Thursday, July 30, 2009

Staying Connected: iPhone Traveling in Canada

As we crossed through North Dakota, I realized I hadn't yet activated the Canada voice plan nor the International Data Roaming, so both of us were in danger of the legendary roaming phone bills.

McDonalds in Bismark, just across the street from the cemetary, had free WiFi, so we pulled out our laptops and had lunch. Under the Features heading in my account, I found the radio buttons to click, adding voice and international data for the both of us. I chose the 50 Megabyte plan, hoping that by turning off Data Roaming in the iPhone network preferences except when I was actually using it, maybe I could get by on two or three MB a day. I also turned off email push and polling, no auto image downloads, and similar tweaks for my Twitter app.

We both reset our Usage numbers, and Mary Ann has been much better at avoiding using data roaming by tweeting via text message. I don't know if that is actually cheaper because international roaming texts are $0.50 each if I understand the ATT FAQ's correctly.

But the end result is that we are fairly isolated. I can't afford to check twitter twenty times a day as before. I am making certain I see all the @replies and DM's but ordinary tweets have a good chance of going unseen. I check email by loading just the subject lines and the first few lines, but unless a mail is time sensitive, I'll put off reading the whole thing and answering until I can get a motel Wi-fi signal, which may take a couple of days. Likewise, I write blogs on my iPhone Notes and copy them over when I have the chance. You may see delayed postings, and odd font styles for the duration of the trip. Sorry.

But thus far, as crippled as it is, I am still able to process important issues, like the email from my credit card company that was confused by the charges arriving from Canada the same time the air conditioner repairman posted his bill a few days late. And getting last minute updates to my convention schedule in place. We'll see how this works out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bringing Books Into Canada

When I signed up for Anticipation, the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal, I avoided trying to get a table in the dealer room to sell my books. I suspected the taxes, customs, and assorted paperwork was more than I wanted to deal with.

However, I certainly wanted to have several copies of my books on hand to show when I was talking and presenting. Leaving town I had about fifty, heavy on my two award-winning titles and about five each of the others. I wanted enough to handle visiting a few random bookstores in the States as well as enough for any agents, editors, and reviewers who might be interested. And I might sell a few as well.

I was glad I was stocked, because my first stop in Amarillo, my Aunt Joy, with no Internet interest at all, had been left out of my book announcements and I was happy to be able to give her a set, autographed.

Then stopping at Chamberlain, SD, I was able to donate a couple of FB's to libraries. Now on to Canada.

Although I had researched Canadian customs online, it was puzzling. Since I had the time, I approached Portal ND with an eye to discovering what I needed to do. I made no attempt to hide anything and when she asked the question about commercial items, I tried to explain about the books. She sent me into the office where Mary Ann and I explained it again. This lady was new, and her boss was on vacation, so she took more notes and made a phone call.

At first, she was prepared to deny entry of my books into Canada, the theory that I had no work permit, and thus couldn't legally sell them. I hurriedly explained that no selling would be happening. A few of the books would go to reviewers with no cash changing hands. We made a second phone call, and that theory passed. We got our yellow slip stamped and we were handed back to the first lady who had to inspect the car.

I noticed that she took a particularly long time flipping through a copy of "Roswell or Bust", but in the end, she said normally I'd have to pay import duties on the books, but today was our lucky day and she waved us on.

So, should I try to sell books at a Canadian convention in the future, I'll need to file for a workers permit three months in advance (she told me, to allow processing time), and expect to pay import duties on them. Good to know, and a good excuse to avoid the temptation. I should stick to selling through wholesalers who are used to that paperwork.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

South Dakota

Monday was a cruise through the gentle hills of South Dakota, over to one of the most beautiful little cities in the world, Chamberlain. This part of the world had all the rough edges buffed off by glacial ice sheets long ago, leaving curved hills covered with contouring green felt of life. Unplowed miles, at this time of the season are dotted with round bales of hay as far as the horizon. Up close too, for the highway shoulders and medians are harvested as well.

Without the need for the robotic scaffolding of irrigation systems planted fields are tall with dark green corn or white with wheat being mowed by large harvestors.
Animals, particularly ring-neck pheasants, are thick in the grass or perched on tall bales of hay, with family clutches including gray-feathered chicks learning to duck their heads down so they can't be seen.

