What’s On Your Wireless Network?

May 29, 2012

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In early 2007, my house had a cable modem and a wired router.  Then one computer got moved upstairs, a wireless router was needed, and the network began to grow.  Here is what we currently have on our network.

Device Purchase date Use
Wireless Router 2011 We previously had a LinkSys, but it began randomly refusing to allow devices to connect.  It was four years old, so we kicked it to the curb and replaced with a MediaLink router.  No problems with the MediaLink so far.
Mac Mini 2007 This is now owned by my business.  Not the quickest machine in the world any more, but very capable of running WordPress and productivity apps.  I generally avoid OS upgrades (preferring to save the cash toward a new computer purchase).  Thus the machine is running OS X 10.4.9.  Since this OS version is Tiger, the machine’s name is Hobbes.
Mac Mini 2011 Purchased to replace Hobbes as the family’s main computer.  This machine runs OS 10.7 (Lion) and is appropriately named Simba.  You probably think the custom names are a bit much … but it makes it really easy to identify computer when file sharing.
Windows Laptop 2011 This is my work laptop.  The wireless network makes it possible to get some work done from the comfort of the recliner.
iPhone 4GS 2011 This is my wife’s phone, so I don’t use it much.
Palm Pre 2 2011 I bought this cheap off eBay ($45?).  It’s inactivated, so I don’t use it as a phone.  I use it for surfing the web (WiFi only) and listening to podcasts and music.  The best thing about the Pre is the size.  I can put it my back and pull it out when I have a need to use it.  The Pre’s name is Montecore (this was the tiger involved in the incident with Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy).
Blu Ray Player 2012 We actually recouped the majority of the cost of the Panasonic player by selling the bundled 3d Blu Ray copy of Avatar.  That was a nice surprise.  We haven’t actually played many Blu Ray discs yet, but we’ve used it a fair amount for NetFlix.  It also runs some other apps, including Facebook (the experience is, shall we say, sub-optimal).  It can also interact with DLNA network.  Naturally, I had to do a proof of concept checkout to make sure this worked.
Roku 2012 We bought to Roku to bring NetFlix capability to the downstairs TV (a relic from the early days of this century).

That’s 7 devices sharing the network. In general, they play together fairly well. I haven’t noticed any issue with NetFlix due to the activity of the computer’s for example.

Naturally, those aren’t the only gadgets we have. Here’s a sampling of the others:

  • Kindle – This is a previous generation Kindle with a keyboard.  It doesn’t need to use the WiFi network because it has built-in 3G.
  • My cell phone(s) – I have a Samsung a777, but have actually been using my previous phone for a while now (because I broke the clip for the new phone and haven’t gotten a new one).  The phones can receive text messages, but that’s it.  Battery life, however, is through the roof (5-6 days).
  • GPS – We have two GPS navigators.  The older model doesn’t have free updates and need to be plugged into the car outlet almost constantly.  We’re replacing it with a new Garmin that has free lifetime updates … and hopefully a decent battery.
  • iPods – We bought two iPods years ago.  I used mine more frequently before I got the Palm Pre, but it’s been pretty much idle for the last several months.  The other iPod hasn’t had much use in a few years.  There’s nothing WRONG with them, per se … they just had their functionality included in other devices.  Our kids are 4 and 2 – maybe they’ll be using the iPods before long.
  • Digital cameras – We have three.  We have a new Kodak and two older Samsungs (purchased in 2002 and 2007).  It makes some sense to keep ONE backup, but there’s probably not a need for two backups.
  • Digital video camera – It was pretty cool when I bought it in 2003, but it has fallen way behind the technological curve.

 

What about you – what gadgets are attached to your network?
 

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I Got A Smartphone

November 21, 2011

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I’m pretty sure I just heard Evan‘s head explode with surprise.

I’ve long been a proponent of dumb phones, putting battery life above features.  If they made a rotary dial cell phone that would last for a month on a battery charge, I’d probably own one.

This has been a year of change, though.  A year ago, I firmly resisted eBooks.  Now, I’ve completely gone over to the dark side.  Not only do I own a Kindle (a gently used third-hand model), but even reviewed the Kindle Fire and other new models.

Have I done a complete 180, ditching my dumb phone for an iPhone 4?

Nah.

While most people use both aspects of a smart phone – the “smart” part and the “phone” part.  In my dual traditions of frugality and non-conformity, I am not.  What I purchased, in reality, it a portable WiFi device.

What did I get?

