Changing Profit

August 29, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Posted in Books, Economoney | Leave a comment
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A standard corporation is structured to be bottom-line driven. Ethics or environmental concern can only be engaged if it can be showed to improve profit. Often, they are purely marketing efforts. But if consumers demand healthier products, the corporations will comply. If consumers demand cheapest, that drives out most all other concerns. Some markets become a race to the bottom.

As corporate businesses have grown larger and become more ubiquitous, they’re having a disastrous effect on local economies, the environment, ethics, employment, and the long-term viability of social structures. Civilizations have not historically lasted when the income ratio (highest to lowest) becomes as great as it is now.

Add in the effects of technological revolution and you lose the need for full employment. Without work in our culture, you loose your role in society. This is especially difficult for youths if they cannot get established. They can become alienated and without motivation to support the community. Other social forms like gangs and protest become prominent.

But more recently, new models for business have arisen. One is B-Corps, corporations that can have built-in ethical or environmental principles. Business that can act in the interests of society along with profit generation.

A Canadian variation is the Community Contribution Company (C3) which caps profits and channels the surplus into social causes.

But what about designing a business that is not for profit at all? Non-profits have been around for as long as for-profits, but the not-for-profit style of enterprise is distinct from charities.

As the authors of a new book on the subject (How on Earth: Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050) note “A successful not-for-profit enterprise includes paying employees, managers and CEOs fair salaries. This idea is not a sacrificial business model.

why don’t you just advocate for social enterprise or for Benefit (B) corps? We think those business terms don’t tell us about what happens to the profit, and they don’t tell us about the ownership of the company.

Not-for-profits can be purely purpose driven, and not distracted by any need to maximize profit.

Many of us may not be fully aware of how these pressures of profit generation guide our lives. The ubiquitous marketing and the culture of consumerism are core pieces of the for-profit system because for-profit companies have to grow every year.

This pressure leads industries to always work at creating new markets and new needs. We see a broader trend of “manufacturing needs” through marketing, convincing us that we’re not good enough and that we need to buy more. In a world of mostly not-for-profit companies, all businesses would be purpose driven and wouldn’t have the same pressure to constantly expand their bottom line to compensate for extracted value.

It’s a fascinating idea – companies and thus jobs driven by meaning and purpose. Business that supports community rather than preying on it. A massive reduction in junk. A winding down of massive companies that have more influence than elected governments.

We’ll see.

On-line Editors

September 20, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Books, Internet, Online services, Software, Web Apps | 9 Comments
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Writing a book or other long form project isn’t just the writing. It’s also the editing, the publishing and the marketing. Few who start a book project ever produce a complete manuscript. And fewer of those get through the next hurdles. There’s a good reason why many never get it out there.

In these days of self-publishing and ebooks, many more have the chance to get their works published in some form. But without a publisher, too many are skipping some of the steps. Too many titles have gotten into distribution channels without decent editing. That brings down the whole market.

While word processing software has spell and grammar checking built in, this is not “editing”. It only handles some basic kinds of typos.

Traditional publishers will take a manuscript through 4 or more rounds of editing specialists. But you at least want a Substantive Editor to look at the structure, flow, and the coherence of the work and a Copy Editor to take a closer look at word use and proofread the niggly details. You may also need fact checking.

Recently, more advanced editing software has become available that can help with copy editing. You have to go through each suggested edit to make sure it’s valid, but it can cover a lot of the worst mistakes before you have real eyes on the work. That can make the copy editor’s job much easier.

Most of these tools are web services with a subscription model – you pay annually for access via the web. Sometimes, the tools have Word or other add-ins that bring the interface into your software. Some work only with Word.

A few also offer plagiarism services that check if you’ve copied off outside sources. In other words – a really bad idea. Checking has become easy and cheap so always quote your sources. It can also flag if you have potential sections where you might run into similarity problems later. Plus, the tool may help source your quotes.

I looked at various articles and reviews. Many pointed to a batch of similarly priced tools.

