Fast, furious… and faulty

No, this is not about a film. It’s about trusting media channels that are partial while succeeding in appearing unbiased. And how that can turn out.

The day before yesterday – yes, I’m a bit slow, I do have a job to do, and don’t entirely live by word of my laptop /I like to use my brain as well, and analysis can take time/ – there was talk about the qualifications of the judge who had presided over the Pirate Bay trial. He is a member of three different organisations (link goes to a swedish language news site) involved in the copyright issue, two of which is pure professional interest and don’t promote a certain opinion or viewpoint, but a third could be interpreted to suggest disqualification… But long before anyone had had time to research those organisations the verdict was clear, official, and in the public domain – the judge was entrenched in pro-megacorp copyright, and thus disqualified.

At that point it don’t much matter what the objective truth is – the trial was equal to a lynch mob, and he was judged guilty.

Dismissing the question of actual guilt – is this how we wan justice to be made? Because this isn’t the first time public verdict has been given. A couple of days ago two persons were approached and shot in Stockholm Old Town. Next morning everyone knew who did it, only now, a couple of days later, when one of the victims have recovered enough to tell what happened, it appears some one else did it (also in swedish, sorry). Of course, the investigation is still on, and both persons are on the suspects list, or so I assume.

But I wonder how was life for that other person, during those days in between? He was fairly famous, well known within his niche. Now he’s famous for something else.

Just because everyone wanted a piece of the action, just because the blogosphere acted as lynch mob.
And a lynch mob has no place in politic society.

Laws and manners. Only for some.

I live in a fairly well off community. It’s so well off people who aren’t really THAT well off tries to hide it, trying to look and walk like a duck while being something else.

Also everyone seems to have at least three cars, or if they haven’t they try to hide it real well. And most cars are BMW’s, Porsches, Audis, Merc’s and the like. Often the latest model and year. A Porsche SUV, a BMW touring car and a small Audi or Merc for shopping (?) isn’t an unusual sight. Quite a few Ferraris as well.

With all these cars around you’d think people could drive. Or had passed some test, to get a license. But no. Laws are for those people living in other parts of town. Here we’re rich so we should be allowed to do whatever we fancy. So. People are driving at high speeds through neighbourhoods where the lane is wide enough to fit one car, in one direction, and with lots of small kids playing ball on same lane.

People think any stretch of road straight for more than 100 metres is an autobahn and highest possible speed is advised. Even if there’s a crossing in the middle of said stretch, a crossing that leads to a school for 6-9 year old kids. Even if wildlife like hares and roe deer crosses frequently. Even if it ends in a crossroad and a sharp turn. I’m rich and has this incredible expensive car, so everyone will get out of my way.

An acquaintance who’ve been involved in local politics once told me a person complained about those nasty bumps some one had put on the road. When were they to be removed? They damaged his car when he tried to go over them. One word – SPEED-BUMPS!

Oh, and did I mention the parking morale? If there’s a public lawn, park on it. Even if it’s part of a playground. And even if the staff at the pre-school tells people NOT to drive all the way to the door, but to park in the assigned parking space and then – the horror! – WALK 20 metres instead of parking on the turnaround at the gate where real small kids often comes running out. What if they should happen to back over someone’s kid? Well, you know, it wouldn’t be their fault, they’re in their car and has precedence. If people can’t take care of their kids maybe they shouldn’t have any. And now they haven’t, so problem solved.

Did I mention I can’t stand those people?

Gah.

Copyright – the right to copy?

The last couple of days I have been trying to write a piece about copyright.

Why all these false starts? I’m sure it’s because it’s a complex set of topics. Also, the debate is fairly infected, with trenches well dug and fortified. Even at my workplace, which shouldn’t had come as a surprise, but people have been vehement in a way that is totally out of character.

So, the ramble begins –

The issue of who owns the rights to publish what is nothing new, and has as it’s source the fact that post-web very few had the means to print, press or otherwise mass-produce, and distribute, what they wrote or recorded or filmed.

This meant that printing houses, agents, and others, found a niche as brokers and for making money, which in their case is a kind of primal urge and, in many cases, their sole reason for being. This also meant that people creating that kind of content, or whatever you like to call it, had to roll over and pay the price, or not be published, or read, or viewed, at all.

Now some people think it evil of those authors (I won’t lie, I primarily think of authors – I’m a book person, right?) if they get angry when people steal their source of income – ie. transcribing or scanning the pages and putting them out in the net, for anyone to read, without a single cent going to the originator. These people seem to think that authors should write in the time the rest of us use to sleep, or maybe they should get themselves a rich patron, or maybe they should live on things collected from other’s garbage, so they can write. These people think the bitch is the copyright laws. The thinking seems to be something like “big megacorps own the rights, so owning the rights must be wrong”.

