Sunday, April 29, 2007

Copyright Stupidity

I hate current copyright law. I'm not a lawyer and I haven't gone over all of it with a fine-toothed comb, but much of it is dumb and preventing most of us regular people from engaging in activities that are educational, entertaining, and enlightening. What else is there to live for?

Many of you know that I'm our DMCA agent. I know that downloading and sharing copyrighted material is illegal. I don't condone it. But I also know that the music industry brought some of that on itself by not coming up with a viable business model for online music sales, by using DRM, and by not selling a good portion of its catalog most of the time. And the RIAA, the MPAA, and other organizations tend to treat their customers like criminals, mostly in the tactics they use to attempt to keep people from illegally downloading music. And those tactics don't really stop the downloading, and they are sometimes wrong. A recent Economist article points this out:
Belatedly, music executives have come to realise that DRM simply doesn’t work. It is supposed to stop unauthorised copying, but no copy-protection system has yet been devised that cannot be easily defeated. All it does is make life difficult for paying customers, while having little or no effect on clandestine copying plants that churn out pirate copies.
I don't like the way the RIAA is basically making colleges (and ISPs generally) do their work for them. It's akin to the FBI calling up a neighbor, telling them they think I have a stolen item in my house and would they go check please and have me return it. But this is the deal struck in the DMCA so that colleges and ISPs wouldn't get sued. Myself and another staff person spend a couple of hours or so each week investigating claims, writing notes to students, following up with students, shutting off their internet access and then restoring that access when they comply.

But the RIAA isn't the only organization that's copyright happy. Other publishers have been overstepping their bounds as well. If you don't follow the science blog beat, there was a pretty big scuffle over fair use of some figures by science blogger Shelley Batts, which I found via Janet and which made the rounds of the big blogs and landed in Scientific American. Here is the fair use clause:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
The copyright office recommends always getting permission because the fair use guidelines are not clear. Lovely, huh? We have unclear laws, so we're going to put the burden on you all, especially academics, to make sure you're not violating the law while doing work that benefits society as a whole. As more and more academic work goes online, publicly, this is going to be a huge issue, simply because that work will be more visible and may then be open to more cease and desist notices. Something that is in the public good may get restricted because of poorly worded and poorly understood copyright laws. I recommend a visit to the EFF to support changes to the DMCA that will help fair use.

Another way in which our copyright and royalty structures hamper us is in the reproduction in new formats of movies and tv shows. Anyone remember the Eyes on the Prize dilemma? Here is a rundown. Basically, the production company couldn't afford to renew licenses for news footage and especially music that had been used to create the film and so they couldn't show it again on tv or reproduce it in DVD format. Although the Eyes on the Prize case got a lot of publicity because of the obvious benefit to the public of showing this documentary, this kind of thing happens to lots of films and tv shows. Remember WKRP? Well, they can't make a DVD box set of it with the original music. Denis Hancock puts it best:

Now of course it’s important for music labels to protect their IP, make money from it, and all the rest. But for some reason I have this notion that if my Dad got to re-live one of his favorite shows (while paying for the privilege), and be reintroduced to some of his favorite music from the time he might do something crazy like try to buy the full songs or CDs! Or he might have me watch the show with him, like I vaguely remember doing many years ago - and I might hear music I never even knew existed! And I might buy something too!

Nope - can’t have that. If someone had an emotional reaction to Johnny Fever blaring the Ted Nugent rocker when the station mercifully flipped back from a temporary move to easy listening… can you imagine the chaos that might ensue? It must be far, far better to keep the music under lock and key and make sure no hears it so, er, money can be made. Right.

Shooting themselves in the foot, these people. I don't understand it. Not to mention the real loss to the study of American movie and tv culture if these artifacts are destroyed. Sure libraries can archive these movies and shows (because of fair use). Libraries don't archive everything. Sometimes they don't know they need to until a professor comes to them and says, "Hey, I'm studying x. Do we have that available somewhere?" And then, sometimes, after a fruitless search, we find that x no longer exists.

