Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Electronic Textbooks

This post is an expansion of a comment I made on the blog Some Space to Think, specifically on "Blood From a Stone," a blog post about electronic publishing. Someone made the comparison between RPG books and textbooks and wondered what textbooks would be doing electronically in the future.

I work in textbook publishing (originally as an editor for an imprint of Harcourt, now as a freelancer) and I think that RPG books to textbooks is a valid comparison.

However, I haven't seen much progress on that front in the projects I've worked on over the past few years. Most publishers that I've worked with take one of two approaches to e-textbooks: online content distribution through courses presented via proprietary web sites or multimedia CD-ROMs bundled along with a printed book.

The web-based courses typically chunk text content into small pieces and incorporate links to video, audio, databases, and primary sources. In the best cases they can improve utility. But, sad to say, I've never been impressed by the aesthetics or layout.

The CD-ROMs have uniformly sucked. They almost always require the installation of some proprietary software and when that crashes, there's insufficient tech support from the publisher and no local IT for the teacher.

Neither of these approaches is innovative. As it stands now, the textbook business is pretty conservative in terms of technology.

Partly that's because many school boards and teachers are conservative and/or lack the funds to do more than put a few computers in a classroom and subscribe to a proprietary database for research. Partly it's because the cost of producing a technically sophisticated, attractive textbook is pretty high given the skill sets and expertise of their existing staff. Yet people won't pay as much for the electronic version as they will for the hardcopy.

We used to argue that the solution might be offering electronic textbooks as annual subscriptions, with each year providing updates. Fewer big influxes of cash from large book orders balanced out by a steadier revenue stream. But there's some evidence that if you make it too easy to jump publishers, then districts will do so with more regularity. That scares sales people. And you still need to have the display media in place.

The textbook industry is hemorrhaging money and employees right now, so perhaps there is room for a big paradigm shift.

But given that the publishers are conservative and their real customer base (the school boards and teachers who make the buying decisions) tends to be conservative about technology (because in addition to buying it, they have to maintain it*, and I've never seen a school district that had the IT staff it needed) I don't expect any great innovations soon.

If suitable display devices become common enough (such as cheap laptops for every student or some much cheaper version of an iPad), the first thing most publishers will probably do is put out .pdfs of their textbooks, because those are the easiest files for them to create.

*This is a commonly overlooked factor in the quest to put technology in classrooms. Teachers get incredibly frustrated when technology crashes. At the university level, my wife has tech support, but even then she has to have backup plans in place, and that's just to wing a one-hour lecture when the technology fails. Plus to replace a textbook you need a portable device, because the students will need to use it at home. Once it leaves the school anything valuable and electronic is in all kinds of danger.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Once More Into the Breach

I go to send off my Acer laptop to their repair center for the THIRD time. The first two times I paid for shipping and they did the work for free. Which was good, as they didn't fix anything either time. (Well, the first time they replaced the hard drive--supposedly--but that didn't really help much.)

This time my issue has been "escalated" to Level 2 and Acer is paying the FedEx shipping costs. The system is still under warranty.

What I asked for what either a refund or a replacement laptop. Apparently I need to get to level 3 for that.

It's all sort of darkly humorous at this stage. They sent me a FedEx shipping number and a list of authorized places to drop the laptop off at. But no address to ship it to. I asked if I was supposed to ship it to the same repair center that I used the first two times. They sent a reply repeating my question and then not answering it, instead stating that I can drop it off at any of the authorized locations they sent me earlier, but the shipping number is good for only 48 hours. Just in case, I copied that other address and I'm bringing it along. In case, you know, they want a shipping destination. Maybe the shipping number provides that, but it would be brand new in my experience if it did.

I suppose this is all marginally better than a company that sells the computer and refuses to honor the warranty or that never replies to any communications from customers. But I'm not reassured by the fact that no one at any stage in the process has asked me for followup details on the laptop problems when their fixes didn't work. It's kind of a paternalistic system (send it in, we'll fix it, don't worry), but the pater familias in charge seems to be senile.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Saga of My Crappy Acer Aspire

Is, like many classic sagas, a tragedy.

I bought my Acer Aspire 5738-Z* laptop from Amazon a few weeks before Christmas for about $525. That meant my deadline for getting an 80% refund for returning the laptop was Jan. 31, 2010.

