Save Money, Spend Time

I’ve gotten a lot of value out of Humble Bundle’s ebook bundles, which have let me cheaply amass a library of good books and comics that it’ll take me ages to get through. But I do have a few minor complaints…

  1. It feels like I spend more time fixing up metadata than actually reading them. Books tend to be okay, but the comics are usually missing metadata entirely aside from the title, which is in a compressed format like “dropsofgodvol12.pdf”. Calibre at least has some tools to let you batch convert titles like that into a more reasonable form, but then I still have to fill in the author, artists, genre, etc.
  2. You can get the books in various formats, but often it’ll present a choice between like a 150 MB PDF, a 254 MB EPUB, and a 18 MB CBZ. Is there a significant quality difference between them? I typically would grab the CBZ for comics, but this CBZ is suspiciously small, so is it very poor quality? Sometimes the bigger file is the higher-quality one, but sometimes it’s just unnecessarily bloated, too. The only way to be sure is to download them all and compare, and which one is best is often different from book to book.
  3. The ‘batch downloader’ is kind of a joke since it just automatically kicks off an avalanche of individual downloads, which causes a flood of popups to confirm the save location. Some of them inevitably fail to download properly, so I still have to go through manually and verify and redownload them. There’s a bittorrent option, but it’s still a separate torrent file for each book that you have to download.

Some of this might just be my urge to keep things organized, and it’s definitely still worth it to get the bundles, though.


Due to Amazon shenanigans, I’ve been browsing around some other e-book stores, and checked in on Kobo today. I was kind of surprised that the “Graphic Novels and Comics” section had its own “Erotica” subsection, and just had to check it, out of curiosity. And once in there, I couldn’t help but notice that the listing of books went out to…69 pages.

Back to Basics

I’ve been feeling stagnant lately. In a lot of ways, but professionally in particular. I’ve been working at the same job now for quite a while, doing fixes and enhancements on old codebases, in only a small team, which imposes various limits. I largely have to stick to the languages already in use in the projects, changes have to fit within the existing, often poor-quality designs, new components and large-scale changes are infrequent, they’re fairly “old-fashioned” applications where newer techniques aren’t really applicable, etc. And with a small team there’s no real feedback as to whether what I’m doing is actually any good or not, so who knows what bad habits and antipatterns I’ve been picking up and relying on.

I’ve never really branched out on my own time, either. Despite having been a computer nerd most of my life, I’m not one of those who spent all day coding at the office, and then went home and coded all evening as a hobby. There’s sometimes a perception that you really should be coding 24/7, work and home, or you’re just crippling your own growth and career, but…eh, I played Minecraft instead.

So, I’ve been thinking that I should probably get back to fundamentals, try and approach things from a fresh perspective and learn anew. I don’t have a specific project to work with yet, so I’ll start with reading some of the books I’ve seen recommended in various places, including:

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs – An introductory work, so I’ll be familiar with a lot of it already, but I’m sure there’ll be new stuff as well. And it’ll be from a ‘functional programming’ perspective, which I’ve never really investigated before and is a significantly different way of approaching programming, so I’m hoping to broaden my horizons there.

A Philosophy of Software Design – I know one of my weak points is on how to approach the overall design of a program, since 99% of the time I’m working stuff into an already-existing design. Having to envision and construct the entire design yourself is a lot more intimidating, so I’m hoping for good advice here.

Code Complete, 2nd Edition – A good book focused more on the lower-level nuts-‘n-bolts of programming. I’ve got plenty of experience there, but maybe this can help point out where my habits run contrary to good practice and recommendations. (I’ve actually had this book for a while, but it’s a massive tome and I’ve barely made a dent in it. Oh wait, my copy of this is stuck at the office…)

Remembering To Read

I need to get back to reading books. I haven’t bought a physical book in quite a while now, but I’ve collected a fair number of ebooks from bundles, sales, giveaways, etc. Time to, you know, actually read some!

So what the heck, go to the Calibre menus, “Pick a random book”. Hmm, no. *Pick* Nope, not that one. *Pick* No…

ebook library problem #1: On this digital bookshelf, “The Book of Kells” lives right next to “Functional Programming in Python” and “Pathfinder Core Rulebook”. It’s just a big pile-o’-stuff that’s not very consistently tagged, so it’s difficult to organize in the same ways you might a regular bookshelf.

Problem #2: Since I got a lot of them from bundles and giveaways, I’m not actually very familiar with a lot of these titles and authors. Any random book might be great…or it might be a complete waste of time. Some of them are parts of series, which weights them more heavily in the count, and might expect you to be familiar with a larger universe.

So, new approach: I’ve added a custom Yes/No field to Calibre named “interested” and I’ll go through the whole library. Any titles that I recognize as “ooh yeah, I’ve been meaning to read that one” or just look intriguing I’ll mark as Yes. Then I can do a random pick from this limited set.

After applying all that, I’ve reduced my set of candidates from 840-ish down to 31, and the random pick from that is…*drumroll*…The Computer Connection, by Alfred Bester.

