Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Beatles and the public domain

I've more than once dipped into the well of the public domain, both for inspiration and for resources necessary to get the job done.  And I'm hardly the biggest beneficiary, with Les Mis taking in $16 million at the box office this past weekend.  The Walt Disney Company, still making bank from the brow-sweat of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, has built from that base a presence in every aspect of media.

In fact, it's the total absence of mention of The Mouse that makes David Patrick Stearns' piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer analyzing the facts behind the Beatles' Love Me Do falling into the public domain under European copyright law all the more remarkable.  While citing an entity nearly as terrible and durable (Keith Richards), he mentions almost nothing of the massive media companies that have laid siege to the public domain.

It's an odd omission, as Stearns makes his case for why pop music is somehow different, and thus should be granted longer copyright protection.  He admits that learning that Love Me Do falling off the 50-year cliff into the EU's public domain makes him feel old.  Having spent some supermarket time listening to New Order's Love Vigilantes I can certainly sympathize.  But interestingly, he fails to make the case that since people are generally living longer, copyright terms should be extended so that creators could still enjoy the fruits of their labors in their lifetimes.

Stearns' further efforts to carve out a "just-so" justification for tacking another couple of decades onto the EU's copyright term serve to further illuminate the elephant in the corner:

"If there's one thing your generation gave us," a young guy on South Street said recently while blasting the Rolling Stones on his car radio, "it's great music and great weed." It helps that the music continues to be prevalent on radio, not to mention the sound system at your gym.
First, kid, that's two things, not one.  Might want to cut back on that weed.  But I digress.

So the nostalgia factor among the old, and the cool factor among the young.  All of that adds up to a powerful financial incentive for the keepers of modern media from allowing any intellectual property that remains within living memory from falling into the public domain.

To review, giving the simplified version: Copyright exists so that creators may enjoy the fruits of their labors without fear of theft while contributing to the larger culture. By the time it expired under the original rules, creators had ample opportunity to use their creations in order to secure a profit for themselves and hopefully their heirs.  Then, upon expiration of copyright, the work enters the public domain, becoming public property for the rest of us to use as we see fit.  This system has allowed us to build further upon prior creations, giving us Les Miserables (adapted for stage and screen from Victor Hugo's novel), the movie Forbidden Planet (a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's The Tempest), and Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies (which is quite frankly hilarious), just to scratch the surface.

All of this changed with The Sonny Bono Act of 1996, which did to American copyrights what Stearns seems to be hoping will happen to those in Europe: Tacked a couple of decades onto the period in which a work may be held in copyright.  Prompted, not so much by creators as our undying corporate "persons" that control the lion's share of modern popular culture, the Bono Act ensures that nothing, not one single work, will enter the public domain until 2019.

That's still one Presidential and three Congressional elections away, by the way.  That amounts to plenty of time for the same actors behind the Bono Act to kick the football further down the field.

Just to give an idea of what's staying behind the corporate paywall, so to speak, Duke University School of Law's Center for the Study of the Public Domain posts a yearly summary of what would have entered the public domain this year.  You'll recall I mentioned Forbidden Planet.  The page also mentions that, while that movie is likely to remain once its copyright term does expire, lesser known films are likely to be lost entirely before archivists get a hold of them.  And thus more pieces of our history are lost.

And I don't doubt for one second that the players behind the Bono Act are lining up for another kick, fueled no doubt by last year's Eldred vs. Ashcroft Supreme Court decision that not only reinforced the Bono Act but also gave Congress the unprecedented right to remove public domain status from any work as they see fit.

Anyone who appreciates the treasure that is the public domain finds this alarming.  But, conditioned as we are as a society to only value what's shiny and new, those who do treasure it seem few and far between.

And with cheerleaders like Stearns helping to convince the public that any extension is inevitable and necessary, we may soon find the lid on that treasure chest being closed and locked, permanently.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

There is no "but." Just shut up right now.

