Monday, May 30, 2011

The problem with eBooks

I love reading. Since I was a child, nothing has given me more happy memories or flights of fancy than reading has. So when eBooks started to come to the market, especially with more affordably priced readers like the Nook or Kindle, I almost couldn't contain my sheer excitement as I lined up to hand over my money to the sales clerk and assure a piece of reading history.

The ebook experience has been, for the most part, amazing. The idea that I could fit hundreds of my favorite books on a digital device that took up less room than a single physical book enchanted me and I quickly built quite an impressive digital library. I was a happy camper. Then, one day, I wanted to lend one of my ebooks to a friend the way I'd done countless times over the years with paper books. That's when I first experienced the dark side of digital books and it nearly completely ruined the value of ebooks for me.

Digital Rights Management (which is really a misnomer since the technology actually restricts your rights) is a technology who's sole goal is to allow publishers to control how you use your ebooks. DRM is used to control other digital goods like music too but the goal is always the same: to control how you use content that you purchased. It's *your* property but you do not have control over it. Instead, you are granted a license to read or listen to the content but not to share it with anyone else for almost any purpose.

eBook publishers have gone to great lengths to take away your right to share your favorite books with your friends. Amazon, the biggest ebook seller in the United States has finally allowed Kindle users to loan their books to friends but that comes with all sorts of restrictions that really make it not worth doing in the end. For example, you can only loan your book out for a specific length of time and only a specific number of times. If the person being loaned the book can't read it in that set time, too bad, they don't get another shot even though there's no *real* reason for this restriction since you don't have access to the book while it's on loan.

The most concerning thing to me is that our children are getting used to these restrictions and, while you and I might remember the joy of loaning a book to a friend, there will be a time in the very near future where they won't. An entire generation will eventually grow up almost entirely on ebooks complete with all the restrictions and they won't even know to fight them because that will be all they've ever known.

That's why it's so important to fight DRM on ebooks today. We don't want the right to copy books endlessly and put them up on file sharing sites to deprive authors and publishers revenue. We gladly pay for our books. We just want ebooks to be treated like what they are: a digitized version of a physical product. There is no reason for digital products to carry any more or less restrictions than their physical counterparts and it's time those of us who value both our shared reading community and our freedoms to stop greedy publishers from needlessly restricting our rights just to increase profits.

I personally have decided to purchase ebooks that respect my rights and from booksellers that do the same whenever possible. I encourage you to do the same because what we're fighting for is much more than our right to share books. We're fighting for the future of the freedom to read and use the products we purchase in any way we want. When we purchase a physical book, we own it. We aren't purchasing a license to read it. We wouldn't accept draconian restrictions on our physical possessions, why are we accepting them on our digital goods?

To those who serve: thank you

I've never worn a soldiers uniform or had my metal tested on a battlefield. I've never been shot at, tortured, or held in a foreign prison for years because of my allegiances. I've never had to entertain the thought that the last conversation I had with my family might well be the last conversation I will ever have with them. And I've never had to stand at the side of a dying friend and watch the life drain out of them in some foreign country I'd never heard of before I was sent there to fight.

I've never had to do any of those things because there are men and women, many who are far younger and all of whom are far braver, than myself have chosen to take my place. They've chosen to put on a uniform that makes them a target for every madman and dictator on earth. They've chosen to put themselves in harms way, to accept that the may never return home to their kids, spouses, and friends, because they heard the call of duty to my country and were brave enough to say "yes" to that call. They have chosen to put the needs of the many above their own needs and to defend their country and its way of life knowing that it may cost them their own lives.

I've often asked myself if I could wear the uniform and, I have to say, I don't know that I could. Could I willingly charge into certain death to protect an ideal that I may not always understand or even agree with? Could I be the loyal battlefield comrade, the leader, the one who makes a life or death decision if even only for myself? No, I don't think I could. I'm simply not that brave. I don't have that much guts.

I don't always agree with the actions our government or our military take but I *always* support those who answered the call. Because of them, I don't have to put my life on the line every day or wonder if I will see my family again. Because of them, I don't have to test my courage and find it lacking and I don't have to wonder if my country, my home, is safe. I don't have to worry because they have chosen to worry for me. They have chosen to take my place.

