Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Promise I Won't Blog About It

On Friday, I will receive my new iPad (3G, 64GB in case you were wondering).

Here is my pledge to you:

  • I promise I will not blog about it
  • I promise I will not tell you that it is 3.786 ounces heavier than a Kindle
  • I promise I will not tell you that it is 5.876 ounces lighter than the average trade hardcover
  • I promise that I will not remind you that it is a backlit screen which can cause eye strain or make it difficult to read in direct sunlight
  • I promise not to complain that the selection of titles in the three week-old iBookstore  has a limited selection of titles
  • I promise not to tell you that the battery life runs to 12.1 hours - in excess of the stated 10 hours

Most importantly I pledge to you:
  • I promise not pontificate about whether it will 'Save Publishing'. Does it need to be 'Saved' or simply kicked into gear and recognize supplemental opportunities? I believe this line of discussion is juvenile and tabloid-esque - even though it appears in the New York Times. (I won't link to the article and waste your time)
  • I promise not to pontificate about whether it is a 'Kindle Killer'. 

Since I am not a bitter old, cynic - even though it may sound like I am from this post - here is my pledge of the things I WILL do:
  • I promise I WILL unwrap with great anticipation
  • I promise I WILL find many,many more uses for it than I can even dream of now, just like I did with my iphone
  • Most importantly, I promise I WILL browse the iBookstore, select a few tasty titles and enjoy reading a good book on my new device, just like I have with my lovely, slightly klunky Kindle and even slightly klunkier Nook. 

If you like, read these blog posts about my Kindle:

I Just Bought The Same Book Twice
All You Have To Do Is Listen

In a year or two, the device will become nearly irrelevant and what will matter is great, high quality ebook content that is easy to buy and enjoyed the way the reader wants..

I pledge to you, my dozen faithful blog visitors, that if I read a good book on ANY device, I will let you know here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Well-Traveled Journal by Lexie Lessing

