Author: mark <email@example.com>
Date: 2013-05-22 (Wed, 22 May 2013)
Standardize worker preamble
The impetus here is to enable the automatic inclusion of the extlib/
directory, which is mostly a production related move. This standardizes
our preamble template to load extlib, let it be overriden from cgi-bin,
and then hook in ljlib.
The House: Victorian duplex in Takoma Park. 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, ten-minute walk from Takoma Metro station, directly across the street from a bus stop. $725/month + utilities. Has dishwasher, washer/dryer, front and back porches, gorgeous interior woodwork, driveway (share with 1 other car), resident-only street parking, gas stove, central A/C, double-pane windows, FiOS. In addition to bedrooms: living room, two(!) rooms we use as libraries, a well-equipped kitchen, a sun porch/dining room/pantry, and a large basement used for storage.
The Household: Affectionately dubbed the People’s Republic of Fandom. We’re a bunch of queer nerds. We possess All The Books, All The Comfy Couches, All The Tea, a flatscreen TV hooked up to a Netflix account, and enough miscellaneous vintage electronics in the basement to film a credible ’70s sci-fi movie. We are very used to juggling odd schedules and mismatched dietary restrictions. Anything you may have heard about us being able to procure contraband jelly babies and/or uranium is a complete and utter lie.
Interested parties please comment or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Crossposts: Tumblr, my Dreamwidth, my LJ. Feel free to pass this along!)
Overcast with a chance of rain in the morning, then partly cloudy. High of 64F. Breezy. Winds from the NNE at 15 to 20 mph with gusts to 30 mph. Chance of rain 20%.
Clear. Low of 41F. Winds from the NE at 5 to 15 mph.
Clear. High of 66F. Winds less than 5 mph. Chance of rain 20%.
Partly cloudy with a chance of rain in the evening, then overcast. Low of 46F. Winds from the SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
Overcast in the morning, then partly cloudy. High of 70F. Winds from the SE at 5 to 10 mph.
Clear in the evening, then overcast. Low of 48F. Winds from the ESE at 5 to 10 mph.
Partly cloudy with a chance of rain in the morning, then overcast with a chance of rain. High of 73F. Winds from the SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.
Overcast with a chance of rain. Low of 52F. Winds from the SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.
Mostly cloudy. High of 73F. Winds from the SE at 10 to 15 mph.
Overcast with a chance of a thunderstorm. Low of 55F. Winds from the SE at 5 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 50%.
The Concourse Hotel is between two lakes, so breezy (but not Lake Michigan-level breezy).
Hotel weather can be hot, cold, dry, humid, windy and stuffy.
I decided to re-read Jane Smiley's The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998), as being something I had vaguely been meaning to reread and v different from Ten Days in the Hills (one thing one can say of Smiley is that she doesn't keep writing the same book over and over again...). I had forgotten just how long a part of the book her being married and living in Kansas Territory among abolitionists at a time of increasing attacks against them was. I had remembered as much more of her disguised as a boy. Anyway, this is still on the go as I was about threequarters through and didn't want to bring it travelling.
Still working my way through the stories in Conservation of Shadows.
Have just started Jo Anderton's Suited the sequel to Debris, about which I was a bit ambivalent, but interested enough to give this a go.
What I've just read
My weekend Christie was Murder in Mesopotamia, of which I thought the conclusion was really a bit farfetched for reasons I have to describe as SPOILER.
Waiting for my flight and on the plane, and in the passport control queue from hell, I got through the two latest short stories by Barbara Hambly downloaded from her website, Sylvia Engdahl's Defender of the Flame, two odd comic dystopian novels by Madelaine Duke, Claret, Sandwiches and Sin (1964) and This Business of Bomfog (1967), and Tansey Rayner Roberts, Splashdance Silver (1998 reissued 2013).
The Hambly stories were well up to standard. The Engdahl was interesting, but really, the characters are all terribly flat. The two novels by Duke: CS&S was an interesting idea somewhat unsatisfactorily developed, and I'm still trying to work out what the point of TBOB was. I think even comic dystopias should have more plot in their worldbuilding. The Rayner Roberts was probably not the best choice - apparently it was her first published novel and I have possibly read slightly too many humourous subversions of standard fantasy narratives.
Also, several essays for a competition, about which I may expatiate further and perhaps under lock...
And what next
As per usual, no idea.
