Archive for the Business Category

In Which I Defend My Right to Use “Free Colorado”

I have been using the trademark “Free Colorado” for many years, and I here assert my right to keep on using it.

Unfortunately, another group has called itself “Free Colorado,” and that group claims to be “a non-profit organization registered in the State of Colorado.” (I was not able to find a record of the group on the Secretary of State’s web page.)

This group could not possibly have failed to notice that I have registered “FreeColorado.com” or that I call my site “Free Colorado.”

Unfortunately, this other group lists no contact information on its web page, FreeColorado.net. And a “whois” search of that domain lists only Proxy, LLC of Arizona as the contact information.

I have nothing against this other group (other than it using my name), but I wish it had picked some other name, or at least asked me first if I’d sell them or give them the rights to call their group “Free Colorado.” At this point, I request that the group select some other name.

At this point, I want to clarify that I have nothing to do with this organization, and it has nothing to do with me (besides using my name without my permission).

Why Printed Books Remain So Popular

IMGP4502Ownership of ebook reading devices exploded by five-fold within three years, as I review in a post for The Objective Standard. That’s an extraordinary development. Still, the growth of ebooks has been slower than I once would have predicted. Although 30 percent of the population read an ebook in 2012, 89 percent read a printed book. Given the relatively high costs of printing, shipping, and stocking a printed book, versus the negligible costs of distributing an ebook, why is the ebook market not growing even faster?

Clearly many publishers push to make printed books the continued standard, at least for now. Whereas the retail price of a printed book covers substantial printing, shipping, and stocking costs, such costs are all but irrelevant regarding ebooks. And yet publishers successfully pushed up the price of many ebooks well above the $10 level. Indeed, sometimes at Amazon I find I can buy a paperback for less than the cost of the ebook.

A large part of the issue here is that marginal costs drop off radically with large print runs and shipping orders. Thus, whereas many small-market books appear only in ebook, the economics of a popular book support large print runs. Plus, of course, brick-and-morter retailers can display printed books, increasing “impulse” purchases.

But I think the publishing end of it is only part of the story. I think there are a variety of reasons why many consumers often prefer a printed book.

Obviously printed books offer a distinctive tactile experience, and, as a bibliophile cousin of mine notes, a good old book also has a distinctive smell. But I think there’s something more important going on.

Although I was an early adopter of e-book technology, I have purchased several printed books of late. Why? I use my printed books for book clubs, book reviews, and research. E-books are difficult to cite, as they often don’t offer page numbers matching the printed edition (or the page numbers do not match precisely).

Often I can remember and visualize where certain content is with respect to the printed page and the page number. With an e-book, the material becomes a constant stream, with no stable relationship to the medium.

Another important feature of a printed book is that I can write notes in the text and in the margins. Although many e-book readers accommodate notations, I have found those systems to be clunky and impractical for my needs.

So, given the current technology, I’m likely to continue to buy both printed books and e-books, depending on my needs for the book.

I also predict that ebook producers and sellers will soon (within a few years) figure out how to overcome many or all of the problems mentioned here. Once that happens, printed books will eventually become about as common as music CDs and vinyl disks are now. At least that’s my guess. It will be exciting to see how it actually pans out.

Creative Commons Image: Kristian Bjornard

How About a Tester Store?

Recently I bought a Canon camera from Costco. (It’s an Elph 110 HS, and so far I’m quite happy with it.) I bought the Canon after buying and returning a Nikon to the store; I didn’t like the Nikon’s video abilities.

After my experience with the return, I thought I’d try to avoid that with the second purchase. Returns are costly for me (as I have to box up the item and drive it back), costly for the store (which at a minimum has to process the return), and costly for the producer, which has to repackage or perhaps eat the item.

So I asked the Costco team to unhook the display camera from the board to which it had been wired (for security), give me the battery and flash card, and let me play around with it for a while. The staff was happy (or at least willing) to accommodate my strange request.

So I shot some stills, took some video, then uploaded that content to my laptop (which I’d brought along for the purpose) to check out the results. I bought the camera much more confident I’d be happy with it. (It has only a 5x zoom, but, while I’d wanted more, I’d also read numerous reviews claiming that longer zooms tend to have problems with sticking.)

This got me thinking. While in my youth it seemed like catalog buying would become a thing of the past, today it is back in a serious way, with Amazon leading the way. I buy a lot of stuff online simply because I can’t find it locally—or because the local prices are significantly higher.

But internet buying creates a problem for brick-and-mortar stores: people come into the stores to try out products, but then they buy the products online—often on their mobile devices in the store itself.

So I thought to myself, why doesn’t somebody try separating out the service of letting customers try stuff out from the service of delivering the product?

