Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! Start rolling out those barrels...


There's not much to say today except HAPPY NEW YEAR! The old year has seven or eight hours left in it, as I write this. I find myself looking both backward and forward, at the events that surprised, disgusted, delighted and grieved us during 2008, and at the events that ought to get us up on the soap boxes next year.

Ought-eight was the year everybody got rid of George W. Bush; it was the year Americans elected a president of color ... it was also the year when people were hoodwinked by the religious right, into voting against civil liberties and human rights. However, it was also the year when the aforementioned religious right well and truly shot their bolt, and "all came out in the wash." Their lies and perfidy became common knowledge, and as they saying goes, "they can't pull that trick again." Gay marriage rights will be back on the ballot sheet very soon, and this time the people of California will go to the polls with their eyes wide open.

It was the year Heath Ledger died; the year the recession hit the whole world broadside. The Olympics went to China ... China could no longer disguise its air pollution problems. The global climate went bung some more, and did it faster than anyone had ever expected ... but record snowfalls are being taken by some idiots as a sign that there's no such thing as global warming! Apparently, we need to start building "proper" power stations as fast as we can. I read a feature article in the UK's Telegraph online; I read it because I thought the teaser line promised a great joke, and was two thirds through it before I realized, this buffoon is deadly serious, and so are the pea-brains who left comments on the page: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/3982101/2008-was-the-year-man-made-global-warming-was-disproved.html ... don't you love the title? "2008," it says, "was the year man-made global warming was disproved." O...kay.

Well, it certainly was the year that The Dark Knight showed how much money a movie can make at the box office! It also showed that there's a disturbing large part of the audience that's identifying with the psychos, not the heroes. Woah.

But 2008 was also the year when the Vatican said it was fine and dandy to believe in aliens (http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D90KSE100&show_article=1), and at the same time, gay athletes decided not to come out! Of 10,500 athletes in Beijing, only 10 were out, and only one of those was a guy (http://www.theage.com.au/news/off-the-field/10500-athletes-and-only-10-of-them-gay/2008/08/18/1218911546077.html). Statistically, it's far more probably that about a thousand of these athletes were gay or bi, but with the hurricane of Prop 8 going on in the background, who was going to come out?! The time isn't right, not yet, not quite.

Because this was also the year the Dominionists came within tickling distance of the White House. Don't get me started on Dominionists.

It was the year John Barrowman published his autobiography (!), and Aussie TV decided they couldn't show season two of Torchwood because (so they said) there was material which would offend viewers. If you believe a syllable of that.

This year, our prime minister was demonstrated to be a "cradle catholic" with aspirations to build "the great Australian firewall," meaning Aus becomes one of only five countries to deliberately and vastly censor the Internet. The others are China, Iran, Egypt and ... England. Go figure.

The year Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman starred in a major flop: Australia ... and Kidman has been blamed for it. Well, who could blame Hugh Jackman when the poor man just can't help looking like this:




See what I mean? Not his fault. Couldn't be his fault. Blame Kidman. It's all her fault anyway. (And yes, even Keegan decided to wait for the DVD ... and I'm not usually swayed by critics. I'll talk about the movie when I've rented the disk!)

It was also the year Will Smith was outed, whether he liked it or not! Kewl. Unless you're Will Smith, of course. Then, well, maybe not so kewl. The year Brad had twins ... I expect he had help there somewhere. The year Michael Jackson's nose fell off -- or was that last year? One loses track. The year Whacko Jacko ... and Mel Keegan ... turned 50. Good golly, what happened to time? The last time I looked at a calendar, it was 1997, and I'll bet Jacko would tell you the same.

It's actually been one hell of a year, and the next one will be just as weird and wonderful.

We live in "interesting times," to borrow from the old Chinese curse!

H a p p y N e w Y e a r ! I'll be back next year,

Cheers,
MK

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Counting down to 2009



As the year draws rapidly to a close you find us working furiously to complete the upload of the NARC books to CreateSpace, which puts them on the road to Amazon. They won't land there till February or March, for reasons of time (other work to do, folks: work never stops) and investment (when you're publishing a loooong backlist from Aus, getting to Amazon ain't cheap; every proof copy sets you back about fifty bucks, and you're doing how many of these little fellas?).

Slowly but surely, though, we're getting there. Right now, we're watching the mailbox for the proof copy of THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE, and when the paperback makes its appearance in the Amazon engine -- we'll have a book launch!

Right now, we're going over the NARC covers, giving them the nips and tweaks they need to meet the requirements of a different printshop. Fortunately, DreamCraft never ditches old data. The files for the Lulu versions of the covers still exist, so we're able to open them up and rearrange things. With a minimum of fuss (most of it created by the fact some fonts have gone missing, and the Amazon paperback has to have a dead zone to accommodate a barcode), we're getting through quite rapidly.

Scrounging around for fonts is an experience in itself. The long-familiar font which was used for the NARC title logo, has upped and vanished. It was a font called Lynx, and the old version is utterly unusable with Adobe, and even the latest Service pack of Windows. So ...

A quick sprint over to Google and a search on "download font lynx" turned up this: http://simplythebest.net/fonts/ ... and there was the font we wanted: http://simplythebest.net/fonts/fonts/lynx.html. Cheers to the "Simply the Best" website: they made it easy, and the font works like magic. Fixed our problem in three minutes flat.

Working with the old NARC files brought me closer to the DTP software -- DreamCraft is still sailing along on PagePlus 10, even though version X3 (thirteen, one supposes ... they switched to the 'X' numbers after 10) just came out.

Good gods ... have a look at their splash/demo pages:

I have no doubt DreamCraft will be trading up, but the fact is, version 10 was already so powerful, for anything you see on or in the Keegan paperbacks or webpages, you don't need to look further.

If you're interested in the new one, though, a word to the wise: DO NOT get it via the Serif homepage!!! They have the price set at about 80 pounds, sterling -- which is A$200!! You can get it for US$50 (about A$80) online. Check this out:



More and more often these days, you have to shop around and take care. Phenomenal deals are out there, but you have to hunt for them. (Incidentally ... yes, those are affiliate links. If I'm going to be talking about software or cameras or smartphones or something, I might as well paste in the link and be specific about what I'm blathering about. Saves you the trouble of hunting it down -- and there's a fair chance I'll earn a few bucks on the side, right? And there's no harm in keeping the bills paid.)

So this is where you find me as we slither into New Year. I don't have any specific plans for the night. A good dinner will feature in there somewhere, and fireworks -- either the local ones or the telecast from Sydney. Locally, you can take a quick sprint over to Brighton, walk out on the jetty, and watch the show from there at midnight ... a couple of hundred people do. Keegan is sometimes one of them.

And now -- back to work.

Cheers,
MK

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ebooks in your pocket, along with your music, vids and pics, camera and phone

Some revolutions kick off with a whisper ... and I think I might have just heard one. In the last couple of months I've been lamenting the price of ebook readers such as Palm, Pocket PC, iRex, iLiad, and what have you. They're way too expensive to be attractive to the average reader who's thinking about switching to ebooks as an alternative to paper, to get the cost of a book down from about $25 to about $10 or less. And for this huge pricetag, the ebook reader does one thing: it displays ebooks. Hmmm.

Now, supposing you had a gadget that displayed your ebook, played your videos, and your music, was a calculator, a flashlight, a GPS-map reader, a 5MP camera, and had a slot for a 16GB SD card ... if you had the slightest interest in paying $25/week for the service, it'll also go online, connect to the Internet, get your emails, download anything you fancy ... and, uh, make phonecalls.