Finally, we have the whole "analog hole" problem. The MPAA and the RIAA are attempting to close the analog hole, which is a) nearly impossible and b) would make it impossible to do some very basic tasks, like watch tv. Film studies folks have been granted permission to circumvent copy protection in order to make film clips for teaching and research, but ip owners are still forging ahead with making copy protection harder and harder to circumvent. One day, we may have to pay out the nose for equipment that will allow us to do our jobs.

So let's review, the RIAA extorts money from people, publishers don't understand fair use, we don't have access to older video material because producers can't afford to renew music licenses, and copy protection measures continue to increase. And I didn't even talk about YouTube and Viacom. Great world we live in, eh?

Friday, April 27, 2007


My brain is still full and unable to produce truly coherent thought. I am thinking about several issues right now and will try to come up with something more thoughtful later. Here are some links, some related to my thoughts, some random. Also check out my shared items from my reader in the left sidebar.

  1. Bloom's Taxonomy

  2. Instructional Design Models

  3. YouTube - Pat Tillman's family insulted for being atheists by Army

  4. Adventures in Ethics and Science: And the point of publishing scientific findings was what again?

  5. Assigning Collaborative Writing

  6. UWC @ TAMU - Collaborative Writing

  7. Collaborative Writing

  8. Video: RSS in Plain English | Common Craft - Social Design for the Web

  9. Map: Welcome to the Blogosphere | Technology | DISCOVER Magazine

Thursday, April 26, 2007


It's funny how these professional trips exhaust me, and yet I come back feeling inspired about my work. The purpose of this trip was to begin my work as a NITLE Technology Fellow. It was great to meet the other fellows, all of whom seem incredibly cool and smart. I was describing some of our conversations to Mr. Geeky and he noted that it seemed like kind of a geeky crowd. And I said, yeah, it was so cool. It was great just to share ideas with everyone. I got so many great tidbits, from new podcasts to listen to to new ways to shape workshops. We did have to suffer through the painful process of having ourselves videotaped while teaching and then watch and critique it. Ouch. I hope that video never sees the light of day.

I'll leave you with a horrible video of a show that I used to watch as a kid. It might explain some things about me. I shared this with the tech fellows. It was a good way to start the morning.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Incoherent Monday morning ramblings

It was a glorious weekend in which Mr. Geeky and I attempted to bring order to our house. We succeeded on some fronts, but we're in that "complete chaos" stage before everything gets reorganized again. We purchased a new bed, moving our old bed into the office to create a guest room. We had to move some things out of the office to make room and we still haven't completely settled on where those things will go. It was definitively decided that we have too much stuff. We are planning an addition to our house (hopefully this summer) that will ease the busting at the seams feeling. This is an older house (nearly 100 years old) that was not meant to hold modern conveniences. We only have a living room and no family room, which wouldn't be a huge thing except there's no wall space. There are three doorways, two windows and a stairway. The tv is wedged into a corner, the only possible corner it can fit in. When the kids want to play DDR, we have to move the coffee table out of the way. So we want a family room. And we want to kids to have some more bedroom space. We'll see how this goes.

The kids were outside much of the weekend except when we went shopping for the new bed. It was a preview of summer when the neighborhood kids run around until dark. You can hear laughing and excited yelling up and down the street as they move from one activity to another. Mr. Geeky and I sat out on the deck for a while, sipping lemonade and then later, beer. The deck will go away when the addition is built, though we may build a new one.

I'm leaving for a trip that I'm very much looking forward to. I'm loading up the iPod with podcasts even though the flight isn't that long. I'm quite behind on a few that I used to listen to with some regularity. I'm looking forward to catching up.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Our tragedies and others'

I was going to comment at Phantom's on her quite poignant post, but decided what I had to say was too long for the comment box. I have avoided really thinking about what happened at Virginia Tech on Monday. I was so busy on Monday itself in fact that I didn't even know what had happened until I was driving home and heard the story on NPR. I was sitting at a stop light and gasped and put my hand over my mouth. I had to concentrate on the drive home, however, and so it didn't sink in. I talked about it with colleagues at meetings and in the hallways and over dinner. But I didn't really think about it. I analyzed it as an academic. I thought about the whys. I tried not to think about the people, about the real human loss.