What I envision is a “Tester Store.” It’s a large, warehouse-type “store,” filled with display models of loads of products, only the “store” doesn’t actually sell any of the products. You just try stuff out, then buy the stuff online.

Why would anybody do such a thing? Where’s the profit? When I mentioned this idea to a friend, he pointed out that such store could potentially become the world’s largest Amazon affiliate. (I mean, not in Colorado at this time, because our idiot legislators imposed an “Amazon tax,” but in other parts of the country where the legislators aren’t quite so painfully stupid and destructive.) The whole point of the “store” would be to actively encourage shoppers to order stuff online.

There is a range of products for which this would be useful. Obviously books are out, because you can just read previews digitally. But anything you want to handle before you buy it, such as cameras, clothing, air conditioners, cookware, etcetera. The whole point would be to make the stuff easy for people to check out, try on, put through the wringer.

I envision something like an Ikea, someplace with food, that’s sort of like a playground for adults (and kids, too).

Other than the “Amazon affiliate” strategy, there are a variety of ways such a store could make money. Perhaps many or all manufacturers would provide free floor samples to keep costs down. The store could sell old floor models, or not, depending on their condition and on agreements with manufacturers.

Think of how much better this would be than today’s typical model. Often I’ll look at products online at various stores (Walmart, Home Depot, Costco), but the local store won’t cary something. So I have no ability to try out that stuff before I buy it. Instead, why don’t stores just carry one or two copies of an item for people to check out, then ship from a central location?

Obviously this eliminates the “instant gratification” of real-store shopping. But usually I don’t want something right now; I want something I know will work for me. (Here’s another idea: the store could sell limited items at a premium to those who have got to have it now.)

I don’t know whether this idea would work (and I certainly don’t want to spend the effort to try it out). But it seemed interesting enough to me to blog about. If somebody else wants to run with it, be my guest.

How Consumer Reports Could Get My Money

I’ve used Consumer Reports exactly once in my life, several years ago when researching used cars. It’s too bad I haven’t used it more often—the organization features reviews of several products I’ve recently purchased, including cameras and air conditioners.

So what’s the problem? The unfortunate fact is that Consumer Reports makes it too hard for me to pay money to read the research relevant to me. It’s especially ironic that Consumer Reports sucks at making its material available to consumers, given that helping consumers is supposed to be what the organization is all about.

Let’s take the example of air conditioners. To get the relevant information, I’m told that I need to “Subscribe now” at a rate of $30 per year or $6.95 per month.

Well, screw that. I’m not going to sign up for a long-term subscription that I then have to think about and manage just to spend five minutes to learn about air conditioners.

What I did instead is just rely on whatever free reviews I could scrounge up through Google searches and from Amazon customers.

It would be extremely easy for Consumer Reports to get money from me in exchange for research. Just sell me individual reports in pdf format for a few dollars. I would have happily paid five bucks for the latest Consumer Reports information on cameras and air conditioners. But apparently Consumer Reports thinks its more important to unsuccessfully attempt to bilk me out of $30 per year than to actually get $10 right now for specific reports. That’s just bad business.

I really want to pay you my hard-earned money, Consumer Reports! You need merely make it easy for me to do that.

An Open Letter to Krista Broussard of Hewlett-Packard’s ISB Team

Update: On July 9, Keith from Hewlett-Packard contacted me through Twitter and provided me with his number. I did have to provide additional details about my printer model, but Keith promptly facilitated the exchange and restored my faith in Hewlett-Packard’s commitment to its customers.

Dear Ms. Broussard of Hewlett-Packard Company’s ISB Team,

I have been a loyal HP customer since the early ’90s, when I purchased my first serious printer (my actual first was a dot-matrix), a glorious HP laser printer. I ran many thousands of pieces of paper through that workhorse.

It saddened me, then, to read the many news stories all indicating that your once-glorious company has been heading down the toilet. For example, just today the Los Angeles Times refers to HP’s “faltering business.”

Your letter to me dated June 27 hints to me why your company is faltering. You obviously don’t take any pride whatsoever in your products, nor do you care anything about making your customers happy. Instead, you harangue me for daring to politely ask HP to replace a faulty HP product that I paid good money to purchase.

On June 4, I drafted the following letter to Hewlett-Packard. I sent the letter with a defective ink cartridge to the company, hoping for a timely and satisfactory reply:

Hewlett-Packard Company
3000 Hanover Street
Palo Alto, CA
94304-1185

Ari Armstrong
9975 Wadsworth Pkwy. #K2-111
Westminster, CO 80021

Dear HP,

We purchased the enclosed Color 61 ink cartridge, but unfortunately it is defective. (Our printer gave us an error message, and the next cartridge we tried worked fine.)

