Thursday, April 15, 2010

Minor Annoyance

Both Lauren and I love books. But we both realize that with a small house, having a multi-shelf whole-wall library just isn't in the cards for us. With both of us being techies and owning iPhones, we both decided to go with e-books and e-reader apps as a way to keep our reading habits fed.

That's worked great until the last few months, when the recent dispute between Amazon and the publishers over book pricing has now been fanned by Apple's foray into e-books with the iPad. It apparently comes down to the publishers wanting more control over e-book pricing (the agency vs. wholesale model dispute mentioned in the story below):

As a result, while prices and contracts are being renegotiated with suppliers, the e-bookstore I have used, Fictionwise, has suddenly found itself emptied of a lot of its mainstream titles, including a couple I've kept my eye on for a few months.

Needless to say, the whole thing has me rethinking the convenience of e-books, especially DRM-protected e-books. Part of the reason I buy e-books is so that I don't have to travel 40 miles round-trip to the nearest chain bookstore to pick up a book which might not be in stock yet. (I don't mind being in a bookstore for a long period of time. Lauren, by the way, fails to see the appeal.)

I also like the convenience; I can load 10+ titles on my phone and swap them out as necessary. If I find myself somewhere that I have a few minutes to kill (the doctor's office, for example), I just pull out the phone and choose from one. It also helps that the e-book app supports larger font sizes for easier reading, which really comes in handy with advancing age. Try doing that with a regular-print book.

I also like the appeal of not having to pay higher prices for hardbound books (which take up the aforementioned house space), and not having to wait for a year to get the book in trade paperback.

In short, it's a lot of convenience at a reduced price.

E-books aren't perfect; to be honest, I've seen quite a few cases where the conversion had left a couple of obvious typos or formatting problems introduced by the process. But those had been the only minor annoyances, which I live with for the sake of the above conveniences.

But there are larger questions.

Let's say that my e-book supplier (who was one of two online e-Book suppliers bought out by Barnes and Noble before Christmas), is subsumed completely into B&N. Can I continue to use the existing e-books that I've purchased? Will B&N provide a substitute way for me to continue to purchase e-books through their website?

On one hand, I can understand the publishers' argument. They want to maximize the earnings for the authors who publish for them at price points the publishers can live with. But by forcing the argument through the pricing dispute between Amazon first and now with the discussion of "enhanced" e-books provided through the Apple iPad, at higher prices, I think the publishers have lost sight of something: those of us who read the books they published have been mightily inconvenienced. And it's annoying.

Monday, March 22, 2010

KC Trip Reflections

Just a few thoughts from our trip to KC this weekend:
  1. Staying at the Weston Crown Center is teh awesome. The facilities are first-rate (as you would expect from a four-star hotel).
  2. We have a pretty good idea of why Union Station is struggling a little to attract tourists and crowds. We toured the KC Rail Experience and Science City, and while both attractions were okay, they didn't seem well subscribed. The KC Rail Experience had some nice displays (the train engine unit/simulator that is the centerpiece of the collection was a hoot), but the Experience overall seemed a little bit disorganized or not very visitor-friendly. For example, you can't tell exactly where the entrance is (we had to ask someone), and once inside, the display/presentation stations were numbered, but you couldn't tell where the starting display was and what the sequence was (we started at station #4 because we couldn't find stations #1-3 ... a diagram/map would have helped). Science City was also a little disappointing because there were too many cases where things weren't working/needed repair. Sadly, we love the Union Station facility, but neither attraction did a very good job of "attraction" vs. what they charge for admission. We can only hope that this will improve in the future. P.S. We did explore the Irish Culture-Heritage Museum on the lower level as well, and it was very well done. There were also some SCA presenters there that were very fun to talk with. To be fair, they've announced on the Union Station Facebook page that they are doing some upgrading to the Rail Experience, so it's possible that the managers know that there are some places it's lacking.
  3. The National WWI Museum, on the other hand was/is very well done, but alas, it's showing some wear as well. I would have loved to go up to the top of the Liberty Memorial, but that's not going to happen during a winter snow. The designers of the WWI Museum did a great job with the displays (especially the trench simulations), and there is some very nice audio-visual integration overall. I also liked that they focused on more than the military and technical aspects of the war ... a bit of the displays focused on the cultural/social changes the war caused as well. Finally, the very large video wall and diorama that makes up the focal point of the museum is ... well, very huge and very impressive.
  4. Imo's Pizza is best served fresh in the restaurant rather than delivered.
  5. Lauren reminded me of this one: at Union Station, we had stopped off at the Segway store there because we wanted to test drive one (just to say we had ridden one). You are supposed to be able to do a test-drive of 15 minutes for a small fee. Unfortunately, when we stopped at the store, the person at the desk was chatting on the phone and didn't even bother to look up at us or acknowledge us. We waited for a couple of minutes, realized the guy was too busy to talk to us, shrugged, and then went off to go find lunch.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2010 So Far

Hi everyone,

I have to admit that this blog hasn't seen much action in the last year. The reason it hasn't is for several reasons: I spent a big chunk of 2009 weathering various crises, including working 60+ hours a week before being laid off, but for the most part, it's because Lauren and myself do most of our updating/communicating on our Facebook accounts now, so the blog has mostly been idled.

