All work and no play… January projects.

JanuaryJanuary so far is proving one of the busiest months.

Apart from finishing Draft 3 of “The Rising Tide” I’ve launched two major online projects since New Year. It’s been exhausting, but at least I’m finally doing fun things 🙂

The first project is “Today in Japan’s History“: daily Nihon Rekishitweets, FB and G+ posts on Japan’s History, on the day it happened. You can read more about the project here. At the moment I’ve gathered over 1500 facts, amounting to an average of 4-5 posts a day. Do follow please if you find that sort of thing interesting 🙂

The second project, launched today, is “Kobo Book Hub“: a site for promoting Kobo books. There’s a lot of these for Kindle, but not many for Kobo, so I’m here to fill out the niche. Right now it’s just listing books in three price categories, but I expect to be adding new features as the site grows. If you have a book on Kobo, please fill out the submission form. For a while all books are accepted free of charge 🙂

E-publishing: solid numbers

publishers-weekly-logo_smallI was looking for some numbers on e-book sales per device and store, and found this article on Publisher’s Weekly.

Here are some highlights:

“According to the Book Industry Study Group’s fourth volume in its “Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading” survey series, 73% of e-book buyers bought (or got an e-book for free) from Amazon, with 21% getting their e-books from B&N (…) Apple’s content stores were only used by 10% of e-book users, but that is expected to change as device sales pick up.”

That’s just for the US, though. I expect B&N was non-existent anywhere else in 2012 – it only just started expanding into Europe at the end of the year. Kobo probably takes B&N’s place in other markets.

I’m not sure why everyone expects Apple sales to pick up, it’s not like they haven’t been selling their devices in droves before – or is everyone pinning their hopes on iPad Mini? If that’s the case, why doesn’t anyone mention Google Play, which is just as expansive globally, and available on more devices? Especially in the light of this:
“iPad is the leading tablet used on Books-OnBoard, representing 63% of all tablet downloads, but Android tablets are growing share rapidly. A year ago, iPad completely dominated this, with 93% of tablet downloads.”

Curious bit about power buyers:

“According to the BISG’s consumer reading survey, “power buyers” (those who purchase e-books weekly) show an increased preference for reading on tablets, with more than 38% indicating so, compared to 19% a year ago.”

“The Kindle Store, for example, accounted for 46% of the e-book purchases of Galaxy users compared to 83% of Fire owners, while “other” outlets represented 19% of e-book purchases of Galaxy owners compared to 5% for Fire owners.”
I wonder what are the most popular “other” people use?

And here’s the bit I was looking for:

“50% of the respondents to a Diesel survey reported that they use dedicated e-readers, 20% use a personal computer, and 16% use tablets, but the tablet component is growing.” So that’s only 20% PC purchases. I presume most of them are still using branded bookstores instead of author websites. That doesn’t bode well for the author-vendor model.

“LiVolsi also pointed to a “migration of about 34% of our readers over the last 18 months” to sub-$100 Nooks and Kindles that don’t support content from other retailers.”

It will be interesting to see where we are next year…

Tanaka Hisashige

image courtesy of Google.co.jp

Today is Tanaka Hisashige‘s 213th birth anniversary. You may not have heard about him, but Google found it fitting to celebrate it with a special animated Doodle – and I found his achievements important enough to not only put him in my books, but also make him the first character my readers encounter. Yes, it’s Master Tanaka from the Prologue to The Shadow of Black WingsMaster inventor and brilliant designer of the late Edo period, the Karakuri Giemon and a man who may, in a long run, be responsible for the laptop you read this on (provided it’s a Toshiba laptop).

A self-taught genius at first, young Hisashige came to fame creating the karakuri – Japanese automatons, which were then all the rage among the aristocracy. An example of one is what you see in the doodle above. But the dolls were just a novelty, and not enough to make Tanaka famous. He moved to Kyoto to study Rangaku – the “Dutch Knowledge” – and quickly became one of its finest scholars.

His achievements were unparalleled at the time. With only limited access to the Western science, he reverse-engineered many devices, and created others from scratch, using just his ingenuity and some Dutch drawings. He built a steam locomotive and a steam ship, a reverberatory furnace and telegraphic instruments. His Myriad Year Clock, which plays such an important role in “The Shadow…”, was a world-class masterpiece of precision mechanics.

Like Brunel on the other side of the globe, Tanaka embodied his era of fast change and technological revolution. Even with the meagre means at his disposal at the time, he was creating things which easily matched the achievements of some of his Western contemporaries. A Google Doodle is the least we can do to commemorate his life.

And what does it all have to do with Toshiba? Well, Hisashige’s son, Tanaka Daikichi, continuing his father’s work, established in 1881 the Tanaka Engineering Works in Tokyo. The company moved to Shibaura district and changed its name to Shibaura Engineering Works and finally, in 1939 – to Tokyo Shibaura. To-Shiba. So yes, that laptop of yours? A direct descendant of Tanaka’s automatons and clocks!

