Monthly Archives: December 2004

fantasy writer corrects common misconceptions about plagiarism

Another in a series of interesting links & quotes from writers & creators about their ideas about ideas and information. Mercedes Lackey, a popular fantasy writer & protegee of Marion Zimmer Bradley, has this interesting essay on plagiarism. I’ve extracted relevant quotes:

… People tend to use th[e] term ["plagiarism"] incorrectly all the time. … When most people refer to “plagiarizing” however, they are generally saying that someone used someone else’s ideas. Now, you will almost never hear a professional author accusing another of this. The reason is simple; first, you cannot put a patent or a copyright or a statement of ownership on an idea. Second, every professional writer knows that no two authors will take the same idea and do the same thing with it. …

Now, how does it happen that authors have similar topics? There are many ways. First, and the simplest — coming from the same source. Fantasy authors are all getting their inspiration from the same mythopoeic well—the huge backlog of myth, fable, and legends from history. … Second, influence and tribute. Authors are influenced by what they enjoy reading, and often pay tribute to that by showing that influence in their own work.

Nevertheless, a professional author will be careful to avoid the charge of being a copycat by bringing something original to the party.

You can’t plagiarize ideas, only text. And a real, professional writer would throw themselves over a cliff before they did that — because the one thing we take pride in is our words. Our own voice. So to take someone else’s would mean we couldn’t come up with any of our own. Not a chance.

Lake Tahoe heating up

Thank you, global warming purveyors:

Tahoe City — Global warming seems to have reached the lowest depths of Lake Tahoe, scientists warned Monday, potentially complicating plans to preserve the lake’s fabled water clarity and biological health.

A new study by researchers at UC Davis suggests the lake has heated by nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit since the early 1970s, when readings began. The warming may be significantly altering the dynamics of Lake Tahoe’s cold-water upwellings and seasonal mixing of sediments and nutrients, the scientists said.

It’s the latest sign that a changing climate may be showing up in the Sierra Nevada, one of many mountain ranges around the world in which scientists are looking for the subtle impacts of global warming. No one can be certain if any given change is due to human activity, but the widely held assumption is that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases are involved.

[A] warming signal is emerging in the lake’s temperature data at virtually all depths, down to as deep as 1, 300 feet.

“The lake has warmed from top to bottom over the past 30 years,” Schladow said. He said there are no local or regional factors big enough to explain the warming, even with all the development that has occurred in the Tahoe Basin in recent years.

Schladow and others said the changes are consistent with emerging data worldwide that point to an increase in temperature taking place far more rapidly than any previous change in the geologic record.

There is no reliable way to gauge Lake Tahoe’s water temperature before the 1930s. But air temperature data in the Tahoe City region go back about 90 years and show about a 3.6-degree Fahrenheit increase, enough to account for the increase in average water temperature and consistent with the emerging global data on climate shifts.

The data show that relatively wide swings in Lake Tahoe water temperatures are common from one year to the next, at least during the past 30- plus years of regular monitoring and some 7,300 individual measurements.

But after smoothing out the peaks and troughs, scientists said there is a clear upward tilt in the numbers, with temperatures increasing by an average of about 0.027 degree Fahrenheit a year from 1970 to 2002.

— SFGate, 12/21
Lake Tahoe warming mirrors world trend / Deep Sierra basin’s temperature rises 1 degree in 30 years

creationists in Dover, Pennsylvania

This isn’t completely new news — I’ve been following the story for a few days (weeks?). The Dover, Pennsylvania, school board was taken over by anti-evolution Christians who wish to teach “intelligent design.”

But in reading another story [in Salon.com, 12/13] about the situation, I started to get annoyed & ranty.

  • School boards are political entities, elected to represent views and give general guidance about how the school district should be run. They really have no business determining curriculum.

  • The article cites a Gallup poll finding that 45% of Americans believe God created people in their present form within the last 10,000 years. This might suggest extreme ignorance on the part of the American people. And, yeah, it does. But the problem is that it’s not new ignorance — it’s just a different dogma. Whatever the numbers were 10, 20, 40 years ago, the American people were just as ignorant — it’s just that they were reciting by rote a different belief. For a variety of reasons, the au courant belief is in “creationism.” Americans clearly never really understood the science or they wouldn’t have been so susceptible to the bizarre bill of goods the anti-evolution Christians are trying to sell them.

