Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day 2 Is Always a Doozy

Appartment 325 - Home of an indie author becoming an app developer.
I made myself a logo this morning! :)
I didn't forget everyone yesterday, I was exhausted and literally fell asleep studying. Studying?


Yesterday I:

  • Figured out WHY my Indesign --> Flash --> Adobe Air application on my Kindle Fire First Generation kept continuously blinking between the two spreads. I didn't know I needed to go in and assign a STOP command on each "frame" (InDesign, pages are spreads. When you export them to Flash, they become frames). I tried it out and it worked by copying the code in the Slideshow Template included in the Flash Pro New Document Android Library. 
  • I once again checked my market and didn't find a independent magazine featuring digital content and articles aimed at the "I use technology to make life more enjoyable, but I don't enjoy the technical aspects about it" demographic.
  • I began working on a shell type master design for an app. After trading some great chatter back and forth on the Kindle boards with John R. Henderson, I like his idea of certain shells as far as functionality goes and then I'm just updating the content rather than re-inventing the wheel every month. Also, from a UX (a very cool acronym in the app developer world that means user experience) perspective, continuity across my app properties will make things easier for readers. So win-win. It's more efficient and better design. So I've made a Master Page in Indesign that is landscape layout, 1024 x 600 (I need to actually make it bigger I found out later last night to the biggest kindle fire screen size specs because you can scale down with ease, but scaling up, well that's just nasty in most cases). But the basic design is two slim black panels along the left and right sides for navigation icons, the top left and right have triangles that are programmed to previous page and next page, but I will have other icons that take readers to specific parts of the app.
  • I compiled my "textbooks" for this project:

Okay, yes that is about $125 worth of Kindle Books. But what I'm doing is probably a number of college courses worth of education.

Starting all the way to the right, the red Classroom in a Book is a series done by Adobe that I really enjoy. For roughly $20, they have an electronic copy available for all of the CS6 products that walk the user through 10+ different projects. It's hands on training for pennies on the dollar compared to me going to a local community college two or three days a week for 10 weeks and sit through the demonstrations. I'm prefectly capable of watching videos and learning on my own accelerated time frame. And, the Classroom in a Book series comes with the ability to DOWNLOAD the project files, both start and finished product for reference, plus videos of the lessons. Again, $20.

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."Aristotle
The ActionScript books I have not begun using yet, but they were recommended in the green Android Appplications book (get to more about that in a minute) and I'm familiar with the O'Reilly brand and their cookbook tomes. I used an VB cookbook 10 years ago when I worked for Alcoa and was teaching myself macros for excel to take an 8 hour process of data entry down to a 1.5 hour process. :0)

The Dummies book is another series I love for learning new skills. I used Writing Fiction for Dummies religiously when I wrote and published Cancelled and it helped me put out an excellent product for a newbie. I plan to read that AFTER the Android Applications for Air book, with the ability to skip over anything I already learned in first book.

Developing Android Applications with Adobe Air

Read 5 chapters last night, have 3 pages of handwritten notes! :)

The flash programming language is Actionscript. Now, I tried to learn Java for about 2 weeks before moving to Flash, and I gotta say, I enjoy reading ActionScript code more than Java. When I look at Java code snippets, my face makes a frown in the eyebrow/forehead area because there are just a ton of acronyms and abbreviations that to regular programmers are second nature, but to me, might as well be a foreign language. From the code snippets I've looked at that are written in Actionscript (albeit, intro projects) I am able to better follow what the commands are saying because they are mostly written out.

var dp:DataProvider = new DataProvider();

Okay I know the above is a little scary. I know "Var" means vairable (Java has that too, but it has all of these types of variables too), and I don't know yet what dp. means at first, my guess is dataprovider, and I understand addItem as a concept, and label:SliderDirection, yes, I get too that we're going to have one label that's for the horizontal sliding and one for the vertical sliding.

