Battle of the eBook Publishers

Being a public employee, I am reluctant to recommend a commercial product or service.  It reminds me of all those people who left (or were kicked off) PBS-TV for getting endorsement contracts.  It’s a professional ethics thing.

Still, once in a while, I get pinned down by somebody who just needs that kind of help.

I try to go over the pros and cons of the alternatives, and work with them to figure out what might fit with their level of skills and needs.  I try to be objective, and practical at the same time, which is not an easy balance to achieve.

So, I’m being asked by someone about converting a self-published book into an eBook, to get some additional sales and exposure.

Well, there are a number of outlets, but this patron is not that computer-savvy, and wants something outside a genre-limited website.  Something that has a chance of some decent sales.

Now, looking at it from a practical standpoint, I’m kinda stuck between a couple of biggies, and one of them is pretty much overwhelming at the moment.

One is the new Barnes and Noble PubIt! service, and the other, of course, is Amazon’s AuthorCentral service.

Amazon is in the lead with both a longer existence, and a much larger web presence.  They also use a proprietary format that only works on the Kindle device or Kindle ereader software.

Barnes & Noble is the new kid on the block, but uses the epub format — except as far as I can tell, they’ve customized the epub so you need their Nook device or software to read it.

For the more open methods, Smashwords allows you to publish in a variety of formats, and Lulu goes for epub with the option to get printed versions.  And there are others…

And none of them is suited for library use.  You have to go through another vendor for that.  Sigh….

[Disclaimer: I’m published as an author in a fiction collection on Kindle — my publisher’s choice, which I don’t dispute — but there’s no use cataloging it on OCLC since it’s unlikely to show up in a library ebook list.]

 

 

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Rosetta in any other language

Making a note and link for myself on this, for whatever it might be worth to anyone else:

The packaged language self-instruction courses I’ve seen or seen reviewed are not really intended for libraries.  We’ve gotten them from several manufacturers, and their use in library circulation is not always optimal.

Example: Rosetta Stone courses, which have a tough review from the Irish Polyglot.  Thanks for the detail on that by somebody who knows more about the subject (learning a language) than I do, since he’s learned several.

From the looks of it, the main advantage of the heavily advertised Rosetta Stone courses (in his opinion) is the online help — and that is not good for libraries, since it depends on one user/owner and not several different people in a row checking this out.  The rest sounds much like other courses.  No magic “easy” button there.

The catch is, people see the heavily advertised product and think that will somehow be better (read “easier”) and want us to buy that and check it out to them (to save them paying for it, since providing the online help is presumably why they tend to have a heftier price tag than some other courses).   It’s on TV, it must be good (or has a good advertising budget).  It’s used by the military and government, it must be good (or was low bidder for the specifications required, perhaps so it could advertise it was used by the government/military, not to mention getting a lot of business).  These are perfectly legitimate promotional techniques for a business, and I don’t fault them for that.

If patrons try to register it, it may lock up on them (already registered by a previous user).  They can’t use the online services reliably.  And that, apparently, according to this review, makes it no better in many respects than much less expensive course packages, which haven’t been advertised as heavily (or priced as high).

Mind you, I am not criticizing the Rosetta Stone courses as such.  First, I don’t feel qualified (I’m certainly no ployglot), and second, they are not intended, as I already stated, for libraries to check out — they are meant for individuals to buy for themselves to use, and function — as far as reviewed — as they are supposed to function.  Used individually, they can contend they are worth what they charge, and you get what you pay for.  No dispute there from me (although the Irish Polyglot may differ).  If you use something “off-label”, you take your chances on how well it might — or might not — work.

But I’d rather not buy any more of them, if we can find a library-oriented alternative.

 

Are search algorithms channeling your opinions?

[note: this is a backlog post while I’m dealing with a broken wrist.  A little one-handed editing and posted.]

I’ve just viewed a very significant TED talk by Eli Pariser.  I highly recommend watching it.

He points out that Facebook, Google, and many other sources and searchers for us use mindless search algorithms to give us what we supposedly want — but is that what we really need?  No variations, no dissenting opinions, no friends with different ideas?

It’s certainly something we should be very conscious of, and think about, and allow for.

