 23 April

This book is based on a true story. It tells the tale of a young Italian, Pino Lella, during the second world war; from escaping the Nazis in Milan, through helping Jews to reach Switzerland by guiding them through the mountains, ending up enlisting at the age of 18, and becoming the driver of a senior officer in the German army, during which time he spied for the Allies. A truly fascinating story and well written. This, too, is a period in history I didn't know much about. Plenty of books are written about Germany, France, the UK and other countries during the war, but I haven't come across much about Italy.

What was particularly nice was the author's notes at the end, in which he describes how he came to tell the tale, along with updates on the fates of the main characters during the remainder of their lives. Another book I thoroughly enjoyed and also felt that I learned from.

March Books

Only two completed books in March. Yet again, life got in the way. Despite having a week off work, I didn't get much reading done; most of my time was taken up ferrying my father to his radiotherapy appointments. I listened to plenty of music, though and maybe some of my sleepless nights would have been better spent reading, but if the mind doesn't want to escape into a novel, it won't go.

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

Started 21 February
Finished 12 March

February's Kindle First. I enjoyed this novel. It is set during WW2 & I have to say it probably wasn't what I expected. Firstly, I assumed the author was male, which turns out not to be the case. Secondly, probably as a result of the first, I assumed that the story would be more of a mystery novel. It contains a mystery, sure, but it reads more like a romance novel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just a bit of a surprise.

Once I got used to the story, I found it easy to read. It was just about plausible, if somewhat almost quaint at times. I doubt I'd seek out other books by this author - a bit light for my taste.

Mystery Man by John Dickinson

Started 12 March
Finished 21 March

I didn't know what to expect with this book, as the title implies. I felt as confused as the main character for some time . I thought "ah-ha", the writer breaking the fourth wall, as it were, and interjecting his commentary on events. Or was it?

The novel centres around a man named Bentley, who ends up in Yorkshire, with no memory. The story is set in the Whitby area; a place no stranger to being a setting for gothic tales. That could be a clue in itself, although less so for me, as the author is a friend - my former primary school teacher, who was a very positive influence on me when I was young. To that end, the story is set fairly local to where I grew up, so I didn't make the association with the gothic as readily as someone else might. And no, the main character isn't a vampire.

Bentley receives kindness from the locals, falls in love and tries to find out who he is and about his past. Gradually his story unfolds and becomes quite shocking and slightly far-fetched, but intriguing enough to continue. Towards the end things take a very different turn and once again I was surprised, in a good way. Certainly an entertaining read and it kept me guessing.

February Books

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Started 20 January
Finished 20 February

Only one book completed this month, which would be pretty dire, except that this is quite a long read. It also took me a while to settle in to the story. Not being Chinese, the whole setting was, well, "different". I did spend a while wondering how the story was going to develop into a science fiction novel, but it did and it is well worth persevering. This is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to reading the other two books, although I shall take a break between them, I think. I have long been a fan of epic space novel series, so this should be right up my street. Having said that, it is at times pretty bleak and I believe the last book might be even more so.

At the time of writing, I am still on February's Kindle First book, with March's unopened. In addition, a friend introduced me to the works of another author, so I have a queue of his books, plus I discovered my friend had written some books, so one of those is now in the queue (the others are for children).

I really need to escape into the world of the written word more. Life is a bit tense at the moment and when I feel like this I tend to stop reading, which is probably the opposite of what I should do.

Middle-aged rebel

Today I did something that, when I was younger, I swore I would never do; I got a tattoo. Go me!

It's a very simple one - a yin-yang symbol, on the inside of my right wrist, in a place that can be hidden by a long-sleeved top. For work, you see.

I have been thinking about this for some time now, and then I had a dream, in which I had this tattoo, so I realised the dream. I do have a leaning towards the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching, so having a permanent symbol I could look at easily made sense to me. I can now glance at my wrist and be reminded of the importance of balance in my life - an opportunity for a brief re-focus or a moment of meditation

The tattoo of this symbol is also, well, mostly, in remembrance of my Mum, who passed away 2 years, 5 months and 13 days ago (yes, I'm still counting). Those who know me, and who knew my Mum, would say: surely a Welsh/Celtic symbol of a some kind would be the thing to go with? Well, yes, however this tattoo reminds me of a holiday we had in Brussels, some 16 years ago now. We were wandering around and found ourselves outside what must have been a fairly upmarket jewellers. In a prominent place in their window was a yin-yang, made of the most stunning glass. One side was obsidian black, with a clear dot and the other was the reverse. Both the clear and black glass were very nearly perfect. The thing must have been 4" tall and around 8-10" diameter. We stared at that piece for ages; we were speechless in the face of its beauty. It was a shared moment, too, both delighting in the same thing. Now, a treasured memory,

The Guardian

I have today taken out membership of The Guardian. I know, I'm not their normal demographic, being politically a little more to the right, usually. That said, "the right" as it is today doesn't represent my political views, either. Far from it. So, here I am, pretty much unrepresented by any political party in the UK.

