Project Gutenberg Audiobooks

I’m very interested in the work that Telltale Weekly is doing. They are creating a library of audiobooks of public domain works from the Project Gutenberg collection. There is a whole lot to like about this setup. The books will be pretty cheap (looks like ~$2/ hour of the recording) and released without DRM but gated via BitPass. They are voluntarily donating 2% of the revenues on Ogg Vorbis books to Xiph.org as well as spreading out 1% each of all total grosses to Xiph, Ashoka, Geek Corps, Project Gutenberg, and Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. I like this a lot – rather than giving you a reason to actually pay the nominal fee by locking up the goods, they do it by giving you reason to feel good for your support.

Another good thing is that after 5 years or 100,000 paid downloads whichever comes first, they will put that file in their free library. Over time, this will build up an audio equivalent to Project Gutenberg, a free repository of public domain works. This is all in such stark opposition to what I was just writing about with my bad experiences in the world of DRM that I feel completely refreshed.

For me, too, I have now reached a BitPass tipping point. I’ve been interested in Scott McCloud’s The Right Number but hadn’t really had enough of a reason to go to the trouble of getting the BitPass account. Now I do have just such a reason. I believe I’ll set one up today, and buy one of every one of the current releases at TellTale (there are only 4 at this point) just as a show of support for what they are doing. There’s a lot of highfaluting optimism here that might flag or fail in the next 5 years, but I’m hoping this project goes as plan. I’ll be a committed fan of it.

The End of DRM Ebooks (for Me)

In this blog I have talked about DRM and ebooks quite often. One of the theoretical oppositions to DRM is that as technologies change, one loses access to them. Well, it’s no longer theory for me. As I’ve made the decision to get a Sharp Zaurus for the next PDA, I can’t use my typical PalmOS apps anymore. For all the multiformat books and magazines I have purchased from Fictionwise, I’m OK. I can redownload them in another format that is usable on the Zaurus. However, I have a few (not a whole lot, but some) Palm Reader/Peanut Press books that I actually purchased. Every one of these is no longer usable by me. There is no Palm Reader for Zaurus so the money that I paid Palm is essentially gone and there is nothing I can do about it, save either trying to crack the books myself or someone releasing a Palm Reader port for the Zaurus. Theory moves into practice as I now find myself a burned customer, who is rewarded for paying my money and downloading legitimate copies of things by not being able to read them any more. Thanks Palm/Peanut! Hope you enjoy the $50 or so I have spent for your books that I can’t read anymore.

A bad part is that I can’t refer back to books for which I paid good money – in most cases a similar amount to what one would pay for the paper copy. Even worse, there are some that I hadn’t yet read and now I’ll never be able to read. The Paul Wellstone book Conscience of a Liberal was one of those. I read the first chapter and now that’s all I’ll ever get to read, despite having paid my good money for it. I paid $10 to get the annotated Fire Upon the Deep, in which I’ll never be able to dig through the annotations again.

With this situation comes a bit of resolve from me. I will never again spend one cent on any ebook that involves a form of DRM that leaves me at risk for not being able to read it later. I will happily pay for electronic reading – I plan on retaining my electronic subscriptions to F&SF and Asimov’s SF via Fictionwise – but never again will I pay for DRM books. I’m not putting my cash at risk to ease publisher nerves. If you think I as your customer can’t be trusted and must be treated like a criminal under house arrest with an ankle bracelet, you can kiss my ass. I’ll keep my money in my pocket and not give it to you. I’ll give it instead to your competitors who don’t treat me that way. God forbid, I might even read more Baen books! I love how they do business, if only they published more books I wanted to read.

Ironically, this moment of resolve comes at a point where I really am trying to purge the enormity of paper books from my life. I continue to try to reduce them, knowing that we have at least one more move in our lives in the next few years. I’m the absolute perfect consumer for ebooks – you might find someone equally close to the ideal target demographic but you will not find someone closer. I love to read. I love to hoard but I’ve hit the limits of my physical space. I enjoy the act of reading on a small device. As a geek and have no problems with the weaknesses of e-text. I love the ubiquity of having a library in my pocket at all times. I have disposable cash and the willingness to spend it on this product line. E-publishers couldn’t hope for more. However, because of their business practices a significant number of them have lost access to me and my money that I will be spending somewhere, just not with them. What a shame for them, what a boon for the publishers who are trusting enough not to lock up their documents in proprietary DRM and who understand that the risks of unauthorized file trading are far lower than the risks of not making the money in the first place.