*Don't ever buy an Acer product. I would animate this warning with flashing red and blue warning lights and a siren noise if I knew how.

Oh, how I wish I had bitten the bullet then instead of trying to get the problems fixed.

I've returned the computer TWICE to the Acer Repair Center in Temple, Texas, which is apparently staffed by inbred mechanics struggling to manipulate their flipper-hands through an alcohol-induced haze while listening to country music. Once it arrived, they apparently decided not to examine the error messages I sent or to actually test the computer. They simply reloaded the operating system. Oh, and they claimed to have replaced the hard drive at one point, but since I kept experiencing the same problem when it came back, I really have no way of knowing if they just made that up.

I had to pay to package and ship the laptop both times. So I'm out another $30 or so, plus my time, right there.

My last email to the Acer service center, which promises to respond within 24 hours, has still not received a reply some three months later. Opening a repair ticket is a bit easier, but doesn't allow you to communicate with anyone. The notes attached to the defective laptop each time it returns are terse, like the pronunciations of a weather-beaten cowboy as he squints at the horizon. "Reloaded hard drive," he says. There's no response at all to the specific problems I've noted, or the error codes cited, or the questions I've asked. It's a drop-down menu of fortune cookie tech support wisdom.

I have high hopes that my current email to Acer might generate more than the automated response. Well, that's not true. I have a little bit hope. That's all I'm left with at this stage after Acer has managed to underwhelm my expectations with practiced ease.

This suicidal laptop has literally spent more time at the repair center or in the mail than it has sitting on my desk, said sitting time itself exceeding by an order of magnitude the amount of time that it has actually been on before the inevitable crash.

I suspect it's a hardware problem, given that the machine will crash regardless of the application being run (or attempting to run). It could be a Windows 7 problem. Because I am more of a nerd than a geek, the distinction doesn't matter to me at all. I've already spent more than enough time trying system restore discs, installing and reinstalling software, and browsing arcane tech forums.

Here's an idea: when you charge somebody more than $500 for a piece of equipment, it should work at the most basic level. That is, you should be able to use a fancy Windows 7 laptop to actually check your mail, look at a website, read a file, or compose a document before it blows up in your face. Without having to resort to a bunch of bizarre fixes and work-arounds. My fucking first generation iPod can do all of that except compose the document.

Acer screwed up somewhere with this product and it has cost me $550+ and many man-hours to this point to own something that doesn't work. I don't anticipate ever getting even a portion of my money back or of having a functioning machine. It has disappointed the kids so many times now that after it came back from the last "official" repair and we tried to get them to watch a movie on it, they started complaining. "It's just going to crash!"

And they were right.

So, Acer, until you make this right and stop jerking me around and wasting more of my money on pointless faux-repairs, YOU SUCK. I wish the worst business luck upon your company. I hope your stock falls, your products get recalled, and you become a laughingstock of the industry. And I hope your "Repair" Center in Temple, Texas is demolished and the ground sown with salt.

BECAUSE THIS WAS A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR MY CHILDREN, THE WORST CHRISTMAS GIFT EVER. And after building this piece of shit, you have dangled promises of fixing it over my head for three months, stringing me along as I try to tell my kids that maybe they'll have a cool, up-to-date computer at their disposal for work and play, because dad thought buying a video game console was a cop-out when they could do so much more cool stuff with a laptop if I spent a bit more.

SO FUCK YOU, ACER. Because you are very, very close to the point where you've worn me down and I just can't muster enough energy to care about this any more, at which point you will have my money and I will have a shiny blue rectangle with rounded edges and a high-def screen that isn't even useful as a paperweight.

Don't buy an Acer. Of any kind. Ever.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Small Government Myths

I could never figure out where Bush's credentials as being a small government guy came from, other than his penchant for cutting taxes, thus shrinking federal revenue while he was busy increasing federal expenses.

How exactly did George W. Bush shrink the size, power, and cost of the federal government during his eight years in office?

Was the government budget higher or lower in 2008 than in 2000? How about the deficit? Did the bureaucracy shrink? Did the amount of money pouring into government from lobbyists get larger or smaller? Did the federal government have more power over its citizens in 2008 or 2000? Was the national military bigger or smaller? Was the Constitution in safer hands? Was the government more likely to pry into your private affairs or less likely? More likely to tell your local independent school district how to run things or less likely?

