Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Making New Fortunes (in linux)

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technology.pngAnother week, another bash script!
One of the things I love about scripting things like this is getting to know what's really going on inside my computer. I'm that way about most things - sure, it's nice to have things "just do", but I also want to know why they're just doing. Maybe I'll never use that information, maybe I'll need it tomorrow.
These scripts are usually for things that I needed that other people didn't provide. For example, the fortune command in *nix.
Fortune's pretty cool - it randomly pops up a quotation whenever you log in or invoke it. You can pipe the output through cows and get output like this:

/ Have a place for everything and keep  \
| the thing somewhere else; this is not |
| advice, it is merely custom.          |
|                                       |
\ -- Mark Twain                         /
   \   \
        \ /\
        ( )
      .( o ).
/ We own our government and are not \
\ merely its consumers.             /
          oO)-.                       .-(Oo
         /__  _\                     /_  __\
         \  \(  |     ()~()         |  )/  /
          \__|\ |    (-___-)        | /|__/
          '  '--'    ==`-'==        '--'  '
/ Writing is easy; all you do is sit  \
| staring at the blank sheet of paper |
| until drops of blood form on your   |
| forehead.                           |
|                                     |
\ -- Gene Fowler                      /
       \   ,__,
        \  (oo)____
           (__)    )\
              ||--|| *

I see cool-ass quotations everyday; there's lots of quotation tweeters out there. Many of them I'd like to add to my fortune files. Adding the text isn't hard - you just put a % between each line in the file and put the file in /usr/share/games/fortunes. Mine are in /usr/share/games/fortunes/bigquotes , for example. But it's got to run a database command to create this other file and... well, I wanted to automate it. I'm lazy.
The bash script below adds a ONE LINE QUOTATION to the file bigquotes and compiles it for use with the fortune program.
You can download the code to examine or run directly here

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A strange sort of notoriety...

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random.pngI just realized that over on Jim C. Hines' blog, there's more posts tagged with my name than are tagged Velocirapocalypse. This will not do, people. When the zombie velociraptors rise up and hook all our brains out with those big-ass claws and hunt us like red-shirted extras in the latest Jurassic Park knock-off, who is going to be upset then, hm? Those of you being eaten, I bet. Oh yeah, they'll be munching on your brains and... ...what? That's a Utahraptor? Velociraptors aren't nearly that big? Yeah, but zombie velociraptors, man. They'll blow your mind. Well, yeah, unless they're slow zombies. Nevermind. Carry on. But if a zombie velociraptor is eating your brain, don't come running to me! [this post brought to you by Steve feeling ill which is messing with Steve's head and causing Steve to refer to himself in the third person.]

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HOWTO Replace Zefty with GDocs

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[EDIT:  Zefty's back up.]

I used Zefty pretty extensively with my kiddo. He liked being able to see and keep track of what he earned, while I liked not having to have (or worry about) cash. Not to mention that it really helps when those taking care of the child aren't always in the same location - such as grandparents, divorced or separated parents, or even savvy babysitters.

Zefty's been down for half a week now, and I'm starting to think that it's not coming back. Luckily, I used it enough that I remember his balance... and I realized that I could recreate the essentials using Google Docs. Here's a link to a public copy of what I made:

The real copy has edit permissions for his mother and I, and view permissions for him only. While the interface isn't quite as kid-friendly, it's the big G, so it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

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Why Make an eBook : So You Want to Make an eBook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

Why Make An eBook?

My father is a certified Master Gardener. He's always enjoyed teaching, and the program allows him to share his love of plants and botany while teaching. It's a win-win situation for him.

It also means that he creates tons of handouts. He creates them at his own expense, and the information probably gets lost in a stack of papers somewhere.

"I don't like killing trees for handouts that aren't going to be used," he says.

A friend of mine is busy replacing her print library of craft books with eBook versions. I ask her why she's buying books she already owns.

"I have shelves of these books upstairs," she tells me, "but I can carry the whole library just in a gadget the size of a paperback."

Since the summer of 2010, I've talked to hundreds of people about eBooks. The reasons people like eBooks vary widely. Environmental concerns, decluttering, the ability to have a "large print" book without buying a special edition, and portability are just some of the reasons I've heard from readers. But all of the readers I've spoken to switched quickly and they switched nearly completely.

This is great for anyone who wants an audience.

Unlike a paper book, an eBook is accessible to anyone, anywhere who can access the Internet. Distribution and storage costs are very low compared to paper - hopefully for obvious reasons. Because you can produce an eBook yourself, you don't have to have a lot of cash to get started. And digital publishing is still a growing market, especially in niche and specialized areas.

Think about this for a second. Let's say that there are 1000 people interested in MacGuffins worldwide. You know half of them would be interested in buying and reading your book about the inner philosophical turmoil MacGuffins face. But it's still a bad deal for a traditional publisher. Without something like print on demand (POD), they'd be shipping your book to various stores hoping that they got it in a store near someone interested, and that the someone happens to see it. In the meantime, it's taking up space in the bookstore which could be used for a more generically profitable book (Sparkling Vampire Wizards School IV, probably).

But if it sits on your website, it can be found from Google. You can engage the MacGuffin fan forums and let them know about it. Even if there's only one MacGuffin fan in each city in the US, a book that would have lost money in paper suddenly becomes profitable.

I'm not going to lie to you: eBooks are not instant money. The example above would work best if you were already engaged with the MacGuffin community. They knew and respected you, and were interested in what you had to say. That's the marketing side of things, and a great place to start is Gary Vaynerchuck's book Crush It!.

