It's Fixed in the Next Release

Observations on Everything

Creative Downloads: Everything Is Not Free, at Least Not Yet

A few minutes ago I didn’t know Sara Madison existed. Until an author friend shared her brilliant post “Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me” on Facebook.

Readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of open source. Be it software, designs, engineering, etc. There’s a huge body of work that I believe benefits from the open source movement. That belief is predicated around freedom. I strongly believe that people who use products should have the ability to control their destiny after they acquire a product, and the best way to do that is to give them the tools to recreate and modify the product.

But that doesn’t mean everything should be free. While it’s true that I have contributed to collaborative open source projects that give the code away, it is not an entirely altruistic endeavour, for at the same time I’ve taken advantage of similar efforts by hundreds of others to build things that I never could have built alone. The key thing here is that these projects are collaborative works where all the participants in a community benefit.

Individual creative works are another thing entirely. There’s no similar multiplier that gives a creator back a multiple of what they’ve contributed. Someone who illegally downloads a book by a small author isn’t gaining any freedom, they’re just getting a product for free. If you download one of my Creative Commons licensed low resolution photographs and use it to print a crappy large format print, you deserve to waste your money. Book authors don’t enjoy that ability to constrain the clarity of digital versions of their work.

At some point, as individual labour stops being the way most of us add value to the economy, we’ll have to transition to some form of guaranteed minimum income scheme. At that point, there might be a rationalization that goes along the line of “this author is already receiving enough to get by, so they’re getting enough”. While I can’t say I agree with that position, at least someone who is passionate about creating has the knowledge that they won’t starve to death in the process. But neither will they live comfortably, nor will they receive the value that others derive from reading their work. A survivable system still isn’t a sustainable system. But this is futurism. We’re not there yet, and until then, taking advantage of someone who needs the money to keep doing what they’re doing is outright theft.

Enough with the Omnibus Petitions

I’m getting really tired of online petitions that act like omnibus bills. The title says “Stop X” and I happen to think “Stop X” is a darn fine idea, but then you get to the actual text and it’s “Stop X, Build more Y, Change Z, and unionize everyone”.

That’s one less signature for “Stop X”, right there. We hate it when legislators pull this crap, maybe you should consider not doing the same thing in your petitions. Stick to a single issue.

Information Era

Holy crap. I just discovered that in a digital era, relying on gatekeepers of reproduction to earn a living is impossible. People told me that being an independent writer / artist / musician / developer was going to be a tough way to earn a living, but still I held to my parent’s paradigm and somehow believed I’d get paid for every single physical copy of my work ever made. Now it turns out that I don’t stand a hope of being as rich as Stephen King / Picasso / Paul McCartney / Bill Gates, and that even to earn a subsistence living I need to find a new model for delivering value. But instead of dealing with this I will demand that you pay me for using recordable media for your own creative works, I’ll demand that we revert to an impossible outmoded system, while still begging you to send me money and whining that it’s not fair. I refuse to take responsibility for following my dreams / muse / passion instead of getting a job like everyone else. My failure to adapt is your problem, not mine!

Capital Punishment and the Delhi Gang Rape

A nooseWith very few exceptions, I’m opposed to capital punishment. In my book, murder is murder, whether it’s committed by individuals or the state.

In this case, the convicted are being used as an example, in hopes that the severity of the punishment will change the behaviour of others, and shift the culture of violence. That’s a good thing. It will very likely save more innocent lives than the cost of the four convicted. This makes it not a moral decision, not an issue of justice for the victims, but an issue of body count mathematics and of cultural shock therapy.

Throughout the world, women don’t have anything resembling equality with men, be it violent rape in India or malicious Internet based harassment in North America. Numerous more gentle efforts seem to improve the situation in one aspect, but not prevent the development of new avenues for discrimination and harassment. We fix mechanisms but changing the culture remains an elusive, distant goal.

In this context, the decision to execute these four young men may very well be the right one. That doesn’t mean it isn’t troubling in many ways. Not only is the use of state sanctioned murder difficult to accept, it is more that this blunt instrument appears to be the only effective tool. This above all demonstrates our inadequacy when it comes to making women an equal part of society. More than sixty years after the wave of post-WWII feminism, and we’re still not past this.

On Government Communications Surveillance

There’s no lack of evidence to show that there are people in the world who think that an appropriate response to the misdeeds of the West is to bring the death and destruction back and throw it in our faces. I fail to understand this logic of revenge, but unfortunately there are many who embrace it. Humanity has a long history on the failure of using evil to counter evil, but we never seem to convert this knowledge into wisdom.

This might be surprising, but because of this I’m not entirely opposed to governments communications surveillance for security reasons, even the communications of their own citizens – after all most acts of terror come from hateful people within our culture, not from the stereotypes the media is so enamoured with. Read more

A Dream of Intolerance

It seems I had a recurring dream about a man who played beautiful music in the morning. I say “it seems” because the music is quite familiar; I think I have heard it many times in dreamland. He played from some place nearby, a small house or maybe a shack.