Dropping down into the canyon that contains the wide blue Missouri River, Chamberlain's small city streets and well tended parks make it a jewel in the praries. After a quick visit to the library and high school and Twitter friend Nick, we left, heading north west, roughly following the Missouri and towards North Dakota.

Sunset found us on the hills overlooking the River, listening to coyotes calling in the distance. It was a very good day.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Maps and More Maps

One of the joys of traveling is heading off with enough time to get lost. Okay, so I have to be in Montreal in two weeks, but all I have to do today is head sort of north. I didn't even turn on my GPS as we left Amarillo.

We stopped on a whim a couple of times so Mary Ann could take pictures, and the only time we really wanted a map was trying to decide what towns were likely stopping places for the night, and to find the Walmart to buy groceries and an ice chest.

Two things made me realize what a wealth of mapping tools I have these days. My iPhone has a wonderful GPS enabled map system at hand. Unfortunately, the only built-in maps are a continent-scale map at the big end of the zoom and whatever is left in the cache at the close up ranges. So when cruising along in the panhandle of Oklahoma with no cell coverage, the iPhone map was not useful. Mary Ann picked up my GPS V, shown above, and turned it on. She'd never used it extensively, so I told her which button to push to turn it on and warned her of the delays it took acquiring satellites. She was a little frustrated using the buttons. No touch screen.

But the GPSV has wonderful built-in maps at the highway and major city roads level, and doesn't need any kind of internet. It's the one GPS I would take in an emergency, like when we were in Hurricane Ike and all the networks were down for days.

But even with iPhone to get the street address of the Walmart and the Garmin GPS V when we're out of signal range, we still need one more thing.

An old-fashioned road atlas printed on huge pages. You see, we don't know where we're going, and if the past is any guide, we're likely to pass five miles away from some scenic adventure and never realize it's there for us. The iPhone is wonderful, but the palm-sized screen has to skimp on details. There's a reason those atlases were printed large. You can see the big picture and the details in the same glance. Pocket gadgets just aren't there yet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Preparing for a Road Trip

I was just updating my calendar and was disturbed to see that I hadn't been on the road in nearly three months. That's just not right! I learned several years ago that each day on the road was worth three at home. I may not be able to live any more calendar days longer by traveling, but memories are packed when each glance out the window is new.

Unfortunately, tight budgets come to us all, and I need an excuse to get out of town. A timely wedding for a wonderful, grand-niece, (Christian did the cover for Roswell or Bust), and the wonderful news that I had to go to Montreal for Worldcon to attend the Golden Duck Awards event make for a good excuse to put some serious miles on the odometer.

Packing, unfortunately, is not going well. With a wedding marking the deadline to get off, we can't let it slide too much. They won't wait for us. Pool troubles, horse health issues, finding a friendly place for Sissy the Dog to stay; these have all caused delays in getting everything ready. Still, just think, this time tomorrow I'll be out of town, and the pool will be cared for by Sean, and the horse is at Bettye's, and friends are coming to visit the house while we're gone. And I'll be on the road.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sweating It

It's times like these that wreck a budget. One would think that income could be routed to planned things like bills and savings. Unfortunately, even though we scheduled preventive maintenance for our home air conditioner unit, that minor, predictable charge grew an extra $300+ when it was discovered that the 'oil pre-heater' needed replacing. So, we scheduled that. But shortly before the repairman came to handle that, I started hearing a bad bearing noise coming from the outside unit. He checked, and yes, the blower that keeps the heat exchanger coils cool was going out. Add another $500+, and schedule that visit. We set it up for tomorrow, the earliest he could get to it.

This morning, the noise changed, and the fan froze up. So, in the middle of a remarkable heat spell, we're doing without the AC, at least for one day. Cross fingers that the repair will come off as planned.

For the first time in weeks, the temperature was in the 90's instead of the 100's, but the rain that visited Central Texas has visited everywhere but here. I suppose once the AC is fixed, our chances for moisture will be improved.

But probably that will happen after nearly $1000 has vanished without increasing our savings, lowering our bills, or even being blown on a few smiles. I'm inclined to believe that money is an elaborate fantasy that we've all bought into. But you can all thank me for doing my part to improve the economy by putting more cash into circulation.

You're welcome.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Humble Request

At one time, I imagined that reviewers would become much more important in the economy of the book industry. My train of thought went like this: In the old days, when I was younger, any published book had the presumption of a certain level of quality. A book had to be handled by agents and editors and many levels of middlemen, the publisher's sellers and the bookstore's buyers, all before a reader ever had a chance to see it on the shelf. Bad books still slipped through, but finding one left a particularly bad taste in your mouth.

