Monday, 21 of April of 2014

Administrative subunits of North America, centered.

Wherein the author engages in more cartographic noodling based on vertically and horizontally centering regions.

While viewing Neil Freeman’s United Kingdom, Centered, I was curious of what a similar treatment of North American regions would yield.

North American political divisions centered.


Protected: Risks

Wherein the author takes care of some business in a temporary post.

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A Personal Map of the World

Wherein the author displays his own personal biases of the world, in map form.

Note: minor formatting changes, 6 September 2013.


A personal map of North America

Wherein the author displays his own personal biases of North America, in map form.


The Loudness Wars and Dynamic Range

Wherein the author pontificates a bit about the decrease in dynamic range of commercial music, but unlike a lot of people pontificating about the subject, he has data visualization and not waveform images.


The Loudness War - Dynamic Range Over Time (click image to enlarge)

The Loudness Wars is a struggle between the desire to capture a high fidelity audio source in a commercial recording, and the pushmostly by marketersto increase the overall volume in what is often regarded as a way to trick consumers into thinking a given pop album will sound better to most customers.

Increasing the volume of music often sounds like a much better idea than it is, as it comes with a cost.  Every distribution format has its own drawbacks and benefits, and when music is distributed at increased volume, the trade-off is that in order to accomplish this increase, the dynamic range has to be reduced.  Ultimately, people control their own volume knob, and you can’t reliably “trick” them into playing something louder.  In the Triassic period, when the dinosaurs were first getting their bearings and people still watched television according to network programmingand there were only three, possibly with NET/PBS comprising a debatable argument for the existence of a fourth network—television programs were interrupted on a regular schedule by video advertisements or “commercials” (unfortunately, YouTube has recently re-discovered this technology).  It was not uncommon for commercials to be programmed louder than the programs they interrupted, presumably because since this species of early mankind hadn’t developed TiVo or Netflix yet, there wasn’t a pause button; one had to save up menial tasks like bathroom breaks and snack preparation and swiftly accomplish these goals during commercial breaks.  Advertisers needed to cut through your distraction by shouting you down in your own home.  By the same logic, it was useful to try to get your song played louder on the radio (which was often tricky, since radio broadcasters generally weren’t enthused by such schemes), or to make their album more appealing for car play by having a louder presence.

The comparison NPR makes to graphics in a 2009 article is an interesting analogy, whereby the increase in volume and decrease in dynamic range is turned into a visual metaphor about pixel size.  Unfortunately, it misses the mark a bit in that it equates a decrease in dynamic range as an increase in pixel size, which can be confused with enlarging a photo; this is something you want to do from time to time.  I believe a better analogy would be to equate dynamic range, which affects the contrast of the loudest portions of a song to the average and quiet parts by effectively lowering the contrast and increasing the overall volume, to visual contrast.

For the purposes of this analogy, please consider “loudness” as equivalent to “brightness”.  Presume that you’re a “savvy” record label executive, recording engineer, or even an artist and you think this compressed dynamic range is the best thing since sliced bread, since it makes your pop music louder than anyone else’s pop music.  This impetus comes from all end of the record label food chain, of course, and even artists demand it if they’re not aware of the pitfalls.  Some of those who are aware of the costs still demand it.  More than anyone else, it used to be the job of the audio engineers to know better, but it’s a competitive world and eventually they’ll come around to your way of thinking if you threaten to start taking your business elsewhere.  You’ve got everyone on board:  louder is better!  Brighter is better!

Let’s pretend that this modest little photograph of a piano keyboard represents your artistic masterpiece.  The top row represents your art as performed.


I’m going to mix audio and image terminology fairly often here, since the latter is acting as a metaphor for the former.  You want your album louder since your marketing department tells you that sells more units, so by raising the brightness by 150 you get a “louder” sound.  These numbers come from Photoshop adjustment filter level settings.  The problem is, most of your customers aren’t going to listen to your album louder, they’re going to adjust the volume to whatever they like, which will result in a sound with less dynamic range played at any given volume.  This is represented by the “+150 -150″ square in the second column.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that the peak levels (the whitest whites) “top out”, making the brightest highlights on the image a bit flatter.  The “difference” column represents the altered image in the second column (or the audio as played) from the original photo (or the audio as recorded with a  decent dynamic range).  Depending on your monitor settings, it might be subtle, or it might be immediately noticeable.  This is relevant, too, since the same can be said for audio - some people will be listening to the album on an MP3 player at 128 kilobits per second on an iPhone with stock earbuds, and some people will be listening on a home stereo or PC with better output, and listening to your album at a higher bitrate or perhaps even using a lossless codec if they’re not using the physical media.

The catch, however, is that your competitors aren’t going to let you have the magic of artificial loudness to yourself, so this escalates the Loudness War.  If a little is good, a lot is better, so you convince your audio engineers that your product Needs More Loudness!  This brings you up to a brightness increase of 300.  When your customer plays it back at normal volume (second column), the output is flat, and it’s really lost a lot of character at the high end and the low end is suffering, too.  It’s certainly louder, however!  It’s also a lot different (third column), having been stripped of most of its subtlety in the process.  It’s not as bad as it sounds, however, since this is also the case for a lot of your competition’s most popular output, but now everyone’s on the same level.

You have a brilliant idea how to counter this, however.  You just turn the volume up to eleven, and what you’re left with is the loudest, brightest album yet at +450.  When your customers play the music, it is devoid of subtlety, everything is loud, and if they complain, that’s fine because they just don’t understand, man!  By now, the album has had almost all of the dynamic range removed from it; drums sound like metal garbage can covers, guitars sound like they’ve been put through a series of compressor pedals, the vocals are always shouting, and your album will out-blare anyone else.

At this point, you may think that at +450, this whole brightness contrast and audio dynamic range metaphor is broken and that I’m taking the argument to absurd levels.  In a way, I am.  But so are some of the record companies, audio engineers, and even artists.  Metallica released Death Magnetic in 2008, and there was a bit of discussion about how flat the album sounded.  These claims were largely ignored.  Without a source with more dynamic range to compare it to, it’s fairly difficult for most normal music fans to express what’s “missing” or what’s “different” about a given album, especially when all the obvious parts are there such as Lars’ fast drumming, Hetfields growly vocals, Hammett’s  guitar solos… oh wait.  And Jason Newsted’s bass was… oh come on, too soon for that joke, too? Snarkiness aside, the album was well-reviewed and considered by many fans either a return to form, or the continuation of a return to form first suggested by St. Anger.  My point isn’t to tell you to love this album; I gave up on Metallica shortly after 1991, along with most traditional and thrash metal.  What I’m more interested in getting across is that for people who considered themselves Metallica fans at the time Death Magnetic was released, this was a very well-received album. The fans generally embraced the album.  Then the album was released as downloadable content for Guitar Hero III:  Legends of Rock, and many fans had a more concrete explanation for what they were missing:  dynamic range.  An image on the Wikipedia page for the album shows the compressed waveform which has had its dynamic range reduced to the point where the waveform looks flat or “brickwalled”.