Yep, it's a phone. In fact, when it launched a very short while ago, it was nicknamed "the iPhone Killer." http://www.cnet.com.au/mobilephones/0,239025893,339289872,00.htm




In fact, it's Samsung's competition to the iPhone -- the Samsung Omnia. Where the iPhone entered the marketplace at US$500 (A$800 imported into this country, which put it outside the budget of even the most devoted phonoholic), the Samsung made its debut at US$249.99 -- half the price. And the price promptly fell. http://news.cnet.com/verizon-drops-price-on-samsung-omnia/

Right now, you can shop around and get deals on these smart-phones, but -- at least online -- I haven't seen anything divulging what the actual PRICE of the actual PHONE is ... that is, companies will cut you a $100 deal on one -- so long as you sign your life away for a 24 month "plan" allowing you to download stuff by the wheelbarrow-load.

Me? I have no desire whatever to have the Omnia connect to anything online. All I need is the card slot. I can download from my PC all the music, ebooks, pictures and videos I'm ever likely to want, and I have no need for another phone. It would be so useful if someone, somewhere, would quote the actual price of the gadget, as clearly distinct from a "plan" ... and I do believe I'll be chasing this up in the new year, because --

A 5MP camera, video player, MP3 player, ebook reader, map-viewer, calculator and flashlight all rolled into one? Yes, please, where do I get this gift from heaven?! For more info on the Omnia, give this a click: http://www.samsung.com/au/omnia/

Now, to read ebooks on your shining new toy, you need to be running something called Stanza. This is an ebook reader program that's installed and ... does its thing. You download it from a website like this: http://download.lexcycle.com/. Stanza is the program that goes with the iPhone like bacon goes with eggs ... you know there'll be an equivalent that goes with the Omnia; maybe even Stanza itself, if Samsung pays a license fee to Apple.

For more about Stanza, go here: http://arstechnica.com/search.ars?Tag=stanza and here:
http://www.lexcycle.com/faq/how_to_get_books_onto_stanza_iphone

I first heard of Stanza a few months ago when Lulu.com announced that they'd just laid on a new service. For US$25 (A$35 - A$40 depending on how the exchange rate jiggles) they would take your .doc or .rtf and convert it to Stanza.

I wondered, at the time, how popular this would be with people, but I just read an article where one of the Apple gurus estimates they'll sell 40 million iPhones in 2009. The damned things are on sale in Walmart, for godsakes: "Supermarket giant Walmart will start selling Apple's iPhone 3G for $197 as from tomorrow, Sunday 28th, across the majority of their stores in America. The price, which is $2 cheaper than the official retail price, will tie customers into a two year contract with mobile phone network AT&T. The 8GB model will be the same available elsewhere, thereby ending the rumour of a potential, "Walmartised" iPhone; the move comes as Apple wants to increase the number of outlets where its iPhone is sold as it tries to reach 50 million units sold by end of 2009." http://www.itproportal.com/articles/2008/12/27/walmart-sells-apple-iphone-tomorrow/

Now, along comes Samsung with the gadget nicknamed "the iPhone killer," at half the price in its debut week ... and it does a hell of a lot more.

It's a safe bet that by the end of 2009, somewhere between 25 and 100 million users in affluent nations will own one of these things. I'll most likely be one of them -- not that I'll use it as a phone. I just need all the gizmos and the SD card slot.

That means, maybe 60-70 million users who have the hardware to read ebooks.


Not all users are readers. Maybe one in ten of these users will actually like to read! That's maybe seven million readers with the hardware to read an ebook by this time next year.

And one in ten of them will enjoy a good gay book. Target potential marketplace for Keegan-on-gizmo: 700,000.

Now, at US$25 per title to convert a book at Lulu.com, it's going to hurt. I'm looking at dropping another grand, in AUD, to even get to the starting line in this race...

But this story has a happy ending: Smashwords.

This, from Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords:

Smashwords integrates with Stanza, optimized for iPhone
We made a couple important introductions today at Smashwords that I'd like to share with folks here. First, we unveiled integration with Stanza, which means Stanza users can browse and download, directly from within Stanza, our small but growing catalog of multi-format, DRM-free ebooks from indie authors. We also released a new iPhone-optimized version of the site so folks using the iPhone/IPOD Touch's Safari browser can more easily browse and discover books.

When we launched our public beta of Smashwords back in May, MobileReaders gave us some great feedback that we were able to quickly build into the site. We welcome feedback again from those of you who are using the iPhone and Stanza.

For instructions on how to import the Smashwords catalog into Stanza, see:
http://blog.smashwords.com/2008/11/s...tanza-and.html
Thanks,
Mark
Mark Coker

Founder, Smashwords, Inc. http://www.smashwords.com

And from the perspective of the writer or publisher, here's how it works: you register with Smashwords, open a free account -- and publish titles free. You upload a .doc file, and the company takes care of file conversion, digital fulfilment, billing, tracking, reporting. Their share is 15%. It's the proverbial good deal.

I'm looking into it even as you read this. For indie publishers, 2009 looks like being very different, and it's actually quite exciting.

Stay tuned! The iPhone isn't available via Amazon at this time, but there's an interesting range of smartphones -- worth a look:



Cheers,
MK

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Internet Censorship looms closer downunder

Just in case we Aussies think we're the only ones being broadsided with impending Internet censorship -- have a look at this piece, which appeared in The Inquisitor a short while ago: http://www.inquisitr.com/13421/is-there-a-global-left-wing-conspiracy-to-kill-the-internet/

It's always about protecting children from what's available on the computer ... and I can see the point behind this; but here's the rub: parents are also in charge of TV sets, DVDs that can be highly un-kid-friendly, CDs of rap music with content that'd make a sailor blanch, plus the old but good paperbacks and magazines that depict anything and everything you can imagine, and a lot you can't!

Books, magazines, videos and music are all under similar scrutiny ... but none of them are censored or filtered the way the Internet seems to be in danger of. You have the official State Censorship Bureau for your region, and they decide what's going to be burned right there on the dock, and what's going to be rated G or R or triple-x, or whatever.

I agree with pasting ratings on websites! In fact, responsible publishers already have well-positioned warnings as per adult content. You can go into your Blogger settings and have them display a "warning" page before the blog loads, for instance. You can also slap up an image or text block in the sidebar space, giving fair warning, along the lines of "This page contains adult material, do not proceed if you have problems with this."

But how in the world is the Internet going to be regulated like television?! Various websites go offline in the UK, Australia, China, Iran and Egypt, until 9:00pm, when the sex and violence get revved up on TV?

Where is the text on the rap CD case that says, "This CD may not be played during daylight hours due to offensive content" ...?! Where's the sticker on the DVD skinflik that says, "It is illegal to play this DVD before 9:00pm" ...?!

Surely, it comes down to the responsibility of parents. Would YOU leave an inquisitive, disobedient 7-year-old in the house alone with your prominently-displayed collection of DVDs, skinrags and so forth? No? Then why don't you just password-protect the computer and TURN IT OFF before leaving the kiddies alone with it? That way, they can turn it on if they like, but if they don't know the password ("thispcisakidfreezone", or, "thispciskidproof," or "getyourdamnednoseoutofthispc," or similar), they'll just look at a pretty blue screen for two hours.

Just as parents are responsible for hiding their skinrags, p*orno novels and DVDs and locking out the "adult" channels on the cable box -- make them responsible for password protecting the damned computer and LEARNING WHERE THE POWER SWITCH IS!!!

If fact, make it illegal for parents to have unprotected computers.

Make it illegal for a unprotected PC to be in the same building with a child over 2 and under 18. That way, your pregnant 17 year old, who's home minding the twins to which she gave birth last year, and watching We Were Soldiers and Saving Private Ryan, while chain smoking with both hands, knocking back a six-pack and lighting up the whacky-weed, won't be able to start up the computer and look at sex and violence on the Internet ... where it's illegal. Fine or imprison the parents if they let this 17 year mama old get onto the computer without the supervision of a mature adult.

