Today is Boom Effect Day

Today is the day for the Boom Effect auction. Earlier this year, my friend Tee Morris lost his wife Natalie suddenly. The Boom Effect is a fundraiser to help with the future of his five year old daughter (known by the internet psuedonym of ‘Sonic Boom’). You can still make an outright donation to the fund via Chipin or you can bid on the various stuff in the auction. There will be a telethon style live telecast to go along with the auction and I’m embedding all this stuff into the post.

Tee has been a great friend to me, to CREATE South, to the podcasting world at large. Please do what you can to help him and his daughter in a very difficult time.

Slusher’s Law of Podcasting Redux

A few years back, I formulated Slusher’s Law of Podcasting, which roughly states that the more people are involved in a podcast, the less I care about it. Here’s someone who feels like I do about some multi-person podcasts:

Bungie. I tried. I really really tried. Your blog is full of interesting information. But for pitys sake, please, can you PLEASE STOP TALKING OVER THE TOP OF EACH OTHER. After 20 mins I just gave up because a) everyone constantly talked over each other (note, a pod cast is NOT a casual conversation, and even if it was, most of what people feel the need to share IMMEDIATELY is just Not That Interesting, certainly not worth destroying someone elses train of thought) and b) no one was ever explained who they are. Who is Joe whatever his name is? What does he do? Why is he being interviewed?

I’m with you, Jake. That’s why I tend to not listen to panel-type podcasts. The worst are the ones where all the people are friends and make nonstop in-jokes. If you are going to do a roundtable show, for god’s sake don’t constantly keep making inane jokes that interrupt the flow.

Using Calibre to Fetch Instapaper Documents

Today I was listening to Episode #81 of the Kindle Chronicles. It was especially interesting to me for three reasons:

  1. James McQuivey’s analysis of the Amazon/Macmillan dispute
  2. Len gave tips about using the great Instapaper service with one’s Kindle and
  3. Len mentioned me by name to reference this post on my thought experiment.

In the show, Len discussed the options in Instapaper to email documents to a Kindle but there is another way I’ll discuss shortly.

To back up, Instapaper is a great service that lets you mark long form articles to be read later. I have a bookmarklet in all my browsers that with a single click and mark any page as such. The service is good and seems to handle multipage articles pretty well.

If you are already a user of Calibre (and I suggest everyone serious about using e-reader devices should be), there is another option. Calibre already has functionality under the “Fetch News” option to pull down and create documents with a simple scripting language. There are a few hundred built in sources and the ability for you to create our own pretty simply, and then a scheduler to set up how often this news source is fetched.

Click the “Fetch News” button in the toolbar of Calibre. You can either type “Instapaper” in the search box, or navigate to the “Unknown” category at the bottom of the list and select “Instapaper.com”. Click the “Scheduled for Downloads” checkbox, select the frequency or schedule that you want to have it fetched. Below, enter your username (email address) and your password on the service. It’s that simple. Now, when Calibre fetches the news from Instapaper, it will assemble all of your “Unread” items into a document and also tell Instapaper to move those articles into the “Read” category so you don’t repeatedly fetch them.

I’ve had it set up this way for a few months now and really like it. If I see a blog post or link to an article that I’d like to read but is longer than I have time for currently, I hit the Instapaper “Read Later” bookmarklet and forget about it. At a future time, Calibre will fetch it and then it will automatically get moved to my Kindle and I’ll have it there to read – typically on the orbital trainer at the gym. It’s a nice, seamless way to keep from letting these longer articles drop through the cracks.

Update: I can see Len Edgerly has kindly linked to this blog post from the most recent Kindle Chronicles and will use this tip on a future show. Via email, he asked me a few days ago what the advantage is to this over having Instapaper just email it directly to you Kindle. My response in part was that I’m not sure I’d consider it an advantage per se. It’s just a different mode of interaction. I almost never email anything to my Kindle, and I do use Calibre as the central point in my book management, equivalently how you might use iTunes with music. All books from here on go into Calibre first for me, and from there to my Kindle or whatever future device I might have. Whether Gutenberg or any other DRM free source, I tend to get ePub and convert from there.

After I emailed Len I did think of some more explicit advantages. If one has a few different devices (like Len does) that you use interchangeably, whichever device you connect will automatically get the newest news content transferred to it. This means that you could hook your Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader et al to it shortly before you walk out the door and you’ll get the Instapaper document. It removes the Kindle specificity and makes it more of a total ecosystem tool.

In my case, I’m such a cheapskate that I’m not going to pay $0.15 per Instapaper push. I have to plug the Kindle up to charge it, so I just get the news when that happens. Different strokes for different folks.

Grand Strand Tech Expo

Tomorrow I will be at the inaugural year of the Grand Strand Tech Expo. I will be manning the table for {day job} as well as talking up CREATE South. It should be a fun time and we hope a useful time. If you are around the Myrtle Beach area and will be at the expo, come by and say hi. As a bonus, we’ll have information and stickers available for #MBGeekOut as well.

The Grand Strand Tech Expo is the kind of thing I like to support. At its heart, it has the same motivation as all of these various projects that I’ve been involved with. CREATE South, #MBGeekOut, the Grand Strand Bloggers et al are all driven by the desire to raise the profile of the Myrtle Beach area in the tech and social media world. The big benefit of these events is giving all of us a venue to realize that we’re all out here and none of us are alone. Rock on.

