Monday, December 30, 2013

Another place to land (Blackberry)

A few months ago, I saw an article saying that Samsung is working on their own OS.  That sent a small chill down my spine, mostly because I like Samsung.  Nokia released the immensely awesome N900 and then went over to the Windows Mobile dark side (though admittedly their Windows phones aren't that bad, they're just not as cool as the N900 was with it's FM transmitter, IR blaster, and Maemo).  I refused to make the jump to Android until I saw that Android had apps that would allow me to be just as productive as I was on my N900.  To be honest, I still probably jumped over too soon, but the Note 1's massive screen and stylus were called out to me. I do like the Note, and the Note 2.  The stylus is cool, though admittedly not as handy as I'd expected.  But I'm happy with Samsung devices.

But if Samsung switches to another OS?  I doubt I'll stick with them.  It mostly comes down to apps and what I know Android can do.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My mind is reeling (Gumroad)


It's not quite too late for me to be awake, but it's getting there.  <Yawn>  I've been evangelizing for artists to set up their own stores in order to get the biggest possible shares of royalties for a long time.  Pretty much since I became aware of Amazon Web Services and the availability of free plugins to allow many CMS's to interface with it easily. I realized that anybody could set up a streaming Video-On-Demand site with ridiculously low overhead, and if you could set that up on your own, you could set up any digital goods site on your own.  Trust me, I was very into the idea.

So when my friend, who I am currently working on something with, asked me about selling it directly from our own web site, I kind of balked.  I imagine he was surprised at my reversal.  The closer I've gotten to actually publishing works, both personally and through my employers, the more I realize what publishing sites actually do.  For instance, managing returns.  I did a little mail order at my old day job, and I dealt with a lot of returns. I don't like processing returns.  It makes me sad and sometimes angry.  Better to let cold, faceless Amazon handle that junk, right?

Then there's setting up servers, tracking down bugs, etc.  I waste enough time on Blogger just dealing with themes.  When I think about going back to a WordPress blog and dealing with an AWS plugin, along with the inevitable need to hunt down a new plugin every year as my favorite one stops being updated, well, I've soured on the idea a little bit.  But today, as I was reviewing all of the major epublishing sites, their cover resolution requirements and their royalty schedules.   I found a site that listed all of the major publisher's royalty info, here.  Listed along with all of the publisher's info was a brief mention of selling from your own site, through Paypal.  Okay, people do it, but it's still messy, right? I did a quick Google search to see what options were out there.


I have not used it.  I cannot testify to it's utility, disutility.  I only just heard about it a half hour ago.  I've been researching it though, and it looks solid.  Good reviews, anyway.  Every problem I can foresee seems to have been addressed.

Gumroad is a web app that you can use to sell digital files.  Ebooks, comic books, videos, apps, plugins, whatever.  Presumably maps, tattoo templates, self-portraits and religious pamphlets as well.  You upload a file, set a price, and they give you a link that you can put on your website that you can use to sell whatever it is.  Gumroad takes 25 cents and 5% of the sale price.  Gumroad allows pay what you want pricing, and also allows setting a price floor while still accepting amounts over that base.  If I have this right, then:

Selling a 99 cent ebook on nets you $0.35.
Selling a 99 cent ebook via Gumroad nets you $0.69.

Selling a $2.99 ebook on nets you $2.10
Selling a $2.99 ebook via Gumroad nets you $2.59.

Note: Amazon only pays %35 royalties for any books cheaper than $2.99 or more expensive than $9.99.  For everything else it's 70% royalties.  Except, they just added changed it so you can get a 70% royalty on a book at any price, so long as you sell it exclusively on Amazon.  Fuck that noise.

Amazon pays out every 2 months, Gumroad pays out every two weeks.

It's a very cool system if it works as advertised.  I guess I don't have an accurate idea of how much file hosting costs, because they also do streaming video at the same cost of 25 cents and 5%.  They do have a file size limit of 4GB.  Perhaps as a general trend price scales with file size, I don't know.

It just occured to me, how could a system this simple handle ebook revisions?  But alas, they've got this covered as well.  I wonder if the updated file uses the same link as the original, that would be nice, but not necessary.  I actually wonder if this (multi-file projects) would allow you to add more files after being for sale, so you could keep every revision in the folder as you update them. 

