Archive for the ‘Computers and Technology’ Category

Why eBook Formatting Will Drive you Crazy

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Here’s a new problem I encountered today. I’ve been uploading Whispers to various vendors and I ran across a new issue. First, here’s my process–it includes a short cut that hasn’t been an issue until today.

My shortcut is that I upload an ePub to Amazon and let Amazon convert it. That saves me some trouble, but I have long recognized the risk inherent in that. What I should do is upload a mobi. But I haven’t been because it’s an extra two or three steps. Until now, that process has been error free and, even, produced a better result than a lot of mobi uploads I’ve seen.

[Clarifiction: When I say Kindle Previewer, I mean the app you can download from Amazon. I am not talking (much) about the emulator portion of the tool. You can never fully trust an emulator. I am talking about the FILE produced. The downloaded Kindle Previewer app produces a Mobi and prc file that you can upload. It is NOT just a file previewer. It is also a file converter. I am NOT saying that when I looked at a Kindle Previewer display I saw these differences. I’m saying the physical file that resulted from a local Kindle Previewer conversion displayed differently from the file Amazon converted on line when viewed on the same physical devices. And that the file converted by Amazon via the dashboard was WORSE.]

I have an iPad 3 and I do almost all my reading on my iPad, usually with the Kindle app. When I am proofing final files, I use Kindle previewer to preview my ePub across devices. This also creates a file that contains a mobi and a prc, and you can upload that file to Amazon which will then deliver either the mobi or the prc to the user, depending on their device. I also email that previewer generated file to my Kindle account so I can preview it on my iPad.

Today, I uploaded the final epub to Amazon and when it was live, I bought the Kindle version so I could see what the actual delivered file looked like.

So. First, here’s a screen shot of what the Kindle-previewer mobi that I emailed to my kindle account looked like when I was proofing stuff yesterday:

My mobi converted epub. Italics

Note these things:

1. My slug line (the city and date) is in italics.
2. In the first paragraph I have a bold initial letter and then normal text.
3. In the 3rd line of the 2nd paragraph, the word “Da-veede” is in italics.

My personal compromise has always been No. 2. I use a set of style that, as you will see when you compare it to the next image, degrades very nicely (in my opinion) in an ePub converted by Amazon and viewed on the Kindle App on my iPad 3 (and elsewhere).

Until today, there has never been a difference between the Amazon ePub conversion and the converted file I mail to my account. Now there is.

This is a screen shot of the ePub Amazon converted today, viewed in the Kindle App on my iPad 3:

Amazon Converted epub

1. The italics from my slug line is gone.
2.  My first paragraph styles are rendered. I have an initial large, bold cap AND my small caps for the first line.
3. The italics for “Da-veede” do not display.

For reference, here’s a screenshot of the same page viewed in iBooks (via the BookProofer tool, since I can’t do the Apple upload until they’re re-opened to submissions):
ibooks Version

As you can see, I have italics AND my first line/first para styles

In the Kindle previewer tool, by the way, the tool previews my file across the various devices with ALL italics text appearing as italics and the expected ability to render my first paragraph/line styles or to degrade acceptably.

Here, for another comparison, is the converted mobi viewed on the Kindle App on my iMac:

KindleDesktopApp mobi

As you can see, I get italics and my first para/line styles rendered.

I am reasonably certain that if I instead upload the mobi instead of an ePub, this will resolve the issue. So I will try this and let you know. Otherwise, I’ll have to introduce another hack to the hack that already deals with device incompatibilities with respect to the display of italics. Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t have been taking any shortcuts and yeah, I know, this is what you get when you take them. But come, on! The display of italics should be a no-brainer–the core set of html that should NEVER break. It’s already beyond stupid that some devices don’t render the italics tags correctly and require a hack.

Grumble.

 

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Gadget Girl Writer: Wireless Lights

Monday, November 25th, 2013

A while back, I heard about people who had their household lights connected to timers etc….  The times I’d investigated in the past it was way too expensive and complicated for me to want to set up. I only have so much spare time. I started hearing, though, about easier ways to do this sort of thing and after some time spent researching I found there were indeed several systems that looked simple-ish.

The Phillips Hue system was what I settled on after checking specs and consumer reviews. Also, Hue allows you to change the color of your lights. This sounded too fun to pass up. So I decided to pony up for the starter pack set up. ($200.00) I fully expected that I would just be playing with these three lights.

About the Hue system

You need the Phillips Hue lightbulbs. They are wireless enabled. The starter pack comes with the three lightbulbs and the IP bridge you need to connect the lights to your wireless network. Lights plus the bridge = a mesh network. (ohh!)

One bridge can control up to 50 lights. The lightbulbs are $60 each if bought singly, so the starter pack pricing means the IP-bridge is only $20 of the total cost. I don’t see that the bridge is sold separately, so if you have more than 50 lights to hook up, you’d have to buy another starter set.

