A delayed drawing and what else I’ve been up to lately…

September 13, 2013

Hello again, dear friends and followers. Sorry I haven’t been updating more often, but I guess I got out of the habit when I was off at Odyssey.

So, first off, I wanted to share another ‘Right side of the brain’ drawing tonight. I did this at the end of August, another perspective exercise, featuring the corner of a room:

Drawings 36

I do like the way it came out, though sometimes I worry that I’m not getting too much from these exercises the way I come back to them every few weeks. I need to get started on some more drawing for September, maybe I’ll get some done this weekend.

So, what else have I been up to? Well, reading some cool short stories on my Kindle, (and out of the free copy of Asimov’s Magazine that Sheila Williams gave us when she came to lecture at Odyssey; that was my ‘to read in line’ staple back when I was at Fan Expo.) Also keeping up with Team Ambitious, the Odyssey class of 2013’s online critique circles project. Back when I was in New Hampshire, doing two critiques a day didn’t seem like a lot. Now, with a full-time job, getting two finished in two weeks can loom large.

I’m back to the ‘How to Think Sideways’ course again, working on my Song Rater app for Android, (that’s going pretty well, except that my Singleton appears to be losing data!) still reading slush for James Gunn’s Ad Astra, and I finally mailed off a cheque for my tenant’s insurance. Oh, and I think I’ve managed to fight off an ear canal infection with the help of some over-the-counter meds. Fun stuff. 😉

 

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In which my Kindle goes back to the USA for magazines

August 5, 2013

Not physically. Let’s see… I was at Williams by the Pier in Hamilton with Elizabeth Twist, catching up and doing our Evensies (even Sundays,) write-in thing, and happened to mention my frustration with Amazon.ca and magazines. Elizabeth’s immediate reaction was that I should send out angry customer support emails until they got my Kindle account switched back to amazon.com, as the best part of having the Kindle, in her experience, was for the magazines.

I don’t tend to default to ‘angry’ with my customer support emails, but I sent out a plea for help to Amazon.com right there in the cafe, and also read her the email I’d sent to Amazon.ca last week and their completely unhelpful brush-off form letter.

Somewhat to my surprise, an Amazon customer support person by the name of Naveen replied within four hours, including very helpful instructions on how to navigate the Amazon.ca website to migrate my account back to Amazon.com – thank you very much Naveen! I have brand new issues of Analog and F&SF on my Kindle, and I’ll be starting a subscription to Asimov’s as soon as they get a new issue out. (The issue that’s currently up on Amazon.com is the same one that Sheila was handing out for free back at Odyssey, so I thought I could read that in print and wait a month.)

Thank you very much for pushing me to try again Elizabeth!


Why can’t Amazon Canada sell me Kindle magazines?

August 1, 2013

So… I think it was back in March or April that I finally clicked on the prompt in Amazon Kindle management that had been nagging at me to flip my Kindle account over to Amazon Canada. I think I made the final decision because I could save a few bucks on a Jim Butcher book I wanted to buy, “Ghost Story.” There was a notification saying that I’d lose any magazine subscriptions, but I didn’t really worry about that; I’d been getting the F&SF free digest for about a year, enjoying the free short story every two months, but I was a little down on short stories just at that point anyway.

What a difference a few months make. I came back from Odyssey all fired to catch up on the major genre magazines, and was assuming that I’d be able to load up on Kindle subscriptions. Imagine my fury when I found out that not only did I lose the subscriptions I had when I flipped the account, I couldn’t resubscribe to any magazines because Amazon Canada doesn’t do magazines or periodical subscriptions! And there doesn’t appear to be any way to flip my Kindle back to an amazon.com account… at least not without a US based credit card. 😦

Now, things aren’t as bad as they might be. Of the genre magazines that amazon.com sells subscriptions to, several of them both offer their stories free online and sell their own .mobi format subscriptions. A couple, namely Asimov’s and Analog, have other options that I can read on my smartphones or a tablet, if I buy a tablet. Only The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction appears to give me no options to read their stories but amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and dead trees. Sigh.

