Week of 9 May 2011
Update: Sunday, 15 May 2011 09:21 -0400
With my Kindle TBR pile growing by leaps and bounds, I've gotten more
selective about which books to buy. I didn't realize just how much more
selective until yesterday, when I came across this title on sale,
discounted from the regular $15 price.
I hesitated before clicking the Buy button. Not because of the
price, obviously. Because I wasn't sure that I'd ever have time to read
it. A second or two later, I came to my senses, realizing that even if
I never did have time to read it, it was obviously worth 5 cents
to have it in my TBR pile. One thing is sure. Never again will I find
myself wandering around the house looking for something interesting to
Here's Barbara in
her Chevy HHR crossover. When I first showed her the images on the
credit union car buying service website, she didn't like it. She said
it looked like a hearse, which it kind of does. When I was growing up,
we'd have called it a station wagon, albeit one with some ground
clearance. As a matter of fact, years ago I remember seeing a ad for a
used hearse that described the vehicle as a "Cadillac station wagon".
the lot, I convinced her to sit in it and give it a test drive. She
quickly decided it was exactly what she wanted. Although it's described
as a compact, it's actually nearly as long and wide as her Trooper, and
only about 8" (20 cm) shorter. The rear seats and the front passenger
seat fold down, and there's plenty of room to haul stuff. Despite the
4-cylinder engine, it has better acceleration than the Trooper, and it
handles better. It gets nearly twice the gas mileage of the Trooper.
She's happy, so I'm happy.
Here's Colin at 12 weeks old. He is
growing. Every time we get a puppy, I tell Barbara I'm afraid we're
going to end up with a miniature Border Collie. Every time, somehow,
they end up growing into full-size Border Collies, so I'm sure Colin
will as well.
Like many other working authors, I'm amused by many of the posts from
newbie/wannabe authors on Joe Konrath's blog and other self-publishing
forums. I am reminded of Buffy: "Your logic does not resemble our Earth
For example, I read a post the other day on Konrath's
blog by a guy who had self-pubbed his first book. He'd spent $650 on
having a professional cover done, as well as editing and formatting
work. He complained that he'd sold a total of only seven copies to
date, and concluded that self-publishing is a losing proposition. So I
went over and looked at his title on Amazon. It had been published
three days prior. Geez. This guy brings new meaning to the phrase
Then there was the moron who
complained that he's written four books and gotten no sales. What a
waste of time, he said. He'd spent four hundred hours writing those
four books. One hundred hours per book, all of it wasted, says he. Can
you imagine how bad those "books" are? A skilled and experienced
author, one who's a very fast writer, can easily spend 400 hours
writing one book. Put it this
way: an experienced workaholic fiction author may spend 2,000 hours per
year actually at the keyboard, writing, plus a lot more time doing
non-writing stuff. In that amount of time, an averagely fast author can
turn out maybe three books. Call it 700 hours per book. A
very fast author can turn out four or five books in that 2,000 hours,
at 400 to 500 hours per book. And this moron thinks he's written four books in 400 hours.
Mention over on the forums of the not-yet-available library lending
function for Kindle got me to thinking. That is really going to distort
the relative popularities of authors, as the Nook library function is
doing now. Ebook library lending works pretty much the same way that
traditional book lending does, except that you don't have to go to the
library to pick up the book and you don't have to return it.
in itself has an unintended consequence. Many heavy readers visit the
library weekly or more often, and most of them seldom keep a book for
the full term of the loan. Because ebooks aren't returned, by
definition they remain checked out for the duration of the loan period,
which in most public libraries is two or three weeks. A very popular
new print title might for the first several months turn over once a
week, which means libraries will need to purchase twice as many ebook
copies of that title as they do print copies. Either that, or people
will be waiting a long, long time.
Also, as far as I know,
there's no rental program for ebook titles as there is for print book
titles. The way it works for print is that a library may decide to buy
two copies of a book they expect to be very popular, knowing that
that's nowhere near enough copies to satisfy demand. So they rent
another 50 copies, which they're free to keep for as long as they wish.
After the first few weeks, they may return 25 of the 50 rented
print copies, and then another 10 a month or two later, and the
remainder a month or two after that, leaving them with only the two
copies they actually purchased. By that time, those two copies are
sufficient to meet demand.
The library pays a fixed monthly
price to the rental company, which allows them to have X number of
rented books simultaneously, much like Netflix. When demand dies down
for one title, they ship a bunch of copies of it back to the rental
company and replace them with another popular new title. Rentals allow
the library to match demand to supply. Without such a service for
ebooks, the library has the choice of buying many too many copies
originally or buying only the number they want to keep permanently and
having patrons waiting months to get the title.
