Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Keeping Google Music Manager (or any program) From Eating Your Bandwidth on linux

technology.pngI've been using Google Music Manager to upload my collection to the cloud (primarily as a free backup solution), but I've had one small problem.  The rate limiting options are kind of arbitrary, and don't always match what I want.

I have pretty crappy uplink bandwidth at my home - somewhere around 0.5 Mbps (which is NOT kp/s or MB/s).  As a result, it's pretty easy to choke my upward bandwidth by setting Google Music to "Fastest Possible".   I can set it lower - but say when I'm at university with a 250Mbps upspeed connection (over wifi!), I don't want to be limited to a tenth that.  What I needed was an external program to configure the speed at each runtime.

trickle is that program for *nix systems.  It's a commandline program, but that's okay.

I installed trickle, then use this command to run Google Music (which is set to use "fastest possible") when I have limited bandwidth:

trickle -s -u 20 /opt/google/musicmanager/google-musicmanager

This limits the upward bandwidth to 0.2Mbps, which works well for still being able to use my internet connection.  Then the rest of the time I use the default command to take advantage of the higher internet speeds elsewhere.

This isn't a vital thing to use with Google Music - as mentioned, the Music Manager has built-in rate limiting.  It's not quite what I want, but it's not bad.  But I mention it - and the syntax - because other programs don't have that kind of limitation.  You can use trickle with just about any program when you need it.  Pretty awesome stuff.


Thank you, SFWA.

The Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has taken a (very practical and pragmatic) stand on Amazon's bullying business tactics. Despite some of the comments immediately following, I am  thrilled to see them do this.
SFWA is redirecting links from the organization’s website to other booksellers because we would prefer to send traffic to stores where the books can actually be purchased.
This clearly establishes SFWA's relevance and importance to self-published, independent, and otherwise unassociated authors. This organization is taking action for the writers it represents - and in doing so, for the entire authorial community. They're not boycotting or anything like that, but it is taking a stand:
It is worth noting, that if a book is only available on Amazon, we are leaving the link in place. Our goal is to make sure that it is possible to order our members’ fiction. Hurting authors to make a point about a publishing model is not a good practice, for anyone.
As I've already said here, Amazon is simply going to bully all of us more if they're allowed to get away with it.

Unfortunately, EPIC (standing for "Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition") has utterly failed to even address the issue. (I summed up the unofficial - and only - responses in this post and this one.) I cannot in good conscience recommend "EPIC, the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition" as anything other than a virtual water cooler you have to pay to get access to. (That is to say, I can't recommend them at all.)

Which puts me in a bit of a pickle. The print versions of the books I publish are printed by an Amazon subsidiary (but are not published by Amazon). I will (finally) be fixing that bottleneck within the next week. If you need a Kindle-formatted eBook, I urge you to buy it directly from Alliteration Ink. Not only does it show solidarity with IPG, but that means more money goes in the author's pockets. I'll be revamping the "Steve's Books" section as soon as I can as well.

Once again, SFWA, thanks for doing the right thing - and for doing it pragmatically.


The bullying will get worse for independent authors and micropublishers without a group voice.

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publishing.pngIndependent authors need a group with to represent them - and the crap with Amazon and IPG shows that we need this stat.

IPG isn't an association - at least, as far as I can tell by reading the stuff on their website.  They're a company providing a service.  That's cool;  that's not what I'm looking for.  I'm looking for ... well, lobbyists for small presses and independent authors.  Folks who know about digital and print publishing, care about values and fundamentals, and will follow a consistent pro-author, pro-publisher path when digital retailers are becoming like Wal*Mart.

I thought one organization I joined would fulfill these needs, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  (I hope I'm wrong, but I'm sure not holding my breath.)  Judging by the traffic on the listserv, the organization is filled with folks who care a lot when a reader might get a book for free (pirates, abuse of return policies)... and those same people aren't worried when a retailer or publisher strongarms authors and small publishers.

Seriously - the follow up email exchanges after the situation I described here included this gem (again, paraphrased):
It's not about the fairness of Amazon's terms.  It's about doing business.  They're simply saying "Here's our terms, and if you want to work with us, agree to them."  If you sign up to those terms, then you have no right to complain when Amazon follows them.
The very same individual, however, found Amazon's policy on eBook returns "very worrying", because someone might read the book in seven days, then return it.  And while Amazon says they'll close accounts for abusing the return policy, he didn't trust Amazon.

