Archive for May, 2008

Hardened for Suffering

Posted: May 15, 2008 in Health, Idealism

My first triathlon of the season is in a couple days. As in the past, I’ve been both anticipating and dreading it, and I feel underprepared. I’ve had a few different thoughts this time around, though. The first is that because it’s so early in the season, the water temperature of the lake in which we will swim is only 59 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought perhaps the swim portion would be cancelled or converted to an extra running leg, but it appears the swim is on. I’m definitely not looking forward to jumping in that water.

That dread over the extraordinary discomfort of physical cold caused me to wonder why I’m bothering to put myself in harm’s way beyond the obvious fitness and health benefits of athletic activity. It dawned on me today that much as I’ve tried to keep my gnawing sense of impending doom at bay, I nonetheless believe that we’re in for a world of hurt within my lifetime, and it may be that I’m using the triathlon in part to harden myself for the suffering I expect us all to experience sooner rather than later.

I’m not a competitive athlete; I’m way too slow. For me, the trial is all about endurance, though the cold water (even in a wetsuit) promises to create a different sort of discomfort. I’m habituated by now to fatigue and the strain of keeping moving when I’d rather give up. It’s odd, though, to consider that the ongoing work at tri sports may have intuitively become a proxy for other discomfort, deprivation, and downright suffering yet to come. Unlike many others who have grown soft and will most likely feel their pains quite acutely, I know that I’m prepared to bear it — for a while at least.

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Commander in Chief

Posted: May 14, 2008 in Politics

I rarely blog on politics. That topic is covered awfully well elsewhere — almost everywhere else, it seems. But this caught my eye. Based on how the brief story is reported, Pres. Bush is not searching his soul or experiencing a moment of contrition. Either of those would have required too much depth. But the weight of events during his presidency has at the least soured his golf game and taken the joy out of it. I remember an interview (really, more like a few glib quips) made on the tee box, which found its way into one of Michael Moore’s movies. Back then, it appeared the job had little emotional gravity to Pres. Bush. Things must have changed.

One thing that has steadily worsened is his job approval. This site tracks his ratings, and the table below appears on the third panel on the right. (I believe the table is set to update automatically.)

Bush Job Approval October 2006 to Current

Approve

Disapprove

May 9 2008

32

65

May 2 2008

34

63

Apr 2008

34

63

Mar 2008

36

61

Feb 2008

37

60

Jan 2008

38

59

Dec 2007

37

60

Nov 2007

37

60

Oct 2007

37

61

Sep 2007

38

59

Aug 2007

38

59

Jul 2007

38

60

Jun 2007

35

62

May 2007

36

61

Apr 2007

39

59

Mar 2007

40

58

Feb 2007

41

57

Jan 2007

41

57

Dates are release dates. Surveys

conducted on preceding three nights.

Pres. Bush hasn’t suddenly become Ratsputin or anything, but he’s got to realize that people are more than a little mildly unhappy with him.

Hillary Clinton is similarly out of touch. None of the news reports discuss her candidacy any longer in terms of policy. Rather, it’s all about when she’s going to admit defeat and give it up. She’s like a thoroughbred horse: born to run (and run and run and run) — even if that means breaking her own legs and destroying herself.

Update: I knew I wasn’t going out on much of a limb to draw attention to how Pres. Bush reputedly gave up his golf game in sympathy or solidarity with U.S. soldiers in Iraq. As it turns out, he was photographed playing golf after the event he claimed caused him to decide it was no longer worth it. And as Keith Olbermann observes in his lengthy Special Comment, a rather coincidental knee injury around the same date caused him to have to stop jogging as well. The depths to which the Commander in Chief will sink are impossible to overstate.

Digital Media

Posted: May 13, 2008 in Media, Technophilia

In a former career, I was a librarian, or more precisely, a media cataloger. Although I cataloged pile upon pile of books (fiction, nonfiction, humanities, etc.), my niche was music (scores, LPs, CDs, DVDs, etc.) and books about music. It was a fascinating job in many respects, a large part of which was converting old card catalog entries into digital files for on-line catalogs (a process called retrospective conversion), which meant I looked at a lot of old materials, many of which date back to the early part of the 20th century and some even earlier. Inspecting and describing those materials gave me a fairly narrow, bibliographical sense of publishing practice spanning over one century. During that time, some things changed while others remained largely unchanged. The LP, analog cassette, and VHS tape each came and went in progressively briefer spans of time. Yet other media were introduced but never adopted by the public. Despite its failing sales, the CD is by now a venerable standard that has yet to be fully displaced by something better. (The CD is perhaps in the process of being displaced by MP3s and other digital media, but they’re certainly not better in any respect other than their portability and ability to be copied, and thus infringed.)

