Bike Butt

Man in suit riding a bike

CC Bubba

This past weekend was Week 5 of my annual trek up the Little Miami Bike Trail, and this weekend, I rode the section known as the Loveland Bike Trail. This week’s segment took me 14 miles to a railroad town gone to seed called Morrow. It’s a trip I’ve made many times before. However, last week, my aging bike seat came apart as I returned to my car from Loveland. I probably should have replaced it when I had the bike tuned up this spring. But it was so comfortable.

Anyway, as the Loveland Bike Trail is part of one of the longer segments of my annual ride, I dropped the bike off to have the seat replaced, picked it up midweek, and was ready to ride. Right?

Wrong. During last week’s ride, someone pointed out that I needed to raise my seat, so I took care of that when I got the bike home. Not even 100 yards into the ride and my seat slid down to the frame. My bad. I’m not really handy with tools. One trip to the hardware store later, and I was on my way with my seat up where it was supposed to be.

Only the bike shop did not do their part of the job properly. Half a mile up the trail, and the seat had rocked back. Fortunately, I had my crescent wrench with me. That worked for raising and lowering the seat, so it should work for tightening the seat itself into place.

Loveland Bike TrailWell, no. No it wouldn’t. I had the nut tightened on the seat as hard it would go. About 10 miles up the trail, the seat had my nuts tightened. I later told Nita she no longer had to worry about me getting her pregnant. (She was not amused.) So what should have been a 2 hour ride became three because I had to periodically stop and adjust the angle of my seat.

I made the round trip – 26 miles in all. However, my ass felt like I’d sat on a metal bar for three hours. In Loveland, I headed over to Paxton’s for lunch and a beer. Along the way, I passed the bike rental place. The sign listed repairs. I went in and asked.

“We stopped doing repairs last season because we don’t have time to spend on it.” The bike rental place was always crowded.

“Oh,” I said. “I just need the seat tightened.”

“Really?” said the girl behind the counter, clearly younger than my stepson, who graduated high school two years earlier. “That’s two wrenches. Is the bike with you?”

Ten minutes later, the bike was comfortable and ready for another ride.

Too bad the bike shop didn’t get it right the first time (They usually do.) Sunday morning as I type this, even the recliner is giving me saddle sores.

Friday Reviews: Unlocked by John Scalzi

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome

John Scalzi

This short novella is a preview of Scalzi’s new novel, Lock In, about a plague in our near future. The story is told through interviews with government officials, reporters, scientists, and business people who were involved in fighting a mysterious, rapidly mutating disease called Haden’s Syndrome, named for the First Lady of the United States who becomes its most famous victim. It begins like any other disease in recent memory, such as SARS or the swine flu. Our interconnected world sends a mysterious flu-like bug around the world in days, which takes out a huge swath of the population. And like SARS and the various flu viruses that get away from doctors, many recover. Only it has a second “meningitis” stage, where victims relapse, this time with stiff necks and back and severe headaches. While fewer people who survive stage one reach stage two, the mortality rate is higher. If victims survive this stage, a third, more terrifying stage awaits some of the survivors: Lock in. (Hence the name of the upcoming novel.)

Haden’s syndrome locks its victims into their bodies. They are conscious, but unable to speak, unable to react, able only to respond in an MRI chamber where technicians can tell if they are responding yes or no.

The fight against this plague, which actually reverses population growth for a time, is described as a “moon shot.” The rich and powerful give everything because, as those interviewed point out, everyone is impacted. Scalzi illustrates what humans seem to do best: When the race’s back is against the wall, we seem to perform at our finest.

Down With Bowker

ISBNIndie authors and small press publishers, how much is a single ISBN number? In the US, it’s $125. 10 are $250 or $25 a piece. If you want one for only a dollar, you have to spend $1000 for 1000 ISBNs.

Do you have a spare grand lying around? $250 is a little less than my car payment. $125 is not quite so bad, but it’s a 500% markup over a block of ten and 12,500% on 1000. Tell me how this is not a scam.