As computers put keyboards in front of everyone with the slightest itch for authorship, manuscripts came in floods, and the barriers came up among editors and agents alike. When POD printing brought the cost of entry down, and Amazon and the other on-line stores opened their gates to stock virtual shelves at minimal cost, many books of sub-standard quality became available to all those readers.

But how can a reader know what is good and what isn't? With the third-party validation of the traditional publishing industry bypassed, all that was left was reviews. I imagined high-profile reviewers would provide that role, and Oprah and her peers can easily make any book a best seller.

But that really only affects a handful of books. What about the bulk of the industry? People will only buy if the book is recommended. If the agents and editors are no longer serving that function, then what? Ban all self-published books? That's what many independent and magazine-based review organizations do. It's self-defense against the flood of books.

For people like me, who don't have a major publishing business to bless our books, we're down to less authoritative reviewers, people who've read the book and like it.

Luckily, there are a number of places humble readers like you and me can make a difference. If you have a blog, you can write a review, but even if you don't, places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble Online are happy to take reviews and attach them to the books they're trying to sell.

I have been grateful for the wonderful reviews that have shown up on Amazon. It's little things like simple reader reviews that build up over time. My only chance of ever catching a great wave of popularity is if people who like my books tell other people about it. So, I ask, if you've read one of those books up above and liked it, help other people discover it by going to Amazon or any of the other online bookstores and leaving your honest opinion. I'd greatly appreciate it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Golden Girl Book in Hand

It's less than a week before I hit the road and I had been sweating the deadline on Golden Girl. I desperately wanted a couple of books in hand when I attended the World Science Fiction Convention so that I could show it off.

The printers proofs arrived today, and while I still make some final tweaks before the publication date, I have my tangible books for readings and show and tell. It's a great load off my mind.

I was also able to hand a copy to my wife, Mary Ann, and show her the dedication page. A long time ago, my very first book, a non-fiction computer book, was dedicated to her, but as the novels came out, I had been waiting for the perfect one to dedicate to her.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Things that Work: Brenthaven ProLite Computer Cases

When my wife and I packed for Africa in 2007, a prime consideration was how closely we could get to packing everything in airline carry-on cases. Friends with prior experience warned us that lost luggage is a given in trips to Africa.

I had picked up a nice case at the local Apple Store that was just right for my 13" Mac laptop, and included lots of additional pockets and storage areas. It worked wonderfully, so well that this particular case was a constant companion on that and many other trips. Being a diabetic, I have lots of pill bottles, and being a tech geek, I have lots of cables and portable hard drives, and other gadgets. This one case, the Brenthaven ProLite, has proved the perfect case for me for years now, up until I upgraded to a 15" MacBook Pro.

Cautiously, I attempted to put the new computer in the case, but with all the padding, it just wouldn't work, not without surgery on the case which I wasn't about to do. My wife bought me a nice slipcase, but I was addicted to the extremely useful pouches. For half I year, I've made do, using the slip case for protection, but carrying the computer bag without the computer to bring along everything else.

With another extended trip on the schedule, I decided I had to upgrade, and what I wanted was the exact same case, only bigger. The only problem was that the Apple Store didn't seem to stock that size. I looked on the web and found the Brenthaven site. With a little care I found it. There were three cases, the ProLite I, II, and III depending upon which computer you had. I ordered the II and the free shipping and waited as my new case wound its way down from Washington. $99.

It arrived today, and I'm pleased that I guessed correctly. It is the exact same case, only bigger. Now all I have to do is start moving my pills, my cables, my passport, my wi-fi booster, my hard drive ....

Oh, and I'll have to decide what to do with the Africa tested and still worthy old case.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Rare Mowing

On the east side of my property is a pond that in good years stretches three acres and is bounded by the three other neighbors. It's good for fishing, canoeing and birdwatching since it's a common stopover for migratory ducks of all types. Periodically, the cattails attempt to take it over.

Due to the exceptional drought in this area, ("Exceptional" is the true technical rating) I've been watching the pond get lower and lower. There's a slight chance the shallow water left in the mud flats will go away entirely before the rains come again. On the photo above, the 'full' mark is about two thirds the way up the grassy slope. Click the images for a larger view.

