April 23, 2006

Tatooed politics

Category: Ethics,Hackers,Politics — @ 7:01 am

More on this later but worth broadcasting because the following is a pretty strong example of incorporated, passionate, and embodied form of political protest in the hacker habitat.

April 22, 2006

Commemorating Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli

Category: Books/Articles,Politics — @ 10:38 am

If you have not read Jennifer Light’s amazing When Computer’s Were Women, today is the the day to read it.

update: yes, yes the Jennifer Light is not available freely. Just to show, we need more open access journal…

April 20, 2006

Oh Canada, our neighbors who don’t like to sue

Category: Books/Articles,IP Law,Liberalism — @ 12:07 pm

So, as readers of this blog know, I am deeply enmeshed and invested in a project that examines the cultural face of liberalism through such avenues as law, technoscience, and medicine. As part of this endeavor, I am interested in signaling and understanding the tensions in liberalism within one context (such as IP), one nation (as in the US) or across times and places.

Because I am going to this conference on Invention and Authorship at Case Western (am already in Ohio partaking of my family and the beautiful budding flowers of spring), I am revisiting these ideas as I chomp through all the marvelous papers that were pre-circulated.

And the theme of tensions in liberalism arose palpable during a visit at the CCA with Laura Murray an English professor who teaches at Queens College and runs the impressive Fair Copyright website, which every Canadian scholar should comb through, carefuly.

We read a her First Monday piece Protecting ourselves to death as well as another fascinating piece on Canadian copyrightTaking User Rights Seriously.

The session and her talk were quite interesting and my first real introduction to copyright’s life in Canada. Unsurprisingly, given the different role of the state as protector of certain rights (like health care) and a certain healthy suspicion of the US and its policy (and this is nicely explored by Murray), copyright is distinctly configured, with lines of similarity and diffferences. For example, IP provisions are not part of the Constitutional charter, the equivalent of fair use (“fair dealing”) is more circumscribed, universities often cower at what is perceived threat (she told us an amazing story about Simon Fraser’s draconian copyright policy that implored students to get permission for *every* citation, sigh), yet a a recent Supreme Court case came down very favorably strong for user rights and public interest.

By the end, it was clear that while there are similarities (and these will grow, I imagine, with “harmonization” via WIP0. TRIPS etc. but for reasons I state below, perhaps not), the life of IP is textured uniquely. And while there are differences in the law, point blank, some of the more interesting differences follow from non-legal conditions or legal factors quite independent of IP. And these are worth pointing out because they also give us a unique vantage point to really get at the motor behind SO much of American law, in general, and IP law, in specific.

During her visit, Laura Murray raised three (probably more but I am going by memory here) important differences, which were further elaborated during the disucssion:

1. Due to how governments congeal (through coaltions) and how they execute change, (apparently legal change/policy moves more slowly), this had led to change whose viscosity is more like molasses than oil in our country and often has worked in the favor of public interest and user rights in IP.
2. The Media still works in a more robust way than in the US in that it will shame and, shame some more, the government over things like IP so that they act as a constraint.
3. And in comparison to the US, the culture of litigation/lawsuits has a shadow of a life compared to the US.

So in fact much of the policy in Canada has little to do with the actual law of IP but with other legal factors or extra-legal factors. On top of this, it also made me realize that since things are stalled and since activists do and often compare things with their southern neighbors, I also wonder if activists are better positioned to actually intervne in this field than we are in the US, where things move quite fast, the media in general does not act as a lightning rod of shame (except for the Daily Show and Colbert Report, but I am not sure, yet, if we should count those as media) and even if the media does not shame, they rarely present IP as a pressing societal issue. Given these conditions, it will be very interesting, to the development and changes in IP in Canada following the pressures to harmonize.

Finally and this is perhaps to obvious to merit attention because it is signaled through the recognition that US law is largely case law, but lawsuits do truly generate so much of the law and are one of the central contexts underwhich we culturally understand (as I mean the proverbial citizenry “we”) the law. If anyone out there knows of any good articles/books that explores this, especially from a cultural, critical, or political perseptive, give me shout out… I would like to delve more into how this acrimonous and expensive (and potentially in some cases empowering) contextual matrix shapes US law.

The Enlightment of Perl and Python

Category: Hackers,Humor — @ 11:08 am

The religious and sprit does pervade hacking, and even better, often reflexively and amusingly….

