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Last week I played devil's advocate in two posts about the Supreme Court's recent decision, in which they decided that the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech apply to corporations just as much as people, and effectively struck down all limitations on corporate-funded political advertising.

Various groups are pushing the idea of a constitutional amendment to roll back this decision. I'm for that in principle— I don't want Exxon funding ads against every congressman who dares to impose penalties for oil spills. But I need to know that the amendment in question won't make matters worse by taking away practical means of effective political speech, like the ability of 1,000 people to pool their funds and run a TV ad. Or take away other aspects of corporate quasi-personhood that are essential to the functioning of our economy, like the ability to form contracts, sue for redress of grievances and so on. Or limit freedom of the press, which (if you're going to actually reach a national audience) usually requires something resembling a corporation to carry out in a practical way.

Yesterday I learned of the proposed Free Speech for People Amendment, which reads:

Amendment XXVIII

Section 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, the First Amendment shall not be construed to limit the authority of Congress and the States to define, regulate, and restrict the spending and other activity of any corporation, limited liability entity, or other corporate entity created by state or federal law or the law of another nation.

Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.

I think that's brilliantly put, and I'm prepared to enthusiastically support it— but I'd like to hear what the lawyerly types on my friendslist have to say about the language used.
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The estimable Jeff Vogel just wrote a post entitled Some Kind Words About DRM For Once, which got slashdotted. It's a good piece. This is my response to it, which proved too long for the blogspot comment form. Also, while it's definitely relevant to DRM, it's a bit more shareware-specific than Jeff's post. So here you are. I recommend reading Jeff's post first, as it's excellent and explains where I'm coming from a bit.

Like Jeff, I've distributed software as shareware for about a million years. I still do, but ot a lesser degree, because those products are very "mature" (that's software-speak for "played out"). But for a decade they kept an average of three people and four cats in kibble, as a real-no-fooling day job. So I get it.

My shareware applications have extremely simple DRM (Digital Rights Management). I don't try to use the latest super-wiggy technology to implement DRM because it doesn't make the situation any better for PC applications. Sooner or later someone who's competent to disassemble a binary and wildly unemployed in their former Soviet Republic of choice will just slap a JMP instruction in the right place and oh hey, downloadable cracked version.

No, the point is to ensure that you have to at least make a conscious choice to steal the app.

So how does this work out for me? It works out awesome.

To those who say that the honest people who would pay anyway are my customers and I shouldn't nag them: for the first year, one of my applications was distributed on the honor system. You paid because you were supposed to. I sold maybe a copy every two days, at a time when Mapedit was the only application of its kind.

After that year, I added a registration key system... one that shuts down the application eventually if it is not paid for. Sales went up by a factor of ten and they stayed there for many years.

The "honest people" might be honest, but they are lazy as hell. This is not surprising: I'm lazy as hell too. I'm certainly not going to get around to paying for something that doesn't stand up for itself.

But as Jeff says, there are right and wrong ways to do DRM. Most DRM says "maybe you've paid for this already, but I STILL hate you." My DRM says "sorry, but you've gotta pay for this. Oh, you did? Awesome. I'll go away now."

Over the years I hit on a policy that has worked well and kept the frustration to a minimum. You may point out that games and web development tools have different audiences, and perhaps not all of this applies to the games market. But I suspect most of it does:

1. On first run, you tell the user how things are going to be (pay in 30 days or it stops working).

2. On the first run after the 30 day period ends (even if that doesn't happen for another 90 days), tell them it's expired... and THEN start a 10-day grace period. This takes care of people who are legitimately ticked off because they took a long pause between installing the program and actually evaluating it.

During that initial 30 days, though, don't bother nagging them.

At one point I tried a stricter policy: you got a small number of startups before registration. How long does it take to evaluate a simple, useful application anyway?

I was excited at first by the immediate uptick in sales, but it was only due to the fact that users were coming to me right away instead of after 30 days. Once the dust settled, it became clear that my sales were not as good with the restrictive policy. Have faith in your software's staying power and its ability to become an indispensable part of someone's day (or a favorite part of their night, in the case of games).

