Black Magic for Black Friday

The big day has arrived. This Friday the 29th, aka Black Friday, sees the release of my newest story, BLACK MAGIC, as an eBook and a Podiobook.

If you heard the tale serialized on HorrorAddicts.net this season, you can now download the full story, as a Kindle eBook from Amazon, or in any format from Smashwords.com. The price for this tale is only $0.99.

If you missed its debut on the podcast, or if you missed an episode, or just want to hear it all en masse, Podiobooks is where you can subscribe to a new feed.

Also, in the spirit of Black Friday, I have a special coupon code for the anthology of vampire short stories, FRESH BLOOD, which features another story of Matt Black, BLACK & WHITE. This coupon is good to download the full eBook for only $0.99 from Smashwords.com. When you order, enter the code FX76F. This code only lasts through Black Friday.

So, what is BLACK MAGIC all about? This is a prequel tale of sorts to my current work in progress, BLACK CITY.

Capt. Matt Black and Dr. Andrew MacGillivray are a pair of paranormal private eyes hot on the trail of someone — or something — killing women during the raucous 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Stranger things are afoot however when their friend, L. Frank Baum, finds a man who was attacked not far from the World’s Fair.

It is a fun tale full of shapeshifters, wizards and witches, mystery and mayhem, topped off with a dollop of steampunk.

Posted in Is This Thing On?, The Shaurette Gazette Tagged with: , ,

HORRIBLE DISASTERS by HorrorAddicts.net

HORRIBLE DISASTERS

HORRIBLE DISASTERS

HorrorAddicts.net recently published a book titled HORRIBLE DISASTERS. It is an anthology of horror short stories set during historical natural disasters. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to benefit Rescue Task Force, a charity organization that has been providing support to victims around the world since 1988.

Edited by Larriane Barnard, it features a poem by Garth von Buchholz and short stories by Emerian Rich, Mark Eller, Laurel Anne Hill, Michael McGee, Steve Merrifield, Ed Pope, Jennifer Rahn, Timothy Reynolds, Chris Ringler, Heather Roulo, Philip ‘Narvaljoe’ Carroll, and yours truly.

My story, “Darkness”, takes place in April 1815 in the Dutch East Indies during the eruption of Mount Tambora. This eruption was so large that ash from the volcano entered the atmosphere and caused severe shifts in the climate across Europe and North America, well beyond 1816, which has become known as the Year Without A Summer.

The supernatural aspect of the tale centers around the Indonesian creature called a kuntilanak, which is like a vampiric ghost. There are many legends, but typically the kunti is the spirit of a woman who died while pregnant. It can take many forms, both horrifying and beguiling. If it is not stopped, it will kill its victims, usually men — especially those who wronged them in life, by clawing at them and devouring their organs. There are few ways to stop one, but I’ll leave that to you, good reader, to discover by reading my tale.

The story was inspired by the poem of the same name by Lord Byron, which was written in 1816 when he spent that cold, rainy summer in Switzerland with his physician Dr. John William Polidori, and their friends Percy and Mary Shelley. This epic group spent that miserable summer entertaining themselves by sharing ghost stories and even penning a few. Polidori wrote what would become the grandfather of gothic horror stories, The Vampyre. Mary Shelley wrote a fragment of a tale which would eventually become her masterpiece, Frankenstein. If it were not for the enormous eruption of Mt. Tambora, casting its darkness so far, the world may never have seen the birth of romantic gothic literature and horror stories as we know them today.

I invite you to find out more about the book (on sale now at Amazon), enjoy some fantastic stories, and help out a good cause at the same time.

Posted in Article, Is This Thing On?, Journal, Writing Tagged with: , ,

STOP comparing Google Keep to Evernote

Pun intended, but please take note: Google Keep is NOT an Evernote killer. Hell, I can’t even say it is competition against Remember The Milk with a straight face. What I will say is that it is a nice, simple, straightforward note jotting app that synchronizes with the cloud. One of my initial thoughts however was that Google Keep could make an interesting alternative to “Secret” Pinterest boards.

Google Keep was recently released on March 20, hot on the heels of the Spring Cleaning of other apps, some of which are much lamented, like Google Reader.

I’ve done some playing around with Google Keep and here are my thoughts — straight from the app itself.

Things Keep does right

  • Google integration. So long as Keep isn’t sunset before its time (*cough* bitter about Reader *cough*), this is a plus.
  • Dictation. Finally! Take a voice note and it will transcribe it for you.
  • Search feature. Duh. It is Google. But let’s integrate this deeper.
  • Keep is primarily an app, and as a result, it is very simple, and has a mobile-friendly UI. This makes it very easy to use right from the start.
  • Swiping to archive. This is smooth, and again speaks to the nice UI.

Things Keep needs in order to be viable

There’s no comparison to Evernote. Period. Here’s a list of things that if added would make it a better note-taking app.

