November 2005 Archives

I Really Had No Idea

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Apparently, the Philippines are one of the world’s largest exporters of Elvis impersonators.

I know that there was a Filipino Elvis who worked Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong, but I really had no idea it was one of the country’s largest exports…

(via Global Voices)

Bohemian Wanksta

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You know, it’s rather surprising that no-one’s thought of putting together a 50-Cent/Queen mashup before. I mean, the gayest rock band this side of Pink Steel meets the butchest rapper of them all? It’s obvious, isn’t it?

Meet Q-Unit Greatest Hits, featuring “This Is How We Bite The Dust,” “Candy Bottom Girls,” “We Will Rock You In Da Club,” and the aformentioned “Bohemian Wanksta.”

It’s actually pretty good.

(via stereogum)

It's Like Digg, But For News

A friend pointed me to Common Times, a site that functions like a kind of Digg but for news.

That’d be neat enough as far as it goes, but that’s only the start of the story. It’s also loaded with all kinds of interesting Ajax-y goodness that let you do things like post items to your blog (apparently Blogger-only for now, but they’re working on adding other systems), check the Technorati stats for any given story, and see who voted for any particular story. There’s also automagic integration with your del.icio.us account, tagging to aggregate stories, and some more features that I haven’t been able to uncover yet.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is that it features an API, which means that building applications off the platform should be relatively easy and painless.

It’s still brand-new, so there are a few rough edges (like the blogger-only posting, for one thing), but overall, it’s a really interesting and intriguing concept. Pf.org sez: check it out.

Very Large Men Running Into Each Other

My friend Ethan Zuckerman weighs in with a great update on the state of Sumo today.

When I lived in Japan, I ended up watching a lot of Sumo on television. It’s a really fascinating sport, and there’s much more to it than two obese Japanese men running into each other. There’s a tremendous amount of technique involved, and the athletes involved are generally very strong and incredibly talented. While you’d think that American football players would be good at it, the few times they’ve tried have generally not been a success.

It’s interesting that the next wave of wrestlers seem to be coming from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; previously, it seemed that any foreign competition would come mostly from Hawaii and other Polynesian islands (see Akebono, formerly Chad Rowan, six-foot-eight and five hundred and twenty five pounds).

Beer Googles Explained

University researchers in Manchester have figured out that beer goggles are actually a multi-variate phenomenon. The single biggest factor is still how much you’ve had to drink, but other considerations include the smokiness of the room, distance, how well the room is lit, and, oddly enough, how good your eyesight is.

Of course, Bloomberg-era New York has no smoky bars, so one wonders how applicable the formula is to the Big Apple…

Turkey Coma

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So it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and the population of the United States can be classified as either

  1. out turning Christmas shopping into a full-contact sport that resembles a bizarre hybrid of Ultimate Fighting and The Price Is Right (personally, my position on this matter is that Amazon is your friend (which reminds me that my birthday is coming up)), or
  2. sprawled out on the couch, recovering from massive trypophan overdoses and wondering why there’s nothing good on daytime televsion.

Since you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you’ve fallen into category 2. So, in order to alleviate the boredom, I’d suggest checking out this brilliant, bizarre, slightly surreal Bollywood parody-cum-Absolut ad. It’s a 10 minute short wiith a beautiful princess, completing hairdressers, an angry father, forbidden love, a sneering villian, dizzying dance sequences, escapes from prison, betrayal, and the true origins of the mullet. Highly worth checking out, and watching it will make your day better. I guarantee it.

Because It Wouldn't Be Thanksgiving Without Tradition

Just like last year, enjoy your Thanksgiving.

What (or whom) are you thankful for?

When They ask you about Career Goals, the first words out of your mouth probably shouldn’t be “Well, it involves a beach, a hammock, and one of those fruity drinks with an umbrella in it.”

Live From The Public (Library)

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So I’m here at the Public Library for an intellectual-law smackdown about the whole Google Print program.

Speaking tonight will be Allan Adler, Association of American Publishers; Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine; David Drummond, Google; Paul LeClerc & David Ferriero, The New York Public Library; Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School; and Nick Taylor, The Authors Guild

And for the starfuckers out there, David Byrne is here, too.

There’s free champagne, too. Yummy.

