JavaScript Writing

Future proofing books

The downside of the recent flurry of activity regarding JavaScript/ECMAScript is that I’m in the middle of tech editing Learning JavaScript, second edition, and not sure what to include.

On the one hand, it’s extremely important to me that the book be accurate, so my inclination is not to including anything that isn’t implemented in all four of my target test browsers (IE8, Firefox 3.x, Safari 3.x, and Opera 9.x). However, we plan on the book having a two year shelf life, and the discussion around Harmony notes implementations of ES 3.1 as early as next spring.

It used to be, at one time, companies and organizations would work with tech book companies and authors in order to ensure the accurate representation of information. What’s happened, though, is that many of the people working these issues on the committees are now writing their own books, and don’t particularly care about the accurate dissemination of information in other books. This in addition to everyone and their brother (rarely sister) having their own weblog, wiki, email list, Twitter, ad nauseum and if books like mine have inaccurate information, they can just publish The Truth in their own spaces.

So, now I’m left with a decision: don’t include anything at all on ES 3.1, and face emails and book criticisms about why I didn’t include coverage of such and such; or try to decipher what will eventually be implemented from this new effort, and run the risk of the pundits carefully pointing out everything wrong with the book, and how can O’Reilly publish a book by an author who is too stupid to know what she’s talking about.


Grumbles in Kindletown

I have written before about my satisfaction with my Kindle, and even hope to write a couple of book reviews on new discoveries. However, not all is well in Kindletown at the moment, and reason is prices for Kindle editions.

I’ve been wanting the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s Obsidian trilogy, but Amazon only offered the first and third books. A few days ago, I noticed that the second book, To Light a Candle was available…for $22.63, which was equivalent to about 300% the price of the paperback (currently at $7.99).

I was astonished and more than a little peeved at the price, and posted a note about it in the Kindle forums. Not long after my note, another reader noticed that another Tor book by Mercedes Lackey, The Phoenix Unchained was also set to a price more expensive than the paperback ($16.61 as compared to $7.99). What’s even more odd about The Phoenix Unchained, it was originally set to a discounted paperback price of $6.29, and the price only jumped in the last week or so.

Today, To Light a Candle was reduced to $7.19, which compared to $7.99 for the paperback was an acceptable value. However, The Phoenix Unchained is still set to $16.61, effectively 150% the cost of a paperback. Though incidental to this discussion on books prices, I also noticed that the third volume in the Obsidian trilogy has vanished from the Kindle lists, which is odd considering that it makes no sense to “sell out” a digital book.

What seems to be happening with The Phoenix Unchained is that the Kindle volume is being offered at a discounted value…discounted from the hard cover price, not the paperback. Not for all of the books, either, but enough to generate some concerns.

In addition, I noticed my own Painting the Web has a discount of about 9% for the Kindle version, which is different from O’Reilly’s 20% discount it offers for the eBook bundle at the O’Reilly site. However, my paper book is discounted by Amazon, while the Kindle book is given less of a discount, so again, we’re talking about difficult to understand variations in Kindle pricing.

Another reader mentioned wanting to read the Janis Ian Autobiography, but the Kindle price is $16.01, while the hard cover is $17.79. Both are discounted from the retail cost of the book, which is $26.95. However, what happens when the paperback of the book is offered? Will the Kindle then become discounted from the paperback cost? Or discounted from the original hard cover?

Chances are, the pricing issues we noticed with the Tor books are related to Amazon being a bit overwhelmed with trying to load books, and making mistakes in the pricing. I can’t see how a publisher would expect to charge more for a Kindle book than a paperback, though I’m not sure I should make this assumption. Without any understanding of how the pricing schemes work, with books appearing, disappearing, and then appearing again, as prices vary significantly between publishers, we readers have become the ebook version of a Wall Street trader: forced to continuously check book prices, and be ready to scream out “Buy!” when the books we want hit that sweet spot (as O’Reilly has defined it).

I never knew book buying could be such an adventure. Or so stressful.

Just Shelley

Planning your own EOL

This week I’m updating my will, which hasn’t been updated since I was married (I’m now divorced). Updating one’s will is never a fun task, but it is essential if you don’t want to leave a mess behind after you die. More importantly, you may not always want everything you own go to Nearest Next of Kin, or the courts, if you die intestate (without a will).

