Learning About Online Publishing

Eventually, you’ll likely read absolutely everything in electronic format. As e-book readers like the Kindle and Nook (too many to list) become more popular and the cost of producing paper-based products continues to increase, people will naturally gravitate toward the less expensive medium. Yes, many older people, like me, will continue to enjoy at least their fictional reading in paper format, but even the most steadfast amongst us has gravitated toward e-book format for professional and technical reading.

Besides saving trees and reducing costs, e-books make it possible to bring many marginal topics to market. An aspiring author can self publish books that a publisher might not be willing to touch because the perceived profit margins are too low. Articles such as Bestseller Success Stories that Started Out as Self-Published Books point out the times when publishers simply got it wrong. The book idea really produced a great book, but the publishing staff didn’t know it. Of course, self-publishing can also produce atrocities that can hardly be called literature. The book publisher has acted as a kind of testing ground for book material in the past, but that era has passed and now the consumer must filter out the good from the relatively large flow of bad material.

There are many sites online that tell you about online publishing and getting your work self-published. I personally started with Creating an e-book: Tips on formatting and converting your document. It’s a comprehensive article with a lot of great tips that just about anyone will find useful. A problem with many of the resources you find online is that they’re oriented toward a particular genre, device type, publication method, or content type so that the advice is less useful than it could be.

However, my favorite new source of information for everything to do with e-book publishing is The Electronic Author. The material on this blog is published by someone who actually does output a number of e-books each year and has a copious number of books to his credit, Wallace Wang. In fact, I recently reviewed on such offering, Math for the Zombie Apocalypse. So, unlike many other places you could go for information, this blog really is run by someone with a considerable amount of experience.

The point I’m trying to make is that if you do plan to self-publish the next great American novel, you need to research the required techniques before you make the attempt. Otherwise, you could find that your book doesn’t sell well (or possibly at all). There are a lot of resources out there for improving your product. Everyone who wants to read your book also wants to see it in a usable format. Let me know your thoughts about self-publishing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Preparing Eggs for Sale

It may not seem like a particularly important topic at first, but if you plan to sell some of your eggs, you must prepare them for sale properly. Otherwise, you’ll quickly lose your customer base. No one will say anything to you about the reasons for not buying your eggs—they simply won’t buy them. After a while, you’ll be left with a lot of eggs on your hands and no buyers.

When you get the eggs from the coop, make sure you wash them. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but some people have actually tried to sell unwashed eggs, which is hazardous to a customer’s health, as well as unappealing. I normally use Dawn Antibacterial soap to wash the eggs and then rinse them thoroughly. The soap ensures that the outside of the egg is free of pathogens. Of course, you need to perform this process carefully or else you’ll end up with a lot of unsellable eggs.

After you allow the eggs to air dry (or dry them carefully with a towel), you need to inspect them carefully. Any flawed eggs go into my personal pack. Eggs with cracks are cooked thoroughly and fed either to the dogs or cats. There isn’t a good reason to waste good protein, but if the egg has any cracks at all, you can’t vouch for the integrity of the content. A mix of egg, rice, and leftover meat makes for a dandy addition to your pet’s daily food. Sometimes I throw in a few leftover vegetables as well.

We don’t have any roosters. If we did, we’d also need to candle the eggs to ensure there were no embryos inside. Because we buy our chicks from other places, we won’t ever have roosters for our laying hens. You need to decide on whether to keep roosters based on your particular egg laying needs. However, it’s still possible that our eggs could have a blood spot in them. We simply offer our customers a replacement egg should this happen. So far, it never has, but it could happen given that our chickens are free range. Theoretically, you can candle the eggs to find this sort of problem, but it’s still possible to miss it, so having a replacement policy is the best way to go.

At this point, you have a number of washed eggs that lack flaws. It’s time to weigh them using an egg scale. I generally keep small eggs for my personal use. Medium-sized eggs are sold at a discount, traded for something I need, or given to friends and neighbors. The large and jumbo eggs are placed into cartons and sold at full price.

