Not Ready for eBooks

eBookI was thinking about my relationship with books over the years and whether or not I could bite the bullet and just go ebook only. I finally decided that I’m just not ready. My reasoning is a bit complicated. I decided that it comes down to a lot of things. I’ll just list a few out:

  1. An ebook feels to me like the same level of book experience as a paperback. Unfortunately, they cost more than a paperback and after you’re done with them you can’t sell them to a used book store or swap them with one of your friends for one of theirs. So, with the cost of physical book production and distribution down and the cost to purchase up, they just feel overpriced.
  2. With most ebook sellers, the books are wrapped in DRM. For me this is a two fold problem. First, if I switch platforms or my chosen ebook provider decides to ditch the ebook business, I probably won’t be able to move my purchased books to the platform I’m switching to. Second, if I ever lose access to the account associated with my books for some reason, I’ll lose access to my content the next time I need to authenticate my books.
  3. An ebook reader isn’t as impressive as walls full of books. Well, it isn’t! Of course, that’s not a concern to me because I need more space in my house, but I do like having some books on shelves. There is something comforting about it. It just might be the years I spent reading books as a kid though. Possibly those feelings will fade.
  4. Books shouldn’t need batteries. I liked being able to take a book with me anywhere and be able to read as long as I had enough light. Now, if you’re out camping, you need to bring extra power along in order to read your ebooks for the whole trip. Plus, you don’t feel properly disconnected from your digital life if you’re reading on a digital device.

All those things being said, I love the concept of hundreds of books in my bag, ready for me to read at anytime. I’ve wanted that for a long time. The ability to fit a small library in my bag without much weight, so that I can easily take my books anywhere is great. The thought that my book is now something of enough value that it is a potential target of theft, isn’t so great. Ebook readers are also expensive enough that I really have to worry about losing them.

While I don’t feel ready to give up all my books, I think I will donate some of the classics I own that I can acquire ebook versions of for free. I can use the space. I already have more than a few books on my iPad, but haven’t finished a single one. I’m not sure if the format is a factor or just my busy schedule, but ebooks still don’t call out to me in the same way as paper books do. I guess I’m just not ready to commit to ebooks just yet.

Be Prepared

iStock_000008515543XLargeThe motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be prepared.” Short and to the point. Different people take that motto to heart in different ways. It’s really meant to apply to everything. Some people misunderstand that. You can’t fully prepare for everything. I take the motto to mean to prepare appropriately for the appropriate things. So, while some people think that spending all their time preparing for Armageddon is appropriate, I disagree. I think you should prepare adequately for reasonable expectations of disasters, such as a severe earthquake, tornados, hurricanes, etc. I don’t think you need to put a lot of effort into what you would do if you were the last person on earth. Odds are long and if you were, what would be the point?

What many people don’t think about is preparing for potential opportunities instead of possible disasters. Say adding some extra skills or taking some extra classes in case a better job opens up at your company or at another company that you might be interested in. Or maybe putting a little money aside in case a good investment opportunity comes along, not just in case of an emergency or a lost job. Being prepared could also mean just being aware of what happens around you. If you aren’t paying attention to what is going on, you might miss a casual comment or a situation nearby that could have turned into an amazing opportunity for you if you were just paying attention. It could be a potential job, free tickets to the big game, or a chance to help out your friend’s attractive room mate. If you aren’t prepared, you could lose out. So, pay attention and prepare yourself. No matter what anyone says, we all have a hand in making our own luck.  Make yours the good kind.

Thinking Way Outside the Box

Looking Good?People are always telling others to think outside the box. I can’t think of much that is farther outside the box than asking your grandfather to model your line of women’s clothing. That’s what Ms. Liv did for her online clothing shop Yuekou. She asked her 72 year old grandfather Liu Xianping to model her clothing line. I won’t say that he fooled me, but he does have the right build and attitude for it. So, while I don’t admire his physique, I definitely admire his confidence. According to CBC News, sales are up five fold since he started modeling for them.

My major takeaway from this is that sometimes when something seems to crazy to do, it is, but it still works. Don’t dismiss an idea as too crazy immediately. Think about it for a bit first. Sometimes, you have nothing to lose.

Why Do Laws Exist?

Justice is servedI’ve been following patent cases for years and the Aaron Swartz trial situation/suicide since he was indicted in 2011. People are constantly debating whether or not someone technically infringed a patent during patent cases or, in the situation of Aaron Swartz, if someone was in violation of a specific law. I think those questions miss the point. Who cares if a law was broken? I know, many of you are saying, “Whoa! What are you saying? Have you gone off the deep end? Laws are laws and you have to follow them!” You’re right of course, but so am I.

