ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Why Aren't You Listening To These Podcasts? Science and Horror and Kickstarter and More!

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By the time you read this, the Steampunk World backer rewards are well on their way, but I'm writing this just as I start the monumental task of packing them all up to mail.

There's one simple way to keep yourself from going numb while doing such a task:  Listening to podcasts.

It's been a while since I recommended some podcasts.  And usually I recommend fiction podcasts, so to change it up I'm going to share the nonfiction podcasts listening to, and I think you probably should be too.  (Here's a quick HOWTO for Android and iOS

Savage Lovecast:  Dan Savage gives great relationship advice.  Seriously.  There are so many jacked-up things that we've got embedded in our psyche about relationships, and Dan cuts through almost all of them.  Give the micro version a try for a few weeks (with ads) and I'll bet you'll want to subscribe to the Magnum version like I do.

DJ Grandpa's Crib:  Interested in finding cool stuff you'd never thought of on Kickstarter?  DJ Grandpa has you covered.

Song Exploder: Where musicians take apart their songs and tell you how they were made.  For example, the House of Cards theme or the Bob's Burgers theme.  You will never listen to music the same way again.

99% Invisible:  You will never look at any packaging, architecture, or design work the same way.  Like this one about how the changing nature of skyjacking changed airport design or how men originally wore high-heeled shoes.

Radiolab:  Constantly examining the world around us, from rap and hip-hop to the glorious stage show that is Apocalyptical, examining endings all around us.  (Seriously, if nothing else, check out Apocalyptical.)

The Faculty of Horror:  Horror - from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Witches In Film to Urban Legends, Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West examine horror in ways that are fascinating ... even if you're not a horror fan.  Great stuff.

What podcasts do you recommend?  Share them with us!

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The Types of Schadenfreude (but only one type of pie)

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Schadenfreude is a delightful word for a not-delightful idea:  It's taking delight in the harm to others.

But I'm going to suggest that the range of studies on the emotion might not be measuring quite the same thing.

Let's say you face the (so-called) problem of the "Old Boy's Club" (and you not being a member of them) like I wrote about back here.   And you're following my advice, writing more, writing harder, and succeeding.

If the Old Boy's Club stumbles and falls, and you're delighted, that's straight up schadenfreude.  No question there.

But if the Old Boy's Club is forced to recognize you - to their discomfort and pain - is that schadenfreude? Or is it something else?  Is there a word for that?

The key difference I'm looking at are whether it's associated with an elevation of one's own fortune versus simply the downfall of others.

What do you all think?  Or is it even more nuanced than that?

But for all that, there's only one Schadenfreude Pie.

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Open Letter To My Son And My Ex (Yes, Again, Sorry Everyone)

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Sorry folks.  I try to not post this stuff on here too much.  This is a time-sensitive thing, and I can't pass up the chance to see my son.

Earlier this week my son let me know that he'd be in my town this weekend with my ex.  He offered one time for me to get together with him, which I enthusiastically agreed to.  I also pointed out that I would gladly clear my weekend, keep tabs on he and his friend so my ex and her friend could do stuff, and so on.

Since it's been over a year since she's let me see him and all.  I'm kinda excited to see him.

Unfortunately, after that brief time talking to him, I have been unable to get in touch with him in any way.  She took his cell phone away a while back (and disconnected the number), and I have no idea if he has any kind of access to anything.

Which means that I have no idea where to pick him up at the arranged time, let alone if any other time is okay. 

But.

My weekend is clear.  I'm looking forward to seeing him.  The only obstacle is him being able to confirm with me what time(s) I am to see him, and making firm arrangements.

So I'm posting this here, as a public record of my willingness and desire to co-operate, and that I don't know of any way to communicate with my ex, my son, or whomever she's visiting. 

So there's a widget below to my Google Voice number. And, of course, my ex knows where I live.

I'm hoping that she will let my son visit with me.

And thanks, everyone else, for your forbearance of this post.

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Hey - Did You Miss Out On Steampunk World? TIME TO PRE-ORDER!

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My mail carrier probably hates me.

That's because of the overgrown plants by my mailbox, actually.  But shipments like this don't help:

That is about a third of the books that I'll be packing up and shipping back out as backer rewards for Steampunk World.  The good news, though, is that now I've got a solid timeline for releasing the book to the general public.

