She plays o' the viol-de-gamboys, speaks three or four languages word for word without book, hath all the good gifts of nature, knows a hawk from a handsaw, and can see a church by daylight. The rest is subject to fancy.

New Atheist Bigotry?

From The Guardian: “Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus” by Glenn Greenwald @ggreenwald

Two columns have been published in the past week harshly criticizing the so-called “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens: this one by Nathan Lean in Salon, and this one by Murtaza Hussain in Al Jazeera. The crux of those columns is that these advocates have increasingly embraced a toxic form of anti-Muslim bigotry masquerading as rational atheism. Yesterday, I posted a tweet to Hussain’s article without comment except to highlight what I called a “very revealing quote” flagged by Hussain, one in which Harris opined that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”

More here.

Benevolent Sexism

Melanie Tannenbaum in Scientific American‘s PsySociety blog notes that “benevolent sexism” is a real thing that happens when something presented as a positive is still emphasizing the sex of the person, rather than their work.

 If we’re talking up the importance of work-life balance and familial roles for women but we’re not also mentioning those things about men, that’s a problem. If a woman’s accomplishments must be accompanied by a reassurance that she really was “a good Mom,” but a man’s accomplishments are allowed to stand on their own, that’s a problem. And lest you think that I only care about women, let’s not act like this doesn’t have a real and dangerous impact on men, too. If a man spends years of his life as a doting father and caring husband, yet his strong devotion to his family is not considered an important fact for his obituary because he’s male…then yes, that’s also a big problem.

The entire article is well worth reading The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darn Friendly…

Jaron Lanier on Online Identity and the Cloud

Computer scientist and author of the book Who Owns the Future (May, 2013) Jaron Lanier argues that unless we change our attitudes towards technology and each other, whoever has the biggest CPU and largest network will own all markets. Instead, he proposes micropayments for knowledge and skills, and suggests that cloud computing makes owning our own data and ID crucial:

if you rely on a private concern like a Facebook or a Google to own your personal identity in the world for you, it makes you particularly vulnerable. Primarily because companies die over time, and they also go through periods of corruption and dysfunction. So we cannot have [so called] too-big-to-fail-digital companies. People must have some self-determination, and some social mobility, independently of whether some company is failing or not. Otherwise you cannot have an authentic market, and you cannot have real capitalism.

You can read the rest of the interview with Jaron Lanier at The Spectator.

James Whittaker, Google and Innovating Evil

James Whittaker was a director of engineering at Google. He wrote a nifty book about How Google Tests Software. I briefly was a consultant on a short-term part of a project, and met him, while I was still a grad student. He was smart, funny, and completely understood my objections to some of the internal Google jargon.

Whittaker has recently left Google, and has written an interesting essay about “Why I Left Google” which you should read in its entirety, but I was struck by this:

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

There’s more; I especially was struck by Whittaker’s observation that

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time. . . . In such an environment you don’t have to be part of some executive’s inner circle to succeed. You don’t have to get lucky and land on a sexy project to have a great career. Anyone with ideas or the skills to contribute could get involved.

He notes that:

It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook. Informal efforts produced a couple of antisocial dogs in Wave and Buzz. Orkut never caught on outside Brazil. Like the proverbial hare confident enough in its lead to risk a brief nap, Google awoke from its social dreaming to find its front runner status in ads threatened.

And that meant Google had to be “social”:

Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.

And that meant, Google Reader was sacrificed on the G+ altar (interestingly, the announcement was made on March 13, the same day Whittaker explained his reasons for leaving Google).

The official reason for killing Google Reader was

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

This is, of course, exceedingly, err, disingenuous. Note, by the way, that Google Reader first managed to screw over early RSS developers by making Google Reader ubiquitous. Then, they followed that tactical strike by making it easy to share items whose RSS feed you subscribed to, with others.

Google removed sharing from Google Reader around the time they started really pushing G+ (October of 2012). But not before Google encouraged developers to use the robust Google Reader API for apps; which meant an awful lot of desktop apps, smart phone apps, and tablets apps functioning as news readers relying on the Google Reader API for a “feed.” So while they may be somewhat lacking in the number of users using Google Reader on the Web (where they can insert ads, natch), there are many thousands of users using their Google Reader feed an app (that doesn’t have Google ads).

