Adventures in Self-Publishing : Cover Stories

rotscover

It’ll do

I am not a visual person by any stretch of the imagination.

When I was in college studying computer science back in the 90’s, people would occasionally ask me if I could make websites for them.  The conversation would go something like this:

Person: “Can you make a website for me?”
Me: “Yeah, I can code one, but it’s going to look like a computer guy made it.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s going to look terrible.”
So yeah, I didn’t make any websites.

Given that I’m self-aware of my lack of design sense, I don’t know what possessed me to make my own book covers when I started self-publishing short story collections.  It comes even more perplexing considering that I knew artists that could do quality artwork.  Ego may have had something to do with it; the notion of doing everything on my own.  Maybe I didn’t want to pay for art at the time.  Whatever the reason, I figured some text on a solid color background would be good enough.  I did three covers like that, and it honestly only worked for The Rules of Tech Support.

cf1cover

A picture! Yay!

I like to think I made the most of my limited skills with my Nine to Five Lives ‘clock face,’ but that may have been too clever for its own good considering its low sales (it’s free now!).

At that point I figured it was time to get some actual artwork done.  My friend Damon Cone provided some artwork for Con Fluff 1, which I used to make a faux ‘con badge.’  I thought about making similar ones as promotional items for the book.  That never happened, but it remains an interesting idea for future use.  The character on the cover is me, which seems a little conceited, but at the same time, why the heck not?

cf2cover

SO PRETTY

I commissioned an artist friend who goes by Padunk for Con Fluff 2 and she knocked it out of the park.  She was also kind enough to put the title text on the artwork, which made it look really nice.  Future volumes have also featured artwork, and with the exception of The Rules of Tech Support, most of my collections featuring my early awful covers have been put off-sale, though you can still see them here.

While I have been happy with all of the artwork (Faeries, Fantasies, and Furries is another favorite) there are a few that need a do-over:  As the first book in the series, I don’t want to pull Seven Super-Short Sci-Fi Stories, but it does need a facelift.  Funny Animals, Funny People kind-of works, but I have a better concept in mind I’d like to see for it.  I took the easy way out with Fuzzy Words by plastering a picture into the middle of a (wait for it) solid colored background.

I’ve since commissioned new cover art for the printed version of Fuzzy Words from an artist named TinyBunner.  After spending the day arguing with CreateSpace I think everything is ready to go for printed copies.  I’m very excited at the prospect of having an actual printed book, but that’s a post for another day.

300 Seconds Episode #85: “Self-Checked Out”

Listen to this podcast episode here!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 85: “Self-Checked Out” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

After hearing good things from friends about the movie Coco for the last few weeks, I decided to finally watch it the other day.  I don’t go to the movies very often, and when I do, I like to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.  Also, the fact that the tickets are cheaper is also a nice bonus.  I woke up and got dressed a little too late to catch the earliest show that was nearby, so I thought I’d catch the next one which was a few miles away.  The theater was one that I hadn’t been to since I moved out of that area a number of years ago, and it was a little bit of a drive.

It was eleven o’clock in the morning and I hadn’t had breakfast yet, and I’m a breakfast guy.   Whataburger is my usual go-to in the mornings, but I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ that comes in just after breakfast hours asking for breakfast.   As a quick side note: Honey-butter chicken biscuits and BoBs would be great any time of the day, Whataburger.  I’m just sayin’

I remembered there was also McDonald’s on the way and thought a sausage biscuit would at least  get me through the movie.  Unless I’m in a huge hurry, I don’t like using the drive-thru window.  Since I spend nearly all of my workday sitting behind a computer and then go home and…sit behind a computer, I like to get on my feet whenever I can, so I parked my car and went inside.

I had never been to this McDonald’s before, but I figured it that it would be like most of the others I had been to.   I mean, it’s a McDonald’s, you know?  I walked in and the first thing I noticed was four giant screens to my left, beckoning me to use them place an order.  The second thing that I noticed was that nobody was using them, and since there w ere a few people in line, I thought I’d walk up to the touch screen and get a taste of The Future!

I have to admit, it was pretty neat ordering, it was like using an app on a really big phone.  Since there was nobody waiting behind me in line, I could take my time looking over the menu.  There was also an option to customize my order, which I didn’t really need but something to check out for later.  A card reader just below the screen allowed me to pay, and my receipt popped out of a slot to the left of the screen.  I placed my order, then walked away from the screen to wait.  Was it faster than going to the register?  Probably not, because not only did I take my time looking over the menu, but I had to learn how to use the system.