Bush just accelerated the focus of big government from protecting the rights and well-being of citizens to protecting the rights and profits of corporations.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making Shit Up: The Conservative Case for Torture

Interesting article in the New Yorker dissecting the half-truths and outright lies that make up former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen's "Courting Disaster," a defense of the Bush administration's pro-torture interrogation agenda.

I seen this sort of thing all the time coming out of the Bush camp: the references to secret documents that support one side, testimony of experts who are not in fact experts on the subjects they are commenting on, the attempts to ignore any policy criticisms that emerged from within the administration to preserve the illusion of a united front, and the blatant rewriting of facts. It's straight big tobacco lobby tactics across the board.

It emerges in claims like these:
  • Obama dismantled the pro-torture Bush stance (when Bush himself did it in 2006 in response to criticism),
  • Bush could never have known anything about the dangers of al Qaeda (yet somehow Clinton still could have)
  • Bush didn't change the justification for the war with Iraq after the fact
  • Obama and his democratic cronies are trying to create a police state (ironically, using the very laws that Bush and the Republicans pushed through as necessary for national security and promised would never be abused . . . until they didn't have the gun in their hands anymore, of course)
It's fortunate that we live in a country where the message is controlled by the liberal media, so we never have to worry about this sort of thing getting widespread distribution to people who never, ever look anything up. . . oh wait, that's a load of bullshit.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tea Party Racists and Conservative Apologists

So you can read about the recent displays of Tea Party bigotry here at CNN, here at the AP, here on Slate, here on Salon.

In the comments section on the short Slate article, one particularly brilliant reader opined:
  • "Tea party protesters know any racist behavior on their part will be the sole focus of all the news coverage of their protests so they have everything to loose and nothing to gain from racist behavior. This leads me to believe those shouting racial slurs are plants who want to discredit the tea party protesters."
There are so many things wrong with this statement that it is painfully funny. Let's go step-by-step.
  1. The racist behavior was not, in fact, "the sole focus of all the news coverage" of the protests. As you can see in the links above, this aspect was buried in the AP story and if you look up the protest coverage on CNN, you don't get the article I linked to at all; you get a longer article that links, near the bottom, to the racist events that took place. The Fox News article on the protest didn't mention the racist chants at all. What a surprise! So, the first half of the first sentence is simply, factually, incorrect.
  2. The racist behavior on the part of Tea Party members has been going on for some time in many parts of the country. It hasn't slowed them down a bit, nor has it led to any serious backlash from GOP members who support the movement. A handful have criticized the use of racist slurs, but never when they were at a rally where they were taking place. GOP members just say that hey, the people saying that aren't our real people. As far as the image of Tea Partiers being hurt with non-conservative constituencies . . . um, that ship has sailed.
  3. Oh, and it's "lose," not "loose." Looser.
  4. The idea that the Democrats have cleverly planted faux racists among the ranks of true blue Tea Partiers is interesting, the way that it's interesting when someone talks to you about black helicopters, the evidence that the Moon landings were faked, or the anti-mind control properties of their tinfoil hat. Plus, of course, this guy is completely pulling the claim out of his ass.
  5. Moreover, what always strikes me about these sorts of claims is that conservative Republicans think of these bizarre angles so quickly because IT'S EXACTLY THE SORT OF SHIT THEIR POLITICAL HANDLERS WOULD DREAM UP if they were running the opposition to something. Nothing more fearsome than the thought that the other guys might do to you what you're planning to do to him.
This comment was vivisected in the way you'd pretty much expect on a forum read by anybody who isn't a dittohead or a member of the Bill O-Reilly Fan Club. But this was followed up by one guy who just had to use his immense accumen to make this observation:
  • [name withheld to protect the ignorant], let's see if I can summarize most of the responses to your post:

