- I don’t think I’ve announced it broadly yet, but I am now agented, for both fiction and nonfiction. Either is a first for me, and it may make any number of things better on the writing side.
- This isn’t glaciation, obviously, but having been researching the coming Ice Age for a year or so now in the service of a Neanderthals novel, I was riveted: A calf-deep wave of ice fragments advances across the land like a cross between Jack Frost and The Blob.
- One way to solve the Raspberry Pi stuttering keyboard problem is to use a wireless keyboard/mouse set. The one I have (the Logitech MK520) works beautifully. Stutter gone. (The high road, of course, is to power everything, including the RPi itself, from a wireless hub.)
- Microsoft has offered B&N $1B for the entire Nook business, including the readers and all facets of the B&N store. This says a lot less about Microsoft than it says about B&N–none of it good.
- Here’s an inside look at a dedicated bitcoin mining machine. Now, could the same box mount a brute force attack against password hashes?
- A bunch of do-it-yourself Muppets present ten reasons why time travel is no good.
- I’ve discovered a spectacular new cheese: Uniekaas Black Label 3-year-old gouda. (Scroll down.) Bears about as much resemblance to the gouda I knew as a Porsche does to a Trabant. Pair it with any dry red; I’ve had it with Middle Sister Rebel Red and Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel. Actually, it pairs well with Real Sangria. Or, for that matter, whole milk. Sheesh, even dead air. We get it at Whole Foods. Try it.
- Still another voice calling for an end to team sports in schools. Team sports are how we teach high schoolers that alpha males can do whatever they want to the people below them on their ill-begotten ladders.
- Want another reason? The most highly paid state employees in nearly all states are…college sports coaches. And we all know how “college” college sports are.
- Watch out, Colorado. Here come the pot machines.
- It’s not cinder blocks, but something altogether more boggling: a pair of quadricopters tossing a pole to one another, catching it, and balancing it like I used to do with rakes, only way better. (Thanks to Bill Higgins for the link. )
- Salon can’t seem to decide if self-publishing makes sense, or if it doesn’t.
- 10 thoroughly obscure terms, of which I knew 7–which makes me a bit of a language geek. I knew everything but “pataphor,” “isograms,” and “capitonym.” I suspect those are relatively recent coinages, compared to “zeugma.” (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.”
- NPR: Kids who drink whole milk are thinner than kids who drink skim milk. Fat makes you thin. Carbs make you fat. The evidence just keeps on a-pilin’.
- It gets worse: Life extension by calorie restriction doesn’t work. Starving yourself doesn’t make you thin, doesn’t make you live longer, and beyond the continuous suffering it entails, may make you so unpleasant to be around that people will run when they see you coming.
- Related: From the Terms I Didn’t Know Until Yesterday Department: The second meal effect : The glycemic index of the food eaten at any given meal will affect blood glucose levels at subsequent meals as well. Eating low-GI all the time may be necessary to keep your blood sugar in line.
- And while I’m being a party pooper: Why restaurants make you fat. Carol and I make a point of not eating out more than once a week. In a lot of months, we have a sit-down restaurant meal maybe twice.
- People think that food labeled “organic” tastes better. It’s supposed to, therefore it must, I guess. (I drink organic dairy products to avoid hormones; beyond that, it’s case by case.)
- As if we didn’t have enough to worry about these days, H7N9 may get airborne.
- Web publishing favors cats. Print publishing favors dogs.
- The latest Nuts & Volts (April 2013) has a cover story on a modern reconception of the classic AM low-power broadcaster, using a 12K5 space charge tube. The twist is that the broadcaster is fed by an Arduino board called VoiceShield, which can generate all sorts of audio signals.
- From Kent Kotal: Behold the 20 richest musicians of all time. Note that the richest one is not a rock star.
- Also from Kent: Chicago radio legend Clark Weber will be doing on-the-air commentaries on WIND-AM. Clark is also a ham radio op (W9FFB) and I contacted him a few times back in the late 70s while I still lived in Chicago.
- For a trifling $44M, you can live in the fortress of Roman Emperor Tiberius. My only concern: If it’s haunted, it’s gonna be way haunted. (See Tacitus, Annals V1.) Thanks to Steve Sayre for the link.
