Archive for May, 2011

Are e-books catching on for all the wrong reasons?

Since 1985 digitized books have been creeping up on the market, but with the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and other readers — many of which allow you to download books in moments over wireless Internet connections — the paper book is fast be becoming a thing of the past. Consumers are beginning to prefer e-readers over paper books because of the smaller size, lighter weight, and lower cost to purchase a book. An e-reader itself is smaller and lighter than most single paper books, and can often hold dozens or even hundreds of books.

Taking a look at books exclusively, consider the following potentially backwards moves we’ve made as a culture.

Energy and environmental impact.

Traditional books are made of trees grown specifically for the purpose of making paper. Those trees are cut, harvested, and processed into paper. Then ink and binding are then applied to form a book. Once that book is made, there is zero energy cost for it to continue to exist. It will exist for decades, indefinitely even, with almost no energy cost to upkeep. When it reaches it’s end-of-life, it can be cleanly recycled.

E-readers on the other hand, are made from materials like glass, plastics, polymers, lead, copper, silicon, and various other chemicals and materials necessary for electronics manufacturing. Add the potential for more lead and mercury in the battery, and you have and expensive and messy manufacturing process, for a product that has a life expectancy of maybe 3-5 years. After all this, a frequent energy upkeep from coal or nuclear energy recharges the batteries for a few hours. Improper disposal can easy leave these products in our landfills or worse. The carbon footprint of e-readers is one that will never end: servers, infrastructure, manufacturing, and waste.

It’s mine. Or not?

When you buy a paper book, you do exactly that — you buy a copy of the book. You can read it, mark it up to your hearts content, and then shelf it to pull out when you’re ready. If you know someone interested in reading it, you can lend, sell, or donate them your book.

Think you can do the same with an e-book? Not even close. You don’t even technically own your copy — it’s licensed to your purchase account. You can’t sell it or lend it out, unless you want to hand over your e-reader. Lose access to your account? Vendor go out of business? You’re out of luck. In fact, you could argue that e-books don’t have the same physical, durable-goods properties that paper books have: Once you have the first, you don’t have to manufacture additional copies.

Technology Changes

While writing this article, I went to my bookshelf and found a book from 1975 (and I recall seeing a book from the 1960’s around here somewhere recently). I can still sit down and read it today, 35 years later. How much has technology changed in the last 10? Does anyone still use floppy discs? Does anyone still have a floppy drive for that matter? Probably not. So while you can still read a paper book from 35 years ago, you probably can’t read a floppy disc, CD, or hard drive more than a few years old. Technology changes so rapidly and obsoletes itself so quickly that using electronic storage for anything that we really want to endure time is an effort in futility. We’ve begun digitizing everything, even down to our medical records.

Inexpensive vs Cheap.

The low price of e-books has had almost unseen impact on books. Authors and publishers who choose to sell paper books are having a tough time with the low price of e-books. A $12 paper book can’t hope to compete with a $3 e-book. So what do the publishers do? They try to cut costs, starting with the paper. A website called Permanence Matters shows striking examples of the impact on book quality and longevity when publishers cut costs with paper. Instead of books which last decades, you end up with books which start to fade after just a few years on the shelf.

The speed of sales

Some authors now are deciding to publish e-books exclusively. Possibly to sidebar the cost of printed publication, or because the lower cost of e-books will help them sell more units faster”? What does that mean for the longevity of their books? Or the establishment of a lasting name for them as a respected author?

E-book publishers can’t expect their books to be around for more than a few years, or even to get a lasting reputation as a writer. Why? Readers are likely to read their books, and then delete them off their readers when the next piece of interest comes along. An e-book isn’t the thing that can sit on a shelf or get passed on to someone as a source of inspiration or simply as a good read, or for that matter, can be picked up a few years later with a quiet “I forgot I still had this…”

Arr-gh!

