Off On a New Career

I started contributing to LibriVox early in 2006 immediately after I heard about it, because I like reading out loud. I think I do a pretty good job of interpreting an author.  At the end of 2010, nearly five years later, I've accumulated a lot of practice in narrating - 56 solo books on LibriVox and a good deal more contributed to group efforts. I've progressed through four or five recording setups, trying to improve the quality of my sound.

Along about Book #20, I began to wonder if I could transition to a professional position. After all, my books were being downloaded in good numbers and I was receiving gratifying remarks in feedback. In late 2009, I was asked by iPublish Press of Canada to do "My Problem With Doors."  LibriVox never criticizes its readers - that's a real draw for people who want to record their favorite books, to know they won't be catching adverse commentary if they don't live up to someone's standards!  Since iPublish Press proposed to pay me for narrating their book, they had every right to editorially comment on every sentence I sent them.  Despite the change in standards, the experience was a positive one, and I was pleased to know that I could make editors happy who are in business to make money.

This Fall, I began two new forays into professional audiobooks.  Mike Vendetti, a LibriVox contributor who also runs "Audiobooks by Mike Vendetti" and sells them on Audible.com, asked me to read for him. My first book, "The Defiant Agents" by Andre Norton, was finished in November, but through some miscue at Audible.com has not appeared for sale yet. They've promised to fix that.

I also was invited to be part of a new organization, Iambik.com. The founder is Hugh McGuire, the same fellow who started LibriVox.  His business idea was to partner with print publishers to create audiobooks that normally would never be produced under the industry's typical business arrangements. By making audiobook production a profit-sharing exercise between Iambik and a publisher, no one has to "front" any money - all the participants share directly in the sales. Since our output is digital files, we don't have to buy supplies or keep up with inventories.

I'm currently reading "Suicide Casanova" by Arthur Nersesian, with a promise date of January 31.  This will be one in a batch of crime stories to be released together. Hugh promises we'll be doing campaigns in several genres, so we'll be seeing a deal of variety over time.

I plan to continue devoting the major part of my creative time to these new professional endeavors... although I will still keep my hand in at LibriVox!


My Opinion

There used to be a post on "Social Justice" here. As I thought about it, though, I began to think it was out of keeping with the rest of the site.  Hitherto, this was only more or less a record of what I/we were up to. I guess many, or perhaps most bloggers use their digital spread for sounding off about topics that interest them. I can't resist the pulpit either... but I can cordon it off in its own space.

So I've started a new page, "Opinion" - available from the links on the right.  If you're interested.


World Boardgaming Championships

I am recently returned from WBC, which is held annually in Lancaster, PA.  About 1,500 gamers from all over the globe participate in 100 "Century" events and others which are on "Trial" status, over a week's time. The winners get plaques and notoriety.  The losers get experience and the fun of playing.

My status as a member of The Greenville Mafia meant I was part of the best-run team apparatus at the convention. The Mafia took four carloads of people, and we stayed in a block of rooms reserved for us.  Our first activity was the ceremonial issuance of this year's Mafia shirt, a handsome grey polo with our Puppetmaster logo on the chest and a black heart embroidered on the left arm.  Since Mafia people have been going to the WBC since it began 13 years ago, our veterans have more team shirts than they can wear in a week, so we had a schedule of what color to wear when. We newbies simply matched colors as best we could. When our group gathered, people noticed! One person spotted near the venue for "The Kaiser's Pirates" (a naval wargame played with cards) was asked if he were joining in the competition. His reply: "I see all those gold shirts! No way I'm getting sucked into THAT vortex!" (He was well-advised to steer clear! "Kaiser's Pirates" is a favorite of the Mafia, and our members won 6 of the top 7 spots!) The Mafia has class, too. There was a hospitality suite run for Mafia & friends. We had monogrammed drinking cups, dice - and even our own microbrew beer: Mafia Stout, subtitled "A beer as black as our hearts!"

As is my usual custom, I played group photographer, and I have a site up with pictures. However, as the pictures are just Mafiaites having fun, I'll not put a link here.