- My four-year-old niece Julie is working on a pair of roller skates…built from the Lego set we gave her for Christmas. Somewhere her engineer grandfather is smiling.
- Stay up too late and damage your genes. You cannot win by shorting sleep. Somebody, somewhere may be able to survive on five hours a night. It almost certainly isn’t you. (Thanks to Mike Bentley for the link.)
- We have just lost Jan Howard Finder. No details available yet. I only met him once, but he bought my story “Marlowe” for his anthology Alien Encounters in 1982. 74 is too young for a man of his energy and high spirits. (Thanks also to Mike Bentley for letting me know.)
- Here’s an interesting story about a major publisher (unnamed) who won’t sell an indie bookstore more than 200 copies of a book at a time, even if the store buys them on a nonreturnable basis and pays cash. Happy ending: The indie bookseller drove down to Target, bought 300 copies of the book at 45% discount, and pulled off the author signing, no thanks to the idiot publisher. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- Refining certain rare earth metals from their ores is about to become easier and cheaper. Alas, ytterbium is not on the list. Bummer.
- As much as we support Girl Scouts, I must warn that their Samoas coconut cookie contain sorbitol, to which some people (me included) are sensitive. I don’t think this was always the case. Be careful. (Their Savannah Smiles are just as good, and do not contain sorbitol.)
- If the PadFone 2 is too big for you (see yesterday’s Contra) ASUS announced the FonePad, a…7″…smartphone. The notion of holding a thing like that up to your face doesn’t bother me at all, but I’m just weird.
- Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio may buy the bricks-n-mortar retail arm of the company, but does not want the Nook division. This could be trouble…I’m just not sure which side the trouble is on.
- Discovered an interesting new wine: Middle Sister Rebel Red. Dry but in-your-face fruit-forward, almost no oak (a big plus for me) and very spicy in a wonderfully peculiar way. Highly recommended.
- We could see a comet hit Mars in 2014. Just our luck that it might happen on the hemisphere of the planet that we can’t see.
- Oh what a feeling, to drive a…
- Here’s a nice summary of the current state of the Sun. Something truly odd is going on: We’re getting very close to the predicted solar maximum, and yet yesterday’s sunspot number was…25. It should be more like 250. I built a steerable 10M dipole for this?
- While perusing solar activity graphs such as the above, I discovered that IPCC climate science chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri has admitted that there’s been no global warming for seventeen years. I guess Dr. Pachauri has joined the Deniers Club. Then again, because he isn’t a climate scientist, I guess there’s really no reason to believe anything he says.
- From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: Rageaholic , someone who simply cannot resist expressing anger, either in person or online, especially in comments sections or discussion forums.
- Related to that: Larry Gellman of HuffPo describes anger addiction in terms of rage against the Other, which is basically my longstanding definition of tribalism: Tribalism is the reflexive demonization of the Other. There can be many overlapping tribes, each with its own Others.
- And, of course, anger’s nonobvious implication: Whatever or whomever makes you angry owns you.
Very quick note here: I will be giving a webinar today on ebook piracy and DRM at noon Mountain Time (11:00 Pacific Time, 1 PM Central Time) to a site called Book Street Cafe, based in Phoenix but not geographically limited except by time zones. It was founded by some of my friends from the now-folded Arizona Book Publishing Association, which I belonged to all the time I lived in Scottsdale and acted as president for two years. The webinar is scheduled for 45 minutes, with another 15 minutes for questions and discussion.
Book Street Cafe is a paid membership organization, but they’ve given me a one-time link for my webinar that I can post. If you want to participate, click here.
You’ll have to either have Java running or download the Citrix app that underlies the GoToMeeting technology. You’ll be able to do the download when you click to the site. I know that Java is in a bad odor right now, but the Citrix app is relatively small and only takes a few seconds to download and install.
The presentation is oriented toward print book publishers who are nervous about ebook piracy and are considering DRM. It is not a techie show. It draws on research and positions I’ve presented on Contra for several years.
We’d love to have you. Try to log in a little early so that you make sure you’re properly connected.
