Thursday, June 28, 2012

Have you ever had the office go silent on you?

It happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was in meeting at an open area within the office floor. At first there was ambient noise with other colleagues in their cubicles speaking, typing.

My meeting got heated. A few colleagues, including myself, got pretty loud in saying how a recent internal work process was making things less productive rather than more (details aren't important; I can't share them anyway).

Moments later, I realised the office went quiet.

I had mixed feelings of righteous anger and embarrassment. I guess it was the realisation that we had called attention to ourselves.

The problem with verbal outbursts is that people around me won't grasp the full context. They are likely to remember that I was the one who got angry. Not good for my image, I thought.

I once read that only passionate workers get angry. If they don't it means they don't care.

When other colleagues have been rather exuberant in expressing their resentment (either at me or not) I take it in stride. In some case, I assure them it's OK to have that outburst, in private was preferred. The rationale is that it's a privilege, generally speaking, that co-workers are comfortable with me to speak or express emotions truthfully.

But personally I try not to show outbursts at work (btw, I fail miserably at home as my wife would point out). Some colleagues thankfully remind me on those occasions, diplomatically. Justified or not, I prefer to play the 'emotion-less' administrator.

Still, sometimes I forget.

Have you ever been in this situation?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Crowd-funding to buy a Creative Commons license for a book:

You might be thinking what a chockfull of concepts behind this statement: "Crowd-funding to buy a Creative Commons license for an ebook".

Let me break it down for you:

  1. Crowd-funding: "Funding a project by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people" (source:
  2. Purchase, i.e. owner is paid in return for granting a perpetual license for others to use the work
  3. Creative Commons as the licensing model
  4. The work is subsequently released in a digital form (the source just needs to be 'already published' and may not be an ebook, if I understood it correctly)

Sounds really innovative.

From the FAQ section:
What is is a a place for individuals and institutions to join together to give their favorite ebooks to the world. We work with rights holders to decide on fair compensation for releasing a free, legal edition of their already-published books, under Creative Commons licensing. Then everyone pledges toward that sum. When the threshold is reached (and not before), we collect the pledged funds and we pay the rights holders. They issue an unglued digital edition; you're free to read and share it, with everyone, on the device of your choice, worldwide.

As explained at Library Journal (17 May 2012):
" works by allowing the rights holders of an already-published book to set a funding threshold—generally between $5,000 to $25,000—and a deadline for a funding campaign. If supporters pledge sufficient funding prior to the campaign deadline, the book will be released as an “unglued” ebook edition, free of digital rights management (DRM) software, and free to copy and share under a Creative Commons license.

Gluejar Inc., the company that developed, explained the motivation behind the concept in a release today, noting that “proprietary formats and [DRM] technology lock ebooks to specific devices and make it hard for people to keep reading their books as technology changes. Many ebooks cannot even be lent by libraries. Unglued ebooks solve these problems.”

I found this YouTube video, where the president of Gluejar (the company behind was interviewed about its platform and business model for eBook distribution:

Why Creative Commons rather than Public Domain?
With CC, the owner retains copyright while still giving a "free-to-use" license. This means the owner still has the ability to set other conditions, which could involve payment to the owner.

Here's an example:

Suppose I license my eBook under a "CC Attribution Non-Commercial" license. A movie producer wants to turn my work into a for-profit movie. He has to seek permission from me (or pay me) because I've only given permission for non-commercial use. Separately, I'm able to enter a contract with this movie producer (because he's commercialising it, I also ask for a fee) At the same time, this contract does not affect my earlier CC licensed work, even if it's the same work.

Or, at the very least, I allow the movie producer to use my work without a fee but with very specific conditions on how I should be credited (hmm... I want my name to be at the start of the movie, and as a stand-alone mention at the end. Plus, it has to be on all publicity materials etc.)

See how I would have retained control of my choice of licensing model in that sense? (Nothing in the world can prevent copyrights abuse, but that's another issue).

Whereas if my work is in the Public Domain, the movie producer can legally use it without even mentioning my name. Btw, it's not quite as straight-forward in releasing one's work as Public Domain while one is still alive, i.e. before the Copyright term expires. Which is where CC also has a solution with CC0).

