Friday, July 31, 2009

Pirate: reformed

How we frame a debate can impact the outcome. George Lakoff's book on the subject presents the arguments well, so I won't repeat them here. I got to thinking of this recently at an MPR News Q question of the day popped about whether "illegally sharing music" is moral.

Okay, a few things on this.
  1. "Illegally sharing" is a very specific frame to this debate. After all - why would anyone make sharing illegal? Isn't this the golden rule we were all told to obey in kindergarten? Sharing is nice! So, whatever this "illegal" part is must be some mistake, I'm sure.
  2. "Facilitating theft" is another frame one could use. Maybe you don't actually download other people's music files when you use peer to peer networks (but honestly - when was the last time you got something legal from a BitTorrent?). Maybe you just log in to peer-to-peer networks and you happen to share your music files folder. In this case, you really aren't stealing anything yourself, after all. But what legal purpose could you have for sharing that folder? The only real reason - c'mon people - is to let other people steal a file.
  3. Yes, copyright law is broken. It is insanely corrupted, written by people who make money on the status quo. I mean really, life of the author plus 75 years? The only possible justification for this is to make corporations - not people - rich, and to perpetuate an oligarchy by making sure family members of really rich people stay really rich. Meritocracy? Not under this system.
  4. Yes, copyright law can be fixed. We have a perfectly good alternative in the Creative Commons license. Already working and tested, thank you very much. So, why don't we just move the whole system and remove greater-than-lifetime protection? See above references to who is getting rich, here. Sony and Disney like their money, thank you very much. They've contacted Congress on this. Heck, they wrote the last bill.
  5. Many consumers would rather take the easy way out, thank you very much. Changing laws is hard, especially when you have to compete against Sony and Disney. "Illegally sharing" is so much more convenient. We consumers have gotten really good at rationalizations, as well. Such as:
    a. The artists don't make the money, anyway. (True, often enough).
    b. The corporations have been screwing us for years. (Again, often true).
    c. I can't buy this song anyway, it's out of print, so I can get a copy peer-to-peer. (Many songs have never been made available on CD/digital version - but many very clever people have made their own digital copies from other media).
    d. My few songs won't make any difference to anyone (hmmmm, now we're getting lame).
    e. It doesn't cost the company single cent - it's not like I took something they duplicated and put in a store. (Ditto on the lameness).
    f. I wouldn't have bought this song if I had to pay money, so it's not like they are losing any sales. (Lamer, still.)
You may wonder at point 5 here, just how do I know so much about rationalizations to steal digital work? Yes, I used to pirate stuff from the comfort of my own home, oh those many years ago now. First, I worked up all my rationalizations, then I made a puzzle out of finding the right software, hunting down files, and all the rest.

Then, I had to get honest with myself. (Note to self: blog sometime about getting honest).

I wasn't stealing in order to change a broken system, or to pay artists for their time, or to sock it to the Man, whoever this Man may be. I was stealing to gratify a fairly unnecessary desire for more.

Even then, I had a great deal of legally purchased music and movies. I didn't really *need* more. I wanted more. And taking more because I wanted more wasn't really good for me as it turns out, I have a problem with *more*. So I stopped. I purged any file that I didn't have license to, and made a list of files I liked enough to actually buy. And I started a very slow, methodical campaign to own the songs I wanted to own and to deal with my own gluttony and lust (yes, I was raised Catholic) for the rest.

So this may come off as holier than thou, but I have been way less holy than most, so I cast no stones at anyone lest I get a boulder or two lobbed my way (did I mention I was raised Catholic?). I will urge you to think about the real problem, here. Most people are willing to pay for their stuff. After all, I don't know anyone who steals groceries. The major music sellers are all DRM free now, so you can buy digital copies of your music (a lot if it, anyway) and actually play the stuff. Now, we have to have the will power to expect some change from Congress.


So, let's buckle down, and be honest with ourselves and with them. And if you really want to call attention to a broken system, organize a group of pirates who admit they are stealing and accept the consequences. Go to jail over it. I won't be joining you, but if you get a thousand people arrested for breaking copyright, I bet you'll get some change.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A plethora of podcasts

My life was missing something subtle.

Mostly, I'm a pretty happy guy. I've had some crazy stuff to deal with in my past (note to self: blog about dealing with crazy stuff), but on the whole, I'm grateful for the good things in life and try to let the rest just be what it is. This is easier to do with big-picture stuff, like death and taxes. Sometimes, the little things find a wedge into my brain and poke in like a very small splinter under the skin. I can't see it, but something there is bugging me.

