Careers: Interviews
Internationally-Acclaimed Author, Writer, Speaker, Programmer, and Applications Expert

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Greg Perry.

Greg is one of the world’s most prolific authors with more than 75 published internationally. He is an acknowledged authority in programming and in applications. As a widely sought internationally renowned speaker/writer, he has sold more than two million computer books worldwide covering such diverse areas as operating systems and Visual Basic programming.

Amongst his latest books is the reader favorite, “Digital Video with Windows XP in a Snap.”

Discussion:

Q: Greg, amongst your many talents, you are as a celebrated author/speaker, and programming/applications expert, thank you for doing this interview.

A: Stephen, this is quite an honor for me to be speaking with you today.

Q: Describe your journey into computers, writing, speaking, and the lessons learned along the way?

A: Eons ago when I was in high school, I got a job at Radio Shack right when they started selling the TRS-80 in 1977. This was one of the first affordable home computers; it had 4k of memory and no hard disk. Radio Shack had no training back then and my manager told me, "Nobody knows about those things. You should read the manual and figure out what they do so we can sell one." I didn't want to. But I did enjoy commission checks so after work that day, I went over to the only TRS-80 in the store, opened to page one in the manual, and a new world opened up to me. My life would never be the same. I could not foresee then where it would take me.

That month I sold 3 computers making me, a 16-year old, the highest ranking salesman in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area which at the time had about 20 stores. When I entered college that fall, I took every computer class they had, searched the bookstores for computer books (written by programmers who could not write), and began my self-training. The college classes were simple and I found myself tutoring all the others in my classes.

Several years after graduating, I wanted to learn Microsoft Word 1.0 (everything was still DOS-based). I went to the store and got a book and thought the book was horrible. I couldn't sleep that night thinking about it, and about 3 am, I got up and wrote a letter to the publishing company of that book (Osborne/McGraw-Hill) and told them: "I like computers, I like to write, and I'd be a great author for one of your books." If you ask anybody in publishing, they will tell you that is NOT the way to get a book contract. Two weeks later, I had a book contract. 75 computer books later, and I'm still writing.

Q: Describe your most surprising experience?

A: I attended an author's conference in the mid-1990s where they showed sales figures for the computer book industry. The month of the conference, I had the #1 and #2 bestselling titles. This was clear to all when they showed the current industry sales lists in front of the conference at the keynote speech. I was quite shocked. I knew my titles were selling well but I had no idea that I was on top, even for that one month. The subjects, Windows and Office, had more to do with the position that my writing, I'm sure.

Q: Do have any humorous stories to share?

A: I am extremely ashamed to admit the following because my credibility will be put on the line... but it is rather funny when I look back on it. Around 1993 at COMDEX, my Editor told me that she had lots of books that needed to be written about this new thing called the Internet. I told her, "Oh, I don't want to write those. This Internet is overrated and won't last."   Obviously, I'm no prophet! Since then, I think about how I would probably have the first Using the Internet book, Writing HTML, and Using E-Mail back when those titles would be the only ones on the shelves. The fortune I lost turning down that first batch of Internet books taught me to be more careful when answering an Editor's question!    Without trying to sound egotistical (I doubt I have to worry about that after telling you how wrong I was!), I'm always surprised how many of my other predictions about the industry keep coming true. But I missed the big one!

Q: Can you share your ten most valuable guidelines from your book, “Digital Video with Windows XP in a Snap”?

A: 1) Movie Maker 2, free with EVERY version of Windows XP, is extremely powerful and fulfills the needs of virtually all beginning and even intermediate user who wants to produce movies with a digital camera.

2) Today's inexpensive mid-range computers (say 1.8 Ghz and below) can easily handle digital video editing and production.

3) If you're like most of us, and you have a stack of family videos on tape that you never watch and always say, "One of these days, I need to edit those..." Now, you have absolutely no more excuse. Making videos from your home movies does three things: 1. Helps protect your memories because tape is damaged and ages easily, 2. Enables you to create enjoyable movies from your video raw footage that are so good, your family truly WILL watch them whereas not watch the tapes that are just sitting on the shelf now, and 3. Your relatives will VERY much appreciate you making nice videos for them that include them and other family members that you give them as gifts.