I got a used Palm Pre.  Lazy Man thinks they are the bee‘s knees, the banana’s pyjamas, and the best thing since sliced bread.  Aside from irresponsible behavior when it comes to baseball – following a team in the inferior American League – we actually see eye to eye on quite a few things.

Earlier, Lazy Man had me convinced to jump on the Touchpad clearance sales, but I was late to the frenzy and came up short.  The Pre is much smaller (cell sized), but also runs the WebOS.  Since I’m a tech guy, I enjoy learning new OSes.

But why?

I’ll be able to check sports scores anywhere I can get a WiFi connection.  Yes, that’s the main reason.  Should come in handy when doing yard work – or even sitting on the couch – or at a location where WiFi is available.

In addition to being a net device, I can also use the Pre as a reader.  I haven’t found a way to load actual Kindle books on it yet, but I can load ePub books.  Not surprisingly, the first book I loaded was Jules Verne’s classic Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Perhaps a bit surprisingly, this was also the second book I loaded.  When I noticed that the first version was the Hardwigg version, I immediately sought out a Lidenbrock version.  This is one of my very favorite books, and I find it very jarring to not have the Lidenbrocks in the book.

The next time I’m stuck in a long line at the grocery story, I’ll just pull out the Pre and read.

I’l searching for a decent Blackjack game I can load via PreWare.  The one I currently have has pretty weak graphics and treats the Ace as always being worth 11 (instead of 11 or 1).  That’s a pretty big flaw in a blackjack game.

Early thoughts

It was more difficult to get past the activation screen than it should have been.  It would have been nice to see something like “activate later”, but I had to flash the rom, run some Java tools, and reboot into developer mode just to get the Pre to a state where I could actually get to the main screen and load software.  Luckily, the Pre community has a lot of helpful documentation, but it was still a pain in the rear.

I also haven’t yet found a way to deactivate the “phone” portion of the Pre, since I will never need to use it.  For the moment, I have at least taken the phone app off the dock and have the Pre set to be on Airplane Mode.

It would also be nice if there was a decent way to get access to the App Catalog without activating the phone.  It seems that there’s a way to do this by jumping through some additional hoops, but I just wanted to get online fast, so I took the route with fewer hoops.

Other than using my wife’s iPhone on occasion, this is my first experience with a touchscreen phone.  The LCD seems to pick up finger prints really easily.

Grade

I’d give it a B- so far.  The grade would probably be an A- if not for the extra steps to get the Pre working.  I know very little about WebOS, but seem to be figuring out things are I go.  I keep having to remind myself of the gesture area at the bottom of the screen (touching in this area triggers a variety of actions).

Is Wikipedia A Reliable Source?

September 15, 2011

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Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

Wikipedia has had a huge impact on the ability to quickly research a topic.  Back in the old days, people had to dust off the encyclopedia to get in depth information on a topic, and the information might be decades old.  The world wide web in general helped bring update information to the masses.  Wikipedia took it a step further by creating a central repository for knowledge.

Some people love Wikipedia; others (particularly teachers) dislike it.  The general criticism is that it’s not a reliable source since anyone can edit it.  A high profile example of this was a 2008 edit to the page of Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany which claimed that he shot down proposals of a playoff in NCAA football, “making him a complete and total douchebag.”  While this incident was amusing to some playoff proponents, it was a black eye for Wikipedia.

Is Wikipedia a Reliable Source?

No, definitely not.  Wikipedia won’t even argue this.  Wikipedia doesn’t purport to be a source, but rather as a site that presents data from other sources.  Essentially, Wikipedia is a big research paper, with citations noted within each article.  Original research is explictly forbidden.  The sources themselves must meet the standard of being a reliable source – personal blogs are not allowed.

If you’re using Wikipedia for formal research, you should cite the actual source, rather than the Wikipedia page.  I’ll even take this a step further and suggest reading the source, to ensure that you have the proper context for the information.

Anyone Can Edit Wikipedia

This is true.  You can sign up as an editor on Wikipedia today and immediately start editing articles.  However, if you’re being (in  the words of Jethro Gibbs) a real jackwagon, you can find yourself banned pretty quickly.

In general, disputes on Wikipedia are handled via a dispute resolution policy.  Often, this centers around an article not conforming with Wikipedia’s policy that articles have a neutral point of view (naturally, this is more of a problem with articles of a political nature).

Articles that are particularly prone to vandalism or subject to edit wars (where editors with conflicting viewpoints constantly overwrite each other’s text) can be protected so that only privileged accounts can edit the article (anyone can suggest a change, though).