Create an attractive display for your eggs. For example, I’ve set up kid friendly egg cartons. The cartons will contain an attractive mix of blue, green, brown, tan, and speckled eggs (the range of colors the hens lay). Placing the eggs in some sort of pattern also helps. Even though the inside of the egg is the same in all cases, the eye catching patterns really help to sell your eggs to the public. Of course, adults may prefer a less colorful display, which means grading the eggs by color and placing like colors in a carton. The point is to make your eggs look especially nice.

Preparing your eggs properly will help keep you in sales. In fact, a combination of high quality and classy presentation will usually net you more customers than you can accommodate as long as your prices are also in line with what the market will allow. Let me know your thoughts on egg preparation at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Avoiding Graphical Pokes in the Eye

There are times when you can truly say that something isn’t better than a poke in the eye. Using too many of the wrong sort of graphics on a website is one of those times. Some sites use graphics in such a way that it really does feel like a poke in the eye after a while. You end up with sore, tired eyes after viewing the site for only a few minutes. Sites like this is of the reasons I wrote Zapping Graphics that Dazzle Too Much. The article helps you avoid the sorts of graphics that actually make your site a place not to visit. More importantly, the article provides you with specific techniques for creating truly amazing graphics that dazzle in the right way.

Graphical pokes in the eye are bad for the user, but they’re also bad for you because they give users a good reason to avoid your site. Users get to the point of wanting to receive a service or buy products at any other site they can find online. After a while, your site just sits there being viewed by the few people who stumble upon it after clicking a link in a search engine. If things get bad enough, even search engines will place your site so far down the list that no one will find it.

The fact is that there isn’t really a good reason to have unacceptable graphics on any site. There are resources online (see my article for details) to help you create better graphics, even if you can’t rely on a graphic designer. However, if you’re betting the business on the viability and acceptability of your site, then the cost of a graphic designer is probably a lot cheaper than the cost of failure. An essential truth for anyone creating a website today, especially one that sells a product or service, is that the next site is only a click away. Business owners have always had to keep track of the competition, but doing so is even more critical now because a competitor can easily outclass you with just the right presentation.

Don’t get the idea that great graphics are only useful to businesses either. Creating applications today usually means working within a Web-based environment now. In order to create an application that employees or other users will actually enjoy means developing and using engaging graphics in the right way. Applications, even great applications, can fail miserably when users refuse to employ them to perform useful work. When that happens, you could find yourself out of a job.

Most developers really don’t have a lot of graphic design experience. The few who do are in high demand. Building some graphic design skills will make it easier to find employment in today’s competitive environment. Your applications and websites will be successful because they attract the right kind of attention. Let me know your thoughts about the role of graphics in the business environment today at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Controlling the Body

It surprises me when I think about all the injuries that leave a body part perfectly usable, but unreachable. An arm would still work if the brain could contact it, but something prevents that contact. In some cases, the loss of contact is permanent and is reestablished though physical and occupational therapy. However, in other cases, the loss of contact is permanent and another solution for creating that contact must be found. Both scenarios have seen technical improvements as of late.

As an example of the first, where contact is temporarily lost, students have been experimenting with techniques for taking control of someone else’s limbs. When I first read this article I thought about the scary implications that loss of control can present. However, what if the person doesn’t actually have control? A therapist could take control of the limb in order to help a patient regain control or to make it easier to exercise the limb in a natural way so there is less loss of muscle mass. Both uses are important. Using a person’s own muscles to help them move around and become reacquainted with their body after a severe accident makes sense especially when you see some of the convoluted measures that therapists must use now to work with a patient from the outside.

As an example of the second, where contact is permanently lost (or the limb is actually missing), science is starting to figure out how to create new connections. For example, it’s now possible to connect a robotic leg that a patient controls using the same brain waves that a leg would naturally use. The technology is currently in its infancy, but progress is being made. In another five or six years, it might be possible to see people who have permanent loss of contact with a limb or the need to use artificial limbs walking around without any problem at all.

