The Digital Reader is reporting, and I have verified, that Barns & Noble has removed the “download” link from users’ Nook Libraries. Reports that they have also purchased a gun, aimed it at their feet, and pulled the trigger remain unconfirmed.
Previously, when you bought an eBook from B&N, you could download it, load it into Calibre, and then load it onto pretty much any device you want. A laptop, your phone, even a Kindle. B&N has disabled this feature, meaning you can now only read Nook books on a Nook, or in a Nook app.
This is remarkably fucking stupid.
There are two ways to make money in the eBook business: by selling the eBooks themselves, or by selling the hardware used to read them. And only one of them works.
Amazon has decided that it is a content company first, and a hardware manufacturer a distant second. This doesn’t mean that their hardware is crap; it’s actually very good. But it does mean that they aren’t trying to turn a profit on it. They sell their hardware at near-cost, and sometimes even at a loss, and make their real money when you read a book, listen to a song, or watch a movie. This means eReaders are a commodity, with razor-thin margins.
Barnes & Noble is also a content company. First because selling books is kind of what they do, but also because the Nook hardware business is hemorrhaging money.
It’s good for B&N that their books can be read on multiple devices, because no one is buying Nooks. The hardware is an albatross around their neck, and content is their lifeline.
By disabling downloads, B&N has made their content less useful. Less valuable. Less likely to be purchased.
I’m a Nook user. I love it. I read on it almost every day. Virtually every eBook I’ve purchased has been from Barnes & Noble, even though Amazon is cheaper. But this is indefensible. This might be what finally pushes me into the Kindle’s warm, front-lit embrace.
And it makes me even surer about my decision to go Amazon exclusive.
The Gotham pilot was a great hour of television. It introduced a raft of interesting characters, dropped them into an interesting situation, and lit the whole thing on fire. It didn’t have the awkwardness of most pilots; I didn’t feel like anyone was still trying to figure out their character, and the cast all seemed to work comfortably with each other.
Gotham has a great premise. The whole city is corrupt; the politicians and the cops are all on the take, there’s a mob war brewing, and the best that people can hope for is that the more restrained, less violent crime boss comes out on top. Our protagonist is the only good cop in town, new to the city and too righteous to become a part of the status quo. The inciting incident is the murder–probably an assassination–of the city’s wealthiest couple, beloved icons and philanthropists. The series arc is the ripple effect caused by these deaths. The police, the criminals, the politicians, and the people of the city will all be affected in one way or another; these murders are the straw that breaks the city’s back.
It’s a great story. There’s just one problem, and his name is Bruce Wayne.
Jim Gordon is a fascinating character. Tough, moral, and too stubborn for his own good. He’s a knight in shining armor, a man who believes in the law and in justice. He’s a man who hasn’t yet given up on the system, and watching that crumble, watching him become a man who can accept a guy dressed up as a bat and beating criminals to a pulp, will be a hell of a ride.
Unfortunately, the show feels like a tease. Because as interesting as Jim Gordon is, he will always be overshadowed by the Batman.
As far as I know, no one has ever inspected Bruce Wayne’s early life. Like Jesus, he’s the focus of a childhood tragedy, and then he disappears until early adulthood. The opening half of Batman Begins, following Wayne’s progression from would-be killer of killers into the Dark Knight, was the best part of the movie, and I would gladly watch a series about that.
I’m less convinced about watching a series about thirteen-year-old Wayne. It makes sense that this is where Batman really got his start. He’s supposed to be one of the best athletes in the world (Dick Grayson, currently Nightwing and the original Robin, is acknowledged as a better pure athlete, although Bruce is still a bette brawler), and Olympic-level athletes almost all start their training very young.
It makes sense, but it isn’t very compelling. I understand that Bruce Wayne would have to start his preparations at a young age, but I don’t particularly want to watch a thirteen year old every week. That, of course, is why Jim Gordon is the focus of the show. But whenever Jim Gordon is on he screen, I can’t help but wonder what Batman would be doing in his situation.
And, like most of these origin stories, the world of Gotham feels too small. The Penguin works for Falcone’s rival, who has the Joker up on stage. The Riddler works in the police’s CSI division. Catwoman watched Bruce’s parents get shot, and will eventually teach Batman parkour. Poison Ivy’s dad gets framed for the crime. I get that they’re exploring how the Wayne Murders affected all of these people, and made Batman’s villains as much as they made Batman himself, but it feels just a little too forced, especially all within one episode.