Save Me, Superman!

I bought a scanner a while back to help with my mess of papers and documents, and then it collected dust in a corner for a while. One of the other reasons I got it though, was so that I could scan some of my comic collection, for convenience and long-term archival. Unfortunately it’s probably one of those ideas that was better in theory than in practice.

It takes about two or three minutes per page to do the basic scanning, after accounting for proper positioning attempts, previews, the full scan, the slowness of the software and disk processing, and trying to handle things carefully. That just gets me a bunch of extremely large raw images that still need to be postprocessed, though. Stuff like the colour curves and black level adjustment could be skipped if I’m not feeling too picky, but at the very least it has to be cropped, rescaled to a manageable size, compressed, and checked for gross errors or aliasing patterns.

For now I’ll probably only bother doing this on my very favourite and rarer, hard-to-replace issues. For others, I may as well let someone else do all the work and just find some pirate scans online… :-P

Brick And Mortar Is Dead

I’ve been saving up a list of books that have been recommended by people I know from various places on the net. So, tonight I went down to the fairly large Chapters store at Chinook to buy some of them, and I could not find a single one of the titles.

It’s not like they’re obscure, out-of-print books either; I jumped on and found every one of them available new, and that’s where I’ll be getting them from. No, in most cases their major fault was simply being more than five or ten years old, or being earlier in a series. That last one in particular baffles me; they’ll stock the latest and greatest book in a long-running series or world, but not the early ones that someone new to it might like to start off at?

I also took a look at the technical books, and although there were a couple interesting ones, the standard prices are still a lot higher than what I can get online.

Instead, I just picked up a few popular classics that I’d been meaning to get around to eventually, but still left without a single one of the books I’d intended to get there. Amazon, here I come (again).

The Obscurity Of Fame

“In order to set her straight, I had to let her know that the reason she’d never heard of me was because I was famous.”

An interesting interview with Neal Stephenson. I’m working my way through Cryptonomicon, and although it’s slow going, it’s still pretty interesting. It’s not really so much about cryptography itself (there are no silly “oh no, he’s only 13 bits away from breaking the asymmetric vault key on the RS/6000!” scenes) as it is about scenarios where it’s a subtle influencing factor, in wartime and business, and the kinds of people (proto-geeks, if you will) you might find involved.

Wheel Of Zzzzz…

Not only do I have a stack of games to work through, but I have a stack of books waiting, too.

Currently I’ve been trying to get through The Eye of the World, the first book of the Wheel Of Time series, and it’s been slow going. So far there’s been a lot of Vague Hinting, people constantly Running Away From Imminent Threats, and descriptions of the world and people as they travel, but it still doesn’t really feel like anything interesting is happening yet. There isn’t anything that really compels me to continue reading.

Admittedly though, I am only reading it in small bursts as time allows, which is potentially making a somewhat slow stretch seem even worse. It’s a beloved enough series (the first few books, anyway) that there has to be something more to it, so perhaps it just hasn’t reached the good parts yet (maybe things pick up once they actually reach Tar Valon), or has to be read at a faster pace.

It probably doesn’t help to be reading multiple books simultaneously, either. I’m also reading A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge, and it at least always has something new or interesting happening in order to retain your attention. Maybe I should finish it first and then go back to EotW…


I’ve begun reading more fiction again, after a long hiatus. I used to devour books like crazy as a teenager, but they gradually got replaced by textbooks and technical manuals and games and web surfing and so on, and I just didn’t have time for plain old written stories anymore.

Now that I’ve got my V37 though, it’s made it a lot more convenient to find books, tote them around, and read them in spare moments thanks to the wonders of the e-book formats.

There is the occasional problem though, and it’s best illustrated here.

Why in the world is the e-book version over 40% more expensive than if you were to buy it brand new in paperback??? The physical book’s price includes a lot of overhead costs like distribution, storage, printing, etc. that would be next to nothing for the e-book version, yet they want even more for it. The only reason I can think of is that demand for it is expected to be so low that the production cost of putting it in e-book format has to be a large chunk of each sale (i.e., if it cost $10,000 to convert and you only expect to sell 1000 copies, each copy becomes $10 more expensive), but then the high price deters people from the e-book version anyway.

Another questionable tactic is that of selling off individual short stories. Not that there’s anything theoretically wrong with it, but here it seems like an attempt to squeeze more money out of them. Traditionally you would get a bunch of short stories in a collection, but if you were to add up enough of the stories you’d expect to get in one, the total cost is a lot higher when you have to buy them separately. I don’t want to have to look through the whole list, story-by-story, trying to figure out if it’s worth the 87 cents or not.

Fortunately most e-books *are* cheaper than the paper versions by a buck or two. It’s debatable whether an e-book is really a good replacement for a ‘real’, printed book, but the cheaper they are, the more you can get. I’ll probably just get printed versions of my favourites, which I might still want to reread twenty years down the road, but I don’t need printed versions of *every* so-so story I run across.