October 30, 2011

Raid on Soi 5 Now Available for Free

Taking a page from the Lindsay Buroker playbook, I'm trying to release more freebies on Smashwords to help promote books that actually make me money. Raid on Soi 5 was first seen at the Flash Fiction Offesnive, so I decided to turn it into an eBook. It's free over at Smashwords, and below is the blurb:
Beneath Thailand’s veneer of smiling people and luxury hotels lies a dark underworld. Drugs, prostitution, and robbery await the throngs of hapless tourists who visit the country on holiday. Sukhumvit Road is a pleasant location in Bangkok to visit by day, but at night the filthy underbelly floats to the surface, engulfing those who dare to venture into its sleazy alleyways.

Raid on Soi 5 is a 1,000-word short story thriller about the corruption and treachery of those who deal drugs to tourists on one of Bangkok’s most notorious streets.

October 27, 2011

The 2011 Thailand Floods - What it All Means

Above is a video entitled "รู้สู้น้ำท่วม" or "know about the flood" which explains the current flooding calamity in Thailand brought about by a combination of deforestation, heavy rains, and improper water management (with English subtitles!). Like many things Thai, it is a very cutesy approach to explain a complex problem. The situation is incredibly grim for residents in Ayuthaya, Pathum Thani, and other burbs north of Bangkok, and the deluge has shattered communities and destroyed the economy--hundreds of factories have had to close resulting in a crippled worldwide automotive and motorcycle industry. Like most natural disasters, the elderly, the sick, and children are the most vulnerable, and we were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to evacuate our baby up to high ground in northeastern Thailand to avoid the deluge.

Similar to the Bangkok riots and arson in 2010, living in this city is sort of like the opening scene from Dawn of the Dead. Reality around us is shattering as we wait for the inevitable waves to breach the flood barriers and swamp inner Bangkok. There's no one else for the water to go, and our fate is sealed. Through all the suffering in this country, maybe something good will come out of this, like a tale of great heroics or a more civic-minded society. Time will tell.

October 24, 2011

Amazon Releases New Kindle Format - KF8 with Weak CSS3 Support

Amazon announced via press release that it will be releasing a new version of it proprietary MOBI format. This comes on the heels of the recent finalization of the EPUB3 spec, which is the open standard eBook format used by pretty much everyone except Amazon (e.g. Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, etc.) The new format will hopefully be a vast improvement over the previous MOBI format used by Amazon, which left many a self-publisher frustrated due to its erroneous rendering of tables, lists, and images.

The Kindle Format 8 is based on HTML5 and CSS3, which is geek-speak for the current standards of web design and development. The new HTML5 tags (such as <section>, <nav>, and <article>) are more geared toward developing more pretty HTML source code and not very exciting for the average eBook reader. However, CSS3 is a way to "style" the eBook in new ways. You can do lots of fun things with it to improve the reader's experience like adding animations (for an example see my social media icons on the right sidebar), adding shadow effects (see my wife's business' website), and even adding headers and footers to every page with the @page feature.

Unfortunately, if you take a look at the supported tags and properties in the new KF8, it supports none of the aforementioned tricks you can do with CSS3. This is in addition to the fact that the new KF8 will most likely not be backwards compatible with older Kindles, which is sure to piss off a lot of readers. Also, no support for JavaScript, so forget about pop-up footnotes. The only real useful feature I'm seeing on the new KF8 is that you can now float images (i.e. wrap text around images). There's also some support for embedded audio and video. This coding has been around since Friends was the #1 show on TV, so it's really not anything too exciting. But hey, it's better than nothing.

October 18, 2011

A Handy App to Make Curled Quotes for eBooks

Attention typography nerds. Now that the digital age has dawned upon us, the straight up and down double quotes, single quotes, and apostrophes in eBooks need to become as extinct as the typewriter and trustworthy politicians. Readers (i.e. the customers) seem to prefer the "fancy" or "curled" quotes, especially for works of fiction, so there is no excuse for letting them linger like outdated relics inside your eBook.