 Note from Doug: The following story was written by my 12 year old daughter Lexie, now in 7th grade.  This was an extra credit creative writing assignment for Ms. Coffey's Honors English at Bayport-Blue Point.  I love the way she abandoned the carefully fostered structured writing and ignored conventional grammar to write partly in prose.  Drove Grace crazy!  It is essentially a preface to a novel or series.  I post it hear simply for the joy of reading, and simply for pride in my daughter's enthusiasm. As a father, I am entitled to do so.
The Well-Traveled Journal
    The morning of my thirteenth birthday, the first day of spring. Peacefully listening in the warm covers of my bed with my eyes closed. A sparrow’s melodic song outside my window on the branch of my favorite cherry blossom tree. The snow pink flowers budding, welcoming spring. The frost melting off the grass, turning into little droplets of dew. I could almost hear the wind carry away winter. I opened my eyes to see sunlight pouring through the window, illuminating my flowery room. I exhaled and a great thought came to my head. Spring.
    “Leila, happy thirteenth birthday!” My mom’s muffled voice from the other side of my door. I sat down at the window seat looking outside at the charm of spring, while she slowly opened my door, followed by my dad carrying a handful of presents. My mother put a beautiful pink orchid in my hair, fitting perfectly into my light brunette curls.
    “Happy birthday sweetheart!” My dad said with a warm smile, setting down the presents in front of me. I opened each present one by one, thanking my parents for all their generous gifts. Since I was their only child, they always made an extra effort to make my birthdays special. I actually wasn’t their real daughter; they actually found me. They said they were on a hiking trip and found me bundled up behind a tree in a patch of flowers. I had a stone necklace with my name engraved on it around my neck, which I’m still wearing today. They took me in and raised me as their own, never knowing who my real parents were.
    When I thought I was done opening all my presents, my mom pulled out one last present from behind her back. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with rope, there was a small name tag with my name on it in elegant calligraphy.
    “This was on our doorstep this morning, I don’t know who left it. There was no name anywhere.” My mom said suspiciously. Seeing my reaction and curiosity, she and my father left the room. I slowly opened the rectangular present, eager to know what it was. Inside was a well-traveled leather journal, with signs of its many journeys. It had an odd beauty and glow to it; and it was bound with a leather cord. I untied the cord and tried to open the journal but it would not open. Then I saw there on the cover, was a indent in a shape of a small stone. The shape looked familiar, I held my necklace in my hand feeling its contours, wondering where I had seen it before. Then I realized it was exactly the same as my necklace. I slowly removed the necklace from my head and placed it next to the journal. I steadily held up the stone and placed it into the indent. It fit in perfectly like they were meant to be. I heard a light click and the journal opened. Questions and emotions rushed through my head like a tornado. Who is this journal from? Why my necklace? Why me? Why now?
    I opened the cover slowly, and inside was the same beautiful calligraphy scrawled across the page. There on the first page was a letter addressed to me. “To our dearest Leila” the line read. I quickly skipped to the bottom of the letter and gasped. I reread the words over and over again with disbelief, trying to make sense of how it was possible. How did they find me and why had they left me? The words on the bottom of the page- it didn’t make sense. The titles in front of their names? I started to feel very dizzy and sat down on the window seat. The world started to spin. I hadn’t heard of them for thirteen years. I closed my eyes and let the shock sink in. Written at the bottom of the page were the words, “From your loving parents, King Amaranth and Queen Peony”.
    I didn’t understand at all. How could this be from my real parents? King? Queen? I thought medieval times were over and there were no more kings and queens, let alone how could they be my parents? But, if they are royalty and I’m their daughter, that makes me a... a princess. How was that possible? I’m just Leila Johnson, a thirteen year old girl trying to get through middle school. I couldn’t be a... the words caught in my throat. I can’t be a princess, it’s just not possible. I decided to read the rest of the letter. There was no proof that they’re my real parents. I read the letter in suspense looking for a clue that this was not real and not happening.
    The letter was short, but the all the words and letters jumped around the page. I couldn’t focus. It was a letter explaining the answers to my questions, the proof I needed was right there on the page. The letter told of my parents being king and queen, but there was no name of the place they ruled. It told of an evil power that spread throughout the land, trying to overthrow my parents. I was the only heir to the throne and then a war broke out. They had to hide me safe from harm and the only place was the mortal world. This confused me the most how the words said “mortal world”. Then the letter went on to say how they saw a young couple walking through a forest; they bundled me up in a blanket and put the stone necklace around my neck, and left me on the ground to be found. The letter said that they cried to see me go, but they knew we would see each other again. I was so baffled I didn’t know what to think. I scanned the letter over and over again, then I read the most confusing words at the bottom of the page. I didn‘t know what they meant. It said, “Your time is soon to join us. when you shall change, peace and sunshine will be brought back to our lands.” I couldn’t think about this anymore, I needed to get away. I abruptly closed the journal and placed it in the corner of my bed and hurried out of my room.     
    The rest of my day progressed like any other birthday as I tried not to think about what had happened this morning. Since it was Saturday my parents brought me hiking and then treated me with a grand dinner at one of the nicest places in town. I came home exhausted and after I said goodnight to my parents I went up to my room. I tried to ignore the journal on my bed and got into pajamas. I nestled into the warm covers of my bed and tried to fall asleep. But all I could think about was the journal. I sat up and reached for it at the end of my bed and flicked on my reading light. I sat there reading the letter time after time until I felt my eyelids get heavy and let the journal fall out of my hands.
    I awoke with a startle and beads of sweat rolled down my forehead. The nightmare was horrible. I couldn’t describe it. I stared down at the journal next to me. My stomach lurched. I ran to the bathroom and rested my head on the cool tile floor. Breathing hard I wondered what was happening to me. Then it happened. I was breathing very hard and my heart was beating like a runaway train. I started to panic when I saw my skin start to shimmer and glow. It became hard, but silky to touch. I could feel my body changing. I felt light as a feather and my limbs started to shrink. I was losing height, shrinking ever so slightly. Then, when I finally thought it was over, searing pain shot through my back. I tried not to scream and wake my parents. It took all my will power. I felt something, tearing, ripping through my back. The pain was excruciating and I couldn’t stand it any longer. Then it stopped- the pain retreating from my back, leaving me panting on the floor. Everything went black.
     The darkness lifted and I found myself still on the bathroom floor. I felt dizzy when I stood up and I walked back to my room. Then I saw them. They were mesmerizing. No it’s not possible, I’m not thinking straightly. No they were there-I was sure of it. They were light and I could barely feel them at my back, but I knew they were there. I ran to my room and looked in the mirror. I was completely and utterly in shock. I was beautiful and on my back were two long  wings. They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen. They looked dainty, but in a way, they looked strong. The sunlight of the early morning glinted off them throwing colors all over my room. I gasped, I was not on the floor! I was hovering a few inches off the ground and thud! I fell to the ground in shock. As I sat there on the floor, the reality of the situation hit me. I was a faerie!
    My eyes clouded over and I felt like I was whisked away at the speed of light. When sight returned I looked around and found myself surrounded by a land beyond belief. A land of enchantment. I could feel it, I was home. I’m not even sure where home is but I knew I had to find my parents and bring peace and happiness to this realm once more.

