August 29, 2007
McDonald's Iced Coffee — If David Bernstein, writing in The Volokh Conspiracy, likes it, you know it has to be good
I was blown away by how good this stuff was when I tried for the first time this morning.
For $1.94 for a Large, without even having to park your car or anything you drive through and receive a big cup of iced coffee, already sweetened just right (to my taste, anyway) with milk already added.
Couldn't be easier — or better.
Do I have to wear a tie? Subvert the dominant paratigm
Innovative German designer Ina Seifart shows there's more than one way to wear your heart — erm..., necktie — on your sleeve.
Each cuff bracelet is unique, hand-made by the designer.
Cheap at four times the price.
Stop press — Best news of the day: bookofjoe unblocked in China
Just in from my crack statistics and internet traffic team, the graphic up top.
Back story: As of July 30 China blocked bookofjoe, most likely the result of a series of hard-hitting posts focusing on the cardboard dumpling kerfuffle.
Following the third post in the series, my Chinese readership suddenly vanished.
Then I started getting email from Chinese joeheads saying even the many workarounds available weren't succeeding in tearing down the Chinese firewall.
I asked James Fallows, the estimable China-based national correspondent of The Atlantic Monthly, to investigate and he very kindly agreed to look into it.
And to all my Chinese fans: welcome campers.
Sure hope the above link to the dumpling affair doesn't reconsign me to Chinese virtual purgatory.
Guess we'll find out soon enough, what?
World's best plane
It's the Limited Edition CT-14 Foxtail Shoulder Plane (above) from Bridge City Tool Works.
Wired magazine reviewed it in its new (September 2007) issue as follows.
- Just Plane Perfect
You scrutinize the joinery on your $30 bookshelf, but when was the last time you built something? The CT-14 might actually seduce your creativity — both through its aesthetics and its function. Not only is the thing freakin' sexy, but it also likes to be held. The ergonomic grip minimizes fatigue, and blade adjustment requires no tools at all (a first): Just turn the wheel. Nearly every part of the plane is machined to within 0.005-inch tolerance, which is more than you can say for that birdhouse you're building.
Each plane is signed by the designer, John Economaki.
SalesRankExpress.com — Warning: Highly addictive if you're an author
Lyndon Stambler's August 6, 2007 New York Times article about this website, which instantly gives you up-to-the-yoctosecond Amazon sales rankings for books, cautioned authors about the irresistible pull of the site.
Wrote Stambler, "Many authors put their manuscripts aside because they cannot stop checking their rankings."
"'There really should be a 12-step program,' said Harry Kirchner, a senior national accounts manager with Ingram Publisher Services, a book distributor that counts Amazon as a customer."
Here's the Times story.
- The Highs and the Lows of Rankings on Amazon
It may seem obsessive, but every day — sometimes hourly — Aaron Shepard checks the Amazon.com sales rankings for his 12 self-published books. He even created a Web site, www.salesrankexpress.com, that lets authors check their Amazon rankings instantly.
''People want to know where their book stands, just for the thrill of that score,'' says Mr. Shepard, whose top seller, ''The Business of Writing for Children,'' clocked in at 1,834th during one random check last week, and at 2,070th during another one. He says it sells 250 to 450 copies a month.
Mr. Shepard is not alone. Forget writer's block — many authors put their manuscripts aside because they cannot stop checking their rankings.
''There really should be a 12-step program,'' said Harry Kirchner, a senior national accounts manager with Ingram Publisher Services, a book distributor that counts Amazon as a customer.
As tantalizing as the rankings may be, it is difficult to correlate them to the number of books sold, unless you are J. K. Rowling. Amazon announced that it had received a record 2.2 million preorders for ''Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,'' 1.4 million of them in the United States. Barnes & Noble also said advance orders for the book hit a record: 1.5 million in stores and online. The book has dominated the No. 1 position on both Amazon and BarnesNoble.com since Feb. 1, the first day it was available for preorder.
For the average author, however, the volatility of the rankings is a big hook. A book that is the millionth-largest seller on Amazon, for example, might surge hundreds of thousands of places with one sale.
When Amazon created the system 10 years ago, it could hardly have known how greatly its list would change the dynamics of the publishing business (much the way the company itself did) or how hard writers and industry executives would work to game the system. Today the Amazon rankings list — and, to a lesser extent, a similar list on the Barnes & Noble Web site — is the subject of great microanalysis and some mystery.
In the old days, an author had to wait six months or more for a royalty statement. Today the rankings provide a quick, albeit crude, way for an author to keep tabs on book sales. ''Amazon offered instant feedback,'' said Mr. Shepard, whose Web site can tell authors how many of their books Amazon has in stock and track sales.
Neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble will divulge the algorithms they use for rankings. What Amazon will say is that sales rankings are updated hourly for millions of items. The sales history counts, but recent sales are weighted more heavily.
The better a book is selling, the more stable its rank, people who analyze the lists say; a book like ''Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'' is selling many times more than the 10th-, 100th-, 1,000th- or 10,000th-ranked book.
''We consider ourselves to be tastemakers and a good cross-section of what America likes to read, watch and listen to,'' said Sean Sundwall, a spokesman for Amazon.
For most books, it does not take many orders to increase rankings. Knowing this, authors, publishers, even nonprofit organizations like MoveOn.org will send out e-mail blasts asking people to buy a book at a set time, or buy up copies themselves. Some authors get their friends to write reviews or even write a positive review for a rival book and mention their own title.
Breaking into Amazon's top echelons and the ''also bought'' recommendations can have a viral effect. ''If you crack the top 50, even if it's only for an hour, you're significantly higher in all categories,'' said Mr. Kirchner of Ingram Publisher Services. ''You could probably go online at 4 a.m. and make any book you wanted a best seller for an hour.''
The rankings also reflect current events that capture popular attention. When Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, mentioned Noam Chomsky's ''Hegemony or Survival,'' sales spiked for a few days. When Susan Patron, a little-known children's author, won the Newbery Medal in January for ''The Higher Power of Lucky'' and a controversy erupted over her use of the word ''scrotum,'' sales also rose.
Ms. Patron, a librarian, said that she never thought about the rankings before she won the award. ''As a writer, I can't be too concerned about that,'' she said. ''If it's not the number you want, how hard is it to return to the keyboard? I just need to be writing the next book.''
If your numbers are like mine (top), you'll not be distracted one iota — trust me....
Boozehound Emergency Light
From my doughty Indianapolis correspondent comes this latest bit of kit.
From the website:
Boozehound Emergency Light
To prepare for a natural disaster, you need to be equipped.
Maximize your survival rate by inundating any and everything that could possibly be used for food, water, and light.
In regard to the latter, boozehounds will rejoice to hear that having multiple bottles of “drank” may indeed save them.
The Cork Light does double duty by keeping your “drank” fresh but also illuminating the liquid below by diffusing the light.
If anything, my experience tells me boozehounds won’t wait for a natural disaster.
No, they’ll light it up and try to pass it off as the latest bar decor.
Designed by Won-Gye Na.
William Gibson — Episode 4: 'East on La Brea' — Better rotate the grid 90°
I'm absolutely entranced by his new novel, "Spook Country," so much so that I've taken the exceedingly rare step of bringing the book downstairs to read during the day and while I'm at my very best rather than at bedtime, when more often than not the book hits me in the face as I fall asleep reading.
And I'm only on page 67 (of 371).
Chapter 11 begins, "East on La Brea, Alberto steered the Aztec-lacquered VW, Hollis beside him."
Wait a minute, I sez to myself — La Brea runs north and south, doesn't it?
Full disclosure: I lived in L.A., where these events take place, for 17 years, so I had occasion to travel on and across La Brea Avenue on innumerable occasions.
Just to make sure I hadn't lost my mind or my memory, I Googled "La Brea Avenue Los Angeles" and sure enough, the results showed addresses on N. and S. La Brea.
Then I went over to Gibson's website to see if there was a contact page (I didn't expect one and I was right).
On his site Gibson writes, in a wonderful essay entitled "Source Code," "I do have an email address, yes, but, no, I won't give it to you. I am one and you are many, and even if you are, say, twenty-seven in grand global total, that's still too many. Because I need to have a life and waste time and write."
I figure I'm probably three or so degrees of separation from Gibson so I'm counting on the other two of you to make the necessary connections and get the news to him: perhaps the publishers can change "East" to "North on La Brea" or "South on La Brea" before the translations and/or paperback come out.
'A small favor for my girlfriend, a big fan of your blog'
Just in a couple hours ago from Ryan Petersen, a student at the Columbia Business School (Class of 2008), the following:
- Hey joe,
My girlfriend loves your blog, and I wanted to surprise her by getting you to post her picture in a new "ball chair" she bought.
I am attaching a pic of her in the chair.
Her name is Stefanie and she bought the chair from www.zodeco.com a few weeks ago.
Thanks in advance, she’s going to love you!
Sure hope this isn't a Trojan horse for zodeco but I'm gonna assume the best — after all, Ryan's a joehead and therefore — by definition — the best.
Stefanie and Ryan — U RuL!
Note to Ryan: Stefanie's got expensive tastes — that chair costs $999.
You could look it up.
Just in from my crack Indianapolis correspondent, the news the Ryan is indeed associated with zodeco.
From his blog: "I was doing searches related to one of my companies, ZoDeco.com."
Nice work, clifyt.