Book scanning on the (relatively) cheap

Ars Technica has a fascinating article on the trials and tribulations of building a book scanner from a kit.

They lament the lack of software support, however–namely, a program to convert the image files generated by the digital camera into a PDF. Should I point them in the right direction? Why not? The key is Imagemagick, of course.
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Song lyrics on the web will be the death of the music industry?

How many times did you hear a song on the radio, like it, then eagerly wait for the DJ to come on and announce what the song was, only to hear the next song? (Which inevitably is something worse, of course.)

It happens to me a lot. So I don’t even wait for the disappointment. I grab a scrap of paper, listen for a few words that sound distinctive (or that get repeated a lot), then when I get home or somewhere that I can mooch a little Internet access, I hit the search engines.

I’ll bet I ended up buying half my CD collection that way.I guess I should apply for a patent on this method of investigation though, because obviously I must be the only one who does this, because posting this stuff online is killing the industry.

Now that I think about it, posting song lyrics might be difficult to justify under the fair use doctrine, especially if your web site is just one big database of song lyrics that somebody else wrote. It’s one thing to quote a few lines of a song–which has always been permitted, even if what you’re writing isn’t a music review–but song after song, in its entirety does cross a line.

The question is whether it does more good than harm. I’m not convinced that online postings of song lyrics and guitar tablatures necessarily harms the sheet music industry all that much. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with musicians, and most of the musicians I knew sat down with a tape or a CD with a pencil and paper and wore out the fast-forward and reverse buttons playing snippets of songs over and over again, taking notes, until they’d figured out what was being played.

Today it’s faster to search the Internet for that kind of information. But if you couldn’t, you’d probably go do it the old-fashioned way.

And the sheet-music industry doesn’t make any money either way.

Why not just go down to the record store and buy the music? Oh. Well, because you probably can’t. And even when you can, the selection is limited. If you want something other than current hits and staples of a particular popular genre, you probably won’t find it, because sheet music takes up a lot more space than CDs do. So you can order it online, but in the time it takes for the thing to arrive in the mail, you could have transcribed the artist’s entire catalog yourself.

And besides, most musicians don’t have any money. And the musicians I know who do have money didn’t make their money making music.

So I suppose the Music Publisher’s Association is probably justified–from a legal standpoint–in going after web sites that are just a cache of lyrics. But when they do, expect CD sales to take another hit–especially sales of back-catalog discs and acts who haven’t quite hit the big time yet. Of course the RIAA will just blame downloading and CD burners.

There’s a way around this, of course. The songwriter can do whatever he or she wants with the words.

And if the songwriter wants to make more money than the average substitute teacher, I suggest posting those lyrics online, so that when the song manages to get played on some station on the far left side of the dial and 12 people hear it, the four people who like it can do a search and buy it. They might sell less sheet music. But they’ll sell a whole lot more records.

Your Fair Use rights are in danger (again)

In case you haven’t yet, you really need to read about The INDUCE Act. The potential is for any device that could be used to illegally copy copyrighted material to become illegal, and the manufacturers of said devices liable for their use.

This is wrong for so many reasons. Take the example of the crowbar.I can use a crowbar to break into my neighbor’s house. By this logic, a crowbar should be illegal. Never mind that a crowbar is a useful tool. I own two of them. I bought them so I could pry out the rocks that make up my patio so I can put down a weed control mat under them. I hope I’ll never have to use one to free someone from a car whose doors and windows won’t open, but I can. If I use a crowbar to free my neighbor from a car wreck, I’m pretty sure he’ll be glad I had that tool. Even if I could have used it to break into his house.

The main target is P2P networks. But the bill is too broad. Under some interpretations, an iPod would be illegal because you might load CDs that you borrowed from me into it. I suppose a camcorder would be illegal too, because someone might take it into a movie theater. Never mind that 99.999% of camcorder owners use them to shoot home movies. The risk of someone using a camcorder to make an illegal copy of a movie is too great to allow you to preserve family memories.

Is this really the direction we want to head? Do we want to be a dictatorship run by big media conglomerates?

Mr. Hatch, I suppose you believe that when someone uses a firearm to kill someone, the manufacturer of said device should be held liable? I suppose you believe that the risk of consumers using firearms to kill one another is great enough that firearms should be illegal? Am I following your logic correctly?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pinko Commie who doesn’t want to pay for anything. I’m actually a Republican. But real Republicans believe in balance. I respect intellectual property. I’ve written and published a book. A few people even liked it. I really didn’t make enough money off it to make it worth my while–I could have made more working the late shift at a fast-food restaurant. The biggest things I have to show for it are a published book on my shelf with my name on it, and the thrill of having walked in to Borders and seeing it.

So I didn’t make as much money as I would have liked. That’s my problem. I don’t blame photocopiers and scanners for my book not selling 4 million copies. I can blame my publisher for not promoting it and not getting more copies of it into the niche marketplaces where it sold well, and I can blame myself for not promoting it and not sending out news releases saying I got published, and I can even blame myself for not targetting it properly.

If I write a book that people want to read, and my publisher and I do a good job of getting the word out about it, I’ll make money. If I can make more money fixing computers or mowing lawns than writing books, then the answer isn’t to try to manipulate the legal system. The answer is to either figure out how to make money producing intellectual property, or spend that time doing something else.

If my desire to protect my rights starts infringing on your ability to do things you need to do, then it’s gone too far. As my former journalism professor Don Ranly was fond of saying, my constitutional rights end at the tip of your nose.

Why do Orrin Hatch and his buddies cooperate in the creation of what’s essentially a welfare state for large corporations, at the expense of our liberties?

Would you please ask your Congresspeople these questions?

God cares about our concerns, even when we’re not brave enough to talk about them

Tomorrow night in Bible study, I’m going to cover Mark 5:21-41. Since I actually put some work into preparing and actually wrote something halfway substantial for probably the first time this year, I thought I’d share it here.
Special thanks go to Jeff King for inspiring this largely derivative study, and to God for using Jeff and his talents and insight to answer two simple prayers from last night.

Let’s let Mark start the story:

21When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet 23and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live."

Now remember, most of the religious leaders of the day didn’t have a whole lot of use for Jesus. And being a synagogue ruler in this day and age, he was in the upper crust. But on this day, He needed Jesus.

So this aristocrat comes up to Jesus and wants something from Him. Jesus had this big crowd around Him. Yet Jesus dropped that opportunity and went to help him. Even though Jesus had something else to do. And even though Jesus could have used this opportunity to teach the aristocrat a lesson.

The lesson for me: God does not have better things to do. God wants to hear my voice. Yours too.

And there’s a second lesson: God “teaching us a lesson” doesn’t necessarily have to be painful. Sometimes it is. But He prefers, as we’re about to find out, to be unbelievably kind and loving.

24So Jesus went with him. 25A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

The crowd expected something. I guess Jesus had a reputation. The hard question for me: Do I expect God to do something?

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.

Anyone who made contact with this woman became ceremonially unclean. (See Leviticus 15-25-33.) She was an inconvenience. A nuissance. This woman lived in loneliness and isolation for 12 years. Not to mention the physical pain she must have suffered.

Now, I don’t know about anybody else, but I can handle pain. I deal a whole lot worse with loneliness. When I’m in pain and lonely, personally, it’s the loneliness that I want to go away. To me, 12 hours of it is more than enough, so I can’t even begin to imagine this poor woman’s plight.

27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,

What I want to know is why this woman that nobody wanted to have anything to do with knew about Jesus. And that raises a question: Is there anyone in my life or yours who nobody wants to have anything to do with who needs to know about Jesus?

28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”

This has always troubled me, because I’ve wondered whether this was faith or superstition. Faith is good. Superstition isn’t. But God knows faith when He sees it. Here’s a question: What had the power? The cloak, or Jesus? The answer is the difference between the two.

If you think I think there are a lot of superstitious Christians, you’re right. Take the Prayer of Jabez (please!): There is absolutely nothing special about the words, "enlarge my territory." Say that to me and I might give you a quarter if I have one and nobody else has asked me today. But if you say it to God, trusting in the power of God and not in some magic words, and it’s God’s will… then it’s something special. But wouldn’t God rather hear your own words?

Here’s something else that strikes me. She was afraid to just ask Him for what she wanted. Maybe she didn’t want to trouble Him. He was off to stop someone from dying, after all. He had something better to do, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, a million times plus infinity wrong. God isn’t like your overburdened unapproachable boss. God isn’t bound by the constraints of time. God always has time for you.

Is there anything that you’re afraid to ask God for?

29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

Jesus healed her. Period. End of story. Right?

30At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
31"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ "
32But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.

I used to think Jesus was angry here. Maybe He was mad about her making Him physically unclean. Maybe He was mad about her being superstitious. Maybe He had some other reason. Now I believe differently. Of course Jesus knew who touched Him. He only asked because He wanted her to approach Him. Why? I don’t think Jesus was satisfied with healing just her physical ailment. We’ll see why in a second.

33Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.

She thought the same thing I used to think. She’s a genius! She agrees with me!

34He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

Look at what Jesus said. What word jumps out at you? The word that jumps out at me is "Daughter." "Daughter" is a loving word. It’s a special word. How special was it to Jesus? It’s the only recorded instance of Him using this word.

Now, if you’ll indulge my overanalysis for a minute: She’s in pain and she’s lonely. If she could get rid of her bleeding, then human contact suddenly becomes a possibility. Solve the root problem, and then she can see about finding some companionship. Maybe she had some relatives. Maybe she could make some friends. She didn’t dare ask Jesus to love her.

But what she wanted wasn’t nearly as important to Jesus as what she needed. Jesus didn’t dare keep on walking without telling her that He loved her.

The Eastern Orthodox church has a legend that this woman’s name was Veronica, and that she followed Him literally to His death. The legend says that when Jesus fell underneath the weight of the cross on His way to Calvary, Veronica reached out to Him and wiped the sweat, blood, and dirt off his face with a handkerchief as the soldiers seized Simon of Cyrene and made him carry Jesus’ cross the rest of the way. She was there for Him when His disciples had abandoned Him. It’s only a legend, but isn’t it a beautiful picture of a reaction to God’s love?

35While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?"

If “trouble” wan’t Jesus’ least favorite word before He was incarnated, it was by the time He died. Remember what I said before about God not being bound by the constraints of time? You’re not any trouble for Him.

36Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don’t be afraid; just believe."

Faith is enough. The amount of faith doesn’t matter. The smallest possible amount of faith in the right thing–God–is more than enough.

37He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.

Peter, James and John were Jesus’ inner circle. This was one of many things they alone were priveliged to see.

38When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep."

As far as God is concerned, death and sleep are the same thing. Jesus wasn’t lying.

40But they laughed at him. 41After he put them all out,

God isn’t mocked. But Jesus didn’t punish them; He just gave them the same fate as the other 9 disciples: They had to wait outside.

he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" ).

Look at some of the words here. Gently. Taking her by the hand. “Talitha” is an endearing way to say “little girl.” Jesus loved that girl.

42Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Let’s look at the two halves of verse 43. First half: Jesus didn’t want to be famous. Jesus wanted to help people. Jesus was the very embodiment of humility. This raises a tough question for me: How many times have I boasted about something God did, hoping that someone would think more highly of me simply because I happened to be there? Don’t we sometimes seem to be preoccupied with appearing to be spiritual powerhouses? I hope I’m the only one.

Second half: Jeff King, a friend of a friend, brought this one up. Do you see the parallel with verse 34? Jesus raised this girl from the dead, and once again, He wasn’t satisfied. First He’s concerned that she’s sick and in pain. Then He’s concerned that she’s dead–a valid concern, possibly. Did she believe before He raised her from the dead? Not likely. I’m sure she did afterward. So now that He’s healed her ailment and saved her soul, what’s He concerned about? He didn’t want her to be hungry.

God derives no pleasure from your hunger or mine. None.

I’ve asked a lot of questions tonight, but I want to ask one more. What have you been afraid to talk to God about?

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®: NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Fair use statement: NIV quotations are permitted without express written permission provided they are fewer than 500 verses, do not amount to an entire book of the Bible, and do not constitute more than 25% of the total text of the work.

Do something for copyright freedom

Please go sign the Petition to reclaim the Public Domain if you haven’t done so already. The man behind this is Eric Eldred, the “Eldred” in Eldred v. Ashcroft.
If you’re curious about what the public domain is or why it’s important, here’s an introduction.

