Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Your Ears Need This: The United States of Pop 2012 (Shine Brighter)

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Making a huge mashup of the top hits of the last year has become something of a fad among bootleg/mashup artists.

DJ Earworm's work is consistently far, far superior. He takes all the disparate sounds and lyrics, fusing them into something that is completely different than all the originals put together.

He's done it once again this year, with the United States of Pop - "Shine Brighter".

Turn up the volume, dance like no-one's watching, and enjoy!

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Review: Allied Star Police (iOS, free)

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review.pngSomehow I missed Allied Star Police. It's a free iOS game by PopCap's "4th and Battery" imprint, and I'd like to recommend it to you (and any game designers out there).

It's not because of the backstory of the game's creation (which involves the Make-A-Wish foundation), or even the story of the game itself (police?  fighting a war...whaaa?).

It's because I'm a huge tower defense geek (even if I'm not that good at them), and Allied Star Police manages to do something pretty new1 and pretty cool with them.  Take a look at this gameplay trailer:

It might take a second to realize it - but those "vehicles" are essentially playing the role of towers that move. (Sorta like Trenches meets Plants vs. Zombies, but not.)   The game requires minimal explanation (seriously, minimal) but the mechanic allows for both rough brute force and strategy to be viable options.

Which is great, because it means you can come back and still beat a level after screwing it up.  Because, um, that's about how crappy I am at these games (which, yes, I love playing.  I know).  

There's only three levels, but add in the "beat your own best time/score" mechanic, and it's a nice chunk of time for the high price of free.  

Low learning curve to learn to play, a decent amount of strategy that becomes organically obvious, a new twist on an overdone gamestyle that does something other than ramping it to 11 to make it challenging?   Awesome.

Check Allied Star Police on the App Store for a fun play - and perhaps some ideas on how to do games better.

1 At least, I've not seen it before.

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A Sneak Peek At My Typical Workflow For eBook Conversion

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I occasionally have people ask exactly how I'm working when I am converting eBooks, so I thought I'd take a stab at answering.

My box runs a highly stripped down version of Ubuntu with OpenBox as the window manager (really, I ended up re-creating CrunchBang linux, but hey).  I typically use Geany for most of the heavy lifting, and GEdit for the rest.  (Windows folks, you'd probably use Notepad++ here instead.)  I use Leafpad for simple cut-and-paste jobs, and XPad for sticky notes for per-project things.

If I have to reference a PDF, I have that up in the other monitor.  Otherwise I'm mostly working with one monitor, but multiple desktops.

You can see what this typically looks like here:

Mostly because I built this up from scratch, it's not as confusing for me as it might look for you.  I know what each bit is, where it goes, and what it does, because I put it there.  Which is hugely liberating.

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Fix Google Video/Chat/Hangout in Ubuntu Based Systems With Integrated Webcams

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This is going to be for a very select group of people, but they'll be thankful as hell.  I've been searching for this answer for the last two weeks.

My tech specifications:  Ubuntu 10.04, stripped down with an Openbox WM.  Dell, with integrated webcam and audio.

Google Voice/Chat/Video/Hangouts all stopped working for me.  Other video - Skype, for example - worked just fine.  No idea what happened, or even particularly when it happened, since I don't use the service all the time.  Happened no matter what browser I was using, no matter where, what firewalls (or lack thereof) were up....
The plugin would install (because I stripped it out and put it back in half-a-dozen times) and there'd be a black square with no video or sound when I went to verify my settings.

Turns out it wasn't me.  (Note:  If it's working, don't "fix" it!)

It's a known problem with version 3.10 (which is "current" as of this writing) of the plugin.    After finally stumbling across this thread I found the download links for version 3.7. 

Ubuntu 64-bit

Ubuntu 32-bit

EDIT 7 Feb 2013:  The above download links no longer work.   There is a copy of each deb (both 32 and 64 bit)  at

I uninstalled 3.10, then downloaded the .deb package, installed it, and BOOM.  Good to go again.


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To the Douchepuppet Who Almost Hit Me at Kroger

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Hey dude. Didn't mean to scare you.

At least, I'm hoping you were scared when I asked you what had gotten you in such a hurry that you almost rear ended me in that parking lot.

See, I'm a writer. And you weren't headed to a hospital or anything, or even going very fast once you got on the street.

Maybe it's because I saw that episode of Louie. I just wanted to know, y'know? I couldn't understand what would cause you to rush through a snow covered parking lot and almost rear end me... But wasn't important enough to be life threatening.

Anyway, even though you never answered me before driving away, maybe you got something from the experience. It's something I'm trying to teach my kid.

See, I just wanted to understand, so my characters could be more three dimensional.

But I know that's not the only reason I could have stopped you.

Sometimes when you think there aren't going to be consequences... other people go out if their way to make sure the consequences find you.

I'm not one of those guys.

But the next person you're a douchepuppet to might just be.

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Get Fancy With eBook Design at Your Own Risk - A Practical Example

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So You Want to Make an eBook?Sometimes my clients for eBook conversion ask me why I don't do fancy with converted eBooks.  When I tell them it's because I want to be able to guarantee a consistent reading experience across all devices, sometimes they'll say that they only care about the modern eBook readers.

That's actually not a bad point.  Try using Gmail with the "basic HTML" interface, and you'll see this isn't just a piddly thing.  But that's not enough.

Please note - while Barnes & Noble is used in this example, that's simply because I like nooks better than Kindles.  I've seen this same problem show up across different Kindle apps/devices.

I just finished reading the latest Dresden Files novel (it was great if you're already a fan!).  I ended up reading a bunch of it on my nook Touch, though I ended up reaching the end on my iPhone, in the nook application.

With me so far?  Same eBook.  From the same store.  Official app from that store.  And yet:

That's not because of scrolling or anything else. The "fancy" styling behind the word "Chapter" simply shows up as a black box on the official app on the iPhone. (There are also some problems with drop cap rendering on both devices that showed up, but you get the point.)

This is actually a relatively minor issue - you understand that "Ten" in big letters by itself at the top of a virtual page is probably the chapter number.   It's also an avoidable issue.  

Again let me stress:  I have seen this same kind of error on all sorts of devices and applications.  No store or format or app is immune.

I take that back.  There is one way to avoid this kind of problem:  Keep it as simple as possible.  Remember that you are working with reflowable text.  Remember that eBook layout is fundamentally different than print layout... except for one thing:  When the layout detracts from the text of the book, you've failed.

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Pass OSX and Linux File Paths to Windows Programs Running Under WINE In One Script

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tl;dr: Even with WINE to let you run Windows software in Linux or OSX, the filenames are formatted differently. This shell script fixes that so you can set it as an file association in Finder, Nautilus, Dolphin, etc.

technology.pngWhen you're using linux or OS X, there are just some times that you want (or have) to use a Windows program.  There's a free program/layer/whatever called WINE that lets you do just that (Linux downloads here, OSX folks, look here) for most Windows programs (here's a database of working programs).