Paul LeClerc is now talking about the challenges facing the library and libraries in general regarding the extraordinary rate of change and speed that the internet has forced on them. Noting that usually these changes take a long time (i.e. Gutenberg & the development of movable type); the internet is rapidcly compressing that timeline; after all the WWW is barely 10 years old.

Now speaking: David Ferrier. He’s setting the stage, and announces that Google has changed the name of Google Print to Google Book Search as of today. I didn’t know that. He notes that NYPL’s involvement with the program (and the English libraries involved) are working only with public domain materials. Libraries have a history of embracing disruptive behavior, e.g. embracing computing starting in the 1960s. Often the materials they deal with today never hit paper—they’re digital from start to finish (like, say, this blog). He closes with “We are America’s public research library.”

Turning it over to Chris Anderson, who’ll moderate tonight’s discussion.

There are about 32 million books; 3 million in print, 3 million out of copyright, and the rest of them are still in copyright but out of print; there are very few ways to get to them.

Goes through a timeline of how we got to where we are. Key points:

  • Project Gutenberg
  • The Internet Archive started scanning books, too
  • Amazon’s searching inside the book
  • Google launches Google Print (originally limited to books out of copyright and books provided by publishers)

In December of 2004, Google launches the Google Print Library project, which included books in the library’s collection that the publishers had not explicitly given permission to be included in the project.

Demonstrating that Google is displaying just a snippet of material with a giant visual aid. In August, the complaints started, and then the lawsuits started in September and October, and Google subsequently paused their scanning process; They’ve since restarted, focussing on older (public domain) books.

Now Yahoo! and Microsoft have started something called the “Open Content Alliance,” focusing on public domain materials.

Nick Taylor speaking now. “We object to the appropriation of the work that authors own without asking our permission. It’s work we own, it’s vaulable.” It’s like eminent domain, says Nick, but only without any kind of compensation. They state that inclusion in the project is stealing the material.

This is the point where the wireless cut out.

David Drummond now speaking. The purpose of the program is to help you find the books. You will not be able to actually read the books on line. And Google wants to direct searchers to where you will be able to actually buy the book. Google believes that there is a very very strong fair use argument here. Now going into a general defense of why fair use is important. “This is the power to discover that this book which is not in the local library exists. … perhaps the only way to prevent that book from falling completely into obscurity is to put it into a program like this.” Information does not want to be free, but it does want to be found.

Nick, counterpoint: This will tremendously increase the value of Google’s franchise; why doesn’t it accrue to the creators?

Lessig: Should there be any use of copyrighted works that should be free? Before the internet, there were plenty of examples where creative uses of copyrighted works were available for free. Talking about fair use. Now, in the digital age, every single use creates a copy, so why can’t the authors get a cut of the action?

But copyright law has always allowed some uses free. Berkeley joke insert here. If there are no free uses, then innovators cannot build on what came before them. It’s always been outsiders that has advanced the world. If we remove that freedom to innovate, then we have only freedom by Soviet.

Allen Adler, responding: That’s nice, but it has nothing to do with Google. In this context, in order to make the searches that they want to make, they’re making copies of all of these books in their entirety—reproducing without permission—to make a Google library that they can do whatever they want. They’re directly promoting their search engine by using the valuable property of the authors.

Lessig: brings up the used bookstore object. Now they’re going back and forth about what exactly the first sale doctrine really means.

Drummond: defending fair use, stating that fair use is entirely compatable with commercial use. And what’s up with—well, what they’re doing now is fine, but what about in the future?—argument. That seems to be a bit of a red herring. It seems that should Google start to do something that does create harm, then copyright law would prevent them.

Adler: well, why don’t you license all this stuff anyway? You did it before, and other providers (e.g. Microsoft) are doing it too.

Drummond: this is a card catalogue and a location finder; you certainly wouldn’t say that creating an analog card catalog would be an infringement. And you can do more with digital technology to create a better card catalogue.

Lessig: if we give you the total right, you’ll always be slow. That’s the point. You’re also promelgating all sorts of misconcpetions about copyright law. He’s dropping Section 107 of the Copyright Code.

Adler: Lessig believes that copyright represses creativity (which is a ridiculous position) and exploitation of copyright should be abolished.

