Why a Microsoft Tablet PC will fail miserably

iPad.  iPad.  iPad.  Those words probably burn in Steve Ballmer’s head like the word “hippies” antagonized Richard Nixon.  It’s a device that every joker and Microsoft apologist on the web is saying “why the fuck would you want an iPad?” And they’re exactly right, except for the part where Apple sold three million of these things in 80 days.  Ballmer must be shitting blood over this.  And this is evident by the fact that Microsoft keeps slipping in these press releases about various vaporware projects like the Courier tablet, or irrelevant references about how MS will have their tablet out “real soon now”.

Couple things.  First of all, the iPad is not a laptop replacement.  It’s the Fourth Meal of computing.  Are you familiar with Taco Bell’s genius marketing strategy?  Basically, some execs sat around a room saying “you know, our target audience is stoners, drunks, and swing-shift employees that eat lunch at three in the morning.  And we need to get people on board with the idea that eating six thousand calories per meal three times a day is not enough.”  So if you’ve reached maximum market saturation on the three meals you serve, how do you get more volume?  Create a fourth meal.  Even if the FDA and every left-wing vegan idiot out there is screaming about how the fast food industry is destroying the universe, just put together some hipster doofus-friendly commercials that basically say “hey man, when you’re whacked out of your gourd at midnight, you really need ten tacos.”

And Apple is basically inventing the fourth meal of computing.  I mean, they sold a ton of desktops and laptops.  They found out the hard way (see also the Duo system) that nobody wants a hybrid system, a laptop that docks to a desktop; it’s actually easier to just sell people two systems.  And when that maxed out, they basically said “you really need a third system”, which is your iPhone, which is a computer in your pocket.  And when the sales of that maxed out, they came up with the iPad, which does not replace your desktop or your laptop or your phone.  It’s that magical fourth meal.  And there is 0% market penetration in this realm, which means they can blow it wide open, which they have.

About the phone not being the computer thing – this is something that Microsoft and others have struggled with.  Windows Mobile is horribly conflicted in this sense.  Because either you have a primary computer on your desk or in your laptop bag, and you have a phone that mirrors some of that functionality, or you have two battling computers, neither being the system of record, except the phone is not going to be as powerful or as useful.  Windows Mobile tries to be a real computer; they ported Win32 to it, and it has the menu bars and controls and windows and look and feel of Windows shrunk down to a three inch screen.  But every WinMo program that tries to be as functional as a desktop program fails miserably.  It’s impossible to navigate and use the whole windows paradigm on a postage stamp screen with a little stylus.  The iPhone took a page from the old Palm playbook and simply said “the phone is not the computer; it’s a subset of the computer, only giving you what you need when you’re on the go”.  And Microsoft droids bemoan the iPhone’s lack of multitasking or lack of full-featured spreadsheets and word processors or lack of direct access to a file system or full keyboard.  But I’ve gotten way more stuff done on the iPhone than I ever did on a WinMo machine with a keyboard.  When I’m on the go, I want an email program that shows me the messages and lets me send a quick reply; I’m not typing The Grapes of Wrath while I’m waiting in line at the movie theater.  Because it does not try to focus on being a full experience, it can do an excellent job at being what it is.

The Tablet PC is the same thing.  People piss and moan that you can’t run full apps on the iPad.  And Ballmer loves to talk about running Windows on the MS tablet, and having access to eleventy billion Windows programs.  Here’s the problem: tablets are slow, and they have a piss-poor data entry system.  It needs to be finger-friendly, with big buttons and sliding gestures, and basically everything but the Windows interface.  And yeah, you can skin Windows to have big fat buttons and sliders and controls.  And then the first time you launch anything but the dozen or two programs written specifically for the tablet, you end up with a million controls that are unusable.  Like, Windows apologists will say “well what if I want to write code on the iPad?  What if I want to use Photoshop?  What if I want to use Word?”  Well, what if you have a Tablet PC and you fire up your copy of Eclipse and every little thing is a two pixel by two pixel control and your big fat finger is eighty pixels wide?

And why cling onto this bloated OS for what really needs to be a fast and thin system?  I mean, I would not want to whip out a Courier tablet to enter a quick note or look up a quick baseball score, hit the power button, and then…. wait 17 minutes for Windows 7 For Tablet PC Pro Extended Deluxe Light to fire up.  And then wait another 12 minutes for my virus scan software to kick in, because the thing has every damn virus problem Windows has, because it IS Windows.  And then when it has to connect to the network, it pops up this circa-1993 gearhead program to connect the 22 layers of abstraction for its TCPIP stack.  I want to pull out the tablet, swipe a panel, and see the scores.  I WANT an appliance when I want an appliance.

Here’s a horrible confession: I am typing this on a Tablet PC.  It’s a Toshiba Portege, which runs Windows XP For Tablet.  And you know what?  I have not used the tablet functionality in years, because it sucks.  In fact, this computer crashed a couple of years ago (XP has a shelf life just like milk, and when it expires, it EXPIRES) and so I whipped out the magic Toshiba “reinstall everything from the ground up” DVD, and then proceeded to spend three days trying to get everything reinstalled, and nothing worked.  So I had to wipe out everything and install the base XP with no tablet crap.  And this whole episode shows how horribly wrong Windows computers are, because you basically need to be a sysadmin or know one or pay one, because you will eventually get to a point where it breaks and it requires you to know the entire history of Microsoft to tear apart the whole god damned thing and spend days in RegEdit fucking around with total arcane black magic.