I request a replacement cartridge or a certificate for the same.

Thanks,
Ari Armstrong

P.S. I tried your customer service phone line, but after an absurdly long hold time I gave up.

Rather than send me a timely and satisfactory reply—with a replacement cartridge—you instead sent me the following huffy note asking me for information a) that I had already provided to Hewlett-Packard or b) that was entirely irrelevant to the company for replacing the defective cartridge:

So please allow me to take this opportunity to reply to your letter.

First, I was shocked to read that HP does not normally replace defective products, that you deign to “make a one time exception” in my case to do right by your customers.

So let the buyer beware: Hewlett-Packard does not stand behind its products, judging by Broussard’s reply.

Second, I found it ludicrous that you requested my “valid shipping address” in the very letter that contains a copy of my valid shipping address. Obviously you are not seriously attempting to get the relevant information from me to make a good-faith effort to replace your defective product; instead, you are merely hassling me.

I therefore take this opportunity to beg your forgiveness for purchasing HP products.

Finally, no, I will not provide you with my telephone number, my printer model number, or my printer serial number in order to process the replacement. Perhaps in your ineptitude you missed this detail, but I sent you the defective cartridge. That provides quite sufficient information, I think, for you to send me a replacement! (Moreover, it seems to me your crack “ISB Team”—whatever that is—should have embraced the opportunity to check out the defective cartridge in an attempt to avoid such manufacturing defects in the future.)

It seems to me that the obviously right move in your position would have been to promptly and cheerfully send me the replacement cartridge. That’s what good companies do, companies that do not wish to suffer “faltering business.” Well, obviously you blew your first chance. Please consider this your second.

Sincerely,
Ari Armstrong

Getting the Cling of Word Press

I’m thrilled that I switched to Word Press (installed on the server I use) to run my web page. It’s truly remarkable software. I would recommend it, and nothing else, to those starting a new blog. It is such a different online world from when I started “blogging” in 1998! (It wasn’t actually “blogging” back then, because the term hadn’t yet been invented, assuming Wikipedia correctly reviews the matter.)

Soon after switching to Word Press, I got deluged with spam comments. So I turned on moderation. (Others I know installed Disqus to handle comments, but I dislike adding anything that requires users to set up yet another account.)

So now I get “only” a handful of spam comments each day. Still, it’s a little odd, given that I moderate all comments and don’t find it remarkably difficult to weed out the spam.

I must wonder who it is presenting these comments for my moderation. Consider the following:

You actually make it seem really easy along with your presentation however I in finding this matter to be really one thing that I feel I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m having a look ahead to your subsequent publish, I will attempt to get the cling of it!

I’m afraid I don’t quite get the cling of what these spammers hope to accomplish. But perhaps I need merely look ahead to the spammers’ subsequent comment. Will it be submitted to this very post?

New Blog Domain with WordPress Setup

I’m changing my blog again.

I’ve used Google’s Blogger for my blogging since 2008. In 2010, Blogger stopped posting content to independently hosted domains, which is why I switched my blog to blog.ariarmstrong.com (hosted by Google).

But I haven’t been terribly happy with that. Because Blogger generates sloppy code, it doesn’t play well with Facebook (specifically, FB doesn’t properly pull in the image or lead text), and that is increasingly a problem. Also, I just don’t like the “blog-dot” URL.

I’ve used WordPress over at The Objective Standard, and I’ve really liked it. And I very much like hosting my own material on a server that I pay independently.

For anybody getting going with a blog, I now strongly recommend using WordPress installed on your server. In my view, this is far better than going with Blogger or with WordPress’s own hosting service. And, if anything, using installed WP is the easiest option if your hosting service already provides an install option.

For now, I’m just going to leave all my older stuff up where it now resides. I might slowly integrate it into the new WP blog. For now, my archives exist in four places:

I thought about again splitting the blog into two locations (AriArmstrong.com and FreeColorado.com) but ultimately I decided that it’s much easier to have everything in one place, where I can control everything from a single interface.

I started my web page in late 1998, before the term “blog” had even been coined (if Wiki is to be believed on the matter). Back then, I hand-coded everything under the guidance of HTML for Dummies. I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with my blog, but now I think I finally have it where I want it. And with WordPress, I’m confident I’m using the best modern software to handle the job.

Did somebody call me an old dog?

October 5, 2012 Update: I have started the process of migrating all my archival material to this web page. I am dating that material according to its original publication date. Thus, everything dated prior to this post was migrated on or after October 4, 2012.

Why Can’t Blogger and Facebook Play Nicely?

