Events

Two of my books are now published

Some of you know that I’ve been writing here on my website since 2000, so I’ve put a lot of words on paper and screen. But I’ve always wanted to write a book, to put that English major of mine to some good use 🙂. Life intervened and other priorities demanded my time. Good old fear also stuck its nose in those dreams and for quite some time, I found myself busy with a lot of other things. The funny thing is, my wife and I have taken on so many things where I should have been afraid going in and sticking it out, but I wasn’t. We’ve accomplished so much together. And yet, something that should have been easy for me, like doing a bit of writing, editing it and publishing it, something that I’ve been doing since my college days — became this obstacle that seemed to get bigger with time.

Earlier this year, I made a promise to myself that I was going to publish a photo book that had been sitting on my computer for several years. It’s a book about a place near and dear to our hearts, the Potomac River and the C&O Canal, which we’d visit often while we lived in the Washington, DC area. I miss those places. I miss driving out there to various spots along the river and canal, and walking or biking for hours on clean, safe, maintained trails, in the beautiful countryside and forests of Maryland and Virginia. Of course I’d take my camera with me and Ligia would allow me to indulge my photographic obsession. So that’s one book I’m happy to say I finished and published.

I’d started another book years earlier, back in 2005, about an interesting place doing interesting work in West Virginia. I’d found out about it by chance, as we were visiting parks in the area and I looked for a place with WiFi, but found none. When I asked why, that’s when when things got interesting. It turned out we were in something called the NRQZ, the National Radio Quiet Zone, where no radio transmissions were allowed, because of the research being done at a place called NRAO (that had nothing to do with the NRA). Its initials stand for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and it was listening to radio transmissions from space with very sensitive and very big parabolic antennae they call radio telescopes. Any sort of local radio transmission would create huge interference issues for them, so the American government decided to designate a large area around them as a Radio Quiet Zone. I ended up visiting the NRAO site at Green Bank in West Virginia and I became so interested in the stories about their equipment and the RFI (radio frequency interference) that created problems in their work, that I started putting together a book through site visits and interviews with the “Keeper of the Quiet”, the man responsible for chasing down RFI in the NRQZ, Wes Sizemore. I almost finished writing that book but life intervened, as it always does, and I couldn’t make the follow-up visits that I needed in order to close the story arc and put the finishing touches on the book.

It sat on my computer for about seven years, till in 2012, I decided enough was enough, I was going to re-edit what I had and publish it as it was, here on my website, and that’s what I did. You can read it in seven instalments, starting here. This year, as I was working on my other book, I started thinking, why not take all the materials I’d put together for my posts, re-organize them, re-edit them where I felt they needed it, and put them all in book format? Instead of publishing just one book, I’d publish two. So that’s what I did. This book is now as finished as it’s going to get and it’s also published.

You can see more details about each of the books on their dedicated pages here on my website:

They are currently available in the Apple Books (iBooks) format on the Apple Book Store. I’ve already been asked if they’re going to be available in other formats and other stores. I can’t promise you anything at the moment.

I work on an iMac in macOS and I have iOS devices (iPhones and iPads), so when I put these books together, I did it in an app called iBooks Author, which creates e-books in a native format for macOS and iOS. This format works for multi-touch displays and the text reflows and adjusts for various display sizes.

Were I to want to list my books in the Amazon Book Store, I would need to lay them out once more, page by page, in their own application, which is called Kindle Create. I’d want and need to do that in order to create a native e-book experience for the Amazon Kindle readers, an experience that works properly with those e-book controls and where the text reflows and adjusts for various display sizes. This means redoing most everything I did in iBooks Author, but on Kindle Create. I’m not looking forward to doubling my workload.

I am well aware that I can simply export to PDF from iBooks Author and publish the books as PDFs, but the reading experience just wouldn’t be the same. Mobile book readers simply don’t handle PDFs the same way they handle native e-books, and you’d have to constantly zoom in and out, drag the page up and down to see it all… it just isn’t a good reading experience as far as I’m concerned.

