Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Free eBooks From Your Local Library

Posted by Andrew at 8:19 AM on September 13, 2013

These are tough economic times and if you want to save yourself a few pennies, stop buying ebooks, join your local library and borrow ebooks for free. The OverDrive Media Console app lets you download and read ebooks offered by your local library for nothing, and if audiobooks are of more interest, the app can handle those as well. The OverDrive app is available for most common smartphones and tablets, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire and Nook tablets. If you have a Kobo, Sony or Nook ereader, you can still borrow books from your library but you’ll need to use Adobe’s Digital Editions to download via your PC. If you have a Kindle ereader, you’re out of luck.

The app can be downloaded from most app stores and directly from OverDrive if your device’s app store doesn’t host the app. In the first instance, the app asks you to find your local library via simple search. Poking around I was able to find libraries in UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, India and Japan, so it has worldwide coverage but I’ve no real idea of how extensive it is.

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For my library, I had enter my borrower number and again I assume it will be similar for most public libraries. Once you are in the system, you can browse for your favourite novels and authors, and then borrow the book you want. Before you can download the book, you’ll need to sign-up for an Adobe ID and put it into Overdrive’s settings. This is all part of the ePub DRM, but getting an ID is straightforward and free of charge.

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Obviously the range of books is entirely dependent on your library but I found a good selection of books available (several of which I already owned!) and once you’ve got your reading selection downloaded, you can swap to Overdrive’s bookshelf to see what’s available for reading.

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As a reader app, OverDrive Media Console is good. There’s a bit of delay when opening a book for the very first time, but after that it’s snappy. All the other usual features are there – typeface selection, font size, line spacing, colour schemes, animations, but overall it’s well done. Reading books is easy and a pleasure.

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So, if you don’t want pay for ebooks and you’ve a tablet or smartphone, download the OverDrive Media Console, join your local library and start saving money. It’s a no-brainer!

Is Google Stealing Our History from the British Library?

Posted by Andrew at 12:02 AM on June 28, 2011

The British Library and Google have partnered to digitise 250 000 books from the period of 1700 to 1870, an era of political change starting with the French Revolution and ending with the abolition of slavery. The press release from the British Library explains the project well but some are critical that the digital versions of these out-of-copyright books will not themselves be public domain.

Consequently, I approached the British Library’s press office to get an their view on the project and the issue of copyright. Here’s what I found.

First of all, the status of the original public domain books is as it was. They’re still public domain and can be viewed at the British Library: nothing has changed there. Second, the deal with Google is non-exclusive so if another organisation or individual wishes to produce a digital version, there’s nothing in the arrangement with Google that would prevent that from happening.

The non-commerical use wording in the original press release was the source of some concern. To clarify, the digital versions of the books will be subject to a non-commercial-use-only restriction for a period of fifteen years; this is much shorter that the normal copyright period. However, the exact copyright status of the digital version wasn’t made completely clear, but providing the fifteen year period is adhered to, it doesn’t appear if the detail of the copyright ownership will be problem.

The digital versions of the books will be available from Google, the British Library and some other European archives to which the British Library contributes. Broadly-speaking this means that the content will be free (at no cost) to any individual who wishes to gain access to the material from anywhere in the world via the Internet for research purposes.

So let’s get this straight…the public domain status of the original books is unchanged. Google bears the cost of digitising the works in exchange for fifteen years of (potentially non-exclusive) commercial use on books that are of limited interest and are a minimum of 140 years old. Anyone in the world with Internet access can look at the digital books for non-commercial use, instead of only those who could get to the British Library.

Overall, I can’t see that this is anything but a fair deal which balances the cost of the digitisation with commercial rights, while allowing access to those who are likely to actually benefit the most, mainly academics. There’s no doubt that we have to be vigilant for those instances where big business tries to take something to which it is not entitled, but I can’t see that this is one of them.

