New EU Internet Copyright Bill, Articles 11 and 13

The infosphere is aflame with a new battle in an old war: how copyright should be handled on the Internet.

The Guardian has background:

It is an argument that has drawn in the likes of Paul McCartney, Plácido Domingo and the Vienna Philharmonic, as well as pioneers of the internet from Tim Berners-Lee to the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales.

Fought with hashtags, mailshots, open letters and celebrity endorsements, the battle over the European Union’s draft directive on copyright heads for a showdown this week.

After two years of debate, members of the European parliament will vote on Wednesday on the legislation, which could change the balance of power between producers of music, news and film and the dominant websites that host their work.

[…]

Critics claim the proposal will destroy the internet, spelling the end of sharing holiday snaps or memes on Facebook. Proponents are exasperated by such claims, described by German Christian Democrat Axel Voss as “totally wrong” and “fake news”.

Two sections in particular are controversial: Articles 11 and 13. Both sides (both sides!) are being very hyperbolic about these. The gist is that groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and people like Cory Doctorow say these are “internet-destroying regulations,” and the proponents’ response (from what I’ve seen on Twitter) is to paint all opponents as paid industry shills who hate artists. I’ve attempted here to come up with what I hope is an even-handed summary. I Am Not A Lawyer, so please tell me what I’ve gotten wrong.

This is a bit long, so click through if you’re interested. Note of course that these are EU laws, but so is the GDPR, and we’ve all experienced the effects of that. Continue reading

Literary Ledes

I was talking with somebody about the recent bee heist story out of Sacramento and they linked me to the great maple syrup heist of ’12, a Bloomberg article that begins thusly. 

On the morning of July 30, 2012, an accountant named Michel Gauvreau arrived at the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, housed in a huge red brick warehouse on the side of the Trans-Canadian Highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, about two hours northeast of Montreal. Inside, baby-blue barrels of maple syrup were stacked six high in rows hundreds deep.

The question for me, when I’m evaluating a first paragraph, is whether it makes me want to read the second. If a novel started like this I would. 

“Getting News From Facebook”

Every so often, a number becomes part of the journalistic zeitgeist. Sometimes it’s linked to a single factoid, sometimes it’s free-floating. You see it around, and sometimes it’s right, but a lot of the time it’s misleading or just plain made-up.

Brooke Gladstone writes about one of these in her graphic manifesto The Influencing Machine (pp. 49-54). The number in question is 50,000. Specifically, 50,000 human victims. It would pop here and there about a variety of different things. Most recently, it was reported (by Attorney General Gonzalez no less) as the number of child predators online at any time. Before that, it was the number of people sacrificed by satanic cults (remember the 80’s?). Before that it was reported as the number of children abducted by strangers in a year, even though the actual number was maybe 250.

And the more she looked into it, the more she found out that “50,000 people die” every year from… everything! At least, if the media can be believed. Where does this number come from? Gladstone calls it ‘the Goldilocks number’. Not “a really small number… like 200. And [not] a ridiculously large number… like 10 million. It [is] a Goldilocks number. Not too hot, not too cold.”

 

Recently something similar had pinged my radar. Specifically, that 44% of adults get their news from Facebook. Or from Twitter. Or from social media in general. Or, or…

Pretty shocking, right? I mean, those aren’t reputable news sources!

This number seemed fishy to me because it couldn’t possibly be that high. First of all, it doesn’t pass the smell test – are 44% of adults even on social media? (Yes, barely.) Well, I didn’t look into it myself, but fortunately somebody did for me. It seems to be a case of semantic drift that lends itself to sensationalism. Basically, 44% of adults, as measured by a Pew survey, report that they “get news” from Facebook, either often, sometimes, or rarely. Basically everybody who didn’t answer “never”.

What’s the difference between people “getting news” and people “getting their news”? Well, kind of everything. To get news is to receive an unknown but non-zero number of news items; to get one’s news is presumably to get all or most of the news items one consumes. This dovetails nicely with people liking to report on how technology is ruining civilization, so it’s used that way. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this number popping up increasingly in the latter context of people getting their news on Facebook, which as we know contains a large amount of ‘fake news’ (a term that with alarming speed became completely meaningless). Etc., etc.

So if you see 44% (or its cousin 68%) popping up in this context, well, now you know.

Gladstone concludes her book by saying that ‘we get the media we deserve’. I’d like to think we aren’t this bad, though.

The Reverse X-Files

In The X-Files,  and many other things as well, the writers have an irksome tendency to have the characters just define things to each other in front of the reader/viewer, who might not know what they’re talking about. It makes me think of The X-Files because in college we had a professor who was really into Darin Morgan, and we studied some of the episodes he’d written in class, as well as a couple he hadn’t.

