New Tips For Making The Best Password Ever

Best_Password_EverOne of the most popular posts on this website about DARK FICTION is my method on  How To Make The Best Password Ever.  (Go figure.) But a  lot has changed since I posted that back in 2011, and I thought I would share how I’ve recently improved this method to both increase my online security and make it easier to manage.
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Arts of Darkness – The Shadow of Approval Award

Arts of Darkness Shadow of Approval Award for Dark Arts and Artists from conradzero.com Since 2003 I’ve been writing blog-reviews here about dark and beautiful things. I’ve used the category Ubercool to reference arts, artists, events and things that I think are glorious. And I never once worried that anyone would read them.

But now, my site traffic and ranking have increased to astonishing levels. My inbox is filled with requests for reviews and offers for paid advertising. You read that right. Paid. Advertising.

“You should have an award. You know, like a seal of approval!”

Ten years ago, I felt like the weird kid sitting by himself and reading Lovecraft while listening to Marilyn Manson.  Now I feel like some kind of Dark Fiction Authority. The Goth Guru? The Hipster of Darkness? [Read more...]

Pinterest for Authors

Logo for pinterest websiteSince I’m going to be helping to moderate a discussion of social media for authors for the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Group this weekend, I decided to give pinterest a try. There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding pinterest recently, no doubt spurred on by the ‘country club’ waiting period while they go through some rapid growth. Some people have waited for a week just to get a login. I had mine the next day, but this waiting period should decrease as they tack on some more server power.

Setting up a new account on the latest social media buzz site made me feel this way:

  • 2006 – Hey! Check out MySpace! It’s Cool!
  • 2007 – Myspace sucks! You should check out Twitter!
  • 2008 -Twitter’s cool, but Facebook is better!
  • 2009 -Facebook sucks! Check out Google Buzz…   Nope. That aint it. Go back to Facebook.
  • 2010 -Facebook sucks! Check out Google Wave… Oh screw that! Sorry! Back to Facebook!
  • 2011 -Facebook sucks! You should check out Google Plus! Wait a minute… OK, Google Plus is good. No wait… ummmm, OK! Google Plus is good. For now. Just keep that Facebook account in case of emergency.
  • 2012 – Google Plus sucks! You need to check out Pinterest!

Le sigh.

Welcome to 2012 – No flying cars, but we have pinterest!

Gothic Pinterest Board

Pinterest: Twitter for People who Can’t Read.

For those who don’t know what Pinterest is all about, it’s really quite simple. Sign up at pinterest.com, add the “Pin It” button to your browser toolbar and when you see a picture you like… bam. Pin it to your online albums. Group your pix into categories, like my “Shiny Gothic” page group, shown at the right.

Seriously? That’s it? Now, why the hell would an author – someone who makes their living selling words – want to join the illiterate version of Twitter? Especially since many social media sites already handle pictures and do so much more?

Well, I’ll tell you.

The Secret Is Simple

After using pinterest for a couple weeks I can tell you that it’s like my ex in many ways. It’s easy. It’s fun. There’s not much to it, really.

I can understand why people who are interested in scrapbooking, stamping and the like would be interested in pinterest. The fact that it handles images (and videos too…) with ease and a clean, bulletproof interface… it really makes Facebook look messy and cluttered. Probably because Facebook IS messy and cluttered. There’s no damned games here on pinterest. No farmville. No angry birds. Well, there’s probably pictures of angry birds, but no stupid pokes (wtf is a ‘poke’?) no messaging, no events. Just pix, arranged in categories. Simple, clean and elegant.

So it’s simple. Big deal. Why would authors want to sign up for yet-another-time-sucking-social-networking site?

Character Dossiers

You’re probably expecting me to say something like “A picture is worth a thousand words” or some-such. But somebody smarter than me already did. So instead, I’ll tell you that I’m a very visual person, and a page full of pictures of what I think a character or place looks like gets the idea across faster than a page full of text.

Every now and then I will trip across a picture of a person who looks very much like one of the characters in my head, or a character I suddenly WISH was in my head. Or a location I’d love to use in a story. My current method is to copy those pix and save them into location and character dossiers in Evernote for future reference. But now I may be tempted to save them in pinterest as well, if for no other reason than pinterest is so flipping easy to use.