4) Adding sound, such as narration and background music in incredibly simple to do, even in low-end products such as Movie Maker 2.

5) Using a video camera bought in the past 5 years or so with a Firewire port eliminates the need for a capture card (as long as your computer has Firewire) because you can go directly from digital camera to digital computer without conversion.

6) Once you install multiple DVD-burning packages on your computer, such as Nero (my favorite), Sonic, and Roxio, they begin to conflict with each other dramatically. You don't notice this until you attempt to burn DVDs. The failure rate dramatically increases the more DVD-writing software programs you install. This is a nightmare and here, in 2004, this is a nightmare that users shouldn't have to worry about. Uninstalling all but one of the DVD-writing programs usually does NOT solve the problems because the uninstall routines don't always remove their drivers the way they should.

7) If you used to be able to burn DVDs and now you cannot, probably it's software-related as I state above. Purchase several small packs of blank DVDs and try to get as many combinations as possible. Therefore, get DVD-R, DVD +R, DVD+/-R, and the rest. Get two of each set, one a top-quality brand and one a cheap brand. With all that, you can probably find one that works even though the others don't burn. I want to stress again, this is NOT something that users should have to go through in this day and age. And many people never have trouble. But if you have trouble, buying all these blank DVD media formats until you find one that works for you is cheaper than replacing your drive or computer.

8) Inadequate lighting is one of the most common mistakes videographers make when shooting video. It's not just too low of lighting; often, it's the lighting placement (such as shooting video directly into the sun instead of keeping the sun to your back).

9) The biggest challenge right now (once your DVD-writing conflicts are solved) is storage. If you plan to make lots of digital movies and keep them on your hard disk, you'll quickly run out of space. I have a terabyte of storage in my office right now and I'm getting low on disk space. Surprisingly, I don't feel as though I've done all that much digital editing! The only real answer until 50 or more terabytes is cheaply available, is to store videos on DVDs, not as playable DVDs in home entertainment systems, but stored just in a compact data format. That being said, it's far better if you can keep your videos online on hard disk storage so that you can access special effects, reuse titles, and bring in other clips more easily. Again, we won't see that being simple until we get more storage.

10) With sharp tools, a novice can REALLY get in trouble! Used to, programs that were simple such as desktop publishing programs enabled users to create horrible documents and presentations quickly! I don't find that as much with video editing programs such as Movie Maker. You truly can produce very good movies with very little skill and make them enjoyable.... but you must remember the Golden Rule of Video: Cut, cut, and cut some more until the video flows smoothly and keeps the audience's attention.

Q: What future books, columns, and articles can we expect from you?

A: After a short sabbatical writing a book on social problems in America and around the world (called "Disabling America" ISBN #0785262253), I'm back in the saddle with computer books writing an entry-level book about OpenOffice.org, the most exciting piece of software I've seen in a long time. OpenOffice.org is a full-featured word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, drawing program, and Web page creator and OpenOffice.org is a direct competitor with Microsoft Office. Office users will feel right at home except Office users will NOT expect the price they pay for OpenOffice.org: FREE. As in Absolutely Free. www.OpenOffice.org gives you the download link and in 10 minutes (with a fast connection), you'll have an installation that works much like Microsoft Office except you'll still have your $500!

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: Writing "Digital Video with Windows XP in a Snap" really opened my eyes to how underutilized digital video is. I hope to be offering a service in my town to convert their home movies to digital DVD video with edited sound, music, and all that. It may not be a huge success but it's something I want to do, sort of as a hobby that brings in a small income. Obviously, this is not setting my sights high! I would like that kind of thing as a hobby and perhaps I'll write less and enjoy travel more.

Q: What are the most important trends to watch, and please provide some detailed recommendations?

A: 1) Disk storage will continue to get cheaper and hold more. This is the #1 bottleneck right now for digital video for the average user who may only have a 30-60 gigabyte hard disk. You can buy a 250 Gigabyte external hard disk now for, retail, about $300 (Maxtor) and having anything less than 200 gig of total storage will make you work harder to manage your computer digital and audio files.

