Dancing in the Moonlight

Triggering memories with just a song title.

This morning, at 3 AM, a mouse walked into the humane mousetrap I’d set at the bottom of Alex the Bird’s cage. As it struggled to get out, the rattling of the little plastic trap woke me up. At 3 AM.

I’m not sleeping well these days and once I was up and had silenced the trap I couldn’t get back to sleep. I reached for my iPad and checked out Twitter and Facebook. My U.K. friends are always up in the middle of my night and I thought they might have something interesting to say or some interesting link to follow. Something to keep my mind off the personal problems that are making sleep so tough these days.

I found a Facebook update from a pilot friend who’d just returned from an overseas contract. I’m assuming he won’t mind if I reproduce it here:

I have not used Pandora on my phone for about a month.This morning before I select Pandora to plug into the jeep I am singing “Dancin’ in the Moonlight”! It was the last song I had on A month ago! I did not remember that, but my subconscious did!

Ball and Chain Ad
Image from killingtime2 on Flickr.

And that triggered a memory from forty years ago…sitting on my bed in the attic bedroom I shared with my sister, listening to “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest on a Panasonic “Ball and Chain” AM radio. My radio was dark blue, my bedspread and the wallpaper were pink. It was 1972, the year the song came out, and I was about 11 years old. I was just beginning my “music enlightenment” — discovering that there was more music than the Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole my parents listened to on their console stereo downstairs. I tuned into WWDJ in those days, a Hackensack, NJ-based pop radio station.

I remember fiddling with the tuning dial on that radio, picking up weak signals from faraway places like Chicago and Philadelphia and Boston.

I clearly remember listening to other Top 40 pop songs on that silly little radio: Precious and Few (Climax), Also Sprach Zarathustra (theme from 2001; Deodado), Crocodile Rock and Bennie and the Jets (Elton John), Your Mama Don’t Dance (Loggins and Messina), My Maria (B.W. Stevenson), Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean on Me (Bill Withers), American Pie (Don McLean), An Old Fashioned Love Song and Shambala (Three Dog Night), Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is? (Chicago), Oye Como Va (Santana), Angie (Rolling Stones), Pick Up the Pieces (Average White Band), I Shot the Sheriff (Eric Clapton), Killing Me Softly with His Song (Roberta Flack), My Love (Paul McCartney and Wings), Alone Again (Naturally) (Gilbert O’Sulllivan), Brandy (Looking Glass), A Horse with No Name (America), Without You (Nilsson), I can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash), The Candy Man (Sammy Davis, Jr.), I Am Woman (Helen Reddy), Nights in White Satin (The Moody Blues), Song Sung Blue (Neil Diamond), Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (Tony Orlando & Dawn), You’re So Vain (Carly Simon), Superstition (Stevie Wonder), Let’s Get It On (Marvin Gaye), Photograph (Ringo Starr), Half-Breed (Cher), Brother Louie (Stories), Love Train (The O’Jays), Will It Go Round in Circles (Billy Preston), Kodachrome (Paul Simon), Give Me Love (George Harrison), and Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce). With a little help from Top 40 songs lists, I can go on and on. What kids today call “oldies” is what I listened to on that silly little radio in the early 1970s.

I was listening to that radio in my bedroom when Jim Croce‘s death in a plane crash was announced in 1973.

In 1973, I began buying record albums and playing them on a portable turntable set up in a corner of our room. I still have those albums, many of which have the year of purchase written in the upper corner of the album jacket.

In 1974, WWDJ suddenly switched to an all-religion broadcast. By then, I’d begun exploring FM radio with WNEW-FM, a real rock station, on the same console that played Sinatra for my parents downstairs.

All those memories, triggered by a Facebook update.

This morning, when I sat down at my computer, I decided to play Dancing In the Moonlight. I was very surprised to find that it wasn’t on my Mac in iTunes. Easily remedied: I went to Amazon.com, did a search, and had the MP3 playing within minutes. 99¢ wasn’t much of a financial burden for a music-based flashback.