Steampunk World will be publicly released on 15 August 2014, just in time for GenCon.  :)

You can pre-order the book, though, either through Amazon or directly through Alliteration Ink.

Spread the word and pre-order today!


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When An Animated GIF Catches A Feeling

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I know nothing about this movie.

But this.

This.

I know this feeling.
'For my dearest darling, treasured, cherished Agatha whom I worship. With respect, adoration, admiration, kisses, gratitude, best wishes, and love from Z to A.'
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)


I felt this way after I mowed my amour's lawn, and she got home just before I left.  Or to slightly mis-quote John Updike's "Playing With Dynamite":

"When had he ceased to fear death—or, so to say, to grasp it? The moment was as clear in his mind as a black-and-white striped gate at a border crossing: the moment when he first slept with [her]."
It is a beautiful feeling.  It is terrifying.  It is all the Endless, wrapped into one fragile mortal frame.

And damn it, if that image above doesn't capture it perfectly.

The image is via the beautiful Tech Noir blog.

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Will Someone Copy My Work And Get Away With It?

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The concern is perennial: What about my copyright? Whether from sending a story to an editor or agent, or perhaps an online critique group, or simply posting the work on a blog, the concern is the same: Someone will take your hard work and imagination and claim it as their own.

In my experience, this question almost always get asked at entirely the wrong time, and with the wrong focus.

There's a lot of nuance, but let me hit the high points quickly. (This is United States of America law; YMMV outside of the USA - so some/many of these things may be very, very different for this case in the UK)
  • You get copyright on your work the moment you put it in a fixed form (yes, a blog post counts).
  • You can officially register your work with the US Copyright office. This is not required in the USA to gain copyright.
  • Sending a self-addressed stamped envelope does nothing.
  • Copyright does not cover your ideas, only the way you wrote/express them. That may, however, cover characters if they're "distinctly delineated".
So if a member of my writing group reads my awesome story about a person time-traveling back to meet Mark Twain and then writes their own story about a person time-traveling back to meet Mark Twain... it might be a jerky move, but it's not a violation of copyright. If they take my story and put their name on it, then it is a violation of copyright...and would make the next writer's group meeting very awkward.

Typically, though, it only matters when there's money involved.  Again, like in this case from earlier this week.  Why?  Because you've got to sue in order to do it.  If someone copies your (already unpublishable) fanfic, what damages are you going to demonstrate in court?

Mostly I hear new authors (or people writing fanfic) worrying about critique groups or agents or editors outright stealing their story... but they don't think critically about signing contracts giving over copyright. (Hint: Check when a contract asks for exclusive rights for the life of copyright. ) Or worse, posting the material somewhere online. There, your concern shouldn't be copyright violations, but that you just gave away first print rights to your work, which means it will be much harder to get it published.

There's a lot to this issue, more than I can cover in 300-odd words (and frankly, I'm not a lawyer). If you're coming to Context this fall, we've got a presentation on intellectual property law, and for even more in-depth questions, I'd urge you to check out one of the literary lawyers that Laura Resnick lists.

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The Axis of Assumption: Exploding Embedded Relationship Concepts

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Young Couple in Relationship ConflictRecently Ferrett said some really smart things about axes of introversion. Really, if you've not seen it, take a look - it's been a really great starting point for my amour and myself talking about the differences in the ways we're both introverted, and helped us understand where the other is coming from.

It also got me thinking - there are some other things in the ways we talk about relationships that probably should have thier own axes as well.1

One example of an axis that should be split up is in the way we talk about "seriousness" of relationships. There are several ways that a single axis of "strong" to "weak" doesn't quite match up to our lived experiences.

Is a one-night stand more of a "strong" relationship than a best friend you've had since childhood? What about people who you see infrequently, but when you see them, the relationship is strong and intense while it lasts? Is that relationship "stronger" or "weaker" than the barista you see every day?

There's clearly several axes here - sexuality, intimacy, and frequency - and how you value them may be very different than someone else you're in a relationship with.

When we're casually talking about relationships, "strong" and "weak"2 work... but with lots and lots of caveats. Taking the time - at least once - to split up at least intimacy, sexuality, and frequency will help you better have a grasp on the way you intuitively think about your relationships, but also let you translate what you mean to someone else.

