Friday, December 09, 2011

Ebook Pricing

This started off as a bit of a mini rant on twitter the other day, but I thought it deserved to be fleshed out a bit as well as updated since some other information came to my attention this afternoon.

I love my Nook and take it pretty much everywhere. I consider it a great way to carry not only a book or two to read for pleasure but also a way to carry and access my programming books when I’m not near my bookshelf.

My major complaint is how much the ebooks cost in comparison to their paper counterparts. Sure, they knock a couple of dollars off of the price, but for books that cost $20-40, that’s really not much of a savings.

This isn’t just a whine on my part. Logically, ebooks should be cheaper. Think about it – they require no paper, no shelf space, no transportation costs (other than an internet connection) and can be replicated essentially forever (or at least until a publisher’s claim to the book ends and it reverts to the author)

I’m not complaining that programming and technology books are expensive. Given the amount of work that has to go into them, the limited market, and limited shelf life of most technologies (unless we’re talking about something like the K&R C book), they have to be relatively pricy in order to make a profit. I understand and accept that. We all need to make a living.

What I’m complaining about is the price difference, or rather almost lack of one, between the traditional paper books and the matching ebook. In some cases, as @jbehren pointed out, sometimes the ebook can cost more than the paper one (which is ridiculous unless, perhaps, you are paying to get a copy before the paper book even hits shelves and you just can’t wait).

The question, then, is what is a reasonable price for an ebook as compared to the paper one? Of course, the publishers would claim that their current prices are reasonable, but I disagree. Taking into account the savings caused by the lack of materials and associated costs, I’d say probably about half the price of a paper book.

Books are fairly pricy to write, but most of the cost is in the actual manufacture, shipping and storage. At half the cost of the dead tree edition, there should be enough money to still make a decent profit on the endeavor.

The half price range was sort of my gut feeling for a while, but today it was more or less confirmed by O’Reilly. For people that have an account at, all of their ebooks are buy one, get one free with coupon code (just look in your account under the heading Membersip).

Additionally, they will sell you an electronic copy of most of their books (bundled in multiple formats, not just PDF) for $5 if you register the paper version with them. It only applies to O’Reilly and MS Press titles so I can’t get epub copies of my Pragmatic Programmers books, but it’s a great start. (For the record, I got the PDF version of the Programming Ruby book cheaply when I bought the paper version during the Pragmatic Programmers special a while back, but PDFs don’t always scale well on smaller e-readers so availability in a variety of formats is a great plus).

I cheered when I saw the $5 electronic copy “upgrade” option, because, to me, that’s sort of the sweet spot for that service. I would gladly pay an extra $5 to have lifetime access to an ebook version of programming books that I own. In fact, I spent some time today registering my O’Reilly books so I can buy the epub copies later.

I don’t know if this is a limited time offer or one which they always have, but it is sort of telling as far as book pricing goes. It’s also something well worth taking advantage of.

Current mood: tired
Current music: Smashing Pumpkins – Cherub Rock

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy Birthday

I love you

Saturday, October 08, 2011

When To Say No.

A lot of people that I’ve known, including clients and a previous boss, have been under the impression that we as developers (or sysadmins, or whatever else) are to do what the client (internal or external) wants. Period. They think that this is the reason why we are employed. This isn’t really true.

My old boss’s argument was that we were only a cost center and not the ones generating the revenue. This is an extremely short sighted view to take.

Our job, is to give the client what they NEED in order to do their job and for their company (and ours) to make money. There is a very large difference.

One thing we have to ask ourselves on virtually every feature of a program and even on every project is “why?”

Why are we doing this?
Does it fulfill a business need?
Does it make the company money?
Does it save the company money?
Does it make the life of people at the business easier so that they can do one of the above more effectively?

If it doesn’t fill some need, then why are we doing it? Most of the developers that I know don’t want to work on a system that nobody is really going to use, and adding features that make no sense only increases the chance of bugs in the software as well as increases the development time.

For example, say a client commissions a piece of software and one of the features, after all is said and done costs $10,000, will the value that they derive from that feature be greater than the cost? If the answer is no, then why (other than the $10,000 going into your company’s bank account) would you do it? Sure, you can keep your mouth shut and pocket the check, but chances are that the reputation may well catch up with you down the road.

Projects that come in on time and under budget tend to get you more projects. Projects that overrun on the budget and/or time don’t.

The problem is in convincing the client that they don’t need the feature (which I generally call “kitchen sink features” and a lot of people call gold plating). Sometimes the client doesn’t want to let go of a feature because they have a checklist that they want to fulfill for bragging rights/marketing material. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to let go of *anything* and sometimes there’s some other reason.

If it turns out that you were wrong about them not needing the feature, then drop the argument and build the feature. If, however, you can deliver a better product (less bug prone, easier to maintain, etc) and do it faster without an unneeded feature, then you may want to make a business case for doing exactly that.

I’ll admit that it’s extremely difficult to make a business case against an emotional response (in this case, the desire for more more more), but it can be done.

