Who is Stealing from Whom?

I am a bit of stickler for intellectual property respect. That’s a trait, I am proud to say, I have passed on to my children. I glowed when one of them opted to buy the latest Phoenix Wright rather than play the pirated copy that his friend acquired. The Ace Attorney  himself would be proud too.

I get funny looks sometimes when I ask about fair use of stock photo images that I have bought (bought!) … and why would anyone pay $10 per month for Rhapsody when all the songs in the world are just sitting there for free on the internet waiting to be taken? The whole population of Malta (and China? and India?) thinks it a sign of mental illness to pay for anything that can be stolen for free.

As someone who makes a living from intellectual property, I feel a certain solidarity with people whose livelihoods are slowly leaching away into the pirate-infested deeps of the Internet. A couple of deep blemishes tarnish my otherwise squeaky-clean self-image though and I need the world to change a little to help me restore my faith in myself.

Firstly, don’t make it so damn difficult to comply with your rights and regulations. I’m not too good at dealing with bureaucracy. Make it easier for me to do the right thing. Maybe y’all could embed urls or licenses in digital images. Blogging software and browsers could do something smart with them like show attribution info and link back to the copyright owner.

Secondly, and this is the biggie, someone needs to clean up the cesspool in which sheet music swirls – and I am talking about the so-called legitimate sellers here, not the tab sites.

The tab sites are a soggy morass of pirated content with their gossamer-thin chemise of this is for private study only covering their shame.

And my shame.

But they are not the real criminals.

Every now and again, I decide I would feel so much better to pay for a piece of music  rather than download it for free but each time I see the price tag I conclude that the merchants are bigger pirates than the pirates are.

Five bucks for I Just Can’t Help Believing! How can they possibly justify that?

It reminds me of those third world markets where the shops have an outrageously marked-up price for locally-crafted kitsch when the exact same crap is on sale out in the street for a twentieth of the price. They can dismiss the vast majority of the market because one sucker keeps them in rice and beans for a month.

The market for sheet music is a sucker’s market. But, just as iTunes – despite the best efforts of the music industry sharks – made it easier to be moral than to sin, maybe someone out there can bring some sanity to the sheet music business.

Steve? Larry and Sergey? Jeff?

I read, the other day, that, compared to the software industry, the entire music business is relatively tiny. One of the tech titans could buy up the whole thing with spare change the way Russian billionaires buy up English football teams.

How about if a consortium of leading Internet companies – Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Baidu, Amazon etc. – jointly bought the entire music industry, and promised to license its content to anyone on a non-discriminatory basis?

Google Should Buy up the Music Industry

Sheet music on my Kindle or iPad? How awesome would that be? I’d be sending you 99c every couple of hours, Jeff. Just make it easy for me to do the right thing. I’ll pay.

Live well

This is as fine a definition of virtue as I have ever seen.

Why is self-assertion important? “We have a responsibility to live well. Our challenge is to act as if we respect ourselves. Enjoying ourselves is not enough.” But doesn’t self-assertion clash with our moral duties to others? “No. The first challenge is to live well – that is ethics – and then to see how that connects with what we owe other people – which is morality. The connection is twofold. One is respect for the importance of other people’s lives. And the other is equal concern for their lives.”

Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian

Mr Jeffries is the Guardian’s Frank Rich. Mr Rich just resigned from the New York Times right at the moment that they are asking me for $$$$ to continue reading it. He is a big loss to the op ed page. Lucky for them they gave me a free subscription or I would’ve been outta there,

For years, Mr Rich was an art critic or something but he wrote about whatever-the-hell he wanted. It’s usually the big political issue of the day but very often on big philosophical questions. Eventually the NYT realized that Rich was more of an op-ed kind of guy than an art critic kind of guy and moved him to another page. He has gone to the New Yorker or something and I will miss him sorely.

But there’s still Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian.

One day he’ll be interviewing the star of Danish police drama that is apparently the most popular show on BBC4. The next he is opining on morality or commenting on the budget.

He is great to read but I wonder what it is like to be his editor.

Who cares about this stuff?

The Times has a great series of essays by Errol Morris on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

According to the author, Structure is a post-modern work which makes the relativist claim that people in one paradigm (or culture or era) are unable to fairly judge the ideas of another paradigm because the two are paradigms are incommensurable.

