12 December 2008

From error to error, one discovers the entire truth.
    - Sigmund Freud

I've just spent the last three hours being aggravated. Not in the usual, "ooh-I'm-so annoyed" kind of aggravated that I now and again hit, but in the "get-me-a-handgun,-I'll-solve-this-problem" kind of towering rage that I reserve for real idiots. The "idiots" in this case are an author, a bookseller, and the developers of a digital rights management scheme.

I didn't start out aggravated. I started out interested in purchasing a book that a friend recommended. I buy books all the time. Lots of books, lots of subjects. 

My spouse believes that this book-buying compulsion is in fact one of my biggest character flaws--there's no problem that I'm reading as much as I am, it's that I seem to feel the need to actually possess the books, have them in my personal library, which is now considerable, numbering in thousands of volumes. My spouse and I have had several intense conversations about this very topic over the years, and although I have tapered off a bit (liberal use of the public library in our town), I still augment my personal library by anywhere from 50-100 volumes every year.

This morning, I decided that I had to have the book my friend recommended. However, it's out of print. I hunted everywhere, and the only copy I could find was an ebook. I decided to buy it. I thought it would be a simple transaction.

I also have a goodly collection of electronic reading material--mostly in the form of PDF, text, and word processing documents--on my computers. I've been buying ebooks for years, and have never had any problem with them. I move them from place to place, shuffle them around in various directories, load up my PalmPilot or my Axim when I travel and space is at a premium, and generally just do what I want with them. What I don't have, however, is a firm commitment to buying a dedicated "reading device" (think Kindle, or Sony's machines)--those things are a layer of technology I've never really considered necessary. My philosophy is that simpler is always better, and anything that stands in between me and my reading is just bad.

Okay, so I found the book on eBooks.com. I put the book into my shopping cart, entered my information, and clicked "Buy." My expectation was that I would receive an electronic receipt that would give me instructions for downloading my $13.95 purchase. Please note, this is a 71-page ebook I'm talking about. For $13.95. Still, I was willing to pay the price, and when the receipt appeared, it also contained a series of instructions. Uh-oh.

First off, I read that while I could indeed download my ebook, if I'd prefer to read it freely online, all I had to do was click "Read now." A proprietary, server-based reader (eb20) would open, and I could use the book from anyplace I happened to be, just so long as I had a connection to the Internet. That seemed reasonable--after all, a 71-page book would probably take me less than half an hour to read, and if I used it as reference material, even less than that. I clicked "Read now."

A new window opened, and the eb20 reader loaded my new ebook. I waited for the load to complete, and saw the table of contents appear on the left panel of the reader. The title page was visible in all its electronic glory. I was ready to read. However, that wasn't to be. Even though my laptop has plenty of power, memory, and all the other requirements listed for the reader, the eb20 reader would not display a single line of the book's text, other than that title page. I don't think eb20 is quite ready for primetime.

I don't give up easily. I closed the reader, and went back to the receipt page. 

This time, I did as instructed for local reading--I downloaded and installed the Adobe Digital Edition reader, and activated it. Next, I downloaded the ebook, as instructed. What I discovered after the download completed, however, was that I'd only downloaded a pointer to the book, a 1K file that when clicked, would open the Digital Edition reader, and download the actual PDF. I was indeed able to see the full text of the 71 pages using this method. However, the user interface for the Digital Edition reader is way too slow, clunky, and limited for my reading purposes, so I closed it down, and decided to try another PDF reader, my trusty Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional.

What I quickly discovered is what makes people froth at the mouth when they think about Digital Rights Management (DRM). Not only could I not open the PDF, even though I jumped through every registration, activation, and verification hoop Adobe presented me with, but I was finally told that I'd have to contact the seller to have them confirm that I had the right to the PDF I was trying to open. Oh, really?

Let's get this straight--I paid $13.95 (this is real money, folks) without a complaint, expecting to own what I bought, but instead I learn that before I can even get access to what I purchased, I have to get permission from not only the bookseller, but the people who made the reader?

I don't think so.

Here's the deal: When I buy a book, what I do with it and how I use it after I buy it is my business, and nobody else's. When I finish reading it, I expect to be able to shelve it for future reference, give it away, throw it away, or shred and burn it, if that's what I choose to do. I do not want to discuss my ownership rights with my opthalmologist (the flesh-and-blood equivalent of a reading device purveyor), or the people at the bookstore who sold it to me. It's my book, and my business. Nobody else's.

There is an excellent post about this very subject (Why Ebooks Haven't "Taken Off" and How I Wasted $150 of My Time on a $9 Ebook). You can read it, and then all the responses, and see how angry this subject can make people.

I'm so completely turned off by this experience that I seriously doubt I will ever again consider purchasing an ebook. I absolutely will never again consider buying an ebook from the vendor. Ditto that for products from Adobe. I'm done with them. They've told me what value they place upon the good-faith transaction I entered into with them.

And finally, no more books, no matter what, from the author, or the publisher. If I see the author's name, or the publisher's imprint, I'm going to think, "Danger, Will Robinson," and back right off.

Excuse me, I have to go see what's new at the public library.


03 November 2008

"In God We Trust."
   - Motto of the United States of America

I just read the news. Senator Barack Obama's grandmother lost her fight against cancer, and died today, only twenty-four hours away from the outcome of the historic campaign.