And then there's the axes that go between two values, rather than a single "strength" scale. Let me give you an example:

Helper to Adventurer

At one end of this spectrum, you've got someone who looks at relationships as being about mutual support. Being in a relationship means you've got someone to help look after the kids and dogs, or take the trash out, or wash the clothes, or help pay the mortgage. It's about security, and knowing there's someone there to help you up.

At the other end, there's the person who looks at relationships as to have someone to do fun things with, to go on adventures with. The person who wants someone else to share the cool things in life with. It's about experiences and good times.

In my experience, most people (myself included) value one end of this scale more than the other. It's important - vital, perhaps - to remember that it is a scale. Too often it's presented as a binary either/or rather than a scale...and it doesn't have to be. Not at all. This recent "A Softer World" really kind of gets at how this scale can be reconciled between two people:



Even calling these things spectrums misses the point. People are not even a point on this spectrum, really. They're normal distributions around a central point... so that even if one value is significantly more important to you than another person's, there's still a lot of overlap.

I look at Zoƫ and Wash from Firefly here. They're very different people. They go on adventures. And they support and love each other completely.

But the final, and perhaps most important, point to make whenever you're talking about relationships, is that it's about the other person. This is perhaps the best working definition of love out there:

Love is when the happiness of another person is more important than your own.

And that's the thing. If you value your relationship with someone, you'll shift on these axes to meet them. Maybe not all the time. Maybe not all the way. But you'll shift. And if you're lucky, they will as well.

Sometimes people can't shift enough (or at all). Some relationship decisions (kids, for example) are yes/no choices. Sometimes your wants and needs violate someone else's boundaries.

But all the rest of the time?

The Adventurer will take out the trash for the Helper, and the Helper will pack the 50' of silk rope in their backpacks3.

What other assumptions about relationships do you think need to be broken down or expanded on this way?


1 I'm coming from this with the attitude that each relationship is its own unique thing, despite the common assumption in Western culture that all (hetero) (monogamous) relationships are all structured the same.
2 We talk about how "caps" the R in relationship is. Capital R? Small caps? Demi-caps? Lower case? It's a quick shorthand that works well.
3 Because you always got the 50' of silk rope in AD&D.

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Don't support authors who plagarize (original posted site exceeded bandwidth)

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[Edited to correct username to DataAngel]

The person behind astrangeday.net uncovered a case of pretty blatant plagarism (which, as I'll get to later this week, is pretty rare).  It ended up on the front page of Reddit and exceeded that website's bandwidth.  (Google cache here, original link if you MUST)  I'm reposting (and adding to) because this is hosted by Google, and if their bandwidth is exceeded.... well.  We've got bigger problems.

Here's the text of the original post (removed links that weren't to Amazon):

Don’t support authors who plagiarize.

The best thing about living in the future is that you can find out about these things very easily and spread the word that much faster.

The story starts like this:

My mother (Mim) was on Amazon looking for something to read. She found a recently (self)published book that had several great reviews and one negative one. Mom likes to read self-published books. Sometimes there are real gems and the price is usually great. But poor editing is a big turnoff for her, so she read the lone negative review.

http://www.amazon.com/review/R24T3E294BVWY3/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1499354894

Curious, I got the free sample of both books. The evidence is pretty conclusive.

[images redacted by me, see below]

He’s published the second book in the series. It’s… more of the same.

[images redacted by me, see below]

As a reader and as a writer I can’t put up with this. I did find out that the original author is on Goodreads and I’ve sent her a message. That’s not enough for me, though. I’ve had my short stories pirated. That hurt a little because it meant I wasn’t getting paid, but at least no one was making money off my work. This guy’s a thief. He’s stealing someone else’s work and earning money and reputation. Not cool. Not cool at all.

The images were also hosted on astrangeday.net, and I couldn't snag them. But I'll do you one better. Not only did I directly change the link to the review, I checked the books myself. Not only did I take pictures, but the images SHOULD link directly to Amazon, and if I'm lucky, the actual "look inside".

http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Before-Morning-Evans/dp/0373261845/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1405863727&sr=1-1#reader_B004EYUHN8

http://www.amazon.com/Murder-First-OMalley-Mysteries-Volume/dp/1499354894/ref=cm_rdp_product#reader_1499354894


Unlike "DataAngel", I do not think this is a case of someone writing under a pen name and later changing their mind.  I looked at Geraldine Evans' author page and Karl Jones' author page.  Since Geraldine is still an active author, and neither her page nor Karl's mentions writing the same book under a different name, I'm going to go one step further and introduce @gerrieevans and @karljonesauthor on Twitter. 