Hauppauge Colossus HD Video Recorder PCI Express Card

Posted by tomwiles at 8:07 PM on January 21, 2011

Ken Plotkin, the CEO of Hauppage (www.hauppauge.com), describes the Colossus HD H.264 Video Recorder PCI Express card for the PC. The Colossus card is designed to record high definition video from sources such as an X-Box 360, Playstation 3, as well as high definition video coming from a cable TV or satellite box via component video outputs on those devices, thus avoiding the DRM problem. The Colossus HD Video Recorder retails for $169 dollars, available in the first week in February 2011. According to Plotkin, the Colossus is the only recorder solution available that can record high definition video from component video outputs.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.

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What Breaking Electronic Locks Means to the Blind

Posted by susabelle at 6:46 AM on July 29, 2010

The Library of Congress, in a regular review of digital copyright laws, made a few adjustments last week.  They declared that jailbreaking a device is perfectly legal, that breaking code on games is okay for certain purposes (to fix bugs, for example), and that blind users have the right to break DRM in order to make electronic text available.

This last thing is a source of much rejoicing and discussion in the disability services community.  This very thing has been a huge roadblock for users of electronic devices, or eBooks of any kind.  Most eBooks, or eTexts, arrive in an inaccessible format such as ePub or PDF.  Most of the time, other software has to be brought in to extract the text from these eBook formats, so that the print impaired can use the text at all.  Having a legal right to do it removes some of the legal cautions that have been raised over the years when eText is manipulated to make it accessible.

Of course, in an ideal world, eText of all kinds would be accessible, but publishers cannot figure out how to do this without giving up their draconian DRM methods.  They are so worried that we will share what we get, putting them out of business.  Which, of course, has been proven to be a non-issue in the music industry (despite the fact that the RIAA still thinks it’s an issue).  And while I don’t mind taking DRM-locked files and making them accessible for my print-disabled students, the fact remains that there should not have to be a middle-man like me doing this.  If a student wants to go online and purchase an eBook to use immediately, just like anyone else, why shouldn’t they be able to?

At least now we know we won’t be sued or arrested for breaking DRM on these files.  That could open up a lot more doors for the disabled in the future, as they will no longer feel like they are breaking the law when they convert a DRM’d file into something they can actually use.

Music Downloads for Linux

Posted by Andrew at 10:02 AM on May 24, 2010

Last night, I downloaded some music from Amazon for the first time and I was both irritated and pleasantly surprised by the experience.  I’d gone to Amazon because I’m not an iPod owner and wanted to get some DRM-free music for playing via a DLNA media server and also my Palm Pre.

(I know this is a tech site but just in case you are interested, the tracks were “Heartbreak” by M’Black.  It’s a pumping euro dance track with a great vocal from Nicol – it’s going to be my summer theme.)

But I digress.  As I was downloading a number of tracks, I had to use Amazon’s MP3 downloader, which I didn’t like the sound of as I run Linux.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Amazon offers the downloader for four flavours of Linux, including OpenSuSE 11.2….except that I’m still on 11.1.  Tried the 11.2 version but didn’t work – too many missing dependencies.  If there’s two things wrong with Linux, it’s fragmentation and dependency-hell.

So I had to borrow my wife’s laptop and download the Windows version which worked flawlessly.  The downloader also added the tracks to the iTunes software library on the laptop (she is an iPod-owner) but I found you could easily turn that off.  The tracks were left in a download directory as well, so it was then simply a case of copying the tracks to the media server and Palm Pre for my listening pleasure.

Overall, I can see that if you are Windows user, the experience is flawless and gives the benefit of DRM-free music, quickly added to either iTunes or Windows Media Player libraries, but also direct access to .mp3s for copying to media servers or other music devices.  As a suggestion for improvement, it would be good if the album art was included in the download.

As a Linux user, slightly disappointed that you had to be on the latest version and if you weren’t, the options were limited.  Great that Amazon is at least supporting Linux in some shape, though.

