Arr?

Science fiction author David Gerrold asked an interesting question on Facebook.

“Is it stealing if I download my own book from The Pirate Bay?”

I had to think about that one. And the best answer I can come up with is “It depends.”

Consider:

Let’s assume Mr. Gerrold owns the copyright on the book in question. Because he’s been around long enough not to have signed a contract that transfers the copyright to the publisher.

So, at first blush, it would seem as though he ought to be able to give himself permission to download a copy.

But, while he owns the copyright on the novel, he doesn’t own the book. His contract with the publisher (presumably) licenses them to produce and distribute a book. That is, either a bundle of pieces of paper with ink on them or a similar bundle of electrons in which the ink or the electrons reproduce the novel.

By that logic, the publisher owns the book, and Mr. Gerrold cannot simply download it.

But wait!

If this book is part of Mr. Gerrold’s extensive backlist, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s been offered for free to encourage the purchase of his other books. This is especially likely if it’s the first book of a series.

If it’s currently free, is it still theft to get it for free from an unauthorized distributor? What if it’s not free now, but it was when someone uploaded it to The Pirate Bay?

While you’re pondering those points, consider the question of royalties. Mr. Gerrold’s contract entitles him to a certain amount of money every time the publisher sells a book. However, (a) many contracts specify the royalty for ebooks as a percentage of the publisher’s net receipt on the sale–but if it’s being sold for nothing, that percentage is going to be zero. And (b) most contracts specify that no royalty will be paid on promotional copies.

On the whole, it seemed to me that the answer to the original question would be yes. But then one final point occurred to me:

Mr. Gerrold’s contract almost certainly entitles him to a certain number of free copies of his book*. These are typically the ones that wind up on the author’s shelves and in the hands of people who helped the author in some way. (For example, if Dad and I thanked you in the Acknowledgements in TRTT, that signed copy you should have received by now is one of our author copies.)

* In case you were wondering, authors also usually have the option of purchasing more copies from the publisher at a significant discount off the cover price. Such sales do not pay royalties, which makes for an interesting question. Given the online booksellers’ deep discounting habits, when you subtract the royalty from the actual price of a copy purchased through Amazon, it may actually be cheaper for the author to get his books that way than to use his discount with the publisher!

It’s usual for the author to take physical copies–nobody’s come up with a really good way to sign an ebook yet–but as far as I can tell, there’s no reason why one or more of them couldn’t be electronic.

So, if Mr. Gerrold hasn’t yet collected his author’s copies, it should be perfectly legitimate for him to download a copy from The Pirate Bay–as long as he remembers to tell the publisher to send him one less physical copy.

That’s How They Make Diamonds

A quick note on yesterday’s Mariners’ game: apparently the kid, better known as Andrew Moore, doesn’t have a problem with pressure. Seven innings, six hits, three runs, four strikeouts, and no walks. Not bad. Not bad at all. Welcome to the big leagues.

Not so much so for Max Povse who also made his MLB debut last night, coming on in relief for Moore: two-thirds of an inning, four hits, three runs, one strikeout. At least he didn’t walk anyone either. Hopefully he’s got that out of his system and he’ll settle down in his next appearance.

Anyway, the Ms are a game over .500 for the first time this season, in sole possession of second place in the AL West–12.5 games behind Houston.

The Mariners had excellent baseball weather. Really. IMNSO, a high in the low seventies and clear skies is just about perfect.

It wasn’t that nice here. Our high was 99. That was outside. Inside, upstairs where I hang out–because that’s where my computer is–it was hotter.

You know who else hangs out upstairs? Rufus.

Do you know what happens to cats when it’s hot?

Their bones turn into jelly, and you wind up with furry puddles of feline scattered around the floor.

Rufus, he’s no dummy. He found a spot directly in front of the air conditioner, and he spent the day like this:
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Yes, I made sure he was breathing before I took the picture. Just to be certain.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler. I can’t wait.

Neither can Rufus.

Should We Be Happy?

Weird game, baseball.

In what other sport would doing something legal–something that players do multiple times every day–provoke so much condemnation?

Yeah, I’m talking about last night’s Mariners’ game. Through the first five innings, the Ms looked a lot like my nephew’s Little League team at the plate. All credit to Justin Verlander of the Tigers; he had everything clicking, and he had a perfect game going.

Granted, there was a lot of game left. The chances that he would have stayed perfect the rest of the way were slim. Remember, there have only been 23 perfect games in MLB’s century-plus history.