And this computer uses a pen, and it’s impossible to use FrameMaker or some crap like that with a pen.  You need a mouse and a keyboard, and fortunately, this has a keyboard, but it basically means I paid too much for a stylus and touchscreen I will never use.

And I know a bunch of you are saying “well what about Android?”  I’ve worked on Android, and I’ve developed for Android, and Android is a lot like communism: it’s a system that sounds really great on paper, but it will never work in the real world.  I really like the Android development environment, but the problem with Android is that a bunch of manufacturers make the phones, and phone manufacturers are competing with each other and only care about money, so they will do stupid shit like not implement drivers correctly to rush phones to market, or not support phones correctly post-sale, or add their own crap on top of stock Android to make their phone “better” than the other ones on the market.  This is one of the problems Windows Mobile faced, and it eventually got to the point where you had to develop 19 different versions of your software for every minor difference in the platform.  And Android does some stuff to mitigate that, but I saw firsthand that the OEMs want to do their own thing to differentiate their phones and get people to buy theirs over the others, and this infighting will either mean the whole thing will get more and more retarded, or OEMs will give up and move away from it, which means fewer devices get made, and you lose that way.  Yes, you are seeing a lot of Android momentum right now, and maybe it will be a strong #2, but it won’t take over the world.

All that said, I still don’t have an iPad.  I’ve only seen them for a second or two at the store, and I’m actually using my laptop a lot more these days, and using my iPhone more too, so I probably won’t get one anytime soon.  But I see the value, and wouldn’t mind having one eventually.  Actually, it could make a good replacement when this Toshiba dies; it’s basically my TV-side computer I use to check scores and do google searches and look stuff up on IMDB during my channel surfing.  I think an iPad would do just fine for that.

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Own a piece of Konrath history

For only $159,000, you can buy the last place I lived in Bloomington:

http://www.homefinder.org/public/buy-details.asp?sTransactionNumber=20101620&sCRecord=147

This is the 1005 W. 6th house, where I lived from 1994-1995.  I lived here with Simms and Matt Liggett, and it’s a weird little place.  It’s five bedrooms, but they’re odd-sized little rooms, so you can only really get three people in there.  We each had a tiny upstairs room, with a computer room up front and the Simms music studio in another room.  It had 1.5 baths, but in a weird configuration; there was a room with a toilet, sink, and non-functional tub; the other one had a shower, sink, and no toilet.  I bought a sign that said NO DUMPING and put it on the toilet-less room.  This also became a metaphor for distributed computing in a long and somewhat irrelevant story that I’ll skip.

The place also had a giant kitchen, big enough for a drum set and full band without compromising on keg location or chili distribution.  I have a lot of strange memories of that place, like when I tried to grow tomatoes in one corner with a bunch of grow lights, or the birthday when me and Larry went to K-Mart, bought two copies of this board game where you built castles out of bricks and then launched marbles from catapults siege-style to try to level your opponent, and then played on the kitchen floor, proceeding to lose little marbles all over the place.

I really did like my room there, too.  It was a cape cod, and my room was upstairs, so I had a low ceiling with weird angles on it, and bookshelves built into two walls.  I spent many late nights on my mattress on the floor, reading Henry Miller and scribbling in notebooks, listening to rain on the rooftop or running the little electric heater in the cold.  I loved living in this little closet-sized womb of a room, books on three walls, journals all over the creaky wooden floors, a busted-up PS/2 386SX computer I borrowed from work and only used to play solitaire in Windows 3.1.  (It was a literal doorstop; it was not networked and I had some crazy idea that I’d type away on it in Notepad and write down thoughts and turn them into books, and of course that didn’t happen.)

Anyway – I’m not in the market for a second house these days.  And if you really want some Konrath history for about $158,985 cheaper, you could go buy a copy of Summer Rain.  (And that book was based on a different house – the one at 414 Mitchell – but I did start writing SR at the 6th Street house, so there is a connection.)  But I’ve been thinking of B-town a lot lately, and it seems five forevers ago since I was there.  So it gave be a chuckle and a brief trip through time when I saw this.

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While refrigeratory starting to run or stopping, temporary ice crack sound may be heared because the inner mechanisms occured inordinate heat expansionthe or cold shrink caused by severe temperature change,which is not a failure

Before I forget. John Sheppard has a new book out called Loner, which is a collection of short stories originally published in Air in the Paragraph Line, plus a new one that’s absolutely incredible.  It’s on lulu.com here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/loner/11784165.  They’re also having a summer sale with free postage for orders over twenty bucks, so do yourself a big favor and pick that up along with his other books In Between Days and Tales of the Peacetime Army.  Or check out any of my other books at http://stores.lulu.com/jkonrath, as long as the shipping’s cheap/free.