There are three kinds of lights: What you’d consider a regular light bulb, a bulb suitable for recessed cans, and a strip of lights (the strip is $80.) There are not, for now, lights that would replace tube lights, unless you count the strip, but for various reasons that won’t work except in limited circumstances. Any light fixtures you have that wouldn’t accommodate a normal light bulb would not be compatible with this system. It appears you CAN use these lights in places where there are physical dimmers, you’d just not use the dimmer function.

The Phillips Hue website is pretty, and also pretty useless. Somebody over there forgot they need to do more than show off. There was NOWHERE that succinctly described what the system does and why I would want to make that kind of investment. Because $60 per bulb?? If you have 50 lights in your house, you’d spend $3020 getting this set up.

Note: I counted the lights in our house where we could use Hue lights. There are 42. That’s 39 single bulbs needed, plus the starter pack, for a total investment of $2540.

The lights are LEDs, last approximately 7 years, are 80% more efficient, and come with a 2 year warranty. The lights would have to save me $362 a year ($30 a month) to recoup my investment over those 7 years. I found a calculator that let me do a ballpark estimation of time to recoup the investment. Conservatively, it’s about three years.

Phillips does not currently recommend using their lights outside or in bathrooms, so I excluded those lights from my count.

Setting it up

My starter pack came. I set it up, downloaded the app and it worked. Took about 15 minutes from opening the box to controlling my first light via the app. Literally, it was that fast and easy.

I played with the lights and after I finished turning the lights all different colors (wheee!!!!) it became immediately and deeply apparent that this was more than just fun. It was efficient and useful. For me, it’s almost, but not quite, as transformative as the GPS. Keep in mind that I am directionally deprived so GPS in my car saves me HOURS of time being lost as well as reducing a major source of stress.

My lighting Future is Now

I have replaced the lights in most of the bedrooms and in the living room and TV room. (total of 17 bulbs, plus one light strip for the dark hallway for a total current investment of $1,120.) The lights are now on various timers. I have not used my bedside lamp since I put the lights in my room.

Here’s what I can do: On the days I work from home, my room lights fade on when it’s time to get up. The living room fan lights come on at the same time. Over the next ten minutes, the additional lights I need for my day job from home time fade on to a light level and brightness that is easy on my eyes. Twenty minutes later, my bedroom lights turn off.

I have the living room and TV room lights set to turn off at 11:00 PM nightly.

The hallway strip comes on at 4:45PM and turns off at 7:30 AM. (This replaces the nightlight, for better lighting and LESS money since it draws the same power as the nightlight but is on only when we need it instead of being on 24/7.)

Monday-Wed, my room lights come on at 4:20PM — which is about the time I get home.

There’s more, but that’s the basic set up for now.

Here’s what I no longer have to do: navigate a dark bedroom when I go to bed or get out of bed. Navigate a dark living room. Endure lights that are too bright when I’ve just gotten up. Get up to turn on or off additional lights.

Fun with Lighting

In addition to practical things like timers and alarms, I can change the color and intensity of the lights. For example, I use a picture I took of some macaroons for one of the settings in my room. At 9:30 PM my macaroon lights come on and remind me that I need to wind up my day. Here’s the picture:

Macarons

In the Hue app, I say which lights I want associated with my “macaroon scene.” Those lights appear as draggable icons over the picture. You drag the icon to the color you want and as you do, the associated light bulb changes color. When you’re happy with the effect, you save the scene and voila! You can set timers and alarms for the scene or just manually turn it on or off via the app.

For this scene, I have selected shades of pink, yellow, and cream with what is, for me, a pleasing intensity, for the three lights in my room’s ceiling fixture. It’s really pretty, actually. I then set it on a timer when I’m in bed so it fades out after three minutes. At which point, I am in bed with the iPad in the dark, doing whatever. Or not.

My lighting Future is Now

Here’s a few things I wish it could do/didn’t do.
1. Operate from my desktop. There is a 3rd party app that does that, but mostly it doesn’t work and it looks to have been abandoned. Bummer.

2. I wish there was a dedicated panel display where everyone in the house could access the lights. Alternatively, I wish I had an extra iPad or tablet to devote to this.

3. I wish the light strips had a smaller footprint for plugging in.

4. I wish there were tube lights so I could replace the under-counter fluorescent lighting and some other such tube lights.

5. Be used outside and in bathrooms.

6. I wish there were motion sensors. I think.

7. When you’re setting up a light scene, all the lights are associated. You have to deselect the ones you don’t want. It’s a PITA. The default should be no light with a toggle for ALL. The user then selects which lights to connect to the scene. Because really, if you can have 50 lights, who thought it was a good idea to have all lights associated by default? The common scenario is have different lighting per room or functional area. It’s more user-friendly to have to select the few lights you want than the deselect the majority of lights you don’t want.

9. Although you can rename your lights (thank goodness!) they list in the app in the order in which they were found by the bridge. So, in our case, the lights for the starter pack are 1, 2, and 3. Two of them are in one room, and one is in another. Because. Other lights I added as money was available. I wish they could sort alphabetically. If I were smarter (and I will be in future) I would strategically obtain and install lights so they are sensed in a group.