Psycho-Social (Networking)

Pinterest makes it really simple to share pictures and graphics with others. Because of the social component, pinterest can be used as yet-another-funnel to guide people toward your product/e-mail list/whathaveyou, and I have every faith in the American ability to twist this new platform into a money-grubbing, graphical, spam-fest. I also guarantee you that the only way to make money using pinterest is as follows:

How To Make Money Using Pinterest!

Easy – write a book called “How to make money using Pinterest!”

Your Author Image

Another way to use pinterest is in your “image” or visual expression of yourself as an author or your work as part of your overall brand. Pin up a bunch of sunny, rainbow, happy unicorn pix… and people who enjoy those things may also be interested in what you’re writing about. Pin up a pix of dead animals left over from the Nine Inch Nails Downward Spiral photo shoot….and people who enjoy those things may also be interested in what you’re writing about.

Just make sure to keep your image accurate. Give people a false impression and they may not be forgiving about it.

At the very least, you’ll want to have pix of your awesome book covers up.

Pinspiration

Pinterest is a guaranteed time-suck if there ever was one, but is there a social networking site that isn’t? Nuff said. But you have to admit trolling through pinterest for inspiration is faster and more efficient than reading random articles on Wikipedia. If you wanted to find some cool visual inspiration for characters, places, weapons, fashion or food (LOTS of food and fashion on pinterest) then pinterest is one place to do it.

Just thinking out loud here, but Google Image Search might be better for graphical inspiration only because it has a larger resource pool to draw from. But pinterest adds in the ability to view current and trending images, if that makes a difference to you. And I’m sure their database will grow larger at a preposterous rate, but there is already plenty there to look at.

Pinterest – More Than Just Twitter’s Illiterate Younger Brother

Expect big things from this site. Once you see how easy and intuitive it is, you’ll agree that Pinterest is not a fad. It’s not next year’s Google Wave, and it has much to offer. If you’re already on facebook or twitter, you can log into pinterest through those services, so you really should give it a try.

Happy Pinning! And friend me up on pinterest here: http://pinterest.com/conradzero

Battle of the Online Music Players

Apple iCloud vs. Amazon Cloud Player vs. Google Music Beta

Online music storage is the future that replaces MP3 players, just like MP3 players replaced CD players, just like CD players replaced cassette players. The beauty of accessing your music where ever you go on whatever device you have available might just launch a renaissance of music appreciation. Or not. At the very least, it keeps your music backed up for you, and there’s some free options, so you should at least check them out.

PCMag.com has a great article describing the differences between Amazon, Apple and Google’s online music players.

I’m in on the Google Music Beta and I’ve been choking my internet connection with about 60GB of music that’s been uploading for the last two days. People complain about how long it takes for the initial upload, but seriously, 60GB is a preposterous amount of data. People are quick to dismiss data size because hard drive space is so cheap but seriously, it would take you MONTHS of listening for 24 hours a day just to play through all that music. And once its up on the cloud, it only needs to sync changes.

Too bad it took so long for online music storage to get popular – mp3tunes.com has been doing online music storage for YEARS. Sadly, their business model doesn’t work. 2GB is not enough space for all my music. And paying for more space is not reasonable. If I was going to pay for storage, I’d pay for generic online file storage like Dropbox or SugarSync that works for all my data files, docs and pictures, not just music.

Ah, music storage in the cloud. Ah, no DRM. Ah, no Apple or Itunes involved. Life is good. My nest step is to pick up a 4G phone so I have access to my entire music library almost anywhere. Can I get a Hell Yeah?

Conrad Zero LogoYours Darkly,

Conrad Zero

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The WordCount Blogathon 2011

WordCount Blogathon 2011 Participant BadgeI’ve decided to take part in WordCount’s Blogathon 2011:

The WordCount Blogathon is an annual event that brings together professional writers and anyone else with a blog for the purpose of improving what they do by posting to their respective blogs every day during the month of May.

http://michellerafter.com/the-2011-wordcount-blogathon/

My goals for the blogathon are meager. I was already considering trying to post here more often, and this is a timely opportunity to motivate myself. Plus, it has the added advantages of community-building and SEO. The real challenge is going to be coming up with useful and/or entertaining things to blog about each and every day for the next month.

