It’s time to snub Microsoft and Nine

The withdrawn Cudo deal.
How should Microsoft and Nine be punished for this week’s unbelievable Cudo book piracy scandal?

Cudo, a daily deals site, offered Australians a $99 ereader package featuring 4000 free ebooks, many of which neither Cudo nor its Chinese business partner owned the rights for. It had sold 2317 e-readers, grossing $229,383, by the time the deal ended, Paidcontent.org reports.

Cudo had been proudly spruiking the fact that the Harry Potter books were in the mix, when JK Rowling has yet to make her series available as ebooks anywhere in the world (they are due for launch soon as part of her Pottermore venture with Sony, and will no doubt sell like hotcakes).

The Lord of the Rings books were also among the freebies, and Rupert Murdoch might have something to say about that given his publishing house, HarperCollins, owns the copyright to Tolkien’s works in Australia.

Has anyone told Rupert or JK about it? Presumably they heard about it on Twitter and began to fume, just as I did.

I cannot believe that a mainstream business could be so ignorant about copyright. Until the error was pointed out, Cudo was actively onselling stolen goods to the Australian public, showing an utter disregard for the livelihoods of authors, publishers and booksellers.

As the Australian Booksellers Association put it in their press release on the issue, “That this site is supported by two media organisations that regularly take significant steps to protect their own rights in relation to their intellectual property and content also raises serious questions.

“The ABA would have thought that the Nine Network and Microsoft, who are both partners of NineMSN, would be sensitive to the issue of piracy given the effect piracy has had on the television and software markets. This is apparently not the case.”

It is scenarios like this that threaten the viability of our literary culture. How many Australians saw the deal and will now feel entitled to download in-copyright books illegally? Because if an organisation like Cudo, affiliated with two major corporations, can do it, why can’t they? Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that everyone who saw the deal before it was taken down has since been made aware of its scandalous nature.

Cudo says had not shipped the ereader and CD in question before pulling the deal, and is providing a replacement ereader with a selection of out of copyright titles to those who had placed an order. This is something, but not enough to make amends.

So, back to punishment.

We could all go and download pirated versions of Microsoft software and upcoming blockbusters on Channel Nine as revenge.

Though I can’t think of a single Nine program I could be bothered to pirate even if I was the pirating type (I’m not, I want to support the creative industries so that they will always be in a position to provide us with film, television and literary brilliance).

As for software, I’d rather pay than pirate to support innovation where I can there too, but I’m over Microsoft in any case. I have spent far too much of my precious time trying to get around the fact that Explorer prefers us to use Bing for search over Google.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and piracy is always wrong.

I’d suggest that instead, we start a campaign to switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org, Apple iWork or Google Docs, and from Channel Nine to, well, just about any other channel (this should be easier, most of us have already done so).

Make the switch! And say no to Cudo.

Leaving Microsoft To Change The World

Leaving Microsoft to Change the WorldIf you haven’t heard of the following author or book or managed to catch one or both, you need to clear your schedule this week: John Wood, the author and entrepreneur whose name perhaps doesn’t inspire intrigue but whose work does, is in town.

The Cliff Notes version of his story is that he was working in marketing for computing giant Microsoft when he went on a trekking holiday to Nepal. Getting off the beaten track on a whim and checking out a tiny Nepalese school, he found that not only did they only have a few books (and by ‘few’ I really do mean, like, three), they were keeping them under lock and key.

The idea was that the books were precious and needed to be preserved. The reality was that the books weren’t overly special (I think one was a Jackie Collins or equivalent) and preserving them meant starving children of learning opportunities. But the reality behind the reality was that this was a school in a village in a country that’s so dirt poor no one could really afford books.

Determined to change this, Wood sent out an email to his array of contacts (which was vast—he was in marketing for Microsoft, remember), asking them to send books to his parents’ place and he’d organise for the books to be shipped to Nepal to furnish this school. He then promptly forgot about it, being swept back up by work commitments.

That is, until his father called to say that they were running out of space and what on earth did he plan to do with all the books. Turns out lots of people heeded his call and Wood hasn’t stopped receiving and shipping books out since. He left Microsoft to pursue this full time (hence the book’s title) and has expanded the operation (now called Room to Read) into such other countries as Cambodia and Vietnam. He also found the time to write about the heady experience, the success of which even he can’t quite believe.

Claiming that you left Microsoft to change the world is a book title that includes an, er, element of confidence. I’ll admit that I was initially wary that the book was going to be, well, too American and too ‘I’m awesome’. But Wood has traveled widely and lived around the world (including here in our very own Syd-oh-nee) and doesn’t come across as either too marketing-slick or too American.

The book is a brilliant, easy, inspiring read and Wood is a guy-next-door motivating character with a strong sense of humility humour. In fact, I heard second-hand that he quipped he got in first to use ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World’ as a title before Bill Gates had a chance to.

I’m not going to issue a double thumbs up or star rating to Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, but I will say that it’s a book that I return to annually as a kind of touchstone and refresher. I recommend you read it at least once, and if there are tickets left and you’re able to get down to hear him speak, I recommend you do that too.

Typing About Comic Sans Criminals

Just My TypeOne of the most-important and most-used skills I’ve had to develop as a writer who works as an editor is steering clients away from their mystifying obsession with using the most heinous of all fonts every created: Comic Sans.

It’s the kind of noxious weed of a typeface that I have to cover my eyes, Command + A a document, and change its font to something more palatable like Garamond before I can even begin to take in or edit its contents.

I’m not alone, with Comic Sans, the font created to not look like a font and to add a playful, non-threatening element to a Microsoft program, now (as with most Microsoft products) the bane of writers’, editors’, and designers’ lives.

So much so that one designer has created a tongue-in-cheek website that uses humour to politely tell clients that no way, not now, not ever, is Comic Sans an appropriate choice of font. It’s called Comic Sans Criminal and you can order posters and stickers that bear the words like ‘You’re a Comic Sans criminal, but we’re here to help you’.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the first chapter of a book about fonts that I bought myself for Christmas (or bought just for having because I’m obsessed with typography) contains a story warning of the pitfalls of this font. Apparently some people thought it ok to use it on a gravestone. Yep. I know. It blows the mind.

Like the Comic Sans Criminal website, Just My Type contains some Comic Sans jokes. There’s the cartoon that states that every time you use Comic Sans, they’re forced to punch a bunny. And there’s the joke that when Comic Sans walks into a bar, the bartender says, ‘We don’t serve your type’.

But the book contains much more than diatribes against awful fonts and even more awful applications of them. It’s a comprehensively researched, thoroughly well put together thesis about the history of typefaces and their cultural impact.

In just the first few pages I learned that we have even more to thank Steve Jobs about than we thought, as he was the one who invented and brought a variety of fonts to computers. No, I’m not going to get into a how-Apple-is-better rant—I might be a Mac user, but I steer clear of that stuff and was, as I’ve previously mentioned, appalled by Stieg Larsson’s relentless naming of the now-outdated PowerBook in his Lisbeth Salander trilogy. But I am going to say that I’m bemused that many of the rubbish fonts that are now thorns in our sides can be traced back to origins within Microsoft’s evil empire.

Apple versus Microsoft arguments aside, the books outlines the history of the Transport font, which is used in the UK and Europe to clearly convey traffic directions and conditions. It introduces us to the founder of Gill Sans, a guy who had a dubious but well-documented relationship with a dog and his daughters (there’s a camp that believes we shouldn’t use the font on principle, and I’m inclined to steer clear of it now that I know its history).

The book also looks at the font being used for the 2012 Olympics in London and how fonts can have gender. It explains the now-iconic fonts Apple used to use up to the early iPods (Chicago). And, best of all, it contains on the inside covers an incredible and art-like periodic table of fonts.

I highly recommend Just My Type. I highly recommend dobbing in Comic Sans criminals. And if you know where I can obtain one of those font periodic tables in the form of a wall-mounted piece of art, please let me know.

Microsoft Turns Over an Old Leaf

News circulated around the web last week that Microsoft has filed a patent application for the visual look of the page turn on touchscreen devices. According to the NY Times:

The patent application states that when “one or more pages are displayed on a touch display” a “virtual page turn curls a lifted portion of the page to progressively reveal a back side of the page while progressively revealing a front side of a subsequent page.” Just like real pages in a paper book.

The application was apparently filed back in 2009, when work on Microsoft’s Courier tablet was still going (the device’s development was cancelled in April this year). What’s odd is not that Microsoft had the temerity to patent something that a few other companies had already implemented in their touchscreen applications (the Classics app on the iPhone was one, and the iPad’s iBooks app uses the same visual effect now). It’s not even particularly odd that a tech company can patent something that is so blatantly silly. There are some extremely weird software patents already floating about: Microsoft patented that creepy paperclip with eyes and no legs that used to ask you if you needed help writing a letter, and Facebook has a patent for the newsfeed (a concept which clearly derives from multiple other sources). No, the odd thing about this patent is that the technology itself seems so … unnecessary.

I mean, I’ve shown quite a few people the page turning animation in iBooks, and they have ooh’d and aah’d  as you might expect. It’s a very pretty animation. But having now used the iBooks application to actually read books, the animation is kind of a pain in the arse. It’s nice for showing off the touchscreen technology, and for making iBooks look more like a real book. But it offers no other functionality. For someone who is already used to reading ebooks, it is a superfluous, annoying bit of frippery. Most of us are already used to scrolling to read text, and if the page metaphor is important to the idea of the book, then nothing’s stopping an instant flick that changes the page. Why the extra trouble to make it look like paper? It reminds me of a learn-to-type program I used as a kid that made every key press sound like the a typewriter key, and every press of the ‘return’ key like an actual carriage return. It was absolutely maddening. Surely the noise was the worst thing about the typewriter? And surely the pages in a book are – if not actually annoying – then superfluous to requirements? What do you think? Are you so wedded to the dead tree format that even an ebook should have pages that can be turned? Or do you just want to get at the content? Sound off in the comments.