Buying ebooks

On my list for later this morning is to boot the laptop into
windows and do several things I can’t do on linux:

  • Print the final tax returns from TaxCut.
  • Fix some annoyances with the Universal remote
  • See if it’s really possible to buy DRM’d books from Fictionwise and read them
    on a non-comercial OS.

The others have been discussed at length (taxes
and remote); this is the day for
my rant on the ebook marketplace.

I’m surprised that this topic hasn’t come up before, more than
two months into this daily blog, because a lot of the blogs I
read are devoted to rants about the publishing industry’s
benighted attitude towards ebooks. So I would have expected to
have wanted to rant myself before this, but it wasn’t until last
week that I felt the rant coming on.

What happened last week was the discovery that
The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit
and The Children of Hurin, but apparently not
The Silmarillion) is available in official ebook

I’ve had an illegal download for some time, and that’s the way
I reread it these days, but it certainly isn’t ideal — it
screws up all the letters with accents, for instance. So
although I’ve already bought it in both paperback and hardcover,
I would be willing to buy it again as an ebook, if that meant I
could read it on my device of choice (the Nokia

If you haven’t been following this topic, the major topic of
debate is the fact that many publishers and authors aren’t
comfortable just letting you download a book in a format like html
or text or various open book-specific formats that you
can read on any computer you can put it on. They feel that there
will be too much piracy, and they’re only comfortable letting you
buy their books if they have something called DRM (digital rights
management) attached to them. There are a lot of good arguments
against this point of view. The most concise summary of them is
that if you buy a book with DRM, you don’t own it, you’re only
renting it for an unknown length of time.

The conventional wisdom these days is that if you need to
convert a DRM’d ebook to something readable on an open platform,
the Microsoft .lit form is the format of choice, since it’s
apparently just a wrapper around some html. So once you’ve
unwrapped it, you aren’t any longer bound by the DRM limitations.

So when I found that Fictionwise didn’t have Tolkein’s books in
what they call “multiformat”, which means you can download any
of a number of open formats to any device you like once you’ve
paid for it, I attempted to buy them in .lit format.

The shopping cart was fairly confusing, but I manged to get to
where I could push a button to complete the purchase, but it
warned me that I should download a free one first to verify that
I would be able to read it on my platform of choice.

That sounded like a good idea, so I moved all the Tolkeins to
my wish list, and tried to “buy” the suggested free .lit

They had no problem letting me do a $0.00 purchase without
giving them my credit card number (don’t laugh — lots of
shopping carts won’t), but then when I went to
download it, I couldn’t because I wasn’t on a Windows

So in order to give them lots of money for a book I want to
buy, I have to boot an operating system I don’t want to run.

And then they’re surprised that ebooks aren’t taking off

If you do want to see whether you like ebooks, I recommend
getting started the way I did — either download works that are
out of copyright from gutenberg or manybooks, or buy non-DRM’d
books from Baen or

Maybe it will turn out that there’s a way to get DRM’d books to
work without booting windows, or that booting the windows
occasionally to do the download is worth being able to get the
books. If so, I’ll let you know.

Little Dorrit

I watched the last episode of the television adaptation on
Sunday, and finished rereading the book yesterday.

It’s a good adaptation, and the plot of the book is convoluted
enough that seeing the adaptation helps in reading the book, even
if you’re used to the
the convoluted plots of nineteenth century novels and soap

Of course, an eight hour TV show has to leave out a lot of
stuff from a 900 page book. I was especially sorry to lose the
impoverished music publisher. (He’s Mrs. Plornish’s father, who
at the beginning of the book is living in the Workhouse so as
not to take food out of the mouths of the Plornish

I think even the experienced adaptors who did this one chafed
at the restrictions, because the end seemed unusually
compressed, leaving us with no idea of what happens to several
characters who have been fairly carefully described (most
notably Minnie Meagles and her husband).

Of course, Dickens’ treatment of the business tycoon who steals
from one fund to pay off the investors in other funds and finally
loses money for all the main characters seems especially

The subplot where Miss Wade convinces Tattycorum (Harriet) to
leave her employment with the Meagles and live with her is a
little harder to translate to the twentyfirst century. One
reviewer suggested this was because of the hint of a lesbian
affair, but actually Dickens does hint at that. Mr. Meagles says
to Miss Wade:

‘If it should
happen that you are a woman, who, from whatever cause, has a perverted
delight in making a sister-woman as wretched as she is (I am old enough
to have heard of such), I warn her against you, and I warn you against

The problem is
that we are initially inclined to sympathize with Harriet for
feeling oppressed and ignored, where Dickens really believes she
should be grateful and submissive to such excellent people who are
being so kind to her.