Naturally this led to watching all the rest of The X-Files during downtime, since we had the DVD’s from the library anyway.

The show made a habit of this. The example I like to use is roughly this.

SCULLY: Do you think this could be an example of telekinesis, Mulder?

MULDER: Telekinesis? You mean the ability to manipulate objects with nothing but the power of one’s mind?

SCULLY: Yes, Mulder.

MULDER: No, Scully, I don’t think this is an example of telekinesis.

I forget if it was actually telekinesis or not in that episode. Anyway, that’s the general formula.

Recently enough somebody reminded me of this scene from Superman, which features a particularly egregious example.

LEX LUTHOR: The San Andreas fault, maybe you’ve heard of it?

SUPERMAN: Yes… it’s the joining together of two land masses. The fault line is unstable and shifting, which is why you get earthquakes in California from time to time.

LEX LUTHOR: Wonderful. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Not only do the authors know that they’re doing it, they’re trying to act cagey by making sure you know they know they’re doing it (“couldn’t have said it better myself!”). Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, necessarily. Tropes are tools, after all. But this particular execution just sucks.

(Going by the TVTropes nomenclature, when done well, this is more appropriately lampshade hanging, and when done especially poorly it’s an as you know, Bob…. My examples above are of the ‘reading the dictionary to the viewer’ variety, which makes me think of The X-Files.)

Anyway, I ran into a sort of reverse X-Files today at work. We’re setting up a new data pipeline using Google Cloud Pub/Sub, which uses a bleedingly obscure word in the documentation, and whoever wrote this is savvy enough to know that you probably don’t know the word, and actually goes out of his way to make sure you know he knows you don’t know the word by linking to the wikipedia article without comment.

For the most part Pub/Sub delivers each message once, and in the order in which it was published. However, once-only and in-order delivery are not guaranteed: it may happen that a message is delivered more than once, and out of order. Therefore, your subscriber should be idempotent when processing messages, and, if necessary, able to handle messages received out of order…

As if he couldn’t be bothered to do any explanation for the handful of idiots who don’t know what ‘idempotent’ means off the top of their heads. Bravo, sir or madame.

Technology iz in ur kidz brainz, ruining ur civilization‽ 👻 🆒 🆕 🆓 🔚 🔜 #sorrynotsorry 😏 😎

There was a thing going around recently. I didn’t see the ‘original’ but I did see the response. I’ll excerpt the juicy bit here, go read the whole thing.

Technology and the death of civilisation

It is a failing of human nature to detest anything that young people do just because older people are not used to it or have trouble learning it. So I am wary of the “young people suck” school of social criticism. -Steven Pinker

[…]

Late last year this photograph of children looking at their smartphones by Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam started doing the rounds on the web. It quickly became viral. It was often accompanied by outraged, dispirited comments such as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, “the end of civilisation” or “a sad picture of our society”.

Clearly, to lots of folk, the photograph epitomised everything that is wrong with young people these days and their ‘addiction’ to technology. These children were being distracted by their technology to such an extent that they weren’t paying any attention to the beauty surrounding them in the real world.

Only they weren’t. It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

Children listening to adult instruction at the Rijksmuseum

I wonder whether the photo would have caused so much indignation and disapproval if it had depicted students ‘ignoring’ the masterpiece while reading a paper leaflet or museum brochure instead. Though I suspect not. It would appear that, once again, reports heralding the death of civilisation at the execrable hands of technology might have been greatly exaggerated.

(The quote at the top is by Steven Pinker, who had a book out about how we’re pretty much living in the least violent era in human history a few(?) years ago that I understand is pretty good.)

Technology has always been a bugbear of… I’m not even sure who. Old people? I think Douglas Adams was right:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

These things like the top quote is talking about get old. It just isn’t true that things have really changed. The only thing that I’ve ever encountered that changes when a new information technology is introduced is you, and even then it’s in one very specific case. I don’t have a cite for this, but it’s in the beginning of The Information by James Gleick (which is a wonderful read). Basically, non-literate people have trouble with abstract reasoning. When asked a simple syllogism, it goes something like this.

“All bears from the north are white. Nanook is a bear from the north. What color is Nanook?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never met Nanook.”

Within a short time of learning how to read, they’re able to answer it correctly. (God, I really wish I had that cite.) But otherwise, all of the books about ‘Internet brain’ or whatever they call it are baseless and stupid. For a fun exercise, the next time you see a book or article or whatever about how technology is changing us–particularly information technology–try swapping out ‘the Internet’ or ‘Snapchat’ or whatever the complaint is about with something older. Like books, radio, the telegraph, newspapers, or the post office.