  • Text formatting. Seriously? I can’t even italicize, underline, or bold anything? At least make a single button for formatting that can expand out. I understand the simple approach, but if you can’t format, this will never be anything more than a jot pad. (I guess that’s the point.)
    • I’m not talking full on formatting. That’s what Google Docs are for.
  • Sort by/filter. Kind of a no-brainer. Sort by Title, date added, date modified, etc.
  • Categories and/or tags. Seriously. Color-coding is just not cutting it.
  • Drag-drop ordering — add this to the web interface and KEEP it on the mobile app. This is something Evernote CAN’T and likely won’t do (seeing as how many folks have requested it and we still don’t have it.)
  • More than just Android apps. I happen to have an Android phone, so I’m cool with it. But if Google wants this to be successful, make an iPhone app.
    • The promo video says it “syncs across all your devices”. Yeah, just your web browser (*cough* Chrome *cough*), Android phones and tablets, oh yeah, and those Chromebooks, I expect.
  • Web links. Separate from the “formatting” issue, but could be handled by the same stroke. Allow us to paste in live web address URL links. Sure I could paste them in, but then I have to copy them out to use them.
  • Ordering your checklist. Really? I can’t re-order my check list? What if I am writing a step-by-step guide, using the handy checklist feature, but after writing some steps I realized I missed a step. Or have a step out of order. Best you can do is insert a step. And copy/paste to reorder.
  • Search integration. If I am logged into Google, and I do a Google Search, I want you to search my Keep Notes! You should do this with Google Drive, too. Just sayin’. Again, Evernote has you beat on this front.
  • Speaking of Google Drive. So the hype is that these Keep notes are synchronized in my Google Drive. Maybe they are, but you can’t SEE them in your Google Drive. This seems like an oversight. How about at least a link on your Drive to your notes. Right now it really just seems like a separate feature that just happens to be stored in the cloud.
    • What would be wicked is if Notes were just another type of Document in your Google Drive. Why are they separate, or worse, apparently hidden away?

Things that would make Keep powerful

Evernote has nothing to worry about right now. Here’s a few things that if they just added them to Keep, would make them a strong contender.

  • Groups. Not just notebooks/folders either. Give me the ability to nest them and order anyway I want.
  • Bookmarklet. Evernote excels in letting you bookmark sites you find online. From just a URL to part or all of a webpage. I cannot tell you just how supremely valuable this one feature of Evernote is for gathering research. Think of this as +1 Plus Plus!
  • Graphic bookmarking. Like “Pin this” on Pinterest. Without this, Keep will not even be a competitor for Pinterest “Secret” boards. I think Keep might have a shot at this, but it never will if all you can do is attach pics from the web or photos from your phone.
    • I imagine that Google Image Search could eventually have this feature baked in. Searching for an image? Want to “Keep It?” If Google *doesn’t* do this, they are stupid.
    • OK, so that’s harsh, as we cross some copyright/free use boundaries. But hasn’t Google Image Search already crossed that line by displaying those images on a site other than their original page? I guess blatantly letting you paste them into your notes goes too far. But then, see Pinterest.
  • Attachments. First, a little consistency. In the app, I can only attach photos from the camera — to attach an existing image, you can browse the gallery then share. On the web, I can at least attach images from the PC. The next step is to attach other documents. Again, if Google does not immediately start with docs in my Google Drive, they are stupid. These could easily just be links. In fact, it might be best if it was links rather than actual attachments. But if I want to, I should be able to attach a document like a picture, and have a note about it.
  • Search graphics. OK, so yeah, this is a pretty neat trick that Evernote does right now. A killer feature. Snap a photo of something like a sign or even a white board. Evernote can scan the graphic and find the text in it. You can then search all your notes and if that term is IN A PICTURE it highlights it. Google, make this happen for Keep. You’re welcome.
Posted in Article, ByteBanger, Is This Thing On?, The Shaurette Gazette Tagged with: , , , ,

Dead Man’s Book

DeadMansBook

From the Personal Journal of Abigaëlle Charest
Spring, 1860

I have just arrived at a new archaeological dig in Memphis, Egypt that Auguste Mariette opened up. Dorian Reynaud, the site’s patron from the Louvre, hired me on as translator and archivist for a new discovery by his foreman, Henri Chevalier.

We finally moved enough rock out a small tunnel we can crawl through. This lead to a small chamber with walls covered in vibrant hieroglyphs, along with two broken sarcophagi without mummies, some empty chests, and shattered canopic jars.

I was translating the hieroglyphs when someone shouted that they found something buried in the refuse. Everyone else rushed to a large chest that contained two scrolls and some jewelry.

Morgan McKinley, the scholar from America, announced, “Seems there are some spoils left behind after all.”

Dorian said, “This will be easy enough to take out. Is there anything else? Abigaëlle, what do the walls say?”

A chill ran down my spine as I read the writing on the wall. “It’s a curse!”

They all laughed at that. “The only curse, ma petite, is that the tomb is empty, except for that chest,” Henri said.

