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Journal Journal: Number Five 2 2

I just sent off for the fifth and, I hope, last pre-publication copy of Yesterday's Tomorrows. I was sure it would be finished a month ago, but there were problems printing it due to some of the illustrations being too high of a resolution. It took a month to get the fourth printed.

I can't decide whether or not to assign an ISBN to it, since the book may not be legal in all countries. What do you think? I only have three or four left, and a block of ten is $250. Should I use one? The only country besides the US that has bought my books was Great Britain, and very few there although the web site gets visits from all over the world.

I'm pretty sure I'll never sell a book in Australia, because they're crazy expensive down there; tariffs, probably.

Oh, if you want to read the copy of Huckleberry Finn at my site, better hurry because when I post Yesterday's Tomorrows I'll have to take the Twain book down to make space. It will be back up this fall when I renew my URL and upgrade my hosting level. When it's back up I'll have a version that's easy to read on a phone.

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Journal Journal: A suggestion to mobile browser makers and the W3C 4 4

There are an awful lot of pages on my web site, and I've been busy making them all "mobile-friendly". Most of them are little or no problem making them look good on all platforms, but there are three that are especially problematic.

I jumped this hurdle (well, sort of stumbled past it) by making two of each of the pages with a link to the mobile page from the index.

Ideally, I could just check to see if it was a phone or not and redirect phones to the mobile page, but there's no way to make this 100% successful*. Each brand of phone has a different user agent, there are a lot of installable phone browsers. On top of that, is it an Android phone or an Android tablet? With the minimum typeface size and viewport set, those pages are fine on the PC version but the phone version looks like crap.

Apple should have thought of this when they made the first iPhone, and Google should have thought of this when developing Android. The answer is simple, but it can only be implimented by browser makers and perhaps the W3C.

From the beginning of the World Wide Web, browsers looked for index.html, the default front page in any directory. This worked fine before smart phones, but no longer.

Phone browsers should look first for mobile.html, and if it exists display that, and display index.html if it isn't there. Tablets and computers would behave as they always have.

It doesn't have to be mobile.html, it could be any name as long as everyone agreed that it was the standard, like they did with index.html.

Maintaining a web site would be much easier if they did this. What do you guys think?

* A reader tipped me to the Apache Mobile Filter. It looks promising, especially since my host uses Apache. I'm looking into it.

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Journal Journal: How to make "mobile-friendly" web pages 3 3

I finally got the full texts of Nobots and Mars, Ho! to display well on a phone. My thanks to Google for showing me how, even if the way they present the information is more like trial and error, but it's actually easy once you jump through all their hoops. I'll make it easy.

First, you need to make sure it will fit on a phone's screen. I've been preaching for years that it's stupid to use absolute values, except with images; if you don't tell the browser the image size and you are using style sheets, your visitors will be playing that annoying "click the link before it moves again" game.

Some of you folks who studied this in college should demand your tuition be refunded, because they obviously didn't teach this.

Giving tables, divs, and such absolute values almost assures that some of your visitors will have that incredibly annoying and unprofessional horizontal scroll (*cough* slashdot *cough*).

None of the elements (images, divs, etc) can be more than 320 pixels wide, and you need to tell the browser to make it fit on a screen. To do this, add this meta tag to your page's head:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

Next, you need to make sure the text is large enough to read without double tapping. The <p> tag does this:

<p {min-height: 16px}>

This needs to be placed after the <body> tag and before anything having to do with text.

To test it, just pull the page up on your phone. If it scrolls sideways, you need to work on it.

If you're worried about your Google pagerank, Google has a "mobile friendly test" here. If you flunk, well, when Google says "jump"...

My main index page fails their test. To make it pass the test I would have to ruin the desktop/tablet design. As it is now, the text is readably large on a phone but it has a sideways scroll, which is tiny if you hold the phone sideways, and I added a link at the very start of the page to a version that will pass Google's test, looks fine on a phone, not bad on a tablet but looks like excrement on a computer. The main index works fine on a tablet, since I've made it as "mobile-friendly" as possible.

I'd have it redirect if it saw Android or iOS, but it's been fifteen years since I've done that and I've forgotten how.

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Journal Journal: Sorry I haven't written...

I have two new stories nearly finished, but I've decided to see if I can sell first publication rights to a magazine. If everyone rejects them, I'll post them then. If one is accepted, it will likely be quite a while before I can post.