Blogger usually works great. Facebook usually works great. So why can’t Blogger and Facebook play together nicely?The problem is that, if inside Facebook I link to a post of mine managed by Blogger, Facebook does not pick up the lead paragraph of the post (which obviously is what I want). Instead, Facebook picks up my bio line, which is completely unrelated to the contents of the post.

Others have told me that the problem arises from Blogger’s non-standard formatting. Regardless, I imagine that the whiz kids either at Blogger or at Facebook easily could fix the problem, if they’d attempt to do so.

Alternately, perhaps there’s something simple that I could do to fix the problem — though I’ve tried a variety of strategies, all without success. If somebody has a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.

Otherwise, I may have to undergo the serious hassle of switching over to Word Press.

[January 24, 2013 update: Obviously this post now appears on a WordPress site; I moved it here from the old site.]

Why Netflix’s Split Business Probably Makes Sense

[October 10 Update: "Netflix "has abandoned its unpopular plan to spin off its DVD-by-mail service and rename it Qwikster, saying it will continue to offer both services through its flagship web site." From Netflix: "It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password... in other words, no Qwikster." Obviously this news renders moot much of my previous discussion, preserved below. -Ari]

As I indicated yesterday, I’m a little shocked by all the people sliming Netflix for the “crime” of offering customers amazing services for stunningly low prices.

No, the company did not handle the price hike well (though its real error was offering unrealistically low prices in the first place). And I do recognize that splitting the DVD rental from the online streaming (with two web portals and two bills) adds a minor inconvenience to customers using both services.

But many treat Netflix like its leaders had absolutely no reason for splitting the business other than to annoy customers. In other words, people utterly ignorant of the business’s internal forecasts and long-range strategic plans think they can armchair-CEO better than those whose livelihoods and futures rest on the success of the company. I think that attitude is more than a little presumptuous.

Now, I don’t know those forecasts or plans, either; however, I can take some educated guesses as to why Netflix decided to split the business.

1. The inconvenience is minor. Is it really that hard to maintain two accounts? No. It’s extremely easy to log into two pages and maintain two queues. Until recently I used both of Netflix’s services, and that required maintaining two lists, anyway. If something in my DVD queue appeared in streaming, I still had to manually rank the item in my streaming list and remove it from my DVD list. So the new system is trivially different. (That said, Netflix would do well to alert customers when DVD items become available for streaming.) [Update: Somebody pointed out to me that it was possible to maintain an integrated queue on the Netflix DVD list, as everything streaming is also on DVD, but I never found that helpful.] And two lines on one’s credit card bill instead of one? Like, Oh, My, God, surely the sky falling comes next. Get a grip, people.

2. Most people will naturally gravitate to one service or the other. As I reviewed yesterday, I dropped the DVD rentals after Netflix announced the price hike. According to Henry Blodget, half of Netflix’s customers used both services. (For those keeping track, that means half used only one service or the other.) But the figure for both services was inflated by the ridiculously and unsustainably low bundling price. If you wanted the DVD service, you could get streaming on the side for a pittance more, and vice versa.

Those running Netflix, not being as dense and short-sighted as so many of their critics have managed to appear, can see the technological trend lines. Streaming is getting progressively faster and cheaper. More and more people are buying iPads and other portable devices that can handle streaming. Ever more content is becoming available for streaming. At the same time, some people just prefer the older technology, can’t get good internet connections, or don’t want to tie up their internet with streaming. Thus, the two groups of customers seem to be diverging, not merging.

3. The split allows more tailored marketing. Assuming the above to be true, that the DVD and streaming customers represent very different demographics, a split company may have a much easier time tailoring its marketing campaigns to the two distinct groups.

4. Splitting the business allows easier adjustments to both sides. Not a single critic of Netflix can predict what’s going to happen to the Post Office over the coming months and years. Perhaps Netflix’s critics have failed to notice this little detail, but the USPS delivers Netflix disks. The USPS has been hemorrhaging billions of dollars, so delivery schedules or prices may change dramatically over the coming months. Netflix may have to change its DVD rental service accordingly. At the same time, while streaming becomes faster and cheaper, it could be that hot new content may cost Netflix more to secure. Splitting the business allows each side to easily and independently adjust pricing and details of service.

5. Splitting the services allows for splitting the company. Others have suggested this. With the services split within Netflix, the company could easy split legally as well, forming two autonomous corporations. Or Netflix could eventually sell off the DVD side. I can’t imagine that the people running Netflix have never contemplated such possibilities.

