Tuesday, October 13, 2009

That LibraryThing you do.

Ok, so the title is lame, but I am in love with LibraryThing. You may have noticed the LibraryThing widget I have posted on the blog. If you click on any of the covers they will take you to my on-line library catalog where my wife and I have entered all of our books. (ok, most of our books)

What is LibraryThing?

LibraryThing is a website that lets you put your books in an on-line searchable catalog. And if you have as many books as I do, you have said, "Hey, don't I have that book?" at times. Now, when in a used book store or garage sale, with LibraryThing, I can look up my on-line catalog from my phone, and find out.

Here is how it works.

First, you can get your free account, and try it out. Then you get a book. Type in the book's title or ISBN number and LibraryThing will look up the information about the book from Amazon, Library of Congress and other places and offer you some options from what it finds. You click on the cover that best fits your book, and LibraryThing adds it to your catalog.

Seem like a lot of work?

Not compaired to finding and entering all of the book's related information, author, publication data, genre, etc. And there is a cool barcode scanner that you can buy from them to make scanning in books even faster. And you don't have to do it all at once. You can sit down with a stack of books, scan or enter them, put them back on the shelf and do something else. LibraryThing will let you know if you enter or scan a book a second time. (it will let you, but it will also tell you.)

Among other features

There are book reviews, discussions, book give-aways, and other stuff the people at LibraryThing are adding to their site. But for me, the core feature is having an easy way to document what books I have, and access that on the internet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Hey, I just won the Nobel Peace Prize!

Click on it to see if you can win one too!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DRM and the Written Word

Okay, I have been musing over this for some time. (ever since the Amazon-Kindle-Orwell debacle) And as someone who likes to write, (blogs, stories, etc), and has some aspiration of getting paid to write, someday, maybe, if I am lucky. I have a dual perspective. But logic is logic. So here is my thought as I think this through.

1. What is being sold?

If I sell a car or a home, the purchaser receives title to the object being sold. They may resell it, or alter it as they see fit, (there are some laws that restrict some fringe alterations; jet powered car, creating hazardous areas in neighbourhoods, etc) and as the seller and former owner of said object I don't have any say.

I can even learn how a car, or house is built and go build more to sell to others. I can rent it out and make money from it. I can charge for rides and tours. Its mine, all mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.

(Okay, there are patent issues with innovations on the car, but the concept of car and house are not patentable. And I am okay as long as I don't say it is a such and such car/house, but one I made.)

We all agree that when we buy a house and find a chair inside, that the chair now belongs to us. But for some strange reason, the publishing industries of music, movies, and books think that we are buying paper and plastic, but the words/images/sounds that are recorded on them are not being sold.

But is that reasonable?

2. What rights are being granted?

Rights are basically like having conditions on the use of something. Sometimes houses come with these conditions. I had a friend once that owned a home that could not be sold, rented or in any way used by a fraternity/sorority. It was in the deed. That was a limitation on the rights that went along with purchase of the home.

Well books, music, and movies are not like houses and cars. They are more like sandwiches. By that I mean that they are not lived in and used for travel, but are consumed. Upon selling someone a sandwich, you would not expect that they would ever return it. (icky) And you wouldn't really be able to stop them making sandwiches that looked and tasted like it. But you would be able to stop someone from opening a restaurant and selling "Big Macs" if they weren't a McDonalds franchise.

3. In comes the concept of intellectual property.

From time to time I have worked where the employer made me promise not to use the information about their product to compete with them. This injunction always has limitations in time, space and industry. Likewise, if someone creates something like a song, or a movie, or a book. I should not be allowed to create copies and sell them.

Making money off of some one else's work without permission or compensation is wrong. It feels wrong, smells wrong and is just plain wrong. If you do this, you should be stopped. This is common sense.

On the other side, if I buy a book, or a song, or a movie, and invite some friends over and allow them to watch, listen to, and/or read it, I am not making money off of someone else's work. (And if I charge admission to a dance hall and play music, I am still not making money off of their work. Only if I sell it. And I actually wonder about this, but it seems to be okay with everyone.)

It is also permitted for me to resell a book or a movie, if we are talking about the copy purchased. So I can even make money on it if it is a rare item. This again is not considered taking advantage of another's work.

But what about activities that are not sales. Back to my party where I have books, movies and music freely available to my friends. Is this wrong? I don't see how. If we had to turn off my music, TV and hide all my books whenever I had guests, we would all be living very solitary lives.

