Evil Genius Chronicles Podcast for March 3 2016 – Rating the Unrateable

In this episode, I play a song from John Howie Jr and the Rosewood Bluff; I talk about the various sorts of things I mess up; how do people keep up with the various digital goods they have purchased? I wonder if I am clinically manic depressive; I talk about an ugly Facebook fight; why don’t I rate books I don’t like when I know the author?

Here is the direct MP3 download for the Evil Genius Chronicles podcast, March 3 2016.

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Google Chrome on OS X Now Has Greasemonkey Built-in!

One of the big bummers for me of using Google Chrome on OS X was the lack of Greasemonkey script support. There were some various hackish ways to make it work for Windows versions but I couldn’t find a reasonable way on OS X. Tonight I realized part of why that is. The support is there, but there just is no interface around it. However, if you click on a Greasemonkey script it installs and is visible right there on the chrome://extensions page.

The main script I want to run is the “Enhance ComicBookDB” script, which adds some links and changes some defaults to that site. I clicked it and Chrome asked me if I wanted to install it. I did, reloaded Comic Book DB and voila, it was working. Wow! This is working for me in the 4.0.249.22 build. This makes me freakishly happy.

The Kindle is NOT a Closed System

I want to address one of the biggest bits of spurious push back I see on the Amazon Kindle. I see people over and over saying they don’t want one because it is a “closed system.” This is not the truth and I’ll get to that after a little prelude.

I’ve had mine for about seven months now and really enjoy it. It’s worked in to being a reasonable part of my daily life. About 80% of the non-comic book pleasure reading I’ve done in the last six months has been on this Kindle. When I do cardio at the gym I take it. When I need to be able to use Twitter or the the web in a mobile situation, I take it. When I shop the cheapo comic bins at a comic convention and need easy access to my collection inventory, I take it. This started as a luxury splurge for me, but it has become a daily tool of my life.

The counter argument I see over and over, in blog posts, in Facebook or FriendFeed comments when someone talks about the Kindle is something of the form: “I don’t want one because it is closed. I don’t want to have to buy all my books from Amazon.” I’ll give folks credit for not deliberately telling falsehoods, but that type of statement is not factual. You aren’t required to buy all your books from Amazon. You can put arbitrary documents on there from a variety of sources. I certainly do, and I’d imagine that practically every person that owns a Kindle has something on there that they didn’t purchase from Amazon.

I justified my Kindle purchase because in preparing for Reality Break interviews I get electronic copies of books. Sometimes these are prerelease manuscripts the author sends me, or electronic copies of a released book or in the case of Baen Books sometimes it is just temporary access to their Webscription catalog. Regardless of the path, I get ebook versions of a book I need to read to conduct an interview. Previously this required either reading on my laptop or printing out the book. I went to Dragon*Con 2008 with a giant stack of loose page printouts of books from Mur Lafferty and Tobias Buckell. It was a huge drag trying to read these things while standing in line or sitting in a restaurant with pages spilling everywhere. At that con, I thought “This would be so much easier with a Kindle.” Before the next year’s con, I did in fact own a Kindle.

In my seven months as a Kindle user, I have purchased exactly five books from Amazon for it: Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed, Anthony Artis’ The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide, Scott Kirsner’s Fans, Friends And Followers , Paul Melko’s The Walls of the Universe and Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc. In each case, the purchase process was simple and downright pleasant. I bought most of those from the regular Amazon web page but the Artis book I made a point of buying it from the Kindle itself as an experiment. Both ways of purchasing were equally easy and without issue.

I’ve paid Amazon around $60 (not all of these were the $9.99 price). However, I have hundreds of books on my Kindle. How did I get them? The first day after I bought it, I downloaded my entire library from Fictionwise and transferred it to the device. Because with Fictionwise you can choose a preferred format of books, I changed mine to MOBI and in 5 minutes had every book, short story and magazine that I had ever purchased with Fictionwise on my Kindle, in native format at that. Very sweet and easy.

It doesn’t stop there. I did an experiment where I took the first page of my recommendation list from the newly revived AlexLit site (I’ve had an account on there for 12 years!) and for every book that is in the public domain, I went and downloaded it from Project Gutenberg. That put another few dozen books on there, all for no cost and without any intervention from Amazon. I put them on via USB so I’m not paying the $0.10 per document to have them transferred. Even if I had transferred them at a dime apiece, that would have been $2.50 or so.

