Mathematical Models on Vampire Population Strategies or How to Stop Your Vampires From Wiping Out Humanity

And the award for longest blog title goes to….

But seriously (really?) it’s a real problem.  The majority of vampire novels, Stoker’s included, don’t consider the logistics of vampire to human ratios or how long it would take their vampire populations (the predators) to wipe out humanity (their prey) – around a 165 days for Dracula in case you’re wondering. You might be surprised to find that this has actually been worked out by a number of academics who have published papers on their findings (see links at the bottom of the post) and as I’m currently in the middle of writing a novel with vampires in it it suddenly looked like a good idea to waste an afternoon reading them. Also, I’m always on the lookout for a possible dissertation subject that will make my Academic Advisor roll his eyes.

These maths equations are mesmerising…

Most of these papers use a Lotka-Volterra system (1) that gives equations for working out how natural world predator-prey populations change or adapt over time. We know that fluctuations in one population affects the other, a reduction in prey results in a reduction in predators, but also, in the natural world, predators (lions, tigers etc) and their prey (antelopes, buffalos etc) both have a finite lifespan that results in natural death, whereas vampires live forever, so the model has to be altered in order to compensate for this and other certain variables.

One paper (2) uses a very simple equation to work out how long it would take for the entire global human population to be wiped out entirely. They begin with one single, solitary vampire and a human population of over 500 million and calculate that if vampires only fed once a month, we would all be dead (or undead) within two and a half years. Their reasoning falls down however, because they assume that every human being fed upon will turn into a vampire. As a result vampire numbers increase exponentially and humans reduce exponentially.

But we know that not all bitten humans turn, nor do they all die.  And vampires are still rational thinking beings (mostly), capable of understanding that if they eat or turn their entire food source it’s going to cause problems for their own survival. Something normal human beings don’t seem to be able to grasp, given their continuing destruction of the planet they live on – but that’s an argument on a different subject.

A more sophisticated model by Hartl and Mehlmann (1980) (3) introduced the birth rate of humans and the death of vampires by vampire hunters, as well as optimal rates of feeding that showed vampires would have to manage their resources if they were to survive. Appalled by what he saw as the authors attempt to help vampires “solve their intertemporal consumption problem” (4), D Snower wrote a paper in which he proposes that a human labour force be put to work producing stakes with which to destroy vampires, the more vampires that exist the more stakes are needed. However, he does not seem to take into account that stakes (depending on which vampire infested universe you happen to be in) could be used more than once. In Buffy for example, one human could kill any number of vampires which turn to dust on staking, whilst in other milieu vampires can be revived after a stake is removed from their chest.  He then goes on to prove, through some mathematical equation I can’t possibly hope to understand or explain, that wiping out vampires completely would not be good for the human race!

Finally, a paper published in Applied Mathematical Sciences in 2013 (5) used the same nefarious reasoning as paper 2 to show that in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles it would take Lestat and Louis 48 years to eradicate humans from the world, but again they forget that Lestat was not the only vampire in existence when he turned Louis. There is no mention of Armand, the Theatre de Vampires or Marius, Pandora etc etc, their reckoning is wrong.  Ok it’s only a hypothetical mathematical model, but I say if you’re going to do something based on a fictional world you should at least do it right. They then came to the conclusion, using Meyer, Harris and Kostova’s books,  that certain conditions would result in a peaceful co-existence of vampires and humans where both species could survive in a world not too dissimilar to our own. The balance was fragile though, and any deviation from the appropriate conditions might bring the whole thing toppling down.

At the end of the day, all of this only matters if you think fictional worlds should conform to real world science – which I don’t. Or at least I don’t believe that real world science has all the answers which certainly helps when you write about angels, fairies, demons and vampires. In Persephone Reborn I intend keeping my vampire population in check by using a system of human/vampire co-operation in which some humans are aware of and work for and alongside vampires while the majority of humans are oblivious to their existence. In addition, at some point in the past, an organisation called The Covenant came into being for the sole purpose of regulating vampire numbers and ensuring they abide by a set of rules that, should they be broken, will have dire consequences. Of course, there’s always someone, somewhere, willing to break the rules…