The colourful heat map chart above needs some additional explanation.  The highest percentage of albums from a given year as examined and reported on are represented for each year.  The data is a bit messy, but overall, there’s enough data to get a lot of interesting information out of it.  The first column is the sum of all albums.  The second column represents albums with unknown dates, and there are so few entries before 1970 that it makes the most sense to group the 1950s and 1960s as one decade column.  Given how little data there is until about 1984 and that most of it is represented by later CD-era reissues not correctly labeled by reissue date, take the older columns with a grain of salt.  In the last several years, there’s been a lot of poorly-reported information regarding media types and sales.  The story a lot of people have been reading over and over is how the CD is dead and how vinyl is on a comeback, but it’s important to take these reports in context.  Vinyl sales are up since 2007, and way up since 2011, showing no signs of waning by mid-2013.  These stories aren’t wrong, however they almost always fail to mention that when compared to CD sales, these sales figures are roughly equivalent to 2-3% of CD sales in an era where CDs are doing quite poorly compared to their sales peak period.  I say this to point out that the media type availability at the top of the graph are there to point out when various music distribution types have been mainstream and popular, not when they’ve been available. Similarly, although the MP3 was officially invented in 1993, AAC in 1997, and FLAC was released to the general public in 2001, digital distribution didn’t become mainstream and popular and relevant to sales figures until Apple created a brand and customer base that was important enough that record labels could no longer ignore the issue, or could no longer putter around with a web store while they payed catch-up.  So, the end date of any particular format on the chart is meant to reflect meaningful sales, not merely availability or poorly-researched news articles.

One would hope, naïvely perhaps, that a word like “remaster” means that an album has been remastered with the intent at providing a high degree of dynamic range, but this isn’t the case.  In other words, it’s not only new music which suffers, but reissues by people who should know better.  The DR values generate a number based on an algorithm only an audio engineer could love.  Higher numbers represent a higher degree of dynamic range.  A lot of misinformation is put forth in many forums about how CDs have awful dynamic range, how MP3s have awful dynamic range, or that vinyl has greater dynamic range.  This is wrong in as far as capability is concerned.  It’s possible to get a reasonably high amount of dynamic range on a cassette MP3, when ripped and encoded properly.  CDs and vinyl can both have fantastic dynamic range, but the loudness war has affected the CD more not because of technological limitations, but because of use cases:  people tend to buy less disposable pop music that they’re only casually interested in on vinyl, and people who enjoy playing music in their c ar are limited to CDs and digitally encoded files - usually only MP3s unless one has purchased a particularly feature-rich after-market car stereo.  In addition, there’s some self-selection bias in the data itself.  Compact cassettes, 8-track tapes, and vinyl are notoriously laborious to rip compared to a CD, which is very nearly fire-and-forget, and even that’s a lot more effort than downloading, in many cases.  These more difficult rips tend not to be random albums but the best of the best, the worst of the worst, and those albums where people can shop around for different versions of a popular release, and are curious enough to research the data on

Several people and organizations actively attempting to lobby record labels about the issue suggest an ideal goal of having a Dynamic Range (DR) number of 14.  The average of all the data present on (nearly 40,000 entries)  is 9.87, and the median is 10.  The medians are always within one point of the average, so unusual outliers don’t impact the data noticeably.  It would be helpful to contextualize some popular releases, but the best approach is to examine the data source for albums a given reader is personally familiar with.  Nevertheless, a few common points of reference are useful:

Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power (1997 remaster):  DR 1
Metallica - Death Magnetic (CD release, 2008):  DR 3
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication (1999):  DR 4
Pearl Jam - Ten (2009 remaster):  DR 6
Michael Jackson - Thriller (2008 CD): DR 8
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (qobuz “Studio Masters Edition” and Columbia CD):  DR 8
The Beatles - Stereo Box Set (2009):  DR 9 to DR 10
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless (1991):  DR 10
Pearl Jam - Ten (1991 CD):  DR 10
The Beatles - 1960s vinyl albums:  DR 10 to DR 13
Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power (1973 vinyl):  DR 11
My Bloody Valentine - m b v (2013):  DR 11
Beethoven / Karajan / Berliner Philharmoniker - The 9th Symphony (2007):  DR 12 to DR 13
Metallica - Death Magnetic (Guitar Hero III DLC):  DR 13
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (Columbia vinyl):  DR 13
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue (1959, various reissues):  DR 13 to DR 15
Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982 vinyl):  DR 15
Metallica - The $5.98 E.P. - Garage Days Re-revisited (1987 vinyl):  DR 15
Metallica - The $9.98 CD - Garage Days Re-revisited (1987 CD):  DR 16

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon: This album has been released countless times in various formats.  Generally, official releases range from DR 9 to DR 12, with the DR 12 being one of the more highly regarded Japanese vinyl pressings.

Noise:  Several noise groups are notorious for using a lot of highly-compressed noise, which sometimes results in very low DR ratings, such as Venetian Snares, Merzbow, Muslimgauze, Sunn O))), and Boris.  Interestingly, Muslimgauze also has a release at DR 19 and DR 20, which is not only astonishing compared to other entries in the database, but uncharacteristic for his rather large discography.

Classical music:  Classical music by esteemed symphonies and released on prestige record labels is often recorded quite well, and regularly scores from DR 12 to DR 15.

Several myths can be addressed with the Metallica entries alone:  The Garage Days Re-revisited CD is a wonderful example of the CD media performing quite well in terms of dynamic range even when compared to vinyl when the two sources use the same master.  There is nothing inherently wrong with CDs in this regard, nor many other regards.  Clearly, vinyl can perform well, too.  A more important point can be made with Death Magnetic, perhaps:  artists are not always the best judge of sound. This statement will seem absolutely obvious to some, and counter-intuitive to others.  Metallica has been playing loud music live throughout their entire career, and hearing damage comes with the lifestyle.  When Death Magnetic was reported to have a sound that lacked dynamic range, their reaction can be summed up quickly:  it sounds like it’s supposed to sound. When the Guitar Hero III:  Legends of Rock DLC of Death Magnetic was released, Metallica initially underplayed it, then finally decided it didn’t sound all that bad anyway and besides, that’s what we pay Rick Rubin for, so we’re backing him up on this.  The point isn’t that Metallica is dumb, or that metal bands play a type of music that doesn’t need dynamic range; the point is that artists and even name-brand audio engineers who ought to know better than compressing the hell out of an album often have no idea what they’re talking about.  More charitably, they often don’t know everything they’re talking about, even when they damn well should.

Clearly, reissues and remasters aren’t always better, but they can be.  Given that record companies are in the twin bind of both wanting us to pay for our favourite albums for a fift (or more) time while at the same time dealing with the fact that their business model is failing fast, they owe it to their customers to make remasters sound better than the original, or at the very least, not sound worse:  flat, dull, and lifeless.  It’s pretty bad time to be subtracting value in the music industry.  Consumers had to treat the advantages of widescreen video as an education issue, and the Loudness Wars is no different.  In the case of poor-sounding remasters in particular, when you spend your money on them, let the seller know if you’re not happy and why; don’t assume they’re familiar with the issue or that other customers will have already expressed their dissatisfaction.

More Data

I’d enjoy being able to do more with the data, but as it is, it’s not organized to make any definitive statements about media type, genre, or record label.  Most additional analysis is based on taking the information users volunteer and put into the “album” field of the Dynamic Range database, and there’s often not much media specific data, but what there is can be isolated:

Average DR:

All entries (39,369):  ADR 9.87
CD (2,980):  ADR 9.80
Vinyl (2,290):   ADR 11.89
SACD (288):  ADR 11.77
DVD (249):  ADR  10.40
Cassette (26):  ADR 9.38  (if this seems high, consider the fact that most people who still rip cassettes are doing so with better equipment than most people had in the era when they were still popular)

Original (389):  ADR:  10.77
Master (840):  ADR 9.55 (attempt to generalize remasters, as original masters are less likely to be specifically referred to as a master)
(i) (25,908):  ADR 10.00 (this represents those entries with more robust information - users took more time with these, generally)

lossless (34,372):  ADR 10.00
lossy (4,997):  ADR 9.01 (I can’t put too much stock in this.  Users who keep ripping logs are often doing so in conjunction with using Exact Audio Copy for lossless rips, and less prone to be posting old, poorly encoded lossy files.  In my own tests, I’ve sometimes found MP3s to vary from lossless by ± 1.)


