January 2009

If you want to do something about this, please write to your MEP and support the Open Rights Group so that they can continue to campaign on your behalf.

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Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal today. It was kinda sweet watching him go through the winning process on Twitter:

neilhimself: woken up by assistant at 5.30 in the morning. Not quite sure why. All rather bleary, to do with someone trying to call. argh. — 13:47:53

neilhimself: oh. forget about it. — 13:50:32

neilhimself: About to drink second cup of tea without Marmalade this morning. Also, I just won the Newbury Medal for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. — 15:45:44

neilhimself: Newbery, not Newbury. Also FUCK!!!! I won the FUCKING NEWBERY THIS IS SO FUCKING AWESOME. I thank you. — 15:46:42

I thought I’d have a look and see if there was anything fun on Google News about it, and I stumbled across an article by the Associated Press, (I’ve linked to it even though I’m sure it will at some point be corrected), which appeared to be about an entirely different book.

The Associated Press: The horror! Neil Gaiman's spooky book wins Newbery
I do wonder what an interesting book that would be, though: a story about a family so hard, so callous that they indoctrinate their children by making them participate in the slaughter of an assassin. No wonder Bod ran away to the graveyard. Being brought up by a vampire would be a life of sweet innocence compared to the horror of parent-child bonding over a still-warm corpse.

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Coraline trailer

by Suw on January 24, 2009

I’m really looking forward to seeing Coraline, one of Neil’s books that’s been adapted for the silver screen by Henry Selick. (No, not Magnum PI. That was Tom Selleck.) It’s out in the US on 6th Feb, you lucky people, but doesn’t get to the UK until May. Meanies. This trailer is wonderful though.

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Bookcamp: Designing the socialised book

by Suw on January 17, 2009

Interested in paper books, and how to turn the into social objects. They are very social things all ready – people pass them on, each one is the same, they last a long time. But what would you do if you designed a book to be a social object.

Designing a book to read includes format, sturdiness, how easy it is to pass on, reuse of pages. One problem with passing books on is that some people underline things. Would have liked to undo that. Kind of binding – how well does it last.

Designing books for groups is interesting. How do you design books you can point at, lowest level is an ISBN, standard reference. Pages don’t have permalinks, but books do. Harder then to delve further inside, makes annotation hard. Would like to link to a page an permalink it. Want to share pages with people who don’t have the book, have a universal reference to a page that shows it but without the rest of the book (say).

Thinking of books as an instance. In object oriented programming, objects have classes. So where do you draw the line between a book and my book, or my book and the book (the canonical book).

What about a connected book, e.g. tracking reading progress, Bkkpr, (“book keeper”) which keeps track of what page you’re on, and compares it to other people.

Books designed to be torn apart have perforations, so what are the digital perforation?

History? Who bought it and when? Who bought it for me and when? When did the front cover fall off? How can you embed that history in? What can RFID do? Could have history of all owners, readers could embed their history into the book, so that poeple can see what happened to the book, what are the stories of the book?

BookCrossing is a bit like that, but much more lo-fi. Dating site for the books themselves, book asa travelling artefact that exists between owners. If you wanted to design a book that would be easy to transmit around, or easy to site, or easy to disassemble and give to people.

What happens if you look the book up? The book owner? Annotations?

Books are more social now than music, can’t “rip” them like you can with CDs, can only give away and buy a new copy.

Golden Notebook. Collective reading, and collective annotation. Page numbers different in British, American, online, but has been paginated to understand all of them. Oneline is only one edition, have to take into account the previous editions, previous introductions.

All that a book can do is capture knowledge or ideas at one time. How does a book keep on living, how do books update with new information. Could you create a bottomless digital post-it note.

Interesting to contextualise a book within a publisher’s entire list, or library presence.

Tech is an easy way to do it on the site, don’t want to focus on it solely, as have to connect digital to the physical. Book is more portable and distributable so offering similar level of interactivity to digital.

Tear-off pages with unique URLs that allow you to pass it on to another person.

David Grey design book, you can download it in beta, and can see what he’s doing and contribute.

Like the idea of slower things. Dawdler instead of Twitter.