- From the “…And Then We Win” Department: Lulu is eliminating DRM on ebooks published through the site. (I was notified by email.)
- The Adobe CS2 download link everybody’s talking about (see my entry for January 10, 2013) is still wide-open. If it was indeed a mistake, you’d think they would have fixed it by now. New suggestion: They’re arguing about it. New hope: They’re really going to allow CS2′s general use without charge.
- I didn’t get the art gene from my mother, but I did indeed enjoy the Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. I still have my full drafting set in a drawer somewhere, replete with bow compasses, French curves, triangles, and so on. How many years will it be before nobody under 50 has any idea what those are? (Thanks to Jim Rittenhouse for the link.)
- And while we’re doing peculiar museums, check out this selection of implements from the International Spy Museum. I believe the surplus houses were selling CIA turd transmitters twenty or thirty years ago. Shoulda bought one when I could. As the late, great George M. Ewing would have said: “Forget it, Jeff. Nobody will pick that up.”
- Strange transmitters you want? From Bruce Baker comes a video link that no steampunker will want to miss: The annual fire-up of the only Alexanderson alternator left in the world, station SAQ in Sweden. From the sparks to the swinging meter needles, it’s just like Frankenstein, only it’s real–and sends Morse telegraphy at 100 KHz or so. No vacuum tubes, and I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t have been in operation in 1890.
- Every wonder who was behind Information Unlimited? Here’s the guy.
- Here’s more on how fructose messes with your brain. It’s not just the number of calories. It’s the chemical composition of those calories. Whoever says “a calorie is a calorie” is wrong, and probably has an agenda.
- It’s almost pointless to link to the first video ever made of a giant squid (since we won’t see the whole thing until January 27) but Ars Technica has a background page that’s worth reading. “Hello, beastie!”
- The BMI is worse than worthless. But I told you that years ago.
- Brand fanboys may have low self-esteem. Or they may just be tribalists. Or tribalists may be people with low self-esteem. No matter: Defend no brand but your own. Big Brands can damned well defend themselves.
- No, I’m not done yet. I’m almost a month behind schedule. If I were done, you would have heard the yell all the way over there, no matter where “there” is.
- One very practical contrarian habit of mine is eating dinner at 5 PM. Carol and I never have to worry about getting into restaurants. I don’t care if it’s uncool. It allows me to get to sleep by 9:30.
- Bill Cherepy sent word that Bicycle is now offering steampunk playing cards, in case you’re partial to poker by the stoker.
- Oh, and a zombie deck, too. Of course.
- A visually impaired person in our church reads The Book of Common Prayer (basically, the Episcopal Church’s missal) on her iPad. The Episcopal Church publishes a large-print edition, but the magic here is that she can make the print as large as she needs to. It’s part of a free app called Wayfarer, and is available in the iTunes store.
- Toshiba is about to release their Excite 13 tablet, with a 13.3″ display. Much bitching has ensued. My view: It’s not a smartphone, nor an ebook reader. It’s half a laptop (as is the Toshiba Thrive) and there are uses for half a laptop. As my tenure with the Asus Transformer Prime and its docking keyboard have shown, keyboards are nice to have on media-consumption devices, but it’s good to be able to undock them when you don’t need them.
- Sometimes, the world is your neon bulb.
- I still have a tin of Penguin Peppermints. However, it looks like the in thing now is Energy Gummy Bears.
- Or maybe Candy Lego.
- My suggested general term for this sort of scamtrolling might be teergrubing. The idea is to waste as much of a scammer’s time as possible. This is not new, but the examples cited in the article are very funny.
- Here’s lookin’ at you, squid.
The estimable Janet Perlman recently posted a link to an article suggesting a “new” concept in ebook piracy protection that doesn’t involve any sort of encryption or tying of files to a particular device. The gist of it is to embed a purchaser’s personal information in the file purchased. If the purchaser knows his/her name or address are somewhere in the file, well, they’re less likely to post it on Pirate Bay, no?
This concept is not new; I remember talking it as long as ten years ago, when ebooks were still exotica. It’s as wrongheaded as it is obvious, for the following reason: The fastest-growing source of files shared on Bit Torrent is material taken from stolen readers, tablets, and smartphones. If somebody swipes my tablet and the files stored on it are somehow traceable to me, then once the files appear on the file sharing networks, publishers might assume that I was the one who uploaded the files–which in most cases is a felony.