As I stood and waited for my order, a woman walked into the restaurant and also walked up to one of the screens.  She stared at it for a few seconds, tentatively poked at the screen a few times, then turned to ask somebody:  “Do I have to use the screen?”

The other customer told her ‘no’ and pointed to the register.  With a sigh of relief, the woman said “Oh, good” and she walked over to wait in line at the register.  I smiled.  Clearly, The Future had not arrived for her just yet.  I was genuinely surprised, because the woman was not very old.  Now don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t very young, either, but to me, at least, she appeared to be young enough to go: “Okay, maybe I’ll give this a shot.”

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how automated kiosks and self-check-outs are going to put people out of work, I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.  Lots of folks, like the woman I saw in that McDonald’s, just aren’t going to be willing to try the new thing, and for people that are willing to try it, there is going to be a learning curve which will take some time to work through.  Let’s also not forget the people that do try it and get stuck, which I know all of you have witnessed if you’ve spent any time in a grocery store self-checkout.

As for me, I look forward to taking the opportunity to avoid any unnecessary human contact, because, well, I’m a computer guy, and that’s what we do.

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after my I pre-order my tickets for Wreck-It-Ralph 2.  I am Eduardo Soliz, if you’d like to hear more 300 Seconds subscribe via iTunes and check out my website at Eduardo Soliz dot com, and thanks you for listening!

35 Things I Noticed After Upgrading to iOS 11 and an iPhone SE

iOS 11 just happened to drop on the same day I bought a new 32 GB iPhone SE in order to replace my 16 GB iPhone 6 and switch over to a prepaid plan. The 6 was running low on storage space and the SE was on sale, so why the heck not upgrade my OS and my phone on the same day!

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#19-YUUUGE!

  1. First things first: Upgrade my iPhone 6 to iOS 11. Maybe I can use that as a selling point after I move to the SE.
  2. I can’t help but cackle at glee at how many problems iOS 11 is likely causing for customers at my old job. Jerks.
  3. Yes, I am saying my former customers and my former employer are jerks.
  4. Free space on 16GB iPhone 6 before upgrade: 900 MB. Free space after: 4.9 GB. WTF?
  5. When I hit the Wireless or Bluetooth buttons in the Control Center I expect them TO TURN OFF, not just disconnect. No bueno. iOS!
  6. Is a Location on/off button in the Control Center too much to ask for?  Android has had one in their Notification Area for years. Don’t you want to be cool like Android, iOS?
  7. On a related note, the fact that Apple constantly wants to know where you are is mildly creepy.
  8. Why would I want to turn off the cellular part by itself? Isn’t that what Airplane Mode is for?
  9. The “Do Not Disturb While Driving” thing is pretty cool.
  10. The Pebble smartwatch app is still standing; it’ll be a sad day when it or my watch stops working. Stupid FitBit.
  11. From the ‘what took Apple so long’ department: Files. Yeah.
  12. Only four app updates to install…so far!
  13. All in all, iOS 11 is pretty nice, with a few annoyances I can live with. On to the new phone!
  14. Why not Android? Let’s see: For $200 I can get a questionable phone with a lousy camera and maybe one OS update or a really good phone with an awesome camera that will get updates for a few years.
  15. Despite the smaller screen, I consider the SE an upgrade. Better CPU, twice the storage, and a better camera.
  16. Yeah, yeah. I shouldn’t have bought the 16GB model two years ago, but here we are.
  17. The SE is small enough to fit in my pocket and not be constantly clipped to my belt looking like it’s there for something important.
  18. I’m sort-of trying to not be tied to my phone so much.  I don’t know how successful I’ll be, but I’m trying!
  19. Funny how my old phone is nearly as big as the box my new one came in.
  20. Shopping for a case was a little annoying because the iPhone SE section at Ye Olde Electronics Store was cleaned out. It must have been one heck of a sale, or maybe the SE has become the ‘poor man’s iPhone.’
  21. Found an OtterBox case on the cheap at Wally Martinez (Wal-Mart) so maybe there’s something to that.
  22. Yay, another set of EarPods and Apple stickers I’ll never use.
  23. I can never put screen protectors on right.

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    Out with the old, in with the small!

