Life is a Mystery

29 July 2008 . Comments Off on Scrabbeling


One of my favorite things about Facebook has been the chance to play Scrabulous with friends near and far. I’ve never been a fan of Scrabble, but somehow, this Facebook implementation of the game became a perfect way to exercise my mind while communicating with friends. The game was not perfect, but it was goofy in charming ways. Most importantly, it worked. On machines old and new. For friends everywhere.

Of course, it was a ripoff of Scrabble. Now that Scrabble has an authorized alternative on Facebook it has demanded that Scrabulous be shut down. The Scrabble.beta that is the alternative from Electronic Arts misses on almost every dimension. First and foremost, it does not work. It is slow on the most recent machines and pretty much unusable on machines just a few years old. In addition to that it is annoying, noisy, playful in all the wrong ways. It animates everything, bubbles silly sounds, and makes you feel like you are goofing off rather than communicating with friends.

I think Scrabulous, by accident or design, stumbled on the fact that a game could be a communication. That a game could be serious. It got out of the way almost entirely. It let us play in a way that mattered much more than animation or silly sounds. It let us play with each other.

Scrabble.beta, not so much. Today Scrabble succeeded in shutting Scrabulous down in the US and Canada. I believe in the long run they will find this was a mistake. I have no idea how, but I think this will backfire. Meanwhile, delicious irony, when I go to Scrabble.beta on Facebook I get this message: “Sorry, Scrabble is temporarily unavailable due to maintenance. Please check back later.” Don’t count on it!

29 July 2008 . Comments Off on Lies from your laptop

Lies from your laptop

I keep trying to convince Alex that it is not worth paying too much attention to his battery meter. Maybe this article will help? Oh well, I guess not…

If laptops had as much battery life as phones, I bet we’d see “bar inflation” happening to their battery gauges, too. Manufacturers can’t really get away with this scam when total run time is only a few hours, though – and modern laptops all have “smart” batteries that let the operating system quite accurately estimate how long the battery will last at the present drain level. So this is, at least, one piece of nonsense that laptop users have not yet had to suffer.

Mostly the article points out how your cell phone is lying to you. Sigh.

28 July 2008 . Comments Off on FFR: Google Calendar Syncing

FFR: Google Calendar Syncing

Google announces that it can now sync with Apple’s iCal, without any third party software. I’ll have to look into this more closely and see if it may solve Mary’s frustrations with our half-adoption of Google Calendar. (Thanks, lifehacker.)

26 July 2008 . Comments Off on Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

My favorite president, partly because of his focus on peacemaking, partly because he listens well, partly because he had the courage to call Americans to sacrifice as part of his energy policy, partly because he is the first president I got to meet up close. His patience and discretion during the Iran hostage crisis made a very deep impression too. Since his presidency he has been my favorite ex-president. I’ve seen no other ex-president as actively engaged in issues that matter.

Today the Daily Dish points to a profile of Carter in New York magazine.

By June 9, six days after Obama secured the nomination (and Carter’s endorsement), McCain had found his sound bite. In an interview on NBC Nightly News, apropos of nothing, McCain said, “Senator Obama says that I’m running for Bush’s third term. It seems to me he’s running for Jimmy Carter’s second.”

Maybe I’m among the few who sincerely hopes this is true. I’d love for Obama to give us Jimmy Carter’s second term. Unfortunately, I don’t have any illusions that this will be the case. But maybe at least on energy policy?

On the other hand, given the current energy and economic crises, you might look back and think that Carter was enormously prescient. Last week, presidential historian Joseph Wheelan wrote an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asking, in regard to Carter’s promotion of alternative fuels, “Can we now acknowledge that Jimmy Carter was right all those years ago?” Carter also negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, a 30-year truce that has never once been violated (something one cannot say of any other negotiated peace in the region, and an achievement that seems even more impressive in retrospect). “The last time I looked,” says Jody Powell, Carter’s former press secretary, “President Carter’s favorability rating was a good bit higher than McCain’s or Obama’s or George Bush’s.”

Obama’s faith journey has been a big part of the current campaign. Here Carter considers how he and the current occupant of the Oval Office live their faith.

“I can’t say I know how the current president looks on the rest of the world,” Carter says. “I am determined and sometimes stubborn, and he is, too, but I don’t look on the rest of the world as he does, despite our shared Christian faith. For instance, I worry about our endangered values. I worry about nuclear-weapons proliferation. I worry about our torture of prisoners and how that affects our commitment to human rights. I believe in waging war only when our security is in danger. I believe in taking care of and preserving the environment. On these issues, he and I are almost diametrically opposed. Certainly, I do not profess to understand his motivations. As Christians, yes, we worship the same savior, Jesus Christ, and I think we worship Christ in the same way. I look on some aspect of Jesus Christ perhaps differently from him: I worship the Prince of Peace.”

May we all grow old as gracefully as Carter.

