Reflecting on O’reilly’s Departure from DRM Free Technical Books and Finding Alternatives

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been so disturbed by Oreilly Media’s closure of their online bookstore. It feels like I’ve lost an old reliable friend.

The long and short of it is that they are no longer selling DRM-free versions of their technical books (i.e. in epub, mobi aka Kindle format, and PDF formats). Instead they have gone down the path of forcing customers to either have a Safari Books Online subscription ($399/year for individuals) or to purchase individual physical/electronic books through Amazon where the electronic version would be the Kindle format (i.e. a DRM mobi file that could be removed by Amazon at any time). Both of these options do away with the ownership of electronic books1.

Note 1: I have nothing against Amazon’s DRM protected Kindle books, and I have purchased many such books with the understanding that my purchases are a sort of perpetual lease that can be revoked at any time. I feel that this sort of arrangement is bad for technical books besides the significant format issues of the Kindle format (discussed below).

It is easy to be outraged by this change, and my peers at Hacker News have done a commendable job in expressing this justifiable outrage. Like my technical peers, I am rarely prone to emotional outbursts instead resorting to the sweet logical song of rationality. And yet, I can’t help but feel that I’ve lost an old friend. Why is that? It truly does not “make sense” to me.

In 2010 I attended a Drupal conference where Tim O’Reilly spoke about “Open Source in the Cloud Era.” I recall Tim speaking of his company’s core mission which included, front and center, DRM free books. And here we are seven years later with an evisceration of this core mission in the name of a “reinvention”. It’s funny how Tim O’Reilly has said nothing of this change beyond a tweet whose responses have been anything but supportive.

Out of all O’Reilly’s books, I will dearly miss the “Head First” series. But such is life, and I hope that this change will bring new publishers into the fray as well as inspire old publishers to avoid O’Reilly’s path.

Three aspects make me fairly certain that I will not be buying O’Reilly books in the future (which includes steering students away from such books for my online and on campus classes):

(a) As a reader of technical books:

As a reader of technical books, I have learned long ago that the Kindle and ePub version are inferior to PDF. While I love my Kindle Voyage for fiction books, the Kindle format is terrible for technical books. It is bad both from a formatting issue, in addition to the issue that Amazon published Kindle technical books are rarely updated as new revisions of a book are published (see Andy Hunt’s comment by searching for ‘AndyHunt’ in the previously mentioned Hacker News thread about this very issue). Check out any great technical book on Amazon, and you’ll see that more often than not the 1-star reviews refer to the Kindle edition. Here’s an example for “Head First JavaScript”:

The content is great, but the ebook formatting is some of the …
By … March 23, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
> Note – this is about the kindle edition. The content is great, but the ebook formatting is some of the worst I’ve seen.
>
> Terrible, terrible, terrible. The formatting is some of the worst I’ve seen, with parts frequently unreadable and cut off. Want to read the code examples? Good luck, they were scanned in unchanged as images, so you can’t zoom in by changing the font size. Instead you get to squint!
>
> Seriously, did they just hire an intern to hold the book up to a flat bed scanner?
>
> The content is great, but the ebook formatting is some of the worst I’ve seen. DO NOT BUY
>
> Buy the physical version. Save yourself some headache. If you want an appropriately formatted Javascript e-book, Javascript: The Good Parts is very readable.

The only format that stands to the content rigor of technical books is PDF. Sure PDF is far from perfect, but for this sort of book, anything else is pretty awful.

The Safari online option is somewhat questionable in that the mobile and web reading experience is less than ideal (Hacker News has much information about this). If reading on O’Reilly book is a poor experience on the Kindle app and iBooks app, then how much better can O’Reilly’s Android/iPhone reading app be for Safari Online Books?

(b) As a teacher

As a teacher of technical/programming courses, I have always recommended the DRM free versions of any required textbooks including O’Reilly books. I heavily use the PDF version of such books to create my course materials (so lectures can be in sync with the particular text book for the course), and I steer my students from the Kindle version to the PDF version in a DRM free format. An example for this is the “Head First JavaScript” book. This book has various exercises and puzzles that should be solved by hand (i.e. “pencil the answers in the book” type of work). If you’re using the physical book then it isn’t a problem. But what if you want the electronic version of the book? The only easily printable version (i.e. maintains exact format and pagination of the physical book) is the PDF version of this book.