I just feel more confident trying to make sense out of ActionScript than I did trying to learn and read Java. Who knows, maybe AFTER I become well-versed in ActionScript I will take better to Java. :)

I also learned yesterday that there is a website called SafariBooksOnline (about $20-$50 per month) where I can access a ton of technical manuals and IT type publications like O'Reilly etc. This will be an investment I make down the road because here's the thing, as I'm reading Developing Android Applications with Adobe Air I know some things have already changed! That's right, when it comes to software, releases are every year to a few years, features change, interaction between programs change. This is where a living, breathing digital library of these titles would be worth the cost.

I also learned about because I was watching a ton of tutorials from an Adobe Evangelist named Paul Trani. I like his teaching style and so I looked up his personal website and learned he also teaches via where I can subscribe for $25-$40 a month and watch and get the files of over 1500 tutorials on there! Again, once I get through this library I have above, I will likely see what's on so I am better informed to follow along the tutorials.

TakeAways So Far from DAAwAA

Adobe Air application are installed as STAND ALONE programs on almost ALL platforms.
  • This means my little magazine can have the code made once, then then with a few modifications, eventually deploy on desktops, iPads, Nooks, Kindles, and Android Smartphones and Tablets. All I can think is Pinky & The Brain, that I'm trying to take over the world. LOL!
  • Software like the Android operating system is global, meaning the smartphone in India is running Android just as the smartphone in Brazil is and the tablet in Italy.
***The Kindle First Generation (the model they RAN OUT of in late August 2012 just before they released the NEW Kindle Fire base model and HD models) does NOT support Adobe Air. Yeah. This is a problem for Kindle App Developers like myself because there are millions of those devices running around out on the market and we have to develop for the lowest common denominator. Now, in my Kindle Developer documentation on the Amazon Developer Services site, there are ways to target specific devices in my code, but I don't quite understand that yet, so I'm going with lowest common denominator and will package the Air Runtime (it's the shell in which an Air application runs in) with the app. Oh, and it took me like 3 hours to figure out this information the other day when I was trying to get my own homemade app to even install and boot up on my First Generation Kindle Fire.


Feedback I am increasingly getting from other creative, writer types in my sphere of freinds is along the lines of how what I'm doing is just sooooo out of their comfort/ability zone. PPPPPFFFFTTT!!! You think this isn't hard for me, too? It ABSOLUTELY IS! I see words I don't remotely understand in these learn how to program books that I'm constantly having to look up and figure out what the author means by a phrase like

"Copy and save your assets to the public library folder in the vars folder on the applications project screen."

Huh? No, not even huh, many times I'm going WTF?!?!?!! I scratch my head, make the frowny face that will probably give me plenty of premature wrinkles, and then go to the glorious thing that is the internet and try to decipher the sentence. Other times, I acknowledge the sentence isn't FOR ME to understand yet, and just exposure to terminology etc. that I will understand more once I DO a few projects.

So no more reading this thinking, well Elizabeth can do this, I never could. Oh for crying out loud, BUCK UP! Below is what our world IS, it's time as authors that we consider how many OTHER ways we can get our stories and ideas into the hands of readers.

 Maybe you're not ready to learn to make apps, but do something else technology based to increase your abilities as a PUBLISHER of kick-ass, smile inducing, content. Put together a package of books like I did on learning HTML so you can make/optimize your author website (I did this myself 5 years ago when I first began web writing), or learn how to format your OWN ebooks, even if you do still hire it out, you will have a better base knowledge to keep up with the growth and increasing expectations of devices and readers. OR, learn how to manipulate images, which has MAJOR applications for a self-published, self-promoting author. You can make banners, cute funny memes on your social media etc.

Off my soap box. Unfortunately, there was much, much more I learned in DAAwAA, but I'll save that for post 3 because it will tie into my UX designs. I am out of time (my playlist is over, I use those to set myself timers for tasks), Yesterday, I also took a much needed 3 hour break from working on this project by getting out of the house with my daughter. It's important for those of us who work from home to step away, especially as most of us enjoy what we do, we could work on it all the time!