Religion and Faith Viewed Through Google Instant

Wherein the author examines various faiths with the very limited tool of Google Instant.

googleGoogle Instant is that Google feature which suggests results as you type.  For example, should you type “google is” and wait a fraction of a second, you’ll probably see something very much like the image at the right.  ”Google is god” led me to wonder what else religions might be.  I’m not suggesting this is in any way original, but I did want to see the results for other religious concerns.  For religions and religious entities, I went with “{x} is”, and for members of religions, I went with “{x} are”, and only included the top four results if they only said {x} are {y}, or asked if {x} are {y}, since presumably asking if something is true suggests someone else is asserting it is.  I looked at a wide variety of faiths as well as some philosophies only some other people consider faiths, trying to be somewhat neutral.

The bad news is that you are probably “wrong”, “evil”, or “stupid”.  The good news is that so is everyone else.  This is crowdsourced wisdom, and as such, very unreliable, often very offensive, uninformed, mean, and unfair.  If the idea of someone insulting a belief system you hold is distressing, please, read no further because almost nobody comes out of this unscathed.  This is opinion, but it is not necessarily my opinion.  In some cases, it is fact, however:  clearly Shiites and Sunnis and Sufis are all Muslims, despite each group being portrayed in Google Instant results as if it may not be.  I take a neutral approach as an outsider, not an insider approach which must consider doctrinal matters.  Some groups or entities may not make sense in context; while I may presume that “Eve is real” refers to the Biblical Eve, I can safely assume that “Eve is pregnant” refers to the pop star in almost every case.

The breakdown:

Doctrinal Correctness

Not surprisingly, most entries for various Muslim groups concern themselves with whether such a group is really Muslim, Christian groups with whether such a group is really Christian or sufficiently Catholic or Protestant, whether a group is “real”, or whether a group is “wrong”.

Things which are or are not “bullshit”, “fake”, “a lie”, “real”, “religion”, “right”, or “wrong”:  Adventists, Calvinists, Catholics, Charismatics, Christian Scientists, Christians, creationists, Eckankar (×2), Eve, Jedi, Jehova’s Witnesses, liberal Christians, Messianic Jews, New Age, occult (×2), Orthodox Christians (×2), Pastafarians  (×4), Roman Catholics, Santaria (×2), Seventh-Day Adventists, skeptics, Subgenius (×2), Sunni (×2), the virgin Mary, Voodoo (×2).

Things which are or are not “atheist”:  Agnostics (×2), Buddhists, Confucianists, Deists, Jains, Raelians, Satanists.

Things which are or are not “Jews”:  Druze, Jesuits, Messianic Jews, Zionists.

Things which are or are not “Orthodox Jews”:  Hasidic Jews.

Things which are or are not “Christian”, “going to hell”, “heretics”, “in hell”, or “saved”:  Adventists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Calvinists, Catholics (×2), Congregationalists, Episcopalians (×2), evangelicals, Gnostics, liberal Christians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Messianic Jews (×2), Methodists, Mohammed, Mormons, Orthodox Christians (×2), Pope John Paul II (×2), Protestants (×2), Quakers, Rastafarians, Roman Catholics, Unitarians.

Things which are or are not “Satanic”:  Allah, Gnostics, Jehova, Masons (×2), Mormons, New Age, Yahweh (×2), Zionists.

Things which are or are not “Catholic”:  Anglicans, Episcopalians, Jesuits, Lutherans.

Things which are or are not “Protestant”:  Anabaptists, Anglicans (×2), Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists.

Things which are or are not “Baptist”:  Anabaptists.

Things which are or are not “Calvinists”:  Congregationalists.

Things which are or are not “Quakers”:  Shakers.

Things which are or are not “Muslim”:  Druze (×2), The Nation of Islam (×3), Shiites (×2), Sikhs, Sufis (×2), Zoroastrians.

Things which are or are not “Sunni” or “Shia”:  Sufis (×2).

Things which are or are not “People of the Book”:  Zoroastrians.

Things which are or not “Hindus”:  Jains (×2), Sikhs.

Things which are or are not “Mormon”:  Seventh-Day Adventists.

Casting aspersions

Anyone who’s read Reddit or any forum that has ever existed knows that most attacks against anyone who believes differently tend to be ad hominem character attacks.

Those whom are “evil” or “bad”:  Amish (×2), conservative Christians, Falun Gong (×2), Freemasons, Gnostics, Jedi, Jesuits, Jews, Masons, Mennonites, Mother Teresa, New Age, occult, Pagans, Pope Benedict (×2), Santaria, Satanists, Scientologists, Secular Humanists, Sikh, Voodoo, Yahweh, YHWH, Wiccans, zionists.

Those who are “dumb”, “idiots”, “ignorant”, “retarded”, or “stupid”:  Adam, agnostics, atheists (×2), Christian Scientists, conservative Christians, creationists (×3), evangelicals, Hutterites, Jedi, liberal Christians, neo pagans, pagans, Pastafarians, Protestants, Rastafarians, Satanists, Scientologists, skeptics, theists (×2), Wiccans.

Those whom are “crazy”, “delusional”, or “insane”:  Adventists, Baptists, Charismatics, conservative Christians, evangelicals, Jehova’s Witnesses, Moonies, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Raelians, Scientologists (×2),  theists, Wiccans.

Those whose beliefs constitute a “cult”, or “secret society”:  Adventists, Christian Scientists, Eckankar (×2), Falun Gong, Lutherans, Moonies, Opus Dei (×2), Quakers, Seventh-Day Adventists, Unitarians.

Those whom are “annoying”:  Catholics, Christians, evangelicals, Jehova’s Witnesses, skeptics, Yogis.

Those who are “weird”:  Methodists, Mormons, Orthodox Christians, Orthodox Jews, Unitarians.

Those who are “racist”:  Amish, Nation of Islam, Orthodox Jews, Rastafarians.

Those who are “weak” or “cowards”:  Hindus (×2), Shinto (×2).

Those whom are “arrogant” or “jerks”:  Calvinists (×2), skeptics.

Those who are “Nazis”:  Pope Benedict XVI, zionists.

Those whom are “dangerous”:  Charismatics (×2).

Those whom are “cheap”:  Mennonites.

Those who are “dirty”:  Orthodox Jews.

Those who constitute “the enemy”:   Muslims.

Those who are “hateful”:  Christians.

Those who are “hypocrites”:  atheists.

Those who are “inbred”:  Hutterites.

Those who are “losers”:  Satanists.

Those who are “rude”:  Orthodox Jews.

Those who are “ruining America”:  conservative Christians.

Those who are “thieves”:  Hutterites.

Those who are the “Trekkies of Religion” (?):  secular Jews.

Those who are “ultra-orthodox extremists”:  Haredi Jews.

Those who are “worse than Jews”:  Shiites.

Compliments:  genuine and back-handed.

No belief systems get off easy, clearly they’ve all got a lot of PR work ahead of them.  But some of them are, in the context of Google Instant, afforded a compliment - or something remotely like one.

Those who are “peaceful” or “pacifists”:  Hindus, Quakers, Shinto.

Those who are “good” or maybe even “awesome”:  Falun Gong, Freemasons, Quakers.

Those who are “not evil”, which in this gallery of recrimination, is practically a glowing recommendation:  Freemasons, occult, pagans.

Those who are “Baptists who can read”:  Methodists.

Those who are “guardians of peace in the galaxy”:  Jedi, of course.

Those who are “happy”:  Buddhists.

Those who are “hot”:  Mormons.

Those who are “far from wishy-washy”:  Unitarians.

Those who are “not terrorists”:  Muslims.

