New blogs!

I started two new blogs.

One is Vim for Writers, an introduction to vim for writers.

The other is Little things on Linux. The title should be a self-explanatory.

I’m posting daily on both blogs. Check them out if you’re interested!

As of December, 2017, this is the site I post to least.

It’s the only one I pay for!

I started this site as an author blog.

That wasn’t a great idea.

I wanted to post short stories and such for sale.

I never seem to finish them.

I don’t have writerly advice either.

You know, “Make your hero likable, but flawed. Cut out excess words.”

It’s good advice, but others gave it already. My writing style is unproven. Nobody has paid for anything yet! I can’t cop an authoritative tone.

With software, at least I know my advice is good.

All this is a roundabout way of saying I may change this blog from an author-type blog to a writing blog, where I just say what I have to say.

Isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway?

I have lots of topics I’d like to cover that don’t deserve a blog of their own. But I could devote single posts to them here.

I’d like to write about the recovery of big cats in America. Jaguars have returned to Arizona. Mountain lions have been documented in a number of states from which they’ve been exterminated. The sightings are few and short. But the cats are trying! Somebody needs to write about them.

I’d like to write about Asian carp too. If you’re an independent filmmaker, look me up. I have a fisheries degree I need to take out of the closet and dust off. Well, marine science technically, but it was fisheries. I’m thinking of a movie like Cane Toads An Unnatural History. If you haven’t seen it, you must!

That’s it for today. Tune in tomorrow for another exciting post. Best!

Epson WF-7110 as a Photo Printer on Debian Linux

I bought the Epson WF-7110 to use as a photo printer on Linux. It prints color and black and white photos up to 13×19 inches. Beautiful!

So how do I like it? It’s great! It does everything I wanted it to do. I knew going in the Epson WF-7110 would not be the equal of a dedicated photo printer, but I am satisfied with the prints. I get great black and white prints in addition to color. The Epson WF-7110 is a little fiddly on Linux. This post is dedicated to how I set it up on Debian Linux.

A dedicated photo printer is not the normal use for the Epson WF-7110. It’s more of an office all-in-one type printer.  If you want to print photos, you’re supposed to buy one of Epson’s expensive photo printers. I’ve done that before. They’re excellent. But this time I needed something cheap. I knew from previous experience (an Epson C88 almost ten years ago) that Epson 4-color printers provided good photo quality.

How close are the 4-color prints from the Epson WF-7110 to the much more expensive photo printers with 6, 8, or more colors? To my eyes, almost indistinguishable. First of all, the prints are just as detailed. There is no difference whatsoever in resolution. If you look closely, the dedicated photo printers are smoother; that is, the tones change more gradually. The 4-color photos have more contrast, which may or may not suit your style. But the 4-color printers are at least the quality of digital photos you would order from a drugstore. It’s one of those deals where if you saw a photo from the WF-7110 in isolation, you’d be like, “That’s great!” If somebody placed the photo you liked next to the same photo printed from a much more expensive photo printer, and forced you to look for differences, you might find something. Is that how you normally spend your time viewing photos? Not me. I print photos from the WF-7110, show them to my wife, and we enjoy them together.

Setting up the Epson WF-7110

Here’s how I set up the Epson WF-7110. There may be better ways to do it.  But again, the printer does what I want it to.

First of all, unwrap and unpack the printer, and connect it to your wifi network. Read the instructions that come with the printer. Basically, you tell the printer the name of your network and enter the password.

Once the printer is hooked up to your network, fire up a web browser, login to your wireless router, and make sure you can see the printer. The address for your wireless router and how to login are on the router.

Next, go to localhost:631 on your browser. This will bring up CUPS, the administration page for printers in Linux. Under “Cups for Administrators” you’ll see “Adding Printers and Classes.” Click it. Under “Printers” you’ll see “Add Printer.” Click it. Nest to “Discovered Network Printers” you should see something like “EPSON WF-7110 Series (EPSON WF-7110 Series).” Click it. The next screen will be name, description, and sharing the printer. Change stuff here if you need to. On the next screen choose a driver. This should be as simple as choosing the printer manufacturer and model. The Epson WF-7110 uses the escpr driver on Linux. If you can’t find the WF-7110, you can maybe choose escpr on another printer, and that may be suggested.

An alternative is to go directly to the Epson support website and get drivers for Linux. Type in wf-7110 on the Epson site for the printer model, choose Linux for the operating system, and download the appropriate package for your architecture on the next page. 