The last time the pond got this low was back in '88 or '89 when we had two drought years back to back and I had the opportunity to get the mower down to the mud flats and shred the cattails that, at that time had threatened my whole side of the pond. I had fought them by wading into the muck with a machette for months, but they rapidly grew back. There were thick root systems that extended out into the pond, beyond my ability to dig them out. But the drought and the mowing had knocked out the cattails for many years.

For the past five years or so, they had been coming back, off in the northeast corner where this morning there is just a pile of shredded stalks. The water has retreated just enough to let me get the tractor down there without getting mired in the mud. We're still in a long run of triple digit temperatures, but long range weather forecasts say the Pacific will be shifting to El Nino conditions by September or October, and if past experience is any guide, a run of heavy thunderstorms could refill the pond a lot faster than you might imagine. Since I'm likely to be out of town attending conventions for a while and I hesitate to ask our neighbors and house caretakers to handle the heavy mowing, I knew this was my only opportunity.

I will be really glad when the pond refills and the new problem is how to restock the fish.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras

I've been exchanging emails with J. Michael Orenduff, comparing book tours visiting stores in New Mexico, promoting our respective books. When he threatened to buy my Roswell or Bust as a courtesy, I snatched a Kindle copy of his mystery book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras.

It was a good move. While I don't intend to turn this blog into a book review column, the mystery was engaging, the characters were ones I'd like to see again and Orenduff writes with enough authority about the making and selling of pots to tempt me into finding a batch of clay and getting my fingers dirty.

The story takes place in and about Albuquerque, a place I have enough familiarity with to visualize quite well. When I was pre-school, I lived in Belen, just to the south. As a mystery, Hubert Schuze, is a likable pot digger who turned shop owner when his free-lance archeology got him kicked out of the academic world. Labeled 'pot thief' by a changing legal system, he's hardly a crook, but when museum pots go missing, he becomes a prime suspect by collectors and cops alike. His only self defense may be to find the true thief. Perhaps predictably, dead bodies get added to the mix and Hubert and his wide collection of true friends have to work hard to dig out the truth.

I look forward to the next title in Orenduff's pipeline, The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Blow Us Away! Publishers' Secrets for Successful Manuscripts

I had the opportunity to read Blow Us Away! Publishers' Secrets for Successful Manuscripts by E. Keith Howick, Jr. of WindRiver Publishing and it was a wonderful reference I sucked up at one sitting. This is an essential read for any author before putting together that submission to a publisher. Since I've been doing book submissions for years, it was a handy refresher for many things I've learned the hard way, and an eye-opener about many things I've missed.

There is so much that an author needs to know before writing that query letter, and this is the place to get it. For example, essential knowledge of the economics of publishing is a black art to most authors, but right at the beginning, Howick spells out the simple dollars and cents of how much money is made per book and how that drives the calculations of advances. The royalty section later on gives the same detailed breakdown that shines light on parts of the business that has been obscure to outsiders.

The book backs up his advice with copious links, both of the URL kind and the ISBN kind to expand on what he has just said, plus the it is nicely indexed, which will make it invaluable as a handy reference.

The components of a good book submission are broken down and each is given its due. For example, "find your target audience" is something every author has heard, but with this book's list of categories, and their buying habits, it will bring clarity to a task that often seems fuzzy and impossible.

As a small publisher myself, I'm tempted to make this book required reading for friends who have written a book and want me to help them get it into print. Even if a book is good, the background information about the process of publication is critical to success.

And for me, written from the perspective of a traditional publisher, it's an eye-opening list of concerns for a self-publisher looking to expand beyond just publishing my own titles. I know I'll be referring to this book for a long time to come.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cover Art for Golden Girl

I was delighted to get an advanced view of the cover for Golden Girl, due out September. I think it's a wonderful cover for an adventure tale of a girl bouncing through time in her nightgown.

When the CD arrives with the final art, I can get busy laying out the final cover and, hopefully, get a couple of proof copies in hand before I have to leave on the trip that will take me to Montreal. I really want the real book to show off at Worldcon.

Having a real cover by real artists is so much better than the dumb graphic I put together for the Time Quadrants anthology.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

See You at Anticipation-Montreal World Science Fiction Convention

My schedule for the Anticipation World Science Fiction Convention has arrived. Changes may occur, but for now it looks like an interesting set of panels, reading, etc.