    So what’s the problem, if people are still just as ignorant, and they’re just ignorantly mouthing different things now? The problem is that what they’re ignorantly mouthing now no longer corresponds with reality. Which means that the ignorance is obvious. This makes us look bad, and it gives the nutjobs some facade of momentum.

  • Many reporters mischaracterize the conflict, as of course, do many people just trying to understand it. They present it as: Christians want to put alternative design in the classroom, and scientists say alternative design is wrong.

    Here are some problems with this:

    • One, “Christians” as a whole do not wish to do this. Evolution is not any more in conflict with the doctrines of Christianity than a host of other scientific understandings (the world is round and rotates around the sun). So it’s more accurate to not present this as Christians-versus-Scientists. Instead, describe them as “Christians who believe in intelligent design”.

    • Scientists don’t say intelligent design is wrong. They say there is no evidence for it. This is crucial, because there can be many, many theories (in the lay sense of the term) that explain any observable fact. But we don’t present all the possible theories. We present only those that have some weight of the evidence. Intelligent design has no positive evidence suggesting it. It is based solely on critiques of particular findings or methodologies in science (and on one larger critique, addressed below). But there’s no particular evidence for it. If we actually made a good faith attempt at the ID advocates’ version of “balanced”, we would have to discuss, first, the positive evidence theories of the origins of life (there’s only one: evolution) and then all the “theories” (lay version) that don’t mesh (thousands of religious and non-religious origin stories including so-called intelligent design and and other creation stories; anything that has a different story than evolution, even though, unlike all other science classes, these “theories” have no positive evidence to support them).

    • ID’s larger critique is that the system is just too complex to have come about by chance. Basically this boils down to ID advocates not understanding the theory of evolution. Because, of course, evolution is not about chance; it’s about the operation of certain principles of nature.

that wacky 5th circuit

Unbelievable:

At times the federal appeals court has been unfathomable to its critics. Last December, for instance, it considered the last-minute appeal of Billy Frank Vickers, scheduled to die for the killing of a grocer in 1993. With the inmate already given his last meal, the judges deliberated until 9 p.m. and announced they were leaving, with no decision. Bewildered state prison officials allowed the death warrant to expire, granting Mr. Vickers a delay. He was executed six weeks later.

In October, a Houston federal judge granted a last-minute stay to Dominique Green, but the state appealed. The Fifth Circuit then gave defense lawyers less than half an hour to file their response, Professor Dow said. A rushed brief was e-mailed to the court and turned down. The Supreme Court also rejected a stay, and Mr. Green was executed that night.

— Adam Liptak & Ralph Blumenthal, Death Sentences in Texas Cases Try Supreme Court’s Patience [NYT 12/5]

emma goldman documentary

A good friend taped the Emma Goldman documentary a few months ago, but I hadn’t watched it until this weekend — I was captive in a TV room while packing, and didn’t want to take a VHS tape to my new home which will have neither a VCR nor a TV.

A few nits to pick:

  • One, no anarchists interviewed! Nice to have some social activists (velvet revolution guy) and commentators (Tony Kushner, playwright) interviewed, but no self-defined anarchists?
  • Two, so funny how they have to do the free love re-creation with actual nekkid sex.
  • No discussion of Emma’s visit to Spain during the Spanish Civil War and revolutionary period. Which impressed her and, I think, rejuvenated her spirits in the post-Bolshevik disappointment.

Still, though. Emma Goldman documentary. Cool.

copyright round-up

  • Grokster cert granted [12/10]

  • Customs seizure of the Stripburger comic book parody of Richie Rich (“Richie Bush”) — it was “clearly piratical.” Covered by Larry (may I call you Larry? why, thank you) and newsarama. I find it delicious that the parody wasn’t obvious from the cover — so while it may have been or probably was a tip-off, I prefer to imagine Customs agents, bored, idly flipping through comic books, only to suddenly be energized: “Look, Wally! This image is clearly piratical! Get me Seizure Form A2Z-35, stat!
  • Southco v. Kanebridge, 3d Circuit en banc, 12/3/2004: Part numbers for screws aren’t copyrightable. Really.

  • Rossi v. MPAA, 9th Circuit, 12/1/2004: DMCA takedown notices “good faith belief” may be a subjective good faith belief.

