Copyright law and music, the presentation!

3 03 2009

Comments during the live stream are after the break.

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Reading reflection #2

16 02 2009

In his article, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin takes a look at an ethical problem that he says technology can’t fix — overpopulation. He calls overpopulation and its extensions examples of “No technical solution problems.” Though several instances and taking a logical approach, Hardin argues how sharing common resources amongst a growing population simply doesn’t work, regardless of how technology can assist. He calls it the “tragedy of the commons” because there is no happy ending. Uplifting stuff.

For the purposes of this post I’d like to talk about his idea that problems exist that technology can’t solve. Is this really true, or just unimaginative?

Hardin uses an example of animals grazing a shared plot in his article. He assumes that by increasing the population of animals on the shared plot of land, the animals will lose resources at least as fast of the rate of their growth. But what if with technology we could grow the crop faster, or at multiple, vertical levels? What if we could optimize the nutrition of what was growing? These are the kind of creative ideas that Hardin should have considered before so quickly dismissing technology.

Even if technological development can help the issue of overpopulation, it may not be the most effective measure. This much is true. Hardin says in his conclusion, “The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon.” Certainly stopping people from repopulating is the ultimate solution, but it’s no more viable than leaning on technology because people consider freedom to repopulate a fundamental human right. Hardin says himself, “Freedom is the recognition of necessity,” and people find it necessary to procreate, to create new generations.

Hardin says “It is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed.” While there are bigger philosophical statements at play here, I find it interesting the way Hardin defines the role of education. What if education’s role were instead to be training for technological innovation? Would we need to abandon our very basic freedoms and human desires if education were used as a tool rather than a rallying cry?

Although I’ve brought up a a lot of counterarguments, Hardin’s core argument is valid: To stop overpopulation, limit reproduction. It’s just not realistic though. I know that it’s far-fetched to assume that technology won’t be able to solve major ethical issues like overpopulation, but considering the development of technology over the last 100 years, I’d place my bet that technology will be able to answer some of the big issues that we can’t answer with or without it today.

Questions: Whithering Moore’s Law

2 02 2009
  1. Moore’s law basically says that technology is growing smaller, less expensive and more powerful at an exponential rate. What are some examples of technologies today that are growing at this rate, especially those that apply to communications?
  2. Because Moore’s law results in “overshooting consumers,” consumers are benefitting from technologies they haven’t ever needed. This changes market dynamics drastically, making consumers expect more of the unexpected. Are consumers expectations now unrealistic (i.e. the hoverboard in Back to the Future) because of Moore’s Law?
  3. Much of the technological advancements of the day are now virtual (i.e. search engines, virtualization, etc). How does Moore’s law apply to virtual innovations, or does it?

Review: The Victorian Internet or ‘How I learned online dating is A-OK’

28 01 2009

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers. Tom Standage. New York: Walker & Company, 1998. 217 pp.

To think, all this time I was mildly embarrassed to have met my girlfriend on I would have spent much less time dodging friends’ questions about how we met if I had known that, 150 years ago, couples met – even married – using the telegraph. Online dating seems much less unique given that legacy.

This is one of many parallels that Tom Standage, business editor at The Economist, draws between the Internet and telegraph in his book, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers.

In the book’s preface, Standage notes how similar the Internet and telegraph are for delivering unprecedented networking capabilities in their respective eras. “The telegraph unleashed the greatest revolution in communications since the development of the printing press,” Standage says. “Modern Internet users are in many ways the heirs of the telegraphic traditions, which means that today we are in a unique position to understand the telegraph.” With that, Standage leaves the Internet comparisons for readers to discover and provides an enjoyable narrative describing the birth and death of the telegraph and its effect as “The mother of all networks” upon the world.