Lessigs states that’s an incorrect statement of his views; stating that there’s a balance and that the position of the authors and the publishers oversteps that balance. Under the theory that they’re advancing, there are no free uses, there are no fair uses.

Nick Taylor is asked why exposing more books to readers is a bad thing. He says why should Google just take it over and exploit it for commercial gain? The exposure is valuble, but the issue here is indeed control. It’s the appropriation of material that they don’t control for a commerical enterprise.

Adler: Larry says that the whole disucssion is about control. Claims that Lessig wants authors to only be able to sell real-world physical books. Why shouldn’t the authors benefit from the new technology?

Drummond: it’s unclear how there’s any kind of taking.

Adler: the default position that they’ve taken is opt-out and that overly burdens the content creators.

Lessig: no, the position is that it’s fair use, and the opt-out is a courtesy for the creators.

Drummond: 1) it’s a fair use, and 2) the opt-out is consistent with the web search policy they use.

Adler: the web search is an implied license (which I personally disagree with).

Drummond and Adler are arguing about if the rules that apply to websites should apply to offline materials as well.

Lessig: granted that putting stuff on-line is mean to attract eyeballs, but the negative implication—that books are’t meant to attract eyeballs—is absurd. I don’t know any author who wrote to libraries and told them not to include them in the card catalogue.

What could the library do with the digital copy of the book that Google creates? Could they only buy one copy and make lots of digital copies? Lessig says that’d be a straightforward copyright violation.

Lessig is worried that Google will settle and then make it harder for non-rich entities, i.e. libraries and university and the next Google to do something similarly innovative by essentially imposing a tax.

Drummond—this enchances creativity by making a better discovery device.

Nick—I dn’t know an authro who doesn’t use Google. It’s the apprpriation of the material that’s the problem. Adler: Property owners are entitled to make their own mistakes.

Lessig—this is the most inefficient property system ever. If you force an opt-in, there is no index because it’s impossible to get all the clearences. If you ask for a piece of the pie now, you’re shutting off access to this knowledge that doesn’t advance the interest of the publishers and the authors.

Adler—what we object to is Google exploiting the value of this material and just charging ahead without getting permission. And you can certainly contact some of the copyright holders.

Lessig—but you can’t contact them all. And we can’t wait until the 22nd century for Congress to address the orphaned works problem.

Now going to the questions from the audience (not getting all of them).

Would the publishers and authors drop their objections if Google joined the Online Content Alliance? Adler—the publishers have spent much of the year just trying to start the conversation with Google and they’d welcome something like that.

Question: Thomas (Library of Congress) and the Boedlian Library are collecting this stuff anyway, so Google doesn’t need to save the world, no?

Q: How will Google impact local libraries and smaller institutions: A: they really serve different functions—you can’t pick up a physical book via Google, for example.

Q: Which is more important: Permission or compensation? Adler—probably permission. Nick—but compenstation is also important.

Q: Transactions costs question—immense costs for Google, near-zero costs for the copyright holders.

Q by Stephen Johnson: Up to now, we have our definition of fair use optimized around reading. But when you’re searching, the unit where the value is that you’re searching the entire work. Because you know as a searcher, you’re searching the whole thing. Lessig—the right to read is not a fair use, it’s a free use. Because everything digital involves making a copy, we have work with fair use which wasn’t designed for the digital era. The thing that’s produced doesn’t interefere with the underlying thing that copyright was designed to protect; there’s no substitution, so it’s fair use. Then Adler and Lessig go back and forth a bit about fair use/free use.

Q: What about abuse by the libraries? A: It’s a concern, certainly, and Google woudl think that the publishers would be happy that they’re addressing the issue.

Q: What’s the difference between making an analogue concondance/index via photocopies and Google? Adler: It’s not going to be likely repeated. Lessig: Why not change copyright law to not worry about the right to reproduce?

And that’s all folks! Thanks for tuning in…

Boeing has just introduced the latest iteration of their flagship 747: the Boeing 747-8. I have a personal attachment to the big Boeing; as a child growing up overseas and moving seemingly every year, I practically grew up on 747s. Over the years, it’s aged and newer aircraft feature more amenities (the last update to the 47 was the -400 series, launched some 16 years ago), but it’s still an elegant, majestic bird.