I had a discussion with Jim Holmes on this topic at Stir Trek back in May and he had an interesting way to take care of the issue. In fact, I approve of it so wholeheartedly that it earns my Sneaky Evil Bastard Award.

He had a client that wanted far more functionality than could be delivered in the time and budget that was allocated to the project and, predictably, the client didn’t want to let go of any functionality, claiming it was all equally important.

Jim’s solution was to target one of the parts he knew they REALLY wanted as being impossible to complete given the resources since everything was equally important. Magically, the client changed their minds and decided that the unimportant functionality wasn’t vital after all, and they were able to finish the project within a reasonable time frame.

It’s funny how that works. =]

Failed projects are a bad thing. So are projects that nobody really uses. Don’t cave in to the pressure. Do the right thing when you can and work to the best of your ability. This isn’t a one-sided deal. Every piece of software involves a partnership between the craftsmen and the owners and that requires give and take from both sides. If you approach it that way, you frequently get better results.

Current Mood: thoughtful
Current Music: Jimmy Eat World – The Middle

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Restaurant Review: Rusty’s Wharf

It always seems that the really fun discoveries are made by chance. That is certainly the case this time.

While in Pataskala for some personal business, I saw a little plaza across the street (60 Oak Meadow Drive), and Karyl and I decided to put off our plans for dinner to check it out as neither of us had really noticed the place before.

I’m glad I did, because when I pulled into the parking lot, I spotted a sign that displayed the words “Fish & Chips” rather prominently. For those of you who know me, you know that I’m a big fan of those words and have been searching for a good fish and chips place in the area (I can’t help it. I miss the beach and haven’t been able to go there in ages).

Thankfully, my girlfriend totally agrees with my fish and chips addiction (and my seafood addiction in general, being another beach person), so we decided to have dinner there instead of our previous plans.

We weren’t disappointed at all.

Upon opening the door, we were greeted with the wonderful aroma of cooking seafood (not the smell of grease that so many places have). The d├ęcor was straight out of a North Carolina restaurant, but the thing that first caught my attention was the fact that there was a bottle of malt vinegar at each table. Score!
Even at just before 5:00pm on a Saturday, the place was pretty busy, but not so busy that it was excessively noisy or crowded. The tables were about half full and there was a steady stream of people and families coming in to get orders to go.

The staff was very nice, the menu, which is available on their website, was full of beach-side staples (fish and chips, clams, chowder, and the like as well as chicken for those who are less seafood inclined) and the prices were almost fast food-like. Karyl’s basket combo (which is a basket of seafood, fries and two hush puppies, a side, and a medium drink) was $6.50 and mine with an extra side of clams was $9.00.

After ordering, we got our drinks and found a seat to chat and wait until the food was brought out. A few minutes later, the baskets were brought out and we were in shock – the food not only looked amazing, there was a small mountain of food in our baskets. Below is a photo of my basket (cod and chips, with an extra piece of cod as my side and an extra side of clams):

The cod was nearly perfect. It was light and flaky instead of oily like so many places make it, the hush puppies were crispy outside and the consistency of good bread inside with a sweet cornbread flavor, the chips were above par, and the clams were very lightly spiced and tasted as though the batter were at least partially cornmeal based.

I can’t tell you how their desserts are because neither of us had room for it after the mountain of food.

Just as we were finishing up, one of the ladies who works there came up to ask us if we needed anything. Our response was that we didn’t (We honestly couldn’t have even considered anything else), but we did have a few questions.  Among other things, I was wondering if this was a chain I had never heard of or a one of a kind restaurant as they had several hallmarks of a chain – customized floor mats, gift cards, etc.

It turns out that it was not a chain, but was, in fact a family owned restaurant. The very nice lady that we were talking to was the owner along with her son and it seems that her husband, a general contractor, had done the build out for the space (having done a little carpentry with my father as a kid, I can say that the man did himself proud on that space. It was very well done).

What’s more, the restaurant has only been open since November though she has, in her words, been doing this for years and almost all of its business has been due to word of mouth. With a following that makes it look like it’s been there a couple of years at least, this is no small feat and is, in all honesty, a testament to the quality of the food and the service.

During our conversation, it also came out that they’re hoping to eventually open a second location (possibly in Gahanna) if things continue to go well. We can only hope that this happens and that the second location is as good as the original.

If you’re in the mood for good seaside food a very short drive from the Polaris/Westerville area (and most of the rest of Columbus, honestly), I can’t recommend Rusty’s Wharf enough. Give it a try. You won’t regret it.

Current mood – calm
Current music – Bruce Hornsby – Every Little Kiss

Friday, April 01, 2011

Product Review: Toptech 35 LED Video Light
While looking for something camera-related on Google’s marketplace, I ran into a piece of camera equipment that I had to add to my eBay watch list.

It was a 35 LED continuous light with a hot shoe mount. It also came with an adapter that lets you attach it to the tripod mount of your camera (my Pentax Optio in this case). It’s extremely lightweight and powered by 2 AA batteries.