You can look at it the way my dad can. He's currently spending money to create material that's in demand. Even if he only makes five bucks a month from making an eBook version… that's still five bucks a month he didn't have before.

This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.

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Introduction: So You Want To Make an eBook

This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. I'm releasing this book in sections on my blog, but when it's all finished I will offer the whole thing as a single eBook. Everyone who donates toward its production (use the coffee cups to the right, note that it's because of this effort) will get a free copy of this eBook. You can find all the posts here.
Hi everyone. A quick meta-introduction before the introduction (which will go up later this afternoon). I'm planning on putting a section or so up a week. This should only run a month or two, so if you want in on the donation deal, don't dally.

I just poked back through the "ebook" tag on this blog, and really, there's some good stuff in there. If you've only started following me, take some time to check out some of those older posts.

Also, the idea here is that you get to ask questions. I'm not a wizard, but I'm at the low end of sysadmin competence. I've been around computers since I was a wee annoying kid and they still had cassette tape drives. Sometimes I have a tendency to forget that - which is exactly what I don't want to do here.

My goal is to give you enough information so that you can:
1) Build an eBook from scratch.
2) Learn enough HTML/CSS so that you know how to look at other people's work and learn new techniques.
3) Know how to fix it when an automatic tool like Sigil, Calibre, or any other borks all over your perfect manuscript.
4) Learn where to look when you need to find the answer.

I'm not going to teach you how to create a web page, program your computer, or anything else - though the skills I will teach you may help there as well.

While I'm posting this here, ask if you don't understand. Ask publicly in the comments or ask in e-mail.

I am convinced that this is a skill that writers must master - even if it's so that we know what has happened when the automatic tools go wrong.

I'll see you again in a few hours.


It Gets Better... for all of us.

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essay.pngThe It Gets Better project is one of the more awesome things the Internet has come up with in recent years.
THE PLEDGE: Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that "It Gets Better."

At least part of that effect, though, is because we become able to move. We can leave the situation. The more mobile your life is, the more broad (and in demand) your skill-set is, the easier it is to just leave the haters to hate.

It's hard enough getting your mind emotionally around the idea of leaving, especially when the situation has slowly become toxic. But sometimes it has to happen, just so that things have a chance to become better. The emotional and psychological parts of that are hard enough. There's no reason to make it hard physically and financially.

Keep this in mind as you plan your future. Your roots can be a great, stabilizing thing. They can also keep you from taking shelter when the storm erodes the dirt out from underneath you.

It's a great and noble thing to change the world.

It's not so great to break while you're trying to change it.

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Vaguely Accused

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rant.pngThis afternoon I wasn't feeling well at all, and I felt worse when I discovered I couldn't log on from my apartment.

I spent a good half hour to forty-five minutes trying to figure out what had happened - my router could ping places, but nothing else.

It turned out that's because RoadRunner's MPAA warning page will only come up with Internet Explorer... I program I rarely use. What was I accused of downloading?

The message didn't say.

The customer service folks were very patient with me (thanks again, Holly, Joe, and Rudy) as I explained that I wasn't going to click on something that was admitting wrongdoing. They double checked and eventually were able to reassure me that clicking the "I agree" merely meant that I agreed that I'd been presented with the info.

Another hour on the phone and three levels of customer service (who, to their credit, were all nice folks) followed. I repeatedly explained that yes, I do have torrents running and that yes, they are legal torrents of linux distributions, GNU software, and stuff from clear-bits.

So I wanted to know if the problem was bandwidth (or other types of network-shaping), or if there was a specific accusation.

It's not bandwidth, they told me. But what was I accused of downloading?

None of us know.

The original message (similar ones here) claims that I should have gotten an e-mail with the specifics. All the customer reps know (and I managed to make my way up to a level 3 person - they were aware of the blanket accusations by the MPAA/RIAA in the past) is that it came from corporate offices.

Nobody outside of "corporate offices" knows what - if anything - I'm specifically being accused of.

I figure someone got past my wifi (yeah, I've changed passwords). But it bothers me - a lot - that I don't know what the hell it is I'm supposed to have done.

Two things to note here:

1) RoadRunner goes by the "three strikes" rule.
2) Apparently nobody knows what the accusation was about - not specifically. If it was such a clear case, then why can't they tell me what it was I was accused of downloading?
3) I asked - as a content producer - if the reverse would happen as well. If an MPAA member (who was with Time Warner) got three accusations from, say, three authors, would that member's access get cut? They said yes - but I'm not sure I believe it.

All in all, a frustrating experience on a day I already felt like crap and already have way too much to do.

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Making File-Roller Behave

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technology.pngThis was actually while re-going over my notes for the How To Make an eBook eBook. You see, the way you compress files makes a difference. Yeah, they all say "zip" (or not, actually) on the end, but sometimes it impacts operation. So I was checking out file-roller some more.

I didn't learn to convert eBooks on a linux machine - it was a Windows Vista box. So file-roller was a new thing for me.

It's not, however, a new thing for GNOME users (including Ubuntu). It's been at the same version for just over two years. Not necessarily bad, but given that there's some shortcomings, it's an issue.

For example, it dumps temporary files all over the place if you're not paying attention. It's slow, with a GUI I'm not happy about. I like my file compression ... transparent, if you will.