I’m left full of questions, especially about the options for Analog/Asimov’s. I’ve tried a free trial of Analog through the ‘Magzter’ iphone app, and it seems to be slightly frustrating because the page layout is fixed, so I have to zoom in on every page, then scroll down each column and then up to the top of the next column–but at least that’s doable. I haven’t been able to find those magazines in the apple Itunes newsstand, or under the Xinio iphone app. And I’m not sure if I should hold back on getting a yearly subscription for an iPhone solution if I might be getting an Android tablet soon, in which case I could go with Google Play Magazines. Then again, Magzter and Xinio probably have Android apps as well.

Anybody have words of wisdom about this stuff?


A Friday roundup.

March 1, 2013

I’ve got nothing big to blog about today, so I’m just going to quickly share a few things that have been going on in my life and writing lately:

  • Finally got the car back today! When I took it in for collision repair on Tuesday morning, I was hoping I’d be able to pick it up Wednesday evening, but what with the somewhat wet weather they didn’t get the paint dry until this morning. It’s so pretty though! And it was interesting to go through a few days without having access to the car–I’ve been relying on it more and more lately, especially being able to use it when I have appointments or the weather is bad. Instead, I had to struggle with public transit through one day with messy weather, and one day with a dental filling in the afternoon, sigh.
  • I got my last summer workshop application sent in: Synopsis and sample pages of “The Gnomes are Missing” emailed to Kij Johnson for the CSSF Novel writer’s program. I’m looking forward to hearing back from all my workshop opportunities, and big thanks to Rinelle and Elizabeth Twist for critiquing my synopsis several times and making it much better!
  • The final revision pass of “Won’t somebody think of the children?” is finally done; one day late, compared to my target, but there was a lot to do, especially taming my crazy punctuation. I have a tendency to use a ‘space hyphen space’ combination in my writing for a brief pause, and in fact I used it twice by this point in the post, but went back and changed them. Because that is a combination that is wrong according to every style authority I can find, I’m putting myself on a zero tolerance program for it in my revisions; I can use proper M-dashes, I can use colons or semicolons or commas or periods or ellipses, but no hyphens as pauses. So I started off NaNoEdMo this evening by fixing a few hundred hyphens-as-pauses from ‘Children.’ I’ll be sending off the completed draft to two critters.org critiquers in the morning.
  • I’m really pleased with my progress in my ‘February month of drawing.’ I still have a few sketches to share with you, more negative space stuff, (a basketball pose and a chair from life,) but I haven’t taken the workbook in to work to scan them yet, so hopefully that’ll be Monday evening.
  • Didn’t do so well with ‘How to Think Sideways’ – I got started on lesson 1, but didn’t have time to finish it, and it might be a while before I get back to it, what with NaNoEdMo and Camp Nanowrimo and what-have you.
  • I may be loaning the Kindle to my mom, because she’s been wondering about getting an E-reader of her own. It’ll be odd not having it around for a week or so, but I’m happy to help. 🙂
  • And it’s only a week until the Trek TNG reunion Comicon in Toronto! I’m not hugely excited for this one, because money’s tight and I’m a bit tired of the high prices, but I’ll be heading in for Saturday, checking out a few Q&As, and looking for Buffy season 9 graphic novels.

So – what’s up with you lately? How’ve ya been?


Ebooks: Abandoned providers, DRM and fair use

February 21, 2013

It’s been a few weeks now since the Fictionwise and Ereader.com websites have been mothballed by Barnes & Noble, but I’ve been doing some ebook stuff recently and tried to access both of them without thinking. I remember getting warning emails back in November – US and UK customers were apparently offered the chance to roll their bookshelves over to the Barnes & Noble website, but for the rest of us, it was basically “Make sure you’ve downloaded backups of all your books, and have a nice life.”

