How to self-publish a magazine

When I was starting out trying to get email subscribers to my magazine, I wrote a small ebook to give away as an incentive to subscribe. I’ve decided to just give it away for free. It’s called “How to self-publish an online magazine – Parry publishing pitfalls on a bread-and-butter budget”.

Download it for free (about 900 KB)

I just reread my own ebook. I found this particularly funny:

What do you mean you don’t know if there’s a next issue? Of course there’s a next issue.

You’d be amazed at how few online magazines are out there. Just so you know, I found a magazine that only had 1 article. It documented a party event, and was hosted online, so it’s all on one web page. But if packaged into a PDF, I’d say it’s about 5 pages at most. Can you write a 5-page magazine? Doesn’t seem so daunting, right?

The ebook was intentionally spartanly designed. I want the reader to start a magazine without being fearful of design issues. I’m not a designer, I make do with whatever skills and tools I have, and I do just fine.

For the April issue of Singularity, I’ve got an interview with Thom Chambers, a publisher of another magazine called In Treehouses. Stay tuned.

Li Bai’s Moonlight Cantata

I learnt a new word: Cantata. Originally, I wanted to use “moonlight sonata” as part of the name, as a contrast. You know, that music piece by Beethoven. Then I realised that “sonata” means instrumental music (of sorts). “Cantata” means voice (of sorts). Go check the dictionary for the exact meanings.

Anyway, I’ve had that tune for the poem for a long time. It’s only with video that I finally found an outlet to express it. I could’ve created it as an audio file, but it would lack the impact I created in the above video.

I learnt how to shoot footage so I could do a cloning of myself in the video, and also how to edit that effect. That’s near the end of the video.

Here’s the poem in Chinese:
Li Bai poem

Note the visual elegance of the poem when written. Since each Chinese word is one syllable, a poem is visually compact. If the language has this one-syllable-one-word property, it will have this visual elegance. For example, a haiku in Japanese.

Also, each Chinese word carries meaning by itself, which is why much can be said in Chinese with few words. For example Chinese idioms or “Cheng Yu”
Cheng Yu - Chinese idiom
are 4 words each.

I’m not trying to raise Chinese superiority on language. Just giving an observation. Just so you know, that compactness comes at a price. Have you tried to write Chinese characters? Especially the complicated ones? And do you know how to pronounce an unfamiliar word? At least with English words, you can still get by with guessing. Unless it’s “chauffeur”. I pronounced it as chor-fi-ur (gluing the “fi-ur” to almost “fur”) when I was 10 years old. The English tuition teacher asked me to pronounce it in front of a class. Oh stop laughing…

Here’s the meaning of the poem:

There’s bright moonlight before the bed
Looks like frost on the ground
I raise my head and look at the bright moon
I bow my head and think of home

Dream Equations

I’ve finally found the physics demo!

The demo was written by Maciej Matyka aka MAQ. There are Newtonian physics, partial differentials of wave equations, cellular automata and cloth simulations involved.

It’s also where I learned of t.A.T.u. the Russian singers and their song Nas Ne Dogonjat. I sang a little of this song here.

Here’s a sequel (of sorts) to the first Dream Equation:

People in early stage startups tend to be generalists

Sean Murphy is the CEO of SKMurphy, and offers customer development services for software entrepreneurs. The interviewer is Floyd Tucker from DreamSimplicity. Here’s a quote I found interesting from the video:

People who do well in early stage startups tend to be generalists.
To prosper, to scale up you’ve actually got to hire specialists.

Now I don’t have anything against specialists or the idea of specialising in one field. That’s great, and we need those people. My gripe is that we don’t have enough generalists.

I believe having more Leonardo da Vinci’s will help solve a lot of world problems. You and I might not envision a solution, but that might be because we’re tunnel-visioned. They aren’t.

I’m not a male escort!

A few days ago, someone emailed me and asked if I was ok. He just read my article on my self-employment anniversary, and saw my, uh, male escort idea. He’s concerned and was worried about the long term future in my being a male escort. I’m grateful that someone cared this much. He suggested that I concentrate on improving my programming guide instead. Excuse me while I wipe this dust particle from my eye. *sniff*

The interesting part is that he’s actually a customer (he bought aforementioned programming guide).

So I made a video in response to that. Click through to the article if you can’t see the video.

Self-employment anniversary

Exactly one year ago, I started working for myself. What’s for 1 year anniversaries? Paper. Or cotton if you’re in the UK. Uh, don’t send clocks. In Chinese, it sounds like a phrase that translates to “bury a parent”. Not good.

[NOTE: This article will be entrepreneurial in nature. You could skip reading it, but you won’t get to read about male escorts…]

Anyway, I’ve learnt loads of stuff since then. At the beginning of my self-employment, I was just doing what I’ve already been doing, but ramping it up. Write more and/or better articles on the blog. Attend events. Put myself out there.

There’s just one problem. I don’t have a positive incoming cashflow.

Here are a few ways to (oh man, I hope the search engines don’t pick this as the important phrase…) make money online. There, I’ve said it.

  • Advertising (Google Adsense, or do-it-yourself style)
  • Affiliate marketing (sell other people’s products and take a cut of the profit)
  • Consultation or services
  • Sell your own products

The last one is by far the most profitable and grants you the most control.

Advertising revenue sucks. Advertisers pay you for “eyeballs”. They pay for unique visitors, web page impressions (why do you think news sites make you click through so many pages?), and leads (sign up on their site for offers or newsletters). I have no illusions of attaining the size of mega websites. Yeah, you need millions of views and visitors. Even then, you might not get much revenue.

For this blog, I’ve found it difficult to find products I can recommend without coming off as sleazy. I write about a bunch of diverse topics. Surely I’d have a greater range of other people’s products I can sell, right? That depends on you, and also on my tastes. I’ve got to feel you will benefit from the product, and that I also found it beneficial. So far, I like books, and so I have Amazon links here and there about the books I’ve read and like. (Buy stuff through my Amazon affiliate link. It may not be much, but every bit helps.)

Consultation and services… hmm, I don’t know. For some reason, I’m not as “employable” as Leonardo da Vinci (ok, he’s a little out of my league for comparison). The current state of the world sees specialists as more important than generalists. Unless the generalist is so proficient in one (or two, possibly three) field that he’s considered an expert, a specialist, and so is hired on that. I will strive to improve my base skills and market myself so other people believe in the value I can provide. How I do that and maintain polymathy, I don’t know.

But I believe selling my own products gives me the best chance at making this work. You could say my topics are so broad, they form a niche in and of itself. And I finally found something I could create and be proud of. Meet Spreadsheet Open XML From Scratch, my programming guide to create Microsoft Excel spreadsheets using Open XML SDK. I played to my programming strength. *wink*

My programming guide came about 9 months after I quit my job. That means I’ve got zero income (that voice recording stint doesn’t quite count) and an effectively negative cashflow for a duration of time where a baby was created. I feel that I didn’t make good use of those 9 months. Not good for a bootstrapping entrepreneur. Or self-employed person. I never really know what to call myself when other people ask me what I do.

Now I’m not reeling in boatloads of money and sipping expensive Earl Grey tea or anything. I’ve got a little bit of money from the guide (thanks to the wonderful programmers who bought my guide!), so it’s a start.

Microcharges for my magazine

Sometime in May 2010, I launched my own online magazine. Seth Godin inspired it. As a start, I chose to charge for it.

Now pricing is an amorphous subject. People say you should charge this much or that much. You’re charging too high. You’re leaving money on the table. Lots of opinions.

Print magazines sell for about $10 or less per issue. I thought online magazines should be priced less than that. Not much of an upper bound, but better than nothing.

I started with charging US$ 1 for the June 2010 issue. I had exactly 1 buyer. It’s funny, because PayPal took 33 cents from that transaction. Microcharges work for iPhone/iPad apps because you don’t have to take out your wallet to buy. You just tap to buy, enter your password (if you enabled that function), and tap to install.

I don’t know what it’s called, but there’s a friction in purchasing anything that’s not free. If your customer is going to buy something from you, he has to overcome that friction. If he’s going to do that, your product (or service or whatever you’re selling) had better be worth the cost. You might as well charge higher for it.

There’s an experiment where students were given these options:

  • Buy a $10 voucher for $1
  • Buy a $20 voucher for $7

In the 1st case, you gain $9. In the 2nd case, you gain $13. Most of the students chose the 2nd option. There’s friction in paying. This sunk cost of the friction is the same whether it’s $1 or $7.

The interesting thing happened when the experimenters reduced the cost and benefit by exactly $1.

  • Get a $9 voucher for free
  • Buy a $19 voucher for $6

The gain is still the same, $9 and $13 for the 1st and 2nd cases respectively. But the students overwhelming chose the 1st option. Why? Because it’s free. There’s no friction cost.

I decided to give my magazine away for free.

I caved halfway through…

To say I’ve stuck to my goals to support myself through my online business 100% through the past year will be lying. I’ve had my faith shaken a few times. I’ve even considered going back to a job. In fact, I applied for several jobs. Let me tell you something that Seth Godin once said:

A resume is an excuse to reject you

Human resource staff and hiring companies have a strict list of criteria you need to fulfil before they even think of giving you an interview. I’ve applied to branding companies (they handle your social media, marketing and so on). No reply. Expected, since I’ve got no marketing experience (at least to them). I’ve applied for software developer positions (just so you know I’m not reaching out of my league). Also no reply. I’ve even tried for an administration staff position, and I’m willing to do a part-time option. No reply.

You have to match the criteria exactly (or within a very small margin of deviation) or you don’t get the job. You can’t be under-qualified. You can’t be over-qualified. You must have the correct degree (even though I’m completely capable of programming, but they need a computer science graduate). You need to have so many years of experience (but not too much that you become over-qualified). You need to know this programming language, or done some field-related project, or whatever.

I gave up. As much as I needed enough money to survive, I hated writing resumes. Every sentence I wrote on a resume is another excuse for them to reject me. I have more effect if I wrote a sentence here on the blog. Or write a sentence in an information product (such as my guide).

I seriously considered becoming a male escort

Around the considering-regular-job phase, I was getting a little frantic. I was trying to come up with ideas of how to sustain myself. Look, I’m not trying to become a millionaire and buy yachts and cars. I’m just trying to feed myself, and be able to raise a family, ok?

One of those harebrained ideas was to become a male escort. Before you choke on laughter, let me tell you what I was thinking of. There was this episode of a television show Ally McBeal, where she hired a male escort. I can’t remember the reason, but I think it was to spite a doctor, or make a doctor like her better or something.


The man she hired was to be her “boyfriend” or “close male friend that’s bordering on intimate relations or something”. The man, based on Ally’s input on the doctor (I’ll go with “doctor” for now), decided that being the artistic type would incite the doctor the most.

There would be no sex. The man (I’m using this word because I don’t want search engines to raise this article when searching for “male escorts”. Wait… dang it!!!) was capable of engaging in intelligent conversations, was widely knowledgeable in many areas (because his clients need him for various backgrounds), and of course, was good looking.

That’s the kind of male escort (dang it!) I’m referring to. Now, I’ve got no delusions that I’m the greatest gift to women. But I’ve got people who told me that I’ve got better than average good looks. A friend even said I look like Paul Wesley from the Vampire Diaries. I think he meant when I had my hair dyed brown (I like Caucasians and I had grey hair, give me a break, ok?). But seriously, Paul Wesley?

Paul versus Vincent

So I’m relatively good looking, I’m tall (1.78 metres, or 5 foot 10), and fairly leanly muscular. This might work. I bounced the idea off my friends, and they said “Go for it!”. With just a little too much enthusiasm, I might add. “But you’ve got to be prepared to have sex. I will respect you very much if you accept an 80-year-old client.” They also added just a tiny little implication that my “clients” won’t all be female.


My friends obviously had the wrong idea of what I was thinking about.

I discarded the male escort idea after thinking about it for exactly 3 days.

Pi Day

Sometimes, in the afternoon, I would glance at the computer clock to check the time. And I get 3:14pm. It’s just weird…

Behind the scenes

On the day I made the video, my headset failed. One minute it was working fine. The next minute, my computer failed to detect it via the USB port.

I checked the USB port itself. My webcam worked on it, so it can’t be the port itself.

I had to go out and buy a cheap microphone so I could record some extra audio. Did you know microphones are hard to get? Well, at least in Singapore. Most electronic stores stock headsets, particularly the high end gaming types.

My newly purchased microphone needed to be near my mouth before any significantly clear audio could be recorded. And that’s because I also wrapped my hand around the microphone to reduce ambient noise and focus my voice into it. I even had my index finger just under my nose so it didn’t catch my breathing sounds.

Do you record video or audio? What equipment do you use?

Interview with Guy Kawasaki


I have the inestimable pleasure of having interviewed Guy Kawasaki, on his book Enchantment (which is released today on 8 March 2011). I’m still not sure how that happened (getting the interview, not the book)… I wasn’t sure if he’d respond, what with me being a small time publisher and all, but I asked him anyway with a short list of questions. He replied! That Guy is a great guy…

Guy Kawasaki

So here’s the interview.

Why is Enchantment important?

Enchantment is important because the more innovative and important your product, service, or idea, the more you will encounter resistance. You would think it would be the opposite, but the world usually resists a better mousetrap.

What prompted you to write this book?

Two major factors: my editor pounding on me for another book and my desire to combine the body of knowledge about influencing, wooing, and persuading people with my personal experiences as an evangelist.

Is Enchantment simply persuasion? How is it different?

It’s more than persuasion. Persuasion is usually applied for a specific transaction–you persuade people to do something like buy your widget. The purpose of enchantment is a deeper, longer-lasting, and more delightful relationship. Some companies persuade you to buy their laptop. Apple enchants people, and they buy a Macintosh, iPhone, iPod, iPad, and iAnything.

How can artists and scientists benefit from Enchantment?

Artists and scientists face the same challenges business people do: raising funds, communicating their passion, finishing their work, and then marketing it. All these stages require enchanting people and organizations–to change their hearts, minds, and actions.

[Ed: The “artists and scientists” part is a reference to my magazine, Singularity. Hey, I take care of my readers. *wink*]

Where can we find out more about Enchantment and your work?

The best place to learn more about Enchantment is

People can also tap these resources:

Speech video:
Web quiz:
Facebook quiz:

The best place to read my latest work is

Last words

Ok, so it appears there’s also a Facebook photo contest. Here’s the link:

Wow, there’s a Nikon D3100 and an Apple iPad up for grabs!

The contest ends on 11 March, so you better hurry.

There are also wallpapers for your computer screen if you’re interested. Here’s the link:

You can buy the book Enchantment from Amazon (aff link)

Interview with John D. Cook

John D. Cook

So I interviewed John D. Cook for the March issue of Singularity magazine. The most interesting answer came from the last question I asked: “Last comments?” And John said,

My graduate adviser told me that he thought there would be a lot of opportunity for someone who could combine theoretical math and computation. I believe he was right. Most of my career has been in that overlap and I’ve had the opportunity to do some interesting things.

The whole interview is in the March issue. Click on the link above to get the magazine.


Some time between my final exams and getting my first job, I’ve been afraid. “What can I do?” came up a lot. I had a double major in Applied Mathematics and Computational Science. I’m not really that good in mathematics, nor am I “qualified” to do programming. The research facilities want PhD’s and MSc’s (in maths). The software companies want graduates with a computer science degree, not a computational science degree. They don’t understand the difference, so it takes more convincing.

Ok, just to clear things up a little. You probably know what computer science is. So what’s computational science? This is the definition I recall from a professor:

We write programs to solve scientific problems

Or something like that. I wrote a program that analysed wave motions (I think). I wrote a MATLAB program to do image texture matching with Fourier Transforms. I wrote a C program to simulate computer virus behaviour.

It’s why I never learned about databases and SQL. My scientific problems and experiments hadn’t required large amounts of data. I understand that my peers in the computer science courses learnt to simulate airline ticket purchasing, and to connect to databases, and to design web interfaces.

I just typed “cc vince.c -o vince” on my Unix command line. Then “vince” to run the program. If segmentation faults didn’t assault me, then I had the output somewhere in a text file.

Luckily, I got hired a few months after graduation. A telecommunications company director interviewed me. Apparently my maths degree was an edge, because all his hires were computer science graduates. One of the departments that the director was in charge of, was the billing support department. Hey numbers! My forte! Supposedly. (No, I mean, yes, definitely my forte! [I needed to eat…]) I found out about that supposed maths edge I had some time after I was hired, when he talked with me (I think).

So John’s answer struck something deep within me. I wished I heard that when I was in university. Then I don’t have to be so afraid that I won’t be of use anywhere.

When I did my honours thesis project (I was working on computer virus behaviour simulation), my adviser suggested I become an epidemiologist. It means I help in the study of epidemics, such as virus outbreaks and stuff. I was more interested in writing code, so I declined his offer to make recommendations to the Singapore CDC (or some health organisation. It was a long time ago. I forget…). I wonder what would’ve happened had I accepted his offer…

So to the (future) mathematicians out there, learn to write code. Programming is actually quite compatible with how you think in maths.

To the (future) programmers out there, learn to broaden your knowledge and skills. (You thought I was going to say maths, didn’t you?) Software is getting more complex and simpler at the same time. That’s because the range of needs from users is getting wider. There’s software that does facial recognition, fingerprint recognition, speech recognition, image matching, and textual analysis. There’s software that does billing, accounting, profit sharing, and banking. There’s also software that just blips 140 characters to some server. There’s software that does all kinds of things that people want or need.

Your skill to write code isn’t in question. Your skill to understand the myriad scenarios and conditions for your software to work, is.