Petrona’s choice from the Internet (10 April)

One of the links in my “blogs and website” sidebar (see right) is called Miscellany from the Internet– which are the articles I “share” on Google reader. I thought I’d round these up for the past week in this post.

O’Reilly, the technical publisher, is to go fully print on demand. “With the enormous change we are experiencing in the industry, the traditional models of publishing no longer make financial sense. To be able to grow our publishing program while at the same time lowering our costs is a huge leap forward”, said Laura Baldwin, president, O’Reilly Media.

The cost to a small publisher of selling books on Amazon. Linen Press loses £2 for every title sold by the online bookseller – not exactly a sustainable business model.

An anonymous Waterstone’s bookseller writes about the company’s current woes. “But all booksellers can hope for is that our new owners will eventually invest and give us the tools to do what they actually genuinely love doing—selling books.”

The Scholarly Kitchen, always worth a read, has a good post about the disruption being caused by the “social web” (or Web 2.0), based on a “recent report from Wedbush Securities, a Silicon Valley firm that analyzes the valuations of private companies, updates what we already know about the social Web, and shows how powerful it has become. Almost across the board, it is the de facto Web now”.

Moving to books, there is a fascinating and informative interview of Quentin Bates by Barbara Fister at her Scandinavian Crime Fiction blog. Bates is the author of the debut novel Frozen Out (UK; Frozen Assets US), which I reviewed for Euro Crime earlier this year. He answers questions about why he set his novel in Iceland; why the protagonist is a woman; and how his work compares with that of Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, native Icelandic authors whose novels have been translated into English. Bates’s second novel in his series, Cold Comfort, will be published in January 2012.

Book reviews I’ve enjoyed: The Magician’s Accomplice by Michael Genelin, reviewed by Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction; Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson, reviewed by Ben Hunt at Material Witness and also by Peter at Nordic Bookblog.

One or two posts of interest (to me):
Smashwords: Readers, authors and librarians against DRM (includes logos for your website or blog).

Cuts, cuts, cuts at Nicci French blog.

Two articles here and here about the threats to the important programmes to open up all types of government data in the US and the UK.

Google crisis response, including “preparedness tools”.

From the web 10 – 15 March

I have been unexpectedly offline for a week and forgot to post this beforehand, so it is a bit late. Nevertheless, rather than leave it in draft I thought I’d press “publish”!

Some good book reviews this week: Keith B. Walters reviews Savage Run by C. J. Box, second in a very enjoyable series. As well as being a review of the book, Keith’s post examines why he was initially reluctant to read one of this series.

Fleur Fisher has written a very nice review of The Burning by Jane Casey. This is a good crime novel which suffers somewhat from inappropriate “packaging” (cover words and image). My review of the same book is here.

Other good reviews this week: Darkside by Belinda Bauer (review by Bernadette at Reactions to Reading); The Gallows Bird by Camilla Lackberg (review by Simon Clarke at Amazon); and Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder (review by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise).

Rob Kitchen reviews The Burning Girl by Mark Billingham. This is a popular series, enhanced by a recent TV adaptation of some of the novels. Rob’s review addresses the question of formula which, however readable and exciting each new title, can have an off-putting effect for those who prefer originality.

And among the new reviews at Euro Crime this week, Michelle Peckham reviews Colin Cotterill’s latest, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, which is not about a coroner in 1970s Laos!

Michael Walters, author of a series about crime in Mongolia, reveals a little about his new book, Trust No-One (by his alter ego Alex Walters) about an undercover police officer called Marie Donovan, to be published in September by Avon/Harper Collins.

There’s an online discussion at The Guardian about whether people trust online book reviews, Amazon’s in particular. My opinion of this question is that it is a non-question. Amazon reviews have various indications of quality – “real name”, “top xxx reviewer”, and “helpful” grades by other readers, to name but three. If one is trying to decide whether to read a book on Amazon, it does not take long to distinguish which reviews are helpful, literate, and by people who have read the book, and which are ignorant, by people’s aunties, and so on. It reminds me of those sterile debates about blog reviews “versus” reviews in newspapers and magazines.

Inspired by the book A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor and associated BBC project, you can now contribute to A History of the Future in 100 Objects. It’s an ambitious project, involving 100 blog posts, podcasts and more, so worth checking out.