Around the Podosphere for 2/4/2010

Today was a particularly good day in my podcast queue. Here is the highlights of things I particularly enjoyed:

Within the last month I’ve recently started listening to The Kindle Chronicles podcast. Those podcasters who worry about soundproofing their rooms, try listening to Len Edgerly when his big ass grandfather clock starts chiming midnight. You might not need it as much as you think! Episode #79 featured a particularly good interview with Seth Harwood. I am one of the people who picked up his book A Long Way from Disney last December when he had his post-Xmas special. I liked this interview and think that Seth is a good example of a hybrid new-school/old-school writer. I recommend this series and this episode.

I’ve listened to every episode of the SModcast from the beginning (with the exception of the live show episodes that I had to skip.) My single favorite one ever is episode #103 with his mother Grace, where they get stoned together and tell tales of New Jersey. There’s a point towards the end where Kevin starts cracking his mother up until she gets hysterical. It’s very funny and also kind of sweet. It just made me a little happier to listen to it. Also, I agree with his commentor that says that his mom and Walt Flanagan sound the same. I thought exactly the same thing.

I’ve also listened to every single episode of the Rock and Roll Geek Show. I’m a lifer on that one with my buddy Michael Butler. In episode #387 he has an interview with Tappy Wright, who was the road manager for The Animals, Jimi Hendix and many more that he writes about in Rock Roadie. It’s a fascinating interview and includes Wright’s claim about how Hendrix was murdered. I recommend this for a listen along with every other of the nearly 400 shows.

For five years, I’ve been claiming one of the best upsides of podcasting is the feasibility of doing a show for a niche audience. One example of that in my subscription list is the Flash-back podcast. The episode I listened to today covers Blackest Night: Flash #2. This program covers the various Flash related comic books in excruciating detail. I’m talking panel by panel, friends. Every show is like a master’s thesis in the Flash family. This is not the sort of thing that is for everybody, but for certain obsessed fans of this character (such as myself) it is really and truly awesome.

RIP, Kage Baker

Possibly lost in the publishing world brouhaha of the weekend, science fiction writer Kage Baker died of cancer on Sunday. I didn’t know her well and only met her once in real life, but I interviewed her several times and read many of her novels and stories. I found her an utterly charming person, a delight to read and a delight to talk to. I wish I had been able to spend more time in her actual corporeal presence but I’m glad for what interaction I did get.

I wrote her an email on Thursday expressing my sympathies and gratitude that I ever got to meet her. I don’t know if it was too late or not to get read to her, and it doesn’t really matter that much. This sucks that she had to die so young but she did have loved ones around her and many that love her in this life. What more is there to ask for?

You could do a lot worse than to go read some of her work. I’m a particular fan of The Company stories that were the majority of her output, but everything is great. Goodbye, Ms. Baker. You will be missed.

My Take on Amazon Vs Macmillan

I really honestly didn’t want to write one more consecutive Kindle related post but current events conspired against me with the current dispute between Amazon and Macmillan. I am seeing a lot of analysis from my compatriots in the science fiction tribe, such as Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, this thread at Making Light. I completely understand all these people being pissed off when their livelihood blips off the map. It sucks but this sort of thing happens when corporate giants clash. It’s the dude who runs the diner by the stadium who is the true victim of a sports strike, and the writers and customers are the victims of the Amazon and Macmillan dispute.

Allow me to lay out a thought experiment I’ve seen nowhere else:

Imagine I am the executive of a large publishing concern. Some proportion of my company’s income flows through ebooks and the majority of that is through the Kindle at the moment. However, I as an executive in my heart of hearts don’t like ebooks. It’s not why I got into publishing, it’s weird and has different market dynamics from what I am used to. Even though I am making some money and the amount is growing, I fear that this is eroding and canibalizing the print sales I consider my real business. What I really wish is that ebooks would go away, but I can’t just pull them from retailers or explicitly state that.

Instead, what I want to do is to find a defensible price to raise end consumer prices that will effectively mean that no one much will buy it. Some hardcore fans will, but the fears about cannibalization will go away because the prices are so close to parity with paper that no one wants the ebook version anymore.

Now, imagine that the retailer won’t play ball with that. They are already willing to eat a loss per unit on sales, and even if I were to raise the wholesale price to them they’d be willing to eat that larger unit loss. What I really want is to change the basis of our business relationship that prevents them from setting the customer’s final price The retailer opposes this, even though this means that instead of taking a small loss they are going to make a $4.50 profit on each of the higher priced ebooks. They know that there will be a customer revolt and the backlash will take a market they’ve spent years nurturing and put a big hurt on it.

Now, suppose after negotiations reach an impasse, the retailer wants to signal seriousness to me, the publishing executing. They could choose to delist my firm’s ebooks as retaliation except that would give me exactly what I want. In this particular thought experiment, if the retailer were to try to apply coercive leverage to me, it would require them to also delist electronic and paper copies of books to have any effect on me, because my real end goal is to get ebooks delisted while keeping my hands completely clean.

::End though experiment::

Most of the commentary of my tribe seems to focus on how uncalled for the delisting of print books was. What I’m trying to present – without any knowledge of motivations of any players involved – a scenario in which Amazon could consider themselves justified in delisting the print books. I don’t want to alienate my friends, but they seem to all see Macmillan as the undisputed good guy and Amazon as the obvious bad guy here and I’m not sure I buy that. Between the two, the company looking out for my particular interests as a customer is Amazon. As RichSPK tweeted earlier today “How does increased competition (Apple’s iBooks to Amazon) result in higher prices to consumers?” That, sir, is an excellent question and one worth thinking about.