The Future That Was

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mystery Solved

Yesterday we opened Moral Rights class with housekeeping matters, and i took the opportunity to inquire about the French article. In a thick, Italian accent, the delightfully enthusiastic professor explained that the article offered excellent commentary on another case that we are reading, and though the opinion is written in English, French, and Italian, the commentary is only available in French.  "I was hoping that this might provide a stimulus, so that if you don't speak French, you might recognize that the world is shrinking. It is the tradition in my country to speak at least two or three languages.  I don't know why you all have chosen only one."  Too true.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Lost Without Translation

This week i am taking a five day seminar about Moral Rights, the European notion of copyright granting authors a non-financial interest in the works they create. Moral rights include the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudononymously, and the right to the integrity of the work (i.e. it cannot be distorted or otherwise mutilated). Fascinating stuff, i promise. The subject offers a nice intersection of Intellectual Property and International Law, and it's taught by a temporarily imported IP superstar from Italy. I can't complain too much. But, it definitely seemed like a better idea when i registered in January then it does today as i scramble to finish the reading.

Especially given that, when sorting through the eight million pages of reading last night, i discovered that we have a 25 page excerpt in French.

I'm not sure what to do with this exactly.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Smelly Truths

I don't know what i will do when i leave law school and lose the never-ending source of entertainment that is LexisNexis.

In today's random trivial fact, according to Title 70 of the Tennessee Code, it is unlawful for any person to import, possess, or cause to be imported into the state any type of live skunk, or to sell, barter, exchange or otherwise transfer any live skunk (though there are exceptions for bona fide research institutions and zoological institutions). Just in case you were wondering.

I'm thinking Ohio could use such provisions, because we have a terrible skunk over-population problem. Last night walking home, over the course of 1.5 miles, i came far too close (for my comfort) to two skunks. Sad times.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dan Rather: Deadlines & Datelines

As is often the case when i don't feel like reading assigned texts, last night i ventured into my neighborhood independent bookstore, browsed for a bit, and walked out with four new acquisitions - Deadlines and Datelines by Dan Rather, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells (my previous copy mysteriously disappeared en route to a friend), Fame & Folly by Cynthis Ozick, and The Future of Music by David Kusek.  I opened Deadlines and Datelines first.

I can't say much of Dan Rather's reporting.  I know the past few years brought scandal with forged documents, but i've never really watched television news programs, so any assessment of his television reports would be based on secondhand rumors at best. With regard to his writing though, i am extremely disappointed.  He's terrible.  These essays are worthless.  He doesn't ever actually make a point.  He offers superficial details of the situation and tosses in a couple of quotes from affiliated individuals.  The essays are short - but not short enough to warrant a complete lack of content.

I'll probably finish off the book, in part because it sparks recollections of significant events over the past twenty years or so (e.g. the Oklahoma City Bombing, Microsoft's First Anti-Trust Trial, Waco, Jonesboro), and because the lack of substance makes it a very quick read.  I'm not yet sure whether i should find it depressing or inspiring, though; on one hand, it's depressing that someone with such little to add to the discussion can be deemed the one the nation turns to for information on important events, but on the other, it's almost inspiring to recognize the limited talents necessary to acheive fame.

Edit: Also, i find more than a little irony in the fact that his longest and most well-developed essay (from 1999), focuses upon the potential pitfalls of internet news, since there's no managing editor to ensure that only accurate information makes it into reports.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Hidden Tracks

Dear Musicians,

Once upon a time, the hidden track feature was a great surprise. Well...it was a surprise once, and then it became an expectation leading to disappointment in its absence. But still, when everything happened on CDs, this was an understandable feature.

The thing is, very little happens on CDs now. I consider myself amongst the rare, in that i still buy CDs (i like having the physical object and the lyrics/artwork) - most people just download (whether legitimately or otherwise). Even when i buy CDs though, the first thing i do is rip them to mp3 format for my hard drive.  Individual tracks, completely separated from the rest of the album.

This is ideal. If i love a song, i can add it to every playlist five times. If i hate a song, i can program iTunes so that it never plays. The only exception to this though, is that rare hidden track. The hidden track now mess everything up. You have to choose one option for two songs, and invariably, the interest in hearing the two tracks is not the same.

The hidden track provides the sole remnant of a bygone era, and, should go the way of the rest of the era. It's just annoying. So be honest about what's going on your CD. Or, if you prefer - don't be, but just leave the title off the cover. Please stop adding the two minute pause in the middle of the track, or the sixteen five-second blank tracks. 

Thanks,

~Jess

P.S. I know that i can split up the tracks with SoundForge, and often i do. That isn't the point. You have the power to make it a non-issue. Please act accordingly.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

No One's Listening (On Misnomers and Responsibility)

I am currently listening to No One's Listening, a great podcast available through iTunes, featuring Irene McGee (formerly of The Real World Seattle). Truthfully, i don't care all that much for Irene. She's rather hung up on herself, and takes every opportunity available to redirect the conversation to herself and her traumatic experiences as a media victim. But, her belief that she was unfairly portrayed has lead to her current career path as a student of media ethics, which provides the subject matter for the podcast.  Media ethics may not sound like the most fascinating subject in the world, but it's on the short list of things i might like to study in grad school. Nerd. Check. Move along.