2) If you plan to stream video throughout your home wirelessly, you MUST go with the 802.11 g (as opposed to b) wireless system. Of course, they already have advanced past the G stage, but G is at a critical price and availability level now and it works great.

3) eBay is often overlooked as one of the most important marketplaces around. Best Buy recently announced their intention to open an eBay store for their overstocks. If you don't routinely use eBay to buy items you normally need, you are spending far more money than you should.

4) eBay, Wal-Mart, and China are the 3 primary reasons why price inflation hasn't hit consumer goods. Everything else has been inflating (houses, gasoline, commodities such as wheat, beans, gold, silver, platinum, cattle prices...). Competition keeps prices down and we can be thankful that my predictions about the demise of the Internet more than a decade ago didn't come true.

5) Gigabyte Ethernet should be considered standard today if you need to run a wired network. Don't settle for 10/100 networking because you need the bandwidth that gigabyte Ethernet provides and the cost is now minimal.

6) Here is a negative trend: ISPs are filtering out your email BEFORE it gets to your computer... and some of it is email you want. Major ISPs are filtering "spam" and the number of false positives (the email that is good but which they think is spam) grows daily. I recently sent a note to my wife - she is downstairs and I'm upstairs. I mailed my email to her from my MSN.com account to her Hotmail inbox. No matter how many times I sent it, the email never got through. When I changed the wording of the title, it went through. In my opinion, filtering out at the ISP level is the worst kind of filtering possible and it's halting the advance of marketing and commerce on the Internet... and guess what? Real spam keeps getting through.  You should tell your ISP that YOU want to be in control of filtering your own spam.

Q: List the best resources.

A: 1) Google.com  - competitors (such as msn.com) are ramping up their efforts to knock google.com out of the top spot. What they forget is that google.com isn't sitting still waiting to lose their position. In addition, if you pay for click-through banner ads, you should immediately stop and give Google AdWords a try.

2) eBay.com to find out what anything on the planet is truly worth.

3) PayPal.com - Get an account NOW whether or not you ever want to use eBay. PayPal will be THE Internet money transfer system, especially as micro-payments (fractions of cents to view certain content) becomes more popular.

Q: Who/what do you think are the winners and losers in the next five years and why?

A: Winner: eBay and Google for the reasons I state above. Losers: homeowners because the Internet cannot keep housing prices down as governments continue to prop up currencies. There is a housing bubble right now due to the massive liquidity that governments have pumped into their money supplies all around the world. That liquidity probably cannot last another 3 years. Get a handle on your debt ASAP and pay down your mortgage as quickly as you can. You don't want to be deeply in debt if deflation in housing begins because it dominos to so many other aspects of your economy. This is true for most industrial nations in the world right now.

Q: You pick four topic areas and then provide us with those valuable rare “gems” that only you know.

A: 1) Area 1: (I keep harping on eBay, sorry) eBay
a) The following statement at the bottom of your auctions will dramatically increase the number of bids you get when you sell something: "Why buy from me? If I do not ship within 3 business days of receiving your payment (given the payment terms below), I'll refund your money AND send you this item absolutely free."  Of course, for this to work you'd better do what you promise!
b) Cross-promote your auctions, try to list more than one item in the same category when you sell, and tell in one auction about the other auction and provide links to both. I use an eBay bid-tracking system and I am amazed at how many bids are given on items from users who just visited my OTHER item where I linked to this one.
c) eBay is now our video rental store! When my family wants to watch a video, I locate it on eBay and find the auction with the lowest shipping charge and the worst-worded and worst-presented auction. As long as the seller has a good eBay history, I buy the video. When we're done, I relist it using a far better listing. I generally make a buck or more on each turnaround. Is it worth my effort for $1? No. But the alternative is driving to the video store, risking it being checked out, paying the $3 rental fee, and then having to return it before it's due. I find the tradeoff of making $1 far better than doing all that and spending $3.

