Heli Camping

How to make camping more fun.

It was spring 2006 when my friend Ryan suggested I go with him to the Big Sandy Shoot and give helicopter rides. I didn’t know much about it, but I had nothing else do to that weekend. So I loaded my tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress into my helicopter and followed Ryan’s friend’s Sikorsky S-55 helicopter to the tiny town of Wikieup, about 40 minutes north of Wickenburg on highway 93.

I detail the events of the weekend here.

Helicopter and TentAlthough I did fly into this spot and I did sleep in this tent the night before, I didn’t sleep in this tent where it’s shown in the photo. I moved the tent to take the photo. With a dome tent like this, it’s easy. Just empty it out, pick it up, and put it where you want it. The helicopter was in such a pretty spot and the early morning sunlight make it look really beautiful. Why not take advantage of the light?

I cooked up the photo for possible advertising use. Flying M Air (my helicopter charter company) can do overnight excursions. There’s no reason why we can’t offer heli camping.

But, so far, we just haven’t had any calls for it.

Oh, and for the record, I’ll be back at Wickieup for their autumn (forgive me, Miraz) shoot in October. Anyone want to come along for the ride?

Copy Editing – Part I: What Is Copy Editing?

Copy editing — an important part of the publishing process.

Prepare yourself for the usual author rant — but with a difference. This one is coming from an author who just completed her 69th book. An author who has worked with about eight different publishers and dozens of copy editors over the course of 15 years.

So no, this isn’t a newbie writer griping about a heavy-handed editor on her first or second book. It’s coming from someone who has been doing this for a long time and feels as if she’s “seen it all.”

I’ve taken this topic and split it into three parts. In this part, I’ll start off with an introduction to the topic of copy editing and tell you what I believe it should be.

Stet!What is Copy Editing?

The purpose of copy editing should be to ensure that the original text is:

  • Free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Note the use of the word “error” here; that’ll be important later in this discussion.
  • Consistent with a publisher style guide. A style guide, in the world of publishing, is a document that sets forth usage in those gray areas. I’m talking about capitalization issues such as web vs. Web, hyphenation issues such as email vs. e-mail, and design issues such as boldfacing figure references.
  • Clear and easy to understand. This usually involves breaking up long or complex sentences or possibly rearranging sentence components.
  • Unlikely to be misinterpreted. For example, when you say the “Color in pop-up menu,” do you mean a pop-up menu named “Color in” or are you talking about color in a pop-up menu?
  • Consistent with the writing style of the established book or series. This only comes into play when you’re writing for a series that has a predefined format and style. For example, Visual QuickStart Guides (VQSes) tend to be short and to the point, so I don’t have room for personal stories, as I do in other books. VQSes also have level 2 headings that begin with the word “To” and are followed by numbered steps, each of which presents a single task. (I could list about a dozen style issues specific to a VQS, but you get the idea.)

Flowers for AlgernonOf course, what you’re writing should determine how much of the above is required. If you’re writing a novel much of this may not apply at all. Consider the book, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The book’s first person narrator is a retarded man. The book is in journal format and the first few chapters are so full of spelling and punctuation errors (or omissions) that the book is difficult to read. But that’s because of the author’s choices and the method he uses to communicate. Would you expect a retarded man to have perfect spelling, grammar, and punctuation? Of course not. The author is using the character’s shortcomings as a writer to make his character more real — as well a to drive home the changes in the character as the story progresses. This technique was used again more recently in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which featured an autistic first-person narrator. If a copy editor had done a thorough job on the grammar or punctuation in either of these two books, he would have altered the characters. The same can be said for dialog in most novels, since few people speak using perfect grammar.

So copy editing of fiction is a different subject — one I’m not addressing here. I’m discussing copy editing of non-fiction, primarily technical or how-to books, since that’s where my experience is.

