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Electronic Reading

Morning Coffee – 12 April 2021

Here are a few stories to read this Monday morning.

P.S. If you need a tech VA or help with your website, email me at [email protected] Got a story that I should include in next week’s list? Shoot me an email.

Chandler Bolt is Pirating My Blog Posts

When Chandler Bolt acquired The Book Designer blog in late 2020, there were plenty of reasons to dislike the fellow. He had a reputation in entrepreneur circles as a taker. His Self Publishing School had an alarming number of negative reviews. Oh, and Victoria Strauss thought so poorly of him that she stopped sending authors to The Book Designer.

Lately, however I have found a whole new reason to dislike him.

He is pirating my blog posts.

For a while in 2019 and 2020 I was a regular contributor to The Book Designer. Fourteen or my posts were published there before the blog was sold. Topics ranged from website security to the hacked accounts on Createspace to newsletters. 

I would probably still be contributing posts if Joel hadn’t sold the blog, but now that it belonged to Bolt I decided that I no longer wanted my content associated with his blemished reputation.

And so I asked them to take my posts down. Three times now I have asked, and they are still hosting my blog posts.

I have only received one response so far, and that was an email informing me that they bought the content along with the blog. This simply is not true; while my blog posts were indeed published on TBD, there was no agreement transferring the copyright. There was in fact no formal contract at all; the closest I had to a contract with Joel was an understanding that TBD had an exclusive on the new blog posts. I think that lasted a month, and then I could publish the blog posts elsewhere.

That lack of a formal agreement is actually pretty common, so much so that when NAPCO bought Teleread in 2010, NAPCO sent contracts to all the contributing writers so that it could secure the right to continue to publish the blog posts the writers had previously submitted.

I admit, it was a mistake for me to rely on would be described in legal terms as a gentleman’s agreement, but TBH I had never conceived that someone might refuse to remove my blog posts when I asked. Actually, I never thought I would want to make that request!

This might seem like an oversight but the truth is I am careful about where I send my guest blog posts. I only work with reputable blogs, and it never occurred to me that one of my partners might become unsavory.

I have learned my lesson, though. I will shortly be filing DMCA notices, and in the future I will only send someone a guest blog post after they have agreed that I retain the copyright.

Update: About two days after I published this, my posts were finally removed.

Where to Buy Books in Bulk

I recently developed a need for buying children’s books in bulk. I found a couple sources, one great and the other not so great, and I want to share them with you.

I don’t know if I have mentioned it here, but some time back (I think it was pre-pandemic, but honestly who knows at this point) I started taking care of the two Little Free Libraries in my area. I would keep them organized, remove any damaged or age-inappropriate books (both were located next to elementary schools), and leave bookmarks.

I started doing this because I had noticed that no one else seemed to be doing the job, but I stopped last fall when the school district started holding in-person classes again. I honestly thought that someone one at the schools would step up, but when I checked in on the LFLs a week ago I found that both were sorely depleted, and that no one had bothered to even straighten the books.

I was happy to start taking care of the LFLs again, but it also meant that I had a sudden and exceptional need for kids books. I asked for help on Twitter, and got a variety of useful suggestions ranging from thrift shops, the free section of Craigslist, garage sales, flea markets, and so on.

The idea I settled on was to google for online booksellers who would ship me a box of books, cheap. I found two that I wanted to try (the next time I need books, I might try others).

One was The Book Bundler, and the other was Books by the Foot. Of the two, I really have to say that BbtF was the much better deal. Not only were the books half as expensive, but my order arrived on the Tuesday after I placed an order Friday night. (It probably helped that the order shipped from Maryland.)

The order from The Book Bundler, on the other hand, arrived on Friday. That was still pretty fast, but I never did get an order confirmation email from TBB (a huge strike against them, IMO – I need that email for my records).

The Book Bundler sent me 10 bundles of ten hardback children’s books in two boxes each somewhat larger than a box of copier paper.

Books by the Foot sent me one box of books that size (12” by 12” by 18”, to be exact). I opted for the non-age-specific box, so I got everything from books for 5th graders to board books. The books were all in good shape, but the box almost didn’t survive the trip. (Fedex had to add several extra loops of tape to keep the box from disintegrating, and it still split a seam.)