As long as I’m pimping stuff, I should mention that I dumped a bunch of my old books on scribd.com.  So now you can go read or download stuff like Summer Rain, Rumored to Exist, Air in the Paragraph Line #12, and a bunch of other old AITPL issues.  Check em out, and if you like them, please do me a favor and throw a link up on your facebook or whatever else you’re using these days using the handy buttons on scribd.

It’s always good to see John’s work, although it also makes me start thinking about putting out another POD book, or getting some of the old stuff on Kindle, or who knows what.  I am starting to accumulate a lot of short stories from AITPL and other places, and maybe there are enough to put out a volume of them, but I don’t know how it would sell or how I would market it.  I would also like to have a bunch of new stuff to go along with the reprints, and I’m not churning out a lot of writing at this second.

I also keep thinking about what to do next with AITPL.  I was looking at hooking up the submishmash submission manager thing, which looks like a good idea, but then I was reading this big essay on their site about why it was so great, and it said some stuff about the current climate, about how everyone’s a writer and nobody’s a reader, and that really stuck in my craw.  I mean, the worst part of that statement is that it’s true.  I wish I had a hundred good writers giving me stuff that I publish to a million eager readers, but it seems like those numbers are the other way around right now, and it makes me wonder why I should do more issues, or why I should publish my own stuff, and it gets depressing fast.  I swing between maybe moving AITPL to a model where I publish stories regularly online, maybe even daily flash fiction and the weekly roundup of longer fiction, and then do a quarterly print version of the best of that stuff.  Maybe that’s a good idea, but I don’t have time to write now, let alone sift through submissions.  I think if I had five dedicated readers willing to help me with the slush pile, I’d do this.  But right now, I’ve gotta write.

For some reason last weekend, I read some thing about GTD and thought maybe I should do some GST (Getting my Shit Together) and maybe try to organize things a bit.  So I looked at this list of how to do these things, and step one is “empty your inbox”.  Well here’s the deal: I forward my rumored.com email to a gmail account, and then read that with IMAP from my home computer and iPhone, and also use the web interface during the day at work. And since I started doing this in 2008, I have not filed away a single message, so my inbox has maybe 5000 messages in it.  But I also realized that now that I’m 100% using IMAP, I can now keep my folders on gmail and file things away there.

My big problem with that before: I used a Windows Mobile phone, and it could only POP mail reliably, even though its exchange support is supposed to be hot shit.  Using IMAP caused some weird problems, so I would pop my mail.  That led to this huge rat’s nest email configuration with multiple gmail accounts and ISP redirection and all of this garbage.  Now with the iPhone’s great IMAP support, all of that is gone.  And also, my Windows Mobile phone is gone – I actually sold it last week for $26 online.  Felt a little sad packing it up, because it reminded me of fall of 2008 and how ideal things seemed moving to the bay and getting a new job in Silicon Valley and how proud I was to be working for the company that made my phone, and to be working on software for that phone.  Then I actually had to use Windows Mobile.  That lasted about six months, before I finally gave up and paid full, unsubsidized price for an iPhone and threw my BlackJack II in a desk drawer, only to come out when I had to work at a trade show and was not allowed to use my iPhone in public.

Anyway, I started hacking away at the email situation last weekend.  First, I had to move stuff from one gmail account to another. You can just drag and drop messages between two IMAP accounts in Mail.app and it works well, except for some hidden mystery transfer quota in gmail that kills your connection for 24 hours if you move more than about 500 messages.  Then I had to actually sort through my old mail.  I could prune out a lot of obvious stuff: Amazon ship notifications, AT&T junk mail, alarm notifications to myself, and newsletters I never read.  And then I could file away the obvious one-to-one things, the frequent correspondence that could easily be tucked away in a folder with the person’s username.  But there’s still thousands of messages to go, and I think it will take me maybe a month to get to step 2 of GTD.

Actually, I have been writing down more stuff, ideas and thoughts and parts of stories, in a moleskine notebook, which is filling fast.  I think a big part of GTD is just capturing this stuff that would normally fall out of your head.  I don’t know what the next step is, but it feels good to get some record of this stuff.

Not much else.  Listening to Sabbath, plotting the weekend with a cat sleeping on my feet and “Hand of Doom” going through the headphones.  I’m finishing up hour four on the laptop and the battery says I still have another 1:42, which isn’t bad considering all of the churning Mail.app is doing with the IMAP transfers.  But it’s time to hang it up and go get some lunch.

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Weekend with Bernie (the Brewer)

Last night I booked the big annual pilgrimage to Denver to catch some Rockies baseball at Coors Field.  We’ll be going August 12-15th, to catch two of the games in the series against the Brewers, which should be awesome.  We’re staying at the Warwick again, which was a pretty decent place, although it’s a little weird staying in an area right by our old default grocery store, our old default Chinese restaurant, our old default Mexican restaurant, and so on.  I mean, it’s weird in general to be staying in a city where I used to live, and I always get weird, conflicted thoughts when I’m in Denver.  It’s usually stuff along the lines of “it would have been really great to stay here, IF…”, with the if part having to do with easy-to-attain stuff (if I found a better job, if Sarah found a better job, if we bought a cool house, if we scheduled more vacations to beat the worst of the weather and to break up the various ruts), and the impossible stuff (if there was an ocean nearby, if I wasn’t floored by allergies, if all of the rednecks packed up and moved to Wyoming and left behind all of the cool people.)

