Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mind Your Business

People are tweeting and blogging about the latest spat between and Macmillan Books. What exactly is going on? Apparently Amazon has pulled all of Macmillan books from their store over a price dispute. But this is just the result of a much deeper problem. What it really comes down to is the fact that one of these companies doesn't know what business they're in.

A hundred and fifty years ago people didn't buy candles so they could be candle owners. And they didn't buy ice from the ice truck because they wanted frozen water. Consumers wanted light, and consumers wanted cold food, and candle making companies and ice delivery services that didn't understand this fact disappeared when the light bulb and the refrigerator came along.

So what business is Macmillan in? That's an easy question to answer. Macmillan is in the business of printing, distributing, and selling hard copies of books. Macmillan doesn't want Amazon to release their ebooks until the hard copy version has been out for seven months. Printed books are their business. It's the one they have become comfortable with, and it's the one to which they are currently clinging, hoping that the life they now understand will still be here tomorrow.

The problem lies in the fact that readers don't buy books to own wood pulp and ink.

They buy books because they want stories.

Amazon is in the business of connections. They connect people who have stories with people who want stories. They allow almost anybody with a book to put it in their store. But they don't stop there. They also make it so that you can download books from Project Gutenberg. They know that good stories aren't just the new releases, but the classics as well. It's not about selling enough hardback copies to cover the bottom line, it's about providing a rip-roaring good story to somebody who needs the escape.

Amazon isn't perfect, but they do know their business. Publishers who figure it out have a good chance of staying in business.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Anybody can review familiar products like the Kindle, beef, or gravity. But I like to review products you may not have heard about. I should mention that I am NOT receiving any compensation for this review, and I've paid full price for the product.

I first heard about FitBit in November of 2008. I ordered two of these units right off the bat, thinking I'd give them to myself and my wife for Christmas. In the order confirmation, the company said, "we cannot guarantee Christmas delivery".

Well, they did in fact miss Christmas, but I didn't care. I decided to just give it to my wife for Valentine’s day.

They missed that holiday as well.

They missed Mother's day, our anniversary, Pioneer Day. Halloween, and Speak Like a Pirate day.

But I still didn't mind; rather than deliver a bad product on time, the company has delivered a great product late.

What the FitBit does is track your steps. They use the same technology as the motions sensors in your Wiimote, for about a 97 percent accuracy.

This is all well and good, but you're saying, 'what is the big deal about tracking steps? Well, I'll tell you, because that is what you do in a review.

What makes this device worth it's $99 sales price is its syncing capabilities. Every time I get within 15 or so feet of my computer, my device logs my steps to the FitBit website. By buying this device, I have access to the website for life--no monthly fees.

I can go to from any computer and see how many steps I've taken, how many calories I've burned, how much time I've spent sedentary and active, and more. In addition to my data, I can invite other people to be my friend. Once they are my friend, I can see their steps taken.

Everybody knows the mathematical formula 2p+(n>1)=F. This formulat states that if you have 2 people, and more than one number, then you have a fight. Or in sissy terms, a competition. (This forumula is related to 2c+1d=r (two cars going to the same destination means a race)).

I can have little mini-competitions with my friends to see who is a healthy, productive member of society, and who is a lazy, good-for-nothing leech. Ok, the site uses nicer terminology that thave, but you get the picture. It's always fun to compete against random people on the internet, right?

The reason I love FitBit so much is because I'm a numbers guy. This device gives me loads of data to track. And just about any time you track data, it affects your behavior.

For example, I've set a goal of hitting 9,000 steps every day. If I'm sitting on the couch at 10:30 PM, and I notice I've only hit 8,500, I hop up and wander around the living room for a while. For me, because I see the data, it makes me want to manipulate the data. Sure, those 500 steps probably only takes care of half a bite of the deep-fried
twinkie I was eating, but the point is that it's 500 steps I wouldn't have taken. I've gone on more random pointless walks in the past week than I have all last month.