In my case the right package was epson-inkjet-printer-escpr_1.6.17-1lsb3.2_amd64.deb. When I tried to intall it with #dpkg -i epson-inkjet-printer-escpr_1.6.17-1lsb3.2_amd64.deb, I got a complaint about missing lsb. When I tried to install lsb, I got more complaints. I ran #apt-get –fix-broken install, after which the #dpkg -i epson-inkjet-printer-escpr_1.6.17-1lsb3.2_amd64.deb command worked. After the drivers were installed I ran #updatedb (for the locate command), then #ls -l `locate escpr` | grep ‘Nov 10’ because I installed the drivers on Nov 10. That showed me where the newly installed drivers were: /usr/share/ppd/epson-inkjet-printer-escpr -> /opt/epson-inkjet-printer-escpr/ppds. Then, on the CUPS install printer driver screen, instead of choosing a make and model, I chose the option to provide a ppd file, navigated to the ppd directory, and chose the file for the WF-7110. It’s important to get the right driver, but then again, it isn’t. If you mess it up, no worries. You can just reinstall the printer and choose a different driver until you get it right.

On the next screen choose a few defaults for paper type, size, and so on. Again, this can be changed. If you’re sure of what you want to do, it makes sense to choose those paper types as defaults.

At this point the Epson WF-7110 should be installed. You can print!

Printing

The best advice I can give you is experiment. Even though this is not normally a dedicated photo printer, it was designed to make nice photos. You have a lot of options to choose from, as far as paper types, sizes of paper, and so on. The Epson WF-7110 prints beautiful borderless photos on my system, in all sizes from 4×6 up to 13×19. You may get funny results at first.  Change options until you get things right.

The printer may complain about the wrong paper type if you choose a paper type other than what you have in the printer. Oh, and I forgot to mention that you can set up paper types and sizes on the printer too. So there’s that. It may take you a little while to get a workflow down.

The CUPS page is useful while you are coming to grips with your printer. You can quickly cancel a job that goes wrong on the “Jobs” tab. There are Maintenance options for the printer. “Pause” pauses the printer, and “Resume” starts it up again. This fixes the printer when it gets confused.

Black and White Printing

Black and White printing is tough. When you tell your printer to print black and white, most likely it mixes all colors to make black and gray. I can tell just by looking at a print it has a color cast. If you can’t tell, look with a magnifying glass. Instead of black ink, you’ll see the tiny colored dots mixed together to form grays.

The color cast worsens with time, because different color inks fade at different rates. Even if the printer did a decent job at first, as soon as one color fades out of the mix more than the other, your “black and white” print looks blue or purple or whatever. This might take a couple of years, or less than a year if you’re unlucky. I can see the color cast as soon as the print comes out of the printer.

The best solution is to set up a dedicated black and white printer, where black ink of different densities is used to fill the color slots. I’ve done that. It works great. But you can make decent black and white prints with the Epson WF-7110 by forcing it to print with black ink only.

That’s not as easy as it sounds! If the Epson WF-7110 thinks it is printing a photo, it will try to mix colors to make black and gray. You have to trick it. First, make your photo grayscale mode using something like gimp. Next, choose matte paper from your print dialog, even if you have glossy paper loaded in the printer. It should use just the black ink. For comparison, you may want to print a “black and white” photo on 4×6 glossy paper, telling the printer you are using glossy paper, and the same photo on 4×6 glossy paper, but telling the printer that it is matte. The difference should be obvious. Remember, the color cast will worsen with time. I’ve made beautiful, true black and white prints on the Epson WF-7110 , borderless, at 13×19 inches.

Printing with Gimp

Printing with Gimp has been my big disappointment with this printer. If I figure out a solution, I’ll update this post.

Gimp has a plugin for Epson printers called gutenprint-gimp. I’ve used it for years, with awesome results. It allows you to fine-tune every aspect of printing with the best Epson photo printers.

Unfortunately, the WF-7110 does not appear to be supported by gutenprint. I’m still playing with it. Maybe I’ll get it to work.

I’ve run into this sort of thing with Linux before. Linux tends to support the best hardware, not the cheapest. That’s because developers have limited time and focus on priorities. If you buy a $5,000 Epson printer, everything likely works out of the box, with a lot less hassle than I describe here. It’s hit or miss with a sub-$200 printer.

I’ve had the best  luck printing with the Epson WF-7110 out of eog, the Eye of Gnome image viewing program. My printing options are more limited than in gutenprint, but I’m not sure it makes a difference. The prints look great. The real hassle is modifying images in Gimp, then saving them and opening them up in eog to print.


Please feel free to comment on this post or offer suggestions.

Would I buy this printer again? Absolutely! It does what I want it to do. I had a fair amount of experience with Epson printers already, some of them higher-end models than this. I knew what I wanted.

Miss Giovanelli Eats a Double Orange and Vanilla Sherbet: In which I Save a Viking Wench and Turn into an Owl

This is my second short story on Amazon.

It has it all: a Viking ice cream wench, a truck full of Eppinger Dardevles, sex in a cheap motel, a reference to the Carpenters, poisonous mushrooms, a murder plot involving hot friolator oil, and a hero who turns into an owl at the end. Pretty sure I touched all the bases.

