Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Let’s Get Creative: Support CC

This year marks the fifth anniversary of Creative Commons, the non-profit dedicated to giving creators greater control of their content, extending options not offered by the traditional copyright scheme. One of the primary reasons that CC continues to exist is extensive community acceptance and support. Last week I received an impressively printed, personally signed letter from Creative Commons CEO Lawrence Lessig, (who alongside HH Dalai Lama, shares the spot of my hero on MySpace!) asking for support for the third annual fundraising campaign. (Disclaimer: yes, I now work for CC Australia, cause I love the movement so much!)

If you value your freedom, your creative verve, your ability to do your own thing, please help us celebrate the past 5 years of Creative Commons, and plant the seeds for another 5, by helping us grow the commons in 5 ways:

1. Use CC

* Use 5 CC licensed works.

2. Grow CC

* License 5 new works.

3. Spread CC

* Feature this online campaign on your blog or podcast to help us reach new audiences.

* Send CC Staff your story of why you support CC so we can compile and share them with the world (CC licensed of course).

4. Connect CC

* Introduce 5 new people to Creative Commons.

5. Sustain CC

* By giving 50% more than your previous gift to this campaign, you will help us sustain CC’s core functioning for the next year.

Of course, you can also enter the way cool schwag competition too! I know I intend to :-)

Share your creative wealth!!
Welcome to a new world where collaboration rules!

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Red Cross Against Its Name: Johnson & Johnson

This week Brisbane’s street press mX picked up a story which has been causing me considerable consternation since August: American medicinal manufacturer Johnson & Johnson is suing the American Red Cross for trademark violations over their use of the red cross symbol (left: image from Flickr user Newell the Jewell, under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0). Initially reported in the New York Times on 9 August 2007, the suit contends that the extension of the American Red Cross’s product line into emergency preparedness and grooming kits violates a long-standing agreement between the parties. The disagreement centres around the entrée into the market of third parties licensed by the American Red Cross who are selling, inter alia, humidifiers, medical examination gloves, nail clippers, combs and toothbrushes, which is deemed to be pushing the boundaries of what a not-for-profit can undertake, in that they compete directly with the J&J product line. The agreement between ARC and J&J dates back to 1895, when J&J was granted the exclusive use of the trademark for ‘chemical, surgical and pharmaceutical goods of every description’.

The president of the ARC, Mark Everson, is reported to have commented that these actions were ‘obscene’ and were such that ‘J & J can make more money,’ and felt that these were bullying tactics towards the non-profit. J&J retorted that they had the ‘highest regard for the American Red Cross and its mission’, and that the action was lamentable, but nevertheless necessary to protect the brand.

As with taking Creative Commons to court, this is an instance of where suing non-profits isn’t a smart move, if we are to appeal to the economic imperative. Certainly, this litigation can help draw lines in the sand as to what is legally acceptable. What it doesn’t do is bolster what is ethically acceptable. Take a minute to read the history of the American Red Cross. Its charter, as endorsed by Congress, is to be active in times of domestic and international disaster relief, and to assist prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. When a corporation confronts these noble aims arguing its right to turn a profit, it can only come off worse.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

All About the Attribution? Dump That Idea!

According to the Associated Press, a lawsuit filed in Dallas yesterday has named Virgin Mobile USA and its Australian counterpart, Virgin Mobile Australia, as defendants in a charge of libel and invasion of privacy of Allison Chang, who was unknowingly featured in an Australian advertising campaign ‘Are You With Us Or What?’. Captioned ‘Dump Your Penfriend’, the Virgin billboards and Website ads are alleged to have caused the Texas teenager grief and humiliation.

Interestingly, the suit names Creative Commons, the Massachusetts-chartered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation, as a co-defendant in the action, given that Virgin has been able to use the images because of CC licensing available on the Flickr website, where the image (titled ‘alison for peace’) is hosted. (It is to be noted that the image is now licensed under full copyright, although prior CC terms will persist.) The suit argues that Virgin Australia has not properly acknowledged the photographer, Justin Ho-Wee Wong, on its advertising, thereby not complying with the ‘BY’ attribution terms. As can be seen in a copy of the billboard also hosted on Flickr, there has been attribution made to the stream: http://flickr.com/photos/chewywong. Discussion has ensued about whether individuals should be informed that images are being used under CC, whether model release forms should be sought, and moral rights accrue to those photographed. Fundamentally, the mistake being made here is that this is NOT a copyright issue. It is an issue of defamation, and in certain jurisdictions, privacy. (See Lawrence Lessig's and Joi Ito's posts about the differentiation.) CC is not a scheme which contends with issues other than copyright. However, this will again be a major decision for the success of the flexible copyright scheme, as CC is alleged to be accountable for the actions of advertisers seeking to abide by their terms.

Creators may now come to question licensing under CC, as they may fear where their images ‘end up’. It is an unfortunate episode that the IP and issues of identity have been conflated. More commentary to come as Virgin Australia responds to the charges. In the interim, see more discussion on Slashdot, and on Flickr Central, where photographers are debating the merits of licensing.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Great Google Election '07

Is YouTube ‘more important to Mr Rudd than the national parliament of Australia’?

Liberal Party Minister Alexander Downer yesterday tagged Kevin Rudd’s plans to debate election issues on the Internet with PM Howard as ‘phoney’. Of three election debates, Rudd proposes to host one on YouTube. Downer retorted: ‘There'll be an election, and when there is an election, it won't be about YouTube debates, it will be about substance.’

This sentiment sits in direct contrast to Howard’s assertion that the Internet is ‘not some sort of gimmick’, as he sits primed for a conversation with voters through the tubes. Clearly, Downer needs to do a bit of searching for substance in Wikipedia himself, as he declared Australia’s parliamentary term as being three years and three months, rather than the Constitutional stipulation of three.

The world (including the Foreign Minister…) can now watch the news from the comfort of their Google homepage, with the launch of the 2007 Australian Federal Election site, an opportunity to ‘explore the Australian political landscape’ through YouTube videos and electorate-by-electorate announcements, overlaid on Google maps. At the site’s launch, ALP MP Peter Garrett notioned that this would probably be a ‘Google election’. All major parties have a presence on the web.

In addition to this, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is today launching a dedicated election page, which will feature the insightful graphics and new electronic pendulum tool of commentator Antony Green. With his usual astute observations and enviable manipulation of online tools, Antony analysed today’s Newspoll figures on Lateline, comparing Labor’s current standing to the equivalent election-lead-up in 1993, where the fall-off was earlier and their margin not so large. Whether swings will be consistent across the country is the great debate currently.

'If the swing was only 4 to 5 per cent, you could say that a marginal seat could help the Government hold on. They would actually hold on to some of those key marginals, make it harder for Labor to win. If the swing is still 6 to 7 per cent, then it's much harder for the Coalition to hang on to some of those marginals, and any they do hang onto maybe compensated for Labor by winning a seat beyond the uniform swing. So on these polls it's very hard to see how the Government can possibly win, but if they can claw back another two to three points and get the swing down to about 5 per cent, then you starting an election which will be much closer.'

More news of this, and a summary of last weekend’s Crikey events to come!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Being an Über Blogger: Cory Doctorow

Blogger Thomas Crampton shares with us the following video interview with Cory Doctorow on how to be noticed in the attention economy.

Drawing on his wealth of experience, particularly with Boing Boing, Cory emphasises that you’ve got to write relevant headers to be captured by RSS feeds. Leave the puns at home (awwww). Apparently Cory also points to the condensed wisdom of Jakob Nielsen on design.

Surprisingly, as someone who’s contributed to the International Herald Tribune and New York Times, Thomas’ video blogging skills need an instructional guide! Lose the long shot unless you're sure people don't want to converse in the middle of your set, lol!

I Want My MySpace TV

As if our lives didn’t unfurl before us minute-by-minute on Facebook these days, through continual status updates and being tagged in photo albums, MySpace TV will be launching a new series Quarterlife, apparently the place to be for the digerati. Writers Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick of ‘My So-Called Life’ construct this life with the aim of illustrating Generation Y’s fervent creativity, pursuit of pleasure, idealism, and search for meaning in this increasingly interconnected world. It’s billed as the twentysomethings’ coming of age in the digital generation.