What’s Going On Behind The Scenes?

At the top of every Wikipedia article, there is a “Discussion” tab.  Click on this tab and you will find a discussion about the content of the article.  Not a general discussion of the topic, but a discussion as it relates to the exact content of the article.  This is often more informative than the actual article itself – it can provide an interesting context to the information in the article.  Take a look at the pages for Barack Obama or Sarah Palin.

You can go a step further and and become a Wikipedia editor yourself.  This can be a responsibility that takes a large amount of your time, or a small amount.  I became an editor several months ago.  No, I haven’t made any sweeping changes.  I’ve made a handful of very small changes (obvious thinks like incorrect links) and contributed to a few discussions in the Discussion tab of a few articles.

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Should I buy a Kindle?

April 16, 2011

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I’ve long been a champion of traditional paper and ink books.  Among the benefits I always mention is the availability of cheap used book and the low risk of loss.  Ebooks (specifically Kindle) are priced competitively with other new editions of books, but more expensive than a dog-eared copy from a used bookstore (not to mention the feeling of poking around for treasures in a book store).

However, I feel myself tugged a bit in the direction of the Kindle these days.  It all really started when I published my first book of short stories for the Kindle.  Without much work, I could make Mountains, Meadows, and Chasms available to the world – at a price point ($3.49) that made it affordable for nearly anyone, while also netting me a fair commission.  Then there’s the availability of free public domain works.  Getting the classic for free would be a good deal.  Kindle users can also lend books to each other for 14 days – and interesting way to read for free.

I’m not quite convinced yet, but I’m on the fence.  We’ll see what the future holds.  Now, let’s take a look at the various version of the Kindle now available (yes, yes, there will be affiliate links at the end of the article).

Kindle DX – The most expensive Kindle has a 9.7″ screen within WiFi and 3G that works globally.  The downside is the price tag.  $379.  Are you freaking kidding me?  If I’m going to spend that sort of money for an e-reader, I’d pony up a few extra dollars for a 1st generation iPad.  Even the lowest end iPad would give you 16 GB of memory compared to the Kindle’s 4 GB, and the screen is also 9.7″.  Install the free Kindle reader application, and you can use it as a Kindle – but also have the added functionality of a full-function tablet (although you do take a hit in battery life).  So I’ll cross the DX off my list … and also ignore the possibility of an iPad.

Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi – The price tag drops to $189 and the screen size is cut down to 6″ (we’re talking diagonal, so this is half the size of the 9.7″).  Here we come across a $50 question – do I NEED 3G?  Probably not.  It’s extremely rare that I’m outside the range of a WiFi network for an extended period of time – and I could plan in advanced to have a few spare books on the kindle.  Cross this one off the list.

Kindle Wi-Fi –  At $139, this is the first model that’s within the realm of possibility.  Pricey, but worth it?  I’m going to say “no” for now, but revisit the situation if The Soap Boxers starts generating decent revenue.  I’d also like to see the price drop below $100 – which might happen at some point in the year.  I’ll keep my eye on this one.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special Offers –  This is the newest Kindle offering.  It’s basically identical to the $139 Kindle Wi-Fi, but is priced at $114.  The catch?  It will feature advertising and special offers on the bottom of the main screen on on the screen saver (but NOT embedded within the text of a book).  I see this as an interesting option.  For customers who don’t want the ads, they can pay $139 for the standard Kindle Wi-Fi.  For those who don’t mind the ads – or even those who WANT to get the special offers Amazon will send them, it’s a good deal.  Personally, I probably wouldn’t go for this model.  You save $25, but over life of the product, this breaks down to a few pennies per day.  That’s a slam dunk deal for Amazon – an amazingly cheap captive audience.

Make the ad-supported Kindle FREE, and you might get my attention.  This might sound like a ridiculous idea, but Amazon would greatly expand the customer base for the ads – and also the customer base for the bread-and-butter product, the eBooks.  Free Kindles in 2012?  Don’t be surprised.

Kindle owners – any thoughts to share with us?


How The Internet Is Saving Society

October 15, 2010

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There are some people who would suggest that the ever-present nature of technology is tearing apart the very fabric of society.  Indeed, it can be disturbing to see teens hospitalized with texting-induced carpal tunnel syndrome.  Really, though, technology is not all bad.  In fact, the internet is contributing significantly to our daily lives – perhaps even saving society!

