Ruminations On E-Readers

I’ve been exchanging some tweets and e-mails recently on the subject of e-books and e-readers.  Many people, including me, see this as a pretty exciting time in the history of the printed word, but as usual, I’ve got to find a way to feel smugly superior as I fight my stupid nerd turf wars.

But discussing this on Twitter really isn’t working for me.  I’m not sure I can get all my thoughts down in 140 pages, let alone 140 characters.  I find I’m oversimplifying my own thoughts, and reading meanings into messages from others that may not have been intended.

I’m still sorting out what to think about all the issues associated with e-books.  Important considerations are whether we’re talking about the devices themselves or the content that’s loaded onto them.  Is that content copyrighted or public domain?  Is the content purchased, borrowed, or licensed?  When it comes to the content, for now I’ll just say that I’m probably open to more possibilities than my sometimes militant support of Free Software might suggest.  Perhaps I’ll tackle that in a future blog post.

There’s also the consideration that most of these e-readers have networking capabilities, and involve communicating with servers controlled by the e-reader supplier.  Again, I understand that there will be some terms that need to be agreed on when using these capabilities.

But for this post, I’m going to concentrate not on the downloadable content or any network capabilities, but on the e-reader itself – the thing you hold in your hand.  There’s all sorts of cool models on the market now – Nooks, Kindles, iPads, etc., but every one that I’ve taken a closer look at appears to require me to sign up for the same sort of “End User License Agreement” (EULA) that seems to come with so many electronic devices these days.  Many people just click right through these things without a second thought, but these EULAs are contracts, and have been held by United States courts to be legally binding.  I don’t enter into these contracts lightly.

But before I get into my concerns with these contracts, a question for my readers (yes, both of you): Why would you agree to them (or why have you agreed)?  The terms seem pretty bad, and you’re giving up the right to do things that you’d otherwise be perfectly free to do.  Why do this?  Comments are enabled, I really want to hear some feedback.

Anyway, when I buy a device, I expect to be able to use it as I please, and not have to worry about whether the supplier of the device approves.  Imagine the implications if Bic could decide what was OK to write with the pens we buy from them.  I don’t see any reason to treat an e-reader differently.  Suppliers claim the need to protect various rights under copyright law.  Fine, but I’m bound by copyright law already, no additional contract terms needed.  I don’t see how they have any business asking for further restrictions, and I’m reluctant to agree to any.

Every e-reader I’ve looked into has its own EULA, and each one is a little different from all the others; I won’t get into the specific problems I have with each one here. (Although it might be worth doing in a follow-up post.)  What follows are some of the common problems I see come up in most of their EULAs.  Some e-readers might not have every problem that I discuss below, and some have additional problems I haven’t described.  I’ve paraphrased their wording, but links to a few specific EULAs can be found at the end of this post.  Again, in my points below I’m only talking about terms placed on usage of the physical device – not the content you download onto it, and not the manner in which you use any network capabilities built into it.  Those issues can and should be considered separately, but many EULAs fail to separate these issues, and they end up applying some or all of the following restrictions to the device itself:

  • You must agree to the contract before you can use the device.

Ridiculous.  When I buy a device, I intend to use it as I see fit.  Again, I’m talking the physical device here, not about buying an e-book and making mass copies – that’s covered by copyright law and is illegal regardless of the contract.  I’m talking about the right to use an object that I’ve purchased however I see fit.  Dodge can’t take back my car if they don’t like how I drive it; I’m not granting someone that power over me by buying an e-reader from them.

  • Failure to comply with any terms of the contract means you forfeit all rights under the contract.

Wait, what?  If I violate one part of the contract, the entire contract is cancelled?  That seems rather harsh.  Keep in mind the previous point, which is that this contract is the only thing allowing you to use the device in the first place.  Once the supplier decides you’ve violated any single part of the agreement, they’re within their rights to turn your e-book reader into an unusable chunk of plastic.  (And if you’re e-reader has network connectivity, they probably have the means to do so.)  And who determines what a violation is?  That’s typically defined as being unilaterally with the supplier.

