Archive for May, 2009

31
May
09

The Economist: Okay, Maybe Paying For Software Isn’t Such A Great Idea After All

Leave it to the house organs of unregulated capitalism – The Economist and Wall Street Journal – to show their bias as plainly as their pinstripes.  Cheerleading for global free-market fundamentalism is demanding work, work that naturally distracts from paying much attention to the post-capitalist sea changes in the economies they purport to cover.    That’s not to say they are incapable of admitting post-capitalism exists, or that it has displaced business-as-usual in many areas.  It only means it can just take them decades to admit the obvious.

Consider the global, post-capitalist phenomenon of  open-source software.  Programmers, solving problems and creating enormous efficiencies on their own, just because they can is a phenomenon that has steadily chewed away at the old-guard market for business software, has ignored every attempt to discredit it by the Microsofts and IBMs of the world, and has brought the world more bang for the buck than can ever be calculated, let alone captured on balance sheets.  Open-source, and its philosophical subversion of capitalism is the biggest operational economics story of the last 20 years.

So thanks, Economist, for admitting as much in 2009:

The fact that Google, the industry’s new giant, sits on a foundation of open-source code buried the idea that it was not powerful or reliable enough for heavy-duty use. One by one the industry’s giants embraced open source. Even Microsoft admits that drawing on the expertise of internet users to scrutinise and improve software has its merits, at least in some cases.

The argument has been won. It is now generally accepted that the future will involve a blend of both proprietary and open-source software. Traditional software companies have opened up some of their products, and many open-source companies have adopted a hybrid model in which they give away a basic version of their product and make money by selling proprietary add-ons (see article). The rise of software based on open, internet-based standards means worries about lock-in have become much less of a problem.

Better (unbelievably) late then never, I guess.

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29
May
09

I Have No Residuals, And I Must Scream

city talking ornaIn 1967, the year Bob Dylan might say I was busy being born, the irascible, well-liked-round-these-parts television and novel writer Harlan Ellison handed in the script for the monumental Star Trek episode City On The Edge Of Forever.  That bit of time-travel procedural work went on to become one of the most celebrated stories in all of episodic TV, winning Ellison copious awards and royalties while generating millions in revenues for Paramount, the series producer.

Yet a lawsuit filed by Ellison in March of this year claims that not all of what’s coming to him got there.  The plucky scribe, never shy with a court filing, sued Paramount after he went shopping for paperbacks and tchotchkies and found some interesting items on the shelves.

Ellison discovered for sale a paperback book trilogy based on his City script, published by Simon & Schuster (Paramount’s sister corporation).  He also found a City talking Christmas ornament (pictured).  He discovered these, as it reads in the lawsuit “as a mere consumer” meaning nobody told him his characters, situations, words and premises were out there earning new dollars – and that his rightful share of those dollars was being withheld.

I would have liked to have been in the aisle with him, perhaps at Barnes and Noble, able to hear what it sounds like to have a stream of innovative profanity drown out a talking Christmas ornament.

Paramount is a licensing juggernaut, raking in billions worldwide on such Star Trek products, which is why it takes the clout of a labor union to ensure the creators of these properties are paid when the Paramount is paid for the right to make these things.

But something is amiss.  That labor union, the Writers Guild of America is also being sued by Ellison (if only to the tune of one dollar in damages).  Ellison’s suit claims the WGA failed to stand up for his right to be compensated for these and any other products that derive from his 1967 script.  More than this, he claims the Guild actively avoided his grievance and acted not in the interest of the writer, but on behalf of the studio, ultimately quashing his attempts to get an accounting and payment.

Ellison has his suspicions as to why.  Referring in the lawsuit (text available here) to the 2007 WGA writers’ strike and the writer’s criticism of that strike’s settlement, Ellison says he “publicly noted the sea-change occurring in the nature of the entertainment industry, and suggested that the WGA Members would not be  well-served by the outcome of the negotiations that led to the current collective bargaining agreement…those  charged with responding to his demand for arbitration on the City matter, were or became hostile to Ellison and this unwarranted hostility and/or discrimination was one of the unlawful reasons the WGA failed to pursue relief…”

Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy that a writer who criticizes his union during a strike negotiation will come to be badly served by its alleged inaction later?  Or is this development one more drop in a sea of evidence that institutional bias is on the rise in nearly every area of endeavor and corporate interests are are displacing everyone else’s?

13
May
09

Welshman Amused, Recordist Recorded

Terry Jones

Cardinal Biggles

On Sunday Maureen and I went with some friends to Improv Olympic Theater to see Monty Python’s Terry Jones give a talk on comedy writing.  But the comedy began even before the main event.

On taking my seat, I noticed that the guy seated in front of me was none other than Aadam Jacobs. Aadam, a well-known fixture at Chicago rock shows throughout the 1980s-90s whose persistence with microphones and tape decks has produced an enormous private archive of rare live music, was having a chat with another fellow in the row.  Naturally, my instinct was to do for Aadam what he had done so often for the bands — record the proceedings.  So out came my Palm Treo 700P. I fired up the CallRec software, hit the Record button and and hovered the smartphone just out of Aadam’s peripheral vision, capturing the chatter.  Eventually he noticed and we had a chuckle.  Of course, he requested a copy of the recording.  We’ll see what we can work out in trade, Aadam.

Then came Monty Python’s Terry Jones onstage to begin a great session concerning the craft of comedy writing, a subject near to my heart by a speaker whose work I have effectively memorized over the years.

What did I learn?  About the Python history and working method, not a lot — they went into an office every day, wrote a lot in pairs (Jones/Palin and Cleese/Chapman), rejected a lot of their own stuff, made it up as they went along, faced stupidity from BBC executives, argued with their director, were clueless on how to write for women, and were supremely blessed with talent and favorable circumstance throughout their career together.

Throughout the talk, video clips of Terry and Michael Palin’s work were shown.  Great classic pieces — Lumberjack, The Spanish Inquisition, Mr. Creosote, The Funniest Joke In The World.   I love all of these, and because of that, I carry them around, complete and correct, in my head.  So they weren’t what I watched.  Instead, I took the rare opportunity instead to watch Terry Jones as he watched these clips.

I had a morbid curiosity: would he display the slightest fatigue at watching, for the hundred thousandth time, his best work?  From my seat, I stalked him to find out.

The answer was a beautiful no.  I saw in his face not a trace of impatience, only delight, a perpetual openness to the humor and honest reaction to it.  He was truly a natural reflection of his work, and it was awesome to see.

Sometimes I wonder about the objective value of things created.  Sometimes I wonder who else wonders about the same thing.  Sometimes I wonder too much about things that don’t matter, and sometimes I guess incorrectly about what people might do.  Such is the plight of the perpetual skeptic who forgets it’s better to enjoy what you have done unreservedly when a world is inclined – by sheer numbers if nothing else – to reservation.

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