Death to Twitter!

Posted: February 8, 2016 by David in Humor, Jerks, Personal, Random Rants, Technobabble

Well, maybe.

Thing is, I like fooling around with Twitter. Once upon a time I had about 47K “followers” (mostly other writers), and it was fun to play with them online. But I eventually decided I was spending far too much time on that game. I tried to justify it as a business-related thing (you know, “building an audience”?) but that was just BS. I had lots of fun conversations, and I did that instead of working. Something had to give. So I canceled my account.

Then I created a new account, much later. It looks just like the old account, since nobody grabbed my username in the interim. Only it has <100 “followers” and I haven’t tried to increase that number. I’ve been using Twitter mostly for joking around with people, and getting news, and so forth.

The problem? Well, it’s not just Twitter, actually. Lots of sites are claiming recently that they need to harass me because of “suspicious activity”–they’ll go on and say it might be a virus problem or whatever, but in reality it’s a semi-blacklist of Tor exit relays and VPN endpoints. How do I know? Well, because I use both of those, a lot. The number of them that I can use without issues seems to be decreasing.

See, users of Tor and VPNs seem to share IP addresses (stuff that looks like “192.168.1.10”). So in principle it could be that various malicious actors are using these tools to hide their identities–though there are weaknesses to this approach, and if you care? I wrote a book about it–and, since I’m using the same apparent IP addresses, it therefore makes my activity seem “suspicious.” So it’s all sweetness and light, and I should be grateful for this added protection.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going on at all, because these “suspicious activity detected” so-called warnings have become much, much more common of late. And if I get hassled because of a particular VPN’s IP address, and I jump through whatever hoops are required to either view content or log in to a site? And I then use the same IP address for, say, my next login attempt? An hour later? I get hassled again. I see only two plausible reasons for this: 1) Whoever’s developing this technology doesn’t understand that, if I “verified” my login via some other method, it stands to reason that I might not need to be hassled for using that same IP address in the future, or 2) it’s a deliberate attempt to make using IP-cloaking tools more burdensome.

Somebody or other could do a bit of research and try to quantify this stuff. In fact, I could do it…or put some effort into it. But the thing is, I don’t want to. I just did all sorts of research for that book. I don’t want to do any more right now. Other projects, you know?

Instead, I’ll just refrain from speculating as to why this is going on…barely mentioning that advertisers and governments both have a horrible tendency to gather potentially useful data on individuals (and it gets put to surprising uses), and tools like Tor or a VPN may impede that sort of thing under some circumstances…and probably just kill off my Twitter account. Again. I sent ’em an email, and it’s possible they’ll quit hassling me. But I doubt it.

Was this worth a blog post? I don’t know. Maybe. Readers of that book might find it interesting. It’s the sort of thing that can seem paranoid to those who…heh…haven’t read my book, which not only explains what’s going on in situations like this but has hundreds of links to back up my (otherwise?) ridiculous claims. Though you could get much the same information elsewhere. After all, that’s what I did.

Am I telling you to go read my book? Sort of, I guess. Mostly I’m posting this because my private list of sites I won’t go to anymore without taking additional measures–such as viewing those sites’ content via a search engine’s IP address, after I access that search engine via a VPN or Tor or both–keeps growing. I wish people would stop buying the “this is to protect your website from spammers and evildoers” sales pitch. Maybe this post will reach at least one person, and change one site’s policy, and help keep at least one little corner of the internet a bit more free?

Just hoping, is all. It’s what I do.

Have fun out there!

Freebie: The Secret

Posted: February 7, 2016 by David in Humor, My Fiction, Publishing

ebook3So if you haven’t read it, and you don’t mind downloading it from Amazon, and you don’t have Kindle Unlimited…it might be worth a look.

Not that Kindle Unlimited readers can’t download it too! They can. I just get paid if they read it through that program.

Of course it would be horrible if they were to download & read via KU, then just save a copy of the thing before “returning” it. So they could read it again, later, even if it doesn’t stay in Kindle Unlimited forever. I mean, after all, that would be cheating. So if that bothers them, they could download the freebie and borrow it via Kindle Unlimited. Works out to the same thing in the end. Just saying.

