Increase your income - give your work away

If you could increase your income by around 20% for doing absolutely nothing... would you do it?

That's more or less what happened to John Scalzi when Tor books released Old Man's War as part of their new free eBook series. In a blog post yesterday, Scalzi reported that sales of his books increased between 9% and 33% - with the highest increase in sales going to the book that was given away for free. He essentially did nothing, and reaped benefits from it.

Well... OK. To be entirely accurate, he did nothing more than he had already done, which was to write an entertaining, engaging, and award-winning science fiction novel. So yeah, that first step was a doozie, and probably has a lot to do with the amount of interest being shown in his free eBook release. Still... a 10%-30% increase just for making an electronic download available? Wow. (For the record, Scalzi's not new to the idea of eBooks - one of his novels, Agent to Stars, has been available as an online book for nine years.)

Now, there's apparently a not insignificant amount of debate in the publishing world as to whether or not unencumbered eBooks are a blessing or a curse. Baen has been operating their Free Library online for a while now, and from various comments I've hard, it seems that it's been profitable for them, primarily in attracting readers to try new authors or new series books. Enough so that it has been a an ongoing project now for almost seven years, despite the fact that author participation int he Baen Free Library is entirely voluntary. In other words, the authors are giving away some of their books online, for free, because it benefits them.

That's apparently why Neil Gaiman is now giving away his bestselling book, American Gods, although for a limited time only. In his own words, "I like giving stuff away. I think it's sensible." When you entice a hundred people who otherwise wouldn't spend time on your works with the offer of a free book, you gain a potential fan.

I would argue that in the past, libraries formed the basis of a involuntary "free giveaway" for books. With the increasing ubiquity of and convenience of the the internet, though, it seems like the local public library is facing some competition from electronic formats. Sure, I could take time and gas to pop down to my local branch to browse through whatever they happen to have on their shelves... or I could peek at Google's books, Amazon's previews, Baen's library and other online sources to see if I can ferret out a new and interesting author or series. Unlike browsing at the library, I can browse the internet any time, any place I have a net connection and a few spare minutes. Is it any wonder that eBooks generate good returns for those who make use of them?

Imagine if you were an author, and you could take a year and spend 8 hours a day, every day, traveling around the world to promote your book to millions of people. You speak to 10,000 people a day, and out of those you speak to, maybe 1% - 100 - decide that they like what they hear, and that they'll plunk down the $7.50 (or whatever) to buy a copy.

Now, imagine you could do that without spending any money for travel expenses, publicists, advertising media, or other expenses. In fact, imagine you could do it not just without spending any money, but without spending any time, either. No time, no money, and in return, you'll pick up around 36,500 sales this year, some percentage of which will become part of your permanent fan base.

If you could increase your income by around 20% for doing absolutely nothing... why in the world wouldn't you do it?

Open Source Developer == Better Pay

CNET reports on a study by Bluewolf consulting that indicates open source developers can command a 30-40% salary premium.

Finding Yehudi

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today
Oh how I wish he'd go away.

-- William Hughes Mearns

This bit of doggerel - or a variation of it - was the basis for "The Yehudi Principle", a short story by Fredrick Brown. It's a cautionary tale, a sort of warning that tells you: You may think you know what's going on, and you may even think you can use that knowledge to shape the world. But the real world is stranger than you realize, and sooner or later, you're going to have to face the fact that Yehudi exists. He's the man who wasn't there... and he's not going away anytime soon.

Back when I was in high school, I had a job working at a local library. It was a dream job for a bibliophile, even if it didn't pay nearly as well as flipping burgers at McDonald's. I came out of those years with a love for odd books. While I was working there, though, there were a couple of books that really caught my attention. A Yiddish dictionary. The Foxfire series of books, documenting the ways and means of live in the back woods. Books on calculus, science, languages, religion, philosophy...

... and The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.

The Dictionary was a collection of things that weren't there, and which weren't going to go away any time soon. It details a thousand fanciful places from imagination and mythology: the land of Oz, Middle Earth, Prospero's island, Utopia, and more. As extensive as it is, the Dictionary was a finite resource, and left out some of those places that caught the imaginations of others. Many of those abandoned imaginings can now be found on the internet, as part of Wikipedia or a user-generated series of articles in an online Dictionary.

