Expatriot Act

The university of these days is a collection of books.

30 June 2006

A Copyfight Case Study

I’ve always been interested in copyright law and the bizarre ways it asserts itself today, in this post-modern era where very little can be truly original; every piece of art references in some fashion some art that came before it. I came across something very recently that reminded me of my all-time favorite copyfight – Negativland vs. U2.

Now chances are, you’ve heard of one of these artists and not the other. The latter is the super gigantic pop band that is so huge they have their own iPod. The former is a small, politically-active music collective who mashup different found sound and samples to create witty, sarcastic music that is highly referntial to pop culture. Perhaps their finest work is a series of songs that take the tune of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (which sounds like it’s being played on some sort of digital kazoo) and outtakes from insipid radio personality Casey Kasem having various foul-mouthed temper tantrums while recording his top 40 radio show. Kasem’s unedited outbursts are hilarious on their own, but when Negativland takes to cutting and pasting some of the audio clips, it gets even funnier.

The irony is that U2’s lead singer Bono is renowned for his humanitarian work and his sense of equality. I would suspect he would agree with many of the world’s current open access pushes, including free access to scholarly research around the world and developing countries’ access to live-saving drugs. (I don’t mean to put words in Bono’s ruggedly-unshaven mouth, but it stands to reason that he’d be into such goals). But when Negativland used U2’s song as the background for their mashup (and more importantly in this case, parts of their album art) in their release, U2’s lawyers went after the small art collective like a pack of junkyard dogs.

This kind of thing happens all the time. There is even an online collection of cease-and-desist letters from similar situations. Usually the artist on the receiving end of that letter both ceases and desists, because they have not the money to fight Goalith. Negativland, however, with a little help of their friends, managed to confront U2’s guitarist The Edge on the matter. U2’s management offered a tech magazine a rare interview with The Edge to discuss their technologically impressive stage show. Little did he know he was about to be ambushed. A sampling (M&D are Negativland, E is The Edge):

M: I wanted to ask you something more about the Zoo TV tour. One thing that wasn't really clear to me- you have a satellite dish so that you can take stuff down live off of various TV transmissions around the world?

E: Yeah, essentially the system is, like we've got the big screens on the stage which are the final image that's created. Down by the mixing board we've got a vision mixer which mixes in, blends the images from live cameras, from optical disks, and from live satellite transmissions that are taken in from a dish outside the venue. So the combination of images can be any of those sources. We've also incorporated telecommunications. We've got a telephone onstage that Bono occasionally makes calls from the stage and occasionally calling the White House or ordering pizza or whatever...um, phone sex...

Don: So you can kind of sample whatever's out there on the airwaves...

E: Yeah, it's kind of like information central.

M: One thing I'm curious about- there's been more and more controversy over copyright issues and sampling, and I thought that one thing you're doing in the Zoo TV tour is that you were taking these TV broadcasts- copyrighted material that you are then re-broadcasting right there in the venue where people paid for a ticket- and I wondered what you thought about that.

D: And whether you had any problem, whether it ever came up that that was illegal.

E: No, I mean, I asked the question early on- is this going to be a problem?, and apparently it, I don't think there is a problem. I mean, in theory I don't have a problem with sampling. I suppose when a sample becomes just part of another work then it's no problem. If sampling is, you know, stealing an idea and replaying the same idea, changing it very slightly, that's different. We're using the visual and images in a completely different context. If it's a live broadcast, it's like a few seconds at the most. I don't think, in spirit, there's any...

D: So you would say that a fragmentary approach is the way to go.

E: Yeah. You know, like in music terms, we've sampled things, people sample us all the time, you know, I hear the odd U2 drum loop in a dance record or whatever. You know, I don't have any problem with that.

D: Well, this is interesting, because we've been involved in a similar situation along these lines...

RUS: In fact, maybe it's time for me to interject here. The folks that you've been talking to, Don and Mark, aside from being occasional contributors to Mondo 2000, are members of a band called Negativland.

E: Ahhhhhh!

Read the rest here. It's a hoot.

How great it must have been to be able to call out The Edge. Although it was technically U2’s lawyers putting up their dukes, a band of their size and popularity can exert its will over the big, bad corporations (look at bands like Pearl Jam, who set up a different system by which to purchase tickets to take themselves out of the Ticketmaster system that was gouging their fans). Bands have a responsibility to stand up to record companies, or at least it's fun to watch someone squirm every now and then. (And yes, I still like U2.)

