December 15, 2013

DRM: The Sort-of Necessary Evil

As a citizen of the 21st century who lived in the 20th (which usually means most of us), we have come to see one of the greatest changes in technological life styles. Into a society made up of families that own multiple cars (mine owns four), a personal computer for each person and a larger social network tied down into a new found closeness with apps, competitive games and video chatting on demand. We no longer leave a voice mail asking someone to call back but instead text them to see what they're up to that they can't pick up the phone. Literally banging on the door and yelling talk to me now. We are more than happy to criticize behind the anonymity of the internet and not fear the consequences of speaking out.

It's all good and bad, but I speak to you all today as an Artist both in the performing and the visual sense. I think my emotions were most stirred earlier in the week when I came across an article describing the burgeoning change in a sexual society and they used an image. This particular image was obviously an image drawn by another human being and then posted proudly on their Flickr account. But looking at the image citation, it cited: Image Source: Flickr. You can't begin to imagine how many shades (more than fifty I guarantee you) of wrong this is. The fact is that this is individual art and yes while it is hosted on Flickr, is not something that Flickr made.

Simply saying image source: Flickr is not enough, you've bypassed the entire train of human creativity that led to the image being hosted on Flickr in the first place. In no way did the image hosting site have any hand in the creative process of coming up with art other than hosting it. This "citation", and I use citation very wrongly, forgets about the artist altogether and then on top of that, displays his work and not even hyperlink to page or the photograph itself. So that article, crowned by a lovely image to accompany the prophetic words it might have had to say is guilty of depriving someone of the recognition they fairly deserve.

I think what drew me to the article that someone else linked in the first place was the image that popped up on the Facebook feed. But then when I saw the copyrights not even properly managed, I refused to read the article. In no way was I ready to read something where the first thing was plagiarized. In my disappointment, I closed the article and thought about copyrights and then Digital Rights Management or DRM for short.

For those of us old enough to remember a time when there were other programs other than Spotify existed (the name of which I'm blanking on right now) you would download a copy free onto your computer and then the DRM was renewed each time you accessed the file. I remember whatever it was called, I used the software extensively when I was a sophomore at Berkeley and I was angry the day it closed down leaving me with all these useless music files protected by DRM. So I did the next best thing any somewhat tech-savvy person would do: torrent music.

Now, plenty of us are more than happy to pay the price on Apple's iTunes store and buy a copy of the music or even go down to your local music store and find a CD with all the songs you want. Now, herein lies my problem. If I'm looking to buy one song in particular, that's a benefit for iTunes or Amazon since they offer one by one pricing. But what if I want more than one song on the album, then I usually have to end up buying a CD with one or two songs I like and the rest I don't. If I go into a hard copy store, if I want one song, I have to buy the whole CD. No big deal, sometimes CDs are cheaper, but I end up with this stack of CDs I never use unless I have my car with it's already antiquated 6 CD changer.

The issue surrounding DRM over music is a hazy one, while we would love to support the artists who make music, we generally don't want to pay for it. Their rights being handled by a major label company means the artists get a small percentage of what goes all together into the CD sale. If I were a recording artist full time, I'd certainly want the process streamlined and then a higher percentage, but most certainly I'd also want a bejewelled toilet and a wider audience range, but that is unlikely.

Leaving music into art and photography, we enter a world rife with plagiarism and straight up stealing. I recall on Instagram a few months ago, I posted a photo I took of my Loar guitar and mandolin, Recording King Banjo and no-name fiddle with the hashtag: bluegrass. Lo and behold to my surprise some ballsy 14 year old girl in the middle of nowhere takes the exact same image and calls it her own. On Reddit, I might understand but on Instagram where everyone is taking unique photos every day, you have to go and steal one of mine. Naturally, I got all my friends to spam the account and turn her life into hell for stealing images.

I learned the copyright problem about a year ago when I produced an image similar to an Ork map for the sleepy little town of Alameda. Normally, you would never see a map for so small a town but being from there, I thought my fair little island city deserved one. I did one for my own uses and showed it off. Fast forward several months, I'm working quietly on a few drawings in my home studio when I get a call from my last boss asking if I had sold the rights to my image to the clothing store down the street. I replied that I hadn't and then drove into town to see what he was talking about. There it was, basically my exact same image being sold on the front of t-shirts and hoodies. I was furious, I was livid and I was helpless.

I consulted a copy of the California Civil Code on intellectual property. By exposing it to the world, I allowed it to be used. It was the one time I was hard up with nothing to gain but a slice of humble pie. Someone else took my design, modified it a little bit and then was reaping the profits. I sincerely hope he rots in hell for that.

