Reality checks bounce from the strangest places

Back when I was a kid (and the printing press was killing the illuminated-folio business) Cracked was one of magazines we read instead of doing our homework.  Now it appears that writers at do their homework and everybody else’s too.

History vs. Hype – pretty thought-provoking read (although, be warned, there are cusswords).

8 Historic Symbols That Mean The Opposite of What You Think

I confess I don’t know enough about Tȟašúŋke Witkó (aka Crazy Horse) to guess whether he would really hate his memorial, as the author proposes.  But for some good background on cultural differences about how to treat significant mountains, try The Fallen Man, a Dineh (Navajo) mystery by a late, great author who might not want his name repeated now that he’s gone.


Don’t shoot me; I’m only the player piano

en : A player piano in action performing a piano roll. fr : Un piano mécanique en action. Original uploader was JazzNZ at en.wikipedia  Released into the public domain (by the author).

Why player pianos have a role to play – The Irish Times – Tue, Apr 24, 2012.  This article in the Irish Times talks about the work of American composer Conlon Nancarrow,* the centerpiece of a two-day-long concert event in London last weekend.  Nancarrow wrote about 50 studies for player piano.  Unlike some of the other composers (and instrument inventors) in the field, Nancarrow wasn’t interested in endowing player pianos with a more human-like sound.  Instead, he wanted to explore the complexities that only become possible by removing the ten-fingered primate from the equation.  “Equation” was often the accurate term: canons and counterpoints were often related by irrational-number ratios.  And yet Nancarrow once said:

“My essential concern, whether you can analyze it or not, is emotional; there’s an impact that I try to achieve by these means.”

Sounds like art, doesn’t it?  Like, oh, a work of authorship or something?  And yet player-piano rolls were initially not treated like other musical compositions under U.S. copyright law.  Every student of copyright law has read White-Smith Music Pub. Co. v. Apollo Co, 209 U.S. 1 (1908) where the Supreme Court held that player-piano rolls did not infringe the copyright of the corresponding sheet music.  This was in line with other cases where music-box and gramophone cylinders were held not to be potentially-infringing “copies” of musical compositions.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Day, states in part:

“[E]ven those skilled in the making of these rolls are unable to read them as musical compositions,** as those in staff notations are read by the performer. It is true that there is some testimony to the effect that great skill and patience might enable the operator to read this record as he could a piece of music written in staff notation. But the weight of the testimony is emphatically the other way, and they are not intended to be read as an ordinary piece of sheet music, which, to those skilled in the art, conveys, by reading, in playing or singing, definite impressions of the melody.”

The upshot was that the Copyright Act, as it existed in 1908, did not mandate composer control of player-piano rolls or any other strictly machine-readable renditions of a musical work. Both the majority and concurring opinions said that yes, the composers probably were losing money on the deal, but if Congress did not intend that effect, it needed to change the language of the statute.  Hint. . . hint. . .

The following year Congress slapped a two-cent-per-copy tax on player-piano rolls***  and revised the Copyright Act  to give composers (and any assignees of their copyrights) the exclusive right  “to make any arrangement or record in which the thought of an author may be recorded and from which it may be read or reproduced.” 35 Stat. 1, §1(e).  With that language, there might have still been arguments that a machine couldn’t really “read” as a human does, but there’s no doubt that player pianos “reproduce” musical compositions that are “recorded” on piano rolls.  Still, Congress tried a lot harder to conclusively close the loopholes in the 1976 Copyright Act, which identifies “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device” are copyrightable.

So, a nosy person might wonder, what kind of copyrights persist in Conlon Nancarrow’s compositions?  He continued writing player-piano studies well into the 1990s (including “For Yoko” dedicated to his wife) mainly while living in Mexico.  Everything after 1976 could have been covered in the US or any other Berne Convention country, even if not registered, but what about the earlier stuff?

The Internet was made for nosy people!  Four volumes of “Studies for Player Piano” were registered with the US Copyright Office between 1977 and 1984.  Under current copyright law, his heirs and assigns may control recordings and performances of these and his other works until 70 years after his 1997 death – i.e. until 2067.


