Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just a Reminder: Protect Your Friends with BCC

I just got a cute mailing from my sister that showed some really wonderful pictures of what farm kids could do with hay bales. I'm glad I got it, just like I appreciate the mass mailings from my other sister and my grand niece and a few buddies here and there. I do worry a little, however, about all those other people who got the same mailing.

Now, if you have 6 people in your mailing list and they all show up together at your Christmas party, then you probably can just ignore this blog. Send your pictures however you want. But if you have dozens, or like me, hundreds of people in your address book, then sending an email addressed To: everyone can be a bad idea.

The problem that worries me is that everybody's email address is right there for everyone else to see. And if just one of those people happens to forward you cute email on to more people, people you don't know, then the chances are that you've just given your friends' and relatives' email addresses to a spammer.

The solution is pretty easy. Most email programs allow you to address your email three ways, with To: and with CC: and with BCC:

CC stands for Carbon Copy, named in the dark ages when people made duplicate documents by typing on two sheets of paper at once with a piece of carbon paper between them to make the ink images on the second sheet. Usually, you address the email with To to the main person and with CC to someone else who should also see it.

BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy, and it sends the email to everyone on that list, but hides the actual email addresses from everyone else. The person will get the email as usual, but it will appear to be addressed to Undisclosed Recipients.

Using BCC will still get your email out to everyone, but the person who receives it won't see all the other people, and their email addresses. When they forward it on (and if it's cute, they will), then your friends' and relatives' email addresses will be protected from the spammers.

It's simple, and I know most of you know this already, but some don't. Personally, it's too late for me anyway. I've been trying to be famous and my email has been out there for the spammers to find for many, many years, and they have. So it's okay to forward my address, but many people would appreciate your care to protect their privacy. Okay?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Always Need More Storage

The following was a reply to another photographer about hard disk storage for his raw photo files on the MacNN forums. I got carried away, so I thought I might as well post it here as well. So if you've been thinking about saving your photo files:

To the original poster, my wife is a nature photographer and we've been fighting the HD capacity problems for several years. Back in 2006'ish, I convinced her to run mirrored disks, but it wasn't real Raid 1, just manually duplicating everything (with a pair of DVD's burned for backup as well), but since the mirroring wasn't automatic, she'd get in the habit of going back to one of the mirrored drives and working her photoshop magic there, but not keeping the updates duplicated. My one attempt to run a real RAID 1 on firewire drives using the Mac's built-in software was less than successful due to wife's curse of the semi-alive cables that were constantly tangled and unreliable.

Next step, I purchased a Buffalo TeraStation with 4 500 drives that provided a RAID 5 solution over the home network. From the start, it was unsuccessful for her workflow because even with gigabit ethernet, she wasn't getting the speed she needed to browse her photo library via Bridge. It became a side repository for photos that were less used.

Next, as the numbers of drives became unmanageable, we went with a Drobo. With a FW800 connection, she was immediately happy and began the process of moving her substantial library of photos over to it. I began buying 1.5T drives to increase the capacity in her 4 drive Drobo until it was clear that we would need more. There are 2T drives out there, but the cost per GB is still too high to use them. Drobo uses RAID-like technology, but with their own easy to use software. To add more capacity, just remove a drive and put a bigger drive in its place. The Drobo Desktop software gives you hints and warnings. If it's green, everything is fine. If yellow, it needs more capacity but still works and still protects files against a HD failure. If red, you're in danger if a HD failure occurs. When we unplugged a drive (hot swap) it went from yellow to red but still allowed her to use her files normally and then spent some hours integrating the new drive into the set, at which time it went back to green.

This month, I purchased the 8-drive DroboPro and moved the four drives as a set to the new box (and after a moment's panic when I had inserted the drives upside down and it couldn't recognize them) it came up with the library running fine in its new home. I plugged in a couple of 1T's and a couple of 500G's to fill out the slots and it made more capacity. Mary Ann promptly began moving still more of her library from individual drives to the new redundant storage. I can see that we'll need more 1.5T drives soon and I can use the smaller ones in the old Drobo chassis for an on-the-road Drobo for our frequent road trips.

