Life & much, much more

I’m sick and tired of this ebook nonsense.

No. I like ebooks. At least the concept. I would love to be able to read books in beautiful, standardised print similar to that produced by LaTeX, on any device, on any screensize, without any problems like math reflow, images, and usage of ridiculous fonts. Oh, and DRM too. But that’s hell in itself.

But no. Ebooks are a mess. A big, honkin’ ridiculous pile of crap. A prime example of what not to do when converting a traditional medium to an electronic form. Why? Because of a lack of standardisation. There is no single format, due to (in a nutshell) firms not being able to talk nicely to one another, swallow their egos and agree. So now we’re stuck with 27 major formats (yes, count them) and each with its own little annoyance. Oh, and that’s without considering potential DRM being slapped on each one of them.

It’s not just the electronic format that is a mess – it’s the physical formatting too. Ebooks can be related to the pre-CSS days of HTML, filled with non-semantic markup and tables stuck around everywhere. Anybody who has experienced the LaTeX nirvana that is "this is a title, not a bold, size 26, centered font" can relate to this – whilst creative freedom is good, computers unfortunately suck at this and are unable to tell what is title and what is paragraph. Thus I am stuck with some ebooks doing nonsense like linebreaking at 80 characters, not telling me when paragraphs start and end, and oh yes- every single plaintext ebook with its own flavour of markdown.

Terror doesn’t stop there. It continues by plaguing the now-necessary routine of converting from format to format whenever you want to transfer from one device to another. Every time you format, it is inevitable that more non-semantic formatting is lost. This, of course, only happens if you can even convert it in the first place, thanks to our lovely friend DRM.

So what is the solution? The solution is threefold – 1) force (taunts and physical violence may and shall be used) all publishers to agree to use a single, open format, such as EPUB, and make that format use TeX markup. Thus ebooks will be distributed in plaintext with attached and compressed images. 2) Force (see previous) all publishers to agree to use a single repository to prevent duplication of effort (another of my pet peeves, thank you for noticing) and spend time manually and painstakenly correctly converting existing ebooks to this new format and dumping it in the repo. 3) Fix all the kinks to allow this TeX-structured ebook source to be then rendered or converted to any other format (eg: LaTeX-generated PDFs cannot reflow) should the retailer or consumer want, even if it means the retailer wants to affix some sort of DRM at this stage. If you noticed, this follows a very much source (TeX-structured format) and binary (whatever you render the TeX into) way of distributing ebooks. This is a win-win situation. Anybody can buy from anywhere without fearing incompatibility. Retailers still can satisfy their craving for DRM. EBooks are semantically-marked and rendered beautifully. Even the plaintext looks beautiful.

It turns out I’m not the first to come up with an alike proposal. A firm known as River-Valley has been cashing in on this opportunity by reformatting ebooks for their rather technical clients, and have made significant progress towards this goal, unfortunately though this project has been stalled for quite some time apparently. A few hopefuls at the MobileRead Forums have tried to make a start, but again I think it just died from lack of love.

But recently I had a wondrous epiphany to solve my woes once and for all. It was the sheer audacity to go against one of my joys in life – standards and conventions. The idea can be summed up in the two froody words "why bother?" Life is too short to care if your music collection is made up of oggs and not flacs or mp3s. Life is too short to bother to ensure that your metatags are using the ampersand corrently in place of "and". Life is too short to fix everybody else’s stupid mistakes that don’t fit your mental specification. So if you see somebody walking down the street reading a book where every sentence stops sharp at 80 characters, give them a pat on the back and congratulate them on finally getting their priorities straight.

Somebody please fix Nepomuk to make it do something useful like automagically sort my collections for me.

End rant.


Analyse this, you miscreants.

And then the old man coughed a feeble cough, one that exclaimed either “I am weak!” or “You’re missing something”. Standing up, a white tear broke apart his face and slight dust fell from his cracked lips and forehead.

“I’m going to find my wife.”

Even as he said this his chalky complexion darkened. His hands clutching the toolbox, he left a trail of broken stone and dust. Through the shutters the light shone through his skin. Such fine skin, a fineness comparable to that of when you sift through sands of the desert. His face looked kindly but worn, a confused hue of neither light nor black. There were tight wrinkles stretched across his face, a web of lines that, though were quite shallow, looked so deeply engraved they marked his true face, and the rest of his flesh were layers piled insensitively atop it. His hands frail, long and trembling as they held a sharp scalpel. He stroked the face of a person whose similarity was not to go unseen, and a small paper-thin flake of soapstone cartwheeled to the floor. He stood back and grinned a mischevious and knowing smile at his creation.