The Dictionary isn't the be-all and end-all of if you're interested in the imaginary, though. You can browse through Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy if you're interested in a more personal view of the critters that make up the fantasy realm. There, you can find details about Peter S. Beagle's unicorns or Stephen R. Donaldson's cavewights. If SF is more to your liking, you can spend time leafing through Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials to discover information about Niven's Puppeteers or Herbert's Guild Steersman; or you can spend time at Jeff Russel's Starship Dimensions web site to get an idea of just how big a Star Wars mythos Rancor is when compared to, oh, your average wet-behind-the-ears Jedi knight.

A less detailed, but more expansive book in the same category as the Dictionary is the Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. As the title suggests, this volume covers a greater breadth of imagination. While the Dictionary restricts itself to imaginary, in the Encyclopedia, anything that never existed is fair game: people, places, weapons, ships, monsters, and more.

There we go. Six - no, seven - collections of things that were not there, never were there, and will probably never be there. Things that never were, and yet, like Yehudi, things that aren't going away anytime soon.

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart

Looking for genuine Mammoth Chunks (TM)? Some genuine Anti-RobotFluid, or 100% Non-Organic Robot Milk? Maybe some Barbarian Repellent for a weekend trip back to whenever?

Then you need the Echo Park Time Travel Mart (motto: "Wherever You Are, We're Already Then.")

If you can't make the time to visit them... well, then you're really not one of their customers, I guess. But you can still browse through a photo journal of their inventory, or watch the video walkthrough of the store.

Keep in mind, though, that the Hyper Slushie machine is out of order - come back yesterday.

What makes this even cooler, at least to me, is that this is apparently the work of 826LA, a non-profit tutoring center. The Time Travel Mart is a front for the new writing lab they are building in Echo Park, CA. They're an educational institution with a sense of humor. That's only slightly less amazing than a real time traveler.

An Embedded Systems Timeline

In the latest edition of Jack Ganssle's Embedded Muse newsletter, he mentions an the embedded systems timeline on While the title of the article is "Milestones in embedded system design", this is really more of a general timeline of the history of computing, touching on the hardware and software innovations that have produced modern computing systems.

There's the obligatory picture of the first bug, plus a couple of gems - including a picture of one of the first Apple computers, complete with hand-made wooden keyboard case. It's not nearly as attractive as the steampunk keyboard (or anything else, for that matter) out of the Steampunk Workshop, but it represents a bit of history that I'd previously not encountered.

All in all, an interesting distraction for a few minutes, and one that makes me want to re-read something like Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine.

Family, Friends, and Neighbors

From a Time article in 2003, Jessica Reaves reminisces about what it was like to really be Mister Rogers' neighbor:

I lived in Mister Rogers' neighborhood.

No, I mean I really did. When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, the Rogers family lived just around the corner, in a big brick house with a sloping lawn.

When I was a student at CMU back in the late 80's, the story was that you could see Mister Rogers over in Schenly Park occasionally. Apparently, he lived close by the CMU campus, and would either go for walks or go jogging in the park. I never ran into him, but knew several people who mentioned having seen him. Always with an excited, "Guess who I saw?" sort of catch to their voice.

From everything I have heard about Fred Rogers, he was one of the all-around nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. Even more than that, he was the canonical example of what we native Pittsburghers really consider a celebrity. Oh, we have our typical collection of football stars, hockey players and the like. Ask people about who the real Pittsburgh celebs are, though, and natives will mention people like jazz guitarist Joe Negri, county coroner Cyril Wecht, horror show host Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille, weatherman Joe DiNardo ("Joe said it would!"), the Shop and Save Lady, news anchor Edie Tarbox... the lsit goes on and on.

Of course, we can't forget former mayor Sophie Masloff, who's main claim to fame, these days, is that she's a DNC superdelegate. I was just discussing Sophie yesterday with a coworker, and we both had the same attitude: love her or hate her, she's ours. There's a sort of fierce pride in our "little Jewish grandmother". While she was at home, we may have squabbled a bit, but hey - that happens in families. When you folks who don't know dahntahn from the sou'side start giving her a hard time, though, yinz guys had better realize that in Pittsburgh, things like "family" and "neighbor" still mean something special to us.

That's something I think Fred Rogers understood, and communicated. In a lot of ways, he was the embodiment of what many Pittsburghers wanted to be: just a plain nice guys, through and through; a guy who could look around himself, and whoever he saw, say "Hey - he's my neighbor."

Space Optimization

Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I went through the house, clearing out bookshelves. This is kind of a yearly ritual for us. We tend to pick up a couple of books a week, and over the course of a year, that eventually results in towers of books piled on top of any flat surface not in daily use. We eventually get to the point where the only way we can expect to fit more books into the house is to purge what we have and make room for the next year's bounty.