I am not a fan of those lists of “books everyone should read”, and this composite of many such lists shows why. According to the various polls and lists that form the data for this cloud, the book that comes second (of all literature!) is The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If you are interested, you can see how many of the books you have read that make up this particular analysis.

There are lots of ways an e-reader can be used imaginatively, but this picture shows a good one – as a teleprompter on a video camera during a photoshoot. While on the subject, there’s a good but depressing post at Scholarly Kitchen about the poor quality of free e-books that have been digitised en masse, using Jane Austen as an example. I have read about 15 books in Kindle format, and every one of them has had many gaps between lines and even within a line on occasion, but not, so far as I can tell, any actual content missing. The formatting of the Kindle version is definitely not as good as that in a printed book, though of course in an e-book one can change the font size which can be an advantage.

A non-book-related post: I’m fascinated to learn that all the moaning travellers do about the tube has a basis in fact. Last year there was only one day in which all the London Underground lines ran a good service for the day. The information was unearthed via a freedom of information act enquiry, and comes courtesy of Going Underground blog.

From the Web 2-9 March

About books:
At Books and Writers, a review of a debut novel, White Heat, by M. J. McGrath. From the review, by Keith B. Walters, “An ice-cold crime chiller from debut novelist, M.J.McGrath, this little cracker of a book deals with murder and mystery among the frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle – on the island of Craig to be specific……White Heat does what great crime books do best, it tells a good story with a great and interesting central character and has a strong secondary character – the landscape of the place in which the story plays out.” UK Amazon’s listing for the book describes the author thus: “M. J. McGrath was born in Essex. As Melanie McGrath she is the author of critically acclaimed, bestselling non-fiction (Silvertown and The Long Exile) and won the John Llewelyn-Rhys/Mail on Sunday award for Best New British and Commonwealth Writer under 35, for her first book Motel Nirvana. She writes for the national press and is a regular broadcaster on radio.”

Joanna Trollope has a new book out, Daughters in Law. Here is a BBC Breakfast video of her talking about the book and more generally about relationships between mothers and daughters-in-law. Read more about the book, including an extract, at the author’s website. The author’s 30-year writing career, and her books, are described in this brief biography.

A BBC radio programme in which bestselling author Val McDermid talks about “the rise of Emerald noir” (that’s Irish crime fiction!) is available on iPlayer (no geographical restrictions) for a few more days. The Guardian has reviewed the programme, as has Declan Burke at Crime Always Pays blog, which specialises in promoting Irish crime fiction. A good range of Irish crime fiction authors, with links to reviews of their books, is at Euro Crime. I particularly recommend Gene Kerrigan and Brian McGilloway (see the preceding two links for my reviews of their books), as well as Winterland by Alan Glynn (his first crime novel).

Some good book reviews this week: The Night Season by Chelsea Cain is reviewed at Yet Another Crime Fiction blog by Keishon. This post is a great example of how to review a book that one found disappointing and/or mediocre. The superb reviewer Bernadette takes on Liza Marklund’s Prime Time at her Reactions to Reading blog. Perhaps this book is not one of Marklund’s best but even so it is heaps better than most crime novels in my view. As well as some interesting comments this review sparked some discussion of the quality of literacy and translation over at the Friend Feed crime and mystery group. Glenn Harper, another superb reviewer, has unearthed an example of South Pacific noir at his blog International Crime Fiction: Devil-Devil by Graeme Kent. And Philip posts a review of The Facility by Simon Lelic at his blog To Be Read… a kinder review than I was able to write for this disappointing second novel after the author’s searing debut, Rupture (or 1000 Cuts). Finally of this week’s selections, Terry Halligan reviews James Thomson’s promising first novel Snow Angels at Euro Crime. My review of the same book is here; and Barbara Fister posts an interview with the author on the eve of publication of his second novel in the series, Lucifer’s Tears.

And on the miscellaneous front, some articles that caught my interest this week:
Robert Peston (BBC) on why Barclays bank has just paid its shareholders a hopeless dividend after giving huge bonuses to its leaders.
John Gapper (ft.com) has lunch with Sean Parker, said to be the driving force behind several internet companies including Napster and Facebook (he is portrayed in the film The Social Network which is just out in DVD in the UK and which I must watch, together with another new DVD release, Winter’s Bone (my review from 2007), based on the excellent book by Daniel Woodrell).
Philip Ball (Nature News) on how the images from early microscopes are a lot clearer than many have believed.
Future Book (The Bookseller, UK) on how to get a job in publishing.
Joanna Scott (Nature Network San Francisco blog) on the film Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War I. This film has been shown at the Computer History Museum in California – I am not sure if it is going to be made generally available, but here is the link to the museum’s website for those who want to watch out for it.
Guardian Technology blog: first round-up of analysis of and reactions to the Apple iPad 2.
Marbury: A world map of China (via the Economist) which instead of provinces displays the country with the nearest GDP to that province. Fascinating.

