Older blog entries for mako (starting at number 309)

Date Arithmetic

When I set an alarm, my clock, now running on the computer in my pocket, is smart enough to tell me how much time will pass until the alarm is scheduled to sound. This has eliminated the old problem of sleeping past meetings before being surprised by an alarm precisely half a day after I had originally planned to wake.

The price has been having to know exactly how little I will sleep: a usually depressing fact that had previously been obscured by my difficulty doing time arithmetic in my most somnolent moments.

Syndicated 2012-05-14 01:18:44 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Diamond Clarity

I3→I2→I1→SI2→SI1→VS2→VS1→VVS2→VVS1→IF→FL

The GIA diamond clarity scale, shown above, is rather opaque.

Syndicated 2012-05-14 00:57:48 from Benjamin Mako Hill

My Setup

The Setup is an awesome blog that posts of interviews with nerdy people that ask the same four questions:

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. What hardware are you using?
  3. And what software?
  4. What would be your dream setup?

I really care about my setup so I am excited, and honored, that they just posted an interview with me!

I answer questions about my setup often so I tried to be comprehensive with the hope that I will be able to point people to it in the future.

Syndicated 2012-04-12 15:33:16 from Benjamin Mako Hill

OH Man!

Since installing a whiteboard in our kitchen, conversations at the Acetarium have been moving in new and interesting directions.

For example, Mika and I recently noticed that, when rotated correctly, the skeletal formula for 2,3-dimethyl-2-butanol looks pretty friendly!

/copyrighteous/images/2,3-dimethyl-2-butanol-clean.png

Syndicated 2012-04-05 23:36:04 from Benjamin Mako Hill

A Manhattan Project for Cliché Collection

This weekend, I launched an extremely ambitious effort to collect evidence of extremely ambitious efforts. The result was a short program that searched the web and revealed the:

  • Manhattan Project for the 21st century
  • Manhattan Project for Advanced Batteries
  • Manhattan PRoject for AI
  • Manhattan Project for AIDS
  • Manhattan Project for Alzheimer's
  • Manhattan Project for autism research and treatment
  • Manhattan Project for Big Cats
  • Manhattan Project For Bio-Defense
  • Manhattan Project for Biomedicine
  • Manhattan Project for Bioterrorism
  • Manhattan Project for cancer
  • Manhattan Project for Cellulases
  • Manhattan Project for chemists
  • Manhattan Project for climate change
  • Manhattan Project for Cold Fusion
  • Manhattan Project for computers
  • Manhattan Project for creativity
  • Manhattan Project for Cyber-defenses
  • Manhattan project for Detroit
  • Manhattan Project for the development of post-nuclear superweapons in seven fields
  • Manhattan Project For Economics
  • Manhattan Project for the economy
  • Manhattan Project for ending the prostate cancer as a socio-economic crisis in our country and a public health disaster among African American men
  • Manhattan Project for Energy
  • Manhattan Project for Energy Independence
  • Manhattan Project for the Environment
  • Manhattan Project for Excellence in Radiochemistry
  • Manhattan Project for exploiting extraterrestrial technologies and communication
  • Manhattan Project for Finance
  • Manhattan Project for fluoride damage
  • Manhattan Project for fuel
  • Manhattan Project for Fuel Cell Manufacturing
  • Manhattan Project for future generations
  • Manhattan Project for genetics
  • Manhattan project for global hunger
  • Manhattan Project for Global Peace, Prosperity and Stability
  • Manhattan Project for Green Innovation
  • Manhattan Project for Guitar Exercise
  • Manhattan project for Hawkeyes
  • Manhattan Project for a healthy nation
  • Manhattan Project for Homeland Security
  • Manhattan Project for Iowa
  • Manhattan Project for IT
  • Manhattan Project for Legal Education
  • Manhattan Project for life
  • Manhattan Project for Maine,
  • Manhattan Project for materials that could resist corrosion by fluorine or its compounds
  • Manhattan Project for medical treatment in the field of obesity
  • Manhattan Project for Michael
  • Manhattan Project for Miracles
  • Manhattan Project for modular instruments
  • Manhattan Project for National IDs
  • Manhattan Project For Natural Disasters
  • Manhattan Project for the NES
  • Manhattan Project for Network Computing
  • Manhattan Project for network security
  • Manhattan Project for the Next Generation of Bionic Arms
  • Manhattan Project for online identity
  • Manhattan Project for Our Time
  • Manhattan Project for Pb-Free Electronics
  • Manhattan Project for Public Diplomacy
  • Manhattan Project for Racial Achievement Gap
  • Manhattan Project for real time biomedical research on human populations
  • Manhattan Project for the restoration of motor function
  • Manhattan Project for a revival of the Sacrament of Penance
  • Manhattan Project for simulation with pseudo-random numbers
  • Manhattan Project for the social and behavioral sciences
  • Manhattan Project for stove testing and design
  • Manhattan Project for systems engineering
  • Manhattan Project for Texas Water
  • Manhattan Project for transforming patient care for men and ending prostate cancer
  • Manhattan Project for the war on terror
  • Manhattan Project for Wildcat Service Corp
  • Manhattan project for wind, electric, solar, geothermal, hydro and other renewable sources of enengy we've not even thought of yet
  • Manhattan Project for XBLA
  • Manhattan Project for yourself
  • Manhattan Project for Zinnias

