Archive for the ‘Books’ Category.

I Would Love A Place Like This

Book Update

I had a nice Instalanche this morning on my post about the 99-cent price point on the Amazon Kindle for my book BMOC.  I also got a bit of attention at the KindleBoards forum.  So my book is nosing into the top 500 on Kindle, but until my kid noticed I did not see the other topical rankings:

LOL, #1 in Books>Entertainment>Humor>Laywers.  #2 on the same but for business.  Whole new niches beckon!  (Actually, these categories kind of make sense, though I am not sure who chose them --  I am not sure I did).

99-Cent Kindle Book Update

For the second straight day, I have sold fifty copies of BMOC, for a total of a hundred in two days, at 99-cents.  Fifty copies is more than I was selling in several weeks at the old price.  Thanks to Glen Reynolds for linking the idea.

99-cent Book Experience, Day 1

Well, it may only be a short-term kick driven by you fine readers  (my thanks) but yesterday in the first day at the 99-cent price point I sold fifty copies of BMOC and jumped to number 2067 in the sales rank.  Since my main goal is to be read, rather than make money, this is great.

Amazon Bargain

My novel BMOC is now $0.99 at Amazon.  With my second book coming out sometime soon (I hope) I thought I would experiment with online pricing models.  I sold about 30 a month at the old price, but Glen Reynolds linked an article praising the 99-cent Kindle price point.  So what the heck, let's try it.  My loss is your gain, as the ads say.

Reasons you might like the novel:

  • It's a sort of combination of Harvard Business School case study and murder mystery, with some humor thrown in
  • The business at the center of the novel is actually the good guy (err gal, I guess, since the protagonist is female). While sympathetic to capitalism, the book is primarily a light crime novel, not some sort of Randian morality tale.
  • The villains include a media mogul, a tort lawyer, a local news anchor, and a US Senator  -- just like life!
  • Several of the business models were made up on the fly when I attended boring cocktail parties and entertained myself creating whimsical businesses for myself.  Since that time, readers of the book have emailed me with news stories of recent startup companies following almost identical strategies.
  • 4-stars at Amazon

Public Choice Theory

I asked Don Boudreaux his opinion of the best primer on public choice theory, a topic of interest to many libertarians.  He recommended William Mitchell & Randy Simmons, Beyond Politics (1994).  I have ordered a used copy from Amazon and will give my thoughts on it once I have had a chance to peruse it.

Idea for a Novel

I was doing something today that I generally avoid, which is thinking about Sarah Palin.  How bizarre would it be to wake up one morning and find that some random maniac you had never met in a city you might never have visited had gone on a killing spree and prominent people were all over the media blaming you for the killing. Not your political party, not all those who shared your views, not all those from a similar group, but you personally. Blood on your hands.   How weird would that be  (and how pissed off would I be -- I can say that I would have lashed out publicly early and hard and often, much harder than Palin's video, though no one ever has called me "presidential" in temperament).

Seems like there should be a novel in there somewhere.  Yeah, I know the falsely accused thing is done all the time (e.g. the Prisoner) but I can't shake the feeling there is an interesting concept here.

First Ever Inside Reference to My Novel

This is probably the first ever inside reference to my novel. The funny part is that when I read TJIC's post, I thought "hmm, Preston Marsh, where have I heard that name?"  LOL.  By the way, the business idea Travis has is actually intriguing

Restaurants get napkins and linens as a service "“ every day, they trade huge bags of dirty whites for clean whites. They are in the business of cooking food and hiring wait staff, not in the business of knowing how to bleach things (or in the business of picking out linens that can stand up to bleach).

So what does clothing as a service entail? It could include cleaning, sizing, rotating wardrobes as fashions change, etc.

It removes some hassles, and bundles responsibilities in the place where there are economies of scale "“ people in the fashion industry can and will know more about sizing, cleaning, coordinating, etc. than consumers.

I and others have thoughts on the model in the comments.

By the way, for those who have not read my book, Preston Marsh is an entrepreneur who has made money in a series of sortof odd business models.  Years ago I used to get bored at parties (actually, I still get bored at parties but I no longer use this entertainment technique) and make up occupations for myself.  I remember convincing one woman who had recent evidence that I could not ski well that I was on the Olympic Ski Jumping Team  ("You don't have to turn in ski jumping!")

