Wednesday, October 15, 2014 2 comments

Writing Wibbles

I always feel like
somebody's watching me
(And I have no privacy)
—Rockwell

I had a couple of things to share this week—an interview with the creator of the #amwriting hashtag was at the top of the list—but something else reared its ugly adobe head, and vaulted to the top of the list.

Nate Hoffeider at The Digital Reader broke the story a little over a week ago. Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) version 4 “[seems] to be sending an awful lot of data to Adobe’s servers.” Most EPUB-based eBook readers on the market use some version of ADE, although I’m not sure whether any are using ADE4 just yet. Older versions are less intrusive.

How intrusive is this? Let me quote Mr. Hoffeider here:
Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe’s server in clear text. …

Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my hard disk, and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers. …

And just to be clear, this includes not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every Epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk.
(emphasis mine)

The Passive Guy, a lawyer who writes on self-publishing issues, has an excellent summary and links, both in the article and from readers in the comments.

Much of the outrage in the tech side of the community focuses on Adobe’s use of plain text. That is a little disturbing, yes—it means anyone who can put a packet sniffer anywhere along the path between you and Adobe can see all this data. But for me, it’s what the people owning the servers are doing that’s more important. Scraping your hard drive for eBooks makes ADE4 spyware, in my opinion.

When pressed for an explanation, Adobe finally said (in the typical corporate lawyer speak of any company caught with their hands in your pockets) that it’s part of their DRM, and they gave themselves permission to do it through their “privacy” policy.

Now I can already hear the Kindle haters shouting “Amazon does it, too!” Well, yes, Amazon does send some information back to the mothership, but there are (as I see it) three important differences:

  1. Amazon is pretty up-front about what their Whispersync feature does, and it gives back by letting you sync your books across devices. Adobe gives you nothing (or maybe they use the info to target advertising at you, who knows?). You can also turn it off at any time.
  2. Whispersync isn’t a DRM mechanism, at least primarily. It works just as well with non-DRM books sold through the Kindle store.
  3. Amazon doesn’t presume to scrape your hard drive, looking for any MOBI or AZW files you might happen to have, just because they feel like it.

To Panic or not to Panic (probably not)


Since I handle all eBook formatting for Green Envy Press, and I work in EPUB format, I’m pretty sensitive to the idea of some corporation scraping my hard drive and looking over works in progress. Fortunately, I don’t use Adobe software in any part of my production toolchain.

But this is the problem: if people with access (legal or otherwise) to Adobe’s servers were to target a publisher’s typesetting department, they could get advance notice of upcoming titles or other intelligence. Or they could target individuals for blackmail purposes. I find it quite likely that Adobe’s legal department will use this info to shake down unfortunates who land in some kind of piracy profile (whether they’re actually pirating eBooks or not)—or sell the info to large publishers, so they can do the shaking down. I also expect Adobe to “share collected information with our third-party partners” (i.e. sell information about your reading habits to anyone who wants to spam you to death).

On the other hand, this affects only a small but growing number of individuals—those who have been suckered into installing ADE4 on their computers. I don’t know whether any eBook readers use ADE4, or will load that Trojan Horse in a near-future update. Obviously, people in the Kindle ecosystem are immune (beyond the Whispersync issues I mentioned earlier). Apple’s iBooks ecosystem is also Adobe-free, or so I’ve read. Earlier versions of ADE are not nearly as intrusive, so you’re safe in that case as well.

Fortunately, and I’ve said this before, eBook DRM is ridiculously easy to disable. Buy your eBooks from any authorized retailer, strip the DRM, and use Calibre or a third-party eReader to read on your computer. Or buy from those of us who make sure the “use DRM” selection is turned off when we publish.

And then, there’s the technical fix: block the IP addresses assigned to Adobe’s servers at your router. Whether you use DSL, cable, or fiber to get your Internet fix, your router has a fairly simple way to set this up. Look for something like “outgoing filters” and add the addresses shown in the image below. Here’s what I’ve added to my DSL router, just in case:


That won’t stop ADE4 from getting all chatty if you take your laptop outside the house, but it’s a start.



