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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Elizabeth Bartley's LiveJournal:

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Friday, October 23rd, 2015
1:41 am
Answer for question 4534.
Do you believe in the supernatural? Have you ever encountered something you couldn't readily explain? What was the nature of the experience and when did it happen? If you don't believe in such things, why not?
Yes, I believe in the supernatural. No, I've never had a supernatural experience beyond emotions that felt beyond me, and that's very subjective.

That said, I believe for a reason, just a reason that doesn't make much sense outside my own head. Doubting the existence of at least one Creator God and doubting the default-immortality of the soul are unnatural for me. I can *do* it, if I work at it, but it's an artificial hypothetical exercise, like doubting the existence of gravity while standing on one leg.
Thursday, April 9th, 2015
10:57 pm
General life update
Still married, still at the same job.

Robert is in kindergarden. He is having a sufficiently unhappy time in kindergarden that he'll be switching schools next year; if he doesn't win any charter lotteries, he'll just be in the local public school, where he should have at least one friend from day care. (Robert is a stubborn and very active kid who already knows 90+% of what he's being taught, so his teacher has problems with him. She's burned out pretty badly, so isn't coping very well. This combines to make Robert the class problem, and even if he isn't with another teacher, the other students have learned to think of him that way, and he's learned that school is a bad place.) We may try to put him in the local Catholic school again (it's reputed to be pretty good in general, and he really liked preschool there), but only after a hiatus elsewhere. Or we may do online schooling at some point. Or we may win a charter lottery. We'll see -- one year at a time.

I have a second son, Thomas, who was born 11/9/2013. He's toddling like a champ, has 7 teeth (including one molar with this gap between the molar and the rest of his teeth), and is expressive but mostly non-verbal. He clearly understands words just fine; he just only uses a few.
10:46 pm
Recipe - sweet potato curry (vegan)
This is based almost entirely on http://www.oneingredientchef.com/sweet-potato-stew/

1 large sweet potato
1 medium onion
1 red chili pepper (I substituted a jalapeno)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas
1 can (15 oz) light coconut milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried spices, each cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, coriander, ground cloves

1 pan is sufficient if it is a large, deep skillet.

Chop the onion and saute in olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Seed and chop the pepper. Add pepper, ginger, garlic, and spices. Stir well and continue cooking the onion for several minutes. Peel the sweet potato and chop into 1/2 inch chunks (recipe calls for 1 inch, I prefer smaller.)

Add everything above to the pan. Continue cooking for 30+ minutes; taste occasionally and add spices to taste. (Recipe says 30+ minutes with 50 being ideal and that especially cinnamon, tumeric, and salt can be added at this stage, plus cayenne pepper if you want added spice. I would recommend salting at the table instead of in preparation.)

Serve over rice, salt to taste.

If you're not doing vegan, cheese makes a good addition.

This was pretty successful, but Kaz and I both thought it would be better with meat.
10:36 pm
Recipe - butternut squash (vegan)
This is based almost entirely on this http://www.eatliverun.com/crock-pot-chickpea-butternut-squash-and-red-lentil-stew/

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash (about 3 lbs–average sized), peeled and chopped
1 quart vegetable broth
1 yellow onion
1 large carrot, chopped
1 cup red lentils
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes in tomato juice
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tsp garam masala

Directions:

Start with the butternut squash. (You may want gloves for this part -- my hands reacted to the squash, and while that's not universal it appears to not be uncommon.) Microwave for 5 minutes, let cool slightly, cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds and guts. Make the peel and guts into vegetable broth (you'll want it later; yes, the peel is edible); the seeds can be roasted or added to the broth. Cut the squash into chunks.

While the broth is cooking, chop the onion, carrot, and jalapeno (use gloves or MUCH care with the jalapeno.) Saute for 6 minutes, add garlic, wait 30 seconds, add garam marsala, stir very thoroughly.

When the broth is ready, strain the lentils, then put everything in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8+ hours. Salt to taste; cilantro is recommended for serving, but I didn't have it available when I prepared this.

You may want to soften the lentils first (because canned tomatoes can harden them); if so, put them on in water at the very beginning, then strain and add them. Then again, it may work fine without, especially if you're doing well over 8 hours.

When I made this, I substituted black lentils for red lentils. A mistake -- the red lentils were a thickener, and much smaller. I had to take it out of the slow cooker and boil it down, and there was more lentil presence than intended. I like lentils, so I still liked it.