Not to unduly prolong the suspense, with one out in the sixth inning and four runs behind, the Mariners’ Jarrod Dyson bunted himself aboard. No more perfect game. Five batters after that, the Mariners were only one run down, and Verlander was out of the game. The Ms picked up four more runs the next inning, and won the game.

Pretty smart move by Dyson, huh?

Well…see, baseball has this thing called the “unwritten rules”. That’s no different than any group, really. There’s no law forbidding you to pick your nose in public, but you probably don’t, fearing the scorn of society. Same thing here. The unwritten rules say you don’t bunt to break up a perfect game.

So, Dyson was violating the rules?

Maybe not. The problem with unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten. There’s no Moses carrying a carved tablet down from Cooperstown, New York after his interview with Abner Doubleday.

Some people say the rule only applies in the eighth and ninth innings. Others say it applies all the time–unless you’re down by less than three runs. Still others say “What the hell are you talking about? The only rule is ‘do what you have to to win’!”

Take your pick.

As far as the Mariners and their fans are concerned, though, the most important result of Dyson’s bunt and the team’s subsequent rally is that the Mariners are at .500.

Yeah, 37-37. The last time they were respectable was May 10, when they were 17-17. Before that? 0-0.

The All-Star Break is approaching. The actual midpoint of the season is even closer. And the Mariners have a chance to go over .500 for the first time all season.

That’s big, folks. Really big. Right now, they’re only a game and a half out of the Wild Card. Seriously. The American League sucks this year. It’s quite possible that the final playoff spot could go to a team with a losing record. Not likely, but possible. But in any case, the next few games will be a big factor in whether the Ms decide to sell off players to be better next year, or buy to improve now.

And there are the Mariners, winners of four in a row, looking to extend the streak. They’re going to do everything they can to get past that psychological barrier at .500 and turn themselves into winners, right? Go with their best pitcher and everything.

Well…

Actually, tonight’s starting pitcher is a rookie making his major league debut.

The Mariners’ pitchers have been injury-prone this year*, and part of their less-than-stellar record has been the inconsistent performance of the guys who’ve filled in. Making it back to .500 is a minor miracle, all things considered.

* To be fair, it’s not just the pitchers. At times it’s seemed like the entire team’s been on the disabled list–all at once.

But rather than working with the known quantity that’s gotten them this far, they’re going to take a step into the unknown. In a game that, in a very real sense, will determine the direction of the entire rest of the season for the Mariners.

No pressure, Kid.

Weird game, baseball.

Wrong Way

Warning: venting ahead.

If you didn’t agree with my opinions about the New England Patriots’ and the NFL’s handling of the Aaron Hernandez case, you might as well skip today’s post. Quite bluntly, it’s more of the same.

The bottom line is that there’s no longer any such concept as “innocent until proven guilty” in this country.

A couple of weeks ago, a man who lives in one of the communities near me was arrested. I’m not going to say anything about his race or the specifics of the crime because they’re irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make.

A report of his arrest was posted on Fugitive Watch. Mind you, he’s not a fugitive. He’s in custody, and as far as I can tell, he never tried to evade arrest. I’m not sure how reporting his arrest will help “solve crimes, apprehend wanted fugitives and provide education and crime prevention information” (as Fugitive Watch’s mission statement suggests). But I suppose we’ve reached the point where “It’s related to a crime” is sufficient excuse to ensure that the site always has new stories showing up.

But I digress.

I found out about the case when somebody posted a brief mention on social media, and included the statement that “I hope the authorities closed this ‘[type of business deleted]’ for good.” The business in question provides social and psychological services. The news story specifically says that the alleged offense has nothing to do with the business. Nor can I find any indication that there’s ever been a complaint about the company. But the poster included those quotes to suggest that it’s a fraudulent operation.

So, yeah. In Aaron Hernandez, we had a situation where an arrest was presumed equivalent to guilt. In this case, not only is the presumption of guilt, but it’s extended to include everyone who worked for the alleged offender.

In fairness, bail in the case is high, indicating the severity of the alleged offense and, presumably, that the judge believes he’s a flight risk.

Never the less, I find it immensely disturbing that an accusation against a business owner–again, accusation, not conviction–now leads to immediate calls to shut down his business, throwing the employees out of work*, and depriving the accused of the resources he needs to defend himself. And it’s worth noting that as of when I wrote this post, the company’s website was down.

* Per Glassdoor, it’s a fairly sizable business, too: 51-200 employees.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the accused man’s life is effectively over. He’s not just “guilty until proved innocent,” he’s “guilty in the court of public opinion.” Even if he’s acquitted–even if the accuser recants and the case is dropped–the mere fact that he was once accused will follow him forever.

And that’s just wrong.