So next time you write an article and you quote someone, use an image from a publicly contributed website (cough: Imgur, Flickr, Photobucket) make sure you get permission or at the very least say who you got the image from. Cite properly, cause "photo credit: Flickr" just doesn't cut it. Ever.

November 13, 2013

Rain Washes Those Who Wish To Get Wet

I recommend having this open in a tab in the background:

I admit it, i'm a sucker for the rain sometimes, but there are those moments that you get to yourself that you just have to sit down and savor. Right now, I have four windows that look south. Four windows that get a view of a basketball court, the back end of a sorority, an apartment where people are noisy and the rear of a fraternity. So I get all kinds of noises, sex, screams, laughs, loud music. But all that disappears when the grey clouds roll overhead, and those little droplets of water come shooting down from above. Oh yes, the rain. It washes away the chalk marks on the ground, and wets the earth. That rain.

But when it rains, people don't want to sit outside, people don't want to bring their expensive sound systems outdoors so they can shoot some hoops while bothering other people. Everything stops in place, and people change. People carry their shodden umbrellas and shake them towards the sky, they explode in size, the ones held low by the short people are jabbed into tall people's eyes and tall people shake off the excess at the shorties in revenge. That rain.

All becomes quiet, the average pedestrian doesn't find time to walk about in this fashion. There's not the chance to wander around town looking to get lost. Here be the real folks who want to get wet. Here be the folks that stand in solace, letting the water beat down on them from heaven. Then out come the couples who like to get dressed up in cold weather gear, bring out their matching umbrellas and walk together blocking up the sidewalk and keeping any people who are socially inept from getting past. That rain.

Sometimes, it's not so bad, if you have the windows open and you have a large enough of an overhang, you can listen to the rain as it falls down past your window, and then curse your decisions for "air" as it also sends in every single spider, fly, mosquito and moth into your little domicile. That rain.

Maybe it sucks, maybe it doesn't, but I know it's there.

October 27, 2013

Hints of Growing Fall

I think this might be a supplement to past entry, Thais Deep 

Living in California, you almost forget that there is a Fall season in between the summer months of endless daylight and the winter months of endless night. Every small moment in between, you start to notice as the party invitations start to increase where you dress nicely and the ones where you bring a bathing suit stop coming. But we in the golden state forget sometimes, once the days begin to grow dark and the winds pick up, that this is one of the wonderful times of the year. Now, we arrange rides with friends up into the mountains to go pumpkin picking in October or start to collect apples to start brewing cider.

The kitchens change just as dramatically too you know, the Pimm's is put away, the silver julep glasses are wrapped up in old newspaper and stowed away in boxes to be pulled out in May and with the seasons, come the change of produce. The older folks start to store corn to dry out to make the cornucopias and the younger folks start to stock up on body-revitalizing whiskey. The season of the hamburger is no longer here and with all the time spent indoors, extra time and care goes into the cooking of meat, smoking of turkey and preparation of vegetables and fruits.

Personally, I think I love the change in weather the most. No longer do I sit in my office chair working sweltering under the heat sticking to it but with a blanket over my shoulders, fighting those occasional leaks of cold air from the outdoors. Watching the wind swept trees sets into my head the romantic notion of what this cold blustery weather is best for. Staying indoors with a clear, steaming mug of apple cider with a stick of cinnamon poking out from it.

Now is when the time comes when friends want to go out for more dinners, hanging around in the cafe rather than on the patio, hands nursing an Irish coffee. Warm, silky and delicious as it goes down. The taste of Baileys mingles down your throat and fall when you're older than 21 is a godsend. My recollections of fall as an undergrad were running down to the grocery store that was around the corner from where I lived, picking up a jug of Santa Cruz apple cider, a box of mulling spices and running back to my place with my ex. Throw the juice into a pot, warm it up a bit, throw in a few satchels of mulling spices and let it brew for about a half hour. That was the best stuff ever, downing it, sitting on the couch with a romantic movie on and watching the sky go from steel grey to lamp black.

I've lived in different places over the years at Berkeley and I think this last place may be the most difficult to work with in this weather. Leaky windows, just drafts everywhere. So I have to find myself ways to keep warm. Electrically, or kerosene or mentally. I think by that last one, I have to mean keeping my head warm working on either my manuscript or working on a typewriter, coming up with entries for my typecasting blog.

But I love that everyone starts to dress a little bit more properly. Yoga pants, khakis, jeans, pea coats, duffel coats, anoraks, and scarves. Silk, cashmere, wool, poly blends, it's all good! It's fall and what matters most is you all stay warm and hold that special someone extra tight.