For a moment, in my mind, I was back in that old attic bedroom with that silly little radio on my bedside table, listening to its tinny sound. Back then, could I ever imagine that I’d be listening to the song from my computer, plugged into a surround-sound system in an RV in the middle of Washington State? I don’t think so.

And to my Facebook friend: thanks for triggering the memory.

The iBooks Author Gamble

Taking a chance and not liking what I see so far.

iBooks IconIn late February and early March, I spent about 2 weeks porting my existing 242-page iBooks Author book to iBooks Author software for publication as an iBooks 2-compatible interactive (or “enhanced”) ebook.

Moving over the text wasn’t a huge deal — mostly copy and paste, followed by the application of styles I’d created or modified for my custom iBooks Author template. But rather than simply copy and paste the 100+ screenshots that are part of the print, epub, and Kindle format books, I decided to rely on videos to tell the story. So I spent most of that time recording a total of 3 hours of original video content based on the numbered step-by-step instructions in the book. I also used the Gallery widget and created an illustrated Glossary.

The final book turned out to be 150 pages and 1.3 GB in size. And it looked awesome (if I do say so myself) — the perfect example of how a iBooks Author could be used to create how-to content.

The Waiting Begins

Final Count
It took 55 days for this book to be approved by Apple.

I submitted the files to Apple via iTunes Connect on Sunday and began waiting for approval.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — I spent the week waiting. It’s now Friday and I’m still waiting.

In iTunes Connect, the book’s status remains:

Book In Review. This book is currently being reviewed for quality assurance.

A New Week brings New Developments

Final Count
It took 75 days for this book to be approved by Apple.

I’d already committed to converting my Making Movies book to iBooks Author format. Because the video for that book already existed — I used video clips taken from the example movie — the creation process was much quicker. I figure I put a total of 10 hours into the conversion process. I submitted it today.

And that’s when I discovered two things:

  • Apple no longer allows submissions of books created with iBooks Author 1.0 (or 1.0.1). It requires the latest version, released the other day, iBooks Author 1.1, which includes support for the new iPad. My iBooks Author book was created with the previous version. Is that what’s holding up approval?
  • A warning appeared on screen when I attempted to upload my 233 MB book, telling me that Apple recommends that books be no larger than 200 MB because some users might have trouble downloading a larger book file. My iBooks Author book was considerably larger than this. Is that what’s holding up approval?

Of course, there’s no way of knowing. Apple’s iTunes Connect/iBookstore support is absolutely dismal. If you ask a question, you’re lucky to get a response in less than a week — if you get any response at all. And that response is likely to be “canned” — in other words, boilerplate text possibly chosen at random by the support person who handled your request.

Rejection Could Be Painful

And nagging away at the back of my mind is a blog post by Seth Godin where he reported that his book had been rejected from the iBookstore because it contained links to printed books on Amazon.com.

While my book doesn’t contain any offensive links — at least I don’t think it does — what if Apple decides to reject it because it’s too big? In the wrong format? They don’t like my videos?

All I can think of is the hours and hours of work I put into that edition, possibly wasted on the whim of some reviewer at Apple.

Apple Needs to Get Serious

Today I read a blog post on TUAW about the antitrust lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice is apparently mounting against Apple. In it was this line:

Apple says that it wants to sell as many ebooks as possible, which is totally believable since the company is still a relative bit player in the ebook market.

From where I sit, I don’t see Apple being very serious about this at all. If Apple were serious, it would have a much better process in place to review and approve iBookstore submissions. After all, you can’t “sell as many ebooks as possible” if dozens or hundreds of them are stalled in the approval process day after day for a week or more. It wouldn’t be rejecting ebooks because it doesn’t like the links they include. And it certainly wouldn’t generate frustration and dissatisfaction among content creators — the people actually creating the books they supposedly want to sell.

Call Me an Idiot

I’ll beat a few of you to the punchline by admitting that I look like an idiot.

