Saturday, December 31, 2011

Filling the Queue

As an independent writer/publisher, that means I have to share my time between writing, and getting those words out where people can see them. (Also called marketing.)

That means, in addition to book signings and science fiction conventions, I also spend quite a bit of time using the Internet to make contact.  Now, I've had a personal writer's website for ages, about as long as the web has been in existence.  I also have this blog, and if you take a look at the archive over in the sidebar, you can see how long I've been doing this.  Then came Facebook and Twitter and I'm even toying with Google+, but over the past year I've been keeping a new bloggish kind of site running, Henry's Stories.

This is a magazine, where I'm responsible for new content every MWF.

Over the past year, I've serialized a novel (Emperor Dad), many new stories that have never been previously published, and many of my stories that were first published in the science fiction magazines and various anthologies.  Sometimes it's a bit of a race to see if I can keep the queue filled before it runs out, and a couple of times I missed a day.

But, in spite of it all, I put a number of stories out this year, all in chapter-sized chunks.  I've taken a couple of days off from my other projects to fill the beginning of the year with another novel, starting on January 2.  You are all well welcome to come watch it unfold, chapter by chapter, for free.  Or click one of the links below and read one of the 2011 stories.  If it appeals to you, please spread the word.  I don't make anything off of this (not even advertising), other than enjoying the comments and hopefully convincing people to buy my books.


HENRY'S STORIES OF 2011

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tagging My iTunes Songs

I'm an enthusiastic adopter of iTunes Match, but I have also been an extensive builder of Smart Playlists.  Unfortunately, not all Smart Playlists that work in the Mac's iTunes window will be accepted by iTunes Match.  This is my failed attempt to work around it.

For example, consider this one:

For some reason, this one is rejected by iTunes Match with the comment that it doesn't like playlists that are dependent on other playlists.  (This doesn't seem to always apply.)
(Ignore the fact that I'm showing you the wrong playlist.  I screenshotted the wrong one, but the mark is what I was talking about.)

So in the playlist pane, there is a slashed cloud marker and it doesn't appear on my iPhone and iPhone and on another Mac, there's an error marker.  I hope eventually iTunes Match will handle it, but until then, I've chosen to work around it by adding tags to my music.  I'm sure you're familiar with #hashtags in Twitter and other places.  I needed a way to mark all my Instrumental songs, without just making a playlist of them.

My first thought was to re-purpose the Genre marker, but that would lose possibly valuable information.  There are Holiday instrumentals and Jazz instrumentals and many others.  So I could just add the information to the Comments field.  Of course that could be laborious to add manually (to avoid wiping out any existing comments).

So.  Applescript.  But before I opened up the Script Editor and wasted some time writing one of my own, I went to the Doug's Scripts site and there it was, exactly what I had intended to write for myself.  Append to Comments.  It's donationware, and worth making a trip to Paypal.

I loaded the script, went to my Instrumental playlist, selected all tracks and ran the script from the pulldown:
I chose to use the < > markers so that I could easily mark the beginning and end of the flag when hunting for it.  That way I can have multiword tags and tags that are subsets of other tags.  I then changed the Smart Playlist to:

Now iTunes Match is happy on the Mac side of things and it shows up on my other mac with the right songs.

Unfortunately, the IOS versions aren't showing correctly.  The playlists show up, but not the songs.  Solve one problem and discover others.  Oh well.  I told you it was a failed attempt.
Still, the flexible tagging option will pay off on the Mac side and I can always hope that we reach parity between OSX and IOS eventually.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Walking the Bottom of the Pond

The drought has been with us for quite a while, and the pond has been dry much longer that it has been in my memory.  I took a walk down on the bed this afternoon.  The deep, deep cracks have even begun to weather down a little in places.  Even the plants that have grown up around the last remnant of the spring are curled up.
One interesting thing was the relics from previous years that were resting on top of the dried mud.  Someone, probably my son, has lost a number of golf-balls over the years.  And I think that's the core of a baseball. There was also an old boot, and a broken fishing float, but I didn't feel like recovering those.

I suspect that there are many more interesting things down in the mud, if I cared to dig them up.  I know I've lost a few lures over the years.

What I ought to do is build a dock while the water is gone, but I probably won't get around to it.  I'd love to rent a mini-dozer and move some of those decades of mud to the upper pasture that has zero topsoil over the limestone.  I probably won't get around to that either.

The rains will come.  I'm confident.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Readings in the Park

It's part of my writing process.  Near the final editing stage, I print out a copy of the novel, take it to a nearby park, and then with pen in hand, sitting at a picnic table, I read it aloud.

It takes several days.  My voice gives out after a couple of hours.  But I make many corrections.  Sometimes they are errors that I had missed during dozens of passes, editing on the computer screen.  Sometimes they are perfectly legal sentences, but I can't speak them from beginning to end without tripping over my tongue.  Nearly all had also eluded the beta-readers than had send me marked up copies earlier.

My personal stamina is about two hours, although if people drop by and I stop to chat, it can stretch out into a three hour session.  I know I absolutely have to have a big drink at hand to refresh my throat.  A session covers about fifty pages in final layout format.