Keeping In Touch

As a result of an ever-increasing number of people attending college, more people find themselves moving away from their ancestral homes as they market their specialized skills.  22 year old kids end up moving hundreds, or even thousands of miles away – often without a support structure in their new town.

Without technology, it would be pretty easy to lose touch with old friends.  Today, there’s really no excuse.  You can just shoot off an email to a friend, and they’ll respond when they get a chance.  Unlike phone calls, time zones don’t matter.  Keeping in touch with a friend halfway around the world via phone can be tricky because of time zones – not to mention extremely expensive.

I use Facebook to keep in touch with a lot of friends from my younger days.  I can see pictures of their kids, news about their promotions, and more – with just the click of a mouse.  Additionally, I get a chance to see sides of people that I didn’t realize existed – particularly true regarding people that I wasn’t overly close to in high school.  Sure, there are distractions like Wordscraper (which I play) and Farmville (which I don’t), but really, it’s all about the people.

Friends With Common Interests

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to meet people with common interests.  I have a wide variety of interests that include (but are not limited to) sports, writing, and forensics.  It can often be difficult to find others who share these interests at the same levels.  This is particulalry true with baseball, which I follow with a fanatical passion.

When I find people who share these interests with the same intensity, I make an effort to stay in contact with them.  Increasingly, many of these people are friends whom I know only from the internet.  I have never met them in “real life”, nor have I talked them on the phone.  They are nothing but a string of emails to me.

Expose Yourself

I abdondoned my fiction writing for about a decade, largely because there really wasn’t a good way to get feedback.  I’d write some stories, but then what?  Show them to a handful of close friends?

With the explosion in the popularity of blogs, it’s incredibly easy to put your writing (or artwork) on display for the world to see.  With six billion people in the world, there is a decent chance that someone will enjoy your work.  It’s incredibly easy to get started.  For the quick and easy setup, go the Blogger or WordPress.com and you’ll have a blog within minutes – at no cost to you.

Want a bit more control over your site (with a bit more cost)?  Go to a web host like Dreamhost, register a domain, pick a hosting plan, and you’re good to go.

Never has it been easier to reach an audience.  The great thing about the internet is that readers place imortance on the message itself, with few pre-conceived notions about the author.  I could care less if you are the son of doctors or ditch-diggers – if you write an interesting anlytical piece about baseball, I’ll read it.

Collaborate

The Soap Boxers has 16 official writers.  One of these writers does not actually exist in real life, but is just a fig newton of my imagination.  Another of them is me.  Of the 14 others, I have met four of them in person.  I have long friendships with Crunchy and Phil – friendships that orginated in “real life”.  I knew Squeaky from work.  I became acquainted with Bob over the computer – and, although I consider him a good friend, I’ve only met him a handful of times (always at the same pizza joint in the town that houses my company’s corporate headquarters).  I’m actually meeting Martin for lunch later today (we work a few blocks from each other).

The others?  I wouldn’t know some of them if I bumped into them on the street.  I know most of them from before the days of The Soap Boxers, but that’s not true of everyone.  Zarberg writes an article every month, but I didn’t know him until last fall.  He’s a friend of another of the writers (nope, I haven’t actually met our mutual friend, either).

In the “real world” it would be unusual for such a motley group to come together in one organization.  But in today’s world, it’s realitively easy for this group of writers to come together and create a collaborative work – albeit with wildly different components.

Why We Don’t Use the Alexa Rank

May 3, 2010

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I love statistics.  I actually use two different systems to track users on this site – Google Analytics and Sitemeter.  Sitemeter provides instant feedback and a line by line look at activity – quickly giving some geographical demographics.  I use Google more for the long haul statistics.  I also check my Google Page Rank from time to time.

In the blogosphere, you’ll often hear people chatter about their Alexa Rank.  There are a lot of things to link about the Alexa Ranking.  It’s updated daily, and you can see much bigger movements.  Google Page Rank is a number from 1 to 10 (higher being better) and it can take years to move forward just one spot.  The Alexa ranking intends to show where your site rankings in the world rankings.  You can be the 1,000,000th most popular site one month and inside the top 100,000 the next, if you have a lot of traffic one month.  Alexa also shows some demographics about your visitors.

However, I do not use the Alexa Ranking.  Months ago, when I started playing around with it, I noticed some bizarre behavior.  My traffic would have a significant uptick one week, only to have a worse Alexa Ranking.  What was going on?  It took only a minute to realize the problem.  Unlike the other sites, Alexa doesn’t actually analyze the exact details of your traffic.