Netflix can clearly see the model of what happens to companies that fail to adapt to changing technology: Borders. Netflix has chosen to take its lumps in the market now in the hopes of sustaining its long-term health. While sensible observers can debate whether Netflix made the best long-range decision, I think it’s foolish and frankly mean-spirited to fail to recognize the plausible reasons supporing the company’s shift.

Thank You, Netflix

I’m a little surprised by the negative reactions to Reed Hastings’sannouncement that Netflix is splitting its services into online streaming and DVD rentals.

When Netflix announced its price increases a few weeks ago, I evaluated my streaming queue and my DVD queue, thought about the costs, and decided to dump the DVD side of the service. So now I pay $7.99 per month — around 27 cents per day — for continual access to a spectacular selection of streaming television shows and movies. For that pittance I can watch most of the Star Trek series, CharmedThe Twilight Zone, and tons of other awesome shows, films, and documentaries. In what universe is that not a spectacularly amazing deal?

If I wanted, for another $7.99 per month I could rent DVDs, one at a time, without monthly limits. At least where I live, the Netflix DVD cycle takes around three days, meaning I could rent as many as (around) eight DVDs per month with this plan. (Realistically I’d probably cycle through around four per month.) In what universe is $2 or less DVD rentals not a spectacularly amazing deal? However, it just wasn’t quite a good enough deal for me, given the alternatives. Redbox rents new release videos for a dollar, we also use Hulu (the “free” version), and I purchased a couple seasons of House on used DVD. But I came close to dumping my other sources and going solely with Netflix and Hulu.

Think of it this way. If Netflix didn’t exist, and a new company suddenly came on the market to offer what Netflix now offers, a streaming service plus a DVD rental service, each for a low monthly price, people would fall all over themselves signing up and lauding the new service. Apparently, given that Netflix has been offering its customers such amazing value for so long now, the company now deserves derision and scorn rather than praise. I think that’s a little nuts and frankly a little ungrateful.

Now, I do see a problem with disconnecting the DVD queue from the streaming queue. The problem is that, when I (used to) put a DVD on my queue, and then the same item became available in streaming, the item appeared automatically in my streaming queue, and I didn’t burn a DVD rental on it. Now, if you get both services, you’ll have to manually add an item to streaming and delete it from the DVD queue.

However, Netflix seems to be anticipating — and I think correctly — that most people will come to want one service or the other, but not both. I think everything available for streaming is also available on DVD, and the opposite will increasingly become the case as time goes on. I can see why some people would prefer DVDs over streaming, though I definitely prefer streaming. I found this line from Hastings to be especially interesting: “DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.” It will be interesting to see what happens as streaming gets faster and cheaper and the United States Postal Service continues to struggle financially.

For now I will simply offer my gratitude to Netflix and stand amazed at how much better my life has become in the Internet Age.

Fun at Ikea

I confess I was skeptical of the Ikea store when it first came to town. But it’s a lot of fun, and the restaurant there has some great deals. We found a number of items throughout the store that were less expensive than what we’ve paid elsewhere. Unfortunately, a city water main broke the day we went, preventing us from buying the Swedish meatballs for lunch. Next time.

303 Vodka Joins CO Distilleries

I’ve often thought that a great project would be to interview local business owners and film them producing their goods or services. That’s time consuming, which is why I keep hoping somebody else will do it. But at least I talked with a representative from 303 Vodka, a new addition to Colorado’s still-young microwdistillery industry. I happened to catch the guy at a liquor store tasting, and we bought the 303 potato whisky because we liked it.

We’ve come a long way from prohibition (though there’s still some progress to be made on that front).

Nook Advances

I’m a Kindle man. Not only do I have a book about Harry Potter selling for Kindle, but I own a Kindle, and I read books on my iPod Touch with Kindle software.

But I like Barnes and Noble (BN), largely because a local store allowsLiberty In the Books (a group I help run) to meet there. So, every month, I walk through the store and talk to the staff about the latest developments for the Nook. (I’ve caught a bit of ribbing for bringing my Kindle into BN.)

The brilliant thing is that both the Kindle and the Nook now sell for $139 — very reasonable even for lower-income consumers. Virtually all well-known public-domain books are available for free for these devices.

It now seems very likely that BN’s Nook is here to stay, and that it will save the company.

Impressively, the new Nook brings together two important features, so far as I’m aware for the first time: e-ink (and the long battery life that comes with it) and a touchscreen. (Thank goodness the new Nook dropped that idiotic split screen of earlier models, part touch and part e-ink.)