Aside from all that, I have been making conscious decisions to support things that I think are worth it,as I am fortunate to be in a position where I can. I pay for the hosting of this blog which is an absolute bargain, as it includes multiple blogs, a social media feed, to-do lists and, at some point, a notes facility. All this from an independent provider. I have changed my RSS provider to Newsblur, a paid service, but one which does exactly what I want, at a reasonable price. This week I added Pinboard to my suite of subscriptions. I support a podcast network that I listen to a lot and I also support a blog I particularly enjoy. I hope to support another one, too, just waiting for an annual subscription rather than a monthly one. Currency conversion charges, what can I say...

To sum up, all this made me decide that I needed to support The Guardian. In a time when everything is owned by someone who wants to put their spin on things, playing to the fears and prejudices of one group or the other, I think I owe it to them to pay for what I read.

Plus, crosswords! Back in the day when I didn't have more work than I could possibly get through, a colleague and I used to do the Guardian crossword every day.

January Books

Lexicon by Max Barry

Started 27 December
Finished 3 January

I enjoyed this more than I expected to. I started reading it a year or so ago, but gave up fairly quickly, as it plunged me into a world too unfamiliar and confusing. On the second attempt, however, I stuck with it and found it was worth the effort. It begins as rather a dystopian sci-fi novel, but evolves into more of a thriller/action novel, where the sci-fi elements seem to take second place behind the action. That or I grew accustomed to things.

The main premise is the power of words to persuade, beyond what we currently understand. The novel follows the story of two characters, one who is selected to train in the art of "persuasion" and one who, we learn, appears to be immune to these powers. The two stories come together as the book progresses. This didn't seem to me to be at all contrived and the storytelling was nicely paced, keeping me interested throughout.

The Winter Over by Matthew Iden

Started 4 January
Finished 11 January

Ok, actually I finished this around 3am on 12 January, during one of my less successful slumber periods. When this came up on January's Kindle First list it was an easy decision for me; it is set in Antarctica, somewhere which fascinates me, as I'm sure it does many people.

A group of scientists and staff are about to see colleagues depart, leaving them there during the long months of perpetual darkness - the winter over period of the title. The base is newly-run by a private company. A body is found in the snow and things start to go wrong. It seems that some of the staff are possibly not as mentally stable as they ought to be to endure the dark months. As time passes it becomes clear that this was no accident…

I enjoyed this book, although I felt it rushed to the end slightly; a little more suspense would have been nice. Overall, it's a good read and more than a little thought-provoking.

Containment by Christian Cantrell

Started 12 January
Finished 19 January

I wasn't sure quite what to expect with this book. I've had it for a while and never started it. On the whole, I enjoyed it. It's a good old-fashioned life in space tale, but with a twist. I grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein and the like, so this is my preferred type of science fiction. This novel centres around a group of human settlers on Venus, but all is not what it seems. As I read, I was looking forward to the end of the book, with, presumably, the final reveal. Unfortunately it just stopped. Yes, other characters were going to discover the truth - I assume. I was aware this is supposed to be the first book in a series so I read up about the second book and apparently that doesn't continue the story at all. I found myself with too many outstanding "why" and "what next" questions to be satisfied with this book. I enjoyed reading it very much, but I think the ending let it down, almost like the cliff-hanger end of a tv episode, only to find the next is about completely different characters. I may keep an eye on reviews, to see if the third book ties things together. As it stands, I doubt I'll get book two.

Every ending is a new beginning…   

Or so they say.  This morning my little corner of the internet was buzzing (sort of) with the announcement that App-dot-net (I won’t put a link here, given the circumstances) would be closing down soon.  For those of us who have stuck around, this is it.  We have always known this day would come, since the announcement in May 2014 that there would be no further development from the owners and the network would be put into a form of hibernation, just ticking along.
 
In the time since, people have stuck around, drifted back to Twitter, or found other places to hang out.  Gradually they have dropped their subscriptions down to the free tier – something I had planned to do at my next renewal, which is moot now as the lights will have gone out before then.
 
Since joining ADN I have met quite a number of people who I enjoy chatting with online and I think a lot of us are still in touch on other social networks – failing all else, Twitter is still around.  I value the connections I have made using the service; my life has been much enrichd by the conversations we have had – and still continue to have.  People there have encouraged me to have a blog, have helped this n00b with setting up her domain records to point to her blog hosting and myriad other things. I even, at one point, dipped my toe into CSS, purely so I could replace a dark blue theme with a much nicer purple.  Easy, you say?  ‘Twas more than enough for me.
 
For my part I mostly use 10 Centuries Social and I have this blog (plus a couple of others) hosted there.  I don’t see that changing.  However, being part of the ADN community has allowed me to learn more about the internet in general (I was never really interested before, having grown up without it).  Not that I can profess to understand all that much, to be honest.  I occasionally consider using my Raspberry Pi as a dinky web server, just for a bit of fun, but pretty soon I come up against the need for some kind of dynamic IP service, which seems to cost rather too much for something that’s just a bit of fun!  Still, I have some domains (some unused) and some blogs – baby steps.
 
