Publishing Is in Disarray

I have a notion about publishing. Let me just work through it for a minute.

Publishing used to be a cozy, profitable industry, probably of medium size, somewhere between art supplies and big steel. It was highly respected; ambitious young people dreamed of sitting behind a door that said Editor in Chief or Publisher. They were very willing to get started by sitting in front of that door or even a much less exalted one.

However, publishing has been in disarray for some time now. It is beset on many sides: environmentalism (paper, ink, transportation costs), decay of the notion of a book as a luxury item, and of course, the electronic availability of free “information.”

Kids, you get what you pay for, and that goes for information, too. The publishing industry used to serve an extremely valuable purpose: it sorted out and discarded the worst of the trash and tidied up the good stuff for us so it would be well worth reading.

Now, I believe that societies and ideas run in cycles, like a spiral, like the seasons and years. Lax seasons, giddy seasons, in which we are now mired, hypnotized by our new electronic toys, eventually give way to a more serious age, usually as a response to nearly fatal excess. Publishing may yet make a comeback. But it will have to change its business model considerably to do so.

Books are just too expensive and not salable enough. I recently read somewhere—and this is probably worth about what I recall of the source—that most physical books sell in the low hundreds of copies. That is just not enough take at the till to justify the cost of manufacture and printing, let alone serious editing and a little something for the agent and the house. Clearly, the market is due for a correction.

Amazon has taken some interesting steps. It will rent you a textbook. I’m not sure whether it’s a physical or an electronic copy, but I’d bet on electronic. They are a piece of cake to repossess, and no shipping costs. And no college student doesn’t have access to a computer.

Anyway, it seems to me that to justify the costs of producing them, physical books should return to being luxury goods. If I were a publisher, I’d redirect most of my manufacturing budget to editing and marketing. I’d publish electronically only, and cheap at that. The portion of manufacturing that doesn’t go to editing and marketing goes to support public electronic libraries.

Retail space is a huge glut on the market practically everywhere. Also, the mall is where teens like to hang out. So take that empty anchor space and fill it with free wireless and half-decent terminals for those with no laptop. Have all of the library’s books available online to anyone on site, either on the person’s laptop or on a library terminal. (If you want to let the clients borrow them, you can restrict copies, as Bucks County Free Library does. Or delay availability for borrowing.)

So the publisher provides the electronic copy to the free libraries without charge. It then sits back and waits to see the borrowing history. For that’s the publisher’s fee: the usage statistics. No need to worry about whether anyone finishes it or not; all the library has to do is report the aggregate amount of time the book was open. The publisher can soon figure out how many hours of reading it takes to indicate a profitable market for that particular book in a physical edition. Some publishers will go for large numbers of cheap editions; but I think the real money will be in luxury editions. Because here’s the thing: For Nora Roberts to make it into print, she must have something real to sell. Otherwise no one would bother with her when pretty much all new fiction is free at the library or cheap on a device.

This would in effect kill off the physical book market. So be it. I know, I know, a lot of people have religious or quasi-religious feelings about the physical item. However, many of those same people feel strongly that we should protect the environment, and a swing away from manufacturing can only help there. I bet if you audited a batch of books from the forest to the landfill, you would find that the highest cost was in pollution. And let’s not lose sight of our goal, which is to restore publishing to its traditional role of respected gatekeeper of good writing. This will never be possible until publishers can beat the purveyors of free “information” at their own game. That means publishers need fairly painless pricing, no detritus when one is done with it, and a carefully built and maintained reputation for reliability.

Discarding the mass market manufactured book would also free the electronic book of tethered pricing. I cannot say how much it annoys me to buy an electronic book for the same price as the much-more-expensive physical book, only to find that the physical book has been scanned and not read to produce the electronic book. Things like ri appearing as n are dead giveaways. And no aftermarket! I can’t pass it on to the cabin crew or my sister-in-law when I’m done with an electronic book. Clearly they are overpriced and underproduced.

Post scriptum: You may have noticed that we aren’t offering much bloggage lately. That’s because Bill went and got an actual job and I’m lazy.

