Monthly Archives: September 2009

What E-Scavengers Are Looking For When They Scavenge Your Computer

Yesterday we wrote about toxic e-waste being dumped into landfills around poor communities in Asia and Africa where scavengers, including children, earn a pittance reclaiming and selling metals and other materials, materials loaded with chemicals that poison the air, water, land – and people.

But there is more in that discarded hardware than metal, plastic and wire. There is also information. In 2003 two MIT graduate students discovered credit card and Social Security numbers, medical records and other confidential information in computers that had been thrown away. “Even those with ‘erased’ disk drives may harbor confidential information,” their report revealed. The MIT News article goes on to say,

“Scavenging through the data inadvertently left on 158 used disk drives, the students at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science found more than 5,000 credit card numbers, detailed personal and corporate financial records, numerous medical records, gigabytes of personal email and pornography….Of the disk drives acquired, 129 were functional. Of these, Garfinkel and Shelat found 28 disk drives in which little or no attempt had been made to erase any information. One of these drives, Shelat says, had apparently come from an automatic teller machine in Illinois and contained a year’s worth of financial transactions.”

If you project the team’s findings to the tens of millions of computers tossed out every year (“More than 150 million disk drives were retired from primary service in 2002,” the report says) well, you don’t have to be an MIT graduate student to figure out just how big the problem is. Read
MIT researchers uncover mountains of private data on discarded computers
and learn why even with care it’s far harder to sanitize a computer than you think.

Though the report was written in 2003, there is no evidence whatsoever that users are any more conscientious today than they were six years ago. Meanwhile, the river of e-junk flows ever wider and faster, and, to the toxicity of the metals and poisons in it, you can add countless gigabytes of unsecured information and precious data that are falling into the hands of criminals.

Want to prevent your identity from being stolen? Don’t leave it on the sidewalk for the trash haulers to collect.



Goin’ Rogue? Here’s How To Write Your Memoir in Two Months

Wonderin’ how Sarah Palin, who ain’t much for readin’ newspapers, wrote her memoir in sixty days? Read John Cook’s profile of Lynn Vincent in Gawker. Vincent is described as a “co-writer” but what part of the book Palin “co’d” is a worthy matter for speculation.

Vincent’s viewpoint is certainly compatible with Palin’s, though. Cook reports that she “ghost wrote the memoir of Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, the former head of the Army’s Special Forces Command, who literally believes that his job in the U.S. military was to defeat Satan for the Christian nation of America.”

Cook’s conclusion? “Sarah Palin’s book will be awesome because her ghostwriter has abundant experience in shaping the confused, fevered thoughts of religious fanatics into sentences.”

Sorry about the dropped g’s. It’s the Sarah Palin influence, obviously.



Getting Rid of E-Trash? Dump it on Asia’s Poor

On a recent Chris Matthews Show the host asked his guests to “Tell me something I don’t know.” Rick Stengel, managing editor for Time Magazine, said, “By the end of the year you’re going to see a plethora of e-readers – of post-Kindle devices – four color.”

For those of you who have been keeping up with e-books Stengel didn’t tell us anything we don’t know. But here’s something that nobody knows: when the next generation of e-readers arrives, what’s going to happen to the Kindle or Sony E-Reader you replace?

If what’s happening in Europe is any guideline, it will end up in a toxic e-waste landfill in Asia and Africa where the destitute, many of them children, will scavenge it for scrap. These scavengers incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments from the plastics, metals and gases that go into discarded cell phones, televisions, computers, keyboards, monitors,cables and similar e-scrap. Elizabeth Rosenthal, covering the story for the New York Times, tells us that “Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, has unwittingly become Europe’s main external garbage chute, a gateway for trash bound for places like China, Indonesia, India and Africa.

“There, electronic waste and construction debris containing toxic chemicals are often dismantled by children at great cost to their health. Other garbage that is supposed to be recycled according to European law may be simply burned or left to rot, polluting air and water and releasing the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.”

Jessika Toothman, blogging on HowStuffWorks, describes how “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV. E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold.” In fact if you want to see what this “bouquet” of poisons is doing to your fellow man, woman and child, you can view this sickening video of a Chinese e-trash village.

One device not mentioned in Toothman’s list of e-waste is e-book readers. The obvious reason is that we are still in the first generation of e-book devices (or second if you count progenitors like the Rocket Book) and there haven’t been enough readers manufactured to make them a formidable source of trash like cell phones and TVs. But when the next generation of e-book readers floods us with Kindle and Sony rivals – better, cheaper, faster, more colorful, loaded with special features and options – will we simply add them to the tons of lethal junk earmarked for miserable dumps in China, Indonesia or Africa?

Because it is still young, the e-book industry has an unprecedented opportunity to exercise its social responsibility, as we recently pointed out. Here is a three-point program to make sure the e-books business remains green.

  • First, manufacturers must be compelled to disclose the chemical components of the e-book devices they produce so that we can evaluate environmental hazards.
  • Second, Amazon, Sony, Plastic logic, Philips and other developers must develop programs for either returning their devices for safe (and monitored) disassembly and recycling or for donation to students, armed services personnel and other charitable recipients.
  • And third, The cost of recycling and safely disassembling e-books must be built into the price structure of e-books.

Right now the hidden cost of computers and other electronic devices is human suffering. It is unacceptable for the e-book industry to boast about environmental advantages while secretly sticking the helpless poor with the bill or contributing to the poisoning of the world’s water and air. If safety measures and sensible recycling add $25 or $50 to the price of their devices, that is an acceptable tradeoff. Because it would be assessed equally on all manufacturers, none would have a competitive advantage over its rivals.

We expect the e-book industry to do the right thing.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Kate Duffy, 1953-2009

I join the romance community, Kensington Publishers and the family of Kate Duffy in mourning Kate’s death over this past weekend. I’ve known and worked with Kate for decades. She was a consummate professional who was as plain-spoken as she was sweet. She shot from the hip but so lovingly that you always felt enhanced, not diminished, by her candor.

Friendships between authors and agents are always perilous; you never know when you’re going to have to do something tough that will strain the relationship. The fact that no shadow ever fell on our friendship is testimony to her character and professionalism.

I will particularly miss her at Romance Writers of America conferences. I could always count on seeing her holding court in the bar area with dozens of editors, agents, professional and aspiring authors crowding around her in an ever-expanding game of musical chairs with waiters pulling more and more tables over until it extended amoeba-like wide and deep into the room. Her admirers hung on every word, because she spoke both truth and wisdom, punctuating her declarations with an earthy deep-throated laughter that came as much from the heart as it did from the belly.

Her death – cancer – is a terrible blow to the romance community. We are heartsore.

Below is an official bio prepared by Joan Schulhafer of Kensington for those who didn’t know her or know her well enough.

A memorial service will be announced. Her family asks that anyone interested in making a donation in her name address it to The International Myeloma Foundation, 12650 Riverside Drive, suite 206, Los Angeles, CA 91607.

And if anyone would like to write a reminiscence, feel free to post it in comments below and it will be forwarded to her family and colleagues.

Richard Curtis

Kate was the recipient of numerous honors from national and regional writers organizations, including the Romance Writers of America, she was the first recipient that organizations “Industry Award” in 1991. Recently, RT Book Reviews magazine announced her as the 2010 recipient of their annual Melinda Helfer Award, presented for outstanding support of and contributions to the genre.

Kate first published or worked with, some of the genre’s best known writers, including Jude Deveraux, Julie Garwood, Lori Foster, Heather Graham, Judith McNaught, Mary Janice Davidson, Jacqueline Frank and Mary Jo Putney.

Kate attended Notre Dame Academy, Trinity College, and George Washington University. She studied at Oxford University and returned to the U.K. to work at Paddington Press. Upon returning to the U.S. whe became an editor at Popular Library. She later worked at Dell, Simon & Schuster, where she was the founding editor of Silhouette Books, moved on to Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books division, Harlequin Enterprises, where she founded the Worldwide Library imprint, and Kensington Publishing, where she established Brava Books. She is also remembered for the hugely successful Tapestry Books imprint at Pocket Books which began in the early 80s and continued for a number of years.