Do you want something to be updated or do you want it to be marked in time. People will cross things out in a book if it’s out of date or inaccurate. People should be empowered to make these change and feed them back.

But equally, don’t want someone else’s marginalia. Has a dogear system, so turned corners at the top are for notes, at the bottom of the page are for quotes.

Book as part of an ecosystem of information. Place the book in a context. Even as simple as URLs for. That’s relatively easy to do – create a wiki and let people add information.

Need chapter points and scene points to help split the book into bits, which would hang on to a canonical version. But a book doesn’t have page numbers until it’s printed.

Translations, books exist in different languages.

Same in films or music. When does a song track become a new song?

Books are republished so often but with few changes.

Different reason to socialise a club. Book clubs, or family, books move between members of small groups. Also stuff that is of broader interest.

Sharing “my” book to create “our” book. The canonical version is kinda missing from the industry – there is no “the” book. Or is this systamatising a bit unfriendly?

People don’t always read as much as us book geek. Would want to build up an ecosystem around the one book that one person read that year.

Biographies, for example, some people like biographies and will read every biography about one person and then start comparing and contrasting. How do you facilitate that sort of behaviour.

How do you introduce books to people, e.g. if someone watches a programme about the Tudors and then wants to find out how much of that is true. Would be nice to be able to take all the research that went into that programme and make it available – that research has a purpose beyond the simple making of the show.

Social web and sociable web are different things. Placing a book as a high level object…

The missing link bewtween being told about a book, and actually remembering it and buying (or being given) it, and then passing it on to someone else.

Book groups, be nice to get the group’s annotations appended to the book. Process of reading isn’t just about reading, but about discussing and learning and understanding. Be nice to have that as an appendix you could attach to the back. A book that you could attach things to, expandable book that’s designed to have stuff added to it.

Best books to study are the ones with the biggest margins and biggest spaces to write in. Different book designs work differently, editions designed to be drawn on, or written on, rather than just read.

Not just sharing the book, sharing the reading experience. What’s a book that’s designed to be shared, that encourages discussion, and then gives you the way to have that discussion.

To see contentious issues marked in the book, a socialised filter you can switch on.

Best things to do with a book is to lend them.

People like the serendipity. Has to be casual, don’t want to make it difficult. Non-invasive, things that won’t stop people buying it.

Amazon have made it easier to buy, to wish for, to give, to refer to books. Bring value to the physical book.

Competing things to be the MusicBrainz for books.

Libraries. People’s experience of books is sometimes transitory, so it’s be nice to be able to leave notes without defacing the book.

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Harper Collins – Kate Hyde, Mark Johnson.

Authonomy, book with rating new books. Getting agents on board. Going to be using Blurb to move manuscripts into PoD. Big learning curve. Tension about being a large company wanting to find the best books, with the needs of the community. People quesitoning why they’re doing it and why the outcome. What are they going to do with the community, but they see it as much more open ended.

Another project, Book Army, running in tandem, similar to LibraryThing etc. In beta, a database, 6m books/authors in print in the UK and US. Community tools to interact with the books, contact authors, open chat rooms and debates, recommendation systems, based on reviews of other users. if you want to catalogue your library you can do that and get better recommendations, be plugged into the stuff that’s interesting to you.

Already crowded marketplace, but Book Army related to major publisher, also talking to other publishers about how they can pull in their media and info and do it as an open thing. Book Army being run as separate limited company from HC.

Want to know how can they be used in a wider setting, what would you want from it, as it develops.

How do you create unique identifier (URL?) for each book when you don’t control the industry. Will have listings everywhere, but they will treat their Book Army listing as the key one that they fill with consumer content.

Would like to encourage other publishers and authors to contribute, and to encourage authors without a website to fill in their profile.

What tools do they offer to existing communities? Very little.

If you want to avoid solving a problem that no one has, look at other communities and look at what they’ve got and provide what they lack. Every publisher should have a directory of cover images in jpeg and png and provide a standard cover image that people could use in reviews, etc. Publishers are really bad at this, especially DC Comics who sell high-quality graphic novels but never provide cover art, even to Amazon.