The FitBit is ridiculously easy to use. Once a week you have to put it in the docking station overnight to recharge it, but other than that there is no maintenance.

If you've been meaning to get into shape, and you like data, and you have a spare $99, you really should consider the FitBit.

And if you get one, invite me to become your friend. I'm looking for fresh meat. I'll see you on the leader boards.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Kickstarter Fund

I just posted my new year resolutions, and now I'm off doing entirely different things. Why didn't I post that one of my goals was to raise ten thousand dollars for an educational website? Then I could post this, and pat myself on the back. Instead, I'm posting this and wondering if I'm losing my mind.

But this project is too cool to not try to get off the ground. You can visit the kickStarter page by clicking on the image below. The goal of the fundraising is to create a site that will make it easy for schools and organizations to create their own TwHistory project. As Josi Kilpack, Annette Lyon, Carole Warburton, and others can attest, right now it's a bit tricky to make everything work.

So click through and check us out!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Goals for 2010

Ok, usually I'm not one to make resolutions around New Year's Day. I usually just make fun of them because...well, because I'm a stinker.

It's not that I don't set goals, it's just that I do them as I think of them, not at the beginning of the year. But after reading Josi's post, I figure what the heck. I know that none of you are that interested in my goals for 2010, but I figure if I post them here, I might be motivated to actually accomplish them. If I don't accomplish them, you have my complete and full permission to mock me mercilessly come 2011.

  • Run a 5k, a 10k, and a half marathon
  • Start a business, and get at least 10 customers
  • Either find an agent, a publisher, or collect 100 rejection letters
  • Complete my last two practicums, and finish my comps
  • Tweet two historical events
  • Make a complete fool of myself while I MC at the LDStorymakers
I believe in setting at least one goal that I know I'm going to nail, which is why I included the last one.

Yeast: How I Loathe Thee

I hate yeast. I hate bread. I don't mean I don't like to eat it. I love to eat it. Fresh out of the oven, nutty whole wheat, flaky and crispy. I love it all.

And while I pride myself on being a pretty fantastic cook (I cook 90 percent of our meals when I'm home), I have never been able to make bread. I can't do it.

I'm a follow-the-recipe kind of guy. I don't vary from the recipe. I don't mess with how much corn starch, flour, sugar, etc. Somebody did a lot of scientific research writing that recipe, and I'm not about to substitute white flour with whole wheat flour willy-nilly.

So yesterday I found idiot-proof bread recipe. You don't even have to knead it, for crying out loud. There are only three ingredients, but one of them was yeast--my arch nemesis.

It's a new year, I told myself. I'm a grown man, I told myself. I can do this.

Well, apparently, no I can't.

The first problem came when the recipe said the dough would be shaggy. What in tarnation does that even mean? I know Shaggy from Scooby Doo, but that didn't seem to apply. And shaggy means hairy, but my dough (thankfully) didn't sprout hair. What it did do was look exactly like an albino cow pie, and about the same consistency.

The dough is supposed to raise for 12-18 hours; the longer the better, the article said. So I dutifully waited 18 hours. The dough is supposed to have bubbles, the article said. And it did! Maybe I had finally found the one kind of bread I could make.

What piled out of the bowl was soupy, runny, and still sticky. The jury was out whether or not the dough was shaggy, because the jury didn't know what shaggy meant either. I had followed the recipe to a T, but the dough was still a horrible mess.

I pressed on. I dusted with flour, I covered with plastic, I folded and tried raising it. Two hours later my pile of dough still looked like a cow pie. The article says, "dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger". Mine didn't double at all, and just sticks to your finger. It looks exactly like something that grows in size and takes over the town in one of those movies they used to show late at night, or on Saturday afternoon on the UHF channels back in the 80s. The dough sits there, like a sleeping sentient being. Like a bloated pimple on a whale. It's cooking right now, and it smells delicious, but I know that when it comes out of the oven it's going to be a flat, hard, tasteless pile of crud.

Because that is how all my bread turns out.

I'm going back to cooking bacon. I have a few new recipes to try.