Update: I realized I left out a key detail that probably everyone can infer but I should state explicitly: all my Palm devices are DOA. I can’t have a transition where I read up all my old books before I switch over to the new device because my old Palm devices are all fubar.

Update #2: This is turning out to be one of the more linked blog articles I’ve writing. When I first emailed David Rothman, I mentioned in passing that I was once the team lead for the server side team in the publishing division of Intertrust. In retrospect, I didn’t really want that to be the focus of things and it is my fault for mentioning it in the email without being clear on that point to David. The story of me working for Intertrust in short is that as a very young engineer I worked for a scrappy ebook reader company called JStream (the first startup I ever worked for). That company went out of business, but was reconstituted as Infinite Ink with most of the same people. I already had another job by the time the company was reformed, but I continued to work with my old team part-time. In 2000, Infinite Ink was acquired by Intertrust. At first it seemed like a good fit – the JStream/Infinite Ink reader was very good (still better than anything I’ve seen since) but had hokey DRM.

We thought that the resources of the larger company would allow us to fit their DRM on the back end of our reader and then get it pushed out into the world. In practice, no one at Intertrust cared about our reader and they charged us with repurposing our stuff into Acrobat plugin based solutions. I was in charge of the servers and the exchange of fingerprint information for a key to unlock the document as well as managing what locked document got served to whom with what key. I really wasn’t a “DRM engineer” per se, I was more a user of the DRM tools. It was all black boxes to me. My concerns were web interfaces, content repositories, commerce servers, etc.

It’s a shame that the reader never went anywhere. It was written with a semi-platform independent layer, so that although Windows was the main thrust I saw a working prototype of a Mac OS 8 version and at the time that Intertrust’s publishing division was shown the door via layoffs they were talking about porting that layer to PalmOS. With a very slight change in history, I could be working today on a prominent PDA ebook reader. The JPress/IPress reader of 1999/2000 was still better than the Palm Reader or iSilo or MobiPocket of 2004. C’est la morte.

I just added all this to clarify that I wasn’t really and truly an Intertrust DRM engineer, but more of a book reader publishing guy. I was never part of the core ITRU family – all the guys in publishing were related by marriage rather than blood. We worked in Portland OR and weren’t part of the core political stuff in Santa Clara, which probably explains why we were all cut in the very first round of layoffs. My one bit of triumph was that all my servers were still running perfectly 18 months after I was canned, and I highly doubt they were getting much if any maintenance since all those people were gone. Until they day they decommisioned it, I was still getting locked books served out from the pdf.intertrust.com demo server. I checked on it once a week just to see if things were alright, like a protective parent who wasn’t awarded custody in a messy divorce. Even though I will never again buy a DRM locked book, I have to say that I am still highly proud of the engineering work I put into that system.

And now you know … the rest of the story.

Spanish Class, Week 4

It’s rough out there! I think this week was the one where we started hitting the wall. Before, the exercises were pretty constrained so we didn’t have to work so hard. Now that we’re conjugating verbs and increasing the vocabulary, it’s approaching free-for-all time where the teach just asks us questions and we do our best to answer in syntactically correct Spanish. My big problem is that it just takes so much brain power to comprehend and then create the answer that I have an awkward lag. I can do it usually, but slowly. Oh well, no shame no gain.

I added another Spanish language weblog to my aggregator – Diario de operaciones. I think I like this one better than zonageek because the RSS feed preserves the diacritical marks. I’ve tried pasting sections of Zonageek into free translation but the lack of accents make a number of words translate incorrectly or not at all.

One More Zaurus Point

I forgot to mention yesterday that although a week ago I was ready to buy the Clie TJ-25, I really am not happy with the decision of Palm One to drop support for Mac OS X. I like the idea of having an open system that I can conceivably work with. I also really like being able to write Java applications for my PDA, write Perl scripts on it, ssh into it, etc. I suppose it might work out in the long run to have been a lucky break that when I sat down to order the Clie Amazon was out of stock.

Zaurus

Since I’ve been talking about getting a Zaurus, one of my coworkers pointed me towards an article on /. today that links to a roundup of apps for the Zaurus. I continue watching eBay and Craiglist hoping for a 5600 that hits my price range. I’ve decided that if I’m going used, I’d rather have the faster and higher capacity 5600 rather than the 5500 so that I can go longer without outgrowing it. Of course, being a cheapskate has opportunity costs. It’s possible I end up with nothing or that it takes a really long time to get one. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

