Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Editing Icons Are Back

At the bottom of my previous post, I mentioned my editing icons that are supposed to be displayed in a row just above the composing window (the one I'm typing in) had all disappeared. I suspected it was a problem caused by a Windows update that happened yesterday morning.

I found the problem after thrashing around in the Blogger Help Group and not finding a direct answer. Now I don't know if the problem is directly related to the Windows update, but since the problem is fixed, I'm not going to keep looking to find out if that truly was the problem.

Here's what worked for me:

Someone in one of the Help Group posts mentioned "third party blockers" so I decided to see if AdBlockPlus might be the culprit. I went into ABP's Options and did a search for "blogger" and found this entry:

I unchecked it and restarted Firefox. I opened up a new blog post window and the icons are back.

I'm really glad I'll be able to blog in Firefox again!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Year's Best Science Fiction, Pt. 2

After devoting two days to it, my lens for the Gardner Dozois edited The year's Best Science Fiction series is done. At least, it's done in the sense that all the major stuff I wanted to put in the lens is in it. No lens is ever really done, partly because sometimes I come up with new ideas for it, and partly because if something isn't changed every so often, its rank on Squidoo and the search engines starts to fall off.

I got a lot smarter about looking stuff up to find out which stories were Hugo and Nebula award winners or nominees. I abandoned the six-Wikipedia-pages approach once I realized I could look up each story through the ISFDb, or Internet Speculative Fiction Database and see all the awards listed. It sure beat scanning through lists trying to remember the names of stories or authors.

Another improvement was moving development of the modules from the Squidoo lensmaster workshop to a simple Notepad++ file. Each module was basically the same, with only the story listings and bits of code for the cover graphic and the links changing. I had a lot more room to work with, which made the cutting and pasting easier. The final eleven modules for the Eleventh Annual collection back to the First Annual Collection were done that way.

I got a few done in that offline manner and uploaded them to the lens workshop and found it worked out pretty nicely. Aside from correcting a few errors that became noticeable only after saving a module, the only other thing I had to do was decide on a color for the module's 4-pixel border based on the colors in the cover.

For all but the first two volumes I was able to find the stories listed at LibraryThing. Someone going by the name Blue Tyson listed them for almost every volume, and I was able to find the missing ones on the ISFDb.

The lens is actually a better source for this series than Wikipedia, which does not have listings for seven of the volumes. Also, Wikipedia only lists Hugo Award winners, and I don't believe they list them all for the volumes they cover, but I could be wrong about that. My lens lists Hugo Award winners and nominees. It also lists Nebula Award winners and nominees. Wikipedia is silent on the Nebulas.

Still, the lens isn't as complete as the ISFDb, which lists far more awards beyond the Hugos and Nebulas. I'd say about 80% of the stories won some kind of award. But if I tried to list all awards, the lens would be more cluttered and I'd probably only be half done. I figured covering only the Hugos and Nebulas makes sense since they are the biggest awards, plus I have lenses on Hugo and Nebula winning and nominated novels.

An unrelated note: This morning when I turned on the computer, I noticed Windows had done an automatic update, so I had to restart. At the time I wondered what would be bollixed up this time. As the day went on I almost forgot about it until I decided to write this post. I use Firefox about 99% of the time these days. When I opened the window to do the post, I noticed all the icons at the top of the window were missing. I had to switch to Internet Exploder using IE Tab in Firefox, and there they are. Of course, I had to log in, which meant trying to remember my password, but eventually I did.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Take Me Out to the Black...

Help NASA Name ISS Node 3

NASA wants your opinion in naming the International Space Station’s Node 3 – a connecting module and its cupola – before the two segments travel to space and are installed on the orbiting laboratory. The name should reflect the spirit of exploration and cooperation embodied by the space station, and follow in the tradition set by Node 1- Unity- and Node 2- Harmony.

Space shuttle Endeavour will deliver the Node 3 components during the STS-130 mission targeted for December 2009. Once the cupola is attached to one of the module’s six ports, it will offer astronauts a spectacular view of both their home planet and their home in space.

One of the names being voted on is Serenity. Needless to say, every fan of Firefly will want to vote for that name, and at the time I voted for it, it had 88% of the votes. Aside from the Firefly connection, Serenity fits in pretty well with the names of other station modules. According to the rules, you can vote once a day.

The above image from is an artist's conception of the Cupola in space attached to ISS Node 3. Launch of a space shuttle mission to deliver the node to the International Space Station is scheduled for December 10, 2009.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Faerie Music and Science Fiction

I've just put together two rather complex lenses over the past few days.

Over the weekend I did a lens called Faerie Music about some of the groups that have performed at Faerieworlds. It includes six groups or individuals who have one to four CDs. I decided it would be better to group them together rather than make six rather small lenses. Most of the CDs are available through CD Baby, the rest is available through Amazon, and many are available through both.

The CD covers are links, mostly to CD Baby and to Amazon only if the CD isn't available on CD Baby. There are also small one-line graphic links to CD Baby, and text links to Amazon. One problem I have with getting fancy with Amazon books lenses is when I copy the image location to get the book cover image, Amazon puts the image in a square space. Books aren't square, of course, so if I try putting a colored background in the text space, a big white bar shows up on either side of the image. That doesn't happen with CDs because the images are square, so I had fun with colored backgrounds. I found a color picker program so I could choose colors from the images and apply them to the backgrounds. It was interesting figuring out the program and then carefully moving the cursor around on the little magnified box to the correct pixel. I think it turned out pretty nice.