Which is why this book-lined staircase tickles my fancy. Instead of clearing out old books to make way for new, why not clear out old architecture to make more storage space?

I know that tonight, I'm going to be walking around the house, going "Mmmm... ooooh, we could knock a hole here, and put a shelf there, and..." while my wife makes noncommittal noises of agreement and quietly hides the hammers and drywall saws.

Use The Fource, Paula!

You just can't make this kind of stuff up: Microsoft Source Fource Limited-Edition Developer Action Figures.

Because, y'know, we geek-types always base our technology decisions on what toys are available.


"And he hath put in his heart that he may teach..."

Exodus 35:30-35:
30 And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the LORD hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah;
31 And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship;
32 And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
33 And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work.
34 And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.
35 Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work.
This is one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament.

As I sit here, my wife is working on a Sunday School lesson on stewardship. The Christian idea of stewardship revolves around the idea that all that we have - our lives, our finances, our abilities - are gifts from God, and that He has given them to so that we might accomplish His purposes. It's a sobering thought.

Here, we see that this idea of stewardship isn't something that comes solely from the New Testament. It's a concept that permeates the Old Testament, as well. Bezaleel and Aholiab were two men that God gave special abilities to. They were craftsmen without peer, skilled in all manners of work. These two men were smiths, stonemasons, carpenters, chemists, jewelers, weavers, and so much more, all wrapped up in one.

These two extraordinary men actually had two commissions from God. We see the first of these in Exodus 31:6, where God tells us that these men were given to the people of Israel so ".. that they may make all that I have commanded thee..." They were given their skills and abilities by God, and God expected them to do His work and direct the construction of the tabernacle. So we see that a good steward has a responsibility to use his or her abilities to their fullest in the service of God.

There is a second commission that is revealed in Exodus 35:34, though. In addition to their skills and abilities, God gave both Bezallel and Aholiab a desire to teach. For these two men, being a good steward did not involve just using their abilities to serve God. It also involved passing on their knowledge, experience, and skills to others, so that those men might serve God as well.

We see an this repeated in the New Testament, where the emphasis on teaching is continued and expanded. Jesus apparently considered teaching an essential part of his ministry, because He "...went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom..." (Matthew 4:23) Paul told his spiritual son Timothy that he was not only to teach others, but that he was to teach them to teach as well (2 Timothy 2:2) . All Christians are commanded to teach and admonish one another "in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Colossians 3:16) Teaching is the first part of the Great Commission, by which believers are commanded to evangelize the world - "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Using my skills and abilities to serve God is only the first step in being a good steward. If I am not taking the time to teach others - my children, my Sunday school students, my fellow believers, my friends and family - I am falling short of the responsibilities that God has entrusted me with.

Happy Half-Price Chocolate Day!

While February 14th is for those sappy romantic couples who want nothing more than to sit in a dimly lit restaurant , staring into each other's puppy-dog eyes, today is the day for those of us who really love someone else. Because, after all, the only thing that says "I love you" more than a 1-lb chocolate heart is... two 1-lb chocolate hearts for the price of one!

There are lots of folks who recognize and celebrate this unique holiday. (Of course, it's more important to some people than others.) With this many people, they may think it's an organization... and if we can get 50 people, why, they may think it's a movement!

Demonstrate your intelligence, your compassion, and your love today, and give your local economy a boost at the same time. Celebrate half-price chocolate day with someone you love (or your cat... let's face it, it's not a picky sort of holiday that's all hung up on tradition, you know). Then, tomorrow, you can start looking forward in eager anticipation to that next delicious holiday - Half-Price Candy Day, traditionally celebrated on November 1st, of course.


I finish a nice little venting about the whole "SCO Lives!" debacle, and just after I put the post up, the code I've been wrestling with for two days finally boots and runs.

Coincidence? I think not :-)

Like a Phoenix From The Ashes

Well, OK, no. SCO isn't quite like a phoenix.

It's more like some sort of B-movie psychotic serial killer in a teen slasher flick. You know the one - they deranged goon that gets stabbed, shot, run over with a car, and finaly engulfed in flame before they fall down and die. Only after a few seconds, they jump up, still on fire, and somehow manage to start shambling after the plucky heroine once again.