A miscellaneous round-up, for a change

In the first couple of years of this blog, I regularly posted "round ups" of various bits and bobs I came across, usually articles on the Internet. About a year ago I more or less stopped doing this, mainly because I can post links to the relevant Friend Feed group if I come across articles of interest, and also because I share my Google Reader selections so anyone can follow those. In addition, of course there is always Twitter, where if you follow me you won't find out what I'm having for tea or think about the price of fish, but you will get links to various items that I find stimulating for one reason or another. (Typepad has a similar "following" service but it is pretty nascent.)

However, a couple of articles and sites came to my attention recently so I thought I'd share them here. First, I received an email from someone called Mike Norman about his website, ungrammatically called Thrillers4u. Despite the offputting title, this site is pretty ace, providing cover pictures and blurbs of recently published crime novels, "a showcase for exciting and engaging thriller fiction. Ignore the siren call of 'best seller' authors. Forget the publisher's hype. These are stories you may have overlooked or never even been aware of." Yes, it is true, Pile-of-book there are some good selections on there, and no sign of James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell and others with huge marketing budgets behind them (though there are some of the better top-sellers, eg Harlan Coben). There is a welcome accent on translated fiction, and fiction from smaller publishers. So this is a site to which I shall be returning, not least for their tagline, "you'll find none of the usual suspects here".

On the more technical side, is this the end for RSS? I was not too sad when I read that Bloglines will soon close – this is an RSS reader that I used a long time ago (before I started a blog, in fact). Although it changed my world at the time, it is a sad fact that Google Reader, when it came along, was even better (and "up" a lot more!), so I switched. Ask.com bought up Bloglines, somewhat behind the curve, but it seems it has not thrived. I was not too bothered about Bloglines until I learned from a colleague that Google Reader use has declined massively too – by 27 per cent last year –  it seems that RSS readers have been superceded by the echo chamber that is Twitter. How annoying, I much prefer an RSS reader than having to follow people or hashtags or lists on Twitter as there is too much noise that needs filtering out. Still, there may be life in the young dog yet, according to the source itself.

If you are one of those considering an e-reader, there's a useful comparison between the latest versions of the market leaders, Sony's reader touch and Amazon's Kindle 3, at The Inquirer. My Kindle 3 arrived 2 days ago, and so far I am very impressed. I set it up and (wirelessly) downloaded a book within minutes of opening the packaging. (A book that has been on my Amazon wishlist for 2 years or so, but has never come out in paperback — but is available in an affordable e-reader format.) I note that there is a "read aloud" option (where it reads the book to you rather than your eyes doing it); I also note that you can download audiobooks via the Audible website, and you can download your music files in mp3 format if you like to listen while you read, using the built-in stereo speakers and earplug jack. Thankfully, however, it isn't a phone.  I haven't actually started reading the book yet ;-), but the screen and print looks good, so the omens are promising. The choice of books on Amazon is brilliant; the selection of magazines, newspapers and blogs less so — but it is early days. As ever with Amazon, I'm very impressed with the thought they've put into the customer interfaces and interactions between the device and the website.

Finally, for this post, returning to "proper" books – Robert McCrum in the Guardian totally misses the point in his widely reported article Waterstone's has forgotten what bookselling is about. (Incidentally, along with the present tense in novels, a pet hate of mine is assertions in titles. A better one here would have been Has Waterstone's forgotten what bookselling is about?) In the Guardian piece, the author confounds two issues – that of Waterstone's  being unable to deal effectively or well with a journalist's enquiry; and whether or not they are a decent bookseller. Dealing with media enquiries is not easy for anyone, but even the most silly journalist should realise that a company's policy on who can or cannot speak to the media is not relevant at all to what it stocks in its shops. I despise these petty attacks not only because they are prejudiced, unaware of the economics of bookselling and illogical, but because for many of us, Waterstone's is the only bookshop anywhere near where we live. Would not having a bookshop at all, or having to rely on WHSmith, be better? No. And, so far as my own local branch of Waterstone's is concerned, it is quite a nice place to browse and even buy books. Not as good as the old days before the Internet and when the National Net Book Agreement ruled, maybe, but still, not bad.