I don’t think the copyright laws are that evil. The trouble is the media industry – who owns the copyrights that should properly belong to the originators – and increasingly the pseudo-democratic transnational pseudo-governments like the EU, who legislate to keep a dying industry on life support.

In an earlier age publishers justified their being with functioning as sieves, sifting the bad stuff from the good, publishing the good stuff. This hasn’t, of course, been entirely true, ever. But these last decades has seen an escalating trend towards pure trash, were the entertainment value haven’t been the quality of the piece but the promise of scandalous gossip about famous people, or their physical attributes, and the like.

An author I read a lot of books by recently told on her blog that ta one occasion her editor was transferred from cookbooks into science fiction. I can only imagine how that can affect editing, and the final product – the editor reduced to proofreader, no genre skills or insights needed.

So possibly authors and musicians, at least, don’t need the publishing houses any more, except in the cases were those publishers still own a certain copyright. The rest are free to publish however they want, retaining their rights to their works.

This is a possibility right now, without any changes in the copyright laws. Said authors could publish themselves in an e-format, getting their own revenues straight in pocket, and with the added possibility of the buyer of the one copy having permission to print it, if for personal use. There are places like Lulu out there who would print that one copy for you, in book format, shelf ready, and ship it to you.

A plus would be authors could write other things than what their publishers commission them to write. The same fave author I mentioned some paragraphs earlier is thinking about continuing series no publisher wants her to continue because a new instalment means they have to reprint previous instalments, and that costs money. This would be great, of course, for those of us who loves her books.

With bricks and mortar music and book shops turning belly up in the onslaught of on-line shopping this is one of the very few possible near future scenarios. No further need for the media industry! It comes as no surprise that they fight to retain their position, and being big corporations the have plenty of muscle. Especially now when the legislative bodies around the world jump to support them in their doomed business models.

What is surprising is that a lot of people think authors’ and musicians’ right to earn a living should be buried in the same grave.

For me the core principle is that the originator should be recognised, as in getting part or all of the revenue generated by people wanting to read or listen to their creations. What is wrong with that? I’m all for cutting out the middlemen. Don’t cut the one way an author can protect his or her source of income, though. Because most books don’t get written in stray evenings between dinner and bedtime – authors need to pay their bills, just like you and me.

So. Therefore I support the idea of copyright laws. They need to be changed, but not overmuch. Just stop protecting the megacorps and start protect the originators instead.

And. Theft is theft, any way you cut it.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

…or does it? In my occupation as UX Designer I often encounter opinions in the vein of “X (or, everyone) does this so it must be right”. Substitute X with Microsoft or IBM or whatever you like; even Facebook will do – bad behaviour gets copied faster than your heart beats on overload.

I’m not going to discuss the exact issues here, that’s for another place, but I do like to vent my irritation over the basic argument and the mentality that feeds it. Because it sounds very much like “he did it, too”, the way kids use it to excuse things that went wrong.

The kids don’t get excused, and so shouldn’t those adults either. “Just because” is no reason why you should do so too, at least not without prior thought. Just because every one else was anti-semitic in Europe during the early 20th century it was easy to gas not only jews but other undesirables too. It may seem a harsh parallel but I see a basic human behavioural trait which goes uncontested, which makes us proceed through life without actually learning anything from either or own mistakes or from history – be it the placement of buttons or labelling of fields over book burnings to genocide.

The average person can go through life without ever asking herself WHY anything. In fact, most business ventures and governments are based on the premise that most people don’t much question conventions or success or prejudice. And see where that has taken us.

Fivehundredbillionbillions of horseflies can be WRONG. Cow-dung DO taste like shit. To do a thing solely because everyone else does is a bad habit. Please – BREAK IT. And the world might be a better place…

Words do matter

I’ve recently been in a meeting aiming to address a few – ha! understatement if there ever were one – risks pertaining to the project I’m currently assigned to work with.

What I want to is to get the risks up where everyone can see them, and I want them handled. Now, I’m not a risk manager, I’m only a stakeholder, so I don’t run these events – I only participate. But it’s interesting to note how people use words in cases such as these.

Me, I use the words “manage” or “handle”, and “action”. Some people, though, do use the word “mitigate” instead. And to me that don’t signal “we’re going to take action on this one” but “we’re in to do some damage control”; meaning you don’t think you’ll be able to fix things that don’t work but only intend to offer some painkiller for the patient with the broken leg.