In some fan sites, authors are not necessary and may even not be welcome. One author got thrown out of a community about her because they didn’t want to talk to her, but talk about her.

Fan activity is separated by time, in that discussions are left behind in time, but when found by someone who’s new to it, what happens?

Although long discussions threads can be oppressive.

How do you take it to people? Can’t expect everyone to come to the site, so roadmap is to hit the social networks with a proposal that’s engaging to them. Digital Bookshelf, WeRead, looking at what they are doing and how can add to those conversations.

The catalogue listings are all taken from Neilsen, and it’s been hardwork because the original data has errors, duplicate errors and superfluous data. No code to link author to book in original data. Have had to filter all that data out and are increaseingly getting there. Beta has 4000 people on there now, and their activity is cleaning up the data because they know whose book is whose. When you get identifying codes it’ll be much easier for all the sites that do with this.

What about if authors get precious and don’t want their reviews there.

Critical comments about talent is a very difficult area to mediate.

Publicists also worried about this. What to do if talent are worried about bad publicity. Issue about community management. Also, who’s this for – authors or readers?

Revenue through book sales, advertising, commercial relationships, etc. Want small publishers upwards and authors to be able to put their information up.

Issue with social networks is that you sign up and go on, and none of your friends are there, but you’re not getting the value of the network. How are you going to get my friends on there, and how is it valuable if they’re not.

Mapping social graph – want to be able to get friends on e.g. Facebook Friend Connect or copy over info from other similar sites.

In theory, agents might be interested in such a network, but right now are not starved for submissions. One agent is getting about 5000 a year, maybe accept 2 of those, not because they don’t want more, but because there are only two that are any good. Do all slush pile processing in house.

BBC has same thing, sorting through lots and lots of submissions to find the one or two that will be used.

What’s the value in the things in between?

Traditionally publishers were only interested in the books that would sell widely, but now there’s a bit more interest in books that sell a bit less but is there a business model there?

Notion of disposable books and permanent magazines. What is our concept of what to keep or throw away?

Is an expectation in Authonomy that HC are the ultimate arbiters of taste, although that’s not what HC envisioned. Writers are going so far with their project but then end up waiting for something to happen. [Waiting for validation from HC?]

Have to help people a lot with the upload of manuscripts, so older people, typical aspiring author, need help. Not a huge crossover with Facebook.

Do aspiring authors spend a lot of time hanging round and commenting? Yes, and a lot of people just reading. Average visit to Authonomy is over 20 minutes.

Authonomy helps writers, but doesn’t answer the agents’ problems.

Have removed a lot of the barriers, such as the “review before upload” method that a lot of sites use, and find a lot of activity afterwards, that the users engage a lot.

How many people are writing because it’s an agreeable pastime, rather than because they really want or expect to be successful. People often find themselves happy in their own niche and community, they are not always aspiring to fame or fortune.

Why did HC start Authonomy? Felt they needed to get a more direct conversation about books and with book fans. Can do the harder thing, which is deal with the fans, or the slightly easier thing of dealing with the upcoming authors who are banging on their door every day.
Is there a way to create satisfying communities around fan fic. But fan fic are active communities because they’re born on the internet. A recent attempt to build a site for fan fic, but the communities already are sorting themselves out. Fan communities know which authors will be ok with it, and which will not. Is there a need there?

Authors won’t always feel comfortable engaging with people online. A bit like some journalists like audience plural, but loathe audience singular.

Have a moderation company they’ve hired, although it’s not a huge amount of work.

Wiki novel at Penguin, but a surprising little vandalism, and there was no barrier to entry there. Vandalism is probably less of an issue than people imagine.

There are catalysing subjects that attract vandalism.

Have to consider censorship laws, mainly governed by telecommunications law about the ability to speak freely, but there are anti-censorship laws. Bet they haven’t been tested on wikis.

In a community, who exercises power and control?

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Bookcamp: When users create their own stuff

by Suw on January 17, 2009

I’m here at Bookcamp today, a day of talking about publishing, books, paper and all sorts of related things. Notes are a bit all over the place, but hopefully they’ll be interesting.

