Fighting Fire with Bluefire: Beat the Cost of eBooks

While the various eReader companies battle it out, you may be thinking about scooping up a deal on one. You may be surprised to find out that while eReaders are coming down in price and up in features, eBooks are actually not. There is quite a bit of controversy stirring about the cost of eBooks. This article from Macworld outlines some of it. do a quick search on Google for “Amazon 9.99” and you can see a lot of people are not happy about paying $14+ for an eBook.

I have a real problem with paying more than $10 for an eBook. I have a problem with paying as much as a paperback for books that have been out a while. I know that publishers need to recoup their investments, but there should be some noticeable discount for those who forgo the actually paper and ink. I have only bought one eBook, and paid $9.99 for it. I would have bought more but, I won’t spend more than it costs to buy the actual book.

Luckily for those of us who read and want the convenience of an eBook without the cost, there are ways to get access to books for free. Both Kindle and iBooks offer titles that are free, and that’s a great place to start. You can read a ton of classics and a few newer novels downloaded direct from your choice of supplier. You can also find some web sites out there with DRM-free ePub books available for free download.

Loading these books can be easily done on most eReaders. For the iOS user, simply connect your device, in iTunes select the App tab, and then scroll down to section file transfer section. Pick your app and your book and then sync.

That is great, but you may be like me, and looking for some more recent titles. Check your local library. Many offer digital copies of books to check out. The accomplish this by using Adobe Digital Editions to handle the loan period. This allows you to download a DRM protected copies of an eBook for free reading. On your computer or a device or app that supports Digital Editions. You cannot just take the file and read it, because of the DRM. That is what allows libraries to let us read them for free. In just a few weeks, the copies disappear off our Adobe library.

It took me a little while to find an app for the iPad and iPhone that supported Adobe Digital Editons, but Bluefire does, and it’s free. It will allow you to buy books in the app from several sources, most notably Book A Million. But the app really shines in that you can authorize it to access your Adobe Digital Editions.

My library allows me to check out up to 20 eBooks for 21 days. I currently have about 6 out, and have loaded them onto my iOS devices running Bluefire. Use the same method of loading them into Bluefire that you use to load DRM-free epub books. The interface with Bluefire isn’t as nice as Kindle or iBooks, but it is perfectly readable. My only complaint is that the app seems to really drain battery life.

As long as eBooks are available from the library I will be checking them out. If prices come down for purchasing eBooks I will be more likely to buy them. Until then I will keep looking for free books.

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Hard Roads

Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the LORD has blessed me?” And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” The people of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.” Joshua 17:14-18

The tribe of Joseph was not happy. Joshua was dividing up the land, and handing out the allotments to the different tribes. The people of Joseph couldn’t understand why they had been given such a small portion. In reality, they had plenty, but what they had required some hard work to be useful. They had to clear some land, and they needed to finish driving out the Canaanites.

Joshua’s response was classic. You have enough people and power to accomplish the task. Basically, stop whining and get on with it. God isn’t changing the allotment and the work still needs to be done before you can get settled.

That is a frustrating answer. I mean, this is God. He could change it if he wanted to. Why wouldn’t he make it easy? Why is the road ahead a hard one when God has the power to make it easy?

Even if it is a hard road, at least God has given you a road. You may have to clear a forest or drive out some Canaanites, but at least you know what your allotment is.

Sometimes I think we look at what is coming and want God to show us a way around the difficult things, but God wants us to go though them. That’s not what anyone wants to hear. But the people of the tribe of Joseph never woke up and said, “I sure hope we get the land that has to be cleared and still has a lot of people living in it.” They fought alongside everyone else, they wanted just as good and easy a portion of land as the rest.

Looking around at what God has directed others to do is a sure fire way to get upset and frustrated. There will always be something you see that looks better than what you have been asked to do, at least from the outside. (they may be looking at you thinking the same thing) instead focus on what you are supposed to be doing.

What is it that God has told you to do? Did he say wait? Did he say go forward? Did he say quit? Did he say stay where you are? Stop whining and do what God has called you to do!

