Archive for June 2012

The Createspace version is here. Unfortunately the cover is too dark and a bit too red so I’ll have to update that, which isn’t such a bad thing as I can use it as justification for producing a blog post on how to make a Createspace cover.

Otherwise it looks pretty good and is a good exercise in practising PoD production for future projects. I was particularly worried that the font might be too small as it looked OK on screen but there’s no easy way to see what it will look like on paper without having it printed. But it seems a decent size for the story. The only real issue is whether switching fonts between the modern and past chapters was a good idea, I’ll have to think some more about that.

And it probably looks better than the attached images, which I had to take with the built-in flash on my camera, hence the reflections and the shadow on the side where the zoom lens blocks the light from the flash.

Guild Wars 2 release date has finally been set for August 29th; which is handy because I should actually be able to keep my character names from Guild Wars 1. Most of those names seem safe, but one has already been taken in the Beta so it won’t last long when the game is actually released.

In the meantime, I found a couple more screenshots. These are using the DX9 engine, with mid to high quality settings.

Norn warrior and… I have no idea what race the girl is

Human Ranger and human NPC

If your stereo is making my car shake, it’s probably too loud.

So the Canadian citizenship test is finally over and I can return to writing and reviewing while I await the results. Canadian citizenship is a long process where you apply after living in the country for three years out of the previous four, after a month they send you a book to read, after a year or two they send you a letter saying to come to a test, then a few months later tell you whether you passed and ask you to go to an interview with a judge or a citizenship ceremony.

I’ve spent most of the last couple of weeks studying the book, which is over sixty pages long and contains maybe a couple of hundred names and dates that they could ask about. The problem is that you have no idea which information will come up and which won’t. You must get fifteen of twenty multiple-choice questions correct, so if you skimp then a few tough questions could mean the difference between pass or fail.

We each picked a question booklet and an answer sheet from the piles and then had, I think, thirty minutes to circle the correct answer with a pencil. Each sheet had a different set of questions so people couldn’t copy each other, and relatives were told to sit far apart so no-one could be accused of cheating; we were warned that if anyone was heard talking they would instantly be failed.

After all that, the test was a bit of an anti-climax. Most of the questions were easy ones and I finished the actual test in 90 seconds. I then noticed that I hadn’t circled a single answer ‘B’ so I had to go through five times to check that all the answers were definitely right.

I wouldn’t have managed fifteen without reading the book, but it seems to me that if you’ve read it a couple of times then you should at least be able to work out two of the wrong answers and make a good guess at which of the remaining two is correct.

My favourite question was (from memory):

Which of the following are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution?

  1. The right to beat your wife and drive a car with a license.
  2. The right to drive a car and own a firearm without a license.
  3. Mobility rights and the right to have more than one wife.
  4. Something boring about freedom of religion and association.

I’m glad they didn’t throw me out for laughing when I read that one.

It’s a strange place.

Do the sales people get commission? They certainly don’t seem eager to sell anything to anyone.

I spent about forty minutes on Friday playing with the tablets, and not once did anyone come over and ask if I needed any help. I didn’t really need them to, but I would at least like to have found out whether the iPad I’d examined was an iPad 2 or 3.

When I did eventually decide I wanted to buy an Asus Transformer and asked one of the staff where I’d find the version with the keyboard (they only had the tablet model on display) he assured me that they don’t stock that model. So that was that.

Except the next day I checked on the web site and it said that they not only stock that model but they had it in stock. I phoned them and checked, then dropped in to buy one as I was driving past later in the day.

The same guy assured me they still didn’t sell them, but after pointing out that their computer system said they did, he checked the shelf and found four of them.

Which seemed like a win until I got mine home and opened the box. Instead of a pristine new tablet I immediately noticed a lot of fingerprints on the screen. Clearly someone had used it before I bought it and then it had been shrink-wrapped again.

Since the only thing I could find that they had done was check their epost email, I just did a factory wipe and continued using it, but I wasn’t exactly impressed by them selling me a used tablet as though it was new. I wouldn’t normally buy from them but they were the only store in town where I could find the Transformer for sale, so it was either that or order from Amazon and wait a week.

“Some Canadians were uninterested in receiving liberty and prosperity at the point of an American sword. So they took up arms”

The BBC have an interesting article on the subject today:

War of 1812: Violence, glory and a new Canadian-ness

Whenever Americans on the Internet joke that they’re going to invade Canada for our oil, I have to remind them that the last time they tried, we burned the White House down :).

I don’t know how accurate the article is, but many of the comments on the American attitude to the invasion sound eerily reminiscent of Bush in Iraq: expecting the war to be over quickly with no resistance and that Canadians would greet them as liberators.