Last night, about midnight, Mary Ann had connected the last one of her old 2006 drives and started a copy session that would have completed her move of photo libraries to the new Drobo Pro overnight. Just then, one of those sneaky, vile, cables wrapped itself around her leg and as she got up from her desk, the 2006 HD went sailing across the room, still blindly copying files, until it slammed hard on the ground and began making *horrible* sounds.

I was called in and spent an hour removing the Seagate drive from its chassis and confirming that it wasn't a fan making that noise, but it was indeed the spindle inside the drive. She wasn't going to be getting any of those photo file back. Luckily, this was one of those 'manual' mirrors we had started back then, so it appears that almost everything was available from other sources, so the trauma is reduced. But still, we're looking to see what kind of off-site storage we can come up with to protect nearly 10T of photo files.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Writer's Nightmare

The notices started coming in today via twitter, email, and Facebook comments. They all said roughly, "Hey, I saw this on the news and I thought about your novel."

I've been distracted and pretty much useless all day, tracking the story of the boy who supposedly climbed aboard a lighter than air flying saucer and was being tracked by rescue and news crews trying to figure out how to save him before he was hurt by the altitude, freezing, or a rough landing.

It was all so eerily familiar. I had written a very similar event in my novel "Lighter Than Air" published in 2008. In my science fiction version, the saucer was made of a lifting foam, but the events, where the teenaged hero's little sister climbed inside and launched herself, were too close. I had written about the difficulty, the near impossibility of rescuing someone from a balloon. I had also dealt with the freezing temperatures at altitude and the dangers of getting a helicopter too close.

As I searched for news reports and video streams, I could imagine all the horrible things that could go wrong. I didn't need other people to mention them. I'd done my research.

And I felt guilty about it all. It's hard to explain, but I'd created events, fictional ones, that had somehow come alive, with horrible real consequences. I only hoped that the Heene family had never read my novel.

As we know, the boy was safe. As I write, it appears he never was aboard the flight after all. It was an outcome I had hoped for, but hesitated to let myself believe. When I saw the first videos, I thought, "that's too small for that much lift", but it was too close to be convincing.

I have heard of other authors who have had their murder/theft/terrorist storylines become the events of news reportings. I have a lot more sympathy now than I did before today. Even when there's no direct cause and effect, the mind makes the connection.

Thanks for a happy ending.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The FTC Issue

Having just waded through the 81 page PDF of the Federal Trade Commission's ruling commentary, I clipped just the following sentence:

"When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed."

In my opinion, we were doing just fine before the FTC added its two-cents, but if the rules have changed, then I've got to make sure I'm compliant.

The issue is this. As a blogger, I sometimes review a book or a product. If I got the item free, I need to tell my readers so. Looking backward in time, this book review is the only one that I did from a free copy (an emailed advance reader copy). In the future, I'll find a way to mention that I got the book free somehow. Everything else I've reviewed were things I bought. I'm annoyed that I have to even do that much. If I let it slide, it would probably still be okay because of that parenthetical exception in the quote; (the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience). Does anyone really expect that book reviews are done exclusively by reading paid-for books? Especially book reviews in advance of publication?

But I'm also on the other side of the fence. I write and sell books. Getting book reviews is absolutely crucial to letting people know that they exist. To get book reviews, I send out quite a few free books to reviewers. Now, all of a sudden, I'm on the hook with the federal government to make sure that those reviewers, if they should decide to write about my novels, disclose that they got a free copy.

I can't do anything about that for books I've already sent, but I suppose I'll have to come up with a boilerplate comment that says something like, "Don't forget to mention that you got the book free or the Feds'll come after you." Grump. Grump. I hate all the extra work the my government is handing me.

And now the point I'm still unsure about; the quotes. When I get a new review, I typically read through it, looking for a quotable sentence or two, some magic words that will instantly cause potential readers to plop down their nickels and buy my book instantly. I take those quotes and use them on the back of the book, in advertising flyers, and in my catalogs. Does the FTC rules now demand that I go back through all past and future quotes, and find out which ones came from free reviewer copies and which didn't and stamp some ugly disclosure text on them? Does it mean that every book publisher in America has to do the same?