I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Open Letter To Cabarrus County Schools

Here is the story I’m responding to.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to you concerning the suspension of Summer from Hickory Ridge High School. As an honors student, with a 4.4 GPA Summer is a model student, and one that should be held up as an example for the rest of the student body. I certainly encourage my daughters to emulate her example. As two of my daughters attend Hickory Ridge (and another will next year) they are certainly in a position to take an example from this situation. What they learn will be influenced by the actions that the school determines to take.

Summer is being suspended and not allowed to graduate because she wore a shirt that showed part of her shoulders. Even after she covered up she was threatened with arrest if she did not go alone with an adult she did not trust. None of the response by Principal Cline is remotely an appropriate, measured response to this perceived violation.

As for whether this is a violation, I’m sure you can point at text that indicates a rule. However, Hickory Ridge High School’s dress code is grossly sexist and outdated. I have seen photographs of Summer in the shirt in question and she is not dressed provocatively. I would suggest that if any amount of skin is causing misbehavior among the young men at Hickory Ridge, then the problem is with the boys, and not at all with the dress of the young women.

This unfortunate incident is an outrageous display of backwards thinking. And it displays North Carolina, and in particular our school system, as an disgusting example of oppression; where rules, even pointless and possibly damaging ones, are more important that hard work and study.

I would encourage the school board to reconsider Ms. Cline’s employment, if it is so important to her to enforce a misguided dress code that she would willingly involve police enforcement and risk a young woman’s future over a shirt.

The stated mission of Cabarrus County Schools is “empowering students to build their futures,” and the first stated goal to achieving that mission is that “every student in the Cabarrus County School system will graduate from high school prepared for work, further education, and citizenship” (http://www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us/cms/lib09/NC01910456/Centricity/Domain/4/_Measure_Strategic_Plan_V115.pdf). Draconian enforcement of a policy that is, at best, trivial, is a distraction from that mission and goal. It does nothing to achieve it, and in fact, we can see that it quite literally hampers the goal and mission. Summer has not been empowered by this incident. I challenge you to indicate any student empowered by these events. Suspending a student over a shirt does not prepare her for work or education, and only teaches her that the authority in power must be obeyed at any cost — hardly a good measure of citizenship. She will not graduate, so that only hurts the county numbers.

I look forward to the public statement that repudiates this suspension, restores Summer, and apologizes for the mistreatment given her.

My Graphic Novel Recommendations, part 1 of ?

I have often thought of what I think are the best graphic novels — the books I would recommend to people who are starting to read comics. Sometimes this is because I have been asked, or the conversation is about it anyway. Sometimes this is just because I’m a gigantic nerd.

Either way, I thought it about time I set up a list with basic descriptions I can refer people to. So without further ado…

Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics is an explanation of how comics function mechanically and how to interpret the artistic conventions often used in comics. It is, of course, in comic format. It moves through the history of comics, definitions of the term “comic” and “graphic novels” (not as simple a task as you think), the expression of time’s passage, simultaneity, and many of the other ideosyncracies that make comics a unique artistic medium.

I know this hardly sounds like an exciting work in the world of “zap!” “pow!” and “bang!” but it turns out to be a fascinating read. Some of the bits will make you go “huh, I never thought of that!” Others will make you think “I knew that, but I didn’t know that.” All in all, it lends depth to the medium that will make you appreciate it that much more.

Kingdom Come

This is actually the first graphic novel I think of, every time. I moved it down because it seemed so apropos to have Understanding Comics come first. The sequence in which the recommendations appear has very little, if anything, to do with their quality.

Feeling that the world no longer strives for the ideals he stands for, Superman has been in self-imposed exile for ten years. In his absence, super “heroes” are out of control: their violence and disregard for life often surpasses that of the villains they fight. Desperate to make things right, Wonder Woman convinces Kal-El to return and lead his peers as he once did. Not everyone is happy about this, however, and the strife between various anti-metahuman forces, villains, and Superman’s peers seems prepared to hit apocalyptic proportions.

There really isn’t anything that can stop Superman. Good writers of Superman stories know this. You basically have two approaches, outright murder him with kryptonite, or you write a story about revealing character through choices. Waid takes the latter road (even going so far as the close the first road by having Lex Luthor point out that after so long on Earth, even a kryptonite bomb wouldn’t be enough to stop Superman anymore). What’s on trial in Kingdom Come isn’t whether Superman can beat the foe (though with a surprise twist, a test of his physical power comes as well), but whether staying true to his values can save himself or others, or whether his self-righteousness will destroy society.

All the characters of the DC Universe are here (even the Wonder Twins, it turns out). And there are loads of Easter eggs and detailed nuance, both in writing and art, on every page. Any given panel is a joy to look at, thanks to Ross’s artistic mastery. But despite all the geeky fan service, there’s a tight story here that can be enjoyed by even those with a passing familiarity with the big players of the DCU. In my opinion, this is the greatest Superman story ever told.