*I played keyboards for a few decades and minored in music at U of I — even got into the Music Honor Society — and I said ‘”Who?” too, so don’t feel bad.

**Now I feel less bad about not quickly warming up to the piano-roll songwriting mode in Apple Garage Band(TM)

***none of which, I’d be willing to bet, the composers ever saw

Social-Media Slimers: You Can’t Make Me ‘Like’ You

"See Rock City" Barn on U.S. Highway 441, in Sevier County, Tennessee.  By Scott Basford. GNU Attribution Non-commercial Share-Alike license.

An early example of non-celebrity endorsement advertising. Farmers got free Rock City passes, souvenirs, and as much as $3 for allowing their barns to be made into billboards.

“Been told 100K followers could get me a publisher. . . w/100k followers I could take over the WORLD!” -Radio storyteller Nora Maki (@hades-noramaki), Twitter, 12/22/2011

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If the Internet is going to make us all stars, we could probably use some celebrity rights to match.

Even if you don’t take a sufficiently spectacular pratfall to star in a viral video, your online social profile is (and arguably, by extension, YOU are) a form of currency sought after by those engaged in commerce.  And, since caches are forever and Big Data is always watching, you might want to be rather thoughtful and deliberate about whom you advertise.  An opposing counsel right now, your current or prospective boss later this afternoon, and your mom & dad tomorrow, will be able to dig it all out and may hold it against you.

Q. So you now claim Defendant is stalking you, yet according to your Facebook history YOU ‘LIKED’ HIM last year. Isn’t that correct?

A. I didn’t know him then, I just ran across his website and it had some useful –


Everybody wants friends, connections, followers, minions, droogs, or whatever a given network calls them, because it’s instant cred with strangers. 50 million avatars can’t be wrong even if 30 million of them are robots and the other 20 million are generated by the same 50 people.  So. . . how to get them?  How, how, how?

Here’s what I think:

  • A simple mention of a person or entity’s presence on a social network, leaving everything else up to the reader, is the most polite. It’s like the “At Home” cards genteel Victorians used to send out.
  • An overt demand for action such as “Follow me on Twitter” or “Like us on Facebook” is a little pushier on a first introduction, but goes down easier if it comes with a reward, such as a discount coupon code.
  • Forcing people to personally advertise for you in the course of some other process is Not O. K.   Examples:
    • Registering for an event requires you to indicate your attendance on a social-network event page.  This immediately tells everyone who subscribes to your updates, and potentially everybody else in the world, that you are attending.  You might want to think about whether your attendance hints at some characteristic you might want to keep at least partially under the radar.
      • Harvard class reunion? Why not?
      • Harvard Class of 1965 reunion? Hmm. . . maybe not if you’re trying to network your way into NextHotAppCo. (You know they make you sit on little rocking horsies instead of office chairs, right?)
      • “New Miracle Cure for Leprosy”? Only if you’re a medical professional.
      • “PhytosexualCon – Way, Way Beyond Tree-Hugging“?  Maybe if you’re a behavioral specialist.  Maybe.
      • Anything “Anonymous”?  What part of “anonymous” didn’t they understand?
    • Placing an order, requesting information, or commenting/chatting/listening requires (or seems to require) that you first“like” or otherwise actively “recommend” the site or product on your social network.
      • This is especially obnoxious when it’s a social network you’re not already on so you spend an extra half-hour joining, waiting for a confirmation message, clicking back in from the confirmation message, filling out a bunch of other stuff, getting distracted by whatever the network’s welcome page waves in front of your face and then — wait, what swamp were you originally trying to drain again?  Oh yeah, ordering that thing.  Well, now the checkout page has timed out so you have to start all over.
      • Letting you complete your process, then making it easy for you to tell all your friends you did it if you want to is a different, benign critter.

Maybe the bigger social networks could help by adding a “Say Uncle” * button meaning “I’m linking my reputation to this entity, but only under duress.”


For an explanation of how “Say Uncle” came to mean “surrender without dignity, see this learned article in World Wide Words.

Bean or Frankenbean?

Public domain image, posted in electronic form by       

Ooh, so scary, boys and girls!

Are GMO soybeans another “New Coke (TM)”  It’s midnight in the garden of good and evil, and I’m not sure anyone really knows beans.