Also, they can terminate the agreement, but there’s no provision for how I can end the contract.  I’m bound to its terms in perpetuity, and I have no safe way to cancel.

Lastly, I’m curious what would happen to any digital library that I’ve spent time and money building, if a supplier decides that they’re now going to exercise their option to terminate all my rights under the contract.  Some of the contracts I’ve read seem to suggest that I’d lose access to all that content.

  • The contract terms can be changed by the supplier at any time.

In case the contract wasn’t bad enough, they can make it worse at any time.  Not all e-readers have this, and the ones that do phrase it differently, but over and over, I see variations on the theme that the supplier can change the rules whenever they please.  Combine this with the ability noted above that prevents me from terminating the contract and we’ve gone from Orwellian to Kafkaesque. 

  • No reverse engineering the device.

These devices are already protected by various patents.  Beyond those protections, reverse engineering is perfectly legal and I see no reason why I should sign a contract promising not to engage in it.  Plus, since I make my living as an engineer, entering into a contract like this opens me up to potential legal liability. 

  • You will only use the device in compliance with the law.

First off, doesn’t the very existence of a law compel me to comply with it?  Why do I need to sign a contract promising a third party that I’ll obey the law?  That’s between me and a jury of my peers.  Secondly, who’s law?  Federal law?  International law?  Sharia law?  Will I be in breach of contract if I use the device to display a picture of Muhammad?

  • The device has no warrantee, and the supplier has no liability.

Conditions like this aren’t an automatic showstopper, but considering how much they’re asking me to give up, it seems a bit selfish that they won’t give up anything in return.  They are, after all, trying to sell me something.

  • Specific EULAs:

All the above assumes that the EULAs I’ve found at the following locations are the same as what I’d be agreeing to by purchasing the respective devices:

Some of the above terms are so bad, I’m not convinced that they’re all legally binding under contract law, but since I’m not a lawyer, I’m not very well equipped to put this to the test.  If any lawyers stumble onto this article, I’d be thrilled to have some comments.

The ironic thing is that I don’t necessarily have any specific desire to do what they want to prohibit me from doing.  But I have the right to do these things, and these are rights that I’m not willing to part with for the sake of a little convenience.

You might think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here.  After all, why let some arcane legal technicalities get in the way of these fun little gadgets?  But more and more, these e-books will be controlling how we read and what we read.  The written word and the ability to access it may be the most powerful tool at our disposal.  It’s too powerful for us to sell it off so cheaply.

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 19:21  Leave a Comment  
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Good Film Broadcasts, Week Of September 26th, 2010

Screening Of The Week:

The Sting

George Roy Hill, 1973, 129 Minutes

Friday, 2:00 AM, Turner Classic Movies

One of the challenges in writing these recommendations is finding new ways to state the obvious.  I mean, The Sting is an awesome movie.  Why do I need paragraph after paragraph to reiterate what’s so incredibly clear?  Well, perhaps some of my readers (perhaps, even, both of them) haven’t seen this yet, and perhaps they need some convincing that it’s worth 129 minutes of their time.  And, finally, perhaps “trust me, it’s awesome”, isn’t exactly insightful film criticism.

But it is awesome, for many, many reasons.  This second pairing of Paul Newman and Robert Redford (after 1969’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, also under the direction of George Roy Hill), has Newman playing experienced grifter Henry Gondorff, showing the ropes to small-time conman Johnny Hooker, played by Redford.  The two leads arguably have better chemistry in this film than in their earlier pairing, with Newman bringing a sense of weary experience and Redford as the naive but enthusiastic student.

Hooker is on the run from Doyle Lonnegan, a crime boss he recently scammed, portrayed with great Irish menace by Robert Shaw.  Gondorff takes Hooker under his wing, and together, they plot an elaborate scam on Lonnegan.  Fleshing out this great cast are Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Dana Elcar and Harold Gould.  Together, these great character actors come together in an elaborate chess game to determine who’ll have whose money when all is said and done.

All this is set against Depression-era Chicago, with costumes and sets that do a great job of setting the atmosphere.  Is it authentic?  I don’t know, but it feels real, and, more importantly, it’s just what the story needs.  I do know that the famed soundtrack is somewhat anachronistic, being more appropriate for the turn-of-the-century than for 1936, but it also fits the mood, and helps elevate this film to a classic.

Up above I noted that this movie would take 129 minutes of your time.  The first time I saw it, it took a bit more of mine, as after it was over, I just sat there for 10 minutes or so, in stunned amazement at what I had just seen.

Other Good Films Screening This Week:

Just missing the cut this week is Turner Classic Movies’ screening of 1972’s Daughters of Satan, starring Tom Selleck.

Pulp Fiction

  • Saturday, 7:15 PM, IFC
  • What do they call this film in France?

Body Of Lies

  • Monday, 10:00 AM, HBO2

The Informant!

  • Monday, 12:15 PM, HBO2
  • Why is there an exclamation point in the title?  Find out this Monday.

Eagle Eye

  • Monday, 6:00 PM, HBO

Thank You For Smoking

  • Monday, 6:45 PM, IFC
  • You’re welcome!

Gran Torino

  • Tuesday, 9:30 AM, HBO2

(500) Days Of Summer

  • Tuesday, 12:30 PM, HBO

The Searchers

  • Tuesday, 1:30 PM, Turner Classic Movies

The Magnificent Seven

  • Tuesday, 5:45 PM, Turner Classic Movies

Schindler’s List

  • Wednesday, 2:45 AM, HBO

American Splendor

  • Wednesday, 6:00 AM, IFC

Home Alone

  • Wednesday, 6:35 AM, HBO2
  • This may not be the most highly regarded comedy that I’ve ever recommended on my blog, but I laughed like crazy.

Annie Hall

  • Wednesday, 7:45 AM, IFC
  • This, on the other hand, just might be the most highly regarded comedy that I’ve ever recommended on my blog.


  • Wednesday, 9:30 AM, HBO2

Fatal Attraction

  • Thursday, 2:00 PM, HBO2

Sling Blade

  • Thursday, 7:45 PM, IFC

Leaving Las Vegas

  • Thursday, 10:30 PM, IFC

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

  • Thursday, 6:30 AM, HBO2

Layer Cake

  • Thursday, 10:30 PM, IFC

Pan’s Labyrinth

  • Friday, 1:50 AM, The Sundance Channel
  • If writing these recommendations has taught me anything, it’s the correct spelling of “labyrinth”.

The Sting

  • Friday, 2:00 AM, Turner Classic Movies

The Odd Couple

  • Friday, 10:00 AM, Turner Classic Movies


  • Friday, 2:15 PM, Turner Classic Movies

The Wrestler

  • Saturday, 3:10 AM, HBO2

A Beautiful Mind

  • Saturday, 11:30 AM, HBO2


  • Saturday, 5:45 PM, HBO2

Swimming With Sharks

  • Saturday, 5:55 PM, IFC

Bonnie & Clyde

  • Saturday, 8:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies


  • Saturday, 10:00 PM, The Sundance Channel

Boxcar Bertha

  • Sunday, October 3rd, 3:15 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Martin Scorsese’s first color movie, courtesy of (who else?) Roger Corman.

Edit, 9/30: Spelling correction.

Published in: on September 26, 2010 at 13:43  Leave a Comment  
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Good Film Broadcasts, Week Of September 19, 2010

Screening Of The Week:


Akira Kurosawa, 1985, 160 Minutes

Tuesday, 9:10 AM, The Sundance Channel

Not Kurosawa’s final film, but his final of the epic Samurai films that he’s best remembered for.  He was known to describe Kagemusha, completed five years before, as a “dress rehearsal” for this one.