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotka-Volterra_equations

2. Cinema Fiction vs Physics Reality Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi

3. The Transylvanian Problem of Renewable Resources by R. Hartl and A. Mehlmann

4. Macroeconomic Policy and The Optimal Destruction of Vampires by D. Snower

5. Mathematical Models of Interactions Between Species: Peaceful Co-existence of Vampires and Humans Based on the Models Derived from Fiction Literature and Films  by Wadim Strielkowski , Evgeny Lisin  and Emily Welkins

 

 

 

 

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Another Year Over

 Last Thursday was the last exam of the year and now that I’m just about over the trauma it’s time to start planning for the summer. I started looking over what I’ve already written for ‘Persephone Reborn’ last night and although I have a synopsis, some rough chapters and a lot of notes totaling nearly twenty thousand words there is still a long way to go.

Frankly, it is a bit of a mess and the summer seems no where near long enough. But, I am determined to crack on with it and start kicking it in to shape. Will power is key. Sitting down everyday just to keep working through the plot and getting the story down is the plan, except I’ve lost track of the number of times I go back to chapter one and change the opening paragraphs because it’s too cliche, or gives the game away, or because the characters keep changing how they look in my head.

I think it was Stephen King who said you can’t write a scene until you’ve lived it. That might not be an exact quote, but it’s close enough and so I spend a huge amount of my time staring into space whilst I visualise the story, over and over and over again. It was a great piece of advice, because you realise there are things going on around your characters and they’re not just standing doing nothing while they talk to each other. When you get really good at it you can disappear into your imaginary world and become your characters or an invisible observer. If you can get that experience down on paper your readers will feel the same. That’s the hope anyway.

I also plan to get Blackfeather and Immortal out in paperback and maybe submit a couple of short stories to competitions or magazines. So it looks like it’s going to be a busy summer ahead. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.

 

 

 

Thoughts On Theory

https://wordsouldotnet.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/reading-woman-by-19th-century-russian-painter-ivan-kromskoi-photo-by-paukrus-under-a-creative-commons-license-on-flickr1.jpg?w=408&h=500My favourite module of this semester has been “Ways of Reading”. The title attempts to simplify the idea of literary theory, or theories, since there are so many, and sums up what literary theory/criticism is about which is essentially different ways of reading any text.

It’s also been the most frustrating module since, by and large, the lectures and tutorials have been less structured in their approach to teaching. In some ways it couldn’t have been any other way. Reading is a very subjective and often mysterious activity with as many perspectives on the text being read as there are readers. How you interpret Blackfeatherfor instance, may be entirely different to what I intended to write and different again to any other reader’s interpretation.

Another complication is the fact that many theories originate from other disciplines- Marxism from politics, psychoanalysis from psychology and any number of philosophical approaches – each with its own technical language.

And what is literature anyway? This question hasn’t been answered satisfactorily on the course. Once upon a time it would only have included those texts deemed worthy of study – the Classics for instance – but ideas of literature and worthiness changes over time. In his day Dickens appealed to the masses with his serialised stories, now, I think, we would consider him if not literary at least part of the corpus of Victorian literature worth studying for historical purposes. Likewise, Conan-Doyle, who could come under genre theory of detective fiction, amongst others.

Taking any particular approach also poses problems. Feminist theory will look at a text from the perspective of gender, women writers, do female characters even have a voice, what do the actions of female characters say about the text, the author, history and so on. Psychoanalysis interprets a text from a Freudian perspective, looking at sexual imagery, suppressed sexual desires, dreams etc whilst ecocritiscism interprets the natural world and how it is portrayed, the landscape may mirror a character’s feelings for instance. In King Lear the wild stormy moors reflect Lear’s state of mind. The presence of a lake may signify the hidden depths of a character or secrets they are keeping.

These are just a few of the ‘isms’ associated with literary theory and even if you believe you are reading a text from say a feminist perspective there isn’t just one feminist perspective to use.

So, you begin to see my problem with the module – there is no black and white, no one set of rules to follow, but equally no right or wrong way to read.

Multitasking Reader, image by Dr Motte, Flickr Creative Commons

 

Adventures in Literary Theory – Narratology

We are constantly told as writers to ‘show, don’t tell’.  That well known quote by Anton Chekov ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining ; show me the glint of moonlight on broken glass’ is a perfect example, but in practice authors must use both, switching between the two in order to speed up events that would otherwise make the story long and boring and to slow down scenes so that the reader feels as though they are watching them unfold in real time.