If you haven’t tried my eBooks—DRM-free, available for both Kindle and the rest of the world, and priced to move—why not check them out? The Crossover is free, and the rest are cheaper than a large latte. And unlike a latte, you can enjoy them again and again.

Sunday, October 05, 2014 4 comments

Little Swingers

Meet Amelia, in the swing next to Mason. She refers to him as “my boyfriend.”

Just a-swangin'

This is a church thing. They sit together in church sometimes, and usually at the Childrens’ Sermon (where the kids all come up front). I first found out when she had her arm around him as they sat listening. Her grandmother and I were cutting up about it later. “She’s a little old for him, ain’t she?” I asked in my best fake Southern accent. She’s six, and her birthday was during the summer, so she’s definitely older than him.

They don’t do much more than sit together, sometimes hold hands as they go downstairs. Mason doesn’t seem to be fazed much by it; it’s just part of church for him. For their grandparents, it’s just one of those amusing things kids do.

But apparently, she’s a bit of a troublemaker at school. Seems like Mason’s inherited his father’s (thankfully former) attraction for troublesome girlies. One more thing to grow out of. I hope.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014 7 comments

The Boy and His House

The Boy closed on a house on September 15th. Over the weekend, we took a truckload (plus half a vanload) of stuff down to him. He and his bride had filled the back of her car on Thursday with a bunch of small things—plus Mason. They have a room set up for him, and I really wish I thought to get more pictures than I did.

But I got a picture of the front of their place:

Ready for Hallowe’en, I see…

Here at FAR Manor, I don’t have to put up spider webs. The spiders do it for me:

At least this one isn’t in the walkway

The Boy’s house is sitting on a little over 2 acres; he was showing us all the things he has planned (including a garden along one side). Amazing… he’s embraced this home-ownership thing big-time. The only downside is that it’s pretty close to his in-laws. Experience has taught me that such a location is hazardous to your mental health. But her dad paid cash for the place. The wife and I looked at each other at that news… I said, “I guess he married well.” If I got FAR Manor for free, I wouldn’t complain about it very much at all.

So October is here, and I’ve been taking the work laptop outside in the mornings when it hasn’t been raining. The mosquitos are a little plentiful, perhaps the result of a few buckets left out in the rain. I’ve dumped them out, though, so now maybe the spiders will do for the mosquitos.

Monday, September 15, 2014 9 comments

OMG WTF Lobster?!

Lobster's better sideDespite the goofy picture, this is one of the toughest kind of posts to write about.

So it seems that Lobster, a former inmate at FAR Manor who was kicked out a couple times for various reasons, ended up moving to Louisiana. His bio-father lives out there, and is in prison for drugs, and you could say in this case that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He (Lobster) has never had good impulse control, and one time trashed the detached garage in a drunken rampage.

So anyway. Louisiana. He’s out there in Livingston Parish. He moved in with a woman 20 years older than him, another thing that was a kind of pattern for him. They probably did drugs, rock and roll, and the other thing.

I have no idea what happened for sure, because there isn’t any detail, but M.A.E. got word from a mutual friend and said meth was involved. Whatever it was, I’ll just excerpt from the news article:

A Livingston woman was found dead on her living room floor Saturday morning in what authorities are calling a homicide. … [Her] lower abdomen and throat had cut marks – from what is believed to be a knife or other sharp object, authorities said.

And he admitted to it.

And this guy was living at FAR Manor, on and off, for several years.

I think I officially have the weirdest life among white-collar types.

Friday, September 12, 2014 9 comments

End of the Road (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Vincent “Van” Hendricks stopped at the curb in front of the old mansion. “This is crazy,” he said, for the eighth time since he grabbed his leather bag and jumped in his Impala. The twenty years he spent chasing Jan Meppel demanded he go, though. You are invited to my lair, the letter had said. Bring your tools, and friends if you wish, but I pledge that you will come to no harm by my design. Hendricks had chosen to come alone, but told several trusted friends where he was going that night.

Shouldering his bag, his feet carried him to the door while his mind continued to sift through the reasons Meppel would invite him over. Some treachery, no doubt, but he was prepared.

