Friday, February 28, 2014

A Poem Close to My Heart - A Little Too Close

This poem does a lovely job of showing not only my mind-state this week, but also why it took until Thursday to post last Friday's update.

I give praise in tribute
To something quite keen
A wondrous treasure
That we call caffeine

Caffeine is awesome
Caffeine is great
Without caffeine
I would be quite irate

Without it, I won't work
I won't even try
I'd get it from an IV
Except I would die

Caffeine is so wonderful
And also superb
I need caffeine
Or I get perturbed

Caffeine's superior
Caffeine’s the best
I drink caffeine
Because I don't get enough rest

Caffeine's amazing
Caffeine is sublime
I need caffeine
To make this shit rhyme

Coffee, soda, or red bull
They're all on the top
But I'm out of caffeine
So now I will stop

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Git and the Writer

In the development house I work at we have multiple programmers and designers all working on the same web projects throughout the day. We all work on our local machines, then push up to the development server. Without a way to track changes we would be erasing our co-workers efforts all day long. Luckily we do not have this problem because we use version control, a method of tracking changes across a wide range of users, and the tool we use is Git.

Image the power of your editors and beta readers to commit changes for your review through a freely distributed application where each participant can enact changes without the knowledge of others doing the same.

Medium stepped into the creative writing git fray with their Top 10 Reasons Git is a great tool for creative writing in which they touch on Git-Scribe,  "The git-scribe tool is a simple command line toolset to help you use Git, GitHub and Asciidoc to write e-books."

Then there is Hoborg, dieselpunk science fiction novel created in Git; a book that is  contributed, commented and edited by its readers. Looking to involve your audience?

Zen Mode allows you to remove distractions and directly work on your "cloud", your own that you can give others access to.

I reached out to a Git user group on Google + looking to see what others are doing:

  • Ian Barton who uses Git to manage both his blog and non-fiction book he is currently writing.
  • Matto Frasen writes for a Dutch Linux Magazine who shared his use of Git with ikiwiki to control his website.
As you see there are some very interesting, and powerful tools at your disposal. Yes, it does take some technical aptitude and this may not be the best option for you. But it is an option you can better understand and make a more informed decision.

Next week I will dig a little deeper into Github, specifically, a place where you too can host your own website. For Free.

Below is a 20 minute TED Talk by Clay Shirky on the power of Git.

Previous Blog Post

Friday, February 21, 2014

Converging with Convergence

There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when a true space station with gravity and room for 10,000 inhabitants will float somewhere between here and the moon. Imagine a giant spinning wheel that uses centrifugal force to generate its own artificial gravity.

Land your rocket on such a station and you may find a mechanical world like a large hotel or office building with endless hallways and side halls wandering off to who knows where in level upon level of circular floors. Life on that distant space station will be much as Karen T. Smith (a contributor to this blog) presents it to us in Convergence, except for the unlikely sentient computer.

In Smith’s Convergence, a family enters the world of the space station after a flight up from earth. The story focuses on Anya, the new teenage girl in school, as she makes friends, including that sentient main computer.

Convergence combines teenage romance with a stunning whodunit mystery packed with what-happens-next suspense. Once you are into it, you’re not likely to put this book down, so settle into this delightful story when you have the time to spare for a lengthy read or you may find yourself losing sleep.

I wish Convergence was available when my kids were young because it paints as accurate a picture of near future science as you’re likely to find in books for young readers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

So you want a website for your writing

Websites. Can't live with them. Can't live without. It's the place on the internet you can call your own. And it's a pain keep up. We've all been there, pushing on Facebook, Twitter, G+, GoodReads; what do you need a website for? That is a very good question. I'm not going to answer that for you as that'll take the fun out of figuring it out for yourselves. So decide, then either stick around or scram to the next blog.