Below is an example of straight vs. curled quotes:
"Hey, knock that off!" said Gamera's illegitimate offspring.
“Hey, knock that off!” said Gamera’s illegitimate offspring.
It's easy to spot the difference, and readers will take note if you're not using fancy quotes in your eBooks and think that you're some yahoo. Many of us are self-publishing on our laptops while not wearing any pants, but we want to give the reader the impression that we are professionals. Now it would be an incredibly painful task to go through your manuscript line-by-line to turn each straight quote into a curled quote. Fortunately, there are two options at your disposal.

Getting Microsoft Word to Automatically Format Curled Quotes

Microsoft Word has autoformatting features that convert all straight quotes into curled quotes. Apostrophes are also converted from a straight up and down mark to a closing single quote. The first thing to do is enable this autoformatting feature, which is usually on by default. More information on how to do this is available at my eBook formatting tutorial or in my book How to Format Your eBook for Kindle, NOOK, Smashwords, and Everything Else.

Perform the following steps:
  1. Click the Windows Icon in the upper left
  2. Click Word Options
  3. Click Proofing
  4. Click AutoCorrect Options
  5. Under the Autoformat tab, deselect all boxes except for Straight Quotes for “Smart Quotes” and Hyphens (--) with Dash (—)
  6. Under the Autoformat as you Type tab, deselect all boxes except for Straight Quotes for “Smart Quotes” and Hyphens (--) with Dash (—)
Next, you should use the Find and Replace function (Ctrl-H) to replace all " with " and ' with '. It may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but you are forcing Microsoft Word to use it's magic on all double and single quotes throughout your manuscript to make them curled. Here are some screen shots of the Find and Replace window:
The process is pretty quick and easy, so do not overlook this as you are putting the final touches on your manuscript.

Online App for Converting Boring Quotes to Curled Quotes

For Open Office users, automatically formatting the quotes works for doubles, but not for the singles. That is why a fellow named Thomas Giles created a very handy app that automatically converts everything into fancy quotes. It is written in JavaScript, so all you need to run it is 1) a web browser, and 2) knowledge of how to copy and paste text (Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V respectively).

For Tom's app you basically just slap in some text into the window and click "fix". The formatted text will appear in the same window. The app is free, so there is no excuse to use antiquated straight up-and-down quotes ever again.

Nerd Note: When you format your eBook in HTML, don't forget to convert all the fancy quotes to HTML entities, because some eReaders will display junk when rendering the curled quotes since they are outside the ASCII character set.

October 13, 2011

Free Tablets for Thai Youth Could be Problematic

Best Technology Yet - (photo credit: gadgetsbuzz)

It seems a bit aloof and naive to write an article when so much suffering is going on in Thailand due to the flooding, but there was an interesting article from the faculty at Asian University discussing the Prime Minister's campaign promise to give all children in Prathom 1 (Grade 1) a free tablet. From the Bangkok Post:

Thailand is going to face great difficulties if it attempts to introduce tablet computers as fully-fledged learning tools at the lower levels of primary education for a number of reasons. First of all, until now relatively few learning applications are available in Thai language and the operating systems used for tablets all feature English. This means that students have to acquire some form of basic proficiency in English to navigate their new learning tool. This has been acknowledged by Education Minister Woravat Au-apinyakul and he has encouraged schools to provide extra English tuition to tackle this problem.
It is a common complaint amongst the business community in Thailand that the education system woefully unprepares its students for the IT-centric 21st century. A big issue is the poor level of English in Thailand. With most software written in English, this does not make it easy for students to learn how to use computers. Training for teachers on how to utilize this technology is absolutely critical, but this needs to be coupled with English language training as the author mentions.

Unfortunately, creating eBooks is a shoddy process at the moment and uses developing techniques from the late 1990s (XHTML), which is not well-suited for designing educational textbooks, especially in Thai. The new EPUB3 format for eBooks (just finalized by the International Digital Publishing Forum) will hopefully standardize multiple languages and allow functionality of MathML code to display mathematical equations. If it doesn't then the Thai government will have to develop some kind of mobile app to handle all this content so that children can read textbooks on their subsidized tablets. Best of luck to them.

October 9, 2011

Sigil Tutorial

While waiting for the flooding deluge to hit Bangkok, I managed to write up a tutorial on creating eBooks with Sigil that Piotr at Password Incorrect was kind enough to post at his place (as well as at Teleread). Sigil is a neat open source program that takes all the pain and suffering out of creating a valid EPUB eBook. Lindsay Buroker also re-posted a 1,000-word post I wrote on the ups, downs, and all-arounds of eBook formatting. It goes without say that getting backlinks from high-traffic bloggers is very helpful, and you should never underestimate the power of flattery.

