Wednesday, May 29, 2013

[Book Review] Carnal Machines

Carnal Machines : Steampunk Eroticia / D. L. King (ed) (Powell's Books)
The Victorians wrote some of the best and most enduring erotica. For such a tightly-laced age, people spent a lot of time thinking about things carnal. Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, et al enthralled us with their visions of new possibilities. The rich and slightly decadent visuals of the steam age lend themselves perfectly to the new carnality of post-punk era. And, of course, what is repressed will be even more exciting once the corset is unlaced. Steampunk, even without sex, is erotic; with sex, it’s over-the-top hot. A widowed lady engineer invents a small device that can store the energy from sexual frustration and convert it to electricity to help power a home. Teresa Noelle Roberts shows us what it can do, confronted with sexual fulfillment. What volume of steampunk would be complete without a tale of sailing ships and the men who sail them? If your taste runs to sexy pirates in space, Poe Von Page will delight you with the mutinous crew of the Danika Blue and their new captain.

Then there’s the very special room on the top floor in the House of the Sable Locks, a brothel where sexually discriminating men go to have their fantasies fulfilled. Even if a man daren’t put those fantasies into words, Elizabeth Schechter’s "Succubus" will give the madam all the information she needs with which to make her clients happy. There are brothels, flying machines, steam-powered conveyances, manor houses, spiritualist societies. The following stories afford intelligently written, beautifully crafted glimpses into other worlds, where the Carnal Machines won’t fail to seduce you, get you wet or make you hard so, lie back, relax; a happy ending is guaranteed.
A copy of Carnal Machines fell into my possession at BEA last year, but like a good percentage of the books I acquired it got lost in the (huge) pile (of books).  Then I ran into D. L. King at the Steampunk World's Faire and had a fantastic time discussing literature with her and realized that I had one of her projects sitting in a pile of unread books from a year ago (my goal this year is to bring home far fewer titles from BEA).  Since I was taking the train into NYC I figured why not read it on my way to BEA where I can remark on more that I have a copy of this book to D. L. King this time.  If you're raising an eyebrow at me reading erotica on the train, take a good look at romance book covers some time.

Right off the bat I want to state that is is actually Steampunk (might I even call it steamy?) fiction, the authors did not just glue some gears on it and call it steampunk.  Instead we have clever and well written tales of a technology that wasn't.  Not only that but the erotica is both woman positive and sex positive.  Yes, I do hold that some erotica/porn is not sex positive.  These creative stories are enthusiastic and uninhibited as they explore different facets of sexuality.  And they are stories with character development and plot, beyond a framework for fictional fucking (though there is quite a bit of that as well).  Carnal Machines delivers what it promises.

Additional Reading:
D. L. King's blog

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Link Smorgasbord, May 20-26

Book Inspired Makeup
Some pretty and themed ways that someone with something resembling skill with makeup (not me) can adorn themselves.

A Calendar of Tales
I think I'm about to give in and create a tag for Neil Gaiman.

"Take a journey across timescapes and angry seas. Here lie twelve tales of magic rings and
long-lost relatives, pirate ships and haunted forests, written by Neil, inspired
and illustrated by you."



A PDF of all the stories (and their inspiring tweets) can be found here but I recommend exploring the website as well to see all the art and to listen to Gaiman read the stories.

The "Don't Be A Dick" Public License
This makes me happy.  Also see the WTFPL.
Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim or modified copies of this license document, and changing it is allowed as long as the name is changed.
DON'T BE A DICK PUBLIC LICENSE TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR COPYING, DISTRIBUTION AND MODIFICATION
  1. Do whatever you like with the original work, just don't be a dick.
    Being a dick includes - but is not limited to - the following instances:
    1a. Outright copyright infringement - Don't just copy this and change the name.
    1b. Selling the unmodified original with no work done what-so-ever, that's REALLY being a dick.
    1c. Modifying the original work to contain hidden harmful content. That would make you a PROPER dick.
  2. If you become rich through modifications, related works/services, or supporting the original work, share the love. Only a dick would make loads off this work and not buy the original works creator(s) a pint.
  3. Code is provided with no warranty. Using somebody else's code and bitching when it goes wrong makes you a DONKEY dick. Fix the problem yourself. A non-dick would submit the fix back.
Amazon’s Kindle Worlds: Instant Thoughts
Scalzi pretty much covers how I feel about this.

National Day of Civic Hacking
This is about hacking as a form of positive making and creating, and about hacking as a crowd-sourced effort. 

No Return eBook Lending
About eBook lending and the possibilities.

Does Piracy Impact Sales? Not How You Might Think!
For me not really any surprises here, but always nice to see something else along these lines.