Cubs Fans, Optimistic and just plain Mystic

So finally it looks like the foolishness about Steve Bartman will be laid to rest. I’m glad they are grinding up the ball, maybe sometime in the next decade or two they can quit obsessing over it. Lots of teams have late-season meltdowns (as a Braves fan I see it most years) but Cubs fans have raised denial and avoidance of the facts an art form. It’s Bartman, it’s this goat or this curse or some other injustice. They seem to do everything in their power to avoid the stark facts – you have to play all the way through to the final out of the last game before you have actually won. A big early lead does nothing for you if you can’t seal the deal. Having the best regular season record in history means squat if your team lays down in the divisionals. Enough about external factors – the Cubs did not advance last year because they melted down and no other reason. No one was robbed, no one was cursed. I’ve watched strong Braves teams not make it for the last 9 years and never had a handy excuse. I’m forced to admit my team didn’t want it bad enough and didn’t play well enough.

Interestingly enough, I think the Cubs will not make it this year again, and the seed of their defeat will be what most people think is the key to taking it all – the signing of Greg Maddux. He’s a case in point for the long-hallowed Cubs strategy of trading off a promising player before their peak in favor of overpriced talent on the downhill side of their careers. If they had kept him in 1993, that might have been something. Instead, the Braves got 12 good years out of him and when it is obvious that he’s declining in dominance, the Cubs sign him for $8M a year. I really wish the Braves had traded him before last year and kept Kevin Millwood, a pitcher with 10 or 15 good years left in him. That’s the Cubs strategy – sell low and buy high. My gut feeling is that is way to much money for Maddux. Cubs fans somehow think they are going to get 1994-1996 out of him, and that ain’t the case. My prediction – he wins 12 games or fewer this year. They’ll get some benefit from him in terms of grooming the young pitchers, but he just plain isn’t going to dominate and won’t be worth the money.

Letters to the Editor

If you are unhappy with the actions of our sitting president, from unjustified invasions to erosions of the liberties and freedoms that make this country great, from granting large gifts of federal money to the richest Americans to his faux support of our troops while cutting their pay and benefits, friends I have something for you. The Letter to the Edtior generator streamlines the process of sending comments to the newspapers by allowing you to search by zip code and getting your local papers. Best of all, it is funded by that $150M Republican campaign war chest we hear so much about. Let them fly! Via Futurismic (who got it from Billmon who I’m sure got if from somewhere else.)

SNL on Georgia and Evoluion

Bill Shunn reminded me of a joke on SNL’s Weekend Update that made me laugh so hard we missed the next two.

“In Georgia this week, a compromise was reached that will allow the word ‘evolution’ to continue to be used in classrooms. As a trade-off, however, the word ‘dinosaur’ will be replaced with ‘Jesus horse.'”

NEA is a “Terrorist Organization”

Via Making Light comes this link to the story of US Secretary of Education Rod Paige calling the NEA a “terrorist organization.” His basis for this is the fact that they don’t like the unfunded mandates of the No Child Left Behind program. Wow. As if that wasn’t inappropriate enough, check out this “fuck you” of an apology:

“It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the obstructionist scare tactics the NEA’s Washington lobbyists have employed against No Child Left Behind’s historic education reforms.

“I also said, as I have repeatedly, that our nation’s teachers, who have dedicated their lives to service in the classroom, are the real soldiers of democracy, whereas the NEA’s high-priced Washington lobbyists have made no secret that they will fight against bringing real, rock-solid improvements in the way we educate all our children regardless of skin color, accent or where they live.

“But, as one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better.

I really don’t think “I used inappropriate words to describe obstructionist scare tactics” an apology at all. It’s like “I’m sorry you are such an asshole and that I had to call you one.” It’s not merely sufficient that Paige disagrees with the NEA and that people’s advocacy sometimes puts them on opposite sides of questions. That the man in charge of educating our children cannot do any better than use wrongheaded terrorist terminology to describe a legitimate difference of opinion is quite distressing.

Here’s what I would hope the fallout of this is. I’d like to see this the official end of the “terrorism card free pass.” As of today, we can see that the term is getting thrown around with such abandon as to be meaningless. It no longer means anything like the dictionary definition, and now is a synonuym for “someone that does or says something I don’t agree with.” As we see, when opposition to terrorism is a free ticket, everything gets called terrorism. I’m tired of the cynical use of this language to push our buttons and skate by with the automatic fear response that word provokes. The people who are using the word are attempting to achieve their own political agenda by creating fear in others. I wonder if there is a term for that?

In the comments of that post, someone suggests that maybe this is a smokescreen to draw attention away from things such as the fact that Utah has seceded from No Child Left Behind until the federal government supplies money for its mandates. It’s a good rule of thumb that for every public outrage of the Bush administration, there are likely many more quiet outrages lurking in the background.