With three books in the works I've been really busy. Hell, I've been working harder since I retired than I did when I worked! I got the index pages to my three published books and the "coming soon" page for Yesterday's Tomorrows "mobile-friendly". I don't know why I'm bothering; almost nobody surfs in on a phone or from Google. But at any rate, I got the book Triplanetary and the first two chapters of Mars, Ho "mobile friendly" as well. The Time Machine is next; the epub versions of my books are better than the HTML versions, on a phone, anyway. Twain, Dickens, and God are going to be mobile-hostile for quite a while because of all the artwork in them.

I couldn't make the main index "mobile friendly" without making it look like crap on a computer screen, so I made a copy "mobile friendly", posted it as mobile.html and added a link from the main index.

Site stats say Google has spidered, so I tried to find Mars, Ho!" by googling on the phone. Nothing but Marsho Medical Group, Andy Weir's The Martian, and a facebook page for someone named Mars Ho. Googling "Mars, Ho! novel" did bring up Amazon's e'book copy halfway through the page.

"Mars, Ho! mcgrew" brought up Amazon's e'book first, followed by the mobile-hostile main index, THEN the actual Mars, Ho! index which IS "mobile friendly" (it passed their test). And I thought "mobile friendly" was supposed to raise your ranks? What's up, Google?

The second copy of Yesterday's Tomorrows came yesterday. I didn't expect until the day after tomorrow. I went through it twice yesterday and it's almost ready; there is still a little work before it's published, but it won't be long.

It's a really nice book, with stories by Isaac Asimov, John W Campbell, Murray Leinster, Frederik Pohl, Neil R Jones, Kurt Vonnegut, A. E. Van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Phillip K Dick, Frank Herbert, James Blish, Lester del Rey, and Jerome Bixby. Covers of the magazines they appeared in are shown, with short biographies and photos of the authors. It's also well-illustrated with illustrations from the original magazines.

Random Scribblings: Junk I've littered the internet with for two decades will probably be next year.

Oh, how do you like my new shirt?

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Journal Journal: Product Review: Seagate Personal Cloud 5 5

Around the first of the year all three working computers were just about stuffed full, so I thought of sticking a spare drive in the Linux box, when the Linux box died from a hardware problem. It's too old to spend time and money on, so its drive is going in the XP box (which is, of course, not on the network; except sneakernet). I decided to break down and buy an external hard drive. I found what I was looking for in the "Seagate Personal Cloud". And here I thought the definition of "the cloud" was someone else's server!

I ordered it the beginning of January, not noticing that it was a preorder; it wasn't released until late March. I got it right before April.

I was annoyed with its lack of documentation -- it had a tiny pamphlet full of pictures and icons and very few words. Whoever put that pamphlet together must beleive the old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words". Tell me, if a picture is worth a thousand words, convey that thought in pictures. I don't think it can be done.

I did find a good manual on the internet. For what I wanted, I really didn't need a manual, but since I'm a nerd I wanted to understand everything about the thing. Before looking for a manual I plugged it all up, and Windows 7 had no problem connecting with it. It takes a few minutes to boot; it isn't really simply a drive, it must have an operating system and network software, because it looks to the W7 notebook to be another file server. Its only connections are a jack for the power cord and a network jack.

The model I got has three terrabytes. I moved all the data from the two working computers (using a thumb drive to move data from XP) and the "cloud" was still empty. Streaming audio and video from it is flawless; I'm completely satisfied with it, it's a fine piece of hardware.

However, it WON'T do what is advertised to do, which is to be able to get to your data from anywhere. In order to do that, Seagate has a "software as a service" thing where you can connect to a computer from anywhere, but only the computer and its internal drives, NOT the "personal cloud". And they want ten bucks a month for it.

I downloaded the Android app, and I could see and copy files that were on my notebook to my phone, but I couldn't play music stored there on it. I uninstalled the crap. "Software as a service" is IMO evil in the first place, but to carge a monthly fee to use a piece of crap software like this is an insult. Barnum must have been right.

If you're just looking for an external hard drive, like I was, it's a good solution. If you want what they're advertising, you ain't gettin' it. The Seagate Personal Cloud's name is a lie, as is its advertising.

User Journal

Journal Journal: We've been spelling it wrong for over a quarter century 8 8

I'm surprised that this hasn't been addressed by the academic communities. Someone with a degree in English or linguistics or something like that should have though of this decades ago.

This word (actually more than one word) has various spellings, and I've probably used all of them at one time or another. The word is email, or eMail, or e-mail, or some other variation. They're all wrong.