Monday, January 14, 2013


Awww, thank you for the house plant. Though fair warning...I will probably kill it. I have a black thumb.

Welcome to Appartment 325, the new home of Elizabeth Ann West and her journey to become an app developer with 0 programming knowledge. Okay, not EXACTLY zero, I can somewhat understand the overall gist, but I can't read, translate, or write code in any language aside from markup languages like HTML.

When I decided to write a fiction novel, I started a new blog at Since this is an entirely new ball of wax, though somewhat related to what I've done before, I figured a new home was a good idea for a few reasons:

  1. I need to chronicle my journey. Back when I was working on Cancelled, some days having my blog to talk about my obstacles and challenges was WHAT kept me going when things got tough. I already expect this journey to be frustrating, it already has been.
  2. By beginning at the start, I make a handy step-by-step guide for people to come after me. Why should computer programmers have all of the fun with mobile apps? Exactly.
  3. I can keep my various business/hobby interests separate and not confuse audiences only interested in one or the other.

So What Are You Planning Now, Elizabeth?

A digital magazine. It has been a dream of mine for over a year now to take what I've learned from writing non-fiction, my ability to lead even the most unwilling, and the appreciative love I have for the graphic arts and marry them into one project. LinQed Magazine. 

In general, when a good idea bugs me this long I'm rather hopeless to give it up. Can I code? No. Have I used Adobe's Creative Suite of products longer than 3 months? No. Is that going to stop me? HELL NO!

I started with the plan to just format the magazine as an ebook. I know how to do that. But the problem is that's like calling a Harley Davidson Powerwheel and Harley Davidson Motorcycle close enough to the same thing. It's not.

Ebook formats can't handle embedded video well. Well, epub can but aside from the Apple iBookStore, epub distributors are mostly a sinking ship still relying on bilge pumps to stay afloat. Eventually, those motors are going to shit to bed. And Amazon's Kindle format can't handle embedded video either, even though the Kindle Fires can. So this means to have a truly interactive magazine, with moving parts and videos etc, I need an app.

Wow. You're brave, are you sure you can do this?

Well to be honest there isn't much out there, yet, about developing Kindle Apps for Dummies (that's me, and I'm proud of it). Because the Fire was so late to join the Android Party, almost all of the guides out there for easy app creation are for Google Play's marketplace, or Apple iOS (which isn't android, but Adobe exports easily to Apple apps).

I am straddling two worlds. I am a member of the geek end user world, but by and large I can't explain very well to other authors what it is I'm excited about at the little step stage. For example, today I managed to export a sample Adobe Flash app in the proper protocols for my First Generation Kindle Fire, sideload it, and install it. All it does is swipe between three panels, but it's a heck of a lot better than my homemade Indesign to Flash attempt that has Tourette's Syndrome by just flashing back and forth between the two spreads. And even that previous sentence, most of my authors friends have no idea what I'm talking about when I say spreads, sideload, and Indesign to Flash. 

The other world I am visiting but NOT a part of is the developer world. I don't speak their language, and I have to be careful on forums and in the public spaces because it's easy for me to ruffle feathers. After all, I'm the equivalent of someone coming into my author forums saying they are going to write a book but asking what is a noun?


Mostly I'm watching every chance I get. :)

Plan for Version 1.0

The hardest part of this project is NOT getting so caught up in my perfectionism that my ideal of what's good enough in my head doesn't remotely match up with my burgeoning app developer skills. 

I have identified that there IS a need for clear content for the Gen X/Boomer generation using technology for entertainment, buying digital content, but without a real love for the technical side of things. Everytime they touch their iPad, Kindle Fire, or Android phone, they do so for either work or relaxation. They don't pick it up to have their intelligence insulted or to be reminded at how ignorant they are of what's going on under the hood. 

