My New Toy

So for a few years now, I’ve been threatening to buy a cheep PC and install Ubuntu on it, just to see what Linux is all about and if it really holds up to the various shiny OSs that Apple has put out over the years. The only reason it’s taken so long to get around to it is because I haven’t needed to buy a computer in at least 5 years. My wife’s old iMac and my mini work just fine, even though they are outdated G4s. And for the last 2 years, our laptop has been a Powerbook that came with my job. But, since I’ll have to give that laptop back within the next 6 weeks, before my job ends, we were facing a near future with no laptop. This was unacceptable. And due to tight finances (did I mention I’m losing my job in about 6 weeks?), we couldn’t exactly afford the $1200 MacBook Air we’ve had our eye on.

So, last night I finally made good on my threat. We went to Best Buy and picked out a shiny new HP n455 netbook for a whopping $250. Downloading and installing Ubuntu 11.4 was pretty easy. It took a try or two to get everything working, but I’ve had more problems just installing Photoshop on a PC, so getting a whole new operating system up and running in the span of 3 hours is amazing. Haven’t fully explored lal the applications yet but the fact that it comes with Gimp, Firefox, LibreOffice and an assortment of other Open Source programs that I don’t have to bother hunting for on my own is a nice bonus.

Ostensibly, this will be my writing laptap, so I’m curious to see how LibreOffice performs. It looks pretty much just like MS Office circa 2004, which is a good thing. (Sometime before  2007, the entire  HCI team at Microsoft had an aneurism and coded up one of the least intuitive office suites I’ve ever seen. Office 2010 should be shunned like a leper). And there’s always Open Office if that ends up not suiting me, so I’m covered for Open Source software on this machine. Which is the plan: run this bad boy on nothing but Open Source software. I’ll keep the blog appraised as to how that goes.

The Lives of Perfect Creatures

At long last and after much delay, my second movel, The Lives of Perfect Creatures, is available!

It’s taken two and a half years of hard work to put this together and I couldn’t be prouder of how the book turned out. But, you ask, what’s it all about? Glad you asked!

Sophie didn’t intend to steal The Man With The Mustache‘s umbrella, but she did it anyway. In her search to find him and make amends, she meets the ghost of Yuri Gagarin, philosophical hobos and an astronomer hounded by a priest, a rabbi and a minister who think the comet he discovered is a harbinger of Jesus’ return to Earth. Her best friend, Astrid suspects that what Sophie is really looking for is a truth more permanent than apparent. But Astrid has other things to worry about (like finding out the real name of the Little Red-Haired Girl who comes into the library every afternoon). Meanwhile, the Chinese are planning to land on the Moon and the city of Portland is slowly drowning due to ice caps being melted by the heat death of the universe. How all of this is related to the umbrella is hard to say in a way that makes sense, but Sophie is sure it does, somehow.

This is a big departure form my previous book. It’s a bit more personal, about the search for meaning in a world that has none, with umbrellas and mustaches and Phantom Cosmonauts. And if you still aren’t sure that this is your kind of book, you can always download it and read it for free.

The Cutting Edge of Respectable

POD self-publishing has had a bit of a spotty reputation, what with crappy production values in the early days and most of the content proving Sturgeon’s Law pretty handily. A lot has changed in the last few years though, most notably, the stark rise in both the quality of content and production value. And while the public opinion of POD/self-publishing hasn’t shifted quite yet, it looks like it could be moving out from under the log of scorn and ridicule, thanks to some high profile POD ventures making some news.

Earlier this week, Wil Wheaton released his new book, Sunken Treasure on Lulu. If you’ve been on the Tubes for more more than five minutes, you’ve probably read Wil’s blog, or one of his articles on all that is geeky and wonderful somewhere. This looks like a nice little treat for people who like good stuff.

io9 recently reviewed The Translated Man by Chris Braak. Described as a Lovcraftian police procedural, this sounds haunting and fun. Definitely something to check out.

Jamais Cascio, noted futurist and author, has a new book he’s also published on Lulu called Hacking the Earth, which offers some new ideas about tackling the Global Warming problem by reengineering the planet.

Then of course there’s my own book, The Machine of the World, which is available on CreateSpace (Or here)

Slowly, people are starting to take notice of these books as, you know, books, rather than some kooky monster made by weirdos in their basement. I for one am excited about this new development. POD technology is starting to get recognized as a legitimate method for creating, distributing and connecting people and ideas. It turns out, we do in fact have the technology (and the skills) to build books that are better, faster and stronger. And the fact that we can do it all without having to go through the corporate media processing that often wrings out the genuine heart and feeling from the work is a bonus. Authors now have the ability to interact with their audience in a way that is direct, collaborative and just plain fun. And that is awesome.

I’ll be procuring copies of the above mentioned books soon, so look for reviews over the coming weeks.

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Now as to why POD is suddenly starting to take off… I have a hypothesis, beyond the obvious: the technology has matured to the point where a POD book is indistinguishable form one printed ahead of time: it’s a combination of the recent unpleasantness with the economy and the growing dissatisfaction with the traditional publishing model. These are two very closely related things that have created a situation where there’s a demand for a cheaper and faster method of publishing that gives authors more control over not just content but design. And POD does all of that. So it’s an opportunity for a fully matured technology to fill a need that is just becoming apparent on a larger scale. And let’s be honest, with publishing houses cutting editors and shutting subsidiaries down like they’re discos and it’s 1980, there’s a HUGE problem right now in the publishing industry.Part of this is the economy but a large part is also that the monster conglomerates were being greedy bastards, gobbling up every press and imprint they could find. But I digress.