The series’ central player is a ‘blabbermouth blogger’ called Dylan Krieger, a woman who divulges a few too many private moments of her friends online. Over the course of 36 episodes distributed online from November 11, viewers are invited to participate in the show’s success as a site for ‘truthful depiction of the way young people speak, work, think, love, argue and express themselves’ through discussing plot lines and extras on the site and through MySpace. To what extent contribution can be made to the show itself is of yet unknown. This is an interesting strategy for MySpace, as it battles to maintain its reputation alongside other web 2.0 sites. Chronicling the lives of six characters are they negotiate these decisions may indeed be the necessary ‘in’ to maintain interest.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Changes to the Landscape in Queensland

With the departing words ‘Queensland I love you!’, Peter Beattie vacated his position as Premier, and the station of self-confessed media tart. After nine years in the top job, Beattie let his emotion show. Associate Professor Heather Beattie was equally emotional to have her husband back in the family. Beattie’s departure has heralded a new direction for Queensland politics, in which females will play a prominent role: Member for South Brisbane, Anna Bligh, was this morning anointed as Premier by Queensland Governor Quentin Bryce. Anna moves from her position of Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure, and draws on her experience as Education Minister and her initial post as Minister for Disability Services and Families, Youth and Community Care.

In another significant gesture, the Treasurer of Queensland has been announced as MP for Mount Coot-tha Andrew Fraser. A passionate advocate for civic engagement, Andrew is 30 years old, and as such one of the youngest members of the Queensland Parliament. He has served as Parliamentary Secretary since July 2005, and has assisted in the beleaguered Health portfolio.

In an unrelated dramatic moment in my electorate last Saturday which certainly changed the landscape, a large warehouse down the road caught fire and exploded around 9.30am. Given that its roof was full of asbestos, Sherwood Road was closed for the day, and residents were asked to keep their windows closed.
Road Closed
The smoke was rather full-on during the evening, as ash landed in our yard. The next day revealed a smoldering wreck, which once housed 90 businesses and 400 storage units.
Sherwood Warehouse Remains Sherwood Fire 090907

Monday, September 3, 2007

Drowning in Quetchup

‘I don’t like SPAM!’ (wav)

Perhaps Jonathan Zittrain’s prediction that email will soon be dead is correct, if social networking tools don’t restrain their marketing ventures. The latest surge of inbox spam is being propagated by Quetchup, which wields the same-old yet-another-Web2.0-spiel: ‘Meet new people! Make friends! Start a Blog! Chat online! Play online games! Hang out & socialize!’ Unfortunately, the service has the fatal flaw of checking for friends (you may once have been able to call them that!) and then emailing everyone in your address book, without permission. So, this week I’ve received several invitations to join in across all my networks. And I’m not alone: Doc Searls and Howard Rheingold observe the trend. Smart mobs directs us to the following action:


Instead, please join me in sending a message to both legals@quechup.com and spam@quechup.com insisting that they sease and desist all spamming activity from their site immediately.

If you’re feeling in the mood to press things further (which I am), write a letter to their parent corporation, iDate, at:

iDate Corporation
6767 West Tropicana Ave.
Suite 207
Las Vegas, NV 89103

or contact their attorneys:

Loeb & Loeb LLP
345 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10154-0037
Tel: (212) 407-4000

Sorry, unsophisticated viral advertising is a real turn-off: it causes no-end of frustration as we unclutter our inboxes, and trust our contacts just a little less. If a product is worth joining, we’ll hear about it soon enough.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Human Mind’s ‘Aha!’ Moments

I have long been fascinated by the capacity of the human mind to spark inspiration, giving rise to the ‘Eureka’ or ‘Aha!’ moment. Lord Robert Winston in a 2003 BBC series titled The Human Mind (which has only now made it to Australian television?) explores salient research on brain science, pointing towards ways of improving our memories and accessing our intuition.

Apparently, the ability to memorise 10 decks of cards in order (a series of 520 in toto) within 20 seconds lies with us all. At a critical point of realisation, marked by a surge of electrical activity in the right temporal lobe (as measured on an electroencephalogram or 'EEG'), we exhibit the exhilaration of complex problem solving. Research undertaken by Dr. Jung Beeman et al, published in PLoS Biology, points to the process of insight and ‘aha’:

‘We observed two objective neural correlates of insight. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (Experiment 1) revealed increased activity in the right hemisphere anterior superior temporal gyrus for insight relative to noninsight solutions. The same region was active during initial solving efforts. Scalp electroencephalogram recordings (Experiment 2) revealed a sudden burst of high-frequency (gamma-band) neural activity in the same area beginning 0.3 s prior to insight solutions. This right anterior temporal area is associated with making connections across distantly related information during comprehension. Although all problem solving relies on a largely shared cortical network, the sudden flash of insight occurs when solvers engage distinct neural and cognitive processes that allow them to see connections that previously eluded them.’

The documentary stated that it is with a relaxed mind that we achieve such insight. It was no coincidence that Isaac Newton was in an orchard when observing gravity, Galileo in church overcome by the swing of incense in the discovery of how to mark time, and Maxwell Planck was at the races when theorising about atomic function. This points to the importance of finding state of flow, as discussed in my first post. Perhaps it really is when we are not threatened by or preoccupied by externalities that we can achieve enlightenment, the self-actualisation showing personal growth and fulfilment to which Maslow points in his 1943 paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ in Psychological Review. Motivation lies at the core of my research, so these insights fascinate me. Now I am hoping that there’s an ‘aha’ moment which accompanies them!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

User's Guide to the Galaxy

For the last half hour I have been navigating the constellations care of Google Earth’s new feature, Sky. (It’s highly appropriate that this is release 4.2 ☺) Announced on Google’s LatLong blog, Sky is ‘like having a giant, virtual telescope at your command -- your own personal planetarium!’

The layers panel displays images from the Hubble telescope, showing the effect of gravitational lenses and powerful outflows from young stars. ‘Unusual galaxies’ takes you to star cluster NCG290 in the Small Magellanic Cloud, linking to HST raw imaging data and the NASA bibliographic database. Clicking on red information points provides further explanation of the phenomena. Cosmic dust bunnies will always get my attention. The ‘backyard astronomy’ section will certainly be a boon for kids and enthusiasts everywhere.

Google continues to rock my world, and dare I say it, universe ☺

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fair Music For All

Free Artists + Fair Play = Fair Music

In the realm of intellectual property, what constitutes ‘fair’ is a legally contested notion, decided on a case-by-case basis. Increasingly, how institutions decide the definition, and how ‘those in the market… are trying to avoid any risk of copyright exposure’ (Lessig), is the ground for heated public debate, particularly amongst artists and their adherents. Given recent reforms and strictures, the time is certainly right for the launch of the Fair Music Initiative, which seeks a globally accepted standard for ‘fair music’. Announced to Cooperation Commons by Andreas Hirsch of Electrolyte, the initiative’s manifesto proclaims the following seven aims:

1. Unlimited freedom of musical expression.
2. Free access to musical expressions.
3. Justice of contract standards securing fair remuneration for the artists.
4. Adequate use of technology for a fair distribution of revenues instead of creating new monopolies.
5. Wide support for fairness and justice in the music business as key elements of cultural diversity.
6. Full recognition of the cultural character of musical products instead of limiting them to mere commercial artefacts.
7. A code of conduct for the music business, so that fairness and justice become the norm and not the exception.

Through the project, Fair Music will ensure that the artist receives their ‘fair share’ of every CD bought and every song downloaded, whilst maintaining complete artistic freedom of expression.

By aggregating recent discussions surrounding the effect of copyright laws on innovation and remuneration, the initiative is clearly seeking to light the path towards an emancipation of artistic practice. The maintenance of cultural diversity looms large on the agenda, the importance of which my colleague Andrew Garton often eloquently and passionately illustrates.