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Sunset Will Be Later Tonight

Sunset tonight will be later than last night. This statement of hope is true for half the year. Tonight, however, begins a period of acceleration in the increase of daylight, noticeable even to astronomers without clocks and telescopes. It is noticeable for a quarter of the year, to May Day. [In our neck of the woods, southeast Pennsylvania, we reached 10 full hours of daylight, up from about 9 hours 20 minutes, on January 27. That’s an average gain of about 7 minutes per week. In the next 4 weeks we’ll pick up another full hour, or 15 minutes per week. The rate peaks at the spring equinox. —KD]

It was that observation, I think, that led the ancient Celts to make Groundhog Day (well, actually, they called it Imbolc) more important than midwinter, also called the solstice. [The Romans, however, who contributed our calendar, celebrated the solstice with the Saturnalia, which we co-opted and now call Christmas. —KD]

It means, of course, that winter, which began (for the Celts) on All Saints Day, is over. So that damn rodent in Punxsutawney can stay in his hole. His forecasts are always wrong or irrelevant or both, as he has his seasons mixed up, at least according to the Celts. [Have you noticed that no one ever says what will happen if the groundhog does not see its shadow? And here’s another question: How do they know it’s Phil, not Phyllis? I can’t imagine getting that personal with a rodent. —KD]

Like any period of hope, the hope for the end of winter may be dashed. The great Blizzard of 1888 (which I can’t remember) lasted from March 11 to March 14. I choose to ignore this thing I can’t remember. The great Blizzard of 1996 (which I can remember) topped ’88’s, and it ran from January 6 to January 8, when it was actually winter by anyone’s reckoning. [For that matter, most of our blizzards are in Feburary or March; January is generally too cold for those big storms from the south. —KD]

The most memorable (to me at least) Groundhog Day was in 1974. The comet Kohoutek was visible in the evening sky, having crossed Earth’s orbit on its return to the Kuiper Belt on February 1. I had been looking for it since the press announced its visit in November 1973. I got off my commuter train and was walking home looking at the last of the sunlight. And there Kohoutek was. Its tail spread out, it was apparently following the sun behind the houses. Comets are confusing things. Their tail is gases boiling off their surface and blown away by the solar wind. Kohoutek, which appeared to be moving with the sun from east to west, had in fact circled the sun and was heading west to east into its own tail.

I didn’t need a groundhog to tell me it was spring because at long last it was afternoon, not evening, when I got off the train.

Addendum

I ran this file through my spell checker, which wanted to replace Punxsutawney with (0) Punctuating (1) Tungsten (2) Unexciting (3) Youngstown (4) Pakistan (5) Punkest (6) Pakistani

[It also missed the fact that it’s groundhog, not ground hog.—KD]

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Decision Making

I’ve read a lot of economics in recent years, and I like it. My introduction to it was a little unusual. I started by copyediting test banks, which are boring, boring, boring. They ask the same questions over and over, just changing the wording a tad here and there. Snore. However, rote learning works if you have the right incentive, such as being paid a nice multiple of minimum wage to read.
Having waded through about a gazillion tests, one day I got a shot at a study guide. It was a different-shaped presentation of the material, and it gave me better perspective and clearer understanding.

Economics started, as we all know, with Malthus and the dismal science. The necessity for the study of economics is the scarcity of resources. This is the fact Malthus revealed, often observed but never before discussed: there is never enough of anything to go around. Malthus was a visionary, and he made severely incorrect predictions. He failed to foresee the growth of productivity, but he can easily be forgiven for that. During his lifetime agriculture was the primary industry practically everywhere, including in mining and manufacturing centers, and production of new real estate had ceased long ago. The Industrial Age was beginning to warm up, and the rapid growth of productivity was just getting under way. He missed it. Big deal. Nobody’s perfect.

Meantime, Adam Smith of the invisible hand made his gigantic contribution: given the scarcity of resources, allocation of them is extremely important, and we should address it rationally.

No field of study remains the same over the centuries, and the study of economics has widened from allocation of resources to decision making in general. Granted, this is largely so as to be able to analyze allocation of resources in the field (i.e., by morons, adrenaline junkies, and the obsessive-compulsive). So the economists draw up tables and construct models and do insanely complex statistical projections to guide and analyze decision making. (A model is a gadget to simplify the calculations. It’s the equivalent of making pi equal to 3.)