It will be cool to go back, though.  And the baseball part of it – the Rockies are doing well right now.  And I bought the most incredible tickets.  On Friday night, we’re up in club level (239, I think).  But on Saturday night, I bought Coors Clubhouse seats on StubHub.  These are the seats immediately behind home plate, five rows back.  That’s the little “special” section ahead of the field-level general seating, next to the tunnel entrance to the clubhouse areas.  It’s the seats you see when you watch the game on TV, and you’re closer to home plate than the pitcher is.  Also, you go back that little tunnel and there is a private restaurant with a buffet set up, and the whole thing is included in the ticket price.  And the club is air-conditioned.  And the seats are nicer.  And I paid an insane price for these seats, so much that I can’t actually admit how much they cost, except that I think my World Series tickets were cheaper.  (And if you really need to know, I think I have a picture of my WS tickets on my flickr page.)

I am also very excited to bring the new camera rig with me on this trip.  I plan on taking two and a half million pictures while I’m there.  I think I need to plan some other non-Coors side trip while I’m in town to get out and get some good snaps.

I think we’re talking about also booking a long weekend in September or October to go to Vancouver.  Sarah went there for work recently and only got like ten seconds to see the city, but she really liked it.  I drove up there in maybe 1995, but actually didn’t even get out of the car.  Back then, I had a serious On the Road obsession, and spent many late nights with my Rand McNally atlas planning some giant voyage from Seattle to Alaska, trying to calculate how long I’d have to drive nonstop in my Ford Escort to get to the 49th state.  You think Alaska’s like right next to Washington, like you just take a little jog through Canada and you’re there.  But it’s seriously like a 2300 mile drive just to get to Anchorage, which is like two days of constant driving on tiny, shitty, unmaintained two-lane roads.  I also spent almost every weekend thinking about pointing the car north and going to Vancouver.  And several times, I got on I-5, loaded up some tunes in the tape player, and headed north, only to get bored of the whole thing and turn around in like Everett or Mountlake Terrace or Northgate Mall or an exit north of my house.

But one time, I actually did get up there.  I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, and drove straight up on a beautiful sunny Sunday and crossed the border and ended up in Hollywood North.  And I circled around, and listened to some local radio station, and thought it would be awesome if I found some X-Files film shoot or ran into Gillian Anderson at some cafe.  And I was starving and wanted to stop to eat.  And I had to pee.  And I couldn’t figure out what neighborhood was what and where to park, so I just said fuck it and turned around and drove back home.

And here’s the funny part.  I get to customs, and of course they are huge pricks.  I mean, here’s a guy in a new car, nobody with him, been in the country for an hour, and no reason to be there.  Here is the conversation with the customs dude:

Him: “So what are you doing in Canada?”

Me: “Not much.  Just driving around.”

Him: “Just driving around?”

Me: “Yeah, beautiful day, sunny out, nice Sunday drive, you know?”

Him: “Where were you born?”

Me: “Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota”

Him: “You took a Sunday drive from North Dakota to Vancouver?”  (Note: I’ve handed him a Washington license with a Seattle address on it, and my car is plated and registered in Washington.)

Me: “No, I live in Seattle.”

Him: “Where do you work?”

Me: “Spry.  A division of Compuserve.”

(brief pause, look of stupidity.)

Me: “It’s an internet company.”

Him: “Wait are you one of those guys that posts instructions on how to make bombs on the internet?”

Me: “umm….  no?”

Him: “Pull over to bay 1, we need to search your car.”

(Spend the next 20 minutes as four guys dismantle my hatchback trunk, look under my car with mirrors on sticks, pop the hood, and have two dogs sniff every inch of my car.)

Other good news on the Rockies front: Sarah’s group at work got the box at AT&T Park again at the end of August, and it happens to be during the Rockies series there, so I will get to see them again in San Francisco, this time from a suite.  There are only two issues: it’s a Tuesday night game, so I’ll need to hustle to get from Palo Alto after work.  The other problem is what to wear – I probably can’t show up in the suite wearing head-to-toe Colorado gear.  (Didn’t they do a Seinfeld about that?  Also, do you remember a time in our cultural history when almost any event was coupled with the rhetorical question “didn’t they do a Seinfeld about that?”)

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Riots

We had some riots here in Oakland this week.  The whole thing is largely stupid.  A cop shoots a guy; that’s bad.  The cop gets tried and convicted; that’s good.  He only gets a second-degree manslaughter charge; probably not good, but par for the course.  Then an army of hand-wringing people protest the thing; that’s within their right.  And a handful of idiots decide to look and break shit and fuck shit up, and that’s bad.  I think some of the far-left idiots would see this as the evils of Kapitalism rearing its ugly head, and how the evil white man oppresses the working class, or whatever Noam Chomsky bullshit.  Plain and simple, if this was not about a guy getting shot, and it was that the Oakland Raiders actually won a game or the G20 was in town or LeBron signed with the Warriors or ANY OTHER DAMN THING, there would have been idiots throwing trash cans into the windows of stores.  It’s apropos of nothing.