Rideshare - The Double Standard

So as an Architecture major, I have a special interest city planning and policy. A few months back, I had to sit in on a few meetings held by the San Francisco. It had several issues to deal with. The big elephant in the room was the prohibition of over sized vehicular parking and the even bigger elephant: ride sharing.

The San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority takes a great interest in making sure that all of the day to day issues that plague the city in terms of traffic and transit problems are met and resolved. But sitting there before the committee, was the main issue of the over sized vehicular parking and then public comment. I was sort of surprised that the director of the cab union or whatever it is was there personally to speak against the growing emergence of ride share in the city. Calling them un-regulated cabs basically.

Now here was an interesting point that I had never considered in the first place. That with all of the ads for lyft and side car and all sorts of ride share companies that I kind of forgot who this was really affecting. Cab companies and possibly the safety of the common Bay Area dweller. In my mind, the ride share system sat alone as possibly the savior and beacon for a growing future. I realize now that it's not.

As much as the mentality of we are looking out for our fellow brethren speaks out in San Francisco, I can't help but think back to those ads on Spotify saying Lyft drivers make up to thirty five dollars an hour. Here is were the word ride share is dirtied, sullied and basically almost ignored. This one company, and the myriad of others has done nothing more than added extra cabs onto the street. These cabs however aren't available to the public by just raising your hand in the air as if you were hailing a normal cab, to get a ride on these pink-mustachioed vehicles need to have a smart phone before hand as well as having the app to go along with it. The Lyft app gets you cars from Lyft, sidecar from sidecar drivers, and so on.

The bandy way of getting a cab albeit quick and simple to use is unregulated. Drivers are suddenly put into the responsibilities of their own life, the lives of their passengers and the safety of their car. I'm not saying most people don't have the insurance to cover all that, but with the costs and the way this nation is moving, more and more people are borrowing cars than owning one. Possibly with the sobriquet of "Norman No-surance". So do you know if you are in an insured vehicle whenever you have one of these stop in front of your house to take you to the airport?

Another thing the San Francisco cab fleet is required to do under the watchful eyes of the MTA is keep up with safety regulations. Is the car safe to be put into active service? If not and it breaks down, we can tow it to one of our garages and get it running again. I'm almost certain (since i'm not an investigative journalist) that the burden of the wear and tear on vehicles falls onto the shoulders of the drivers themselves. Or, if the car is running, but stuck with a deferred maintenance.

One of the reasons that the US Army was far more mobile than the German army during the second world war was every American soldier's ability to repair a vehicle. Up until that point, most families owned at least one car and back then was a simple enough time that someone could easily fix one with the right amount of mechanical prowess. Since the advent of OCS in cars in the mid to late eighties, cars have become even more complicated, almost requiring a masters degree to solve. Now, they're at the point where everything is covered in plastic with the assurance of: if it goes wrong, just bring it in and someone else will take care of it for you. You wouldn't believe the number of cars I've driven in the last 10 months that have had a severe amount of deferred maintenance on them. Dents, poor tire balance, broken seats, non-functioning controls. What keeps a person who treats their car as a purse with wheels or a demolition derby entrant from driving people to and from their destinations?

Taxi medallions aren't cheap. My uncle owns one. It certainly isn't a small investment for that matter. The city and county regulates the number of medallions that exist at any time. Naturally, medallions can only be afforded by major companies or people who could afford one. So now the Lyft gets around all of this by not requiring the medallion at all and not putting its drivers up to the same stringent requirements that all taxi drivers must follow.

Though, I'm pretty sure, of all of the cabs i've been in, not many of them have upheld the highest standards of traffic law. The cab companies when they argued their case of "regulate the unregulated" or else we deregulate need to take a lesson from this experience. For them to survive in this new era, they need to come up with a similar user interface to survive. The cab companies, if they come together, they can come up with an app that unifies all companies, based on consumer location rather than competition among each other. For them to survive, they need to fight the ride share together.

October 11, 2013

For the Love of the Typewriter

Over the last few years, I've kept up this blog, and I'm pretty sure i'm ready to retire it. It's a good memory bank of all my past experiences over the last seven years. Though there is still a part of me that doesn't want to retire it entirely. I still like to write my stories and then put it out for you all to read. But I don't think it gets the kind of readership that I would even want.

I'm thinking about opening up a new blog that will be typecast.

What is typecast?