Like I said at the top, the irony is that I have a scheduled post for later this week that basically says this doesn't happen.  And that's probably the most important takeaway here, as "DataAngel" pointed out at the beginning of their post.

Especially in the internet age, it's too easy for this stuff to be found out.  And it's too damn risky, especially not in the genre fiction world.  There's too few of us at any kind of professional level for any one to get away with it for long.

#SFWAPro

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Run Different Programs On Connecting and Disconnecting From Networks with Both WICD and Network-Manager in Linux

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So I wrote a program again.  :)

It is (unimaginatively) named networkcontrol-wicd-networkmanager, but I affectionately call it "Bob".  It's what I use so that I have the right settings for Wondershaper and it doesn't bother trying to call up CrashPlan when I'm at work.

When you connect to a network, this script gets called, determines if it recognizes the network, and then launches whatever programs you want.  It also will run other programs on disconnect, and has a variable delay... so that if you plug into your wired connection it doesn't shut down and start up programs when you don't need it to.

It also runs with both of the big networking programs for linux - wicd and network-manager - so you don't have to worry about how so much as just getting it done.  It also writes (some minimal) output to the messages.log. 

This is another one of those things that looks super complicated...but it was actually harder making it so it'd work for other people than it was to get it running at all.

The installation instructions are in two parts - the actual commands to install the files, and then how to configure the configuration file.

The program is on GitHub, and should play nicely on *nix systems.  If someone knows what the equivalent is for Macs, we could do something similar there.

https://github.com/uriel1998/networkcontrol-wicd-networkmanager

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Updating Shotwell to 18.1.1 on #! (Debian Unstable) Linux From Source

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Posting this here to save someone else the headache I had, because I really like Shotwell, and bog knows that writing up instructions like this has saved my bacon when I later forgot...

I like Shotwell to organize my photos on Linux. It does enough for me automatically to make it easy to manage files, and the built-in "publish" button makes it pretty easy to quickly post images to Facebook and Flickr for friends and family. I like the tagging function and the automatic event creation from EXIF date data. Even if it's GTK3 now. :(

Shotwell recently updated to 18.1.1 in order to comply with Flickr's HTTPS-only (yay) requirement. Prior versions just fail when it comes to uploading to Flickr, and that's a problem. But just snagging the deb package doesn't work, so I had to build from the tarball.

This was less easy than expected. First, the dependency list is pretty damn large to build the thing (see it below).

Secondly, the webpage fails to mention a dependency package or three.

Third, it doesn't install the same way as it does from Debian's sources (of course), so removing the prebuilt package first was necessary.

And finally (though not Shotwell's fault) checkinstall decided to be a pain in the posterior (if you have problems with checkinstall making subdirectories, check out this solution.) If you don't know what checkinstall is and you use synaptic or apt-get, check it out.

A note of caution:  While the list below looks huge, if you're building any modern GUI software from source, you've probably got half of this already on your system, and

Anyway, best as I can reconstruct from my package history and the websites, here's the real dependency list for Shotwell 18.1.1:

libgee-0.8-dev
libgexiv2-dev
libglib2.0-dev
libglib2-dev
girl1.2-glib-2.0
libgstreamer1.0-dev
libgstreamer-plugins-base1.0-dev
libgtk-3-dev
libwebkitgtk-3.0-dev
libwebkit2gtk-3.0-dev
libwebkitgtk-common-dev
libunique-3.0-dev
libgudev-1.0-dev
libexif-dev
libgphoto2-dev
libgphoto2-2-dev
libraw-dev
librest-dev
libsoup2.4-dev:amd64
libxml++2.6-dev
m4
sqlite3
libvala-0.24-0
valac-0.24
valac-0.24-vapi
desktop-file-utils
gnome-doc-utils

So to recap what I did:

sudo apt-get remove shotwell

Install and/or upgrade your dependencies:
sudo apt-get install libgee-0.8-dev libgexiv2-dev libglib2.0-dev libglib2-dev girl1.2-glib-2.0 libgstreamer1.0-dev libgstreamer-plugins-base1.0-dev libgtk-3-dev libwebkitgtk-3.0-dev libwebkit2gtk-3.0-dev libwebkitgtk-common-dev libunique-3.0-dev libgudev-1.0-dev libexif-dev libgphoto2-dev libgphoto2-2-dev libraw-dev librest-dev libsoup2.4-dev:amd64 libxml++2.6-dev m4 sqlite3 libvala-0.24-0 valac-0.24 valac-0.24-vapi desktop-file-utils gnome-doc-utils


Then change to the directory you want to build in, and...

wget https://download.gnome.org/sources/shotwell/0.18/shotwell-0.18.1.tar.xz
tar xvfJ shotwell-0.18.1.tar.xz
cd shotwell-0.18.1

Then you can do the standard dance:
./configure
make

and then use make install or checkinstall to get up and running.

