I got a phone call at 8 AM Friday morning.

I was nervous when I realized who it was — it was the partner
of one of the people I was playing the concert with yesterday.
The last time I got a call from someone like that the day before
the concert, it was the wife of one of the performers saying he
had slipped on the ice and was flat on his back in bed and
couldn’t possibly get to and play a concert the next day.

So I was relieved when it turned out that this call was because
my friend wanted to borrow my crutches.

The story was actually somewhat alarming. She’s a fairly fit
person who climbs mountains and does folk dancing and ride a
bicycle for long distances. Two weeks before she’d been to a
folk dance weekend and danced 15 hours between Friday night and
Sunday afternoon and felt fine during and after.

For a couple of days before, her knee had been bothering her a
little, but then all of a sudden she went to leave work, and
pushed back the chair, and she couldn’t stand on her right

She was glad I didn’t mind loaning her the crutches. Until she
got them, she wasn’t able to move anywhere without assistance. So
she had to wake up her partner to go to the bathroom at night. I
said that was like having a dog, but she said the dog probably
didn’t whimper both to and from the bathroom. Actually it’s
probably easier with the human, because for the dog, you have to
put shoes and a coat on to take them out.

Anyway, I reminded her when she was being grateful that she
wouldn’t have thought to call me if she hadn’t been so helpful
during the six weeks I was on them — she regularly called to
see if I wanted to come to the supermarket with her, and went to
the pharmacy for me, and took me to visit Bonnie.

I was also glad I’d tested getting them out of the closet while I
was fit. They had enough ice skates and vacuum cleaners and
camping equipment in front of them that I wouldn’t have wanted to try
to do it standing on one foot. I’ll be more careful when I put
them back in the closet.

We don’t know quite what’s going to happen with my friend’s
knee. She’s had an x-ray, and it looks like torn cartilage or
maybe other junk in the joint. She has an appointment to see an
orthopedist next week.

Crutches aren’t so expensive that comfortably off people can’t just go buy
them, but they do take up enough space in a closet, and
reasonably fit people use them seldom enough, that it seems silly
for every household to have a pair. I think it’s something the
socialist model “From each according to his abilities; to each
according to his needs” should apply pretty well. So there
should probably just be a central supply depot that delivers a
pair when you need them, and then you bring them back there when
you don’t any more.

My rationale for keeping mine after the hip surgery instead of
donating them to one of the places that gives them free to poor
people, was that when you sprain your ankle, which I had been
doing every 3 or 4 years, people tell you it heals faster if you
use crutches and keep the weight off of it. I’d never tried that,
because of not having the crutches, but I was going to test it
out the next time my ankle gave out on me. It hasn’t given out
since the hip surgery. I hope that’s because the physical
therapy I got then, which focused more on balance than on
strengthening hip muscles, fixed the problem with my ankle, but
maybe it’s just having crutches in the closet makes it less
likely that you sprain your ankle. The same way carrying an
umbrella makes it less likely to rain hard.

Amazon and Macmillan

So far, the best comment I’ve read on the current war
between Amazon and Macmillan
, which has caused a lot of
books people would be buying and reading to disappear from the
Amazon shelves, is this
by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing.

He points out how ridiculous both sides look — both Amazon masquerading as a defender of
consumer rights by demanding low prices for ebooks and Macmillan
masquerading as a friend of the book industry for demanding that
ebooks sell at the price of hardcovers.

He says:

If true, Macmillan demanding a $15 pricetag for its ebooks is just plain farcical. Although there are sunk costs in book production, including the considerable cost of talented editors, copy-editors, typesetters, PR people, marketers, and designers, the incremental cost of selling an ebook is zero. And audiences have noticed this. $15 is comparable to the discounted price for a new hardcover in a chain bookstore, and it costs more than zero to sell that book. Demanding parity pricing suggests that paper, logistics, warehousing, printing, returns and inventory control cost nothing. This is untrue on its face, and readers are aware of this fact.