Blood Kiss 
A Kickstarter to fund a movie starring Neil Gaiman and Amber Benson and written by Michael Reaves.  Due to Parkinson's Reaves has difficulty speaking and while he can still write, his writing speed has decreased, and the vampire story market is rather bloated at the moment.  So to get the story made he talked to some awesome friends to get it off the ground but it still needs capital.  They're really close to the first solid goal of $50,000 which is "we will make this movie no matter what," but a bit further way from their goals for the high quality production they'd like.

Monday, May 27, 2013

[Book Review] Sex and the Office: A History of Gender, Power, and Desire / Julie Berebitsky

 Sex and the Office: A History of Gender, Power, and Desire / Julie Berebitsky (Yale University Press, Powell's Books)
"In this engaging book—the first to historicize our understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace—Julie Berebitsky explores how Americans’ attitudes toward sexuality and gender in the office have changed since the 1860s, when women first took jobs as clerks in the U.S. Treasury office.

Berebitsky recounts the actual experiences of female and male office workers; draws on archival sources ranging from the records of investigators looking for waste in government offices during World War II to the personal papers of Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown and Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem; and explores how popular sources—including cartoons, advertisements, advice guides, and a wide array of fictional accounts—have represented wanted and unwelcome romantic and sexual advances. This range of evidence and the study’s long scope expose both notable transformations and startling continuities in the interplay of gender, power and desire at work."
Reading this book makes what feels like an upsurge in rape-blaming and slut-shaming both more understandable and more frustrating.  Understandable because it helps contextualize the cultural roots of the past 100 years in a concrete way.  My grade school education avoided any in-depth look at the more licentious aspects of various industries (though thankfully my school district believed in comprehensive Sex Ed. that covered the importance of consent).  Frustrating because it is hard to believe we are still repeating these same fights again and again.  These battles are what finally forced "sexual harassment" to be a recognized phrase and issue in the early 1970s.  40 years later a high school student passed out at a party is treated like she was "asking for it" when she was raped by multiple classmates.

In the recounting of workplace gender politics over the past 100 years Sex and the office also reveals and contextualizes many of the tropes still present in our culture.  I know many fantastic women employed as receptionists/secretaries/administrative assistants, but none of them are from the pages of Hustler (that I know of) and historically most of the women similarly employed are also not working behind a desk as part of a greater plan of seduction.  Yes, it happens for various reason, but somehow the sexual (be it enthusiastic or repressed) secretary became ingrained as a cultural image.  Where did this, and many other ideas come from, what is their history?  How do they reflect other aspects of gender politics of the time?  I found Berebitsky's dissection of these questions fascinating.

This book also made me think about consent, and how if you're not informed you're not really able to consent because you don't understand what you are consenting too.  It made me think of myself as a teen or in my very early twenties.  I had a decent academic knowledge of sex and relationships, but there was so much I just didn't comprehend until years (and many mistakes) later.  To an extent, regardless of how informed I thought I was, there were things that I didn't know not to consent to.  The whole concept of age of consent makes more sense to me just looking back on my own life than it did when I was 16.  And through all of this I had a better knowledge base than many of the girls and young women who encountered the assumption and treatment that they were sexually available upon entering the office workforce.  I knew the mechanics, I knew about birth control, I knew about sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and thanks to the effort of women before me I know that if someone propositions me in a way that I'm not comfortable I can say "no" without it automatically costing my job (or that there is legal action if it did cost me my job).

Reading Sex and the office has changed how I look and debate gender issues in a historical context by giving me a fuller knowledge base and concept of what exactly were issues. It is often easy to forget how much (and sometimes how little) has changed over the years.  I can't say that something would be drastically different if women were involved in some way that they weren't before when looking how something has developed.  It is not a simple of issue of say women being involved in writing comics in 1930, it's all of the reasons they were not involved in writing comics then.  None of the issues that carry over today would be solved by one change in the past, they're more complex than that.

Additional reading:
Sex and the office : why little has changed in 150 years (Forbes), an interview with Julie Berbitsky on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fun with legacy barcode scanners and PS/2 to USB adapters

So one of the "joys" of upgrading hardware is inevitably you have some sort of legacy component that still needs to work with the new system.  For us it was our barcode scanners as legacy components as I upgrade our staff computers.  Computers that work are awesome, even more so when they work well.  Unfortunately we have a slew of barcode scanners with PS/2 connectors intended to share a port with a PS/2 keyboard.

Simple solution, right?  Just get a PS/2 to USB adapter, plug tab a into slot b, and go!  As it turns out, not so much.  I can connect everything, the scanner is powered, but when I scan a barcode I get only a few characters printed to screen.  Now, in the past I was provided with several $30 adapters from Staples that worked like a charm.  This time around I am in the position of making most technology purchase recommendations, and I went for a generic adapter from Monoprice.  At $6 total for shipping and two adapters, I hold the brief hassle of figuring this out was a reasonable trade off.