Clearly that wasn’t quite the case. The biggest American success was probably bringing together the disparate groups of English and French settlers and natives into a single body for once.

After my trials and tribulations over formatting Tartarus for Createspace, I thought that I could probably help others who are suffering through the same problems by uploading the template I created. This is a mix of a couple of other Createspace templates I downloaded with various changes of my own, tweaked until I finally managed to get it to work consistently. Createspace offers its own templates in Word .doc format and after importing and editing in LibreOffice… they don’t work.

Createspace Template (5″x8″)

The template includes placeholders for title/copyright, two chapters, some headers and some notes and a bio at the end. You can adjust the paragraph formatting as required (it defaults to Verdana, which isn’t an ideal font for print but I wanted something different for the modern scenes in Tartarus) and then cut and paste your own text into the document. You may also want to increase the font size; I picked one that looked OK, but I’ve yet to see the printed copy to check whether it is easy to read on paper.

The way it works is this:

  • The initial front matter uses a Front Matter page style which doesn’t display header or footer.
  • The end of the front matter is typically a right-hand page, so select the No Header-Footer style for a completely blank page on the left.
  • At the start of each chapter, add another page break and set the style to First Page Of Chapter. This removes the header and then switches to Successive Pages Of Chapter for the following pages, which do have header and footer. On the break at the start of the first chapter, reset the page numbering to 1 so your story will start on page 1.
  • Use the Heading 1 style for chapter titles. That leaves a large gap before the heading and a small one after.
  • Set the header and footer as appropriate for your design. I have author and title on alternate pages as a header and the page number as a footer.
  • Each time you need a blank page because the chapter ends on a right-hand page, insert a manual break to the No Header-Footer style. Then start the chapter with a page break to First Page Of Chapter.
  • For any text at the end of the novel, such as the included author notes and bio, insert a page break to the No Header-Footer style.

This will give you a basic format for the book which should get through the review process with no problems, and you can then adjust it to your heart’s content. Note that if you change the page size or margins you’ll need to change all of the styles you’re using to match as LibreOffice page styles are independent.

When you’re satisfied with the formatting, export the novel as PDF. You can upload to Createspace in .doc format, but it will not interpret the headers and footers correctly so that’s a waste of time.

Tartarus Formatted

These are the PDF output options I use, the other settings are left at defaults:

PDF export options

Then just upload that file and check it in the Createspace interior preview tool. I’ll explain how to make a cover shortly.

Well, my raid is back after removing the old drive and installing the new one. What a pain it’s been, though; it looks like any time you get a single bad blog on an MD RAID you need to remove it immediately even though that means you could lose data if a block goes bad on the other drive.

That was cheaper than I thought; I was expecting about $5 a book to mail them to Canada, but it turned out to be only $14.99 in total for five books, plus any duty I may have to pay.

Of course I will have to mail one copy to the Canadian government deposit scheme after it gets here.

Well, amazingly enough Tartarus has passed the Createspace review process. There’s a slight issue with the page headers, so I have to decide whether to live with that or upload a new version and wait for the review process to go through a second time.

Since I still have three weeks to order my free copies I guess I’ll probably do that. I’ll just check whether there are any other obvious problems first.

OK, I’ve tweaked the headings to match throughout the book and sent off a second version. Then I’ll call that done.

Inspired by some discussions on a writing forum.

Prologues can work, but I feel they’re very much overused. For them to work, they need to be something from the history of the main character in the story (which is probably better handled when it becomes relevant to the story rather than as a prologue), or obviously something that doesn’t include the main characters of the story, and the events have to become important later. The prologues I hate are included solely because the writer isn’t good enough to build the exposition into the story, or they’re back story with some interesting characters who I expect to be part of the main story and then they disappear at the end of the prologue.

Good examples of prologues, for example, would be many of Clive Cussler’s books where the prologue is usually years in the past, it clearly doesn’t involve the main characters of the novel, it will become important later if not the driving force for the plot, and it’s an interesting story in its own right. Bad examples would be many of the unpublished novels I’ve critiqued over the last few years.

So far I haven’t had much time to play in the Guild Wars 2 Beta this weekend; between Createspace and my Canadian citizenship application (a topic for another time) I don’t have much time to spare.

Necro And His Pet

Guild Wars 2 Charr Necro

So far it’s proven fun and runs well on my laptop with a 2.27GHz i5 and an Nvidia GT330M graphics card. One nice feature is that it optionally renders screenshots at a much higher resolution than the game normally uses, so the quality is much better. The graphics are pretty good, while still retaining obvious similarities to the original game. However, I suspect some features either haven’t been implemented or have been disabled for performance reasons (the screenshots, for example, don’t show any player shadows).