I’m also aware that had I started to work on my books in Apple Pages, I could have exported directly to the Apple Book Store from that app, and I could have also exported the books to a format compatible with Kindle Create (MS Word), that could have circumvented a lot of the work I now need to do. I didn’t know this at the time. 🤷‍♂️

I’ve also looked into publishing the books on the Google Play Book Store, but they’ve restricted applications for new authors for some reason. I applied and I’m waiting to see how that pans out. And I’ll have to find out what native e-book format is used for Android devices, and what I’ll need to do to ensure a good reading experience for them.

So, if you have macOS or iOS devices, you’re in luck. My books are available for purchase and you’re good to go. Please check them out and buy them if they spark your interest. 🙂

Cheers!
Raoul

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Events

C&O Canal photo on cover of poetry book

One of my photos from the C&O Canal has made it onto the cover of a poetry book to be published this year, written by Jean Wilbur. The book is called Walk the Towpath, and it can be pre-ordered from Finishing Line Press.

Here is the photo.

Here’s what it looks like on the cover of the book.

From Ms. Wilbur’s bio:

“Jean Gleason Stromberg, who writes under her maiden name, Jean Wilbur, has been writing most of her life, primarily in the service of others. She grew up in Northern California where she learned to love the outdoors, was educated at Wellesley College and Harvard Law, and practiced corporate law for many years. She is increasingly focused on writing, especially poetry, for herself. She walks on the C&O canal towpath in all seasons. She lives with her husband, Kurt Stromberg, in Washington DC and on a houseboat in Sausalito, California. Her sons have settled in Northern California.”

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Thoughts

A tally of my post ratings

On July 28, 2008, I installed the WP-PostRatings plugin on my blog, and since then, watching what and when people rate has been an interesting experience. If you haven’t yet enabled ratings on your website, it might be a worthwhile effort to do so, because you’ll get another sort of feedback about your content beside the usual reader comments. I think many people who are too shy to comment, or those who haven’t got the time to do so, would still like to give me an idea of what they think about my articles by a quick click on some stars, and that’s very helpful to me.

By now, I’ve gotten 1,339 post ratings. Considering I’ve had the plugin installed for 533 days, that works out to 2.51 ratings per day. Since 7/28/08, I’ve had 374,756 unique visitors, 415,857 visits and 595,078 page views on my website. That means 0.23% of my page views yielded a rating.

Let’s compare that to my comments for a bit. Since that same date, I’ve had 1,754 comments posted to my site, or 3.29 comments per day. That means 0.29% of my page views yielded a comment. It’s slightly better, but not by much, though I should specify that, by and large, the folks who commented didn’t leave ratings, so that means I got feedback from two different sets of readers.

Still, if I combine the two types of feedback together, it means I got 0.52% of my readers to give me some sort of feedback. I’m interested to find out how these percentages stack against established benchmarks, so if any of you can point me to the benchmarks, please do so.

Even if my feedback stats may or may not be something to brag about, I can be happy about the quality of my ratings. My rating score is 6,370, which means my average article rating is 4.76 out of 5. I like that.

I thought I’d tally up some of my highly rated and most rated articles below, for historical reference.

These are my top ten highest rated posts:

  1. Hardware review: Drobo (5.00 out of 5)
  2. The underrated Betta fish (5.00 out of 5)
  3. Matrei im Osttirol (5.00 out of 5)
  4. Hardware review: WD My Book Studio Edition II (5.00 out of 5)
  5. Hardware review: Elgato Turbo.264 (5.00 out of 5)
  6. Automatic redirect from HTTP to HTTPS (5.00 out of 5)
  7. A Dell order and return experience (5.00 out of 5)
  8. American habits (5.00 out of 5)
  9. Hardware review: Logitech Alto Connect Notebook Stand (5.00 out of 5)
  10. A few words on the economic crisis at hand (5.00 out of 5)

These are my top ten most rated posts:

