Archive for category Computers & Technical

Open Source Office Software

I’ve been looking at laptops. Until now all my writing’s been done on desktop PCs and, if I’m out and about, in notebooks and typed up later. Currently our household has two desktops, one on Windows 7 and one on Windows 8 but no tablet or other ‘on the move’ device apart from smartphones. But I like coffee shop writing and my husband fancies sitting with his feet up in the lounge when he’s on the internet, rather than at a desk upstairs – hence the decision to look at laptops.

A new Windows 10 laptop demands a new version of Microsoft Office. Microsoft are trying to move towards an annual subscription model but there is still, currently, the option of a one-off fee version, which will not get any software updates. Both of these are expensive on top of the laptop cost. So I’ve been looking into the free open source alternatives.

There are two main free open source alternatives to Microsoft Office: OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Both contain a Word equivalent and an Excel equivalent. Both can read and write in .doc and .docx formats (making them Word compatible) and have similar capabilities to Word. Both are compared to Microsoft Office in this useful article by Techsoup.

I decided to give LibreOffice a try on the Windows 8 desktop PC prior to making any laptop decisions. Downloading and installing was straightforward and the install automatically put a nice little icon on my desktop. I created a document in LibreOffice Writer and saved it as .docx and then opened it in Microsoft Word, amended it, saved it and opened it in Libre. Everything seemed totally compatible (that was one of my worries about not using the ‘proper’ Word) within the simple document that I used as my initial test.

LibreOffice Writer feels like Word but without the final ‘polish’. I haven’t tracked down how to do everything yet but I’m sure a quick question to Mr Google will get me the answers. First impressions make me think that LibreOffice Writer will do the job on our new laptop – especially since I’ll still have access to Microsoft Word on the desktop PC to give manuscripts a final once-over before submission.

Does anyone else use ‘free’ word processors?

I put ‘free’ in inverted commas because LibreOffice does encourage donations towards the software’s further development and support. I didn’t donate on download but if the software turns out to be as useful as I hope then I will return to their donation page. But first we have to make a decision on which laptop  to buy…

, , , ,

21 Comments

BT Email versus Gmail

Over the last few months my btinternet email account has become flooded with spam – up to 70 emails a day offering me Russian beauties, gambling facilities and endless opportunities to get a ‘free’ store gift card. The BT spam filter catches virtually none of these (but does catch stuff that isn’t spam!).

So I asked BT for help in stopping this deluge and they recommended setting up ‘rules’ to indicate what should be filtered out as spam. That was an impossible task given the ever changing email addresses, subject lines etc. used by the spammers. And it involved opening the emails which indicates an active email address and then you get sent even more!

Enough was enough and I decided to try Gmail which I’d heard had a stronger spam filter. I set it up so that all the mail from my btinternet account was automatically forwarded into Gmail.

Using Gmail over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been impressed by the following:

  • The spam filter is much stronger and catches virtually all the spam forwarded on from btinternet
  • The automatic separation of social media related emails and retailer promotions from the main inbox makes it easier to see at a glance if there’s anything important
  • Emails related to the same conversation are kept together

I am not so impressed by Gmail’s use of ‘labels’ instead of ‘folders’. When I ‘label’ an email it remains visible with everything else in my Inbox – the BT folders completely separated such emails. Plus there appears to be no easy way of importing my BT folders into Gmail (unless anyone out there can help me?).

Conclusion? Overall, Gmail makes dealing with my Inbox easier so I’ll stick with it and keep forwarding from the old address until everyone’s been informed (and is using!) the new one.

, ,

10 Comments

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps and Helping Your Business Win

If (like me) you work in IT Operations for a largish organisation then you’ll find this novel interesting. If you don’t then you probably won’t.The Phoenix Project

A lot of IT Operations work is fire-fighting. Things go wrong, the users of the software that’s failed jump up and down and shout, then (hopefully) IT Operations fix the problem and everything goes back to the status quo. The things that go wrong are classified according to their impact on the business. For example a ‘P1’ might be a major failing in the software that allows customers to place orders on the internet – no orders means no profit for the business and this issue would receive the highest priority. In contrast a bug found on a little-used report would receive the lowest priority, perhaps ‘P5’.

