Thursday, November 17, 2011

My letter to Sen. Durbin regarding the PROTECT IP Act

Senator Durbin,

I am an Illinoisan and an ardent supporter of investing in things like education, the environment, the arts, science. When I hear people criticize programs like welfare or universal health care as 'socialist', I cannot help but wonder how they could possibly consider that a bad thing. And when people complain about our high taxes, I realize that good programs require good funding and counter that, besides the imbalances in the tax system, I believe everyone's taxes are too low! I am unabashedly liberal. (Well, barring drill weekends; I find it best to keep my politics to myself there, as we of leftward leanings are very much in the minority among the military ilk). And it is no stretch to say that yourself and Senator Patrick Leahy are easily among my favorite people in our capitol.

It was a surprise to me then, to find myself rooting for someone as conservative as Sen. Ron Wyden (he voted for DR-CAFTA, for crying out loud) in his opposition to Sen. Leahy's PROTECT IP Act.

I understand the value of intellectual property and its importance to copyright holders. But whatever the perceived benefits of this act are, I find it difficult to believe that they are sufficient to justify the very real harm that will come of the intentional wholesale corruption of the Domain Name System. The estimated cost to the federal government may be only $47 million. The cost incurred by service providers in implementing and maintaining the counterfeit DNS will be much, much higher. And unlike profits, costs do have a tendency to trickle down.

But far more important than the financial costs of implementation are the social costs of enforcement. I myself have a small home server that, among other things acts as a DNS server for my local network (or, rather, I will again once I replace some parts). Should I have a criminal lawyer on retainer?

Furthermore, while many individuals and organizations targeted for lawsuits by major copyright holders are undoubtedly guilty of infringements, many of the larger 'victims' are just as guilty of abusing the court system and legal bullying of people engaging in fair use. These companies and interest groups have already demonstrated, time and again, a complete lack of the ability, desire, or both, to exercise any restraint in whom they target. Any site lacking the means to take on the legal teams of the media giants would be subject to dealing in parody, satire or any other fair use could be subject to the copyright holder's censorship.

Be sure, if PROTECT IP passes, it will not be employed as a defensive tool for protecting the intellectual property of creative individuals. It will be wielded as offensively and indiscriminately as every other legal weapon these group have wielded in the past. The inability of these rent-seekers to accept the fact that they are entrenched in an obsolescing business-model is no justification for punishing the Internet community at large.

Please reconsider your position on this bill. Neither the Internet nor America has any use for censors.


Charles ...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and why every time you purchase one you are personally contributing ...

... to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards.

Sorry, apparently my title is a bit too long.

Anyway, what follows is the bastard result of the coupling of a too-long tweet ("Every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and every time you purchase one you are personally contributing to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards.") with the beginnings of what was meant to be a three- or four-line comment about the Dead's "Infrared Roses". Over the course of some hours, that offspring grew into a nearly 1500 word argument for the aforementioned tweet's thesis. It lacks cohesion, uniform voice or style, clarity of purpose, and just about anything else one might typically consider beneficial to supporting an argument. But it was fun to write (and re-read), and, most importantly, it is full of Truth. (And if you say it earlier, it had loads more errors, as well as a contest to see who could find the most of those errors, with the winner to receive a free copy "The Ultimate Best of Yanni". I am sorry to report though, that the contest is over, having been won by one Mr. Jones, and the majority of those errors have been corrected.)

But anyway, on with the show:

I want to preface by saying I am by no means a Grateful Dead fanatic, so perhaps I was not the target audience. Generally speaking though, I find their music, at worst, palatable; at best, out-of-this-world, mind-blowingly fantastic.

That being said, approximately two hours ago, I started listening to the Grateful Dead's 'Infrared Roses' (IR) for my first time. Mere minutes ago, I finished listening to it for my second time. You see, I had to be certain I was hearing it correctly. Having reached a similar conclusion upon my second listening, I feel fairly confident in stating that IR is one of the worst professionally produced albums I have ever heard! Not the individual tracks, mind you. Those, I loved, without exception. But the album as a whole? Absolute trash.

