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Monday, July 26, 2010

Remembering Mike Watts, my friend

This past weekend, we lost my good friend Mike Watts.

Mike was the track photographer at both Mohawk International Raceway in Hogansburg and Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh.

Mike loved stock car racing and was a great friend. Mike was the kind of guy that made you feel special whenever you talked to him.

All of us in the North Country racing community are devastated by his loss. My deepest sympathies to his wife Jane and sons Mike Jr. and Andy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This Gift from Mother Nature

Okay, I live in New York's North Country, ten miles from the Canadian border.

It snows here. It's winter six months of the year up here. I get that.

But this is the view of my backyard this afternoon, April 27th, 2010.

The month of May starts in a mere 78 hours...three days...and it's time to get the shovel out!

(Still, snow vs. tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tidal waves, droughts, wildfires...I guess having to shovel in the last week of April isn't so bad.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What the GOP Really Stands For

I don't get mad very often. But this makes me furious.

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the other conservative creeps are insulting an 11-year-old boy after his mother died because she didn't have health insurance.

The Conservative movement can use whatever arguments it wants to justify its actions -- we're against big government, we think people should have individual choice, we believe in personal responsibility and on and on.

Some of those arguments sound appealing at first glance. They fall apart under any serious examination.

But in the end, the Conservative movement boils down to, "People should be allowed to die."

They won't say that, but that's what happens if they get their way.

The health care system we have now leaves tens of millions of Americans uninsured. Millions of Americans who cannot afford insurance, who have lost their homes because they got sick, who have chronic health issues and who cannot afford enormous insurance premiums.

The system we have now wastes a huge amount of money in administrative costs--health insurance companies spend a huge amount of time finding ways of denying legitimate claims and dumping customers who dare to use the benefits they have already paid for.

We spend more on health care as a percentage of GDP than any nation on Earth and have far worse outcomes than those evil socialized nations like Canada and most of Western Europe, which deliver healthcare to everyone in the nation at a far lower cost than the US system. I live 20 minutes from the Canadian border, I talk to dozens of Canadians every weekend when I'm announcing stock car races and trust me, as a whole, they feel their system is vastly superior to ours. Honestly, most of them think we're crazy for putting up with the fact that we're the only major industrialized nation on the planet without nationalized healthcare.

The Conservative movement: We can spend billions on wars overseas but if you're an ordinary American who works hard to take care of their family, yeah, we'll let you die. And then we'll mock your grieving children.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thank You, Dick Cheney

Former VP Dick Cheney has been unleashed again, presumably without his meds. Now he thinks the Obama Administration should "thank" George W. Bush and Cheney for all the swell things they've done to make President Obama's life easier.

Here's a few of W.'s accomplishments:

* Allowing the largest domestic terror attack in the history of the country to happen despite repeated warnings from the State Dept. But W. had brush to clear at his Crawford ranch and couldn't be bothered to take action.

* Starting a war of choice and not necessity by attacking a nation that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks (that would be Iraq, for those keeping score at home). Bush's "easy" war where we would be "greeted as liberators and not conquerers" turned a stable if authortarian state into a seething cauldron of violence that is creating a whole new generation of terrorists. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, no doubt about it...but I really think setting off a civil war that STILL threatens to engulf the entire region is inarguably worse.

* By taking out Iraq, Bush helped make Iran a powerful agitator in the Gulf Region, which threatens to further destabilize the region for years to come.

Oh, yeah, there's a lot more after the break...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Authors Love their Publishers...

Authors love their publishers...the way cattle love their farmer.

See the kind farmer, how he feeds and nurtures his cattle. How he takes care of them, protects them from the big, bad predators beyond the confines of the electric fence.

The farmer is looking out for the interests of his cattle out of the goodness of his heart, the cattle all moo to each other...right until they're shipped out to the big farm in the sky.

Right now, many authors are going on and on about how publishers like MacMillan are just looking out for the authors' interests in the battle against the big, bad Amazon wolf. (Commentary from John Scalzi, Catherynne M Valente, Scott Westerfield, Tobias Buckell -- of the group, I found Buckell's comments to be the most reasoned and insightful.)

Meanwhile, the publishers are paying authors tiny royalties from their ebook sales.

My fellow authors:

I know the publishing world is a big, scary place. I know many of you are turning to your publishers for comfort, the same way that Metallica suckled up to music labels when it started complaining about music downloading. But remember, the publisher is interested in you only for the money you can make for them.