It's very sweet for a main course.
10:17 pm
Recipe - chicken parmesan adjusted for Kaz
Cut 3 chicken breasts in half the the longest way. Grill them all (or cook in some other fashion.) Put in the smallest baking pan that doesn't force overlap (or does so minimally.) Mix spaghetti sauce with thyme, oregano, and garlic; pour over breasts to roughly cover them. Add a mixture of shredded mozzarella, shredded chedder, and parmesan (about 2:2:1). Bake until cheese is bubbling.
10:08 pm
Recipe - lamb shanks sous vide
Everything I've done sous vide has been at least okay. This recipe comes out so well so easily that I've been making it about weekly.

Seal a shoulder lamb shank with a tablespoon of butter and a sprig of fresh thyme. (Or 1/2 sprig of fresh rosemary, or dried spices to taste.) Throwing in some additional spices is optional. You could cut off the visible fat, but I haven't done so.

Cook sous vide at 140F for 24-48 hours.

Take out. If you aren't ready to eat it immediately, chill in a bowl of ice water; it should freeze well, but that's a future experiment.

Just before serving, strip all the meat you can get off the bone and brown on the hottest flame you have handy. (Note: not cutting off the visible fat makes this smoky, be prepared.) This also heats it well from refrigerator-temperature.

Save the bone for beans or soup. The liquid in the sous vide package after removing the lamb itself is also good for beans, but you'll need to separate the fat at some point in the process.
10:00 pm
Recipes - Chicken marinade
I should probably use livejournal as something more than a recipe dump.

But since I haven't posted in literally years and I need a place to record some things I've cooked lately and might want to make again:

This is based heavily on http://www.theblackpeppercorn.com/2012/04/greek-marinade-for-grilled-chicken/ as I actually cooked it.

6 chicken breasts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red cooking wine
1 lemon: juice and zest (organic lemon makes the zest easier)
6 cloves minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cut the visible fat off the chicken. Marinade at least 8 hours; I did about 22 (in a ziplock baggie). Grill. Yum. (Or bake @400 for about 40 minutes, but I haven't tasted that yet, though I cooked it at the same time.)
Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
12:30 am
Just saying I'm a fan of the electoral college
Romney's ahead in the popular vote totals, and has been for a while. I don't know if the west coast is finished coming in yet, but I'm just while he is that I want the election decided on the basis of the electoral college, not the popular vote.

The electoral college avoids all sorts of mischief, and I'd like to make states more important, not less important, so I'm a fan of the electoral college -- though not a fan of actually having potentially faithless electors. If Romney wins the popular vote while he loses the electoral college, as Gore did in 2000, oh well. Romney, Obama, Gore, and Bush would all have run different campaigns if it were a pure popularity contest.

[Edit: looks like West Coast votes hadn't finished coming in when I posted this; I hit send and reloaded the count and nothing had changed -- and reloaded again and now Obama's in the lead. Well, difficulty with the total counts is some of the mischief I had in mind that the electoral college averts.]
Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
12:17 pm
A tale of two cities ...
I'm reading the news of the damaged parts of NYC, and it really feels like a tale of two cities. My home is unaffected, my workplace is unaffected, my commute has been restored to normalcy -- and these scenes of devastation aren't from somewhere hundreds or thousands of miles away, they're from elsewhere in my city. It's surreal as well as terrible.

My husband's going to go in search of some aunts who are in a more damaged neighborhood and see if they want to stay at our place for a while. I'm glad; I want to help someone, but between work (working every day until elections and just thankful some of it will be from home) and our toddler, it doesn't seem like there's much I can do.

[Addendum: one aunt is okay, the other has been taken in by one of her sons. We may be taking in a relative-of-relative; the aunt in question is trying to reach her.]
11:29 am
Can we go back to paper ballots?
There's concern that not all polling places will have power by election day.

The RNC has formally complained that they've received repeated reports of touchscreens registering votes for Romney as votes for Obama. (These in states where you click to confirm.)

I recall concern that Bush partisans would change voting machines totals in 2004.

It would avoid a lot of problems in 2016 if we went back to paper ballots. If we want them machine-readable, we're all trained in the use of bubbles and #2 pencils. Voting machines can be for the disabled and fill out the bubbles for you. Or if people insist, voting machines can be for everyone, as long as they fill out paper ballots which can be filled out manually if the voting machines are unusable. I'd prefer skipping the machines entirely except for people who need them to vote privately, but just having the ballots usable by humans in an emergency is a step forward. Redundancy is good.