Okay, I'll stop being flip and glib ... but you take my meaning. Here's the bottom line:

  • Parents are responsible for their children
  • The WWW is no more virulent than TV and DVDs
  • the community at large has come to depend on the net
  • you can't cripple the net to protect little kids because
  • the community at large depends on it! And
  • parents must be MADE to take responsibility...

...even if they don't want to, or are too lazy, or too stupid.

Yet we're still on the road where all Internet users are rabbit-punched because of the few stupid, lazy parents out there. P2P is about to be worst-hit in this country .... the Rudd government is looking at just blocking the lot and calling it good.

Read 'em and weep for the sheer stupidity of "The Great Aussie Firewall":

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i3agqiMrtVoJZzcaRDg2795uSLAAD95AGJQO0

http://www.p2p-weblog.com/50226711/australia_may_block_all_p2p_traffic.php

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/22/australia_bittorrent/

...stop the planet, I want to get off!



Cheers,
MK

Flotsam, Jetsam and Dangerous Moonlight

The challenge was to put a new cover on Dangerous Moonlight, which would give readers some clue as to the fact it's a gay book ... and all of us were blank. After about two hours of pushing digital elements around, eventually we can up with this:


(You can click on the pic for a larger view -- I uploaded it to 900 pixels wide.)

If you've been with us long enough to remember the bookmark which went out as a gift with the DreamCraft edition printed in Australia, you'll recognize the figure! It's been reworked, remilled, turned around, recolored. Thank gods for digitals. This cover works quite well, and is a lot more subtle than the original version. I'm actually quite pleased.

Something came along yesterday which might be of interest to writers and DIY publishers ... but be just a little cautious. This, from the weekend edition of the WSJ online: http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/Smashwords-Introduces-Coupon-Generator-Self/story.aspx?guid=%7B1C63A952-7FA1-4ED0-9577-C0E6BA9244E5%7D

Smashwords is a new ebook hosting service. At least, I would hope it's new, because they only have something like 180 - 200 titles in their entire list at this point, including every category. I assume they've just launched, and it'll take time to get up a full head of steam.

This is something I'll be watching for a few months before I get involved. As yet the list is very short ... and there's some rather odd titles among it. If Smashwords is going to turn into something great, it'll do it in the next half year ... depends how many reputable writers and publishers use the service, and how many screw-loose oddball self-publishers jump aboard. I'll hold off a little while and watch. Here's their url, which has a duh factor off the scale: http://www.smashwords.com/

And here also is something interesting which might be useful to many, including writers and publishers: http://www.box.net/info/file-sharing ... I was impressed enough to get an account right off the bat. Box-dot-net ... the url tells all. Cool.

In other words, flotsam and jetsam. Otherwise ... it's work as usual, which seems anticlimactic between Christmas and New Year!

Cheers,
MK

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Digital publishing among the holly and tinsel

Work ... or more accurately, tinkering continues apace, as we take the raw template that actually functioned in concert with the Blogger engine, and re-re-redesign it, to get exactly what I want for the reading-screen of the first digital novel, Legends.

Here's where we are so far:


This is pretty close to what I'd imagined: loooooong scrolling art bar on the left -- long enough to continuously illustrate about 1,000 words of text ... which we'll be calling a "page" here, at least at the outset. When we've had a chance to look at it online, we'll figure out if 1,000 words is too much to run in one contiguous chunk; in which case, a "page" will be 500 words. Won't know till we try. Right now, the demo above is wearing generic "body text" -- something copied over from some page or other -- whatever was on the screen at the time.

In a few days, I'll start keying in the first few chapters and ... then the fun begins! I'll get about five posts in hand as a hedge against those days when nothing is going to get written, come hell or high water! You know the kind of day: you spend it in the emergency room with a friend who just cut his thumb off with an angle grinder; or waiting for a tow truck. And I'll get about three more posts up, online, to "float" the project. Then we'll do a newsletter, and I'll post to this blog about it, and AG will share the news, and we'll be soliciting the help of readers to pass the word via email ... we'll see how it grows.

All being well, it should grow quickly, and it'll take about six months or so to upload this whole beast. If it works out as it should, with this one finished I'll start another one. I'll let you know, through the pages of this blog, how the fiction project is going. I admit, I have high hopes for this, because publishing becomes so simple, it's delicious. No hassles, just gloriously colorful pages, and instant publishing.

This afternoon we're tackling a job I've been dreading: we really need to put a new jacket around Dangerous Moonlight, for Amazon. For the life of me, I still can't "see" a cover, but we're out of time. Push just came to shove, so it's going to be brainstorming. Four or five people kicking ideas around, and the artist (Jade) shoving digital elements around on the screen till SOMETHING starts to gel. [whimpering sound]

Lords of Harbendane was uploaded on Christmas Eve, and will put in an appearance at Amazon in about the third week of January. And Aquamarine has finally dribbled into the Amazon engine ... though you have to hunt hard and far to find the new edition (ours):



Here's the link to the DreamCraft edition:


There are three used copies (the 2000 Millives edition) changing hands at prices beginning at US$99.25! What I don't understand is why Amazon is making it so hard to find the new edition, which people can actually (or probably) afford to buy ... and also, the DreamCraft edition is the one where the typography has been FIXED. All those pesky typesetting gaffs that Millivres let through have been hunted down and exterminated, like termites. *sigh* Doubtlessly Amazon has reasons. Or maybe the engine is still in the process of registering the new book? The process takes up to 15 working days, so ... patience.

And now -- let me see if I can bash together some idea of what's going onto the jacket of the Amazon edition of Dangerous Moonlight --

Coffee first.

Ciao for now,
MK

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ode to Boxing Day: Whoville Chainsaw Massacre (aka Grinch 2)

'Tis the day after Christmas ... and I wish I could tell you I wrote this following, but I didn't. The credit goes to Jade, from Dreamcraft. Enjoy!


Grinch 2:
Whoville Chainsaw Massacre

Twas the night after Christmas and Whoville was rocking
With the kind of wild party that brings people flocking.
The noise and the booze, all the singing and dancing ...
The racket and rumpus, the shmoozing and prancing ...
Would drive to the point of starting a riot
Any poor fellow who just fancied quiet.
And you already know who was sane by an inch:
Poised on the brink was the poor old green Grinch.

All the popping and bopping, the preening and prancing,
The swinging and zinging, and -- oh, the break-dancing!
Were more than the Grinch could guess how to endure ...
And then, all at once, he envisioned a cure,
For there by the Christmas tree, flat on the floor,
Was one lonely present. A forgotten chainsaw.

By nine in the morning even Max was vibrating
With the jackhammer jollity; it's not overstating
That not even Max could endure so much 'cheer,'
No matter how snockered one became on Who beer.
And by two in the P.M., oh, Maxie was worried,
For the Grinch looked so manic; the beast who'd been buried
Beneath fudge and tinsel, and the charm of a child
Had clawed back to the surface ... and my, he was wild!


And the Grinch had no sooner set eyes on that tool
Than he said to himself, "Grinchie, you’ll been such a fool,
To think you could bear all this ruckus and humbug,
This rumpus and dumpus, this scampus and scumbug,
This noise, noise, noise, noise, that these Whofolk call ‘fun,’
While the stores are all closed and you can’t buy a gun --
There isn’t a fowling piece (nor even a pheasant),
But one of these idiots forgot his best present!"
For under the Christmas tree, left on the floor,
Wrapped up in red ribbons lay a brand new chainsaw:



All shiny and sharpy, all toothy and jagged --
Just begging for gasoline! So, out the Grinch swaggered
With a light, empty gascan and a bag full of quarters,
To the gas station downtown, with a brain full of slaughters ...
There wouldn’t be any Who left to make noise!
They’d be peacefully absent, the Who girls and boys.
The Who-guys and ladies would be quiet as the snow --
And Cindy-Lou Who’d be the first one to go.