A good example for me is the awesome Windows freeware graphics viewer and editor IrfanView.  (While I use IrfanView as an example, this same principle would work for other filetypes, such as MS Office files.)

It's not my viewer of choice (that's Viewinor) or my heavy-duty editor of choice (the unfortunately-named GIMP), but IrfanView works great for middle-level image manipulation with a simple GUI.1

I'm defining middle-level manipulation as things like:
  • Batch resizing
  • Batch format conversion
  • Quick visual cropping
These sorts of things are awesomely easy, intuitive, and fast with IrfanView - even under WINE - because it's such a lightweight program.  When I'm just needing to crop a single photo with a quick mouse-dragged rectangle, I don't want to wait.

But there's a problem.  Windows expects file names to be formatted like this:


but both linux and OSX expect


Which means that even if I set up a file association in my viewer (OSX, Ubuntu, KDE), I'll have to manually choose the file. Which takes time, and kind of defeats the purpose.  So I made a quick BASH script to automagically change the path format from *nix/OSX to Windows and run the program through WINE.   It's currently written for a default IrfanView installation in a default WINE installation (IIRC);  you'll have to edit it slightly for the home directory location anyhow.

Then you can make the script executable and make it the default (or optional) association for image filetypes. It's a little work to set up once, but if there's a Windows program you have to or want to use frequently, this will save you a lot of work in the long run.

1 Yes, ImageMagick is hugely powerful, but I don't need that level of control - and if I did, I'd be using GIMP for it.

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A Musical Merry Christmas For You

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.

Some selected Christmas music for you here; a short video collection, a longer Spotify one. Be safe, and remember those in the #gloaming.

(If the embed code doesn't work, this link should.)

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Your Kid Has (or is getting) a Computer? How To Keep An Eye On Their Usage Without Hovering

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technology.pngIf your child - especially your teenager - has access to a computer at home, you're a worried parent.  (If you're not a worried parent, you probably should be.)  Even the most innocent child will stumble into a bad neck of the internet, or get curious, or simply get distracted when they should be working on homework, or...

As always, it's worth noting that any sufficiently motivated teenager can overcome these with a bit of effort.  However, it'll also start being obvious that it's disabled...

There are software solutions to help filter internet threats (I use K9 Web Protection for Windows and Mac (free)), but even the best only works so well.  Ultimately, it boils down to parents keeping an eye on what their kid is doing.  For example, I managed to see where the Nuclear Kid was once typing "sexy teen girls" (thank goodness I stopped him before he hit enter!) even though I was halfway across the house.

There's two parts to this setup:

Active Monitoring via a VNC remote desktop server (tightVNC for Windows, which is the same protocol as the screen sharing option for OSX, also compatible with Remote Desktop for Ubuntu).  This is pretty straightforward.  You set it up (with a password to connect and a different administrative password so it can't be shut off "by accident") and every so often virtually "poke your head in".  It will be obvious when you're doing so, and will totally bork any gaming the child is doing.  This will also let you control the other system - so you can type in different commands, help them troubleshoot if they get stuck, or enter a password if you want to keep control of all of that for them.

However, it is noticeable, so their behavior will change when they're sure you're watching.  They'll resent it.  And you do not want to casually open your home network to remote viewing... and control.  That's where the second part comes in.

Passive Monitoring via ScreenCapture.  You'll need to get two things to do this bit - but it's easily the most useful part.  First, get a Dropbox account for you and your child, and a shared folder that the two of you have access to.  (I would recommend "hiding" the shared folder on the child's computer and disabling notifications on Dropbox!)

Then you'll need to get something to take screenshots automatically.  For Windows, the free utility MiniCap works quite well.  For OSX and Linux, ImageMagick reportedly can do it as well (see this post for a starting point), but I've not tried it myself.  I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that most of you reading this have a kid on a Windows box, so I'll go into some detail with MiniCap and Windows.

MiniCap has all the options we need - it can save to a specific filename (with a time/date stamp) and do so silently.  Schedule a recurring task (instructions for Windows7 here).  I scheduled mine for when a user logs in and recurring every five minutes.  Then I have it run this command (I used browse so I didn't have to worry about spaces):
c:\Program Files\MiniCap\MiniCap.exe
and with these arguments
-save "C:\DROPBOXFOLDER\SHARED\$dt:%Y%m%d_%H%M$.jpg" -compress 5 -capturedesktop -exit

That gives me a filename like this: 20121224_1245.jpg in my Dropbox folder (remember, it's shared), which looks like this (at least when I'm setting it up):

It's blurry, but I can still read it.  It's only about 200k, so it's barely noticeable bandwidth-wise.  And I can check the photos in that shared folder on my phone, even over a 3G network.   And when I've reviewed them, I can delete 'em and keep the folder relatively small and clean.

The specifics will vary a bit depending on which tool you decide on, but it's going to be largely the same... and b-freakin'-dow.  If I see something fishy, I just send a text message to him saying "Stop doing that thing."  No explanation why or how. 

Between these two solutions, they let me give my kid a lot of rope and freedom.  That's important.  But my child's safety is also important, and I can make sure he's not getting himself into too big of trouble.

EDIT:  To keep the "black box" from showing up, follow these directions from SuperUser

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The Special Present - A 100 Word Story

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Engaged: Craig and DeannaHis heart slipped with every beat, sliding in his chest, tripping over ribs like they were coated in ice.

She slid one fingernail through the tape, glanced up at him.

Beat. Slip.

She folded the paper back. His heart slid with a disturbing liquidity, trading places with his stomach as she exposed the small velvet-covered box. She glanced up again.

It was the worst idea, worst present ever. He knew it, knew it, finally knew it but the box was open.

She looked at the ring, at him.

He tried to ask, heart flopping sliding inside, throat tightening.

She answered.

Please note that the 100 Word Story Podcast is changing URLS to!

Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. The player above should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download.

I am updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link ( in your podcatcher or phone. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

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Join us in the #Gloaming This Holiday Weekend

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Enough of the ranting. On with the caring.

We're coming up on the Christmas weekend. Despite my adamant "Happy Holidays" rants, I know that:
  1. Most people in the US celebrate this holiday in some fashion (whether they're Christian or not)
  2. Most people view this holiday (if not the whole season) as having something to do with family.

TreeIt can be pretty damn depressing1 when the folks around you are with family and you - for whatever reason - cannot.

I've had more than a few situations like that in my life. Sometimes because I was overseas, or in the military, or working at a hospital. Sometimes because of divorce, or other tragedy, or just bad planning.

It doesn't matter why.