A few days ago I dreamed that I recorded his music as I heard it from my window. The music was interrupted by argument, then by shots.

I ran out to see my friend dying on the street — the dream was quite graphic. His race was different from mine but the same as the murderer.

This morning, I dreamt that I was in his house. A crowd – mostly members of his race – gathered outside, angry, seeking revenge.

I had the recording. I played it. We all cried.

I wonder if I will ever dream about this man and his music again.

Audience: The Social Media Killer

I’ve been engaged with social media since forever. Always found it fascinating, even exciting. I really like Twitter. Now Quora seems interesting, but in a semi-social-media sort of way. There’s a bit of a shift happening. A lot of “early adopters” have been doing the Quora thing for a while and now it’s on the upswing of that familiar knee function of exponential growth.

Meanwhile, Twitter seems a little less vibrant. Is it because all the cool kids are playing with Quora? Partially. After all anyone with a real job only has so much time to dicker with this stuff, unless you’re a rare beast: a Professional Social Media Guru that’s a real job. So maybe Twitter is a little less shimmering with excitement because really interesting people are spending less time on it.

But that isn’t all. That only explains part of it. Read more

Silicon Valley – Adjusting to the Internet’s Long Tail?

Over the past year or so there’s been an unusual amount of public navel gazing on the investor side of Silicon Valley (and by proxy most of the North American venture capital space). Venture capital companies have an image of being slow, demanding, and cumbersome; solely focused on big wins with huge valuations. So called “super” angels have emerged to fill a void in the VC deal space, and new hybrid models like that of YCombinator have emerged.

As Max Levchin observes, angels have an interest in lower valued exits. He concludes that the positioning of super angels as VC alternatives has resulted in a “lack of visible significant innovation”. While Levchin’s observations are correct, I’m not certain that it’s the angel’s fault.

Instead, I think we’re reaching the “long tail” of the Internet, and we need to look for innovation elsewhere. The big hits in the Internet space have all had to do with providing analogues of existing human behaviours, and the number of untapped behaviours is diminishing. A preponderance of incremental innovations with corresponding low exits is only to be expected.

We have been so focused on Internet related innovation for the past decade and a half (and software for the decade previous) that for a lot of investors seem to have forgotten that there are alternatives.

It’s not that there’s a shortage of demand for innovation. There are many areas that need great minds and risk capital. Unfortunately those aren’t the opportunities that can be exploited by a bright kid with six months programming experience. They’re big, capital intensive, long term projects that need teams of highly skilled people to address them. Some of these problems are critically important. They need to be solved if we’re going to preserve our current lifestyle, if not ensure our survival.

If the investment community wants to innovate, it’s going to have to stop looking for the ultimate solution to determining how to rank “influence” on Twitter, and instead look for better transportation solutions, better solar power generation, methods to scrub carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, local power generation and distribution, and solutions for other truly important problems.

While North America becomes increasingly concerned about it’s own relatively trivial problems like how to make an even cooler handheld device, our ability to innovate our very concept of innovation is collapsing in on itself like a dying star. Meanwhile, Asia is fast becoming the true leader in innovation and unless we pull out of this “make it big on the Internet” vortex, it won’t be long before we’re buying critical technology from abroad.

Let’s not blame the angel investors. Levchin says “we should aim higher.” He’s right. The question is whether or not we know which way is up.

Social Media: Why Facebook; Why Twitter?

As either a younger member of the boomer generation, or an older member of Gen-X, I’m a member of a big demographic that seems to have a hard time understanding social media. The most common reaction I get to mentioning something on Facebook is “I will never have a Facebook account!”

I realize now that part of the bad reputation that social media has with middle-aged adults is due to the fact that most of these people are parents, and everything they know about social media sites has come from their kids.

This led me to a great insight. Good social media sites are malleable to individual users, and that’s what makes them so powerful. I am certain that my Facebook experience is vastly different from that of your average teenager’s, and that’s a good thing.

A middle-aged friend recently asked me about Facebook and Twitter, with the subtext “I don’t ‘get’ either of them.” I’ve reworked my response a bit in hope that it will be helpful to others:

The main purpose of Facebook is to get found by people you already know but have lost touch with, think of the people you would invite to a high school reunion. Simple as that. It’s also good for keeping up on the big stream of small things that winds up being news in a nominally mundane life. It works well if you’re not “always on” the net. You can pop in every week or so and catch up. If you ignore the clever little time-wasting applications and notification noise, it’s a useful tool. In short, Facebook is good at making an electronic link to people you already know.

Twitter is much more geared to making new connections and is really something for those of us who are “on the ‘net” most of the time. What it’s best at is finding new clever people, and getting breaking news. Information travels very quickly in Twitter, and to a large extent it’s filtered to the interests of the people you follow, which means you get more information about the things you care about. As a writer, it’s also superb at making you edit things down. The 140 character limit is brutal, but it enforces the practice of a clarity that can carry into other writing.

So how did I do? Is there anything else that “defines” these sites?