- Someone asked me via email the other day: How thick is 16 gauge aluminum? I’m old: My first impulse was to grab my caliper and measure some. My second impulse was to google it. This answers the question, for steel as well as aluminum.
- The page cited above is part of a large and fascinating Web compilation called “How Many?” and it’s a dictionary of measurement units. Other tabulations include shot pellet sizes and the Danjon scale for lunar eclipse brightness.
- Metallic cesium figures, um, explosively in my novel Drumlin Circus. You can evidently distill it on your barbecue grill. I’m guessing you shouldn’t do that right before a thunderstorm, however. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.)
- Speaking of explosions, here’s a map summarzing the legality of fireworks by state. I thought more states restricted them than actually do. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- It’s not brand-new, but I stumbled on the Actobotics product line in the latest edition of Nuts & Volts. It’s a very nice Erector/Meccano-ish system with more robust parts & real metal gears. No, not cheap–but neither was Meccano, at least on the scale I used it when I was building things like The Head of R&D.
- If you’re interested in following the progress of the recent collapse of sunspot activity, don’t forget Solar Ham. More data than SpaceWeather, and you don’t to know anything about amateur radio to find it useful. Given that the peak of the current solar cycle was probably this past March, coming down so hard so fast is something of a phenomenon.
- There is a utility that finds loops in videos suitable for making animated GIFs. Sometimes technology advances the human condition and sometimes, well…
- There’s something called the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, and if the maps are to be believed, I may be speaking it, though it sounds New Yawkish to me. This is a tweak on Inland North American English. Somebody oughta do an app that can tell me what accent I actually have. I’m a Chicagah boy but have been told I don’t sound like one. (Thanks to the Most Rev Sam’l Bassett for the link.)
- Pete Albrecht sends us a list of current and defunct bookstore chains worldwide. I spent so much money at Kroch’s & Brentano’s 40 years ago that the place should still be around but, alas, it’s not.
- If you’ve secretly longed to see a photo of Alfred Hitchcock eating a giant pretzel, or classic mustard ads of the 1950s, well, it’s all here. (Yes, I’m a sucker for vintage weirdness, but this is good vintage weirdness.)
I’ve been in book publishing since long before there were ebooks. Print was always primary, and you saw to print first. Once ebooks became practical, ebooks were derived from print book content. The tools were dicey, and the renderers (in ebook readers and apps) were very dicey. (I think they still are. Will any common ebook reader render a drop-cap correctly? If so, let me know. I have yet to see one that does.) The way publishing is currently evolving, this has to change. Ebooks are becoming the afterthought that wags the industry, and print, where it survives at all, looks to become an extra-cost option.
I’ve been watching for that change for some time, while continuing to use the same system I learned in the 1990s. I write and edit in Word, and then do layout and print image generation in InDesign, which I’ve used since V1.0. I’m willing to change the apps I use to generate books of both kinds, but it’s got to be worth my while.
So far, it hasn’t been. I do intuit that we may be getting close.
What rubbed my nose in all this is my recent project to clean up and re-issue my novel The Cunning Blood in ebook format. Although it was published in late 2005, I actually wrote the book in 1998 and 1999. Even when you’re 62, sixteen years is a long time. I’ve become a better writer since then, and beyond a list of typos I’ve accumulated some good feedback from readers about booboos and awkwardnesses in the story that should be addressed in any reissue. So the adventure begins.
There’s a common gotcha in the way I create books: Final corrections to the text in a layout need to be recaptured when you return to manuscript to prepare a new edition. I was in a hurry and careless back in 2005. I made literally dozens of changes to the layout text but not to the Word file. To recapture those changes to the manuscript I’ve had to go from the layout back to a Word file, which with InDesign, at least, is not easy. I don’t intend to make that mistake again.
That said, avoiding the mistake may be difficult. Word processors are marginal layout programs, and layout programs are marginal word processors. The distinction is really artificial in this era of eight-core desktops. There’s no reason that one program can’t maintain two views into a document, one for editing and one for layout. The marvel is that nobody’s succeeded in doing this. My only guess is that until very recently, publishing drew a fairly bright line between editing and layout, with separate practitioners on each side of the line. Few individuals did both. What attempts I’ve seen are shaped by that line.
Consider InCopy. Adobe introduced InCopy with CS1. It’s a sort of allied word processor for InDesign. It never caught on and is no longer part of CS. (Only one book was ever published about InCopy CS2, which is the surest measure of failure on the part of an app from a major vendor.) I have CS2 and can guess why: InCopy requires a great deal of what my Irish grandmother would call kafeutherin’ to transfer copy between the two apps. InCopy was designed for newspaper work, where a lot of different writers and editors contribute to a single project. I consider it it a multiuser word processor, for which I have no need at all. For very small press and self-publishing, we need to go in the opposite direction, toward unification of layout and editing.