While lots of us are upset about the untimely demise of Google Reader and looking for alternatives to Google Reader (I use Reeder on iOS, but loved NetNewsWire on my Mac, and like lots of other former Google Reader users, I am now using Feedly while I figure what to do), Google today announced Google Keep.

Google Keep is a cloud-based data storage tool, an expansion of Google Drive.

With Keep you can quickly jot ideas down when you think of them and even include checklists and photos to keep track of what’s important to you. Your notes are safely stored in Google Drive and synced to all your devices so you can always have them at hand.

Or, at least, for certain Android values of “at hand.

In other words, Google looked at Evernote, and said, “Let’s steal their idea, and screw them over,” metaphorically speaking.

Sorta like they did with News readers and Google Reader. And I’m not the only one seeing usurption, thwarting, and then killing as a Google pattern (hey, remember Google Notebook?).

At this point, after Google Notebook and Google Reader, how long should I expect Google Keep to last (and, by the way, while we’re contemplating the negligible value of Google+,

So how long do you think they’ll keep Google Keep, before they employ mines and take it down (metaphorically speaking) ?

So, yeah, I’m going to buy a year’s subscription to Evernote Premium as soon as I can. I use Evernote every day, for research, for recipes, for notes and for collaborating, on my Mac, on the Web, and on all my iOS devices.

The DOJ, Apple, Five Publishers and Amazon

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five of the “big six” publishers (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Pearson, Penguin, and Macmillan). The DOJ suit asserts that the publishers— with Apple’s collaboration—colluded to raise ebook prices and force Amazon to adopt the “agency model” in which publishers set their own prices and Apple takes a 30 percent cut from each sale via Apple’s iBooks ebook store.

Three of the publishers—Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins— settled. Macmillan and Penguin opted to fight the suit. Random House, the sixth of the “big six” publishers did not enter into an agreement with Apple to abide by the “agency model” in 2010 with the debut of the iBook store and iPad, did begin selling ebooks via the iBook store in 2011, after the release of the iPad 2, but is not named in the suit, but with the merger between Penguin/Pearson and Random House, Random House agreed to abide by Penguin’s decision to settle.

There are, in addition, at least 17 states whose attorney generals have sued Apple and the five publishers, as well as an on-going consumer class action suit. Apple is still scheduled for a June 2013 trial. I suspect that too will change. With the merger of Penguin/Pearson and Random, reducing the Big Six to the Bigger 5, Macmillan CEO John Sargent has reluctantly agreed to settle with the DOJ.

I think Sargent did the right thing for his employees and authors, but I applaud his ethics and courage. Amazon is the winner, readers, writers, and publishing professionals? Not so much.

For those interested in the underlying issues, including the production and control of ebooks and ebook pricing I’ve created Amazon, The DOJ, Publishers, and Readers: A Timeline.

Here are some of the background articles you should read.

The DOJ’s “Competitive Impact Statement

Niley Patel on the complaint.

Charlie Stross on the case, monopoly, monosphony and Amazon:

For AMZN, the big six insistence on DRM on ebooks was a windfall: it made the huge investment in the Kindle platform worthwhile, and by 2010 Amazon had come close to an 85% market share in the ebook sector (which was growing at a dizzying compound rate of 100-200% per annum, albeit from a small base). And now we get to 2012, and ebooks are likely to hit 40% of total publishing sales by the end of this year, and are on the way to 60% within five years (per Tim Hely Hutchinson, CEO of Hachette UK). In five years, we’ve gone from <1% to >40%. That’s disruption for you!

More Charlie:

It doesn’t matter whether Macmillan wins the price-fixing lawsuit bought by the Department of Justice. The point is, the big six publishers’ Plan B for fighting the emerging Amazon monopsony has failed (insofar as it has been painted as a price-fixing ring, whether or not it was one in fact). This means that they need a Plan C. And the only viable Plan C, for breaking Amazon’s death-grip on the consumers, is to break DRM.

Stuff We Think You Should Read

Why should I be Allowed to Marry? I Chose to be Gay
From The Guardian

Yes, deciding to be gay was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. But I knew it would be worth it! I salivated at the thought of spending years wondering whether or not my friends and family would accept me. I shivered with excitement at the thought of fighting gangs of baying drunken lads outside gay pubs. And most of all, I couldn’t wait to spend my days annoying right-thinking people by demanding equality, in spite of my own selfish decision to be a homo.