It turns out it was subconscious recognition of the need for spoken word entertainment in my life. I'm an American - I get a lot of television. I watch a lot of movies. Recently, I've even started kicking it old school with those book thingies I used to use all the time. I started slowly. I caught "This American Life" on the radio now and then. Eventually I tracked down episodes on the Web and was amazed by how compelled I could be by a story without pictures. Not a book, just voices. I could stream the old shows, so I started dragging my laptop computer around the house as I did chores. I had my wireless connection so I could listen to the show while I cleaned the bathroom. My advice to you if you don't like to clean: treat yourself to some good stories, and you'll find yourself looking forward to scrubbing the bathtub because it means you can enjoy this more.

I started adding other shows. I streamed "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and Leo Laporte's TWIT broadcasts. Locally, I got into "In the Loop". It was a slow progression at first. Eventually, this content became available for download, and I didn't have to stream it all the time. It all sped up when Selby joined the family.

Selby is my dog. He's a four-ish something beagle that came to live with us in 2007. He is the best dog on the planet and anyone wishing to challenge that assumption just ain't right in the head. So there.

Selby does have some needs that changed by life. For one, he potties outside. For this, I am grateful. Mostly. There are times when he needs to go out at 5 AM in January that I wish he wasn't housebroken. Ah well, the sacrifices we make. The other big one is he has to get some exercise, and someone has to go with him. Most often, that's me.

Now, Selby is cute as heck, but he is not a witty conversationalist. He needs a good 2-3 miles in the morning if we are going to prevent him from trying to taste the tantalizing tidbits tucked in our tasteful turf. I grab some poop-bags (yes, fully biodegradable from the fine folks at - I love the Interwebs) and off we go for a walk each morning about 5:30. My feet are moving, but my brain is in low gear. I enjoy the sights of the cathedral, downtown, Crocus hill and all the rest, but mostly, this is downtime. So I plug in the headphones and let someone else do the thinking.

All of this in the way of saying I have some recommendations for you. In a particular order:

1. RadioLab. Please visit and listen. I recommend starting with the episode on musical language, but hey - you really can't go wrong.
2. This American Life. No, they haven't even begun to lose it after all these years.
3. Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Just silly, but in a clever way. I was a contestant once. I lost.
4. Gadgettes. Molly Wood in particular just rocks. Kelly and Jason, you're great, but Molly just gets me. She does great video podcasts for C/NET as well, but today we're talking audio.
5. Windows Weekly. Yes, way geeky, but unlike some of the other TWIT podcasts, this is likely to stay on topic. Paul Thurrott is wry, and I love the depth to which we reluctant Microsoft minions are willing to delve to feel like we made the right choice.
6. This Week in Tech. When Leo Laporte doesn't totally derail the train on some completely untech tangent for fifteen minutes (really - I did *not* tune in to listen to you and your friends drink scotch. Really. No, for real.) this show can be very entertaining.
7. Planet Money. Kinda hit and miss, but still finding its footing. A podcast about the depression we are in, while no one calls it that.

I have more, but they are not the ones I make sure to get through each week. I listen to every episode of these, and I encourage you to check them out. If you need a test dog to walk while giving them a spin, I have a beagle that is happy to show you where all the rabbits in the neighborhood hang out.

Monitize is a word

Oh fer Pete's sake - another blogger.

I just need some place to dump some thoughts. You're welcome to read them, or not. Take what you like, leave the rest. Or not. Really.

I have a few things to say about a few things, but before we get into any of that, a quick comment from me about setting up this page in Blogger.

There is a "Monetize" tag in the control panel and setting box. Now, I listen to a fair number of podcasts (note to self: must blog later on podcasts....) and many of them ponder the perturbing problems of paying the piper. However, I've never seen the darn word in print before.

So, I clicked the link.

If I get rich, I'll let you know.

The point being, I was sort of slapped in the face by the realization that our amazing Interwebs - our space where billions of pages of data and more are just waiting for our playful fingers to hit the right sequence of keys to breath life into dynamically-generated content - may need to be Monitized by random schmucks in their living rooms typing on less-than accurate keyboards while their adopted beagles sigh in the corner by the fireplace as if to say "are you still tapping on that thing?"

*whew*. I feel better. That was a long sentence, but it needed to come out in one crazed, cathartic, careening crash of chaos. Trying to structure that particular piece of penmanship would have pulled the literary equivalent of a hamstring. I'd be virtually limping for months.

So, our living language leaps left, and Monitize is a mouse-click away. I smile. My dog sighs again. We move on.