I still think BbtF was the better value; that box set me back $45, while TBB charged me $155.

My mother (a former teacher) thought that the selection in the BbtF box was so great that she wanted me to have a box shipped to my nephew. I would have done so, except BbtF would not ship to Pennsylvania (no clue why).

If you need to buy kids books in bulk, I heartily recommend Books by the Foot. Their website is not as well organized as it could be, but if you scroll down to the bottom of their “view all products” page you will see they have a couple dozen different options for grab-bag boxes of books ranging from genre paperback to various age-specific kids books.

Morning Coffee – 5 April 2021

Here are a few stories to read this Monday morning.

P.S. If you need a tech VA or help with your website, email me at [email protected] Got a story that I should include in next week’s list? Shoot me an email.

P.P.S. Today is my birthday. I am now the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything years old.

Morning Coffee – 29 March 2021

Here are a few stories to read this Monday morning.

P.S. If you need a tech VA or help with your website, email me at [email protected] Got a story that I should include in next week’s list? Shoot me an email.

Booksellers File Antitrust Lawsuit Against Amazon, Publishers

The second shot in law firm Hagens Berman fight against Amazon has been fired.

The firm put out a press release on Thursday announcing that they had found booksellers willing to sue Amazon over an alleged conspiracy with publishers.

Retail booksellers today hit Amazon.com and publishing companies with a class-action lawsuit alleging a massive price-fixing scheme to intentionally constrain the bookselling market and inflate the wholesale price of print books, according to Hagens Berman and its co-counsel Sperling & Slater P.C.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Mar. 25, 2021, and states that Amazon colluded with the Big Five U.S. book publishers – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster – to restrain competition in the sale of print trade books, or non-academic texts such as fiction and non-fiction material.

This is essentially a follow on to the case Hagens Berman filed in January against Amazon and the Big Five publishers.

It has the same basic claim (that Amazon conspired with publishers to raise ebook prices) and the same lack of evidence to back up the claim. The only thing new here is the change in defendants; rather than consumers, Hagens Berman’s client is a bookstore.

Folks, as I have said before, I would love to see the agency contracts broken, but I just don’t see how Hagens Berman is going to win this case. If they have any evidence of a conspiracy, they did not put it in their filings.

Did I miss something?

image by steakpinball via Flickr

Morning Coffee – 22 March 2021

Here are a few stories to read this Monday morning.

P.S. If you need a tech VA or help with your website, email me at [email protected] Got a story that I should include in next week’s list? Shoot me an email.

Introducing Book Fair Website Template v1.0

About six weeks back I announced that I was developing the website template for a book fair. I have been working on this project on and off since then, and I think it’s ready to be shared with the world.

Download ZIP)

The ZIP file contains eleven screenshots and a couple JSON files. If you have a site running Divi, you can import the JSON files into the Divi Library and then use the page templates from that JSON file to build new  pages on your site.

The page templates can be used to build either a conference or a book fair, something in between, or some other event entirely. The pages will look rather bland, but that is okay because my intent was to give you something to build on.

I’d love to know what you think!

image by ActuaLitté via Flickr

B&N Rebrands 10.1″ Lenovo Tablet as a Nook Tablet

Barnes & Noble has been exceedingly quiet on the ebook front since it was acquired two years ago. Once it stopped being a publicly traded company, it no longer announced its quarterly revenue, including its ebook sales.

The conventional wisdom was that B&N would either shut down or sell off its ebook division, but it would appear that we were mistaken. The retailer just announced that  it was rebranding a 10’1″ Lenovo tablet as the new Nook Tablet.

B&N and Lenovo today announced a new NOOK® 10” HD Tablet designed with Lenovo – a stylish yet durable tablet with full metal body and 85 percent screen-to-body ratio. The tablet offers customers endless entertainment in one package with NOOK eBooks1, digital newspapers and magazines, Google Play, Google Assistant, Kids Space from Google2 (a new kids mode featuring apps, books and videos)  and FM radio. It also comes fully equipped with front and rear cameras, Bluetooth® capability, and dual audio speakers powered by Dolby Atmos® making it ideal for enjoying your favorite streaming content. Built to be gentle on your eyes while reading, the new NOOK tablet’s display comes with TÜV Rheinland®-certified eye protection3 to help lower harmful blue light.

