A model for ebooks

March 12, 2010 at 11:41 am | Posted in books, technology | 1 Comment
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I’ve been thinking (thanks, Virgil) about a financial model for ebooks. Maybe ebooks can be rented.

I agree that ebooks will not completely replace physical books. For me, if a book is so good, so important to me that I want to *own* it, I want a physical copy. If I just want to read a book once, I’m fine with it being an ebook.

That got me thinking. I can basically rank books into three categories. There are books I want to read to try out, but not invest much if anything to do so. There are books I know I will want to come back to, quote from, and read again. Then there are books that I love, that really speak to me, that have changed me, and that I will come back to again and again and want to share with people.

For the last kind, I want a physical copy. I want to be able to take it with me anywhere and read regardless of whether a battery is charged or whether I have internet access. The second kind would be fine as an ebook, but I’d want to have some assurance of access. I think I’d want to store it locally, not on someone else’s server in a cloud somewhere. I’d also want to be able to make annotations.

But what about the first one? Maybe I could pay to have access to an ebook for a dollar (or five, or whatever) per week or so, then the access “goes away.” I don’t know how the logistics would work, someone else can figure that out. But I know I’d be much more willing to pay money to try brand new books or books by new (to me) authors if the initial investment were much lower. Otherwise I’d just wait until the physical copy were in the library or the electronic copy were available via the Guttenberg project. And by then I’d have forgotten about it. Even if I didn’t forget about it, if I did it that way I wouldn’t be financially supporting the author when the author most needs it, when they’re alive and trying to make a living by writing.

I can see it now, I’ve got a weekend free, or spring break, or some other stretch of time available. I want to read something outside my known sphere. I pick up my kindle/ipad and browse through recommendations based on my preferences, or based on a similar thing I liked — Pandora-style. Then I pay some relatively low price to try something new. If I really like it, I’ll buy “permanent access.” If not, I won’t have wasted much, and the author gets a little bit of compensation. If I love it, I get a physical copy.

Another way this can work (I think this is done for some books) is you get the first few chapters for free, then pay for the rest. That could work in conjunction with this business model, or as a separate model. I’m not sure.

People have probably already thought of these things. I’m just thinking out loud.

Update: Thanks to Mike O’Connell for pointing me to this fantastic interview with Toni Weisskopf of Baen books about ebooks and associated business models.

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Web 2.0 experiences in the classroom

January 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Posted in conference, education, internet, internet culture, local, math, technology | 3 Comments
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I just got back from TLT Day, Teaching and Learning with Technology Day 2009. I attended a great presentation by Marianne Hebert on Web 2.0 in the classroom. It was a great presentation that I was rather disappointed with.

The presentation slides are here on slideshare. (I learned about slideshare from Marianne’s talk … thanks!) See, that’s why I say it was a great presentation. I learned some new stuff that I want to look into and, via the discussion, found ways other folks are using Web 2.0 stuff. I even learned what the heck Web 2.0 means.

The reason I was rather disappointed with it is that I didn’t leave with ways to improve the classroom/course experience for my students. Sure, I know about various web stuff that’s really cool, and I could incorporate these things if I wanted to, but it’s not clear at all if using these things (like delicious, facebook, twitter, google maps, google docs, etc.) will improve my classroom/course experience. This left me conflicted, since I thought it was a good talk.

And that’s when it hit me. The talk basically said that people are on the web, our students are on the web more than we are, and here are lots of ways that we can interact with them to facilitate learning in ways with which they are comfortable. It gave lots of examples and demonstrated how many different websites are used. And it did a good job at that.

But that’s not what I need in order to improve my classroom/course experience. I’m not just going to use a piece of technology because it’s cool. (Ok, I might. But only if it’s REALLY cool.) And I’m not going to just throw more technology into my classes with the hope that the experience will be better. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to work.

What I need to do is spend some time alone and brainstorm. I need to just strip away all perceived boundaries, imagine that no impediments exist, and that I can make any classroom experience I can imagine a reality just by willing it to be. If that were the reality in which I lived, what classroom/course experience would I create? What sorts of things can I imagine?

That’s hard! I don’t know about you, but if I start doing that, part of my mind (call it the practical part) immediately starts thinking about all the problems with implementing what I just imagined. Now don’t get me wrong; I like the practical part of my mind. And I know it’s just looking at things that way with the intention of solving those problems. But it gets in the way of the creative part of my mind that imagines in the first place. And my creative part can get bummed out by a preponderance of practical concerns that I don’t know how to solve. So I need to take some time to give the creative part free reign, and imagine what I want to make happen.

Once I get an idea of what that looks like … well, then I will sit back and have a beer. A good beer, like Guinness. But after that, I will let the practical part out of its cage and say, “Make that happen!” In reality, it will probably only make a facsimile, or a lower dimensional projection, of my imagination happen, because it has to live in the real world. If it really can make my imagination happen, that’s a sign to me that I need to dream bigger.

