Wanderings

Anything you dream is fiction,
and anything you accomplish is science,
the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.
- Ray Bradbury
March 31st, 2007

Giornale Nuovo

One of the blogs that I read, Giornale Nuovo, has this watercolor from the early 1800s. It would make a good book cover, I think, if I ever publish a book of short stories. I would have to write a story that fits the picture, though.

Soehnée Between May 1818 and May 1819, Charles-Frédéric Soehnée filled three albums with an extraordinary series of watercolour paintings and sketches.






March 30th, 2007

Justine’s Boxes and Miscellanea

I received two more boxes from Justine. She is cleaning out her closets. I hope that I can convince her to send another box, because there is so much stuff missing.

These latest boxes contained a 4 year old Dell XPS desktop computer. This is the biggest mother of a computer that I’ve ever seen. It has lot’s of bells and whistles, but for all of it’s size is not as powerful as the bargain basement version that I use here at work every day. It came with a very large LCD screen that I think Erica should use. At least I get a decent computer for the Fortress of Solitude in the basement. I have been without a desktop since the time when all three of my ‘puters failed at once for some unknown reason.

I now have four non-working laptop computers and two very good working ones. Justine failed to provide batteries, power supplies and external CD drives and stuff for the 4 laptops. A power brick is $50 and batteries cost $100 to $150 and these computers go for $100 to $200 with all the parts on eBay. They are all 800mhz or a little more. There is one cute Solis 200mhz with win 95 that I like quite a bit, but I can’t upgrade it without the external cd drive. I ordered a “universal” power supply quite cheap from MeritLine.com and I will use that to power these puppies up and see how they do – after that it is “free to a good home” or put them on eBay for parts at $10 with $15 shipping.

Justine also put a Dell Axim X3 in the box that I think she got free with the big XPS computer. The Axim is a cute little thing that is almost impossible to use. Unlike the Palm Treo or Blackberry PDAs, these are useless for anything exect as extensions of a computer. They are difficult to use standalone and they can’t connect to the cell phone system. Luckily, I have written several programs for Axims at work and have all of the software and experience to make it semi-useful.

This Axim has a nice wifi connection that eats battery power, but it does allow me to walk around the yard and view my gmail account. I bought a $10 travel charger for it from MeritLine and I will use it as an MP3 player. It is very clunky to use that way because you have to pull out the stylus and tap the screen to control the audio – hard to do when driving. I might write an MP3 player with big finger size touch screen buttons to play and pause the thing. I will also experiment with css media directives. Google products can tell when I am on a PDA so it must be possible to create zine pages that are readable from PDAs. I can then make a site that does things like translates stories to small screen format on the fly for cell phones and PDAs. A neat exercise, but people like to read from paper, not print, and you would only read from a pda or cellphone when stuck somewhere without a book or magazine, something no real reader would ever do.

I found a magazine named Southern Gothic that is paying for weird flash stories. Coincidentally, I have half a dozen weird flash pieces set in New Orleans that I wrote for ScienceFictional last summer. I will perform serial submission to these people until they beg me to stop or I sell one.

I sent a story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress #22. This is a long shot as they are a “pro” market and probably swamped. I just happened to have a three year old Sorceress story that I sold to an anthology that went bust. I have not submitted since the Coyote Wild Story and I haven’t finished a story in 6 months, even though I write a lot of 1000 word beginnings and 500 word outlines. Programming seems to rock my world more than writing something that requires months of rejections for an unsatisfying sale.

I finished transferring my archives to the 200 gig drive last night. I found lots of half finished stories and a bunch of forgotten outlines. I should spend some time and finish some of these, just to get them out of the way. There is another Sword and Sorceress story there that is done but needs a rewrite. The MZB site accepts multiple submissions until April 24, so I should get to work. Here’s an idea for those writing S&S. Editors are sick of stories set in a generic medieval Europe with Norse cultural elements like wizards with long beards. Try recasting the location to 8th century Arabia, 5th century India, Ancient China or 12th century Peru. The magic still works and the stories seem fresh. The wizards still have long beards, but they wear different hats. Ten minutes of googling will get you all the background that you need.

