Joho the Blog » 2002 » September

September 30, 2002

4Things to Look At

1. After you’ve finished disbelieving your eyes at the current Web sensation, you can see a set of great Flash demos of optical illusions here.

2. Web Collage generates collages from random images on the Web. It updates about once a minute.

3. Steve Himmer has an hilarious exposition on the meta-absurd copyright infringement case involving two silent recordings. It’s just too wonderful for words. Of course, if I were to remain silent about it, I could expect an angry letter from the estate of John Cage.

4. At the palindromic I Love Me, Vol. I, you can see what happens when the sliding door of a radio station van is moved all the way to the left, especially if the radio station is called HITS.

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September 29, 2002

Copyright Common Sense

Jane Black writes in BusinessWeek online about the Eldred case about to be argued before the Supreme Court by Larry Lessig. At issue is whether copyrights can be extended past the point at which the cold dead fingers clutching the work have crumbled into a pile of greedy dust. It’s a straightforward, well-written, balanced column that tells the truth and thus implicitly sides with Eldred.

I find this truly heartening. The hardcore arguments for Eldred/Lessig’s position are all well and good and I believe every one of them. But we need much more than hardcore rants. We need our position to become common sense. Only thus can the tide be turned. Black’s article helps, as do a slew of other mainstream articles to which Doc points.

Maybe there’s hope for hope yet.

(Because I’m essentially a wuss, I won’t point out that the Court that’s deciding the case is 5/9ths asshole.)

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Bogus Contest: Intellectual Whodunnits

AKMA writes with his usual refreshing candor about why, despite Margaret’s irrefutable comparison of great suspense novels and Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, one’s a page turner and the other’s snooze inducing.

Since the obvious answer is that we are naturally interested in the plight of other humans whereas the thrill of the intellectual hunt is an acquired taste, I got to thinking about the books I’ve read that combine personal narrative anda rigorous intellectual development.

The first book to pop into mind was Leon Wieseltier’s Kaddish. As he does the ritual 11 months of daily temple-going to pray for his dead father, Wieseltier pursues an obscure question — Why does Kaddish fall exactly where it does in the service? — through centuries of Talmudic scholarship. It is a question in which I have absolutely no interest, but because the quest so clearly is the way that Wieseltier is grieving, the book is quite moving.

There must be a million other examples but to play the book’s ideas have to be rigorously developed. For me, this excludes Jung’s Autobiography, Robertson Davies’ novels, anything written by Carlos Castaneda, and The Name of the Rose. Also, the works of Plato are excluded because they are, as apparently they say in golf, a gimme. What the hell, let’s also exclude any autobiography by someone famous first for his or her intellectual development, e.g., St. Augustine’s Confessions, because while those works recount how ideas were developed, they generally don’t themselves develop the ideas.

Note that all rules will be applied with strict arbitrariness.

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September 28, 2002

“Changing Lanes” is better left unfinished

I just posted my first review at BlogCritics.org. Here’s how it starts:

Changing Lanes Changing Endings

Since I am about to write about the ending of “Changing Lanes,” stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie. It’s a movie worth seeing, but you’re best off not even knowing what type of movie it is. In fact, let me do you a favor: Expect an action-packed two hours as Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson square off in a drama that sprawls across New York City in one last caper that goes unexpectedly wrong. Beautiful women, wise-cracking heroes, great car chases!

That should hold you. And I’ve just done you a favor because the movie has none of that but plays best if you think it does.

So, now that it’s just us who have seen the movie, let’s talk.

Continued here.

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New “Get Your War On” comic strip is out

EOM

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Getting Taken to Task

Dylan Tweney blogs about my entry on plagiarism. He takes me to task for using the phrase “intellectual property” as if it were a legitimate phrase:

When you use the term “intellectual property,” you’ve already lost the argument. That term, by likening copyrights and patents to real property, gives them an implicit permanence, concreteness, and totality that they’ve never had, until now, either in the Constitution or in subsequent legal history.

I completely agree. I should have put “intellectual property” in quotes. In fact, I’ve many times said exactly what Dylan says: We lost as soon as we allowed the term to go unchallenged.

Hmm, doesn’t that mean that one of us must be a plagiarist?

Then Dave Winer takes me to task for saying, in a Darwin column, that engineers are cynical:

I don’t think of programmers as cynics, that’s too negative. I played around with the thesaurus a bit, and think cynic is the wrong word. I think the correct work is skeptic.

I suspect that Dave and I don’t actually disagree much. My column was in fact about the optimism and virtuousness of engineers, not a knock against them. But Dave’s right: In my experience, software engineers are tremendously supportive of those they respect and tremendously cynical about those they suspect. So, I should have been more explicit about the domain of discourse within which engineering cynicism generally shows up: an engineer on a sales call isn’t a mere skeptic.

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September 27, 2002

Gurus in Their Own Write

Steve Himmer at OnePotMeal has a parable further explaining how to become a guru.

Meanwhile, AKMA first explains why he can’t live up to the high standards required for gurudom. And then, in responding to my post about plagiarism, he appears to be channeling Escher. Pretty durn funny, in a fractal, vanish-up-your-own-butt sort of way.

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Edumacation

It’s a bad thing when you come back from the feel-good Meet the Teachers night at the local, progressive public school and need a drink. After hearing what’s in store for our 11 year old in sixth grade, Ann and I were shaken, angry and depressed.

After six blissful years of grading nothing, the school has decided to grade everything in sixth grade, in order to prepare the students for the “real world” of seventh grade. “When students know they’re getting graded, their work just gets better,” said the very fine teacher who educated our son’s sisters. (No sarcasm: she’s a terrific teacher.) How sad is that? And how’s that for a meta-lesson: “Hey kid, want an extrinsic reward for doing schoolwork?”

On the positive side, I’m more sure than ever that I know what education is: Learning to love more and more of the world.

And before you accuse me of being nothing but a ’60s dude (as if there were anything wrong with that), let me be specific: Education is learning to love the things we otherwise wouldn’t know how to love, from Shakespeare to chemistry to Cubism to geometry to the history of Iraq. Learning how to do things — write in cursive, multiply numbers — is just a small part.

The culprits here are easy to identify since the staff of our local school is dedicated, loving, smart and thoughtful: It’s raining stupidity from above. “Test and blame” is the message coming from the feds, the commonwealth and even the town.

Home schooling anyone?

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September 26, 2002

How to Become a Web Guru

AKMA has noticed that DarwinMag.com has me listed as a “guru” and wonders how I achieved that exalted status. Well, AKMA, it’s really quite simple:

Top Ten Ways to Become a Web Guru

Knowingly refer to Tim Berners-Lee as “Timmy Bacon-and-Lettuce”

Replace “air quotes” with “air brackets.”

Maintain that when you said last year that “The Internet isn’t a bubble, it’s the rock-solid foundation on which the new economy will last for millennia,” you weren’t talking about the Internet.

Always make fun of The Suits.

Be late for meetings because atoms got in the way of your bits.

Include a non-disclosure agreement in your wedding vows.

Bought a box of Tide? Add P&G to the list of companies you’ve worked with.

Never give a short answer.

In return for Google-worthy links to your site, do “certain favors” for the Russian Mafia.

Never begin a sentence with “I think.”

Backdate your weblog as necessary.

(AKMA’s article also spells out beautifully exactly why engineers frequently feel that cynicism is called for.)

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Make Your Own Bush Speech

A cool Flash app. W speaks!

(Thanks, Martin Roell.)

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