Nasa. I have to make something with a broader appeal than a Nasa App and a Sun Alert. Seriously.

Now, the paid magazines, the number #1 as I write this is still #755 in the App Store overall. This means that so far, magazines aren't popular enough to overtake the games world. But that's okay, because if there were already a ton of highly ranked magazine apps in the paid store, I'd be screwed. There would be no more room at the table.

But Elizabeth, print magazines already have apps and they're free!

Funny you should mention that. If you read the reviews, most of those users are not happy that the app is free, but THEN you have to pay $1.99 and up per issue, all the way up to almost $7.99! It's not that they don't want to pay for the content, it's that the app doesn't fully replace the print version and in some cases it's more expensive/not included in the price of getting the print subscription. 

Moral of the story? Don't nickel and dime people to death and use false advertising to get them to download a free app with in-app purchasing for anything worth time.

No, Linqed Magazine will be $0.99 an issue. Apps make 70% still on their list prices, and each month will be a unique app unto itself for a number of reasons:

  1. People value what they pay for. As I plan to make the lion's share of revenue to support the magazine from ads inside, I need to make sure my audience is captive enough to interact with the content. If someone pays $0.99, they will at least peruse through the app unlike a freeload spree where Linqed gets forgotten.
  2. This industry is moving TOO FAST as far as capabilities go for me to tie myself down to one app that just does pushes to the "subscribers" devices. First, that will quickly be ignored. Second, I need flexibility to stay current with the latest capabilities of devices and most importantly, what readers WANT.
  3. There's no money in a subscription model for CONSUMERS. First, a magazine doesn't necessarily need previous issues to make sense. No, an issue should be a self-contained product, much like a novel is, even in a series. Now, let's say I have an author who wants to serialize a short form novel across four months. We can do a quick summary "Alex is staring down her fiancee after just learning he is having a baby with another woman...." and state that the earlier installments of the story are in Issue X, Y, Z with links for the customer to go get them IF this part of the magazine is what interests them.... Most app customers want to use an app and then move on. It's more like an ebook in terms of consumption than many think. Even games, there's a reason there are like 20 versions of Angry Birds.
  4. More apps builds my developer name more and more making visibility higher. There's a difference between a one off app and an app developer who has 20 apps out on the marketplace.....
  5. I can always make back issues FREE. Apps still enjoy the ability to just price the app for free.

I am at a fork in the path right now. Originally I was going to try to use a nifty "Make my Indesign file an app" service. 
  • Services like Adobe DPS (which requires a Mac first and foremost) or 3rd party services are $1,000 or more PER ISSUE and per platform. That methodology lost out pretty early.
  • Next, I decided I would just learn Java. It can't be that hard, right? Once I started doing that (I made it to Chapter 4 of an intro to Java programming book) I realized that method would completely kill my joy in this project. Severely. I don't want to ruin the artistic side of the project by interacting with down at the file call out in the proper syntax. Blech.
  • Finally, I've realized a number of the tools I already pay for with my Adobe Creative Suite membership will make Android and iOS apps. It's just not quite click. done. So this is where I am right now.
But, do I try to figure out how to make Indesign to Flash, or just Flash from the get go? The only hesitation I have is that by designing in Indesign first, I have more power to export to PDF, epub, and even Kindle formats with just a few modifications, and it will support the multiple layouts and liquid layout designs (fancy speak for making the magazine adapt to the screen size it's viewed on and the orientation it's being held in. Yes, super cool.)

I need to find out if Flash export to InDesign. I don't think so. 

I also need to learn if the bug I experienced today is a common thing. Is it too much of a bastardization of the developer process to get used to going InDesign --> Flash Pro? In other words, am I making a bad habit by not learning Flash Pro more first?

So tomorrow is a new day to do more research and play around. Again, welcome to Appartment 325, home of one wacky author who woke up one day and realized she needed to become an app developer.