In 2000 at my grad school, in the office next to mine, a graduate student locked himself into the office with his former adviser. They argued. The professor, I imagine, tried to fight him off. Then the student shot the professor and himself. I had left the building not five minutes earlier. My current adviser was the one who called 911. I heard his voice, articulate through his panic and fear what he could ascertain about the situation and ask for help, play over and over in a loop on the news. The next day, at 8 a.m., I had to teach. I ran into the former director of the composition program in the mailroom as I gathered copies of my syllabus for the first day of class. I felt numb. The director, a man who should have been long retired, shook his head and in a shaky voice and obviously holding back tears, noted what a sad day it was. That broke my heart. Later, I stood in front of the class, feeling sad. These were freshman. They, too, were somewhat stunned. We spoke briefly about the shooting and then moved on to discussing the class itself, albeit in a kind of fog.

We had a new chair. I was the new Grad Student Association president. Together, we were supposed to be planning a welcome back pizza party, an event designed to bring the faculty and grad students closer together. Instead, we were planning meetings to talk about the shooting, to arrange counseling sessions, to plan memorial services. At one of those meetings, a particularly insensitive dean said that he'd just met with the faculty, "who were now afraid of us," at once dismissing our own fears (we could have easily been targets) and claiming we were all unstable and capable of killing. That is all I remember about the meeting.

I did not know the murdered professor very well. His area was not one I'd studied in, but being next door to his office, I'd often said hello as I passed. Many of my close friends were students of his. I'm thinking about them this week and wondering if the wounds have been opened again.

I've been trying to think about why I cannot take the tragedy at Virginia Tech in. Is it too close to home? Too far away? Am I too scarred over by hearing over and over on the tv, on the radio about soldiers being killed, about Iraqis being blown up? Am I afraid to think about it because it opens the wounds of my own losses--my sister, my mother-in-law? Does grief bring us closer or isolate us? I do think we tend to reach out to people and try to make sense of these events collectively, but it saddens me that even in tragedy, we can end up fighting each other. We fight over gun control, over causes, over our views of the world. And for me, that makes the grief even more bitter. I have essentially already unplugged. I haven't watched the news. I've listened to NPR's interviews of survivors and have pieced together an image of what happened, but I can't look at that image too closely. I have to look away. To some, I know, my reactions to these things seem callous, but it's self preservation in many ways. If I think about it too much, I lose faith and I can't go on. I have no answers. No way to sum this up neatly. So I'll just end here and let others continue the conversation.

Friday, April 20, 2007


It's been a long week that started off badly, so I'll leave you all with some interesting (I hope) links.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Want to make yourself ill?

Go read some of the slashdot comments about the NY Times article on recruiting more women into CS. Go on. Just read a few. Delve into the depths. And then ask yourself why there aren't more women in CS--or in tech fields more generally.

Rediscovering our humanity

Trillwing writes one of the best responses I've seen yet to the violence at VTech. I think we do need to stand up against violence of all kinds. I think we need to fight for gun control. We need to support each other instead of fighting each other. I can't help but think about the fact that we are at war in another country in order to maintain peace. How can we expect others to appreciate peacefulness when our administration is alway rhetorically waving guns in the air? Part of our humanity may indeed be a competitive nature that sometimes erupts violently, but surely we can rise above that, resist it. Surely we can find ways of dealing with conflict and anger that don't result in a body count.

I'm with Trillwing. I'm standing up against the violence--and that includes the sham of a war we have going on in Iraq. I don't want to see us destroy ourselves anymore.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Media Spin on Horrific Events

Nearly everyone in the academic blog world has made a comment about the Virginia Tech tragedy. A couple of people have mentioned the issue of gun control. But the media pundits are blaming video games and horror movies. I'm watching MSNBC right now and Scarborough has been trying to cut off the one guy who is pro gun control. I'm not sure that we can ascribe any one "cause" to such tragedies. Okay, now Dr. Phil on Larry King is blaming video games and the movies. Gah.

