Forever Upward!

downwardSo, I was reading an article over at paidContent by way of The Passive Voice, and one quote leaped right out and punched me in the face:

What was once triple-digit growth has fallen to the double digits.

The context is that Amazon won’t win the e-book market because their growth is slowing.

Let me make this as simple as possible. Lets say every day a group of three people buy 10 bananas and split them. On the first day, person A gets 1, person B gets 1, and person C gets 1. 7 of them turn out to not be bananas. On the second day, they buy 10 bananas again, and due to a change in the way they buy the bananas, person A gets 4, person B gets 2 and person C still gets 1. 3 of them are still not bananas. Going from day 1 to day 2, person A sees 300% growth, person B sees 100% growth, and person C sees no growth. On the third day they get 10 actual bananas, person A gets 7 bananas, person B gets 2, and person C gets 1. Person A has seen a 600% growth since the first day, and their growth in raw numbers is the same from day 2 to day 3, they gained 3 bananas each day. However, the growth from day 2 to day 3 is … 75%.

That’s right, person A has seen their triple-digit growth fall to the double digits.

The main thing to note here is that in my example, there are three people and ten bananas every day. Despite what many people involved with the stock market will try to sell you on, growth cannot be infinite unless there is at least one infinite factor by which it can grow. There would need to be either infinite people to buy bananas (demand would exceed supply and drive the price up) or infinite bananas to sell (supply exceeds demand bringing the price down), or both. When it comes to ebooks, or any retail good, like it or not the limit is the number of people in the market (or the availability of the good – but we are going to stick to the market size going forward).

The population of the US as determined by census in 2010 was 308 million people. Assume in the first year of the Kindle, Amazon saw an initial buy in of 10 million people in the US on Kindle and start buying ebooks. Now, I’m guessing here, I don’t need actual figures to prove my point. Let’s say the next year 20 million more people in the US buy a Kindle and start buying ebooks. That growth is 200%, triple digit. There are now 30 million Kindle owners in the US, so in order to maintain triple-digit growth, more than 30 million people will need to buy Kindles. Let’s assume they do, let’s say the next year 50 million buy Kindles in the US and we get 167% growth. Now we have 80 million Kindle owners, and to maintain triple-digit growth, more than 80 million people will need to buy Kindles. Let’s say they do, 100 million people buy a Kindle in the US the following year,  125% growth. There are now 180 million people in the US who own a Kindle. Do you see the problem?

308 – 180 = 128

Even if Amazon were to manage to sell a Kindle to every person in the US who doesn’t own a Kindle already at this point, that would only be 71% growth. Double digit. The year after that would be even worse as Kindle sales would have to be tied to population growth, which since 2010 is estimated at 1.7% over 2 years. Single digit growth.

Growth is a nice number when you are a little guy, a small business. Growth is great when there are lots and lots of market space to grow into. But growth is a terrible number to use in a vacuum for judging a company slipping into failure. Saturation? Sure, but since Amazon is in the business of selling e-books, not Kindles (seriously, the Kindle is a loss leader for book sales), Saturation is actually good because it means your entire market is capable of buying your goods.

And my numbers are complete bullshit, because the market for Kindles isn’t the population of the US. There are plenty of people who don’t buy books at all and probably have less than zero interest in the Kindle. Those people are going to buy iPads, or cheaper tablets, because they want games and the Internet. Sure, the Kindle does those things too, but it is primarily marketed as an e-book reader. The Kindle’s growth HAD to fall eventually. Had to. Because at a certain point it becomes mathematically impossible for it to continue climbing.

Mostly, this irritates me because of the increasing presence of “doom-casting” that goes on in the media. Face it, bad news gets more attention. People don’t slow down their cars to gawk at kids playing with puppies in a safe environment. Because consumers consume it, the writers seek it out. They look for ways to twist and phrase things to make them look bad… well, unless they are writing about the underdogs. The only thing that tracks better than bad news is news about the “little guy” sticking it to “big guys”. Of course, how it is people continue to see Apple as a “little guy” is beyond me – a company with a hundred billion in cash reserves doesn’t seem little to me.