    1. RACIST!!!1!1one!!1

    Yeah, that's about it. No responses to your argument, or evidence that the event ever happened.
Let me go through this one, because it is also funny.
  1. I'm not sure what to make of the "!!1!1one!!1" string. Perhaps it's a special code. [EDIT: It has been explained to me that this is a special Internet thing mocking someone's lack of self control . That the guy who made this post is confident enough to be mocking other people is even more amusing. It's like someone writing a crappy answer on an exam and then underlining it for emphasis.]
  2. The next bit is fundamentally wrong on two counts. First, it stretches the definition of "argument" to include "wild-ass claim I plucked from nowhere, unsupported by evidence." But let's grant that bit. There were in fact responses to the substance of the original poster's argument. People commented that it was ludicrous, irrational, and one person actually provided alternate examples of racist behavior behaved in by Tea Party supporters at other times and places. These are no doubt confusing to the second quoted poster, because they involve actually reading words and formulating responses to those words, rather than looking into a sack of "handy-dandy conservative sound bites" and tossing out a specious claim. "They're not responding to your argument just because, in addition to pointing out that your argument was weak, they noted that you were likely being knowingly deceptive or simply stupid for advancing such a weak argument." Oh, and by the way, advancing such a pathetic case in defense of racists implies rather strongly that you are at the very least sympathetic to said racists.
  3. I'm really not sure what the second quoted poster means when he refers to a lack of "evidence that the event ever occurred" cited by other posters. If he means a lack of evidence that the racist events ever took place, well, several things are wrong with that claim. To begin with, it's not the job of commenters to verify the facts of the story they are commenting upon--those claims are made in the news story itself. Then there's the fact that these events were reported by a variety of news agencies: look at the I cited above. Of course, Fox News ignored it, so perhaps it does not exist for this individual. So there's a large amount of evidence.
  4. But perhaps our second poster got confused, as he was all the way into his second sentence and could have been losing his train of thought. Perhaps he meant to say that the other commenters had provided no evidence that the conspiracy hypothesized by the first poster had not taken place. If that sentence read a little strange, it's because trying to prove that something did not take place is tricky. It's even trickier when what you're supposed to find is evidence that disproves the ludicrous rant that someone pulled out of their ass or dictated from the scary voices that whisper in their ears as they are standing in line at the post office, DMV, or other agency of the devil. Can we agree that asking people to provide evidence to contradict an argument for which no evidence was ever offered in the first place is kind of asking the other side to do all the heavy mental lifting in your supposed debate? Kind of lazy, but typical for conservative spinmeisters. Not that this guy is a meister at any level.
The impressive thing is that these two managed to shove so many errors into two such short expressions of their inner conservative. But that's one thing that works to the advantage of such dittoheads: it takes much longer to thoroughly expose and dissect their flaws than it does to spew them out.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Longhorns are a Very Dumb Team: Coincidence?

Texas just solidified its status as one of the dumbest, most poorly coached teams in the country by pissing away an overtime game against Wake Forest, which also happens to excel at boneheaded plays and has an awful coach.

The end of regulation was hilarious. Texas missed a two-foot shot for the lead, then Wake got a jump ball. Wake could have sealed the game, but their player ran the baseline, which is only legal after a made shot. Unforced turnover. Then Texas gets a foul and its supposed star player bricks the freethrow that could have won the game.

In overtime, Texas raced to an eight point lead and got the ball with 2:30 left. They followed that up with: a stupid offensive foul, failing to box anybody out on an offensive rebound slam dunk, a 90% freethrow shooter bricking two freethrows, leaving the same guy open on a slam dunk, two free throws, leaving a three point shooter wide open, bricking two MORE freethrows to leave it a one point game, and giving up the game winning jumper. If Texas had been able to shoot better than 2 of 6 from the line, been able to box the same guy out, remembered to guard the three point line when a two-pointer would not have hurt them, or perhaps just played like their heads weren't wedged up their asses, they would have won. Wake tried very hard to give this game to them.

Now an awful Wake Forest team gets a win. Though if Texas had won, it would have been another terrible team getting a win. Basically this matchup should never have been made: neither of these teams could beat anybody competent in the tournament and neither deserved a win.

Hmmm. Texas has bad educational standards and wants to make them worse; the Texas basketball and football teams are notorious for making braindead, stupid plays. Coincidence?

Full disclosure: I went to the University of Texas.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Texas Changing its Social Studies Standards

A few people have asked me about my views on this. There's an article here at NPR and another one here at Salon. But what do I think?

All State Standards Influence Textbooks in Some Fashion
I think it's a little disingenuous to say that Texas is the only state where a big central committee sets standards that every K-12 school district has to follow, because I've been asked many, many times to write or edit social studies textbook material to conform to statewide standards in other states, including California, Florida, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, etc.