A Brazilian ad agency has built a campaign for Domino's "Pizza" that uses a heat-sensitive coating on rented DVDs; when the disc is played, the heat from the player heats up the coating and causes it to emit a pizza-like odor; the coating also changes appearance and becomes a picture of a pizza with an ad for Domino's.
In partnership with 10 video rental stores in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the brand used rented DVDs as media. About 10 discs each of 10 different new release titles such as Argo, 007, Dread And Dark Knight were stamped with thermal ink and flavored varnish, both sensitive to the heat.
While people were watching the movie, the heat of the DVD player affected the disc. When the movie ended and they ejected the disc, they smelled pizza. They also saw pizza: the discs were printed to look like mini pies, and carried the message: "Did you enjoy the movie? The next one will be even better with a hot and delicious Domino's Pizza."
Bad facts make bad law: it’s legal cliché that is unfortunately based on reality. We saw as much yesterday, in the case of Ryan Hart v. Electronic Arts. Presented with a situation that just seemed unfair, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals proceeded to make a whole bunch of bad law that puts dollars ahead of speech.
Here are the facts: Electronic Arts sells a videogame called NCAA Football.; Part of the success of the game is based on its realism and detail—including its realistic digital avatars of college players. One of those players was Ryan Hart, who played for Rutgers University from 2002 to 2005. NCAA Football did not use Hart’s name, but the game included an avatar with Hart’s Rutgers team jersey number, biographical information, and statistics. Trouble is, no one asked Hart if he wanted to be part of the game. Nor did anyone pay him for it—they couldn’t, because college players aren’t allowed to accept money for any kind of commercial activity. When Ryan discovered the game, he sued EA based on a lesser-known but pernicious legal doctrine, the right of publicity.
The right of publicity a funny offshoot of privacy law that gives a (human) person the right to limit the public use of her name, likeness and/or identity, particularly for commercial purposes like an advertisement. The original idea was that using someone's face to sell soap or gum, for example, might be embarrassing for that person and that she should have the right to prevent it. While that might makes some sense in a narrow context, states have expanded the law well beyond its original boundaries. For example, the right was once understood to be limited to name and likeness, but now it can mean just about anything that “evokes” a person’s identity, such as a phrase associated with a celebrity (like “Here’s Johnny,”) or even a robot dressed like a celebrity. And in some states, the right can now be invoked by your heirs long after you are dead and, presumably, in no position to be embarrassed by any sordid commercial associations. In other words, it’s become a money-making machine.
But there has traditionally been at least one limit on publicity claims: the First Amendment. In a nutshell, courts are supposed to balance a person’s right to control the use of her identity against others’ right to expressive speech – including videogames. Unfortunately, the Third Circuit just threw that balance way out of whack.
The good: The court recognizes that videogames are protected expression under the First Amendment, and that free speech is important. Whew!
The bad: The court embraced the wrong test for balancing a person's commercial interests against free speech. Many courts have sensibly borrowed from trademark law and found that, where the invocation of an identity is part of the expressive purpose, the court should not punish it unless it is in essence a disguised advertisement, e.g., the user is just trying to use a person's name to call attention to an product (like potato chips).
Here, the court went off in an entirely different direction, borrowing instead from copyright law to conclude that only uses that are “transformative” can be protected by the First Amendment. In copyright, whether a work is transformative, i.e., creates something new with a different purpose or character, is an important part of the fair use analysis. However, the court imported a decidely narrow approach to transformativeness: did not consider whether the game as a whole had transformative value, as one would in a copyright case, but focused solely only on how Hart's identity was used or transformed. The court reasoned that since the “digital Ryan Hart does what the actual Ryan Hart” did, i.e. play college football, there was no transformation and Hart’s economic interests trumped EA’s free speech interests. The court was also selective about what it chose to import from copyright, ignoring several other factors relevant to fair use, such as market harm and whether the underlying work is factual (if so, copyright protection is “thinner”).
As a group of video and filmmakers pointed out, the transformation test is a bad fit for publicity rights. The fair use analysis generally balances competing speech interests—those of the original and secondary authors. But there is no speech interest in cashing in on your fame. In addition, copyright law is designed to encourage creativity through economic incentives. No such additional incentive is needed for celebrities.
It’s entirely understandable that a court might sympathize with Ryan Hart. But if the court’s test was applied broadly, it could have a devastating impact on creative works that relate to real people and life stories. For example, the rationale would apply directly to political biographies or biopics like The Social Network. It could even impact news reporting. The appellate court’s decision sends a message to all creators—if you create a work that happens to evoke someone’s identify, and your use isn’t “transformative” enough, your free speech is less important than that person’s ability to milk his or her fame for everything it’s worth.