The thing that really has my mind reeling right now is the clash between fantasy and reality.  "OMG, I could make so much money!"  vs "This only works if a creator can build a stable, independent channel between themselves and their audience.  You still have to bring traffic to your web site."  Because that's the big hurdle.  Perhaps it's because I read Konrath's predictions for 2014 earlier today, one of which is "Visibility will become harder." Gaining visibility is hard enough already, I thought as I read that section, but he's right.  It will get harder.

I haven't published anything yet, but hopefully by the end of January the company I work for will launch their website and start selling on all major digital stores (and possibly via Gumroad too, if further research holds up).  There will be a few books for sale right away covering many topics, and it will be interesting to see how much traffic will comes in just from random web searches.

Anyway, it's super late now, I should be in bed.  I was hoping to fire this off and keep reading up on Gumroad but this took longer than I though, mostly because I kept having more questions and paused writing this to continue researching them.  So I guess its win/win?

Just did a little more Googling and found this.  It's over a year and a half old but hopefully this ideal still prevails at their company:

I actually like the idea of links being persistent because it (hopefully) means links won't expire, so if someone loses their copy they can re-download it later using the link that's presumably in their original confirmation email.  Also, you can email a copy of an ebook to a friend just as easily as you can email a link, so please don't worry that this leak is somehow going to sink the whole boat.

Hmm, have I ever written a blog post praising something this much even though I've never actually tried it?  Actually, I bet I have, many times.  The netbook?  The Nokia N900 or the first Samsung Note?  But I am anxious to try this service out.  More fuel in my work tank, I guess.  Oh look, it's time for bed, an hour ago.



Saturday, December 28, 2013

BT Sync

Call this "More Chromebook Musings" if you want.

I run Ubuntu on my Samsung ARM Chromebook netbook in a chroot (via Crouton).  I have no idea what a chroot actually is, but it saying it kinda makes me sound smart, yeaht?  Anyway, I had Grive, a command line Google Drive sync utility, working for a while but it started throwing up errors mid-sync so I uninstalled it and went to my backup plan, Ubuntu One.

I gave Ubuntu One a month.  To be honest, I don't like it very much.  There's no taskbar status icon (there is a third party one, but I couldn't find a binary for ARM processors).  It does give status updates in the corner of the screen, but they were super-annoying and sometimes they would stay in front of my windows until I clicked on them.  I could live with those problems, but even though I haven't had any activity in my synced folder Ubuntu One on my Windows PC was constantly syncing, or at least trying to. I restarted the program and restarted my computer, but it kept having trouble.

Ugh Windows Update!

One reason I'm glad that I only use Windows for gaming (and DVD ripping) anymore is their awful update system.  I'm having an issue with internet connectivity, I think due to my VPN program trying a little too hard to get it's chocolate in Windows' peanut butter.  I decided to install Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) and do a scan, just in case (which to my shame and oversight wasn't already installed, it's a free and decent app).  I about lose my shit because MSE tells me it can't download the new virus definitions because something is blocking it.  That can be a telltale sign of a particularly shitty virus.  I try it a few more times, and the last time I sit and watch it download the updates and start to install and then stop.  It gives me the same message, something is "blocking" it, even though I just saw it clearly download what it needed, blockage-free.  I clicked on a little arrow at the bottom of the message and find a well-hidden note that it can't update the virus definitions because Windows Update is disabled.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gemini Rue

I just purchased Gemini Rue via the most recent Humble Bundle two days ago, and I beat it last night.  The first night I played it very late, and decided to go to bed at a reasonable stopping point.  The next night I started probably an hour before bedtime,  knowing it would be keeping me up.  I beat it a few hours later, so I wasn't up too late.

All I can say is what other people have said.  It's a great point-and-click adventure, with all of the genre's best qualities and it's worst trappings.  Luckily the trappings are small and far between, and don't even come close to outweighing the good.