Born January 28, 1953 in Rochester, New York to Benedict James Duffy, Jr. and Alice (Boyle) Duffy, Kate lived in Rochester, New York, Hingham, Massachusetts, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New York. She spent the bulk of her adult life living in Manhattan. She is survived by her mother, actress Alice Duffy, her sister NBC News producer Clare Duffy, her brother Benedict Duffy and his wife Amanda, her niece Rosalind, her nephews Alex and Elliot, and legions of writers, friends and colleagues who are grateful to have known her.


Apple Won’t Accept Your Apps? Try Kindle

Kindle is a dedicated reading device. What would happen if it got undedicated? That is, if it were opened to other applications besides books, magazines and newspapers?

You’ll probably think it’s a lousy idea, and a lot of savvy folks would agree with you. One of them, New York Times tech colunist Brad Stone, reminds us that “e-readers have serious limitations, with grayscale displays that refresh painfully slowly.” He also points out that “Amazon subsidizes the cost of downloading books over Sprint’s 3G wireless network, so wireless-guzzling applications might break that model (although Amazon could simply ask developers to pay their own bandwidth costs.)” And Black Plastic Glasses blogger Evan Schnittman bluntly declares that the Kindle is “for reading, not interactivity.”

Nevertheless, the idea of developing applications for the Kindle has a certain allure. “What Amazon could do,” Stone suggests, “is release a software development kit and open up the Kindle to third-party applications, turning a device with a single purpose — reading — into something that is conceivably much more flexible…Amazon might also interest businesses in developing their own Kindle apps — sales management tools or health records software — and in that way compete head to head with the upcoming business-focused Plastic Logic reader.

Light up a pipe and dream along with Stone. Click on Will Amazon Open the Kindle to Developers? If it happens you’ll be the first to know.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Are Subtitles Necessary?

Agents and publishers spend a lot of time creating subtitles. In fact, if you were to measure how many man- and woman-hours go into the process you would say they spend an inordinate amount of time in these deliberations. I say “deliberations” but as often as not they are debates, and some of them turn into donnybrooks with noses bent far out of shape and people not talking to each other. Publishing folks take subtitles seriously, and we advise you to do the same.

There is a lot at stake. A confusing or amorphous title desperately needs to be sharpened and focused with the help of a handful of explanatory words. But subtitles are not merely any words. They have to be perfect words.
Subtitles are not composed so much as they are distilled like acid so that every syllable etches an indelible impression in the mind of a customer gazing at a stack of books. A word out of place can well mean a sale lost.

Though subtitles are usually worked out in a dialogue between editor and author, the influence of the publisher’s sales representatives is always in the room. The question What the hell does the title mean? coming from a sales rep is a command to go back and come up with a better one.

These remarks are prompted by a blog by Robert McCrum in London’s urging publishers to drop subtitles altogether. McCrum is incensed that the publisher of John Carey’s biography of William Golding felt compelled to add this subtitle: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies.

McCrum waxes positively bilious over the spineless editorial crew that came up with that one. “Picture the scene at Faber & Faber,” he writes. “Carey’s manuscript has been delivered, and the book is in production. Then, at some routine sales meeting, the worm of doubt starts to creep in. Up pops some bright young spark. Excuse me, says the BYS, I’m not sure that some of our younger readers will actually know who William Golding is. I mean, he’s been, like, dead since 1993, and most of his books are out of print.” The fact that Golding won a Nobel Prize for Literature and his masterpiece is required reading at countless colleges does not seem to have assured the publisher that readers will identify him without having to be hammered on their heads.

That’s why McCrum wants to do away with subtitles entirely. The truth is, if you have to justify your book with a subtitle, the game is up,” he says. “Buyers pay scant attention to them; librarians and bibliographers often forget to catalogue them. They linger only as fig leaves of authorial shame. Who now remembers, or cares, that George Orwell’s Animal Farm bears the subtitle A Fairy Tale, or that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was also known as The Whale?”

Author and English professor Ben Yagoda agrees with McCrum. In 2005 he published an article on the subject for the New York Times Book Review section. “Nobody really notices subtitles,” he wrote. “They are a sort of lottery ticket in the economics of nonfiction book marketing. Publishers throw all kinds of elements in them – vogue words and phrases, features of the book the title didn’t get around to mentioning, talismanic locutions like ‘An American Life’ – in the (almost always) vain hope that something will pay off.” In fact he thinks the convention has become a crutch for publishers: “What’s changed recently is that the subtitle has been asked to bear ever more weight. So many books are published nowadays that each one needs to proclaim its own merits; and with advertising budgets shaved away to nothing, the task falls to subtitles. As a result, they have become ubiquitous, hyperbolic and long... Once you’ve read the cover of ‘Shadow Divers: The True Adventures of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II‘, is there really any need to crack open the book?

On the other hand, some subtitles dare you to resist cracking open the book. I’m thinking of The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman. He follows that title with a veritable millipede of a sub: A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing, and Championship Baseball With Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, the Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put On a New York Uniform, and Maybe the Best.We dare any sports fan to pass that one by without at least picking it up.If you think today’s subtitles are long and convoluted, read Yagoda’s The Subtitle That Changed America and discover some historical predecessors (including the one for Robinson Crusoe pictured above) that cannot be uttered in a single breath. You will also match the following book subtitles to titles:

  • The Story of a Man of Character
  • The Ambiguities
  • A Novel Without a Hero
  • The Modern Prometheus
  • Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations
  • A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love
  • A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
  • Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

After a recent bruising negotiation with an author over trimming his 22 word subtitle, I definitely agree with Yagoda’s conclusion: “I miss the time, not so long ago, when it was possible for a book to go out into the world with only a strong title followed by a few hundred pages of outstanding writing.”

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


For $97K You Can Install POD Machine in Your Condo Lobby

Once the Google Settlement is finalized, you will be able to print on the Espresso Book Machine any of 1.5 million titles furnished by Google. Not long after you make your selection and prepay for it, your bound book will slide out of the birthing bay, or whatever the business end of the machine is called. You can then pick it up, still warm from its natal passage through the Espresso’s POD canal.

Though it will take a mere four minutes from the time the operator hits Print” to the time you collect your order, there may be delays while customers select among a million and a half titles. So, we recommend that you make your selection before you arrive at the printer’s location. “Come on, Jack, I’ve been standing on line for two hours!”

The Espresso has been installed in a growing number of institutions, mainly libraries and colleges, and of course it’s being considered by a number of major book chains. But, as we have pointed out, there is no reason why a book printer has to be located in a venue dedicated to books. It can be set up in a supermarket, drugstore or airport. If you’re an entrepreneur with between $75,000 and $97,000 you can buy one yourself and set it up in your shoe repair shop, beauty parlor or condo lobby.

The only hitch is that the titles offered by Google are all in the public domain. But surely you can find something among 1.5 million titles to read. Bet you haven’t read Beowulf since freshman year.

Read details here.

Richard Curtis


iRex E-Reader Coming to Best Buy Near You, Color in ’11

A year ago we wondered whether Philips’s iRex Reader might be a Kindle killer. The question has resurfaced with a vengeance with the announcement that Best Buy will begin selling the new $399 8.1-inch touchscreen iRex reader.

And Verizon will provide wireless delivery of iRex’s e-books and newspapers in direct competition with Amazon’s Kindle DX (10 inch screen, $499) and and Sony’sReader Daily Edition (7-inch screen, $399). The New York Times‘s Brad Stone says that “Best Buy is training thousands of its employees in how to talk about and demonstrate devices like the Sony Reader and iRex, and adding a new area to its 1,048 stores to showcase the devices.”