The series takes us on a breathtaking tour of the meaning of the word incommensurable through three thousand years of the history of mathematics taking in Pythagoras, the legend of the execution of Hippasus for showing that the square root of two is irrational, Socrates & Plato and the moment that Thomas Kuhn threw an ashtray at the author’s head before throwing him out of Princeton.

Before reading today’s article (article 3 of 5), I had taken seriously Kuhn’s claim that each so-called paradigm shift creates an unbridgable divide from the previous paradigm that scientists are unable to cross. Kuhn – like the creators of The legend of Hippasus’s murder – created the legend of incommensurability to imply a dramatic resolution to a crisis that never existed. He created a legend which – like all legends, we learn – is more memorable than fact.

At the end of today’s article I was left wondering: how many people are actually interested in this stuff?…

Who cares about Theories of Naming and incommensurability and proofs of irrationality and philosophy and maths and greek history.

…and where can I meet them?

Part 4 was published just now. I have reading to do.

It Changed My Life – Book Two

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance three times.

The first time I read it, I thought it was the best book ever and it got me reading Plato and interested in eastern religions and philosophy. I also had a flurry of interest in zen-influenced physics books (Dancing Wu Li Masters, The Tao of Physics).

The first time through, Zen and the Art took my breath away.

I went back and re-read it about 10 years later and appreciated its depth even more now that I understood physics and Zen and Taoism and Plato. The second read was profound and filled me with wonder.

I also went back and re-read Dancing Wu Li Masters and The Tao of Physics and found them to be juvenile nonsense. I was embarrassed to have recommended them to other people.

On my third reading, I decided that Zen and the Art was juvenile nonsense too but it still has a special place in my memory. If it weren’t for this book, I would never have fallen in love with physics and philosophy – a love that endured.

Of the eastern mysticism stuff, the only thing that stuck was the Tao Te Ching. I read it often.

Remember when you were happy?

Daniel Kahneman describes two selves.

Your experiencing self lives in the present. It cares about what is happening right now. Experiencing self is honest, forthright and direct. Ask your experiencing self if you are happy and it’ll give you an honest answer. Go on! Try it! Ask yourself whether you are happy RIGHT NOW.

Your remembering self lives in the past. It cares about what happened before. Your remembering self is a self-deluding, story-telling liar. Ask your remembering self whether you are happy and it will probably just make something up.

Kahneman describes a study where two groups of people were given colonoscopies.

The first group had a short, fairly pleasant experience (as colonoscopies go) but it ended abruptly. Probably, the doctor just wanted to get it over with quickly.

The second group had a long painful experience (as reported by their experiencing selves) where the pain just kind of tailed off at the end.

But – here’s the thing – the second group reported a much happier colonoscopy. Their remembering selves ignored the whole ordeal and focussed on the very last bit.

If you want to be happy, who should you please? Your remembering self or your experiencing self?

His examples are intriguing.

Experiencing self does not care much about the weather but remembering self thinks it is pretty important – bear this in mind if you are deciding which state to live in.

You can make remembering self – the one who reports on the experience – enjoy a colonoscopy much more by making it last longer (as long as the last little bit is not too unpleasant).

Having more money doesn’t really impress your experiencing self very much – as long as you have enough to live on.

I especially liked the questions at the end: public policy is mostly driven by our remembering selves. How would be things be different if out experiencing selves had a say?

No Conflict

There a tiny storm in my corner of the interwebs. Bob Wright wrote a book – The Evolution of God – and Jerry Coyne wrote a review trashing it. Then Coyne and Jim Manzi got into a blogs ‘n’ handbags  fight over it.

From what I can gather, the gist of the argument was that Coyne claimed that the fact of evolution debunks religion’s claim of intelligent design. Manzi said “no it doesn’t”. Coyne said “yes it does” etc before they spiralled off into a discussion of what the world ‘random’ means.

Anyway, the whole tedious debate was worth it to read the round-up in The American Scene. It turns out that the whole thing turns on whether religion is making factual claims or hermeneutical claims (yep. new one for me too).