Anyway, that’s my ranting for today…


I’ve toyed with ads on the site from time to time. Right now in my RSS feed there are three ads – a Google block, a GameTap ad, and an Amazon ad for Kindle/eBooks. None of them are doing well, but that’s probably because I only have about 70 people who read that feed. On the site itself, I’ve put up Google blocks and Amazon ads, I had the GameTap ad for a little while and I’ve recently switched over to an Amazon search widget (if you use it when you start your Amazoning, I’ll get a tiny commission from anything you buy). I’ve even thought about throwing up a PayPal donation button, but I would feel terrible about that unless I have at least one semi-popular regular feature (see: Man vs Wife – no really, read it and if you enjoy it, share it with others – the more people who read it, the more I’m apt to write it).

This morning I read this article over at Pajiba. It’s worth reading to get an idea of what goes behind funding a popular website. Now, I’m not popular, but it does cost me around $200 a year to keep this place going – a cost I happily pay because I like having the outlet. Then again, I’m not very heavy on traffic. I don’t get 3+ million page views a month. I get about 800, but it is climbing as I post more regularly. I’m incredibly lucky if I earn $1 a month. My best month ever was when someone used my Amazon link and then went on to buy over $5,000 worth of electronics. No other month has even come close.

Pageviews vs Unique Visitors - Not many people come here, but some come twice a day.

However, one of the main things I wanted to point out from that article was the mention of ad-blockers. Yes, running ad-blocking is probably the safest thing you can do, since ads are an attack vector. However, when you do that, you are also dropping yourself from the “view” count for the ads on the sites you visit. Since the ads are how they afford to keep making the content, visiting a site with ad-block running is, essentially, a form of piracy. Now, I know that piracy is a big scary word that gets tossed around a lot, but it does have meaning and it applies here.

But what if a site has terrible ads full of viruses and not-safe-for-work content that I need to block?

Well, in my opinion, if the people who run a site don’t care enough to provide safe ads for their visitors, then you probably shouldn’t reward them with visits regardless of how awesome you think the site’s main content is, so just stop going. Find another site to get that content from, one that cares about its readers. And don’t forget to send in a nicely worded (don’t be profane) email to the offending website and let them know why you won’t be coming back – they just might decide to fix it.

If you enjoy a site for content, unblock it – most ad-blockers have the ability to “white list” sites to allow ads. Keep your anti-virus up to date, and if you get a warning from an ad, contact the site owner and let them know. They actually want to know because they don’t want to be infecting their readers with viruses. Another option is to browse using a browser like Google Chrome which maintains its own Flash, PDF and other things inside its sandbox and doesn’t allow access outside of the browser. And since Chrome automatically updates itself all the time, you don’t have to remember to check for new updates and you can browse with the knowledge that you’ve always got the latest attack protections the team at Google has released.

Basically, you should seek to reward the sites you enjoy because without the reward they’ll fade away.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me for today…

1313 and other random thoughts

This is my one-thousand three-hundred thirteenth post on this blog.  My name is Jason, also the name of the star of the Friday the 13th series of movies.  My wife was born on the 13th of March.  Back in the days when I managed a video store, my own personal account listed my address as “1313 Mockingbird Lane”, an address made famous by the Munsters.  My favorite holiday is Halloween, which is on the 31st, which is 13 in reverse.  And if you are into that sort of thing, you might know that we are currently living in the 13th b’ak’tun, which will draw to a close toward the end of 2012, which may or may not be a significant thing.  Thirteen has always been a good and lucky number for me.

I don’t believe in signs, though I see them everywhere.  The fact is, you can do it with any number.  If you decide that 27 is your lucky number, you’ll suddenly begin noticing all the 27s that appear in your life.  You’ll even being doing things that force 27s into your life.  I know a person whose lucky number is 14, and while 14s do randomly appear in her life she also makes a number of decisions based on 14s.  If offered two options, one that contains a 14 and one that does not, she’ll choose the 14 and see it as being a sign when she could easily have chosen the other.  Personally, I try not to make decisions based on 13s, and yet, here I am, rambling about 13s in post 1313 on my blog.

