the itjerk

my adventures with technology

the book is finished

I finished writing my book: 632 pages. All text. No pictures. Yep, lots of words. It’s a record guide, so non-fiction, but lots of facts. And my audience (mostly old white men) are very picky about getting facts correct, like “It was ‘THE Fountain of Salmacis,’ not ‘Fountain of Salmacis.'” Anyway, I’ve spent the last few months proof reading and fact-checking those 632 pages. Boring, tedious, but being who I am, I just had to get it done. Letting go — knowing when to stop checking-as well as stop writing — was even more difficult.

Anyway, the book is self-published (more below), which means, despite a few kind souls that helped with fact-checking, and a younger soul that I paid to edit my non-final text, and my wife, bless her soul, it was really down to ME to get everything correct. I wonder if a “traditional” publisher could have offered more?

The first edition was published in 2007. Hard to think it was a decade ago, my kids were just babies then. Social media was too! Now, I have soo many options now to market the book, it’s exciting. Foremost, the book doesn’t suck (to borrow a Cubs’s manager Joe Maddon phrase), in fact, for the topic, it’s pretty darn good. And with all the fact checking, those few nasty Amazon reviewers will have NOTHING to bark about. Heck, maybe some adventurous young white men may even want to read it!

I sold 3,000 copies of my first book via Lulu.com. One day, after the book had been in print for a couple of years, sales stopped. That normal November, December surge of 40 books fell to zero. So, rather than argue “what happened to the sales,” I withdrew it from print. As the next edition was readying for sale, I looked at alternatives to Lulu. I found CreateSpace.com, an Amazon company. The process of approving a title is a little more clunky (CreateSpace must do something manually because it takes 24 hours once you submit files), but here’s the slam dunk for CreateSpace:

I’m going to retail the book for $34.95. For direct print sales — someone clicking on my link to buy the book at Lulu.com — my royalty is almost 30%, which is great. But the sales through Amazon — so-called retail print-where 99% of people will buy my book — I just can’t accept $2.67 per copy. And if I were to lower the price of the book, say discount it to $29.95, that rate drops to $0.67!

Enter CreateSpace: Perhaps(?) because it’s an Amazon company, I can earn that 30% on those retail print Amazon sales, which also includes the UK and the EU. The print book isn’t as high quality as Lulu, but each copy costs me $5.00 less to buy outright and I make more money on each sale. Well, not that much worse quality then!

It’s not like I wrote 632 pages for anything but the love of music. But I’ve easily shelled out $2000 for editor, images, art, transcriptions, press, promo copies, postage, etc — let alone the money I’ve spent buying the music that the book covers. And after recouping those expenses, I’d like a little slush fund to buy a few “holy grails” for my collection …at least until I get an IRS form 1099 from CreateSpace to file with my income taxes next year. Ugh.

Buy your copy here: The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock

hide xml from browsers

I publish a daily rss feed, an “Album Of The Day” type thing, that feeds various social media pages as well. It works automatically, so I don’t really have to do anything, other than make sure dlvr.it is working correctly (sometimes one needs to renew app permissions). Down side, is that there’s a huge xml file out there that is easily accessible from any web browsers. It’s not that big of a deal, because, after all, I am publishing bits each day. But two lines of codes hides it from honest people:

First, create a css stylesheet. To hide everything, make sure the css applies to the root element of your xml file, which in my case is “albums”. Then you only need one line of code in your css file.

albums {visibility: hidden;}

Next, in the xml file, reference your stylesheet:

<?xml-stylesheet href=”rss.css” media=”screen” type=”text/css”?>

Ptoof! Empty page!

Of course, if you really want to hide that xml source, you’ll need to move it to a directory that’s not visible like /var/.

bracket: dropbox vs google drive

If using a Browser, Google Drive wins. If on a local computer, draw.

raspberry pi 3, a02082 (Sony, UK)

Yes, back at it. I got an Logitech Wireless Touch keyboard for Xmas and just got around to setting it up with my Raspberry Pi 3. I have the rPi connected to my TV via HDMI and all that mess of keyboard and mouse wires was just too much. So given that the rPi 3 – I have the one made in the UK – now has built-in bluetooth and wireless, connecting the keyboard was a snap.

I re-flashed the SD card with the latest NOOBS 2.11 and reinstalled Raspbian Jessie (8) with Pixel. Pixel is the new desktop environment for the rPi. It now has Chromium browser preinstalled (which does not crash!) and after using it, I can say that the Raspberry Pi has finally arrived: It’s a usable operating system, perfect for connecting to my giant TV.

wireless-touch-keyboard-k400r-glamour-lg-jpg

 

 

happy new year

Since the last post, I’ve been working on the Revised and Updated version of my Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock, using Adobe InDesign under Windows 10. Love Windows 10, and InDesign is a great program for book layout. The Index and Table of Contents features are a lifesaver, too. I will also be switching to CreateSpace.com for publishing, at least on Amazon.com. Back to work!

google home

Yeah, I’m a sucker for IoT things like this. Amazon’s Alexa found a new home via eBay in Rockford, and I have to admit, we felt a little empty with the gap she left. “Alexa, what’s the weather” mostly.

So I jumped on board when Google announced their own voice-activated assistant, Google Home. I preordered directly from Google for $129 sometime in October, and it arrived just this week. Setup required me to download the “Google Home” app on my android phone, and I was then prompted to enter my Google account info. A simple process, it did some updates, knew somehow it was in my kitchen, and connected to my home wifi network.