Consider these two instances:  One is a giant corporation altering prices and royalties on all of that title's sales based on their screwup1, and the second is a person - or maybe even a small group of people - reading a single book for free2.

And the second one is the "worrying" one?

Time to get our priorities in order.

I don't know the full solution here.  Part of me wants to face the Pinkertons head on before Amazon starts trying to pay us in company scrip - I mean, store credit.3 I'm not sure how such a collective action would work - but considering that one of the Big Six managed to make Amazon blink first is a good sign that it probably would work.

1 They were price-matching a price that hadn't existed for a month, then added a clause to their terms saying they weren't responsible for any glitches or errors - or the results of those glitches or errors.
2 Because if they wanted to pirate it, they wouldn't have bothered to buy it. Like DRM stops a determined pirate anyway. Ha!
3 Oh, you know they would if they could.

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Infographic: Reproductive Health and Teenagers

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Jenica Rhee sent me a link to this great infographic she created, because she thought the folks here would be interested.

And y'know what?  I think she's right. (I am also sharing it with my teenager right now...)

Reproductive Health Education
Created by:

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Chasing Someone with Dynamite - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

The music, by the way, is a clip from this sort-of-mashup clip on YouTube of Adele and Chasing Cars. Go give them some love and upvotes. This story owes a large debt to John Updike's "Playing With Dynamite", which you can hear in MP3 format over at the New Yorker. The title owes a debt to both works.

Confessional"Father, what is the meaning of life?"

He sat back on his bench, running a hand through his thinning hair.

He knew.

He knew the touch of her hair and hands on his back. He knew the glow of her skin in morning sunlight, the spice smell of her sweat.

The way the universe hid inside her eyes when she said she loved him.

"It is," he lied through the screen, "to love the Lord God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul."

Father Adam closed the panel, sat back, and remembered Lilith as he wept.

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Blogger to LJ for free - Final test and explanation

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I'm following the directions from this post on how to go from Blogger (or anything that can send posts by e-mail) to LiveJournal.  It's worth noting that you must have as a whitelisted e-mail address for this to work...

If you're suddenly wanting to friend me on LJ, my profile is here... but I'm rarely on there.

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Test #2 - Another Bear Pic

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The Pandorica is around here somewhere.

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Testing - Please Disregard

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I'm actually testing getting posts from here to LJ.  It's been a social-network-revamping kind of day all the way around. And so you have something to look at...

Here's a picture of my avatar updated to a more gruff, tribal look.
Those fish never had a chance.

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Have you ever really looked at the Invisible Hand, man? I mean, really looked at it?

soc_econ.pngIt's tempting, with any issue about trade and business, to appeal to the "invisible hand" of the marketplace. To simply say "The invisible hand will take care of it" and stop worrying.

The free-trade folks - who you might notice are almost always the people profiting from the business practice being criticized - talk about Adam Smith's quasi-thought-experiment as if it were some kind of magical spell shoving wages, prices, and stock options around. Many pundits (again, those profiting from or paid by those profiting from deregulation) refer to the "invisible hand" as a force inside markets.

The Invisible Hand
Use the LIGHT side of the Force!

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The market's "invisible hand" is actually extremely visible. The "invisible hand" is the sum of every action by every person that impacts buying and selling decisions. Every last one of them.

I remember hearing about a Fortune 500 company's board meeting where one of the board members said "Oh, the invisible hand will take care of that." The CEO replied, "You idiot, we are the invisible hand."

But it goes much deeper than that.

Occupy Wall Street
Visible manifestations of the Invisible Hand

So if you changed any of your purchasing habits because of Occupy Wall Street, that's the invisible hand at work. Stop buying gas at BP during that last big spill in the Gulf? Invisible hand. Decided to buy "fair trade" anything? Invisible hand. Buy a book directly from an author rather than from a big box store? Invisible hand. Switch web browsers for any reason? Invisible hand.

I'd go so far as to say that Occupy Wall Street is itself a product of the "invisible hand". It is a market force, created by market forces. The same goes for any union, any protest, anything that impacts trade. All of those things are part of the invisible hand.

Including you.

So when you hear about something - a business practice (perhaps this one by Amazon will do it for you) that ticks you off, do something about it. Say something. Change a buying habit. Tell others. Complain.

When you act, so can the invisible hand.


We Should Have Expected Them To Screw Us Over... And Acted Accordingly

publishing.pngThis (longish) post ties together Amazon, the free market, DRM, piracy, and more.  Hang on folks ... because this isn't crazy conspiracy theory stuff, it's what seems to be happening right now in the world of digital publishing.

