Archive for the ‘Computers and Technology’ Category

Announcement

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I’m temporarily disabling comments on the site while I deal with a comments issue.

Should be resolved soon.

And… it appears to be resolved. Comments are re-enabled.

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Not a Fun Realization

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

There was a twitter conversation about a woman who mentioned that her 14 year old daughter– the only female member of the computer club, left the club because of the way she was treated. There was a comment that maybe that was a good thing, because unemployment for people with CS degrees is 9%. Not where I am– which is Nor Cal.  Here, driving distance to SF and Silicon Valley, the tech sector is hot. I know because I get emails from recruiters every single day, and I get calls a lot. I said, “You KNOW they’re desperate when they’re calling the girl.”

I also said that most of the guys in tech are not assholes, but no one is doing anything about the ones who are, and the environment that creates for women in the field is really, really, not worth it.

And I realized, my son looks to be headed toward tech as a career. But tonight I asked myself, what if it was one of my nieces, or what if I had a daughter who was techie-inclined.

The answer depresses me. I would want to find a way to discourage her. I would want to sit her down and say, just don’t do it. Stay the hell away from a job in the tech sector because it’s still a field where some asshole can put a slide of dicks– erect male penises– in his presentation to a room full of geeks that includes women, and when the women say, dude, that is not right, they’re told, publicly, loudly, that they should STFU and why don’t you have a sense of humor?

It’s still a field where a presentation about how your software idea for an app to rate hot chicks actually gets approved for presentation to a room full of young tech-hopefuls. Including young women.

It’s a field where a woman at a tech conference is sexually assaulted by a male colleague and all the men she thought were her professional friends either say nothing in her support or actually tell her it was was her fault. That black-eye doesn’t mean anything.

So, no. If I’d known what kind of bullshit I would have to put up with from a minority of asshole men while the majority of non-assholes don’t do a goddamned thing to change that culture, while I’m just supposed to shut up and quit causing trouble? I wouldn’t do it.

And I wouldn’t want my daughter or my nieces to either.

Explain to me why that’s not a fucking tragedy and a drain on the economy, to be just fine with keeping talent out.

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Paper vs. Digital: Throwdown!

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Ima starting a list. What should I add? Let me know in the comments and I’ll append to the list.

Thing that HappensAnalog WorldDigital World
Dog eats the expensive research book you just bought and were lucky to get at any price, let alone for a steal of a price.Has happened to me. That book is gone FOREVER. Damn.Highly unlikely. If your dog eats your eReader, that's a way more expensive replacement. On the other hand, your books are not gone. You might actually come out ahead on this one.
Take book in the shower or tub.Disaster. Book becomes soggy mess.Zip-lock bag and you're golden.
You find an interesting note in the pages.Yes! This happened for me with a book from Inter-library loan. It was awesome.Well. If you crack your book file open you could look to see if the coder left any interesting comments. (OK, I consider this unlikely.)
Pages smell like vinegar leading a researcher to use scent to track cholera epidemics. (Because vinegar was thought to be a preventive measure.)Yes! Has happened. Awesome.It's unlikely anyone would think doing anything to an eBook would prevent a disease. But who the hell knows?
Monks decorate the pages with beautiful art.Yes!I have no idea if monks are producing eBooks. Call it a draw for now.
When you drive into town in a horse and buggy, you can really appreciate the scenery.Yes! But if you have a heart attack the 5 -10 hours it takes to get you to the hospital means your family is planning a funeral.Well, OK. You still have to get to the hospital but you're there < 5 minutes from the 9-1-1 call.
You find a neat note in a book and now you want to know about the woman who wrote it.Good luck.30 minutes on Google and you're done!
You are researching the novels of the Minerva Press and need to know which libraries have which books in their collection.Good luck. See you in 5 years.5 minutes on WorldCat and you're done.
You read a book and there's a word you don't know.Get up. Find the dictionary. Look it up. Spend two hours looking up other words.click. Oh. That's what it means. (Not exactly sure this is a benefit. I'm torn.)
You're reading a book and you want to highlight a section. Oops. You lost your pen.Click, drag. Done.
Vacay!!!!! At last you have time to read!Uh, oh. You have somehow not packed the book you were reading.Click.
Vacay!!!! At last you have time to read.Oh, noes. You read too fast and now you're out of books.Click. download. Ahhhh.
Vacay!!!! At last you have time to read!There's no room for your clothes because the books take all the room.This outfit is AWESOME! Click.
The new book by Author Amazing is 1000 pages.Your hands hurt.Click. Oh, loving this book!
The new book by Author Amazing is 1000 pages!Your back hurts.Click.
The new book by Author Amazing is 1000 pages!You leave the book at home because it's too damn heavy.Click.
The book you're reading has mapsOoo. Neat. AND they fold out!!The map is too small to read. When you enlarge the map, the image is too pixelated to read.
This book has 5 editions!Interesting to track the changes.Assuming the servers have been backed up and we have no compatibility issues, in future, I'm saying we WILL be able to both find alternate version and compare differences. Fast.
The server crashed.So?But I didn't download that book yet!
Electrical outageIt's dark.

