Friday 24 September 2021

The Hopping Ghost


After being imprisoned for decades, the vampire Hepzibah finds herself suddenly free in 1922.

The beast inside her wants to ravage, rob and roam. And dirty dangerous Shanghai is the perfect hunting ground for a killer of men.

But Hepzibah's human half wants to be a person again.

Can she minimise the killing and make a life, or will the gang who once owned her drag their pet monster back to its filthy cage?

The Hopping Ghost delivers murder, martial arts, and swashbuckling adventure with a truly original vampire!

The paperback is now available from Amazon.

And you can get the digital version from lots of places.

I'd appreciate it if you'd leave a review at one of these platforms. It really helps.

You can also review it at Goodreads.

I did hold a book launch in Hobart. You can even see the pretty speech I made, about why I chose this place and time for my vampire's adventures.

{ Read More }

Tuesday 21 September 2021

William Fairbairn, toughest man in the Empire

I first came across the name of William Fairbairn on a knife.

In my book Chick Magnet, the main character Mick runs a stall at Paddy's Market, where he sells electronic gadgets and knives.

For the sake of the story, he needed an expensive knife to sharpen, so I went looking for something cool to put in his hands. And the coolest knife in the world is the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, the classic British commando weapon of World War 2.

Most military knives are practical things, good for opening cans and cutting your way out of a tangled parachute. But the Fairbairn-Sykes knife is purely for quiet killing. It has a lean mean shape that lets you know it means business.

I started reading about Captain William Fairbairn who helped to create it, and I was fascinated.

William Fairbairn was a Royal Marine who ended up policing that little slice of Shanghai co-owned by England and America.

In the early 1900s, Shanghai was the most dangerous city on the world. Opium flowed freely, kidnapping and slavery were common, gangs fought for supremacy.

When Fairbairn was just starting out as a police officer, one of those gangs severely beat him and left him for dead. After recovering, he was determined to be better prepared next time, and so began his search for useful fighting skills.

Fairbairn learned Japanese Jiujitsu and Chinese Temple Boxing, integrating their most useful techniques into the training for new police officers. Eventually he synthesized a coherent combat system he called Defendu.

By the end of his career, it’s estimated that he had been in thousands of fights. His hands and forearms bore the scars of his victories.

Part of his success was a very aggressive and ungentlemanly attitude - hit them first, hit them hard, hit them where it will hurt the most.

This lethal practicality extended to his teaching on the gun range. Previous trainers taught their students to stand and aim as they would at target practice, while Fairbairn had them draw and shoot from the hip. Most gunfights happened inside a room, so you didn’t need to take careful aim; you pointed the gun like pointing a finger and got off the first two shots as quickly as possible.

That’s right, two shots - the double-tap! In a time when ammunition wasn’t always reliable, shoot the buggers twice and be sure.

The shooting system he devised with his colleague Eric Sykes was very successful in the nastiest neighbourhood in Asia. It was soon adopted in other jurisdictions around the world.

Fairbairn also taught knife fighting, as his officers were always armed with a blade.

And it’s fair to say he invented the precursor to the modern SWAT team. The Special Reserve Unit of the Shanghai Municipal Police was a highly trained group of his best men, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice for a riot, a gunfight, or a robbery.

When the great war came, the British went looking for someone to train their best men. And a pair of police officers from Shanghai were the answer.

William Fairbairn and his colleague Eric Sykes trained the special forces of England and the USA. Many of the techniques they brought back to Blighty are still taught to the modern counterparts of those units.

As someone who’s trained in martial arts for a long time, I have enormous admiration for William Fairbairn. His courage and skill are legendary.

So my book The Hopping Ghost is set in his city. And my wee vampire comes to him to learn how to take care of herself in the daytime.

{ Read More }

Monday 13 September 2021

Why are the ads so loud?

Whether you’re listening to the radio or watching TV, it seems like those ad breaks come bursting out of the speaker at double the volume of the programs around it.

It’s annoying, and to make it worse, all the TV and radio stations deny that the ads are any louder than anything else. As if you can’t tell how loud things are by listening!

In fact they are telling the truth, but it’s not the whole truth. To get to the bottom of it, I’ll have to explain a little bit of how programs and ads are made.

Let’s say we’re making a TV or radio program - like a sitcom or a talk-show or a nerdy story about technology. The sound of the program is mostly made up of talking. Sure, there might be some mood music, or even the occasional loud sound effect, but mostly it’s people talking.

Sometimes it’s loud, sometimes it’s soft, and there are natural pauses between words and sentences. The overall effect is that it sounds like real life, allowing you to believe what you hear.

But an ad usually has a totally different focus. Most of the time they’re not trying to make a scene that sounds natural and believable. They’re trying to get your attention.

There are exceptions to this. Some ads are quiet to create a particular effect. But they’re not the ones we’re worried about, are they? So how do all of those loud ads get made?

Generally, the producers of an ad have 30 seconds to get in a lot of information, so the words don’t have those natural pauses between them - they’re all jammed in together.

Then you add music, to give it some energy and fill in all those annoying noiseless gaps where the voice-over person takes a breath. Sometimes, the audio engineer will even “de-breath” the ad, deleting the sounds of breathing so that more words can be fitted in.

If necessary, the audio engineer also adds sound effects or more voices, before mixing them all together.

While the ad is being mixed, it is also being processed to maximise the volume. You may hear terms like mastering, compressing, or limiting, but they all aim to make the ad as loud as it can be for the whole 30 seconds. So there are no quiet parts and every moment is filled with the most volume possible within the limits of a TV or radio signal.

Programs are made to sound natural, with lots of quiet bits to balance out the loud bits. And ads are made to have a high impact, so they’re as loud as possible the WHOLE TIME.

Here's a couple of examples, so you can literally see the difference.

The picture below is known as a "wave form". It's a computer graph of a sound recording, which people in the media business use to edit the sound.

On its simplest level, the height of the yellow line denotes the loudness of the sound. And you can see from this first wave form that there are quiet gaps in between the spoken parts. This is because I recorded it from a TV program, where the producers are trying to recreate real life.

This second picture is a wave form from a commercial recorded straight off the TV.

You'll notice that the maximum volume is the same on both wave forms. But on the second one, there are no quiet spaces. It's loud for the whole 30 seconds.

So you can see whay they sound different. But how can the radio and TV stations still deny that there's any difference?

Now here’s the tricky part.

A TV or radio signal can only carry so much sound. And generally, the loudest part of a program is the same volume as the loudest part of the ads around it. This is what the stations mean when they say that the ads aren’t louder than the programs – that the ad and the program have the same maximum volume.

But because the ad is right up near the maximum volume the whole time, it has a much higher average volume, and human perception says it’s louder.

But what can you do about it? Unfortunately, not much.

The commercial stations are paid for playing ads, so they’ll play any ad that fits their technical requirements for a good quality broadcast, even if it’s loud.

The people who make ads – advertising agencies and media outlets – don’t want to turn the volume down either. They’re competing for your attention after all. Can you think of a business that would like their ads to be quieter than the competition?  They’ll always aim for the maximum loudness that’s technically possible.

So there’s no broad solution in the current commercial environment.  But now at least you know why the ads feel so loud.  And you can prepare yourself with the mute button, or just turn the damn thing off.

{ Read More }

IconIconIconFollow Me on Pinterest

Joel on Twitter

What's Hot

Tweets by @JoelRheinberger