  1. Hardware review: Dell S2409W Flat Panel Display – 61 votes
  2. Stranded in Frankfurt thanks to United Airlines – 21 votes
  3. How I got cheated on eBay – 14 votes
  4. USPS Priority Mail is anything but that – 13 votes
  5. Hardware review: Second-Generation Drobo – 12 votes
  6. Hardware review: Drobo – 11 votes
  7. Big problems with the WD My Book Pro Edition II – 11 votes
  8. The underrated Betta fish – 10 votes
  9. WD TV is better than Apple TV – 10 votes
  10. Using the economy as an excuse to shortchange employees – 10 votes

These are my top ten posts with the highest scores. The list is a combination of the highest rated and most rated lists. It’s the posts that have gotten the highest and most ratings.

  1. Hardware review: Dell S2409W Flat Panel Display – 61 votes
  2. Stranded in Frankfurt thanks to United Airlines – 21 votes
  3. USPS Priority Mail is anything but that – 13 votes
  4. How I got cheated on eBay – 14 votes
  5. Hardware review: Second-Generation Drobo – 12 votes
  6. Hardware review: Drobo – 11 votes
  7. The underrated Betta fish – 10 votes
  8. WD TV is better than Apple TV – 10 votes
  9. Using the economy as an excuse to shortchange employees – 10 votes
  10. Big problems with the WD My Book Pro Edition II – 11 votes

These are my ten lowest rated posts:

  1. When it comes to home computers, k.i.s.s. and forget it! (1.00 out of 5)
  2. Pet snakes in the Everglades(1.00 out of 5)
  3. Elie Wiesel: biography of a Holocaust survivor (2.00 out of 5)
  4. How many of my photos were stolen? (3.00 out of 5)
  5. Why I turned off comments at Flickr (3.00 out of 5)
  6. The Exakta EXA Ia analog camera (3.00 out of 5)
  7. A lesson in civics and citizenship (3.00 out of 5)
  8. Romania’s orphanages still a bad place for children (3.00 out of 5)
  9. More about Cartoon Network (3.00 out of 5)
  10. Fat clothes for fat people (3.29 out of 5)

It’s enlightening to see that some articles I care about happen to be on this last list, and it goes to show that no matter how attached I as an author can get to something I’ve written, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will resonate pleasantly with my readers.

It’s been an interesting experiment so far, and I plan to continue it.

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So long, Contenture

According to their website and blog, Contenture is going out of business. That’s unfortunate. I signed up with them back in June of 2008, endorsed their services here on my site, and while I didn’t make a lot of money with them, I knew the idea of micropayments for web content was something that would eventually catch on, if only given enough time to take root. It’s sad to see them go, and I’m sorry they couldn’t hang on until they saw some profits.

I only know of one other company that offers similar monetization services, and it’s called CancelAds. Here’s hoping they stay in business, and the idea of micropayments/subscriptions for web content continues to gain momentum.

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Reviews

Using Contenture to handle micropayments

Back in April, I wrote about micropayments, and why I thought they were an equitable way to reward web publishers for their time and effort. I shared my thoughts on ad revenues, which, for most people, are minimal and not enough to live on, unless you are one of the relatively few websites that gets massive amounts of traffic.

In that same article, I also talked about how I thought micropayments should work, via a standard, instant way to charge readers a few cents per article, through protocols that were integrated into each browser. Instead of charging fees for each transaction, which would be impractical for such small amounts, micropayment processing centers would charge for bundles of transactions which exceed a set limit.

Fast forward a few months, and ZDNet publishes an interview with Barry Diller, one of the early Internet millionaires, where he talks about the very same thing: the need to go beyond falling ad revenues by charging small amounts for useful information. That article was hotly debated on FriendFeed, which is where I found out about it. Among the comments, I found one pointing me to Contenture, a newly launched micropayment system (it saw the light of day on 5/26).

contenture

Contenture’s method of handling micropayments is different from what I envisioned, in that it involves a monthly subscription. Here’s how they say it works:

“… a fully automated system that requires no user interaction. Users simply pay a set fee to Contenture on a monthly basis, and that money is automatically distributed to the sites they visit. How much each site gets from each user is determined by how often that user visits that web site, relative to all of the other Contenture sites they visit. Users get their seamless experience, and the site actually makes money. Everybody wins.”

