28, 2007: Odd Lots
- There's an ancient and (from all appearances) abandoned German
cemetery at the southeast corner of Rand Road and Golf Road in
Des Plaines, just northwest of Chicago. I passed it on my walk
yesterday, and took ten minutes to walk the rows and look for
any familiar names. I didn't see any names from my own family
tree, but it was interesting nonetheless. Of the 80-ish graves
I saw (and it looks like many have long since been removed) at
least half were of people who died in the 19th century, though
one man was buried there as late as 1975. Many markers are broken
or mostly buried, and there is one foundation for a now-gone mausoleum.
A little Googling showed it to belong to Immanuel
Lutheran Church, on Lee Street in downtown Des Plaines, but
there is no sign on site to that effect, and there is no fence
nor much evidence of any care save the occasional mowing of weeds.
I did find a page with a
summary of readable markers. For you geofreaks, it's located
at 42° 3'9.79"N 87°53'40.49"W.
- After an insane amount of time wasted screwing with the drivers,
configuration, and application setup, I finally got LightScribe
to work on one of my Dell SX270 XP machines. I have yet to get
it to work on any Win2K machine, and I've begun to wonder if there's
something in LightScribe that (intentionally or not) simply doesn't
play well with 2000. However, once I burned a few LightScribe
labels, I must say that I don't recommend it, even on XP. The
contrast is very poor, and if the text is small enough to express
titles for 20 songs, it's virtually unreadable. Don't bother.
- One of my favorite hymn tunes is Gustav Holst's Thaxted (named
after the town in England where he grew up) which most people
recognize as the great anthem around which Holst built the Jupiter
movement of The Planets. Anglophiles may also know the
tune as that of the WWI-era patriotic hymn "I
Vow to Thee, My Country." The
Wikipedia writeup indicates that it has a meter of 13 13 13
13 13 13, which is extremely uncommon and may be unique among
Christian hymns. Is that why it still gives me chills after hearing
it literally hundreds of times? Why are we moved by some tunes
(absent words to carry emotional content) and not others?
- Saw something today (at Trader Joe's) I'd never seen nor heard
of before: The pluot.
Quarter plum, three quarters apricot. They look like plums, but
were not for sale individually and I didn't want to buy a whole
package without knowing a little bit more about what they were.
I like both plums and apricots, though; how can I lose?
- George Ewing's review of the first Carl & Jerry books is
now on the stands in CQ Magazine, page 35. Although we
still don't know much about John T. Frye, a chap who used to live
in Logansport, Indiana wrote this afternoon to tell me that John's
younger brother Bailey WA9OWH is still alive and still living
in Logansport. I'm hoping to contact him in the next few days
to see if he can provide any additional details. John T. Frye
himself died in 1985.
27, 2007: What's On the Other Side of That Record?
While in the car the other day, I heard the slightly jazzy old
torch song "That Old Devil Moon" on the radioand
the announcer said it was from the musical Finian's Rainbow.
It caught me up short: That was in Finian's Rainbow?
Huh. Didn't know that. Now, I thought I knew all the songs from
Finian's Rainbow; in fact, I could sing them if you wanted
to be tormented, especially "That Great Come-And-Get-It Day,"
one of musical theater's supreme comic moments. But "That Old
Devil Moon" got away from me.
So when I came home, I looked up the score of Finian's Rainbow
online. And then I realized that I didn't know half the songs from
Finian's Rainbow. Really. Literally. Half the songs were
missing from my remembrance.
Here's why: Back in high school when I first met Carol, we would
often sit in her living room in the evening and talk while records
played on her father's expensive Scott stereo system. Carol would
drop a stack of LPs on the changer and basically forget about them.
The changer could take a decent stack, and for the few hours we
had together (we were both early-to-bed types) that was more than
Except that we never flipped them over and listened to the other
So it was with Finian's Rainbow and all the other records
in her collection. We listened to Side 1. We never got around to
Side 2. And guess which side of the Finian's Rainbow soundtrack
"That Old Devil Moon" was on?
There was a saying current among Boomers in our youth, hurled at
people who were harping to excess on a single point: "Hey man,
what's on the other side of that record?" It's passed out of
our culture, for the obvious reason: Records now have only one side.
(I flash on the punchline from Arthur C. Clarke's classic 1949 short,
"The Wall of Darkness".) If you hear any of Finian's
Rainbow, today, you hear all of it.
Carol and I spent some time with Gretchen and Bill and Katie Beth
last night, and while making funny noises at my only niece (now
ten months old) I found myself asking her in my mind: Little girl,
will you ever understand half of what your parents lived
through? And can we even begin to imagine what you'll see when you're
90, in the year 2096?
26, 2007: Wireless-Nada
I've been holding back on revising my 2004 book Jeff
Duntemann's Wi-Fi Guide for almost two years now, hoping
for finalization of the IEEE 802.11n spec. It seems like we've had
"Draft-N" products piled up in Best Buy since the glaciers
retreated, and yet the specification seems no closer to its final
form than it was when Zoser invented the pyramid.
Admittedly, it's a spec with sky-high aspirations, but the real
problem now seems to be a recalcitrant Australian research consortium
called CSIRO, which
may or may not own patents that may or may not completely prevent
the IEEE from nailing the spec before the glaciers come back.
