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Monthly Archives: January 2010

According to the sales figures, eBooks are for real,  §

yet some very big names in publishing absolutely don’t take them seriously. Some of these clueless imprints either refuse to release any part of their catalogs digitally, or worse, are happy to charge customers $9.99 for a completely misshapen file.

Here are just a few of the defects I’ve seen in eBook files that I paid for:

(1) Each

word

on

a

new

line

for

thousands

of

pages.

(2) Booksinwhichallofthespacessomehowwereremovedandnobodybotheredtonotice.

(3) Books with no indentation or skipped lines when starting a new paragraph.

(4) Books with many skipped lines between paragraphs, essentially putting each paragraph on a new page.

(5) Books with indents that run half of the line width, nearing a full two inches.

(6) Books with random paragraph breaks, often in mid-sentence, that don’t correspond to the paragraph breaks in the printed version.

(7) Books with images placed in random locations in the text, often pages away from where they’re meant to appear.

(8) Books that are not fully justified, but are instead left- or right-justified.

(9) Books with hard carriage returns inserted that use narrower margins than the device, so that they look like they were originally written in verse, a narrow poem running down the left side of the screen, even though they were not.

I can honestly say that I’ve bought more misshapen eBooks than properly formatted eBooks; it seems to be the norm for the Kindle store. Even the world of open content/open software, like Gutenberg.net, often falls down with its files.

It’s beyond me that companies in particular can’t get files right and are willing to sell them in essentially unreadable condition. First off, it really makes them look cheap and incompetent—in most cases, these are just HTML files after all, either compressed (mobi) or DRMed (azw) into other formats. Second, they’ve charged me money for a broken product. Third, my general remedy is exactly the sort of thing publishers claim to want to prevent—I immediately copy the file to my PC, crack it wide open, fix it myself, and copy it back to my Kindle.

At the end of the day, this is going to separate the men from the boys in the publishing world to come. Publishers and authors who do or who demand high gloss in their eBooks really stand out, and at least in my case, it generates repeat sales. I’ve got nearly 500 eBooks on my Kindle, and I’m not alone—Amazon.com sold more Kindle eBooks than paper books during the holiday season that just passed, and the Kindle device itself is their single top selling product.

Publishers that can’t take eBooks seriously will increasingly be the ones sitting in their luddic corner, complaining that technology is killing the book and publishing in general. Publishers that realize readers are dying to buy and read their favorite authors digitally will rake in the bucks in the meantime in a new publishing world that can be driven—in ways that the old one never could—by the immediate impulse buy.

As an aside, magazines are busy closing their doors. If anyone goes the way of the dodo, it may be the magazine, a format whose primary advantage was its form—a form radically outdone by the web.

Three of our magazines have closed up shop in the last couple months, not all of them in the Condé Nast family.

Final aside: the 16:9 aspect ratio is really not the greatest for desktop computing. Sure, it’s nice for showing Hollywood films if you spend your life caring deeply about such things, but for actual text-based work of the type most computer users do, it’s the opposite of the ideal display.

Longer lines are harder, not easier to read, and the lines in a word processor or web browser maximized to a 16:9 aspect ratio get very long indeed.

I was looking for “screen partitioning” software the other day, something that would let me create virtual desktops not on virtual screens, but on a real screen. I’d love to be able to “split” the screen into two halves and have a window maximize button only blow the screen up to the width of the half of the screen it’s on.

Writing and Earning  §

I wrote six nonfiction books over the course of about 10 years for major national publishers. Total gross earnings across all of them? Probably around $50 grand. Yup, that’s all. Total expenditure of time and effort? Extreme. Total domination of life in each case for months or even years on end.

In the meantime, I have also been a new media freelance writer for just a little longer, maybe 13 years now. Total gross earnings? Not sure offhand, but I can do quick calculations that tell me it’s much more than $50 grand. Total expenditure of time and effort? Several hours per week. In fact, I did the freelance writing “on the side” for much of my life while working on my books. Now I do it on the side while teaching.