Yes, the public has the right to know about arrests in their community. Secret arrests and secret trials are not a direction we want to go.

But that necessary transparency leads directly to this sort of situation.

I don’t have an answer. Just indignation.

High Drama

The drama and excitement is non-stop around here, folks. Consider this scene Maggie captured a few days ago.

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Something has Yuki fascinated. So fascinated he hasn’t even noticed the stray hair on his nose. The stray hair that will shortly cause him to sneeze so violently that his tail, normally curled at the end, unwinds to lie straight for nearly four seconds!

But who’s that lurking in the background?

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Why, it’s Rhubarb, carefully disclaiming all knowledge of where that orange hair came from, much less how it found its way to Yuki’s nose…

Meanwhile, out in the backyard,

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MM continues to prove that Carroll’s Alice was a remarkably unobservant young lady.

WQTS 11

Would you believe there’s a WQTS (Who QAed This Shit) story with a happy ending?

I’ll get there. But first, a tale that’s not so much WQTS as WTTWAGI (Who Thought This Was a Good Idea).

I’m calling out the Holiday Inn Express in Sedalia for gross violations of common sense in their handling of technology. And, just to be perfectly clear, I’m not talking about HIE hotels in general. As far as I know, these problems are unique to that particular location.

Let’s start with the hotel Wi-Fi. Finding good Wi-Fi in a hotel is a rare event, one that should be celebrated with parades and (hopefully brief) speeches by elected dignitaries. The Sedalia Holiday Inn Express’ Wi-Fi is not that sort. To be fair, once you get connected, it’s no worse than many other hotels’. It’s just that getting to that point is by far the worst experience I’ve had with, not just hotel wireless, but any public wireless.

Like most such, the SHIE uses a “captive portal” setup: once you connect, a web page launches, allowing you to enter whatever login credentials are needed. Many hotels either ask for your name and room number or a global password which changes periodically. The page is generally simple so it can display cleanly on anything from an old phone to a modern laptop.

SHIE has a huge page filled with text. That’s necessary because it offers three different ways to log in. Three.

There’s the traditional “last name and room number”.

There’s a numeric code. The web page calls it a PIN, but the envelope your room key comes in calls it an “Internet Access Code”. Calling the same thing by different names is just asking for trouble.

And there’s the third method, which requires half-again as much screen space as the other two combined. That’s because it’s only available to Holiday Inn Express Club members, and the portal login page has to explain all of the benefits of club membership, only one of which the ability connect to the Wi-Fi in any HIE hotel with your email address*.

* No password, at least not on the login page–I’m not a HIE Club Member, so I didn’t try to go any further–but the text strongly implied that all you need is your email address. Which means that if you know an HIE Club member’s email address, you can get all the free Wi-Fi you want in Sedalia. Assuming you want hotel-quality Wi-Fi. I wouldn’t want to download illegal images on something that slow, but if I wanted to launch a virus, how better than to do it through a hotel using someone else’s email address?

The login methods, all crammed onto the one login page. Any half-way competent user interface developer or QA engineer will tell you that having multiple methods of doing the same thing risks confusing your users. And indeed, while I was checking in, there was a couple at the front desk asking for help connecting their laptop to the wireless*.

* They were looking for where to enter that Internet Access Code. Remember, the page calls it a PIN. At least on a laptop they could see the whole page. Imagine how much zooming and scrolling they would have had to do on a phone before they even arrived at that level of confusion.

For the record, the desk clerk couldn’t help them. She had to call the “technical expert”. I left before I got to overhear that conversation. Must have been a doozy.

And don’t forget, by the way, that the portal was set up so you had to re-enter your login information every time you reconnected to the Wi-Fi. Go to dinner? Re-enter. Lose signal? Re-enter.

But enough about the wireless. Let’s move on to the computers in the so-called “Business Center” in the lobby. The hotel is very proud to have Microsoft Office on the computers. So proud, they put up a sign advertising it. And, to be fair, it’s a big step up from last year, when the only software on those machines was Windows itself. But let’s face it: Office is the least you can expect to find on the computers in anything that calls itself a Business Center.

I was impressed to see that the computers were running Windows 10. I was rather less impressed to see that they needed a password to use. Why bother? It’s not like the hotel was exercising any control over who uses the machines. I asked for the password at the desk–and note, by the way, that there were no signs telling would-be users how to get the password. Amazingly, the clerk knew it. It’s all lower-case, with no digits or punctuation, and it’s one of the first three words anyone of even moderate intelligence would try–and it’s not “password” or “guest”. I don’t know if they’re supposed to confirm that users are staying in the hotel, but if so, she didn’t.

