You loaded it, you might as well read it

March 30, 2002

I’ve complained about “blog” (the term, not the concept) before, mostly because to me it sounds stupid. Another technology with a dumb name is “wi-fi”, the wireless Ethernet technology more formally known as 802.11b. Now, I will grant that “802.11b” is not the most mellifluous of monikers, but “wi-fi”? It’s just as opaque, and as best as I can tell it’s derived from “hi-fi”, which was shorthand for “high-fidelity” radios.

The problem with “wireless fidelity” is that it doesn’t make sense in this context (never mind the problem that it can describe a hundred things which aren’t wireless computer networks). Computer networks always involve digital transmission of data, so the concept of fidelity is moot: either the data comes through, or there’s an error. Couldn’t we have come up with something that vaguely describes what it denotes? #

And as long as I’m complaining about things, let me be pedantic for a moment about the use of the word “comprise”. Lots of people use it as a synonym for “compose” or “make up”, as in “John, Paul, George, and Ringo comprise the Beatles.” Those people are wrong: comprise works the other way, as in “The Beatles comprise John, Paul, George, and Ringo.” The appropriate synonym is “consist of”.

As a student of linguistics, I know that word meaning is more of a social agreement than a firm set of rules. If everyone uses a word in a certain way, then who can say they’re wrong? But I also feel that the distinction between similar but subtly-different words is valuable. Otherwise, why have different words at all?

The easiest way to avoid misusing “comprise” is not to use it at all—but that’s no fun. The rule of thumb I use is if I can replace “comprise” with “compose” without changing the meaning of the sentence, then “comprise” is being used wrong. Also, the phrase “is comprised of” is just silly. If you want to say “The tax return is comprised of a thousand irritating forms”, just say “The tax return comprises a thousand irritating forms.” It’s better style and it’s shorter. #

The continuing adventures of intellectual property law

Every time I do a bit on copy-protection, I promise myself to leave the subject alone for a while. (One of these days, I’ll put together a service to find ZedneWeb posts by topic, and we’ll see how many relate to copyright policy.) It seems the introduction of the CBDTPA and the recent recommendations for webcasting fees have re-awakened interest in the subject, so there’s always more interesting things to point to.

Salon has published a few articles on the subject, and a recent one gives a good overview of the CBDTPA and the tech industry’s mixed response. I’m still amused by the bill’s alleged purpose:

Hollings sees the lax demand for these products and services as a dire problem in need of government intervention. “Roughly 85 percent of Americans are offered broadband in the marketplace, but only 10 to 12 percent have signed up,” he said when introducing the bill last week. “Most Americans are averse to paying $50 a month for faster access to e-mail, or $2,000 for a fancy HDTV set that plays analog movies.”

Such consumer behavior might sound to most observers like common sense in a recession, but Hollings offered a different diagnosis: “If more high-quality content were available, consumer interest would likely increase,” he said.

That may well be true, but (as I’ve asked before) why should the government be involved? Even the most basic interpretation of copyright law already forbids the sort of wholesale piracy that the entertainment industry fears. Why should it be necessary to require government-approved technologies in just about any consumer electronic device imaginable in order to promote the “broadband” offerings that suffer due to a lack of market demand? (I’ll further note that all the co-sponsors of the bill are Democrats, in case anyone thinks I always take their side against the Republicans.)

An excellent article on the subject argues that copyright itself has become too broad, with too much power given to the publisher and not enough consideration given to the public interest or even the original author. Consider this bit of history which had been unfamiliar to me:

Originally, the Copyright Act of 1790 established the “limited times” of copyright protection of 14 years with an option for the author to renew the copyright for an additional 14 years if he or she were still alive. That copyright term was good enough for the first 100 years of intellectual property in the United States. During the next 100 years, Congress extended the copyright term 11 times.

Under the current law, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 75 years. Even if you’re not in the habit of reading the articles I point to, do check out this one. It’s long, but it’s very informative and provides a lot of background information. (via Doc Searls)

Elsewhere, Roger Ebert has penned an article critical of copy-protected CDs (background), arguing that the Internet is a good way to market a band. On-line music trading is a tough issue for me, since I disagree with the people “sharing” their music and with the people trying to stop them, but I can think of a few times when finding a music clip on-line convinced me to buy the album.

Certainly some of the reason people are turning to the Internet to find out about music stems from the homogeneous nature of corporate radio, which also helped propel the now-troubled field of Internet radio. Doc Searls has noted Arbitron’s opposition to the proposed licensing fees for Internet radio on the grounds that it would destroy the industry before it got started. Mr Searls also provides some further reading. #

Weblogs and Journalism: Made for each other?

An eminently sensible view of the weblog/journalism spat suggests that the on-going shoving match (columnist writes about how weblogs are a passing fad; dozens of weblog writers sigh and declare that the columnist “just doesn’t get it”) is due to envy.

Columnists envy the freedom and hipness of bloggers, who in turn envy the huge readerships and paid-to-blog careers of columnists.

The fact is, weblogs and journalism are more similar than one might think, yet are quite capable of coexisting peacefully and drawing off each other’s strengths. But saying that’s less fun than calling the other side uncool. #