Most independent authors I know don’t have that kind of cash lying around. Or if they do, it’s a tough thing to convince a spouse that this is worth a mortgage payment to buy 1000 ISBNs. There are free options, of course, but then your publisher is not you or your imprint. It’s Smashwords. Or Lightning Source. Or Amazon. Or CreateSpace. See a pattern? Hope so, because this just keeps going.

We’re told time and again we need an ISBN to sell books if we self-publish. This is true. It’s a unique identifier that retailers and libraries use to tell one book from another. So if two authors named John Smith write books called The Greatest Story Evah, different genres, different covers, different text, you can still tell them apart. However, most indie authors need only a handful, and it’s a lot easier to convince Amazon-phobic bookstores to stock your paperback if the ISBN tells them an imprint or an author published it than Amazon or one of its subsidiaries. It’s wonderful that Amazon and Smashwords and Barnes & Noble offer the free option. But really, let’s look at the pricing structure.

It’s a scam, pure and simple. If I work in a business where it’s considered more professional to own the identifier, why should I buy $1000 worth of numbers, most of which I’ll never use? Moreover, how can Bowker justify $125?

“Well, if you own it, you’ll likely make that back.”

There’s no guarantee. Granted, these days, I could easily find $250 to buy 10 ISBNs. You go explain that to my wife when the numbers don’t support that expense. But let’s say I can do this. Let’s say I’ve convinced Nita that spending about $500 – That’s probably a handful of utility bills each month, but by no means all of them – is a good investment, that we don’t need to move it to savings or retirement, that we really didn’t want to take that vacation anyway.

And $125 for a single? Where is the justification for that. I understand volume pricing. I totally get that. But how do you justify $125 vs. $25 or even $1.

I have a handful of suggestions:

  • Since self-pubishing and small press are now the norm, not the exception, Bowker should lower its price. Yes, it’s a business that needs to make a profit. So sell single ISBN’s for $50, pairs of ISBNs for $75. That’s an ebook and a print edition. Very doable on all but the tightest budgets.
  • Allow groups of authors, small publishers, or even writers groups to buy ISBNs en masse. 10 people or more can afford $1000 for that $1 ISBN than 1 person.
  • Take away Bowker’s monopoly. This is an antitrust issue. Internet domain names are no longer under one registrar. Why should ISBN’s.
  • Take away Bowker’s authority altogether. In Canada, ISBNs are free. Why? It’s the same system, an international format governed by treaty. So why is it $125 in Detroit and free in Windsor, two cities separated solely by a river? Make this a function of the Copyright Office.

The current system is outdated, restrictive, and predatory. Time for it to go.

Remission: Making It A Couple Thing

Jogging couple

CC 2009 Ed Yourdon

This summer, I had to restart my running program. I started walking up to two miles, but running? I needed a kick in the butt.

Fortunately, my wife is always willing to kick me in the butt. She saw me mapping out a mile run on the mapmyrun.com web site and asked if I was planning to do that eventually.

“Um…”

The next night. “Hey, honey. Let’s take a run together.”

Um…

We ran. I did a full mile. Nita ran about almost half a mile, walked a couple of blocks, and finished the run. We were both winded. Yes, I, the guy who said he wants to run the Flying Pig Marathon in a couple of years, was winded after running a mile.

But it’s easier to build up this time. We start at the same time, stretching together and taking off together. Nita’s endurance is building up. So is mine. Eventually, I’ll have to run a separate route as I get up to 2, 3, 4 miles and more. But working together, we’ve been able to push each other to get farther. Nita now runs in the park on days where I’m not running or I’m away in the evening. I’ve added my annual trek up the various segments of the Little Miami Trail to my routine.

The changes are slow and incremental, but we don’t want rapid weight loss. Rapid loss bring rapid gain, a sort of whiplash effect. I suspect that my fast drop from 310 pounds to 280 a few years ago also may have triggered Type II diabetes. So slower weight loss gives the body and the metabolism to adjust. Plus, when you lose slowly, your skin has time to reshape itself so you don’t have massive amounts of skin hanging off you when you hit your target weight.

Even when we don’t run at the same time, this gets more doable with a partner.

