Category: Books


Yesterday I went to a Cory Doctorow book signing at Changing Hands.

He was promoting his new book, Homeland, but the talk he gave was more general. It dealt with his usual pet issues: overbearing copyright law and its impact on ordinary citizens, and spyware that attempts to control our computers and how it makes them and us less safe. A lot of it was about Aaron Swartz, the talented programmer who developed RSS, helped build Reddit up, spent the last several years of his life fighting charges from the US Attorney threatening a decades-long prison sentence for copyright infringement (when the copyright holders themselves chose not to press charges), and took his own life last month. It's a sobering story -- obviously depression is a complicated thing and it's foolish to blame a person's suicide on one single cause, but I think any reasonable person can conclude that (1) the charges against him contributed to his decision and (2) they were wildly disproportionate to his alleged crime.

Sobering stuff, but a good talk and mostly light despite ending on a heavy note. Nobody in the audience recorded it, but Doctorow said the talk's been recorded elsewhere and that he'd provide a link once it was uploaded to YouTube. (Edit 2013-02-13: Per Doctorow's blog, the version of the speech he gave the next day at ASU has been posted on ustream: part 1, part 2.)

Before all that, I was sitting in the audience waiting for him to come out onstage. I was reading a copy of Circle of Enemies; the lady sitting next to me asked if it was an urban fantasy novel and when I said that it was, she handed me her business card and said that she was an urban fantasy author as well. Her name is Kater Cheek, she's a former student of Doctorow's, and the urban fantasy novel advertised on her card is Seeing Things. I bought a copy when I got home; haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

I mentioned that I'd recently put out a few audiobooks; she hadn't heard of ACX so I suggested she give it a look if she's interested in producing any of her own.

I talked to Doctorow a bit about audiobooks, too, when it came time for the actual booksigning. The guy in front of me asked if Homeland would be released as an audiobook; Cory said there were no plans at present, because he won't distribute through Audible until they offer a DRM-free option, and Audible is 90% of the market. He said he's looking at options with the Humble Bundle; when I got up there I wished him luck on that, and added that a Humble Audiobook Bundle could be a great help to narrators like myself who don't really have an alternative to Amazon but don't like DRM very damn much either. (I mentioned that, while I sell books on Audible, I can't be their customer, because they don't support my operating system. Crazy.)

Anyway, I asked him to sign my Nexus 7 case, because that's where I keep most of his books.

For Thad -- If you can't open it, you don't own it!  Cory

Which is really a twofer, because now my case has not only a drawing of a skull and crossbones by Cory Doctorow...

Speck's logo looks like an asshole's also got a drawing of an asshole by Kurt Vonnegut.

(For the record, I haven't opened it but I'm pretty confident that I can. It looks easier than my Mac Mini, Wii, or old 60GB iPod, and I've opened them.)

Dinner on a Flying Saucer: My Third Audiobook

My third audiobook is available from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. It's called Dinner on a Flying Saucer and is written by Dean Wesley Smith. The publisher's description is as follows:

Sometimes, when a fella gets to help out with fightin' a war between two alien races, it's just not such a good idea to tell your wife. Sometimes the truth just isn't good enough.

This is my favorite of the three I've done so far. It's a good tall tale and it's got accents; I particularly enjoyed playing the husband as gregarious and over-the-top and the wife as quiet and deadpan.

Be sure and read my first audiobook post for some notes on Audible DRM. And you can discuss my audiobooks at Brontoforumus.

Slow Day

Fiancée stayed home sick today, so I didn't get a chance to record anything.

Dizziness not as bad today; cough/breathing a little worse than when I was taking the full dose of the inhaler, but I'm much more functional so I think I'll probably keep it at a half-dose for now.

Puttered around today. Applied for a few jobs, took care of my lady, worked out, read a bit of Little Brother since Doctorow's signing Homeland at Changing Hands on Sunday and I'm thinking about going. Worked on my Wii homebrew configuration a bit; I haven't gotten my replacement lens in yet but now I've set it up so I can play backups from an external hard drive or SDHC card. (Speaking of, it looks like Sony's trying to get rid of a bunch of inventory; the local Fry's has 16GB cards for $9 and I've seen similar deals online, too.) Seemed like an appropriately Little Brother-y thing to do, though I'm still hoping I can get my Wii fixed up to just play my discs.

Your Average Ordinary Alien: My Second Audiobook

My latest audiobook: Your Average Ordinary Alien, written by Adam Graham. Available from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

The description, in the author's words:

Kirk Picard Skywalker is an unemployed sci-fi fanatic who dreams of being abducted by aliens from outer space. One day his dreams come through and he's horrified to learn that the aliens are all too ordinary.

