Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Topics of the day

First, in the world of intellectual property abuse, we have coffee farmers attempting to trademark coffee beans, tax accountants attempting to patent tax avoidance strategies, and Yahoo attempting to patent "interestingness". Not quite all the same thing; Starbucks is trying to eliminate competition while the other two are attempts to milk money out of the competition, but it's all still corporate greed at work. A not-quite-the-same-thing issue, but related again to intellectual property rights, is the use of bad-faith DMCA claims by organizations against their critics in an effort to ferret out the identities of the critics, or alternatively to shut them up entirely. The DMCA requires service providers to disclose such information on the receipt of a properly-formed request even if the request is patently meritless, and several organizations have lately gone to the trouble of using the DMCA's identity-disclosure provisions for reasons not legitimately related to the legitimate prosecution of a copyright interest.

On the Wikipedia front, the "webcomics are evil" people are going after Ubersoft now. Here's Christopher Wright's take on it. And while we're talking about webcomics on Wikipedia.... More generally, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article on Wikipedia's general respectability with academics (or lack thereof), and why it's not as good as some people might like it to be. Meanwhile, a local student was arrested apparently for making threats against his high school on Wikipedia. The threats themselves appear to have been deleted by admins, which led the Tribune to mistakenly report that they were "never posted". Sloppy reporting, there, Mssrs. Ford and Meisner.

Meanwhile, Jimbo Wales and Jason Calacanis have been trading barbs over advertising on Wikipedia. I truly think that Calacanis simply does not get it; like so many web marketers, he only sees readers as sellable inventory. Calacanis simply doesn't understand that Wikipedia is about content, not about traffic; once you get past this, understanding why he doesn't see why his proposal won't work is easy. (Parse that!)

Elsewhere, Credit Slips muses on whether student loans create a form of debt slavery for students who obtain degrees in lesser-valued fields. As someone who will be paying off student loan debt for the next 25 years, I definitely see where they're coming from. And in the "stupid legal tricks" category, a man in Ohio has been paying child support to his deceased wife since April, and will have to continue doing so possibly until at least January, even though he has custody of the children and the money is going to "nobody in particular". (In theory, he will get the money back when the order is finally dissolved. Let's hope.)

We have been watching a lot of Robot Chicken lately. Although not as much as we might like, because Robot Chicken is definitely not "family-friendly" so we can only watch it when the sprog is asleep, which is not often.

NASA declared its intent to repair the HST, a pleasant reversal of course over the previous NASA administration, which had elected to let the telescope die. The HST is a singular instrument; its value to cosmological research is difficult to overstate, and to let it die without prospect of replacement would be terribly irresponsible.

And, finally, for those of you in Cook County, don't forget to vote. Early voting ends Thursday, so if you want to vote early, do it quickly. Otherwise, you have to vote at your normal polling place next Tuesday.

Update: corrected misstatement regarding the coffee beans.