Here are a few notes on things I picked up on on this reading
that you might not have noticed.

White Sand and Grey Sand
This is mentioned when Mr. Panks is hanging around the
Marshalsea while he’s researching Mr. Dorrit’s inheritance. He
explains to Amy and Mr. Clennam,

‘I am spending the evening with the rest of ’em,’ said Pancks. ‘I’ve
been singing. I’ve been taking a part in White sand and grey sand.
I don’t know anything about it. Never mind. I’ll take any part in
anything. It’s all the same, if you’re loud enough.’

It’s actually a round — the person who taught it to me thought
it was Ravenscroft, but I don’t find it there.

Prunes and Prisms
I first ran into this phrase in Little Women, where Jo says
to Laurie:

“Hold your tongue!” cried Jo, covering her ears. “‘Prunes
and prisms’ are my doom, and I may as well make up my mind to
it. I came here to moralize, not to hear things that make me
skip to think of.”

If I’d thought of it, I would have known it was a quotation, and would
have probably guessed it was Dickens, but I wouldn’t have
guessed anything as good as what Mrs. General tells Amy Dorrit
when explaining why it’s more genteel and feminine to say “Papa”
than “Father”.

‘Papa is a preferable mode of address,’ observed Mrs General. ‘Father is
rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form to
the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very
good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it
serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to
yourself in company–on entering a room, for instance–Papa, potatoes,
poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.’

I also learned a new word. It means having a florid, ruddy
face. It occurs describing the customers at the inn in the
Swiss alps:

The third party, which had ascended from the valley
on the Italian side of the Pass, and had arrived first, were four in
number: a plethoric, hungry, and silent German tutor in spectacles, on
a tour with three young men, his pupils, all plethoric, hungry, and
silent, and all in spectacles.

The derivation is from plethora, implying that the face is red because
of a plethora of blood.

Following up


I mentioned that I’d retired my winter jacket for the Spring on
Good Friday. This turns out to have been a
couple of days early, as there was a cold, raw wind on Easter
Sunday morning. Since then, my lightweight spring jacket has been
fine, though.


Immediately after the Opening Day game that I wrote about, the Red Sox all (except first baseman
Kevin Youkilis) went into hitting slumps, and the starting
pitchers all had trouble getting hitters out. Luckily, the
defense and the bullpen were solid.
Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe wrote an article saying:

So the day after Beckett said the Sox have to pitch
better, have to play better, have to do everything better, nothing
was better.

And a disgruntled fan commented:

I fully understand that it is early but like Yogi
Berra once said It can get late early!

This week they seem to have gotten everything better, and the
starting pitchers are pitching for 6 and 7 innings and the hitters
are hitting the way we expect them to.

More transcription woes

I didn’t get the corrections to Upon a hill right the first
time. All the parts ended at the same time, but for every
cadence, the cantus part cadenced later than the other two parts.
I didn’t notice listening to the MIDI file, but
when the woman singing that part, who’s a very experienced singer,
was having real trouble making it sound right, I looked at the
score, and made some more adjustments.

Handmaid’s Tale

Read the Mccarthy review after posting my review, I think the
book has gotten a lot more scary since 1986.

Chocolate Chip Brioche

I went to a large party last night and baked two batches of my
bread machine brioche, one with fruit and nuts
and one with chocolate chips. People liked both of them, but I
don’t know that I’ll repeat the chocolate chip one. One of the
points of that recipe is how much fun the dough is to play with,
and with the warm chocolate chips in it, it isn’t as much fun.

Following up

Logitech 550

I said in my first post about my
Logitech Universal Remote that there wasn’t an easy way to program it
under Linux. Further googling revealed that it might not be as
hard as I thought, since the actual interface is actually through
the Logitech web site
and you only need the command line to upload a file to the
remote. I have now tried this out.

I started with these ubuntuforums
for installing concordance and congruity. I haven’t had a lot
of luck getting udev to let me use devices as a user, so I also
used these
for running the programs as root.

The upshot is that it didn’t work. The web interface for telling Logitech what you want your
remote to do is the same as what you get running the program on
Windows, but on my system, running congruity on the file the web
program gives you to download doesn’t seem to change what the
remote does at all. YMMV.