Grasscutter (Usagi Yojimbo, Vol. 12)

Usagi Yojimbo is a historical fantasy series set in the Edo period of Japan’s history and draws on Japanese myth and legend to complete it. The primary character is a ronin – masterless samurai.

And he’s a rabbit.

All the characters are represented as animals, and it’s not really a metaphor or anything like that. Though the fact that one particular manipulative character is presented as a snake is perhaps not entirely coincidental.

Grasscutter is Sakai’s triumph, a masterful story, and the way he tells it is entirely self-contained – there’s no need for familiarity with Usagi’s previous adventures. The story surrounds the discovery of an ancient sword that can make or break the shogunate, the struggles to take control of it, and what Usagi must do to prevent all out civil war.

A great many of the Usagi Yojimbo stories are very good. It’s more than worth it to read any of the collected stories, but Grasscutter is a cut above even Sakai’s other excellent work.

Maus, Volumes I & II

Maus is the biography of Spiegelman’s father, a Jewish World War II survivor, framed by the story of Spiegelman’s relationship with his father.

Spiegelman uses animals to represent the characters, but that doesn’t make this powerful story cartoonish or childish in anyway. It actually serves as a powerful way to illustrate race relations. Jews are represented as mice. Germans are cats. Americans are dogs, and so on.

While anthropomorphism in Sakai’s work is an aethetic style choice, Spiegelman’s animals remind us of our visciousness and how little above animals we actually are. And while McCloud can explain comics, Spiegelman puts those principles into raw practice.

Maus is worth reading as a telling of history, as an exploration of human relations, and as a showcase of effective storytelling using the comics medium. It transcends all of these, forming a solid work of art and literature.


I hesitate to put two books by the same creator on the same segment of the same list, but Ross is just that good. Plus I’m going to do it again with Will Eisner in a later edition. Maybe I should have split them, but I thought since I threw DC comics a place in the first part of this series, I’d better look even handed and put a Marvel Comics book here as well.

Not that I chose Marvels solely to balance publications by The Big Two. Marvels stands on it’s own.

The book tells the history of the Marvel universe, starting with the first appearance of superheroes with the original Human Torch, The Submariner, and Captain America, and hitting all the biggest stories that shaped what is iconic about Marvel superheroes.

Through the eyes of Daily Bugle photographer Phil Sheldon we see the world shaped by the rise of superheroes, the formation of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, and Spider-Man — as well as the biggest, most emotional stories that happened to these characters.

The real brilliance was chosing a normal person to be the viewpoint. In most comics there’s simply the feeling of triumph as heroes win the day. Making Sheldon the narrator let’s us see the fallout. And yes, there’s hero worship, but there’s also acknowledgement of the uncertainty of people who feel they might not be in charge of their own destiny. There’s more reason to mourn at death and more reason to celebrate victory.

Marvels is a primer on the big events of Marvel Comics history, true. But it’s also a great story that gives additional meaning to those events.

Twitterant: Net Neutrality

on the possibility of Congressional reaction the the FCC’s wise net neutrality ruling.

Thoughts Inspired By Our Nation’s 238th Birthday

“America the Beautiful” touches my heart. I love my country. We have done great thibgs, though imperfectly. We are still capable of doing great things.

But I fear we have lost track of those things.

There are a great many things that we fought for in the 18th century. Independence was a side product of correcting the injustice of no representation. The British believed their Parliament did represent everyone in the empire. Americans ruled by Britain did not believe the Parliament could adequately represent them when it did not have people from America and familiar with American wants and needs.

I believe we have made great strides in political representation of all groups. Suffrage has officially been extended to everyone regardless of skin color or gender. Slavery is outlawed.

Yet we are still imperfect. There are still laws designed to exclude, or make it difficult for others to participate, when laws should be designed to expand representation. And socially we have far to go when dealing with people different than ourselves. Black distrusts white, white persecutes brown. The phrase “social justice warrior” is used with derision, as if fighting for justice in any arena is not a noble goal.

I think, however, that the direction of history is currently toward more equality in that regard. We have work to do, but many are doing that work.

But my understanding is that the War for Independence was supposed to be for greater freedom and liberty. That was why the Articles of Confederation dispersed authority and gave so little power to central government. When it failed, and a solution presented that centralized more power but tried to include balances and safeguards to prevent that power from becoming tyrannical, many were still nervous. They would not move forward without explicit guarantees in that solution that individual liberties were inviolate.

The founders did not create our federal government with security as a primary concerns. Indeed, many of those founders had in mind creating a government that could be overthrown, if necessary. Liberty was the overriding concern, with the minimum sacrifices required for stability and effectiveness.

