Sunday, January 31, 2010

Linux Woes--Lenny to Kubuntu in 48 Hours

Almost a year ago, I bragged about how smoothly the upgrade from Debian Etch (old stable) to Lenny (new stable) went. Only a few weeks later, the motherboard and hard drive went up in smoke. Because I grew up steeped in the works of the Brothers Grimm, I knew I had somehow caused this by being cocky. (cf. "Rumpelstiltskin;" "The Brave Little Tailor")

A sadder but wiser girl, I replaced the computer and installed Lenny (stable) from a netinstall CD image (via and everything went smoothly, with one exception. When I used the "ctrl-alt-F1" action to switch between tty consoles, all I got was a blank screen with a floating message from my monitor that the settings were not optimal. "ctrl-alt-F7" sent me back to the console running Xorg, and all the pretty stuff. I poked around the Debian forums a bit, but because I didn't really understand the problem, I didn't know what search terms to use. I eventually just learned to live without the tty consoles, although I really missed them.

Lately, though, I began to wish I had a newer version of OpenOffice, because I'm teaching a class in spreadsheets and word processing. I had Calibre, the dandy open source ebook management program, backported from sid (Debian unstable), but it only "sorta" worked, and Iceweasel (Debian version of Firefox) was choking for me pretty often. When the Lenny version of Miro crashed every time I tried to use it, I thought I'd upgrade to testing (Squeeze) or maybe unstable (Sid). (For a recent discussion, see What do you prefer for your desktop: Lenny, Squeeze or Sid?)

First, I backed up my data files. This reminded me how crummy my data backup procedures are. Here's the procedure:

  1. Whenever I'm working on a Really Important file, I ftp a copy to the Mac mini (currently in the living room where we're watching it in lieu of a TV), which machine saves it to the 1 terabyte external hard drive. (No, I still haven't set up a better system. Perhaps now is the time....) If it's a work-related file I send it to the work-related Mac Book Pro the same way.
  2. Periodically, I copy my data files to the Mac mini's external drive. Sometimes I use ftp (excruciatingly slow and painful), sometimes I copy the files to an external USB drive, carry the drive to another computer, plug in the drive, and copy the files over.
  3. Periodically, I copy the Mac mini's external hard drive files to the hard drive in my Linux box by one of these awkward procedures. Thus, I have two or three copies of my data files scattered around the house.
  4. If it's important, not huge, and not in some way confidential, I upload it to my web site, my work website, or here. (See Linux and Open Source for examples of things I don't want to misplace.)

I should fix this mess--I say that every time I have a problem, or do an upgrade. I could get an external USB hard drive and back up my Linux installation; I could set up my LAN to work more smoothly, I could set up an automated backup procedure that didn't rely on whim.... That should be my computer project for this spring.

The length of this post must tell you that my upgrade from Lenny (stable) to Squeeze (testing) did not go smoothly. In fact, I'm sitting here typing in Emacs on a spanking new Kubuntu 9.10 installation. I hope that in a few weeks or months, I'll be able to move back over to a working version of Debian, but right now, I seem to be out of luck, and I don't yet know why. Here's a rundown of my problems.

  1. I "googled around" for known problems and suggestions for the upgrade. I didn't see any generalized "Lenny-to-Squeeze angst," and I found the suggestion to upgrade the installer software first, and to use a "safe-upgrade" option, followed by a reboot, followed by a "full-upgrade." So, I updated my /etc/apt/sources.list to replace "lenny" with "squeeze," and started the process. Updating the installer programs and the aptitude safe-upgrade procedures showed no apparent problems, so I rebooted, and entered aptitude full-upgrade command.
  2. At the end of the upgrade process, I got messages that lots of programs could not be loaded. Many of them were associated with the KDE desktop. This thread from late December 2009 Failed to upgrade from Lenny to Squeeze. [SOLVED] on Debian User Forums points to problems with KDE in Squeeze. I thought that might be the problem. But, Gnome's still in there, so I rebooted, and got as far as the Gnome display manager (gdm). However, the computer wouldn't accept input from the mouse or keyboard.
  3. I found this relevant forum thread: keyboard problem with xdm and kdm. Of particular interest is this observation:

    When the keyboard doesn't work in xdm or kdm, even ctrl+alt+F1 doesn't respond....I think it might be related to the radeon driver, which seems quite unstable; when I work after a startx, everything works fine, as long as I don't work too much with the console. But if I switch to the console a lot and do a lot of work on the console, finally, when going back to X, my X ends up not responding to the keyboard nor to the mouse.