I installed Tax Cut last night. I will be spending the next few evenings doing my taxes. This is always frustrating, even with the computer. Tax Cut makes it very easy, but I hate having to compile all the data. The stocks are so time consuming and this year I’ll have expenses associated with teaching which is painful to figure out, but I have to do it. I will also be collecting my web hosting expenses to use them to offset the Google and FreeNameAStar income. This stuff is meticulous and gives you a headache very quickly.






March 29th, 2007

Worlds with Double Sunsets Common

I once read that it would be difficult for a binary sun to have planets. The complex gravitation would pull the planet apart or eventually bring it so close to one or another of the suns that it would boil away any water. This has recently been shown not to be the case.

Many binary systems are far enough apart – much further than Pluto from the sun – so that planets can easily orbit one or the other sun without ever getting caught up in the other sun’s gravity. In other systems, the suns are close enough together that the physics makes them basically one star and a planet can orbit the pair without being pulled into the dangerous areas between the suns.

This is a relief and greatly increases the number of stars that are potential nurseries for intelligent life. A while ago, I tried my own variation on the famous Drake’s Equation that is used to estimate the probability of finding another intelligent species in space. I figure that there is at least one intelligent life form within 1000 light years of us right now. I excluded binary stars. By including binaries the number could be ten times that! By my poor math, the odds are 50/50 that there is an intelligent species right now within 100 light years of earth – that’s just a hop, skip and a jump away. Alien invaders could be on their way right now.

I don’t think I ever blogged those calculations, but I have no idea where I put them. I’ll search and if I find them I’ll make a page on CthreePO.com.

SPACE.com — Worlds with Double Sunsets Common






March 29th, 2007

Web Metrics Part One – Web Log Analysis

I am sorry, but I can’t stop writing these techy pieces. Those of you who need more on the status of my house and yard, where I go on weekends, or what stories I’ve written recently; please be patient, I will get this stuff out of my system eventually. I am sick of the damn cats, but I will get pictures onto the cat blog, I promise.

Web Log Analysis

One key to making your web site a success is measuring the traffic. It makes sense that you measure how popular the pieces of your web site are. You need to know who is visiting your site, what they look at, how long they stay and how often they visit. This is called web metrics.

The obvious place to find much of this information is in your web logs. Web servers add a line to a log every time they do something. There are software packages that analyze your web traffic and produce nice reports. As your web site grows, you will have to take a statistical viewpoint, but on small web sites it is easy enough to read the raw log files.

There are many measurements of traffic.

Hits: Hits is the sum total of every action that the web server has taken. It includes all images, scripts, css files, robot.txt access and even includes misses and redirects in the total. Obviously, total hits is a meaningless term and does not tell you how many human eyes visited your site.

Pages: A page is an html page. It includes PHP, ASP, and other scrip languages, but it does not include images and text files like javascript or css files. It may or may not include mp3 files, flash files or Adobe PDF files. If it is a file type that is normally formatted in HTML then it should be included as a page view.

Visitors: When a person comes to your web site and clicks on a link, they send along with the request for the page, the URL of page where they clicked the link. A good web statistics program can tell if a visitor arrives at a page from somewhere else or is just clicking around inside of the web site. Visitors don’t identify themselves and you can’t tell who they are, so the Visitors statistics is a good guess based on the how they were referred to a page.

Pages per Visit and Duration of Visit: It is nice to know how many pages a visitor looked at before they left the site. It is also good to know how long they stayed. This will give you an indication of how closely they read the content on the pages.

Entry and Exit Page: Some pages are good landing pages. When a user searches for something it is good to know what is the first page they looked at on your site. This is not always your home page. You might want to make some pages more friendly and welcoming, especially if you expect the visitor to have come into it from another page on your site. It is also good to know the last page that a visitor viewed. It might be nice to look at your top exit pages to see what encouraged your visitors to leave. Perhaps these pages need target=_blank directive on the links so that the user can hang around a little longer. Maybe there is something on the page that the visitor doesn’t like.