3. During the 10-day grace period, nag unapologetically at startup.

4. Throughout the program's unregistered lifetime, make sure you have easy-to-find "register" and "unlock" icons right in the toolbar, or your application's equivalent.

5. Be EASY TO PAY. Take paypal, take credit cards, take checks by mail. Deliver that registration key by email immediately (on the website would be nicer but it encourages credit card fraud too much). NEVER EVER frustrate the user's efforts to do the right thing.

6. When the user does register, don't demand that they send you a serial number. Just send them a registration key. That key, astonishingly, is good on any computer! Whoa. But you don't TELL the user this. It simply comes in handy in step 7.

This particular policy might not fly in the games world. People do post keys for my applications on the Internets; heck, I just found them with very little difficulty. But fortunately most honest customers hesitate to so explicitly steal something that's business-related. Gamers, perhaps not so much. But even if you do require serial numbers and generate unique, customer-specific keys that won't work on another installation, try to make the process as smooth and un-frustrating as you possibly can. See step 7.

7. Save all your orders in a database, forever. When the user crashes a hard drive and needs their key again, or wants to move the program to another computer, just send it to them cheerfully. Don't make them jump through hoops. They paid once and it is highly unlikely they are ripping you off now. Even if they are, shit, at least they paid you once. Again, NEVER EVER punish the good guys.

8. With all this niceness, you might be tempted to keep the user's registration timer in a .ini file or registry key that is uninstalled when your program is uninstalled.

Don't. It may seem unfair, but you must allow yourself your 100 bytes of eternal space on the user's hard drive. Users might not go to the trouble to Google for registration keys (you'd be surprised how many just don't grasp how it all works), but they will definitely try uninstalling and reinstalling your application. This particular barn door is simply too wide and you must keep it closed.

9. If you KNOW a chunk of your audience is both deserving and too poor to pay, give the software away to that audience. It builds goodwill and undermines the rationalizations that go with stealing software. Mapedit is free to nonprofits and educational institutions. With any luck the same people will buy it later when they hold other jobs.

10. Write an awesome program that doesn't suck in the first place. This is not optional.
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Is anyone participating in the Yahoo Publisher Network beta program?

This is shaping up tot be a true competitor to Google Adsense. And that would be a welcome thing, because it would be nice to see if there's a larger share of the profits that could be going to the publishers.

For those who don't know what the hell I'm talking about, it works like this:

You have a web site. Your web site is kinda popular and has interesting content.

There are products and services out there that relate to that content. And there are companies that want to advertise those products and services.

However, you're not so wildly popular that individual advertisers are willing to invest time and energy in deciding whether to advertise with you directly. Even if you are that popular, it's tough work figuring out which ads should go where.

Meanwhile, advertisers are already paying Google to display their ads adjacent to Google's search results for relevant stuff, via Google Adwords.

So Google got smart and said "we index all the web sites in the world. We know what's relevant to what. Let's offer to put ads on other people's web sites too. Then our Adwords customers will have more places to show their ads. And web publishers will have a way to profit from their sites. Oh, and we'll make vast piles of moolah as the middleman."

And so Google Adsense was born. When you enroll in Google Adsense, Google puts ads on your pages that it believes will be relevant to those pages and, over time, begins to favor the ads people actually click on. When people click on them, the advertiser pays Google. And Google pays you.

So what's the catch? Well, Google takes their cut. And Adsense participants like me aren't allowed to talk about what that cut is, even if we have an inkling. But competition from another company would be bound to decrease it, eh?

But what company could possibly have the resources? Microsoft, maybe. Yahoo, maybe. And Yahoo has a new service in beta that seems likely to fill the bill. Alas, I'm still waiting to hear back from them about participating.

There's a fascinating roundup of AdSense alternatives here, but no hard numbers. I get the feeling most of the existing alternatives are not popular with sites that are still welcome on AdSense, which currently has a reputation for paying/working better than much of anything else.

Form Letter

Nov. 6th, 2007 05:31 pm
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On September 23rd, 2007, a copy of our software program "Mapedit" was
purchased with a credit card number ending in XXXX.

