The plot

Incredibly discouraging and disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising considering the state of the country: ATF has foiled a skinhead plot to assassinate Obama and 102 others in the black community.


Reviewing Kindle samples

I purchased my Kindle because I liked the idea of my library of books being at my fingertip. I also liked the fact that ebooks are, typically, cheaper than paper books. What I didn’t expect was how much the Kindle opened up new avenues in reading for me, and it did so through the concept of Kindle samples.

As you’re browsing through books, either with the Kindle, or online at Amazon, if you find one that’s interesting but not sure whether you want to buy it or not, you can download a sample to your device for review. The sample is automatically sent to the Kindle, at no cost. At the end of the sample, you’re asked whether you want to buy the book, or read more about it at Amazon. If you decide you don’t want to buy the book, you can then use the Kindle’s Content Manager to delete the sample.

How big the Kindle samples are depends on the size of books. Some of the samples were quite large, others the briefest of introductions. The structure of the samples differed, too, probably based on the ebook structure as determined by the publisher. Many books started directly in the first chapter, without having to traverse any preliminary dedication or cover. Other books, though, led off with every last bit of paper that proceeded the book in hard format, including copyright pages, forwards, dedications, publisher contact information, and so on.

I have purchased, and enjoyed, several books via Kindle samples—books I probably wouldn’t have bought if it weren’t for the samples. I’ve also avoided many more books because the writing in the samples proved disappointing, or not what I expected.

What was it about each sample that led to the Buy, No Buy decision? In answering, I decided to review the Kindle samples I download, regardless of whether I bought the book based on the sample or not. If I buy the book, the review will then transition into a full book review. If not, then the review will be of the sample, only, including a discussion of why I did not buy the book.

I begin my new sample reviews with an author whose name might be familiar to some of you: Seth Godin’s Tribes.


Aviary gots business model

I’ve written about Aviary, the online graphics toolset that includes Phoenix, a graphics tool/photo editor, Peacock, a “visual laboratory” (background editor), Toucan, for creating color swatches, and supposedly Raven, for vector editing. I’ve been waiting for Raven, and it is out in alpha, but available only for Blue subscribers. Blue subscribers?

Yes, Aviary now has subscription plans, Blue and Green, each of which provides a different level of support. Blue provides everything, including access to early release software, such as Raven. Blue is also priced at $149.90 a year, though Photojojo readers can get the Blue for $95. At least the first 2000 readers can—the offer is limited.

It will be interesting to see how the Aviary toolset does as a subscription model. Internet users balk at anything that isn’t free, with mumbled, vague assumptions of “ad-based” as an alternative to paid subscriptions. I think the Aviary pricing model is fair, not necessarily great, but workable. The Blue plan is priced high for internet usage, but is much cheaper than Photoshop. Not as cheap as GIMP, though. However, when you consider the plan covers all the Aviary tools, including ones to be released in the future, the deal does seem sweeter. The toolset is also available from all your computers.

Will I be getting a subscription? No, I’m into frugal right now. Very, very frugal. I will miss being able to try out Raven, but I’m content with Inkscape for vector editing. However, for those of you interested in the Aviary toolset and with some bucks to spare, you might check to see if you can get the Photojojo pricing and save $55 bucks.

Just Shelley

Seth Godin’s Tribes

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I hesitated before downloading the Kindle sample for Seth Godin’s Tribes, because Godin’s market-speak, manifesto-laden punditry doesn’t have a lot of appeal to me. More than that, I wondered what Godin could say that wouldn’t end up being a re-hash of the now dusty all is good in the commons genre that marked weblogging’s earlier years—a philosophy challenged by the harsh reality of today’s economy, when most of the commons is facing foreclosure.

Still, the point to trying a sample before buying the book isn’t so that you can try a book by a favorite author. No, samples give us a chance to try out an unfamiliar author, or an author we may not have liked in the past—all in the hope of finding unexpected gold among the dross.

The samples experience for Tribes does not begin well. The cover material for the book and the publisher, including copyright information, and a two item TOC, takes almost half the sample. What this tells us is that the book is going to be very small for the sample to encompass so little. In addition, so much extraneous material puts that much more pressure on the author’s writing, which now has to to sell the book in just a few pages.

Having waded through the preliminary, I reach the first sentence in the book:


Joel Spolsky is a well known author in the technology world, but if you had asked me to list all of the people in technology who I thought were changing the world, Spolsky would not be one of them. However, to Godin, Spolsky has changed the world because he has become a leader to people who hire and manage programmers— a tribe of people, to tie into Godin’s book title.