Errors: A 404 error can indicate a broken link. It might indicate that a page has been deleted (never delete pages) and that a search engine thinks that it still exists. It might mean that somebody else, on another site has a typo in a link. It could also show you the activity of hacker probing your site for weaknesses. You should have a 404 error page. Most sites allow you to place a web page with the name 404.shtml in each directory. You can then format this page to say that you are sorry but the page you are looking for is missing and then give them a list of page suggestions that they should visit. In this way, you don’t loose the visitor because of a missing page. If the 404.shtml file doesn’t work you might have to use an .htaccess file to tell your web server what to do on a 404 error.
404 errors are created every time a search engine spider tries to read your robots.txt file and can’t find it. If you don’t have a robots.txt file you should create one and put it in your root directory. This will cut down on the 404 errors and it will allow you to fine-tune how the spiders see your site.

Spider traffic: Depending on the type of site that you have, spiders can make up a good chunk of your traffic. I have websites with thousands of pages and there are spiders looking at all of these pages repeatedly. Spiders usually come from the search engines and they are looking at your web pages to include them in searches. They look at the links for new pages and they record the keywords so that others can find your pages. Other spiders look at your web pages for telephone numbers, email addresses and other personal information that they can sell. Some spiders are looking for older versions of software that have security holes that can be exploited.
Spiders are not humans and if you want to know how many humans are looking at your site, you have to subtract out the spiders. Most spiders announce themselves. Some can be identified by their actions. Some are identified by their IP address. Good web log analysis software makes an attempt to list spider traffic separately and subtract it out from normal traffic.

Key Words: Every time you get a hit from Google or MSN or Yahoo, they pass along with the hit, the search phrase that was used to find you. A good web statistics package can pull out these search phrases and tell you what the top keywords and phrases were. It is nice to know that if you have a root beer site that people are finding you by searching for root beer. If they are finding you because they are searching for cooking turnips in beer, then you might want to figure out what you are doing to attract this user and perhaps change the wording or other Search Engine optimizations to avoid getting hits from people who aren’t interested in your page. Conversely, if you have a root beer page and root beer is not your highest rated search term, you might need to make changes. If you get hits on a search term that you did not expect, but is a good term, then you might want to make sure that it is included in other pages.

Free web site analysis tools abound. Many web hosting companies install AWStats, which is free. It requires PERL and a little configuring, but it is the best all around package. My web hosts also have Webalizer, a package called Analog and a neat script that shows the last 100 web visitors and what they looked at.






March 29th, 2007

Raph Koster on magic and games

J Erwine is working on some gaming ideas and has asked for input. I’m to old to have played the D&D variety of game, so I did not respond, but I saw this link in BoingBoing.net this morning and followed it. A blogger posted the transcript on a Ralph Koster’s talk about game development.

I particularly love the idea that songs are made of songs and games are made of games. This is a truth that is so obvious as to be invisible. Novels are short stories spread over a larger canvas. Short stories are smaller stories, images and epitaphs spread over a plot. I will make a note of Ralph and watch for him to do a talk in the northeast. I read some of his stuff, like comparing non-techs to muggles, and I like the way he thinks.

Wonderland: Etech 07: Raph Koster on magic

Now, game playing brings up my mandatory boring recollections from my childhood in Central Nyack, NY. I wrote lots of stories and read quite a bit as a nerdy bespectacled kid. Growing up in Rockland County’s equivalent of The Hood, though, I could play basketball with the best, I owned guns and went hunting, and in the summer every kid in the neighborhood played Army. Our army games were based on the TV show Combat, which the neighborhood kids all liked and watched. Army evolved into a sword and sorcery game where we used sticks for swords and plywood shields and a kill was made via a touché. We called the game Draconia after a story I had written (long since lost).

Draconia was very popular in the summer with about 20 kids playing. We moved it inside in the winter time. I took the ping pong table in a neighbor’s basement and turned it over. I painted a map and then drew in black magic marker 1/2 inch squares. I made game pieces by making clay molds and pouring melted wax into them. I had red, white, blue and black candles so we had 4 teams. I made a spinner out of cardboard with move options on it and we would take turn moving armies around the map. There were rules for fighting, there were walled cities with rules for sieges. There were ships for the rivers and seas. It was all very complex and games took weeks to play before there was one winner. There were secret alliances and all of the strategies of the battle games that would later become popular. There were dragons and sea monsters and randomly moving hazards. It was all very complex and we added rules all the time.

