Archive for the ‘General Comments’ Category

Simple, Easy, Obvious . . . and WRONG

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

President-elect Trump has ridden the back of a wave of anger and fear and discontent. And no one can doubt that there are people in this country with real reasons to feel all of those things.

We cannot, we must not, ignore those feelings and those causes. But we should look deep into the root causes, rather than settling for the easy solution.

President-elect Trump has made rafts of promises, explicit and implicit, that he cannot possibly keep. For example, most of the
“good jobs” have been taken away not be trade but by technology and by time.

It is a simple fact that the economy has changed. Basic manufacturing jobs were once relatively high-paying jobs, and could be filled by those people who had a minimal education and training, but who were willing to work hard and who had physical skills.

But then again, there was a time when butchers were rich, and millers were in the top tier of the middle class. That changed long ago. Farmers with a hundred acres were once well off. That changed long ago.

Those “good jobs” in manufacturing will never be “good” in the same way again. And to the extent that their successor jobs exist, there will be far fewer of the ones that pay well, and they’ll demand far more of those who fill them. That’s what a change in time and technology has done for and to us.

The remaining jobs will be low wage jobs. They’ll offer wages that will get you about what the old jobs did — but the standards of wealth and sufficiency have changed. Now, a single car, and a small house etc aren’t a good living — in the US. Now, those are good jobs for a low-wage country, but not for here.

Now, the US worker needs to be able to do things differently, or to do different things, if he or she is to earn a “good wage.”

So, President Trump may be able to kill trade deals. He may even be able to force companies to continue to manufacture in the US. But those “good jobs” and the lives that went with them are gone for good.

What will he do when he has to confront that failure?

I’m terrified, because I believe that he, and those who depend upon his promises, won’t look for answers and for solutions in the world as it is, and in the technologic and economic changes that have occurred.

I think that they’re going to look for someone to blame. And we’ll have yet another populist turned tyrant as he hunts down that mythical group of Others who are doing us harm. It’s so much easier and more satisfying to blame Them for our problems.

You can hunt down and kill Them. And you’ll feel like you’re fixing what’s wrong with your life. It’s so much easier than looking at the type of work you’ve done in the past, and saying that it’s gone, and you’ll have to find a different way. It’s so much easier than picking up your family and moving. It’s so much easier than designing a government program to help impoverished families retrain and relocate, without producing pipe dreams or a failed command economy.

But the easy answer isn’t usually the right one when you’re addressing complex problems in the real world.

You know the old saying: To every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, obvious, easy . . . and WRONG.

We’re clearly headed in that direction. I wish we weren’t. Ideas?

Pick Your Battles

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

In this latest election, we’ve seen the results of a very polarized electorate, among other things.

I believe that it is incumbent upon all of us to DO something about that. Each of us cares deeply about some issue, or a few issues. There are places on the Internet where we can find like-minded souls, and discuss those issues, and we tend to congregate in those places.

But there are other places, where the benighted fools who disagree with us hang out.

I’m suggesting that we each go to one of those places, and every so often enter a conversation with the people who hang out there.

Be CIVIL. Be respectful. Listen to them. And with every possible fact, bit of logic and persuasiveness at our command, try to convince them of the validity of our POV.

You’re going to get flamed. But maybe, if you keep responding politely, seriously and thoughtfully, maybe you’ll open some minds.

If we all do this, and if we respond respectfully, politely and with careful consideration to those idiots who do the same in our groups, then it is my carefully considered opinion that we might just find our way to a better society.

Or so I hope.

The old saying goes, “Pick your battles.” I’m expanding that. My version runs: “Pick your battles, but DO pick some.”

When you’ve done this, please come back, and tell me what happened.

I look forward to your comments.

What is Money?

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Do you know what money is? Yes, the stuff in your bank account or wallet is, indeed, money, but there’s more to say.

We need money because barter is inherently inefficient. If you have some sort of “common store of value,” you figure out one price for your own offerings, and then everyone else does the same, instead of negotiating an exchange rate for every pair of goods or services that could be exchanged. You only have to carry money with you, instead of a wheelbarrow full of whatever you make.

The simplest definition of money is: a common store of value, the common element used to describe all prices.

Anything can be money, and a surprising number of things have been money. Cowrie shells are one example that most folks have read about. Wampum made of drilled shell beads is another. But there have been dozens of different things used as money.

So far, so obvious, and so very uncontroversial. But from here on, the going gets complex, and the controversy starts.

There is nothing that has any exchange value in and of itself. It only has an economic value if someone wants it, and if two (or more) people agree that “so much of thing X” is worth “so much of thing Y.”