More to Come…

This is the first part of my discussion of copy editing. There are at least two more parts to go. In the next part, I’ll rant a bit about my experiences with one particular book over the ten-year course of its life (so far). You’d think that after 10 years, the process would be trouble-free…

Why not take a moment to tell us what you think copy editing should be. How do you expect it to change or improve your writing? Use the comments link or form to share your thoughts.

I Don’t Like Being Seriously Dugg

The activity finally winds down — I think.

In yesterday’s post, “Getting Seriously Dugg,” I reported the history of a blog post that rose quickly to stardom in the world of Digg users. But that report was done early in the day, before the shit hit the fan (so to speak).

The Heat is On

The Digg count continued to rise throughout the day. And the hits kept coming. All morning long, there were at least 100 visitors online at my site at once. This is not normal here. And it was rather frightening. I kept expecting something to break.

But it wasn’t just the popular Digg post that was getting hits. It was the post about getting Dugg, too. Soon, it had more hits than the dugg post — even though it wasn’t dug by anyone at all. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Things came to a head at 11:15 AM when I got an e-mail message from my ISP:

Our Hosting Operations Admins have alerted us to an issue with your hosting account. The account has overutilized resources within the shared environment. As a result, the account has been moved to an isolated server for Terms of Service violators. You have 30 days to research and resolve this issue. After this time, the account will be evaluated again. If the issue is resolved, the account will be migrated back to the shared environment. If it persists, you will need to move to a full Dedicated server.

I got on the phone immediately and called my ISP. To my knowledge, I hadn’t violated any terms of service by getting hits. My plan allows 2,000 GB of bandwidth per month. The billing month starts on the third — that day. So far, in all the years I’ve hosted there, I’ve never exceeded 6% of my monthly allowance. Just because I was getting 30 times the usual number of hits I get in a day, it was still not much more than I’d get in a total month. So there was no way I’d even come close to 10% of the monthly allowance — let alone exceed it.

The guy who answered the phone was extremely polite but equally clueless. He had to talk to Advanced Hosting. He couldn’t let me talk to them. They gave him a song and dance about too many domain names pointing to the same site. He attempted to hand the same thing to me. I told him that that shouldn’t matter since none of those domain names were advertised anywhere. Besides, there were only about a dozen of them pointing to one site and maybe 15 pointing to another. I wasn’t aware of any limitation.

“I’ve been dugg,” I told him. When I got no answer, I asked, “Do you know what that means?”

“No,” he said.

I explained that it meant that one of my blog’s posts had become very popular and that people were flocking to my site to read it. I told him this was a temporary thing and that it should be back to normal by the end of the day. I hoped.

He told me that if I continued to get so many hits to my site, I’d have to get a dedicated server. I told him I’d evaluate after I’d seen my stats for the day. (My account is updated daily in the middle of the night.)

We hung up.

A Brief Intermission

I went flying. I took a couple from Virginia on an hour-long helicopter tour in the Wickenburg area. I showed them mine sites and canyons from the air. We saw a lot of cows, too. Afterward, I goofed off at the airport, chatting with two jet pilots who’d come in and were waiting for passengers. Then I went shopping for dinner. I got home and had a snack. Then I looked at Digg. It was 4 PM.

What Happened in Five Hours

The post that had started it all now had more than 1,200 diggs. It had been viewed almost 30,000 times. The post about that post, which hadn’t been dugg at all, had been viewed more than 40,000 times.

But thankfully, there were only 33 people online. So the flood had begun to subside.

On the Digg Technology page, my dugg post was listed near the bottom, under newly popular. (Ironically, on the same page, near the top, was a post about how Digg was losing popularity. That had more than 1,200 diggs, too.)

The Morning After

It’s the next day. I can now look back objectively on my blog’s day with a Digg Top 10 Tech post by studying some of the stats for the day and how the differ from other days.

