26 February 2011

Link Sausages Delayed by Technical Issues

Well, I was forced to spend money on a new laptop — the old one fried last August, and a look at my productivity over the last six months just made things too clear. Thus, the last couple of days have been spent installing software, copying data, doing setup, etc. On to the link sausages (some of which are cooking slowly for dinner in a very proper German stew with dark beer at the moment):

  • "Johnson" offers some interesting comments on the myth that passive voice is always bad writing. The problem is not passive voice — which is, after all, a required form in many languages — but passive logic... and even then, only when the logic is being used to prevent communication by obfuscation and not to enhance communication by emphasizing the most-relevant material.
  • Some interesting news from the publishing/library/e-books world for which just about nobody is making all of the links. HarperCollins (a NewsCorp company) is unilaterally changing the terms of e-book licenses for libraries in two respects: Demanding user data (implicating the PATRIOT Act) and limiting each license to 26 transactions, after which the library must purchase another license. Of course, part of the problem here is that there is yet to be a standard for the form of e-books established, and that has led to some less-than-entirely-satisfactory systems like Overdrive. Imagine, if you will, that popular music in 1962 was struggling simultaneously with mono, stereo, and quadrophonic 33¹/3rpm LPs; 78rpm vinyl discs; 45rpm singles; 8-track tapes; reel-to-reel tapes; cassette tapes; CDs; minidiscs; MP3s; Windows Media files; and iTunes, at the same time as it became culturally mandatory to switch from radio to recorded music. That's an understatement of what things are like in e-books at present...

    On the one hand, I understand perfectly well why Harper is doing this. Some beancounter somewhere has noted that the "standard" is for libraries to expect to replace paperbacks after twenty-five-or-so loans, and twenty-six makes perfect sense to a beancounter who presumes that every e-book will be (a) based upon a paperback edition and (b) constantly on loan for a two-week period. (That libraries expect a great deal more durability from their casebound copies — and many e-books are based upon casebound editions — is something that I suspect the beancounter either didn't know or hoped would be swept under the rug.) That is, the 26-loan license is intended to guarantee to HarperCollins the same equivalent periodic income stream that it would ordinarily get over time from selling paperback editions to libraries.

    Then, too, I understand that HarperCollins's parent is among the more unethical publishing conglomerates on the planet (and that's up against some pretty stiff competition). Many libraries have stopped collecting much of the data that HarperCollins appears to demand precisely because of the undue civil liberties implications of the PATRIOT Act, which would otherwise allow federal authorities to get patrons' lending records essentially at whim and essentially just by asking for them. Hmm; wasn't there a potential Supreme Court justice who went through something like this to massive public outrage a couple of decades back with his video rental records?

    But what really irritates me about this story is that I'm reasonably certain that it's inconsistent with the authors' contracts. I just reread a relatively recent HarperCollins contract that included a "standard" (or at least "boilerplate") e-rights clause, and it does not appear to allow HarperCollins to transfer anything less than a permanent copy to a third party. Hmmm.

  • Paul Weimar ponders why fantasyoid speculative fiction seems to be overtaking sciencefictionoid speculative fiction in current popularity, and comes close to making some sense. The thing that he's failed to do is look at who's writing the books, and for that both his demographics argument and a side issue in his educational argument (that, outside of the elite and want-to-be-elite schools more likely to produce hoity-toity-ivory-tower-lit-fic writers, our universities don't train scientists to write worth a damn or humanities/social sciences/business majors enough core science to matter) should get a lot more attention. During the purported "Golden Age of Science Fiction," 80% or more of the authors had science and/or engineering backgrounds... or, at least, 80% or more of the authors whose works were reread after initial publication in pulp magazines, and all of the "leading" authors of the time accept Fred Pohl and Lester Del Rey had that kind of background. If you look today, or even a decade ago, that's simply no longer true. And things were even worse on the demographic front, with only one or two female authors of any real significance to the field as it evolved by the 1960s, let alone today, having been part of that authorial clique (specifically, Leigh Brackett and Catherine Moore). I'm not sure whether this counts as "chicken" or "egg," though...
  • The Borders bankruptcy proceeds apace... which is to say that there haven't been a lot of significant filings or public moves, but instead the action is taking place behind the scenes. The official meeting of creditors has now been set for 22 March, but that is virtually guaranteed to screw smaller publishers even more than they're already being screwed; a § 341 meeting in a retail-sector proceeding focuses on the interests of the large creditors (and the large lawfirms they bring to the meeting) almost to the exclusion of the small creditors (who are often unrepresented). The only amusing filing was an objection to the superpriority grant for debtor-in-possession financing (see The Definitive Work on Pain (2)) filed by a group of Texas tax authorities. What a surprise: The taxman cometh. Otherwise, it's been administrivia like notices of appearance, service of papers issues, and applications for (and grants of) motions to appear pro hac vice (which would be unnecessary if we just went to national lawyer licensing).