Add to this, I keep on my Kindle two text files related to my comic book collection. I take the data dump of my collection and my wishlist from ComicBookDB, run them through a formatting program and put the resulting text file on my Kindle. At Heroes Con, Dragon*Con and XCon, when I dug through the 3/$1 bins I had my electronic wishlist at the ready. If I wasn’t sure whether I had a specific issue, I’d switch over to my collection inventory to double check. It has a geeky irony to be using an ebook reader to handle my purchasing of paper comic books but it works out well.

These are just a couple of sources of books that one can use to get books for Kindle without paying Amazon. There is no definition of a “closed system” that this fits. One can argue that if such a proportion of my reading is non-Amazon why didn’t I get a different device? Fair enough question. In my case, I fiddled with a Sony Reader and just didn’t like it that much. I considered waiting for some cheaper Korean knockoffs but if my cheapo MP3 players are any indication, the spec sheets will tell one story while the actually usability is a whole different thing. I like the wireless access and I use it a little, for mobile tweeting and yelping and the like. It’s not good enough to do that iPhone/Blackberry thing of ignoring everyone else at the table but it is good enough to use Twitter to find parties at a SF convention. That’s good enough for me. It might be enough for you too. I’m not asking people to love the Kindle – everyone makes this decision for themselves. I am asking people to use valid and factual arguments when making the case for or against the device.

And while I’m on it, let me point to a dishonorable mention in Kindle criticism, here is a piece at Suvudu by Joe Schreiber, which includes this risible line:

If you own a Sony Reader or a Kindle, and you are able to use this amazing device to read hundreds of pages while its soft blue glow exhales into your eyes, well, big ups. I’m very glad for you.

That’s a clear indicator that Joe has determined these devices won’t work for him without ever actually being in the room with one. They don’t glow. That’s kind of the whole point of e-ink, my friend. It doesn’t glow, is opaque and easier on the eyes. It’s why we pay a premium for black and white e-ink devices when LCD are easy and cheap – it uses less power and is easier on the eyes for long haul reading. It’s OK to not like the device, but you should criticize it on aspects it actually has.

Update: I forgot a few other sources of books on my Kindle, all non-Amazon. I purchased the amazing King Dog by Ursula K. Le Guin from Book View Cafe, which is another up and coming source of electronic texts. I also purchased The Definitive ANTLR Reference from Pragmatic Programmers, which was more than a standard Kindle book at $24 but also cheaper than the paper version and allows me to download in MOBI, PDF or ePub but also tells me when the book has been updated so I can get an updated copy. That’s using the low friction distribution to good effect there.

Evil Genius Chronicles Podcast for January 4, 2009 – “The Start of Something Good”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for January 4, 2009. I play a song from the Jody Grind; I talk about the new year, about being too fat and deciding where to spend my time; I talk about how I am getting back to collecting comic books; I talk a little about Saul Griffith and lifestyle wattage; I play a song by John Cameron Mitchell and then drag race out of town.

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS. To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5. Bandwidth for this episode is provided by Cachefly.

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Evil Genius Chronicles Podcast for November 27, 2008 – “Thankful For You”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for November 27, 2008. I play a song from Camper Van Beethoven; I discuss what I’m thankful for; I talk about the fragile first few minutes of a podcast and how you can lose me in them; I talk about trying and failing to get organized with GTD and how Google and Android phones work into this; I play a breaking story from the Onion Radio News; I talk about how Twitter could have failed to screw up the I Want Sandy acquisition if they thought about it for 3 minutes; I talk about comic books and how they make the nerd in me really happy; I play a Siderunners song and then put myself in the oven for 3 to 5 hours.

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS. To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5. Bandwidth for this episode is provided by Cachefly.

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First Pass of Comics Done

I’ve entered everything I could on my printout into ComicBookDB. The next pass involves adding issues and/or titles to the database that don’t already exist in it. I’ve been pulling out copies of those issue and also ones that exist but need a scanned cover. I’ve uploaded around 10 covers so far. There are 90 more that are in my collection but have no cover, so over the next few weeks I should get all of those in there. I’m in this for the long game, so there is no particular hurry.

