The Beta Mousetrap   Leave a comment

Back, from outer space (aka Cornwall).

On Friday, which is a long time ago, I didn’t do much. I did some work, played AI War, and lightly worried about my impending holiday.

I also got a new toy, another one of my self-presents to make me think leaving the house isn’t such a bad idea. Just in case the humbugs weren’t enough.

It is a Bookeen Cybook Opus e-book reader, because all electronics should have silly names.

I’ve coveted an e-book reader for a while; living out of boxes makes you appreciate how much of a nuisance finding actual physical things, when you want them, can be. I also don’t have a bath, so don’t have to worry about dropping it in there. There are tens of thousands of e-books in the public domain that I’d like to read, and I don’t like reading on LCD screens. Also, it’s a fancy electronic toy and so I wanted one.

It’s small, light, and very nice to use. It is also, quite importantly, not a Kindle. Not that there’s anything wrong with Kindle-the-device, as far as I know, but I can’t be bothered with, and don’t wish to support, the whole DRM and being locked into a single device/shop thing. The Opus will read formats the Kindle won’t (epub, for instance), and it’ll deal with pretty much any shop other than Amazon (although the DRM puts me off most of them, too). It’s considerably smaller and lighter than a Kindle (at the expense of almost all features other than reading books), and it also only cost me £65 ‘cos Tesco had an offer on.

DRM gets on my tits. Once upon a time I bought a song download – I Wish I Were A Punk Rocker by Sandi Thom, grammar correction by me – and, because I was young and foolish and forgot to check, it came with that second-most obnoxious form of DRM: limited activations. Every time I changed stuff on my computer, I had to type in the activation code. Pretty soon, it stopped working. And so I decided: bugger that for a game of soldiers. Never buy anything with DRM if you want or expect it to last more than once. I was glad I’d learned from a single costing a quid or two rather than anything of import or expense.
DRM is just a load of fuss and bother. Ostensibly it’s for fighting piracy, but that’s obviously bollocks; for starters, pirates don’t have to deal with it, only paying customers. You’re penalising people for giving you money. And considering how easy piracy is, making buying stuff the difficult option? You’re a fucking moron.
Clearly, DRM is for “content providers”* to control what their customers revenue streams do with the products services they’ve bought rented, with the aim of increasing profits whilst providing less in exchange, whilst desperately clinging to a doomed business model. It’s a fight the music industry lost, the games industry is desperately trying to lose, and book and film publishers seem to be working on going the same way. They don’t seem to realise that what they’re selling is completely unnecessary, so nobody has to give them money (not to mention: anyone at least half-sharp can get it for free), and that being a twat to people isn’t the ideal way to gain goodwill.

There are very good reasons not to pirate things, of course. Not morals; morality is just fear of the consequences (and a fun way of bossing people around without their asking questions). Not laws, although they may provide the fear. As in anything else, it’s economics. And not the trite crap that’s usually pulled out: “don’t the people who made it deserve paying?” Oh shut up, you know fine well that in most cases the people who made it were paid before it was ever released. Not all cases, but in those cases – usually small companies, like indie game developers – they seem far less enthusiastic about pissing off their potential customers.

It’s because the people who finance these things don’t care about how good it is, how much it’s loved, its artistic value, or even about the people who made it. All they care about is how profitable it is. So, if you like something made by a huge company, and you want to see more stuff like it, buy it. If somebody uses a business model you approve of, pay them.

That is all. Rant over, back to my new toy. DRM’s irrelevant to that; there are more books on Project Gutenberg, and sites like it, than I can read in my lifetime; I don’t care if I won’t buy the latest book about glittery vampires or The [GREEK_LETTER] [NOUN].

E-Ink screens are weird, magical things. My Opus came with a picture on it, looking a bit like an optician’s chart. I thought it was a bit of cardboard or something, but soon realised – that’s what it’s like. It always shows something. Even when you turn it “off” it draws a picture on the screen (I discovered today that it has a proper “shut down” mode, but I’ve not tried it yet. That means: it was turned on in the box). It’s very odd, because it doesn’t look like an electronic device. Thirty years of glowing screens and monochrome LCDs have taught me that computers don’t display images on something across between magazine paper and newsprint, and watching it animate is quite the thing. It’s not even got the best screen going, but 4 grey shades at 200dpi is more than sufficient for black-on-white(ish) text, and even pictures look pretty good; better than newspaper quality. Reading from it is lovely. It doesn’t work in the dark, of course, but neither do real books.

The page turn speed’s fast enough – less than 1.4 seconds, in a quick test – and you get used to the screen flash surprisingly quickly (you can turn it off, but it stops the screen getting mucky and blurry so best not to). It’s almost not like electronics, ‘cos it works so well (even running Linux!) and looks so natural, which is a horrible way of putting it, sorry.
The only problem I’ve had so far wasn’t the device’s fault, but was with a book I converted from PDF with a bit of software called PDFtoEPUB; it was a horrible PDF, and PDFs are slow and don’t scroll nicely, so thought epub would be better. And it was… for a while. Eventually, page-turns started taking five, ten seconds each, so you started pressing buttons before you reached the bottom, but on sparse pages it could take longer to change than read. It puzzled me; it doesn’t take that long to re-draw the screen, what’s it doing? So I re-converted the PDF with Calibre, and huzzah! Everything fixed, and that was the book I tested the page-turn time in. I guess PDFtoEPUB didn’t put breaks in or something, causing it to have to parse the whole file up to the page you want every time. Calibre did it properly, and laid the book out neater to boot, so page-turns aren’t as frequent, with just a single very simple regular expression to chop the footer off. Now it’s a pleasure to read it.

Lovely little bit of kit, well worth sixty-five quid, and a good excuse to read all those classics that might make people who don’t know better think I’m educated and cultural.

* Don’t worry, I’ll bleach my fingers thoroughly after I’ve finished typing.

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