oclc will take member feedback on catalog records policy change

OCLC will take member feedback on its recent proposed change in licensing terms on cataloging records. See OCLC’s press release from yesterday, “OCLC Board of Trustees and Members Council to convene Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship.” link from librarythingtim

yaay.

update 2009/1/15: Salon on OCLC at Radical Reference, Friday, Jan. 23, 8 pm, at ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St., Manhattan.

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barking dogs != relaxation (or security)

For the record, the menacing presence of very large german shepherds is not a plus at a train station. And when you hear their barks, whimpers, and howls nearby it makes you worry whether they’re attacking someone, upset or excited at someone’s lunch, etc. Word is they’re sniffing for bombs but I don’t think for a minute that that barking was a bomb. Pot or someone’s lunch or maybe someone traveling with a pet. I do noto feel safer, and I do not believe that this makes me safer.

Second train station this year that I’ve seen dogs — Philly and now Penn Station.

free power in NYC
laptop plugged into power strip plugged into patch cable plugged into NYC city street light pole
Free Power, NYC, Feb. 3, 2008.
Photo by L. Quilter.

In NYC earlier this month, I saw someone sitting on a sidewalk with a laptop and other accoutrements. I assumed it was just a convenient (if cold) place to pick up a free wireless signal, but when I got closer I realized that the person was also picking up free power.

They kindly allowed me to photograph the setup. Simply by popping open this NYC pole — just one of the standard crosswalk poles — patching a cable, and attaching a powerstrip, voilá! City power.

Now that’s supporting the arts and technology.


comedies & tragedies of fair use

5/3 update: variant version of this post (an older version of the post but marked-up with hyperlinks) + other blog commentary from Joy Garnett @ newsgrist … liveblogging the meeting and this session
@ iptablog –

The Comedies of Fair Use meeting wrapped up a few hours ago. Among the best presentations were the art panel Saturday morning, in which Joy Garnett and Susan Meiselas each discussed their side of the incident that became known as JoyWar. (There were other panelists in this session too; for instance, Art Spiegelman, who was hilarious.)

“JoyWar” began when Joy Garnett appropriated a photograph she found on the Internet, and repainted it. Shortly after exhibiting it, she got a cease-and-desist letter from the photographer, Susan Meiselas. Joy’s art rapidly became a cause celebre among Internet artists and activists, who reposted Joy’s art and remixed it with many new works.

Susan and Joy had never met before the conference, but they both agreed to come and tell their story in a joint session.

Joy explained that she sought images on the Internet of people exhibiting strong emotions; she found the images, and then set them aside for a time, specifically seeking to decontextualize the images so she could later focus solely on their aesthetics. She then repainted the photo, and exhibited it as part of an exhibition called “Riot”. Mieselas’ photograph was perfect for Joy’s intended project: it showed a young man about to throw a molotov cocktail, an expression of intensity on his face.

Susan introduced herself by explaining that her goals as a photographer were precisely the opposite of Joy’s: That it was critical to her to contextualize the photograph, to embed the image in the subject, the historical and political moment in time. The photo, she explained, was of a young man on July 16, 1979, the night that Somoza was finally driven out of Nicaragua, and the Sandinistan revolution triumphed. The photograph of this young man in fact became emblematic of the entire movement, of the revolution itself, and was stenciled and appropriated by all kinds of people, with no objections (or permission) by Susan. Susan felt a strong social contract with the subjects of her photographs, and went back years later to contact them. This young man, it turned out, was still deeply committed to the movement.

The striking thing was the obvious pain that both women felt at the conflict. Though their artistic goals and methods clashed, both Susan and Joy were thoughtful and sincere. Susan, for instance, really seemed to feel that she was possibly “old-fashioned”; that she just didn’t get the new methods of appropriation. Joy, for her part, seemed to really appreciate Susan’s goals and interests; but stood firmly on her own principles. It really seemed in some respects a tragic conflict of interests, because, yes, Susan had real interests at stake. You couldn’t but respect Susan’s interests and the respect that she herself had for the subject of her work. I’m certain it took tremendous courage for Joy and Susan to come together in a public forum, after such a well-publicized conflict. And it’s a testament in particular to Susan’s courage and honesty that she presented her beliefs and reasons so articulately and passionately in the face of a potentially hostile audience.