Grammarly often topped the pack but there was sometimes overt advertising influence. Personal reviews were more mixed and there were a lot of reports of unresolved over-billing or being billed for the free trial. Plagiarism checking is included.

WhiteSmoke seemed decent but the setup wasn’t as useful for me. Their web site looks to be infected, so I’m not linking them. One reviewer linked instead to another supplier, suggesting a long term problem.

CorrectEnglish looked decent. But all of these tools are over $100. That can become competitive with a copy editors rates if your primary need is one work.

Then I found a couple of writers blogs like Karen’s that suggested others. Further research showed all where positive about them.

The key one: ProWritingAid – you can actually use their on-line tool for free for a batch of smaller works but you have to manually make the suggested edits in your work. I ran a recently posted article though it and was surprised how many  mistakes it found. Doh! For $35 a year, you can do longer works and edit right in the text, then transfer the updates back. If you use Word or Google Docs, they have an add-in to edit right in the doc. WordPress too. For $5 more you get plagiarism checking.

They also have a decent blog talking about the industry, even inviting comparisons with similar products. And their Twitter feed is full related links, author articles, etc. They’re clearly into it.

Karen’s link above also mentioned the free (in beta) EditMinion. It only does small parts but does catch slightly different things. She suggested you use this first, then ProWritingAid.

She also mentioned a great tool if you’re writing non-fiction. WritingHouse gives you a free tool for assembling a Bibliography in the right format with all the little details.

Note that you have to resist the urge to get into fancy formatting of your work prematurely. That can get butchered by the editing process. Formatting comes after you have a polished draft. Plus the style of formatting will depend on your eventual publishing medium. Default word processing format is usually for 8.5 x 11″ paper. That’s useful for a PDF at best. Book formatting is quite distinct and digital ebooks and web publishing are each their own worlds. A carefully formatted print PDF looks terrible on an ebook reader, for example. Ebooks have to be able to flow into their viewing container.

When you get to this point, I’ve found the book Zero Cost Self Publishing by Stephen Norton useful. It’s a step-by-step how-to for print and the primary ebook distributors. And then there is the exploding world market for ebooks in other languages. Why stick with N. America when you can be a best-seller in China?

Long form writing, whatever the final output, is quite the process. We can all use a little help at different parts of the journey.

Culturing Creative Genius

April 14, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Posted in Books, Psychology, Writing | Leave a comment

Here and there we see books and studies of the highly successful. Behaviours we can emulate to achieve success. A new book takes a little different tack. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry examines the habits of 161 creative thinkers and artists, many well-known.

In this review by Sarah Green in the Harvard Business Review, she describes The Daily Routines of Geniuses. Some of them you’ll find in most success books too. But the creative angle brings out other nuances. She quotes the book: “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”

The reviewer notes “I began to notice several common elements in the lives of the healthier geniuses…” They were:
A workspace with minimal distractions
A daily walk – some long
Accountability metrics
A clear dividing line between important work and busywork
A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck
A supportive partner
Limited social lives

Not that I’m a famous genius but I can add a few points to the excellent article.

She mentions how email comes in constantly. I long ago set my email up to not check automatically but rather I check manually so I could process it in bursts, at a break.

For myself, taking a break when you’re stuck is a good idea. Then you can come back fresh. But you may need to work through ongoing resistance. I also don’t break when I’m on a roll because the best stuff can come out then. However, that can result in an odd eating schedule on occasion.

As for the partner, there does need to be life balance in there for an effective relationship. It helps if they’re flexible about the inspiration though. As for “limited social lives”, that would be a less healthy trait. A lot of creative work is done solo. I learned that a balanced life includes a social life and became more intentional about that. It’s all too easy to put a life aside if the muse is strong.

One thing she mentioned but didn’t highlight would be “catching the muse when it shows up”. I have post-it notes around the place and keep paper & pen with me to capture ideas when they show up. They tend not to create memory impressions so can be lost like waking from a dream if they’re not noted. While this isn’t directly part of a daily routine, it is an important ritual.