The tablet will cost $129, and is expected to be available in early April.

I don’t have the specs yet, but Lenovo has great hardware. I would expect this tablet is a step up from the last Nook Tablet, which was licensed from a no-name Chinese gadget maker.

And I just checked my files – Did I misplace a post, or did B&N last launch a new Nook Tablet in 2018? (see, that is an example of why we thought the ebook division was dead)

 

Amazon Will Stop Accepting* Mobi Files in June

It’s finally happened.

Amazon has announced that soon it will no longer accept* Mobi files in KDP. They just sent out an email informing authors and publishers that Epub and Doc are now the preferred formats:

We listened to your feedback and are making it simpler to publish eBooks on Kindle. Starting June 28, 2021, we will no longer support files in MOBI, PRC or AZK formats when publishing new reflowable eBooks or updating the content for previously published eBooks. Instead, we ask publishers to use EPUB, KPF (Kindle Create files), or DOC/DOCX (Microsoft Word files) files for reflowable eBooks. Please note MOBI files are still accepted for fixed-layout eBooks.
You don’t need to take any action for reflowable eBooks already published unless you are updating the eBook files. If you are uploading new or updated content, see our Kindle Publishing Guidelines:  https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G79CTKR8BX79E96L

And before you nitpick my language, yes, I know that it’s clunky. So is their new rule, which is basically that Amazon will only accept Mobi files for the one type of Kindle ebook which no one makes any more.

Why they decided to keep that around, I do not know.

via Create If FB group

image by Sergey Galyonkin via Flickr

Morning Coffee – 15 March 2021

Here are a few stories to read this morning.

P.S. If you need a tech VA or help with your website, email me at [email protected] Got a story that I should include in next week’s list? Shoot me an email.

Four Website Hosting Companies I Recommend

I recently had a request from a reader who wanted me to recommend a hosting company. This is a question I get a lot, and I am always happy to answer it, but it’s been a while since I last wrote out my recommendations.

of course host websites for my clients, but that is more of a side business than one of my core activities. When asked about hosting, I usually mention four companies.

These recommendations are for hosting a single WordPress site; if you want to host multiple sites, or want to talk about competing platforms like Squarespace, that would be a whole other discussion.

WordPress.com ($60)

There are some web designers who would call me crazy for saying this, but WordPress.com can be a good place to host your author or publisher website. It is rather limited in features at the cheaper pricing tiers (no plugins, and no third-party services) but if you just need a simple site then you can’t go wrong at $60 per year.

You can build that site using free Gutenberg page templates and have a very nice looking site for almost no effort.

PeoplesHost ($110)

There are many budget website hosting companies. A lot of them, including big name companies such as GoDaddy and Bluehost, are simple terrible, but there are any number of companies with excellent service and reliable servicers.

PeoplesHost is one of those reliable companies. I have my server there, and I have been very happy with their tech support and customer service. I have also sent a number of clients there, and several have remarked on how great the support is.

What’s even better about this price is that you can easily keep several websites on one account without running out of resources.

Siteground ($180)

Siteground is a little more expensive than its budget-priced competitors, but it offers services that most of those competitors do not. SG has its own optimization, speed, and caching tools which make SG’s fees worth the price.

Seriously, whenever I work on a WP site hosted on Siteground, my first step is to activate the SG Optimizer plugin and enable all of its recommended settings. This one step has a visible impact on site performance.

WPEngine ($300 plus)

WPEngine provides gold-standard service, but they also cost a mint. You can host one site there for only $25 per month, but if you need several sites (up to ten) you will soon be paying WPEngine more for hosting than I currently pay for my server.

That fee is worth it, though; WPEngine sets a high standard for security, stability, and speed. basically, WPEngine  will handle things for your site that I have to take care of myself for my own sites.

image by torkildr via Flickr

Morning Coffee – 8 March 2021

Here are a few stories to read this Monday morning.

P.S. If you need a tech VA or help with your website, email me at [email protected] Got a story that I should include in next week’s list? Shoot me an email.

16 Gmail Hacks Every Writer Can Use

The new year is traditionally a time for self-improvement. Some join gyms, others launch new projects, but I like to get introspective.

I think the new year is a great time to reconsider how we can use Gmail to get more done. Gmail is possibly the most widely used email service, but are you getting the most out of it?

The following Gmail hacks will help you take control of your inbox and go from being a Gmail user to a Gmail expert. Read on to save time, avoid mistakes, and add a dash of style to your inbox.

And BTW, these tricks are all intended for Gmail in the web browser. The Gmail app is frustratingly limited.

Note: I have an older post on a dozen Gmail hacks. The following post (mostly) covers different tricks, and has been significantly updated.

1. Unhide the promotions, social, and other category tags

Did you know that Gmail has category tags? And did you know that Gmail is hiding some of your emails in those tags and is not putting the emails in your inbox?

A few years back Google “helpfully” added category tags to Gmail. Their intention was to make it easier for you to sort your emails, but things didn’t quite go as planned. Many users ignored the tags because we either had our own systems or did not need them, but that didn’t stop Gmail from automatically using the tags to sort our incoming emails.

Earlier this year I discovered there were thousands of emails which Gmail had tagged as Social, Update, Forums, or Promotion. None of these emails made it into my main Inbox, which means I missed out on countless important messages.

My solution to this problem was to find the options menu for each of the category tags, and tell Gmail to show all emails in my Inbox.

2. Schedule an email to be sent later

In this age of notifications setting off phone alarms, we have to be careful about sending emails too late in the day. You don’t want to wake someone up in the middle of the night with an email that could wait until morning. On the other hand, sometimes you also want to make sure you don’t forget to send the email.

With the Chrome extension Boomerang, you can schedule emails to be sent in the future and set up reminders to send an email. The extension adds an extra menu bar to Gmail’s Compose window where you can specify how long to wait before the email is sent.

You can find the extension in the Chrome web store.

3. Unsend emails

And then there are the times you wish you could take back an email you just sent — perhaps you found a typo a second too late, or regret writing the email when upset.

Luckily, there’s a way to avoid this issue. Gmail has a feature called Undo Send. When enabled, it gives you 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds to stop Gmail from sending an email.

You can find this option by first clicking the Gear menu button in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen, and then selecting the Settings menu option. There, you’ll find a section labeled Undo Send. This feature is automatically enabled in the new Gmail interface, so all you have to do is specify in the Send cancellation period section just how long you want Gmail to wait before it sends an email.

4. Use Gmail offline

The Gmail website is a great way to get work done while you’re online, but did you know that you can also use it offline (just like you do the apps)? Google has released a Chrome extension which lets you keep on writing drafts, deleting emails, and so on, even though you have no connection to the internet.

You can find the Gmail offline extension in the Chrome Web Store.

5. Use “Tasks” to add emails to your to-do lists

When you get an email that requires action on your part, and you can’t get to it right away, look at the menu bar above your emails. If you’re in the reading view, you’ll see a button marked More.

Click that button and select the Add to Tasks option. This adds the email to a little to-do list.

6. Automatically archive a sent email

Inbox Zero is a popular productivity hack where you strive to keep your inbox empty — or almost empty – at all times. This isn’t always a practical goal — in fact, the best I can get is Inbox Thirty — but in principle aspiring to Inbox Zero is a great way to reduce the clutter in your inbox so that you can focus on the important emails.

One way you can work towards Inbox Zero is to enable Gmail’s Send and archive feature.

You can enable this feature by first clicking the Gear menu button in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen, and then selecting the Settings menu option. There, you’ll find a section labeled “Send & Archive”. Click the radio button next to show “Send & Archive” button in reply.

7. Pause your inbox

Studies show that limiting yourself to checking email only a few times a day can reduce stress and boost productivity. If you need to temporarily remove distractions so you can focus on the task at hand, you can use Boomerang to pause your inbox. This won’t block emails from arriving, but it will stop emails from appearing in your inbox until you’re ready for them.

You can find the Boomerang extension in the Chrome Web Store.

8. Use smarter searches

Everyone knows that you can use the Gmail search bar to look for emails to and from specific names (To: and From:) or under specific labels (label:) but did you know you can also exclude labels, senders, and recipients?

It’s true!

If you want to exclude a sender from a search in Gmail, simply add a hyphen “-” before the “From” tag. For example, “-from:[email protected] ” will exclude that from any search results. The same trick works for the “To” tag and the “label “tag.

9. Hide the email tags when not in use

Instead of folders, Gmail lets you create labels to organize your inbox. Experienced users know to set up a label for every topic, client, or ongoing project, but that can cause problems. If you use Google for more than a few years then you will end up with a long column of labels cluttering up the left menu panel.

The clutter can render the label area almost unusable, but luckily there is a fix for this problem.

Gmail will let you show or hide each label, and even better, you can choose to only show labels that have unread messages.

You can manage the show/hide options by first clicking the Gear menu button in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen, and then selecting the Settings menu option. Select the Labels tab in the Settings menu. Scroll down and you’ll find a section labeled Labels. This is where you can select which labels are shown in the left menu panel.

I have almost all the labels set to show if unread. I find that to be the best trade-off between minimizing clutter and maximizing usability.

10. Stop senders from tracking you

It’s a fact of life that mailing lists and many other senders of emails will track whether recipients open the emails they get. (This is even an automated feature in Mailchimp and other email marketing services.)

I don’t know about you, but I would rather not let senders know when I open an email – it might inspire one of them to pester me about not responding. That’s why I use a couple Chrome extensions to block senders from tracking my activity.

The two plugins basically do the same thing, and I use them both for the sake of redundancy.

11. Save space by deleting only the largest emails

Here’s a trick I picked up from a music producer that got a lot of emails with MP3 attachments.

Google gives each user a generous 15GB of free storage, but that has to be shared among all of a user’s Google services. This means that if you use Gmail long enough and are in the habit of saving everything (even the emails with large attachments) then chances are you will find yourself having to free up space so you can upload more files to Google Drive.

One way to address this problem by deleting old emails, but there is a better solution: Find and delete only the largest emails.

I used to use a service called FindBigMail to identify large emails, but that service shut down in 2019. Luckily for us, Gmail built a similar feature we can use instead.

There’s a search trick for Gmail which you can use to identify the emails that take up the most space. Some will have huge attachments, but others might just be really long email chains with new versions of the same file attached to each email.

In either case, you can find the larger emails by entering “larger:5m” into the Gmail search bar. This search term will return only the emails larger than 5MB, and it also works for other sizes.

12. Mute conversations

Have you ever found yourself subscribed to a mailing list, and been inundated by emails on a topic that has no relevance to you or your work? (I have this problem with discussions in certain FB groups.)

If you don’t want to unsubscribe from the list, and you don’t want to have to keep deleting the unwanted emails, you can easily stop the friendly spam with the Gmail mute function.

Simply select the conversation, open the More menu, and select the mute option. This will automatically archive all new emails in the conversation. They won’t be deleted, and you can find them under the All Mail option in the left menu panel.

The muted conversation will stay muted until you find it again and un-mute it; it will also un-mute itself if your address appears in the To or CC box in the message header.

13. Change the style with themes

I was a little dismayed when I saw the new Gmail interface in 2018. I was shown a theme that had dark text on a light gray background. This made it hard for me to read the emails, but luckily for me there is a fix for this issue.

Google offers a selection of color themes. You can’t bring back the old interface, but you can change the colors of the new interface so it is easier on your eyes.

Look in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen for the Gear menu button. One of the options under that menu is the Themes menu. You can change the background to any one of dozens of images or colors. This feature is particularly useful if you maintain multiple Gmail accounts. You can give each one a different theme and save yourself from sending a personal email from the work account.

14. Make the Font Size Larger

One trick I wish more people would adopt is using a larger default font size in their emails. A lot of us have older eyes, and a larger font size is easier to read. (Plus, the fact that I’m one of the few people using this trick means that I can quickly tell which text in an email chain was written by me.)

If you click on the gear button in the upper right corner of Gmail, and then click the "all Settings" button, you’ll find that one of the options in that email is font size. (You can also choose the font face – serif or san serif.)

15. Auto-Translate Emails

This is more of a Chrome trick than a Gmail trick, and it’s most of the reason I keep using Chrome.

Google’s web browser has an auto-translate feature which you can use to translate the content on almost every web page. It works almost every, including in Gmail. I like to use it to to read all the non-English emails I get each week.

16. Track whether your emails are opened

I used to hate it when senders would track the emails they sent me, but then I started doing it, and I realized how useful this feature could be.

While email tracking can be misused as a tool to stalk people, I use it to better help my clients. For example, if someone opens an old email, it might mean that they are about to send me an email with a question, so I try to make time to respond. Also, if someone never opens an email, I know that I need to send a follow up just in case the earlier email got lost.

The service I use for this is MailTrack. I like it because it adds a notice to the end of each email informing users that the email is being tracked. I think that makes the act of tracking emails less creepy, and more polite.

* * *

What about you, authors? Have you ever wanted to unsend an email? Mute a conversation? What’s the worst email you wish you hadn’t hit “send” for?

image background by miniyo73 via Flickr

A Dell Warranty is Worth the Paper It Isn’t Printed On

A word of advice: If your Dell device has problems in the return window, take it back. If you have trouble after that, you are better off pitching it in the sea then asking Dell for help.

I am currently in Dell hell. I have a broken laptop which Dell has refused to repair, refused to replace, and refused to refund. Instead, Dell has lied to me, given me the runaround, gaslighted me, and made empty promises.

Do not under any circumstances buy hardware from Dell. Here’s why.

When my last laptop died on 11 January, I saw it as a nuisance rather than a catastrophe. My files were backed up online, Best Buy was opening in a few hours, and I had a credit card, so I figured I would be back online by the end of the day.

And I was right; I was back to work in about 4 hours, and all it took was spending $1600 on a new Dell laptop. I kicked myself for having to pay retail when I could have planned ahead and saved several hundred dollars, but I got back to work quickly, and that was what really mattered.

But then the laptop started to crash – a lot.

I didn’t really notice the high frequency of the blue screens of death until I had owned the laptop for 17 days, when it crashed for the 4th time. This was 2 days past the Best Buy return window, which did not worry me much because it was a brand new laptop and had a next business day warranty. The worst that could happen was that Dell would have to fix it, or replace it.

Or so I thought.

When I got tired of the crashes, I visited Dell’s website and tried to file a support ticket. Much to my dismay, I found that my only options were calling Dell or using the support chat. I have hearing issues and do my best to avoid phone calls, and since the website chat feature didn’t work, I decided to try to solve it myself by running the diagnostic tests recommended by Dell’s site. When that didn’t find anything, I reached out to Dell on Twitter.

My initial suggestion was that they give me a credit, I’d ship them the lemon, and I’d buy a new laptop on their site. This was shot down. Instead they told me to re-run the diagnostics, install software updates, and install more updates.

This did not help. When the laptop crashed less than a week later, I told them they needed to either send someone to fix it, or replace it. They said I had to continue to do their work for them (call their advanced diagnostics dept), which I declined to do. We did after all have a diagnosis; there was a software issue.

After a few rounds of this, I lost my cool and told Dell that my next moves would be to file a BBB complaint and look into filing a lawsuit (I did end up filling the BBB complaint, but the lawsuit was an empty threat).

This was apparently enough to trigger a promise to forward my complaint to an “escalation” team. I was asked for my contact info, and Dell promised someone would contact me in 24 hours. Then, the next day, I was told the escalation team would contact me shortly.

I have yet to make contact with that so-called team; the closest I have come was a garbled voicemail message. Nevertheless, Dell continued to tell me on Twitter that I should work with the escalation team now that I was in contact with them. I was later told that the escalation team had reported I said the problems were fixed. And I was told I should refer to the email the escalation team sent me, that they would take care of everything.

Folks, none of that was true. I still have not made contact with that so-called team, much less communicated with them.

I have given up on working this out, and I am now insisting on a refund. (Given Dell’s track record, I realize that probably isn’t going to happen.)

In fact, I’ve already bought a replacement laptop from Lenovo. It arrived on Tuesday.

TL;DR My experience with Dell tech support consisted of them trying to get me to do their jobs for them, stalling when I complained, and then lying to me and gaslighting me.

P.S. Does anyone want to up a $1600 paperweight?

P.P.S. Now that I think about it, it would be a waste to let such an expensive device collect dust. I should probably find a local computer tech who can take a look, and fix the issue. If Dell’s warranty were worth anything, they would have already done this, but since it’s not I am going to have to pay the cost myself.