You're still here? Nice.
So now you have or want a website but don't have a lot of money to spend and you want it to do everything and look really good while doing it:
  • A blog to show off your writing talents, a Twitter stream to show off your engagement, a Pintrest page to keep your friends together and above all, a place to sell yourself.
  • A great domain name that is easy for everyone to find.
  • Top organic search engine placement on keywords so you can be found.
  • Sharp graphics and layout that says you are contemporary and relevant to the new UI technologies.
  • Fully responsive to ALL the desktop and handheld devices, and IE 6 because your mom's friends will be visiting your site on a weekly basis for updates.
  • Most important, to spend as little money as possible.
That's quite the list you have there sunshine. What if I were to tell you that most of that is doable for free? I'd say I have some swamp land to sell you. Sorry, each of those items requires resources; mostly time and money which would be better served towards your writing.
But let's not fret too much. There are some hidden gems in that list that we can work through. Let's review each point and find some truth.

Super Blogging Website
  • Having a website with a blog is quite easy and you can be up and running in a very short time. and are examples that allow you to create your own blog and in quick order you are up and running for free. You can choose and adjust themes and colors to help make it your own. Some of these have modules that bring in streams from other services, like Twitter and Pintrest. That all sounds pretty easy, right? Well slow down sparky, you need to review terms of service for these sites and understand that they are going to be placing ads on your site. Blogger is owned by Google and in the Google TOS: "you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works" Yep. You should consider this.
  • Then there are the ads these sites will put on your blog because nothing is truly free. Do you want some content marketing company pushing your competitors work?
Roll your own. Think you have the nerd chops? Comfortable with HTML, css, javascript and git? You can create your own site and host it, sometimes for free, on any number of hosting options. Examples?
  • Bluehost, GoDaddy are among the frighteningly large number of hosting companies out there that will give you space, domain name and a CMS (content management system like Wordpress), but all at between $8 and $12/month. Not free, but there are no ads and there is technical support
  • Red Hat's OpenShift This PaaS (Platform as a Service) allows you to build out with simple clicks of a mouse your own space that can run your Application (Wordpress, Drupal or roll your own). Once your site is in play you can point your domain name at your server and your done. Cost? They have very reasonable plans for business's large and small, but to start your cost is $0/month. Yep, free, and no ads. This is really for development but for sites with limited traffic it'll work great.
  • github pages If you are looking for a very simple space to put up static pages, this may be an answer. You are allowed one free site per your github account (free). There are some limitations to this server as you can only run static pages, but there is a blogging option for the developers out there. Be warned, this is for the true geeks, but no ads! I will be getting (or git'ing) into this in a couple weeks.
  • These options will require some technical know-how. How much depends on where you are now. For example, can you setup an ssh key or use the basic git commands? No? This may cause some trouble. (ftp is so 2007) You can install your own Drupal or Wordpress application in Openshift just by using a mouse, but then you will also need to learn how to use the said applications. This can be a rabbit hole. Caution is required.
  • DrupalGardens is an easy work around with a very active community. (Free account will have ads)
Remember, there is some ramp-up speed in understanding the technology of your website. Every hour not spent writing, another kitten dies.

 A Great Domain Name
  • So you want to buy a kick-butt .com domain name? You do realize it is 2014, right? You are a little late to the game; all the good ones are taken.OK, not all the good ones, but they are running out fast. You can find one, it just takes a little digging and creative gumption. 
  • Not everything has to be a .com. There are some interesting and new TLD's coming down the pike. .cool, .ing, .kids, .book, .art, .coffee.  Be creative!
  • Be thoughtful about your address in regards to how long it is, remember-able, brand-able...and most of all don't be like:
    •  (Who Represents)
    • (Experts Exchange)
    • (The Therapist Finder)
    • (Speed of Art)
  • Yes, somebody thought those were a good ideas.

#1 on Google

Yes, you can be organically ranked on the first page of your favorite search engine for word terms that your readers will be searching on. Well, within reason. All it takes is time, knowledge, content, time, more knowledge and more content, content, and content. Quality content. Very high quality content. This isn't easy and companies make a lot of money guiding other companies up the rankings. But let's not scare you off too quickly. Let's break this into two challenges: the Technology and the Strategy.