[Previously in this series: frailty, the invisible hand, science as dance.]

Syndicated 2012-03-19 17:14:43 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Half the Battle Against DRM

As the free software and free culture movements have sat quietly by, DRM is now well on its way to becoming the norm in the electronic book publishing industry.

The free culture movement has failed to communicate the reality of DRM and, as a result, millions of people are buying books that they won't be able to read when they switch to a different model of ebook reader in the future. They are buying books that will become inaccessible when the DRM system that supports them is shut down -- as we've already seen with music from companies including Wal*Mart, Yahoo, and Microsoft. They are buying books that require that readers use proprietary tools that lock them out from doing basic things that have always been the right of a book owner.

Some anti-DRM advocates are, indirectly, part of this problem as they buy these books and turn to shady methods of stripping the DRM. Buying DRMed books is voting with your wallet for a system that criminalizes those that insist on living in freedom and will screw us all in the long run when DRM is the only choice we are offered and removing the DRM is difficult, unsafe, and illegal.

Buying non-DRMed e-books is a more freedom-friendly alternative for those that, like me, are excited about not lugging kilograms of paper around our cities and the world. We can do this at "non-mainstream" publishers like Smashwords who explicitly reject DRM. Of course, the big ebook sellers like Amazon, and Barnes and Nobel, and Google all offer non-DRMed books. But none of the major ebook retailers explicitly reveal the DRM status of locked down books before purchase.

On Amazon, there are some cryptic signs and signals that, if you understand them, suggest the absence of DRM. Google and Barnes and Nobel currently offer no way to know if a book is DRMed without buying it first and questions in their support forums go unanswered.

It's hard to support non-DRM alternatives when we can't recognize them. It's hard to tell people to not buy DRM ebooks if we can't even tell them apart. Getting this message through to book buyers -- and perhaps even to ebook retailers -- seems like a critical first step.

Syndicated 2012-03-06 18:26:14 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Unhappy Birthday Hall of Shame

/copyrighteous/images/no_happy_bday.png

I roll my eyes a little when I think that Unhappy Birthday is the document I have written that has been read by the most people. The page -- basically a website encouraging people to rat on their friends for copyright violation for singing Happy Birthday in public -- has received millions of page views and has generated tons of its own media (including a rather memorable interview of CBC's WireTap). At the bottom of the page I am listed, by name and email, as the "copyrighteous spokesman" for the initiative.

And since the page has been online, I have received hate mail about it. Constantly.

Since the email only goes to me, I thought it might be fun to share some of these publicly. All these messages are quoted verbatim but I have not included the senders' names. Be warned: the language is often salty.

This email is years old now but it is probably still my favorite:

Atrocity and strife run rampant in this world.

Babies are abandoned in dumpsters. Teachers molest students. Impoverished Indonesians make sneakers for pennies while the spoiled jackhole in the 30-second commercial makes millions for sinking a three-pointer and smirking at the camera. Forms of religion are interpreted as to compel people to strap explosives to their chest and board buses full of innocents. Boss Tweeds embezzle and get severance pay while John Q. Workingman gets put out on the street when the corporation goes belly up.

Out of all these indignities and countless others I haven't the time to mention, why do you make it your personal crusade to assist in the flagrant persecution of family restaurants for partaking in the time-honored tradition of singing "Happy Birthday"? God forbid these foul brigands bend copyright law in order to bring a smile to somebody's face.

Food for thought...without the accompanying song.

Many others strike a defiant, if less poetic, tone:

Good luck! There are millions of us who refuse to accept the ridiculous "copyright" on Happy Birthday. If Time Warner were an ethical company rather than a greedy megacorp they would do something truly special and release it into the public domain.

There are some things in this world more important than money.

Quite a few people notice that my last name is Hill and suspect that I must be related to the Hill sisters who originally penned the song. I'm not, to my knowledge, although since Time Warner bought the rights, it's not clear it would matter:

I am writing to just let you know how disappointed I am that a large corporation and others (like the HILL family) are making $2 million plus for a song that was created over 100 years ago with noone knowing who created the lyrics! None of us at our place of employment could believe this and we certainly won't encourage people to send money to ASCAP. It is a shame that ASCAP license fees aren't used to pay more to up-and-coming artists who I'm sure need this money alot more than Time Warner.