My ISP reports that for the first day of my billing period — yesterday — I used up .55% (that’s just over half a percent, folks) of my monthly bandwidth. That means that if every day was like yesterday, I’d still come in at less than 20% allowable bandwidth. So I don’t know what “terms of service violation” they were whining about.

W3Counter, which I use to track page hits and visits, says I got just over 27,000 page hits yesterday. Look at the chart below; it makes my site look flat-line dead before yesterday. Honestly — it wasn’t that dead.

Hits

Today’s hits are about 3 times a normal day. Nice, but I’m willing to bet it drops down to normal within the next few days.

W3Counter also sent me an e-mail message warning me that their free service doesn’t cover sites that get more than 5,000 hits a day.They say I need to upgrade to a pro account for $4.95/month. We’ll see how long before they disable my current account — I’m not paying them to tell me how many hits I get when I can easily set up some stat software with a free WordPress plugin. (ShortStats, which we wrote about in our WordPress book, comes to mind.)

(I have not been able to reconcile page hits as reported by W3Counter with article reads as reported by a WordPress plugin. I have a sneaking suspicion that the WordPress plugin counts bots.)

Digg, as a source of hits, kicked Google out of the top spot on my site. Google used to account for 54% of my visitors. Now, for the 14-day period tracked by W3Counter, Digg is the big source. Google doesn’t even make the list any more, with all the different Digg URLs people used to find my site. So my sources stat is completely skewed and pretty much useless for the next 13 days. And 93% of the hits in the past 14 days have been to the 18-year-old mouse story.

Meanwhile, WP-UserOnline reports that yesterday saw the most users online at once on this site: 375. I don’t think this site will ever see that many concurrent users again.

My RSS feed subscriptions have more than doubled. That’s great. (If you’re a new subscriber, thanks for tuning in. And don’t worry — I don’t write about Digg every day.) It’ll be interesting to see if that number continues to climb or if I manage to scare all the new folks off by failing to provide more Diggable content on a daily basis.

My Google AdSense revenue for yesterday was right in line with an average high day. When you consider that I got about 20 times my normal number of page hits yesterday, you might think that I’d get 20 times the revenue. I didn’t. Obviously, Digg users don’t click Google ads.

The last I checked, the 18-year-old mouse story got just over 1,357 Diggs. I think that I actually encouraged the extra Diggs by placing the Digg icon at the top of the post. I’ve since taken it away from all posts.

I’ve realized that I don’t want to be seriously Dugg. Other than the surge in new RSS subscribers, there really isn’t any benefit to it.

What do you think?

Have you been slammed by being dugg? How did it affect your hosting account or other services? Use the Comments link or form to let the rest of us know.

Yeah, I’m Still Here

Just really busy.

Those of you who read this blog regularly might think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. I haven’t. I’m still here.

Last week, I was very busy working on The-Book-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, which, as usual, has an extremely tight deadline. This year, it’s even tighter given that I need to get back to work on my Leopard book to make that extremely tight deadline. So I haven’t been putting much time into the blog.

This weekend, we drove up to our place at Howard Mesa, just to escape the monotony of home. There, we were treated two two thunderstorms in the same day and nice, cool weather. Since we only planned to be there overnight, we left Alex the Bird at home to fend for himself in a cage full of food, water, and toys.

Sunset at Howard MesaSitting on our hilltop, we were treated to a beautiful sunset, just before the second storm rolled in.

LightningI played a bit with my new camera and managed to get some outstanding lightning shots by placing my camera on a snack table with its lens propped up, setting it to shutter speed priority, and setting the shutter speed to 30 seconds. I pushed the shutter release by hand and waited. 15 of the 20 shots I took included lightning. I think this one is the best.

I got to finish reading a book I’d started on Friday evening, The Lighthouse, by PD James. More about that in another post (I hope).