So, my conclusion is that coming to a talk like this the way I did today is almost like putting the cart before the horse. I need to have that dream first. I need to imagine the ultimate classroom/course experience in a limitless world. Then I can come to a talk like this and when I see something useful I can say, “Hey, that can help make this little part of my ultimate experience a reality!” Then I won’t be just adding technology for its own sake. I will be filling a need, a function that I have already identified. Then whatever I add is practically assured to make a tangible improvement.

You’re indirectly responsible for this realization, Marianne, so thank you. You just may have helped me make every conference I go to more enriching. I also had good conversations with Linda, Karen, and Jenica. It was a few hours well spent IMO.

I also attended a workshop about iClicker, a classroom voting system that I will be using extensively this semester. I’ll devote a separate entry to just that.

Anybody know about processors?

November 26, 2008 at 3:02 pm | Posted in technology | 3 Comments

Quick notebook question. I’ve been looking at PCs with Intel Core 2 processors, and ones with AMD Turion 64 X2 Dual-Core processors. Does anyone here know anything about them? For my purposes, web-surfing and word processing mostly, will it make a difference?

A slightly longer version. We’d love a MacBook, of course, but some of these sales are just too good to resist, and Jenny’s PC is really on its way out.

Thanks, dudes.

Math is Delicious!

August 13, 2008 at 11:47 am | Posted in books, comics, life, math, motorcycles, technology | 6 Comments

Check out Questionable Content, one of my favorite webcomics. It’s about a bunch of 20somethings centered around a coffee shop. I’m currently wearing this t-shirt. There are others here. Good geeky stuff.

In the meantime, I’m doing math a lot these days. The REU inspired me to get this paper that I’ve been procrasti- … er, working on, out. And for a week and a half now I’ve been incredibly productive! Talk about taking the bull by the horns and running with your nose to the wheel! It’s been great, and it looks like I’m going to meet my self-imposed deadline of getting this paper presentable, at least to a couple of colleagues to look over, and without qualifiers like, “Ignore the formatting errors in chapter three,” or, “I know the proof in the Hermitian case needs work.” This is going to be a no-qualifiers, one edit away from submission to a journal, state of done-ness.

This makes me very happy. It almost makes me not mind so much that my motorcycle’s been in the shop for a week and a half. I think I’ll call them. They said a part was on order last week, and that it’d take several days to get, so it’s not totally unexpected that it has taken this long, but I’m getting antsy.

What else is going on? Jenny’s tummy is unhappy, so neither of us got much sleep last night. My poor sweetie. 😦 She’s been doing lots of riding on her bike, though. Good for her! She’s taking it slow, practicing on the college campus after hours and on local residential roads. She’s concentrating on having excellent control, and building experience, and therefore confidence, little by little. We can’t wait til we can ride together, each on our own bike!

One and a half weeks until classes start. There was a recent issue with one of my textbooks. One company bought the textbook I was using from another company and raised the price by over 60% from the last edition. Then they had the nerve to ship us hardcover copies of the old edition, and were charging the inflated price! I sent one of the nastiest emails I’ve every sent, and it looks like it’s being taken care of at no cost to us. We’re getting the new editions, and my textbook manager won’t have to have our bookstore pay to send the old copies back. If it all works out, I’ll have no ill feelings about the publisher. I may not use this book again at this price (it’s a bit late to change at this point), but we’ll have to see.

Now I’m off to a clicker demo. “Clickers” are used for ConcepTests, classroom voting and such, and the college is evaluating several systems from various vendors. I use them regularly. I don’t recall if I’ve posted any entries about them. There’s lots of info online if you want to google “clickers,” or “conceptests.” Ta-ta!

DVDs are being replaced, but they won’t be obsolete.

July 6, 2008 at 10:39 am | Posted in technology | 14 Comments

If you want Star Trek movies on DVD, but just never got around to getting them, then the DVD box set, Star Trek – The Motion Pictures (Special Edition) is for you. Actually, it’s for me. But maybe it’s for you, too.

Unlike some box sets in the past, every one of the ten movies in this set is the 2-disc special edition. And the first movie is the Director’s Cut which is, from what I understand, a significant improvement that makes the movie at least watchable if not great. And it’s less than $70!

This is a great time to pick up movies like this, because Blu-Ray is coming, and regular old DVDs won’t be made in the near future. (Less than 5 years, I’d guess.) And since Blu-Ray players also play DVDs, you won’t be stuck when buying DVDs on the cheap, unlike the folks who bought cheap cassettes in the late eighties, or cheap VHS tapes in the late nineties. The new machines will still play these babies.

So scarf ’em up! And keep your eyes out for other great DVD collections at low prices in the next year or two.