I also use TuxCommander. Unlike Total Commander (which I highly recommend for Windows users), it does not (yet) have built in file compression. It can view archives like nobody's business, but making them is still a pain.

Until now.

I've got a nice bash script here that lets you:
  • Pass a file or directory name (either at the command line or through something like TuxCommander) and compress it, based on the extension you determine.
  • Lets you decide where to compress it.
  • Respects the $TMPDIR variable, and defaults to actual temporary directories.
  • With the --add option, lets you choose files or directories to back up interactively.
  • Takes place in the background (if you launch it from TuxCommander) with notify-send notifications to let you know it's done or has a problem.
  • Is a script, so you can hack it all you want.
Dependencies? It relies on: Zenity
7z and 7za
The script itself is here, and is highly commented. Any improvements you make would be appreciated if you shared.

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Truth In Dystopian Fiction

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soc_econ.pngMr. Watts, I know this is going to stumble across your radar at some point. And really, you've probably already had a bazillion people point you at this.

But damn, can your fiction stop being frighteningly close to right?

Egypt Will RiseEr, hi. Hey, everyone else. I've talked to (well, e-mailed) Peter Watts a couple times over the last decade. I'm a fan of his work even though it's very disturbing at times 1 - not least because his fiction is usually grounded in science and geopolitical fact. Could we all be a biological switch away from a sociopath? Is there really a "you", or just an illusion of "you" so good that it fools... well, yourself? Stuff like that. (You can read huge swaths of it for free on his site.)

One of the most "duh" things about the Rifters timeline is this: "The developing world" is pissed at, um... you. And me. Pretty much anyone in America and the EU. And they have every reason to.

See, it's pretty damn obvious that we've been living on the wage surplus of the third world for over half a century. Probably more. All this nice surplus - this bloody damn Starbucks I'm writing this in, for example - is from not paying some other worker a fair wage.

Don't bother feeling guilty. That was never enough, and it's far too damn late for something that mild.

See, there's two other things that make this different than the rest of history.

1. We're dependent on that surplus. And by we, I mean "humanity". All of us. For every wasteful Starbucks, there's a hundred improvements allowing us to do so much damn more than we would have otherwise.

2. It's all visible.

The first one should be concerning to you (and me). Aside from the possibility of a continent or two of humanity realizing that they've been screwed for a couple of centuries and it's time to do something about it now all over your carcass, there's the very real problem that we can't afford this surplus yet. We're running fast towards the post-scarcity horizon, but until it's reached, we're maxing out the credit cards all the way and hoping they don't come break our society's legs when the call the debt due.

The second one is an issue when you consider this: Scarcity or surplus rarely cause violence. It's times of transition that correlate to unrest. When the poorer folks see that they could be doing better... but aren't yet? That's when it gets real, my friend.

So now we've got the entire north coast of Africa waking up. They've been connected long enough to realize what they've been kept from - and that it is possible for them to achieve prosperity and freedom.

So far, they see (and rightly so) the old guard - the dictators and despots and rulers and kings - as the ones holding them back.

So far.

Folks - and I don't give a damn what side of the political spectrum you're on, this is business - they're not stupid. They know we've supported the dictators they're overthrowing. They know we've benefited from their poverty. They know our pharmaceutical companies could be treating - hell, curing - malaria, but it's just "not profitable enough". They know we're too damn cheap to sacrifice just a little of our luxury while half the world grinds by on less than a dollar a day. They know everyone wants to cut "foreign aid" while spending more on our military than any other nation in the world.

They already know this. It's too damn late for marches and speeches and half-hearted gestures. You idiots who are thinking "we'll just fight 'em with our big-ass military", just sit the hell down. Violent oppression won't work. Further oppression isn't going to work. Ask the capitalists of the early 20th centuries, who tried to suppress mine strikes with the Pinkertons, or fought the Wobblies in Chicago. Let me impress this on you: This is not a moral argument, this is a practical one.2 For this to go as big and as violent as Peter imagined in the Rifters trilogy is bad for everyone. You, me, the developed work, the developing world. It's a lose-lose situation for our species.

There is only one practical course of action. It's the ones managers and capitalists have always done when the masses have begun to wake up. Marx's failed prediction of a worldwide worker's revolt has only failed to come true because of this one word:

Compromise. Work out a win-win situation. We got rid of child labor, instituted weekends, a forty hour work week, and a host of other reforms whenever the people got a little too upset.

Now it's time for us to do that on a larger scale.

Do I sound shrill? Probably. We've waited too long already. We waited until we were forced to compromise. It's already almost too late.

Maybe I'm wrong.3

I sure as hell hope so.

1 Large parts of the Rifters trilogy has trigger warnings, and really, a good third of Behemoth is a trigger warning for sexual assault and abuse, both real and imagined. It's still good, but be warned.
2 Conveniently, it fits my morality, but still.
3 I wasn't about the dot-com crash, the housing crash, and only partially wrong about the political changes during the first decade of this century.

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Quality Control and Paris - Two 100 Word Stories

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And we have TWO yes TWO stories once again, with Chris the Nuclear Kid's story first, then mine.

storytime.pngYou know the drill!
read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to the stories below or download Chris' or mine via the direct links!

Boxcar Children

I've been working in quality control for three months. It's been okay except for the rumors of people going missing. Some say this town is haunted. I didn't believe in superstition. Anyway, I am doing night shift, in a store but an over sized man in a trench coat came in. “Ah you must be my new trainee.” I said. He walked over.
I am no trainee.” His voice was a deep, growl. “But, I am the Duskwolf.” With that, he pounced, striking me in the head.
My last thought was: the next quality controller better be good.

