Technical Difficulties in the Neighborhood

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

In one of those masterpieces of missed communications, we seem to have temporarily lost cherryh.com.  We’re looking for it and when we find it, we’ll nail its little feet to the Closed-Circle floor.

The Digital Nativity…

This morning’s inbox brought me a bit of humor from my cousin…

It’s clever all by itself, but, once I stopped chuckling, I realized that it was actually a tutorial in social networking and suddenly I had new insights into this whole social networking thing.

Between it and TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year” article, I may figure out what 500 million people are doing on Facebook….

Still Cold…

I have heat, but it’s not from a furnace.  I have a heat pump, which is a marvelous invention, most of the time.  Heat pumps can change my in-house air temperatures about twenty degrees.  In the summer, that means I can subtract about twenty degrees from the outdoor ambient and in winter, I can add about twenty degrees.  For the last twelve years, that’s been just dandy.  But we’ve been cold for eleven days now and the ambient’s gotten substantially below forty degrees and stayed there a while.  So my heat pump has been working overtime to keep the place in the low sixties….which, my recently knit-back-together finger says is not warm enough.

My blog habit seems to kick in late at night (or early in the morning), which is when the place has been coldest.  I’ve dragged the laptop into the bedroom with the intention that I’d blog from under the blankets, but, obviously, my intentions haven’t added up to anything useful.

We’re starting to warm up, though.  By the end of the week, we should be back in the daytime seventies.  The heat pump will get a vacation and I won’t have bluish fingernails while I’m typing.

But the weather hasn’t been the only reason for the lull over here.  If you’ve been reading Jane or CJ’s blog (and, according to Sitemeter, most of you do) then you know that thing have been a little….exciting…. Wave- and Captain-wise.

Someday, maybe, someone’s going to dissect blogs the way novels have been dissected for the last couple of centuries.  Such a student might observe that Jane, CJ, and I share the same server space, use the same Word Press software which is installed and maintained with the same help from Simple Scripts and yet, after a relatively short amount of time, our blogs have evolved into very different beasts.

And Jane’s has become the target of an SEO-injection spam assault.  A week ago, I’d never heard of SEO-injection attacks (despite the fact that my dad’s high school website has been under attack since the day after Christmas….I figured out how to deflect the attack, but I had no idea why it had been launched or what it was supposed to accomplish…but that’s another story).  I still don’t know all that much about them and I’m not altogether certain that I’ve constructed adequate defenses to protect the three of us from further attacks (that’s my job: I’m in charge of the server side of things….which, when I think of my actual qualifications for the job, is a truly frightening thing).  That’s kept me busy for the last few days.

Then, last night, after we’d been talking about Things That Can Make WordPress Just a Bit More Secure, CJ said Yes where she really wanted to say No (or vice-versa, WordPress’s Dashboard can be a bit obscure at times) and things disappeared.

Now, I’m not a complete innocent when it comes to computers.  I’ve been working with them since the late 1960s; I learned the Tao of backups in the days when that meant programming our robot librarian (aka The Chicken Plucker) to mount my personal tape reel every night.  But, truth to tell….I never had to retrieve anything from a magnetic tape and, while I’ve been running “cron” jobs to back up our blogs, etc. I’m not entirely certain what to do with the 680-odd megabytes they churn out every night (right about now).  I know I’ve got CJ’s missing data but I’m headed back to the Helen Keller school of tech support (Wall….Wall.…Door….oops…Stai-ai-ai-airs!) to learn how to restore it.

Knowledge is good, right?

I would have started my education today, except that I had a deadline.  For the past eight months I’ve been participating in a embroidery Round-Robin (that’s where four embroiderers each picked a theme (mine was cats) and stitch appropriate designs onto fabric that gets handed off to each of us in turn) and tomorrow is the great unveiling.  I get four cats and my friend gets four sampler-style birds.  I’ve had since November to add my sampler bird to the collection, but first I broke my finger and no embroidery happened, and then the holidays struck, and no embroidery happened then, either.  Being ethnically English, I have a morbid fear of embarrassment….so I had to get my bird onto the cloth.

BirdInHand (The bird is not my own design….sometimes it’s kinda nice to just follow instructions and in this case the instructions were created by Lori Markovic )

Tomorrow (later today), I’ll tackle CJ’s backup….and, if that doesn’t fry my neurons completely, start both a new short story for Closed Circle and cleaning up DAUGHTER OF THE BRIGHT MOON to add to Closed Circle’s virtual bookshelves.

Closed Circle — We Have Liftoff

ClosedCircle_Blog.jpg

It’s taken a month, but the carpenter ants have finished: The Closed Circle site where my friends CJ Cherryh and Jane Fancher and I intend to establish ourselves (and, more importantly, our work) on the Internet is up. We have graphics. We have links. We have ideas… We don’t have much in the way of content yet (The carpenter ants may have finished, but the movers haven’t arrived) but the three of us are working on it.

As much as the three of us love gadgets and technology, the truth is that when it comes to the Internet, we use the “Helen Keller” method (striding forward boldly until we hit a wall, then making a course correction…repeatedly), so don’t be surprised if the site slips in and out of functionality over the next few weeks, but our goal is to have some of our backlist titles available for download in a variety of digital and/or printable formats Real Soon Now.

It’s all quite exciting and I’m looking forward to incorporating this whole learning process into not only a new look for my own much-neglected website but also a place I’m planning to call “Thieves’ World Forever.”

Much Ado About Nothing

The observant will note that Face of Chaos is looking a bit more austere right now.