In case you needed more evidence that Amazon is not your buddy, let me share with you these three things: (Note - no corporation is your buddy. Some are more aggressive than others, but they're all selfish sociopaths.)

1. Jim Hines had a startling experience where the price of his eBooks was adjusted without his knowledge. (His update has spoilers for the rest of this post. While Amazon quickly fixed it for him, they neglected to adjust the royalty statements for their "mistake". Read through the comments on his post for several other authors' stories of similar experiences.

When you look through the comments, you'll also find a sentiment similar to the one below. It's a paraphrase of the response I got when I approached the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition to see what their position was. (The response I'm paraphrasing isn't an "official" response - but it was also the only response as of the time I wrote this.)

We couldn't take a stance against Amazon, and I don't think we (or anyone) should. Amazon is a business, and their terms and conditions are there for everyone to read. If you partner with them, you're responsible for reading them and abiding with them. Besides, you can sell eBooks at numerous other places.

Sure, there's "numerous" outlets. And from my experience - and the experience of the other authors I've spoken to - comparing Amazon to "other outlets" is like comparing a distribution deal with Wal*Mart to a dozen independent bookstores. Getting your book in Wal*Mart or a grocery store rack makes a *huge* difference in print sales. Digitally, that role is taken by Amazon.

2. The Author's Guild seems to have the same analysis. They detail exactly how Amazon's practices have become anti-freemarket, and how it is A Very Bad Thing for authors.

And it is a Very Bad Thing. If Amazon is pushing around Big Six publishers, how long until they push back at us smaller fish? My guess is that Jim's experience and that of the other independent authors (back up there at the top) was an opening salvo in a larger strategy.

Amazon seem to have asked "What would happen when a retailer - and not just *any* retailer, but the 800# gorilla in the room who's working hard to make it a monopoly - starts pushing around independent electronic authors and publishers?"

Even if they didn't ask, they got an answer: They found that there were a lot of people - including other independent authors and publishers saying "welp, guess you should've expected them to screw you over because they can."

And whoops, B&N didn't immediately cave when Amazon's publishing arm threw a tantrum and didn't get its it's no surprise that today:

3. Amazon pulls over 4,000 eBooks of the second largest independent book distributor in the United States. So hey, if Amazon can't already alter your terms to favor them, they'll just wait until they can - and then they'll alter the deal further.

Where have I heard that before?

I am painting Amazon as being a bad guy here. They're not simply looking for profit in a sustainable way, they're looking to maximize profit in a noncompetitive monopolistic manner.  They're being a bully.

Maybe we should have expected Amazon to screw us over. We should have acted like they were Wal*Mart. And we damn well should have learned from those who fought Wal*Mart's business practices for years. (I don't make the comparison to Wal*Mart lightly.)

This isn't about authors and publishers winning the day against a retailer. It's about informing readers. The worst of Wal*Mart's excesses were stopped not by legislation, not by producers, but by consumers changing their buying habits.

Making eReader separate from the point of sale is the only way to achieve this goal.

1. Learn how to "sideload" eBooks onto your reader. For example, here's how to sideload onto a Kindle

2. Purchase your eBooks as close to the source as possible. If the publisher or author is selling the books directly - like Alliteration Ink does - then buy there. Sometimes you'll also get bonus stuff - for example, we bundle the ePub, Kindle, and PDF versions in sales
from the website.

3. Review everywhere. Even if you bought the book somewhere else, review it on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble. It's a big help to us, and helps them take us more seriously when they see a fan base.

4. Support DRM-free eBooks by buying them.  The DRM is really the only thing keeping you from buying an eBook at Amazon and loading it on your nook - or vice versa.   It sure as hell ain't stopping pirates.


Miscellaneous Miserable Mardi Gras Tuesday

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I'm feeling like crap this Mardi Gras morning (yeah, the irony), so just three quick notes this morning inbetween trips to the restroom (illustrated by my flickr stream):

I am not going to lie. Seeing this ROCKS

If you haven't already listened, my story The Burning Servant has been produced by Pseudopod. Excellent reading, and excellent outro (no, I'm not being sarcastic). Go swing by and take a listen.


Yes, you are required to do better when you're in college.
No student discount for spellcheck


Dogs on a couch. Your cuteness is overloaded.
Dogs, dogs, dogs

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Mother - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Bates Motel"That woman was very nice. You were very polite to that woman." I am talking to myself. Just to keep my social skills in practice. There are few visitors since the highway moved.