Session ID: 243
Title: Author Reading
Description: Ben Jeapes;Henry Melton; Cecil Castellucci.
Language: English
When: Mon 9:00 AM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Ben Jeapes, Cecil Castellucci, Henry Melton

Session ID: 319
Title: Bedtime Stories
Description: High-school-aged heroes of the here & now are confronted
with classic SF themes.
Language: English
Track: Kids Programming
Moderator: Yourself
Location: P-510B
When: Sun 8:00 PM
Duration: 12:30 hrs:min
All Participants: Henry Melton

Session ID: 320
Title: Award Winning Books
Description: Does winning a children's literature award guarantee a
good book for kids? What awards should you respect?
Language: English
Track: Kids Programming
Moderator: Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Location: P-510C
When: Sun 12:00 PM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Helen Gbala, Henry Melton, Jacqueline Lichtenberg,
Jenny Blackford

Session ID: 474
Title: X, Why? Minorities in a Large Field or the Majority in our
Description: Joanna Russ said in 1983: “But remember, one can't get
minority work into the canon by pretending it's about the same things
or uses the same techniques as majority work.” Does this mean we
should think of feminist SF (or that written by gay or black people)
as a separate field? How much should minority-advocacy SF speak to
people who aren't part of the minority?
Language: English
Track: Literature in English
Moderator: Yourself
Location: P-516AB
When: Sun 10:00 AM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Alexander Jablokov, Ellen Kushner, Henry Melton,
Kate Nepveu, Kathryn Cramer

Session ID: 565
Title: The Golden Duck Awards for Children's and YA Science Fiction
Description: For picture books, the Eleanor Cameron Award for middle
grade books and the Hal Clement Award books for young adults, this
award is designed to encourage the people to write those books that
capture future SF fans. Lindalee Stuckey introduces the award, and is
joined by a number of current authors for children and young adults
for discussion.
Language: English
Track: Literature in English
Moderator: Lindalee Stuckley
Location: P-511D
When: Fri 11:00 AM
Duration: 1:30 hrs:min
All Participants: Ben Jeapes, Cathy Petrini, Cecil Castellucci, Henry
Melton, Janet McNaughton, S.C. Butler, Michèle Laframboise,
Jean-Pierre Guillet, Lindalee Stuckley

Session ID: 729
Title: The Analog Story
Description: Known as the Analog Mafia, a selection of writers whose
work has appeared in Analog talk about what sort of story is an Analog
Language: English
Track: Creative Writing
Moderator: Stanley Schmidt
Location: P-513B
When: Sat 5:00 PM
Duration: 1:00 hrs:min
All Participants: Henry Melton, Mike Shepherd Moscoe, Paddy Forde,
Susan Forest, Stanley Schmidt

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Too Many Kindle Books, Yet Again

Back in April, I blogged about the duplication of one of my ebook titles on the Kindle Store. I had uploaded a novel Falling Bakward, via Amazon's DTP website, creating a Kindle version of that title. Amazon had used it's tie-in with Mobipocket to also make a version from the mobi format that is distributed to dozens of resellers via their Ebookbase system. For several reasons, this isn't good. For one, the versions I upload, do not have the DRM that prevents the Kindle from speaking the text, and the converted mobi versions do. I had the solution, I thought. I had used the web interface on the Mobipocket site to explicitly remove the authorization that allowed Amazon to make their version.

Unfortunately, that wasn't enough. When I created the Kindle version of this new anthology I've been talking about, Time Quadrants, I did a search on all Henry Melton titles in the Kindle Store. Up popped 11 entires. Two versions of each of the five novels, and the just released anthology.

Some time after I had revoked Amazon's permission to make their own copies of the novels, they had done so with my remaining novels. Tsk. Tsk.

So, following a pointer I dug up in the Amazon forums, I found the company's digitalrights email address and sent them a firm but polite email requesting that they remove the duplicates (and specifically listing their codes just to make sure). According to their auto-responder reply, they should get around to reading my email in 72 business hours (whatever that means) and maybe I'll get a response.

Until then, potential buyers have an additional problem. Amazon's converted versions are a few cents cheaper than mine (Amazon does like to play price games) but those versions have the DRM. It's also likely that any royalties due me from the converted versions will be caught in minimum-payment limbo and I'll never see them. All I can do is wait.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Time Travel Stories: Kindle Book "Time Quadrants"

I had been toying with the idea of seeking a bigger audience for those four time travel stories that I've blogged about over the past month. So deciding to act rather than dither, I packed them up into a tidy little anthology called Time Quadrants.