Losers All Around: Churches, Competing With Yourself is Dumb

I once sat in a meeting where a children’s pastor and men’s ministry pastor discovered they had both planned father/son camping trips on different weekends of the same month. Then the stared at each other, each hoping the other would blink about which weekend and which ministry would proceed with the event. How could either ministry have even gotten to the point of setting a date without some communication with the other? A better approach would be for both to have collaborated from the beginning on one event, pooling resources.

Too many times churches and ministries compete with each other. It may not be as extreme as the weekend trip above, but individual ministries get so focused on their own plans that they neglect to fit their events into the big picture. (Now, I could get spiritual, and say that if every ministry leader was hearing from God in their planning there would be a lot less conflicts, and that many times ministry leaders plan events because they think they have to be busy rather than for any spiritual need, but I won’t. That’s a whole other topic)

How do churches compete with themselves?

They forget that people have a limited amount of time they can/will devote to church activities and schedule too many “good” events.

There was a time when local churches could schedule an event every night and twice on Sunday, and the good people of the congregation would dutifully attend. Those days are over. People are just stupid busy.

If you schedule a special event that is at the same time as other events, do not be surprised when people don’t attend both (They wouldn’t even if attending didn’t break the space time continuum). When you schedule events in addition to the normal schedule every week do not be surprised when people choose which ones to come to, but do not choose to come to all of them. I once saw an event scheduled right after church on Mother’s Day. And when it was poorly attended they still didn’t understand that the reason was because people want to spend time with family on Mother’s Day.

When thinking about adding anything to the calendar, look at how many times people have been asked to do something, and how long they will have been at the church. If you have asked them to do 3 things already (Sunday services, Wednesday Night, small groups?), be very intentional about adding a 4th.

Individuals ministries operate as an island rather than part of the whole.

A staff member that is on his own island may check his own calendar, and even make sure that the room he wants is available, but he does not look at what else is going on. It’s OK with him if some classes keep meeting, because he is not over that class and does not have the decision making power to shut him down. So he ignores the other events and goes ahead with his own. His events are the ones that matter most, at least to him.

But the people who are the church do not compartmentalize ministries that way. They are involved across the gamut. A median adult couple may be involved in children, youth, adult, men and women, prayer, baptistry, media, parking, greeter, food services, missions and any number of other ministries. If you schedule a worship event over the top of a student event, you will force these couples to choose between them.

That’s not to say that either event is bad, or less important. But work together as a team to look at the whole of the church’s ministry, rather than just one small part of it. Respect the time of the people that actually are the church. Develop a cohesive disciple making strategy, not individual elements of ministry.

Ministries that work together just make more sense.

Amazon Cloud Player Works With iOS Devices

A few days ago several reports surfaced that Amazon had quietly upgraded the functionality of its cloud player, and now all iOS devices could use it.

I have been playing with it for a while. It streams about the same over 3G as it does over wifi, for me. There is a small lag time between tracks, but nothing you can’t handle. As the article linked above says, the controls are not designed for a small screen, so iPod/iPhone users will be scrolling a bit. You can see and use your playlists, at least the ones on top of you list of playlists (since I cannot get mine to scroll down).

This isn’t anywhere as nice as an app, or even a web app, would be. But it’s a start. As a result, i took most of my music off my 16GB phone to make room for apps and video. If need to hear a certain song that isn’t loaded, I can just use the cloud player. How long will it be before there is a reall app for this? I’ll bet people are working on it right now.

Cutting the Cord

We are going finally do it. We are going to finally get rid of cable TV, completely. I think.

When Hulu Plus came to the Xbox, all my excuses went away. Between that and Roku, I can see it in the living room and the bedroom. No need to pull out a computer, just grab a remote.

That seems to be the trigger for acceptance in my home. If we have to pull the laptop out and watch it there, we won’t. We never got Netflix until we had devices that could stream it. Just never thought it was worth it. But when we tried it with streaming, we loved it.

With Netflix and Hulu Plus we can see just about every show or movie we want. We have been hanging on to cable for access to local news and sports. I know justin.tv will stream most games, but I cannot stand to watch the quality. I pulled out a set of powered rabbit ears and hooked them up. We don’t get a lot of over the air channels.