Now, I have downloaded dozens of their shows and have found that most of them tend to play closer to the 'out-of-this-world, mind-blowingly fantastic' end of the spectrum. To me, Drums/Space is often the highlight of a given show. Given that IR is a compilation of these improvisational sessions, it hardly seems right that I should find the album so terrible. The problem is, none of the tracks were ever meant to stand without the framework of a musical set to support it. As a composition, IR makes about as much sense as a song composed of nothing but the bridges of other songs, strung together with no rhyme or reason. Basically, what screws IR is that, no matter its interesting choice in material to draw from, it is nothing but a 'best-of' or 'greatest hits' album (BO/GH).

As a rule BO/GHs are produced on the basic principle that (Good Thing + other Good Thing)=Better Thing. People who believe this to be axiomatic, I like to politely refer to as "Fucking Idiots" (FI). As a courtesy to my more conservative readers, I will refrain from mentioning what I refer to them as in private. (I jest, of course; I am not that polite. I am, however that lazy. To type out even an abbreviated version would take the better half of a line.)(Now, where was I? Basic prin... Better Things... believe... Ah.) To those FIs wary of my assertion that the aforementioned axiom is false, I have no intention of asking you to rely on faith. Rather I ask that, before you read on, try a gravy and ketchup sundae. I believe the results of this experiment should be convincing enough.

But even losing integrity through combination with non-complimentary companion pieces, many Good Things will already have suffered by being removed from context of the Whole Thing, becoming merely Things, or even Bad Things. This is reflected, as I mentioned before, in the improvisational portions of Dead concerts. As a part of a full set-list, they are often my favorite part. But listened to without the rest of the show, many of them sound... pointless. (or to continue with the food analogies, ketchup as a condiment, divine. Ketchup as an entrée, not so much).

At this point, there are two possibilities. In one case, the BO/GH is to be a compilation of songs by an artist or group that took the care to compose albums, rather than just songs. Certainly, a good song should stand on its own merits, but a good album can take great songs to new heights. And when they are taken out of their context they lose some of that impact. A compilation of these disparate parts will be far, far less than the sum of its parts.

If, on the other hand, the artist whose oeuvre is to be drawn from is a single-grinder, churning out albums consisting of a handful of hits, buffered with so much filler, then their BO/GH will most likely be superior to any of their standard albums. This does not, however, change the fact that such music is soulless crap, and a compilation of such will still suck.

But how does you purchasing BO/GHs directly contribute to the downfall of society and the arrival of the Beast? Put simply, and in generalized terms, the same way applying your purchasing power toward any given product helps promote its continued development and that of like products.

More specifically, when you purchase a BO/GH, you send a very distinct message, or, rather, a few distinct messages, to a few distinct parties.

First, what you are saying to your average person:

Actually, I don't know that it says anything to the average person. Most people don't care about music. Yeah, yeah. Everybody has a bunch of songs they like listening to, but they don't care about music. They can listen to the radio without a pure and overwhelming malevolence toward society crystallizing in the core of their soul. When they hear something they recognize as soulless drivel, they just turn it off, the thought of taking a wrecking-ball to every transmitter responsible for propagating that radio signal never crossing their mind. And they certainly have never pondered which, of genocide or the willful debasement of a society's artistic and intellectual standards, is the worse crime. (Seriously, think about it. Which is more evil, murdering or ruining someone? If the Borg were coming, would you rather be killed in the fight, or assimilated? I don't have an answer.)

Anyway, this is what you are saying to people who care about music:
"I am metaphor for everything that is wrong with society. I am the bastard of populism and capitalism. I have no concept of what constitutes good music. Yet, because there are more of me than there are of you, my contemptible lack of taste is what record companies are going to consider when engineering music's future. Loath me."

Next, what you are saying to the record companies:
"Keep producing artists that record throw-away albums of radio-friendly swill. My purchasing power will always be behind the lowest common denominator. Provided you remember to tell me to like them."

And finally, what you are saying to the artist:
"I don't really like you. At worst, I hate your stuff, but for some reason, maybe to appear cultured or something, want your name on my CD rack, and this achieves that goal with the least amount of investment. Or maybe it's just that you churn out 'albums', not a one worth owning on its own merits because each one is nothing more than a few singles padded with crap. Most likely though, I have absolutely taste in music and, thus, no interest in listening to any cuts that didn't get major rotation, even though every fan and serious critic agrees that those are your worst songs and you had no intention of releasing them until some soul-sucking record exec forced you to put them on the album to in an effort to boost sales to spineless cretins like me.