I got our scanner working largely by following the instructions from a blog post titled "Metrologic Laser Scanner fun-ness," refreshing after the many less-than-useful forum discussions results, well seasoned with sales sites.  Honeywell tech support will not help with this unless you use their ($50) adapter cable, and no drivers exist for using this scanner with Windows 7.

These are instructions for if you have an adapter that seems to properly power the scanner but nothing prints to screen (if the adapter doesn't power the scanner then there is likely a problem with the adapter).  Hopefully these will be useful to someone else searching for this solution.

Required components:
-Metrologic barcode scanner (ours are MS9520)
-generic PS/2 to USB adapter
-PS/2 keyboard
-Your scanner's Single-Line Configuration Guide (or you can try this PDF manual: http://downloads.visionid.ie/manuals/MS9535.pdf).

The process:
1. Plug PS/2 to USB adapter into your PC, let it finish identifying drivers and all that.
2. Plug keyboard into adapter to "prime" it as a keyboard.  If the keyboard works, unplug the keyboard from the adapter.
3. Plug the scanner into the adapter (make sure to use the same socket you used for the keyboard if it is a Y shaped adapter).
4. Locate the following barcodes in your Configuration Guide and scan them, the scanner will make a series of chirping beeps as it reprograms itself:
-Enable Stand-Alone Keyboard Scanner
-Inter-Scan Code Delay 7.5 msec
-10 msec Intercharacter Delay

You should be able to now correctly scan in barcodes.

A quick warning!  This will scan in barcodes slightly slower, but the 1 msec Intercharacter Delay results in a very high frequency of incomplete scans, so these are the two shortest delay options.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summer School

Now that the two MOOCs I enrolled in finished, it seemed time to move on to other things... like more MOOCs.  I was sad to see no courses on Copyright, even an intro one, on either Coursera or Canvas. I don't care that I've taken Intro to Copyright courses before, I will keep taking them when offered (or a more advanced one if possible) because it is such a convoluted subject.  Two courses did snag my attention:
I also found a third course through a friend, Building a Basic Website, which should actually be a basic course so I am excited.  I can do some basic site design working within templates but I remain incredibly conscious of everything I still do not know.  My hope is to gain more confidence with my base level of web design knowledge to grow into more advanced aspects.  This class just started and marks a first for UMass as they explore offering MOOCs.
My personal interests really do align with my profession rather well.  

The first class includes recommended readings already on my "to-read" list, including Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet by Katie Hafner.  I feel that Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrey Blum might also fit well within the scope of this course.  Unlike previous computer science MOOCs I have attempted, this one looks well within reach of my skill set rather than likely to quickly accelerate out of it.

As for the Fantasy & SciFi class, the syllabus consists of many seminal books, both contemporary and classic.  I cannot begin to express how happy I am to take a fiction class that deals with literature published post-1965 (the approximate end point of the "modernist" period in English literature).  Nothing personal against modernist literature overall, I just have encountered a few more modern literature courses taught without a solid context than I really can appreciate.

Between these two classes I have a rather ambitious reading list (even with the amount I read).  In addition to variously assigned articles and online readings here is my summer assigned reading list:
  • Weaving the Web : the original design and ultimate destiny of the World Wide Web / Tim Berners-Lee
  • How the Web was born : the story of the World Wide Web / Robert Cailliau
  • Where wizards stay up late : the origins of the Internet / Katie Hafner
  • Household stories / Brothers Grimm
  • Alice's adventures in Wonderland / Lewis Carroll
  • Through the looking glass / Lewis Carroll
  • Dracula / Bram Stoker
  • Frankenstein or the modern prometheus / Mary Shelley
  • The portable Edgar Allen Poe / Edgar Allen Poe, J. Gerald Kennedy (ed)
  • Twice-told tales / Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Mosses from an old manse / Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The island of Dr. Moreau / H. G. Wells
  • The invisible man / H. G. Wells
  • "Country of the blind" / H. G. Wells
  • "The Star" / H. G. Wells
  • A princess of Mars / Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Herland / Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Martian Chronicles / Ray Bradbury
  • The left hand of darkness / Ursula LeGuin
  • Little Brother / Corey Doctorow
If I really work at it I should be able to finish all of these within the 11 weeks of the course.  Of the books I have previously read some I can tear through quickly, others take a bit more effort for me to focus and finish them.  I will need to reread any previously read in order to adequately write short essay responses and to participate in discussion.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Link Smorgasbord, May 13-19

Cosmos Remake Coming To Fox In 2014
"It will star astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson."  I may be squeeing about this. 