People said the same things about those! XKCD had a good summary of some recent ones: Continue reading

Document formatting in fiction

(cross-posted)

Formatting is fun.

Time was, when you were ready to have a book published, you sent off your typewritten manuscript to the publisher and they determined what sort of physical form this would take. Typeface, page size, font size, paper stock, often cover art, hardcover vs. trade paperback, all that stuff.

That’s still true, to a large degree, but all the advances in technology for dead-tree printing have really let us go to town with creative formatting. This can take a variety of forms. I’m going to lead, however, with a historical example.

William Faulkner wanted The Sound and The Fury to be published with more than just black ink on white paper. (Well, he didn’t have anything to say about the paper.) But I do know that he wanted multiple ink colors to indicate the various speakers and time periods and intersections thereof. My recollection from undergrad is that he wanted four colors (or perhaps five if you include black); the Times article above suggests fourteen. At any rate, the publisher said ‘no’, because that would have been super expensive in 1929. (The ultra-deluxe 14-color modern edition linked above sold for $345 at printing, though I doubt this was strictly necessary and is almost certainly a case of conspicuous consumption for lit nerds.)

There’s an interesting discussion of how the new coloration may actually make the book too non-difficult to read. I wouldn’t know, since I read the broke undergrad Penguin Classics version, but it’s an interesting thought. I have the impression that The Sound and The Fury is sort of a rite of passage, and that this makes accessibility a bad thing, to a certain type of person. That’s a topic for another time I suppose.

So that was then, and this is now. Custom formatting is cheaper and easier, yay! I’ll admit that I first started noticing it when I was reading Cell by Stephen King, which would have been, gosh, ten years ago. One of the recurring images is the main character being crushed by a piece of construction equipment. The equipment’s brand is Link-Belt. “Here comes Link-Belt!” is I believe the refrain. But it’s in sort of a font like “Here comes LINK-BELT!” And as it gets closer and closer to crushing his leg (debilitating leg injuries are something of a motif for Mr. King), it gets bigger.

“Here comes LINK-BELT!”

 

“Here comes LINK-BELT!”

 

“Here comes LINK-BELT!”

(To this day, when I pass a construction site on the highway and see a LINK-BELT piece of machinery, I think of that.)

That’s fun. And technology is letting us do more stuff like that in more things ‘cuz cheap production, which is good. It even lets us do some completely bugf— crazy things like this.

house-of-leaves-sample

House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski) is, uh, a thing that exists. (I did not take this picture.) It’s weird. Leaving aside the question of whether or not it pulls off what it’s trying to do, let nobody say that it doesn’t try to do it. And it just wouldn’t even exist if it we didn’t have the ability to do something like this for a few (seven) hundred pages relatively cheap. It costs about as much as any other roughly-letter-sized 700-page book. We aren’t talking about asking the publisher ‘can I use Helvetica instead of Times’? We aren’t talking about something like The Sound and The Fury here, where it’s maybe better/closer to the original intent if you have a few extra colors. Cheap formatting is an existential requirement for this book.

Yay cheap formatting! I’m generally in favor of books existing! Really going out on a limb there, I know!

Obviously this is even easier in digital formats. I’m going to go out on another limb and include web sites in that calculation. Philosophically they’re just books with javascript and a database, or perhaps more like the memex, but the relevant thing is, these were all conceived of as digital text, and in this sense ‘text’ means ‘a document’ and ‘a document’ means ‘a book’. (This is a lie, but a convenient one.)

Anywho, formatting is cool, and it lets you do things with a text that you couldn’t do before, and that’s good. Here’s something from the re-draft of (new working title) The World Beyond Eels:

formatting.png

Thoughts on the California Primary

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Pretty much.

There’s been a lot of ink and many, many pixels spilled over the Democratic presidential primary. I say this by way of introduction in case you’ve had your head stuck under a rock. It’s been reaching its end-game every couple of weeks since March. There was Super Tuesday (which gave Hillary a small structural lead, but Bernie still had a chance!),  then Superer Tuesday (which gave Hillary a huge structural lead, but Bernie still had a chance!), then the Acela Primary (which gave Hillary a nigh-insurmountable structural lead, but Bernie still… ah, fuck it, he’s saying he wants to overturn the will of the voters now), and now we’re coming up on California and New Jersey for the… next primary, which will give Hillary a mathematically insurmountable structural lead.

And, once again, it will be over! And Hillary will have reached the point where she’s unbeatable! Yay, it’s over! Maybe Bernie will concede around then, like Hillary did last time!

2008 was a pretty hot contest too, remember? Remember how we all hated each other? Remember PUMA’s, that year’s Bernie-Or-Bust’ers?