Looking back over the last seven years of posts here at conradzero.com I noticed a shift away from short, entertaining posts to longer, more informative ones. (Actually, the short posts have been outsourced to twitter and facebook.) For this blogathon, I’m going to try releasing more moderate-sized posts, or perhaps break large posts into a series, while trying to keep the same proportion of entertainment/information. Infotainment? Regardless, I’ll do my best to remain a source of useful information and inspiration for other authors, especially those writing dark fiction.

Today is the last day to sign up, and you have until 11PM Pacific time. Best of luck to all the Blogathon participants!

Update: List of all WordCount Blogathon 2011 participants can be found here.

Conrad Zero LogoYours Darkly,

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Great Website: circusofbrassandbone.com

A great website for a great cause, http://www.circusofbrassandbone.com is an online serial-story by fellow MNSpec author, Abra Staffin Wiebe.

The Story

The Circus of Brass and Bone is a steampunk fiction story set primarily in 1800’s America. Although, since the main source of power in this alternate reality is aether and not steam, it’s more accurately labeled as aetherpunk.

From the website:

After the collapse of civilization, the show goes on….

The Cause

Abra’s mom is in some dire straits. She has an advanced cancer compounded by no job and no savings. You can read more about her situation here, but the upshot is that Abra is releasing The Circus of Brass and Bone on a “Pay What You Can” basis in order to raise funds to help offset her medical expenses.

What YOU can do to Help:

1-Read

Check out Episode One: Everyone Dies or listen to the podcast. You’ll find out just what a great writer Abra is.

2-Connect

Subscribe to the podcast, get on the e-mail list, friend up the facebook fan site. Check out the links below, so you don’t miss any of the upcoming episodes.

3-Donate

Seriously, Abra’s mom needs your help. Skip your daily Grande Mocha Frappuccino and toss a couple bucks towards a good cause.   Click here to Donate directly to Abra Staffin Wiebe through PayPal.

4-Share

Blog, Twit, Stumble, Digg, Friend, Comment and Like the hell out of this.

Links

Yours Darkly,

-Zero

Free Media, or How to Not Be a Zombie Pirate

Resources for Free Media

To help prevent the spread of Zombie Piracy, I’ve collected some resources to help you find media files (audio, video, e-books etc…) which are free to use. Make sure to read and adhere to the terms of use carefully. Some media might not be free (or even usable) for commercial purposes, author attribution might be required, or there may be other conditions:

Free Media (Images, Sounds, Video, etc…)

Free Pictures and Graphics:

  • Morguefile.com/ Free images for use even in commercial applications, but you cannot claim ownership of, or resell the images.
  • Flickr.com A popular picture-sharing site. The copyright and usage info for each picture can be found under “Additional Information”
  • Google Image Search is useful for finding free pictures and graphics, if you know how to use it. Use the   Advanced Search Settings and under “Usage Rights” select from the list of available filters.
  • Deviantart.com has tons of amazing art, but not all of it is free. You have to look at the details for each picture to see the copyright restrictions.

Free Sounds and Music:

Free E-books:

If you know of other good sources for free-to-use material, please post them in the comments section.

Here are some bonus features for you to think about as you download all that “free” media…

Fair Use?

Those who want to know the truth about “Fair Use” can get it straight from the horse’s mouth here: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

But here is all you really need to know, from the website:

The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined.

and this:

The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material.

Besides, you don’t really want to argue over the definition of “Fair Use” in court, right? It isn’t worth it.

One thing you can do to help avoid issues from the start is…

Attribution of Your Sources

Some “free” media require you to attribute the author/source/owner of the media. Attribution is simply mentioning the copyright holder. This could be as simple as putting their name near a quote like this:

Twitter is about as useful as a wet-nap is to a scuba diver.

-Conrad Zero

Or it could be listing the copyright holder in the tag of an mp3 file or movie credits.

Seems like every copyright holder has a different definition of “attribution” which makes it a pain in the ass to seem compliant.   I imagine that’s probably why very few websites actually do it. And even proper attribution to the copyright holder is no protection from accusation of unfair use. But providing attribution (even if it isn’t a requirement of use) certainly makes you look better, both online and in a court of law.

For more on attribution, check out this news article on the Blog Herald discussing “How to Provide Attribution in the Blogging World” or, examples of Copyright Attibution for Creative Commons Media(pdf).

And while WordPress thoughtlessly strips links out of image captions, making it near impossible to attribute graphics, this kind soul has developed a working solution, which I now implement here at conradzero.com.