I’m a Quaker.* Unprogrammed Quakers have no clergy and Do Not Vote in Meeting. We form committees and manage the Meeting in meetings.** We make decisions by general agreement. (Please don’t call it consensus; there’s a subtle but real difference.).

When a large body with a respectable amount of resources must make decisions without voting, it is essential to give the discourse shape and limits. Quakers call this process, and it is as sacred as anything outside of the testimonies, or guiding moral principles.

Process is time-consuming; Quaker time is the opposite of a New York minute. It is, however, extremely reliable as to outcome. The only time I have seen it fail was when process was skirted at the behest of a Friend with an axe to grind.

Here’s how it works: An item goes on the agenda for monthly business meeting. Say the sidewalk needs repair. The property committee has inspected the sidewalk, gotten estimates, and tentatively selected an option. However, it’s a matter of thousands of dollars and years of walking on it. Because it will affect everyone, and not just financially, the property committee takes the estimates to the full body and makes a short presentation. “We need to repair the sidewalk. Blue stone costs x. Concrete costs y. Brick costs z. The reason it’s so expensive is because the frost line… installation… drainage.… We want it to last.” Then Friends ask questions: Does concrete last longer than blue stone? How well will the materials hold up to the riding lawn mower? Where’s the money coming from?

Someone does a quick calculation and reports the approximate cost per year for each material and method of installation. Friends talk it over, rub their chins, and pick the cheapest one with acceptable esthetic quality and life. The clerk of the meeting states the resolution: So we’re going to go with blue stone and the deep excavation and drainage, to start as soon as the ground’s warm enough this spring? A chorus of Approve rolls through the room and it’s time for the next item.
Because Quakers spend so much time on process, we learn not to waste time. One can take a weekend-long course on clerking (leading) a Quaker meeting, and one of the things they teach is how to gently shut down Friends who have had their say and want to say it over and over. But everyone does get a say, and one of the responsibilities of the clerk is to take the sense of the meeting.
Huh? Sense of the meeting?

The sense of the meeting is the way the wind is blowing. Sometimes it’s strong and steady in one direction; sometimes it eddies around; sometimes it gusts every which way. Sometimes it seems to be strong and steady southwest and suddenly it’s veering north by northwest. If it has settled in one direction, that’s the sense of the meeting and Friends are ready to approve; otherwise the sense of the meeting is that Friends aren’t ready to decide. A decision may be sent back to committee for further research, or the clerk may suggest that we season it—move on for now, think it over, and come back to it at the next meeting.

That’s no way to run a business, you’re thinking. Well, it’s certainly not fashionable. But it does tap collective wisdom, which is an excellent antidote to groupthink. Quaker meetings have been thriving on it for a long, long time. The next time you’re stuck in a boring, unproductive meeting, ask yourself how the Quakers would do it.

* There are programmed Quakers, like former president Nixon, who have clergy. They are mainly a Western phenomenon, at least in this country. I am an unprogrammed Quaker; this is the original flavor, prevalent in the East.

**Meeting, capped, the body of the church; meeting, lowercase, a group of people having a chat.

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I Have Things To Do Today

I have a cell phone that I don’t like. This is not to imply that I might like any cell phone. There is no chance of that. The thing tries too hard without actually being helpful and is to too damn complicated.

I dabble in computer security enough to remain permanently scared. I dislike my phone because of my belief that it is horribly insecure and I can’t fix it.

Today I learned of a new advertising exploit. One loads a Web page with an advertisement. The advertisement then induces one’s computer to emit coded ultrasound. Your phone, which you thought was quietly sleeping, hears the commands in the ultrasound waves and notifies some server that you have seen the advertisement.

WTF! This is not a new wrestling federation; it is a cry of outrage. I try to do business with people who have my interests at heart. When it comes to electronics, that means I get to control what the device does—not some advertiser.

I’ve long suspected that the Android operating system, written by Google, has back doors. I try to mitigate the risks.