This is true whether or not my name is actually embedded in the files. A serial number or database key pointing to my sales record in the publisher’s store would be enough.
I’ve written before about massive ebook collections available on pirate sites. The file I mentioned in that entry was an old one, and crude. Newer and even bigger ones are available now. (No, I won’t tell you where they are.) Specialized collections are turning up as well, as specific as books on programming for Android.
Driving the trend is the appearance of specialized private Bit Torrent trackers catering to ebooks. If you’ve never studied up on the torrent scene it’s a little hard to explain, but Big Media pressure is driving a lot of torrent traffic into a darknet of members-only trackers that keep their members on very short leashes. To avoid getting kicked out you have to upload as much as or more than you download. Of course, if nobody wants to download what you upload (because it’s of poor quality or they already have it) your ratio goes down and the admins show you the door. This creates pressure to find new material to upload, especially in private trackers with few members who very quickly grab everything of even minor interest to them.
The torrent scene is a numbers game, and ebooks are small files compared to movies or TV shows. So collection editors are grabbing files anywhere they can to spin out new collections. If your device is stolen, your files will find their way to the pirate sites. If your name (or some other identifiable traceable to you) is in those files, you’re the one in trouble, and not the pirates themselves.
File piracy may be an unsolvable problem. The last thing we want to do is propose solutions that might turn completely honest purchasers into criminals–thus providing a perverse incentive to stop buying, and pirate other people’s files instead.
- J. D. Hildebrand endorsed Contra today over at SD Times. He mentions a falling out we had in ancient times (I think 1993 or so) which I remember as being a publicity stunt. Even if it wasn’t, 20 years is plenty for a falling-out. From one J. D. to the other: You’re OK in my book. (His blog at SD is here.)
- Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a clock app written in Lua, a language which I had heard of (vaguely) but never read up on. I mean, really, does the world need YADSL? However, a closer look showed that Lua does not use almost-invisible curly brackets for structuring code and instead relies on those big, bold, evil kiddie-language END keywords. It is to rejoice. LUA for Windows is here; will report again when I fool with it a little.
- I’ve linked to this before, but it’s been a few years: Tom Swift Lives, home of some of the best fanfic I’ve ever seen, much of which is yards better than the original Tom Swift material.
- Over the past year, I’ve discovered that the most effective single pain reliever for my occasional migraines is…aspirin. I dropped Tylenol like a hot rock. Now there’s evidence that aspirin reduces the risk of cancer. Avoiding gastrointestinal bleeding is an issue, but I can’t imagine that that’s not just engineering.
- And here’s how the food industry’s quest to undercut butter and lard gave us trans fats, more heart disease, and the myth that animal fat is bad for you. I believe in evolution. We evolved eating animal fat. We did not evolve eating vegetable oils dissolved out of seeds with hexane. Q.E.D.
- I never gave this a thought, but it’s obvious if you think about it: Setting printed material in Japanese using movable type involved an immense amount of lead.
- Although I’ve never seen a railbike in action, the concept has always fascinated me, and here’s one that doesn’t need any welding. There’s no abandoned trackage convenient to me, but it’s around. My only reservation is that it must be easy to run off the rails by letting the front wheel pivot even a little bit. (In Europe railbikes are called Draisines.)
- Having killed Microsoft Reader, which I liked a great deal, MS is apparently investing in the future of the Nook. Will Reader return? Let us pray; I have a number of ebooks in that format.
- At least these Macbooks won’t be subject to trojans now. Or anything else.
All the recent commotion over the agency model vs the wholesale model in ebook retailing reminded me of something: my very first pocket calculator. I got my first full-time job in September of 1974, and whereas fixing Xerox machines wasn’t riches, it paid me more than washing dishes at the local hospital. In short order I got my first credit card, my first new car, and a number of other things that had been waiting for my wallet to fatten up a little.