Some authors who aren’t as obsessed with typography and book design as myself may be put off by the rigors of being their own designer and editor. And to be sure, this is a trade off. Ask me sometimes about the typos. Oh, God the typos! But there is quickly developing an associated set of businesses for freelance editing and book design that works in concert with POD publishing to create a fully customizable publishing model. It’s Open Source Publishing, in other words. It just isn’t organized. Yet.

What we need is the equivalent of the Mozilla Foundation for POD. Something to give this fledgling community structure and a way to interact with one another without it devolving into just another publishing house full of bottom line sniffers or poetry snobs. Also, something not owned by Amazon.com.*

I don’t really know where it all goes form here. All I know is, I want to be part of it.

Writing Software

I’ve been having problems finding a good, reliable open source word processing program. MS Office is a bloated piece of crap, so naturally it’s the industry standard, even if you have to rejigger the preferences as it was not intended for creative writing. Also, not OS. OpenOffice 3.0 was just released and there are plans to port it to Aqua for Macs… eventually. All previous versions require installing X11 so it can run in a Unix environment, which is a pain, especially if you want to run a browser at the same time. NeoOffice, the Aqua-native version of OpenOffice, is buggy.

I’ve had mixed results using online word processors. Google Docs, besides having a silly EULA, doesn’t support footnotes* and requires mucho reformatting once it’s exported. Zoho does support footnotes but still requires reformatting, isn’t quite WYSIWYG and ever since they mysteriously upgraded last week, has been buggy.

Even if Zoho gets it’s act together, I’ll still need a program to prep a manuscript for print. Preferably a free one but I’d be willing to pay for an inexpensive program if it worked for my needs. Any ideas?

UPDATE 10/20: I found a nifty little app called JDarkRoom, a light little Jav-based word processor that runs in full screen mode with no distracting tabs or buttons. Just a black screen with green monospaced text, like the old MS Works used to be. It’s simple, elegant and creates a nice environment to play in, just you and the words.

Still have to use MS Office or OO to format text after the fact but that’s not so bad actually. It’s weird: I didn’t realize how much I missed the old green text on black screen. It’s really engaging. Like how you dream about words. How I do, anyway.

Makes me wonder if there will be a minimalist computer renaissance: eschuing all the fancy designerly polish for green on black screen, low rez, minimal GUI and 8 bit design. Functionality and form over excessive processor speeds and pointless Flash doodle. I’d buy that for a dollar.

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* Which I use quite a bit.

Features, Bugs Whatever- Just Give Us Your Money

Fortune Magazine:

Free software is great, and corporate America [And real people] loves it. It’s often high-quality stuff that can be downloaded free off the Internet and then copied at will. It’s versatile – it can be customized to perform almost any large-scale computing task – and it’s blessedly crash-resistant.A broad community of developers,from individuals to large companies like IBM, is constantly working

toimprove it and introduce new features. No wonder the business world has embraced it so enthusiastically: More than half the companies in the Fortune 500 are thought to be using the free operating system Linux in their data centers. But now there’s a shadow hanging over Linux and other free software, and it’s being cast by Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500).The Redmond behemoth asserts that one reason free software is of such high quality is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft’s patents. And as a mature company facing unfavorable market trends and fearsomecompetitors like Google (Charts, Fortune 500), Microsoft is pulling no punches: It wants royalties. If the company gets its way, free software won’t be free anymore. [emphasis added]

Anyone who has used Microsoft for any great length of time knows that this is an absurd claim. Open Source software works better than Microsoft, across the board, not because the developers are hacking Microsoft’s patents but because they’re taking Microsoft’s half baked ideas and making them work.

Here’s a better idea: Microsoft subsidizes Linux and Mozilla, ensuring that they get their name associated with products that work. They won’t make any more money off the top, but they’ll at least build up good will among users, who for once, will see Microsoft’s name on a piece of software that functions as advertised. I know, I might as well have suggested that Microsoft subsidize research into creating flying monkeys.

Ubuntu to the Rescue

For those who haven’t seen it yet, Jessamyn at Librarian.net has a video of her installing Ubuntu Linux onto three computers at a small library. This comes fast on the news from last week that Dell will be offering Ubuntu as an alternative Operating System to Windows Vista. After years of quietly percolating in the background, Linux is finally catching on in the popular imagination as an alternative to the ham fisted monopoly of Microsoft and I couldn’t be happier. That it’s Ubuntu that is making the noise is even better. It makes me almost want to buy a PC just to help the cause. Maybe I can convince my parents to switch? That might be a nifty little series, following the procedures, from talking my parents into the switch, all the way through the install process… hmm, yes…

Laying Hands On Your Hard Drive

Have you ever wondered if there were a way to completely restrict what your computer does (I mean besides using anything by Microsoft)? Ever wanted to have some Jesus on your desktop? The Pope in your RAM? Well, now you can have your very own Christian Operating System:

Ubuntu Christian Edition is a free, open source operating system geared towards Christians. It is based on the popular Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu is a complete Linux-based operating system, freely available with both community and professional support.

[…] Ubuntu Christian Edition includes more than 16,000 pieces of software, but the core desktop installation fits on a single CD. Ubuntu Christian Edition covers every standard desktop application from word processing and spreadsheet applications to web server software and programming tools.

Along with the standard Ubuntu applications, Ubuntu Christian Edition includes the best available Christian software. The latest release contains GnomeSword, a top of the line Bible study program for Linux based on the Sword Project. There are several modules installed with GnomeSword including Bibles, Commentaries, and Dictionaries.

But the real question is, does it quote scripture at you when you try to downlaod porn?