Frankly, I’ve taken to reading on my iTouch more than my Kindle. There are several reasons for this. The Touch fits in my pocket, so I can take it pretty much anywhere. I really like navigating a book with the touchscreen. On the Kindle, it’s a real hassle to click down to the link and jump back and forth. While I like the Kindle screen, the Touch looks great, and I haven’t noticed any eye strain. Plus, whether I’m reading a printed book, the Kindle, or a Kindle book on the Touch, I tend to use the Touch to take notes. So, if I’m reading from the Touch, I can read and take notes on the same device. (I wouldn’t dream of trying to take notes on the clunky Kindle.)

The new Nook isn’t small enough to fit in my pocket, but it is touchscreen, which must help a lot. Goodbye, mouse-sized keypad! And, while the Touch is a much more versatile device, it also currently starts at $229.

I predict that, until Kindle adopts touchscreen technology, the Nook will make larger inroads into Amazon’s potential market.

One question is how powerful the Nook is as a pad computer. A BN staffer suggested to me that a variety of applications are coming for the device. Unfortunately, I am unable to find ready information about this. If the Nook can also serve as a word processor, and perhaps even as an email and web device, that will greatly improve its value.

(I have not actually held or even seen the new Nook. If Barnes and Noble would care to lend or gift me one, I would be happy to write up a full review, complete with a disclosure. Given that my wife and I already have four digital reading devices between us, including our Mac, I just can’t justify buying a fifth.)

Even though I’m unlikely personally to buy a Nook, I’m glad it exists. It gives BN a real chance of surviving and perhaps even thriving as a company (or as a division of some other company), and it has noticeably motivated Amazon to keep improving the quality of the Kindle while lowering its price. Hurray, capitalism.

***

Allen commented May 29, 2011 at 10:33 AM
“I wouldn’t dream of trying to take notes on the clunky Kindle.”

Interesting; I’m the opposite. I read on the iTouch when I’m in a pinch (e.g. standing at the microwave at work warming up lunch). And I prefer to take notes on the Kindle.

Angelina commented May 31, 2011 at 3:28 PM
I can’t wait to try out the new Nook! I currently have the older version (with both e-ink and touch screen) and I really love it. However, it doesn’t mean that there’s not room for improvement. I like the idea of a touch screen. I don’t do much else on my Nook but read, so it doesn’t really have to have a lot of extra features.

A Comment on Comments

I moderate comments. I do so to block spam and craziness. Do I discourage some possibly interesting comments by moderating? Perhaps. But to me the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Note that I do not necessarily agree with any comment that I let through. I allow comments that I consider to be interesting and civil. Often I reply to comments with which I disagree, but not always.

Today an anonymous poster complained that I have blocked multiple comments from him. (I’ll say “him” though I don’t know the gender.) In order to save everybody’s time, am happy to explain some reasons I block comments.

First, often I consider anonymous comments, particularly argumentative ones, to be somewhat cowardly. Why should I take you seriously if you won’t even give your name? Obviously I cannot know how many of some particular poster’s comments I have blocked when they are all marked “anonymous.” I think I’ve accidentally left an anonymous comment here or there, just because I’m used to my blog and various other services automatically inserting my name. Generally, though, I make sure to leave my name when I post comments on other people’s services. True, there are occasions in which leaving one’s name might put one in danger, but that’s not been the case with any anonymous comment I’ve ever received for my blog. Nevertheless, my default position is to post all anonymous comments, unless they suffer some other serious problem. (Many or most anonymous comments are spam, by the way.)

Second, I am extremely likely to block any comment that includes a gratuitously insulting personal attack against me.

Third, often I block comments that add nothing interesting to the discussion, particularly if they pertain to an old post. Comments like “Wow, that was really interesting” are of this sort.

Fourth, generally I block comments with rampant spelling and grammatical errors. If you can’t be bothered to subject your comment to minimum standards of editing, don’t expect me to post it.

Fifth, I am likely to block any comment that claims, as the anonymous comment of today did, that by blocking comments on my own web page, that somehow makes me the equivalent of a censor. Anonymous is perfectly free to post his asinine comments on his own web page, where the rest of us are perfectly free to ignore him. My property, my rules. Moderating comments is no more censorship than is stopping a drunk from breaking into my home to deliver a speech.

***

kazriko commented April 25, 2011 at 2:16 PM
Just out of curiosity, by anonymous do you mean entirely anonymous with no name whatsoever, or do you extend this to those who use a name, but not necessarily a real name?

I’ve been debating this particular point for awhile. When Blizzard started to require verified real names to post to their forums using the idea that said real names would force people to behave themselves, I argued that it isn’t the real names as much as the investment in their identities that mattered for civil discourse. I’ve used this name online for 12 years, so I’m rather attached to it.