So if you’re not limiting usage, why put passwords on them? If you want to exercise enough control to keep kids from tying the up all day playing games, just have the clerks glance in that direction occasionally. The computers sit in the lobby, no more than ten feet away from the front desk.

And it’s not like the password prevents people from mistreating the machines. I couldn’t use the first one I tried because some prankster had changed the password and locked everyone out of the machine. On the other machine, someone had created his own account, presumably so he wouldn’t have to remember the hotel’s password.

On many public computers, the USB ports are disabled to keep people from installing malware. Well-designed Business Centers have heavy-duty virus protection, but allow you to use the USB ports to transfer your work from your laptop to the computer. SHIE found a different security method: they put the computers under the desk, forcing users to crawl around on the floor to plug in a thumb drive. OK, so it’s not totally effective security, but it’s better than nothing.

The final blow? There’s no printer in the Business Center. Instead, there’s a networked printer hidden somewhere behind the front desk. Can you imagine what your corporate information security team is going to say about you using that printer to run off last-second changes to your presentation about buying the Holiday Inn chain?

sigh

OK, ready for that happy ending? This one really is a WQTS story.

This time last year, I wrote about Project Fi and how pleased I was with it.

I’m still happy with Project Fi, and when I heard about the Project Fi Travel Trolley shortly before my Sedalia trip I was totally charmed.

The Trolley, in case you haven’t already heard about it, is a glorified vending machine set up in several major airports around the US. It’s stocked with small items that might be of use to travelers: USB cables, luggage tags, sleep kits, playing cards, and–the real prize–fuzzy travel socks. Project Fi customers can get a free goody just by tapping their phone against the kiosk. The kiosk and your phone use NFC to validate your Fi account and generate a QR code. The kiosk then scans the code and dispenses the prize you wanted.

That’s the theory. In practice, somebody missed a bug.

Either there’s a hidden problem in the kiosk’s NFC reader, or nobody thought to test the scenario where a customer has more than one account on their phone.

Maggie and I both have two accounts on our phones. When we tried to use the Trolley, instead of getting QR codes, we got an endless series of browser windows opening, each of which informed us that we were logged into the wrong account. Logging into Google with the correct account did no good. Neither did any of several other methods we tried to convince the system we were Project Fi customers.

No fuzzy travel socks for us.

Our trip wasn’t ruined. Somehow we soldiered onward, cold toes notwithstanding. (For the record, temperatures in Sedalia were in the high eighties. Frostbite was not a significant concern.)

The happy ending?

I reported the problem to Project Fi support, who referred me to Swyft, the company that manufacturers and supports the Travel Trolley kiosks. Within minutes, I received an apology for the “bad experience,” an assurance that the issue will be investigated, and a promise to send us socks.

Now, it might just have been a bedbug letter. We’ll find out next time I fly through an airport with a Travel Trolley–I fully intend to see if they’ve come up with a fix. One can never have too many sleep masks and earplugs, after all.

But I’ll take a Happy Ending For Now–as long as I really do get my socks.

WWDC 2017

Did you realize it was time for Apple’s WWDC again? I confess that I didn’t–but then, I’ve been somewhat distracted lately. What’s your excuse?

Anyway, the conference was actually last week–the keynote was last Monday–so I was tempted to sweep it all under the rug and move on. But since WWDC is my big opportunity to give Apple their dose of the mockery I direct at Google I/O, I’d better not skip it this year.

So what joy and laughter did Apple promise us for the coming year? (Hint: Remember last year when I said “Maybe we’ll get something radically new in ’17”? We didn’t.)

The leadoff announcement was the impending arrival of Amazon Prime Video in Apple’s TV app and on Apple TVs. OK, that’s pretty big for TV watchers–most people, in other words–so there’s some legitimacy in making it the first announcement, but they sure didn’t spend any time talking about it.

“Here it is. On to Apple Watch.” The big news there is a new watch face powered by Siri. It’ll use machine learning to determine what information you need, depending on where you are, what time it is, what your daily routines are, and so forth, and update automatically to include that data.

That’s a heck of a lot of information I’d rather not have on my wrist, but maybe that’s just me.

Other new faces include “Kaleidoscope” for when you don’t want your life on your sleeve, and–in a followup to last year’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse faces–several Toy Story characters.

More usefully, the health-related watch apps are being updated to encourage users to get more exercise. More guided workouts. Data exchange with gym equipment. So now your watch will know when you’re cheating on the treadmill by lowering the incline.

Moving on.

Last year’s “Sierra” macOS will be succeeded by “High Sierra”. And yes, Apple did actually make all the pot jokes on stage. Not that that’s going to protect us from everyone else making them too.