If true, Amazon draping itself in the consumer-rights flag in demanding a fair price is even more farcical. Though Amazon’s physical-goods sales business is the best in the world when it comes to giving buyers a fair shake, this is materially untrue when it comes to electronic book sales, a sector that it dominates. As mentioned above, Amazon’s DRM and license terms on its Kindle (as well as on its Audible audiobooks division, which controls the major share of the world’s audiobook sales) are markedly unfair to readers. Amazon’s ebooks are locked (by contract and by DRM) to the Kindle (this is even true of the “DRM-free” Kindle books, which still have license terms that prohibit moving the books). This is not due to rightsholder-demands, either: as I discovered when I approached Amazon about selling my books without DRM and without a bad license agreement for Kindle and Audible, they will not allow copyright owners to modify their terms, nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms.

…[lots of good stuff about the bad effect of DRM on the marketplace, LEC]

If Macmillan wants to flex its muscle on an issue of substance and moment, an issue that will make it the hero of readers and writers and booksellers everywhere, it can demand that Amazon, Apple, B&N, and all the other ebook readers allow for interoperability and remove contracts that undo centuries’ worth of book-ownership norms.

And if Amazon wants to throw its toys out of the pram over a consumer rights issue, let it announce that it will offer a fair deal for any book that publishers and writers will allow a fair deal — no DRM, no abusive EULA, just “This book is governed by 17USC, the United States Copyright Law. Do not violate that law.” Let Amazon label the books that are a bad deal for readers with warnings: “At the publisher’s request, this book is licensed under terms that prohibit reading it on other devices, selling it used, or giving it to your children.” And let them put a gleaming seal of approval on the books that offer fair terms and a fair shake.

And trust readers to make up their minds.

In combination with the Apple announcement that the new Apple
bookstore for the iPad will have a different proprietary
format for the books it sells, this has been a bad week for
readers of ebooks. I haven’t been buying DRM that can’t be
broken — maybe I should go back to not buying DRM that can’t be
*legally* broken.

I’m currently reading:

  • A hardcover from the library for my
    bedtime book (and dealing with the light and the reading glasses
    when I want to stop).
  • A DRM’d ebook from the library on my laptop for
    my reading downstairs.
  • A Project Gutenberg ebook on my Nokia
    for when I’m out of the house and don’t want to carry anything
    as heavy as either the dead tree book or the laptop

It would really be nice if the publishers of the hardcover and
the library ebook would sell me what I want to buy and put their
books out in a format I can enjoy on my device of choice. I’m
not the only person who wants this, and there are publishers (Baen for instance) who seem to
stay in business selling it to me and others like me. But it’s
not looking like either the big publishers or the retailers are
getting the message.

Stories from the polls

I was so interested in writing about the results that I didn’t
tell you a couple of stories about the voters at the polls last

One man came in and said he had a durable power of attorney for
his father and did that mean he could vote for him. I said I
didn’t think so, and so did the person I talked to at the
election commission. He came in with his father only a few minutes later, so it can’t have been a major hardship for the father to vote himself.

I had one of those for Bonnie before she died. It gave me power to do
some amazing things, like sell all the mineral rights under her
house, but I’m quite sure it didn’t allow me to vote for

One couple came in together. She was registered and voted, but
he was registered in Quincy, but she wanted him to vote in Cambridge
anyway. I explained that he had to be on our list, or we
couldn’t give him a ballot. She got hostile and asked, “So
you’re turning him away?”

I think I’m supposed to say, “No, he can vote by provisional
ballot if he wants to,” but it seemed better to just say, “Yes,”
and then explain about the provisional ballots being for people
when there’s some question about whether they’re registered or
not, and it gets counted if it turns out they were
registered. There didn’t seem to be any question that he wasn’t
registered in Cambridge.

The guy from Quincy looked like he was being a bit embarrassed
by his friend from Cambridge, and not only didn’t insist on
voting a provisional ballot but didn’t even take the Voter
Registration card that would have let him change his address to
Cambridge for the next time.

I’d bet on that relationship not lasting until the next
election, but of course some very odd-looking relationships do
last for years and years.