  24. The gal at the activation line has an interesting accent. I wonder if she’s in the Philippines…FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON.
  25. Accidentally hung up on her once during the activation process. Oops.
  26. Apparently the dweebie at the Best Buy warehouse didn’t scan my new phone so it wasn’t technically ‘purchased.’ That led to WHY IS IT NOT WORKING ANYMORE ten minutes after activating it, which led to another phone call to Whereveritis-istan.
  27. Realization: I’m going to have to be super-careful to not drop this thing in the toilet.
  28. It took me a half day before I realized I hadn’t set up my ringtone.
  29. Apple productivity apps are useless to me without OneDrive support.  Buh-bye.
  30. Garage Band, iMovie and TV apps on a 4-inch screen? Um, no.  Gone.
  31. Free space: 22 GB  That’s more like it!
  32. What the hell is up with not letting me use my phone as a hotspot, cellular prepaid people? Crazy idea: If people use up all their data tethering, THEY HAVE TO BUY MORE DATA WHICH MEANS YOU MAKE MORE MONEY.  Idiots.
  33. Tethering seems to work just fine via USB, so neener-neener, prepaid cell phone weenies!
  34. Going to take a little adjusting to having a smaller phone, but I think the SE is going to work. Hopefully my new provider works out, too!
  35. I’m just waiting for that one friend (you know who you are) to see my new SE and say “OH MY GOD, IT’S A BABY PHONE!”

300 Seconds #79: Job Separation Anxiety

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 79, “Job Separation Anxiety,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I’ve had a feeling of impending doom at work for a few weeks now.  During this time of year, we usually start getting ready for our ‘busy season’ by preparing training materials and hiring new people so that they’ll (hopefully) be ready for the onslaught of customers in the fall. While there has been plenty of training prep going on, our boss hadn’t scheduled a single interview.  Suspicious, to say the least.

Finally, for the first time since I have worked at the company, every person in our department was called into a meeting.  The meeting began with a sad-faced girl from Human Resources going into a spiel about restructuring, company challenges, new directions, blah blah blah.  Yup, here it comes.

She then threw the hammer down: The thirty people in the room (including myself) were all going to be laid off after a few weeks.  The department was being scaled back, so if we wanted to hang around, we would have to apply for one of the new positions.  After some questions and one wire-acre comment from yours truly, we were each given a packet of documents and allowed to go home to digest the news, if we wanted to.  Needless to say, everybody called it a day.  I didn’t envy the Human Resources gals their jobs, but at least they would still have jobs in a few weeks.

In my so-you’re-about-to-be-canned document packet was a fun corporate-double-speak letter that referred to my last day on the job as the ‘job separation date.’  Yeah, I’ll be certain to file that letter next to the ‘thirteen dollar bonus’ one from a few years ago.  Yeah, that’s right.  Thirteen dollars.  And people wonder why I hate my job.

I chuckled at their choice of words: “Job Separation.”  I guess it beats ‘Don’t let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya,” though.  This being Texas, I’m genuinely surprised they didn’t just toss us out right then and there.

In a sense, I’m a little disappointed in myself; I’ve seen the writing on the wall at other employers in the past, and I’ve been lucky enough to get out of Dodge while the getting was good.

I guess I’ll have to start paying attention to those updates from Monster and LinkedIn now!

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after my update my resume.  I am Eduardo Soliz, and if you’re looking for a software developer, help desk analyst, tech support lead, creative writer, copy editor, or maybe even a voice guy, shoot me an email at edsoliz@yahoo.com.  Whether you’re hiring or not, check out Eduardo Soliz dot com for more podcasts and short stories, and as always, I thank you for listening!

A Few Good Apps

mewindowsI installed Windows 10 on to my laptop a few weeks ago. I have been considering upgrading my main machine to 10 for a while, so dropping it onto the lappy seemed like a good way to take it for a test drive.

I had upgraded my ASUS Windows 8 tablet to 10 shortly after the free offer appeared. It started out great, but the lack of good apps (which I have complained about) turned it into a mini-laptop. Having a mini-laptop is cool, but I wanted to use my tablet as, well, a tablet, so the ASUS has collected dust in favor of my more app-centric iPad mini.

Back to the laptop: While waiting for app updates to download in the Store, I poked around and found the page for the Facebook app. I had used it previously and it actually wasn’t too bad until Microsoft stopped updating it.  I think somewhere down the way MS and FB had a fight, but that’s neither here nor there. As new features kept getting added to Facebook, the Windows app was stuck in time. Thinking back, its obsolescence and overall lack of apps was likely one of the things that drove me away from Windows Phone.  Old news, I know.

A sentence on the page intrigued me, though: “New for Windows 10!” Why not? I download the app and prepared to be underwhelmed. As a test, I hovered over one of the ‘Like’ links to see if the additional options would appear. Much to my surprise, they did! I did some more clicking around and was delighted to see that the app had all the features that had been missing from the previous version. It isn’t perfect, but it is much more usable than it was before.