We all plan to sing Happy Birthday MORE now in public places and if anyone asks if it is copyrighted we will say "of course not". Maybe this way the song will not die out completely as more and more other "birthday" songs are being sung. It would also be nice if your website cited whose opinion is writing the piece and your obvious conflict of interest.

Or another:

Is it a coincidence that your last name is the same as the last name of the authors of the song "Happy Birthday?" You seem to have a personal monetary motive for your work with the "grassroots project" you call Unhappy Birthday, and if you do not, your concern is misplaced all the same. Whom do you imagine your campaign serves? And do you realize whom it harms?

I do not question the illegality of performing the copyrighted song publicly. And you are correct that most of the public is not even aware that the song is under copyright. I think the harm done to Time Warner and its associates by such public performances is far outweighed by the joy created when the much-loved happy tune is shared.

I urge you to ask yourself why you think the immortal Hill sisters wrote the song in the first place. It was not to put more money Time Warner's pocket. It was, I would argue, for the sake of the song itself and the happiness it brings when performed (publicly or otherwise). Please consider siding with the children and the artists; let the lawsuits alone.

Some people suspect the site may be satire, but include insults and and attacks just in case it isn't:

I'm trying to figure out if your Unhappy Birthday site is meant to be in jest. If so Rofl, and congrats on a hilarious site. If you're actually serious, then fuck you Nazi cunts and your corporate butt buddies. Thank you for your time.

Or these two alternatives (each were separate emails):

If this is a joke then it's rather funny. However if this website is serious then you're a fucking idiot. Get a life!!!!

if it is a form of protest, then THANK YOU! if it is not, then screw you all!

One memorable piece of mail was from someone who knew of me from my activities in the free software and free culture communities and had a hard time reconciling my work there with the high protectionist website:

I was quiet surprised to see your name and email address at the bottom of the home page of the site Unhappy Birthday. The site claims that you are their spokesman.

Is this correct? I do not understand... You have all this Open Source/ Free Software background and then this site that defends one of the most controversial copyright issues???

Do you really mean this? Do you want to help Time Warner?

I've also received probably half a dozen mails that offer some sort of support! For example, this person liked the website -- and even wanted to buy one of our t-shirts -- but objected to our logo:

I was going to buy one of your products from your Unhappy Birthday Shop at CafePress but there's a problem.

I hate emblems that uses human skulls in them.

Being a member of ASCAP I really do support your cause but I can't buy a product that I would never wear.

And many people are simply confused asking something like this one:

So I saw the unhappy birthday site and I'm just a little confused. Is this a joke or a serious thing?

I usually reply and explain that I have tried to ensure that the site describes the legal situation around Happy Birthday honestly and correctly.

That said, the vast majority of messages I receive are unequivocal. Like this email that I received last week addressed to "you anti-free speech fascists":

         __
        /  \
        |  |
        |  |
        |  |
 __  __ |  | __
/  \/  \|  |/  \
|               \
|                |
|                /
|                \
|                 /
\                /
 |              |
 |              |

Half an hour later, the author followed up with a English version of the same message, set to the tune of happy birthday.

You might think that getting insulted and flipped off by confused people on the Internet might get me down. It doesn't! I made Unhappy Birthday because I thought that the fact that something as important to our culture as Happy Birthday could be owned was outrageous. Every piece of hate mail means that somebody else -- almost always somebody who isn't a "copyfighter" or a free culture geek -- is now upset about the current state of copyright too.

Sure, Unhappy Birthday makes me a tiny bit sad about people's ability to recognize satire. But it makes me really happy about people's ability to get very annoyed at what they think is the outrageous control of our culture through copyright. When more people are as mad as the the people I've quoted above, we will be able to change copyright into something less outrageous to all of us.

Syndicated 2012-03-05 01:11:45 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Advice for Prospective Doctoral Students

There is tons of advice on the Internet (e.g., on the academic blogs I read) for prospective doctoral students. I am very happy with my own graduate school choices but I feel that I basically got lucky. Few people are saying the two things I really wish someone had told me before I made the decision to get a PhD:

  • Most people getting doctorates would probably be better off doing something else.
  • Evaluating potentially programs can basically done by looking at and talking with a program's recent graduates.

