Gary Kildall and what might have been

Gary Kildall's death investigation

I didn’t have time to write everything I wanted to write yesterday, so I’m going to revisit Bill Gates and Gary Kildall today. Bill Gates’ side of the DOS story is relatively well documented in his biographies: Gates referred IBM to Gary Kildall, who for whatever reason was less comfortable working with IBM than Gates was. And there was an airplane involved, though what Kildall was doing in the airplane and why varies. By some accounts he was meeting another client, and by other accounts it was a joyride. IBM in turn came back to Gates, who had a friend of a friend who was cloning CP/M for the 8086, so Microsoft bought the clone for $50,000, cleaned it up a little, and delivered it to IBM while turning a huge profit. Bill Gates became Bill Gates, and Kildall and his company, Digital Research, slowly faded away.

The victors usually get to write the history. I’ve tried several times over the years to find Kildall’s side of the story. I first went looking sometime in 1996 or so, for a feature story about Internet misinformation I wrote for the Columbia Missourian‘s Sunday magazine. For some reason, every five years or so I end up chasing the story down again.

Read more

The best free e-book site I’ve found yet

I’ve been grabbing Project Gutenberg texts as I think of them, and prettying them up with an epub editor, but I learned today that I’ve been largely wasting my time. is a site that has most of the Gutenberg collection available and has already cleaned up the formatting and added covers to make these old public domain books look better and more recognizable on an e-reader’s virtual “shelf.”

That’s not the only thing the site has going for it.

Read more

News flash: e-books are overpriced

I saw a story yesterday about how e-readers are getting cheaper, but e-books are rising in cost.

In some cases, the e-books cost as much as, or more than a paper copy of the book. Which, as anyone with any knowledge of printing should be able to tell you, is ridiculous. Most of the cost of a paper copy of the book is printing and distribution. Or, at least that’s what they used to tell writers. When people paid $24.95 for a copy of my book, published in 2000, I saw about $1.75 of it. I’m probably not supposed to tell you that, but I just did. The printing and distribution costs of an e-book are negligible, so if the author, who does most of the work, is supposed to be able to get by on $1.75, shouldn’t the publisher and retailer find a way to do the same? So divide the revenue evenly between the author, publisher, and retailer, sell the e-book for $5.25 and, and everything’s fair. They could even put the book on sale for $2.97 sometimes, drop everyone’s share to 99 cents, and hope to make it up in increased sales.

But here are some things you can do while you wait for publishers to get a dose of reality.

Read more

How to tame e-books

I haven’t exactly been rushing out to buy an e-reader, for at least a couple of reasons. The practical reason is that I’m afraid of being locked in to a single vendor. Amazon is the market leader and the most likely to still be around for the long term, but they’re the worst about locking you in. The other vendors offer slightly better interoperability–supporting the same file format and, optionally, the same DRM–but the non-Amazon market leaders are Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Sony, all of which are scary. Borders is being liquidated; B&N isn’t losing money–yet–but its profit margins have shrunk each of the last two years; and Sony’s recent problems are well known to the security community. I’m not too anxious to climb into bed with any of them. Google is entering the market as well, but the first Google-backed e-reader doesn’t support highlighting or note-taking.

The Luddite reason is that I’m old enough to have an attachment to books. Physical books, printed on paper. Maybe this isn’t true for any generation beyond mine (I’m a GenXer), but for my generation and previous generations, having books on your shelf is a sign of being educated. And there are certain books–or types of books, depending on your field–that you’re expected to have on your shelf.

To a certain extent, the latter reason can be negated by playing the e-reader card. Of course I have the complete works of Shakespeare on my e-reader, so those Shakespeare books from college just became clutter…

Read more

Make something! Fix something!

Clive Thompson: I’m sitting on the floor of my apartment, surrounded by electronic parts… It’ll look awesome when it’s done. If it ever gets done — I keep botching the soldering. A well-soldered joint is supposed to look like a small, shiny volcano. My attempts look like mashed insects, and they crack when I try to assemble the device.

Why am I so inept? I used to do projects like this all the time when I was a kid. But in high school, I was carefully diverted from shop class when the administration decided I was college-bound. I stopped working with my hands and have barely touched a tool since.

I can relate a little too well.

No reason for brand wars

On one of the train forums I frequent, a legitimate question quickly degenerated into brand wars. And brand wars are one thing, but when people hold their preferred company to a different standard than the other company–in other words, one company is evil because it does something, but their preferred company does the same thing, it isn’t productive.

Actually, I see very little reason for brand loyalty as it is. I drive a Honda and I use a Compaq computer. Do either of those companies have any loyalty to me? No. To them, I’m just a source of income from yesterday.

Making fill patterns in Gimp

I find myself having to make fill patterns in Gimp every so often and always having to look up the trick.

Here’s how to use Gimp to make tileable fill patterns, which you can either use inside Gimp, inside other programs, or as web backgrounds.

Cheap hardware won’t stop software piracy

Who’s to blame for rampant software piracy? According to Steve Ballmer, AMD and Intel. Oh, and Dell. Charge less for the computer, and there’ll be more money to pay for Windows and Office.

Steve Ballmer doesn’t know his history.

Read more