The problem is that the interests Susan was seeking to uphold, through the tool of copyright, are not traditional copyright interests. Susan wasn’t particularly interested solely (or possibly at all) in trying to protect her licensing revenue. She was interested, rather, in protecting her right to be custodian of the image: an interest that isn’t even captured in moral rights as defined in Europe.

At the end of the day, Hank Shocklee, of Public Enemy, gave a “times they are a’changing” / “to the barricades, comrades” speech: He basically said that the old models of control are dead. It was a great moment, and I hope it’s true. There’s no question that we are paying too high a cost right now from excessive control over information. We are losing works, we are losing consumer rights, we are losing new forms of artistic expression.

But with every change, there are costs. Those who control information sometimes do it for a good reason. The hypertrophic growth of copyright law (as Jamie Boyle put it) has harmed the essential purpose of copyright law, the encouragement of creativity. But that same hypertrophic, harmful growth, nevertheless allowed Susan to pursue other interests not well protected in any other way: privacy, dignity, trust, political context and memory. I hope we find other ways — human, person-to-person ways — to protect those interests; they were never well served by copyright anyway. But it’s important to count the costs as well as the benefits for every change. I’m incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to see Susan and Joy speaking together so that I could see and hear the messy human values and reasons behind the legal conflict.

teledildonics can only be another step away …

Today, on our way to the Fung Wah bus (we never got there, but that’s another story), my partner & I happened to stop in at a bookstore/teahouse for brunch. Then we realized that they were actually having a booksigning by Margaret Atwood. I’m in the middle of a huge deadline, and have just started a new job to boot, but my spouse was very excited and managed to persuade me that I could work while she listened to the reading & signing.

So, we’re enjoying our very delicious chai when the event begins. My spouse wanders over to the event, and about 10 minutes later comes back laughing & shaking her head.

It turns out that, in fact, Margaret Atwood isn’t here in NYC; she’s in London. No, she didn’t miss her flight; her publisher and a group called Unotchit have jointly planned the first trans-Atlantic book-signing. This miracle of modern technology apparently permits Ms. Atwood to sign a book, in London, and all the way over here in New York City, the “Long-Pen” scribes her autograph on a book here in NYC. And that’s what’s happening: there are monitors set up to show Ms. Atwood signing, and the LongPen device, and people standing around waiting to get their books autographed long-distance. (I asked, btw, and this was a true transAtlantic long-distance call. No Skype!)

Naturally I thought this was hilarious. I mean, first the serendipity: that a cafe we happened into almost randomly is having a signing by Margaret Atwood, an author I tremendously respect and enjoy. But then, o brave new world that hath such [wonders] in’t, it’s not just any ordinary book-signing! It’s an experiment in virtual presence! And it’s trans-Atlantic–what more needs to be said?

The LongPen company, Unotchit, has provided a whole packet of info, with a promotional DVD, a special cartoon by Margaret Atwood, and a photocopy of a hand-written note:

This is my actual handwriting — a sample so you can compare it with what the LongPen™ does–and assure yourself that the spikiness, illegibility, and peculiarity is a property of the actual writing, and has not been added by the LongPen.™.
Margaret Atwood

As it turns out, Ms. Atwood is the President of the company (Unotchit), which explains why she was such an enthusiastic participant in the demonstration, and so respectful of the company’s trademarks. Good for her for coming up with something innovative in response to her own exhaustion from book tours.

Unfortunately the system didn’t actually work for the performance, although we were assured that it had worked in the trials just a few minutes before, and had worked successfully city-to-city. I’m sure it will start working, though, and then we can look forward to some of these listed applications:

  • “The signing of their books by authors.” (and lots of other celebrity/fan autographic applications)
  • “The signing of legal documents (in most instances).” plus real estate business, banks, government signatures like passports, marriages, divorces.
  • Banks, real estate business, and financial applications like cheque-cashing facilities and prevention of credit card fraud.
  • And “of special interest for languages that do not use phonic writing but have many characters. For such languages, it is sometimes easier to write than to type.”

I’m not sure I get the language thing, but okay. I’m also a little skeptical as to whether or not autograph-seekers will really be quite satisfied with remote autographs. I think part of the thrill is getting the tiny particles of author/athlete oil & grease along with the signature. Plus actually getting to stammer a few words in the presence of the great one.

