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  • 8 July, 2009

    Talk at BEA.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 9:53 am permalink

    Last month I was bamboozled asked nicely by my colleagues at Macmillan, Ryan Chapman and Ami Greko, to participate in a group talk at BEA (Book Expo America). The participants, Debbie Stier (Harper Studio), Jeff Yamaguchi (Knopf Doubleday and 52 Projects), Matt Supko (ABA/Indiebound and creator of the Indiebound iPhone app), Chris Jackson (Spiegel and Grau), Richard Nash (formerly of Soft Skull Press), and Lauren Cerand (independent public relations representative), were an engaging and lively bunch, and the event was a success. BEA has finally posted the videos for each of our presentations here. Here’s mine:

    It’s a damned shame that the camera had to focus on my ugly mug instead of the slides, which add information (and most of the punchlines) to my speech. Here‘s a PDF of the slides that accompany the talk, in case you’re inclined to follow along at home.

  • 16 February, 2009

    On the new Facebook Terms of Service.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 10:25 pm permalink

    They blow. FTA:

    “You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.”

    Yikes. Guess this will be the last post I repost onto Facebook. As for what’s already there: meh. I’ve long operated under the assumption that if you put it online, it’s not private.

    UPDATE: Facebook has since gone back to their old ToS, and have apparently initiated a conversation with the community:

    Our main goal at Facebook is to help make the world more open and transparent. We believe that if we want to lead the world in this direction, then we must set an example by running our service in this way.

    We sat down to work on documents that could be the foundation of this and we came to an interesting realization—that the conventional business practices around a Terms of Use document are just too restrictive to achieve these goals. We decided we needed to do things differently and so we’re going to develop new policies that will govern our system from the ground up in an open and transparent way.

    Let’s see what develops…

  • 7 January, 2009

    More on the decline of the old, the rise of the new, and the spaces in between.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 9:09 pm permalink

    Yeah, those stinkin’ pirates are really hurting the entertainment industry. Killing profit margins, destroying lives—oh, wait: the movie industry raked in a record-setting $9.78 billion in 2008? The best-selling album mp3 album on Amazon this year was composed of music that could also be had for free, legally, under a Creative Commons license? Madness! Madness, I tell you!

    The Pirate’s Dilemma has a spot-on analysis, as usual. Of particular interest to me is Mason’s likening of vinyl records (whose sales apparently doubled this past year) to books: “Records are like books – they are souvenirs of ideas.” Indeed. But that still means a smaller, more selective audience, looking for a high-quality product produced in smaller numbers with collectors in mind, versus the cheap, mass market (no pun intended) alternative.

    Mason continues by calling attention to the plight of the college yearbook: “The yearbook business, for example, has evaporated thanks to social networks”. I hadn’t really thought about that, but it makes perfect sense, and not necessarily only for the reason that The Economist states. Aside from the archival capacity of sites like Facebook and MySpace to keep the same mementos previously housed between the covers of a yearbook (pictures, etc.), the fact that social networks keep people connected despite the separation that comes after graduation makes the need for a commemorative tome practically nil. I don’t need memories of Susie Jenkins; Susie’s still in my life—I see her status updates every day, for better or for worse.

  • 13 December, 2008

    Teacher Confiscates Linux Discs: “No Software Is Free”

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 3:37 am permalink

    Recently a Texas teacher confiscated Linux OS discs that a kid was passing out in class. She then sent a nasty email to the nonprofit that built and donated the Linux-loaded computer…

    “No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful,” Karen wrote in the email that HeliOS, which builds and donates computers for poor kids, posted to their blog. “I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows.”

    Yikes. Talk about talking out your ass, and then looking like an idiot. These are the fools who are teaching your kids, America.

    via Linux: Teacher Confiscates Linux Discs, Chides Charitable Computer Group, “No Software Is Free”.

  • 5 August, 2008

    From the Void: A Bit of Speculation.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 9:56 pm permalink

    Jo Walton has a fantastic breakdown of possible solutions for life on other planets, based on different takes on the Fermi Paradox by various SF luminaries over on Tor.com. This reminded me of this post which I’d begun to write a little while ago, but languished in the obscurity of my ‘pending drafts’ queue for some reason or another. Regardless, here it is:

    Scientists in Australia have determined that some of the organic compounds found on a meteor they’ve been studying were created in space and survived the meteorite’s entry and impact on Earth. From the paper’s abstract:

    Carbon-rich meteorites, carbonaceous chondrites, contain many biologically relevant organic molecules and delivered prebiotic material to the young Earth. We present compound-specific carbon isotope data indicating that measured purine and pyrimidine compounds are indigenous components of the Murchison meteorite.

    The big news is that some of those molecules are basic components of amino acids, the building blocks of life. So, what does this mean, exactly? Phil Plait has a great post on his site, Bad Astronomy, where he clearly explains the discovery, outlines the possible implications, an debunks all the “Iz I teh alienz?” chatter that’s been making the rounds through the internet since this discovery was announced.

    In short, it is possible that some of the elements that created life on this planet may have come from space, but it’s also equally possible that they developed here on a young Earth, since any conditions that would enable the compounds to survive after impact would also be conditions primed to host the development of these compounds independently.

    Regardless, it’s big news, and brain-candy for those of us with a science-fictional bent, who like to extrapolate from these scientific discoveries. This discovery, while not necessarily implying that life on Earth has its origins elsewhere in the universe, does seem to indicate that the elements required for the development of carbon-based life exist outside of our planet, and could have found a hospitable environment in which to develop and flourish into life on some other planet. This opens up the possibility for many interesting scenarios.