If you want to steal a book you have to walk into a bookstore and steal it yourself, but e-book piracy is a much stealthier and harder to fight crime. People can pirate an e-book with little more effort than it takes to register for their favorite news site, without realizing the consequences of their actions. Some sites even claim to give away copies free, often times during “limited time giveaways”, which are simply fronts for piracy, and can put an unsuspecting consumer in danger of legal action for copyright infringement.

While the US has strict laws regarding digital copyrights, pirates find ways of circumventing these laws, often by having their sites and domains hosted in countries where copyright law is much less strict. This impacts authors and creates misconceptions for consumers who simply think they’re getting a good deal.

Closing up shops

Buying your books online has another consequence few people realize. Bookstores are closing up and people are losing the income that they need to make ends meet.

“The number of independent bookstores has been declining for some time, from about 6,000 in the early 1990s to about 2,200 today, according to the American Booksellers Association. Sales of all books are declining, down almost 8 percent in September, which followed a 6.5 percent drop in August.” — Source: StarTribune.com (12/11/2010)

The larger chains are actually clearing out paper books in an effort to sell more e-books.

“Barnes & Noble has already cleared space at the front of its stores to display the Nook and push e-books.” — Source: WashingtonPost.com (5/20/2011)

So readers, I’ll open it up for comments. Some discussion points:

  • How does the above article make you feel about the direction we’re going with paper books and e-readers?
  • Do you own an e-reader? How does it affect the way you read paper books?
  • Are you a published author? Have you published in traditional paper books or e-books, and why?
  • Do you have anything to add that I didn’t cover above?
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Ubuntu real-time syslog logging to unused console TTY

Without going into a full run down on Ubuntu TTYs and how they work, there’s a very simple way to have Ubuntu log events in real-time to an unused TTY that you can access with a quick keystroke. This gives you the ability to see log events in real-time for easier troubleshooting.

This probably isn’t news to some. as it’s already written in the configuration file and just commented out, but I always seem to forget how to enable it, and I’m sure some other people would appreciate this.

First, what we’ll do is enable syslog to log events to an unused TTY. Edit /etc/rsyslog.d/50-default.conf and look for the following section:

#daemon,mail.*;
#       news.=crit;news.=err;news.=notice;
#       *.=debug;*.=info;
#       *.=notice;*.=warn       /dev/tty8

You can use TTY8, but I prefer TTY12 for reasons that involve X. Change /dev/tty8 to /dev/tty12, and remove the # comment marks from all 4 lines to enable it. Save.

Restart the rsyslogd service:

/etc/init.d/rsyslogd restart

You could also use the upstart restart method:

restart rsyslog

Now you’ve got this set up, how do you view it? Press CTRL-ALT-F12 on your keyboard to go to TTY12 and view your real-time log. To get back to your X (GUI) session, CTRL-ALT-F7 or CTRL-ALT-F8 (X usually runs on TTY7, but can be running on TTY8 sometimes.)

Update 4/26/17:

Newer versions of syslogd may require a backslash or pipe symbol like in the two following example configs to work properly:

daemon,mail.*;
       news.=crit;news.=err;news.=notice;
       *.=debug;*.=info;
       *.=notice;*.=warn       |/dev/tty12
daemon,mail.*;\
       news.=crit;news.=err;news.=notice;\
       *.=debug;*.=info;\
       *.=notice;*.=warn       /dev/tty12

Any thoughts or comments on the above? Please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Leave a comment

Convert a VMware hard drive image between single-file and split modes

When creating a VMware virtual machine, you have two choices as to the format of your hard drive file: a single expanding file, or split into many 2GB files.

Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. The single file is faster for larger disks, but can’t be used on FAT32 filesystems (4GB file size limit) and can get to be a challenge to move to another system once it starts getting really large. The split-file hard drive type is easier to move around and works on FAT32, but can suffer degraded performance when you get a very large drive of the files become fragmented. It’s also easier to manage backing up 2GB files rather than a single large file.

