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Last Month: January 2015

January 31st, 2015 | Review

Hello, and welcome one and all to this, the first installment of this to-be-monthly retrospective of the things that I read and watched over the course of the previous lunar cycle. By posting more frequently, I hope to improve the quality (and, probably, the accuracy) of my commentary. At the end of the year, recommendations, awards, and condemnations will be selected from these, so if any of you wish to speculate wildly about winners and losers, now would be a great time to start.

Without further ado, here we go!

2015_01_jan

Books

Finn, Brunton. Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet. (Non-fiction)

This book has an excellent topic, one which has not yet (to my knowledge) been explored in such depth. What is spam? Why is there so much of it when no one likes it? Finn’s examination of spam covers nearly every conceivable angle: history, sociology, technology, warfare, and even a smattering of drama. Spam is depicted here as something akin to a force of nature, an unwelcome but unstoppable flow of garbage that has nonetheless defined much of the way that the internet functions.
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CREDO Fails at Science

January 8th, 2015 | Et Cetera

Ractopamine

Several times per week I receive emails from an activism organization called CREDO Action. Quite often these are about chemicals which CREDO has decided are a danger to the public, and recipients are asked to sign petitions to various branches of government requesting that the chemicals in question be banned. I used to sign these without much thought; it only took a moment and seemed like the least I could do. When I started to read them more carefully, however, I started to notice a recurring trend: CREDO doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

I will elaborate. Today’s email was about ractopamine, an additive which CREDO believes should be eliminated from the US food supply. They cite a number of startling facts about it: 160 countries have banned it outright, it’s used in 80% of pigs in the US, it causes harm to farm animals, and long-term exposure in humans has not been studied. It is described as both “dangerous” and “toxic,” and its effects on “consumers, livestock, and farm workers are serious.” Taken at face value, yes, ractopamine sounds like a pretty horrible substance, and not something that anyone should eat. But let’s look a little deeper at what’s going on here.

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Media Summation: 2014

January 1st, 2015 | Review

It’s that time of year again! Read on for the best and worst of 2014. Accolades are given to A.M. Homes, George Saunders, Tim Kreider, Sheri Fink, Joe Ollmann, Gabrielle Bell, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson. Stern talking-tos are given to Scott Bradfield, Jonathan Miles, David Sedaris, Mark Singer, Jesse Reklaw, Jeff Smith, and Wes Anderson. Apologies for any typos; I’ve been working on this all day and I can’t stand looking at it anymore.

My recommendations are marked with stars (★) because god forbid I use the same system two years in a row.

Over the course of 2015 I intend to switch to a new format in which I review things throughout the year and drop this annual post format, which has gotten to be unmanageably large. Check back every now and then for more reviews, and we’ll meet here next January to sort out the winners.

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New ebook: fiction writing skills!

November 23rd, 2014 | Changelog, eBooks

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that there’s some new stuff around here, namely, pertaining to an ebook I have recently completed. The title is How to Write Fiction That Doesn’t Suck, and you can find out more about it on its own page. It’s already been available for a couple weeks now, but I’ve neglected mentioning it on the blog because I hadn’t yet provided any free samples for your perusal. Well, that has all changed now! Behold, you can click on these links to download a free sample in any of three popular formats: PDF ePUB Kindle

If you’re the kind of person who prefers to live on the edge, there’s also the option to just go ahead and buy it without reading the free samples. You can get it at Gumroad, where it costs $9.

This is also an opportune time to mention that I’ve set up a special page where writers can hire my book-design services. It’s called Bibliorama.

This is all pretty neat stuff. I think you’ll like it.

Store-y time!

September 1st, 2014 | Changelog

In a quixotic attempt to make this site turn a profit, I have added an homage to capitalism to the link bar. See it up there? It’s the link that says “Store.” You can’t miss it; it’s green, the color of a $100 bill.

Joking aside, there is now a convenient storefront here. I’m hoping to expand it further in the near future, but in the meantime you can buy ebook versions of Sunrise issues 8-10 and the Sunrise print edition that was available already. Ebooks of the rest of Sunrise (including a complete anthology) will follow soon. I’ll announce new products here on the blog and on Twitter.

Why aren’t you looking at the store yet? Look at the store.

Webcomics Time: Cute ‘n’ Creepy

August 29th, 2014 | Circuit Reader, Review

I’ve been getting back into reading webcomics again, so it seems only fitting that I also get back into the business of reviewing them. That said, my “Circuit Reader” series was a bit of a huge time investment, so instead I’m switching to a more reasonable length. Gone will be the extreme nitpicking, and in its place I will endeavor to provide a brief but entertaining look at many of the fine (and not so fine) examples of sequential art on the interwebs.

