Gas station without pumps

2018 April 22

Leanpub changing their pricing model again

Filed under: Circuits course,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:50
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I’ve been publishing drafts of my book with Leanpub since August 2015, shortly after I first heard about them from Katrin Becker.  I took the chance with an unknown publisher largely because it cost me nothing, they took no rights to the book, and their e-book store had very generous royalties.

About  a year ago, they changed their pricing model for authors, so that there was a flat $99 fee for starting each new book, though existing books like mine were grandfathered in with no fee.

They just announced to authors another change in their pricing plan (though again, existing books are grandfathered in).  Now authors have a choice between a $99 flat fee per book or subscription plans of $8, $19, $29, or $59 a month, depending on how many books they have—the $8/month plan is for up to 3 books.  For the 32 months I’ve been with LeanPub, the new subscription pricing scheme would have cost me $256—much more than the $99 flat fee, which would have already been high enough for me to look elsewhere when I was starting.

The new subscription pricing scheme strikes me as a sucker’s deal, if you are really going to stick with a book long enough to complete the book and sell it. Unless you remove a book from Leanpub quickly (taking it to a traditional publisher, for example), the subscription fees add up fast.  Unless you are churning out books and moving them off Leanpub within 2–3 years, the $99 flat fee per book remains a better deal.

number of books months until flat fee cheaper
1 13
2 25
3 38
4 21
5 27
6 32
7 37
8 42
9 47
10 53
11 38
12 41
13 45
14 48
15 52
16 55

They do have some deals where earning sufficient royalties will provide the subscription for free, but I’m still a long way from the first breakpoint ($1000 in royalties), because I give away the book to students in my classes (235 free copies of the book vs. only 133 paid-for copies) and because I charge so little (the price is now $9.99 recommended, $4.99 minimum).  At that low price, my royalties are minimal.  I suppose that in another couple of years I’ll be up to the level that would unlock their standard plan, allowing me to do up to 3 more books without a subscription fee (unless they’ve raised their thresholds by then).

Of course, if I could get some other teacher to adopt my book for a course, my sales would go up substantially, but self-promotion has never been one of strong skills, and Leanpub provides no marketing.  Other than the authors of books on Leanpub and their students, no one knows about the website or looks for books there.

Leanpub has also changed the royalties they give, from 90%–50¢ to 80%.  For the lowest price they allow ($4.99), the royalties are the same either way, but for higher prices, they now take more (again, existing books are grandfathered in under the old agreement, though they are trying to induce authors to switch to the new royalty scheme with a not-very-exciting promotion scheme).  The new royalties are still much better than Amazon’s 35% for ebooks, but Amazon provides much more visibility for books.  Amazon does have a 70% royalty deal for ebooks in a very narrow price range.

I understand why Leanpub has been making changes to their business model—their initial pricing was a loss leader, to build up a sufficient clientele while they were developing their software for book publishing.  The main value they add (in their view) is their mark-up language for producing EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats from the same source, and most of their development costs have been for improving their mark-up language (first Leanpub-flavored Markdown and now Markua).

But I’m not using their mark-up language, because it is not really suited for the graph-heavy, math-heavy textbook I’m writing. I’m using LaTeX to produce PDF files directly.  I gave up on EPUB and MOBI, as they are not suitable formats for graph-heavy books, even though that locks me out of many of the e-book markets. I’m using Leanpub only for their storefront, for which their 10%+50¢ charge was quite reasonable, but increasing the charges to 20% and adding a $8/month subscription fee to that would make me think twice about staying with Leanpub, if they hadn’t grandfathered in the existing books.

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2018 April 15

Marcus’s first outside adventure

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:52
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Our kitten, Marcus, had his first excursion outside yesterday.  We have been keeping him inside all winter, and we expected him to race away the moment we opened the door for him (given how he races around the house so much, as if it were too small a box for him). But, to our surprise, he was very cautious and it was several days until he condescended to step over the threshold—and then only because the trusted older cat, Georgie, was sitting on the doorstep.  It took him over half an hour to get down the steps to the patio and explore there.

Marcus sheltering in the corner, where nothing can reach him.

Marcus steps out from the corner.