Instead of going on to make more related lenses, which I will eventually, I decided to do a lens on the science fiction anthology edited by Gardner Dozois, former editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, called The Year's Best Science Fiction. The anthology and the lens have the same name. Dozois has edited 25 collections, starting in 1984, and another one will be out around the end of June. This turned into quite a project.

So far, I've only done 13 years' worth plus the two Best of the Best books published in 2005 and 2007. At first I was not going to get too fancy graphically. I just used the Affiliator addon to Firefox for the link to, a regular text link from, and an image link from, all based on knowledge I gained when I redid my Best Sellers list recently.

Each edition is in its own module, and I've listed all the stories in each one. I found lists of them I could use at LibraryThing, although they needed a bit of reformatting. I wanted to separate stories that had been nominated for or had won Hugo and Nebula awards, by listing them at the top with the awards. To do that I had to look through Wikipedia's pages. I needed six pages, one each for novellas, novelettes and short stories for each award. Then I had to find the winners in each book's contents. To further complicate matters, the Hugos and Nebulas have different rules, so usually a Nebula is listed one year before the Hugo, but not always. That took quite a while.

For the two Best of the Best books, it was looking even harder because I didn't know which year the stories were published. But I managed to find the International Science Fiction Database, which allowed my to look up stories by title, which would link me to a page where awards were listed. Since so many stories in those two books are award winners, I didn't separate the list into two groups.

It appears my lens is a bit ahead of Wikipedia with the awards listings. Their pages will say if a story won a Hugo, but not a Nebula, and my lens lists both.

Once I had most of the modules done, I decided to go for a little extra. I forgot about the white bars that show up if a book image is on a colored background, and I don't know any good way around it yet. So I went with a white background and a four-pixel colored border, with colors matching those on the book covers. Actually, there is a way around the background problem, and I used it on my Todd McCaffrey lens, but I didn't feel like downloading, cropping and putting a border on 27 cover images.

The Year's Best Science Fiction lens is published with 15 volumes: the Fourteenth through Twenty-Sixth Annual Collections and the two Best of the Best volumes. I plan to add the rest back to the first volume provided I can find lists of the stories in every one. I may use the ISFDb instead of the six Wikipedia pages. It will mean typing in every story title, but I'm less likely to miss an award that way.

Friday, February 6, 2009

And now for something completely different...

...for me, at least. Earlier today I saw a blog post on the Amazon Associates blog which says they're offering associates 10% commissions on video game downloads. The downloads are for PCs and are priced at $9.99 or less. I figured I'd have a go at making a Squidoo lens, Game Downloads from Amazon, using the text modules and text links using the format I'd originally worked out for my Best Sellers lens. The text links contain my Associates ID code, so I'll get the full 10% on any sales resulting from people clicking through to Amazon from my links.

This is an experiment. I'm not a huge game player beyond solitaire and Minesweeper, both of which come with Windows, although I have a better version of solitaire with more games, and I had also played a better version of Minesweeper. When I took a look at the games being offered, I found that most of them are family-type games instead of violent sociopathic first-person-shooter-apocalyptic-unbridled-savagery stuff. So I didn't have any problem featuring the games on a lens. It seemed there was the potential to get some sales from this, and maybe better results than I've been experiencing with all the books and CDs I've been making lenses about since I started with Squidoo. I may make the lens fancier in time, using boxes and backgrounds.

Speaking of adding boxes and backgrounds, that's what I did with my Todd McCaffrey lens yesterday. I started off wondering why I'd used the URL I chose, which ended in "/todd-mccaffrey-dragonharper". I knew nobody else had done a lens on him, so why not just go with "/todd-mccaffrey"? There'd only been a couple of visits, and there were no external links yet, so I started a new lens with the shorter URL and transferred everything over. Then it seemed like a good idea to add boxes and backgrounds. The only catch was that when the book covers appeared on a colored background, there were big white spaces on either side because Amazon has a fixed space for product graphics and it's square. Book covers are not square, hence the white space.

I would have to crop the images, but that meant not using the ones from Amazon, which meant giving up having the covers as links. I didn't want to place the cropped images on Flickr so I could then insert them, figuring Amazon might have a problem with that since someone else could use them. That meant downloading cover images to my computer, then uploading them into Squidoo's default image spot in the text module. But that doesn't play nice with borders and backgrounds without modifications to the image. I had to put a 4-pixel border around each cover image, then use a 4-pixel border around the text. 2-pixel borders would've been better, but that left a gap between the top of the image and the top of the text box but no gap on the right side.

In the end, it looked much better than the first version of the lens. Before I added the borders and background and played with the images, though, I'd sent out a Squidcast about the new version of the lens. They work, apparently, because when I'd finished and republished, I noticed someone had already given the lens five stars and favorited it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Todd McCaffrey, Dragon Harper Lens

I was surprised recently to discover that nobody on Squidoo had done a lens about Todd McCaffrey. He's Anne McCaffrey's son who has collaborated with his mother on three novels about the planet Pern and it's dragons, and has written two on his own. I decided that was a situation that needed to be corrected.

The book descriptions I've written are longer than most I've done, and I tried including more information about the author than I have on past author lenses. I've also included a voting plexo ("Plexo" appears to be a word made up by the Squidoo people for modules where people can vote on stuff). I'm not a big fan of plexos (plexi?), having seen little interest in them on other lenses I've tried them on or in most cases on lenses done by other people.

As with any lens I've just published, I expect I'll be going back to it and adding stuff and making changes, but it's certainly in good enough shape for people to see.

Trivia: Todd McCaffrey was born ten years to the day after I was.