All right. I actually plan to get some work done today. But I figured I ought to mention the freebie. It’ll probably run for a couple more days. Depends on my mood.

Have fun out there!

Does moving from state to state within the US count as moving to a new land? Maybe. I’ve been doing it a lot, for years. So has my wife–separately, for a bit, but we do it together these days. And our daughter comes along. As somebody or other once said: “History doesn’t repeat itself. But it often rhymes.”

We’ve recently decided to stay in Texas for a while. Possibly even a few years. But it turns out there are local rituals that must first be completed. I try to take an anthropological “gee, how interesting” approach to them as they arise. It mostly works.

Way back when, I drove my RV to Memphis for a short-term software contract. About a week before I was going to leave the city, I pulled into a 7-11 for some nutritious snack or other (go ahead and believe that, if it makes you happy). A bit later, I pulled back out into the street and drove perhaps half a block to a stoplight. While there, I saw that there were several police cars in the next block. I considered going around…but this was before the days of ubiquitous GPS devices, and I hadn’t been in Memphis very long. There existed a non-zero possibility that I’d get lost. Plus, I was curious.

I drove up to the first cop, rolled down my window, and asked what was going on. Maybe someone was shooting people nearby? Who knew? He refused to answer, but did wave me impatiently to the side of the road. A couple of other cars followed me, and were likewise waved to the curb.

About half an hour later, the guy who’d waved me to the side of the road came by and motioned for me to roll the window back down. I did so, putting my book aside…the book seemed to offend him for some reason. Not sure why. Anyway, he then explained that I was being ticketed for driving 45mph in a 35mph zone.

Huh. Perhaps some of these officers had a quota to meet? They were clearly just skipping the part about actually finding people who were violating the law, and ticketing everybody on the street. Well, you know, different people approach these things differently. Perhaps the locals just figured this was better on average than chasing drivers down and potentially causing accidents. Why not just perform the ritual on much safer semi-residential streets? This approach has its good points, I reasoned. After all, speed limit laws strike me as silly anyway.

A few years later, I had moved to Alaska from Texas (not for the first time), and my Texas driver’s license was about to expire. So I duly proceeded to the Alaskan DMV to receive a blessing…whereupon I learned that my Texas license had been suspended. A bit surprised, I called the DPS in Austin, TX to find out what was going on.

Oh yeah. I’d never paid that ticket from Memphis. I’d taken a “don’t wanna, so prove I gotta” approach to it instead. Sometimes I get that way.

The guy I was talking to on the phone said I needed to pay the Memphis ticket before my Texas license would be reinstated, which I needed to do before I could get an Alaskan license. Well…okay, as far as it went, but I then asked exactly how I could insure that the people in Memphis would promptly notify the folks in Texas. Since, after all, I only had about three days before the Texas license expired.

The DPS guy began laughing.

After a moment, he explained the process: I needed to get a money order made out to the Memphis people. I could then fax a copy of that money order to him in Austin, whereupon he would reinstate my Texas license for $12.

Ahem. I complied. The DPS guy had gone on to tell me that the general expectation was that I would then mail that money order to Memphis–rather than, say, endorsing it and re-depositing the funds in my own bank account. Perhaps even via an ATM, just to avoid any awkward questions. Well, I’m sure I did the right thing there. I got my Alaskan license, anyway.

That whole thing reminded me of the first time I’d transferred a license from Texas to Alaska. Sort of. See, I’d never actually completed the whole “getting a license” thing–I was legally required to have a licensed operator in the front seat with me. A “learner’s permit,” I’d heard it was called. Texas had implemented this as a thing called an “endorsement” on my license…which therefore, helpfully, said “LOFS” on it. As I hadn’t exactly lived in Texas continuously, and I’d noticed that nobody outside the state seemed to know what that meant (even though it was spelled out on the back of the card), I’d just kept renewing it for quite a while. Which means I’d never taken a driving test. But my boss at my new job in Alaska said that he’d prefer I actually get legal permission to drive just in case something happened and his insurance company felt persnickety, so I drove one of his vans to the Alaskan DMV. Finally, at age 28, I was going to do the right thing! About time, you might think?