I glance out the window to the motel, to her room. "You shared supper with her. Maybe you really were... sexually interested."

"No!" I yell as I hear the woman scream down below.

"Oh God, Mother," I yell, running for the motel, "Oh God Mother, what have you done?" I step on every crevice in the sidewalk, but I know Mother will never, never, leave me alone.

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Tunnel - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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 at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

And yes, that pic is from MOTHERF'IN WIL WHEATON'S FLICKR. ::geekasm::

Going BoldlyPlasma splashes against the ship's hull; comm-carried screams dissolve into malfunctioning static. Sheila's synthesized voice holds no emotion. "Shields have failed. Structural damage to port engine pylons."

The rest of the crew looks back at me. My lieutenant's bars never felt so heavy. "Jenkins," I ask, "have you raised the captain?"

Jenkins looks at me. "The away team are not responding."

"Enemy ship approaching attack range," Sheila says.

Damn the captain for taking the whole bridge crew with him. Again. I feel sick.

"Get us out of here," I say, and the ship falls into the wormhole between the stars.

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When Your Corporate Policy Says Far More Than Intended

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soc_econ.pngGo take a look at this beautiful picture Xeni Jardin took.  Seriously.  It's gorgeous in an utterly human way.

Xeni Jardin has been documenting her experiences fighting breast cancer.  Her openness and honesty in discussing her care, her experiences, and her hope have had an amazingly positive impact.

I know this not only from the comments on Instagram and boingboing, but from actual, real people that I've personally met who tell me how inspired they are.  Whether they are diagnosed with breast cancer, or have been concerned about it (I understand the latter encompasses pretty much all women in the US), Xeni's story has been an inspirational tale.

Chemo is a bitch.  You're essentially trying to poison the cancer faster than you poison yourself.  Knowing that there are caring, wonderful, real people taking care of you is a tiny reassurance when you find that your own cells are revolting against you.

I think her story is inspirational, and that dozens of stories like them exist at every hospital.  Those stories are capable of reducing fear and possibly even helping people heal.

So, given the power of this medium, of these stories, of how much this unpackaged, raw, non-corporate press-release story can positively impact people's lives...  ...when another hospital system says you can't talk about them on social media, or take any pictures of volunteers or staff even with their permission, you gotta wonder what they're trying to hide.

#disclaimer:  As noted, I am not talking about the facility Xeni is at.  She and I have only traded a few e-mails;  she probably doesn't remember I exist.  I am deliberately not naming any specific hospital, health network, or other corporate entity.  I am not speaking about a specific policy at any institution, but am speaking about a principle that I've spoken and written about many times before (see this post from 2009 for an example).   I am not speaking on behalf of any corporate entity.  Duh.   This is a scheduled post written over seventeen hours before it posts.  And if you're drawing conclusions based on the fact that I have to include this long-ass disclaimer... well, those are your responsibility, aren't they?

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The difference between Republican extremists and Democrat extremists

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rant.pngThis is a quick follow-up to this post about the nature of the GOP these days.  (Again, I'm being blunt and generalizing, but largely snark-free.)

Before the comments start about "The Democrats have their own extremists," (Hi, Rob!) I want to point out this very, very huge difference:

Democrat "extremists":  People should be able to choose who they marry.
Republican extremists:  People can only marry who we approve.

Democrat "extremists":  We support the president but may disagree.
Republican extremists:  You must support and agree with the president - unless he's a Democrat.  In which case you must do the opposite.

Democrat "extremists":  People should be able to choose when and how many kids they want.
Republican extremists:  People cannot choose how many children they have.

Democrat "extremists":  People should be able to worship how they want.

Democrat "extremists":  Campaign finances should be reformed so everyone gets a say.
Republican extremists:  People with money get more say so shut up.

Democrat "extremists": Bureaucracy is supposed to slow corruption by making rules.
Republican extremists: We need less government regulation when we hire ex-politicians as lobbyists, then hire their firms as contractors.

(See the footnote if you want to argue the last two.

Or in other words, those of us over here on the left tend to think you should be able to live your life, love who you want, and so on.   The right's current rhetoric  (and yes, I'm looking at you, Tea Party) is all about freedom - but you can only have the freedom to be like them.

There's a reason why I put extremist in quotation marks for half of them.  Someone telling you that you can do whatever you need to is not an extremist

It's your party, Republicans. Own what it's become, or fix it. Your call.

