Sunday, May 20, 2012

Charting my badness with e-Dune

"Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free.  But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them."

--Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965

How serendipitous, I thought, as I started re-reading Dune the other day.  I've been documenting the saga of checking out the e-book Dune from my local library.  And by the way, wow, it's a really good book.  I was right that I didn't appreciate Herbert's writing sufficiently when I was a kid.  Dude could write.

So I've got this DRM'd e-book on my Kindle and I'm reading it and everything is fine. I'd been contemplating whether or not to strip the DRM out of it using Caliber, which is a terrific tool that does all kinds of cool things, including that (with a third party plugin).  The main reason I was considering it was that I am simply too lazy to re-check out the book if I haven't finished in in two weeks.  That would involve re-downloading a new file, losing my bookmarks, along with just being an asinine exercise.  I don't even really want to keep it around for ever--I can always download it again if I want to, but how often do you want to re-read a book like Dune?  It's been at least twenty-five years since I read it the first time, after all.

As I was contemplating that, it occurred to me that perhaps I could make a chart of my evilness.  Since I'm stripping out the DRM, I'm violating the un-American Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to remove a lock even when you have the key for it.  That's how DRM works, you know--they have to give you the key to the lock so you can see/play the media.  They are just depending on your being to dumb to understand it.  And the DMCA makes it a crime to understand.

So at what point am I an evil pirate?  I checked the e-book out of the library on X date, and it's due 14 days after (it will delete itself from the Kindle--and what could be more American than deleting unlicensed books?).  Am I evil even if I delete it myself before 14 days is up?  Or am I evil for "mis-using" the file?

As I was contemplating this in the back of my mind, I ran across a very practical problem--the glossary.  If you've read Dune, you know that Herbert has envisioned a very detailed distant future, complete with its own terminology, and he uses it quite freely.  The book is chock full of opaque lines like:

"The planet sheltered people who lived at the desert edge without caid or bashar to command them: will-o'-the-sand people called Fremen, marked down on no census of the Imperial Regate."

So you want to make good use of the glossary in the back of the book.  Problem is, it is very awkward and slow to do this on the Kindle--just getting to the glossary takes several seconds, and then "thumbing" through it is limited by the e-ink's slow draw time.  Also there's no way to just search through the glossary.  (Note to self--see if you can convert the glossary into a Kindle compatible dictionary--that would be awesome).  So it's one of those areas where the current Kindle falls down a little compared to paper books.  It really destroys the flow of reading.

So I decided I wanted to print the glossary.  I don't think I'm evil for wanting to do this.  I promise not to print a million copies and sell them on the street corner.

Of course, Amazon provides no way of printing from the Kindle, because that would be copyright infringement and therefore evil.  This is true even with the Kindle app for the PC, so you know it's not an oversight.

So I used Caliber to convert it to PDF, and printed the glossary.  Yaaay!

This is a small thing, I know.  But I hope you can see how this "anti-copying technology" is, straight up, other people trying to control you.  You may even agree that they have the right to do this, and agree with their motivation, but I do hope you don't cozen yourself into believing that it's not a method of control.

Is it really so hard to think of a way it could be much, much worse?  If we allow corporations to build out proprietary infrastructure that we come to depend on, what else could we be denied?

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