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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - Things to be Grateful for

Tuesday, our next-door neighbor's house caught on fire.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.  The mom was home babysitting her young niece when everyone in the neighborhood heard what sounded like a gunshot.  She thought someone was shooting at her dog, a sweet-tempered black lab.  They weren't.  Instead, something either just outside their garage or inside it had caught fire and next thing that went was their gas line.  This caused an explosion that rattled homes much further down the block as well as those nearby.  I ran out at that point and my neighbor was yelling her house was on fire and that she'd called 9-1-1.  She'd gotten her niece and her Pekingese out, but her lab was hiding in their back yard somewhere, so I helped her call for and get Daisy out.  Daisy is now staying next door with us.  We have a large fenced-in yard, but no doghouse since all of our pets were inside animals.

My neighbors are still not allowed in their house or their yard.  They have no clothes other than the ones on their backs, but their insurance company has already reached out to help them.  I spent most of yesterday comforting their dog who didn't understand why people were tromping through her yard, spraying water, ripping down walls and breaking windows.  The smoke was black and noxious and the firefighters had great trouble putting out the fire that continued to smolder under the roof.  My neighbor had called within seconds of hearing the first gunshot-popping sound, and the fire department is right around the corner from our street.  Even so, over two thirds of their home was gone before the firefighters were able to start getting the fire out.

Our street was totally blocked by emergency trucks and the news crews were out in force trying to get the story.  Sure enough, it was in the paper on Wednesday and on all the major local television stations Tuesday night.  Though the family kept saying they were fortunate no one was hurt, which they were, watching everything they owned go up in billowing, black smoke was still very difficult for them.  It could have been much, much worse but right now, they are living with their oldest daughter and trying to make sure their teenage son has everything he needs.

Most of the damage is in the back of the house, which isn't visible in the above photograph.  When I can, I'll take a picture from our yard and post it here at well.  I am grateful I was home at the time and able to help as well as offer moral support.  They came over and visited Wednesday, since they hadn't been able to see the back of their house and our yard offers an excellent view of the damage.  Most of the fire was located in the garage, the dad's office and the kitchen, but all of their windows had to be shattered and the ceilings pulled down before the fire was finally extinguished.  The end of their house farthest from ours is gutted.  You can see through what used to be the south wall of their home to the trees on the other side.

The things they had that weren't directly lost in the fire have most certainly been ruined by smoke and water, but they still don't know the full extent of the damage.  Even so, they have a supportive church group, wonderful daughters and neighbors who want to help, so they have much to be grateful for, as do we.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - Nelson–a baby Kea Parrot rejected by his parents

Baby parrots are not cute.  They are born naked (without feathers), blind and helpless.  They require the care of their parents to survive.  So, why would an adult Kea parrot reject its chick?  Research has suggested that one of the reasons that birds reject their babies is that they are somehow deformed or defected, and probably wouldn't be able to survive by themselves.

Baby Cockatiels

I'm not sure if the specialists at the Bergzoo in Halle Germany who are taking care of Nelson, the only chick to hatch and survive from a clutch of three eggs, know why his mother rejected him.  The theory is that he is too ugly.  I will admit that Nelson could probably take first prize in the ugliest bird contest, but I haven't seen pictures of any other baby Kea parrots that look any better.  In fact, he looks pretty much the way a baby Kea parrot should.  So, why did he get the cold wing?

Nelson being weighed
According to: http://www.keaconservation.co.nz/keaendangeredspecies.html . For an endangered species, Kea are highly adaptive and are considered by scientists to be one of the most intelligent bird species in the world.  They are e also the only alpine parrot species and now number an estimated 1000-5000 individuals in the wild. Numbers of Kea were substantially reduced with the introduction of a bounty, which resulted in over 150,000 birds being culled as late as the 1970’s (Temple, 1978).

Momma Kea feeding a fledgling

Kea are highly gregarious, forming large social flocks in the wild with non-linear hierarchies. Once adult kea reach breeding age around 3-4 years of age they tend to leave the main flock and pair up for breeding and raising of chicks. Progeny have an extended juvenile period and are dependent on their parents for up to 6 months.

The Kea nests in burrows or crevices among the roots of trees, and are known for their intelligence and curiosity, both vital to their survival in a harsh mountain environment. Kea can solve logical puzzles, such as pushing and pulling things in a certain order to get to food, and will work together to achieve a certain objective.

