Archive for the ‘Computers and Technology’ Category

Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and Scribd

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Some of you may know that Amazon changed the terms of its subscription service, Kindle Unlimited (KU) such that payments due to authors with books in KU are calculated in a different manner than previously. If you’re a reader and you subscribe, you can read all you want for $9.99 a month. With the single limitation, so far, that you can have up to 10 books on your “shelf” at once. To get book number 11, you have to read or release one of those books.

With the Kindle Unlimited subscription you can access hundreds of thousands of Kindle books and thousands of audiobooks with Whispersync for Voice. You can keep up to ten books at a time and there are no due dates. Read your Kindle Unlimited books on any Amazon device, or free Kindle reading app. (Terms)

Scribd reinvented itself from a pirate site reader-centric sharing site (Irony ALERT!) into a subscription service. For $8.99 a month. They paid all authors/publishers the same as a sale.

If you’re a reader, that’s a pretty sweet deal, assuming the books you want to read are in the program.

If you’re an author, deciding whether to have a book in KU is a business decision, and not everyone’s business needs and goals are the same. Everyone’s reasons for being in or out are different. Last year when KU debuted, I blogged about it here. Here’s what I said then about how that would be profitable:

If you are paying authors/publishers a percentage of price, then for your business to be viable, that payout amount per month HAS to be less than 9.99 * (number of users subscribed).

This means a profitable user will read a number of books N per month where the payment due to vendors is less than 9.99. The more books they read, the less the wholesale price has to be (obviously), and, at 9.99 per month, the wholesale price has to be less than 4.99 for 2 books per month, 3.99 for 3 books, etc.

Not long after that post, it turned out the payment terms for traditionally published books in KU were different than for self-published books. Traditionally published books receive the same payment as if the book had been bought — that is 70% of the purchase price. Further, certain self-published authors were given those or similar terms in order to convince them to put their books in the program.

Self-published authors can only participate in KU if they put their books in Kindle Select — that is, have those books exclusively at Amazon. Scribd does not require exclusivity. For some authors, Kindle Select makes sense. But for others, it doesn’t. Doing well at other vendors or wanting to avoid the risk of having a business depend on a single vendor are good reasons not to be in Select and therefore, not in KU.

Traditionally published books need not be exclusive. Because, as Amazon recognized, that would be a non-starter.

Arithmetic

What the Romance community knew, and what I suspect Amazon knew (because DATA!) and what Scribd apparently did not know (Because why would anyone pay attention to what goes on with those books women read?) is that Romance readers are the Great White Sharks of the reading world. They are the 80 in the 80/20 rule. They are the power in a power law.

Solving for X

Remember my ruminations over profit, book prices and that monthly subscription rate? Amazon had the data that would have told them everything they needed to know about those Power Readers (before KU debuted). Amazon solved the math problem with deep pockets but also by offering self-publishers a substantially worse deal. The KU reimbursement rates started decently, then took a swift dive until the reimbursement fell to around $1.34. Why? Well, either you sustain losses because of the Power Readers or you find a way to compensate for that. Falling KU reimbursement rates were exactly that, that is, KU’s “flexible” reimbursement rates to self-published authors was their hedge.

As KU continued, Amazon kept talking about how much money they were putting into the monthly fixed KU pool to be distributed to the self-pubbed authors, but reimbursement rates from that pool continued to fall. Because the hedge was needed. (So I speculate.) Scribd had no such hedge in its business model. (To my knowledge, anyway.)

How did Scribd solve for X? They didn’t. It’s hard to understand why Scribd thought $8.99 for all readers was viable even in the medium term. If they knew about Power Readers then they either didn’t know enough or they thought the same thing most of the traditional world thinks about products for women. How could they possibly matter when they were up against REAL books and REAL readers?