The game is beautiful.  The story was great.  The atmosphere was real, alive. I turned the dialogue portraits off because I didn't feel like they fit with the overall art style very well.  I really want to see other things set in this universe, which felt rich and full for how little I saw of it.  The controls were sometimes iffy.  Sometimes clicking the side of the screen with the text "exit" coming up would cause you to walk to the next screen, sometimes it would cause you to stand near the end, requiring a second press. Sometimes clicking to manipulate an object had the player character automatically walk across the screen to fiddle with it, sometimes they said "I'll have to get closer," requiring you to walk them over and click on the object again.  I don't know why sometimes it was automatic and sometimes it wasn't.  Going through doors required a surprising amount of clicks.  That's it though, that's all my complaints.

It's worth mentioning that I played the whole thing on my Android phone, and the game worked much better with the smaller form factor than I had any reason to expect.  I hope that Wadjet Eye releases more of their games on Android.  I've heard good things about the Blackwell games, and I own some of them on Steam, but point-and-clicks are the closest games get to reading a book, and I kind of feel the need to play them like I read:  moving from position to position, from bed to couch to recliner.

I'll also own up to the fact that I sough help from a walkthrough maybe four times.  It was a good one that avoided spoilers ("Open the door, talk to the girl, watch the cutscene.")  My biggest problem with point-and-clicks the requirement to conform, not to another style of thinking, but to a very contrived logic specific only to that individual game.  Gemini Rue isn't as bad as say Sam and Max Hit the Road, their LucasArts point-and-click.  I didn't need the walkthrough, I just got impatient with the roadblocks that I would run into.  I made a decent effort to try everything I had with everything else and everyone I could find before I went to the walkthrough.  The biggest issues I had I think were caused by not doing things in the order the game wanted me to.

So my verdict: buy it.  If you like sci-fi stories, if you want to spend some time thinking about the nature of a person's identity, and if you like point-and-click adventure games, buy it.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Google is getting really annoying

I'm still mulling over writing a blog post on my hatred for Youtube's name hysteria, which I think is a reasonable reaction for me to have considering I've never posted any videos to Youtube nor have I ever commented on a video.  Constantly hounding me over which name is displayed when all I want to do is watch a video someone linked to me is very, very annoying.  I don't even want a Youtube account, it got tacked onto the Google one.

And now I'm playing with settings in a test blog.  Every time I go to edit a Page however, I keep getting the pop-up pictured above.  At least a half-dozen times.  Maybe I need to click "learn more" to get it to go away permanently, I don't know. What I do know is it's really annoying, especially because the account I'm logged in under doesn't have a Google+ account.

"Hey person who went out of his way to turn off his Google+ account, you can mention people on Google+ from your blog!"

Just once is annoying and disappointing enough, though partially expected nowadays as Google seems determined to be one of the bad guys.  Presumably unlimited nagging for someone who doesn't even have a Google+ account?  I think I've already made a comparison between this type of thing and GoDaddy's design and behavior.  I'm not planning an exodus yet, but I am going to start looking for other hosting arrangements.  You can't beat free, which Blogger is, but paying a few bucks a month might beat putting up with slowly shittening service.

BTW - I just tried clicking "Learn more."  Made no difference.  Still get the pop-up.  In fact, the linked page tells me I can't use this feature without a Google+ account.  Hey Google, Facebook built up it's user base by creating a service those people wanted.  I don't fucking want Google+ (or Facebook for that matter).  Stop being a dick about it.


The Cryptographic Virus and the Cell Phone Kill Switch

I don't have a lot of time for this today, and I'm not an IT professional so I'll keep this as short as possible to reduce my risk of any foot-in-mouth disorder.

First there was a New York DA calling for a remote cell phone kill switch, in order to prevent phone thefts.  Now some people in California have announced plans to introduce legislation requiring it.  This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.  Fuck the cuteness, this is just a really, really awful idea.

This post could just as easily be called "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished and the Law of Intended Consequences".  It also, once again, calls into question how beneficial it is to have lawmakers with no basic understanding of technology constantly trying to "fix it" with legislation.

I was recently surprised by learning a new thing that malicious software can do, and it immediately sprung to mind when I heard of this kill switch idea.  I was working a temp job in an office I do a lot of work for.  My second day there (on a week-long job) everybody was off of their computers, standing around.  Their server was slowly encrypting all their files, and the key was unknown.  The IT serviceman had already been called in, and he'd tracked it down to a virus that seemed to have gained access through a browser mis-click.