Posted in Blog

The Kill Switch Mystery

I recently finished my Telstra contract and decided to upgrade to an iPhone 11, not because there was anything wrong with my old phone, but to take advantage of Telstra’s offer of $20 a month off my bill for the next 24 months. I backed up the old phone to iCloud and then the nice Telstra lady began the download to the new phone. It was going very slowly. but she assured me everything would be hunky dory in a few hours, so I took it home. It wasn’t hunky dory at all—the phone wouldn’t connect to the WiFi.

Most of the apps were greyed out and the WiFi emoji was missing from the top tight of the screen. It was replaced by 4G because WiFi was disconnected and slow because the phone was trying to install the apps using Mobile Data—which is also potentially expensive.

If you touch a grey-ed out app, the phone makes it top priority and tries to begin the download. But in my case, the download would freeze after a few seconds.

I went through all the solutions I could find in the Apple Support pages and searched those helpful folks on YouTube. In order of priority, they suggested: Turn WiFi Off and On; Turn the iPhone off and on; Put the phone in Aeroplane Mode and then back; Reset Network settings, etc. To no avail… though I did notice that after a Reset the WiFi symbol would appear briefly then fade away.

The folks at Telstra, who have had years of training in reading and understanding arcane phone contracts, were stumped when it came to actually understanding how a smartphone works. Time to stop playing about, I decided.Time to consult the Genii at the Apple Genius Bar.

My Genius went through all the obvious solutions again; she also ran it through a hardware diagnostics program; she re-set the system… to no avail.

Finally, there was nothing for it but to call an extraordinary meeting of Le grand conclave des génies de la pomme. They appeared from back rooms, attired in green shirts, name tags and ceremonial masks (contre le Covid-19) and silently formed a circle around my iPhone, which was lying like a pathetic sacrifice in the centre of a newly sanitised oak veneer altar in the great temple of the Canberra Apple Store. They consulted in whispers and eventually agreed that the last and most drastic option was to wipe the phone’s software completely and re-install the back-up from scratch. Then a lone voice was heard, from the back row of the assembled Genii: “Does he by any chance have a VPN installed?”

He did, indeed. He had installed Surfshark VPN

I had installed Surfshark on the old phone to protect my data when I was relying on public WiFi in malls and libraries. And I had conscientiously turned it off before backing up, so logically, it should not have any influence on the re-install.

When the iPhone installs from an iCloud backup, it first downloads the Operating System, then the Settings and finally the Apps. They appear at first greyed out, then one-by-one, a clock-face wipe turns each one on. The order of turning on is probably not random, just opaque, but you can influence it by tapping an app to make it download first or next. However, in my case, tapping had not effect: the app stayed grey.

So where does a VPN come in?

The Culprit

Most modern VPNs include a function called Kill Switch. The purpose is to speedily and automatically cut the WiFi connection if the site tries to download rogue apps or viruses to your phone. Even though Surfshark had not been fully downloaded, the Kill Switch, is part of the Settings and it was On (see screen). So, as soon as the Kill Switch detected the phone trying to load an App, it cut the WiFi connection.

Resetting the Network briefly opened the WiFi connection, only to have the Kill Switch detect a problem and cut the connection again. Left alone, this would have gone on forever.

The Solution

Simple, though perhaps not instinctive: tap the (greyed out) Surfshark icon to make it download first. The Kill Switch recognises it as a “friend” and lets it install. Once installed, Surfshark recognises the WiFi network and allows all the other apps to download.

Better still, turn OFF the Kill Switch before backing up to iCloud.

The symptoms are baffling, but, like acupressure, the solution only requires a single finger tap. I record this in the expectation that in the future, some poor baffled iPhone owner might experience the same problem and Google will take his/her hand and guide her/him to this blog.

Learn more about how the VPN Kill Switch works.