Finally, the ugly: The Third Circuit expressly embraced a very silly notion: that your name and fame are your “property.” Nonsense—publicity rights are a limited right to control use of your identify for commercial purposes—nothing more, nothing less. As we’ve seen with copyrights and trademarks, treating limited monopolies in certain expression this way leads people to embrace broad and dangerous new forms of protection. By treating publicity rights as equivalent to a real property right (in your home, for example), the court gave far too much weight to celebrities’ interest in control over their image and far too little weight to free speech.
Bad facts, bad law. We hope EA appeals this decision, and that the Supreme Court overturns it.
We have a governor's suite room booked from Thursday to Sunday which we would like to transfer to someone else.
We can help subsidize the transfer somewhat since at this point we'd rather the cancellation fees go toward helping someone enjoy their con rather than going straight to the hotel coffers.
Anasazi America, by David E. Stuart. Yes, still. It's good, but slow, and I have been interrupting myself. The book promises to combine archeology and history, but I'm still in the early chapters, which are necessarily archeological (pre-dating any written records from that part of North America). The book is talking about climate, changes in tools, food sources, settlement patterns, and economics (in a large sense), and the author promises to draw connections between the collapse of the Anasazi civilization and our own time and circumstances.
King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian Macdonald. Too early in the book to have much to say about it, except that I can entirely understand some of the reasons the characters are annoyed with each other, without anyone actually doing wrong.
What have I read recently?
Aunt Lulu, by Daniel Pinkwater. A cheerful, silly picture book that I reread after spotting it while unpacking. A librarian, sled dogs, and some fine illustrations.
An Excellent Mystery, by Ellis Peters. Reread of a Brother Cadfael that I asked the library for because I didn't recognize the title. Good, but I think I've had enough of these for a while, even if the King County Library System has the middle of the series (the first several, and the last few, are relatively easy to find).
The Highest Frontier, by Joan Slonczewski. I wanted to read something of hers before Wiscon, where she is one of the guests of honor (the other, Jo Walton, is a friend of mine and a writer whose work I like and have read just about all of). This is a coming-of-age adventure about a bright girl from a very political family set about a century in the future, in a world badly affected by climate change, with eerily familiar politics even though the anti-reality forces . Jenny Ramos Kennedy is descended from two presidents, and her family takes for granted that she will go into politics too, but in the meantime she's playing varsity zero-gee sports and being awakened to take EMT/first responder emergency calls.
The story is set mostly in a space habitat, with chunks in virtual reality ("toyspace") and in Somers, N.Y. A kudzu-covered Somers, with a very different fauna and ecosystem than is found there now. It's as plausible a choice as any, but there's something odd about that level of "I've been there" not-really-familiarity for a bit of suburb. The book is fast-paced, the world-building is mostly convincing, and I didn't think the ending quite lived up to the first nine tenths of the book.
What am I going to read next?
Likely something random I download for the kindle (I have a long flight ahead of me) followed by something from the Wiscon dealer's room. Or maybe back to the library stack. [I may drop this section, given that its predictive value has been lower than that of just rolling a die.)
According to the New York Times, President Obama is "on the verge of backing" a proposal by the FBI to introduce legislation dramatically expanding the reach of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA. CALEA forces telephone companies to provide backdoors to the government so that it can spy on users after obtaining court approval, and was expanded in 2006 to reach Internet technologies like VoIP. The new proposal reportedly allows the FBI to listen in on any conversation online, regardless of the technology used, by mandating engineers build "backdoors" into communications software. We urge EFF supporters to tell the administration now to stop this proposal, provisionally called CALEA II.
The rumored proposal is a tremendous blow to security and privacy and is based on the FBI's complaint that it is "Going Dark," or unable to listen in on Internet users' communications. But the FBI has offered few concrete examples and no significant numbers of situations where it has been stymied by communications technology like encryption. To the contrary, with the growth of digital communications, the FBI has an unprecedented level of access to our communications and personal data; access which it regularly uses. In an age where the government claims to want to beef up Internet security, any backdoors into our communications makes our infrastructure weaker.
Backdoors also take away developers' right to innovate and users' right to protect their privacy and First Amendment-protected anonymity of speech with the technologies of their choice. The FBI's dream of an Internet where it can listen to anything, even with a court order, is wrong and inconsistent with our values. One should be able to have a private conversation online, just as one can have a private conversation in person.
