iTyranny: Tell me why I don't like iTunes

I really like my ipod touch, but I can't stand the iTunes software: not intuitive, not flexible, not nice.

I've had a Palm IIIxe for the past 10 years, and I really liked the efficiency of it. But, its age was showing: I could no longer sync to my Win64-bit laptop at home, and even the receptionist at the doctor's office mentioned that it was so old-school. I didn't want an iPhone -- I already have a cell phone -- but the iPod Touch looked like a good replacement PDA. It installs most iPhone apps, has wireless networking and bluetooth, and replaces everything I need a PDA for.

So, now I'm using it, and like it. I'm still trying to get my old calendar off the Palm, but I went for the 32GB edition, and loaded a ton of mp3 music files onto it. I also check my Facebook and twitter on it, "play" Foursquare, and I signed up for online comics previews via Comixology. Great!

All good, right? No. The drawback is the iTunes software. For people who think Apple walks on water, I've got news: If you're a non-conformist then iTunes is not intuitive, not flexible and not nice. All I want to do is to load some of my 300GB of mp3s onto the iPod, but the iTunes software assumes a smaller collection, probably all purchased through iTunes. Also, each time I sync up at home or at work I get the following message:

Each time I see it I wonder if iTunes is going to blow away my iPod, or the files on my hard drive, or both?
Am I the only one who finds Apple software sometimes confusing?

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Bottled Moon Water?

The Moon as NASA's LCROSS hits - iPhone WallpaperImage by MarsInOrbit via Flickr

Now that NASA's LCROSS mission has determined there's water on the moon, the possibility for internet alarums has expanded greatly.

Anthony Colaprete at NASA announced the findings at a midday news conference: "I'm here today to tell you that indeed, yes, we found water. And we didn't find just a little bit; we found a significant amount" -- about a dozen, two-gallon bucketfuls, he said, holding up several white plastic containers.

Here are some suggestions for new projects:

Bottled Moon Water: The Luna Bar people are planning to partner with Virgin Galactic to harvest moon water and sell it to the ultra-rich as a drink that's "out of this world".

Capricorn One Redux: Just like The Government silenced OJ Simpson because Capricorn One is really a documentary, the Men in Black will be harassing Sam Rockwell for Moon, except instead of energy it's water. Really.

War of the World: The water blast was just a cover-up for a real attack on the moon. NASA is a civilian space agency, but they've been corrupted by the US military to blow up the aging Soviet underground moon base. With the collapse of the USSR, Russia no longer had the resources to defend the base, and so the US moon-hawks took the chance to claim their space.

Update! A friend adds: "This premise now provides the missing 2001 backstory -- this is why they were digging on the moon, only to find the monolith... Hydration a'la Luna is the product: HAL for short.. it could go on and on and on."

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Adventures in On-Demand Publishing: Blurb Books

For a number of years my dad, Albert, has written a short memoir for his Christmas card. Each story was also published in car magazines (Goodguys Gazette, and Old Cars Weekly), but I thought it would be fun to gather them in a collection. It would be a holiday storybook for old hot rodders, showing an arc of sixty years' worth of Christmases.

There are many problems with putting out a book like this. For one, it's a niche market so not many publishers are going to flock to your door to promote it. Additionally, my dad's most recent published book, The Age of Hot Rods, took almost a year from completion until it was released. In this case I wanted to get the book published in time for Christmas 2009. On the other hand, if we self-published it I didn't want to have him storing 500 or 1000 copies of the book in his shed for the next twenty years. It's a big investment of money and space to go the traditional route of self-publishing. So, we decided to check out some "on demand" publishing services.

There are a host of these new on demand publishers. I first noticed CreateSpace when they partnered with NaNoWriMo last year, offering participants a chance to publish a copy of their efforts. Meanwhile Blurb Books had been recommended by my aunt, and lulu.com was also impressive. Some resources, such as mypublisher.com, and shutterfly.com looked good, but they seemed oriented toward photo books. In the end I decided Blurb looked the simplest to start with since it had it's own "Booksmart" bookmaking software, while CreateSpace and LuLu both asked for PDF uploads.