OK. Fine. You can read by flashlight.
Your battery and off-line charger are full. Click.
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Sears and the $75 Million Refrigerator

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

How Sears Could Save Millions with website Useability

Three months ago, my dad replaced two junky old fridges in the garage and bought a brand spanking new one from Sears. He also bought a warranty. The new fridge cost about $700.

Almost immediately, there were problems. The freezer wouldn’t keep things frozen. After three Sears Warranty home repairs at a cost to Sears of $750, the third repair man told my dad: The freezer works this way by design. There is an ambient temperature monitor in the unit such that when the outside temperature is below 55, the freezer raises its temperature. If your fridge is inside, it’s not a problem. It’s a feature. If you put your fridge in the garage, and many people do put an extra fridge int the garage, it IS a problem. And this is why, in the user manual, there is a page that says what number to call to order the garage kit.

OK. Think about that.

Two Truths

1. Sears knows that this ambient temperature feature requires an add-on kit for units that will be in a garage.

2. NOBODY EVER READS THE GODDAMNED MANUAL.

xkcd cartoon for Read The Fucking Manual

RTFM courtesy xkcd

OK, if I had a nuclear power plant, I would RTFM.

ROI

Sears has sent 3 repair people out and replaced three parts at a cost to them of $750. More if you factor in phone calls to the warranty department.

Sears repair guy #3 admitted this happens all the time. ALL the time. If this happens just 100,000 times, Sears has lost $75,000,000.

Here’s how you’d do it.

1. Ohh! I want THAT fridge. Click.
2. Website: Will you put this fridge in a garage?
3. Clicks Yes
4. You will need this garage unit for your fridge. Add to your order?

I guarantee that change will not cost millions of dollars.

As someone who has bought from Sears before, this a problem across their website. For ALL their appliances. If I buy a product from you, Sears, and you know some people need the door handle on the right and some on the left, FUCKING say so at the point of purchase. That way the customer doesn’t find out until it’s too late to have the fridge delivered with the door on the correct side. If I buy a gas stove, TELL ME exactly what add ons I might need for that model.

You’re welcome, Sears.

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Why eBook Formatting Will Drive you Crazy

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Here’s a new problem I encountered today. I’ve been uploading Whispers to various vendors and I ran across a new issue. First, here’s my process–it includes a short cut that hasn’t been an issue until today.

My shortcut is that I upload an ePub to Amazon and let Amazon convert it. That saves me some trouble, but I have long recognized the risk inherent in that. What I should do is upload a mobi. But I haven’t been because it’s an extra two or three steps. Until now, that process has been error free and, even, produced a better result than a lot of mobi uploads I’ve seen.

