Sunday, December 03, 2006

What ought to really be more than one post

Somewhere over America, United Flight 915: As I write this, I'm jetting westward toward San Francisco in an Airbus 320. Seat 22C, an aisle seat, in a plane that is likely just 2/3 full. There are only two of us in our row; six seats, and we have room to spread out.

I have a number of items I've been meaning to blog about, but my mind seems mostly incapacitated at 36,000 feet. I'm reminded that I ought to keep a running list, in a notebook, of topics which strike my fancy.

I've brought with me a number of unread magazines; they seem to stack up at the house. Well, truthfully, they stack up at the post office. I have a bad habit of only getting the mail once a month, and by the time I lug it all home, I'm in no mood to actually read any of it. I've brought Inc, Fast Company, Teacher, Naval War College Review, the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, and something else along with me. I've also brought one book from home, Stuart Dunnan's From the Pulpit of Saint James School: Collected thoughts of a priest headmaster. And, of course, I purchased trash at the airport: Steven King's Cell and Robert Ludlum.

Here, then, are some random bits:

Did you know that Project Gutenberg (at www.gutenberg.org) has more than 19,000 volumes online and adds about 400 titles a month? Project Gutenberg publishes titles that have entered the public domain either because the copyright has lapsed or because the book has been released by the copyright holder. From what I've read, expired copyrighted books were published before 1923; I guess the life of a copyright is 83 years?

This whole notion of copyrights and ownership of intellectual property is an interesting one. Certainly, as a writer, I'd like to make a living stringing words together; I can't begrudge Steven King or Robert Ludlum their due. But I also am, I guess, something of a socialist. Information ought to be free. Stewart Brand likes to point out that in today's day and age, with our continued connectedness, “information wants to be free.” I think that's why I'm all in favor of posting stuff online: have a good idea; share a good idea. Need a good idea; borrow a good idea.

I've taken to the Creative Commons license; my own favorite is the attribute, derivative, share-alike, non-commercial license. Of course, as a government employee, anything I write that is connected to my job – performance excellence, leadership, management, teams, organizational behavior – I don't even own to put under a Creative Commons license. (Sidebar: This reminds me of a colleague I once had who tried to keep everything he developed under close hold. He'd go so far as to note "Copyright by John Gooblotz" on everything – powerpoints, point papers, essays, job aids – he created. He didn't quite understand that Uncle Sam owned what he did, and what he did he did for the greater good of all citizens.) I am, needless to reiterate, a proponent of letting intellectual property hang out there.

Of course, this system doesn't actually make it so anyone can get paid, so there does need to be some protections available for intellectual property.

The other aspect of intellectual property that has had quite a buzz these days is patents. One can patent anything that is not patently obvious, as I understand it. What I find amazing is that people can patent a notion; they don't actually have to make a working product. Years ago, I moonlighted for a firm that evaluated invention ideas. I hate to say it was a scam, but... I worked as a contractor for a firm that had a contract with one of those invention firms you see advertised on late night television or in the back of certain magazines. The inventor would fill out a slew of paper, maybe take some pictures if they actually had built whatever it was, and submit it to the invention firm. The package would find it's way to me, and I'd crank out a written report, evaluating the product. Much of the text was boilerplate and generic. Invent some sort of game, I'd crank in the generic toy/game verbage; invent a kitchen utensil, I'd crank in the kitchen/cooking verbage. Oh, it looked impressive with charts and graphs and references, but I'm not sure how helpful it actually would have been for the inventor. And the last page was always the same: You ought to patent this... and we can help you.

I'm surprised the whole notion of tags on the Internet hasn't been patented. Actually, for all I know, perhaps it has. I read recently that a patent attorney had sold to Google or Microsoft or Apple or someone a patent that a client had developed for tracking movies. The attorney wrote the patent blatantly broad, and then held Apple (it was Apple, but could just as well have been one of the other big players) hostage, selling them the patent after threatening to sue. I know, got to love America, eh? Anyway, one of the things I found interesting with this is that the inventor didn't actually invent a working prototype; it was nothing more than an idea.

Moving on... and, yes, this post really ought to be chopped up and served as multiple posts, but NO.

I read recently that the white supremacist group, Stormfront, has the website MartinLutherKing.org. Here's certainly a case of buyer beware. Can you imagine a student researching Dr. King, his work, and his legacy, and stumbling onto such a site?

Well, that's it for now... Peace to you.

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