Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Things are coming together.

There's a couple of things running in the background that are finally coming together - I will be getting different kinds of needles in addition to the ones already in the shop, sort-of-soonish (these things tend to take a while). Other things are in the pipeline, but not in a stage where I can blog about it - yet. But I'm having hopes to post exciting new things here this autumn.

Also scheduled for this autumn, but something that I can already blog about: The Fleur de Lis Gold Embroidery Kit. Here's the finished prototype, finally:

It does look much nicer in real life.

I did the last stitches yesterday in the evening, when the light was already dimming down, but it was still rather light. That minimises the sparkle of the gold thread, which makes the work hard to see.

Speaking of hard - gold embroidery is really, really hard to photograph. Especially if you are in kind of a hurry, which I was this morning (and that usually leads to a bad photo day). The trick is to take the picture with underexposure, and with no direct light to avoid any sparkles. Then it can still be tricky to get the thing in proper focus, as the autofocus often has trouble with the sparkly bits; or to get the exposure right because of strong contrasts between the gold and the dark background.

So you're not getting the world's best piccies of the finished prototype yet, but I had the strong urge to share with you. Including these bad closeups:

This, by the way, is how it looks if you take a picture with flash:

Hint: Flash is not helpful...

I had such a bad photo day that I even botched the pictures of the back of the embroidery, which technically should be no problem to take a picture of. So you're getting only this bad detail shot this time (you know, because of the law).

I'm really happy to have this finished, though. The template stencil for the final version is done as well, and looks very much like the prototype here, with only a few tiny changes. The fabric for the final version is off to be dyed already, and as soon as it arrives back here, I'll cut it into pieces... and then I will gild the lily once again, a third and final time, taking photos of the individual steps for the instruction booklet.

(And those photos? I'll take them in a softbox, with the camera on a stand, and with plenty of time planned for that shoot...)

Monday, 29 June 2015

Archaeology News.

There's been a Bronze Age find, with residues of food (which is really, really special) in Cambridgeshire.

In sadder news, the C14 lab closest to my home, situated in the Physics Institute Erlangen, is closing down this summer, after twenty years. They don't say why they will close down, but Mathias' blog Schauhuette hints that it's due to budget cuts.

Finally, though a little older news already: The remains of a medieval knight whose skeleton shows damage consistent with jousting injuries.

Friday, 26 June 2015

And that's why you need maths.

When I was starting to study archaeology, I was happy to leave some of my less favourite school subjects behind me. Those included chemistry and maths.

One of my companion subjects with archaeology was heritage conservation, though, and that included "Bauforschung" - documentation and analysis of historical buildings. For that, one of the things you do is draw an accurate plan of floors, walls, and so on. Which means you will need to measure. Everything.

And then... there was this complex process of taking the distances and the angles you had measured, along your main lines or around the outside of the building, and calculate whether your measurements were accurate enough or not. It included things like sinus and cosinus and tangens, and when the prof explained it, you could hear half the room go "aaaaooouuugh". There I was, thinking I'd happily escaped those numbers and calculations... until said day.

Guess what I needed these days? More of those old and slightly dusty maths skills, especially that stuff about angles. So much of maths skills, unfortunately, that I also needed the assistance of the Most Patient Husband of Them All, who graciously agreed to help me tackle a complex formula to calculate the typical spinning angles of industrially-spun warp yarns from wool. (To my great delight, my calculations were not completely wrong. In fact, all I had not done was an additional, and not-really-obvious step to transform kilometres into metres. That step was so non-obvious that it also took my husband a while to track down the cause of the impossible result and figure out why it had happened.)

Oh, and the result of that formula-cracking? Warp yarn angles run between about 14.7° and 17.1° - while medieval yarns usually are above 30°, and very frequently at about 40°. No wonder modern spinners tend to spin soft stuff, it's the only thing we are used to!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Dear Someone who is making The Middle Ages Unlocked available for free,

I would really, really love to know why you are doing this.

I mean, I totally get being motivated to offer a book for free download when it's old, and out-of-print, and you know there is need for said book but it just cannot be gotten anywhere at all (or for a price that is in the hundreds, if not thousands, of Euros or Dollars or Pound Sterling).
I totally get not wishing to pay for a five-page scientific article that is fifteen years old, costs an arm and a leg to access for twentyfour hours, and of which you a) don't know whether the content will actually be of any use for you and b) do know that the author is not getting paid for copies sold.

I totally get that. But "The Middle Ages Unlocked" is brand new. It is easily accessible and it is fairly priced (at least I do think so, and I know that the price may still be out of range for some, and though I'm sorry for that I cannot really help it, but that's an entirely different topic and one only partly related to the book piracy issue).

The thing is... to upload our book to a filesharing site, or a download site, either as epub or as mobi or even as pdf, you must have gotten hold of a copy first. Did you buy it? (At least the very first of you uploaders must have bought it.) Thank you. Your buying the book supported Gillian Polack and myself. We are both freelancers, and income from our books are part of what we live on.

