The Curse Of The Maltese Falcon

All Tim wants for his birthday is a copy of the Maltese Falcon on ebook. Without DRM.  For a book published in 1929 and famous worldwide you’d think that was possible.  Every summer he re-reads all the Raymond Chandler books and most of Dashiell Hammett (who wrote Falcon) and since we’re travelling most of this summer he wanted an ebook copy.

This isn’t the first book this has happened with - getting non DRM copies of ebooks or even copies of books in digital form isn’t as easy as you might think.  The surfeit of books offered for sale on Amazon or iBookstore is tiny compared to the history of book writing , we just get lulled into thinking EVERYTHING is available when that’s absolutely untrue.  Despite having a small house and not much space I’ve hung onto a copy of every book I’d regret not being able to read again, as well as buying as many as I can on ebook.

So what’s the problem?  Amazon, where I usually buy ebooks (only because the DRM is so easy to remove) doesn’t sell it. Barnes and Noble does and you can remove DRM from those too but I have to create a fake american identity to do that and I’m not convinced the quality of the book they are selling is better than many of the free or cheap ones out there.  Those free or cheap books are scanned and OCR’d and the quality goes from “OK, if I ignore the typos” to “unreadable”.  So far every public version of The Maltese Falcon we’ve tried has been unreadable with the additional bonus of missing chapters.  The iBookstore sells a Dashiell Hammett collection that includes The Maltese Falcon that I own but I read that on my iPad, the DRM in place.  Nothing removes the iBooks FairPlay DRM - a few years ago a hacker called Brahms brought out a tool called Requiem that did remove all DRM from iBooks and it was disabled by the next update of iTunes and Brahms then “retired” his code (I assume this means Apple had her / him killed but what do I know).  There are tools today that remove DRM from Apple media content but not books.

Why is this bothering me so much? Well the idea that today the world of “books” for the generations behind me has shrunk down to those available as ebook. I still love to browse a bookshop whenever I can find one but I’m also usually the youngest person there. Our choice, range and ownership has gone out of the window.  Amazon have no interest in building a large publicly available all encompassing library of books that might have a small audience.  They have an interest in selling high volume / high profit.  The most recent fight between Amazon and Hachette where Hachette books (including those by Michael Connolly and “Robert Galbraith” were removed from sale with no explanation) gives all of us reason to worry.

So is there another way? A way to have DRM free ebooks.  I realise greedy and backward thinking publishers hold much of the blame but my access to books is in danger and it’s time for publishers to realise they are strangling their own market, for resellers to realise that DRM isn’t protecting sales and for the rest of us to start doing I don’t know what…..  I had hoped that Apple would negotiate with publishers to go DRM free but clearly writers are more powerful than musicians and the argument that worked for music isn’t going to work here.  It also is more than apparent by the closing of bookshops that they haven’t learnt the lessons of the music industry.  The bookshops are your storefronts to the online purchase - I connect to your wireless in the store, download a book and the store gets a % of sales. Seems easy to me.

If there’s some good news out there for the future of books, bookstores and ebooks I’d love to hear it…


Norway & ISBG

Last week I was in Norway at the ISBG conference in Larvik.  You would know this if I hadn’t messed up publishing my blog entry talking about how much I was looking forward to going and what I was presenting on but I tried to set it to publish “in the future” and got the year wrong - so yeah.. I”m back!

At the bottom of this blog you’ll find links to my three presentations. Two of them are updates from ones I gave at Connect and the third is entirely new on how to configure Single Sign On / SAML / SPNEGO for your company.  I had 45 minutes for that presentation and even abbreviated I ended up with 55 slides but I think it went well - except for the bit where I kept stepping forward to hear questions better and nearly fell off the front of the stage.  You know the moment where one foot hangs in mid air and you desperately throw yourself backwards to stop falling forwards.  That.

