Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

eBook Problem Sightings In The Wild: So You Want To Make An eBook?

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This post is part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. You can find all the posts here. If you find it useful, please drop a bit in the coffee cups or buy the book (linkage to the right!)

If you thought that the boom in digital books (now spurred on again, by Amazon dropping prices and raising features) would mean that quality formatting must be preserved... um, you were wrong.

And if you thought where you got your eBooks would be the defining characteristic of quality, you're also wrong. Check these screenshots out:

These eBooks were distributed by Overdrive, provider of digital books to many a library (it looks like it's a post-hoc conversion of a Louis L'Amour book).  Be aware, folks - the person who sent me this screenshots has given up on this book.  If your readers are seeing this, they'll return your book (since both B&N and AMZ accept returns) and you're not only out that sale, but you're out future sales as well.

(The problem, by the way, is most likely in the CSS file.  Notice in the second screenshot how the first paragraph - without an indent - doesn't overlap like the ones that do have an indent?  The first paragraph has a different style applied to it, but the one for the main paragraphs is borked.)

This post was part of So You Want to Make an eBook?. You can find all the posts here.

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Scary Halloween Costumes... but not the way you think

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It's really easy to find bad costumes.  I wrote about one last year, and Resist Racism has their annual Halloween post that sums up most everything.  But I stopped by one of the annual costume-a-palooza stores, and couldn't help but note some of these just wrong costumes. They get worse as we go down the page.

These are either insanely stupid or pure genius. I mean, the flip-flop angle's pretty stupid, but it sure made me really reconsider my risk factors for Type II Diabetes...
Here's a costume that will give the Burger King guy a run for his money. I mean, this is a nightmare rendition of Papa Smurf. His dark, evil eyebrows, the way his beard never moves... it's eeeeeeeeeevil!
I think someone doesn't understand the word "hipster". Maybe they should consult this meme.

Or maybe I'm just not cool enough to get this costume.
Congratulations, Sesame Street. Not only have you completely sold out, but you've done so in a way to invoke Rule 34 in real life. Why sexualize Big Bird? Dear God, WHY?
Also, Big Bird would never wear those heels. He would wear flats.

But honestly, all that pales in comparison to huge chunks of the children's section. Only two are below... and appropriately enough, somehow Pedobear showed up in my pictures of the costumes. The urge to go back with a "Pedobear Stamp of Approval" is strong...

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Authors: Use ITW's Publisher Checklist to Evaluate Publishers of All Sizes

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publishing.pngBack at GenCon, you might remember where I told some scammers to stay the hell away from my convention.  Well, it's been over two months, and their webpage still has the same old bull - pay up front for the privilege of them submitting some files for you.  They're called Orange Hat - I link to their "packages" page where you can see it's a pay-to-play kind of deal.  (You might be clued in by the fact that they only have one "featured" author, who is also the same person who provides blurbage for them.) They're providing (at best) publishing services, but that's a far cry from being a publisher.   (Again, as Alliteration Ink I do both.)  Some of this was covered again (and reiterated) in the From Writers to Writers page as well.

This comes up because I just ran across International Thriller Writers and their requirements to be a recognized publisher.  They've got a nice set of criteria (downloadable as a DOC file - yeah, I know) from the above page.  The questions there really get to the essence of what makes a publisher a publisher. The SFWA criteria isn't bad, and it's certainly impartial.  But these questions really reflect more than just whether or not someone's established and has a bunch of cash.
Self published writers are not automatically excluded from being a qualified publisher, but they bear a higher burden to demonstrate their status.
I think that's cool. It gets to the idea that being a publisher is less about what you pay, and more about how you behave.  It's a good checklist for authors as well.  Is the publisher (large or small) behaving in a way that they could answer these questions well?

It's not about getting a perfect score - as ITW's website says:

Again, no one factor is determinative, nor would the lack of one be fatal. Recognizing that good judgment and reasonableness should always govern, any and all determinations of whether a publisher is qualified will be made on a case-by-case basis.
 That said, this may help illuminate whether or not your publisher is actually doing right by you ... and your story.

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Send File From Linux Command Line to Thunderbird

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technology.pngA little script/tweak/tip for you folks who use Tux Commander (or any other light file manager) in Linux:

One thing that I sorely missed was the ability to send files via e-mail from the file manager or command line. And, of course, I finally got around to realizing there probably is a way to do that...

So to save you some time, I've got a BASH script for sending attachments via e-mail. It tests to make sure it's looking at a file (and tests for absolute vs. relative paths). If you want to make the script a lot bigger and more complex, it'd be easy to do so (and have it ask for addressee, etc, etc), but it does one thing, and does it just fine for me. The command line syntax was ganked from; my main contribution is adding in some error trapping.

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Mirror - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries (and vote for your favorites) at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Hole in the skyHe stares at me, tied and gagged in my basement, and I remember.

The first time I heard my father's voice in my own laugh. The first time I realized I was turning into my dad.

This -- thing, clone, son, whatever -- is different.

It stole my mannerisms. It's a distorted mimicry. This thing doesn't think. It just pretends. It thrusts itself into the nests of our hearts. Like a cuckoo, it shoves everything else aside to fall to the ground. And then it feeds.

The thing isn't like me. I see the difference. It's a funhouse reflection.

Bullets shatter mirrors.

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Eighteen and Life

You either know about this or you don't.  If you don't know, please don't ask. 

Sorry, kid.  I did all I could, and it almost destroyed me.   It still hurts, when I think about it. And really, despite my fuckups and failures, I know where it all really started, no matter what some of the others say.

I really do hope things work out for you.  Good luck.

Getting Private Data From My Kid Was Scary-Easy: Teach Yours From His Mistake

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soc_econ.pngWe often worry about our safety and privacy online - including that of our children. (If you haven't read it before, my Practical Privacy Online guide still holds a lot of good info.) But we don't think about their phones.

Sure, there's the problem that tools like K9 Web Protection don't work with smartphones (though I believe there's some ways to get similar functionality), but your kid (or you!) doesn't have to have a smartphone in order to severely compromise your security.

The background: My son had gotten several text messages from a number he didn't recognize. He started chatting with the person, and by the time his mother found out, he'd given away more personal information than she was comfortable with. This particular instance turned out to be a prank from some "friends" of a friend, but none of us knew it at the time. For all we knew, it was an instance of wardialing ... and while you can't (always) get a name for a cell phone number, you can usually get the general location, such as the city and state.

I was concerned about social engineering - that is, the practice of getting someone to give up secure or confidential information willingly. While I don't have any real practice in that - though I've seen it described - I do have a tiny bit of experience doing cold readings. Cold reading is the technique that con artists posing as psychics and mediums use.

I was at a different location, and realized that he didn't have my Google Voice number in his address book. Surely, after his mom had just berated him for this security violation, he wouldn't do the same damn thing again, right?

My notes in this transcript are in italics. Some data is obfuscated, of course. "Me" is me, and "Kiddo" is him. He's 13. The time/date stamp is right after each line, so you can see how far I got in an hour of texting. I tried to pretend (to myself) that I didn't know who was on the other side of the conversation.

Me: Hey u there? 8:34 PM
Kiddo: Is this zach 8:38 PM
Me: Got ur $ I owe u 8:41 PM
Me: From aug 8:42 PM

I figured that one of two things was true here - the person had either lent money, or would gladly accept someone wanting to "pay them back" for money they hadn't lent. Con artists use this technique all the time, letting the mark doom themselves through their own greed.

Me: Had 2 get new phone 8:44 PM
Me: Lost all my #s. :( 8:44 PM
Kiddo: Who is this 8:45 PM
Me: Wait did I get wrong #? 8:46 PM
Me: Had all written down. Who r u? 8:46 PM
Me: Maybe I got mixed up w names and #s 8:47 PM
Kiddo: Chris 8:47 PM

I took a "guess" here that Chris was a boy, so I used a girl's name back. Lindsey is the name of an acquaintance who had given my workmates and I cupcakes earlier that day. It's also a fairly common name - but not THAT common. I could also - in a pinch - try to pass it off as a male name.

Me: Which chris? This is lindsey. 8:48 PM
Me: I know 2 many chris! :) 8:48 PM
Kiddo: What is your name 8:48 PM
Me: Lindsey! 8:49 PM
Me: U don't remember me? :( 8:49 PM
Kiddo: Ya i do 8:49 PM

Because who admits not remembering someone who remembers you? Also, by this point it's pretty clear I'm dealing with a kid/teen.

