Meet you in New Mexico

 . . . we decided to hunt down the price of a bottle of liquor in every state so you can know exactly how much more or less that stiff pour is costing you than neighboring imbibers.
I chose Jack Daniels because it is the most American of spirits. I chose a fifth (750 ML) because it is the most common size for a bottle of liquor.
The cheapest I found: You can score a fifth of Jack for $15.99 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


(Naturally my state is one of the most expensive, at least according to the list.)
ISIS cash flow = $1 million a day

That buys a lot of pain. Item:

Islamic State militants are amassing a fortune through their web of criminal activity, including earning roughly $1 million a day from oil smuggling alone, according to a Treasury Department official who on Thursday provided unprecedented details about the illicit financial network.  


A lot of that is flowing through Turkey. A lot.

Terrible news out of Ottawa today. It's a shame that the fine people of Canada have to experience such tragedy.

The future of publishing

While the dispute between Hatchette and appears on the surface a fight between titans, in reality every publisher and author, big and small, has a stake. Frankly, it's hard to be overly optimistic about the effects.

Using Twitter, Michael Tamblyn, the head of Kobo, neatly laid out what's going on and what the future holds. The Twitter feed is here.

Here are the Tweets (glommed from Publisher's Lunch):

1. Indie authors take note: Amazon is, among other things, a machine designed to optimize product prices in order to gain share and sales.

2. AMZN, like every retailer that reaches a certain size, turns to its suppliers to grow profitability by demanding more favourable terms.

3. The Hachette-Amazon fight is an especially public manifestation of that Big Retail process. Nothing new there (Walmart, Target, B&N et al)

4. Some vocal traditionally published authors (but not all) support Hachette and criticize Amazon and…

5. Some vocal independent authors (but not all) support Amazon and criticize Hachette...

6. Defense of Amazon by indie authors makes sense on one level. For them, AMZN is the well-spring, where the self-pub revolution started.

7. But it seems like self-published authors believe they are protected somehow - that what is happening to Hachette won't happen to them.

8. Some indie authors even muse that the best possible strategy is exclusivity with Amazon, leaving readers on other platforms behind.

9. In the long run, I don't think that Amazon makes a big distinction between a publisher and an indy author - they are both suppliers.

10. Hachette and the rest of the big 5 sit at the top of a list of suppliers to be "improved" from Amazon's perspective.

11. Hachette is first because one negotiation with a big publisher makes a lot of bestselling books more profitable. That's efficient.

12. I don't think anyone believes that AMZN will stop with Hachette. With a successful conclusion, all pubs will go through the same thing.

13. They will move down the list. Midsized or smaller publishers come next. (Assuming this all isn't being pursued quietly in parallel.)

14. From Amazon's perspective, how is an independent author any different than a publisher? Still a supplier, to be made more profitable.

15. The indie author's situation is most tenuous of all. If >80% of sales come from AMZN, *no leverage when it's your turn to be "optimized"

16. An indie author, like any publisher, can take her books away if in conflict with AMZN. But it hurts the author *way more than Amazon.

17. A reasonable author response to the AMZN threat wdb: "they won't need to do that to us. Our prices are already where they need to be."

18. (Indy authors on Amazon are penalized if their books are too expensive, so that's largely true.)

19. But that assumes that the AMZN battle is about price. It's not. It's about profit. And _any_ supplier can be made more profitable.

20. If indie authors are 20% of AMZN's total sales, then it's hard to imagine that indie authors aren't on that list to be improved.

21. But if the AMZN battle extends to indie authors, authors will have less leverage. Especially if they are exclusive.

22. The mechanisms for the AMZN squeeze are in place, agreements allow it. Self-pub inclusion in Select, Unlimited, KOLL are early examples.

23. Amazon can and will, as a business, do what it needs to do to _all_ suppliers in time to improve profitability and grow share.

24. Selling other publishers and authors, AMZN can survive without Hachette, but uncomfortably and less profitably.

25. With a diverse base of retailers, Hachette can survive without AMZN, also uncomfortably and less profitably.

26. Both parties having other options is why this dispute wasn't over in a week or a month.

27. The litmus test for an indie author: could your income survive a conflict with Amazon? If not, it's worth thinking about how you could.

28. To paraphrase: "First they came for the big New York publishers, but I wasn't published by a big New York Publisher…"

29. Then they came for the mid-sized publishers, but I wasn't published by a mid-sized publisher...

30. Then they came for the academic presses...

31. Then they came for the literary presses...

32. Then they came for me."
Coming soon . . .

... to a Kindle near you.

Hog Born is a novella - or a very, very long short story - centering on Michael "Skull" Knowlington, the leader of Devil Squadron. a lot of of readers have wondered what he did before the First Gulf War and how he came to command the squadron; Hog Born will give some of those details.

It should be available in a few days.
The case against Amazon

From the New Republic:

In its pursuit of bigness, Amazon has left a trail of destructioncompetitors undercut, suppliers squeezedsome of it necessary, and some of it highly worrisome. And in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette, it has entered a phase of heightened aggression unseen even when it tried to crush Zappos by offering a $5 rebate on all its shoes or when it gave employees phony business cards to avoid paying sales taxes in various states.

Article. Probably the best summary of what's at stake, though its suggestions seem unlikely, at least for now.
Chase bank:
Our fault, no; your fault maybe

JP Morgan Chase got hacked big time recently, though by whom and for what purpose remains a mystery - at least publicly. (One of the many stories here.)

I haven't gotten my official notice about the incursion and the reassurances not to panic yet. No doubt it's in the mail.

What was in the mail was a statement with this notice from Chase:

Effective November 16, 2014, we will be updating your agreement. The updated agreement will explain that if you allow anyone to use your bank card, or if you don't exercise ordinary care (examples of not exercising ordinary care: if you keep your PIN with your card, or select your birthday as your PIN) you will be responsible for all authorized and unauthorized transaction . . . 