Perhaps a ray of hope?
"New legislation sponsored by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO) takes a broader approach to the issue. In addition to explicitly legalizing cell phone unlocking, the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 also modifies the DMCA to make clear that unlocking copy-protected content is only illegal if it's done in order to "facilitate the infringement of a copyright." If a circumvention technology is "primarily designed or produced for the purpose of facilitating noninfringing uses," that would not be a violation of copyright."
Interesting project, and considering how much a Masters costs to earn normally, a potentially very disruptive development.  I am curious how they intend to handle the possibility of cheating/plagiarism, as well as what the final price tag will settle out at.  For now we can expect under $7,000 but it could go either way.  I personally would have no hope of ever finishing a purely online Computer Science degree, but I think that a Computer Science degree pairs well for a pilot accredited MOOC course of study.
"All OMS CS course content will be delivered via the massive open online course (MOOC) format, with enhanced support services for students enrolled in the degree program. Those students also will pay a fraction of the cost of traditional on-campus master’s programs; total tuition for the program is initially expected to be below $7,000. A pilot program, partly supported by a generous gift from AT&T, will begin in the next academic year. Initial enrollment will be limited to a few hundred students recruited from AT&T and Georgia Tech corporate affiliates. Enrollment is expected to expand gradually over the next three years."
The New Yorker Launches 'Strongbox' For Secure Anonymous Leaks 
Steps towards protecting privacy to close the gap left by emerging (and well emerged) technologies.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Class Review: Surviving Disruptive Technologies and Gender Through Comic Books

I recently finished two MOOCs on drastically different topics and on different platforms.  I enjoy learning and intellectual stimulation.  One of the reasons I am such a dedicated Science Fiction fan is the wealth of genre literature that provokes thought, at times handling content that would be found threatening or uncomfortable outside of the realm of the fantastic.  It has yet to really show if certifications earned through MOOCs are treated as a valuable part of professional development, but I find them valuable for my own development.


Surviving Disruptive Technologies
No, this isn't about how to deal with someone who fails to realize that everyone around them can hear at least their side of the cell phone conversation.  Instead it is about technology that changes the status quo.  Digital cameras changed how we take photos, Kodak went from the overwhelming leader of the photography business to filing for bankruptcy.  Think of all the wildly popular technology innovations in the past few years that we almost take for granted now, most of them are disruptive.  MOOCs are a disruptive technology.

Obviously I found this topic of interest, and the professor proved both knowledgeable and a clear communicator.  Each week we had a series of short lecture videos to watch, several articles to read, and were asked to take part in the discussion forums on specific topics.  Any class with several thousand students will find that the forum discussions quickly reach overwhelming.  Fortunately the forum was broken down into logical sub-forums and we were not required to start an individual topic for our responses to that week's questions, rather we were allowed a more organic discussion where we share and debate our answers.

I did not always agree with the professor in situational analysis, but the topic was well covered and a good one to think about.  Students ranged from all over the world and from an incredible collection of professions, including a collection of librarians.  There's a framework this class gives for thinking about now and planning for tomorrow that I will definitely take with me.

One interesting experience was the peer review requirement for credit on the mid-term and final projects.  The mid-term asked us to discuss Barnes & Noble based on the survival models and incumbent's dilemma from class.  The final asked us to do the same but to an industry and disruption of our own choosing.  In order to receive credit on our own submission we needed to review and grade the submissions of at least 4 other students guided by a grading rubric for each question.  I found reviewing the submissions very interesting and for both went beyond the minimum to explore the widely divergent ideas.  I also was left with the feeling that either I put way more time and effort into the project than most or that I grade harshly (possibly both).  The feedback I received indicated that other students also found the peer review process very interesting.

Gender Through Comic Books
I started out so excited for this class.  I love classes like this and it had some fantastic titles in the course materials.  I ended up feeling let down very early on.  For a University-backed class I found the course at most taught at a high-school level, and it seemed to me that the course relied more on third party content than the professor's own content to teach.  I also felt that the course relied too much on Superhero comics, and did not draw enough from non-superhero comics throughout the years (notable exceptions in that we did read Strangers in Paradise and Y the Last Man).  Yes, limiting down for the class must be incredibly challenging but a title like "Gender through Comic Books" implies a wider lens than just superheros.

The other part that really hurt the course is the discussion set up.  Each week we would have a number of questions to answer and debate, all through a single page for each question rather than sub-forums to support the forking discussions.  7000 students enrolled in this course, that makes for a lot of published comments for each question even without the threaded discussions.  Forums are not perfect, but I wished for solid forum support this whole class.

All this being said I did find components of the course incredibly interesting.  The reason I wished for a better format to discuss the weekly questions is that I wanted to take more part in the discussions.  Creators from the comics industry came in for interviews built with student supplied questions.  The optional materials contained some of the most interesting material in the course, including a number of TED talks.  Also, since the course involved support from various comics creators I will in theory receive a really cool illustrated certificate for course completion (though the instructor is unsure as to the timing of their distribution).  I acknowledge that perhaps some of my evaluation of the course is colored by my experiences and the area in which I live.  It's just a topic that has so much possibility and so much depth that I wanted more.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Booklikes, or Reviewing a Review Site

After Goodreads announced their purchase by Amazon I started to look for other options.  I have discovered of the course of this past year that I really like the ability to track and organize my reading.  I say over the course of this past year because I've had LibraryThing and Goodreads accounts for something approaching 5-6 years, and this past year and a half really marked the first time I've ever fully embraced them.

