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Amazon FireTV

by @ 6:10 pm
Filed under: internet,technology — Tags: ,

amazon-live-tvSo we have wireless-ready TVs, wireless-ready DVD players, Roku, Chromecast, game consoles, and who knows how many other devices attached to our TVs.

Now here comes Amazon with its amazingly innovative Fire TV that does incredible things such as, wait a second, stream videos to your TV just like any other device.

Why again do we need this device? Must be the cool logo 🙂

My EPUB Journey - A Sort of EPUB Primer

by @ 6:00 pm
Filed under: technology,web,writing — Tags: , , ,

With the proliferation of the mobile devices, books have morphed into digital versions and are increasingly viewed in their digital rather then paper formats. To that end there are several popular formats for e- books. PDF, the well-established type from Adobe has been around for many years and still widely used for digital books, but newer formats have begun to supplant PDF as they are more suited to mobile devices. Of those, the most popular is ePub, used by almost all modern e-book readers, except for Amazon Kindle, which uses the KF8 or AZW formats.

With ePub content is optimized and can easily reflow as the user zooms in and out, making for a much smoother reading experience, regardless of the device . In a previous post I mentioned that iUniverse had uploaded my book to Google Books (now part of Google Play) along with its ePub version and how I was able to stop that. In doing so, iUniverse had managed to knock out my own upload from Google Books which I had done long before. I already had the PDF version of my book, so re-uploading that format was a simple task. Generating the ePub version to upload wasn't so simple, specially since I wanted to do that at no cost.

The first order of business was to get an ePub reader on my computer. To that end I followed Google's suggestion of installing Adobe Digital Editions. The product can be used to read eBooks and it has a library feature where one can create a collection of eBooks. Another product, Calibre, does the same and can handle other formats such as PDF and it has other features such as format conversion.

Adobe Digital Editions

Adobe Digital Editions

My first inclination to create the ePub version was to convert the PDF file of the book I already had. One of  the promising methods that I found was an add-on for OpenOffice. After installing OpenOffice and subsequently the add-on, I started the conversion and waited and waited and waited. After a couple of hours the process ended and I had a giant ePub file to contend with. When I tried to view the file in either of the ePub readers it became evident that the conversion result was less then stellar. The text was mangled and jumbled and the ePub was basically useless.

At this point I decided that conversion from PDF is an inexact science and most attempts would  not yield a usable ePub file. Fortunately I still had the original copy of my book as a Word file and figured that would be a much better starting point. What I found incredible was that Word itself has no means of exporting to ePub. Seems unbelievable, but that is the case.

Googling possible options I was back to the freeware product, Calibre. Calibre can be used as a digital library and a reader and it offers some simple conversion tools as well. This article shows how a Word file can be converted to ePub using Calibre. Following the instructions, I was able to tag the book chapters in Word, save the book as html and then make the conversion to ePub in Calibre. Finally I had the ePub version of my book and I confirmed this by loading it in both Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

Calibre

Calibre

Time to upload the book to Google Play and be done with this project. Google Play happily accepted the upload and even displayed a progress bar, but in the end it showed no indication that anything was uploaded. I tried multiple times and the result was the same, no indication that I had uploaded anything. What does one do when an app doesn't work, doesn't produce helpful error messages and there's no tech support? Check the help files. Therein was a mention of a product called EPubCheck which one was expected to use against ePub files to validate them before uploading to Google Play.

Seemed like long shot specially since my ePub was working fine with two different viewers, but there was little else I could think of. EPubCheck is written in java and requires JVM to run. Fortunately I already had JVM on my PC so I ran EPubCheck on my ePub file and a flurry of errors and warnings went flying by. How could I have ever been expected to fix all these errors when I didn't even know how to peek inside the ePub file? I ended up downloading a couple of ePub fix and repair utilities but none were able to rid the ePub file of its errors. EPubCheck kept spewing out the same errors over and over.

More online searches led me to a product called Sigil that actually let one open and edit ePub files. Sigil sure delivered. Finally I was able to open the ePub file, locate the errors reported by EPubCheck and fix them. Turns out EPubCheck was just being too picky complaining about some trivial extra fields that Calibre had added based on the original Word file. But apparently Google Play runs EPubCheck against every ePub upload and silently dumps those that don’t pass validation no matter how small the offense.

sigil

Sigil

There was one more revelation here that is noteworthy. While editing the ePub file in Sigil, it occurred to me that the files were in html format. That's when the whole thing started to make sense like an epiphany. The ePub format is actually a collection of html files together with some assets such as image and stylesheet files, zipped and renamed to a .ePub extension. One can open an ePub file by unzipping it and manipulating the files within using the plainest of text editors, like notepad.

One final validation check using EPubCheck and the file was now error-free. I uploaded the file to Google Play, received the indication that the file was received and a few days later, my book was finally available on Google Play in ePub format.