The upshot of
all this is that I think many readers will opt to buy reasonably-priced
titles rather than waiting to borrow them from the library. If I want
to read the latest Follett or Patterson, there's no way I'm going to
pay $15 or $20 for the ebook. I'll just wait a few months until it's
available to borrow at the library. Of course, many people will simply
visit Pirate Bay and download it for free. Conversely, if I want the
latest J. A. Konrath, there's no way I'm going to wait even days, let
alone weeks or months, for a library copy to become available. It's
selling for $0.99 or $2.99, for heaven's sake. Why wait?
that does happen, library circulation statistics will be completely
distorted. The libraries may believe that the $15 Patterson title is
much more popular than the $3 Konrath title, when in fact twice as many
people read the Konrath, nearly all of whom bought it for themselves.
course, there's no reason a public library has to be a physical
building run by a local government. We may yet see "public libraries"
that are actually just websites that subscribe to Overdrive and rent
popular titles over the net. Kind of like Netflix for books. One thing
is sure. Public libraries won't survive in their present form. Heavy
readers, who make up the bulk of library borrowers, have already
shifted to ebooks in a big way. Soon, it will become blindingly obvious
to everyone that there's really no point to maintaining physical
buildings full of physical books.
Sometimes chemistry really is indistinguishable from cooking. I just
made up a couple of liters of starch indicator in the kitchen. I
brought about 1.5 liters of water to a boil in one of Barbara's pans.
While I was doing that, I weighed out 20 grams of soluble starch and
made up a slurry in cold water. As the water boiled, I slowly stirred
the starch slurry into the boiling water, and then allowed the liquid
to boil for five minutes or so with frequent stirring. I then took it
off the heat and sprinkled in a few crystals of thymol to prevent
growth of microorganisms. Barbara has a bottle of thyme in the
cupboard, and I suppose I could have just added some of it to the
liquid with much the same effect.
More bad news for the US Postal Service, which lost $2 billion for the
first three months of this year, and saw mail volume decrease 3% for
the quarter year on year. In even more bad news, Netflix, which
probably accounts for at least half a billion first-class mail pieces a
month, is well into its transition to streaming, and within a few years
will probably no longer be a major USPS customer.
cutting 130,000 jobs, labor costs continue to cripple the USPS. Raising
postal rates isn't an option. Doing that will simply speed up the
shift to alternatives. The day can't be far off when the unthinkable
must happen. RFD is no longer sustainable, although eliminating
deliveries to rural addresses will raise howls of protest. The postal
unions have to go away, and salaries, current benefits, and retirement
benefits must be cut dramatically, both for current employees and
retired employees. Otherwise, there simply won't be anything left to
Then there's also the wasteful duplication of
delivery services, which I noticed again yesterday. A USPS truck, a
FedEx truck, and a UPS truck, all parked on our street at the same
time. That's three vehicles and three employees all making deliveries
to the same places at the same time. I'm all in favor of the free
market and competition, but that's ridiculous. We need a "last-mile"
delivery service that accepts mail and packages from USPS, FedEx, and
UPS at central collection points and makes the actual neighborhood
deliveries. USPS could end up being those central collection points and
that last-mile delivery service.
is off to the supermarket, and preparing to leave tomorrow on a bus
tour to Hilton Head with her parents. She'll be back Saturday, but
it'll be wild women and parties for Colin and me while she's gone.
Either that, or I may watch Firefly when I'm not working.
Back from a Costco run and buying Barbara a new cannister vacuum
cleaner. The old one died Sunday and at 11 years old wasn't worth
Sometimes I wonder what the Costco checkout people think
of me. My first trip to Costco, I wheeled up a cart with 14 boxes of
four 2-liter Cokes, or 112 liters total. The woman at the checkout
asked if I was having a party. I told her, no, that I just liked Coke
and always bought a week's supply at a time. Today, we had seven
2-packs of one-quart (0.95 L) bottles of hydrogen peroxide in our cart,
for a total of 3.5 gallons (13+ L). They were $2.09 per 2-pack at
Costco versus $3 per 2-pack for the identical product at Walgreens.
