The start of her library…

(The start of her library…, originally uploaded by judith)

There are a lot of babies being born in my extended circle of friends and as a result, a lot of baby showers to attend. After spending time at a few that offered various levels of gifting for parents-to-be, Kay and I realized that the small gifts that came with stories were much more interesting than bigger ticket items devoid of anything special.

When Heather, Judith, and Leslie offered to throw us a baby shower in San Francisco this past weekend, we skipped the obvious idea of having everyone buy stuff off a wishlist and instead we asked for something small and simple: bring your absolute favorite book you owned as a child.

They are a creative bunch of friends and we knew they had a diverse set of influences growing up, so our hope was to share some small aspect of that with our daughter. The idea was a success as we now have a library of over 30 books (only a quarter of which I’ve ever read/seen/heard of), with only a couple duplicates, and the books cover the gamut from mostly pictures to dense text and should grow right along with our baby.

We didn’t force everyone to tell us why they picked the titles they did, but we learned quite a bit about our friends through their choices. Everyone shared what they most remembered about their book and more than one book triggered memories in others. Overall, the combination of books, friends, and stories made for a small afternoon party I won’t soon forget.

Two things that suck about Intellectual Property Law this week

Earlier this week I heard Seth Green on Fresh Air, talking about his new stop-motion sketch comedy show, Robotic Chicken. It debuted last week but I caught a rerun and enjoyed it. The show basically follows the model that Saturday Night Live, In Living Color, and MAD TV have followed for years — a bunch of sketches making fun of pop culture, but the twist is that they use action figures, animation, and claymation instead of actors.
Before the opening credits even rolled, the law got in the way. The show opened with a message saying what you were about to see was parody, which seems like an unnecessary opener to a comedy show. Then I remembered from the interview Seth Green said that before they could show a 30 second goof on the "This is your brain on drugs" commercial, they had to get an ok from The Partnership for a Drug Free America. Apparently, since they used the woman that voiced the originals, the phrasing and her voice were "the intellectual property of the organization" and the bit didn't get into the show until they signed off on it. What's shocking is that I've seen 3 or 4 parodies of this commercial on shows before and I doubt anyone ever had to ok it first. The Simpsons did a joke version of a Schoolhouse Rock song, parodying "I'm just a bill" with the original voice talent, and now I wonder if had to get ok first.
The other sucky thing this week was when Sony got Beatallica's site shut down. Sony owns the rights to some Beatles songs and the guys in the rock parody group Beatallica sing send ups of Beatles classics, as if they were done by the guys in Metallica. They feature bits of lyrics from both bands along with lyrics they make up, and they play off The Beatles' melodies. It's a cultural mashup of 60's rock and 80's metal and it's a rocking good time. They don't charge for their songs and freely give them away online, so when they had hosting problems last year I volunteered to be a mirror for their first two albums. Now that Sony convinced their host to shut off their account, I'm one of the few places to find it and I hope Sony doesn't strong arm my host as well. Their work is non-commercial parody and I would think they were safer than a band like Dread Zeppelin or Mini Kiss that does shows for money, but Sony doesn't like parody works that build off their property, so they're offline for now.
I love comedy, and if I had a sketch show or a jokey band, I would never in a million years think that I have to ask for permission before I make a work parodying something from pop culture. What if the Partnership for a Drug Free America didn't like Seth Green's fake anti-drug commercial? Since when does the subject of a joke get to decide when and how you get to tell it, and since when do they employ lawyers to decide that?
So much of comedy exists in order to poke fun at our culture and these two examples make me think that lawyers using intellectual property law may have disastrous effects not just on culture and comedy, but on everyone's freedom to say what they want in the future.
update: The National Prostrate Cancer Coalition issued a press release playing off another bit from the same first show, where Optimus Prime gets prostate cancer. Kudos to them for having a sense of humor about the whole thing.

links for 2005-02-25

ads in RSS

pb explains why he won’t read RSS feeds with ads and though I won’t unsubscribe from feeds with ads, I am annoyed with them for many reasons that pb states, but there’s one other big aspect of it.

Ads in RSS are fundamentally misguided, at least all the examples I’ve seen. They’re either a site-wide sponsor or a completely unrelated product, but the thing that is broken about them is that they don’t offer anything to the reader.

I’m convinced that things like Google’s adsense ads work because they’re tied so well to the content of what someone is saying, and the best place for them to appear is in archived posts. When random folks do a search and find your post about a subject while they are researching the subject, ads that are closely related often help out the research. I’ve found myself searching for a gadget, ending up on a blog, and following an ad for a sale price on said gadget. This is one of the few times where advertising that is so targeted can be actually helpful.

Ads in RSS are mostly in the way. They don’t key off the text very well, and I don’t really use RSS for research purposes. I haven’t seen a RSS ad yet for anything I would want to learn more about. I do click on many interesting random blogads if they’re for something amusing (like a funny t-shirt) or compelling (like a new PBS program or issue-oriented site), so I guess maybe the good advertisers just haven’t caught on to RSS yet.

There is something sinister deep down about stuffing ads into content that is purposely stripped of cruft. But I’m also aware that RSS feed reading is hitting the mainstream and many readers are no longer using browsers. I just don’t think the majority of money in advertising is with your current daily reader base, but in your archives.

It’s still pretty early in the RSS ads development. If folks can figure out ways to do site-specific classified-type advertising or figure out how to marry truly targetted ads, maybe it could work but for now they’re obnoxious and in the way.

links for 2005-02-24

links for 2005-02-23

Spam a lot

About 14 months ago I started using Knowspam for email whitelisting, and I remember more than one person basically said “wow, email must be broken.”

While whitelisting is a bit of a pain on random strangers that email me, it does mean that I get almost no spam in the 50-60 emails I get every day. I noticed tonight that I’m getting closer to a million spams blocked since I started, at 844,904 to be exact. Divided by 14 months, that’s just a hair over 2,000 spams blocked per day.

Who knew? Email really is broken.