For the Grinch could envisage the headlines tomorrow,
When no Who in Whoville survived to feel sorrow --
Here was a task to which the Grinch felt quite equal
(And MGM’s already contracted the sequel):
GRINCH II: WHOVILLE CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

Thanks to Jade for the words; and to Jim Carey for for the visualization.

Cheers to all,
MK

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all!

Merry Christmas to readers right across the north, from the eastern realms of Russia, and on across to Alaska itself, and all parts in between!
Having a wonderful Aussie Christmas here ...
got better things to do than blog on this of all days...
See you guys on Boxing Day!
Christmas Cheer(s),
MK


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Save the Internet - get into the petition!

The widget doesn't fit the right side margin of this blog too well, so let's park it in its own post:



Please share this far and wide!

See also:
Internet censorship looms closer:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/12/internet-censorship-looms-closer.html
Internet Filtering is around the corner:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/12/christmas-is-here-internet-filtering-is.html
Repression worse than Iran starts soon:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/12/aussie-internet-censorship-repression.html
A useless waste of Aussie taxpayers' dollars:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/australian-internet-censorship.html
Internet filtering, banned books and the APA:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/internet-filtering-banned-books-and-apa.html
Internet content filtering is an impossible waste of time and money:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/internet-content-filtering-impossible.html
Big brother's watching ya, mate!
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/australian-internet-big-brothers.html

Christmas is here -- Internet filtering is around the corner!

Christmas is upon us (Christmas Eve already on this side of the dateline ... warm, overcast, perhaps a little muggy, with stores that were crowded by 7:30 in the am), and the Internet still works.

So, where's the Internet filtering what was supposed to be "in place before Christmas?"

According to statements made yesterday, it's being delayed till January. And unless I miss my guess, the Aussie government is (as usual) running around feverishly in Damage Control Mode.

PC Magazine's website said on Monday, "Australia's broadband ministry on Monday defended the country's upcoming Internet filtering pilot, and acknowledged that the plan could include P2P traffic like BitTorrent. It is understood that technology exists to filter peer-to-peer networks," according to an FAQ posted online. "If such technology is proposed as part of the pilot by an ISP it will be considered." http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2337430,00.asp

But by the time you and I have found the time to go look at the FAQ -- it seems to have been edited. There is no mention, none whatsoever, of the term "P2P."

Here's the FAQ, see for yourself, any reference to a futile attempt to filter torrents, P2P, is gone: http://www.dbcde.gov.au/communications_for_consumers/funding_programs__and__support/cyber-safety_plan/internet_service_provider_isp_filtering/isp_filtering_-_frequently_asked_questions#q18

Which leaves them (officially, at least) with The Blacklist. Now, Australia has been sorta-kinda filtered for a long, long time. I remember when the censorship system came in -- a lot of lame, tame, fairly innocuous websites vanished overnight, when they were taken down by their owners who feared coming to the attention of government, and ending up with a Federal Police record for publishing stuff that was unpopular with said government!

Here's PC Magazine again: "Australian ISPs are already subject to restrictions based upon the country's rating system for movies, computer games, publications, and other online content, [Broadband Minister Stephen] Conroy said. That system, dubbed the National Classification Scheme, allows the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to issue take-down notices to objectionable material. All the government is now seeking to do is to examine how technology can assist in filtering internationally-hosted content," Conroy wrote."

Urk. I mean, seriously. Did you catch the furore just a few weeks ago, when the UK's Internet Watch Foundation cut UK users adrift from being able to add to or edit Wikipedia? They filtered (read: crippled) Wikipedia, for chrissakes -- and were allowed to do it! -- over ONE PICTURE. It was apparently a punk-type CD album cover featuring a nekkid child. Why didn't the IWF pick up the phone, call Wiki or their representative, and have the page taken down? But, nooooo. They had to filter-cripple Wikipedia, probably to demonstrate the fact that 1) they could do it, 2) the technology exists to do it, 3) they're permitted at a political level to do it -- even if they're made to UN-do it faster than you can say "Dudley Do-Right." Here's more: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2337430,00.asp

So here we get to the crunch: where does this stop? Why don't watchdog organizations employ out-of-work people to surf the web, find trashy material and report it, and then another bunch of unemployed people can be gainfully employed making phonecalls to the ISPs or website owners, getting pages taken down. The Aussie government is spending over $100 million on this filtering nonsense. MAKE JOBS FOR PEOPLE FOR GODSAKES!! (Pardon me for shouting, but I actually did feel like shouting that; and it's worth shouting.)

But no, it's got to be done with invasive, crippling technology ... and when the model is in place, it will far far too easy for consecutive governments to nip, tuck, tweak, amend, it. Here's how it works. According to PC Magazine (same link as above), "The ACMA currently maintains a list of 1,300 blacklisted URLs. The filtering pilot will expand that list to 10,000 URLs – none of which will be released publicly."

A blacklist is dead simple. It's like blocking an email contact, or a poster to a forum, someone who's gone off the deepend and needs to be muzzled; or blocking a certain telephone number from calling your phone.

A blacklist is automatically read by the system ... and all you gotta do is add urls and IP addresses to it.

How easy would it be to sneak 1,000 political urls onto the list? And another 1,000 addresses for sites where people take religion to pieces and display its nekkid bones? And another 5,000 addresses where bloggers speak out against the system. Not to mention the thousands of sites where gay people campaign, and communicate, and publish.

The whole thing is sickening, and the worst of it is, the ordinary, innocent Internet user will be the one hurt most, when broadband becomes as slow as a dial-up, and dial-up accounts become utterly unusable.

Here's a quote from yesterday's feature on news.com.au. "Government rejects negative internet filter report: A REPORT showing a mandatory internet filter will not work has been dismissed as untested by the Rudd Government. Senator Stephen Conroy yesterday made available the ISP Level Content Filtering Feasibility Study he received in February, commissioned by the Howard government. The report found content filtering as proposed by the Rudd Government would not work or be economically viable using current technologies, will slow internet speeds, block legitimate websites and be easily circumvented. One of the report's key findings said "it could be expected that allowed content would be blocked". "If all pornographic content is to be blocked, other content with a 'resemblance' in features will also be blocked; eg. sex education, medical information, erotic content etc," the report said." http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,24839172-953,00.html

I can tell you that, from my perspective, any filtering will be disastrous: we HAVE broadband, and it's sluggish at the best of times. It can take several minutes to load something like Hotmail or YouTube, and a minute to load even Gmail, or a story from Huffington Post. Slow this down by a factor of five, and all we'll be doing is timing out.

The chaos continues to grow. This was posted yesterday by iWire: "Earlier this morning, Australian Shadow Minister for Communications, Senator Nick Minchin, put out a press release accusing the Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, of “burying” a report into ISP filtering – but surprise, surprise, the report is now available for anyone to read. The news concerning Internet filtering and censorship in Australia just keeps getting worse, with the Federal Government now proposing to include (P2P) peer-to-peer and BitTorrent into the filtering trial, something that could greatly impact on legitimate uses of these services. There are also reports that ISPs such as iiNet, who have volunteered to be part of the ISP filtering trial, haven’t yet received any instructions from the Government on how to participate, despite the Government saying it wanted the trial to start before the end of 2008, a date that draws ever closer with each passing day. It’s also a date that has now been scrapped entirely, with the live filtering trial now due to begin in mid-January[.]" http://www.itwire.com/content/view/22440/127/

What did I say about the buff-heads running about in a frenzy of damage control right now?