    As it happens, I have the same Radeon video chipset. A helpful forum responder pointed me to the appropriate proprietary driver. I don't know yet if I need this--Kubuntu 9.10 seems to be working well. I'll have to find out more about the driver eventually....

  4. Because I had no input hardware working, I declared the update project hosed, and downloaded the January 29, 2009 netinstall disk for Squeeze (amd64). The text-based installer wouldn't come up at all, and there was something seriously wrong with the graphical installer, too. It failed during the disk partitioning step, so anything that might have been usable on the hard drive was hosed.

  5. The only way to get Sid is through the upgrade path, and, for now, the same is true for Squeeze. So, I downloaded the Lenny netinstall disk image, burned it to a CD, and installed Lenny from scratch. It seemed to work, but the tty consoles were once again, unavailable. I wondered if that might be related to the video chipset driver, or perhaps to the Xorg installation. I hypothesized that my problem might have to do with the Lenny kernel, or the version of Xorg, so I decided to upgrade to Squeeze once more.

  6. This time, because all the failing KDE stuff wasn't there, I saw my Xorg-related stuff failed to update. I had no working Xwindow programs, just a console window. I found these relevant forum threads:

    • Blocked packages during upgrade Lenny to Squeeze:

      [i]t appeared that the sticking point for udev and older kernels is linked to the Squeeze libdrm2 package, which is depending on the drm (direct rendering manager) built into kernels >= 2.6.29. Since xorg, udev and hal are also linked to libdrm2, the whole upgrade process gets broken. Once you have a newer kernel, the upgrade process should work.

    • Lenny will not autoconfigure X suggests ways to examine the failure of the Xorg installation.

    • set of scripts that may be helpful if (more likely when) I have to troubleshoot this problem again:

      smxi is an interactive script designed to help people maintain their systems. It supports Debian (Stable, Testing, and Sid) and true Debian based distros (sidux, AntiX, Mepis). It does not support Ubuntu based distros because there are too many differences between Debian and Ubuntu.

    • Here are some more things to try if I get Ctrl-Alt-F1 = Black,blank screen? instead of a tty console.

  7. At this point, I suspected my graphics card driver was not working properly, I wasn't alone in having problems upgrading the Debian Xorg packages, and I needed a Linux machine before too long. I found this advice from a network administrator in Prague (city of my ancestors, the very ones who instilled in me the certainty that boasting is always punished by ill fortune): Putting new version on Debian stable (lenny).

    Of course, there is a catch--new computers have graphic cards that lenny simply cannot cope with anymore. And if you want new drivers, you need new xorg version. There are no official backports. So you are faced with installing xorg from testing (squeeze), but this is a fairly large-scale operation: your libc6 package and other base libraries will be upgraded, your keyboard/console configuration will change, etc. Especially the library upgrade is troublesome, since in order to stay binary-compatible across the whole department, we would need to install libc6 etc. from squeeze on *all* our machines. It is not very likely significant breakage of these packages would go through to testing, but there are risks and overall it adds significant overhead to the task.

    Thankfully, there is a neat alternative solution--add Ubuntu to the repository cauldron! Ubuntu Jaunty is very similar to Debian Lenny package-wise, and in fact not even libc upgrade is necessary. Only a fairly isolated set of xorg-related packages will be upgraded, which seems ideal for the purpose.

    Perhaps my problem is compatibility with my newer machine. If the Ubuntu repositories have fresher drivers and x-org packages, why not use Ubuntu (or in my case, Kubuntu, because I need several KDE programs for my specialized projects) instead of Debian, at least until an upgrade path becomes available.