I do hate the way things like this turn into a feeding frenzy for the media pundits.

It's still winter

I didn't mind last week's cold snap. As we drove across Pennsylvania to visit the in-laws, we marveled at the snow and giggled a little at how silly it was to have snow in April. But now, it's gone too far. A two-hour school delay in April? Snow? In mid-April? This is crazy.

I'm of a delicate constitution. I grew up in the South, where we had winter--even snow--but by now, we'd be having 60s and 70s. There'd be absolutely no chance of snow. This is killing me.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Abstinence programs don't work

Well, duh. Maybe instead of worrying about whether people are having sex, we should help kids learn how to do so safely.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Talk amongst yourselves

I'm off to New York for the day and my brain is full.

Some things to spur conversation:
  • What's the future of digital music? How long can the RIAA play the bully and get away with it?
  • Related to that, how does a "traditional" college thrive in the digital age? What changes need to occur in order for that to happen?
  • Election 08--who's the frontrunner?
Have fun. See you Saturday.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Feminine Mistake

Some of you may have read about or seen interviews with Leslie Bennetts, the author of The Feminine Mistake, a book that discusses the issue of women who choose to stay at home. In her book, she says that staying at home is the mistake. I first saw Bennetts on The Today Show while we were traveling and I was incensed not by Bennetts, but by the interview tactics of Ann Curry and the framing that The Today Show did of the whole issue. Basically, they preceded the interview with teasers and a montage that made it seem as if they were about to, once again, make working moms feel guilty for working. So I was surprised when Bennetts book basically supported the idea of mothers going back to work. Ann Curry kept trying to get Bennetts to admit that the decision mothers make to return to work or not is difficult. Methinks she doth protest too much. Really, watch the video.

Apparently, Bennetts has been hearing lots of serious disagreement from stay at home moms. In a post from March 31 at The Huffington Post, she expresses her disappointment at the rancor these women are expressing, especially without ever having read the book. I, too, haven't read the book, so I won't comment on it yet. I have read The Price of Motherhood, another book that details the financial impact on women who stay at home. That book made me mad, not because it was anti-sahm, but because I felt the wool had pulled over my eyes and I'd been sold a bill of goods about the wonders of staying at home. Bennetts goal in writing the book is similar to Crittendon's:
Naively, I assumed that once women were offered more accurate information, they would be eager to get it. After all, women aren't stupid; it's true that they've been deserting the labor force in record numbers, but surely the problem was just that unfortunate information gap. Wouldn't they want to protect their own interests by educating themselves about the dangers that lie ahead -- and to plan accordingly?
The thing is, I don't think women decide to stay at home based on a clear analysis of the facts other than to determine that the family can afford for her to do so. I think most women decide to stay at home for emotional and personal reasons. They feel a real need to be with their children. They feel it's the "right" thing to do. They are unable to find good childcare. Etc. I don't think most of us make any decision by clearly analyzing the facts. If we did, I think the world would be a very different place. I also think, and Bennetts says this in her interview with Ann Curry, that the media (conceived very broadly to include most of what we read and see) plays a role in convincing women that staying at home is the "right" thing to do, that it's wonderful and that children will suffer if we aren't at home. Many, many of my friends are or have been stay at home parents. I wouldn't want to deny them that choice and as I've said a number of times here, what I think should happen is for the workplace to be a more family friendly environment. There needs to be more part-time options, more of a sense that it's okay for people to put their family first (and themselves!) when they need to. I remember Laura at 11D wrote a long time ago that sometimes work sucks and why should be push women to participate in the drudgery that most jobs really are.

