Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cover Art Makes Such a Difference

Last year I tried selling one of my novels, Emperor Dad, as an ebook off my website. While I had a few buyers, I was not satisfied. It needed cover art and I asked around for someone who could do it.

Scott Cupp pointed me to Wes Hartman who was working for Antarctic Press. With a few emails exchanged, he worked me in. The end result of numerous emailed prototypes and a hangup in getting the final work sent to me while I was off in California makes a big difference. I reworked the formatting of the ebooks to include the cover art and notified everyone who bought it so that they can get a free upgrade.

Now I need to see just how many ways I can use this. Advertising flyers, bookmarks, posters. Hmm.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The 1 terabyte hard drive that I ordered last week arrived today. I'm still amazed at how cheap hard drives are today. The first hard drive I bought was a 20 megabyte drive that I attached to my Radio Shack Color Computer. I believe it was over a thousand dollars at the time. Before then I'd managed with ever larger banks of floppy drives. Getting a combined storage of one megabyte from all that whirling plastic on my home brew S-100 computer in its six-foot tall metal rack was a mental breakthrough itself.

At work, we began to experiment with storage servers which had banks of hard drives with redundant power supplies. The combined storage was parceled out to the various users to supplement the limited space on the desk top computers. I can remember when that server finally reached the one terabyte milestone. I couldn't imagine how much storage that was.

How times change. Mary Ann has about ten hard drives for her photo storage with a combined capacity of four terabytes. That doesn't count the multi-volume set of DVD folders she uses for archive, which is probably more than twice that total capacity. She's surpassed my storage needs by quite a bit.

My total life's work of fiction, with supporting research notes is handily contained in under 500 megabytes. My personal files on my laptop, excluding applications and video files, half fills my laptop's 100 MB drive.

But it's the video that prompted me to buy the 1TB drive. Over 300 movies, a few purchased from iTunes, but the bulk captured with EyeTV, make up about 300 gigabytes of storage. On the TV Shows branch are 37 different shows with hundreds of episodes, with a combined capacity of about 350 GB. I had been storing them on two twin 500 GB drives, but while they are certainly nice drives and not filled, they have a fatal design flaw for my usage. Each time they are powered down, you have to manually push the power button on each drive to turn it on.

On this last RV trip, this meant that every time I parked the RV, or every time I turned off the electricity to conserve battery life overnight, I had to reach up into the cabinet and turn them back on again. Enough of that!

So I purchased the LaCie Big Disk, which remembers that it's supposed to be on, even when I cycle the power. For the past few hours, iTunes has been 'Consolidating' the video library from the two original drives onto the new one. The 500 GB drives will work nicely for Mary Ann for her next marathon photo shoot, and maybe by the time I fill up this new storage, hard drives will be twice the size for half the cost. That's the way to bet.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wildlife -- Analog March 2006

Wildlife was written while Mary Ann and I were up at Traverse City on one of our combination photo shoots and science fiction convention trips. For some reason we needed to spend the night in a motel rather than in the RV (probably because it was in the shop for some reason), and we found a nice place right on the water. Just outside the door, walking the beach were a number of wild birds. I particularly remember a blue-winged teal and it found its way into my fiction. Here are the first few lines:

Greg Hammersmith frowned at the frozen image of a blue-winged teal tugging at the grass with its beak. The keystone is off. The deck-of-cards projector tracked his finger and corrected the frame.

"Off." The bird vanished, long enough for him to spray a fresh layer of Canvas on the wall where the image had been. "Calibrate and burn. Ten percent impressionist. Two inch frame, cinnamon."

After the projector did its thing, Greg picked the gadget up and stuffed it in his shirt pocket.

That gives the room some life!

But his smile faded. I've already used up one bottle of Canvas already.

In his pocket was every picture he had taken in his thirty years as a nature photographer back on Earth. There were many good shots, one blank space on the wall, and a nagging need to fill it.

One thing for sure, there would be no landscapes. Not with the scenery outside.

Read the rest at my Website.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Free Stories

If you read this blog via RSS, and don't actually visit the web page, then you might not notice the links in the sidebar. So take a moment and click over.

Back? Okay. I have added a link that highlights some of the free stories I've posted on my main website. This isn't new. For years now, I've posted the full text of short stories that I've had published in various magazines and anthologies. I don't have all of them up yet, because sometimes the original files were lost and I have to scan the story back in from the published pages.

I think I'll make occasional posts here, highlighting a story -- for those people who are just a little tired of reading about my car and RV troubles.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Gene's iPod

While visiting my parents last week, they noticed me playing with my iPod. I had music and photos and notes and videos and games, but when they asked, I confirmed that essentially, it was still a music player. A few minutes later and Gene asked, "Can you buy those with Bob Wills music on them?"

Now my father has been pretty much confined to home other than doctor's visits for some time now, and his hearing has limited a lot of what he can do and enjoy. They tend to watch the TV with closed captioning and he hasn't turned on his 8-track music player in quite a number of years. But any interest in new activities was a good sign, so I went into town and picked up a $79 iPod shuffle from Circuit City and downloaded some Bob Wills music from iTunes. I was fully expecting his interest to have faded, but it was hardly a huge expense for the experiment.

I handed him the tiny player and showed him the simple controls ... and was excited as he took to it instantly. "I'd about given up on music, because of my hearing." But the iPod can be turned up loud enough for him, and he listened intently for the next two days of my visit, and logged quite a few hours on it.