We have to distinguish between factual and hermeneutical claims. Factual claims are claims about the nature and operation of reality: “how” things work, not “why.” Darwin’s theory, which is the basis of all modern biology, makes factual claims: that the various forms of life we observe on earth today came to be via the operation of natural selection on populations of organisms that experience random variation. The question, “does life have a purpose” or “are we put here for a reason” is not really a factual question; it’s a hermeneutical one, an interpretive one. The same factual claims could, potentially, sustain different hermeneutical claims. Scientists do, sometimes, noodle about with hermeneutical claims because they turn out to have factual claims buried in them, in which case they may be investigated scientifically. But if there are no such claims buried in them, then the questions aren’t really scientific.

So, if I understood that right, if religion makes factual claims, they can be debunked by science. But religion’s hermeneutical claims can only be debunked if they are in conflict with science’s claims.  The claim the universe is designed is a hermeneutical claim and cannot be debunked by science. Any particular claim that attempts to describe how the universe was designed is a factual claim and collides with science.

Stephen Gould coined a phrase for this.

Non-overlapping magisteria.

Because science and religion answer different questions, there can be no conflict.

Teach Your Kids to Argue

They teach way too much english and history in school and not nearly enough physics (but that’s the topic of my next blog).

But the one subject that they really need to teach more of is rhetoric. Jay Heinrich believes that every parent should teach their children to argue and I agree.

To disagree reasonably, a child must learn the three basic tools of argument. I got them straight from Aristotle, hence the Greek labels: logos, ethos, and pathos.

Heinrich goes through each of the elements of rhetoric in turn and illustrates it with examples from arguments with his children.

Logos is argument by logic. If arguments were children, logos would be the brainy one, the big sister who gets top grades in high school. Forcing my kids to be logical forced them to connect what they wanted with the reasons they gave.

Mary won’t let me play with the car.

Why should she?

Because she’s a pig.

So Mary should give you the car because she’s a pig?

Repeat the kid’s premise (she’s being a pig) with her conclusion (therefore she should let me play with the car), and she has to think logically.

Logos is the one that gets technical people in trouble with their non-technical wives. Ethos is what gets them out of trouble. Sometimes.

Ethos, or argument by character, employs the persuader’s personality, reputation, and ability to look trustworthy. (While logos sweats over its GPA, ethos gets elected class president.) My kids learned early on that a sterling reputation is more than just good; it’s persuasive. In rhetoric, lying isn’t just a foul because it’s wrong, it’s a foul because it’s unpersuasive. A parent is more likely to believe a trustworthy kid and to accept her argument. For example, if both children – the entire list of suspects – deny having eaten the last cookie, ethos becomes important.

Me: One of you took the cookie.

Dorothy: Have I ever stolen cookies before?

Me: Good point. George?

Careful with pathos. Especially if you have a daughter.

Then there’s pathos, argument by emotion. It’s the sibling who gets away with everything by skillfully playing on heartstrings. When a kid learns to read your emotions and play them like an instrument, you’re raising a good persuader.

Dorothy: Dad, you look tired. Want to sit down?

Me: Thanks. Where did you have in mind?

Dorothy: Ben & Jerry’s.

The article was even better the second time I read it. You should read it too.

