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The Well Defended

So it turns out OCLC might not be acting quite as poorly as first appeared, but instead acting in a ‘rational’ way given the parameters of an irrational system.  In their press release (currently available only on their News and Events page, so no permanent URL here) on the subject of suing the Library Hotel, they state:

…trademark law imposes affirmative obligations on trademark owners to protect their trademarks, or risk losing all rights in those marks through legal abandonment. We felt that abandoning our rights in the Dewey trademarks was an unacceptable result for the OCLC membership. OCLC attempted to avoid litigation by repeatedly requesting attribution of our ownership of the Dewey marks from The Library Hotel. They have refused to do so. Unfortunately, that refusal left us with no other recourse than to file a legal complaint.

It is true that trademark law imposes such obligations.  It’s long been the case that failure to defend a trademark is taken to mean relinquishment of any rights to preserve said trademark.  That’s the irrational part, in my opinion, but I suppose if we somehow fixed that then a lot of copyright lawyers would be out of work, and we can’t have that, now can we?

It may also be the case that a commonly used term can retain legal protection without having to sue everyone just to defend it.  If I’m remembering correctly, LucasFilm helped establish that precedent at some point, when a judge ruled that a protected entity that had sufficiently permeated the mainstream (read: every major Star Wars character) didn’t have to be continually defended in order to preserve its protected status.  Or something along those lines.  I don’t know if the Dewey Decimal system qualifies as having permeated the mainstream, but it probably should.  Then again, I occupied offices in university libraries for most of a decade, so my view might be skewed.

Of course, we don’t know what kind of attribution OCLC requested, and how the Library Hotel refused OCLC’s requests; either one or both of them could have been wholly unreasonable in their communications.  Regardless, it makes no sense to me that OCLC should be compelled (in a legal sense) to file a lawsuit for an enormous amount of money in this situation.  Does the Creative Commons offer a way out of this kind of situation?  Could it, with some enhancements?  It might be worth investigating.

It was also brought to my attention that the phrase “poisoning the community well” may have connotations of which I was previously unaware.  According to Informal Logical Fallacies, I was very close to using the term for a type of logically fallacious argument that is “an attempt to preclude discussion by attacking the credibility of an opponent.”  I merely meant “acting in a way contrary to the community interest.”  No attacks on anyone’s credibility were intended.  I just hope the term isn’t trademarked, because I’d really hate to end up in court over it.

Dynamic Mental Static

An interesting idea: Pixy’s fast no-preload rollovers, which I first heard about in a presentation at Seybold.  It seems to me there’s one potential drawback in this method, which is that it requires that your links be an exact size, or at least never be taller than a certain size.  Since I spend a lot of time thinking about techniques that will work well even if the text is scaled up 300% or more, this “drawback” is probably more of a concern to me than to the rest of you.  I don’t mean to denigrate what Petr has done—it’s a clever technique, and has a great deal to commend it, including reduced server load.

So, Eolas.  Their claims of inventing plug-ins or applets or whatever put me in mind of a similar yet much dorkier situation surrounding the new movie Underworld, summarized rather well by the guys at Penny Arcade, as usual.  Of course, Microsoft itself patented style sheets back in the late Nineties, so it’s not like they’ve never been down that road themselves.  I’ll freely admit that Microsoft never did anything with said patent, and that puts them a step above Eolas in the trudge toward something resembling the faintest shadow of a moral high ground.

One of the reasons I’ve not gotten too worked up about all this is I still have this idiotic faith that reason will, eventually, prevail.  The British Telecom “patent” on hyperlinks came to nothing, so far as I can tell.  Whether this was due to a court throwing out the claim, or the collective will of the Web ignoring it outright, I’m not sure, but that’s sort of the point: it was never a big deal.  I keep thinking whatever process got us there will similarly operate in the Eolas case.  I can’t do much about it either way.  Hey, maybe Eolas did patent the process of whatever it is they claim to have invented years after other people had already done it.  Great.  As soon as I secure a patent for my novel method of representing complex information using only the integers one and zero, I am so going to clean up in the courts.  (Hat tip: Chris Lilley, ca. 1999.)