Personally, I think adopting CC makes a lot of sense. For one, CC has been around for 10 years and the framework (currently at version 3) has withstood the test of time and in a few cases, in courts as well. CC allows the owner to retain copyright, unlike a Public Domain work where rights are given up absolutely.

CC is seen as a fairly robust and flexible framework. It provides clarity (to lawyers and non-lawyers alike).

An example of flexibility is where a CC-licensed work allows for subsequent format conversions, unless the author opts for a "No-Derivatives" license. Which is also another instance of flexibility of licensing-choice being provided for the owner. The owner can opt for the various combinations of CC options.

Does it mean the content owner's ability to make money is diminished?

The FAQ anticipates this very important question:
"If I'm a rights holder and I unglue my book, does that mean I can never make money from it again?"
No! You are free to enter into additional licensing agreements for other, non-unglued, editions of the work, including translation and film rights. You may continue to sell both print and ebook editions. You may use your unglued books as free samples to market your other works -- for instance, later works in the same series. You can use them to attract fans who may be interested in your speaking engagements, merchandise, or other materials. You absolutely may continue to profit from ungluing books -- and we hope you do!

The 'control' is also put in the hands of the rights-holders. Only rights-holders (authors or publishers) can start campaigns:
Who is eligible to start a campaign on
To start a campaign, you need to be a verified rights holder who has signed a Platform Services Agreement with us. If you hold the commercial rights for one or more works, please contact to start the process.

One of the things I picked up from the video: the business model targets eBooks that aren't bestsellers.

The FAQ also lists a few reasons on "Why do rights holders want to unglue their books?":

  • To publicize their other books, gain new fans, or otherwise increase the value of an author's brand.
  • To get income from books that are no longer in print.
  • To have a digital strategy that pays for itself, even if they don't have expertise in producing ebooks.
  • To advance a cause, add to the public conversation, or increase human knowledge.
  • To leave a legacy that enriches everyone, now and in the future.

A possible downside for authors?
There's the difficulty in deciding a fair value for the book to be crowd-funded. I can imagine the tussle between what authors think they can reasonably get in terms of longer-term sales Vs what's essentially an upfront fee to release the work under CC.

In short: if they set a sum now and their book proves to be super-popular later, they can't recall the CC license and charge more.

It forces independent authors, who may be inexperienced in price negotiations, to assume even more entrepreneurial risk. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. And the reality may be that many of such authors have no recourse to obtaining an upfront fee from traditional publishing models anyway. Is it a viable business model?

Paul Biba asked, in this post, why would anyone pledge money to an Unglue campaign. Even Eric Hellman acknowledges in the video interview that "everyone wants to see others go first".

My own view is that a crowd-funding model, if pitched successfully (either in planned or unplanned ways), is likely to work for books whose:
  • author or content have some appeal in some way
  • readers understand, and are willing to participate in, a crowd-funding model
  • supporters have a sense of altruism at some level

Let's say I'm the sort of reader who buys books:
  • There's a title that interests me and I don't mind paying $4 for it (let's presume it costs $4).
  • After reading it, I think it's great and that it's something the rest of the world should benefit.
  • I decide to support the book's campaign by contributing an amount that I'm comfortable donating. Say, $8. It's like I'm paying it forward for two other people.
  • According to the FAQ, I'm only charged if the campaign (which has a time duration) succeeds.

Here's another possible scenario:
  • I'm the sort of person who doesn't buy eBooks. Or a book for that matter.
  • A friend tells me about this book. I may or may not have gotten hold of the book thus far.
  • I support the campaign and maybe put in $2. It's what I'm willing to pay if I buy the eBook. Only, in this case I'm buying for a perpetual CC licensed copy. Or I hope I do.
  • If the campaign succeeds, I'm charged for what I've pledged.

The left-brained eBook bargain-seekers (nothing wrong with that, BTW) may also see the model as a way to crowdsource for discounts. If they are willing to wait.

