“Free” Books

Via Lifehacker, legal cost-free books under copyright from Wowio. This is a great idea, and I give it even odds for being the future of books. (Or at least, part of books’ future).

What is WOWIO?
WOWIO is a new kind of online bookstore that enables readers to download ebooks for free, using commercial sponsorships to compensate authors and publishers. Readers get free ebooks. Sponsors get a powerful new channel to communicate their message to precisely the people they want to reach. Publishers get a new means of distributing their books, expanding their readership, and monetizing their intellectual property.

Does WOWIO use any kind of digital rights management (DRM)?
Since anyone can defeat the most “sophisticated” DRM with the print screen button, we believe that technology-based DRM is essentially a fraud. Our approach takes the market incentive out of misbehaving, rewards people for doing the right thing, and tries to stay out of the way of honest users. To help keep everyone honest, however, readers must authenticate their identity and agree to a licensing agreement when they set up their account. Then, each ebook is serialized with the reader’s authenticated name and a unique serial number, as well as other less visible markers. WOWIO will immediately terminate the account of anyone caught illegally distributing ebooks, and will prosecute serious offenders.

[Tags]Wowio, Books, DRM, Digital Rights Management, Copyright[/Tags]

The Onion Video is the New SNL

Growing up for the most part in the 1980’s, Saturday Night Live was the funniest regularly scheduled part of my week. It’s either gotten less funny over the years, or I’ve changed. Probably both.

One of the biggest problems SNL faces is that it must fill ninety minutes every week, although these days if you subtract out ads, music, and other filler/transitional material,  I expect it’s only thirty to forty minutes of actual comedy. Either way, a lot of SNL skits go on longer than necessary to deliver their comic payload. I expect this was actually true in the 1980’s as well, but I didn’t notice it so much.

Enter The Onion and its video content.  Freed from the confines of the television programming schedule, the Onion can make its online video clips just exactly as long as the writers want, and release them on their own schedule. In recent months, they’ve been batting in the high 800s. E.g., Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results of 2008 Election Early (on a serious note, see Ed Felten’s recent Sequoia discovery and followup); Army Holds Annual ‘Bring Your Daughter to War’ Day. Or any of them, really.

White House Press Secretary Spins Wife’s Tragic Death As A Positive

Army Holds Annual ‘Bring Your Daughter To War’ Day

My only complaint about The Onion video content is that they have only one sponsor at any given time, and they make you watch the same exact ad (both as a short pre-mercial and a longer post-mercial) every time you watch a video. The repetition isn’t effective and I can’t imagine it’s the best use of the Onion’s advertising revenue. I suggest at least rotation ads — or better yet, only forcing an ad on the viewer after every nth video.

Thanks to Steve and Flour for the key insight about clip-length.

[Tags]The Onion, Saturday Night Live[/Tags]

Bridge Year

This, from my alma mater, is a good idea:

Group to explore creation of ‘bridge year’ program
Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman has appointed a working group to explore the creation of a “bridge year” program that would allow newly admitted undergraduates to spend a year of public service abroad before beginning their freshman year. The program would enable students to pursue a tuition-free, pre-collegiate enrichment year outside their home country with support from the University.

I finished my high school requirements early and spent a year abroad before college in Liège, Belgium. It was an excellent decision. There would have been practically no benefit to starting college early, and having living abroad without my parents for a year was as important to my university experience as most of what I learned in high school.

I propose that some sort of “bridge year” become something like a default option before higher education. This is much more common outside the United States. Indeed, depending on whom you believe, only seven to twenty-five percent of Americans own passports. My completely unscientific survey of Australians, by contrast, suggests that every last one of them travels abroad as young adults. (I have to admit that this survey is not only unscientific but fatally biased, inasmuch as I’ve only met Australians traveling abroad, not having been there myself).

While I’m praising Princeton, this, too, is good news:

Aggressive goals set for sustainability initiatives
Princeton has committed to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 as part of a comprehensive Sustainability Plan that sets ambitious goals in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions reduction, resource conservation, and research, education and civic engagement.

I’ve a big fan of Shirley Tilghman, Princeton’s first non-male non-alum president. She has been working to fix a lot of what was wrong when I was student, despite some stiff resistance from the old guard.

[Tags]Princeton, Bridge Year, Sustainability, Shirley Tilghman[/Tags]

You can’t lie in front of the bulldozer indefinitely…

Mostly of interest to friends and family: our renovation has started. I stopped by today to find our kitchen and family room were gone. Alas.