So I've been thinking a lot about Wi-Fi recently. Some observations:
- Wireless-G works very well for what 80% of people do with it.
G runs faster than any broadband connection I've ever seen, and
Internet distribution is most of what Wi-Fi does.
- We are getting close to wireless saturation on 2.4 GHz. I recently
popped my laptop open and did some warsitting. Without moving
a wavelength, I saw four APs named "linksys,"
all operating on channel 6. (Those are the default SSID/channels
for most Linksys Wi-Fi routers.) No matter what else it is, Wireless-N
is a spectrum hog, and there will be RF fistfights galore when
this thing hits the airwaves.
- Wireless-N has been touted as the solution to in-house HD video
streaming, but with all those other APs within close range, I've
got my doubts. Whereas you were a lonely Wi-Fi geek trendsetter
at one time, those days are gone. Your neighbors all have APs
now. (And all of them are named "linksys"!) Drop one
or two nearby 2.4 GHz cordless phones into the mix, and watch
your throughput plunge.
- No matter what the IEEE does, there's strong possibility that
today's Draft-N hardware will be unable to work at full functionality
with tomorrow's Wireless-N gear. It's not an easy spec to pull
off, and small differences may pile up against you in subtle ways.
- Finally, if CSIRO prevails, Wireless-N gear will never get very
I recently fixed a Wi-Fi problem for Carol's sister...by dumping
Wi-Fi. An intermittent and unidentified analog source on 2.4 GHz
(which smelled to me like a neighbor's cordless phone) was forcing
her connection to drop, so I went down to Best Buy and grabbed a
pair of Linksys
Powerline networking bricks, and the problem went and stayed
away. Ironically, one of the things I have to add to the next edition
of my book is how to determine when it's time to just give up on
Wi-Fi and use another technology. Powerline works extremely well,
and if all you're doing with Wi-Fi is hooking one or more desktops
to a router elsewhere in your house, Wi-Fi is in many respects the
least desirable way to do it. "Net rot" is real, and it
can happen irrespective of anything you do with your own network.
So I'll be adding a chapter on Powerline technology as an adjunct
or even a swap-out for Wi-Fi. And I will still be counseling against
Draft-N. Wi-Fi is rapidly becoming the victim of its own overwhelming
22, 2007: Odd Lots
Make Blog recently aggregated a very nice FM
Crystal Radio. A diode can detect a strong FM signal via slope
detection, and by "strong" we may mean "within
a mile or two of the broadcasting antenna." I grew up a couple
of miles from WJJD-AM just outside Chicago, and was looking right
down the throat of its 50,000 watt directive array. Not only would
a crystal radio receive it, WJJD was all that any of my
crystal radios would receive, and receive so well that they drove
a small speaker that could be heard clear across my bedroom. I
intuit that an FM crystal set would work best with a Schottky
or microwave diode having a low forward voltage, and (having a
drawer full of same) if time ever allows I'll attempt one. A silver-plated
tank coil would help too, perhapsQ matters!
- Slashdot reported that IBM
is about to release a derivative of Open Office under the
name...Lotus Symphony! That, my friends, is trademark recycling
with a vengeance.
- From Denis Ryan I got a pointer to Favicon
from Pics, a neat Web-based utility that takes an image and
crunches it into a favicon for you. The site produced the favicon
that you can now see on my Copperwood
Press page. The little graphic isn't perfect, but neither
did it take any work to create.
- Fair use exceptions to copyright law help the economy more than
copyright itself, according
to this study. Thanks to Bill Meyer for the pointer.
- Do not miss The
Museum of Unworkable Devices. Learn how most of the popular
perpetual motion machines don't work. My favorite quote from the
article: "Be skeptical of any cyclic perpetual-motion proposal
that can be operated equally well in either direction." Thanks;
I may be skeptical about some of the others, too.
19, 2007: Pirate Talk
Arrr(gh), Matey! It's International
Talk Like a Pirate Day, and (as little love for pirates as I
havedon't get me started about vampires and zombies!) I may
as well get with the program, and talk some pirate about my current
hell-bent object of research, ebooks.
Ebook piracy exists, albeit not on the scale that music or movie
piracy exists. One of my odd jobs for Paraglyph Press is to keep
an ear to the underground and see at what scale it does operate,
specifically with respect to our own books. (For those who just
tuned in, I am a book publisher.) Here are a few things I've learned:
- Even books like ours that have never been released as ebooks
show upas ebookson various pirate sites and Usenet.
Some of these are shabby OCR jobs, and many are simply stitched-together
page images, but a few of them are so well done I would be compelled
to say "Nice job, you scurvy dog!" while hanging their
perpetrators from the nearest yardarm.
- The more popular a book is, the more likely it is to be pirated,
and the more pirated copies will be knocking around online at
any given time. The curve is seriously nonlinear, though there
are always anomalies. In general, you have to be pretty popular
to be pirated at all, and hugely popular to be pirated a lot.
- These pirated ebook editions are sometimes claimed to be "authorized"
and sold on Web sites. Keith and I have sent any number of "cut
that out!" notices to such Web sites. Interestingly, the
pirates often honor such noticesthough new sites pop up
periodically and have to be dealt with.