Of course, it makes it even harder for my Mother to get his attention, but he began to talk about the old music he'd heard before. I got an email from my sister who visited them after I left, asking how to get some Al Hirt music he's requested.

The rest of the family is all in the act. Gene's great grand daughter even complained at the injustice -- Gran Pa had an iPod before she did!

The only downside is that after moving all that music over to his computer for his playlist, I ended up 'San Antonio Rose' stuck in my head for days.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

California Trip Summary

I'm home again, for a couple of weeks at least.

We left at the first of the year, heading to Amarillo on January 2, where we stayed in our RV parked at my sister's house, visiting and caring for my parents. My mother was recovering from an infection. But then, the blizzard was coming and we had to get out of town and head south quickly, or we'd be stranded too long for Mary Ann to make her conference in Palm Springs.

But the RV wouldn't start. Walter, my brother in law, crawled under the RV with a couple of screw drivers and shorted the starter relay to get it cranking, and we headed south, chased by the swirling snow. We made it to El Paso where the weather was clear, but again it wouldn't start. Thus began my 5 day stay in El Paso while parts were ordered. Mary Ann took the Jeep and moved on to Palm Springs, and once the parts arrived and the RV could move, I followed.

After her conference, we stopped two days in Malibu and then headed north all the way to Oregon on I-5, discovering also that the propane heater in the RV was in the process of dying. Resolved to camp only where there was electricity, we moved on to Crescent City and spent a little more than two weeks while she photographed the seacoast up into Oregon and the Redwoods. And I discovered that the Jeep's clutch was wearing out. After all, it had 250,000 miles on it, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. We had it replaced and then we moved down south along the coast.

Westport kept us four days with the dead whale and more scenic surf photos to fill Mary Ann's memory cards. Reluctant to leave, but knowing we had deadlines we moved south again. That's when the starter turned on -- and wouldn't stop. It sounded horrible and I had to cut a wire to the relay to make it stop. But with the engine running and knowing it wouldn't start again without repair, we changed course to Oakland where we left the RV at a truck service place and for the next 8 days we toured San Francisco on a day by day basis, never knowing if the RV would be fixed that day or not. Of course, Mary Ann can take pictures anywhere and that's what we did.

With the melted starter replaced and some transmission control cable changed as well, we knew time was getting short so we drove to San Simeon where the Elephant Seals lived. It was only a three day stay, but it was mating season, and the 5000 pound giants were very active and very photogenic.

And then on to San Diego where Mary Ann took photos of the newborn Harbor Seals at La Jolla and we took a one-day nature cruise to the Coronado Islands. And then it was time to head east. We drove 30 miles out I-8, and then had a fire under the engine hood. It was a little one, and I didn't even know it was a fire until later, but with only 5 cylinders working, we limped back to civilization and put the RV in the Dyno Shop for diagnostic and repair. (They discovered the fire.)

That left us another couple of days on the coast. We drove in the Jeep up to San Clemente for one night and down to Imperial Beach for another. And then the RV was fixed. (Best mileage I'd ever gotten after their tune up. Over 8 Miles per gallon!). And we had to head back east for real.

We were two nights on the way, one stop at Texas Canyon in Arizona, and the second night at San Antonio, NM, where we checked the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge -- sadly depleted of cranes as they had already begun to move north.

And then we were back at Lake Tanglewood outside Amarillo for another visit with my parents. We were there 6 nights and they were so much improved that we finally made it back to Hutto.

Just in time to clean out the RV and put it in the shop. To be fixed: Leaks in the roof, the heater, the motorized step, the transmission noise, the loose bumper, the leaking plumbing, the satellite dish and a long list of other minor issues.

I just hope it can all be finished quickly. We have a trip coming up soon.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pirates and Pups

We've been in San Diego for a few days now. We found an RV campground near the La Jolla exit off I-5 in between the Budweiser plant and a string of auto custom shops. It's a fairly convenient spot for access to the the La Jolla area where Mary Ann has been taking extensive photos of the harbor seal pups being born. She's also being caught up in the political drama.

The harbor seals have taken over a protected cove that had originally been constructed to be a swimming pool for children back in the 1930's. It silted in, the seals came, and now the community is split between the people who want the pool dredged out and returned to its original use (they probably have the law on their side) and the people who love the seals and want to keep this as a place where people can come watch them (probably have the majority). Personally, I want to just enjoy the seals and keep well out of the way of the politics.

Yesterday, we took a break from the seals and caught a nature excursion off to the Coronodo Islands, four rocky little islands off in Mexican waters. The attraction is the dolphins and whales in those waters, the seals and sea lions on the tiny isolated beaches, and the large numbers of birds that roost on those protected cliffs.

The captain also told stories of the islands, including pirates that were based there during the gold rush era, and the rum smuggling that was done in the prohibition years. He told a good yarn or two, but when he got down to pointing out the wildlife I had less confidence in his facts. Having just come from the elephant seal areas of San Simeon, I knew he was out of date on that species.

On the way back in, we encountered a pod of gray whales that were being attacked by dolphins. At least that's what it looked like. From my seat up front, I could hear the radio traffic between the whale water cruise ships that had all closed in to watch, and everyone was puzzled by the action. At one point a pair of the whales came right in front of the bow of the ship and the captain had to take the engine out of gear and hope for the best. It was a magical sight, seeing the two glide by just under the surface of the water.