The site points to Good Copy, Bad Copy, a recent Danish documentary which I viewed via Second Life at the iSummit ’07, as well as Before the Music Dies, a title with fair warning to us all. Personally, I can’t envisage a world without (what my artistic friends term) ‘noise’ - beautiful, diverse, profound, and above all, fair to all concerned. Get involved and sign the petition and contribute your thoughts about a free culture future.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Momentum: Igniting Social Change

Whilst reading Robin Good’s excellent, prolific blog on Web 2.0 and associated technologies this morning, I was drawn to a recommended book titled Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age. Naturally, being involved in philanthropy, I am intrigued, and have put in an urgent request to our ever-helpful QUT librarians. More on libraries soon!

Going by the blurbs, and hopefully reader comments before too long!, author Allison H. Fine (blog) presents strategies for ‘connected activism’, examining tools and techniques to facilitate positive social change in this connected world. She examines MoveOn.org and MeetUp.com as sites of social interaction which carry huge potential. Preferring many-to-many exchanges to top-down hierarchies, Fine sees the future in social networks. Citing the Cluetrain Manifesto, two authors of which I’ve recently met at the Berkman Center, Fine sees many connections between citizens and activists at the Web 2.0 level. (I am unsure whether she uses the term – it’s interesting to see how it’s been adopted by NGOs.) I am hoping to see a list of effective guidelines for employment of social software to reconnect to causes that matter in ‘inexpensive, accessible, and massively scalable ways’.

I look forward to writing a review when the book comes in!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Skypeless to Seattle

Ok, sorry for the bad title. It’s been a couple of days now since I logged problems with Skype on my Facebook status. At that stage, I didn’t appreciate that it was a global phenomenon – I’m used to tech stuff having problems around me at critical times. Fortunately, I don’t rely on Skype, and can easily reroute most of its functionality. It’s a timely reminder about reliance, and taking stuff that’s ‘free’ for granted.

, one of my QUT colleagues, pointed me to the heartbeat post by Joosep pointing to the problem:

UPDATED 14:02 GMT: Some of you may be having problems logging into Skype. Our engineering team has determined that it’s a software issue. We expect this to be resolved within 12 to 24 hours. Meanwhile, you can simply leave your Skype client running and as soon as the issue is resolved, you will be logged in. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Additionally, downloads of Skype have been temporarily disabled. We will make downloads available again as quickly as possible.

Subsequently, Brad Stone at the New York Times reported on the issue, identifying a software bug at the heart of the issue which had amazingly lain dormant since the start of the Skype service in 2003. And yes, the mention of conspiracy did arise, but I’ll leave the rest of the blogosphere to contemplate that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Queensland Judge Appointed to High Court

Queensland citizens and advocates today celebrate the appointment of Justice Susan Keifel to the High Court of Australia. Justice Keifel is the third female to be appointed to this position, and will share the bench with Justice Susan Crennan, appointed in 2005. Her Honour replaces Queenslander Justice Ian Callinan, who is retiring on 31st August, one day short of his 70th birthday.

In an interview conducted with ABC television news, the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC Chief Justice of Queensland commented that it was important for Queensland to maintain its position on the High Court, to illustrate the on-going role to be played by the State in federal affairs.

Moreover, this appointment, albeit widely considered to fit with the Howard Government’s conservative agenda, illustrates the importance of female presence on the bench.

Justice Keifel famously left school when 15, going to work as a legal clerk at a ‘prominent law firm’ Messrs Fitzgerald, Moynihan and Mack. Keifel gained no ordinary legal training: in 1984 she was awarded a Master of Laws from Wolfson College, Cambridge, with the CJ Hamson prize in Comparative Law. Excelling at her bar exams, she was the youngest female to make silk in Queensland in 1987, whereupon she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1993, and to the Australian Federal Court in 1994.

At a recent lunch-time address to the Australian Academy of Law, of which she is a foundation fellow, reported by The Australian, Keifel J stated:
"Perhaps the time has come for judges to give detailed consideration to their concerns and articulate them. I am not sure solutions will be obvious but clear statements about what is unacceptable in presentation must be a starting point. Case management is not itself the solution."

We wish her all the best for her appointment.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tools for Humanities Researchers

Yesterday several heads of research gathered at QUT Creative Industries to discuss tools for humanities researchers. This discussion follows an ARC-funded national survey administered by the Australian Academy of the Humanities to acquire detailed knowledge of the current practices and future requirements of researchers in Australia. Questions asked encompass:

‘What kinds of technologies do you use in your research? How do you use them? What is the impact on your research? Does technology change the kinds of questions you can ask? Why don’t you use more?'

As a corollary to this Learned Academies Special Projects linkage program, the Academy is about to conduct a digitisation scoping study to identity materials most useful to have digitised for researchers in the humanities. The aim of both projects is to compile a substantial evidence base to identity resources and tools to guide investment in these areas.

My contribution to the discussion is as a recent participant in the Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme, held at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Being involved in Internet studies, researchers often confront the problem that there aren’t established ways of undertaking qualitative or quantitative analysis. We are always already bricoleurs, mashing previous methods and modes of study to innovate when and where required. (On ethnography, Bryman (2004) comments that it is ‘generally recognized that the method entails a wide range of methods of data collection and sources’ (p. 292).) Do we still need a composite suite of tools to facilitate easier data collection and analysis? Those who are tracking the blogosphere appear to be saying so – colleagues have variously used IssueCrawler teamed with Technorati rankings, but feel that further tools could facilitate analysis. Some have been inspired to work on their own tools, such as OII SDP guest John Kelly, who presented interesting visualised slices of the blogosphere at Harvard.
English-language Blogosphere
A much–referenced portal is visualcomplexity.org, which lists over 500 projects, filtered into ‘pattern recognition’ and ‘social networks’, amongst others.

Here is a selection of other tools currently being employed by OII SDPers:

* A useful blogging bibliography tool from Ismael Peña-López, as a database employing two main classes, ‘Contacts’ and ‘Works’, to which five attributes are attached, ‘categories’, ‘types of authors’, ‘types of projects’, ‘languages’ and ‘countries’.

* In the Psych domain, Ralph Lengler of visual-literacy.org (recently rated highly with TED) introduced Tools for Internet-based data collection, and the Web-Experiment-List.

* Daithí Mac Síthigh employs YEP as a Mac-based (and unfortunately not-yet FLOSS) file management tool for pdfs, in which documents can be tagged and annotated. Note the subsequent alert to Skim! which appears to have improved annotation capability, to appease my concerns.

* Peter Ryan introduced TAPoR, a text analysis portal for research based at McMaster University, from a project contributed to by six of the leading Humanities computing centres in Canada. In particular, Peter spoke of HyperPo, a text analysis tool to examine the frequency and senses of words. I believe it outputs nice graphic distributions as a visual model of authors’ arguments.

* One way to track information online is through dapper.net, started with the vision of allowing users to extract and reuse data from nominated sites. Two services employing dapper are blotter, which graphs a blog’s popularity over time, and snag, a social network application which aggregates a user’s presence across the net.

* Marcus Foth mentioned two tools which have been of great use to him recently: dopplr, which displays colleagues’ travel plans, recently reviewed by the Guardian as a British dotcom to watch, and LinkedIn’s capacity to request connections.

* Alla Zollers, given her interest in tagging, commented about ma.gnolia, opining that it has a better interface than del.icio.us and emphasises the power of social networks. That said, there are probably more people using del.icio.us, and for that, the wisdom of the crowds may be… wiser? over there?!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

IceTV Baby

In a decision handed down by Bennett J of the Australian Federal Court, Sydney’s IceTV has succeeded in proving that its electronic program guide (EPG) ‘does not reproduce a substantial part’ of the Nine Network’s program guide. The decision supported Nine’s claim to ownership of the copyright, but upheld that IceTV’s guide was compiled independently. From the instigation of proceedings in 2006, IceTV had asserted that ‘IceGuide is independently compiled by the company from a suite of sources in the public domain.’

This decision allows users to continue to schedule television recordings on a number of devices, including PCs, video recorders, and mobile phones. The IceTV service currently has 6500 fee-paying subscribers and an additional several thousand on a trial basis. The service is pitching itself as a viable alternative to TiVo, whose official introduction into Australia still remains unclear.

The Sydney Morning Herald observed that many viewed these actions as a traditional media vs. new media battle. Undoubtedly, the service will see increased success in the wake of this decision.

Moliyo MMORPGs: Blood Sports?