For this episode, we’ll be looking at two nice comics, one by a famous dude, and one by two not-so-famous dudes. The theme is “Cute ‘n’ Creepy” and the comics are Broodhollow and Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo.

Broodhollow

Broodhollow by Kristofer Straub
Kristofer Straub’s name should be familiar to anyone in the webcomics world, having created numerous popular features, most notably the spacefaring gag strip Starslip Crisis (later Starslip), which was probably the only science fiction series to make art history jokes. I never warmed up to post-reboot Starslip, so until recently I hadn’t read Straub’s work in quite a while. When I learned that he had returned with an all-new feature, I was eager to check it out.

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Convert rich text to Markdown

July 15th, 2014 | Tutorial

Here’s something that I never imagined would require over two hours to solve. Markdown is a nice simple markup language which you can use to format type in plain text. There are lots of programs which can interpret it and convert it to common rich-text formats. Ah, but what if you want to go the other direction, and convert rich-text to Markdown? What then? Well, down that path lies madness, my friend, but if you really must do it, here is one very convoluted way that it can be managed.

Edit: A new, easier method (we’ll call it Method Two) has been discovered! See below.

Method One:

  1. Get Pandoc. If you’re on Linux, it’s probably in your repository. If not, you can download Mac or Windows binaries here.
  2. Save your file as an HTML document. I used Open Office to do this, I’m guessing Word would work as well but I didn’t test it. I did test AbiWord, but the HTML documents it produces are formatted really stupidly and don’t work for our purposes. Note: Do not use Open Office’s “export” feature (use Save As instead), as it seems to cause problems too for some reason.
  3. Use Pandoc to convert the HTML to Markdown. Basic console use is outside the scope of this tutorial, so hopefully this part is self-explanatory. The command is structured thusly:

    pandoc inputfile.html -t markdown -o outputfile.txt

     

  4. Check your output file for excessive line breaks. This is the fault of the way that OpenOffice exports HTML files. For some idiotic reason it puts in tons of line breaks. If your text has no extra line breaks, congratulations! You’re done! If not, proceed to Step Five.
  5. Use this online tool to nix the excessive line breaks. I sure hope this tool is still around when you or I next need it, because it’s a godsend.
  6. Repeat as necessary.

Method Two:

This method is probably easier than Method One but I haven’t tested it much yet so I can’t vouch for its overall reliability. It’s inspired by these delightful instructions.

OpenOffice/LibreOffice:

  1. Open the find/replace box, drop down “More Options” and check Regular Expressions.
  2. In the Search For box, type: (.*)
  3. Click the “Format…” button and select Italics (don’t touch other options)
  4. Check “Including Styles”
  5. In the Replace With box, type: _$1_
  6. Click Replace All
  7. If you’re lucky, your italic text should now be wrapped _like so_
  8. As needed, adapt the instructions above for bold, underline, etc.
  9. Copy the resulting text into a plain-text document, and save. Voila!

Microsoft Word (tested in 2010 edition):

  1. Open the find and replace box, click the “More >>” button, and check Use Wildcards.
  2. In the “Find what:” box, type: (<*>)
  3. Click Format -> Font (at the bottom of the dialogue) and choose Italic from the menu (don’t touch the other options)
  4. In the “Replace With” box, type: _\1_
  5. Click Replace All
  6. If you’re lucky, your italic text should now be wrapped _like so_
  7. As needed, adapt the instructions above for bold, underline, etc.
  8. Copy the resulting text into a plain-text document, and save. Voila!

 

The Woodman’s Reward

May 18th, 2014 | Artwork

oz_final_sm

Illustration for the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference 2014. Linework: Hunt 100, Color: Krita

The Non-Seen: Debut!

March 30th, 2014 | Artwork, Comics, The Non-Seen

The Non-Seen: Logo

Hey, remember that teaser I posted back in December? Well, it turns out it’s not another abandoned project, because Chapter 1 of that comic, which will is called The Non-Seen, will be debuting in the Comic section on April 1. I’d hoped to post this announcement a lot earlier so that there could be a period of anticipation, but I was too preoccupied with the comic itself to get the announcement together. The Reader Orientation is available now, and the first few pages will all appear on Tuesday. For the first month there will be two pages a week, and after that it’s probable that I’ll have to go to one page per week, but we’ll see. Enjoy!

Unity Test

March 1st, 2014 | Artwork, Et Cetera, Process

I’ve been wanting to gain some familiarity with the Unity game engine, so I did a little test with some old assets from Into the Titan. This, as you may recall, is the darkroom and the hallway leading up to it. I baked some nice lightmaps, which makes it considerably prettier. Comparison images are below the jump.

Meteorite Research Center passageway in Unity

Darkroom in Unity

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