The business model makes participation almost barrier free by not imposing any upfront costs (again, from their FAQ):
... If you choose to support a campaign, you may pledge whatever amount you're comfortable with. Your credit card will only be charged if the campaign reaches its goal price.
If you're a rights holder, starting campaigns is free, too. You only pay if your campaign succeeds. For the basics on campaigns, see the FAQ on Campaigns; for more details, see the FAQ for Rights Holders.

I think the service might be very useful for small print presses. Or tie-ups with independent self-publishing/ distribution platforms like Smashworlds.

Maybe even libraries as business partners, where libraries help persuade authors to Unglue their work in some ways. The model could also be a model for libraries to be 'publishing' intermediaries in a sense.

Altruism may be the key
I thought Gluejar's president, Eric Hellman, explained it well (see the video's 2:16min segment) about the "heart's" perspective. I think it's this aspect of "giving from the heart" that might be how model will ultimately succeed.

Their FAQ has clearly anticipated the question:
"Why should I fund a book at when I can just buy it somewhere else?"When you buy a book, you get a copy for yourself. When you unglue it, you give a copy to yourself and everyone on earth.
How or when will be successful is anyone's guess. But the potential is definitely there, in my view.

My sense is there's a definite trend towards self-publishing and self-distribution. Which means additional distribution and publicity platforms like, backed with a reliable and known rights-model like Creative Commons, will be given a second look by authors. Particularly authors whose works have inherent potential and appeal.

A model like seems to provide an indirect incentive for readers to make some books cheaper and available in a digital forms.

Plus, I believe the world can only become more altruistic rather than less.

I don't think will take the book world by storm. But it's definitely welcome news.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Mental preparedness: Towards Bicycling Zen

Note: I'm an amateur sharing my own perspectives on leisure cycling. I'm learning as I go (you know what they say about the 'blind leading the blind'). Feel free to join in the conversation.

As mentioned in the previous post, my preparation and learning could be explained via this Framework for Cycling Zen:
  • Equipment readiness (including road safety gear, cycling gear)
  • Physical conditioning (fitness and balance)
  • Mental conditioning (including road safety)

Relatively speaking, the'Equipment' part was the easiest to find information and to achieve it (one's purchasing power was a huge determinant).

Mental conditioning was the most crucial for me. Something money couldn't quite buy. This post covers the mental part.

For me, it's to reach a state of mind such that when I take to the roads, I am conscious and confident in my actions. That consciousness and confidence also means I have a reasonable expectation of how other road users may react. BTW, it's PCNs for me as first choice and roads as a necessary last resort. And even then I'm sticking to my "ride on roads only on Sunday early morning hours" rule.

I readily acknowledge to myself that I fear scenarios like these:

Credit: lobstar28, CC BY-NC-ND.

I have some experience riding on the roads from years back (e.g. including turn/ filtering lanes). So my initial search was not on traffic rules*, but on "riding safety" and more directly "how not to get hit by cars".

[* Upon hindsight, I should have first looked up the Singapore Highway Code anyway. Reading it now, I'm glad I was already practicing most of what the code stated. BTW, the Highway Code is part of the Singapore Statues, available at]

Traffic rules and the Highway Code only told me what was ideal. But accidents often happen because rules weren't fully adhered to. I needed to know HOW accidents happened, so that I could anticipate and avoid them.

One very good find was the website by Michael Bluejay. Here's a PDF version adapted for Singapore's right-hand drive, i.e. driven on the left side of the road (hat-tip to my friend Siva for tweeting about the adapted resource).

If you're relatively inexperienced in tackling the roads like me, you MUST read Michael Bluejay's website or the PDF adapted version.

His information helped (a) validate what I knew but was never quite sure, and (b) made me aware of more potential accident-situations. His concise explanation and no-frills illustrations allowed me to visualise each scenario. It was as good as a mental rehearsal before the actual game.

THANK YOU, Michael Bluejay!

My take-away, reinforced with actual riding, is this: I should anticipate that each traffic situation (crossings; filtering; passing stationary cars; vehicles passing me) has a potential accident waiting to happen. Assume almost every situation is unsafe. So that I remain cautious.

It's not to be fearful every second of the way. It is about keeping my guard up all times; not taking safety for granted.

I found and went through more online readings/ viewings, so that key safety and riding concepts was drilled into my head.