4. Making copies for free, (a.k.a piracy, Argh!)

Okay, if I buy a Big Mac. And I take it home, and disassemble it and create a recipe that will allow me to make copies of this sandwich, I have not done anything illegal.

And if I were then to have a party where I gave people my reconstructed Big Macs to eat, would that be wrong. Really? For those who think this is LEGAL, am I not harming the McDonald franchise by providing a free substitute for their big seller, and thereby owe them money? For those that think this is ILLEGAL, I am using my own bread, meat, and special sauce. I am not selling them so I am not participating in commerce. These are not the same sandwiches, because they don't come in the logo emblazoned boxes but just on a plate. The whole experience is different, so why is this a problem?

So we mix in these perspectives with a handy dose of greed, guilt and other emotions and the argument breaks down.

5. At last I have a few words to say.

For starters, people who sell other peoples work without permission are pirates/criminals and should be stopped.

Also, if you don't want anyone to edit your movie, or share your song with a friend. Please don't ever record it. That is really the only way to keep it to your self. (this goes for writers and movie makers too.)

And everyone should respect that a good deal of work goes into producing things like books and movies and songs. And a great deal of money is made off of them. We really don't have starving artists because people are downloading their stuff. And we really don't have Digital Pirates that start out copying songs, and move to harder things, like parking in the handicapped spaces. Everyone should step back and look at how to make the system with electronic media equitable and fair to both buyer and seller.

But as you will see, this is mostly an emotional argument. So the only ones who are getting what they want are the lawyers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

About the Dark Knight

I wrote the first draft of the Dark Knight as an assignment for a writing class back in school. Afterwards it kind of stuck with me and I kept coming back and toying with the idea. I never intended it to be the first chapter of a book or anything like that. The character behind the voice will never appear anywhere else.

However, I have toyed with the idea of writing the back story behind this short story. These generally take two forms. First, I think that writing the story of the Dark Knight, how he was involved in the fall of the knights and his decision to rebuild them after their destruction was complete. Second, to write a series of short stories that all involve the world of the first knights and their progression and fall.

History of the Dark Knight:

The first option, of writing the Dark Knight's story has some challenges. It would be a longer endeavour, and would need to be the size or a novel to really work. And writing about a character that I have already decided will be a legend in his own time, means that I would be writing about Super Man, and yet need to keep him human and believable.

I don't shy away from this challenge, but it seems rather grand and I am not sure that I can pull it off. At least not as a place to start. For this reason I have not started this larger story, and have just kept his history in my head and in a few documents with notes and outlines.

Stories of the First Knights

This is easier to do in the first place. I can write sort stories. They are not major commitments that get in the way of my other Works In Progress that I am involved with.

I have actually started a couple of these short stories and will be posting them here. This has several benefits to the storyline. First, the stand alone stories are, well, stand alone. I don't have to maintain a bunch characters or a large plot vision. I can write a character, and then throw them away if I don't like them. I can write side stories to the existing plot line, and explore options and ideas within the realm of the major storyline and then discard them if they don't work out without damaging the larger story.

So that is the plan. I am going to write some short stories that go along these lines to explore what it is and how things work. Hopefully it will be fun to read and to discuss.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Darkest Knight

I hate funerals. I have always hated funerals. But this was the worst, I was speaking. I am standing in front of the room crowded with people. The dark surface of the coffin reflects my face as I look down at the black walls that conceal the shell of a man I had called friend. I look out over the people and open my mouth, but the words of the speech I had prepared are not the ones to come out.

“I had heard stories of the First Knights many times before, but none were as moving as when I took the oath and became a guardian myself. It is not just myth. When those who have been found worthy would gather with their teachers on the first night of instruction, the last of the First Knights would come and speak to them. We all know that the oath that Knights and Guardians have taken is to learn of hunger that none may ever starve, to learn of illness that none may die needlessly, to learn of war none may ever be oppressed by violence. The one who we call the Dark Knight was the last Knight that ever broke the oath. He was not the first.”