The book “The Shadow of Black Wings” is now available on Amazon.jp

The terrible idea that is Google #Trending

Nicki Minaj. Britney Spears. Whitney Houston. Jennifer Lopez.

These were four of the topics that were trending Google+ the day after launching the new UI which put the trending box on everyone’s home page.

The ‘trending’ box in its current incarnation is a terrible idea for a service like Google+. Here’s why.

1) G+ is not Twitter. It’s not news happening real-time, it’s not news at a glance. When I click a ‘trending’ topic on twitter, I can immediately see what’s going on and why it’s trending. That’s because everyone is tweeting the same thing, a stream of global consciousness. When I do the same thing on G+, I am completely at a loss. I had to go to the google search to find out (for research purposes, of course) why these four were trending that day (one of them was rumoured to be an X-Factor judge, one of them released a best-selling record, one of them filed divorce papers, one of them was dead. in random order.). I could not get that information from G+. What I got instead when I clicked a singer’s name was some video clips, some gushing teenagers and random snippets of news – nothing that could point me in the right direction. It had taken me a painful while to even learn who Nicki Minaj was.
It continues to be that way. Today’s trending topics are ‘Microsoft’ and ‘Instagram’. Generic much? I clicked through and found no reason whatsoever for those trends to appear today, or any other day apart from the day when Facebook bought Instagram – and that was ages ago in terms of internet news. Twitter got over that in a day. And as of writing this, I have no clue why Microsoft would be trending.

2) The information provided is irrelevant for a vast majority of G+ populace. We’re talking Google here, the company which makes its business to know what’s relevant to its users. Why doesn’t Google use its powerful analytics tools to give me the information I need? They know what I’m like, they know where I live, what I want to read about, what I do. I’ve given away all this information in exchange for a useful, relevant product. If I wanted to know what’s trending at all (I never did before) I want to know what’s trending in the areas that I’m interested in. Instead I get Nicki Minaj.
The G+ population is one of the most diverse and easily multi-cultural online populations I have ever seen. In my circles I have people from Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Australia, Germany… Their interests span from e-publishing through human rights to brewing coffee. Why are we all uniformly being given entertainment news from the USA? This is verging on insulting. This is Google saying none of what we do or care about matters in the sea of pop culture. I get ads that are more interesting to me than the Trending topics.

In summary, #Trending is useless for an interest- and discussion-based service like G+. G+ is not working as a news source. Google is not using its vast knowledge of its users to provide a good service. The Trending box must go.

Versus War on Drugs Debate summary

It is a very depressing thing to watch a well-discussed debate in which one side is so fully, objectively wrong.
Google and IQ2 could have chosen a more balanced topic, and we could have seen people on both sides exchanging rational arguments. Instead, we had rational arguments on one side – and emotion and fundamentalist morality on the other.
The anti-drug side believes that taking any mind-transforming substance is wrong. Period. Peter Hitchens said as much: ‘taking drugs is wrong, therefore it is illegal.’ They believe it so strongly that when asked outright whether they think alcohol prohibition is a bad idea – they stumble. If they could, they would, again. They would ban coffee, too – although here their religious morality might stop them, as Julian Assange rightly pointed out: we tend to condone the usage of substances that make us relaxed and peaceful, rather than substances that make us agitated and hard-working.
The drugs are, in fact, so wrong that any means to fight them become justifiable. You could see it in the way the arguments were presented, though it was not said outright by anyone, of course: it is better to die or perish in prison than to take a drug. The most fundamental argument against legalization and regulation was ‘the use of drugs would increase’. Yes, it would – at first, although eventually it would probably go the way of tobacco. But even so, what of it? Only if you believe that taking drugs is fundamentally, morally, objectively wrong is this argument valid in any way. All the deaths, poverty and increase in persecution and criminal activity (and contrary to the falsified statistics the war party peddled, there was an increase in criminal activity linked to the war on drugs) mean nothing if on the other side of the scale is put ‘increase use of drugs’. The threat of somebody doing harm to themselves willingly trumps any harm the society and government could force him to do. And when you see the world in that way, there really is no debate possible.
There were a few gimmicks – pitting Russell Brand against Peter Hitchens or getting Julian Assange out of hiding were obvious ploys to make the debate more engaging (ie. get more views) and it kind of worked. Although I would have preferred Stephen Fry rather than Russell Brand, as he would have made a more eloquent point. There were a few annoyances – like the war party insisting that the debate was ‘not really about the war on drugs’ even though it VERY OBVIOUSLY WAS (hint is in the title). Also, why have all the Americans chosen to appear on the panel were of the anti-drug variety? Surely the organizers could have found some pro-legalization citizens of the USA, or are have they all been put to jail by now?
 There was not enough public engagement through the Hangout, and the questions from the public, although much more valid than they usually are in this sort of thing, have not been followed to any conclusion. Hopefully there will be more of it the next time. But all in all, this week’s events – the Versus debate and the Kony 2012 debacle – like the Arab Spring last year, has shown us that the traditional media are becoming more and more irrelevant. The internet is now definitely ‘where it’s at’.