[Clarifiction: When I say Kindle Previewer, I mean the app you can download from Amazon. I am not talking (much) about the emulator portion of the tool. You can never fully trust an emulator. I am talking about the FILE produced. The downloaded Kindle Previewer app produces a Mobi and prc file that you can upload. It is NOT just a file previewer. It is also a file converter. I am NOT saying that when I looked at a Kindle Previewer display I saw these differences. I’m saying the physical file that resulted from a local Kindle Previewer conversion displayed differently from the file Amazon converted on line when viewed on the same physical devices. And that the file converted by Amazon via the dashboard was WORSE.]

I have an iPad 3 and I do almost all my reading on my iPad, usually with the Kindle app. When I am proofing final files, I use Kindle previewer to preview my ePub across devices. This also creates a file that contains a mobi and a prc, and you can upload that file to Amazon which will then deliver either the mobi or the prc to the user, depending on their device. I also email that previewer generated file to my Kindle account so I can preview it on my iPad.

Today, I uploaded the final epub to Amazon and when it was live, I bought the Kindle version so I could see what the actual delivered file looked like.

So. First, here’s a screen shot of what the Kindle-previewer mobi that I emailed to my kindle account looked like when I was proofing stuff yesterday:

My mobi converted epub. Italics

Note these things:

1. My slug line (the city and date) is in italics.
2. In the first paragraph I have a bold initial letter and then normal text.
3. In the 3rd line of the 2nd paragraph, the word “Da-veede” is in italics.

My personal compromise has always been No. 2. I use a set of style that, as you will see when you compare it to the next image, degrades very nicely (in my opinion) in an ePub converted by Amazon and viewed on the Kindle App on my iPad 3 (and elsewhere).

Until today, there has never been a difference between the Amazon ePub conversion and the converted file I mail to my account. Now there is.

This is a screen shot of the ePub Amazon converted today, viewed in the Kindle App on my iPad 3:

Amazon Converted epub

1. The italics from my slug line is gone.
2.  My first paragraph styles are rendered. I have an initial large, bold cap AND my small caps for the first line.
3. The italics for “Da-veede” do not display.

For reference, here’s a screenshot of the same page viewed in iBooks (via the BookProofer tool, since I can’t do the Apple upload until they’re re-opened to submissions):
ibooks Version

As you can see, I have italics AND my first line/first para styles

In the Kindle previewer tool, by the way, the tool previews my file across the various devices with ALL italics text appearing as italics and the expected ability to render my first paragraph/line styles or to degrade acceptably.

Here, for another comparison, is the converted mobi viewed on the Kindle App on my iMac:

KindleDesktopApp mobi

As you can see, I get italics and my first para/line styles rendered.

I am reasonably certain that if I instead upload the mobi instead of an ePub, this will resolve the issue. So I will try this and let you know. Otherwise, I’ll have to introduce another hack to the hack that already deals with device incompatibilities with respect to the display of italics. Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t have been taking any shortcuts and yeah, I know, this is what you get when you take them. But come, on! The display of italics should be a no-brainer–the core set of html that should NEVER break. It’s already beyond stupid that some devices don’t render the italics tags correctly and require a hack.

Grumble.

 

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Gadget Girl Writer: Wireless Lights

Monday, November 25th, 2013

A while back, I heard about people who had their household lights connected to timers etc….  The times I’d investigated in the past it was way too expensive and complicated for me to want to set up. I only have so much spare time. I started hearing, though, about easier ways to do this sort of thing and after some time spent researching I found there were indeed several systems that looked simple-ish.

The Phillips Hue system was what I settled on after checking specs and consumer reviews. Also, Hue allows you to change the color of your lights. This sounded too fun to pass up. So I decided to pony up for the starter pack set up. ($200.00) I fully expected that I would just be playing with these three lights.

About the Hue system

You need the Phillips Hue lightbulbs. They are wireless enabled. The starter pack comes with the three lightbulbs and the IP bridge you need to connect the lights to your wireless network. Lights plus the bridge = a mesh network. (ohh!)

One bridge can control up to 50 lights. The lightbulbs are $60 each if bought singly, so the starter pack pricing means the IP-bridge is only $20 of the total cost. I don’t see that the bridge is sold separately, so if you have more than 50 lights to hook up, you’d have to buy another starter set.

