Quoted in the Wall Street Journal

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In Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, I'm mentioned (and quoted) along with a number of other entrepreneurs who run price-comparison engines for book prices. (That's a free 7-day link to the Journal to read that article.) Addall.com is the granddaddy, having launched in 1998. They're pretty good now. They look at 41 bookstores. My site, isbn.nu, looks at 17, but they've got a big tent and I'm pretty picky.

The article gives a good flavor of the pros and cons of finding the best price, and the range of arbitrage that's available. A smart consumer might be able to buy books from Overstock and sell them on eBay or Half as new, but the market usually is too efficient for that to work.

The reporter who wrote this piece focuses on the media and publishing industries, and the article represents the point of view of the publishers rather than the booksellers, for the most part. For instance, Amazon.com used to tolerate, barely, we price comparison engines. The CEO once made a pretty negative remark about them, in fact, before they settled on their current combination of discounts and free shipping. But Amazon.com and other stores now completely encourage us.

I drive well over $1.5 million in sales to the stores I list, although I don't exactly gross or net five percent of that--some stores pay bounties for new customers; others pay on an entire market basket; others pay only on direct clickthroughs. And I have to pay for servers, freelance programming help, co-location, and book data. At the end of the day it's completely worthwhile.

One Server Standing

A few weeks ago, I wrote about on the 10th anniversary of my starting a hosting and Web development company that I was finally getting out of the business of hosting domains, email, blogs, and Web sites for colleagues and friends.

I'm finally done. (Almost.)

All the email is gone; my wife's account was the last to migrate to Fastmail.fm.

Almost all the domains are gone: just a handful of ones that I need a little more control over, and I'm going to move them off my office server soon enough.

Almost all the Web sites are gone: one remains with very low traffic that's several years out of date (it's an archive of the best online fiction, but suspended a while ago) because it's an .org and it's taken my friend Jeff a while to jump through weird hoops to move a .org domain's DNS.

What it means, primarily, is that I can go out of town and not have to worry about a power failure, a power-supply failure, or backup problems in my office. I have three computers that are co-located at digital.forest where I can turn to them if the system dies or needs help. I can pay them to work on my computers in a pinch. My email is in New York. My DNS is all over the world.

My operational responsibilities are running down to the bare minimum.

The Latest Glenn Blog: Regular Sucking Schedule

Sure, the title of this new blog I started could apply to my little boy, a regular sucker, but I'm really talking about RSS and aggregator behavior and the bandwidth, scaling, and cost behind it.

I've started Regular Sucking Schedule to try to pull together information from many sources and report on my own experiments. I'll also post code there under Creative Commons license (and hope that others improve and contribute to it) as I write it and clean it up.

Please write me with RSS issues that I can link to or respond to my posts on the matter!

Speak Slowly, Now

A colleague's site mentioned this excellent resource from Deutsche Welle (German Broadcasting). It reads Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten which means Slowly Spoken Reports. It's a 10-minute daily newscast delivered in an even cadence using perfect Hochdeutsch (High German) pronunciation which is found primarily in the north of the country. It's slow by German standards, but sounds relatively speedy to an American ear.

I studied German for seven years in high school and college, and have spent just a tiny bit of time in German-speaking climes, such as Frankfurt, Bad Bergzabern (find that on a map), and Basel. The last is a town in a German-speaking canton of Switzerland where they speak Swiss German, a set of many similar but distinct dialects that are almost incomprehensible and unlearnable even to High German speakers. (The Swiss speak and write perfect High German as a lingua franca, and are pleasant to converse in it because they don't care about it as their mother tongue.)

Even the Swiss German name for Swiss German can twist the tongue: Schwyzertütsch. The dialects vary so much that two adjacent towns might use different words and pronunciation, while traveling 50 or 100 miles puts you into foreign territory.

The same was true about Italian spoken in Ticino/Tessin, the Italian-speaking canton in Switzerland. They speak dialects that can vary literally over a few miles. And let's not even get started on Romansh.

Throttling RSS Seems to Work

On Nov. 13, I posted a graph showing the fast growth in the requested bytes in RSS and similar feeds from my Wi-Fi Networking News and a few (much smaller) other sites. The bandwidth usage showed a growth from the mid-200 MB per day range up to about 350 MB per average per day. During that same time, I wasn't seeing an increase in visitors of that scale--maybe 10 to 20 percent, not 75 percent.

After analyzing logs, I discovered that a small percentage of aggregation sites and aggregation servers were requesting as much as 20 to 30 percent of the bandwidth unnecessarily through aggressive downloads that didn't check the If-Modified-Since headers or other tools to prevent a retrieval of a page that hadn't changed.

I built a simple program running via Apache that throttles RSS downloads: a given IP and user agent combination can only request a given RSS feed file if it's changed since they last retrieved it. Pretty simple. But the effects are profound, as this graph shows.

