Sunday, February 28, 2010

Relocating Drupal Installations

As I said yesterday, before I disrupt my Web presences with Drupal updates, I'm going to break them locally. So today's project is to create a replica of the installation of Drupal on localhost here on my Linux box, set up as an Apache2 server. I'm hoping that if I write it all out once, I can do this over and over without too much trouble. (Please don't laugh. Sometimes it does work that way.)

  1. Go to the /var/www/ directory, and make a directory to contain the Drupal installation you're cloning. the URL will be http://localhost/yourDrupaldirectory/
  2. Grab a copy of the website. The cPanel tools can create a compressed back-up copy of the website, and let the user download it through the browser. When doing this, be sure you just compress and back up the Drupal portion of the website--there's all sorts of extraneous stuff you don't need, like the email accounts. Then you can expand it using tar on the command line. Here's the syntax for tar:

    tar -xvwzf myfile.tar.gz to uncompress (untar) the myfile.tar.gz file in the current directory where "x" is for "extract;" "v" is for "verbosely list files processed;" "w" is for "ask for confirmation for every action;" "f" is for "use archive file or device ARCHIVE;" and "z" is for "filter the archive through gzip." To skip the annoying request for confirmation, use tar -xvzf myfile.tar.gz

  3. Alternatively, you can download the files and directories you want via ftp and use phpMyAdmin to export the contents of your database to a .sql file, which you can download. See How to backup your Mysql database with phpMyAdmin for exactly which buttons and boxes to click to get the .sql file for the whole database.

  4. Once the files are uncompressed and arranged the way they're supposed to be, It's time to recreate the database. It's probably a good practice to create a new user with password and new database for that user, rather than use the root user for the new database, so:

    1. Log into phpMyAdmin as root user.
    2. Click on "Privileges" and then "Add a new User"
    3. Set "Database for User" option to "Create database with same name and grant all privileges" and check all "Global Privileges."
    4. Hit "Go" and do what phpMyAdmin tells you to do. Remember to write down your user and database name, and the password you selected. Your database won't have any tables, but don't worry. We'll fix that next.
  5. PhpMyAdmin has an "Import" option, but it can only import very small databases. My Spiceridge database doesn't have much in it at all, but it's about three times too large for phpMyAdmin to import. Not a problem, though, because it's really easy to do this through the command-line program mysql. Here's the command: mysql -u username -p databasename < databasedump_dp.sql and it will prompt you for the password after you hit enter. This creates all the tables and populates them in one step.

  6. Now you've got the files on localhost and, and the database in your local MySQL database, you just need to update your settings.php file, which is in /var/www/your_Drupal_directory/sites/default/. You'll have to give yourself write permissions via the command-line program chmod a+w settings.php Then go into a text editor, and look for this:

    * Database URL format: * $db_url = 'mysql://username:password@localhost/databasename'; * $db_url = 'mysqli://username:password@localhost/databasename'; * $db_url = 'pgsql://username:password@localhost/databasename'; */ $db_url = 'mysql://yoursecret stuff';

    Modify it to include your local user name, database name, and password in the format they demonstrate for you. It's probably best to remove the write permissions when you're sure everything is working.

  7. Point your browser to http://localhost/yourDrupaldirectory/ and you should see your Drupal website.
  8. After fussing about with the Drupal site's documentation, the search engines showed me this short and sweet set of directions: Moving A Drupal Site From One Host To Another - How To. This worked for me.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Getting Ready to Break My Websites

I've been a bad Drupal website administrator. I have ignored update after update on my own site Spice Ridge and Pocahontas County History. They are minor, fiddly updates, but I've put them off again and again. However, now something is broken on one of these sites. It doesn't have to do with Drupal, but I'm going to have to go into repair mode anyway, so I guess I might as well update Drupal now. Why not break everything all at once?

First, I need local installations to test stuff before I start breaking Websites out in public. My original local installations were vaporized when my last Linux box fried its cpu and hard drive in April of 2009, and because I messed up my Debian Lenny and switched to Kubuntu, I need to set up Apache2, PHP5, MySql, and PHPMyAdmin from scratch in order to rassle with Drupal. It turns out my collection of links on setting up a Debian server from my initial Drupal adventure is still up-to-date. This process goes surprisingly quickly this time.

The next step is to download the Drupal installations (and the broken Archon CMS as well). I'll just ftp the files to my localhost directories, but I also need to recreate the MySQL databases locally, and I don't remember how to do that.

  • How to backup your Mysql database with phpMyAdmin. This worked like a charm, but phpMyAdmin balked at importing the .sql file into my local database--it said my file was too large. Well, I was once an old hand at command-line sql interactions, but I couldn't remember syntax....
  • How to restore MySQL database from sql dump file? gave me the directions I needed:
    rebecca@hecate:/var/www/spiceridge$ mysql -u root -p spiceridge < spicerid_dp.sql
    Enter password:
    This creates all the tables I needed, as well as populating them. Pretty slick.

In the process of doing all this, I discover that my hosting service's new setup has a nifty, easy-to-use backup utility that handles files, scripts and databases in a single step, eliminating the time-consuming process I just completed for my Spice Ridge website. Oh well, it'll really help when I start on the local history site.