Earlier this year, Lillian Cohen-Moore2 came up with the brilliant idea of the #gloaming. As she put it:

I was so sad, and so lonely last year. This year might not end being that hard. But I want to open up a little virtual campfire, because I don’t want anyone to feel as sad and alone as I did. So drop by on those days over the hashtag, pass this on to folks who might need it. Even if you don’t celebrate any holidays but end up feeling sad or anxious, for whatever reason, feel free to surf the tag.

I'll be doing likewise as much as I can through Christmas itself. I'll also be online on GChat (steven.saus), Skype (steven.saus) and Y! messenger (uriel1998) as much as possible. You might need to answer a question to get through a spambot for IM accounts. If you know of a good way that we could set up a public chat room for a while that doesn't require a lot of technical know-how on the user side, please let me know.

No matter how dark it is where you are, look to the light. There's others groping our way toward it too.

1 Yes, the suicide rate thing is a myth, which is why I say "depressing".
2 You can see her fiction in Dangers Untold, and some of her kick-ass nonfiction in Save vs. Sexism

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Yes, Virginia, I Realize That There Are Trolls (or Why I Keep Doing the Happy Holidays Thing)

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Christmas 2006Why yes, I do lose my crap over people getting pissed off by "Happy Holidays". (As always, I'm talking about the people who object to "Happy Holidays" or state that "Merry Christmas" is the only acceptable greeting, etc, etc, etc.)

Think about it for a second, and you'll realize why.

No, it's not because they all forget that it's actually Advent now. (Though they do.) No, it's not because most of the people pretending there's a "war on Christmas" need to feel persecuted in order to validate their beliefs. (Though I suspect they do, or have been convinced they should by their leaders.)

It's like all other things in the culture war1:

Liberals winning the culture war is the same net effect as a truce. Conservatives winning is scorched earth policies toward liberal values.

  1. If liberals "win", conservatives can still do pretty much what they want with themselves and don't lose much of their own personal liberty. Example: Nobody is forcing any straight folks to get married to members of the same gender.
  2. If conservatives "win", they've clearly stated that liberals will not keep large chunks of personal freedom and liberty. Example: Conservatives don't want gay people to get married. Ever.
  3. Therefore, liberals winning the culture war is the same net effect as a truce.

See the pattern? It's the same as with the seething hatred toward "Happy Holidays". (Yes, hatred. Because if you bother to object to someone wishing you "Happy Holidays", you're kinda being eaten alive by hatred.)

  1. If liberals "win", we say "Happy Holidays", and it covers Christianity2. Christians are still able to say "Merry Christmas" to each other.
  2. If conservatives "win", anything other than "Merry Christmas" is mocked and treated with horror as being "politically correct". Everyone besides Christians is excluded.
  3. Therefore, liberals winning the culture war is the same net effect as a truce.

Luckily, it seems to be not nearly as virulent as in past years. Maybe people are starting to realize that being a douchepuppet to others when they're wishing you a happy holiday season is just ... well, douchepuppetry.3

I can only hope.

1 I'm rephrasing the same post because I want it on this blog as well.
2 Christianity - and specifically Protestant Christanity - is apparently the default religion for conservative culture warriors.
3 Oh, and it makes your religion look bad, too.

Ah, hell. I just realized this will be the first Christmas without either of these dogs there. ::sigh::


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Happy Freaking Holidays (an impromptu mini podcast)

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TreeIf you've never heard me rant and wanted to actually hear what I sound like, here you go:  a four minute rant about Happy Holidays. If you've been following me about this on Facebook and G+, there's not a whole lot new here, except you get to hear me say it.  :)

Also, I want "douchepuppet" to be a thing.  Please help me in this goal.  :)

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Two Posts to Revolutionize Your Life

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I know.  Most people don't like going to other posts, or following links.

Your loss.

Here are two posts that will - at the least - cause you to re-evaluate your life and your relationships.

How To Avoid Problem People

6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person

Bookmark them.  Read them.  Really take the time to consider what they have to bring to the table.  And I say this as someone who hates that scene from Glengarry Glenn Ross.
The "Problem People" article is a bit quick to be wary...  because that's the point of the whole article.   And I want to take an extra minute to talk about the "Harsh Truths" article.

If you stopped reading and thought that it meant you had to give up on your dreams, go back and read the damn thing again.  Despite surface appearances - and despite that damn scene from Glengarry Glenn Ross - it is not saying to give up your dreams.  You didn't read to the end.

That post is saying "Quit whining about it and do it."  You want other people to see that you're more than your job?  Then show them what you are.  You keep setting the bar too high?  Quit using that as an excuse to not try, and get off your ass.

Every so often the Universe smacks me upside the head.  This would be one of those times.  Many thanks to the folks whose work and efforts got this through my thick skull:  David Wong, Libidia Morgasm, Alasdair Stuart (for the outro for Pseudopod 301, who is, by the way, going to have a book of his excellent critical outro essays including that one coming out soon), and Cynthia K. Marshall, for not getting (too) tired of smacking me upside the head.  Again.

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Products and Tools - And Knowing the Difference

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There are two ways that any service or item can be described:  as a product or a tool.

Products have features! and upgrades! and widgets! and lots! of! exclamation! points!   They are frequently cool widgets! and features! - so many that it can seem overwhelming.

Tools just work.  You don't need to know the feature list of a tool;  you just use the damn thing.  It works.

The first is used to sell things.

The second is used by the people who use things.

Know whom you're talking to, and which of the two they're most interested in hearing about.

Practical example:  If This Then That.  As a product, it has an impressive list of channels that you can connect together.  As a tool, it has shareable recipes.

(Yes, this strongly parallels the difference between rote mastery and understanding mastery.)

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For Once, It IS About the Children: Hug Your Kid, But For Once Don't Just Stop There, Dammit

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There was a tragedy in Newton today. Early reports have a score or more people, most of them children, dead at a gunman's hand.

Today and every day, around twenty-one thousand children died.

Today and every day, over two thousand children went missing.

Today and every day, thirty two children died in the United States from accidents.

Today and every day, five children died in the United States from abuse or neglect.

For those families directly affected by today's tragedy, my compassion and sympathy go out to you.

For all the rest of us, the ones who normally feel secure and confident that our child is safe, we need to remember two things today and in the days to come:

  • Your safety is illusory.  Your child could disappear at a moment's notice.
  • That fear and uncertainty you feel today is every day for millions of parents.

Hug your child.  Spend time with them.  And then come back and follow the links above (or here, to,,, and and do what you can to make sure other parents will have the same opportunity.

Oh yeah, and it is the right day to talk about gun control. And this essay "Why the NRA Should Support Gun Control", published earlier this week, pretty well illustrates why.  If you're thinking about saying something about arming children and/or teachers, please do yourself a favor and shut up now.

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Just Monkeys - A Flash Fiction

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Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

My voice was still too crap to record this one, unfortunately. Hopefully by this weekend I'll be up to it...

