Friday, November 27, 2015

Taos Toolbox 2016

Some years ago (2011, to be precise) friend Jeff and I went to Taos Toolbox, then at the Taos ski area in New Mexico, taught by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress. It was, frankly awesome. I wrote about it at length here. Most of my classmates (unlike me) have had their work published much more readily than they enjoyed previously. It was also a lot of fun, albeit a ton of work in a short timeframe. I bring this up now because Taos Toolbox 2016's applications period begins December 1, 2015. The 2016 installment is coming. Same instructors, same format, slightly different location: Angelfire, NM, 25 miles away. So if you are a writer with some chops who is still reaching for the next level, if you want your writing to go deeper and further than it could before, if you want truly enlightening instruction from two veteran science fiction authors, and a workshop experience you can't get outside of a university (and perhaps not even there) go to the Taos Toolbox Website read up, and apply. You won't regret it. -JRS

Friday, November 20, 2015

Amusements in language:

If you only have one leg, can you save money buying a pant?
Seriously, do you need a /pair/ of pants if you have only the one leg?
Maybe so.  After all, it's a pair of underwear, a pair of boxers, a pair of briefs.
I think they count butt-cheeks.  Consider. It's a /pair/ of panties, but /a/ thong.
Now we're getting someplace.

Still working on the technical book. Nothing much to report.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015


The deeper I dig into physics (yay, another amateur physicist) the more I think that physics should be taught starting out with quantum theory and move upward to Newton, as it is in nature, rather than from Newton to quantum theory as it was discovered. Or perhaps start with Newtonian mechanics and then take the deep dive to explain Newton. Right now I'm finding it easier to understand Bohr's orbitals model by knowing the electron spin and so forth that lie beneath than to simply memorize Bohr. It may be that I don't understand enough to understand how little I understand. Or I'm just weird. -JRS

Friday, August 28, 2015

Just a quick update.

As part of a current project I'm not at liberty to discuss in such a public forum (when it's released, getting me to shut up about it will be the challenge) I was forced to poke into the guts of the Arduino app, specifically version 1.6.5 and figure out how to add a tool to the tools menu.

Surprise. The existing sample code doesn't work. Not surprising. It hasn't been updated since 2008.

So began my crash course in Java, Processing (the framework in which the Arduino app is actually written), and Arduino itself, which is based on a very old version of the aforementioned Processing.

As a result, I've come up with a basic skeleton for building tools for the Arduino app, along with simple documentation for how to build and install those tools. I've also created my very first git repository. Woohoo! Go me. :) So here it is, ready for the perusal of the entire universe.

 By the way, if my newfound loathing for Java hasn't come through in this post, let me make it clear. Java is an abomination of a language. The only one I've ever found that I liked less was Python. Java, at least, isn't whitespace-sensitive and broken between versions.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Tip: When the bag of frozen soup at the Asian market says "Cornish Game Hen Soup" they do not mean soup with shredded bits of Cornish game hen in it. They mean soup with a whole bird in it, minus head, feet, guts, and feathers.

Ordering a pizza.

Learning Linux System Administration

Ye gods, I've neglected my blog. In my defense, there's a reason. Through a convoluted chain of events, I'm now doing technical writing as well as science fiction, cyberpunk and steampunk. Through another convoluted chain of events, my first technical work available to all y'all is a set of videos called Learning Linux System Administration, and it's available here:

Yes, that's my voice in the videos. Yes, they listed me as Jim Strickland instead of James R. Strickland, for reasons only they know for sure. I'm good with that. I mean, it's O'Reilly Press. Seriously. Seriously stoked here.

So the questions I expect are:
"Are there more technical books in the works?" Yes, there are. Watch this space.

"Are you giving up on fiction?" No. I'm still working on releasing my existing novels, plus Brass and Steel: Inferno through self-publishing. I've seen the kinds of services tech presses give writers in exchange for the rights to books. For what most sci-fi presses give you, I can sell it myself and come out about even. I also have a second Brass and Steel novel in the early stages, and some other ideas bouncing around in my head as well, so in no way am I giving up on fiction.

Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Typesetting and Ebooks

Finished typesetting and ebook-ifying Brass and Steel: Inferno.

The more I deal with typesetting for physical books, and the more trouble I have finding decent ebook readers for that most open of platforms, Linux, the less respect I have for epub and its derivatives. How many readers simply ignore all or most of the work I put into an ebook and do it the way they want? How many of them have broken support? It's infuriating. I can create an attractive book in pdf format. I can create a readable one with nice touches in epub. I guess that will have to do.

Yes, I have become quite the fanboy of XeLaTeX. (except for the stupid capitalization convention of its name.)

PS: Also learning to hate Scrivener. It makes organizing novels so much easier, but is so incredibly bad at producing output suitable for intake by other programs. Also, it barely works in Linux, and not at all on non-x86 linux platforms.

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.

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. :)


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.


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/.


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.


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.

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