April 2005

Blog without fear

EFF has posted a short paper on how to blog without getting fired, breaking it down roughly into (1) blog pseudonymously, (2) limit your audience and (3) know your (lack of) legal rights.

It’s unfortunate that (4) come to a reasonable agreement with management about what’s acceptable wasn’t even in the running. That’s a tricky negotiation though, both because once you broach the subject it’s much harder to go back to being anonymous and because your management might feel OK about looking the other way but when pressed might feel the need to say no rather than yes. And when it comes to protecting themselves from upper management or angry stockholders should your blog embarrass the company, they’re probably right.

I’m of two minds when it comes to pseudonymous writing. On the one hand, I still want more choice of soft walls when it comes to managing what I write. Mailing lists and things like LiveJournal‘s friends lists are good starts, but what I really want is a publish-this-to-everyone-except-those-who-would-get-me-in-trouble-for-what-I-wrote button. But on the other hand, I can’t help but see such a button as a kind of cowardly way out. Maybe it just stirs some deep emotion implanted during half-listened to high-school discussions of Thoreau, but isn’t the measure of a writer, at least in some small way, just how much trouble his writing gets him into?

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Orphan works update

Quick update on the orphan works issue: The Copyright Office has posted initial comments, and reply-comments deadline are due May 9th.

The crux of the problem is the fact that you needn’t register a work with the Copyright office, or even put the little “(C) Copyright 2005” mark on it for it to be copyrighted anymore, nor do you need to renew. A doodle on a napkin is just as copyrighted as a composition registered with the Copyright office (though you can’t collect damages until you actually register the work). So nowadays copyright isn’t even fire-and-forget — the gun can be still sitting on the mantle. Until that’s changed I’m not sure of a good way out of this morass.

Personally I’d like the current copyright rights only be enforceable for works that are registered with the Copyright Office, with the onus of the copyright holder to update his or her contact information in a timely fashion, and every so often to take active steps to renew the copyright. These shouldn’t be onerous steps — a simple form with little or no processing fee should be sufficient. If a work is not registered or renewed, or if it’s deemed impossible to find the copyright owner, then the either the work should fall into the public domain or possibly become protected under a much more limited set of copyright restrictions such as those provided under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Next step in the anti-comment-spam arms race

Comments are working after being down for a day, now that I’ve finished installing MT-Keystrokes, the latest weapon in the anti-comment-spam arms race. It’s a plug-in that uses Javascript to detect whether a person has typed something on the form prior to submission — it’ll be pretty simple for spammers to code around, but it may give me a month respite in the mean time. (Note that this also means you’ll need Javascript enabled to post comments… shouldn’t be a problem for the one or two of you who comment every month, and hopefully it’ll be slightly more of a problem for the hundred or so spambots that try to post and clog my filter box.)

Movable Type has so much effort going into trying to block spam — I wish they’d put even half that effort into making a half-decent interface for just deleting comments in bulk…

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The map is not the territory

It’s interesting how the Google satellite pictures differ ever so slightly from the Google map.

In particular, notice how the NW-to-SE roads are skewed about 5 degrees clockwise from true while the NE-to-SW roads are skewed about 5 degrees counterclockwise from true. (Click on the image for higher-resolution.)

On second thought, it could be that the map is correct and the satellite images are skewed to locally fit the Google perspective. Maybe the map is the territory after all!

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I can see my house from here!

Google just upped the ante again with Google Satellite. Satellite images curtsey of Digital Globe and EarthSat.

As a side-note, the Google Maps URL includes GPS coordinates, so given a street address you can get both GPS coords and satellite map quickly and easily. You can also just erase the part from q=Blah+blah& part of the URL to get a nice clean satelite image, or just add &t=k to an existing Google Maps URL to turn it into a satellite image. (I really hope that doesn’t become an issue for some well-meaning panic-stricken patriot who thinks terrorists couldn’t get that info quickly and easily in dozens of other ways — I always missed that GPS feature when it was taken out of earlier mapping software.)

Update 7:40pm: Note that you need to click on “Link to this page” in the upper right-hand corner to get the full URL to show up in the address bar.