Get this (also from iWire, same link as above): "This morning, Senator Minchin said: “It would seem the report, 'Feasibility Study of ISP Level Content Filtering', which was a joint Government and industry initiative, has been kept secret because it casts further serious doubts over the centralised Internet filtering system that Senator Conroy is looking to mandate.”Senator Minchin’s statement noted that the report said “centralised mandatory filtering will "significantly slow Internet speeds", inadvertently block acceptable content and be ineffective against peer-to-peer file sharing networks, chat rooms, email and instant messaging.”In addition, the report said: “entire user-generated content sites such as YouTube and Wikipedia could be blocked because of a single suspect posting.”

The UK Internet watchdogs already blocked Wikipedia a few weeks ago, to demonstrate that it can be done, and they're allowed to do it.

My question is, why does Internet censorship have to involve $100 million's worth of technology? Why not have 1,000 sensible adults surfing, looking for kidp*rn, and making phonecalls to have the pages taken down from responsible servers like Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, and so forth??? MAKE JOBS.

Or, put another way, follow the money: who's getting stinking rich now, out of the new filtering technology that's about to cripple the Internet? Find that person, or company, and you'll find the root of this problem.

These bozos are actually looking for ways to censor chat, email, and instant messaging! And what's more, they appear determined to engineer themselves into a position where they can, and must do it:

"It must also be highlighted that on 31 December the Rudd Labor Government will recklessly close the online safety program established by the previous Coalition Government, which sees Australian families given the option of obtaining free, PC-level filters, which can be tailored to the needs of individual households," Senator Minchin concluded. (iWire again.) http://www.itwire.com/content/view/22440/127/

In other words, the "free Net Nanny" will be withdrawn, and the whole country will be smothered by Kevin Rudd's idea of a Net Nanny For Grownups. As if he has some idea that significant numbers of Australians are drooling, tongues hanging out, for kidp*rn.

There's an online petition being organized right now, and as soon as I hit "publish" here, I'll be clicking over there and signing it: "If Internet users would like to help Australia avoid becoming the “Soviet Socialist Republic of the South” complete with its own “Great Barrier Firewall Reef” it might be an idea to visit the GetUp! website and take part in its campaign to “Save the Net!”.

When we know more, I'll post again, but for now --



Christmas Greetings to readers all across Australasia, New Zealand, Oceanaia, and Asia!

Cheers,
MK

If you found this post interesting or useful, please email the url to your friends! Google still has my page rankings zeroed out, so I can't win a Google search or blog search, no matter how well my posts are crafted. I'm in contact with the company, but it's a long, slow process to find a resolution. How can you help?! By email the urls of useful posts! Thank you kindly.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blogito ergo sum -- revisited

Back again -- with about fifteen spare minutes to get in here and give a coherent answer to the same question that's been asked several times in the last week or so ... by different readers. It's a good question, deserving of serious answer.

I have a major website, yet this blog looks like being a permanent thing. Why would I blog, when I have a major website?

Simply stated, it's a hell of a lot easier to blog. They're free to set up; you don't have to worry about registering domain names and then re-re-resubscribing to keep your domain name (forget it for a few weeks when re-up time comes around, and it's gone, and your search engine presence with it); you can "publish" a paragraph, a diatribe, a photo ... the next chapter of a book ... at a click. No need to write code; no FTP to do. Nothing (much) to learn. You don't get outages at companies like Blogger, which belongs to Google. You don't even have to bother registering a blog with the search engines: give them ten days and a few posts, and they come find you -- which is something they don't do for websites! Blogs are indexed by Google & Co. fast. Within ten minutes of hitting the "publish" button, a well-crafted post can be listed on page one of the search results at The Big G. This doesn't happen with webpages. Blog posts are also content-focused, because the overall design of the blog has been laid down with the template. You get to fiddle at whim with the color scheme, without having to write code, and it's easy to upload or link to anything.



Webpages are fine, too, but the code is a right royal pain, even for the people who speak this gibberish like a second language. You have html, javascript, css and ... stuff. Some wonderful treat called "dot syntax." You have php, jsp, shtml, dhtml ... gak. It'd be a full-time job learning this stuff and then writing it, and here's the rub: web surfers these days have come to expect all the bells and whistles associated with "Web 2" sites. Virtually everything you see online these days is an interactive page driven by some kind of engine. Like --

The new one is Joomla!. I kid you not. If you stumble into the code of some of the Wiki type sites, you'll see meta tags like this:

< meta content="Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management" name="generator" >

Here's more about the language: http://www.joomla.org/, and here's a site that demonstrates Joomal! in operation: http://www.playshakespeare.com/. So...

FaceBook, MySpace, Wikipedia, Blogger, Wordpress, Dreamstime, Shelfari, GoodReads, Amazon, Imdb, Payloadz, Lulu, CreateSpace, ... on and on. These sites are so ubiquitous, we've reached a point where the simple old webpage won't do anymore. The simple, functional old page that we all thought was sooooo kewl, ten years ago, is now a dinosaur: borrrrring.

Yet the bloody things are just as hard to write, even though web surfers scorn them!

The handy alternative to the dilemma is: The Blog.

The only drawback to Blogger that I've ever found is that the templates are incredibly boring, and it's extremely difficult to find third party add-ons that actually work. I searched a log way before I found a studio that has its act in gear: http://www.ourblogtemplates.com/2008/03/browse-all-blogger-templates.html.

Put "Our Blog Templates" on the top of your list, if you're deciding to blog rather than get into websites, yet you can't stay awake for the old blogger templates!

So there's your answer, more or less. I blog because it's easy, quick, and visitors get what they expect to see these days: Web 2, interactivity, the ability to participate. All these things can be done on a webpage ... but writing the code is another question! I'd rather write fiction and leave the coding to other folks who find that stuff amusing.

Cheers,
MK

Seasonal miscellany


We're a day ahead of you guys in the north, remember: the dateline. So we're already looking at CHRISTMAS EVE TOMORROW. If it ain't wrapped and under the tree, it won't be landing there. If it ain't bought and in the freezer, it won't be miraculously appearing there. Christmas is going to be all about cooking and eating (probably too much), some very good drinks and company...

The weather is not really cooperating, mind you: http://www.bom.gov.au/products/IDS10034.shtml ... 32 with increasing cloud ahead of a cool change. It isn't quite the kind of weather where you jump in the pool. And for those spending Chrissy on the beach, they'll need a windbreaker because the temperature drops 10 degrees, close to the water. For me -- perfect weather. I don't like the heat too much (okay, I'm abnormal. I was also bred and born in a cold region ... the UK).


Locally, the stores are going gang-busters on the one hand, and on the other hand there are glassy-eyed bankers on TV, talking in hushed whispers about the phenomenal amount of debt that's being run up ... as if they expect the retailers to be rescued by massive holiday shopping without the credit cards taking a pasting! Sheesh. The words "get real" leap to mind.

Work continues to get THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE to Amazon in the new year ... work also continues on the coding for the first of the digital novels which will keep me busy in 2009. It's, uh, looking good.

Now, I have to run and do stuff -- Christmas stuff -- that isn't going to get itself done. I'll try to post again later in the day, because four or five people have lately asked me the same question, and I've been promising an answer for three weeks! So --

Ciao for now,
MK

Monday, December 22, 2008

To BBQ or not to BBQ? What the hey, it's Christmas!

With Christmas rapidly approaching, the rest of the universe seems to go onto the back burner. Makes me wonder, often, what Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others are doing, while the western world apparently goes bonkers for a couple of weeks. They don't seem to mind. I guess they get a couple of days off work in the middle of the week, which is nothing to be grumbled about!