While I will continue with any current courses that utilize O’Reilly books, I cannot do so for any future courses. Without question, I will resort to non-O’Reilly books for any new courses, and I will only books from publishers that provide DRM free epub, mobi, and PDF.

(c) For future authors of technical books:

If you’re a someone who is considering writing a technical book – why would you write for O’Reilly? Outside of the name, what is the possible advantage? (and no – there is no editorial advantage)

Since O’Reilly’s new electronic version of their books comes only from Amazon – why bother? Why not publish directly with Amazon if you want to go that way? Obviously, you’ll distance technical readers that want PDF but that’s a conscious choice that you would be making. Alternatively, you could publish on Amazon and have a DRM free ePub/mobi/PDF versions that you sell on your site.

If you do want to publish PDF versions of your book(s) and DRM free epub/mobi versions on one platform then there are plenty of publishing options:

  • self publishing via Gumroad or Leanpub
  • more traditional publishing via:
    • Pragmmatic Bookshelf: From a publisher perspective, I would say that this publisher is the closest to being of the old O’Reilly quality while providing DRM free electronic books including PDF.
    • No Starch Press: A large and quirky publisher that allows for parallel Creative Commons publication (see books by Al Sweigart for examples of a hybrid approach)
    • Apress: Yet another one with lots of technical books
    • Pearson’s Informit: Another traditional technical publisher with DRM free epub/mobi/pdf options

Of course, some of these publishers may follow O’Reilly’s path so you might consider having a contractual clause that lets you move your book to another publisher if the DRM free options go away.


In conclusion, the “books as a service” is not a surprising business goal. Recurring monthly subscriptions seems to be the current holy grail for many companies. After all, if Adobe, Netflix, and Spotify can do it why can’t anyone else do so? Whether the company is small or large. But like everything in life the true answer is ‘it depends’:

  • Is the subscription service providing a better product for the customer? (For technical books – O’Reilly media is not providing a better product)
  • Can the customer get the product without a subscription? (Customers cannot get O’Reilly books without subscription (and no – the Amazon Kindle version does not count because of the poor formatting and content update experience for technical books))
  • Can the customer find equivalent products from competing vendors? (fortunately, there are plenty of other technical book publishers)

O’Reilly Media Inc. has every right to choose its business model. My hope is that readers, teachers, and authors will vote with their dollars and feet by moving to other publishers. I know that in my case, O’Reilly’s website will be the last place I will look for a new technical book instead of being the first.


Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


Advertisements

The eli4d Gazette – Issue 032

Tech Pick

I’ve had Python on my brain lately due to heavy duty preparation for my upcoming online Python course. So coming across Instagram’s Python technology stack was interesting. The article begins with:

Each day, over 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram. The unstoppable photo-centric social media platform has over 600 million registered users — 400 million of whom are active every day. Talk about operating at scale: Instagram kills it at levels most companies can barely even dream about.

Even more impressive, though, is the fact that Instagram serves this incredible amount of traffic, reliably and steadily so, by running Python (with a little help from Django) under the hood. Yes, that Python — the easy to learn, jack-of-all-trades general purpose programming language. The one everybody in the industry dismisses as, “Yeah, Python is great in so many ways, too bad it’s not really scalable.”

I thought that this was a great example to mention to my students – “well if Instagram uses Python at their scale, Python must be a good thing to learn.” And yet this didn’t sit right with me, and I remembered reading an excellent article that clarified my unease: “You Are Not Google”.

Python is a great language for many reasons (easy to learn, lots of built in libraries, great scientific/numeric support (SciPy, Pandas, iPython, NumPy), etc..) but Instagram’s use of it is not one of them. I’m not Instagram, and it’s very likely the case that you aren’t either.

Media Pick

I’ve had “American Gods”aal on my Kindle for what seems like forever. It was recommended by a friend back in 2004 and I got the Kindle version on sale a few months ago (via Bookbub).

Where to begin? The story is like a fractal of a pick-up stick game. You think “really Neal – a pick-up stick game?” And there’s Gaiman laughing manically. So you play the game and read the book 1 bit at a time…and just when you think you understand, repeating themes and whispers of previous chapters slap you across the face.

My Kindle highlights are filled with too many sentences from this book, and I can hardly pick a favorite. Here’s an example:

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”

aal = Amazon affiliate link

Random

I’m a big OmniFocus, but recent (XML) corruptions have been worrisome (on the positive side OmniFocus support is top notch). One database corruption happened in March, and another just happened about a week ago. My favorite data format is plain text. But I haven’t come across a plain text task management system that implements GTD and spans mobile and Mac OS X as seamlessly as OmniFocus.


Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 029

Tech Pick

Two topics related to “making the Internet a better place”:

Net Neutrality is at jeopardy once again – please make your voice heard

Net Neutrality is at risk once again. The EFF summarizes the issue best with:

Network neutrality—the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services—is a principle that must be upheld to protect the future of our open Internet. It’s a principle that’s faced many threats over the years, such as ISPs forging packets to tamper with certain kinds of traffic or slowing down or even outright blocking protocols or applications.

The FCC is seeking to dismantle Net Neutrality, and this is the time to state your objection to this attempt. The EFF has created a very easy form to fill out to comment on the FCC’s proposal.

You can find it here: https://dearfcc.org/

The open Internet is critical for our current and future generations. Please take 2 minutes to fill out and submit the above form.

Cloudflare Seems to Help Serve Hate on the Web

I’ve always thought of CloudFlare as a company that is out to make the internet a better place by protecting websites against a variety of attacks. However, I came across a disturbing article about Cloudflare that gives me significant pause (note that ProPublica has had an update regarding this issue, but Cloudflare has not really changed its stance). It seems that Cloudflare is a proxy for both infrastructure security solutions and hate groups.

I have much to say about Cloudflare’s actions and its discounting of both corporate values/responsibility by hiding behind a “we support free speech” flag. But this will have to wait for another (potential) post.

Neither you nor I can control Cloudflare’s actions. If your values align with Cloudflare’s current mode of operation, then Cloudflare should be your go-to company for infrastructure security.

If your values are on the opposite side of Cloudfare’s actions and decisions, then you may choose to:

  1. Recommend alternate technical solutions such as Fastly
  2. Contact Cloudflare’s investors and ask them if their values align with Cloudflare’s actions

I sincerely hope that Cloudflare will make active positive choices regarding its corporate responsibility and values.

Media Pick

I recently finished watching Haven through Netflix. The show is part X-Files and part Supernatural. I had originally chosen it because it had good ratings on Netflix in combination of being a series that had 3 or more seasons. It turned out to have really good character development and sufficient sci-fi/horror elements to keep me watching. Furthermore, the series had a decent closing story arc that tied everything together (and it even had a certain over-acting Star Trek character at the end 😉 ).

I was surprised that Haven was produced by the SyFy channel. I’ve always felt that when this channel changed its name from “Sci Fi” to “SyFy”, it went down hill moving from fantastic scifi shows like Battlestar Galactica to less than exciting works like Ghost Hunters. Of course, SyFy may be coming around to the monetary realization that the original fan base is more valuable than they thought.


Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


Holiday Recommendations/Reviews – 2016

Overview

This post is inspired by this week’s Release Notes podcast that focused on holiday recommendations. I like this retrospective on items that have been battle tested through regular use. My focus will be on podcasts, iOS apps, Mac apps and some physical items. This will be a quick, broad sweep across many things that I’ve wanted to review/mention for a while but never had time.

Some Quick Notes

Holiday note: I wish you and yours a safe an happy holiday season. I’ll be back with new articles towards the end of January 2017.

Wikipedia note: Think back to the past year. Did you use Wikipedia? What if Wikipedia had ads on every page…would that have made it better? If you’ve used Wikipedia in any way, then please consider donating to this great site.

Disclaimer note: Please remember that the usual disclaimer applies – these are just my opinions.

Podcast Recommendations

I’ve decided to limit these recommendations to only 3 podcasts (my list of podcasts is way too long). These are my absolute favorites for this year and you might find them interesting.

iOS App Recommendations

These are my home screen worthy apps. You might also find them to be useful.

Overcast – the best podcast player

I’ll admit that saying “the best” is somewhat of a ridiculous thing (in the same way that many articles start with ‘finally‘), but I really really like the Overcast podcast player. Its smart speed is amazing at saving time and listening to more podcasts.

Overcast - the best podcast player

Audible – audio books, audio clips and button free awesomeness

I’ve started a new experiment in shifting half of my listening to audio books and half to podcasts (from %100 podcasts). My goal is to read more (whether through actual reading or audio books). I’ve subscribed to Amazon’s Audible service and I’ve found the Audible app to be ridiculously great. The ability to save and share audio clips is very well done and its best feature is the ‘Button-Free’ view through which an audio book can be controlled through tactile interface only.