Those who are “the reason for the season”:  Jesus, pagans.

Those who are “rich”, which may or may not be a compliment:  Episcopalians, Jains.

Those who are “smart”:  agnostics, atheists.  But remember, both are also “stupid”.

Parting thoughts

I must reiterate and perhaps even bend over backwards to point out that this is not a reflection of my opinions on the matter, or even statistically relevant outside of the frequency of search engine search terms used within Google.  The same stunt pulled with Bing, with Google with more than four top results, or even in another language would create a different scenario.  As such, it is more of a snapshot not merely of public opinion but English-speaking public opinion as mediated to the mostly uninformed:  presumably someone who was well-informed about the history of Protestantism wouldn’t have to ask a search engine whether or not Methodists are Protestants.  Whether they are “right” or “wrong”, however, is more of a doctrinal matter, and a matter of opinion.

Finally, a semi-sequitur:



In Search Of…: Science, Pseudoscience, Nostalgia, and Sound.

Wherein the author waxes nostalgic about In Search Of..., despite and not because of its pseudoscience.

After decades of neglect, the profoundly influential series In Search Of… is available on DVD.  Previously, the only access to this old series were single episodes copied from VHS on YouTube, incomplete (and almost never seeded) copies on public torrent trackers also sourced from VHS or from the 1990-2000 reruns on A&E or The History Channel.  The later reruns included different theme music, and re-edited footage to reduce the amount of camera time Leonard Nimoy received as well as to shorten the episodes, so this is the first time since the series has been available commercially in its original form.

Is this a good thing?  It is, after all, only proper to note that I’m not a fan of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.  I do think there is value in In Search Of…, ultimately.

In Search Of… represented the zeitgeist of pseudoscience of the late 1970s, and I have fond memories of seeing a few pseudoscientific documentaries about UFOs and aliens and the Bermuda Triangle in actual theaters.  As popular as pseudoscience is today and the degree to which pseudoscience, conspiracy theory, and “Grown Men Having Emotional Breakdowns While Doing Their Jobs” shows are popular now on supposedly educational television networks, this is nothing particularly new.  Even more intellectually grounded series such as NOVA (US) and Horizons (UK) flirted with pseudoscience from time to time, though on the whole, they remained largely scientific.  The history of pseudoscience can be said to start with the history of science itself, as chemistry and alchemy go their separate ways, along with astrology and astronomy.  The history of In Search Of… is intriguing in itself.  It was slated to star Rod Serling (the host of The Twilight Zone); Serling’s death required a search for a new host.  It was heavily indebted to a series of films narrated by Rod Serling about UFOs, aliens, and monsters which themselves were inspired by the obscenely flagrant pseudoscience of Erich von Däniken’s highly successful books about “ancient astronauts” which began with Chariots of the Gods?.

Nevertheless, while In Search Of… is not responsible for the existence of pseudoscience, it was incredibly influential in the popularization of it in the 1970’s.  With a genuine Star Trek cast member as its public face In Search Of… occupied a place in pop culture in the late 70’s to early 80’s which one can see echoes of in modern pseudoscience and conspiracy theory television shows and websites.  The first episode is effectively a recapitulation of the 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants, which was in 1979 made into what I can confidently say is the weirdest pseudoscience “documentary” I have ever seen, which features an interpretive dance and a Stevie Wonder music video.

Anyone who grew up in that era and was interested in modern and ancient mysteries was sure to be a fan, and as a child I was almost exclusively reading non-fiction, including non-fiction which I could later understand turned out to have little actual “non-fiction” in it.  As I said in the earlier article:

Even so, my fondness for the series has almost everything to do with it being a fixture of my childhood rather than an appreciation for its investigative merit. I remember as a child it often aired just as twilight came, when the rays of the setting sun were coming in nearly horizontally, lending an eerie atmosphere to the house. At that age, watching Spock wax mysterious about Stonehenge sure did beat watching the Monkees.

The value of In Search Of… finally being available in its original form has almost nothing to do with its pseudoscientific nonsense, but it is an interesting pop culture artifact.  In some cases, it’s interesting—in an anthropological sense—to see how certain pseudoscience topics have expanded since then, and how many have remained rigidly fossilized, and how new pseudoscience and conspiracy theory builds on the old.  I would argue that the series could serve as a touchstone for a discussion on media literacy, particularly for children in their early teens.  In Search Of… may have a disclaimer at the beginning of the intro, but after that, it pulls very few punches in the name of actual evidence for anything it presents.  As a modern viewer, I can barely resist the urge to litter the screen with the Wikipedia note “[citation needed]” as I watch the episodes.

The issue of sound is important.  In Search Of… and film shorts by The National Film Board of Canada have an evocative sound I’ve never been able to forget.  I’m not alone in this, as clearly evidenced by the existence of the Scottish musical duo Boards of Canada, their success in creating amazing music which has consistently been labeled “nostalgic”, and their large fan base.  The duo Rinder & Lewis created the music for the show.  While they were highly regarded disco artists, the music in In Search Of… only shares some of the eerie synth sounds of their wider repertoire and not the rhythms or pop sensibilities.  The recorded output of Boards of Canada is a better match for the music which actually appears in In Search Of… than anything else created by Rinder & Lewis.

Typographically, it is an amazing expression of the era, complete with titles, credits, and logos in Helvetica, Harry, Avant Garde and something inspired by but not quite exactly Bauhaus.  In an earlier post, I even play around with substituting Harry for Avant Garde as a thought experiment about altering a 1970’s design icon, the Atari VCS (2600) console’s box.

As science or investigation, an In Search Of… DVD release is of  no real value.  As a pop culture time capsule, it is astonishing and a joy to watch.


Re-contextualizing Type - Alternate Histories

Wherein the author uses iconic images with modified type to take them out of their own time and place.

Typography is not just a function of design, but of time and context.  If an image with typography exists, the type can help one determine the age, country of origin, or the social, political and historical context of the image.  On the other hand, if one is examining typography for authenticity, it is often possible to determine that an image or document is a fake if the typography is wrong:  if an image of a 1938 advertisement uses text which is  exactly set in Robert Smith’s Brush Script, it’s a forgery, as the typeface wasn’t created until 1942.

Typography is often a vehicle for national and political zeal.  The Nazis embraced blackletter Fraktur until 1941, where it was determined that it was a “Jewish typeface”, and instead of requiring its use “Antiqua” or traditional Roman letterforms were mandated for new work.  In reality, it is not likely that Fraktur was actually considered “Jewish” by the Nazis, but was merely provided as a better-sounding reason (for the intended audience) than the actual reason.  It is far more likely that German publishers were running low on Fraktur type, and it was not worth diverting metal from the war effort to forge new type when perfectly usable Roman type was plentiful, and that it was a practical position given that the inhabitants of Nazi-occupied countries often found Fraktur difficult to read.

A Didot-style typeface is typical of 19th century French and Italian work, whereas the related Baskerville typeface was more typical of English output of the same period.  We take it for granted that “fonts” are “just there” in the age of digital desktop publishing, and plenty of books and a plethora of blog posts have been written about the enthusiasm novices exhibit for inappropriate type, or the overuse of many styles of type in a single document.  In his book “Just My Type”, Simon Garfield describes certain fonts such as Souvenir as “novice magnets” which have bold style that attracts the untrained eye.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at iconic images and documents deliberately rendered in the wrong type.  This is related to Comic Sans Project, but with a different goal:  I’m interested in the contextual and cultural loading of specific typefaces, and not trying to bury Comic Sans in irony (that’s too easy and it’s already been done well - if you care about design, you don’t need anyone else harping at you about Comic Sans, and if you like Comic Sans, no design crank is ever going to talk you out of it).  Some typefaces I’ve used are those which are most commonly used inappropriately, such as Algerian and Souvenir.  Others are typefaces which can be misused, but are often appreciated by many designers when used well, such as Gotham and Galliard.  I’ve generally steered clear of  typefaces which are unusual or of limited utility.