Instead, Alexa attacks the problem somewhat backwards to the way the other sites work.  It has people download a toolbar, and then tracks the activity of those users.  It then uses this data to produce the ranking for individual sites.  However, this doesn’t really show how popular your site is amongst all internet users – it shows how popular it is amongst Alexa users.  Even worse, the toolbar is not available for several browsers, completely excluding people who use them.

The very fact that the Alexa Ranking requires a download from their site introduces sampling error.  Sites that are more technical in nature will get an artificial boost simply because their users are more likely to have downloaded the toolbar.  Likewise, sites that talk about Alexa from time to time will get a boost because of increased awareness amongst the site’s visitors.  Ironically, this article will probably boost my Alexa Ranking.  This site doesn’t have a lot of tech articles, and thus I suspect doesn’t have a big tech crowd.  Thus, a small movement in the number of visitors can create a large swing in Alexa Rank – due to the fact that Alexa users make up a small portion of our visitors.

So, do we throw out the baby with the bathwater, then?  Not necessarily.  If you have a considerable amount of traffic on your site, the Alexa Ranking can provide information on relative performance from month to month.  Alexa can also provide details on the demographics of your visitors – although you might expect Alexa to report a group that skews younger and more male than you expect – once again due to the tech bias.  However, I would suggest using caution when trying to determine the overall popularity of your site.

Was the Y2K Bug a Hoax?

April 21, 2010

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In 1999, corporate America was gripped by a fear – that the flipping of the calendar to 2000 would cause significant problems. Then 2000 came not with a bang, but with a whimper.

I was chatting with my brother yesterday, and he seems to be of the opinion that the entire situation was overblown. Was it – or were the fears well founded? This article is a decade late, but let’s take a deeper look at the Y2K bug.

What’s the problem, exactly? The problem was that many older computer program stored dates with two digit years instead of four digit years. This would cause a problem when the date flipped to 2000. Let’s use a simple example.

Let’s say the Social Security Administration had a computer program that checked to see if you were old enough to receive benefits. Let’s say that your birth date is January 1, 1920. This would be shortened to 01-01-20 in their system. This works fine in 1999. 1999 would be shortened to 99, and when the SSA computer takes the current data and subtracts your birth date, they determine that you are 79 years old (99-20).

Let’s flip to 2000. The program would shorten 2000 to 00. What does the program get when it takes the current date and subtracts your birth date? 80? Nope … -20.  (Yep, 00-20 = -20.  No check for you!)

This is a simple example. Any program using two digit years would have encountered problem. Imagine a nuclear power plant that used a program to determine if scheduled maintenance was needed …

Why didn’t they get it right the first time? An interesting thing about the Y2K bug is that is really wasn’t a bug. The programs were working exactly as designed – and the two-digit year was an intentional piece of the design. You could argue that it was a design flaw, but that would be pretty harsh. The real issue is that storage space at the time was much, much more expensive than it is today. Absurdly expensive. Using a two-digit year instead of a four digit year saved space, and thus money.

Certainly the programmers knew that the year 2000 would create problems. However, even the most optimistic programmers of the 1960s and 1970s could never have imagined that their programs would still be in use 30-40 years later.

What happened is that companies kept adding to the existing code base. Some programming languages were extremely good at certain tasks and simply refused to succumb to obsolescence. COBOL, I’m looking at you.

OK, then why didn’t they fix it later? I honestly think that each generation of programmers kept thinking that the old code would eventually be replaced by a completely new architecture, and that this resulted in less emphasis being placed on fixing Y2K issues. Going back and fixing all the instances of two digit dates would be a long process, with lots of testing. Simply building a new system would avoid this effort entirely.

Unfortunately, those replacement systems never got built, for a variety of reasons – lack of funding, or simply because the new languages simply couldn’t compete with the older ones. Finally, when Y2K was just around the corner, companies realized that something must be done, and NOW. Millions upon millions of hours were poured into testing and fixing problems with Y2K compliances issues.

OK, why didn’t I hear about any Y2K problems? In large part, Y2K went off without major problems because of the diligent work of programmers and other analysts. I have firsthand knowledge of this, having been in the trenches at the time.

There actually were some Y2K related problems. If you had your ear to the ground in early 2000, you may have heard about them. Of course, the public was expecting a dynamite-sized explosion and didn’t notice the firecrackers.