Audible - audio books, audio clips and button free awesomeness

Due – quick reminders that are not worth putting in your todo app

I first heard about Due through a John Gruber post. John described Due as “a convenient, low-friction way to set short-term reminders and timers. Sort of like *Pester but for iPhone. Focused and thoughtful design”*. And Due does live up to John’s description (as does Due 2.0).

Due’s website describes its purpose best when it says that it is a “place where all mundane but important reminders can go.” Examples:

  • Before school put sun tan lotion on child (and maybe yourself too)
  • Take vitamins before leaving house
  • Go to Costco after work

Note: A second runner-up is Alarmed.

Due - quick reminders that are not worth putting in your todo app

Soulver – best un-spreadsheet spreadsheet program

I’ve been using Soulver on my iPhone for a long time. Whether it’s for a quick calculation or a weekly money-envelope tracking of my coffee habit – soulver is there to help me out. I also purchased the Mac version of the app which allows me to use it to keep Soulver sheets via iCloud.

I’ve also used it in complex budget tracking at work. While Excel grinds numbers into baby food, Soulver lets me see the bigger picture.

Soulver - best un-spreadsheet spreadsheet program

GoodReader – the swiss army knife of PDF and pdf-like things

I’ve mentioned GoodReader before. Its primary strength is PDF annotation but it also can play mp3 audio with the niceties of repeat loops (like when you child likes that 1 song that they want repeated over and over and over again), and specific sequences. It certainly gives PDFpen a run for its money and in my experience it has also been more stable (besides better pricing).

GoodReader - the swiss army knife of PDF and pdf-like things

Pedometer++ – great step-tracking for that 10,000 steps per day goal

There’s not much to say about Pedometer++. It does one thing and it does it very well – tracking steps. You can set a certain step goal which triggers green confetti (and double the goal step count triggers blue confetti). I know this sounds like the most ridiculous thing but it’s a reward that works well from a habit loop perspective.

Pedometer++ - great step-tracking for that 10,000 steps per day goal

Instapaper – the read anything anywhere app

I’ve used Instapaper for many years to read interesting articles that I’ve come across. I can save most web pages to be read later via Instapaper. One cool feature is that you are given a unique email address where you can send articles. This email can be used to subscribe to interesting newsletters. This way – newsletters end up right on Instapaper and can be read anywhere.

Marco Arment was its original creator and it has gone through several owners. The current owner is Pinerest who has made all its features freely available. I don’t know if this is a short-term thing. Hopefully not but time will tell. It is certainly worth trying for the price (FREE).

Instapaper - the read anything anywhere app

Glympse – like a time limited version of Find-my-Friends

Have you ever wanted to let someone know where you are or better yet – see where you are? Glympse is your solution. Whether it’s letting your spouse know where you are, or whether it is letting a friend know your location – Glympse is great in that you can set:

  • temporary visibility for your location (you can set a default of 1 hour, for example, so any ‘Glympses’ that you send will automatically expire)
  • set favorites for frequent contacts

While Apple’s Find My Friends feature is very useful, it misses one important point: your friends don’t need to know where you are all of the time. Sure you could turn it off after an activity but who does that.

Glympse - like a time limited version of Find-my-Friends

True Weight – a beautiful and simple average weight tracker

From an app perspective, I consider True Weight to be ‘perfect’ in the way it addresses the topic of weight tracking. The only issue is that it hasn’t been updated since 2013 and iOS 10 occasionally puts up a dialog of “this app may slowdown your iPhone”. Nevertheless it is a great app which I intend to use until it is obsoleted by the iPhone’s operating system.

I’ve recently searched for alternatives but they all have fallen short due to either poor UI or friction filled usage issues.

Daily Workouts – quick exercise routines that make sense

I have owned some adjustable dumbbells for a long time. I wanted a simple routine and it took me a while to find Daily Workouts (the amount of crappy exercise apps is mind boggling). The app provides you with a variety of workout that contain 10 exercises per workout. You can also choose a random workout or a custom one where you set the 10 exercises that you want.

I found it worthwhile to get the full blown version for $9.99. It plays well on the iPhone and even better on the iPad.

Daily Workouts - quick exercise routines that make sense

Mac App Recommendations

Beyond the standard macOS apps (Mail, etc..), these are apps that are dock worth.