Ran opens with a hunting expedition led by feudal lord Hidetora Ichimonji.  Also in attendance are two lords his family is allied with, and his three sons.  Hidetora takes this opportunity to announce his “retirement”: he will abdicate his position in favor of his eldest son Taro; his two younger sons, Jiro and Saburo, will inherit two lesser fortresses in support of Taro.  Taro’s all for this, as you might expect, and Jiro voices his support as well, but Saburo attempts to point out the flaws inherent in divvying up the power in such a way.  This dissent does not sit well with Saburo, and soon he’s exiled from the kingdom.  Of course, the transfer of power don’t go quite as expected, and once Taro and Jiro sense weakness from their father, relations between the men begin to deteriorate.

If this all sounds somewhat familiar, it might be because it’s inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, but only loosely.  It also draws inspiration from the historical Japanese lord Mori Motonari.  But most importantly, it’s Kurosawa’s story from start to finish.

Leading the way on screen is Kurosawa’s leading man of choice (for his later films): Tatsuya Nakadai, who faithful readers of this blog (yes, both of you) will remember from the several previous shout-outs I’ve given him.  He’s supported here by a talented ensemble, perhaps most notably Shinnosuke “Peter” Ikehata, as Ichimonji’s jester.

Kurosawa was nearly blind when he made Ran, which is astonishing considering how visual this film is.  Each faction gets its own color scheme, and when the cavalries charge, the way the colors flow across the screen is something to behold.  But this is not a stirring, inspirational film by any means.  The title translates to “chaos”, and the message reinforces the nihilistic view of an absurd, random universe where ones life’s work can evaporate before ones eyes.

Other Good Films Screening This Week:

Yeah, I’m posting a day late, which means I’m too late to alert you to the fact that Turner Classic Movies showed Wait Until Dark last night.  The fact that these sorts of things keep me awake at night, keeps me awake at night.

Anyway, this week’s theme is “monsters”, with Monster, Monster’s Ball, Pan’s Labyrinth and Sunset Boulevard.

Dancer In The Dark

  • Tuesday, 6:15 AM, IFC
  • David Morse usually plays nice guys, but I can never quite trust him after what he does in this one.

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

  • Tuesday, 7:00 AM, The Sundance Channel

Eagle Eye

  • Tuesday, 7:30 AM, HBO
  • Everyone complained that this was too implausible, and by real-world standards, it is, but it consistently plays by its own rules, and I liked it.


  • Tuesday, 9:10 AM, The Sundance Channel


  • Tuesday, 11:20 PM, The Sundance Channel

Body Of Lies

  • Wednesday, Noon, HBO2
  • I like Ridley Scott, and I like Russell Crowe, but I haven’t always liked their collaborations.  This is an exception – a well made thriller.

Gran Torino

  • Wednesday, 4:00 PM, HBO2

Sunset Boulevard

  • Wednesday, 6:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Yes, it’s as good as advertised.  Check it out.

The Informant!

  • Wednesday, 6:00 PM, HBO2


  • Wednesday, 10:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies

Brewster McCloud

  • Wednesday, 11:45 PM, Turner Classic Movies
  • I’ve caught bits and pieces of this over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it from beginning to end.  I’m looking forward to doing so this week.

This Is Spinal Tap

  • Thursday, 1:45 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • It took me a while to see this, and by the time I did, I had had all the jokes spoiled for me.  But even knowing exactly what was going to happen, I still laughed like crazy during the Stonehenge scene.


  • Thursday, 3:20 AM, The Sundance Channel

Burn After Reading

  • Thursday, 4:25 AM, HBO
  • Just what is he building down there in the basement?

Encounters At The End Of The World

  • Thursday, 7:15 AM, The Sundance Channel
  • Werner Herzog’s career seems motivated by asking questions nobody else thinks to ask, and the world is better off for it.