"You're Loved By PFLAG"
Rupert stood in disbelief.

"The bar's really called the Blue Oyster? Like in Police Academy? In the middle of nowhere, Ohio?"

Clarissa smiled. "All YMCA, all the time. Right here in gay Paree, Ohio."

"That is so offensive."

She smacked his arm. "They're mocking the stereotype, silly."

"But someone might hit on me."

"Just tell them you're married, you homophobe. Come on, you're going to have fun."

As they descended the stairs, Rupert knew next time he'd check the travel agent's itinerary more closely.

But Rupert found out that after all, there are many ways to have a good time.

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A little backstory...

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There's a few things of backstory I want to mention about my 100-word story this week.

  • It's somewhat autobiographical. I was nervous about going to a predominately gay club myself as a 30-something adult. It's illogical - I've known GLBT people most of my adult life, and it's never been an issue. I even went to a predominantly gay club (I can't remember the name) in San Antonio when I was training there. It wasn't until someone pointed it out that I realized exactly how homophobic (and stupid) that fear was. Now I'm happy to say that like Rupert, it's not an issue for me any more.
  • I liked the Police Academy movies. The "Blue Oyster", featured in several of the movies, recently came up in conversation. I laughed then because I guessed I was supposed to, but was young enough to not really know why it was funny. Now I'm old enough to not really know what about it was supposed to be funny. It just comes across as offensive.
  • I love it when the less-powerful remix the tools and symbols of oppression to make them tools of self-empowerment. So it would be totally awesome to have a club like the one described in the story.
  • I really love it when you find pockets of people getting their geek, freak, weird, or whatever on in the most fun-loving awesome style... right in the middle of homogeneous conformityville. Dayton's kind of like that, as was my hometown.
  • I've always liked the YMCA song.

So that's the spirit of my story. It occurred to me after I sent it off that it could be taken as playing to stereotype instead of playing with stereotypes; hopefully this clears things up.  Rupert learns what an ass he was being, and gets over himself.

Now if you haven't yet, go sign the "It gets better" pledge, and at least donate to good folks like PFLAG.

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Never let 'em see your brand.

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publishing.pngPrincess Alethea delightfully brought this manifesto by Maureen Johnson to my attention. Go read it - really, it'll spawn a new window. I'd only be a pale imitation, anyway.

::twiddles thumbs::

::looks up::

Read it? Good.

See where I said that I'd only be a "pale imitation" of what Maureen wrote? That's exactly right. While I agree with her and Lee (not in vocabulary, but in principle), I couldn't have captured that passion for the topic the way she did. It's her thing.

That's what this is all about, and that's what Lee and Maureen (and quite a few other people - off the top of my head, Jim C. Hines, Jean Rabe, Beth Vaughan, Anton Strout, Don Bingle, and Tobias Buckell come to mind, and I'm certainly leaving folks out) get.

Mike Stackpole
turned me on to Crush It!. I just started re-reading it last week. It was a miserable week for me at the day job, and I needed some inspiration. Thoughts of "being your brand" have been high in my mind lately.

But "being your brand" is like makeup. If you notice someone "being their brand" (or notice their makeup), they're doing it wrong.

The people who think you have to do certain things or act in certain ways, who insist on monetizing everything... they're the stone-age folks who still think networking is about what you can do for them.

Really, folks, it's about just being yourself and being awesome. Be yourself - both the good and the bad. Be awesome, as much as you can, because it's fun.

Examples? Of course.

As far as I'm concerned, Alethea is The Fairy GodPrincess. Anton (who's next book is coming out, y'all - I already pre-ordered it!) is the guy who took it well when I was lukewarm on his first book - and still gave me a fair critique at GenCon. Jim C. Hines has been so freaking patient with me, it's not even funny (though I saw the sporks behind his back once...), and his books always seem to arrive just when I need a fun break from the "real world". Tobias Buckell has taken time out of his day to share his experiences with eBooks, and is one of the few people I know who not only has width, but breadth enough to outpace me on political, social, and economic matters (it shows in his blog). Beth Vaughan (whose Warloard and Star Series are fantasies, I don't care if they're called "romance"...) made me feel welcome when I showed up late for a writer's conference, and invited me to breakfast the next year at GenCon. (Her next book is out in May, and yeah, I've pre-ordered it too...)

You get the idea. These things, the way these people naturally are is what makes them their brand. I could write for hours just with one-line sentences about the awesome people I've met who have been awesome towards me. I do my best to be awesome for them as well - one small example being how I helped Jim with analyzing a survey he did and converting one of his books to digital formats.

Thinking of your "brand" as something to polish and market is going about it all wrong. Thinking of networking as a way to get favors is also going about it all wrong. It's not about you.

How do you socially network?

Be yourself, all the good and bad together.

Be awesome to other people.

Do what brings you joy.

Rinse. Repeat.

I can't wait for con season to start for me. One month until Millennicon!

And for you youngin's, this is what the title refers to - where you're never supposed to let them see the real you.

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Downside of being "public" in SL

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secondlife.pngThere's a handful of people I know whose real-life identies are known inside of Second Life. I'm one of them.

It creates a weird power balance - most of my customers are effectively anonymous, when I'm not. Take, for example, the1grizz Resident. There is no freaking way to tell who this guy is in RL. He doesn't even have (as of 19 Feb 11) payment info on file with Linden Labs.