For that, brave men and women, I say "thank you" from the bottom of my heart. My gratitude goes to you as does my admiration and support. You are who I can hope to be. You show the best our country has and you are appreciated.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Joplin

I live about 20 miles away from Joplin Missouri. Close enough where going to the movies, going out to eat, or going shopping, often meant jumping in the car and heading to Joplin. While I didn't go as often as I'd liked, it was enough where I felt comfortable referring to "we" when talking about the city. To some degree, I felt a sense of camaraderie with the city and it felt like a city that offered most of what I wanted without all of the problems or hassles. Not to mention, the people there, in typical midwest style, are incredibly nice and inviting.

I've shopped at Walmart on 15th Street, gone past Academy Sports, eaten at Pizza Hut and bought drinks at Fast Trip. All of those businesses, along with a good part of the rest of Joplin, no longer exist after the tornado came through on Sunday. I have memories of Joplin that won't go away but the city changed forever on Sunday and I'm not sure it will ever be the same.

The spirit of Joplin is still there though. It's shown on the faces of workers digging through the rubble who aren't expecting to find anyone alive underneath but keep digging like they do. It's clear in the voices of both victims and survivors - some of whom who've lost everything, including loved ones, as on by one they call local radio station <a href="">KZRG</a> and pour their very souls out to the DJ's who've quickly gone from being our entertainers and reporters to being our brothers and friends. Yes, Joplin is alive, though it's hard to see through the piles of rubble and destruction strewn around the city.

Some don't understand why I'm so involved with relaying information about conditions in a city I don't live in and don't really have a tight connection to. All I can say to them is this is my Joplin and I feel connected to it. I feel a profound sense of loss and grief at the destruction. No, it's not the same grief or loss those who live there feel, but it is my own personal sense of loss. Perhaps I can best explain it by referencing the loss people around the country felt when New Orleans was hit by Katrina. Most had no connection to the city other than perhaps a visit or the music that came out of it. Still, the loss was there. That's how I feel about Joplin.

At the same time, though, I also feel a sense of hope. People in this part of the country are strong. The go through adversity and come out better and stronger in the end. They aren't stopped by the temporary detours life throws at them and, believe me, Joplin *will* come back. It's already started. Repairs and rebuilding are happening throughout the city. The high school is being repaired. The hospital is nearly functional again and is accepting patients, restaurants are open and people are shopping at Northpark Mall. The city survived and, while it's limping because of its wounds, it's standing on its own and starting to take its first steps.

Joplin isn't going anywhere. It's people aren't going away. It will come back stronger, better, more determined, than ever before. Setbacks will happen, but they won't stop our city. Not by a long shot.

So remember this city. Don't forget about it when the media leaves or when the interest of the nation goes elsewhere. We'll still be here because, in the end, the spirit of Joplin really is what powers this city. And that spirit cannot be destroyed by a strong wind.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

Should you buy the Google laptop?

A few weeks ago its yearly I/O developer conference, Google announced that it was finally going to release a general consumer device based on the ChromeOS. For those of you who don't know, ChromeOS is Google's experiment at creating an operating system that is nearly completely web based. In ChromeOS, the web browser (Chrome) is the desktop and most (if not all) of your applications live on the web.

Two companies, Samsung and Acer, will manufacture the initial ChromeBooks, as Google is calling them, and they will be fully optimized for living on the web.

General specs for the notebook are:

* 11.6" HD Widescreen CineCrystalTM LED-backlit LCD
* 3.19 lbs | 1.45 kg
* 6 hours of continuous usage 1
* Intel® AtomTM Dual-Core Processor
* Built in dual-band Wi-Fi and World-mode 3G (optional)
* HD Webcam with noise cancelling microphone
* High-Definition Audio Support
* 2 USB 2.0 ports
* 4-in-1 memory card slot
* HDMI port
* Fullsize Chrome keyboard
* Oversize fully-clickable trackpad

Notice that the specs say nothing about hard drive size or memory. Why? Because they don't matter. Since everything you do on these devices are on the web, memory requirements and hard disk space are really inconsequential.

Is the ChromeBook right for me?

Deciding whether the ChromeBook is right for you is really a matter of looking at how you already use your computer and determining if what you do could be easily shifted to the web without loss of productivity.

Most people use their computers for pretty basic things: email and chat, web browsing, watching videos, creating documents, managing photos, and listening to music. That's about it. Sure, some users will do 'heavy lifting' on their systems like writing software or editing video and audio but the majority of users do the six things listed above nearly exclusively. For those users, the ChromeBook is an excellent alternative to a traditional PC and provides an automatic backup of their work without the hassle that comes with backing up a regular PC. And, because everything is stored in the cloud, the data is accessible anywhere there's an Internet connection.