Any-who , this was only my 2nd trip to Norway and since last year it poured with rain the entire time I didn’t see much. This year we spent some of the weekend in Oslo by the harbour and walked, walked walked.  A beautiful city and if you get a chance I highly recommend the Viking Ship Museum (get there early before the crowds as we did) and the Norwegian Folk Museum (thank you to Wencke Lorentzen for her guiding and the lefse ). The Folk Museum is huge and impossible to completely cover even if we had a whole day which we didn’t because we spent too long with the viking ships.  A very interesting takeaway for me is that without any form of written communication there is very little understanding of how the vikings managed to survive, sail huge distances, find their way home and live each day - all we can is make a best guess.   We also spent a long day walking, walking around Oslo which has some of the best public art I’ve seen (it was a gorgeous day so that helped the 9+ miles journey).

Oh and we ate some of the best food ever - if, like me, you love fish and especially raw fish and also cheese, and are happy for the waiter to bring out “whatever” until you say stop.. well Norway rocks 🙂

Thank you to the ISBG team for inviting me once more and everyone who attended.




My Shameful Secret (well one of them)

It’s sad but true, I have reached well into my 5th decade (no! surely not.. you’re right, I don’t look it) and have never owned a bike or even learnt to ride one.  For the past 4 years I’ve owned a recumbent exercise bike and cycle on that 6 - 10 miles a day but I’ve always wanted to ride a bike.  Partly because we live less than 1/4 mile from one of the most beautiful parks in London - Bushy Park and partly because when I met Tim he was an avid cycler who raced and cycled 40 miles a day.  He stopped because I didn’t know how and despite trying occasionally over the years we discovered I didn’t have much sense of balance but more importantly i’m short.  Not petite, just short.  That means my legs are short, my torso is short, my arms are an OK length which is surprisingly of little use in life.  Basically finding a bike I could get on and then stop without falling off has proven difficult.

Our last attempt about 10 years ago where I used his old bike went spectacularly wrong and it’s taken me this long to get up the nerve to try again, or I’m finally at the age where I simply don’t care about looking stupid.  So some friends on Facebook very kindly gave me advice, the crux of which boiled down to “get to a bike shop”.  Well there’s a great bike shop 100m from our house called Burts Cycles, it’s been there for over 100 years (60 years in the same family) and Tim remembered it from when he was very little.  Sadly not fondly.  He can’t remember why but for some reason he never wanted to go there again. So I found another bike shop about a mile away and off we went this morning.

I won’t mention them by name here.  They were awful.  I had wondered about getting a folding bike because from what I’d seen the stepover was nice and low and initially at least we only wanted it for cycling a few miles in the park.  The guy dismissed that as worthless (folding bikes are no good apparently) and then proceeded to try and push me to buy a “Giant” bike that was clearly no good for me (but great for him at 600 quid).  I struggled getting on and off and as I tried to explain to him my problem he kept saying “well you won’t get anything smaller you’ll just have to practice”.  Suitably chastised, embarrassed and deciding that bike riding really wasn’t for me we left.

On the way home we passed Burts Cycles and I asked Tim to stop.  This is a wonderful bike shop.  I explained my shortness problem (you know, in case he couldn’t spot that) and he showed me specialist frame builders who build for a smaller frame, then gave me a 75 quid 2nd hand fold up bike to try getting on and off and suggested I walk it round the corner to the car park and try it out.  That was great - I could get on and off it easily and even managed to cycle a bit and stop without crashing.  We came back to the shop all excited and he then directed me at another bike that was on special offer with a similar low step over but new and even had a basket (what! don’t look at me like that, I want a basket).  Again I tried it out and loved it so we bought this beauty.. my very first bike.


Of course we then realised Tim would need one too and once more Burts Bikes were fantastic - when Tim pointed at a bike he liked the guy said “yes that’s nice but you don’t need to spend anywhere near that much if you’re just cycling casually, this one is half the price”.  Again a quick test run and we both ended up walking home with shiny new bikes.


Of course we now have to go back and collect the car….