The neighbors moved to Nebraska and the table went with them. I now watch the domain name Draconia.com so if it expires I can register it in homage to the game I played as a kid. Maybe I can make a flash based MMPRG based on the old Draconia ping pong table rules. That would be a project. Maybe if J creates a good game, I’ll find time to make the online version of it.






March 28th, 2007

New Toys

I received a bunch of stuff from Justine via FedEx. I expect more tomorrow. It is all out of date computer equipment that she used at work. I have a total of 6 notebook computers that she sent me. I’ve got several working, but two are missing batteries and several have no power supply. Most are 800mhz up to about 1.8mhz. Justine always gets lots of memory and large hard disks so these are decent computers if I can get them working. I’ll have to find them good homes.
I am using the cute little panasonic with the chinese keyboard to write this. I still can’t touch type on it yet.
She put an older X3 version of the Dell Axim in the box. I charged it up and it worked ok. I had to download the activesync software from Microsoft. It connected right away to my wifi and I was surfing the net on the little screen. I tried writing using the handwriting recognition and it works well. I don’t think that I could write a story that way, though. I will put in a 1 gig sd card and use it as an mp3 player. Ward gave me the a dvd of Neil Gaiman stories recorded as MP3 files. I will copy them over and see if I can listen to them in the car.






March 28th, 2007

Old Rhyme

I bought a 200 gig disk drive and last night was transferring as many of my old archives as I can to it. I have it in a USB box and I can carry it between work and home. I found this old thing written perhaps 30 years ago. When I was writing Fumets, I dug it out and I thought about using it as a preface. Thank goodness I don’t write this stuff anymore.

If worm or man should downward slip
beneath the leafy mould
and sough a song of hidden things
where longings wither cold,
then kindle thoughts of ancient times,
and epics long since told
when senses blazed with intense light,
and passions glittered gold.





March 28th, 2007

Stardust

Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust has a website. This is such a cool looking movie. I may actually go and see it. It is not often that I see a movie trailer and it makes me want to go see the movie. It comes out in August. Maybe Ward or Robert can get me a bootleg dvd before then.






March 28th, 2007

Of Data, Drives, and the Winchester Model 1894

One of my stories that I would like to work on again, but was lost in a computer upgrade, had a cyberpunk plot about a character that dealt in stolen data. The MacGuffin of the story was a data brick the size of a bar of soap. In my story, this solid state storage device held 100 terabytes of data. It was thought that it was the financial modeling system of a large corporation but it turned out to have the stored memories of a dead scientist. I know, it’s not real original, but in 1992 it was the latest thing. I have been trying ever since to write the not-just-another-cyberpunk story that uses shared man-computer memories, but I don’t think it can be done. (Or it has been done too many times).

I felt at the time that monolithic memory was going to replace disk drives. Hard disk drives are mechanical devices of wheels and springs and levers. They are Victorian devices, like fine watches. The reason that they break (although disk drives are incredibly tough) is that the mechanical parts wear out or are damaged due to dropping or the motor burns out. These are all failures of the moving parts. Solid State memory has no moving parts.

Samsung announced today that they have been taking the flash memory technology, the same technology commonly used in USB drives and the memory cards used in cameras, and they have made tiny non-disk drives that are three times faster than the disk drives currently use in computers. These solid state drives will be smaller, cheaper, cooler, use less electricity, and more reliable than the mechanical variety.

It is probably possible right now to store 100 terabytes in a package the size of a bar of soap. My story from 15 years ago is already out of date. When I wrote it, a one gig disk was big. At the time that I wrote the story, I was programming a device the size of a refrigerator that held 12 inch optical disk platters with a mechanical arm to swap them and it had a total capacity of 600 megs. That $200,000 disk juke box is the equivalent of $100 in disks at todays prices.

All disk drives are descendants of the IBM Winchester drives. They had multiple brown magnetic platters with a mechanical arm that moved a read/write head over them. It was like tape drive but instead of the tape moving, the arm could jump to read the magnetic tape-like coating on the platter.