Of course, we also have ISO and OCLC poisoning the community well in different but still deeply distasteful ways, so maybe I should reconsider my faith in reason winning the day.  Is it time to pull out the term “morons” yet?  How about “scummy bastards?”  Somebody let me know.  Meanwhile, I generally find relief from goofy humor and mind games (of the good sort), so let’s try some of that on for size, shall we?

Davezilla shares a semi-coherent translation on a snack-food packet (for more such goodness, please to enjoy the site of Engrish).  I’m reminded of one of my favorite business cards of all time; it came from a fortune cookie factory in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  This card stated, in bold red capital letters near to bursting with pride, “WE SPECIALIZE TO MAKE ALL OCCASIONAL COOKIES.”  Sadly, this glorious bit of prose no longer graces the new cards they now hand out, which instead inform us that they are happy to offer novelty adult cookies.  I sometimes wonder if that simply means that the fortunes come with the words “in bed” already printed at the end of the phrase.

The page I’m about to point to is best viewed with a fairly wide browser window, because it’s peppered with some very wide images, but “The latest works” is very much worth visiting if you’re fascinated by optical illusions.  I’m always intrigued by examples of the brain percieving motion where there is none, and sometimes wonder if this capacity is in some weird way the neurological basis for conspiracism.  Note that not all the examples may work for you; only about half to two-thirds did for me.  But the ones that did… wow.  I expect it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being a synaesthetic.

Off the Wire

The TiBook’s Ethernet connection is all wireless now, thanks to the Netgear MR814 I installed yesterday.  I discovered that the one place on the front porch I really wanted to have access is a complete dead zone, which is highly annoying.  The rest of the house and the back yard all give me anywhere from 75% to 100% signal strength, and even the other half of the front porch wavers around 75%.  But the part where we have the really comfortable chairs set up, not to mention several short tables for drinks and such, is just a huge cone of silence.

Eventually, I realized it was probably our screen windows.  I’m pretty sure ours are a metal mesh, not vinyl, and if I’m correct it means they’re forming big impenetrable barriers to any WiFi signal.  My experiment of walking out into the front yard and immediately getting 50% signal seems to confirm this.  In all honesty, it’s probably just as well that there’s at least one area of the house that cuts me off from the Ethernet line.

To celebrate, I’m sitting here on the active side of my front porch, enjoying the sunny, breezy weather and listening to the cicadas while I share with you a few amusing and/or interesting things I’ve collected from various sources in the last few days:

  • You may recall the Bork edition of Opera, and of course there have long been scripts that alter content to sound like Yoda or any number of other distinctive speech patterns.  A close cousin to the Jive filter is Tha Shizzolator, courtesy everyone’s favorite rapper/porn artist, Snoop Dogg.  I found its translation of meyerweb highly amusing—I love the fact that it turns a reference to Doug and Tantek into “bomb diggity muthas”—and can hardly wait to see what it does with this entry.  Societal note: if you are offended by certain “naughty” words, or live/work in a place characterized by easy offense, you may want to avoid the Shizzolator.  I’m just sayin’.  Interesting technical note: the entity ¶ becomes &pimpa;.  I have no idea why.
  • I never enjoyed the group pictures taken ad nauseam throughout my senior year of high school, but at least none of them ended like this one did.  Takes ponding to a whole new level, really.
  • Speaking of group photos gone horribly wrong, this one also features a soaking.  The difference is in the liquid vector, and of course there’s a little more intention behind this one.  I just hope that was the last picture in the series, instead of the first one.  There’s one guy toward the left side of the group who seems to be a little more aware than the rest.  Or maybe he just had forewarning.
  • Badger aerobics were never so… odd.  I got this from Jeff Veen, who was dead on when he said, “Every single person you know is about to send you a link to this.”  You may as well just get it over with now.  How long can you stand to let it run?  I timed out after roughly five minutes.
  • This little Flash movie is funny in certain ways, and yet not funny in too many others.  Likely to be offensive to people who have an aversion to inconvenient truths.