Hope that helps!

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Stop Goofing Around On The Internet And Go Thank Your Old Teachers. Now.

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Not actually my teacher
I had a horrible physics teacher in high school.

I was reminded of him when I visited my parents;  they only remembered that I skipped class a lot.  How would they know - and why would they believe - that a teacher would literally read the textbook to high school students?

But surrounding the painful memories of his droning voice were the memories of another teacher.

Mrs. Conway.  Her class wasn't easy, but she made it interesting.  She told you why and how and made the rote "experiments" you routinely do in those classes fascinating.  All while drinking nothing more than hot water in her mug.

I've had the opportunity to thank some of the other teachers I had.  I wrote a letter to Mrs. Klishis, who patiently put up with me not dealing well with peer pressure and constantly underachieving, and still believed in me.  I happened to run into Mr Hohmann outside of a convenience store;  his foam mace and ascerbic style left me still entranced with genre fiction, but primed me for when I encountered Tobias Wolff and Barbara Kingsolver and Tim O'Brien.

And today, while the thought was fresh in my mind, I reached out and left a message for Mrs. Conway about how awesome she was, and how much of a positive impact she had on me... even if I was too much of a self-centered jerk to recognize it at the time.

And I'm not done.  I've already tried to find Mr. Taft;  maybe if Facebook doesn't bury my message too far in his "Other" folder, he'll see it and not think I'm a spambot.  And there will be more.

Now it's your turn. 

Quit goofing off on your phone, and think of that teacher1 who made a positive difference in your life... even if you, like me, didn't realize it at the time.

And use this freaking amazing contraption to do something more than look at cat photos.  Call, message, write a letter, send a friend request.

Let them know they made a difference.

Let them know you remember.

Say thank you.



1 Professor, mentor, drill sergeant. The title doesn't matter.

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Traffic Control With Wondershaper While Still Letting Your LAN Speeds Stay Super Fast

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Wondershaper is pretty nice and easy traffic shaping tool for linux.  It's been around for a while (and has its critics), but I find it to be a great tool.

It's so useful for a pretty straightforward reason:  I can use a lot of bandwidth if I'm not careful, particularly upstream.  And while I've got pretty good speeds at my place now, I don't want to totally annoy friends when I'm over at their house.  My amour still checks to see if I'm on the internet whenever her Roku starts buffering...


So that's where we get to Wondershaper.  It helps limit and prioritize the bandwidth traffic coming to and from your computer so that the "tubes" don't get congested.

Yes, it takes a little time to set up, but there are some excellent guides to walk you through it.  (If you can't see the link, it's http://bit.ly/1kU0AHn.)  Most of the legwork needed will also help you set up properly Quality of Service settings on your router;  the cool thing here is that Wondershaper will help make those QoS settings work even better since your computer isn't trying to shove more through the router.1

Except for one small thing.  For most people in the US, the bandwidth on your local network far exceeds the speeds you have to the internet.  Here's the wireless network standard speeds (most wired networks are 100Mbps)
802.11b - 11 Mbps (2.4GHz)
802.11a - 54 Mbps (5 GHz)
802.11g - 54 Mbps (2.4GHz)
802.11n - 150Mbps - 600 Mbps (2.4GHz and 5 GHz)
802.11ac - 1300 Mbps (5 GHz)
I just tested my internet speeds, and it's 7.88Mbps down (and 0.89Mbps up)... so there's no way that I could download from the internet faster than even an old wireless standard could handle.

Wondershaper doesn't know that.

As Wondershaper is currently written (at least in Debian and Ubuntu) it doesn't differentiate between traffic out to the internet and between two computers on the same network.  So it made things really slow when I was trying to copy my music to another computer.