The one I first ran into was about $48 with free shipping, but poking around on eBay some more, I found the exact same model of light for $24 shipped, so I went ahead and got it.

I ordered the light a week or so ago and it came in today. Me being me, I spent some time playing with it around the house to get a feel for it and I have to say that I’m quite happy with it and want to get a second one (and possibly a third in order to modify it to use filters).

The light itself is about 3.5 inches by 2 inches, so it’s extremely portable. In fact, due to its size and the way that it’s made, there are actually three ways that you can use it. 

  • It can be used with the included camera mount or on placed in the hot shoe (provided your camera has one). This works quite well for video and fairly well for photos. The downside is that you only have so much range of motion with the length of the bar.
  • It can be used in your free hand. This doesn’t tend to work as well for video but works much better for photos as you have a much larger range of motion so you can light your subject from pretty much any angle you can manage to position your hands in.
  • Due to the way that the camera mount is made, the hot shoe to tripod thread portion can be removed and the light can be mounted directly on a tripod (in my case a flexible mini tripod). This makes it absolutely amazing for photos where you are shooting a fixed object as you can choose the range and position of the light as well as the camera and have the two not be limited by the length of the bar or your arms.

With 35 LEDs, it is extremely bright. Make sure not to have it pointing toward you when you turn it on. Otherwise, you will be seeing large light spots for a while. I found this out by accidentally bumping the switch while looking the unit over.

It works well for providing extra light for videos indoors (and I would assume outside at night since I have not had a chance to test it in that setting yet) as well as for photos without having the washed out colors that using a flash typically produces.

As a set of example shots, I set up a blue background on my desk and took a few shots during the day and tonight after the sun went down. I chose a can of Ski as my subject since pretty much everyone is familiar with the size, shape, etc of a soda can (and if I am going to use a can of soda, I might as well pimp the beverage of my hometown).

All of the above photos were taken at a range of about 2-3 feet with no post production for color correction, etc. The only alterations at all were cropping and resizing in order to be more web friendly as the original photos also contain portions of my desk, are 3264x2448, and weigh in at 3-4MB per photo.

First, let’s look at the day shots.

Daytime shot, no lighting, no flash:

Daytime shot, flash:

Daytime shot, camera mounted LED light:

Not as bright as the flash, but the colors are far less washed out. Also keep in mind that this photo was taken with the light mounted slightly to the side of the camera which, in my opinion, is not optimal for still photography.

The night shots were taken in the same place. This room has a single overhead light (one bulb) on in the shots.

Room lighting, no LED, no flash:

Room lighting, flash:

Room lighting, camera mounted LED light:

Again, not as “crisp” as the flash, but much warmer

And a few with the room lighting turned off so there is practically zero light other than the LED unit for the sake of showing how it does in very low light. (This is why the photos appear somewhat dark)

LED camera mounted:

LED hand held from the left:

LED hand held from above:

I realize that some people prefer the hard, crisp nature of using a flash, but I really do prefer the more natural colors provided by a continuous lighting source. The really great thing, though, is that most flashes have a pretty limited range while this light illuminates pretty well to 12+ feet and works for video as well.

They make a larger 126 LED version as well that I plan to get a few of later when I get a more powerful camera. The reason I want more than one is that I have plans to make a portable light rig for outdoor photo shoots.

Current mood - happy
Current music - Van Halen - Dance the Night Away

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I’m not dead

Honestly.  I’m still somewhat alive.  It has, however, been a long winter.

There just hasn’t been a lot of time for blogging.  On top of writing code and interviewing, this winter has been a series of injuries (mostly weather related) and illnesses for me and Karyl as well as dealing with the standard stuff around the house.

The last time I can think of that we spent any real time out just relaxing was the day we had lunch with Jeremiah to wish him well before he moved and that was at the end of January.

I’ve been that busy.  We both have been, really.  To give you an idea of the level of insanity, K’s parents live just down the road and we almost never get a chance to see them.

I haven’t really even had much of a chance to go out and wander around snapping photos (hey, it relaxes me).  Most of the things on Flickr since the end of November have been of things in/around the house, photos of a CONDG meeting or were taken while we were running errands.

I actually posted some photos from my first digital camera earlier this month because I haven’t been able to take anything new.

One of the many downsides to being as busy as I have been is that I don’t exactly feel motivated to write anything of any real length.  I’ve been posting on twitter, but that’s about it.  Every time I’ve had an idea for a blog post, I’ve gotten bogged down with other things and then lost the inspiration to write, or, if I did write, it felt too forced to post.

There have been a number of times when we’ve decided that we should try to get someone to pay us to do a study on human hibernation, but we didn’t think anyone would go for that.  Besides which, if you consider what going to the bathroom after waking up is like, I can only imagine how bad it would be after sleeping for months on end.

Current mood - Tired (hey, it’s almost 1:30am)
Current music - Fleetwood Mac – Temporary One