It’s certainly not a great digital tragedy, but I’m disappointed to see those ebook providers disappear. Ereader.com used to be ‘Peanut press palm reader’, which was my intro into the world of electronic books, and they had a great, smart format that was supported by a wide range of devices. Fictionwise didn’t have a great selection of novels to my taste, but I was able to pick up some great short stories there, (as well as some interesting audio adaptations,) and I loved their ‘multi-format DRM free’ program, where you could download the story you purchased in any of 13 different popular formats, all of them without any copy protection mechanisms.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve downloaded copies in every format that I might have a use for, so the biggest immediate impact is that I can’t use the ereader.com online bookshelf to access my books from my iPhone or android phone. With the iPhone, this is just an annoyance, because I can put up my book files on another website and access them that way. But the Ereader.com app for Android is just about useless now; the ereader.com website was the only way to load books onto it, and I’d only loaded on one book so far.

But I’ve figured out another way to get those books onto my phone.

I don’t really have strong feelings one way or another on DRM; I don’t think of it as an offense against human rights the way a few people seem to, and I don’t hesitate to spend my money on DRM content; depending on my impression of the DRM system and how likely it seems that I’ll lose access to the file entirely, of course. On the other hand, I don’t really scruple about hedging my bets and using software tools to crack DRM protection when it seems to be in my best interests.

Read the rest of this entry »


Happy Family Day!

February 18, 2013

It’s Family Day here in Ontario, as well as some other parts of Canada, so I had the day off work. Family Day’s only been around for five or six years here, but it’s nice getting a Monday off in February, and that little gentle nudge to spend some time with your blood relations and so on.

This year, we had a little family reunion up in Kitchener, the first time I’ve seen my sister’s side of the family since Christmas. I showed my sister and brother-in-law some of the drawings stuff I’ve been doing lately, and showed my mother some of the features of my Kindle, since she’s been asking me about e-book readers lately. We were treated to an impressive mid-day roast beef dinner with roast potatoes and gravy, and the whole family spent a big chunk of the afternoon playing this intuitive concept-matching card game called ‘Apples to Apples.’

The game-play involves picking one of the seven ‘red apples’ in your hand to match the green apple that’s been turned up from the deck – the player who turned up a green apple picks whichever of the red apples match it best. For instance, I might turn up a green apple saying ‘irritating’, and the rest of the family could try to match it with cards saying ‘family road trip’, ‘Adam Sandler’, or ‘Poison Ivy.’ Whoever is judged to have the best match gets the green apple card, and each green apple you have at the end of the game earns you a point. I didn’t do great, but I ended up with three points at the end, and I had fun playing.

Tomorrow it’s back to the office. Long weekends are never long enough, huh?


A revision pass on the Kindle

February 15, 2013

So, I’m in the middle of my last read-through for the How to Revise your Novel course by Holly Lisle. I’m actually a little off the track of the standard lessons at this point, because of how much working with paper and pen saps my creative energy. The standard plan is to do four passes with pen and paper:

  1. Block revision (Lesson 17)
  2. Line editing (Lesson 18)
  3. Polishing (Lesson 19)
  4. Scene Beginnings, endings, and pacing (Lesson 20)

Then Lesson 21 is “The Type-in”, where you take all those pages and update your digital document with the changes, typing in the new stuff that you’ve written out in long-hand.

I would not have survived this process with my sanity intact. 😉 I did Block Revision with a lot of printed pages with pens, but also used the Alphasmart to type in new scenes or segments. After Block Revision was finished, I did the type-in, (though I didn’t really realize that was what I was doing,) and did the next 3 passes on the netbook, in Microsoft Word with ‘track changes’ turned on so that I could see what I was changing at each step, and copying to a new MSword file and accepting changes in the new document before starting the next pass.

So, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach lesson 21 at first. I shared my story on the Holly Lisle boot camp forums, and somebody suggested reading through it one more time, ‘on a different device or at least a different font’ so that I’d have a fresh chance to notice any possible issues, and then move on to a few final exercises in the lesson. So I converted the book to Kindle format and I’ve been proofing it that way.

It’s been interesting. So far, I’m a little less than half-way through, and I’ve already made over 300 annotations on the Kindle. And I’ve noticed I see to be developing a particular shorthand that’s different from the sort of notes I make when I’m reading on the Kindle to critique somebody else’s work. For one thing, I’m using the word ‘cut’ a lot – either by itself, when I’m cutting the word that the cursor is on, or with a little more context: ‘cut 5’ to delete a phrase that’s five words long, (generally trusting that I can figure out in what direction to go,) ‘cut comma’ or similar for eliminating punctuation. If I’m not quite sure what changes need to be made, I might just note ‘rephrase’ or something like that.