Anyway, all the business models in the books are ones I made up for myself on the fly at parties.  One involves building fountains in malls and then recouping the investment by harvesting coins from them.  Another, which is central to the book, is a sort of guerrilla marketing startup which does some lifestyle consulting with teens but makes its money placing products in the hands of the coolest, trendsetting teens at high schools (a model that has since been emulated by a couple of real-life companies).

By the way, the book is still on sale at Amazon and available on the Kindle for download.  Just search "BMOC."

My First Novel Now on Kindle

My first novel, "BMOC," is now on Kindle for $4.99, a substantial discount off the  $17.95 price Amazon has for the dead tree version.  Incredibly, my author royalty is WAY more for the Kindle version even at that price than for the paper version.

Anyway, if you like this site, you might check it out.  The novel is part murder mystery, party comedy, and part business book.   I used to have fun with my friends at business school and later in nconsulting thinking up odd new business models (e.g. coin harvesting from fountains) and this book embodies some of the odder ones we came up with.  Though as wacky as the business model of the main company in the book (called "BMOC" appropriately enough) was supposed to be, since writing it I have had a number of people send me stories of startups pursuing eerily similar approaches to marketing.  Anyway, the book is a light read though with adult language and a tiny bit of sex.

The Great Moveway Jam

Thanks to a commenter, the short story from Omni that was so reminiscent of the China traffic jam was "The Great Moveway Jam."  The blog Cedar Posts and Barbwire Fences found it online:

Part One is Here

Part Two is Here

Story in Omni Magazine

Yes, I am among the geeks who miss Omni magazine.  Is there anyone who remembers a short story in that magazine about a traffic jam so bad they eventually just paved it over, people and all?  I am reminded of that given this story from China.

Books I am Way, Way Late On

I am currently, finally reading a book that most of you who know how much of a geek I am probably already assumed I had read:  Geodel- Escher- Bach.  I guess I was turned off by how hip the book was when it came out, so I assumed it was some new age goofiness.  As many of you know, it turns out to be a very readable book on modern number theory and all sorts of related mathematical topics.  I'm really enjoying it.

But I would add that it is a blessing I waited until today to read it.  20 years ago I was way to impatient to really savor and appreciate it.  The book is working on 3 or 4 levels at the same time at every turn, and I am not sure I would have been mature enough to appreciate it earlier.  I can just see myself screaming, "and what's the deal with this stupid turtle?"

I had a similar reaction after recently reading Les Miserables.  I couldn't understand it 30 years ago - a 100 pages in and we are still talking about this freaking priest and haven't met the main characters yet?  What gives?  Others may have been more mature at 17, but I needed a few decades to really appreciate it.  This time around, I thought the book was beautiful.  Really enjoyed it.

Next up in this vein?  Probably Foucault's Pendulum, which I pick up and give up on every decade or so.

The Glad Corporation = Satan

I am totally pissed off at the Glad Corporation this evening.  For over a year, I have been advocating the Amazon Kindle book reader (I now have a Kindle 2)  in part because it actually is superior to regular books for reading in the bath tub.  Just zip the Kindle into a clear Ziploc bag, and it is waterproof and quite easy to read.  And it is easy to turn the pages, unlike trying to put a regular book in a bag.

That is, until today.  For some reason, I misplaced my usual Ziploc bag.  So I ran to the kitchen for a replacement, and found to my horror the new bag design is no longer clear.  There is some kind of pattern in the plastic that is still sort of transparent but is far less satisfactory for book reading.  I wonder if anyone is selling black market old-Ziploc bags on eBay?

The never-ending need of American corporations to tinker with designs usually helps make for a better world, but it has a dark side too.  First the Edsel, and now less-than-transparent Ziplocs.

Postscript: We also used to use Ziplocs for cheap underwater photography.  It actually works OK, if you pull the bag tight across the lens.

Update #1: The freezer bags are thicker -- I am hoping that they are still clear.  I will run to the store tomorrow to buy a box and let you know.