Grey RSS

I hadn’t thought about greying out my RSS until I saw that Nelson Minar had. If I did this right, the rest of these should be grey, even in aggregators. At least, the ones that support the stylesheet attributes inside their rendering should be the same grey as the HTML is.

Gray Tuesday

Today is not only Fat Tuesday, but also Grey Tuesday. In honor of that, I’m darkening up my background a little. It was already light grey, I’m just making that fact a little more noticeable. The folks at Downhill Battle have up on their site a copy of the cease and desist letter that EMI sent them (their reply here.) As Cory points out on BoingBoing, the Grey Album does not cost a single lost sale of any Jay-Z or Beatles records. In fact, kind of like the sales burst after the whole Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz thing, I can see this spurring a spike in the sales of both albums.

It just occurred to me how ironic it for EMI to crack down on this sort of action. The most infamous track on The White Album, “Revolution #9” was created by taking found sounds including BBC broadcasts and other songs. Good for John Lennon, bad for DJ Danger Mouse.

And here is a brilliant reply to the cease-and-desist letter by one of the participants.

Drastic Measures

Over the last month, I started getting a trickle of comment and referer spam on this blog. It seems to always come in on the day view page for December 7, 2003. At one point, the blosxom community figured out that comment spammers were googling on common text in the default writeback. The writeback for one specific post that day got comment spammed over and over until I just made that particular file read only. It seems like that list got out, and then I’ve been getting more and more refer spam for the same 10 or so sites over and over, always on that same page view. I’ve got all the sites that they are using already in my blacklist, so none of them will show up. However, the constant onslaught is becoming a drag. I’ve had several hundred pageloads of that day today, each of which loads the whole 30K just to hit me with the refer URL. For the time being, I’m just redirecting that URL to the “page not found” error page. We’ll see if that reduces the load of these things eventually, or if they just keep stupidly trying to spam the 404 page over and over indefinitely.

The spread of boxes from which this spam is coming is getting large enough to make me believe that these are all machines that have been ownz0r3d by some scumbags, who are using them to bounce this crap off of. Either they’ve got a lot of friends, or there is some automated script managing this from many different IP addresses. I wouldn’t be at all suprised if one of the recent worms left a trojan that was doing this.

John Shirley on Nader

Here’s SF writer John Shirley saying similar stuff to what I did about Nader. It does and did matter which party was elected in 2000 and it will again. Nader’s assertion that it doesn’t becomes more obviously self promotion as the veneer of serving the public good flakes away. Via BoingBoing.

Ralph at Nadir

Mark Schmitt at The Decembrist has some pretty harsh words for the Nader 2004 candidacy. I agree with him that I don’t think Nader will have a significant effect on this election. The crux of Nader’s 2000 platform is that there was no significant difference between Gore and Bush, which I think we can all tell is patently false. A lot of his rehetoric was about the need for a viable third party, and the people I know who were interested in him wanted to see the Green Party get the 5% of the vote. However, he’s not running as a Green this time, leaving all those people hanging in the breeze. I just can’t see there being enough people left who haven’t been burned by this guy to make any dent whatsoever.

The news seems to be inflaming the media, who are looking for some new problem for the Democrats. Now that both Kerry and Edwards are outpolling Bush with lots of primary season to go, the “but are they electable” drumbeat seems to have subsided. We’ll probably see the “ooooh, Nader hurts the Dems” drum pounded relentlessly until there is but a single Democrat to focus the character assassination lasers upon.

Logey Weekend

I spent a significant chunk of the weekend feeling like my head was too heavy to lift. I ended up sleeping through the afternoon yesterday in one of those dazed sleeps where the dreams were monotonous and I felt bored by them but too exhausted to get up. I feel better today. Getting a lot of sleep does wonders for a soul.

Date Problem with Blosxom

There’s a problem I’m having with blosxom right now. It’s a low level annoyance, not so important to be a jet scrambler but it really has been irking me. If I make a post in the evening (my home and the server are both in US Central time), it will appear as the correct day when I first post it. Later, after there is a subsequent post the next day, it will show up as having been posted the next day, before the next post. Oddly, when you do the day views it shows up in both of them. In the one, it will be the last of one day or the first of the next day, but is present in each.

I went a long time without changing or adding any plugins, but when I upgraded to the writebackplus from the standard writeback I also installed the interpolateconditional plugin. I’m wondering if that does have something to do with this. It looks kind of like the posts show up as in a day if they are in that day in either the local timezone or in UTC. The late posts would be in the next day if we were at +0000 time zone adjustment. That’s just conjecture. I don’t know that has anything to do with it, I’m just trying to think of theories that would explain this behavior. It does appear as if 6 PM is the breaking point and Central Time is -0600 so that’s what got me thinking in this direction. Any blosxom heads out there have any suggestions?