How I Wrangled Control Back From My Browser

I’ll admit it, I’m a privacy freak.  I limit what information I share publicly, I never give my actual date of birth, mother’s name, or correct answer to any question.  I have dummy mail accounts set up for when sites want me to register and I VPN if I’m anywhere but at home.  I think it’s important to be aware of what’s happening when you’re working in a browser, what happens when you leave tabs open and the degree to which you can and are tracked.  For me the convenience of letting a company know more about me in return for them customising my experience is an insanely unequal exchange.   I also know a lot more now about how Google etc track and use information (thanks to my brother in law Rob for his expertise).

But then again I also refuse to have loyalty cards.  Taking some degree of control back from your browser activity is not only responsible it’s empowering and healthy 🙂

Like notes.ini settings, more is not always better so I’ve gradually built up a handful of extensions that give me more control over my browsing and recently added a couple more that have the added benefit of being fascinating to watch and mostly free.

1Password stores my passwords for multiple sites so I never have to reenter them.  I used to use this a lot but much less so since I switched to using password patterns which I change every 4 months.  I have 3 patterns at a time one for “I don’t care if someone gets at this” , one for “this has information on it i’d like to keep secure but nothing financial” (like my IBM registration), one for sites which hold payment information.  Each site has a unique password constructed from a pattern eg “first two letters of site in caps plus the number 1111 plus the letter X in caps” but not that 🙂

Evernote web clipper isn’t about security or privacy but it allows me to snap any browser page into Evernote.  I store all my reference documents personal and business (some encrypted) in Evernote and sync it to my iPad.  It also recognises when I snip a recipe and stores that both in itself and in its companion free iPad app called recipes.

AdBlock blocks ads.  There are sites that simply are unreadable and do not render in Safari unless all the ads are blocked and then they look normal.

AVG Do Not Track prevents sites I visit tracking me and sending information back to social networks and advertisers.  I have the option of allowing tracking but I find leaving this on allows me to clearly see what’s being attempted by sites I visit.

ClicktoPlugin for Safari prevents plugins from loading automatically on any site unless I then click to run them.  Even better it replaces media including flash with HTML5.  Whenever Safari was sucking CPU it was always down to some flash running somewhere, installing this has completely fixed that problem.

My two newest plugins are DuckDuckGo and Disconnect.Me.  DuckDuckGo is a search replacement that honours privacy.  It conducts a simultaneous search of Google and Bing if you want but your searches aren’t filtered (“customised”) by your assumed preferences from your search history.  Read more about it here and here . Nothing is saved or tracked. is theoretically similar to Do Not Track but much more granular and is showing me more information about what a site is doing.  I’m easy to disappear down the rabbit hole here but take a look at this report from visiting the Facebook homepage

So we have (confusingly green means blocked) - 4 advertising requests, 3 analytics requests and 215 content requests.  What does is restrict content that doesn’t come directly from the site and page you visited.  They recommend you do not block content unless you’re 100% sure as it may affect site rendering.  At the bottom you can see they claim to save significant time and bandwidth in page loading too.  I don’t have any issues with Bandwidth myself and it’s not something I’m that worried about so I honestly haven’t tested if that’s true.  For each section you can expand and see what has been blocked and choose to whitelist sites.

My favourite feature is the visualize page button which gives me this rendering of sites requesting access and which ones are blocked.  I can mouse over any icon, see the site and whitelist / blacklist it.

So that’s it.  I can’t think of anything I’m missing (that frustrates me and i’d like to take control of) but I’m open to suggestions..


Connections .. um Next?

Next week on May 21st sees the launch of IBM Connections Next, coming 14 months after Connections 4.5.  Initially it will be in IBM’s cloud only but by the end of June we will have software to install on site.  That timeline matches IBM’s promise of end of Q2.  This is a major release so everyone is under NDA until May 21st.