Don't be part of the herd. Supply your books directly to ebook distributors. Even sell directly to readers.

Give readers what they want: open, non-DRMd formats, no geographic restrictions, decent pricing. Make decent royalties.

And take your fate into your own hands instead of waiting for the day that Farmer Brown decides you're no longer economically worthwhile and sends you off to be turned into a baseball glove.

Don't think it can happen to you? Go ask a midlist author or two whether or not it can happen to you.

Look at the economics:

With a big publisher, you need to sell tens upon tens of thousands of each book to make a living. On a typical 8-10% royalty, that's maybe 75 cents royalty per paperback sold. Say a target income of $30,000 a year = 40,000 books a year sold. That's a tough nut to crack in the current marketplace, what with returns, fighting for shelf space, etc.

Now, selling directly through ebook distributors: $2.99 ebook with 70% royalty = a little over $2.00 a book. Same income selling 15,000 books a year.

Yes, 15,000 is a lot of ebooks right now. But bear in mind, no warehouse or shipping costs. No fighting for shelf space, only mind share. Your books are instantly available around the world to anyone who speaks English with an internet connection and $3. Providing books in open, universal formats like HTML, PDF and txt helps, too.

Now, here's the kicker. Mix sales and giveaways of ebooks to increase awareness of yourself as an author and upsell readers to something really valuable: Write one novel a year and self-publish in a limited edition, autographed hardcover with bound-in CD extras: Interviews, behind the scenes, alternate scenes, etc....stuff you have lying around in your scraps folder anyway.

Sell the hardcover for $25 + shipping. Sell direct only to readers and at cons and appearances, or non-returnable to wholesalers who might be interested. Production cost is about $5, so you make a $20 profit.

Now, you're looking at a pretty viable business: Sell 1,000 limited edition hardcovers ($20,000), sell 5,000 ebooks ($10,000) and giveaway a whole bunch of freebies to prime the well. Anything above those numbers is gravy.

It's what's going to happen anyway...the question is, are you going to do it now and embrace the future...or wait until it's done to you?



Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say "Amazon good, MacMillan bad." I've made it clear earlier that I believe MacMillan has every right to charge whatever the market will bear and Amazon should have let them...and I suspect Amazon is blocking that pricing because they want to dominate the ebook market.

A couple of points, however:

* I know it is NOT the publishers' fault for the death of the midlist--not entirely, anyway. Publishers are struggling to get books into stores with limited shelf-space. With the industry dominated by two major bricks-and-mortar retailers, those two companies can dictate a lot of terms.

But publishers, most of them now owned by large corporations, are obsessed with "swing for the fences" results--they want everything to be a big hit and aren't really all that concerned with nurturing a new generation of writers who can post reliable but unspectacular numbers.

* Amazon needs content to sell and they don't care if it comes from MacMillan or JoeNewb. You're not competing for shelf-space online and that is a HUGE issue for authors.

* I'm not blindly saying "trust Amazon." I don't trust Amazon. I'm not under any illusion that they'll pay out that 70% royalty one day longer than they need to, and when they dominate the market, they're going to whittle it down to something favorable to them.

* I don't own a dedicated ereader and never expect to own one. I think it's an interim technology, just like PDAs have turned out to be. Most people will end up reading their ebooks on laptops, netbook/smartbooks or portable media players.

I think dedicated ebook readers with proprietary formats and DRM are just a bad purchasing decision.

I get all of my ebooks as non-DRMd PDFs, Epubs, HTML or text downloads. If I can't get it that way, I just buy the mass market paperback. I buy a LOT of used books. Authors and publishers are missing out on a lot of royalties from more frugal readers like me.

HOWEVER, the thing to remember is that Amazon need not be the only game in town. In online retailing, they can be on top of the world this year...and in a heap o' trouble the next. I see companies along the lines of becoming a major player in publishing. No DRM, open formats, great prices, no proprietary hardware--what's not to love?

I think a big part of that is the same few points I keep harping on every time: Non-DRM, open universal formats (HTML, PDF, txt...Epub I guess although I don't see the point), no geographic restrictions, very modest pricing.

With that combination and the freedom as an author to go where the best deal is, you can sell anywhere, anytime, to anyone and make a decent royalty...and give your fans a great product at a fair price. You are not at the mercy of any outside company.