One of the things I’ve always notices about hobbies – be it comics or gaming or crafting – that you can tell you really love a hobby when you enjoy doing the most menial, routine things about it. I have no problem doing sorting and alphabetizing and filing work with my comic collection that I would hate to do for a living as a Harvey Pekar style file clerk (see what I did there?) It’s kind of mind-numbing work to pull file copies of comics, unbag them, scan them, save them to two files 100 pixels and 500 pixels wide, and then upload them. And yet, I am having fun. If only I could harness this to make every routine task in my life enjoyable, I would make a billion dollars. Which I then could spend on more comics.

Cataloging Comic Books

Every so often for the past few years, I’ve been looking for a good solution for computerizing my comic book collection. As I tentatively get back into collecting them, I’ve got a good solid mess of things that were once cataloged, added since, and just loose in unorganized boxes and piles. I wanted to get organized and find a tool for that.

I considered various client applications, including Books, Comic Collector and Delicious Monster. I didn’t really like any of them too much. I tried Comic Collector under Crossover but it didn’t run correctly and I didn’t want to have to fire up a VMWare instance every time I wanted to deal with my collection.

After some looking around, I ran across a few online services. I tried Stash My Comics but didn’t like it too much. I finally settled on ComicBookDB as my new home. I did a little bit of data entry to test it out, and it is surprisingly easy. I really like that you have 2 concurrent sets in the same database, your collection and your wish list. Since in most ways lately, I’m using my inventory as a way to figure out what I’m lacking so I know what to look for, it is nice to be able to set up that wish list explicitly. Even better, if you add an issue to your collection that had been on your wish list, it is automatically removed. There is an even cooler feature of wish lists that I’ll get to later.

Looking at any individual issue you can easily add it to either your collection or your wish list. You also have the ability to do bulk addition to either. I have a printout with a lot of data in this kind of notation: 1,2,6-10, 14,15 etc. Well guess what, you can type that exact string in and the system will parse it out and enter those issues. I’ve been entering in the issues from my old printout via that method, and have gotten almost 4000 issues entered in a few days of not very focused effort. As I’m entering in what I have, if it is a title I want to complete my collection or fill in gaps, I also enter those issues in the wish list at the same time. Currently I have 3668 issues cataloged, and a wish list of another 517.

My experience has been that the database is pretty well populated, but not universally for my collection. About 98% of the issues in my collection were already submitted. For those not in, there are some where the title exists but not my issue and some where the title or even the publisher is not in the database. Users are allowed to add data. I have opted to skip all of those things and come back to them at the end, after I catalog all the rest of my issues. At this point, there are 55 issues in my collection that have no cover scan submitted so I guess I’ll be a good citizen of ComicBookDB and submit those.

I have opted to make both my collection and wish list public, although you have an option to keep them private. For some reason I don’t understand, you can see collections when not logged in but have to be logged in to see wish lists so if you are dying to see my wish list you’ll have to create an account. To be honest, I’d like to encourage anyone with an interest in comics to sign up and use it. That’s because of the network effects of the super cool feature I alluded to above. You can mark issues in your collection as being available for trade and/or sale, known as “the marketplace.” You can then take your wish list and compare it with the marketplace, so you have an easy view of every issue you want that someone is offering. I find that highly cool. The service is several years old, but even so I don’t have a huge overlap between what I want and what others have. The more people that get on the site, the better that gets so encourage your friends! I have a wish list to fill.

Overall, I’m very happy with ComicBookDB in under a week of using it. For my needs of maintaining my collection and manage what I’m looking for, it works great. You can enter many issues easily. It remains to be seen whether the value of the marketplace is mostly theoretical or if I can actually use it to find things I’m looking for. As I get back into the comics world, I think this tool will make it better. All my duplicates will soon be up on the marketplace, all my wishlists filled out, and I’ll be ready for the future. Somewhere in here, I need to read some of these funnybooks, right?

Update: I forgot to mention a feature, that you can export your collection and wish list as CSV. When I’m done, I’m going to export a copy of my wish list, put it in Google Docs and have a copy of my list out in the cloud. If I ever get an Android phone then I’ll be able to access it nearly anywhere.

Update 2: I was so excited to get back to cataloging that I forgot another thing – this Greasemonkey script actually makes the site significantly more usable. It makes the search box default to “Title” search, which is relatively fast. WIthout it, the default is “Entire Site” which is slow and I’m almost always searching on the title anyway. It also adds a few quick links and fills in a few deficiencies. I’d love to see the main site roll in these enhancements and make the Greasemonkey script unnecessary.