* I may not agree with some opinions, but they may be very influential for people I have to work with/deal with/serve, and I need to be aware of them.   (Given some I’ve seen promoted in very public arenas lately, I need to “inoculate” myself in advance by exposure to these memes in order to resist the impulse to respond inappropriately out of sheer astonishment to somebody who shows up promoting those viewpoints.)  I need to know that people actually hold different opinions, sometimes wildly at odds with mine, so I can politely talk with them and — if appropriate — point them towards the facts they need (or give up on them and move on, in too many cases).
* I need to see some other solutions to problems, and perhaps incorporate part or all of them into what I favor, if they have some good (or at least practically achievable) factors.  These might be things I vote on, or recommend my representatives vote on, and I need all the options.

Perhaps we need a setting on Facebook and Google and everything else that amounts to “favorites algorithms on” and “off” so we can at least have the option of unfiltered information.  Yes, it means plowing through a lot more stuff, much of it useless/annoying/distracting, but at least we make our own decisions about it and don’t rely on software that only considers what will please us most.

Making a new Connexion in Win7

I’ve been trying to copy the existing Constant Data files from OCLC Connexion on a Windows XP system to a replacement Windows 7 system.

Finally found the files in XP, which are not labeled as I expected, in Documents and Settings\Application Data\OCLC\Connex\Db and all the file names begin with “Default” which certainly does not sound like files that have been customized with a lot of added Constant Data entries.

However, when I copied them all in Win7 to the Users\myname\App Data\Roaming\OCLC\Connex\Db all my Constant Data files, they all showed up.

Beginning Drupal, part 3

Continuing to learn Drupal on Mint Linux 9 running on VirtualBox.

Starting lampp automatically

I’m already getting tired of having to start the lampp setup every time.  There must be a way to script a startup script in Linux for this.

And there is, at Tips4Linux.com.  Many thanks and full credit to that site!

First, in the Terminal, I create a file (what we used to call a batch file in good ol’ MS-DOS):

sudo nano /etc/init.d/local.autostart

Which opens up an editing box.  I put in the first line:

#!/bin/sh

and then add my commands:

sudo /usr/sbin/apache2ctl stop to halt any existing web server, and

sudo /opt/lampp/lampp start to start up everything I want with lampp instead.

I exit the file with Ctrl-X and it asks about saving it, so I agree, save as the given name, and I’m out.

Then I need to permit execution with sudo chmod +x local.autostart (since I’m in the directory already)

and set it to run at startup: sudo update-rc.d local.autostart defaults 80

and when I reboot, I see no difference or need no special passwords.

Apparently it worked, however, because Firefox comes right up with the localhost and the Drupal pages.

Customizing the Theme CSS

Drupal for Dummies covers customizing the CSS for the theme pretty well.

Image Gallery

Chapter 13 covers an image gallery.  I need to add a module, which I get from the original Drupal.org site, called Image.

This provides a number of image functions for a web site, primarily as part of a thumbnail contents list for any images posted.

And on…

Additional Modules

Interesting section in the book on recommended modules to add.

One for your FAQ section.  One for CAPTCHA to reduce spam, although that’s been overcome with brute force attacks of lots of cheap typists, apparently (the 21st-century equivalent of a million monkeys on a million typewriters, turning out not Shakespeare, but CAPTCHA translations for spamming purposes… now, that’s depressing… ).

Beginning Drupal, part 1

So, now that I have a Mint Linux installation running off a network drive, I wanted to start learning some of the new web stuff we’re going to be using.  In fact, the entire campus will be using it, so while the Web Librarian gets to do this in detail, I just have to get some basics down so I can backstop him (and in the immortal words of Snoopy, “I hope that an emergency will never occur.”).  Besides, this is a good way to keep my own 20th-century hand in.

First, I’m starting with Drupal, which is, essentially, a system software for setting up well-integrated websites (well, for our purposes, that’s what we needed it to do).  I just need to do this on a local PC for my own practice, not actually have it open on the Internet, so I’m not going to worry much about security while I practice on this (so only do this at home, kids — in the real world, you gotta lock it all up tightly).

Now the apparent method would be to check the Mint Linux Synaptic Package Manager and find the Drupal package, and install it.

But, looking at Drupal for Dummies (Lynn Beighley, 2010), it becomes clear that I need some other stuff first.  Mint doesn’t come with all the necessary web server stuff installed, but then again, why should it?  You only add that if you need it.  Now I do.

Drupal needs, the book says, Apache, MySQL and PHP installed first.  I could do that by just using the Linux package installer, but I could also miss parts of what I need.  Better if I can get a complete package of all of that together (and trust me, I learned the hard way first).

The book recommends XAMPP (formerly LAMPP) from http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp.html so I go there using Firefox in Linux (since I’m going to download it to the Linux system anyway).  (If I’d wanted to do it on a Windows system, the book recommends http://www.wampserver.com for WAMP, and there’s a Mac alternative as well.)