There is apparently a worrying exchange being suggested in China this week: players of the MMORPG ‘Cabal’, owned by Moliyo, are being asked to donate half a litre of blood in exchange for accounts. True to the name ‘cabal’, meaning a group of secret plotters, approximately 120,000 gamers were recently caught hacking the game in an attempt to enhance their status and were subsequently blocked. Through a blood donation, this block would be undone and they could continue their quest. New players could also open accounts in this fashion. The company has justified this move in saying that it is seeking to illustrate the importance of civil behaviour, of public responsibility and the significance of social welfare.

Photo attribution: 'I Wear Pink With Pride', CC BY-NC 2.0 by Cayusa

Research (Frey & Jegen, 2000) surrounding the exchange of goods for the undertaking of philanthropic acts, such as blood donation, suggests that there is a ‘crowding out’ effect which occurs: counter-intuitively, motivation decreases for acts of public responsibility when something is offered in return, as though the bargain is tarnished by the suggestion of profit. Since 2002, the Red Cross in China has sought to adhere to a Voluntary Blood Donation Law, with branches in Tianjin, Jiangsu, Fujian, Gangxi, and Shandong giving awards, rather than cash, to outstanding individuals and units in recognition of their donations. The quest for blood has been an ongoing battle, however, given that there have been a series of scandals in relation to the contracting of AIDS through blood donation to Chinese hospitals. This has been attributed to inappropriate medical staff training leading to poor collection techniques. According to the US Embassy site:
‘Truly voluntary blood donation is unknown in China. Even where blood donation is ostensibly voluntary, in practice blood donation is expected by the work unit and often rewarded with two or three weeks of paid leave. Some people who earn money by giving blood are in poor health. These blood donors sometimes include drug addicts and prostitutes who may have STDs or other blood-borne diseases. Contaminated blood products, diseases transmitted to blood donors by dirty needles and other poor medical practices have spread the HIV virus and other illnesses.’

The Chinese Red Cross must therefore respond urgently to the suggestion that gamers are being induced to give blood. This follows in a tradition which speaks of coercion and unethical practice through incentivising social responsibilities. The only way to guarantee a steady supply of blood is to make the process safe, and to ensure that the benefits are clearly communicated independent of fiscal reward.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

In his 2006 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, director Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith, 2004; Derrida, 2002) rails against the all-encompassing hold of the Motion Picture Association of America, the MPAA. Despite the conventional format of this film, the script is based on a decidedly brazen move: the documentary itself has to be submitted to the film review panel which Dick seeks to expose for its ‘shadowy practices.’

A Brief History of Censorship

As an organisation founded in 1922 after a US Supreme Court ruling in 1915 stating that motion pictures were not covered under the First Amendment (a decision subsequently reversed in 1952), the MPAA operated according to production code (the ‘Hays Code’) guidelines which stipulated that:

General Principles
1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

The MPAA Production Code Administration required all filmmakers to obtain a certificate of approval before the distribution of their work. In 1966, Jack Valenti became head of the MPAA, and set about introducing a ratings system upon the violation of the existing code by MGM and Warner Bros with their respective films Blowup and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Operating under a schema of G, M, R, and X, there have been certain shifts of classification over intervening years, culminating in the creation of the NC-17 label in 1990.

It is the effect of being rated ‘NC-17’ that is the focus of this documentary: far from transparent or accountable, MPAA wields this status as a political tool to disable the distribution of content it deems to be inappropriate for American youth. How the MPAA Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) goes about their decision-making process, likened to censorship, is closed to scrutiny – until Kirby Dick hires private investigators to get to the identity of those who rate films. In true Hollywood style, Dick gleans information from trash cans, hidden cameras, and reconnaissance trips in order to uncover the demographic who makes these decisions.

The stakes are undoubtedly high: receiving an NC-17 rating, where children under the age of 17 are not admitted to a screening, rather than ‘R - Restricted’ where patrons 17 and under must be accompanied by an adult or guardian, means that a movie cannot be openly advertised. Hollywood studios refuse to promote these films, most cinemas won’t play NC-17s, and large distributors Wal-Mart and Blockbuster refuse to stock DVDs with this classification. Clearly, this may mean the difference between box office success and failure. Stigma would also attach to the suggestion of content deemed unseemly by the parents of America… whoever they may be. In whose name? is a question which resonates in the denial of an official response, given the diversity of ‘youth’ tastes and interests. This is a clear insight into the shaping of the monolithic American mainstream.

Actor Maria Bello, most recently of The Cooler, comments on the inconsistency of the rating when you look to comparable content of more mainstream Hollywood films (think American Pie, for one!). What exactly is gratuitous? All evidence suggests that there is an assault on the depiction of female pleasure, and anything deemed to be ‘queer’. To clarify: no-one is arguing against the utility of guidelines for viewing decisions; rather, they are questioning the lack of consistency and transparency of their application, as well as a seeming vendetta against independent thought. Suggestions that professional child psychologists and independent media experts sit on the panel were rapidly quashed:

MPAA maintains that the identity of ratings board members must not be disclosed because of their supposed sensitivity to pressure from lobby groups; however, it is clear that close bonds are formed between Hollywood and the committee, given the detailed feedback provided to amend to an R, versus ‘it’s the film’s overall feeling’ and ‘we stopped making notes’ for the independents. How one addresses such generalities before a closed appeals tribunal is also up for consideration. Dick reveals, however, that the board is constituted by members of the major studios, and in appeasing religious-minded lobby groups, two members of the clergy. In addition, Jack Valenti unashamedly courted statesmen and US Senators for support of his ‘impartial’ decision-making body.

Opinion on the independence and fairness of the system is sought from prominent American filmmakers who have endured the NC-17 branding: John Waters, Kevin Smith, Mary Harron, Matt Stone, Kimberly Peirce, Darren Aronofsky, and Atom Egoyan. This process is also witnessed in meta-text, as Dick is subjected to the scrutiny of MPAA for the present film. Stanford law professor and rights guru Lawrence Lessig weighs into the debate on the front of copyright and piracy and the encroachment on the public sphere and free thought. In a beautifully appropriate moment of irony, apparently the MPAA pirated copies of the film to distribute to their executives. Let us hope for a wide release for the film in Australian cinemas.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Exteriors: Suburbia's Subtle Satirist

Howard Arkley Retrospective
Queensland Gallery of Modern Art

Nick Cave (c) Howard Arkley 1999, Commissioned with funds provided by L Gordon Darling AC CMG. Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

The airbrushed lines of Australian artist Howard Arkley (1951-1999) reveal an urban landscape in which multiple layers converge to portray a darker side to the duplex and its dainty décor. Arkley does not shatter the suburban surrounds in the manner of David Lynch (no ears in the grass Blue Velvet style), but there is something decidedly unhomely in the homely. In a repetition of roofs and kempt corners familiar from real estate catalogues, Arkley employs a palette that is slightly overemphatic, skewed, to emphasise a different perspective on the domestic. Despite their instant pop appeal, his works reward the ‘slow look’, an examination of colour and form, pattern and patina which surrounds us on a daily basis and may otherwise be overlooked.

The National Gallery of Victoria’s comprehensive retrospective of Arkley’s work opened at the Ian Potter Centre in Melbourne’s Federation Square in November 2006, and has now reached Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) (6th July – 16th September 2007). The exhibition coincides with the launch of John Gregory’s monograph Carnival in Suburbia: The Art of Howard Arkley. Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Art and Design, Monash University, Dr Gregory presumably has great insight into this subject, in being Howard’s brother-in-law.

The curation of the exhibition, undertaken by Jason Smith, chronicles the early fascination of Arkley with the tools of his trade, showing exercises which work through the different effects to be achieved with the airbrush. We progress past the intricate iron work of front doors, ruminating on Guimard’s Parisian Métropolitain gates, to extensions into the ‘real’ in 3-dimensional seating which plays with perspective, form, and function in inimitable style – what is real, what is model? how do utilitarianism and art coincide? The outside walls of the exhibition explore Arkley’s exteriors (his ‘bloody house paintings,’ said in a moment of exasperation that this would be his legacy), and his fascination with masks. The inside walls perhaps mirror his concerns more closely: the interiors show different settings on the familiar, along side his famous, and thought to be autobiographical work on heroin use, an addiction which brought about his untimely death in 1999, months after world-wide recognition at the Venice Biennale, La Biennale di Venezia.