The White House is currently debating whether or not to introduce the bill. Here's why it shouldn't:
There's Little Darkness: Few Investigations Have Been Thwarted
The starting point for new legislation should be a real, serious, and well-documented need. Despite the FBI's rhetoric, there are few concrete examples of the FBI's purported need to expand its already efficient all-seeing eye. Current law requires annual reporting by the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the use of the government's wiretapping powers; the report includes statistics on how often Federal law enforcement has been impeded in a court-authorized investigation by encryption or has been unable to access communications. These statistics show that this has happened only rarely. In its most recent report—from 2010—DOJ reported that encryption had only been encountered all of 12 times.
Did the encryption stop the investigation, or even prevent the wiretappers from figuring out what was being said? No. The report admits that in all of these instances, police were able to obtain the plain text of communications. Previous years' numbers are similar. Aside from government reports, in 2012 telecommunications companies also revealed that a very low percentage of law enforcement requests for user information were rejected. In AT&T's case, only 965 out of over 250,000 requests for user information were rejected. Overall, the available public statistics don't appear to support the FBI's claims about its inability to access communications.
Law Enforcement Already Has Unprecedented Access
Any requested expansion of FBI surveillance authority has to consider the overall ability of law enforcement to investigate crimes. What the FBI doesn't mention when pushing new backdoors into our communications is that now, due to the shift to digital communications, law enforcement has an unprecedented level of access to, and knowledge of, the public's communications, relationships, transactions, whereabouts, and movements. Law enforcement now can gain 24/7 monitoring of most people's movements using cell phone location data. But that's just the beginning. A glance at the Wall Street Journal's multi-year What They Know project shows some of the treasure troves of data that are being maintained about all of us. By accessing these databases and by using new electronic surveillance technologies law enforcement already has visibility into almost every aspect of our online and offline lives—capabilities beyond the wildest dreams of police officers just a few decades ago.
Indeed, former White House Chief Counselor for Privacy Peter Swire and Kenesa Ahmad argued persuasively in 2011 that, overall, "today [is] a golden age for surveillance"—regardless of whether law enforcement is assured of automatic access to each and every kind of communication, and regardless of whether individuals sometimes succeed in using privacy technologies to protect themselves against some kinds of surveillance.
First, there's information obtained from cell phones. In July 2012, the New York Times reported that federal, state, and local law enforcement officials had requested all kinds of cell phone data—including mappings of suspects’ locations—a staggering 1.3 million times in the previous year. Cell phone companies can create what amounts to detailed maps of our locations and turn them over to law enforcement. Even without asking for cell phone providers' direct assistance, law enforcement has considerable ability to use mobile devices to track us. Federal and state law enforcement have made extensive use of IMSI catchers (also popularly called “stingrays,” after the brand name of one such device). These devices can act as a fake cell phone tower, observing all devices in a certain area to find a cell phone's location in real-time, and perhaps even intercept phone calls and texts.
Laws compelling companies to divulge user information accompany these techniques. For instance, National Security Letters, served on communications service providers like phone companies and ISPs, allow the FBI to secretly demand stored data about ordinary Americans' private communications and Internet activity without any meaningful oversight or prior judicial review. And Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act allows for secret court orders to collect “tangible things” that could be relevant to a government investigation. The list of possible “tangible things” the government can obtain is seemingly limitless, and could include everything from driver’s license records to Internet browsing patterns. The FBI has even broken into individuals' computers to collect data from inside the computers themselves. More backdoors aren't needed.
Backdoors Make Us Weaker and More Vulnerable
CALEA II will force companies with messaging services—from Google to Twitter to video game developers—to insert backdoors into their platforms. But backdoors only make us weaker and more vulnerable. It's ironic that CALEA II may be proposed only months after Congress pushed “cybersecurity” legislation to protect our networks. The notion of mandating backdoors in software is the antithesis of online security, which is why some academics have called it a “ticking time bomb.”
A proposal to expand backdoors into communications software ensures that online hackers, communications company insiders, and nation-states have a direct entrance to attack—and steal from—companies and government agencies. In one notorious example, someone exploited backdoors in a Greek phone company's systems and recorded sensitive conversations involving the Prime Minister. Wiretapping backdoors even affect national security. In 2012, Wired revealed the NSA's discovery and concern that every telephone switch for sale to the Department of Defense had security vulnerabilities due to the legally-mandated wiretap implementation. If politicians are serious about online security, they will not make these security blunders even worse by bringing more sensitive communication technologies under CALEA's scope.