The narratologist Gerard Genette calls these two modes mimesis (the showing) and diegesis (the telling). To give an example:

For the past six weeks, Tess had rehearsed her part in the chorus until it was flawless. Today they would begin dress rehearsals, but as the music began and  as Tess and the other girls  began to dance across the stage a movement in the upper circle caught her eye.  She tried to look up without turning her head out of sync with the others. What she saw made her falter, the choreographer yelled at them to stop and start again from the beginning.

The first sentence is diegetic, it condenses several weeks of activity into just a few words. These are events that the reader does not need to see in detail and move the story along quickly. The rest of the extract is mimetic, slowing down the pace and allowing the reader to experience the events of the scene at the same time as Tess, the protagonist of the story, experiences them.

We can see, therefore, that showing and telling both have a place in narrative and work together to build the story. The trick is to know where each belongs and when it’s most appropriate to use them.

There are other things to consider in narratology – structure and sequence of events for instance. There is a difference between the actual order of events and the way they are presented or packaged in a story. A detective novel may begin with a crime, but this is the last sequence in the events that led up to that crime. The detective then appears to work backwards along the timeline, piecing together the events as they happened in order to solve the mystery. We also have flashbacks (analepsis) and flashforwards (prolepsis) to consider.

We can also look at who is telling the story, not merely the author because even an omniscient, third person narrator is not the author’s ‘real voice’ but an ‘authorial persona’. The narrator can also be a character who is ‘heterodiegetic’, meaning they are outside the events, telling someone else’s story, or ‘homodiegetic’ meaning a character who is within the story and took part in the events.

Then there is how the story is packaged. Often we find stories within stories, such as when a character tells someone a story which then becomes the main narrative. I won’t bog you down with all the technical terms, but Genette refers to these narratives within narratives as meta-narratives.

Narratology then, is not as simple as it at first looks and there are other devices within it that can be used to analyse a story or set of stories. On the other hand it is the first theory that has made much sense to me so is probably one I’ll follow up in greater detail.

Some books on Literary Theory that will explain more are:

Beginning Theory by Peter Barry

Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed by Mary Klages

What’s All The Fuss Over Harry?

Harry price by william hope.jpg

Harry price by william hope.jpg from Wikipedia

A couple of months back I discovered that ITV were going to air an adaptation of Neil Spring’s excellent book The Ghosthunters. Like most purveyors of the paranormal  I couldn’t wait. I’m not an expert on the life and weird adventures of Harry Price, but any follower of the Fortean has heard about him and knows of his connection with Borley Rectory – The Most Haunted House in England (allegedly, and I would argue up for debate). I remember reading a book on the hauntings at Borley many years ago, by whom, I can’t remember, but it made an impression on the younger me.

I’d also read Neil Spring’s book and enjoyed it immensely and whilst I believe he based the book on the ‘real’ Harry Price and his life I think I’m right in saying there is also an element of fiction involved in his version of events (please correct me if I’m wrong). So, I was slightly concerned when the reviews of the ITV drama portrayed it as ‘complete rubbish’ and accused it of trying to make Harry out to be a charlatan and fraudulent medium. I couldn’t remember this being part of the story, but my memory isn’t brilliant, perhaps I was remembering things differently. I knew there was some contention as to the validity of the hauntings at Borley and whether or not he was responsible for faking some of the phenomena, I also knew he had debunked several mediums, including Rudi Schneider, a prominent medium of the time, among others and that there had been a ‘falling out’ with the Society for Psychical Research, but con-man, charlatan, faked seances??? As I say, I’m not an expert…

So it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch the ITV offering and was prepared to shout at the screen if need be. I’m not sure what other people have been watching, but all in all I quite enjoyed it and didn’t see the contentious Harry as fraud element that others saw. The biggest inconsistency for me was that Rafe Spall looks nothing like Harry, who had a lot less hair and a much stranger, but oddly mesmerising face. What ITV have done, with Mr Spring as consultant, is weave an entirely fictional tale, that, as far as I’m aware, bears no resemblance to any case that Harry Price ever worked on (again, please correct me if I’m wrong). And when you realise this it’s much easier to let go of the preconceived ideas and expectations and just enjoy the 2 hour long period drama for what it is – the traditional ghost story at Christmas that has been served up by TV and newspapers alike for the last 2 or 3 hundred years or more – please go and read some of those published in the nineteenth century press. M. R. James they are not!