Like everyone with an internet connection I've noticed a rise in some seriously vile behavior from guys that I used to identify as "my people:"  Atheists, skeptics, geeks, and online gamers.  Women have spoken up only to find themselves subject to horrendous threats and abuse.  Misogynists got their backs up when when called out on their misogyny and responded with graphic threats of assault and rape.

Inevitably, other voices, both men and women respected in these communities, spoke up.  I'm not certain why "don't be a dick" is such a tough pill for certain guys to swallow, but inevitably whenever these prominent voices speak up, their comment threads fill up with truly epic numbers of passive-aggressive douchebags.

One particular breed I'd like to discuss right now is the "Yes, but-" man.  These guys pop up like weeds in the aforementioned threads and give a token agreement in order to seem like a decent human being.  Then comes the word "but," after which the true pathetic specimen stands revealed.

I have no illusions that this little blog, which gets a new post once in a blue moon and a comment even less often, is going to change anyone's behavior.  So I'm going to aim a little lower than "revelation akin to Paul on the road to Damascus" and ask that the reader be aware of a single word.

"Yes, guys who stalk and harass women in a shared game world are losers, but-"

"Yes, threatening to rape and kill a woman is wrong, but-"

"Yes, you shouldn't creep on a woman and make her feel unsafe, but-"

Guys, when you feel that "but" forming on your lips, pause and consider.  You're about to try justifying the inexcusable.  You will fail and your true colors will be revealed.  Everything after "but" is why your parents and society as a whole have failed you.  And you, them.

Think about why that is.  If you value rational thought as much as you claim to, what is that snarling impulse in your forebrain?  What is that raw, ugly hatred?

Whatever it is, name it and put it the fuck down.  You are the party in the wrong, dude.  Not Rebecca Watson or Amanda Marcotte.


This has been a public service announcement.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cue the theremins

Don't get me wrong, I liked my old house:

But when you get right down to it, I'm just not a Hollywood bungalow type.  Plus, it was made more with the needs of couples in mind, rather than a solitary type like myself.  I had no real compelling need to even go upstairs.

So rather than rattle around in the same place, I began to explore other options.  And an idea really started to form once I stumbled across this blog entry by Ener Hax, talking about her wonderful retro flying saucer builds.  So, I thought, why not a small saucer fleet to call home?

In order to make it work I'd need a teleport system to tie it all together, and fortunately this one by Mistress Lycia is easy to configure and use.  So, with all of the tools in place, it was time to roll up my virtual sleeves and set up the Martian beachhead.

After removing the house, step one was the placing of the first saucer.  It had to be easily accessible, because it would double as my photo studio, and I'm not the only one on the sim who uses it.

Unlinking and phantoming the "light beam" were necessary steps for access.  At the moment I have to jump into the saucer to get inside.  I'm investigating other solutions that don't require visitors to hop up and down like jack-in-the-boxes.

Each saucer came with a pilot's seat.  Regrettably, in the name of freeing up floor space...

... they had to go.  Sorry, Ener.

Then I threw out another saucer, this one being one of the flying models.  The idea for this one is for a "living space" to entertain friends or chill out.

In this ship the hatchway in the middle was unnecessary, so I closed it up.  The grey disc to the right is that saucer's teleport platform.  I would also go on to add another saucer, much higher up and out of view, for working on clothing to avoid awkward moments brought about by nosy camming. As it's strictly another utilitarian space, it looks like the photo above, with no embellishments.

But getting back to the lounge saucer, I thought a nice view would give more of a sense of space.  So I took every inward-facing surface and replaced its texture with a totally clear one.  From the outside it's still the same saucer, but now I have a great view.

A little rummaging in my inventory produces the furniture and decor.  Despite killing any chance of anyone ever hiring me as an interior decorator, I find it suits me.

One final touch and my new home is in place, freeing me to continue to wait for the Utopian Playland.

Friday, June 22, 2012

One does not simply walk into Marketplace

Things have gotten a bit heated up my way, as in the mid- to upper 90's. According to the Murphy's Law principle that dictates the inner workings of bookmobiles, this is also when the air conditioning gives out. Usually on the first day of summer, just in case we might miss the point.