You Say Po-TAY-to…

I’m having one of those moments where I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.  I checked CNN this morning and noticed the headline “White House: Iraq uranium claim was wrong.”  I must be reading that wrong, I thought, but it turns out that Ari Fleischer admitted today that the whole “Iraq bought a bunch of uranium in Africa” thing was incorrect.  Whoops.  Anyway, in the article, I found this sentence:

A British parliamentary committee concluded that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government mishandled intelligence material on Iraqi weapons.

The British government was cited by President Bush as having found out about the uranium sale, so that’s how he ended up making an incorrect claim.  Well, it’s more complicated than that, but the article’s there for you to read, so go ahead.

As I finished the article, a sense of morbid curiosity overcame me; I wondered what the Republican News Channel would have to say about all this.  So I went on over, and found no headline relating to the issue at all, two hours after the CNN story was posted.  In fact, the only thing I could find was a “Video” box sited well below the fold, which contained this text:

The British parliament concludes Tony Blair did not doctor evidence to support the war in Iraq

Okay, here’s your mental exercise for the day: devise a scenario in which both these statements can be true.  I came up with one, although since I refused to set up a Fox News user account—I get enough spam exhorting me to buy Ann Coulter books as it is—I can’t watch the video to see if I was right.

It isn’t that news outlets slant their reporting that bothers me.  I just wish they’d be honest about it, so we could take the slant into account.  In times past, newspapers were very open about their ideological leanings.  Yes, many news outlets have a liberal bias, and others have a conservative bias.  That’s fine.  But don’t try to tell me you’re being fair or balanced when clearly neither is true, because frankly, it’s insulting.

Advance Planning

Regional linguistic variations are funny.  The BBC News UK Web site has an article with this lead paragraph:

US President George W Bush has launched his bid for re-election, filing papers declaring his intention to contest next year’s vote.

Here in America, the usual meaning assigned to “contest,” at least in this context, would be “challenge” instead of “strive to win”—so to us Yanks, the implication is that Bush is already preparing to challenge the results of the next election.  Sounds like an Onion story, doesn’t it?

Speaking of linguistic variations, I now have in my possession copies of Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide in Polish, Bulgarian, and Korean.  Two of each, in fact.  The surreal part is that all the examples and screenshots are still in English, while the main text is in something not English.  I have to wonder how that affects the book’s utility for local readers.

So not only will I be speaking at The Other Dreamweaver Conference (TODCON) next month in Las Vegas, I’ll be giving two technical sessions and delivering the conference keynote.  Some other speakers you might know will also be there, including Molly Holzschlag, Murray Summers, Massimo Foti, and Angela Buraglia, among others.  It should be an interesting time, what with me giving talks to all those Dreamweaver power users when I, you know, don’t actually use Dreamweaver.  Haven’t touched it in years, in fact.

We’re headed off to see The Matrix Reloaded tonight, and as expected it’s already causing hugely polarized reactions among those who’ve seen it.  I have pretty low expectations, so I ought to be all right.  As with the first one, I expect a lot of goofy exposition and nonsensical backstory mixed in with some eye-popping special effects sequences.  Hey, it worked well enough the first time, so why not draw from the same well?