From a business standpoint, it’s fairly obvious that it’s designed as an A380-killer; or at least, if not a killer, then enough of an upgrade to keep Airbus from completely dominating the market until an all-new replacement for the 47 can be fielded. And while there are a number of significant systems upgrades, the primary airframe changes seem to be limited to a slightly stretched fuselage and a new wing (not that a new wing for something that huge is a trivial matter).

I have to admit that while I’m usually not a big fan of marketing-driven naming decisions (e.g. the renaming of the MD-85 (which itself was an upgraded and shortened DC-9) as the 717 (which was doubly egregious because 717 was the designation for a never-produced version of the 707) or Apple’s decision to skip straight from iPhoto 2.0 to iPhoto 4.0, skipping 3.0 entirely), I love the designation of the new aircraft as the 747-8 (instead of -500, which would have been next in the series). While the designation was officially chosen to emphasize the commonalities that the new plane will have with the forthcoming 787, I like it because It harkens back to the legendary Dash-80, probably the single most influential jet aircraft ever built. I’m sure that when they reach service, they’ll be called “Dash-Eights” to distinguish them from their predecessors on the flight line.

The first Dash-Eights are scheduled to be delivered in the fall of 2009. I can’t wait.

Dulcet

I think I sent an email to everyone, but since I probably missed a few:

My sister is giving a recital next Monday, November 21, at 1 p.m. at St. Paul’s Chapel at Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan. The concert focuses on songs by composers who emigrated to the United States, and features music by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Tania Leon, Chen Yi, Eisler, and Weill.

A note—St. Paul’s Chapel is at Broadway and Fulton, a few blocks north of Trinity Church proper.

It’s gonna be a great concert.

I don’t how long domain names are allowed to be, but I’m pretty sure that modestapparelchristianclothinglydiaofpurpledressescustomsewing.com comes pretty close to the limit.

Linse's Law

Brian Linse introduces a corollary to Godwin’s Law:

As a debate between pro-war and anti-war pundits grows longer, the probability of the pro-war side accusing the anti-war side of being unpatriotic becomes 1.

Sounds about right to me.

i know from this

Ever get the feeling that a friend has very suddenly started avoiding you? And you don’t really know why?

Ow! That Hurts!

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The most painful part of giving blood has nothing to do with needles. It’s right at the end, before they take the needle out, when they take the scotch tape that’s been holding the line to your arm and rip it off.

That really hurts!

(I have hairy arms.)

(And no, I’m not putting a picture up.)

Good News, Men!

The very latest in medical research: beer helps prevent cancer.

So have another swig! Remember, you’re doing your body good!

Check Off The Box, Chad

Time to vote (albeit in one of the least competitive races in recent history)! For all my US readers, don’t forget to head to the ballot box today.

Reporters Without Borders

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I’m sitting in a function room at the New York branch of the Overseas Press Club, live-blogging this Reporters sans Frontieres press conference.

Up now is Julian Pain, the RSF’s internet guy. He’s talking about the problems with having firms doing business in internet-repressive countries like China. The first fund to sign up was Boston Common.

The second fund to sign up was Domini, they now have 25 funds with some 2 billion dollars under management.

They tried writing to Cisco—no response until they got a shareholder resolution listed for the upcoming general meeting. Then they got a response.

Julian’s talking about how they only have American funds signed on to this effort. Now—‘What does socially responsible investing means?’ Problems with all talk, no action.

Previously talked briefly about Microsoft and Yahoo! issues—including the Shi Tao case.

Julian notes the irony in having American techology empower these repressive regemes (i.e. Burma, Tunisia, etc).

Now, Dawn Wolfe from Boston Common is talking. BC is a ‘socially responsible’ fund. They also engage the companies they hold on issues that the companies may have (i.e. they work with the companies they invest in to make the more socially responsible).

Boston Common brought this issue to Cisco’s attention in January; they were unimpressed by Cisco’s response, so they worked with Domini to raise the shareholder issue. Notes that helping this countries filter is seeking short-term profits at the expense of long-term growth.

Adam Kanzer from Domini. Why should investors care about this issue? There has been an ongoing debate about US corporations and China. Feels that without shareholder involvment, companies will mostly ignore external pressures.