What do tribes need, Godin asks? Leadership. He writes, You can’t have a tribe without a leader—and you can’t be a leader without a tribe. This seemingly circular thought then leads into the next chapter section, featuring none other than the Grateful Dead.

What, you might ask, do Joel Spolsky and the Grateful Dead have in common? According to Godin, they both attracted groups of like people, or the tribes that are the focus of the book. Tribes make our lives better. And leading a tribe is the best life of all. I imagine that Jerry would agree, but I’m not sure that the world of Dead heads can easily transition into other walks of life. Perhaps the key to the combined power of Spolsky and the Grateful Dead will be made apparent in the next section.

No such luck. The next extremely short section, following the proceeding two short sections, begins to detail yet another example of tribe leadership, but at that point, the sample ended. I was then left with one of life’s greatest mysteries: Do I want to know more about why Joel Spolsky is like the Grateful Dead? More importantly, will my life be richer with this knowledge? My buy, not buy decision, after the fold.

Since half the book sample for Tribes is taken up by extraneous material, Godin only had about two pages to convince me I wanted to buy this book. I was unconvinced.

Short sections, each referencing a group or person with vague allusions to “tribes” and how “tribes are good” is not going to convince me to put down $9.99 for the full copy. There was no lead in to set the stage for the copy that followed, no compelling argument that would keep me reading through what appeared to be a seemingly endless stream of short, shallow anecdotes.

I was also disappointed at the blandness of the platitudes that seemed to ring out each section. I was expecting something snappy, perhaps even edgy. What I got was a modern day variation of the Farmer’s Almanac, except instead of wooly caterpillars, we have leading tribes is the best life of all.

I must admit being surprised seeing that Tribes is currently #87 in the Kindle best selling list at Amazon, with high (*****) ratings. Either the sample did the book a serious disservice. Or all those stories years ago, about fluoride in the drinking water making our brains soft, were true.

Buy or not? Not

update Andrew Warner sent me a link to a video featuring Seth Godin talking about his book, Tribes. This might give you more insight into the book, help with your own buy or not decision.


Another PowerPC Nail, Another smug Tech Writer

The good news is, Netflix WatchNow will now work on the Mac. The bad news? It only works with Silverlight 2, which only works within the Intel architecture.

Should be no problem, to Engadget:

Unfortunately for super-duper late adopters, the software will only work with Intel-based Macs, so if you’ve been holding onto a G3 for dear life, here’s one more reason to finally can it, along with your Xbox 360 HD DVD player, Von Dutch trucker cap, and gas-guzzling Escalade.

I believe that the last version of Mac machines with the PowerPC architecture is G5, not G3. As for being antiquated, I have the last of the Powerbook G4 laptops, bought less than three years ago and still covered under Apple warranty. I guess that puts me in the Engadget “super-duper late adopter” category.

This is another nail in the coffin for machines that really aren’t that old, primarily brought about by Apple’s indifference to the fact that it switched architectures and then has done little to ensure that older architectures get full support. Though I appreciate the Universal platform Apple provided, which means applications work on both PowerPC and Intel machines, too many applications such as the recent Photoshop CS4, and now Silverlight 2, forming the background for services such as Netflix Watch Now, are being released only for Intel machines.

However, there’s not much we can do about companies like Netflix, Microsoft, and Adobe, and their lack of support for machines that really aren’t that old. Well, other than look for other sources of software. What bothers me more about this story, though, is the disdain demonstrated by the Engadget author, especially in light of today’s economic environment.

Too many of the writers for sites like Engadget assume this is 1999 all over again, and money flows, and everyone can afford a new machine every year. On the contrary, we’re heading into a recession, if not in one already. The estimates are that the unemployment rate in this country will hit 8%, or more, before we’re done; the impact on the job market could be worse in other countries. Yet here we have Engadget, sneeringly poking fun at those who are staying pat with their existing machines, not because the people who haven’t upgraded are cheap, but because they have no other option.

Personally, if there’s one thing I hope does occur from the current economic crises, it’s that sites like Engadget either fail, or starting looking more closely at today’s reality and begin to adapt their stories accordingly. Being frugal and making do can be just as challenging, interesting, and yes, even sexy, as buying every new generation of iPhone, iPod, or whatever that comes along.