Okay, the footnote. Yeah, I know, this happens on the Democrat side of the aisle as well. The degree and sheer blatantness with which it happens on the GOP side is appalling.  That's what I'm basing this judgement on.

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To The Republicans Out There

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Let me start by saying that this is totally, completely, snark-free.  There is no sarcasm here.  I am deadly serious.

Today, I saw a Dayton Daily News headline that Santorum (follow that second link at your own risk) is leading polls in GOP primary here in Ohio.

Santorum has said that women should consider getting pregnant by rapists a "gift" and compared fighting against gay marriage to fighting against the 9-11 terrorists.  There's more.  Lots more. 

Because of that, I really don't give a damn what else he might have to say.

He's a prejudicial intolerant bigot.  He's proud of it.

Guns and Sheets South Eastern Ohio, KKK
Brilliant plan to reform healthcare? Somehow, I don't give a shit.

And the rest of them?  Newt "Language of the Ghetto" Gingrich?  Damn, that boy is a racist sumbitch dressed up in fancy fifty-cent words.  I'm just surprised he managed to get through the debates without looking at Herman Cain and saying "You know, you people".

Republicans - and yes, Mom, I mean you too - this is what your party has become. Judging by the candidates, the party of Lincoln has become the party of intolerant, racist, xenophobic, homophobes.

When are you going to do something about that?

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Prioritizing Messaging - Or Why I Loathe Facebook These Days

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technology.pngThere's a very, very simple reason why I loathe the mixing of messages and chat on Facebook - which leads directly into how rare it is to get a response from me there.

There's a kind of priority that goes with the mode of communication.  Think about the expected response times here:

  • Phone call - Instant
  • IM/Chat - Near-instant ( < 5min)
  • SMS (text message) - Quick (5min - 1 hour)
  • Email/private message - A While (1day - 1 week)
  • Snail Mail - Slow (1 week - 1 month)
Obviously, your expectations may differ;  these seem to be some general guidelines that don't steer you too far wrong.  For someone as overscheduled as me (and probably you, too), those delay times are a vital part of scheduling our day.

Think about the GTD "2 minute rule".  I can whip off a quick response to most messages in about two minutes.  No problem.

It suddenly becomes a huge scheduling problem when that person instantly replies "Oh, I've got another question."  Suddenly that two minute block has become five minutes, twenty minutes, a half-hour. In my experience, no chat lasts less than a half-hour timeblock, and usually more.1

During that time, I cannot engage in other work.  Most of what I do is linguistic - words.  I have a very hard time processing two linguistic streams at once (and you do too, unless you're Bob Milne) - and the time demands of chat/IM are fast enough that it's hard to have enough time to refocus.  (Multi-tasking is a myth, people.)

It's not that I don't want to talk to the other person. Or that I mind chatting - I'm a fast enough typist that it's not the mode of communication that's the problem. It's that I'm usually doing a quick run through my inbox on Facebook and trying to address as much of it as possible (via a modified GTD process).

Thanks to Facebook's process of making chat and IM essentially the same thing, I've had to reprioritize all Facebook "communication" to "Do I have the time to engage in a half-hour chat with this person?"

Unfortunately, the answer for that is almost always "no".

1 The same effect happens with e-mail sometimes when one person keeps responding right away.

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So You Want To Make An Ebook?: Quick Access for HTML reference entities for ePub

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ebook_cover_200Yes, folks, I'm working on a new version that addresses things that have come up since the last one, KF8, and the rest.

I've been doing a lot of eBook conversion this week, and one thing that gets really old is re-looking up HTML entity conversion tables.  So I hacked this up as a break (yes, I'm that much of a geek).

This uses the HTML conversion table (plaintext) that I pasted here;  this is not a comprehensive list, but it's the ones I've typically used, sorted by type.  Then I use this bash script to show a display of the entities I want in Zenity, which is cross-platform.  The real guts of this is actually SED (which has been ported back and forth to other platforms as well).

Remember SED?  We used it back here, and then got some help from David D. Levine.

I looked at the SED one-liners and saw this one:

# print paragraph if it contains AAA (blank lines separate paragraphs)
 # HHsed v1.5 must insert a 'G;' after 'x;' in the next 3 scripts below
 sed -e '/./{H;$!d;}' -e 'x;/AAA/!d;'

And that's really the core of the thing.  All the bash script does is print out the file, pipe it to SED, and then feed the results to Zenity.  This should be achievable on other platforms using scripting.  At the very least, it should give you an idea of where to start poking at your system to give you nice, sorted, usable output like this:

For those of you working on Macs and Windows boxen, here's a challenge:  First script solutions that serve the same role as my bash script) native to those systems will get a free copy of any eBook from the Alliteration Ink store.  Post your solution in the comments!