I love those who sacrificed and worked hard to make this nation what it is. They made some mistakes, some of them grave and tragic. But they built for what they believed.

We cannot afford to think that all is well any longer. We cannot think that we are great because we are the USA. The US is not inherently great. The US can only be as great as it stands for the virtues enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Let me be explicit in what I mean with concrete examples.

It means that very few government secrets are worth prosecuting members of the press. It means that granting press passes should be inclusory — that being a member of the press is not about accreditation — it is about allowing news to flow freely. There is no worthiness standard, and politically based grants of passes is an abomination.

It means even when there is a genuine government secret at stake, a cleared oppositional counsel should be there to represent the reasons why a considered action might be the wrong choice.

It means that getting a job done or achieving a security or enforcement goal has nothing close to the weight that due process and personal privacy hold. Mandatory searches and no fly lists to prohibit air travel are gross violations of the standards we pretend to uphold. These policies give lie to our claims of a free and open society. Especially when we spread those policies to other means of travel and gatherings.

It means that mass tracking and or recording calls, call records, or other communication is not a reasonable practice. It does little to nothing to help criminal or security investigations and certainly violates multiple principles that are supposed to be central to our national ideals.

It means that taking the word of a cop over the word of an accused citizen makes no objective sense and denies the principle of innocent until proven guilty. It means that attempts to thwart accountability, oversight, and regulation of law enforcement and other government representatives is resisting liberty and human dignity. The police, the FBI, and the “intelligence” apparatus must be held responsible when they raid the wrong house, or investigate the wrong person, and should make reparations. Recordings of law enforcement activity should be welcomed by cops, the legal apparatus, and all citizens.

It means that free speech zones are a mockery of the first amendment. It means making an assumption about a person based on ethnicity, color, or religious inclination is a frightening practice that rots our nation. Racial profiling is an evil practice.

It means passing legal judgements based on something someone doesn’t say is exactly the sort of thing we should be protected from. “Taking the fifth” should not and must not imply guilt.

It means that it is a far greater tragedy for an innocent to be deprived of freedom, even temporarily, than for a criminal to go free.

It means that prosecutors should be penalized when they do not share evidence, coerce confessions, deny representation, or otherwise violate due process. We should incentivize carriage of justice by prosecution and not “convictions.” We should compensate public defenders like we do prosecutors, so that the best lawyers find it a viable career choice. It means the primary role of judges needs to be defenders of the rights of the accused, not to get through their cases. And when a judge does not follow procedures, the respect due to his office does not warrant compliance with his orders.

It means the failure to convict the perpetrator of even a heinous crime is a lesser tragedy than to punish someone for a crime that person did not commit. It means we need police who want to protect, not who want to make a bust. It means we need police who worry more about justice and other around them then they do their own safety.

It means that all political representatives, government employees, and civil servants should always remember that the 9th and 10th amendments to the Constitution of the United States not only imply, but outright state that the Constitution does not enumerate all rights that people are entitled too. It means that no where is it written that the rights we claim to hold dear do not apply to non-citizens or extra-nationals.

Remember, the Declaration of Independence claims that the purpose of any government is to secure rights and liberties for it’s people, not to permit certain liberties so long as it doesn’t get in the way of the government trying to get things done. The government is exists to serve the people. It should not be its own entity.

The preamble to the Constitution states that it was established for six purposes: make a better union of the states, establish justice,.insure domestic tranquility, common defense, promote general welfare, and secure blessings of liberty. Two of those apply directly to law enforcement, “Justice” and “Tranquility” (the capitalization is in the original). Justice is first. But thinking that “Tranquility” gives more power to law enforcement only shows that the thinker misunderstands what tranquility is.

I think that many who are gung ho for the military believe that two apply to a strong military and intelligence community: common defense and “securing” the blessings of liberty. Again I would point out that “Blessings of Liberty” is capitalized in the text, but “common defense” is not. And I do not believe that an omnipresent intelligence apparatus “secures” any blessings of liberty. It may “secure” the position of a government, and though evidence indicates contrary, it can be argued that securing the government makes the people secure. But it does not secure any liberty.

We have lost our way as a nation. We do not remember the purposes for which we became a nation or the principles that moved us toward greatness. Unless we stand by those principles again, I cannot see ever achieving greatness. The United States is an newly adult nation who still has much work to do to achieve its goals and dreams. Please remember those dreams. Don’t get distracted into other avenues. Pursue those dreams of equality and liberty. Become a model for the world.

“Liberal” as an insult.

screen shot, because the coward deleted it.

screen shot, because the coward deleted it.

Just to provide context for the last tweet

Media Query Update

So I did some more tinkering. I figured, there has to be a way this makes sense.