The Phoenix Project opens with Bill (who is newly promoted) facing a ‘P1’ issue in the payroll software. He has to find a way of making sure people still get paid and thus avert a labour force walk-out. The stress that Bill is under leaps from the page and, if you’ve ever had to sort out major software problems as part of your job, your heart will increase, you will start sweating and you will empathise fervently with what Bill’s going through.

But the clever thing about The Phoenix Project is that it’s a novel-cum-textbook, so readers learn something too. It is written by three advocates of the DevOps movement (if you’re not in IT don’t worry about that term) and takes the reader on a journey with Bill as he improves the IT landscape for his organisation. It explains the thought processes and practice behind encouraging software developers to work more closely with IT operations colleagues in order to streamline the implementation and testing of new programs.

WARNING: This book should not be taken on holiday or read at bedtime because it will increase not decrease your stress levels.

To 99.9% of you this book will sound deadly boring. But it is a bestseller in its genre. At the time of writing it is #4,052 in the whole UK  Paid Kindle Store, out of the four million plus Kindle e-books available. I’m not aware of any marketing for this book – it seems to be all word of mouth from colleague to colleague.

We’re always told to write what we know and to utilise our everyday experiences and working lives. But I’ve always shied away from stories set in computer departments (apart from one Christmas story published by My Weekly last year) because most people would find them tedious. However, The Phoenix Project shows that, with some clever thinking, it is possible to turn the mundane into a successful book.
I wish I’d thought of it first!

,

5 Comments

Publishing on Smashwords

This week I spent a few hours uploading the psychological thriller Bedsit Three to Smashwords.

Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of independently-published e-books. It also sells directly to the public in a variety of e-book formats. I decided to use Smashwords in order to make Bedsit Three available for libraries to add to their e-book collections. Many libraries worldwide use Overdrive to source their e-books and the only way for an indie author to make a book available on Overdrive is to go through Smashwords (as I mentioned before in my post about the 2016 Self-publishing Conference).

Smashwords accepts a Word document which it then puts through its ‘meatgrinder’ to change into .epub format – so no great technical knowledge is needed on the author’s part. However, I hit a couple of snags during the uploading process.
Firstly I tried uploading a .docx document, this was rejected because Smashwords only accepts .doc documents i.e. those created by older editions of Word. So I had to use the ‘Save As’ function to save my document and change it from .docx to .doc.
Secondly, when I previewed the .epub produced via the ‘meatgrinder’ there was a blank page between every chapter. It took me a bit of fiddling and Googling to solve this one. I had to remove the page breaks between chapters (which Amazon and Kobo had seemed quite happy with) and replace with a few carriage returns. I think this is because Smashwords automatically inserts its own page break when it comes to a chapter heading.

The Overdrive catalogue is updated from Smashwords each Tuesday, so Bedsit Three should appear there by the middle of next week. If you’d like to read Bedsit Three for free please ask your library to add it to their e-book collection.

Incidentally, authors don’t receive PLR on borrowed e-books, they only get the one-off royalty for a single sale.

Bedsit Three by Sally Jenkins

Click to preview

A girl has been buried in a shallow grave. Rain starts to wash away the earth covering her.
A used pregnancy test and a scrap book about a suicide are abandoned in a bedsit.
Every mother tries to do her best for her child. But sometimes that ‘best’ creates a monster. 
Bedsit Three is a tale of murder, mystery and love. It won the inaugural Wordplay Publishing/Ian Govan Award and was shortlisted for both the Silverwood-Kobo-Berforts Open Day Competition and the Writing Magazine/McCrit Competition.

Available on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

, ,

10 Comments

Kindle Instant Book Previews

Thanks to Nick Daws of the Entrepreneur Writer for bringing this new Kindle marketing tool to my attention.

Amazon has introduced a new feature to help authors generate book sales from their websites and social media activities. A Kindle Instant Book Preview can be embedded into a webpage using HTML or shared as a link via email, text and social media. This enables readers to preview a book (in a similar way to the ‘Look Inside’ feature found on Amazon product pages) with only one click and without leaving the webpage they are currently browsing.

Try clicking on the book cover image below left and you’ll see what I mean.