  8. I downloaded the Kubuntu 9.10 disk image and installed it. X-org seems to be working fine and the tty-consoles are there and behaving just as they should. I found it quite easy to change all the little things I didn't like about Ubuntu (the way it handles root, the behavior of the terminal windows), and the latest, greatest KDE versions of my favorite programs are very nice.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Really Big Things

The Onion surprised me with another tea-spilled-in-the-keyboard moment with Science Channel Refuses To Dumb Down Science Any Further.

SILVER SPRING, MD—Frustrated by continued demands from viewers for more awesome and extreme programming, Science Channel president Clark Bunting told reporters Tuesday that his cable network was "completely incapable" of watering down science any further than it already had.

"Look, we've tried, we really have, but it's simply not possible to set the bar any lower," said a visibly exhausted Bunting, adding that he "could not in good conscience" make science any more mindless or insultingly juvenile. "We already have a show called Really Big Things, which is just ridiculous if you think about it, and one called Heavy Metal Taskforce, which I guess deals with science on some distant level, though I don't know what it is. Plus, there's Punkin Chunkin." "Punkin Chunkin, for Christ's sake," added Bunting, referring to the popular program in which contestants launch oversized pumpkins into the air using catapults. "What more do you people want?"

It's just what I've been imagining all these years.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Apple iPad--Early Reviews

The iPad? Really, Mr. Jobs? It doesn't look absorbent at all, and don't the better products have wings? When I heard the name for Apple's new, extra-large iPod Touch (the iPhone without the phone), I thought it was a joke, but not only is Apple really calling it the iPad, there is a competing claim on that goofy name: Adobe responds to iPad's lack of Flash, Fujitsu consulting lawyers over iPad name .

Fujitsu says it owns the "iPad" name. The company sold an iPad handset in 2002, filed for a trademark in 2003, and said it is consulting lawyers over the matter.

Here's the product review that best answered my questions. I found both these videos at Dvorak Uncensored.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Librarians as Offline Pirates

Earlier this week, I had to report to the local government on the historic preservation project that has me in such close association with the Reverent William T. Price and family. Part of that project has sent me reading up on copyright issues and the public domain. I even wrote a little report on it: Pocahontas County Historic Preservation Project: A Draft of Digitization Policies.

Join that with my recent interest in ebook readers and you'll see why everywhere I look, I find more to read about copyright laws, digital rights management (DRM), and intellectual property theft. This week Slashdot pointed me to this amusing analysis: Offline Book "Lending" Costs U.S. Publishers Nearly $1 Trillion

Hot on the heels of the story in Publisher's Weekly that "publishers could be losing out on as much $3 billion to online book piracy" comes a sudden realization of a much larger threat to the viability of the book industry. Apparently, over 2 billion books were "loaned" last year by a cabal of organizations found in nearly every American city and town. Using the same advanced projective mathematics used in the study cited by Publishers Weekly, Go To Hellman has computed that publishers could be losing sales opportunities totaling over $100 Billion per year, losses which extend back to at least the year 2000. These lost sales dwarf the online piracy reported yesterday, and indeed, even the global book publishing business itself.

From what we've been able to piece together, the book "lending" takes place in "libraries". On entering one of these dens, patrons may view a dazzling array of books, periodicals, even CDs and DVDs, all available to anyone willing to disclose valuable personal information in exchange for a "card". But there is an ominous silence pervading these ersatz sanctuaries, enforced by the stern demeanor of staff and the glares of other patrons. Although there's no admission charge and it doesn't cost anything to borrow a book, there's always the threat of an onerous overdue bill for the hapless borrower who forgets to continue the cycle of not paying for copyrighted material.

The slashdot story comments were also amusing:

In related news it has been discovered that the contents of textbooks, which often sell for $200 or more, are largely made up of information and ideas developed by previous authors. The previous textbook authors are starting to complain that they aren't getting any royalties from new textbooks and are now calling new textbook authors "seagoing murdering thieves" (pirates). Others are wondering why books mostly inspired by previous works, have more than a hundred year copyright, when the Constitution only authorizes copyrights for limited times, not a trillion years.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Day

Here's an hour-long Martin Luther King Day program: Democracy Now, January 18, 2010.