$8.99 is a brilliant strategy for competing for potential KU subscribers. It’s not a brilliant strategy for paying authors/publishers in an environment that includes Power Readers. The rational solution after the short to medium term is to introduce tiered subscription rates. It’s blazingly obvious that in an environment that includes Power Readers you must also have a bazillion 1-2 book a month readers or you have to charge Power Readers more. Or you have to pay authors/publishers less. Scribd did a great job going after traditional publishers, and they probably had a better selection of books than Amazon. And, by the way, the word is lots of Power Readers (those sharks!!) had subscriptions to both services. Because the pool of books was different.

But if they charged those readers more, then KU looks more attractive… It’s a tough situation.

Solving for Y by Killing X

Scribd’s solution was to remove 80-90% of Romances from their service.

Sure. Of course. Now they will be paying out less to authors and publishers because the books people women actually want to read are gone. Now that they’ve basically told the Power Readers they are unwelcome with all their womanly reading of THOSE books—who the hell knew they read that much???—what they have left are the 1-2 book a month readers.

This makes a certain sense. Because maybe what will happen is the Power Readers keep their subscriptions to both Scribd and KU, but now only borrow 1-2 books from Scribd and things are sustainable for a bit longer for them. Yes, an FU to romance readers, but Scribd maybe wasn’t in a position to feed the sharks.

If I were a Romance publisher ::cough::Harlequin/Avon::cough:: who just put substantial backlist into Scribd only to have their reader base told to fuck off, I think I’d be pretty pissed off.

The more established self-publishers, the ones who cannot afford Amazon exclusivity financially or at the cost of reader-relations will likely move to Oyster in order to have some presence in a subscription system. I wonder if Oyster knows what’s coming their way?

Cue the theme from Jaws….. LOOK OUT OYSTER!!!

Segue

Early on, long before KU, I put one book into Select into order to have data on the program. I asked my newsletter subscribers to tell me what they thought about my decision. Their answer? The non-Amazon readers were angry. Rightly so. That was enough for me. My experiment was done after the first angry letter. (After 90 days, you can elect not to re-enroll in Select.) If it had been possible, I would have ended it immediately, but I had to wait out the 90 days. I sent a copy of that book to every single reader who let me know how they felt.

Amazon’s Adjustment

The initial structure of KU with its fixed reimbursement pool meant that a longer book that make $2-4.00 for a sale, made $1.34 in KU. Shorter books, on the other hand, that would be sold in the $0.99-1.99 range and thus net the author a dollar or less, made $1.34 in KU. In other words, a book priced at $0.99 made $1.34 in KU. Anyone with half a brain can see that this meant shorter books were way more profitable and that longer books were way less profitable.

The adjustment Amazon made was to address that disparity. Instead of paying the same amount per borrow regardless of length, authors are now paid based on pages read. “Pages” read, actually. Basically, Amazon had to normalize what a page means for a digital book when displays are reflowable and resizable across different sized devices. A “Kindle Page” is the same for all devices regardless of settings. (Presumably, of course.)

To me, that’s fair enough. Authors who write shorter books make up the difference by writing more books. I should think that’s obvious, though apparently not. Category authors tend to write more books than single title authors. Three 30K word books will make you the same as one 90 page book, assuming the books are read all the way through.

I have to shake my head at the suggestions from some that readers should make sure to page through shorter books, because otherwise those authors are screwed.

No they’re not. They’re only screwed if readers never actually finish the books, and if readers aren’t finishing their books, well, maybe those authors should worry about why that is. There absolutely is a market for shorter books and short stories. Just like there’s a market for longer ones. I have short stories, novellas, and novels on sale. They achieve different goals for me. I’m quite sure that readers have different goals and preferences for reading works of varying lengths.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have any books in KU. I did have books in Scribd, but I assume the only thing left is Scandal, which is currently free and so would not have been removed. I’ll probably go pull Scandal because I’m vindictive that way.

But now I’m kind of wishing I did have something in KU because at last at LONG LAST Amazon is giving authors data about how much of their books get read, but the only way to get it is to be in KU. I had this idea that authors could put a book in KU, let it sit for 90 days and watch the data about pages read. You’d rewrite if no one gets past Chapter 10. ::snort:: Mostly I’m kidding.

