TitleZ * RankForest

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Amazon sales ranks have become a surrogate for measuring actual sales online. When Amazon says a book ranks 2,000 it means it is the 2,000 besting selling book that hour; it doesn’t tell you how many were sold. In fact often a few copies sold can move a book’s rank, depending on time of day, week, or the rest of the world of books. (Use this chart to make a rough correlation between rank and copies sold if you really need to know.) Nonetheless, because these ranks are public (unlike bookstore sales) and easy to grab, they have become a great way for anyone to monitor how a book is selling. In the past it might take 6 months before sales of books were reported. Now authors and publishers with new books will check hourly to see if their rankings have been improved by a radio interview, or book review.

But you don’t need to be the author or publisher to have an interest in how a book is selling. Trendspotters long ago discovered that books are good canaries of ideas, and that monitoring clusters of books gives you a zeitgeist reading, very similar to Google’s Hot Trends, which monitors search terms over time. Also keep in mind you can track other things on Amazon besides books: CDs, games, software. You just need Amazon’s ID for each item.

While you can just check the Amazon page to see what a product’s ranking is, what you really want is something that constantly tracks an item and compiles the data into graphs, charts, and spreadsheets. There are several websites that do this. I previously recommended JungleScan, the original Amazon tracker, for a free way to track Amazon rankings. The site was abandoned last year (although its owner says he will revive up “someday.”)

TitleZ

TitleZ is a new free site (for now), It’s been in beta for years. You can track many books for free, and get some handsome graphs of their ranking. The good thing is that TitleZ will instantly give you the back history of a book’s ranking back to 2004. The downside of TitleZ is that you can’t export the data, or do much else.

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A TitleZ track of my 1994 book, above. Below is a comparison chart of my two books in print.

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-- KK  

TitleZ
Free as long as it’s in beta

There are other trackers out there, some catering to publishers, but these two are the best for non-publisher types.



Goog(le) 411

Directory assistance has always wanted to be free. Since it launched six months ago, Google’s foray into phone-based information for business listings has become the easiest, quickest, most efficient free 411 I’ve used. I’m amazed more people don’t have it programmed into their phones. Best part: there are no pre-roll ads.

Another well-known option is 1-800-FREE411, but it can take 20 seconds before the “What city and state?” finally arrives. With GOOG-411, the same prompt is delivered in 4 seconds. Time is precious, but even more so if you’re on a conservative plan with limited minutes. For that same reason (read: frugality), I’m less inclined to use SMS-based 411 or Google SMS.

GOOG-411 also connects your call to the business for free, so there’s no need to jot down or memorize any digits. Dialing “411″ and paying $2 is like flipping through one of Ma Bell’s analog phone books when you’ve got a connected laptop right in front of you — an easily-remedied symptom of a bygone era.

1-800-GOOG-411 Available from Google



U-Haul Box Exchange

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I have mixed feelings about U-Haul and their prices, but one thing they have done that is priceless is create and maintain a surprisingly helpful Box Exchange forum. It’s a standard web forum divided into geographical areas so people can request free used boxes or make theirs available for free or cheap. We just saved ourselves $250. After responding to two posts, we had something lined up in no time. We drove into the city (Manhattan) the next day from where we live in Jersey City and picked up a bunch of boxes in various sizes that were practically brand new — all for free. I basically ignored the “buy” forum as the “free” one was successful in under 24 hrs. We first tried Craigslist, but found that most people in our area at the time wanted money for boxes. From our experience, people on the U-Haul forum seemed willing to go a little out of their way to get rid of their boxes. Most of the posts are definitely from individuals, but interestingly, there were a couple of business disposing of boxes (we got ours from an electronics importer in Chinatown). We have not yet completed our big move to Wisconsin, but will be giving away our boxes the same way when we do.

-- Guil Barros  

[An alternative way to get free boxes in just the sizes and quantities you need is to go to a moving company's storage warehouse and just ask for used moving boxes. I got more boxes than I needed for a recent move in all sizes including large garment boxes from the local Beltman Group - North American Van Lines storage warehouse. They looked like they were used once and were like new. --Laral]

