Archive for Random Thoughts

The Book Stops Here

It's a book. It's all the books.Not really, but I couldn’t pass up that title.

In the age of the e-book, I still buy physical books. Firstly, these books often come from favorite authors whom I might one day meet and wish for them to autograph it and from books, though I have been considering reviving the old autograph book to collect signatures.

The Wall Street Journal just published an essay. Go read it, I’ll wait. Done? Okay. I want to call attention to one line in particular:

In fact, according to Pew, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes.

The second reason I still buy physical books is that some books aren’t available as e-books. I went to buy a bunch of books for my wife for Christmas (it’s how I spent the money my father gave me, because reading lots of books was something the two of them shared) and half of them weren’t available as e-books. There is a good chance that many people who would like to go 100% e-book simply can’t. If they won’t sell them, we can’t buy them.

The third reason I still buy physical books is that some publishers seem to think that an e-book should sell for nearly the same price as a hard cover. Seriously, go browse Amazon for a while and you’ll find plenty of examples where a physical hard cover can be bought for $12 or $15, and the e-book will be $15 to $20. This is primarily due to that agency model kerfuffle a while back where Amazon wanted to sell e-books the same way they do physical books, i.e. they wanted to pay the publisher the price the publisher was asking and then sell the book for any price they wanted. The publishers were afraid that e-books would destroy their physical book market, so they aligned against Amazon and force upon them the model of “We set the price, not you.” But only for e-books, Amazon still discounts the physical books.

See, Amazon, like any other retailer, pays (guessing) $12.50 per copy of a new book. The suggested retail price is $25. This is so the retailer can make a profit AND still run sales on it. “20% OFF!” brings it down to $20, still a nice margin from what they paid. Amazon, on the other hand, not needing to pay as much – no stores, fewer employees by volume, etc – can sell the same book for $14 and make up for the narrow margin by selling more copies. They were doing the same thing with e-books. Now they aren’t (can’t), though there are cases in court that might change this.

The fourth reason I still buy physical books… the technology just isn’t quite there for some books. It’s getting close, but frankly for long prose I’m always going to prefer an eInk screen like the older Kindle because I stare at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, when I get home I don’t want to stare at a computer screen for more as I read. But, tablets are becoming more advanced and the publishers and reader tech is catching up so that graphics heavy texts like manuals and comic books are beginning to work better. I can see myself in the future getting a large 10″ screened tablet to use for browsing and other tasks as well as reading graphics heavy books… I’ll still have the eInk reader for the novels.

The fifth and final reason that I still buy physical books: bookshelves. Someday, I will renovate my home and in that renovation I will have a library. Floor to ceiling books, preferably two floors, with a spiral staircase, and a fireplace with big comfy chairs where I will be surrounded by books… reading on my eReader.

The Standing Desk – Day One

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased the items I needed from IKEA to construct my standing desk. I had already gotten permission to make the desk, and then it took a while for me to remember to go to the store and buy the bolts I needed to finish it. But it is done.

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

Yo dawg! I heard you like desks, so I put a desk on your desk!

After getting it set up, I set about my day – standing instead of sitting. I had done my reading and knew to expect some foot and/or leg pain since I’m not used to standing for so long. I did sit for lunch, and toward the end of the day I found myself leaning on the other part of my L-shaped desk.

On the whole though, smashing success. I hurt a little, and I’m a little more tired, but in general I actually feel better. We’ll see how I feel in a week…

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. That means tomorrow we start undecorating.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Despite the sadness and tears, this was a good holiday.

Happy Holidays!

To play, perchance to game!

Perchance To Game

Perchance To GameThe voting went well. I’m playing Bastion now, and if you are friends with me on Steam you’ve probably seen and will continue to see me sharing screenshots. I’ve also begun writing about the game, making sure I jot down my feelings as I go rather than try to do it all at the end. Most importantly, though, I’m playing.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed gaming. Going through these Humble Bundle games is going to be great fun. But in additional to that, I’ve still got a bunch of Xbox games and other non-Bundle games to play. I need to start kicking more TV shows to the curb and playing more games!

Anyway, this post also serves to just say that voting is still open, so you can still help me set my next game, and the game after that, and the game after that, and so on… And there will be more polls in the future, because I would be insane to have installed an plug-in for WordPress to just use once.

There are no secrets on the Internet

The Secret

The SecretI wish this were obvious to more people. Even when a website claims to provide you privacy, it doesn’t. Simply the nature that the data – the text, the photos, etc – are stored somewhere else means that they can be gotten to. There is a nice article on this subject over at TechCrunch.

Long ago, back in 1998, I decided to start a blog. Back then it was called a .plan, but still, same thing. Before posting my first post I had a long conversation with myself. The moment I put something online, it could be copied and stored by others. It would be like have a conversation with a friend, knowing that the conversation was being recorded. The recording would exist and I would never know for certain who listened to it unless I had the only copy and destroyed it. Even then… Ultimately, I decided that I would post online, and nearly fifteen years later here we are.