I continued, “It says that ‘the precious ones must not leave else a pox shall befall those who remove them’. The rest has been eroded away, but that much is perfectly clear.”

Then came a rumble from above as dirt and rocks began to shift and fall. A hot, dusty wind blew in from the tunnel which threatened to extinguish our lamps and made it difficult to breathe.

“We must get out of here now,” Dorian shouted. “Abi, you first!”

Despite my desire to read more of the wall, I covered my face and wriggled my way to safety. I shouted back into the tomb many times. Hearing no response, I grabbed a pick and some baskets and dug a larger hole.

I then heard Dorian calling after me — from outside of the tomb. “Abi, what are you doing?”

“Dorian! How did you escape?”

“What? We have all been in camp for hours. Some debris landed on you when the tomb shifted because of our digging. We pulled you out and brought you to camp. Do you not remember?”

Non! I remember leaving and waiting for you to follow. I certainly do not remember us all going back to camp!”

“It sounds like you have a concussion. Come with me.”

Surely he was mad, but I followed him just the same back to my tent. Others came by, making sure I was well. I did feel a little dizzy so I laid down on my cot.

Henri came in and covered me with my blankets. A silver charm fell out of his shirt, dangling on a leather cord around his neck.

“Is that an ankh? Where did that come from?” I asked, noticing the amethyst mounted on it as it swayed like a pendulum.

Then Morgan came over to check on me. He laid the back of his hand to my forehead to check for a fever. The gold ring he wore felt cool, but the ruby mounted in it felt oddly warm. “She has a fever, Dorian. I hope that doctor gets here soon.”

Dorian agreed, “Get some rest, Abi. We’ll talk about it all in the morning. I will need your help deciphering those scrolls soon.” I was quite exhausted after that and I fell asleep rather quickly.

 

I didn’t sleep very long, so I made my way to Dorian’s tent. He wasn’t upset to see me out of bed. Au contraire, he seemed relieved. “Couldn’t sleep either, I see. A doctor will be here tomorrow and he can see to you then. Since you are here, you should see these scrolls.”

“Those should not be here.”

“The Curse of the Pharaohs? Really, Abigaëlle? If there was a curse on that tomb, it didn’t stop whoever raided it before us, and it hasn’t affected us, either. Don’t blame that bump to your head on such things. We should have bolstered the entrance better before we went in, that’s all.”

I couldn’t argue with that. “So, what of these scrolls then?”

“They are what the locals call ‘Kitab-al-Mayyit‘, or roughly translated, a ‘dead man’s book’. However, while one starts with the traditional Hymn to Ra and the usual praise to Osiris for safe passage in the underworld, the other begins with praise to Thoth. What I need you to do is make copies. Don’t trouble yourself with translating them as we can do that later.” He handed me some blank rolls of papyrus and the original scrolls.

I took the scrolls back to my tent and made quick work of the transcription. Exhausted from the effort, I blew out my lamp and collapsed into my cot.

 

I awoke to the most terrible screams coming from Henri’s tent! Before I went inside, I heard a horrible hissing sound. I peeled back the flap to find him in his cot covered in snakes, with a large cobra around his neck choking him!

I shouted for others to come quick! The hissing stopped as soon as they approached. The doctor ran up and excused himself to look inside. I warned them all that there were snakes in there, but the doctor went inside and found Henri dead.

He examined the leather cord that held the ankh around his neck. It appeared he was strangled by that cording, yet it should have snapped if it were used as a garrote.

The doctor then told me, “Mademoiselle, back to bed with you, and I shall come check on you post haste.”

 

When I got back to my tent, I found Henrie floating there. His whole body seemed to be an ethereal green. I must be going mad! He stared at me with vacant eyes and said, “I am Setna. You must return the elder scroll to Gebtu.”

Confused and scared by this vision of a dead man claiming to be someone else, I asked, “Gebtu? Do you mean Coptos? We are nowhere near there.”

“You disturbed a hut-ka where the scrolls have laid in wait. One is my scroll, but the other was removed from its home. Others will die if you do not return it.”

I looked around my tent for the scrolls. They were not on my desk where I left them. I panicked, but before I could say anything to the phantom, Dorian and the doctor came into my tent.

As they let in the sunlight, Henri vanished. The doctor confirmed that I had a concussion and said that I should stay in bed and get plenty of rest.

When the doctor left, I pulled Dorian aside and asked, “Where are the scrolls?”

“Ah, don’t worry. They are perfectly safe in my tent.”

“We have to put them back, Dorian.”

“Is this more talk of a curse, Abi?”

“Yes, look at what happened to Henri! He was strangled by snakes and…”

“No, there were no snakes. A tragedy to be sure, but there are no curses. Get some rest,” he insisted and left me alone. I was not visited again by the phantom.

 

I awoke later to the sound of drunk Frenchmen. I followed the cacophony to the fire pit. Dorian finished his beer and said, “We saved you some food, Abi. Come by my tent when you are done eating. I’m having difficulty deciphering the Thoth scroll.”

