Saturday, April 24, 2004

Science and fiction 

I like to have the icing on both sides of my cake (and even though Bronowski errantly insists on fucking with physics, he's an elegant thinker):

The selective value of syntax may rest, in part, in its role in reducing the inherent ambiguity of linguistic communication.
Philip Lieberman, The biology and evolution of language, 1984

I can't help being a squalid personality, he said to himself as he prepared for his visit. That's my excuse. I can't help it. I only wish the furniture did not take command of me, and that with all my money (from its secret source) I sometimes thought of buying a teapot in which the tea leaves did not keep escaping through the spout into my cup! And I wish that I could believe that the marmalade I buy, again cheaply, does not contain dyed plastic made to resemble the rind of lemon and orange and placed sparsely here and there in the mixture in order to complete the deception on the label, Wundgold Marmalade. But perhaps that is a good beginning to a day in which I shall celebrate a squalid event such as Death.
Janet Frame, Scented Gardens for the Blind, 1964

[Y]ou cannot make a single general statement about anything in the world which really is wholely delimited, wholely unambiguous, and divides the world into two pieces.
You cannot say anything about gravitation which excludes it from the space-time in which it is now embedded; you cannot say anything about a table or chair which does not leave you open to the challenge, "Well, I am using this chair as a table." Kids do it all the time, "I am using this chair as a table, it is now a table or chair." ... [T]he world does not consist simply of an endless array of objects and the word "table" was not invented in order to bisect the universe into tables and non-tables. And if that is true of "table," it is true of "honor" and it is true about "gravitation," and it is true, of course, of "mass" and "energy" and everything else.

Jacob Bronowski, The origins of knowledge and imagination, 1978


Friday, April 23, 2004

Qui est le vrai zouave? 

You decide.

I miss my beard.


It's Friday morning, and I'm in my office with the lights off. I much prefer the suffused storm-bound light flooding in through the window and the dim luminosity of the computer screen to the sickly cast of the fluorescent lights. When I turned the computer on an hour or so ago, Royksopp's "Melody A.M." started playing, and I decided then and there that today any attempt to work hard would be a total sham. I've since swung the window open to hear the rain and the fountain across the plaza, turned the Royksopp up a bit, and pulled out my secret stash of watercolors. Donna even poured me a coffee, as if to say, "we're all chillin' today, and the boss isn't yet here, so why don't you have a calm morning too." Just as I sometimes hate this job (usually when longing to get back into academics), I sometimes love this job (usually when despising the academics with whom I must work).


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Giving it a whirl 

I've been listening to the debate over embedded advertising and the invasion of personal privacy by the free market for some time now. I've read as much as I care to on the subject, and I've decided that there's no better way to evaluate a service than to actually use it. Hence, I'm giving the beta version of Google's Gmail a try, for better or for worse.

In putting an ear to the public cry/laud that has foamed up around Gmail, I see a terifying fear of the loss of an essential privacy, the loss of a very tactile room of one's own. I'm captivated by this fear myself, but I'm not sure why--the Gmail option has forced me to come to some sort of decisive point about all of this material, and the best I can do is clasp my nose, close my eyes, and jump screaming into it.

I suppose that my uncertainty over this type of software-embedded investigatory scanning is founded in a deep-seated belief (that has, as far as I know, no legal buttressing) that individuals have an absolute right to private communication about any topic whatsoever, even if that conversation deals with questionable material (illegal varieties of sex, copious discussion of illicit drugs, etc.) or is in and of itself against the law (seditious discussion, treasonous speculation, terroristic planning, etc.).

Reading the 'Gmail Agreement' did nothing to quell my fears, as you may read for yourself below (emphases are mine):
In order to use Gmail you must read, understand and agree to Gmail Agreement. This agreement contains important terms and conditions that may affect your legal rights and responsibilities. Please read the current version of this agreement included below.

Gmail Terms of Use

Welcome to Gmail! Before your register for your Gmail account, you must read and agree to these Gmail Terms of Use and the following terms and conditions and policies, including any future amendments (collectively, the "Agreement"):

Google Terms of Service - Our general terms and conditions
Gmail Privacy Policy - How we maintain and protect your personal information in Gmail
Gmail Program Policies - Guidelines for using Gmail
Gmail FAQs - Details about Gmail