Why I Like Amazon Music

Posted by susabelle at 6:26 AM on May 20, 2009

I have been a consumer of Amazon MP3′s for at least two years.  Probably longer.  I choose to buy music through the Amazon MP3 downloader above almost anything else.  One simple reason:  no DRM.

Amazon MP3′s can be downloaded for great prices, and they can then be burned to a CD, moved to an MP3 player, transferred to another computer, whatever you want to make your listening easier.  With iTunes, if I download a song or album, I have to use it on that machine, or on my iPod, but can use it nowhere else.  In our house, there are four people, 7 computers, and four MP3 players, only one of which is an iPod.  iTunes may have a great selection of music, but because there is no flexibility in use, iTunes is pretty much useless to me.

From Amazon last week I downloaded an album of 50 kid songs for my 7 year old.  I burned them onto CD and placed them on her computer so we could update her MP3 player when she is ready for new music.  I also downloaded two jazz albums for my own use, burned them to CD for my archives and also uploaded them to my iPod.  And I downloaded an album of circus music for my husband that he will use for background music when doing shows.  I burned them to CD and they are now in his show trunk.  And finally I downloaded the latest Green Day album for my 15 year old.  She immediately put it on her MP3 player.

I paid $23.95 for all of this music.  The same music on iTunes would have cost well over $100, and the songs would have all had to go on my iPod.  With Amazon, I can download whatever I want and give it to whichever family member is desiring it, and save it to whatever device I choose.  This flexibility pushes Amazon to the top of my list when it comes to music accumulation.  I live in constant fear that I will lose my downloaded iTunes music in a computer crash or iPod failure.  With the Amazon music, I know it’s always there, in multiple places, and that if I crash a computer or my iPod, I can still retrieve my Amazon downloads either from the CD I put them on for archives, or by logging into Amazon from another computer and re-downloading them (for free).

Another bonus for using Amazon?  They often have freebies, or 99-cent album sales, or special deals (I got the Green Day album for 5.99 as a deal of the day).  When it comes to pinching a penny, I’m an expert, and I definitely take advantage of Amazon’s specials and sales.

To be fair, I have also tried eMusic, and while it’s a great service with decent prices, selection is rather limited and can keep me from using that subscription enough to make it worth paying for.  Perhaps when they are further developed, they will be a better service.  eMusic downloads are also DRM free and can be burned to CD or uploaded to any type of MP3 player.

Pandora Should Leave USA

Posted by GNC at 2:56 PM on August 31, 2008

I don’t know how Pandora works. I just know it does. Pandora is an online music service I’m sure most of you have heard of if not used. I started using it last year and I absolutely love it. It learns what you like as you use it. You pick a single song or artist when starting up and it selects songs that it thinks you will enjoy based on some algorithm that is beyond my comprehension. I have been listening to Pandora since I sat down in front of my computer today and have heard about 2 songs that I was not crazy about and zero that I hated. That is a pretty good music service in my opinion. I hate fm / am radio because of the commercials. I have no time for them. That is why I like podcasts because most have no commercials. Even the live reads on some podcasts like Todd’s are fine because they take up less time and I think they sound more authentic because they are coming from the mouth of someone I trust for information.

I think it was the last podcast when Todd mentioned that Pandora might have to go to a subscription model since they are having to pay so much to some group (RIAA I assume) to play the music. If I were in front of my computer all day I would gladly pay a reasonably price but I work outside everyday while playing podcasts / music on an mp3 player. I think they will survive if they go to that model but I wish it did not have to come to that. I have heard songs that I either have never heard or did not know the details on and now love. How stupid is it for the RIAA & music artists to stop a service that puts music that they want to sell in front of millions of potential customers? I could easily download a program to record the music that is streaming through Pandora or I could keep track of the data for the music I like then go get the music through bit torrent. And I could get this music for free without Pandora but I don’t. I want musicians I like to make a great living & get rich. And it is just as easy to get my mp3’s from Amazon’s DRM free music service with one click purchasing as it is to steal it. The people who download for free are mostly younger people who don’t have the money to buy all the music they want. So the artists would likely never see any money from these people anyway until they were able to buy instead of get it free.

