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May 26, 2008

Blackwater Rafting on the Kindle

This weekend I bought my 20th book on my Amazon Kindle ebook.  I still read the occasional paper book, but if I could, I'd trade all but my favorite paper books for ebooks.  It really is that good in my opinion.

I think that the Kindle is just the tip of the iceberg of what is going on at Amazon.  What really matters is the infrastructure that is being built out to support authors, publishers and other merchants.  To learn more about that side of the business and to see how this is all going to evolve, the Person Who Prefers Not To Be Blogged About has given me one of her short stories to experiment with, and I've published it on the Kindle.

If you own a Kindle, you can buy the story right here.  It's priced at the minimum price of $1, and Amazon.com currently has discounted it to 80 cents.  It's only 10 pages, but I've seen people cry from laughing so hard while reading it.  Waitomo Caves - Wonderland or WeirdoLand? is about a blackwater rafting trip we took in New Zealand.

The tourist description of this trip is the beginning of the story.  The “Lonely Planet” guidebook on New Zealand describes the blackwater tubing experience at Waitomo Caves as “… a three-hour trip on an inner tube floating down a subterranean river that flows through Ruakuri Cave … floating through a long, glowworm-covered passage.”   We began to realize this wasn't the Lazy River at Disney World when we got fitted for our wetsuits and hardhats.  I'd be happy to answer any questions after you read the story, such as why I would take a claustrophobic person that I love deep into a cave with a maggot-covered ceiling, or what I believe the chances are of her ever going with me into another cave in this lifetime.

For the moment this is a "Kindle Exclusive" story, but I expect that Amazon.com will open the platform up to allow anyone to publish ebooks that can be downloaded to other devices and read in a browser.  The capability is there, they just haven't made it as easy to use as the Kindle platform is.  To publish the story, I had to create an account, giving them my taxpayer ID and bank account information.  That's going to stop some people right there, but I expect to make a good ten or twenty dollars off of this venture, so I kept going.

Next I saved the story in Microsoft Word as an html document.  Uploading the document was easy, and I even uploaded a photograph that I took on the trip, and I filled in a few fields of descriptive information.  After I uploaded the document, it took about 12 hours before it showed up on the amazon.com website.  They say that it will get even faster in time.

I realize that (besides the writing) the hard part about publishing is getting the word out.  That's where you come in - if you like the story, please take a moment to give it a good review at amazon.com  I really believe this is the future of publishing, but I'd like to hear what you think. 

May 26, 2008 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 19, 2008

Car Computer V4

Can you believe the FJ Cruiser is over two years old?  It seems like only yesterday that people were following me around to get a better look at it, and now they seem to be on every corner, at least here in Boulder.

If you've been following the Car Computer Project, you know that V3 of the project never really left the work bench in my office.  V3 was a replacement for V2, which died back in June somewhere in Kansas.  V2 was an Infill T3 that I bought from mp3car.com.  When it died I found out that they could either send the unit back to Korea for repairs, or they could replace it with a new Vista-ready machine.  I chose the later, but it turns out it would have been quicker to wait for the boat from Korea.  As of last week, I still didn't have the radio module for the new unit and I decided to stop waiting and cut my losses.  I wasn't really looking forward to taking a hacksaw to the dash of the FJ to make the new touchscreen fit, and I still think an AM/FM radio is a requirement, so I'm salvaging the computer that MP3car.com sent me and matching it up with a new combination radio/touchscreen unit that is getting great reviews.


That's it on the left, a Xenarc MDT-X7000.  The touchscreen is motorized, and with it retracted the unit looks like any after-market radio.  My hope is that when I don't want to fool with the computer, I'll have a very functional AM/FM CD player with real knobs and preset buttons.  Then when I push a button, it will transform into a car computer.  Here's a photo from the Xenarc website.


This will even leave some space in the dash for something else, and the actual computer will be hidden out of sight in the back of the vehicle.  There is an intimidating amount of wires in the harness, but I'm going to try to install it myself when I get a free weekend.  Unlike the Infill, this unit came with documentation and the wiring harness is labeled in English so how hard can it be?

Let me give two quick disclaimers.  If you want a car computer of your own, buy a Ford with the Sync option.  The kind of system I've built is pretty far from being prime time.  Second, don't type and drive.  We don't need people surfing the web while they are driving!

May 19, 2008 in Car Computer | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 12, 2008

Welcome to the Mesh

Brad Feld recently mentioned in a post Microsoft's new product called, "Live Mesh".  I thought it looked interesting enough to sign up for the private beta, and just in time for the weekend, my invitation arrived to try it out.  If you are currently using Foldershare from Microsoft as a way to sync folders easily across multiple computers, you're going to want to try out the mesh.  In addition to syncing folders, you can also do remote desktop sharing.