So, uh…I took the so-called written test on a computer, and then went to talk to a DMV employee to schedule a driving test. She took my Texas semi-license in hand, looked at the “LOFS” thing, and asked me what it stood for. Virtuously, I told her. I was going to do the right thing!

“Huh,” she replied. “I’ve never heard of it. Is that part of a commercial license program?”

I swear I didn’t plan anything like this. But I felt my mouth begin to move. Words came out. “Um, yeah, I can’t drive the trucks over a certain weight without somebody driving with me. Do you guys have a program like that, or will I have to start the commercial license thing from scratch?”

“Oh…no,” she said. “We don’t have anything like that. I’ll just have to issue you a normal license. I’m so sorry.”

So. It’s perfectly possible that I’ve never actually taken a driving test. Believe whatever you like, on that front. I mean, if I’d been, in principle, willing to smile and accept a license without one…it could very well have happened. Hard to say, at this point.

I’ve often noticed that DMV/DPS employees are actual people. They often view many aspects of their jobs as being unduly burdensome, both for themselves and the public. They’re not the only folks who think the whole cloud of regulations/rituals is best avoided or circumvented, either.

So yesterday I went to a Texas DPS office to get my Texas license. I had my social security card, my passport, and my Alaskan license. All of these were required. I had my vehicle registration and proof of insurance. These, too, were required. But there was a catch: my vehicles were registered in Alaska. I had some number of days to change that, but I couldn’t get a Texas license without first doing so.

“Wow,” I said, making eye contact with the woman who was explaining this to me. “All of them?”

“Um. You’re supposed to,” she said. “But that’s so expensive…”

I agreed.

So it turned out that I had to participate in a vehicle-inspection ritual before I would become eligible for the blessing-I-mean-registration ritual. Well, okay. I drove down the street, keeping an eye out, and found a little shop that said they could perform that sacrament. I parked in the driveway, which actually blocked all other vehicles from entering or leaving–the lot was full, and I figured this might give me a bit of leverage. (My brain works like that. Sorry.)

I walked in. There seemed to be only one employee (or possibly he was the owner) on duty. He raised his eyebrows at me. “I need an inspection…sticker,” I said. Stressing “sticker”–which wasn’t strictly possible, as Texas used to have separate stickers for registrations and inspections but had recently combined them, but he seemed to grasp my meaning.

I have this facial expression I like to try in situations like this. I strive to convey things like “we are men together, and these rules are burdensome, and let us not concern ourselves with them,” and “life is what it is, and we all must do what we must,” and a bit of “come on…you know you want to.” It often seems to affect people’s behavior. If you’d like to try it yourself, but are unsure of exactly how to start, you might try placing yourself in front of a mirror and declaiming: “Hold my beer and watch this!” as it turns out that these expressions are almost totally identical.

“What year is that truck?” he asked. I told him. “Looks like it’s in good shape,” he said. I agreed, and said that we liked to take care of it. He nodded.

A bit later, he got into my truck. He honked its horn, drove it about ten feet, and got out. He stood in front of the vehicle and looked at it for a bit. Then he went into his garage, and came out to hand me a sacramental inspection report. You may, at this point, assume that he took other actions regarding my vehicle in between these steps. If that fits your world-view. At any rate I thanked him, and gave him the customary offering for his actions. (No, I don’t mean I bribed him. I paid him the standard $25.50 for an inspection.)

Then I proceeded to a Tax Assessor’s office. Because, in Texas, the DPS doesn’t actually handle vehicle registration. It’s best handled in separate locations, spaced miles apart. Once there, I produced an Alaskan title, an Alaskan “proof of registration,” my ID, and “proof of insurance” while I was at it (has anyone but me noticed that these are just pieces of paper, and paper is not hard to find?). However, I was not allowed to proceed. “We’ll need your wife’s signature,” the young lady I was speaking with informed me.