There are three kinds of lights: What you’d consider a regular light bulb, a bulb suitable for recessed cans, and a strip of lights (the strip is $80.) There are not, for now, lights that would replace tube lights, unless you count the strip, but for various reasons that won’t work except in limited circumstances. Any light fixtures you have that wouldn’t accommodate a normal light bulb would not be compatible with this system. It appears you CAN use these lights in places where there are physical dimmers, you’d just not use the dimmer function.

The Phillips Hue website is pretty, and also pretty useless. Somebody over there forgot they need to do more than show off. There was NOWHERE that succinctly described what the system does and why I would want to make that kind of investment. Because $60 per bulb?? If you have 50 lights in your house, you’d spend $3020 getting this set up.

Note: I counted the lights in our house where we could use Hue lights. There are 42. That’s 39 single bulbs needed, plus the starter pack, for a total investment of $2540.

The lights are LEDs, last approximately 7 years, are 80% more efficient, and come with a 2 year warranty. The lights would have to save me $362 a year ($30 a month) to recoup my investment over those 7 years. I found a calculator that let me do a ballpark estimation of time to recoup the investment. Conservatively, it’s about three years.

Phillips does not currently recommend using their lights outside or in bathrooms, so I excluded those lights from my count.

Setting it up

My starter pack came. I set it up, downloaded the app and it worked. Took about 15 minutes from opening the box to controlling my first light via the app. Literally, it was that fast and easy.

I played with the lights and after I finished turning the lights all different colors (wheee!!!!) it became immediately and deeply apparent that this was more than just fun. It was efficient and useful. For me, it’s almost, but not quite, as transformative as the GPS. Keep in mind that I am directionally deprived so GPS in my car saves me HOURS of time being lost as well as reducing a major source of stress.

My lighting Future is Now

I have replaced the lights in most of the bedrooms and in the living room and TV room. (total of 17 bulbs, plus one light strip for the dark hallway for a total current investment of $1,120.) The lights are now on various timers. I have not used my bedside lamp since I put the lights in my room.

Here’s what I can do: On the days I work from home, my room lights fade on when it’s time to get up. The living room fan lights come on at the same time. Over the next ten minutes, the additional lights I need for my day job from home time fade on to a light level and brightness that is easy on my eyes. Twenty minutes later, my bedroom lights turn off.

I have the living room and TV room lights set to turn off at 11:00 PM nightly.

The hallway strip comes on at 4:45PM and turns off at 7:30 AM. (This replaces the nightlight, for better lighting and LESS money since it draws the same power as the nightlight but is on only when we need it instead of being on 24/7.)

Monday-Wed, my room lights come on at 4:20PM — which is about the time I get home.

There’s more, but that’s the basic set up for now.

Here’s what I no longer have to do: navigate a dark bedroom when I go to bed or get out of bed. Navigate a dark living room. Endure lights that are too bright when I’ve just gotten up. Get up to turn on or off additional lights.

Fun with Lighting

In addition to practical things like timers and alarms, I can change the color and intensity of the lights. For example, I use a picture I took of some macaroons for one of the settings in my room. At 9:30 PM my macaroon lights come on and remind me that I need to wind up my day. Here’s the picture:

Macarons

In the Hue app, I say which lights I want associated with my “macaroon scene.” Those lights appear as draggable icons over the picture. You drag the icon to the color you want and as you do, the associated light bulb changes color. When you’re happy with the effect, you save the scene and voila! You can set timers and alarms for the scene or just manually turn it on or off via the app.

For this scene, I have selected shades of pink, yellow, and cream with what is, for me, a pleasing intensity, for the three lights in my room’s ceiling fixture. It’s really pretty, actually. I then set it on a timer when I’m in bed so it fades out after three minutes. At which point, I am in bed with the iPad in the dark, doing whatever. Or not.

My lighting Future is Now

Here’s a few things I wish it could do/didn’t do.
1. Operate from my desktop. There is a 3rd party app that does that, but mostly it doesn’t work and it looks to have been abandoned. Bummer.