Gotham is a good show that is, I think, hampered by the fact that it’s also a Batman show. I think I’d be able to enjoy it more if I wasn’t waiting for a cape and cowl that will never appear.
Fox made the best decision in their long and storied history this week, and announced that the Deadpool movie will be in theaters February 2016!
Why is this the best thing in the world? Because Deadpool is a fourth-wall breaking super ninja assassin with Wolverine’s powers and a mouth that never stops. Here’s the test footage:
And here’s Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, which was the only good thing about X-Men Origins: Wolverine:
For a while, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of Amazon exclusivity.
Amazon makes no secret that they want as many authors as possible to be available only on their devices, a program they call Kindle Select. The biggest incentive they offer used to be the ability to offer five free promo days in a three-month period, and a lot of authors have made their career by giving away the first book in their series to a few hundred thousand new fans.
They sweetened the deal with the Kindle Lending Library. The Lending Library lets people who own a Kindle device to borrow a new book every month, and read it for free. The author, though, still gets paid, out of a fund created by Amazon.
Recently, they introduced Kindle Countdown Deals, a way for authors to temporarily put a book on sale and have it automatically, gradually increase in price.
The latest benefit is Kindle Unlimited. Unlimited costs $9.99 a month, and gives the reader access to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Basically, it’s Netflix for books. Like the Lending Library, authors still get paid whenever someone reads past the ten percent mark (basically, they get through the free preview), and like the Lending Library, the only way to get your book in is to be Amazon exclusive.
There are a lot of perks to being Amazon exclusive. I’ve resisted, because I’ve wanted my books available to as many people as possible. Recently, though, I decided to take the plunge. Starting today, and until at least the end of the year, my eBooks will be available only through Amazon (but the paperbacks will still be available everywhere).
This is the big reason. Between free promos, Countdown Deals, the Lending Library, and now Unlimited, there are a ton of ways to get noticed on Amazon. And just as importantly, my books are on the shelf next to a bunch of other authors’ who are using these tools to make their books more affordable and more attractive. Being in the Kindle Select program isn’t even about gaining an advantage anymore; it’s about evening the playing field.
The vast majority of my sales come from Amazon anyway
Sure, I might gain exposure on Amazon, but I’m also losing all of the sales I’d have coming from Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and all of the other eBook outlets, right?
Kind of. Almost all of my sales come from Amazon already, so I might be giving up five or ten percent by going Amazon exclusive. My bet is that the perks of Kindle Select more than make up for that loss. Hugh Howey, author of Wool, has been experimenting with this for a couple of months, and he’s found that the sales jump on Amazon easily overcomes the loss of other outlets.
Still, I want as many people to be able to read my stories as possible. Turns out, there’s an answer for that.
Kindle apps everywhere
If you have a Mac, a PC, an iPhone, an Android phone, a tablet, or even a Nook HD, you can download a Kindle app and read your books right on your device. And, unlike the Nook, this app actually works on Mac.
Also, my books are sold DRM-free, which means you can easily load them onto another eReader, including Nook. You can use Calibre to do your conversion and loading automatically.
Becoming Amazon exclusive gives me more exposure, and really doesn’t limit readers from getting ahold of my stories, so I’m going to experiment. I expect this to be win-win. And if not, I’m only committed for three months.
I was listening to Joe Rogan and Sam Harris discuss free will, and figured I’d share some thoughts on the subject.
I side with Harris on this; I believe that “I” is an emergent phenomena, and that free choice is an illusion.
From a scientific point of view, our brain is a machine. It’s orders of magnitude more complex than a computer, but fundamentally no different. Chemicals and electrical impulses combine to create thoughts and emotions, to create “me.” In a very real sense, we are these hormonal surges and electrical firings. Our thoughts, our responses, and our desires do not exist outside of these real, physical systems.
That raises the question: if there is free will, what is its source? If we examine the universe scientifically, the machine that is our brain operates from one of two sources: determinism or free will.
In a deterministic universe, reality is essentially a giant watch. It was wound up at the beginning of time and it will proceed until the end, mechanically.