Today is the federal holiday that honors Dr. Martin Luther King....While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor and organized the Poor People's Campaign to address issues of economic justice. Dr. King was also a fierce critic of US foreign policy and the Vietnam War. We play his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, which he delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, as well as his last speech, "I Have Been to the Mountain Top." that he gave on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated.

I'm not sure if I ever heard the "Beyond Vietnam" speech, and it's been a long time since I heard the famous "I have Been to the Mountain Top" except in sound bites. I was glad to be reminded of this.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Peek at My Scanning Project

I've been scanning materials from the Pocahontas County Historical Society archives since this past summer, and the last few days, I've been working on an annual report for the project. Most of the scans are hard to read handwriting, but there are a few photographs. This is Susan A. Price, daughter of my old pal, William T. Price, sometime after she graduated from the Womens' Medical College of Baltimore in 1903. The photo was taken in Marlinton, perhaps in her sister's home, which is now houses the Historical Society's museum. She served as a physician in several mental hospitals, and lived and worked for many years in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she was avidly interested in historical preservation of that city.

Gotta love the outfit--especially those elbow-length kid gloves. Doesn't she look like the cat that ate the canary? Here's another photo taken the same day, showing more detail of her dress, and a more contemplative expression. I suspect that if I had that outfit, I too would read with those gloves on. In fact, I probably wouldn't take off the hat.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

DIY Book Scanner--Piracy or Not?

For the past 18 months I've been working on a digitization project for local history materials. (Hence my unhealthy co-dependent relationship with the Reverend William T. Price.) That's how I came to follow Digitization Blog's RSS feed, and discover Wired Magazine's article: DIY Book Scanners Turn Your Books Into Bytes.

For nearly two years, Daniel Reetz dreamed of a book scanner that could crunch textbooks and spit out digital files he could then read on his PC.

Book scanners, like the ones Google is using in its Google Books project, run into thousands of dollars, putting them out of the reach of a graduate student like Reetz. But in January, when textbook prices for the semester were listed, Reetz decided he would make a book scanner that would cost a fraction of commercially available products....

"The hardware is ridiculously simple as long as you are not demanding archival quality," he says. "A dumpster full of building materials, really cheap cameras and outrageous textbook prices was all I needed to do it."

Reetz went on to upload a 79-step how-to guide for building a book scanner (.pdf). The guide has sparked more than 400 comments. It has also spawned a website,, where more than 50 independent book scanners spread across countries such as Indonesia, Russia and Britain have contributed hardware refinements and software programs....

For details on the "how-to" of it, you can visit DIY Book Scanning news and forum, or download the 79-step how-to guide for building a book scanner (.pdf). The Wired article focuses more on the "whys" and "why nots" of do-it-yourself digitization.

Reetz says the DIY book-scanning forum isn't about distributing pirated content, but he can see the temptation. "My project was founded in angry desperation," he says. "It was a watershed moment when I realized getting an 8-megapixel Canon camera was cheaper than buying a bunch of textbooks."

As adjunct faculty at a couple of colleges, I sometimes teach science, math and computer classes, and I can tell you the cost of textbooks will make your hair stand on end (even at the intro level, where economies of scale could keep expenses in check). The schools won't let the students see the ISBN numbers of the required texts, to prevent them from shopping online for second-hand books, and they even forbid cell-phones in the campus bookstores, lest price-conscious students photograph shrink-wrapped book covers. Patently unfair practices like these seem designed to encourage piracy.

So are Reetz and the builders of the DIY scanner pirates? That would depend on who you talk to, says Pamela Samuelson, a professor at University of California at Berkeley, who specializes in digital-copyright law. Trade publishers are almost certain to cry copyright infringement, she says, though it may not necessarily be the case.

....If you scan a book that you have already purchased, it is "fine, and fair use," she says. "Personal-use copying should be deemed to be fair, unless there is a demonstrable showing of harm to the market for the copyright at work," says Samuelson. But not so individual users who already own the book....For publishers, though, the growth of the DIY scanning community could hurt. Publishers today sell digital versions to customers who already own hardcover or paperback versions of the same book.