But yet he rented from me, broke a bunch of the rules of the agreement, inconvenienced other renters ... and now thinks I'm treating him unfairly.

This puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

Of course, in almost two years (three? Damn, I lose track) of renting, he's only the second person I've had to actually remove due to behavior. So maybe that's a good thing. It's strange that the folks who worry the most about breaking the rules are the ones who are barely bending them... while the flagrant rulebreakers don't seem to care.

He rented a 50 prim skybox... but rezzed over 1000 (Real world comparison: Pay a RedBox $1, and then empty it of DVDs). After five days, I told him to lose some of them, and he did ... onto other renter's lots. Suddenly nobody in the area could rez (or create) thier virtual stuff, and I started getting complaints.

By this point, he was breaking a bunch of my rules AND those of Second Life, so I booted him from my apartments.

And then he kept complaining.

It's just stunning.

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Avoid Ubuntu Netbook Edition's Slowness - But Get The Look

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NOTE: If you got here looking for a way to speed up Ubuntu Netbook Edition, let me warn you that my "solution" isn't a tweak so much as making another window manager look and behave a lot like UNE. Folks complaining that it's not a "solution" can head to /dev/null.

Edit: Stripping out every program you don't need - especially Ubuntu One, Gwibber, Evolution, and Empathy - all that stuff in the background - helps speed up the default interface as well. What I do below still gives another significant performance boost.

To distract myself from a couple of other projects recently, I took a look at a netbook where the latest Ubuntu Netbook remix had been installed. It looked snazzy as all get-out with the Mutter/Unity interface, but was absurdly slow. 1 It also wasn't as customizable as the standard GNOME Ubuntu interface I'd shown off before.

So the question was this: How to preserve the look (and much of the feel) of Mutter/Unity, while getting customizability back and getting a speed increase?

It was actually pretty simple - and if you're thinking about putting Ubuntu on your netbook, you can do the same thing. (Click the image to embiggen.)


1. When you log in, choose "Ubuntu Desktop Session". That brings up the normal interface.
2. Install Ubuntu Tweak.
3. You're going to install the following (many of which you can do through Ubuntu Tweak): Synapse, Tilda, Faenza, and GLX-Dock.
4. At the terminal, type "sudo apt-get install xcompmgr". In System->Preferences->Startup Applications, make a new entry with the command xcompmgr &. The ampersand is important. Then type xcompmgr & in a terminal window now. (It's a low-power, low-frills, low-resource-hogging compositing manager, so you get some nice effects without a lot of other crud.)
5. Get rid of the bottom GNOME Panel. I put the pager in the upper right, but all the icons there are default panel applets. (Right click the panel, choose "add to panel", and play...). It is important to move the Ubuntu menu to the right about 24-30 pixels.
6. If you want to remove your name and the twitter/im integration, right click on the power button on the terminal (or your name) and "Remove from panel". In the terminal, type:
sudo apt-get remove indicator-me indicator-messages
then add indicator-session-applet back to the panel.
7. Start GLX Dock (it used to be called Cairo). I moved it to the left hand side, used the default theme, and told it to not zoom any icons. I configured the dock to expand - but THEN Alt-Clicked the dock and drug it down just below the top GNOME panel. The background is a gradient (full opacity) between two colors dropper-picked from the GNOME panel. I turned off all corner rounding. I used the Faenza icon set because it's square (like the dock). Tell the dock to start with Ubuntu.
8. Reboot to make sure it all took. Remember that you're choosing Ubuntu Desktop Session (it should default to the last chosen, but check).
9. Tweak to your heart's content. (You can spend HOURS configuring and tweaking this dock.) This is really what makes it worthwhile, I think (aside from the HUGE speed increase). You have practically no ability to configure Ubuntu Netbook Edition out of the box as it stands. While that's nice ("See? It works!"), the fact that Mutter/Unity is so slow can also be a significant turn-off, especially since a lot of netbooks are underpowered. Best case scenario: The person doing this doesn't know a lot about linux, but follows this guide and pokes around a little bit to find out what's going on and what all they can do with linux... or can just let it be and be happy.

It's all about choice, folks, and that's what's spiffy about linux.

1I also found it comparatively difficult to just get a "run" command or terminal window, which was distracting for me.

Reading Slush - my experiences

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publishing.pngI'd been asked a while back to give a few thoughts on slush reading. I've read a bit of slush here and there - not a lot, but some. I also did the first screening reading flash fiction submissions for Paul Genesse. He's editing the first volume of the Crimson Pact (March 2011! Be there!).

So here's some general observations:

  • Nearly every story has redeeming qualities. The few that aren't are usually not stories. What do I mean by "not stories"? They don't have a plot, or a beginning, middle, or end.
  • Flash fiction is harder. Why? Every word has to count. Every. Last. Word. And then it has to count again.
  • Simple cover letters are better. Especially with flash fiction, your story sells it, not the cover letter.
  • Grammar is your friend. Buy Yoda's story, I would not.
  • Read the guidelines. And when in doubt, follow standard manuscript format.
  • Avoid the standard tropes. The list is here.

There's one last one that doesn't apply to writers:

Don't give them specifics about the rejection.

Oh, don't look at me like that. Something is nice - for example, I got one today that said "this story just doesn't fit with the others in the anthology." That's a nice thing - it lets my ego survive. :) But if you start giving details (unless you're specifically asking for a rewrite), then you're simply inviting drama.