I competed in Union Pacific, Santa Fe Trails, Medici, B-17, The Kaiser's Pirates, and Robo Rally. My best finish was #5 in Kaiser's Pirates. I also took in several seminars and many demos of games with which I was unfamiliar. The Mafia overall scored big, as it usually does. I believe our final tally was six 1st-places. The plaques in our game room commemorating world championships will grow accordingly.


Hi Google!


Google's announcement that it will select a community to be hooked up to next-generation fiber-optic 1Gb/sec Internet service brought out a bid from nearby Greenville.

Fortunately, we spotted the news in time to sign up to be among the 2,000 black-clad geeks who spelled out Google's logo in color in the beautiful downtown Falls Park for the benefit of a video made by helicopter.

No, the town council didn't rename the city "Google" for a day, as did another city in the running. But with this demonstration, we hope to show Google that there is enthusiastic support in Greenville to be Google's city of choice!


Data Protection - An Unhappy Story

The technical literature for computers has always warned that hard drives aren't perfect, and that when they go, they often do so abruptly.  Enough trouble-free experience with them can make a person complacent to the risks. I resemble that remark!

Trouble is: I tried to do the right thing.  Knowing that with a computer above six years old there may be vulnerabilities, I attempted to keep important data present both on my C: drive and on a (much newer) USB-attached external hard drive.  That worked until my main hard drive filled up. Then I moved several directories of family pictures to the attached drive to clear space.

So naturally, it was the newer drive that failed, as it now contained the sole copy of years of irreplaceable pictures.  Here is the tale of my journey out of perdition...

I googled "data recovery" and got several hits for companies that make that a business of doing that service.  From reading their web sites, I selected one that seemed to have a professional approach and a picture of a physical address that suggested a robust business.
I filled out a request for quote online and was gratified to get a call within half an hour from someone who spoke good English and who, on hearing the symptoms, immediately suggested the same failure mechanism I had figured occurred (firmware failure). I got a formal offer by email for services, laying out what would be done & when, and the likely charges - with a note that they try to make 80% of all recoveries for under $400.  (This was encouraging, because $400 is a number I had heard from friends who had had data recoveries before.)  So I packed my drive securely and shipped it off.

The company's communications with me were excellent! I got several updates by email and a link I could follow to get the chain of custody in real time, as the drive went through the diagnostics and recovery attempts. Then I got a call that the attempts to make the drive "talk" were successful, and an email containing a list of all files discovered on the drive - a list that went on many pages. It looked good!

I should mention that meanwhile I bought a Ethernet-equipped 1TB drive and hung it on the home LAN, and ran backup software on the family's computers. I hope not to be caught unprepared again!

With my assurance that the data I hoped to recover was included in the file list I received, then the company made its pitch: it would cost over $950 to get the data moved onto a replacement drive and sent to me! When I could breathe again, I asked why the steep increase in the expected price? Well, the technician had had to flash the firmware twice. Now, I've flashed EPROMs and I have an idea of the effort that cost. Believe me, it is not commensurate with the increase! And as a retiree, I didn't have an extra grand lying loose about. So, I had them pack up the drive and send it back to me.  That's it - no data recovery, no cost. For trying to skin me, they got nothing.

Discouraged, I let the drive sit in my garage over the winter.  After Brenda prodded me several times about the old family photos, I finally overcame my lassitude and looked into recovery services again. This time, I found a site comparing data recovery services, where I read many horror stories. My first company had a 1-star rating on a 1 - 5 scale! Arggh! Shoulda looked harder, first go-round!  So for my second attempt, I chose one* with mostly good ratings.  As the drive failed in September and it was now February, I said I had no pressing time limit for a recovery, which would help keep prices down. This company took more than two weeks, made no acknowledgments other than that they received the drive, but eventually I got an email with a file list. Still looked good; at least Company #1 hadn't screwed up my drive in pique at losing the paying part of the job. And with a telephone call, here came the pitch: $384 to recover what I wanted onto DVDs plus $8/DVD! That's it! Another week and I had the data in my hand.

The moral here is to choose your data recovery service judiciously.  Hah! No! That's not it! The moral here is to back up your data so you don't go through a story like mine... even if it did have a happy ending.

* Because you asked - Company #2 is called Gillware.