Commercial/Business use

Much of the “free” media is only free for non-commercial use. As you can imagine, the definition of “Commercial Use” has become a slippery topic. If you have Google Adwords running on your personal blog, is that “Commercial”? What if you use your blog as a focal point for adding readers to an e-mail list where you send out ‘exclusive offers’? What if you have a Paypal ‘Donate’ button at the bottom of your site?

Again, I recommend erring on the side of caution. If you are making money, then you should use media that allows for commercial use.

Editing, Remixing and Derivative Works

If you plan on editing a graphic, pic, sound file or video, make sure the usage license allows for derivative works, otherwise contact the media’s copyright holder for permission.

Other Resources

For more info on copyright and usage, visit http://www.copyright.gov (and specifically, this pdf on copyright basics: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf )

Another useful resource is http://www.chillingeffects.org/ Need help sending a Cease and Desist because someone is using your media without your permission? Need help because you got a Cease and Desist? Chilling Effects helps non-lawyers like you and me understand the nuts and bolts behind the new-online-legalness.

ZeroLogo2_50x50Yours Darkly,
-Conrad Zero

Theoatmeal.com

I’m not sure if I’ve cut back on linking out to other websites, or if I’ve just gotten more picky. Regardless, theoatmeal.com gets my endorsement for being one of the funniest websites I’ve ever seen. It ranks right up there with joecartoon.com Definitely worthy of the Ubercool rating here at conradzero.com.

A random sampling of awesome posts:

Theoatmeal.com is not only entertaining, but educational as well. Make sure to learn up on your apostrophes and semicolons.

Matthew Inman is the man behind the scenes at theoatmeal.com.   After you laugh your ass off there, make sure you buy him a cup of coffee.

waxsealYours Darkly,
-Conrad Zero

5 Simple Ways to Make Twitter Automatically AutoMagical

The Future of TwitterAutomatic for the Tweeple

Welcome to 2010. Strangely, the things we’ve expected to be available like flying cars and holodecks… aren’t. Instead, we have the ability to communicate out to the entire internet-connected world and tell them what we had for dinner using Twitter.com. Yay.

For those who still don’t know the difference between Twitter and a tweet, read this post.

Believe it or not, Twitter does have uses beyond the obvious time-suck. For anyone wanting to cast their social network a little wider, Twitter is as simple as it gets. If nothing else, it offers more links back to your content. The act of sending tweets isn’t difficult, but who wants to deal with following/unfollowing people and cut-n-pasting blog post links into a tweet? Sounds like more upkeep than it’s worth for just another link back to your blog. If there was only a way to automate the process…

Well you’re in luck, because I have some tips that turn Twitter into your slave, and make it automatically administrate and update   itself with content for you!   Real content too, not the B.S. jokes and quotes the New Media Spambags are pumping out.

If you don’t do Twitter because you have no idea what to tweet about, take advantage of these simple tips to get some auto-tweeting working for you. If you are already a tweetmaster, these tips are an easy way to add some content and housekeeping to your existing regimen.

If you don’t have one already, set up an account at Twitter.com then follow these simple tips to make Twitter work for you:

1 – Automate Twitter Using SocialOomph

SocialOomph.com (formerly known at TweetLater) has a terrible name, but does some wonderful auto-administration of your Twitter account. It’s totally worth the [FREE] that they charge.

Set up an account at SocialOomph and add your Twitter account credentials. Yes, that means sharing your Twitter account username and password . Don’t worry, they’re good for it.

Once your Twitter account is added, click ‘edit’ and check the following options:

  • Auto-follow people who follow you.
  • Auto-unfollow people who unfollow you.
  • Automatically e-mail you a list of Twitter replies. You’ll get a condensed e-mail of Twitter replies people sent to you, so you never have to check on Twitter to see if you’re missing anything.
  • Automatically send a welcome message to new followers. Make sure to type in a short message which will be sent to everyone who follows you. Here’s mine:

Thanks for the follow! You can check out more of my dark-fiction-author-nonsense at conradzero.com

Tweet you later!
-Conrad Zero

Note: You can also use SocialOomph to upload a bunch of pre-written tweets and schedule them to post at certain dates/times, but that means you have to write tweets and upload them. I figured I would point this out because it’s a handy consolidation of work, but it isn’t exactly automatic.