Another reason is that some people were looking in the wrong places. Your relatively new desktop computer was not going to stop working, your TV was not going to switch to black and white, nor was your freezer was not going to start boiling food. Even somewhat large companies could sidestep the issue if they were new enough to note have lots of code from the 60s and 70s lying around. The vulnerable systems were those belonging to major corporations.

The Y2K bug was definitely not a hoax. We dodged a bullet because a lot of people worked very hard in the late 90s to fix the problem.

Should I Turn Off My Computer At Night To Save Energy?

April 18, 2010

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Sure, go ahead.  You will definitely save a little energy.  The key word is that sentence is “little”.

First of all, computers aren’t the energy hogs that many people think they are.  The laptop I use at work has a 90 watt AC adapter, and the Mac Mini I have at home has a 100 watt AC adapter.  It’s important to note that these are maximum wattages.  Most computer usage doesn’t come anywhere close to the max, and when it does, it’s for short bursts.

Electricity usage is measured as a kilowatt hour (kWh).  The means that a device that has constant usage of 1000 watts would use 1 kWh every 60 minutes.  The cost per kWh varies, but is generally in the ballpark of 10 cents.  This means my Mac Mini costs about 1 cent per hour to operate when it is at its maximum consumption rate (100 watts = 1/10 kW).

But that’s not even what we’re talking about. I wouldn’t save the entire 0.1 kWh by powering off the computer.  Like most users, I’m going to put my computer into sleep mode at night.  Sleep mode typically uses between 1 and 5 watts.  In the case of my Mac Mini, 1.39 watts.  I wasn’t able to find this information on my exact model of laptop, but I suspect that its usage is similarly low, especially in “hibernate” mode.

Is it worth the effort to shut down your computer to save a few watts per hour?  Let’s assume that your computer uses a relatively high 5 watts when in sleep mode.  Let’s also assume that it is idle 75% of the time.  That’s 126 idle hours per week, or 6552 hours per year.  Multiply this by a usage of 5 watt per hour, and you get a savings of 32,670 watt hours, or 33 kilowatt hours.  Congratulations – you just saved $3.30.  Have a Mac Mini like mine, and the savings is just $1.25 per year.

This makes even less financial sense for businesses, which are paying their employees to shut down the computer at night and restart them in the morning.  If we assume 1 minute of lost productivity per day for 250 work days, this is more than 4 hours of lost productivity!  Unless you’re paying your employees less than 90 cents per hour, you lost money on this exchange (assuming the $3.30 in energy savings).

Of course, you could argue that every little bit of saved energy adds up, in terms of environmental impact.  This is definitely true – and if you want to conserve every little bit of energy, then go ahead and shut down the computer.  However, there are a lot of other changes that give you a lot more bang for the buck.  If you have a 60 watt incandescent bulb in a lamp you use an average of two hours per day and switch it out with an equivalent compact fluorescent bulb (using 13 watts), you save 47 watts per hour of use – or 34 kWh during the course of a year ((34 X 2 X 365)/1000).  Yep, taking a minute to switch out a bulb saves as much energy as shutting down and restarting your computer 365 times!

I’m not suggesting that we waste energy.  I’m not even suggesting that we shouldn’t power off computers and other unused electronics.  I’m simply suggesting that if you’re willing to put the effort into this very small energy savings, you might also focus some energy on things that save even more energy.

How to Get Your Guest Post Submission Accepted

March 27, 2010

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How to Get Your Guest Post Submission Accepted

Over the course of the past few months, I have had guest articles on six different blogs.  The blogs have been in the fields of personal finance (Lazy Man and Money and The Digerati Life), technology (40 Tech), blogging (ProBlogger) and blogs that defy categorization (Life, Laughs, and Lemmings and World’s Strongest Librarian).  I suspect that I will be the only person to land articles on this specific mix of blogs.  Interestingly, despite being first and foremost a fiction writer, I haven’t been a guest author on any fiction-oriented blogs.

My recent guest article on ProBlogger was related to the multi-author aspect of The Soap Boxers.  Not surprisingly, this spurred many comments related to guest posting.  Some of the commenters were frustrated at their lack of success in landing guest spots.

I’m hardly the most successful guest poster in the history of the blogosphere, but I may have a few tips for those who are in the beginning stages of trying to build their brand.

Build relationships

I’d like to say that everyone submitting a guest article has an equal chance of being accepted.  In reality, this isn’t the case.  If a blogger is comparing two articles of similar quality, it’s only natural they lean toward someone they know.  I’ve known Lazy Man for several years.  On the other side of the spectrum, I was less familiar with Josh at World’s Strongest Librarian, but had commented on an article of his at ProBlogger.  The other sites are ones where I had established myself as a frequent commenter.