While I ate my meal, everyone else went to bed. On my way to see Dorian, I passed by Morgan’s tent, which looked… wet. As I got closer, I saw water pouring out from the tent like a flood. To my horror I found Morgan vomiting up water like a fountain!

I began screaming at the top of my lungs! Everyone came running to the commotion. When they found me, they tried to calm me down, until I finally yelled, “Morgan is dead!”

The doctor rushed in first, and as he did, I noticed everything was dry! I shouted, “There was water everywhere, like the Nile itself had erupted from him!”

The doctor looked at me with pity and exhaustion, “There is no water here. It looks like he drank too much beer and vomited, but was so intoxicated that he choked. That’s all, Abigaëlle.” To Dorian he whispered, “Take her to her tent. I’ll be there momentarily with something to calm her down.”

Dorian took my arm gently and guided me back to my tent with some hesitation. I spat, “He drowned, Dorian. I saw it! That scroll you can’t read is cursed. It has to go back to Coptos!”

“Even if I was willing to return the scrolls, based solely on your hysterical ravings, I wouldn’t take them all the way to Coptos. We don’t have jurisdiction there for any digs. What’s down there, anyway?”

“I don’t know, but Setna told me…”

“Who’s Setna?”

“He’s a phantom that looked like Henri. He told me the ‘elder scroll’ must be returned.”

“Or what, Abi?”

“Or everyone will die.”

The doctor interrupted us then and came in with his black bag. Before I knew what was happening, he injected me with morphine. It worked quickly.

 

I woke up the next day in a panic. I was convinced that someone else was going to die. I had a nightmare full of scorpions and crocodiles.

I went to speak to Dorian, but when I couldn’t find him, I feared the worst. I found the doctor, who scolded me for being out of bed. I convinced him to tell me that Dorian was at the docks preparing a boat for us.

Before I could go after him, however, Dorian returned and seemed surprised to see me awake. He then led me into his tent and asked, “How are you feeling today?”

“I had a horrible dream and I’m still quite shaken from it.”

“You can tell me all about it on our way to Coptos. Please help me gather up everything.”

I put the scrolls in the chest with the silver ankh then asked, “What about the ruby ring, and why the change of heart?”

“We can’t get the ring off of Morgan’s hand. Out of respect for his body, we are not going to remove it. When he gets home in America, he should be desiccated enough that the ring should fall off on its own. As for why I have changed my mind, I did some research on Setna. He was Prince Setna, one of Rameses the Second’s many, many sons. There’s a legend that says he stole a powerful scroll from Coptos called the Book of Djehuti. There are too many coincidences and frankly I grow tired of them all. I want you to accompany me to Coptos. The rest of the crew will stay here.”

 

It was on our slow journey up the Nile that Dorian confided something else to me. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but you haven’t been yourself lately.”

“I know,” I apologized. “I’m not the kind to get worked up about such things, but –”

“You tried to kill me last night,” he interrupted.

“Impossible, I was sedated. I could have done no such thing, nor would I.”

“I think you were possessed by the ka of Setna. You were surrounded by a swarm of scorpions and I think you were trying to get the scrolls back. I feared for my life and during my efforts to avoid the scorpions I knocked over my beer. When it had washed the copied scrolls clean, the scorpions left and you passed out.”

I had no idea. I don’t remember that at all. I hope we can put all of these nights of horror behind us as we make our way to Coptos.

Posted in Fiction, Writing Tagged with: ,

Finished writing, but now what?

Evo and Jeff at their first writer's conference. Photo by Sheila Dee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Evo and Jeff at their first writer's conference. Photo by Sheila Dee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

So you’ve finished writing and editing (and editing and re-writing) your heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Now what? The world of publishing is going through so many changes you don’t know where to start!

Thus enter Evo Terra and Jeff Moriarty, the digital duo of ePublish Unum. Back in September of 2011, I attended a workshop they held in Phoenix, AZ to immerse new authors (and old ones like myself) in the digital landscape that we face today.

They will soon be hosting a deeper dive into digital publishing through a six-week online LIVE course that starts May 22, 2012. What I think is brilliant about this course is that it is limited to SIX participants.

Just six people (plus Evo and Jeff) will be online via video chat to keep the course directed, interactive, intimate, and NOT limited to one physical venue. Furthermore this isn’t simply a litany of steps to follow maybe someday. Authors who take this course will take their existing content and week-by-week will do the work, with their guidance, to take their manuscript and publish it.

Check out their website at ePublishUnum.com to find out more about the workshop, their Google Hangouts discussing this brave new world, and so much more content. I highly recommend you also follow them on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else you can. You are using social media tools to connect with awesome people, right? Evo and Jeff should be on your list, too.

Posted in Is This Thing On?, Journal, The Shaurette Gazette, Writing

The Orange and The Black

So, apparently I wear my Krakens jersey a lot. No, really, like a lot. I wore it for a special occasion today — my second opportunity to see author Scott Sigler in person at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ. Scott Sigler is, among other things, the creator of The Ionath Krakens, a football team from the future, which first saw print in The Rookie.

