Zumbs' Blog

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head

Archive for April, 2012

Tor ebooks going DRM-Free

Posted by Zumbs on April 25, 2012

I recently got a hold of an ebook reader. Not to purchase ebooks, but to aid me as a tabletop roleplaying tool. The reason that I did not plan on purchasing ebooks is because of Digital Rights Management (DRM). Whenever I want to read a book I paid for, the ebook reader has to make sure I am not some filthy thief, often by contacting a server provided by the store.

And many vendors (I’m looking at you, Amazon) would want to lock me into using their electronic gadget to read their ebooks. And if the thing broke? Well, I would have to get a new one from the exact same vendor … or lose access to my purchases. And if they were to go out of business, or shut down the authentication servers for some reason, I would lose access to the books I paid for. Moving to another vendor would also be difficult as conversion can be both difficult, time consuming and maybe even illegal. This comic illustrates the issue.

As noted by Charles Stross, this is not only harmful for the customer, it is also harmful for the publishers. Notably, it has allowed Amazon to gain a virtual monopoly on ebook supply as well as a monopsony on being the distributor as well. So, Amazon is well on its way to being able to dictate terms to publishers and customers alike. If publishers want to break Amazons dominance, they have to lower the bar for independent stores to sell ebooks. This requires going DRM-Free.

The people at Tor Books must have come to a similar conclusion. A few days back, they announced that come July, they are going DRM-Free on their ebooks. So, there is a good chance that I am going to be using that ebook reader to … well … read ebooks. Thanks, Tor.

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Bulk conversion using LibreOffice

Posted by Zumbs on April 22, 2012

I do a lot of tabletop roleplaying. As a Game Master, I play with two different groups in the same world. The oldest running campaign has been running for more than a decade. The notes populate more than three large binders. As we do not play at my flat, it is infeasible for me to carry all that to the game. Rather, I try to pick out the important portions and leave the rest be.

A significant portion of my notes are stored on my computer in different formats. The newer documents are stored as odts, but older documents were created using various versions of WordPad and Word.

Over the last few years, the quality and functionality of ebook readers have been improving. Most of these handle formats like pdf. So, if I could convert my notes to pdf, I could bring an ebook reader with all the notes that I did not have room for in my bag. Some of the better ebook readers I have been looking at, even allow adding notes and handwriting as a new layer to existing pdfs, so I can make notes in the documents during play.

But I still need to convert all my files to pdf. There are more than 200 files involved, so doing it by hand is way to time consuming (and nigh impossible to maintain). My office program of choice, LibreOffice, comes with a nifty command line utility that is able to convert files from one format to another. Unfortunately, LibreOffice does not currently support bulk conversion on Windows.

And then there are all the custom needs, things that would be nice:

  • Keeping the same folder structure
  • Copying time stamps from the original file to the copy
  • Sync of files that are not odts (e.g. maps)
  • Ability to set metadata for generated pdfs

In the end, I wrote my own little utility program in .NET that have those features. It’s available on Sourceforge. LibreOffice 3.5 is required, but not bundled. The screenshot below shows the user interface.


Screenshot of the Bulk Converter Using LibreOffice utility. The upper part of the window is used to configure what the bulk converter should do. Move your mouse over the different options to get more information on what it does. The big, white space in the bottom is a text box that is used to write output from the converter. Press Go to start and Cancel to stop the current run.

As noted above, the utility only supports conversions from doc to odt and from odt to pdf. LibreOffice supports a lot of conversions that I have not enabled. Partly because I do not use them, and partly because it would require extensive testing to enable all of them. But I am open for requests 🙂

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