Especially since I spent another day at work working with a page with these declarations that is working exactly as intended:

<link rel="stylesheet" media="screen and (min-width: 320px) and (max-width: 480px)" href="styles/rplo-iphone5.css">
<link rel='stylesheet' media='screen and (min-width: 560px) and (max-width: 720px)' href='styles/rplo-iphone5.css' />

I did a version of my page from the last post that had this:

@media only screen and (min-width:300px) and (max-width:309px) { body { background-color: rgb(0,1,0) } }
@media only screen and (min-width:310px) and (max-width:319px) { body { background-color: rgb(0,2,0) } }
@media only screen and (min-width:320px) and (max-width:329px) { body { background-color: rgb(0,3,0) } }

on up to 1609px.

Every mobile device/browser matched the 980-989 range. Just like I expected from my last results.

Honestly, I have no idea how to begin to reconcile the behavior between those two segments of code. It makes zero sense to me.

So I finally tried using min-device-width and max-device-width.

@media only screen and (min-device-width:300px) and (max-device-width:309px) { body { background-color: rgb(0,1,0) } }
@media only screen and (min-device-width:310px) and (max-device-width:319px) { body { background-color: rgb(0,2,0) } }
@media only screen and (min-device-width:320px) and (max-device-width:329px) { body { background-color: rgb(0,3,0) } }

This one gave me usable results. For the first time. Ever.

But it’s still pretty frigging weird.

Chrome and Firefox, on my Samsung Galaxy SIII, agree that in portrait, the device-width is 360px, and that in Landscape the device-width is 640px.

The built-in default browser, however, insists that the device-width is 720px no matter what orientation the device is. I’ve no idea where it gets that number. It’s like the developers choose it from a hat full of slips of paper with pixel resolutions written on them.

I can understand reporting an identical device-width no matter the orientation, I guess. There’s an argument to be made that the device-width hasn’t changed just because you turned the device. It’s a completely impractical and useless argument, but at least it’s there. And there’s precedent. iOS reports (using Chrome or Safari) the same device-width no matter which orientation you hold the device (on this iPhone 5 that device-width is 320px, and on the iPad Air it is 760px). This is another reason for me to hate Apple, but at least it’s consistent.

Android’s default browser giving me 720px is like saying that 1+1=2, or 3 for especially large values of 1.

But, still, at least I can use it.

You can make media queries that fit those device-widths without much of a problem

/* iPhone 5, portrait */
@media only screen and (min-device-width: 320px) and (max-device-width: 359px) and (orientation: portrait) {}
/* iPhone 5, landscape */
@media only screen and (min-device-width: 320px) and (max-device-width: 359px) and (orientation: landscape) {}
/* Android Chrome, Firefox, or default, portrait */
@media only screen and (min-device-width: 360px) and (max-device-width: 639px),
only screen and (min-device-width:720px) and (max-device-width:1000px) and (orientation: portrait) {}
/* Android Chrome, Firefox, or default, landscape*/
@media only screen and (min-device-width: 640px) and (max-device-width: 719px),
only screen and (min-device-width:720px) and (max-device-width:1000px) and (orientation: landscape) {}

Note that the 1000px measure there is an arbitrary number.

I will probably do something like this to get a measure in em. And maybe do it with device-height as well. Just to see if I get something else useful.

Media Queries

“I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle…” er… media queries.

I’ve been working with a bunch trying to come up with a definitive set of queries to make CSS work across browsers so I can just copy those queries as needed from page to page.

Except, they don’t work consistently.

At work we have a page that uses this set of link declarations on one page:

<link rel='stylesheet' media='screen and (min-width: 320px) and (max-width: 480px)' href='css/iphone4.css' />
<link rel='stylesheet' media='screen and (min-width: 560px) and (max-width: 720px)' href='css/iphone5.css' />
<link rel='stylesheet' media='screen and (min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1024px)' href='css/tablet.css' />

It seems to work pretty good for iPhone and iPad, though less so for Android.

But I was experimenting to find what worked. What was the min-width for various devices.

I have a Samsung Galaxy SIII with Chrome, Firefox, and the default browser.
I have an iPhone (5, I think?) with Chrome and Safari
I have an iPad3 with Chrome and Safari.

I wrote a PHP script to generate a style sheet with media queries incrementing the min-width by 10. Like thus:

@media screen and (min-width: 320px){body{background-color: rgb(0,0,1)}}
@media screen and (min-width: 330px){body{background-color: rgb(0,0,2)}}
@media screen and (min-width: 340px){body{background-color: rgb(0,0,3)}}
@media screen and (min-width: 350px){body{background-color: rgb(0,0,4)}}

…and so on, up to 1260px. Note that the color gradation was very subtle, so I included a JavaScript statement to tell me the color value actually being used. From that I could see which media query matched.

