Amazon

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Naty just noticed that our latest edition is up on Google Books. It’s the usual deal, about 20% of the book is excerpted. Between this and Amazon’s Look Inside, a fair bit of the book is at your fingertips.

By the way, if you are the author of an out-of-print book, please do get it 100% up on Google Books, if you can. Even if it’s dated, it captures where the field was at a particular time – at the least you’re helping future archaeologists. First step is to get the rights back. Contact your publisher and ask. It’s not a high priority for any of them, but they usually have no reason to hold onto the rights and will freely return these, or so I’m told. After that, well, I’ve personally never done step two, but I’d hope it’s not an arduous process to get Google Books to list it. If anyone has experience in this area, please do speak up.

In other news, the Amazon Stock Market for our book had a sudden uptick. Interestingly, Barnes and Noble kicked its price up the same week. Just a coincidence, I’m sure. The May 10th uptick was no doubt due to Mother’s Day and the busy summer reading season; our book is a chick magnet when casually left out on your beach blanket.

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I’ll get back to actual informational posts realsoonnow when I have some time, but I had to put this up immediately.

Amazon sent this one on to me, a book recommendation entitled Polygon Mesh: Unstructured Grid, 3D Computer Graphics, Solid Modeling, Convex Polygon, Rendering, Vertices, Computational Geometry. I am a bit sad there’s no cover image nor “Look Inside!” feature; it’s these little touches that no doubt would have convinced me to lay out $47 for such a fine-sounding volume, even though it’s only 88 pages long. The book Rasterisation: Vector Graphics, Raster Graphics, Pixel, Rendering, 3D Computer Graphics, Persistence of Vision, Ray Tracing by the same editor has a nice cover (though no “Look Inside!”), but at $62 is just a dollar too much for me.

The first of three editors for both books, Lambert M. Surhone, has 18,247 books that he’s worked on personally. Miriam T. Timpledon and Susan F. Marseken are also pretty productive, with 17,697 titles each. If they would only take a chance to break out and edit their own books, they could overtake Lambert in no time, I’m sure.

Welcome to Betascript Publishing. The idea is to grab (possibly) related Wikipedia pages, print them out, and put them in a book. More about this here. I don’t know who would buy such books, but I guess you need just 100 customers to net you perhaps $5000 or more. Peculiar. I expect with 18,247 titles, there are likely to be a hundred that sound like real books. The part that is sad to me is to see such books listed on foreign bookseller pages. I guess the good news is that the system works only once per customer, though I would guess the next step is to make 18,247 imprint names with 18,247 different editor names.

I thought the editors’ names were perhaps anagrams. Using the Internet Anagram Server, the first combination for each name is:

Lambert M. Surhone gives Blather Summoner

Miriam T. Timpledon gives Immolated Imprint

Susan F. Marseken gives Frankness Amuse

Probably just a coincidence. Anyway, I am frankly unamused by the idea of books automatically being produced, then automatically being recommended by Amazon, given that some people will undoubtedly pay for something they could get for nothing.

Now I just need an AI that will automatically buy these with robo-dollars and the cycle will be complete. Really, better yet would be to write a script that would automatically post a review for each one and note the content is free on Wikipedia. That would be the best automation of all.

Update: I wrote Amazon to complain. They reply (among other boilerplate sentences), “As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking.” They forgot the words “and pay us.” No one in their right mind seeks to pay for information they could get for free. It turns out Betascript is just one of three imprints under VDM Publishing – reading the Wikipedia article on VDM Publishing is fascinating, especially the discussion section. Amazon currently lists 38,909 Alphascript and 18,289 Betascript books, plus 321 books in German by Fastbook Publishing.

If you’re as disgusted by Amazon’s behavior as I am, I suggest two strategies: write and complain (and get a boilerplate response, but enough complaints might add up) by going here and clicking on Contact Us in the right column, and post 1-star reviews for any of these you run across, e.g., mine here – something to do while waiting for your code to compile.

Update: as of January 24th, 2011, Alphascript is up to 112,420 titles and Betascript has 230,460 titles. What a crock – shame on you, Amazon. Sadly, Miriam and Susan never caught up to Lambert: he has 230,535 titles to his name, while they each have only 69,395.

One more update: see my followup article here.

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Some great bits have accumulated. Here they are:

  • I3D 2010 paper titles are up! Most “how would that work?!” type of title: “Stochastic Transparency”.
  • Eurographics 2010 paper titles are up! Most intriguing title: “Printed Patterns for Enhanced Shape Perception of Papercraft Models”.
  • An article in The Economist discusses how consumer technologies are being used by military forces. There are minor examples, like Xbox controllers being used to control robotic reconnaissance vehicles. I was interested to see that BAE Systems (a company that isn’t NVIDIA) talk about how using GPUs can replace other computing equipment for simulation at 1/100th the price. Of course, Iraq knew this 9 years ago.
  • I wish I had noticed this page a week ago, in time for Xmas (where X equals, nevermind): Christer Ericson’s recommended book page. I know of many of the titles, but hadn’t heard of The New Turing Omnibus before – this sounds like the perfect holiday gift for any budding computer science nerd, and something I think I’d enjoy, too. Aha, hmmm, wait, Amazon has two-day shipping… done!
  • A problem with the z-buffer, when used with a perspective view, is that the z-depths do not linearly correspond to actual world distances along the camera’s view direction. This article and this one (oh, and this is related) give ways to get back to this linear space. Why get the linear view-space depth? Two reasons immediately come to mind: proper computation of atmospheric effects, and edge detection due to z-depth changes for non-photorealistic rendering.
  • Wolfgang Engel (along with comments by others) has a great summary of order-independent transparency algorithms to date. I wonder when the day will come that we can store some number of layers per pixel without any concern about memory costs and access methods. Transparency is what kills algorithms like deferred shading, because all the layers are not there at the time when shading is resolved. Larrabee could have handled that… ah, well, someday.
  • Morgan McGuire has a paper on Ambient Occlusion Volumes (motto: shadow volumes for ambient light). I’ll be interested to see how this compares with Volumetric Obscurance in I3D 2010 (not up yet for download).