Have you ever read slush? What was your experience like?

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honesty and business

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essay.pngI tend to be as honest as I can be, especially in business.1 This causes me problems, especially when I'm trying to be honest while there's a whisper campaign (or worse, Dilbert-esque corporatespeak) going on. I don't - to put it mildly - do well in those situations.2

As my therapist put it recently:
Steve, this is the midwest. You're not supposed to complain, you're not supposed to point out what's wrong with people or situations, and if you do, you're trouble.

He even went on to quote Terms of Endearment!

I'm afraid he's right - but I still think honesty is the best policy, especially when you're more concerned with one's own reputation for honesty. For example, my newest testimonial for my eBook conversion services.

The PDF I saw of Ms. Wendinger's book is gorgeous. It looks the way history books would in a perfect universe. It's just a really, really beautiful book.

And there was no way I could make it look that good as an ePub or Kindle book. Nobody could. So I told her the truth, and explained why.

She spontaneously sent me a note3 that became that testimonial. And as much as I value the other wonderful compliments that my clients have given me, that one holds a special bit of value for me.

Because back in 2007, I wrote about my own experiences on the other side of that relationship. And it was so awesome to realize that I had become the kind of businessperson that I praised back then.

1 I'm human and fallible, prone to overstimate my abilities, and generally screw up in that way - but I try to not lie.
2 Yes, I'm talking about my day job. And that's as much as I'm going to say publicly about it right now.
3 She rewrote it at my request, but basically changed "you" to my name.

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Making GeekTool a little easier on the system

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technology.pngI love me some system monitors. I like making my system monitors lightweight. The two are not always compatible.

I've used Samurize on Winboxen, use Conky on linux, and got introduced to GeekTool on OS X. Geektool uses a lot of similar output to Conky, so it wasn't hard to get what I wanted pretty quickly (internal/external IP, uptime, load, free ram, and CPU stats).

What I noticed, though, were the example scripts. I threw some in to get the hang of the thing, and saw that something as trivial as CPU load was using a good 5% of my CPU power. When I looked at the code, I saw why:

top -l 2 |awk '/CPU usage/ && NR > 5 {print $1, ":", $3, $4}'
top -l 2 |awk '/CPU usage/ && NR > 5 {print $1, ":", $5, $6}'
top -l 2 |awk '/CPU usage/ && NR > 5 {print $1, ":", $7, $8}'

top is a great little command, but calling it three times (actually six, the second iteration is due to a quirk) is enough to put a bit of load on the system. This was only one example - another script pinged an external IP, ran six top commands, did some math, and so on... every second.

Obviously, lowering the refresh rate helps. I split two scripts up - one with a refresh rate of 300 sec (the uptime, load, and IP addresses) and the other with a refresh rate of 3 sec (system monitoring). That's not the cool bit - because OS X is overtop of BSD, I could use bash scripting to make it work better. Call the high-load process once, store the output as a variable, and re-parse the variable for your output.

So here's the code for you; I've simply commented it so you can cut and paste as you like.

#system statistics
#we run it once here to get physical memory free
top -n1 -l 1| awk '/PhysMem/ {print "ram free : " $10 " "}'

#get data from top - we just want header info
#run it twice so we get real CPU percentages
topdata=`top -n1 -l 2`;
echo "$topdata"|awk '/CPU usage/ && NR > 5 {print "cpu user : " $3}'
echo "$topdata"|awk '/CPU usage/ && NR > 5 {print "cpu sys : " $5}'
echo "$topdata"|awk '/CPU usage/ && NR > 5 {print "cpu idle : " $7}'

myen0=`ifconfig en0 | grep "inet " | grep -v | awk '{print $2}'`

if [ "$myen0" != "" ]
echo "ethernet : $myen0"
echo "ethernet : INACTIVE"

myen1=`ifconfig en1 | grep "inet " | grep -v | awk '{print $2}'`

if [ "myen1" != "" ]
echo "airport : $myen1"
echo "airport : INACTIVE"

inetip=$(curl -s | sed 's/[a-zA-Z<>/ :]//g')
if [ "$inetip" = "" ]
echo "ext ip : $inetip"

# Change this to en1 for airport instead of ethernet

#uptime info
echo "$updata" | awk '{print "uptime : " $3 " " $4 " "$5" " }'
echo "$updata" | awk '{print "load : " $8 " "$9" "$10" "$11" "}'

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Marbles - Two 100 Word Stories

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And we have TWO yes TWO stories once again, with Chris the Nuclear Kid's story first, then mine.

storytime.pngYou know the drill!
read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to the stories below or download Chris' or mine via the direct links!

Marbles 2 My name's Tom. I don't have many friends, because I said that I know an ogre. I don't know the ogre that well because I can't speak his language. But I know one thing about him - he really likes marbles. He even helped me get better at it so that I could win against a bully named Tray!

Anyway, I went to school, as usual, and decided to bring the ogre with me so that hopefully, people would stop calling me a liar. I waited until recess and played marbles against Tray as usual...

...but, this time I finally won.

The astronomer's voice rolled out. "The Earth is a small blue marble hanging in space, surrounded by billions and billions of stars."

My arm was around my son's shoulders; this series had inspired me at his age. But he'd started fidgeting - the first time he had during the entire series.

"What is it, kiddo?"

His deep brown eyes looked up. "Daddy, are we the shooter? Earth. Our marble."