The rest of the brewhaha ...? Well, a lot of trees get the hell decorated out of them. Fake snow gets plastered all over a lot of surfaces that are so sun-hot, they'll burn your feet, never mind your fingers. Everything goes red and green and glittery (except the landscape, which goes brown and burned and dusty), and the stores fill up with wrapping paper and tape and ribbon -- also beer, wine and spirits. Pork and turkey. Mince pies and plum puddings.


Imagine being a Taoist from a hermitage in the mountains of a far distance province, being teleported into the middle of Rundle Mall on Christmas Eve, and trying to make sense of anything that's happening around you.


It's an interesting time of year, downunder. The imagery is trying to pretend it's FREEZING, while the truth is, you spend most Christmases in your "singlet, shorts and thongs," trying not to dissolve into a puddle of sweat.

And then, in June ... well, it's as dim and dark as it ever gets in this neck of the woods (which a northerner would say isn't very), and wouldn't we just love to have the bright lights and the shiny things, and the dinners and ...?!

There's actually a group of radicals who book a ski lodge for a weekend in July over in the Snowy Mountains, and put up the Christmas trees, have a massive Christmas feast catered. The rest of the country looks upon them as harmless lunatics, but --

I put it to you: who's loonier? The person putting on the fur-trimmed hat and boots, and "egging the nog," and roasting the turkey, lighting the fire and so forth in the dead of winter ... or the person climbing up a ladder and giving himself sunstroke in a desperate effort to get the fake snow on the roof and the fake icicles along the eaves, before the day gets hot enough to fry an egg on the hood of the car?

Cheers,
MK

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cruising into Christmas

Just got back from the obilgatory Christmas "Dan Murphy's raid" ... and I just realized I have no idea if Dan Murphy's is worldwide, or if 90% of readers are saying words along the lines of "WTF is MK babbling on about now? I have a powerful intuition that Squire O'Murphy is a purely Aussie thing, so I'd better explain why it's obligatory at Christmas, and why one talks about a "raid" there.


Close your eyes. Relax. Imagine an aircraft hangar. A hangar big enough to garage a jumbo jet. Now, fill it with wine ... spirits ... beer ... liqueurs. In bins. In boxes. In crates and cartons. On shelves. On tables. On the floor. Take a cart. A big one. Fill it. Then stand in line in the checkout queue, enjoying the air conditioned coolness and thinking longingly of the beer in that case, because its too bloody hot outside, and it's still morning.

Good golly, it must be Christmas time! Which would explain why we watched Bill Murray in Scrooged last night, and will probably watch Jim Carey in a weird green suit tonight, or maybe the dudes from Halloween Town trying to usurp Christmas. Woah ... what happened to 2008?

In fact, today is a semi-special occasion, at least to me: it's six months since this blog opened. Six months! This is something like post #222 ... if only it could have been #666. Well, can't win 'em all. But when we do get to #666, we'll have a competition or something, to celebrate.

Speaking of blogging: no joy yet in the Google situation. At this point I can win searches from places like Ukraine, Nepal, Laos, Thailand, Iraq, the UAE, Nigeria, Honduras ... but as for getting back the 80% of visitors who were coming from the USA ... not yet. I live in hopes.

Also speaking of blogging: good news at last! I found a studio which publishes blogger templates which WILL INSTALL, if you give them just a couple of minor tweaks. You do need to know what you're looking at in css, but the templates otherwise embrace the Blogger engine.

Here's the studio: http://www.ourblogtemplates.com/2008/03/browse-all-blogger-templates.html -- and the good news is, they're some of the most gorgeous templates you ever saw. Kudos to these guys: they figured out what the hell it is Blogger wants, and they worked around it.

So right now I'm fiddling with the template, getting it fully configured. It's quite a process. I'm working with three columns, and it also gets interesting in the headers and footers: there's extra "bays" where you can part things. I'm also experimenting with colors and schemes (which, thank gods, is easy at Blogger), and thanks to Aricia [sounds of grinding teeth] I now know that you can edit the css and tell it to remote-load images into the background.

The digital novels will be looking every bit as good as they read. I'm still intending to start with the Atlantean fantasy -- as a memorial to Lane Ingram -- but the second one could easily be Crystal Genesis, which is future fantasy. I find myself drawn to the project more as I think about it. We've even started mucking about with logo graphics (click on this, it's 980 pixels wide, designed to suit the template I finally, finally got working):

This is going to be extremely cool. If Crystal Genesis has a 'sound' (and it does), it's a song called Inner Universe, by a band (or individual) called Origa. Below is the YouTube plugin of the whole song, which is weird and ... amazing. I know absolutely nothing about the performers, but I stumbled over the song when it was used as the theme music for the anime Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, which used to go to air at about midnight in this country, a few years ago. Adult SF anime. The music is apparently a Japanese band singing in Russian, with a sound that's unique. Enjoy.



The situation with CreateSpace is kind of "on again, off again." This morning the set-up project page would allow us to upload a new project ... and the shopping cart crashed on the way out of doing the "upgrade to the pro package." CreateSpace as an entity is extraordinarily delicate. If we can just get through The Lords of Harbendane, plus Dangerous Moonlight and Death's Head, I'm inclined to quit right there and promote the hell out of those. See what happens in 2009.

Speaking of 2009: one of the guys from DreamCraft was partying last week, and talking to a friend who works on the fringe of the publishing and IT industry. According to this guy, the idea of retrenching 50% of the writers in the USA is being kind. Apparently -- at least as far as the Big Apple is concerned -- they make 90% of their money from 10% of their writers. The rest of us could do a swandive right off the nearest cliff for all they would know ... or care. Hmmmm.

Anyway -- onward and upward into a somewhat "Irish" scenario. Says Mick to Paddy, "Did you not hear what happened to Mel Keegan, then?" Says Paddy to Mick, "Sure, didn't he give his stuff away and make a fortune!"

Here's to making a fortune by giving your stuff away!

Cheers,
MK

Saturday, December 20, 2008

CreateSpace strikes again ... Amazon looks like a mirage

More hiccups at CreateSpace -- with time running out to get titles "up there" at Amazon before the holidays! This time around it's a major snafu in the very first of their 'set up" pages. Before you can even save the project and get a product ID on it, you have to be able to pick, and set, a Category for the book. You pick the Category and "select" it from a massive drop-down menu ...

Guess what's not there, on the Setup Project page? You're right. No Category dropdown. The routine has dropped out completely, meaning, we can't even begin to set up a new project!

Best laid plans of mice, men and whatever --

So, for those people who have been waiting for THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE to be available at Amazon.com since about the time Noah launched the big, fat boat: guys, we're trying. It just ain't easy, and the booboos are absolutely beyond our control.

I'll keep you posted as we go! The novels which find their way to Amazon.com by New Year will be, uh, the ones you can get there. The rest will continue to be available from Lulu.com. (That was lucid, wasn't it? And the party season hasn't even started yet.)

Wish us luck! (I'll tell you this much for nothing: the digital novels are starting to look very attractive. I don't have to lay down four figures to reach the point where people can read what I've written; it's a plain, simple upload; it's instantaneous, without all these problems! All readers have to do is endure a few commercials and give me an occasional click on the donation button, for my time and trouble ... it's starting to look like bliss from where I'm sitting. *sigh*)

Thanks for dropping by, and enjoy this, while you're here:



Ciao for now,
MK

Gay books: packaging them for Amazon

With Christmas right around the corner and about half a dozen more books to "go up" to Amazon before the CreateSpace special offer closes in about 10 days' time -- it's going to be busy.