“Do you see where it says on both the title and registration that the truck is in both our names, but they use the word ‘or’ rather than ‘and’?” I asked. “That means either of us can do what we need to do. That’s why the distinction is made.”

“We don’t do it that way,” she said.

Very well; I drove away. Came back with my wife’s signature (probably) on a piece of paper. I then was issued license plates and a couple more pieces of paper. One of them had a sticker on it. “You’ve charged me for a new title,” I pointed out. “Where is it?”

“Oh…I processed this as ‘registration purposes only,'” she said. “We don’t always issue a new title. It’s optional.”

“But you charged me for it,” I said.

She shrugged. “This is just how we do it.”

Well, okay. Local customs are what they are. I could deal with that. I went away, and drove back to the DPS office. I traded pieces of paper and plastic for other pieces of paper and plastic. This absolved me of all my sins, and guaranteed me a happy afterlife. Probably. It did a mystical something or other, anyway, even though my truck and I both seemed unchanged afterward. Except for the license plates and the sticker–oh hell, that’s a lie. I haven’t actually put them on the truck yet. I’m kind of hoping my wife will do it. It could happen, right?

Was there a point to any of this? The various blessings and rituals, or even this blog post? Well, how do I know? I’m just an observer here. I like this planet. It has funny monkeys.

Meanwhile, a friend and ex-roommate of mine (from about 25 years back) has started up a travel blog. Though that’s not totally accurate–as he says, he doesn’t actually travel much. He just moves, instead. He actually goes to different countries, and I think his blog would benefit if he’d document which ones he’s been to, along with brief summaries of his time therein, but maybe he’ll get to it. Or maybe he prefers to focus on the present rather than the past. Who knows? I’ve enjoyed reading what he’s posted so far, and maybe you will too.

Have fun out there!

So I tried a startup thing, with a few friends, that didn’t work out. I’m not upset about it; I’m just reporting. Meanwhile my wife started up a business involving cooking and selling grain-free products at local flea markets. That’s working out pretty well–in fact, it seems likely to cover our expenses for the next few months. It won’t last forever, as these things are seasonal, but it’s doing pretty well for now. And we’ll do other things as we go along.

I’m helping out with the production of a cookbook, by the way. And some of the initial recipes were mine. And right now I’m shoving stuff in and out of the oven, plus sprinkling yummy bits on top, while she takes our daughter to a gymnastics class. I might start doing the flea market thing, too, if we add a third day. So it’s not as if I’m uninvolved in her business. It’s just that it’s primarily hers, just as the writing is primarily mine. But she’s involved in that too. Guess who my First Reader happens to be? I’d have trouble without her.

Meanwhile I’m thinking of driving a car part-time for Uber, or more likely Lyft, just to bring in some more cash. It seems likely to be relaxing. Profitable, somewhat, and congenial by nature. I like talking to people. It’s so interesting to be out from under the pressure to make every moment count–toward a goal. So much nicer to be able to smile at a stranger, and mean it, because I don’t have anything better to do and don’t even want to.

And on top of all that? We’re giving serious consideration to becoming foster parents, again. We loved it, last time. Hard when the kids leave, but on the other hand…that’s sort of the goal, right? So we might move into a much larger home than we’ve ever considered before. Might even get a dog. You never know. But we’re pretty happy about the possibility.

This is all so much more peaceful than our old lives had become. I was obsessed, and nearly always irritable, with my software development projects. She was obsessed, and nearly always easily provoked to tears, with her Federal government positions. From the outside, we probably seemed pretty happy. We kind of were, actually. But this is better.

We used to make far more money than we do now. Each of us made much more than the two of us are pulling in now. But we’re getting by. I don’t know, really, what will happen next. But it’ll be something.

Somewhere along the way we’ve both lost all interest in using income as a yardstick of success. Maybe it’s because our daughter doesn’t care? Last I heard, she wanted to grow up to work in a restaurant. And write books. I’ll be proud as hell if that transpires. Or if she does anything else that makes her happy.

Why did it take so long–so many decades–for me to understand that time is more important than money? That time spent with family is especially precious? That enjoying it doesn’t actually require a lot of planning or scheduling?