One of these was a pocket calculator. The device itself has been gone for decades, but I’m pretty sure it was a TI SR-50, with an SRP of $149.95. I shopped around for the best price, since $150 was a lot of money back then. However, everybody who sold the SR-50 was selling it for $149.95. I bought it at a camera store downtown, and only a little research told me that it was covered under the Fair Trade laws, meaning that all retailers sold it for the same price, set by the manufacturer. I grumbled a little, but wow! I had a calculator! I gave it no further thought.
Between 1931 and 1975, a significant chunk of retailing in the United States was basically on the agency model. Books, cameras, appliances, some foods, wine and liquors, and certain other things were sold for the price the manufacturer chose. This is one reason prices were often printed right on the goods. Retailer margins were open to discussion, but in a lot of industries, the margin was 40% or pretty close to it. The Fair Trade laws were enacted during the Depression to protect local one-off retailers from being driven out of business by much larger chain stores, during a time of reduced demand and thin profits. How well this worked is disputed, but by 1975 the laws had become so unpopular with the public and so difficult to enforce that they were repealed by an act of Congress.
I grant that Fair Trade was not a clear win for the little guys. Some of my readings suggest that the Fair Trade laws accelerated the dominance of retail chains because chain retailers could build bigger stores and shelve a greater variety of goods, even if their prices were the same as prices in smaller, one-off stores. House brands were invented largely to evade the Fair Trade laws, since the retailer was considered the manufacturer for legal purposes and could set prices in stores as desired. This gave another advantage to large chains, since only large chains had the resources to establish house brands.
Fair Trade retailing as I understand it rested on two big assumptions:
- Manufacturers compete on price.
- Retailers compete on things like customer service and selection.
Shazam! Those are the same two assumptions underlying the agency model in publishing, and I don’t think it matters whether we’re talking print or digital. So I think it’s fair to look at what happened after 1975, when Fair Trade went away:
- Discounting allowed consumer prices to go down.
- Both the chains as a whole and individual chain retail stores got bigger.
- Smaller, independent stores vanished in droves.
- Small retailing became specialty retailing. This was certainly true of bookstores. Of the two bookstores I could easily reach on my bike in the 1960s, one became a card shop that carried a few books, and the other became a specialty bookstore carrying Christian/Catholic books only.
- Small retailers dealing in used goods hung on longer–think used bookstores and used record stores. The Doctrine of First Sale allowed used goods retailers to set their own prices even on Fair Trade goods.
- Manufacturer consolidation went into high gear. One reason, I think, was monopsony, which is the power big retailers have to dictate prices to suppliers. Smaller manufacturers who could not meet retailer price expectations merged with larger manufacturers, became importers, or went under.
In the ebook publishing/retailing world, #5 does not apply, as there’s no unambiguously legal used market. Most of the other consequences in the list above are things that I predict an agency model would work against:
- Retail prices will rise–though perhaps not as much as some fear.
- It will be easier to mount and maintain a new online retailer against competition by enormous retailers like Amazon.
- Given the above, with the consequence of more players in the retail market, monopsonistic pressures on cover prices will be greatly reduced.
- Absent Amazon’s monopsony, smaller publishers have a better chance of competing with much larger publishers, given small publishers’ advantages of lower fixed costs vs larger publishers.
- The presence of a larger number of smaller publishers will keep downward pressure on prices, since that’s their primary way to compete. Macmillan has to keep ebook prices up to protect its print hardcover line. Ten thousand small ebook publishers have no hardcover lines to protect. $10? No problem. $5? The new $10. Even within the agency model, small press will train consumers to expect ebooks to sell for $10 or less.
There’s another consequence that I don’t think has any precedent in the Fair Trade phenomenon: Larger numbers of retailers and publishers will reduce the power of very large retailers or publishers to “silo” the business with proprietary file standards and DRM.
There are problems with such an agency-based business model (and wildcards; Pottermore, anybody?) but overall I think those problems are more solvable than the collapse of book retailing into Amazon, Amazon, and more Amazon. So my vote goes with agency retailing. I’ve just told you why. (Polite) discussion always welcome.
- Not posting often here, but I’m ok. Working hard on several things, chief of which is getting my office and Carol’s exchanged, outfitted, and fully functional. This involves furniture, wiring, lighting, and sorting an immense quantity of glarble. I hope to return to regular in-depth posting soon.