- Usenet is one of the biggest single sources of pirated ebooks
(as well as music, software, and movies) and yet almost nobody
ever talks about Usenet, which is the IP equivalent of the Caribbean
Sea in 1740.
Some conclusions can be drawn from this without churning up much
of a wake:
- Most authors and publishers worry too much about piracy. There's
a sort of "don't flatter yourself" moment that comes
of looking for your own work among the pirates, at least if you're
not Neil Gaiman. I think it was Tim O'Reilly who said that "Your
enemy isn't piracy. Your enemy is obscurity." My enemy certainly
- Even popular authors lose less money to piracy than conventional
wisdom suggests. My reasoning is this: By the time you become
popular enough for the pirates to bother with, you've already
made the bulk of your money.
- If you don't either sell ebook editions of your work yourself
or authorize some site to do so, the pirates will eventually do
it for you, and some of them will pretend to be legit and pocket
the money that you could be pocketing. People are paying for
ebooks. The question now becomes: Who gets the gold doubloons?
(And why does the word "doubloon" always suggest a brand
of bubble gum?)
The way to minimize ebook piracy is pretty obvious to me: Make
your titles cheap and make them easy to buy. Don't train your
readers and fans to be pirates. Case in point: I went looking
for an authorized ebook edition of Lord of the Rings last
year and didn't find one. Some discussion I saw online suggested
that Christopher Tolkien was having nothing to do with ebooks. Immediately
following were speculations that downloading pirate ebook editions
of print books was one way of backing up the paper copies that you
already own, and thus protected activity under Fair Use. This may
or may not be true, but...why encourage readers to get comfortable
with that dicey calculus? X% are willing to give you money. Y% will
invariably rip you off, no matter what you do. Why not settle for
X% of the pie? Turn it down, and you get no pie at all. Worse, you'll
then be forcing customers to decide whether to be honest or not,
and if you make it impossible for them to be honest, many or most
will take the path of least resistance, and before you know it you're
looking at another eyepatch and another parrot.
Oh, and don't bother with DRM. Polly is a cracker.
That's enough pirate talk for awhile, if not necessarily for another
year. The IPod did more than any other single factor in reducing
music piracy, and the magic was not in the gadget but in the overall
system by which people discovered, bought, and played their music.
We're still looking for a system like that to float the ebook industry.
Amazon may have one, and as we learn more (October 13?) I'll drop
a note in this bottle. Small publishers, don't reach for that single-shot
flintlock just yet...
17, 2007: A Flipflop on "Eyeability"
Traveling again. And while I did throw some dead trees in a box
to take along, I've been doing almost all of my reading on two devices:
My Thinkpad X41 Tablet, and my Sony Reader. The idea is primarily
to see if the e-ink display in the Sony Reader really is easier
on the eyes than a conventional LCD laptop display. What I've discovered
surprised me a little, and has contradicted something I've been
saying for ten or twelve years now: That displays operating by generated
light are harder on the eyes than displays operating by reflected
If it's true, it's not as true as I originally thought it was.
I've done a lot of ebook reading on my X41. I read the ebook
version of Chris Gerrib's debut SF novel The
Mars Run on it, while sitting in the corner of a poorly
lit RV. More significantly, I read Colin Wilson's superb The
Criminal History of Mankind on itand that's a big
book, I'm guessing close to 250,000 words. In neither case did I
notice my eyes getting any grittier any faster than they generally
do reading from paper. I bought the Sony Reader more recently and
thus have less data, although (as I mentioned
a few days ago) I found out early that the gadget is something
less than a blinding flash and a deafening report. Still, The
Skylark of Space went past the eyeballs on the Reader without
any serious trouble assuming I had enough light to read by.
Eye, (sorry) there's the rub. The Sony's e-ink display is truly
a lot like regular paper: You can't read it in the dark. Take it
under the covers, and you need a flashlight. And having done a lot
of holding it up against various types of books and magazines in
various qualities of light, I will go further: It takes better light
to read from e-ink than it does to read from any sort of printed
paper except newsprint.
Ordinarily this isn't an issue. My reading setup at home is near-optimal:
A huge cushy leather chair and a 300W mogul-bulb floor lamp with
a glass concentrator. On the road, well, things are different. Hotels
are notoriously cheap with light, because light = electricity =
money. Reading at night at a Best Western in Kearney, Nebraska was
painful. However, add more light and the Reader begins to shine,
and when you get to in-car daytime reading, it eclipses the X41
completely. The X41 is close to illegible in daylight, and hopeless
in direct sun. The Reader actually looks best when the sun is glaring
right on it, and the damned thing should be sold in upscale tropical
resort gift shops. (Honestly, Sony should consider developing a
unit sealed against sand and water for the George Hamilton set.)
So I stand corrected: There may be less here than meets the eye.
One of the advantages of a laptop/tablet display is that it presents
a relatively constant light level to your eyes. Paper and e-ink
depend on incident light, and readability is affected by the angle
at which light hits it. E-ink displays are inherently wider-angle
than LCDs, but this advantage is counteracted by the need to position
an e-ink display optimally with respect to the light, rather than
with respect to your eyes. Book people do this without thinking,
but I've also found that having read a couple million words on it,
I position the X41 optimally with respect to my eyes now as well,
just as automatically.