As for applications, cloud based software has become very nice. From editing documents to manipulating videos or doing email, web applications are available today that easily meet or exceed the needs of most users. And with the coming of HTML5, the new standard in HTML, these applications will get a tremendous boost in functionality and become even better as developers and manufacturers push us deeper and deeper into the cloud.

That said, this won't be the computer for everyone. Some power users won't be satisfied with doing everything in the cloud and there's some things that, even while they're technically doable, just don't work well within cloud based software. Video editing is an example. Even the most advanced web based video editor doesn't really even come close to a basic on-system one and the technology isn't likely to change that any time soon.

There's also the question of what happens when there's no Internet? Google says it's building in a fail-safe that will allow you to work offline but that's just for using the apps. Your data, which is safely tucked away on Google's server on the Internet, will be wholly locked away from you. Hardly a good situation for a business professional who suddenly finds she can't access the presentation she's giving in 30 minutes because there's no Internet where she's working.

Of course, there's always the privacy issue. Google knows a lot about us just by analyzing the things we do on their services now. Many of us use Google services for blogging, email, sharing videos, listening to music, hosting our websites, handling out financial transactions, documents, and, of course, plain old search. Do we really want to hand over even more control of our data over to a company with a questionable agenda? I'm not comfortable with it and I know a lot of other people who aren't comfortable with it. Are you willing to let Google know just about everything about your life?

Is there another option?

If you're like me, you have a love/hate relationship with the cloud. I love how convenient it makes accessing my data from anywhere. I can edit a document at home, walk over to my local Starbucks or McDonald's and continue right where I left off without missing a beat. And it doesn't matter if I'm using different computers at each location because my data is centralized in the cloud and easily accessible.

At the same time, I'm concerned about handing my data to a corporation. What will they do with my data? Will they sell it? Profile me? The truth is, I don't really know. I only have their 'promise' to be good to go on and we all know corporations always keep their promises, right?

My growing concern with cloud services has prompted me to begin investigating alternatives over the last few months and, I have to say, I was quite surprised by what I found. For only a few hundred dollars (including the cost of a computer and an Internet connection), I could move the cloud indoors and bring all of the convenience that services from Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and others offer right into a closet in my home.

By setting up a basic web server in my home (which takes 5 minutes most of the time), I can set up a little 'mini-cloud' for me and my family and friends where my data con be accessed from anywhere but I retain full control and have zero privacy worries.

Now, why go through all this trouble when you can just go buy a laptop from Google and have it all done for you?

A few reasons:

First, the Google laptop doesn't really cost any less than a regular laptop does. At about $350, you can go and buy a fully functional laptop that lets you do a lot more than the Google system does and doesn't rob you of your privacy.

Second, what Google is doing isn't really for your benefit or anything that's so difficult that you couldn't do yourself; maybe even better. Make no mistake, the software that Google is offering you is not free. It doesn't cost you money, true, but it does cost you something. That cost is allowing Google to have full control of your data. Using freely available software you can download off the Internet, you can keep control of your data and not rely on anyone but yourself.

So, all-in-all, am I saying don't get a ChromeBook? No. I'm saying consider your options. ChromeBook will appeal to a broad segment of the computer buying public. Why? I don't really know, but it will. But whether ChromeBook is the right fit for you is something only you can decide. At $350, though, it's a decision you should make very carefully.

ChromeBooks go on sale on June 15th.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to promote Ubuntu in rural areas

So I've been thinking a lot over the last few days about different ways
to promote Ubuntu within rural areas. I live in a rural area and
I can tell you that Ubuntu (or even Linux in general) is hardly known
here at all. Just about *everything* is Windows and people look at you
like you're from another planet when you say you don't run Windows.

"Oooh, you're a Mac user, huh? My sister has one of those!" is the
response I commonly get. Then I go through the complicated explanation
that there are other operating systems besides Windows and Mac and the
next question is "'s a version of Windows? Like Windows Ubuntu Vista?"

Obviously, this is an education problem here. I worked in Walmart
electronics for a few years and I can't tell you the money I saw people
waste on Windows and Windows software. Money that I knew they couldn't
afford but needed the software to get school work done or finances, or
other 'must have's'.

So I'm trying to put together an initiative to help introduce people to
Ubuntu and I'm turning to the community for help.