Encouraged by that success, I decided to re-download some other apps. I was surprised to find that they too had been updated, with improved results. I then turned on ‘Tablet Mode’ (which fullscreens all programs and apps) and was astounded that I could now use my Windows 10 tablet AS A TABLET.  What a country!

All it took was a few good apps. Given my iPhone 6’s lackluster performance in buildings as of late, I might be willing to give Windows Phone another shot if Microsoft can get its apps together.

Maybe.

33 Things I Noticed During Jury Duty

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#11 Too cool fur school!

  1. Despite what you are going to read, I am happy to do my civic duty.
  2. Indeed, I’ve been tagged multiple times in my life already
  3. Weirdly enough, working on a short story about a trial right now, go figure.
  4. Took a wrong turn, got stuck waiting for a train. Thank you, San Antonio.
  5. Not late, but there was a line for parking.
  6. Just realized I forgot to take my Vitamin C this morning, it would suck to have survived Comicpalooza only to catch ‘jury duty crud.’
  7. Dude behind me in line at the courthouse is standing just bit too close. Can I get a little personal space here?
  8. Forgot to take the change out of my pocket, officer got snippy at me in Spanish. THAT’S PROFILING MAN
  9. At least I don’t have to hear coworkers brag or whine about how Golden State blew it
  10. This beats work any day, fewer stupid people
  11. Felt cool to pin a white ‘juror’ button to my shirt.
  12. Can we  get a nice ‘register to vote’ sign to put in front of the bench? The one there is made from poster board and looks like some kid made it.
  13. That said, if the judge’s kid DID make it, I rescind my previous statement.
  14. Cell phone ringers going off should incur a fine or at least a kick to the shin
  15. Court cafeteria tacos ain’t bad.
  16. Lack of coffee started to kick in at about 10AM, took the first opportunity to grab a cup soon after
  17. Court cafeteria coffee ain’t bad either
  18. One panel called for an Eduardo (not me) and an Edward. THAT’S GOING TO BE CONFUSING, PEOPLE
  19. It wasn’t until 1045 that I got bored enough to start playing Fallout Shelter on my Android tablet.
  20. Or not, back to the jury room!
  21. Got called to a panel!
  22. I’m sorry, but wearing a baseball cap with a suit is THE DORKIEST  thing I will ever see.
  23. Gal that cut my hair a few weeks ago was on the same panel, small world!
  24. A two hour lunch break…thaaaanks.
  25. TVs are tuned to judge shows BECAUSE IT’S A COURTHOUSE GET IT HA HA HA
  26. Grilled ham n’ cheese hit the spot for lunch
  27. Okay, now I can play Fallout Shelter
  28. $1.35 for a 20 oz. soda? I may have to take one for the road!
  29. Back to the jury room, here we go.
  30. Waiting for a while after lunch, hopefully it’s a good sign
  31. Sent home at 2 o’clock, woo-hoo!
  32. WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE TO GIVE BACK MY JUROR BUTTON?
  33. Now to go wait some more while the oil in my car is changed! 😂

It’s the Apps, Stupid!

windowsAfter months of learning to live with Windows 8 on the desktop, I picked up an ASUS VivoTab 8 tablet back in early 2015.  Finally, I would get to experience Windows 8 with a touchscreen, just like God Microsoft had intended!

As much as I like to think that I ‘got’ Windows 8 before, using it with a touch screen was wonderful.  No more fumbling with sides and screen corners!  The stupid charms on the right side of the screen finally made sense and I could bring them up by swiping in from the right side instead of madly fumbling around for for the magic spot with my mouse!  Life was great!

That euphoria lasted for about five minutes until I tried to pull up the News app and it crashed.  I checked for app updates in the Store, and there were none to be had.  So much for that.

I am totally on board with the idea that there should be desktop apps Just like the ones we have on our phones and tablets.  I shouldn’t have to go back to my web browser to do things.  Indeed, I would love nothing better than pick up my Windows 8 tablet and left-swipe from app to app to get things done instead of having to go back to Ye Olde Desktop unless I want to.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s apps suck.  Everywhere.  They sucked on Windows Phone, sucked on Windows 8 and continue to suck on Windows 10.  Until they stop sucking, I’ll find myself going back to my desktop and my browser or using my iPhone or iPad.  Don’t like it, Microsoft?  THEN MAKE YOUR APPS STOP SUCKING!