Fish Reincarnation

Stella Staring into an aquarium in the waiting room. Daddy, do they catch all these?

Me I guess they catch some, but the fish in there also have babies.

Stella But where do their parents come from?

Me Well, you’re right. Their parents or their grandparents or the great-grandparents were caught.

Stella So they have babies and then they die?

Me Not right away, but they die eventually.

Stella When they’re grandparents.

Me Yes, then everyone in the aquarium goes to a funeral.

Stella A fishy funeral. Smiles, stares at a fish at the bottom. That’s what this one is doing here. He’s on the rock because they buried a fish underneath. He’s at a fishy funeral.

Me So there are dead fish in there?

Stella Yes, in the rocks. Pause, looking at the bubbler. Then they bubble up. The grandparents float up in the bubbles.

Me Wow. What happens when the bubbles pop?

Stella Turns, excited They come back alive!

Letterpress Business Class at 2015 Lolcon

In June, I will be teaching a two day business class for letterpress printers at the fourth Ladies of Letterpress conference. Joing me at Type on the Cob in Mt Pleasant, Iowa June 11 to 13, 2015:

Letterpress costing and product development

Most letterpress companies make money by selling products. Survival depends on setting products’ prices above manufacturing costs and overhead costs. Let’s put aside pricing for two days, and focus on tracking the costs of letterpress printing; “pricing” a product to sell might be more sexy, but it’s “costing” that printers have the most control over. The first day I will race through the principles of cost accounting in a letterpress shop, and the second day I will use these lessons to put a new letterpress product under the microscope. I will share the tools and techniques that I have found to minimize costs (and risks) when approaching letterpress products.

More details will be posted soon at the “Lolcon” conference page. Feel free to ask any questions about the class in the meantime.

Marginal Printing Profits

I pulled together this graph in the course of researching the competitive position of printing companies. This shows the industry-wide profit margins of the printing sector versus manufacturing as a whole. Looking at this chart feels like a punch to the gut, but explains a lot:

US Printing vs. US Manufacturing Profit Margins Click to open interactive graph

On the other hand, I suppose you could look at upward trend in printing over the last three years and also imagine that the worst could be behind us. The Internet happened, and printing has found its bearings in the new landscape. This reminds me of a New York Times article that I enjoyed last week, describing the renaissance of the printed catalog. I wonder if the shifts in the industry towards marginally higher profit margins will be enough to pull it out of the cellar over the long term.

Source: US Census Business and Industry Time Series/Time Charts. The percentage is the net income before taxes relative to net sales, receipts, and operating revenues.

One Semester Down

I had high hopes of documenting my experience as an EMBA candidate at MIT Sloan, but, predictably, schoolwork got in the way. I’ve now completed one semester and one batch of electives at the school, and feel that things are in a nice rhythm.

The first semester went fairly smoothly in retrospect. Some of the big challenges that I expected were not as daunting as I had feared. Math, for instance. I was surprised at how quickly calculus came back into focus during our Microeconomics class last semester, 20 years after I last used calculus. It helped to have a practical applications at hand, which I never had in high school. Driving back and forth to Cambridge (a ten hour round trip) every two weeks was not as grueling as I feared. I find that I actually look forward to the time alone in the car. On the way out, I listen to homework (dictated by my phone); on the way back, I often sit in silence to digest the classwork.

The hardest part has been the family-school balance, and it remains rocky headed into the second semester. A lot has been going on at home, including renovations, drama, sickness, and of course a lot of snow. I had thought my duties at home might scale back while I’m in the MBA program, but if anything the opposite has been true. When I’m home, I need to make up for the lost time while I’m in Cambridge. This is true for emotional connections as well as the practical things that backlog.

At one point I talked about putting my notes online. At first, I was even carefully editing the notes in order to make them presentable to the world. I realized this was not a good idea before I posted anything, thankfully. I felt that many of the notes were largely transcriptions of others’ work and didn’t feel it was fair to the MIT instructors to post their work publically without their permission. So, the notes will remain private. This allowed me to chill on writing perfect notes and focus on learning. Some good things happened as a result.

The program has been very helpful so far, and I hope to start posting the reasons why here shortly. The book knowledge has been interesting, but the best thing so far is that the program has forced me to confront some longstanding issues that I had been ignoring. I’ve become more confident in tackling issues.

Bye Bye Dropbox

I thought I was doing my wife a favor by setting her up with Dropbox, so that she could sync her writing notes between her laptop and her desktop computer. Of course, this worked for a while, and was very smooth. That is, until somehow her humongous database of writing research (we’re talking several megabytes of text files here, by the way) synced an empty version across all her devices. No more database. Well, this should have been an easy process of restoring a deleted file, but, to save you the story, we entered Dropbox Support hell. Since we have lost hope of Dropbox helping, her database is gone.

I feel a little bad in retrospect, because for the past year and a half I’ve had my own way of syncing files that works much better. The “last straw” that prompted me to flee Dropbox was the huge Dropbox cache file which continually filled up my PC hard drive…and kept filling up the drive as soon as I’d cleared out space.

So, I went out on a limb and installed a free file syncing server. I’ve been running ownCloud on one of my webservers, happily syncing files via an infinitely large s3ql hard drive, ever since. This server was running for something else anyway, so my only additional cost has been the $0.03 per GB storage each month. s3ql is a dependable way to mount s3 storage as a hard drive on a *nix computer. Last time I checked, my annual cost for storing 5GB of documents costs less than a single fare on Syracuse’s Centro bus.

My full setup has some other perks:

  • The s3ql drive storing the data is encrypted with my own password. No snooping.
  • The s3ql drive is backed up with an duplicity daemon, so I can do point-in-time restores on any file (should, for instance a file sync an incorrect version). This doubles the storage space needed, so I guess now it’s less than round-trip Centro bus fare.
  • Command-line access to the filesystem, in case of emergency.

ownCloud has done a solid job. An iPhone app and a web interface allow Dropbox-style mobility and sharing, so I have not missed any features since I left Dropbox. It’s been solid and I haven’t experienced a single sync error in the whole time. Sure, there was some extra setup at the outset but the results have more than paid for this time. My only complaint is that many iDevice apps are set up for Dropbox but don’t have a similar ownCloud interface, but this has never been too much trouble to work around. Kudos to ownCloud and to s3ql.