So what’s involved on my end? I installed Contenture’s WordPress plugin and pasted in an extra line of code to customize the ad hiding behavior. Others might need to paste a Javascript snippet in their footer, which is basically what the plugin does for you.

On your end (the reader), the code will check to see if you’re a Contenture user, and will automatically distribute your subscription fee to the websites that you visit, based on how often you visit each site. As an immediate benefit, all ads on my site are hidden from you. They’ll load as the page loads, but they blink out of view and the ad space collapses unto itself as soon as the page finishes loading. It’s pretty cool.

Other benefits I might be able to offer you in the future are the ability to view exclusive content, or perhaps to even close off the archives to those who aren’t Contenture users, although I’m not too keen on that, since Google won’t be able to index me properly any more if I do it. At any rate, the ability to offer more benefits is built in, and that’s nice.

Contenture’s model is opt-in (also called freemium) and so it has some limitations, in that I don’t get paid for everyone that accesses my content. My micropayment model, the one I envisioned and the one Barry Diller and others are talking about, is standardized across platforms and browsers and works for everyone, all the time. Eventually, I think we’ll get there, but Contenture has made a good start of it, and they did it now, which is why I signed up with them.

To let site visitors know they can support my site, I placed a small link in the header, as you can see below. I also have a link in the footer, also shown below.

header-screenshot

footer-screenshot

I look forward to seeing Contenture’s user base grow, so I can tell whether I’ve made the right choice. I want to keep writing and publishing online for a long time to come, but the only feasible way for me to do that is if I get rewarded properly for my efforts. I believe micropayments are the way to do it. It’s affordable for the readers, and it scales up nicely for me, the web publisher. Time will tell exactly which micropayment method will work best, and you can be sure I’ll continue to monitor the options available out there.

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My Drobo review is first at Google

A couple of days ago, I noticed an increase in the traffic to my Firewire Drobo review, most of it from search engines, so I did a quick search on Google for the phrase “drobo review“, which is what people were using to find me. To my surprise, my review was the first search result that came up! I’d been in the #2 spot for a long time, just under CNET, for the same phrase, but now, without having made any changes to my review since I’d written it, I ranked first.

drobo-review-google-search

This makes me happy, because when I created my site, I wanted to sit down and write good articles while staying away from any unethical SEO tricks or even white-hat SEO tricks like keyword loading and other such unappealing, tedious stuff. I just wanted to create good content and get noticed because of that, not because I’d tricked the search engines into ranking me higher up the page. That would have been an empty success indeed.

It also makes me happy because I like my Drobos. So far, they’ve worked well for me, and I’m glad I’ve found a reliable and expandable way to store all my data. It’s also worthwhile to note that my Firewire Drobo review was published months after it came out officially. I did not get a review unit, I didn’t have to pull any strings to be among the first to get one, and I didn’t spend a feverish night working on my review after it first came out. You know how the press clamors to get review units of products when they first come out… I didn’t do that, and it’s very refreshing to see that after taking my time and really putting my Firewire Drobo through its paces, intensively, for a prolonged period of time, I was able to write a truthful review that is now ranked first at Google.

It’s been about three years of intensive writing, and my work has begun to pay off. (I began publishing multiple articles per week in 2006. I’d only been publishing sporadically until then.) In 2007, almost two years ago, I noticed I was getting more and more traffic from search engines, and made a list of the articles that were getting noticed. For a lot of them, I was either on the first page of search results, or among the first few search results, right at the top.

