Mark Boss's Blog, page 4

October 3, 2012

This week my urban fantasy novel DEAD GIRL received a nice review by author Milinda Jay.  She posted her review to Amazon and to her personal website, where it's filed under "Books Worth Reading 2012."  It's in some pretty good company on her site, and I'm glad she enjoyed the story.

For an author, reviews are a tricky thing.  Everyone tells you reviews will help your sales, so you're eager to get them.  But you're also kind of worried because you never know if you'll get a good review or a bad one. 

Either way, my advice to fellow authors is to never react to reviews. If it's a good review, then they enjoyed the story and you should simply say, "Thank you for reading my book."  If it's a bad review, nothing you say is going to change their mind, so don't spend the energy trying to defend yourself.  Go work on your next book.[image error]
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Published on October 03, 2012 13:05 • 3 views

September 26, 2012

In 2007, scientists working in the remote forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo spotted an unusual monkey in a village.  The monkey had a beautiful golden mane and amazing eyes, and it lived with a 13-year-old girl named Georgette.   Apparently, the people of that area of the Congo were already familiar with this type of monkey because they hunt them.  The local name for the monkeys is lesula.  However, scientist John Hart and other researchers from the Lukuru Wildlife Research Foundation understood the possibility that this was a species of primate new to science. It took five years of work, but Hart and his team proved that the lesula is a new species, making it only the second new type of monkey found in the last 28 years.  The lesula's formal name is Cercopithecus lomamiensis. One startling thing that sets them apart is the males have bright blue rear ends.  Unlike their loud colors, though, lesula tend to be shy animals who forage by themselves or in small groups.  They spend a lot of time on the ground rather than up in trees, and eat fruit, flowers and bugs.  Adult male lesula may weigh up to 7 kilograms or about 15 pounds. In their detailed paper published in PLOS One, scientists describe how they found one lesula who'd just been attacked by an eagle.  The eagle flew away and left the wounded monkey up in a tree, where she soon died.  Her body was collected for study. But humans are a more serious threat to lesulas.  Despite living in very remote forests, the lesula may be in trouble because of the bush meat trade.  When farm animal meat isn't available, people in the Congo and other parts of Africa will buy meat of almost any type.  This meat may not be healthy to eat and may come from endangered animals. It would be a shame to lose the lesula so soon after finding it. (Here's the detailed article published in PLOS One, and a shorter article found on Yahoo.  The photograph is by Maurice Emetshu.  Thanks to Torger, who alerted me to this discovery.)
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Published on September 26, 2012 11:51 • 6 views

September 19, 2012

Readers who enjoyed the post on crowdfunding will find this interesting.  Thanks to Peter Kim for emailing me about this graphic from OnlineBusinessDegree.org.

If you're considering a crowdfunding project, no matter which site you use, this information may help.

Please Include Attribution to OnlineBusinessDegree.org With This Graphic Kickstarter Infographic[image error]
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Published on September 19, 2012 14:38 • 5 views

September 12, 2012


Yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of the evil terrorist attacks on America that killed nearly 3,000 people.  I wanted to write something meaningful about that dark day, but every sentence I wrote felt completely inadequate and I gave up.  So all day long I avoided the news and tried to immerse myself in work.
I decided I'd get up on 12 September and write something hopeful.  Remind Americans that the towers may have fallen, but America got up and hit back. That we're still here, while many of the terrorist thugs are dead.  That the terrorists didn't win.  We did.  Because life in America continued.
But this morning's news about the murder on our diplomats in Libya and the attacks on the embassy in Egypt are brutal reminders that the war on terror continues.  Their actions make it clear that these Islamic fascists are intolerant, barbaric and evil.
Evil never rests, so we must always have the courage to confront it.[image error]
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Published on September 12, 2012 07:57 • 9 views

September 8, 2012


I published DEAD GIRL back in May.  Thanks to all of you, a number of people downloaded it.  But I realized the first cover didn't tell readers much about the book or its genre, so Tony and I went back to work.

Tony designed the cover you see above, and I think it's severely cool.  To promote this re-launch, I reset the price to a very reader-friendly .99 USD.

So if you like fantasy, young adult, science fiction and horror, now might be a good time to check out DEAD GIRL.