And then? Why did you upload it to share? I really don't understand. This is not like handing out a few copies to friends and relatives, because you are so excited about the book. Or like getting one copy and splitting the price among a small group, and then sharing the book. It's giving away somebody else's work, a book you presumably liked or found important and good enough to be worth reading, for free to a gazillion of people you don't even know. That's what I cannot understand. (Except if you got the book to upload it as bait for a scammy site that tries to spread malware, or get people to divulge their credit card information. That's something I could absolutely understand. Even though it makes me feel a bit sick to have our work used for that purpose.)

If you liked The Middle Ages Unlocked, wouldn't you want to have more books by Gillian and me? Wouldn't you want to support us so we can actually do that? Giving our work away for free is not a good way to go about it. Unless you buy multiple copies and give each of them away - that would be a very good way. (Also unlikely, I know.)

Or is offering the book for free download a way for you to make us suffer, because you hate the book, or you hate us personally? If so, congratulations. You have achieved your goal - we are both feeling stressed out by this issue, and are wasting time and effort on keeping the situation as much under control as possible. We are also both losing income over this. It's not much per book, but it is going to mount up over time. Gillian told me she lost a lot, almost all, of income from one of her books due to ebook piracy from free download sites. We are not getting advances (not every author does) so each sale lost is a real loss to us.

Authors put in work to make books, any books. It's nice to have that work appreciated, and a very tangible way of that appreciation is getting paid for it. If I have the impression that writing can actually contribute to my making a living, I will be happy to write and publish more. On the other hand, putting in a few years' worth of work, but getting very little or nothing in return... it's not going to make be utterly motivated to sit down at the desk and in the library again.

Having "The Middle Ages Unlocked" pirated and offered for free download so soon after its release also makes me wary of having ebooks of my work in the future. I'm a physical books girl by default, though I do know a lot of people appreciate ebooks, and I was beginning to change my stance. Now? Not so happy about it.

So. If you are thinking of uploading "The Middle Ages Unlocked" by Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania to some warez or dealz site for free ebooks, or some filesharing or torrent or bittorrent site because you like the book so much - please think again. You are not doing us a service.
If you would like to read our writing for free, I have this blog here, and Gillian blogs, too. She also posts on History Girls. Yes, it might not always be a topic that interests you, but in case of my own blog, you are invited to engage with me in the comments to ask for specific topics, or any questions you might have. I won't promise that I will be able to answer all of them, but it could not hurt to try.
If you would like to spread awareness about our book, blog about it or leave a review on some site offering the book for sale (Amazon has the most impact, but any bookseller will help). Or, even better, do both. Facebook-post about it. Share it on Twitter, or whatever other socialising site you like to use. We're happy about reviews, and we're happy if you spread word about The Middle Ages Unlocked.

If you're thinking of uploading it because you hate either Gillian, or myself, or the book - well. I think we'd both much prefer to get a personal hate mail to this, or even better some constructive criticism on what we could do better, but I guess there is not much I can do to keep you from making us suffer in this way.

And if you're a scammy baiter... well. Probably nothing I can say here will change your mind anyway. If you are indeed offering our book as ebook and not just pretending.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


I've written several notices about the ebook piracy thing, and those we found initially have been taken down. It seems there are more popping up, though, so it feels a little like playing whack-a-mole in spite of not really wanting to do so.

Otherwise, my paper is finally about finished - just the formatting of the bibliography has to be taken care of. The lots of rain in the last days mean that I can finally finish washing my fleeces, so one of them is soaking right now. The cat is sleeping, as usual...

...and the chili plants are making nice and colourful chilis:

I've also made a little bit more progress on the fleur-de-lis prototype - one side leaf and the band are left to embroider:

Here's the view from the back:

I'm already looking forward to the next step - doing it again while taking pictures...

Tuesday, 23 June 2015


Dear Little Cat,

you are very soft, and very cute, and very cuddly. You are also a very friendly cat, and I do appreciate that you like to be in my company. I like to be in your company, too.

I can also understand that you wish to be petted from time to time, and that a nap close to someone you love is much better than just a nap. Finally, I am delighted that you take an interest in my work, and sometimes wish to participate.

However, you curling up on my desk? Especially in a way that means your paw rests on my laptop's touchpad?

Not. Helpful.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Copyright Troubles and Book Piracy - The Middle Ages Unlocked

I have pondered whether to blog about this or not... but I've decided to do it, in the end. Our book "The Middle Ages Unlocked" has been out for a week now... and it has already been pirated, as the epub or mobi version. Yes, really.

Gillian told me about this just this morning, and I have since wasted some time reading up on ebook piracy, getting some information from our publisher, and other related stuff. I have also sent off a notice to the cloud service thingie that hosts the download link, duly informing them about the infringement. And now I'll do my best to forget about this until it requires further effort from my side and move on. (Well, after this blog post, that is.)

I am, let me whine for a bit here, please, not at all happy about this. Gillian Polack and I have spent many, many hours working on the book, reading, researching, writing and refining. (I actually logged the hours. I have not checked yet how many they were. I am not planning to - it scares me too much.) We have spent a lot of time looking for a publisher willing to take on this exciting-but-also-slightly-daunting Beast of a book. Neither Gillian nor I are going to get rich off this (as is usual for authors).

Neither Gillian nor I expect to get rich off this book. What we do expect, though, is to be treated fairly - and that does not include somebody taking the hard work that we and our publishing house Amberley put into the book and placing it online, for free. That makes me sad, and a bit angry, and also a little depressed.