The first step was laying them out in InDesign just as if I were going to publish a bound book. It made a tidy little package, with about a 100 pages or so of actual text. However, sending it to the printer was never my goal here. I wanted to hit the ebook markets with a dirt cheap price and see if I could reach people who never saw the tweets or the blogs.

I exported the book from InDesign to the Dreamweaver format, with was just HTML. I cleaned that up and added the kindle-specific features like page breaks between stories, etc. I trimmed the graphics down to bare bones grayscale versions and put together a simple cover in Illustrator. This was an exercise in getting a product out with a minimum of expense. I didn't want a large setup cost that I'd have to consider when setting the price.

After uploading and testing the book in Kindle's DTP site, I gave it a 99-cent price tag and turned it loose. I'll do the same as a mobi-format book to the independent distributors as soon as I work out a technical glitch (FTP isn't working on my network). If I get an indication of demand for it, I'll add other formats.

I suppose if it is well received, I might produce a paper copy, but that has to wait for now. I can't match the low-end pricing once I start that route.

So, if you have kindle-toting buddies, or if the idea of a convenient package appeals to you, click here and head over to the Amazon site.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Acknowledging My Better

In our early years, while Mary Ann liked photography too, I was the one who schemed to get the camera and took many pictures and experimented with different film stocks. I had a winder to make my own film canisters from bulk Tri-X or FGRP. I had the chemicals to develop my own. At least with the black and white films. Color was far too complicated and expensive. I took vacation photos, extreme closeups and astrophotography. While none of my pictures were artistic, I did have a reasonable eye for composition. I never desired to be a photographic artist, I was much too interested in the gadgetry and pushing the limits of what could be done with the tools.

Mary Ann took a different route. Since I married her, she has always had an artistic itch. But at first, she didn't have the training for it. Her stick figures needed work. But that didn't stop her. Decade by decade, she developed the skills. She would latch on to a technique and push it to it's limits. Our mailbox has a painted squirrel on it. Christmas decorations and other household knickknacks have her touch.

And then, she started using my 35mm cameras. It was as if she'd finally found the right tools. Of course, my cameras quickly reached their limits as she found her muse. More expensive cameras. Bigger lenses. Photoshop. Professional grade tripods. Camera levelers. It goes on and on. And that's just my gadget guy's perspective.

Her artwork developed rapidly. Yes, there were some great photos taken with her Olympus point-and-shoot digital camera, but with professional tools in her hands, she took off. Tens of thousands of photos later, maybe a hundred thousand, she has blow-you-away landscapes, world famous flowers, and her own unique style that she hopes to show off at the Montreal convention. She's an artist that has found her media.

So, my little snapshots have dwindled. I take memory pictures and research pictures for my stories. But I have no delusions. Mary Ann is the photographer of the house. So to illustrate. Here is the best of my fireworks shots (taken with my iPhone) and a sampling of the many shots that Mary Ann took.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Black Hole Network

Rural living has its benefits, but solid internet connection isn't one of them. No cable, no DSL, and rural dial-up isn't even as good as dial-up. I've had ISDN for awhile, but that's gone. At the moment, I'm using two network sources, both with serious problems. HughesNet has horrible bandwidth caps, and it's easy enough to hit the daily limit by accident, especially with video clips, Flash websites, and automated software updates.

I also use the AT&T 3G USB modem, which, when it works, provides a comfortable level of connection. I can download video from iTunes and handle the software updates with no problem. Unfortunately, it's not stable. Often, several times a day, something strange happens. According to the system preferences panel as shown above, I'm still connected to the internet, packets are sent to the AT&T system, but nothing comes back. Send is active. Receive is dead. It's like a network connection to a black hole.

I'm using the Mercury device as shown, and when it is in black hole mode, both blue LEDs are shining solidly, as if everything was fine. And if I click the Disconnect button, it takes a minute or so for the software to time out, as if it's trying to negotiate an orderly shutdown but can't.

The only partially reliable way I've found to bring the network back more solidly is to shutdown the Mac Mini it's connected to for five minutes and restart. Whether that's a software cleanup or hardware cooling down is uncertain. Or it could just be my imagination.

Still, erratic network connection is better than none. I just wish it didn't take up so much of my time.