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Week of 25 April 2011

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Monday, 25 April 2011
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09:23 - Joe Konrath announced yesterday that he's sold a total of 276,112 ebooks, with about 30,000 of those so far in April. Joe says he should easily make 35,000 sales and $70,000 in royalties for this month.

Of his total sales, about 245K were on Kindle, 20K on Smashwords, and 5K on CreateSpace. That leaves about 6K total on Nook, Overdrive, and his web site. At first glance, that seems to indicate that Kindle is overwhelmingly dominant, but the odd thing is that some big-selling indie authors have had exactly the opposite experience, with the bulk of their sales on Nook and Kindle in a far-distant second place. I'm not sure what that means. Perhaps Amazon/Kindle and B&N/Nook appeal to significantly different types of readers.

Incidentally, as impressive as Joe's sales volume is, it pales compared to the top-selling indie authors. John Locke and Amanda Hocking each sell more books every two or three days than Joe sells per month. At this point, there are probably several hundred indie authors who are earning $10,000 per month or more, and the numbers just keep increasing, both the number of authors and their sales volumes.

The latest indie author is one whose name you may recognize. Last night, Jerry Pournelle self-published his first title: A Step Farther Out. And it's already doing pretty well.

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,274 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

    #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Business & Investing > Economics > Development & Growth
    #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Business & Investing > Biographies & Primers > Policy & Current Events
    #2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Business & Investing > Economics > Economic Policy & Development

Colin is flourishing. We took him over to Barbara's sister's house for dinner yesterday, and he did very well, including the trip there and back. He's curled up under my desk right now. We've puppy-proofed my office, the hall bathroom, the foyer, and the den, so I'm letting him have free run of those areas. He comes and asks when he needs to go out.

That means I'm able to work now, so I'd better get to it.


Tuesday, 26 April 2011
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08:21 - Based on good reviews, Barbara and I decided to try watching Fringe. It stars the Australian actress Anna Torv, whom we both like. Unfortunately, it pegged my bogosity meter immediately and kept it pegged through the entire pilot episode. The series is supposedly science fiction, but in fact it's actually (pseudo)science(y), (badly-written) fiction. I rated it two stars on Netflix, which is unusually low for me. Usually, I make better choices. I was expecting some bogosity, perhaps like Bones, but this series is utter dreck. Even Anna Torv can't save it.

Pournelle is making it look easy. He published his Kindle ebook, A Step Farther Out, late Sunday evening, and it's been climbing in Amazon rank ever since. When I checked just now, it was at #1,346 overall, which means it's probably earned him a couple hundred bucks its first day out. Jerry is working now on converting more of his backlist for Kindle, and I'm encouraging him to self-publish his new material as well.

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,346 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

    #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Business & Investing > Economics > Economic Policy & Development
    #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Business & Investing > Biographies & Primers > Policy & Current Events
    #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Business & Investing > Economics > Development & Growth

10:39 - Here's a worthwhile article about graduate science education. The article was published five years ago, but its points remain valid today. And, despite that article in Nature yesterday about us producing too many Ph.D.'s in the hard sciences and engineering, the reality is that we aren't producing enough. The problem isn't on the supply side; it's on the demand side.

Well, there are problems on the supply-side as well. We have kids spending four years in undergraduate studies, the first two years or more of which they should have mastered in high school. Then, around age 22, they enter a Ph.D. program, where they can be stuck for five to seven years. Sometimes longer, for those that do multiple post-docs. That's simply absurd. A Ph.D. should require no more than three years after undergrad, and there should be hybrid programs that produce a combined BS/Ph.D. after six years total. Simply getting rid of all the crap kids are required to take in undergrad and focusing on their real goals would suffice to allow that.

But the real problem is on the demand side. Government subsidizes many things. If they're going to spend our tax dollars subsidizing things, I'd like to see a lot more of those tax dollars going to subsidize our best and brightest in the sciences, which at least has a massive payoff down the road. And I don't mean subsidizing them while they're getting their educations, although that of course is important. I mean make sure they have a high likelihood of getting good, well-paying jobs after they get their degrees. As I've said, give any company that hires a Ph.D. scientist or engineer a tax credit (rather than a deduction). These are the folks who collectively will produce advances in science and technology that will benefit all of us. Right now, ouir policies are unintentionally discouraging them from pursuing these careers.


Wednesday, 27 April 2011
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08:32 - I check our Netflix instant queue periodically to see what's going to disappear shortly. Yesterday, I noticed that Rough Science, a British reality TV program, was to disappear as of 1 May. There are only 12 half-hour episodes, so we decided to watch one to see if we liked it. We ended up watching four or five episodes, and will finish the remaining ones over the next couple of days. There are supposedly more available on DVD, but Netflix doesn't have those.