So yesterday, after roasting like a peanut for the better part of an afternoon, I finally settled down in the computer chair at home with no plans whatsoever. I'd just finished adding to the clothing line, the new poster wasn't due yet, and I hadn't heard back from the one person wanting a custom job. I figured it would be a night to just chill and hang out for a change.

This pleasant fantasy carried me through all of the time it took me to boot up and check my email.

Therein I saw not one, but two complaints from two different people in regard to our affiliate vendors. We give them away for free on Marketplace, and whoever sets them up gets a 20% cut of sales. We have dozens of WIN affiliate vendors out there, and they make up a good chunk of the gym's income. So if there's a problem, in these days of monolithic tier fees, there's a problem.

The problem, in this case, was that every affiliate vendor being direct-delivered from Marketplace was vending the exact same set of products. Whether one ordered the MMA gloves, boxing trunks, boots, bikinis, whatever, the vendors were only dispensing women's boxing robes. A nice product, to be sure, and one I think I can be justly proud of. But when it's not what the customer is expecting, quality control becomes a moot issue.

So yeah, a problem.

And, as it turned out, just the beginning.

The first step in troubleshooting is to recreate the problem. So I logged into SL and bought a couple of vendors off of Marketplace to see what they'd do. At the same time I was talking to the customers who had complained, assuring them that I was on the case and all would be sorted out eventually.

And just then, a friend IMed me.

And not just any friend, but a friend whom I adore and have not heard from literally in years until just that very night.

SL has made me a happy multitasker. At the top of my game, I can hold three conversations at the same time (if one is in voice) and still build up a quick little something for a photo shoot if need be.

But I had so much to do. A problem unresolved is a hair in my mouth. I can't rest or think about anything else until it's solved. And I couldn't stay logged in under the Abel Undercity account to solve it.

I wanted to stay and stay, and catch up, and have a laugh with my friend.

I had to go.

As if I didn't already feel like enough of a heel while making my excuses, another friend, one all too used to my "hello, I must be going" schtick, said "hi" just then too.

And I was leaving both of them in the lurch in order to go play with Satan's Little Beta Test, the Second Life Marketplace. So, not only am I a heel, I'm an idiot as well. Choosing fiddling with Marketplace over quality time with friends is like choosing thumbscrews over a nice slice of chocolate cake.

I could forgive the interface for being ugly if it wasn't also slow. Then there's the matter of bulk delete, which doesn't work at all. This was especially problematic during the transition from magic boxes to direct delivery, because switching over from a boxed item to a direct delivery folder unlisted the former. Very soon, anyone with a large number of items ran up against a limit of only 100 unlisted items, with no more being allowed until some were cleared off. Without bulk delete, this means clearing items off one at a time.

Did I mention that it was slow? Perhaps "glacial" is the better term. The combination of lack of bulk delete and slow response time is what turns Marketplace, for a vendor, from a necessary evil into a massive, grinding time-suck.

Not to mention the almost-random error message (I say "almost" because it comes up 100% of the time if you're a hopeful soul attempting a bulk delete despite all past history) that kicks you back to the front page instead of the one you had come from.

As the night drug on,  the annoyances became so commonplace as to become mere irritations.  But at the back of my mind I kept thinking about everything I was missing out on, for the sake of getting the damn thing to work properly.

It's times like these that really have me reconsidering the notion that Second Life is something I do for fun.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My place in the Care Bear Corps

For the explanation of that title, see here.

So I Googled "Lantern Corps personality test," and now I'm sharing results. Woo. I'm a wild man.

Your result for Which DCU Lantern Corps Is For You?...

Indigo Lantern Corps!

Take Which DCU Lantern Corps Is For You? at OkCupid

Who knew I was such a nice guy? :p

Monday, January 4, 2010

Allons y!

I missed the turn of the year and decade* here on the old blog, so best to dispense with the year in review (you're welcome) and look to the year ahead (sorry).

