Wed, 11 Apr 2012

The value of primary sources

I recently finished reading "All Art is Propaganda" by George Orwell, a collection of some of his critical essays. It was a fascinating read, and would recommended it. Each of the essays is thought-provoking and enlightening, and the topics covered are numerous and varied.

The most interesting feature of the book though wasn't the subject matter of the essays, but the organisation of them. The editor decided to put them in chronological order, meaning that you see some development of ideas over the essays, and different topics rise and fall in prominence.

While that's certainly not novel, the effect of structuring the book in this way was very noticeable in this case for me. I saw a lot of parallels to the impressions I've had from following @RealTimeWWII on twitter. This account is "live tweeting" the Second World War as if it were happening today (currently in 1940).

This artifice brings a whole fresh appreciation of this period that I have learnt so much about. Consuming the events at the pace they occured gives time to reflect on each one, and forgetting that I know the events that followed allows one to get a greater understanding of what it would have been like to live at that time. The time-compressing effect of looking back tends to obscure the uncertainty and fear of that time, the slowness with which some events were unfolding accentuating it. Consuming this via twitter, with its headline-like format mixing in with the news of today, heightens this effect.

While it's something of a loss that we aren't able to know what Orwell would say about the events of today, or what he would have changed in these essays with the addition of hindsight, there's an undeniable value in reading this primary source. While hindsight adds, it also takes away, blurring memories and changing perspectives. Reading the essays allows you to pick up on the thinking of those living through the events that we think we know so well.

For instance Orwell seemed to believe that Soviet Russia was a greater threat than Nazism. The essays in the book run from 1940 to 1949, and there are many more words devoted to the Soviets than the Nazis throughout. His writing suggests that he thought the techniques the Soviets used to achieve and maintain power were less well known and understood, and would be more effective over a long period.

After better understanding these benefits I plan to redouble my efforts to choose books from a varied set of sources, including from different times, and avoid falling in to a trap of thinking that more recent must be better as knowledge is always on the increase.

Posted at: 21:21 | category: /life | Comments (0)


Sun, 07 Jun 2009

Free Music

I came across Anthony Raijekov the other day, and was treated to some of his Trip-Hop, which is outstanding. That was an added bonus though, as I sought him out to download his Piano track: "Photo Theme: Window Like". You can find him on Jamendo and on ccmixter. I would highly recommending going to listen, and donating via Jamendo if you like what you hear.

This also led me to go back and listen to some new stuff from Amether, who I found a few years ago thanks to Rob Da Bank. Definitely worth checking out, especially their remix of "Artisan - Hold my breath".

On the freely available, if not freely licensed side I noticed a new station from the excellent SomaFM today: Lush. It is said to be "Sensuous and mellow vocals, mostly female, with an electronic influence," and so far I am enjoying it though it is rather similar to Groove Salad. I find that I can't keep SomaFM on all day every day while working though, as I find that it repeats tracks just a little too often.

I've also been listening a lot to Ombilikal which covers the harder edge very well, with some breaks, drum and bass, and dubstep amongst other things.

While in Barcelona I had the pleasure of meeting Karl Fogel (and hearing him play, which was a treat), and talking a bit about free content. He explained to me some of the things that they are trying to do with QuestionCopyright.org, and some of their methods. It's great to see more projects working on the issue in a very constructive manner, and I hope that they succeed. So that we can have many more artists like Anthony Raijekov that I can discover and reward for their work more directly.

Posted at: 22:49 | category: /life | Comments (1)


Tue, 26 Aug 2008

I love a bad book

Last night I finished reading "Exit A" by Anthony Swofford. I had decided a while ago that I didn't like it, but it wasn't so bad that I had to put it down, so I stuck with it to the end. It wasn't a bad book, it was just poor in places, and disappointing overall.

I did prefer the act of reading the book to the book itself though. I have just read 10 or 20 draw-droppingly good books in a row. The previous book was "Disgrace" by J. M. Coetzee, which is stunning. Read it. I was beginning to think that I just possibly enjoyed most books a lot. Reading a book I didn't enjoy showed me that I just read a lot of good books.

I saw this one as a new release in a bookshop, and it had a piece of card with it, written by one of the members of staff in the shop. The card said something like "Swofford could have been forgiven for writing a poor second book, but he doesn't need to be, he can really write." I agree for the most part, he certainly could have been forgiven, and this book isn't bad enough that he really needs to be. It however not a great book, unlike "Jarhead", which I haven't changed my opinion on.