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Control Pulseaudio from the Command Line - Ruby Script

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For reasons far too tedious to go into here1 I needed to control PulseAudio's volume (and toggle mute) from the command line. I eventually found a Ruby script - but it didn't completely work. I tweaked it a bit, forked it on github, and now present it for your pleasure.

The main reason you'd want to use this over the various bash scripts floating around is this: It works on all your audio sinks, not just one of them. Something you never think about... until you have to (like I did this week).

I'm really quite thrilled - this is my first time figuring out a Ruby script and my first time using github for my own stuff. Huzzah!

Hope this helps someone!

1 I needed to control through pulseaudio instead of ALSA, largely because of the new USB speakers I have. I want the internal audio (for headphones, etc) to keep working too, and I use openbox, so graphical versions are out of the question and constantly switching sinks in scripts sucks. Hence this.

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Updated conkybar - with commented scripts

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The setup in question
I got some comments when posted a few screenshots of my current conky bar, which I've optimized a bit since the last time I mentioned it.    If you want the code for (or the matching tint2 bar which you can't really see), the code for the conky setup (with comments and notes for customization in the config) is here:, and my tint2rc is here:

If you're on DeviantArt, I've posted it there - swing by and give me a fav, yes?

Honestly, after over a year of tweaking, this is all the info that I regularly want at a glance.  And because it's so thin (and stylish), I can always have it visible.  Because what's the point of all those bars and graphs and circles if you can't see them behind your applications? 

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Why you use "load" instead of "CPU usage" - and how to track iowait in conky

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technology.pngI've been using load - as well as CPU and RAM usage - as measures of system stress on my computer for a while now.  They all display pretty nicely and easily in conky.

And then I'll notice something like Google Music, or SpiderOak, or even copying large files via USB will spike my load something fierce.  I believe this is because of the I/O access - but I can't be sure.  Typing iostat will give me that information, but if my system is already struggling, I don't want to have to open a new terminal window and then parse that output for one bit of information.  If the load - or CPU, or whatever - is spiking for a known reason, I'll let it just go for a while and resolve itself.

For example, on boot.  It was really distressing to see my load values jump well over 5 (they should only be 2 at most on my dual-core machine).  I guessed that it was due to I/O access, but I couldn't prove it.

So I wrote a small script to just parse out the iowait value from iostat:

iostat -c -k -z | tail -2 | head -1 | awk '{print $4}'

I'm sure there's a simpler way, but this works.  I get a number back, so my output looks something like this (like, right now)

CPU - RAM - iowait - CPU Temp - Uptime - load

Decent load for a dual-core machine (I have some background stuff running as well).  My CPU percentage is only 13%.  Spiffy.   But about eight minutes before, this is what it looked like:

CPU - RAM - iowait - CPU Temp - Uptime - load
This is just after startup - when everything's still connecting, and so on.  Note that while the CPU percentage is only 4% higher, the load is almost seven times higher.  What's different?  The iowait value.  The load is bogged down by the I/O access, not the CPU.

Want to add this to your conky?  Very easy.  Take the above and put it in a bash script, so it's like this:

iostat -c -k -z | tail -2 | head -1 | awk '{print $4}'

I called it .  Make it executable (sudo chmod +x  Then in your .conkyrc file, it's simply adding a shell command:

${exec /home/USER/scripts/}

And there you go!

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The opening salvoes in the fight to make Church law trump civil law

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rant.pngRecently, a friend of mine rebutted my earlier thoughts about the RCC and (at least the Cincinnati Archdiocese) decision to not fund healthcare for employees of associated businesses because they would have to provide access to, among other things, the normal birth control pill.  She did so on Google+, and her response is well worth reading. She is reasonable and has thought this through with a great deal of compassion and empathy. And I think that's where her misreading of the situation comes from.

I responded at length there, but as I wrote, I came to a realization of something chilling, and I wanted to share those parts here.

When the RCC as an organization (and I'm especially looking at the Knights of Columbus here) will loudly remember the anti-abortion aspects of "pro-life" and conveniently forget the pacifism and rejection of the death penalty that are *also* pro-life, then the precedent for hypocrisy is already set.  When anyone calling themselves pro-life only cares about abortion, they're already picking and choosing.

