Observations and arguments.

Archive for Random

Learning through speech

Amid the raging river of content known as my Bloglines feeds are the writings of Seth Godin, a bit of a rockstar iconoclast in the marketing world. A big idea guy, or as he might posit, a small idea guy.

In a post from Sunday Godin asks: “What’s the point of talking to a group?

He suggests that giving a speech to a group of people–oration–might work to incite emotion or to sell (he sidesteps religion in posing his question), but that it falls short as a teaching tool, particularly in a culture comfortable with the remote control, YouTube, and Bloglines.

I can’t help but think Godin has extrapolated from his own boredom at a recent class or training session and concluded that his own learning pace and style is shared by everyone.

Yes, instructor-led training is often poorly conceived and executed (in the example he cites, the teacher read unwaveringly from a prepared text), constrained by politics and resources, and is often inappropriate for the material. But of course that’s why there’s been such a massive shift in the past fifteen years towards self-paced interactive learning systems–first CD-ROM “Multimedia”, then web-based–in corporations and universities. (This of course comes with its own problems, e.g. the assessment of skill acquisition using multiple choice questions.)

Sometimes when looking at the challenge of guiding a population of learners towards knowledge, having a teacher stand up in front of a group of people (even if some of those people are watching on screens from far away) is the best medium for the task. Because as Godin himself admits, sometimes engagement and human emotion are important parts of the learning equation.

Ask anyone who’s learned from remarkable teachers–there’s no technological substitute.

Questioning the YouTube ToS panic

On the Wired blog yesterday there appeared a post with the alarmist headline “YouTube’s ‘New’ Terms Still Fleece Musicians”. It highlights the newest YouTube terms of service, which read, in part:

…by submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business… in any media formats and through any media channels.

The writer (Eliot Van Buskirk) points out, quite rightly, that YouTube could take your video (or, for example, a band’s song that appears in a video) and sell it on a DVD or CD, or broadcast it on a television show, or sell it to an ad agency, without paying you a nickel. The license is transferable, meaning they could pass it along to another entity (e.g. a television production company), and it would be retained by any entity that bought up YouTube.

The story was picked up by BoingBoing, which has a lot more readers than the Wired music blog, so there are going to be a lot more people across the internets reacting negatively to what appears to me a misreading and mischaracterization of the terms of service text.

Van Buskirk chooses to overlook two sections of this paragraph in the terms of service that seem awfully pertinent. The first is in boldface:

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions.

and the second, more important part:

The foregoing license granted by you terminates once you remove or delete a User Submission from the YouTube Website.

Van Buskirk makes this point in the comments to his post that the term “ownership” begins to lose its meaning once you have granted a royalty-free license as broad as the one YouTube claims, and I agree with him on this. But the point about the User’s ability to terminate the license by removing the work from the website here is critical.

So let’s take Van Buskirk’s scenario in which YouTube sells your song to an ad agency looking for “edgy” work in its new commercial. (This of course would have to be an ad agency that doesn’t belong to one of the multinational marketing conglomerates, who are completely in bed with the music publishing industry. The agency would also want to overlook the shitty transcoding quality of the audio, but let’s pretend there is such an agency.) YouTube gets money, you don’t. The commercial airs, you cry foul. You remove the video from YouTube. The license has now been terminated. If the ad agency’s media company allows the ad to run again on any station, in any market, you can sue them for all the money you could want, far more than you would have been paid had the ad agency only come to you directly. Which money of course the ad agency would turn around and sue YouTube for. And then of course YouTube will only then ask you to produce all the written releases you have from everyone in your video (as required in the same section of the Terms of Service), and so then all your friends you used as extras can sue you for the money you won in your lawsuit.

Oh, I’m sure YouTube can’t WAIT to start monetizing your content.

Look, I understand the fear, I just don’t buy it.

The license is there so they have permission to transcode your work (creating a derivative), play it online (display/perform), or elsewhere if they can figure out how to convert to mobile phones or tvs. The language is overly broad to cover their asses, but that’s what corporate lawyers do.

