Tuesday, December 29, 2009

No New Languages In 2010; New Businesses Instead

Last year I posted No New Languages In 2009; New Habits Instead. This is the same thing. I'm not doing the Pragmatic Programmer thing of learning a new language every year; this year I'm going to launch a bunch of small businesses, just like I did earlier this month.

Some links in this blog post are affiliate links, which pay small sales commissions.

Technically, in fact, I launched a secret micro-business in November as well. Imagine if I go so freaking crazy with this that I aim to launch a new business every month. If I do, so far I'm two for two.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tweet Tweet, Bitch! Tweet Tweet

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Schneier Yes, TSA No

I wish that, just once, some terrorist would try something that you can only foil by upgrading the passengers to first class and giving them free drinks.

Book Review: Ruby Best Practices

This is an excellent book.

Some links in this blog post are affiliate links, which pay small sales commissions.

Ruby Best Practices is a book I wish I had been able to read back in 2005 and 2006, when I started learning the language. Ruby gives you near-absolute freedom; with all those options, finding your feet can take some time. "Best practices" might carry a corporate overtone in some ears, but this book comes straight from the heart of the Ruby community (unlike some of O'Reilly's other Ruby books).

Highy recommended.

1938, Chicago; Duesenbergs, Ocelots, And Silver Nail Polish

Here's a Duesenberg:

Here's an ocelot:

Here's silver nail polish:

And here's a memory of Chicago in summertime 1938:

I climbed into the chair. The dwarf was slapping polish on my Stepsons. A thin stud with at least a half a grand in threads on his back took the other chair. He was wearing silver nail polish. He was reeking with perfume.

A gleaming black custom Duesenberg eased into the curb in front of me. The top was down. My peepers did a triple take.

A huge stud was sitting in the back seat. He had an ocelot in his lap dozing against his chest. The cat was wearing a stone-studded collar. A gold chain was strung to it.

He was sitting between two spectacular high-yellow whores. His diamonds were blazing under the street lights. Three gorgeous white whores were in the front seat. He looked exactly like Boris Karloff in black-face.

Some links in this blog post are affiliate links, which pay small sales commissions.

Iceberg Slim pimped, hustled, stole, lied, tricked, got tricked, and spent time in prison. When he was young he did a lot of reading in prison and when he was old he did a lot of writing in prison. For all his crimes, he was a good man, and I say that because he hardly ever used an adverb, and adverbs are wicked things.

Just kidding. Like everything Slim wrote, Pimp is amazing, yet there are parts more horrifying than anything by Stephen King, because the horror in Iceberg Slim is all stuff that really happened to people. Iceberg Slim lived in the ghetto as a black American before our civil rights movement took place. It was not a good place to be. He rose above the ghetto, from time to time, for very short periods, but he didn't do it by being nice. It was a less a matter of rising above the ghetto than one of lifting the ghetto itself higher up.

However, it's one hell of a read.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Does Paul Graham Read Hacker News?

This post is an excerpt from the much longer post "Blogs Are Godless Communist Bullshit." I'm posting it seperately so that I'll be able to refer to its ebook research with distinct links. The "Godless Communist" blog post is a little too big for that purpose.

Paul Graham recently wrote:

Publishers of all types, from news to music, are unhappy that consumers won't pay for content anymore. At least, that's how they see it.

In fact consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren't really selling it either. If the content was what they were selling, why has the price of books or music or movies always depended mostly on the format?

The emphasis is mine.

I emphasize those sentences because of a recurring theme discussed on Hacker News: downloadable ebooks. One interesting thing about downloadable ebooks is that price has nothing to do with format. Another interesting thing about downloadable ebooks is that people have been discussing the hell out of them on Hacker News, Paul Graham's news site.

I believe the discussion first came up with regards to an ebook on parrots - parrot care, parrot feeding, making your parrot happy, and training your parrot to talk - which pulls in $700,000 a year for a guy in India who doesn't even own a parrot and hired somebody else to write the book. Since that first post, the theme keeps popping up again.

Polly want some Benjamins

Of course part of the interest is in the simplicity of the business model. Consider JavaScript Performance Rocks! and Getting Real. If you've done well on the Web, there's probably an ebook worth writing in the story of that. You build a web page, you write a book, you add a shopping cart, you're done. But the ebook discussion on Hacker News mostly centers around the money, and there's a lot of money.

