Friday, February 24, 2006

So Monday will be my first day at the Addison Independent, and this is my last day at the foundation. Well, I guess I should say "was". Because unless the first unexpected phone call of the day (really first? well, Friday of February vacation - entirely possible) is a request for some urgent assistance in the next half hour, there's nothing else to do here. There are times when I have felt guilty about blogging from work, but this will not be one of them.

And on that note, I might stop blogging. Well, I certainly won't close the account and delete the links, but I've updated pretty rarely these days as it is, and even some of that has been out of a sense of obligation. Maybe I'll stop, maybe I'll just change styles and topics, who knows.

But if you'll pardon the management mumbo-jumbo, it's time to re-evaluate my relationship with this. It's just that all the reasons I've done it don't seem to apply any more. (Which is not a bad thing in all cases.) If you look at my daily life, take out the parts that would be uninteresting to anyone but myself, and then take out the parts that I won't talk about in a semi-public forum because they're personal or someone else's business, there's very little left. And as far as the therapeutic benefit of writing one's thoughts out - thankfully, for a number of reasons, my mood has been much better lately than it was, say, two years ago, so I seem to need that much less. The first of those two facts is neutral and the second is a very good thing, but between the two, I have almost no reason to post about my private life.

It's harder to blog, too. Not too hard, obviously, or I wouldn't be able to keep up with the political blogs I read and comment on. But even though my schedule today is only somewhat busier than while in college (a full-time job, clubs in Burlington twice a week and friends occasionally versus classes, the CT and friends I spent a lot of time with), it is much more rigid. I could blog regularly iff I was willing to set aside a half-hour or hour at some point every day, like clockwork... yeah, that's going to happen.

Also, I need it less in the sense of writing practice. Clearly, I will not lack for that while working for a newspaper.

And in writing about politics, I noticed a pattern of saying "I agree with this guy" all too often. That, and the fact that I got bored with working myself into a lather about the scandal of the week. You know the common observation that politicians, pundits and celebrities are out-of-touch, liars, nuts, etc.? Well, the money and the power obviously plays a part, but I think a contributing factor is how they're expected to have an opinion on every damn thing. So much of politics is theater that if there's anything on which a Congresscritter can't expound at length and use to demonize someone or other, they'll get shoved aside in favor of someone who can. I'm not exactly complaining about this, you might as well complain about the tides, but it's not for me. So while I'll probably write and blog about politics when I have an opinion I haven't seen out there yet or when I have some unique expertise on the subject, it just isn't good for my blood pressure or my mood if I do this search after every article or editorial I read that mentions Bush.

So with all that in mind, maybe I'll keep going as I have, but I'll let myself post or not as I feel like it. Or maybe I'll change over to my interests other than politics - comic books, Magic cards, World of Warcraft, all that fun stuff. Or maybe humor - I could use more practice at that and it's been well received the few times I've tried it. I might start blogging about local politics. And of course, maybe my daily life will become worth blogging about again once I'm working at the Addison Independent.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Well, at least they're honest about it.

It's a brief post by John at Dymaxion World, a Canadian blogger (who looks interesting; I think I'll add him to my blogs on the side there), about the RIAA's latest "legal" "arguments". It refers to this recent brief on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Web site.
As part of the on-going DMCA rule-making proceedings, the RIAA and other copyright industry associations submitted a filing that included this gem as part of their argument that space-shifting and format-shifting do not count as noninfringing uses, even when you are talking about making copies of your own CDs:

"Nor does the fact that permission to make a copy in particular circumstances is often or even routinely granted, necessarily establish that the copying is a fair use when the copyright owner withholds that authorization. In this regard, the statement attributed to counsel for copyright owners in the MGM v. Grokster case is simply a statement about authorization, not about fair use."

For those who may not remember, here's what Don Verrilli said to the Supreme Court last year:
"The record companies, my clients, have said, for some time now, and it's been on their website for some time now, that it's perfectly lawful to take a CD that you've purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod."

P.S.: The same filing also had this to say: "Similarly, creating a back-up copy of a music CD is not a non-infringing use...."

So not only are they claiming that it is illegal to copy legally purchased music to more conveniently use it, they said the opposite a year ago.

John gets right to the point about problems with this.
This is why the logic of "lost revenue = theft" is so pernicious. We basically bought the argument that the music companies had the right to sue to protect their business model, and now this is what it gets us.

Ethically he's right, but legally, as my admittedly amateur understanding goes, this is a real gray area. For all I know, the law is on the RIAA's side on this.

Anyone who played in their high school band probably saw the legal copyright notices saying "do not copy without permission" on the bottom of their music. Which was, of course, copied. (Can't check right now, but I think every book commercially marketed has a similar message, you just never notice it because it's not on every single page.) Unless I'm very mistaken, that's illegal; publishing companies turn a blind eye just because single-handedly outlawing band class would be bad press. Copyright is the right to copy, so if you don't have explicit permission from the copyright holder, you don't have a right to copy. Q.E.D.

I don't know, this is turning into a general "there are no winners here", instead of my usual "copyright lawyers are evil!" But even though it's easiest to think of the world that way, sometimes a broken or oppressive system creates its villians instead of the other way around.

Via a guest-blogger at Ezra Klein's, who had a very good take on this.
Remember, the customer is always right, until the moment businesses realize they can make more money not by providing a better product but by getting the courts to protect their rent-seeking behavior.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Warning: this is not safe for work.

I don't say that because it contains profanity, or is pornographic in any way. I say that because you will burst out laughing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I've been as amused by how Cheney shot his friend as anyone. It demands Top Ten lists (see the comments) and clearly I haven't been watching The Daily Show enough, because if I missed Jon Stewart's take on this, who knows what other gems I haven't seen.

Also, this guy has some pontificating and lengthy quotes about what the 18-hour delay in disclosure means. I don't disagree with him, and it could eventually become interesting, but it's not there yet to me.

I'm glad to see that even though Mr. Whittington had a heart attack caused by a piece of birdshot that made its way to his heart, he is in good condition. (And by the way, I love the last couple lines of that article.) I don't especially care about his welfare - that might sound heartless or even hateful, but realistically it's hard for me to care about the welfare of complete stranger whose idea of a good time is shooting fish in a barrel with Darth Cheney. But if this guy died as a direct result of getting shot by the vice-president, well, Cheney wouldn't get jail time even though that would be considered negligent homicide if done by a native of Bethel, but it would still look pretty damn bad.

And they shouldn't get off that easily. I'm glad Whittington survived mostly for the same reason I'm not too interested in the delay, deception and disorganization surrounding the shooting. Not because it's trivial in an absolute sense, but because it's trivial relative to other stuff Bush and Cheney have done. While of course accidentally shooting your friend is bad, accidents happen. And anyone surprised at an attempt to cover this up must have watched nothing but FOX and Newsmax for the past decade. If the average American thinks this is worse than the sheer stupidity or mammoth mendacity it would take to utter "greeted as liberators" or "last throes" on national television, then we deserve these guys.
Small fucking world.

I was catching up on some posts at Jesus' General. He linked to a contest at The Raw Story which he had entered. The first contestant listed on that page was based in Bethel, Vermont. A town which is home to 1,800 to 2,000 people, a greater number of cows if you believe the t-shirts for the tourists, and not one traffic light. It's where I grew up. (And if you think that the distance from Middlebury to Bethel doesn't justify surprise in the "small world" sense, Jesus' General lives in Washington. Geographical distance notwithstanding, finding this was indeed unlikely.)

One thing jumped out at me - a question from her FAQ.
Q. Can I come visit?
A. If I'm here, sure. Make sure you read the visit page to make sure you know what you're in for.

In the next question, she elaborates to say that an open invitation to strangers online might sound dumb but she's had success and pleasant encounters. But my first thought was just, "Sure, why not? It's not like anyone would ever find her out there!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I got the job. It's what I avoided talking about here and here - I applied for a job with the local newspaper (a twice-weekly, family-owned paper, covers most of the county), and on Thursday and Friday I found out that I got the job.