The Writer's Block
3" by 3" by 3" of literal inspiration

Borders is closing a bunch of book stores.  (Yeah, I’m done with 13s and moving along with no segue at all.)  Of all the brick and mortar stores around they’ve been my favorite because of their finer separation of categories, specifically in having a horror section as opposed to splitting up horror between mystery, sci-fi/fantasy and general fiction.  They also have a location that shares a building with a movie theater I frequent.  When we go to a movie, we always end up browsing before and sometimes after, and often end up buying a book or two (or five or ten).  The only good thing about the store closings are the discounts.  Lately, paperback books haven’t been seeing much of a discount on Amazon.  A $6.99 mass market paperback will be $6.99 on Amazon, so picking them up in a store can actually be better, especially if you have the store discount card and get 10% off everything.  With the store closings, most stuff is 25% off already, and they are still honoring the store discount card, so it makes picking up a few paperbacks a good deal.  And of course, a sale means more serious browsing, looking for books you might not normally buy at all but will if it’s 50% off.  I bought The Writer’s Block (pictured).  I promise to use it and post the results.  Despite my good fortune with the sale, the closing Borders locations will be missed, and since the only remaining Atlanta locations are the ones that are too far away for a casual visit, Borders may have lost me as a customer for good, and that is a shame.

A few weeks ago I went to a place called Hemingway’s down at the Marietta Square to see a band called 7 sharp 9.  With no expectations at all, I was fairly well blown away by their performance.  Being a band playing in a bar, they primarily stuck to playing great bar band music, rock favorites from various decades.  They played well and even threw in a few twists, the biggest surprise being a mash up of Prince’s Kiss and Sir Mix-a-lot’s Baby Got Back.  Even the smattering of original tunes they played (just one per set) were good enough that we picked up copies of all three of their albums.  They made a fan out of me in just one night.  It looks like they’ll be back at Hemingway’s in April and I plan to be there to see them again.  To the right is a very short video of them playing a cover of Blister in the Sun at a bar in Destin, FL.

I’ve been writing for Shakefire for a bit over a month now and I’m enjoying it.  Links to what I’ve written can be found each week in my A Week of Tweets posts on Sundays.  So far I’ve had the good fortune of enjoying everything I’ve reviewed for one reason or another, but I fear that is going to end this week as the next two CDs I’ve been listening to for review have been uninspiring and borderline awful.  I don’t like giving bad reviews but I like being dishonest less, so I’ll probably be lambasting a couple of artists and then maybe I can get back to stuff I enjoy.

And finally, is you have a few dollars you can spare, or even if you have a few dollars you think you can’t spare, consider tossing them toward the Red Cross for their efforts in Japan.  Every dollar helps, and with the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear power plant, the aftershocks, the volcano… they can use all the help they can get right now.

Dead Set

Dead SetSometimes when you buy stuff on Amazon, they give you some free money to use on their Video on Demand service.  Normally, I might not use it, but I managed to sock away enough of these at one time (the free money always has an expiration date) and used it to watch 2008’s Dead Set in the only way legal in the US.

Dead Set is a zombie horror mini-series that was produced for the BBC in England.  Beginning on eviction night of the popular Big Brother TV show, the outbreak happens and quickly spreads, leaving only scattered people and those safely locked inside the Big Brother house as survivors.  It is two and a half hours of fast paced zombie action that is a perfect juxtaposition to The Walking Dead currently airing on AMC.

I simply cannot recommend this series enough.  It was fantastic, although Romero purists might hate the faster moving zombies.  Absolutely worth seeing for any zombie fan.  Check it out if you haven’t seen it already.

Too Many Secrets

One of the great things about the Internet is how easy it has become to post and find job listings.

One of the horrible things about the Internet is that once you put your resume on one of these sites you can never ever truly get yourself removed.  Take it off one site, you’ll find it on another.  Get it off all the sites, you’ll discover that many placement companies have already saved a copy of your resume and contact information.

The only way to really be safe is, each time you start hunting for a job create a new email address (there are dozens of free email companies) and when you are done, abandon that address.  And get a throw-away phone.