The IBM disk drive was called a Winchester because it was designated model 3030. 30-30 is also the name of the kind of ammunition used in the Winchester model 1894 rifle. I always thought that calling the 3030 disk drive a winchester was cool. I used to work with these big clunky winchester drives. I wrote a program in IBM 370 Assembly Language (BAL) that would move the heads to one side of the drive and then then out to the other side. I tried to time them to move back and forth and rock the drive so that it would fall over. (I used to work late nights in the computer room and payroll programs used to take hours to run so I kept myself busy).

Samsung Announces 64 GB Solid State Drive






March 27th, 2007

Monetizing Your Web Site – Affiliate Programs

Affiliate Programs for Writers and Publishers

Affiliate programs are different from pay-per-click advertising. When I started using affiliate links several years ago, I made a little money by pointing people to Amazon. Amazon drops a web cookie when someone clicks on the link. If that person bought anything while the cookie was active, a period of several days, I would get a percentage of the transaction. Over the years, Amazon and other affiliates have made the cookie more volatile and my affiliate revenue went down. I found that pay-per-click advertising made me more money so I mostly ignored affiliate links. Affiliate links are great for small sites, though. By pointing your readers to an affiliate link you can make a few dollars here and there without much effort.

There are a few scenarios where affiliate programs make money. The first is when your website is closely bound to a product on an affiliate’s website. An author, for instance, hawking his books on Amazon, will get 4% of the sale price of his own book on Amazon. A publisher who sells on Amazon will get 4% back by selling his own books in addition to any other profit that he makes by selling the book.

Another scenario where affiliate programs make sense is including affiliate links on your page that will appeal to the interests of the surfers who visit your page. If you are a Speculative Fiction author or webzine, you can put affiliate links to Speculative fiction magazines on your website. You can join affiliate programs to sell Analog, Asimov’s and other magazines from your website and get $3 for a $30 sale. Your web page reader gets a discount on Analog’s standard rate and you get a finders fee.

Another scenario is to open a store. Amazon and other affiliate programs let you select a whole class of products and create a virtual web store. The store will include a variety of products, not just ones that appeal to the readers of your web pages. They will have popular products, including music, tech toys and big ticket items. The problem with stores is that they look too slick and the surfer won’t feel like they are buying from you. As a web site owner, you have a trusting relationship with your surfers. They come to you and you give them you thoughts and stories so they feel comfortable clicking on a link that you suggest. The store, even if it is on your site, is too slick and commercial.

You can try unexpected connections. One of my favorite affiliates is eBay. If you are hosting a speculative fiction site, it might make sense to offer you readers an eBay search box that has back issues of vintage magazines or Science Fiction Convention memorabilia. It’s easy to add a panel showing autographs of Battle Star Galactica TV stars. If you are a little creative, eBay pays very well and seems to be much more attractive to readers than the traditional book stores.

Another way is to have affiliate links to services such as web hosting, PayPal, and links to the affiliate programs themselves. Surfers may want to buy these services, sign up for PayPal or join an affiliate program. These links pay your new customers.

My experience is that affiliate links vary quite a bit during the year. My strategy has been to make Gift lists and Christmas lists targeting my readers. Around the holidays, you can sometimes make money if a reader follows a link and then buys several other things. Readers always appreciate reviews. When I do reviews, I try to make an affiliate link to buy the book or product that I am reviewing and this seems to work very well.

I stopped using affiliate links when I started putting pay-per-click ads on my sites. The click ads pay much better than affiliates. I used to make a hundred dollars or so a year from low volume sites using Affiliate links. Since click ads work best on high volume sites, a modest site will make more money in the beginning by the creative use of affiliate ads. There is also the legend that Google will penalize you if your website has lots of affiliate links. I don’t know if this is true.

One other problem with affiliate links is that the Ad Blocker FireFox plug-in makes them invisible. As more and more people use FireFox, I have noticed that the affiliate reports show much lower volume of exposures than my web logs show. This is because the ads are masked, either by Ad Blocker or by the old trick of modifying the .hosts file.

It is also possible to run your own private affiliate program. If you publish a magazine, you can open an account on one of the big affiliate programs to sell your magazine. Then your writers and readers will be able to put links to their favorite magazine on their websites and make a little money when they send you a customer. You’d think that your loyal readers would be doing this anyway, but I bet you get quite a few of them signing up when they can make a dollar or two. I have not tried this, although I have thought about it. ShareASale.com encourages small sellers to create affiliate programs.