Next anti-war protest, put this on your sign.

Therefore, to extend the argument that they shouldn't fund healthcare because it provides access to services objectionable to the RCC, the RCC should call on all its members to stop paying taxes because it supports war and capital punishment.

I'm aware that there's actually a precedent set by the Supreme Court this year that church law trumps civil law (I believe it was Lutheran hiring vs. the Americans with Disabilities Act);  that in itself is extremely troubling for the same reasons that this claim is troubling.  It is, in essence:

"Our churches don't want to play by the rules of your society, so we will do what we want... while still getting the full protections of your society."

I very seriously predict that the above precedent - followed so closely to this move by the RCC - is the opening salvoes in an attempt to wrest temporal power away from civil governments.  Not as some kind of conspiracy, but just social forces moving in particular directions. 

Consider:  We have a society where one particular religion's holiday is a recognized Federal holiday, favored over all other faiths.  (Any other faiths have a federal holiday?  Anyone?)  At the same time there are cries that this specially favored holiday is being "attacked" and persecuted... and those whines are somehow being taken seriously.

Sure, objecting to birth control and family planning isn't outside the norms for a chunk of the population.  In fact, it's divisive enough that it will mobilize support from the true believers - and reasonable folks will be... well, reasonable.

But this precedent - unlike the Lutheran case - is about enforcing religious laws on those who are not members of the faith.  Once this precedent is clearly enshrined - well, that's bad.  At best, you've suddenly got religious divisiveness.

Westboro Baptist Church members
Oh, I'm sure this will end well.

Temporal power and spiritual power should never be allowed to be held in the same hands.  History tells us that always ends badly.

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Strange Things are afoot at the Circle B Ranch...

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Today, things in the wild west get a little bit stranger.
A Bear Riding a Horse.  Your Argument Is Invalid.

Er, no.  Not that.

Today's the day that Westward Weird - published by DAW, and edited by Kerrie Hughes and the late Marty Greenberg - goes on sale.  Thirteen tales of the wild, weird west - both in Firefly-esque space and back in the actual, factual old American West.

My story in this anthology is Coyote, Spider, Bat.  It wasn't my first submission to this anthology - that was Hard Lesson, which ended up finding at home at Three Lobed Burning Eye.  They're two very, very different tales.  Hard Lesson is an alternate history with shades of Cowboys and Aliens mixed with District 9 (and just a dash of Preacher).  Coyote, Spider, Bat on the other hand, draws from older stuff, older legends.  It's a tale to be told around the campfire when on the trail.  A tale of the things that sometimes pass for humans, that lived among us back in the old days.

And may still live with us still.

Also with my story in this volume are stories by Jay Lake, Larry D. Sweazy, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Jennifer Brozek, J. Steven York, Jeff Mariotte, and Jody Lyn Nye.  It's good reading, folks. You can pick it up at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local bookstore.

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Alpha and Omega - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to record the story this week, but you can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Whipper in a suitI noticed the tear when I took off the cleansuit. Only a few millimeters wide, but that's a vast chasm for a virus.

"Come on," I told myself while removing the boots. I put the cleansuit in the incinerator. "The samples were all contained. The suit's just a redundancy." I just snagged some blisterpacks of antivirals.

My fever hit 100 by the freeway. Hallucinations - and the wreck - occurred at 103 degrees. Over 23 people have already touched me. Rate of contact transmission with gloves is 95%. The fatality rate is 85%.

I am the alpha of humanity's omega.

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Amazon is the Wal*Mart of Booksellers - with everything good and bad that implies

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publishing.pngYesterday, I left off with this phrase:
But while B&N is facing real problems - just like every other bookstore - I am skeptical that Amazon's self-made superstars are going to make or break the deal. Those authors have been heavily promoted to Amazon customers.
Understand this:  Amazon is the bookselling1 equivalent of Wal*Mart.

Repeat that a few times. It's important in understanding what's going on now.

Wal*Mart is known for a few things in particular: 2

1. Requiring exclusive terms on deals from distributors.
2. Requiring exclusive deals from distributors.
3. Destroying competition, then changing the deal for customers.
4. Blaming all of the above on other people.

These are all3 things that Amazon has either done - or attempted - in the last year or so. And just like Wal*Mart, Amazon is the biggest game in town for small/independent booksellers. Alliteration Ink sells twice as many eBooks through Amazon as all other outlets combined.