I wanted to send a note to the family, offering condolences, but I couldn't get through on the website. I'm hoping it is because there is such an outpouring of affection, compassion, and prayers for the Senator and his family that it brought the Senate servers to their knees. When they get that system up and running again, I'd like to think that the Senator will be reminded of the high esteem in which this country holds him, and that he and his family feel the comforting reach of America's arms as we enfold them.

By all accounts, his grandmother was a wonderful, warm, loving, and kind person. It's hard to say goodbye to the ones we love, and harder still when it is a person who has raised us up to achieve and fulfill our potential as decent human beings.

I only hope that the family can enjoy the memory of her pride in her grandson's accomplishments--as a hardworking man, a brilliant professor, a loving husband and father, and a leader of all men.

Yours very sincerely,

In Sympathy and Compassion,

12 October 2008

"There's a sucker born every minute."
    P.T. Barnum, empresario

I haven't written here in a long time. I mean, a really long time. I've got reasons, of course, the usual excuses--I've been busy trying to launch a new business, I've had to deal with some family health issues, I've been following the downward glide of our once-great country as it loses steam, and readies for a devastating crash and burn, and I've been depressed.

My depression has taken the form of a sort of free-floating fog, a fugue state of malaise, in which I have not been able to focus or take direct action to reverse or remove it. However, this past month, I've recovered to a large extent. I now wonder why it took me so long to figure this out. I've been worried about things over which I have no direct control, and in so doing, lost control of the things I do.

I think it's fair to say that US politics has poisoned me. The poison's name? 


I should have known. I didn't feel too great when the star-chamber investigation put on by Ken Starr and the gang got underway. I felt worse when Bush and his henchmen took over the Administration. Then, day by day, I sat watching and listening as my civil rights, and the civil rights of millions, were consistently eroded and confiscated, all in the name of "protecting" me. I had to be afraid, I was told, of madmen carrying nuclear bombs in suitcases boarding buses and trains I might be on, of airplanes piloted by religious fanatics who hated me crashing into the sides of buildings I might be in, of crooks and criminals actively engaged in attempting to steal my identity, of hackers and "black hats" who would insinuate themselves into control of my computers if I wasn't vigilant, and of hordes of illegal aliens--aliens, for heaven's sake--who were out to take away my ability to earn a living and put food on the table for my family.

It's no wonder I've been down in the dumps. That's where the Administration made every effort to ensure that I'd be. At every turn, in every way, I've been the victim of a concerted campaign of hatred and fear directed at every citizen in this country. "If you don't do what I tell you, bad things will happen." "Just let me take care of this, and everything will be all right." "I'll protect you." "I know what's best for you." I've been listening to it for years, this steady litany of bogeymen, unfounded fears, and rumor-mongering, and I have to say, I'm sick to death of it.

Enough, already.

You can't catch Bin Laden? Fine, then get us the hell out of Afghanistan, where we have no business being. You caught--and executed--Saddam Hussein and his boys. Fine, now get us the hell out of Iraq, where we have no business being. And while you're at it, stop spending my tax dollars on the ineffectual and absolutely ludicrous TSA--since when do my high-heeled shoes, Air Jordans, and Crocs make me a security threat? Don't even get me started on Wall Street, and corporate excess...

Enough, already. Really.

Today, though, I finally had enough. This morning, I read in Whizbang Blue that Gayle Quinnell, the 75-year-old woman who stood and addressed John McCain in his Town Hall gathering the other night with her deepest fear--that Senator Obama "is an Arab"--still believes the lie, even though McCain told her in direct, unambiguous terms that he is NOT an Arab, but a "decent, respectable" man with whom he happens to disagree. They've posted not only the original incident at the Town Hall meeting, but the follow-up interview with her. The videos are remarkable, as is the written commentary.

Curious, I decided to investigate a little. What could account for this woman's stubborn belief in an atrocious lie? I keyed in "Obama is an Arab" as my Google search term. The answer revealed itself in more than one result, but this one really sums it all up nicely. The lie's been circulating since mid-February, apparently, and the most recent purveyor of it is none other than the master of deceit himself, Rush Limbaugh. He's managed to pollute this poor woman's mind to the point that she just cannot bring herself to believe that Sen. Obama is 100%, loyal, red-white-and-true blue American, even when Sen. McCain tells her so, right to her face.

I remember when I was very young, there was a boy in our neighborhood who absolutely delighted in frightening little kids with his stories about all sorts of awful things--monsters, maniacs, gruesome ends they would come to, things that would destroy them, if given the slightest chance. That boy's chief joy was in reducing another child to tears, and often, the child was me. It took my parents years to convince me that monsters weren't under my bed when I climbed in it to go to sleep, courtesy of that kid. However, I finally outgrew the fear, and I also outgrew the need to believe what that bully told me. I felt better, once I understood that everything out of his mouth was nothing but lies, concocted for the sole purpose of making him feel better about himself. I stopped listening to him altogether, and my life improved.

I don't see any difference at all between that bully boy and his fear-mongering, and the bully boys up on Capitol Hill and in the media who have been doing the same thing for the last decade.

I'm done with fear. I'm done with listening. I'm ready to face change, and I'm ready to take responsibility for my own well-being. How about you?

Excuse me. I have to make a few phone calls, to ensure people are getting out to vote.