However, if you have a need, you can convert between the two types fairly easily. The following information is based on from a knowledge-base article at kb.vmware.com.

Before starting, make sure the VM is not running in Snapshot and is powered off.

To convert a single file to a split-file hard drive:

vmware-vdiskmanager -r  -t  

Type is one of:

  • 0 : single growable virtual disk
  • 1 : growable virtual disk split in 2GB files
  • 2 : preallocated virtual disk
  • 3 : preallocated virtual disk split in 2GB files

Example:

vmware-vdiskmanager -r winxp.vmdk -t 1 winxp-2.vmdk

Successful conversion gives the following output:

Creating disk 'winxp-2.vmdk'
Convert: 100% done.
Virtual disk conversion successful.

What you’ve just done is make a copy of the disk — the VM is still set to boot from the old disk image. In order to change this, simply edit the .vmx file for that VM in a text editor and change the line that pointed to your old .vmdk hard drive image to your new one.

Example:

ide0:0.fileName = "winxp.vmdk"

changes to

ide0:0.fileName = "winxp-2.vmdk"

Now you can save this file and power on your VM.

Please feel free to share questions, comments, or feedback in the comments section below. Thank you.

Leave a comment

Not receiving EPP codes to transfer out from Moniker?

If you’re using Moniker as a registrar, and go to transfer-out a domain, you should receive your EPP code via email within minutes after you set the domain to transfer out. If you haven’t, and you’ve checked your spam folder, you may want to take a look at your account settings.

Under Account Management > Email Preferences you’ll find the following:

Do not receive Order Confirmation Emails
This includes all new orders, domain/contact/nameserver management confirmations

If you have this checked, it will actually suppress sending you the transfer-out EPP codes. I learned this the hard way. I don’t know why suppressing EPP code emails should ever be available as an option but that’s just my opinion.

If you’re still not receiving your codes, and this checkbox is clear, you should contact Moniker support.

Leave a comment

Printer Warning: Printer: ‘cups-insecure-filter’

I ran into this particular problem in VMware: My guest OS would see my attached virtual printer, but whenever I tried to print anything to it, I would get the following warning:

Printer warning Printer ‘Brother’: ‘cups-insecure-filter’.

This never happened when I was printing locally, only in the VM. After getting some mixed informaton from searching, this is what I finally found:

cups-insecure-filter-warning – a filter or backend (or the directory containing the filter or backend) has insecure file permissions. CUPS will not execute programs with world write permissions or setuid programs. When run as root (the default), CUPS also does not execute programs that are not owned by root. – Source: cups.org

So I took a look in /usr/lib/cups/filter, and sure enough:

-rwsr-xr-x 1 root root 724784 2011-04-03 23:23 thnucups

That filter is setuid root. Cups notices this and refuses to process the print job. Easy enough to fix:

sudo chmod u-s thnucups

Tried a test page from the VM, prints fine. Ubuntu prints fine too. Problem solved.

Have anything to add to the above? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

,

Leave a comment

Google Talk via Empathy

Google Talk via Empathy is another IM protocol connection that needs a little tweaking with the settings to get to work. Here’s the run-down on what needs to be set:

Go to Edit > Accounts, select Add then Google Talk.

Fill in the name, optionally select remeber password and enter your password, then tick down the Advanced arrow and …

Check Ignore SSL Certificate Errors

Under Override Server Settings

  • Server: talk.google.com
  • Port: 5223

Check Use Old SSL

You should be able to connect now.

Questions, comments, and feedback are welcome, as always. I’m sure some of these settings are not needed or can be simplified, so I would appreciate any feedback anyone can share. Thank you!

,

Leave a comment

Dell A940 Printer on Windows 7

Someone recently asked me about setting up a Dell A940 printer for them on Windows 7.

After seeing that the Windows 7 Compatibility Center lists it as “Not Compatible” for both 32-bit and 64-bit, I wasn’t optimistic that it was going to work at all.