Here's some stuff I found about Drupal updates and back-ups. I haven't tried any of this yet, but I'm saving it here so I don't misplace it.

  • Upgrading from previous versions
  • HowTo: Updating Drupal 6.x to newer minor version
  • Drupal Backup and Migrate Module

    Backup and Migrate simplifies the task of backing up and restoring your Drupal database or copying your database from one Drupal site to another. It supports gzip, bzip and zip compression as well as automatic scheduled backups.

    With Backup and Migrate you can dump some or all of your database tables to a file download or save to a file on the server, and to restore from an uploaded or previously saved database dump. You can chose which tables and what data to backup and cache data is excluded by default.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Visiting the Old Med School Boarding House, 1907

From the Susan A. Price collection of the Pocahontas County Historical Society: Susan A. Price, Handwritten on back: "1203 Madison Avenue, Baltimore, Md. Boarding house in my old Medical School days. The picture taken in June, 1907, when I was resident physician at the Weston State Hospital."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Embroider Ye Pillowcases While Ye May

It doesn't seem that long ago that every Woolworths's had stacks of pillowcases printed with simple patterns, ready to be embroidered and edged, but nowadays such ready-to embroider items are only found in pricey sets from mail order companies like Herrschners'.

This pillowcase was in perfect shape when I took it out of the box. My grandma would have embroidered it, then crocheted on the pink edging, and washed it, ironed it, and put it away. Unfortunately, its mate lay directly on the bottom of the box, and was badly stained by acid in the cardboard. I was able to bleach away most of the stain without harming the embroidery thread, but I don't expect it will last long.

I'm going to use these, and remember to enjoy pretty things while I can.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Wonderful World of Plarn

Periodically, I run across ideas for recycling plastic bags into craft materials. I get all excited, try the suggestions, and then go back to stashing bunches of plastic bags inside a plastic bag in the pantry.

Here I go again. In my search for crochet tips and patterns, I've been seeing quite a few items crocheted from plastic bag yarn, or "plarn." Tote bags, "rag rugs," pot scrubbers, many of these look perfectly functional. I'm going to have to try again. Here are some links.

  • Plastic Bag Crochet from is a link list of plarn-making directions and instructions for various crochet items.
  • All you need is plastic bag and a crochet hook.... via Whipup--Handcraft in a Hectic World. Actually, you need quite a few plastic bags, but that doesn't make such a good slogan....
  • My Recycled Bags, where Cindy shows us all sorts of things she's crocheted from plarn. She also recycles old clothes into crafting materials. Myself, I make cleaning rags from worn-out tee-shirts and I cut up newish but damaged tees to make cotton underbritches, but Cindy cuts tee-shirt fabric into strips for knitting, crochet or weaving, and displays some very cute projects.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Doing Odd Things With Cake Mixes

I aim to stay away from the highly processed foods of modern life. I have every intention to eat plain foods cooked at home, and here on Droop Mountain, far from fast food outlets and big, variety-filled grocery stores, there's not all that much temptation to stray from the path.

However, I also have a deep-seated need for bargains, so when there's a really good sale on cake mix boxes in Marlinton, I simply must stock up. Besides making "normal" cakes as the box directs, I like to try non-standard variations.

Last month, I made a sour cherry cake that turned out pretty well. I prepare cherry pie filling with our own sour cherries and freeze it for pies throughout the year. It's really simple, although our cherries are small, and pitting a quart of them takes quite a while.

I used a yellow cake mix as directed, except that I left out all the water the box called for, and substituted the quart of thawed out pie filling. The stuff I make is much runnier than canned commercial pie filling, and the batter I got was much wetter than that of a normal cake mix, so it took longer to bake.

I topped it with chocolate cream cheese frosting, and we really liked the results. I'm the only one who likes cherry pie at our address, so this is something I can make for a change. I think next time, I'll try a chocolate cake mix, for, perhaps, a pseudo-Black Forest cake.

Sour Cherry Pie Filling
1 quart (four cups) pitted sour cherries, and their juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour

Mix in a bowl, pour into a quart-sized freezer container,
and freeze until you're ready to bake a pie.

(Of course, you could just go ahead and make a pie crust and have
a pie right away.)
Cherry Cake
1 box yellow or white cake mix. (Chocolate might be good,
    but I don't know for sure.)
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 quart of frozen sour cherry pie filling, thawed.

Beat the eggs to mix, add oil, pie filling, and cake mix. Mix
ingredients thoroughly, and pour into a greased 9" x 13" pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F until a toothpick inserted in the center
of the cake comes out clean. My cake took about 50 minutes,
but this will vary depending on how wet your pie filling is.

This winter, I had a few cake mix boxes nearing their expiration date, so I tried a recipe I had "digitally clipped " from Hints from Heloise: Cake Mix Cookies. Here's her basic recipe.

Cake Mix Cookies
1 (18.25-ounce) box cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Choose your favorite flavor--I like chocolate,
and the lemon mix makes tasty lemon cookies.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix only the above ingredients
(although you can add 1/4 cup chopped nuts, raisins or
chocolate chips) in a large bowl until blended. Drop the
batter by spoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto an ungreased
baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack for 8-10 minutes,
watching them carefully. They'll brown quickly, so stand by
the oven for the first batch. 