Craig Clevenger on the Bomb

One bit of bad timing was that the Technorati business for the Contortionist’s Handbook coincided with a server migration or something that had Craig Clevenger’s site offline during it. Now that it’s back up, he has nice things to say about me and my efforts on his behalf. He remains knocked out by Jonny’s blog name “Assclown Cockfight” and I consider thinking up that name my shining contribution to the blogosphere. I’m really looking forward to Craig’s next book Dermaphoria. He’s doing an event in Portland in March (I’m sure Jonny and Jackie will be there) and if I’m lucky, he’ll come to Chicago too.

Doing, Not Having

Via Brian Buck comes this link to an article that says people get more satisfaction by doing things than by having things. Interesting stuff, especially considering the overwhelming importance we place on owning things in this culture. I’ve grown terribly weary of these materialistic TV commercials (yes, I know they are as old as the medium but they are still annoyning) where someone’s satisfaction with life and/or their standing in the neighborhood is solely dependent on owning the gizzwhickey currently being hawked. The Kia ads are particularly heinous, where people sit around and try to prove how much better they are based on the amenities of their vehicles. Anything that involves several guys standing around discussing the merits of their posessions is a commercial that will bug me.

I am by nature kind of a spendthrift, but over a decade of work by my wife has taught me the value of thriftiness. I frequently see my peers leveraged to the hilt buying new computers and new cars and plasma TVs, yet working jobs they hate because they can’t afford to quit. My inclination is always to want the toy too, but I now admit that having breathing room in life is more important. That’s why I’m driving a 1990 Honda Civic with no particular intentions to replace it unless it falls apart on the side of the road. I’d rather retire a few years earlier than have a nicer car now. I’m actually kind of obsessed with the “retirement line”. I see windfalls of money in two buckets: enough to cross the line or not. It’s an important distinction to me, accruing enough wealth that the proceeds will earn enough to live on. Good gravy would I like to be there! The value of freedom, to do what I want and when, is the shining beacon I always am trying to reach. If I hit that point, I’d keep doing similar work to what I do today, and I probably would be earning some money for it, but it wouldn’t be because I have to but because I want to. That’s the American dream to me.

Charlie Stross on Copyright

In his blog, Charlie Stross makes many good copyright points. I stopped discussing this topic in online fora, because someone invariable would play the “but I make my living from copyright and you don’t” card. Instead, I now just point to the same points I was making but made by people who do earn their livings via copyright. He discusses the lady who is suing the RIAA for RICO violations (which on the face of it sounds like a sound legal argument to me) and about the Grey Tuesday mass mirroring of the Jay-Z/DJ Danger Mouse Grey Album. They have a list of sites that will turn grey in support. Hey, I’m already there! This site has been grey for a long time.

Here’s something that Charlie says that I agree with wholeheartedly. If I said it, it would be shouted down because I don’t earn my living via copyright thus am not permitted to have this opinion:

Here’s the rub: fans who share music, books, video, whatever, are not the artist’s enemies. Art — any art form — is an attempt at communication. (Even if it’s a private creative journal, meant for the author’s eyes only, it’s an attempt at communication between past and present.) Yes, those of us who create literature, poetry, music, paintings, sculptures, or whatever may well want to earn a living: and indeed, we may hope that our audience will see fit to reward us for our work. It follows that people or institutions who actively prevent people from seeing our work can only be described as enemies of art. They’re trying to prevent us from communicating. In this case, they’ve gone from being the guy who passes the hat around in front of the audience to being self-inflated gatekeepers who refuse to admit any members of the audience who do not or cannot meet the price of admission set by these self-same gatekeepers, precious little of which ever reaches the artists.

This is not to say that there aren’t situations in which the RIAA is justified in going after copyright violators: the most obvious such situations are those where criminal enterprises are mass-producing forged albums in an attempt to rip off everyone from the consumers through to the artists. But in general, if someone is violating copyright without the means or motive of profiting thereby I find it hard to see any moral justification for demanding financial damages. Let the fine match the actual profit, not the imagined loss of sales.

Amen! He points out the hypocrisy of going after non-commercial MP3 filesharing or book posting individuals while ignoring the giant black market industries that make significant cash bootlegging and selling those same works as if they were legitimate. Those are the true enemies, the criminal organizations reaching in the pocket books of media companies and artists. Bring the noise, Brother Stross.