OK, so back to ITV,  the ghostly effects weren’t particularly spooky, but the whole thing is based on the fact that the ghost is a result of chemical poisoning used by the disgruntled husband to punish and get rid of the unfaithful wife. The mistake was to use Harry Price as the ghosthunter. Had ITV made their paranormal investigator an entirely fictional character, left out any hint of connection to Harry’s real life associates (Lucie Kay(e) alias Sarah Grey and Vernon Wall etc) no-one would have batted an eyelid.

I for one hope they continue it as a series, perhaps using some of Price’s documented investigations – Borley, of course, or perhaps Gef, The Talking Mongoose??

 

 

This Is How I Disappear

power-of-words-by-antonio-litterio-creative-commons-attribution-share-alike-3-0.jpg

In my ‘office’ there is a set of three drawers containing various bits and bobs, in the bottom drawer of which you will find folders of loose sheets of paper and handwritten  notebooks with story ideas, chapters from novels, some typed up later, some not. Then there are the electronic files of first drafts, revisions, notes on characters and snippets of dialogue, scene descriptions etc.  The trouble is I have these files stored on two laptops and an external hard drive with copies  of copies and folders within folders all with the same name and I’m never sure which is the latest version or even if there is a latest version – frankly it has got rather out of hand.

I decided I was going to have a sort out and deleted as many redundant copies as possible along with old drafts of Blackfeather and Immortal and some of my short stories because I figured they were no longer needed now the books have been completed and published.

Then this Thursday I attended a lecture by Dr James Bainbridge entitled Texts and Variants in which he talked about the differences in similar texts produced by A.S.J. Tessimond over several years of his life. Tessimond was an accomplished poet, copy-writer, womaniser and mystery. Throughout his life he used over forty alternate identities, fell in love with prostitutes and models at the drop of a hat, even travelling to Rome after tracking one model down from a photograph he discovered in a shop in London having decided ‘She was the one’.  When he died he left a friend in charge of his manuscripts, but there was one problem – there were no manuscripts.

It was Dr Bainbridge who discovered Tessimonds lost archive of letters, photographs and writings in an attic in Lancaster. He has been writing and researching the man ever since.

In his lecture, Dr Bainbridge showed us several versions of the same passage written by Tessimond over three years. Each one had slight variations, going through the process of editing and revision as any writer does with their work, but in one the final passage had something missing. Tessimond had been reminiscing about a time when people travelled on open topped trams. In the first version of his tale he wondered what they did when it rained, speculating that they either put up umbrellas or retreated to the lower deck, but in the final version he missed this crucial information merely stating that people travelled on open topped trams and that wearing hats would provide some protection. The reader, without access to the first draft, is left wondering protection from what?

Tessimond underwent electro-compulsive therapy during his life to treat severe depression. You can see from the deterioration of his handwriting how this ‘therapy’ effected him. He once said: ‘I’ve been writing for weeks now and I can’t understand a word I’ve written.’ It also made him forget large parts of his life, wiping both short and long term memory so that in redrafting parts of his writing he could no longer remember what the initial point of his story was. Hence the non-sensical final draft of the passage about his early life. I felt incredibly sorry for Tessimond and wrote on my notes ‘he is starting to disappear’. At the time I thought, there’s the kernel of an interesting story in there, but if I got any further with the idea I have forgotten it!

I’ve contemplated throwing out the piles of papers and books in the bottom drawer, but haven’t quite been able to bring myself to do it. I think now I’ll hold on to them. If anyone ever finds those scribblings  or what’s left of my files on some computer hard drive or other I imagine they’re going to be incredibly annoyed at my deleting the stuff I have. I feel a bit regretful myself too now. They are, after all, an archive of my progress from first starts to final edit. In future I shall make sure to keep a copy of everything – but only one – OK maybe two, just in case.

