The more you know…
The free ebook of the week is Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, complete with all 40 of the classic illustrations by Hugh Thomson. The illustrations have been restored and formatted for optimum display on modern ebook reading devices. As with all free ebooks of the week, this one is in the public domain in the United States. I can’t speak to its status in other countries. If in doubt, check your local laws before downloading.
In the process of testing Bucherrad, I’ve been restoring a lot of images from scans of old books (see the last post about A Christmas Carol for a completed project). Since these tend to have similar shortcomings (dull and/or yellowed paper, low-contrast ink due to fading) I wrote a GIMP script to take care of it. The script performs a level stretch and contrast adjustment and optionally converts the image to grayscale and then back to RGB to get rid of any remaining color artifacts. Obviously you don’t want to do that if it’s a color image, but it definitely improves black and white. If you’re wondering why you’d want to convert a black and white image back to RGB, some ebook stores (notably the iBookstore) want all images to be in RGB colorspace even if they’re actually gray scale. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know.
The script does a decent job of getting you in the right ballpark, though you may still want to do some manual tweaking afterward.
Here’s the script:
(define (restore-faded image drawable convert-monochrome contrast-change) (gimp-levels-stretch drawable) (gimp-brightness-contrast drawable 0 contrast-change) (if (= convert-monochrome TRUE) (pass-through-grayscale image) TRUE) (gimp-displays-flush image))
(define (pass-through-grayscale image) (gimp-convert-grayscale image) (gimp-convert-rgb image))
(script-fu-register "restore-faded" ;func name "Restore Faded Image" ;menu label "(Attempts to) restore faded images." ;description "Anthony W. Hursh" ;author "Copyright 2012, Contraterrene eLearning Group, LLC;\ GPL" ;copyright notice "July 18, 2012" ;date created "RGB*" ;image type that the script works on SF-IMAGE "Image" 0 SF-DRAWABLE "Drawable" 0 SF-TOGGLE "Pass through gray scale" TRUE SF-ADJUSTMENT "Contrast change" '(20 0 127 1 10 0 1) ) (script-fu-menu-register "restore-faded" "<Image>/Restore Faded")
Stick this wherever your GIMP package expects to find scripts (/Library/Application Support/GIMP/scripts for the Mac package I use) then either restart GIMP or go to Filters/Script-Fu/Refresh scripts.
Since I’ve been doing this a lot, I put it right on the main menu bar. If you don’t use it so much you may want to put it in a submenu. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
A couple of black and white examples (the image is The Mysterious Rose Garden by Aubrey Beardsley):
Color examples (the illustration is by Arthur Rackham, from a 1916 edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens):
The free ebook of the week is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
I’m currently producing these using Bucherrad, my experimental ebook compiler. It’s definitely a geek-oriented tool at present, though the eventual plan is to have a user-friendly, GUI-based front end (likely this will be the next version of Abulafia).
Note that all ebooks of the week are in the public domain in the United States (typically because they were first published prior to 1923) but may not be in other countries; I can’t make general statements about that because there are too many differences and weird exceptions (for instance, I recently found out that British Crown still claims copyright on the King James Bible in the U.K., even though it was first published in 1611(!)). If in doubt, check your local laws before downloading.
I spent a fair amount of time restoring the illustrations for this one. There are some reduced-size samples below. The images in the actual ebooks are a full 1024 pixels wide, and should look good even if you have a new iPad (in general I pick the ebook of the week because the preexisting free versions that I’ve seen have bad formatting, low-quality illustrations, or both).
Watermarking schemes are certainly less onerous than most forms of DRM (and personally, I don’t find them objectionable per se) but will do absolutely nothing to discourage large-scale piracy.
Imagine this scenario:
1) Buy a prepaid Visa card at Walgreens, with cash.
2) Register at Amazon with a fresh Gmail account and an assumed name (perhaps “Ima Cracker”), ideally from a public Wifi connection.
3) Pirate at will. Remove the watermarks, or don’t. It won’t matter, since there’s no solid connection between the watermark information and the pirate.
From what I know of such people, not only would they not bother to remove the “This Book Belongs to Ima Cracker” watermark, they would consider it a badge of honor. Remember, these are the same people who actually write and insert extra code to ensure that their noms de guerre appear on the startup screen of pirated software.
I can’t see how this could possibly be effective unless you (e.g.) made the ebook retailers require a photo ID at the time of purchase.
Thanks to Harry for this.
The most interesting bit was in the comments, where a reader said “I have no desire to crack the DRM on Amazon’s ebooks. There’s no one I’m willing to steal from so that I can benefit myself or my friends. The legal issues are simple: theft = illegal.”
There’s no way that moving a book that you own from one device that you own to another device that you own could be considered “theft” under any rational definition of that term. Illegal? Possibly. Immoral? No, not in my opinion.
Earlier in the article, Pogue said “If you actually read the steps [to remove DRM -- awh], you’ll see that it’s nothing short of a hack; not user-friendly by any means. But yes, it’s possible.”
The thing is, that only has to be done once. Not once for every reading device, or every legal copy of the book. Once. Period.
A reader whose legitimately-purchased ebook stops working might buy another copy (highly unlikely, IMO… once bitten, twice shy), or might go through the steps to remove the DRM on his own copy (unlikely for other than turbokgeeks, for the reasons Pogue mentions) or, in the most likely scenario, might find a copy online that already has the DRM removed. So… you now have an angry customer who is feeling as though the publisher ripped him off, looking at a site that has essentially every ebook ever made available for download. For free. Is that really what the publishers want? I can’t imagine what it is.
Steve Jobs managed to drag the music people kicking and screaming into a world where customers could buy music friction-free, at a reasonable price, and then make further use of their purchases on other devices (e.g., by burning the song to a CD). If he’d survived, perhaps he’d have managed the same for the book publishing, but we’ll never know.
There are a few bright spots in the publishing world (e.g., Tor’s recent decision to abandon DRM), but I’m not optimistic that the publishing industry as a whole will wise up in time.
I chose this book as a test of the %poetry, %autodropcaps, and %hardindent commands in Bucherrad.
Update: gone, but iPad/iPhone users can get a free copy on the iBookstore.
If you’re reading this page on an iPad, you should be able to just click the link and tell the iPad to open it in iBooks. Otherwise you can transfer it with iTunes. For the Kindle, you can either transfer it with your USB cable or use Amazon’s Send to Kindle software.
You can get Bucherrad for OS X and Windows here. It’s free, but do note that the software is experimental at this point. There’s some preliminary documentation, and you can also get the source code if you like (it also runs on Unix/Linux platforms, in which case the source is what you want — see the documentation for installation instructions on *n*x).
In my copious free time, I’ve been working on yet another ebook compiler. This one is Free Software and should run on OS X, Windows, and Linux. Unlike Abulafia, Bucherrad works with text-based formatting commands (though there is a GUI front end for the compiler).
Some or all of Bucherrad’s code will likely be used in the back end of the next generation of Abulafia, but it is intended to be useful on its own (particularly if you need a high degree of control over your book’s appearance).
Note that this should be considered experimental alpha-quality software at this stage. If it breaks, you get to keep both halves.
Neal Stephenson fans may recall the bucherrad of Leibniz in the Baroque Cycle, which was a device something like this (bucherrad looks like a straightforward German translation of bookwheel, though I think it should actually be written as bücherrad).
I’ve also set up a discussion group for the software.