OpenAudible

I am a fan of audio books. My experience with audio books started when I was looking for something to take the edge off of my commute to Toronto every day. I discovered this unique section at my local branch of the Oshawa Public Library, and back then they came on cassette tape. This made things convenient, as I could take the tape from my car and put it into my Walkman to continue listening to it. I even bought a few on cassette from the local book store at the mall. Later, this would turn into CD’s, on which I enjoyed Alan Alda’s “Never have your dog stuffed” and got through Moby Dick. Compact Discs were an inconvenient format, and when MP3 players came down in price, I would rip the library CD’s to low fidelity MP3’s that were perfect for what I needed. Then there was Audible.

That’s over half a gigabyte for the app alone!

The convenience that Audible offered cannot be understated. I felt their monthly subscription was a good value, and signed up. I realized early on that Audible files were a proprietary format, but they were supported with my favourite Sansa MP3 player, so that didn’t matter so much. When I moved on to an Android phone, I was a little frustrated that I had to install their app, which used up valuable space in my phone’s main storage. At this time, I could not install it to an external SD card. It was also frustrating when I wanted to share an audiobook with my family; my wife and son had to install the app as well, and I could only share with my wife. I couldn’t “Lend” an audiobook to my mother and father to enjoy. The breaking point was when I recognized that I could not play my Audible purchases in Linux. This concerned me as I wondered, what would become of my collection if Audible ever went out of business? Their app would eventually stop working with the latest operating systems, and that investment would be lost. Then there’s the fact that there is no good way for me to share my collection with my son or with future generations of grandchildren. I wouldn’t stand for this sort of thing with the music that I buy, so I see no reason that I should put up with these restrictions with audio books.

Good software, but how long will it work for?

Enter OpenAudible. As usual, I am not the first to think of this problem, so what OpenAudible does is it takes the audio books I legally purchased from Audible and converts them into an MP3 format. This allows me to enjoy my audio books with whatever audio player I choose, Now, this program wasn’t as intuitive on my installation of Ubuntu 18.04 as I would have liked. Installing it did not create an icon in my launcher, nor was there any obvious way for me to start it. After doing some digging, I discovered that this app installs itself in /opt/OpenAudible. I opened a terminal, typed in “cd /opt/OpenAudible” and then typed in OpenAudible to launch the program. After that, I followed the instructions on the OpenAudible web site and let it run all day to download and convert my collection.

Enjoying my legally purchased audio book in a Linux MP3 player.

Moving forward, I will cancel my subscription to Audible. However, I will continue to purchase books from Audible on a book-by-book basis, providing this application is still able to download and convert my Audible purchases for me. Should Audible see fit to permit the download of purchases in an open format, I may consider resuming a subscription. Meanwhile, I’ve rediscovered a great resource that I had been using years ago; that resource was LibreVox.

The future of all audiobooks

These are books that are in the public domain read by volunteers, and is a great way to get caught up on the classics. This is where I may divert some of the money I’ve been giving to Audible.

Facebook is desparate

It’s been some time since I’ve actually used Facebook. I’ve shared my blog posts from here to my timeline there, but that is an automated task that is accomplished through the software running on this blog. There is a lot of stuff I still want to transfer from Facebook; namely, the comments and background information provided by members of my family on some very old family photo’s that I’m going to transfer to my cloud, but I would have Facebook running in a container in Firefox in order to do that. Meanwhile, Facebook has been desperate to get me to use their “Service” again.

First are the e-mails. They’ve always sent me e-mails, but lately they’ve ramped that up to 30+ e-mails per day. These go to a secondary e-mail address and get filtered appropriately as spam, so I never actually have to see them unless I want to. But then after a month or so, my phone started blowing up with notifications. Chrome on my Android phone was sending me these notifications from Facebook. The strange thing was, I didn’t even have a Facebook tab open! It turns out that one does not need to have a tab open for Facebook to push notifications via Chrome once I “Allowed” Facebook to send me notifications, so I went into my Chrome settings and revoked this permission in my settings. Then things got weirder.

I started getting text messages from Facebook about activity that had been going on. Turns out that they are using the phone number I provided them for the purposes of two-step verification to spam me with notifications. They are like the creepy ex who wants to keep on pursuing a relationship long after they’ve been dumped for abusive behaviour that they’ve never acknowledged nor apologized for.

I suppose I did leave a lot of stuff at Facebook’s house, so I probably should get around to moving it over to my cloud, but still, this behaviour is unprecedented for an on-line service. The levels of manipulation Facebook uses goes deep, and this makes me glad that I’ve pretty much stopped using them.

An Invitation

A while ago, I noticed some people were leaving Facebook. Some were my friends, some were notable people. They all had well thought out reasons for doing so. For me, it was a heavy handed three day ban for the sin of posting a joke in a closed debate group – no, not banned from the debate group, as I didn’t actually do anything wrong or against the rules of the group, but from all of Facebook, because someone in the group, presumably the debater who’s argument was defeated by my joke, complained about being offended, and so my entire account was suspended for three days, without any ability to make an appeal.