A word of caution: This can be a sticky wicket and if you get over-zealous or start thinking you are smarter than the search engines, you site could loose ranking, or worse get blacklisted.  The key to being new with SEO is baby-steps, and measure every step of the way to see what works and what doesn't.

The Tech
  • You need a website that the SE's (search engine) can crawl and index. A few things to remember:
    • Use HTML standards
    • Populate the page title, description, keywords, alt and titles tags, properly named images, SE safe url's. Where ever an SE sees a piece of content, it must be relevant to what is on the page. (more of what to exactly have in the next part).
    • Remember that if is in javascript an SE won't see it.
    • Speed it import. The faster your page loads the happier the SE will be. This is your code, images, hosting...everything.
  • You need analytic's
    • See where your visitors are coming from (SE's, social media, QR Codes, etc)
    • How they are finding your site (what keywords did they use?)
    • How long did they stay on your site? Where they engaged?
      • This is called a Bounce Rate, the percentage of visitors that immediately leave. The higher this number, the worse it is. Strive for between 20 and 30%. Over 50% and you have a problem.
    • How far down the funnel did they go?
      • Funnel? Yep, each of your visitors should be tracked
        • Anonymous visitor arrives at your site
          • Do they leave or do they stay?
            • They stay, so do they click:
              •  Facebook like
              • Twitter follow
          • Do they provide their email address for updates?
      • All of these are the process of turning an anonymous visitor into a sell-able visitor.
    • Make the sale. Make lots of money. 
  • Remember, you don't want a lot of traffic. You don't want to pay for the hosting and bandwidth. You want the Right traffic.
The Strategy
  • Understand your target audience
    • Who are they?
    • Where else are they on the internet?
    • What else are they searching for across the internet?
  • Create a list of your keywords and phrases as your "targets"
    • See who ranks with those targets
    • Are they your competition?
    • Refine your list
  • Go through your site and pepper it with these targeted words and phrases.
    • Image names, along with titles and alt's
    • Page titles, descriptions, keywords and page urls
    • When you write your content don't stuff all your targets. Be judicious
      • This is probably going to raise some hackles of professional SEO people. Behind all the tech is a subtle art which is why they get paid the mad cash. Hopefully one or two will comment below.
  • Analytics
    • Measure everything. Remember, everything that gets measured, gets done. And if it gets measured well, it gets done well.
  • Intelligence
    • See who is linking to sites that you like.
    • Start building your inbound link strategy. Yep, another strategy. You need people linking to your page, which means you need content that people want to link to.
  • Social Media. Matt Cutts (The Google SEO guy) stated that Google does not rank Twitter of Facebook for their ranking. He said nothing about Google+. If you don't have a G+ account, get it and join some writing groups. Create thoughtful posts. 
  • Author referral tag. Use it
Keep this in mind about SEO: Search engines want to provide their clients with the best results for their clients query. They do this by scouring your site and indexing the language, the location, relevance of the inbound links and your history. What you are selling a search engine is trust. Trust that what you have is truly what their clients are looking for. Break that trust, lose your ranking. Gain that trust and get ranked.

There is a lot there, and so much more. Perhaps for another blog post. What should become apparent is that this can quickly become a full-time job, which it shouldn't because you already have another job. You should be writing!