This is a book so good and so original that it was able to get *me* to enjoy football. A book so entertaining that I show my love and support by wearing the “away” jersey for the team. (The “home” jersey is black with orange, and I’m sorry, but I just don’t wear black in AZ.) A book that has sold-out in hardcover and will soon see a paperback version. A book that has two sequels (The Starter and The All-Pro) and has a fourth in the series coming out this year: The MVP.

Sigler Stank all over my bookshelfI just bought the hardcover of Scott’s latest book, Nocturnal, which is a great book as well. I am happy to add it to the growing collection of dead-tree books of his that I own — even though I’ve already listened to the serialized podcast audio version he released for free years ago. The same can be said of all of Scott’s books.

He continues to provide a FREE podcast version of his books, even though he is a NY Times Bestselling author with a five-book contract with Crown Books. I would argue, and he does as well, that he is a best-selling author because he gives away content.

This is just one of many reasons I admire him and enjoy his books. Another naturally is that he is a talented writer. It is because of this that I keep coming back to listen to and read his books, and why I wear The Orange and The Black.

Posted in Journal, Writing Tagged with: , ,

Why I gave up my Kindle Fire

So, I said farewell to my Kindle Fire today. I spent a week with the shiny Amazon media device and decided that we just weren’t meant to be.

Why? Frankly, I want a real tablet computer, not just a book reader with benefits. Before I get to all of that, let me explain why I wanted the Kindle Fire, why I bought one, and why it was hard to say goodbye.

I have an Android smartphone, one that I really, really, love. It’s an HTC Evo Shift from Sprint. This phone does everything and does it well. When the Kindle Fire was announced, I did my homework and yes, I knew going in that the Fire would not be a full-on tablet. I told myself, however, that I wouldn’t need everything in a tablet — my phone could do anything the tablet couldn’t.

I do like the idea of an Amazon media consumption device. With the Fire I had a 7-inch wi-fi only, video watching, music playing, fun-and-games, app running, book reading powerhouse for $200! I convinced myself that was a great price for what it does. I still believe this. Truly, “the Kindle Fire is perfect for watching movie versions of books you no longer need to bother reading.”

The Good…

I bought it the day it came out from my local Best Buy — not having the money to pre-order it directly from Amazon. I plugged it in to charge and turned it on. I added it to my network effortlessly. It synchronized to Amazon and pulled up my library of books. I loved the way they looked on the Fire’s crisp color screen. My highlights and notes were all there waiting for me, of course.

Next, I wanted to check out the Silk browser. I’d heard some not too flattering things about the web browsing experience and I was disappointed in the model at the store because you could not actually get online with it — you only get to see a demo video. After using the Silk browser myself, I have to say that I don’t know what the author of that blog post was complaining about. I loved how snappy and smooth the Silk browser was. I also loved that I could switch between “desktop” and “mobile” optimization modes for the browser.

On a 7″ screen I found the desktop mode was perfectly adequate for 90% of websites I went to. Only a handful seemed too cluttered, and for them I would switch to mobile mode if they supported them. However, for most mobile-optimized sites, I did not like them on the 7″ screen because they just looked like a waste of the space — like I was using a magnifying glass on my phone’s browser. So, like I said, I found the desktop mode to be my preference.

I hit up a few pages with Flash and they all worked flawlessly. I still don’t care what the Flash iNaysayers spout — until the day comes that there’s no Flash on any website, I will prefer any device that supports it versus one that patently ignores those sites. Whether HTML5 is better for the future is irrelevant when in the here and now Flash/Flex is on so many websites. Leave it to developers like me to embrace HTML5 on the web and make it happen. Until that day comes, give me an Android device instead of iSourGrapes any day.

Next I hit the app store and started looking around. I was disappointed that at first I could not find the NetFlix app. I had read that it would be available so I did a little surfing around (in Silk) to see what the story was. Turns out other folks had the same problem. It was rolling out and you might have to try again later, they suggested. Not sure why this was, but I shrugged and looked around to see what was available.

The good news, there’s a lot of great apps in the Amazon App Store. But here’s the first solid bit of bad news: it doesn’t have nearly what you might hope or expect, and amazingly, it has NO Google appsNone. Now, I can understand that the Amazon App Store is their attempt at a walled garden approach to ensure the best experience for their tablet.

A 7″ screen is a unique beast and not all apps work/look good on that scale. I was even willing to accept (before they announced it should be available) that the NetFlix app might not have been there, as a way to promote Amazon’s own video store. That’s no more anticompetitive than most crap Apple gets away with. As it happens, after another pass through on a search, it did finally show up. It eventually also was on the top 10 free app list. It too works flawlessly, and I was very happy for it.