He did not stay outside very long, but he did go outside again for five minutes later in the day. He still does not know how to use the cat door, and even with the back door open he prefers to sit on the threshold and look out, rather than venture out into unknown territory.

The lighting in these pictures is a bit misleading—Marcus is a sleek black cat, not black and grey.

Rapid delivery

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:37
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I made a serious mistake in putting together the parts list for my Applied Electronics course this quarter—I forgot to include a potentiometer on the list. I think what happened is that in previous years I had put the trimpot on the first quarter list, but we didn’t use it until the second quarter. I had a note to move it from the first-quarter list to the second-quarter list, but the move only happened half way (it was removed from the first list, but not added to the second one).

The mistake was pointed out to me be students in my Thursday office hours (they were asking where the potentiometer they were to use was).

Late Thursday night (after the evening labs were ordered), I ordered 85 25-turn 10kΩ trimpots from DigiKey, and they arrived Saturday morning (at 36 hours, about the fastest delivery I’ve ever had for anything other than pizza—particularly good for a delivery from Minnesota to California).  The Post Office package delivery gives good service here (now that they are no longer short-staffed as they were in December).

Because the lab course fee for the Applied Electronics course has all been spent on parts and tools already, I probably won’t be able to get reimbursed for these parts. The $76.52 they cost is probably the price I’ll have to pay for my mistake. (It isn’t my most expensive mistake in the last year—I forgot to pay my first installment of property taxes on time, which cost me a couple hundred dollars in penalties.)

Although I’m very happy with DigiKey’s rapid service, I might still specify trimpots from AliExpress next year, since 100 trimpots would cost only about $12 with shipping (ePacket, not the unreliable China Post).

2018 April 13

Spit kit sent

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:22
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I sent in my spit kit (formally “ORAgene⋅Dx For collection of human DNA”) to Dante Labs for whole-genome sequencing (WGS) for myself yesterday, as the next step after ordering the sequencing as mentioned in Personal genome sequencing.

I expect that it will take about 3 months before I have any data from them, as they are not paying for quick turnaround from the sequencing labs, and even quick turnaround would be a couple of weeks with the low-cost sequencing methods.   Sometime this summer I’ll either be posting some (limited) information about the results or complaining about a scam—we’ll have to wait and see.

2018 April 4

Quiz disappointment

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:31
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Today’s quiz in class was very disappointing for me, and I don’t know what to do differently to get better results.

Yesterday in lab I returned the quizzes from before break and urged students to look through all the old quizzes and rework any questions they got wrong, reminding them that I recycle questions.

In this morning’s class, before the quiz students asked me to show them (again) how to do one of the questions on the last quiz:

Design a voltage divider implementing Vout − Vref = G(Vin − Vref ), where G can be adjusted from ≈ 0.33 to ≈ 0.67 using a 10 kΩ potentiometer. Use port symbols to connect to Vin, Vref , and Vout.

I showed them two solutions—one that I had expected and a correct, but different solution that a student had come up with.

Here are the two solutions: mine on the left and an alternative one on the right.  (There is a third solution, similar to the second one, but with the potentiometer as variable resistor on the lower leg, rather than the upper one, and the two fixed resistors swapped.)

I had already shown them my solution a week and a half ago, right after they took the quiz, and I had posted both solutions on Piazza.  I not only showed the solution, but gave them an explanation of how it worked again and answered some questions students had about it (like why the gain was expressed the way it was with Vref, and why it was even considered a gain).

Right after that I erased the board and handed out the quizzes.  One of the quiz questions was the identical question that I had just worked on the board for them.  I was resigned to this being a free point for them (just like putting their section number on the quiz is a free point, which I use to distinguish those who are absent from those who are present but get no questions right).

But 20 of the students got no points for the question and 15 got only half credit (out of a class of about 72—there were supposed to be 79, but there were 7 students absent).  So almost half the class could not retain for 5 minutes a simple circuit that they should have been able to derive in a couple of minutes and which they had seen at least 3 times already.

Help!  During the last 10 weeks I’ve gone through just about all the ways I can think of to have the students understand voltage dividers and potentiometers, and I’m obviously not getting through to 28% of them (probably more, since the absentees are likely to be in the group that can’t do the problem also).

Does anyone have any useful advice?  (Giving up on the students is not useful advice—I want them to succeed.)

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