I just used it and saved enough time to write this post.  :-)  I was trying to find a website that I looked at this morning at home, but I had not saved the URL.  (All of my Favorite URLs are synced between my machines, including the FJ Car Computer using Foldershare, so if I had saved the URL I would have had it at work this morning.)  Then I remembered the mesh - I clicked on the little blue icon  Capture  and was able to connect to my home machine in seconds.  I'm at work, but it is as if I'm sitting at my machine at home.  The web browser was still sitting there on the page where I left it this morning.  I got what I needed and then saved the page to my Favorites.  Before I could log off, Foldershare had synced that new Favorite to all four of my machines - two at home, and two at work.  With the Mesh, I should be able to do the same thing.  Also there is "storage in the cloud" so I can have a bunch of disk space that is accessible from any web browser, even if none of my machines are running.

The Mesh is being called a platform, and this is just the demo app according to the team blog that I read.  They already are saying they will sync to Apple and to mobile devices in the near future, but they talk about a lot more.  Should be interesting.  At the very least, I'll be able to move everything from Foldershare and have remote login capability.  When the car computer goes back into the FJ, I'll be able to work on it from anywhere without having to sit in the garage with a little keyboard on my lap.  That alone is worth the upgrade.


May 12, 2008 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 01, 2008

Strategic Thinking Simplified

The last time I posted an article by my friend Todd Ordal, he didn't have an RSS feed.  Now he does, so if you'd like to subscribe, here is the feed:  http://community.icontact.com/p/appliedstrategy

I particularly liked his latest post, which he's given me permission to reproduce here.  You can also read more from Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info

Strategic Thinking Simplified - By Todd Ordal

I snuck out for a mid-week ski day late in the season this year. It is a luxury to ski during the week because the crowds are minimal. I also enjoy skiing by myself on occasion as I can quickly cover a lot of ground and there is no debate about which part of the mountain to ski on.


After lunch I rode a lift with a middle-aged couple who looked like they were out-of-towners on vacation. (Those of you who ski a lot understand ‘the look”.) I asked them where they were from and they responded “the Detroit area”. As I had taken many business trips to Detroit, we had something to talk about.

Because much of the workforce in Michigan is part of the auto industry, I asked the gentleman if he was employed in the car business. “No”, he replied, “I was for about 20 years but now I have a construction business remodeling homes”. As I asked him a few more questions, it occurred to me that this guy—with no apparent formal business education—was a great strategic thinker.

When I asked how and why he made the transition, he said, “Well it was pretty clear to me that we were heading downhill fast. The Japanese were doing a better job with quality and building cars a whole lot cheaper. Most folks just dug in and put their heads in the sand. I didn’t see this changing so thought that I better change.” In strategic thinking terms, he had clearly identified current reality, thought about the future business environment and realized that a different strategy would be necessary for him to succeed.

I asked how he had picked home remodeling and he responded from a perspective of core competency and industry attractiveness. Those are my words; his were, “I liked building things and worked with tools in the car business, so I thought; where else could I use those skills? Homebuilding seemed the most logical choice, but I didn’t want to be on the hook financially for a large project and have all of my eggs in one basket. I’d rather have several smaller projects going at once.” In strategic terms, he thought about his funding requirements, cash flow needs and the issue of customer concentration.

He went on to say that he worked primarily on high end homes with a niche for kitchens. He liked kitchens because he noted that when socializing, everyone always ends up in the kitchen. “This looks great! Who did the work?”, they ask. More good thinking—specific customer attributes (wealthy—which allowed him to use good materials and hire good subcontractors), branding (a niche in kitchens), and a referral-based marketing plan.

So here is a blue collar guy who clearly understood the key elements of strategic thinking. He thought about the future, identified current reality, thought about his core competencies and used them to connect the dots.

Darn; this guy was smart! “So, how is it going?” I asked. “Pretty good” he said. “We’re out here in Colorado looking at different ski areas for a second home”. I think that next ski season; I’ll get out more during the week…

It's lonely at the top! Todd Ordal serves as a thought-partner to CEOs and other business leaders who are challenged to identify and manage strategy. You can contact Todd at [email protected] or call 303-527-0417.


You can also subscribe to an email distribution of Todd’s writing.  I get a fair number of email blasts, but I’ve found that I always read Todd’s no matter how many emails are sitting in my inbox.   Todd, thanks again for letting me republish one of your articles.  Speaking of the auto industry, it was nice to see that Ford has turned a profit again.  I wonder how much their Sync initiative has contributed to the turnaround?  It certainly shows to me that they get that customers want more than just reliable transportation.  -- Terry

May 1, 2008 in Entrepreneur Essays | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack