Amazon [Didn’t Steal] Money from Me

I recently wrote (Amazon: You can’t fire me, I quit!) about how is canceling the accounts of California residents because of the state’s attempts to get them to collect sales tax.

Today, I got the monthly report from Amazon describing my earnings. Out of curiosity I clicked the link to see my account balance. Here’s what I saw:

Alert Account Closed

This account is closed and will not generate referrals. Access to this site is for historical purposes only.

Your Payment History Unpaid Balance: $98.31

…followed by a list of previous commissions I had earned.

I’ve never actually received a check from Amazon. Their policy is to send you payment when you reach $100 in earnings. Which now, I will never do. Damn them.

Update 10/6/2011: They did send me a check after all, after deducting a $15 fee. I changed it to direct deposit so I should get a payment every $10 earned. Now that they’re allowing payments to California residents again, this post is moot.

Amazon: You can’t fire me, I quit!

You might have heard by now that has decided to discontinue the accounts of California residents, such as myself, due to a new California law requiring them to collect sales tax for sales to California residents. If you want to know the details, Google it. The point is, I’ve had Amazon links on my site for a while now, and over the past couple of years have not yet even reached the $100 minimum threshold to get paid for it, and now they’re cutting me off. That annoyed me, but what annoys me even more is that Amazon is trying to interfere with the state’s internal business. They’re even starting a petition to get something on the ballot to reverse it, and that really upsets me. I don’t want to get too political in this blog, but I really don’t think it’s OK for a company that claims it doesn’t have a presence in California to be trying to have a say in the state’s politics.

So I took off all the Amazon links (If I missed any, please let me know). I’m open to participating in other affiliate programs, but I’m done with Amazon.

Building instructions and buying my models

A while back I posted that I was considering how best to share building instructions for my creations. There were several comments on that post and also a few email exchanges I had with people over this topic, and I’ve also had a chance to discuss it in person with a few people at BrickCon in Seattle this past October. And what I’ve decided on is this:

  • I won’t give it away for free. Sorry if that’s disappointing, but although I am a big fan of open source software, the reason that works well is because the users can contribute back to the development of the software by adding features and fixing bugs, and submitting patches to the author. LEGO creations are fundamentally different from that, in that once I’ve created a design I’m really not interested in collaborating with other builders to change it. I might take some feedback and revise it based on that, but I’m not going to accept patches for my models. So the open source model doesn’t really suit my LEGO creations.
  • Similarly I am a fan of Creative Commons, but again the main benefit of that is the ability for people to incorporate my work (such as my photos, which are licensed with Creative Commons) into other works without having to jump through a lot of hoops to get approval. Some of my photos have been used by Web sites and even mainstream news sources because of this. But I don’t think that would translate into LEGO model designs.
  • I won’t use LEGO Digital Designer (LDD) because you give up too many of your rights when uploading the designs to LEGO’s site. It would be convenient to use Design By Me to create kits from my models, but then it would be LEGO profiting from it instead of me. Is that too selfish? I think if I’m going to go through the effort of creating instructions for a model, as opposed to just photographing it or even creating an LDraw file of it, I’d like to receive something for my efforts. (LDraw is the easy part, it’s making the instructions that’s harder – even though LPub does a lot of the work, there’s still a great deal of manual adjustment of the layout to get it to where I want it).
  • Selling kits of my models is something I’ve thought about a lot, and I may do it for one or two models, but the problem is obtaining the parts. It’s rare to find one BrickLink store that has all the parts for a model, so I’d have to order them from several stores – or deplete the parts in my collection, which again means going to BrickLink to replace them.
  • What I know I can do is sell PDF or printed copies of the instructions. To that end, I’m planning on setting up a store on and listing the instructions there in both ebook and printed format, and some kits for small and popular models I’ve designed.

So, watch this space for an announcement when I get my Etsy store up, and in the meantime let me know if there are any particular models of mine you’d like to get the instructions for. Prices for smaller models will be around $20. I’m not generally interested in doing custom work, but if the idea grabs my interest I may do it. But in general I would refer you to someone who does that for a living.

How best to share building instructions for my creations?

Every once in a while I get a request to share building instructions for my models. I am willing to do so, but haven’t quite figured out the best way. I was wondering if people might want to comment and make some suggestions?

Some possibilities for formats are are:

  • LDraw files
  • PDF of instructions generated using LDraw and LDpub
  • Printed instructions in black & white or color

The ugly side of the equation comes when I contemplate compensation.  Do I sell them or just give them away?  I think it depends on how much work I have to put into them.  I won’t go through the trouble of creating printed instructions for free, but I might be willing to share the LDraw files for free (Creative Commons licensed).  The question is, how much would people be willing to pay, and is that enough to justify the work it would take me to prepare nice looking instructions?

Readership Poll – Win a free LEGO book!

Please answer this poll to help me understand more about my readers and what people would like to see on… if you give your email address, you will be entered into a drawing to receive a free No Starch Press book from their extensive LEGO catalog! Choose from:

Prize provided courtesy of No Starch Press. A winner will be selected at random from all the email addresses provided between now and September 30, 2009.

What are you waiting for? Click here to take the Poll! (Powered by Google Docs).

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

So I was looking at my RSS feed of incoming links to in Google Reader, and came across one that surprised me: I’ve always known my name is not that unique – the most famous of my homonyms being a certain musician who was the drummer for Black Sabbath. However, it still caught me by surprise when I saw my name – mine! – attached to other people’s web sites and blogs.

Anyway, Bill Ward (the Writer) has a list of links to Bill Wards around the Internet, and I’m on it. I don’t really feel like I want to add the same to my blogroll – my sidebars are too cluttered as it is – but I wanted to share some link love anyway, so here they are:

Actually regarding that last one, it turns out there are a lot of entries in IMDB with my name, none of which are me. As of this writing, the list has seventeen entries!

PS: In case you don’t catch the reference of the title of this post, check the Wikipedia page for the song “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”.

PPS: Sorry about the lack of LEGO content… does this help?

New “About Me” page

I finally got around to creating an “About Me” page. It tells the story of how LEGO came in and out of my life. Hope you find it interesting, and if you have small kids, I urge you to encourage them to be creative with LEGO. I attribute a lot of my mathematical, scientific, and computer programming skills to my childhood obsession with LEGO.

What prompted me to write this finally? I came across an article on “Delivering the Best Customer Experience” on, one of my favorite inspirational business blogs, where she said:

Have an About page that talks about you, not just your company. One of the first pages I click on on any website is the “About Us” page. I want to put a face to the name. Why are you doing what you’re doing?
If your blog doesn’t have an About page, I won’t subscribe. It leaves me feeling “empty” — even if the content is fantastic, I have nothing to anchor that to.

I don’t expect Erica to subscribe to a LEGO blog, but I think the sentiment is important, so I wrote one….

My Track Geometry page translated to Italian

My Track Layout Geometry page has been translated into Italian!

A few days ago I received an email from Alex Cordero of ITLUG (Italian LEGO® Users Group) saying that they were interested in translating the page into Italian. He just contacted me to let me know that it was done; you can view the finished page on the ITLUG Web site (EDIT 9/15/2008: updated URL).

This is the first time something I’ve written has been translated into another language, and I’m very flattered and pleased that it was deemed worthy for this treatment.

I don’t speak a word of Italian – though I do have some Spanish – so I don’t know how accurate the translation is, but I hope that it proves useful to Italian-speaking LEGO fans everywhere!