(Yes, I remember butterfly ballots, too. That was a problem with specific ballot design, and a touchscreen interface could be just as bad, whereas I see several technical reasons why bubbles and a #2 pencil dark pen [ed: thanks, agrumer; of course a pen is better] are practically superior to voting machines.)
Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
6:23 pm
All's well here
Home safe with husband, son is still at day care two houses away, all's well, didn't even lose power.
Saturday, July 28th, 2012
10:42 pm
Tagine Chicken
Cooking in a tagine is fun, like a cross between stovetop and slow cooker in a single pot. Brown the meat and a long slow simmer without having to transfer anything or clean up more than the one tagine. (A tagine is a skillet without a handle with a conical lid designed to retain moisture. The one Kaz got me for my birthday is Le Creuset, with a cast iron base and a ceramic lid. Very pretty.)

The recipes which appealed to me most in the cookbook were all lamb, and I didn't want to go in search of lamb. But one of the spice packets that also came for my birthday happened to have ingredients all of which I had on hand (chicken, dried apricots, onion.) It was too spicy but otherwise good.

Twas easy and fun enough to motivate me to make another dish to go immediately into the fridge. I improvised with stuff I wanted to use up and other stuff that was handy.

1 cosco package chicken thighs (5 small thighs)
1 medium onion
handful cherry tomatoes (six or eight)
handful dried tomatoes (around twenty)
2 T olive oil
1 can canelli beans
1 can chicken broth
1 t cumin x2
1 t cinnamon x2
1/4 t turmeric x2
1/2 t vanilla POWDER x2
1/2 t ground ginger x2

Partly defrost the chicken
Saute the onion in the olive oil until soft
Add the chicken, cook till brown
Add the dried tomatoes and chicken broth, stir, add first batch of spices
Add the beans
Stir, boil for a moment
Add the fresh tomatoes
Turn down, add lid, simmer for a long time (wasn't watching the clock, but I think it was a little over an hour)
Add second batch of spices

The vanilla smooths out the ginger and turmeric, leaving a lot of flavor but not too much heat.

I think it would be best over couscous or rice, but I'm practicing for a south beach diet starting in late August, and it's fine straight. (Though I think you should have a vegetable side. Or perhaps serving it over eggplant would work.)

(Addendum: the ingredients list for the spice packet is coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, dehydrated garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, basil, cumin, nutmeg and cloves. Survey says I have all of those but the cardamom.)
Saturday, April 28th, 2012
10:28 pm
Chicken or Turkey Cacciatore
After some experimentation with recipes I thought were too bland, I finally have an easy chicken cacciatore recipe which I think works well.

Ingredients:
6-8 chicken thighs or 2-3 turkey drumsticks
1 1/2 jars of spicy marinara sauce
2 bell peppers
3 tablespoons crushed garlic
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves

Deskin the poultry if necessary.  Don't worry about deboning. Cut off all the visible fat off the poultry.  Combine the ingredients in a large pot with two cups of water.  Bring to a high boil, stir, reduce to a low boil and stir every twenty minutes or half-hour, adding water if necessary.  When the poultry starts to fall apart, shred it.  If the poultry had bones, pull out the poultry and strip the meat off the bones, throwing out the bones and putting the meat in the pot.  Boil off water until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.

Serve over egg noodles, other pasta, or ric.

Current Mood: chipper
Monday, January 30th, 2012
8:15 pm
PBEM Game Design Challenge and Thoughts on It
I've been having some thoughts about PBEM and journaling game theory. One of my favorite people to game with has enough times where she can't game that I'm very hesitant to suggest she join games, or suggest that third parties join any two-person games we're playing. And I suspect everyone who has played any sort of asynchronous game has had a problem with someone whose timing didn't match theirs -- either feeling pressured to respond more often than was comfortable, or they feeling held back in starting other threads because this one wasn't ending.

So the resulting game design challenge is: come up with a game setting where it is impossible for one player to bog down another. Scene A and scene B can each take as long as they take in real life, and in the game world once they're wrapped the players can decide which happened first or if they happened simultaneously (the latter a necessary possibility if what's happening in one scene could theoretically affect the other.)