Merging internet personae, and the importance of relevance

As more and more of the internet gets hooked up, it becomes harder and harder to hide ;-). I now regularly (instead of occasionally) feel apologetic to colleagues and people I know through work for receiving my crime-fiction-related output, and to those I know through our shared reading tastes to be receiving scientific updates and commentary. It is all down to this "behind the scenes joining up" that is going on everywhere. 

I have been experiencing with interest all the ways in which Typepad, the platform that hosts Petrona, has been interconnecting me with Facebook, Twitter, Friend Feed, OpenID, the bit.ly shortener, et al. Most of the time I ignore this as to me, blogging is just something I do because I like it, I am not interested in going out there looking for lots of readers, "optimizing", wanting money or ads, etc. If people want to read what I write here, that is great, and even better if they want to interact about it,  but I take the line that they can find me easily enough if we share interests, the internet being what it is. Nevertheless, because it was easy to do, I did succumb to one of these offers last week and created a Facebook page for this blog. I have no idea what that is or what it is supposed to do, particularly as posts I write here are automatically exported to my Facebook account anyway (which saves me actually having to go there), but I was delighted [?] to receive an email from Facebook yesterday morning:


Share good news
"Hi Maxine,

Here is this week's summary for the Facebook Page: PETRONA

0 fans this week (2 total fans)
0 Wall posts, comments and likes this week (0 last week)
0 visits to your page this week (0 visits last week)".

Oh well, either I am doing something very wrong or something very right. (One, or maybe two, of those ''fans'  is me, I am sure. I suppose I should go and double-check to make sure I have not enmeshed an innocent Facebooker, one of these days.)

To date, I am with John Tierney, who wrote in the New York Times fairly recently that in effect people set up their own online "niche networks" by sharing articles that they have read and liked with each other. Facebook et al. do it one (closed) way, but I prefer the open, Friend Feed-style "personal" approach (an example is our crime and mystery fiction readers' group, in which 133 (as of today) people chat about a bunch of self-selected RSS feeds, basically). 

I agree also with the NYT point that much of the news and comment spread and discussed in this way, as well as much better targeted and trustworthy than what you stumble across on Facebook, is positive or constructive. It's a very good, efficient way to filter out not just what doesn't interest you, but a lot of negative stupidity and rubbish (if you don't like stupidity or rubbish). And filtering is the key to getting the most out of all the wonders the internet has to offer you, the individual, whether you are in solitary or sharing mode. It is certainly much more important to me than how many visits to my blog's Facebook page I get (which is just as well!).

More about Crime Time

In response to an earlier post I wrote about Crime Scene, the geographical-based Crime Time series on translated (or yet to be translated) crime, Bob Cornwell writes: "Italy will be the next up in the Crime Scene series, complied by Gian Franco Orsi, once a director of Il Giallo Mondadori, the crime imprint that has been the backbone of crime and noir fiction in Italy since 1929 (apart from the early 1940s when Mussolini shut them down). Orsi is also a regular judge of the Giorgio Scerbanenco Prize, the top prize for Italian writers of crime, now awarded annually at the Noir in Festival, in the Italian alpine resort of Courmayeur. There is a short piece on this festival now on the Crime Time site as a kind of a trailer for the later article (which, hopefully, will be ready early in the New Year). I’ve been dropping in the occasional article on the Crime Time site on matters European just lately, for example on Vienna’s Kriminacht (Crime Night), the Austrian crime writer’s annual effort to publicise their increasing presence in the German-speaking market. I invite your readers to drop in from time to time." Another of of Bob's Crime Time pieces is about Ragnar Jonasson, "an Icelandic Agatha Christie?".

Index of interviews on Crime Time, including Arnaldur Indridason, Hilary MacAskill on Agatha Christie, Paul Cleave, Thomas H. Cook, Mehmet Murat Somer, N. J. (Natasha) Cooper, Colin Cotterill, Feye Kellerman, 'Michael Stanley' and many others. Crime Time also features many other articles, for example Ann Cleeves on what it is like seeing "Vera" (series character Vera Stanhope of Hidden Depths and other books) filmed.

