December 23rd, 2011
A few weeks ago, I signed up to participate in a Christmas table decoration contest. I decided to decorate around the theme of the twelve days of Christmas. So, I purchased a template online and began making kirigami cards in the style of the 12 days of Christmas. I also researched the history of the 12 days and created little placards with fun facts about them to display in front of the cards.
It was a really fun project. Unfortunately, the contest was cancelled and so my hard work (approximately 30 hours worth) never paid off. But I figured I'd try to salvage a little something from the project by posting it on my blog. I hope you enjoy it! (Click the images to view the larger version.)
1. Partridge in a Pear Tree
2. Turtle Doves
3. French Hens
|In European Christian cultures, the Day of the Epiphany (Jan. 6th) occurs the day after the Twelfth Day of Christmas. To celebrate this day, Christians in Europe write the letters "C.M.B." in chalk over the doorways of their houses and churches. These letters are supposed to represent that first initials of the three Wise Men's names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. They also write "May Christ bless this house" in Latin next to the initials.|
4. Calling Birds
5. Golden Rings
|Some people mistakenly believe that the 12 Days of Christmas song was written and sung in England from 1558 to 1829 when Catholics were prohibited from practicing their religion. Catholics supposedly created the 12 Days to secretly teach children about their faith (e.g. Jesus is the partridge, the turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, the French Hens are the 3 Wise Men, etc.) There is no historical evidence to support this story and it is probably just a modern-day myth.|
9. Ladies Dancing
11. Pipers Piping
|Beginning in 1984, PNC Bank has jokingly created an economic indicator using the cost of the items for the 12 Days of Christmas. Every year, PNC tracks what it would cost to actually purchase all the goods and services mentioned in the song as a way of measuring inflation. They call this the "Christmas Price Index" or the "True Cost of Christmas." In 1984, the total cost was $12,623.10. In 2011, the total cost is $24,263.18.|
12. Drummers Drumming
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading about the culture and history of one of our obscure holiday traditions. As a reward for making it all the way to the end of this blog entry, here's my Christmas gift to you: a holiday album featuring retro Christmas music from 1946-1969 (or at least in that style). It's called Atomic Christmas: Warm Wishes from a Cold War Era. I hope you enjoy it!
October 22nd, 2011
If you have been reading my blog for a ridiculously long time, then you might remember that I once created a Pic Tac Toe puzzle, inspired by Ken Jennings's blog. In case you haven't been reading my blog forever, here's Ken's explanation of what a Pic Tac Toe is: "Back in the 1980s, Games magazine ran an occasional feature called Pic-Tac-Toe. The premise was simple: nine images were arranged in a 3×3 grid. Each row, column, and diagonal of the grid had some theme in common. Through careful examination of the nine images, and sometimes a little lateral thinking, the solver was to identify the eight themes."
So, to solve the Pic Tac Toe, you need to figure out the common theme for each row, column and diagonal:
So, I recently decided to try my hand at creating another Pic Tac Toe. See if you can figure it out (you can click on the images to view larger versions, if you need):
NOTE: Please don't put your answers in as comments on this blog. I don't want one early bird blog reader to get them all before anyone else has a chance. So, submit your answers to me via email, IM or phone. You're also welcome to ask me for hints.
Again, I think these are a lot harder to create than they are to solve, but I think the diagonals might be challenging for you.
Now, here's the fun part: one of the rows in the Pic Tac Toe is the common theme uniting all of the tracks in a mixed CD I made my sister back in May. Some of you may have noticed that Chris and I no longer create theme CDs for each other. But my sister Marin and I have recently resurrected the tradition. She'll make a theme CD for me and then after I guess what it means, I create a CD on a new theme and send it to her.