After 40-ish years of being told that soybeans are very good for me, I am being told that they are now very bad for me, specifically because so many of them are GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  Being the stickler that I’ve been taught to be (and being interested in crop-plant genetic IP), I went looking for reliable primary sources.*  I found out:

To me, this whiffs suspiciously of the “New Coke (TM)” marketing game.******  For those too young to remember, that one goes like this:

  1. Take a popular product.
  2. Introduce a new version and quit producing the old one.
  3. Make sure the consumers who loved the old product the most will hate or fear the new one.*******
  4. When the black market for the old one shows sufficient profit to finance its own space program, grudgingly-but-magnanimously re-introduce the old product to a public who will be too relieved-and-exhilarated to notice, e.g., a higher price or any other side effect you’d like to sneak in.
And, given the findings above, the really beauty part of this one might be that Step 2 was never really taken.  That is, although a lot of soybeans were replaced by GMO strains, few or none of those were the ones that humans eat as tofu, tempeh, soymilk etc.  Yet people will now pay more to be REASSURED that these products are “now” non-GMO.
It’s as if (this is just an analogy, not a fact!):
  • A redacted article, “Coke Produces Carbon Monoxide!” went viral.
  • Redacted was the explanation that the article was actually about small-c “coke,” the derivative of coal used in making CO-containing “producer gas,” and not Coca-Cola(TM) at all.
  • A bunch of people quit drinking Coca-Cola (TM) to avoid the in-fact-nonexistent threat of carbon monoxide.
  • The Coca-Cola Co. introduced a “testing and certification program” GUARANTEEING that their soft drink would not produce carbon monoxide. . . and passed the costs along to consumers who were grateful to be protected.
“This is an amulet to keep rhinos away.”
“There aren’t any rhinos around here!”
“See?  It works!”


*E.g., articles with titles like “GM-Soy: Destroy the Earth and Humanity for Profit” did not make the first cut.^  Oh, P.S.: Any site that pops a “Give me all your contact info and Subscribe Now!!!” window up in my face, before I have a chance to skim even one paragraph, I rebuttably presume not to be a reliable primary source.  Just sayin’.

**Wherein, the author writing about beans missed a golden opportunity to incorporate the phrase “Silent but Deadly.”

***At least one fairly scholarly-looking paper concludes that fermented soy is better for digestive flora than unfermented soy.  This is distinct from “fermented soy is healthy but unfermented soy would just as soon kill you as look at you.”  And it also doesn’t say anything about GMO vs. non-GMO.

****Thankfully this is not a law review article, so I can say things like “Well, du-uh.”

*****Confusingly abbreviated “IP!” This will probably hurt the producers’ case with the particular consumer sector convinced that any plant with a patent, trademark, or copyright^^ is bound to kill us all.  And because of the multiple language-and-logic barriers involved, neither side may ever figure out where the problem started.  Unless they read this blog, of course.

******Coca-Cola(TM) is an IP wonder.  Its formula is possibly the most successful trade secret in the world.

*******Humans’ built-in change-resistance Gripe-O-Matic may do most of the job for you if you calculate the type of change well enough.


^I mean, if I were to destroy the earth and humanity it would at least be for FUN and profit.

^^No, I don’t believe it’s possible to copyright a plant (as distinct from a picture, sculpture, poetic description, or interpretive dance about one).  Others apparently believe it is.

The Mishmash Nation of Neverland – I kinda liked ’em

I can’t help but sympathize with the creators of Syfy’s Peter Pan prequel, “Neverland.”  Here’s this forward-looking bunch with an ethos of fairly and sympathetically portraying — not only HUMANS of all ancestries — but aliens and robots and ghosts and super-intelligent shades of blue as well.   And they’re forced to be simultaneously backward-compatible with an Edwardian British fantasy of “Red Indians.”  That has to be worse than designing websites aimed at lawyers who haven’t updated their browsers since 1985!

I couldn’t wait to see how they got out of THAT one.  I only hoped it would be more graceful than Disney’s purported “Michael-Jacksonizing” of the animated (now-white) Indians in the DVD version of their “Peter Pan.”

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