the cluetrain manifesto

The Cluetrain Manifesto is one of the coolest pieces of literature I’ve stumbled across in a long time. It’s a website, and it’s a book. You can read the full text online, but I think I might actually buy this one, because I want it on my bookshelf.

The basic idea of this document is that corporations are really good at dehumanizing business, which is going to be BAD for their business in the networked market of the internet. People want real communication with real people, and the artificial sales pitch just isn’t going to cut it, because when “consumers” can communicate amongst themselves, they become smarter than the corporations, and they can see right through the BS.

And that’s what the SCDC is about, people communicating person to person without a middleman, without an intermediary, because with the internet and modern networking technology, a middleman is no longer necessary. It is more possible than ever before to just be human with one another, because communication has become so much easier. If we can make business human, if workers can blog and speak their mind, if they can honestly try to help customers instead of toeing the company line, then maybe capitalism isn’t such a bad idea after all.

But don’t rely on my crappy summary, read it yourself! And if your employer is against blogging, if your boss wants the company to present a “professional” face, then buy him a copy of this book, and he’ll understand why that is a bad business decision.

“Piracy” of “Intellectual Property” is like Terrorism, apparently

It was bound to happen sooner or later… the head of the World Intellectual Property Organization said IP piracy is like terrorism. Presumably this applies to “music piracy”. This seems like a pretty innocuous early occurance of the phrase, but it might just be the beginning of a McCarthyite witch hunt for P2P users. Just wait until Bush starts saying it. Next thing you know, they’ll be locking up filesharers without a trial in some hole in Cuba.

Creative Commons

There’s been a lot of great stuff happening with Creative Commons licensing recently! First of all, my copy of Jim’s Big Ego‘s latest CD arrived in the mail today, and I’ve been playing its “Some rights reserved” vibes for my Dad 🙂

Second of all, I recently installed the awesomest plugin for Mozilla, called Mozcc. It scans the webpage for Creative Commons RDF Metadata, and if it finds any it displays the licensing info icons in the corner of your screen. You can then click the icons to read any information that the author included with the document. This is an answer to one of Creative Commons’s Tech Challenges, which is basically a wish list of software that the folks Creative Commons want to exist. One SCDC project that I’d like to get moving soon is Code for Social Change, and one of our first projects would be to respond to some of these tech challenges in order to get our name out there. Unfortunately, the free software community works too fast, they’re answering all of the challenges before we can do it 🙂 Slow down, guys! Wait for us!

Finally, while surfing the Creative Commons website, I happened upon this great “Open Source Movie”, called Nothing So Strange. Basically, the final cut of the movie is under a normal copyright, but all of the raw footage is released under an extremely liberal, BSD-Style Creative Commons license (specifically, the Attribution license)! I think it’s a good idea, and I fully intend to buy it. It’s not available on DVD yet, it’s only available in Quicktime MPEG4 format, but that’s fine because I can still play that on Linux in Mplayer, no problem 🙂

Sunday at Swat

Today wasn’t terribly exciting, but rewarding nevertheless. I’ve started work on a little movie for Chinese class with my partners Andrew and Jonathan, and so far it’s been going great. We’re using my JVC MiniDV camcorder, plugging it into Andrew’s Mac with Firewire, and editing it with iMovie (and possibly FinalCut Express if necessary). It’s amazingly easy to write Chinese characters in Mac OSX, and I’m extremely jealous, because I haven’t found a simple way to do it in Linux yet (probably because I haven’t looked very hard).

It was cool, we worked on the closing credits, and our closing song will be “They’re Everywhere”, by Jim’s Big Ego, which is an insanely cool band from Massachusetts. They released their last album, also titled “They’re Everywhere”, under a Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike Creative Commons license, which happens to be the same license that my website is released under. You can’t tell from my blog pages (I’ll put the license on here too eventually), but if you go to my home page and scroll to the bottom you can see my license tag.

Incidentally, we also used that song to close Andrew’s radio show tonight on WSRN, the college radio station. Andrew’s normal partner is Dana, and their show is Sunday 6-7 PM every weekend, you should check it out. Tonight, however, it was me, Brian, and Andrew, and we discussed Captain Planet, and played music with the underlying theme of Evil Robots. Yes, we managed to come up with many songs about evil robots, which probably proves that we are dorks, but you knew that already because we go to Swarthmore.

My friends and I have determined that everyone who goes to Swarthmore is by definition a dork. Dorks who know computers are Geeks, and Geeks who have no social skills are Nerds. Just wanted to clear that up for y’all.

Melancholy Elephants

The SCDC has begun work on writing a play, loosely based upon the science fiction story Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson. The plot of the short story is that Congress is about to pass a bill that would make copyright last forever, and this woman has to convince a powerful senator that he must kill the bill (Kill Bill! hardy har har). Considering that this story was written sometime before 1983, when it won the 1983 Hugo for Short Story, it was an amazingly insightful story. Spider shows an imperfect understanding of the issues surrounding intellectual property, but the fact that he was writing about it like a decade before anybody else was thinking about it excuses any logic holes. It does, however require updating, to account for both new facts and new understanding of IP issues. The goal is to eventually produce this play at Swarthmore College. Wish us luck!

Ha ha ha, WIPOUT!

I just run across this really cute site,, which has a bunch of essays on why the current intellectual property regime is dumb. It was a response to an international student essay contest that the WIPO sponsored in 2001 about, like, “What does intellectual property mean to me?” Which sounds like something that would make any decent student barf. So this collection of essays says stuff like, “I can’t purchase anti-HIV drugs because of patent law” instead. The site is cobwebby and not terribly standards compliant, but people were less conscious of standards back then (yes, a matter of a couple of years has made a difference). The essays don’t have airtight arguments, but it’s nice to see the perspectives of ordinary people on the subject.