  • Kahle v. Ashcroft, N.D. Cal., dismissed. Quel surprise. Lessig et al will appeal.

patents dot bust

Jason Schultz (EFF) has a new article in Salon.com [subscription or ad] about the problems of patents (mostly software or business method, I’ll note) being sold with dot-bust companies. In a nutshell, patents lock up ideas rather closely; when patent-holding companies go bust, those patents are placed in the hopper with all the other “property”, disseminated to buyers, creditors, etc., who may not have the know-how, wherewithal, or interest in using those patents. But nobody else can use the knowledge locked up in those patents, either. In a worst-case scenario, the new “owners” of the patents use them as part of a hold-up scenario.

… My soapbox: If we returned to the good old days, before the advent of automatic-assignment clauses in all employee contracts, then inventors would own the fruits of their own intellect, and companies would have non-exclusive licenses to use those patents. The fruit of an inventor’s genius would not be locked away from all possible public access and use solely because the inventor’s employer had financial problems.

Catherine Fisk (with Chicago-Kent College of Law) has done great work detailing the 20th century trends in taking IP away from authors & inventors, and assigning it to their employers. Removing the ‘Fuel of Interest’ from the ‘Fire of Genius’: Law and the Employee-Inventor, 1830-1930, 65 U. Chi. L. Rev. 4 (1998) is one of several related papers she’s written on the subject.

Canada Supreme Court OKs SSM

Canada’s Supreme Court has given its official advisory opinion re: same-sex marriage, basically giving the green light to federal legislation to authorize same-sex marriage nation-wide. The Yukon Territory and six of ten provinces have already struck down opposite-sex-only marriage requirements, allowing couples to marry regardless of gender. [cite - from ping]

News | canada.com network

christian censorship

The film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” is being edited to “remove references to God and the church.” Apparently Pullman is understanding, and recognizes that “You have to recognise that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush’s America.”

The book is all about “God and the church.” If they cut that out, then what the hell are they making the movie about? New Line, New Line … thank you for making LOTR into three films instead of two, but WTF are you doing?

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | God cut from Dark Materials film [linked from whumpdotcom 12/8]

le guin was for kerry

altercation / 2004-08-17

Name: Brian Thomas
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Eric,
I’ve been out on the streets of Portland, Oregon five days of every week registering progressive voters.

Today I met up with Portland’s most famous author and anarchist, Ursula K. LeGuin (The Dispossessed, The Left-Hand of Darkness, The Earth-Sea Trilogy, etc.) while she was buying movie tickets at our Fox Towers theatre complex.  I asked her the same question I’ve asked
thousands of our citizens:

“Do you want George Bush out of the White House?”

Ms. LeGuin flipped her purse around to reveal a Kerry/Edwards button.

“Wow, I’m thrilled to see an anarchist wearing a Kerry button.  All my best anarchist friends are voting for Kerry, but they’re not ready to wear buttons.”  And then Ursula smiled broadly as she became the first person I have ever heard utter these words:

“Anybody but Nader.”

Now, let’s get to the real point of this letter.  Whether you like it or not, some of these just mentioned Portland anarchists and assorted other activists (including this liberal) are coming to your town next week.  Don’t believe the lies you hear on Fox News.

Although we will not be looking for trouble, we will be looking for Central Park.  Here in Portland, Oregon when we have grievances to redress we gather in our central town square or in one of the central parks that run through our city as Central Park runs through New York City.  Our concerns about war becoming a first choice, not a last resort are central to what we are as a people and so we meet in the center of our city as we will be meeting in the center of yours.  Last Friday, in Portland’s Waterfront Park, 50,000 of us met to hear John Kerry.  Only a few score of policemen were on hand to direct traffic and keep the park from overflowing with people.  Another world is possible.

Your colleague at THE NATION, Naomi Klein’s article “Ditch the Distraction in Chief” was a big hit with my friends.  However, we missed your buddies Todd Gitlin and John Passacantado’s words of wisdom for us protesters as they appeared in the subscribers only portion of THE NATION.  Any words of wisdom or tips on cheap places to eat you wish to send my way will be shared with all the anarchists from Portland who will soon be descending on your city.

