Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Free: The Future of a Radical Price

Is giving away something a valid business model? Chris Anderson attempts to show how "free" business models can work. The book contains a lot of interesting anecdotes, but some of material already seems dated, just six years after the publication. However, the "dated" facts actually serve to help his thesis. Some concerns were echoed about facebook's business model. Wouldn't monetizing cause them to lose the eyeballs they had built up? Apparently not. Facebook has managed to build up an extremely profitable business. Google is still profiting by giving away even more (and selling a little bit.) Freemium models where only a minute percentage of customers pay are working well. Online music streaming services have caught on.

With costs of distribution getting smaller and smaller, it becomes easier to have a distribution model where most people get the digital product for free. Building up a large network of free users can help make a platform viable for paid users. Psychologically, mircropayments have not worked well (since there is a huge cliff between "free" and "pay") However, instead of charging everyone 1 cent, 1 person can be charged a $1 and everyone else can get it free. This allows building a large network or following (which also adds value to those who pay.)

The book is an interesting read, with many ideas that now seem obvious. Free can be a promotional tool as well as a valid business model.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


I remember hearing everyone rave about Neuromancer when it came out in the 80s. It was supposed to be one of the coolest books around and something on the "must read" list for every computer geek. Accordingly, it had been on my "must read" list for a long time. However, I never got around to it.

Now I do most my "reading" with audiobooks from the library. I regularly look for "Gibson" books to see if I can find it. Previously, I did find an interesting nonfiction work and an awful fiction one, but no Neuromancer. Finally I saw it there, and checked it out. I was eagerly anticipating a great work.

Alas, it is was not to be.

Neuromancer was just awful. The story, the characters, the language. Ugghh. I find it difficult to get engaged. I thought maybe after a while I would get into it. After all, this was something I'd been eagerly anticipating. Alas, it was just not to be. It was simply not good.

It opened with "The sky was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel." I was hoping this would be the set up for a great story. Alas, it was just a bad metaphor. And it was one of the best lines of the story.

Like Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive has a great sounding title. However, I think I will be taking a pass on it also.

Richest Man in Babylon

The richest man in Babylon is a fun take on the traditional "financial self-help" book. The advice is all structured as discovered tales from ancient Babylon. Some people discovered certain paths to follow to obtain wealth. These "parables" show how they did that (and also how people failed.) The combination of history and good stories make this an entertaining story, even if the advice does feel somewhat dated (though for the most part, still usable.)

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Rithmatist

I read the Rithmatist immediately after reading Elantris. Both had a lot in common, but they were very different novels. Elantris is a long "Epic Fantasy" set in a distant world. The Rithmatist is a shorter more modern young adult fantasy novel. However, both deal with magic caused by writing. People are "chosen" to practice the magic and can't elect themselves.

A rithmatist is a person that can fight battles with chalk drawings. Certain structures can provide defensive fortifications, while Chalklings can be sent out as attackers. People that are chosen to be rithmatists complete special studies in the art of drawing all the needed structures. After graduating, they then spend time out on the battlefield, defending the society from the wild Chalklings. Non-rithmatists can try to draw the same shapes, but they wont have any of the magical properties that the rithmatist shapes have.

The protagonist of the Rithmatist, Joel, is a school boy who attends an elite private school with a "rithmatist department." His father was a chalk-maker at the school who died in an accident. Joel, like his father is not a rithmatist, but has an intense interest in studying rithmatics. He likes to sneak into rithmatics classes and has a knack for the rithmatic structures. He often runs into Melody, a rithmatist who struggles with rithmatics and prefers to draw unicorns. Together with a professor, they help solve a case of disappearing students.

The novel is set in a universe somewhat resembling ours, but different. The world is now made up of various islands and the technology has evolved somewhat differently. (Writing is obviously more important, in part due to the "chalklings". In the story, "lower class" boy meets up with with "upper class, but doesn't want to be" girl. They end up using their skills to solve the big mystery and become the community's heroes. It took a little while to get into, but left me wanting more stories in this universe.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

David and Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell is an entertaining author. David and Goliath reads similar to his other books. He takes a sociological premise that seems somewhat counter-intuitive, and then uses a number of well-told anecdotes to help "prove" his point. In this book, the premise is that disadvantages can force people to work in other ways to "overcome the odds". The basketball full-court press was shown as an example of how weaker teams can beat better teams. (Though you have to wonder - if this works so well, why don't more teams do it.) Other stories present similar "Against the ods" victories. These are nice, well-told feel-good anecdotes that come together in an entertaining story. There is not a lot of strong "science" here, but plenty of well done entertainment.

Robots of Dawn

Isaac Asimov's first two books in the robot series were palatable sci-fi mysteries. Robots of Dawn is not. It comes across as the unedited musings of a lecherous old man. It is much longer than the other robot books, and filled with too much of Asimov's sociological musings. Plot and characters, are, alas tough to find. It does, however, have a nice sounding title.

Naked Sun

Ok, it has been a long time since I read this book. (Nine months can put a dent on an initial reaction.) It is a detective story set in a science fiction future with robots. The key to solving it is figuring out the loopholes in the laws of robotics. It is not a bad story, but not a great one either.