E-ink will get better over time, and at some point it will not
only equal high-quality printed paper in terms of contrast, but
also in resolution and levels of grayscale and perhaps even color.
(Right now, e-ink is hopeless for illustrations.) In the meantime,
I'm realizing that the Thinkpad X41 has been an extremely
good ebook reader, and it doubles as a laptop, heh.
12, 2007: Piper and Smith
I'm about to get pretty busy and may not post for a bit. In the
meantime, while furiously researching ebook readers and distributor
sites (as you can probably tell from my recent posts) I happened
upon Feedbooks, a French
site serving up free ebooks formatted specifically for the Sony
Reader and the IRex Iliad. In browsing their collection I realized
that a lot of E. E. "Doc" Smith's and H. Beam Piper's
work is hosted on Project Gutenberg, and therefore (reasonably)
reliably in the public domain. I took a few minutes to research
it, and found no copyright renewal records for any of the Skylark
books, and only one of the Lensman books (Gray Lensman).
Piper's Little Fuzzy appears to be out of copyright, as are
Space Viking and a lot of his other works. My copies of Skylark
and Lensman are from the 60s and falling to pieces, so it'll be
interesting to attempt them on the Sony. There's a certain delightful
verve and gusto in the Skylark books, particularly, and I like
verve and gusto. (Angst and anguish are not my thang, for the most
part.) You have to factor the book's age into the matter, as well
as the culture in which and for which it was created. Some parts
of The Skylark of Space were written as early as 1915 (!!)
and the amazing thing is not how dated the book seems, but how well
it actually holds up.
I had hoped to have a free ebook version of "Guardian"
to turn loose by now, but real life has intervened. Give me another
week or so. It's most of the way there. After that I will release
a free version of "Inevitability Sphere," especially if
I can concoct a cover image of a huge black sphere up among fluffy
white cumulus clouds. 3-D art is not my strong suit, but perhaps
it's time I learned.
10, 2007: Creative Commons and Fanfic
I'm in the process of processing several of my short SF stories
for release as free downloads, and in doing so I've been reviewing
the Creative Commons licensing
scheme. CC is an effort to add some richness to our ancient
and somewhat blunt-instrumentish copyright laws, in order to allow
creative people to grant some rights to their works without having
to grant all rights, or else no rights. The CC license is granular,
with a grid of grantable rights and restrictions that may be selected
in various combinations by the creator/rightsholder. The CC licensing
scheme is a little more complex for music than for written works,
and in this posting (not being in the music biz) I'll restrict my
comments to the realm of text and images.
For example, I'll shortly be releasing several stories under the
attribution/noncommercial/verbatim license. This allows free distribution,
- Attribution to me is retained;
- The work is not distributed as part of a commercial product;
- The work is distributed as I released it, without modification.
There's more to it than that, and if you're a writer, illustrator,
or photgrapher, I encourage you to read up on it.
My point today is this: In reading over the Creative Commons site,
it occurred to me that there is no provision for granting or retaining
fanfic rights under CC. I suspect that this is simply because fanfic
(while ancient in some respects) has gotten big only recently. Many
huge fights have been fought (and are being fought) over fanfic.
An unambiguous legal vehicle allowing the selective granting of
fanfic rights would be a very good thing to have.
This is being done. Paramount has for years granted a sort of non-commercial
fanfic license to the Star Trek characters, designs, and trademarks.
I recently saw an episode of Star
Trek: The New Voyages that was a low-budget but pretty effective
fan remake of my favorite Trek episode ever, "The Doomsday
Machine." (It was retitled "In Harm's Way.") This
was done with Paramount's blessing, under the proviso that no profit
was to be taken from the effort, and the produced material would
be given away rather than sold.
It would be good to have some crisp legal framework within which
we could do that without having to call in the lawyers. I'd like
to suggest three different fanfic licensing components:
- Fanfic is permitted with attribution of the original work and
- Fanfic is permitted as long as the works are given away rather
- Fanfic is permitted with the approval of each fanfic work by
The first two should be obvious. The third component allows rightsholders
to exclude fanfic that is crude, obscene or in some other way harms
the reputation of the original work, and perhaps fanfic that (even
within the spirit of the original work) overlaps or contradicts
characters, situations or story arcs that the rightsholder would
like to "keep clean" as they were createdor intends
to pursue him/herself in the future.
The third license implies some sort of "approved by the rightsholder"
bug to be placed in the distributed copy of a fanfic work.
Charlie Stross has said emphatically that "Your
fans are not the enemy." It's obvious to me that fanfic
is a great way for authors to broaden the reach of their works,
and authors should have a framework to make fanfic possible legally,
to the degree that they choose to support it. I am not anything
like a lawyer, but there are lawyers who have worked on the Creative
Commons licenses, and I hope that eventually they work out something
within CC to make fanfic legally and unambiguously supportable.
8, 2007: Odd Lots
- I don't follow Python very closely, but from Eric
the Fruit Bat I learned of Boa
Constructor, a brilliantly named and still rough (but very
promising) Delphi-like IDE for the Python language. I have a couple
of books on Python and I do respect it. All I need now are another
six hours in the day...
- Amazon is creating a new site called Askville,
which is an ask-questions-get-an-answer social networking system.