Five months ago, Jeri Ellsworth announced she was deleting her Facebook account and moving on, and invited us to friend her on a new platform, MeWe. I signed up, because even five months ago, I was starting to recognize that Facebook wasn’t a good tech company. However, as much as MeWe professes that it’s much better than Facebook, it was a move from one closed system with terms of service to another closed system with admittedly much better terms of service, but terms of service nonetheless. Number one was telling me I could not violate any law or regulation. Well, there are some pretty stupid laws out there that need to be challenged and broken, like blasphemy, god damn it.

I understand that these companies need to have terms and conditions in order to protect themselves from liability, but there was also the glaring fact that I had exactly one friend on MeWe. None of the content I posted there would ever be seen by any of my real-world friends, and I couldn’t expect them to go to the trouble of signing up for yet another social media account, so I started this blog on an old computer of mine running open source software so that I could communicate and interact on the Internet on my own terms and conditions. This set me on a journey of discovery and learning like none other. I made some new friends along the way, and also some important discoveries.

It turns out that others see the problem with traditional social media, and that problem is the fact that we need to sign up for different services that profit from selling our information; friends on Facebook can’t see what friends on Twitter are posting, and vice versa. Imagine if you had a Yahoo e-mail account and had to sign up for G-mail in order to send and receive messages to and from your friends and family who also had G-mail. So now there is a new social media that has been created using open standards, like e-mail. The solution is a federated social media network that uses open standards. What this means is that anyone can set up their own social media server, choose from a variety of open source software packages with which to host their instance, and be able to share and see updates with friends and family just like Facebook or Twitter, but their friends and family can be on completely different servers running different software packages.

I would like to extend an invitation to all of my friends and family to join me in this new revolution. Just like e-mail, you don’t have to set up your own server if you don’t want to. Right now, the biggest and most popular servers are mastodon.social, as well as mastodon.xyz where you’ll find notable people like Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia. There are also many groups dedicated to certain tastes that you can browse through at joinmastodon.org. There are apps for Android and iPhone. I have an account on mastodon.social, @quirk@mastodon.social. I also have the Social app installed on my Nextcloud server, and have a federated social media address there of @paul@cloud.pquirk.com. I encourage all of my friends and family to find a federated social media instance or start your own if you’re as ambitious as me, and I’ll follow you. Together, we can kick the Facebook habit and take ownership of our social media experience. This is the future, so please join me and we can enjoy it together.

Linux gaming barrier destroyed

It’s been a while since I’ve been on Linux, so forgive me if I sound like Captain Obvious to Linux users who already knew this. My Ubuntu Linux plays my Windows Steam games just fine, if not better than Steam on Windows 10 did. To understand this issue, let me take you back a few years.

I had been a fan of Windows games in the early 2000’s; one game in particular that really appealed to me was Dungeon Siege. Dungeons and Dragons was a favourite RPG of mine when I was a kid in the 80’s, and I felt Dungeon Siege really brought this genre to life with a great story line and without over-complicating the gameplay. I never actually got to finish this massive game, as one of my CD’s had an irrepairable scratch that caused the game to crash, so when I saw it for a great price in a Steam bundle a couple of years ago, I bought it, and in my spare time, managed to get further along than ever before.

The magic option

The idea that one has invested in a game or library of games on a particular platform can keep a person stuck on that platform even after they’ve become dissatisfied with it. When Steam came out in 2003 as a gaming platform, it offered the promise of being operating system agnostic, though popular games like Half Life had to be rewritten to run on Linux. Meanwhile, WINE, a Windows compatibility layer, has been around since 1993. I knew that extensive work has been done to have WINE run Windows games, as is illustrated with the availability of Command and Conquer: Red Alert in the Ubuntu Software Center, so that got me to thinking, why couldn’t Steam also use WINE to run classic Windows games? After doing a bit of research, I soon discovered that Steam on Linux offers this option, known as Steam Play. Given that Dungeon Siege was not as hugely popular as some other titles and came out in 2002, it wasn’t considered a “Supported title” and would not play as it was not verified. Under the Steam menu, I selected “Settings,” and from there selected “Steam Play,” where I had to check the option of “Enable Steam play for all other titles.” This uses the Proton compatibility tool. Having done that, I was able to download and play my old Windows-only games!

Starting where I left off

The only other barrier was in copying over my saved game files, as I’m actually more interested in finishing this game rather than playing it all over again. Normally, the saved game files for this game reside in “My Documents,” but Steam does something a little different. I discovered the saved game files live in ~/.local/share/Steam/steamapps/compatdata/39190/pfx/drive_c/users/steamuser/My Documents/Dungeon Siege. As it turns out, the people working on Steam, Proton, and WINE are more concerned with backwards compatibility than Microsoft is, and so I found this game to play much better than it did in Windows 10. With this, there is no reason for me to boot into Windows.

Ending the commute: A retrospective

To live and work in the same city: That’s the dream, isn’t it? To the rest of the world, this seems obvious; yet, to many people who live in the Greater Toronto Area, this is merely pie in the sky that requires compromises that many do not wish to make. You either need to live in an overpriced condo that’s barely big enough to turn around in, or you need to take a cut in pay to work at a place of employment that’s not in the center of the universe. After running the numbers, I came to the realization that the cost in time and money of my commute had become significantly greater than the difference in pay in accepting a position as an Electrician in the city in which I live, so I put in my two week’s notice. This is how it’s been so far.

What a commute!

In the week leading up to my last day at my old job, I had to train my replacement. During this time, I realized I could re-schedule my appointments with my dental specialist so that I would not need to miss any time at work, as they were within a 10 minute drive of my new place of employment. This would be a new thing for me, and put me in a very good mood. It was a fun week with a fellow electrician, but I admit I was eager to end my commute, so I put in extra time on Thursday to make sure the job was finished so that I could take Friday off. I submitted all of my paperwork Thursday, and bid my new replacement as well as my soon-to-be former colleagues and employer adieu.

On Friday, I called up my insurance company to advise them of the change in my commute. I was advised that the savings in insurance would be around $400 per year. I didn’t even consider this savings when I ran the numbers.

People arguing on the highway, is this healthy?

On Sunday night, I was all ready to start my new job. I noticed the gas in my truck was at a quarter tank. Normally, I would head out to a gas station Sunday night to top up my tank to make my Monday commute as smooth as possible, but not anymore; a quarter tank would be plenty to start the week.

Monday morning, I woke up at my usual time of 5:00am, because I’m used to it and the shop opens at 7 (my previous job started at 8). I had a leisurely breakfast, left the house at 6:30, sat in the line at McDonald’s for a coffee, and still arrived at work plenty early, breezing past the line up of cars waiting to get onto the highway. Monday was a good day where I got to meet my new co-workers and adjusted to this new culture. I discovered I was not alone in detesting the commute, as I was working alongside other ex-commuters. At the end of the day, I was home well before dinner time.

On Tuesday, I noticed that my truck still had a quarter tank of gas as I continued to adjust to my new workplace culture. Since part of my job involves documentation, I installed LibreOffice, Thunderbird, and Firefox on my workplace PC so that I could continue to use the apps I was familiar with. Doing wiring diagrams with Draw is a snap, the export to PDF function is a breeze, and it works so much better than Microsoft’s offerings. I’ve become as committed to using open source software as I am about ending my commute. I stopped at the dental specialist on my way home, and still arrived at home in plenty of good time to enjoy dinner and a quiet evening of watching Netflix.

My dream of driving an all-electric car started in April of 2011 and ended with my long commute.

Driving home on Wednesday, I noticed that the fuel gauge dipped a little below a quarter tank on my truck. Hearing that gas prices might go up, I decided to fill up. As I did, I wondered, would I even need to fill up once a week, or would a tank of gas last me two? Three? Maybe the entire month? If all I did was drive to work and back, I could get two months out of a tank of gas in my truck. Even a super gas miser sub-compact would have cost me $100 per week in gas with my old commute, and my truck, with its cylinder deactivation mode, was still costing around $150 a week, and the range of all but the most expensive electric cars wouldn’t even cut it for my commute. I often dreamed of buying an electric car just to avoid the gas line at the pump every other day. Now the occasional stop at the pumps didn’t seem so bad, and even a short range used Nissan Leaf with a diminished battery would offer plenty of range and utility if I didn’t need to tow my camper in the summer.

It was all sinking in by the time Thursday came around. My stress levels had gone down noticeably as I ran numbers through my head; between gas and the 407, I had easily been spending over $16,000 per year of after tax dollars ($20,000 of pre-tax dollars) between gas and tolls alone, never mind the stress and risks associated with such a long commute. I vowed that I would never do that kind of commute again. It was madness that had taken its toll.

Stuck on Highway 407 after a deadly accident.

Friday is a half day at my new job. With my old job, I was excited for half day Friday’s because it meant I could beat the traffic and get home at a reasonable time. Today, it meant that I truly had what felt like the start of a long weekend, as I went home to enjoy lunch and celebrate my first week at my new local job. The increase in the price of gas this weekend was all over the news, and I could not care less.

I remember a colleague from my Y2k programming days who quit his job when the company announced they were relocating from an office tower on the subway line in North York to a building far from any subway in Markham. He had become accustomed to a car-free and commute-free lifestyle where he would travel a short trip on the subway from his condo to work, and believed he could always find work in his field on the subway line in Toronto. At the time, I thought he was being short-sighted, but then I eventually was laid off from this company. I’ve lost touch with this man, but his conviction stuck with me and was a catalyst that drove me to change careers and start work at General Motors in the early 2000’s. A place where the years on the line and the closure of our plants caused me to forget as I focused on getting my trade license.

I started to write about this experience on my blog, but as the weekend wore on, I started to think, “What’s the big deal?” I mean, why even write about this? It all seems so absurd. As I reflect now, I realize that I didn’t want to compromise on owning a house and having a well paying job with excellent benefits, but was blind to all the other compromises this forced me to make on my lifestyle, health, and well-being. So now, I’m done – REALLY done. I don’t even want to talk or write about it anymore.