Standage’s greatest achievement in this efficient, 200-page book spanning the telegraph’s 100-year history is his ability to develop characters. Pioneers of the telegraph – Samuel Morse, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone, among others – are brought to life for readers though the chronicles of their trials, blunders, recognitions and lack thereof. For example, Standage turns Wheatstone from a name in a history book into a real, flawed person though passages like the one describing how he and Cooke struck a partnership to create what became the first telegraph in England: “Impressed by what he later described as Cooke’s ‘zeal, ability and perseverance,’ Wheatstone eventually agreed to a partnership, on the rather childish condition that his name would go first on documentation.”

Thomas Edison, best known for his inventions of the phonograph and light bulb, has a strong presence in the book as well. His experience as a telegraph operator (and a damn good one at that) would be a side note in other texts, but The Victorian Internet expounds how his experience as a telegraph operator connected him to the company that funded his most famous inventions.  Passages like these are plentiful in the book and valuable to those seeking to learn more about the path to success rather than success itself.

Outside of these characters, Standage demonstrates the impact the telegraph had on the world, from news reporting to war to romance. Stories of a bride and groom marrying via telegraph published in London in 1848.  The telegraph played a strategic role in the Crimean War during the 1850s. By the 1880s, European and American stock markets relied upon the telegraph for timely business exchanges. Sound familiar? Throughout the book, Standage knits a pattern of examples that makes the Internet feel more evolutionary than revolutionary.

The Victorian Internet’s “decline and fall” happens, ironically, when Standage describes the telegraph’s decline and fall. This isn’t all Standage’s fault.  Historically, the creation of the telegraph was exciting – a roller coaster of pitfalls and triumphs. By the time the telegraph was in decline, its pioneers were relatively inactive and innovation was flat. The impact of the telegraph was realized, and inventors left it for developing audio technologies like the telephone. As a result, the book slows and becomes as uninteresting as the telegraph in its late life. Still, for as exciting as Standage could make the telegraph, which is considered a dull topic by today’s standards, he could have better enlisted his skills to enhance the storyline of its last days.

Despite this, Standage more often than not entertains and educates. He does this, in part, by maintaining a consistent presence in the book. His rich, tongue-in-cheek transitions like, “Meanwhile the French, as usual, were doing things their own way,” compliment his narrative style and are a reminder that he is equally historian and storyteller.

It’s this style that carries the story and reader’s interest, separating the book from an extended Wikipedia entry while never compromising the historical impact of the telegraph. I’d recommend The Victorian Internet to any fan of history and would even recommend it to my girlfriend, who I am proud to say I met online.

Questions: ‘Seeing What’s Next’ Part 1

19 01 2009
  1. The authors discuss “asymmetries” in competition. What are some recent asymmetries in digital media that have differentiated a newcomer or incumbent? What about in social media?
  2. The 1996 Telecommunications Reform act shook up the teleco industries in both positive and negative ways, drawing criticism about the effectiveness of government intervention. In light of this, under what circumstances do you think would cause government to regulate or deregulate Internet economies?
  3. The last “hot bed” of innovation was the dot com bubble of the late 90s, during which million of dollars were invested into companies that ultimately failed. How can we again rebuild investor confidence in online businesses so that innovation can again reign, or is that level of innovation and investment even necessary?

Term project proposal: From wax to zeros and ones

13 01 2009

I’d like to look at the evolution of the music distribution.

I’d like to look at how music delivery moved from paper to wax to cassette to 8-track to CD to digital — and everywhere in between. I’d like to look at this through the scope of how technological advancements enabled new distributions. I believe I’ll have plenty of scholarly sources to draw from for this research.

Considering the long history of music distributions, I may look at “mass distribution” to narrow my scope, but would be open to any feedback about how else I can define this term project.

Initial source for term project

13 01 2009

As I am looking at the evolution of music distribution services, this article on the “Alternate distribution strategies for digital music” should be fitting. The abstract is short, but I hope this article will contribute to coloring how companies attempted to expedite the digital distribution of music after the turn of the century.

Abstract: “Digitization of music has created opportunities to reengineer the supply chain and improve its efficiency. But how will it play out?”

Premkumar, G. P. 2003. Alternate distribution strategies for digital music. Commun. ACM 46, 9 (Sep. 2003), 89-95. DOI=