Somehow, SCO has managed to find some new partners - specifically, the Stephen Norris Capital Partners. For reasons only known to them, SNCP is investing $100 million in a company that's been pretty much humiliated legally and technically over the course of the last three years. A company with a share price of $0.09 and a market capitalization of $1,930,000.

You read that right - the share price for SCO is currently nine cents a share, and their market capitalization is 1.93 million US dollars. Please also note that those figures are as of close on February 14th, 2008 - after news of the investment drove the stock price up by 50%. At the start of the day, SCO was trading at under $0.06 per share, with a market cap of around $1.28 million.

I know people who could have bought the company at that price. In Silicon Valley alone, there must be a thousand people in the tech industry who could have written a personal check and bought out SCO, lock, stock, and barrel.

And yet... nobody even considered doing that until Stephen Norris Capital Partners came along with the mind-bogglingly brilliant idea to not just buy SCO, but to spend 50x more than they had to to acquire this hot little property. There are habitual gamblers out there who have managed to take brain-damaged betting and raise it to the level of performance art who still realize, at a very fundamental level, that investing in SCO isn't a good bet.

What in the world do SNCP think they're going to get out of this deal that could possibly be worth their investment?

What's in a name?

The name of the blog is "The Embedded Theologian". I'm an embedded systems developer, and a pastoral theology student, so I thought it would be interesting to combine the two when I named my blog. I also liked the wordplay inherent in the name. While it describes who I am (an embedded developer and a theology student), it also carries the connotations associated with "embedded journalist" - the idea of someone who is not part of a group, who is still attached to that group. As Christians are called to live in the world, and yet not be part of the world (John 17:14-15), "embedded theologian" seems to be an accurate description of the Christian life.

Later on, it occurred to me that I should see if there were any existing references to embedded theology. A quick Google search turned up a couple of references, including the following definition in an Amazon review of How to Think Theologically (by Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke):

Embedded theology is that kind of theological content that is in us without our necessarily being aware of it.

I haven't read How to Think Theologically - this is the first time I've even encountered the book. The idea of embedded theology, though, is an interesting one to me. Part of what attracts me strongly to the Christian faith as described in the Bible is it's empirical nature. Particularly in the New Testament, there is a strong emphasis on faith as an intellectual exercise. The idea is that you have faith, not because someone tells you to believe, but because you have examined the evidence presented and accepted the Bible's testimony about the nature of God and Jesus Christ. This exercise of intellect is what leads to faith. Given the context of the times in which most of the NT was written, the encouragement to revisit assumptions about the nature of God and the Messiah seems pretty obvious.

So, now I have three different aspects reflected in the title of this blog. First, a statement of who I am. Second, a reminder of what I am in relation to the world around me. Third, a warning that my preconceived notions about the way the world works (theologically or physically!) are something not to be accepted, but examined. I'll strive to keep all three aspects in mind as I consider topics for examination.

It's an embedded kind of day

There's always a lot going on in the world of embedded systems development. Today we saw a spike in news about the embedded world. On Slashdot alone, there were three articles on embedded development - one about this announcement about the Android platform from Google, another article asking "Where are tomorrow's embedded developers?", and a third about the new release of the LLVM compiler infrastructure project.

Huh? Compilers? How is that a story about embedded development?

It's pretty safe to say that embedded developers are closer to their tools than just about any other brand of developer. Oh, sure - we use compilers, linkers, debuggers, just like anyone else. Chances are, though, that if you poll a group of embedded developers, you'll find a disproportionate number of folks who have had to hack on their compiler in some way. They've either had to patch their tools to deal with a new architecture variant, or work around a compiler bug, or something. For an embedded developer, a toolchain isn't just a static collection of programs that you feed source through to get a final product. For better or for worse, building, tweaking, and fine-tuning your tools is as much a part of embedded development as writing a device driver, compiling a kernel, or getting some user-space apps up and running on a new system.

As a result, things like LLVM and TinyCC are more than mildly interesting for embedded developers. They aren't just toy projects - instead, they represent exciting possibilities for a whole new set of tools. A whole new degree of freedom in tweakage that exists beyond choosing a standard C library or a set of user-space utilities. Remember, we're talking about developers here who get excited at the idea of writing their own memory managers. Giving them a whole new way of building something is like waving a steak in front of a starving dog.

They might decide they don't like the taste of it, for whatever reason... but they will at least try it, just to see if there might be an advantage to using a different toolchain. In that trying, they will shake out a lot of bugs and help those projects mature to the point where less bleeding-edge projects will be willing to give them a try.