Hmmm… XAMPP “distribution for Linux systems (tested for SuSE, RedHat, Mandrake and Debian) contains: Apache, MySQL, PHP & PEAR, Perl, ProFTPD, phpMyAdmin, OpenSSL, GD, Freetype2, libjpeg, libpng, gdbm, zlib, expat, Sablotron, libxml, Ming, Webalizer, pdf class, ncurses, mod_perl, FreeTDS, gettext, mcrypt, mhash, eAccelerator, SQLite and IMAP C-Client.”  That should do it.

Firefox wants to open it with the Archive Manager (since it is a compressed file).  When the download finishes, Archive Manager pops up but it hasn’t got permission to extract it where I need it.  Typical Linux.  Ignore the Archive Manager and just download it.

Instructions are given at the LAMPP site for installation, however.

The file is in /tmp so I open a terminal (you may as well keep it open, too), become su (superuser) and go into the /tmp and tell it:

tar xvfz xampp-linux-1.7.3a.tar.gz -C /opt

to extract to the /opt directory.

I change to the root directory.  Now I use /opt/lampp/lampp start to start the LAMPP installation.

That works.  It starts up several things and finishes.

I open another Firefox tab and send it to http://localhost/ and I get a LAMPP screen.  Looks good.

One of the choices on the LAMPP site is for English, so I click on that.

On the left, a sidebar of operations… and the phpadmin that I need next.  Click on phpadmin.

I have to create a database, so I fill in the name drupal and click on Create for that.  No other changes at this point.  Important detail to note: the username for the database is root@localhost so make a note of all that.

Now, a new Firefox tab and go to drupal.org for the latest version of that.  Turns out to be version 6.19.

Now comes the tricky part.  The book gets extremely vague and says to copy it to “your local Web server directory.”  And to limit the name to just “drupal.”

I’ll save you the trial-and-error.  It goes into /opt/lampp/htdocs and you can use (in Terminal) the move/rename command mv with the before and after versions of the name: mv drupal-6.19 drupal.  (You are still in su mode, right?)

(I haven’t worked so heavily with operating system commands since I got past Windows 95.  Just keep the Terminal program open through all this.)

Following that, you can use Firefox to go to http://localhost/drupal and get the Drupal install screen.

“Install Drupal in English”.  Sounds simple enough.  Nope — too simple.  I’ll give the trial-and-error here, finishing with the solution.

It first wants me to get back into the /opt/lampp/htdocs/drupal/sites/default directory and rename a file: mv default.settings.php settings.php so Drupal has some starter settings to use.

Still not cooperating.  Change the permissions: chmod o+w settings.php so anyone can change it.  This is the command in the install.txt file that came with Drupal.  So I go back through all the directories and subdirectories, just in case, and do the chmod o+w for all of them.

Now it shows a screen for “Database configuration” and I enter the drupal name that I created earlier.  The username is root and the password is blank.  (Yes, not good security, but this is only for my training on this and not for general Internet consumption.)

And… it won’t accept it.  The advanced options just has the host name which is, of course, localhost.  The username will not accept anything with a @ symbol so that’s out.  The link for XAMPP to MySQL documentation (which is what the book refers me to) is broken.  <sigh>

I checked the web, and found that in an older version of Drupal, the kink was in the settings.php file.  Some people just changed the link info for the database in that file.

However, I checked the install.txt file in the drupal directory.  It talked about renaming the default.settings.php file — but it also offered the option to simply create a blank file of the proper name.

Solution: So, I created an empty file in the right place named settings.php and gave it a chmod 777 settings.php to open up permissions.

Then I tried to do the “Database configuration”.  It worked.  Go figure.  Apparently, it just needed to do its own thing with that settings file without any previous guessing.  It couldn’t create the file, but it could fill it in after that.

Now I got to “Configure site”.  The book says change the localhost name to a title that makes sense for your current site.  I used (of course!) OverautomatedLibrarian.  (I wasn’t sure if it would take a space or a hyphen, and at this point, I just wanted to get past the hurdle.)

I entered an email address, set an administrator name and password, checked the time zone, made sure Clean URLS and update notification were both on.

I got a configuration complete message with a pink warning that it could not send emails.  Might be something with being run in VirtualBox?

Now http://localhost/drupal gets me my new site with “OverautomatedLibrarian” displayed at the top.  I’m finally up to Chapter 3 in Drupal for Dummies.

Whew!  Shadrach, Meshach, and Tobedwego….