This novel, The Copper Room, is being read at Hutto Lake Park, which is close by.  Other times, I've read in other parks.  It's a little windy the past couple of days, so I camp out in the pavilion next to the wall as a wind-break.  Every day, people stop by, so I have a little display that tells people what I'm doing.  Most times, I'll find a convenient break in the text and talk with the visitors, but sometimes, they prefer to just sit and listen.

I find it interesting how tired I get after reading the text for a couple of hours.  It's not labor intensive, but perhaps it's the process of putting emotion into the words.  I don't really know.  It's satisfying, even though it takes several days to work through an entire novel.

I advertise where and when on my Facebook fan page or on Twitter, just in case people are interested.  Two more sessions to go, if you're inclined to show up.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Siri vs. Forget It! (1977)

Back in 1977, I was asked to write a short science fiction story with the general theme of 'memory' for a new computer magazine named ROM.  In it, I imagined my perfect computer assistant.  It was a wrist watch, with a tiny screen and a voice interface.  You can read the story here on my Henry's Stories online magazine.  It's short, in two parts, click the Next Part link down below the comments.

With all the news coverage of the Siri voice assistant on the new iPhone 4S, it occurs to me that there is a lot of common ground between the two devices.  The idea of a voice operated personal assistant device is hardly a new idea, especially in science fiction.  The very first thing Carlos does in the story is make a calendar event, and I bet Siri would do the same task with the same verbal command.  (Unfortunately, I can't justify a 4S just yet, so I can't try it out.)

There are plenty of differences.  In 1977 I couldn't quite imagine the always-connected world we live in, and that was actually part of the plot.  The wrist watch was also voice specific, more as a security feature than because of any limitation.  The voice recognition was also all in the device, rather than Siri's server-based method.

In truth, I want a merger.  I travel in remote areas, so I'd prefer a device-only voice system.  But Siri's 'personality' is better than the one I wrote.  Maybe a wrist watch would be more convenient than a hand-held, but I could wish for something waterproof that rode in my ear, or even embedded under the skin.  The screen output is nice, though, so I could live with either the 4S or wrist watch device.

Just something all-knowing, with infinite storage, that never misunderstands what I ask for.  That would do nicely.  Please.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Superlatives at Restaurants

Several times in the last few months, I've been at a mid-range restaurant.  The food is good but not outlandishly expensive.  The wait-person has done their job, provided the drinks and food with reasonable promptness.

And then a greeter wanders through the room, stopping for a brief visit at each table.  "Is the food wonderful?"  "Are you having an outstanding time?"  "Is your steak cooked perfectly?"

I feel like this is a new trend, and one I don't care for.  I have a life-long sales resistance, as do many other people.  I do not like to be put in such a position.  If I agree, to be polite, I am allowing the vendor to put a superlative description in my mouth.  If I disagree, then I feel like I'll have to immediately complain about some food that is honestly adequate.  So, I am left in frustrated silence.  Usually, someone else in my dinner party says the appropriate words and the greeter moves on her way.  But I'm left with a bad feeling.

I guess it's time to construct a quick come-back.  Some phrase I can whip out at an instant when this happens again.  Something like, "It was perfectly adequate."  Perhaps with a smile, letting them know that I'm aware they've been coached to feed me that line.

Of course, it's probably just one of my quirks.  I have many.  I'm just glad I have a blog where I can vent in a relatively conflict-free environment.

Have a spectacular day.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bat Signal over Texas


I've been watching the Central Texas bats on radar for some time now, so I've grown quite familiar with their patterns and know when they appear.  A couple of times now, I've seen one of the downsides of the bats-on-radar. As actual real thunderstorms begin to move into the area, the computerized storm track detectors that filter the Nexrad radar signals and try to make sense out of them get confused.

It happened again tonight, and I was quick enough on the screen capture keystrokes to catch the bogus signal before the real weather people removed it.  In the image above, that greenish patch around the Austin area is 'mostly' bats.  There are some clouds running from Waco through Bryan that are real moisture with water droplets in them.  But the rest of that patch running Round Rock to San Antonio is a bat signal.

The danger is that we have to put up with such false positive alerts because of the real ones. See that diamond shape half-way between Austin and Abilene?  That's a real thunderstorm.

Here's a different look at the same radar signal seen through the RadarScope program.  Because I've been watching the radar all day long (it's my 'screen saver' on my media server), I knew what was bats and what was weather, but it's not obvious from one screen image.  And it certainly wasn't obvious to the Nexrad computer system.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Testing the Blogger IPhone App

Well, it seems there's a iOS app out from Goggle (free) to handle blog postings on the go. Now, I've tried out a number of similar apps over time and I've never been pleased enough to keep using them.

This one seems pretty bare bones as well, but at least you can include images on the fly, although it's missing a lot of the formatting and layout tools I've come to expect.

It's easy to use, but I can already tell I'm not going to be using this for regular postings. I expect it to shine for on the spot news postings where twitter is just too sparse.

Okay, I've composed, added an image and indicated my location. Let's see what it looks like.