Me: Which chris? 8:50 PM
Kiddo: The one u txt earlyer who was confused about who u were. How did u get my number 8:52 PM
Me: Ur friend, remember? I got the $ I owe u but don't remember which place is u? 8:53 PM
Kiddo: Which friend tell me their name 8:54 PM
Me: I don't remember I thought u were cute 8:55 PM

I almost thought he had me here. This was the only dodge I could think of to avoid guessing a friend's name - because while he probably knew a "Lindsey" (something I really didn't know) - I don't want the story to get too complicated or involving more people. So I played on the other thing that tends to get people... "I thought you were cute."

Me: U gave me $ for pop 8:56 PM
Me: So can I give u ur $ now? 8:59 PM
Me: I'm near ur house but need to know which 1 9:00 PM
Me: & I wanna c u again 9:02 PM
Me: So can I c u? 9:02 PM

Plausible reason to get his address... if he gave it to me right away, I'd have to say something came up and I'd come back later...

Kiddo: Ohhhhhhh. From the [CITYNAME] wreck center at the pool 9:04 PM
Me: Yeah silly 9:04 PM
Me: So? 9:06 PM
Me: R u scared of letting a girl c u? 9:06 PM

Classic technique here among con artists (and pickup artists, who essentially do the same thing). Flatter, then "neg" - as in "put down". I saw a 419 scammer try to do this to a professional during one of my grad school classes.

Me: :) 9:06 PM
Kiddo: No i didnt recognize ur name 9:08 PM
Me: U there? 9:08 PM
Me: So can I c u? which place r u? 9:09 PM
Me: Cmon I gotta go home soon 9:13 PM

More "neg"

Me: Do u wnt 2 c me? 9:14 PM
Me: Yes I said u were cute! 9:18 PM

More flattery.

Kiddo: Yes sorry. My building num. Is XXXXXXXX door letter XXXX. But not tonight tomorow maybe 9:20 PM

Match, game, set. At this point, I called him from my GVoice number (after texting him that "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog") and told him what I had done. I pointed out that I could have easily found out when he wasn't there at this point and broken in... or found out when he was home alone, and worse stuff happen. And I pointed out that I had no idea who Lindsey was, and that I'd guessed at everything. We went back through the chat log and discussed how he volunteered practically all the information except for some vague good guesses on my part.

It was frighteningly easy to do this. If you think your kids (or you) are too smart to fall for this, you are wrong. These are very specific techniques that have been in use for centuries as part of a con artist's arsenal.

What should you do?  For starters:

1. Emphasize the strict, no exceptions rule: NO response to texts from numbers you don't know.
2. NEVER give out personal information to random strangers. None. Nada.
3. Teach your children how to recognize a scam. Whether random texts, Nigerian scammers (yes, they exist), or home-grown con artists, you only survive by being smart, alert, and informed. Not kind, not well-intentioned... smart, alert, and informed.

Many thanks to Mary Leal, whose work with the ABS program at Wright State gave me some of the awareness and skill to pull this off.  She runs the Predator Project;  you can read about one of her bigger cases of identity theft here.

I'm glad to say my case turned out pretty well. Kiddo later apologized to his mother: "I'm sorry I thought you were a moron about that texting thing. Dad totally got me."

Only would have better if he'd said pwned.

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Random Pet Pictures

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Yes, it's random pet pictures day!

This is Jenny, or J-Dog. She's a rescue animal (half boxer, half golden retriever), who was so nervous that when I first met her, tossing her a treat would make her run away. Now she's Shotgun Dog, riding shotgun!

Leakey (named after the anthropologist, but he should have been named "Lunchbox"), is LazyDog. Except when he's not. A hundred pounds of territorial Rottie and Australian Shepherd mix here (and yes, he's damn smart for a dog).

And Cian. She's a cat. Regal Cat is Regal.

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It Seemed Like A Good Idea (in honor of "The God Complex" of Doctor Who)

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storytime.pngThis is a repost, folks, but it seemed Oh So Appropriate after this week's Doctor Who episode.

And yes, it's spoiler-free. I think this last episode worked quite well, even the bits that seemed to come out of left field. I've got some bets as to what's coming up next week, and I'll be quite interested to see if I'm right.

I stop typing when Bob's fetid breath flows into my cubicle. "Write the good idea episode."


"Write where his companion says it seemed like a good idea to gallavant across time and space in a telephone booth - but they miss their regular boring day job and regular boring life."