The first setting which occurs to me is a game where the characters are artificial intelligences capable of forking themselves and merging again. AI Alpha needs to be in two space stations simultaneously, so it copies itself into Alpha-1 and Alpha-2. Alpha-0 stays home. Alpha-1 and Alpha-2 travel to the appropriate space stations and return home; Alpha-0 does a merge so that it has all three sets of memories (staying home and going to both space stations) so that Alpha-0, Alpha-1, and Alpha-2 are identical, then deletes the others.

Note that with virtual reality, this setting isn't restricted to high technology: the AIs could be programmed to think of themselves as mages in a fantasy world, telepaths in any setting, whatever -- and the underlying virtual reality could support the illusion. Given players comfortable with the underlying setting, though, you could do pretty much anything in pretty much any style (i.e. moderated or GM'd, consensual or roll-based, whatever.) However, if the underlying reality is stipulated as AI and virtual reality, the game won't work unless the players are comfortable with thinking in terms of AIs, virtual reality, forking, merging, et cetera.

There are other sorts of characters which could logically be in two places at once -- gods in some mythologies, perhaps powerful telepaths, people with bilocation as a freak talent.

I can easily see a game where the characters are all gods, perhaps from the same pantheon, perhaps from rival pantheons, perhaps some of each. My instinct says the natural gaming style would be consensual results for most interactions -- that is, I don't think it would be wise for the game mechanics to decide when Athena or Ares win a fight with each other, but either win fights with Aphrodite every time, and either loses fights with Zeus every time. You could do GM'd if you can find plots for gods that aren't basically rivalries with each other. Moderated with a focus on character-character interaction and plots secondary and largely player-driven wound be easier.

A game where the gods are characters would default to being timebound to Earth - that is, Athena might be in three places at once, but "at once" would always correspond to a specific date and time. You could tack on something in the way of uncontrolled or semi-controlled time travel, or stipulate that when the gods separate pieces of themselves they don't fully control when the pieces rejoin, to work around that and decrease the need for scenes to happen in chronological order.

A game where all players are telepaths cloning their minds is harder. Doable, I think, but -- do you set it on the astral plane and have no real world to start with? (If so, you'd need players that are very patient with getting the game started, or lots of players, or both.) Do you set it on Earth with the accompanying increased timebinding ... perhaps with the limitation that you duplicate your mind and it travels through astral space to get elsewhere on Earth, and the duplicate may have a hard time finding its way home and rejoining you? I think that could work, if the players are all interested in playing telepaths.

A game where everyone has the ability to bilocate I'm not really sure what to do with. Maybe include in the bilocation ability the ability to remerge with the limitation that if you use that to teleport home you might remerge with your other self right now, or a month from now, or a year from now. Tack on limited communication (low tech level, or multiple dimensions, or separate solar systems united by the bilocation, or whatever) and you can easily meet the challenge; the potential genres could be anything, and so could the game styles.

All of the above ideas make the simultaneous threads work by limiting the character types. They could be interesting games ... but is it possible to make the challenge work by make the simultaneity a property of the setting rather than the characters?

In order to make a setting where everything can happen in any order, we need to break chronological time. This could be any universe which had a timequake that wasn't resolved, but I think things work best if this is a dream world. In an actual physical world things happening out of sequence prompt too many other questions which need to be answered in order to help suspend disbelief. In a dream world, this could be the normal state of things: two people dream about you simultaneously, and you're in two places at once; one dream ends and another begins, so A and B happen simultaneously, then D and Q, then C and F.

That said, I think an asynchronous game set in a dream world would work better if the dream world were broken. If you break the dream world, perhaps the characters aren't (or don't have to be) natural inhabitants of the dream world. You could design a game where the characters are all from the real world; all from any fictional world; full panfandom with characters from anywhere with or without fourth-walling privileges; or near-full panfandom with a preferred genre (that is, characters can be drawn from anywhere because reality has broken down and is recreating things from elsewhere or dragging them here when dreams intersect, but the dream world in question is being dream up by dreamers from one world in particular and that dominates the way the world works, both in terms of genre and in terms of the way NPC characters and abilities work (to take an extreme example, many worlds have faeries or elves, but they're very different from world to world; PC faeries could be from anywhere and be anything, but NPC faeries would be from the dominant world.)

Anybody have any thoughts on any of the above possibilities? Other possibilities to suggest?