There is a commercial plug-in for InCopy called CrossTalk that sets up InDesign and InCopy for single practictioner use, but the damned thing costs $269 and may no longer support CS2.
I’m still looking. A couple of my correspondents recommended I try Serif’s PagePlus. I might have done so already, but the firm’s free version installs crapware toolbars that most people consider malware. The paid version does not; however, I’ll be damned if I’ll drop $100 on spec just to test something.
I know a number of people who have laid out whole books entirely in Word, and I could probably do that. With Acrobat CS2, I could generate page image PDFs from a Word file. Atlantis edits Word files and generates good-quality .epub and .mobi files from .docx. That’s not a bad toolchain, if what you want is a chain. I already have a chain. What I want is a single edit/layout app that generates page images, .epubs, and .mobis.
Etc. The tools are definitely getting better. Solutions exist, and one of these days soon I’m going to have to choose one. As I said, I’m still looking. I’ll certainly hear suggestions if you have some.
- Here’s a nice rant about something that’s always bothered me: that programming is more difficult than it has to be, that programmers revel in its difficulty, and ceaselessly ridicule tools and languages that make it easier. The ranter lists COBOL, Hypercard, and Visual Basic as examples, but even he seems afraid to mention Pascal (much less Delphi or Lazarus) which looked like it might once have driven C into the sea. I admit I don’t understand the constant emphasis on Web apps. Conventional desktop and mobile apps are still useful and far less fiddly.
- Speaking of Lazarus, TurboPower’s stellar Orpheus component suite has been (partly) ported to Lazarus.
- AV software vendor Avast pulled an interesting stunt: They bought 20 smartphones on eBay and then used readily available recovery software to pull off 40,000 supposedly deleted photos, including 750 of women in various stages of undress. That, plus emails, texts, GPS logs, and loads of other stuff. I’ve always treated my old phones to a speed date with a sledgehammer. Someday I’m thinking my Droid X2 will go on the same date.
- Ahh, now global warming causes kidney stones. Two Snapple bottled iced teas a day for a year or two just might have had something to do with mine. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
- And while I was poking around io9, I stumbled across a piece I missed back in February. If you get 25% of your daily calories from sugar, you triple your risk of dying from heart disease. Again I say unto you: Fat makes you thin. Sugar makes you dead.
- Although not a gamer, I give points to a small Canadian game developer Studio MDHR who are creating Cuphead, a game series consisting of cel-animated action in the style of a 1930s Max Fleischer cartoon. These cartoons were played on TV endlessly when I was a 7-year-old, and they were often creepy as hell. (See “Bimbo’s Initiation,” “Swing, You Sinners,” and Fleischer’s surreal riff on “Snow White,” especially once the action enters the Mystery Cave.)
- I generally don’t watch online videos, particularly of a talking head lecturing. I can read a great deal faster than I can listen to people talk, and watching informational videos is therefore a bad use of my time. Here’s an interesting example. Don’t bother with the video, but read the comments. A guy summarizes the whole damned thing as a list that I read in seconds. So who needs the video?
- Megan McArdle stops short of making the point in her essay on Uber “surge pricing,” but legislative attacks on surge pricing are thinly disguised protection for the medallion cab industry.
- Relevant to the above: The last time Carol and I took a cab, the chatterbox cabbie said he was going to look into Uber, not only to make more money but also to control his own schedule. (Uber just recently expanded to Colorado Springs.)
- New York police chase a hobby RC helicopter (and that is precisely what it was; this “drone” thing is loaded language intended to demonize RC aircraft) endangering themselves, their aircraft, and people on the ground. Governments are terrified of being filmed. That’s it. That’s all you need to know about “drones.”
Rumors of my abduction by aliens are at least a little exaggerated. My wife, as most of you know well, is an …otherworldly… beauty, and on my 62nd birthday she abducted me for another tropical vacation. Carol’s sister Kathy and our brother-in-law Bob were co-conspirators, and though the Dominican Republic is a bit of an alien environment (especially for white-bread boys like me) it was an alien world well worth visiting.
The east coast of the island is an area called Punta Cana, where the density of resorts approaches a weird sort of recreational singularity. We landed at Secrets Royal Beach and stayed there for a full week. Logistically, the trip was a polar opposite to our second honeymoon on Grand Cayman back in May: In the Caymans, we bought our own food, cooked, and kept house on our own steam in a rented beach condo. At the all-inclusive Secrets, well, they do pretty much everything except throw you in the pool, and I’m guessing that could be arranged.
Our phones didn’t work. Meh. Ask me if I care. We had to pay extra for Internet, which we used a lot less than we expected. (My increasingly cranky Win7 laptop didn’t help.) I gained four pounds, which for one week is close to a personal record. Much of that was due to the neverending pina coladas, I suspect. What wasn’t alcohol was sugar, and in truth (this being an all-inclusive) there wasn’t a great deal of alcohol in the drinks unless you knew how to ask for it. (We learned.)