The real questions that we should be asking are, “Why do these laws exist? And do they deliver the intended consequences?” Think hard about these questions. Why do we have patent and copyright laws? To allow companies to sue other companies for exorbitant sums and pay ridiculous amounts of money because someone’s product uses “a method to allow users to pay by clicking a single button” or “a method of creating a digital playlist”? I don’t think so. I think that goes against the intent of the laws, which was to protect innovation.  The thought was that we wanted to prevent a company from waiting for another to create a nontrivial innovation and then quickly copying the product and driving the innovator out of business. That would greatly reduce the incentive of an innovator to invest heavily in research and development when everyone would benefit from their investment of capital without incurring any of the cost.

If you were to ask me to tell you the purpose of intellectual property law based on the results I see in the marketplace, I would reach a different conclusion. I would say that the purpose of intellectual property law was to allow businesses to apply for patents covering any conceivable possible future innovation or business method even if they never intended to utilize them in order to later extort money from companies that actually bring said product to market. Or maybe the purpose is to allow large companies to create large troves of patents in order to prevent any new competition from coming to market. Or maybe just to employ a massive amount of lawyers at high salaries doing jobs that deliver little benefit to society.

I’m not saying that intellectual property law is unnecessary. I’m also not saying that lawyers are useless. (My brother-in-law actually is one) What I’m saying is that intellectual property law as it is now structured and enforced is a failure insomuch as it doesn’t deliver the outcome that it was intended to deliver. It also makes the free market less efficient because it ties up an extraordinary amount of capital in creating and defending useless patents. The main value of these patents has become what they allow a company to extort from another in return for a supposed “infringement”.

It seems like laws have gotten away from us and their original purpose. There are so many laws protecting so many things that even something as minor as what Aaron Swartz did, which was copying a bunch of electronic documents in an inappropriate manner can mean a huge potential jail term and fines (35 years & one million in fines). Even when JSTOR dropped the charges, the federal government continued to pursue criminal charges. If Aaron was guilty of damaging MIT, civil charges could have been pursued. His transgressions were not violent or destructive and they didn’t affect our federal government in any way. His prosecution from my viewpoint was little more than the federal government trying to make an example of an activist that they considered to have stepped out of line. I would content that taxpayer dollars could be better spent elsewhere and if anyone had been damaged, they could have been made hole through a civil case, which could have resulted in him reimbursing them for any damage he may have caused. The laws and the government in this case are overreaching. Of course, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

Want a little more background on the case and the laws broken? Check out this piece from The Verge.

Outsourcing for Fun & Profit

iStock_000009440149XSmallThis story that comes out of case study from Verizon is just too weird to not share. Verizon apparently had a client that was a U.S. critical infrastructure company. The client noticed that they had a lot of traffic coming through a VPN connection from China on a daily basis for months. The client thought that one of their developers must have been hacked, so they enlisted the security team from Verizon to help them figure the situation out.

I’ll cut right to the end. It turned out that the investigation found out that their developer, who they called “Bob”, was outsourcing his work to China and using his work time to surf Reddit, shop on eBay, post updates on Facebook and LinkedIn and to send out a daily email update to management. On top of that, he apparently had been doing the same thing with several other companies and had been making several hundred thousand a year while only paying $50,000 to the company he was using in China. He had even been noted as the best developer in the building in his performance reviews.

If it wasn’t for the security breach, I would be commending Bob myself. He delivered the best work in the building, after all. Opening up the company’s firewall at a critical U.S. infrastructure company though? Not a good move. Maybe he can get a job handling outsourcing for another company next? He seemed to do a good job of it if his performance reviews can be believed after all.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Digital Basket

file0001777550557I was reading some TNW articles in my feed reader when I stumbled on the account of how Chris Leydon had his Facebook account closed without any explanation or recourse.

I’ve told many people over the years that I don’t trust Microsoft, Google or lately Facebook. I’ve often been told that I’m overreacting or that I’m paranoid. You know the old saying though, “You’re not paranoid, if everyone is really out to get you.” Now, I’m not saying that Microsoft, Google or Facebook is out to get you or me specifically. What I haven’t trusted over the years is their market dominance, their motivations and my place in relation to those.

Let’s face it. Microsoft held a near monopoly in terms of their OS and it felt like they could do pretty much whatever they wanted without fear of any real repercussions.

Google on the other hand has a business built upon your data and selling that to advertisers. On top of that, they’re kind of a closed box. You don’t really know why certain content is surfaced and why certain sites are ranked higher than others, yet that difference can make or break a business. Likewise, if you participate in their AdSense program you don’t have any real visibility into how much you should get from them and they can close your account at any time. If you do a search on “Closed AdSense Account” you’ll find many, many results. Often the accounts are closed right before a payment needs to be made. No warning, no way to fix it, nothing. If you’re accused of being in violation of their TOS you are toast. Forget about appealing. Google is a company of algorithms, not people. That’s pretty much why I don’t use AdSense or any similar programs to monetize my sites. I know many people use those products without problems, but I don’t like the feeling of being at another company’s mercy with no way to appeal to an impartial 3rd party.