The Box

I just finished "The Box," which is a history of container shipping.  Never has any book I have read elicited so many laughs from my family.  Nothing says "geek" like reading a book about shipping containers.

But, for those of you who might similarly be turned off by the subject matter as unpromising, I can say this is easily one of the most interesting business books I have ever read.    It is fascinating to see how the entire economics of an industry can be changed not by some arcane advance in silicon, but by a metal box.  In a period of about 20 years, the entire merchandise shipping business, which had remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, was completely reinvented.  Every ship and every port had to be replaced.  Moreover, these changes resonated far beyond shipping, as they enabled much of the global manufacturing revolution of the last generation.

Because pre-container shipping and transport were so highly regulated, the book provides a great window on how regulation affects innovation, and vice versa.  It also focuses quite a bit on how unions and in particular union work rules affected industry economics, and how these unions reacted to change in the industry.

And of course, the book allows us to look at any number of interesting business strategy issues:

  • Is being a first mover an advantage, or a disadvantage?  Sea-Land reaped a number of first mover advantages, but it also got hurt badly when a number of the earlier investment choices they made turned out to be wrong.  Several late movers, who invested after ship designs had been through two or three generations, did quite well.  Others did not.
  • Who makes money investing into this kind of change?  A few early SeaLand investors made out well, the equivalent of angel investors, but later investors did poorly.  And it is not at all clear that anyone making massive, billion dollar investments ever really made great returns.  Like the airline industry, the industry quickly hit over-capacity and prices dropped.  It is clear shippers won big, but did it really make sense for anyone to invest in this business?  The best strategy I can come up with was followed by Maersk, which basically sat out until late and then bought up assets on the cheap out of bankruptcy from early participants.

This situation was reminiscent of a business case I had at HBS about the beginnings of the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) market.  It was run as a computer simulation among teams.  Basically, almost not matter what everyone did, the industry ended up in over-capacity and everyone lost money.  The only successful strategy was the Wargames approach ("the only winning move is not to play').

A Couple of Free SF Short Stories recently went online, and apparently has a new John Scalzi short story from the Old Man's War universe and a new Charles Stross from his very enjoyable "Laundry" series (I have not mentioned the latter series very much, but it is sort of HP Lovecraft meets Men in Black crossed with Office Space.  Really.)

Thumbs Up For Scalzi's New Zoe's Tale

Several weeks ago, when he was going away to camp, I tried to come up with a gift to send along with my 14-year-old son.  Because he is a big John Scalzi fan, I bought him a semi-bootleg pre-production copy of Scalzi's upcoming novel Zoe's Tale off eBay.  I feel kind of bad about abusing Mr. Scalzi in this way, but feel a little better when I consider what our household somehow seems to own at least two copies of every book he has published.

Anyway, I just snagged the book back from my son and he said it was great.  As all you parents know, 14-year-old boys can be oh-so nuanced and deep in their communications with their parents, so I did not get a lot of detail  (oddly enough, having read a few chapters, the communication and decision-making abilities of teenage boys seems to be a minor theme in the book).  The best metric of his fondness for the book was that he told me to make sure to read the acknowledgments at the end.  It must be some kind of sign of engagement when a teenage boy reads the acknowledgments.

I am several chapters in and really like what I have seen so far.  Always nice to see a strong teenage girl protagonist, and Scalzi is as funny as ever.  Apparently it is available in mid-August.

By the way, later this year I believe an early novel of Scalzi's called Agent to the Stars is coming back into publication.  I loved this book, and you can check it out early as Scalzi has it available free online.  (update:  Here it is on Amazon, with an Oct 28 release date).

Two Old Favorites Re-Discovered in the Same Day

The other day, I was sorting through my bookshelves trying to find something for my son to read.  He just blew through the four books of the Hyperion series and was looking for fresh meat.  As I was browsing, I picked up Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash, which I have not read in several years.  Despite reading the book twice before, I was immediately engulfed by the first chapter.  I know I am a geek, but I honestly think that the first chapter of Snow Crash may be the best opening of any book I have ever read.

