Thursday, 27 April 2017

Footnotes and end-notes in the Kindle and other e-readers

About footnotes*

[* and a man with three testicles]

When I am reading a printed book I actually read the footnotes (and I shall explain why you might also want to). If there are end-notes I keep an extra bookmark in the end-notes section (ok, I'm a geek). But doing this in a Kindle is not easy. This is one reason why e-reader formatting needs to be re-thought.

You may be one of those people who never read footnotes or end-notes, so you will not see a problem here. In a moment I shall try to persuade you otherwise (I shall explain about the man with three testicles and what the Pope did about it). But the main point of this article is to question some of the assumptions about book layout in e-readers. Simply transporting a book text unmodified into an e-reader such as the Kindle does not always translate into a good reader experience. This is particularly the case with footnotes and end-notes.

Footnotes, properly used, are there to enhance the reader experience while not interrupting the flow of text. Uses include explaining an obscure reference or phrase with which the reader might not be familiar, or adding an illuminating anecdote that is not a proper part of the text. In Bailey and Love's Physical Signs in Clinical Surgery there is a section describing the harmless swelling called a spermatocele that can arise in a man's scrotum. This can resemble a third testicle. That's all you really need to know. But a footnote adds, "The story goes that, in the 14th century, on petition from a patient with a spermatocele, the Pope granted a gentleman to marry two wives because he had three testicles."*

[*Also in Bailey and Love's Short Practice of Surgery p.1383.]

 The anecdote is not strictly necessary, but it is memorable. I would point out that Bailey and Love do not reference the source of the anecdote, so they may have made it up or copied it from someone else who made it up. If they had referenced it properly they could have put the reference in with the footnote. Perhaps Dan Brown can go and look for it in the Vatican archives, or perhaps it's just a rumour in Piers Plowman.*

[*I've no idea.]

While I am not aware of any strict rules, it seems to me that end-notes are more appropriate where it is less likely that the reader will want to look them up straight away. For example, there may be repeated quotations from a particular source, and you might want to look up the original for context ("A wonderful evening" - Groucho Marx; original quotation: "I've had a wonderful evening, and this wasn't it"), or because you feel inspired by what has been quoted and you want to go right out and buy the book.

With Kindle books, footnotes are more-or-less impossible. This is because the text flows across the screen according to the precise model of Kindle that you have and the size of type you have set as default, and so there is no guarantee that a footnote will appear at the bottom of the screen or even on the same page. In future this ought to be fixable, because if you highlight a word the definition will come up automatically at the bottom of the screen in what is in effect a pop-up footnote. But I know of no way that an author can exploit this. In any event, footnotes are generally translated into end-notes, which are fiddly.

I can move the cursor down to the end-note number (the little superscript number that denotes that there is an end-note) and click on the end-note link and sometimes it will take me to the end-note, and then I can click again and sometimes it will take me back. Not only is this tedious, it is also not reliable. Some writers and publishers do not bother to make their end-notes work, so you click and nothing happens.

In A Mermaid in the Bath* there are a number of footnotes and they are there for humorous effect. Therefore they need to be close to the text to which they refer. The solution that I have come up with is to put the footnotes in square brackets and in a slightly smaller font size immediately below the text which refers to them, and denoted with an asterisk as shown here.

[* A Mermaid in the Bath, a humorous philosophical novel and love story by Milton Marmalade, available from Amazon worldwide.]

Additionally, footnotes could be indented, although I have not done this. (The Kindle version of A Mermaid in the Bath will be available soon.)

I should be interested in any comments on this or any other topic related to Kindle and e-reader formatting.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Every thing that is possible to be believed

If the believer understood the meaning of the saying 'the colour of the water is the colour of the receptacle', he would admit the validity of all beliefs and he would recognise God in every form and every object of faith. - Ibn 'Arabi (from The Meccan Revelations)

Every thing that is possible to be believed is an image of the truth. - William Blake

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Bargain! 'A Mermaid in the Bath' for £2!

Hello Saline Sympathisers and Mermaid Lovers everywhere,

The lovely paperback version of A Mermaid in the Bath by Milton Marmalade, with its mermaid illustrations and print margins calculated according to arcane medieval principles, has been discounted to close to the printing price by Amazon uk! This is for brand new copies! I don't know why, they don't tell me. The usual cover price is £7.99. This cannot last - order your copy now! (It's still $10.99 with offers from $7.76 on

Go to my links page for all Amazon links.

Your chum,

Mellifluous Mollusc

Thursday, 13 April 2017

On those who deny the existence of God

It is reasonable to deny the existence of God, if by 'God' you mean some being external to yourself who hangs around in the sky either interfering or not interfering in the creation (since either causes problems). Also, a god who is supposed to be the creator of everything begs a number of questions, such as 'who created God?'

If however we begin to look at the world from the bottom up, so to speak, we realise that the whole thing is a living mystery. Just being conscious is inexplicable. We can talk indefinitely about neural networks and emergent properties, and still not understand how I, now, can be conscious, or even why the consciousness that contains me seems not to be the same as the consciousness that contains you (why am I me and not you?). (This is a question that has perplexed me since I was five years old and my toy rabbit was confiscated in school and put on a shelf where I could see it and not get it. I remember thinking, why am I me and not that toy rabbit? Of course I now understand that cloth animals are not made in such a way that they can be conscious, at least it is reasonable to suppose so, but the question 'why me here now?' remains.)

The question becomes less or more confusing (depending on our point of view) if we start to look at it from a god-like perspective, as it were from the outside, as if we could see the whole creation, and imagine creating beings such as ourselves wired up in such a way that we can exhibit complex behaviours. Then we can say, well, that one thinks it's conscious because that's how it's made, and so does that one and those over there. No mystery really. But actually we are only privy to a god-like perspective in our imaginations - that's not how it is.

Then again, if God exists it follows that God is more than our human understanding, and therefore we should not expect to be able to reason about God, except to say that logically it follows that we cannot reason about God.

Why have what the atheists would call an unnecessary hypothesis? Let us go with Hippocrates and ask for no unnecessary hypothesis. Then if we glimpse something more than the imaginary world in which we say we live we can allow space for what we don't know.

From Robert Graves's poem Warning to Children:

"Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this: ..."

Thursday, 6 April 2017

God rewards fools

Quotation abbreviated from that quoted in Out of the Labyrinth - setting mathematics free by Kaplan and Kaplan - the quotation is from Martin Hellman, one of the inventors of public key cryptography:

"... the way to get to the top [...] is to be a fool, because only fools keep trying. [...] Unless you're foolish enough to be continually excited, you won't have the motivation, you won't have the energy to carry it through. God rewards fools." (p.29)