[Leave a comment and tell Lexie where you think she should take this story]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Taking the Long View

I love our country, and I love our culture.  The United States, to me, stands for a country which has always encouraged achievement, innovation, advancement, generosity and community spirit.  Reading about our history, it is always profound how our founders built this country from nothing.  We take for granted and assume that a coast-to-coast USA was manifest destiny, but it wasn't.  The early years were touch and go, and it is possible that the success or failure hinged upon a single gathering, a single battle, a single document cobbled together by a few individuals in a couple of long sub-committee sessions at a conference.  But, at the time, great thinkers didn't think in hours, days or weeks, but instead years, decades and generations.  That wasn't a choice, it was a necessity and was assumed.

But as much as I love our country, it is not unreasonable to do a bit of soul searching. What strikes me is how incredibly short-term our vision has become.  This is manifested in many, many different ways and it sometimes keeps me up at night thinking about some of the messes we are leaving our kids.  Starting with the national debt, I can't think of a way that we are more obviously and literally mortgaging the future of the generations that follow. And for the record, I am now a registered independent with the view that the political parties are the most short sited of all.  We are short-sighted in environmental protection, and if you listen, you may hear that in some ways the general public may be getting weary about 'greening-up'.  Maybe the earth isn't warming unnaturally, you may hear. It is OK if the US follows, and doesn't lead, you may imply. Players in the financial industry - some individuals and many institutions - have proven to be incredibly short-sighted - taking money out of the system for phantom investment gains,  with a devil-be-damned long term view on the welfare of the companies they foster and the economies they are entrusted to fuel and support. Imagine a major investment house like Goldman Sachs packaging and selling mortgage securities to their clients with a straight face and a pat on the back, while instantly betting against those very securities.  Long term success of their clients, and their reputation, be damned.  Success is measured in the profit taken out of the system this year. Same argument holds true for individuals who bought houses on the perceived guarantee that the value will go up, and the interest-only mortgage will be a good bet and get them more house.

We are all guilty of playing the game for short term gains.

But there are many bright spots in this world of tunnel vision, and one that guides me is the founder of Firebrand, Fran Toolan.  It is not an accident that I have been working for Fran since 1990.It is no accident that virtually all of the clients signed on to Firebrand over the years remain as clients today. It is no accident that a small technology company like Firebrand has remained viable, intact and independent for 23 years.  The conditions required to be successful for decades - not months or years -must be fostered both conciously and unconciously, always looking at the long term. Yes, we do indeed give up short term gains, sometimes for a whole year, so as to improve our longevity. 2009 was one of those years.

Fran demonstrated these values yesterday, when he suggested to the entire team that Firebrand invest in a mission that has been based in Haiti to help alleviate the incredible suffering we see following the earthquake.   He proposed that Firebrand donate a whopping 2% of our top line revenue  - not bottom line profit, but top-line revenue - for the next three months to a Newburyport based organization called Mission of Hope.  This will amount to tens of thousands of dollars.  The Mission of Hope has been running schools and orphanages in Haiti for years, has lost people and facilities in the earthquake, but remains mobilized and in position to help.  Since Fran knows the founders personally, we are confident that the bulk of this investment - and I do consider it an investment - will be used directly assisting this most impoverished of nations.  I remarked to Fran yesterday, that the it is overwhelming to me how the Caribbean which offers both of us and our families such respite and happiness, could house a country so incredibly destitute, and now so devastated. A country, which by the way is not distant, but is within boating distance from our southern beaches. I think this investment we are making in Mission of Hope will  have a real impact, especially as I shudder to think what that country will look like when it is old news and the cameras leave in a few short weeks.

Fran's decision, and the team's backing, is yet another sign that the timeline that he guides Firebrand is based on unyielding, long term principles.  I think those principles can be a guiding light for all of us in the United States of America.

You can read Fran's blog post on the Mission of Hope investment here:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

OK, So I Was Wrong. Who's Complaining?

I guess I stink at predicting how the black hole of Christmas vacation will turn out, which I usually work through. In my last post, I posited that I would get done a bunch of side projects that had been on permanent hold. Well, I did get one major project done, to revamp how we manage our project budgets in our new ERP system.

But the pleasant surprise was closing two new deals with two different companies in the final moments of 2009.

So we start 2010 with two new projects: at Gospel Light in Ventura, California and Bookmasters Distribution Services/Atlas Books in Ashland Ohio. Both companies have been longtime Firebrand companies, subscribing to our Eloquence service. And both now have adopted our Title Management Enterprise software as their foundational systems for managing titles.

So I failed at predicting how the week may turn out, but who's complaining?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Geared up for Working Through the Christmas Vacation

I will be working during the Christmas holiday weeks (don't feel too bad for me) and am actually looking forward to it. This fall has been a little difficult for me work-wise as I geared up for the Wolters Kluwer Health project that was then delayed a couple of months as the legal stuff was finalized. In the past, I have been able to adapt to these shifts better, but not this time. I found myself in reactive mode which annoys the hell out of me, and struggled to get into proactive mode. There were a few brights spots, like the Firebrand Community Conference, which gave me some much needed acceleration. There was also a secret project we are working on which helped, and a fair amount of sales activity to keep busy. But in all, it was a lackluster autumn.