Answers are rated by users, and you earn Quest Coins by providing
good answersand lose them by posting bad ones. It's a little
unclear what Quest Coins will be good for yet, because Questville.com
(another Amazon startup, possibly Flash-powered) hasn't gone live
yet. The key point here is not that Askville exists (it's nothing
special that hasn't been done before) but that Amazon created
it from scratch rather than bought it.
- Google's gotten into everything else, and they
may now get into ebook distribution. This is worth following;
can a Google-designed (or at least branded) ebook reader be too
far behind? Which leads me to:
- This idea may sound retro and completely loopy, but what the
hell: To capture nontechnical readers during the critical next
five years of the ebook industry's evolution, smart publishers
might well OEM a cheap portless, dirt-simple, SD-card capable
e-ink reader from the Pacific Rim, fill it with some (large) number
of books from the backlist, and then sell either/both the midlist
and frontist on additional bubble-packed read-only SD cards in
retail stores, say, quarterly. Small SD cards (64 MB -128 MB are
now dirt cheap and could easily hold a middling publisher's entire
semiannual frontlist. Baen
Books has been working on a private-labeled ebook reader,
but I'm really envisioning something not Internet-connected at
all, targeted at audiences who may just prefer to buy something
physical at Borders periodically than fool with a poorly designed
or simply idiotic Web system. (I won't name names, but you know
that they exist.) This would be a tougher call for monster NY
publishers who publish in many different areas, but for successful
genre publishers (romances, mysteries, SF, etc.) it could work,
and work well. If the reader has no ports and the cards require
a reader to read them, even the IP paranoids might say yes.
7, 2007: 7 Reasons Not to Buy the Sony Reader
I bought a Sony
Reader a couple of weeks ago, and it sat in a box while I cleared
my plate on returning from Chicago. I've had some time to play with
it now, and at this point I don't recommend it. I had to buy itI'm
a publisher trying to break into the ebook business, and I need
the hands-on, which (for me at least) is deductablebut if
you're hanging in there waiting for the right time to jump into
the ebook reader market, you might wait a little longer.
- It doesn't support Mobi or LIT (MS Reader.) Or CHM, which would
be useful for technical references. You get Sony's proprietary
format, BBeB, plus HTML, PDF, RTF, and plain DOS text. The top
two ebook-specific formats are simply unavailable. (My tests show
that RTF files render beautifully, however.)
- The Sony Connect software (basically a USB driver and a minimalist
library manager) will not install under Windows 2000! It
just pops up a box complaining that "Connect Reader by Sony
requires that your computer is running Windows XP." It is
to boggle. Perhaps unfairly, I began to Wonder What They're Up
To. After all, this is the company that originated the consumer
rootkit. However, further research suggests it's just ordinary
stupidity. I may try the
third-party libprs500 app, and will report here when I do.
- The page-navigation buttons are on the wrong side. I think most
people would expect them on the right margin of the device. They're
on the left. Furthermore, there are two sets of navigation controlsboth
on the left. This may be a consequence of the Japanese languagein
Japan, books are read from right to left. Not sure. But it make
page turning more awkward than it should be. Left-handed people
may like it that way, though.
- There's no hierarchical management of storage on the SD card
slot. Because I couldn't get Connect to install, I tested the
Reader by loading a bunch of ebooks onto a nice new 2 GB SD card.
I wanted to have Baen books in one directory, computer books in
another, etc. No dice. The world is flatand so is the external
- There is no annotation feature. I got used to this running MS
Reader on my X41, and got to like it a lot. Future ebook readers
will have to have a stylus, and some kind of stylus gesture input.
I don't see any way around it. (The Irex Iliad already does this,
so the e-ink display is not a roadblock against stylus input.)
- PDF rendering is terribleand I don't see why it needs
to be. Somebody at Sony tried to cut corners licensing somebody's
PDF renderer, and it shows.
- It's a Sony. Go read the history of Sony vis-a-vis technology
standards. Need I say more?
On the flipside: I like the display. It reads well in bright light,
and doesn't drain the battery in half an evening, as the X41 does.
In fact, the Reader reads best in raw, direct sunlight, even if
you have your shades on. (Beach reading!) Keep in mind, though,
that the display technology is not
Sony's, and Sony just buys the parts. The very same e-ink display
can be had elsewhere. (Google on IRex, CyBook, and NAEB.)
This isn't really an end-user problem, but Sony did not
make it easy for publishers to create content in their proprietary
BBeB format. (LRF/LRX files.) Google Code, of all places, recently
published a utility called BBeB
Binder, which is a free converter for crunching HTML files and
text files into BBeB ebooks. Testing this is on my list, but I haven't
gotten to it yet. MS had the right idea by creating a free plug-in
for Word that saves a Word .DOC file into a .LIT file. WordRMR
just works. Sony needs something like that. Haven't seen it yet.
If the Reader is to have a future, they're going to have to get
6, 2007: Is the Kindle Kindling?
Reith reminded me of something I had almost forgotten: Last fall
Amazon announced (or leaked, as they preferred to spin it) the existence
of a hardware ebook reader called the Kindle. Photos
appeared in Engadget, and then it mostly dropped off the edge
of the Earth.