It wasn’t helpful because all three devices, in all their browsers, told me that the color was rgb(0,0,67). Which corresponded to 980pxs. It did this in portrait AND landscape orientations. The only exception was Firefox on the Galaxy. It matched something like 530px, but only in portrait. In landscape it was 980px.

However, I’ve also had people observe that linking stylesheets works differently (read, “better”) than inline media queries. So I did the same thing, only using stylesheets.

<link rel="stylesheet" media="screen and (min-width:320px) href="style320.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" media="screen and (min-width:330px) href="style330.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" media="screen and (min-width:340px) href="style340.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" media="screen and (min-width:350px) href="style350.css">

I got identical results.

I have a coworker who testifies to the True Nature of the media queries we use on the functional page mentioned above.

So I made this page:

<title>css test</title>
<script src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.11.1/jquery.min.js"></script>
body { background-color: #000; color: #fff; }
<link rel='stylesheet' media='screen and (min-width: 320px) and (max-width: 480px)' href='style320.css' />
<link rel='stylesheet' media='screen and (min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1024px)' href='style600.css' />
<link rel='stylesheet' media='screen and (min-width: 560px) and (max-width: 720px)' href='style560.css' />
switch ($('body').css('background-color')) {
case 'rgb(0, 0, 3)':
$('body').prepend('Document matches this media query: screen and (min-width: 320px) and (max-width: 480px)');
case 'rgb(0, 0, 27':
$('body').prepend('Document matches this media query: screen and (min-width: 560px) and (max-width: 720px)');
case 'rgb(0, 0, 31)':
$('body').prepend('Document matches this media query: screen and (min-width: 600px) and (max-width: 1024px)');
$('body').prepend('Document does match any media query you defined').

The page (with lots of commented code from other experiments) can be found at http://herbertlives.com/misc/mq

All it does is use media queries to decide which stylesheet to use.
The stylesheets each have one declaration, the color of the body background.
The JavaScript/jQuery detects the background color, and depending on what it gets, prints out what query matched.

Android Chrome

Android Chrome

Android Firefox

Android Firefox

Everything iPhone and iPad matched Android Chrome. Which, it should be noted, is the range that 980px fits in. Firefox was the confusing one, because… 530px doesn’t fit between 320 and 480.

I’ve seen a lot of “lessons” and “tutorials” and “sample code” that give example queries. They all seem to go with the iPhone declared screen size of 320px and browser reported size of 640px. And none of them work like I expect them too.

I’m left believing that web pages must be styled according to target device, not screen sizes.

If I’m doing something wrong, feel free to tell me what it is. I’d like the world of web development to make some sort of fracking sense once in a while, and human error in this project would explain a lot.

Take My Wife … for example

For a guy who thinks of himself as a writer I become exceedingly poor with words when it comes to real things.1

At any rate, I always have a difficult time expressing myself, rather than making something up. I have imagination, but not sincerity, maybe.

And so I struggle to tell my wife what she means to me. Frankly, My family would fall apart without her. I would fall apart with out her. I can barely keep track of my own needs let alone the needs of everyone else.2

But that sounds infantile. She’s not my mom. And I don’t think she wants to be remembered as the person who keeps it all together. At least, not just that. I’m sure she doesn’t mind being thought of as capable. But after all, she’s intelligent and beautiful as well.

And I hope by now my fumbling has demonstrated that I wasn’t lying in the first few sentences.

It’s more than her leadership. Her touch is comforting in a way that I find completely inexplicable. I wake in the night, and I can reach out and just touch her back with my fingers, and suddenly I can go back to sleep. It’s more than confirmation that I’m not alone — although it is that in a very existential way. It’s even more than confirmation that we’re extensions of each other. It’s confirmation that things are OK. That things are as they should be, even if they’re not ideal.

Her touch works other times. I mean, it’s fun to hold my three year old and hug my children. But when Kirsti just runs her fingers quickly over my shoulder, there’s connection and calming.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to explain what she means to me, what she is to me. Or why. And right now I find that I’m out of ways to try. But she’s central to my life. Marrying her was completing myself.

  1. Maybe I just make up stories, and am less a wordsmith 

  2. I can feed the cat, but he doesn’t even use his litter box, so he requires very little attention to be happy 

Back to the LEGO!

So I spend the Christmas money from Grandma on LEGOs.



Note that the doors lift and lower and the wheels swivel downward. The only disappointment, which is minor, is the skateboard color. It would have been cool to have a pink one with some sort of clear LEGO brick underneath, to be the hover board. Who knows, maybe we’ll get one in 2015.