It's a contraction of "electronic mail" and as such should be spelled e'mail. The same with e'books and other e'words.

So why hasn't someone with a PhD in English pointed this out to me? I have no formal collegiate training in this field. It's a mystery to me.

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Journal Journal: Are printed books' days numbered? 4 4

In his 1951 short story The Fun They Had, Isaac Asimov has a boy who finds something really weird in the attic -- a printed book. In this future, all reading was done on screens.

When e'books* like the Nook and Kindle came out, there were always women sitting outside the building on break on a nice spring day reading their Nooks and Kindles. It looked like the future to me, Asimov's story come true. I prefer printed books, but thought that it was because I'm old, and was thirty before I read anything but TV and movie credits on a screen.

And then I started writing books. My youngest daughter Patty is going to school at Cincinnati University (as a proud dad I have to add that she's Phi Beta Kappa and working full time! I'm not just proud, I'm in awe of her) and when she came home on break and I handed her a hardbound copy of Nobots she said "My dad wrote a book! And it's a REAL book!"

So somehow, even young people like Patty value printed books over e'books.

My audience is mostly nerds, since few non-nerds know of me or my writing, so I figured that the free e'book would far surpass sales of the printed books. Instead, few people are downloading the e'books. More download the PDFs, and more people buy the printed books than PDFs and ebooks combined.

Most people just read the HTML online, maybe that's a testament to my m4d sk1llz at HTML (yeah, right).

Five years ago I was convinced ink was on the way out, but there's a book that was printed long before the first computer was turned on that says "the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated".

* I'll write a short story about the weird spelling shortly.

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Journal Journal: Where's my damned tablet? 11 11

I'd like to know why in the hell nobody is selling a tablet, or maybe an app for existing tablets, that will let me watch over the air TV on it?

All the necessary hardware is there. Wi-fi and bluetooth are radios. Some cell pones can pick up FM music stations, and have been able to do so and have done so for years.

The FM radio band sits between channels six and seven on the VHF television channels. If it can hear radio, it can see TV.

The technology is there, why isn't the commercial device to be found? Offer a tablet I can watch TV without the internet and I'll buy one. Maybe two.

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Journal Journal: Triplanetary 1 1

I've uploaded a new book to mcgrewbooks.com. Edgar E. Smith was a well known science fiction writer known as "the father of space opera", and Doctor Smith was a food engineer in his other life. The novel I've uploaded is Triplanetary, first published in serial form in Amazing Stories in 1934.

Some of the dialogue is a bit juvenile, but it would make a great movie.

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Journal Journal: An Accidental Book 1 1

I've read books accidentally, meaning to read a single chapter and winding up reading it in one setting, but I've never started writing one accidentally.

Until now.

Tired of editing Random Scribblings and Voyage to Earth and Other Stories (Formerly titled "Mars Bars"), I thought I'd look for another science fiction novel in the public domain a little less ancient than The Time Machine to add to my web site.

I didn't find one, so decided to just make a book of public domain short stories by the 20th century greats. I found a LOT, and started assembling a book. Somehow, I wound up adding commentary and thought "Hey! New book!"

Then I discovered that one of the short stories wasn't so short -- in fact, it was a full blown novel. So for the last several days I've been formatting it to put on my web site. E.E. "Doc" Smith's Triplanetary will be posted in a few days.

I'll let you know when it's there. I guess I'm working on three books again. The collection I'm working on is tentatively titled "Yesterday's Tomorrow".

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Journal Journal: Is Microsoft Sirius? 1 1

I had to laugh when I ran across this article.

"Cortana's UI now expresses 18 different emotions. Siri remains detached and aloof."

Yes, Microsoft is apparently the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation with its " Genuine People Personalities". So when are they going to make that "Marvin" interface?

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Journal Journal: Amnesia 4 4

If slashdot still hasn't fixed the "fine in preview, fucked in submit" bug, there's a readable version here.

Amnesia
        He awoke wondering where he was... on a medic. Why was... oh, hell, why was he being held down? And then the big question hit him â" Who am I?
        And who, besides the medic itself, which was only a robot, had imprisoned him? And why?
        There was a tube leading into his arm... was he in a hospital? It smelled like a hospital.
        The medic beeped, and said âoecondition improved, now stable.â
        He must have had some kind of accident, but he couldnâ(TM)t remember his own name, let alone how he wound up in a hospital.
        âoeComputer!â he said, hoping the hospital computer could shed some light. It was apparently not paying attention, because it ignored him. He lay there strapped to the robotic table for what seemed like forever when the medic again beeped and spoke. âoeCondition improved, now fair.â
        âoeComputer!â
        No answer.
        Damn. âoeMedic!â
        No answer.
        Another eternity passed, and the medic reported âoeCondition good, patient released.â The straps came loose and he sat up on the medic, waiting for a nurse or doctor that never showed up. Didnâ(TM)t someone have paperwork when a patient was released?
        He decided to look around the hospital to find someone and tell them that he shouldnâ(TM)t have been released, that he had no memory. He used the rest room and went searching for help.
        This, he thought, was the strangest thing... this hospital seemed to have no doctors, no nurses, no administrative staff, nobody. Not even any patients. He walked down hall after hall, and found nothing but locked doors and more hallways.
        He started to panic, and muscle memory reached his hand into his pocket for a phone. There was none there.
        That panicked him. Why didnâ(TM)t he think of it before? It could have told him at least who he was, if not where he was and why.
        He started running, down first one hallway then another, until he collapsed in exhaustion and anguish. He sat there in the hallway, head in his hands, sobbing softly.
        Quite a while later he finally came to his senses, sort of. He got up and decided to just walk around, looking for... anything, really, but especially people. Where was everyone? It would be nice if he could find a sandwich, too; he was starting to get a little hungry. That added to his already numerous worries.
        He found no exits, no unlocked doors, no people, no sandwiches. It was hard enough to keep his fear below panic levels, but then what was obviously some sort of alarm went off. Was the building on fire? He stopped, with no idea what to do.
        He looked up â" werenâ(TM)t there skylights showing stars earlier? But his memory was impaired, after all, not able to remember his name or anything before waking up on the medic.
        He heard the first sounds that didnâ(TM)t come from robots that heâ(TM)d heard since awakening, and it scared him even more â" the sound of hail. Perhaps there were skylights, but were now shuttered.
        At this point he was aware that the alarm was almost certainly a tornado warning, and he couldnâ(TM)t find the stairway! Maybe this building didnâ(TM)t even have a basement, but who in their right mind would build a structure in a tornado zone without one? But without a stairwell, it might as well not have a basement. He huddled in a doorway waiting for the tornado to destroy him and the building.
        The sounds of hail stopped, the siren stopped, and yes, there were skylights; the shutters opened then, showing stars once again. Odd that the storm had started and ended so fast. The shutters must have closed before the clouds rolled in.
        He started to continue his fruitless search.
        A robot wheeled past, and he had an idea. The robot would certainly lead him to something.
        It did. Down a hallway heâ(TM)d not yet explored and probably had run past more than once in his earlier panic was a large door that stood wide open, the automatic pocket doors recessed. Inside was a huge room filled with tables and chairs, but still no sign of humanity at all. The robot heâ(TM)d followed dragged another robot away. Puzzling.
        At least he had somewhere to sit besides the floor. He sat down at one of the many tables to rest, thinking heâ(TM)d have to figure out how to find his way back before continuing his search.
        He just couldnâ(TM)t stop wondering what the hell was going on. Was he being studied in some sort of weird experiment? Was he a prisoner by design, or by accident? Was he a criminal? Did he have a family?
        Without even thinking he started praying out loud, âoeOh, Lord, please help me...â
        A mechanical voice chimed in. âoeCan I help you, sir?â
        He looked up at the robot. âoeYes,â he said, âoehow can I get out of this building?â
        âoeIâ(TM)m sorry, sir, but that is not in my database. Can I get you something to drink?â
        âoeYes, cold water, but first, where am I?â
        âoeThis is the commons area, sir. Would you like a menu?â Without waiting for an answer, the video screen displayed a menu.
        âoeYes, Iâ(TM)ll have a cheeseburger, brogs, and a caffeine shike.â
        âoeYes, sir,â it said, and started to roll away.
        âoeWait!â the man said. âoeWhat is this the commons of?â
        âoeThat information is not in my database.â
        âoeCan you tell me what this building is?â
        âoeIâ(TM)m sorry, sir, but that information is not in my database. Is there anything else, sir, or should I fetch your order?â
        âoeNo, go on.â It rolled off. He put his elbow on the table and rested his head in his hand.
        The robot came back shortly with his water and shike and rolled away again.
        âoeWhat the hell is going on?â he wondered aloud, again.
        The robot came back in with his food and wheeled away. He ate, still not able to figure out how to examine his prison and still find his way back to this âoecommonsâ. At least he had food and drink now, which relieved him greatly and made exploration of this building far less, yet still, important.
        Then he thought: A commons. A common area. People should show up here, perhaps he should just wait for someone to show up?
        Several hours later and the skylight still showed stars. Was he in Antarctica? Or was he... Yes, that explained everything. He was on a space ship, but why? Where was it going? Where was the captain?
        Was he the captain? Or... a horrifying thought came to him. Was he a pirate who had killed the captain and thrown the body out the airlock?
        His thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of humanity â" boots walking down the hallway, and cautious whispering voices.
        He looked around the doorway and saw ten heavily armed, armored, and helmeted men.
        âoeOh shit,â he thought. He was captain, but didnâ(TM)t even recognize his own boat, let alone how to run it, and now there were pirates who would surely murder him and steal the ship and whatever cargo it was carrying. He cowered in a corner, wishing for something to defend himself with.
        They came in, weapons drawn, with the men in the back facing the other way and backing in. The man in front lowered his weapon and raised his face shield. âoeJerry? Christ, man, what the hell is going on?â
        âoeMy name is Jerry? Are you sure? I donâ(TM)t know who I am!â
        âoeJesus, Jerry, Iâ(TM)ve known you for years, youâ(TM)re Jerry Smith. I was scared shitless for you, what the hell happened? Did you get attacked by pirates?â
        âoeI... I donâ(TM)t think so. Iâ(TM)d be dead if they had. The first thing I remember is waking up on a medic wondering who I was and where I was and why I was on a medic. I wandered around for hours, I donâ(TM)t think anybody else is here.â
        âoeOkay, Joe, check the pilot room. Rob, would you do an engine inspection?â
        âoeSure thing, boss.â
        âoeJerry, where are your phone and tablet?â
        He shook his head. âoeNo idea, but I was sure wishing I had them.â
        They took Jerry to Earth with them while another man piloted Jerryâ(TM)s ship there.
        He did eventually get his memory back after a lot of therapy. His phone had been in his captainâ(TM)s quarters, and he had been doing inspection in machine storage when a can of something that had been improperly stacked by a malfunctioning robot had fallen, hitting him in the head and knocking him cold. A medic had taken him to sick bay, leaving the tablet laying on the floor, effectively locking him out of everything. Clearly, some policies, at least, would have to be changed.
        Jerry never captained another ship. In fact, he spent the rest of his life on Earth and never entered space again.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Well, crap... 8 8

