2018-05-06

May 6: Collision Course and website

My wife has passed the halfway point of her review of Collision Course. It's been slow going but she's promised to speed things up a bit. I'm still hoping for a release sometime this month.

Work on my website is also going slow but I am making progress. In fact, I uploaded all of the changes to the site last weekend. More improvements are coming. The biggest factor in how slow things are going is the weather--it's been very nice! With good weather comes all the work needed to clean things up after Winter. The list was a long one but now I think it's all behind me.

As for writing--I've been thinking about scaling that way back. Writers put a lot of things on hold while they're writing and it's good to take a break from writing and do other things. Reading and watching science and science fiction movies and programs are the things I've been sacrificing. I will get back to writing when the urge hits.

As for my future as an employee at the nuclear power plant, that is still a total unknown. The efforts to save the plant's future with government support are not going well. With the company in bankruptcy, the future is very uncertain. I've been working at the plant for 29 years and was hoping to make it until 70. But, if the news reports turn out to be true, the plant will cease producing power on May 21st of 2021 and begin the process of decommissioning. Once the paperwork to change the license is sent, there is no turning back. I think I will be able to keep working there for at least the first year after the reactor is finally shut down but after that--who knows. The sad thing about it all is that we generate carbon-free power. Replacement power will generate more carbon and the air quality will decrease. Studies show that peoples electric rates will also go up--a lot.

2018-04-15

Taxes and website

Collision Course is still in the process of being proofed by my meticulous wife. I believe she's about at the half-way point. While she's been proofing, I've been learning how to build a website.

My current website isn't that bad but it's not complete. I also realized when I built it that the JavaScript code driving two of the pages was not written using techniques that are recognized as acceptable in professional programming circles. I sought out some advice, learned a bit about jQuery and then started work on version 2. I haven't updated the live site yet, but I'm closing in on a site that will look very similar to what is seen now but has more professional-looking code driving it.

One of my primary goals is to keep the site simple and easy to use on any platform from small cell phones to giant multi-screened systems. I also want the user who likes to keep JavaScript disabled to be able to view the site. Achieving these goals has not been easy! The new site relies heavily on CSS and HTML 5 for as much of the design and functionality as possible. The pages where JavaScript are required are clearly marked as such.

My biggest problem was in creating a menuing system that works on all platforms. The current system you see now uses CSS and works okay. But with more pages coming, the menu needed updating. A simple drop-down where the user hovers over an item and a sub-menu appears seemed like a good choice but such a menuing system will have problems on a touch-screen. Yesterday, while at the writer's group, a fellow author showed me her website. She uses the now standard three bar menu icon to take the user to a central navigation hub. This is a more elegant solution and is the one I will be adopting.

I've seen such a menu before but never really thought about it until now. It's also far easier to maintain than an old-style menu with categories listed at the top or the side of a site. When a change is made, I will no longer have to update every single page to show the new menu. This is a much better design.

I wanted to bring up a concern about taxes that I noted on Twitter the other day. Two of my author acquaintances have books that have done well last year. One was complaining she was not prepared for the amount of money she needed to send to the IRS while the other said that his accountant had been pretty much useless. I've written several times in the past about taxes for authors. A writer must treat their writing like a business. This involves more than just claiming that your writing is a business. You must be able to show the IRS that you are treating your writing as a business by documentation, separate bank accounts, etc.

One of the other aspects of owning a business is to understand how the finances work. Please don't rely totally on an accountant for this. Take the time to read the IRS publications. Believe it or not, they're not that difficult to read. When tax time comes, the IRS will hold you responsible for the accuracy of the forms you submit--not your accountant. I do my own taxes and I periodically read the IRS publications to keep abreast of the changes in tax law. Sure it takes time. But it's better than finding out that you or your accountant missed something important and now you owe more taxes than you can afford to pay.

There are many resources out there if you care to take the time to do the research. Taxes can be tricky. But after reading the IRS publications, reading a book on taxes for small businesses, and taking the time to get your writing business in order can make tax time less challenging. Planning ahead for the tax you will need to pay is also a must. The IRS will want their fair share of your writing income. Make sure you have it available when the time comes.

2018-03-25

JavaScript

Collision Course is currently being proofed by my wife. Her 27 years of newspaper experience makes her the perfect person to edit my books. She is not a big fan of science fiction and that actually is a plus for her being my proof-reader. Because she does not enjoy reading science fiction, she does not have the tendency to switch from editing mode to story-reading mode. She's committed to proofing at least one chapter a day so I should have a proofed copy in a little over a month.