Although we may attempt to notify you via your Gmail address when major changes are made, you should visit this page periodically to review the terms. Google may, in its sole discretion, modify or revise these terms and conditions and policies at any time, and you agree to be bound by such modifications or revisions. If you do not accept and abide by this Agreement, you may not use the Gmail service. In the event of an inconsistency between the Gmail Terms of Use and either Google's general Terms of Service (available at http://www.google.com/terms_of_service.html) or the Gmail Privacy Policy (available at http://www.google.com/gmail/help/privacy.html), the Gmail Terms of Use shall control. Nothing in this Agreement shall be deemed to confer any third party rights or benefits.
1. Description of Service. Gmail is a free, search-based email application from Google (the "Service"). You understand and agree that the Service may include content-targeted ads or other related information, as further described below and in the Gmail Privacy Policy. In addition, you understand and agree that the Service is provided on an AS IS and AS AVAILABLE basis. Google disclaims all responsibility and liability for the availability, timeliness, security or reliability of the Service. Google also reserves the right to modify, suspend or discontinue the Service with or without notice at any time and without any liability to you.
2. Personal Use. The Service is made available to you for your personal use only. Due to the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (which is available at http://www.ftc.gov/ogc/coppa1.htm), you must be at least thirteen (13) years of age to use this Service. You must provide current, accurate identification, contact, and other information that may be required as part of the registration process and/or continued use of the Service. You are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of your Service password and account, and are responsible for all activities that occur thereunder. Google reserves the right to refuse service to anyone at any time without notice for any reason.
3. Proper Use. You agree that you are responsible for your own communications and for any consequences thereof. Your use of the Service is subject to your acceptance of and compliance with the Agreement, including the Gmail Program Policies ("Program Policies"), located at http://www.google.com/gmail/help/program_policies.html, or such other URL as Google may provide from time to time. You agree that you will use the Service in compliance with all applicable local, state, national, and international laws, rules and regulations, including any laws regarding the transmission of technical data exported from your country of residence. You shall not, shall not agree to, and shall not authorize or encourage any third party to: (i) use the Service to upload, transmit or otherwise distribute any content that is unlawful, defamatory, harassing, abusive, fraudulent, obscene, contains viruses, or is otherwise objectionable as reasonably determined by Google; (ii) upload, transmit or otherwise distribute content that infringes upon another party's intellectual property rights or other proprietary, contractual or fiduciary rights or obligations; (iii) prevent others from using the Service; (iv) use the Service for any fraudulent or inappropriate purpose; or (v) act in any way that violates the Program Policies, as may be revised from time to time. Violation of any of the foregoing may result in immediate termination of this Agreement, and may subject you to state and federal penalties and other legal consequences. Google reserves the right, but shall have no obligation, to investigate your use of the Service in order to determine whether a violation of the Agreement has occurred or to comply with any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request.
4. Content of the Service. Google takes no responsibility for third party content (including, without limitation, any viruses or other disabling features), nor does Google have any obligation to monitor such third party content. Google reserves the right at all times to remove or refuse to distribute any content on the Service, such as content which violates the terms of this Agreement. Google also reserves the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as it reasonably believes is necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (b) enforce this Agreement, including investigation of potential violations hereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues (including, without limitation, the filtering of spam), (d) respond to user support requests, or (e) protect the rights, property or safety of Google, its users and the public. Google will not be responsible or liable for the exercise or non-exercise of its rights under this Agreement.
5. Intellectual Property Rights. Google's Intellectual Property Rights. You acknowledge that Google owns all right, title and interest in and to the Service, including without limitation all intellectual property rights (the " Google Rights"), and such Google Rights are protected by U.S. and international intellectual property laws. Accordingly, you agree that you will not copy, reproduce, alter, modify, or create derivative works from the Service. You also agree that you will not use any robot, spider, other automated device, or manual process to monitor, or copy any content from the Service. The Google Rights include rights to (i) the Service developed and provided by Google; and (ii) all software associated with the Service. The Google Rights do not include third-party content used as part of Service, including the content of communications appearing on the Service.
Your Intellectual Property Rights. Google does not claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload, transmit or store in your Gmail account. We will not use any of your content for any purpose except to provide you with the Service.
6. Representations and Warranties. You represent and warrant that (a) all of the information provided by you to Google to participate in the Services is correct and current; and (b) you have all necessary right, power and authority to enter into this Agreement and to perform the acts required of you hereunder.
7. Privacy. As a condition to using the Service, you agree to the terms of the Gmail Privacy Policy as it may be updated from time to time. Google understands that privacy is important to you. You do, however, agree that Google may monitor, edit or disclose your personal information, including the content of your emails, if required to do so in order to comply with any valid legal process or governmental request (such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order), or as otherwise provided in these Terms of Use and the Gmail Privacy Policy. Personal information collected by Google may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Google Inc. or its agents maintain facilities. By using Gmail, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country.
8. Advertisements. As consideration for using the Service, you agree and understand that Google will display ads and other information adjacent to and related to the content of your email. Gmail serves relevant ads using a completely automated process that enables Google to effectively target dynamically changing content, such as email. No human will read the content of your email in order to target such advertisements or other information without your consent, and no email content or other personally identifiable information will be provided to advertisers as part of the Service.
9. Account Inactivity. After a period of inactivity, Google reserves the right to disable or terminate a user's account. If an account has been deactivated for inactivity, the email address associated with that account may be given to another user without notice to you or such other party. For more information on how Google deals with account inactivity, please consult the Program Policies.
10. Publicity. Any use of Google's trade names, trademarks, service marks, logos, domain names, and other distinctive brand features ("Brand Features") must be in compliance with this Agreement and in compliance with Google's then current Brand Feature use guidelines, and any content contained or reference therein, which may be found at the following URL: http://www.google.com/permissions/guidelines.html (or such other URL Google may provide from time to time).
11. Termination; Cancellation. You may cancel your use of the Services and/or terminate this Agreement with or without cause at any time by providing notice to Google at http://www.google.com/accounts/ManageAccount; provided, however, that a terminated account may continue to exist for up to two business days before such cancellation takes effect. Google may at any time and for any reason terminate the Services, terminate this Agreement, or suspend or terminate your account. In the event of termination, your account will be disabled and you may not be granted access to your account or any files or other content contained in your account although residual copies of information may remain in our system. Except as set forth above or unless Google has previously canceled or terminated your use of the Services (in which case subsequent notice by Google shall not be required), if you have provided an alternate email address, Google will notify you via email of any such termination or cancellation, which shall be effective immediately upon Google's delivery of such notice. Sections 3, 4, 5, 7, and 11 - 13 of the Agreement, along with applicable provisions of the general Terms of Service (including the section regarding limitation of liability), shall survive expiration or termination.
12. Indemnification. You agree to hold harmless and indemnify Google, and its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, agents, and employees from and against any third party claim arising from or in any way related to your use of the Service, including any liability or expense arising from all claims, losses, damages (actual and consequential), suits, judgments, litigation costs and attorneys' fees, of every kind and nature. In such a case, Google will provide you with written notice of such claim, suit or action.
13. Choice of Law; Jurisdiction. These Terms of Use will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California, without giving effect to its conflict of laws provisions or your actual state or country of residence. Any claims, legal proceeding or litigation arising in connection with the Service will be brought solely in Santa Clara County, California, and you consent to the jurisdiction of such courts.