Monday, September 05, 2011

More Uses for Radar: The Bastrop Fire

I'm gradually waking up to the idea that weather radar is for a lot more things than just clouds and rain. After watching bats on the radar all week during a particularly dry atmosphere, clouds are coming back, and then today, the Bastrop fire broke out.  Now, this is a forest fire, not just the grass fires we're used to.  Forest fires with pine trees filled with resin that burn hot and high and send great big billowing smoke plumes up into the sky -- smoke plumes that just happen to reflect radar pulses.  There are several big fires in the area this evening, but it's only the Bastrop fire that's making it's mark on the radar screen. (click image for a more detailed look)

At one point, which I neglected to capture, the image was complex with bats, and rain clouds and ground clutter and smoke plumes all in the same image.  In animation mode it was interesting to see the differences.  The smoke originated at a fixes point and the winds swept it off to the south, as in this image.  The rain clouds moved with the wind.  The bats spread out in all directions, but today their path was pushed to the south by the winds as well.

Maybe someday I'll be able to look at the images and instantly tell what I'm seeing, but it's early in the learning stages for me.

By the way, while the Radarscope program (both on iPad and Mac) give me the best images, more traditional weather radar images on Weather underground and the like also show these things, if you look for them.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bats on Radar in Central Texas


I've been watching the iPad app 'Radarscope' quite a bit, hoping for a thunderstorm to come my way.  It's been dry so long here.  But I've been noticing some activity about sunset every day and I finally realized what I was seeing.  In several locations here in Central Texas, the Mexican free-tail bat hides out in colonies of millions under bridges and in caves and tunnels.  When the mood strikes, at about sunset, they stream out and go foraging for the night.

Taking screenshots and combining them with Keynote, I made a 2 minute slide show of the display, with three different zoom factors.

The bats are fascinating to watch, on radar, and in person.  The Congress Avenue Bridge colony is famous, as well as the McNeil Bridge in Round Rock, but you can see many colonies all over the state.

Update:  Mary Ann Melton, my wife, has bats in her blog as well.  For a closer look, see here: Texas Bridge Bats - by Mary Ann Melton

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sweating Through the Hard Parts

I haven't tweeted, or blogged, or participated in any of the interlinked social networks in the past couple of weeks.  My todo list (automated of course) keeps building up reminders to go out there and be visible.  But I haven't.  The reason is a critical part of a novel coming out next year.

Some stories are a joy to write.  I can sit down and turn out thousands of words in a day with no effort.  The story is just ripe and ready, and all I have to do is keep those fingers moving.  I wish they were all that way, but sometimes a story takes a turn into the rough ground.

Most of my published novels are YA science fiction that in my fondest dreams are stocked in school libraries across the country, shelved between Heinlein and Norton.  It's those shelves that formed my taste in reading so many decades ago.

But the novel I'm writing right now has sections that I couldn't recommend for that shelf.  I'm writing a novel of post-collapse civilization rebuilding and part of that struggle is the battle against the dark spiral of human nature that would just love to be free of the constraints of civilization. The story demands I write this part to the best of my ability, but I don't like it.

So that's where I'm at.  My heroes and heroines are in deep trouble, and they and I can't just wish the situation away.  Here's where my detailed outline, by spreadsheet of word-counts, my heavily annotated Google Earth map of the area, and my nightly dreams are all necessary to pull me through.  Sorry I don't have time to tweet.  I'll be back later, I promise.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Comb Bound Reader Copies?

Today was the day for printing and binding...no, it's after midnight.  Yesterday was the day.  It's a long slow process to produce this very limited run of a pre-pub novel so that a handful of helpful people can read it and scribble all their notes all over it.  The printer glitched a number of times.  I ran out of toner for the laser printer.  Working the comb binder kills my back, so I have to build these over several hours with break time in between.

And it's certainly crossed my mind that I could print the novel to a PDF, upload it to Lulu, slap a default cover on it and have them printed and shipped to me for not too much more than I'm spending doing it all manually.

But I won't change any time soon.  I think I like this compromise.  I've tried a number of different ways, with a dozen or so different novels.

A decade or so ago, I talked Mac, a co-worker at Motorola, to read several of my novels.  Back then, I gave him the regular manuscript, a ream of double-spaced courier printed paper loose in a box.  After all, that's what the publishers wanted.

But after getting his feedback, I realized I'm not getting this first-reader advice from editors in some publishing house in Manhattan.  I'm getting feedback from real people who read books.  And the books they read are single-spaced, with a good font in narrower columns.  And they don't have to work though hundreds of loose sheets of paper either.  So my first variation was based on magazine formatting.  I was using Microsoft Word at the time, so it wasn't terribly difficult to write a macro to change the font and spacing, and throw it into a two-column format.  That's what I used for several books.

Then by the time I began formatting books for real, I had acquired Adobe InDesign and could handily create the proper formatting for the 6 x 9 inch pages I'd be using.  So, it was easy to create the PDF that Lulu wanted, and I used that to create Advance Reader Copy books back when I was trying to get pre-publication reviews.

So why am I still printing a 6 x 9 page to 8.5 x 11 sheets and comb binding them?  I think it's to encourage my first-readers to mark up the pages.  Many people have a real problem marking in books.  I'm not sending these to professional copyeditors or proofreaders who do this all the time.  I'm trying to get the feedback of readers, and everyone is used to marking on 8.5 x 11 inch pages in various types of binders, especially if they have big fat margins.  Giving them a trade paperback is a different animal and I just have to believe they would be more reluctant to mark it up.