The holder of the credit card has challenged this purchase through
their card issuing bank.

If you are the legitimate cardholder and you made this purchase
intentionally, but have simply forgotten that you purchased our
Mapedit imagemap-editing software:

We understand. It does happen. Please contact your card issuing bank
right away (via the 800 number on the bank of your card) and stop the
chargeback. Please, please do this. It's bad news for our company
when chargebacks go unresolved. Thanks.

If you did buy the software, but you never received your registration key
for the software:

This may be because it wound up in your spam filter. That happens
too, once in a while. If that is the case, please note that your
registration key is: XYXYXYXY. If we are very unlucky, this message
will also wind up in your spam folder, and you won't try calling
us either. But let's hope for the best.

If you are NOT the legitimate holder of the card and have used it
WITHOUT the cardholder's permission: grow up! You're a no-good two bit
thief willing to put other people through hell just to save ten dollars.
Britney Spears has more class than you. Please, get a life. And get a job
while you're at it.

In any case, we thank you for your understanding and appreciate
your reply at the earliest.
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A surprisingly difficult question:

How long until a check has irrevocably cleared?

Your bank might give you access to some of the money today and all of it tomorrow, but that doesn't mean that the check has really cleared. That money could come right back out of your account if the check-writer decides to put a stop payment order on it.

For how long is that true? When is it too late to put a stop order on a check? As the payee, how do you know when that threshold has been crossed? I've found conflicting information on that. Days? Weeks? A month? Who knows.

These are the reasons why I currently only accept wire transfers from parties I with whom I do not have a well-established relationship (unlike your mom).

They tend to hate this. In part because of the fees involved ($25 a pop).

Anyone knowledgeable on the subject?
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That could be the slogan of Thomson, the company which owns the patents on MP3.

Today I decided to create and sell a simple WMV-to-FLV converter. It's a no-brainer - people need it, and I've got all the moving parts.

Except I'm not going to.

Because FLV files contain MP3 audio, and Thomson charges a royalty for the use of their patent? Nah. $2.50 per encoder is real money, to be sure, but I can price accordingly.

No, I'm not going to do it because they sharge a $19,000/year minimum royalty. And I have to cough that up for the first time upon signature.

Do I have $19,000 to gamble on the possibility that I might be able to sell at least 1,900 copies of that program per year? Not really. And others have already inquired whether there's an alternative - such as paying more per copy? Nope.

Now, I grasp why they want some sort of minimum royalty. Enough to cover the overhead of taking on a new licensee. $200, maybe. Hell, $1,000, engage in highway robbery, it's your football and I realize you can take it and go home.

But $19,000? Um, no.

They do have a maximum license fee of $50,000. Which is nice for bigger-selling apps. Of course, you need a separate license to actually stream (broadcast) your MP3s once you have them, but that's somebody else's problem.

Why the heck hasn't Adobe added Ogg Vorbis support to FLV (Flash) video? That would change everything. Maybe they threatened to, and Thomson waived their royalty? Or paid them?

I wish

Oct. 12th, 2006 08:29 am
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... I had a local business that needed publicity. Because that would give me an excuse to buy an ad in the Liberty Belles / Gotham Girls roller derby bout program.
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Recommendation: pick up an Infoguard sq70b light-duty crosscut shredder at Staples. $45 less $25 rebate = $20, until May 6th. Can shred credit cards. Had no trouble chewing through a pile of old Boutell.Com paperwork.
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A lot of people hang up on them outright. Some people even go in for variations on that fabulously nasty telemarketer hangup speech in "The 40 Year Old Virgin."

Others I've talked to say they always have a nice little conversation by way of saying no, but oh no, they never ever hang up "rudely."

My feeling is this: if the call comes in on the business line, is placed by a human being, and is for something business-related, I owe them the courtesy of a "sorry, I'm not interested." But then I hang up. And they are always still yapping away when I hang up.