I'm looking forward to reading the book and I'll say more once I have.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why I Work

It's kind of funny that this is even a question, but for women with children, it is. I guess it should be a question for men with children, but it isn't. I've been thinking about my recent post and stumbled onto another one with a similar theme. Before I was married, I never questioned whether I would work or not. I knew a couple of women from both high school and college whose goal was to marry, have kids and stay at home, but for most of the women I knew, the question of whether to stay home or work didn't arise until after kids came along. For me, the question didn't arise until pretty recently. When our first kid came along, I was our only income, so there was no question about whether I would work or not. I had to. I had a pretty heated argument with someone who suggested I was shortchanging our son by returning to work. I remember nearly shouting, "Well, who's going to pay for our food and shelter if I don't work!" I was pretty steamed. In hindsight, it wasn't that I felt my adversary was right, but that I resented the dilemma in the first place. Somewhere inside I kind of wanted to stay home. After all, the job I had at the time was just for the money (and the insurance).

Back when my kids were little, I felt like they got good care. I didn't feel like I needed to be there to read books or play or whatever. We did all that when we were with them and I knew they were getting lots of attention from their caretakers. Now that they're school age and they're not really getting anything special out of aftercare programs (or don't even have aftercare programs), I feel more of a need to be with them, to help them with homework and to help them negotiate social issues that arise. This year, Mr. Geeky has been meeting Geeky Boy after school. On days when he can't, he calls us and discusses homework and other things. Not ideal, but it works.

Despite the tug of wanting to be at home, I work for three main reasons. First, I work purely for my own personal satisfaction. I need intellectual stimulation. I need to be challenged. I need to be around people. I enjoy solving problems, thinking about issues, etc. I'm not creative enough to create that environment for myself at home. Second, I do it for the money. I enjoy the extra income, and for a long time, we actually needed it. We could probably get by now without it, with a few sacrifices, but I know I appreciate the buffer my income generally gives us. Third, I feel the need to contribute and chose my job accordingly. I think if I were just working for the money, I would not feel as satisfied nor would I feel as compelled to work. If I were a corporate drone of some kind or a salesperson or something along those lines, I don't think I'd enjoy working. Being part of an educational institution and mission makes me feel like I'm doing some good in the world, even if it's only for a handful of people. That's not to say that I feel that if I'd been at home, I couldn't contribute in some way. It simply reflects my own perception of how I need to contribute. I'm just not the type of person who could get satisfaction out of volunteering by itself.

In other words, my decision to continue working is an individual one and probably different from many other women. There may be women who work purely for the money and are satisfied with that. There are women who don't work and are satisfied with that. It's often a complicated decision for many people. A two income family juggles many things in order to make things work. A single income family may have to make certain sacrifices in order to make that situation work. And the world of work doesn't make either situation all that easy. For one, there's no in between really. Some jobs are inflexible and involve working long hours, keeping people away from their families and placing undue burden on the spouse at home (if that's the situation). I feel lucky to have enough flexibility that I can take days off when I need to and could take plenty of time if something tragic happened. That, too, helps me continue to enjoy work, knowing that my workplace would want me to put family first when I need to. If only every workplace had that attitude.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

RBOC: On the road edition

  • Hanging out with the nephews was pretty fun. They're pretty darn cute.
  • Having a cold while visiting people kind of sucks. Being tired and spreading germs everywhere does not make me a very good houseguest.
  • Ready to be home in my own bed.
  • It's freaking snowing here!
  • Parts of the highway closed for construction. Gah!
  • I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Reading to the twins

Reading to the twins
Originally uploaded by lorda.
This is what I've been doing for the last 24 hours. Hanging out with the nephews. Most of the time, things are relatively calm. At the moment, the older brother is having a breakdown, so I'm hiding in the bedroom.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Making comparisons

I'm at my brother-in-law and his wife's house, which is filled with kids, the oldest of which is 3. Since my youngest is 7, it's an adjustment to be around such young children. I will admit to not really liking other people's children until they get to an age where you can carry on a conversation with them.* I would have made a terrible aunt in and of itself. At least since I've had my own children, I can be understanding.