you're wondering why I need 3.5 gallons of 3% hydrogen peroxide, the
answer is that I really don't. Actually, it's useful for removing
stains from puppy accidents in the carpeted downstairs area, but what I
really wanted was those 1-quart brown HDPE bottles, which actually hold
a liter. I was ready to order a bunch of one-liter HDPE bottles
from one of my wholesalers, which sells packs of 6 for $10.22, or about
$1.70 each, not counting shipping. Instead, I bought them at Costco for
$1.05 each. I need about 50 of them, but I figured buying that
many might get me a visit from the Heimatsicherheitshauptamt. After
all, who'd buy that much hydrogen peroxide unless he was making acetone
Barbara left at 0400 this morning to pick up her friend Marcie and her
parents and head for Level Cross, where they'll get on a tour bus and
head for Hilton Head. Colin and I are bereft. I can tell Colin is
bereft because he's chewing on something and keeps whimpering. As
usual, Barbara just laughed when I mentioned my plan for wild women and
parties. She knows that I don't know any wild women and don't
like parties. Fortunately, it's a short trip. She'll be back Saturday
I've had a few emails asking about how to find free
Kindle books. Obviously, one way is to go to the Amazon site and scroll
through the Top 100 free ebooks, but it's easy to miss good stuff that
way. Some free ebooks remain free for only a day or even a few hours,
so signing up for a notification service is a better way to avoid
missing good stuff. The one I use is Kindle Review,
which posts lists of free book daily or more often. Just enter your
email address in the box at the top left of the home page if you want
email notifications. A lot of the featured books are from indie
authors, but there are also a fair number from traditional publishers
running promos. You probably won't find anything free from Patterson or
Koontz or King or Rowling, but a lot of good midlist authors are
Incidentally, if you're outside the US, check
before you one-click order a title that's listed as free. Some of these
titles aren't free outside the US. Amazon often adds a couple bucks or
more to a book price in Europe, for example, to cover the cost of the
"free" 3G delivery and presumably VAT and other charges. I actually had
that happen to me, albeit for a very minor add-on charge. I ordered a
book shown as $0.00, and when I got the email invoice from Amazon it
was for $0.08 or something like that. That's happened only once in
the couple hundred free books I've ordered.
With a few
exceptions--books I know I want to read--I'm treating these free books
as samples. When I have some time, I'll blast through a bunch of them,
reading only the first few pages unless the book grabs me. I'll
probably discard 9 of 10 or even 19 of 20, but I should be able to find
at least a few new-to-me authors that I like. At that point, I'll order
their other titles, assuming they're priced reasonably, $2.99 or under.
In particular, I want to reward and encourage good new indie authors.
- Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month.
Jones stopped over yesterday afternoon. His dad, who lives in Oklahoma,
had been having computer problems and shipped the system to Paul. Paul
built this system probably six years ago. (It has a Celeron D
processor, so that seems about right.) We messed around with it for
three hours or so, including doing my first install of Kubuntu 11.04,
and discussing whether Paul's dad should just buy a new PC.
finally left around 7:00. I made a quick microwave dinner, and as I was
sitting there eating it the PC spontaneously rebooted. Ruh-roh. That
could be power supply, memory, motherboard, or something else. It's
just not worth the effort and cost to troubleshoot and repair a system
this old. Even if we got it working reliably, some other component is
likely to drop dead soon.
Barbara is due back tomorrow evening. Colin and I are anxiously
awaiting her return. Even as a three-month-old puppy, it's obvious that
he misses Barbara. He walks around the house whining and whimpering
even more than usual. I haven't kept count, but I think yesterday was
an all-time record for accidents, including one that occurred literally
as I was cleaning up the preceding one. This after spotting the first
one and rushing Colin outside in case he had more to do. We spent five
or ten minutes sniffing around the yard and fanging the leash. I
finally brought Colin back inside, started to clean up the accident,
and watched him have another accident.
Fortunately, our floors upstairs are all hardwood and ceramic tile. A mop and Lysol are our constant companions these days.
Jepson, my O'Reilly/MAKE editor, just sent me a sample layout for the
biology lab book. It's very close to the home chemistry book layout.
Unfortunately, they contracted out the work on that earlier book, so
they had to reinvent the wheel to reproduce the look and feel. The
chemistry book has a blue theme, which they also used for this one. I'm
going to suggest we use a green theme, which seems appropriate for
biology. This book will be two-color rather than four. The publishing
industry is changing fast, and doing this book in four-color would have
made it more expensive than we wanted. With two-color, we'll be able to
keep the price low, making it accessible to more people.
discussed doing a four-color insert in the same style sometimes used by
older books, with a 16-page (or whatever) four-color central section
bound in. As soon as I started work on the book, it became obvious that
I'd have trouble staying within budgeted page count while still
covering everthing I wanted to cover. I asked Brian if I could trade
away the four-color insert in exchange for a higher page count, which
he says we can do. That gives me some breathing space, but as usual
it'll be, as Bob Seger said, what to leave in and what to leave out.
- The more I read about Newt Gingrich, the more I'm convinced that his
name is appropriate. I mean, think about it. A newt is a small
lizard-like creature that dumps his wife when she has cancer, remarries
and then cheats on and dumps his new wife when someone younger comes
along, and pretends to have a personal relationship with Jebus,
whatever that means. Or so someone told me. Newt is indeed a newt. And
a weasel of the first magnitude. Jerry Pournelle seems to admire this
sleazy excuse for a human being. Why, I can't imagine. I suppose we can hope that this Newt will be eaten by an owl.