It’s exciting to think of the possibilities. Both technologies will make it a lot easier to help someone with special needs regain full mobility. Ultimately, the incapacitation or loss of a limb will become less life changing. Yes, there will be some amount of time spent in rehabilitation, but the change won’t be permanent. Of course, it’s going to be a long time before even these technologies will help someone do anything too dramatic—basic walking and possibly light jogging will have to be enough. Would you allow someone take control of your limbs in order to help you regain your full capacity? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Lampooning Our Societal Woes

Normally I don’t write much about comedy in my blog because it really isn’t my strongest talent as an author. In fact, you’ll find some tongue-in-cheek humor in my books at times, but I generally downplay it in favor of other kinds of presentation. Even so, I can’t help but appreciate great humor, especially when it makes me laugh about something everyone else is presenting in the worst possible light. Laughter truly is the best medicine and with all of the negative things happening in our society, we could all do with a good laugh about now.

That’s why a particularly humorous piece, What to Do About the Detroit Bankruptcy, by Wally Wang (a good friend of mine) caught my attention. It’s great satire that’s presented in a way that everyone can read. There is no swearing or off-color jokes to ruin the genuinely humorous piece. It’s the finest type of humor. You should read something like this because it truly is funny, rather than because it evokes an odd side effect due to the internal embarrassment evoked by some of the supposedly comedic presentations today. Some comedy simply isn’t funny.

It’s easy to become mired in a wallow of self-pity and doubt. Sensationalizing the bad news of the day to make it appear even worse doesn’t take a lot of effort. It seems at times as if society is devoted to hearing and believing the worst. Creating an environment where we can laugh a little at adversity and potentially see a solution where there was none before really does take talent. Take the time to enjoy a little humor today at the expense of our nation obsession with bad news. You’ll feel better for it and might even see that rainbow you were looking for all along.

 

Adjusting to Web Development

Web applications require a different mindset than the desktop applications of old. Two of my books, HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies and CSS3 for Dummies, provide techniques for focusing on content, rather than application structure. However, both books contain this information across a number of chapters and some readers might like something a bit more succinct. I recently wrote A Short Guide for Desktop Developers Making the Transition to Web Applications with this need in mind. In a single article you can find the essential information needed to create better sites. The crux of the problem is that a desktop application resides on a device with known capabilities—a Web-based application can run on any device and you won’t necessarily know what that device is at any point during application execution.

The new focus in application design is flexible content. You make the content fit whatever device requires it. The reason that many Web-based applications currently fail is not because they’re poorly coded, but rather that they’re designed for the wrong environment. You see many examples of desktop-like applications on the Internet today. These applications don’t work because the developer has become fixated on creating a neat appearance for the content based on the desktop environment, rather than designing a flexible environment in which to present the content. The environment can’t assume anything because the user device could be anything.

Although my article will provide you with a great overview and provides you with the essentials you need to create a phenomenal Web-based application, you’ll still want to review my books as well. It’s in the books where you see the details of using a particular technology to create your application. The books also provide details that an article simply can’t provide. Of course, this additional information includes specific coding examples so you can see examples of how to implement a good design. So, start with the article. If you find what you need in it, turn to the books for the additional details.

Designing for the Web requires a different mindset. New device types require different design strategies. What are the biggest problems you face when making the transition from the desktop environment to the Web? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

The Science Fiction Effect

I love reading science fiction. In fact, one of my favorite authors of all times is Isaac Asimov, but I’m hardly unique in that perspective. For many people, science fiction represents just another kind of entertainment. In fact, I’d be lying if I said that entertainment wasn’t a major contributor toward my love of science fiction. However, for me, science fiction goes well beyond mere entertainment. For me, it’s a motivator—a source of ideas and inspiration. So I recently read A Warp Speed Analysis on the Influence of Science Fiction with a great deal of interest. It seems that I’m not alone in my view that science fiction authors are often a source of creativity for real world scientists who see something that could be and make it into something that really is.

The science fiction effect has inspired me in both my consulting and writing over the years. For example, I’ve seen how science fiction authors treat those with special needs as if they don’t really have any special need at all—science has provided solutions that level the playing field for them. It’s the reason that I wrote Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements and continue to write on accessibility topics. The whole idea that science could one day make it possible for everyone to live lives free of any physical encumbrance excites me more than just about anything else.

What I find most interesting is that the ability to turn science fiction into science fact receives real world emphasis by colleges and universities. For example, there is a course at MIT entitled, MAS S65: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication. Many articles, such as Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science Fiction, even encourage scientists to read science fiction as a means of determining how their inventions might affect mankind as a whole. The point is that the creativity of science fiction authors has real world implications.

