Saturday, December 19, 2015

Self-Publish EPUB E-Books with Free Sigil Software

Whether Writing Books, Designing E-Cards, Publishing User Manuals, or Creating Portable Photo and Video Collections, Sigil May Be the Software for You! Plus, It's Free!

I recently started putting together my next AutoHotkey e-book about using Hotstrings in document and Web editing. In the past I've used software which ran on the ComputorEdge servers. (I took down those servers last summer). I wrote the software myself a number of years ago and considered loading it locally, but even then I was running the results through a program called Sigil. (My software wasn't perfect and saving a file in Sigil corrected whatever errors remained.) I decided to start working directly with Sigil. It's come a long way since I first began processing EPUB e-books years ago.

The EPUB Format

First, a little about the EPUB e-book format. EPUB has become the standard for every e-reader, except the Amazon Kindle. Tablets, smartphones, and computers all have free apps available for reading EPUB e-books. The only other format which rivals EPUB is the PDF format. Since the widely used PDF file is fixed-page oriented format, it's great for printing documents. However, it's not as good as EPUB for reading on a tablet or smartphone because it doesn't easily conform to various screen sizes and shapes. The fact that EPUB converts to both PDF and Amazon Kindle compatible files without a problem makes it the ideal format for writing an e-book. (I use the free Calibre software for e-book file conversion to PDF for printing and MOBI for the Kindle.)

Converting files written in Microsoft Word to EPUB adds a load of unnecessary junk to the source code. The problem with using word processing programs for creating EPUB files is that the documents files are page oriented—similar to PDFs. EPUB readers don't care about pages, margins or default type size. These word processing parameters complicate the document to EPUB conversion problem.

Note; Converting from PDF to EPUB can be just as problematic as converting from word processing files. I find that the best results occur when the process starts with an EPUB file.

Sigil—As Good as It Gets!

Sigil is a full blown WYSIWYG editor (see image below) for EPUB e-book files, but you can also switch to the code view and directly edit the HTML code.

Sigil offers a view of your EPUB e-book which shows all the chapters on the left. Edit in the center pane.

Virtually everything you can do in any word processing program you can do in Sigil. The number one complaint about Sigil is that it only does EPUBs. But, adding other formats to Sigil would defeat the purpose of the software—quickly and easily building EPUBs which conform to the standard and work with any e-reader. Besides, it's so easy to use Calibre to convert from EPUB to almost any other format, it would be a waste of good programming time for the support people to add other unneeded formats.

One of the advantage of using EPUB and Sigil software as the starting point is that they are XHTML based. That means you can take the HTML source code from virtually any Web page and turn it into a chapter in an EPUB e-book. For example, I copied the HTML source code under the HTML tab in the WordPress editor for my blogs on Beginning AutoHotkey Hotstrings, then pasted each into a chapter in the code view of the Sigil e-book editor. I instantly added another chapter for the e-book from the previously written blog. All that was needed were a few minor format changes (to make it a book), plus indexing and the addition of extras.

If you want to self-publish or merely create self-contained portable collections easily read on any device or computer, then give Sigil a shot.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Should I Get Windows 10?

After years of working with Windows 8 and 8.1 (and writing books about it), I'm ready for Windows 10…almost. Microsoft has completed a full circle and finally produced a proper successor to Windows 7. (At least, that's what most of the reviews say.) People who have hung onto Windows XP can now consider moving to Windows 10 without that horrible Windows 8 learning curve. All the things left out of Windows 8 have now been restored to Windows 10 making it look like a properly souped up Windows 7 computer. The Start Menu is back.

If you own Windows 7 (or Windows 8.1), then you qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 10. No rush. You have the next year to do it. If you're happy with what you have now, then don't be in too much of a hurry. The early stages of any new release can be problematic. Microsoft is already planning a major update in early August. It may be to your benefit to wait until then. Or even better, you may want to postpone your upgrade until October when there is another planned release—this time with more new features, as well as, the fixing of bugs. By that time most of the upgrade problems should be worked out.