Here's the thing: they are required to keep yapping. Always. Those are the rules. They are simply not allowed to shut up, except maybe four or five steps into a long script of fallback positions. Hanging up is necessary. They know it and I know it. Therefore: not rude at all.

What's your feeling, folks?
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Exactly how my bank kills kittens. )

Okay, I've run out of steam now. Here's a question: anybody using an online banking system they really like? One with a complete account history, or at least a year-plus, downloadable in CSV or Excel or some other non-Quicken format? One with online bill pay that doesn't hang up on you in the name of security before you can get much of anything done?

I use it anyway, primarily for the billpay service, which despite its flaws is still way less annoying than writing a zillion checks. But... I've been patient, I've given them feedback over a year and a half, and enough is enough. I'm open to the possibility of a new bank, if it takes the suck away from the online banking experience. So if you really like your online banking, tell me all about it -- even if your bank isn't in my area, it'll give me some idea what my standards ought to be like.
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I write and publish articles about the workings of the web. These articles are mostly intended for the general public and the moderately skilled. I also write and publish free, open-source software. I sell advertising space on these pages. That's how I earn most of my income.

This is good because I can earn a living by sharing useful things. It is challenging because I have to balance the need for advertising sales with the need to maintain the web site's good reputation. Which means I often turn down money now to ensure my site is still considered a worthy place to advertise later. If it is obnoxious, or irrelevant to my readers, I can't take the pieces of silver. Sometimes I have to make an educated guess about what the professional and private interests, needs and hobbies of my readers might be. Sometimes it's a slam dunk.

I also write, sell and support software that measures how web sites are used, and software that helps with web design. That provides the second largest portion of my income. Until two years ago, it was my main source of income. Things change.

This year, I am writing a book about Windows and Linux with [ profile] jeremym. This will provide significant extra income this year and help me to break into new areas.

I also do quick consulting jobs over the Internet, usually just a few hours' work each, billed by credit card. Usually these involve installing the gd graphics library, or doing something unusual with the Wusage web site traffic analyzer.

Finally, I provide web hosting to a small circle of customers, most of whom I know personally. This earns enough to more than cover the cost of my web server.

My job is not perfect and I don't earn what I used to. Working at home is not such a great option when you're fairly new in town and don't live with another adult. Then again, nobody else gets to pick the music. And I am able to set my own schedule and pick up my kid right after school every day, which is aces.

In 2005, I look forward to finishing the book, selling a useful new service involving geography, and releasing an all-singing, all-dancing version 9.0 of Wusage.
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"Your registration key is:

A, as in apple.
B, as in beta.
C, as in cat.
D, as in dog.
E, as in Edward.
F, as in Frank.
G, as in George.
H, as in Howard.
I, as in Iowa.
J, as in John.
K, as in Kick.
L, as in Larry.
M, as in Mary.
N, as in Nancy.
O, as in Orange.
P, as in Paul."

What the heck is that about? I still sell shareware, although it's not where most of my living comes from anymore. And since those programs are sold on a "download and try before you buy" basis, I give people special registration keys to unlock their downloaded copy with when they pony up the smackers. And people do still occasionally order by phone, so I frequently find myself reading a registration key over the phone. It didn't take long to learn that letters alone are hard to distinguish. And I was never in the military. So I've wound up with my own phonetic alphabet, similar to but completely different from the military's "whiskey tango foxtrot" thing. I did have office managers in the early years, and I honestly can't remember whether I picked these up from Jen, Chris and Lori, or whether they each had their own variations. Except that Chris was horrified that I was "K-icking the customers."

I stop at P because I don't need the rest of the letters. A registration key is four bytes, and I use two letters per byte; 16x16 = 256. A registration key is eight letters. If I had it to do over again, I might eliminate some of the potential soundalikes from my alphabet.
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Here I am, paying for the privilege of working with somebody else.

Have I fallen down the LJ rabbit hole?

Surprisingly, no.

And she's getting work done, too. For real. Uh-oh. I can feel the social pressure particles impacting my skull. It's work time, Mister Man! And so I shall bid you adieu and complete many annoying tasks.
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I overpaid my state unemployment compensation tax by mumblety-large dollars, because I am a bumbling, detail-ignoring idiot.