It's an interesting concept. They plunk down half a dozen scientists from various disciplines in the middle of nowhere with limited resources and set tasks for them to complete. Last night, we were watching them searching for and recovering gold in New Zealand and measuring the movement of a glacier. I was surprised at the mix of scientists they chose. They had one chemist, one chemist/physicist, one physicist, and two biologists (one of whom is a botanist and one a virologist). I told Barbara I'd have gone lighter on the duplication and substituted a geologist and an engineer. (Actually, if I'd been them, I'd have picked me. Every group needs a generalist.)

Interestingly, Barbara and I probably aren't anywhere near six degrees of separation from any of the cast. One of them, Mike Bullivant, is an organic photochemist. Our friend Paul Jones is also an organic photochemist, so I suspect he and Mike run into each other frequently at organic photochemistry conferences.

I told Barbara in jest that I wondered if these were real scientists. At the beginning of each episode they get a box of goodies that they'll need for their tasks. The contents of that box are pretty predictable. For example, when they mentioned that it was cold and damp and that chapping of their hands would be a problem, so they'd need to make protective hand cream, I knew before they opened the goodies box that it'd be full of raw wool for the lanolin.

The chemist boiled down the wool to extract the lanolin and then used solvent extraction with vegetable oil to separate it from the water-soluble contaminants. The poor guy didn't have a sep funnel, of course, so they showed him trying to decant off the top (organic) layer without getting any of the bottom aqueous layer. The whole time, I was sitting there talking to the screen, telling him a better way to do the separation. "No, you moron. Just put the bottle in a pan and add water to the bottle until the organic layer overflows."

But the real reasons I wondered if they were actual scientists were subtle. For example, when they opened the goodies box, there weren't any fights about who got which equipment. Real scientists are scroungers, and wouldn't hesitate to steal what they needed (or wanted) from the other scientists. Or, when the botanist was using dendrochronology to determine when the most recent major earthquake in the region had been, she came up with a date of 1725. They then opened an envelope from something-or-other university that gave the actual date as 1718. The botanist was happy, saying she'd come pretty close. If she'd been a real scientist, she'd instead have said something like "Hah! The university was off by only seven years." (Just kidding. They're all real scientists, and they'd defer to other scientists with better equipment and better data.)

At any rate, it's a good series. Check it out while it's still available.


Thursday, 28 April 2011
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08:31 - I'm now in the he's-not-getting-any-bigger stage with Colin. This happens with every puppy. At some point, I decide it looks as though they've stopped growing, even though of course they continue growing until they reach adult size. IIRC, in a month or so Colin should look like he's running around on stilts. Interestingly, we're already pretty much free-feeding Colin. He eats what we put down only if he's hungry. Sometimes, he eats part of it and then leaves the rest for later. If he's not hungry, he just ignores it. Right now, he's lying beside me in my office, sharpening his fangs on my metal filing cabinet.

We watched more of Rough Science last night, leaving us only three episodes for tonight to finish the series, or what Netflix has of it. I finally realized who Ellen McCallie, my favorite of the three cuties, reminds me of. Abbie Smith, AKA ERV. (I suppose, in order not be be sexist, I should refer to McCallie, Sykes, and Smith by their proper titles as the Drs. Cutie. Well, technically, I believe Abbie is still doctoral candidate Cutie. No wonder women hit me. Although I did ask Mary Chervenak recently if I'm sexist. She said I'm not, but kindly left out the "but you are annoying" part.)


Friday, 29 April 2011
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08:39 - Life with the juvenile Tasmanian Devil continues. Yesterday morning, Colin indicated that he wanted to go out, so I rushed to the door to let him out. I was still in my pajamas, and carrying my cordless phone in one hand. I'd let him out the front door off-leash because he seemed to be in a hurry. He peed immediately and then decided to play his favorite game, which is to allow me to get almost-but-not-quite close enough to capture him before he scampers away.

I finally got close enough to grab his collar. I was running short of hands, so I set my cordless phone on the ground while I tried to connect his leash. He twisted away from me, grabbed the cordless phone, and scampered away to play his other favorite game, keep-away. So I chased him around the yard for several minutes, trying to get my cordless phone back. I finally reclaimed it. Surprisingly, there were no fang marks on it. I have some lab work to do today or tomorrow, so I'm going to have to crate or pen Colin while I do it. Puppies and lab work don't mix. He won't like it, but he's going to have to get used to it.

We finished watching Rough Science last night. I love watching competent people solve problems. We also watched an episode of Numb3rs, which is perilously close to jumping the shark. They had a computer damaged in an explosion, from which they pulled the hard drive. The forensic computer specialist couldn't read data from the drive, so she opened the drive, exposing the platters, from which she then supposedly read the data by waving a head manually over the disc surface. No clean room, you understand. She was sitting at her desk. Data recovery firms should make a note of this. Think of all the money they're wasting by building those unnecessary clean rooms.

