Thursday, March 23, 2006

My computer died while Kathy was using it. It was easy for me to see it wasn't her fault, but she felt awful. I think the power supply went out, but I still don't know because we are in a rural area and Macintosh techs are few and far between. It brings to mind the ridiculousness of the PC/Mac competition. Technology is getting to the point in which the platform the programs are run on and the actual hardware that is used should be irrelevant to the actual functioning of the software. The increasing use of online programs and java-based applications would seem to reduce the incompatibillity problems.

Here on Whidbey Island we have a fabulous library system - a necessity for farming folks who want access to information and just plain old good reading. It is a dual-county system (SnoIsle Library System) and we can order books and get them in from anywhere in the system. I listen to a lot of books-on-tape, they make weeding much more fun. As I'm out there in the fields pulling weeds I can be entertained at the same time. I confess there are times that I turn it off and just listen to the sounds of the birds and the waves on the shore - sometimes I can even hear the sea lions barking from their perches on the buoys off-shore. But, the other day I found out that the library has e-books that can be downloaded and put on an mp3 player. Then I found out that Microsoft has orchestrated the system so that it is stopped from being able to be used by macintosh computers even if I have an ordinary mp3 player that can take the downloads to be played (out in the fields, of course). The two providers of this servie to the library are: OverDrive Audio Books and Recorded Books. I have a macintosh along with quite a bit of expensive software and years of mac experience. I'm not about to change my whole system and spend thousands of dollars coverting software just for a few e-books.

Irritated by this? You bet I am. E-books are far superior to books-on-tape because they don't break, I can have a whole book on the player without having to carry around 15 to 20 tapes with me, and the sound is much better. How do I know this? My son gave me a year's subscription to That was a great year! And I learned how wonderful e-books can be. So, why does a public institution, such as a library, sign up to a service that doesn't let a significant number of it's patrons use?

It's back to this attempt to smash the "other guy". In the lavender business there are hundreds of lavender farms trying to survive by growing lavender and then just plain selling it or trying a combination of selling the raw crop and making finished goods out of it. The crop is too small for significant local coops to have been formed, with the exception of Sequim, WA. But growers in Sequim produce only a small percentage of the lavender grown on the west coast - between some of the huge farms in California and the newer ones in Oregon, and all those of us in the rest of the state of Washington a lot of lavender is grown and sold that isn't included in the Sequim Lavender Coop. I think banding together as the Sequim growers have done is a wonderful thing, don't get me wrong, but it isn't necessary to try to squash the rest of the lavender growers. In fact, I've found that when there are many people working in the same area a wonderful creative energy develops. In the area of lavender, ideas for great products, new uses for lavender, and subtle shifts towards better production and products takes place.

In the same way, software companies rely on each other for ideas, breakthrough methods, and generating a big enough market to make any of it work in the first place. But, in our culture of "smash the other guy" it's never recognized. Apple gave Microsoft the idea for Windows. Microsoft gave Apple a workhorse application in Office. There is a back and forth, even between giants, that helps us all. However, the cut-throat mentality, the one that made the company that serves up e-books for our library system, is not serving us all. It's hurting the very idea that libraries are based - free access to information for all.

Join me in lobbying our libraries and these companies to stop this nonsense and to allow all platforms to be able to use their service. proves this is not that hard!

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