I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr. DeMille

This intelligence and curiosity has created difficulties with humans resulting in severe persecution of the species over the last 150 yrs.  Now uncommon, the Kea was once killed for bounty due to concerns by the sheep farming community that it attacked livestock, especially sheep.  It received full protection only in 1986.

For more information on what researchers have found out about kea, visit the University of Vienna's  Kea Lab at http://cogbio.univie.ac.at/labs/kea-lab/

Nelson ready for dinner
As for Nelson, he is being cared for round the clock by zoo staff, and despite his baby looks, he does have something to look forward too. Kea parrots grow up to have olive-green feathers with a beautiful orange flash under their wings. And Nelson is a smart little bird, so be careful what you say about him now because he just may remember and come back in full bloom to show you how wrong you were.

Interested in learning more about Nelson or the Kea?  Check out any of the following links:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - EBook Prices, Will They Change?

Nathan Bransford, author of the Jacob Wonderbar series, wrote an interesting article on his blog back in 2011 regarding why some eBook prices are higher than their hardback cover cousins.  Turns out the fluctuations have to do with pricing models (Wholesale vs. Agency).  I had no idea as to the cause, I just knew that some eBooks appeared terribly over-priced, so I didn't purchase them.

Originally, (Once Upon a Time), there was only one model, the Wholesale model.  For both hardbacks and eBooks sold under the wholesale model, the retailer set the price (which meant Amazon and B&N could have sold the same eBook for different prices) and the publisher would have received 50% of the Hardcover price, regardless of the retailer's selling price.  Say a book sold in hardcover for $24.99.  Publisher was paid 50% ($12.50) for any hardback or eBook sold by the retailer.  The retailer then got to set their own selling price, which could be more or less than $12.50 they paid for the book.
 So, back in the good ole days, Amazon set an eBook price ceiling of $9.99 for its customers.  That meant for any hardcover costing more than $20.00, Amazon took a loss in the sale of their eBook for the Kindle, but the customer got a great deal and the publisher's payment remained the same.

As you probably already know, Amazon sold many, many eBooks that way.  Consumers were happy, but publishers weren't, since consumers were flocking to buy all their eBooks from Amazon.  Then Apple's iPad came on the market, and everything changed.  Why?  Because Steve Jobs came up with a brand new pricing model—the Agency Model.  Under the agency model, the publisher sets the price for the eBook, not the retailer.  In return, the retailer receives 30% of the publisher's eBook selling price, but they have to sell the eBook at the publisher's listed price--no discounts.

One publisher alone couldn't force Amazon to follow this new model, so all the large, NY publishers agreed to follow Steve Jobs' new Agency model, leaving Amazon to either join in, or not sell any eBook published by a major New York publisher.  Since refusing to play would mean consumers would have to go elsewhere to purchase their eBooks, Amazon reluctantly fell in line with the other retailers.

Below Nathan provides an example of the two models laid out in what he calls "napkin math."  I love it.

Napkin math for a $24.99 hardcover/$14.99 eBook.  The e-book would have sold for $9.99 at Amazon in the old days (under the wholesale model), but under the new agency model the publisher wants to charge $14.99 (with no discounts allowed):

Wholesale model e-book: (retailer sets price - no longer available)
Amazon paid publisher: $12.50 (publisher got roughly 50% of $24.99 hardcover RRP from retailer)

Amazon customer paid: $9.99
Amazon loses:
- $2.50 (paid publisher $12.50 for an eBook they sold for $9.99)

Agency model e-book: (Steve Job's brainchild put in place when Apple introduced the iPad)

This is where the publisher sets the price for the eBook, irrespective of its hardcover price and no discounts allowed.*
Customer pays: $14.99
E-Bookseller pays publisher: $10.49 (70% of $14.99)
E-bookseller (including Amazon) keeps: $4.50 (30% of $14.99)

In order to have more control over pricing and allow more e-booksellers to compete with Amazon, publishers were willing to take less money for eBook sales. ($12.50 under wholesale, $10.49 under agency)

*Steve Jobs reportedly said to the publishers, "the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway."

Publishing executives were desperate to get Amazon to raise its $9.99 price point for eBooks, and with the release of the iPad they were able to achieve their goal.

 So now, hardcover books sell under the Wholesale model, and eBooks sell under the Agency model.  And the reason eBooks can be more expensive than the hardcover on Amazon is because Amazon is treating the hardcover as a loss leader (meaning they lose money on the sale of the hardcover book, but potentially keep their customers happy even though they can no longer discount the eBook).