But the proposed legal / financial applications raise questions of a somewhat more serious nature. I’ll be going thru that DVD as soon as I get a chance (not till next weekend, for sure), but some questions occurred to me off the top of my head. Among them:

  • What is the authentication procedure for making sure that the item signed by the robotic pen has the same content as the item signed in the presence of and by the signer? For instance, if you’re signing a contract on page 4, how are you going to know that page 3-New York is the same as page 3-London?
  • How do you prevent the signature transmission from being captured & replicated somewhere else? For instance, A is signing a cheque check in New York, and a check cheque is being signed in London. But I’ve captured the signature transmission and am using it to sign a check in Boston — a check made out to me, perhaps, or to a local pimp or skanky political party.
  • For that matter, if the signal is unencrypted, how do you prevent it from being captured & interfered with, so that it becomes less likely to be validated? There’s a visual read-out of it on both sides, but you could capture the video transmission as it comes from London, and mirror it back so it looks like it’s coming from New York, but in the meantime send something slightly different to New York. Or if the signature was only slightly different it might not be apparent over the transmission, but still not pass a handwriting expert signature.
  • And, how good *are* these pens, anyway? Can they really replicate the changes in pressure and angle that a real pen does? Even if it can do pressure & angle, what is the original pen that the author holds actually like? Does it feel like a real pen? Or is it held rigidly in place? Which would certainly affect the signature, and I wonder what a handwriting expert would think about it.

The answers to these questions will no doubt become clearer when I go through the materials. Stay tuned for more.

In the meantime, more info available at:

the kindness of strangers

So, tonight I was in a NYC restaurant with a dear friend, when I got a call from an unknown number in Boston. The unknown number turned out to be a library science professor at Simmons College, whom I have never met, and he wanted to know if I’ve lost my wallet. I found this very peculiar, since although I live in Boston, I’ve been in New York for the past few days, and I’ve definitely been using my wallet — in fact, I used my wallet just a couple of hours ago to buy groceries.

“I don’t think so,” I replied, “unless you’re in New York.”

“Well, I’m not in New York, I’m in Boston, but I got a call from New York a couple of hours ago while I was teaching, from someone who says he found your wallet. Then I looked you up on the Internet & got your number. You have an interesting resumé.”

I’m really pretty amazed, but thinking back I realize that I last used my wallet about three hours ago, coming out of the grocery store and crossing the street to my friend’s apartment building — literally, probably only about a hundred feet. It turns out that in my wallet I had a scrap of paper with this professor’s contact information on it, from a chance meeting with one of his students at a cafe a couple of days ago. The student thought the professor and I should talk, and since I hadn’t had a chance to write him yet, his email was still on the scrap of paper in my wallet. I hastily explain this, not very clearly, and the professor, a bit bemused, gives me the New York number of the person who claims to have found my wallet, and I ring off, to call the New York number.

“Hello?”

“Umm … my name is Laura Quilter; are you the person who found my wallet?”

“Yeah, I did — where are you?”

“I’m at the Trattoria Dante at [somewhere nearby].”

“I’m right around the corner; I’ll be there in two minutes. I know what you look like from your driver’s license.” He paused. “Umm, I’m not a detective, so I had to go through your wallet; I hope you’re not pissed.”

“No, no, of course not — just amazed that you’ve taken all this trouble.”

Two minutes later, indeed, he was there. I said I was extremely impressed by New Yorkers; it turns out he was actually from San Diego (but is apparently a New Yorker now). He wouldn’t take any money; wouldn’t even let me buy him a drink. He had spent god knows how much time trying to find me. My wallet wasn’t exactly very helpful, I realized afterwards, looking through it with a stranger’s eyes. Zipcar membership, health insurance, Trader Joe’s gift certificate, bar membership cards, picture of my spouse from a photobooth, espresso club card … My driver’s license — which I blush to admit is still a California license, even though I’ve been in Boston for almost a year — turned out to be more confusing than helpful since he thought perhaps I still lived near Berkeley. But he saw a Boston Public Library card, and the phone number of the professor in Boston.

Then, the professor in Boston, who also had never heard of me, and had no idea why his name might be in my wallet, spent who knows what amount of time looking me up on the Internet, tracking me down, and talking with me. It turns out there were only a couple of degrees of separation between him and me — my friend that I’m staying with knows several of the professor’s colleagues. The unknown benefactor, however, remains unknown. But greatly appreciated.

subway preachers & showtunes

how fabulous — k. r. munson defeats subway preachers with showtunes:

(Note: This is not me. I just think it’s cool.)

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