The Challenger Disaster — 24 years later

on the Boing-Boing blog reminded me that today is the
24th anniversary of the Challenger shuttle blowing up right
after takeoff.

I was working at Computervision, and heard about it on the
radio on my way to work. My most vivid memory from that day is
going into a co-worker’s office, where the radio was on, and
hearing about the children in Astronaut Christa Macauliff’s
class having watched it live. The co-worker, a father of three,
was visibly crying at the idea of 8 year old children coming
face-to-face with death in that way.

My memories of the congressional hearings are fairly vague, but
I did really enjoy the chapter about them in Richard Feynman’s
autobiography, What
do you care what other people think?

My third Challenger-related memory is from the Spring of 1990,
when I was standing in line in an airport behind two Republican
women. This was when I thought then-President Bush was going to
be in trouble at the next election, because one of the Republicans
was going on about his lack of leadership, and one example she
cited was that she hadn’t felt anything when he was talking
about the Challenger.

More about bashing the babies

In my post
about Psalm CXXXVII
, I said:

I think it’s important to remember that it isn’t just songs about not singing songs that war produces, but people who actually want to kill babies.

I just read something that suggests another point of view on
this. I’m reading Wolf
, a novel about the life of Thomas Cromwell, who
was an important figure in the government of Henry VIII.

The troups of the Emperor Charles haven’t been paid in long
enough to make them angry, so they run through the streets of
Rome, raping and pillaging and doing a certain amount of killing
people who are in the way of the raping and pillaging. But
Cromwell, who has been a soldier, is sceptical of some of the
propaganda describing what they’re doing (written by people in

Thomas More says that the imperial troops, for their enjoyment, are
roasting live babies on spits. O, he would! says Thomas
Cromwell. Listen, soldiers don’t do that. They’re too busy
carrying away everything they can turn into ready money.

So another thing war produces is people who tell lies about
what’s going on, so that people will believe there are babies
being killed and run out and kill or fund the killing of the
alleged baby-killers.

New Cambridge Public Library Building

[Cambridge library]

I finally got to the new building of
the Cambridge Public Library
, which opened in November,

It’s really pretty nice. Of course, it helped that it was a
sunny day — I’m not sure it would be as cheerful at night or on
a cloudy day. But just having enough space does make a lot of
difference to how pleasant the seating areas are.

One of the problems with the old library was that it was hard
to find things. The new one has a pamphlet with diagrams of
what’s on each floor. It was still a little hard to figure out
that the “L” floors were underneath the main floor in the
“Glass” building rather than in the “Stone” building, but after
I realized that, I had no trouble finding the fiction collection.

I didn’t check out the meeting rooms or the lounge areas. I
did sit down in the “New Books” area and check that my Nokia 810
could connect easily to wireless.

It’s obvious just by looking at the fiction collection that a
lot of old books have been deaccessioned. When I found only two
books by Elizabeth
on the shelf, I checked the catalog. It lists three
of her books as being in the Cambridge library, but all of them
seem to (for now) be in the Minuteman Library Network.

One problem with life in Cambridge recently has been that while the main
library building has been closed for the renovations, the old school
building used as a substitute home didn’t have enough air
conditioning to be a good place to go on a hot summer day. It
looks like this will solve that problem.

I’ve always liked the Richardsonian Romanesque old building,
but it clearly didn’t really have enough space, and I’m glad
it’s been joined by a pleasant new building. When the decision
was made to make an addition rather than move the main library
to a new site, a lot of people felt that a Central Square site
would have been more accessible to more people, both in terms of
where people live and where the public transportation goes. I
understand that point of view, but I’m glad the old library is
still there. (For me, Central Square is a little closer, but
not enough to matter.)

