Bits & Pieces 2013-03-07

Links and things that I’ve run across recently.

Another Skinny Dip in the Jury Pool

I’m sorry. I still haven’t written up this story. There is a story behind it. A couple weeks ago, I served on a jury, for a short criminal trial, a case that should never have even been brought to trial.

You may be familiar with the classic scene in the prototypical courtroom TV drama. The jury is returning, after only having deliberated for an hour. The sympathetic defendant asks his attorney, “What does that mean? Is that good or bad?” The lawyer responds, “It’s good if the verdict is ‘not guilty.'”

The truth, as I discovered, is far simpler. When the jury returns after deliberating for only an hour, what that means is that the court bought them lunch, and it took them that long to finish eating.

Contrary to Popular Belief: Challenging Copyright Myths

And now for something vaguely political…

I was surprised to learn that there is a local Pirate Party here where I live. And there is probably one near you, too.

Politically, I’m not sure I get the Pirate Party, at least not here in the US. Issue-oriented political parties generally don’t do too well here in the US, unfortunately. This means that third parties are marginalized, sometimes by their very existence. However, it does represent an encouraging vibrancy in the debate over intellectual property and its abuses.

And in that vein, Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, challenges 5 widely held misconceptions about copyright. Having studied copyright many years ago—and the basic concepts have not changed since then—I have always realized these as uncontroversial truths. Unfortunately, in the intervening years, entrenched industry special interests like the RIAA and MPAA have publicized ideas, unchallenged, like “copying is theft.” (It isn’t; depending on the circumstances, it may be infringement, a legally distinct concept.)

So this debate comes a couple decades late. But better late than not at all.

Is Your ISP Turning to the Dark Side?

This is followed up by a critique by the EFF of the so-called Copyright Alert System, which enlists ISP’s as industry enforcers, to monitor networks for copyright infringement and target subscribers who are alleged to infringe. Unfortunately, it does so not from a balanced perspective, but from an industry-extremist mindset. (I say this as an author who himself has a distinct interest in legitimate copyright.) As a result, the CAS is likely to foster widespread abuse…

Trademark Bullies in Space

…as occurred in the case of indie-author M.C.A. Hogarth’s offbeat novel Spots the Space Marine, which Amazon removed at the behest of a game company who claimed trademark rights in the term “space marine.”

When I read that, my first thought was, How asinine! See, most trademarks only apply within an industry or market. A highly-distinctive name, like “Xerox” or “Exxon,” might be protected as a trademark across all industries. But even if someone down the street opens up a shop called “Top Shelf Wine and Spirits,” I can still name my business “Top Shelf Books” (neither one of which is a very good name for a business). Because my readers are unlikely to be confused and think I’m selling alcohol, and his customers are unlikely to think he wrote my books.

Considering that “space marine” has been in the common science-fiction lexicon for almost a century, it represents the height of hubris for this game snob to think he somehow “owns” it.

So where we cannot win in court, we appeal to the bureaucrats at Amazon, who will gladly do our dirty work for us.

Fortunately, Ms. Hogarth found powerful allies, in the EFF, Cory Doctorow, Wil Wheaton, and others, and Amazon backpedaled.

May all indie authors be so fortunate.

Personal Status

Progress on Character Fiction 101 is slow and steady. Scrivener tells me I’m up to about 7,000 densely-packed words. Not that this means anything. I still need to flesh out the sections on drama and conflict, plot points, how choosing a title relates to seeing your vision for your story, and how to actually put your story into words. And I’ve only roughed out two of the diagrams: the “Human Needs Chart” (including the 10 basic human needs and and 37 component needs) and “Where Ideas Come From” (four sources in two dimensions). I know of at least two more (the “Four Conflict Types,” also in two dimensions, and “The Plot Cycle,” which illustrates conflict resolution, climax, arc, layering), off the top of my head, that I need to draw up. I may find an artist who can turn these concept drawings into poster-quality artwork, which would be très kewl. I hope you can understand why this is taking so long.

For about 3 weeks, my weight hovered at 180 lbs. Stuck. And I still need some hypertension medication to bring my blood pressure down into a comfortable range. And my waist-to-hip measurement says I still need to lose a few more inches around the middle. So this week, I’ve completely cut out sugar and white flour, I’m minimizing the grams of carbohydrates in my food and maximizing the dietary fiber, and I’m eating only two large meals per day (and avoiding food for the rest of the day). I’m down to about 177 lbs now, and hopefully going down again.

I love cookies.

Today’s Quote

How To Be An Artist (In Twelve Words):

Show up. Be curious. Seek beauty. Explore the edges. Acknowledge progression. Share.

(Dan James, on A Big Creative Yes)