I also recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s distinction between Being a genius and Having a genius. While we can manage our lifestyle around genius and culture it, genius itself is not something we control. It is a gift rather than a trait. We must be prepared for when the wind rises and the light shines. Then we can capture a little of our creative genius.

Kiva – Start Free

May 2, 2013 at 11:10 am | Posted in Books, Economoney, Online services | Leave a comment

If you’ve ever looked at Kiva (microloans) but were uncertain about investing, here is a chance to try it out for free. You can make a free $25 loan contribution and see the process in action.

Bob is the author of a book about Kiva. During a journalists tour of outrageously expensive hotels around the world, he saw the poverty of the people nearby, some of whom helped build the palaces. He took his pay and invested it in Kiva. Then he went on another world tour to see the loans in action.  The resulting book, The International Bank of Bob, is a funny and moving story of the ensuing adventure. And a profound look at real life in some of the more challenging spots on earth.

Your Elusive Creative Genius

February 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Posted in Books, Media, Psychology, Writing | 2 Comments

This is a clip from a few years back but I’ve frequently sent the link to writers and other creatives and it came up again today. I thought it was time to share it here.

In this TED talk, “”Eat, Pray, Love” Author Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses – and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.” She explores the origin of the word genius and of course, the muse.

Creativity and genius really aren’t personal traits. They’re more gifts, a reflection of a given openness that allows the innate intelligence and creativity of the universe to move through our specific form of it. Openness is also a key quality for transpersonal development.

EReading on a PC

September 17, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Books, Computers, Internet, Software | 2 Comments

Digital paper formats like PDF (Portable Document Format) have been around since the rise of Desktop Publishing in the early 1990’s, prior to the WWW. But recent eBook formats are a different animal. The text is sharper and designed to adjust and reflow into the size of the viewing screen; from a cell phone to a 50″ TV. The text can be annotated, highlighted and bookmarked and the software typically automatically reopens the file where you left off last time. No remembering page numbers.

The recent proliferation of eBooks has meant cheaper, more accessible books requiring vastly less storage space. Files are typically compressed like music’s .MP3 format, making them smaller than PDF’s and easier to take with you. If you use books as a reference source, a quick search is a great bonus. They’re greener and quickly accessible at purchase too. No commute to the bookstore or wait for shipping. (though I still love to shop in bookstores) Recently, eBooks began to outsell paper books and vast repositories of free books are growing on-line. Some traditional libraries have begun offering eBook “loans” or on-line reading and some on-line stores have a selection of free eBooks too.

As with many new technologies, this one is coming with a large surge in special file formats. Each supplier has their favorite format and many devices only support a few of them. There are a few standards like .ePub but the market is still settling out.

Some eBooks you buy come with copy protection (DRM) that limits how many devices you can put it on. If you have a few devices (cell, reader, and the computer you downloaded it to, for example) and you upgrade your hardware periodically, you’ll have to rebuy your favorites when you copy them over a few times. Built-in obsolescence of knowledge?

On the other hand, devices like Amazon’s Kindle are tied to their store to make shopping easy and painless. eReader devices have been driving this vast expansion as people discover the ease and advantages of a library that fits in your purse or case and lasts a week between charges. They organize and back up your books for you. Like your cell phone is tied to your provider or the iPxx devices are to iTunes and Apple, easy technology sells. It also makes you a dedicated customer.

If you’d also like to read those eBooks on your laptop or desktop, suppliers handily offer special proprietary viewers. But do you want to be stuck shopping at only one store on your PC or have different programs for each outlet competing for your library? Do you want someone looking over your shoulder at what you read? And who wants to hassle with file conversion to read what you’d like?

Caliber is a recommended free PC (Win, Mac and Linux) eReader program that can view and convert a wide range of formats but it likes to organize your eBooks their way (a la iTunes). If you already have a library structure for your different kinds of eBooks, you don’t want a program to go rearranging your bookcases. But if you’d prefer a program that organizes for you and you like to sync your books to various devices, you may prefer Caliber. It depends on your style of computing and who you want managing your library.