Most People Getting Doctorates Probably Shouldn't

In most fields, the only thing you need a PhD for is to become a professor -- and even this requirement can be flexible. You can have almost any job in any company or non-profit without a PhD. You can teach without a PhD. You can write books without a PhD. You can do research and work in thinktanks without a PhD. You don't even always need a PhD to grant PhDs to other people: two of my advisors at the Media Lab supervised PhD work but did not have doctorates themselves! Becoming a tenured professor is more difficult without a doctorate, but it is not impossible. There are grants and jobs outside of universities that require doctorates, but not nearly as many as most people applying for PhDs programs think.

Getting a doctorate can even hurt: If you want to work in a company or non-profit, you are usually better off with 4-6 years of experience doing the kind of work you want to do than with the doctorate and the less relevant experience of getting one. Starting salaries for people with doctorates are often higher than for people with masters degrees. But salaries for people with masters degrees and 5 years of experience are even higher -- and that's before you take into account the opportunity costs of working for relatively low graduate student wages for half a decade.

PhD take an enormous amount of time and, in most programs, you spend a huge amount of this time doing academic busy work, teaching, applying for grants or fellowships, and writing academic papers that very people read. These are skills you'll need to be a successful professor. They are useful skills for other jobs too, but not as useful as the experience of actually doing those other jobs for the time it takes to get the degree.

Evaluating Graduate Programs

If you are still convinced you need a doctorate, or any graduate degree for that matter, you will need to pick a program. Plenty of people will offer advice on how to pick the right program and trying to balance all the complicated and contradictory advice can be difficult. Although I love my program and advisors, I've known many less happy students. Toward that end, there are two pieces of meta-advice that I wish everybody was told before they applied:

  1. Find recent graduates of the program you are considering, and the faculty advisor(s) you are planning on working with, and look at where they are now. Are these ex-students doing the kind of work that you want to do? Are they at great programs at great universities?

    Chances are good that a PhD program and its faculty will prepare future students to be like, and do work like, the students they have trained in the past. Programs that consistently make good placements are preparing their students well, supporting them, making sure they have the resources necessary to do good work, and helping their students when they are on the job market. A program whose students do poorly, or just end doing work that isn't like the kind you want to do, will probably fail you too.

  2. If recent graduates seem to be generally successful and doing the kind of work you want to do, find one who looks most like the kind of academic you want to become and talk to them about their experience. Chances are, your faculty advisors will overlap with theirs and your experience will be similar. Ex-students can tell you the strengths of weaknesses of the program you are considering and what to watch out for. If they had a horrible experience, there's a decent chance you will too, and they will tell you so.

Doing these two things means you don't have to worry about trying to think of all the axes on which you want to evaluate a program or pour through admissions material which is only tangentially connected to the reality you'll live for a long time. What matters most is the outcomes, of course, because you're be living the rest of your life for a lot longer than you'll be in the PhD program.

Syndicated 2012-02-18 01:18:33 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Quasi-Private Resources

Public Resource republishes many court documents. Although these documents are all part of the public record and PR will not take them down because someone finds their publication uncomfortable, PR will evaluate and honor some requests to remove documents from search engine results. Public Resources does so using a robots.txt file or "robot exclusion protocol" which websites use to, among other things, tell search engine's web crawling "robots" which pages they do not want to be indexed and included in search results. Originally, the files were mostly used to keep robots from abusing server resources by walking through infinite lists of automatically generated pages or to block search engines from including user-contributed content that might include spam.

The result for Public Resource, however, is that PR is now publishing, in the form of its robots.txt, a list of all of the cases that people have successfully requested to be made less visible!

In Public Resource's case, this is is the result of a careful decision; PR makes the arrangement clear in on their website. The robots.txt home page also explains the situation saying, "the /robots.txt file is a publicly available file. Anyone can see what sections of your server you don't want robots to use,", and "don't try to use /robots.txt to hide information."

That said, I've looked at a bunch of robots.txt files on websites I have visited recently and, sadly, I've found many sites that use robots.txt as a form of weak security. This is very dangerous.

Some poorly designed robots simply ignore the robots.txt file. But one can also imagine an evil search engine that uses a web-crawler that does the opposite of what it's told and only indexes these "hidden" pages. This evil crawler might look for particular keywords or use existing search engine data to check for incoming links in order to construct a list of pages whose existence is only made public through a file meant to keep people away.

Check your own robots.txt and ask yourself what it might reveal. By advertising the existence and locations of your secrets, the act of "hiding" might make your data even less private.

Syndicated 2012-02-13 10:41:18 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Internet Immortality

Kim Jong-Il is gone. That said, he continues to live on, looking at things, on the popular blog Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things which continues to be updated with new content from the archives.

It is now joined by Kim Jong-Un Looking At Things. I think I agree with João Rocha, creator of the original, that the younger Kim seems to be missing some hard-to-pin-down quality that made the original work well.

Syndicated 2012-01-20 16:31:33 from Benjamin Mako Hill

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