[Update: MelJean Brook pointed out that Amazon is NOT providing meaningful page read metrics so my plan would not work. There is no way to tell from the data provided if 2000 Kindle pages read is 2000 people reading one page or one person blowing through 2000 pages of an author’s work.]

I Lied. This is the Final Thought

I was talking to a friend the other night about why Amazon didn’t fix their issue sooner since they surely had the data about the problem of shorter works no later than 6 months in. Assuming that’s true, that gives them 6 months to develop, test, and QA and then prepare the PR for the Kindle Normalized Pages scheme. This is aggressive but doable. You’d have to test a lot of scenarios and then make absolutely sure all the calculations are correct and reach consistency.

Maybe the schema changes weren’t as big a deal as they would be in a traditional SQL Server or Oracle environment, but NoSQL solutions have different challenges, and one of them is hidden errors because of eventual consistency or problems with “schemaless” documents. (It’s only schemaless if you never hired a data architect, and if you didn’t sooner or later you’re fucked. *)

I’m thinking of Wattpad and its problem with user comments attributed to the wrong account. That’s a total NoSQL error that a good OLTP-trained data architect could have said, hold on a sec here… What happens if…. And then all the developers stick their fingers in their ears and sing LahLahLahLahLah because the architect just added 3 months to the delivery date. And nine months later your data is untrustable. There are scores of developers out there who got burned by thinking schemaless means never having to think about data consistency across transactions.

Eventually, your financial data has to be in a transactionally consistent state and stay that way and it can never ever revert to a previously inconsistent state. Or you can’t pay people correctly. So, you know, 6 months seems like a decent guess for how long it would take to roll it out and be certain it works for paying people reliably. The concept isn’t hard. The execution is.

Interesting.

* OMG. I actually made a database joke in a writing blog! More than one, actually. This is very strange.

Note: Regarding NoSQL, it’s a very very fast way of scaling data. Although UC Berkeley had one of the early such databases, Amazon more or less put the concept into widespread use, followed by the original developers at You Tube who had to massively scale MySQL. Those guys needed to ramp up fast and on a scale that traditional transactional database could not then achieve. When I say “documents” in the sense of a NoSQL database, I don’t mean a Word document. I mean a collection of information of related items where Item 1 may not have the same information as Item 2 in the same set of related information. In that sense, there is no “schema” (that is a definition of what information is contained in related data. In a transactional database, all objects of a defined type have the same structure, even where elements of the structure are NULL.)

The NSA, by the way, collects your information in Hadoop, a NoSQL database backed up with some Postgres SQL functionality for the sorts of transactions that MUST be consistent.

This is a laughably high level explanation. It’s way more complicated. I’m a SQL Server DBA and Data Architect, but I’ve done some Mongo DB where we needed to address some shortcomings with our SQL Server applications without spending a fortune. For anyone who cares, Microsoft’s SQL Server 2014 changed the query optimization engine in significant ways — and I suspect it’s a direct response to NoSQL. For example my current employer had ugly queries that were taking 2 minutes (on completely under resourced SQL 2008 servers and for data that SHOULD have been in a datawarehouse but wasn’t, so I’m sorry, but the situation is long and convoluted and no one here cares, just know that 2 minutes for a query result is beyond embarrassing) that went down to 45 seconds when run on a SQL 2014 install.

Basically, the point is that the situation is considerably more complicated than, hey, let’s do it THIS way instead. Amazon is not just a company that sells stuff. They INVENTED the technology they needed to massively scale because no one else was doing that, and then they open sourced it. So when we talk about Amazon having advantages, the advantages are even bigger than most realize. Amazon IS data. I don’t think they do anything without knowing what the data says, and they have more data than anyone.

It’s why we’re seeing such an upheaval in publishing. It’s why Romance matters more and it’s why companies and analysts who dismiss Romance are in big trouble. Amazon knew about Power Readers. The usual gendered biases very likely got exploded by the facts. Traditional publishers need to lose the bias. Companies who want to compete in this space need to fire anyone who talks about REAL books and REAL readers.