2. I wish there was a dedicated panel display where everyone in the house could access the lights. Alternatively, I wish I had an extra iPad or tablet to devote to this.

3. I wish the light strips had a smaller footprint for plugging in.

4. I wish there were tube lights so I could replace the under-counter fluorescent lighting and some other such tube lights.

5. Be used outside and in bathrooms.

6. I wish there were motion sensors. I think.

7. When you’re setting up a light scene, all the lights are associated. You have to deselect the ones you don’t want. It’s a PITA. The default should be no light with a toggle for ALL. The user then selects which lights to connect to the scene. Because really, if you can have 50 lights, who thought it was a good idea to have all lights associated by default? The common scenario is have different lighting per room or functional area. It’s more user-friendly to have to select the few lights you want than the deselect the majority of lights you don’t want.

9. Although you can rename your lights (thank goodness!) they list in the app in the order in which they were found by the bridge. So, in our case, the lights for the starter pack are 1, 2, and 3. Two of them are in one room, and one is in another. Because. Other lights I added as money was available. I wish they could sort alphabetically. If I were smarter (and I will be in future) I would strategically obtain and install lights so they are sensed in a group.

Sum Up

Total win. I love the lights. They’re fun. They’re useful. They’re going to save me money over time.

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Gagdet Girl Writer: Pebble Watch

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

I’ve decided to do the occasional technology review blog as a sort of regular feature here. By regular I mean, more often than never. I actually have two topics I want to blog about, but I’ll do them separately. Moar fun for you!

Pebble Watch

Here’s a link to their website in case you want to get oriented. GetPebble.com.

I tried to get a picture of me wearing the watch but all of them came out awful. This one gives you an idea of what it looks like.

A rectangular watch with a red frame

Red!

It costs $150.00 which is not that unreasonable for a watch, but also more than a feature-laden digital watch. They come in other colors, and I was tempted by orange, but I got red. Because. It is a large watch, but not clunky. I think it’s a nice compromise between being big enough to do stuff and small enough not to look dorky. However, the watch makes a statement, on account of size alone. Personally, I like the way it looks. It comes with multiple time display styles, by the way. The one you see in the picture just happens to be my favorite at the moment.

What does it do?

It has an eInk display and it syncs with your smart phone via bluetooth. Why is this neat? Read on. I should mention, though, what it does not do. You cannot take phone calls on it. You cannot tweet from it. Both of those things would really have to be voice or one touch screen activated if you didn’t want to run the risk of killing yourself through inattention to the world around you. The screen is not active.

Here’s a few things it does: It can receive and display notices that go to your phone. Incoming calls, missed calls, texts, tweets, apps. Yes, you can tell it which apps to sync with in case you don’t want to see tweets on your watch or what have you.

Like a lot of smart apps these days, there are useful things about this that do not occur to you when you don’t have it. For example, unlike other watches, this is software driven. Just because the Pebble doesn’t do something now doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.

Things my other watch does

For years, I’ve been buying digital watches because they have features I find more helpful than fashion. Here’s a list of some of the features I don’t want to give up:

  1. Multiple alarms that I can set for weekdays, daily, weekends, or off.
  2. Timer
  3. Stopwatch
  4. Portability

Multiple alarms? I love that about my Casio. I love that I can set the alarm for work and not have to remember to turn it off for weekends. I love that I can have a separate daily alarm to remind me to put the chickens up and another for when it’s time to stop at the day job when I’m working from home. I love that I can turn off an alarm when I know I want it in future, but not today, or for a stretch of days.

The timer, for example, keeps me from burning stuff in the kitchen. I’ll get the coffee going and then wander off and get lost in chapter 1…. Yeah. Saves me ALL the time.

Stopwatch. I do exercise.

Portability. It’s on my wrist! When the timer goes off, I’m right there to hear it!

How does the Pebble stack up with these needs?