Trust The Universe

Creative Commons (Attribution 3.0 Unported)

The natural and preferred habitat of a writer is solitude, ideally a country cottage in the middle of nowhere or deep in a dark wood off the beaten track surrounded by a magic mist that keeps the world at bay. My family are always joking that if I became a famous author I’d hate it because that would mean TV appearances, book signings and the possibility of having to interact with other people. The idea gives me goosebumps and I’ve had to think about what I want and expect from being an independent author. Having a bestseller would be nice, the money would be welcome too, I can’t deny that, but I write because I love it and when I get an idea for a story in my head I HAVE to write it. The characters, the plot, the locations don’t leave me alone until I get it onto the screen or on to paper. Often I wake up in the middle of the night to scribble down a scene or conversation before my scatterbrain memory forgets a really good piece of description or dialogue. So the whole idea of social media is anathema to me.

As independent authors we are told that the only way to build a platform, get our name out there and sell our books is to maintain a presence on social media akin to an omnipresent god. It’s exhausting and I hate it. We are supposed to endlessly tweet, post on Facebook, blog, spend time leaving comments on forum after forum interacting with others, but at the same time are warned not to oversell our wares or it will turn people off. Getting the balance right is not easy. A couple of weeks ago I came across a post by another writer who had decided that she wasn’t going to play the game anymore and was winding down her commitment to socialising both on and off the internet so she could do more of the things she wanted to do and reduce the stress in her life. She wasn’t worried about sales. Then I came across this post by Derek Haines, another self published author, that made a lot of sense.

Having struggled with social media it seems to me that the best thing to do is sit back, relax and let the universe take care of it. Those who find, buy and read my books were meant to find them without any hard sell from me. Of course, some kind of presence is still required, but why fret about followers? The answer is to keep writing, doing what you love to do and don’t force the rest.

 

 

 

 

Fish, Phyche and Ghoti

Bubble Eye Goldfish (Photo by Angie Torres/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

Bubble Eye Goldfish (Photo by Angie Torres/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)

 

If I was to ask most of you “What is this a picture of?”  you would probably answer – a fish. Right?  Well, some people would have you believe it is spelled ghoti. No, not goatee, ghoti (pronounced fish). Let me explain:

 

If you take the gh from rough, the o from women and the ti from ration you have ghoti pronounced fish.

Following the explanation above it would seem as though there is a perfectly logical reason for this spelling of fish to be true, except it isn’t, is it!

Using the same principles you could take the gh from high, the o from jeopardy, the t from potpourri and the i from receive and you’d have a word that no-one could pronounce because it would be completely silent.

The reason neither of the above spellings of fish are correct is because the English language has rules and ghoti does not follow the rules we have in place when spelling words. Can you name any other English word that begins gh and is pronounced f? No, that’s because there isn’t one and it is why, when you look at the word ghoti, you say goatee, not fish. The same applies throughout the ghoti example. There are no words that end in ti pronounced sh, this pronunciation only falls within words, such as motion, fraction, pronunciation.

We could replace all of the letters in fish with ph (from phonics)  y (from ygddrasil)  che (from moustache). These work much better because all of them are actually pronounced in the same way as the letters from fish (and yes you would have to add the e on the end or it would become ch as in church, rich, catch  or k as in epoch, monarch etc.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that fish is spelled ghoti, tell them not to be so silly.

How Many Vowels In The English Language?

In my last post I explained how I’d made a spur of the moment decision to change my degree programme.  The transfer itself was fairly straight forward, just a couple of hundred emails back and forth between tutors, student support, my new department and my old one and Hey Presto! I was back to being a fresher. Then came getting access to coursework, handbooks and assessment details. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end.

I made the huge mistake of trying to work through the weeks I’d missed by reading the lecture notes and watching Powerpoint presentations, eager to get stuck in, catch up and prove what an outstanding student I was. Except, when it came to making head or tail of this:

ipa1

and this:

ipa2

This utter gobbledegook  shows the phonology of sounds. All I could think was, “What on earth have I let myself in for?” I was dreading the lecture to come and almost wished I’d stayed in archaeology.