Remember Hillary saying that “having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual” and using “Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June” as an example? That was dumb.

Remember Florida and Michigan losing their delegates because they jumped the gun on the primary schedule? And they were probably very favorable territory for Hillary? That was dumb.

I’m not a professional pundit, so I can’t just make shit up, but I’m also too lazy to look up exact examples for this next one. But I definitely remember people grumbling that Obama’s 2008 victories across the South didn’t matter because those aren’t states that send electoral votes to Democrats in November, and the superdelegates should take note of this. That was stupid when Bill Clinton basically said it in 2008 and it was stupid when a Sanders surrogate said it in 2016.

So hey! Everybody’s terrible, OK? But don’t lose track of the bigger picture. The narcissism of small differences is a hell of a drug:

It is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and that are related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and are ridiculing each other because of sensitiveness to these details of differentiation.

Don’t forget who the real enemy is.

That said, I’m voting for Hillary. Take this primary out of its misery, please. Just drag it behind the shed and shoot it. Even Jerry Brown agrees, and he’s not exactly the Clintons’ biggest fan.

An Ode to Epitaph to a Dog

A decent amount of time ago, in a galaxy still just this galaxy right here, approximately as many years in the past as that poem about the cat was written in the future…

OK, a note about linguistics. Time travel and fiction lead to some very strange formations. Douglas Adams of course was an expert on the topic:

The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be descibed differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is futher complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later editions of the book all pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term “Future Perfect” has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Anyway, this Lord Byron guy wrote a poem about his dog. It’s on the dog’s tombstone. The dog has a tombstone.

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808.

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below:
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour’d falls, unnotic’d all his worth,
Deny’d in heaven the Soul he held on earth:
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas’d by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye! who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on, it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one—and here he lies.

What is it about the last two lines of poems about pets that slays me?

An Ode to Ode to Spot

A long time from now, in a galaxy very close and actually it’s just our galaxy, and not that long from now really in the grand scheme of things, is set a show known as Star Trek: The Next Generation.

There’s a cyborg (robot?) who has a cat. He wrote a poem about his cat. It must have been a fun day in the writers’ room.

I was sharing a good affectionate moment with my own cat, Samwise Gamgee the Brave, just now. And it made me remember this poem.

I now reprint without comment Data’s poem about his cat, “Ode to Spot”:

Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature;
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.

I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.

A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.

O Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.

Those last two lines just slay me.

What Level is the Crew from Jaws?

It’s that time again. I saw a movie at a rep house and got to thinking about Dungeons & Dragons.

This one should be fairly simple. We’ve got a cop, which I’m going to say is analogous to a city guard; head of the town watch perhaps. He’s probably a Warrior–decent, but still an NPC class.

We’ve got a crazy shark hunter, which according to the maritime table would make him, it’s a toss-up, but I think I’m going to go with Rogue.

And we have a scientist, who’s obviously an Expert, with a one-level dip in let’s say Rogue, since the other sailor is a Rogue too.

So the shark is obviously a Dire Shark, challenge rating 9. Now, would we say the shark is “Very Difficult”, or “Overwhelming”? It’s not a TPK but they do lose their Rogue, and they only end up killing it with a trick that probably made the DM roll his eyes. Let’s say Overwhelming. According to the DMG, that’s the party’s effective level plus five, or so. According to the SRD calculator, this puts the party somewhere between level 5 and level 6.

But these are NPC classes! Do we need to increase it? Maybe by a little bit. But they did get lucky too, and lost a party member. Let’s look at wealth by level.

They should each have around 13,000 gold at this point, perhaps more for the Expert. The boat’s probably around 15,000 plus fuel, so that works pretty well with a level 6 rogue. These are fairly high levels for an ordinary shark hunt, but keep in mind this is no ordinary shark. So I guess they have to be level 6, which would make the Expert smarter than Einstein and the Warrior stronger than Conan, so it’s imperfect. But they need a boat and they need to be able to kill a 25 footer, so there you have it.

Maybe level 4 and they got super lucky, or maybe only the rogue is level 6 and the others are level 3 and they got really super lucky.

Or maybe the DM is kind of lazy and the crazy shark guy is a higher-level NPC babysitter that railroads a lower-level party. Perhaps that works better. I could see a level 6 rogue with a boat shepherding two level 2-3 characters through this encounter. He even dies just in time for the PC’s to be the real heroes in the story.

UPDATE: One of my friends makes a decent point.

yeah, or maybe they’re just non-optimized characters who spent all their points on skills like knowledge(sharks) and spent their entire time writing up backstories
they just want scenes like the singing on the boat