"You cannot look at this idea from the perspective of whether the publisher can make extra money," says Samuelson. "Publishers would love it if you can't resell books either, but that's not going to happen."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Call of the Tame

Via Slashdot, I read Soviet Scientist Turns Foxes Into Puppies, where I found these links to documentary excerpts. I don't know what brought these breeding experiments into the news--most of the related stories I found are at least a few years old. However, it was news to me, and offers some fascinating suggestions about how domestic animals came to be that way. Here's the abstract of a review article, Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment, by Lyudmila Trut (1999):

Abstract: At an experimental farm in Novosibirsk, Siberia, geneticists have been working for four decades to turn foxes into dogs. They are not trying to create the next pet craze. Instead, author Trut and her predecessors hope to explain why domesticated animals such as pigs, cattle and dogs are so different from their wild ancestors. Selective breeding alone cannot explain all the differences. Trut's mentor, the eminent Russian geneticist Dmitri Belyaev, thought that the answers lay in the process of domestication itself, which might have dramatically changed wolves' appearance and behavior even in the absence of selective breeding. To test his hypothesis, Belyaev and his successors at the Institute have been breeding another canine species, silver foxes, for a single trait: friendliness toward people. Although no one would mistake them for dogs, the Siberian foxes appear to be on the same overall evolutionary path--a route that other domesticated animals also may have followed while coming in from the wild.

You can download the complete article: Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment (pdf file). It's well worth reading, and not painfully technical. (That's my evaluation, but I've been told I'm a painfully technical kind of gal, so YMMV.)

A 2006 New York Times article describes some related research on rats: Nice Rats, Nasty Rats: Maybe It's All in the Genes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Extinctions Inside Us

I've had this article sitting on my "to blog" list for a while: Bugs Inside: What Happens When the Microbes That Keep Us Healthy Disappear? The human body has more microbial than human cells, but this rich diversity of micro-helpers that has evolved along with us is undergoing a rapid shift--one that may have very macro health consequences. At my last "real" job at The Institute for Genomic Research (Now known as J. Craig Venter Institute, because that is the boss's name, and he's not a bashful fellow) I wrote some grants to sequence microbial ecosystems. It was too early in the microbial genome sequencing game for those proposals to fly, but now several organizations are doing just that. It's been 11 years since I left, so I guess I was right not to stick around waiting for it to happen, but I'm feeling a little envious of the folks who are getting to do that work now.

Sea water microbes, oil well flora, rumin ecosystems, and human "normal flora"--it's a way to get a look at bacteria in non-homogeneous culture, and characterize "bugs" that can't be cultured individually. Of course, the normal flora of humans are of particular interest.

Having evolved along with the human species, most of the miniscule beasties that live in and on us are actually helping to keep us healthy, just as our well-being promotes theirs. In fact, some researchers think of our bodies as superorganisms, rather than one organism teeming with hordes of subordinate invertebrates....

With rapid changes in sanitation, medicine and lifestyle in the past century, some of these indigenous species are facing decline, displacement and possibly even extinction. In many of the world's larger ecosystems, scientists can predict what might happen when one of the central species is lost, but in the human microbial environment—which is still largely uncharacterized—most of these rapid changes are not yet understood. "This is the next frontier and has real significance for human health, public health and medicine," says Betsy Foxman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan (U.M.) School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.

Meanwhile, each new generation in developed countries comes into the world with fewer of these native populations. "They're actually missing some component of their microbiota that they've evolved to have," Foxman says.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy (Belated) Public Domain Day

Between my consumer's interest in ebooks and my work on digitizing local history materials, I read quite a bit about copyright issues. This article on Public Domain Day really brought home to me how much modern copyright law locks away from the reading public:

What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2010? Under the law that existed until 1978 . . . Works from 1953.

Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author's death. (Corporate "works-for-hire" are copyrighted for 95 years.) But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years). Under those laws, works published in 1953 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2010.

This Center for the Study of the Public Domain (CSPD) article mentions many movies and musical compositions that would be in the public domain by now, but it was the list of books that really gave me a jolt:

  • Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March
  • Ray Bradbury's dystopian novelFahrenheit 451
  • C.S. Lewis'sThe Silver Chair
  • J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories
  • James Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain

Even more surprising to me is this tidbit:

All of these works are famous--that is why we included them here. And the authors of famous and commercially successful works would probably renew the copyright for a second term of 28 years. But we know from the Copyright Office that 85% of authors did not renew their copyrights (for books, the number is even higher--93% did not renew), since most works exhaust their commercial value very quickly. That means that under the law that existed until 1978, up to 85% of all copyrighted works from 1981 would be entering the public domain on January 1, 2010.

The Center for the Study of the Public Domain has several informative Web pages on related issues. Orphan works represent the public domain issue that troubles me the most. as the CSPD explains:

These works are still presumably under copyright...but they are commercially unavailable and the copyright owner cannot be found. They probably comprise the majority of the record of 20th century culture (one study indicates that only 2 percent of works between 55 and 75 years old continue to retain commercial value). The default response of archivists, libraries, film restorers, historians, artists, scholars, educators, publishers, and others is to avoid using copyrighted works unless they are clearly in the public domain. As a result, orphan works are not used in new creative efforts or made available to the public due to uncertainty over their copyright status, even when there is no longer anyone claiming copyright ownership, or the owner no longer has any objection to such use. The costs here are huge: needlessly disintegrating films just when technology would allow for their preservation, prohibitive costs for libraries, incomplete and spotted histories, thwarted scholarship, digital libraries put on hold, delays to publication. In the cases where the work is truly an orphan work, those costs are tragic because they are completely unnecessary: no one is benefiting from the continued copyright protected over these works, while the entire public loses the ability to adapt, transform, preserve, digitize, republish and otherwise make new and valuable uses of them.

Friday, January 08, 2010

I Join the Electronic Book Revolution--Sort Of

I bought an Astak EZ Reader Pocket Pro a couple of months ago, and I'm really pleased with it, although I haven't yet explored all its features. I had been wishing for an ebook reader for a couple of years, and I opined on them back in May. If only there were a way, I whined, to read electronic copies of Project Gutenberg books comfortably, without a backlit computer screen. Thousands of books that would never get mildewed, or lose their pages, or take up shelf space, in any font size I desire. Because most of the gadget reviewers are young men who don't imagine they'll ever have vision problems, or otherwise get old, cranky or cash-strapped, I'm offering a product review by "A Woman of a Certain Age."

The E-Ink reading experience seems very natural to me, and after the first two or three pages of Wuthering Heights, I had completely forgotten that I wasn't reading a regular book. In fact, if I had been holding my moldy old paperback with the tiny, tiny print, I would have been much more aware of the unfriendly format. My eyeballs are middle-aged, and being able to adjust the font size and contrast is wonderful. I stayed up late to follow Cathy and Heathcliff to the bitter end, without the eye fatigue that comes from reading too long on a computer screen. (I didn't remember how much house-keeping information Emily Bronte included--what they ate, how they cooked it, what it took to keep the kitchen clean....really interesting. Also, everybody seemed to have a simmering case of tuberculosis, with realistic, unromantic symptoms.)

My device came with a 1 GB SD card, loaded with "300 Free eBooks," although I think that was a special, introductory offer. I bought a 4 GB card, and started loading it up with the complete works of every 19th century author I fancy. Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray, George Eliot, the Brontes, Henry James--bookcases full, and there's still loads of room on the SD card.

It also turns out this is a great way to read knitting patterns. I often have to rewrite knitting patterns on 3x5 index cards to keep with my knitting. It's just as easy to type them and copy them over to the E-Ink device, where I can make the font as HUGE as I like, whenever I need it.

The most advertised E-Ink readers (Kindle and Sony, for example) are designed to sell digitally locked up, copyrighted books (DRM books) for what I consider high prices. They even charge the customer money to make Project Gutenberg books available in their proprietary formats.

In September, the Astak EZ Reader Pocket Pro came on the market for $200. (And it was available in RED!) It's a little Linux computer that can display 21 non-DRM'ed file formats. I may never buy DRM'ed ebooks, but if I decide to, the EZReader can display ADE-encrypted PDF and ePub books, and there are lots of books available in those formats. In addition to the company website, there's a careful and detailed look at the Astak Pocket PRO, provided by a company spokesman.