If you want technical discussion of the architecture, here’s an

Death of retail politics

Here are some observations about the recent special election
for senator in
reports that people who normally were asked to stuff envelopes and
make phone calls in Boston were ignored in the recent senate

Here’s a story from a Fall River Democratic activist about her
attempts to help Martha Coakley on the morning of the election:

Anyhow, Coakley headquarters was in the carpenter’s local office,
there was one carpenter’s official. one would-be local-boss and one
carpetbagger from the national democratic party. And they wanted me to
go out canvassing door-to-door. I told them I offered to do that last
week, they refused. They ignored that and made the set speech about
how the face-to-face contact will make all the difference. I told them
it might have last week, but after this last weekend they are all going
to slam the door in my face. I asked them whose idea all the attack
ads were, there were ISSUES they could have brought up. They said they
hadn’t watched them. There were Brown people standing on corners with
signs on my way down there, I offered to stand on a corner with a
sign. They said no, they said I had to go door to door. I said give me
something in my neighborhood, they said they would. They forgot
though, by the time they got the packet together they gave me
something in the other end of the city. It took them 40 minutes to get
the packet
together, it still didn’t have a clipboard or a pen. In that time 3
union people came in, from New Bedford, who
milled around a while and then were sent back to New Bedford, And two
long-time dem stalwarts, both of whom were as mad as I was, and who
both thought with me that standing on the corner with signs was the
closest thing to useful we could do. And were told absolutely
not. Signs don’t vote. Which is true.

One of them got a packet the same time I did, not in her neighborhood
but in a tough part of town she didn’t feel like going to. I went out
with her and grabbed a sign as I was going. We stood out front
discussing the situation for 5 minutes, 50 cars went by, ONE honked
encouragement to me standing with my Coakley sign. She and I both
decided we weren’t going to do the canvassing.

I will mention that for all the money they collected nationally for
this campaign, they didn’t even have a coffee pot in the office. Or
donuts, let alone something nutritious. They had a big bag of tootsie
rolls, and some little bags of pretzels. They blew all their money on
attack ads and robocalls.

They’re trying to launch canvassing today so they can claim they did
it when the machine hands out the next round of jobs. This campaign is
going down in flames.

I’ll stand out with my sign at a busy corner at lunchtime for an hour
or so. But that’s it. Hope you’re having fun.

The polling place I work at is in a large assisted living
facility. Any campaign that’s serious about doing retail
politics in Cambridge goes there and talks to the residents.
Since people have a lot to think about when they’re moving, they
often haven’t registered to vote at the assisted living place
and are still registered at their old address. A competent
campaign would have either gone there before December 30 with
some registration cards and helped people fill them out so that
they can vote in the comfort of the room next to the dining
room. A competent but dilatory campaign would have gone there
the week before and helped people get absentee ballots who
needed them. Neither of those things happened.

I saw nobody holding signs for either candidate on election

Neither campaign office answered their phones when people
called for rides to the polls.

The Brown campaign did have observers at both my polling place
and the count. The ones at the polling place claimed to have made some effort
to get one of the voters who needed a ride a mile away, but
didn’t actually get him a ride. (He ended up taking a cab.)

Note that none of the places I’ve reported information from is
a place you would expect a Republican retail political
organization, so the Brown Campaign may well have had a very
good organization somewhere else. But if Martha Coakley didn’t
have one in Cambridge, Boston, or Fall River, she didn’t have
one. Those are places a Democrat running statewide has to win
big, because even a badly run Republican campaign gets votes in
a lot of the other places.

A lot of the voters expressed relief that they were no longer
going to be getting the robocalls and having to watch the TV
ads. So the wholesale politics is probably just annoying
people, and not really changing their minds.

Part of the global explanation for all of this is that the
retail politics in Boston and Fall River (not Cambridge) is
usually done by the party machines, which apparently sat on
their hands for this one. Part of the explanation for that may
be that the Catholic Church is part of what runs the machines,
and they aren’t enthusiastic about candidates as aggressively
pro-choice as Coakley. But people like Kennedy and Kerry and
Patrick do something to get around this, and Coakley didn’t do it.

One of the things I’ve always said about politics in
Massachusetts is that the Massachusetts Democratic party is nothing like as
healthy as the Massachusetts Republican party makes it look. I
hope we manage to find a senate candidate in the next 3 years
who understands this and knows what to do about it.