Alinof TimerPro – countdown timer extraordinaire

Whether I’m using the Pomodoro technique, some other timeboxing technique, the 2-minute GTD inbox rule or something else requiring a countdown timer – Alinof TimerPro is perfect in providing multiple countdown timers that can stay in the background or be visible on the screen. There are lots (and lots) of crappy timers out there but I’ve found Alinof to be the best (so far).

Alinof TimerPro - countdown timer extraordinaire

Marked 2 – If you’re using Markdown then you need this Mac app

I wont go into the terrific simplicity John Gruber‘s Markdown. If you’re a Markdown practitioner then you need Marked 2. It works with any editor and it provides a realtime preview of Markdown’s output. It also has a variety of options and themes as well as export options.

Marked 2 - If you're using Markdown then you need this Mac app

Clarify 2 – stories through screenshots

Clarify allows for the creation of excellent documentation through pictures and words. If you need to convey information in a clear and visual way then you’ll find that Clarify is worth every penny. It has many export options but I’ve found its Markdown export capability to be veyr powerful.

Clarify 2 - stories through screenshots

Hardware-ish Products

In reflecting over the past year and looking over my Amazon purchases I found a few products that have withstood daily use and abuse.

Note: I have Amazon affiliate links for these products.

Koss KSC32B Fitclips Headphones

I’m not sure why Koss decided to market these headphones to women but they work well for men too. In fact, these headphones work well for anyone with ears 🙂 .

Koss KSC32B Fitclips Headphones

No Stress Chess

This chess set is great for any child that is 5 years or older. It really takes out the stress of teaching chess. If you child can pick up a playing card, then they can play No Stress Chess.

No Stress Chess

Portable Stand Laptop Holder

I’ll admit that the “Superbpag Multi-angle Non-slip Portable Stand Holder Laptop Stand For iPad 2 3 4 Air Mini Retina Tablet and Most Laptop” looks ridiculously chintzy on Amazon’s site. And yet they work ridiculously well in terms of size, weight, and resilience. They also bring some semblance of ergonomics to laptop use in a coffee shop (assuming you have a keyboard of course).

Portable Stand Laptop Holder

iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook

The iBenzer Soft-Touch Series Plastic Hard Case is a light and protective cover for your Macbook. While the cover is great, my biggest surprise was the keyboard cover. The keyboard cover has been very resilient and it does not curl like Kuzy covers (which I’ve previously owned). iBenzer does a great job in both the case and the keyboard cover.

Note: Make sure to exactly match you Macbook’s model to the case since there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to these sort of cases and keyboard covers.

iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook

Conclusion

I hope this app/hardware retrospective is helpful. I wish you a healthy and safe holiday season and a great new year.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know via @eli4d on Twitter.


What is THE canonical place for your ‘stuff’?

One of my favorite question to ask people is: “where do you store your photos – the ones that are on your phone right now?” One of my co-workers recently responded with “on the cloud…I think”. Now this was for photos of course, but it made me think of the rest of my “stuff.” For the intentional information that I send out to the world – where does that gets stored? If I tweet, then Twitter holds my posts. If I blog, then WordPress holds my posts. If I use Facebook then Facebook holds my posts (and my social graphs, and my personal information like my phone number).

I’ve been trying to answer the “what’s my canonical source of information?” question. If Twitter or Facebook were to go away tomorrow – what would happen to all of my posts…all of my ‘stuff’? While my posts may not be valuable to anyone else, they are certainly valuable to me, so I can’t rely on any publication platform that can change its rules of publication or disappear at any time (besides storing my information in a proprietary or questionably exportable way).

In a recent episode of the Post Status podcast the ‘canonical’ issue came up. The theme of the episode was about WordPress mobile apps, and this issue was a somewhat indirect result of Brian suggesting that he would want like to see an opinionated mobile app that allows his WordPress site to be the canonical source of all the information that he publishes. In other words, when he posts pictures on his WordPress site, then they automatically get posted to Instagram (based on some criteria of course), or when he posts a bite-sized post on his site then that shows up on Twitter, and so on.

While Joe suggested that the WordPress REST API would be the key to creating such an app, the key issue would still be keeping up with new social media apps (i.e. publication platforms) and whatever new developments occur around the process of publishing one’s information. Furthermore, there is also the issue of platforms like Snapchat where you can’t post your video from another service to Snapchat – you need to user their app to do so.

The pragmatic approach to this canonical issue is coming to it from the other side. Rather than find or create the one application that rules all current and future publishing platforms, it makes more sense to use services that push your information from the publishing platforms of your choice to your canonical source. While IFTTT and Zapier are proprietary in their own way, their goals are to provide connection points between various platforms (in a more narrow sense this also applies to Buffer).