I managed to find where roobinatube had figured this out back in 2011.  By just adding a few lines of code, Wondershaper completely ignore LAN traffic and while still doing its job with internet-bound traffic. Let me walk you through what to do:

1.  Find out what your LAN's private IP address space is.  (You can find out with the ip route command from iproute2.)  Most people's are 192.168.*.* or 10.*.*.*, where the asterisks can be any number from 0 to 255.

Here's an example output:

default via 192.168.0.0 dev eth0
192.168.0.0/24 dev eth0  proto kernel  scope link  src 192.168.0.129

192.168.0.0 would be the router in this example, which the computer is connected to by the eth0 (or ethernet) connection. The /24 on the second line tells us that only the last number changes in our LAN.

2.  Find where the Wondershaper script is on your system.
which wondershaper

3. Open Wondershaper in your favorite text editor. (I'm using where Wondershaper is installed on my system here.) You'll probably need superuser permissions, so
sudo nano /usr/sbin/wondershaper
gksudo gedit /usr/sbin/wondershaper
kdesudo geany /usr/sbin/wondershaper

Here's the fun part:

4. Modification One.

Find these lines in the program.

# Set the following values to somewhat less than your actual download
# and uplink speed. In kilobits. Also set the device that is to be shaped.
DOWNLINK=$2
UPLINK=$3
DEV=$1

Add these lines below making sure that you change the subnet. (Example: If your subnet from above is 192.168.2.0/24, then the value for LAN_SUBNET is 192.168.2.0...) And yes, I recommend leaving the comment so when you've forgotten what you did and find it again it saves you time.

# added to exclude LAN http://ideatrash.net/2014/07/making-wondershaper-play-nice-on-lan.html
LAN_SPEED="100000"
LAN_SUBNET="192.168.0.0"

5. Modification Two. Now find these lines:

/sbin/tc class add dev $DEV parent 1:1 classid 1:30 cbq rate $((8*$UPLINK/10))kbit \
allot 1600 prio 2 avpkt 1000

And add a blank line and then add this:

# added to exclude LAN http://ideatrash.net/2014/07/making-wondershaper-play-nice-on-lan.html
#put lan traffic into lan class
/sbin/tc filter add dev $DEV parent 1:0 protocol ip prio 1 u32 \
match ip src $LAN_SUBNET/24 \
match ip dst $LAN_SUBNET/24 \
flowid 1:3

6. Modification Three. And finally, find this line (it should be just under a part that says "downlink"):
/sbin/tc qdisc add dev $DEV handle ffff: ingress

And then add this immediately below it

# added to exclude LAN http://ideatrash.net/2014/07/making-wondershaper-play-nice-on-lan.html
tc filter add dev $DEV parent ffff: prio 1 u32 \
match ip src $LAN_SUBNET/24 \
match ip dst $LAN_SUBNET/24 \
flowid :1

Your bandwidth will flow more smoothly - both within your LAN and out to the world at large.


1 If you have a laptop, you might have realized that the settings for Wondershaper won't be the same at every location. We'll hit that with my network control script later this week.

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Reflections on Running a Convention Twenty Years Ago And Now

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Being the programming director this year for Context has been an interesting experience.  I've had to quickly learn when I'm over my head, learn when I've waited too long to ask for help, and learn how to say "thank you" enough times to the panelists and friends who have helped make things work.

Yes, I realize that Context is still months off, but most of the heavy lifting is done, and now it's time to assemble the furniture, polish the armoir, and arrange the pictures on the wall.  (Like the website, which I'm waaaaaaaay behind on updating.)

But I'm optimistic.  Because I remember a prior convention that I had to assemble programming for... twenty years ago.


Yup. And when you look at this schedule, it seems pretty simple:


But man, was I peter-principled then.   Sure, the convention happened... but barely.  So when I look at all the programming for Context with over seventy panels, events, and workshops...well, suddenly I feel a lot better about it.

While I'm still getting the webpages updated, you can see a lot about our guests and events on our Tumblr;  but don't wait - register for Context today!