The Way Forward on Copyright Reform” by Derek Khanna in Cato Unbound

Tom W. Bell, Professor at Chapman University School of Law, advocates going back to the system envisioned by our Founders: the 1790 Copyright Law provided a system of 14 years for copyright upon registration and a 14-year optional renewal. The Constitution provides a clear explanation for good copyright law, namely that it is for the promotion of science and the useful arts, and not, as the first myth would have it, to compensate the creator of the content.

Puppy Tackles Stairs

Fannish, witty and scienteriffic Kye Hill’s “Saving Lives in Serenity: Can a Fanboy and Physics Change a Movie?
From Scientific American Blogs

Late in Serenity, after crash-landing at the mysterious base of “Mr. Universe,” pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne meets his end at the tip of a Reaver spear. The immediacy of the violence, and his wife Zoe’s touching reaction, kept my mouth agape well into the next few minutes of the film. One of my favorite characters just died, as Firefly died. I couldn’t stand it. I had to be sure.

What if the Reaver spear couldn’t plausibly make it through the forward windows of Serenity? The movie may have been set in the future, but we too have built spacecraft with windows, and they are made to withstand impacts. If I could prove that a modern shuttle window (assuming that a future window would be even better) could withstand the impact that killed Wash, I could have the ultimate in fanboy closure: the movie is “wrong,” and my version of the story lives on.

Jodie Foster Owes You Nothing” by By Gaby Dunn in Thought Catalog.

Jodie Foster owes you nothing. She’s been in the public eye since she was three years old. She’s given you her childhood, her teen years, her whole life basically. Why should we also get to know every detail of her relationships?

Merry Christmas

Carrow Psalter, Adoration of the Magi, Walters Manuscript W.34, fol. 33v detail

This English manuscript was made in East Anglia in the mid-thirteenth-century. Technically, it is a Psalter-hours, since it contains the Office of the Dead, the Hours of the Virgin, and Collects.

The Carrow psalter features a miniature portraying the martyrdom of St. Thomas Beckett. Interestingly, after Henry VIII found Beckett guilty of treason in 1538, the illumination in the psalter wax covered by an added page glued on top of the original page in an effort to hide Beckett’s image. The manuscript is owned by the Walters Art Museum.

May you and yours have a very merry Christmas and/or holiday of your choice, and a fabulous 2013.

SOPA and PIPA: It Isn’t Over

First, we want to link to a video from Cory Doctorow, a writer, and someone whose career and income are tied to intellectual property rights, and the ‘net:

This isn’t a fight against government, is the thing. It’s a fight against organizations like the MPAA and the RIAA, who wrote the legislation in the first place:

Reeling from a broad Internet backlash, the Motion Picture Associaton of America has conceded that DNS filtering will not be included in the anti-piracy bills now making their way through Congress.

“DNS filtering is really off the table,” said Paul Brigner, the MPAA’s tech policy chief, on Tuesday. His remarks came during a debate on SOPA at the State of the Net conference in Washington DC. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.

It’s a fight against the same people who wanted to make owning a VCR a criminal offense—that’s not the government. They just use money to wield the government as a tool to impose their will on smaller concerns/companies/individuals.

We dunno about you, but we know we damned well have never seen the MPAA on a ballot—so why the hell are they writing legislation? They aren’t the government, and the government is not the enemy here—let’s be VERY clear about that.

As tempting as it may be to believe this is really all about the US government wanting to prevent Twitter conversations in the event of an American version of the Arab Spring, it’s really much more prosaically about who gets to make money from the Internet, and how, and who is going to provide content, and who gets to say what, where, and how, and then make money off of that content. Sites like this? They’ll all be behind paywalls, owned by “people” like Time-Warner, Disney, Comcast, or Verizon, where you pay a subscription fee for the privilege of participating, waive all rights to anything you might write and post, agree not to ever post any links to anywhere else on the web—and your credit card, age and location demographics, and what kind of insurance you carry for the car you drive is all information someone else can sell or trade like so many baseball cards.

It’s about dinosaur private concerns trying to make money off of everyone else by controlling our content, our knowledge, our writing, our information—all of which they want total rights to, for free, to exploit at will.