In other news, I went into Philly today with my main man Steve Bhardwaj and Ivan Boothe of Why-War, to be interviewed by Lynn Landes for DUTV. While we were there we met Rebecca Mercuri in person for the first time, and we chilled and talked about all that good ol’ voting stuff. That was pretty cool, but the best part was driving there in Steve’s car listening to Simon and Garfunkel! Steve and I were singing “Keep the Customer Satisfied” all day, in harmony 🙂 That is, he harmonized, and I just blundered along, but trust me, it was cool.

Were old video games actually any good?

This is the funniest article I’ve read in a LONG time, it had me in stitches for 10 minutes when I should have been doing my Chinese homework. I found it on a random Swat alumn’s blog, continuing in the tradition that Swarthmore students pioneered.

The thing is, just think about how hard it would be to play old games if we didn’t have emulators. Most of us can’t play these old games and laugh at them anymore, because unlike the staff of a gaming magazine, we don’t have every piece of the history of gaming at our disposal. Unless you’re uber-careful with your equipment, your old gaming consoles are probably dead or dying, and what use will all of your game cartridges be without the machine that plays them? Sure, Space Invaders and other really popular games have survived to some degree in commercial form, but the more obscure games become completely unavailable as it becomes more difficult to find the old, proprietary hardware needed to play them. Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir if you got here from the SCDC‘s website, but we need the freedom to format-shift our old games to our new computers, so that all of this wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) creativity and entertainment isn’t lost forever.

Oppose the FTAA

Stop! Instead of reading this, go do something about the FTAA!
If you don’t know what the FTAA is, or why you should oppose it, read on.
To borrow from, the FTAA is essentially an expansion of NAFTA, both into new geographic areas such as Central America, South America and the Caribbean, and into new areas of the economy and the law that NAFTA didn’t cover.

Even if you’re not opposed to NAFTA (and if don’t know enough about it to make a judgement, you really ought to research it more), you should be strongly opposed to the FTAA. As reported by IP Justice, the FTAA has a truly horrifying chapter on intellectual property rights. Basically it exports our poorly conceived copyright regime to the rest of the Western Hemisphere, and adds on even more autocratic provisions. Among other things, it mandates imprisonment (!) for P2P filesharing for signatory nations, and destroys many of our remaining “fair use” rights. To see for yourself, try searching the chapter for “prison”… then read the whole thing, if you have a legal bent. Otherwise just visit IP Justice’s page.

I just love how the government talks in Newspeak: Free Trade here means “we throw you in jail for trading files”. Are they going to arrest people for making mix CDs for one another? I thought it was bad enough with the RIAA‘s frivolous lawsuits; now we really may get the police spiriting you away in the night for using Kazaa, no joke.

The SCDC is getting big

I’m so excited about how the SCDC is doing! We’ve been getting press from all over the place: the two Swarthmore College newspapers, the Phoenix and the Daily Gazette, Lawrence Lessig’s site, Boing Boing (“a directory of wonderful things”),, a random personal blog… All of these people from across the country are e-mailing and IMing us, wanting to work with us or start their own similar campus groups!
The most interesting conversation I’ve had today was with a grad student from UTexas at Austin, about the licensing practices of Role-Playing Games like Dungeons & Dragons. He had a lot of interesting things to say about the Open Gaming License, which is essentially like the GPL, and the more restrictive license D20, which lets you use the D&D brand name but doesn’t let you change the game in certain basic ways. Unfortunately it seems that the D20 license is taking over the industry, which reduces the diversity of games. I honestly don’t know much about the topic, but I expect to learn more about a lot of interesting topics like this through my work with the SCDC. These are certainly amazing times!
It’s really strange to realize that the SCDC is the first organization of its kind; that over all these years, there hasn’t been a student anywhere in the nation who cared enough about these issues to build a club to promote them. Swarthmore does have a somewhat radical, avant garde history though, which is easy to forget when we’re looking at it from the inside. Did you know that a Swattie may have been the first blogger? Here’s the article that says so, and here’s what the first blog looked like. I guess it just looks like a really basic webpage, kind of boring, but the bloggy content and the extremely early date (January 27, 1994!) is what sets it apart. Go Swat!

Help stop software patents in Europe (and, less urgently, in the US)

So in case you haven’t heard, some really evil laws are on the verge of passing across the Atlantic in the European Union, see FFII’s page on Software Patents in Europe. Basically, there is a push to increase regulation of software patents, which could conceivably destroy Open Source software such as Linux. Software patents are inherently bad, because in practice software patents are never for a specific implementation of a concept. Software patents are generally for such sweeping concepts such as Amazon’s one-click shopping, or right-clicking to get a menu. What happens from an economic standpoint is that this reduces competition in a ridiculous fashion. Here’s my question: who should make a product? The person who implements an idea best, or the person who thinks of it first? Clearly it is in society’s interest for the first person to produce the good. However, it is also important for there to be people to produce ideas, and people may not bother inventing things if they cannot get compensation for their time and energy. So clearly we must allow the inventors to capture enough of the value of their idea to make it worth their while to create. On the other hand, the inventors have to earn their keep. They shouldn’t just be able to sit back in a comfy chair and extort money from people who are actually creating things. And they definitely shouldn’t be able to patent things that are obvious to anyone who works in the field. Patents are necessary to some extent, but some things do not deserve patents, and patent powers must be limited if we are to have a free market instead of a monopoly-dominated corporate aristocracy.

This is terribly relevant to the open source movement, because since many programs are created through volunteer work, and given away for free, it would be ridiculous to ask free software programmers to pay off patent holders. Most projects could not afford this extortion. There are also many side issues that I could remember for you if it wasn’t 1:47 AM. Maybe I’ll put in an update later, but for now, yeah, read