If there is any real money to be made off your work by YouTube or its partner corporations, they will come to you directly and get you to sign a new, far more specific contract that will also cheat you out of money that you so rightly deserve.

Tags: YouTube

10 items of IKEA furniture I have assembled

(Ranked in ascending order of difficulty.)

10. LÄTT Children’s Table & Chairs
9. MAMMUT Children’s Table & Stool
8. FLÄRKE Computer Unit
7. EXPEDIT Bookcase
6. MARKÖR Bookcase
5. HEMNES Bedside Table
4. MARKÖR Coffee Table
3. ALVE Secretary Desk
2. MARKÖR TV Cabinet
1. BJURSTA Sideboard (currently in progress)

Bite Meme: Book Thing

1. How many books have you owned?

At least a hunnert.

Ok, a couple thousand.

I’ve got ten boxes full to give away that Green Apple Books wasn’t interested in. Want some?

2. What was the last book you bought?

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, within which I am finding happiness on nearly every page.

3. What was the last book you read?
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Which: you can burn through faster than a copy of the New Yorker, so don’t expect a lot.

4. Name five books that mean a lot to you.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, English translation by Katherine Woods. A gift from my first grade teacher Miss McDonough, who recognized that I had already mastered my 12×12 multiplication tables, and thereby allowed me to pursue an individual math curriculum that introduced me to division. I remember the moment when we parted and she handed me this book. There were too many words in it, and the few illustrations looked alien and French, but she was crying, standing there in the open air concrete hallway between the first and second grade classrooms, and then suddenly I was crying, because not only was I moving up a grade but she was moving away to someplace called Irvine, which my parents told me was on the way to San Diego, and maybe we could visit on our next trip down to Southern California.

That summer we did visit Miss McDonough in Irvine, only now she wasn’t my teacher, she was just some woman, with a house, who was asking to be called “Jill.” All the other grownups I knew were Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. or Uncle or Aunt. It was confusing, and hot, and we had a long drive ahead of us. As I grew older I had only the fading square snapshot we took there, standing on her driveway. Looking at it now I can’t imagine how a girl her age was placed in charge of a classroom full of children.

I didn’t read the whole of The Little Prince until high school, when it captured my emotional imagination, and it remained an important touchstone for me through college and a bit beyond, enough that I gave copies to dear friends on special occasions.

Woods’ simple, direct translation complements the starkness of the desert and the vacuum of space employed by Exupery to contain his story within a bubble (or is it a glass case?) separate from the messiness and intertwining of human relationships.

One friend I knew in college hated the book bitterly, and its use of the word “tame” to describe the process of interrelating.

I do not know whether Howard or Exupery chose the word, but for someone raised within Catholicism and with a worn copy of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, the idea of surrender was for me always going to be a part of loving.

But what meant more to me, I think, was its arbitrariness and lurking dread. The fox gives no reason for leaving, other than that it will help the prince learn a valuable lesson about memory and loss. And the prince, it seems, surrenders to the bite of the snake for no better reason. We have no knowledge that the prince has returned to the rose, nor if he did that the rose is still there waiting. For all we know the prince is merely dead, and the rose is happier for it. The pilot may inject romance into his stargazing, and wish for magic and joy, but even he knows it may all be a fantasy. The consolation of his memories is fleeting and cold.

Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson. Volume One in the (First) Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Thought I’d have included C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, et al. in this spot, because I read it dozens of times and grew up to make a movie inspired by it. But the Chronicles of Narnia at its core is a Christian fairy tale for children, one which believes in the inherent goodness of children at that. Edmund’s crime in the first volume is little more than self-indulgence and sulking. Susan’s in the last is choosing adulthood.

From fourth to sixth grade it was Tolkien I was reading over and over and over again (although I never did successfully complete The Silmarillion). Its grand sweep was intoxicating, fleshed out by the menacing evil of Sauron and the dark riders, and by the depth of hopelessness of Frodo’s mission to the lands of Mordor.

I stumbled into Chronicles of Thomas Covenant at the age of twelve, not without some effort, considering the floridity of Donaldson’s prose (this was the first book I recall reading with a dictionary within easy reach) and the hostile ambivalence and self-loathing of his leprotic protagonist.

