Apple iPad

Apple’s much-anticipated tablet computer, the iPad, has arrived. It looks great, but there are two problems from my point of view. I’d love to be able to use all my Mac software on it, but it doesn’t run the full OS X, just the iPhone OS. No great surprise - the iPhone OS is designed for keyboardless portable devices and has been developed to run on low-power, high-performance ARM processors. Also, Apple don’t want to sell the iPad at the expense of their laptops.

The other problem is that the ebook format they will be supporting on the iBookstore is ePub. This makes sense for simple books and possibly newspapers but it’s no good for my books. ePub is a reflowable format based on XHTML. This just won’t work for most of my books. The Bibliomania or Book-Madness, for instance, has end-notes to the footnotes. Try doing that in ePub format.

Hollywood Beckons

Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
Like many a young person, I dreamed of being an actor in my youth. I loved the rush I felt on stage in school plays. However, I don’t think I was much good.

Now Hollywood Beckons
I was just preparing the supper last night when the call came in from Warner Brothers. An acting part? Sadly not. They want to use my edition of Bernard de Fontenelle’s Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds as set dressing for a forthcoming film. Still, it’s a big-name production. I do hope the book will be clearly visible - it could boost sales considerably. Better still, I have an associated book, An Apology for the Life of Major General Gunning, coming out later this year. The Major General in question, an absolute rotter who fought at Bunker Hill, was the father of the translator of Conversations, the lovely Elizabeth who was not all she seemed. Perhaps if I sell enough copies, I could take acting classes like my niece Caroline...


Plumbers often get a bad press in this country. They are often portrayed as over-expensive and unreliable. I’m pleased to say that my recent experiences contradict this image. There are two rules to getting a good plumber: (1) ask neighbours for recommendations and (2) get someone local. I have followed these rule assiduously and for several years I have been able to call upon the services of a plumber who is very obliging and reasonably priced.

On Sunday, we found that no water was coming from the kitchen hot water tap and by Monday morning the same was true of the bath hot tap, We also had a blocked sink. My friendly, local plumber came out on Monday morning and spent three hours here. Total cost £70.

I had to call him out for another problem on Wednesday morning. Total cost £0.

Book Design

Yesterday I mentioned a particularly badly designed book I’d seen over Christmas. I shan’t name it as we all produce things we’re not proud of, but it’s a book which seems to have sold very well and my father-in-law received two copies for Christmas.

The production is quite decent but the design leaves a lot to be desired. For a start, the page is almost square. This can work sometimes but is usually a mistake. Also, the spine and fore edge margins are the same. As even the most inexperienced designer knows, this makes the back margin look too wide, because you see the back margins of facing pages as one block of space. In this case, the fore edge margins are really rather mean. It is set, I think, in 10/14 pt Garamond Premier Pro (why, oh why doesn’t the designer take advantage of the oldstyle numerals?). The generous leading suggests that the designer (if we may use the term loosely) wasn’t desperate to cram the text into as small a space as possible, and yet the line is 33 picas wide. The result is a line of about 90 characters (about 15 words). It has been accepted for centuries that readability suffers when lines exceed about 60 characters and, with the waning attention spans and literacy of the texting generation, this should probably be adjusted downwards. One can forgive many things in book design, but poor readability is not one of them.

Has the ‘designer’ never picked up a book? I ask this not so much because of the 90-character lines or the mean fore edge margins, but because the imprint information - ISBN, copyright, printer etc. - is placed on a separate recto after the title page. Of course, the publisher can have this information wherever he or she wishes, but surely it would have been better in the normal position on the title verso? Apart from anything else, it would have allowed the dedication to appear on a recto rather than being relegated to the verso of the imprint page.

Book Design

When I started in book publishing, many, many years ago, books weren’t designed by graphic designers. They weren’t designed by people who called themselves book designers or typographers much either. I’m talking about the UK, here. In the US they have long employed specialist book designers, much to the detriment of their books. If your only job is to design books, there is a strong temptation to make your books stand out and this is generally a bad thing for at least two reasons: (1) the traditions of book design have grown up for good reasons to do with convenience and readability - to ignore them is to risk compromising these benefits; (2) good typography is a subtle and modest art, more blushing bride than Braggadocio. To this day, it is hard to find even a simple crime novel designed in the US which is not a monument to typographical ignorance and personal vanity. No unnecessary quirk or gimmick is left unattempted.

In the UK, in days of old, most books were designed by production managers and their minions, people who breathed lead, antimony and tin, bathed in printer’s ink and drank dragon’s blood. Not all were great designers, of course, but a surprising number of them were. They understood type, its history and subtleties. As book design was freed from the physical restraints of metal type, a new breed of book designers grew up. Often they came from a graphic design background and understood nothing about type and they embraced the very worst of the new photosetting faces - Souvenir and ITC Garamond to name but two.

This Christmas I have come across three books which suggest that things are getting even worse. I shall need more time to discuss these, or at least the worst of them, so, until another day...


The internet is awash with scams. Every batch of emails brings new spam, phishing scams, etc. I don’t very often read them these days because my external spam filters exclude most of them and my internal spam filters catch most of the rest.

Scam 1:

I only noticed one purporting to come from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the British equivalent of the US’s Internal Revenue Service, because (although it went straight into my spam folder) it happened to flash up on the screen - my spam filter uses Growl notification. It was a typically unsophisticated effort, although I won’t go into all the give-aways as I don’t want to help them improve their scam! The text of the message said: ‘You have 1 new ALERT message. Please login to your Online Account and go to Messages section in order to read the message. To Login, please click the link below: Online Account Login’. I was pretty sure it was a scam but an examination of the link showed that it took you to I have reported this to HMRC and the ISP which hosts the dodgy site.

Scam 2:

This one wasn’t picked up by my spam filters, but it will be next time! It purported to be from Drago Store Pty in Australia. Again, I won’t discuss the many clues which indicated that it was fraudulent, although I will say that I treat all emails from gmail addresses as suspect. As far as I can see, Google don’t have any proper abuse-reporting procedure. Gmail is certainly every fraudster’s favourite email service. The message read: ‘Greetings from Drago Store Pty. My name is Douglas Patti the CEO of the company. i will like to place order on some products in your company,but i would like to know if you ship to Australia and also do you accept Visa or Master card as method of payment? Please do not forget to include your web page in your replying back to my message and get back to me as fast as possible so that i can let you know the product i would like to order. Please email me back with the current price list on the products if you website is not updated. Thank you.... Yours Sincerely, Douglas Patti.’

I googled one or two items in the message and immediately found this site reporting a scam related to a similar email.