U-Haul Box Exchange
Available from U-Haul



Tape Op Magazine

Tape Op is the only music geek magazine worth buying — and it’s free. Widely eclectic and ever encouraging, the main premise seems to be “Try, and trust your ears.” Pro, semi-pro, and DIY info sits comfortably side-by-side. Pros read it, hobbyists read it, some kids read it, all get something from it. Tape Op will give step-by step demos of, for instance, modding a certain low-cost microphone to get more bang for the buck written by a guy who sell his own mics for thousands. Or they talk to a guy with a barn full of home-made analog synths or someone who makes music out of sounds from antique recordings. The mag offers information in all kinds of directions, but it only wants you to do your own thing with it, what ever that is. Tape Op’s philosophy: use your ears and twist some knobs, learn all you can, then forget about it. Standards are explained, history is explored first-person, but rules might be thrown out the window. An undercurrent regarding how unrealistic and difficult it is to run a studio coexists with inspiring tales about the pleasure and pride that comes from recording music. The contributors work hard in their own studios and know what they’re talking about. A large community of recordists supports contributing articles and a lively online Q and A page (later edited and published). Recent profiles have run the gamut from legendary producers/engineers to seriously indie/outsider recordists; all have a jones for doing what they do their own way.

A recent, typical issue reviewed a mic you can buy for a steal on eBay for $40 and a mic that streets for $7,000. They don’t waste time writing slagging reviews; they review only what might be useful to someone on some level. On one hand, you can learn a lot by reading about something you may never be able to afford. On the other, you see that despite how amazing, desirable and beautiful that thing is — and this where most music mags stop — you don’t really need it. It might be a great tool for someone, but you don’t have to need it. Record reviews, written in the same “we like this” spirit, lean indie and outside, but might go anywhere. I always read about something I don’t know, but wouldn’t mind hearing. It’s independently published and paid for by ads from all kinds of audio-related concerns, but beholden to no one, so it’s neither slick nor slimy. Other recording magazines often seem to be trolling for sales or hyping an image. Their editorial decisions are suspect, noising on about last year’s retreads, repeating a press release, offering the same tutorials you could find in another magazine — or the library(!). The ‘net offers a lot of basic DIY sites you can learn from, but will they print an interview with Rupert Neve, as issue by issue, you learn about the products that riff on his designs? How about talking to Rudy Van Gelder (who recorded all the classic Blue Note jazz) about taping John Coltrane in the living room of his parent’s house in New Jersey?

I’ve been subscribing since 1997-8 when a producer I met turned me onto it. There is absolutely nothing out there like it. Nowadays my job is production manager/soundcheck and rehearsal substitute/backline tech for a three-time Grammy winning artist. I work with and have hired top-notch audio pros and I learn a great deal from them. Tape Op has often given me insight that keeps me apace in our discussions and what I learn from them takes me deeper into the magazine. However, Tape Op also has allowed me to nourish a side-line in sound designing/composing for theatre when I am off the road. When no one’s paying me and I’m home with the kids asleep, I record my music or occasionally, friends. That is where the knife really gets sharpened and what I have taken in from Tape Op gets put to the test.

-- John Stovicek  

Tape Op Magazine
Free
Available from TapeOp.com



DailyLit

DailyLit sends you bite-sized chunks of public domain books (including many classics) daily, on weekdays, or three times a week via email or RSS — for free. Each serving takes less than five minutes to read, and if you want, they’ll send you the next installment right away if you click a link. So far, I’ve read “Bartleby, the Scrivner” — 18 segments over the course of 3 weeks or so — and I just signed up for Crime and Punishment – more than 240 segments! Yes, it may take 9 months to read, but I’m certainly more likely to finish it this way. I read them in my email reader (Thunderbird) and don’t print them out. The whole idea is to read short segments for a few minutes in your spare time. I’d imagine it would work well on a PDA or Blackberry if you have one (I don’t); if you have a long cab ride or something you can get the next segment immediately.

-- Jonathan Fromme  



Sheldon Brown’s Online Cycling Encyclopedia

Whether you’re looking to convert your road bike into a fixed gear or want to learn how a derailer functions, this site has all the info you could ever want — a giant glossary, bits of cycling history and plenty of specific instructions and photos.

I started doing home adjustments to my BMX when I was eight years-old. Always got hand-me-downs because I couldn’t afford the best parts, and sending my bike to a shop would have been more expensive than the parts. These days I am always working on a bike — either getting new bikes or always on the search to complete a vintage group of components.

Even with my experience, I’ve been using Sheldon’s site religiously for the last year and half, basically every week. When I purchased my first Italian frame last year, I needed the correct measurement for the bottom bracket, but had no idea where to find a figure I could trust. My friend recommended Sheldon’s site. Since then, his site has helped me purchase, repair and build two road bikes (my Gios Torino and a Tom Ritchey built Palo Alto). And I just picked up a Tommasini that will also need a complete overhaul (I am currently on a vintage Italian kick). When I first saw some Gios Torinos on Craigslist, I went to the site to get the lowdown for purchasing. I needed to know what the value is or isn’t, if the bike is rare or not and what to look for, and also signs of a knock off.