The RIAA is doing a disservice to musicians everywhere. Whether you agree with my logic or not the fact is that music is available for free and it can be gotten anonymously. So musicians better get with the program or become extinct. This is not 1985 so you better adjust to the marketplace. You cannot sue your clients and became profitable. I don’t know how the RIAA backs up their lawsuits but I want to see people just ignore the lawsuits & see what happens. Can they garnish wages, etc? I am not advising this action I just want to know how they plan to deal with people who non cooperate. If I were in charge of Pandora I would move my operations overseas & do like the Piratebay & keep my server locations secret. They have played by the rules and still have been attacked. They need to fight fire with fire.

MLB proves that DRM sucks.

Posted by todd at 3:00 PM on November 7, 2007

Major League Baseball has decided to change their DRM provider.  This has been a big job for them, having to build a completely new system and transfer all their content across.  There is also the problem that any company in this situation faces, how to maintain the downloads of their existing customers.  The realistic options are to issue customers with new digital certificates that support the new system, or to keep the old system running for authentication of old content.  These solutions both have their own costs and difficulties, particularly when there is no prospective end date for supporting these videos.

MLB have decided to use a third method, just turn off the old service.  Considering that for a downloaded video to play it needs to authenticate back to MLB this action has blanked any video owned by MLB customers.  When the understandably irate users have complained they have been told the videos were a “one-time sale” and if they want their videos they need to re-purchase.

The arrogance is astounding.  I blogged last week about the US needing better consumer protection, there are few developed countries in the world that would let a company get away with this sort of reprehensible behavior.  My strategy is, that I buy NOTHING that depends on DRM to control my fair use, which includes HD-DVD and BluRay.  We can complain about DRM, but the solution is in our own hands.  As soon as consumers en-mass tell companies with our wallets where they can stick their DRM, the problem goes away.  My boycott has already started, and I am sure that stories like this will ensure I am not lonely.

DRM solves nothing

Posted by todd at 8:54 AM on October 6, 2007

I have made no secret of my opinion that DRM does nothing to limit illegal copying.  Non-circumvention and usability are incompatible goals.  What DRM does is seriously inconvenience users.  The nefarious can get around whatever is there, and the honest user gets their use of the product compromised.

The copy protection on Blu Ray and HD-DVD, AACS, is the most restrictive DRM to date, and not surprisingly is starting to show the inherent compromise between protection and usability.  One of the sneaky little things in AACS is the hardware specific key, if a particular piece of hardware loses its ‘certification’ as a trusted source, it can be disabled by the key update that happens every time you insert a new disk.  So lets say you have an ACME brand HD-DVD5000, and it gets found to have a bug that is letting hackers use it to break codes on disks, the AACS Licensing Administrator can update the decryption keys.  Anyone with an ACME 5000 who uses one of these updated discs will find their drive bricked.

Even if this is never used the presence of the code opens the door for flaky behavior which shows the fight between convenience and protection.  Two Blu-ray titles have reported playback problems.  On certain players they will play badly, or not play at all.  This fault is due to the DRM and the solution is likely to be a firmware update for the affected players.  When was the last time you had to upgrade your DVD player firmware to play the latest NetFlix delivery?

I will continue to vote with my money, and stay out of this market all together.  I predict that the restrictive, complicated, expensive and flaky implementations of HD video will open the gate for a 3rd player.

GNC-2006-12-29 #228

Posted by geeknews at 3:11 AM on December 29, 2006

Last show of the year so I do some wrap up stats and of course bring you a full line of tech with a special performance at the end of the show by my two aspiring artist here in the house.

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