So, I'm stuck with a process that chews up the toner cartridges and leaves me with a back ache, but if I catch those typos and horrible sentences before publication date, it's all worth it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Lion Report

So, I'm in my second day of OSX 10.7 and it's getting better.  I expected to like 10.7 AKA Lion.  I'm always an early adopter of these things.  I took the precaution of making a separate 10.6 partition so that I could still use some of the obsoleted software, but I haven't had to use it yet.  I also installed the free Scroll Reverser tool that let me get used to the new standard scroll direction on my trackpad.  That took a little over a day before I forgot about it.  One scroll direction is as good as another and if it's the same direction my iPad uses, then all the better.

At first, I started using full screen mode for apps whole-heartedly, but I've had to back off on the Safari version.  Whole screen mode there hides my bookmark bar unless you go bump the cursor up against the top of the screen to make it unhide itself, and that just makes every trip to the bookmarks about three times harder.  Instead I moved Safari to it's own screen manually and just sized it as large as it would go.  I get most of the benefits of full-screen without the side-effects.

There's definitely a learning curve with Mission Control, which took over the grid of Spaces that I used to use, but it's getting comfortable.  I did have about six hours or so of feeling like Lion was a mistake, but that's going away.  Just a GUI learning curve thing and I've been through that too many times to count.

Thus far, I would recommend users to switch to Lion, but expect to bull through the period of strangeness, knowing it'll get better very soon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Fish Left Behind

We've been in drought conditions for quite a while now.  For the third time in the decades I've lived here, the pond on the eastern side of the property is going dry.  It's barely a puddle down in the bottom.  And I have no fear that any of the fish I stocked the pond with back a year and a half ago will go to waste.  Most of the ponds in this area are dry or nearly so, so any open water attracts egrets and herons.  There's even a little group of ducks from I don't know where (on the left side of the picture) that are living here now.  From a bird-watching perspective, it's fascinating.  From a fisherman's view, it's heartbreaking.  Personally, I have my fingers crossed for hurricane storms to come and dump a few feet of water my way.

My tweets from Feb 9, 2010:

Getting ready to stock fish in the pond. 100 catfish 100 perch 10 larger bass http://twitpic.com/129kn7
Letting the minnow sized fish get used to the pond temperature before turning them loose.  http://twitpic.com/129l0k
These bass are acting too tame. I would have preferred little ones but it's all the truck had.  http://twitpic.com/129n3f
The perch adapted the quickest, schooling up and heading off together.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Emperor Dad Ebooks are Now On Sale

This is an experiment for me.  Way back before I had any idea what price to set my ebooks at, I chose $4.99 as a reasonable value.  Royalties from that price had returned about the same per sale as a paper copy sold off Amazon.

But things have changed since then, and I haven't kept up with the shifting marketplace.  One reason was my reluctance to tinker with the 'product' once it was already on the shelf, so to speak.  But the combination of having Emperor Dad serialized on my Henry's Stories e-magazine for free and stories I've heard of vastly increased volume when books are dropped in price, I'm trying this experiment.

Starting today, as soon as the various marketplaces update their databases, Emperor Dad will be available for 99-cents.  Depending on the results, I might adjust the prices on the other novels as well.  Perhaps a sliding scale based on age perhaps?  I don't know.  This is an experiment.

So if you have a Kindle or a Nook or what-not.  Check your favorite ebookstore and see if you can pick up a copy for next to nothing.  

InDesign CS5.5, ePubs and Blockquotes

Juggling ebooks never ends, does it.  I have been working to leverage the enhancements to InDesign in its CS5.5 incarnation, hoping to streamline my ebook production.  Ideally, I'd create one copy of the book, formatted for trade paperback, and then with the use of the Articles panel, remove and re-order to eliminate some excess not used for the ebook versions and use anchored images to keep them showing up in the e-text in the proper places.  I am also using the ability to edit for export the tags associated with paragraph styles.

So I was rudely interrupted from my pleasant dream when epubcheck complained loudly that all my blockquoted text was illegal.

It seems this is illegal:

<blockquote>
this is text
</blockquote>

Which used to be just fine.
Now it's supposed to be:

<blockquote>
<p>
this is text
</p>
</blockquote>

Now I have to decide whether to edit the code manually, or learn how to make InDesign generate the proper code.

UPDATE:  It seems the easy solution is to ignore the tag exporting for blockquote.  Instead of selecting 'blockquote' for a section of indented text, leave it at [Automatic].  This will export a <p&gl; tag with a special class and generate CSS that will indent the section.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Repairing Cracks in the Pool

It was a true dilemma.  The exceptional drought in this part of Texas had pushed my pool a little too far.  The cycles of wet and dry over the years had caused the ground to settle such that the pool's plaster skin had cracked.

Now, the cracks had been there for a few years, but there had been no noticeable water loss before.  This year, with water rationing ratcheting up, I was having to add water to the pool frequently just to keep it at a level for the water pump to function.  No water circulation and the pool would go to pea soup green in no time flat.  I've had it happen before.