So rather than going from WordPress outwards, I’ve used IFTTT to push my published information to my WordPress blog. As an example, for Twitter posts the “Post my tweets to my WordPress blog” recipe has been very useful as has the “Sending a new tweet with a certain hashtag creates a post on your WordPress blog” recipe.

Because WordPress is an open platform – I can easily export all of my content to a format that can be easily parsed by another system. This openness makes WordPress a great canonical source. Is it the perfect place? Probably not, but it’s the best solution that I have found so far.

If you have a better solution or approach to this issue – please let me know via Twitter (@eli4d).

Why you should (probably) NOT buy a timeshare (and the only question you need to ask when dealing with a timeshare salesperson)

Note: The usual disclaimers apply. I’m only relating my experience, and this post is more of a reminder to myself than anything else. If you find it useful – awesome, and if not then no worries.

A while back my wife called me to tell me that the timeshare company was asking for $1,200 to take the timeshare back from us. She had looked at the possibility of donation, but this still seemed like the best route to get rid of the damn thing. So we paid the $1,200 and considered ourselves supremely lucky to have a timeshare company (the only one we’ve come across) that could take this beast back. This marked the last timeshare payment that I would make and a lesson for timeshare ownership (I’m writing this post to remind me of this lesson).

Wikipedia does a good job of explaining the definition of a timeshare and all its problems. We bought ours while on a ski trip in the early 2000s. The sales pitch lured us in with a price ($7,800) that seemed reasonable and maintenance (about $400 per year at the time) that looked like a good deal for what we got.

The event that clinched the sale was not the salesperson but rather this family that we saw on the ski slopes. They had three boys and we just started chatting with them and mentioned the possibility of purchasing a timeshare. They said they had two timeshares, and it was a great thing to do when you have a family. The key point for them was that they could always vacation at a place with a kitchen and that this helped in making the kids comfortable. Event though we didn’t have kids at the time, it still sounded like a good idea.

For the first few years, it seemed to work for us. We ended up doing timeshare exchanges all of the time to go on a yearly vacation in Tahoe. Our unit was not in a good exchange zone (i.e. it was a great skiing unit for a week in the spring). So besides the Interval exchange fees and the Interval membership, there was also the issue that we couldn’t get great exchanges during the winter months. We did ok because our vacation time was flexible (before having a child).

As Wikipedia states about exchange timeshares:

Due to the promise of exchange, these units, called “vacation ownership” by the industry, often sell regardless of their deeded resort (most are deeded into a certain resort site, though other forms of use do exist). What is not often disclosed is that all differ in trading power. If a resort is in Hawaii or Southern California, it will exchange extremely well; however, those areas are some of the most expensive in the world, subject to demand typical of a heavily trafficked vacation area.

Most timeshares will have somewhat crappy trading power which means that you’ll be giving away money on a yearly basis to exchange companies such as RCI and Interval International beside your regular maintenance fees.

You may have significant flexibility when you are single or as a couple without kids. This means that you can choose a not-so-popular week for an exchange and get a location that you desire for your vacation. However, when you have kids, the timeshare equation goes from bad to worst. The problem is that dates for school breaks are common across most schools systems. So you end up competing for travel destinations that thousands of other families want to use, and you end up losing. Either you can’t find an exchange, or you end up with a really bad exchange. The most likely scenario, however, is that you can’t find an exchange, so you end up finding a hotel and vacationing in the very way that timeshares were supposed to help you. So now you’ve spent money for a vacation on top of the timeshare maintenance without even using the timeshare (crazy isn’t it?).

I’ve gotten tons of timeshare sales pitches. It seems that because I was a timeshare owner, timeshare companies seem to fall over themselves to give me their pitch when I’m visiting a resort. I suspect that their internal data indicates that timeshare owners are more likely to buy more timeshares.