Don’t send me email and expect that I’ll read it in anything less than twenty-four hours. It’s not on my phone and it is none of Google’s business. I read my email in my office, on my desktop, like a grownup. [A grownup is a person who is old enough to need reading glasses and a big screen. —KD]

I don’t use the default calendar application that ships with Android. I found a sort of PDA that runs on both my desktop and my phone. I hope Google hasn’t figured out what it is.

Google can have my contact list. If it does something horrible with it and my contacts complain, I’ll find something for that too.

I have things to do today. We’re celebrating Christmas tomorrow (don’t ask) and I really don’t feel like scouring the Web to foil some new exploit. I can’t return to our landline and pay phones. More’s the pity.

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In Bed with the Devil

First let me boast disclose say that I (KD) get paid to sit home and read nonfiction. This gives me a certain bias: I expect to get paid for reading nonfiction. Therefore, I rarely—very rarely—otherwise get more than a quarter of the way through any nonfiction book. I keep thinking, “Why am I not getting paid? This can’t be right.” Then I pick up a novel, possibly even a clean one.

I am past the halfway point of Chaos Monkeys, by Antonio Garcia Martinez, and I am nowhere near putting it down. I may even finish it.

Martinez shines a cold, clear light on everything he sees, including himself, and he is not a nice person. At one point he describes himself as being driven by caffeine, greed, and fear. I may have the verb and the order of items wrong, but that’s the gist.

However, he can write.* And in comparison with those around him, he fares pretty well. Now, this view may well be self-serving on his part, but what the hell. It’s his book, after all, and he does not (apparently) spare himself. In the early pages he paints a less than flattering portrait of Wall Street and of Goldman Sachs, where he did statistical things. Thence he goes to the West Coast to a sweatshop startup, and yet thence to his own startup. At 51% of the book (according to the tiny little type in the corner of my e-reader) he has just “joined” (gone to work for) Facebook.

So far nothing I have read has budged my conviction that Facebook is the devil and Zuckerman is the devil’s minion. From the way Martinez describes Silicon Valley, I gather that everyone at Facebook and most of the population of the rest of the valley are all happy as clams to be the devil’s minions as long as they get to play with their toys, whether the toy in question is money or computer code or what Martinez is working on at this point in the book.

What, you ask, is Martinez working on, then? Well, he’s figuring out more and more-insidious ways for Facebook to delve into your psyche. Facebook is like the nameless (as far as I recall) computer game in Ender’s Game, the one that psychoanalyzes him and leads him to the same place over and over, intensifying the experience more and more. Facebook records, categorizes, and analyzes every keystroke you make on it, and then it reports its findings to the advertisers so that you can be manipulated into turning loose of some money.

You see, these days Facebook is not primarily social media. Social media is just the gimmick Facebook uses to sell ads, same as your favorite TV show is a gimmick to sell ads and get you to watch them. (Love that mute button.)

Mind you, Facebook can’t help it. It could not survive its expansion without that IPO, and now it is owned by people who want a return on their investment. It could not possibly survive without capital, and its users will not fork over the kind of money it takes to keep it running.

Of course, running it would be a lot cheaper if it weren’t for those ads. A devilish trap.

Addendum, December 12, 2016

I got most of the way through Chaos Monkeys and put it down because I couldn’t follow the details of whatever that chapter was about. (See that? I don’t even remember the subject.) However, Bill just told me that there’s a chancery suit in Delaware over shenanigans in the run-up to the IPO whose effect was to keep Zuckerberg in voting control. So I’ll be picking up the book again to see if I get any foreshadowing.

*And God bless him, he either has an unreasonably broad knowledge of English for a statistician or actually respects his copyeditor. This book is clean but clean, even to this copyeditor, who am [this is correct; the referent is moi, via who and copyeditor, so it’s as if the subject were I] maniacally devoted to the rules of grammar and punctuation. If your caffeine frenzy and your relentless search engines ever lead you to this page, Mr. Martinez, know that I was shocked to see principal in place of principle—because of the excellence of the editing so far. And published is better than perfect.

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990 HOWTO

I’m following up on Kate’s post for charity.

One of the requirements for a tax deduction is that the charity must qualify under section 501 (c)(3) of the IRS code.