Bob nods. "There's discontent. People are starting to want more from their lives. Time for their hero to say that regular boring lives are... important."

the future of the daleks"Time for him to lie again."

"Exactly. Allonz-y!"

"On whose authority?"

A pepperpot's shadow slides past my door.

"The highest authority. The highest."

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Even with zombies, "regular" still means "boy".

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soc_econ.pngI have to admit, I like the game Zombie Farm.  Quite a bit, actually.  It's got all the good bits of the *Farm Facebook games, but doesn't require Facebook (iOS only, sorry).  The game mechanics are such that you can min/max as much as you want... but aren't penalized for not doing so.  That and... well, farming zombiesHow cool is that?

(Answer:  Fun!)

And then I thought they avoided the Plants vs. Zombies sexism problem that the Border House talked about (and I later critiqued a bit).  There's female zombies.  They have their own special abilities toward game balance.  Okay, cool.  No problems ahead, right?

Yeah, I was idealistic.

In Zombie Farm, your zombies can get special abilities - whether through defeating certain enemies, or "mutations" (I have a zombie with a potato head and celery arms, for example).  It adds a nice little tweak to the game.

And then I saw this special ability:
Chivalry: Girl Zombies are stronger around you.

Ooooookay.  At least it's making women stronger (despite calling them "girls").  That's not too bad.  It could even be a nice twist on chivalry being all about disempowering women.  And then I unlocked the complementary ability...

Grace:  Regular zombies are stronger around you.

Yeah, it's the embedded sexist idea that "regular" is equivalent to male.   

le sigh.

I figure The PlayForge did not intend sexism here - it's a product of our nice sexist culture where "normal" defaults to "straight white male".  And luckily, it just takes the change of a word in the description text ("regular" to "male" or "boy") to nom some embedded sexism the way zombies nom brains.

So, PlayForge, I'll be waiting for that update, y'all.  

If you want to weigh in, the GetSatisfaction report is here.

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Return on Investment - It's Not Always Dollars : Self-Promotion for Authors

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selfpromotionThis post is part of a project tentatively titled Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. 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.

You’ll hear marketing pros (and me, as well) talk about “return on investment” (ROI). It’s a useful concept. You obviously don’t want to spend a lot of time and money doing something that has no impact whatsoever. This is one of the very, very few times that looking at your statistics and rankings actually makes sense.
But there are three big things that you must understand before you start thinking about ROI in any kind of meaningful way. PROTIP: These three things largely mean that ROI doesn't mean nearly as much for us as it does for many other types of business.
First: Measures are not made equally. During the first heyday of banner ads on the internet, advertisers were certain that they were a complete failure. Clickthrough rates of one percent were fairly common - and seemed completely disappointing. They failed to recognize thier own assumptions about traditional advertising. 
Millions of people drove past billboards on any given day - but the ratio of people passing by compared to those taking action was rarely considered. Instead, advertising campaigns were measured by changes in sale rates. If more product moved, the campaign was a success. If not, a failure. Yet the “click-through” rates on billboards were - and are - simply abysmal.
A lot of our efforts in self-promotion are equally unmeasurable. When we talk to a person at a convention and they don’t buy a book, is that wasted time? Or will they talk to five other people who get interested and end up buying? Avoid comparing measures of ROI in sales to more ambiguous effects.
Second: Determine what your “return” really is. Because of the ambiguous nature of the returns in our business, real numbers are scarse. I believe that while it’s nice to get real numbers whenever possible, there are other things that we can concentrate on.
Specifically, I believe that while we eventually measure our “return” in books sold (and money in our pocket), that whenever we cannot accurately measure that impact, we must measure the value in True Fans.
True Fans are those who will talk about your work to others. They may not buy it right away - or be able to - but will honestly recommend it to others. They will come to your readings, they will encourage others to attend, and generally subsidize you whenever possible.
Third: Measuring Connection Per Investment Allows You To Keep Your Soul. The general public is inundated with advertising. The sheer ubiquity of it means that with every gimmick, trick, and advertising shenanigan there are already several people there doing it better than you ever will. You can spend all your time trying to do everything as good (or better) than everyone else. That leads to becoming either a failure or a soulless machine (see: Used Car Salesperson). By focusing on the connections - and fans - that we have, then we're focusing on real people instead of on simple filthy lucre.

Yes, having money to eat is... um... important. But if you're in writing simply for the money, you're in the wrong damn business anyway. What we're talking about here is measuring the impact (or lack thereof) of your promotional effort. 

