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Friday, October 31, 2014 9 comments

A Web of Vengeance (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Wilson woke up.

Spiders. Everywhere. In his bedroom.

The bugs had invaded his house lately, perhaps looking for shelter from the coming winter. Wilson had declared all-out war. He’d used bug spray, shoes, the vacuum cleaner… and they just kept coming. He had two of those “set off and leave” kind of bug bombs, in case things got out of hand.

“Time to go nuclear, you bastards.” Wilson tried to sit up, but thick layers of spider silk bound him to the bed. He cursed and struggled, trying to wriggle out from under the covers, but he was stuck.

Suppressing a scream, Wilson watched as hundreds—thousands—of spiders dropped or climbed onto the bed.

A weight on his feet. The queen had arrived.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 3 comments

Writing Wibbles

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

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.


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