Waaay off the map, in my humble /or not so humble/ opinion. So. Are we going to fix the problems, or not?
My guess is the short perspective will rule out the use of the grey matter we were born with, and the problems will stay.

No wonder clients have low expectations on the IT consultancy firms and the software vendors…

Review: Conspirator, by C. J. Cherryh

The story of this 10th Foreigner book begins with spring in Shejidan and an unwelcome letter, forcing the paidhi’s household to withdraw to the seldom visited coastal estate. Only a few months have passed since the events of the previous volume, Deliverer, and though things are seemingly normal the aishidi’tat has not yet settled itself.

Where previous volumes have sometimes tended to include a lot of retelling earlier happenings Conspirator does not, which is good. Instead names and events are dropped and referenced to obliquely, and either you remember the incident referred to or not. As you’re not going to get much out of the story without prior knowledge of the series anyway this is welcome.

The back side of this is most characters are more sketchily drawn than we are used to – focus here is on story, on goings-on, and development of characters clearly takes back seat. No one acts out of character, though, and so it’s not very disturbing. But we also get very little of personal moments, like the one in Pretender (I think) when Algini at one profound moment addresses Bren with “aiji-ma”.

Warning! Spoiler ahead!
What does happen, though, is that when the book ends Bren finds himself with an unexpected personal attachment to a region and a people not bent on trusting the Ragi aiji, and possibly with the prospect of having to back a proposal that’s not going to sit easy with the traditional centre of the Association.
End of spoiler.

Despite (or because of!) this it’s a promising start to the (infelicitous) fourth story arc. After reading the book I’m still walking around with the smile of a madman that appeared on my face the moment I got message from the SF Bookshop advising me my copy had arrived :D

Anyone not having read this series should consider doing it – it’s very good, even if it’s decidedly more “feel good” than, for example, the Alliance/Union books (which I also very much appreciate). A note though – when reading book #1 it will take some time before the real story gets going. But it’s worth waiting for! ;-)

EDIT! Sometime later I added some new thoughts, as I began to think I wasn’t spot on in this review. The new text is here – Rereview: Cherryh’s Conspirator, again.

Trust across cultures

As said in an earlier, in fact my previous post ;-), the range of topics possible to discuss when having read Cherryh’s Chanur books are many and varied. One of the ones most often talked about is gender. Therefore I’ll let that thread rest. Maybe I’ll pick it up later. But for now I’ll reflect on another topic – that of trust.

Take eight different species, three of them not breathing oxygen and one of the oxygen breathers an intruder. Even so the four resident oxygen breathers are very different from each other – from different planets, and thus from vastly different cultures. It should be obvious to us as readers to appreciate the differences, but instead we fall into the trap of anthropomorphising. Or at least I do. Repeatedly.

And what happens is that despite the characters too knowing about these differences, and in some cases learning about the at the same moment as the reader do so, they have troubles with understanding and interpreting each other. It becomes clear to the reader that language is a cultural construct, something that resides within the culture, and not every expression translates very well. Rather the opposite, and it is visible in the pidgin language shared between the hani and their mahendo’sat allies. But it is also obvious in the clashes between groundling or station bound hani and their spacer kin – culture can change within a species as well, culture is in constant evolution – it is the means by which we handle our reality.

It’s almost that the truly weird kif are easier to understand because they are so alien anthropomorphising is not an issue.

So while the hani captain Pyanfar ought to trust her two mahen “friends” Ana and Jik she doesn’t. This is partly because she realises they have been meddling and manipulating, both her and others, and it isn’t until the next to last book that we learn the reason for their behaviour (conditioning), and maybe we don’t exactly understand how their society functions until the next to last chapter of that fourth book.

Are these issues unique to a pretend universe? I think not. Cultures here on our planet places value on different things and behaviours. Immigrant parents don’t understand their kids who have grown up in a different society not only because the surrounding culture is different from what their parents grew up with but because they are younger, and culture and society are fleeting, almost as chimeras. Even waster gaps exist if you look on a greater scale, between and across continents.

How can we expect trust when we can’t even talk to each other without misunderstandings? How can we expect trust when one bows to the other only out of fear? How can we expect trust when one thinks he’s more valuable than another, just because he’s of a different colour or religion or, indeed, only wealthier?

Valid questions. Because I think trust is essential when humans deals with each other – without trust politic society wouldn’t hold.

Will it?