More than fifty surprising things that I believe

  1. Affirmative action is counter-productive.
  2. So is the minimum wage.
  3. And minimum standards of education.
  4. Technology is uninteresting.
  5. Well over 90% of science fiction is crap.
  6. Checked exceptions are stupid.
  7. I am afraid that pubic hair will go the way of under-arm hair.
  8. C# is better than Java.
  9. There is not enough testing in schools.
  10. Tipping is deeply uncivilized.
  11. Charities should be taxed.
  12. Valentine’s Day is silly.
  13. The minimum drinking age should be abolished.
  14. I subscribe to over a dozen conservative blogs but no liberal blogs.
  15. It’s OK for children to see naked bodies.
  16. Different races probably have different abilities.
  17. Ditto for sexes.
  18. Christianity is a good thing.
  19. Catching Exception is OK.
  20. Thanking your wife when you receive your Oscar or Nobel Prize is unnecessary.
  21. Star Wars was not very good.
  22. Education, health care, civil liberties etc etc etc should be left to the states.
  23. I’d rather time travel to the past than to the future.
  24. It doesn’t matter that there are so few women in the software industry.
  25. Attempts to design a balanced curriculum are harmful.
  26. I don’t find babies to be cute.
  27. There is nothing wrong with public fields.
  28. I deeply resent the secularization of Christmas.
  29. There should be no tax deductions.
  30. Especially not for charities.
  31. I find the Pledge of Allegiance disturbing.
  32. I don’t see the point of cats.
  33. America is in my top five countries.
  34. So is France.
  35. If you want a successful life, nurture helps but not as much as nature.
  36. Or luck.
  37. Roe versus Wade was wrongly decided.
  38. I love reading bible stories and singing Christmas carols.
  39. Open source software terrifies and confuses me.
  40. The federal government should receive funding from the states, not individuals.
  41. Extreme Programming Explained changed my life. For the worse.
  42. The initiative process and referendums in general are populist nonsense.
  43. So are term limits.
  44. The mis-perception that chimpanzees are monkeys bothers the hell out of me.
  45. As does the inappropriate pluralization of offside.
  46. And the incorrect use of momentarily.
  47. Downloading music/movies/games is stealing.
  48. Most people would be better off if they did not go to college.
  49. Most would be better off starting work at 16.
  50. I am ambivalent about gay marriage.
  51. All income  (salary, profits, dividends, inheritance etc) should be taxed equally.
  52. Schools should be ‘streamed’ by academic ability.
  53. Military service deserves no more honour than teaching, nursing, road-sweeping or a host of other professions.
  54. The ability to spell is not that important.
  55. Bad spelling infuriates me. Especially when I do it.
  56. The Star Spangled Banner is my second favourite anthem.

Seven things about my more than fifty surprising things

  1. Details available on request.
  2. This post was inspired by a question on StackOverflow – what’s your most controversial programming opinion – but the first 20-something answers are positively mainstream. I thought I could do better.
  3. If you know me well, you will be unsurprised by many of my surprising things.
  4. If you don’t know me well, you will be unsurprised by many of my surprising things.
  5. If you don’t know me at all, some of my surprising things might make you angry.
  6. I tried to avoid obvious – or simply minority – things.
  7. I censored some of my things out of cowardice.

It’s traditional when you make a list like this to tag 14 of your friends and they have to repeat the exercise. I find that tradition to be crass. If you made it this far, consider yourself tagged. Or not. Whatever.

Life Skillz

Here’s a cool list of essential Life Skillz from Easily Distracted.

  • The insides and workings of a computer, and how to replace and add components to one.
  • How an operating system works. How to customize an operating system. File systems.
  • How Internet works. How to set up a router. Internet safety and virus protection. Online commerce.
  • How to operate important software applications: word processor, spreadsheet, image management, presentation software.
  • Best practices for searching for information online.
  • The basics of investment and personal finance.
  • How to file tax returns. How to read a paycheck.
  • Basics of how to start and manage a small business.
  • Price comparisons and management of monthly budgets.
  • Cover letters and resumes.
  • Basic first aid. Proper use of medicine. Common illnesses. When to call for expert medical assistance.
  • Basic cooking.
  • Basic evaluation of food quality in markets. Food safety, especially cross-contamination.
  • How to drive, including stick-shift. Basic auto maintenance.
  • How to read a map. Knowledge of mass transit systems.
  • Basic power and non-power tool operation. Safety training in tool use.
  • Care of plants. How to plant, including use of shovel and other garden implements.
  • How to paint interiors.
  • Basics of home mechanical and electric systems.
  • Basics of carpentry.
  • Basic self-defense, including watching for trouble signs from other people.
  • How to swim.
  • How to ride a bicycle.
  • Dealing with poisons, hazardous chemicals, insect bites, common irritants.
  • Sewing and clothing repair.
  • Legal rights, small claims courts, basic familiarity with civil and criminal provisions.
  • Condom use, safe sex, reproductive health.
  • Simple diagnostics and repair of appliances.
  • Cleaning of home environments, clothing.
  • Reuse and repurposing of household items.

It’s an odd list. I think you could get rid of about half of these if you learn this skill:

  • Outsourcing. Figuring out the stuff that you don’t need to learn because someone else will do it for you.