It you own Windows XP, then it will cost you $110 to get Windows 10 Home version. Plus you will need to do a clean install wiping all of your old files. In addition, there is no guarantee that the machine will support the upgrade. A couple of years ago, I had some XP machines which wouldn't take Windows 8. I can only assume that there will be some similar install problems for Windows 10 on computers which are too old.

If I were using XP, I would consider spending a few hundred dollars more and buy a new computer with much more power and less legacy problems. You won't realize what a dog you're XP is until you get one of the latest computers with faster processors and huge, speedy hard drives.

Windows 10 will include a new Web browser called Edge (clever name). Apparently,  Microsoft has finally given up on Internet Explorer. (Don't worry. Internet Explorer will still be available, but only updated with security patches.) Edge looks and acts a lot like the Google Chrome browser. Humm.

If you want to know if you should get Windows 10, my answer is yes. (I don't want to be the only one upgrading.) While those funky tiles and Modern screen introduced in Windows 8 are still included, they are much easier to totally ignore in Windows 10. If you use either Windows XP or Windows 7, then the experience should be familiar. If you use any version of Windows 8, then the new operating system should be a relief. It should be worth doing—especially if it's free.

Note: If you're wondering what happened to Window 9, Microsoft skipped it. Digitally the number 10 is much more solid than the number 9—even though 9 is a perfect square. Windows 10 is intended to be the last version of Windows ever. It will be updated from here to eternity. Why the change in Microsoft's strategy? Just look at how many people still use Windows XP.

Why Donald Trump is a Huge Plus for the Republicans

This is not a political statement or even an political opinion about Donald Trump (or, for that matter, anyone else running for President of the United States). It is merely an observation about the tremendous opportunity that Trump is giving to the nine other top Republican candidates—whoever they may be.

We've heard the spin about how Trump is hurting the Republican brand—as if the GOP is Pepsi or Coke. People certainly hold in mind an overall impression of both the Republican and Democrat parties, but the specific marketing position sticks more with the candidates and officeholders than either party as a whole. Regardless of how Donald Trump fairs in the coming months, the image of the Republican party will take on that of whomever wins the nomination. If it's not Trump (as many believe it won't be), then he will likely fade into the background as an amusement. If it is Trump, then he will become the face of the party. But none of this talk even approaches the most significant impact of Trump running for office—and it has nothing to do with politics.

On August 6th, the first Republican Presidential debate will be held with the main event facing off the top ten in the polls. It is all but certain that Trump will be the headliner—for good or for bad. He is the celebrity who will take the event out of its usual humdrum category into what might be for the purpose of generating viewership the Superbowl of debates. Everyone wants to know what Trump will do next. Will he outrageously attack all the other candidates for being "stupid"? Maybe he will "fire" them all! Will there be fireworks which will take the debate to a new high (or low)? Nobody knows for sure, but there will be plenty of people tuning in for the first time who never before watched one of these usually boring fests. Trump with his no nonsense, off-the-cuff, non-politically correct demeanor can bring in viewers like no one else. Even Democrats are likely to tune-in for this one.

This is a great opportunity for the nine other candidates who are lucky enough to be on the same stage with Trump. (I feel sorry for number ten—whoever he or she will be—who will be nosed out by Trump's surge in the polls and get sent to the second card show held later that same evening.) This is a great opportunity for the other less known contenders to be seen by the millions of people who at this point have no idea who they are. Many people who watch merely to catch some of Trumps antics will be exposed to nine other people vying for the nomination. If they don't blow it, then those participants may just get some useful national attention.