One last thing about apps, though the Amazon App Store is limited (but bigger than I expected), Amazon did do one thing right. They allow for installing apps from sources other than their app store, also known as “side-loading” apps. You can either download the apps as .apk files on your PC, plug in a USB cable (which the Fire does not come with, just so you know) and copy them to your Fire, then install them. Alternatively you can download them from various websites on the Fire itself and then install them.

As a third wonderful option, if you have apps on your other Android devices, you can backup those applications, copy them to your PC, and then copy them to your Fire. This was my modus operandi for all of the awesome apps I had on my phone and was able to migrate them right on over. Even a handful of Google apps, like Google Maps, because there are some that do not require a Google Account to work. Some apps would not install, but there were only a couple of these and I could live without them. Since my Evo Shift runs Android 2.3 as does the Kindle Fire under the hood, the rest of the apps just worked.

Moving on to video, I’ve gotta say that Amazon Prime is pretty sweet, and in just the week I used it (you get a free trial month with your Kindle Fire) I fell in love with the service. I liked the special access to some videos and TV shows it provides. Those looked just as solid as they do on my Tivo and just as good as NetFlix. So, if I had kept the Fire, I would seriously be challenged to decide whether to keep Prime vs. renew NetFlix. Seriously. (I’ll save this debate for another time, but IMHO it comes down to who has the content I want.) I also liked the Lending Library feature of Prime, but I couldn’t find any books I wanted to read that had enabled lending. (I had better luck using BookLending.com, where other Kindle book owners lend their own ebooks to others in one place, like a virtual book swap site.)

Also, I would like to point out that the Kindle Fire is a very good audio player. I already use the Amazon MP3 app on my phone because it makes buying and managing music (in the cloud and on my phone and PC) so freaking easy. I bit the bullet and uploaded even more music from my PC to the Cloud Drive and was jamming out to that streaming music on the Fire (and my phone). I easily almost used up the allotted 5 GB of free cloud storage. I have a lot of purchased music up there already and that does NOT count against your 5 GB. So frankly, whether you have a Kindle Fire or not, the Amazon Could Drive and Player get high marks from me, but the integration on the Fire is just perfect.

The Fire also came with Audible on the “Cloud Apps” list, so that made it so easy of course to pull my audiobooks down to listen to. Yes, that reminds me, just like other files, books, etc., the apps on the Kindle Fire can be “moved to the Cloud”. I didn’t really experiment much with this but I love the concept. This brings up a very important point about the Kindle Fire. It comes with only 8GB of memory and there is no slot for SD card expansion. With all of the software already on the Fire to make it run, you actually only have about 6 GB for your very own. It will not take long to fill this up. I get around this on my phone by moving apps to the SD card (when they allow for it.)

With the Kindle Fire, you can move apps to the Cloud. However, this appears to be for moving apps you don’t use often to the cloud. When you do want to use them, it downloads them back to the Fire so you can run them. This is the same concept as your Kindle Book Library. Sure, you could have hundreds of books stored on your Kindle, but why would you? You’re not going to read them all. Instead, you move the books off your device when you are done reading them. They are still in the Cloud waiting for you when you decide to read them again. If you have a bookshelf for your dead-tree books you probably do the same thing. Your bookshelf is for all of those books you keep telling yourself you need to keep. But you keep a little stack of what you’re reading now on your desk or nightstand.

At any rate this concept is valid, but it pays off better in the Cloud Player for music because you can keep all of your music on the Cloud Drive and stream it to your device. Videos work the same way, I believe, but with video, it would be best to download what you can for a smoother experience. High-definition video is a bandwidth killer and no matter what, you should have a good hotspot, otherwise your media will stutter. That’s a cross that any wi-fi device must bear, not just the Fire.

What about battery life? I was able to play with my Fire for six hours easy without worrying about charging the battery. In fact I never once got an alert telling me that the battery was low. That’s pretty impressive. I have to charge my phone with some regularity when I use the web or watch video for example.

One last positive thing before I move on to the “cons”. The size and weight of the device in my opinion is dead-on perfect. It fits right in the back pocket of my jeans. This makes it supremely portable. Naturally it also fits in most ladies’ purses — it did so in my wife’s. It has a nice, glossy, Gorilla Glass screen though, so I would recommend a cover or protector of some kind. I’m sure it’s pretty scratch resistant, but playing it safe is a virtue here.

So, those are all of the pros to the Kindle Fire. It is a great device at a great price. If these things are all you will ever want out of a tablet then, seriously, rush out and get one.

The Bad…

Now comes my greedy litany of whiny prattle that some folks may point to and proclaim, “See, the Kindle Fire is not a tablet! It’s no iPad killer! Told you so!” To those people I say, “shut your trap”. Just because I felt the need to have more does not mean I think the Kindle Fire is a failure. It’s just for a specific audience. What I’ll also say is that if the Kindle Fire included all of the things I’m going to whine about, the price would undoubtedly go up, and then it wouldn’t have the price sweet spot.