- I have a new favorite cheese: cave-aged gruyere, which can be had sometimes at King Soopers, and is lucious with a good dry red wine. Get the oldest cheese you can find, as young gruyere tastes nothing like old gruyere. A year is as young as I buy.
- The asteroid that whacked the dinosaurs must have thrown an immense amount of material into space. How much rock might have made the journey, and how far far did it go? Here’s a good quick take on the topic. It would take a million years or more to get to Gliese 581, but suitably rugged bacterial spores might have survived, and made the origin of life on planets there unnecessary. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- A book I’m not bullish on: Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which describes how the cause of cholera (infected water) was proven by the persistent John Snow through charting of cholera deaths upon a map of London neighborhood water pumps. Why? The book does not include the actual ghost map named in the title. (So what else is missing or wrong?) Whatever editor let that past should be fired and spend the rest of his/her days stuffing toddler clothes in racks at Wal Mart.
- Could the TRS-80 Mod 100 possibly be 30 years old? Yes indeedy, and it was ubiquitous among tech journalists when I was at PC Tech Journal in ’85-86. Its keycaps made a distinctive sound, and sitting in a significant press conference back then was like sitting under a tin roof in a rainstorm. I yearned for one myself (the keyboard was wonderful for such a small device) but didn’t pull the trigger because the machine did so little other than keystroke capture.
- Toward the end of my tenure at Xerox I saw the Sunrise, which was a more ambitious take on the “lapslab” concept. My department was considering writing an app for it, so I had a loaner for awhile. Even better keyboard than the TRS 100, cassette data storage, modem…but the 3-line display was harder to read. Xerox private-labeled the hardware from another company, and basically killed it with a $1500 price point. (There was a flashier version that cost…$2500!) Xerox abandoned the market in 1984, after sinking what rumor held to be an obscene amount of money into it.
- One machine I did consider was the Exidy Sorcerer, which also had a good keyboard and didn’t cost $3000. Lack of software made me spend the $3000 anyway, on a huge honking S100 system running a 1 MHz 8080.
- One of the big issues between Amazon and the Big Six is an explosion of co-op fees, which according to some reports have increased by 30 times since 2011. The whole “co-op” business has always smelled gamey to me, but it had a purpose in the B&M bookselling world. How it fits into online ebook retailing is less clear, and in my view starts leaning perilously in the direction of bribery.
- Most of us think that reading is in decline. Gallup poll results suggest otherwise. Nor are today’s books worse than those of 40+ years ago. This quote is significant: “The bad [books] of yesteryear have gone out of print while the bad ones of today are alive and being sold in supermarkets.”
- I’m still watching the ASUS Tranformer Prime (their botch of its GPS support has kept me away for the time being) but the Prime has a little (as in cheaper) brother now, and it looks like a decent machine in its own right. Here’s Engadget’s detailed review of theTransformer Pad TF-300.
- Here’s another wonderful gallery from Dark Roasted Blend, this time of high-speed photos of liquids. Some of it is photoshopped, but it’s all startling. (Thanks to Ernie Marek for the link.)
- Santorini is smouldering again. Yes, the volcano that may have made the Minoans extinct and launched the legend of Atlantis (or at least put an older legend on the map) is getting restless. Like the Greeks need that right now.
- Eating meat allowed our hominid ancestors to reproduce more quickly, by accelerating infant brain growth and thus shortening the breastfeeding period. (Breastfeeding naturally inhibits ovulation.) This on top of several other issues.
- From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: Beatboxing , which is vocal generation of sounds like drums and synthesized sound effects. I heard of this in an interesting way: There’s a slightly silly commercial for the Honda Pilot that involves a Pilot full of bored tweens beatboxing the rhythm of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” and by chance we had captioning turned on. When the kids started making noises, the captioning read, “Beatboxing.”
- Pete Albrecht sends a link to a map color-coding US gas prices by county. The very abrupt differences between states suggests that gas prices are more a question of state and local taxes than regional differences in demand.
- It was inevitable: A 3D printer that prints chocolate novelties. Now we need a 3D printer that prints spice-cake Easter lambs with ears that stay on.