At first, I used the free CoolReader (Win, Linux, Android) as an unobtrusive program. It requires manually opening files (not just a double-click) but supports a wide range of formats. It’s a good choice if your needs are simple. This worked well for me until the number of eBooks I received grew (exponentially it seems) and I started getting other formats like DjVu more often. I gradually needed a viewer that was more sophisticated.

My usual sources for recommended free software weren’t helping. And then I ran into something unexpected. Software designed for viewing the full range of science and technology document formats. The STDU or “Science and Technology Document Utility was just what I was looking for. It’s free for personal and non-commercial use. It includes a tabbed interface, text and image export, and some limited conversion features.
(see the web site for details)

A single viewer that easily handles all the formats I’m running into was just what the doctor ordered.
It handles:
eBook formats: EPub (most standard), FB2(Fiction book), TXT, CBR or CBZ(Comic Books), TCR(Psion), PDB(PalmDoc), MOBI(Open Ebook), AZW(older Kindles), and DCX(Fax)
Document Formats: PDF, DjVu, XPS, JBIG2, and WWF.
Image formats: TIFF, BMP, PCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, WMF, EMF, and PSD files.

A few use .CHM for eBooks. It’s a Windows HTML Help format that will open natively in Windows (only). Add copy protection and you get the .LIT format that evidently requires the propriety Microsoft Reader. As the MS Reader has now been discontinued, it illustrates why it’s best to avoid such closed, non-standard formats. Similarly, the oft-recommended but ironically named MobiPocket Reader converts your Mobi and other files into a proprietary PRC format. Believe me, this invites headaches down the road. If you’ve been browsing the web for awhile, you know what a hassle it was until Web Standards became commonly supported.

More less common eBook formats are listed here.

When you’re installing STDU, review the file associations (checkboxes) you’re assigning. For example, even with full Acrobat, I prefer the fast Foxit Reader for quick and secure PDF viewing. And I have favorite Image viewing tools like XnView. But for all these eBook and less common Doc formats Like DjVu, STDU gets my defaults.

If your main interest is something to view all these formats and you like to organize your own library, I’d recommend STDU.

Happy reading!

Sacred Economics

April 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Books, Economoney, History, Movies | Leave a comment

A local filmmaker has made a short film to highlight the book Sacred Economics.

I’ve not yet read the book but enjoyed the film. As a number of historians have observed, when the spread between rich and poor gets as great as it is now, it’s usually the downfall of the civilization. And we certainly need a better understanding of economics and alternative solutions if we’re going to create a more equitable and sustainable culture.

The book is available in print, ePub, and as a “gift” on-line through the site.

“Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth. Today, these trends have reached their extreme but in the wake of their collapse, we may find great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.

This book is about how the money system will have to change and is already changing to embody this transition. A broadly integrated synthesis of theory, policy, and practice, Sacred Economics explores avant-garde concepts of the New Economics, including negative-interest currencies, local currencies, resource-based economics, gift economies, and the restoration of the commons. Author Charles Eisenstein also considers the personal dimensions of this transition, speaking to those concerned with “right livelihood” and how to live according to their ideals in a world seemingly ruled by money. Tapping into a rich lineage of conventional and unconventional economic thought, Sacred Economics presents a vision that is original yet commonsense, radical yet gentle, and increasingly relevant as the crises of our civilization deepen.”

Google NGram Viewer

September 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Books, Computers, Humor, Internet, Online services, Web Apps | Leave a comment

Google has once again added a new technology from their labs. The NGram viewer is a way to scan millions of books for the commonality of different words or phrases over time. They’re using the massive library of material they’ve been digitizing as a database.

3 words for example: Computer, mathematics, & electron

In this TED talk, 2 scientists demonstrate how it works and some amusing examples. And why it has value.