Patty emailed me and solved the "why isn't anybody buying the Amazon ebook" question -- according to her, it's nearly impossible. She says they won't take a credit or debit card, you have to either have an Amazon gift card or that Amazon Prime crap.

So I don't know what to do. I'd just pull it and put it on the site for free like the other two books, but that would hardly be fair to the two people who jumped through Amazon's hoops.

Suggestions are very welcome.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Stupid Tourist! 2 2

At an impasse with Voyage to Earth, I hacked out another short story today. Unfortunately, I wrote it in Open Office and slashdot refuses to preview properly; in preview it looks fine but when posted the smart quotes turn to garbage. So rather than pasting it here, I'll have to send you to somewhere less stupid.

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Journal Journal: The Time Machine

I just added another title to my web site: H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. I hadn't realized that book was 8000 words short of being a novel.

It only took a day or so to fix up, but then it isn't a fat book like Huckleberry Finn, which has so many illustrations that I'm going to have to upgrade my space on the server (as if this hobby doesn't already cost too much). The Time Machine only has three pictures.

Speaking of Huck, like I mentioned, I hadn't read it in decades. I discovered on reading it that Sergy's kid did NOT, in fact, coin the word "Google". The word "Googling" is in chapter 29: "The duke he never let on he suspicioned what was up, but just went a goo-gooing around, happy and satisfied, like a jug that's googling out buttermilk; and as for the king, he just gazed and gazed down sorrowful on them new-comers like it give him the stomach-ache in his very heart to think there could be such frauds and rascals in the world."

Do you think that they'd have named it something else if they knew that "googling" had to do with lack of speed? I found it rather amusing.

You've probably noticed that the posted books I didn't wrire are referenced in the ones I did. I wish I could post Asimov's The End of Eternity.

I should get back to Mars Bars and Random Scribblings...

The tree of research must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of bean counters. -- Alan Kay

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