Posted in Scribbling

Writing & publishing a novel with Scrivener® (Part 2)

My novel is finished!!! Quickly, upload the Kindle and PDF versions to Amazon. The sooner it’s up there, the sooner the dollars will roll in and the critics line up to praise me. Next step order 50 author copies to sell at the Saturday market. Pick up the box from the post office and proudly open at Page 1…

Oops. I found a typo. Oh well, what’s one typo?

Oops, A friend read the copy I gave her and she found 50 more typos. Oh no, I have 49 more copies full of typos. Sad story.

All the eBook and print-on-demand services tell you IN CAPITAL LETTERS to proofread your book before pushing the PUBLISH button. Spellcheck is a wonderful invention, except it is not good at recognising the wrong word rather than the spelling mistake (their/there, all ready/already, assent/ascent, its/it’s) and as for apostrophe’s… If you’re like me, proofreading from a screen is a task fraught with pitfalls—I need to follow the text with my finger on real paper and mark it up with a pencil.

Moral: print your book out, damn the expense.

Amazon offers an author’s proof copy for this very purpose (the equivalent of galleys), except… not in Australia. In fact, during Covid-19, Amazon doesn’t even want to sell a book to Australia. Which is where I am. So I ordered my proof copy from Blurb in Melbourne and press-ganged my wife to proof-read it. This was the result!

Typos marked with PostIt notes

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is the most straightforward path for making your book available. If you’ve used Scrivener to compile it as a .mobi and .pdf (see Part 1 of this topic), it’s as simple as drag and drop and then decide on a price for the eBook and Paperback. Within a few days your title is on sale in the Amazon Bookshop; within a few weeks it will be on sale in all the Amazon Bookshops (even Australia).

Amazon offers an expanded distribution option called KDP Select, which will make your title available in more on-line bookshops and give you access to the Kindle Lending Library. However, in order to join KDP Select, you have to give Amazon the exclusive rights to your title for a period, and lower your royalty percentage.

While Amazon is the world’s largest eBook publisher, it is not the only one. If you don’t mind being a little more “hands-on” you might like to include Smashwords in your sales arsenal.

As of writing, Smashwords is distributing 544,188 eBook titles. Its main format is .epub, which is the standard sold through Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and a dozen other outlets. Smashwords has good links with libraries and it offers time-based promotions. If you don’t take up Amazon’s KDP Select offer, it’s worth uploading a copy of your novel to Smashwords as well.

Remember, Scrivener will compile your book in both .mobi and .epub formats.

As for printed copies of your book, price control become more slippery. Unlike publisher distribution, where the bookseller orders in the number of copies she can sell and takes about 40% of the RRP, on-line outlets print your book on demand—one copy at a time, if necessary. As you can see above, I priced “Ben” through Amazon at US$15. The printing cost per copy is US$4.62 and my 60% Royalty (which appears very generous if you are being published by Penguin) of the nett price is US$4.38 per copy. The royalty drops to 40% if you choose KDP’s expanded distribution.

Strange to relate, Amazon Australia has priced the eBook at Aus$4.34 and paperback at Aus$28 (presumably because it includes Covid-19 postage from the USA).

I printed 20 copies of Ben through Blurb in Melbourne. The print cost was higher than Amazon (AU$7.40 per copy), but the delivery time is under a week. (currently Amazon quotes 6 weeks to Australia, but a friend in Canada got her copy in a week). Blurb’s main output appears to be high-quality photo books, cookbooks, etc, but they do an exceptionally good gob with “trade books” (ie. my novel). I listed “Ben” in the Blurb on-line bookshop and set the price at $16.

Blurb will also list your book in the Global Retail Network, which is a branch of Ingram Spark, the global book distributors. The GRN will make your paperback available through a wide variety of on-line booksellers such as Booktopia and A&R. However, the price of a copy will be set by the bookseller. I’ve seen my 320 page paperback listed at both Au$18 and $38.

So, if it all seems too hard, you can always buy yourself a box of books ($7.40 each through Blurb, plus postage), set yourself up at the local market  with a sign:

Special deal, signed by the author. Just $20
Discounted today only $15!!!

Or you could beg local booksellers to stock it (some will).