An Award Winning Design
  • First understand this: Ugly websites make money. Don't believe me? Craigslist.
  • Secondly, your website is a reflection of you, your brand and your product. It's nice that you found that really cool theme for free, but so did a bunch of other sites, including possibly your competition, or the writer that is really, really bad but their site looks just like yours. 
  • Most business websites work from the logo, meaning the logo is on every page, the Twitter account, the Facebook page...everywhere. Well, you are an author and usually that means it's your mug that's the logo. Don't fret as it doesn't have to be, but you need to choose. What will be the point of contact across the internet for your product that will send the same message? Remember, continuity is important here. Your visitors don't want unwelcome surprises. Reward them. Make them eager to share what you have. Make them emotionally involved with your product. Make them Mavens!
  • Go to your local community college and put up an ad for a web designer. These kids need beer money.
  • As a last ditch effort spend a couple dollars at Here you will find graphic artists that will design a logo for $5. Remember, you get what you pay for. Fivrr is also an interesting place for book covers. Now, I'm not saying you can get a book cover for $5, but you can spend $20 for 4 different artists to see how your ideas translate to image, then take what you like to your graphics professional for visual ideas.
Browser Wars
  • How many of your visitors will be visiting your site via their phone or tablet (remember when I talked about analytics?) 
  • Does your website resolve properly on these devices? Does it have to? Well, it does, sorry. But on the bright side that is getting easier and easier to do. If you use the above mentioned Drupal or Wordpress site that functionality will be "mostly" built in. (That is going to raise an argument from some designers. Suck it Trebek. It's my blog post.)
  • This also gets into the topic on design and the ultimate question, what are the visitor expectations? Do they want to read snippets? Find out more about your research or process? Connect with you as a fan or friend? Find out where you are signing books, or speaking, or where they can sign up for the latest updates from you?
Round up
Well, that's a lot to do, so get busy, right? Well, not yet. First we go back to the original question, is a website really needed? Will a Facebook page do just as well, if not better? Perhaps. Are all your potential customers on Facebook? With Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest and your website, what is the reason? What is the goal? To sell more books, or gain followers where will sell the books for you? 
What I have brought up is all just the tip of the iceberg and in no way gospel. Engage in the comments below, think out loud and question everything.

SEO Tools

  • Combinator, a small tool I built for combining keyword combinations (

From my domain registrar,, these tld's are now available:

  • .bike
  • .camera
  • .clothing
  • .construction
  • .contractors
  • .directory
  • .equipment
  • .estate
  • .gallery
  • .graphics
  • .guru
  • .holdings
  • .kitchen
  • .land
  • .lighting
  • .plumbing
  • .singles
  • .technology
  • .today
  • .ventures

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tools of the Trade, Part 3 of 3

Saving the biggest guns for the end, today I'll be talking about OmmWriter and Scrivener.

This app annoyed the crap out of me, but in a fit of rage I found its niche. It shuts everything out. Completely. No distractions, no intrusions, no worries. It's like going to the spa for writing without strangers touching you. As you can see by these images, Ommwriter not only shuts out the rest of the distractions, it cleans your desk as well:

Are you easily distracted or prone to procrastinating while writing? Remember, any hour not spent writing another kitten dies. And the following graph produced by scientific guess-work shows where your attention wanders while trying to write: (results may vary)
That is scientific evidence you just can't argue with.

And finally, the big dog in the kennel, Scrivener.

Firstly, this is a fairly big application as it is more than a word processor. It's power comes, in my opinion, from two major functions:
  • The organizational features of notes and revisions, all within one application with an user friendly UI.
  • The wide range of electronic publishing formats. Yep, straight from your first draft to Amazon, just like most everyone else.
My workflow is chapter based and name each one descriptively so that as start re-reading I can easily move chapters about with the drag of a mouse. This works great in more complex chapters where I can place each scene in its own container and move each about the chapter or book independently.  

I have had some issues with Scrivener which I feel is important as I would not want you facing the same headaches I've been plagued with. First, when saving and opening your Scrivener Projects in a cloud space, like Drop Box, take care to ensure that the project on one computer is truly out of the project before opening it in another machine. In debugging some of my issues these looked to be a common issue with writers working with other writers or editors, and corrupting their project. To be clear, "corrupting" is not good.
Another issue that has plagued me is the Scrivener Projects are not OS agnostic. Create a Project in Mac and Windows has a problem with it. While this may not seem like too big a deal right now, when you send off the 70,000 word manuscript to your editor for revisions and tracking changes, you may be in for some problems if they are running a different OS.

A serious consideration to the above is your start-up time. What does it take to learn the new interface and all it can do? Remember the kittens! Below is a scientific map showing your ramp-up speeds and learning torque for the three main editors listed:

As you can see Scrivener, with the longest learning curve also requires the greatest amount of understanding. Have you used it? If you haven't you'll see what I mean. OmmWriter is so silly easy, but that's all it is. It does one thing, and it does it very well. 