I seldom watch TV, but later that day I had just finished watching the A&E remake of Andromeda Strain, which was a favorite of mine when I was a boy.  I happened across the Redford-Dunaway movie "Three Days of the Condor."  This is one of my favorite spy movies, and not just because I am a sucker for Faye Dunaway (I always thought the young Faye Dunaway would have been a great Dagny Taggert in Atlas Shrugged.)  One of the reasons I like the movie is its pacing.  I enjoy a full-speed ahead never-take-a-breath action movie as much as the next person, but do they all have to be that way.  This was a thriller with an almost languid pace. 

One of My Favorite Short Stories as a Boy

I rediscovered today an old favorite of mine, a short story written by Winston Churchill (yes, the same guy) in about 1930.  My son was searching for examples of alternative history, and found "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg"

Amazon One-Star Reviews

Have I ever told you that I really like author John Scalzi?  Not just because I love his books, but I do really enjoy his work.  I like him because he spends a lot of time promoting the work of other young writers and promoting the science fiction and fantasy genre in general.

Recently, Scalzi published on his blog all his Amazon one-star reviews.  As a fairly novice writer who will never write as well as Scalzi, I found this quite liberating.  If folks like him endure these bad reviews, maybe I should not let my own setbacks get me down.  He has challenged other authors to do the same, publishing their Amazon one-star reviews online.  In this post, he links a number of authors who have taken up the challenge, including Charles Stross and Jo Walton.

So, though I am not in the league of these other authors, I will post my one-star review for my book BMOC.

I like the concept for the book and like reading Warren Meyer's Coyote
Blog. I don't understand how crude and uncouth became popular and I am
disappointed that is the approach that was chosen with this book. I
should have paid attention to the review by "Warren's mother." I've
returned my copy to Amazon for a refund.

Wow, I actually feel better.  Based on this review, I will warn you as I warn my friends when I give them a copy:  The book has its crude parts, and I have only let my kids read highly edited portions.  That being said, its not Fear of Flying either, and my parent's priest read it without spontaneously combusting.  But don't buy it if you are turned off by harsh language and some sexual humor.  I have two youth novels in the works, you can save your money for them ;=)

Postscript:  This is one of the one-star reviews posted for Anya Bast's Witch Fire:

"Not romance, not erotica, basically porn - what little plot there is
exists to connect the sex scenes, note I didn't say love making scenes.
Altogether distasteful and I won't waste money on this author again."

LOL, if the review is trying to hurt Ms. Bast's sales, I am not positive this is the right approach.

Don't Bother Reading the News; Just Read My Novel

Excerpt from my novel BMOC that I posted hours after the Spitzer revelations:

Taking a deep
breath, Givens said, "Senator, there is a reason that this one is not
away. I will spell it out: S-E-X. The press doesn't give a shit about a
few billion dollars of waste. No one tunes in to the evening news if
teaser is "˜Government pays too much for a bridge, news at eleven.' The
Today Show doesn't interview the
contractors benefiting from a useless bridge."

"However, everybody
and his dog will tune in if
the teaser is "˜Your tax dollars are funding call girls, film at
eleven'. Jesus, do you really think the CBS Evening
News is going to turn down a chance to put hookers on the evening news?
Not just tonight but day after day? Just watch "“ Dan Rather will be
hookers and Chris Mathews will be interviewing hookers and for God's
Barbara Walters will probably have a weepy interview with a hooker."

OK, I missed it by that much.  It is Diane Sawyer, not Barbara Walters.

At least one good thing has come out of Eliot Spitzer's fall from
grace: Diane Sawyer will finally get to air her hooker special!

Almost two years ago, Sawyer and producers at "Prime Time Live" set
out to do a story on prostitution. Wanting to examine Nevada's legal
brothels, she headed out to the famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch.

"She really hit it off with all my girls," Bunny Ranch head Dennis
Hof tells us. "We even gave her one of the terry-cloth bathrobes they
wear. We had it embroidered, "Diane: Trainee."

Useful Advice from John Scalzi

Another fake memoir has been revealed:

In "Love and Consequences," a critically acclaimed memoir published
last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white,
half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a
foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a
pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the
well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando
Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell
Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood
neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run
drugs for any gang members.