What can we do to help introduce new people to Ubuntu? I'm talking more
than just "go download the iso and see what you think" or handing them a
CD and giving them a "good luck" smile. I want to get my hands dirty. I
want to really push the benefits of Ubuntu to rural communities,
municipalities, and businesses.

Ideas? Thoughts? Anyone wanna participate?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Android (and other tablets) aren't selling well

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Haung spoke with CNET, the popular Internet news site, earlier this week to discuss tablets and why they aren't selling well. Haung's comments focused mostly on Android tablets but I think they could expanded to include the entire tablet market with the exception of the Apple iPad, which I believe sells mostly on hype.

Haung claims that there are basically four things hurting tablet sales: point of sales, sales location expertise, consumer marketing, and price. While I certainly wouldn't deny any of those four points are true, I think he's missing a few others that affect tablet sales even more:

First, most people don't really see a need for a tablet in their lives. They already have a desktop PC, laptop, iPod, and Kindle, so what is a compelling reason for adding yet another device that replicates much of the functionality of devices they already own to the mix? People see tablets as cool but, let's face it, after the initial newness wears off, many of these devices will be relegated to the shelf where they will never be used again. There's no 'killer app' for tablets yet that makes owning one compelling.

You can tweet from the train at work on your shiny new Motorola Xoom? So can I from my cheapo Blackberry Curve and it's even less bulky than a tablet. Facebook? News sites? Video? Yep, I can do that from my Blackberry too or, if I want a bigger screen, I have a laptop that weighs just a little more than a tablet that I can bring with me very little hassle. Nothing compelling there. Games? I don't play them much. But, if I did, I have a laptop, a desktop, a Zune, a Nintendo 3DS, and a Blackberry all of which are very capable of playing games. Nothing really 'killer' there for tablets.

You know where tablets would shine? In hospitals, nursing homes, offices, and places where people constantly move around a building or a location. But that's not the average consumer. That's not 'Joe and Jane Sixpack' and that's who's going to drive tablet sales mostly.

Next, I think we're experiencing 'consumer tech fatigue'. We are literally being deluged with new 'must have, cutting edge' products every single day. Gaming machines, laptop, handhelds, and netbooks, are all stuff that we just 'couldn't live without' and would 'change everything' until we realized we could and they didn't. Now we're being told the exact same marketing story about tablets and consumers just aren't ready to jump into a new arena of 'the next must have device'. At least not until there's a real reason to and so far there's not.

Adding to that fatigue is the fact that users simply don't know which one to buy. The iPad is impressive but then so is the Xoom and Galaxy. And consumers know that, whatever they buy, they will be presented with new, better, upgraded, versions within a year and be expected to jump on the bandwagon yet again.

It's all just too much for the average consumer and it's one of the reasons I think a lot of people are simply opting not to play the game at all. Besides, give it two years and something will come along to replace tablets just like tablets came along to replace those 'OMG you have to have it!' netbooks we all bought a few years ago.

Lastly, and this is something Haung brought up in his comments, is price. Tablets are expensive for the little they do. It's almost impossible to get a tablet for under $400 and, with the price of gas, food, and other goods, most people aren't going to bite that price point. Looking cool doesn't and having the latest tech doesn't matter when dad's out of work and mom is stuggeling to make her paycheck stretch enough to feed the family.

Prices have to come down and come down hard before the 'average' consumer is going to jump on the tablet bandwagon. It's just not a compelling enough experience to justify spending that much money these days.

Of course, I could be totally off base here. 'Joe and Jane Sixpack' may not even be within the target market of the tablet makers. Maybe they're all after the urbanites who are so obsessed with being cool that they'll pour money into anything that comes along and promises to increase their status among their friends. Maybe the 'average' consumer doesn't matter at all and it's all about hooking the 'early adopters' and 'first movers'. But, if that's the case, I think tablet makers are missing a huge market that could double or triple in the next two years if they played their strategy right. But, before the market moves, there's got to be a lot of change and it has to happen fast.

Tablets are cool. They're convenient and easy to carry around. I'd really look cool at the coffee shop pulling out a Xoom or an iPad. I just can't figure out why I really *need* one though.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An experiment in distributed community based data backup

For the last few years, I've been looking for cheap and reliable ways to back up large amounts of data. While the cloud based solutions seem tempting, I kind of wanted something with a little more redundancy and more cost effective. So today starts a new experiment that I think it both simple and cheap: distributed community backup via Bittorrent.