Bedsit Three by Sally Jenkins

Click Book Cover to Read Free Sample

If the reader likes what he sees there is a direct link to purchase the book from Amazon. A Kindle Instant Book Preview retains traffic on an author’s website because books can be viewed without diverting your website visitor to Amazon.
To obtain the Preview link, search for the book on Amazon.com (not UK), click the ‘Embed’ link on the right next to the other sharing options, copy the URL or embed the HTML code onto your website.
N.B. It’s not possible to embed the HTML into a wordpress.com site (like this one) because wordpress.com doesn’t allow certain HTML codes such as ‘iframe’. So I’ve displayed the book cover image with the Preview link behind it.

Full details can be found at http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=13489836011&tag=viglink20273-20

If you’d like to read more on Nick’s original post, you’ll find it here.

 

, , , ,

2 Comments

Benefit of the Pinned Tweet

Twitter gives you the functionality to ‘pin’ a tweet to the top of your profile. Any visitor to your Twitter profile will see the ‘pinned’ tweet first, followed by all your other tweets (including those that you tweeted after the pinned tweet).

There are two benefits to a pinned tweet:

  • Gaining new followers. Any one looking at your profile can immediately see one of your own ‘best’ tweets rather than a host of re-tweets that you’ve kindly done for other people or spurious thoughts that you’ve tweeted at random. This helps people decide what you’re about and whether or not to follow you.
  • Getting more and better re-tweets. When you RT someone, they may re-pay the favour by RTing one of your tweets. But it can be pot luck what they chose to RT, it may be something irrelevant. However, if you have a pinned tweet this is likely to be chosen because it’s easy to spot right at the top of your profile. So, with a pinned tweet, the RTs you receive become better quality.

It’s easy to ‘pin’ a tweet. Go to the tweet that you want to pin. Click on the three dots. Select ‘Pin to your profile page’. Note – you can only have one pinned tweet at a time, not several.

I picked this tip up last week at an event on book marketing organised by Lizzie Lamb and the Leicester RNA. There were several interesting speakers and lots of advice thrown in from the floor too. And, as always, it was good to spend a day with other writers.

Anyone else have any good Twitter advice?

, ,

13 Comments

Cover Reveal for ‘House Guests’

Let’s have a drum roll … followed by a few oohs and aahs from the audience. Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the cover reveal for my third e-collection of short stories!

Put your hands together for the cover of House Guests and Other Stories!

House Guests and Other Stories

There are four different ways of obtaining an e-book cover:

  1. Design and create it yourself. Unless you’re a whizz at graphic design this can be very time-consuming. I give some advice on DIY (based on my own experience) in this guest post for the Writers’ Bureau.
  2. Use Amazon’s Kindle Cover Creator. This is very easy but the covers can’t be used on other e-book sales platforms and there’s a danger of them looking formulaic. I’ve written about this here.
  3. Use one of the cover designers on Fiverr.com. All services on Fiverr.com cost $5 plus a 50c processing fee (currently around £3.62). I’ve done this several times.
  4. Use a ‘proper’ bespoke cover designer. This will probably give you the best result but will also be significantly more expensive than the other options – meaning it will take longer to make a profit from e-books sales.

The cover for House Guests and Other Stories is from pro_ebookcovers, a designer on Fiverr.com. This designer worked differently to the others that I’ve used previously from the site. She asked for links to two e-books on Amazon with cover designs in a similar style to what I wanted (so I looked at short story collections that seemed to be selling well and had covers with a warm and friendly style). Then she asked me to choose a cover image from http://depositphotos.com (or I could’ve supplied my own). I chose something that I felt was vaguely applicable to the title story. The designer then downloaded the image and did the necessary fiddling to get it to the right dimensions and added the lettering.
I felt this way of working made things easier for both parties. I didn’t have to struggle to explain the type of image I wanted and the designer didn’t have to struggle to interpret my brief or spend time finding a suitable picture.
I recommend pro_ebookcovers and will use her again in the future.

So, back to House Guests and Other Stories. It’s a collection of fifteen short stories, many with a twist and most have appeared in either The Weekly News, My Weekly or People’s Friend. There’s also a couple of competition successes in there plus a special guest story by a prize-winning author!

I’ll reveal the guest author in a later post when I launch pre-orders for the book. I’ve never used pre-orders before and I’ve never had a guest author before so it’s exciting – watch this space!

, , , ,

14 Comments