Pebble Up

My NeedDoes Pebble do it?
Multiple alarms that I can set for weekdays, daily, weekends, or off.Multiple alarms: Yes
Variable days: No
Set to off: No
Timer

No
StopwatchSupercharged!
PortabilityYes

As you can see, it’s a mixed bag. I could muddle along doing other things for alarms, but that would be not so great. The lack of a timer is enough that I can’t see myself entirely switching. I’m hoping there’s functionality I can add to get a timer feature.

Synchronicity

This watch syncs with my phone. That means the time is correct and that I can’t accidentally reset it (which happens with the Casio from time to time). It syncs with runkeeper, a handy app for tracking exercise that moves across space. (Runkeeper would not be so useful for a treadmill, I don’t think, or a stationary bike — but hey, it’s RUNkeeper.) This is awesome because you can just glance at your watch and see a bunch of stuff related to your workout, including a heart monitor, if you have one. That’s a win for me.

So far I LIKE the text on the watch feature. A lot. In fact, I was driving when I got a text and all I had to do was glance at the watch which was right there on my wrist. Nice.

I like that I don’t have to dig out my phone to see why it’s pinging.

A Few Other Things

You have to charge the watch occasionally. Oh well. It’s software and that means things can stop working. I find Bluetooth (this is a general statement) pretty frustrating because it sometimes it decide, well eff you, I’m not connecting to anything any more.

I never have to wonder if I need to reboot my Casio.

Wishlist

Color display. Sorry but as a consumer, color is cooler. I totally get why it’s not, and the eInk display means I can see what it says inside or outside. Yeah, whatever. I want that for eInk Kindles, too.

Sum Up

I like the watch. It’s better looking than my Casio, but doesn’t have all the features I would like. I am, however, going to search for a timer feature and see if anyone is working on better, more flexible alarms. The neat thing is, that unlike the Casio, which has the features it came with and that’s it, the Pebble can be updated.

Overall, a win.

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Amazon, Publishing, and the Future

Friday, October 25th, 2013

A while back, Amazon made it clear it wanted to compete with NY publishers in the print space as well as digital. They hired a lot of NY editors and opened an office in NY.  Now we hear that Larry Kirshbaum, the man who headed this publishing arm, is leaving and that that editors have been laid off. There were some high profile non-fiction books that were mostly considered failures because Amazon could not get print editions into stores.

I have some thoughts about this that cover several areas, with respect to fiction. I don’t know enough about non-fiction to have an informed opinion.

Same Old Same Old

When I heard that Amazon was hiring NY folks into these positions, one of my thoughts was that all they were doing was bringing the same moribund thinking into their publishing arm. I think that’s a part of the problem.

What self-publishing has proved: Traditional publishing rejects stories that are commercial. It also insists on editorial changes that make stories less successful.

I have heard Amazon authors complain about editorial policies that imposed the same notions about what’s commercial and what will sell. This is no surprise because Amazon hired NY editors who either brought all their traditional mores, if you will, or remained unable to let the author decide because of pressure from the top.

What I think should happen: Publishing needs to take more risks with books and they need to trust their authors more. I’m not saying abandon editorial input. I’m saying let the author take risks.

Print Still Matters

There’s no question print still matters. Self-published authors are frustrated by the roadblocks to print. If the publishing system weren’t fundamentally broken, it would be possible for any reader to buy a print version through a physical store. This is not possible in part because of the returns issue, but also because there is significant ill-will against Amazon.

Amazon Dug Its Very Own Hole

Almost from the get-go, publishers and bookstores expressed a deep and abiding hatred for Amazon. Hatred might actually be too weak a word. Amazon does itself no favors in the way it conducts business with publishers and bookstores.

The bigger deal here is Amazon’s relationship with physical bookstores. If you want bookstores to carry your books, then it’s pretty important to have a relationship that is mutually beneficial. From everything I hear, Amazon has done the exact opposite in this respect. What I hear from booksellers is that they would gleefully refuse to do ANYTHING that would benefit Amazon, and they would do it even if it means forgoing an otherwise profitable arrangement. THAT is some serious hate.

Unless Amazon is betting on the disappearance of bookstores, this is a relationship they should be looking to repair.