“I remember the night well. We gathered wood for a fire, and even constructed the makings of one in the center of a clearing. We worked most of the day without food or water, and then sat in a silent circle as the night fell. Our teachers spoke to us from time to time, reminding us to explore the feelings of hunger and thirst. This was the first exercise given to Guardians. These lessons made us strong in that they give us power over hardship. They made us weak in that they made us sensitive to our feelings and open to the suffering of others”.
“As we did this it got darker and darker. It was a moonless night. (All orientations are conducted on nights with no moon.) It became so dark that I could no longer see those sitting two feet away from me. Even in our slightly soiled white garments.”

“From somewhere well out of the circle came a man with a torch. He walked directly to the bonfire and lit it. Then he took his place in the circle with the rest of us. We sat in silence. Suddenly I made out the form of a man. He had just entered the circle, but even in the bright firelight I had trouble making out his size.”

“He moved very near the fire, more a shadow than a man. He wore the mantle of a Knight, even the dress sword at his side. But instead of being dressed in white like all the Knights I had ever seen, it was all in black. He began to speak.”

“I will not attempt to tell the tale as well as he did, or even relate that which we all know so well. But the way he told it left no doubt in our minds that he had witnessed the events first hand. And the sadness in his voice was not what I had expected of the most heroic figure in our history.”

“In the beginning there was chaos, and out of the chaos rose the First Knights. They brought peace and prosperity to all who had their society. But after a time there came to be a disputation as to what the correct interpretation of the oath should be. The first dispute was settled by the majority of the great council, but not all the Knights were satisfied with this decision. One knight in particular spoke out in resistance of the councils teaching. Such a thing had never happened before.”

“Some knights took his boldness as bravery and others followed him by reputation, for he was by far the most skilled of all the Knights. His fame had brought him much respect among the more part of the younger Knights.“
“When the council saw what was happening, that one Knight had taken it upon himself to overrule them, they called him to answer these charges. They pleaded with him to change his ways, and tried to reason with him as to the outcome of his actions. But he would listen to no one.”

“He left the council and the Knights. He and his followers called themselves the Dark Knights. They began to set up a separate authority in the fringe most territories. When the populace objected, they enforced their will with might.”
“The Knights could not stand by and let this happen without contest. They came to the territory claimed by the Dark Knights and stood for the oath and rule of the land. But fighting those that had been their brothers was too much for many of them, and they let themselves be overcome in battle. Soon the Knights were all but extinct.”

“There was a young man named Koren. He had been a Knight and when his instructor and mentor, the man whom he had patterned his life after left the Knights and started his own authority, he followed. But when the Knights were no more and chaos again reined supreme, his heart was broken. He entered the tent of his teacher, and challenged him to battle. His teacher had been a good teacher and had taught his students well. But Koren had talent of his own which was greater than that of his teacher.”

“With the leader of the Dark Knights dead and the council killed in battle, the Dark Knights fought among themselves. They would not accept the oath from Koren and soon were no more as well. The last of the Knights, and the Dark Knights was in the person of Koren.”

“Koren began again to train Knights and Guardians. But he no longer would be called by his name, or by the title of Knight. He had given up right to his name by his crimes against society. And given up the title of Knight of his own free will. He was the darkest Knight of the Dark Knights. He was the only Knight living that had killed his brother Knights. He said that one, guilty of crimes such as he, was not worthy of any title.”

“The man in black told us that he was Koren, the last of the First Knights. He judged himself responsible for the deaths of his brothers. He found himself guilty of the severest crimes against humanity. He condemned himself and was living out his sentence. He denied himself the comforts of company and companionship. He impressed upon us the importance of keeping the oath. Guardians during their internships, or those wishing to become Knights, would take an oath to preserve peace and life. He admonished us never to break the oath while it was binding on us, then he went around the circle personally to administer it to us one by one.”

“He moved around the circle slowly and silently. Even with the fire burning brightly in the center, it was hard to see him. In his black robes and armor, he looked like a bit of night had broken off and come alive. He blended in so well that one did not see his approach until he was standing before you.”

“He held a tablet with the oath engraved on it between us in his upturned hands, I placed my hands palms down on top of it. He spoke the words of the oath. Many of the Guardians in service were in tears and did not take the oath of a Knight, but only renewed their oaths of Guardianships. I myself cried many tears that night. For the man whom gave the oath was the purest, brightest, whitest Knight of them all.”

As I speak these words tears flow down my face and my throat closes. I stare out at the crowd of people that had come to his funeral. Many are here that owe him their lives. I owed him much more than just my life, and it was too late to repay him.