Back in January, when everyone was voicing outrage over the iBooks Author EULA, I wrote a blog post that told people they were basically worrying about nothing. In response to concerns about the approval process, I said:

I see Apple’s approval process as a GOOD thing. Right now, there’s nothing stopping anyone from publishing any crap they want as an ebook and distributing through services like Amazon Kindle. This is a far cry from publishing as we’ve known it, where only authors and works approved and edited by an experienced, professional publishing company team would be published. Apple’s review process helps weed out the crap and make its library of content more valuable to iBookstore shoppers. While some folks might be fearful that Apple will not approve their work, I’m not — and you shouldn’t be either. People who can turn out quality work should have nothing to worry about as far as the approval process goes.

Now there is some concern over Apple using this power to censor content. For example, perhaps they refuse to publish a book that says negative things about Apple or its founders. (Remember how they pulled all of a certain publisher’s books out of the Apple Store after they published an unflattering biography of Steve Jobs some years back?) I’m not terribly worried about that, but I do admit that it is a possibility. Obviously, if there are documented examples of Apple not approving something that should be approved, I’d be willing to revisit this point. For now, however, I don’t think it’s an issue.

Yes, I’m an idiot.

I didn’t realize that Apple’s approval process had the potential to be slow and unfair.

I naively assumed that Apple was concerned with quality — after all, isn’t that what’s holding up my book: a quality review? And quality didn’t worry me because I know I can create quality work.

But what if it’s some other criteria that Apple’s reviewers are concerned with? Something other than links to Amazon.com? File size, file format. Or, worse yet, something I can’t fix? And how will I know? When will I know?

Every day that book isn’t in the iBookstore is a day that I — and my partner, Apple — don’t sell any copies.

What to Do?

What’s the right answer? The right approach?

Well, I can tell you one thing for sure: I’m not going to waste another second of my time assembling yet another title in iBooks Author and submitting it to the void via iTunes Connect.

Instead, I’ll wait — as if I have any other option — and see approach. And I’ll use this experience to guide me for future submissions created with iBooks Author.

Got any iBook Author/iBookstore stories you want to share? Comment on this post.

March 19. 2012 Update: It has now been more than two weeks since I submitted my first iBooks Author-created book for approval to the iBookstore. I am still waiting for approval. This is not a good sign, folks. If you’ve already gone through the approval process, please take a moment to tell us how long it took. And if you’re waiting, please let us know how long you’ve been waiting. I’ll update this when (or if?) my book is approved.

March 28, 2012 Update: I finally heard from Apple about the first book I submitted. It had a number of trademark-related issues that needed to be resolved. I wrote about them here.

May 1, 2012 Update: While I was traveling, my iBooks Author book was finally approved. I believe the final count of days until approval was about 55. I removed the count up timer. My Making Movies book has still not been approved. I feel completely idiotic that I actually believed my books would be reviewed within a week.

May 23, 2012 Update: My Making Movies book was finally approved. I believe the final count of days until approved was 75. The last 3 weeks was spent nagging Apple to explain why it was holding back the book for metadata issues without putting a “ticket” on it.

TV to Go

I get my Daily Show fix.

I’m not a big fan of television. It’s the universal pacifier and the majority of current programming is so mindless that I think it can do more harm than good. But there is one television program I try hard not to miss: The Daily Show. I find Jon Stewart’s news commentary both eye opening and extremely entertaining. In fact, when the writers’ strike was in full-swing, it was the only program I missed.

Daily ShowAt home, I watch The Daily Show via DVR (digital video recorder, like TiVo, that’s built into our Dish Network satellite receiver). Not only can I store them away until I have time to watch them, but I can fast-forward through the commercials. (I really hate watching commercials. What a complete waste of time!) But here in Quincy, where I’m spending the summer in my camper, I don’t have a television at all. And after a week of withdrawal from the Daily Show, I decided to do something about it.