Now, before I get a huge pile of e-mail decrying my omission of other genres of writing—I must admit that I do read other sorts of books. Currently I’m enjoying the robust historical fiction of Patrick O’Brian. I’ll eventually provide a review of the series, but it will take me a while to complete it. Still, other books focus on what was in the past, what is today, or what possibly might be—science fiction propels us into the future. The science fiction effect is real and I’m happy to say it has influenced me in a number of ways. How has science fiction affected you? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

How Cold is Too Cold for Animals?

In many ways, we follow some relatively old fashioned methods of animal husbandry. For example, a lot of people now use heated barns or other enclosures to protect their animals from winter. Of course, there are a lot of benefits to this approach, such as maintaining productivity during winter and reducing animal stress.

However, there are also disadvantages that you must consider from a self-sufficiency perspective. For example, heating an environment for the animals incurs additional cost that is unlikely to be repaid with additional productivity. In addition, such an approach is harder on the environment because the heat is normally provided by some sort of fossil fuel. Unfortunately, the biggest problem is the effect on the animal. If there is a power outage or similar issue that causes a loss of heat, the animal is going to be adversely affected in a serious manner because it isn’t used to the cold and hasn’t had any time to develop a fat layer. We can put on additional layers of clothing when the heat fails—animals typically don’t have this advantage. Animals also tend to have natural cycles, just as we do. The change in seasons helps keep an animal’s internal clock in sync.

Of course, it gets pretty cool here in Wisconsin. We do winterize the animal cages in various ways. For example, the rabbit cages receive a covering of plastic sheeting over the front to keep the wind at bay and also reduce some heat loss. Likewise, the chicken coop window receives a plastic sheet and the back window is both closed and secured. You can’t make the cages airtight, however, because doing so would trap harmful gasses from animal feces that would eventually prove detrimental to animal health. Even during the winter months, animal cages must have at least a little air movement to promote good health.

During the winter months we also feed the animals food with a higher fat content that provides additional calories to help keep them warm. In most cases, this means adding more corn and oats to the rabbit food and providing them with additional high energy food treats (such as carrot scraps). The chickens receive various types of seeds with their feed, along with high protein sources such as meal worms. This approach follows what happens in nature. The seed heads of plants are exposed above the snow, so animals eat these high energy sources of nutrients during the winter months.

Our chickens love the forage all throughout the year. During the summer months they go out every day unless the weather is absurdly harsh (the weather service is predicting tornadoes). In the winter the chickens only go out on warmer, sunnier days. During the cooler days we keep them inside where they can huddle together to preserve warmth.

Part of our strategy is also to use the natural environment to our advantage. For example, all of the cages and the coop are south facing so that any sunlight tends to warm the interior of the cage or coop. There are times when we open the coop door and feel a surge of warmth come out simply because of the effect of the sun on the interior. So, it’s possible to rely on some level of passive heating to help keep animals warm.

Beside the other measures we take, we ensure we check the animal’s water more regularly during the winter to ensure the animals all have liquid water (not iced over in any way) to drink during much of the day. A good source of high energy/high calorie food and water are both essential to animal health during the winter months. All of our animals drink less during the winter, so giving the animal less water, but filling the water trays more often, is the best strategy to follow.

If the weather were to get terribly cold, we also make provision to keep the animals short term in the garage or basement of our home. Neither area is warm enough to stress the animals, but is warm enough to keep them from getting frostbite (a real problem for chicken combs). What sorts of things do you do to make your animals more comfortable and maintain their health in winter? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Working with Eclipse for Windows Developers (Part 2)

In Working with Eclipse for Windows Developers (Part 1), you discovered how to get Eclipse installed and setup for use on a Windows system. It’s a simple process, but it’s also much different than a standard installation, so it’s quite understandable that many people will become confused by the installation requirements. In today’s post, you see how to open the code for a book. Again, it’s a simple process once you know the secret handshake, but Eclipse doesn’t quite do things in the way Windows users expect in all cases.