Keep in mind that this is coming from a copyright holder. I retain copyright on the content of this website, for example, because parts of it may have commercial value. At times I have reworked entries from this blog and published them elsewhere. Quoting material from this site, linking to it, or even printing copies of it to retain for future reference falls under fair use and I don’t just allow it, I encourage it.

In 14 years, I doubt there’s going to be much use for the information here anymore. A historian may find it interesting. My main reason for protecting the copyright beyond that timeframe would probably be self-protection. Copyright would allow me to keep this content obscure.

Think about how many books, record albums, and movies originally published in 1989 are still in print. Some of them, like the movie Batman and Disintegration by The Cure remain very commercially viable. But the majority of media produced in that year is now out of print and difficult to find. There’s limited interest in it, but that interest may be so limited that even used record stores and used bookstores aren’t all that interested in carrying a lot of it.

That’s not to say it’s useless. It’s still valuable for research. It’s still valuable for other things too. You can make new media by combining old media. A budding artist can combine out-of-copyright audio and video to make new things and legally do things with it. For some examples, look at the World At War collection.

Access to public domain material today is difficult. But disk space is dirt cheap now. Bandwidth is getting cheaper. Access is going to become easier and easier. Admittedly, most of the material created from public domain sources is going to be at least as bad as, if not worse than, the source material. But there will be masterpieces as well. Disney got its start by using the public domain, after all.

My video editing ephiphany

Something I learned yesterday. And it was entirely a happy accident. But many things that appear to have artistic quality are nothing but happy accidents.
My copy of Adobe Premiere 6.0 had a second disc in the jewel. I had assumed it was just tryout versions of other Adobe software, or a tutorial disc, so I never really paid much attention to it. It turned out to be a disc titled SmartSound QuickTracks for Adobe Premiere. It’s awfully cool, in reality. Install it, and then you can go into File, New in Premiere and select QuickTrack. Click Launch Maestro, and up pops a wizard-style interface. Pick a few options that describe the nature of your piece (style, mood, etc.) and tell it how long you want your audio clip to be, and it’ll loop musical bits in its library to give you one or more sound clips as close to your specifications as possible. Play them, and if any are satisfactory, it’ll generate a file and drop it into one of Premiere’s bins for you.

Very slick. And professional films almost always have a soundtrack to them. The reason is pretty simple. Music can heighten mood, and changes in the soundtrack can delineate segments of the film.

But I learned another reason. The video, with Luke speaking, had a lot of room noise in it, and I found it distracting. I tried filtering out the noise, but that’s hard to do if you don’t have any experience doing it. By the time I was done, his voice was crystal clear, but he sounded like a speech synthesizer. Imagine an old Texas Instruments Speak ‘n Spell with intonation and mood, and you’ll have a pretty good idea how Luke sounded. So I left the noise in there. (With pro equipment, you record room noise with one mic and the subject with another mic, so you can turn down the room noise at will. But I didn’t use pro equipment.)

What I found, after inserting a loop of Mozart being played softly on piano, was that Luke sounded clearer. The music covered up the distracting elements of the room noise, leaving just enough that you could still tell Luke was recorded in a living room, not a sound room. But the distracting element was camouflaged. And Mozart made me concentrate on what Luke was saying.

Steve DeLassus tells me this discovery qualifies me as a scientist.

I tried a couple of other pieces and found they didn’t work so well, so some experimentation is usually necessary. But it made the video look a whole lot more professional and a whole lot more polished. I won’t impress people in the audience who have Premiere and have loaded the same disc (I recognized a few of the more contemporary pieces as very commonly used stock music footage, mostly from low-budget commercials) but impressing people isn’t the goal anyway.

Of course once you get sick of the freebie tunes or if you can’t find an appropriate one, you can buy bigger libraries at $295 a pop. And that’s something I’ll probably do at some point.