Sum Up

Total win. I love the lights. They’re fun. They’re useful. They’re going to save me money over time.

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Gagdet Girl Writer: Pebble Watch

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

I’ve decided to do the occasional technology review blog as a sort of regular feature here. By regular I mean, more often than never. I actually have two topics I want to blog about, but I’ll do them separately. Moar fun for you!

Pebble Watch

Here’s a link to their website in case you want to get oriented. GetPebble.com.

I tried to get a picture of me wearing the watch but all of them came out awful. This one gives you an idea of what it looks like.

A rectangular watch with a red frame

Red!

It costs $150.00 which is not that unreasonable for a watch, but also more than a feature-laden digital watch. They come in other colors, and I was tempted by orange, but I got red. Because. It is a large watch, but not clunky. I think it’s a nice compromise between being big enough to do stuff and small enough not to look dorky. However, the watch makes a statement, on account of size alone. Personally, I like the way it looks. It comes with multiple time display styles, by the way. The one you see in the picture just happens to be my favorite at the moment.

What does it do?

It has an eInk display and it syncs with your smart phone via bluetooth. Why is this neat? Read on. I should mention, though, what it does not do. You cannot take phone calls on it. You cannot tweet from it. Both of those things would really have to be voice or one touch screen activated if you didn’t want to run the risk of killing yourself through inattention to the world around you. The screen is not active.

Here’s a few things it does: It can receive and display notices that go to your phone. Incoming calls, missed calls, texts, tweets, apps. Yes, you can tell it which apps to sync with in case you don’t want to see tweets on your watch or what have you.

Like a lot of smart apps these days, there are useful things about this that do not occur to you when you don’t have it. For example, unlike other watches, this is software driven. Just because the Pebble doesn’t do something now doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.

Things my other watch does

For years, I’ve been buying digital watches because they have features I find more helpful than fashion. Here’s a list of some of the features I don’t want to give up:

  1. Multiple alarms that I can set for weekdays, daily, weekends, or off.
  2. Timer
  3. Stopwatch
  4. Portability

Multiple alarms? I love that about my Casio. I love that I can set the alarm for work and not have to remember to turn it off for weekends. I love that I can have a separate daily alarm to remind me to put the chickens up and another for when it’s time to stop at the day job when I’m working from home. I love that I can turn off an alarm when I know I want it in future, but not today, or for a stretch of days.

The timer, for example, keeps me from burning stuff in the kitchen. I’ll get the coffee going and then wander off and get lost in chapter 1…. Yeah. Saves me ALL the time.

Stopwatch. I do exercise.

Portability. It’s on my wrist! When the timer goes off, I’m right there to hear it!

How does the Pebble stack up with these needs?

Pebble Up

My NeedDoes Pebble do it?
Multiple alarms that I can set for weekdays, daily, weekends, or off.Multiple alarms: Yes
Variable days: No
Set to off: No
Timer

No
StopwatchSupercharged!
PortabilityYes

As you can see, it’s a mixed bag. I could muddle along doing other things for alarms, but that would be not so great. The lack of a timer is enough that I can’t see myself entirely switching. I’m hoping there’s functionality I can add to get a timer feature.

Synchronicity

This watch syncs with my phone. That means the time is correct and that I can’t accidentally reset it (which happens with the Casio from time to time). It syncs with runkeeper, a handy app for tracking exercise that moves across space. (Runkeeper would not be so useful for a treadmill, I don’t think, or a stationary bike — but hey, it’s RUNkeeper.) This is awesome because you can just glance at your watch and see a bunch of stuff related to your workout, including a heart monitor, if you have one. That’s a win for me.

So far I LIKE the text on the watch feature. A lot. In fact, I was driving when I got a text and all I had to do was glance at the watch which was right there on my wrist. Nice.

I like that I don’t have to dig out my phone to see why it’s pinging.

A Few Other Things

You have to charge the watch occasionally. Oh well. It’s software and that means things can stop working. I find Bluetooth (this is a general statement) pretty frustrating because it sometimes it decide, well eff you, I’m not connecting to anything any more.

I never have to wonder if I need to reboot my Casio.

Wishlist

Color display. Sorry but as a consumer, color is cooler. I totally get why it’s not, and the eInk display means I can see what it says inside or outside. Yeah, whatever. I want that for eInk Kindles, too.

Sum Up

I like the watch. It’s better looking than my Casio, but doesn’t have all the features I would like. I am, however, going to search for a timer feature and see if anyone is working on better, more flexible alarms. The neat thing is, that unlike the Casio, which has the features it came with and that’s it, the Pebble can be updated.

Overall, a win.

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Amazon, Publishing, and the Future

Friday, October 25th, 2013

A while back, Amazon made it clear it wanted to compete with NY publishers in the print space as well as digital. They hired a lot of NY editors and opened an office in NY.  Now we hear that Larry Kirshbaum, the man who headed this publishing arm, is leaving and that that editors have been laid off. There were some high profile non-fiction books that were mostly considered failures because Amazon could not get print editions into stores.