So we called the pool leak specialists.  Austech Pools advertising sounded good, so although it seemed expensive (don't mind me, everything seems expensive), we called them in.
Arriving with hydrophones and all kinds of cool gear, they quickly determined that no, it wasn't a pipe leak.  Those cracks had just gotten wider and were the main cause of my water loss.  I winced a little when they gave me a repair quote, but I'd either pay it in water bills, or run up against rationing limits or something else, so I had them come back.

Well, yesterday, they drained the pool.  Today was the day for the repair.  Superficially, it looked simple.  He took a routing tool and dug into the cracks to make them wider.  Then he filled them in with an epoxy substance and smoothed it over.

We chatted the whole time about science fiction, philosophy and the like, so it was and interesting morning.  In the end, the cracks were patched and now I wait for several days for the sealant to properly cure before refilling the pool.  The birds, the honeybees, the squirrels and I will all appreciate it when the water is back.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

How long did it take to write your novel?

How long did it take to write your novel?  I've gotten this question a number of times, and it throws me a little, because of the way I write.

Right now, today, I have several writing/publishing tasks to do:



  • Star Time, my latest novel, is just now coming to market, so I have to update my Henry Melton website, update the Wire Rim Books website, write emails to potential reviewers, notify the local book stores, and generally make some noise so that people will know that the new novel is out.

  • Star Time needs to be converted into e-book formats and placed with all the Kindle store/ Barns and Noble/ Kobo, Apple iBookstore, and Google Editions.

  • I need to file copyright for the latest works, update my travel plans for conventions, etc.

  • The next scheduled novel, The Copper Room, a YA Science fiction time-travel-ish story is written in first draft, but I need to start collecting First Readers to send hand-printed copies to so that they can mark it up and tell me where I've messed up.


  • The direct sequel to Star Time, titled The Kingdom of the Hill Country, is outlined, but only 10,000 words or so into the first draft.  I'm spending half my work day right now working on that story.

  • My personal magazine, Henry's Stories, has to be updated.  I'm sort of committed to putting out 2,000 words every MWF, on there.  That means polishing up some unpublished stories, reformatting previously published ones, or writing new ones.  While I can mine the old stuff, I really need a constant influx of new stuff as well, so that means I have to fit short fiction writing in with the novels.

  • So, considering that a typical day might have some or all of these elements running, it's hard to put a clear label of how long it takes to write a novel.  The short answer is that in the past, I've written two novels a year.  But that was before a lot of this publishing, marketing stuff got in the way.

    Oh, yes, and I have to have a life fitted in there somewhere.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Cover Art for Star Time

    The cover for the new novel Star Time, coming out in about a month, is  unique for me.  As those of you who follow my publishing efforts are aware, I have been lucky to have gotten some wonderful covers for my YA series of books.  And there's no doubt I'll be tapping those same wonderful artists for additional books in that series.

    But Star Time is the first book in a whole new series and I had an urge to try for a distinct and different look for the books of The Project Saga.  In fact, I spent so much time visualizing the cover that I realized that, for once, my own Photoshop skills might be enough to put it together.

    I have always done a lot of the overall cover design--just not the actual artwork.  I place the text and position the elements and add the logos.  I've also built the series logos, like I've documented before in these blog postings.  It was a step outside my normal comfort zone to do without a real artist this time, and I'll only do this under certain circumstances.  I'd much prefer to pay the money and be tickled by the results as I've done before.

    This time, I wanted a clean, nearly photographic look.  For Star Time, the star Betelgeuse is almost a character itself, and showing off its blaze, in the Orion constellation was an easy task in Photoshop.  A skyline of Austin, with all the electric lights blacked out was also doable, although I had Mary Ann's help and her fancy camera there to get the source image.

    The final component was the human element, and just for this instance, I had access to a son-in-law who could easily pull off the uber-geek hero that was needed.  I even took a few cell phone videos of that photo shoot.  Take a look at the fun youtube short I composed.

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Double Spacing from iPhone Notes to InDesign

    Since many of my new stories are created in the Notes application of iPhone and iPad, I just recently ran up against a new issue while formatting the results in InDesign for my latest novel.  My standard text formatting for print uses a single space between sentences.  While composing in Notes, a double-space will add a period at the end of the sentence and capitalize the next word.  This is a handy time saver while composing, but when the text is eventually moved into InDesign (or some other word-processor or layout software) I find that sentences are double-space separated.

    One of my regular clean-up procedures is to find and replace double-spaces with a single space, repeating until there are none left.  Unfortunately, this doesn't work with text created in Notes.  You see, that first space is a 'non-breaking space'.  To clean them out, you first have to do a find and replace on them, converting them to regular spaces, before collapsing duplicates.  It's a quick fix, but unless your eyes are on the lookout for resistant double-spaces, you might not even notice that they exist.

    Saturday, June 04, 2011

    Partners in Adventure--40th Anniversary, June 4th

    I met her in Palo Duro Canyon, a state park just south of Amarillo.  A church youth group held a picnic and a few dozen of us were there for food and various activities under the sprawling cottonwood trees that lined the creek that wound through the dry canyon.  About mid-day, almost everyone decided to head over to the horse corrals and do some riding.  Not me.  I knew about the caves near the Lighthouse, a stone formation in the canyon, and I wanted to do some cave crawling.  Only one person wanted to go with me.