First, it does not have Bluetooth. Now, I want Bluetooth for two reasons: an external keyboard and for audio. I liked the software keyboard on the Fire. It does the job and is pretty unobtrusive (in portrait mode) and has a good layout. But I just prefer a real physical keyboard because I don’t like the fact that they cover up part of the screen. A primary reason why I own an HTC Evo Shift is because of its slide-out keyboard, and I had a Palm Pre before that.

As a writer, I would love to use a tablet out on the road when I might be away from my PC and just write. I did use Evernote (my cloud note/writing tool of choice) on the Fire and I still just felt weird losing half my screen to the keyboard in landscape mode. If I could just use an external bluetooth keyboard I think I’d be a happy little writer beast. Not having the option just plain sucks. Add on the fact that this means you cannot wirelessly listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts in your car also sucks. I find this one inexcusable and was the dealbreaker. Seriously, how much would it have stressed the Fire to add Bluetooth? If not for this one missing feature, I think I would have kept the Fire.

Second, as I mentioned before, there’s no memory expansion for the Kindle Fire. 8 GB these days is the barest minimum that I think is necessary. I even have a 16 GB microSD card in my phone for goodness sake. Yes, Amazon, the Cloud is your friend and you do it well, but seriously? Only 8 GB? Now, I don’t think that a card reader would have been all that much to ask. More memory might add up the price point, but I have seen many devices that charge only like $20 more for the 16GB version vs their 8 GB offering. Just sayin’.

Third, it does not have GPS. Now, is this something one needs? Not in a book reader, no, but in a tablet, I think so. The Kindle Fire is more than just a book reader; it’s a mobile app device as well as a mobile web browser. Without GPS, I cannot use the myriad of social check-in and geolocation apps my geeky heart desires. Mobile devices beg for GPS features. But, I will cut Amazon slack on this one because as a media consumption device it really is not a big deal. It would be sweet to have it though. (It doesn’t have a compass either, but who cares.)

Fourth, this one borders on nitpicking. The Kindle Fire has an email app but it does not connect to Exchange servers. It’s basically for standard email like Yahoo!, Gmail, etc. Anything else you’ll need to use the web, and if you need your work email via Exchange, I hope your work has web access. Mine does, so this was moot. But I like push email notifications and you won’t get that with the Kindle Fire, so road warriors take a hit here.

If I can talk about apps again, I just want to know why there’s no Google apps. I mean, folks, this is an Android device even if it has the Kindle layer on top. Also, frankly, I don’t care who you are, I would wager you use at least one of their services besides search. Now, granted, one can go to the web browser and use their services. For most things, again, the desktop mode was my preference though Google’s mobile versions of most services are very functional. But there’s something to be wary of here in this complete shunning of Google apps. If it is just because the authorizing account on a Kindle Fire is your Amazon account instead of a Google account (which seems to logistically be the case) then I would still expect someone (maybe Google themselves) to create an app for the Kindle Fire to let you add a Google Account to your Fire so that you can use the apps that rely on it (like Gmail, G+, even YouTube, etc.)

By the way, I didn’t bother with the Newsstand. I am sure that the Kindle Fire would rock this, even if magazine companies would prefer you to have a larger screen. The glossy color Fire screen would be great with subscription media like newspapers and magazines. I just personally do not subscribe to any print magazines or newspapers (or their digital variants) because a) print is dead, and b) the “news” is irrelevant the second it is printed.

I’d rather subscribe to dozens or more blogs and get fresh, relevant content. I did use the Pulse app which came with the Fire and I loved it. This is where I see content going, and frankly am disappointed that more providers do not embrace the RSS/blog model. The Pulse app shines on the Fire and makes reading blogs fun. It doesn’t look half bad on my phone, either.

I will also say that I was surprised that you cannot subscribe to Kindle Blogs on the Fire. I assume this was forsaken because the concept of a paid subscription on the Kindle was for it to download for you to read offline, and with Kindle Fire which can run apps like Pulse and Read It Later, the point is moot. But I know some blogs that have embraced that model and not being able to subscribe to them if you enjoy that feature on your e-ink Kindle is kind of odd.

As a side note, there’s a dearth of podcatching apps in the Kindle App Store. Sure there’s Stitcher and MediaFly, but those are curated. There’s MyPOD Podcast Manager, but it doesn’t have the same features I’ve come to expect from DoggCatcher, which is the best, in my opinion. So, sideload that one if you want to listen to podcasts.

And The Whiny…

Now we start to nitpick. There’s no camera. This I knew going in and again is an expensive feature that the Kindle Fire doesn’t need but that I would desperately want in a tablet. Especially a fore-facing camera for video chat. But hey, the Kindle Fire doesn’t even have a microphone, so there’s no chat happening anyway. Nope, you can’t plug in a headset with a mic either. So, no Skype, no chat of any kind. But without a microphone that also means no voice-commands, no speech translation, no speech-to-text features at all.