Still, it’s something to be the first search result for what is a fairly common tech phrase such as “drobo review”, and it really makes my day that I, a writer working alone, using WordPress and hosting my site on my own little Ubuntu web server at SliceHost, has outranked CNET and other big names such as Engadget and others, on Google, the world’s biggest search engine. It serves to illustrate very well a point Matt Cutts from Google has made time and time again: just focus on writing good content, and the rest will come. You’ll get indexed, and as your site builds a larger collection of articles, your online trust will cause you to rise up among the search results, until you make it to the top. You don’t need tricks, you don’t need to get headaches from trying to squeeze SEO juice out of every paragraph and page title and others — you just need to write informative articles.

I’d like to thank God for this. You see, I live by certain principles which are rooted in my religious beliefs, most notably in the Ten Commandments found in the Bible. When I began to write online and created my site, I didn’t want to steal, and I didn’t want to lie. Taking content from others (content-scraping) is theft, so I don’t condone it or do it. Using dirty SEO tricks to rank higher in search results is also theft, because those who do it are robbing others of those spots and robbing tech engineers at search companies of their time, which they will have to use to modify algorithms and clean up the search results. And using those same dirty SEO tricks is effectively a lie, because those who do it are misrepresenting their websites and their articles. That’s not me, I don’t want to do those things, and I’m really glad to see that God proved me right when I stuck by my principles. I’m also glad to see that a company such as Google exists, and that it rewards honest, forthright behavior.

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Thoughts

Micropayments: the only equitable way to reward web publishers

The more time I spend writing and publishing articles on the internet, the more I realize that trying to get paid for my efforts through advertising is not a sustainable way to make a living. I get decent web traffic, but that’s not enough. Have you seen the going CPM rates these days? I’d need to get ridiculous amounts of traffic in order to see any sort of worthwhile profits, and even then, I’m not so sure the costs of running my website wouldn’t trump my revenues or at least take a big bite out of them.

The current system is messed up. Most web publishers don’t get tons of traffic, which also means they don’t make money. They’re lucky if they break even with things like Google AdSense or affiliate programs or other some other ad programs. They, like me, don’t want to load up their websites with ads, left and right, top and bottom, inbetween the lines and everywhere else. They just want to worry about writing and publishing informative articles. They don’t want to spend ¾ of their time (or more) advertising their site and getting their buddies to vote up their posts on Digg or StumbleUpon or who knows where else. They’d much prefer to not have that headache at all, and to only write and publish. But they can’t, because the system is faulty. It only rewards the very few who get the most traffic.

Do you want to know why newspapers aren’t making money these days? Why they’re going under? Sure, blame shoddy journalism, blame whatever else, but the truth is they relied mostly (or solely) on advertising for their revenues, and look where they are now. Subscription fees were kept artificially low, and as circulation numbers started to go down, they couldn’t charge their regular rates for ads, and revenues went down fast, in a vicious spiral that fed itself.

Had a decent micropayment system been in place, the web would be a flourishing, profitable, preferred way to make a living nowadays, instead of the insane, overloaded, “buy, buy, buy, look at me, no look at me, no, I’m better, wait, my titles are more interesting, I get more traffic, I make more money, I know how to increase your traffic, I have more free stuff” nuthouse that it has become. Everyone’s desperate to publish more articles, to make the titles and text more titillating, to grab an extra click from you here and there, to make you vote or like or bookmark their stuff so they can supposedly get more clicks and votes and likes and bookmarks and more and more and more meaningless crap that leads nowhere and contributes to nothing.

Unfortunately for the world and the web, micropayments were talked to death, even in the early days of the internet, and all the fancy initiatives went nowhere. A lot of people were wronged because no one bothered to get things going. Just think, all this time, web publishers of all sizes could have been making an honest living! Fortunately, this nasty situation can still be set right.

Here’s my micropayment initiative. I think it’s workable, and more than that, it would allow a lot of people to make a decent living by doing what they love: writing, not hustling and wasting their time pushing their site on people.

First, we need all the browsers and feed readers to work with the companies or organizations that would process micropayments. Whether the functionality is built in or added through plugins is up to the browser makers and feed reader makers to decide. Users would enter their account information directly in their browser’s or feed reader’s preferences, and their micropayment accounts would be automatically charged every time they access a micropayment-enabled article, on the web or via a feed. There’d be no logging in every time, like with PayPal, which is a hassle when all you want to do is read an article.