You know what I don’t actually love about writing fiction? I have to be by myself. I have to shut people out. But it’s not all bad! At the same time I’m inviting people in, of course. I make up my worlds and invite folks to explore them. I try to offer an insight or two along the way, or maybe just a good shiver, or at least an eye-roll. Something. I want to offer something to people that they might not find elsewhere.

The nonfiction is similar. There are a few subjects I’ve studied in depth. I want to share. I want to help people understand little bits of the world around them.

Is this notion distinguishable, from the outside, from any other form of arrogance? Perhaps not. Thing is: I’ve learned a lot from other people’s books. I’m trying to pass that along. It is what it is.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post, except to tell you guys I’m happier now than I’ve ever been before. It doesn’t seem to take much to remind me of that. A clear blue sky, maybe, or a good storm when it’s been a while since the last. A smile from my daughter. A joke muttered to me by my wife. A nice drive in my car. Almost anything can turn out to make my day.

It’s nice to be in a head-space that lets me notice all this. That doesn’t dismiss all that in favor of some goal or other. I’m not opposed to goals. I just know how they can take over my mind, if left to run unchecked.

Probably less-driven folks are rolling their eyes, because they’ve known this all along. My brother did. I wish I could tell him how right he was. And the still-driven folks are rolling their eyes too, if they’ve taken the time to read this, because they’re busy. Lots to do.

I still can’t sit around all day chewing on a leaf of grass. I still have to move around. I don’t yet have the patience to spend the day fishing, and not caring whether I catch anything.

But maybe I’m getting there.

We’ll see. But the timer’s going off. I need to go fool around with food.

Have fun out there!

I hate doing this. I actually like dealing with Amazon…but I don’t like dealing only with Amazon. OTOH, I like it when actual people (not just the ones I make up in my head) can and do read my books and stories.

What’s that mean? It means I pulled all of my ebooks, except Shiver on the Sky, from all non-Amazon sites this morning. The problem: most of that stuff was free. The free stuff got downloaded. People didn’t proceed to buy the books that cost money, though.

Logically, the finger of blame points to me: my material simply isn’t compelling enough that people who read some of it, or even most of it, will pay $2.99 or a local equivalent to read one of my novels or story collections. So I’ll work on that. It’s part of being a writer. I’m always trying to do better.

However? It’s also true that, when my material is available in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, it gets read more often. And I even get paid for each page read. Folks who borrow the books improve the books’ rankings, which actually seems to inspire more people to buy the books too.

I like the multiple-streams-of-income thing. I don’t like the dependent-on-Amazon thing. But I’ve tried new releases both ways. I’ve tried freebies both ways. I tried it all before, too, but hoped things had changed.

Clearly, I need to work on my writing/storytelling skills. That’s a given. In the meantime, I like it when people read what I’ve written. And I like it when I get paid, even if it’s not much. It’s kind of inspiring. And, you know, money is fun.

So, starting in a week or so–or whenever the ebooks actually disappear from non-Amazon digital shelves–all of my books will be available in Kindle Unlimited. When I released The Secret in Kindle Unlimited, it sparked interest in other stuff I’d written, and thanks mostly to Kindle Unlimited readers I had a couple of months of my best fiction-income ever. When I released Bleed on the Sky, not in Kindle Unlimited, with my other books also mostly not in Kindle Unlimited, it didn’t move the needle at all.

It is what it is. Maybe when I have 20 or 30 books out it’ll make a difference. I’ll probably write better stuff by then, too. Everybody’s a winner!

Meanwhile I’m working on Destiny’s Dance (the novel, not the previously-published story/prologue), which is a lot of fun to write. Almost certainly the start of a new series. And I have at least one other series I’d like to write, too, and then there’s the possibility of more nonfiction coming along. So I’ll get back to all that, and wish y’all a good day.

Have fun out there!

Hi!

First off? Some of you like to talk to me by hitting “reply” to my emailed posts. Which is very cool. I like it a bunch.