The recurrent themes were:
  • Obey traffic rules
  • Ride in a predictable manner
  • Make yourself visible to other road users
  • Know yourself on the bike

Check these out:

Here's a YouTube video NHTSA Bicycle Safety Tips For Adults

As I was drafting this post, I discovered this Singapore-based website Good stuff and definitely worth subscribing to their feeds. Here's a very relevant post on cycling safety:
Safe Cycling Clinic for LoveCycling.SG
Steven Lim, the President of Safe Cycling Task Force, he conducted a “Safe Cycling Clinic” at the Road Safety Park in East Coast Park last Sunday for the LoveCyclingSG group. The presentation material was jointly prepared with the Traffic Police. Steven gave an hour long talk on the basic principles of Safe Cycling and later gave demos on lane positioning in the Road Safety park.

The following is a summary of the points covered:

1. Bicycle is considered a vehicle, you drive a bicycle.
2. Observe all traffic rules like any other road users on the roads.
3. Be competent and confident before hitting the road.
4. Know all traffic rules and road signs. Get a Basic Theory Book.
5. Know your skills, your ability, your health. Do not over estimate yourself.
6. Know your bike, it’s performance, it’s ability, it’s wear and tear.
7. Know your equipments, clothing, helmet, gloves, etc. their functions, performances, their life span, when to replace.
8. Know your route. Plan your route before you ride, know it’s traffic conditions.
9. Know your right of way but NEVER INSIST on it.
10.Be courteous and patience with other road users, share the roads.

I'm sure books would have similar information; no I did not look at the library catalogue... yet.

Nothing can beat actual experience, I feel.

My tip is that you should try and find a group who are comfortable with you, as you are with them. For me, it's friends who also ride as ZenDogs 2.0.

In my initiation ride, it became very clear to me there was greater safety in numbers. In a way, riding as a pack means you are more visible on the road. Of course, the group must ride responsibly and practice good road habits at all time.

Which brings to the point about having an experienced mentor/ pack leader. In ZenDogs 2.0, it's unanimously our friend Siva. He's a natural instructor, pointing out good road-riding practices and dishing out just-in-time instructions. Even reinforcing them at the appropriate situations. Or simply pointing out what I did wrong or could have done better. And the Whys.

One very good tip that's now drilled in my head: When pedaling across road intersections, where cars are giving you right of way and waiting for you to pass, one should speed up (watch for traffic as well; eye contact with the driver). It made sense to me because us pedaling slow may appear like we're not moving to the driver. The driver, not being able to judge our speed, may be tempted to make a move first and the cyclist risks slamming into the vehicle. I also think the faster we make it across the junction, the less time we make the drivers wait. Less likely that they get impatient.

I feel this is the most important. Meaning, I would tell my friends about my concerns and my limitations. For instance, I tell them I am just uncomfortable riding on the roads. I will and I'm prepared as I can be. But they have to know I still have reservations.

Some rides, I outrightly tell my friends I prefer to ride on pavements. According to the ordinance, it's illegal to ride on the pavement. But I play by ear and practice non-intrusive pavement riding.

As a newer rider to the pack, I can't always catch up in terms of speed. At first I tried to speed up but mistakes tend to happen when I'm tired and I speed. Either I fail to keep a proper lookout (thankfully drivers were watching and stopped; but I can't always rely on drivers to not make mistakes). Speeding means my reaction time is also reduced relatively.

With mobile phones and GPS-enabled cycling social apps, there's always a way to link up if we lose the pack.

I just have to gradually build up my skills and confidence on the bicycle and on the road. My friends understand that.

A good ride is one that I start and end home safely.

And where others do as well.

NEXT: Equipment and Physical preparations.

ASIDE: Are We Getting 'Soft'? If earlier generations could tackle the roads without such seemingly elaborate preparations (mental preparation, getting equipment like helmets and lights and whatnots), was it because we're a generation of softies? No, I do not think we are soft. For one, road conditions are a lot busier now (statistics on the number of vehicles will show that). Two, vehicles are faster and more powerful; their safety and crash devices have been upgraded but those for cyclists have remained almost stagnant. Three, who's to say earlier generations won't consider safety equipment if there were proper awareness created?