All Decked Out

This whole playing-card deck thing is getting way out of hand.  We all know about the US Central Command‘s card deck of Iraq’s Most Wanted; you can even download a low-resolution PDF of the deck, or else buy a better-quality set from one of about a zillion merchants.  Réseau Voltaire is offering Les 52 plus dangereux dignitaires américains, a deck of the “52 most dangerous American dignitaries” in the Bush Regime.  When Texas Democrats fled to Arkansas Oklahoma to deny legislative quorum and kill a redistricting bill, Republicans created a “Most Wanted” deck of cards featuring the faces of their absent colleagues.  I’ve been getting spam for a “Deck of Weasels” featuring American war opponents’ pictures and quotes.  (Which is ironic considering I’d personally like to see a “Deck of Weasels” featuring the pictures and home addresses of the top 52 spammers.)  I’m guessing that in the upcoming election cycle, we’ll see plenty of card decks—most wanted polluters, tax boosters, pork-barrel projects, missing freedoms, whatever.  It won’t be too much longer before we’ll be able to create a deck of the 52 most wanted Most Wanted decks.  For that matter, how soon will someone create a 52 Most Wanted standards implementation changes?

And don’t look at me.  I have way too much on deck as it is.

Through Another Pair of Eyes

This week on Netscape DevEdge is part one of a two-part interview with Mike Davidson of ESPN, who talks in depth about their curent redesign efforts.  On the ESPN home page they’re currently using CSS positioning to lay everything out.  That means they’ve dropped tables as a layout mechanism and, in the process, about 50KB of page weight.  Mike has some very strong opinions, and I imagine they’ll be controversial in certain circles, but he speaks from the perspective of a designer in charge of a commercial site that serves close to a billion page views every month.  His is a thoroughly practical point of view, and he’s not shy about it.  I highly recommend it, and not just because I wrote the questions.

Through the O’Reilly Network, I came across a link to an English-language blog called Where Is Raed?, written by a resident of Baghdad.  This past Sunday, he posted a rant against war and for democracy that should be read by anyone who wants to get insight into how the events of the past year and decade are viewed by those who had to pay the price.  A tiny exceprt:

how could “support democracy in Iraq” become to mean “bomb the hell out of Iraq”? why did it end up that democracy won’t happen unless we go thru war? Nobody minded an un-democratic Iraq for a very long time, now people have decided to bomb us to democracy? Well, thank you! how thoughtful.

Before you dismiss this as obvious propaganda, go read the piece in its entirety.

Note to those in the San Francisco area: I’ll be hanging out with some very cool people (like Doug and Tantek) at Rockin’ Java this Sunday at 2:00pm.  All are welcome for discussion, open wifi, and caffeinated drinks.  Be there or be, um, elsewhere.

Close to the Edge

I’m trying to find out if there’s a country or other region in this world whose annual, monthly, or daily bandwidth consumption is in the vicinity of 700 terabytes (5.6 petabits).  Searches for this type of information have so far come up empty; I was pointed to the Internet Traffic Report but its figures are too abstract to be useful to me, plus they seem to be based on ping times instead of actual bandwidth.  Anyone have a pointer to freely available information along those lines?

Yesterday’s mail contained a copy of the shiny new book Cascading Style Sheets: The Designer’s Edge by Molly Holzschlag.  It’s very, um, red.  It’s also in full color throughout, chock full o’ information, presents some case studies of CSS-driven design, and talks about CSS and design as if they go together, which of course they do.  I did technical editing and wrote the Foreword, where I said:

…CSS is a visual language, one that was meant to be used by designers from the beginning.  Books aimed at that particular audience are long overdue, frankly, and I’m thrilled to see them emerging at long last.  I’m even more thrilled that we’re getting one from Molly Holzschlag.

Personally I think Molly’s a really truly wonderful person and my wife agrees with me, so if you’re particularly worried about bias, there’s mine.  One of them, at any rate.  I also have a fondness for hot chai drinks, in case anyone’s keeping track.

Dear God, but this is just so wrong.  That damn song they sing is still stuck in my head, which I’m sure was the point, but the visuals are even more vividly seared upon my memory.  Requires Flash to actually see the full extent of the wrongness.  Also requires that you not be at work or some other place of propriety, or in the presence of people who are easily offended, or be easily offended yourself.

Then again, far worse things are looming in the real world, and it won’t be cuddly cartoon characters who pay the price when the storm finally breaks.

April 2015