After plugging it in, Windows 7 identified the scanner function but didn’t want to have anything to do with the printer functions of the device.

After some searching, I found a post on the Dell community forums. It says that there are Windows Vista drivers for both 32-bit and 64-bit, which work fine on Windows 7 and fully enable both the scanner and printer functions.

Here’s direct download links for anyone who is looking:

According to the poster there, in order to get this printer to work well, you’ll want to have up-to-date .NET Framework and Java.

This strikes me as a little curious because Windows Vista and Windows 7 are based on similar driver architecture, and the device should be listed as supported. But, even though it’s not, the above drivers seem to work fine.

 

 

,

Leave a comment

How to check your hard drives SMART status using a Ubuntu Live CD

Checking your hard drive’s SMART status is a good idea if you’re running into issues that make you think the hard drive may be bad. In this scenario, I’ll be showing you how to use a Ubuntu Live CD to check the hard drive’s SMART status. This is good for situations where you either boot to the installed OS, cannot reliably install an OS, or cannot install a program on the installed OS to check it yourself.

This walkthough uses the Ubuntu 10.10 Desktop 32-bit CD to prevent issues that may arise from Unity. Download links: old-releases.ubuntu.commirror.anl.gov.

Assuming you follow only the instructions in this guide, the data on your hard drive won’t be affected by this check. However, if your drive is catastrophically failing, i.e. head crash, any disk activity may lead to further data loss.

First, boot off the CD.

Select your language with the arrow keys, press enter.

Select Try Ubuntu without installing

After a moment or two you will be at the GNOME desktop (Menu bar at the top and taskbar at the bottom). Don’t worry if it’s slow, it’s to be expected — you’re working off a Live CD.

From the System menu, select Administration then Disk Utility.

The Disk Utility window appears. On the left pane, locate and click your system’s hard drive.

On the right page, locate the field that says “SMART Status” — your drives status will appear.

If it says “Not Supported”, your drive (or host controller) doesn’t support the SMART protocol and can’t give you any information. However, it may take a few moments to refresh. You can always run the SMART tests to force it to check the drive again.

Once you’re finished checking the SMART status, shut down by clicking the power icon in the very top-right corner of your screen, or simply hold the power button on your PC for 4 seconds. Eject the disk and your PC will boot to the hard drive.

Questions or comments about using the Ubuntu Disk Utility to check SMART status are welcome in the comments.

, ,

Leave a comment

Ignoring hidden directories in CrashPlan for Linux

By default, CrashPlan backs up everything in your home folder including all hidden directories (directories starting with a dot (.). This would include some directories your probably don’t want backed up, such as ~/.local/share/Trash (your trash) and a bunch of other hidden directories.

Fortunately CrashPlan’s file exclusion feature includes a way to specify exclusions by regular expression. Simply go to Settings > Backup and next to Filename Exclusions click the configure button.

Check the box for Regular Expression and enter this:

.*/..*

Click the plus sign, then ok, then save again.

That will exclude all the dotted directories from your backups.

Reference: CrashPlan Support – Using Regular Expressions (regex)

Have any filename exclusions that you use on your backups? Feel free to share your rationale in the comments below!

, , ,

Leave a comment

How to permanently ignore a Windows XP update

In order to ignore a Windows XP update, you have to make sure Automatic Updates is NOT set to Automatic. Rather, set it to one of the following two settings (in Control Panel > Automatic Updates):

  • Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them.
  • Notify me but don’t automatically download or install them.

Windows will, upon finding updates, prompt you that updates are available but will not install them. This will give you a chance to ignore your selected update. If you want to force Windows to check for updates immediately, open a command prompt and type:

wuauclt /detectnow

Next, once the update is available and you’re prompted to begin the installation, select Advanced. This will show your list of potential updates in a checkbox-list format.

Uncheck the update you do not want to install and click Next.

You will then be prompted if you want to ignore the update. Confirm.

Questions, comments, and feedback are welcome.

Leave a comment