It doesn't get high marks for looks, but consider who's creating
it, and what's in it: The formidable MobiPocket Reader, which is
perhaps the best ebook reader app that I've tested so far. Amazon
now owns Mobi (which I had also forgotten) and from what little
factual information I've been able to glean, their intent is to
do for ebooks something like what Apple did for individual music
tracks, and I'm very sure that no firm on Earth is in a better position
to do that.
So. Where the hell is the Kindle?
article Mike pointed me to suggests that Kindle will appear
in October. Interesting, considering how little we know about it.
The photos suggests an e-ink display, and in fact if it isn't
e-ink, the device is DOA. There's an intriguing hint that the Kindle
will have built-in EVDO, which would be stunning if EVDO didn't
cost $75-$90/month and were available everywhere, which it isn't.
I have some theories, which are worth about what theories are usually
worth. Take yer pick:
- Amazon is having a tough time persuading Big Pages to sign on.
This may have something to do with DRM, but it may also be due
to a reluctance to give Amazon the sort of market power in ebooks
that ITunes gave Apple over music. Right Men hate to give up power,
and I've met (and read about) many Right Men in book publishing.
Amazon has huge power over book pricing these days, and is widely
hated up and down the halls of the book industry. About the only
thing those guys may fear more than ebook piracy is Amazon selling
most of the world's ebooks. (As a picopublisher, though, I say,
Bring it on!)
- The device shown in the photos has a prototypish look about
it. Hardware is easier than software, but hardware isn't easy.
It may simply have taken more time to get the kinks out of it
than they expected.
- Focus groups were convened late, and hated it. Most of the comments
I've seen online say it's too big, and has too many buttons, including
that Blackberry-style keyboard. The keyboard, by the way, suggests
more uses than ebooks, none of which have been made public.
There have been some hints that the device will cost as little
as $50 with a contract bundling EVDO service and some kind of subscription
to an Amazon ebook store. This is a business model worth trying,
and if it can work at all, Amazon can make it work.
In the meantime, Palm
withdrew its forthcoming Foleo UMPC mini-laptop, which I
had heard about from David Beers. The Foleo was basically a
tiny laptop that talks through your cellphone, and had some potential
as an ebook reader, especially considering that it did all the other
stuff that road warriors need to do. It's possible that the Kindle
may occupy part of this space. We don't know yet.
And while we're on the topic, the new e-ink version of the Bookeen
Cybook is supposed
to be released in October, at about $350. The unit is very similar
to the Sony Reader, except it uses the
newest update in the e-ink display technology and displays MobiPocket.
Ohand I just bought a Sony Reader. Alas, the first thing
I learned about it is that its USB link software refuses to install
under Windows 2000! (The error box says "Connect Reader
by Sony requires that the computer is running Windows XP.")
At least Sony is still the Sony we've long learned to love and (eventually)
Maybe I shoulda bought an IRex.
4, 2007: Paper Piracy?
I got a note from a chap at a major NY publisher who's been reading
Contra for some time and has a special interest in new business
models, particular those that allow the reduction of retail returns.
He thinks the notion of "just-in-time"
bookstore replenishment will happen someday, but it will be
capital-intensive and slow to implement. (Just one book manufacturing
machine won't make it. To be effective, a big urban store would
need five or six and eventually more.) His firm would love to have
their backlist out of their warehouses and onto a hard drive on
a server, but they're worried about something I hadn't thought about:
Counterfeiting of paper books.
He isn't sure how much to worry about this (and I'm not worried
at all, especially for my own work) but there are people at the
large houses who do nothing but worry about IP issues.
Here's the scenario: TeraHouse Publishing transmits a print image
(almost always a PDF) of a book that has gone from frontlist to
backlist over to a POD manufacturing server somewhere. The initial
print run has been sold, and it will not be reprinted conventionally.
TeraHouse intends to harvest the book's Long Tail by manufacturing
either extremely small quantities (under 25 at a time, as Lightning
Source does) for a "shelf cache," or as the technology
The danger lies in having the print image files get out on the
Net somehow. Anyone who claims that this can't be done needs to
be kept away from computers. A print image for an all-text novel
or nonfiction title isn't very large. The print image for my republished
Old Catholic history book The
New Reformation is 2.2 MB in size, including the
cover. That's smaller than most MP3s. A full-color cover image would
be larger, but not larger enough to matter. A USB port and thumb
drive is all you need, at any point in the pipe.
So far it's business as usual: Print images have been sent over
the Net to print houses for years. The danger comes when you're
sending the print image to not one place but to lots of places,
like rooms full of POD machines in hundreds of bookstores. The more
joints in the piping, the more you need to worry about leaks. If
the only place you send the file is to your print house, you know
who to blame if the print image shows up on BitTorrent or Usenet.
If you have to send it to a thousand places, forget it.
The part that I hadn't thought about was small print shops who
have POD machines in the back rooms. The machines are expensive
but getting cheaper, and will eventually cost under $10,000, which
means that they will be all over the place. If the print
image of a novel gets out on Usenet, a print shop owner can run
off ten or fifteen copies of the book for his wife to sell on her
Amazon Associates or eBay bookstoreor her table at the weekly
flea market. Assuming the original print image is used, it would
be difficult to tell the difference between a legit copy made under
a bookstore or a counterfeit made in the back room of a small print
shop, and a seller can always claim that the book is used. Multiply
that by thousands of small-time pirates, and you have a serious
problem. (And then, of course, there's China...)