That said, there are things I don’t explicitly talk about. I try as often as possible only to post about myself and my own feelings. I try to avoid stories that involve other people unless I can find a way to tackle it from my perspective with minimal impact on them. I have a wife, whose name is probably not hard to discover if you wanted to dig, but I don’t mention her by name in my writing, mostly because if I did I would feel the need to have her clear what I wrote before posting whereas if I just call her “the wife” or “my wife”, I feel okay just running with it. The same goes for much of my family and friends, mentioned in generalities but never specifics, unless they want to or unless they are no longer with us.

I’m very careful about posting photos… of other people. Dig here and you’ll find a shirtless photo of me. I’d advise against it. The only reason I posted it was an attempt to motivate myself to exercise (it didn’t work). I’d never post something like that of someone else without their permission, and explaining to them how the Internet works.

See, I’ve got nearly fifteen years of content on this site. I could go back and delete some of the older embarrassing stuff, but it wouldn’t go away. Google has a copy, as does the Internet Archive, and perhaps a stalker or two. Once released into the wild, it’s out of my control.

Even inside a walled garden, like Facebook. If you post a photo, even if you make it private and set the visibility to “Only Me”, that photo still exists on a server in the Facebook farm of servers. It can get hacked. Some people, specifically celebrities, have discovered things like if you put private photos on a service like flikr or elsewhere, people can hack those sites, get your photos and publish them on placed like the Encyclopedia Dramatica, at which point they are public and will exist in Google searches forever being reposted time and time again by people seeking hit/pageview/impressions driven revenue.

Your Facebook, your Flikr, your Twitter, your LiveJournal, etc, etc… no matter how “secure” you think they are, they aren’t. You should assume every time you post anything to the Internet that it is public and permanent – everyone will see it and it will never go away.

Anyway, enough seriousness. Let’s end this with a song…

I resolve.


ResolveThe title is to be read with the punctuation.

I wasn’t going to write a kick-off Happy New Year post, but then I thought about the fact that I’ve done one every year since 2002, so I couldn’t just let it go. I was looking back at last year’s post. I don’t think I was terribly far off for predictions of how the political arena would turn out. While I am thrilled at some of the people who got turned out on the street, I also think the people replacing them are still politicians and have no interest in actually making things better for everyone.

I was also completely wrong. There was an Apocalypse in 2012, but it was a personal one, and it happened just after Thanksgiving with my father’s passing. I never imagined I would be 38 and parentless.

That combined with a number of other things is why my resolutions will be so simple this year. There are two.

First, I resolve to write every day. It is so generic and simple. I am giving myself every possible chance to succeed.

Second, I resolve. Like the title of this post, that is meant to be read with the punctuation, “I resolve, period”. I’m going to work on planning things less and doing things more. The problem with planning is that you can feel accomplishment when you plan. You finish the plan, it feels good and then… you never get started. So, less planning, more starting.

And that starts today… see you later… I’ve got stuff to write.

The Pinewood Derby

Pinewood DerbyAs a Cub Scout, every year I looked forward to the Pinewood Derby. If you have no idea what that is, allow me to educate you. You get a box, which contains a block of wood, four plastic wheels and four nails. The wood has two slots cut into one side, in which you would use the nails to attach the wheels. Before you put the wheels on, however, you cut and paint the block of wood into a car.

The main reason why I looked forward to the derby was because I got to use my dad’s tools to make the car. Cutting and sanding, forming the shape I wanted. My father would supervise and maybe nudge me along if I was doing something completely and totally wrong, but for the most part, I made my own car. It was one of the many things my father encouraged that lead to me being unafraid of working with my hands. The post last week about my car was one thing, but around the house I’ve fixed a broken fridge, installed ceiling fans and lights, run wires for new outlets, built furniture, and more.

The second thing I looked forward to was actually racing the car. It a simple race, the cars lined up at the start down a steep drop and a long straightaway to the finish. I never won. Not once. But, my car always finished, which is better than some. The kids who always won, you could just look at the cars and know that most of them probably watched while their fathers made the car. They were too sleek and properly weighted, too aerodynamic. And this was before the Internet made it easy to go look up a design to copy. I mean, what 8-year-old kid would think to counter sink weights into the front of the car at just the right places to properly pull the car down the drop start of the track but not so heavy or poorly placed to slow it down on the straightaway. Most of the winners looked like professionally designed and painted cars.

On the other hand, the losers, like me, had cars with superhero logos and often bizarre shapes, you know, a kid’s idea of aerodynamic born of cartoons and science fiction. I never got a trophy, except when they started giving out those silly participation ribbons – yes, we had those even back in the 80’s, it’s not a new phenomena – but I was always proud of my car.

Looking back, I’m happy that my dad let me make my own mistakes and didn’t protect me from failure. I think most people are defined not by their wins but by how they recover from their losses. I’ve had my share of blows in life, been knocked down a time or two or twenty, but here I am, still standing.