He was familiar with the hundreds of antomical studies. He could recreate a persons body so finely people mistook it for a mirror. A master at his craft, such that studying one’s face was like a drug. He remembered a conversation- a fight, rather- with his wife a little over a year ago.
“come my dear, show me your smile. Show me those pretty eyes you have. Let me stare so that I may encapsulate yourself forever in my art.”
His wife said nothing. He grasped her hands, and locked fingers. The palm was cold and damp, her face turned away. He pressed her palm harder, and like sap from a tree when you cut it, a droplet of blinding white sweat filtered through the cracks between the finger and nail. It ran down the wrist and towards the elbow. Ignorant of the salty trail he had caused, he pressed her again.
“but darling, why should I not be allowed to appreciate you beauty?”
She looked back at him, a stare devoid of emotion.
“there are hundreds of women in this world! Of these hundreds you choose me? I am not beautiful, this pockmarked and shrivelled skin is disgusting. You are an intelligent and handsome man, it is easy for you to win the hearts of goddesses!”
“the youth of your skin is not what attracts me. You see, my dear, some statues are made with such focus, a burning focus, that you cannot tell stone from flesh. These come alive. When you know what makes a person you can remake it, stone or not!”
The craftsman smiled his mischevious grin once again. His levels rose to a triumphant climax.
“what is powerful is what makes a person. You are a special person, and I too, am special. So show me your face. Show me your pretty face.”
With this he grabbed his wifes cheeks and turned it to face himself. White tears broke through her eyes. She stared that emotionless stare again, though the slight curve of an eyebrow spoke of own troubles. Her voice was calm, but rose to another climax comparable to his own, not in volume but in intensity.
“what is powerful is what is sacred. What is purposely hidden, has a purpose. If you ever craft me I will gouge the eyes so I may not see what I am not. I will tear the mouth so I may not speak what is powerful. I will never be alive for you.”
She snatched her face out of his grip, and in his stunned silence she ran out, her white dress flowing across the floor.

The old man looked at his creation and smiled. He placed his palm against the white stone and locked his fingers together. A cold shock went through his heart, not that of a numbing pain but of a needle being dropped into the valves. With every heartbeat it would puncture the side, again, a swift stab delivered, again. He collapsed to the floor clutching his chest, his palm a ghostly white from the stone’s dust. He brushed it off on the ground, and shut his eyes tightly. Curling up on the floor, he slept and dreamt. His dream was of his work, his wife, and how he decided it must come to something useful. Pity, if it ended now, he would never fully understand…well, what was powerful.

He awoke suddenly, his mind clear and forgotten of his troubles. His eyes still shut, he got up slowly, as though a sudden movement would deprive him of this feeling. He looked up and saw nothing. An empty space where his masterpiece should’ve stood. He turned around, and saw a stone statue at his dining table, pouring out drinks as though it was like any other day.
The statue turned sharply and spilt some drink on the table. Still at a loss for words, the statue looked at him kindly and said, “it’s almost dinnertime. I set the table for you.”
Finding his voice once again, he struggled for words, it was beautiful, it was perfect, however, setting the table was not what he expected it to do. His pride and obsession changed to arrogance as the statue continued to set the table. It moved delicately, calm and content with every movement. Every movement was as though it was due to a purpose, something hidden, something powerful. He’d seen powerful, he’d known where he could find some like it. He’d made powerful once again, pouring his soul and dedication into this creation. This was his. His epiphany. His realisation. His real other half. His.
The statue finished setting the table, noticed the spill, and wiped it away with tisse.
“stop! What are you doing? You use the tablecloth for table spills! Tissues are for nothing but wiping lips and anuses.”
The statue stopped and turned away in shame, apparently cautious but strangely unaware of the outburst. He stood closer and leered scrutinisingly at the d├ęcor, finding else to critique on.
“this! This is a tablespoon. Tablespoons are for eating rice and accompaniments, not for drinking soup. The fork and knife should be together, as they are used together when slicing meat, are they not? And on the left side, too! It should be on the right. Yes, the right.”
He hobbled arround, adjusting each minor detail as if it was a pledge to the devil. The statue remained unfazed, as though it couldn’t care less.
“tradition. You lack tradition.” he scolded it.
“tradition is not what is important in a time like this.”
The statue spoke again. This time with a certain cold and hard tone that should befit a person with a heart of stone. It was characteristic in a descriptive manner, not insulting. He stopped and stared at the back of the statue, then quietly reflected. His voice now a shameful murmur,
“yes, I did what is wrong to find out what is right.”
“what is wrong? No. You did what you thought had to be done. I respect you for that.”
The next words the statue said were colder still, but cold like an ice cube about to melt, cold in a glass of hot white tears.
“show me your face, darling.”
The statue turned and stared directly at our craftsman. its lips curved into a smile, cracking as it did so.
“tradition. You have no tradition.”
The craftsman felt the sharp pain in his heart once again. Backing off, he grabbed a knife from the table and shouted,
“the knife should be beside the fork! It is used together when slicing meat!”
With this he plunged the knife into both his eyes, shrieking an unnatural cold laugh that only befits a person with a heart of stone. Satisfied that he was blind, slashed at his mouth, the blood streaming into his throat until the last sound he managed to utter was a feeble cough. A cough that either meant “I am weak” or “you’re missing something”.
The face of the statue moved close to the craftsman, it was like looking into a mirror. The only difference being a small white tear that broke through the tiny cracks spreading throughout its face.
“I’m going to find my wife.”