I made a batch of chocolate cookies with no inclusions, and they were quick to make and tasty, although much sweeter than homemade cookies. For my second batch, I used a yellow cake mix, added a scant cup of chocolate chips, and made the cookies very, very small. A normal-sized drop cookie would have just been too, too sweet. These didn't last long, so I'm not the only one who liked them. Next, I'm going to try chopped nuts, or maybe a little cooked oatmeal, to cut the sweetness and add heft.

When I was a teenager in Iowa, a hot new recipe making the rounds was the "Dump Cake." It was yet another riff on the non-standard cake mix recipe, and I remember liking it. However, I moved to Connecticut for grad school, and Yankees are way too sophisticated for cake mixes. (They go to the store and buy Carvel's or Entemann's, which are, no doubt, all natural and hand-made products.) Anyway, after an evening of ridicule at the potluck, I quit making "Dump Cakes" (a really unfortunate name) and lost the recipe.

However, Heloise has come through for me again this month, with This Cake Is in the Dumps, and, bless her heart, she provides a prettier name, The No-Mix Cherry-Pineapple Nut Cake.

Dear Heloise: I have lost my copy of your recipe for DUMP CAKE. Could you please provide me with a copy? -- Carolyn Stonesifer, via e-mail

I believe you are requesting the NO-MIX CHERRY-PINEAPPLE NUT CAKE, because you just dump the ingredients into the pan. It is an easy-yet-delicious cake to make. This is what you need:

1 (20-ounce) can of crushed pineapple in heavy syrup
1 (21-ounce) can of cherry pie filling
1 (2-layer size) package of yellow cake mix
1 (3-ounce) package of pecans, or 1 cup chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine (chilled works best)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread the pineapple with its syrup evenly in the prepared pan. Spoon the pie filling evenly over the pineapple. Sprinkle the dry cake mix evenly over the fruits, then sprinkle the chopped nuts over all. Slice the butter into thin slices, then place the pieces evenly over the top. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden. Serve warm. Makes 12 servings.

This is only one of many unique and delicious recipes in my fabulous four-page cake pamphlet. To order a copy, just send $3 and a long, self-addressed, stamped (61 cents) envelope to: Heloise/Cake, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001. Extra tip: This cake also can be made with other fruit combinations, like pineapple/strawberry, pineapple/apple, pineapple/blueberry, apple/cherry, etc. Serve it with vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream. -- Heloise

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Red Mohair Cap and the Ghosts of Knits Past

Add this little hat to my minimal knitting projects for 2009. The scarlet mohair came from my Regan administration yarn purchases, while the hat pattern is a recreation of the first wearable knitting project I ever completed. All in all, it was a walk down Knitting Memories Lane.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Free Crochet Patterns, Especially Old Ones

I have a decent collection of crochet patterns. My grandma left a collection, and some of my mom's knitting leaflets also include crochet patterns. After I learned to crochet, I subscribed to some crochet newsletters for a couple of years. I could crochet from this library until the end of my days, but there's that itch to see something new....Fortunately, I can indulge this without buying stuff, thanks to Websites like these:

  • Crochet Pattern Central is a great place to start. It's a curated link directory, and it's actively updated.
    Welcome to Crochet Pattern Central--an often updated online directory featuring thousands of links to free crochet patterns. Choose from 90+ categories, including clothing, afghans, doilies, baby items, bags and totes, potholders, toys, stuffed animals (including amigurumi), and so much more.
  • The Antique Pattern Library is the Project Gutenberg of the needlecraft pattern library. On their "Welcome" page, they say

    This ongoing project is an effort to scan needlework pattern books that are in the public domain, to preserve them, so we can keep our needlework heritage in our hands. These scans have been photoedited to make them more useful for needle workers, and to reduce file sizes. They are available, for free, to anyone who wants them, for educational, personal, artistic and other creative uses.

    Their collection of crochet patterns is awesome, especially for those who like working with fine gauge crochet thread, as opposed to yarn. I have a real fascination with crochet lace collars and nightgown yokes from about 1900 to 1940, and I've scored dozens of gorgeous patterns. Now, to develop my skills to that level....Be prepared, if you start downloading, for a time-sink, not because the website is slow, but because these collections are quite addictive. I'm unlikely to do purse netting, silk embroidery, or tatting, but you should see the awesome patterns I've got, just in case...

  • The Free Patterns page from Heirloom Crochet has some wonderful old patterns for free. There are also many vintage patterns are for sale, but I'm a little unclear on her business model.

I joined the knitters' social network Ravelry a couple of years ago, but found it disappointing. I didn't like the social interaction--I got flamed for submitting a very polite bug report, for heaven's sake, threats of violence and all. The tone of dialogue is just not my style--one of the newsletter feature writers calls herself "Auntie BubboPants." Whatever floats your boat, but not for me, thanks. However, in my hunt for free crochet pattern novelty, I did revisit Ravelry's crochet section, and found it much more to my liking. I think there are two reasons for this--one, the crochet community is smaller, and that means a better signal-to-noise ratio. That is, more crochet talk, less general conversation. The second reason I like it better is that I'm a novice crocheter, and Ravelry probably works better for novices than for long-time afficianados. There's just more new stuff for a novice to see there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What's the Matter With Kids (and Gadgets) Today?

I'm never sure if the themes I find in my reading come to me from the outside world, or if my subliminal, half-formed thoughts cherry-pick articles and ideas. Whoever is responsible for it, I've been finding some interesting articles about gadgets, the Internet, and the way people use them and are, perhaps, used by them.

Last week I was intrigued by Book review: You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier. The reviewer and the author whose book is reviewed are both fascinating. From the review:

....He discusses how pack-like attacks arise on the Web wherever there is an opportunity for "consequence-free, transient anonymity." The topic hardly matters: "Jihadi chat looks just like poodle chat."

He describes the sad, stressful lives of young people who "must manage their online reputations constantly." He makes the point that the free use of everything on the Web leads to endless mashups, except for the one thing legally protected from being mashed-up: ads, making advertising the one thing on the Internet that can be "owned."

....The preface says he is grateful for the "real human eyes" that will pass over the following pages, and for the "tiny minority" of humanity that still reads books. Yes, Jaron, we are still here. We few, we happy few.

Jaron Lanier's slim volume intrigues me, with chapter titles like The Noosphere Is Just Another Name For Everyone's Inner Troll, but much of what's in his new book he has already discussed in a long essay, One-Half of a Manifesto. Those of us on a budget may read it there for free. This "read it for free" aspect is of concern to him, not in terms of lost revenue, but in the way blogs and rss feeds can make everything appear to be "one book," by quoting without attribution. Nothing I read by choice does that, and I never do that intentionally, because I love footnotes, hyperlinks, and all scholarly reference techniques. However, I do monitor a Pocahontas County website where this is the norm. It's tangentially related to my job, and it offers an education in all types of bad Internet behavior, including plenty of anonymous trolls.

While Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto book looks interesting, so does the Washington Post's reviewer, Ellen Ullman, a former software engineer...the author of "Close to the Machine" and "The Bug: A Novel." Maybe it was her wry "Yes, Jaron, we are still here" that got me, but I wanted to know more about her.

She has eleven essays archived at, and a number of on-line interviews, including What's Bugging Ellen Ullman? A conversation with the author of "Close to the Machine," and "The Bug: A Novel", where she suggests some things computer science students might want to learn:

...I think if you could somehow teach students to understand that Linux or Windows or Java or C++ are just current implementations of old ideas, and to understand that what's new has roots in long-standing ideas that have gone through permutations. Computing is not a brand-new profession. It's a generation or two old by now. It has a history. I really would have people understand the history of computing much better. I mean a detailed survey of the different operating environments as they came and went over time, what they were good at, and what they were not good at. These ideas are getting lost.

The Red Tape Chronicles is also fretting this month about Internet users and their gadgets, in Why so much FAIL in the digital world?

There are many valid defenses for technology. It's just a tool, of course -- the Internet doesn't kill brains, people kill brains. Obviously, a tool that allows people to find virtually any fact ever known within a few seconds can help make people a lot smarter.

Even [Michelle] Weil, the Technostress author, is quick to say that technology is not the problem: "The problem is the way people use technology, and the expectations they have for it," she said.

People have come to depend too much on gadgets, and fail to plan for the logical possibility that they will occasionally break down....Meanwhile, too much alcohol, too much chocolate cake, too much exercise--all these things can be bad for people, just like too much digital exposure....All those bad habits existed before the Web and continue to exist in spite of the Web. It's fair to ask, then, where the fault lies for "The Dumbest Generation" -- with overexposure to digital media, or with adults who don't force the kids to turn off the laptops and listen once in a while.

The book Red Tape cutter Bob Sullivan mentions, The Dumbest Generation, by Mark Bauerlein, asks the novel question, "What's the matter with kids today?" The answer is MySpace and Facebook.

According to recent reports from government agencies, foundations, survey firms, and scholarly institutions, most young people in the United States neither read literature (or fully know how), work reliably (just ask employers), visit cultural institutions (of any sort), nor vote (most can't even understand a simple ballot). They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount foundations of American history, or name any of their local political representatives. What do they happen to excel at is--each other. They spend unbelievable amounts of time electronically passing stories, pictures, tunes, and texts back and forth, savoring the thrill of peer attention and dwelling in a world of puerile banter and coarse images.

Anyone who thinks this is mere intergenerational grousing, the time-worn tradition of an older generation wagging its finger at a younger one, should think again....

I recently taught for a semester in a local middle school, and I met many kids who had all these vices and deficiencies. I've also met adults of my generation who fit the description. Wouldn't it be wonderful if no one were ever lazy, and everyone availed themselves of all the opportunities life presented them? I certainly don't have the answers--I have my own laziness to wrestle. If you're interested, The Dumbest Generation Web presence has articles, reviews, and links to Mark Bauerlein's other books, as well as videos, presumably for those who don't read easily.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Instructional Videos For the Very Impatient

I have a prejudice against instructional videos, partly because when I want to know something, I want to know it right away, and on my terms. For me, it's more satisfying and quicker to flip through a book than to fast-forward through a DVD or videotape. Likewise, on the Internet, I can read faster than video can download and play, at least on my connection and hardware. Don't even get me started on Drupal how-to's--so many of them are video-only, when searchable text would be so much more useful.

However, some things are best demonstrated, not explained. There are amazing free music lesson videos on Youtube, and I've seen some really helpful animations of chemistry concepts. In the interest of being more open-minded, I clicked on the knitting video above, found at Crazy for Cast-Ons, Part 2, which is the follow-up to Crazy for Cast-Ons (Part 1): The Old Norwegian and Some "Tail Tips."

For me, this is a really great video--"Helpful Knitting Tips from Knitting Expert Eunny Jang," on a series called "Knitting Daily TV." It moves quickly, so I don't get impatient, and it's well-produced, so you can see what her hands are doing. I've tried lots of cast-on methods, although I usually revert to the first one I learned, which is, well, idiosyncratic. I do, however, often want a provisional cast-on, so that I can start knitting "in the middle" of a project, and I'm not entirely satisfied with the methods I've been using. I'm excited to try all of these provisional cast-ons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Crochet Potholder Inheritance

The deep snow has deep-sixed sorting and moving stuff from the old house, but while the weather was still conducive to line-drying, I sorted and washed a collection of linens from my grandmother's house. My mom had put them away in a closet in 1964, and I moved them from my mom's house in 1996, and hadn't unboxed them since.

Quite a few things are badly stained, either through use or poor storage, but I found these inspiring crocheted potholders in almost-new condition. I remember the green and white ones (or potholders like them) from my grandma's kitchen.

These potholders and the dozens of doilies and pillowcase edgings are probably what triggered my recent crochet-jones. By the way, these potholders are the work of my post-card collecting grandma, Florence Williamson Hunt.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Introducing the Book!

If I had to guess which single-author blog I follow would have the most entertaining discussion of Apple's iPad, Winken de Worde: books, early modern culture, post-modern reading would not have been my first suggestion. Yet her Quick iPad Roundup was a delight, and also pointed me to Introducing the iCodex.

With the iCodex, people can now store multiple items in one, easy-to-use package. A user could, for example, enjoy both cooking recipes and psalms, or mappa mundi and instructions on marital relations. Since the iCodex's pages are bound together in an easy-to-turn format, things stored at the end of an iCodex are as easy to access as the beginning.

She includes a link to this medieval help-desk skit is in Norwegian, with English subtitles.

It must be an interesting time to be a researcher in early books, what with Early Modern Mash-Ups and the most influential book history tools of the decade.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

To My Valentine, 1909

Feb. 13, 6 PM, 1909. To Miss Florence Williamson, Prescott, Iowa: "Dear Florence, I rec'd your pretty card was glad to hear that you were having such a good time. I am putting in my time in the same old way. Lovingly, Susie"

Friday, February 12, 2010

DRM, Price Points, Licenses, and Copyright

This collection of copyright-related articles concerns Digital Rights Management (DRM). Personally, I won't buy DRM-protected books, music, or movies, especially if the DRM interferes with my ability to protect the content I've purchased by periodically backing it up to another device. DRM kept me from using the iTunes store, although I have a Mac mini and I like the iTunes software--I ripped all my traditional instrumental CD's to my Mac, and now I have my musical library in a searchable, cross-referenced format. (I can find all six versions of "The Blackbird" set dance, and play them consecutively to compare styles.)

I'm even less likely to buy DRM-protected books, given the variety of DRM's and incompatible formats in the marketplace. Plus, the eBook price point doesn't make sense to me. Why should I pay as much for a DRM'ed data file as a new print book? If I'm patient, I can find a used hardcover for less than half the price of an eBook I can only read on an approved device.

Making books available electronically has such marvelous potential to connect people to knowledge and ideas--it's sad that the endeavor is thoroughly bogged down in the intellectual property quagmire.

  • How to Destroy the Book, by Cory Doctorow. (Dec 14, 2009)
    The anti-copyright activists have no respect for our copyright and our books. They say that when you buy an ebook or an audiobook that's delivered digitally, you are demoted from an owner to a licensor. From a reader to a mere user. These thieves deliver our digital books and our audiobooks wrapped in license agreements and technologies that might as well be designed to destroy the emotional connection that readers have with their books.
  • Some Kindle books have secret caps on the number of times you can download them.
    It turns out that there's an undocumented restriction on Kindle books -- if you download them "too many" (where "too many" is a secret number) times to your Kindle or iPhone or whatever, you run out of downloads and can't get copies anymore.
  • Kindle's DRM Rears Its Ugly Head...And It IS Ugly. A Kindle user discovers the how many downloads is too many for his book collection.
  • Amazon vs. Apple: What Should E-Book Prices Be?:

    The iPad is exciting not as a way to sell or read books as they currently exist but as a tool for reinventing them as multimedia. The book angle also helps generate good press, since journalists are desperate for any evidence that writing will pay in the future. Apple doesn't need to maximize book sales. It simply needs to keep publishers happy enough to maintain an impressive sounding inventory of titles while waiting for entirely new forms of publishing to develop. After all, as Steve Jobs famously put it, "people don't read anymore."

  • The Amazon-Macmillan book saga heralds publishing's progress

    It will still be years before e-book technology matures and a sustainable business model emerges for the publishing industry. In the meantime, you'll hear lots of moaning and groaning about how the quality of writing and editing will decline, browsing for books will become a lost art, authors and their agents will be forced into poverty, and consumers will get hosed. Don't believe any of it for a minute.

    While markets have their flaws, over the long run they are good at executing these technological transformations. My guess is that in the not-so-distant future, best-selling authors such as John Grisham and Malcolm Gladwell -- along with unknown authors peddling their first books -- will publish their own works, contracting with independent editors and marketers and selling directly to consumers as much as possible. Other authors will turn to smaller, more specialized publishing houses that will offer smaller advances but bigger royalties and will be built, as they once were, around great editors....

    ...But at the end of the process, there will be fewer people who will be paid higher incomes to produce a wider array of products at lower prices. There's a word for that -- progress -- and it's exciting to see it unfold right in front of us.

  • Kindle, iPad, MacMillan, and the Death of a Business Model:

    What Apple and MacMillan and the others are doing is trying to preserve their existing business model by forcing the price of e-books to be high enough to not cut too badly into the physical book market. What Bezos and Amazon are doing is trying to cut the price of e-books to encourage adoption.

    Who is going to win? Bet on Bezos. The mainstream publishers can hold on for a while, based on reputation and while e-readers aren't widely available; there's still some prestige to being published by a reputable publisher like MacMillan. But eventually, some publisher will realize that a book that would have sold for $29.95 in a physical edition can be sold for the cost of the royalty, plus a small markup for production and administration. Our $29.95 novel would sell instead for $3.95. When that happens, except for coffee table books and an occasional print-on-demand hard copy, the physical book is dead.

    This weekend kerfuffle is really the death throes of a business model--traditional book publishers trying to preserve their traditional publishing methods for a little longer.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wringing More Cash From Holmes and Watson

I'm still reading copyright issues articles, and the collection keeps on growing. You could call this set "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Public Domain." If you shop for ereaders and ebooks, you'll find that they offer a few free books from the public domain, so that you can test out file formats, your download process, your software or your hardware. Every vendor and every website I've visited has included at least one of A. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories or books. The on-line community seems to see Sherlock Holmes literature as an archetypal public domain offering. That's why I was surprised to learn that intellectual property rights turmoil still surrounds the Great Detective. See these articles:

If people can be paid for their work, that's great. If their families benefit from their work, I'm for that. When descendants who never laid eyes on the artist keep work from the public domain, I'm less sympathetic, and when corporations do the grabbing, my sympathy runs dry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wobbly Pot Holders--Pleasures of a New Skill

After moving to the new house this past fall, I noticed my entire collection of potholders was pretty shabby. (I still have them--my Mom and I made them together, and I just can't seem to toss them....) However, Golden Apples has posted dozens of double knitting projects, including some truly inspiring double-knit cotton yarn potholders. I've been meaning to master double knitting, and in November, I hauled out some left-over cotton-wool blend yarn that I thought would have good insulating properties, and I turned to the Golden Apples' double knitting tutorial index to get going.

The directions were great, but the yarn was uncooperative. It had a history of unsatisfactory results, as the cardigans I made from it had all the droopy bagginess of cotton, coupled with wool's unfortunate tendency to pill. After a few false starts, I began to think of the true purpose of potholders--to give the novice fiber artist a vaguely useful first project. I thought of all the wobbly potholders knitted by little girls out of Grandma's yarn leftovers, and I realized I needed to be a novice at something once more.

I needed to crochet these potholders. My Great Aunt Cora taught me to crochet when I was 8, and in 1987, in a fit of February depression, I bought Maggie Righetti's Crocheting in Plain English and holed up in my Tacky Park garret until I'd used up all my leftover yarn on a cute hexagon motif afghan. (Easier on the liver than a drinking binge, and I used the afghan for years.) However, I had secret skill deficits--I couldn't crochet a plain square piece of fabric. I could crochet dandy button bands onto a knitted cardigan, and I could make motifs that started at the center, but I was helpless when a foundation chain was called for. What's more, my flat rectangles gained or lost stitches at the ends of rows, and I had no idea how it happened.

Clearly, I needed to take this obnoxious yarn and crochet square, flat potholders. I tried plain and fancy stitches, but I finally settled on single crochet, worked into the "back loop" only, which gives these cute little ridges, yet seems firm and thick enough to make a good potholder. With all the stitch testing, false starts, and lost stitches (Where did they go?) I began to wear out the yarn, so I just went ahead and finished the "rectangle," flawed though it was. Then I crocheted another rectangle, much like the first, perhaps a little less wobbly at the edges. I crocheted them together around the borders, which concealed some of the lost or gained stitches, and added a little shell border, which definitely looks better made in crochet thread than in this bulky pink yarn.

The next project will look better. I'm beginning to understand where to put the crochet hook at the beginnings and ends of rows. My place mats have the same number of stitches on every row, and their sides are almost parallel. It's really fun to explore something new. I love wobbly pot holders!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Snowflakes--"Gem Bestrewn Realm"

In all the years I worked in science, microscopy was my very favorite thing, so I was excited to find this timely video on a collection of early photomicrographs: Winter Forecast: Art to Blanket Region.

When it comes to photography, a Wilson Bentley image can be described much like his favorite subject, the snowflake: Each is one of a kind. After all, the Vermont farmer was the first to ever photograph one....At the age of 19, "Snowflake" Bentley jury-rigged a microscope to a bulky bellows camera and took the first-ever photograph of a snowflake....Bentley saw his microphotographs as more than scientific contribution. In a 1910 article published in the journal Technical World, he wrote, "Here is a gem bestrewn realm of nature possessing the charm of mystery, of the unknown, sure richly to reward the investigator."

I don't know what the kids are calling them these days, but when I was a member of the American Microscopical Society, we called them "photomicrographs," not "microphotographs." I found this wonderful article via /.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

My Linux Desktop--Compositing or Composting?

Whenever I figure out how to do something with Linux, or with other open source software I use, like the Gimp or Drupal, I write out what I did and post it here so I'll be able to find it when I (inevitably) have the same problem again. I have assumed that most blog readers skip these posts, so I was really surprised this week when I got a lovely email from a homesick West Virginian Linux expert in the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area. Hi, Andy and Tricia! If you're dreaming about a drive through Pocahontas County today, you'd better have really good imaginary snow tires!

By the way, I'm still fiddling with my computer. I've had Kubuntu 9.10 installed for almost a week now, and it solves the problems I was having with Lenny--mostly, incompatibility with new software I wanted to try--Calibre, Miro, Openoffice 3.x, and the latest greatest Web browsers.

Of course, whenever you try to change something in Linux-land, something else you didn't expect starts to cause problems. (Perhaps I should say "presents challenges." Doesn't sound so whine-y.) Some of this I chalked up to changes in the 4.3.5 version of the KDE desktop. However, as I poked around with the settings, I began to suspect that "something wasn't quite right." The "System Settings Desktop" menu informed me that "Compositing has been disabled." Once I realized it wasn't talking about mulch, I had to learn about Compositing Window Managers. Now, for the most part, desk-top compositing is eye-candy, and I can do very well without it. However, I needed to know "why" is was disabled, and couldn't be enabled. I also had some issues with embedded videos crashing something somewhere. Restarting Firefox usually fixed it, but a couple of times it took a reboot.

I found these two forum threads helpful:

These discussions made me think I had incompatibility between my video chip set, whatever driver the Kubuntu installer had picked out for me, and, perhaps, Xorg. Poking around in the "System Applications Menu," for information, I opened the "Hardware Drivers" program, which told me that there was a proprietary driver, "ATI/AMD proprietary Driver FGLRX graphics driver" that might work better than the open source version already in use. I installed it, restarted the computer (as directed), and looked with horror at a badly messed up display. I was able to shutdown -r now, and the second restart cleared up all the problems. I'm playing with the eye-candy settings now, and I haven't yet been able to make Firefox and Miro crash by playing formerly problematic embedded videos.

The lack of the right video card driver for this computer may well have been the root of my Debian Lenny problems, too.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Knitting Again, With Yarns from the Reagan Administration

2008 and 2009 were years of limited fiber fun for me. Building the new house and working several part-time jobs caused a time squeeze and cut into my blogging energy as well. I'm sure anyone who ever read my blog for knitting trivia has long since given up on me. But no matter how involved I get in other things, eventually I always get back into the textile game.

I had assembled a collection of yarn scraps to make these scrappy socks several years ago. This winter, when I was organizing my new closets, the bag turned up, and I remembered the color motif I'd intended for the socks. It seemed like the perfect project to restart my fiber mojo, especially because, in our nice new house, it is possible, even pleasurable, to pad around the floor in a pair of bulky socks.

These socks are made from crunchy, faux-homespun "hippy-girl" worsted weight wools, left over from other projects or bought from yarn-store sale bins during the Reagan administration. (Those were rough years for the hippy-girl market, and I took advantage of that.)

By the end of the Reagan administration, the shiny novelty yarns were also hitting the sale bins, and that's when I acquired this slubby, slippery rayon yarn. I've tried for years to find something useful to do with these rayons, but they are really impractical, and they look busy and unattractive in texture stitches or lace knitting. I knitted this pink rayon into a garter stitch scarf a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Books, E-Books, and Theft--Very Confusing

My collection of articles on copyright issues, the public domain, open source materials, and digital rights management (DRM) continues to spill over here from my work Website. Here are some discussions of "digital book piracy," as opposed to the offline pirates at the library.

Sherman Alexie has been very vocal about electronic formats for books, but I'm not sure I understand his position. Clearly, he wants to retain ownership of his works, because he derives a decent living from their sale. I can't object to that. We all want to live, and we all would prefer meaningful work. But that's a copyright issue--ebooks are subject to the same copyright laws as print books. He doesn't want his books available in digital format, but several of them are available--his publisher made that decision, just as the publisher chose cover art, fonts, formats, and all the other production details. Is he unhappy with his publisher? Maybe so--many authors are.

On the one hand, he's worried that ereaders and ebooks are "elitist," too expensive for poor kids like the one he used to be. On the other hand, he's worried about book stores being driven out of business, and book stores were too expensive for the kid I used to be (and the old lady I am now--I seldom buy a new book, and the copyrighted ebooks are too expensive for me to consider. I'm a loyal customer of Project Gutenberg.).

I don't even understand his testimonial about print books: " And all of my senses-sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste--come into play when I think and read about books. Books are tactile and eccentric..." I've always been a scrounger of odd books at the back of the library, or at the estate sale, or the used book store, and the books I've enjoyed the most have not always been a delight for the senses of smell and taste. My EZReader's copies of Dickens smell much better than the print copies, and they are easier to read, as I can control the page contrast and the font size and shape. Maybe Mr. Alexie will think differently when he reaches that age where all the typefaces get so small.

Most of the intellectual property I have produced belongs to the universities, the government, or the research institutes who payed me a salary while I produced it. This is probably why I like the Open Source ideas and products so much, and feel that the Internet should be more like a free library than like a cable TV channel. And whether it's in print or in electronic form, it's always possible to Steal This Book. (Google Books will let you read the first 45 pages for free, but if you want to read the rest, you'll have to buy it from one of the vendors they list. Ironic, no?)

Here are some discussions of book piracy, ebooks, and a bit about digital rights management:

  • A post from the MobileRead forum: Author Sherman Alexie Wants to Punch You in the Face:

    At a panel of authors speaking mainly to independent booksellers, Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, said he refused to allow his novels to be made available in digital form. He called the expensive reading devices "elitist" and declared that when he saw a woman sitting on the plane with a Kindle on his flight to New York, "I wanted to hit her."

    ....[W]hen given a chance to correct himself on his own blog, the only thing he apologizes for is the idea of hitting a woman; "I should have edited myself. I should have said, "I saw a man on the airplane reading a Kindle and I wanted to hit him." In this way, my joke becomes about my true object of fear, distrust, and anger---the Kindle---and not about the gender of the person reading the Kindle."

  • Later, Sherman Alexie Clarifies "Elitist" Charges:
    People are eager to portray me as being anti-technology, but that's not the case at all. I think the iPod is as vital as the fork and wheel. So I'm not even sure why I have this strange, subterranean fear and loathing of the Kindle and its kind....I rose out of poverty and incredible social dysfunction because of books. And all of my senses-sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste--come into play when I think and read about books. Books are tactile and eccentric. An eBook will always be a gorgeous but anonymous box. It will also be just a tool--perhaps an amazing and useful tool--but I don't want it to replace the book. And I'm worried that many people don't care about the book itself, and see the eBook as a replacement. And I'm worried that Amazon and other eBook distributors will completely replace bookstores....face-to-face interaction will become more and more rare. Sure, the Internet can launch careers, but there is a loss of intimacy that should be acknowledged and mourned.
  • And later still: Digital piracy hits the e-book industry:

    "I'd be really worried if I were Stephen King or James Patterson or a really big bestseller that when their books become completely digitized, how easy it's going to be to pirate them," said novelist and poet Sherman Alexie on Stephen Colbert's show last month.

    "With the open-source culture on the Internet, the idea of ownership -- of artistic ownership -- goes away," Alexie added. "It terrifies me."

    ....However, some evidence suggests that authors' and publishers' claims of damage from illegal piracy may be overstated. Recent statistics have shown that consumers who purchase an e-reader buy more books than those who stick with traditional bound volumes. Amazon reports that Kindle owners buy, on average, 3.1 times as many books on the site as other customers.

    Ana Maria Allessi, publisher for Harper Media at HarperCollins, told CNN, "we have to be vigilant in our punishment ... but much more attractive is to simply make the technology better, legally." E-book technology offers so many positives for both the author and the consumer that any revenue lost to piracy may just be a necessary evil, she said. "Consumers who invest in one of these dedicated e-book readers tend to load it up and read more," said Allessi. "And what's wrong with that?"

  • E-Book Piracy: The Publishing Industry's Next Epic Saga?

    While publishing e-books protected by DRM seems like a no-brainer solution to piracy, the idea has faced criticism from within the publishing industry and from consumers. First, publishers are weary of reports that the DRM technology used in the Kindle and the Sony Reader has been hacked, says Nick Bogaty, an expert in DRM technology for Adobe. Second, consumers are hesitant to buy digital books with inflexible DRM that ties an e-book to a limited number of e-readers.

    Critics say that the two providers of DRM-protected e-books, Amazon and Adobe, are stunting the e-book industry's progress. For instance, Amazon's Kindle uses its own DRM-restricted AZW e-book format. People who purchase an e-book on their Kindle cannot transfer it for reading on another, competing e-book reader from a different company.

    DRM issues get thornier when device makers, such as Amazon, start negotiating exclusive e-publishing rights for their product. Amazon signed a deal with best-selling business writer Stephen R. Covey to publish several of his books, including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership, exclusively for the Kindle. The company has also negotiated exclusive rights for Kindle e-books from author Stephen King and for a biography of First Lady Michelle Obama.

    The idea of exclusive e-book rights tied to devices seems as annoying as being allowed to play a particular new CD only on a certain company's CD players. But Ian Fried, the vice president of Amazon Kindle, has stated that Kindle consumers don't mind its DRM. That could change, however, as a predicted flood of new, rival e-readers hit the market in 2010, and Kindle owners think about jumping ship--only to discover that they can't take their e-books with them. Remember the backlash against DRM-protected content in Apple's iTunes store?

    Bogaty points out that Adobe, whose DRM technology is used by Sony and Barnes & Noble, is yielding to critics who say that its antipiracy technology is too restrictive. Adobe is loosening the grip of its DRM, allowing users to share e-books with friends and to read books on up to 12 different devices (6 desktop and 6 handheld).