The dwindling writing market

I get the occasional query from people who say I should promote my blog more, so that I can get an audience and write a book about this or that, and then I read stuff like this. Basically, writing is getting more and more commoditized, and writers are making less and less, not that they ever made much in the first place. And then I heard on a podcast that the average technical book sells 5,000 copies.

Fifteen years ago, I was in the home stretch of writing a book–my first, and so far only book. All told, I made around $13,000 off that book, between book royalties and publishing derivative articles in magazines, all before taxes, of course. I wrote about 20 hours a week for six months to do it, so, perhaps if I’d made it my full-time gig, I might have been able to make $52,000 a year. But that was when computer books were hot and big-box book stores were booming. I’m not confident I could make $52,000 as an author today. Read more

Another benefit of not having debt

I’ve written about how not having debt gives you power, though I can’t find the particular post at the moment. But I remember when I got my first mortgage. I went to a party, and my boss was there, along with my five other bosses, and the big boss got this look in his eye when I said I’d bought a house. That look in his eye said one thing: I own you, and I can do whatever I want to you.

And he did. From that day forward, all of the assignments nobody else wanted fell on me. Anything that was destined to fail went to me. And the cycle followed me from job to job, then stopped, like turning out a light, the day after my wife and I paid off our mortgage. It was the closest thing to magic I’ve ever seen. One day, I was the guy who got assignments at 3 PM on a Friday that were going to take me 8 hours to get done–and they had to be done by 8 AM on Monday, and one day, I wasn’t that guy anymore.

I tested it again this month. I turned down a job that offered me a $7,000 pay cut. Nothing unusual about that, right? Not in this case. In this case, rejecting that pay cut meant I didn’t have a job anymore. Read more

Cable connections are the last thing most people check…

Fed up with trying to host a network printer on a Windows 7 box on a mixed network, I broke down and bought a Jetdirect card for my aged HP Laserjet 4100. Don’t worry–used Jetdirect cards are cheap these days. I paid $7 for mine.

Of course I made installing it harder than I needed to. I’m a professional. Don’t try this at home. Read more

Working for Canonical doesn’t make you pro-Free Software?

Stuart Langridge works for Canonical. Canonical produces Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution. Apparently, this means he favors proprietary software in some people’s minds.

Yes, this is the same Ubuntu Linux you can download freely. You can make copies of it and sell them, legally. You can modify it, if you have the ability and inclination. Just setting the record straight.

Canonical does what it has to do to get Linux working well on your computer. And it succeeds rather nicely. If a computer can run Windows XP or newer, it can run Ubuntu, and installing Ubuntu will be easier than installing Windows in many cases. The computer this website runs on was built on a variant of Ubuntu, and it literally took longer to burn the CD than it took to run the installation. It blew my mind.

This is a case of software being like religion.

I am Lutheran. Almost militantly so, to the annoyance of some people who know me. I break from the traditional Lutheran camp in two regards: favoring music in the service that was written during my lifetime, and not being uptight enough about doctrine. I take the concept of grace alone, faith alone very seriously, and to an outsider, that plus the Lutheran definition of grace–God’s riches at Christ’s expense–is enough to make you Lutheran. That’s good enough for me. Some vocal Lutherans expect you to be able to recite precisely what makes John Calvin a heretic. I neither know nor care about that. I read the Bible, in its entirety, and concluded that Calvin puts certain responsibilities on you, a human being, that Luther puts on God. Since I believe that God is more reliable than me, I concluded that the Lutheran view is safer. I believe that ought to be enough.

The big question is whether I care if I’m Lutheran enough for some people. And the answer is no, I do not. I just ignore the rants about heresy that I see on Facebook, or better yet, stay off Facebook for long stretches at a time, and go about my business.

I guess that’s easier said than done in the Free Software community. There are a lot more witch hunters in that group. I suppose the people who can’t write working code try to make up for it by concentrating on ideology, or something like that. I do know it’s a whole lot easier to crusade for ideology than to write code.

The silent majority of people just want a system that works. They don’t want to hunt down drivers and compile them, or spend hours editing configuration files. I can’t tell you how many e-mail messages I received over the years from people who tried the most popular Linux distribution of the time, ran into difficulty, and gave up. (It’s one reason my e-mail address isn’t on this site anywhere anymore.) Even if the problem was something I could answer relatively easily, they just gave up and installed Windows instead. In their minds, if Dave Farquhar knows how to make that work, then whoever made that particular Linux distribution ought to make it work automatically. And they have a point.

So if Ubuntu installs a driver or some other low-level code that isn’t completely Richard Stallman-approved, the majority of people really don’t care. They’re happy it works. If their freedoms are infringed upon, they don’t know it.

I’ve said before that I could re-train my mother to use Linux. In fact, she could probably get all of her work done in Linux and emacs, and I’m sure John the Baptist Richard Stallman would be absolutely thrilled. But it would take her several years to learn the nuances of emacs, and some of her job duties would take much longer. Perhaps she wouldn’t mind occasionally spending hours to do something that can be accomplished in minutes using a more specialized, albeit proprietary, tool. In the end, when she’s a master of emacs, I’ll be able to tell her that she’s free. And she’ll tell me, “It wasn’t worth it.” Or, if she’s feeling a little more reasonable, she’ll throw something at me.

It’s easier said than done. But perhaps when the witch hunters come knocking, it would help to ask them if they had anything better to do?

After all, he could be a total sell-out like me. In my job, I’ve recommended Linux-based solutions when appropriate, but I spend the overwhelming majority of my time supporting things that run on Windows. Perhaps they would prefer he do that.

But I wouldn’t. I really like the work Canonical is doing.

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