Updated 2013.11.07: Indie Booksellers appear to be turning away from Amazon’s offer of 2 year cut of every book purchased from a Kindle bought through that store. While this is an obvious strike at Kobo and its current deal with indie bookstores, it’s also mystifying to me why Amazon thinks booksellers will jump at this. Amazon appears not to understand that they have burned some bridges.

A Clear and Present Danger

Here’s what really worries me.

I see people in publishing saying “See? Print Matters! Amazon isn’t such a big deal.”

This ignores a pretty scary circumstance.

Amazon wants to play in the print distribution world.

The strategy for stopping that relies on distributors and bookstores refusing to distribute Amazon’s products or carry them in stores.

For publishing, this has eventual failure written all over it. If does nothing to address the real danger, which is Amazon finding a way around that. Legal action might be one way. I’m not a lawyer so maybe that’s all fine and dandy. But hmm.

Another might be mending fences with Indie bookstores or even mending fences with B&N. From everything I’ve heard, B&N is in a precarious financial position. Suppose Amazon made B&N an offer too good to refuse. Or even took a stake in B&N?

All Amazon needs is some set of physical bookstores that WILL take the product. Someone, somewhere, will crack.

But is that even necessary? Baker & Taylor will distribute self-published titles under the right circumstances. What happens if those circumstances expand?

The Easy Way or the Hard Way

Amazon has tried the easy way: acquiring books by authors they hoped were big enough that physical stores wouldn’t refuse to carry them. Not a bad strategy. Amazon just seems to have misjudged the animosity toward them.

What’s the hard way? Buying a presence. Paying BIG Co-op to get their books present in Indie stores. Taking a stake in B&N. Solving the returns problem on their own. Waiting to see if someone else solves the POD and returns problem. Waiting for the desktop edition of the Espresso Book machine. (GAME OVER.)

Forming their own distribution company and contacting Airports, drugstores, gas stations, Wholesalers, libraries and schools. “We’ll pay you for rack space in your store, and you keep x% of all sales. Here’s your free desktop edition of a book printing device.” Call up a few professors and say, hey, publish your next textbook with us and we’ll give Universities a better deal than they get now.”

Ultimately, publishers do not own the Point of Sale. They can’t stop Amazon from innovating and/or playing the long game on this issue either.

Publishers could, however, attempt to innovate and problem-solve on their own. They could, perhaps, treat authors a little more fairly so we don’t look to Amazon as the place where we’ll maximize our earning potential.

Who’s Looking Pretty?

Quite possibly authors.

Think about this: If the biggest selling Romance authors left their publishers to self-publish, what do you think bookstores will say when those authors want their print books in their stores?

Pretend it wasn’t just the midlist walking away but the upper-midlist. Lead authors. NYT bestselling authors. Pretend it was oh, say, Theresa Medeiros or Stephanie Laurens and others like them.

Do you see the risk?

It’s the author’s decision where to go, and if authors are getting a better deal elsewhere, and if the print distribution problem is solved in some ingenious fashion by Amazon or someone else, what happens to publishers who took no steps to be viable in that world?

It worries me that publishers might actually be saying, the current print world isn’t going away so we don’t have to innovate, because, what if they’re wrong?

We already know they were wrong about digital, wrong about new genres, and wrong about genre backlist.

3-D printers used to be Science Fiction. Then then were too damn much money. Now they’re something a lot of us could buy right now.

That’s going to happen to book printing.

Updated 2013.11.07: Lookie here: Espresso machine in a Drugstore. Via The Digital Reader.

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During the Medireview Period Castles were Built of Stone

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Yah. So today the kerfluffle hit the backstop at 110 MPH. (Look, that’s the closest I can come to a baseball analogy.) Whoosh! Swing and a MISS!

Over across the pond, Waterstones WHSmith made the mistake of using the entire Kobo book feed without thinking about what happens if you don’t have good filtering on searches for children’s books. Since I happen to believe Kobo’s search is fundamentally flawed, I also think this is a Kobo issue as well. Some REALLY inappropriate books showed up in searches for books for children. Erotic books with ::ahem:: covers and ::ahem:: content. According to at least one person in my twitter stream, this was happening at least 4 months ago.