It wasn't just the act of reading a mediocre book that buoyed my spirits though. I wanted to like the book, so it wasn't just that it's not a famous classic like "Disgrace", so I'm not that much of a book snob. Also, it was really the card that caused me to buy it, even though I was drawn by the author's name, so it shows that my instincts are good, which gives me confidence when choosing books in the future.

The final aspect is the one that makes me happiest though. I know why it's not a great book. I can point to places in the book and tell you why they are bad. At school I was terrible in English classes, I didn't understand the first thing. Reading this book gave me confidence that I am learning while reading. Not only learning about life and the world, which I was already concious of, but also learning about language and writing. Even though I'd never be able to write like I would like to, I can at least comfort myself with the knowledge that I am at least able to partly understand the mechanics of good writing.

Posted at: 01:46 | category: /life | Comments (0)


Fri, 25 Apr 2008

A long anticipated release

Now that one important release is out the way it's time to look forward to another one. This has been long anticipated, and will probably decide whether they go on to great new heights, or are just remembered for their previous contributions, but aren't considered relevant any more.

No, I'm not talking about the Fedora release, that is definitely relevant, and is sure to be great. I'm talking about the release of "Third", the new album from Portishead. Fingers crossed it's going to live up to the legacy.

Oh, and if you don't know, get to know.

Posted at: 15:17 | category: /life | Comments (0)


Wed, 07 Mar 2007

Facebook and copyright

A lot of my friends are on the Facebook site, and they upload pictures there, so I joined to see those. One of the things the sute has is a profile picture, and I wanted to upload one for me. I chose one and entered the filename in the box. The other part of the form was a checkbox to accept the terms of use for the site. Presumably every user accepts these as they sign up, but having it there as a reminder about the parts on content is admirable perhaps. Anyway I clicked on the link to read those parts out of interest.

After reading them I clicked the upload button, but had neglected to check the box, and up popped a message:

You must certify that that image is not
copyrighted before you upload.

Please click the checkbox to certify.

After learning about copyright and license issues throught libre software this sort of thing jars with me now, so I sent a message off to the admins (after searching for ages for some sort of contact form).

My problem with the above message is that it is incorrect and misleading. It is incorrect as that is not what the box is for, the box is to agree to the terms of use. The terms of use include some statements on copyright, but not that the material uploaded must be free of copyright. Perhaps a short detour in to the law of copyright (as I understand it) is warranted.

Copyright is associated with a creative work, and usually is automatically assigned to the author upon its creation. This requires no special action on the part of the author, though if they are sensible they will add a copyright statement to the work to let people know when it was copyrighted and by whom. Having the copyright on a work allows you special priviledges with respect to that work.

Now just because I have the copyright on a work doesn't mean that you can't use it, but for you to do that I must have granted you a license. A license is nothing more than a statement of what you are allowed to do with the work. They can be very simple, or very complex.

Very often in the media they refer to people distributing copyrighted work when they are discussing music or film piracy. While this is true, it is not exactly the problem, the problem is that the copyright holders (the music and film companies) have distributed the work under a license that does not allow redistribution. This means that even though they have sold you the film, you can't pass it on to other people.

On the cases of CDs and films you can find the copyright statement with the familiar (C) symbol. Next time you see it read past that and look at the next bit. Usually it will say something along the lines of:

Unauthorised copying, hiring, lending,
public performance and broadcasting
of the record are prohibited.

Which is a license stating that you can't do much with the CD you have bought.

However it is not the most restrictive license you can have. If a work has no license attached it then it should be assumed that you shouldn't even be looking at it. This can obviously be slightly problematic.

So this means that the facebook notice above is incorrect, as what they want is not non-copyrighted material, as the copyright of most (all?) of the photos on there will be held by someone (it doesn't expire for quite some time). What they want to know is that the person uploading has permission to distribute the file on their site.

You may think that I am just being picky over terminology, but I believe that this misuse of language is actually keeping people in the dark. Whenever the media, or a website, or someone I meet talks about whether a work has copyright or not as being the deciding factor in whether it can be distributed it continues the misunderstanding. If everyone were to understand that when they create a work they have the copyright of it, and must grant a license so that it can be used by others then they may be more inclined to do so. In fact I believe that many people would grant very free licenses, massively increasing the amount of free content available.

Take Flickr for instance they provide the user with an easy way of providing their pictures under one of several good licenses. Most of the pictures I have seen on that site are provided under the more free choices.

The other problem with facebook's approach is that their terms of use ensure that they have a license to host the picures, but they don't ensure anything about what the users can do with them. This means there is a mass of content, but it is all unusable by others due to the unclear situation. This is a very common problem, and could be mitigated by more people understanding the issues.

Posted at: 22:25 | category: /life | Comments (0)