Crime-fiction websites for readers

For those interested in international crime writing, Crime Scene is a Crime Time series edited by Bob Cornwell, which looks at "the very best of the international crime writing scene", country by country. Each country profile collects key facts, relevant figures, publishing trends, notable writers, crime fiction festivals and prizes. And each issue is compiled by writers, bibliographers, or other experts active on the Crime Scene in question. Each profile is available to download in PDF format and more will be added as the series develops. So far, countries profiled are France, The Netherlands and Switzerland, characterised by cover images of a mean street, a pair of legs wearing pink high heels, and a pile of sausages, respectively. These PDFs look like excellent resources, and just as soon as I can get my new(ish) computer to talk to the printer, I shall be downloading them to plan some reading. I'll also be checking the Crime Scene index page now and again to see which country will be added next.

Another crime-fiction website, CrimeSquad, among other riches is running an interview with Camilla Noli, who has written a highly controversial debut, The Mother's Tale, about the extraordinary pressures on a new mother and her desire to kill her own child. According to CrimeSquad, the book was deemed so controversial that it was delayed a year in publication in deference to public outrage at the Baby P case. (I can't find the interview with the author at the CrimeSquad site, but maybe others have better detective skills than me.)

Other crime-fiction resources include:

Mystery Readers Journal

Shots Ezine

Reviewing the Evidence, whose home page is currently featuring Sharon and Yvonne's top-ten reading lists for the year – with only one overlapping title.

Euro Crime  (my favourite! but they are all great sites.)

End of the line for science journalism?

Although I say it myself, there are some really stimulating, readable and fascinating articles in Nature this week (25 June issue) about science, journalism and communication with the lay public. Most of this post is taken from a Nature Network forum post: you're welcome to join in the discussion there.

Many researchers see science journalists as a public-relations service or as an ally in spreading the news about their work, asserts a Nature Editorial this week (459, 1033; 2009 – free to read online). The Editorial points out that there is a deeper value of journalism: to cast a fair but sceptical eye over everything in the public sphere — science included. This kind of scrutiny is easy for researchers to applaud when a news report questions dodgy statistics or dubious claims about uncertainties in evolution. It is not so easy when the story takes a critical look at animal-research practices, overblown claims about climate change or scientists’ conflicts of interest. But such examinations are to the benefit of society, which needs to see science scrutinized as well as regurgitated, and journalists are an essential part of that process.
This week’s Nature special issue, of which the Editorial is a part, shines a spotlight on the profession in changing, troubled times, and is published to mark the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists from 30 June to 2 July 2009 in London.
Scientists can do little to stem the current bloodletting, in which readers and advertisers are deserting publications that are downsizing or folding at fast pace. But, argues the Editorial, they can make worthwhile attempts to ensure that questioning and informed science journalism persists in whatever new forms might emerge from the carnage. If the future of the media truly is a dire landscape of top-100 lists, shouting heads and minimal attention span, then such efforts might at least defer the grim end. A good start would be to have a look at the advice for academics speaking to journalists provided by Brad Delong and Susan Rasky. And from the other side of the coin, the Washington Post‘s national environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin and its executive editor Marcus Brauchli discuss the future of science coverage in their newspaper in a Nature Books&Arts Q&A.
But do newspapers even matter? Blogs and microblogging services like Twitter are opening up conferences to those not actually there – how is this direct to web exposure affecting science journalism, and indeed scientists themselves and their options for peer-review and publication of their research? A range of angles on these questions are covered in a Nature News feature, including the story of a recent ’blogostorm’ about a Cold Spring Harbor meeting in which scientists seemed free to report what journalists could not.
In other articles in this week’s Nature, Toby Murcott in Toppling the priesthood argues that the process of science needs to be opened up to journalists; Boyce Rensberger (Too close for comfort) tracks the progression of scientific correspondent from cheerleader to watchdog; and Nadia El-Awady in The Arab boom suggests much room for improvement in local journalism in Arab countries. The bottom line? To what extent should scientists help — or care?
(All the Nature articles mentioned and linked here are part of the science journalism special in the issue of 25 June 2009. The three Essays and the Books&Arts article are free to read online for 2 weeks from the publication date.)