However, if you’re using one of Microsoft’s email services, they don’t like my email server. Which means I can’t send a response via that method. This is an annoying thing caused by three other things: 1) Microsoft’s policies, 2) Rackspace’s policies, since I host my email server with them, and 3) my policy of using only my own server for email. So if you want a response…please include some other form of contact information? I hate leaving folks thinking I’m ignoring them. But I’m pretty hard-nosed about the “using only my own server” thing. Reasons are in the privacy book. I’m barely willing to use email at all, actually.

A funny thing happened with the privacy book’s print-version proof! I got it in the mail a day early. Which was neat, ’cause all previous orders from CreateSpace had come in late. But…it came with the wrong cover. The exterior is for a novel called Burnt Devotion by Rebecca Ethington. My first thought? “Cool! The book’s all incognito!”

But I do hope it was an isolated event. Sort of. Maybe. It’d definitely be funnier if it happened every time, for all buyers. Meanwhile…hey, Rebecca? If you see this post? I like your cover.

Moving on. I wrote a while back about a writing process that involved getting up and starting to write fiction pretty much immediately. I used a timer set for 25 minutes, and would write nonstop without editing. Sometimes I’d even use a device/font combination that rendered my typing completely unreadable. I’d take a 5-minute break, then do it again. With four sessions in roughly two hours, I’d get something close to 3000 words.

I’ve tried something very similar with dictation. I use shorter time periods, and produce more words. However, cleaning up the text afterward is a major chore. And I’m not very comfortable with dictation when other people can hear what I’m saying. I don’t mind screwing up, but I like that to happen in private!

Meanwhile? The privacy book was nonfiction. It turned out I could work on it out in the living room, while surrounded/interrupted by family. I had two monitors set up, with one for the text I was writing and the other for online research. In contrast with my fiction-writing process, I had very little trouble getting into a “flow state.” I could just, you know, deal with things as they came up and keep going. No trouble at all.

Now…I think that just means I’m better at creating nonfiction than I am at fiction. Not necessarily that the nonfiction turns out to be better than the fiction, but just that creating nonfiction is easier. Why would that be? Well, maybe years and years of software development? In rooms often filled with (at best) cubicles? I wrote a lot of code. I also wrote a lot of email and documentation. Whereas, with fiction…I’ve only ever managed it, reliably, in a room by myself. First thing in the morning. Before even email, though not before coffee.

So. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of things on Dean Wesley Smith’s website. He is very much against the idea of creating a first draft that is allowed to suck. Instead he uses a process he calls “cycling”–which means he writes some words, maybe 500 or so, and feels a bit stuck, so he goes back and edits them. Then he produces another batch of words. And so on. When he’s done, he’s done–with a fairly clean first draft.

To me, that sounds like a great idea. And I think I’m moving in that direction with my fiction. But you know what? I think Dean underestimates the power of his own brain. I think his process is wonderful, and I also think he’s completely wrong when he criticizes the crappy-first-draft approach.

My theory: Dean has learned to achieve a flow state almost automatically while writing fiction. For those of us who haven’t, the (literally?) unreadable first draft has some value. Does that mean we’ll always need the must-keep-writing-no-matter-what approach? Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe we’ll learn to do what he does, over time. I feel myself moving in that direction. I’m not there yet.

Maybe some people need outlines before they feel comfortable writing fiction, for the same reason? They’re a confidence-booster? That doesn’t work for me, at all. I get immediately bored if I try to either create an outline or write to one. But maybe. For some people.

Fundamentally, processes that result in books that actually get written and published are probably good things, and processes that lead to work that gets hung up are probably not good things. In the software world, we “ship” or we go broke. Or both. But shipping is important. I think the same is true for writers. Though, if you really prefer to write and rewrite and strive for perfection? With the same work, potentially forever? Well, okay. Some folks like gardening, too, and sometimes in their backyards where very few if any other people ever see the results. Nothing wrong with that. For me, it’s not like that. I probably wouldn’t write much, if at all, if I didn’t think people would read it.

Is this earth-shaking? Probably not. I’ve just been thinking about it a lot, and I wanted to put it out there. So I have.

Thoughts?