    Mary Ann Marshall was a friend of my sister, but I didn't know that at the time.  We got in my car and drove off the main path and got as close as we could to the Lighthouse.  With my pocket flashlight and more sense of adventure than common sense, we crawled through the channels water had carved through the clay.  I was willing to make some compromises and choose more conservative routes, but she was game to go everywhere I wanted.  We came out high on the side of the cliff and by the time we had to head back to meet up with the main group, I was impressed by her adventurous spirit and toyed with the idea of asking her out.

    I was a late bloomer.  We were both in high school, but other than events mandated by parents or school organizations, I had never dated.  It was quite new for me when I asked her out to get something at the A&W drive in.

    But adventure was what had drawn us together and that never changed.  Dating was as likely to include long hikes as it was to take in a movie.  Our honeymoon was camping out in a cheap tent in the Colorado mountains.  Vacations were marked by just how many miles we could spin the odometer, from a weekend drive to Florida, to Alaska and beyond.  Our two wonderful kids were raised knowing more about geography than their school teachers and more than once had the confidence to correct errors in the text books.

    By now, we have visited all the states, most of Canada, some of Europe and Africa.  Any excuse will do.  We've chased hurricanes, and I've begun to think that they've started chasing us.  A few years ago were great, when we were on the road more than we were at home.  This year is a little slow, with medical problems slowing us down, but it won't stop us.  I'm posting this one to show up automatically on Saturday because we just might be on the road then.  Not sure where.  We tend to take interesting roads as they come.





    Thursday, June 02, 2011

    Preparing for the Loss of Rosetta

    All the rumor sites say that the next version of Mac OSX,  ( 10.7 A.K.A Lion) will not have the Rosetta utility that allows the old PowerPC software to run.  While most people won't have any problems with that, I will.  You see, I've been collecting software for a long time, and I still use the old stuff.  For example, my copy of Microsoft Word and Excel are the old 10.1 versions, and those won't work after Lion arrives.  I will also lose the ability to run some of my map generation software, my Topo display, memory card restoration software, drivers for my film and slide scanner, and too many utilities to name.

    If you are a Mac user, you can see what software is at risk on your system by running the System Profiler (About this Mac, then click More Info), then in the sidebar, click Software/Applications and in one of the far columns, you will see whether the software is Intel, PowerPC, Universal, Classic, or unnamed.  We've already lost the Classic ones and next week, we'll lose the PowerPC ones.

    Now, normal people would just hold off upgrading their computer to the latest version, and that's the advice I'm giving to some people, but I'm addicted to fresh software in spite of my huge list of vintage bits.  So, I'm in the process of creating a separate disk partition with the current 10.6 system, to that when I need the old stuff, I'll have the ability to boot back to a Rosetta capable state.

    Unfortunately, I can't find my 10.6 install disk.  My 10.5 install disk is scratched and unusable, and my laptop won't run any of the older versions.  So, many hours have been consumed today (oops, that's yesterday, it's already in the A.M. as I work on this) making a bootable clone of my current system.  Hopefully by the time Lion is made available, I'll have my benchmark system tested and running.  The joys of computer use.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    The Project Saga Logo

    Starting this year in August or September, I'll be doing a yearly book in The Project Saga, a multi-thousand year, multi-person storyline that starts in the current day but spans an era where humanity begins to shape the Solar System into new worlds where people can walk the soil barefoot and breathe the air.  There will be a bare minimum of four books, and hopefully more than double that.  This is engineering on a massive scale, where planets are moved, moons are torn apart for material, and DNA and ecologies are rewritten.

    Each of the books in this timeline will have a new logo to identify it, and this is its first public appearance.  I will still be doing books in the Small Towns, Big Ideas series of YA science fiction and other stories as well, so I needed a new logo to identify which book is which type.

    Be on the lookout for Starstrike which starts the whole thing rolling in just a few months.

    Monday, May 09, 2011

    The Big Project Book

    Coming up as my Fall book is the first novel of a large continuing storyline.  I'll probably be putting out one book a year in this saga, in with my other titles.  If you've been reading my stories since the beginning in Analog and various anthologies, you might have noticed that many of my short fiction stories took place in a common history, where humanity does not expand beyond our solar system, but instead begins a massive project to move planets and terraform any available real estate into places for humanity to live.  In with these short stories are a number of novels, some written, some just outlined, that will now begin to see print.

    So as an independent writer/publisher, I've got to come up with a logo and brand for these stories--and I need it soon.  You're already familiar with my other two:

    Home Planet Adventures for my general science fiction.

    Small Towns, Big Ideas for my Young Adult science fiction stories.


    But now I need another one, covering the whole Terraforming Project Saga.  In between my other tasks, I'm tinkering with Photoshop ideas and trying out a few things.  Unfortunately, I realized I may need to re-read everything I've already written, just to get a few details right.