"Of course not," I said, and guided him to bed.

That night, I lay on the grass looking up and waiting for a giant green finger to flick us across the universe.

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Owning a Mac - Day One Notes

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technology.pngFor various reasons, I had to acquire a Mac. I wasn't thrilled about this, but it's a straight-up business expense.

As I've played with the system (c'mon, new geek toy!), I've been struck by this basic fact: It reminds me of GNOME. GNOME with the eye candy turned up to 11, Unity running, and few built-in options to turn it all off.

Yeah, I know, it's a comparison that would have been impossible only a few short years ago when Linux was considered "unfriendly to users" - and now I'm comparing OS X (10.6, fwiw) to Ubuntu's default environment and window manager. But they're similar - eerily so, at times. (Main differences: Installing applications is so easy on OS X it was counterintuitive to me, I do not understand doing everything through a dock, and the Ubuntu Software Center was more helpful (and less expensive) than the App Store.) 1

And now I know why folks got twitchy at Ubuntu 10.04 and even more are not happy about 11. Ubuntu is definitely aiming to be as easy to use as a Mac. Which isn't a bad thing; I can now definitely say that switching from Windows to Ubuntu is just about as difficult as switching to a Mac. And unlike a Mac, it was relatively easy in Ubuntu to turn off all the graphical bells and whistles to make the performance snappier. When your primary selling points (and OS-defining characteristics) are graphical bells and whistles... well, color me unimpressed.

And given the price difference - well, I'd recommend you give Ubuntu a try first, y'all.

Hell, it looks like I'm going to have to build WINE from source. grumble

1 I have no need for Garage Band, iLife, and other Mac-only software. So far, that's the only compelling reason I can see for shelling out the extra for the OS and hardware.

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If Fox News Existed in 1776

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rant.pngAs I commented on Twitter yesterday, I've noticed the strange relationship that Americans (really, USAians) have with "democracy": We seem to think that "democracy" is synonymous with "likes the United States".

A friend of mine pointed out that I was confusing "democracy" as "system of government" with "democracy" as "code for our Western way of life". She's right, of course. With Mubarak stepping down yesterday, I was ... subjected ... to large amounts of Fox News. If you stopped and really listened to the tone of voice (and remember that Murdoch hails from Australia, where I understand they at least still pay attention to that "royalty" thing), it wasn't hard to imagine what it would be like...

If Fox News Existed in 1776

"Well Bob, with the previous government ousted, the land is essentially ruled by the military , led by their head general. I understand that this general, one man named "Washington", will run for president."

"Isn't that general one of the wealthy slaveowners?"

"That's right, Bob. These people rose up against the British army and the Church."

"You mentioned the Church - don't a lot of these rebels belong to a religious splinter group?"

"That's correct. These Deists have been a shadowy group, sometimes even suggesting that the Church not be affiliated with the State."

"How do you think they'll do without a King?"

"Only time can tell, Bob. Only time can tell."

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Coming soon...How to Create an eBook

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publishing.pngI make a big deal about hand-converting eBooks - and I stand by my statements. It's not horribly difficult, but it is detail oriented and requires some basic knowledge about computers.

I've been planning on writing a HOWTO book for creating an eBook since last November. The problem I've been having is making sure that I'm answering questions properly, or at a level most authors and writers can understand.

So starting soon, I'll be doing my own experiment similar to Kris Rusch's Freelancer Survival Guide. I will be posting sections of the HOWTO here, and soliciting feedback from you, the readers. If something needs explaining, ask. If something doesn't work, tell me.

And everyone who donates toward the book will get a copy of the finished eBook.

I'm excited about this - like Ms. Rusch, I got stalled on the project. But as I researched an article and found out how many companies were ripping off authors, I realized I couldn't stand by the wayside any longer. With authors like Jim C. Hines - among others - putting their own work out there, I realized that if I wanted to see authors have more power and influence, we would have to learn to DIY.

So stay tuned, folks. It should be interesting.

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Small Press Ain't Always Better

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publishing.pngI'm not going to name any names here - it's not really fair, because these were just convenient examples. These two things are unfortunately more common among small presses than the larger ones.

Problem one: There's a small press who has a lot of authors I like. Over the last six months, they've touted several "Huge Sales Events (be there be there be there...)". These huge sale events are always the same two or three titles (they have more than those titles), and they're essentially the same discounts each time. I know they're trying to attract new customers, but it makes me question how well they're doing financially. Either the work is overpriced to begin with, or they're having to cut margins. That sucks enough as a reader, but as an author, that really makes me skittish. Be aware that too many sales events makes you look like you're in financial trouble.

Problem two: Readers read more than your books - and don't care how much it costs to make them. There's one obvious exception - value-added editions (with material that's not available in the others) can charge a premium, but readers do compare apples to... well, books. For example:
Here are two anthologies that came out in the last six months. They both carry a $14.99 pricetag for the paper edition - but they're visibly different amounts of material. As a reader, I'd be saying "WTF?".

Strangely, the digital editions of these books are priced roughly equivalent to the amount of content they have. I'm not sure why, but I'm presuming that it's due to the physical production process. Those of us who are proceeding full apace into the digital age (and the smaller anthology counts here) are definitely looking at a price point that's much more competetive than paper. The smaller anthology, Mike Stackpole's digital only (and quite good) novel "In Hero Years I'm Dead", and the upcoming Crimson Pact anthology I'm producing are all going to have price points roughly the same as a big fancy coffee drink.