The centrepiece of the exhibition could be said to be the collaborative piece ‘Blue Chip Instant Decorator’ (1990/1991), completed with Juan Davila for an exhibition in Tolarno Galleries, South Yarra. Whereas Davila’s politics are brutally obvious, Arkley’s are embedded, folded in the patterning and vanishing behind the veneers. Yet, there is a clear statement about commodification of art here and the evacuation of all socio-cultural meaning at the hands of art dealers.

We circle in recombinations and reorderings across a range of visual stimuli in this exhibition, where types are elaborated upon and memes mesmerise. Arkley offers a panorama of immersive entertainment and enlightenment as settings unsettle. These are the landscapes of the twentieth century, where we reflect upon identity and belonging. Arkley positions us to re-evaluate the great Australian dream, served over tea and scones. The back corner is dedicated to a powerful industrial landscape which will no doubt find particular resonance with those who think globally. What is it to be local? As politicians wend their way through marginal electorates, now is certainly the time to recast our gaze.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hungry for Fame? Crowdsourcing Goes Bananas

Companies are increasingly using YouTube to source (or sauce, as in the case of Heinz’s Top This TV Challenge) their advertising campaigns. It seems such a sound idea: asking your audience why they love your brand so intensely – surely better than paying an advertising agency millions to develop the killer hook? After all, this way you get direct buy-in: your fans will be part of the process that keeps them as fans: a self-perpetuating cheerleading society. So, all you need is a camcorder and a great idea for a commercial to be played during Superbowl. There is now considerable precedent for asking people to write your jingles: NFL, Doritos (allegedly with a $12 budget!), and Dove have all done the vox pop.

Problem is, when you go to the people, you must be prepared for their opinion. Firstly, not everyone is going to read the rules, or if they do, be willing to comply with them. And anyone can post to YouTube, so there’s probably going to be a bunch tagged with your product that you have to spend time censoring. Naturally, all this vetting and auditing takes time. (Did you really go into this for cost savings?)
Secondly, what happens when the winner’s announced and the crowds aren’t well pleased? Enter, the Malibu rum rebellion.
There is considerable conjecture that the whole competition was staged, as documented by the following videos: Guilty or not guilty?, and here:
NY Times 6.27.07 no conspiracy MALIBU RUM fraud & liars.

Time and again, relationships are demonstrated to exist on trust. Unless you’re prepared to defend your credibility, it’s probably not a good idea to open your company to crowdsourcing.

Killing Ur D00ds: Gamer Revolution

In which the gaming industry got pwned and don't even know it yet.

Gamer Revolution, Part 1

Red Apple Entertainment
Written by Marc de Guerre

Is it a case of ‘Make love, not Warcraft’?

Calling upon respected academics Henry Jenkins (Director, Comparative Media Studies, MIT) and Robert Kozinets (Associate Professor of Marketing, York), this documentary on the ‘revolution’ being experienced in the gaming industry by all rights should have a critical component liberating it from previous paranoid media pronouncements. Surely it’s time for a view other than ‘gaming kills’, ‘your teenage son will soon go on a rampage if allowed to play FPS’, or ‘GTA made me do it’?
Unfortunately, it seems not. The appeal to base instincts of fear and an unfair dose of misapprehension and misunderstanding appears ongoing. Alongside Jenkins and Kozinets appears Jack Thompson, a Republican attorney who battles against obscenity in rap music and violence in gaming, claiming that kids are exposed to ‘murder simulators’ and are thereby induced into copycat killings.

‘Games are bad, mmmkay?’

Gamer Revolution commences with much-cited statistics: gaming is now a $25 billion Hollywood-rivalling industry whose profits derive from over 800 million regular players worldwide. A game’s development costs have increased from approx. $40,000 in the 1980s to over $10 million – a huge outlay given that 80% of games fail in their first year. Cue Will Wright, creator of The Sims, the best-selling PC game in history (shipping over 70 million units as of January 2007), who is accorded royalty status as the gaming equivalent of Steven Spielberg. Wright is about to launch his new educational evolutionary game, SPORE, where players have to survive the biological challenges of being a microbe before they make it to land.

If Wright is the god of gaming, South Korea is the epicentre of its quasi-religious empire. Witness obsessive behaviour (yes, another comment about psychological effects) from the 20,000-strong crowds in Seoul, who have come to support their teams in a StarCraft face-off. In the most networked country in the world, talented gamers are a decidedly bankable concern, being able to earn six-figures p.a. given their chess-like processing powers and multitasked microsecond strategic moves. An average career lasts six to ten years, after which financial institutions seek to mold the gamers as stockbrokers. In this forum, mobile phone companies vie for the fans’ attention, investing huge amounts in hosting these competitions and priming their players in seclusion leading up to the tournaments. There’s certainly all the expected fanfare, with teenage girls gushing and cheerleading on the sidelines. Nerds are finally cool!

A topic which has been far from cool in recent times has been the recruitment drive for the US Army (where’s Michael Moore when you need him?). Enter a professor from Westpoint, who suggested creating a game marines could play alongside teenagers to engage them in the art of war. The result: America’s Army (AA). According to the designers, the game differentiates itself from other fictional accounts by modelling real-life action, and not allowing avatars to spring back to life until the start of a new round. Animators are taken on an annual three-day mission to show them how the firearms lock and load; the lighting in current combat zones is emulated as closely as possible. The strategy seems to have worked: recruitment is up significantly, and all quotas have been met since the introduction of the game. Unfortunately, there was no mention of Joseph DeLappe, an activist who uses the AA platform to demonstrate against the death and destruction of the Iraq war by laying himself bare over and over.

What’s the psychology of killing your own? GR interviews two teenage Palestinians who find it abhorrent that the US games are preconfigured to kill Arabs. The Syrian response (here characterised as a ‘dictatorship’ rather than ‘presidential republic’… hmm…) has been to design Under Siege, a mission in which Palestinians turn their guns on Israeli soldiers to liberate their homeland.

According to psychologists, there is something (disturbing) about looking at the physiognomy of other players and shooting anyway. The ‘first person shooter’ encourages headshots by awarding extra points. Was it a coincidence that teenagers who go on real rampages are able to shoot successive people in the head with 100% accuracy? The documentary points to functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) which is able to isolate the part of the brain which handles critical functions. It shows that individuals habituated to playing games utilise the areas of the brain responsible for aggressive response. So, are we all primed to kill? Let’s remember that technological determinism is an easy response, but not the correct one. We are much more than somnambulant at the controls.

In the next episode, virtual worlds online! I wonder whether they’ll mention Second Life… lol.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Apple's iPhone: The ‘Holy Grail of Hacks’

On the eve of a media spectacle… the release of Apple’s next killer device

Undoubtedly, every tech blog will today be espousing the virtues or condemning the hype of Apple’s iPhone (a word which I’ve just added to my dictionary, thanks to the settlement with CISCO). Mailing lists are going mad with tension and contentions: What’s the substance behind the 3.5-inch widescreen multitouch shiny surface? The New York TimesDavid Pogue has seemingly done a good job of summarising the delights for those waiting in the queue, examining the features, functionality and connectivity of the device. However… shockingly for some, there’s little Bluetooth or wireless syncing. And did someone mention the ‘craptastic’ AT&T network? Yes, indeed – that would be Wired’s Compiler blog. Unlocking the true potential of the device through Cupertino’s backdoor (standing slightly ajar?) will be the ‘holy grail of hacks’. No SDK for 3P applications? Fear not, there’s a flurry of office applications in the making: check out the iPhone Applications List and Read/Write’s updates. Why the iPhone is simply ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ is taxonomised by Computerworld’s George Jones, although much of this critique is mere (probable?) speculation. Either way, if you’re standing in line for a good cause, as is Johnny Vulcan who plans to sell the first iPhone bought at Apple’s Soho store on eBay for AIDS charity Keep a Child Alive, you’re onto a good thing.