The political news continues to be depressing. There's little doubt that Obama will run for re-election, but at this point the leading Republican prospective candidates are Huckabee and Romney, either of whom is nearly as bad as Obama, and Trump, who is complete buffoon. Ron Paul has taken preliminary steps, and may well run. That's the best we can hope for. Ron Paul to be elected president, with fiscal conservatives holding both houses of congress, ideally with two-thirds majorities. Unfortunately, that also means that social conservatives will hold both houses, which doesn't bode well for personal liberties. Fortunately, although Paul is personally a social conservative, he is a principled man who does not feel compelled to force his personal beliefs on others.

Sadly, that's unlikely to happen. More likely, we'll end up with a disaster. Four more years of Obama, or four years under another statist like Huckabee or Romney.


Saturday, 30 April 2011
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09:46 - I think I was right about Colin actually being a Tasmanian Devil. When I visited the Wikipedia page, I found this image of Colin (on the left) and one of his litter mates. The fangs, the claws, the steely-eyed stare, they're all the same. They even sit the same way. Well, actually, I think Colin is cuter, but that's probably just because he's one of our pack members.

Here's Colin for comparison.

12:56 - I see that, starting tomorrow, AT&T will set a cap on their broadband services. As expected, it's ridiculously low: 250 GB/month for their fiber customers, and only 150 GB/month for their DSL customers. To put that in context, 250 GB/month is only about 3.5 hours/day of Netflix HD streaming.

ISP's use "bandwidth" as their excuse, but that's a red herring. Major ISPs pay a tiny fraction of their broadband revenues for bandwidth, probably in the 2% to 3% range. In other words, for every $100 you pay for your broadband service, the ISP pays $2 or $3 for bandwidth. The real reason ISPs desperately want bandwidth caps is that streaming video cannibalizes their lucrative cable TV offerings. The last thing they want is people watching Netflix streaming instead of paying for their ridiculously overpriced cable TV packages.

In the past, regulations forbade those who provided the "pipes" from also selling content on those pipes. For example, the phone company was not allowed to deliver any programming over the phone wires. That's the way it still should be. If Time-Warner wants to be in the broadband utility business, fine. Let them do it. But don't allow them to sell cable TV programming, VoIP telephone service, and other enhanced services over those lines. The infrastructure must be completely separated from the content delivered by that infrastructure.

Failing that, legislators and regulators should at least require any cap set by ISPs to be reasonable, high enough to prevent the ISPs from using the cap to force their customers to buy other overpriced services from them. A 250 GB/month cap is ridiculously unreasonable. In today's market, a 2,500 GB/month cap would be reasonable, but as bandwidth-hungry services continue to be developed, that cap should be increased. A decade from now, a reasonable cap might be 25,000 GB/month. Just as important, ISPs must be forbidden to discriminate against packets because of those packets source or type.


Sunday, 1 May 2011
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10:18 - Colin turned 11 weeks old yesterday. He's been with us for less than two weeks, and Barbara and I are already exhausted. She remarked yesterday that this would be our last puppy. I suspect not. The aggravation is temporary, and before we know it Colin will have turned into a good adult dog. As it is, he spends most of his days curled up on the floor of my office. Most people would assume he's sleeping, but I know he's actually lying there growing.

We're teaching him now that he's not allowed to chomp people. With infrequent relapses, he now pretty much licks me, but he's still chomping Barbara pretty frequently. She squeals and pops his snout. He jumps back, but he still hasn't learned not to chomp her. We're also teaching him that his leash is not a toy. He has great fun grabbing the leash and tugging on it, getting it wrapped around his snout, legs, tail, and other body parts. I simply take the leash out of his mouth and tell him "NO" firmly. He's starting to get the idea.

Colin has backslid on house training, particularly when he's in demonic phase. He still usually pees outside, but he's apparently decided that the hall or master bathroom is the correct place to defecate. Fortunately, both are floored with ceramic tile.

We've started him on tennis balls, which he'll happily chase down and bring back 20 or 30 times. Unfortunately, he eventually decides to take a break from retrieving and shred that nice fuzzy cover.

Speaking of tennis, back when I was playing seriously I always wondered what it was like to receive my own serve. I just happened across a YouTube video that gave me some idea, starting at about 50 seconds in. The only time I had the speed of my cannonball serve measured was when I was 15 or 16 years old, when it was clocked at 137 MPH (220 KPH). I'd grown and gotten stronger by the time I was in college, so I don't doubt it was by then in the 150 MPH+ (240 KPH+) range.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.