Ari commented April 25, 2011 at 3:36 PM
That sounds basically right to me, kazriko. Usually I do post (non-spammy) anonymous comments, though often I consider them tainted by the anonymity. I have no interest in using pseudonyms, but I don’t have any particular problems with those who use them.

Stop National Debt commented April 27, 2011 at 12:00 PM
One question would be whether this would be considered spam, or on topic because I’m asking the question? :-) Its hard to find other ways to spread the word to small government bloggers when you don’t already have traffic than posting, and unfortunately I don’t see a more relevant recent posting to comment on with this:

“POLL REVEALS: Americans Are Still In Deep Denial About The Deficit” http://read.bi/h6QDGR If they realized how bad it is politicians would need to act. Non politics-junkies tune out numbers in the $trillions so we need to rephrase the issue:
The federal government will need >$1 million per household to pay its IOUs!
> $116 trillion =”official” debt plus money short for future social security, medicare, etc
Even its “official debt” of $14.2 trillion is $123,754 per household!
Details at http://StopNationalDebt.com with links to contact congress & complain.
Be among the first to join the new Facebook cause “Stop National Debt” : http://www.causes.com/causes/606425-stop-national-debt
since if you don’t spread the word, who will?

Ari commented April 27, 2011 at 12:05 PM
I do think, “Stop National Debt” guy, that there are much better ways to get your message out, including: Tweet, Facebook, comment on *relevant* posts. Here you’re just basically running an uncompensated advertisement for your group. While I have nothing against promoting one’s own articles and causes through comments, generally I think a comment should primarily serve to advance the discussion of the relevant site.

Stop National Debt commented April 27, 2011 at 7:57 PM
Yup, I agree it should advance the discussion of the relevant site in general. I was hunting for posts on libertarian leaning blogs that were related to the topic in order to comment. Your comment on “comments” just happen to bring to mind the idea of the self-referential question regarding spam or I would have passed on.

re: those other methods, I’ve posted hundreds of messages to relevant Facebook groups, tweeted a few hundred tweets at relevant people, etc, but it is difficult to figure out how to be heard above the noise when starting a new blog/cause.

I find it astonishing that libertarians aren’t more interested in using the issue to make more headway when the vast majority of the public has no idea how bad the situation with the debt and moreso unfunded liabilities is or politicians wouldn’t get away with inaction and libertarians would be listened to more seriously. Political news-junkies may already have run into figures like what I’m talking about, but most of the public hasn’t a clue and its a chance for us to wake them up and question why they are spending so much on government that its debt&unfunded liabilities amount to $>1 million per household based on US Treasury figures.

Despite lip service paid in the mainstream media to there being public concern over the debt, I don’t think most of them realize its as bad as it is and libertarians are missing a golden opportunity to get attention. Libertarians wish people didn’t need to care about politics since the government should be an insignificant part of our lives. The problem is that we need to get people to care enough about politics to take time to understand our ideas in order to change the government. The way to get their attention is to point out how badly broken government finances are and how much the government spends per household (details on spending per household at http://StopNationalDebt.com )

Real Page Numbers Coming to Kindle

When I first Tweeted the New York Times piece on how Kindle will incorporate real page numbers matching those in print editions, somebody emailed me wondering if I’d had something to do with that. I said I suspected not, even though I’ve written on the matter. But the language from Amazon’s release does seem to cover the same points I raised.

Here is the Amazon release:

Our customers have told us they want real page numbers that match the page numbers in print books so they can easily reference and cite passages, and read alongside others in a book club or class. Rather than add page numbers that don’t correspond to print books, which is how page numbers have been added to e-books in the past, we’re adding real page numbers that correspond directly to a book’s print edition.

And here’s what I posted on the matter last November:

[A] big problem with digital editions of books these days is that there is no standardized pagination for citations. … One of the comments [posted to the article] suggests another important use for standardized pagination; in reading groups, where people might be reading copies of a book on different devices, it would be very useful if everybody had a common page system.

Whether or not I helped inspire the change, I’m glad the change is coming.

Unfortunately, Amazon does not mention in its release how publishers accomplish adding the pagination, nor could I readily find this information in Amazon’s information on Kindle publishing. If any reader knows about this, please email me or post the information in the comments.

Reading Kindle On the iPod Touch

Earlier this year I purchased an iPod Touch, primarily for use as an ereader.

Since then, I have purchased one Kindle book for the machine (Jesus, Interrupted, by Bart Ehrman, which I highly recommend), and I’m thrilled with the way Kindle reads on my Touch. (By contrast, while FileMagnet works fine for pdfs, it does not allow fond adjustments with html. That is, you can make the type bigger, but the lines don’t wrap. I resorted to inserting an html font command into an html file, which is a clumsy way to address the problem.)