Thank you for visiting this eBook design tutorial. We now have an eBook design startup—BB eBooks—dedicated to helping independent authors and small presses get their eBooks formatted, converted, and ready for sale at all the major online retailers (e.g. Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble's Nook, iBookstore, Smashwords, etc.) Please contact us for a no-obligation quote. For those writers, editors, and publishers looking to go the DIY route for eBook production (you probably are if you visited this page), we offer free online tutorials and apps to help you professionally design your eBook. Please visit our Developers page and let’s work together to improve the overall standards of eBooks. Also, please sign up for the mailing list for promotions, design & marketing tips, plus eBook industry news.

October 6, 2011

Prime Minister's Twitter Hacked

Prime Minister Yingluck's twitter account was not the most exciting thing in the world. Unlike the perpetually hilarious and controversial Chuvit (@chuvit_online), the Prime Minister's staff used her Twitter account (@PouYingLuck) to post your standard press releases of wai-ing monks, wading through flooded streets, etc. Nevertheless, someone hacked the account and a 20-year old Chula student picked it up on 4chan or somewhere else within the "Underground Hacker Community", whatever that is. From the Bangkok Post:
Aekawit Thongdeeworakul, a fifth year student attending the Faculty of Architecture of Chulalongkorn University, has confessed publicly that he hacked into Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Twitter account on Sunday.

The 20-year-old made the admission at a press conference at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology on Wednesday afternoon.
Chula is the Harvard of Thailand, but apparently the poor kid wasn't smart enough to use an IP spoofer. Now Khun Yingluck's Twitter account has vanished from the internet like boo.com. Oh well.

Whenever a politician's online whatever gets hacked, nothing real juicy ever comes up. There were no secretive direct messages between Yingluck and her older brother, Thaksin Shinwatra (@ThaksinLive), and the information revealed was as big a dud as when Sarah Palin's email got hacked back in 2008. Politicians are either too smart to know that they shouldn't be involved in shenanigans in the brave new digital world, or they are so stupid that they get in trouble being themselves, like sending unsolicited crotch shots.

October 2, 2011

Kindle Superuser by Gary McLaren

In case you don't know, Gary McLaren runs the always helpful and insightful Publish Your Own Ebooks, which is a great resource for self-publishers. For people looking to self-publish on Kindle, NOOK, Smashwords, Lulu, and others, I highly recommend checking out his free self-publishing reference card that focuses on royalties, formats, and other information about the big eBook distributors. McLaren wrote a useful primer for readers looking to make the jump from dead tree to eBooks called The Beginner's Guide to Ebooks, and he has a new eBook out about tips and tricks for the Kindle (specifically the Kindle 3).

Here is my 5-star review of Kindle Superuser - 101 Ways to Get More from Your Kindle at Amazon.com:

In the new world of cheap, and sometimes free, eBooks and low-cost eReaders, there is a significant amount of information available to publishing houses and self-publishers alike to create, distribute, market, and promote eBooks. Unfortunately, the brave new digital world has neglected the most important group of people during the world-wide transition from print books to eBooks: the consumer.

Guides on how to properly utilize your Kindle can be terse at best and affiliate marketing scams at worst. That is why McLaren's Kindle Superuser is a handy reference for all Kindle lovers who want to maximize use of their eReading device. This guide is a nice follow-up to The Beginner's Guide to Ebooks, which helps readers understand more about eBooks.

As the product description implies, Kindle Superuser highlights a number of features that I had no idea existed on a Kindle 3. This includes basic energy saving tips, accessing content that is free at the Kindle store, and even the more uncommon feature of using natural logarithm functions on the built-in calculator. Probably the most important tidbit of information is how to get eBooks and files in non-Amazon formats onto your Kindle 3. This process is not well-explained by the powers that be (obviously because they want you to buy different versions of the same content), so McLaren's guide is indispensable as a money saver.

Kudos to McLaren for creating this useful guide with the reader in mind, and I hope that he creates a similar eBook once the Kindle Fire starts to proliferate.