So your dues to a fraternal organization are not. While the Sororal Order of Wombats is a not-for-profit as far as IRS is concerned, it is not a 501 (c)(3). This why yesterday my donation of books was made to the Friends of the Yardley-Makefield Library. The library itself is an instrument of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and so does not qualify.

The IRS requires a tax return from these charities, and it is a public document. (Your tax return is not.) The form itself (990) is complicated, having been developed by government accountants. However, it contains much useful information.

So I went to http://foundationcenter.org/find-funding/990-finder. The name on my receipt got nothing; as is fairly common, Friends of the Library is part of an umbrella group. Entering 232096799 (no dashes please) got me the tax return (990EZ) for Pennsylvania Citizens for Better Libraries. (Note: We looked at form 990EZ—the EZ really means something. The same information can be gleaned from a 990, but it’s arranged differently.)

Second, from part I, Citizens for Libraries is small. Total expenses were $20,621, of which $3,500 was grants. No fundraising fees were paid.

I looked at part III on page 2, Statement of Program Service Accomplishments:

Advocate for support of local libraries by collaborating with other library associations, agencies and community groups in order to improve library funding and related services lead efforts to encourage, train and support library friends,

The advantage of a small charity is right here in part III. Things can quickly get out of control. Planned Parenthood, which I also searched, is an umbrella group whose members have a variety of goals—I got 677 results across the states. The national organization filed a 158-page return. Where to send your money?

Back to the library. Also in part III, just to the right of the accomplishments, is the cost: $16,271. That is, 79% of its budget is expenses related to program.

The board of directors is all volunteers; compensation, of which they receive none, is listed on this part IV schedule.

I skipped over part V because all the answers were either blank or no. If you see a yes answer, read the question. [Or pick another charity. —KD]

Part VI is a different matter. Here you will find highly compensated employees. PCBL has no employees, but most do.

Schedule A is a complex form to determine whether the charity continues to qualify as a 501 (c)(3). Once one of my clients formed a new charity to build a low-income housing. In her first year she received a large grant for that purpose and for the following four years she worked at getting the approvals and additional funding needed. She flunked one of the tests on Schedule A because after year 1 all of her revenue was derived from investments.

The short answer: Look at section D of part III. Is 19a checked?

We’ve discovered several things. First is who we are dealing with. My receipt says Friends of the Yardley-Makefield Library and gives the EIN (employer identification number), which led to the actual charity.

Second, the size and scope. There are no employees, so expenses are small.

Third, the charitable purpose. We were lucky; it is understandable. [As Planned Parenthood’s is not; it consists of one 86-word sentence to accommodate all 677 member organizations. We thought of reproducing it here, but you don’t want to read it anyway. —KD]

Fourth, who is active in this charity—the board of directors. They are not compensated, nor do they work for a related organization. [This means the charity is not a shill for a soulless corporation. —KD]

Fifth, 79% of the money it spent went toward its stated purpose.

These are all good signs: all-volunteer labor, a readable mission statement, high proportion of revenues going to program, independence from overweening corporate influence. I bask in my glow of virtue.

 

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Suppose You Want to Donate to Charity

And you want your dang tax deduction, so you’re not going to drop it all in begging boxes.

Infinity is at your door, in your snail mailbox, in your e-inbox, sobbing out its stories, hand infinitely outstretched. How do you choose?

By sob story? Please. All Causes Are Worthy. This is not a fact, not a truism, not even a factoid. It is a lie, but it is useful. If you assume that all causes are worthy, you free yourself to make your choice on other grounds. So forget what’s important to other people. Everything, but everything, is important to someone. What’s important to you?

Suppose you belong to a church, clearly a worthy cause. Need you look further? Well, yes. Some churches believe in sharing. And some of what they believe in sharing is the name, address, telephone numbers, and bra size of every possible potential donor, let alone the confirmed ones. So find out your church’s policy about that before making your donation. The Quakers, by the way, never, ever share their donors’ information. That would violate the testimony of stewardship. (It would also give Quakers, a notoriously skinflint lot, serious motive to consider where else to put their donations.)