There’s a Mr. Fusion bit up there (removable if you want the version from most of the first movie). The “shiny bar code” license plate can be swapped out for the “OUTATIME” plate. The rims can also be changed out for the red rims used in part III.




“This is heavy!”

(The whole point being that you can have happy faces or shocked/worried faces).


And yes, there’s a flux capacitor. There’s the time circuits too. Set to January 28, 1958 — the date the first LEGO brick was patented, apparently — and October 26, 1985, the date on which the first movie begins.

So, yeah, I’m pleased.


An impulse purchase to be sure. Because I have no idea how on earth one can learn about the existence of LEGO compatible toys made in the image of KISS without immediately buying them. The fact that there was only one package remaining on the shelf when I got there only proves my case.

I’m not sure I need to talk too much about them. Just… LOOK!


They have all of them. Spaceman (Ace Frehley)…

…Starchild (Paul Stanley)…

…Catman (Peter Criss)…

… and my personal favorite, Demon (Gene Simmons).

And, in case you ever wondered, yeah, fully compatible with LEGO bricks. Here’s Ace Frehley wearing a TIE pilot uniform.
Ace Frehley, TIE Pilot.

But, the absolute very best most awesome thing ever about this? The platform boots are accessories, not a solid piece of the legs.
Pirate Kiss

Well, At Least We’ve Put a Man on the Moon

There’s a lot of stuff happened in the world last week. And much of it made me mad. I have found that perhaps a lot of people I have to share this all with maybe aren’t interested. So I put it on my blog. Then no one has to listen to it and I can still pretend I’m sharing with someone.

Informed High-Level Officials

Send in the Space Marines

Amazon Reminds Us How It Really Is

We Live in a World Where This is Real

All of this just makes me grateful humanity has been able to put a man on the moon. I mean, that’s pretty much the most awesome thing humanity has ever done. It makes it so I don’t lose every last particle of hope for humanity. And it means that just maybe one day there will be a way to escape.

We Live In A World Where This Is Real

Beware. In this story, which I’ve pulled from the news and is real and true, you will find the foundation for just about every stereotype for certain classes of people. I want to note that I’m not saying that these stereotypes are justified for application to their respective categories, just that there, apparently, is an example of a case where a person fits that stereotype perfectly.

I’m not linking to the stories, but you can find them easily enough by using your Google-fu. Just remember that Kai uses a lot of bad words, so stay away from recordings of interviews with him.

This story is about Kai. Kai is a scraggy-faced, blondie homeless surfer. His accent and mannerisms match those of surfers exactly, dudes, and he has no last name. Just Kai. Kai, “straight out of dog town,” was hitch hiking along in Cali when he was picked up by a person.

The person was a little disturbing. He confessed to having raped a fourteen-year-old in the Caribbean. But then it turns out that this was ok… because this driver was really Jesus so he could do anything he wanted.

So far, we have typical surfer dude being picked up by cliché crazy person.

Crazy driver turns out to take his memes another step too far by noticing a black utility worker and demonstrating how he could do anything he wants by running his truck into the man, pinning him. (He is now cliché racist crazy Jesus pervert.)

People, because most of us have feelings and empathy, rushed to help the injured man, but crazy driver gets out and tries to keep them all away.

And even though he apparently wasn’t bothered enough by the driver being a self-admitted rapist to ask him to pull over, or, for that matter, bothered enough that the driver thought himself Jesus (I guess homeless surfer bums have a higher tolerance for unusual personalities?) Kai decided he had enough and had to intervene when crazy man violently grabbed and held onto one would-be helper.

Kai got out of the car and pulled his hatchet from his bag.

And that pretty much completes our stereotypes. Yes, the hitchhiker was carrying an ax! Kai is not only a cliché surfer bum, he’s a cliché hitchhiker.

Kai pounded the crazy man with the hatchet (“Smash! Smash! Sa-mash!” in his own words), and both driver and crash victim were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. At least Kai didn’t use the blade of the hatchet, so he’s not a sociopathic homeless hitchhiker — as far as we know, anyway.

Yes, we live in a world where that isn’t just an urban legend.

Amazon Reminds Us How It Really Is

Lest we think Amazon is a scrupulous company, they decided us to keep us on the straight track with that one by acquiring a patent to sell used e-books.

This is another one of those things where I wonder if words should fail me. Unfortunately, I talk far too much for that to ever happen. Used. E-books. As in, electronic books. As in… I’m not even sure how to explain that any further.

On the whole other people seem to be as flabbergasted as me. John Scalzi weighed in (twice) on this. But he’s hardly the only one. Here’s another. And another. I can’t see a way that this can ultimately end up an honest way to do business. It practically screams “anti-competitive practice,” and repeats it over and over, like your neighbor’s dog keeping you up all night.