I imported my entire Goodreads collection into LibraryThing, which has some fantastic tools but I'm just not satisfied with the layout.  Additionally I am WAY past the 200 book limit for a free account and need to buy a lifetime membership (makes little sense to me to buy the annual membership) in addition to tweaking the imports and their shelving/tagging schemes.

I also imported my entire collection to a new site called Booklikes which didn't possess everything I was looking for, but was well packaged with appealing visual design.  Since I imported my entire collection several of the key features initially lacking have been added and functionality continues to expand.  Somehow it also had not registered before this week that the site was still in beta.  Wow.  The performance difference between accessing the site while in beta vs live is immediate.  Everything loads quicker (and with more accuracy).  I'm no longer experiencing some of the odd quirky errors that are likely a side effect of a product in demo run juggling all the databases of individual user collections and cross-walking to the data sources.

Booklikes is distinctly more of a blogging site than Goodreads.  Think LiveJournal vs Facebook but with bookshelves.  Booklikes does not (yet) have the rich user interaction of Goodreads, but instead focuses on more involved user content supporting not only book reviews and blog posts but photo and video.  Since going live on Tuesday social functionality has already taken steps forward, so I expect to see this continue to grow.

I had a surprising amount of fun going back through my collection and reshelving/tagging.  It is very easy create and edit shelves.  I would like to see bulk editing of shelf contents, but I mostly wished for that when sorting through my ~560 imported titles.  Once the bulk of my collection is massaged and sorted I generally have limited need for bulk additions of titles to shelves.  I think my collection is now far better organized than what sits on Goodreads.

The blogging platform that Booklikes utilizes allows for multiple reviews of the same book, as well as reviews flagged for multiple titles.  I expect to have fun with this down the road, the ability to write new and updated reviews as I find my reactions to books have changed or maybe had a chance to percolate.  Also like many blogging platforms, you have the option of adding pages to your booklikes blog, as well as options for customizing your URL.  Additionally Booklikes supports publication to Twitter and Facebook, as well as supports affiliate programs with a growing number of book sellers.

Finding books supports author, title, and ISBN (both 10 and 13) searches.  I would like to see a move towards federated searching across data sources, but it is very simple to switch between.  If the book cannot be found adding a title is easy.  You have the option of including or excluding data sources in your settings, including sources from different countries.  Speaking of countries, search options currently include sources for Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland (with 14 companies on board), Spain, Sweden, UK, and the USA (with 7 sources).  Like everything else, this continues to grow and morph.

I cannot say enough about the support from Booklikes staff.  The are very receptive to suggestions (and several times were already on the cusp of releasing the requested feature), and tickets are easy to submit through an in-site IM tab.  I have always received quick response, even when no one was online to immediately chat, and they're even open to random book chat.  Over all very friendly and welcoming.

The top features I really hope for are groups, member searching, and the ability to view the collected reviews and ratings for specific titles.  As I mentioned earlier, the social aspect is not fully developed to the point that I would like, and that is really what is holding me to Goodreads.  I look at ratings and reviews regularly as a librarian, and I fell in love with the richness that book social sites can bring to active online book clubs.

I see Booklikes as coming into the social reading website scene with a decent base.  During the beta and even post release they are showing a dedication to growth and development.  I'd like to see how it continues to grow.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

OverDrive's Big Library Read pilot start

Today marks the start of OverDrive's Big Library Read experiment, where for two and a half weeks The four corners of the sky by Michael Malone will be available for unlimited, simultaneous access through participating libraries' OverDrive collections.  Similar to a Community Reads event or perhaps a 'global book club,' this is described as the "first" Big Library Read by OverDrive.  During this pilot run data will be collected and tracked relating to this book and others by Michael Malone, including check outs and purchases.  Many of us are hoping that this data will showcase a positive correlation between library discovery and book sales.

I've never heard of Michael Malone before, so I cannot comment on his writing from my own experience.  I read prolifically, but still don't hear of every author, particularly as I tend to read non-fiction and genre fiction.  He seems to be well regarded as an author of literature based in the southern United States with a solid collection of published novels.  The Kirkus review on The four corners of the sky seems favorable, though rather tongue-in-cheek, and ratings seem to fall in the 3-3.5 out of 5 stars range. 

Regardless of how the numbers come out, both OverDrive, Mr. Malone, and Sourcebooks (the publisher) stand to benefit from this pilot run.  If every library in my consortium advertises this first Big Library Read that makes for 155 libraries alone promoting this single title, and then scale up to the higher population areas with their own networks and libraries.  During the pilot, this title is available for free to participating libraries.  Not only has a copy been purchased of this title for our ebook collection, but so have several of Mr. Malone's other titles.  Other libraries and networks will also take similar action.  Studies out there already show a positive correlation between discovery in a library and purchasing of books and other media, so I predict an upswing in sales for the author and publisher as this pilot Big Library Read acts as an exploration start point for patrons.