I’m pleased with the way this is going, and hopefully it’ll keep going quickly: both the reading and updating my manuscript with the changes. ‘Children’ is already out for Dedicated Readers at critters.org, though so far I’ve only received one reply and that was by someone asking what the plot of the overall book was; I probably should have included that with the first chapter, but considering that I don’t have a proofed copy to send back yet, I’m in no hurry to reply.


The spirits of computer failure target me again.

January 19, 2013

Once again, I’m having computer issues. This time, it’s with my beloved eeePC, which I may have used the most for writing and editing in the most unlikely places over the past four years or so.

Everything seemed to be fine Thursday midday. I’d taken it to work with me, and not actually used it on the bus because I’d been procrastinating for a week and a half on reading the other entries to the latest SDMB short fiction contest. So I quickly transferred those stories to the Kindle before I left home and read like crazy all the way to Burlington.

The eeePC battery tends to drain itself fairly quickly even when the netbook isn’t turned on, and it doesn’t actually realize that it needs to recharge until you turn it on. So I quickly powered it up on my lunch break, then plugged it in later that afternoon so the battery would top up. I remember that the desktop came up as usual.

After walking to the bus stop Thursday evening, I powered up the eeePC – and things were going wrong. It was prompting me for a password, which it usually doesn’t do on boot, and when I typed in the usual admin password, it just kept returning me to the same prompt without any message of what was going on:

DSCF8034 DSCF8035

I didn’t take these photos on the bus, but it wasn’t hard to recreate the same prompts at home. But back to the bus for now – I was quickly getting critical low battery messages as well, which was a bit unusual, so I packed up the netbook, hoping it was just a weird reaction to booting on a low battery. Maybe if it booted up fine plugged into AC power, I would order a replacement battery. Pulled out the Kindle again and read some of “Maybe Baby” and watched part of an ‘8 Simple Rules’ episode with John Ritter, on the iPhone.

But things didn’t work out any better once I got the netbook home. Same login prompts when I tried to boot from the solid-state drive. Yesterday morning, I made up a liveUSB stick with Xubuntu 10.10 on it – several versions back, but one version ahead of what was on the netbook, and it was handy. It took a while to re-enable the right BIOS option to book from a USB hard-disk device, and that seemed to go promising to start with.

DSCF8036

The splash screen for Xubuntu took a long time when it was running off the flash drive, over half an hour:

 

DSCF8038

But eventually, disaster struck:

DSCF8039

The error message I was getting was something like “udevd[166]: timeout killing /sbin/blkld -o udev -p /dev/sdb1′ [378]”. After a while, I also got some “udevd[166]: /sbin/blkld -o udev -p /dev/sdb1′ terminated by signal 9 (killed)”

So, it kinda looks to me like the eeePC is toast. There’s one option on the liveUSB that I haven’t tried yet – to reformat the SSD and reinstall Xubuntu onto it. But if I can’t even run Xubuntu off the liveUSB, I have very little hope that a reinstall will even finish, let alone work the way I want it to.

Any geeks out there have a better prognosis or suggestion for me? I know that all electronics do have an expected lifespan, and the eeePC has given me much over the years. But I’ll be sad to see it go this way.


Harry Dresden versus the Ghosts

June 22, 2012

Okay, another great book recently wrapped up, “Grave Peril,” by Jim Butcher. (Mild spoilers follow, I think.) As an aside, this is the first Harry Dresden book I read on Kindle, as opposed to on an audio-player, (yes, I know that the Kindle can be used to play audible.com books, but it’s not really good at it in my opinion.) It was still really easy to dive into, and I kept hearing James Marster’s voice in Harry’s dialog and narration.