The Romance Sharks will eat their lunch.

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Comments Are Back

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

In case you were itching to comment, comments are back at the blog.

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Notice

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Comments are temporarily disabled. Sorry.

Should be back on soon.

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One Size Does Not Fit All – Books Prices in the EU

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

So.

There’s this whole VAT thing with the EU, where blah blah blah. Pricing difficulties blah blah blah. Rock and a Hard Place.

Short Version

I’m very sorry to say that at Nook, I have set all my books to US only. For now, it won’t be possible to buy Nook versions of my books outside the US. I hate that. Hate. It. But Nook has made it impossible to correctly account for VAT and the laws in certain countries that require book prices to be the same everywhere in that country.

Amazon aggressively prices-matches Nook, including Nook in the UK. I know this because a few weeks ago it took Amazon UK all of 3 hours to price match a Nook UK price change to .99 while Amazon US did not match for a couple of days.

Nook Press does three things that make it impossible to comply with the laws.

1. They require US-based authors to provide a price that does NOT include VAT.
2. They allow only one price for the entire EU
3. You can choose US-only OR all three: US + UK + EU.

This means I cannot be in Nook UK, because that option also puts me in the EU.
This means it is not possible to comply with Fixed Price Laws.
It also means that I can’t be at Nook at all with books where my traditional publisher has only North American rights, but that’s been true forever. I’m just complaining is all.

As an aside, it is also impossible to comply with Nook’s expectation that my Nook prices will not be higher than the prices I set at other vendors.

If I keep my books on sale at Nook with the current state of affairs at Nook Press I would be unable to match my prices across the EU vendors AND I would have different prices at Nook.de, Amazon.de, iBooks de, etc when the law requires them to be the same. The same would be true of France. I would get a nasty-gram from Amazon informing me of the price discrepancies and, since I would be unable to address them, Amazon could either price match or remove my book from sale.

The problem of different German prices (or French etc) is not a price matching issue. This is a regulatory issue, and Amazon is the one who will hear from the German authorities about not complying with German law. Amazon might have to take my book off sale in order to continue doing business in Germany.

(I would expect Nook to be hearing from France and Germany about this when/if those authorities notice that Nook prices are out of compliance, which they will be.)

This is not a risk I wish to take. Since my Nook sales are something like 99% US, I suppose my decision affects only a few readers. (Please contact me if you are one of those readers.)

The Longer Explanation

Three of the major vendors for self-publishing authors, Amazon, iBooks, and Google, make it possible to behave like a normal business and set prices in the various EU countries that account for VAT and also price books to end in .99. I can decide whether I will round down to a .99 price or round up to one. They also allow authors to make sure their prices are the same across vendors where there are fixed price laws for books.

Kobo, for those who are interested, expects US users to provide an EU price that INCLUDES VAT. They also only have one price for the EU, but because it includes VAT, you can, effectively, provide the same VAT-inclusive price everywhere and remain in compliance with German and French laws, assuming you (alas) set the German and French prices to the same VAT-inclusive price everywhere else. Not very fair to the French, where VAT is so much lower, but it’s that or nothing.

Because Nook does not include VAT and also only has one price for the entire EU, there is no way to guarantee the price will be the same where it needs to be.

Kind of Snide Aside

I always wondered why Nook is inflexible about how you sell in countries outside the US. I thought it was peculiar that they said “because of the volume” it could take several weeks for a book to appear on the UK or EU sites. Today, the answer finally kicked me in the shins.

The only reason volume would be an issue for populating a website is if they’re doing it mostly by hand. The beauty of a database driven website is that once you have the webpage talking to the database (waving hands and leaving out the bits about horrific SQL queries) there is little difference between putting one record on a page or 1,000,000,000 records. And even if we’re talking about terrible query performance, the time to render even a million records is minutes and in no possible case is it weeks. The only thing that takes weeks in this scenario is the person you’re paying to put the records into excel. Or worse, the person who is entering the data by hand into the servers located in the EU.