“Democracy offers the best possible environment for investment.” Nice soundbite. Even if the business case could be made for censorship and repression, they believe they cannot make that trade-off. They also believe that the existence of the internet will eventually lead to a free(er) press and democracy, but at the broadest level, that’s like saying that the existence of newsprint will lead to a free press. The internet is a tool, and like all tools, it can be used to both build and destroy.

There is no magic bullet to fix these kinds of problems. But they (Domini) believe that they need to be transparent, they need accountability, they need regular reports to shareholders.

Both Domini and BC have researched Cisco and they believe that Cisco has no model to guide them when it comes to human rights and new clients (i.e. repressive governments).

Now Lu Kun, the wife of Yang Zihi. Yang is now doing time in a Chinese prison. She’s speaking through a translator.

She’s here to speak on behalf of her husband, who enjoys ‘being a free thinker’. He graduated in 1988 from the department of Mechanics of Beijing University. He was a computer software engineer. In 1998, he created a website called “Yang’s Garden of Free Thoughts”. It called for a free exchange of ideas to improve the country. From the website, “I believe that throught the exchange of ideas, we can bring freedom and democracy to our country.” He was arrested for his website and sentenced to eight years in prison.

He was sentenced along with three other men. They were all charged with treason, and the essays listed on the website were cited as the evidence of treason. They were all tortured while in custody awaiting trial.

Yang and Lu were forbidden to communicate with each other for three years. She still cannot talk to him, though she writes and sends packages frequently.

Lu was also arrested. They forced her to sign a letter forbidding her from telling anyone that her husband was arrested, and she could not discuss the matter with anyone, publically or privately. She lost her job and her livelihood, and the Beijing police forced her landlord to evict her. In the two years that they lived together, they were forced to move four times.

At the final appeals court, several witnessess for the prosecution retracted their statements and stated that those statements were coerced; the court ignored those statements and upheld the sentences.

Now she’s talking about some other noted Chinese Internet dissident cases, including Shi Tao. A brief discussion of how tightly Internet use in China is monitored—‘any word suggesting government instability (or maybe ‘threatening government stability’) is impossible to get on the Chinese internet.

Now on to the Q&A session:

Question 1: “What about the company that says that maintaining good relations with the Chinese government is in the company’s best interest?” Answer, in short: “Is collaboration really in a company’s best interest, long term?”

Question 2 about Iran: I missed that one, too busy trying to condense the previous answer. ;-)

Question 3: How effective is the RSF guide to bypass internet filters? Answer: The RSF guide is a simple guide for those who don’t know how to get around the filters. Geeks will always be able to get around the filters, but it’s really hard for the everyday user. Side note—the Tunisian government will selectively unblock (turn off the filters) when they know that external observers (e.g. Julian, other press freedom organizations) are inside the country. They can even turn it off for specific locations.

Next question is for the fund representatives about how many shares of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, they hold. Answer—some, but not all. Check the websites for further details (Boston Common and Domini (hey, I’ve been spelling it right!)). Note that they have no voice if they sell their shares. They believe that being able to continually remind mangement of their greater obligations is a very useful position.

Another question about holding shares, and Julian is again pointing out that it’s far more powerful to hold shares and engage that way than rather not hold shares and say “we won’t buy your stock until xyz”.

Julian: There’s a myth that you can’t negociate with China. Remember when they were going to launch their own WiFI standard? They never did do that, did they…

OK, that’s basically it. Apparently this was being webcast (and IRC’d) in Vietnam, of all places. Not quite sure how that worked…

Pig, Wonderful Pig

Noted food blogger Josh Friedland has an article in the Times about the recent resurgence of the porcine in cuisine.

The article mentions Bacontarian, which was set up by my friend and former boss Ethan Zuckerman; Bacontarian currently features an amusing poll about what Denmark’s most famous export is…

And in other food news, the bakery in my building has started selling cupcakes.

For your reading pleasure:

Looking For It

Garrison Keillor on flying to Norway, seeking the northern lights:

Trouble is a good teacher at any time and it’s a shame so many people try to skip the School of Hard Knocks. If only they knew the good it would do them.

There’s a bit in the middle about special prosecutors, too.

It Tastes Like...

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The NYT on the evolving role of chicken in the American kitchen (hint: it has something to do with the evolving American kitchen, too).

Personally, I think that there’s something elegant about a simple roasted chicken, adorned only by salt. But maybe that’s just me.

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