19 July 2010

Link Sausages With Arsenic Sauce

I think the Grinch is in a better mood than I am this morningafternoon.

  • From the department of "Really? I Never Would Have Guessed!": The WaPo has a major investigative report on growth of the intelligence community since 9/11... and has the temerity to somehow act surprised. This has been happening for hundreds of years. To name just a few obvious examples, consider the growth patterns of the Cheka following every labor protest in nineteenth-century Russia; the growth in Walsingham's secret services in England after every threat to Elizabeth I; and on, and on, and on. The surprise would have been if there had not been a (verifiable) increase of between 40% and 60% in personnel strength of the official agencies, with a corresponding explosion in private contractors, after an "intelligence failure" like 9/11; after all, that's what happened after Sputnik.

    Note that I'm not saying it's justified, or nothing to worry about. I'm only saying it's expected. The more-worrisome aspect is this: What are people going to do with their skills and expectations if/when somebody starts shrinking this monster? At least if excessive "spying" is being done by the government, it's more subject to legal control! Besides, the problem with 9/11 was at least as much an analysis deficit as an intelligence-gathering deficit, and we've done nothing to improve that (in fact, we've arguably made it worse).

  • There's a fascinating blog-debate going on at ArtsJournal right now on "Creative Rights and Artists", focusing (at least initially!) on the relationship between the creative and the business aspects of the arts in the internet age. Sadly, too many of the participants have axes to grind, and there isn't a great deal of questioning of received wisdom (example: there's not one word concerning the antitrust implications of media consolidation, let alone how those antitrust implications compare to the inability of artists to unionize in response).
  • Professor Goldman points out why ya gotta timely register yer copyrights with our hillbillyish registration system that represents the epitome of regulatory capture: If you wait, you might lose your most effective remedies. Leaving aside that this is not consistent with either the Berne Convention or the 1996 WIPO treaty, it also demonstrates that the Copyright Office is little more than a self-perpetuating bureaucracy... because a copyright certificate is not proof of present ownership of the rights. Unlike, say, a car, a purchaser is not obligated to report a change in ownership to the Copyright Office for recordation... and neither is a recorded document more than hearsay as to any actual change in the ownership of a right.

    Contrast that problem to filmmakers' rights in the European Union, and you'll begin to see that what US copyright law grants in substance it tends to take away in procedure (except, that is, if you're not a starving artist, but the rich patron thereof) — especially when improperly imposing work-for-hire agreements.

  • And now, from an Apple-hostile tech-savvy guy who has soldering burns from building computers before there even was an Apple, a sarcastic comment on the iPhone 4 antenna problem. (Those of you who worship Steve Jobs can go get another cup of coffee now.) Bluntly, this reflects over thirty years of a fundamental problem: Steve Jobs can learn only from the obvious mistakes that others make, but is incapable of learning from his own mistakes. Apple has never figured out that one of the major barriers to adoption of its products and memes over time has been its mandating of standards inconsistent with existing standards; to name a few, the 140kb 5.25" floppy, the spiral-formatted 3.5" floppy (with no hardware eject button), the single-button mouse, QuickTime, and on and on and on. Conversely, every improvement that one can really point to has resulted from taking advantage of somebody else's mistakes; the 8088 (instead of 8086) fiasco, which led directly to the "graphic friendliness" of early Macintoshes because Apple chose to use a processor that had a full-width bus, is just one example.

    In this instance, the mistake that Apple is making — and has been a hallmark of the iPhone from the beginning — is emphasizing design (by arrogant SOBs with no visual difficulties) over function. Yes, Apple products have tended to be "more attractive" (if you're not a steampunk fan) than corresponding *nix and Windoze products; sometimes that design has actually led to better usability. I can't deny that the iPod Shuffle has significantly better usability than my non-Apple-equivalent Philips MP3 player of otherwise similar capability. But in this instance, the design came first, requiring a kludge with the antenna in the first place. What does it really say when your product works better out of the box with duct tape, Steve?

    Whether this is a true inability to learn or mere ego is beside the point; the effect is the same. And it's one of the reasons that there are no Apple products in this household. You can pry my command line from my cold, dead keyboard... and then I'll just reboot back to the command line anyway, so give up. Hell, I'm typing this on a straight-text processor with no WYSIWYG features other than line-wrapping, and my margins aren't even set like the blawg's are — and I don't have to remove my fingers from the keyboard to do anything.