This is far more true of money. Money is entirely a social construct. You can’t have money without having a governing body that stands behind it. Even if you use an object that has value on its own, someone has to standardize the weights and measures, and someone has to certify that the thing is genuine or pure. If you don’t have standardization, you’re back to barter, with separate negotiations every time.

Money, by definition, has to be controlled by a governing body.

Common sense says that an object that has a lot of value on its own is a better form of money than one that does not. The most popular example is precious metals. Gold and silver are real things you can hold in your hand, and they’ve been used as currency for centuries. They’re valuable in their own right for use in chemical and industrial processes, as well as for jewelry. Surely, then, they’re better, more stable, more effective as money than a piece of paper we’ve declared to be currency? No, they’re not.

Gold and silver do have value. But that value is not different in kind than the value of any other thing. It rises and falls as the uses for the metals gain or lose importance.The value also rises or falls with the discovery of new sources of gold or silver, as well.

Precious metals trading, like all other commodities trading, is a very risky form of gambling. Fortunes are regularly lost this way.

If you base your money on something that is riding its own roller coaster, your economy follows suit. On top of that gyration, you add the economic cycles that come from the rest of the activity that’s happening.

Remember the machines that medieval astronomers used to calculate the motion of the stars? The ones with wheels on wheels on top of wheels, all spinning madly around? That’s what an economy based on an item with a volatile value of its own does. It’s pretty to watch if you’re standing to the side and the motion is abstract. But roller coasters like that are only fun to ride if you’re in an amusement park. It’s absolutely no fun when the roller coaster is your economy, and the thing being turned upside down is your livelihood!

This is all theory, right? Nope. We’ve seen it in practice. In the times when gold and silver coins were the currency, economies regularly crashed or soared because of fluctuations in the intrinsic value of the metals (as vs. their value as currency).

For just one example: Spain went through one paroxysm after another when the treasure galleons were bringing bullion back home. The value of gold and silver, as metals, dropped precipitously, because the supply spiked. And this happened independently of all the rest of their economy. Its after-effects meant that Spain missed out on most of the Industrial Revolution.

Back then, gold and silver were most valuable as jewelry or coinage. But these days, we’re using them for so many things that there are many, many more reasons for the value of the metals to be volatile.

If traditional currencies aren’t ideal, what is? If you want to avoid “extra” bubbles and crashes, you need a currency that has almost no intrinsic worth — one that is valuable only because we have all agreed to use it as currency.

But it has to be rock solid.

Today, that’s a currency backed by the “full faith and credit” of a major economic powerhouse. Examples are the paper or electronic money regulated by the US or the EU. The paper itself has little intrinsic value, and what value it has is ignored by all who use it. When the paper changes, the value of the currency does not.

These forms of money do shift with the economic strength of the countries sponsoring them, but only with the economy and economic forecasts. (Yes the political strength of the countries involved has an impact, but only as it is expected to impact the economy.)

The problem with this type of money is that it gives those governments a great deal of power over their economies. And no one likes to be controlled.

So now, is that power is a bad thing? Governments are run by politicians. Elected politicians are predictably prone to doing the expedient thing, rather than taking an unpopular but necessary course. Elected politicians tend to be good at politics, but can’t possibly have a deep understanding of every thing that the government controls. So, they’re likely to choose an emotionally appealing, but ultimately stupid, course of action.

Fortunately, our politicians are aware of that, and many decades ago, they took themselves out of the day to day, or even year to year, control of the money supply. Instead, they select a board of highly qualified, experienced, and highly educated specialists who in turn do the controlling. These few people aren’t elected, so they’re not vulnerable to the type of short-term pressure that politicians are. And they don’t have to know anything except how their own actions in regulating our money will affect the economy.

Is it bad that they have this kind of control? Shifting from the gold standard to paper currency did reduce economic volatility. With time and experience, the US Federal Reserve Board has made great strides in reducing the number and severity of our panics, depressions and recessions. It may not seem that way, since this has been happening over more than any one person’s life time. But it is true. The more control over the money supply that our government has had, the better off we have been, over the centuries.

Is it better to avoid economic consequences or to have less governmental interference in things that affect us? Each person has to answer that question for him or herself.

For me, the control is beneficial, and its control is not such that I feel any negative impact.

Comments? Countervailing evidence?

Vampire Myths: The Ones We Simply Can’t Kill

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Do you have an authors’ or writers’ myth you’d love to kill? Ones that just keep going in defiance of all logic and reality? I have more than a few, and I’m collecting yours today, too!

Myth #1: The way to get published is to send your manuscript, in full, to a publisher or agent.
Why would they want your full manuscript before they ask for it? They have the instructions all over their sites, and all say to send queries or proposals. Many say that unsolicited manuscripts will be returned unopened. Believe them!