Before (on a snowy day):
Now (follow the link for more photos):


[Tags]Renovation, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy[/Tags]

Aircard Dilemma

I’ve been provided the latest Verizon and Sprint EVDO cards to evaluate in the field for the past month.  I now have to decide which to keep. It’s a close call (no pun intended).

I’ve tested them both over various areas in Greater Boston and Washington DC. Key observations:

(1) Speed: The Verizon card is usually faster. I’ve clocked up to 2.5 Mbps using the Speakeasy speed test on Verizon. That’s getting to be respectable enough to use a VPN without annoyance. My top rate on the Sprint card is about 2.0 Mbps, but usually it’s more like 1Mbps down / 0.5 Mbps up.

(2) Coverage: There are more Verizon “dead” spots with no service at all. In those spots, the Sprint card invariably works fine. I’ve noticed this in some government buildings as well as on the T in Boston.

(3) Device: The Verizon card I’m testing is a USB device (UM150) with an extendable antenna and the ability to power on/off right from the device. The Sprint card is one of those newfangled half-width PCMCIA cards, which requires an adapter for my laptop.

There are pros and cons to each: the Verizon card is more compact when closed up and fits easily in my coat’s lapel pocket, but it seems quite precarious when actually plugged into the laptop. It could fall out easily or break if someone hit it with their bag walking by. The Sprint card, by contrast, is quite sturdy.

I certainly can’t throw my laptop in my case with the Verizon card still plugged in, while the Sprint PCMCIA card can stay in without trouble. A colleague warns me, though, by keeping the PC card in I’ve created an opening for my dust and whatnot to enter the laptop.

(4) Software: Finally, the (Windows) software for the Sprint card is much better than for the Verizon card. The updated Verizon software is as flaky as the last iteration.  It definitely doesn’t like it if you try to disconnect after you go out of EVDO range. It also doesn’t usually survive a sleep cycle, and sometimes requires manual intervention in the task manager or a reboot to clean things up. It also has some silly features like a control panel to launch your web browser and email client. I’m not sure anyone wants to use their dial-up client that way

The Sprint software has its own share of silliness by having nonstandard decoration (it looks like someone thought “skinning” it would be cool, so they took away any resemblance of regular window frame). But it’s stable and solid, survives suspend/resume, and I’ve yet to have to kill it even once.

So there you have it. If anyone wants to speak in favor of one or the other, please do so in the comments.

As a side note, I’m promoting broader use of the term “aircard” to make it easier to speak with nontechnical people about the difference between EVDO/WWAN and “WiFi.”

[Tags]Sprint, Verizon, EVDO, WWAN, Aircard[/Tags]

The Best Movie to Start at 11pm at the End of a Long Trial…

Anatomy of a Murder. David Denby put it best:

Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” from 1959, is still the best courtroom drama ever made in this country, and, in its occasional forays out of the court, among the finest evocations of place—an Upper Peninsula Michigan resort area in the off-season, leafless, underpopulated, alcoholic, and forlorn. James Stewart, in one of his wonderful melancholy “late” performances, plays a former county prosecutor named Biegler, a lifelong bachelor who now spends his time with a non-practicing lawyer (Arthur O’Connell) and an unpaid secretary (Eve Arden), who sticks around for the wisecracks. The movie is leisurely, detailed, realistic, intensely companionable; you get a sense of how people exist at the margins of a profession without losing their dignity.

Although there are some distinctions between a murder defense in the 1950’s in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and modern-day patent litigation, the essence of trial technique is really not all that different.  Highly recommended.

Prosecutor: Lieutenant Manion, wasn’t your action against Barney Quill much the same thing as your action against Miller or the Lieutenant you slapped at the cocktail party — all done in the heat of anger, with a willful, conscious desire to hurt or kill?

Defendant: I don’t remember my action against Quill.

Prosecutor: How long had you known your wife was stepping out with Quill?

Defendant: I never knew anything like that. I trust my wife.

Prosecutor: You just occasionally beat her up for the fun of it, I suppose?

Defense Counsel: There has been nothing established to permit a question like that. He keeps trying to insinuate without ever coming to the point. Let him ask the Lieutenant, did he ever beat his wife.

Judge: I will sustain the objection. Do you want to re-phrase your question, Mr. Dancer?

Prosecutor: No thank you, Your Honor. I’ve finished.

[Tags]Otto Preminger, Anatomy of a Murder, David Denby[/Tags]