And for further reading enjoyment, don't forget that the Spec The Halls is still taking entries, and you can read the ones already up for this year!

Lusitania Memorial, CobhOn top of the tower, the wind blows through her hair. She flares her wings, enjoying the air passing through them. The clouds scud in a grey ceiling above her as she waits.

There is still time, she thinks looking over the city. So much metal and plastic. So far from the jungle. They didn't have to be perfect, just better than the apes they descended from.

The clouds part above her; sunlight flares down. The Voice booms its answer.


She draws her sword and slams it through the tower, and begins the long job of destroying the world.

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Convert Easily From PLS to CMus Playlist

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I did more than one geeky thing last week;  here's the other:

Converting PLS to CMus playlist format

It's a bash script that serves as a playlist converter for CMus.  CMus (or cmus or C*Mus) is a small, fast and powerful console music player for Unix-like operating systems (that includes OSX, by the way).  It's not much to look at:

but it's really light on the system resources.  It's got a lot of nice features which I simply haven't taken the time to research - but it's also got a playlist feature.  The playlist (at least in the version that's packaged with Ubuntu) is a stripped down version of the PLS format.

Now, I use Clementine (free, runs on *nix, Win, OSX) for actually managing my music library and dynamically changing what I'm listening to.  But I've got some pretty straightforward playlists for certain tasks, and I just want them to play and stay out of my way.  CMus works great for that.  But exporting PLS playlists from Clementine isn't quite the same format as what CMus expects (and it hides that damn playlist as well, expecting you to actually manage it inside CMus).  So I wrote a quick little bash script that will convert your exported PLS playlist from Clementine (and presumably other music players) to what CMus expects

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Thank you everyone.

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I wish people a happy birthday on Facebook.

Sometimes I don't know them.  Sometimes it's not a very smart, clever, or original greeting - just the standard "Happy birthday!", and nothing more.

No matter how much people don't want a big deal made about their birthday, they do want to know that someone remembered.  That someone cared enough to bother to say something.

Because there's a huge damn difference between "not a big deal" and "nothing".

Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday today.

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Get User Input and Print to any Networked Printer From the Windows CLI and Visual Basic

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I actually wrote this for work:  A way to get user input and print to any networked printer from the Windows command line and using built-in utilities and Visual Basic.  (Yes, I keep calling it "Virtual Basic".  I know.)

Here's why I wrote it:  There's a specific situation where we have to have to notify another station halfway across the facility that a customer is ready.  We have been using phone notifications, but it simply becomes prohibitive when you're on hold for five to ten minutes in order to reach the other (very very busy) station simply to say "Hey, here's a job for you."

They already use printouts as part of their workflow, so we just needed a way to input customer data and have it print on a printer across the network.  It also needed to tell us that it'd done so (or if it had failed).  Obviously, I've stripped out information that identifies my facility from the code.

While this is a pretty specialized need, I ended up finding answers to questions that a lot of people apparently had.
  • Creating the equivalent of a radio button (sort of) from InputBox
  • Comparing strings in VBS
  • Printing to the non-default printer (including networked printers) from CLI
  • Creating multi-line output in a MsgBox
  • Handling case and multi-step if/then loops in VBS
  • Testing for empty strings in VBS
  • Testing for numeric input in VBS
  • Reading and writing from text files in VBS
  • Get a return status from a called system process
  • Execute different actions based on the return status
  • Getting human-readable system time from VBS
I learn best by examining other people's (annotated) code, so I make this code for printing to a networked printer using Visual Basic available to the public under a CC license.  If you have a use for it, I've tried to note all the places where you MUST make changes to make the code useable (mostly putting in the network paths to your printers) in the file TOCHANGE.TXT.

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This Person Says Happy Holidays - And Here's Why (with shareable images)

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Because it's already starting this year - though I think there's a degree of "really? are we still doing this stupid dance?" to it - I present to you the following images, ready to be used on Facebook (right-click, save as...). Feel free to copy, edit, or otherwise spread the word.  A brief commentary follows each image.

A very important side note:
I know people who say "Merry Christmas" and graciously accept any other holiday greeting in return. Like the people who offer up their prayers for atheists or others who don't share their faith. In those cases, they're synonyms for good-wishes and cheerful tidings. (Hi Mom.)  If you're one of those people, this ain't aimed at you.  Move along peaceably.

These images are aimed at those people who protest stores saying "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings". The ones who correct others who wish them anything but a "Merry Christmas". 1 The ones who aren't happy unless their holiday - and only their holiday - is recognized. The ones who seriously think there's somehow a "War On Christmas".  We all clear on who we're talking about now? Cool.
End of the very important side note.

Seriously. I always, even at my most religious, assumed that "Happy Holidays" was meant to cover Christmas and New Year.  Took me a long while to realize the object to "Happy Holidays" was simply a demand that ONLY one holiday be recognized, and to demand that all others be ignored.

You're not fooling anyone when you emphasize "Merry Christmas" when someone wishes you a happy holiday season. Seriously. We know you're being a superior, judgemental dick and trying to disguise your asshattery as something holy. It disrespects others and it disrespects your own religion.

I know honest-to-goddess serious pagans.  Though the ones I know are largely Norse, rather than Greek or Roman, in denomination, the point stands.  This is a pluralistic country.  I'm sending out holiday cards to pagans of various stripes, atheists, Christians (of multiple denominations), Jews, Muslims, and Wiccans.  I wish them all well as the world turns and seasons change.

You know how "repressed" you feel when people don't explicitly say your religion all the time?  WELCOME TO WHAT YOU DO TO EVERYONE ELSE.

This is one way that being raised Catholic was useful;  in some parts of the country, Catholics are still referred to as "papists" and are routinely told that they're not "Christian".  This is one of the reasons I didn't particularly bash on Romney for his Mormonism;  aside from knowing some really cool and thoughtful Mormons, I know how easy it is to be seen as the "other".  For one example of such, see this post about the trampling of my Easter Protestants.

I shared this one previously on Facebook.  It's true.  Again, if the above would make you feel uncomfortable, welcome to how everyone else feels.

1 What always drives me nuts about these people: It is NOT the Christmas season right now. It's ADVENT. The Christmas season is actually from 25 December to 6 January.

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The Worst Thing In The World - A Flash Fiction

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UntitledThe other girls peered in as Brittany sat across from the old fortuneteller. The seer grasped Brittany's hand, her voice a low whisper. "Your life is pointless."

Brittany smirked and eyerolled. "Don't curse me."

The seer shook her head. "No curse. Just your future. Your life will have no impact. No-one will change because of your decisions. You won't even enjoy your own life. Your existence is pointless."

The girl's voice shook with belief. "I'll kill myself."

The seer smiled evilly. "You'll fail. You have no choice. You'll live your whole life. And it won't matter."

"Not even to you."

Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. No audio; I'm still fighting off the irritation of bronchitis. However, you can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

Don't forget, of course, that even short drabbles like this completely count for Spec The Halls!

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Using "I Feel" Correctly: A Challenge For December

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I want you to try an experiment this month.

We often say "I feel" to describe an action, a judgement, or what we imagine someone else is thinking. Stop doing that.

Instead, only use the word "feel" to directly describe emotions and nothing else.

Emotion: FearEmotion words are things like: mad, glad, sad, happy, scared, nervous, anxious, giddy, fearful, small, unimportant, powerful, strong, loving, unloved, and so on. There's lists online to get you started.

So try using this model:
"This situation makes me feel [FEELING]. From what you said/did, I imagine that you're thinking [fill in the blank]. Is that how you feel/what you're thinking?"

This goes beyond grammar; it changes the way we look at a situation.

Try it. It will feel awkward for a while. A long while, really. But it makes you totally reconsider how you're approaching a conflict.

This exercise is loosely based upon my understanding of Non-Violent Communication; more importantly, it directly addresses the thing I most often see people (including myself) get wrong with NVC. If this exercise intrigues you, try checking out Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and going from there.

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Spec The Halls - Speculative Holiday-Themed Fiction and Doing Good

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Spec the Halls was originally founded by Abra Staffin-Wiebe several years ago as a way to share stories freely, to help introduce new writers (and old) to new readers and celebrate the season. In doing so, she helped encourage quite a few new writers - including myself.

The last two years have been pretty bad for her. Big, nasty life events just kept happening to her, in ways that she simply couldn't control.

I decided that it would be right this year for Spec The Halls, the celebration of stories which she started, to give something back to her.

And it's not money.

Well, okay, it is money. But that's not the point. You see, she gets to decide what to do with the money. She gets to control that. She can keep it, she can donate it, she can use it, she can save it.

After the last two years, I want her to be able to control this one thing in her life, fully and completely.

That's the gift I want to give to the founder of Spec The Halls.

I'm not asking you to give money.1

I'm asking you to participate by helping fulfill the vision of Spec The Halls. I'm asking you to freely share a work of winter holiday related speculative fiction.

I'm looking for submissions between now and 30 December 20122. Length can be as few as 100 words; bonus points if you record your story and send me the MP3. Details about the submissions process, rights, and everything else can be found at

Links to submitted stories can be found at the All Submissions page 3(RSS | e-mail). Other news and announcements will be through the Alliteration Ink blog (RSS).

1 Mind you, I won't turn away any donations, matching or otherwise...
2 "Submissions" is a strong term here. We are sharing stories, not competing here.
3 I'm currently waiting for the feed/page to update with new content, so if you're still seeing posts from last year, that's why.

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How to Win With NaNoWriMo Even When You Don't "Win" NaNoWriMo

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I didn't "win" NaNoWriMo. Not in the predefined sense of fifty thousand words over the course of a month. Not even close.

I was on track for quite a while, then between getting books submitted for awards, completely changing which shift I worked at my day job, some drama around Thanksgiving, and a heck of a cold, the "rest of my life" kept butting in.

However, I don't think I "lost" either.

  1. I wrote over 19,000 words on that one story in November - which is three times the length of any single story that I've written to date.
  2. That story isn't "done". Not by a long shot. I know where it's going, and it's only about halfway through the tale.
  3. I also know it's going to get longer. I've written enough to know that my second drafts are always longer than my first drafts. Initial feedback from my writing group was that I rushed through things, so I expect that trend to hold.
  4. I learned quite clearly what works for me and what doesn't, and what conditions sabotage the crap out of me writing fiction.
I've long held that NaNoWriMo is useful in only limited ways. It's not (for most people) a sustainable way to write a novel. To quote why I didn't do NaNoWriMo in 2010:
I don't have anything against the project; it definitely serves to get a lot of people past the hump of not writing. For me, turning out a novel in 30 days would leave me with a lot of words and exhausted burnout. That's not a goal that would be useful for me; I couldn't keep up that pace.

That's still true. However, I had a very different problem this time around. I had the problem of second-guessing myself early on in the novel-writing process. I'd write a few thousand words, and just think of all the possible problems ahead of me, and just...stop.

And this time I haven't. I had the impulse, yes, but before "real life" interjected itself I'd already pushed myself past that point and moved onward. So even though I haven't "won" NaNoWriMo, it served exactly the purpose I wanted it to.

So those of you who are like me, who started but didn't "win" NaNoWriMo, don't waste your time considering why you "failed". Think instead about how you learned to succeed... and how you'll use those skills next month.

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My Updated CSS StyleSheet for eBook Creation

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There's a dozen and a half different ways to create stylesheets for eBooks.  Some are better than others overall, some have strengths and weaknesses.

I'm presenting mine here (updated, and with additional comments throughout) because of three reasons:

1.  It illustrates how to embed a font.
2.  It has a minimal amount of cascading.1  While cascading is useful, it also adds a level of complexity to keeping track of which style(s) apply to which things.  KISS;  it should be obvious at a glance which style (or at most, two) apply to any character in the text.
3.  It is damn-near failsafe.  I've yet to run across an eReader that can't handle the basic elements that are covered in this stylesheet - and when it has to fall back to a simpler method, it does gracefully.

You can find the stylesheet by itself here, or at this GitHub repository if you want to look at my other "helper" script (in bash) and tools I'm using for ePub creation.

I hope it provides a useful object for you to study and learn from in your own eBook creation

1 Okay, so for example, you could define a style for the body of the text, additional modifications for paragraphs within the body of the text, and additional modifications that only come into play if it's the first paragraph within the body of the text, and additional ones if it's the first five characters in that first paragraph. And they'd all apply automatically, which is great... until something borks somewhere, and then I have a hard time tracking down where the problem is. That's me, though. YMMV.

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You're so Vain, I Bet You Think This Blog Is About You

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I just finished updating my occasionally referenced policy about the relationship between my anecdotes and "real life", and I've posted it as a reference page (you can find all the reference pages in the right sidebar).

I'll go ahead and post it here again though, because it's important. In a country where people regularly mistake the personalities of characters for the personalities of actors, sometimes it's worth noting where the grey areas really are.

Privacy is important to me. Not just my own privacy, but the privacy of others. As a result, some of the details and anecdotes in this blog are, at best, "creative non-fiction".