Barton Fink

  • Thursday, 10:35 AM, IFC


  • Thursday, 8:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies

American Psycho

  • Thursday, 11:15 AM, IFC
  • I still think of this movie every time Huey Lewis comes on the radio.

Monster’s Ball

  • Friday, 1:15 AM, HBO
  • I love this movie, but it’s going to be a while before I’m ready to watch it again.


  • Friday, 11:45 AM, HBO

(500) Days Of Summer

  • Friday, 6:15 PM, HBO

Pan’s Labyrinth

  • Friday Night/Saturday Morning, Midnight, The Sundance Channel

The Cincinnati Kid

  • Friday Night/Saturday Morning, Midnight, Turner Classic Movies

The Mouse That Roared

  • Saturday, 9:00 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Name a 60s comedy about nuclear war that has Peter Sellers playing three roles.  Well, OK, there’s that one, but there’s this one too.

Bend It Like Beckham

  • Saturday, 10:05 AM, IFC

A Streetcar Named Desire

  • Saturday, 8:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Three years before Brando played Napoleon, he spends much of this film instructing us on the subtleties of the Napoleonic code.

The Wrestler

  • Sunday, September 26, 2:50 AM, HBO

The Hunt For Red October

  • Sunday, September 26, 3:40 AM, HBO2
Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 20:04  Leave a Comment  
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Good Film Broadcasts, Week Of September 12th, 2010

Screening Of The Week:

Lord Love A Duck

George Alexrod, 1966, 105 Minutes

Wednesday, 6:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies

I’m really not sure where to begin with this one.  I definitely recommend it, and have been wanting to make it the Screening Of The Week for a while now, but what can you say about such a bizarre little movie like this?

Roddy McDowell plays Alan “Mollymauk” Musgrave, in what is one of his best performances.  The “Mollymauk” nickname comes from a type of albatross which Alan shares certain qualities with – you really have to see McDowell’s performance to understand.  Alan befriends Barbara Ann, portrayed by Tuesday Weld, who embodies every mid-60s sexy teenage stereotype.  Alan has a sort of hypnotic power over Barbara Ann, and, everywhere he goes, he’s pretty much the smartest person in the room, and this allows him to manipulate the events in the film for his own amusement.  Soon, Barbara Ann has a job, a husband, and a chance to become a Hollywood star.

All of this provides director George Axelrod the opportunity to skewer various 1960s pop-culture standards: modern education, with a newly built, high-tech school presided over by principal Harvey Korman; commercialism, with a Cashmere sweater scene that has to be seen to be believed; and married life, with Barbara Ann’s ill-fated husband Bob, and his perpetually drunk mother, played by Ruth Gordon.  (And how can any movie with Ruth Gordon not be worth seeing?)

This is a pretty dark comedy, and it goes to some really weird places (again, what is up with that Cashmere sweater scene?), but if you like those surreal comedy films that only the 1960s seemed to be able to produce, check this one out.

Other Good Films Screening This Week:

This week is “Elia Kazan Week”, with A Face In The Crowd, A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll all showing up on the schedule.

Layer Cake

  • Sunday, 6:00 PM, IFC
  • Another entry in the often-rewarding genre of British gangster movies, featuring a pre-Bond Daniel Craig.


  • Sunday Night/Monday Morning, Midnight, The Sundance Channel
  • For those who felt “Oz” wasn’t quite harsh enough, check out this depiction of IRA members held prisoner by the UK.

The Wrestler

  • Monday, 2:45 AM, HBO
  • This one lives up to all the hype it received.

It Happened One Night

  • Monday, 6:15 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Storm the walls of Jericho with Clark Gable.


  • Monday, 8:35 AM, The Sundance Channel
  • One of Kurosawa’s last films, and his most epic.

Gran Torino

  • Monday, 10:00 PM, HBO2

Dressed To Kill

  • Monday Night/Tuesday Morning, Midnight, IFC

A Face In The Crowd

  • Tuesday, 12:45 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • See Andy Griffith play an absolutely horrible human being.

Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

  • Tuesday, 3:30 AM, The Sundance Channel


  • Tuesday, 7:00 AM, HBO2

Encounters At The End Of The World

  • Tuesday, 7:25 AM, The Sundance Channel
  • Everyone’s vaguely aware that, at any point in time, there are various researchers living and working in Antarctica, but what sort of people decide to go to such a place?  Werner Herzog travels down there to find out in this documentary.

Gone With The Wind

  • Wednesday, 8:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies

The Informant!

  • Wednesday, 12:35 AM, HBO
  • This is not exactly the movie that the ad campaign made it out to be.  In fact, for much of the running time, it’s not clear just what sort of film it is.  But by the time it ends, it’s clearly been an interesting story.

A Streetcar Named Desire

  • Wednesday, 2:15 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • If you haven’t seen this yet, you really need to.

Lord Love A Duck

  • Wednesday, 6:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies

Pan’s Labyrinth

  • Wednesday, 8:00 PM, The Sundance Channel
  • Guillermo Del Toro at his most Guillero-Del-Toro-esque.

The Usual Suspects

  • Wednesday, 8:00 PM, IFC

Pulp Fiction

  • Wednesday, 10:00 PM, IFC

(500) Days Of Summer

  • Thursday, 10:30 AM, HBO
  • There are so many bad romantic comedies being made these days, so don’t let this one, which is actually good, get lost in the shuffle.

Fatal Attraction

  • Thursday, 1:30 PM, HBO2

A Beautiful Mind

  • Thursday, 4:00 PM, HBO

Thank You For Smoking

  • Thursday, 8:00 PM, IFC

Office Space

  • Thursday, 11:15 PM, IFC
  • PC Load Letter.

The Virgin Spring

  • Friday, 12:30 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Vintage Ingmar Bergman.

Schindler’s List

  • Friday, 2:05 AM, HBO

Sling Blade

  • Friday, 12:30 PM, IFC


  • Friday Night/Saturday Morning, Midnight, IFC

Baby Doll

  • Saturday, 12:15 AM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Eli Wallach, in his first film role, absolutely owns every scene he’s in.

Body Of Lies

  • Saturday, 11:30 AM, HBO2


  • Saturday, 3:15 PM, HBO

Soylent Green

  • Saturday, 4:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies
  • Chances are that you already know the “surprise ending”, but don’t let that stop you from checking this one out.


  • Saturday, 6:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies
  • A more serious take on the same material famously covered by Dr. Strangelove.

Good Film Broadcasts, Week Of August 1st, 2010


  • Monday, 5:15 PM, IFC

A Christmas Tale

  • Monday, 10:00 PM, The Sundance Channel

Body Of Lies

  • Monday, 10;30 PM, HBO

The Station Agent

  • Tuesday, 8:05 AM, IFC

The Great Escape

  • Tuesday, 2:45 PM, Turner Classic Movies

Slumdog Millionaire

  • Tuesday, 5:00 PM, HBO2

The Magnificent Seven

  • Tuesday, 8:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies


  • Wednesday, 4:00 PM, HBO2


  • Thursday, 2:50 AM, HBO


  • Friday, 7:30 AM, HBO2

The Dark Knight

  • Friday, 9:30 AM, HBO

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday

  • Friday, 11:45 AM, IFC

Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince

  • Friday, Noon, HBO


  • Friday, 9:30 PM, Turner Classic Movies


  • Friday, 11:30 PM, Turner Classic Movies

Autumn Sonata

  • Saturday, 1:30 AM, Turner Classic Movies


  • Saturday, 3:30 AM, Turner Classic Movies

The Adventures Of Robin Hood

  • Saturday, 6:15 PM, Turner Classic Movies

The Sea Hawk

  • Saturday, 8:00 PM, Turner Classic Movies


  • Sunday, August 8th, 1:45 AM, HBO2