Comic Life, kit who put together a comic for show and tell at school, ended up selling copies to his friends.

What if that came out of a game, where your journey through the game is different to someone else’s? Recording the experience and posting up online. What if it went into a different format? What about negotiating with kids to balance gaming and reading.

RPGs, Sherlock Holmes, where you chatted to people and some people wouldn’t talk to you unless you beat them at darts. Mini-games, dialogues. As you went along it was writing Dr Watson’s notebook, who you’d met, who you’d talked to, what you’d picked up. You in it where you’re controlling the story, but you in it when you’re in the story, named, or your photo etc. You then embellish it with your own details.

Big Planet is a bit like that. Requires quite a bit of digital literacy to make someone make the effort.

Simple way to do it would be a Facebook app, a “physical backup” of your year on Facebook.

Some chap who didn’t see the point of writing a blog when you could write a programme that just takes the feeds of stuff that you’ve done online and turns that into a blog. But you don’t want to included everything, so if you didn’t discriminate then you’d end up with the very boring bits included, three days trying to figure out how to open the door.

Watching Grand Prix and simulating the race on the computer. Computer game simulated TV coverage, but you need to disassociate between what the game thinks might be significant, and what is actually happening because you don’t want to see *only* crashes. You don’t want to get to the point instantly, you want some suspense.

Writing games is just writing a cheat manual, so it records what you’re doing rather than the interesting bits, the story, the reasoning.

Novelisations of story worlds in games help the gamer become better. Gamers progressing from just playing to reading the novelisation. Engagement – start with the idea that you’re trying to be a better player, but leads you to a different place as you get fully immersed.

Not just about a game, but also the stuff around it. Interactive fiction, people sitting round making up stories. Taking the idea of role playing games and turn it into group story-telling. Wrote notes throughout the session, but notes didn’t resemble the told story. Moving that to computer games, depends on the game. Something like WoW, there’s a huge backstory, and people in the game it’s all a story. Users add to the story.

UGC literature to come out of that? Collaboration online, it’s not completely personalised, but the group.

Any such book would have to have a human editor, because otherwise it would be a rambling mess.

Generating the content is more interesting than reading it afterwards.

Putting people’s name into a standard book. Kids names in the book.

Location data in the book too, so that it becomes based in your local neighbourhood.

Locative books that put you into a game or book whilst you’re out and about, via your mobile phone. Could do that with audio book so that it would key to GPS and get sections of the story related to your location and journey.

Are there two audiences? Stuff that is of interest to me, or my family, but which might not be of interest to the rest of the world. And stuff that’s of interest to the rest of the world.

Collaborative story-telling cards with text and images on from a blog. map on the back, to help you explore it, and each card has s small story on the other side. Everyone who contributed bought a pack of cards.

A Message to Obama – collaborative book making through Flickr.

Wedding book – story of a wedding, pulling together the photos, comments from guest book, etc. Creating the project makes it important, having it as an artefact is important.

In other contexts, there’s more collaboration, flatter social structure, it’s easier to pull people in.

Taking in content from Flickr, Twitter, blog, need a human editor, but can modularise it – you know that Twitters are less than 140 characters, pictures comes in standard orientations but can need cropping, blogs are more freeform. So would need to be easy to make something attractive.

Constraints as guidance rather than control. Much of that is about language, how ou communicate. But also about physical limits, such as you can only fit so much text on a card.

Whereas some sites that at totally freeform end up very ugly.

Wordle – lots of choice but hard to make an ugly one.

Design of books, not a popular hobby. Average person can recognise a nice looking book but don’t understand book design. Materials choice, layout, typography.

PoD is getting much better in terms of quality, better colour, better bindings. Technology is allowing higher quality.

Tactile qualities are important, they make a difference.

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Writing as sculpture

by Suw on January 15, 2009

I’ve nearly finished the first draft of The Revenge of the Books of Hay, a couple of months later than I had intended to, but so it goes. I’m currently writing one of the very last scenes, a big showdown between two of the key characters, and whilst I was writing the other night I found myself really eager to speed through the scenes and get to the end. It wasn’t just a “race to the finish”, because I know that once I put the final full stop at the end of the final sentence in my notebook, I need to type it all up and do some major surgery to make it work as a story. It’s not like it’s actually going to be finished when I stop writing longhand.