  • I will frequently write about things that I've talked about in real life here on the blog. Some of those things may have been sparked by a conversation I had with other people, or an action someone else took.
  • I frequently take artistic license when talking about real life, usually to make an example more clear.
  • I frequently obfuscate real-life details, even if I report an event completely accurately.
  • I never violate privacy laws or ethical guidelines around privacy. If it appears that I am, it is a fictionalized account.
  • If I'm reacting to a blog post, tweet, public seminar - anything that's a broadcast medium - I will usually cite the person I'm talking about if I can and if it's relevant.
  • If it was prompted by a non-broadcast or limited broadcast medium - a private conversation, e-mail, anything on Facebook, forum post behind a password - then I will usually obfuscate the individual(s) in question.
  • If I didn't explicitly "out" you as the person I was talking to, there's one of four reasons (the last two are the most common, by far):
    1. I didn't want to for my own reasons.
    2. I didn't ask you about it beforehand.
    3. I wasn't talking about you
    4. I wasn't just talking about you.
  • If you choose to "out" yourself, please remember #3 above and realize how you might look silly.
  • If you think I'm talking about you and I misunderstood your point, please remember #3 above and ask me. For example, I could say "a female writer I know who I spoke to about eBooks" and easily refer to fifty people or more.

(adapted and expanded from this post in 2010)

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Alternative Holiday Songs To Escape the Endless Loop of "Classic Carols"

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I used to work at a Taco Bell in the mall.  Over the holiday season.  Which had a half-hour (or maybe an hour) loop of Christmas songs they played over and over and over.   I still can't stand Feliz Navidad - which used to be one of my favorites.  Even if I'd not had that kind of saturation exposure early in my life, I imagine that the month of Christmas music coming up would make anyone stir-crazy.1

So here's some alternate sources for holiday music that will help mix it up a bit.

The Santastic Mashup Collections

- There's actually several volumes within this one; these are mashups of Christmas classics and more modern songs. You can pick them all up at (volume six is here: They range from silly to touching and sweet, as evidenced by these two tracks:

Menorah Mashups

- Also worth noting is "Menorah Mashups" compiled by djBC, if that's more your taste. I wasn't quite as fond of these, but your tastes may vary. Available at

dj BC: A Very Re:Composition Christmas

- This is easily my favorite, which keeps old classics largely the same, but with just a touch and hint of dance and dub. Available at

A Scary Little Christmas

- These are tracks done on solo piano with just a touch of a creepy gothic air to them. A very nice change of pace that can still please just about everyone. Available from Amazon or directly from the artist (with samples) at

A Twisted Christmas

- Yes, I really, really like Twisted Sister's Christmas album. I've heard the other metal Christmas records, and they just leave something to be desired. This one delivers with all the camp and joy that hair metal always had. You can snag this at Amazon or Google Play.

1 Even though it's actually Advent now, and the Christmas season doesn't start until the 25th of December.

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I Don't Want (or Deserve) Your Cookie For My Personal Examples

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Actively supporting equality doesn't deserve praise the same way that being a toilet-trained adult doesn't deserve praise.  And being an anti-equality jackass deserves just as much disgust as an adult who voluntarily craps in their pants.

There's a phenomenon in equality1 movements known as "Wanting a Cookie" (Geek Feminism Wiki definition, a little bit more at Racism 101 that hints at where I'm going with this).  Here's a quick (slightly fictionalized) example:

The well-off, white, straight male CEO was giving an "inspirational" talk to his workers:   "We have to be friendly to all our customers.  We have to help all our customers, no matter how different they are from us.  Just the other day I saw someone in our parking lot who looked lost.  And even though they..."  -there is a pause here, just long enough to be ominous here - "...were from a different lifestyle than me, I helped them find their way."  They smiled, and straightened their lapels.  "And you know, I'm still okay.  And I felt really good about helping those people."

That pause - in a city where "you know, those people" still often refers to people of color - spoke volumes.  As did the coda at the end.  The CEO was holding themselves up as some kind of awesome person.  They thought they deserved a reward - a "cookie" - for just giving directions to another human being.  


As part of the #1reasonwhy discussion, I mentioned on Facebook that I'd only flat-out refused to use one suggested anthology cover - because it relied on T&A.  I continued:  "Maybe it would have sold more [with the sexist cover] - but it wasn't worth the cost of my sense of self."

I realized it right after I hit "post":  That could sound like I was looking for a cookie.  That rather than keeping the focus on equality in games and media, it could look like I was wanting some kind of praise.

That's not the case.

I'm slamming those idiots who do rely on T&A to sell their products.  I'm saying they are morally bankrupt.  I'm not a perfect (or even particularly "good") guy.  I do think that with these sorts of things, with all of the work I've done to change myself, I'm just barely this side of being a racist/sexist/asshole.  I have a long way to go.  In short:

I'm saying that any positive, pro-equality example I hold up from my life is at best the lowest point of baseline "acceptable" behavior.

When my kids were really little, they got praise for using the toilet.  Now?  Um, the Nuclear Kid is 15.  No.  Not shitting his pants is part of the baseline of socially acceptable behavior.2  So, yes, it's good I'm not relying on T&A to sell books.  Just like it's good the Nuclear Kid isn't shitting his pants.

Neither of us deserve praise for those baseline "accomplishments".

And those who do use sexism, racism, and anti-equality messages to sell their wares should be treated with just as much disgust as an adult who just decided to take a big old crap in their pants.

1 I'm using "equality" here to refer to anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, religiously tolerant, equal rights sorts of things in a broad encompassing way.
2 Obviously, I'm not talking about people with medical conditions, 'kay?

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Making Xterm Play (Mostly) Nice With Copy-And-Paste (and Not Look Ugly Too)

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Some guys work on cars;  I work on getting the last little bit of performance and customization out of my computer.

That's why I'm using Xterm (if I'm not using screen) for terminal applications.  Especially since I'm constantly starting up and closing terminal windows, the small difference in startup times between it and my GNOME terminal gets...annoying.

However, there's some issues setting up Xterm.  It's finicky.  It is, by default, ugly as sin. I like a nice black terminal, the lovely Inconsolata monospace font and generally the clean look that you can get with it.  That's the first part of the .Xresources file - setting up those colors so it behaves nicely.

Xterm is also, shall we say, not fond of the way the clipboard is handled in *nix.  (There's three clipboards, see... no, really.)  Anyway, I hate the "select it with the mouse and that puts it on the clipboard" method that *nix seems to prefer.  I'm too sloppy with the mouse, especially when using a touchpad.  So with this .Xresources, I can select by holding SHIFT and the mouse button, and then it copies it to all the clipboards. The key elements are here (I highly recommend copying from the gist later):
XTerm*VT100.translations: #override \
<Btn1Up>: select-end(PRIMARY, CLIPBOARD, CUT_BUFFER0) \n\
Shift<Btn1Down>: select-start() \n\
Shift<Btn1Motion>: select-extend() \n\
Shift<Btn1Up>: select-end(PRIMARY, CLIPBOARD) \

Yes, there's a duplication in there. Find it for extra points - it works right now, and I'm not messing with it any more.

Anyway, this is something that took a while to research and set up, so hopefully this will be of some use to other power users out there. (Not to mention typos, control characters, or brackets and the like being entirely missing...)