Think of it this way: you can say that a district is free to adopt whatever books its wants to teach the curriculum. But if the state has a standardized test, and most states do, then the curriculum had better prepare kids for that test. So textbooks are influenced by the tests. And what do you think influences the questions that are put on those tests? The state standards. Plus, publishers don't like to take risks. They will typically look at sticking to the official standards for a state as being the path of least resistance in terms of entering the market. It's also an easier way to gather information; in this economy, everything is being cut, and you don't have solid feedback on the desires of every school district. Not that you'd act upon it anyway, because . . .

Being Big Matters More Than Being Right

It is absolutely true that changes made in Texas influence what happens in the rest of the country. Not because other states care so much what Texas does, but because multiple publishers will compete for the Texas market and write books to fit its standards. They ain't going to do that for Mississippi, New Mexico, Arkansas, etc. The guy is being a little generous to the textbook industry, I think, in terms of how modular it really is. They'll do a lot of supplemental ancillaries and handbooks geared to specific smaller states, but big, five hundred page four color hardcover books at a price those districts can afford? Good luck!

Those Who Forget History Are Going to Get Excited by the Same Old Shit
, Or The Conservative Two Step in Texas Has Been Going on for Over a Decade Now
All the biz stuff aside, the Texas Essential Knowledge Skills, which were followed up by some other acronym and are now at risk of being replaced by this latest wave of crap: the Texas educational standards have always skewed conservative. Fifteen years ago they were complaining about liberal bias and working to institute a bunch of changes. I had to rewrite and edit two unique textbook chapters created just for Texas on the Civil War and Reconstruction because their points of emphasis were so damned different from every other major market in the country.

Now they want to put Jefferson Davis's inaugural address next to Abraham Lincoln's address as if the two were equivalent in quality, historical significance, or even impact at the time they were delivered. You know what that reminds me of? Twelve years ago I had to add a bunch of material, including primary documents, on the Anti-Federalists to counterbalance the discussion of the Federalist Papers. Why? Because the Anti-Federalists were opposed to a "big federal government" and the Texas conservatives wanted the seeds of that stuff planted very, very early in the discussion of U.S. history.

As far as emphasizing free markets, I'm not sure what the hell else they could put in there to make it clearer that in America we believe that free markets are good and everything else is bad, because they wanted that stuff stuck into the colonial history as well, in spite of the fact that we didn't have a damn free market at the time, we had a mercantilist system. So that ship has already sailed as well.

Bringing It Up To Date
In fact, as far as I can tell the main thrust of this latest conservative push is to bring their arguments into the history of the twentieth century, reinterpreting the New Deal (and I recall there were standards downplaying that ten years ago as well), downplaying the civil rights movement, and trying to boost Reagan to Mt. Rushmore status. That's getting more attention now because people remember that shit happening and perhaps the conservative agenda strikes some of them as a little full of crap. But I see it as all part of an ongoing process that starting revising colonial U.S. history and then sweeping forward in time.

Communities, Parents and Teachers
Ultimately it will come down more to the teachers and the communities they teach in as far as how the textbooks get interpreted. You can have all the inclusive history you like in a book, but if the teachers poo-poo it and nobody is ever tested on it, it tends to go in one ear and out the other or never to be read at all. Same thing with the conservative history that tries to exclude mention of non-white men.

Some say that if you don't teach your kids to ask questions, they'll accept whatever they are told. I think that if they don't ask questions, they will believe whatever their community believes. And they're likely to believe it anyway. Texas has a lot of conservatives dominating public politics and discourse, though they spend a lot of time complaining about liberals, which is like complaining that the guy you just kicked the shit out of is bleeding on your boot.

Will It Even Matter? (It's the Economy, Stupid)
The interesting thing to me that doesn't seem to be getting mentioned is, changing the standards does absolutely nothing until (a) you implement tests to pressure teachers to enforce those standards and (b) you actually buy new textbooks with the revisionist history in them. The mandated changes in content don't just magically whisper themselves into the hearts and minds of students and teachers.

I can tell you as a freelancer that both of those processes have ground to a halt over the past year and a half due to state budget cuts. So until the money actually gets disbursed and districts actually spend it on ordering new books and somebody writes the new books and the new tests, this is all smoke and posturing. And this has to happen outside of Texas as well for the change to have the national effect. You know how No Child Left Behind was an unfunded mandate?