I have some thoughts about this that cover several areas, with respect to fiction. I don’t know enough about non-fiction to have an informed opinion.

Same Old Same Old

When I heard that Amazon was hiring NY folks into these positions, one of my thoughts was that all they were doing was bringing the same moribund thinking into their publishing arm. I think that’s a part of the problem.

What self-publishing has proved: Traditional publishing rejects stories that are commercial. It also insists on editorial changes that make stories less successful.

I have heard Amazon authors complain about editorial policies that imposed the same notions about what’s commercial and what will sell. This is no surprise because Amazon hired NY editors who either brought all their traditional mores, if you will, or remained unable to let the author decide because of pressure from the top.

What I think should happen: Publishing needs to take more risks with books and they need to trust their authors more. I’m not saying abandon editorial input. I’m saying let the author take risks.

Print Still Matters

There’s no question print still matters. Self-published authors are frustrated by the roadblocks to print. If the publishing system weren’t fundamentally broken, it would be possible for any reader to buy a print version through a physical store. This is not possible in part because of the returns issue, but also because there is significant ill-will against Amazon.

Amazon Dug Its Very Own Hole

Almost from the get-go, publishers and bookstores expressed a deep and abiding hatred for Amazon. Hatred might actually be too weak a word. Amazon does itself no favors in the way it conducts business with publishers and bookstores.

The bigger deal here is Amazon’s relationship with physical bookstores. If you want bookstores to carry your books, then it’s pretty important to have a relationship that is mutually beneficial. From everything I hear, Amazon has done the exact opposite in this respect. What I hear from booksellers is that they would gleefully refuse to do ANYTHING that would benefit Amazon, and they would do it even if it means forgoing an otherwise profitable arrangement. THAT is some serious hate.

Unless Amazon is betting on the disappearance of bookstores, this is a relationship they should be looking to repair.

Updated 2013.11.07: Indie Booksellers appear to be turning away from Amazon’s offer of 2 year cut of every book purchased from a Kindle bought through that store. While this is an obvious strike at Kobo and its current deal with indie bookstores, it’s also mystifying to me why Amazon thinks booksellers will jump at this. Amazon appears not to understand that they have burned some bridges.

A Clear and Present Danger

Here’s what really worries me.

I see people in publishing saying “See? Print Matters! Amazon isn’t such a big deal.”

This ignores a pretty scary circumstance.

Amazon wants to play in the print distribution world.

The strategy for stopping that relies on distributors and bookstores refusing to distribute Amazon’s products or carry them in stores.

For publishing, this has eventual failure written all over it. If does nothing to address the real danger, which is Amazon finding a way around that. Legal action might be one way. I’m not a lawyer so maybe that’s all fine and dandy. But hmm.

Another might be mending fences with Indie bookstores or even mending fences with B&N. From everything I’ve heard, B&N is in a precarious financial position. Suppose Amazon made B&N an offer too good to refuse. Or even took a stake in B&N?

All Amazon needs is some set of physical bookstores that WILL take the product. Someone, somewhere, will crack.

But is that even necessary? Baker & Taylor will distribute self-published titles under the right circumstances. What happens if those circumstances expand?

The Easy Way or the Hard Way

Amazon has tried the easy way: acquiring books by authors they hoped were big enough that physical stores wouldn’t refuse to carry them. Not a bad strategy. Amazon just seems to have misjudged the animosity toward them.

What’s the hard way? Buying a presence. Paying BIG Co-op to get their books present in Indie stores. Taking a stake in B&N. Solving the returns problem on their own. Waiting to see if someone else solves the POD and returns problem. Waiting for the desktop edition of the Espresso Book machine. (GAME OVER.)

Forming their own distribution company and contacting Airports, drugstores, gas stations, Wholesalers, libraries and schools. “We’ll pay you for rack space in your store, and you keep x% of all sales. Here’s your free desktop edition of a book printing device.” Call up a few professors and say, hey, publish your next textbook with us and we’ll give Universities a better deal than they get now.”

Ultimately, publishers do not own the Point of Sale. They can’t stop Amazon from innovating and/or playing the long game on this issue either.

Publishers could, however, attempt to innovate and problem-solve on their own. They could, perhaps, treat authors a little more fairly so we don’t look to Amazon as the place where we’ll maximize our earning potential.

Who’s Looking Pretty?

Quite possibly authors.

Think about this: If the biggest selling Romance authors left their publishers to self-publish, what do you think bookstores will say when those authors want their print books in their stores?

Pretend it wasn’t just the midlist walking away but the upper-midlist. Lead authors. NYT bestselling authors. Pretend it was oh, say, Theresa Medeiros or Stephanie Laurens and others like them.

Do you see the risk?

It’s the author’s decision where to go, and if authors are getting a better deal elsewhere, and if the print distribution problem is solved in some ingenious fashion by Amazon or someone else, what happens to publishers who took no steps to be viable in that world?