Cross-posted to ecreegan.dreamwidth.org at http://ecreegan.dreamwidth.org/5086.html
Saturday, January 14th, 2012
12:03 pm
D&D 3rd, 4th editions
I've been having some thoughts about D&D 5th edition, and D&D 3rd and 4th editions as well.

When D&D 3.0 came out, I thought it was great fun and a great improvement. It wasn't actually my preferred style of RPG - I like more freeform and fewer crunchy bits - but it made sense, it was recognizably D&D, it had some support for non-combat activities in the feats and skills system and occasionally in the class abilities, and it was a distinct and clear improvement. All in all, it was a better system than I was expecting, and I really liked the way they managed to keep classes but not limit you to classes.

Furthermore, while old adventures would require a lot of conversion and old settings would require some, they could be converted, complete with characters. Take the old character classes, pick new classes for cross-class characters, pick skills and feats. I still love Planescape and Spelljammer from 2nd edition and I've never even played them, so I thought this was a plus. For settings, were I GMing, I'd even be willing to improvise a conversion -- have some stock characters in case of combat, but combat shouldn't happen that often, make notes as to skills you select for the NPCs as you go along, and play.

So for D&D 3.0, I had some discretionary income, and I went out and I bought a whole bunch of books.

When D&D 3.5 came out, it felt like the publisher was trying to turn a whole lot of errata into a new edition. Yes, it was better. But it didn't feel like D&D 3.5, more like D&D 3.1, and while I did buy the new edition I resented doing so. Still, the SRD was available and the product was an improvement, so I didn't resent it much. It was just a monetary complaint; D&D 3.5 had all the virtues of D&D 3.0 and slightly fewer flaws.

Then oodles of supplements came out for 3.5. The number of supplements exceeded what I wanted to spend on buying role-playing games - especially for one system that wasn't even my favorite - so I picked and chose what to buy. I had a friend who bought almost all of them, at least one more who bought more than I did, I could afford the ones I really wanted -- that was fine. I was unhappy about the power creep, however: most of the prestige classes seemed to be clearly better than the basic classes, and the later supplements seemed to have some unbalanced one. Still, there were no problems that couldn't be solved by a DM saying no as needed, and a lot of the material was cool. I was fine with it.

Then D&D 4 came out. My reaction at the time as "that's interesting, and it's different" and I bought the core rulebooks. I only bought a couple of supplements, though, and even though I'm in a campaign I haven't replaced my missing-somewhere copy of of the Player's Handbook.

I actually like D&D 4th edition and in many respects think it's a superior product to D&D 3, even D&D 3.5. It's more streamlined, better balanced, and so on. The skill challenges give explicit support for noncombat activities, and the skills system sees to it that everyone will have some noncombat skills.

However, in many respects D&D 4th is a streamlined wargaming system with role-playing rules. Imagine playing D&D 3rd without a map. It's a problem - you have to figure out who is affected by which spells, whether there are clusters of enemies for some feats, flanking bonuses, and the like. But it's not impossible. The GM can figure out the rough positions of the monsters, the players can make assumptions, the GM can let the players do a certain amount of scene-setting, and so on.

Now imagine playing D&D 4th without a map. Well, it's not impossible, because you can do pretty much anything without a map if you ignore enough rules, but all the above difficulties apply, and more. The whole mechanic of sliding and shifting becomes either unusable or subject to whim. Various race and class specific abilities (e.g. the elf's ability to ignore difficult terrain, the wizard ability which pushes back nearby enemies, etc.) are less effective or far less objective.

It's not that D&D 4th isn't at least as good as D&D 3rd in its chosen niche of combat-with-map and simple noncombat challenges. I think it's better in both respects. But D&D 3rd is better on the occasions you want to keep playing when you need to fill the table with dinner. The skill challenges of D&D 4th can easily be imported into D&D 3rd as soon as you see them, so that's more or less a wash.

Also, I think the lack of backwards compatibility hurt D&D 4th than it looked like at the time. Not only were all the recent 3rd edition purchases totally incompatible with the new edition, but the myriad D&D 2nd edition products were now incompatible instead of semi-compatible. I was expecting it, and my 3rd edition game (thank you for a wonderful game, crash_mccormick) had ended, so I wasn't upset, and I don't think it influenced my decision to buy only a few supplements. But I can certainly see why people who were in a game and having issues with the rules might go to Pathfinder for a few fixes rather than go to D&D 4th for a totally different game.