Thanks,

more ip commentary

salon.com’s wednesday morning download rags on the Band Aid project, but i liked this comment:

And where can you find this delightful song? Well, if you live in the United States, where it’s not available for sale, you can do as I did and go to your favorite file-sharing network and download a copy — no doubt condemning my soul to eternal damnation for stealing a charity song.

wmd 12/8

open source gaming

open source gaming: Wired News: Gamers Eye Open Virtual Worlds

Lots of interesting implications:

  • May solve the problem of over-reaching EULAs that ban all kinds of lawful & fair uses
  • May stop the kinds of top-down censorship and controls that are characteristic of the EA / Peter Ludlow / Sims story
  • A perfect example of DIY activism in action: not wasting time trying to reform the old system or rebel against it, but just making your own system … and trusting that if it’s good it’ll change the world.
  • ever closer to virtual reality …

    “Inevitably, there would have to be certain protocols that people would have to adhere to to fit into this space,” Ludlow said. “Maybe there’re portals between them. Maybe you could walk between them.”

  • All the problems that Peter Ludlow was reporting in the Sims games (e.g., the online brothels) will re-appear … and isn’t this just like real life? With top-down control [EA/Sims] you have brothels. Without top-down control [open source gaming] you’ll have brothels. It’ll be up to people who don’t like them to stay out of them.
  • All of the academics who jumped on the virtual reality, virtual communities stories back in the late 80s, early 90s will be back in force. (Or maybe they never left: maybe I just stopped paying attention to that literature.)

[linked from terra nova 12/2]

fun

someone keeps stealing my letters…: Just Letters

i tried to get people to dance with their letters, first by demonstrating (wiggling a letter around flirtatiously) and then by spelling out lets dance … nobody else seemed to pick up on it. or maybe they just weren’t interested?

longest lasting words that i placed on the board: “bush sux”

[cited at jay is... game blog]

aleatoric serendipity

Thanks to the Third Circuit, I have a new word for the day: “aleatoric”. It means “characterized by chance or indeterminate elements” according to m-w.com. Hmm, I think. Like Jackon Pollock. Or Pollack.

So I went online to figure out whether it was in fact Pollock or Pollack, which I did simply by Googling “Jackson Pollack”. Not easy to resolve since of the first 6 entries that Google returned 2 of them list “Pollock” and 4 list “Pollack.” And the first entry listed “Pollock” and then said “Var: Jackson Pollack.”

But in looking at the very first entry, for Jackson Pollock Online, www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/pollock_jackson.html, I noticed that the text that Google excerpted was this copyright notice:

Note that the listings on this site are a unique compilation of information and are protected by copyright worldwide.

Curious, I went to the website. The actual page has this text down at the very bottom of the page, in small type, in the usual credit/disclaimer portion of a webpage. Why did Google choose to highlight this text? A mystery of the Google display algorithm that I’m not motivated to follow up on. Maybe because the text is bold. The copyright portion of the notice reads in full:

All images and text on this Jackson Pollock page are copyright 1999-2004 by John Malyon/Artcyclopedia, unless otherwise noted. Note that the listings on this site are a unique compilation of information and are protected by copyright worldwide.

The notice has 5 small thumbnail images of JP [problem solved] paintings. And otherwise the text is a list of paintings, organized alphabetically by collection (museums first followed by public art galleries). It’s unclear whether they actually employed any particular selectivity in listing the JP works or if they just listed those available and known to them in publicly accessible collections.

… Just one more example of copyright insanity. What are they protecting, their exceedingly thin or (IMO) nonexistent compilation copyright? The copyright in the thumbnail images? No, there’s basically very little here for them to actually copyright. But they are being reflexively protectionist. I’d be interested to know more social psychology so I could better understand what’s behind the flood of copyright notices around the world. … I do believe the effect of these notices is ultimately negative. A random person sees this notice and now may believe that there could be a copyright in this work. Now they’re afraid to copy the list of works, or do so only with a feeling of guilt. Geez. What a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

Reminds of the Simpson’s episode when Homer was inventing many things, and when he would make presentations of his drawings to his family, he protectively said, “Patent pending, patent pending, patent pending,” pointing his pointer in each family member’s face for emphasis. [Google sent me to the usabilityworks blog which lists this as Simpsons episode CABF05, airdate 2001-01-14.]

christian organization thinks gays should be fired

right hook on salon.com covers the right-wing press so you don’t have to.

Writing in the Christian news outlet Agape Press this week, Pugh takes note of Christian activist Joe Glover’s directive that Evangelicals, flush with Republican wins from the White House to Capitol Hill, now have every right to demand that gays be booted the hell out of the Beltway.