Despite my negative reactions to Irene though, i keep listening because she has fantastic guests. The edition of the moment is "Creativity and the Commons," focusing on intellectual property.  Her guests include my idol Lawrence Lessig and Elana Rosen, the founder of an awesome organization called Just Think

This is an old episode, but it's relevant the paper that i'm writing, so i thought i'd run through it again, just in case i could find any inspiration. In fact, i have. I now have the introductory quote for my paper: 

"What typically happens is the content industry goes to Congress, they try to get Congress to do really stupid things. Sometimes Congress doesn't do the stupid things. It's rare, but sometimes Congress actually, you know, resists the content industry. So then the content industry goes to WIPO, the world intellectual property organizations, and they get them to establish some rule in a treaty that then binds the United States  So they go to the international organization, they get the international organization to say this must happen, and then they come back to Congress and they say...well, now you have to do it, because it's the only way to respect international rules"  ~Lawrence Lessig


Fabulous Lessig. Thank you much. (Said paper focuses upon a new layer of Intellectual Property Rights that the US is attempting to push through WIPO, despite complete opposition from pretty much everyone).

Anyhow, given such productivity, i felt that i could take a momentary break and expound on the state of the world as it frustrates me today.  Was the introduction praise filled enough? Good. Cause here come the complaints. The host, dear Irene McGee, doesn't know anything.  Each week she attempts to speak on a new subject, and each week she proves her astounding lack of knowledge in the relevant area.

Take this episode, for example. She's discussing Intellectual Property, but it's quickly apparent that she doesn't understand anything of the subject. She's probably done a cursory search on Wikipedia. And yet...she feels compelled to offer her opinions and speak authoritatively. My complaints are not just on this subject though.  The other day she interviewed the founder of Wikipedia. Same deal. She clearly knew almost nothing of the subject, and still felt as though she should speak authoritatively, attempting to insert wholly irrelevant comments and suggestions. 

This is a podcast, sanctioned by no one. Statements must be weighed accordingly. Anyone can say anything they want, and that's the joy of personal publishing (See http://thefuturethatwas.blogspot.com) I'm fully in support of giving people a voice and a platform.

But she seems to have developed something of a following. She's been picked up by a local station in San Francisco, and thanks to prominent feature placement (i.e. BoingBoing), lots of people are listening to No One's Listening. She has joined the Media. Given the topic...that is, media ethics, it seems that perhaps she should be a bit more stringent about her fact checking and general understanding.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Leah and Cullen Wells

She'll change her name today
She'll make a promise, and we'll give her away


A bit of creative license taken with the quote, but if you actually know the song, then you'll understand that it's not the sort of work that compels concern over its artistic integrity. All the same, it's the one that's been running through my mind all night, while celebrating the marriage of Leah Powell and Cullen Wells.

But as opposed to the song, which presents the perspective of only one person, the father letting go of his little girl, tonight's event was truly an occasion for the whole of the Wichita dance community. Leah's been dancing longer than i've been here, and Cullen's little sisters, Julie and Ginger, are two of the most beautiful dancers to emerge from the city. So, as with most wedding ceremonies, this was a family reunion - except in this case, the family was not only the blood-relations variety.

At the reception, the attendence numbers did not correlate with the reservation numbers, so i found myself voluntarily relegated to the lobby. Eight of my favorite dancers congregated around the comfy couches, where we talked and laughed and played and ate, more like the days of slumber parties at Leah's house than a traditional wedding. (Of course, we were without Leah, who was busy doing all the things a bride must do at a wedding, and without Jeni, who was busy doing the things one in the bridal party must do during a wedding). We split salads according to their component parts, to keep Sarah-who-only-likes-croutons happy. We planned Patrice's wedding, which will involve a giant game of hide-and-go-seek and a tea party in place of the traditional bachelorette version. We lamented lost connections, and filled in the stories of shared acquaintances. Mostly though, we just filled the evening with the company of fabulous people, and allowed the events to flow from there. It was lovely.

Of course, it's the evenings such as this that make the leaving so much more difficult. Four more days til i climb on a plane and return to Cleveland.

How do you leave the past behind, when it keeps finding ways to get to your heart? It reaches way down deep and tears you inside out til you're torn apart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Meaninglessness of Ratings

While glancing through my most recent iTunes playlist, i was a bit disappointed to recognize my lack of discrimination in rating songs. This particular playlist contains fifty-seven songs, and fifty-three of them have received the highly sought after five star ranking, with the remaining four reduced to a lowly four stars.  Because i do math when i don't want to write pesky papers, i've discovered that among the songs i've rated, i offer an average of 4.35 stars. Flipping over to netflix, i do a little better. My average rating there is 4.08. According to Netflix, this means that on average, i "really like" every film. This is a blatant lie.

I can't imagine this is just my problem though. I mean, most people are somewhat discriminating in the media they choose to consume. Surely everyone can name an actor or a musician or even an entire genre that they simply avoid. In this avoidance, you're necessarily excluding these from the overall rating system, thereby skewing the eventual results. This isn't inherently a problem. As long as things are simply presented for comparative reference, and everything is considered on the same scale (that is, a personal frame of reference), the ratings have meaning. So - you can look to my Netflix, and see that i like Dead Poets Society much more than Gosford Park.

