Friday, April 10, 2015

Irreconcilable Differences (and Looking Glass) revisited

As I finish typesetting Irreconcilable Differences and tweaking the typeset of Looking Glass, I'm struck by a couple things that characterize my first two published novels:

First, I was a lot less clear on how hackers make a living than I am now. Sign of the times, certainly. I'm sure they knew, but in the early aughties, most hackers we on the outside encountered were the script kiddie variety. Nowadays, of course, they're professional gangsters or selling to professional gangsters, or various government agencies worldwide. In the development of Irreconcilable Differences, it's obvious I gave it more thought, since I had professional operators, military operators, and gangs on the outside.

The other thing is that it's very obvious I had no idea how hard having someone you know die is. I was awfully cavalier about it then.

When I return to writing cyberpunk (and I will) things will be different.
-JRS

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nerd moment

I'm shifting my Raspberry Pi to use LVM for everything except the boot partition. I've duped /home and my music partition to LVs on a spare drive, and now I'm pvmoving my LVs back to a partition on the HD the pi usually uses. Listening to Wierd Al's White and Nerdy. No hiccups. Gotta love the Raspberry Pi 2, but the only way to make this moment nerdier is to be playing D&D at the same time. Heh.

(Pi doesn't have an initramfs by default, so it can't boot into LVs.  You can set one up, but they have a reputation for flakiness. IMHO it shouldn't need one given that the kernel and bootloader (such as it is) are on an SD card separate from /root, but I haven't figured out how to connect that all up yet. :)

-JRS

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Factoid of the day

Most people who were tarred and feathered, unless otherwise abused as well, survived. This seems impossible to us today. Tar, after all, melts above the boiling point of water. You'd be looking at second and third degree burns over most of the body, right?


Well, no.

The tar in question wasn't asphalt. It was pine tar, or pitch. The same stuff baseball players put on their bats (and their hands, if they're sneaky pitchers) which is sticky at blood temperature and molten in sauna temperatures. Further, you weren't dunked in it. Most often it was applied with a mop. Sailors handled molten tar regularly in the process of preserving wooden ships and their rigging, and sticking their hand in the tar bucket wasn't a punishment, it was part of their job.

So it might be more correct to imagine it being like superglue and feathers. Sticky, obnoxious to get off, but usually nonlethal.

(Note: did you know that cyanoacrylate, or superglue, if overheated, releases cyanide gas? Those superglue fingerprint fumers need to have good temperature control. Yes, surgical superglue still has the cyanide. The solvents are different so they're not poisonous or irritating to flesh.)

Now, back to work.

-JRS





Friday, February 20, 2015

The Raspberry Pi Foundation set out to make a Raspberry Pi that is a viable desktop computer.
They succeeded.
The raspberry pi 2 /flies/.

-JRS

Monday, January 26, 2015

Scrivener, Word, and Tracked Changes

So it's not a very closely guarded secret that I'm working on getting Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences back in print. (Soon. Soon.) My modern toolchain for these old books (for those keeping score) is: Nisus Writer -> RTF -> Scrivener -> Epub -> Jutoh -> Epub, Mobi, and Epub for ibooks. For the hardcopy, it's Nisus Writer -> RTF -> Scrivener -> RTF -> rtf2latex->Tex->XeLaTex -> PDF. This sounds like more work than it really is. I have the RTF manuscripts, the same ones the Flying Pen Press typeset was done from. I imported them both into Jutoh years ago when I stopped making ebooks by hand. I imported them into Scrivener for all the modern maintenance, mostly cleaning up weird typos that seemed to crop up.

Fast forward to a few days ago. While finishing up the ebook version of Looking Glass, I decided to go through it one more time with the Jutoh spell checker. (Jutoh's spell checker is awful. Slow, primitive, based on ispell or aspell (I forget which), and Jutoh likes to hide the cursor permanently when you've been spell checking a while. It also crashes occasionally.) And I turned up dozens of errors. Looking closely at them, some of them I /knew/ I changed back in the early days of 2007, when we were editing the book. Something was horribly wrong. Looking more closely, these were present in the PDF as well. Walking back through the toolchain, I discovered them in the Scrivener file. When I reimported the original manuscript into Scrivener, I got the same results, plus a lot of "typos" I'd chased through the ebook version over the years. 


My first thought was "Oh crap. Is the file corrupted? Is the import process broken? Is this somehow in the original manuscript?" So I went back to the original manuscript, last edited when I cleaned it up prior to hand-making the first ebook version. Some time in '08, I think, and opened it up in Nisus Writer, just like the old days. When I searched on one of the errors, up it popped - in tracked changes. Every one of those glitches was a change Scott or I had made with Word tracked changes. Every stinking one. About 400 of them in all. Those changes were invisible on the body of the text in Nisus, and in Word too. Somehow, during the import to Scrivener, they were being re-exposed. The book was, essentially, being un-edited.

I sat down to file a bug report. On a whim, because I know that Scrivener leans heavily on OS X's RTF libraries, I tried importing the file into textedit, Apple's default text and RTF editor in OS X. Same result. Same stinking result.

The upshot? OS X's RTF libraries do not do anything sane or intelligent when presented with tracked changes. They concatenate the original and the changed text, and send it on up the pipeline. I do not now recall how I did the original port to Jutoh, but I very much suspect, given the number of people who've complained about the typos in the ebooks over the years, that it used the same RTF library somewhere along the line.

The solution? Fairly straightforward. Open the original RTF up in Word, make a copy, and tell word to Accept All Changes, and save it to an RTF. When I reimported that RTF, it was clean. Nisus Writer doesn't seem to have that capability (or I couldn't find it.) It was fairly well hidden in Word.

So, moving forward, I remade both the ebook versions and the LaTeX typeset version yesterday and today. It gave me an opportunity to clean up some LaTeX code and some of the sloppiness in the way I'd set it up in Jutoh. And I finally solved the mystery of why my later ebooks were such a mess. If you're reading this, and you have one of those messed up ebooks, email me and I'll hook you up with the new version. Meantime... watch this space. I hope to have the thing for sale fairly soon.

-JRS



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Render unto Proprietary...

Render unto proprietary formats (Kindle) that which is proprietary (a novel) and with proprietary tools (Kindlegen.) Calibre, with their obsession with reverse-engineering the kindle formats, can't produce output that KDP will accept without mangling, but they continue to shriek that plugins to use kindlegen aren't needed. Pedantic behavior like that, I can live without. Just have to redo the book in Jutoh. What book, you ask? Well, a little bird tells me that Looking Glass may be back on the market in the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

DRAM and Dialog are hard.

I've been tinkering with some projects for a technical book proposal (oh, don't get me started, I'll foam at the mouth) and I've discovered something the old-school geeks all knew: interfacing DRAM is hard. Precision timing isn't quite in my grasp yet. Looks like I'll be saving that project for another book, or something.

Anyway, all is well. I've not abandoned my fiction career, just put it on hold for a while. In doing so, I've had the chance to sit back and really think about my work and what bugs me about the recent stuff. Dialog, in particular, has been a problem. People just *whoosh* spill their guts. So what's left to talk about? While indirect communication frequently annoys me in real life, it's fundamental to fiction, as Connie Willis pointed out in her recent panel at Mile High Con. I need to revisit Brass and Steel and see if I can't tighten the dialog (especially the narration) with that in mind. Season's greetings to all three of you. :)

-JRS

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