In a way, it makes sense. We originally started this blog as a way to keep in touch with our family and friends, and also document the goings-on in our lives, but we've discovered that using Facebook is a more immediate way of keeping in touch and communicating with everyone.

To be honest, there isn't too much to update everyone on, life-wise. I've been unemployed for awhile, but I keep job searching, and I've got an interview coming up on Monday. In the meantime, I've been blessed in that I have the time to learn how to be the best house husband that I can. Toward that, I've taken over pretty much all of the household chores and a big chunk of the cooking and meal planning. All told, I'd rather be working. However, given that Lauren's teaching/advising/group sponsoring gives her the equivalent of a 60-hour workweek, at least I've been able to take up the household stuff I couldn't do while working and commuting down to KC, freeing up her time.

Not working has also freed me up to do more living/activity work in the community. For example, I currently sing with the Nodaway Chorale, and we're gearing up to do a concert in mid-April to perform John Rutter's Requiem. Also, this last week, I got "volunteered" to become Senior Warden at our church (kind of like the head of a steering committee), due to people stepping down. It's a new leadership role, and we'll see how THAT turns out in a few months, especially after our yearly fundraiser chili supper for the local Family and Children Center.

Also coming up in April, Lauren and I are teaching a Thai cooking class for community ed at the local technical college. This will be my first year for doing this, while Lauren has done several of these before I moved down to Maryville.

Beyond that, we're hoping to take a trip this Spring back to St. Louis to see the Missouri Botanical Center again when it's warmer and things are in bloom. We saw it this winter when we were in St. Louis for New Years. Finally sometime, when Alex can get a weekend free without being on-call/on pager, we'll be able to entertain Robyn and Alex here in town when they come down for a weekend.

Did I say there wasn't too much to update everyone on? Looks like there was a bit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sleepy Sunday

Another sleepy Sunday here, with a few random notes:

1. I have a job again ... sort of. I start Monday with a small husband and wife software company out of Oregon, MO. It's not a real job yet, but it's 90 day probationary with a review at the end of 3 months toward hiring me on full-time. Even though the commute is less than half of what I had before (52 minutes vs. 2 hours), the job so far doesn't have benefits. For now, I've got COBRA continuation to cover the short-term, but I'm hoping that the job will ultimately lead to full-time and lead to having some sort of health coverage down the road.

2. Lauren is resting and recuperating from a case of cat scratch fever caused by our resident semi-feral cat, Stinkerbelle. More antibiotics for Lauren, and we're both going to have to learn to stop petting Stinkerbelle altogether.

3. Internet service here is sliding toward very subpar. Our cable provider, Suddenlink, has at least one outage per day now, and Embarq DSL service apparently isn't much better. I'm worried about what will happen when school starts up and Suddenlink oversubscribes off the influx of college students.

Even our iPhones aren't much help, because EDGE data service is getting worse on our side of town and there seems to be no effort on AT&T's part to expand 3G service north of St. Joseph ... I wonder how long it will be before we see an upgrade?

-- Posted From iPhone

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Exercise in Creative Problem-Solving

I'm starting to look at the job search as an exercise in creative problem-solving, given the limits of the situation:

1. I would like to work locally, if possible. By local, anything within an hour (unless the employer allows a telecommute or some sort of flex) is a possibility.

2. We know what minimum salary and benefits we need in order for us to sustain our current living standard without any serious belt tightening. It's not as bad as it used to be, but it does stress looking for a job with benefits.

3. I would like to look at venues other than corporate, if possible.

Apart from that. I'm open to ideas, alternatives, or opportunities.

-- Posted From iPhone

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Staying Busy

It's funny. When I was employed, I never had enough time to do anything. With the commute and the workload, I didn't have much time to help with the housework, didn't have much time for cooking, and I always felt a little tired or short of sleep, even on weekends.

Now that I'm not working and job hunting, I'm getting plenty of sleep, the chores are being done, and the house is cleaner than it has been in months. All that's missing is finding a job I enjoy ....

-- Posted From iPhone

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leaving Corporate

For anyone who hasn't read my Facebook page yet, unless something comes up by August 2nd, I'll be leaving corporate again due to a layoff. Once again, a bad economy and a reorg have taken a job.

In retrospect, even if the reorg hadn't happened, I'm not sure I would have survived more than a couple of more years doing the same thing. The work hours were climbing, the stress was increasing, and the commute (2 hours down, 2 back) was getting painful. Lauren was asking for her husband back. I was losing ground and the work-life balance was sliding toward more time at work and less time at home. I felt like a failure for not being able to keep up in both areas.

At this point, I'm mulling what to do next, regrouping, reestablishing references, dusting off resumes and cover letters, and getting ready to file for unemployment. And I'm rediscovering life ... the simple pleasures of being able to sleep in and not be on the road at 6, of having the time to go somewhere and not cancel a trip because of a project.

With Lauren teaching 4 extra class hours this fall through November, I'll even be home to help keep up with the household work while I look for work.

This time, I'm not sure I want to go back to corporate again. I've seen my profession, technical writing, devalued and turned into contractual hourly work with little benefits, or the job function itself deemed unnecessary, so I'm not sure yet where I want to go. I may want to pursue alternative certification and become a teacher. I might find something closer to home. I honestly don't know yet.

In the meantime, I do want to do some volunteer work in town at the local food pantry. I want to reconnect with my wife and strengthen our marriage.

I want to live.

-- Post From My iPhone