Despite feeling apprehensive, I went to sit at the front (as I always do) of the massive lecture theatre. I’d been to my first history lecture the day before and knew there would be about three hundred students in the class. My plan was to record the lecture and just sit and listen without taking notes, not expecting to understand a word that was said, but miraculously it was far easier than I anticipated. Everything fell into place and made perfect sense. Slowly, my fear of the module dissipated and I began to enjoy it. At one point the lecturer asked a question and I was the only one to put up my hand, and I answered correctly.

Then he asked, “How many vowels in the English language?” It was a trick question of course. Someone shouted from the back “Five.” He gave a little laugh and shook his head. “Six” another called. Again he shook his head. Eventually he gave in and told us the answer, “More than sixteen, nearer twenty.” Of course if he’d asked how many vowel sounds are there in the English language it might have given the game away.

I’m slowly finding my way around such things as plosives, fricatives, alveolar and bilabial sounds, but rather than being intimidated by these unfamiliar words I’m enjoying the journey.

I’ve also found an easier to read version of the International Phonetic Alphabet – now all I have to do is memorise these signs for transcription.

International Phonetic Alphabet Transcription signs

 

Why Whitby?

the river esk flowing through the coastal town of whitby with the landmark abbey standing on top of the hill

the river esk flowing through the coastal town of whitby with the landmark abbey standing on top of the hill by photoeverywhere.co.uk

Having finally read Bram Stoker’s Dracula I have to say I’m a little disappointed and am left with several questions.

The story is told through diary entries and letters and telegrams sent between characters. We start with Jonathan Harker’s description of his journey to Transylvania, a business trip for the firm of solicitors he works for, on acquiring some property for the Count. His situation quickly becomes desperate as he becomes a prisoner in the castle and soon catches on that Count Dracula is not what he seems. We leave Harker, trapped and in mortal danger and go to Whitby where Mina and Lucy are taking a short holiday and the story then begins to bounce back and forth between the various characters. This soon begins to annoy as it makes for very disjointed reading. Although the entries are in chronological order, for the most part, the constant jumping from one person’s point of view to another leaves you with a sense that Stoker could not decide who the book was really about or indeed who’s story it is. The only person whose point of view is not expressed is the eponymous character, Dracula himself.

None of the characters, except Dracula, could tell the whole story by themselves, so why did Stoker do this?

Did he want us to feel buffeted about by the events, as if in the storm that brought the Demeter to Whitby? Or could he just not decide whom should tell it? Was  Dracula’s too dark a mind for him to enter and narrate from? Or did he fear that readers would sympathise more with Dracula if they had heard his reasons for his actions? – after all the vampire has become a symbol of romance, though Stoker never portrays Dracula this way.

A bigger question is why Dracula headed for Whitby with his fifty boxes of earth and didn’t just go straight to London and Carfax, regain his strength and youth and then integrate into London society, if this is what he had been planning to do. In film adaptations we are told that Dracula  believes Mina Murray, later Harker’s wife, to be the reincarnation of his long dead wife. There is nothing in the book to suggest this, in fact he treats Mina with as much contempt as he does everyone else. Apart from Stoker’s affection for Whitby there seems no reason  other than coincidence, that brings the characters in to contact with Dracula.  And yet the action was deliberate as he has already arranged for the boxes to be taken from Whitby to London. Would he be able to avoid customs checks here, is there no place closer to London to do this and why not use bribery as he does elsewhere? If anyone has an answer please let me know.

Again, on the subject of Whitby,  why does Dr. Seward travel all the way to Whitby to ask Lucy to marry him rather than asking for her hand whilst she is at home in London. Did the overseers of lunatic asylums generally go flitting about the country willy-nilly, leaving their patients in someone else’s care?

And then there’s Harker, who realises quite quickly that he is being held prisoner,  but rather politely refuses to bring this up with his host. I think after he realises the Count knows that he knows he might as well say something, but doesn’t. It’s all rather frustrating.

There are so many character flaws and plot holes that I wonder why the book has become such an icon of vampire mythology. After all, this was not the first book on the subject as you can see from this excellent timeline by Roger Luckhurst.

Before Bram: a Timeline of Vampire Literature | OUPblog.

I’m glad I persevered and finished the book, there are some lovely descriptive passages, particularly of Whitby, a place I’ve always loved, but feel its place as a classic has been tarnished in the reading of it.