View from Sycamore PointOn our way home, we had a bit of an off-pavement adventure, driving out to Sycamore Point, which overlooks Sycamore Canyon, west of Sedona. The road is usually passable by any vehicle, but it was pretty muddy yesterday and a storm passed though while we where there. There was a great view of the canyon, which is a wilderness area and off-limits to motor vehicles. The light wasn’t favorable for photography, but I took a few shots anyway.

I realized that the spot was very close to a cliff dwelling I’d spotted from the air the last time I flew a direct course from Howard Mesa to Scottsdale and have become determined to track it down and see it again from the air.

We met our friend Tristan for dinner. He’s between jobs, between homes, and between girlfriends right now but not having a bad time. His helicopter will be back from its annual inspection on Friday and we’re hoping he lets Mike fly with him for a few hours at a good rate so Mike can get his R44 sign-off soon. He’s looking for a job as a pilot, but isn’t really in tune with the job market so I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to get the kind of job he wants.

At home, Alex was waiting for us and happy to see us.

There’s more, of course, but I need to get done with The-Book-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, so I have to get back to work. A more pressing problem is that I threw out my back this morning — for the first time ever! — while shoveling horse poop and I’m in incredible pain just sitting in my chair. Let’s hope I can get work done.

Webcam Timelapse – July 22, 2007

Missed us again!

The forecast actually called for rain here in Wickenburg. And the storm got ever closer, as you can see in this timelapse, with dark gray clouds and high winds. But, in the end, it past northwest of us.

Dang!

Here’s the timelapse:

Remember, after clicking this image, you may have to wait a few seconds for it to load before it starts playing. Be patient and click only once. It’ll play right in this window. QuickTime is required.

The good news is, the storm also dropped temperatures. At about 3 PM, when I stepped outside, I discovered that it was in the low 80s outside. That’s 20° lower than normal! Yippee! We shut off the air conditioner and opened as many windows as we could. Even slept with the windows open last night!

Harry Potter Fever

I’m done.

I’ll admit it: I’m a Harry Potter fan. I think the books are well-written and entertaining. And I think the movies are extremely well done, faithful to the books in such a way to satisfactorily bring the author’s scenes to life.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)I’ll admit this, too: I ordered the final Harry Potter book three months ago. I ordered it from Amazon.com with another item, chose free shipping, and waited. I wasn’t in a rush. I just wanted my collection complete. Amazon shipped the other item immediately and put my HP order on hold until it was time to ship it.

Last week, Amazon sent me an e-mail suggesting that I upgrade shipping so I’d get the book on its publication date. I wasn’t in a hurry to get the book so I ignored the e-mail.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Meanwhile, I was listening to the Slate Political Gabfast podcast. One of the staff mentioned that the audio books for Harry Potter were excellent. Since I didn’t remember much of the sixth Harry Potter book, I figured I’d try it as an audio book. I ordered it from Amazon.com. They gave me a free trial to Amazon Prime. Free 2-day shipping for a month (when I’ll cancel to avoid the outrageous $79 annual fee). I figured the audio book would arrive before the printed book. I could listen to book 6 and read book 7.

I got an e-mail from Amazon.com on Thursday to let me know that my HP book had shipped. I could expect it by July 26. Fine. I was in no hurry.

So imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox yesterday — two days after being told the book had shipped — and the book was in there. On the publication date. With free shipping. And the darn thing had cost me less than $20 — about half the retail price. Not bad.

So now I faced a dilemma.: read the book right away or wait until after listening to the Book 6 audio, which still hadn’t arrived.

Yesterday afternoon, after a pleasant day Jeeping on dirt roads and an even more pleasant shower, I cracked open the 700+ page final book of the Harry Potter series. The reason I didn’t wait: I was afraid that someone would spoil it for me by telling me the end.

I was 1/3 finished when I went to bed at about 10 PM last night. This morning, I got right back into it with my breakfast. By 12:30 PM, I was finished.

I won’t tell the ending. In my opinion, anyone who does is a major-league asshole. That includes the people who ripped off copies before they were released and published them on the Web. It also includes the reviewers for the New York Times who released plot points in a review the day before the book was released.