If you read the first draft as it is, you’d be deeply disappointed. I didn’t realise that one sub-plot would be important until I was nearly at the end of the story, so suddenly it jumps back 500 years and hurtles through that whole thread in one hit. Then there’s another sub-plot that I have vaguely implied but which needs to be actually written out properly. This story isn’t anywhere near finished, yet I’m eager to whip through the last few pages because the fun bit is still to come – all the reworking and polishing and crafting that will (hopefully) turn it from a mush of words to something more satisfying.

I’ve had a number of conversations with Vince lately about the rewrites to his book, An Alternative History of Balesley Green. Vince writes very differently to me – he thinks quite carefully about what he’s about to write. He plots things out, thinks about where chapters should end and what the cliffhanger’s going to be. I, on the other hand, just go “bleeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhh” and hope that what comes out makes some sort of sense, and maybe even shows evidence of grammar, punctuation and spelling. But I can’t guarantee it. Often I’ll find myself writing a sentence and thinking “This is a shit sentence, but sod it, carry on.”

Vince’s rewrite seems to be much more about fixing what’s there, reworking chunks, refining, polishing. My way of rewriting is to, well, rewrite everything, restructure it, pull it about until it’s the shape I want it to be. I might be overstating Vince’s methodology, but he strikes me as being like a sculptor working in marble. His first draft is akin to the first pass at a statue – you can see the figure emerging from the stone and, whilst it still needs a lot of work, everything’s pretty much where it is supposed to be.

I work more like a sculptor of clay. My first draft is the armature onto which the clay is applied, but half way through sculpting what I thought was a noble stallion, I discover that it’s actually a chicken and so the clay comes off and the armature is reworked until it’s chicken-shaped before I start re-applying the clay again. This may happen more than once before I find a shape I’m happy with.

Importantly, I realised that I enjoy the rewriting more than the writing. I love taking all the clay off, mushing the armature around, and then starting again. That’s why I’m eager to whip through the final scenes – because I just can’t wait to start mucking it about and squishing it all into shape.

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Ada Lovelace Day needs you

by Suw on January 12, 2009

We are just 95 signatories off reaching our target of 1000 people, all promising to blog about a woman they admire on 24 March 2009. I had originally been a bit worried that we wouldn’t see 13 people per day sign up, but the reaction to the pledge has been just awe inspiring. Now my aim is to get 1000 people within the first seven days – which means that we have to reach our target by 10pm tonight, GMT.

If you haven’t signed the pledge, please do. If you haven’t blogged about it or Twittered about it yet, please do. We have less than twelve hours to hit the target!

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Join me on Ada Lovelace Day

by Suw on January 6, 2009

I’ve mainly stayed away from the discussion of gender issues in technology. I didn’t think that I had any real expertise to share. But over the last six months, after many conversations, it has become clear that many of my female friends in tech really do feel disempowered. They feel invisible, lacking in confidence, and unsure how to compete for attention with the men around them.

Then I see the stupid puerile misogynistic manner with which some of the more powerful voices in the tech community – some of them repeat offenders – treat women, and it makes me very cross indeed. The objectification of women is bad enough when it’s done by the media, but when it’s done by a conference organiser or tech commentator or famous tech publication, what message does it send? Nothing but “You will never be taken seriously, but we might take notice of you if you’re hot.”

But what to do? Well, let’s pull back from the anger a little, and start to look instead at why it might be that women feel less secure in their abilities than most men, and what might help change that. Undoubtedly it’s a complex issue, but recent research may shed some light: Psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones.

Well, that’s a relatively simple problem to begin to address. If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.

Thus was born Ada Lovelace Day, and this pledge:

“I will publish a blog post on Tuesday 24th March about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people will do the same.”