Getting back to Chris Leydon’s story, I was struck by how completely Facebook has invaded many people’s lives. I share very little on Facebook and use it for almost nothing. I may be one of their billion plus user, but just barely. Chris like many other people used it for everything. He used it to login to many sites, he stored photos on it, he synced it with his contacts, he used it for groups, for events and to chronicle his life. Painful. That’s really all I can say. Like I said, I use Facebook for very little. It’s mainly something I have because you need to have it in case someone tries to get in touch with you that way. That’s it.  With their stranglehold on Social, they just feel a little too powerful to care what I think of the way they treat me and I don’t like that.

I might sound like someone who would advocate that everybody leave Facebook and I guess I would not so secretly love that, but I’m a realist. Everyone uses Facebook, so I understand the feeling that you need to be on it. I have a Facebook account myself, after all.  You have to watch how you use it though. It shouldn’t be the only place you keep anything. There is no place that should be the only place you keep anything. You should have a copy of all your data at home, you should have a physical backup of that data somewhere and you should probably back it up in the cloud. Trusting everything to Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple or even DropBox (which I love), is just crazy. Chris’s story highlights that. It also justifies my distrust of using Facebook or even Twitter as my login for another service. If a service is important to me, I need to be able to log into it directly, not through another service that could prevent me from logging into the site in the future.

What should you do? Don’t be paranoid. Use technology. Embrace technology. Just think about how you use technology and protect yourself from blindly trusting companies. They have their best interests at heart. While people say that companies won’t be successful if they keep screwing their customers, that isn’t very comforting when they screw you. Just ask Chris Leydon.

Changing Habits

I was recently turned on to Epipheo.TV by Lifehacker. They linked to a video on the site called, “The Power of Habit.”  It gave some insight into how habits are formed and a way to think about modifying your behavior by pairing rewards with certain cues to trigger a new desired behavior. Go check out the video. At under three minutes in length, it is time well spent if you are able to use it to break bad habits or form new better ones. I’ve embedded the video below to save you a step:

Cognitive Dissonance

Medical BagIn honor of the death of Aaron Swartz, who was a programmer and activist, Lifehacker reposted one of his articles entitled “Look at Yourself Objectively.” This was an excellent post that discussed Ignaz Semmelweis’ discovery of the efficacy of antiseptic procedures in preventing infection and death at the hospital he worked at. More importantly, it discussed the reason why the doctor’s at his hospital and others felt the need to discredit his findings despite all of the supporting evidence in the form of the severely decreased mortality rate of mothers delivering babies at his hospital.

When I say severely decreased mortality rate I mean it. The mortality rate went from over 18% to to just over 2% within two months. You would think that his findings would have been applauded. That was far from the truth. In fact, rather than admit that they had been killing women through their unsanitary practices, they decided that discrediting him would be preferable. It was not until  Louis Pasteur’s confirmation of germ theory and Joseph Lister’s success with hygienic practices during surgery that he was vindicated.

The more in depth discussion of the reaction of the doctors is definitely worth a read. It shed some light on some experiences I have experienced in the past although luckily in nowhere near as serious a situation. It’s impossible for me to forgive the actions of the doctors that persecuted Semmelweis, but understanding why they did what they did, is enlightening to me.

Welcome to icisil.com!

iStock_000006766990MediumWelcome to icisil.com, which stands for: “I Came, I Saw, I Learned.” I created this site to be able to quickly post items that I thought were illuminating in some way. That could be something that confirmed something that I believed to be true, but had no proof or possibly something that goes against what I believed to be true. Or it could just be some information that opened my eyes to an area that I had never considered before.

What this site will not be though, is a place to post pictures of my or other people’s food. Unless of course it somehow fits into one of those aforementioned categories. In that case…I’ll think about it. This site will also not be filled with cat videos. If that’s what you were here for, I’m sorry and please move along. That genre of content is more than served elsewhere. Still here?  Well then stay awhile, make yourself comfortable, pull up a post or two and peer into my head. It might be interesting, it might be educational…it might be scary, but I’ll try to keep it from being boring. The only thing I can guarantee though is that I won’t be bored. Good luck to the rest of you!

Oh and a quick note on comments! I accept them, I cherish good ones and I delete all malicious ones. They don’t offend me, but they do disappoint me when I see them. I intend this to be a place that I can share what I learn in a respectful way. If you would like to share something with me and others in that same spirit, then comment away. You’re not expected to agree and actually I encourage different points of view because it challenges us to think about what we believe. If you’re just looking to troll though, then I’m sad for you and for whatever is wrong with your life that causes you to feel that need. I hope things get better for you.

With that out of the way, are you ready to learn something? Me, too! Let’s see if we can make that happen.