The idea supposedly has parallels to how you loan books from kindle to kindle. While the e-book is “on loan” the owner can’t access it. This process simply takes the license and says you can never use it again. The maximum number of licenses is the number of licenses purchased at full price. Amazon resells that license again and again.

What’s so bad about that? Well, I’ll skip over the trivially easy copying problem (no this isn’t the same as used games – no one is trying to sell a “used” copy of a downloaded game. Used games are purchased on the original physical media). One big problem I see is that there is no mechanism in place to keep Amazon honest. There’s no DRM breakthroughs and no new technology. Amazon has always had an incredibly opaque accounting process. It’s next to impossible to figure out anything with them. They are also pretty unresponsive to any user complaints. I have no confidence that this theoretical maximum number of licenses is going to actually correspond to any first time purchases.

In addition, I think this will destroy any profit the publisher or the author will make. I can get around feeling bad for the publisher, to a certain extent — though it’s pretty clear that, despite the very low quality of the huge majority of self-published books on the Kindle marketplace, Amazon thinks that the contributions publishers make to the development of a book product isn’t worth much (a thought that is very erroneous). Amazon’s goal has long been to eliminate publishers from the process. In some ways that’s liberating, and maybe publishers need to adopt a new model, but Amazon isn’t doing anything to replace the value that publishers — with their editing, proofing, formatting, and art direction — add to a book.

However, I can’t get around how much this is going to hurt authors. Amazon isn’t going to compensate authors at all for these resells. And combined with the lack of accountability, it’s going to hurt those authors. Which, in the long run, is going to hurt readers too. If it’s less lucrative to write books (and remember this applies to self-published as well as industry published books), then less books will be written. The quality will also drop. If Amazon were to exercise this patent, it would be a huge detriment to the production of quality literature.

All in all, this looks to me like another attempt by Amazon to make the price of books cheaper than the market currently settles at. Which makes Amazon more profitable, but hurts every single other person in the process.

Send in the Space Marines

Games Workshop makes a game. Actually, they make several games, one of which is the well-imagines Warhammer Fantasy RPG, which I will never play because of decisions they’ve made about another of their games: Warhammer 40,000.

Warhammer 40k is a table-top miniatures wargame that is set in the far future. The armies include space orks, space elves, and space marines. Games Workshop has a trademark on the term “space marine” as regards to games (a trademark which I think is on iffy foundations). And because of that when they recently started publishing ebooks set in the Warhammer 40k universe, they decided their trademark extends over pretty much any industry and goods throughout all space and time.

They chose to attempt to enforce this trademark recently by sending amazon a DMCA notice about Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth.

Note: I’ve never read this particular book. Or any prose by Hogarth, but I have been reading The Three Jaguars which I have found to be creative and imaginative. But this isn’t about Hogarth’s creative abilities or talent, it’s about her rights.

Amazon, as nearly all third parties do when served a DMCA notice, promptly yanked the Kindle edition of the book from their virtual shelves. This highlights what is troubling about the DMCA, and which would be terrifying about SOPA and PIPA. The third parties act first. The oft-times legitimate person whose content is threatened by such notices have no chance to defend themselves. The third party has no requirements to do any research or questioning about the content-revocation (it really shouldn’t be their burden anyway). And so the person serving the DMCA has an excellent tool to be an intellectual property bully.

And that’s exactly what happened here.

More specific than the tweets to your right, it’s easy to see that “space marines” has appeared in literature for more than eighty years. “Captain Brink and the Space Marines” by Bob Olson, published by Amazing Stories in 1932 is an obvious early example.

So pretty much Games Workshop’s claim about a trademark is a load of crap. Fortunately, the Internet was on Hogarth’s side. There were a rash of Twitter accounts changing their display names to involve the phrase Space Marines. Games Workshop banned a bunch. Famous geek celebrities spoke out on Hogarth’s side, including author John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow. And freedom of speech crusaders Popehat and the Electronic Freedom Foundation helped her get a platform and seek for legal assistance.

After a few days, Amazon restored the book to the store. Which is the solution that I believe they should have done. It was the only honest thing, once they had enough attention. So on the whole this story had a happy ending (assuming Games Workshop doesn’t take it to court. The problem is most stories like this don’t necessarily get that happy ending. Often the victims of intellectual property don’t get a voice. They don’t get famous people repeating their stories.

And sometimes, even when they do, the bully has too much money. If it goes to court, the bully can afford to litigate eternally. They can pay the lawyer, and the victim can’t — even with the hope of getting compensated for the court costs that doesn’t happen for a long time. In the mean time the victim is ruined. There’s a plethora of problems manifest in this case. There’s a need to reform litigation procedures; there’s a need to reform copyright laws to reflect creative needs and encourage innovation.

Fortunately, Amazon decided to do the right thing in this case.