Translation - if your account gets accessed by a thief, we'll decide whether you were doing a good job protecting it before we decide whether we're liable or not. We promise we'll be reasonable about deciding whether you were reasonable . . .

Would it be reasonable to suggest it's time to update 40-year-old security methods with more secure cards and ATM machines? Nah . . .

According to that Bloomberg link above, by the way, it was an employee password that let the thiefs in. Hopefully it wasn't his or her birthday.

Incidentally, the Federal Trade Commission says personal liability for ATM theft is limited, as long as you quickly report the theft. Here's the link. The banksters haven't changed all the rules yet.


Been spending some time with these old birds lately. Details to follow . . .
Turkey fights its own people . . .

. . .  rather than doing anything about ISIS:

Turkish authorities moved Wednesday to stop the spread of violent protests across the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country, fueled by the refusal of the Ankara government to intervene to protect Kurds in neighboring Syria against an Islamic State onslaught.

WSJ story here.

Question: Why even pretend you're part of NATO?

Robot gunboats

This is from the AP, via Fox:

Self-guided unmanned patrol boats that can leave warships they're protecting and swarm and attack potential threats on the water could join the Navy's fleet within a year, defense officials say, adding the new technology could one day help stop attacks like the deadly 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.

Robot boats will eventually do a lot more than that. But for now, that's still a lot. Story.

Expedia sucks, Part II*

So after a week of attempted emailing and phone calls, I finally get an email answer telling me that the problem can't be solved via email (duh), and gives me a number to call.

Of course, the number is the generic number that I've tried already, only to be either not called back or hung up on.

So I call the number, work through the phone tree, get on hold and after some unknown number of minutes there -- they said it would be three, but it was far longer - someone picks up and hangs up.

So, my next alternative is cancel the reservation. The only reason I haven't is that I think this was a mistake rather than an actual attempt at hijacking my account (and stealing my money). But maybe I shouldn't think that - and clearly I care more about the people who would be affected than Expedia does.

* See this entry for the background.
Privateering computer systems

In the late 16th century, a small group of sea-going warriors known as the Sea Dogs ravaged the Spanish empire, raiding shipping up and down the Atlantic and as far away as the North American west coast. Though they were not officially part of the British navy, in many ways they did far more to damage Britain's enemies. The Sea Dogs were privateers, attacking vulnerable merchant vessels, killing crew and taking booty. Their most famous member was Francis Drake - or I should say Sir Francis Drake, who knighted for exploits that included his stint with the Sea Dogs.

Privateers were pirates in every sense except one - they were granted immunity by their own government. At different times and places - they operated for more than two centuries - they had direct relationships with the government that sponsored them. Drake "graduated" from privateer and became second in command of the fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada.

Hackers are today's privateers. Not all of them - the majority have no government relationship (and would abhor it) and do their thing for personal reasons, be they kicks or money or both. But the group that hit JP Morgan and several other financial situations over the summer are far more organized than most, and would appear to either have connections with a government - Russia, specifically - or at least be protected by them.

The U.S. has its our own state-sponsored; those working for the NSA are only the best known. (An irony for many reasons.) It's unclear whether the government sponsors privateers as well, but failing to prosecute hackers who attack computers overseas is, in effect, the same thing.

It's warfare by a different name, just as it was in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century. It may be low intensity, but it clearly can do as much damage if not more than an attack by bombs.

As governments countered the privateer threat - and launched their own - the strategy eventually became less effective and died out - after two hundred years. Time is compressed these days, but it's likely going to take something on the order of the destruction of the Spanish Armada to make stopping the widespread attacks more of a priority.

Ever wonder . . .

. . . what a missile launch looks like from inside an F-16?

The trailer for American Sniper. The movie releases in select theaters Dec. 25.

Expedia account secure? Not so much

Use Expedia? Think your information’s secure?

So did I. Until this week.

Monday, I got a notice from Expedia thanking me for arranging my itinerary with them.

Which, you know, was cool, except that I hadn’t.

I hopped on my account and discovered that there was a new itinerary – along with two people I’d never heard of before, who were now trusted travelers, or whatever the website calls people who get tickets associated with your account.

Needless to say, I did the normal security things – changed passwords, deleted credit cards, etc. And, of course, I tried contacting Expedia to straighten out the problem.

I’ve emailed them twice, without an answer. I tried calling – they call you back rather than putting you on hold – twice as well. The first time, I never got a call back; maybe the request didn’t properly register or I didn’t follow some protocol. The second time the operator lost my connection and hasn’t called back.

My only recourse at the moment seems to be to cancel the entire reservation. I’m reluctant to do that, as it will undoubtedly screw the people who actually made it – which, if they’re the victims of an innocent screw-up, really sucks for them. But I will do that if I don’t get at least some contact from Expedia in the next twenty-four hours.

Or maybe I'll just print the boarding pass out and use it myself. In the meantime, guess how much I’ll be recommending Expedia to others . . .
Drone Strike reviewed

A very gracious review from

With a well- constructed and researched plot, readers are instantly pulled in the arid deserts and air space over Iran as Turk gets guided to his mission accompanied only by a small, but highly skilled Delta Force Team and a very nervous and sweat-soaked small plane pilot.
One of the things I also like about the Brown and DeFelice writing team is that they do a very effective balancing act in showing respect for the enemy's (in this case Iran) capabilities and shortcomings and as well as developing the enemy side's characters as realistically human similar to how they develop the American ones. This is both a blessing and a curse as there are many strong and likeable secondary characters in DRONE STRIKE, but the body count is very high. 

Read all about it here.