Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 23rd May, 2011

Dear Charles Stross

I agree with your idea of getting people to purchase a book if they want to donate to you, rather than bypassing the publisher. I'd rather buy the electronic copies, though, as I'm travelling and want to carry minimal weight and as I want publishers to get the messages that electronic distribution is going to make them more money than lumps of dead tree. So I thought I'd go online to try and buy some of your books.

Let me say that never have trued words been written than Cory Doctorow's introduction to "Makers":

There's a dangerous group of anti-copyright activists out there who pose a clear and present danger to the future of authors and publishing. They have no respect for property or laws. What's more, they're powerful and organized, and have the ears of lawmakers and the press.

I'm speaking, of course, of the legal departments at ebook publishers.

My first attempt to buy the books got all the way to the actual checkout before the website informed me that their lawyers had decided to conspire against them to prevent me from giving them my money: yes, I was not in some weird non-approved area of the internet. Still prepared to go on, I found an Australian store which would sell me Iron Sunrise and The Atrocity Archive as eBooks. Not my first choice - I had been aiming for Saturn's Children and The Family Trade - but that's OK, I enjoyed Halting State and friends (albeit weird ones that like the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game) had enjoyed the Atrocity Archive. So I bought the books.

Ah, but the wily legal departments were ahead of me again - they had encrypted the books using some Adobe encryption thing that FBReader didn't understand. There is, it would seem, no way to decode these things with out an "approved" player, and Adobe do not support the Samsung Galaxy S yet.

So I did what any sane, computer literate person would do at this point: I found a copy of the books on the internet and downloaded them for free.

This is the fundamental equation that the legal departments have yet to figure out: broken versus working. We're happy to pay, but not for something that doesn't work - and I mean it has to work everywhere. Every-****ing-where. Because if it doesn't, you've just made people go and find it somewhere else that does. It may not even be for free on the internet, it may be from your competitor's site. But your customers will leave you if they can get it working somewhere else. Figuratively, I went to a store, gave them some money, they popped my book in a bag, swapped that bag for a bag exactly the same weight and size filled with confetti, and gave it back to me.

It's not even "expensive and broken" versus "free and working", because we've already established that I wanted to pay for the ebook. I want to support Charlie Stross, and I want to support a bookstore and a publisher that will sell me a book in electronic format. Cory Doctorow covers all the things I want to say about ebook licensing, restrictions, and that kind of stupidity in his introduction, so I won't bore you with them. But I don't want to take Cory's bargain and buy a printed book, making the publisher think that dead tree accretions are more popular than ebooks. I want an ebook that works.

So, given the choice of the unpalatable, the unwanted and not paying the author a cent, I will choose the unpalatable. I will buy what ebooks I can. If they are shackled with digital restrictions, I will find a free version and download it afterward. And I will find them, because they will be there. Hopefully, some day, the publishers will save me the trouble of fixing their mistakes.

Last updated: | path: society / tech | permanent link to this entry

GNOME 3 improved

As part of starting at my new place of employment, I've installed the beta of Fedora 15 (because the real thing comes out tomorrow, curse it). With it comes GNOME 3, the latest update of the GNOME window manager.

So far my experience is pretty good. Yes, it's different, but no, it's not that different that I can't learn how to use it. It's a case of not thinking "why can't I do that the old way" but "I wonder what the new way is", and for the most part it's not that painful. Of course, there were a few things that I did want to make work the same as my previous GNOME setup and the main one was focus following the mouse pointer. After a bit of research on the net, I found the necessary command and will post it here for reference:

gconftool-2 -s /apps/metacity/general/focus_mode -t string mouse
(I'll spare my readers my cunning arguments about why focus following the mouse is the obvious, natural and optimal system for interfaces with an explicit focus indicator such as a mouse pointer. Save to say, just use it.)

Another thing that's changed is that Alt-TAB now groups all windows by application - all Firefox windows are treated as one group for the purpose of tabbing around, for example. When one application has multiple windows open, a little down-arrow appears at the bottom of its icon and, by mousing over it, you can then select the sub-window you require. This, however, is inconvenient if, like me, you use the keyboard a fair bit - moving to use the mouse takes time and effort. I discovered, with a bit of experimentation, that you can use the arrow keys for this as well - press Alt-TAB and use either TAB and Shift-TAB or left and right to navigate; when an application with sub-windows is selected, use down to show a list of its sub-windows and left and right to select from there.

Maybe there are other ways of using this; that's what worked for me. But it shows that a bit of experimentation can take less time than grumbling about how everything's changed and it no longer matches what you see.

And I think it's going to be a surpreme bit of irony that there'll be all these Linux experts complaining about how GNOME has broken everything and they want their old GNOME look and feel back - the same people who keep on looking down on their friends for not wanting to move from Windows or OS X to GNOME because "it's a different look and feel". Take it on the chin, people.

Last updated: | path: tech | permanent link to this entry

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