If determinism is true, we can view our brains as an infinitely complex set of cogs and gears. In this scenario, we have no more free will than a car; if someone pushes the gas peddle, it goes forward. Our inputs and resulting actions are more complex, but the principle is the same. Or, you can view the mind as software being run on the computer that is our brain; if you provide the exact same inputs to a piece of software, it will always behave the exact same way, because it cannot do anything else.
In this reality, we are not responsible for our choices, because our brain is simply playing out the predetermined script.
In a random universe, our thoughts and actions aren’t predetermined, they’re the result of chance. Something, maybe something operating at the quantum level, causes an input to our brains, our brains process that input, and we act based on that processing.
In this reality, our brains are like software with a random seed; our thoughts and actions cannot be predicted, because we don’t know all of the inputs, but if we were given the exact same inputs again, we would behave in the exact same way.
In truth, our minds are probably a combination of both determinism and randomness. Quantum activity provides random input, but at larger levels, we play out our responses deterministically. This isn’t to say that the process is simple, just that it’s mechanical.
If our mind works in either (or both) of these two ways, there is no free will. We are either playing out a predetermined script, or we are responding mechanically to random inputs. For free will to exist, its source must be something outside of physical reality. Which brings us to:
Theists, mystics, and pretty much everyone else point to the soul as the source of our free will. In this version of the universe, our brain isn’t so much a machine as it is a radio, which sends information to and receives decisions from the soul. The fact that damaging the brain can alter the personality is explained away as merely a signal degradation; the soul remains uninjured, but also incapable of communicating perfectly with the brain.
There are several problems with this, the first being testability. The soul is a hypothesis, and to validate a hypothesis, you need to be able to test it. So far as I know, no one has been able to put forth a set of testable criteria that would point toward the existence of absence of a soul.
If our thoughts, desires, and actions really are a product of the soul, communicated to the brain, how would that be measurably different that if those same thoughts, desires, and actions arose naturally from the brain itself? Until this question can be answered, the concept of a soul remains firmly outside of science. People can hope that we have a soul, even believe that we have a soul, but there’s no way to prove it.
But even if we accept the idea that our mind is a product of the soul, we still don’t have room for free will. Why? Because the soul is a thing, created with certain properties, and responding to stimulus based on those properties. Just like the brain, the soul is either a deterministic piece of machinery, or it is a random number generator, or it is a combination of both.
And if we assume that we have a soul in the Christian sense, the case for fee will actually gets even worse. Take this verse:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son …
Two concepts are inseparably linked here: foreknowledge and predestination. If you have a god that is all-knowing and all-powerful, literally nothing can happen outside of his or her design. Every choice you make–every sin committed and every virtue lived out–was known ahead of time, before the deity ever created you. And when it was knitting you together in your mother’s womb, to borrow a phrase, it knew exactly what you would do, for every single moment in your life. The deity knew when you would have your first kiss, when you would tell your first lie, when you would be filled with anger, when you would be overcome with love, when you would be born and when you would die.
No, the idea of a soul makes free will even less likely, not more.
We’ve looked at three possibilities: a mechanical universe, a random universe, and a supernatural universe, and we haven’t found room for free will in any of them. So what does this mean?
In practice, not much. A lot of what we know about human psychology, about motivation, willpower, and so on, is still true. It still makes sense to reward behaviors that we desire and punish behaviors we dislike, because the machinery of our brain will respond to those inputs in a fairly predictable fashion.
It does, however, kind of eliminate the justification for retribution. It makes sense to punish undesirable behavior as a deterrent, but not as vengeance. The fact that a person is a murderer stems from their genetics, their family, their experiences, and countless other variables that are entirely outside of their control. Sometimes its simply a facet of the hardware of the brain malfunctioning. The fact that a person was born without dopamine receptors is no more their fault than the fact that they were born in poverty. Again, punishment can make sense as a deterrent, but there is no moral basis for revenge.
Of course, the desire for revenge is also born into us. Turtles all the way down.
Finally, it should alter the way we go about achieving our goals. If we’re on a diet, for example, rather than beating ourselves up because we run out of willpower and eat a slice of pizza, we should examine what science tells us about choices and willpower, and use that to get the desired result out of the software of our brain.
We shouldn’t look at ourselves as weak, or as morally flawed, but as a system, a system with rules that can be manipulated to achieve our goals.