One thing that pissed me off was there was this coffee shop called Jitters and Shakes in downtown Oakland.  It’s a pretty hip place – I remember stopping in when we were looking for a place in Oakland, and it was nice to see something that wasn’t just a generic Starbucks.  It’s a mom and pop type of place, a local business, the kind of thing you want in your neighborhood instead of a faceless corporate entity.  And of course, when the “protests” started to “smash the state” by taking out faceless corporate entities, they completely looted this place, breaking out every window and taking the entire store’s inventory.  (Glad to see that the thug gangbanger set needs to steep some fair trade chai tea as they sort through all of their stolen shoes from the looted Foot Locker.)

Last laugh, though – one of the idiots looting left their cell phone in the store, so the owner went to the cops with it.  Not sure what they can do with it, especially if it’s a prepaid, but still, pretty damn funny.

Other than some psychic tension, the riots did not affect us – we’re pretty far west of the area where it all hit.

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Alameda

We went to Alameda yesterday, to find a used book store we saw in Oakland magazine, but also to just check out the island a little more.  Alameda’s a little strip of an island just over from us in Oakland, and it’s an odd curiosity, because it’s so much different than Oakland, and yet we’re all part of Alameda county, so it’s not anything to do with the government.  It’s physically a bit more isolated, and maybe that bit of insulation does it.

Alameda’s got a very nautical feel to it, partially because it’s the old home to the Naval Air Station.  It was also the location of Neptune Beach, which used to be a sort of Coney Island of the west, a resort beach with amusement park rides, boardwalk-type food, Friday night dances, and summer barbecues.  And the island as a whole survived the 1908 earthquake much more than other bay areas, so there are tons of old Victorian houses that have since been restored.

We went to the main strip on Park street, where you dump out after crossing the Park Street Bridge over the inner harbor, and wandered around the little restaurants and old shops a bit.  We found a taqueria that looked good, a place with an old timey sign out front, a lunch counter, and a menu board that looked totally pre-war.  I got some enchiladas for lunch, and really dug the food there.  One of the things I really miss about LA is the good Mexican food, and this place reminded me of the taco joints we used to hit when we lived down south.

The book store – I forget the name, but it took a bit of a hike west to get there, into a strangely-zoned neighborhood, where the businesses quickly dropped off and it became a mix of schools and churches, and the occasional house.  We wanted to go there because the article in the magazine showed a picture of the black tuxedo cat that worked there, and when we got there, we immediately found her, or rather she found us, meowing and then plopping down in front of us, demanding that we ignore the books and pay attention to her.  But the shop – it was one of these places not much bigger than an apartment, filled with stacks and stacks of old books, heaped on top of each other, the smell of old pulp paper in the air, shelves stacked three and four deep of old detective novels and scifi serials.  There was no coffee bar or greeting cards or overpriced pens or anything else – just books.

Book stores like this remind me so much of Seattle.  I mean, in New York, a used book store has to be an empire like The Strand to make the rent.  There were some good new book stores, or places with collectibles, but not things like Seattle’s Twice Sold Tales, the dumping grounds of all things used.  And back when I lived in Seattle, my only goal, besides reading constantly, was to buy as many god damned books as I could buy, even if I would never touch them again.  If there was a chance I would ever pick it up, if I would need it on my shelves.  I used to spend a lot of time in dive book stores like this back in my Seattle days, especially when I was single and had absolutely nothing to do every weekend, except pad the hours between meals and my writing time at night.  That musty smell of rooms full of rotting paper and ink pretty much defined the entire year of 1996 for me, and I felt almost transported back to then.

I say “almost” because I don’t really buy books like that anymore.  I mean, I don’t get to read as much anymore, and my reading has become more focused because of that.  And I have two huge piles of books to be read that I have not shelved, and feel bad about never getting to those.  And half of my reading is on the Kindle these days, which is completely removed from this experience.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad – I know a lot of people will go on about missing the print, and needing those books around me, but I’m so on the fence now.  I mean, if someone offered to take away half of my books and give me the same books in e-format, I might actually do it.  There are some books I will never get rid of, but I also sometimes look at the shelves and wonder “when the hell am I ever going to read a book about the roads the Army engineering corps built in Manchuria during the big one?”  I’m sure back in 2000, that seemed like vital information, but now that this book has moved from Astoria to New York to Denver to LA to South San Francisco to Oakland without its cover cracked, I wonder if it’s next and last trip will be to the Goodwill bin.

But I did dig this little store.  An old guy started talking to Sarah about the cat, how it was a rescue and he raised it before he gave it to the woman who ran the store.  He hung out at the store constantly, and he mentioned that he actually lived on a boat nearby.  Then it made total sense, why this place had so many damn paperbacks – it must have been the place where sea-bound residents came in to trade their old paperbacks they consumed on their last great sail, and swap them for a new set.  I know if I lived in a boat, I would probably do the same – only store a dozen or two books, and constantly swap them out for a new set at the next port.