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Culture of acceptance

I did my level best to completely ignore the Teri Schiavo case, but a coworker and I were talking about how easy it is to sympathize with her parents, to understand their desire to keep her alive regardless of her state. And I do sympathize with that desire. I also suspect, though, that hanging on like they have these past 15 years has been destructive for their lives, and hope that now they may finally be able to grieve and move on in their lives.

Our culture has a long tradition of fighting to keep what we have, and institutions to help us fight. We have churches to bind us to our culture’s morality, political organizations to insure our rights aren’t trampled, medical research to hang on to youth and health for just a few years more. These are all good things. But I think we need more focus on institutions to help us accept when things change, death being the ultimate change that we all face. It’s not easy to let go of a an addiction, a loved one who’s gone or a belief that has outlived its usefulness. Sometimes we need help and support just to let go.

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This I Believe

This is wonderful. In 1951, Edward R. Murrow asked Americans, both famous and everyday, to express their beliefs in 500 words. Every week an essay would be played on national radio, read in the author’s own voice. Now NPR, Atlantic Public Media and This I Believe, Inc. are recreating ‘This I Believe‘ both on the radio and online.

From Jay Allison’s introduction, read today on All Things Considered:

In a media climate of Hyper-reality Television and Conflict Radio, of aggressive pundits, of innuendo, harangue, and attack – we’re trying to create not more noise, but a quiet place. A place to listen. As it was fifty years ago, This I Believe will be noted not for its clamor, but for its calm. We are eager for your contribution.

Essays from the original series, including ones from Helen Keller, Jackie Robinson and Harry Truman, can be found at ThisIBelieve.com (redirects to the NPR.org site). There you can also submit your own essays and join the discussion.

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One-point Journalist Test (EFF 4/1 press release)

There’ve been a lot of good 4/1 posts today, but I especially like EFF’s press release on the Ninth Circuit’s new “one-point journalist test” in the Apple “do bloggers count as journalists when it comes to shield laws” case:

“Historically, the relevant question is whether the author had the intent to use the material – sought, gathered or received – to disseminate information to the public and whether such intent existed at the inception of the newsgathering process,” wrote Judge Stephen S. Trott in the opinion. “But in an era when anyone with a computer and Internet connection can publish to the world, the key distinguishing factor is whether the author was wearing pants.”

The Court looked to the example of blogger/journalist Jeff Gannon, explaining, “When Mr. Gannon was lobbing softball questions to the President on behalf of Talon News, he was acting just like any other member of the White House press corps — and, critically, he was wearing pants. In Mr. Gannon’s other Internet publishing endeavors, however, he did not wear pants, and his activities therefore fall outside the boundaries of journalism.”

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ALA takes another step to personalizing information

Seth Finkelstein points to the forced stepping down of Michael Gorman (president-elect of the American Library Association) as the latest blog take-down. He’s right of course, but blog take-downs are so yesterday’s news — the real news (at least from a world-wide perspective) is what he’s going to do next:

Gorman will take residency in the London Library and work on the next edition of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, “now more necessary than ever,” Gorman wrote, and contribute original cataloging. “I’m increasingly suspicious of the value of cooperative cataloging. What is really gained?”

It’s nice to see libraries are finally giving up on this whole one-size-fits-all approach to information sciences. Hopefully this will eventually lead to complete personalization, where there’s no need for librarians at all because everyone is his own librarian, each with his own personalized mental map of the universe and search engines and filters tuned to that model. You could have personalized literature, history, or even physics instantly translated to match your own language, education, IQ and cultural upbringing — just like we use the blogsphere to translate the daily news today.

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Dovetailing tools together

OK, this amused me enough I had to share. My fraternity brother Nivi just lost his voice, so he went and purchased a nice-sounding text-to-speech voice for his Mac at Cepstral and piped its output into Skype with Soundflower. Voilà — instant TTS phone.

I remember David Ross once told a story about how the Model T Ford (nicknamed the “Tin Lizzy”) was adapted to all sorts of things unexpected things, from winching wagons to pumping water. The key was the car’s simplicity: it was just a motor on wheels, and it didn’t take an expert to that motor for something besides driving. It’s a lesson that keeps repeating itself: tools made up of simple, powerful components with straightforward interfaces for linking the pieces together find their own new uses.

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