Individuality in the online age

General interest is out, niche is in – according to an article in The Atlantic on why the Economist is thriving while Time and Newsweek fade. "The Economist has reached its current level of influence and importance because it is, in every sense of the word, a true global digest for an age when the amount of undigested, undigestible information online continues to metastasize. And that’s a very good place to be in 2009." Michael Hirschorn describes how the Economist (by accident or design) more or less ignored the online revolution and the desperate urge to be "relevant" on the web, and has hence remained a valuable print product  – valuable that is to readers and to the owners, an enviable double-whammy for publications these days. The Economist is not innovative or intellectual, according to Hirschorn: "The “leaders,” or main articles, tend to “urge” politicians to solve complex problems, as if the key to, say, reconstituting the global banking system were but a simple act of cogitation away. A typical leader, from January, on the ongoing Gaza violence was an erudite, deeply historical write-around on Arab-Israeli violence that ended up arriving at the same conclusion everyone else arrived at long ago: Israel must give up land for peace. The science-and-technology pages tend toward Gladwell-lite popularizations of academic papers from British universities." However, the magazine cleverly distils the world into a compact survey every week – so you really can keep up with what is going on everywhere. (The other publication that is succeeding for similar reasons is The Week, an addictive digest of everything but without any orginal content.) "Knowing what and who you are, and conveying that idea to an audience, is the only way to break through to readers ADD’ed out on an infinitude of choices."

Along similar lines, here's a video of Christopher R.Weingarten talking about music criticism and the web at the "140 characters" conference in New York a few days ago. It's an entertaining rant, making the point that using Twitter (etc) to find information relevant to you is the problem, not a solution, because all you find is what you already know. He writes music reviews on Twitter, and says he makes an effort to make every one poetic and infomative. His line is: don't just say "I like/hate this" and make it about you, in common with everyone else on Twitter, but be a critic, let people know the "why and the how" – there is enough room in 140 characters to elaborate and have good writing, and that way you might actually discover something new rather than following the bland majority. Those of us who read and review books know this already (the principle, rather than the bit about the 140 characters!), but I think it might be news to a few.

Twittering the Apollo 11 Moon mission, 40 years on

Nature News twitters the Apollo 11 moon mission as it happened — 40 years on. Follow them at ApolloPlus40 ; location, the Moon.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic 
Via twitpic.

Two hours ago: #Apollo 11 passes 9-hr flight readiness review: 16 July launch date approved.

Robert left a comment to my "puzzled of Twitter" post the other day recommending a service called Thwirl, which I've duly downloaded. It seems to do for Twitter what the Friend Feed notifier does for Friend Feed and other similar pop-up notifiers do for their services (eg the dreaded email notifier which I have turned off). This pop-up route is apparently "the" way to use Twitter, not RSS (I have probably been told this before by other helpful people but only just got round to focusing on this pressing issue). Once Thwirl was installed (very easy, but requires Adobe AIR, as does the Friend Feed notifier) I immediately found out that the Apollo 11 programme had started (40 years on) so I can tell you about it – and I have also found, via Andreas (whose Twitter name is, I think, @Trabesinger – follow him if you want to know lots of things about physics and probably motor racing – he is very nice), 18 beautiful rainbows from around the world. I would certainly have missed seeing those without this Thwirly thing, so I'm grateful for that.

By the way, Thwirl also lets you include other services, including Friend Feed – I think I might find that level of integration just too confusing, though, because the only people who are allowed to appear on my FF notifier are the crime-fiction room members – so if I see a FF pop-up I know it is crime-fiction related (or OT!). And I imagine that everyone else I know on Friend Feed is also on Twitter so they will all be Thwirled, now.

While I've been writing this post, the Apollo 11 programme staff have been busy, popping up regularly with updates about their preparations for launch. It's so exciting, reminding me vividly of the tension, massive public interest, and sense of awe at the sheer scale of the ambition back in the "olden days". Then, I cut out pictures and articles from the Times's coverage (they ran various special supplements) and stuck them up on my bedroom wall. I had to visit a friend's house to watch the news on the day it happened because we didn't have a TV — waiting to see the film of the landing on that day was unbearable! How times have changed in terms of instant, constant, pictorial news reporting. (And my bedroom wall isn't the same either, believe it or not - but although this year it features a calendar of scenes of Yosemite national park, next year I just might go for planets and satellites.)