Well, my exposure to the iPhone will be soon after 10th July when I touch down in NYC. I won’t be able to purchase one, given that it’s tied to a network provider and I believe you need to have a SSN to do so. Whether I would want to? Well, Nokia is upping the stakes by the day for us photo- and video-graphers with their N-series releases. Current discussions in Australia as to the Telco-most-likely are on-going.

Philanthropy in Virtual Worlds

A conversation with MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton and Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale

Having braved Australia’s lossy networks and early morning chill, I find myself (or my avatar, in fact) walking, and occasionally flying, about Annenberg Island on 1am Saturday in Second Life (which is our subtropical translation of Friday 9am SL time). I’m here to attend a discussion on ‘Philanthropy in Virtual Worlds’ between Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation, and Philip ‘Linden’ Rosedale, CEO of Linden Labs, makers of Second Life. As with the virtual iSummit ’07, the surrounds are welcoming: all the refreshments that a conference attendee would desire, accompanied by apposite information about the organisations on didactic clickable boards surrounding the venue. The turnout is impressive: approximately 250 avatars are being rendered in the stadium where the address is to take place – over 100 people on each side of the sim. (Some more successfully than others: I, embarrassingly, begin by being ejected by Sitearm Madonna, as my network is so slow, I’m doing a ‘lag dance’ right into the speakers’ forum. Had Philip’s avatar also not ‘crapped out’ during the proceedings, I would have felt bad. Amusingly, people are vying for space to such an extent that seats are being occupied by more than one avatar at any given time. It’s so nice to be here together!)

Having gained this critical mass, ‘The community is ready for this conversation,’ the speakers observe: individuals, groups, and non-profits are now engaging with serious issues of support. Jonathan Fanton begins proceedings via a video address streamed onto screens above the stadium. He speaks of the Global Kids’ Digital Media Initiative, and the extent of investments being made in virtual worlds. It is time for in-world discussions on reform, global conservation, education, community development, economics, and housing reform: ‘There’s a lot of idealism in virtual worlds,’ Fanton observes. ‘The global network is committed to greater things: to achieving a just, humane virtual world.’

The question thus becomes, ‘How can we help migrate these projects to the physical ‘real’ world?’ The MacArthur Foundation seeks to develop a resource for people in Second Life to learn how to connect to issues. The Foundation is donating $L to develop and migrate projects into the real world. Currently, the MacArthur Foundation works in 60 countries, and supports more than 1,000 local civil society groups. It seeks to create a civil society in the virtual world to mirror that of the real world. The advantages of operating in a virtual world are that it’s multimodal, and one can undertake simultaneous interactions. In virtual worlds, people work, play, and go about their everyday lives as families, communities, democracies. MacArthur seeks to have engagement with, and contribute to community – working through civil society groups, the Foundation is good at convening people, at connecting people with similar goals, through, for example, internships. Today is an illustration of the force of community awareness and good will.

Appearing as rather convincing avatars in the round, Jonathan ‘MacFound’ and Philip ‘Linden’ discuss the trajectory of Second Life. Philip reveals that it has been his dream since young to simulate a world – to recreate the 3D world with which we are familiar – with a tonne of computers. As far as the site’s development is concerned, he is surprised by almost everything. Second Life has been designed to be fundamentally under the user’s control, and to be the users’ creation.

What are the notions of public good in this realm? Second Life was started in 2003 as an empowered, enabled community environment, designed to make people close. Opportunities for public good soon became apparent, and thereafter the movement of this into the physical world. Philip notes that there exists significant potential for alliances to form – people have even been married in Second Life! Connections are made, and businesses formed having relations to the real world. We should look to effective bond formation between product and business ideas from their earliest stages to have them transferred into the real world. The earlier the interaction, the lower the barriers to entry into real life.

Jonathan asks what we can accomplish in this domain. In response, we can learn about Second Life as an area in education, and understand its impact on the formation of students’ knowledge, skills, and attributes. The role of schools going forward is to understand the importance of gaming, and the roles able to be adopted by virtual worlds for pedagogy and to encourage civic engagement. Take the example of the International Criminal Court, to which the USA is not a signatory. Feasibly, Second Life could be used to lobby for the nation’s inclusion. Unfortunately, in US education, schools appear to be resistant to reform. The time has come to consider the role to be adopted by schools, libraries, museums. In a seamless blending of first and second life, people are rebuilding the history of the world in a virtual space.

How do we emulate best practice from the real world? Do we rebuild first-life buildings? (The audience reacts strongly against this suggestion! Why not be more creative and entrepreneurial?) Second Life is rapidly being built at a rate greater than construction in real life. The contribution virtual worlds can make is to have better tools to make life better, and thereby to empower the citizenry. Organisations which are successful in real life transfer their strategies – obviously, if you’re not aware of how to structure your business in real life, you’re not going to succeed in the virtual sphere. It’s not a question of ‘build it and they will come’.

What of security, breaches, pornography? How is Second Life reacting to these? What of companies pulling out? Philip replies that Second Life has reached a scale where everyone’s watching. It is interested in the redeployment of traditional media – to see what works in real life and what doesn’t. Most companies are in the stage of just setting up and are not yet bringing in people. Look to the example of Borders and Amazon online – only one remains. The entrepreneurial success of individuals is growing.

Free and open places on the net have to empower people, together with having tolerance for people’s actions. People have the right to choose what to do in a new medium, Philip asserts – they are the stewards of their own choices. The Internet space contains many things, but in aggregate, there is a public good. Linden Labs decided that at the highest level they were not going to control interactions, what people do.

The moderator Connie now opens up the debate to questions from the audience of avatars. The first question states that the philanthropic world’s incorporation of Web 2.0 technologies into practices has not been that good. Jonathan replies that his hope is that MacArthur will learn lots in Second Life – how to develop projects, to speak to their objectives in the physical world.

The Teen Grid residents ask about how to use power morally. There is a high degree of transparency in virtual worlds; it is more transparent than real life. For example, it’s easier to travel around SL than it is in RL. If one looks to the success of eBay, their philosophy has been that it would work because people are basically good, and would engage with legitimate attempts to sell. Linden Labs does nothing to make people do good – rather, it’s self-moderated: it’s a ‘very very transparent environment’.

What is the ratio of civic to commercial life in Second Life? Second Life has a greater proportion of commercial activities than the real world, but this has been hyped to an extent, as the media are sensitive to brands. In Second Life, of the 7,637,212 registered residents, approx. 70,000 individuals currently own land; however, big brand communities are hard to find. (An individual building something does not constitute a community, although the virtual world network is clearly expanding.) Second Life is seen as an empowering platform. The question now is one of how to go about branding, to reproduce the indicators of credibility in a virtual world (such as reputation, trust, etc.). This is what is at the core of what MacArthur Foundation aims to do as a knowledge network: to build systems for reputation and trust. The Foundation is seeking to convene study groups for this purpose, to investigate micro-lending and the formation of trust, for example.

What of the role of non-profits in Second Life? To date, $80,000 has been raised by the MacArthur trust fund for war-affected children in Northern Uganda. We can directly overcome the problem of communities existing in isolation by cutting out the middleman. The collaboration between Second Life and MacArthur Foundation is an example of cooperation in which barriers are reduced. This cuts the cost of contact, and provides a context for people to come together as a group for assistance.

An observation comes from the audience: the classification of Second Life as a ‘game’ hurts access and corporate acceptance of the platform.

In sum, the message is this:
“When good people who care have good information, they do good things.”

We must educate ourselves in the strategies appropriate to Second Life to harness its good, and to figure out appropriate policies.

In the after party, Hep Shephard donated $L1500 to the foundation, and everyone had a great time discussing the Non-profit Commons movement etc.

http://spotlight.macfound.org/ (discussion archived)
Broadcast on Blogtv.com/Shows/2366

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Genius 2012

Recently I’ve been inspired by the vodcasts* from the New Yorker 2012 series (*strangely, they didn’t allow live blogging – ironically not very web 2.0!), in particular ‘Genius 2012’, as presented by
Malcolm Gladwell (author of Tipping Point and Blink, himself undoubtedly pertaining to that genre of thinker!).