April 15, 2006

F/OSS Biblio with an emphasis on law and policy

Category: F/OSS — @ 3:08 pm

The University of Washington Law School website hosts a bibliography for literature on free and open source software as a companion to an interesting set of pieces that cover the following subjects:

* License Type Overview
* Contracts or Licenses: Does it Matter?
* Enforceability of Open Source Licenses
* Copyright Primer
* Derivative Works
* Copyright v. Patent
* Patent Risks
* Trademark and OSS
* Moral Rights and OSS

April 6, 2006

A Day in the Life…

Category: Travel — @ 6:05 pm

I am back in Puerto Rico paying a short visit to my mom and taking care of some errands like her taxes and so on before returning back to the US. I often get the question “what is PR like?” “Is it like the US?” Of course there are some obvious differences related to language, culture, environment, and politics. For example, Spanish is talk of the town; you can run around, barely clothed, in January to frolic in some pretty soothing ocean waters; and and unlike the US, a large percentage of the population actually takes politics very seriously, which means 81% of the voting population hits the voting booths, there is a mainstream culture of protest, and people party vigorously during voting season (and this makes politics personal, domestic, familial, leisurely, and thus, it gets woven into the fabric of everyday life ).

But while there are those and many other obvious differences, I am more interested (at least today) in the more subtle ones, the “fixings” and “toppings” related to things like commodities, street dogs, the law, and government services. These are more or less supposed to be standardized and thus the same between the mainland and this small Caribbean island but in fact, there are minute disjoints here and there that can be at times frustrating and, in more rare instances, amusing.

So let’s start with the amusing ones. We have US Post Offices here that look, smell, and operate as they do in the US: with lackluster aesthetics and more or less disgruntled employees. So yesterday when I walked into the local PO to buy some stamps, I was sort of floored to see that one of the tellers was also moonlighting, in plain view, running a business on the side, selling purses and other handbags that were nicely displayed on the wall. Now I can’t imagine this was legal, at all. But who knows?, perhaps there is some obscure US PO clause that, with the right paperwork and initiative, allows employee to operate a small consumer-oriented business at the same time that they process money orders, sell stamps, and accept packages. After a day of horrid horrid errand running, the handbags for sale at the post office washed away my scowling frown and I only wished I had my camera. Perhaps allowing such entrepreneurship is what the PO needs to keep employee morale high and can also be used to secure another source of revenue (they can get a commission for every article sold).

When it comes to dogs, there are wayyyyy more street dogs in PR than in the states and frankly, I find the mutts, known in local lingo as “Satos” are the most appreciative mutts I have met. If you want to get a solidly down-to-earth-and-street-smart sato, by all means, come here and get one. We now have one, “Isabella” (a.k.a. Gordita/Chubster) and she is a gem who I would like to steal in my suitcase but I am afraid my life as an academic would come to a screeching halt if I did, for she is as demanding as they get. All she wants is to be pet and hugged and to make this happen, she rams her small head into your hands. If she fails, she switches into “kiss-you-to-death-mode.” Kiss-you-to-death-mode is kicked into turbo-gear after you shower and, especially, after you put any lotion on. At this point, if she is near you, Gordita proceeds to attack you as if you turned into some human sized T-Bone Steak and licks every last ounce of any lotion off . I usually feel like I need to take another shower after this Gordita-fest, so I try to bypass her after shower time. But aside from such quirks she is as good as they get.

Now for the most part the commodity goods in PR are exactly the same as in the US. But there used to be this 6 year period when Sara Lee sold chocolate pound cake in Puerto Rico that I absolutely LOVED and this was cake simply not to be found in the United States. This is something I could never understand because well, it was fantastic tasting stuff, and it seemed like a pretty standard commodity good that should not be limited to a 100 mile long and 35 mile wide island. When I came here I used to buy like 6-7 of them, freeze them, and take em back to the US. But then one year, poof, they vanished. I always imagined that there was some Vice President of Sara Lee Puerto Rico who also was very fond of this chocolate pound cake and decided to authorize local manufacturing despite a strict cancellation order from the headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. And then it took like like 6 years for them to catch on that in fact he disobeyed such corporate orders.

Business and other such relationships are more informal here, which can produce for pleasant and unpleasant experiences, sometimes together. For example in the last few days, my/my mom’s lawyer was unwilling to give me a firm time or date for appointment. And since I needed to discuss a really obscure set of legal documents and deeds that may have required a visit to an equally obscure government agency, I pushed and pushed to get something out of her. Finally she agreed to meet with me but only during her morning manicure session. After a 15 minute conversation while her nails were being painted blood red, it was clear I was not the only client in such a predicament, as another one showed… It was pretty amusing.