In the meantime, I've started playing around with my website. It's been too long since I last played around with website development and the memory of how it all works was beginning to fade. It took some time this morning to get back up to speed but now I'm making progress. I'm using a local web server called XAMPP to locally host the test site.

I'm building my site totally manually without using any sort of web building software. This way, I'll be actually learning how to do the programming and how everything ties together. If I were to use a site builder, it would generate the code for me and I would not be doing any learning. That's also why I took the path of learning JavaScript before learning JQuery. I want to know how it works.

XAMPP is a free program and it has all the features of a full-fledged web server. It runs Apache with support for JavaScript, Perl, MySQL, and everything else you need to run a full-blown website. Installation was a snap and it consumes few resources. If you need to build a WordPress or Joomla site, there are installers to put those platforms on XAMPP. If you're serious about developing websites, then this is the route to go.

The editor I'm using is Atom. I tried a few others but Atom is the one with the best documentation and is highly configurable. Brackets is another good choice but finding good documentation on how to use it is virtually impossible. What good is a program that does not have good documentation?

As a self-published author, it's up to me to build my own website. I have a good background in computer programming and learning to build a website is just an extension of my current skill-set. Many self-published authors have taken the time to learn how to build a website because having one is pretty much mandatory these days and paying someone else to build it can get expensive. If you don't want to take the time to learn JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and a host of other acronyms, then give WordPress or one of the other popular content manager platforms a shot. For myself, the best way to learn is to play.

Time to get back to playing!

2018-03-18

Ready for Proofing

As of a few moments ago, Collision Course is complete and ready to be proofed. Based on the feedback I received from my content editor Lee Dilkie, I've made a few changes in how the story unfolded. I also added a new final chapter that neatly wraps things up. Additional text was added to explain a few things that were left unexplained in the original draft. All-in-all, I am pleased with the book.

I have also selected the artwork that will be used for the cover. I will begin adding the text and making a few minor changes to the artwork to make it look more like all my other books. I would like to thank Lee for his insight and Heather Zak for her hard work in creating the new cover. Now, the book goes to my wife Cheryl so she can work her grammatical magic. I expect that process to take about a month. So what will I be doing next?

My website is presentable but it is missing many features that should be on a professional website. I will be applying my recently acquired knowledge of JaveScript and JQuery to rebuild the website and finally finish it into something any web developer would be proud of. This will be the focus of my attention for the next few months. My intention is to continue to learn JavaScript, JQuery, HTML, CSS, and even PHP to build my knowledge of website development.

I spent all of last weekend in Aurora Ohio attending the Cleveland Concoction Convention. I decided to go for two reasons: 1) Geoffrey Landis, an author and NASA engineer with hardware on Mars, whom I'd met at my first Launch Pad workshop in 2012 and his wife (also an author) would be attending. 2) The convention has an author's showroom where they sell books.

It was very good to see Geoff and his wife Mary Turzillo again. We had dinner together and caught up on things. The book sales are another story. I am positive I did not sell enough to cover the cost of the room. I had decided to stay in the hotel instead of driving back and forth and that decision made the convention unprofitable. But, I had a good time, got to see old acquaintances, and managed to get a ton of editing done. In the end, I think it was a worthwhile investment.

As far as writing is concerned, I'm not sure what I will be working on next. I might just decide to take a long break from writing, focus on learning new programming languages and environments and take some time to see how non-writers live. Writing means sacrificing a lot of things like going out to movies, watching television, surfing the net, reading other's books, and just taking time to do nothing. Time to take a break.

2018-03-04

Weather

Editing and revisions to Collision Course are slowly proceeding. I did not get much done this weekend due to our not having any power from 7:15 PM Thursday until 8:30 PM Saturday. I do have a generator but I only set it up to power up the refrigerator and a few items. We have an all-electric home and the power outage was partial, giving us about 50 volts coming into the house. This was enough juice to allow the baseboard heaters to get warm enough to keep the inside of the house comfortable. I do have a rig I can use to power the entire house but the generator does not have a high enough rating to run everything. For example, the generator is rated at 5,200 watts and my hot water tank will draw 4,500. That leaves very little room for anything else.

I should be able to get some serious editing done next weekend since I will be at the Cleveland Concoction. When I'm not sitting on panels on Friday, I will be in the bar or lounge editing. If you're in at the convention, stop by and say hi. I will be spending Friday night in the hotel but driving home Saturday. I will return on Sunday morning to retrieve any unsold books; hopefully, that will be none! Because of the busy schedule next weekend, I don't plan on putting out a blog post.

Time to get back to editing--if my cats will let me. They seem to be especially clingy this morning and insist on getting in my lap no matter where I sit.