Here are some features that convinced me that I would really like this device, instead of the many others on the market. (Also, it comes in RED.)

  • E-Ink technology, with eight levels of grey scale (better display of pictures or illustrations than earlier devices)
  • Displays these DRM-free formats: PDF, TXT, PDB, DOC, HTML, FB2, LIT, MP3, EPUB, PRC, WOL, CHM, PPT, TIF, PNG, GIF, RAR, ZIP, DJVU, JPG, BMP
  • Adobe Digital Editions firmware update lets you buy copy-protected eBooks in PDF and ePub formats.
  • a user-replaceable rechargeable battery (Sony and Kindle devices are done for when their battery won't charge anymore--have to send them back to the factory for servicing)
  • an SD card that supports up to 16GB
  • three levels of font size and different font choices; also you can read in portrait or landscape mode, which is useful if you go with a very large font
  • mp3 player mode which can be used simultaneously with reading mode
  • Text-To-Speech... meaning it can read to you and automatically advances pages
  • bookmarking capability
  • Accessories in the box include crush-resistant case with magnetic clasp, ear buds, AC charger, USB cable, and wrist leash. (The pricier devices require you to buy these separately.)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What's Cooking, Princess?

The new house is all the things we hoped it would be--wonderfully warm, easily cleaned, with plenty of closets and cabinets--but we're all having a little trouble adjusting to the new space. Princess is still looking for that perfectly cat-sized hiding place.

I hope this picture doesn't suggest the Fatal Attraction bunny to you. In November, we moved the canned goods from the old house to the new cellar, and Princess had to inspect the canner. Although the size was reasonable, it didn't remain long enough on the kitchen floor for her purposes. The rocking chair seat will have to serve until something better comes along.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Our New 1959 Tractor

With all the new house excitement, I never mentioned that we traded in our lovely 1946 Ford tractor for this new 1959 Massey Ferguson model. Adorable and smooth-running as the Ford was, its low gear was much too fast for our steep hillsides. It was great on level ground, but we built a house on the only patch of level ground we had. The new tractor also has a sweet sound, and it can go really, really slow.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Alexander Hamilton

Writer and star of the Broadway musical In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda performs "The Hamilton Mixtape" at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009. Accompanied by Alex Lacamoire.

I'm not sure where I first saw this, but it's so cool, I thought I should file it here where I can find it again, and you can see it if you haven't already.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

What Would Eleanor Roosevelt Knit?

What would Eleanor Roosevelt knit? Mittens, it turns out. Knitty, the online knitting magazine, features Mittens from Mrs Roosevelt, including an interview with Mary Ann Colopy, a seasonal park ranger at the Roosevelt/Vanderbilt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York. She describes some manuscript knitting patterns found among Mrs. Roosevelt's papers at her work site, and shares what she knows about Mrs. Roosevelt's knitting history.

Franklin Habit, Knitty regular, tested and rewrote the directions, which produce mittens just like the ones my mom and grandma used to knit. Neither fancy, time-consuming, nor expensive to produce, they are the sort of mittens you just use until they wear out.

Ms Colopy says of Mrs. Roosevelt:

Eleanor's knitting was something she did for herself, to feel active even when sitting. She would ask other knitters for patterns, and share patterns with other knitters. But outside of the world of women producing garments for their families, the patterns and artifacts were not appreciated. And this is still true in many ways for knitters. Knitting is a folk art, passed from hand to hand. Unlike many textiles -- such as lace, quilts, weaving, and samplers -- it has not received academic attention until very recently and has not been appreciated as a craft.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Garden of New Year's Wishes

A little iambic pentameter for the New Year:

May the New Year be like a garden fair
With flowers of joy, and free from weeds of care;
Good fortune, as the smiling sun to bless
Your every effort with complete success.

This card was sent to Florence Williamson at her parents' home near Williamson, Iowa in honor of the 1910 New Year, postmarked Snyder, Oklahoma, Dec. 23, 1909. The message says Hello, Florence! Here is wishing you a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. We are having zero weather with snow for several days. We are all well & hope this will find you all the same. With love and best wishes, 1909, Theresa Wiginton, Snyder, Okla.