I will get it all back very shortly, because I am a conscientious, perceptive genius.
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Lately I've been getting fax spam. There's always been a trickle of it. Not much, because the laws against junk faxing are much more effective, and it's far more expensive and tedious to do. But lately, considerably more.

Used to be, my fax spam was usually about implausible vacations and health insurance plans. But lately it's consistently about the stock market. Buy penny worthless stock X! Sure to go up 2x! Fine print: it won't go up ever and you're insane to believe us and this is positively not a pump-and-dump scam to raise the price for three days so we can sell out when we figure you've all bought in!

But here's the weird thing: I since I have to look at them anyway to figure out if they are spam or not, I got curious and started pulling up five-day stock charts. Hey, it's free and takes two or three clickityboos on, so why not?

And that's the kicker: the scam doesn't work. I've looked up maybe a half-dozen of these so far and none of them have shown any significant spike at all. A lot of them actually went down during the period when people were presumably receiving the spam.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Lots of people become stock market day traders and get wiped out, flat broke, and still believe they "have a system" that will work next time without the need for anything resembling actual knowledge of a particular industry and the players therein. After that, it's not hard to picture sending out a few thousand random faxes a few dozen times about a few dozen penny stocks, convinced that if you get the timing just right those suckers on the other end of the line will make you filthy rich. Sigh.
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Sure, the gist of the message was reasonable: gee, what's this charge on my credit card? I don't recognize it. What's the story? Cheers &c, random guy, esq.

Ah, but the subject line...

1852 Dec 31 To: Thomas Boutell  (1197) OTHER: who are you and why am I
Holy existential crisis, Batman.

I am he and you are we and they are fleas and we are all together. See how they run like nuns with a tun of olive oil. I'm dyin' here.

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Q. What has Google taught us?

A. Google has taught us to publish what we know.1

Q. Whaddaya know?

A. I know where the good vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants are in Philadelphia.

Q. OK, so Google will index what you know. What good does that do you?

A. Aside from various ways in which it is personally rewarding, you can put up Google Adsense links with approximately no effort, and make some money at it.

Q. Can't I just make up some cool-sounding nonsense instead of publishing what I really know?

A. No, because nobody's going to notice cool ads on a page they hate.

Q. Won't people hate me for putting up ads?

A. No. AdSense ads are plain text, and they are as relevant to your page as Google's search technology permits.

Q. Yeah, but isn't Google having a bit of trouble targeting the ads on your page correctly?

A. Hee, hee! yes, they are. Omaha Steaks ads! Best of luck with that. But Google AdSense provides a way to filter out particular ads, so in a few hours that one should be replaced by something a little more relevant. That makes makes me, my site's visitors, and the advertisers happy.

Q. Okay, but how does anybody find out about my pages in the first place?

A. See how do I promote my web site? in the WWW FAQ.

1. Yes, yes: the Web itself taught us to do that. But Google provides a practical business plan, as well as a means of actually finding all this stuff when there's something we wanna know. And those are crucial elements.
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Once a year or so, I take a little time to update Mapedit, the web imagemap editor I've been selling since 1994. Even though the major WYSIWYG web page editing tools include imagemapping features now, I still sell several copies each day... though for only $10 apiece.

This year I added a magic wand tool, made a pile of more subtle improvements, and got rid of the cheesy Breakout game that made the About Mapedit dialog box hard to read. What was I smoking when I added that? I replaced it with what I hope is a stylishly understated look.

Last year, I posted a humorous proposal for a dialog box which led to a lot of good feedback in comments. So, here's a current screen shot, showing the present set of tools and the new About dialog box. Click for a larger version. Snark away, O snarky ones! Anyone interested in trying the latest version of the actual program can download it here.

boutell: (Default)
web log analysis is love
brought to you by the isLove Generator
boutell: (Default)
Yeah, that Google IPO sure sank like a rock, sure was overvalued, uh-huh.

If it's any consolation, I didn't buy any either, on account of having no mad money to invest.

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