I will say that the ending works. That’s it.

I think J.K. Rowling has done a fine job on this series. Although a lot of the books were a bit longer than they needed to be, I think that gave readers — especially those who can’t crank through a 700+ page book in 8 hours — more for their money. It helped them stay in the fantasy world of Harry Potter and his friends for just a little bit longer.

Is the whole Harry Potter thing worth the ridiculous hype? In my opinion, no.

But then again, in today’s world, people seem anxious to grab on to any hype they can. It’s better to latch on to Harry Potter’s struggle against evil than Paris Hilton’s short prison stay — or to stand in line for an iPhone.

Isn’t it?

As for that Book 6 Audio…I look forward to hearing it. If it’s half as good as the Slate podcaster claims, I’ll enjoy it immensely.

Quick Dill Sauce

Good on salmon.

Everyone knows what it’s like to be at the right place at the right time. It’s when special things happen.

We were at the right place — Mike’s mom’s apartment — at the right time — when a neighbor came by with vacuum-sealed packages of freshly frozen salmon. The neighbor and her husband had just returned from a trip to Alaska, where her husband had gone salmon fishing. He’d had 50 pounds of salmon shipped home. Evidently, their freezer wasn’t big enough to accommodate it all.

The salmon looked beautiful and was frozen solid. She was gracious enough to give us three packages of it — enough to feed six people. We stopped off at the local supermarket for a cooler bag and stored the fish and some ice in it for the trip back to Arizona.

One piece remained pretty much frozen solid. The other two were defrosted, but very cold. We had one for dinner last night and will probably eat the other tomorrow.

During dinner last night, Mike said it might have been the best salmon he’d ever had in his life. I certainly can’t remember having any salmon that was better.

Fresh Dill WeedTo go with it, I wanted to make some dill sauce. Dill goes really well with fish, especially salmon. A nice sauce would be a change in the way we usually eat salmon — just grilled with salt, pepper, and lemon. I asked Mike to pick up a packet of Knorr dill sauce mix at the local supermarket. As might be expected, they didn’t have any. They didn’t have any fresh dill, either. So Mike came home with a squeeze tube of “dill blend.” I read the ingredients. Dill was one of them. I couldn’t pronounce many of the others. But, in an effort to make the best of a not-perfect situation, I set about finding a dill sauce recipe that I could make with what I had in the house, which did not include cream, sour cream, yogurt, or anything resembling cream.

I tracked down a recipe that used mayonnaise. We had some of that. Although the recipe didn’t sound very enticing, we had plenty of dill blend to spare and I figured it was worth a shot.

Here’s the recipe as I modified it:

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise. The original recipe called for 1-1/2 cups, which was way too much for my taste. (Keep in mind that when I was a kid, I wouldn’t touch mayo. I was an adult before I started using it (sparingly) on sandwiches.)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice. That seemed about right, even with less mayonnaise.
  • 2 tablespoons dill weed. The original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon, which wasn’t nearly enough. I assumed the recipe called for dried dill weed rather than fresh (my preferred type) or “blend.” I just squeezed in a bunch of the green stuff Mike had brought home and added more, after stirring, to get the right color. I wanted to be able to see and taste the dill.

Combine all ingredients, mix well, and refrigerate for an hour. I think the hour is very important if you’re using dry dill weed, as it will provide enough time for the oils in the mayo to hydrate the dill and release its flavors. If you’re using fresh, chop it up before adding it. And, of course, if you’re using tubed “dill blend,” the flavors have already been released in the factory, where some of them may have remained, along with that fresh dill aroma.

The resulting mix reminded me a bit of tartar sauce (which is another thing I only recently started eating). But it tasted very good with the salmon. I’ll make it again with the real deal dill sometime in the future.

Or maybe I’ll just make a proper dill sauce with the right ingredients next time.