The NGram home page


Systemic YoYo’s

January 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Posted in Books, Science, Writing | 4 Comments

Systemic Yoyos: Some Impacts of the Second Dimension is the title of a new book by Yi Lin. The title intrigued me, so I dug around a bit. Turns out “2nd Dimension” doesn’t refer to spatial dimensions but rather conceptual. In this case, 1st dimension is classical science, second dimension is system theory. The author proposes the “Yoyo model” as a systemic model designed to solve difficult problems in science. After introducing the model, he uses it to solve  open problems in “Newtonian mechanics, planetary motions, the three-body problem, etc. The third part presents applications of this model in economics and finance.” He goes on to explore “the structure of human thoughts and infinity problems in …mathematics.” And finally, he uses case studies to investigate “the concept of rolling currents… to practically predict weather changes, especially the arrival of disastrous weather conditions.

With chapter titles like “Conservation of Informational Infrastructure: Empirical Evidence“, I am intrigued.

The Books abstract and contents are here. Parts are previewable here.

This page suggests the book arises from an effort to publish modern thinking in China.

In the introduction, he mentions 4 criteria, including “must be readable by as many people as possible”. Sadly, the book is rather pricey for my budget. Hopefully, exerpts or other derivations will become available.

Amazon Kindle

November 21, 2007 at 12:41 am | Posted in Books, Hardware, Technology | 5 Comments

A curious name. Reminiscent of a fire? Amazon in the US has released a new electronic book. Or is that electronic book holder?

Its the size of a paperback book but lighter (well under a lb.) and uses the high-res electronic paper technology. More like a printer than a screen. Evidently this is very battery efficient as you can read for a couple of days without a charge.

“The screen works using ink, just like books and newspapers, but displays the ink particles electronically. It reflects light like ordinary paper and uses no backlighting, eliminating the glare associated with other electronic displays.”

It uses cellular technology to connect to the online Kindle store, where you can buy books, typically for $9.95 each.  Thats a fair bit less than a book price but you’d have to buy over 25 books before you’d pay for the device. Which is not unreasonable.  “For a small charge” (.10 ea)  you can convert your Word documents and images to their format and upload them to the Kindle. Your books are backed up on Amazons site should your Kindle be lost, etc. PDF’s are possible but not all PDF’s render correctly.

These are interesting features but it points to a weakness in my mind.  I would prefer to be able to convert a range of files and upload them to the eBook for reference, like DocsToGo does for my Palm computer. Its normal you’d need to convert files as the digital paper is quite different display technology. But it would be nice if they’d make the conversion software available. Its more open than I first thought though…
It has a scroll and click select wheel for pick lists which I’ve often found annoying – attempts to click can instead select something else and click. So it depends on how well this is implemented. But the save as you go, bookmark, and and page turning buttons seem intuitive.

A lot of device real estate is devoted to data entry which appears mostly just for purchasing. However, the video suggests you can highlight blocks of texts and make notations and such, like when doing research. Again that could be very useful if well implemented.

It has a built in Dictionary as well as Wikipedia access.  Being digital, it allows you to search your book or library (another use for the keyboard) – the device holds about 200 volumes. Plus has an SD card slot for even more. Imagine a library the size of a postage stamp.

Text size is quite scalable and they have subscriptions for many major newspapers, a couple of hundred blogs, and some other resources.  These automatically download to your device.  Over 88,000 books, including most best sellers are available. Betcha not some of my titles of interest. Yet.

Its notable it has a USB port and cable.  One wonders what thats for. Ah –  You send them the files for conversion to a sepcial free address and they’ll email them back. No .10 charge. Then you can upload the converted files to the Kindle.  And they also support audio books , also uploaded via PC. It has speakers and a headphone jack. Interesting.

Amusingly, the suggested accessory for it is a book light…

This has potential.  I’ll be watching for reviews and am curious to see how this catches on. I’ve seen some amazing ebook technology but little that has a decent price point and enough market penetration…  (they’re currently sold out)

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