The idea is indeed as simple as it sounds: create an encrypted archive of your data then upload it into the Bittorrent system. Don't try to hide what it is or be stealthy, just let people know what you're doing and ask them to help by seeding the file. Eventually, if everything works out, you've got a few hundred people seeding your backup and, if you experience a crash, you can easily go and retrieve your data.

Security is accomplished through using strong encryption with a good password. I encrypted my data with a 65 character random string of numbers, letters, and special characters using the AES-256 symmetric algorithm built into GnuPG. Protecting my data was as simple as typing a single command then the password twice (I pasted it). My data should be secure and I have no worries.

The only drawback I can see is that this might not work well for changing data. If my data changes, I have to recreate the torrent and ask people to download the and seed the new file. But I'm looking for ways to make this easier and it might not pose as big of a problem as I think it might.

All-in-all, it's easy, cheap (free!) and pretty secure. What are your thoughts?

Want to participate? Click here to download my data!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This years "Linux Sucks" talk

Again this year, Bryan Lunduke gave his famous yearly 'state of Linux' talk called "Linux Sucks" at Linux Fest Northwest. It's been a tradition that, every year, Bryan reviews where Linux was last year and how far its come since. The talk is both entertaining and eye opening for any Linux enthuesiest or developer.

What's the verdict this year? Some things on Linux still suck while others have gotten a lot better. The platform still is lacking in the video and editing space but excels in other areas. The solution? Lunduke proposes that the Linux community embrace paying people for their work, start buying software and really supporting their favorite open source projects by contributing money to their development. Additionally, Lunduke makes the case as to why Linux users need to embrace proprietary software to some degree (which I don't agree with at all) and discusses what's needed for open source and Linux to have long term, commercial viability.

Overall, this was an incredible talk and one I look forward to every year. Lunduke is a realist who's able to combine humor with hard truth to inspire the Linux community like few others are able to do.

I hope you enjoy the talk as much as I did.

BEWARE: the audio is HORRIBLE!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Microsoft to buy Skype

In a not too unexpected move, it's all but certain that Microsoft Corporation and internet telephony giant Skype have closed a deal worth an estimated $8 billion dollars to sell Skype to the Redmond based software company. The last few weeks have been filled with speculation about who out of three possible suitors may end up in control of the worlds most popular VoIP company. Potential candidates included Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.

While little is known about the deal, it's expected that the two companies will announce the acquisition sometimes tomorrow morning. Even more unknown is the impact that Microsoft ownership will have on Skype or how it might effect Skypes movement into the SIP and Linux spaces. It's all but certain though that development on the Linux client, which has lagged behind the Windows version since its introduction, will receive even less attention or might even be discontinued under Microsoft ownership.

This marks the third time Skype has been acquired in the last few years including what amounted to a disastrous attempt by online auction company eBay to monetize and integrate the service with their site. Ebay sold the service to a holding group a few years ago at the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

More tomorrow
(edited as there is no need for details. They are all over the internet).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My renewed interest in RedHat

Over the last few months, I've written quite a bit about my growing concerns with Canonical (makers of Ubuntu Linux) and what I think amounts to their ignoring community in their search for increased market share. Most of what I've written has been negative as I've not seen very much good come from the situation. But today, I realized something good had indeed come from it and I was missing a *huge* opportunity by focusing so closely on the Ubuntu debacle.

When I first began exploring Linux back in the early 2000's, I began with what was then the darling of the community: RedHat. At the time. RedHat was a small company struggling to make a name for itself while striving to make a superior product that people would want. Today, RedHat is a behemoth: a billion dollar company that dominates the Linux business world and who's future looks amazingly bright. The company offers a host of business focused products ranging from server software to cloud platforms and just about everything in between. RedHat is also a near perfect open source company running as transparently as possible on *both* the development and business sides and they have an amazing partner community that I think rivals the Microsoft Partner Network.

So I'm taking a second look at RedHat. While Canonical goes after disenfranchised Windows users with its new releases, RedHat focuses on business. Sure, they have a desktop version too in Fedora, but RedHat is totally serious about business. Open source *and* business focused? How could I not love a company like that?!?

If you run an IT company that creates and sells Linux based solutions, I encourage you to take a look at RedHat too. You'll be surprised what they're accomplishing with their passion and focus and you might just never look back at where you are now.
Check out their site at:

Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®