When the previous part of this series ended, you should have created as Start menu entry and possibly a Desktop or Taskbar shortcut for Eclipse. Use any of these links to open a copy of Eclipse now. You’ll see a dialog box like the one shown here.

Eclipse0201

Eclipse uses the workspace folder to access the project you’re working on. All of the files for a particular book will be stored in a central folder. For example, when you work with the Java eLearning Kit for Dummies, the examples will appear in a folder named Java eLearning Kit for Dummies.

Click Browse and you’ll see a Select Workspace Directory dialog box where you can select the folder you want to use. This folder must appear on your hard drive, not on a DVD or other media that you can’t write data to. In addition, you must have the proper rights to write data to the directory because Eclipse will do just that as you work with it.

Eclipse0202

Select the folder you want to use and click OK. You’ll now see the folder location in the Workspace field of the Workspace Launcher dialog box. Click OK again. At this point, you’ll likely see a dialog box with a bunch of icons in it for doing things like working through the Eclipse tutorial. Notice that one of the options will take you to the Eclipse Workbench as shown here.

Eclipse0203

Click the Workbench icon. You’ll see a blank Workbench, like the one shown here, which doesn’t seem particularly useful.

Eclipse0204

Right click in the Package Explorer and choose New | Java Project. You’ll see a New Java Project dialog box. Type Chapter 01 (or whatever the chapter folder name is for the particular book) in the Project Name field as shown here.

Eclipse0205

Click Finish. You’ll see the source code in Chapter 01 added to your workspace so that you can now interact with the examples in the book. Here is what your Project Explorer could look like now (again, it may be different depending on the book).

Eclipse0206

To open one of the source files, just double click its entry in  Package Explorer. You’ll see the project opened in the editor window where you can examine its code.

You have several options for running an example. The fastest is to right click the example entry in Package Explorer and choose Run As | Java Application from the context menu. You may see a dialog box telling you about certain conditions and asking if you want to proceed. Click Proceed. If you have the file open in the editor, you can choose Run | Run to run the application. In either case, you’ll see the Console window become active next as shown here for the SayHello.java example from Chapter 01 of my book.

Eclipse0207

The Console window displays the application output. If the application requires input, you can click in the Console window and type any value you need to type. Press Enter to enter the input, just as you would at the command line. When the application stops running, you’ll be able to work with the editor again. Let me know if you have any questions about opening, examining, and running book source using Eclipse at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Potential Commercial Uses for 3D Printing

A technology can have significant appeal without becoming a mainstream technology. In my post, Thinking About 3D Printing Technology, I discuss some of the implications of 3D printing, including it’s use for accessibility. The 3D Printing Technology Safety post discusses the associated safety concerns with using the technology. However, both viewed 3D technology as just that—technology. In order for a technology to make a significant inroad, it must have a critical mass and one of the means to obtain that is to make a commercial product.

There aren’t any such products today. You can’t go to a store, order a new set of plates, and watch them print out before your eyes. That sort of thing could happen someday, but not quite today (imagine a set of plates where each family member has their picture in the bottom). I recently came across two articles, though, that hold promise for the future.

The first is quite practical and something I foresee being printed in the home, a sweater. The sweaters aren’t available yet, but the article’s author is looking for people to invest in her idea (at $189.00 a pop). The sweaters are supposed to become available by September 2014, which isn’t that far away when you consider the time required to obtain some new technologies. I’m expecting these first efforts to be not quite perfect, but they’ll improve rapidly. The advantage of a printed sweater is that you can create it to match your body perfectly.

The second is an interesting new car named the Urbee. Not everything in the car is printed, but from what the article has to say, a vast majority of it is. The advantage to a designer is that you can print car parts a lot faster than you can build them using other techniques, so it becomes possible (and economical) to play with a car’s design more so you can optimize it. The vehicle looks a bit odd, but most people could probably get used to it. What’s most interesting about this car though is that it gets 300 mpg with a top speed of 70 mph.

These two commercial products are probably just the tip of the iceberg. It would be interesting to find out if there are most such products in the works. Even better, having a crystal ball so you can see what’s going appear in the future would be amazing. For now, I’ll simply be happy to hear about the uses for 3D printing technologies that you’ve seen. Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.