2017-09-10

New Website

My new author website is up and running. Right now, it does pretty much the minimum required for it to be considered a halfway decent website. I'm still working my way through several books on Web-site design (currently reading Creating a Website: The Missing Manual, and CSS: The Missing Manual at the same time). I will most likely be making some minor changes to the new site as I learn more about website design. Once those two books are done, my next major project will be to learn JavaScript.

Learning JavaScript is going to take some time but is a necessary requirement for me to move on to the next phase of my website project--putting my science fiction calculator on the web. Ever since I started writing science fiction, I've relied on an Excel spreadsheet to perform calculations so I can keep the known science real. Some of these calculations can become quite complex and doing them by hand over and over again was simply not an option. I share this spreadsheet with anyone (author or not) who is interested in using it. Once it's on my website, anyone can use it.

When not reading up on website construction or web-based languages, I have been working on my current book. Right now, the word count sits at 35,698 and it's moving along well. I still have no idea how this one is going to end but I do have several possibilities. The story itself will usually point towards a satisfactory ending as I continue to add to it.

If you've been reading my blog or know me personally, you know that I'm a Microsoft Access developer. For the past couple of years, I've had a very stable system of programs that perform my automatic updates. This system needed some changes to make it easier to maintain as well as to improve the response time for changes made in the monitored data sources. Adding new automatic reports was especially difficult. I created a new set of programs using most of the original code and rolled them out last week. Unfortunately, I failed to perform the multi-day testing I said I would.

The code tested fine in development and seemed to run okay in production. I never put a new program into production on a Friday and I'm very lucky I did not. There was a tiny little bug in a single line of code that caused a bit of an embarrassing flurry of emails to upper management. One of my reports is scheduled to run at 0445 in the morning. The report generator used to check for reports to run every 3 minutes. Immediately after midnight, the code noted that the 0445 report had not run for the day. The check to see if it was actually scheduled to run was not correct and the report began sending itself out once every 3 minutes until 0445.

I saw it when I came into work at 0530 and I also stopped another report that would have run until 0600. The bug is one that is known to many programmers and is called a day-crossing error. I failed to test it properly. The corrected version has been running without error for more than a week now and I've also set the timers to check for a new report every 10 minutes instead of every three. The timer logic was copied from the database updater which continues to run every 3 minutes.

Luckily, nobody seemed to be too upset and I sent out an apology later in the day after I gave people enough time to clear out the email storm I caused. I also got a call from corporate IT and had to explain to them what had happened. When you write complex programs like these, errors are bound to happen. The key is to respond to them quickly. The entire system is built to alert me to errors when they happen. I also now ensure I get every single email that is sent out and I get it sent to my home address so I'm always in the loop.

Time to get back to preparing for a family picnic we are hosting.

2017-08-27

Eclipse 2017

My original plans called for me and my wife to leave Ohio on Saturday 8-19, stay overnight in Wytheville, and then continue to my dad's house in South Carolina the next day. News reports of huge traffic jams caused my wife to become concerned about getting stuck in traffic for hours on end which would not be a good thing considering she has leg problems. The plans were changed Thursday night. I left Friday morning by myself and drove the entire way without stopping. I did hit some traffic, but nothing like the media was predicting. In fact, the traffic jams failed to materialize until after the eclipse.

I watched the eclipse from the comfort of my dad's back porch. What a show! During totality, the crickets, cicadas, and tree frogs started singing. A large spider on the deck downstairs came out and began dismantling her web. Venus became visible and the corona was the only thing providing light. And then, as quickly as it had become dark, the sun reappeared and the show was over. 2 minutes and 30 seconds of memory that will remain with me for a long time to come.

If you missed the 2017 eclipse, you will have another chance in 2024. This one just happens to pass over my area and I will not have to travel anywhere to see it.

I did manage to get some writing done while on vacation. Collision Course now stands at 32,342 words putting it over 1/3 of the way to completion. I have a fuzzy idea as to how the story is going to end and I have a few scenes in my head that I know must get into the manuscript. Other than that, this story has been unfolding as I write it. So far, so good.