I did find out I had to visit this obscure government agency “CRIM” related to property taxes and it took me 8 conversations to get directions there. No one could explain it because they did not know the street names and it is not only an obscure agency but is truly also tucked away in a seriously obscure location. One person basically said “look take a taxi” otherwise you will never get there. But finally one person knew of two streets it was near which was enough for me and I fearlessly proceeded to what I thought was going to be a pit of despair and a total time sink but that turned out to be the quickest of the day’s errands. I found out that I in fact did not own a gabillion dollars and that a change of address would take only minutes.

After I left, I was in a sate of total glee. After departing from CRIM, I could care less that Citibank had lost $4000 in deposited checks days earlier, that my mom’s SS tax information did not come in time, that I could not find the location of the accountant because their office had moved due to a fire in their office , and was ready and pumped to fight the Medicare prescription plan for enrolling my mom on the phone when in fact she has alzheimers (and they were told of this..) and can’t really make these decisions, but as I was partaking of my moment of glee, I promptly hit a shard of glass, and my tire exploded. Oh well, at least I was a block away from Western Auto and could contine uninterrupted with my endless day of errands….

April 4, 2006

Mr. Bit Shifter

Category: Tech,Wholesome — @ 8:24 am

Mr. Bit Shifter (as I like to call him), is going on a world tour and well, if you are into 8 bit music, the man who shifts bits is the one to catch. Not only is his music playfully electric he knows how to move to his own bit beats to provide the audience with a full-bodied performance.

April 1, 2006

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Category: Ethics,Wholesome — @ 6:56 pm

When it comes to something I really like (a good book, or tv series, for example), I carefully pace my consumption of it, much like a good wine, so as to make it last for as long as I can take it. So when I saw the pilot of Firefly nearly three years ago in Seattle, I knew that I would take my sweet time watching this one, especially since Fox (very tragically) canceled the show prematurely, before the end of the season. About 6 months after I partook of my first taste of the Western-Sci-Fi, I got my hands on all the episodes and it took me about 2.5 years to finish off the other 14 episodes.

The show created quite a stir, amassing an underground cult following that helped spearhead the movie production after Fox axed the show. Clearly, the crew had a blast filming the show, and they bonded. This passion came through the screen, this passion the glue taking hold of the audience and I was myself infected by it. But aside from the energy of the show, there were three other elements that I positively loved.

One was how it tweaked with the question of time. While the show had a clear futuristic component with funky spaceships and laser guns (minus the aliens), Joss Whedon brought us, the viewers, smack into the present, into a state of immediacy by melding the future with familiar scenes form the past. By keeping temporal planes in plain view and in play with each other, he collapsed temporal frames and also showed that novelty arises more from the interplay of the new within the framework of the old, instead of breaks in time.

If Joss Whedon collapsed time by keeping various temporalties in plain view, he was also able to play with the themes of freedom and constraint particularly well. The story takes place on a ship, bearing the name of Serenity, and like most ships, whether it is flies through space, or sails on water, they are usually run hierarchically with a captain in charge. And Serenity was no different, with Malcolm Reynolds steering the metaphorical helm (he could not fly the ship), commandeering away with near full authority. But even within such rigidity, Whedon convyed that this was a space of freedom, in which every person was living freely, according to their temperament, predicament, and abilities. United by some unstated and sometimes unclear mission (perhaps just to survive independently in a galaxy run by the “alliance” so that they were at least politically free and did not have to do things like pay taxes), their lives as outlaws were rich and free even while constrained by hierarchy and being confined within a ship. And for me, since I lived in the same sort of situation, ship, captain (no reevers though), I can relate. For some reason, I never felt more free all the while I was beholden to an extremely strict schedule, a captain, and 80 feet of ferro-cement and I have never seen this paradox of constraint and freedom captured so well as Firefly.

Finally, many of the stories not only left you sitting at the edge of your seat in anticipation of some twist (and they were usually quite clever), but as interesting was the moral subtext. The question of what was “right” was never clear cut (especially since there was a fair bit of violence in the show) but was presented with more subtlety and complexity than some simple formula. Ethical choices were thus not deontological but contextual, and I appreciated it.

Probably my favorite episode, in part because it captures delectably the three elements I just described, was The Message . At the end, I actually cried a little. But since I watched it for the first while commuting, I thought I was just tired and susceptible to Hollywood manipulation into a weepy reaction (riding the the NJ transit late a night after a chaotic and long day in the Big Apple will leave just about anyone vulnerable like that) but I saw the episode again last night and even with no tiring train ride as an excuse, I was left pretty sad.

So if you are a sucker at all for Joss Whedon, Westerns, soap operas like character dramas, or science-fiction and you have not watched Serenity, take the next three years to watch 14 episodes. It is well worth your sweet, attentive time.