I was told by a friend that the Harry Dresden books really pick up with this one, and was a little surprised and concerned, since I’d liked the first two in the series so much. But now, I can see what he meant. Harry is still the same dry, witty sunnuvabee, and there’s still a lot of great action and adventure. But Jim did manage to turn the dial up in a few important ways:

He took away what Harry was good at when it counts. This is a good trick for those of us who write fantasy, I think. In one of his early encounters with the big bad, Harry gets most of his wizardly power eaten, and so he has to struggle through most of the second act as a shadow of his awesomely magical self, while the bad guy gets to use his own tricks against him, because, as Bob the spirit puts it, ‘You are what you eat.’ This raises the stakes in a very personal way, and forces Harry to be much more creative and ingenious, as he has to figure out how to do more with less, or maybe with no wizardry at all.

He took away something that matters to Harry even more. I’m not going to say anything more spoiler-ey here, except that it’s about somebody we know Harry cares about. And this time, the consequences aren’t all cleared up by the end of the book. Again, it’s about raising the stakes, this time, on a personal level – show what matters to your character, then have them lose it.

He’s setting up plot elements for later in the series. This one doesn’t just apply to the loss I mentioned above, though it does count. Also, though the main bad guy has been defeated, some of his allies are stronger than ever. They’re pissed with Harry, and with all white wizards on principle, which means that the other white wizards are also pissed with Harry for dragging them into a war that they didn’t want to be part of.

I’m looking forward to Harry Dresden #4, “Summer Knight”!

 


Some random Ebook musings.

May 10, 2012

I was a fairly early adopter when it came to the idea of ebooks. In the winter of 2003 I ordered a Palm PDA off the Dell Canada website, and it came pre-loaded with Palm Reader and a link to their website. I checked it out, and ordered my first few books – copies of fantasy novels that I’d read from the library but didn’t have print copies of, and installments of spinoff paperbacks like Roswell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

That site, and other digital gadgets that I added to my collection, led me to other ebook vendor sites – the Simon & Schuster online webstore, Fictionwise.com, and ebooks.com . I heard about the Kindle and other dedicated ebook readers with lots of great features and bigger selections of books, but for a while those didn’t appear to be available in Canada. Finally, I got my Kindle delivered once Amazon started offering some kind of international sales and service for Kindle ebooks, and I haven’t regretted it.

Over the past few years, readers like Kindle, Nook, and Kobo, and smartphones and tablets have changed the ebook marketplace a lot. Some vendors have kept up reasonably well. Ebooks.com has their own iphone app that lets me download and read books that I originally ordered in mobipocket or Microsoft reader format, and read them anywhere I have the phone.

Palm reader is now Ereader.com, and they didn’t have much trouble adding iPhone, Android, Blackberry and others to the list of devices supporting their own proprietary format. Though I wasn’t impressed by their attempt to make a native linux version, probably because it was badly back-ported from the iphone version to devices that need a very different user interface. Fictionwise is still making a priority of selling books and stories DRM-free and offering as many different formats as humanly possible, which is a great approach.

But some formats have failed, and some vendors have had issues in keeping up with the technology. The Simon and Schuster e-store, unfortunately, seems to be in this category. I bought a lot of ebooks from them, mostly ‘Pocket Books’ paperbacks from franchises like Star Trek, Charmed, Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and some of them were bought in Adobe PDF or Microsoft Reader format – with digital rights management technology to prevent piracy.

Yes, some will say, I should have known better.

The Adobe PDF DRM authentication servers appear to have been offlined years ago, as they moved on towards ‘Adobe Digital Editions’ and their ePub standard – though I still have a few devices that have kept their authentication codes and can read the books. Microsoft has said that it will discontinue support of Microsoft Reader in August of this year – but when I had to hard-reset my HP pocket PC a month and a half ago, I found no way to re-authenticate it again.

Simon and Schuster still has my account active, and apparently tried to migrate my books to Adobe Digital Editions, but apparently couldn’t get them all in that format for whatever reasons, and some of the books that they say they have are still stuck in technical difficulties – a few won’t download at all, and more than a dozen of the ones that I downloaded can’t be transferred to another device with the same Adobe ID – which means I can’t read them on the iPhone through Bluefire, (which is a nifty little ADE-compliant ePub reader program.)

I don’t have a problem with DRM in the concept. But when a failure in the system means that I’m not able to read the books that I bought, then the theory isn’t working out in practice. It makes me want to go out and crack the DRM files just out of spite.


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