Some might argue that the debate would be more respectable or orderly without Trump. But who would be watching? Only the usual political junkies and political hacks looking for memorable gaffs. With Trump on the stage the whole world will be watching. This is a tremendous opportunity that any political party or candidate should relish. I bet even Hillary wishes she could be up there. Or, maybe not.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Decline of Facebook

Since I'm not a big fan of Facebook, maybe it's a little bit of schadenfreude when I see the signs of a major breakdown at the social media giant. I do like Facebook when photos of my grandkids are posted, but I don't consider loading the site a rewarding experience. There are two primary things that turn me off and I suspect that eventually they will be major causes for the decline of the behemoth.

Too Much Unrelated Stuff

I'm not sure why most people go to Facebook, but for me it has been a way to see what my family and friends are up to. I especially like to see pictures of my grandkids. However, lately Facebook is cluttered with tons of miscellaneous posts which detract from the experience. Users find something they like on Pinterest, or some other third party service, and post it as something they like. In and of themselves these postings are not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be nice if it were done sparingly. I notice that certain people tend to post everything they come across on the Internet. I find myself paging through reams of unrelated material just to catch a couple of photos of the people I care about. In the past, this was not the case.

I see that many people use Facebook as a place to post all their personal opinions, although they don't actually express those ideas themselves. They find sites which provide material that they ardently agree with and post one article (or clever poster image) after another, after another, after another … I can tolerate an opinion or two, but the repetition of reposting the same ideological themes over and over again becomes tedious and boring–even if I happen to agree with the sentiment. I've had to block the posts from friends (who I agree with politically) because the sheer number of posts was just too overwhelming. Unfortunately, when I do block their postings, I no longer see their personal items which I might find interesting.

To make matters worse Facebook now adds "Suggested Posts" to the page in hopes that I will contribute even more to the clutter. I know that there is money in these tidbits for Facebook, but for me they are Spam. I suspect that there are many people who feel the same way.

Maybe I'm an outlier, but this overwhelming addition of minutiae seems to be killing the Facebook brand. When the site becomes an ordeal rather than an experience which actually connects people with friends and family, it becomes a duty rather than enjoyment. I mostly log onto Facebook when my wife, who doesn't use computers, asks me if anyone has posted any pictures. Even then it is impersonal because I know that the images are meant for the entire known universe and I'm merely a bystander.

I much prefer the personal touch of a photo sent to my smartphone. When I receive a smartphone image from one of my kids, close relatives, or friends, I know that they have taken the time to single us out for the attention. (I can lean over to my wife and show her the latest on my smartphone without leaving my seat or wading through Facebook.) It is definitely more personal. They may also post the photos on Facebook, but the extra effort to target my phone makes it a little more intimate. There is little personal about Facebook, and now, with the massive number of third-party posts I wade through on each visit, I feel even more estranged from the system. But that is not the only reason that I think the future of the giant social media platform is murky. Facebook now serves as a source of separation and antagonism
"In-Your-Face" Book

The current political climate is the most polarized (and emotional) that I have seen in my lifetime. While there have always been people on the extremes, in the past people were circumspect about where they expressed their most controversial views. Now they wear their opinions on their proverbial sleeves–Facebook, Twitter, or another Internet mouthpiece. It is exacerbated by the easy posting of cute graphics used to emphasize a particular political point.

For example, while half of your Facebook friends may enjoy articles or cartoons attacking (or supporting) Obama, the other half may find them offensive. The feelings run so strongly on both sides that whether it is known or not by the poster, reactions are invoked and relationships are hurt. This lack of personal discretion when openingly expressing views turns off people with contrary beliefs and makes Facebook a less hospitable environment.

I suppose it's not a problem if all of your family and friends share the same political  beliefs, but how often does that happen? More than once I have had a gut reaction to a third-party political post which was either inaccurate or totally gratuitous. While I'm immediately tempted to correct the errors by responding to the post, I know that it's a trap to be avoided.

Although when face-to-face I may engage in political discussions with friends on a one-to-one basis, expressing my most closely held positions on the Internet is counterproductive. Many may agree with me, but those who disagree will not be pleased with my thoughts. Long ago, I learned through ComputorEdge that one stray comment can start a war. In a forum like Facebook, it's best to hold your tongue.