I've also begun the process of moving my website over to a new host. The initial site that viewers will see is complete and waiting to be viewed. All I'm waiting for now is the actual transfer to take place. Moving a website from one host to another is not as easy as one might think. The entire process will most likely take about 10 days as the current host wants to wait for the longest time possible before releasing the domain for transfer. Luckily, the people at X10Hosting have experience in doing this and all I had to do was to put in a help desk ticket with them and then contact my current host. They're handling the rest. I will let you know when the new site is available.

A couple days before I came back home, the bottom fell out of my daughter's car--literally. This triggered a series of actions my wife and I had discussed concerning the fate of her current car about a month or so ago. We weren't expecting to implement this plan for a few years. I arrived home on Friday at 11:30 AM. By 1:30 PM, we were at the car dealer looking at cars. At 5:15 PM, we were the owners of a new Hyundai Ioniq. My daughter picked up my wife's old car on Saturday.

2017-08-06

Some updates

Collision Course (my current work in progress now stands at 25,154 words. I am moving into a part of the novel that should move along very rapidly as long as I have the time to just sit and write. It's starting to turn out better than I had originally hoped. The ending, however, is still going to be a problem. Luckily, I'm not there yet.

I haven't written a blog in a few weeks and nobody seems to have noticed. That could be a good thing in that perhaps writing a weekly post was too much. These days, people don't have a lot of time to read everyone's posts. Attention spans are also becoming shorter because there is simply so much more out there for people to look at and enjoy. A shorter attention span though could also mean that I should write more as it keeps people's interest focused on coming back to my blog.

Here's how I figure it: If you are reading this because you're interested in hearing about the progress I'm making on my next novel, are interested in learning a bit about the self-publishing process, and have an interest in what I am up to in my life, then you would set your browser to subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog and then read up on what I have to say when I say it. Trying to remember to go to my blog every week is most likely not what is typically done. I would assume that most people out there have automated things and use the RSS feed.

Now that I've typed all that, I certainly home Blogger.com provides an RSS feed and that most people know how to use it! I'm not going to worry about it though.

I've been doing some learning on how to build websites. I've already read a few books on the subject and I've started to apply my new found knowledge on a new author website. The new site is nearly ready for me to cut the cord on the current host. Before I jump into learning JavaScript, I intend to learn as much as I can about HTML and CSS. To bolster my knowledge, I've ordered 3 more books: HTML: The Missing Manual, CSS: The Missing Manual, and How to Build a Website: The Missing Manual. As you can see, I have a high opinion of the Missing Manual books. If you want to learn something, go to one of these first if available.

I want to mention a touchy subject and I apologize to those authors out there who might disagree with my opinion on this matter. Authors must promote their books, that is a given. But over-promotion can be worse. I no longer use the native Twitter app because it is filled with advertisements. If I visit a website and the first thing that happens is a full-page ad pops up, I'm out and I doubt I will ever return. If I'm following someone on Twitter and the only tweets that person writes are promotional in nature--then I'm most likely going to unfollow that person.

There is a fine line between 'correct' promotions and overdoing it. Sure, your readers are interested in that fact that you've published a new book. They might be interested in knowing it's out in a different language. They might have missed the first or even the second tweet. But send out a promotional tweet too often and I start to wonder why you're on Twitter to begin with.

The same goes for Facebook, Google+, and the other social media sites. I do promote my books on social media, but I do so sparingly. I've never been an "in your face" sort of author. I prefer to see my books promoted by other means, like word of mouth. It's just my opinion. Blasting your book out there over every social media platform you can every day for weeks on end might give you a good sales boost. For me, I subscribe to social media because I want to know what the people I'm following are doing. I don't like to be blasted by promotional ads. If I want that I'll watch live television--something I haven't done in years.

Time to get back to writing.

2017-07-23

Progress report

After being stuck in writer's limbo for a couple of weeks, Collision Course is now once again growing in size. Fighting off a touch of the flu certainly did not help but things are now moving along. The word count now stands at 21,629 putting it at about the 25% mark. I will be getting back to working on it as soon as this is posted.