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How I Work: The Extensions I Use For Firefox and Thunderbird

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I use Thunderbird and Firefox pretty much exclusively on the desktop.  (Actually Iceweasel and Icedove - the difference is here but doesn't concern us here.)  There's a few key extensions and add-ons that make them such a pleasure to use.  I took a few minutes last week to gather them into collections so that you can check them out as well.
For Firefox/Iceweasel the collection is here:

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/collections/steven_saus/power/

Ones I find useful you probably haven't seen on every other list like this:
  • Open With - Not just browsers, but open an URL with any program you like. So feed that youtube url directly to MPV or youtube-dl.
    Bookmarks Checker
    - does what it says on the tin
  • It's All Text  - lets you edit and write to text fields with whatever editor you like.
  • FXOpera:  I used to like Opera.  I'm not a huge fan now.  But this UI is so much better than the current default Firefox layout.
For Thunderbird/Icedove the collection is here:

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/collections/steven_saus/pow/

There's some really, really cool ones I've only recently found here:
  • Remove Duplicate Messages:  Title Says It All
  • Mail Merge:  Super useful, of course, and REALLY easy to use.
  • GContactSync: Yes, does exactly what you think it does.  Includes photos.
  • Display Contact Photo: Works great when combined with GContactSync.  Includes Gravitar support, but the lookups on that got to be a bit much.
  • Resize Images:  Works great for both attachments ... but more importantly, for the inline images.  It was wonderful when sending images to my amour's daughter while I dogsat.
For even more power, use OfflineIMAP to process your mail locally!


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Fireworks - A Drabble

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080704 fireworks-19The crowd ooohed at the massive noisy fire blossoms in the sky. She stood in front of him, and they watched.

He looked past the explosions, up at the infinite expanse of the stars. The fireworks were giant lights in the sky, but he knew how tiny they were compared to the universe around them. He was so much smaller than the smallest firework--

Then she leaned back against him, head against his chest, and nothing - not the fireworks, not the stars, not the universe itself - came close to the size of the love he felt for her.

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Sometimes It's Hard To Insult a Genre Writer

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In the last year or two, folks who promoted diversity and equality were called gamma rabbits and "rotting meat".

Which, y'know, got me to thinking.  Because if we're both those things simultaneously...

That means we're MUTANT ZOMBIE BUNNIES.





mmmmm.  tasty.

Art by Len Peralta of MonsterbyMail

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Trying to Listen to the Drumming of the Tanuki

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My amour got a mug for me while she was away at a writing retreat.  You should know that she has this knack for finding things that are both inspirational and down-to-earth.

On my wall is a small quotation:

"Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other." - Anton Chekhov
That's her fault.  On the fridge:
"Be good and you will be lonesome. ~Mark Twain"
Heck, she even mentioned one of my other little inspirational bits when she wrote the introduction for my collection of short stories.

So, the mug:


And that's where my existential stuff kicked in.

Because you won't fail.  Or you will fail.  But really, it doesn't matter.  Not in the larger scale of things.  All you have are your experiencesRight now.

And once you realize that, then you're free to truly embrace your dreams and your full potential.

You have a limited number of breaths or keystrokes left.

As I write this, I'm drinking from a mug my amour gave me, making stories become reality while listening to the thunder roll overhead.

How about you?1

“In the end, perhaps we should simply imagine joke; a long joke that's being continually retold in an accent too thick and too strange to ever be completely understood. Life is that joke, my friends. The soul is the punch line.”
― Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito


1 Why yes, I am not all the way there.

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How to Make Sure You Can Access Your Writing Forever

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I learned the most important lesson of file formats from WordPerfect 5.1.

I wrote some of my earliest stories using that software, the blue screen and drop down windows still as much a nostalgic trigger as green text on a black background.

I remember finding those disks almost a decade later. Disk drives were still around, and I could still see the files on the disks. But I didn't have a copy of WordPerfect any longer. And converters sometimes left out paragraph breaks, words, and even whole sentences.

And so when pal and author of spy thriller Net Impact Donald J. Bingle asked what would be the best format to preserve a document for archival purposes, it gave me pause.

WordPerfect in its day dominated the market the way Word does now. And yet I was having problems opening those files. Heck, you can't always open a document in different versions of Word and have it appear the same way. And unlike computer programs - which usually rely on a particular operating system or versions of one - a document needs to be cross-platform.

And that led me to my recommendation for the best future-proof format:

HTML and ePub


There's two big reasons why:

* ePub is essentially HTML files in a zip file
* HTML's formatting markup is both straightforward and has all the information self-contained.

Even plain text and markdown - my personal favorites on my own machine - have the line feed problem, which can make things an unreadable mess. But HTML doesn't care - that's what paragraph tags are for.

Have you ever run into this problem? What have you done to work around it? Let us know!

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