Anyway, I’ve never done that, and in fact I’ve always used an address on a domain I own (this one) and I use it for everything.  So, despite having a job and not being on the market, I get emails, probably a dozen a week, about positions I might be interested in.  The one thing all of these emails have in common is that they lack details.  What’s even worse is that even if I were to respond and talk to them about the job, details would still be missing until I actually walk in the door for the interview.

What details?  Simple stuff, like the name of the company.

See, if I get an email that says “.NET Developer position, 6 month contract, may go perm” I’m not really interested.  I have a job, not a contract, and that just doesn’t make me want to consider jumping ship.  If it said, for instance, “.NET Developer position for, 6 month contract, may go perm” I might want to go to that interview anyway, because, you know, working at Amazon might be awesome.  Even if it isn’t something as awesome as Amazon, a company name means I can look them up and see if it’s something I want to be involved in.  “.NET Developer” for a technology company, I’m intrigued.  “.NET Developer” for Joe’s Country Plumbing and Septic Tank Repair… not so much.  Sure, hiding the name might help get applicants for the latter, but it is also going to lead to disappointment for most.  Better to be honest and actually talk to people who want to work for the smaller company.

Once upon a time, I got an email about a programming job.  The details I got were that it was “a small company” and the position was for a “.NET Developer” and required experience with “data warehouses”.  I went around and around with the recruiter trying to get more details, but she never gave any and so when I finally agreed to interview it was more out of exhaustion than excitement.  I walk in the door and discover, oh by the way, the company is Hi-Rez Studios.  Um, what?  If the recruiter had lead with that piece of information, I’d have been chomping at the bit and probably brought in samples of my work and been a lot more prepared.  Instead, everything I’d gotten lead me to believe it was going to be another endless stuff dull job like the one I was leaving, and I walked into the interview cold and shocked, dumbfounded and stuttering.  I did manage to get a second interview, but damn, a little warning next time would be nice.

Another bad part is often a recruiter won’t tell you the name of the company until after they’ve submitted your resume.  Problem is, many companies, when dealing with recruiters who get paid a commission for placement, have rules about excluding double submissions.  So you might actually have the most awesome job listing in the world ready to submit me for, but if a competing recruiter has already submitted me then all you are going to do is get me excluded.  Sure, you asked me where I’ve been submitted to try and avoid this, but your competitors use the same tactics so I don’t know where I’ve been submitted.  And no, I’m not going to use just one recruiter when looking for work.  Why should I limit myself just because you want to keep secrets?

And you know what?  Stop putting things like “solid company” and “great work environment” in your email because it’s in EVERY email.  You cheapen the meaning by using them for every company, especially when it’s marketing and not necessarily true.  Of course they all say that.  No company is ever going to say, “Tell them we are a large unwieldy mass of middle managers who micromanage with lots of unpaid overtime.”  Not gonna happen.

Is a little openness and honesty too much too ask?

Amazon vs Lord of the Rings Online

At the last possible moment… okay, not the last moment, but close… Saturday, I decided the wife and I would play Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. So, I threw a copy into the Amazon shopping cart, changed the quantity to two and placed my order. The reason I started by saying it was a close call was that the game released on Tuesday, and you had to order it before then as a pre-order to get the super cool Founder’s bonus stuff, most importantly the $9.99 a month rate. Since the normal rate would be $14.99, $5 a month times 2 is $120 a year savings.

If we end up playing for two years, I might kick myself for not taking the Lifetime subscription, but then again, if I paid $200 and then canceled after six month I’d kick myself. Damned if you do…

Back to my point though… we ordered our two copies of the game and then I went to the digital download section to claim our pre-order key… wait. Key? Singular? Shouldn’t I have two keys?

Why yes, yes I should.