The typical timeshare sales pitch starts by asking you the value of your time. Then it proceeds with a pitch to your heart string about family, vacationing, and connection. The pitch is that you’re guaranteeing future time with your loved ones through a timeshare. And the older you are, the more the pitch tilts towards your child/children – “your child will have an asset and a way to vacation…you’ll be locking in these savings forever…don’t you want your child to be free of vacation burdens?” (the way I see it is that my child is free to vacation wherever, whenever and to whatever extent they can and mechanisms like Airbnb abound; besides this is leisure time and my child is responsible for their leisure time in the same way that they’re responsible to entertain themselves when they’re ‘bored’)

The sales pitch is very hardcore, and I would say it is much worse than the stereotypical used car salesman pitch (so if want to warm up for an upcoming timeshare sales pitch, then you should visit your local used car dealer and see how well you deal with that). At least with a used car salesman – you may end up with a car that isn’t a lemon. Furthermore, the used car dealer doesn’t send you a bill every year. With timeshare sales, you end up with something that keeps sucking cash out of your wallet on a yearly basis besides the initial up-front cost (don’t forget to add exchange fees if you’re trading for a particular time/destination). Wikipedia’s article hits the nail on the head with:

The industry’s reputation has been severely injured by the comparison of the timeshare salesman to the used car salesman; because of the sales pressure put on the prospective buyer to “buy today”. “The discounted price I quoted you is only good if you buy today”; is the industry standard’s pitch to close the sale on the first visit to the resort. Many have left a timeshare tour complaining of being exhausted by the barrage of salespeople they had to deal with before they finally exited the “Tour”. The term “TO”, or “Turn Over” man, was coined in the industry. Once the original tour guide or salesman gives the prospective buyer the pitch and price, the “TO” is sent in to drop the price and secure the down payment.

In a recent timeshare pitch the salesperson labeled my former timeshare as a “dinosaur” because it was an inflexible exchange week, as compared to the flexible points system that he was selling (in this case it was RCI Platinum Points). There was, of course, the $1,500 yearly maintenance fee besides the upfront cost of $15,000 and the fact that the points would never add up to a full week for the vacation times that we would take (again – based on school times).

The biggest problem that we had with our timeshare was that we had a tough time to get rid of it. The web is littered with timeshare sales. Desperate owners that want to get rid of this yearly liability. After all, if you stop paying that maintenance fee then you’ll get a collection company after you and you credit score will be hit (so good luck with good old home buying, car buying, or any other large purchases).

Wikipedia sums this up best:

  • From :

    However, the biggest complaint of all is the fact that timeshare re-selling by the private owner is almost impossible to do.[20] An owner looking to sell literally cannot give the timeshare away. Timeshare resale companies have sprung up that actually charge the owner to assume his/her timeshare ownership, using the excuse that the resale company must assume the maintenance fees until that burden can be unloaded to a new buyer.

  • From :

    It is more than likely that a new timeshare owner could have purchased the same product from an existing owner on the timeshare resale market for between 0 and 15% of what he/she paid from the developer, simply by doing a computer search. In many cases, the exact or similar accommodation purchased, will be happily transferred by an unhappy timeshare owner. The new buyer usually pays nothing, other than to take over the existing maintenance fees, because the existing owner can’t find a buyer for his/her timeshare without paying a resale company thousands of dollars to absorb it for resale. The reason for this anomaly is that the lion’s share of the cost of a new timeshare are sales commissions and marketing overhead, and cannot be retrieved by the timeshare owner.

You have to do your own research of course, but in my opinion – timeshares are a terrible use of money. They’re not an investment in any sense of the word. No matter the form and the sales pitch, they are a constant drain on your wallet. Year in and year out they’re pocket sharks that keep chomping away at your hard earned dollars.

Now if you do end up in a timeshare presentation and your emotions and sentimentality are put to the test, and you are desperate to get out of this sales-y tarpit – here’s a question that has worked really well for me:

“Your sales pitch sounds tempting but let me ask you this – if this timeshare doesn’t work out for me – will you take it back? Can I completely get rid of it? You’ve said it is an asset and a great thing to own, so taking it back shouldn’t be a problem…should it?”

In my experience, this is the question that no timeshare salesperson can spin or answer in a positive way. Typically the salesperson’s face turns just a little, he/she may even look away. Then they’ll quietly answer with ‘no’ and then enthusiastically they’ll tell you about the great deal that you are getting and how future generations will benefit from your wise choice.

Now I know – you’re thinking “wait…didn’t you just say at the beginning of your post that your timeshare company took it back?” And the answer is ‘yes’ – they took it back at this point in time. I was lucky and the company stated that they were looking to discontinue this option. So don’t confuse my dumb luck with the possibility of timeshare awesomeness.

If you’re looking for alternatives to timeshares here are some that come to mind (I’m sure there are many more out there):

  • Costco Travel: like all things Costco they have great and most importantly fixed pricing. What you see is indeed what you get with Costco.
  • Airbnb: I haven’t personally used the service, but it’s on my list of things to try.

