Archive for April, 2007

LA Times Book Festival, Day 2

Monday, April 30th, 2007

We arrived a little later than yesterday since Mrs. Elbeno does a long run on Sunday mornings – 12.5 miles today. But we parked in almost exactly the same spot. I hurried to get to a panel entitled “Science Fiction: The Road From Here to There” featuring Cory Doctorow (author, blogger, civil rights advocate), John Scalzi (author of nothing I’ve heard of – but maybe I should read Old Man’s War), Kage Baker (again, SF/Fantasy author of nothing I know), and Harry Turtledove (heard of him, but not read any of his work) moderating.

The discussion was an interesting one, mostly because of Cory and John, with Harry weighing in on several points. Kage did not add very much to the panel. As an experience it opened my eyes to the fact that I’ve not really read a lot of SF since high school – Asimov, Heinlein, Philip K Dick, William Gibson and a bit of Neal Stephenson pretty much defines my experience. That said, I do continue to read short story anthologies. I should try to pick up more on what’s going on in modern SF. Cory’s works would be a good start – and they’re available under Creative Commons licenses.

Today was a much more relaxed day than yesterday for us – we spent the time meandering and visiting what we missed yesterday. Mini-Elbeno got a t-shirt and a couple more books, including a signed copy of Dear Fish by Chris Gall – illustrator turned writer-illustrator, and poster artist for the festival. Mrs. Elbeno saw a panel (featuring Chris Gall among others) about illustration of children’s books. We headed home around 5 as everything was wrapping up.

The 2-day experience has fired us up about books again. Who knows, perhaps I’ll write that book I’ve always said I would…

LA Times Book Festival

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

We spent the day at the LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA. I’d never been to UCLA before – it’s a nice campus. Ample parking meant no hassles getting in or out despite the huge numbers of people there.

I attended a morning panel session entitled “New Media: Blogging and Beyond”. The panelists were RJ Smith, senior editor of Los Angeles magazine; Kevin Roderick, sometime journalist and editor of the LA Times, and editor of LA Observed; Hugh Hewitt, author/radio host/blogger/law prof; and Jill Leovy, LA Times journalist and writer of The Homicide Report.

It was an interesting discussion, mostly about journalism and how it is adapting from print to digital format, and how the LA Times in particular is trying to cope with shrinking print readership and the rise of bloggery, with the constraint that most people still don’t get their news online, and the ones that do are still likely to read print media as well. There were interesting points made about the digital divide (particularly by Jill who is seeing a markedly different readership online from the one she used to have in print, regarding her coverage of homicide in LA which touches many of the poorer black and latino areas of South Central). In an age when it seems like all kids have iPods and Myspace pages, it is worth noting that there are still poor families who can’t afford the current technological trends, cheap as they seem.

I also found food for thought in Kevin’s comment about the immediacy of the digital media vs print: blogs seem to be on the pulse of the moment, and blog stories are posted early, with the expectation that they will be revised and updated later. The important thing online is to report what you have now, raw as it is. Contrast this with the print media, which is more likely to take the time to fully research a story and make sure everything is considered and correct, before weighing in once. And yet, said Kevin, until relatively recently, print media was also about the immediate. It was common for city newspapers to print 4 or 5 times a day, updating stories as the day wore on. Even now, this still happens on a more-than-daily frequency in some cities. So perhaps journalism was always this way, and the corporate economic influence that forces consolidation is the anomaly.

Another interesting point made was that as modern-romantic as the idea of the “lone wolf” blogger is, there are some kinds of reporting which will always be more suited to the traditional. Investigative reporting in particular requires money, leverage, and legal cover which are difficult for the individual to bring to bear.

The discussion ended at 11.30 and I headed out to find Mrs. and mini-Elbeno, who were over at the Children’s stage enjoying a concert by Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players – one of whom was wearing remarkably giant shoes. They had also seen Henry Winkler reading a passage from one of his children’s books. We met up with a friend of mine from work, who was also there with his wife, and ate fair-food lunch in a shady cloister outside Royce Hall while mini-Elbeno slept.

We spent some time going around the stalls: a lot of good stuff, but also a lot of new age and religious weirdity – to be expected, I suppose. Mrs. Elbeno attended a panel about writing children’s books, and mini-Elbeno and I sat on the grass in the shade of some kind of evergreen and relaxed. Mini-Elbeno amused himself by eating grass when I wasn’t looking and by playing with my hat and sunglasses, which I let him do on the understanding that he wouldn’t break them. We ambled back to the auditorium when Mrs. Elbeno’s panel was over and picked up a plushy octopus from a merchandising stall. It’s not often you see a plushy octopus for sale, after all.

On the way out, we scored some free samples from Ghirardelli chocolate, and a couple of books from the “All books $5 or less” stand. The UCLA store had 20% off all titles, but to my disappointment it turned out to have a poor selection of serious computer books.

Despite a slow-looking 405, we got home within a half hour. Mrs. Elbeno wants to go back tomorrow to hit the stuff we missed today!

e-books: not a threat to real books any time soon

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Am I in the minority here? Most people I talk to seem to think that e-Books are great and ordinary books are going to go the way of the dodo in the next 5 years… e-Book readers do seem to be getting better and better, but here’s why real books are going to be around for the foreseeable future: they just don’t offer enough over real books to justify the price. And if technology history tells us anything, it’s that technically better products don’t always win in the marketplace. VHS won over Betamax. MP3 continues to win over pretty much every other music format. And e-Books don’t have much hope of winning against real books any time soon.

