in the mist where melody flies

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July 27th, 2007

01:53 am - A donation to the commons
My introduction to the public domain, as best I can remember, came courtesy of Project Gutenberg, the fabulous e-book project. I don't know how I first heard of PG, but I do have some memories. I remember, in high school, leaving my copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in my locker at school; I simply downloaded a copy from PG. It was a beautiful thing.

Moreover, in high school I started my first project to contribute to the commons (though I had no idea what "the commons" was, at that time) -- a student club to contribute texts to PG. I never recruited anyone beyond my friends to join the club, and they helped little; the club fizzled out after one book. I chose the name "Literary Preservation Society" because I hoped it meant the administration would leave us alone: it sounded highfalutin, not rebellious like I felt when thinking about (gasp!) posting books online for free. (I figured, with the public domain, we were legally in the clear, but I didn't want any trouble.) I remember my grandiose vision of a network of student clubs around the world, each donating a little of their time to help prepare books for everyone's benefit. These were terribly exciting thoughts for a high school student (Asheesh, feel free to add appropriate Everything2 allusions here) -- which was all the more disappointing when, as previously mentioned, it failed to gain any traction. Little did I know that what was not quite possible ~6 years ago would not only blossom as a field of endeavor since then, but would coincidentally be a movement in which I myself was deeply involved. (Think back ~6 years: Distributed Proofreaders hadn't opened its doors at PG; Wikipedia had just launched; Creative Commons hadn't released any licenses yet.)

As I mentioned, we did produce one ebook, #5825, The Courage of the Commonplace by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews. A rather unremarkable book, I think we chose it to be first because it was the shortest of the public domain books at our disposal (that had not already been added to PG). We had a little handful of eligible books, some from my mother's collection and some from a stack provided by our biology teacher from his. (I believe Courage was from the latter source.) Most of his such books ended up sitting in a bag somewhere while our club ignored them for a number of months; I remember doing some research to see which would be eligible for PG, but I can't recall what happened beyond that. I think we eventually gave him the books back, and the only one that ever got scanned was Courage. (In fairness, though, even Courage was never scanned: we typed the text in manually. As I said, this was before DP had opened officially for PG.)

Out of my mother's collection, there were at least a few eligible books that hadn't been added to PG. Eventually -- judging from the timestamp on the files, the summer after my freshman year of college -- I scanned one, a Spanish textbook, and added it to the site.

Tonight, through a series of events (which I'll blog about later), I ended up back at DP after a long absence. When I managed to get back into the site, I eventually found the Spanish textbook I scanned over two years ago. It's still in the formatting stages, but it's made progress and is en route to release. It was a pleasant surprise to find out what'd happened with the book, and that it's going somewhere. The project comments and the forum thread are both online (though login may be required to view them). I feel very gratified by this small "donation" to the commons: I found the book, submitted the copyright clearance request, scanned the pages, and found someone to whom I could hand the project off; without me, it's continued forward and will eventually bear fruit. Looking at the forum thread, people from around the world have worked on this book, which otherwise would sit completely unused on my bedroom shelf.

One other contribution I've made to PG (besides a few pages proofread here and there on DP) was the hardcopy of Zane Gray's The Day of the Beast. I don't remember where this book came from (maybe my mother, maybe that biology teacher, maybe some book store or garage sale where I picked it up on the cheap), but it wasn't in good condition when I got it. Rather than scan it on my time-consuming flatbed, I shipped it off to another DPer with a pagefeed scanner; the binding was cut off and the copy destroyed, but it lives on online, free to the world.

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August 2nd, 2006

07:54 pm - Facebook is scary
Recently, Facebook added a requirement: each profile must include the full birthday of the user. It won't let you edit your profile if you don't include that. As if they didn't have enough info on you. They'll keep the year private if you want, but they'll still have it.

Consequently, I am now born in 1925.
Current Music: Mofro - Lochloosa

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July 29th, 2006

09:03 pm - Photos
Apparently, some of my photos of Montréal have been selected for inclusion in Schmap. Schmap is tourism software that links maps with photos (in particular, CC-licensed photos pulled from Flickr). That's fine by me: I took the photos, I'm glad to see someone else getting use out of them -- that's why I used a CC license in the first place. I have two minor nags, though:

1. Is their use consistent with my license of choice (i.e. by-sa)? It seems they've met the attribution requirement well enough. However, by incorporating my photos in their software, do they need to release all their content under the same license?

2. It's not free software... in fact, it's Windows-only, so I can't even run the software to see for myself.

Update: There are the photos they're using (of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal and l'Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal):

BasilicaBasilicaSt. Joseph"s OratorySt. Joseph"s Oratory

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July 25th, 2006

11:05 am - The science of free culture
Quick, name some academics who have contributed to public understanding of the legal issues of free culture.

Maybe Larry Lessig, James Boyle...