Here was a prophesied “chosen one” who willfully rejected not only his role as hero but the existence of The Land itself–not from sheer intellectual disbelief, but out of the emotional necessity to deny the responsibility for choices he has made (badly, in many cases) and for the sacrifices an increasing number of his companions make on his behalf.

With each successive chapter in Lord Foul’s Bane it became clear by contrast that Tolkien’s evil had never really developed much beyond a state of intellectual abstraction. While the legend of the One Ring told tales of its corrupting power (manifested in the wasted form of Gollum), it was never clear–beyond the power of invisibility–just why anyone would want the ring in the first place. What was this temptation that was too great for humans or elves or dwarves?

Donaldson answered that question in Thomas Covenant, who time after time is compelled to wield the power of his own ring–to ensure the immediate survival of himself and his companions–at the cost of sacrificing a larger goal. Like Sauron, Lord Foul remains a distant presence, but in practice the true enemy is Covenant’s own self-hatred and despair, as he repeatedly is forced to make a choice between two unacceptable outcomes.

Challenging. Maddening. Adult. It made the rest of my fantasy epic reading just so much fireside storytelling.

Strangers From a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans by Ronald Takaki. The first time I really got the point of revisiting the history of America through the lens of multiculturalism–and yet so many years later the mass culture discourse is still frozen in a dialogue about Black and White. Takaki’s “habit” of excerpting “short phrases” from “primary texts” makes the book read a bit like a Zagat’s survey, but it does keep the prose lively. (The unfortunate result is that it all too often implies that one individual’s experience is representative of others’, when there is no way to corroborate such a notion.)

Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann. Sure, it’s a commercial for the Adobe Type Foundry, but at the time the book was written Adobe was the only game in town. I’d worked in publishing and marketing for a few years and been witness to a number of discussions of typographic issues. I’d typeset one book using Pagemaker and MacDraw, and had taught myself QuarkXPress, but this book helped illuminate the reasons why Quark was the only typographic tool worth using (and why so many of its typographic features were a waste of programmers’ time). While I may not have evolved into a top-notch designer (never really got a grounding in color theory), the font fetish I developed has bloomed into what I consider one of my more developed talents. I still can’t define typography, but as they say, I know it when I see it.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. People. Who are going to become parents. Should read this book.

Self-diagnosis via the WWW

Not much of a fan of self-diagnosis of illnesses using the internet. I am not prone to fantasizing about worst-case scenarios nor, frankly, do I have the patience. (Even when I’m feeling healthy.)

JD can sometimes search the web compulsively (though not maniacally) for health articles, especially now that we have The Boy and his daily infusion of germs (cf. daycare). The seemingly endless string of colds and ear infections he endured this winter (it seems as though his nose was running from November straight through February) can be followed by poring back through our Safari history over the same period.

However a tip from a coworker did steer JD to the following possible explanation of the mysterious ailment she and I have been hit with this past week:

Epidemic benign dry pleurisy

Which form of pleurisy is much milder than those described at the first several sites JD visited (forms associated, e.g., with lupus). This explanation includes the sharp, stabbing pains in the rib cage (although it does not explain the additional wheezing that is currently keeping me awake) and offers soiled diapers (which we handle frequently) as a common transmission zone.

Less confidence-building is the choice by the website‘s owners (Aetna and Harvard Medical School) to spell “InteliHealth” with a single “l”.

I suppose that now if I go into my doctor and ask whether I’ve got epidemic benign dry pleurisy she will have me removed from her patient rolls.

But then again if that’s what I’ve got there’s not a damn thing she can do to help me. Not even if it devolves into viral meningitis.

At least, that’s what the internet appears to tell me.

Timesucks, additional

going on four days of home ownership
the flu
sleeping during the day (see “the flu,” above)
extreme makeover: home edition double episodes
deciding what to eat
acquiring and making what to eat
deciding (etc.) what to feed The Boy
and sometimes The Boy takes, just, way too long to eat


the commute
printing to the plotter
survivor/the amazing race
digital asset management
soon enough: home repair/maintenance