Also, if the new system isn't compatible with old material, why would you purchase and play D&D 4th edition instead of Pathfinder, another of the D&D 3rd edition variants, or any one of the many other role-playing games out there? Name recognition matters, and so do economies of scale, but the D&D 3rd edition had those too. And the D&D 3rd edition variants (Pathfinder, etc.) are mostly compatible with the old D&D 3rd edition books and each other and semi-compatible with the wealth of D&D 2nd edition books.

So Hasbro put itself in a position where its legacy materials helped its competitors' products more than they helped D&D 4th edition. No wonder Pathfinder became a major rival to D&D 4th edition.

Cross-posted to ecreegan.dreamwidth.org at http://ecreegan.dreamwidth.org/4390.html
11:53 am
Just migrated my account to dreamwidth
Just migrated my account to dreamwidth (as ecreegan.) Cross-posting including comments for now.

Cross-posted to ecreegan.dreamwidth.org at http://ecreegan.dreamwidth.org/4295.html
Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
6:14 pm
And a DRM grumble

Experimenting last night, I determined that the wonderful Calibre tool will let me reformat files into a style I prefer (moderate indentations, no blank lines, to indicate paragraphing) -- and if I prefer something else in the future, I can always do that.




I then realized I can't do that with my Harry Dresden series, since I bought it (in a right-now frenzy) from Amazon, complete with DRM. Well, technically I could jailbreak the files - I understand there's a python script, and I have python installed to experiment with Calibre's source - but that would be dubious-at-best legally and a clear violation of the Kindle agreement. And if I ignored all that and did it anyway, putting said jailbroken-and-reformatted files on the Kindle would be Just Plain Dumb. So there wouldn't be much point.

Pfeh. Another instance of DRM content being inferior to pirated content. A pity I'm mostly law-abiding. At least I can load the files into Calibre's library, if I want to bother.




(And comments are disabled, as this is ancient and I'm just getting spam.)

Monday, February 22nd, 2010
11:50 pm
DRM Thoughts

I mentioned in an earlier post that Amazon had lost a lot of sales to me by using DRM. Yes, I've bought ebooks from Amazon: when that was the only source I knew of, or when very pregnant/on maternity leave and didn't want to leave the house, or when I was sure I wouldn't want to reread the book, or when I just plain wanted the next book in a series right now. Generally, I won't buy ebooks from Amazon due to their DRM; I find it appalling. (I knew this when I bought my Kindle and decided it was worth it anyway, which I still think it was.)

Not that I object to all DRM. When I'm leasing content (e.g. Netflix view-on-demand, or a library book, or arrangements of that type) I think DRM is entirely appropriate, to enforce the temporary nature of your usage rights.

Nor do I object to watermarks. Okay, if my file escapes into the wild the rights-owner knows where it came from. I have no problem with this. Okay, if my computer or Kindle get stolen my name is effectively on the stolen files, but -- hey, my computer got stolen. (Or hacked, or whatever.)

I'm less than happy with files that get unlocked with your credit card number, like Barnes & Nobles Nook books reputedly are, but I consider it within bounds of acceptability if well-done. Effectively the book is watermarked in a way that makes you unlikely to be willing to hand out the unlock key. It's a nuisance, but enough of a minor one to be acceptable. My concern would be that the book could get hacked (hey, it's only a 16-digit code) and your credit card thereby derived; if the security code and expiration date aren't also embedded, this is bad but acceptable.

I don't consider DRM which tries to lock content to a device or set of devices to be acceptable. In the electronic age, devices are temporary -- maybe they last two years, maybe they last ten years, but they get replaced. I don't want to have to replace my library when I replace my Kindle (happened once already.) Most DRM schemes let you use up to X keys, but that only postpones the problem; it doesn't avoid it. This scheme of DRM sells you a indefinitely-to-long-term lease on a piece of content, charging an actual purchase price and pretending that it's a purchase. Not good.

Amazon's DRM adds the additional sin of being proprietary, though at least they've started producing players for some media (Windows boxes, iPhones.)

So my money goes to Webscriptions or Fictionwise, and I download free content. Considering Smashwords and Closed Circle, maybe Catherynne Valente's novels, for future purchases. Sometimes looking for other sources I can consider financially rewarding for producing acceptable products. The thing is, I don't always want to search through multiple publishers and distributors - sometimes it can be a fun hunt, much like looking through used book stores, but sometimes I just want the widest variety, even at higher prices. The closest thing I know of to that is Amazon's Kindle books, and it annoys me that their product comes locked to up-to-six Amazon-approved devices.