People pay astounding amounts for ebooks and other similar downloadable information products. Gamblers will pay $97 for a 20-page ebook on somebody's allegedly foolproof gambling system (although they shouldn't). Video courses run to four and five figures - all for the ability to watch a small number of online videos. There is absolutely no connection between price and format in that field.

Which begs the question, does Paul Graham read Hacker News?

He asks, why has the price of books or music or movies always depended mostly on the format? - but it just ain't so.

He goes on:

There have always been people in the business of selling information, but that has historically been a distinct business from publishing. And the business of selling information to consumers has always been a marginal one. When I was a kid there were people who used to sell newsletters containing stock tips, printed on colored paper that made them hard for the copiers of the day to reproduce. That is a different world, both culturally and economically, from the one publishers currently inhabit.

People will pay for information they think they can make money from. That's why they paid for those stock tip newsletters, and why companies pay now for Bloomberg terminals and Economist Intelligence Unit reports. But will people pay for information otherwise? History offers little encouragement.

Again: does anybody believe that they will make money by training their parrot to talk? The sheer number of compelling counter-examples to Graham's argument boggles the mind. The information product marketplace Clickbank.com reports its current client earnings at well over $1.4 billion. Fuck history; Clickbank offers all the encouragement anybody could need. No matter how insecure you might feel, $1.4B will help you get over it.

To get an idea how big the blind spot is here, understand: there isn't just a market for ebooks. There's a market for ebook businesses. People set up these businesses, turn a profit, and then sell them on sites like Flippa.com. Then they write ebooks about it.

Here's search results on Flippa.com for web sites about Mafia Wars (the Facebook game). The listing includes a web site which sells an ebook about winning Mafia Wars. This web site was netting $7,000 per month when it sold for $50,000.

Guess how much effort it takes to maintain?

The ad for the site's sale answers that question:

I can honestly say I spend less than an hour a week on this site.

The site has been hosted on Hostmonster, along with all my other domains, which costs me $4.95 a month. Bandwidth for the site is about 50 GB/month. The two videos are hosted on Amazon Web Services. The cost for video hosting was $47 in August and $79 so far in September.

And Paul Graham seriously believes that "history offers little encouragement" for the existence of content markets? The history of September 2009 kills his argument! How far into history was this guy looking? People have been successfully marketing information since at least 1928, when Napoleon Hill launched the Law of Success home study course with Andrew Carnegie. That's 81 years of historical encouragement.

Law of Success was about making money - fair enough. But people pay for lots of information that they can't make money from - everything from parrot care to psoriasis cures. I myself bought an ebook on making gold in World of Warcraft and learned a trick that made me Warcraft rich almost instantly. The ebook cost me less than an expansion pack and added a lot more fun to the game.

Some links in this blog post are affiliate links, which pay small sales commissions. Polly want some Benjamins.

I guess that technically qualifies as buying information which can make me money, although it's a stretch, but consider another niche: people who want to get back together with their ex. So many ebooks exist on this topic that review sites exist which compare them all. And it's not hard to see why. Some relationship problems are difficult to solve.

Does this seem like an easy problem to solve? It sure looks like a doozy to me. Faced with trouble like this, you might well resort to an ebook. You might need more than one. (And in fact, if you're looking to decide which one you need, there's a profitable business model in just assisting that decision-making process.)

A note for Warcraft fans: I would love to give you an affiliate link to sell the awesome ebook that got me my ducats. The original "Godless Communist" blog post saw over 15,000 visitors, and a good ad for a Warcraft product might have made me a bunch of cash. But I have no idea which ebook it was. I bought it in like 2005; I don't have that computer any more. I've googled the hell out of this thing and I can't find it anywhere. I do however plan to start playing Warcraft again and review a ton of these ebooks to find out which the best ones are, and if you want to know about that when it happens, just click here to let me know.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For Disqus, not a real blog post

Sorry real readers, it's just an easy place to put it.

You e-mail me when I post a comment through your system. I complained about this and you bothered me on Twitter about it. I don't appreciate that - that's two interruptions. But I responded and told you what was up - and you did nothing.

For weeks, even months, I avoided commenting on blog posts that used Disqus. But eventually, I made the mistake of commenting on one. I got the stupid e-mail again, so I set up a filter in Gmail to automatically trash anything from your domain. I tweeted about it, deliberately not using @disqus so I wouldn't get yet another interruption from you.