At this point you may be wondering what to do if you want to listen to that handful of listenable songs by some artist that never made a listenable album; you want the songs, but you don't want to feed the beast. Your best bet in that case is theft. Shoplifting a BO/GH is an option, if you have the balls/lack of anything to lose for that, but personally, I'd recommend illegally downloading the songs you want. While you're at it, download every Metallica album you can find, just out of spite, then delete them all because they are a terrible band. (Incidentally, this is a fun and effective way to relieve stress.) The other alternative is to not listen to shitty music.

Anyway, I hope that you now understand why every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and why every time you purchase one you are personally contributing to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards.

If you don't, that's okay, too. I am well aware realize that these are not the most well-developed or cohesive arguments I have ever presented and admit that there are certain points where it's not even clear exactly what the purpose of my argument is. It was not my original intention to explain or argue anything at all. In fact, my original intent was merely to tweet "Every single 'best-of' album ever made sucks a big, fat donkey dick and every time you purchase one you are personally contributing to the decay of our society's already foundering aesthetic standards." Since that exceeded Twitter's character limits, it was to become a facebook wall-post, but I was already partway into writing one of those regarding my first two listens or Infrared Roses. The two ideas seemed complimentary, so I decided to merge them... And I guess you just read the result. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I think I'm done though. Like, completely. As in, besides spell-check, I'm skipping the proof-read. We'll make it a game. Whoever finds the most errors gets a free copy "The Ultimate Best of Yanni".

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Twidge command line Twitter client

I recently heard mention of a CLI Twitter client, although which one I do not recall. I do recall however, that it was nowhere to be found in the Debian repositories. I found this highly disappointing due to the fact GUIs trigger in me an alarming allergic reaction. Not one to be dissuaded by a package's absence in the repos though, I set out into the wilds of the interwebs for to track down a tarball. But I quickly found that the program was just a Perl script and that it was no longer functional. You see, last year, Twitter switched to OAuth for their application authentication protocol. And while this is a Good Thing, it meant that no apps lacking OAuth support could authenticate. As I scoured Yahoo and Google for a script or app that would free me from this modern age's GUI tyranny, it seemed all I could find were more scripts that predated the Authentication Scheme Schism.

But, avast! I stumbled upon Twidge.

When I saw that the article was written this year, I rejoiced! Lo! An CLI-based Twitter client with OAuth support!

Blah, blah, blah.

Twidge. Good program. Uses OAuth authentication. And if you're on Debian (or Ubuntu or other derivative), it's just...

apt-get install twidge
twidge setup

...and you're rolling. I probably spend >90% of my time either in vim or at a bash or tcsh prompt, so, if you're like me, that's a whole lot of hassle gone.

And if you're REALLY lazy, you can add alias tweet='twidge update' to your .bashrc, and/or alias tweet 'twidge update' to your .tcshrc like I did.

There are a few other CLI options I came across, but I haven't tried them, so how they compare, I can't say. Maybe at some point I'll try them out if I grow dissatisfied with twidge, or even just get bored with using an application that doesn't frustrate me. The ones I saw mentioned (that haven't been discontinued) were bti, TTYtter, and pytc, or, if you want to tweet from your IRC client, BitlBee fits your bill.

Anywho, in the screenshot below, the bottom-right pane shows some test tweets, just to demonstrate how obscenely lazy I can now be with my tweetage. The other panes aren't really pertinent, but in case you're curious: The top left is the aforementioned web page about Twidge; I recommend it; it has some really good info on using Twidge as a medium for automating tweeting system status updates and the like. The bottom left is just there to display facebook's racist attitude toward text-only browsers. (Think you're too good for ELinks, Zuckerberg? ELinks is too good for you!) The top-right is MOC (Music on Console), my preferred vehicle of aural enjoyment. And the multiplexer they are all nested in is tmux. (Face it Screen: you're over twenty years old; you've grown crufty around the edges. Time to let tmux and dvtm+dtach have a go.)