Thanks!
-- Mark

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Published on September 08, 2012 13:14 • 5 views

September 3, 2012

If you've used Google search lately, you've probably seen the advertisement for their new Nexus 7 tablet computer (pictured above).  I don't remember there being a Nexus 1 through 6, but the point is that the already competitive tablet market just got tougher. Amazon has their Fire, Apple the iPad, and now Google enters the arena.  There are also several other tablets, usually running some version of the Android operating system.  With the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Samsung, I don't know what will happen with the Samsung tablets. You Look Familiar One appeal of the Google tablet is familiarity.  If you're like me, you already use Google products--I use Blogger, Gmail and Google docs--so the transition should be easy.  Which brings up a side issue:  How come Windows-based tablets aren't more popular when so many people use Windows? Show Me the Numbers So how do we compare these three tablets? Their specifications list all sorts of factors, but I narrowed it down to memory, battery life and price.  Although it's hard to make straight apples to apples comparisons since they use different chips and different measurements. Memory:  The Nexus has 1 GB RAM, and two levels of storage, either 8 GB or 16 GB.  The Fire has an unspecified dual core processor with 8 GB of storage, and new iPad (iPad 3?) has 16 GB storage and an A5x processor. Battery Life:  You can compare battery life in several ways, but I tried to find the times for web browsing.  Nexus will do 10 hours, as will the iPad, with the Fire listed at 8 hours. Price:  The 8 GB Nexus is $199 USD, and the 16 GB is $249.  The Fire is also $199, whereas the iPad is listed at $499. The Magic 8 Ball says: What tablet you buy should depend on what tasks or entertainment you plan to use it for, but familiarity will also be a consideration. While I'm tempted to say price will be the strongest component in the marketplace, Apple has repeatedly proven that the Apple 'cool factor' outweighs pure functionality for many consumers.  And Apple has a big head start in terms of an established customer base.   So the question may not be if the Fire and Nexus can beat the iPad, but rather how much of a niche can they carve from the iPad's market? (The specs for each tablet:  Amazon's Kindle Fire, Apple's iPad, and Google's Nexus 7.  The pic of the Nexus 7 is from Google.)
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Published on September 03, 2012 10:32 • 5 views

August 28, 2012


I love the Keurig coffee maker.  Seriously, if it talked like Siri, I would marry it. 
But why? There are lots of coffee makers.  I have others sitting in the cupboard.  The Keurig is better because it saves time.  You dump the water in, feed a K-cup to the disturbing Alien mouth, and by the time you've got the milk and sugar, your coffee is ready.
There are two things at work here.  Time and simplicity.  You make a product that has both and you've created magic. Coffee + Time + Simple = Genius  
Time isn't just money, it's way more valuable than that.  In a recent blog post, Nathan Kontny wrote, "Many businesses create innovation by simply moving time."  (He also writes about the Keurig, which is cool and means I'm not crazy.) 
Kontny makes the point that the time he would have spent putting a filter in a coffee machine and measuring out the correct number of scoops of loose coffee and all that is now shifted to the Keurig people.  They put the right amount of coffee in a tiny plastic bucket that has a filter built in.  You're paying for them to save you time, and for many people that trade is totally worth it. I'm a morning zombie
The second factor is simplicity.  How many buttons does an iPhone have? (Okay, that's kind of cheating because the touchscreen can have a whole keyboard, but stay with me.) The Keurig Mini Plus model has one button, labeled "Brew." It also has an "On/Off" button, but it shuts itself off in 90 seconds, so you really only turn it on.
Now Keurig also makes their Vue system where you can control the water pressure, the air flow, the brew strength and 50 other things.  I don't want to do all that.  I want to press one button and get my coffee.
Why do cops, soldiers and civilians carry Glock pistols? Glocks don't have an external hammer you have to thumb back, or a switch you have to throw to select "Fire."  It's a one button system.  You pull the trigger, it goes bang.  Simple.  Perfect for when you're under stress, or you haven't had your coffee. 
If you look in the Comments section under the Keurig Mini Plus, the number one favorable factor is "Easy to use."  323 people felt that was the machine's best feature.  217 labeled it "Fast."  (229 also found it "Stylish," but since it already saves time and is simple, style is just bonus points.)
Whether you are looking to buy a new product or make a new product, consider 'time' and 'simplicity' in your design. What product do you use that's simple and saves time? Leave a comment and spread the word. Non Anonymous Sources
(Here is Nathan Kontny's blog, which is titled Ninjas and Robots.  I don't know Nate, but he likes Keurig and his blog title is funny.  Here's the Keurig site if you want to join the cult.  I found the pic of H.G. Wells's Time Machine at Immortal Muse, which appears to be about poetry.)[image error]
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Published on August 28, 2012 09:48 • 5 views