Firstly, there is no privacy with these devices. Google knows who I am, where I live, and can listen to all the conversation maybe even in the entire house. That near-field technology is quite good, and even when laying down in an adjacent room Google Home could hear my commands, all given with the obligatory “Okay Google” salutation.

Unlike Alexa, Google Home, or rather the Google Assitant is quite smart, rattling off answers to questions like “Who just won the World Series” and whatever else we could think of. The biggest surprise was when I asked her to play some music. I have precious little in Google Play, but based on one album I bothered to upload sometime ago (The Blossom Toes’ Ever So Clean), she offered a quite satisfying playlist of late 60s psychedelia I could imagine. Bravo.

So here she will sit, ever listening and patiently awaiting our commands, until we too get bored with her!

raid, finally

I’ve always kept my media on a second drive in my linux box and backed it up to a remote NAS. While a perfectly acceptable setup, what I always wanted was two mirrored drives with all my data. The computer already a WD Red 1TB drive so I thrilled when I found another of the exact same drive for $67. Always a best practice to use the same model when building a mirrored RAID1.

I bought a Syba 2-port SATA RAID controller card that plugged into the empty PCI-e slot on the motherboard. It was only $25, but honestly if I had a motherboard with more features, I wouldn’t have needed it. Nonetheless, after moving the drives around in the case so the power connectors would match up to all the drives, I booted the computer and used CTRL-R immediately to get to the card’s BIOS to setup the RAID. It didn’t initially recognize all the drives, so I booted into Ubuntu and used the program Disks to format the new drive. (I also edited /etc/fstab and took out the reference to the old single drive). Rebooting again, the card recognized both drives, and then setup them up as a RAID1 using the card’s BIOS utility.

Continuing into Ubuntu, I again ran Disks and formatted the new single drive. I then edited /etc/fstab with the new mount point (which I had to create), and then ran a sudo mount -all to access it.

Now it’s time to copy everything back to my new mirrored data drive. Remember, when it comes to data, you must have two copies of everything you’d ever expect to keep. But two drives mirrored are really only one copy (think accidental erase), so I’ll still need to keep a backup of files I want to keep forever.

byopc 2016, windows edition

I have an upcoming project, formatting the next edition of my progressive rock guide, that requires the use of InDesign. My old Dell PC died earlier this year, and as a stop gap I took the guts of this computer and put it in a new box. I got a copy of Windows 10 Education from the day job, and while it was perfectly fine for doing what I normally do on Windows (finances, work email) at home, it was – no surprise – very sluggish with the Adobe Creative Cloud products. And since this job is a big deal, I didn’t want to be frustrated while working on it.

I looked into buying a Windows computer. The local Microcenter had a few decent Intel Core i5 models for under $500, but to be honest they all were cheap builds and according to reviews loaded with crapware. So I decided to look at parts to byopc. Starting with a 6th generation Skylake Intel Core i5 processor for $180, I started to work backward because although the book job will pay off, I’m cheap! The i3-6100 was less expensive at $109. The major difference between the i5 and the i3 is that the latter only has two actual cores; but for my needs, that’s acceptable, especially considering the savings. I picked up a Gigabyte GA-H110M-S2H motherboard for $29.99, which includes a $30 discount for the processor combo, and 8GB of DDR4 memory to match the board. I also decided to get a SSD drive, the Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 Series for $40, figuring that that SSD would more than make up in performance for the step down in processor.

The total cost for the parts was under $250, and it took about two hours to put the computer together, install Windows and download my applications again. I needed to update the Intel 530 display driver right away because the computer had some trouble coming out of sleep mode. But otherwise the computer is fast, has a fresh install of Windows 10 (Anniversary Edition is now updating), and the old hard drive is still there with all my old files. If I haven’t said this before, Windows 10 is one of Microsoft’s best versions yet. I thoroughly enjoy using it, especially on a quick, modern machine.

Now to get working on that book!

ubuntu 16.04 xenial xerus

Last week the first point release for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS triggered the update on my 14.04 computer and I went for it. There are several questions that pop up and need an answer for the upgrade to continue, so it’s an attended upgrade. I didn’t pay too much attention to what was upgraded, removed, not supported, etc, I just figured I would figure out whatever I need to.

Drupal 6 did work because 16.04 ships with Php7, but it was easy enough to install Php5.6, with the help of this repository (the guy is an official packager for Debian) so now I again have a local copy of my website.

I also needed to upgrade Logitech Media Server to 7.9, which is a beta version, but once installed, my Slimserver – the thing that got me into linux so many years ago – started working again right away.

I have to admit, that with the LTS releases, there really isn’t much of a point to upgrading, because the base distribution is supported for five years. At that point, it’s time for a new computer and a clean install.

On the web: Xenial Xerus

uh-oh, what bricked my nexus 5X usb

I did the July 5th, 2016 Security Update for my Nexus 5X running Marshmallow 6.01 and guess what – no usb connection. The phone charges when connected, but no USB menu when I swipe down from the top. My better half also happens to have the same phone, which with the same cable still connects to the same computer. Her Android security patch level? June 1, 2016.

Called Google to tell them yet all they wanted to do was a factory reset. Oh the woes of level 1 support…

Screenshot_20160712-212941

Ends up that I did finally backup my phone to my google drive and do the factory reset.  USB still not working so thank goodness my phone was still under warranty. Replacement on the way. So what bricked the USB? Bad cable? Bad USB port? Or was it that security patch? I’m thinking I need a warranty…

Update: USB still not working with the replacement phone, so Google is sending me another!