The special offer is this: they waive the US$40 per book upgrade fee, which you pay in order to bump your book from the "regular" account to the "pro" or "gold" account. When a book is upgraded, you get to keep an extra wedge of the sale price, and US$40 / A$65 is a good deal -- if you're only doing one book. Try it again, when you're potentially doing 20!

So CreateSpace (probably in the interests of drumming up some trade) has had this special deal running for the last few months: upgrade your book(s) by December 21st, and they waive the fee. We're in the process of doing #7 at this point (The Deceivers). The next titles "going up" are Dangerous Moonlight, The Lords of Harbendane, and the NARC series. That's 14 out of the range of 21 novels on my backlist at this time (the short fiction doesn't appear on the list). Two thirds. Good enough.

The process is easy enough, though time consuming -- a tad bit expensive, too; because before you can give your book a "nudge" in the direction of Amazon, you have to buy and approve a proof. Which costs A$45. But this is okay too -- it's well worth the investment. (It would be geting pretty darned expensive to pay the $65 upgrade + the $45 proof for each of 21 books. Over two grand to set up this list. Hmmm.)

The challenge is in repackaging some of the titles, to make it a little bit more obvious that these are gay books, featuring a m/m relationship ... and it's not so easy as it sounds. What the hell is a gay book anyway?! They're hard to categorize. Do gay characters make a book gay? Or does it have to be gay people doing day things? And what's a gay book cover?

It's simple to put a cover on a work of erotica ... they speak for themselves. But with gay book covers you're walking a tightrope. You don't want to put an erotic book cover on a book that's far from erotica. At the same time, you do want to indicate that it's a m/m gay book.

Which leads to a lot of head scratching. Yesterday's post showed the new cover we just slapped on Storm Tide: http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/12/storm-tide-on-road-to-amazon.html; and here was the new Aquamarine cover: http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/08/book-launch-aquamarine.html ...

And here's the new cover on The Deceivers -- previewed online for the first time:


The graphical theory is this: the fact that it's two male faces juxtaposed ought to be enough to tip off modern readers to the fact this will be the relationship driving the book; the cover features faces, not nekkid or semi-nekkid bodies, so people are given a clue as to the fact it ain't "only" erotica; and the background subject matter puts the m/m relationship in context.

It looks like it works. I like this cut of the cover a great deal. The characters were colorized (actually, it's sepia -- which suits the treatment perfectly, since sepia was state of the art in photography in the second half of the nineteenth century), and we have a different "take" on the original cover of the book, which was this one, at our left, and/or just above, glued to this paragraph with code. I always chafed at the fact we were not able to have a schooner on the original cover (technical reasons made the square rigger unavoidable in the original design). This was fixed by changing to a whole new cover for the Lulu edition ... which put the faces on the back, in blue -- which was fine, because we were retailing the book off my webpages, so readers knew exactly what they getting.

But Amazon is a little different. They only show the front cover, and they give VERY little background info on the book the reader has pulled up almost accidentally as a sidebar on some search. Without some visual clue, however trifling, to the fact this is a gay book, a reader could be of the understanding that they're buying an, er, sraight historical sea story. Baaaaad idea.

So -- all this gives us the opportunity to take another crack at the cover, and combine all the elements again: the sea, the sky, the ship (and it's a schooner this time, too), and the faces.

To my eyeballs, it's a resounding success. Next challenge: what the hell is going on the cover of Dangerous Moonlight?! The NARC books are well known enough for them to 'fly" as they are, but DM needs some kind of a visual cue for readers. And inspiration has to start biting in the next five days, max. Ouch.

Stay tuned!

Cheers,
MK

Friday, December 19, 2008

Storm Tide on the road to Amazon

News on the Amazon front: STORM TIDE has started on the road from CreateSpace to the Big A. The proof arrived a short while ago, and they've done an excellent job with it. The book has a new cover, which gives it extra pep:




I like this cover a lot.

Next job: THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is "going up" before Christmas, in company with THE DECEIVERS (in preparation right now), DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT, and the NARC series. And behind the scenes, I'm fiddling with blog templates, ready to start the digital novels, and I've made the ultimate decision about which order the fiction will be done in.

We're starting with the "tales of elder Atlantis" piece (about 250,000 words). Then we'll go on with "vampires, werewolves and witches, the world at war ... in 1475 (350,000 words), and then Crystal Genesis (mankind surviving by a slender thread, a century from now, when only the emergence of a new breed of human will make a difference -- mutoids to the rescue. (About 400,000 words). And yes, they're all gay novels, fantasy and SF, and much too capacious to be published anywhere, anyhow, by any conventional or POD publisher. So -- digital. Yes.


Cheers,
MK

Is good health a right or a privilege?!

Very occasionally, there's a cast-iron reason for having a rant ... and this is one of them.

Personally, I don't smoke. I've never smoked. I watched my father take 18 years to die of lung and brain cancer caused by smoking, so I count myself a specialist in the consequences, while not suffering them myself. Who was it said, 'Only an idiot has to learn by his own mistakes.'

So far, so good: at least I'm qualified to indulge myself in a rant! So, here we go:
It's a bloody outrage when you can't have your cup of tea (or coffee) in your own backyard, without being subjected to the secondhand smoke of the (bleep)ing chainsmokers who live on the other side of the fence, and who smoke like (bleep)ing chimneys all morning. Secondhand smoke is a lot more dangerous than the garbage these morons are dragging into their own lungs, because at least they have benefit of the (bleep)ing filter. So, there's Keegan, sitting in a patch of shade on a glorious summer morning, cup of ooling in the hand, thinking about the day's work to be done, and --

Suddenly I'm coughing on someone else's (bleep)ing smoke. I'm inhaling carcinogenic compounds. My eyes are watering on the toxic fallout that's been EXHALED from the diseased lungs of the geriatric pea-brains who live over the fence. They rent. The rules are clear -- they're central to the Residential Tenancies Act: you do NOT smoke in a rental house. So what do these octogenarian cretins do? They go stand on the back step and force-feed the neighbors with the 4,000 artificial substances which are added to the tobacco to make it smolder for a long time rather than burning straight out.

I have no desire to have 4,000 chemicals force-fed into my lungs, and follow my father down an 18-year path that led to places you don't even want to know about. But apparently I don't have any rights to assert. It's their right to smoke on their doorstep and gas me with their toxic fallout. I have no right to ask them (much less tell them) to bugger off and poison themselves somewhere else, where they're not poisoning me too.

The worst part of all this is that when lifelong smokers get into middle age and older, the vaster majority of them get sick. My dad was one. There are hundreds of thousands like him, and they suck the Medicare system dry ... after having shot themselves deliberately in both feet. It's getting on towards half a century since the Surgeon General's report was published. Everyone has known for that long, that smoking causes cancers all over your body, plus peripheral circulation failure, heart disease, arterial disease --

In fact, the only thing it doesn't seem to cause is broken noses ... because if someone like myself, a non-smoker, were to ask these people to stop or go away, they'd get nasty ... it could turn into a big fight ... the fight could get physically violent ... someone's nose gets punched in the furore ... and it's the non-smoker who started it, by trying to save his own life from cancers and cardiac diseases that will eventually kill him! We call it self-bloody-preservation -- and it'll get us hauled up in front of a magistrate, with a huge fine to pay, or we'll go to jail, thirty or sixty days for aggravated assault. And when the non-smoker gets out of jail, what's to say the situation won't happen again? Because apparently smokers have every right to pollute the airspace of non-smokers with the rancid fallout from their diseased lungs.

There. I feel much better now. So, you want to look at ways to get people to quit?