While I can go to Comedy Central’s Web site and view entire episodes online, my funky, unreliable Internet connection makes that positively painful. Too many pauses! So I broke down and bought a “season pass” on the iTunes Store. For $9.99, I can get the next 16 episodes of The Daily Show downloaded directly to iTunes. Even though my Internet connection fades in and out, iTunes keeps track of where the connection broke and resumes the download from that point. So I can actually download an episode over several Internet sessions. I can then watch the episodes at my leisure.

I should mention here that I’m a bit of a news junkie. The stereo in my camper is almost always tuned into NPR. While NPR gives one view of the news, it’s great to be able to supplement it with Jon Stewart’s take on current events.

My iTunes Plus Shopping Spree

I pick up a bunch of albums full of classics my parents used to listen to.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s; my parents grew up in the 40s and 50s. When I was a kid — before I learned to tune in a radio by myself, that is — I was kind of stuck listening to the kind of music my parents liked. I’m talking about Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and other “vocalists.”

Although I didn’t really like the music, I didn’t hate it, either. And nowadays, hearing those old songs brings back memories from my childhood. I can still remember trimming the Christmas tree in the living room of our New Jersey home, listening to “It Was a Very Good Year” from an LP on the console stereo by the stairs.

I’ve been collecting some of those old songs for a while, as well as songs from way before that time — big band songs that really made you want to swing. But I never really got into collecting this music as much as I wanted to complete my classic rock collection with my favorite songs from the 70s and 80s.

Sometime within the past year or so, I stopped buying music online. I was simply fed up with the limitations put on the DRM-protected music available on the iTunes music store. I wasn’t interested in breaking the law and downloading music from illegal sites. I wanted to buy it. But I couldn’t see buying an entire CD at a store for $15 or more (plus tax or shipping or both). So I pretty much stopped buying music, except, of course for new releases by my favorite artists: Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, etc.

Frank Sinatra Album CoverEnter iTunes Plus. I wrote about it on Wednesday, explaining how you could use it to update your iTunes Store purchases of EMI-published music to remove the DRM and improve sound quality. One of the things I didn’t mention in that article is that I bought a DRM-free album, Classic Sinatra – His Greatest Performances, 1953-1960. I don’t know about you, but I think 20 songs for $12.99 and immediate gratification without DRM restrictions is a pretty good deal.

So good a deal, in fact, that I stopped by on Thursday and picked up two other albums: Dino – The Essential Dean Martin and The Very Best of Nat King Cole.

I’m buying this music for a few reasons reasons. First of all, I like it and I want to add it to my collection. Second, I think it’s a great deal. And third, I want to do my part to support legal online sales of DRM-free music.

Let’s face it: I’m not a music pirate and most people who rip CDs and buy music for their iPod aren’t either. The music industry is not going to go broke by removing protection from the music. I believe more people will buy it with the restrictions removed. I believe that this could be the answer to turn around the music industry, to get more people buying music again.

But then again, I might be extremely naive about this whole thing and one of the few fools buying iTunes Plus music.

What do you think? Use the comments link or form to share your thoughts with other site visitors.

My New (Old) Office

I move back to old quarters.

I spent much of today preparing to move my office back into my house. Late in the afternoon, Mike arrived from work and we loaded a bunch of stuff into the back of his pickup. I’m now typing this from my relocated office.

For the three and a half years, my office has been in a condo I own in downtown Wickenburg. I moved it there after the last tenant broke their 1-year lease and abandoned the place. When I discovered that nice white carpet (installed by the previous owner; I’m not a complete idiot, you know) completely trashed, I decided I was sick of tenants and sick of having a three bedroom house with only two occupants and no guest rooms.

We moved our offices to the condo in August 2003 (I think). It was nice to have a dedicate workspace, a place I had to go to to work. It got even nicer when DSL became available and I could get fast Internet.