I collect typewriters, there's no doubt about that. I've own three typewriters right now and a stenograph machine, two of which are working with a fourth on the way from Pennsylvania. I've owned two other typewriters since and those have gone away. My first typewriter ironically was something I owned briefly, for about maybe a day or two before I threw it out. It was a 1950's IBM electric that didn't work. I remember one of my teachers had known I had a thing for typewriters and allowed me to take it out of the storage bank where they kept all sorts of unused science equipment. I grabbed it, plugged it in and found that it didn't work. Brave Ms. Leslie tried to help me to get the thing to work, but that was to no avail. I think I found it frustrating and tossed it out into a trash can.

I recall a lot of my high school years whenever I was at my grandmother's place, there was mention of a long lost typewriter hidden somewhere in her basement. Her basement was a treasure trove of things from the 1950's and 1960s that as a child, I loved to dig through. I never found the thing though. My worry was that it was going to be an electric typewriter that I for the longest time never considered it to be a typewriter at all. I think on the basis of being electric.

Just before I left for college, there was a time when I worked for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, there was a typewriter that was in the office I worked in, it was an IBM Selectric II that I found worked marvelously. But to me, it still felt a little sterile to work with so I don't think I bothered too much.

In college, I wanted something a little different from working on the laptop which I had. I had been writing in this blog since 2006 and I wanted to get something that would set me apart in my work. So my freshman year, I put aside a little bit of money and bought my first typewriter. I have the receipt somewhere pinned up on my wall back home. It was a 1966 Royal Royalite that worked as if it had a mind of its own and never when I wanted it to. I think if anything, I never quite got the hang of working with it. It had a carriage shift and my weak little pinkies could never operate it properly so I had capitals all over the place but where they were supposed to be.

I think for awhile, there was something with my last ex-girlfriend who found that I had a typewriter and she had a typewriter as well, so the two of us would sit together writing on our machines.

I took a two year hiatus working in all sorts of weird jobs and when I moved back to Berkeley I brought my typewriter with me. I felt of all things to bring, guitars, books, bagpipes, I had to bring with me my typewriter. I left Berkeley with one and I came back with one. But six years of work on it, had left it in pretty bad shape, so I finally made the drop to upgrade my machine. I bought the Royal Quiet Deluxe from 1953 and then somehow, someone called me up telling me to come pick up two typewriters that they weren't using. One L.C. Smith that is still sitting on my shelf frozen and rusty. And a 1939 Underwood Silent Champion. The Silent opened my eyes again to the world of typewriters. Now, I think I might be on a collecting binge. I'm constantly on the lookout for a Corona 3 and an Optima, but for now, I happy with the Royal Quiet and the Underwood Silent.  I might use the Hermes Rocket for National Novel Writing month coming up soon.

August 06, 2013

The Charm of Details

So for those of you who've read a few of my stories, a few of my entries or even met me in general, you'll notice one thing I always like to put into the front: the little details in life which always seem to somehow wind up lost in the cracks. As much as I love Hemingway and the simplicity of his writing, I always found that what caught my attention the most were people who were more than capable of writing in such a way that it painted a lyrical image in my head. Using just the right amount of details to bring out vivid imagery in your mind. That's the beauty of writing, is that it can pull and entrance you into a world separate from your dull unimaginative life.

For example, take the following sentences:

"Charlie crawled through the exit of the hole and onto the dirt. He was more than pleased to be out of there."

So what's dull about this? Everything. From the lack of visual details to the plain words. There is a lack of empathy, a lack of passion in the words. Let's look at just the first sentence, immediately, we know Charlie was in a hole, and he climbed out. That's about as much as we can even draw from this. The second sentence, finally indicates that he did not like being in there. It took two complex sentences to indicate that Charlie did not like being in there. What was he doing in there? How did he feel in there? Why did he want to get out? So let's apply the magic of visualization to this.

"His eyes were sealed shut with the previous night's sleep as he tried to force them open. When they finally did, what he saw was almost as good as keeping them shut in the first place. Around him, was pitch black darkness. He began to panic, not knowing where he was trapped. All around him, the wet smell of earth plunged into his nostrils. He began to claw at the ceiling of his dirt tomb and it gave way, little by little, creating a pyramid of dirt below. The damp soil clogged his fingernails as he dug furiously until finally the sun broke through. With all of his strength, he pulled more down until finally he made a hole large enough from him to pass through. He heaved his body out half way and using the grass around him pulled himself out. He plunged face first into the grass and took a deep breath. He filled his lungs with the sweet aroma of air, freed from his earthly prison, and began to cry. Where was he now?"

Amazing what we can do to "Charlie crawled through the hole" basically. So it's okay to use those one dollar words to express ideas, just make sure you're using enough of them to make a 10 dollar idea out of them.