So two weeks from yesterday will be my first day there. I'll be a reporter. My beat will be Middlebury and the four towns closest to it. (Just for reference, there are two other reporters for the news department, one focused on the region to the north of here and one on the region to the south.) It'll probably be a lot of work - I'm told I'll be expected to have five to 10 stories a week*. Most of it will probably be routine stuff like the most interesting or important proposal at a select board or school board meeting - which in turn means I'll be working later hours, and probably more flexible hours as well. It'll be annoying if this regularly cuts into Drinking Liberally or Monday night Magic, but, well, that's life - and it could very well open up other possibilities, so there's no point worrying about it. Also, the weekly pay is slightly less, but on the other hand it provides insurance, unlike right now where I've been buying it seperately. So my take-home pay will be a little bit more.

Maybe I should upgrade my iPod too, or find something else to use when I go to the gym. As it is, it freezes almost without fail after 20 to 25 minutes jogging. I guess it's just that the thing can only take so much bouncing around, but it gets me through almost all my usual running time and it's still much better than a CD player so I'm not complaining. It might also have to do with battery life - I've never put this to the test, especially since I don't use it too much outside the gym these days, but it seems like the battery icon wears down faster now than when it was new. But ANYways, I'm thinking about all that because I use it with an iTalk as a tape recorder, and I'd hate to have it die in the middle of an interview...

So, I will soon be writing for a newspaper. Cool.

*Ha! Writing "five" out but "10" as a number - good thing I'm still in the habit of AP style.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Entirely by accident, it seems that the social/political side of this blog is forming into three distinct themes:

1. Orwell Watch.
2. Intellectual property.
3. Imagine it's 1999 again. (I think I first thought of it that way here.)

That's an interesting post by Matthew Yglesias that tries to put today's conflicts in perspective. And I actually haven't finished reading the comments on that thread, which seemed to go back and forth.

But the "Bring it on" War is neither new to the world nor unexpectedly a problem for us. It was a surprise to a lot of people, but it shouldn't be. I first talked about something vaguely like that here, but it shows up elsewhere too. Despite all the talk about jihad and whacko fundementalists and fifth columns, it's very interesting how the current partisan divides and ideological alliances compare to their counterparts when the issue was called "globalization".

I noticed it when I was in France. I remember one specific rally/demonstration/protest against... well, I don't remember what it was against, exactly, but American influence and globalization and corporatism would all have been contenders. (Amusingly enough, I was wearing my Rotary jacket as they came up the street, which is a blue blazer with 30-40 pins on it and an American flag patch on my shoulder. Realistically I was in no danger - it was a rally, not a riot - but still, let's just say I was walking small.) I had heard from lots of people that the decision to build Nantes' sole skyscraper had been contentious and controversial. At this point almost everyone has heard lectures or read pamphlets about how Islam is a religion of peace, but I got that here and there before 9/11 ever happened. Hell, I imagine everyone has similar stories of some kind. And as Yglesias points out, it's funny in a fucked-up way that the US has become a voting bloc on certain social issues with countries like Iran and Somalia - we have our reactionaries too, even though the rising tide is spinning them in a different direction.

Religion and political realism have had some influence on world events, of course. And there's a world of difference between a hundred or so Frenchmen carrying banners down the street and embassies being burned and rioters killed. But even though 9/11 has been used to justify everything from invading Iraq to eavesdropping on vegans, the difference between the rally five years ago and the riots over the past couple months is a difference of degree, not type. Just one more reason, were any needed, to look suspiciously at someone who uses "security" as an excuse.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I don't have any special insight on the riots triggered by the cartoons in a Danish newspaper, except to say that I thought tristero made a good point about satire here. Yes, freedom of speech and yes rioters are indeed bad, but let's not pretend the cartoons were intended to be anything other than inflammatory.
To follow up on my post a couple weeks ago (a couple weeks ago, but only four posts ago? Wow, I've been lazy about this), we do good work here. This is from a story of which I finished the first draft yesterday.

For most [FC]* students, college was not even on the radar. Almost 90 percent of FC students live below the poverty level, and almost 15 percent are homeless. But thanks to [us] and the Science Academy, they are becoming more and more prepared for college. Many of the students have decided that they want to be scientists of all kinds, from meteorologists to inventors. They know they will need to go to college for that, but they also know that college is within reach. “I believe that if I work hard, stay in the science academy, I can get a scholarship to college and study chimps one day,” Ashley said, who wanted to be an animal behaviorist like Jane Goodall.


To Timmy, one fourth grader at FC, just meeting college students was memorable. “This year in the 4th grade science academy class we had the opportunity to work with real college students,” he wrote in an essay about the visit, which he titled “Have you ever met a college student?”

This is from my version, before anyone else has seen it. And while there's promotion in there, obviously, there are also quotes and percentages.

If every story assignment I got had a topic like that, this job would be much easier.

* Brackets just to keep identifying details to a minimum. Realistically I probably don't need to worry about this stuff, but I've heard about a controversy or two, so better safe than sorry. Right now it's impossible to find this blog by Googling me or anything, and I want to keep it that way.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Light posting lately. Stuff has been going on, but nothing new. It's been interesting for me but I don't think it would be for other people. Guildpact, the new Magic expansion set, has been fully released. I've found I like the Izzet guild a lot (mad scientists of the Emmet Brown persuasion), but I can't wait for Dissension, the third set in this block, to come out. (For those who don't know the game, this block of sets is based on two-color combinations of cards in guilds, and the final block will feature the remaining three guilds. So once that set is out, any three colors will represent three guilds, creating a lot more synergy and combo possibilities.) Sooo... that, and work, are what I've been up to lately. Fun but routine.

A couple things I want to post about today, other than Magic arcana. First, this is yet another ridiculous abuse of our current intellectual property system. It gives some background on the Blackberry lawsuit*, explaining how one man is accusing people who probably never heard of him of copyright infringement.**

This is a story in two parts. The first takes us to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, where well-intentioned but overworked patent examiners are flooded with highly complex patent applications and asked to approve or deny them on deadlines that would make Einstein sweat. The examiners' union calls the PTO a "sweatshop," and no wonder. The examiners, usually recent college graduates, face a variety of pressures, including an internal point system that many say favors speed over accuracy, and applications filed by seasoned professionals, expert in making even the most prosaic "invention" sound like the light bulb.

On Nov. 1, 2005, the PTO issued Boris Volfson of Huntington, Ind., Patent 6,960,975 for his invention of an antigravity space vehicle (according to the application, "the spacetime curvature imbalance … provides for the space vehicle's propulsion"). As this example and others suggest, examiners don't always apply the patentability standards in the most rigorous manner…

It was in this environment that David Stout, co-founder of New Technologies Products, a former examiner and experienced patent lawyer, filed for a series of patents premised on wireless e-mail in the early 1990s. Arguably his patents should never have been granted; the idea of "wireless e-mail" is just too obvious to merit patent.

To the extent that Slate's article talks about the Blackberry case, it seems a lot more biased than usual. But about IP law in general, it seems a good illustration of how serious the problem is.

Washington Monthly goes into more detail, and examples in the medical industry as well. Some of the comments in that thread are informative too. In my previous*** posts on the issue, I've always been aware of the possibility that I might be making a mountain out of a molehill. With everything going on in the world, does it really, really matter if a satirist who wants to lampoon Mickey Mouse has to call his creation "Mikey Mole" to avoid a lawsuit?

Well, maybe that example doesn't matter, but a whole lot about intellectual property does. The Washington Monthly post above linked to that, which shows that even though the problem got a lost worse in the 1990s, it's more than a century old. If the Progress and Freedom Foundation is fighting for the intellectual property of CD companies, are they prepared to defend a totally unnecessary eight-year delay for products like the Model T Ford?

* In the past I've written about copyrights instead of patents, which I realize are different. But the problems with both are rooted in laws and policies that date back to a wildly different media and intellectual environment, were fertilized by billion-dollar corporations who wanted to maintain the status quo and damn the consequences, and result in choking off innovation and progress. As far as I know, when talking about general principles, it's not unfair to lump copyrights and patents together.

** Yeah, it feels weird for me to take the pro-corporation side on this. Like I said, I was surprised at how clear-cut Slate made the issue look, so I'm open to being convinced that I've jumped the gun here. But even if Stout is a saint, this is just collaborating evidence in a long list of ways the current system is broken. Or at least sprained.

*** Not that it matters, but I don't think I ever actually linked to the "Consumer Whore" lawsuit. So there we go.