In a few hours play I only saw one crash, and no other obvious bugs, so it seems fairly polished but not perfect. Only three of the five races seem to be implemented, so clearly there’s more work to do there.

While they’ve improved the quest mechanic in some respects it’s not as revolutionary as it sounded; you still get quests, but they’re less the ‘kill a dozen rabbits and bring me their ears’ and more ‘stop the bandits who are stealing things from the farm’. Which is better, but I found that often I would arrive in the middle of such an event and not really know what I was supposed to be doing.

Guild Wars 2 Human Elementalist

This was particularly true in the initial tutorial area where half the time I wasn’t really sure of what was going on. The game would tell me to go somewhere and then the gates closed as I got there, and was that my fault or did I just not get there fast enough, or…? Who knows.

Overall it’s a very different game to Guild Wars. In some respects that’s better, but we’ll have to see how hard some of the early events become when the newbie zones thin out and there aren’t twenty players in each event any more.

My poor blog received seventeen spam comments today. Most of them were attached to my recent post about Google Earth, so I guess that hit some search criteria that they’re using to find the best places to post their crap.

So Tartarus is finally off to Createspace to be reviewed. What a pain that was.

Eventually I had to give up on uploading Word files and just export it to a PDF, which Createspace actually imported with all the relevant formatting.

For the cover, I used Gimp.

  1. Download the .PNG template from Createspace
  2. Create a transparent version of the template (create an a layer mask from the greyscale version of the image and then adjust levels).
  3. Put the transparent template as a layer above the background colour, then build the rest of the cover on top. That way you ensure that you won’t be putting anything where it shouldn’t go.
  4. Temporarily disable the template layer and export the image as a TIFF file.
  5. Use ‘tiff2pdf’ to convert the TIFF file to a 300DPI PDF file using zip compression. Then upload it.

Createspace cover. Remember to remove the template layer before uploading!

In a few days I should find out whether that actually works!

What a pain. I believe I’m finally getting this nonsense sorted out. Here’s what I had to do:

After the intro text, add a manual page break which also resets the page number to 1 and switches to a ‘first page of chapter style’ which has the page number as a footer but no header.

Add a ‘successive pages of chapter’ style which is the same as the first page but with the header. Make that the follow-on style for the first page.

Of course Libre Office lets you use a hierarchy of styles for paragraph styles but not for page styles… because… no, makes no sense to me either. So if you change any of these styles you then have to manually change the others to match. Stupid.

And, of course, that doesn’t work when exported to Createspace. It seems to use the first style exclusively for the whole of a chapter and ignore the style change. Now I’m trying to export as PDF and see if that works any better.

I’ve been trying to create a document for Createspace, because I still have a Nanowrimo discount coupon that expires at the end of the month.

You’d think it would be easy, wouldn’t you? I mean, Createspace have templates, I have text, I should just be able to cut and paste it into the template and upload it and it would be done.

But no. Firstly, the Createspace template is incompatible with Createspace. It includes fonts that Createspace doesn’t support, so any document created with the template is rejected. Good one, Createspace.

But it’s worse than that. I try to copy and paste all the text from the original document to the new one and… as well as the text it copies over all the page formatting. How stupid is that? I have a document formatted the way it’s supposed to be formatted, I want to just copy the damn text, and you’d think that should be the easiest thing in the world. Why do program designers think that when I copy and paste text I want to copy all the other associated crap and not… just the damn text? This isn’t just a problem with word processors, 99% of the time when I copy and paste text from a random web page into an email, I just want the text, yet it’s also copying over font and other formatting information that I then have to waste time removing.

I’ve no idea how I’m going to fix this, but pretty soon I’ll have spent more time trying to work around stupid word processor design choices than I did writing the document in the first place. Why should I have to spend an age investigating how page styles work in order to just copy and paste from one document format to another? It’s insane.

On a related note, I started going through the page styles in Libre Office to delete them in the hope that it might fix the problem. But lo! Not only do I have to delete them one at a time rather than shift+click to select them all, but then it puts up a dialogue box asking if I really, really want to delete them, and then it doesn’t delete it. So I have about twenty styles to delete and for each one I have to select delete twice and click OK twice. If I haven’t gone mad by the end of this process I’ll be amazed.

Google are now post-processing aerial photos to generate 3D models of cities for Google Earth. Very cool.

New 3D imagery for Google Earth for mobile

Hopefully this will mean that in future their driving directions won’t tell you to drive off the side of the highway and fall thirty feet to the road below in order to get to your hotel…

Some great pictures of Enterprise on its way to the museum and Explorer heading for display elsewhere.

Shuttle Sail To Their New Homes