OverDrive benefits from more than just sales, they benefit from goodwill.  Borrowing library ebooks, while slowly improving, is not a frictionless process.  The process often confuses or frustrates users, and librarians try to provide the best collection possible while navigating prohibitively priced ebooks and absurdly restrictive DRM.  Not all of the responsibility for these frustrations lies with OverDrive, but as the middleman and vendor they are closer to our complaints.

I like the possibilities this opens, regardless of any cynicism that I also possess.  I'm not exactly happy at the big data aspect of it, but it's not like this data was not already being collected.  It opens the possibility of movement, or at least more productive discussion, towards a more favorable lending model.  Right now most discussions involve much beating of heads against the wall on both sides of the argument.  It also opens the possibility of future opportunities of similutaneous access outside of this one program.  Maybe it brings us closer to the ability to actually make use of a popular content platform for summer reading or book clubs.  Regardless, I am happy about the exploration of options.

For those whom find this very exciting more can be found through the OverDrive Facebook and Twitter, with the author chiming in.  Other discussions can be found through #BigLibraryRead.

Corey Doctorow - A Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond

I fully admit to my abiding interest in copyright, DRM, privacy, and many problems related.  Corey Doctorow's understanding and ability to explain these topics makes my attempts to elucidate feel like the type of mocked verbal fumbles by pageant contestants.  Needless to say I was very excited when an annual online summit I attend announced that Corey Doctorow was their keynote speaker.  And then they experienced extreme technical difficulties preventing the speech, though some of the attendees and all of the organizers got to hear him recite The Jabberwocky.

Well, happily he did the speech for the Library of Congress as well, and that speech is here for everyone to listen to.



If you've ever wondered why DRM, copyright, or privacy matters so much to me, or if are just curious, please listen.  For me it was an overwhelming experience of "that's exactly it."

Library of Congress Webcast, including a transcript: A Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Link Smorgasbord, May 6 - 12

Why Isn't Gatsby in the Public Domain?
(in the United States at least)

Coursera leaps another online learning hurdle, partners with Chegg and 5 publishers to give students free textbooks
Fine Print: "eTextbooks and supplementary materials will be delivered via Chegg’s DRM-protected eReader."  After the course ends access to the texbooks (unsurprisingly) ends unless students want to buy them.  I am of mixed feelings, I'm OK with lending models for books in general.  For textbooks on a free education platform I start feeling like it's a vector for marketing but at the same time (temporarily) opens up the course to a wider range of materials.  I know there are classes I have taken where I wanted to keep the text book because I enjoyed the subject matter, and in a MOOC I am likely taking the class specifically because the subject matter interests me, so I imagine disgruntlement at this model.  It also greatly detracts from highlighting and note taking features so often touted as advantages of ebooks.

Adobe's Creative Cloud Illustrates How the Cloud Costs You More

Now, I don't do a whole lot with graphic design, but based on the file sizes I encounter with high quality archival scans (and the whole "public library budget" issue) I cannot say this model either appeals to me or seems worth the price.  20GB of cloud storage for someone heavily into graphic design will disappear very quickly and both the individuals and the companies I know that use CS tend to use a release for quite some time before thinking about an upgrade.  I think the subscription model will elbow out users, though I am not sure what discount will be offered to non-profits through programs like TechSoup under this model.  Personally I use GIMP and remain quite happy with this product, and have introduced it as a Photoshop replacement at work.  We did get a full copy of Photoshop some years back from TechSoup, but Adobe seems big on the one computer only model for their Creative Suite, which just is not all that useful to us.

See also:
Adobe kills Creative Suite, goes subscription-only


Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire, or, Copyright Shitfuckery
When a government created icon is neither in the public domain or permitted for fair use due to special exemption.

27 Science Fictions That Became Science Facts In 2012
The science fiction nerd in me is squealing "so cool!"  The more cynical part of me is surprised how not-creepy most of these are (brain hacking is creepy).

Riffle
Posed possibly as a competitor to Goodreads that I have yet to explore because I don't currently feel like logging in with my Facebook account.  Yes, I have some quirks.

PC Cleaning Apps are a Scam: Here’s Why (and How to Speed Up Your PC)
While I wished they had explored more than one of the PC Cleaning Apps out there rather than just one, I did love "don’t try this at home; we installed this bad software so you don’t have to."

CLS Bank v. Alice Corp: Court Finds Many Software Patents Ineligible
Considering how many software patents make me wonder what was anyone thinking in approving them (patent on page-turn animation for one), this was an interesting find.