2) Area 2: Internet commerce
a) Most commerce Web pages don't know the importance of a good headline. If you are trying to sell something on the Web in ANY fashion, if you improve your headline your sales will improve as long as you have traffic coming to your site. Find anything by Jay Abraham (Abraham.com) if you'd like your sales top skyrocket. (By the way, I don't know Jay Abraham and I don't get anything if you buy from him. He can teach you the best way to market ANY product or service, though.)
b) Even though the world is basically getting more Internet-savvy every day, when you sell online be sure to provide not only a credit card link, but also a snail mail link and a fax number so your customers have alternative ways to pay you. Many sales are lost because people are still too timid about entering their credit cards online.

3) Area 3: Bill-Paying
a) More and more banks are offering bill-payment services free of charge. Check if yours does. If so and you've been using them a while, tell them to stop charging you! (They often won't stop until you request it even though new customers don't have the charge.) If you haven't been paying bills online, stop being crazy and begin. You save effort and stamps.

4) Area 4: Speaking of stamps
a)  Not all countries yet provide online postage but the USA does and I believe Canada does. I love using online postage. Our wasteful trips to the post office have gone away.
b) We live in the country in a very rural area. We moved here 4 years ago. I never in my life wanted to live outside a major city until we moved here. Now, when we want something, we go online and it's on our doorstep 2-to-3 days later. The convenience of living in the city is no longer limited to the city. The inconvenience of living in the country is no longer an inconvenience. Why the current trend is TO the cities and AWAY from the country just astounds me with today's technology so available to us. Plus, when writing about computers all day, it's nice to go watch the deer in our backyard.

Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?

A: I run a 3 Gigahertz machine with three side-by-side monitors at all time. When writing about a product, I can test the product on one screen, write about it on another, and have the third screen for email, etc.  I have a second computer that I can switch to with a USB-based keyboard/mouse switch so while rebooting one, I can use my same keyboard, printed, and mouse to check the Internet or whatever.  I have one terabyte of disk storage off to the side connected to my primary computer by Firewire. I keep my backups offsite on additional Maxtor Firewire hard disks. I use 2 HP laser printers, one color and one black-and-white, both connected to my home network and available from any computer.  I don't prefer inkjet due to the high cost of ink and the speed at which one must change the cartridges. My wife has a computer downstairs networked via Ethernet cable. Our laptop has a wireless connection to the network and Internet. We run DSL.

Q: If you were doing this interview, what five questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

A: Q1: What's it like being an author?
A1: It’s the only job I can get paid for without wearing a shirt! Seriously, it's great because we can travel and I can still work. It's bad though because if I stop writing, income stops coming in. This kind of work is often envied but not everybody has the temperament to put their incomes on the line.

Q2: What other ways does writing differ from other kinds of jobs?
A2: When I received my very first book, I was thrilled and proud. Starting with my second, I began to see my books and my writing as my business.


Q3: Can you give any success tips for our audience?
A3: You need to learn to market yourself. This is even MORE true if you work for someone. You need to make yourself more valuable to your employer than you are today. Most people never do this and they harm themselves in the long run. The best investment you can make is read and study one hour a day for 6 days a week, something related to your profession or some other profession. School doesn't stop when you graduate... it only begins. If you don't further yourself in today's changing world, you will be left in the dust.

 Q4: So you're saying success is mostly derived from studying and learning?
A4: Primarily yes, although chance (luck?) plays a part too. The more prepared I am, the luckier I get. I don't think that's a coincidence, we make our own paths most of the time. If you EVER see yourself as a victim (outside of a true crime situation), you will be a LOSER until you change your attitude. I was born with one leg and a total of 3 deformed fingers. I am the most prolific computer book author and speaker on earth, I type about 45 words per minute, and as I'm rollerblading down the street I don't have too much time to think about having only one leg. People who know me forget I'm physically different after about 8 seconds. I wouldn't have it any other way.  I'm so glad I was born LONG before government disability programs were so common because they would have grabbed me long ago, pigeon-holed me as someone who couldn't get along without their help, and I'd be quite unsuccessful today.

 Q: Greg, thank you again for your time, and consideration in doing this interview.

 A: I want to restate, it was an honor for me to speak with YOU today. Although I veered somewhat from the original topic of digital video and my “Digital Video with Windows XP in a Snap” book which is really selling well right now, I see the computer universe as infiltrating all aspects of life (generally in a good way). I like to comment on many of those ways and I appreciate your patience while I did so today.

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