Another Day, Another Doctor:


First off, big props to BBC America for not making us wait to say goodbye to David Tennant as The Doctor. Both episodes of The End of Time aired Stateside the day after each did in the UK. It was a fitting sendoff, taking a darker turn than usual as The Doctor grappled with his mortality right up until the very end. Tennant's last words as the Doctor took the form of a haunting final plea: "I don't want to go."

Heavy stuff, and a hard act for the new Doctor, Matt Smith, to follow. Mercifully, the slate seems to have been wiped clean for his new incarnation, Tennant's Doctor having given his goodbyes to every major supporting character from Sarah Jane Smith to Rose Tyler. Thus we might be spared another unwieldy "Companions Assemble!"-style mashup in the style of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End.

The BBC has also posted a preview of Smith's upcoming turn as The Doctor to YouTube:

My first take is that I really, really hope there's a Plan B after "hit the Dalek with a stick." The Doctor looks like a tweedy college professor (even with the gun; remind me to introduce you to some of my old professors), and that seems to work for him. After all, call yourself "The Doctor" and eventually I suppose you can expect an occasional academic turn.

As with all Doctors before him, fandom seems to be taking a "wait and see" attitude for Smith's following Tennant's wildly successful run. I'm eagerly awaiting it myself.

More Human than Makehuman:

My favorite piece of software still under development, Makehuman, seems to be back on track after two setbacks in 2009. The first came from without, as their original site was attacked by hackers, necessitating a time-consuming move to Blogspot. The second was self-imposed, as the original mesh model was replaced with a newer one. The alpha 4 release just came out a couple of days ago.

According to the road map, alpha 5, originally planned as the final alpha release and including the pose engine, has been bumped down the hierarchy, with the pose engine and transition to beta now set to follow alpha 6. Perhaps wisely given the events of last year, Makehuman has declined to set a date for future updates. But barring disaster the end of the year should find us, if not at, then at least much closer to the final release version of an open source alternative to Poser and DAZ3D Studio.

Comic Relief:

More and more I feel like it's time to explore alternative outlets for my favorite medium, comics. As I get older, big crossovers in superhero books feel less like events and more like attempts to pick my pocket. Don't get me started (again) on the meaninglessness of a character dying. At least The Doctor has a built-in "out" for that.

More and more it looks like the only thing I have to look forward to in the comics realm this year is another visit to Wizard World Philadelphia, which seems to have learned its lesson from last year's fiasco and looks to be putting a good show together this time. Of course, given the current financial realities, I can't say if I'm actually going just yet.

Still, a guy can hope.

Here's to 2010. May we all see 2011.

UPDATE: Forgot something else planned for the year ahead, assuming the principals can stop fighting in court and take it to the ring where it belongs. My call for Pacquiao vs. Mayweather is Pacquiao. He's got the speed, and I don't think Mayweather has the tools to counter him. Hopefully they'll take their corners on March 13th and we'll see.

* - I know, I know, math purists, but what can I say? People like watching multiple digits roll over (cf. the Millennium).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

PSA: Just Say No.

The holidays are looming large ahead of us. That means celebration, festivity, and frolic.* And as always, when we gather with friends, there's always the possibility of temptation, of doing something that we know we'd later regret.

So when your host opens that drawer and pulls out its contents, it's perfectly natural to want to go along, to not be the party pooper.

But this is not the time for comity or compromise of principle. As your friends and loved ones plunk down on the sofa, ready to take in the offered contraband, it is time to take your stand.

Warn them.

Stop them any way you can.

Under no circumstances can you call yourself a friend if you let them watch The Star Wars Holiday Special.

I'm serious. There are good movies, bad movies, so-bad-they're-good movies, and awful movies. Then there is The Star Wars Holiday Special in its class of one, where we can only dream of it being merely awful. If the dread Necronomicon came with a dvd insert, the first selection on the menu would be The Star Wars Holiday Special.

I have come back from that dark land, where Bea Arthur tends bar at Mos Eisley, and where Harrison Ford joins the final sing-along at the end looking like he wants nothing more than for a very heavy set piece to fall on him, to warn you.

Don't do it.
* - Whether you want to or not. FROLIC, DAMMIT!