While I appreciate Google's slight attempt to protect my intellectual property rights, it does seem a wee bit overshadowed by frequent mentions of Google having no obligations to the Gmail user. Of special interest in this agreement is the clause that Google "disclaims all responsibility and liability for the availability, timeliness, security, or reliability of the Service." Say what now? This sounds an awful lot like a post hoc attempt to say, "hey, folks, if this system sucks and you lose something valuable, can't access an important document, get nailed by the feds, or are attacked by a Gmail mediated virus, we're not your friends and don't expect us to help." Additionally, I always love the chuckle that involuntarily results when I read phrases like "obscene... or otherwise objectionable as reasonably determined by Google" in a legally binding document. It isn't so much that this sounds like an obvious ass-covering loophole, it's that it is an obvious ass-covering loophole.

I despise Google for thinking the public doesn't understand the serious amount of money they will soon be making from the advertising side of this service, especially with disinvestements like those highlighted above. Further is the obscenity (as reasonably determined by me) that a gigabyte of 'free' storage is sufficient reimbursement for the service provided by a participating Gmail user. I'm not speaking fiscally, I'm speaking analytically; how about offering us a little more security and reliability on this potentially policy-shaping software?

I doubt I'll ever switch to Gmail with a legal write up like this. It's so tissue-thin that it would certainly break under my weight if it rains foul play, and I can't trust people like that with my correspondences. But I must participate in this testing, if for no other reason than to see how it works, to experience the process of being overtly data-mined for the purpose of filling someone else's pockets. Feel free to test this bitch out: mail me something obscene at jkbrown at gmail dot com.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Happy secret holiday, everone! 

In honor of the surrealism that reigns supreme every 4/20, bathe yourself in this Creased Comics sentiment:


Monday, April 19, 2004

Mellotron dot matrix evolution 

I've long wished to have access to a Mellotron, the hauntingly smooth-sounding tape-based keyboard, one of the first attempts at sampling recorded sound. My closest friends have had direct contact with my fascination with this tool as I've named a certain key piece of paraphernalia in honor of the keyboard.

Today I found this incredible website documenting an artist's reconfiguration of dot-matrix printers to function as effective Mellotrons, complete with frequency modulation and continuous tape feed. It's haunting. I love the idea that this obsolete business technology has been salvaged, modified, and elevated, recalling in art the former post of glory they held, the importance and necessity of those early styles of bringing cheap printing and reproducing technology to the average consumer. And to think that I used to grit my teeth when forced to print something on one of these, aggravated by the high-pitched and biting whine of thousands upon thousands of forceful pin hits on paper.


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Tug of war 

Other than a general physical resemblance at the basest levels, I sometimes startle myself with the realization that my brother and I actually came form the same stock. I think my parents deserve some sort of achievement award for managing to produce two children at diametrically opposed ends of the offspring spectrum. Now that he's my roommate, I imagine every morning beginning with something along the lines of the title screen from the Odd Couple, pairing my frumpy sensitivity and perpetual need of silence with his keeping two televisions tuned to separate sports events and penchant for brassy loudmothed women.

This isn't working. It's funny, but it isn't working.


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