So I call Amazon Customer Service… or rather, I go to the web page, enter my phone number and click the button to have their help desk (helpfully located in India) call me. The woman is nice enough, at least the broken formal English she is reading from her CS manual is nice enough. After many unsuccessful attempts to explain how the pre-order, account registration and all that is supposed to work, and trying to point out that I ordered two copies of the game but only got one key… to give a quick example, it went sorta like this:

Me: “I ordered two copies of the game, only got one pre-order key.”
Her: “Order shows one item.”
Me: “With a quantity of two.”
Her: “Not two, just one item on order.”
Me: “There is one item, with a quantity of two.”
Her: “Sir, your order has only one item. Digital downloads are given one per item.”
Me: “The item cost $50, my invoice is for $100 because I bought two.”
Her: “But there is only one line item.”
Me: “With a quantity of two.”

Finally, she grasps the concept… one item, quantity of two… and determines that she is not capable of resolving my issue. She says that I should have ordered the items at separate lines, then forwards my problem to another department, says they will email me the resolution, and hangs up.

Now, there are many things I am not, but one thing I am is a Web Programmer. You would think, if Amazon has an issue with providing digital content on multiple quantity single line items someone over there might be able to trap a flag and issue a warning to the user, or even not allow multiple quantities for items with digital content. A nice little pop up that says, “This item includes a digital download and product key, please add multiples to the cart separately.”

In any event, we are now waiting to hear from Amazon. They owe us a pre-order key, or they owe us $5 a month. Let’s see how long this takes to resolve…

Update: As bad as the first call was, my follow up 48 hours later was good. The woman was pleasant, contacted the department needed, got us all on the phone, got the issue reviewed and resolved, and she apologized for it taking a second call to get the work done. Apparently the first woman hadn’t actually forwarded my issue to the other department. All is good now.

The Spirit of Giving

I’ll admit, when it comes to gift giving occasions, like birthdays and Christmas, I usually phone it in. That’s not to say I don’t get the person something they want or something they need, or that they don’t appreciate the gifts, but… I usually play it safe. You like movies, here is a movie; you like console games, here is a console game; you have a wish list at Amazon, here is an item off your wish list at Amazon.

This year though, I think for a couple of people, I’ve finally managed to pull off “the good gift”. You know the one I mean. The thing they didn’t ask for, the thing they think no one will buy them, the thing they forgot that they wanted but that you remembered them talking about… and now I’m all full of excitement about Christmas morning on a level beyond the norm.

Damn, I should have been doing this all along. But I’ll give credit where credit is due… I couldn’t have done it without Amazon.

One of the problems you run into with giving gifts is trying to remember thing people have said they wanted. Usually, you don’t really think about it until the time to give in near and so the main thoughts in your head will be of stuff they’ve talked about recently. But Amazon introduced Gift Idea Lists this year. You can add a person, then add gifts to that person… they’ll even give your three recommendations for gifts based on the list (I do wish this was larger, three just seems to not really be enough). So now, not on some scrap of paper I can lose, whenever someone I know mentions something they want, I can go drop it on their Gift List and save it for when I need to buy them something.

It’ll even keep track of gift giving days for each person… so guys, sorry, but you’ve run out of excuses for forgetting anniversaries.

Reputation in games

Over at his blog, Richard Bartle has layed out a very primative sketch of how an effective player driven reputation system might work. The short version is “Amazon’s You-might-also-like Lists”. You would rank people when you get to know them, and based on your selections and the selections of other people, someone you have never met before might be “recommended” to you because people who like the same people you like also like this new person.

Simple example ripped from Richard’s post:

You like A, they like A; you dislike B, they dislike B; you haven’t met C, they like C, so C is probably a decent person. The greater the insersection between lists, the higher the chance that you’ll share their opinions.

The only drawback he found was in the server resources it might take to maintain and display this data. Well, as far as maintaining it, there isn’t much I can suggest, it is going to be a huge amount of data – potentially if you have X players and all X players rank all other players (X-1), you have to store X*(X-1) records. Taking a game like EVE Online that runs a single server with over 100,000 subscribers, that is potentially 10 billion records. Calculating the data, however, could be contained by imbedding the “score” of a player to a “Looking For Group” tool, or as a given command (inspect player), so as to reduce the amount of processing done with these numbers, as opposed to his suggestion of having the results display all the time by a player’s name.

It is definately a good idea, I think, and merits a deeper look at the possibilities and realities of implementation.