Though the iRex is far less familiar to Americans than it is to Europeans, Stone points out two significant advantages for the Dutch device. The first is that iRex accepts the ePub file format, a universal, open e-book industry standard that allows users to download e-books from a variety of retailers, as opposed to Kindle’s closed, proprietary system that directs buyers to and only.

The other, and in our opinion far more significant, feature is color. The advantage of a color newspaper and e-book reader is incalculable. Stone thinks that IRex is “on track to have a color version of the device by 2011, something that other vendors, which rely on technology from eInk, a subsidiary of Prime View International of Taiwan, say is years away.

With Stone citing market research projecting a 4 million unit increase in e-reader sales in 2009, the race for dominance in the marketplace is about to grow cutthroat. Don’t forget that Plastic Logic’s no-name device (which we’ve dubbed the “Teasle”) will soon be sprung on the world. And lurking in the shadows is a possible wild card: the Apple Tablet.

Here’s Stone’s article in full: Best Buy and Verizon Jump Into E-Reader Fray.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.


Ceci N’est Pas Une Typo: July E-Book Sales Triple over 7-08.

It doesn’t look like the e-book industry will be applying to the government for bailout any time soon. The e-book sales statistics for July 2009 have been released by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which collects them in conjunction with the International Digital Publishing Forum, and the growth from last July to this is jaw-dropping. Trade eBook sales were $16,200,000 for July, more than tripling July 2008’s $5,200,000. July ’09 was also the biggest single month in e-book history. The previous record holder? One month earlier! June ’09 was $14,000,000.

Think it’s going to top out soon? Not according to market research firm iSuppi. They predict that 2009 global sales of e-book reading devices will quintuple over those of 2008, from about 1 million to over 5 million. More than half of those sales will be made in North America.

As for IDPF’s figures, the true sales numbers may be even higher than the above chart indicates. Michael Smith, Executive Director of IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) reminds us that:

* This data represents United States revenues only
* This data represents only trade eBook sales via wholesale channels. Retail numbers may be as much as double the above figures due to industry wholesale discounts.
* This data represents only data submitted from approx. 12 to 15 trade publishers
* This data does not include library, educational or professional electronic sales
* The numbers reflect the wholesale revenues of publishers
* The definition used for reporting electronic book sales is “All books delivered electronically over the Internet OR to hand-held reading devices”
* The IDPF and AAP began collecting data together starting in Q1 2006

Richard Curtis


We Know You’re in That Computer, So Come Out With Your Hands Up

Is your name John Doe and are you harboring a computer that is conducting criminal activities? Think twice before you swear “no” on a stack of Bibles.

As Saul Hansel of the New York Times explains, “These days, hackers infect hundreds of thousands of computers with software that monitors their users, waiting for them to log onto a bank account. The nasty program installed on the computers of victims sends their bank IDs and passwords back to the hackers, who use them to log into the bank accounts.” Once they have someone’s password it’s just a few keystrokes before funds have been transferred.

Who are these hackers and what do they know? All you have to do is ask the banks whose servers have been penetrated. Easy, right? Easy wrong! “A number of laws protect the confidentiality of bank customers,” says Hansel. “Moreover, the banking industry has historically avoided much discussion about fraud cases. Banks argue they do not want to give away the techniques used by criminals or those meant to thwart them. They also want to preserve the confidence of their customers.

Now what? Well, you have to sue the bank. And one way to get around those confidentiality laws is the John Doe lawsuit. “John Doe” is the name used in a lawsuit when the plaintiff doesn’t know the real name of the defendants. One company that is attempting to get hold of bank information about hacker break-ins is employing the old John Doe technique.

Though the targets of the suit are banks, the same legal ploy has been used to gain access to personal computers in order to catch spammers, music pirates and illegal file-sharers. That means YOU, John Doe! So, keep your hands where we can see them and don’t make any sudden moves – my partner is standing behind you and he’s aiming a subpoena at your head.

You can read Hansel’s article in full here.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.