The Future of Education

I was talking to a co-worker recently about his four and a half-month-old son. When we talked about education, he said something that surprised me – “I’m going to teach Eric everything I know, and I’m not going to encourage him to go to college.” When I asked if he would encourage his son to make his own business, he responded with “maybe, but I rather he works on open source software and helps change the world.”

We further talked about the whole educational upheaval that is currently happening – boot camps for software development, Khan Academy, nano-degrees, Coursera’s removal of hundreds of free courses and the general idea that all educational information that you need is “out there” or better said “right there” on the internet. This information availability with so-called personalization would seem to be a current and future trend.

What will education look like in 20 years? While my co-worker disagreed with the need for a college education, he did agree that it can provide a social/networking aspect that individual web access from home cannot. After all, how much better are your chances to get work at a start-up if the founder or some member of the executive team comes from your alma mater?

I’ve always wondered about the Star Trek (ST) universe and its nature of education. In that world, the focus seems to always be on Star Fleet Academy. But what about the mechanics that service the ships? The construction workers? The suppliers of replicators and other fantastic technologies? How do they fit in?

In the ST world are you assessed when you’re a child over a period of time, and a customized educational path is made for you? And if this is the way that works, then does a very specific education help you as an individual become a well-rounded individual? Or are you a ‘silo-ed’ person that knows how to do a very specific job with the expectation that you’ll stick to this path and be ‘happy’ with it? What does happiness mean to a person in this world? Where is individual purpose in such a world?

I did a couple of Duckduckgo searches, and the only relevant information that came up was a comment on old forum from a woman named Karen Henke ( http://www.futureofeducation.com/forum/topics/star-trek-a-vulcan-education):

I saw the movie Star Trek last week and enjoyed the action, the characters, the story, and the vision of the future…except for one thing. The future of education portrayed on the Vulcan planet consisted of individuals in pods repeating back to a disembodied voice. It seemed to show the personalization and individualization of education, but missed collaboration and social learning entirely.

Later in the movie, the skills needed to succeed were collaboration, problem solving, and the ability to work together as a team with each team member having specialized skills. Perhaps the cadet education was radically different?

This was an interesting perspective on Vulcan education as portrayed in the movie and I suppose it’s just as valid for the reflection about an earth-bound education.

My view is that presently – a bachelor degree is the new GED. In other words, most jobs tick off the undergraduate education checkbox as a basic requirement. A master’s degree provides a bit more distinction with a Ph.D. being a much bigger distinguishing factor (especially if one wants to teach in a 4-year college). Besides this checkbox, a college education can provide an important network of people that may make the job search easier. Consider for example that you graduated from Acme University and the CEO of the start-up that you’re approaching is also from Acme. Alternatively, a university-based network that can help you reach individuals at companies that you could not otherwise approach.

This is all present stuff – what about the future? What about the education in Eric’s time and beyond? Will he have the illustrated primer described in The Diamond Age and will that help him? I think that Karen hit the nail on the head in that forum post concerning collaboration and social learning. If personalized education is a click/swipe away (or whatever gestural UI there is in the future) and anyone and everyone can learn whatever they need – then where does one learn about social based interaction and problem solving?

It’s easy to fall into a Cassandra-ish trance of OMG the future will be composed of subject specific individuals that are walled off from the rest of the world. It’s easy to stomp our aching generational feet and claim that all is lost because of technology. But I think that this is a false approach.

I find my hope in a recent visit to a Peet’s Coffee. This Peet’s was near a community college, and when I sat at one of the bar chairs, I noticed this community college student sitting two chairs away. She had a notebook open (the paper type), with a laptop in front of her, and white ear buds running to her iPhone 6S. And right there on the iPhone screen was a FaceTime connection to another student. She was collaborating with that student through FaceTime while working at a coffee shop that was buzzing with people and activity. Social learning – check. Collaboration – check. Being in environment that has other humans – check again.

I think that as long as we are human, social and collaborative learning is not going to go away. Whether the bridge of such interaction is an ancient campfire or a FaceTime connection, it’s still there. Technology is just like that Promethean fire – it’s a tool and as a tool, it can connect us or put significant distance between us. It’s our choice in terms of both the interaction and the technology that we choose. To be human is to to be social and to collaborate – whether introvert or extrovert. It’s in our nature, and future generations will use whatever technology is commonly available to do this interaction.