Informed, High-Level Officials

NBC released a memo from the Department of Justice that is supposed to convince (supposedly) rational people that there’s a working justification for the executive branch’s policy of killing it’s own citizens without all that pesky “due process” hippy crap.

I’ll point out that what’s making me angry is not the actions of NBC or their journalists, but the contents of the memo. In case you couldn’t tell.

The memo is probably longer than most want to read. The summary is that, basically, if an “informed, high-level” official decides that an individual poses an “imminent” threat of violence, and that it’s “infeasible,” and that “the operation would be carried out in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles,” then the president is allowed to obliterate that individual, along with anyone or anything in the vicinity. As The Onion puts it: “It’s important for the government to be able to murder me and any of my friends or family members whenever they please for reputed national security reasons.”

There’s so many problems with this. While the memo says this is about “senior” operators in al-Qa’ida, being a leader in that organization is not listed as a requirement. Nor, in fact, is being in al-Qa’ida at all. For that matter, neither is being a terrorist, or even a criminal, or even a suspect of having committed a crime. While we’re pointing out what’s not in the memo, it’s worth noting that the memo says this is about citizens in foreign territory, that isn’t listed as a requirement either.

This memo also fails to define “high-level” or “informed.” I guarantee that they play fast and loose with that.

What makes me so sure? Maybe you think I’m picking nits. Let me encourage you to rethink that perception. Why? The next part is a huge focus of the memo. So let me step back and approach this logically.

The memo says this person needs to pose an “imminent” threat. Naturally, as human beings who are at least semi-fluent in a language, we make assumptions that words mean something. Or at least that words signify something that means something. In this particular instance, we can make the assumption that “imminent” means “close at hand” or “happening in the very near future” or “not long now.”

Except, we can’t assume that.

This memo says we need to take a “broader” approach to what “imminent” means. Near as I can tell, the only thing the memo actually says is that “imminent” means… nothing. In stead of “near” future it means “some time” in the future, maybe. It spends pages talking about how there’s all kinds of non-specific modifiers to the immediacy required for a threat to be “imminent.”

I want to be speechless because of this. Unfortunately there’s too much presidential precedent. George W. Bush had no idea that the English language was used in the U.S. and instead spoke a mash of almost English words along with whatever sounds random neurons firing in his brain came up with. Half of me thinks he was an idiot for this. But considering how successful he was at gathering unprecedented power to his office in spite of hundreds of years of Constitutional freedoms, the other half of me thinks this was a calculated ploy to make us all think he was an idiot and therefore non-threatening. But Bush’s unrestrained molestation of the English language isn’t all I think of. His predecessor questioned the meaning of the word “is” with a straight face in a court of law — and even used the word in his question about it.

Sorry, Chomsky, American politics doesn’t care about any of your work. We’re just going to go ahead and go with words don’t signify anything at all, even if they used to.

Likewise with “infeasible.” The document takes less time stripping this word to nothing, but it does come up with a conclusion that “infeasible” means “not super easy.” I’m going to start using this word when my wife asks me to take out the trash, since I know have legal precedent to get out of doing something because I don’t want to make the best effort so I can’t be bothered.

As for being consistent with established laws of war, well, that almost makes me giggle. Because as a nation, we have a pretty terrible track record on this.

The memo is also careful to say that such an attack doesn’t contradict illegal search and seizure or due process because, reasons. Actually, that’s not accurate. It leaves out the “because, reasons” part. It doesn’t even pretend there’s a “because” involved with this. It doesn’t violate due process because we decided so.

So, given this, my understanding of what the DoJ thinks of this whole killing U.S. citizens is this:

If an executive-level official in specific parts of the executive branch, say, Secretary of State, or Defense, or even Education, maybe? Heck, we might as well even accept the word of Bob down in shipping for HUD – he’s been learning English for at least three weeks now. Anyway, if some guy says another dude is going to try to kill people in the U.S. soon, or maybe damage something, or possibly scuff his shoes on a monument, or else he’s going to eventually, or he talked about it once, or maybe he looked like he was going to do it, or else the guy is bored and just wants to blow someone up for kicks. If the guy says that about the dude, and it’s not possible, or practical, or I just got up to get a beer from the fridge and organizing a mission to capture the dude is just too difficult and I can’t be bothered. If the guy says that about the dude, and it’s hard to catch the dude, and we give a passing nod to the idea that the international community generally frowns on the indiscriminate killing of… anyone — well then we can blow him up along with the whole city he’s in.

Or to reduce it to it’s simplest verbage, the legal conditions for killing a U.S. citizen boil down to “Kinda feel like blowing a dude up.”

If you don’t trust me to analyze this (and who would?), you can see some commentary by persons with more expert legal expertise.