The advantages of real books over e-Books:

  • Battery life.
  • Display contrast and viewing angle.
  • Price. It’s around $300 for the reader, plus the cost of the e-Books themselves.
  • Open format.
  • Availability.
  • Flexibility of page format and non-text display.

The advantages of e-Books over real books:

  • Portability. Kinda. 80 books in the space of one book, but you better look after that one!
  • Ease of publishing.
  • Search facilities.
  • Built-in lighting.
  • Ability to do other things besides read books.

So what do e-Books offer over real books? Portability – but when do I need to carry more than one or two books around? Search facilities – almost no use to a typical reader of novels or popular non-fiction. Built in lighting may be handy for bedtime reading and not waking up the SO. But it’s a small plus weighed against the significant minuses listed above.

Ability to play music or do other things? Well I’m all for convergence, and this could be useful to some, but the fact is that most multi-function devices are jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Nokia may be the world’s largest maker of digital cameras, but nobody (let alone photographers) uses their cameraphone for actually taking pictures they intend to keep. Or take the PSP – games, music, and film. It might have had a chance if it was just a games machine (although the DS beats it handily). But it’s a poor music and film device compared to oh, say the iPod and a 40″ TV.

e-Books also suffer from the lack of a decent target market. College students would be a good market if textbooks were available in e-Book format and if students had any money. But the intersection of gadget fans and book fans is not that big. What we need are e-Book package deals: reader plus some collected works of e.g. Isaac Asimov, Terry Pratchett, Stroustrup/Knuth/Meyers, for example. That might actually enlarge the early adopter market and break the chicken-and-egg problem of availability.

Never could resist a challenge…

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Well, I installed Feisty. I know I said I was going to wait, but the fact that I tried anyway and it wouldn’t let me – well that was tantamount to throwing down the gauntlet. I sidestepped the error it was giving me about required disk space – to discover that it wasn’t kidding. Because of some ill-advised, and frankly lame, disk space usage during install, it ended up being unable to create a vital system file (the initrd image) on /boot and consequently failed to properly configure several packages, and was not at all happy when I rebooted – i.e. it didn’t boot at all.

But whatever. I wasn’t worried, or I wouldn’t have tried to disengage the safety mechanisms in the first place. Nobody else but me is in charge of this PC! Anyway, a short live CD fixup later, everything is fine again. And I’m not really using much more space on /boot than before. Not really much to report that is noticeably different, but I’m able to take advantage of the latest and greatest again.

Feisty Fawn

Friday, April 20th, 2007

I’m not upgrading yet. Give it a few weeks. I’m sure I’ll run into a few things which don’t quite go according to plan, and it would be handy if someone else hit them first so that I can see the fix on the forums.

Edit: Well, I decided to try it, since the auto-update tool tempted me with the “upgrade” button. But for some reason a 40MB /boot partition isn’t big enough for Feisty… so it won’t let me install!

Internet radio is dead, long live Internet radio?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

The Copyright Royalty Board has rejected a request from NPR (and other webcasters) to reconsider its decision over a new pricing scheme for Internet broadcasts. Internet radio stations face the prospect of paying a much higher royalty fee than they have been paying, and what's more, apparently the fee applies retroactively to the start of 2006 and is set to double over the next 5 years.

A similar ruling in the UK from April 2006, which made it prohibitively expensive for UK stations to webcast to outside the UK, has already stopped me from listening to my old UK station.

So, it seems that many Internet-only radio stations will simply cease to exist, and over-the-air stations may decide to drastically cut back on their Internet offerings. But part of me thinks: is there a silver lining here? Media companies struggle to make the Internet a totalitarian state where their content is concerned, yet there is another way. As they lock down more and more, people may simply find alternative content. Perhaps Internet radio stations can switch to free content under creative commons licenses, by artists such as Jonathan Coulton.

The music industry is ripe for a shakeup. Why are bands still signing to record labels? Record labels that, like movie studios, pad the books and dissemble every which way to make out that they are making a loss? It's ultimately the artists that end up footing the bill, not the fans, who will continue to share and enjoy. One can only hope that more artists will realise that they don't have to buy into (haha, quite literally) the dinosaur's business model. The Internet is a great leveller when it comes to marketing your product.

Star Wars Exhibition

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

Now on at the California Science Center! Closes April 29th, but the kids are back at school already so now's the ideal time to take a half-day off work and head over to South Central.

What? You want photos? OK.

Quarterly book sale!

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

This morning was the quarterly book sale at our local library. We scored a decent haul at $1 each for hardbacks and $0.50 for paperbacks. Plenty of books for mini-Elbeno (including a looks-like-new copy of Sheep in a Jeep). Other highlights for $1 each are a hardback like-new copy of Climbing Mount Improbable and a fine-condition hardback edition (1979, Harmony Books) of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

RotateAVI updated

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

The latest version has a minor update. Nothing functional, just a display thing. But every little thing makes it a bit easier to use. Rotate AVI files from your digital camera easily!

I signed up with Dreamhost

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Watch this space…

I'm currently domain-registered with GoDaddy, but ever since they a) switched to running parked domains on Windows, and b) took down seclist.org, I've been looking for a new registrar. Dreamhost seems to be flavour of the month for programmers, and I'm impressed enough to shell out for a 2-year plan. I've also been looking for hosting to sell some software, so I'll now be able to set that up.