Myth #2: Editors will change your work until it sounds like them, not you.
Not if they’re any good, they won’t. The purpose of an editor is to help you figure out how your book can work better for the reader, while remaining true to your vision of it. That’s why one editor can have many very different, but excellent, authors on his or her list.

Myth #3: Editing is about fixing spelling and grammar.
That’s copyediting or maybe proofreading. Editing is about fixing the structure of the book, and the macro issues. Some of the small stuff may be caught along the way, but that’s not the point.

Myth #4: Big publishing is terrified of the self-publishing’s new modes, especially the e-book revolution.
Wish fulfillment, anyone? 99% of all manuscripts that float around are not worth publishing. They’re either so bad that it’s not worth trying to fix them, or they are good, but have a very limited market. So now, those manuscripts are going straight to ebook or being “POD published” (which is NOT the same as self-publishing with a POD printer). This is simply dumping the slush pile on an unsuspecting public, most of whom are showing the sterling good sense to buy elsewhere, or to do a pan review if they do accidentally purchase one.

Good stuff will sell, and be on the front pages of the on-line searches, and on bookstore shelves. And publishers still offer all the advantages that they always have. (Should this be another blog topic for later? Are you interested in this?)

I could keep going for a good long time, but I’ll give the rest of you a chance. What are your favorite myths? Skewer away!

Writer Beware vs. Another Troll-Blog

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Writer Beware is doing battle again on behalf of all of us who work in small press publishing and all of the writers who are entering the industry.

Go, read, comment and support them, and all the other writers and editors who have been attacked by the trolls.

BEA 2011

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Overall Impressions:

–Reed and the Javits staff have found a way to obscure the fact that it no longer fills an entire floor with exhibitors, but there was plenty of space around the edges for curtained enclosures and meeting rooms of various types.
–Despite the small number of exhibitors (or perhaps because of it), the aisles were full, and the mood seemed upbeat, enthusiastic and intent. I heard far less of the “this will be the last show” chatter.
–The “concurrent events” brought new blood into the mix. This bodes well for the future. Unfortunately, the total attendance didn’t go up with the inclusion of this new blood. That doesn’t bode as well.
–Oddly enough, I saw far fewer of the independent publishers’ booths and the denizens of Writers’ Row. It could be that the word has finally gotten out that those locations aren’t really offering the full benefit of being at the show, and that this isn’t a place where you go to sell a bunch of books on the spot.
–This was the “All Ebook, All the Time” BEA. I know that e- is the coming trend, and I certainly advocate being aware of how it can be used in your own publishing, and what the pros and cons are for your operation, but surely we could have found more topics to discuss? Maybe next year?

I attended one very interesting lecture, and yes, it was ebook-related. The presenter was from Attributor. If you publish in niches that suffer from large amounts of organized piracy, I would invest in their services. They search all of the darknet and legitimate file sharing sites (after all, there are legitimate reasons why you might need to upload things, for example team projects where people are telecommuting). When they locate files that might be caches of pirated material, use AI and expert systems to rank the most probably-pirated of the millions of files found, and then have humans examine them to prevent false positives.

Then they do a tiered enforcement action, resulting in a 99% success rate in getting the illegitimate material yanked, or converted to a revenue producing legitimate sales site.

The Profitable Publisher — A new E-Book Series

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Hello all,

I have finally (!!) released the first ebook in my new series. Yes, the series name is The Profitable Publisher. This first entry is subtitled: Making the Right Decisions. It’s short (maybe 40 pages, if you printed it out), so it shouldn’t give your brain indigestion.

I’d like to think that it should help any publisher make more money from all of your books. If you are moved to purchase it (from Amazon, or elsewhere as it comes out in other markets), do please let me know what you think?

Ebooks: What We Lose With Them

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Ebooks are wonderful things. I love them. I read on my Kindle, and on my Kindle app on the iPhone, and wouldn’t give them up for worlds.

With ebooks, we gain convenience and the ability to change font sizes. We gain on price and on environmental impact. We gain a number of obvious things. But we lose, as well, and some of the losses are less obvious.

We’re losing privacy, and we’re losing control of our books. We’re losing readability (both in terms of text design and in image resolution). And we’re losing barriers to entry, which is a two-edged sword.

Privacy: Some ebook readers already “phone home” and report what you’ve read and how far you’ve gotten in it. It’s not hard to imagine that this information could be used in many ways. Even if you’re reading on a device or an app that doesn’t seem to do this, it’s not hard to imagine hackers or security agencies that could install backdoors in your software that would allow them to monitor your activity. Paper books never do that. And it’s almost impossible to track your purchases at random stores, especially if you use cash.