The key is going to be "how to find ebooks you're interested in"? You'll see social aggregators like becoming much more important as people turn to them to find new authors, share ideas and catch up on "what's new and exciting." You'll see news and gossip sites dedicated to books and storytelling -- like Slashdot or Digg for books. That is where the power in publishing is going to end up.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can MacMillan Dictate Ebook Prices?

The Story So Far on "Ebook Smackdown"...

* Amazon dictates ebook pricing to the publishing industry. Much grumbling ensues.

* Publishers insist that ebooks cost as much to produce as printed books.

(My opinion--if they really do, you're doing it wrong. Time to get into another business.).

* MacMillan is emboldened by Apple's whispering sweet nothings in its ear about the IPad, which can apparently bring about world peace, solve hunger and display ebooks.

* MacMillan tries to dictate ebook pricing to Amazon.

* Amazon responds by delisting all of MacMillan's books, including printed ones.

* Publishing goes nuts. Authors and publishers alike demonize Amazon. Readers don't understand why they can't purchase books they had access to before the weekend.

* Two days later, Amazon surrenders. Publishers are happy. Authors appear to be happy. Amazon looks foolish. Steve Jobs still looks smug peddling an inferior tablet computer that doesn't even have USB ports or play Flash.

Which Brings Us to Now:, one of the better sites chronicling the ebook wars, posts an interesting article on the Amazon/MacMillan fallout.

The article essentially makes the case that MacMillan has acted unethically if not illegally. Many authors who publish through MacMillan (and a few other companies) have called for a boycott of Amazon.

Personally, I think MacMillan has stepped into a big, steaming pile of fail. If everyone else in the industry follows suit, as this article suggests they might, you're about to see big publishing get mightily humbled by small presses and independent authors.

MacMillan does have the right to decide what it is going to charge for its products. And consumers have no choice but to pay those prices if they insist on reading those particular books.

That is how capitalism works.

But readers are not powerless. In fact, quite the opposite.

You see, boycotts cut two ways.

Readers, remember that you have the money.

So what if MacMillan wants to move the price up to $14.99?

But there are over 100,000 new books published every year. Most of them are by small presses and independent authors. And many of them are smart enough to be willing to sell you an ebook for $9.99...or $4.99...or $1.99.

Boycott the big boys. Support the companies that "get it."

Be sure to let MacMillan know that you won't be purchasing any of their books until they compromise. Not just ebooks...any books published by them at all, print or ebook.

Be sure to let the authors who work for this publisher know that you are boycotting them, too. It's not personal, it's just that $9.99 is a fair price for an ebook, thank you very much, and if you expect me to pay $14.99, then I will gladly purchase ebooks from another company.

There are plenty of companies that "get it." Baen, Smashwords, BooksForABuck and a whole host of small presses and independent authors go out of their way to keep their prices fair. Many of them offer ebooks without DRM, too, because they understand that DRM sucks.

Personally, I will gladly sell you my Outlaw Galaxy ebooks for $1-2, without DRM.

Support publishers that get it...and let the authors you love know that you're voting with your wallet.

Remember, boycotts cut two ways.

-- Bill Smith

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pat Roberston is a jackass

Pat Robertson made quite the spectacle of himself recently when he spoke about how the Haitian people brought the earthquake on themselves. He said that it was punishment from God because they "made a pact with the Devil" to get the French out of Haiti back in the 1800s.

Then he has the gall to follow that insensitive drivel with "True Story."

Well, the great Rev. Pat is always telling us "what the Lord tells him." And it never fails that "what the Lord tells him" never, ever comes to pass.

So it's either one of two things:

1. Option One is that God is whispering lies to Robertson just to jerk his chain.

Now personally, I can see that. I think God has a splendid sense of humor--just look at where he put all the oil.

And I believe it would heartily amuse God to deceive such a self-righteous hypocrite just so that he might someday learn a lesson or two about humility, forgiveness, and compassion.

Sadly, there are still lots and lots of people who actually believe the drivel the Rev. Pat spews out there, so I have my doubts about option 1.

2. Option Two is that it's not God whispering in your ear, Pat.

In fact, it seems quite possible that contrary to being a wise man of a just and noble God, Pat tends to see his own weaknesses and fears and then projects them onto God.


Now, let's consider some evidence that supports assertion Number Two:

(Citations from Wikipedia)

* Rev. Pat's businesses were heavily invested in the blood diamond trade from war-torn Africa under the guise of a Christian charity mission.

* Rev. Pat also has explicitly supported African despots like Sese Seko and Charles Taylor...but called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, a democratically elected leader.