Many of the images use a typeface or technique considerably out of their time.  The Gutenberg Bible is presented as it were created in a typeface and technology from over 500 years later which suggests a science fiction time travel story.  Others are out of place, such as a French fashion magazine rendered in Fraktur, which one could read as an alternate history in which the main difference between that timeline and our own was the fate of Europe after World War II.

I hope you will enjoy some of these.  Click any image for a full-size version.

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“Comcast, AT&T and Me: A Love Story” or “Two Providers, Two Neighbors and Two Weeks Without Service” or “How Not to Treat Your Customers”.

Wherein the author expresses his undying love for internet service providers and competent customer management.

I live in an apartment complex moderately close to civilization in Southeast Michigan.  Like many such apartments built a long time ago, the wiring is awful.  Fortunately, it’s not my problem.  Unfortunately, it became my problem.

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SOPA, the Open Act, and Copyright: A Five Year Plan

Wherein the author presents an alternative to battling the public commons with laws like SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and the OPEN ACT.

Copyright is profoundly broken. Before making the moral case for “piracy”, it’s important to consider where we are now in terms of legislation and public response.

SOPA is probably dead, why does this still matter?

Congress, apparently, was surprised when the American public reacted so poorly and so loudly to SOPA in January 2012. Normally, when Congress is paid by lobbyists to write laws friendly to the intellectual property (IP) cartel, these laws pass without much public comment or interest, so when 7 million people signed the most prominent of many anti-SOPA web petitions, it was clear that if the IP lobby got its way, Americans might actually have the audacity to vote for Congressmen and Senators who actually opposed it.

This means the internet is safe, and everything is back to normal, right?

Not by a long shot. Many of the anti-SOPA press releases, videos, blogs, and testimony focuses on the fact that while everyone agrees that piracy must be combated, SOPA did much more than this by making having accurate search engines that might point to infringing content a crime, and making linking to infringing content a crime. Most of these anti-SOPA crusaders—and probably all of the commercial crusaders like Google, Reddit and Facebook—were not fighting to preserve a right to pirate, they were fighting to preserve a right to link or index without fear that someone, some day, might use their platform to link to infringing content that the owner of the website didn’t filter out. This is a good and reasonable stance to take for those involved, and it seems that as a result of this very public fight, SOPA is doomed to wander Congress until it finds the exit and is unceremoniously pushed out.

There is a big problem here, though, and it’s that everyone does not agree that piracy must be combated. For those who wish to make a practical or moral argument in defense of piracy, they’ve got a large problem on their hands: SOPA/PIPA aren’t the last act in this play. The OPEN Act is being offered as a substitute for the failures and overreaching of SOPA. Where SOPA was censorious and overbearing, and involved a lot of things other than internet piracy such as physical merchandise and prescription drug counterfeiting, the OPEN Act attempts to restrict itself to a smaller set of activities that are aimed at fighting piracy and those who engage in it.

When SOPA became big news at the end of 2011, several enthusiastic corporate supporters testified before Congress, and wrote in favour of SOPA on their blogs and press releases, and spoke in favour of it in interviews. Some such as NVIDIA and GoDaddy were publicly shamed for doing so, and forced to “retract” their support for SOPA. With the OPEN Act, the battle for passage is going to be different. Many companies who are wary of the public backlash of GoDaddy and other SOPA supporters are going to do exactly what they did in the SOPA battle when the OPEN Act gains steam: support it, keep their CEOs from cheering it on in their company blogs, and continue to financially support the political campaigns of those politicians who are friendly to the OPEN Act. There’s going to be less or at least different public companies talking about the OPEN Act, and they’re going probably not going to be sending out self-pitying protests like the MPAA’s CEO and former Senator Chris Dodd in response to the SOPA blackouts.

Worst of all, rather than Google and Facebook and a small army of graphic designers and video directors working on behalf of the side of the fight that piracy is on, they’re going to be working against these interests in the OPEN Act, unless a particularly rash Congressman successfully adds a particularly problematic modification. They’ve got a better name, too, and will be fighting to “keep the web open”. This raises the question, however, of who was trying to close it in the first place: the same Congress trying to “keep it open” with the OPEN Act. It’s a much more politically useful acronym than a lot of the mishmash Congress comes up with.

What is the OPEN Act?

The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN Act) is a proposed alternative to the SOPA and PROTECT-IP acts. It is very much a work in progress, and a response to the more restrictive and punitive powers granted by SOPA and PROTECT-IP.

While certainly less authoritarian than SOPA and PROTECT-IP, it is still concerned with backing up the intellectual property regime with a set of tools to allow copyrights to be upheld internationally according to US laws, including dictating to financial transactions facilitators (like PayPal and Flattr) who it may and may not do business with, punishing advertisers, punishing any stakeholder for not fully cooperating with kangaroo court investigations, and then sending them the bill for the investigation. Rather than block access to websites, OPEN Act seeks to eliminate them by tying them up in protracted legal fights that they cannot afford to defend themselves properly from. This is justice only for those with the cash reserves to afford it. To top it off, any action the International Trade Commission takes can be vetoed by the US president.

Can you afford to be on the “wrong” side of the OPEN Act?

No. The IP cartel can afford to “donate to the election campaign” (bribe) US Senators and Congressmen, and you can not. They have the massed political clout of Hollywood, Wall Street and Main Street paying them to write the best legislation money can buy, and you do not. Most of the web’s opposition to SOPA is going to rally to the side of the OPEN Act, seeing it as better legislation and just as importantly, seeing it as legislation that will put the Congressional legislative itch to fight piracy at ease without affecting their users to the degree SOPA would.

The OPEN Act is bad legislation, and it represents a bad precedent. We cannot afford to have another DMCA-like bill pass. These bills exist to defend the intellectual property cartel against its own failing business models. The music establishment fought the introduction of consumer Digital Audio Tape and won, they fought the introduction of the hardware MP3 player and lost. But when the RIAA loses, it can still win: Diamond Multimedia won the lawsuit at a crippling price, and it cost the company its market share, tying down its cash reserves to its legal defense rather than developing its product lines.

We filed this lawsuit because unchecked piracy on the Internet threatens the development of a legitimate marketplace that consumers want. - RIAA statement, 1999

History has shown, however, in both the case of legal music downloading, streaming, and in the case of piracy, that the Internet is the marketplace that the consumers want. The RIAA isn’t merely at war with pirates or its customers, it’s a victim of its own business model which views the world of 2011 in terms of 1997.

What is piracy? Is it just stealing? Is it worth defending?

In order to understand the culture of piracy, it is crucial to understand that there are many reasons why piracy occurs, why people feel it is justified, and why people call certain activities “piracy”. No one answer captures the reasons piracy occurs, and this is often lost in IP-friendly media discussions of the sort that take place on news shows. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and certain high profile artists working for them have nearly monopolized public expression of the debate in popular media. I therefore don’t need to re-iterate their arguments against piracy. Instead, I will describe a series of arguments for piracy as promoted by people who actually engage in it.

Greed And Thrift

People want something for free. In this economy, even people who are willing to buy music often feel they don’t have the disposable income to do so, or they want more music than they can reasonably afford. For many people who pirate for this reason, it becomes difficult to get back into the habit of paying for content after becoming used to getting it for free. At least one study has shown that there is significant overlap between the people who buy much more music than average and the people who pirate more music than average. Collectors collect, after all.