This is my .Xresources file; you edit (or create) it in your home directory.  Once you've edited .Xresources, run this command from your terminal:
xrdb -merge .Xresources
Despite what lots of web pages say, sometimes it shows up right away. Sometimes it required me to restart X (effectively relogging). If it doesn't behave as expected, relog and see if it does what it's supposed to then. You can get the .Xresources file from gist on GitHub or the embed below. I cite where I got the bits of this solution at the top of the .Xresources file if you'd like to do some additional reading.

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RECOMMENDED: Pet Caricatures For The Holidays

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I saw this ad on Facebook yesterday, and thought of my dogs.  Since Taylor died back in 2010, and Leakey died this year, it's just me and J-Dog hanging out most of the time. 

But I want to remember the other dogs, and imagine how much fun they'd all have if they had ever all gotten to play together.  (J-Dog didn't come around until after Taylor had died.)

So I jumped at this chance to have all three of them pictured together.

And daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn

Morgan's running a special through Christmas:  For the $20 (+$10 for each additional dog in the image) I got a high-rez PNG (over 6000x2000, 300dpi) that is more than suitable for printing.  If you don't know, 300 dpi is the standard for printing resolution, and that would make a poster-sized print 20.5" wide by 14.3" tall.

Morgan didn't just reproduce the images - I sent two for each dog, one that showed their shape and another that showed a bit more of their personality.  This really captures the spirit of each of my pups.

I'm not getting jack for posting this, no discount, no referrals, no nothing - though I am going back and getting the same thing done with the three kitties that have lived with me over the years.  I am seriously just that impressed with Morgan's work.  It is teh adorbz.

You can swing by Bark Point Studios on Facebook, or send an e-mail to to get started.

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The Warp Drive That Explodes Planets: Turning Plot Problems Into Opportunties

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Warp DriveScience fiction has the very real problem of having to deal with... well, the real world.  Even if you're writing a "soft" space opera, if you set it in the tropical jungles of Venus only to have it revealed there ain't such a thing... well, it's hard to ignore.

But each of these problems can also be an opportunity.

Let's ignore for the moment how incomplete (at best) science reporting in popular media can be, and also ignore the anti-geek-cred of articles that confuse Star Trek and Star Wars terminology in the title, and instead reference the actual content1 of this Daily Mail article:  "Bad news Scotty: Star Trek-style 'warp drive' systems could turn spacecraft into Death Stars which destroy planets on arrival".  It starts with this paragraph:
Should scientists make the dreams of a million Star Trek fans come true by designing a spacecraft capable of travelling faster than the speed of light, it would be pretty frustrating to discover such a ship would obliterate any planet it landed on.

But that is exactly what NASA researchers suspect could happen after new analysis revealed a flaw in designs for a so-called 'warp drive' - the theoretical technology that would propel spaceships to speeds faster than light - could cause catastrophic explosions the moment intrepid space explorers reached their destination.
Okay, sounds pretty dire.  But that's up until you read past the pretty keen image of such a drive:

But the Australian research indicates that the high-energy particles that are constantly shooting around space could get swept up in the ship's warp field and become trapped in the 'bubble', with more and more of the particles filling the stable pocket the longer the journey lasts.
While this would no affect the drive's ability to achieve warp speed, the instant it is disengaged that space-time gradient allowing it to move faster than light - and creating the bubble that holds the dangerous build-up of trapped particles - is gone. Researchers now believe those particles would be blasted out in front of the ship, destroying anything around it.
Apophysis-070129-1a PSSuddenly, not only do you have a way around the problem, but you've got a reasonable explanation for the plot-device limitations of FTL travel, even if this genre-clueless writer can't see it. Why can't ships just pop into orbit around a planet (or even better, at its surface)? Because they'd blow holes in it. Why does your ship have to make multiple jumps? Because otherwise the particle count in the "bubble" would get too high.

Think about the way FTL travel was handled in the Battlestar Galactica reboot - the technology limitations of FTL travel are huge elements of shaping the plot. Would it have been anything like the same series if Adama simply said "Warp Five, thataway" and they all sat back? Heck no. And when any freighter can itself become a planetkilling weapon by simply changing its vector... well, think on the consequences of that for a while.

Even the softest, most character-driven science fiction story benefits from the writer knowing real science, even if it's not a focus of the story. And knowing the limitations (and capabilities) of your technology can fundamentally change the plot and tone of your story.

You can read more about these kinds of worldbuilding tips and tricks in Eighth Day Genesis, available from Alliteration Ink ($4.99 digital, $14.99 print).

1 Obviously, this is not the actual content of the research paper, which may actually say something quite a bit different. I'm pointing out the possibilities here.

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Mine - A 100 Word Story

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Minecraft Character IRL

I heard the dripping pop of lava just before the axe struck through the rock. I shouted, but it was too late; the red-hot rock flowed over me, and flames filled my screen.

I sighed as the front door opened. Dad was home.

"Spending time on that game again," he said, still soot-covered from his day at work, a toolbag slung over his shoulder. "You need to prepare for the real world, son. Homework. Now."

I turned off my computer and reached for my bookbag as he turned to leave.

The green limb of a creeper hung from his bag.

Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. The player above should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download.

I am updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link ( in your podcatcher or phone. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

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Review of Caller Unknown by Jennifer Brozek

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review.pngI live in Ohio.  Over the last few months, I've been trained to not even pick up the phone if there's not a caller ID number that I recognize, unless I wanted to hear a political party rant about the other candidate.

Now, though, we're back to normal.  And there's something slightly exciting about an unknown caller.  It's a departure from the normal, the expected, from the everyday mundane existence of our overinformed lives.  And unlike answering an unexpected knock at your door, answering a call without knowing who's on the other end isn't really risky.

Unless you listen.

In Caller Unknown, the new collection of stories from author and editor Jennifer Brozek, a 911 operator named Karen does listen.  That unknown call is not merely an interruption in her mundane day, but a gateway to a whole side of her city that she never realized existed.

This urban fantasy (with a little bit of a dark edge) collection is a series of connected and related short stories, but each one is complete in itself.  There are gaps of time between them.  Characters allude to events that have taken place in those gaps, without actively spelling any of them out.  This is actually a strength of the work - we get to skip to the "good bits" without having to sacrifice the sense that there's a larger world out there where things actually take time to happen.  While there's a lot of worldbuilding and some really interesting twists on classic genre themes, it feels like there's even more going on.  It feels like there's a world beyond the page.

The way the stories were originally written does expose the book's single (sort of) weakness.  Ms. Brozek wrote the stories over a period of time, and the stories get better as you get further into the book.  I say this is a "sort of" weakness", though.  The even the weakest story in the book is still pretty darn good, and they only get better from there. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading this collection of stories and seeing the way the storyline (and author) developed through the book.  This is a solid first collection of these stories, and judging by the strength by which it finishes, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.