But the good news is that the Logitech website does save
everything you did, and when you run their program on Windows, you
get the work you did on the website. So you can
do your programming at the logitech
, and then run the windows program to update the

So I have now fixed some of the problems I reported in my last
, about the volume control on the DVD and the aspect ratio
on the TV set.


The advantage of posting emails
to lists is that you do get comments on what you said. A couple
of people pointed out that you can get good scores out of
lilypond; it just takes some tweaking. I replied that I had
assumed that (and in fact I do it sometimes for non-renaissance
stuff), but that for me the badness of Lily’s scores is a feature,
since I don’t believe people should play from them.

You can read the whole thread (quite rambling) in the
lilypond-users archives for yesterday
, starting at the
contribution before mine in the thread titled “Re: Review of
Valentin’s opera”.

Transcription of Weelkes

I have uploaded the transcription I talked
about on Tuesday.


I made a quick post yesterday on the
grounds that I had to go do my taxes. I spent about 4 hours, and got the essential work done. There
will be another session for filing when I get an answer to a
question from my financial advisor, but the fiddly stuff about
finding all the records and adding up all the little pieces is all

The Amazon Download seemed complicated
compared to putting a CD into a drive, but maybe it’s because I’m
not really used to doing much on Windows. Once you got the tax
program downloaded (which required installing the Amazon download
program), you had to find the setup program, which they gave you
the filename of in a text document, so you couldn’t just follow
the link.

TaxCut made one fairly major blunder
which if I hadn’t caught it would have cost me several hundred
dollars in taxes and penalties. It didn’t ask me if the money I was withdrawing
from the Roth IRA was taxable or not, and just assumed it was.
I’m sure this is a bug. It took a bit of clicking to find the
place where I could enter the basis of the IRA, but I think I have
a reasonable number for the taxes now.


I implied a couple of weeks ago that I
didn’t think the MLB TV worked
very well. One of the things I had on while doing my taxes was
the Spring training game between the Red Sox and the Mets, and the
quality on my Mythbuntu box with the DVI
connection to the TV was quite acceptable.

Scores are now in PDF’s

It’s lunchtime and I still haven’t posted, so I’m putting up
something I wrote in email to the lilypond
users list

I mostly use lilypond for Renaissance polyphony, where the
original performers didn’t have access to scores, and I feel strongly
that modern performers can play better from parts, so that they have
to learn how their part fits with the others by ear instead of by

But having access to the score does help modern performers analyze,
and that analysis can certainly speed up rehearsals and maybe even
improve the performance. And I do produce a score in the
process of getting the parts typeset and proofread. And of course,
anyone who installs [the right version of] lilypond can print the
score as well as the parts.

For quite a while, I wasn’t putting the score PDF’s up on my site
at all, but now I’ve decided that the scores
Lily makes are so bad that nobody would be tempted to perform from
them if they had access to a nice part with good spacing and *a lot*
fewer page turns. So I have recently modified my scripts so that the
score appears at the end of the parts.

You can see an example in the PDF of Baldwin’s
A Browning

Transcribing from facsimile

It’s Tuesday, which means I have to get ready for the Cantabile
Band rehearsal, and I just finished guessing where to add time in
the parts for the facsimile I’m transcribing.

I had planned a nice post about my marathon train ride through
Germany, but it’s going to take until well past lunch to write,
and I have other things to take care of.

So that one goes on the spindle, and I’ll just tell you how
much I marvel that they ever got any part books right before there
were computers to take the notes from the parts and combine them
into a score for them.

It’s also surprising that the sixteenth century singers didn’t
care more that there were all those mistakes. In the case of the
Weelkes, I think they weren’t really reading the music the way we
do at all — they just learned it to get the basic tune and then
put the parts together they way they had to go. They knew the
style, and so they didn’t need every ending note to be exactly the
right length to know where to start the next phrase.

You’ll be able to see what I’m talking about when I put the
piece I just transcribed up (maybe tomorrow), but there’s an A
section where the parts are supposed to all cadence together, and
a B section where they all end together. In both cases, once I’d
entered the notes as they were in the facsimile, one part was
short — in the A section the cantus was a half note short, and in
the B section the bassus was a quarter note short.

In both cases, if you knew the style and were really singing by
ear, it wouldn’t have thrown you — of course the Cantus goes back
and starts the A section the second time the way it did the first
time, and starts the B section the way it’s written, even if the
Cantus final note should be a half note longer. In the B
section, the Bassus part was clearly doing the obvious cadence,
even though it was written a quarter note short.

So I doubt that Weelke’s singers had any problem with his
mistakes, but the Cantabile Band would have if I hadn’t fixed them.