Scattered Thoughts

I have about a half dozen uncooked ideas that I’m just going to park here and see what grows over the course of the week.  Maybe come Sunday I’ll have something fully formed.

eBooks and Book Deals

This week Harper Collins, one of the major publishers working with the library eBook distribution company Overdrive, has decided to change its policy on the end user license agreements for their eBooks.  They want to limit the number of times you can download one of their eBooks to 26 cycles and then that item will remove itself from your selections list.  This has caused a firestorm among librarians, and prompted a number of libraries to start taking action in direct response.  I’m with the libraries on that.

When a library purchases a physical copy of a book it’s generally assumed that it’s going to have a limited lifespan.  Mass Market paperbacks don’t usually survive more than 10 circulations, urban fiction barely makes out the door alive.  Hardback books have a much more hearty lifespan, but even they may not survive a good 40 circs.  Binding gives way after a while and damage gets done.  EBooks on the other hand do not suffer from physical damage.  An eBook can be downloaded millions of times and that edition will remain exactly the same as it was.

But this isn’t about longevity, it’s about preserving profit. Harper Collins is worried that libraries will start to buy eBooks to replace physical collections and that means that these digital editions will be around forever, thus negating any future profit on redundant sales for backlist titles.

I don’t think they have anything to worry about, at least not any time soon.  Libraries already operate under a Digital Rights Management system with Overdrive that limits the number of digital copies that are checked out of any given title.  Libraries then coordinate further sales of specific titles based to meet the eBook demand.  It’s the same exact thing we’re doing with physical copies, only with virtual copies.  Currently if we see that there’s a holds list 100 people deep for the new Dan Brown novel we’re not just going to sit on that.  We’re going to go out and buy another 20 to 30 copies to try and meet that demand.  Same holds true for the DRM driven eBook market.  We’re not giving things away with unlimited copies.  We’re holding true to the DRM and buying multiple copies of eBooks to meet demand.  It’s bizarre that we would construct a model for virtual items that mimics physical items, but it’s what we’ve got in place right now.

My friend Cliff Landis has proposed shared an eBook users bill of rights.  I think that’s a great start, and that we should see more direct thinking to help prevent publisher’s abuses like this.

And then there was the story of the 26 year old girl who is making an absolute bloody fortune on Kindle selling 99 cent books.

How Physical Activities Affect our Memory

Ran across this article on LIfehacker about how writing affects the memory better than typing.  This got me thinking about all sorts of things.  I know that kinesthetic memory is important as a learning style, but the simple act of writing never seemed to me to be something that was as integral to the process. Makes me think that the Livescribe pen isn’t so dorky after all.  In fact it could be a great bridge device to help integrate the physical and the digital more directly.  Perhaps a link between Livescribe and Noteslate could be a beautiful synergy.

But then I started thinking about other kinesthetic memory triggers, specifically spatial ones.  I think about the physical space of the library, and about how this represents a collection of data about the world, and a selection of literature from different countries.  It’s an information microcosm.  As part of our process we organize these items into delineated categories to help facilitate retrieval but also to help make intellectual connections between items.  A person scanning a range of books will see the titles of a hundred or more books in a matter of minutes.  If they find what they’re looking for there, they will more than likely return to that shelf and continue and expand beyond the shelf.  Amazon on the other hand provides you a little echo chamber of books, usually about 20 or more that you have to click through in cycles of 5 or 6.  We haven’t yet constructed a digital repository that mimics the physical in any way that encourages the browsing behavior and the physical stimulation of going to a book shelf.  I don’t know that we necessarily can.  Maybe when we have real 3D holograms we can interact with light books in a physical way.

Poly Drama on Big Love Raises Real Issues

One of the big plotlines on Big Love concerns Nikki’s daughter Cara Lynn.  Nikki is concerned about what may happen to her daughter now that her father is dead, and asks Bill to formally adopt her as his own.  However, under Utah law, this is not legal, because they don’t allow unwed couples to adopt.  Should anything happen to Nikki Cara Lynn would be orphaned and at the mercy of her family, because Bill isn’t legally recognized as related to Nikki at all.  He is only legally married to Barb.  So they decide that they will change the legal status of wife from Barb to Nikki so that Bill can formally adopt Cara Lynn as his own child with Nikki.

Issues like this and numerous others come up for polyamorous families all the time.  There are medical insurance problems, who gets covered and how, income problems, estate issues… It’s just a thorn bush.  Tristan Taormino really explores a number of the emotional and legal issues surrounding polyamory in her fantastic book “Opening Up.”  It’s like the Strunk and White of polyamory.  I strongly recommend people to read it, even if you don’t go there in your own relationship to understand the complexity of what relationships can be, how people cope with them and how society could improve by recognizing that we’re not so uniform in the way we love people.

I’m also intrigued by the feminist storyline running through with Barb’s character.  Joanna Brooks, probably the best person on the planet to write about the awesomeness of this story, wrote a great piece about the feminist tradition in the Mormon church.  While I practice a faith that has deep feminist principles, I’m not Mormon and I’ll just leave that commentary to Joanna.

Politics Disgusts Me

I was reminded today that I just recently began reading actual news again, and the vitriol of the right wing makes me want to just drop it all again.  I could spend my days reading, reposting and analyzing political stuff up on Huffington Post or Daily Kos till I’m blue in the face.  But the reality is, I just don’t like it.  I believe it’s important to be aware, and I do my share of raising awareness.  But reading all these horrible things is starting to effect me again, and I don’t know when I will reach a breaking point.

I’m keeping myself in check to a degree.  I’m not going out of my way to read things that I know will just utterly incense me for no reason.  I read casual tech news sites like Boing Boing and Gizmodo, I read the NY Times online, and Religion Dispatches.  But I don’t read excessively politicized pages unless directed by a friend via Facebook or something.  I don’t read conservative news sites or commentary from hate groups (then again, I repeat myself).  Reading those things makes me physically ill.  It’s like intentionally poisoning myself.  I just don’t want to subject myself to it.

But at the same time, what’s happening now has a real effect on my life.  As a public servant my neck is on the line right now.  Public services are being slashed everywhere and here in DC is no different.  While we don’t have a tea party governor trying to break our unions, we do have a Republican led oversight committee in Congress has already stripped away what little representation we had, and if a government shutdown occurs then District Government funding from the Federal government will be frozen, libraries may be deemed a non-essential function, and will probably be closed during the shutdown.  Yeah, that effects me directly.  As it is we’re already going to have to suffer a devastatingly awful cut to the budget at a time when services are desperately needed.