Far fetched? Seems so to me. I asked him if he had ever heard of
this happening, and he said, "Can't talk about that."
Heh. Sounds like somebody, somewhere got burned a little. I'd worry
more about people just passing the PDFs aroundand then loading
them temporarily on Lulu as private projects, printing single copies
for themselves, and then deleting them. That would be very
difficult to police. Interestingly, he hadn't thought of that, and
I so I guess I gave the poor guy still one more thing to worry about.
Future generations of POD book machines may have technology to
imprint a machine-unique code on each manufactured copy. Color copiers
do that now to make it easier for the Feds to trace counterfeited
money. And if you're a publisher, books are money. It'll
be interesting to see how things work out over the next ten years
3, 2007: Bartenura's Malvasia
haven't reviewed any new wines lately because we've been traveling
so much (albeit only to and from Chicago) that we just haven't tried
many. But yesterday we ate dinner alfresco on the back deck, and
tried a chilled mild (5.5% alcohol) Italian rosé from Bartenura
Vineyards. It's the first Malvasia
I've ever had, and Carol and I (and our friends David and Terry)
were stunned at how good it is.
First of all, it's a summer wine, and while the vineyard calls
it semi-sweet, it's sweeter than most wines I place in that category,
though half a notch drier than what I would call a true dessert
wine. The label calls it a red, though to me it's a rosé,
albeit a dark rosé. Strong fruit, redolent of cherries. Very
light effervescence, of a degree that you can feel but can't see
in the glass.
It's a little too sweet to go with a non-spicy main course, and
might be better with dessert or (in non-dinner circumstances) with
bread and sharp cheese. I could see it going well with something
spicy, especially if you have no ideological objection to sweeter
wines. Pizza? Quesadillas? The world is flat, heh. Give it a shot.
Near $10, and fairly widely distributed. You may not see it in the
Italian section of your wine shop because it tends to get exiled
to the dessert wine section. Do ask. It's worth the extra trouble
2, 2007: SFWA Walks Into a Trap
The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) has walked into a
trap, a trap that they should have seen coming and avoided like
the plague. It's an interesting story, and whereas this will be
a long post, I don't believe in cutsand if you're the least
bit interested in either copyright or SF, you should read it all.
Ok. SFWA is an organization of science fiction and fantasy writers
and related creative types. I belonged to it for years, through
most of the 80s and into the early 90s. I let my membership lapse
about 1991 for a couple of reasons:
- SFWA has no clear idea what its mission is. I belonged largely
for their membership directory, and for occasional good writerly
advice in the newsletter. Different people looked at it to be
different things: Some were howling that it was the SF writers'
union, which made me grimace. Some think of it as a professional
advocacy/trade group. Others assume it should promote the reading
of SF and fantasy among the general public. Some (few, including
me) may still believe it exists to help writers become more skilled
and more successful in the publishing world. I don't know. Once
I founded Coriolis I had other things to do, and stopped paying
- During much of the time that I belonged, SWFA seemed obsessed
with tightening membership requirements. And I mean obsessed.
A certain vocal contingent of insiders was hell-bent on making
SFWA a sort of exclusive gentlemen's and gentlewomen's club. When
I joined, you needed (if I recall correctly) one novel or two
short stories in professional publications to qualify, and then
you were in for life. What the clique endlessly argued for was
a quantity-over-time requirement: You had to get a certain number
of new stories into print over a period of time or your membership
expired. For a number of years I listened to people basically
talking about throwing me out, and after awhile, I just got tired
of it and tuned out. I'm not sure if the scheme was ever implemented
(today, three sales in approved venues gets you an active membership)
but the discussion was offputting in the extreme.
So here's the buzz: On August 23, SFWA sent an email to an obscure
file-sharing site called Scribd,
which is basically YouTube for text files. The email was supposedly
a DMCA takedown order, and listed a large number of files that SFWA
claimed were owned by SFWA members and must be removed from Scribd
immediately. Nothing wrong with that conceptually. However:
- The database query run by SFWA against Scribd's files was mind-bogglingly
stupid. As best I can tell from online reports, any file on
Scribd that had the string "Asimov" or "Silverberg"
anywhere in it was listed as infringing. Yeek.
- As you might imagine, the email demanded that Scribd take down
a large number of files that were not owned by SFWA members, and
were not even stories. Many were appreciations or bibliographies
that were written to encourage the reading of SF. Aim at foot.
Pull trigger. Repeat.
- Some handful of files that were listed in the takedown notice
were placed there deliberately by their owners, who had released
them under the Creative Commons license, and are used basically
as downloadable demos to promote the printed editions of the electronic
Doctorow explains at length here how SFWA's idiotic request
works against his own business model, which differs radically
from that used in current SF publishing.
- To comply with Federal law, a DMCA takedown request has to be
in a certain form and contain certain things. Whoever drafted
the email had no idea what the law required, and people I trust
indicate that the request did not comply with the law.