Given a choice between a $5 anthology to read on my eReader or either of the $15 ones, I know what I'd choose.

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...didn't see THAT coming

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random.pngAnd then sometimes Second Life has something you really never, ever expected.

I got an invite (though I can't attend) to see a performance of Narnia as ballet in Second Life. The Dramatiques Performance Troupe will be performing - and even if you've never stepped inworld, you can catch the trailer, below.

Yeah, I know it sounds kind of unusual. But it actually looks pretty cool.

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It's Just Magic Eyedrops - Two 100 Word Stories

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storytime.pngAnd we have TWO yes TWO stories once again, with Chris the Nuclear Kid's story first, then mine. Some of you will know that mine is another little exploration into the zombies-in-space idea I've been playing with since last summer.

You know the drill! read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to the stories below or download Chris' or mine via the direct links!

Beyond Magic Eyedrops

He's got the whole world in his hand"First, I wanted to make something to help the blind."
The reporter smiled. "Your famous invention."
"Just magic eye drops. They let blind people see for a day, but I still wasn't satisfied."
"Just magic eye drops? How isn't that enough?"
"It was quite an accomplishment." I said. "However, I wanted to achieve something greater. I wanted to find a way to make a better world."
"Have you had any luck?" the reporter asked.
"Some, but I've had problems getting enough Play-doh in orbit," I said as a rocket lifted off outside.

In The Eye

Zombie EyesThe general nodded at the top science advisor. "So. Zombies."

Sweat began to soak the curls of her hair. "Yessir. Zombies." She held her breath. The country's defense lay in the hands of this pompous man. "Sir, it's a virulent, rapid mutating cancer causing extreme hunger. There are high concentrations in the eyes and-"

"No eyedrops to stop zombiefication, is there? That's because they're magic."

"No, sir. But I'm sure that we can find a scientific solution-"

The general slammed his hand down. "Enough science. It's magic." He sat back. "It's just magic."

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Healthcare Reform and Crappy Research Design

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soc_econ.pngIn the ongoing frothiness about healthcare, I've got something important to point out. It's pretty easy to find reports showing what Americans think about their current insurance and healthcare. But I don't think those reports are accurate - and it's not because of the surveys themselves.

I ran across this article (from's Notes in September 2009 1) (PDF). While the actual report is relatively straightforward, the introduction seems to be slanted against any kind of reform (slightly edited for space and formatting):
"...most Americans are satisfied with their health coverage, and have been historically. But the question of whether Americans will be able to keep what they have has been raised by a number of analysts, and while Americans are satisfied with the coverage they have now, they are concerned about the future.

And this gem:
While these sharp differences in attitudes are not surprising, shoring up the system for the uninsured and individuals with chronic conditions means changing the health care system for everyone—notably for those with insurance coverage and in good health. Ultimately, will the needs of the few outweigh the satisfaction of the many?

They go on to note that not only has the satisfaction with current plans stayed level for a decade, but actually started to go up in 2009. (Click charts to embiggen.)

And they're right. Among their sample in The EBRI/MGA Health Confidence Survey, that's absolutely correct. But why did it go up in 2009 - and if it's going up (they imply), why should we get reform?

I think there's a spurious variable in there. The Health Confidence Survey was conducted between 8 May and 2 June 2009. Presumably, the other administrations of the survey in prior years happened at the same time. Between 2 June 2008 and 2 June 2009, President Obama was elected after making the reform of healthcare a major issue. It's a few months after he made it a key point of a joint address - and two months before wingnut mobs started harassing elected officials about HCR.

I think what we see in that chart above (statistical correlation here, if you're interested) is the impact of the right-wing propaganda machine between November 2008 and May 2009.

I notice the same thing with winter weather - since I stopped watching TV news, my anxiety over "snowpocalpyses" has declined dramatically. In my region, these supposed "-pacalypses" 2 would've been "winter storms" five years ago, now they are causing runs on grocery stores.

As researchers and citizens, it's important to cut through the spurious data and try to get to the truth of things.

Or maybe it's just that the truth of things is that many people are easily manipulated.

1 I had trouble finding consistent trend data quickly; I didn't spend much time on it. If anyone else has better data, that'd be awesome.
2 I use the term still, but ironically.

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beside you in time

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The lack of good videos for this song wouldn't suck so much if there weren't so many bad ones. Luckily, this one's pretty good.

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For Zen Bananas - A 100 Word Story

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A second (no, third!) story? Why yes! This is my entry into this week's weekly challenge. Of course, you don't have to choose between my story and my son's - you can vote for both of us!

It's also worth noting (if you don't listen to the audio) that I got an IM from the host of the Weekly Challenge, where it read that the topic was "forzen bananas". But you want to listen to the audio - this is the best I've sounded in two weeks!

So you know the drill!
read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge (it's "It's just Magic" and "Eyedrops"), listen to the story below or download via this direct link!

nanasThe banana monk knelt before the saffron-robed master.

“What must I do to achieve enlightenment?” the banana supplicant asked the plantain master – though they both only spoke Mandarin.

The plantain smiled and stepped past the puzzled supplicant. He returned with cherries, whipped topping, and ice cream. He sprayed the whipped topping on the supplicant.

The banana got very angry. “Make me one with everything?” the supplicant shrieked. “That stupid joke doesn't even make sense in Mandarin!”

The plantain sat down, smiled, and applauded, even though plantains have no hands.

And thus did they both achieve Zen.

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