In my case, a will is simple since I don’t own a house or business, and don’t have kids. I’m including in my will my bank account number, and my car insurance policy account information, in addition to the online accounts I’ve set up for both. I do have royalty payments, but it’s a simple matter of just specifying who the royalties go to. Of course, I also have to leave instructions about what royalties I am expecting and who to contact to ensure they go to the right person.

Then there’s this web site, and therein lies a modern challenge when planning one’s own EOL (end of life): what do we do about our connected lives?

I currently have automatic payments set up to pay for phone and internet, as well as my web site. To ensure that these are managed property, I’ve included instructions and access information for both.

I’ve provided a list of people and their email addresses to be notified if I die, so I won’t suddenly disappear without a trace. However, I have no interest in my web site lingering much beyond my death, as some form of white cross along a virtual rather than real highway. I realize that my web site going away will leave holes where previous documents used to be, but whoever decided that the web must remain static and 404 free really didn’t think through the issues in their Utopian view of the internet.

As for my writing or pictures, whatever I do have online is free for the taking after my death. Oh, the copyright will still be there, but my “heirs” will not be going after anyone. I haven’t decided yet, but I may ask that my online material be turned over into the public domain after I die. I’ll have to explore the ramifications of this issue in more depth, as there are some pieces that some people may want.

The domains I own will, themselves, be allowed to expire unless my heirs decide they want to keep or sell them, early. I will include information about how to access my registrar account, as well as my web hosting account.

Speaking of domains, currently I have several email addresses dependent on I’ve already started using my Gmail account as an intermediary for sign up accounts, and I have to start doing the same with other email addresses I maintain. My email server will be gone once my web site is gone, and I don’t want others to suddenly lose email access because I’m no longer around to maintain the email accounts.

My Kindle is set up under my account at Amazon, and I’m not sure how one goes about “leaving” my Kindle books to another. I would assume that since these are property, and since the actual physical device goes to someone, the books themselves do, also. I’ll have to ask Amazon what its recommendation is. My Netflix account must also be transferred, which means transferring the Netflix Roku box to another account.

Other than my web site and email addresses, as well as online accounts with service providers, I don’t have any investment in any other online social services that I have to worry about closing.

Online accounts are not the only issue, though. I’m the tech in my household, and the only one with knowledge of how all the pieces are fit together. This week I’m spending time writing out detailed instructions of how all the components of my various systems fit together: from how to access movies on my AppleTV (including which computer is synced to my AppleTV, and what my iTunes account information is); to how to access movies, Hulu, or other online account from both my Mac and my Dell laptop.

These latter activities may seem frivolous when compared to the event leading to the need for such documents, but it seems a shame to do a really nice job with a home intranet, only to have it fall apart if I’m not longer around. Plus if I’m not dead, but only incapacitated for a time, or even on a long trip, it would be pity if my roommate couldn’t access my rather spiffy video setup.

To summarize the tasks:

  • Do the usual: create will, assign executor, provide detailed bank account information, as well as information about car insurance, and other insurance policies. Make sure to note all sources of income, even sporadic ones. (Getting money from selling ads, or being an Amazon associate? Note these.)
  • Provide a contact list of who to contact if you’re dead or may be dying.
  • Sign up for and use a centralized email account for any accounts. Have the account forward email to your hosted email account.
  • Leave instructions about how to access your web hosting account, and what do with your online material if you die.
  • Leave detailed instructions for all other online accounts, including your domain registrar, Amazon, Paypal, iTunes, FaceBook, Twitter, and so on.
  • Leave detailed instructions to access all your accounts that are setup with automatic payments. These will need to be transferred or canceled.
  • Provide account information for all computers, too, unless you want the computers wiped clean. Don’t forget your iPhone or other cellphone or small devices.
  • If you participate in some committee, such as a W3C working group, or provide open source software, such as Drupal modules, Firefox patches, then provide information about who to contact and how to provide access to any work in progress, or ensure that someone in authority knows that a module or other work is now available for someone else to support, if they wish. The same goes for any conference or other event where you’ve made commitments. Notice of death may be sufficient.
  • If you’re responsible for the internet or intranet connectivity in your home, (or church, or other organization outside of work) document your connections and equipment, and make sure whoever needs access to this information has these documents, and understands these documents. I am assuming you’re already doing this for your job.
  • To ensure you’ve accounted for everything, keep a diary, and every time you access a new online account, work on a new project, make an adjustment to a new device, make a new work or event commitment, jot it down and make sure the diary is accessible to whomever is your executor.