    So today, I put together an e-book, just for me.  It contains all the short stories, plus several unpublished novels, all in story chronology.  If it were a paper book, it'd weigh in at over 1100 pages, but I'm creating an epub just for my reference.  It takes InDesign quite a while to do the export.  Understand that it is not publishable as is.  Some stories will need to be rewritten before they see the light of day, but for a saga where I'm moving planets and rebuilding the solar system, a one-stop handy reference is going to be indispensable.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Emperor Dad Contest

    On the Henry's Stories blog, we're about half-way through the Emperor Dad novel.  One of the plot threads is the Emperor's desire to introduce teleportation technology in a controlled fashion.  From now until the end of the serialized novel, reader ideas about new ways teleportation could be used are solicited in the comments with the best of the ideas celebrated with a prize.  Best is defined as what most tickles my interest.

    Contest page.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    iPhone Tracker

    Hot in the news is a free application that lets you get access to the some stored information that accumulates in your iPhone.  It makes lovely maps of the places you've been.  For people like me that travel and like to remember where I've been, it's a nice trip down memory lane.

    It's not perfect.  For example, not shown on the clip above is a big California dot and I haven't been to California in all the time I've had my iPhone 4.

    Now, a lot of people are getting all wiggy about the privacy implications, but if you want to get a feel about my opinions about privacy, go read Emperor Dad, for sale lots of places and also currently playing free at Henry's Stories.

    Update: corrected my memory.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Book Review: The Girl Who Wanted to be Sherlock Holmes

    Hey, it's a Bill Crider novel on Kindle for $2.99.  That's all I really needed to know.  Besides, I didn't really want to spend all day working on my taxes.

    The YA mystery novel is a fun read.  The main character is a honest and solid guy with a girlfriend(?) Shirley Homes that makes me want to read more of these.  The mystery and its unraveling was entertaining and I figured it out just slightly before the characters did.  If mystery stories are like video games, then I guess I won.  If you have a Kindle or the Kindle software on your PC or Mac or phone, then it's an easy call.  Buy it.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Radiation and Popcorn

    And I'm not talking about the Microwave Oven.

    Now, first off, I don't believe that here in Texas we'll see any worrisome radiation from the Japanese nuclear accident.  Got that?  But I write fiction, and one of my current works in progress has a bit of post-apocolyptic nuclear stuff in it so it's on my mind. I have my own Geiger counter and if you want to see what it's doing go here: http://www.youtube.com/user/henrymelton?feature=mhsn

    But I'm really writing to talk about popcorn -- lovely, buttery, salty popcorn.

    The radiation tie-in is radioactive iodine.  This isotope of iodine is really the only effect nuclear disasters like the Japanese event and Chernobyl that could possibly have any medical effect at all to people here in the US.  Luckily, the reason iodine is the worst, is that the body concentrates it into they thyroid gland, leading to cancer down the road.  That also means that by loading the body with iodine, hopefully before the exposure to the radioactive kind, the body rejects the bad stuff.

    For a long time, it's been known that taking Potassium Iodide tablets can top up the body and prevent problems.  In the Chernobyl, Poland handed out the pills to all its population and nobody got thyroid cancer.  The 11,000 cases of thyroid cancer caused by that event (UN count in 2002) happened to the other guys, who didn't take the pills.

    Now, where are these magic pills?  Sorry, all sold out.  But IF there's significant I-131 wafting our way across the Pacific, then our government will warn us.  Right?  Seriously.  I wouldn't get all panicky about it.  In fact they've said that even if you have the pills, don't take them yet.

    But what about the popcorn?

    Well, there is another source of iodine.   Now, this isn't the same thing as the iodine pills.  You'd have to literally kill yourself eating salt to get the same kind of dosage as the pills.  But, if you have sufficient iodine in your diet to meet the ordinary standards, you'll still be in better shape than if your diet is low in iodine.  So, a grin steals across my face as I realize this, I've got a perfect excuse for a daily dosage of popcorn, sprinkled with iodized salt.

    I have no excuse for the butter, but maybe there's some magic in the fat molecules?  Right?

    Now if you are really concerned about this, maybe reading this in Japan or whatever, then read all the articles in this site: http://www.ki4u.com/ I especially like their PLAN B, where if you're caught without the proper Potassium Iodine tablets, you paint your body daily with 8 ml of tincture of iodine.  (Don't drink the stuff.  It's poisonous.)

    Anyway, if you're like me, living in Texas, just look at my radiation reports and realize there's nothing to worry about.  As for me, I just bought another box of popcorn, and it isn't going to eat itself.  Later.

    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    My Other Blog, "Henry's Stories"

    For some time now, I've been enjoying many of the fine webcomic sites.  These are serial fiction, where a comic is posted on a regular (or irregular) basis.   One of them in particular, The Airship Flying Cloud, R-505, while similar to a webcomic, is actually serialized text fiction (with a graphic header).  This got me thinking about about my own works.  As you know, I write and publish science fiction novels, paper and e-book versions.  But, sitting at my desk, or killing time with my iPhone, I am writing all the time, and perhaps half of my output is short fiction -- science fiction, fantasy, an occasional mystery, and general fiction.  Being so focused on publishing my YA Science fiction novels, I haven't bothered to submit any of these shorter pieces to the magazines in years.