What’s most interesting about Carter at the age of 83 is not that he’s an eccentric, or that he’s outspoken, or that he continues to be a part of the debate, but that his mind-set and his policies seem to jibe so well with the attitudes of young people, students, and the blogosphere. In many ways, Carter seems more relevant than George W. Bush, his ideas more contemporary, his interests more outward-looking. He builds houses in New Orleans and elsewhere with his Habitat for Humanity project; he jets around the world, funding projects to deal with global health crises; he makes sure elections are free and fair. Carter is more like Bono than he is like Bush.

The full article is well worth a read.

21 July 2008 . Comments Off on The case of the dancing baby vs. Universal

The case of the dancing baby vs. Universal

Last year Universal sent a “takedown notice” to YouTube claiming that this video infringed on its copyright.

(The video is back on YouTube because it was reposted, YouTube did take down the original.)

Why the takedown notice? Universal identified the music in the background as Prince. To Universal this indicated an infringing use. DMCA allows them to send takedown notices for any infringing use.

What about “fair use” you might ask? It does seem that the use of Prince in this video is about as fair as it gets. Let’s step through my own rough fair use analysis (facilitated by the University of Minnesota Libraries). It turns up a surprisingly weak, though still favorable, case for fair use. But more important, remember that fair use is a defense, not a right. In other words, the only analysis that matters is that of a judge and fair use does not really exist until a judge says so.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing Universal for abusing the DMCA takedown process in this case. This kind of takedown has the effect of chilling the use of copyrighted material even when such use is “fair” enough. Universal’s point? Fair use cannot exist unless infringement exists: after all, fair use is a defense in an infringement case. Thus by claiming the use was fair, the EFF actually affirms that there was infringement. If there was infringement, then the takedown notice was, by DMCA rules, legitimate. As Wired reported an exchange with the judge in the EFF case:

“Are you saying there cannot be a misuse of a takedown notice if the material is copyrighted?” [Judge] Fogel asked [Universal lawyer] Klaus.

“I don’t think ‘fair use’ qualifies,” Klaus answered.

Quite a comfy argument, no? By this logic any use of any copyrighted material anywhere on the net is fair game for a takedown notice. You can argue fair use all you like, but you will have to argue it after your creative work has been removed from the network.

What a world, eh? Beware the backgrounds of your videos. Watch out when you put that song on the soundtrack. The studios don’t want their customers to use anything that comes out the pipe. Just open wide, let it in, don’t say a word.

I say: support the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This organization is at the heart of defending the net as it should be. It is the ACLU of our day. Become a member today.

[Update: the EFF won this case.]

18 July 2008 . Comments Off on Online journal citations in sciences

Online journal citations in sciences

James Evans reports in Science magazine that electronic access to the science literature may be speeding consensus yet narrowing the range of ideas. As summarized at ArsTechnica:

The conclusion of all this statistical work was that, as more and more articles are readily available online, researchers, on average, cite fewer articles. The articles that are cited are newer, and fewer distinct articles receive attention. The results of the explosion of easily available articles, according to Evans, is that “researchers can more easily find prevailing opinion, they are more likely to follow it, leading to more citations referencing fewer articles.” As a side effect of this, a scientific consensus will typically form more rapidly. The other side of this is that papers containing ideas that don’t catch quickly will be forgotten by the scientific world much faster.

That does not seem like a wholly desirable effect. Unfortunately, being outside the bounds of a subscribing institution, the full text of the article is hidden from me for now.

18 July 2008 . Comments Off on FFR: Kid wash

FFR: Kid wash

OK, this looks like fun!

18 July 2008 . Comments Off on Eternal dance

Eternal dance

Earth and moon, dancing as we swing around the sun.

This video, brought to my attention by Discover magazine, shows the moon orbiting the earth. It was caught by the “Deep Impact” spacecraft last May.

Worthy of a pause. We all live on that blue sphere. We all gaze at that moon.

18 July 2008 . Comments Off on Counting to 4

Counting to 4

Brilliant Sesame Street, with Feist

…and the original, in case you missed it. Or actually, this is how I was introduced to Feist!

17 July 2008 . Comments Off on ObamaTV


TechPresident points to a nice blog post by Nancy Scola about Obama’s use of video. Nancy liveblogs an event with Obama’s director of video field production, Arun Chaudhary. It is a fascinating romp through some classic Obama video.

Arun says the new media team spends a fair amount of money, but they’re buying fishing poles rather than fish; the broadcast quality footage they capture, for example, can be used for advertising in addition to online video. Asked about past campaigns he tried working with, Arun says they saw media as “too precious” to take creative risks with.

I am especially impressed with a note at the end of the event. Here Arun speculates on the role of video in an Obama administration.

Asked by Emily about what an Obama administration might bring, Arun says that the role of video in an administration would be even more powerful than in a campaign. He mentions the broadcasting of health care meetings — creating a broader base of people who are able to keep an eye on the proceedings. The idea, Arun says, is not ‘telling people who tell people to tell people,’ but to use video to tell people directly. The role of video in governing, he says, is to achieve the goal of “cutting out the middleman.”

I am a strong Obama supporter not because I have confidence in his positions and policies, in fact, I see those as shifting and a bit immature. No, I support Obama because of the change he will bring to the makeup and face of government. This is a potentially deep and transformative approach to opening government to new voices. That excites me!

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /