Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Steve Boyett on Copyfight and Writing

Author, DJ and general renaissance man Steven Boyett recently lead a couple sessions at the Southern California Writer's Association. Fortunately he posted the audio from these discussions and they're great for those of us who seem to spend a lot more time learning about writing than writing. Here Boyett talks about the changes happening in the publishing markets as driven by the ongoing digital revolution. He's walked this walk as a podcasting DJ in the musical realm and so is more prepared than most authors as similar issues hit the prose fiction and other written media. In the second part he talks about the debacle that copyright has become, and gives some great history. He echoes some things from Cory Doctorow but takes his own slant as well; plus he pays due reverence to Lawrence Lessig and Creative Commons. Thanks, Steve.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Work of Art is a Work in Progress

Heard what turned out to be basically a bizarre advertisement on National Public Radio.  I suppose they'd call it a review, but it had the effect of me trying out the "product".  It was for Bravo TV's new reality show Work of Art.  It's a cookie cutter copy of their two prior shows Project Runway and Top Chef, neither of which I can stomach for more than a few seconds before flipping onward. 
But I was curious about the artists, and how the time pressure would work out; I generally think time pressure is both anathema and pretty necessary to the artistic process. And that part of the show was cool, seeing the artists get into their work, struggle with it, shift it and eventually become attached to it.  To the last one they ended up reasonably content with their "piece". 
Then there were the judges -- too much drama and negativity just for the sake of conflict and controversy.  They provided some useful insights, but Art is soooo subjective and here was everything from minimalist abstraction to realism.  I'm no art expert, but I did recently read Looking at Paintings: An Introduction to Fine Art for Young People after it was recommended by Cory Doctorow, so I'm aware of techniques and types and the "eye of the beholder" and that the artist cannot be held fully responsible for my experience of her art.  So how do you eliminate someone based on the "quality" of their work of art? That part is worse than watching iceskating competition... don't know if I'll stick around, but maybe, since I agree with Amanda Palmer: "...some artists try to do everything, which is impossible, I think those people are brave."

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Why I read Ken Fisher's financial column

Because he speaks up when the emperor has no clothes. In his current column he strips Moody's and Standard & Poor's of much of their value:
"The big agencies have a way of warning of trouble spots (like Enron) only after the trouble is evident or of adding to a panic (like Greece's) that is already beyond any rational basis." (Mountains and Molehills; 5/28/10 http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0607/markets-brazil-companhia-saneamento-portfolio-strategy.html).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Make Us Well, Macusweil

A fresh blog from an old friend: Macusweil's Mind

Observations from one man; original poetry; quotes from the quotable and others.

(I know where some of the skeletons are closeted.)

Enjoy. I plan to.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Too Young Bayler Couple Pass Four Weeks Apart

Three weeks ago I wrote about my friend, Mike Bayler, who passed away while bicycling. He was survived by his wife, Sharon Covington Bayler. Unfortunately "was" is now the correct form of the verb in that last sentence. Yesterday, in an numbing tragedy, Sharon was hit from behind by a truck while on a group ride. She died from the injuries. I'll link to the Huntsville Times blog article, but more because of the comments posted than because of the article -- apparently the facts originally reported were not checked very thoroughly.

I did not know Sharon well, but well enough to know that she was terrific. She was warm and welcoming to me, whether because I was a friend of Mike's and that was good enough for her or because she was that way with everyone, I'm not sure. It doesn't matter; I still feel like I've been punched in the gut; twice. And as down as I feel I know her family and close friends feel it more; my heart goes out to you all.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Perplexed by Parliament Non-Pundits

"Ewww, Britain may not have a clear winner in their election; whatever will they do?"
Both NPR and The Daily Show seemed aghast yesterday and today that a democratic nation like Great Britain would not immediately emerge from their general election with a clear head-of-state.  This is something I had learned twice by my 10th grade civics class.  It's a parliamentary system... with a Prime Minister (not a President)... typically they require a coalition government.  This is not unusual.  The unusual thing has been that they've had a clear majority most of the last 30 some years.  Typically it's been a multi-party system with a coalition formed by at least a couple parties in order to elect a Prime Minister and form a government.
  One criticism often leveled at parliamentary democracies is that they may be less stable than those with heads of state elected by popular vote (more or less in the US case, see Electoral College).  That's probably why I found it interesting (almost 30 years ago in that 10th grade class) that Great Britain's government was actually more stable, at least as measured by how long the head of state ruled: they were averaging around 6 years at that time, while the US was closer to having Presidents that served for 5 years.
  So, Pundits, give old England a chance to sort it out.  Nice to see a third party get a chance for a little influence; especially since its the LibDems.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rapport with a Friend

I’ve never really understood those roadside wreaths and flowered cross displays along a highway at the site of an accident; a fatal accident. Never empathized with the wreath placer, the mourner. That’s not where the victim is, not even their shell of flesh; doesn’t it make more sense to decorate the gravesite, or the home? But this week I feel a little differently. This week I sent an e-mail to an empty address. Oh, the address was still valid; the e-mail hasn’t bounced. But there is no one there to read my “so long” e-mail. I know that no one is there because my friend passed away last Saturday (I tried “died” where I have “passed away”, but I couldn’t leave it; not as a fully contextualized sentence; I need the euphemism.)

Saturday, April tenth, was a great day to be alive in north Alabama. I did some yard work under the spring sun. Mike Bayler, my friend, was riding bicycle as part of a group when his heart gave out on him. I don’t know the details. I don’t need to know the details. I know it wasn’t a prolonged thing, I know that he got to ride on his final day; something he loved to do. Mike (who was often “Mr. Bayler” to me, despite the fact that he was seven years my younger. I’d greet him that way with a nod, “Mr. Bayler.” I know too many Mikes, and it separated him from the others for me. “Mr. Patton;” he would often counter-greet me. I figured he was poking fun at my formality, but now I see that maybe he was distinguishing me from other “Chips” in his life: I see two others signed the online memory book for him at madisonchapelfuneralhome.com.) was a cyclist. He had the gear, the clothes, and he felt the joy of it. He was at one time president of the Spring City Cycling Club, but he was just as happy to be a member, to help others get started, to fix up their “rides”. He helped my wife learn to use her clip shoes; stayed with her for an entire outing, reminding her to unclip whenever they came to a stop so she didn’t topple over.

I didn’t ride with Mike. I worked with him. I traveled on business with him. He took me to howl at the moon in Orlando. The dueling piano bar, I mean. I hadn’t been to one before and not since; but it was a great time. In no way do I sing, but I sang there. No mystery why they call it “the howl at moon saloon”. No pretension with Mr. Bayler.

We also spent a couple days in Oklahoma City; shared a plate of fried cheese with hot pepper jelly at some sports bar, the Super Bowl on their big screen. The second day there Mike saw me say hello to one of the hotel housekeeping maids as we walked past her in the hotel hall, a striking young lady with oddly colored hair, an almondy-silver. I explained to Mike that the prior day I had asked her for an HBO guide, maybe the one for my room had been tossed in the trash by the prior guest. She had looked at me a bit blankly; turned out her English was less than good. She didn’t look Hispanic at all but Spanish was sure what she spoke; if she had looked more Hispanic I probably wouldn’t have tried to talk to her. So it took a minute to communicate with her; and her wrongly spaced and crooked teeth contrasted with the rest of her sharp appearance. Anyway, Mike thought I provided too much detail and kidded me about the housekeeper from Oklahoma City for years.

That project was a small one. Management had been ready to “no-bid” it, but Mike and I picked it up and made it a success, at a time when the company needed successes. In fact, Mike finished it on his own because I took a job in Pennsylvania. And when Mike was in PA on business, he visited and stayed at our house. When we moved back to north Alabama he made sure to invite us to the party that he and his wife, Sharon, were having at their house – helped me get back into the flow here.

They’d gotten married while we were up north. He obviously thrived within their relationship; seven years they were married, that seems short to me right now, but it was the rest of a life to him, and rightly spent.

I didn’t get to hang out a lot with Mike the past year or two – a couple of lunches; a few crossed paths at work. I was elsewhere during his fortieth birthday party last April, but my wife and daughter were there. I was present, however, for this April’s gathering for Mike, but it was visitation at a funeral home. Still there was quite a turnout and I was heartened to see it. I hope that his family, down from Illinois or other parts north, also took some solace in the congregation. I hope it was as obvious to them as it is to me that though he had left their home, he had made a rich life here, and touched a lot of lives here, including mine. So long, Mr. Bayler; good-bye, Mike.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Running with Little Atoms

During today's lunch run across the end of Lady Anne Lake, in addition to passing within arm's length of a four foot tall great blue heron and a 4 foot long black rat snake, themselves only separated by a couple hundred feet, I listened to Cory Doctorow's April 3rd interview on ResonanceFM's Little Atoms show. Most of the topics I'd heard from Cory before, although they were freshly iterated here: privacy, copyrights, authorship. But near the end was a subject I don't remember having heard from him before and it was worth the hearing. He gave his take on patents in terms of property. How we have a legitimate interest in things; a stake in them; even though we don't own them. His first example was your child. You don't own a child, but they are "yours" nonetheless. If someone kidnaps them or kills them they haven't stolen from you, they've actually done something worse: kidnapping or murder. Your cell phone number is another example where you may not "own" it, but you have a vested interest in it since your friends all know it; your business cards have it printed on it, etc. Your phone company shouldn't just suddenly assign it to someone else. So patents. So maybe some things, like genome sequences, or similar, shouldn't be patented in the same way that more traditional inventions are. Patents exist to help inventors get capital and to allow inventors to share their inventions without fear of losing their profit potential. Society wants inventions, and we want the insights shared so that other inventors can move to the next idea beyond. But currently patents are all the same: the inventing company gets 90 years of exclusivity -- a bit long for something like software. A big wig at Microsoft told Cory that they probably wouldn't write any less new code if they only got exclusivity for 10 years -- so why grant the other 80 years? (My synopsis is inelegant; have a listen if you're interested.)
Cory did quote the Microsofter as saying they were already writing code in "all the hours God sends", an expression I wasn't familiar with, and after chasing it around the Internet a bit, I doubt that's an expression used by a Microsoft executive. Apparently it's quite a British turn of phrase.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

No Activist Judges !? Hrmph !

"No activist judges!" That has been the refrain from the far right, from the "conservative" talk radio and Fox TV hosts, and the politicians they embrace. Well, we now have a U.S. Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and a majority that is favored by these "more moral than you" types, and this week that high court brought us one of the most revisionist decisions in decades.
Not content with the issue before them, they continued to broaden the scope of the complaint until it allowed them to override enough precedents to establish the law in the manner in which they saw fit. Don't take my word for it, Justice J. Stevens, in his dissenting opinion, writes, "Our colleagues’ suggestion that 'we are asked to reconsider Austin and, in effect, McConnell,' ante, at 1, would be more accurate if rephrased to state that 'we have asked ourselves' to reconsider those cases."

(Since some of you may be wondering which decision I'm referring to, it's "CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION", decided Jan. 21, 2010. The effect will be to remove electioneering restrictions on corporations, i.e. they'll be able to spend as much money as they want, as close to election date as they want, directly in favor or against candidates.)

Both the decision, and the opinions are available on line, and are surprising readable. In fact I was a bit surprised by the informality of some of the language. The decision repeatedly uses the expression "chilling effect" and variations there on, to refer to the law's impact on political speech. The crux of the majority's argument is that free speech applies to corporations (and unions, etc.) just as much as to real persons. I disagree; Justice J. Stevens argues this nicely: "The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity, including its 'identity' as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law. ... In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters."

Justice J. Stevens goes on to present a laundry list of precedents, some dating back a hundred years, that the court has overturned with this ruling, in violation of the principal of stare decisis, i.e. making rulings based on prior decisions. Maybe the "more moral than you" crowd will now change their mind about judicial activism, they certainly have changed it about whether it's okay to criticize a sitting President. I guess there's no reason not to be hypocritical about the third branch of our federal government. Sigh.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

St. Joseph's and the Lakota (Sioux)

I'm not sure which bleeding heart list they pulled my name from, I'm on bunches of them, and most of the stuff that I get sent as a result goes straight to the recycler. I often wonder whether my meager donations have a net gain impact versus the postage, paper and return address labels that I receive on a weekly basis from sundry do-gooders. At least the US Mail gets some business, lords know they need it. But I was glad to receive the less usual token gift from St. Joseph's Indian School. It's one of these weekly planner pocket calendars. I've used one, usually purchased at Staples or Office Depot, each year of the last 20 or more. Often I've received them as Christmas gifts and appreciated it, as they can be a pain to find in the right size, and are not cheap ($8 to $20); I did have one particularly nice one given to me that had the USATT logo on it (which year was that, Mike, 2008?).

Anyway, this year, St. Joseph's sent me a personalized one (here's a photo); and I'm using it. In fact they sent it early enough that I could tell people I wouldn't be needing one for Christmas. So I sent them a small donation. As near as I can tell they do good work for a people that, as a nation, we have treated poorly. And I am enjoying the cultural enlightenment as each month's moon is described from the Lakota heritage. February's is Cannapopa Wi (see this picture for what it means to them).