I’ve seen, in the process, just how precise Sheldon’s attention to detail is. I had no idea that there was English and Italian threading. I learned that Italian is 36 mm X 24 tpi and English is 1.370″ X 24 tpi. Sheldon has a chart that gives you the measurements for every BB out there, anything from French to Swiss. And I totally didn’t listen to his tip on Italian threaded bottom brackets and paid the price. He notes how Italian BB’s tend to work their way out while riding. I experienced that on my commute home from work one day and ended up eating it right in front of a huge crowd. I wound up pulling out my crank and rethreading it with a tiny bit of lock tight, just as he recommends. Since then, no troubles whatsoever.

Even if you have no interest in working on your bike or going deeper than the basics of maintenance, this site can really boost your understanding of how a bike works (it has in my case) and even how to ride. There are great tips for beginners, including articles like “Everything You Wanted To Know About Shifting Your Bicycle’s Gears, But Were Afraid To Ask.”

-- Benjamin Gaffney  

[Sheldon Brown (RIP) wrote a monthly column on maintenance and repairs for Bicycling Magazine in the late '70s and '80s; a number of them have been reprinted on his site -- SL]

Sheldon Brown’s Online Cycling Encyclopedia
Free
Available from Sheldon Brown



A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

If you’ve ever wondered how to model something, or were looking for new ideas for segmenting and presenting complex concepts, this is an incredible online resource. A neat graphical explanation and example of each “element” (ex; a cycle diagram) appears as soon as your cursor scrolls over them. What I like most is that the categorisers have thoroughly sliced the categorising! For instance, they’ve color-coded their categories: data, metaphor, concept, strategy, information, and compound visualisation techniques. As if that were not enough to spark your brain, the creators also provide clues as to whether the model works best for convergent or divergent thinking, and whether it is more for an overview vs. detailed perspective. So far, I have used it mostly for inspiration, especially the metaphor models, but this resource has given me ideas and structure and the appropriate language for my work as a process designer and facilitator. I also passed this onto a 7th grade teacher friend of mine who is using it with his entire class!

-- Jodie Engleberg  

A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods Free Available here Created by Dr. Martin J. Eppler & Ralph Lengler, University of Lugano, Switzerland

Sample Excerpts:



The Cook’s Thesaurus

Although it has been online for years, I only recently discovered this incredibly handy resource. Use this simple website to find substitutes for cooking ingredients. Say a recipe calls for buckwheat flour, which you most likely don’t have on hand. What do you use? Type in the term and presto: The links take you to an entry which will suggest alternatives. I also find the site helpful in quickly introducing myself to new ingredients. While not exhaustive, it lists about 90% of the ingredients you’ll probably encounter, including many exotics, usually with a helpful photo and a short summary of its origin. This thesaurus of ingredients is fast, simple, and just right.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

Pigeon Pea = goongoo pea = gunga pea = gungo pea = congo pea = congo bean = no-eyed peas = gandules Shopping hints: These are usually sold dried, but fresh, frozen, and canned peas also are available. They have a strong flavor, and they’re popular in the South and in the Caribbean. Substitutes: yellow-eyed peas OR black-eyed peas

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Jocoque = labin Notes: This is a Mexican product that’s halfway between buttermilk and sour cream. Substitutes: salted buttermilk OR sour cream OR yogurt OR crema




Animated Knots

All knots are knotty and hard to visualize the first time. This free website is the best knot teacher yet. It beats any of the beginner books I’ve seen, as well as all the other knot websites. The key here is the stepped animations synchronized with instructions, which you can run at any speed. Replay them till you get them right. Animated Knots is the next best thing to having old Pete next to ya. Once you get the basic ones down, try some of the harder ones. There are 75 cool knots animated in total.

-- KK  

Available at Animated Knots



Google SMS

Using my cell phone to Google is one of my favorite cool tools. When I’m on the road or out of my house, and want to find the phone number to a restaurant, movie times, or the Oakland A’s score I use my cell phone to ask Google (# is 46645). I even used it in a class to find the capital of Bhutan (Thimphu) and win a prize. My cell phone company charges me to send and receive text messages, but this is WELL worth the 20 cents to me. It answers back quickly (sometimes almost immediately after you send it, but usually within a minute or two), and accurately. You can convert currency, get directions, translate words, get weather forecasts, get word definitions. Without having to talk to anyone. A lost or confused introvert’s best friend.

-- Matt Salazar  

The steps (given by Google):
1. Start a new text message and type in your search query
2. Send the message to the number “46645″ (GOOGL)
3. You’ll receive text message(s) with results

Try it out here:
http://www.google.com/sms/