If you’re a Connections customer and you don’t have a test environment in place then you are going to want one to validate your customisations, scripts and applications.  As far as your production environment is concerned ,  I don’t know if IBM will support an in-place upgrade, they certainly have before but my preference is always side by side to minimise downtime and risk.  If Connections Next is based upon WebSphere 8.5 (as Sametime is) rather than WebSphere 8.0 then side by side will likely be the only option.  We’ll see if that’s the case when the documentation appears..

The best public information right now is this presentation from Luis Benitez @ Connect 2014

there is also a Q&A with Luis and Suzanne Livingston on May 22nd  you can register for here

In the meantime - enjoy this great trailer for Connections Next 

Exciting things are coming!

One Of Those Faces….

Walking on Brighton seafront this weekend we came across the “Tight Modern” a tiny replica of the Tate Modern containing artworks by 60 disabled artists.  Well worth a look but that’s not important right now…What is important is that as I came out , one of the guides stopped me and said:

“I know you don’t I?”

Well no, no she didn’t but I come across this all the time.  It’s weird that people think they know me.. Not just “I might know you” but “I DO know you”.  So I responded whilst smiling:

“No I just have one of those faces, people think they know me all the time”

From here we move to the next step which is the person who claimed to know me insists that my memory is faulty:

“We met at one of Simon’s get togethers” - said quite forcefully whilst gesturing at whoever Simon is.

These are my favourite responses , the best of which was from a guy at immigration in Chicago who insistently said:

“We were on the same kibbutz a few years back”

When I continue to deny knowing them the whole atmosphere gets very frosty and the person who is convinced they know me is now convinced I’m lying for some reason.  I then get a dismissive goodbye.

So there you have it, in a few short seconds my new friend goes from delighted to see me again to annoyed I’ve turned into such a lying b***h.  I clearly need a better strategy to deal with these confrontations because they do keep happening and I must  just have one of those faces

Or I’m part of a science fiction plot / movie and there are hundreds of me’s out there that I’m unaware of.  Maybe one of the other me’s also has a blog?

Solving My Macbook Battery Problem

In the past few months I’ve been frustrated by my Macbook Air, which is less than a year old, constantly draining the battery when I leave it unplugged and on sleep.  I often have work to do in the middle of the night or early morning so I’ll bring the fully charged laptop to bed, put it on sleep and set the alarm for 4am - then when I wake up and go to do work I discover the battery is almost completely drained.

I found a thread on the apple support forums from late last year where people were complaining of something similar but that seemed to be entirely related to the Avast software which I don’t have.  I also saw a few comments about using a keyboard cover preventing the screen closing properly which worried me as I didn’t want to give up on my mophie cover but on testing (putting it to sleep manually rather than just closing the cover) I discovered the drain still happened.

My solution was finding the command

pmset -g assertions

running that in a terminal window gave me this

Assertion status system-wide:
BackgroundTask 0
PreventDiskIdle 0
ApplePushServiceTask 0
UserIsActive 1
PreventUserIdleDisplaySleep 0
InteractivePushServiceTask 0
PreventSystemSleep 1
ExternalMedia 0
PreventUserIdleSystemSleep 0
NetworkClientActive 0
Listed by owning process:
pid 69(hidd): [0x0000000a00002102] 02:04:08 UserIsActive named: “”
Timeout will fire in 596 secs Action=TimeoutActionRelease
pid 67(InternetSharing): [0x000000080000215f] 02:02:51 DenySystemSleep named: “”
No kernel assertions.

See that last one?  I have internet sharing on because once when at a conference where only I could connect, Tim and I shared my wifi connection. That option was stopping my laptop from ever properly going into sleep.  I disabled it in system preferences , shut my laptop lid and found it still 100% charged 5 hrs later.

Oh and the first time I ran the pmset command it didn’t show me that, instead it showed me this

PreventUserIdleSystemSleep named: “”

Yes iTunes was preventing idle sleep, but more importantly until I shut down iTunes it didn’t show me the bigger problem of Internet Sharing preventing it.

Problem solved.