Even Longer Explanation

Basically, if you’re selling books, the laws about how to comply with the taxing and pricing authorities in the European Union just got a lot more complicated. For those who are thinking they’ll just wait for the EU tax authorities to come knocking, I will say that you have misunderstood what could happen. If you are selling your books to the EU via Amazon and the like, you are selling to the EU because those vendors have a presence in the EU. If your book at these vendors is priced such that you jeopardize their compliance with EU laws, they will likely have to remove your book from those countries. So, no, Germany will not collect a euro of VAT from you. But your books are likely to be yanked from all the German vendors so, yes, no VAT paid to Germany, but no one in Germany is buying your books.

Slight Aside

If you are selling books from your website and you sell to residents of the EU without remitting the appropriate VAT to their country of residence, then you will have some exposure there. Probably you could get away with it, but that does not make it ethical to do so. I have no idea what the IRS might say during an audit when you have income from the EU and can’t prove you don’t have to pay State tax on it, perhaps, or maybe, (total speculation here) the IRS would say something like, Hmm. The US has a treaty with Germany in which we agree not to screw each other over taxes. I dunno. I think I don’t want to find out.

Back to the Even Longer Explanation

VAT varies across countries in the EU. Further, in some EU countries, books must be the same price at all places in that country. Thus, if you are selling a book in Germany, that book must be the same price everywhere it’s on sale in Germany. For DIY authors, that means if a book is Euro 2.99 at Amazon.de, it must also be 2.99 at the German iBooks, the German Google, the German Nook, the German Kobo, etc. The same is true in France: same price in France across all French venues.

In the EU, the price shown to purchasers includes VAT.

Now, in Germany, VAT is 19%. Thus, if a book is priced at Euro 2.99 in Germany, after the sale is made .48 goes to the German government, leaving the remainder of 2.51 to be split between the vendor and author. As an author, I care about the part of that 2.99 that does not include VAT because that’s the amount used to calculate my royalty.

In France, VAT is 5.5%. Thus, for a book priced at Euro 2.99, in France, after the sale is made .16 goes to the French government leaving the remainder of 2.83 to be split between the vendor and author.

At Nook, where I am providing ONE VAT exclusive price for the entire EU, that price must have the appropriate VAT added to it, and that VAT rate varies. Suppose I say, OK, my book is $2.99 (American). Google-fu says that’s Euro 2.48. A quick test at Nook gave Euro 2.47. Using 2.47:

Add 19% VAT for Germany and the price is 2.94
Add 5.5 VAT for France and the price is 2.61

Those are stupid prices to show consumers, but they are also prices I cannot guarantee will match the VAT inclusive prices I must give at EVERY OTHER VENDOR.

iBooks rounds up or down to .99 prices. I will NEVER be able to match Nook to Apple. Not ever except by total serendipity.

At Kobo, I give a single VAT INCLUSIVE price. So… which one do I pick at Kobo? iBooks Germany 2.99 or Nook Germany 2.94?

I could change the Nook EU price to 2.51 to give me a Nook Germany price of 2.99 and match Apple, Kobo, Amazon, and Google to that.

But then the French price at Nook becomes 2.65, which at Apple will be rounded up to 2.99 and …. boom. Not in compliance with French law. This is true as long as I have books on sale at Nook EU.

And that is why I no longer have books on sale at Nook EU. This is complicated enough as it is. Heck, I’m not even confident yet that I have managed to price everything as required, because I will tell you, iBooks did some crazy ass shit with prices that scares me, and Amazon’s VAT adjustment resulted in two of my US prices being raised. That’s not supposed to happen. But I know it did because a couple months ago I used Amazon’s pricing tool to reset some prices, which I logged so I could keep track, and also conformed at other vendors where Amazon recommended a price decrease (because I didn’t want to gouge others) and today, two of those Amazon books were back to the higher US price and therefore MORE than the price at other vendors.

::sigh::

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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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