It's the story of an unemployed computer scientist and his long-suffering girlfriend -- can't imagine what drew me to it -- and gave me the opportunity to flex some comedy muscles and play three characters plus narrator. It's a fun read, a bit of good-natured but ultimately sympathetic skewering of fanboys, and it made me smile. It's also got a Christian message -- a bit outside my usual, more cynical milieu, I suppose, but "Work hard and be kind to people" is, I think, a sentiment most everybody can get behind.

Be sure and read my previous audiobook post for some notes on Audible DRM. And you can discuss my audiobooks at Brontoforumus.

Stray Thoughts

Bit of a sore throat today. Second consecutive day I haven't felt quite up to biking downtown for comics. Hope I'm not coming down with anything. I'm on a new inhaler (actually, I've started taking one I haven't taken in a couple years) but it started before that.

Speaking of meds, tried to buy my prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy last night, now that my COBRA's kicked in. They said my insurance card was rejected; when I said I was on COBRA they said I needed a new card. Today I called the COBRA line. When prompted, I entered the option for "I don't know my account number". So it asked me for other information -- first my zip code, then the month I was born, as a two-digit number. I entered 10 and it told me that was an invalid selection. I tried it again; it told me it was an invalid selection. Again and again. That was it. No other information, no option for exiting the loop; it just kept telling me that 10 was not a valid entry, and then telling me to enter the month I was born as a two-digit number. I tried 6-2, for the first two letters of October; I tried saying "October", "one-zero", "ten" -- same error message, over and over. Just for the hell of it I tried 11; got an error for that too. Then I pounded 0 until it disconnected the call, called back, and chose the option for "I don't have an account number" and was promptly connected to a human being.

She told me the pharmacy had been wrong, that my current card is the right one for COBRA, but that my insurance probably won't be processed until thirty days after I paid my first bill. Which is just grand, because my insurer took two months to get my information to COBRA in the first place. Man, health insurance in this country.

Speaking of horrible, kafkaesque looping menus, I also got an E-Mail from CareerBuilder asking me to fill out a survey. I usually do when they ask; I like to think it helps them improve their site, and sometimes they offer prizes.

But the goddamn thing was a mess. It kept asking me the same handful of questions, over and over again. Sometimes it would rearrange the order of the answers I could choose. I began to wonder if this was really a survey to see how I felt about CareerBuilder, or some grad student's psych project to see if my answers would change if the multiple-choice options were rearranged.

I spent about fifteen minutes at it, getting more and more of the same questions, and more and more complex and detailed questions that took longer and longer to answer, and then showed up again thirty seconds later -- and no, you couldn't just choose not to answer. Even if the question was "If you are currently working, how do you like your job?" and the options were "A lot", "Somewhat", or "Not at all" -- if you didn't select any of them, you'd get an error telling you you had to answer the question.

As you might expect, I did not answer the text-field questions more than once; when I started getting them repeatedly, I started putting in things like "I have already answered this question. If you need to find a competent Web developer to fix your survey, I know one who is currently looking for work."

It was about the time I noticed that the progress bar at the top of the page was actually decreasing -- it was at 55%, I clicked continue, and it changed to 53% -- that I finally gave up. I wrote something snarky in the last text box, hit Continue, and then clicked Exit Survey. They probably never saw my responses -- I'm guessing incomplete surveys aren't submitted -- but I did click Continue that one last time, just in case.

Other'n that, kind of a slow day. Got declined for an audiobook part (no big deal, that's part of the job; I'll record some more auditions tomorrow if my throat's better), called a contact for a job lead (left a voicemail). When my fiancée got home we took a trip up to Changing Hands; I bought a used copy of Starship Titanic (one of the few remaining Douglas Adams books I haven't read), and noticed that Cory Doctorow is going to be doing a signing next week. Guess you have to buy a book to get a ticket, so I suppose I should buy one of his books in print -- otherwise I guess I'd have him sign my Nexus 7, since that's where I've been keeping my copies of his books up to this point. Debating whether to go or not, but it would be fun.

Dinosaurs in the Home Depot: My First Audiobook

As you may have guessed from the various not-so-subtle hints I've been dropping over the past month, I've started recording audiobooks.

The first one, Dinosaurs in the Home Depot, written by Bret Wellman, has been released, and is available from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

The audiobook is 18 minutes long and delivers what it promises. There is a Home Depot. There are dinosaurs in it. The story does not waste time on details like why there are dinosaurs, why somebody decided to leave them in a Home Depot, or actually bothering to give any of the characters names (unless you count "the ugly giant" as a name). It's mostly people fighting dinosaurs with power tools.