Amazon Stock Market update: one nice thing about having an Amazon Associates account is that prices at various dates are visible. The random walk that is Amazon’s pricing structure becomes apparent for our book: December 1st: $71.20, December 11-14: $75.65, December 18-22: $61.68. Discounted for the holidays? If so, Amazon’s marketing is aiming at a much different family demographic than I’m used to. “Oh, daddy, Principia Mathematica? How did you know? I’ve been wanting it for ever so long!”

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… at least judging from an email received by Phil Dutre which he passed on. Key excerpt follows:

Dear Amazon.com Customer,

As someone who has purchased or rated Real-Time Rendering by Tomas Moller, you might like to know that Online Interviews in Real Time will be released on December 1, 2009.  You can pre-order yours by following the link below.

With a title-finding algorithm of this quality, Amazon appears to be in need of more CS majors.

Don’t fret, by the way, I’ll be back to pointing out resources come the holidays; things are just a bit busy right now. In the meantime, you can contemplate Morgan McGuire’s gallery of real photos that appear to have rendering artifacts or look like computer graphics. It’s small right now – send him contributions!

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At long last, in stock

Lately I’ve been looking at Amazon’s listing of our book daily, to see if it’s in stock. Finally, today, it is, for the first time ever, a mere 40 days after its release. Not our publisher’s fault at all (A.K. Peters rules, OK?), and the book’s not that popular (AFAIK); it evidently just takes awhile for the books delivered to percolate out into Amazon’s system. Amazon under-ordered, so I believe by the time the books they first ordered made it to the distribution centers, they were already sold out, making the book again out of stock. Lather, rinse, repeat. So maybe I should be sad that it’s now in stock.

Anyway, the amusing part of visiting each day has been looking at the discount given on the book. It’s nice to see a discount at all, as Amazon didn’t discount our previous book for the first few years. With the current 28% discount, it means our new edition is effectively $5 less than the previous edition’s original price. Which cheers me up, as I like to imagine that students are saving money; my older son will be in college next year, and any royalties I make from our book will effectively get recycled over the next four years in buying his texts. His one book for a summer course this year was a black & white softbound book, 567 pages, and cost an astounding (to me) $115, and that was “discounted” from $128.95. I’m now encouraging my younger son to skip college and go into the lucrative field of transistor repair.

Amazon’s discount has varied like a random walk among four values: 0%, 22%, 28%, and 33%. Originally, in July, it was list price, then the discount was set at 33% (so Amazon was paying more for the book than they were selling it for), then back to normal, then 33%. Around August 14th I started checking once a week or so and also looking at Associates sales (a program I recommend if you’re a book author, as it’s found money – it pays for this website). Again the book went back to no discount, then on August 20th started at 0%, went to 22% off, then 33% off, all in the same day. The next day there was no discount, then the day after it went back to 33%. August 28, when I checked again, it was at 22%, and this discount held through the end of the month. On September 1st it went up to 28% off, and there it’s been for a whole 9 days.

The oddest bit was that, in searching around for prices (Amazon’s is indeed the best, at least as of today), I noticed that the first edition of our book, from 1999, sells used for twice as much or more than our new book. Funny world.

By the way, if you are looking to write a book and want to understand royalties and going rates a little bit better, see my old article on this topic. Really, it’s not my article, it’s a collection of responses from authors I know. Some of it’s a bit confrontational and might make you a little paranoid, but I think it’s worth a read. If you’re writing technical books to get rich, you’re fooling yourself, but on the other hand there’s no reason to let someone take advantage of you. My favorite author joke, from Michael Cohen via John Wallace, is that there are dozens of dollars to be made writing a book, dozens I tell you. It can be a bit better than that if you’re lucky, but still comes out to about minimum wage when divided by the time spent. But for me it’s a lot more fun and educational work than flipping burgers, and the money is not why we wrote our book. We did it for the wild parties and glamorous lifestyle.

Update: heh, that didn’t last long. I wrote this entry Sept. 9th. As of the 10th, the book is (a) out of stock again and (b) down to a 2% discount. 2%?! Truly obscure.

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The book’s not quite shipping yet, but at this point Amazon has it heavily discounted, 33% off. I’m happy about this, as it makes the book cheaper than the second edition, which wasn’t discounted at all by Amazon until recent years. The weird bit is that this discount was available a few weeks back, then was gone when I checked last weekend. Someone let me know today that it’s back, and I just ordered an extra copy (this discount is higher than my author’s discount at AK Peters). I’ve noticed a strong correlation between the discount’s availability and the humidity in Flagstaff multiplied by the average hourly meteor siting rate in Anchorage. In other words, I have no clue when someone will wake up at Amazon and realize they’re paying more for the book than they’re selling it for (it’s true: my publisher said so).

While I’m thinking of it: Naty and I will be at the AK Peters’ booth at SIGGRAPH from 12:30 to 1:30 pm on Wednesday.

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