He raised his hand to knock, but saw the note: Hendricks. The door is open. Please let yourself in and proceed to the parlor. Help yourself to the wine and canap├ęs, and I will join you presently. He shrugged and followed directions. His bag held ways to test for poison, but the food and wine were safe. He poured himself a glass of wine, a vintage far more expensive than he ever bought for himself, and waited.

“Ah, Hendricks,” his enemy, this vampire, greeted him, carrying his own glass and seating himself. “I suppose you are curious why I invited you.”

“I’m sure you have a little surprise planned for me, Meppel.”

The vampire chuckled. “Indeed I do,” he replied. “I am here, you have come, and it is time for you to finish the hunt.”

Hendricks frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Then I’ll say it plainly. I want you to kill me tonight.”

Hendricks nearly choked on his wine. “What? Why?”

Meppel stood and began pacing the room. “If you include the days of my life, my pre-vampiric existence one might say, I am six hundred and fifty years old, and am bored beyond anything you can imagine. I seriously began to contemplate suicide—which for one in my condition, is a gruesome act indeed—about fifty years ago. Indeed, had you not come along, I would have likely done it before now. Evading you lifted the long boredom for a while, but now it has returned. I’d rather hoped you could have brought me down without my help, but it is not to be.”

“Kill you. Just like that. And you’re not worried about Hell?”

“Not at all. You see, I have no soul. Or rather, my soul went on to its reward with the death of my old self. I awoke into my new existence with my mind and memories, but my soul… gone. Amusing: the one part of me that was fitted for eternity departed when my second birth made me immortal. Such is the curse of the vampire.” Meppel drank and smiled. “I spent many years researching that problem, two centuries ago, and you are the first person to hear the answer I found.”

“That’s interesting,” said Hendricks, truly interested in spite of himself. “Evil without consequence?”

“Evil? You once likened me to a parasite, feeding off those like you. Does a dog call the tick evil? Nay, the tick does what it does to survive. What it is made to do. And I do the same. I may have fed on the unwilling. I may have killed those who deserved death. But never have I done what was done to me, and changed someone against his will.”

“What? What happened?”

Meppel drained his glass and set it on the table next to his chair. “I was in the employ of a merchant, in what you now call the Netherlands. This merchant owed favors to my father, and he persuaded the merchant to hire me on. I was not aware—nor, I believe, was my father aware—that my employer deeply resented my father. One night, he encouraged me to drink my fill of his wine, and I blacked out. When I awoke, it was to my second birth. He who had done this explained how my former employer had sold me, told me of my new existence, what I could do and not do, and so forth. He had a cadre of loyal staff, who also served as our food source. We fed them well, and they fed us in return.

“When whispers of our existence became too loud, we sailed to the Antilles. My master left me his worldly goods when he chose to end his own existence, and I moved on to the Americas. And now, I have reached the end of the road. You have what you need, I presume?”

Hendricks took a stake and mallet from his bag. “I do.”

“Where is your sword?”

“Sword?”

“To strike off my head after!” Meppel looked agitated. “You cannot tell me that you have hunted vampires and—bah. Use that one.” He pointed to an antique sword hanging on the wall. “The scabbard is around here somewhere. Take it with you when you go. You’ll need it when you go back and finish all the other kills you bungled. Will you need me to position the stake properly as well?”

“What? I—”

Meppel waved a ringed hand. “I am sure you know where to put the stake. To my chambers, now. Let us finish this.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 2 comments

Vacation Slides Along

On Monday, we signed out a paddleboat and took a little tour around the lake:

Faster, Granddad!

There's a beach area on down a ways, that has a slide going right into the water, and Mason was all hot to do that. So next morning, away we went!

Splashdown!

There's also a raft, not something I see a lot of here in the South, although lots of lakes had them up north. On Monday, I steered the paddleboat up to the ladder so he could climb up for a few seconds, but yesterday he wanted to swim out there. Fortunately, the lake water was reasonably warm. His floaties did the job, and he got a pretty good idea of how things were when I was a kid in summer. (I hadn't swam out to a raft in decades, so it was fun for me too.) He did get to shivering after a while, so I got him up on the raft and sitting in the sun for a little bit until he warmed up.

OK, I'll skim across the water and make the turn...