If you want to give it a read before you buy, it's available for Kindle, or you can read it for free on the author's website.

It's also bundled with Audible's DRM. Staunch anti-DRM advocate that I am, I regret this, but there's nothing I can do about it except let people know before they buy. You shouldn't have trouble playing it under Windows or OSX, and there are clients for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry as well. I haven't tried it under desktop Linux yet; I've read that the Windows player works under WINE, though users have reported playback issues with recent versions. You can read more about Audible's DRM format at Wikipedia.

I've got two more audiobooks coming sometime in the next few weeks; I'll write about them when they're available.

Discuss my audiobooks at Brontoforumus.

Ahmet Emuukha Rodan

Ahmet talks a bit about his name, his dad's love of monster movies, and his children's book, The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless.

My Latest Barrier to Productivity

So yesterday I set up an external hard drive for my audio recording. Because as it turns out a 40GB hard drive is not a good long-term choice for audio production. (In fact I'm surprised I've gotten as far as I have using a 2005-vintage Mac Mini in the first place.)

Setting up an external hard drive turned out not to be as easy as it should have been. Pro Tools kept giving me a crypic "DAE error -9131", because apparently this is 1993 and it is still considered acceptable for a programmer to throw up an incomprehensible number for an error message instead of telling the user what the fuck is actually wrong.

An hours-long troubleshooting story short, I found the solution via Noize at Gearslutz. It involves not merely reformatting the external drive, and not merely repartitioning the external drive, but repartitioning it using the old, pre-OSX Apple Partition Map. (I also disabled journaling because another post somewhere recommended that, too. Plus that way I can hook it up to a Linux box and mount it read-write.)

After that, though, I had a good, fruitful few hours. And then I took a break and biked downtown. When I got back my voice was hoarse and I found I couldn't record any more for the day, but as it was I was already a week and a half ahead of schedule so I'm not too worried. And I came home to a note from my contact on the project about more possible work in the future.

It's early days yet but I've certainly received a lot of encouragement.

Loud Noises

Working on a project right now that involves some audio recording -- I'll talk more about it when I have something to show.

In the meantime, I'm going to talk about the actual logistics of recording.

I haven't rented out a studio; I'm doing this in my home office. And while I think I've got the acoustics set up nicely -- boxes of comics around the walls deadening much of the sound, blankets covering surfaces, the heat and all the fans turned off, and doing the whole thing on a very quiet 2005-vintage Mac Mini -- I'm still at the mercy of noises from the great outdoors.

Yesterday I got up, ate a breakfast bar, did 45 minutes on the elliptical machine while watching an X-Files, showered, and then sat down to start recording...and that's when a neighbor started using a weed eater. Damn it. Well, I was hungry anyway, so I went and fixed lunch (with an extra helping of Gas-X, because leaf blowers aren't the only background noises I don't want on the track) and watched Tron: Uprising.

Then I sat down and recorded for a couple of hours, mostly without incident. But as I was wrapping up the day's recording with some dead air (room tone), I heard a jet overhead. And then I had to wait for that.

And that's when my fiancée got home from work.

Clearly this is going to take some fine-tuning. I could try recording first thing in the morning and then working out -- but I don't have much of a voice when I get out of bed. I could shower and then record and then work out, but then I'd probably wind up having to shower again.

Anyway. Off to take another crack at it -- bit of a late start today but we'll see how I do.

...oh hell. Is that a fucking lawnmower?


Stuck a new hard drive in my cousin's computer, biked on up to Changing Hands to pick up my copy of Circle of Enemies, grabbed a bite of dinner with my grandparents. A little bit of the ol' job search in there, plus some work on a couple of projects I'll probably talk about a little later. (And my uncle grabbed me a copy of Dragon Quest 6 as thanks for the computer work; on the list it goes.)

Tomorrow: Uncle Garth's military funeral and maybe a birthday lunch for Grandpa if he's feeling up to it.

Something weird about my cousin's laptop: the trackpad didn't work properly. At boot the left mouse click behaved like a right-click; on plugging in an external mouse, the external mouse would exhibit the same problem for several seconds -- and then it would correct itself, and both the external mouse and the trackpad would left-click correctly. (But only the external mouse would right-click correctly -- I never got the right-click on the trackpad to work at all.)

Drivers were up-to-date (and I tried uninstalling and reinstalling them) and the Toshiba Value-Add software was installed. Any other Toshiba users have this problem?