The Wolters-Kluwer project is well underway now, which has helped boost the month of December. As we head into the quiet weeks of Christmas, I have plenty of project planning and detail design work to do on data conversions and interface development for this project, but I am also going to take advantage of the time to be proactive on some other projects. One side project during this time is to build online demonstrations for some of our software and service by creating short videos of different solutions. Mainly, I want to tee-up a bunch of stuff to launch into 2010 with a renewed vigor.

My Inbox is empty, my desk is cleared, and it is time to get proactive. Whoever is left to read this blog post, make the most of the next two weeks. For the rest of you, enjoy the extended holidays!

Monday, October 26, 2009

All You Have To Do Is Listen

My prediction: Ebooks are here to stay and will be an accepted and even assumed part of publishing forever. I find it fascinating that for several years, devices and technology have been improving, and the quantity of ebook content increasing, yet we are still surprised when wide scale adoption actually begins. Which it has.

I am not ashamed to admit, even though I am thoroughly embedded in the book publishing world, that I am already tired of the endless analysis and statistics on ebooks. I just don't understand why everyone is so surprised that tomorrow is now and regular people are buying ebook devices and ebooks. We are heading up the adoption curve. Embrace it.

I promise, I won't get conciliatory and console you that, no matter what, print books are here to say. Of course they are. I won't tell you that some content lends itself better to print, and other content lends itself better to ebooks. Of course it does.

What struck me was this blog post in the New York Times. I started reading it and began to think that maybe I wasn't being analytical enough about the impact of ebooks. Do I really need to know about focal and peripheral attention? Perhaps I am doing myself a disservice by not reading up on ebook consumption in a more scientific way. How can I be in the publishing industry and not know about peripheral attention??

But then again, I am a guy who relates to tangible things. It struck me that my own experiences are probably the best barometer I can read on the adoption of ebooks. I started off reading on my Palm Pilot years ago. It was ok, but eventually abandoned. Back to print books. More recently, I started reading on my iphone. That was ok too in a 'convenient on a delayed airplane' sort of way. But I can't use my iphone for everything - books, email, phone, gps, moveies and expect the battery to last all day. The experience wasn't really there for me either.

Then I bought my Kindle in March 2009, and haven't put it down since. And I bought one for my wife Grace, because she couldn't put my Kindle down either (potential marital friction averted). We have since bought hundreds of dollars worth of ebooks - exponentially more than we would have bought in print form. You can read about our Kindle experience in this blog post (I promise, no stats). For further proof that adoption is now, read Fran Toolan's blog post The Day It All Changed. It has some stats, but I guarantee you it is the passion that is most telling.

It has struck me, then , that to appreciate the immediacy and viability of ebooks, all you really need to do is listen to readers - listen to what they are saying and how they are acting. They (we) are talking to us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Brings Tears to My Eyes

I am admittedly a geek. Seeing a new version of our software come to life very nearly brings tears to my eyes (not really, but you get the point). We have hit many key milestones during this long journey of completely re-engineering our Title Management software from a Windows client server app to a web based application. And this is one of them. Although we have had our web based Title Management in use for several years for specific constituents, and have installed Title Management Version 7.0 on the web exclusively to new clients coming aboard, Version 7.1 represents the first real opportunity for our existing clients to begin the migration to the new environment.

This is true for two key reasons. One, all of the core functionality pre-existing in Title Management desktop now exists in Title Management Web. In version 7.1 we completed the re-engineering of the advanced Add New Title wizard, Title Relationships, Citations, in particular. Secondly, we have completed the necessary conversion programs to upgrade existing clients with years of data - in particular in the Production Scheduling.

I will be unveiling Title Management Version 7.1 this week at our Firebrand Community Conference - nothing like a 'galvanizing event' to bring the team together. This version has been very stable and I will be proud to show it off. Some final additions made it in last week which really make V7.1 shine including:
- Re-designed Title Summary placing related functions under tabs - this window was getting a bit 'busy' with all of the new functions
- Jacket Image previews in the new re-designed Title Summary section
- File Upload to the new file repository structure for better content management especially for our hosted clients
- Improved field sorting on the Task window - already a powerful window

I really felt like I was being handed candy by our development team as they made the final push to bring these key items into the version.

Here are a few shots of the new windows:
Title Summary with Jacket Image preview,added fields and new Title Relationships tabs which include the new Onix Title and Supply Chain relationships:

The Marketing content tabs including Comments/Copy, Citations/Reviews, Categories and File Locations:

The new Upload File dialog window, allowing local files to be uploaded to the new File Repository, including the new Virtual Directory file structure

What more can I say? Someone pass me a hanky.