(And comments are disabled, as this is ancient and I'm just getting spam.)



Current Mood: geeky
7:30 am
Belated announcement on the birth of my son
Looking at my journal after reading the previous post, I realize I never posted anything about the birth of my son.

Robert Vincent Creegan was born in Beth Israel hospital at 5:45 on 7/30/2009.  He is presently scooting around in his beloved walker and playing pick-up-the-toy with his mother.  More generally, he's healthy, happy, and interactive.
Sunday, February 21st, 2010
11:43 pm
Ebook pricing
I've been following the Amazon vs. Macmillan dispute and contemplating the question "So, how much should ebooks cost?"

Well ... there area several different "shoulds" -- reader, publisher, author, distributor, moral, and practical.

How much should ebooks cost from a reader's perspective? That one's easy -- as little as possible without causing future books I want to read to not exist. The question of how little would cause future books not to exist is complicated, but -- usually more than zero.

How much should ebooks cost from the distributor and publisher's perspective is whatever maximizes profit -- they can take lower profits on each sale if it results in in making more sales. Publishers want to maximize sales through the publisher (i.e. you might do a bulk sale of several books from the same publisher but you wouldn't bundle with another publisher), distributors want to maximize profits through the distributor (i.e. you can't bundle some Amazon sales together with a Webscription or Fictionwise sale.)

Authors have the same logic, plus in some cases a desire to have their work read.

From a moral perspective? Well ... people have different senses of morality, and my moral instinct about ebooks more pertains to DRM than to costs. I do have a moral/aesthetic objection to ebooks which cost as much or more than as the cheapest available new printed copy, e.g. charging $9.99 for the ebook when the paperback is $7.99 (discounted on amazon.) (Oh, come on, you're trying to make me pay more for a product that costs you less to produce.  I don't think so.)

From a practical perspective? Variable pricing has to be the way to go. Not that I trust Macmillan to do it right, but -- $9.99 the day the hardback comes out has to be leaving some money on the ground. Charging close to cover price for even a week after the book's released will still get you some sales, and as long as the price does come down, relatively promptly, you probably don't lose significant total sales. Or, do it the way Baen does and charge people a premium in order to obtain an electronic copy before the book's released.

Profit-wise, I think that around $5 is the sweet spot for ebooks. (More when they've just come out, less when they're part of a bundle, of course.) Enough cheaper than a new paperback to feel like you're saving money, but probably nets more profit per copy. Note that used paperback cost less than this, so you are losing sales to people who have a computer but don't have much of an entertainment budget to spend on reading material. But well -- you're competing with a vast sea of free classics for those customers. (Interestingly, the analysis from the distributor at smashwords suggested that both $5 and $9 were sweet spots. I'm curious if they were the same sorts of books, or if the $9 books were longer/more nonfiction/more recent/something.)

My perceptions may be shaped by the fact that I love Baen's model and they charge around $6 each, or $15 for a monthly bundle of 4 new books and ~3 reissues.  Note that smashwords is automated, whereas Baen has quality control, so the two aren't comparable; the sweet spot(s) for Baen may well be higher. Baen also has a free library with the first book or two in a longer series, and creates CDs with dozens of books in them, distributes them in the hardcovers, and permits third parties to copy and redistribute the CDs as long as it isn't for pay.  The former is an obvious thing to try and something I see on amazon's Kindle library; the latter is an interesting approach and it probably does hook people on some serieses which have grown so long that people wouldn't try them otherwise, but would surprise me if it made money.

Personal preference?  Well, I'm a reader, but I want the ebooks written, selected, edited, copy-edited, put into appropriate e-formats, formats checked, and distributed. Electronic books are vastly cheaper copy-by-copy than paper books, but there are significant up-front costs ... and much of those savings comes to the distributor, not the publisher; none of it comes to the author.  So, I'm cool with profit maximization so long as the price point is sane, and $5 to $6 dollars strikes me as perfectly sane.  The $14.99 that Macmillan was talking -- well, I'll pay that for a book I'm eagerly waiting for (I keep checking Webscriptions hoping that an early copy of Mouse and Dragon has come out and I can pay $15 for an unproofread version that I can start now.)  I won't pay it for anything else -- I have a large library of free and already-paid ebooks just waiting to be read.

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