I got an unexpected benefit with the Touch: I can take notes with the Notes application as I read. All I have to do is toggle between the Kindle app and the Notes app. Then I record the Kindle locator and some brief notes. Once I find a hot spot, I can cut and past the contents of a Note into email (I use my wife’s hotmail account because it’s easy to access), then send myself the notes.

In fact, this works so well that I might start taking notes on my Touch even when I read paper-and-ink books. True, the keypad is irritatingly small, and I struggle to peck out a message. But the alternative is either to take notes by hand, which I would then need to digitize to make them fully functional, or try to use a full-size keyboard, which is impractical when reading a book. So, as much as I didn’t expect it, the Touch wins out as a note-taker while reading.

Making the Google Jump

[January 28, 2013, Update: Obviously the contents of this post are out of date. I include it here for archival purposes; it originally appeared at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com.]

My internet publishing is undergoing a major change. As should be obvious, my blog is now at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/. (I am also posting quite a lot to Twitter @ariarmstrong, where I mention interesting links and offer brief commentary.)

Recently Google announced that its Blogger service will no longer support FTP publishing, meaning the service will no longer send material to a domain hosted elsewhere. Instead, to use Blogger, one must host the blog through Google. A Blogger user can use a “blogspot.com” blog, register a domain with Google and use it for a Google-hosted blog, or register a domain or subdomain elsewhere and set the DNS to Google (such that Google hosts the content). I’ve decided to go with the last option.

I also strongly considered abandoning Google altogether. Not only am I miffed that Google is shutting down its FTP service, but I’m still annoyed that Google shut down the blog of economist George Reisman. Nevertheless, as one of my friends pointed out, Blogger is a free service, so it’s a little hard to complain too stringently about it. If you really hate Blogger, don’t use it. That said, I do think it would be absolute foolishness to give Google control of one’s domain (if one cares about keeping content online). Because I own and control my subdomain, I can reclaim it and republish my content elsewhere if need be.

Blogger just works well. It’s extremely easy to use. I helped set up a friend with Word Press and quickly learned that that service, while okay, is a lot harder to operate. I seriously considered going back to hand coding my page (based on templates created in Dream Weaver). But then a single blog post would require updating at least four pages: the index, the individual post, the archives, and the feed. Major hassle. So I’ll stick with Blogger.

Here’s how I’m handling the change. I’m leaving all my existing content online at AriArmstrong.com and FreeColorado.com. I’m starting a new blog (this one) at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/. Rather than run two different blogs, I will henceforth publish only this blog. (I’ll publish a few residual posts at FreeColorado.com and cross-post here.)

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to create a feed based on labels. My FreeColorado.com blog feeds into People’s Press Collective; now I will use the “PPC” label for all relevant content. The PPC-related political feed is this:
feed://blog.ariarmstrong.com/feeds/posts/default/-/PPC

(I may also use a generic “politics” label for national stuff.)

The general feed for all my content is this:
feed://blog.ariarmstrong.com/feeds/posts/default

Others might be confused as to how to direct a subdomain to Google. Here’s how I accomplished that. I checked in with my registrar and learned that I can create a subdomain there only if the DNS points to that registrar. Because I host my (other) content with Web Hosting Buzz (a great service, by the way), I had to submit a ticket to that company’s technical support team, asking to create the subdomain and direct its DNS settings to Google. Then I created a new blog at Google and switched its URL to the subdomain. It took me a while to figure out, but the process itself is very easy. (Things get more complicated if you want to move old content over to Google, which is one reason I didn’t go that route.)

I’ll slowly convert all my existing content at my two main pages to Dream Weaver files, such that I can easily edit the template and have it apply to all the files. (My wife tells me that all my old framed files are deprecated.) I’ll run the political feed from this blog (as well as my Twitter feed) on FreeColorado.com. I’ll turn AriArmstrong.com into my home page, with links to all the archival material as well as to my active projects. (I may run the blog feed there as well.)

This might be a good time to briefly summarize my history of web publishing. Back in late 1998 (before the term “blog” had been coined), I started publishing the “Colorado Freedom Report” at co-freedom.com. I quickly figured out that a hyphenated URL is a major pain, so within a few years I switched to FreeColorado.com. In late 2007, I started up AriArmstrong.com with the idea of making that my main blog, but then I realized that I didn’t want to let FreeColorado.com lapse, so I converted that to a blog to begin 2008. But now I’m finding that running two blogs is hard, given my activity on Twitter and my other projects.

So now this integrated blog in 2010 marks a new stage in my internet publishing. However, some things never change. What matters most is content, and, as always, my goal is to make the tech serve the ideas.