What I'm wanting you to think about here is comparing ten one-time-sales to making five new fans - or friends. Which of the two is more important to your long term sales? 

Which of the two is more important to your soul?

This post was part of Sans Spam: Self Promotion For Authors. 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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HOWTO use Cisco AnyConnect VPN Without Cisco's Software with Linux

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technology.pngThis is one of those "I had to figure it out the hard way, so I hope I'll save someone else the trouble" posts. My university requires the use of a VPN in order to access your network drive on campus. They have a link to the Cisco software, but refuse to support it. That said, apparently Cisco's software is not horribly functional on Linux boxen, and isn't all that great on Windows either. I couldn't get the software to connect (it claimed something was corrupted) both on my Ubuntu machine and a XP box.

So I figured out another way.

How to connect to a Cisco AnyConnect or EasyConnect VPN via Linux.

I'm using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS; this guide worked for me using my university's setup. Some bits (especially step #8) may be slightly different from you.

There is no warranty express or implied. Your computer might start voting for that other political party and eating puppies for breakfast. Or kittens. You never know. Break your computer at your own risk. (Then again, you're running linux, so crap like that doesn't scare you.)

1. Install openconnect from repositories (sudo apt-get install openconnect openssl) or from . Many of these directions come from that website. If you are on a lighter distro (for example, using PCMan file manager), you may need to explicitly install the samba packages (sudo apt-get install samba gvfs-bin gvfs-backends) and all dependencies. TuxCommander, GnomeCommander, and Nautilus all have plugins for VFS systems like this already in place. (See this thread for more guidance if needed: )

2. Copy the text of the file vpnc-script from .

3. type

sudo gedit /etc/vpnc/vpnc-script

in a terminal window. Feel free to use your editor of choice. Paste clipboard contents into it. Save.

4. In a terminal window (that you're going to keep open), type:

sudo openconnect --script /etc/vpnc/vpnc-script

5. When prompted in the terminal window, enter your w# and password

6. You should see some text like the below:

Got CONNECT response: HTTP/1.1 200 OK
CSTP connected. DPD 30, Keepalive 20
Connected tun0 as, using SSL
Established DTLS connection

7. Leave the terminal window open. Open Nautilus.

This is the bit that is specific to your institution. I snagged the answers for this part from Mac instructions. Useful that OSX is based off of *nix code!

8. Navigate to smb:// in Nautilus' address bar (press Ctrl-L). A window will pop up.
When prompted, put In the Name: field, type one of the following:
Faculty & Staff: Type (without the brackets)\[your campus "w" username].
Students: Type in your "w" username.
Type your campus password into the Password: field,

9. Realize exactly how slow 50KiBs upstream is when you're putting a video clip for your class on the shared drive.

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Waiting for Volume Two to Post

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I know, it's been a long time coming - and largely because of me. But Volume Two of The Crimson Pact is less than 24 hours away. I can say that with real certainty, because now I'm just waiting for the Amazon and Barnes&Noble links to go live sometime in the next 24-odd hours.  At that point I'll update The Crimson Pact website and the links at Alliteration Ink.


If you're wondering what all this Crimson Pact stuff is about, you can check out the $0.99 digital sampler "Tales from The Crimson Pact".  It features four of the stories from The Crimson Pact: Volume One, and will give you a taste of the variety and tone of the anthologies.  ( Amazon | Barnes&Noble )

If you've already read The Crimson Pact: Volume One and simply cannot wait another day, take a look through the backend of our website's store and buy it all right now.  (It's the backend as opposed to the nice clean front-end of the website, which will also be updated at the same time.)

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Request for Review Blogs

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publishing.pngHey folks, publishing-type stuff here. (betcha guessed from the logo, huh?)

If you run or read a book review blog or column, I'm interested in knowing about it.  Seriously.

What I want to know are:

Main URL:
Contact person name:
Contact E-mail:
Format they want to see books in: (epub, mobi, pdf, print)
What they review: (mainstream, romance, genre, etc)
Other guidelines they might have:
Pagerank: (if you don't run the blog, don't worry about it)
I am not interested in hits-per-time period.  I believe that pagerank is a more valuable metric here.

I'm compiling a list and sharing this information with a few other select small publishers.  Leave a comment below, or e-mail me at if you'd prefer.


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