For more intellectual property fun with Negativland, read an interview from my old webzine with Mark Hosler here. (It's the cover story)

21 June 2006

Life's Tough Decisions

According to this CNN article, iPods have surpassed beer to be the #1 "in" thing.

Nearly three quarters, or 73 percent, of 1,200 students surveyed said iPods were "in" -- more than any other item in a list that also included text messaging, bar hopping and downloading music.[...]

The only other time beer was temporarily dethroned in the 18 years of the survey was in 1997 -- by the Internet, said Eric Weil, a managing partner at Student Monitor.

For me, the jury is still out. I love them both like children. I will indulge in both of these joys these evening, but not at the same time, that would be a tad too hedonistic, even for me.

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging for a little hissyfit of how much work I have to do this week:

This Internet Scout Portal* project is taking FOREVER. We only have to do 25 objects for it now, and I worked pretty much non-stop from 5-12pm and got 10 done. This one I can only work on at home, and I'm seeing a friend from out of town tonight, so I have to figure out how I'm going to pull 15 more out of my ass by Friday. SIGH.

Connotea: up from 10 to 27 thanks to yesterday's (extended) lunchbreak. Plan to do the same today. Need to hit 100. I think by Friday but I'm not sure.

del.icio.us: riding steady at 23 out of the required 50. That's because it's so much easier to tag with del.icio.us.

discussion board posts: did the first for the week last night, need to do another response by Sunday. Will probably try to fit it in before Friday if that's humanly possible.

book review: all 3 books read, no notes taken. need at least the notes before I go to Seattle. due Monday, 1500 words.

3x's weekly blogging: Hi! Guess this week I'm going for quantity, not quality (although I'm not doing so hot on the quantity either). I'm sure it's super interesting to everyone who's not me.

tag cloud: site doesn't even work but they expect us to formulate one by Wed the 28th while I'm in Seattle. We'll see how that plays out.

website assignment: don't even want to think of that at the moment, still haven't had time to look at or understand Nvu. Having built a website before and knowing that it takes a lot of time, and that time is exactly what I don't have, I'm not optimistic.

packing for Seattle: haven't even started, although I'm still partially packed from Toronto so it shouldn't be that hard, right? Ha!

I started Monday thinking I was ahead of the curve, ready to write my paper on Tuesday. Found myself Tuesday paddling and gasping for air. If I can get my work done this week in a timely fashion I will be AMAZED.

*when I couldn't get the Scout Portal to work on my work computer yesterday, I emailed myself the link to try at home. I entitled the email, "Fuck a Scout Portal." I thought this was very funny. Must be the sleep deprivation.

17 June 2006

Amaranthine & Ephemera

Killing some time before a movie, Scott and I spent at least an hour yesterday sitting on Church St. in Old City enjoying the giant old trees and peeping in on Christ Church. It was founded in 1695, and the side doors were open and we could see the font where William Penn and countless others were baptized. Benjamin Franklin and other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried on their plot at 5th and Arch, and yesterday as we sat, they were finishing a wedding at the church. There's something that strikes me as incredibly beautiful about that scenario. I'm not a religious person at all but I wish I could get married in a place so full of history.

With all my grad school readings I've been thinking a lot about the nature of history and artifact... what makes something historically relevant and what is better off left to the waste bin of time? Even on the Christ Church website, besides the famous residents of their burial ground, they highlight a few "everyday people whose stories should never be forgotten." Some of these are:

* John Taylor -- gravedigger who buried Benjamin Franklin
* Timothy Penney -- a two-year old who died, as did many others, in the smallpox epidemic of 1752
* John Clark -- a Philadelphia merchant who died in 1803 while attempting a rescue in a burning building

It really warms my heart that someone took the time to keep a record of these lives, and that hundreds of years later we can still find information about them. Gone, but not forgotten.

Scott and I have tentative plans to take one of my summer hours days off and go to the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library (it's been far too long since I've been there) and take the 11am tour of the rare book room. We're particularly interested in seeing the medieval manuscripts.

This morning I was watching Antiques Roadshow and they featured a few examples of early 20th century needlework. I thought about the wonderful people in my knitting circle, and how something they create could someday in the future be held up and appraised, and the new owners or historians will stop a moment and wonder about the men and women whose hands wrought this beautiful work.