Lesson? Freelance writing and new media are much more lucrative than traditional print publishing, at least when it comes to trade paperback reference titles. Why anyone is busy writing those kinds of books is beyond me. I think the pay is essentially in status; that’s really the primary form of gain. People fall all over the fact that I’m a “book author” a few times over. Not so much for short (500-1,000 word) nonfiction articles all over the place.

Certainly when I make realizations like this in the middle of the night, it tells me that I won’t be writing any more trade nonfiction paperbacks.

Trying again  §

to pollute my damned Facebook wall as much as possible.

Okay, so far, so good!  §

So clearly I’m not the only person who’s experienced the desire (need?) to link together a bunch of disparate strands of life. After all, some of us have been hosting our own little narcissistic corners of the web since the ’90s or before and are loathe to let them (or our own maintenance of the data in them—our lives, after all) entirely go.

At the same time, Facebook and Twitter and the socialmajigamaweb are new and shiny and sexy and really rox the rox, so it’s necessary to use them, naturally. But then you’ve got two or four or six or eight different sites and you’re supposed to post to them all, stay active everywhere?

Not likely.

So here’s what I’ve got so far:

Web -> Drupal (PC posting route)

BlogPress -> Drupal (iPhone posting route)

Drupal -> Twitter (when posting via web using PC)

BlogPress -> Twitter (duplicating Drupal posts, when posting via iPhone)

Facebook <- Drupal RSS (pulling via wall monitoring into notes, i.e. here) I guess it's hella normal to have Facebook pull a bunch of other stuff, too (in my case, Delicious, Yelp, Picasa). Are there other exciting pulls and/or integrations I ought to be making here? Or is that social enough? Am I fscking social enough or what? Already...?

Testing yet more service integration  §

So with Ania getting into Facebook in a big way all of a sudden, I’ve become motivated again to try to figure out how to integrate a self-hosted Drupal account with Twitter, Momo, Facebook, Picasa, and whatever else I happen to be using these days in my online life.

So far it isn’t easy. I would seriously kill just for an iPhone app that could use Drupal to it’s fullest, not to mention the rest.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Fix for Xorg Radeon corruption with Compiz on Linux  §

For the Google index:

If you’re one of the (no doubt many) people out there suffering from intermittent ATI Radeon bitmap corruption when running Compiz or another desktop accelerator under Xorg, here’s how to fix the problem entirely. This is the correct fix for you if turning off AccelDFS fixes corruption but makes your desktop unbearably slow.

Why the ATI driver maintainers don’t implement this I’ll NEVER KNOW, but luckily you can take care of it yourself:

(1) Visit rpmfind.net and get ahold of the latest xorg-x11-drv-ati for your distribution. For Fedora 12 right now, it’s 6.13.0 (with some date characters afterward). You want the SOURCE file (.src.rpm), not the binary (.i386.rpm). If you’re not using an RPM distro, get ahold of the source tarball for your radeon_drv.so driver.

(2) Install the sources and/or extract the tarball. On Fedora, this means:

rpm -i xorg-x11-drv-ati-6.13.0-0.20.20091221git4b05c47ac.fc12.src.rpm

cd /root/rpmbuild/SOURCES

tar -xJvf xf86-video-ati-20091221.tar.xz

(3) Go to the src/ subdirectory in that hierarchy:

cd xf86-video-ati-20091221/src

(4) Open the file radeon_exa_funcs.c and find ONE of the following TWO lines in the file (only one of them will appear, depending on your version of the driver):

if (bpp != 24 && RADEONGetDatatypeBpp(bpp, &datatype) &&

if (info->accelDFS && bpp != 24 && RADEONGetDatatypeBpp(bpp, &datatype) &&

(5) Change the line present in your file to match the appropriate line below (basically adding “w>32 &&” in either case):

if (bpp != 24 && w>32 && RADEONGetDatatypeBpp(bpp, &datatype) &&

if (info->accelDFS && bpp != 24 && w>32 && RADEONGetDatatypeBpp(bpp, &datatype) &&