All presentations are of note, exemplifying the solid thinking happening across the Pacific, but those which really resonated were ‘Morality 2012’, in which Jonathan Haidt talks with Henry Finder of the five foundations of morality and why Democrats just can’t get mainstream behaviour, and ‘The Web 2012’, which consists of a panel of Barry Diller, Arianna Huffington, and Craig Newmark, as moderated by Ken Auletta. I will blog in further detail on ‘Intellectual Property 2012’ at a later time, where I consider Tim Wu’s interactions with Jeffrey Toobin about freedom and control of knowledge assets.

Resonating with my previous post on the Web 2.0 inability to achieve a state of flow, Gladwell observes, 'Modern problems require persistence more than genius, and we ought to value quantity over quality when it comes to intelligence... When you're dealing with something as complex and as difficult as Fermat's last theorem, you're better off with a large number of smart guys than a small number of geniuses.'

The point of interest is that he advocates taking problems slowly - noting that expertise comes with approx. 10,000 hours of training. He thereby identifies the 'mismatch problem', which is simply the idea that standards used to judge/predict success in a given field don't match what it takes to be successful in that field.

For example, when diagnosing colonoscopies, it's how much time the doctor spends on each colonoscopy, not how smart they are, how much training they have, where s/he went to school etc. that determines success. If you spend more than 10 minutes on each colonoscopy rather than one, you'll find the cancers. However, we select and train doctors for their cognitive facility, for, amongst other things, the speed at which they acquire information and the efficiency with which they go about their tasks.

I transcribed:
'But here we're saying the critical part of what it means to be good, to succeed at the very specific and critical task at finding colon cancers, has nothing to do with speed of facility - on the contrary, it depends on those who are willing to take their time and willing to very very painstakingly go through something that seems like it can be done in a minute. In other words, that's a mismatch: we select on a cognitive grounds for people being fast at things, but what we really want is a personality characteristic that allows people to be slow at critical things. Here we have the same thing with Wiles in a certain sense. We have erected in our society a system that selects people for tasks like solving Fermat's or tackling big modern problems on the basis of their intelligence and the smarter they seem to be, the more we push them forward. But what we're saying with Wiles is, that the critical issue here was not his intellectual brilliance, it was his stubbornness, it was the notion that he was willing to put everything else aside and spend 10,000 hours on a problem no-one else thought could be solved. So, this is the question: Are we actually selecting people for stubbornness? I don't think we are.'

So, let's go and be persistent and collaborative in our PhDs! :)

His Boy Elroy

Being a supporter of Creative Commons, I look to the success of the ccMixter site as a thriving online community where artists are allowed (well, entreated to!) to ‘rip, mix, and share’. Pulsing with the vibe of open source, the site hosts thousands of samples from musicians across a range of genres, all available for legal sampling and reuse, subject to the specific licence which attaches to the track (clearly stipulated). Interestingly, the site statistics point to the prevalence of BY and BY-NC licences to date:

Attribution Noncommercial Share-Alike 5
Noncommercial Sampling Plus 14
Sampling Plus 40
Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) 67
Attribution (3.0) 135
Attribution Noncommercial 306
Attribution 880

A Cappellas

Attribution Noncommercial Share-Alike 1
Sampling Plus 8
Noncommercial Sampling Plus 9
Attribution (3.0) 37
Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) 87
Attribution Noncommercial 197
Attribution 198

File formats encompass mp3, aac, ogg, flac, and wav. The patterns of use of material, their provenance if you like, are tracked, showing which tracks have been used by which artists in which remixes. Users can ‘create their own remix radio station’ from a random pool of ccMixter’s remixes by selecting a style, such as acoustic, experimental, electronic, trip hop, hip hop, chill, down tempo, and drums ‘n’ bass.

In collaboration with services such as Magnatune (where ‘you pick the price!’ for music), ccMixter regularly hosts remix competitions. Currently, the sites are offering the audio source files to Natchoongi from multi-platinum recording artist Salman Ahmad. They are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence (BY-NC). Salman observes:

‘I think what Magnatune and ccMixter represents is the future of music promotion, distribution and marketing. I've already been through the guerilla school of music in my life so taking on the future is something I've always been waiting for!’

Previous competitions have offered tracks by J Vadim, Vieux Farka Toure, Christopher Willits (who recently visited Brisbane!), Fort Minor, Crammed Discs Cibelle, DJ Dolores, Apollo Nove, Copyright Criminals, Lisa Debendictis, WIRED CD, Beastie Boys, and Chuck D.

Yesterday I was delighted to discover the work of 'His Boy Elroy', in particular the piano-driven down-tempo track ‘Revolve’ which was winner in the Creative Commons/Wired Magazine Fine Art of Sampling competition. Download it yourself through iTunes and be inspired!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On Befriending Bush: HH Dalai Lama in Brisbane

When mentioning the name of HH Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet and winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, one is most often greeted by broad smiles, laughter and acknowledgments of wisdom and compassion.

Although I hold certain sympathies with the writing of Richard Dawkins, 14th June 2007 was a particular highlight in my life – sat before a gentle, warm, wise, wholly affable and inspirationally holy individual who has witnessed much in his 72 years. I have long believed in the Buddhist philosophies of compassion, or loving kindness, of self-enlightenment and pursuit of spiritual stability, and additionally embrace the scientific evidence showing that meditation is not only good for the soul, but also good for the body. One need only look up 'mindfulness meditation' on Pubmed.
Plus, being a vegetarian is an ecologically responsible thing to do! (ok, so I have a tofu addiction…)

Accompanied by his translator, His Holiness spoke of the centrality of community – that we develop strong bonds with those around us (that's what I'm doing on MySpace and Facebook, yeh?). HH spoke of the unquestioning love of a mother for her child – that much of the world's pain comes from familial neglect. HH also said that we can have peace in our time, that there is no need for aggression and use of force – we should overcome all with dialogue and never need to resort to weapons, despite their shiny appeal.

On that note, HH Dalai Lama said that it's important to separate the agent/actor from their actions. One may vehemently disagree with a policy, but one should accept the perpetrator as a fellow human. This is the way that we can continue to love (or, well, not to hate) George W. Bush. We have a duty to disagree with actions which diminish our values, but we have an equal duty to treat others with respect. Animals are included in this list too, as seen today in HH's launch of Kindness Week at Australia Zoo. That juxtaposition is unintentional.

When facing challenges, one should visualise the ocean: there are naturally waves which come and go across the surface, but the deep reaches remain undisturbed. Allow yourself to move on from the emotion of a situation, and to engage intellectually with it, to find a solution. Worrying (and the aggression which accompanies it) will achieve nothing.

When asked about the highlights in his own life, HH Dalai Lama spoke of the day when he passed his Lharampa degree, which is the Buddhist equivalent of a doctorate. At this point, I nodded, and understood – deeply. It was 1959 and HH was in Lhasa, Tibet. Soon afterwards, on 15th May 1959, HH fled to Dharamsala, India, to live in exile from the Chinese authorities who still struggle to accept his presence on the global stage. In essence, HH expressed that he has had little option but to be realistic about China's occupation of Tibet. When HH realised that he had escaped from their regime, he was again happy/relieved – but naturally this would be tempered with the ongoing sadness of the tragedy in play. Reflecting, HH stated that this has prevented him from becoming complacent: that he has a real reason to preach his philosophies; they are grounded in such a truth.

So, as we continue our daily lives, it is important to embrace one another as whole beings – showing the love that a mother has for her child. I do hope that the Howard Government has listened to these lessons at some point in the visit. They are needed in this age of distinctly unenlightened policies.