Has anyone ever noticed that most of the experts on Antiques Roadshow are from Philadelphia? Strange. But god there are days where I just love this city to pieces.

14 June 2006

The Paradigm Shift

After stalking my bundle of joy every step of the way from Suzhou, China, my new Macbook arrived yesterday. I left work early to go home and play with it, I really couldn't stand to wait. I was not disappointed, it's everything I hoped it would be with a few fun little surprises (like Photobooth, which instantly put my visage into four off-color boxes a la Andy Warhol, one of my favorite artists, and then in the comic book style benday dots of my other favorite artist, Roy Lichtenstein). The machine itself is lightweight and small and beautiful. I would say I'm in iLove with my iLife at the moment.

I was pretty surprised though at how unfamiliar I found myself with the basics of Mac computing. I used Macs in high school (for the newspaper) and college (for the radio station) all the time and used them with ease. But with just a few years distance, I found myself last night saying things like "Where is the menu bar?" ("Oh, it's at the top of the screen, even though the window only takes up part of the screen.") and "Why is the Firefox I downloaded showing up as a drive instead of an application?" (still haven't totally figured that one out yet, but it works so that's what's important).

Then it hit me: I'm experiencing a real life mini paradigm shift! From the view of the Windows user to the Mac user, and it is honestly different. At its worst, I feel like an Ikea customer, sitting on the floor, trying to figure out what the wordless instructions mean when I'm faced with an unexplained iconic button. At its best I'm delighted with the beautiful new graphic interface and just how FUN it is (iChat is a special treat, with it's word bubbles. Better than any AIM client or derivative that I've tried for Windows, and trust me, I've tried almost all of them). Also there's just no beating how insanely fast the new machine is, I feel like I can barely keep up which is a feeling I've never gotten on another computer I've used. It is, as Ms. Martha would say, a good thing.

07 June 2006

That's Right, I'm the Mac.

So after a little research and profuse drooling, I took the plunge and ordered a Macbook. And holy hell if I'm not like an expectant mother, counting down the days for my baby to arrive. The more I'm learning about computers in my LIS2600 readings the more excited I feel about this purchase. Here are some specs of my particular machine:

2.0GHz Intel Core Duo
1GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM- 2x512
60GB Serial ATA drive
SuperDrive (DVD±RW/CD-RW)

I upgraded the RAM on the mid-range option computer and also bought the service program because I've heard good things about it, and it's inexpensive for a 3-year plan. Even the actual purchasing of the machine online was an experience for two reasons.

1.) As I was entering the cart area on the Apple site, a little window popped up and said there was an Apple rep waiting to live chat with me should I have any questions. Indeed, I did have questions regarding the payment plan and also their free recycling program of old computers. So I clicked on it, and someone said, "Hi I'm Scott from Apple, how can I help you today?" And while I asked the incredibly helpful Scott my questions, I had a little daydream that he really was Justin Long as the Mac guy from the new commercials. (A great review of the new commercials is here.)Mac has really got that human touch down.

2.)To take advantage of the payment plan, I had to sign up for an Apple Credit Card, which they had to instantly approve online before I purchased the computer. They asked me a few very standard questions (name, address, SSN, mother's maiden name) and then as a security check asked me some very odd questions. The first was asking what county my address growing up was in. Ok, that makes some sense. The second gave me various age ranges and asked which one Jxxxx Cxxxxx was in (but they had his full name), who is my little brother. How did they know he was my brother? Also they asked what town my brother (by name) lived in. It was only after I answered those questions that they approved the card.

Now, I'm glad they asked various security question so some jerk couldn't steal my identity, but how did they get that info, anyway? I kind of felt like HAL from 2001 was spying on me. Still I'm super happy with the customer service I've seen so far and I'm anxiously awaiting my baby Macbook's arrival.

But if that thing starts singing "Daisy, daaaaaisy" to me, it's going out the effin' window.

05 June 2006

Keepin' the Faith

This morning is all about leaps of faith. With all of my PC problems I'm considering taking the plunge and purchasing my first Mac. The new Macbook seems to be just what I'm looking for, and it's not any more expensive than the Dell I was considering. I feel like PCs have jerked me around long enough, I think I'm looking forward to a pristine white 2001-Space-Odyssey computing experience, which seems apt since I'm going to Space College* and all.