Back in the old days, I’d look in my wallet, see how much cash I had, and say “okay, this is how many books I’m buying”.  But now, I eyed a lot of curiosities and put them back, books like the 2000 Oakland A’s press book and a bunch of Asimov paperbacks I probably read twenty years ago and would not read again, but that I maybe wanted to read again.  I did want to get something though, and help the place out, so I picked up a Howard Hughes bio I haven’t read yet, and a book of World War II fighter planes that’s part of this series of British plane books, of which I had one back in high school, and have since always bought on sight any of the other related books in the series.

Today’s the 4th.  I have written many other journal entries on the 4th that talk about what I did on previous 4ths, which makes me want to write some other epic entry about today, but I’ve got too many other pots on the stove right now.  Feel free to click on the dates to the right to find them, though.  I wish I was in Denver to see the last game in the series against the Giants, although after last night’s big blowout, I’m not sure if I have the nerves to watch.  I’m really upset they put Ubaldo on the cover of SI – I have a terrible fear that’s going to jinx the rest of the season for him.

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The Internal Locus

I’ve spent all morning picking away at some automatic writing that has to do with 2008, which is always weird.  I mean, it’s weird to write nostalgic writing about a period that’s two years ago, and it’s more weird to talk about it here, when you can just click on a link about three inches below this and simply read what I actually wrote in 2008.  But I have the advantage of distance in that my 2008 was about 350 miles south of here, and the general feeling of LA is markedly different than that of San Francisco.

Here’s the thing: I have been listening to the BT album This Binary Universe. In many ways, this is an absolutely perfect album; it’s very technical, a total departure from BT’s typical techno roots, and extremely, extremely expressive.  It’s so heavily textured, with so much going on in each track, that it’s entirely enjoyable for me to listen to.  And it’s the perfect balance between music I can completely background and think about something else and something I can dive right into and just be consumed by the thoughts that come from the music.

But the big reason I like the album so much is that it’s a total time machine for me.  I got this album in 2007, the summer of 2007, when I worked from home in Denver, and spent most of my free time either hobbling to various foot doctors to find out what the hell was wrong with my ankle, and going to every Rockies game I could afford, since they were about a hundred feet from my front door.  And a lot went on that summer emotionally – the big break from New York, I was going to get married, I was trying to define myself – was I a writer?  A programmer?  Could I find another tech writing job?  I was very lost, and lost in a new city, but so excited by this huge turn in my life, this new place, the ability to get in a car and drive to random new locations like mountains and barrios and abandoned air force bases and giant book stores.

I also remember that right before me and Sarah eloped in October, I think a night or two before we went to the courthouse and then went to the Bahamas, I sat down on my Mac and fired up the Mac movie maker software, and took the final track from the album, “Good Morning Kaia” and made this video for Sarah that recapped our entire relationship together, piecing together snapshots and videos from our two and a half years together.  It’s sort of corny, and I am no director or editor or something, but it firmly cemented that song in my head forever.

And there’s a weird ripple effect, because in 2008, that album was such a time machine back to 2007, I would listen to it when I was struggling in LA and wanted nothing but to be back to that same place in Denver.  And it always hurt me so much, caused so much strange emotional pain, but it would consume me so much I had to do it and had to feel all of it and go through the entire album from start to finish and just absorb that 74:19 of extreme emotion and go on with my new life in LA.

I remember the end of LA, one of my trips up to SF, either for a job interview or apartment hunting or to drop off a Yaris full of stuff, and I got on the I-5 to head north through the giant desolation of our state’s food basket or whatever the hell they call that no-man’s-land through the central state that’s nothing but farms.  I tried to find something to listen to, and decided that I would go through the entire album, listen to it from start to finish as I was stuck in the cabin of the tiny car, driving north through nowhere and nothingness.  I would absorb the entire performance and transform myself, like a shaman going into a sweat lodge to absorb a lifetime of memories and problems and touchpoints in one concentrated, hallucinogenic dose.  And I did, and it absolutely etched another destination for this time machine device.

Anyway, I chipped away this morning at more writing, stuff that probably will never see the light of day, but I gave the entire album a listen again, and the thing still floors me.  I can’t say much more than that, but just that this album is one of my absolute favorites.  I sometimes wish I had the space and place to just listen to it every day, and pour out the writing that came from it, until I had a book’s worth of words captured.  Maybe I will.

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Interview from 2006

I was digging through my hard drive and found a set of questions and answers I wrote for Mike Whybark, for an article in the short-lived Now Playing magazine back in 2006.  I don’t think the article ever made it to print, but for kicks, here’s the answers I sent back to him.  I’ll put the questions in this color.

Jon Konrath, Tell Me a Story about the Devil, http://www.rumored.com/journal/

Mike Whybark for Now Playing magazine, issue seven, projected street date late summer, 2006.

Jon, please just write your answers in under the questions. As you know, using complete sentences is helpful. The responses you provide will be used in part for quotes to appear in a 400-word piece for the magazine. I’m interested in elucidating the intersection of writing, blogging, and self-publication with specific respect to your experience doing all three. Feel free to flog your books and please be sure to cite specific examples from each book where appropriate.

How long have you been writing online?

I started a death metal e-zine in early 1992, but I didn’t start regularly journaling online until 1997.