2 – Automate your Blog Posts to Twitter using Twitterfeed

Twitterfeed is a service which takes the rss feed from your blog and automatically generates tweets with a link to your blog posts and posts them on Twitter for you!

To set up Twitterfeed, you will need the RSS feed address of your blog. Mine is http://conradzero.com/feed which is the default for self-hosted WordPress blogs (just replace my website name with your own.) If you have a hosted site like Blogger or LiveJournal, look on your site for a Subscribe button or a graphic which looks like this:

RSS-FEED-Icon

Right click on the graphic on your site, and copy the address there. That should be your RSS feed. Paste it into Twitterfeed. Once you get your RSS feed entered and validated, then add your Twitter account information and… Bam! All UR blogposts are now belong to Twitter!

3 – Automate Youtube to Twitter

Login or create an account at Youtube.com. Under Account Settings look for Activity Sharing or AutoSharing. Here, you can configure Youtube to auto-post your video rankings, favorites and comments out to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

Bam! Free content automatically generated for Twitter based on nothing more than trolling around Youtube! Hells, you were doing that already!

4 – Auto-tweet Myspace updates

Despite media to the contrary, Myspace is not dead. Furthermore, Myspace.com can also be automated to bounce your status updates out to Twitter.

See this link for more details: http://www.myspace.com/sync

5 – Automate Facebook updates to Twitter

I heard that if Facebook was a country, it would be the 6th largest country in the world. It would also look like the Eastern Bloc, and smell like Seattle.   I also hear it’s the only way you can get grandma online to look at pix of the grandkids.

Like tips #3 and #4 above, you can also have Facebook auto-post your updates out to Twitter (and back the other way…) using this app:   http://apps.facebook.com/twitter/ [Note: you will need to login with a Facebook account to access this page.]

6- Showcase your current Twitter posts on your website.

Adding a sidebar to your website that showcases your latest Twitter posts is an easy way to put fresh content on your website(s). Best of all it’s set-and-forget. Pick from the options below depending on how your website is hosted:

WordPress – There are many WordPress plug-ins which will show your latest tweets in a sidebar widget. I use the “Twitter for WordPress” plugin by Ricardo González, and you can see the results on my homepage at conradzero.com (Scroll down the right-hand side, under the header “Twittering”)

Blogger – Here’s a link to a Twitter widget you can insert into your Blogger blog: http://twitter.com/badges/blogger

Others (Javascript) – If you use LiveJournal or other pages which run old-school HTML, This site has a simple Javascript that can be added to your page: http://www.cthreepo.com/blogthis/index.html

Others (PHP) – If you aren’t afraid of a little PHP, then with some cut-and-pasting you can add this prebuilt code to your website: http://workbench.cadenhead.org/twitter-rss-to-html/

WTF? – If none of these options work for you, there are plenty of other coders and plugin-ers out there creating software to show your twitter posts as stocktickers, sidebars, banner ads, etc… My suggestion is to find someone who is doing what you want to do, and ask them how they did it. Leave a comment here if you find something useful!

Once you’re finished, every new Twitter post will be displayed on your website pages.

Living with Auto-Twitter in 2010 and Beyond

Once you’ve strapped Twitter into this auto-magical configuration, what next?   Simple. Go back to your business as usual! Update your blog, Facebook, Myspace, etc. Rate and comment on videos at Youtube. If you followed my tips above, all these actions will generate content for you automatically on Twitter.com, and your website sidebar will be updated with your latest tweets!

Add a blog post… Bam! There’s two extra links to your blog post with no extra effort!

Someone adds you as a friend… Pow! Your account auto-adds them back, AND sends them a thank you!

Someone unfollows you…   Zap! Your account auto-unfollows the fool! So Naygh!

Who knows, maybe you’ll even start adding your own random thoughts to Twitter, or you can ignore Twitter completely and let it work for you in the background, offering up links to your content.

OK so it ain’t a flying car, but unless you’re going to build one, you’ll just have to settle for these Twitter-tips. For those of you worried this is all a bit too Big Brother, keep in mind this is 2010, not 1984. Feel free to share these tips with others, and link back to this post.

Do you know of   other great twitter automations? Anything I missed? Anything better than what I’ve suggested? Leave a comment!

Conrad Zero LogoYours Darkly,

Conrad Zero

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