Lack of Availability And Historic Preservation

Some music isn’t available commercially. Albums go out of print, and can be difficult or impossible to find because record labels go out of business, or because the band considers them embarrassing compared to their later output; Tori Amos, Pantera, and Björk all have early albums that they feel aren’t relevant to their later careers and successes (and in those three cases, they’re certainly right). In many areas of the country, music store options have become very limited in the last ten years, which can make getting obscure and small-label releases nearly impossible in these markets. Many albums are only distributed in specific countries. Some are so rare they’re bought as collector items rather than as music. A $200 vinyl record is too valuable to play. A lot of music was never distributed for profit in the first place, including white label releases, demos and bootlegs.

Music that is out of print—historically, this is most recorded music ever available commercially—isn’t available unless it is pirated and will only survive if the people to whom it means the most preserve it themselves. There is often no corporate interest in preserving the catalog of some legacy artists whose popularity or impact has never been notable. Currently, many businesses in the music industry have no commercial interest in preserving their own archives beyond that which they believe can be sold profitably.

Resentment Of Middlemen

The commercial interest of record labels often runs counter to the interests of music lovers, particularly those fans who are most invested in the music they listen to. Artists traditionally receive an absurdly tiny fraction of album sales. Many “pirates” are aware that the difference paid to the artist between buying an album and downloading an album illegally is often about $0.15 - $0.75 per album, and are therefore morally opposed to the system for this reason. Many pirates will still buy music directly from the artist, online or at shows, because the artist gets a much larger percentage of the profit. Large record labels don’t serve a valuable function anymore - less people than ever need a record label picking and choosing which artists are valid or interesting, and don’t believe that the label does enough work for the artists to justify 98-99% of the revenue of a record’s sale.

Some established artists such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have even come out against the current royalty system in a way that up-and-coming artists often can’t afford to risk. The system is unfriendly toward artists, and many pirates and artists choose to subvert it specifically for this reason, agreeing that the artist creating the recording has a lot more to do with its artistic value than those people at the record label who are involved with the album strictly as product. This isn’t to suggest that people employed by record labels should be working for free, but they’re also not creating 98% of the recording’s value.

Folk Law

People sometimes believe that copyright violation isn’t illegal because no money is being transferred. In the history of online computing, copyright violation has always been accompanied by a healthy dose of “folk law”, which describes justifications that appear to be more legally sound than they are to people who are not familiar with the law. While many of the other justifications for piracy detailed here describe philosophical, moral, or legal perspectives, the “folk law” defenses are quite simply factually incorrect.

One folk law defense is as old as organized computer piracy itself, the idea usually expressed as “you may use this content for 24 hours, after that, you are legally required to delete the content or purchase it”. Copyright law, as one might expect, does not include a provision in which piracy is defined by the duration for which it occurs.

“You may only download this content if you own it” is often used to excuse people from downloading music, video or entertainment content they’ve already purchased. Under US law, there is no grant of license for you to download, much less provide content to others, on the basis that you already paid for it in some instance. When one purchases an album, one does not own the music, they own a right to play it for their own non-commercial pleasure. The fact that you have an album in your home and have downloaded it because it is easier to do than to find and play the CD or encode it to a different format is not a legal justification. One has a right to create a backup of one’s own media, but not to download someone else’s backup of that person’s media, even if you own it as well. Even if this right did exist, it would not apply to different versions of an album, and many albums go through many releases, often in editions which are almost completely identical to one another, differing in minor details.

“The BitTorrent files on this server are meant for the distribution of backups which are not hosted on this server.” This defense has actually held up in a couple of cases, but usually because the judge or jury didn’t understand the technology; existing law makes it fairly clear that you are not permitted to knowingly facilitate the piracy of others. This very tenuous loophole is being closed through precedent of existing law as well as specific provisions of the OPEN Act. One is not given a pass for downloading someone else’s backup, as described in the previous paragraph.

“If you are a member of a law enforcement agency or an employee of a business affiliated with the RIAA, you may not use this service and MUST disconnect immediately.” Legal precedent does not allow for the enforcement of illegal contracts, and a contract that specifically prohibits the enforcement of applicable laws is not valid.

Most of these formations of folk law were first formulated decades ago by people—usually teenage operators of stand-alone computer bulletin board systems (BBSes) used for software piracy—as a sort of disclaimer to eliminate the provider’s legal liability. It should be noted that it is completely ineffective in doing so.

Opposition to Intellectual Property Law

Many pirates willing to make a moral defense of copyright infringement take issue with the length and degree of protection that current copyright law offers. To them, piracy is not the problem, but a work-around to the problem of a legal framework which they oppose.

Piracy Is Not the Problem, Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Laws Are the Problem

Many intellectual property mechanisms, including copyrights, were originally meant to facilitate the creation of new content to enter the public domain, but are now used to prevent new content from ever getting to the public domain. Copyright law in the US was originally proposed to last 7 years, written into law as 14, and eventually doubled to 28 years. Through a series of extensions, the copyright protection of recorded music published for consumers lasts until 70 years after the death of the author, or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation. The net effect is that something recorded and first sold for the public this year will only enter the public domain in 2082, if the creator is dead, or dies in 2012. If Miley Cyrus is fortunate enough to live until she’s 90, her 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed will enter the public domain in 2152.

The original function of the copyright law was not to protect “intellectual property holders”, it was to provide a monopoly incentive to distribute new works for a limited period of time, after which they would be public domain in order to promote the arts and sciences. The goal of new content entering the public domain after allowing a short period of monopoly distribution is to encourage new works will be made, and that the public has access to them in a reasonable period of time. Now, the only way content enters the public domain is either by accident or neglect. Assuming the law is not extended further - and this is a ridiculous assumption - Can’t Be Tamed will be released into the public domain in 2152. While one could certainly argue that the album is not culturally relevant today, the idea of it being culturally relevant in 140 years defies belief.

The net result of nothing new entering the public domain, and what little that does enter it does so long after it’s culturally relevant is this: the culture we participate in as citizens is a culture we’re prevented from participating in unless we pay a “toll” at every opportunity. By allowing the monopoly distribution rights to be extended indefinitely, what we’ve done is prevent people from participating in their own culture. The sampling movement and the legal actions against it is a good demonstration, as is the ability of the RIAA to make Internet distribution fees for music so expensive that it forces people out of the game, even if they’re only interested in being a non-profit organization. Is sampling an art form? Is copying an entire song and singing or rapping over it worthy of protecting? That’s the wrong question. Here’s the right one: is it part of our culture, and should we pay a penalty for participating in it?

Consider these albums that would have never been made in their existing forms had sampling other works been prevented:

Grandmaster Flash - The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (1981)
Negativland - Escape from Noise (1987)
Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
Skinny Puppy - Last Rights (1992)
Portishead - Dummy (1994)
The Beastie Boys - Ill Communication (1994)
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing (1996)
2 Many DJ’s - As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 (2001)
Danger Mouse - The Grey Album (2004)
Kanye West - Graduation (2007)
Girl Talk - Feed The Animals (2008)

Should we be willing to throw all this music under the bus just because it shares a technique in common with the lazy sort of sampling used by Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer? Should a video of a teenager singing a pop song in her bedroom be subject to the concentrated attention of the intellectual property rights cartel?

The attack of non-commercial use isn’t incidental. Having originally been given 14 (then 28, then more) years to profit from copyright monopoly protection, current intellectual property owners are now legally entitled to profit from work which none of the creators are alive to enjoy the fruits of. Most records do not enjoy a shelf life of 38 years and counting, such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Most albums make the bulk of their original sales in the first five years of their release. For the intellectual property owners, this simply isn’t enough, and often results in countless releases and re-releases of those albums that do stand the test of time, and the abandonment of those which don’t. Much like George Lucas and Star Wars, subsequent re-releases are often nothing more than a cash grab, subject to whatever whims of popular music mastering are in play at the time, including “brickwalling” the audio so that the only volume in a given track is “loud”.