Just last week, an ad hoc group of twenty renowned computer security experts issued a report explaining their consensus that CALEA II proposals could seriously harm computer security. These experts said that a requirement to weaken security with deliberate backdoors “amounts to developing for our adversaries capabilities that they may not have the competence, access or resources to develop on their own.”
And now the Washington Post has reported that intruders, allegedly working on behalf of the Chinese government, broke into Google's existing surveillance systems. (In this case, the report says that the intruders learned who was targeted by these systems, rather than accessing the contents of the targets' accounts or communications—but it's easy to see that wiretap contents would ultimately represent an even bigger target, and a bigger prize. Even more exciting would be the prospect of remotely activating new wiretaps against victims of an intruder's choice.)
Internet Users Have the Right to Secure Communications
Expanding CALEA is not only a tremendous risk for our online security; it's a slap in the face of Internet users who want to protect themselves online by choosing privacy-protecting software to shield their communications. Ordinary individuals, businesses, and journalists want and often need state-of-the art software to protect their communications in an era of pervasive spying by commercial rivals, criminals, and governments around the world. The government's rhetoric takes us back to the early 1990s when US law enforcement spoke openly of banning secure encryption software to keep it out of the public's hands. EFF and others had to fight—including in the Federal courts—to establish the principle that publishing and using encryption tools is an essential matter of individual freedom and protected by the First Amendment.
Once those “crypto wars” were over, the US government seemed to accept the right of Americans to secure communications and abandon the idea of forcing innovators to dumb down these technologies. We turned our concerns to foreign governments, several of whom were trying to ban communications tools for being “too private.” (For instance, the Associated Press reported five countries threatened to ban BlackBerry services in 2010 because the services protected user privacy too well.) Americans, including the US State Department, began supporting the development and distribution of secure communications tools to foreign rights activists who need them. Now this battle may be coming home.
Even with these tools, most Americans can protect only a tiny fraction of the trail of data we leave behind electronically as we live our lives. But we still have the right to choose them and try our best to keep our private communications private.
CALEA Must Not Come Back
The government should place any proposal to expand CALEA on hold. There is little evidence the FBI is actually “going dark,” especially when balanced with all the new information they have access to about our communications. And backdoors make everyone weaker. In a time when “cybersecurity” is supposed to be a top priority in Washington, the FBI is pushing a scheme that directly undermines everyone's online security and interferes with both innovation and the freedom of users to choose the technologies that best protect them. Tell the White House now to stop the proposal in its tracks.
⌈ Secret Post #2332 ⌋
Warning: Some secrets are NOT worksafe and may contain SPOILERS.
( More! )
Secrets Left to Post: 02 pages, 037 secrets from Secret Submission Post #333.
Secrets Not Posted: [ 0 - broken links ], [ 0 - not!secrets ], [ 0 - not!fandom ], [ 0 - too big ], [ 0 - repeat ], [ 1 - posted twice ].
Current Secret Submissions Post: here.
Suggestions, comments, and concerns should go here.
Alloy Entertainment isn't just the rights holder for Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, etc -- they're a very notorious book packager who has in the last 10 years basically been upending (successfully) the whole model of authorship. (At least as it applies in the print world, anyway. Alloy would and does argue that their model is similar to how writers work in TV, which isn't as true as they say it is, but isn't far off.)
So, a bunch of writers being tasked with writing about a set fictional world under specific constraints but not owning any of the rights to their work? Yeah, that's Alloy's entire financial model *now*. Amazon Worlds is just going to let them do it much much more cheaply.
And in fact, so far nothing about Amazon Worlds is really that different from the last few years of "sponsored" fanfiction contests run by rights-holders, except for the elusive promise of royalties. (I say elusive because Amazon can and, based on past history will, decide to sell your content for free, in which case you get 35% of bupkis.) It's just got the Amazon brand on it, and as we know, that makes everything shinier.
Background reading on Alloy:
Very good article by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker in 2009 is archived as a PDF here.
2011 profile of the guy who runs Alloy: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/28/a
2012 blog post on pros and cons of working for them: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/0
And a 2006 Observer article about the company that is pegged to Kaavya Viswanathan, that Harvard author who got caught plagiarizing. (Her connection w/ Alloy is slightly different than most authors, but it was one of the first times Alloy started to get attention for their larger book model.) http://observer.com/2006/05/viswanathan