As any adult Romance reader is likely aware that some of the ::ahem:: books feature things like sex with dinosaurs, or lactating woman as cows, or books that include/refer to/thinly disguise sex with the underage and/or incest.

As a parent, I would not want my underage child coming across any of those ::ahem:: books, covers or content. That just seems pretty freaking obvious to me. The solution is pretty much what Amazon has been doing. Restricting that content from general view. (But not ALL view.) Because hey ANYBODY with a computer and internet access can get to Amazon, unless they’re in China, I guess. So yes, we really do need to make sure ::ahem:: content does not show up when someone is searching for Goodnight Fluffy Bunnies of the Pleistocene.  You could restrict behind the scenes (which Amazon does)  and start giving authors a hard time about racy covers (which Amazon does) Or, oh, say,  have a “show me the racy stuff” button. Or a “safe search” mode ala a Google image search.

Once you’ve discovered the hard way that you should have been doing something like that probably at least 4 months ago, you should do everything in your power to make it so.

But Kobo’s response has been to remove ALL self-published books (at least in the UK). Amazon got in on the frenzy, too, and exactly as you’d expect with a knee jerk reaction, they both got the “Medireview Effect.

I hereby dub this result the “Medireview Effect” because it’s what happened to the word “Medieval” on a historical romance Yahoo list when Yahoo thought changing ALL occurrences of “eval” to “review” would prevent malicious javascript code from executing. Which I guess it did.

Edited to add: “eval” is a key word in Javascript that can execute code. Good code. Or Bad code.

In the meantime, during the Medireview period, castles were built of stone.

So, as you can expect, ham-handed and poorly thought out attempts to root out “Daddy” pr0n have had many unintended consequences, Many books that would be just fine for kids have been deleted. Many books that are not self-published, but are still inappropriate, remain.

On December 10th, Mark LeFebvre of Kobo was on the Self-Publishing Podcast, and he said that Kobo had split out their database so that children’s books were a completely different database. That was 4 days ago. I only listened to the podcast yesterday, but I remember thinking this:

1. That’s hard.

2. This is a db that set ISBN as a primary key. I don’t think they have the expertise to make that happen the way they want.

Totally not easy to split off a db that way. Not in four days. I think today proves I’m right.

(I happen to know about the ISBN as a primary key because LeFebvre said as much at RWA — in response to a question I asked. Take it from this DBA, ISBN is not selective enough to make a good primary key. A unique index, sure, but not a primary key.)

Dear Kobo: If you let me work from home, I would quit my day job in a heartbeat and help you fix your mess and scale it out, too.

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Technology Grump Talks Tops and Bottoms

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

::snicker::

That’s my juvenile joke for the week I guess.

Back in the old days of email, it was considered proper etiquette to post your reply to an email at the bottom of the thread. This is called Bottom Posting. The reason was that you could then read all the emails from top to bottom, in a chronologically sensible way, from the originating email to the most recent, scrolling down.

And sure, back in the olden days, that made sense. You were invariably reading your email on a CRT, a large, unwieldy, monitor that had more than enough screen real estate.

There were often chiding lectures from Unix admins reminding people to bottom post. Email programs adapted to this by making bottom posting the default. When you hit reply, the cursor was at the bottom of the email.

That was Then, This is Now

Now, though, people are reading their emails on smartphones. The screen is smaller. And guess what? If there’s a long email thread, most of these smart phone emails only display the beginning of the thread — the part at the top.

What does that mean? If means if you bottom post, people reading mail on their smartphones CANNOT SEE YOUR REPLY. They cannot do a quick scan to see if your reply is important.

If you bottom post, chances are good that lots of people will never read your email. Because they never see it, or, and this is quite possible, they cannot get the rest of the thread to download. It’s annoying as hell.

Bottom-posting: Bad. Bad. Bad. Stop doing it.

Top post. Leave only a snippit of what you’re replying to.

Thank you. This concludes your technology lesson for the day.

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