In other words, it’s nonsense. But it reads well after the beginning. Lots of action. Lots of dead bodies. It would be like a comic book if it had a plot. Messing up the beginning is a cardinal sin, but I did.  It wasn’t bad enough to need fixing. Anybody put off by the beginning wouldn’t enjoy the rest of the story anyway. Is it worth 99 cents? I think so. That’s why I published it. Some may disagree!

I haven’t written much lately, but then again, I have. I haven’t published much lately is what I mean. I have a lot of material stored away. This has been a fallow period. I’m about to get busy publishing.

I want to blog regularly too, even when I don’t publish for sale.

Amazon wants to know what series my short stories belong to. Since I have only have two short stories published, I haven’t divided them up into series. But I’ve thought about it. My first story about alligators in a swamp was realistic and serious, so if I do more like that it will be my “Realistic” series. This story, which is all over the place, will be the first of a “Nonsense” series, if I follow it up.

Oh, look at the cute cat on the bottom left of the cover. It is public domain clip art. I found it here. The rest of the cover is a standard Amazon Kindle cover, but I’m going to keep the cat as a brand on everything I publish. I got the idea from Penguin Books, which had a lot of titles I enjoyed when I was a kid. The covers of all the Penguin books were orange with a cartoon penguin. It was simple, and I liked it. I want to do something similar, and I’m all about cats.

Noise reduction with Gimp. Free software!

Here’s a little noise reduction I did this morning using free software.

Here’s what I started with. Not only noise, but banded noise… Yuck.
And here’s what I ended up with. Not perfect, but better.

I lost a little detail, but I like the finished image better.

Anyone who has had to deal with banding noise knows just how difficult it is to get out. I don’t think it’s noticeable in the final image, unless you are predisposed to think it’s there because you saw the initial image.

I could have saved some of the detail, but the rewards diminish as you put more time into these. Not every photo is the work of a lifetime.

At the bottom of the post is what I did, without explanation. It’s worth imitating, because some of the tricks are useful in isolation from everything else.

It might look complicated, but these are the kinds of operations that get performed again and again, so in practice it’s like, “click, click, click, click, click,” and maybe takes 5 to 10 minutes, no more.

Best of luck with your photos.

Ctl-D to create duplicate image
Close original image, work on duplicate
Colors -> Components -> Decompose… -> Color Model LAB
Work on grayscale image
Highlight A layer in layers dialog
Filters -> Enhance -> Wavelet Denoise (Threshold 10)
Highlight B layer in layers dialog
Filters -> Repeat Wavelet Denoise
Colors -> Components -> Recompose
Close grayscale image, work on main image
Duplicate layer in layers dialog
Mode: Grain merge in layers dialog
Layer -> Mask -> Add layer mask… -> Grayscale copy of layer
Colors -> Invert
Paintbrush tool, 2. Hardness 0.50, size 250, opacity 50%
Paint cat in layer mask to remove dark parts
Edit -> Copy Visible
Edit -> Paste as new layer
Image -> Transform -> Rotate 90 degrees clockwise
Filters -> Enhance -> Destripe (36)
Image -> Transform -> Rotate 90 degrees counter-clockwise
Filters -> Blur -> Gaussian blur… Horizontal=20 Vertical=20
Layer -> Mask -> Add layer mask… -> Grayscale copy of layer
Colors -> Invert
Paintbrush tool, 2. Hardness 0.50, size 250, opacity 50%
Paint cat in layer mask to taste (switching between white and black, to taste, to remove artifacts, keeping an eye on effects)
Edit -> Copy Visible
Edit -> Paste as new layer
Use smudge and healing tool to break up banding in light area.

LibreOffice as an Outlining Tool

Every time I read an article about specialized novel-writing software, I wonder what it does that free software like LibreOffice can’t.

One thing that LibreOffice does really well is outline documents.

Here’s how I use it.

LibreOffice is built around styles, which seemed restrictive when I started using them.

My philosophy is write first, format second. Styles force you to format as you write. I don’t like that. But styles can be useful too.

I use paragraph styles for outlining. There are also page, character, frame, and list styles, none of which I use for outlining.

What I do normally is highlight text I want to apply a paragraph style to, then choose the style from the drop down menu in the tool bar. The paragraph styles menu has items like “Default style,” “Header 1,” “Header 2,” and so on. Another way to access styles is by pressing F11 to bring up the styles dialog box.

Now, lets say you have a document that looks like this:

Chapter 1

Blah, blah, blah.

Chapter 2

More blah, blah, blah.

Highlight Chapter 1 and choose “Header 1” for the style. Do the same for Chapter 2. Now your document looks like this:

Chapter 1

Blah, blah, blah.