Control: With a print-on-paper book, it’s very hard to take or damage your copy. With ebooks, someone else can take your copy without any physical contact with it. Amazon has already proven that they can pull your books back off the Kindle. Other ebook providers may or may not have the same capability.

Digital Rights Management techniques (DRM) also cuts into your control. It’s quite difficult to craft DRM that doesn’t prevent you from doing things that are within your rights, as well as those that aren’t. Certain types of copying are allowed, even by the most draconian interpretations of copyright.

Readability: Text design is an art that’s generally under-appreciated. But it doesn’t take long with a badly designed book before you realize that something feels wrong. It’s just harder to read, and often harder to understand. It’s not comfortable on the eyes. Something feels “off.”

But being able to change font sizes within a fixed screen size means that you text design and composition go out the window. Of course, the e-readers could come with a hyphenation and justification program, such as the modules that underpin TeX or InDesign, which would help enormously, but they don’t now, and they probably won’t in any near future. Who wants to wait for the text to be re-flowed when you change the font size? Who wants to pay more for the program or for the cpu size needed to run it?

Screen resolution on the Kindle is roughly twice what the resolution is on a computer screen, but it’s still only 1/2 to 1/4 what a printed book offers. And it’s black on gray only. The color screens of iPhones and laptops offer the lower dots per inch to offset their colors. It’s not as easy on the eyes.

Lower Barriers to Entry: The last loss I listed is the lowering of barriers to entry. This means that we gain ease of publishing. But as readers it means that we have a harder time finding the books we’ll enjoy. And as publishers it means we have a far harder time rising above the roar of the crowd to draw our readers’ attention. And that means that more new readers will experience fewer wonderful books in the short time during which they decide whether they “like books” or not. And that’s the worst loss to our literary community.

As usual, I invite you to tell me what I missed or messed up. The comments section doesn’t require registration, although it is moderated to reduce the flood of spammers.


Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

How many of you will be at BEA next week? And how many will be going to IBPA-U, the big seminar series before it? (Remember, PMA changed its name last year to IBPA.)

For those who are interested in the things I say:

–I’ll be teaching a class at IBPA-U called Building A Better Budget (Wed. morning) and an Ask The Expert table at 7 am. (Much coffee will be consumed. Also tea.)

–I’ll be doing a brief seminar on profitability in tough times on the floor of BEA Saturday afternoon, in the Independents’ Lounge run by Foreword Magazine and the NY Center for Independent Publishing.

–I’m open to having my brains picked almost any time you catch me — buy me a cup of coffee and my mind is yours for a good long time!

I hope to see some of you there. If you see my name on a tag — introduce yourself!

I’ve been doing more speaking lately (Denver and Sacramento in April, NYCIP in March, and these). I must admit, I’ve always enjoyed teaching and speaking. (Shameless promo: if your group is looking for a speaker on my type of topic, I’m very inexpensive!)

Managing Email

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Most of you probably know this already, but I hear more than a few complaints about being overwhelmed by email.

I get around 10,000 non-spam emails per month. I think the tactics I use will pay off for anyone handling more than 25 or 30 “real” emails per day. If you’re getting much more than 30,000 per month, you may need more sophisticated techniques.

Start with: spam filters.
I use a Bayesian one, and recommend this class of filters highly. They learn as you go from the emails that you mark as spam, and from the ones that you fish out of your email box as non-spam. After a few weeks of using one, you should be catching the vast majority of your spam, and have a false positive rate in around one or two tenths of one percent.

Follow with: threading.
Having your conversations collected by thread is critical. Not everyone “snips” well. (Snipping is cutting out the parts of the prior email that aren’t necessary for context, so that the whole thing isn’t miles long, and you can find the new entry whether it’s top posted or bottom. Doing it well means keeping enough but not too much to supply context.)

Next: subject filters and specialized boxes.
Most of my non-spam email comes from the listservs to which I belong. I filter all of that into special in-boxes, with one for each active list, and one for all of the inactive ones. These are all in a separate folder that I can look at when I have time.

Everything that doesn’t fit a bulk category goes into the general email box, and this tends to be either junk or urgent stuff. It also tends to be pretty small amounts.

Saving emails:
I have dozens of subject boxes, in nested folders (each layer gets more specific), and my email client program automatically indexes them for searching by subject, addressee and sender, or by keywords within the email. I take emails from my current in boxes and file them in these subject boxes when I have made whatever responses or actions are required.

To Do boxes:
If there are long-term projects or issues, I tend to create a to-do box for them, and file emails inside it, even if the action hasn’t been completed. Some of these take such a long time that my other active boxes get overwhelmed. It’s hard to keep track of more than 20 active emails in a box — or at most, 50.