Joho the Blog » 2010 » July

July 31, 2010

Berkman Buzz

Here’s the weekly Berkman Buzz, as compiled by Seth Young.

  • Wendy Seltzer [twitter] , “Jailbreaking Copyright’s Scope” link

  • Facebook caper? Jonathan Zittrain [twitter] holsters his pitchfork link

  • Facebook privacy settings? danah boyd [twitter] , Eszter Hargittai [twitter] ask, “Who cares?” link

  • Peace on Facebook? Ethan Zuckerman [twitter] tries to do the math link

  • Dan Gillmor’s [twitter] initial comments on the WikiLeaks “Afghanistan diary” link

  • Weekly Global Voices [twitter] : “Côte d’Ivoire: Journalists accused of document theft are freed” link

  • Herdict [twitter] on court-ordered filtering in Russia link

  • CMLP [twitter] on the FTC’s defense of its Blogger Endorsement Guidelines link

  • Radio Berkman 160: “Business, Meet Web” link

  • Doc Searls’ [twitter] belated eulogy for Ricochet link

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July 30, 2010

Jokes and copyright

There’s a nice write up by Nate Anderson at Ars Technica about a chapter (download it here) in the forthcoming book The Making and Unmaking of Intellectual Property. The chapter is about how norms rather than copyright regulate the pilfering of jokes by comedians from other comedians, and the effects those norms have on the content of comedy. The authors (Dotan Oliar and Christopher Jon Sprigman — ironically, the Ars Technica article forgets to mention their names) maintain that once the norms against stealing jokes kicked in, comedy became less about everyone telling the same jokes but in unique performance styles, and more about differentiated material. Norms were sufficient to spur innovation: “Comedians today invest in new, original, and personal content. The medium is no longer focused on reworking of preexisting genres like marriage jokes, ethnic jokes, or knock-knock jokes.”

Encouraged to develop unique materials, comedians have turned to the micro-topics typical of observational humor (“Don’t you hate it when you split an Oreo and there’s just a little bit of filling left on one side?”), and to up-to-the-minute topical jokes. One of the 19 comedians the author interviewed says the rise of norms also led him to write longer jokes, because it’s easier to tell when they’re stolen. It’s also affected the style: since comedians are differentiated mainly (of course not always) by the content of their jokes, their performance style has become an undifferentiated standing in front of a mic.

The authors conclude, among other things, that “norms economize on enforcement costs and appear to maintain a healthy level of incentives to create alongside a greater diversity in the kinds of humor produced.”

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July 29, 2010

JZ on the FB “leak” of 100M names

Jonathan Zittrain [twitter: zittrain] explains the Facebook directory “leak,” which turns out not to be a leak at all.

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GE pushes ahead with software-defined radio … good news for civilians, too?

In a press release that is barely comprehensible (or, quite possible, totally incomprehensible) to one such as I, GE has announced a new generation of components that can be used for, among other things, software-defined radios. It is unclear to me whether this technology is designed for anything except military use, but …

Software-defined radios (SDRs) are not the next generation of transistor radios or boomboxes (ask your parents, kids). They are radios in the more primordial sense of being devices that can receive radio-wave signals. The radios you and I are used to are hard-wired to do one thing: Tune into specific frequencies and translate the radio signals into toe-tapping tunes or the blather of infuriating talk show hosts. SDRs can be programmed to do anything they want with any type of signal they can receive. For example, they might treat messages as, say, maps, or signals to turn on the porch light … or as Internet packets.

SDRs matter a lot if only because they promise an alternative to the current broadcast medium. The way it works now, the FCC divvies up spectrum (i.e., frequencies) for particular uses and sells much of it to particular broadcasters. So, your hard-wired radio responds to particular frequencies as carriers of acoustic information sent by known, assigned providers: 106.7 on your radio dial, or whatever. This is a highly inefficient use of spectrum, like dedicating particular lanes of a multi-lane highway to a specific trucking companies. It’d be far more efficient if transmitters and receivers could intelligently negotiate, in real time, which frequencies they’re communicating on, switching to frequencies that are under-trafficked when a particular “lane” is jammed. If our radio receivers — not just our in-dash radios, but all devices that receive radio wave transmissions — were smart devices (SDRs), we could minimize the amount of spectrum we assign to a handful of highly-capitalized broadcasters. We would have more bandwidth than we could eat.

So, I think it’s good news that GE is pushing ahead with this and is commercializing it … unless I’m misunderstanding their announcement, the technology’s uses, and GE’s intentions to commercialize it.

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Anatomically-correct God

According to an article in Science Daily, the odd lumpiness of God’s jaw as painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel is due to the fact that Michelangelo gives us a see-through view to the brain stem. You can also see His spinal column through His chest.

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Helping curators

Paul Gillin blogs about CIThread (while disclosing that he is advising them):

The curator starts by presenting the engine with a basic set of keywords. CIThread scours the Web for relevant content, much like a search engine does. Then the curator combs through the results to make decisions about what to publish, what to promote and what to throw away.