Chapter 2

More blah, blah, blah.

Notice you don’t have to highlight the content of Chapter 1, just the first line.

Hit F5 to bring up the Navigator. In the list of ways you can navigate your document, you will see “Headings.” It should be at the top of the list. Open it up and you will see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 listed.

Now we get to the point of all this.

Click on Chapter 1, then click on the down arrows in the tool bar at the top of the Navigator. Chapter 2 will now be first, and Chapter 1 second. The associated content was moved with Chapter 1.

Neat trick, huh?

But there’s more.

There are 10 header levels, each higher number level with a lower priority. So you can set up your document like this:

Chapter 1

Section 1

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Section 2

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Section 3

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

Apply Header 1 style to chapters, Header 2 style to sections, and Header 3 style to paragraphs. You can outline a twenty chapter novel like this and move everything around in the navigator as you wish, either before or during writing.

Give descriptive names to things so you know what you’re moving. “Protagonist character description paragraph,” “Big battle,” “Licking wounds and assessing next move in the cave,” and so on.

I hope this doesn’t look complicated. It’s not. It’s a great way to shuffle things around in your outline until they’re where you want them.

Thoughts on Vim as a Writing Tool while Waiting for my First Novel to Finish Itself

I know. I should be writing, not worrying about tools.

I’ll write later this morning. I promise.

I wanted to post about vim, my text editor of choice.

Vim is documented elsewhere.

This won’t be a “hit this key to do that” post.

Instead, these are my impressions of vim as a text editor for writers.

I’ve used vim for well over 10 years, so this is not a, “Hey! Check this new program out! I just tried it and it’s wonderful!” post either.

Who vim is for and not for

Vim is for you if you

  • are a good touch typist
  • make a lot of edits
  • don’t mind struggling through a bit of a learning curve
  • are willing to format your document in another editor

Vim is not for you, or at least you won’t see much advantage,  if you

  • are not a good touch typist
  • don’t make lots of edits

Those are general rules, with lots of exceptions.

Editing in vim

Editing is where vim shines. I mean, really shines.

I mean, shines as in, “I can’t believe how cool this is!”

Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Editing still sucks. But vim makes editing easier than any other tool I’ve used.

I’ve promised a “no keystroke” post, so let me explain conceptually.

Vim works in modes. When you type in vim, what the keys tell the program to do depends on what mode vim is in.

“Insert mode” inserts text in the document as you type. This is the default mode of most word processors.

“Normal mode” maps the keyboard to commands. You no longer insert text, but execute commands to move , copy, and paste text.

Normal mode is more efficient than a mouse for editing text. Vim knows what units of text like a word, sentence and paragraph are. With a few keystrokes you can tell vim, “delete the next three sentences and insert them before the next paragraph.” It’s like magic.

Every now and then I get frustrated with vim’s drawbacks and use a word processor. After a day I’m back to vim. Once the vim commands are in your muscle memory, there’s no leaving.  Editing in a word processor is like trying to run across hot tar in sneakers.

Vim’s drawbacks

The biggest drawback to vim is that it does not format text.

You can finesse this a little bit, but don’t try.

After you write in vim, format in another editor.

You can import into LibreOffice, or if you don’t mind delving into text processing a little more, use groff or Latex to edit the document.

Vim doesn’t use curly quotes. Latex and groff insert them automatically. In LibreOffice or Word, use regular expressions to change all of them at once.

Ninja vim

Documents are easy to organize using folds.

You can use ex: mode to make more sophisticated changes to your document like removing blank lines and inserting line numbers.

You can set up a distraction free environment.

You can insert text from supporting documents anywhere inside a master document with just a few keystrokes.

Vim was designed as a coding editor, so it is infinitely configurable.

But the best reason to use vim, the one killer feature, is fast editing.

Alligators and the Honor of Men in a Swamp: A Short Story of Man against Nature

So here it is, my first story on Kindle.

I’m not sure where the plot for this story came from.

I do know where the setting came from.

I was born in Florida and have a thing for alligators.

My wife and I saw several dozen alligators, some quite large, on a canoe trip on the Hillsborough River outside Tampa some years ago.

A picture I took of one of the big alligators is the cover of the book.

I used the setting from the river, and invented characters.

In a nutshell, a young white guy, the kind of guy you see on streetcorners everywhere in America, with a hip hop baseball cap and an opioid problem, searches for his sister, who is lost in the swamp. But she is with somebody else. And that causes complications when he finally catches up to her. Add an alligator, and let the merriment ensue.

I’m reasonably happy with the story.

When you start writing, even at my age, you’re like, “Wow. I suck.”

There are two possible reactions at that point.

You give up, or you keep going.

For some reason I kept going.

What I did well in this story is maintain tension until the end.

It may fall down in a few other areas.

But I think it holds up for the tension alone.