 

Friday Reviews: Voluntary Madness by Vicki Hendricks

Voluntary Madness

Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks is known for her “reverse noir,” populated by women who should know better getting involved with “homme fatales.” This time out, young Juliette is living in Key West, Florida, with her boyfriend Punch, who is writing a novel. They are living off her father’s estate for a year at the end of which they will kill themselves. Punch has chosen Key West because it was Hemingway’s home for a time. Only Voluntary Madness seems to be more Kerouac than Hemingway.

And yet as their final day approaches, Juliette senses their year of Bohemian living is all wrong. They go from posing as a blind man and his wife (with the world’s smallest guide dog, a pug) and Juliette flashing tourists to get a reaction to robbing restaurants. All this is material for Punch’s novel. Yet during this time, Juliette meets a lesbian witch named Isis, who falls for her. Isis a a calm port for Juliette, and yet she cannot convince herself to leave Punch even when Punch seems hell bent on killing himself.

This is probably the most atypical of Hendricks’ books. It has the Florida setting, but it seems less noir than an homage to On the Road. There is that total hedonistic mission Punch and Juliette have where even their deaths are intended to be an act of rebellion. And yet, unlike Sal Paradise, Juliette realizes there’s something else. It’s a long, hard journey to that point.

Recruiters: Pay Close Attention

There seems to be a growing arrogance in IT recruiters these days. They contact you at work or during business hours on the attitude that you need them more than they need you. Which is funny because, when I get the call, I notice that I already have a job.

But it goes beyond that. In 2010, I was laid off from BigHugeCo, the discreetly aliased Fortune 500 company where I worked for 10 years. For about six months, I was able to live off desktop support contracts and severance pay. Then I signed on with Medishack, and just my LinkedIn profile (which you can’t see from here, so don’t look) indicated a change in my focus. I now listed my specialties as C# and SQL development.

Understandably, I got phone calls asking if I wanted to do desktop support for about a year after I took that job. But then something strange happened. I got a call from the receptionist saying my “friend” Ben wanted to talk to me. This was about six months into the new job. Ben finally got through, scolded me for not putting my cell phone on my LinkedIn profile, and insisted I needed to interview with his client located a mere ten minutes from my house. I’d have loved to look at that job, but 1.) I had just started this new job and wasn’t ready to abandon it, and 2.) why would I trust someone who had to lie their way to my direct extension? I told Ben thanks but no thanks. He left me with a warning about missed opportunities. Well, that wouldn’t be the first time.

Ben’s company called again, and I finally shot the firm an email telling them that getting me fired was not going to make me amenable to interviewing with their client. Thankfully, I’m blacklisted with them.

With my new job, it gets even more interesting. I’m the first direct hire with BigTinyTechCorp (again, an alias) in about five years. During the interview process, I noticed an uptick in recruiter calls. A few became specific about where I would interview: An e-commerce company in the northern suburbs. The job description sounded exactly like…

My new job. I even got a call after I turned in my notice about this very company. Sigh. All that tells me is the contracting firm did not do their homework regarding the company, never mind me as a potential prospect.

But it gets more interesting, my friends. All my job board profiles (which have been turned off for over a year) say “Not willing to relocate.” I keep getting emails about an immediate need for a 6 month contract-to-hire development job in Columbus/Chicago/Dallas/Seattle/Vladivostok. During my unemployment, a recruiter also scolded me for going to night school as it interfered with my ability to do the job he wanted me to interview for (which was outside my skill set). Another suggested I should take a pay cut because “it’s a really good company.” (Hint: A really good company is going to pay me more to leave.)

So recruiters, if you’re reading this, listen up. You need us more than we need you. You need a commission. We need a paycheck, which, by the way, is much easier in 2014 to find than it was in 2010. I found my current job because my employer’s HR department did their homework. I found my last job because I networked. My first manager at Medishack was a coworker at BigHugeCo, which I also found because someone recommended me to take over their job. And don’t tell me it’s a great opportunity if it’s a Java development job, and I’ve been writing C# for several years now. When I say “No relocation,” your job prospect had goddamn well better say “Cincinnati” or show up on Google maps as within 30 minutes of my Zip Code.

Do your homework. Stop alienating prospects. You’ll make more money, and your prospects will be happier.