It worries me that publishers might actually be saying, the current print world isn’t going away so we don’t have to innovate, because, what if they’re wrong?

We already know they were wrong about digital, wrong about new genres, and wrong about genre backlist.

3-D printers used to be Science Fiction. Then then were too damn much money. Now they’re something a lot of us could buy right now.

That’s going to happen to book printing.

Updated 2013.11.07: Lookie here: Espresso machine in a Drugstore. Via The Digital Reader.

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During the Medireview Period Castles were Built of Stone

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Yah. So today the kerfluffle hit the backstop at 110 MPH. (Look, that’s the closest I can come to a baseball analogy.) Whoosh! Swing and a MISS!

Over across the pond, Waterstones WHSmith made the mistake of using the entire Kobo book feed without thinking about what happens if you don’t have good filtering on searches for children’s books. Since I happen to believe Kobo’s search is fundamentally flawed, I also think this is a Kobo issue as well. Some REALLY inappropriate books showed up in searches for books for children. Erotic books with ::ahem:: covers and ::ahem:: content. According to at least one person in my twitter stream, this was happening at least 4 months ago.

As any adult Romance reader is likely aware that some of the ::ahem:: books feature things like sex with dinosaurs, or lactating woman as cows, or books that include/refer to/thinly disguise sex with the underage and/or incest.

As a parent, I would not want my underage child coming across any of those ::ahem:: books, covers or content. That just seems pretty freaking obvious to me. The solution is pretty much what Amazon has been doing. Restricting that content from general view. (But not ALL view.) Because hey ANYBODY with a computer and internet access can get to Amazon, unless they’re in China, I guess. So yes, we really do need to make sure ::ahem:: content does not show up when someone is searching for Goodnight Fluffy Bunnies of the Pleistocene.  You could restrict behind the scenes (which Amazon does)  and start giving authors a hard time about racy covers (which Amazon does) Or, oh, say,  have a “show me the racy stuff” button. Or a “safe search” mode ala a Google image search.

Once you’ve discovered the hard way that you should have been doing something like that probably at least 4 months ago, you should do everything in your power to make it so.

But Kobo’s response has been to remove ALL self-published books (at least in the UK). Amazon got in on the frenzy, too, and exactly as you’d expect with a knee jerk reaction, they both got the “Medireview Effect.

I hereby dub this result the “Medireview Effect” because it’s what happened to the word “Medieval” on a historical romance Yahoo list when Yahoo thought changing ALL occurrences of “eval” to “review” would prevent malicious javascript code from executing. Which I guess it did.

Edited to add: “eval” is a key word in Javascript that can execute code. Good code. Or Bad code.

In the meantime, during the Medireview period, castles were built of stone.

So, as you can expect, ham-handed and poorly thought out attempts to root out “Daddy” pr0n have had many unintended consequences, Many books that would be just fine for kids have been deleted. Many books that are not self-published, but are still inappropriate, remain.

On December 10th, Mark LeFebvre of Kobo was on the Self-Publishing Podcast, and he said that Kobo had split out their database so that children’s books were a completely different database. That was 4 days ago. I only listened to the podcast yesterday, but I remember thinking this:

1. That’s hard.

2. This is a db that set ISBN as a primary key. I don’t think they have the expertise to make that happen the way they want.

Totally not easy to split off a db that way. Not in four days. I think today proves I’m right.

(I happen to know about the ISBN as a primary key because LeFebvre said as much at RWA — in response to a question I asked. Take it from this DBA, ISBN is not selective enough to make a good primary key. A unique index, sure, but not a primary key.)

Dear Kobo: If you let me work from home, I would quit my day job in a heartbeat and help you fix your mess and scale it out, too.

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Technology Grump Talks Tops and Bottoms

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

::snicker::

That’s my juvenile joke for the week I guess.

Back in the old days of email, it was considered proper etiquette to post your reply to an email at the bottom of the thread. This is called Bottom Posting. The reason was that you could then read all the emails from top to bottom, in a chronologically sensible way, from the originating email to the most recent, scrolling down.

And sure, back in the olden days, that made sense. You were invariably reading your email on a CRT, a large, unwieldy, monitor that had more than enough screen real estate.

There were often chiding lectures from Unix admins reminding people to bottom post. Email programs adapted to this by making bottom posting the default. When you hit reply, the cursor was at the bottom of the email.

That was Then, This is Now

Now, though, people are reading their emails on smartphones. The screen is smaller. And guess what? If there’s a long email thread, most of these smart phone emails only display the beginning of the thread — the part at the top.

What does that mean? If means if you bottom post, people reading mail on their smartphones CANNOT SEE YOUR REPLY. They cannot do a quick scan to see if your reply is important.

If you bottom post, chances are good that lots of people will never read your email. Because they never see it, or, and this is quite possible, they cannot get the rest of the thread to download. It’s annoying as hell.

Bottom-posting: Bad. Bad. Bad. Stop doing it.