John Scalzi offers advice:

You know, the rules of a memoir are pretty simple. If an event actually happened to you, you can use it in a memoir. If it didn't actually happen to you, you can't. Because then it's fiction, you see. Which is different from a memoir. No, really; you can look it up. I'm not sure why this has suddenly become so difficult for everyone to process.

I must say that this actually sounds like a good book -- he should go for it:

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to selling my memoir of my
life as a teenage transvestite in the Bogota slums, who later joined
the Navy SEALs and adopted the twin daughters of the ruthless Afghan
opium warlord whom I battled to the death using only a spoon
and 14 bars of the 1812 Overture, and then, having beaten back a
terrible addiction to khat, went on to become one of the most famous
celebrity chefs on The Cooking Channel. Because apparently this would
be at least as true as most of the other memoirs on the market today.
And, I'd wager, a great deal more entertaining. I'm waiting for my
check, I am.

Up and Coming Writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy

One of the things I like about John Scalzi, other than the fact his books rock, is that he goes out of his way to promote other up-and-coming writers.  His series in December called "a Month of Writers" has pounded my Amazon bill and filled up my "to be read" shelf.  He indexes the entire series here.

Perfect Gift for the Holidays!

From the Business Opportunities Weblog:

Continuing my list of my favorite business books of 2007 brings us to another unconventional one: BMOC.
While the book, by Warren Meyer, is fictional, it does contain a number
of interesting business ideas, including my favorite outlandish
business opporunity of all time: fountain coin harvesting.

Amazon link for BMOC here  (sorry, I tried to get the price cut for the holidays but it really takes a long time for that to work through the system).

The DRM Genie Just Won't Go Back into the Bottle

Another milestone has been reached in DRM lameness:  Western Digital, which I considered, at least until today, to be the clear leader in the hard drive wars, has instituted DRM on its hard drives:

Western Digital's 1TB MyBook external hard drives won't share media files over network connections (UPDATE: Don't install the "required" client software! See workaround below). From the product page:

"Due to unverifiable media license authentication, the most common
audio and video file types cannot be shared with different users using
WD Anywhere Access."

It doesn't matter what
the files are: If you try to share these formats over a network,
Western Digital assumes not just that you're a criminal, but that it is
its job to police users. You see, MP3, DivX, AVI, WMV and Quicktime files are copy-protected formats.

Here is the list of 30 file extensions the hard drive won't let you share.  It does not matter if those mp3 files are just dictation files you created yourself using an MP3 recorder -- you still can't share them.  Really lame.  Why WD feels the need to get into the business of policing this stuff is beyond me.  Can you imagine the product meeting.  Gee, I think we should jump into the DRM fray, even though we don't receive a dime from the media companies and it will really piss all of our customers off.  Corry Doctorow also comments.

Atlas Shrugged at 50

Apparently Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged is turning 50, a fact I know only because my fairly libertarian-tilted feed reading list has been deluged of late with retrospectives. 

One of the oddities of posts on Ayn Rand is that every author seems to feel required to say something like "I like her work but I am not in total agreement with everything she says."  Uh, OK.  I'm not clear why this proviso seems so necessary.  I have never heard someone saying "I am a big fan of Mozart" and then following up with "but I don't like all of his works."  I am sure that is true, but they don't bother saying so.   I am a big fan of Ayn Rand, in particular with her non-fiction essays, but of course there are parts of her writing I don't agree with.  For example, I would be less likely to take her advice on managing my love life than I would to eat out of Hannibal Lecter's cookbook.

What Rand did so well in Atlas Shrugged was to take collectivist and anti-rational philosophy and play it forward in practice in a very compelling way. She demonstrated with almost mathematical precision the end results of collectivist philosophy.   The entropic United States in Atlas Shrugged, running down under the weight of socialism, has turned out to be repeatedly prescient.  For this reason, I find her anti-heros to be more memorable.  I see analog's to the Jim Taggerts and Lee Hunsackers and Starnes children nearly every day in the news.  Through these analogs, Rand still helps me place current events in their philosophical context. 

By the way, if you enjoyed her novels but have never read her essays, I encourage you to do so.  The Virtue of Selfishness is a reasonable place to start.  She was not the first person to voice many of these messages (Hayek and others were saying many of the same things) but because of her novels, I, like many others, heard them first from her.