This is a deliberate privation of the public commons, and it’s not limited to the distribution of albums: even our freedoms of speech are at risk. These companies that enjoy unprecedented copyright protection for the products of our culture try to shut down those few exceptions to the copyright rules by fighting against parody, satire, commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library use, and scholarship. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and successor bills, the penalties for some copyright protection are so severe that even a simple take-down notice is sufficient to remove most content from the Internet. Even if the material does not infringe on copyright due to Fair Use or other considerations, it is usually enough to scare the accused into compliance with the issuer’s wishes. This has been used to silence satire and parody, sampling, and critical review. It has been used to silence protest.

Copyright: The Five Year Plan

The founders of the United States of America felt that fourteen years was good enough when cultural trends changed slowly, and culture traveled at the speed of horseback. It would follow that five years is much more than sufficient copyright protection when cultural trends change with the season and when culture travels at the speed of light. But five years isn’t good enough for the intellectual property cartel: it wants exclusive rights forever and it’s getting them in the form of never-expiring extensions. A system of intellectual property laws that errs too far in favour of the original copyright holder at the expense of the original goal of getting content into the public domain is not a system worth preserving; the monetary, political, and social costs are simply too great.

Support a five year, non-renewable copyright law, and the elimination of “idea” patents, both of which slow innovation and serve to separate us from the culture we’re entitled to participate in. This would be a five year non-renewable copyright from the first date of publication. “Publication” refers to the public distribution, performance, or sale of a work. This five years of copyright is a protected monopoly on publication, similar to existing copyright law. After this non-renewable five year copyright protection has expired, the work can be used for any purpose, commercial or private, by any person. The only caveat is that reasonable efforts must be made to credit the original sources of content where such content comprises a significant portion of a derivative product, similar in spirit to the Creative Commons Attribution license requirement.

Modeled after the Copyright Act of 1790, but written in modern and relatively clear language devoid of some of the legal jargon, a new five year act would read something like this:

Universal Millennium Copyright Act (UMCA)

An Act for the encouragement of learning and the free flow of culture, by securing the expression of creative work to the authors and proprietors of such expressions for a specified period of time.

Section 1: Upon the passage of this act, the authors of any expression of work of writing, musical score, musical performance, dramatic performance, pictoral work, graphic work, sculptural work, audiovisual work, sound recordings, architectural work, and compilations or derivatives of these, published within the United States, being a citizen or citizens thereof, or resident within the same, his or their executors, administrators or assigns, who halt or have not transferred to any other person the copyright of such works, share or shares thereof; and any other person or persons, being a citizen or citizens of the United States, or residents of, his or their executors, administrators or assigns, who have purchased or legally acquired the copyright of any works, in order to publish via public distribution, public performance or sale of such works shall have the sole right and liberty of publishing such works, for the term of five years from the date of initial sale or public performance or public distribution, including works performed, distributed, or sold before the passage of this act. At the expiration of the said term, said term may not be renewed for the original instance of the work in question.

Section 2: If any other person or persons, from and after the first initial sale, public distribution or public performance of any work protected in Section 1, within the five year term of protection granted by this act, shall cause to be sold, publicly distributed or publicly performed any copy or copies of such works, without the legal consent of the author or proprietor thereof then such offender or offenders shall forfeit and destroy all and every copy of said work. Every such offender and offenders shall also forfeit and pay the existing reasonable sale value of the original work or the value of the unlawful sale, whichever is greater, for every instance of the work which has been sold, publicly distributed, or publicly performed to the author or proprietor or agent of said work contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, plus additional reasonable punitive damages. Provided always that hat such action be commenced within one year after the end of the protections thus granted, and not afterwards.

Section 3: Protections and copyrights granted by states and foreign nations shall be considered legally binding only to the extent where they do not violate the federal United States laws of copyright. If there is any discrepancy between the laws of the United States and the laws of a foreign nation, the less restrictive of the two shall take precedence within the United States.

Section 4: After the expiration of the protections offered in this act, any persons within or outside the United States may use works which have expired from this protection for any reasons, commercial or non-commercial, public or private. Thereafter, a reasonable attempt must be made to attribute to the original authors those works which were created by them and either distributed by or used in the derivative works of others. The author’s previous copyright identification, if provided in the original, or at the very least author’s name and the name of the work if no other information is available, is required to be duplicated in a way that is reasonable to the medium in which the original author’s work is distributed or used.

Much like the Copyright Act of 1790, it’s not air-tight, and it’s subject to other considerations, but it lays a clear framework for a doctrine of a five year copyright protection. “Reasonable punitive damages” would have to be defined in a way where plaintiffs do not game the system, such as SCO’s claimed damages of $1.4 million in the case against Kevin Mitnick for violating their copyrights by unauthorized copying of software, something he never attempted to sell or distribute. SCO’s technique is typical in overzealous prosectution: the “cost” of this copyright violation included the entire development costs of the software, and not its $216 per-instance licensing fee. The RIAA’s claim of damages of $80,000 per song in the Jammie Thomas-Rasset case is a more relevant example. More reasonable damages would have been ~$1 per song distributed plus punitive damages no more than double the total amount. Under this act, had it applied to Thomas-Rasset’s case, this would have been $24 to $72 for the 24 tracks the RIAA sought relief from if “song distributed” is counted as “songs downloaded”, or closer to $1,700 to a punitive maximum $5,100 if the plaintiffs had sought relief for all 1,700 tracks. I cannot tell from existing court documents how many people downloaded the songs from Thomas-Rasset, or if the plaintiff’s case was in any way related to those amounts.

The word “expression” is to offset it from “idea”, which copyrights do not cover, and which patents aren’t supposed to cover, but frequently do at the very least with regard to software. Fair Use is specified elsewhere in law, and should also be described in the text of the UMCA so as to make such Fair Use protections as strong as possible. What constitutes “publishing” would need to be expanded, too. Take for instance J. D. Salinger’s work “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls”, which is provided to the Princeton Library and may only be viewed under closely guarded conditions. The day this was viewable to those with access to the library would constitute its date of publication (public distribution), even though Salinger’s wishes are to have the content secured for 50 years after his death and not published until then, or 2060. Under the UCMA, this protection would be valid only until 2015, five years after the date of publication. Had Salinger wished his story to remain private until 2060, he would have had the option of not donating it to the Princeton Library, thus not publicly publishing it, and instructing his family or agents to release it to the public in 2060.

The result of this would not be to diminish the production of new media; the result would be an explosion of new additions to the public domain, and the public domain becoming the rich resource to the public which the authors of the original US copyright proposals intended it to be. While anyone would be free to distribute content over five years old, it’s often the case that the original commercial publishers will still be able to make money on existing content. A good example of this are the new editions of classic Pink Floyd albums such as Dark Side of the Moon. While under the UMCA, anyone would currently be able to distribute Dark Side of the Moon in any format released before 2007, EMI would still have been able to release the much vaunted 2011 Immersion Edition for five years after initial publication. As the original master tapes were never publicly published (and frankly rarely are in that they’re not a media relevant to most people), they still had access to unpublished originals which they were free to compile and expand. Under the UMCA, the Immersion Edition of Dark Side of the Moon would be under EMI’s exclusive rights until late 2016; you could freely distribute, sell or compile pre-2007 editions, but only EMI would have had access to content required to create the 2011 release. All those fans who take issue with George Lucas’s continued alteration of his original Star Wars films would, under the UMCA, have a perfectly reasonable alternative: they could have any incarnation of the series they wanted on any media, all the way back to the first commercially available format. As in EMI’s case, Lucasfilm would have access to originals which would give them a significant advantage for the creation of any future derivative works, as the original film negatives or the rights to them weren’t ever sold.