My studies into how to author a website are moving along. I now have a fairly good skeleton of my new author site up and running on my new host. I'm continuing to learn. Unfortunately, the more I learn, the more I discover that I have more to learn. There are so many different web technologies out there that keeping up with them (much less learning them) is quite a challenge.

My approach to this entire project has been to start with the basics (HTML and CSS) and work up from there. Others, anxious to begin, might have started with a website builder such as Adobe's Creative Cloud and just used the application's GUI to build a site. But doing that does not provide any insight into the underlying code. I don't want to just build a website, I want to know how it works.

After I have a firm grasp on HTML and CSS (within another week or so I believe), I will start learning JavaScript. Following that, comes PHP, Java, and then maybe Sass and Less. In between, I might take a closer look at Modernizr. Who knows, I might even decide to learn Python and Ruby as well! Okay, maybe that's pulling off more than I can chew because while learning all the above, I still need (and want) to write. There isn't enough time in the day for me to learn all this. It's frustrating and fun all rolled up into a slippery vibrating package that's hard to get a grip on.

Being a self-published author is not easy because the author has so many additional duties beyond just writing. It takes a lot of time and often a lot of sacrifices. I watch very little TV and when I do it's done at 1.5x or 2x speed. I've gotten very used to watching an entire movie at 2x normal speed. Reading for pleasure is a rarity these days.

Because I have so much to do, I'm keeping this post and future posts short. I might even drop back to a single post every couple of weeks instead of weekly. Time to get some writing done!

2017-07-16

Trying on a new hat

Not much progress has been made on Collision Course since last week. I seem to be stuck in a loop trying to decide which path to take at this point in the new novel. Until that's resolved, I'll most likely work on assembling a new hat to wear--that of website author.

I have been building my new author website on a free hosting platform and so far the results are okay. Last week, I finally got the formatting to look like I wanted--on Chrome. But Chrome is not the only browser out there so I decided to test it out on my phone. It looked great. Next came Internet Explorer. Not so good. Using caniuse, I learned there was a bug in Explorer on how it behaved regarding one of the tags I was using. Back to the drawing board.

I should point out that I started off using NotePad++ as my editor just so I could become used to entering the tags correctly. During the hours long trial and error to fix my code so it would display properly on both Chrome and Explorer, I switched to CodeWriter. This still required me to do the endless edit, save, switch to browser, refresh, cycle and it quickly became a pain in the neck. I did solve the problem and things are working much better on multiple browsers.

Thinking there must be a better way, I began my search for a better HTML editor. I eventually found Brackets. This editor seemed to have everything I dreamed of. A quick internet search, however, found nothing in the way of a user guide. How the hell am I supposed to learn a powerful program if there's no user guide? I wanted this editor but nowhere could I find a manual explaining what it is capable of and how to do it. I was about to give up when I found a series of videos explaining how to use Brackets. Lisa Catalano has not only put together a fantastic series of videos, she's also one hell of a web designer and I learned plenty while also learning how to use Brackets.

Being a self-published author means wearing many hats: Writer, editor, business manager, accountant, sales manager, promotion manager, document formatter, and observer just to name a few. If you want a website, you most likely need to fashion a website author hat as well. Like many authors I know, I'm also a software developer. I use my writing skills every day during my day job to maintain the User Guide and the Technical Reference Manual for every application I write. It's common sense. Brackets is a fantastic product. It's lack of a manual almost caused me to pass it by.

Now I have to go fix another problem before I can get back to work on Collision Course. I use Microsoft Media Center as my DVR. Two weeks ago, the guide began showing "No Data Available" for all channels. This meant our shows would no longer be recorded. I eventually managed to coax the system into doing a partial download of the guide and we had information on the lower channels. A few days ago, that information became unreliable and only went out about 7 days. Nothing available on the upper channels still.

I called the cable company--not their problem. I called Microsoft--Media Center is no longer supported--not their problem. Finally, I found a drastic solution. After I post this, I will be replacing my guide with one developed by the loyal community of Media Center users. I hope it works.