You evaluate affiliate programs based on how much they pay per sale, plus how much the average website makes per exposure. Some affiliates pay very well, but don’t be mislead. It has to be a link that someone wants to click and when your user gets to the store the product must be right and the price must be right. It doesn’t matter if an affiliate will pay a high commission if their products are way too expensive. Do a little research before you join an affiliate program. Look at the affiliate from the eyes of a potential customer.

Still, if you have a web page and you don’t monetize it with affiliate links or link ads, you are nuts. These things take little effort to set up and they pay while you sleep.

Here are some of the Affiliate programs that I have used. If you want to sign up for one of these (they are free), just follow the links below.

Amazon, one of the first and best of the affiliate programs. They sell almost everything so this might be the only affiliate program that you will ever have to sign up with.
http://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/join

Commission Junction has gobbled up BFree, Reporting.net and other big affiliate programs. They have literally thousands of websites selling millions of products. Look here for those odd sites selling cool stuff that you just can’t find on Amazon.
http://www.cj.com

ShareASale Affiliate programs are for the rest of us. They have thousands of tiny shops selling one of kind items and they welcome new sellers. If you want to create your own affiliate program, this might be the place to start.
http://www.shareasale.com/

Cafe press is not a regular affiliate. They sell coffee cups and tee shirts with your picture or slogan on them. You can set the price and make a profit, if you want. I think that they make more money off of the website owners than they do off the surfers who come and visit. It might pay to have the cover of the latest issue of Martian Wave Magazine on a tee shirt or coffee cup or thong. It’s free to set up, but I am sure that you will buy a coffee cup with the cover of your latest book and take weeks or months to make it back in commissions.
http://www.cafepress.com






March 25th, 2007

Static Movement Online

I just heard from Chris Bartholomew, the publisher of StaticMovementOnline.com, that due to some personal upheavals, she will not be working on the zine for a while. When Static Mo started, I gave her some web space on one of my servers to host it, so I have been watching her work on the site. It has been a labor of love for her and I think she has done a wonderful job.

Chris has limited access to a computer right now, but watch Static Movement, the Razar forum and Chris Bartholomew’s blog and she will have more information soon, I hope.

I hope Chris can put things back in order quickly, because the Static Movement family needs her back.






March 24th, 2007

Climate Change Myths

J Erwine blogged the MySpace version of this. Since I am blocked from MySpace at work, as are many others, I thought that I would blog the main site.

Met Office: Climate change myths: “Recent coverage has questioned the influence of humans on the climate. While the arguments used might have been regarded as genuine areas of sceptical enquiry 20 years ago, further observed warming and advances in climate science render these out of touch.”

By the way, this is it for global warming for a while. It is too contentious. One of my poker buddies called me up and called me a f-ing Hippie. He does this regularly, so I am used to it. It is also true.






March 24th, 2007

Objet Volant Non Identifie

Objet Volant Non Identifie” are the French words for UFO. Is it me or does the French language always make for a better short story title? I’ve added this to my idea list.
I found this on an article about French UFO records. France has opened up their UFO files to the public to shut up the conspiracy theorists – a futile act. The site is unreachable because of internet traffic – or is it the Frenchmen in black trying to keep us out?






March 23rd, 2007

Pre-Demolition Sales

I forget where I found this page. It is a company that tears down houses, but sells the house first. You go with a truck and a crowbar and settle on a price. Just about everything in the house, attached or not, is for sale. They sell the doors, windows, the front walk, the picket fence as well as anything in the house. As long as you can get it out before they demolish the house, you can get it cheap.

The interesting thing is that there are beautiful houses being torn down, much better than mine. I guess that whoever bought the house is going to build three MacMansions where there use to be a nice cottage.

These are mostly around Philadelphia. That’s a two and half hour ride from here. I love Philly, but I haven’t seen anything on this site that would justify the $50 in gas it would take.

(I hate the site design. It is one of those sites that uses JavaScript to draw the page. Google has trouble with these sites.)