As you can see, we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. That was kind of a pity, but I guess with it being the week after Labor Day, all of the kids are back in school. I hope we can get over here on daytrips next summer; Mason already wants Daughter Dearest and me to chuck him off the raft. I told him he has to learn to swim without floaties first, so he has an incentive. He really wore himself out yesterday, and slept a long time, almost until 9.

Last night, we found a playground, and there was already a little girl his age there. Both of them were glad to have someone else to play with, so they let the parental units talk among themselves for a while. The downside of that is, Mason's now bummed when we go somewhere and there aren't any other kids around.

I'm not hurling, just spinning!

Too bad it's just him and me. DD is sick, and the wife is (as usual) tied up. I've got a little cold myself. But he's trying to get me to take him to the pool up at the clubhouse, so I need to leave this here. More vacation fun, you know!

Friday, September 05, 2014 12 comments

The Last Lightkeeper (#FridayFlash)

The knock sounded urgent. Farl forced himself upright, knees popping. He shuffled to the door, trying to tame his unruly tufts of white hair.

“Are you a Lightkeeper?” the young man on the other side blurted, the second Farl opened the door. He looked concerned enough that Farl could forgive his skipping his manners.

“I am,” said Farl, pulling the door open the rest of the way. He stood aside and motioned the young man to enter. “And you are?”

“Bin,” he replied. A common enough name. “Glad I am, that I found you at last.” Bin made to put his hands on his belt, but one hand strayed close to the dagger he wore to one side. He waved his hands for a moment, perhaps trying to decide what to do with them, then ended up clasping them before him.

“And I am here,” said Farl. “But let us have tea as we talk. Putting an end to any problem is best begun with a cup of tea, I have found. Take a seat.” He busied himself with serving his guest. A pinch of leaves in each cup, and the water was already hot. Is this the one, come at last? he wondered as he worked. He would have his answer soon enough.

“So,” Farl prompted, setting a cup before his guest before seating himself. “Tell me why you have come.”

“I am an emissary from Linden Grove, the last free realm,” Bin replied, sipping at his tea. “We are beset by the Dark, that now rules over all realms but our own, and hard-pressed. I was charged to seek a Lightkeeper and beg for aid, that we may repel them, but all of those near to us are gone.”

“I am not surprised,” said Farl. “For I am the last. My fellows have succumbed, some to fear. Some to treason.” He looked directly at Bin. “Many to treachery.”

Bin quailed. “It is true then? You are the only Lightkeeper left to roam the world?”

“Aye.” Farl smiled. “But the last is not least, and I am not powerless. I have set plans into motion that will drive the Dark into the deep fastnesses from which it came. Only one thing is left to do, and then nothing the Dark can do shall avail them.”

“Then there is still time?” At Farl’s nod, Bin leaped across the table and drove his dagger into the old Lightkeeper’s chest. “Fool,” said Bin, jerking the dagger out, “you have given the world into our hands at last…”

Bin’s victorious boast trailed off, as he stared at Farl’s chest. Instead of blood, Light poured from the wound.

“That was the last thing,” said Farl. His voice held both pain and satisfaction, and he managed a smile. “I have faithfully kept the Light, and now I may at last release it into the world.”

“No.” Bin backed away, eyes riveted to the growing torrent of Light.

“You have given the world its salvation,” Farl insisted. “Be sure to tell your master that, when your shriveled soul flees to its dark bosom.” The Light poured out of Farl, stripping away Bin’s disguise, revealing the hideous minion of the Dark beneath. As Bin screamed in pain and terror, the Light dissolved the minion’s hide, bones, sinew. The bodies of both Farl and Bin crumbled to ash as the Light burst forth, free at last.

“Now,” said the Light, in Farl’s voice. “The world shall know both Light and Dark, in equal measure. Thus, the people will choose which path they follow. No thralls, content in their bondage. No slaves, begging for release. This day, they become their own masters, now and evermore.”


In the last free realm of Linden Grove, as the brave folk prepared to make their final stand, a soundless explosion of Light burst upon them from the east. It rolled forth, slow and relentless, pushing back the howling Dark and leaving the folk confused in their victory.

This was the First Dawn.

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