This doesn’t mean that you need to stalk your favorite bloggers as a way to get to know them better.  Please, don’t.  Many of us carry pepper spray.  However, do take the time to comment on other people’s articles – the comments that are relevant and insightful.  This will raise your profile a bit.

Try, try again

You’re not going to get every article accepted.  Rejection is part of the process of being a writer.  In addition to the articles I had published, I had many others rejected.

Just because one site isn’t interested in a particular article doesn’t mean that it’s dead.  A couple of articles that landed as guest posts on one blog had been previously rejected by another site.  Do some blogs have high standards than others?  That’s possible – the New York Times probably has higher standards for submissions than the Hometown News.

Equally possible is the fact that each blogger just has a different taste.  Quite often, when a blogger rejects your submission, they will give you feedback on WHY they rejected it.  A few weeks ago, I was trying to peddle some fiction stories based on the theme of personal finance to blogs that specialized in personal finance.  This is admittedly a bit of a square peg/round hole situation – these blogs didn’t usually run fiction pieces.  The response from The Digerati Life was that she simply wasn’t interested in fiction – but would be interested in a non-fiction piece.  A short time later, I had an article on the etiquette of tipping (waiters, not cows) on her site.

Always be respectful during the process.  Never go down the road of “You’ll regret it when this article appears on your competitor’s site!”  You can spend years building a bridge and just a moment burning it.

Give them a quality, finished product

First of all, give away your top shelf work.  Don’t use your guest articles as a dumping ground for substandard work.  Darren @ ProBlogger made reference to this in one of his articles.  This seems completely counter-intuitive to me.  You’re introducing yourself to a room full of strangers – put your best foot forward!

Make sure that your article fits into their niche, if the blog is a niche blog.  If it’s a baseball blog, don’t submit an article about football.  I’ve bent this rule on occasion with some things that were a bit outside the box.  However, I knew that this could work against me.  Even in those cases, the articles were a half twist away from the true focus of the target blogs.  Sure, I was pitching fiction to personal finance bloggers – but finance played a significant role in those stories.

Give them a finished, polished product.  A blogger wants to be able to turn your content into an article quickly, with minimal fuss.  Proofread your article carefully.  Nobody wants to spend time cleaning up typos.  Even worse, poor grammar reflects poorly on the blog.

Add a short biography for inclusion in the article.  This avoids having the blogger contact your for additional details.  I have developed a standard short bio for myself that will now be appearing wherever my guest articles appear.  The consistency may also help trigger familiarity amongst readers who stumble across your articles on several different blogs.

Most sites are going to want exclusive use of the article you submit.  If you truly value the experience of being a guest on that blog, give them the exclusivity.

Last, but not least, include a link to your blog – you want to make sure to reap the benefits of your work!

OK, I surely missed some good tips.  For those of you who have landed guest posts – what are some of your secrets?

The Making of an Audio Book

March 25, 2010

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This is the story of the little audio book that could – struggling through adversity to final lay down 4 tracks for consumption by the public.  Not just any audio book, but the audio book of The Cell Window.

Writing

Let’s start at the beginning.  This audio book, like all audio books, began its life as a written story.  When I released The Fiction of Kosmo, Volume 1, I included the 10,000 word story Key RelationshipsKey Relationships basically poured out of my brain and onto the keyboard thousands of words at a time.  Even with many competing priorities, I was able to finish the story in ten days.

The Cell Window was a completely different beast.  I struggled to gain traction with story.  Despite the fact that it is nearly identical in length to Key Relationships, it took six weeks to complete!  In the process, it delayed the release of The Fiction of Kosmo, Volume 2.

That’s not to say that the process of writing the story was entirely negative.  When I was finished, I was very pleased with the story.  The mature tone of the story caused me to lose one loyal readers, but it got very positive reviews from many others.

The store

At some point along the way, I decided that I wanted to sell some of my content online in an effort to break even on my blogging.  I wanted to avoid sites that would charge me fees, in order to keep costs low, allowing me to keep prices low.  I ended up going with Zen Cart (see review here), a product that installed on my web server.

While Zen Cart has the benefit of being free, it has the drawback of having a much steeper learning curve than a site where you simply drop your files, set a price, and wait for the cash to roll in.  I’ve tinkered quite a bit with it, taking time away from my writing.  At this point, the Hyrax Publications store is probably in a fairly stable form.  Other than adding new content, I don’t foresee any major changes.