That’s not the government that’s the problem—and it’s a dangerous mistake to think it is. Government regulations largely made the development of the internet possible in the first place, by protecting these waters from the private-interest sharks who want to swim here gobbling the efforts of all the developers and bloggers and artisans who created this in the first place. Government regulation isn’t the enemy here, it’s making sure that the “money=speech and corporations=people” contingent doesn’t get to just out-spend everyone else in the digital world and as a result, bully their way into owning the deed on all of our virtual houses.

Read this story from site owner Matt Howey of Metafilter regarding how very very stupid the underlying premise about the nature of digital files and intellectual property and the Internet. Howie’s site hosted an MP3 file that was created by a member, but has a similar name to a different song. He almost lost his entire site.

Please note, those who think SOPA and PIPA will do anything, at all, to halt the distribution of works without remuneration to the creators, that neither MPAA nor the RIAA have ever distributed monies collected via the judicial process to any creator of the works for which the organizations pressed infringement claims.

Neither of these proposed statutes as well as other changes to Title 17, the copyright section of U.S. Federal law, are in accord, at all with the United States Constitution.

Article II section 8 of the Constitution stipulates that Congress is:

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries

PIPA and SOPA and similar proposed statutes not only make it trivial to take down, permanently, and remove a site for an assertion of copyright violation, there’s no check for a blanket assertion of prior right—that is, no mashups, no parody, no satire, because there is no safe harbor.

Notice the language of the MPAA memo wherein Chris Dodd, the Chair of the MPAA, asserts that it’s an “abuse of power” to engage in blackouts/taking our own sites offline in protest—because in the Corporate view, they own all the content, whether or not they’ve paid for it.

It’s not about stopping piracy. The major pirate sites don’t even use domain names. They’re not even a little worried by SOPA or PIPA. In fact, the MPAA’s assertions of the loss from illegal copying appear bogus.

It’s really about controlling content. Your content. Your contntent on your own sites and blogs, or on sites like this, or on on Facebook, or Twitter.

It’s about stopping you and everyone else with access to the ‘net from saying anything corporate entities don’t like—or can’t make money from.

It’s a corporate conglomerate Big Brother for the digital age.

Chuck Wendig, another writer, cogently observes notes:

See, the Internet is this unruly pubic tangle of possibility. It is raw potential given form and it puts a great deal of power in the hands of the individual (are you listening, creative-types?). Power in the hands of individuals can, in some cases, wrest power from the hands of corporations. And corporations don’t like that, so they go to the government and they pour giant buckets of money into the government’s slavering maw and lobby for legislation and the result is, in this case, SOPA, PIPA, and any other naughty anti-pirate hydra-heads that pop up.

Between us, we have several dogs in this fight. We own and admin several large sites. We produce scholarship that we are not paid for, and make available to other scholars, we write and paid for commercially published works that are pirated within hours of being published, and we run and write for several Websites besides this one.

But SOPA and PIPA won’t do a thing to impair illegal versions of our works propagating like bunnies on crack. Because the people and sites distributing works without permission won’t be affected by SOPA and PIPA. SOPA and PIPA and similar laws still on the table will allow a disgruntled user, or a greedy corporate hack, to claim our work.

Note by the way that the U. S. Superior Court has decided that it is possible to assert copyright over a public domain work even if you didn’t create it.

Copyright law in the United States was originally meant to allow us to increase and share information, after allowing human creators to be rewarded for their labors. The MPAA and RIAA and large media conglomerates aren’t interested in sharing anything, not even with the people who create the works they sell.

Will Wheaton, someone else who writes and creates for a living, observes that “Reinforcing the fact that Chris Dodd really does not get what’s happening, and showing just how disgustingly corrupt the MPAA relationship is with politicians, Chris Dodd went on Fox News to explicitly threaten politicians who accept MPAA campaign donations that they’d better pass Hollywood’s favorite legislation… or else:

“Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake

Days after SOPA was put on hold, Federal agents arrested employees and seized assets including domain names of alleged infringing pirate site Megaupload.

Federal agents proved astonishingly successful and quite capable of executing a takedown without the use of either SOPA or PIPA.

SOPA and PIPA and their descendants and close relatives aren’t going to do squat about pirates, or illegal files, or malware, or, god help us, spam. Spam actually costs us a lot more money and man-hours than piracy. Strangely, no one is proposing to nuke the Net just to stop spammers.