Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Stand On Ceremony... after all, the machines are coming!

Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth" is a stunning treatise on the invaluable role these cultural 'bed-time' stories play. The author asserts that such fables are the glue that melds our societal consciousness into a cohesive framework.

More that religion in itself (though he explores so-called 'spiritual myth') Campbell claims such stories are the moral framework of generations. He seems to call on a largely unchurched yet spiritually crazed population's sometimes dense morality as proof.

That led me to wonder--what about the overall role that rituals play in our cultural awareness? To some extent, ritual and myth exist in a similar vein--largely to define the consciousness of the seer.

Think about it. The talking heads espouse liberality (I'm not talking politics here...) and enlightenment as the newest designer drugs. Meanwhile, people like Marshall McLuhan and movies like The Matrix crop up with full fledged communities and seek to redefine our world as the domain of the machines. But what defines you?

If I asked you to name the three greatest moments in your life, would it give you pause to consider the almost universal answers?
oh happy day
-My graduation
-My wedding
-My child's birth

filed under: AI? Fugeddaboutit. Machines have no sense of timing...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Trouble in Toyland

A report released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that in 2004, 16 children choked to death and about 210,000 spent their holidays in the ER, coughing up small items they had swallowed.

Shockingly, a government research group said it still finds small toy parts in games and dolls for the under three set- parts that violate a federal ban. In other instances, packaging either lacks or obfuscates the required warning labels.
things that make you go mmmm
Among the flood of "fix-its" resulting from these reports, one idea stands out above the rest:

Parents should use a choke testing tube or a cardboard toilet paper roll to test small toys and parts. If any toy or part fits in the tube, then it is too small for children under 3 or older children who still put things in their mouths.

For the age group in question, choking on small items is a leading cause of death and injury.

file this one under: melts in 'yer preschool age+ mouth.

Monday, November 21, 2005

You beautiful bastard- overqualified AND underpaid. But... paid!

Average Jane is slightly more than average. A mind for numbers, the logic of a born programmer, she brought the Internet and PC technology into mainstream America. Did her job so well, in fact, that she talked herself right out of employment! Buh-bye Silicon Valley, hel-lo Bom-bay.

Despite this fatal flaw in burgeoning Internet technologies -- that humans, of a particular sort, are a non-essential component -- it's impossible to escape the influence of the digital landscape.

Average Jane and others like her have a helluva fight on their hands. The one pleasing aspect of job outsourcing syndrome is the abundance of educative materials and opportunities on our shores. hard at work

As a conventional management structure disappears, as CEOs, shareholders, and mid-level managers are removed potentially further and further from their employees, boundaries dissapate at an ever increasing rate.

Average Jane and others like her must bring more to the table than mere job skills. Business savvy, industry awareness, and more abounding creativity (perhaps in the form of product innovations that go above and beyond customer contracts)- that's the only way to improve upon lower cost structures that can be found abroad. That's the way not to impinge upon the very capitalist ideals that built our country (forget about demanding employers not go overseas).

THAT is the way to keep your job.

file this one under: melts in 'yer mouth, not in 'yer India.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Digital piracy and DVD copy protections

Of all the pros and cons in the digital share or not to share debate, perhaps two of the best are Linus Torvalds and Dan Bricklin. Torvalds, of course, birthed the Linux operating system. Bricklin, on the other hand, may be slightly less well known. the REAL king of all media

The inventor of the first spreadsheet program, Dan Bricklin is a proponent of the share side of the debate. He has written extensively on his website about the dangers DVD copy protections pose to the future of computing.

The crux of Bricklin's argument is that casual computer users- those who lack an illicit agenda- are the record keepers of a generation. Copy a disk, store it in a desk somewhere for the day when a backup may become necessary. The best way to learn where we're going is to know where we've been. It's said often enough. But how true that the litigious nature of society is lending itself to so many protections... we will protect ourselves right out of a history!

Case in point: In 1999, a longtime inventor named Ziarno decided to sue the Red Cross over what he saw as patent infringements. The idea was his, Ziarno said, to collect money via a particular online donation process. Much to the chagrin of the inventor, two programmers named Eastburn and Trevor had made it a hobby to collect outdated software. Sort of a technological 'walk down memory lane.' In court, they recreated an early Compuserve site- a site that proved despite Ziarno's patent, the idea was not originally his [BBC News].