Selling books4 has not been maximized through bookstores. More books move off of grocery store and department store shelves. And that means Wal*Mart. If you can get in Wal*Mart, you should get in Wal*Mart. Likewise, if you can get in Amazon, you should get in Amazon.

This implies two things:

1. KDP Select is still a bad idea for authors and publishers. It means you lose all other customers, for the chance of a gain... and giving the 500 pound gorilla even more stuff to pound you with later. Competition among booksellers is good for authors, just like competition between publishers is good for authors.

2. This little spat about who puts which books on shelves isn't going to change too much. Amazon isn't (yet) one of the big publishers. Most of their superstars are in-house ones. They are the equivalent of the "George" line of clothes at Wal*Mart. They're a big deal ... at Wal*Mart. Not so much at Target.

I honestly don't see #2 changing anytime soon, either. The big names - the ones that everyone knows - are either big enough that the Big Six are going to keep them handy, or are big enough to not need Amazon's publishing services. They can hire someone like me to handle it for them - or start their own imprint.

The practical upshot? Authors and small publishers, don't get locked in to exclusivity. Make them keep courting your business. Support the ability to convert formats of eBooks so that buying a device doesn't make you dependent upon a specific store.

And when they offer you a convenient deal that's a little too good to be true... for that other shoe dropping from the sky.

1 Arguably, more than just bookselling, but you get the idea.
2 We're leaving the labor issues to the side for the moment.
3 Number 3 is arguable - I think it's not clear-cut simply because they've not had the chance.
4 I mostly mean mass-market paperback types, but not just.

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Barnes & Noble, Amazon, your ISBNs, and who gets on the shelves

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publishing.pngEarlier this week, I unexpectedly saw this headline:

Barnes and Noble will not sell Amazon published titles

The comments thread - both on the original article, and on the article author's page on Facebook - are worth reading.  The practical upshot seems to be this:

If you're published by Amazon's publishing arm, don't expect your physical books to show up in Barnes & Noble's brick-and-mortar bookstores, or your eBooks to show up on their website.

Honestly, if you did, you might want to take a reality check.  Amazon and Barnes & Noble are direct competitors.  There's no reason why B&N would ever give shelf space up to their direct competitor - and honestly, they shouldn't.  If Amazon wants those books in Barnes & Noble, then they should spin off their publishing arm ASAP and quit with the monopoly-making.

Please note that this - unlike some of Amazon's exclusivity moves in the last quarter - is specifically about books and eBooks published by Amazon, not those available at Amazon.  There's a huge difference between those two.  For example, The Crimson Pact is available at Amazon and B&N.  It is published by Alliteration Ink.

While Alliteration Ink has used CreateSpace for print books, it's been as a printer - and I can take the same source material to LightningSource or another printer - and get into different distribution channels that way.  The ISBNs reflect that Alliteration Ink - not anybody else - is the publisher of record.

It is exactly for this kind of shenanigan reason that I have always advised that you not let CreateSpace, Smashwords, Google, or anyone else own the ISBN for your book - which would make them the publisher of record.  It's already hard enough to get your book on shelves.  Having your book banned because of market posturing isn't something you need. 

But while B&N is facing real problems - just like every other bookstore - I am skeptical that Amazon's self-made superstars are going to make or break the deal.  Those authors have been heavily promoted to Amazon customers.  More on this tomorrow.

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Spec The Halls Winners!

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As promised, it's Feb 1, and just before that stupid rodent looks around and spoils everything, I've got the winners for the Spec The Halls 2011 contest!

In third place, we have Gift of the Magi by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett!

In second place, we have Old Man Winter, by Charles Alan Long!

And this year's first place winner is Saint Nick Sticks, by Peter White!

Of course, the real winners are those helped by Heifer International by your donations of $253 dollars! Huzzah!

Thanks for everyone who entered - I'll be contacting you about next year's eBook for charity in about six months!

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Thank you to the hipsters; we've got it from here.

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I admit it.

I like Journey. I fondly remember listening to Dancing Queen as a kid. I like the Muppets. I like Rocky Horror and The Three Amigos. Just for starters.

I like kitschy things. Corny things. Goofy things.

Things that hipsters have ironically embraced.

But I like them all without irony.  (And loads more.)  But now, instead of being something to be embarrassed about, our culture is okay with us liking this stuff.

I'm thankful for the hipsters for reviving so many cool, amazing, awesome things with their irony. And now we can just have goofy good-natured fun with them.

Happy mutant fun-times, kids.  It's cool.  Cool cool cool.

[images via Advice Winger]

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