I think that young people are especially vulnerable to talking too much on Facebook. I have relatives and friends who freely spout off their views on almost any topic. While I may not agree with their words, I have even more concern about how the poster might be impacted if the words are read by the wrong person–possibly their boss (or prospective boss). While people may claim to believe in freedom of speech, you had better pick your words carefully. Even if it's your right to say it, there are many who will not forgive you for doing so.

The point is that people often use Facebook as a confrontational platform. They may not intend it that way (or they may), but not everyone shares their opinion. Is it really a good idea for a private individual to make their innermost thoughts public? I think not. Who knows–you may want to run for president someday? Some less than well thought out views expressed on social media when you were just a pup may come back to sink your campaign. Even if you don't plan to ever run for office, political views are meant to be expressed in more private venues such as Thanksgiving dinner with your crazy relatives.

This polarizing aspect of Facebook, plus plethora of third-party posts, makes it an antisocial environment. (Ironically, it should be called "antisocial" media.) While I continue to access Facebook in hopes of catching pictures of my grandchildren, I've learned to speed past the chaff left behind by Facebook money making operations and well-meaning friends who want to influence world opinion. While I don't think that the collapse of Facebook is imminent, I do think it is coming…and there is nothing Facebook can do about it. When it happens, it will be a rapid decline. The history of the Internet tells us that this will be the case. After all, Facebook doesn't provide any unique content–its users do that. Facebook is merely a bunch of computers hosting what just happens to be the flavor of the day. If the users go, Facebook goes.

When my kids stop posting photos of their kids on Facebook, I'm gone.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Blogging on Blogger (or BlogSpot)

I recently started a new blog on WordPress for writing about AutoHotkey–my passion. However, I realized that from time to time I may want to say something about a non-AutoHotkey topic. I could throw it in under the same WordPress blog as "Off-Topic" but that could get pretty messy and confusing. Plus, I wanted to try other free blogging platforms (another possible topic for blogging). That brought me to Blogger (or BlogSpot) which it turns out is owned by Google.

I reserve this blog for my opinions on almost any topic. For example, I plan for my first blog (technically the second blog after this one) to address the decline of Facebook (or as I like to call it "In-Your-Face-Book") and the two factors which will bring it to its knees–one of which is self-inflicted and, possibly, unavoidable. There are a couple of topics which I will avoid on this blog. The first is AutoHotkey since I have another blog specifically for that purpose. The second is politics which has become so polarized that I see little reason throw in my two cents. (If I don't tick off one reader, I will tick off the other.)

I will say that I'm a pragmatist and don't care for the extremes on either the left or the right. My libertarian streak tells me to leave others alone as long as what they don't infringe on other people. It also makes me very suspicious of government intrusion. The problem with government is that it is inherently incompetent. The bigger it is the more incompetent it becomes. It isn't that people don't mean to do well. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." However, there is need for government. The question is "How much and how big?"

I'm a capitalist and have great admiration for entrepreneurs–not so much for those who come after and collect huge salaries for being caretakers. I've been through the cycle myself by starting a business from nothing, then enjoying huge ego-building success only to live through the humbling experience of a complete collapse. I like to think that it has made me older and wiser, but more likely it's just turned me into an old wise guy.

ComputorEdge has become a page of links to other Web pages. Most of them are beginning AutoHotkey tutorial pages. (If you're not using AutoHotkey with your Windows computer, then you should start.) I also have a site cleverly named ComputorEdge E-Books dedicated to selling books–most of which are about AutoHotkey.

Anything I write will be with a purpose and hopefully educational. I tend to avoid controversial statements not because they are inaccurate, but because it is difficult for people to hear while they are yelling at you. Of course, the words in this blog will be "just my opinions", but that doesn't mean that they aren't right and worth heeding.