My big question is what happens when football season comes around. My little set of rabbit ears still picks up a few channels, including Fox. But CBS is not strong enough for viewing. At least I can watch some games. If we choose to leave cable internet for DSL I may look at an exterior antenna. I could insert that signal into the existing cable network in my home.

Either way, missing out on a few channels isn’t that big of a deal for us, since we routinely load episodes of our favorite shows into our queues. But for some families, missing out on channel surfing is a problem.

I read an article a while back about some families who were in an experiment. They got various Internet TV boxes/services and cut cable. Then reported their experiences. Their main complaint was that watching TV became active. They could not just flip channels and watch something. This is a huge change from normal TV viewing.

My Netflix queue has dozens of titles in it. When I am bored on the computer, or remember a show, I’ll surf to the site and add things to the queue. Right now it would take us weeks to watch everything that is loaded without ever loading another show.

Still, having a lot of shows you want to watch isn’t the same as flipping channels, though. I was talking about this with some people at lunch the other day. One said that we needed Pandora for TV. That’s not a bad idea. Some sort of Netflix “Suggestions for You” on overkill. Just select a show, and then get a list shows like that one to try. Sort of like Apple’s Genius playlists generated from ratings you submit. Still won’t be quite the same as flipping, but would provide some of that random stumble upon a show experience.

The biggest annoyance of Hulu Plus is that even though you pay a monthly fee, not every show is available for viewing everywhere. Some are web only. Scanning through available networks I was so happy to see shows from the speed network. I promptly added a few. Only to realize that they were available to view only through the website. Epic fail.

It’s bad enough that I still have to sit through commercials (although if you have cable TV you pay more for the privilege of sitting through more ads.) but any show available on Hulu.com should be valuable to your premium subscribers. Some of the web only shows were not current season, first-run, they were older episodes from older show. It is just a matter of what rights Hulu had been granted.

But Netflix doesn’t have that problem. And some shows that are web only in Hulu are available on any screen through Netflix. Looks like Hulu needs to get better at negotiating.

Still, paired together, Hulu Plus and Netflix should take care of most people’s needs for video entertainment. The easier it is for people to watch this content, the more people will adopt it. The cable companies have a small window to figure out how to stay in the video content delivery business. Some providers have been trying, but there is a lot of mush out there right now.

Netflix and Hulu Plus provide an alternative to cable/satellite providers that is available right now.

I’ll keep you updated.

It’s a Social World, and There is No Going Back

In what was I’m sure a first this morning, we asked our congregation not to post details of a personal testimony on social networks. No Facebook, twitter or youtube, please. It’s a first because I’m sure we’ve never had a need to even think about asking before.

We had invited a guest speaker, and he was sharing his personal story. Because of his public work, he had asked that we not invite any media to the services. Of course, they found out about it anyway.

A newspaper reporter was in the congregation on Saturday night. It took about 2 hours for his story to appear online, and then in the paper the next morning. The story shared a detail that the speaker had specifically asked not be mentioned in the media. That detail was a major part of the story.

One could argue that if he said it from the pulpit, it’s fair game. Talking to a crowd of about 1500 that night, and thousands more the next day, anything said to that number of people is out. There is no containing it, even without electronic social media. But to make it a principle element of a news story? Poor taste. Of course it went out online, and now multiple news sources have picked it up. It’s a small story, probably not going to get national attention, but it was still something personal.

This morning we made a point to ask our people not to share details of his story. No video taping and no social media. I can understand why we were asked to do this. The details of his story were very personal, and he endures a higher level of scrutiny than most people.

But, we live in a social world. There is not much that remains private when said in public anymore. Previously, you had to be unlucky enough to have a reporter around for something shared in confidence to leak out. But today millions of people can simply snag their smart phones and publish quotes at will on any number of networks, accessed by millions. Even though we asked, and most people showed discretion and refrained from posting, it took me about 3 seconds to find a quote I know the speaker would not want out in public. It’s nothing like what it could have been if we had not agreed to ask for restraint from those in attendance, but it’s out there.

The only way to keep something you don’t want quoted from leaking out to the social world we live in is to not say it. The world is turning transparent. People who live in glass houses… should buy drapes. Don’t say something to a group if you don’t want it repeated. The world is social now, and everything is fodder for that. There is no going back.