A New Photography Blog

All of you photographers out there might like to check out my friend Antony’s latest blogging venture. He is an accomplished serious amateur, and uses Nikon and Olympus cameras. There is a great variety of subjects, and B&W as well as colour. Travel, portraits, nature, exotic lands, and street stuff too.

You don’t even have to leave a comment, as he has not bothered to include that feature. It’s a WP site, so easy to follow too.

See what you think about his work.

https://antonyk.com/

Goodreads

Many of you will be familiar with this company. I know that some of you take the book-reading challenges, and write about them on your blogs. I checked it out, and found that I could leave book reviews, choose my favourite type of genres, and receive suggestions for books I might like to read.

That sounded pretty good, as it is also free of charge. Since I have been determined to read more, after buying the Amazon Kindle Fire, I concluded that joining Goodreads might be worthwhile. So I created an account, using the app on my Kindle Fire. I soon received confirmation, along with some suggested titles, and an invitation to participate in a challenge. (Which I declined)

Early days, but it looked like something I would come back to in the future, and might make some use of. Either way, I didn’t see how it could do any harm. Two days later, and I have started to receive emails from them, advising me of new followers to my profile, others wanting to read my reviews. I thought this was strange, as I haven’t posted any reviews, but I checked one out anyway, by clicking on the email sent by Goodreads.

I was surprised to discover that the woman in question claimed to be a ‘Chef’, and was looking for ‘good sex’. There was a link to her private contact page, which of course I didn’t click on. A few more arrived, all with nice profile pictures, and a variety of ‘occupations’. Each offered something different, from ‘Private contact’, to ‘Hook-ups’, or access to ‘More photos’. I know better than to click on any of their links, but I wonder if others might be fooled?

After all, it comes from a literary site with a solid reputation, (owned by Amazon) and on the surface may seem innocent, if you don’t read the ‘small print’. I am not suggesting Goodreads encourages or facilitates this. It would appear to be outsiders using the ‘follow’ option to facilitate contact with genuine members.

But sadly, it seems like the scammers have found yet another way through, making me ever more convinced that this stuff will never end.

Cookies, and Advertising

I have written previously about the connection between cookies, and receiving targeted advertising. It is only to be expected, in our modern online world.

But it is getting better, and more detailed. There is ample evidence to show just how immediate and powerful it is.

Over the course of the last twelve months, I have had occasion to research things online. Subjects I would not normally investigate. For my serial ‘Benny Goes Bust’, I looked at the phenomenon of ‘Granny Glamour’, something that has an overwhelming following on Internet search engines. Within minutes, I received invitations for sites that dealt with ‘Granny Dating’, ‘Granny Sex’, and ‘Willing Grannies’. The only real surprise, was just how many ‘Grannies’ were out there. In various forms of undress, and in many manifestations of ‘old-age sex’.

More recently, I have noticed that whatever I search for, that subject will appear in seconds, either via email, or in a ‘pop-up’ when I am surfing any site, no matter how unrelated.

Not too long ago, I bought a pair of casual shoes, from the website of the manufacturers, ‘Crocs’. Seconds later, I checked my email, only to find numerous advertisements for Croc shoes, even though I had just bought them. And they were identical to those I had bought too. When it comes to the mighty Amazon, it is even faster. Buy something from that dominant website, and within a heartbeat, you will get emails suggesting that you buy exactly the same item again.

This is all driven by ‘Algorithms’, I am aware of that. But what kind of silly process decides that you will buy exactly the same thing again, five minutes after you have just ordered it?

I recently researched ‘Omega Seamaster’ watches, for a fiction serial. Moments later, my email inbox was full of jeweller’s advertisements for that very watch. I had to laugh, as they cost almost £2,000, far beyond my reach. Those algorithms are completely skewed, but the companies paying to be included are oblivious to the actual genuine market for their products. It may not be a problem for me. I can just delete the emails. But I am left wondering about all the time and money wasted, picking up on search engines, and sending targeted emails.

So this is an open letter, to all those companies paying a small fortune for ‘targeted’ advertising.

Forget it. It is pointless, and it won’t work.

Do you use Google Plus?

I have had a Google+ account for a long time now, ever since I started blogging in fact. I use it to promote my blog posts to a different audience, and I also follow the Google+ accounts of some people who only use that platform. It has another very useful feature, as it allows me to ‘sign in’ and comment on other platforms, like ‘Blogger’. It can also be used on some commercial websites, saving me the chore of creating additional accounts, and new passwords. All in all, it is quite handy.

So naturally, Google is about to close it down.