Frankly, I don't think it's every likely to happen. I'm so certain than a majority of people will always smoke that even the characters in some of my novels -- Jarrat and Stone, Marin and Travers -- smoke the occasional cigarette. But, what are they smoking?! It sure as hell ain't the vile kind of crap people are smoking today. I called it kipgrass: a naturally occuring plant that only smolders, won't burn properly -- like the fibers of the Tasmanian white pine -- is then enhanced with mild euphorics, given a pleasant aroma by being scented with citrus, roses, whatever, and then rolled into a cigarette and sold by the 25 pack.

In other words, the smoke is harmless, smells okay, and isn't addictive. Fat chance of this happening outside a science fiction novel!

In the real world, people will always smoke and the tobacco companies control everything that isn't controlled by the oil companies, the drug companies, and the cosmetics industry.





So what can be done to alleviate the problem? Try this:

Recognize that smoking is a harmful, often lethal activity, that also stinks to high heaven. Make people -- and especially kids just starting -- hyper-aware of this, by making it illegal to buy cigarettes unless you are a licensed smoker. Issue smoker's licences, the same way driver's licenses are issued. You have to be 18 to get one, and it costs $100 per year to keep it current. You produce your license every time you buy a packet of smokes. The license is barcoded ... the machine reads the barcode, tracks you as you puff ... and updates your account. The tax on cigarettes is raised to 100% (ie., a $10 pack is now $20), and this amount is stashed in your account, accruing all the time -- to pay for your hospitalization, surgery, chemo and radiotherapy when you get sick. Because the illness you're giving yourself is self-inflicted, and you acknowledge that when you're 50 or 60 or whatever, you're going to be sucking Medicare dry. You pay in advance for your medical care.



It's not a bad idea, surely. A license, and a medicare levy. What's wrong with that? The added expense of puffing away might even cause some of the more intelligent people to quit. For the rest of us, the so-called "fresh air fascists," the fewer smokers there are in the community, the better we like it. Also, since these cretins are now paying for their own medical treatment in advance, the hospital systems will improve vastly for the rest of us.

It's a win-win situation. Licensed, legal smokers who are determined get to keep on puffing, the hospital system benefits, the government gets extra revenue, underage kids find it harder to get supply, more people quit to save money so the air quality improves, and in our old age, the rest of us non-smokers get better medical care, because the people who're inflicting their own terminal disease have prepaid for their care, rather than being utterly self-indulgent for decades and then hogging the lion's share of Medicare as well. The government would have to love this: it's political manna. The technology is easily available to manage this system. And it'd be difficult for the tobacco companies to find an argument...

Uh ... just a thought, guys.

Ciao for now,
MK
If you found this post interesting or useful, please email the url to your friends! Google still has my page rankings zeroed out, so I can't win a Google search or blog search, no matter how well my posts are crafted. I'm in contact with the company, but it's a long, slow process to find a resolution. How can you help?! By email the urls of useful posts! Thank you kindly.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The blogger, the vacuum and the backpack

It's that singular anomaly, Keegan's Day Off, so this will be "on the fly," and a little short ... and with a bit of luck I'll be able to post again later in the day. Not that there's anything special to blog about ... the Mel-o-Sphere is quiet as the crypt.

We're still working on the newsletter: still trying to figure out what went wrong at the software level. It's quite a mystery -- bear with us! DreamCraft uses a list manager called SendBlaster, and it's normally error free. This time? Spode's Law. If it can go wrong, it will.

In fact, it's been amazing how much has gone wrong in the last couple of months! This is the reason THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE has been delayed till January, at least as far as the paperback is concerned. It'll be going to Amazon directly. It's been problems all the way -- even right up to the way the CreateSpace account jammed itself in neutral for over two weeks, which meant we couldn't do a darned thing until a human being realized what the problem was, and fixed it!

No response from Google yet as per the page ranking debacle -- as you'd expect. I shouldn't think the problem will be sorted till end end of January.

So -- I'd like to thank all the people who have assisted by emailing the urls of interesting and useful posts ... you have no idea how much this helps! I'll be asking for the same kind of help when I launch the digital novels next month ... I'd expected to be able to launch them from this blog, but Google has sunk that idea for the time being. So: when the online novels go, uh, online, I'll be putting out a plea for "same again, please." They call it "viral information." If everyone who finds out about the digital novels -- online and free -- tells just two other people, and you start with only 100 people, you get up to 5,000 people pretty fast. Crunch the numbers yourself, and see. This is what I'm hoping.

There's little more to blog about -- seriously! For the moment, let me sign off here and go do something clever with a backpack and a cooler chest...

Ciao for now,
MK

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Template tantrums at Blogger

With HARBENDANE done, finished and out of my hands, I'm fiddling about with Blogger templates for the impending digital novels ... and getting somewhat confused as well as thoroughly frustrated. I have a feeling that I'll wind up going whinging to DreamCraft and saying, "Give me a Blogger template that actually works, pleeeeeeze!"

Don't get me wrong: the templates that Blogger actually provides work fine, but there are only a very few of them, and they're so dead boring, I think they would detract from the presentation of a powerful digital novel:


See the whole range here:
http://www.blogger.com/choosetemplate?blogID=578914633614777211

These are the ubiquitous, vanilla templates people use to blog about cooking, kids, shopping, whatever. Sure, you can get in there are have a tweak at them (if you know how to read css, which is an acronym for 'cascading style sheet'), but overall the thing will still look the same.

Now, being Internet savvy, the next thing you'll do is go to Google and do a web search on "templates for blogger." I did. And there are some absolutely amazing collections. If you're at all interested, have a look at these:

http://www.bloggerbuster.com/2008/08/125-more-excellent-blogger-templates.html

http://www.pyzam.com/bloggertemplates

http://www.ourblogtemplates.com/2008/03/browse-all-blogger-templates.html

You get into these pages, and as blogger or writer, artist or photographer, you have to just salivate. Cop a look at these:






There's only two small problems. The first is that a lot of the time, the webpages which offered these templates are gone, so that when you click to "download template," you get a 404 ... which leaves you salivating with unrequited lust. The second problem is, when you find a template that's still there, and go through the routine at Blogger to install this beautiful thing ...

Blogger won't have a bar of it. You click to finish the installation, and the error messages start coming up. Apparently the templates are not well "parsed," or there are multiple other errors that arise ... but ONLY when you install these pages at Blogger. In and of themselves, they work just fine. It's when you ask them to interface with the engine driving Blogger, that the problems start.

To this point, I haven't found a solution ... I am NO programmer. I'm about to kick the whole thing over to DreamCraft and say something smart-assed, like, "I want the color off this one, the texture off this one, something like the header bar art off this one, the column layout off that one..." And then, with any luck at all, the bloody thing will just magically happen.

Because when I get into the whole digital novel thing next year, the appearance of the viewing screen is almost as important as the words on the page. What's that old saying? You only get one chance to make a first impression.

So, this is where you find me on a warm, humid Wednesday morning, with Christmas right around the corner...

A last quick note: something went bung about 30% of the way through the newsletter that was going out yesterday. It quit sometime around the letter C or D. The problem is being fixed at this time, and we'll take another crack at it, starting from "D" this afternoon. If anyone receives the newsletter twice, please bear with us: software problems, or ISP cockups, or something.

Regarding the digital novels, free Keegan fic, and the new projects, see also:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/11/saturday-morning-subjectivity.html
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/11/digital-publishing-gay-books-go-al.html
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/12/keegans-master-plan-for-2009.html

If you found this post interesting or useful, please email the url to your friends! Google still has my page rankings zeroed out, so I can't win a Google search or blog search, no matter how well my posts are crafted. I'm in contact with the company, but it's a long, slow process to find a resolution. How can you help?! By email the urls of useful posts! Thank you kindly.

Cheers,
MK