Use These Secret NSA Google Search Tips to Become Your Own Spy Agency (Wired)
The article contains a link to a 643 page PDF on how to use regular resources to dig around.  Perhaps also importantly, the article warns the explorer to use caution.

I enjoy seeing these reports that the Douglas County Libraries put out, I find it a good metric to use when looking at the world of library ebooks.  As of right now about half of the top 25 best sellers listed at most half are available to to libraries as ebooks.  If you'd like to go direct to the report you can here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

[Book Review] Copyright and other fairy tales

Copyright And Other Fairy Tales : Hans Christian Andersen and the Commodification of Creativity / Helle Porsdam (Publisher Website, Google Books)

I was WAY too excited upon finding a copy of this through Inter-Library Loan (for those who are not familiar with the full range of Massachusetts ILL offerings, they are quite awesome, including extended ILL options outside of your library's network or beyond).  I would love to own a copy, but with print copies starting at $100, and the ebook at $30, I sadly do not see a copy falling into my hands anytime soon.  

I find it ironic that price is such a barrier to acquiring a copy of this book.  The essays largely discuss the faults of our current (and historical) copyright laws, how they negatively impact the creator and culture, and about remix, copyleft, and open source culture.  While I did find a copy within the state libraries, I found just this single copy that was available for use outside of the library.  At 172 pages including index and footnotes (but not all the blank pages in the back), it does stand as a phenomenal collection of essays on the subject of copyright and culture, but perhaps not standing up to its price tag for either format (my price point for ebooks stands lower than that for print).

Before I get off my soap box, or at least before I change subjects on my soap box, I figure now is a great time to mention unglue.itUnglue.it works as a crowd funding site to purchase copyright from the holder, and then release the title to the wild under a Creative Commons license.  The project does not work for every book, for example The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy probably will never be a viable candidate due to the Disney entanglement regardless of willingness of the Adams estate.  So... I figured why not try and get this book Unglued?  Right now it's just one of many in the "wished for" but if enough people express interest it may get it's own campaign (and here's a handy-dandy link).

Now to get off my soapbox and actually talk about the book.

This book pulls together eight brilliant essays on copyright (and yes, I am a copyright nerd).  As someone who actively follows developments related to copyright and DRM, the essays in this book still took me in new directions.  The different voices are all clear and straightforward, something I value highly when reading academic and trade type publications.  I want a copy of this book because I want to reread it, repeatedly.  I know I did not really absorb everything, and I want to remedy that.  I like the directions the different essays made me think.  If the social issues surrounding copyright have ever been of interest to you, read this book.  If you've ever been curious about the issues surrounding file sharing or remixing, about cultural ownership, about public domain, or about copyright and freedom of speech, read this book.  If you have no clue what anything I just listed means I recommend reading this book, or one of the many books out there on these topics.  They are useful areas of knowledge to have.

Additional reading:
Go to Hellman - this is the blog of Eric Hellman, one of the forces behind Unglue.it and a man with a fantastic sense of humor (he had me at his blog title).
Lawrence Lessig: Re-examining the remix (video) - among other things, Lessig talks about Disney as a remix artist.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Link Smorgasbord, April 29-May 5

SOPA Creator Now In Charge of NSF Grants
Because nothing could go wrong with this idea ever.  Oh wait, what are his proposed guidelines?  Grants must "benefit 'national defense', be of 'utmost importance to society,' and not be 'duplicative of other research.'"  *headdesk*

Who Has Your Back? 2013 (EFF)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's 2013 report on how popular companies act to protect your data and respond to requests.  The EFF regularly does a fantastic job of presenting information and reports in a clear, concise, and generally comprehensible manner, something I always appreciate.  This year's report looks at Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Dropbox, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, LinkedIn, Loopt, Microsoft, MySpace, Skype, Sonic.net, SpiderOak, Tumblr, Twitter, Verizon, WordPress, and Yahoo!.

Coursera to Offer K-12 Teacher Development Courses
Could be interesting.  I know that I use MOOCs to supplement my own professional development, however I've also found that the quality of the classes vary greatly.  I have found "introduction" courses that were highly advanced, and other courses that were so basic I was dumbfounded.

"Effective May 8, Hachette Book Group will make all its e-books available to nonprofit public and school libraries in the U.S. Under the new policy, new e-books will be released simultaneously with the print edition and sold for "an unlimited number of single-user-at-a-time circulations at an initial price three times the primary physical book price," the company said. "One year after publication, the purchase price will drop to one and a half times the primary book price. The primary book price will be defined as the highest-price edition then in print.""
It's a start, and the prices match up with the trends from the larger publishers.  Happily, there that there is no limit on the number of times the title can circulate.

International Day Against DRM
So I missed May 3rd on this one, but Defective by Design is still a great site about what is going on in the world of Digital Rights Management.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

[Book Review] Variable Star

Variable Star / Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson (book website, Powell's Books)
A never-before-published masterpiece from science fiction's greatest writer, rediscovered after more than half a century.