As a side note, I was disappointed that the Kindle Fire does not do text-to-speech book reading. I was under the impression you could do that with a regular Kindle so I would expect that in the Kindle Fire. If that is a feature you use on your current e-ink Kindle, then the Fire is a step down.

While comparing e-ink Kindles to Kindle Fire, you know how people rave about reading their e-ink Kindle outdoors or in different levels of light and complaining about iPads and other tablets because of glare? I always thought was was hogwash. But you know what, those folks are so very right! The glare on the Fire is awful if you catch it. I would love to see a company create an anti-glare screen protector of sorts, because it really is a problem. If you like your glare-free e-ink Kindle and that’s an issue for you, the Fire will just frustrate you on that.

Finally, I just gotta say, Amazon, would it have killed you to put volume controls on the hardware? It’s my last nitpick, but really, to have to tap the screen to bring up the menu bars, then tap the Settings icon to get to a volume slider is just silly. Again, it’s something you get used to, but come on. Also, though the speakers are good, they could be better. You get fuller, richer sound with headphones, naturally. OK, that’s enough whining.

In the end, I wanted a tablet, not just a media device. I would never buy a standard e-ink Kindle. I abhor unitaskers. The Kindle Fire is a good multitasker, but it’s just not enough for me. It broke my heart every time I had to break down and pull out my phone in order to be able to do something the Fire couldn’t. In the end, my phone does everything I want but I want a similarly capable device with a larger screen. The 7″ form factor is perfect in my mind and I think that anything bigger than 8″ (which I’m starting to see in tablets) is too big. I’ll just use my laptop at that point. So, I’ll keep looking for something in between.

Posted in Article, Is This Thing On?, Journal, Review, The Shaurette Gazette, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Happy Hallowtide!

Hey folks, the Kindle version of LILITH’S LOVE is now only $2.99, and you should soon see this being updated in the other major eBook stores as well. Some of the slow ones might still have it as $3.99 or higher but they will eventually all drop. Of course, you can still set your own price at Smashwords.com for a DRM-free eBook, and the audio version is still free to listen to at Podiobooks.com. This is just my way of saying “Happy Hallowtide”, or Season’s Greetings! ;-) You say you still prefer the paperback? Amazon has it for only $7.49. Of course, if you order it from me directly (same price), I’ll happily sign it for you before I send it your way.

Speaking of signing books, have you heard about Kindlegraph.com? This is a free service that gives authors a way to autograph Kindle (or actually any) books. They way it works is, you visit Kindlegraph.com and search for your favorite author, or just go straight to a link, like let’s say http://kindlegraph.com/authors/DanS42 for example, and you request an autograph for your eBook. The author gets an email and then visits the website to fill out a form with an inscription and then sign it. That then gets emailed to you. If you provide the email address for your Kindle reader, that Kindlegraph goes right to your Kindle and can be viewed anytime. If you don’t have a Kindle, you just provide any email address and a PDF will be emailed to you. So, in all actuality, this can work for paperback and podiobooks, too. Pretty slick, huh? Sure it’s just a virtual bookplate, but it is a cool service that makes it easy for authors and fans to use. I dig it and will be happy to send anyone a Kindlegraph anytime!

Before I go, I’ll humbly ask, if you wouldn’t mind posting a review (on Amazon, Podiobooks, iTunes, Smashwords, or wherever) to spread the word, I’d really appreciate it. Also, don’t forget to visit my new Facebook page at http://facebook.com/Shaurette.Dan.

Thanks, you all rock!

Posted in Is This Thing On?, Journal, Lilith's Love, The Shaurette Gazette Tagged with: , , ,

ePublish Unum’s Digital Publishing Workshop for Authors

Dan, Ruth, Marc, and other authors basking in knowledge. {Photo by Sheila Dee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)}

Last Saturday I attended the first (of what will surely be many) Digital Publishing Workshop for Authors hosted by Evo Terra and Jeff Moriarty of ePublish Unum. This is a relatively new venture for Evo and Jeff for helping authors embrace what it means to be a “digital author”. The eight hour workshop covered some excellent and diverse topics that were good for writers at all stages of the game.

For myself, as a self-published author and podcaster, my goals going into the event were probably different than most. I am by no means an expert and still consider promotion my weakness. Where I’m at as a writer right now is wanting to keep my novel on folks’ radar (without being obnoxious) while still working on my prequels, sequels, and other procrastinations, and still keeping my day job.

I left the workshop with lots of notes, more ideas, and believe it or not, confidence. This is because I had confirmation of some things I knew, validation of some of my long-held beliefs, and good reasons to change some of my other practices. I also met some really cool folks including fellow Podiobooks.com author Marc Vale.

All in all a good time was had, with good food and great conversations, and oh yeah, I learned a thing or dozen. I know Jeff and Evo are hard at work on new workshops, smaller sessions focusing on specific subjects, plus course materials and other innovative ways to help authors. We live in interesting times, but after this, things can only get better.

Posted in Journal, The Shaurette Gazette, Writing Tagged with: , , ,

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