I have, unfortunately, a habit of comparing myself to these people. I have a habit of doing this more generally, but I'm particularly bad about it with these in-laws. So, I think things like, they have a bigger house than I do. And that depresses me, but then I have to remind myself that I have access to wonderful things like museums and other cities and great schools. And that their house would cost over 2 million in our area and they'd probably live in a smaller house if they lived where we do. I do these mental acrobatics over and over again. And I wish I didn't. I wish I could just be and not worry whether I'm skinnier than her or smarter or a better mother or . . .

Mostly, I've been jealous of what they can afford. Before they had 4 kids, they would travel a lot, always had nice clothes and new cars and new furniture. And it kind of killed me. For one thing, they talked about it all the time as if everyone could afford such things. And for another, I grew up that way, but now, because of the career and location I chose, those amenities are more difficult for me to obtain. Once, though, when I was complaining to Mr. Geeky about their mentioning yet another trip or yet another purchase, he said, "Don't you understand? She wants your life just as much as you want hers." And it was true. She wanted children and I had them. For me, my life was fulfilled yet until I had settled into a career. For them, it was about the family. I had done the family thing almost without thinking as much as they had fallen into careers as doctors which afforded them a lifestyle I envied.

One thing about living where I do is that I'm often reminded of both ends of the spectrum. I drive through the area of 2 million dollar homes every day and I walk around a city where the homeless ask for money and in my own neighborhood, we are all the working and middle class, some of us doing better than others. I guess I'm very conscious of my class and of the class of those around me. On the one hand, I want to erase class boundaries. On the other, I'm all too aware of the invisible walls that often separate us.

I had a dream the other night which kind of encapsulates my anxieties about class. Mr. Geeky, Geeky Boy and I were standing around talking to a realtor discussing purchasing a home in a swanky area. The realtor glanced at Geeky Boy and said, "By the way, I hear that the schools have an excellent remedial reading program." I flew into a rage and called the man an asshole among other things. The crux of my anxiety is that I will be judged for other things based on how I dress and what kind of car I drive and how big of a house I have, that people make assumptions about my intelligence or abilities based on surface things. I try my best not to do that to others, but I've certainly been on the receiving end of such judgments. I guess my visiting here brings these issues to the surface for me. For lots of complicated reasons, those issues are raw and sensitive for me. Maybe they always will be.

*Even then, my tolerance can wane. If they're mean or annoying, for example. Luckily, this almost never happens with kids I know.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I printed it. I went to New York. I'm copying it and mailing it today. I did all the important things in New York. Went to the Museum of Art and FAO Schwartz. Wandered through Central Park, followed by dinner at Friday's. Doesn't everyone go to Friday's when they go to New York? Geeky Girl completely passed out in the car on the way home. We walked at least 6 miles yesterday. That's a lot for a 7-year old with short legs.

I don't yet feel completely celebratory about finishing the dissertation. I am pretty sure I'll be asked to do some revisions. I don't think they'll be major, but who knows. It seems like there's always another form to fill out, which drives me crazy. Until there are no more of those, I won't be satisfied. My defense is not scheduled yet. The earliest date is May 14. The latest date is July. So I could be hanging out for a few weeks or a couple of months. I'm hoping for May. I'd like to get this whole thing over with. Then, I'll celebrate.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Home Stretch?

I think that later this afternoon or evening I may be able to announce that I've sent off my dissertation to my committee. I finally finished revisions on the final chapter. I fixed the figures. I spell checked. I double-checked the bibliography and appendices. I'm still working on the conclusion. I'm not sure entirely what to say, so if anyone has any tips about how to end a dissertation, I'd love to hear them. Right now, it's a pretty short conclusion. I guess I just figured I'd said everything already.

Also this week is going to be less busy at work. I'm taking tomorrow off, possibly going to New York with the family or staying home with the kids while Mr. Geeky goes to New York. We haven't decided yet. Later this week, we're traveling to see the in-laws. I haven't been there except for necessary occasions (i.e. funerals) in a long time. I might also see some old friends from grad school days. Some much needed time off sooner than I thought.