When Joel Johnston first met Jinny Hamilton, it seemed like a dream come true. And when she finally agreed to marry him, he felt like the luckiest man in the universe.
There was just one small problem. He was broke. His only goal in life was to become a composer, and he knew it would take years before he was earning enough to support a family.
But Jinny wasn't willing to wait. And when Joel asked her what they were going to do for money, she gave him a most unexpected answer. She told him that her name wasn't really Jinny Hamilton---it was Jinny Conrad, and she was the granddaughter of Richard Conrad, the wealthiest man in the solar system.

And now that she was sure that Joel loved her for herself, not for her wealth, she revealed her family's plans for him---he would be groomed for a place in the vast Conrad empire and sire a dynasty to carry on the family business.

Most men would have jumped at the opportunity. But Joel Johnston wasn't most men. To Jinny's surprise, and even his own, he turned down her generous offer and then set off on the mother of all benders. And woke up on a colony ship heading out into space, torn between regret over his rash decision and his determination to forget Jinny and make a life for himself among the stars.

He was on his way to succeeding when his plans--and the plans of billions of others--were shattered by a cosmic cataclysm so devastating it would take all of humanity's strength and ingenuity just to survive.
This may set the record for my quickest time reading a Heinlein novel.  I finished reading it at about 2:30AM this morning.  I would say it is safe to say that I enjoyed this novel that seems to float between revered and rejected by the Science Fiction community.

In all honesty, I have trouble considering it really a Heinlein novel, as it was written based on 7 pages of outline, a handful of index cards, and a familiarity with Heinlein's voice and style.  It definitely is Heinlein's story, but ultimately the words belong to Spider Robinson.  Robinson was instructed to "take his outline and write the best damn Spider Robinson novel you're capable of," and he wrote a book that, to me, holds true to the spirit of Heinlein's style.  The characters, relationships, idioms, and troupes largely match what I expect from a Heinlein novel.

However it occurred to me after I finished that perhaps the reason I read it so quickly is that the book lacks the more in-depth commentaries that Heinlein only faintly disguised dialog.  The writing was still in places brilliant, and the details about goats had me laughing, but I have come to expect at least one major treatise on an aspect of society in every Heinlein novel.  This could be on economics, social and/or sexual morays, military service, or other topic.  Even if I find his attempts at feminism oddly self-contradicted (as almost every woman he wrote requires lots of babies to be happy), and am a bit turned off by the occasionally included enthusiastic incest (I don't care if gene selection and tuning would remove any biological downsides, it's still squicky to me), Heinlein was a brilliant man.  The detail in which he thought out the technology he imagined, including ship layouts and engineering principles, is astounding.  He was writing in 1928 about flaws in our economic model that my Economics professors were lecturing on in 2005.

I can understand where devout Heinlein fans are split down the middle on this book.  Robinson has a different sense of humor, a different grasp on technology and mathematics, a different take on society and people.  My personal opinion is that Spider Robinson wrote a fantastic science fiction novel, that exists as a tribute to Heinlein.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Choose Privacy Week

Today we kick off the ALA's Choose Privacy Week, running from May 1-7.



Privacy is one of those big issues for libraries, even if the patrons are not always aware of how important keeping their privacy is to us.  Mostly it comes up when someone wants to us to look up someone else's record or we insist on ID when they don't have their library card on hand.  I promise that those policies exist for purposes other than to frustrate you.  Actually, librarians have earned a bit of an "uppity" reputation when they argued back against government requests for patron records under the Patriot Act.  We deliberately do not keep a history of what you have borrowed unless we're waiting for payment.  And privacy does go beyond that, we want patrons to feel safe, and sometimes that is keeping what they borrow from an abusive ex (or hopefully soon-to-be ex) or allowing someone to research topics of a personal nature as a private activity.

The more we engage in activities online, the less private our lives become.  Even without logging in we create a trail of activity as we navigate websites, and the tracking continues to grow more persistent and invasive.  The core of social networking is sharing, and the protections of privacy settings only do so much to restrict your sharing to those you actually want to share with.  A poorly thought out public posting of opinion or reaction has cost people their employment.

So why do libraries care about individuals protecting their privacy?  Libraries are community and education hubs, we also provide the main method internet access for many people.  Additionally, public outcry has been heard when legislation like SOPA and CISPA appears, but the outcry must continue.  CISPA, as a whole or in pieces, will show up again.

This isn't an issue of "having something to hide."  Even people with nothing to hide can run afoul of overzealous screening of farmed data, and this data collected is used to shape future interactions with us.  Some of the data uses do benefit us, but others will hurt us or leave us vulnerable.  I find the data collected a security risk to one's identity.  Think of all the issues with security in apps, and then actually read what you're allowing when you install an app on a device that you carry.

Additional Reading:
CISPA not dead 
Who Has  Your Back? (EFF)