Book on Google Play

Book on Google Play

iUniverse, eBooks, and Copyright

by @ 11:14 am
Filed under: technology,Uncategorized,writing — Tags: , ,

back in June 2012 I received an email from iUniverse regarding my book, Financial Markets For The Rest Of Us. In that email iUniverse, my book's publisher, proudly exclaimed that they have converted my book to the EPUB format and have submitted it to multiple sites. Here's an excerpt:

We are glad to inform you that your book, Financial Markets For The Rest Of Us, has been successfully converted to a new eBook file format. This new eBook version, called EPUB, is quickly becoming the new standard for the eBook industry. iUniverse has submitted the new eBook file to our partner eBook vendors to increase the overall distribution of your book.

iUniverse sure made it sound like they did this to help me, the author, but in reality it was more of a self-serving action to exercise control and maximize profits. Eventually I discovered an even bigger issue to deal with than just their EPUB initiative.

A few months ago I noticed that the book I had uploaded to Google Books had been replaced by the iUniverse's PDF and EPUB versions. This meant that iUniverse was not only earning money from the sale of the paper and digital copies, but also from the Google ads displayed alongside the pages of the book online. I am certain that iUniverse was not sharing any of the ad revenues with the authors. Concerned, I contacted Google to inquire about this and was told that I needed to contact iUniverse and request them to stop their automatic list upload. That meant that iUniverse could circumvent my copyright, effectively preventing me from listing my own book on Google Books.

Eventually I was able persuade iUniverse to stop uploading my book to Google Books and regained control of the situation. It took a few months, but I am now back in charge for both the PDF and EPUB versions on Google Books. Google no longer displays advertising alongside the books' pages, so I must assume iUniverse's willingness to relinquish control was somewhat helped along by that fact.

iUniverse was once a decent company for POD (Print On Demand) publishing. Those were the times when paper books were the only choice and POD services were affordable, but that is no longer the case. iUniverse was acquired by Author Solutions, a company that owns other self-publishing businesses, the POD prices are now exorbitant, service is subpar, sales and marketing pitches are incessant and author payments are questionable according to many sources online. In addition the traditional paper book is no longer the only game in town, being slowly replaced by its digital counterpart, the e-book. E-book publishing is relatively simple nearly eliminating the need for a publishing company, although the publishing outfits won't admit this.

As for my book, while iUniverse continues to be the publisher of the paper version as it was from the beginning, I was finally able to bring the digital versions under my own control, allowing me to make my own decisions, be it to offer the EPUB version for a small fee on Google Books, or just make it available in its entirety on my own web site.

P.S. On my next post I will address how I created the e-book version of my book. It was an interesting journey in the world of digital books.

Apple Hitting Lows

by @ 12:36 pm
Filed under: business,computers,technology — Tags:

Apple shares hit a 52-week nearing $400/share today, even below some of the price points from when Steve Jobs was alive. The news surrounding Apple isn't very rosy. iPhone continues to lose market share to Google's Android, iTunes is losing market share to Amazon, and the PC/laptop markets are shrinking in general dragging Apple down along the way. Analysts aren't predicting a good quarterly report next week.

Now I admit to not being an Apple fan but the one force that was keeping the company firing on all cylinders was Steve Jobs and that is undeniable. When he was there the first time, the company was doing exceptionally well, when he was forced out Apple became a dud, then he returned and Apple came roaring back.

Now Jobs is gone once again and Apple continues on the momentum that he brought with him but that momentum is naturally wearing off. Jobs was a genius and a visionary and it is because of him that Apple has continued to do well much longer than I had anticipated. But eventually the vacuum of vision and innovation must show its effects.

I do wish the company well, but companies don't thrive on well wishes. Jobs was the secret sauce behind the resurgence of Apple and without him the inevitable must now happen. Apple will no doubt survive, but thriving doesn't seem to be the cards.

Tech and sexism

by @ 10:14 am
Filed under: law,social,technology

When I first read this story I thought the woman in the story was a self-serving, over-reacting simpleton. I still think she is, based on her own account of the events that led to her infantile reaction.

So this woman overheard two guys at a tech conference make jokes about forking and dongles, both tech terms with obvious sexual double-meanings. She snapped a picture of them and tweeted it along with a sanctimonious comment. One of the men was fired by his employer and the woman herself was eventually fired by her employer because she stirred up much negativity from the techies.

The backlash against this woman has been swift and severe.  I don't condone the threatening comments, so let's get that out of the way first. However this woman is a childish attention-seeker who pretends offense at something so ridiculously trivial that wasn't even directed at her. As a native Iranian I have heard my share of middle eastern jokes. I can certainly separate the lighthearted ones from the malicious ones and I've always felt secure enough in myself not to whine about it. Plenty of men and women work in the tech industry which is admittedly tolerant of some profanity, big deal.