August 20, 2012

We all know about drones in the sky because we've seen footage of military drones like the Predator and Reaper.  And we've seen police use bomb disposal robots on land, but how about drones at sea?
I'd never given it much thought, but drones may be a good solution on the water (or under it) for the same reasons they're helpful in the air or on land.  When the task is risky due to weather or environment, or dangerous because of enemies, or simply tedious and expensive, drones are sometimes the solution.
The US and Israeli navies both use drones in the form of small boats equipped with sensors and weapons.  Piloted from shore or a nearby ship, these small boats can operate in dangerous weather and approach pirates, drug runners, and terrorist vessels without endangering a human crew.
The Protei project is a completely different approach (see picture above).  Protei is an open-source, sailing drone that's in development.  The idea is to use these drones to clean the oceans of oil spills and floating garbage.  The drones could also be used for science:  monitor algae blooms, study coral reefs and fisheries, and take data on water temperature and weather.  There are so many applications possible.
Protei goals are ambitious.  According to their site, they want the boats to be:  unsinkable, self-righting, safe, unmanned, autonomous, green, affordable and able to act in swarms.  The swarm behavior is especially interesting because the developers have planned a series of steps where the drones move from being controlled by a human operator to working autonomously, alone or in groups.  They even have the neat idea of letting people control drones using smart phones, and play a game of ocean clean up.
Personally, I wonder if drone lifeguards might be possible.  Something about the size of a jet ski, with handles to grab onto, and maybe even an arm that could pluck a drowning person out of the water.
Someday you may be out fishing and see a boat pass you in the fog and realize there's no one on board.  But it's not a ghost ship.  It's a drone.
(Here are two links to The Unmarked Van, where you can find articles about US and Israeli naval drones.  Here's the Protei site.  In a weird bit of interconnectivity, Protei is a Kickstarter project, and the guy who formed Protei (Cesar Harada) gave a TED talk--two things we've talked about here recently at Chimpwithpencil.  Yup.  Everything is connected.)
(The pic is from the Protei site.)[image error]
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Published on August 20, 2012 09:54 • 5 views

August 13, 2012


Sometimes you hear something mentioned and file it away in your brain to look up later.  And if you're me, you scribble it on the back of an envelope.  Then you forget about it, lose the envelope, and go make a sandwich.
I've seen Quora mentioned in magazines, on the Internet and someone may even have asked me about it, so eventually I grew curious.  Quora is a question-and-answer site, with a social focus.  Or maybe it's a social network with a question-and-answer format.
It's like the Quora designers looked at Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Answers and a half dozen other sites, then copied the features they thought would be helpful.  The primary way to interact on Quora is to post a question.  People with similar interests can respond, and the most popular answers get voted to the top in a Digg-like system.
The Quora login page is very simple, and reads, "Quora connects you to everything you want to know about."  Wow, that's a pretty big claim.  Especially if you have odd interests.  Until the user base grows into the hundreds of millions, you're probably not going to find answers to your more esoteric questions.
But for popular Quora areas like 'start-ups,' 'entrepreneurship,' 'food,' 'science' and 'venture capital,' you can get lots of answers.  It's also telling that many of the articles written about other Q&A sites say that they're like Quora.
One interesting feature on Quora is the ability to create 'boards,' which Quora describes as "lightweight blogs or personal notes."  This may provide people with a place to post something meatier than a Tweet, but still quick and easy for others to digest. 
People tend to seek out (and find) others online with similar interests, whether it's crazy political beliefs and or a deep love of wombats.  Social networks may streamline that search process, but I wonder if they are really much different from the online forums and bulletin boards of years ago.
(Here's an article on Mashable by Jolie O'Dell that has helpful graphics.  This article in PCMag by William Fenton does a good job of explaining what Quora is and how it works.  And here's a page from Tech Crunch that mentions Quora in multiple articles.)
(The pic is of penguins and it's from:igougo.com)[image error]
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Published on August 13, 2012 13:33 • 7 views

August 7, 2012

Every time I read Wired magazine, I find something intriguing.  The July 2012 issue mentioned a game called EteRNA.  Sadly, I don't play many video games anymore.  Modern games are so involving that they might destroy my writing productivity, so I only play when I'm with friends.
But the idea behind EteRNA caught my attention.  We talked about crowdfunding here recently, and EteRNA is an example of another method:  crowdsourcing.
You're probably used to crowdsourcing both online and in person.  Someone asks for help or asks a question, and everyone jumps in with answers and advice.  You see it in wikis and chat rooms and forums, too.
The EteRNA project is an effort to build a library of synthetic RNA.  RNA is ribonucleic acid, the key component of all cells, including yours.  Instead of computers making these molecules, EteRNA puts the tools in your hands.
Four nucleotides (conveniently color- and symbol-coded in the game) make up RNA, but it's how you link them together that matters.  In nature, there are good RNAs like the ones that help cells synthesize proteins, and the bad ones like the retroviruses that make up hepatitis and HIV.  The ones you make in EteRNA are synthetic, so they may be new things not found in nature.
What is the ultimate goal of this project? Well, they want to make breakthroughs in biochemistry, and they want to understand how crowdsourcing works.  But I wish the website was a little more specific as to the applications of these synthetic RNA designs.  I'm not sure they have an endgame in mind here, but if they do, they should share it.  I think a clear goal would encourage people.
I'm still working my way through the tutorial, but if you want to try it out, don't let the talk of nucleotides and such deter you.  So far I've concentrated on simply matching colors and forming links.  The game is relaxing, and more like a crossword puzzle than a game of Tetris.  So hit the site and give it a try.
(The information is from the EteRNA site.  The pic is not from the game, but is rather an RNA from mySDscience.)[image error]
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Published on August 07, 2012 12:02 • 3 views