It is actually quite a lot of work to prepare for one’s own end in in this era of subscribed services and internet accounts— not to mention long distance relationships, and plethora of connected devices. I think, though, it’s important to do so if we don’t want to leave behind a tangled mess.

We should do this type of planning no matter how old or fit we are— there’s nothing morbid about planning for one’s death, and age is no defense. After all, there could be a beer truck with our name on it, just around the corner.


Last of the book and attack of the women

I put the finishing touches to the draft for my current book, and now it begins the technical review process. I don’t want to say it’s my last book, but there is no other on the horizon, as I return to the world of software development and consulting.

First, though, I need to spend time upgrading my own skills. When you write books, you have to let so many new and interesting technologies slide by because you don’t have time to stop, and play. You also end up coding in small pieces, because you’re focusing primarily on book samples, with little time for larger applications. Or that playing, I just mentioned.

I want to spend more time with Drupal, because I’ve only scratched the surface of this application. I am extremely pleased, nay tickled to see Angela Byron from Lullabot win an award for Best Contributor at OSCON for her work with Drupal—affirming that my move to this software was the best move for me. In fact, in sounds like women made significant inroads in the open source community at OSCON this year, aided, in part, I think, because of software communities, such as Drupal, which are decidedly woman friendly environments.

In particular Emma Jane Hogbin’s Form an Orderly Queue, Ladies presentation at OSCON provides details of a dastardly plot to infiltrate women into the ranks of the tech through open source. I love evil plotters, like Dr. Horrible, and evil plots, like women invading open source through innocent seeming applications like Drupal. Drupal and Dojo.



Kindle and book freebies

In between accounts of the smog over Beijing, James Fallows at The Atlantic has been writing about his new Kindle and being able to use the device overseas. He also mentions a couple of free ebook download sites. I wanted to add to that list that the science fiction book publisher, Tor, is making several books available for free downloads through today (including PDFs for online reading). Hopefully this isn’t too late a notice for most of you.

I am still enamored with my Kindle, so much so that I’ve filled it up with free and purchased books, as well as samples, research reports, and other documents. I recently added an 8GB SDHC card, and am now happily trying to fill it up, too.

I do agree with one criticism of the Kindle in that it would be nice if there were a way to categorize the writings, as well as organize them into folders. However, you can search on any term, as well as display them by author, title, and status, so that will have to do for now.

Returning to using the Kindle overseas, Amazon is still not selling the device or Kindle books overseas and this decision isn’t because of Whispernet, it’s because of distribution rights and issues of copyright. Most publishers sell rights to distribution in foreign countries, an old practice that doesn’t live well with new ways of delivering content.

However, if you have a US-based address (in order to receive the Kindle) and credit card that works with Amazon purchases in the States, you could get the Kindle delivered and buy books. It’s just that instead of having them download via Whispernet, you download them to your computer and copy over using the USB cable. You can also use the same approach for updating your Kindle’s software.

It’s not as convenient as Whispernet, but it is workable. Perhaps we in the States should “adopt” our friends overseas, though there are other ebook readers that can be purchased regardless of country.

It’s also important to note that you don’t have to purchase books with Amazon. Many companies, like Tor, O’Reilly, and others are also selling ebooks direct, in formats that should work with a Kindle, a Sony ebook reader, and so on. It’s not as convenient, but other approaches may not be so locked in.

As for whether ebooks will replace the paper books, Fallows writes:

My theory: television didn’t eliminate radio, telephones didn’t eliminate personal conversations, eBooks won’t eliminate real books. People always find more ways to communicate, and this will be another way. Very good for some kinds of information, not so much for others. A welcome new addition to the mix.

Yes, but isn’t Twitter destroying our brains?

update A timely and interesting article on the internet’s impact on reading in the New York Times.