Second, search engines and websites would display the price of the article next to its title, just like they’d display the site or the date the article was written. The browser itself would display an extra icon when such a web page is accessed, just like it displays a lock when HTTPS websites are accessed. Perhaps a dollar sign or some other currency sign would show up next to the website’s address. If the user would move their mouse over the button, the price would be displayed, similarly to the behavior of the alt or title tags.

Third, and this would happen behind the scenes, the browser itself would read the price tag of the article the user is reading, and would send that information along to the micropayment service along with the user’s account information. Notice this means the user could use their micropayment service of choice — so there wouldn’t have to be just one — and the browser or the website wouldn’t care. The micropayment service would then transfer the price of the article from the user’s account to the web publisher’s account. The transaction fees would best be charged in bulk, per 50 or 100 transactions or so, and would be deducted from the web publisher’s balance.

That’s it! It’s so simple I just don’t know why it hasn’t yet been implemented.

As for the price of the articles, each web publisher could set their own price. I propose 5 cents per view. When candy and soda costs 75 cents to $1 or more, I think no one would balk at paying 5 cents to read a good article. But let’s have a look at some proposed traffic figures just to give you an idea how 5 cents can add up.

Say you get 5,000 views per month. That’s a modest amount of traffic, but at 5 cents per view, you’d still make $250 at the end of the month. That’s nothing to scoff at. Tell me if you wouldn’t be happy with that money in your bank account!

How about someone who gets 25,000 views per month? That’s a fairly decent amount of traffic. At 5 cents per view, they’d make $1,250 per month. That’s already a line of income. That’s money in the bank you could be using to pay your bills, but you’re not seeing it because micropayments don’t exist yet. Isn’t that infuriating?

How about someone who gets 50,000 views per month? That’s a nice amount of traffic. At 5 cents per view, they’d make $2,500 per month. That’s practically a decent salary right there. If you keep your expenses low, you might even be able to live off that in the US. If you lived in another country where living expenses are less, you could live nicely on that money.

The best part is this: it isn’t free money, and it isn’t money that could be yanked away if your advertisers get pissed off with something you wrote. This is money each and every web publisher has rightfully earned through their work, and yet there is no micropayment system out there to make this possible. This means all the web publishers out there are currently being cheated out of money they could be earning. Isn’t it ridiculous and completely unfair? Think of newspapers, where dedicated journalists work, day in and day out, and who have to close when they could focus their efforts on web publishing and turn a very nice profit with their traffic!

What about developing countries? I suppose the price for reading an article could differ based on your country of origin. The micropayment processor would automatically charge those countries less per article, say 30 to 40 to 70% less, depending on their general economic status.

What about subscriptions? They’re nice but not sufficient. They’re nice because you can predict your income more reliably when you know you’ll have so many subscriptions coming in every month, but not sufficient because users don’t pay per usage. If they end up spending less time on your site, then they’ll feel like they’ve wasted their money on the subscription. Also, just in case you haven’t noticed, subscription numbers are down everywhere these days. When money gets tight, subscriptions are among the first things to go.

What about goodwill, and doing stuff for free? That’s nice, and I already do plenty of stuff for free, but the problem with goodwill is that this world still functions with money. When was the last time you paid your mortgage with goodwill? When you buy your groceries, do you pay with a smile and a hug?

Micropayments are the best way to go forward. I wish people would stop talking about them already and someone would get going with the idea. It goes without saying — but I’ll say it anyway — that I for one would be glad to work with any legitimate company that wants to start processing micropayments.

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Who are you?

If you’re reading this, first, I thank you, and, I kindly invite you to say hi. Write a comment on this post, and tell me what’s up, who you are, and if you want, when you started reading it. Do you like the site? Do you like the posts? Are there some things you’d like to see? If you don’t feel comfortable writing comments, write me an email. C’mon, let me know who I’m writing for. Thanks!

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