"May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they never be separated from that sacred joy that is beyond suffering.
May they rest in equanimity free of grasping, hatred, and ignorance.
And may they be aware of the equality of all that lives."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Kirby J on Nanotechnology and the Law

'Technology and the Law: Can the law keep pace with nanotechnology?'
The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG
Delivered at QUT, 18 June 2007, 12.30-1.30pm

The Hon Justice Michael Kirby attended the QUT/Trilby Misso Public Lecture Series to report on his paper delivered at TELOS: Regulating Technologies Inaugural Conference in London on 8 April 2007, which formally launched the Centre for Technology, Ethics and Law in Society, based in the School of Law at King's College London. The conference was opened by Professor Lawrence Lessig (Stanford), and was followed by sessions on:
• Regulating Today's Technologies (ICT and biotechnology)
• Regulating Tomorrow's Technologies (neurotechnology, nanotechnology, AI and technological convergence)
• Technology as a Regulatory Tool

In attempting to achieve an interdisciplinary and informative mix of lawyers and scientists, speakers included Richard Ashcroft, Deryck Beyleveld, Ben Bowling, Roger Brownsword, Andrea Buechler, Bert Gordijn, Serge Gutwirth, Paul de Hert, Mireille Hildebrandt, Andrew Jones, Judy Illes, Bert-Jaap Koops, Graeme Laurie, T.J. McIntyre, Andrew Murray, Stephen Minger, Charles Raab, Han Somsen, Mingyuan Wang, Karen Yeung, and Jonathan Zittrain.

Kirby J had the difficult honour of summarising the proceedings. The most significant formulation of the status of technology has come from Professor Lawrence Lessig, who writes in Code, that control is now architected in systems and technology. When multinationals dictate terms in such a fashion, whither democracy? It is therefore important to reassert the social values via legal reforms in respect to technological change. This is, of course, difficult given the average lawyer's understanding of science. (As a generalisation, lawyers tend to be bookish individuals, good with words, and not so attracted to mathematics and the sciences.)

When Kirby J headed the ALRC in Australia, he was called upon to consider biotechnology and informatics. Whilst at King's, he was given particular insight by a Belgian professor who considered the historical precedent of human knowledge with monks and reading. With the printing press, words had acquired a life of their own, compared to when transcribed by monks, where they were reified and not spoken. The pace of understanding can now be four to five times greater than in the pre-printing press days, owing to the dissemination of words.

When Kirby J headed the ALRC, Bob Ellicott, Australia's Attorney General, mandated that the commission consider human tissue transplants (and not some arcane Australian income tax law issue, unfortunately!) This was to be conducted in the context of increasing technological, medical, and pharmacological developments and capacities. The commission contemplated the acceptance of organ donation in society. (Has this changed?) They were briefed to consider the definition of 'death', and to examine the appropriateness of allowing children and prisoners to donate organs (where there may be duress), and whether relatives have the capacity to veto an individual's donation decision post-mortem. The ALRC report met considerable success: it was originally commissioned for the ACT ordinance, but steadily received uniform adoption and translation. Interestingly, in the final stages of the drafting of the report, the first IVF child, Louise Brown, was born. Should IVF be considered another tissue? Was it different in kind? What was the status of the husband in this area? The commission wisely excluded IVF from its terms of reference, as the issue would only delay the release of the findings and make them overly complex. IVF was considered separately.

What privacy protection could parties expect (in approaching 1984)? The OECD countries (including the Nordic countries and the European Community) formulated a transcontinental privacy policy in 1978, which was translated ten years later into the Australian Privacy Act (Cth) 1988, with its Privacy Principles in Schedule 3. There has, however, been a difficulty with the use specification principle, which states that the user's information shall remain private unless the user consents to its use or that legal authority requires it. When one contemplates the workings of Google and Yahoo! this is clearly problematic and one may 'laugh at it'. It has therefore been necessary to rethink these basic principles.

Society must be constantly vigilant regarding the problems and solutions posed by new technologies. It appears that technological development is interrelated – there would be no nanotechnology without the push towards miniaturisation required by the space race (and its preoccupation with weaponry). Computerisation is facilitated through these microchip advances. With computers, one is able to crunch the huge amounts of data required by biotechnology, in coding the human genome. It is clear that, in order to preserve democracy, we must respond to rapid technological change.

In summarising the London session at King's, Kirby J found that there were five paradoxes and seven lessons to be noted. The paradoxes are, in part, as follows:
1. There are no experts in these fields, because the technology is too new, complex, and unknown. There are naturally nano-optimists and nano-pessimists, yet the technology is still arriving and we are yet to grasp it fully. An interesting example came with the Sony TPM case and the almost Papal divisions of the world into regions. The USFTA was insistent on patching the Australian legal decision where it came to mod chips. Copyright must not go beyond its bounds and infringe upon free expression, as proclaimed by Lawrence Lessig.
2. There is either too much or too little law. Lawmakers occasionally pre-empt developments, as with artificial insemination and human cloning. However, not to act is equally to decide the issue. As with the hybridisation of HIV and issues of xenotransplantation, we should regulate these areas. Not to act is often irresponsible and sets a particular course.
3. We should look not to economic but rather social advantage. We should be aware of the architecting of behaviours from multinational corporations encoding laws into the technology itself (as per Lessig in Code).
4. Are these issues of interest to the lay person? We should make sure that the populace is engaged in the debate.
5. [This point seems to have merged with the previous!]
The lessons of this debate, where technology is global, and yet laws are local, and where not to act is to make a decision, are as follows:
1. Individual nation states have limited powers to regulate technology. Witness the case over the French attempt to prevent NAZI memorabilia from being on the Internet. There is, however, certain US supremacy.
2. There is a gradation of urgencies. A top priority must be the regulation of the nuclear industry. We must engage with thorough risk assessment, and observe the interrelations of ICTs with nuclear power and biotechnology, for example. All developments are related.
3. There will be different negotiations amongst different cultures. Where do we stand in relation to morality and religion, between secular society and fundamentalist states?
4. We need to base the law on good knowledge and sound science, not intuition and assumptions (as with Osborne on AIDS).
5. There is a democratic deficit in the exceptions allowed by technology. Compare the London tube ticket barriers with those of Le Metro in Paris – where a metal gate prevents you jumping over barriers. There are no exceptions allowed, no permeability of the borders. Lessig notes the importance of fair use exceptions to a functioning democracy. Consider when technology allows for no exceptions, where it excludes and allows for no difference – there is no discretion, no negotiation. Behaviours are regulated in code, are architected into technologies, and not through the representative, democratic process. It is important to keep the law in tune with the social order and expectations.
6.& 7. Again, seem to have merged with the previous!

Of international law, bioethics and human rights: medical ethics tend to be instituted by doctors, whereas post-war developments in human rights have been designed by lawyers. We must perceive our place in the biosphere and look to other species' concerns as our own. We must have experts talk to each other, to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue.
Equally, international dialogue is critical. These issues are not to be solved on a state-by-state basis. International conventions and treaties play a large role here – even when they aren't enacted in specific countries and are therefore not binding, they stimulate local debate and revisions of local laws. Take, for example, the success of the International Disability Convention.
What of lay appreciation of complex technological issues? We must plot the technological trajectories and engage in response. To omit to do so is to act, to set the course.
Consider the humanoid, as spoken about at King's. If the Library of Congress's knowledge can fit into a single microchip, it is feasible that all the knowledge contained within a human can fit into a humanoid. This cyborg may be sent into outer space to continue human knowledge and the mind, to preserve our ideas in perpetuity. What are the ethics of this act? We must engage with natural evolutionary developments.
What of science's involvement with the law? The ALRC had scientific advisors, and the panel at King's contained experts in technological matters. It is true that sectors have different spheres of interest: hence the importance of dialogue. Lionel Murphy CJ had science qualifications. He therefore brought different insights and a fresh perspective to issues.

It is the place of law to engage, to be responsive, to be relevant.

Kirby J will make available his report to King's.

Biography (c/- QUT):
Justice Michael Kirby is one of the seven Justices of the High Court of Australia, the nation's highest court. He was born and educated in Sydney and called to the New South Wales bar. In 1975 he was appointed a Deputy President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. In the same year he began a decade of service as the inaugural Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission. In 1983 he was appointed a judge of the Federal Court of Australia and in 1984 President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal. In 1995 he was appointed to the additional post of President of the Court of Appeal of Solomon Islands. His appointment to the High Court of Australia followed in 1996.
Justice Kirby has taken an active part in international bodies including the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, UNDP, ILO, UNODC, UNESCO, OECD and the Commonwealth Secretariat. Between 1993-6 he was Special Representative of the Secretary-Generation for Human Rights in Cambodia. Between 1995-8 he was President of the International Commission of Jurists. In 2006 he was elected an Honorary Bencher of Inner Temple.