Rss Nov Dec

As you can see, I threw the switch on Nov. 20, just before Thanksgiving, but I haven't seen a real decline in readership at my Wi-Fi site or the other sites--just a decline in bandwidth. The average (with lots of posts over the last week or so, meaning more RSS retrievals because of the update) is back to about 200 MB.

This reveals a lot about the sloppiness of some of the aggregators out there. Right now, my top aggregator is Mozilla (Firefox, primarily), which makes perfect sense: there are a lot of people using the RSS button in Firefox to subscribe to my feed, and if it's the top engine that's because of many unique users.

Since I pay by the gigabyte for overages above my minimum (which I've hit), this change will save me a reasonable pittance: probably $10 or $12 per month. Sounds like someone needs to build a master site for testing aggregation competence so that aggregator software developers can test this, and users and Web site operators can report on it back to developers.

Better and Better Ben

Ben is now sleeping through the night. Sorta. He's now eight days into sleeping in his own room, which didn't cause him to miss a beat, and the last two nights, he has slept 12 hours with a 30-minute feeding in the wee hours. These last two nights, he's complained briefly ("wahh!...wahhh!...longer pause...wah!" and silence) a couple hours before he actually wanted to be fed. It's breathtaking. It means we can put him down at 8 am, go to bed at 11, get a full night's sleep, and he wakes up after us.

We'd better not get too used to this.

Telecom Bill Broken Down

Because of the flurry of interest, here's more detail on our family telecom bill and how it will be transformed.

Service Current Charges New Charges Savings
Cingular National 1250 moving to FamilyTalk 850
Both include rollover minutes, unlimited Cingular mobile to mobile (46 million Cingular customers)
79.99 (main)
29.99 (second)
27.60 (taxes, misc)
59.99 (main)
9.99 (second)
18.00 (approx. tax, misc)
no setup charge
67.60
Home phone
Includes voice mail, Caller ID
33.74 33.74 0.00
Home long-distance
Via Opex at 5 cents a minute
20.00 (average month) 0 20.00
Vonage
Moved from work to home, unlimited long distance
27.24 27.24 0.00
Home business line for Lynn's work
Includes voice mail
65.00 5.25 (second line added to Vonage) 59.75
Total 283.56 154.21 129.35

This doesn't include incidental savings using SkypeOut for international calling and calling on the road. I'll be taking my noise-canceling USB headset when I travel so that I can use Skype instead of a cell phone when needing to make calls. Also, we'll think about SkypeIn (an inbound Skype-based phone number) when they add this capability in July 2005.

My Latest Telecom Package

My wife and I try to be frugal, and one way to accomplish thrift is by getting the same thing for less. She's a thrift store shopper--Ben has almost nothing that wasn't given, bought on sale, or bought at a thrift store and he looks great--and I'm a telecom thrift shopper. I like the cutting edge, but generally when it cuts a fee elsewhere.

Cingular-1
Several months ago, I found that using a Vonage line at my office plus a Cingular plan with rollover minutes and their FastForward service would reduce my cell bill overages. FastForward costs a flat $2.99 per month to forward calls when the phone is placed in a special cradle to any number you determine at no per-minute cost. This offloads minutes from the cell network, and Cingular appreciates the reduced cost.

But I hit some speedbumps. Vonage's service wouldn't work on my office DSL because we're so far from the central office that we have too much noise on the line to achieve the kind of latency on average needed for voice communication. We get 768 Kbps SDSL just fine, and don't see any real interruptions, but voice can't hack it.

Somewhere in this period my wife moved her AT&T Wireless number onto my Cingular account to shave $20 per month off her phone bill. I moved down a notch or so in my calling plan when I got FastForward and saved money there, too.

LogoOur latest combo is even better. I just called Cingular when I discovered that a FamilyTalk 850 plan will cover us both for much less--it's 400 minutes less per month than the plan we're on now, but we've shifted a lot of minutes off the cell phone, or are using it intra-Cingular (mobile to mobile) which is free under our plan. So moving to FamilyTalk 850 cuts about $50 per month off our bill with that change, and Cingular isn't charging us any fees since we're sticking with them. We had to commit for the odd period of 11 months more.

One reason we could make this switch is that I moved my $25 per month unlimited Vonage service home. We'll move Lynn's business line--about $60 per month--using number portability to ring on the Vonage line, so that won't increase costs there and will save us about $55 per month. We'll shift the $20 to $25 in long-distance calls we were making on our landline to Vonage, saving that much per month.

Skype

I also discovered how good Skype's SkypeOut long-distance service is. Skype is peer-to-peer voice over IP, but they have a 1.9 euro cents a minute (about 2.5 U.S. cents) long-distance rate within the US and to most of the world I talk to--Australia, Europe, North America. So I can use Skype if I hit the limit on my cell service or need to make calls out of the country.

When we make all these changes, probably by early January, we'll have cut $130 or so off our family and business telecommunications' costs. Which is extraordinary. We'll be getting better service with a number of unlimited options that we were paying on a metered basis for before.

This is the future.