Apparently my old look/feel theme wasn’t completely compatible with the version of Wordpress that I installed when I migrated everything to the new server last week. I could have simply ported everything into a fully compatible theme, but I’ve grown attached to my Face of Chaos graphic. Not that I created it or anything. It’s the header from a Portuguese theme called “Leia, Mi Princesa” which was written for something like Wordpress 2.0. So I wound up having to hack a compatible theme.

I’m really not happy with the look/feel, but everything seems to be working, especially in the comments section. I *think* that if you have a gravatar, it will get included in your comments…or not. That’s the joy of hacking code when you don’t know the underlying specs and syntax. But I’ll keep working at it

Which reminds me…I haven’t mentioned anything about why I migrated everything to a new server. CJ Cherryh, Jane Fancher and I met in Memphis a couple weeks ago to put together a plan for a future for our backlists and more. We’re calling our venture Closed Circle and I’ve put up the equivalent of a very rough draft of the site at http://www.closed-circle.net .

The fact of the matter is that the publishing landscape, especially genre publishing, is changing daily. I’m sure that it will survive, but I’m not as certain that I will be part of it, at least not in the way that I’ve been part of it in the past. The future’s going to be on the Internet and Closed Circle is how the three of us are planning to meet it.

It’s a conscious choice: you can dread the future or you can embrace it. We’re going to try to embrace it.

I Solve A Problem

April 11, 2009

Actually, I solved the problem a while ago, it’s updating the blog that’s taken forever.

The problem was my parents’ television set. Back after the holidays, when we all thought that The Great Television Signal Shift was going to take place in February, my mom prevailed upon my dad to replace the world’s largest CRT television with a less monumental flat-screen HDTV.

Thanks to World War Two, my dad’s quite deaf. In order to enjoy watching television (broadcast, tape, or disc) he relies on closed-captioning (or subtitles) and two audio outputs: one feeding ordinary speakers and a completely separate one to feed his amplified headphones (’cause the volume he needs would deafen anyone else). After a bit of research I felt confident in telling him that all flat-screen televisions had at least two audio outputs and that picture quality and price should be their main criteria.

They settled on a 32″ Vizio LCD HDTV. Dad wired it up with the latest in HDMI cables and all seemed well with the universe: Dad had his audio and Mom wasn’t looking at a massive carbuncle each time she walked through the living room.

Then they tried to watch a DVD…

It had simply never occurred to me that there’d be a problem with the closed-captions and subtitles. Frankly, I hadn’t really considered that there was a difference between closed-captions and subtitles. I even thought that all things audio-visual, including DVDs, had to have closed-captions, ’cause that was the law of the land. And I was right…sort of: pretty much all things audio-visual do have to have some sort of text display, but, here in the USA, subtitles aren’t closed-captions, there are several flavors of each, and it’s kind of a crap-shoot as to which flavor is coded into a particular DVD.

In general, buttons on the DVD remote control subtitles, buttons on the TV remote control closed-captions and there isn’t a problem until you’ve got a closed-caption DVD. The folks at Vizio flat-out said it couldn’t be done: there’s no way to display DVD closed-captioning on one of their HDTV products. (The folks at Sony and Sharp said the same thing, meaning there wasn’t a magic television out there that would solve the problem.) My dad told me that he could live with the loss of the BBC series DVDs that he likes to get from the local libraries, but Mom said he’d get upset everytime they’d sit down to watch something and he couldn’t catch half the dialog.

So, I hit the Internet, figuring that if HDTVs weren’t capable of displaying closed-caption DVDs, then my dad wasn’t the only one who’d noticed the problem. With Google’s help I learned about CC1, CC2, SDH, XDS and Line 21. I hit the tech forums and the deaf forums. I was right: Dad wasn’t the only one having problems getting closed-captions to display on an HDTV. I read message after message of frustration and failure: When it came to DVDs, you couldn’t have a top-quality picture and old-fashioned Line 21 closed-captions.

It seemed to be an either/or: use an HDMI cable between the DVD player and the TV to get a good picture but lose the closed captions; or defeat the purpose of HDTV with component/composite cables but keep the closed captions.

I wasn’t looking forward to telling my parents that the only way to restore the closed-captions was to cripple their whizbang HDTV and I really hate it when technology defeats me. I like to think I’m smarter than the average circuit board.

Then it hit me, as I lay in bed not sleeping: DVD players are stupid. Oh, they’re bright enough when it comes to decoding a DVD, but when it comes to pushing signal to a television, they haven’t got the faintest notion whether there’s a male plug in any of their female sockets. If they’ve got three sets of output sockets on the back–and most of them have at least that many–then all three outputs are “live.”

To solve the closed-caption problem, all I had to do was run an additional set of cables–RGB component cables in my parents’ case–between the player and the television.

Now their setup defaults to the HDMI cable for great video and subtitles. But if it’s a closed-caption DVD, Dad just switches the television input stream from HDMI to Component.

(And there’s no loss of video quality. You can’t lose what isn’t there in the first place. The root of the problem is that the HDMI interface–the tech that conveys a digital, high-def picture to the screen–ignores Line 21 closed-captions and any DVD that’s got Line 21 closed-captioning is, a priori, not high-def.)

You may wonder why I’ve gone on at such length about this. I’m remembering the hours I lost to Google searches and how much I would have welcomed a blog or forum post telling me It’s not either HDMI or Component, it’s HDMI AND Component. I’ve incorporated every search term I used into this blog post, most of them more than once. With luck, I can save a stranger some time.