Headset woes

What would an audio book be without the audio?

When it came time to record, I went in search of the headset microphone I had used with my old copy of Via Voice speech recognition software.  It wasn’t in my drawer of computer stuff.  I pulled out the large tote from the closet – it wasn’t in there, either.

Oops.  It seems that I had bundled Via Voice – and the accompanying headset microphone – with an old computer when I sold it.  I’m guessing that this is because Via Voice was for OS9 and I had replaced that computer with an OS X machine.  In any case, no headset microphone.

OK, so I went out and bought a headset microphone.  No problem.

Well, actually, problem.  When I went to use Audacity to record the audio, it didn’t pick up any sound at all.  What was going on?  I’m not an expert on recording audio, so I searched Google in hopes of finding out what was at the heart of the problem.

It seems that Macs require actually “line level” audio input, whereas PCs do not, because of some additional component on the motherboard of PCs.  Thus, the headset intended for a PC was not going to work.  Curses.  I abandoned the headset microphone.  As a last ditch effort, I recorded audio to my microcassette recorder and tried to feed that in.  The computer DID recognize the input – but the sound quality was pretty crappy.

I went back to eBay and ordered a USB headset that should work with my Mac.  A few days later, the headset arrived in the mail.  I was ready to roll – I wanted to start recording immediately.

There was only one problem – there was no USB adapter.  I took a careful look inside the case and couldn’t find anything.  I carefully re-read the eBay description.  Yep, it was supposed to have a USB adapter.  I looked at the image in the auction – it clearly showed the USB adapter.  It was quite obvious that the adapter had been left out of my package.

I communicated the problem to the company, and they quickly shipped out the adapter.  I made a few quick test recordings, and I was ready to roll.

Recorded

The first thing I recorded was The Tale of the Wolf.  Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by the audio version.  In particular, I notice some idiosyncrasies that I didn’t like.  (No, I’m not going to point them out.  If I did, they would jump front and center for you. )

Tale of the Wolf was a mere 2 minutes in length.  The Cell Window was clearly going to be much longer.  Since the story contains about 20 times as many words as Tale of the Wolf, I estimated that it would be 40+ minutes long.

Clearly, a 40 minute audio book should be broken into some tracks.  I had a few things to consider.  I could choose to zip up all the MP3s into a compressed file and have the customer download just one file.  Alternately, I could have the customers download each file separately, as MPs.  I decided to go the route of the multiple downloads because I didn’t like the extra step of extracting the MP3s from the compressed file after download.  This seems like a minor issue to a lot of people – but one of my computers does not have any native tool to expand a ZIP file, and it took some time to find the proper tool.  It wasn’t a big deal for me, but I felt it might be problematic for some customers.  Better to leave the files as MP3.

How many tracks?  I founded that breaking the story into chunks of about 2500 words would allow me to end each track at the end of a story section.  The audio book would have 4 tracks (for a total length of about 48 minutes).

I was very self-conscious during the recording.  I’m not a professional reader, and knew that the audio book was not going to have the slickness of something by an audio master such as Scott Brick.  The goal was for the audio performance to be neutral – not adding significantly to the value of the original story, but also not detracting from the value.

When I was finished, I popped the files into iTunes and gave them a listen.  Surprisingly, I thought the MP3s came out sounding OK – better than they had sounded to me when I was recording.  Certainly, there are a few awkward spots where I momentarily lose my place when reading.  Overall, though, my biased opinion was that I had done a somewhat competent job, considering my amateur status.

I burned the files to CD and listened one more time the next morning.  After listening a second time, I was still happy with the performance, and deemed it ready for the store.

You can download the audio version of The Cell Window at the Hyrax Publications store.  You can purchase it separately for $3.99.  It is also included in the Annual Kosmo Pass (regular price $18, currently on sale for $9), along with all of Kosmo’s eBooks and audio book, including those scheduled for release in the future.  We expect to add a few eBooks each year, and plan to record nearly all of the 50 existing fiction stories to audio in the next few months.  The annual pass is currently good for 14 months, rather than 12.

As a special bonus, the first person to buy a copy of the audio version of The Cell Window today, will get it for FREE – and I’ll upgrade you to the Annual Kosmo Pass!  What’s the catch?  Well, you won’t know if you’re the first person until later (the charge will be processed, then I will refund the money later in the day).

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