But I got that interruption anyway, so when you asked me what was up, I said "same thing as last time," and you said nothing.

So I marked you as a spammer on Twitter and you're blocked from contacting me.

Nothing personal but I value my time and I don't want to deal with a web app that fails to.

You offer the option to unsubscribe by doing nothing, but not the option of systemtically unsubscribing by clicking an unsubscribe link. I should be able to systematically unsubscribe from all your spams, and the law may even require that. I am not a lawyer, but I know one thing for sure: I'm not hearing from you any more.

Cop Admits To Pulling Gun In A Snowball Fight

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mouse Guard

Highly recommended.

affiliate link

Yes It Has

the auteur tradition has been fused with the industrial approach to film-making that was common practice in Hollywood before the war

DEPRECATION WARNING: require "activesupport" is deprecated and will be removed in Rails 3

You might see this from time to time. Here's the ActiveRecord variant:

DEPRECATION WARNING: require "activerecord" is deprecated and will be removed in Rails 3. Use require "active_record" instead.. (called from /opt/local/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/activerecord-2.3.5/lib/activerecord.rb:2)

For instance, in context:

<imac of doom:gilesgoatboy> [12-17 09:27]
↪ ruby helpers/browsers_helper_test.rb
DEPRECATION WARNING: require "activerecord" is deprecated and will be removed in Rails 3. Use require "active_record" instead.. (called from /opt/local/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/activerecord-2.3.5/lib/activerecord.rb:2)
Loaded suite helpers/browsers_helper_test

Finished in 0.000193 seconds.

0 tests, 0 assertions, 0 failures, 0 errors

The culprit's easy to find, partly because I highlighted it. /opt/local/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/activerecord-2.3.5/lib/activerecord.rb:2 means line 2 of /opt/local/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/activerecord-2.3.5/lib/activerecord.rb. So you open up that file with sudo and comment out line 2.

1 require 'active_record'
2 # ActiveSupport::Deprecation.warn 'require "activerecord" is deprecated and will be removed in Rails 3. Use require "active_record" instead.'

You need to do this with ActiveSupport too - in fact, until I do some hacking, this is the only way to use my password gem without ActiveSupport driving you crazy (assuming you're a neat freak). In my opinion this is overzealous - if you, in your external code, do the right thing and require 'active_support', you still see a message warning you to require 'active_support'. You also can't disable it with ruby -W0, the way you can with regular Ruby warnings. However, it's very easy to fix, and it definitely gets the message out.

By the way, if you're wondering why on earth I have my Ruby gems in /opt/local, even though it's 2009, it's not actually my machine, and I'm going to fix that at some point. Likewise, my password gem predates 1password, which is probably a superior option today. However, it's just an example; any Ruby file which uses ActiveSupport as a gem (as opposed to via rip) will encounter the same phenomena.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

30 Rock = The Muppet Show

Tina Fey is Kermit.

The guy with the hat is Animal.

Jenna is Miss Piggy.

Tracy is Fozzie.

Kenneth is Scooter.

After that the pattern breaks down a little. Jack Donaghy is the biggest exception, a hybrid of Scooter's old man and the two old guys in the back who make fun of the show. The bald guy is a hybrid of Rolf and Scooter.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

One Blog Post, Five Business Models

My recent post Blogs Are Godless Communist Bullshit used five different business models. All five succeeded to some degree.

1. Ruby Row Ads

I'm kind of surprised nobody called me on this one. Even the unusually lucid criticism on Reddit didn't call me out explicitly on this obvious ploy. The upper right-hand corner of my blog showcases a small ad from Ruby Row, which uses a traditional model of cost-per-impression (CPI) advertizing.

If you're selling CPI ads, you want traffic. I explained in the post how this compromises TechCrunch's coverage, and then used TechCrunch's tactic to skyrocket my traffic. The post got over 13,000 pageviews, which is a lot for me. The best part was, I named the post after a Penny Arcade comic (included in the post) about trolling for traffic, and then trolled for traffic by condemning people for trolling for traffic. (All in the context of a blog post about why people shouldn't write or read blog posts, which more than 12,000 people decided to read.)

This is probably what inspired one Reddit commenter to say "this one quite possibly is right at that triple point of blog matter where awesome, bullshit, and satire all meet."