So in conclusion, whether you are a Microsoft Word maven or a vim cowboy, at the end of the day it doesn't matter what you use, so long as you slap down the words. But like a joiner or cabinet maker, the better you know how to use your tools, and the sharper you keep the edges, the better the finished product.


Resources for the the past 3 parts

Monday, February 10, 2014

Holy F@^#ing S#!?

I have been in some discussions about the use of swear words in writing. There are authors who love them in general, others who use them as just an extension of some of their characters’ personalities, and some authors are limited (usually by genre) as to how many and which words they can use.
Swears words are just like any other word in the English language. They have power when it is given to them. When it comes down to it, swear words are really just words that show a degree of emotion.
A swear word compared to its non-offensive counterparts operate in the same manner ‘good’ and ‘amazing’ compare to each other. If someone uses the word ‘darn’, in most cases, they aren’t usually that upset about something. Now if that person were to use ‘damn’ instead, then it would be understood that the person had a stronger connection to that thing. So there is a time and place to use them. A swear word should really be used in situations where it could actually be left out and still have the sentence make sense (when used as an adjective/adverb). If it’s used as a noun, it gets trickier to test if it was used appropriately. It’s more dependent on the context in this situation. For instance, the phrase ‘That’s bullshit’ would have to be tested by replacing ‘bullshit’ with words like ‘crap’, similar to the same test as ‘darn’. All in all, swear words should be used when they portray the appropriate emotion, with the exception of it being a characteristic of a character that does not use them at appropriate times.
There have been stories which use profanity in them that are completely clashing to the motif of the book. I have read books in which halfway through a swear word was used. While it fit the appropriate reaction to the event for the character, it created a dissonance in the book. The character was a noble of a city set in a medieval locale and he went off swearing up a storm. Up to this point, no profanity had been used in the book and even the main characters, who were assassins, didn’t use such language. So to go from no use what so ever to four f-bombs in a row was very distracting and caused me to lose my flow. The scene had such a disruptive effect that I put the book down.
Often the problem of using them for the portrayal of a character’s personality is the overuse of them. A character that drops an ‘f’ bomb every other word or tries to use it in every part of speech that is possible, can become annoying to a reader. The repeated use can, but doesn’t always, create a jarring effect and ends up ‘breaking up the illusion’ of the book. Similar to typos and plot holes, when a jarring effect happens, it can cause the reader to break their flow. If a reader’s flow is disrupted, it detracts from their reading experience. This often causes them to lower their opinion of the book and possibly go as far as to stop reading it, if it has happened on multiple occasions.
The other consequence of overuse is the loss of meaning in a word. In an episode of a TV show several characters confronted another character about his use of the word ‘divine’. They pointed out that ‘not everything can be ‘divine’’. If people use swear words too much, they eventually degrade the meaning of the word to the level of their less obtrusive brethren. Which is, of course, simply no good. ‘Darn it’ should be used in a sense of disappointment, while ‘Damn it’ should be used when one seeks to call forth the wrath of the gods down upon their intended target to have it smitten into the nether.
I also believe that swear words are something that should not be used by children, not until they understand the word’s true meanings. Of my experiences with children who use swear words, I’ve noticed that they use the words as filler words or simply adjectives. Because it’s seen as ‘cool’ to use the words around their peers, children use them without knowing what they are actually saying, which of course leads to the misuse of the words. No person should have to suffer through that.
The use of profanity in literature has its purposes but should, above all, be used with consideration. It can be used tactfully to enhance a character or situation in a book. But if used without thoughtfulness, profanity can really deteriorate the quality of a book.

This One Might Be a Bit Autobiographical

It wasn't the long hours that bothered Steve so much. That just came with the territory. Sixteen hours on, eight off had been the expected schedule since Steve started in this field. And that's a good day. It didn't count the emergencies, the nightmares, the cram sessions, and, honestly, pretty much his workstation's entire college experience. Steve didn't even want to think about what happened when his workstation had its own kids. Assuming he ever did.