This is all pretty much the work of a single individual within
SFWAa vice presidentand as best I know, he has not been
removed from office, nor has he apologized, nor in any way admitted
that what he did was staggeringly dumb. To his credit, SFWA's president
did issue an apology and a pledge that this would not happen again
(it's in Cory's post) but the damage has been done:
- Scribd, a site I had never heard of before, has received a fortune
in free publicity. Sheesh, they could probably go public based
on the traffic they're now getting. It may actually be a useful
discovery tool. I'm investigating using them right now, for Carl
and Jerry first, and for my SF later on.
- The blogosphere has carried the story to millions of current
and potential SF readers, who now lump SFWA in with the RIAA and
MPAA, the Big Media deathwish partnership that persists in suing
small children, grandmothers, and people without computers for
- People who had not yet heard of SFWA's longstanding distaste
for writers who post free content online have probably now heard
of it, by reading the side-channels coming up with the main story
and following their threads. Among SFWA's longstanding members
and even officers are numerous credentialed flamers who feel that
who give their writing away make it harder for established writers
to sell their stuff. (Google "technopeasant day"
and sniff around. Lots to see.) Jerry Pournelle used to spend
a lot of time railing against the Open Source movement for similar
reasons. There's much to be talked about here, but that's not
the point. SFWA has shown itself in opposition to a new business
model that works for some (like Cory Doctorow) and may work for
others as certain technologies mature. I have personal evidence
that it works outside the SF world, from my experience posting
free stories out of my Carl and Jerry reprint books. People find
the free stories, download them, and then buy the books. I get
emails regularly telling me that that is precisely what happens.
We don't know how to make this work generally...yet. SFWA should
be in the forefront of developing new business models, not digging
in its heels at the rear.
There's a trap here, and SFWA walked right into it: You can't
enforce copyright by tossing grenades into a room that might
contain infringers. The movie and music business are in the
process of case-hardening public opinion against them, and by implication,
the entire idea of copyright. Monkey-see, monkey-do. The people
who genuinely do oppose copyright (and there are lots of them) are
laughing out loud right now. Whether or not they had anything to
do with this latest little debacle, they can nod their heads and
say, "It's working."
For those of us who live by copyright, that's mighty scary.
1, 2007: Ace Doubles and Tęte-Bęche Binding
over, which means I should probably begin my summer reading before
they start putting up the Christmas decorations down at Safeway.
I pulled an old friend off the shelf the other day: Ace Double H-85,
and its lead half, Destination: Saturn, by David Grinnell
(the pen name of Donald A. Wollheim) and Lin Carter. I still have
the copy I bought in 1967, and because I immediately coated it with
transparent Con*Tact adhesive plastic, the wonderfully droll Kelly
Freas cover looks almost as good as new.
The story holds up better than a lot of things I first read in
high school, largely because it doesn't take itself too seriously.
I call it lighthearted more than humorous, a word that now means
"farcical" as often as not. Pretentious and eccentric
King Ajax Calkins rules an asteroid with his loyal fuzzball friend
the Wuj, except that the asteroid isn't exactly an asteroid, and
the Saturnians have eyes on it. So they create a fake King Ajax
and attempt a coup.
Lighthearted hard SF is an old and honorable tradition rooted in
things like The Witches of Karres and Laumer's Retief, and
carried on later by Alexei Panshin's Anthony Villiers stories (co-starring
Torve the Trog) and the Warlock series by Christopher Stasheff.
Destination: Saturn is great silly funand the first
time I've read either half of an Ace Double in a number of years.
Damn, that was good!
Ok. Now, why?
Mostly, I think, because it's short, and an overstuffed
life like mine doesn't always allow the time to read half a million
words in a few days. I slapped the book on my scanner, OCRed a page,
did a count, and then some math told me that the story is about
37,000 words long. This is a longish novella, a form mostly abandoned
today because it's too long for the mags and too short for a book.
On the other hand, it's long enough to develop a situation and some
characters and have a little fun. And I can read it in an evening.
Ace Doubles seemed unremarkable in my youth (they ceased appearing
in 1973) because they were everywhere, but they are the only well-known
modern example of books published in tęte-bęche format. This term
refers to two books bound together, covers out, with one rotated
180° with respect to the other. Both books thus end at the center
of the printed volume, and you have to turn the book upside down
when you finish one and want to begin the other. Each book can have
its own cover, though today I suspect people would argue about whose
cover has to carry the barcode.
I have a 28,000 word novella in my trunk that I've been wondering
what to do with, and I've told myself more than a few times that
if I can find somebody with another story of similar size, I would
do a Copperwood Double, and we'd flip for barcode privileges. Unfortunately,
there are two catches:
- I have no idea how to do a tęte-bęche volume in InDesign. I
would probably have to lay out the two halves separately, then
knit them together into a single PDF after flipping one half graphically.
This would be a trick worth learning, except that...
- ...tęte-bęche doesn't make much sense in an ebook.
I suppose a printed edition could be tęte-bęche, and the ebook
either sold as two items, or as a single file with one of the books
starting in the middle.
I'll keep thinking about it. The novella is a cool form, and people
have done some wonderful things in it, most notably The (Widget),
the (Wadget), and Boff, by Theodore Sturgeon, which I consider
perhaps the best novella ever written. Ebooks are a natural for
novellas, but they worked well in print for twenty years as Ace
Doubles, and I wish they or something like them would return.