My First Pro Audiobook

If you've visited some of the linked pages in this blog, you probably know that I am a frequent contributor to the growing catalog of public domain literature on audiobooks over at LibriVox.org. I joined that group just over four years ago.

A couple months ago I was contacted by a publishing company in Canada, I Publish Press, to ask if I would like to produce an audiobook for them. I immediately subjected this idea to the following decision tree:

     (1) Read a book out loud? Well, yeah! I've done this over 40 times already and I like doing it!
     (2) Get paid?  ??? YES!!!

As an additional inducement, they were asking me to do something current and interesting. Deal sealed.

The audiobook was being co-published with the print version. Both are out now. The book is "My Problem With Doors" by Scott Southard. The book starts with the premise that the narrator at an early age started to walk through a door in his house, and somewhere between the two sides was transported to another time and place. What's more, that behavior keeps up; he discovers that roughly 5% of the door transits he makes will whisk him away to yet another place and time. Lost past reasonable hope of return to his home and family, what can he do? In a thirty-year career of time-hopping, he searches for the meaning of why he, of all mankind, is subject to this anomaly.  Good stuff!

The good folks over at I Publish Press only knew me from my LibriVox recordings, but they selected a good project for me. I was very engaged in the story and I hope that shows.

Now (shameless plug coming!) if this story premise at all appeals to you, I hope you'll mouse right over to ipublishpress.com and snap up a copy!


Stoking the Brain Cells

I know it's important as we age to keep challenging the ole grey matter, so that it remains tuned-up and ready to go. That becomes probably more necessary in retirement, as job challenges (thankfully!) recede in the rear-view mirror.

Soon after I retired, I decided I liked the decoding of "Cryptoquotes" which are published six times a week by my local paper. These are pithy or amusing or revealing short quotes, usually of well under 100 letters, accompanied by an attribution. The trick is that they are encoded. Each letter stands for a different one (today a "T" may used for all instances of "K", for instance) and the code changes with each puzzle.  The challenge is to unsnarl things that look like "PXOKA GRTYY" to the actual message.

Since I am (was!) an engineer, it is never that easy! I created a template in Excel that lets me rapidly make trial substitutions in the message and easily change them if they prove wrong. I developed a cheat sheet of common 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, & 5-letter words (and even some longer), and include stuff I found on code-breaking like the relative incidence of the letters, common doublets, triplets, and double letters, common prefixes and suffixes and contractions, and common words with repeated letters.  Then I time my performance. And I think of ways to wring more efficiency out of setting up the cryptoquote. (I imagine myself competing against someone with a pencil, who can begin at once; I must first transcribe the quote to the spreadsheet and then link each letter to the first instance where it is used - which usually takes almost as much time as the solution phase.) And finally, I analyze the heck out of my performance!

For 2009, I decoded 271 cryptoquotes.  I averaged 12.2 seconds to solve each unique letter, or 7.3 seconds for each total letter. For a normal quote of 66 letters, that's just over 8 minutes!

Charitably for you, I decline to bore you with the ranges, the standard deviations, or the graphs showing my performance improving over time!


I Join the Mafia...

Well, that's what they call themselves! (Ourselves, now.)

The Greenville Mafia was in past years a prime mover in the start-up of the Boardgames Players Association (BPA) twelve years ago, and indeed the incorporation was performed by one of our members, Scott Pfeiffer, a local attorney. The BPA is an international organization that draws 1400 - 1500 participants to its week-long championships held annually in Lancaster. PA. See  http://www.boardgamers.org/ .

This gives me the weekly opportunity to play board games with some of the best players in the world. We have our own meeting house, and there are three plaques on a wall just listing the names and years of members who won 1st place honors at the BPA championships in individual events - dozens, in fact. With normal attendance at our sessions of 12 - 14, there are usually at least three different games in play at any given time. And these aren't Monopoly or Scrabble - these are euro games like Dominion and San Juan, war games like The Kaiser's Pirates and Napoleonic Wars, railroading games like Ticket to Ride and Empire Builder, and many others.

I may not ever attain the level of play of other Mafioso, but at least, after a hiatus of decades, I'm playing games again on a regular basis!