If you happen to have Premiere (and if you don’t, I recommend you pick up a Pinnacle DV200 card, which sells for under $300 and includes Premiere, SmartSound QuickTracks, Photoshop LE, Pinnacle’s very nice DVTools for automatically scanning and cataloging your tapes, and plug-ins for titling and transitions–you get more functionality than Apple Final Cut Pro delivers, and Final Cut Pro costs $995), adding a musical score is a good way to spice up your home movies. I’m sure that someday the RIAA will determine that the use of commercial music in people’s home videos is the cause of declining record sales–since it can’t be the economy or the declining quality of new releases–but until that happens, private use of the music in your record collection will be covered under fair use. So I’m sure I’ll have to license rights to use U2’s “Kite” in the video I want shown at my funeral service in 2101, but for the time being, if you want to integrate Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” into your vacation video, no one’s going to stop you.

Speaking of which, not to sound morbid, but give “Kite” a listen if you happen to have All That You Can’t Leave Behind. I can’t think of a cooler song to play at a funeral. “Who’s to know when the time has come around / Don’t want to see you cry / I know that this is not goodbye.” Although, admittedly, I misunderstood the line “I’m a man / I’m not a child” as “I’m a man / I’m out of time,” which has considerably more finality. But, as is often the case, I digress.

Elementary video. This guide is very basic. But if you follow its rules to the letter, you’ll always look competent. If you’re wanting to make your home movies look better or learn the basics of video editing, it’s a good start, and considerably less expensive than the route I took. Someone else paid for my initial training, but it sure wasn’t cheap.

The other thing to remember about rules: Eventually you’ll develop a sense for when to break them. And eventually you’ll give in to that sense, and you’ll discover that some shots look great even though they stomp all over the rule of thirds. Don’t worry about it. That’s the difference between breaking rules intelligently and non-intelligently. I’m sure there are sentence fragments somewhere on this page too. Most of them are there for some reason, albeit probably sick and twisted.

I’m back again.

More video. One of my Christmas gifts was The Pretenders: The Singles. The Pretenders are one of the most underrated bands of the past 20 years, and while they get plenty of radio play, it’s limited to just a few songs from their extensive catalog. But I already had that disc, so I went to exchange it yesterday. I had trouble finding anything that really struck my fancy. I walked over to the (very small) “Inspirtational” section, which basically held anything vaguely religious that wouldn’t fit in the New Age section. I found a bunch of stuff I’d have no interest in, such as Petra (I don’t like that style of music regardless of subject matter) and Newsboys (an ex-girlfriend of mine thought they were great any time I can avoid being like her, I jump at the opportunity) but I did unearth two things that sounded interesting: Sonic Flood’s self-titled 1999 effort and Listen by Michelle Tumes. Both were used copies, and I guess that kind of stuff doesn’t sell too well at that shop (downtown Columbia, near the University of Missouri) because they were extremely eager to do an even-up two-for-one exchange despite the marked prices. So they were happy and I was happy.
I was even happier after I gave the discs a listen.

Michelle Tumes has a haunting, atmospheric sound about her, and she has either a gorgeous voice, a great producer, or both. Allmusic.com compares her to Enya, and musically I think that’s a fair comparison, but I’d place her voice somewhere between a Jewel and a Loreena McKennitt. She’d be good to listen to late at night when you want to calm down.

Sonic Flood, on the other hand, is someone to listen to when you want to get fired up. Think contemporary power pop with a little edge to it. To draw a secular parallel, the energy and guitar tone in their version of “I Want to Know You” reminds me of Third Eye Blind’s “Never Let You Down.” I could live without the spoken word interludes, as they’re not particularly profound and the second one is completely incoherent, but the musical bits are delightful.

To get a little more practice with video sequencing, I grabbed their version of “I Want to Know You” and started assembling video, using leftover clips I didn’t use in my last project. I had a bunch of clips that just–in my mind at least–seemed to fit perfectly. I grabbed a bunch of high-energy stuff that seemed compelling for the last project, but the high-energy stuff just didn’t fit a song like “Mary Did You Know,” which is a contemplative song. On the other hand, “I Want to Know You” is a celebratory gem.

This is just a mental exercise; I don’t expect to do anything with it. Legally, the Fair Use doctrine should allow in-home experiments like this. Should I decide I want to do something with it, I’ll probably look into having someone re-record the song (I can already hear someone with local connections doing a phenomenal job with it), juggle the clips to fit the re-recording, then secure permissions to the video clips I used.

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