As soon as you try to extract these into general trends though, the ratings become wholly irrelevant. When thrown into the general stream, you lose the initial personal screening level; that is, the assumption is that the average of those who rate results in a somewhat neutral assessment. Instead, you simply eliminate everyone who will reasonably steer clear on the basis of essential content - thereby making the ratings higher on the whole. 

Of course, this benefits those who use the rating systems to sell their goods. Though one way to compensate is to shift the scale slightly down (i.e., claim the middle ground, three stars, for "didn't like" rather than "like"), this doesn't make sense from a marketing perspective. The service is more attractive if everyone likes the things they see than if they don't like the things they see. It's not lying...but it is manipulative.

Anyhow...i'm not sure that this makes any sense...but i've spent way too much of my life now contemplating something wholly irrelevant, so i'm willing to leave it at that. But if anyone has a better rating system to propose, i'd be happy to hear it - because as it stands, the current ones are useless.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Facebook Revelations and Other Late Night Distractions

My lack of capacity for doing work this evening is impressive, even when grading on the sliding scale of distractibility that generally governs my life. I stayed in with the best intentions. Sadly, contrary to the wisdom of every person trying to justify a lack of actual results, in this case it is not the thought that counts.

Amongst the distracting activities, i've come upon the new facebook feature, which allows for the posting of pictures. I think i may be tramatized for life, as i discover that kids that (in my mind) are still six years old, are now prominently displaying photos of themselves while absolutely trashed. As they are on facebook...they are actually in college, and the choice activities really aren't surprising, but the visual confirmation is disturbing.

In other news, yesterday i started working at a small law firm.  It's only fifteen hours a week, but as it will provide an opportunity to experience what lawyers actually do in practice, i'm very excited. Thus far, it's been lots of writing requests for production of documents, admissions, and interrogatories. Plus, i get to go file things in the courthouse.  I'm pretty sure most people aren't so excited when they get to file things - because i could tell that the clerk of court was struggling not to laugh at my enthusiasm.

Consuming the rest of my existence, the semester ends in four and a half weeks. I could not leave my desk between now and then, and still not accomplish everything. I mean, i realize that time flied progressively faster as you get older, but i'm quite confident that we just started the current batch of classes, so i can't understand how we're supposed to be done with them so soon.  Especially considering that with the conclusion of this semester, i will be halfway through law school. Time flies when you're having "fun"?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Those who don't learn from the math are doomed to repeat it

About five months ago, I found myself engaged in nightly three hour conversations with my baby brother, who found himself in the midst of a last ditch effort to not fail his math course. Somewhere along the line Mikey developed a delusional sense of overconfidence, believing that he just magically understood the subject. Fairly late into the semester, this delusion collided with the harsh reality of painfully low grades and threats of "extended session." Thus began our regular phone sessions geared at tracing through the basics of algebra.

These were not easy. I am not much of a teacher, and he wasn't persuaded by my assertions that he needed to understand the processes. He was looking for the easiest way out, and comprehension didn't offer that route. "It's all multiple choice", he tried to convince me, "and some of the answers are apparently wrong. Most of the time it's just a matter of choosing between two possible answers, leaving about a fifty percent chance of guessing." Turns out he did have a gift for certain forms of math - a personal favorite - precise calculation of the minimum scores required to reach a particular grade level.

Unfortunately (at least, if you are a fifteen year old boy who has little interest in mathematics), his ability to calculate the scores necessary did not correlate with his ability to obtain those scores. He landed himself in summer school, with one more chance to drill the basics of algebra. Apparently he passed, because he has since moved along to Geometry - but i'm not yet convinced that he knows anything about Algebra. This shouldn't be a major problem. He has no aspirations to pursue math or science, opting instead for the subjects which complement his natural talents. He's been quite successful in debate and forensics, reads voraciously, and possesses a vocabulary that surpassed my own starting around his fifth birthday.

Yet, my older sister is applying to graduate school in political science, and last week she completed her GREs. Leading up to the exam, we were rehashing many of the same lessons i'd covered with Mikey in May. The Pythagorean Theorem and SOHCAHTOA, quadratic equations and graphical representations. The mathematics section of the GRE stops at pre-calculus and trigonometry, so much of the exam is comprised of basic algebraic concepts. Honestly, if she's started studying a few months earlier, we could have done conference calls...and maybe then Mikey would have understood the value of understanding. Learn it now, or learn it in ten years - your choice.

To downplay the value i place in math would be disingenuous; personally, i love it. But at the same time, i think it's unreasonable to suggest that one's mathematical capacities should limit most life pursuits, and i fail to see the value of giving such a generic exam for graduate school when it so poorly reflects upon the skills necessary to succeed in such a program. I mean, if you're heading into a math or science program, anything less than a perfect score offers a major question mark. The exam is not designed for specialists. And if you're not continuing in math? When, in the course of obtaining a doctorate in English Literature, are you going to be factoring equations?