OK, what about the cultural aspects?

Maybe Siva Vaidhyanathan, Kembrew McLeod...

How about the technical aspects?

Ed Felten...

Alright, what about the political aspects?

Current Music: Starsailor

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July 16th, 2006

12:03 am - ze frank on new media
Ze Frank's "the show" (Wikipedia) is a daily video blog from a guy who sits six inches away from the camera and just runs his mouth for five minutes. It's pretty damn funny, but on Friday it was even inspirational.

Ze is running a contest to create the ugliest MySpace page. On Friday, he responded to a comment from a viewer -- a reply that demonstrates remarkable insight into the effects the Internet has had on the way we think about culture and creativity:
Varion writes, "Having an ugly Myspace contest is like having a contest to see who can eat the most cheeseburgers in 24 hours... You're mocking people who, for the most part, have no taste or artistic training."

Varion, thanks for telling me what I was doing. I didn't even know I was mocking people.

For a very long time, taste and artistic training have been things that only a small number of people have been able to develop. Only a few people could afford to participate in the production of many types of media. Raw materials like pigments were expensive; same with tools like printing presses; even as late as 1963 it cost Charles Peignot over $600,000 to create and cut a single font family.

The small number of people who had access to these tools and resources created rules about what was good taste or bad taste. These designers started giving each other awards and the rules they followed became even more specific. All sorts of stuff about grids and sizes and color combinations — lots of stuff that the consumers of this media never consciously noticed. Over the last 20 years, however, the cost of tools related to the authorship of media has plummeted. For very little money, anyone can create and distribute things like newsletters, or videos, or bad-ass tunes about "ugly."

Suddenly consumers are learning the language of these authorship tools. The fact that tons of people know names of fonts like Helvetica is weird! And when people start learning something new, they perceive the world around them differently. If you start learning how to play the guitar, suddenly the guitar stands out in all the music you listen to. For example, throughout most of the history of movies, the audience didn't really understand what a craft editing was. Now, as more and more people have access to things like iMovie, they begin to understand the manipulative power of editing. Watching reality TV almost becomes like a game as you try to second-guess how the editor is trying to manipulate you.

As people start learning and experimenting with these languages authorship, they don't necessarily follow the rules of good taste. This scares the shit out of designers.

In Myspace, millions of people have opted out of pre-made templates that "work" in exchange for ugly. Ugly when compared to pre-existing notions of taste is a bummer. But ugly as a representation of mass experimentation and learning is pretty damn cool.

Regardless of what you might think, the actions you take to make your Myspace page ugly are pretty sophisticated. Over time as consumer-created media engulfs the other kind, it's possible that completely new norms develop around the notions of talent and artistic ability.

Here's the wiki entry for the episode.
Current Music: The Walkmen

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July 14th, 2006

05:36 pm - I am not a hippy super-liberal
Contrary to popular belief, the World's Smallest Political Quiz says I'm a:

political spectrum

...which is exactly what I've been saying.

I would probably put myself a bit more in the center, but hey, the quiz only has 10 questions, so it can only be so accurate. As it is, it's pretty representative: there I am, at the corner of all three of my political identities.

By comparison...Collapse )
Current Music: U2

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July 10th, 2006

02:20 am - India in geo-politics
My cousin Cleo just blogged a piece she wrote on Indian geo-politics, particular vis-à-vis Canada (she's Canadian, eh).
India's reaction to the tsunami disaster was particularly telling. Within hours, two of the affected countries, the Maldives and Sri Lanka turned to it for help. The Indians replied quickly and generously, sending drinking water, generators and medicines not only to those two countries, but to Indonesia as well. Controversially, India itself initially refused aid from other foreign governments, except from some of their smaller neighbours, like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, in order to "respect their sentiments" (this same self-sufficient stand was also seen after the recent earthquake during which India refused international aid, but offered help to Pakistan).

The tsunami message was clear. Yes, we are having a hard time, but not only can we take care of ourselves, we can take care of our friends. This was in stark contrast to the relatively small amount of aid offered by the apparent dominant force in the area, China.

Current Music: Panjabi MC - Beware of the Boys

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June 29th, 2006

11:41 am - integrity-themed eateries
from the Onion

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June 22nd, 2006

11:58 am - futbol
Poor USA.

I guess I'm a Brazil fan for the next few days.

See you.
Current Mood: nervous
Current Music: Death Cab

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June 21st, 2006

01:43 am
I got my visa in the mail today.

I also got my practice LSAT scores. It was a totally dry run -- I didn't even know what the LSAT was, no practice, nothing. 9 am after staying up preceding evening. Score: 159. Scale: 120 - 180.

159 is the average score for students admitted to Florida Law.

If I decide to go to law school, I feel that I'm in good shape, LSAT wise. And apparently the LSAT is more important than GPA -- lucky for me.

Things are pretty good.

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