But I digress. Are you willing to have your information shared with All Worthy Causes? If not, find out the policy before signing a check. (You can always donate anonymously, but if you want your tax deduction,  you have to work at it. And of course you can probably make a deal with your clergyman.) Particularly egregious in this way are the American Indians and the sheriffs and police and fire associations. Give one set a check for twenty bucks and your phone will ring forever. And some of them are not registered charities. Sometimes you’re just contributing beer money.

Here’s a consideration that drew a lot of attention in the middle late twentieth century: how much of the donation actually goes to the cause and how much to administration? United Way was at one time practically a taxing authority because of its standing as a recipient of donations. Its agents were employers, and some of them leaned hard. United Way of the United States died in 2009 after a lingering illness; its decline was precipitated by the information that most of the money was going to fat cat salaries and other administrative outrages. It is still a good question, though, whether you’re helping pay for someone’s Mercedes. [One may look at the tax returns online. I tried ‘990 search’ and found http://foundationcenter.org/find-funding/990-finder. This site included help on understanding these tax returns.  —wld]

Those are the two things that I see going wrong with donations: my good deed will be heavily punished with further solicitations (just when I’ve given away what I can part with, too)  and my money will not in fact go to a worthy cause. You may have some other issue. If so, tease it out and figure out how to address it.

A third consideration is how much the organization actually needs the money. George School, an independent Quaker boarding high school in Newtown, Pennsylvania, several years ago received a donation of $20 million, to “trickle” in over some years. And what happened next? Its other donations went UP. Yes, up. Some morons couldn’t wait to jump on that bandwagon. Here’s what did NOT happen: tuition did not go down, nor did—as far as I can tell—tuition aid. But the week after the announcement, the construction machinery rolled on to campus. And Harvard’s endowment is in the billions. It doesn’t actually need more.

Some people give money to New York  University. Some give money to Penn State, UCLA—generally but not always their alma mater. However, these are actually donations to a government entity. All organizations receiving tax money are branches of government, because the government does not distribute money without strings. If you want your charitable donations to be de facto tax payments, go ahead. Give to your alma mater. Just know what you’re doing.

Next: Bill is going to write about getting that tax deduction. And I’m working on a plug for independent schools as  not only worthy but likely to produce dividends.

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Please, please Mr. President

I used to spend an hour each morning reading various newspapers.  When they were real paper, we took three and I looked at all of them.  This morning I was done in about fifteen minutes.

Part of that, I admit, was the switch from paper to browser.  Somehow I see fewer stories that grab my interest.  Today my interest has turned away from many things.

At first it was the names of two who will remain nameless.  This morning, having reconciled myself (it says here) to calling one of them Mr. President, I looked for a fresh eye on the news. Oh well.

There was one story on the economy whose conclusion was that it takes a great deal to derail the U.S. economy.  The story compared today to the Great Depression and recounted the missteps of President Hoover, President Roosevelt, and the Congress, all of which turned a bad economy into a disaster.

The stars of that show were the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 and the ensuing trade war.  When I was paying attention to the pronouncements of the Unnamable Two, I found them agreeing on trying this line again. I guess I’m hoping that enough members of Congress stayed awake in their Econ classes to halt this nonsense. [Time to thank God and the Founding Fathers that export duties are unconstitutiona.—KD]

Washington acts like a gorilla in a rowboat, tipping it and tipping it and tipping it until the whole thing is under water. Or capsized.

And so, Mr. President-elect, please, please abandon the notion that any government can manage any economy.  It has been forty-seven years and twelve presidencies since the stock market crash in 1929.  We’ve gone through all sorts of things, including unconstitutional acts, in pursuit of the perfectly managed economy.  What stands out is that we do better when Washington does less.

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Where Are They Now?

Even after my previous post, I haven’t given up on APL. Today I was testing some software I’d written to print my worksheets. The first test-and-debug work was done, and I needed some real data and software to test.

It occurred to me: Don’t forget Windows. I rebooted from Linux to Windows and started Firefox.

I stopped. Did I really believe Firefox would respond differently in Windows than in Linux? I loaded the Web page I’d made in APL anyway. It looked and printed the same as in Linux.