 Below is the example Nathan gave for:


Publisher's selling price:
E-Book: $11.99
Hardcover: $27.95

Amazon's selling price:
E-book: $11.99
Hardcover: $11.89

Breakdown between publisher and Amazon:

E-book sells for: $11.99 (price set by publisher)
Publisher receives: $8.39 (70% of e-book price from retailer)
Amazon receives: $3.60 (30% of e-book price from sale to customer)

Hardcover sells for: $11.89
Publisher receives: $13.98 (50% of $27.95 list price)
Amazon receives:
- $2.09 (customer price minus $13.98 paid to publisher—a loss)

Since retailers can still set their own prices for hardbacks, the publisher has no control over what Amazon charges their customers.  As it is, publishers make more money on the hardcover sale.  By setting the list price for the hardcover at $27.95, and the e-book at $11.99, they don't have much incentive to discount the e-book any further than it already is.

Interesting, right?

Well now, boys and girls, the US Government has gotten involved and they are suing Apple and the publishers, who haven't already settled, for "raising eBook prices via the agency model."

"The government alleges Apple and the publishers of having a conspiracy (collusion) to raise the price of electronic books that cost the consumer over $100 million over the past two years by adding $2 to $5.00 to the price of each eBook."

Wow.  So, what does this mean for the consumer (us)?  15 (possibly 16) states have filed a separate complaint with the publishers, and of those states Connecticut and Texas reached agreements with Hachette and Harper Collins to provide $52 million to consumers in restitution.  According to Pete Yost in the Associated Press, "this dollar amount was set using a formula based on the number of states and the number of eBooks sold in each state, so other states may sign into the agreement.  The federal government has reached an agreement with three of the publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Shuster), but will proceed with its lawsuit in federal court against Apple, Holtzbrinck Publishers (doing business as Macmillan) and The Penguin Publishing Co. Ltd. (doing business as Penguin Group)"

 Macmillian's Chief Executive Officer, John Sargent, said in a letter to authors, illustrators and agents that the company has not settled because it is "hard to settle a lawsuit when you know you have done no wrong.  Macmillan did not act illegally, Macmillian did not collude."

According to the Wall Street Journal, "Despite settling, HarperCollins and Hachette both denied violating antitrust laws and defended the agency model. HarperCollins said it made a "business decision" to avoid a legal battle. Simon & Schuster confirmed settling but declined to comment."

Since this potentially affects millions of readers' purses, it should be an interesting case to follow.  Not sure if the case will affect authors, illustrators or their agents, but I don't believe it will.

Below are additional links regarding the situation, including Nathan Bransford's original article posted back in March of 2011.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday - Six Sentence Sunday - What is it? #sixsunday

"Six Second Sunday" you may have seen some posts and heard about it, but still have no clue what it is exactly, or how you can participate.  I post my "Six Second Sunday" entries on my naughty blog http://krbnaughtythoughts.blogspot.com/ (shameless plug here), but wanted to share my insights here regarding this promotional opportunity open to published and aspiring writers alike. 

First of all, there is an official site http://www.sixsunday.com/ where beginning Tuesday evenings at 6PM (EST) until Saturday at 11:59PM (EST) you can sign up to participate.  You do need to have a blog or a web site where you can post your six sentences (and six sentences only), but that's the only real requirement. 

For more information about SSS and its recommended social niceties, you can check the FAQs on the site, or read the post on the SFR blog I have listed below.

Participating is easy. Pick any SIX sentences from your work from any genre, whether WIP or published (you don’t have to be published to participate) and post them on your blog or web site before Sunday 9 AM EST.

Then on Sunday, visit, read and comment on as many sites as you wish.  I have increased my reading list substantially since I started participating, and I’m sure I'm not the only one.  It really is a fun way to find new authors.  If you're interested, but aren't sure what to post, visit the site and click on some of the previous links to see what other authors have done.

Want to learn more about the history of Six Sentence Sunday?  Then hop on over to the SFR blog by clicking the following link: http://sfrcontests.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-six-sentence-sunday.html

As one final note of interest, the first SSS post was on February 28, 2010 with four participants.  On the first Sunday of 2011 there were thirty-six, and last Sunday there were 178, of which I was one.  Of course not every participant is able to visit every other participant, but if you're looking to expand your readership or awaken an interest in your WIP, it's a free and easy way to make your work visible to others.