“A pro-family activist from Virginia says voters who put Republicans in office should demand that politicians not employ key personnel who don’t hold the conservative views that the party promotes. That activist says the Capitol Hill office of Virginia Senator George Allen is a good example. Senator Allen is head of the Republican Senatorial Committee and was a key figure in the GOP’s big victories in November. But Joe Glover, president of the Virginia-based Family Policy Network, says something is very wrong. Glover says homosexual publications have outed at least six members of the senator’s office as homosexuals. He says one homosexual activist even went so far as to say Allen had the ‘gayest office on Capitol Hill.’ Pro-family conservatives, he says, need to make sure Senator Allen hears their voices.

“‘If someone is going to run the day-to-day operations for the Republican apparatus to elect U.S. senators across the country, then dog-gone-it, it better not be somebody who practices a lifestyle that is diametrically opposed to the Evangelical Christian base that delivered George W. Bush and the Republicans in the Senate the victory they saw in November,’ he says. Glover says Allen’s executive director recently resigned because he was outed as a homosexual.”

— Salon.com Right Hook, 2004-12-08

moby on filesharing

File-Sharing
8/4/2003 – London, UK

my thoughts on file-sharing?
well, as i’ve said before i’m happy and flattered if anyone makes the effort to listen to my music, regardless of the medium by which it’s delivered.
i’m glad that the apple i-store exists, because that seems like a potentially healthy way of dealing with this situation, by offering downloads for a fairly reasonable price.
and in general i do not support the efforts of the riaa regarding file-sharing.
i didn’t support them when they cracked down on internet radio (which really wasn’t even their stated domain). and i don’t support them now that they’re cracking down on people who’ve engaged in file-sharing.
i know for a fact that a lot of people first heard my music by downloading it from napster or kazaa. and for this reason i’ll always be glad that napster and kazaa have existed.
i’m sure that this is not a very popular thing for me to say, but it’s the truth. i believe that we’re moving towards some sort of resolution, though.
and i hope for happy endings for all involved: record companies, musicians, music lovers, record stores, file-sharing sites, etc. everyone just needs to bend a little bit and the situation will be remedied (i.e-supporting your local record store, supporting things like apple’s i-store, charging less for cd’s, recognizing that file-sharing has served a great promotional value for record companies, musicians not expecting to get rich from selling music, etc).
and the riaa certainly shouldn’t prosecute people for listening to music. i can understand prosecuting people who copy and sell cd’s, but i can’t understand prosecuting someone because they love music and have a few illegally downloaded songs on their hard-drive.
thanks,
moby

Moby in his journal, 2003-08-04

[cited in The Big Picture: Artists Perspective on File Sharing]

ip/speech round-up

  • two major networks who are permitted to broadcast their for-profit programming and advertisements, for free, over the airwaves, have decided that, in accordance with their “no advocacy” policy, they will reject ads from the Universal Church of Christ (UCC) which, according to them, is “advocacy”: The ads say: “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” NBC thinks that message “clearly implies that other people do [turn people away].”
  • City of San Diego v. Roe – First Amendment public employee speech case. [opinion, linked from & analyzed by Goldstein & Howe SCOTUS blog *] The Supreme Court held that a cop’s video of himself masturbating on eBay was not protected speech. Instead of just applying the Pickering test and finding no protection on the facts, the Court also continued to build up the “legitimate news interest” test. The new test seems to protect only speech that is of “public concern”, meaning “that which is of legitimate news interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public at the time of publication.” Sigh.
  • Pew released a survey of artist attitudes toward online swapping. [link from ip news blog]

* This blog, otherwise quite helpful & informative, has an extremely annoying permalink function. … How annoying is the “link to this post” function on this weblog? Very. It unnecessarily replaces a built-in feature with a its own way of doing things. To copy the URL, you might think that you could do the ordinary — right-click [or CTRL-click if you're not using a 2-button mouse with your mac] on the text labeled “Link to this Post” and select “Copy Link to Clipboard” from the menu. But no. On this blog, doing that pastes in a javascript function and the filename. The javascript function actually requires you to left-click on the “Link to this Post” text. This then displays a pop-up box with the URL. The pop-up box says “Hit CTRL+C to copy the URL below.” (Note to designers: You wouldn’t need instructions if you used standards that people already know — like the freakin’ default right-click menu!) Of course those instructions are platform-specific, so they actually confuse non-windows users. On macs, the copy command is apple+C [aka COMMAND+C]. But as a mac user you have to wonder: did they write a jscript to map to those keys? Or is this windows-specific? Sometimes requiring failed experiments. …