— Suw Charman-Anderson (contact)

Deadline to sign up by: 24th March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

It doesn’t matter how new or old your blog is, what gender you are, what language you blog in, or what you normally blog about – everyone is invited to take part. All you need to do is sign up to this pledge and then publish your blog post any time on Tuesday 24th March 2009. If you’re going to be away that day, feel free to write your post in advance and set your blogging system to publish it that day.

You’ll notice that I’ve asked for 1,000 people to sign the pledge, which is an ambitious number. Indeed, PledgeBank makes a pretty strong point during the pledge creation process of asking people to limit their requests to 20 people, but I am sure that over the next 77 days we’ll be able to find another 989 people to join us!

What can you do?
Obviously, and most importantly, please sign the pledge. If you already have a blog, then it will be easy for you to take part. If you don’t have a blog, this might be a great reason to start one! It’ll take you about five minutes to get yourself set up on WordPress and then you’ll be up and running!

Please also consider putting a pledge badge on your blog now or writing a short post about the project to help spread the word. You can also use the “Share This” link on the pledge itself to send the pledge to your favourite social bookmarking or news site, or to email it to a friend. The more people who send this link to Delicious or Digg and the like, the more likely we are to hit our target!

Also, if you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, Identi.ca or any other microconversation tool, please ping a message to all your friends about Ada Lovelace Day, and don’t forget the link! If you’re on LinkedIn, you could also add it as your temporary status for a while.

It is going to be a challenge to hit 1,000 people – we’ll need an average of 13 people signing each day – but if we all tell our friends about it, I think we can do it!

Keep up with Ada Lovelace Day news
I’ve got a Twitter account, mailing list and blog set up, so feel free to follow, subscribe and add to your RSS reader, as you wish!

What will happen next?
If Ada Lovelace Day is a success I’d like to make it an annual event. And, once the economy is in a better position, I’d like to put together a one day conference called Finding Ada. We would cover presentation skills and would introduce women to tech conference organisers, with the aim of getting more women up on stage at tech conferences. At the moment, I’m short of money to get Finding Ada moving, so if you’d like to be a sponsor please get in touch and I’ll tell you more about it.

Finally, who was Ada?
Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built.

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Gorgeousness on Folksy

by Suw on January 4, 2009

I joined up with craft marketplace Folksy in November, in the hope that I could sell some of the necklaces that I made last year. I’m really enjoying myself, because although I’ve only sold one piece so far, the community is so much fun that it rather makes up for the slow sales. So far I have just over a dozen necklaces listed, and I took a whole raft of photos this morning so will be able to list more over the coming week.

But what’s impressed me about Folksy is just how gorgeous many of the other sellers’ work is. I thought I’d present a selection of my current favourites to give you a flavour of what’s available.

The beautiful silver, red agate and pearl crocheted bracelet is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve seen. Made by Ali Bali Jewellery, who does some wonderful work, I’ve been coveting it since I first saw it.

Folksy :: Buy

I love the rich green of this lampwork heart necklace by Leeski. For those of you not familiar with lampwork, it’s a technique using a gas torch (originally an oil lamp) to melt and work glass rods and tubes.

Folksy :: Buy

Nicole Hill has made this stunning star ruby and silver necklace, which would be just an amazing piece of jewellery to own. Like Ali Bali, Nicole’s shop is one I could quite happily empty, were money no object.

Folksy :: Buy

Finally, and again proving that you can do things with silver wire that ought to be impossible, is this wonderful knitted necklace by Rhea Clements.

Folksy :: Buy

Of course, there’s a lot more to Folksy than jewellery! There’s lots of knitting, crochet, felt work, art and photography, and lots more. I’ve bought a couple of things – a notebook and a photo print, both of which came really promptly and were just lovely. I’ve spent a lot of time looking through the site, watching what new members put up for sale, and wishing that I had more money. If you’ve a little Christmas cash still to spend, you could do no better than visiting Folsky and supporting British crafters.

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A little bit, every day

January 1, 2009

Last year, psychologists discovered that humans aren’t really all that great at “willpower”: The brain has a limited capacity for self-regulation, so exerting willpower in one area often leads to backsliding in others. Another key discovery last year was made by Kevin, who found that if you overwhelm your body clock with exhaustion at the […]

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