    There could be very distant genetic cousins to humans living on a hospitable planet somewhere out there. Given the right conditions, such as those on Earth, they could have developed into as wide a range of flora and fauna as we find on Earth, and even developed sentient life forms. Unfortunately for xenophiles, cross-breeding would probably be out of the question (assuming we are still tethered to our meatspace bodies by the time we discover our cousins).

    There could also be sentient life just now crawling out of their primordial ooze as we speak, giving us a chance to observe, sometime in the future (when our technology is sufficiently capable to observe direct, on-the-ground action in faraway places), the initial stirrings of evolved life. Could we also, at that point in our technological development, have access to tools that enable us to edit and alter that genetic evolutionary process? This is very likely, and opens up the door to some ethical debate as to whether our involvement would be appropriate. This could turn into the hot-button, abortion-like issue in the political world of the 24th century. Trekkies will bust out copies of the Prime Directive as reference. Furious debate will ensue regarding the age-old question: When does life begin?

    In short, a bit of news that helps to place humans as a species, and humanity as a civilization, into perspective. Every new discovery like this helps us realize that more than even global citizens, we’re denizens of the universe, which serves to reinforce the need for us to explore the stars, and start working towards taking our place among them.

  • 22 April, 2008

    Watchmen ad creation contest.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 1:02 pm permalink

    Zak Snyder has announced a contest for people to submit fake ads and other, Veidt Enterprises-related promotional material, here. The winning entries will be used as in-story content in the upcoming Watchmen movie. I’m split three ways about this:

    The fanboy in me is incredibly excited to see this film. Snyder outdid himself on 300. Watchmen, from what I’ve seen so far, looks to be of the same caliber and fidelity to the original comic. 

    The web-denizen in me is very interested to see a motion picture from a major studio integrate crowdsourcing into its production. 

    However, the creative professional in me balks at the idea that this is, in effect, a muti-national conglomerate (and member of the MPAA, no less) soliciting spec work from the masses, to be used in a profit-generating film. I have absolutely no doubt that some of the entries will be of professional caliber, and the thought of some hapless fanboy giving away his hard work for mere geek-cred just rubs me the wrong way. While, upon reading the fine print, one does find that there are cash prizes to be won,the legalese seems a bit sketchy to me. I’m inclined to speculate, but I am not a lawyer, and I have trouble parsing legalese, so I’ll keep my mouth shut. Anyone else have any thoughts?

  • 8 April, 2008

    Web fonts in Safari (yay!), and a copyfight brouhaha (boo!).

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 6:47 am permalink

    Typophile has a short rant about Apple’s claims that designers can now use any font when creating websites, using CSS3 specs, and that Safari will correctly render the typefaces:

    Apple says: “With CSS3 web fonts in Safari 3.1, web designers can go beyond web-safe fonts and use any font they want to create stunning new websites using standards-based technology. Safari automatically recognizes websites that use custom fonts and downloads them as they’re needed.”

    One of the biggest concerns around the Web fonts scheme is that Web designers would post commercial fonts through either ignorance or disregard of font licensing rights. Apple were aware of this (both Safari folks and Font folks) so I find it hard to understand why they’re telling web designers that they can post any font to the Web.

    Technically, Typophile is correct. And technically, so is Apple. The technology for embedding fonts is there, via the CSS3 standard and Safari’s ability to correctly parse this code. Legally, however, font foundries normally include a ‘no embedding’ clause in their EULAs, so using this (in my opinion, great and a-long-time-coming) technology is, in effect, a breach of contract. As some in the article’s comments section have mentioned, the fault here lies not with Apple, who are simply touting their product’s capability to do something, but with the foundries, whose legal language is outdated and doesn’t reflect changes regarding how their product is used.

    Granted, Apple probably should have included some sort of legalese warning about font licensing, like their infamous “Don’t Steal Music” warning back in the early days of iTunes, but criticizing them for this is akin to criticizing Xerox for making products that enable and facilitate the infringement of copyrights. 

    Will this make designers not use the Web Fonts feature? I doubt it. Personally, I find it incredibly compelling to be able to design for the web with any typeface. This bears re-stating, because I feel very strongly about it: incredibly compelling. The prospect of using fonts other than Verdana, Times, and Arial (bloody Arial, FFS!!) in online designs without having to resort to either tricky, image-based workarounds or the use of Flash is a very, very tempting proposition.

    This will make one of several scenarios come to pass: either 1) foundries will have to find a way to compromise, and change their EULAs to reflect modern usage of their products; 2) the technology will be crippled with some form of DRM, at the behest of the foundries (remember, Adobe is a foundry, and they have clout); 3) the foundries will form some sort of MAFIAA-esque litigating body to go after infringers, with craptacular results. Just one more example of how our copyright system just isn’t working, I suppose. Let’s hope that the foundries learn from the experience of the music and film industry (can’t stop the signal!), and come correct.

  • 8 April, 2008

    Obama walks the walk, it seems.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 6:09 am permalink

    This morning on DailyKos, I ran across this short article about a woman whose $100 campaign contribution was returned by the Obama campaign because she’s a registered lobbyist. Here’s a snippet, typoes and all:

    It’s not often you get told that you are persona non grata and end up praising the person who exiled you. But that [sic] what I am doing. Obama actions are living up to his words. Through the actions of his campaign he is demonstrating that his values are real and his commitment is certain.

    Another aspect that is quite impressive to me is that the Obama campaign has a mechnism [sic] set up to check each donation, even one as small as mine, against the lobbyist database, and then return it.

    What I find most telling in this story isn’t that Obama is true to his word (this much I’m -surprisingly- already convinced of), it’s that he’s truly leveraging technology in order to make his operation more efficient and transparent, as can be seen by the fact that even a contribution as small as $100 doesn’t get past the screeners he’s had set in place. This lends real weight to his platform proposals for more transparency in government via the judicious and efficient use of technology, particularly the internet.