Top post. Leave only a snippit of what you’re replying to.

Thank you. This concludes your technology lesson for the day.

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Technology Adventures

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Hopefully, this does not turn into a rant, but it might.

Just in case you-all don’t already know this, my day job is in tech. I am NOT a programmer, but my job is the kind where being a girl means it’s harder for me to find a new job and I have to be a LOT smarter than the guys, in general, to be taken seriously. I also have to know a lot about the technologies that accompany my area of expertise (databases), including network architecture and security.

Mostly, this means I can figure out or blunder through technologies that are not my expertise. Not without frustration, though.

Anyway. There was some discussion among writers about the problem with links in eBooks, particularly on iThings, where Apple does not necessarily play nice. There’s also the issue of data metrics on your links — which links are getting clicked on and from where? You can do this through a link shortening service like bit.ly. There are some compelling reasons to host a link shortening service yourself, and it turns out this is possible. But, really, only if you are a geekish short or have someone you trust with your passwords on your server space and who will make sure the implementation is done so that at the end, you have exactly what you need and want.

Short Links!

I went off and Googled self-hosted short links and came across a free application that will achieve this. (PS, I was all set to donate to them, but that link appears to be down. Hopefully later.) I was confident it would work because Lester Chan, who wrote the polling plugin I use in this blog, was involved. I read the requirements and acquired the domain I wanted to use and then set up the hosting for it. Woot!

Irritation No. 1

I don’t believe in letting your webhost also register your domain. But this means you need to have your webhost’s nameserver information so you can update your domain registration accordingly. Otherwise, your website will never resolve to the servers where you website resides.

I did those two things (obtain the domain, set up webhosting for it) And then I forgot that I hadn’t repointed the nameservers and was annoyed that I couldn’t get ftp to work. Doh. But then I could not find the nameserver information at my webhost and I KNOW they used to put it where it could be found easily. WTF? I googled their knowledgebase and got ONLY two completely irrelevant results. Really? Really, webhost?

Why, if someone searches “nameservers” in your KB, could you not return information about the damn namesevers? I had to open a ticket and ask for the info. Which I promptly got, I will say. OK!

I updated the nameservers over at my registrar (also not as straightforward as it should have been) then built and uploaded a simple index.hmtl file for the new website so that I’d know for sure when the DNS was populated and sending the requests to my webhost. That only took a couple of hours to resolve. Yay!

Irritation No 2

Remember, I am not a programmer. But I DO know there are a bazillion languages, each with its own syntax. How you indicate a string versus integers versus keywords for the language depends on the language. Double quotes? Single quotes? no quotes? Is there a terminating comma or not? IT DEPENDS!

So, in the example of the config file I needed to set up, the documentation did not define this AND it showed single quotes, but it was UNCLEAR to me if that meant use quotes, or, this is an example.

Here’s an example from the documentation:

YOURLS_HOURS_OFFSET
Timezone GMT offset
Example: ‘-5’

Here’s what was in the sample config file:

/** Timezone GMT offset */
define( ‘YOURLS_HOURS_OFFSET’, 0 );

In the config, the number does not have quotes, even though the example does. Does this not imply that the documentation is using quotes in the sense of this is only an example?

What do you do with this?

Documentation (please note that I have replaced the actual letters of the example URL)

YOURLS_SITE
Your (short) domain URL, no trailing slash, lowercase. If you pick the non-www version of your domain, don’t use the www version in your browser (and vice-versa)
Example: ‘http://abc.ab’

Config file

** YOURLS installation URL — all lowercase and with no trailing slash.
** If you define it to “http://site.com”, don’t use “http://www.site.com” in your browser (and vice-versa) */
define( ‘YOURLS_SITE’, ‘http://site.com’ );

If quotes are required, then the documentation, having settled on the formality of using quotes in the this is an example sense, SHOULD use two sets of quotes:
‘ ‘http://abc.ab’ ‘

php programmers would know exactly what to do, but I am not a programmer. In fact MOST people are NOT programmers.

How hard would it be to explain the conventions of the documentation? Because this sort of stuff matters.

I made reasonable guesses and they turned about to be right since everything worked.

Irritation No 3.

Once I had everything ftp’d to my new site, everything worked! Except…

My URLS were single digit numeric and that is plain stupid. It’s not the way link shorteners work anywhere. I poured through the documentation, looking for further settings and what have you and did not find ANYTHING. I ended up uploading a revised config.php file to tweak a couple of the settings and then I started getting single letter links. Also stupid. This was related to the use of quotes, by the way. This was NOT the behavior I wanted.

So I googled. and found this:

Issue 937: short urls in numeric order, 1 character only

Why, this is my problem EXACTLY! I eagerly read the developer’s answer, which was this:

Normal behavior. Read the doc before posting issues plz. There’s a bundled plugin if you want random instead of sequential.

Well, I had already activated ALL the bundled plug-ins except the toolbar one and I knew the toolbar plugin wasn’t it and I knew that none of the other bundled plugins solved this issue.

I went back to the site WIKI and documentation and DID NOT FIND anything about this.

So then I found the part of the wiki that lists all the plugins and I went through them and found one that was called random-keywords. I figured that was probably the solution so I followed the instructions and got it installed and, yes. Indeed it did solve my issue.

Irritation No. 4

The developer was very clear that he would be MEAN to people who did not follow his instructions precisely so I had no intention of contacting him. Even though the only instructions of his I could find were WRONG. Or, putting the best face on it, too ambiguous to be helpful.

Seriously. This is the WHOLE problem with tech and it irritates the hell out of me.

This is a great application and there are a LOT of non-geeks out there who could make use of it but basically, can’t.

I work in tech. I know EXACTLY how clueless the general public is and from time-to-time I mock that. But you know what? It’s not the public’s responsibility to understand more than a few basics.

And why, why, would you make the default behavior of your spiffy application a behavior that NO ONE would ever expect?

Who, I ask you, would expect a one digit shortlink?

Answer: Nobody who isn’t mean.

Happy Ending For me

My custom link shortener is working and it really only took about half an hour to set up, with the bulk of that being ftp-ing the files. So, I’m pleased.

Updated to add: Oh, the wordpress plugin is works! Yay!!!

But …

It’s awesome that this is a free app. I am beyond happy and grateful that this application was created, but I wonder about whether the disincentive to make the application friendly for the non-geeks is a good thing. It makes the digital divide bigger. But, I suppose, it also creates an opportunity for other applications to fill that gap.

What do you think?

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How to Ladysplain

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Ah, yes, that phenomenon known as mansplaining.

Earlier this week I was at the Apple store with my son. We were picking up the laptop I bought him as a present for his high school graduation. He’s off to college in the Fall. * o m g * Anyway, the “genius” was a man of a certain age. (bwahahahahaha!) and while we were checking the new laptop to make sure everything was as spiffy as a brand new MacBook Air can be, both my son and I stared at the open Air (HAHAHAH!) and wondered how the heck to turn it on.

Why were we both so baffled? Well, we both have older MacBook Pros and here is a picture of what the ON button looks like:

silver button on a silver background, above right top of the keyboard of a MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro ON button

As you can see, the ON button is round, flat to the background, and silver-on-silver. It is located ABOVE and to the right of the keyboard.

Here is a picture of the MacBook Air ON Button:

MacBook Air ON Button, located on the keyboard, a brown rectangle

MacBook Air ON Button

As you can see, the ON button is no longer a silver circle against a silver background, nor is it located above and to the right of the keyboard. It’s a now a rectangle in the upper right of the keyboard.

Both my son and I were looking for a silver-on-silver circle located above the keyboard. Neither of us saw the button in its new location. In our world of MacBooks, the ON button is not part of the keyboard, so we ignored the keyboard.

At last, I said, “where’s the on button?” And the Apple clerk gets this look that most women will immediately recognize and points out the button and says:

“This symbol is the universal sign for ‘ON’ and it’s on all devices, even regular electronics…”

He would have continued to educate me about standards and symbols except I interrupted and said, “Yes, I’m aware of that. But it doesn’t matter what symbol is on the key if I don’t see WHERE it is.”

Then I ladysplained to him that the ON button was completely different, and I simply didn’t see it which is NOT the same thing as being unaware of the universal symbol for ON. Luckily for me, my son chimed in to say he hadn’t seen it either. I’m pretty sure the genius guy thinks I’m a bitch. But really.

See, the thing is, he wasn’t one of those people who can’t help telling you all the stuff they know. That’s often kind of entertaining and educational. Those people are often just so excited about the history of universal symbols! But I swear to you, I was looking at him when I asked where the button was, and I am representing to you that he got that look. That, oh, she’s a woman look, which means she doesn’t understand computers and needs a man to splain it to her. This here mysterious marking which you have failed to recognize on any appliance in your house and connect to the fact that when you press it, the appliance turns ON, THIS means it’s the on button. Instead of, here it is! Enjoy your awesome new computer!

I sure wish we’d gotten the genius guy I like to call “biceps.” He’s super hot and fit.
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Oh. Did I just objectify a man? Oops.

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I think I’ve had it with this – Male is NOT the default

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Most of you know my day job is in tech. Some of you may have heard my story about the programmer I worked with who actually refused to work with me because of my gender. All the men I worked with knew it. To save time, I would send my male colleagues the emails I needed to get to this guy so he would do necessary work, and they would then send the email to him so that it appeared the request came from them and — and voila! — he would do the work. He particularly disliked me because, as the database administrator in charge of (among other things) vetting scripts for production, I often returned his scripts with requests for corrections.

Lest you think the problem was secretly me, when I moved to the database team and had to interact with this man, more than one woman took me aside to warn me about his creeper behavior. Never go in a conference room alone with him. Never walk down a hallway where he was if there wasn’t anyone else…

This is not something men in Tech ever deal with. They have never had to do their job by proxy because some asshole can’t deal with smart tech women. They never have to know, for their safety, who the creepers are.