Aha! The secret weapon I needed. Colin was a bit cranked up, pulling on
the leg of my office chair, so I fired up Bach's Concerto for Violin in
E Major. Colin immediately lay down behind me, and he's now squeaking
his purple ball, I swear in tempo with the music.
Okay, a bit
more experimentation. I just switched to the Rolling Stones'
Satisfaction. Colin's ears went up and he ran out of the office and
went on a tear. Hmmm. I'd try Louie, Louie, but I'm afraid he'd start
We had thunderstorms last night. When Colin and I went out this
morning, there was a branch about 10 feet (3 meters) long and as thick
as my arm lying in the neighbors' yard. Colin sniffed around for a
minute before he noticed it. When he did, his ears went up and he
yelled, "Look at the size of that stick!" He pulled his way over to it
and fanged onto it, but soon realized that it was a bit large for a
25-pound (11 kilo) puppy to carry around in his mouth. So he settled
for one of the smaller ones nearby.
Barbara is due back late this evening, and we're both looking
forward to her return. As I expected, Colin has already started to
transfer his affections to Barbara. He still likes me well enough, but
it won't be all that much longer until Barbara is his human and I'm
just someone who's also around.
Last night I watched a Ken Burns
documentary about the first cross-country auto trip and then the 1964
movie Zulu, which is a fictionalized account of the British army's
stand at Rourke's Drift. It's rife with historical inaccuracies,
including many gratuitous changes, but nonetheless it nails the essence
of what it must have been like to be there. I hadn't seen Zulu since
1964 or 1965, when my parents took my brother and me to see it at a
There were many science and nature
documentaries in our instant queue that I'd rather have watched, but
I'm saving those to watch with Barbara. Which got me to thinking about
what a wonderful resource Netflix is for home schoolers. There are
hundreds if not thousands of excellent educational videos in their
catalog, covering science and nature, history, geography, literature,
music, and most other topics, at levels from elementary school to high
school and beyond, and all for as little as $9 per month.
thought about some things that Netflix could do at little or no cost to
improve its usefulness for home education. For example, adding the MIT
lecture series to their streaming catalog, or even commissioning a
comprehensive series of middle- and high-school lecture classes on
various topics. Even without that, though, Netflix is a truly excellent
resource for home schoolers. If I were home schooling, I'd integrate it
into the curriculum.
A few days ago, I mentioned Laura Nyro, whom I admired then and now,
both as a person and for her music. Random play just turned up another
one, whom I've mentioned before. Mariska Veres,
best known as the lead singer of the Dutch rock band Shocking Blue,
always reminded me of Grace Slick. Both were very attractive young
women, and both had powerful voices. There were some minor differences,
of course. Slick spent most of the 60's and 70's drunk, doped-up,
and in bed with a succession of casual lovers. Veres didn't drink
alcohol or use illegal drugs, and made it clear to everyone that she
wasn't interested in having sex with band members, managers, and others
who were a part of the rock scene. Like Nyro, Veres got started in
music young--here she is performing at age 16--and died much too young. Veres is almost unknown to most Americans, with the exception of the immediately recognizable Venus.
did I realize when I was writing in the forensics lab book about
alternate light sources how useful an ALS would be with Colin. With all
the doors closed to keep him out of rooms that aren't puppy-safe, the
hallway is a dark and foreboding place. One is never sure where it's
safe to step. Even with bright white light, puddles are easy to miss on
the hardwood floor unless you're at the correct angle to spot the
reflection. But with an ALS, all is revealed. I'm wondering what would
happen if I sprinkled a bit of luminol on his puppy food. Having
accidents revealed as a dim blue glow might be useful.
Only a few more hours until Barbara gets home...
Barbara arrived home last night to frantic barking, spinning around in
circles, tail wagging, and slurps. Colin was also pretty excited.
soon be migrating all of my domains to a new hosting service. For
the last decade, I've been running everything on a co-hosted
server--originally rocket, later zidane--managed by my friends Greg
Lincoln and Brian Bilbrey. I've had basically a free ride for ten years
now, paying only my share of the actual costs to rent the co-hosted
server and nothing for Greg's and Brian's work to maintain that server.
Greg and Brian are both much too busy to continue managing a
server, so a couple weeks ago they let all of us who are on that server
know that they planned to stop providing web hosting services. Brian
has already migrated all of his own stuff to DreamHost, and I'll be
joining him there.
I have a bunch of domains to migrate, with
web sites, email, messageboards, mailing lists, and so on. I expect the
process to be reasonably transparent, but there are obviously lots of
opportunities for mistakes. If you encounter glitches here or on any of
my other sites, please let me know. I'll get them fixed as soon as
possible. At this point, I'm not sure when I'll make the transition. It
could be as early as the next couple of days. I'll keep you posted.
Once again, thanks to Greg and Brian for what they've done over the last ten years. I don't thank them often enough.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010,