The beach is spectacular. The white sand was like powder, soft, and for some reason never too hot to walk on, even in the brutal noonday sun. Some sea grass breaks loose from the bottom and washes onto the shore, but the beach tenders were constantly raking it up. The water was upstairs of 85 degrees. The resort has chairs under the palms and under dozens of hand-thatched tiki huts. Granted that this is their off-season, we had no trouble getting a hut when we wanted one.
The Secrets staff were wonderful, with particular mention of two: Angel and Marianny. Angel (a male waiter whose turf included our spot on the “lazy river” pool) was hilarious, and kept the drinks coming. Marianny worked at the beach grill, and she was gracious enough to help me remember my Spanish across the 41-year gulf since my last Spanish course. I wanted to say “bee” (abeja) and almost said “abuela” (grandmother.) Instead, I buzzed. She laughed, and told me the word. I could not for the life of me remember the word for “breakfast” (desayuno) and one word that I could say (conozco) I could not define. (It means “I know.” Heh.)
This was a (mild) problem throughout the week. I was never entirely sure whether the staff understood my questions, and therefore whether their answers reflected reality. Boy, I started wanting a book that would be a sort of second-gen Exam Cram for stuff you learned long ago and recall unevenly. Anybody want to buy a series? The first title will be Take Back Your Spanish. (The second might have been Take Back Your FORTH, but some things are best left forgotten.)
Americans at the resort were outnumbered (I’d guess 2 to 1) by Europeans and Canadians, and most of the people we spoke to were British, Irish, or Russian. I had abundant opportunity to play my private game of identifying overheard languages. We heard Russian, Polish, French, and probably Portuguese. Here and there I heard languages I had no clue about, though I think one was Turkish. Peculiar cultural gaps kept appearing. A middle-aged British woman asked me what sort of hat I was wearing (not the hat in the photo above) and seemed poleaxed by the idea of an indestructable terrycloth roll-up beach hat that (granted) looks like something made out of a washcloth. She wanted to know where I got it, but I’ve had it for at least 25 years and no longer recall. Another woman from the UK had never heard of Kaley Cuoco, even though she was a dead ringer. European women evidently wear bikinis well into their seventies, a species of courage that I much admire.
Carol and I remarked to one another that we may be the last people in the Industrialized West without tattoos.
The food was good. We ate most meals at the buffet, which had its quirks but was generally excellent. We had uneven luck with the a la carte restaurants. Language again intervened: I ordered a steak at the resort’s French restaurant, and asked for a glass of red wine. The waiter said there was only white wine. I said ok, I’ll take a glass of white wine. Then he returned with the bottle and poured me a glass of…red wine. The steak was terrific, and the mushroom orzo spectacular. The wine was workmanlike, and hey, however tangled the negotiation, I eventually got what I wanted.
There are all sorts of things to do there, almost none of which we did. People hanging from parasails were going by over the beach constantly. I like kites and brought two, but I don’t think I’d particularly enjoy riding one. You could also get rides on these little ultralight planes with inflatable pontoons, or, for more money, rides in real helicopters. The snorkling was not good unless you went out a lot farther than we wanted to go. (In the Caymans it was right off the beach.) So we bobbed in the ocean and paddled around the pool. I got another 150 pages through Richard Ellmann’s ginormous fine-print biography of Oscar Wilde. I now know that Wilde had a 17-inch neck and a 38 1/2 inch waistline. It’s that kind of biography, and took Ellmann twenty years to write. I hope to finish reading it in less.
Secrets is “adults-only” (which sounds disreputable but just means the kids are in the next resort over) but the definition of “adult” was slippery. There was deafening rappish tech/trance music and much twentysomething horseplay by the big pool all afternoon through mid-evening. Every time I turned around I was hearing Aloe Blacc’s technocountry (yes, I just made that up) hit “Wake Me Up When It’s All Over,” to the point where I was absently humming it over dinner. On Canada Day there was a marching band circling around the pool playing “O Canada,” whereas on the Fourth of July there was a hot dog eating contest and a big machine spraying soap foam all over the revelers in the pool. What this says about us and the Canadians (or how other cultures perceive us) is unclear.
All of this is to say that we had a great time doing exactly what we wanted to (splashing, reading, enjoying the company) and little of what we didn’t want to. The outing cost about a third of what a week in Hawaii would cost us. The plane ride was five hours, not eight or nine. It was hot. So? It was winter in Colorado until fairly recently. Heat still has some novelty value. Overall, I’d call the experience superb. Once the Polar Vortex starts landing on you (and it looks like it’s already begun in parts of the Midwest) we suggest getting a couple of tickets on a Frontier starship and heading to planet Punta Cana. Highly recommended.