They cite ‘lack of use’ as the reason for scrapping it, and we don’t get a say in that of course. As well as no longer being able to use the features it provides, it will also mean that every comment I have made using it will no longer exist, and any images I have added there will be deleted too, unless I trawl through and back them all up. When Google decides to ‘clean house’, it doesn’t mess about. So if you didn’t know about this imminent demise on the 2nd of April, here is the email confirmation I received this morning. Let’s hope that Gmail isn’t next for the chopping block.

You’ve received this email because you have a consumer (personal) Google+ account or you manage a Google+ page.

In December 2018, we announced our decision to shut down Google+ for consumers in April 2019 due to low usage and challenges involved in maintaining a successful product that meets consumers’ expectations. We want to thank you for being part of Google+ and provide next steps, including how to download your photos and other content.

On April 2nd, your Google+ account and any Google+ pages you created will be shut down and we will begin deleting content from consumer Google+ accounts. Photos and videos from Google+ in your Album Archive and your Google+ pages will also be deleted. You can download and save your content, just make sure to do so before April. Note that photos and videos backed up in Google Photos will not be deleted.

The process of deleting content from consumer Google+ accounts, Google+ Pages, and Album Archive will take a few months, and content may remain through this time. For example, users may still see parts of their Google+ account via activity log and some consumer Google+ content may remain visible to G Suite users until consumer Google+ is deleted.

As early as February 4th, you will no longer be able to create new Google+ profiles, pages, communities or events.

See the full FAQ for more details and updates leading up to the shutdown.

If you’re a Google+ Community owner or moderator, you may download and save your data for your Google+ Community. Starting early March 2019, additional data will be available for download, including author, body, and photos for every community post in a public community. Learn more

If you sign in to sites and apps using the Google+ Sign-in button, these buttons will stop working in the coming weeks but in some cases may be replaced by a Google Sign-in button. You’ll still be able to sign in with your Google Account wherever you see Google Sign-in buttons. Learn more

If you’ve used Google+ for comments on your own or other sites, this feature will be removed from Blogger by February 4th and other sites by March 7th. All your Google+ comments on all sites will be deleted starting April 2, 2019. Learn more

If you’re a G Suite customer, Google+ for your G Suite account should remain active. Contact your G Suite administrator for more details. You can also expect a new look and new features soon. Learn more

If you’re a developer using Google+ APIs or Google+ Sign-in, click here to see how this will impact you.

From all of us on the Google+ team, thank you for making Google+ such a special place. We are grateful for the talented group of artists, community builders, and thought leaders who made Google+ their home. It would not have been the same without your passion and dedication.

Book Review: Ground Zero

I saw this book recommended on another blog, and bought it from Amazon the same day.

Here is a short bio of the author.

Magus Tor is a nickname I got while playing Dragon Warriors (Pen and Paper RPG) with my friends. Ever since the name stuck with me. 🙂
Magus Tor is a dreamer who enjoys dreaming varied dreams of being a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer and a teacher but never in the wildest dream to become a writer. Since starting to write in 2007, Magus continues to explore creating worlds in his imaginative mild. Although he wishes to specialize in writing fantasy but his mind twisted his will and he ended up writing more Science Fiction than Fantasy. So far, his only fantasy novella is D-Nine: Protectors of the Crown.

This is my four-star review on Amazon.
This science-fiction prequel had me involved immediately. The experiences of the two young friends Aurelia and Marnee as they study to become Medical Personnel far in the future, and the rigid society that they live in. The idea of a future where people are tightly controlled is nothing new of course, but Magus Tor manages to make it feel current, and I could imagine it in my mind from the first page.
It is so short, I finished it quickly, and was left wanting more, eager to know the future of Aurelia as she departs for her distant posting, hoping to change so many things in her allotted career. I will definitely be buying the next book in this series.

That review sums it up, but I would add that the style is fluid, and enjoyably easy to read. Unlike many other science fiction novels, there is no baffling pseudo-science to deal with, and no strange creatures, or alien languages. Instead, it it set in a world we can all understand, at an unspecified time in the future. Young Aurelia has been chosen for medical training, in an over-populated society where living beyond the age of 55 is no longer allowed. Despite that sounding something like ‘Logan’s Run’, it feels contemporary, and readers of all ages can easily relate to the characters, as they are drawn into the plot.

One thing I will question is whether a book of only 51 pages is really a book. Although it clearly states it is a prequel, and only costs 99p, it reads more like a short story. I would have liked more, at least 100 pages, to get me completely immersed in the fate of Aurelia.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

Book Review: In Search Of A Revolution

Blogger Christoph Fischer is also a prolific writer, and many of his novels have been published. I have had two of his books waiting on my Kindle for a long time now, and finally got to read this one over the past few days. Here is a short bio of Christoph.


Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he now lives in a small town in West Wales. He and his partner have three Labradoodles to complete their family. Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and ‘The Black Eagle Inn’ in October 2013 – which completes his ‘Three Nations Trilogy’. “Time to Let Go”, his first contemporary work was published in May 2014, and “Conditions”, another contemporary novel, in October 2014. The sequel “Conditioned” was published in October 2015. His medical thriller “The Healer” was released in January 2015 and his second thriller “The Gamblers” in June 2015. He published two more historical novels “In Search of a Revolution” in March 2015 and “Ludwika” in December 2015.

And this is my five-star review, posted on Amazon UK.

This novel is set in a familiar time period, but in locations unfamiliar to many, and rarely featured in literature. Two friends in Denmark are inseparable, despite holding completely opposite political views. Close to the end of WW1, one of them decides to leave the country, and he volunteers to fight for the Reds, in the Finnish Civil War of 1918. Whilst there, he meets a nurse, and forms a relationship with her.
Meanwhile, his friend back in Denmark is espousing the views of the other side in politics, the burgeoning far-right. He is forced to leave Denmark, and flees to join his friend in Finland, with his arrival turning the relationship into an unusual love triangle.
This story has huge scope, reminiscent (to me at least) of novels like ‘Doctor Zhivago’, and the ‘Don’ books of Sholokhov. We follow the characters from 1918, right through to 1948, during the time of The Winter War between Finland and the USSR, into WW2, and collaboration with Nazi Germany. Historical detail is first-rate, and the changes in the main characters are well-described too. It’s all there for us. The social structure of Finland and Denmark, the turbulent politics of that thirty-year period, and the short but intense military actions experienced during three periods of conflict. And importantly, characters that I cared about and wanted to follow.
I am looking forward to reading many more of Fischer’s books.

As you can see from that review, I liked this book a lot. I also enjoyed the ‘traditional’ writing style, and construction of the novel. The book is divided into parts, and we follow certain characters in each time period, with chapters focusing on one or the other. No gimmicks, no style excesses, and what boils down to a good old-fashioned read. The historical setting may not be for everyone, but I assure you that this rarely-covered area of conflict is fascinating, and seeing political ideals tested to the breaking point as the whole world descends into all-out war gives the reader much to think about.

We also get a window into the lives of people of all classes at the time, from poorly paid labourers living in cramped conditions, to the dismissive wealthy changing sides and allegiances to secure their fortunes. But the book is also about close relationships. Those between parents and children, often stilted by the demands of a rigid society, and those of close male friends, disrupted by the arrival of a determined woman. Something for everyone, in just under 300 pages.

I read the Kindle edition of this book, and here are some links for you to see more about Christoph and his other books, and to buy the novel, if you should choose to do so.

http://www.christophfischerbooks.com/
https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/6590171.Christoph_Fischer

Bloggers and Gravatars: More advice

I often mention how lucky I am (and how much I appreciate) to have steady stream of new followers. Many of those are also new bloggers, and the majority of them make the same error, time and again. This is not the first time I have highlighted this, but for the benefit of new people, I will try again.

They fail to link their Gravatar profile to their WordPress site, or their own self-hosted site. So when I decide to click on their Gravatar, prior to heading over to their blog to thank them, or to see if I might want to follow them, I almost always find that the most important link is missing. That means I can’t easily click onto their site, and it also means I am unsure if they even have one. So that blogger doesn’t receive my customary thanks, and I am unable to read any posts on their site, or leave comments. Crucially for them, I am also unable to follow, should I wish to do so. I could try Googling the names of the websites shown, but in many cases, I am only seeing the ‘username’, so that won’t work.

If you are not sure what a Gravatar is, here is an explanation.
https://www.wpbeginner.com/beginners-guide/what-is-gravatar-and-why-you-should-start-using-it-right-away/

You will have one, though you may not know why, or what it is. If you didn’t choose to use a photo or graphic, then WordPress will generate a random pattern or image to accompany your name on comments. For example, I have a photo of a Sharpei pup, (shown below) as my own choice of Gravatar. I can change this by using any photo, anytime I want, with the size altered on my profile page. Many people use a portrait photo of themselves, or a logo they have designed. It can really say something about you or your blog, if you chose wisely. Once you have decided what to use, or are content to remain with the random image assigned, then the next step is to add a link to your blog or blogs. That will appear under your Gravatar profile, every time someone clicks on it.

This is how to add your site or sites.
https://en.gravatar.com/support/profile-links/

It can’t be that hard, as even I managed it! But nobody really tells you about it at the start, so we can all be forgiven for not knowing.

Those are my top tips for getting your site recognised from your Gravatar, every time you leave a comment on another blog, or decide to follow another blogger. If you choose not to bother, then you are reducing your own impact in the community of blogging, and will notice a significant lack of engagement.

Best wishes to you all, Pete.