Here's a retrospective on the good points, and things I'd like to change about Blurb that I discovered while working on this project.

Good things about Blurb:
  • They have the free "BookSmart" software which guides you through the process
  • The price per book is fair: around $5.95 cost for an 80 page paperback book
  • The layout went quickly, and they provided a quick turnaround in printing.
  • The delivery was easy to track, reliable and on time.
  • The whole process was simple... easy to import your book from MS Word
  • The BookSmart Preview was great. The preview on screen was pretty close to the final bound result
  • The BookSmart software was easy to navigate, and included a spell checker
  • Illustrations were simple. When you load all the images into the Booksmart staging area software tells you if you've used them in the book or not.
  • The software also warns you if your image resolution isn't high enough. That prevents you from printing a book and getting a muddy or jagged picture.
  • You can print out the book for proofreading and it looks like the final result (except it's on 8.5" x 11" paper).
  • The online help was pretty good, although it would be nicer if there was more community support for the book templates.
  • End result was nice. The book looks like a real book
What could be improved:
  • The Blurb service and software is oriented toward photo books, not text.
  • The layout templates for text were limited, and while they may have been cute when paired with large photos, ended up looking childish unless hand-tweaked.
  • It was especially hard to deal with the "auto-flow" templates. If you changed the layout of any auto-flow templates it would break the text flow so that text wouldn't flow from page to page. At that point you have to deal with laying out each page rather than letting the software do it. For that reason alone you want to edit your content as close to perfection as possible before importing into Booksmart.
  • I suggest making backups (BookSmart calls them "archives") each time you finish a stage in your editing. The software auto-saves and you can't turn it off. If you royally mess up, your changes are automatically saved and it's not easy to go back. If you have a backup then you can reload that.
  • The location of the book files on the hard drive isn't obvious. Trying to back up those files to a flash drive can be confusing.
  • The import from MS Word had problems. Tabs were especially bad. The "Styles" imported from Word, but not exactly. The fonts were close, but the justification wasn't at all right, and the leading/kerning was up to the Booksmart software.
  • I couldn't configure tab stops in BookSmart. I wanted a tab stop that was about 5 spaces, but I could only have (a) no tabs, or (b) a tab stop in the middle of the page.
  • Because of the weird layouts I had to tweak the font and alignment of the first paragraph of each chapter by hand.
  • Despite the emphasis on photo books, if you're doing text the photo layouts are limited. Once you have a text layout you're stuck with at most a single picture per page, and it had to be centered and set to a certain size.
  • Line breaks were weird: I had problems with "you'll", and "o'clock" breaking on the apostrophe. Also there were occasionally weird spaces at the end of pages, and gaposis between lines when text had a superscript (such as in "24th").

Despite all the minor problems, my wife Linda managed to edit most of the book, and we were all happy with the end result. The photos and illustrations are clean, and the color cover came out great. The cost per book ($5.95 + shipping) was within my general goal, and the time line was excellent. In fact, from the time we started to lay out the book and add illustrations to the point where the final product arrived on my doorstep was less than 30 days.

Blurb also has some "sell online" features (same with CreateSpace) where you can name your profit margin and they'll sell and ship the books for you. I'm not sure how much shipping per book is, but if you want a copy of the book you can click here.

Bottom line is that Blurb was easy to use, but lacked a certain amount of flexibility. Also, you end up paying for the fancy software because the price of each book is slightly higher than other sites. For the next project my dad was thinking of a book 128 pages in 8"x10" portrait layout. Blurb prices this at about $32 a book, while CreateSpace can deliver this product in the range of $5 a book. But that's mainly because Blurb only offers 8x10 books in full color.

Meanwhile, "Christmas at Ed's Richfield (and Other Stories for Guys)" will be on sale at the Flat Out Press website in time for Christmas.

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