2. Affiliate Ads (Links)

I packed the post with affiliate links to ebooks, to Amazon.com, and to the diet/health program that enabled me to lose 75 pounds, improve my blood pressure, yadda yadda yadda. The funny thing is that the Reddit coverage did spot this, and went all ballistic/hateful about it, as if it's impossible to want to help people and make money at the same time. I suppose the counter-argument is that no man can serve two masters, and any altruism mixed with profit will inevitably have to choose one or the other as its primary purpose, but I think that's kind of a moot point. The primary purpose of the blog post was entertaining me, and both profit and altruism were already playing second banana to entertainment value.

Anyway, the affiliate ads worked great. Also, the blog post did a great job at entertaining me. And honestly, as somebody who probably owes his life to this health program, I can't even describe how good it feels to see people buying it.

3. Consulting

The post also sold membership in a career coaching program. I've blogged before about how I believe consulting is a terrible business model, but I think this particular bit of consulting is going to be very interesting and rewarding. It also kinda hits that profitable altruism paradox point, in that I'm showing people how to have a better career, so there's a certain feeling of helping others.

I'm going to keep details of my career consulting program private, on the whole, but I will say that some of the responses I got were better than I could have asked for.

4. Subscription Blog

This comes free with the coaching program membership, and I also sold it separately for a lower fee. No comment, again, on how many people are involved or who - privacy here I think is important - but I'm not complaining.

5. Ebook

The post directed people to a site where I collected info about who might be interested in reading an ebook on programming career strategy, if and when I write it up and start selling it. No money yet, but I now have sales leads.

Lessons Learned

This whole thing served as a fun experiment in internet "publishing" business models. I had the fun of poking the beehive, I made a few nickels and dimes, and I collected some data. So, a little about the data.

First, the TechCrunch blog-drama gambit works. I set out to get good traffic and lots of retweets, and I got them. Seeing as I've been blogging about that for a while, and I learned it by getting involved in all kinds of little blog wars, that shouldn't be a huge surprise.

Second, in the post, I attacked Paul Graham's assertion that people will only buy information products that show them how to make more money. The affiliate marketing results confirm my skepticism. I included several affiliate links to products with information about how to make more money; I sold one. People who paid for information about how to lose weight far outnumbered that solitary purchaser. Likewise for people who bought stuff on Amazon.


A couple weird things about Amazon affiliate links: first, if somebody clicks your Amazon affiliate link, looks at what you're linking to, and then decides to buy something else, you still get paid - so the smart thing is to always link to Amazon for some reason or another. Especially during the holidays.

Second, I got better results with Amazon in one day than Peter Cooper tells me Ruby Inside made in months or weeks or something like that. I think the key is a combination of strong opinions and verbose posts. You're not going to get people spending time on huge verbose posts unless they enjoy reading, and if you want to sell books, it makes sense to start with people who enjoy reading. Meanwhile, strong opinions convey sincerity and inspire trust.

Also, a caveat about my better results: I spent months on this blog post. I blog mostly to figure out what I think about stuff, and it took me a while to decide. The blog post was a goal in and of itself; if I had set about to do it for the sake of making Amazon affiliate sales, that would have been foolish. I made about $65 from Amazon; if you spend months to make $65, that's not a good hourly rate. It's likely, I think, that Ruby Inside didn't spend as much time on their Amazon experiment, and I wouldn't advise spending months on an experiment like this if your goals were purely financial.

Anyway, if all this interests you, check out Blogs Are Godless Communist Bullshit. Even if you've already read it, you might see it in an entirely different light. This time, check out the links instead of focusing on the words.

Update: $65 is no longer accurate. The Amazon earnings on this are still small, but also going up pretty consistently.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Many Internet Startups Are Too Small To Fund Or Even See

This is not entrepreneurship. It is neurosis shared by a whole class of people.

This is entrepreneurship.

The trouble with venture capital is it made itself obsolete. Commodity hardware, open source software, and globalized paperless offices grew out of the world the VCs made, and make it easy for entrepreneurship on the Web to operate with minimal upfront investment.

these hard-nosed businessmen feel equally judgmental of the VC-backed masses in their corporate parks and glass-walled conference rooms. Why, they argue, would anyone accept VC funding and give away a portion of his business when he can start minting cash for little investment? “Guys that take funding, buy nice cars and throw company parties,” remarked one Maverick. “We call that ‘playing business.’”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Real Palin Supporters, Not Actors