You-all should know that last night I was up several times to deal with server alerts in a colo with crap for infrastructure. I’m tired and crabby as a result since I STILL had to get up at 5:30 to go to work.

So, today, there’s this email forward to an Info-Sec list I’m on. It’s about a Defcon presentation and it says this:

Skytalks VI CFP
2-4 August 2013
@ Defcon 21

It’s that time of year again, people. Wine, Women, and the silky-smooth sound of slot machines. Yeah, that’s right. It’s time for Defcon, and that means it’s time for Skytalks.

You know the routine. Skytalks is presented by 303. Our mission: to show off the best knowledge our community has to offer. The kind of stuff you won’t or can’t do at home. We’re talking classic, old-school Defcon here: no cameras, no recording. No pre-con content takedowns. No sobriety. No bullshit.

https://skytalks.info/

We’ll be seeing you.

Actually, Skytalks, you WON’T be seeing me and it’s pretty certain there’s a lot of other really good tech women you won’t be seeing either.

Men are not the only people in tech. There are women, and you know what? Most of us have no interest in your pitch about wine and women. All that does is tell us you have no clue and it’s highly likely that you’re contributing to the number of women who won’t risk being in an environment where women are there for sex and you think the guys will all get drunk. Those women, too, I suppose.

If you ever bother to wonder where all the geek girls are here’s a hint: it’s not that there aren’t any. You don’t see them because you create a hostile environment for us.

When I set aside the tech work to write romance novels, I work hard to portray geekish men outside stereotype. After all, I know plenty of men in tech who are nothing like the stereotype. In my non-historical work, I often use tech. Because there’s a lot of cool stuff in tech that makes for exciting stories. My novella Free Fall features a hacker. He’s a demon. Here’s a picture I commissioned of him:

telos_small In the high res version, you can see his shirt says, “While you were reading my shirt I hacked your bank account.”

I give romance readers sexy demon hackers. You give hackers a stale, failed and offensive view of 51% of world’s population. No wonder women are saying no thanks.

So, now, I’m going to ask you to think hard.

1. I work in tech. In a highly specialized technical job.
2. I write and read romance novels.
3. A lot of romance authors have advanced degrees, including PHds. Readers, too, actually.
4. I’m not the only romance writing DBA.

Maybe you could open your world view just a wee bit more. It’ll hardly hurt at all.

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Book News and Some Geekish Musings

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Today I decided I would make Free Fall, my My Immortals series novella free for a limited time. I’m in the process of doing so. It’s been set to free at iTunes. I made it .99 at B&N since, to my knowledge, they don’t price match and don’t allow you to set the price to zero. I’ve heard, lately, however, that some Nook books have been price matched, so we’ll see. Later today I’ll get the file updated at Kobo (where I believe I can set it to free), Smashwords, and ARe.

So, keep an eye out!

The Geekish Portion of This Post

Since I was adding links for My Darkest Passion to the file, I also decided I might as well update the files to my newer spiffier versions. All well and good. I discovered something interesting and annoying at NookPress (the re-jiggered interface/replacement for PubIt).

Before I complain, let me say THANK YOU Nook Press for allowing book files to be replaced without having to take the book off sale. MAJOR need, and quickly addressed. Well done.

For people who are uploading Word documents, the on-line manuscript editor is really nice. I wish other places did this because this would fix an awful lot of heinous results. So, again, major kudos to Nook Press for this interface. If you’re uploading Word docs to vendors, it sure looks like the Nook Press interface gets an awful lot right.

But here’s what I discovered. As I was fighting through getting desired formatting for various devices, my title page was giving me the biggest fits. Kindle iOs was blowing out all my centering. But I wrestled it to the ground and we came to an acceptable compromise. I applied a similar solution to the Nook version. Which worked more or less. But my centering was not perfect, and it bugged me.

And, the Nook Press UI is confusing about what version is actually being made live. It’s a language problem, not a tech problem. Anyway, to get that straight in my mind, I went into the manuscript editor and looked around. I opened up my title page and recentered and resized the text there. Then I saved it and uploaded that. I previewed it in order to confirm the centering issue was resolved. And then, because I wanted to see what it had done, I downloaded the ePub and opened it up.

The downloaded ePub had a class called “booktitle” applied to my title page text. My styling had been removed (which I expected because I explicitly changed it in the Nook MS editor.)

That class was not defined in the page header section and it was not created in my stylesheet. There was not another stylesheet added.

And that means Nook has to have its own stylesheet functionality in the Nook rendering engine that contains this style. So, what the heck else is in that? What other styles does it have that might conflict with or override mine?

I’m not all that bothered mostly because there’s nothing I can do about that and it didn’t seem to screw up anything. But it would have been really nice to see what Nook is doing to address centering for its devices. Frankly, if they have a preferred set of styles, why wouldn’t they share them? Think how much easier and cleaner that would be!

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