(Not that I'm a big fan of Hugo...I'm just not a big fan of assassination and government destabilization as a means of conducting foreign policy. It really hasn't been all that effective for us. Just ask the Iranians, the Iraqis or the Afghan people.)

* Hurrican Katrina was God's wrath on America, Pat said. He also said that Orlando would be destroyed because Disneyworld hosted gay-friendly events.

* Rev. Pat never met a prophesy he didn't flub.

* At one time, the Rev. Pat owned a stable of race horses and then admitted to being surprised that, gasp, gambling is a central part of horse racing.

Now, personally I don't consider gambling much of a sin as long as you can afford to lose the money and no one suffers. Not wise, certainly, and not a lot of fun either, but not much of a sin.

However, consider how many horses are horribly injured in racing and how many have to be put down as a result of on-track injuries. These poor animals did not choose to be forced to race.

Horse racing is a fairly despicable sport in my opinion, right alongside dog and camel racing. One merely needs to look at how much suffering is really inflicted on helpless animals to be appalled. And while not as barbaric or evil as bullfighting and dog fighting, it's certainly immoral.

You want to risk your own neck in a competitive sport? Fine, that's your choice. But to force animals to endure pain and suffering for your amusement is despicable.

* Robertson is a wealthy man who incessantly begs for money for his ministry. He preaching the gospel of a man who said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it was for a wealthy man to get into heaven.

* Robertson is always going on and on about the evils of homosexuality, gay marriage, non-Christian religions, big government liberals and all the other hot-buttons of the conservative evangelical movement.

Look dude, it's America and you're allowed to believe in any damn fool thing you want to. But I don't have to just stand by silently and humbly tolerate your ideas because you say your beliefs are based on Biblical scripture.

First off, if you're going to be a Biblical literalist and cite Leviticus as the reason for hating homosexuality, don't be such a coward. Go whole hog. Embrace the full wisdom of Leviticus and the rest of the Old Testament: Hate shrimp, sell your daughters, enslave those pesky Canadians, stone people who work on the Sabbath. (Insert "sarcasm" tag here.)

But while you're being all literal, you might want to get rid of some of those zeroes in your bank account 'cause otherwise you can't get into heaven. Being "born again" doesn't get you a Wonka Golden Ticket into heaven either.

Christ was clear: Rich = Eternal Damnation.

Sorry Pat: I didn't make the Law of God, I'm just reporting it.


So I would suggest that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Rev. Pat is not the God-fearing, humble servant of the Lord he professes to be.

And considering how much hatred and anger he spews at people he disagrees he sits and passes judgment on folks who dare to be different from him...and then how he hides behind the Bible as a justification for his foolishness...

Well, all things considered, I suspect it could very well be option Number Two.

Next time somebody whispers in your ear and says he's The Lord, ask for ID.

True story.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mediocrity, thy Name is IPad

Well, today was the big day: The day when Apple was going to revolutionize computing and digital media. The day when Steve Jobs was going to unveil the new "most important thing" he's ever worked on. The day when Apple was going to show the world its revolutionary tablet...And ta-da, the IPad is here!!!

You're kidding, right? I mean, that's it? That's the big deal?



I mean the IPad is cute and all. I'm sure it will be a dandy portable media player...just like your netbook or laptop is now.

But that's the problem: It can only do a fraction of what your current netbook or laptop does but it's more expensive.

On top of that, Apple has made some terrible design decisions (according to early reports):

* No Flash video, so surfing the web is going to suck.
* No USB or smart card ports, so you can't attach your own external memory--the only way to transfer files will be through the proprietary Apple software on your PC.
* No multi-tasking, no running more than one application at a time. Gone are the heady days of surfing the web AND writing Email or IMing people at the same time. Boy, I sure do miss 1996.
* You can't download any applications except those approved by Apple and sold through the Apple store. So Apple has a stranglehold on what you will be allowed to do with "your" computer. They'll also have a decent stranglehold on the media you're allowed to consume to, since your only choice will be downloading through them or loading from your PC.
* Imagine if Apple decides to block applications or competitors they don't like, not unlike the current Google Voice dust-up.

Now, compare that to the fact that current netbooks and Linux tablets do more, cost less and are free to use as you like. The upcoming crop of tablets will offer more at a better price.

I don't think the IPad is a disaster in the making or anything like that...but even the name IPad reeks of mediocrity. It's uninspired. And the competition will be vastly superior in short order.

IMeh. IFail. IBrick.