Other venerable standards, including the book and the musical score, are still going strong despite challenges from a variety of wannabes. However, forward-looking content managers, including publishers, archives, and libraries, are in a race to digitize the gargantuan backlog of books and scores published over the past four centuries. The first such project is probably Project Gutenberg, which was founded in 1971. Although it boasts over 100,000 titles thus far in a variety of languages, I suspect that it will be overtaken in terms of number of titles (if it hasn’t already) by Google Books and a variety of virtual libraries created and being added to by research libraries. It’s still unlikely that digital media will be adopted any time soon by pleasure readers and practicing musicians. It’s just not much fun curling up with a Kindle or laptop loaded with the latest great American novel, and reading and annotating music from a screen is still far inferior to the printed page. Still, digital media are a terrific tool to researchers, academics, and some industries, such as law and medicine. Keyword access and extensive hyperlinked reference notes make the process of finding information much faster than older research styles undertaken in the card catalog and stacks.

The drive to get as much material scanned and digitized as soon as possible has been a considerable technical hurdle, at least until devices such as this:

automatic-book-scanner-scanrobot-2-0-mds-b

This baby can turn book pages and is reported to be able to scan 1500 to 3000 pp. per minute while unattended. Companies and universities with deep pockets can buy a few of these and chew through yards of books (as library holdings are often measured) in almost no time at all. Of course, there are other considerations beyond simply creating digital files. Although folks may not always recognize it, librarians are all about providing access, and that means describing and cataloging the media, whether a book, CD, magazine, or digital scan. That requires a lot of man hours.

The information glut produced by having so much content, both old and new, available at our computers has done little to stem the decrease in readership for books, newspapers, magazines, etc. I’ve considered the waning of the typographic mind and the rise of the pictorial mind in the past. As with all media, the effects of embracing new forms and abandoning old ones have consequences that few care to contemplate and that are frankly difficult to anticipate or observe except with the advantage of considerable hindsight. For example, we still don’t fully understand the awesome effect of TV, which has been in wide use for over half a century.

Some cultural critics believe that American-style democracy can’t function without an informed and engaged citizenry. Yet everything about modern culture points to the swarming masses disengaged from public life and instead hunkered down in the media bubbles housed in their living rooms and dens (and their ridiculous SUVs, which increasingly resemble rolling living rooms). But as with most cultural shifts, no one is purposely causing this to occur. Rather, it’s an unintended side effect of the tools and technologies we create for the dual purposes of entertaining ourselves and conducting business.

This post is reposted from Creative Destruction.

There are three principle types of intellectual property: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Each of them awards exclusive rights over an intangible creation or tangible invention, which is balanced by a recognized need for a free flow of ideas to foster further creativity.

In the area of patents, a creation might be a business method, a design for a manufactured item, or an invention or improvement on an invention. A patent owner is given a monopoly on use and/or license of the patented creation for a period of 20 years, after which the property falls into the public domain. In obtaining patent rights, the workings of an invention become public information, and others are encouraged to design around the patent to improve technology. If disclosure is undesirable, an inventor may decide not to seek patent rights and keep the invention secret. The recipe for Coke is an example of a trade secret.

In the area of trademarks, a monopoly is granted to use a word, phrase, slogan, design, logo, or combination of these to distinguish the source of certain goods and/or services. Most of us are familiar with trademark use in connection with brand development. Trademarks are renewable in perpetuity.

In the area of copyrights, the creator of a work, such as a novel, a poem, a painting, or a musical composition, is granted a monopoly to copy, modify, distribute, perform, and display the work publicly. Copyright duration for a work created after 1976 is the life of the author plus 70 years, after which point the work falls into the public domain.

Public domain means that anyone, for any reason, can use, adapt, and/or reproduce the work without having to pay a licensing royalty to the creator or his/her assigns. Shakespearean plays are public domain, as are the writings of Thomas Jefferson, or the musical compositions of Johannes Brahms. The mere fact that something is made public does not mean that it is public domain.

U.S. intellectual property law stems from English Common Law. Intellectual property rights are granted in the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8), which states that Congress shall have the power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The first United Kingdom patent was issued in London in the fifteenth century; in the U.S., the first patent was granted in 1790. The first United Kingdom trademark legislation was in the late nineteenth century; in the U.S., the first Federal trademark legislation was enacted in 1870. In the United Kingdom, the Statute of Anne from the eighteenth century established the first copyright protection; in the U.S., the first copyright law was passed in 1790.

Ongoing tension exists between the right of a creator to enjoy the fruits of his or her own creation and the public’s desire to either make use of others’ creations (often derivatively) or simply copy a creative work — especially when modern technology allows for an efficient and low-cost or cost-free mechanisms for doing so. It is considered an infringement of the rights of an intellectual property owner to defy the exclusive rights granted to him or her and enshrined in law. The government does not generally police acts of infringement. It is up to the owners of intellectual property to monitor use of a creation and to seek redress for unlawful use. Unlike other laws, a decision to not seek redress for infringement — sitting on rights — does not relinquish those rights. The monopoly includes the right to tolerate a certain level of infringement.