    Thus, I have created an alternate 'blog', which will have nothing on it but serialized fiction.  Here is my design, and rationale:  There are many people who read nothing but web pages.  While they might enjoy a novel, they never pick one up to read, because it's not in their habit patterns.  Many people read hundreds or thousands of 'novel-equivalents', but just in the course of browsing the web.  I am publishing, via Henry's Stories a regular stream of web pages, containing serialized fiction.

    To fit this model, I have a target of one to two thousand words.  Since most of my short stories run in the 3000-10,000 word range, even these will be split up into daily chunks.  However, don't be surprised at the occasional longer or shorter bit that happens because of the pacing of the story.  I will also be hauling out some longer pieces, including some full novels, probably in MWF installments.

    It is my hope, that getting these stories out where people can read them will help me get closer to my audience.  There are comments at the bottom of each page, and I welcome discussion, flagged typos, and questions.  I read them all and try to respond as quickly as I can.  It's also a good place to request more stories about a particular character.

    I have placed several stories in the queue already, with a big to-do list to follow.  Go take a look at the first one, called Patterns.

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    New Novel: Bearing Northeast Proof Arrived

    The proof copy of Bearing Northeast arrived a few minutes ago, so I thought I'd give you a peek.  It's not out yet, since I had to make a minor adjustment on the back cover, but I should have some books in hand in a couple of weeks.
    Here is the dedication page.  Take a look.  If you see your name (click to enlarge), you'll be getting a free copy as soon as I get my shipment in.

    Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    New Blog, Just for Stories

    As I type, there's a totally empty blog over here. But within hours, it will start to show serialized fiction.  With more enthusiasm than good sense, I've decided to see how well I can keep stuff coming.

    Already cued up are two stories, Patterns, a Young Adult short story that surprisingly isn't even science fiction.  Second is The Attorney for Passenger Pigeons, which is straight SF.  Both of these are never before published, but I will be tapping into my collection of previously published stories as well.  Expect short fiction, novels, old and new.  If I can make it fit the short serialized fiction format, I'll be giving it a hard look.

    So, add the bookmark.  If you use RSS, add it's link.  Share the information around.  And come by to read.

    Now, just because this is hosted as a blog, it doesn't mean I'll be abandoning this one.  Idle Thoughts is here for the long run.  See you around.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    Notes and Novels

     I've been off the social network for weeks now, for various reasons, some of them actually related to writing and publishing.  I'm deep into a brand new novel and a software glitch prompted this blog entry.
     My tool of choice for 'catch that story idea before I forget it' is my iPhone and the built-in Notes application.  My reasons are simple.  It's always there, and it syncs to my Mac and iPad.  I have my preferences set so that the default Notes folder is the one on my mail server.  Set that way, as I type, updates are made to the network several times a minute. I can 'usually' stick my iPhone in my pocket and pick up the same sentence on my Mac, using the Mail application, or on my iPad.
    It works so smoothly that my productivity soars.  I'm constantly thinking about the story, whether sitting at my desk, at a restaurant, or in the car.  It works whether I have a network connection or not.

    Now for the disadvantages.  Notes lacks many of the formatting features you would expect in a word processor for a writer.  It's really for taking notes.  That doesn't stop me.  The latest rev of IOS allows a default of three different fonts, and Helvetica, although not perfect, is good enough.  I've actually written many stories in Marker Felt, including some of novel length.  One trick I use to get past the default style is to copy a few paragraphs over to Pages, format them with chapter indents, line spacing, etc, and then cut and paste the result back into a note.  New paragraphs retain the RTF styling of the previous paragraph so my new styling is retained.  I can seed a new note with this style by cutting and pasting a couple of chapters from a previous note.  What I really want are things like underlining and italics, which can be added afterward, but would be useful at the moment of text creation.

    The second problem is that once a note gets over about 10,000 words, the frequent updates to the network get unwieldy.  As a result, I try to carve my longer works up into 5k to 10k chunks.  This updating trouble is likely the source of the glitch I mentioned up front.  Three times this novel, the most recent updates have been lost.  For most writers, this is a deal killer.  It's traumatic to lose your words.  In the last case, it was three hours work, and the loss disrupted my writing pace for a couple of days until I had re-created the scenes.

    So, if I suffered that, why am I still using Notes?  It's the productivity.  I still get more done this way -- by staying immersed in the work.  Since the tragedy, I've added a couple of safety net practices.  One, I never leave the Notes application unless I press the Done button on the menu bar, which forces an update to the server.  Secondly, while on the Mac, I regularly do a Command-A, Command-C, or a Select All and Copy.  This puts the whole current note into my copy and paste buffer.  Since I am also running the Jumpcut Mac application that retains the last few copies, I am keeping a copy of the most recent versions over the past few days.  If I had done this the first time, I would have easily been able to recover my lost hours.  Of course, the second version of that scene is actually better than the first one, so I'm okay with it.

    I have experimented with Notes alternatives, many with rave reviews, like Evernote, Journler, and JustNotes, but they didn't work well for me.  For now, I'll stick to Notes and hope for the incremental Apple updates to add the formatting and other features I desire.

    Well, it's time I went back to the story.  Later.