Artists and content creators deserve to get paid for the work they wish to sell or exhibit to the public, but everyone deserves to get rewarded fairly for their productive efforts. A copyright should be an incentive to publish, and not what effectively amounts to an heirloom that is passed from author to inheritor for 70 years. No more than I inherit the value of my great grandfather’s physical labour should the great grandson of a successful artist exclusively inherit the fruits of his ancestor’s artistic labour. After it enters the culture, a work’s copyright should be a ticking five-year clock, after which the work passes into the culture mostly unfettered, free, and open to derivative work. To deny the public the right to have a rich public domain is not merely commercial greed, it is detrimental to the culture, and represents a theft of the commons; this is our cultural heritage, not cheap property to be hidden away in a vault until a few special individuals figure out a way to generate another revenue stream from it.

This is not a partisan issue; both parties are paid to support a continuing copyright extension by powerful media lobbies. The degree of influence of the intellectual property cartel has nothing to do with party, it has to do with money, and the IP cartels judiciously support candidates in both parties to ensure that their interests are served at the expense of the interests of the public and the public domain itself.

This is not a fight against capitalism or corporatism. This is a fight against censorship and the right to participate in our own culture. From 1969 to 1995, the Internet existed as an expressly non-commercial space. Since 1995, the Internet has been open to more and more commercial activity. The amount of innovation, utility, commercial potential and opportunity for free expression has increased dramatically; this increase doesn’t become part of everyday life until after 1995. The OPEN Act does not support innovation, freedom, utility, or commerce, the support a backwards-looking Internet policy based on protecting the IP cartel from innovation, freedom, and utility. The OPEN Act and the current IP framework represents a desire for the US government to defend the cartels from their own business practices and a recent history of turning their customers into their enemies.

Many supporters of bills such as the OPEN Act portray piracy as if most sites were involved in profitable activity. These cases are the exception, and do not represent a large portion of private or public torrent trackers, nor of piracy more generally. By conflating piracy with counterfeiting and for-profit pay-for-play, the intellectual property cartel hopes to portray any organization which supports piracy and intellectual freedom as a siphon sucking out hard-earned money out of the mouths of people who work for a living. Challenge this straw man argument.

Intellectual property law is a pay-for-play scandal, and like most other scandals, can only occur in the absence of transparency and public attention. Let your government know what you expect and that you’re watching. Support a maximum five year non-renewable copyright; the UMCA is a simple example framework of this idea.

A Glimpse at the Past from the Future

Wherein the author shares some excerpts from the 1968 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica's entry on "computer".

I wanted to get some perspective about data sizes for a project I’m working on.  I wanted to see what the 1968 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica had to say about computers—specifically RAM, tape, and disc storage issues.

Emphasis is mine, and my notes are in brackets.  I have converted their terms into modern SI terms (a million bytes = 1 megabyte, 1,024 bytes = 1 kibibyte, a word  = 36 bits).  The entry for “Computer” offers the following: Read more »


The Discovery Channel flirts with actual, socially controversial science.

And all I can say is thank you, it’s about time.

I’ve long lamented the lack of scientifically relevant programming on Discovery and TLC. Normally, when shows that address cosmology come up, the “standard approach” is taken, which is to have three different talking heads say, roughly “it happened mechanically, without god”, “it happened mechanically, but god was the mechanic” and “science and religion are about different things”. Not so with the premiere episode of Curiosity, which was unusual in that it was aired on every Discovery Networks International channel to which it was appropriate. The production values and the simulcasting makes it seem like Discovery is betting big on this show, which amazes me.

The reason it’s amazing is that there’s nobody chiming in to say “science and religion are about different things” or the new doctrine of non-overlapping magisteria. The thing about NOMA is that nobody really believes it. Scientists and populist writers about science employ NOMA to avoid religious criticism and to make their views appear more palatable to theists, and liberal theists use NOMA to assure non-theists that their faith doesn’t actually make statements about how the universe really works. Stephen Hawking hosts the first episode of Curiosity, and he talks about his personal views as well as the scientific consensus, without giving into NOMA. Though both a scientist and a populist writer about science, I’m glad to see he’s willing to ruffle a few feathers and avoid watering down the ramifications of modern cosmology - that proof of god does not exist, and that god does not need to exist in order to reconcile the existence of the universe. More importantly, I’m glad Discovery is willing to let him ruffle a few feathers without having someone follow him up with NOMA to sort of water down the message and fend off the detractors.

The thing about NOMA is that there are three groups who see it for exactly the nonsense it is: most scientists, most non-theists, and most theists who are serious about their religion. The only major group one appeases with NOMA is liberal theists, who are the least likely to be upset about the problems NOMA is supposed to address in the first place.

So, thank you Discovery for airing something that is intelligent and not watered down. Thank you for letting scientists talk about what scientists have discovered, and not pretending socially controversial topics are controversial within the scientific community when they’re not. This is a bold move, and I’m sure DCI will face protracted criticism about it from the usual suspects of social conservatives who think religion trumps science, and certain strain of social liberals who think that it’s more important to be inclusive than it is to represent scientific work as it exists within its own domain.


Protected: NovusType, New Alphabet, and typographic minimalism.

Wherein the author discusses New Alphabet, and offers a variation and an alternative of it.

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Minecraft Data ID References

Wherein the author presents a Minecraft Data Reference.

I have played Minecraft for a few months, and enjoy making monumental architecture.  Though I’ve mostly played on either a local world, or private servers, lately I’ve been giving Reddit’s Minecraft Public Creative Server a shot, where my username is ”Delusionn”. On these types of servers, items are created by commands, so having an item list is handy.

While Minecraft Wiki has a useful reference,  my girlfriend preferred to not switch away from movies she was watching on a second monitor, so she made herself a placemat-sized printed copy of an existing reference, which I later cleaned up significantly.  Eventually, when Minecraft Beta 1.2_02 came out, which made the reference obsolete, and she had decided an 8.5 x 11 inch double sided reference which was heavily laminated would be much more convenient.  It turns out, it was, so I use it, too.

Only the game icons are rasterized, so it’s easy to read and looks good.  I’ve made two versions, the second version includes a quick reference to Reddit Minecraft Public Creative Server commands, banned items, and URLs to Reddit’s wiki and current Creative map.  If you play on that server, you may find the additional information helpful if you are a new user.  If you don’t play there, or just want the raw item ID page, the first one will be more appropriate.

Minecraft Data Reference

Minecraft Data Reference - Reddit Public Creative Server

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Data visualization - data transfer rates.

Wherein the author dances with a data visualization project to demonstrate differences in data transfer rates.

One evening, I was backing up data to Blu-ray, and while I was aware that “1x” means something different with regard to CD, DVD and Blu-ray, it occurred to me that I didn’t know the relationship between the speeds without looking them up.

I decided to make an infographic detailing the comparative speeds of various physical media, and to highlight the speeds that were still widely commercially available.  As the flash media “x” scale is the same as that of CD, it seemed to be an obvious inclusion.

Eventually, I wanted to compare broadband speeds, historical dialup speeds, hard drive interface speeds, and even RAM speeds, all of which are so different that it requires a log scale in order to compare them adequately.  I used a bit of color where the categories became crowded, but mostly kept it neutral and dark.

The project was primarily for my own use, and I’m pretty happy with it.  The image was designed with a 24 x 48 inch print in mind.  I may consider selling prints for this piece if there is any demand, but for now the image is linked to a full-size PDF if you’d like to print it yourself.

Thanks notcot!