Though it is unlikely one will ever be prevented from copying or saving websites to their home computer, it is a relatively small leap to say that such a situation could pertain to software and hardware itself, in the coming years. Where will we be, if the casual user is left out of the loop? It is to this same end that DVD protections prohibit the film buff from adding copied movies to his home library. The film buff copies his DVDs, perhaps only for the purposes of backup, perhaps for sharing within a small network of friends. But there is no commercial profit acquired out ofm&m quotables said copying-- thus, prohibiting such things because of what a small group of people "could" do with the technology is a perversion of our legal system.

It is easy to see why actors and producers of movies might associate piracy of their art with mounting negative social consequences. They believe, as reasonable people do, that their efforts should not go uncompensated or unrecognized. Even more than that, they may fear their work will be corrupted or used outside of its intent (witness the associations made between Michael Moore's documentaries and campaigning politicians last election season; locally, this was the RNC's primary tactic for attacking the character of Democratic candidate Virginia Schrader.)

The fault in this instance lies again with presumed mal intent. Why even release movies on video at all? People could invite 40 friends over to watch, while just one person has paid the my little brother- wearing the family shame for all to see :Prental fee. After all, movies grant entrance on a per person fee. More likely, it is the newness of the medium that scares the stakeholders involved. Betamax was a fearful entity in the early eighties; and in the years since, though piracy has been a persistent problem, it never reared its ugly head in the way it was expected to. The same will eventually be proven of the Internet and DvD movie/file downloading, the piracy that makes its way from the theater to online communities. Good conscience still guides most people- and where it doesn't, criminals should be prosecuted after the fact, not before.

As for the legalities of the issue, lawyers will always fall on the moneyed side of the piracy debate. (Depending on the client, they may be pro or con; but, in this modern age, lawyers tend to side with the deep pocketed business interests.) In their eyes, anyone who even thinks of infringing on a copyright is guilty. In any event, logic tells us that no matter where the legislators land on the issue, people will continue to test loopholes, thus supplying lawyers with a steady stream of clients.

Optimism of a strange sort may provide a helpful outlook for the lawyer's future, but what of the digital pirate? He, who makes his living plugging away at the keyboard day in and out, never creating, but merely trafficking in the work of others. As Assistant Attorney General John Richter said in May, 'They won't be able to hide in anonymity much longer' [BBC News]. Here, implied, is the fear that keeps many legislators and politicians in a cold sweat at night. As per their habit of presuming guilt, governmental leaders also tend to think society will degenerate and implode upon itself if left unsupervised for even a moment; and in many ways, that fear makes some sense. However, an irrational component of that fear is the D.C. mindset that says there is only one way to do things.

Imagine...they think the human consciousness is so static that it does not shift over time. The technological landscape is our final frontier. We're watching Gates and his fellow pioneers as they attempt to forge nation states all over again.

To expand some more on the Richter quote, especially in the light of the Microsoft initiative announced in early November- a move that aims to push the software giant almost wholly i wonder what kind of property taxes they pay there... online- we're seeing a face emerge on the World Wide Web. Like Hollywood consultants of old- those who took a Norma Jean and made her into a Marilyn, or a Robert Zimmerman into a Bob Dylan- the Internet is being given a personality. A face-lift. As the anonymity fades away, as new laws continue to emerge, the positives trickling out of the process may prove to be worth the trouble. Technology no longer makes people afraid- their perceptions are clearing. And by the same token, perhaps digital pirates will- if not cease and desist- then become a whole lot more careful!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Trustigious journalism, nightly, on The Colbert Report

I just hafta know if this guy is doing a send up of himself. Whether he is or not, he's the best thing on TV.

As The Man himself would probably be quick to add- that's not saying much! :P

"In the last week, there's been a lot of talk about whether the CIA has secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Well, they don't. They have 'prisons,' but not 'secret prisons' -- thanks to the blabbermouths at the Washington Post." The secret's out, Post -- you're on notice!"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Broadband pirates, beware!

"In truth, literature, in science and in art, there are, and can be, few, if any things, which in an abstract sense are strictly new and original throughout. Every book in literature, science, and art borrows, and must necessarily borrow, and use much which was well known and used before."
-- Supreme Court Justice David Souter

For many years, the copyright law of note has remained the so-called "fair use" clause of the all-encompassing 1976 act. Its original intent pertained to written and other works of academia. In more recent times, however, its sphere of influence has expanded into music. Artists "sampling" a lyric or a phrase- or even entire sections of works- are then legally reviewed under the following criteria:

  • does it comment on the original work? (by expanding the artist's meaning)
  • does it criticize the original work? (by revaling inherent flaws in perhaps logic and/or overall meaning)

Supreme Court Justice David Souter has rather poetically expressed his viewpoint on "original" art. 'It all borrows on that which has gone before,' Souter said, effectually paraphrasing King Solomon ("There is nothing new under the sun.") But facilitator methods- methods that assist in forms of piracy and infringement- are indeed very new.

In June of this year, Justice Souter delivered the unanimous opinion of the court in the landmark file sharing case "MGM v. Grokster." Grokster was one of many companies that disseminated free software meant to assist users in file sharing across P2P networks. According to U.S Supreme Court multimedia website Oyez, the software companies knew users were utilizing the software to download copyrighted materials. Though this leap in logic seems probable, it does appear outside the scope of the court--of any court, really--to legislate matters of thought. However, for any technology pirate who is sued by a corporation in the future, it could serve as a stunning defense strategy. At the very least, it's the newest incarnation of an age-old legal trick- the 'deflect the blame' game.

To expand briefly: rather than prosecute those who use the software maliciously, the U.S legal system is prosecuting inventors and producers in much the same fashion that courts are beginning to say to gun manufacturers "Yes, guns can be used only for hunting or other conditionally legal endeavors, but people still get killed some of the time. That makes you wrong." And people say copyright laws are a kick in the pants to innovation- yet, legislators are beginning to write legalities into existence that say any innovators must fully envision the scope of the future, as well as how their creations could potentially be used!

In the Grokster ruling, the Court reversed two lower court decisions that found for the software maker. Souter and the other justices argued that inferring into the intent of the 1976 Copyright Act was fully within their rights- the earlier legislation had made no mention of parties being liable in the instance of infringement by another. So called "secondary liability" doctrines were called into play. Because of the immense popularity of Grokster's software, it would have been too costly and too time consuming for the courts to prosecute actual criminals. Grokster was found liable for profiting from copyright infringement perpetrated by others.

====How perceptive of you!=====

"...America's laws regarding artists continue to reflect our national attitude toward artists: These are weird, potentially dangerous people who often care less about money than is acceptable. That's true whether you're a painter, writer, cartoonist, songwriter, director, dancer, or anyone else who's trying to create something you want other people to see or hear. Business is our national art form, and business is deeply suspicious of art. So is our court system."
--Nancy Updike


Many might view Grokster's actions in a post-Napster world as asking for trouble. But 2 out of 3 courts agreed with the software manufacturer. Therefore, it is not unrealistic to assume the contradictions running rampant through the technology sector are due to a disjointed perception of software and the online world. There is no structure and because of that, a "see how far you can get" mentality exists. Bill Gates, however, is about to change that with an Internet face lift - one that inherently brands the World Wide Web with Microsoft's goliath handprint.

Said handprint will be step one in eliminating the anonymity of the 'net (perhaps the prevailing misperception people have when committing crimes online). Eleven months ago, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced plans to prosecute those who download pirated versions of movies onto their hard drives. They cited user's perceived anonymity as their greatest asset in the new initiative. In May, the MPAA was overjoyed at a crackdown on the BitTorrent network- a website that had been disseminating Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith. John C. Richter, Asst. Attorney General, hailed the arrests, saying they "[sent] a clear and unmistakable message" that internet pirates "cannot hide behind new technology."

Only a month before these arrests, President Bush signed into law The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act; essentially, song and film pirates who place their wares on the 'net for download may face up to three years in jail- in addition to hefty fines. Interestingly, the new bill targets only those file-sharers who swap unreleased items.

==Isn't it Ironic?==

The act also allows parents to "edit out" sex, violence and bad language from DVDs. Furthermore, it protects companies that provide filters to skip entire portions of films. Manufacturers and producers had objected, saying that any such alterations infringed on their copyrights. However, the law has exempted these companies from facing prosecution [BBC news].