The name itself is a clue to the revolutionary features built into the new OS. None, that is. High Sierra is all about refining Sierra. It’s full of minor tweaks; the keynote is full of words like “improved,” “better,” and “enhanced”.

OK, there’s some new stuff under the shiny cover. A new file system that should be faster and more stable than the ancient HFS when dealing with large drives and large files. The default video encoding will move from the HD-optimized H.264 to the 4K-ready H.265 (aka HEVC)*.

* Be aware that older computers, especially those that can’t offload video decompression to the video card, struggle mightily with H.265. Suggestions that the change is a move by Apple to sell new computers to grandparents who want to continue watching those iPhone-captured movies of the grandkids may have some truth behind them.

High Sierra will run on every computer that can handle Sierra–but I’m sure Apple would rather you bought a new machine. Or several. So they’ve got new iMacs which will include, along with the usual improvements in capacity and power, dedicated hardware decoders for that H.265 video. Ditto for new MacBooks. Oh, and an “iMac Pro” which Apple is billing as “the most powerful Mac we’ve ever made.” Or, as Tim Cook put it, “really badass”.

Moving on to iOS.

Messages will now apparently be stored in the cloud, so they’ll be available on all of your devices. With your phone, tablet, and desktop all binging at you, you can be sure you’ll never miss another message.

Apple Pay is integrated into Messages, allowing you to send money person-to-person. Handy, as long as you only share checks with other iOS users.

Siri will have a more “natural and expressive” voice–and an optional male voice as well. She (or he, I suppose) will also function as a translator. That should be very entertaining, given the well-known limitations of machine translation.

Lots of tweaks and improvements similar to macOS. I do like the addition of “Do Not Disturb While Driving” which will detect when you’re in a car and block most phone features. Yes, you can turn it off if you’re a passenger, which means you can also turn it off if you’re driving, but at least it requires you to take a few extra steps if you want to text behind the wheel.

And there’s new iOS hardware as well. An updated iPad Pro. This one has a 10.5 inch screen, right in between the sizes of the original iPad Pros. Apparently the old 9.7 inch model is going away, but the 13 inch model will stick around, albeit with some hardware updates to keep it at par with the 10.5 inch model.

More iOS changes, specifically for the iPads. A new dock for app switching, lots of drag and drop functionality, simplifications for the Slide Over and Split View multitasking modes. And–holy cow!–a new “Files” app that will apparently give direct access to the file system. It’s not clear how extensive Files is–whether apps will continue to have totally sandboxed storage, for example–but even a limited step in the direction of letting you control where files are stored is a big concession on Apple’s part.

Ooh, built-in machine learning-based handwriting recognition. I wonder if it’ll handle cursive as well as printing.

Most iOS devices that run iOS 10 will get 11. The exceptions seem to be the iPhone 5 and 5C and the iPad 4.

And, finally, there’s the HomePod.

As the name implies, it’s a iPod for the home, i.e. a smart speaker. Don’t think of it as a competitor to Amazon Echo and Google Home. It’s got some ability for home automation and the like, but it’s optimized to play music. Think Sonos on steroids (and with a pumped-up price to match).

As I said earlier, nothing revolutionary. But there are a lot of good tweaks coming, especially if you’re in the market for a new machine anyway.

Hard Luck Lady

Poor Sachiko’s had a rough time of it lately.

In recent weeks, she’s been assaulted by the vicious spinning thing…
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Pummeled by the evil pile of boxes…
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And eaten alive by the the dreadful green monster.
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Fortunately, as the smallest cat in the house, she’s well-practiced in being put-upon. She’s kept it all in perspective.
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A short nap later, no more than three or four hours long, she emerged from the belly of the beast, none the worse for the experience, and ready to face whatever fresh disasters the world has in store for her.

They’re Here!

I didn’t remember ordering anything, but there the box was. Being no fool, I let the security detail check it out. Once they assured me there was nothing in it that required their attention (translation: no catnip), I opened it.
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Yup. Author’s copies of The RagTime Traveler arrived safely before the release date.

Naturally, I needed a couple of pictures for posterity.

Rhubarb and Yuki were properly awed.
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Semi-Vacation

About the time this post goes live, I’ll be boarding a plane, heading for Sedalia and the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.

I’ve uploaded Feline Friday posts for the next two weeks–I know better than to leave y’all with no cats–but don’t count on anything else. There may be a few short posts. There may be a few tweets (If you’re not following me on Twitter, why not? I’m @CaseyKarp over there.) Or not. We’ll see.

Regular posting will resume June 13th.