Did your interest in writing predate your interest in online publication?

Yes, but only because there wasn’t much of an “online” back in the late 80s.

Tell me about your subject matter and techniques. What are your goals in writing and publishing these works?

I started by writing what I knew, which was the Kerouac-style biographical-but-fiction stuff, and tried to frame things in a way that made them readable, but not entirely plot-driven.  I’ve slowly become more interested in more experimental prose, trying to do things that are nonlinear, but still readable.

My goal in publishing is mostly to drive myself to complete projects.  I don’t care about money and fame, and would continue to write even if I didn’t have the means to self-publish.

Much of your work appears to be focused around the idea of the memoir, of looking back at experiences lived. Do you have a sense of why that is? Have you ever written material grounded in an imaginary experience or with a protagonist who is radically different in background, experience, and worldview from your own?

Before I wrote books, I wrote short stories, and personal past was easily translated into slices of short fiction.  My first book, Summer Rain, was based on one of those short stories.  As I’ve progressed, I have less interest in the traditional novel format, but my own experiences still rub off into my fiction.  My second book, Rumored to Exist was a lot less grounded in reality, and my next book is pretty much 100% fiction.

Briefly, summarize your books.

Summer Rain is autobiographical fiction about being stuck in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana for a summer in 1992.  There’s a lot of conflict in the form of money, parents, relationships, academics, and what to do next in life.

Rumored to Exist is a nonlinear novel that’s essentially 200 different slices of reality, each one bizarre and surreal.  It’s my first shot at writing something like William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.

I’ve also written Dealer Wins, which is a book of travel essays about Las Vegas; an anthology of the first three years of my journal, Tell Me a Story About the Devil; and The Necrokonicon, a glossary of my times in Bloomington and Elkhart, Indiana, which started online but also became a print book.  All of these are projects that started as online writing, but eventually came to the print world solely because PoD made it cheap and easy for me to wrap them up into a paper book.

Is there one which you feel particularly strongly about?

I think Rumored to Exist is the one that I can always flip open to a random page and read a few paragraphs and still think it’s great.  It’s closest to the direction I want to continue with writing, and it sold better than any of my other stuff.

When did you decide that you wanted to self-publish? What book is that?

When I finished Summer Rain in 2000, I was not sure I wanted to flog it around to agents and publishers as a commercial product, partially because I knew they would want me to change things in the name of better sales  (“Can you rewrite it to take place in Seattle, and make the main character a gay cowboy?”), and partially because the book was so personal to me, and it felt like I’d be whoring out my child.  But I wanted some copies for friends, and thought about printing a thousand of them, but feared having 970 of them sit in my garage forever.  Around that time, iUniverse came along, and it seemed like a decent compromise to me.

What kinds of research have you done in looking for publication partners? What are the key things you look for when you decide where to go for publication?

I mostly looked at cost-benefit comparison when I shopped around for publishers.  Some offer more service, but at a higher price.  I focused more on getting the core service done, and not the frilly extras.  I also carefully read everything that made sure the contracts did not have any clauses that would cause problems down the road, as far as ownership and copyright.

Who are the primary self-publishing providers? What’s your analysis of each?

I can only speak for the two I’ve used.  I started with iUniverse and did three books with them.  They were one of the first, and before they figured out their market and pricing structure, they were relatively cheap.  I think for my first book, I didn’t pay anything for the initial startup.  But as time went on, they became more expensive as far as start-up costs, and tried to justify it by adding more services that didn’t interest me.  They handled things like cover design, which might be good if you don’t know anything about computers, but I design books all day, so I didn’t feel like giving them an extra few hundred dollars and possibly having a dud book design.

Lulu.com came out after iUniverse, and it’s much more of a DIY resource.  While iUniverse is pretending to be more of a serious, traditional publisher, Lulu is more focused on providing you the tools to publish.  They offer many of the same services, but everything is ala carte, so you just add what you want to your project.

Your books are available on Amazon.com – do you list them yourself, or does your publication partner do that?

A feature of most Print-on-Demand publishers is that they will add a UPC code and ISBN number to your book, and then list it in the Ingram publishing database, which means it propagates to a lot of booksellers’ databases.  There’s also some additional paperwork nudging to get it to Amazon.  In the process, your book also ends up at Barnes and Noble and a bunch of other online booksellers, plus the computer order systems at almost every brick and mortar bookseller.  (It doesn’t actually get you in stores, though – people have to special order it.)

Different publishers have different price points at which they will add this option.  iUniverse’s lowest-priced package doesn’t offer it, but the next one does.  For Lulu, you have to pay an additional fee (I think it’s about $149, but I don’t remember.)

What’s the best way to buy your publications? How many different ways are there to obtain them?

Other than buying from me in person (no shipping), the best way is usually from the publisher’s web site.  If you buy from Amazon or other sites, it usually costs you more, and I get less money.  But I know people get pretty locked into Amazon, so that’s available as an option.  You could order it from your local bookseller if you’re loyal to a particular shop.  And like I said, the Ingram thing means the book pops up in a lot of weird places on the web.  I remember my first two books were available on the Wal-Mart web site for a while.