Video Games are fun again

June 25, 2008 at 8:48 am | Posted in games, life, music, technology | 8 Comments

It’s been long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time!

I used to be into video games hardcore. I was into them at the very beginning. The pizzeria by us had a space invaders machine that was replaced by Pac-man when it first came out, and later, the better Ms. Pacman. My friends had Atari and Colecovision, and I had Intellivision. Before that, we had pong. I also had the Gameboy’s handheld ancestors Merlin and Microvision. My friends and I would play Yar’s Revenge for hours until my hands hurt so much from the sucky controllers that I had to ride my bike home one-handed. And we loved it. I was there when it started. For a fantastic rant about what life was like back in 1987, listen to Ernest Cline’s “When I Was A Kid,” on http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/

When I got a part-time job and a computer in high school, I played video games less and less. I did NOT bring them to college, not because of any intelligent choice on my part, but because computer games were getting better and better and I was playing those instead. Finding out about girls probably played a role in decreasing the video game time, too.

Anyway, I found out about the next great video games to come out, the Nintendo with Super Mario Brothers. Some cousins had it. I didn’t get it, or any of its successors. It didn’t even have a joystick, for crying out loud. It was fun I guess, but I was into other things. Since then, nothing has really grabbed me. Especially since the domination of the so-called first-person shooter games that Doom started. No thanks. My favorite games were Adventure, Utopia, Tetris, Ms. Pac-man, and the like. Puzzle games, not as much the kick the other guy’s ass games. Competition was fine, but the FPS games never grabbed me. I probably would have gotten into Starcraft, but for some reason I didn’t.

Sure, the newer systems had some other games, too. The Playstation 2 had graphics better than we could have dreamed about in the 1980s, but a minority of the games were interesting to me. And they were damn expensive. Probably just as expensive as video games of old when allowing for inflation, but still.

Then, about a year ago, the Wii came out, and as soon as I saw commercials for it, something inside me said, “Video games are fun again.”

I might actually get one.

This past weekend Jenny & I played Rock Band on a friend’s Xbox. Fantastic! We just loved it. So fun. This is a video game? It’s about time. It’s about time video games were fun again.

I read the reviews for Rock Band for the Wii. Apparently it doesn’t have all the features of Rock Band on the other game systems. For one thing, you cannot download songs online. You can only purchase bundles on CDs. Not cool. That’s a huge part of the draw for us is that we can get songs that WE want to play.

I hear that Rock Band 2 is coming out in time for Christmas, and so is a competitor, Guitar Hero: World Tour. To be honest, even though Rockband is the first one I played and I love it, GHWT for the Wii looks like it is going to have the full functionality of the other systems. And the drum set looks better, too. I know that the designers of Rockband are the same folks who developed Guitar Hero in the first place, years ago, but to me it really all depends on how good the Wii version is. I want to be able to play the songs that I want to play. That’s really what it comes down to. That, and I want to have fun with friends. Right now, it looks like GHWT will do that for the Wii, the current Rockband won’t, though Rockband 2 might. So for now, it’s a wait and see.

Besides, I don’t even have a Wii yet.

The Falkirk Wheel

March 11, 2008 at 9:13 am | Posted in technology | 8 Comments

Wow. This is some cool stuff. The Falkirk Wheel is a engineering feat in Scotland that essentially replaces locks to move large boats up and down in elevation while traveling rivers. Here’s a video.

Vista really is a dog, isn’t it.

February 14, 2008 at 2:35 pm | Posted in technology | 2 Comments

A friend of mine has blogged his nightmare with Vista. Apple picked up on this trend with one of their, “Hi, I’m a Mac” ads.

Is Vista so bad?

January 24, 2008 at 9:40 am | Posted in technology | 5 Comments

Rumor has it that the new version of Windows will be released sooner than expected.

Here’s the article.

So, are you ready for the new semester?

August 24, 2007 at 6:03 pm | Posted in life, math, technology | 1 Comment

It seems everyone is asking me that these days. All this week, I think everybody I’ve run into at the college has asked that of me at least once.

My answer? “No, but I will be.”

That’s kind of why I’m here at the college instead of camping in the Adirondacks, or visiting friends in Jersey, or spending quality time with my sweetie, or just about anywhere else! *sigh*

It’s coming together, though. I’m teaching two sections of Probability & Statistics, and I’m psyched about it. I’m going to be using the computer a lot. Delivering lectures on PowerPoint, grabbing data sets off the web and computing stats on them in class in real time, having students do homework using statistical software, having them submit homework and take (some) quizzes online, etc. I’ll also be doing more hands-on activities in class than I’ve ever done. It’ll be new and different and exciting, at least for me.

I’m also teaching Modern Algebra 1 and an honors section of Linear Algebra 1. They, too, will have more hands-on activities in class. Lots of prep work.

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