I had to require myself to start Edge. I couldn’t load my Web page, which was a file on my disk drive, not on a Web server. I clicked on this and that, but nothing led to a disk drive—or a menu, for that matter.

I’d read that Microsoft continued to ship Internet Exploiter—er, Explorer—with Windows 10. I went looking for it. Not on the start menu. Clicking here and there, I finally got to it; don’t ask me how.

I loaded my file. It looked okay.

I went back to Edge.

Duh: URLs may refer to files as well as Web servers. I typed file:://c:/users/dalyw/testdocs/myTest.html. Bing interrupted to tell me things I didn’t want to know. (This works better in Firefox. Wikipedia says file:// is part of the URL standard.) I looked again, thought, It’s all based on DOS anyway, and typed again: file:\\c:\users\dalyw\testdocs\myTest.html.

Boing again. [Trying to think up a nickname for Bing that’s as good as Exploiter.—KD]

Does anyone think this is user friendly? I make typos all the time. All of the browsers do this, punish typos by inflicting a search engine on the hapless user. [I get that. It’s saying, I don’t know where it is. Why don’t you look here? But Boing is annoying, the way it pops up even in Word docs.—KD] Daly Web and Edit has a server named raspberrypi. Too often I get ads for Raspberry Pi computers when I want my Web page. [That’s what you get for stealing a proprietary name.—KD]

For that matter, why doesn’t Windows acknowledge our computer’s disk drive? Typical screens are cluttered with icons. How do the owners find anything? Do they know that the desktop is just a file directory on the disk drive? [Someday I’ll write a blog about file management, at which I am a marvel.—KD]

How many times have you tried to change My Documents to Documents? Has it worked? [No. Grrrrr.—KD]

I used to read (and still would if he were still writing it) Mossberg’s column in the Wall Street Journal. From him I came under the weight of the difficulties many face in using computers. In the 1990s I did a lot of research on user interfaces and found, among other things, guidance from Microsoft about good practice for Windows-based products, and I used it.

I was careful to write a standard Windows menu, that is, a file submenu to open and close files and a command (Alt-f x) to exit the program. I also, following the rules, made an edit submenu with entries for cut, paste, and cut and paste.

Where are they now?

Somewhere around here I have a cartoon of a guy lying dead on the floor with gunsmoke rising from a computer and an observer saying, “Egad! It’s user hostile.”

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Measurement

I have a shallow drawer in my dresser that contains various treasures, including my collection of pocket knives, the slide rule my grandfather gave me, and the crane folded from the paper I made.

Sorting through this stuff, trying to decide if anything was really worth saving, I came across a Keuffel & Esser folding ruler. It is at least seventy years old, but the inches on it are the same length as today, so I put it on my desk.

I am an unabashed measurer. My desk has, in addition to the K & E rule, an architect’s rule for taking measurements from drawings and a carpenter’s rule for measurements greater than the twelve inches on the K & E.

It is, after all, what accountants do. We’re called bean counters for a reason: only an accountant would worry about how many beans there are. Why the farmer who owns the beans and expects to sell them isn’t worried is beyond me. But I do know that beans are not counted; they’re weighed. [Nor does it matter how many beans are in that hundredweight.-KD]

That’s something else accountants are good at: selecting the right measure. One of the projects I’m working on is compiling a vacancy rate for an apartment complex. Everyone knows vacancies are too high, but no one compiles the list on a regular basis and so no one asks why unit 110 has been empty for six months. The complex uses a general accounting system that does not produce the vacancy rate or a rent roll. Grrrrrrr.

I’ve started compiling both by hand from the tenant statements just to force myself to think about how to extract this information from the available reports. It all adds up to an example of the types of measurements accountants make above and beyond your tax liability and the checkbook balance. It also exemplifies how one must consider what the company requires from its accounting system and from its accountant.

Compiling things by hand is always tedious. It requires proving your work as you go and testing its accuracy with reality checks.

So I must return to this grindstone.

My K & E rule is a beautiful thing, which is the other reason it’s on my desk. Even my 68-year-old eyes can still make out the sixteenths of an inch.

It won’t help with the vacancies, though.

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