I think I’m going to buy a Pinewood Derby kit and make myself just one more car…

Blue Christmas


As long as I could remember, it had always been “us” on Christmas Day. My mother, my father, my older brother, my younger brother and me. My mother passed in 2003, and since then the four boys continued on. But then my younger brother and his wife had a son, and who could deny a child the joy of Christmas morning at home? Not me, not when those were some of my favorite memories.

I was in search of a new tradition.

My wife and I decided that we would take my father out for breakfast. That would be the new thing. We did that a couple years, and now… my father is gone. From his passing on the 28th of November to now the time just slipped away. We’ve made no plans. Christmas morning will just be us and the dogs.

Just before he died, just after Thanksgiving, the last time I saw him in person, I was getting him to sign checks for Christmas gifts. Every year he sent money to the children from his first marriage, my half-brother and half-sister, and he gave my brothers and I money with which to purchase gifts in his name for our families. In my case, for me to purchase something for my wife, and for my wife to purchase something for me. Christmas morning we will be opening the last Christmas gifts from my father.

As if that were not enough, two years ago, one of my best friends died on Christmas Day. This year, much like last, I can only assume he will be heavy in my thoughts.

This evening we will join with the rest of my family for some gift exchanging and such, and I am certain there will be merriment and cheer, yet a pall will fall across the whole of the day.

I expect, however, that many of you are not weighed down with sorrows so fresh. So, though my heart is heavy this year, I wish to you all, sincerely, a very merry Christmas.

Shhh… it’s a secret!


nomailThe past few years, I’ve participated in a Secret Santa event from a community I belong to. Two years ago, it was just Quarter to Three, and last year too. This year it’s Quarter to Three and Broken Forum. The first year I participated in it, I was lame. I bought items from my Santee’s Amazon wish list based on a theme – all comic book related – and wrapped/packed them in old Comic Shop News issues. Last year, however, I took it upon myself to again pick a theme but to include something crafted, something unique. It went over extremely well.

Last year, I bought my Santee a couple of book in the Steampunk genre, and then I took a copy of his wedding photo and redid it as Steampunk. It’s the first image below.

This year, I was participating in two exchanges. For one, I went with a space theme – more specifically, Gundam. I got him a model that he wanted and then made up a photo to go along with it. It’s the second image. For the other, my Santee did not provide his wish list and he was fairly difficult to stalk because he actually keeps to himself a lot, but luckily he said he’d be open to anything. Since I’m a big zombie fan and he’s a chemical engineer, I decided to get him a selection of my favorite recent(ish) zombie books and created a photo of him working on zombie formulas in his lab. It’s the final image.

I’ve really enjoyed doing these, and I look forward to doing more of them in the years to come.


SerpentineOnce upon a time, a man could reasonable answer a request to perform a task with “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know anything about that.” In this modern age, however, saying that is equivalent to saying “I’m sorry, but I really am too lazy to Google that.”

When I was a kid, fifteen, and preparing to get my learner’s permit for driving, my father took me out to the car one day and popped the trunk. He showed me where the spare tire was and the jack and the lug nut wrench. He explained that even though many cars are different, there are standards and all the pieces I should need to change a tire were in the car somewhere. My father then showed me how to change a tire. Or rather, he pulled the car manual out of the glove box and showed me where to find the instructions on how to change a tire.

Years and a couple of cars later, I had my first ever flat tire. Pulled over on the side of the road, I didn’t panic or worry, I simply went to the trunk and located the spare, the jack, and the wrench. I got the manual out of the glove compartment and looked up where it told me the jack should be placed to lift the car without damaging it. Then I changed the tire.

That story is a perfect example of the two things by which I live most of my life: general knowledge and knowing where to go for more information. As a computer programmer, my entire philosophy and success is based on knowing the general principles of logic and programming, and then having books and websites I can go to to learn the specifics. If you corner me in an alley and ask me to program in JAVA or .NET I would possibly do okay, but it would be a struggle. Ask me while I’m at my desk, however, and I’ll pull out a book, open a few sites and get to work.

Last week, the serpentine belt came off my car. It didn’t break, it just slipped. I knew this was coming as I knew there was a previously diagnosed problem with the water pump I had been ignoring until I could afford to have it fixed. I’m not much of a car guy. I know the general principles on how engines work and what makes a car go, I know why oil is important and other tidbits, but I’m definitely not the guy you’d rely on to call up specific details on the fly. It’s just not my thing. However, I do have the Internet.

You see, I knew the car needed to get fixed, but I didn’t want to pay a couple hundred bucks for a tow to the shop. I knew that if I could put the belt back on, I could limp the car there on my own. So I Googled it. “1998 Jeep Cherokee serpentine belt”. I found dozens of websites and even instructional YouTube videos on the subject. I read, I watched, I grabbed my tools and headed out to the car. I put the serpentine belt back on and was able to limp the car to the shop.

Whether we know it or not we are learning all the time, and we may only come to realize the things that have become essential to the core of our being much later. Standing with the hood open, wielding knowledge from the Internet, my arms reaching down threading the serpentine belt back onto the pulleys, that’s when I remembered how I learned to change a tire and how the lesson I learned that day formed the person I am today.

Thanks, Dad.