I have a mother, a sister and daughters and if any of them did what this woman did and felt proud of it, I'd have no support for them. There's a difference between sexual harassment and dumb comments. If this inept woman didn't like what these guys were discussing she could have moved away or told them to quiet down. Instead she chose to shame and harm them by outing them. Well, I have sympathy for these men and disgust for the actions of this woman. It's not about having a thick skin, it's about having enough maturity and common sense and the woman obviously lacks both.

Well lady, I don't who you are and who they are, but in my eyes you are a whiner who gives a bad name to intelligent women who work alongside men. You don't stand for women in the workforce, you stand in their way, making them appear like weak fragile dolls that cry at the slightest disagreement. One can only hope the actions of this one weak-minded woman don't cause men to feel like they're walking on egg shells or that they must assume a different personality around women.

 

Amazon’s .book domain grab

by @ 7:00 pm
Filed under: internet,law,technology — Tags: ,

I'm not sure why anyone would see any reason behind Amazon's move to hoard a bunch of gTLDs (global top level domains), other than pure greed.

In a recent open letter (PDF) to ICANN, Association of American Publishers rightfully opposed granting Amazon the control of the .book gTLD. It states:

In short, Amazon makes clear that it seeks exclusive control of the “.book” string solely for its own business purposes, notwithstanding the broad range of other companies, organizations and individuals that have diverse interests in the use of  this gTLD or its second-level domains by others or themselves.

Well stated, but does ICANN or anyone else really need a protest  letter to recognize Amazon's true motives in hogging as many domains as it can?

Electric Cars To Make Noise

by @ 5:08 pm
Filed under: running-hiking,technology — Tags:

I don't like government regulation much but there are areas that concern health and safety where government regulation may not be a bad thing.

Making electric cars a bit noisier is one of those areas (Electric Cars Must Make Noises Can Hear Under U.S. Rule). As a runner and walker I have been startled by the noiseless cars a few times. No close calls for me and all my senses including hearing are unencumbered by modern gadgets. Yet I can see how the battery powered cars could pose a danger to people not hearing them or believing they are shut off and parked just before they dart out.

If this saves one life, and I'm sure it will save more, then the cost would absolutely be worth it.

 

Oracle's Java Bet

by @ 6:40 pm
Filed under: business,google,technology — Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago a judge finally ruled that Google hadn't violated any patents when it used the Java programming language in its Android OS. Good, finally someone wasn't intimidated by Larry Ellison and ruled based on logic rather than emotion. Word has it that the judge actually took some time to learn Java to have a better grasp of the dispute, impressive.

Now comes the news that Android has hit 900k activations per day and is well on its way to reach 1m per days. That may be in part due to some confidence that Android is now a safe bet, free from oracle's licensing threats.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Oracle acquired Sun and its assets. Even if some of those assets, like Java or MySQL, were under GPL (essentially free to use), that's counter to how Oracle operates. Oracle had hoped, and still does, to start capitalizing on the large market shares of these products. To that end it hasn't been successful, yet.

The latest Java lawsuit outcome is a great boon to developers and users, but one shouldn't bank on Oracle's defeat in Android's case as being the end of such tactics. Undoubtedly Oracle will be back for more. Given its past business history, Oracle is nothing if not undaunted and persistent.

Chrome Blesses SQLite

by @ 9:53 am
Filed under: google,technology — Tags: ,

Here's an interesting piece found on the Chrome browser (v17).  Fire up Chrome. Browse to chrome://credits/, scroll down to SQLite and click on "show licence" and this little praise pops up:

The author disclaims copyright to this source code.  In place of a legal notice, here is a blessing:

May you do good and not evil.
May you find forgiveness for yourself and forgive others.
May you share freely, never taking more than you give.

May I echo Chrome's sentiments on SQLite? It’s a superb and versatile database software deserving of every blessing thrown its way 🙂

Amazon Fire and Silk

by @ 9:08 pm
Filed under: business,technology,web — Tags: , ,

So amazon finally announced its so-called secret product last week. With much fanfare the world was introduced the new Android-driven tablet called Fire, featuring the Silk browser. Oh, the Kindle is still there too, and at a huge discount to its more glorious days, but who cares about Kindle now.

As usual there has been a self-serving announcement on amazon's homepage alluding to the fact that they work hard to save their customers money via lower prices. Really? If that's the case how come Kindle was going for five times the current price not too long ago. Hate it when businesses pull that phony we-care nonsense when everyone knows money is the main objective and prices are determined based on what the market bears and not some altruistic algorithm. Whatever, amazon.

As for the new keyboard-less tablet, get ready for your every move to be tracked and recorded by amazon. You see, the Silk browser connects to the web via EC2, amazon's vast data network, allegedly to "optimize" user experience. Of course that also means amazon will take a little peep and record what the user does online. What it'll do with that data is yet undetermined.

Note: Author holds a negative bias towards amazon based on previous experience.

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