Did the books originate as blog-based pieces, or did you develop them offline with the intent of restricting the content to offline publication?

Bits and pieces of blog-like writing end up in the books.  But when I’m blocked or bored, I tend to write things in my online journal as an experiment, and then swipe them later for the books if they worked.  My writing though, is not typically the “take a bunch of blog entries and make them into a paper book”.  (That said, my third book was exactly that.)

Have you sought commercial publishing opportunities for your books?

Not really.

If not, do you intend to?

Maybe.  I would rather direct my energy into writing my own work than trying to pitch some commercially viable projects with sales potential to agents and writers.  Sitting around all day trying to think of what will be the next DaVinci Code isn’t really writing to me, it’s producing commercial books.  And that’s a job, and I already have a job.  I want to write what I want to write.

In musical terms, it’s a lot like the difference between being into punk rock and jamming out in a garage and having a web site that will put up your demo so you can sell nice-looking CDs to 20 or 30 of your friends, versus sitting around and saying “Shakira’s really hot this quarter, maybe write some Latin AOR crossover hits with possible secondary market potential” and shilling it to guys in suits.  The punk thing probably won’t feed you (unless you’re Billy Joe Armstrong), but it’s a lot more interesting than playing golf or collecting stuff you don’t need on eBay.

Do you work as a writer professionally, and if so, in what capacity?

I work as a technical writer for a software company.

Tell me an anecdote about something interesting, surprising, cool, or terrible that has occurred to you as a result of your online and self-publishing endeavors.

When I was doing my old death metal e-zine, called Xenocide, a kid from California used to send me record reviews, and we wrote back and forth a bit, and I published his stuff.  About 12 years after the e-zine folded, I came home from work and had a ton of messages from the FBI and pretty much every major news outlet you could think of.  It turns out that the kid who wrote for me was Adam Gadahn, who was recently named as a terror suspect by the FBI and got on the most-wanted list.  I still had old issues of the e-zine on my web page, and when you searched for Gadahn, it was one of the only hits online.  I got to spend the next few weeks on the phone with everyone from the New York Times to the National Enquirer, plus an FBI antiterrorist task force, telling the same story over and over about how I only knew this kid from talking about Cannibal Corpse and Autopsy records.

Are you aware of or interested in the notable successes seen in recent years in publishing that began as self-published works, such as Eragon?

I think most self-publishing marketing books or web sites tell you all about that, or the color of your parachute book, or I think the chicken soup for your soul book was originally self-published.  These are all extreme long-shots and not typical at all of self-publishing, but they’re still interesting stories.

Do you see the move toward self-publication as empowering to the author and reader or as a devolution of responsibility on the part of the publisher?  Does the potential outcome of the trend – the loss of major book publisher’s editorial development departments, or their replacement by marketers and ‘cool hunters’ – fill you with excitement and optimism or worry?

It’s empowering to authors because it’s an instant way to get a book onto paper, in the same way that blogging or web publishing is also an instant outlet, without waiting for editors or publishers or any other form of The Man.  And it’s empowering to readers because they can read stuff that normally wouldn’t be published. I don’t think it devolves big publishers at all, because they’re still putting out their DaVinci Code big-sellers.  And if a self-published author wanted the help of a professional editor or PR agent, all they need to do is break out the credit card and find one.

How many copies of your books have you sold?

Not enough to be able to publicly admit to any total.

How many would you need to sell in order to support yourself as a writer from their sale?

50,000 a year?  100,000?

What do you think would be necessary in order to accomplish that?

You’d need a lot of marketing to sell that many books, or a hell of a book.  And at that volume, print-on-demand wouldn’t be as profitable – you could double your profit by going to a traditional printer.

I think if you already have a big captive audience, self-publishing would work.  Like if you were already famous, like a movie director, musician, or had a blog that got 100,000 hits a day, it could work.  Henry Rollins has been self-publishing books for years.  But he also took a beating on his big-art books, and now he’s got publishers putting out his stuff for him.  It’s all very trendy, very high-risk.

Do you think that you would be able to succeed in these tasks if you determined to attempt to meet that goal?

I don’t know, I’m pretty lazy about the business side of it.

How many self-published writers do you think are able to support themselves from their works?

A handful, maybe.  I think it’s more the case that there are self-published writers that are able to parlay their writing into other work.  I imagine if you were writing a cool self-published tech book on AJAX or something, you could make a living on contracts and consulting work.  If you were a motivational speaker and self-published the next big chicken soup book, you could hustle a lot of speaking gigs.

Are there any other self-published writers whose work you admire?

As far as fiction, my friend John Sheppard.  His self-published book, Small Town Punk, actually got picked up by Ig Publishing, so he’s retiring from the PoD world now.

I also admire anyone who self-publishes books about their work or history.  There are a lot of military history books coming out that would have been ignored otherwise by large mainstream presses, but it’s good to see that history preserved, especially when it’s interesting to read.  And even if someone came out with a book on managing a Taco Bell 20 years ago, I’d probably read it.

Have you ever purchased another author’s self-published work?

I’m always cruising around lulu.com to find like-minded authors, and I probably purchase a book or two a month.  I do trades whenever I can, too.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks very much for your time.

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