I have backed Manton Reece’s Kickstarter for a decentralised social network and micro-blogging tool called micro.blog.  As much for the book as anything.  I think it means that I can post from my blog to his social network.  Mind you, I can publicise my blog posts at 10 Centuries, or Twitter even; I choose not to, as I doubt anyone would really want to read my ramblings.   I’ll be interested to see what develops from this. It might see this blog site having more short posts to go over to his site, or I might utilise a different domain for that. I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.  I have kind of got used to this username, but I think I’d like this blog to remain as a home for longer pieces of writing – can I choose which posts go out into the world and which don’t?   Unfortunately, having chosen this username on Twitter many years ago, I find that a lot of domain names aren’t available for it, yet it’s a username I have in a number of places.   I have Mydnyghtrose but I’d like to keep that more to the craft side of things. I could always use one of the domains I have that are actually in my own name.  That would be brave of me…  I can always pay to have a hosted service over at micro.blog – but as I already have one, why do that?  Much pondering to be done and probably advice to be sought from other people.
 
I have dipped my toe into Mastodon and Pnut  recently as well.
 
Suffice it to say that I am easy enough to find in other places on the web:-
 
Hazardwarning on Twitter, Plurk, 10C, Mastodon and Pnut
MydnyghtRose on Instagram and Twitter

So, thanks ADN, it has been fun (although I shan't miss the constant auto-correct to AND).

December books

Hope's Peak by Tony Healey

Started 2 December
Finished 15 December

I found myself irritated by this book from the start, purely because it is written in the third person, present tense. It just feels wrong to me. At times it felt like the book wasn't well edited, at least in the Kindle version.
"Harper isn't surprised to find it fairly empty when Harper walks in, shaking off her umbrella". Odd.
That said, the book grew on me as I got further into it, despite the jarring use of present tense. The characters started to develop and become more familiar. However, the ending was a bit of a shock and let me feeling a bit cheated. It felt too soon in what, I assume, is to be series of books to have this kind of ending. Would I read more by this author? Probably not.

A Fatal Thaw by Diana Stabenow

Started 15 December
Finished 16 December

This is my third Dana Stabenow book and I do enjoy them. This is the second in a lengthy series centred around an Alaskan investigator. I might work through them all in time - I caught up with all the Joe Pickett series by C J Box, so there's no reason to suppose I won't do the same here.
The depiction of life in Alaska doesn't pull any punches, Stabenow doesn't shy away from the less tourist-friendly aspects of life. Mind you, she doesn't do the natural beauty of Alaska any disservice, either.
In this novel, one out of multiple murders turns out to have been committed by someone other than the main suspect. Our investigator figures it out early on and leads the reader to her conclusion, explaining why she had to take action. The final chapters depict a thrilling chase in the mountains.

So Sure of Death by Dana Stabenow

Started 17 December
Finished 27 December

This is the second book in the series centred around Liam Cunningham, a state trooper in Alaska. It builds on the relationships of the first book well and I wasn't able to guess whodunnit in either of the murders. Dana Stabenow's books are easy to read, but they are also decent enough thrillers to make me return to them when I want to go to a familiar place, with familiar characters.

As I reach the end of the year, it's time to review my progress over 2016. I have read a total of 33 books. Not bad, could do better. My worst months were January and May, when I read only one book. I don't know why this was the case in January, but in May I was away visiting friends for some of the time, so probably too busy to have early nights curled up with a book. My best month was March, during which I read five books. Most other months seem to result in two or three books read. It would be nice to get through more, but I don't want to make it a target to achieve, or put pressure on myself; that would destroy the whole point of reading for relaxation. That said, I have quite a backlog of unread books on my Kindle…

I think I will continue these monthly posts and who knows, I might get round to posting some more in 2017. I have plenty of ideas, I just seem to run out of time to implement them.

November Books

This month started well, but after my second book I lost interest in reading again. I started a couple of books, but stopped each of them after a few pages. This loss of interest has coincided with an increase in insomnia and general anxiety symptoms. At least I have a barometer for how I'm feeling: as long as I'm happy to end my day with my nose in a book, then I'm doing ok. Let's see if I can pick things up again in December.

Ocean of Storms by Christopher Mari & Jeremy K Brown

Started 1 November
Finished 4 November

This was my choice of book from the November Kindle First program. I am generally wary of books which list two authors, but the story synopsis intrigued me.

The first part contained short, time-stamped sections, jumping between parts of the story. It did a good job of setting the scene, but felt a little disjointed - the sections could have been longer. However, it helped to convey the sense of urgency though.

Once the story settled in, it was more evenly paced, moving from space, back to earth & then it became a more traditional adventure story. By no means a classic, but fun.

Poisonfeather by Matthew Fitzsimmons

Started 4 November
Finished 13 November

I don't think I enjoyed this as much as the first book in the series, but it was still entertaining. It became more entertaining as it went along, but the sub-plot seemed to overtake the main plot, which left me feeling slightly unsatisfied. I think somewhere along the line I missed the point, somehow.

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