The second leap of faith of the day: I'm going to be honest in this here blog, that is out in the open for my classmates, teachers, and whoever else to read: I'm feeling like I'm a bit in over my head here. I feel as though, by the third week of grad school, I should be hitting my stride and adjusting to the pace but I'm just not there yet. I work full-time, but so do most of the people in the program and many of them have been out of school a lot longer than I have (and many have kids, which I can't even imagine with this workload). Nevertheless I'm finding it hard to comprehend how we're expected to do all the work that is given to us -- which amounts to definitely over 1,000 pages of reading per week + 3 blog posts per week + podcasts + weekly discussion board posts + book reviews + tagging assignments...

I just feel like I'm spending every waking moment working and I'm still not on top of it all, no matter how hard I'm trying. I realize that grad school is supposed to be difficult but I feel like it's bordering on impossible. Of course I'm never one to give up no matter how hard something is, I'd sooner work myself into oblivion than admit something is too hard for me (which is why this entry is so difficult to write) but MAN I really, really hope I hit my stride soon because I'm feeling impotent and out-of-control and that's something I never feel.

Well it feels a little better to get this off of my chest, and I'm sure I'm not the only one struggling here. I'm just going to keep plowing on and hope that I will adjust sooner than later.

*I've coined the term Space College to refer to my distance learning experience after being blown away by the first Courseweb videocast. If any of you kind readers out there start using it, I expect royalties. Hey, I might have a new computer to pay for.

03 June 2006

Tangled Up in Blue

My undying love for Wikipedia grows more and more everyday. I spent at least an hour on various Stephen Colbert-related wiki entries (the Truthiness entry is a favorite) while I was supposed to be writing a paper...somehow Colbert was a mere 2 clicks away from my paper-related Wiki entries. I'm convinced that a new, even nerdier version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game will emerge with Wikipedia as its platform. As you can see from the link, the game itself has its own entry, that's 1 degree of Wiki, baby.

My favorite Wiki entry of the day? Something I've had the extreme misfortune of experiencing myself last week, The Blue Screen of Death. The Wiki entry has a veritable Hall of Shame of BSoD screenshots from different versions of Windows. It is because of this phenomena that I've been doing all my online grad school studies on a borrowed laptop while my friend tries desparately to recover my poor, beleagured (but barely two years old) Dell. Sigh.

There's even a shot of the Red Screen of Death, which we can all expect to haunt our nightmares when Windows Vista is released. Yikes. It might be worth it though, the Vista interface looks a whole hell of a lot like a Mac...sure is purdy.

Tiptoe through the TULIPs

I'm currently reading Michael Lesk's Understanding Digital Libraries for my LIS2000 class and I'm finding it remarkably interesting (although challenging) so far. The book is published by a subsidiary of the company I work for, Elsevier, and in one of the chapters Elsevier's TULIP project is held up as an early success in digital library studies. I was a little surprised that I hadn't even heard of this program before (though not entirely, as we're such a huge company it's very hard to keep track of all of our goings-on). Seems in 1991 Elsevier and 9 US universities got together to do an experiment to see how college users would react to having some of Elsevier's content available to them on their desktops.

I must admit I'm pretty impressed with the presience of my company in this regard, as in 1991 I would wager that a lot of college students hadn't had any interaction with the Internet (I know my 10-year-old self had no knowledge of it). Even more interesting to me is some of their results, and how similar they are to some of the same issues we still encounter regarding the most effective way to use and transfer library information digitally. One particularly notable finding:

There is enthusiasm about the concept of desktop access to electronic information, but the end of paper products seems to be far away still. Besides some practical benefits of paper products, there also seem to be “emotional” ties with paper and the library.

Here we are 15 years later (10 years since the completion of the project and the writing of the report) and that sentence could have been written yesterday. Although the dominance of paper has slipped in favor of digital formats, I still find reading lengthy documents on a computer screen to be uncomfortable, and either want the physical book in hand or to print out the article. The greatest trump card in favor of digital text interfaces is definitely searchability, but since PDFs don't offer that function (maybe they will someday) I still find them fundamentally lacking. I wonder if students coming up in a primarily digital environment will have different reading habits, or if the problem of reading too much text online is primarily a biological one that needs to be addressed by improved hardware (better screens) or software (PDFs with OCR capability, for instance, or e-books that really mimick books). I would love to see some readability studies that address this issue, to figure out if it's my own pet peeve or a more universal complaint -- guess I'll be searching the Internet to find out!