Caller Unknown is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher, Apocalypse Ink.  You can also enter to win a giveaway for this book over at Goodreads.

[Full Disclosure:  I got a review ARC of this book.  I've worked with the author on other projects both as an author and a publisher.  That said, I review all books as impartially as I can and I've even panned my friend's books before.]

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Social Media Is Dead: Why Independent Creators Need To Get Back To RSS and E-Mail NOW.

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Summary:  Social media companies (particularly Facebook and Twitter) seem to be in the process of going for the easy, big bucks of big media companies, and are willing to sacrifice what made their services popular.  Independent creators, while still using these services, cannot rely on them any longer.  We must be able to reach our audience through internet-standard tools like e-mail and RSS.

I don't like being right.

Remember a month ago when I posted "The Beginning of the End of Social Media"?  Facebook had just started its promoted posts program.  Twitter simply had problems with too much of a good thing.  And G+ (which I ignored in that post) is largely unadopted, despite (or perhaps) because of the difficulty of putting good content in1 and Google trying to shove all their services into each service.2

That's why simple services like IFTTT are so awesome and valuable - they let you get information to your friends (or audience, or yourself) across platforms.

But instead of each social network doing its one thing and doing it well (and exposing API hooks so people can find value on your network without having to be on a bunch of them), that's changing.  More.

Overview of Social Media

Scoble's Social Media StarfishAs before, I'm not addressing all social media sites, but primarily the three biggest.

As mentioned, Google+ is still sparsely populated.  And while some of the folks who use it heavily are very interesting people indeed, the value of social media is through both content and (more importantly) the network effect.  And the user interface has been growing steadily more cluttered and annoying.  (I created a userstyle to make the Google+ interface less cluttered, which helps.)

Facebook is still filtering posts based on what it thinks you want to see (and charging fees of up to a thousand (or more?) dollar to promote a post).  While tools like Social Fixer help - a lot - it's still difficult.  Even the "Pages Feed" isn't sorted in chronological order.

And now it looks like Twitter - once the most egalitarian of the bunch, the hero in sharing the news of the Arab Spring is positioning itself to pivot into something different.  It looks like it's wanting to change into something about consumption instead of sharing, about brands instead of communication.

The Way Media Was Then

Old Vintage Cable Wired Remote Control BoxIt wasn't all that long ago that media options were extremely limited.  Everyone knew the same songs because you had a very limited number of radio stations to listen to.  Everyone watched the same programs, because cable was expensive.  Getting HBO was A Big Thing.  Having over thirty channels was A Big Thing.3  Streaming video was a pain in the ass and rare.  And eBooks (and other technologies that have let independent authors and artists make a living) simply didn't exist in a viable form.

That's no longer the case.

The Way Media Is Now

The prior media ruling class are upset.  Their business models (and presumptions of guaranteed profits) have been burning away over the last decade.  They know we're still spending money on entertainment - entertainment spending has gone up by 6% over the last decade - but with more choices, we're not always choosing them.

They're seeing artists and creators exist without them and making a living through reaching out to their audience through social media.  At the same time, social media companies find themselves needing to increase (or have) revenue.  It's a match made in some soulless corporate hell.

In this kind of situation, social media companies will try to make their money by subverting their service so it best serves the advertising and promotion needs of big budget advertisers.  They'll try to do All The Things, and do none of them.

Big media companies will (continue) to turn social media terminology into buzzwords - but instead of awkward and laughable attempts at engaging their audience, they'll instead "suggest" "improvements" to the service to turn it into another tube of consumption.

Old Spice Guy in a Towel
They did social media right.

I'm not saying there's a conspiracy.  I'm saying the economic and social factors in play make this scenario all too likely.  Despite some large advertisers who have successfully used social media without subverting it, adapting your corporation to reality seems riskier than buying reality off.  Facebook has already gone a ways down this path, and Twitter's definitely turned in that direction.

It doesn't look good.

No Longer Relying On Someone Else's Platform

So what should independent creators (and basically anyone other than the "big fish") do?

This is the time to continue the DIY and independent ideals that have transformed media.  In the last decade, we've pioneered ways to exist alongside (and sometimes totally independent of) the old media hierarchy.  Social media platforms were seen as a tool, but they're not.  They're companies that own a tool.  This is the mistake that got us in this position.  So instead of relying on (yet another) company and starting this whole damn cycle again, it's time to actually use tools.
  • Continue to use social media like you already do.  I hope I'm wrong about all this.
  • Do not waste your time, money, or energy trying to compete with the "big fish".
  • Keep an eye out for the next social network, particularly one that is actually a tool., while ugly as sin and poorly adopted in the US, has some good features - combining the best of Twitter and Tumblr in one network.  And it's open-source, so it might point the way to creating a decentralized social network that's a real tool.
  • Invest the time and energy to have platform-independent ways of reaching your audience.

Here's what I mean about a platform-independent way of reaching your audience:  Use tools, particularly ones that already exist and are part of the existing standards of the internet:
  1. Develop a double-opt-in e-mail list.  (Here's an overview, MailChimp has some interesting stats as to why double-opt-in is a better option overall.)  Mine is paid for as part of my hosting package with Namecheap.
  2. Host your own website and own your own domain name.  Again, I use Namecheap for both domain name registration and webhosting, and have for years without a problem.
  3. Make sure your blog is hosted on your own site or by a company/service whose business is blog hosting (such as Wordpress or Blogger).  This means that having your blog hosted by a review site or store's site is flat out wrongChange this now.
  4. Ensure your blog has an RSS feed.  You can use Feedburner to format the raw RSS feed from your webpage, and it's really easy to set up.  You can use your RSS feed to feed into many other sites, such as GoodReads or Amazon's Author pages.  For example, this is the link for all Alliteration Ink News, and should automatically subscribe you (or present you a lot of options on how to subscribe, depending on how your browser is set up).  Feedburner will even send your RSS feed as e-mail - click on this link to subscribe to ideatrash by Email.
  5. Contact pages (if not your front web page) should have options for these things, and explanations if needed.
  6. Advertise your e-mail list and RSS feed in your projects.
  7. Form alliances with other independent creators like yourself - one e-mail that has five cool offers is less likely to be ignored than five separate e-mails with one offer each.  (E-mail overload sucks.)
None of these steps will actually hurt your existing web presence.  If anything, they'll make it stronger.  And by controlling it yourself, if all social media companies implode tomorrow, you'll still be able to reach your audience.

1 The whole point of a social network is to share information, not force me to repost it manually.  Especially for folks who live as timeshifted as I do.
2 Seriously.  When I want Gmail, I don't want Gchat.  When I want G+, I don't want Gchat.  The one time I want Gchat - when I open Google Voice - it's harder to start a chat (or phone call from my PC) than it is in Gmail.  WTF.
3 Kids, I'm only talking about the mid- to late-nineties here.

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