But as time went by and I got more and more involved with my helicopter work, the downtown office became an inconvenience. If I had a call for a flight, I’d have to hurry home and get changed into normal clothes before driving to the airport. That was about 30 minutes shot to hell. And I started to get lazy, to not want to go to work in the morning. That’s not a good thing when I’m facing a deadline.

I wanted an office at Wickenburg Airport, but the powers that be in Wickenburg decided my small business wasn’t worthy. I guess I told too many truths on wickenburg-az.com. Made a few people feel uncomfortable. They decided to punish me by not letting me have an office at the airport. When I got the FAA involved — after all, the town’s agreement with the FAA has an “economic non-discrimination” clause — they started “cooperating” and finally got around to putting out an RFP for the 1000 square feet of land I had my eye on. But do I really want to be a tenant of the town? I thought so at first, but after dealing with the town’s crap for the past eight months, I’m pretty sick of it all and not very interested in giving the town any of my money. Frankly, most of my business comes from Scottsdale these days anyway. I’m still trying to decide whether to bid on the space after all.

So I decided to move my office back into the second bedroom at our house, the same room that was my office when we first moved here 10 years ago. It’s a 12 x 10 space with a nice, big closet. There’s no additional cost and a nice tax deduction for a home-based office. Best of all, I can go to work at any time of the day or night without commuting a single mile.

Mike’s office, which occupied the master bedroom of the condo, has been reduced to the size of a desk and set of shelves in the upstairs “den” where the television and stereo are. Not too shabby. He tunes into Sirius radio on Dish Network while he’s working and listens to it in surround sound. The window he faces has the best view in the house.

The view from my officeMy window also has a nice view. It looks out into the garden with the mountains in the distance. I just finished setting up the Webcam for wickenburg-az.com, which shows the view. Here’s the small view. (Well, if you’re looking at this during the week of January 22, you might actually be seeing the inside of KBSZ studios; there’s a tiny Webcam problem right now.) When spring comes, I’ll start working in the garden again. I’m looking forward to it. I miss gardening, but when my office was in town, I never seemed to have time for it.

Right now, 2/3 of my L-shaped desk has been moved into my office. My Dual G5 computer and the big 20-inch Sony monitor has been hooked up. I put the Dell speakers on the computer, but I think the old Altec Lansings sound better, so I’ll put them on tomorrow. I’ll get the last piece of my desk later in the week, after I clear space in this room for it. (Still got one of the old “library” shelves in here.) That’s also when I’ll bring in the printers and the Ethernet hub.

Other stuff that cluttered my office is gone. I sold the G4 that was my Web server — it sold for $335 on eBay yesterday and I shipped it out today — and I moved the G4 eMac to KBSZ studios for audio streaming. Today, I disassembled the Dell Dimension L933r computer that was my old PC test mule in preparation for donating it to the local library. My old Strawberry iMac (a G3) is in the garage, waiting for me to restore it to factory settings and dispose of it. I gave my old clamshell iBook SE to my next door neighbor, who is home-schooling her four young kids. She now has her own “computer lab.”

That leaves me with a very reasonable 3 computers for my work: my Dual Processor G5 (now about 3 years old), my relatively new Dell Latitude D820 laptop test mule, and my reasonably new 15″ Mac Book Pro test mule. Oh yeah, and my 12″ G4 PowerBook, which I really can’t part with. No need for all the desk space I had in my downtown office. I’m even cutting myself down to two printers (rather than the 3 I had accumulated). Look for some new items on eBay soon.

Getting rid of all this old equipment feels good. Although I actually threw away — in a Dumpster! — three external SCSI hard drives and a dual bay SCSI CD-ROM reader today, most of the other equipment is finding a good home. I hate throwing stuff away, but I really hate storing it. And let’s face it: old computer equipment has very little value these days.

So now I’m sitting at home in my office at 8:25 PM, listening to iTunes music on my G5 (right now: “Wish You Were Here” on Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd). It’s later than I’d usually be working. I think I’ll be working longer hours with my office in the house. Getting more work done. Blogging more.

And doing a lot of work in my pajamas once again.