Ahistorical History
As a historian, my sad experience is that for people who aren't interested in putting some effort into studying the past and thinking about it, history is little more than a cultural product, like some sort of eternal brand you wear that carries with it a preconceived set of associated values. I'm an American, so by definition I can't be an imperialist, democracy and capitalism are inextricably linked together in spite of much evidence to the contrary, and I live in a melting pot where every real American assimilates. Facts and logic and consistent categorizations don't enter into it, just the story we want to tell. And please make it simple. We would like people to be all good or all bad, brave captains of industry or despicable oppressors of the working class, bloodthirsty savages or noble primitives. An Andrew Carnegie who got rich by creating a monopoly that would be illegal today and using violence against workers who didn't toe the line but then became a notable philanthropist isn't something we're comfortable with. Thomas Jefferson the brilliant philosopher and writer and Jefferson the slaveholder with illegitimate children is a problem, so we play up whichever story suits our interests.

One of the ludicrous qualities of this attitude is that it tends to fix history, as though the character of America never changed over time. If we are a free market society today, we must have always been a free market society, say the conservatives. If we value diversity today then we must have always valued diversity, say the liberals.

And the converse applies at times as well, at least for conservatives. Some deeply Christian people settled in a particular colony, and most people on the whole were more religious back then than they are today, so Christian religion is obviously a cornerstone of our federal government, even though the Founders didn't bother to make that explicit in their documents and actually argued against it. We should be now like we were then if we want to be real Americans. (Of course, if we want to be sticklers that would mean that Catholics and Quakers are persona non grata in our wonderful old-school America, because they were pretty widely disliked back then in spite of being Christian. Shhh.)

I find it kind of sadly amusing that the zealots on each side can't stop themselves from trying to change the presentation of our history. I'm more of a liberal than a conservative to be sure, but I've had moments where I had to slap my head at some requests from the left-wing to frame history the way they wanted. (Such as the request to please add a biography of a significant contemporary Hispanic to the chapter on the American Civil War.)

So in the end, history itself wins, because history is about change over time, about cycles, about people adapting or refusing to adapt to the change around them. And it won't stay fixed until there is nobody left to write it.

In the end, I suppose we get the history we deserve as a society.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Birthday Loot

So I had a delightful haul this year.

I got three graphic novels--Checkmate/Outsiders, The Invisibles: Say You Want a Revolution, and World Below--which I will read and probably comment on in my reading list in due course.

From my Wish List on Amazon, I also received an introductory guide to rhetoric and a collection of essays by scientists and engineers predicting what discoveries or developments will dramatically impact our future (This Will Change Everything). These both look very cool.

I received two New York Times crossword puzzle books, one with Tuesday puzzles (easy ones) and one with Wednesday puzzles (average ones) which is about all I can handle at this stage in my crossword puzzle development, though I do enjoy solving them.

My kids got me a set of DC action figures, the new ones that are smaller than the DC Animated style but have more articulation. It was a pretty cool limited edition Battle for Metropolis set they found discounted at Toys R Us, with Lex Luthor in battle armor, four Lexcorp troopers, Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, and Superman. The kids absconded with the figures almost immediately, but they eventually returned them and they are cool.

I did my usual sudden infatuation thing and tracked down a bunch of used, out of print hardcover books for the hard science fiction roleplaying game Blue Planet. I now have the Moderator's Guide, Player's Guide, Fluid Mechanics tech guide, First Colony city guide, Natural Selection planetary guide, and am awaiting the arrival of Frontier Justice, which details law and order. Now I need to make sure that I read the damn things. Odds of me ever actually playing this game? 5%. But if I enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed, say, the Transhuman Space books, then I'll get many hours of enjoyment in the year ahead.

And I received two of the Great Courses on DVD, Building Great Sentences and Games People Play: Game Theory. I hope to start watching these soon, learning some things of interest, and hopefully being able to apply them. If it goes well, I may look to get another of these courses for Christmas.

I think that's it. A LOT of material to read and/or absorb, but I consider that a win-win scenario. Either I don't get any freelance work in the near future and have the free time to enjoy this stuff, or the arrival of so many books leads to a contract offer, the way that washing your car helps ensure that it will rain soon.

Thanks to the wonderful people who fed my omnivorous reading habits! Rest assured that I will bore each of you with the fruits of my reading and researches at some future date.