(6) Save the edited radeon_exa_funcs.c and at the command line. Next you’re going to compile the driver. If you get errors performing the steps, you’re missing files for which you need to install relevant -devel (source header) packages. In such cases, use a site like rpmfind.net or rpm.pbone.net to help you determine which -devel packages you’re missing by searching for the needed filenames and installing those packages. Once all is said and done, a successful compilation will proceed using these commands:

cd ..

./autogen.sh

./configure

make

(7) Copy the radeon_drv.so file to the appropriate modules directory where the file “radeon_drv.so” already lives (you can find this with “locate radeon_drv.so”). NOTE THAT THIS WILL CRASH YOUR DESKTOP and force you to re-login. So be prepared.

cd src/.libs

cp radeon_drv.so /usr/lib/xorg/modules/drivers

ONCE YOU HAVE DONE all of this, your screen corruption should be gone.

The problem is that the driver is operating so fast that when it copies bitmaps from the display area sometimes, the bitmap copy orders are encountered before that bitmap actually arrives on the screen. This check just makes sure that for sufficiently small pixmaps (where this timing is most likely to occur), copy-from-screen isn’t used (because it corrupts things at this level), while it is still used for larger pixmaps (because it slows the display wayyyy down otherwise).

Why the maintainers can’t get this fix into place is beyond me. I keep hand-applying it throughout several Fedora revisions every time new versions of the Xorg packages come down the pipe.

BECAUSE WHO LIKES RANDOM SCREEN CORRUPTION?!

Not me. Sometimes the Linux community needs to get with the program and just implement “kludgy but works” fixes for the sake of the user, rather than waiting ten years for the “correct and works” version to finally slide out of someone’s brain.

P.S. If you install this fix and it works for a while and you later find that screen corruption suddenly returns, that indicates that your system has installed an update that replaced your “hacked” version of the driver with an updated “official” version of radeon_drv.so. Meaning that to get rid of the corruption once again, you’ll need to repeat this process.

Sorry, non-technical people, for the most boring blog post ever. But I really wanted to put this out there into netspace so that others having the problem can fix it.

Gonzo reflectiva latina Sunday crikey  §

Solitude is marked by the incredible reliability of the progression of time.

Those that raise their hands in the air are always exceptional; exceptionality should not, however, be mistaken for visibility. The two are quite distinct.

Desperation is primarily a low-energy phenomenon, despite conventional wisdom. It is in the dark, this or that nadir, that desperation emerges—when the field of photons is on the wane, when the torrent of resources has ceased to flow.

Arms are perhaps the most disembodied (despite their embodiment) of human features. They’re quite grotesque, flailing about and flexing, pulsing in that very meaty, fleshy way that they have.

All directionality depends on the horizon, whose dromologic characteristics have rendered it moot. What comes next is the gaze, absolute in its relativism, relative in its absolutism, and imbued with the power of rage.

Is it possible  §

to have even a moment of life that is not a “crossroads moment?”

Is it possible ever not to be let down?

Is it possible that the greatest accused pessimist is such an optimist that he nearly always feels let down?

Is it possible that I have aged to such an extent that there are no thoughts left in my head?

Is anything possible anyway? (Yes, I realize I’ve reversed the tenor of the rhetorical attack.)

(Why should I even have to say that?)

Is it possible that there is a place out there where clarity is tempered by wisdom, intellect by perspective? Or is it always a Hobson’s choice between the facile, preening intellectual and the wrongheaded, reactionary everyman?

I should have been a monk.

My life has become  §

too conceptually and emotionally crowded recently, and when that happens I disappear beneath static; I can’t think through anything at all; I can’t think, period, and I sort of develop vista-paralysis, an inability to operative instrumentally or in a reflexively awareness-rich manner relative to any particular perspective.