Nor was it the lack of appreciation. So humans didn't get it. What else was new? At least they still admitted their ignorance. The heart, the lungs, most of the spleen: they got all that figured out. But when it came to the brain, they still had no clue. Imagine how awkward it would be when they finally did figure it out, only to notice the tiny workstations where they figured their logic centers would be.

No, what really bothered Steve was how DUMB most workstations could be, including his own. Day in and day out, he'd make the perfect decisions, set up all the plans needed for his workstation to succeed. And what did the human do? Nothing! Just let instincts and biological impulses wreck everything again.

At least for day 11,529 of the job, Steve could punch out. His workstation had finally gone to bed, so after the usual nightly maintenance, (running the Dream-defragmenter, making sure bladder levels were low enough that he wouldn't have to rush back into the office for an emergency payload release, that sort of thing,) Steve punched out. He needed a freaking drink.

“Look, Steve, it could be worse,” Steve's friend Anna (short for Annathesiopolarious; workstation operators had weird names,) assured him back at the Beagle Tincture, the finest drinking establish you could find inside of dog. “Your human's hormonal levels are pretty decent, your sanity-bug reports are clean, and you're well within acceptable neurosis levels for a human in this setting. And you're well past puberty. You should be able to ride this person well until the warranty wears out.”

“That's not the point,” Steve (short for Oscilistevosipede, but anyway,) argued. “I don't just want to ride it out. My human's achievement to potentiality ratio is barely pushing acceptable. I know he wants to do more with his life, but he doesn't do it. And when he looks bad, I look bad.”

Anna nodded. “I had that problem before,” she said. “My human had the same barrista job for like, seven years. Every day, I beamed 'get that Master's already' to her for hours on end, and every night, she watched other people sing badly on television and then went to bed. I finally gave up and just ordered a copy of Personal Epiphany, Office Edition. Worked like a charm.”

Steve downed a shot of beagle fluids (don't ask,) and groaned. “I looked into that. It's not in the budget. I'm still in debt for Inner Peacemaster version 5.0 that I got him years ago. Turns out it worked too well. Contentment levels went through the roof, so he wouldn't do anything. Just wander around, thinking how awesome everything was. But humans can't eat awesome thoughts. God knows we tried that.

Sighing, Steve pulled out a brochure. “The best we can afford right now is a Willpro update. Hopefully it will at least give him the motivation to keep a sleep schedule, maybe avoid the random napping habit.”

“Is that really the best you can expect?” Anna asked. “I mean, there has to be some step in the right direction.”

Steve looked at the list of plans he had for his human and went all the way to the top of the list. “Well, let's see if I can at least get him to make a blog post or something. We can go from there.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tools of the Trade, Part 2 of 3

Let's continue our discussion of different tools writers can utilize. Today, I will be touching on the next two:
  • Open Office
  • Trello

  1. Open Office ( is an Open Source suite of popular business tools, such as spreadsheets, presentations, graphics....and of course a Word Processor. Why would you use this over, say Microsoft Word? OpenOffice can be downloaded and used entirely free of any license fees. This is the tool I use to copy and format chunks of writing for the critique group. It allows me to save files in .doc format (.docx if you prefer) and open them in another location for printing, like from my wife's computer that has Microsoft Word and a really nice laser printer. Likewise you can print from the office, or Kinko's, or church, or wherever. Going back to the carpenter in the first blog post, you may not need this tool every time you sit down to write, but when you need it, it's there. For free!
  2. Trello ( is an organizing tool that can come in handy for writing with others, or working with a group of beta-readers. Here it is, straight from their website: Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process. 

Think of it as an online organizer of post-it notes where you can invite others to review, add, post and edit. Yeah, I think you're starting to see the light. If you are collaborating with another writer (or writers), maintaining communication with beta-readers, or managing a writers group,  Trello makes working together easy. Even if you just want a way to keep track of your notes online, so you can access them from your office to your mobile phone or tablet to your home, Trello is a great way to get that done. 

Next week I conclude this series with two more tools, OmmWriter and Scrivener. Stay tuned!