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User Journal

Journal Journal: Gimpy text and Mars

I use the Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) to design book covers. It's an excellent free open source program that has three weaknesses -- its menu structure is completely illogical (but can be gotten used to), I can't find a full spectrum palette, and its text handling is so poor as to be useless.

I have a workaround for the bad text. Open a word processor that will output a PDF file, choose your typeface and size, choose the text's color and write the text. Save it as a PDF and GIMP will open it as an image in as high a resolution you need. Just make the background transparent, situate it over your graphic, and merge the layers.

Speaking of books, I made a Mars, Ho! YouTube video. Yes, there is a pussy in it.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Table of Contents

I've spent the last three days working to fix the ePubs and AZW3s of Yesterday's Tomorrows. I had just ran it through Calibre and did a quick check, noting that the table of contents didn't display anything.

It took a lot of research and learning to fix the ToC, and while doing so discovered something even worse - some of the illustrations were covering up the text. Damn!

Trying to figure out the ToC I tried several things. One was installing the Write2epub extension to Open Office.

It really sucked, especially with this book. It had some ugly sans-serif typeface, and there were huge swaths large and bolded that I never told it to do. And there was still no table of contents.

While googling and reading and finding out that e'books were mostly based on HTML5, XML and a few other things, I got a little disheartened. This was going to take forever, because I had a lot I had to learn.

I ran across Google's e'book editor "Sigil" and installed it. I have no idea if it's any good, because there's no documentation and I can't make heads or tails out of it.

So I went back to Calibre and studied it some more, educated a little but not much by the internet, and saw a long string with an "and" in it, "h1 and h2" and recognised this from HTML and the rest of the garbage from programming for thirty years. Stupid Calibre was telling it to make everything part of the table!

It took a bit of trial and error to get the right parenthesis and brackets in the right spots that the conversion wouldn't crash with an error, but I finally got a working table of contents.

Now to address the obscured text. That took quite a bit of head scratching as well.

I finally just decided to make the input make the output behave, rather than trying to tweak the output itself. What finally worked was to load the offending images in GIMP and add a white space where it was covering the text. That worked.

So if you've already downloaded one of the e'books, you should delete them and download the new version.

ePub

AZW3

I think I'll take the day off tomorrow.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Futurists...

I just uploaded the last item in "Yesterday's Tomorrows", a futurist essay by "the father of science fiction," Hugo Gernsback. In his essay, written in 1926, he describes the year 1976. Those of you who believe the guys who say the singularity is near or that death will be conquered within your lifetime should read it.

Futurists! Where in the hell is my flying car? Why are there no bases on the moon, like the futurists said in the 1960s we'd have by now? Why did no one see digital photography coming? Or phones in your pockets? Or the internet?

Gernsback sold electronic components, some of which he designed himself, yet didn't seem to understand "electricity, the mysterious fluid." He thought we'd be able to control the weather with it, and even more nonsensical things. He seemed steeped in the cult of Tesla, who had promised wireless delivery of electricity.

Coincidentally, Soylent News just mentioned a story about transplanting porcine hearts into humans, and the company's co-founder is a futurist. Of course, I left a comment about futurists.

I go into it in detail about futurism both in the book's foreword and the introduction to the Gernsback essay.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Yesterday's Tomorrow is now available!

It turned into a beautiful thing. It's full of illustrations, plus photos of the authors and covers of the magazines the stories were printed in. It has the first use of the word "astronaut", the cover story of the issue of Astounding that is said to have ushered in the "golden age of science fiction, A.E. van Vogt's first published science fiction, a few other firsts, and five stories that are printed from cleaned up scans of the magazines. There are biographies of all the writers in the book.

I usually encourage folks to read the stories online or check a copy out from their local library, but not this time. The printed book is head and shoulders better than the electronic versions.

There are stories by Isaac Asimov, John W. Campbell, Murray Leinster, Frederik Pohl, Neil R. Jones, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., A. E. van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Phillip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, James Blish, Lester del Rey, Jerome Bixby, and a futurist essay by "the father of science fiction" Hugo Gernsback.

It will be a little while before the HTML version is available, since they're not done yet, but I'll post them as I finish them. Meanwhile, there is a PDF, an ePub, and an AZW3 posted for free download.

Yesterday's Tomorrows

User Journal

Journal Journal: Number Five 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.

User Journal

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

User Journal

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

User Journal

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?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Product Review: Seagate Personal Cloud 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

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.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Are printed books' days numbered? 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.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Where's my damned tablet? 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.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Triplanetary 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.

User Journal

Journal Journal: An Accidental Book 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".

User Journal

Journal Journal: Is Microsoft Sirius? 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?

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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