I need to clean up my cognitive space. Nobody, of course understands this; it tends to build to a crisis at which everyone wants to violate this sacred space all the time and I flee like a refugee to some quiet area, making everyone frustrated, hateful, and severely dubious. Then I emerge later somewhat recovered and people applaud me for finally growing up and getting my act together and they find me great once again, but they never connect my need for conceptual open space (and my forcing the issue to get it) to my functionality (when I display it well).

Basically, I’m a radically strongly expressed introvert in a world of extroverts and every now and then I feel as though the collective thoughts and my own subjective ideative manifestations of the people and things around around me crush me beneath the weight of twenty mountains until I escape into some monastic retreat and climb out from under the way-too-many thoughts and feelings.

Does it sound like I need tinfoil?

Sometimes I feel like I do.

The mobile phone wars and the generation gap  §

I read technology reviews all the time, just to keep up on the old hobby.

With the “smartphone revolution” that has been going on for a couple years now (if not longer), I often see people talking past one another, with the pivot of the issue being a quote(s) like the following:

“But the point is that for all the bells and whistles, this device is still a phone, and on that front, device X overtakes device Y.” (Or vice-versa.)

That’s interesting, primarily because it illustrates a generation gap that isn’t likely to go away, a kind of unacknowledged fissure in the marketplace.

All smartphones are not shooting for the same features (or at least shouldn’t be). There are two markets here: (1) smartPHONE, and (2) SMARTphone.

My iPhone, for example, is only slightly a phone. I’ve had it for months now and I can count the number of phone calls I’ve made or taken on my fingers. On the other hand, I continuously browse the web, manage email, send and receive text messages, read books and listen to music, and log into and monitor my bank accounts, spending, and task lists with it.

It is my second computer, my information appliance.

I certainly don’t think of it as my “phone” and frankly I would have still bought the damned thing (and use it as much as I do) if it weren’t at all capable of “phone” calls. Who “phones” anymore, anyway? If I want to talk, I Skype (oh, and of course, my iPhone does have Skype on it).

That’s a very different primary use from that of a different generation or at the very least a different market for whom voice calls remain the social currency du jour and who would absolutely prefer that a greater portion of the resources they’ve invested in a device be put toward high-quality phone service.

My smartphone is the logical extension of my Newton 2100 from a decade ago.

For others, it’s a logical extension of their Panasonic cordless landline from a decade ago.

Those are two radically different need sets, that could be better (or more competitively and cost-effectively) served with a more radical divergence in the marketplace.

Just as I was descending into a bad mood  §

I got fscking awesome news from my oldest friend in the world. And now my night is made. I love it when good things happen to good people.

Ironies  §

1) The most understanding ones who most often give the shirts off their back seem often to be labeled the biggest jerks by those people that expect things from them.

2) The understanding ones understand when they’d be perfectly justified in refusing to understand, and then they’re the understanding onces again when the tables are turned, even though at that point they could use a little understanding themselves. The understanding ones are always the understanding ones, until they’re buried.

3) No understanding is expected from the non-understanding ones; it’s not what they do; it’s not the relational context in which others experience them. It is the responsibility of the understanding ones to deliver understanding, no matter how much they feel that it’s taken for granted, or that they’d love, just for once, to be understood themselves instead. It is beyond their capacity to be anything else.

4) In the end, their role in relationships is not merely not acknowledged or valued; in fact, the understanding ones are generally willfully harmed precisely because they’re so very understanding, and their serial exiles and re-adoptions are the heartbeat of the group’s collective effervescence. Group identity and solidity is worked out by sublimating honesty and understanding beneath alternating veneers of war and reconciliation. Without the cadence, there is no reintensification; without reintensification, there is no group.

5) The understanding ones are martyrs to the cause of humanity. They also say this from time to time, precisely because they are the understanding ones. For that, they are liable to be martyred again.