As those decisions are made, the engine analyzes the content to identify patterns. It then applies that learning to delivering a better quality of source content. Connections to popular content management systems make it possible to automatically publish content to a website and even syndicate it to Twitter and Facebook without leaving the CIThread dashboard.

There’s intelligence on the front end, too. CIThread can also tie in to Web analytics engines to fold audience behavior into its decision-making. For example, it can analyze content that generates a lot of views or clicks and deliver more source material just like it to the curator. All of these factors can be weighted and varied via a dashboard.

I like the idea of providing automated assistance to human curators…

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July 28, 2010

What does non-commercial mean?

Slashdot has an interesting discussion of a question I’ve often wondered about: What does non-commercial mean in a Creative Commons license? If your blog runs some ads, does that mean you can’t use a photo CC-ed for non-commercial use? CC-friendly BoingBoing is the possible offender in this case.

BoingBoing has removed the image to respect the author’s wishes, and has posted a brief notice acknowledging ambiguity about “non-commercial.” I think that’s the right way to handle it. But I’d love more clarity about this. I’d be fine with commercial entities using a photo I CC’ed, so long as they weren’t directly making money from it, because I think the culture of sharing is improved with that policy. But, it is a knottier problem than it would be if CC were more explicit about what the intended norms were for commercial use.

[Later that day:] Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing responded to my tweeting of the Slashdot discussion with three tweets:

Slashdot post is fake. Did you know the photographer is a flickr friend of @doctorow’s and namechecks him in the photo?

the post by the slashdot anonymous troll is NOT by the proprietor of the image. But by a troll.

They’re trolling because the very post was written by Cory, a longtime CC activist, & post said “I’m going offline for a month”

Thanks, Xeni

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Harvard sets up library innovation “venture fund”

Harvard has announced the creation of the Harvard Library Lab:

The Lab promotes the development of projects in all areas of library activity and leverages the entrepreneurial aspirations of people throughout the library system and beyond. Proposals from faculty and students from anywhere in the university will also be welcomed and the Lab will encourage collaboration with projects being developed at MIT.

This is great news, both in its practical import and as yet another sign of Harvard’s desire to innovate to help make libraries more useful,  valuable, and relevant than ever. Thanks to the Arcadia Fund for supporting this.

Disclosure: I’ve been consulting to Harvard Law Library’s own Library Lab (which is likely to change its name to avoid confusion with the newly announced university-wide library lab). The HLS Lab is under John Palfrey, who is also a member of the university Lib Lab.

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Meta-meme: James Franco Chuck Norris Jokes

James Franco rules the meta-universe the way Chuck Norris rules the meager regular old universe. (This summary of a New York article should convince you, as if you needed convincing.) So, here are some James Franco Chuck Norris jokes (each of which builds on an existing CN joke):

Chuck Norris cracks walnuts in his six pack … and obediently feeds them to James Franco.

Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice. James Franco whistled infinity three times, while mastering Russian literature.

Chuck Norris can speak braille. Braille speaks back to James Franco, and by the end of the movie realizes it was in love with him all along.

Chuck Norris can do a wheelie on a unicycle. So can James Franco, but he doesn’t, because he’s too modest to show off like that insecure asshole Chuck Norris.

Once a cobra bit Chuck Norris’ leg. After five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died, after being nursed through its ordeal by a compassionate James Franco.

Chuck Norris can slam revolving doors. But then James Franco opens them again because he finds them to be a fascinating Western manifestation of the East’s eternal mandala.

Death once had a near-Chuck-Norris experience. Death then went to James Franco to talk through the experience.

Chuck Norris can play the violin with the piano. James Franco can’t do that, but, unlike Chuck Norris, he can convincingly play any part he is given.

Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits. James Franco does not sleep. There’s too much to learn, too many ideas to ponder, too many feelings to feel, too many people to help…

Chuck Norris once visited the Virgin Islands. They are now The Islands. James Franco had long conversations with the Virgin Islands, really got to know them, and established a life-long friendship that has mutually enriched their lives.

Some kids piss their name in the snow. Chuck Norris can piss his name into concrete. James Franco can piss Chuck Norris’ name into piss.

Chuck Norris sued the kid who posted the original Chuck Norris jokes site. James Franco will undoubtedly take time out from the 64 credits he’s taking at Columbia to invite the inventor of James Franco Chuck Norris Jokes over for a beer.

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Young’uns over-rely on Google

Eszter Hargittai and her team have done research that shows that digital youngsters are not as savvy as we would like them to be, over-relying on Google’s rank ordering of results, etc.

It’s important to have actual data to look at — thanks, Eszter! — even though it confirms what we should all probably know by now: When it comes to information, we’re a lazy, sloppy species that vastly over-estimates its own wisdom.

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