This mix was one I made for her back in May. I've actually continued to tinker with the mix and put on some new tracks that I found the last few month (plus taken out a few to make room). Here's the most recent playlist:
- Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks
- The Seekers - Georgy Girl
- Peter Bjorn and John - Young Folks
- Paul Simon - Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
- Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Home
- The Fratellis - Whistle for the Choir
- The Beatles - Two of Us
- Billy Joel - The Stranger
- Supertramp - Goodbye Stranger
- Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay
- Scorpions - Wind of Change
- Pixies - La La Love You
- Andrew Bird - Oh No
- Beck - Sissyneck
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - Simple Girl
- Bobby Mcferrin - Don't Worry, Be Happy
- The Andy Griffith Show Theme
- The Lovin' Spoonful - Daydream
- AIR - Alpha Beta Gaga
- Brother Bones & His Shadows - Sweet Georgia Brown
Can you figure out the theme? It is fairly helpful to listen to the songs themselves, so for a limited time I'll make the album available for you to download.
While you're at it, you're welcome to listen to a Halloween theme CD I made for her earlier this month.
Send me your guess and enjoy the music!
September 5th, 2011
I'm taking a break from copyright law for just a moment to post this checklist that Chris and I developed about a month ago for me to share with my students. These are the ideals I hope to strive for in any serious discussion about important ideas. I'm not always perfect at living up to my own standards, but I feel that it is a noble goal to strive to achieve.
Simplistic as it may seem, the chief requirements for scholarly dialogue are honesty, courage, and respect.
- Before making your argument, will you research your topic thoroughly to the best of your ability? Are you willing to diligently and objectively search all possible perspectives and information on this topic?
- Will you use only those sources which are of the highest quality and credibility to support your position on the topic? Will you check and re-check your sources to make sure they are highly credible?
- Will you cite your resources fully and accurately so that others can verify that your resources are credible and reliable?
- Will you refuse, on principle, to distort the evidence or another scholar’s point of view? Will you make sure that you do not take quotations out of context or misrepresent them in any way?
- Are you willing to change your mind on this topic? Are you willing to risk your own ego for the sake of truth and in order to do what’s best for society?
- Are you willing to abandon any long-cherished positions when it is clear that there is substantial evidence to the contrary?
- When your perspectives change, are you willing to acknowledge how and why your mind was changed?
- If one of your arguments or some of your supporting evidence is shown to be flawed, will you revise that argument or stop using that evidence altogether?
- Will you recognize the full complexity of the issue and add qualifications to your argument when necessary?
- If another person concedes that your position is reasonable or correct, will you refrain from belittling them, recognizing that the purpose of scholarly dialogue is not to "win," but to find the best possible solution or perspectives on the topic?
- Will you make sure that you define key terms in a way that can be mutually agreed upon so that your readers will understand the fundamental assumptions of your argument?
- Will you acknowledge counterarguments to your own claims in a fair and balanced manner?
- Will you resist the temptation to disparage the character of persons who take a different position from your own? Will you strive to have empathy for others, recognizing that everyone has valid reasons for believing the things they believe?
This is just my own personal commentary (meaning it's not in the original document), but I feel that unless these conditions are not in place, there can be no argument. You need honesty in order for the debate to be fair and to ensure that everyone has full access to the same information you have access to. I could have easily replaced the word "courage" with "humility" because you need to be willing set your own personal emotions or ambitions aside in order to do what's best for society. And you need respect in order to foster the kind of environment in which it is safe for all members to express their ideas without impunity.
September 2nd, 2011
NOTE: In this blog entry, I frequently use the word "artwork" to refer to all types of intellectual properties---including non-fiction works such as essays and textbooks, even though these are not typically thought of as creative endeavors. I'll also refer to the people who create artwork as "artists" or "creators" interchangeably.
In the process of writing these blog entries, I have had a bit of an epiphany about copyright law. I came to the realization that ideas and artworks are inherently free.
Can ideas and artwork be owned?
On one level, I mean "free" in the sense that ideas or artworks are autonomous. Although the word "autonomous" may seem like a strange word to apply to an artwork, I think it's the appropriate term to use here. Ideas or artworks are autonomous because they exist independently from the individuals or institutions who create them. After having been brought into existence, ideas or artworks take on a life of their own. (There are even some theorists who make an intriguing argument that ideas have something akin to a will of their own.) The influence of a particular idea or artwork will ripple throughout society in unpredictable and unquantifiable ways---and in ways that the idea's creator perhaps never intended nor could they control. For that matter, many ideas or artworks will, in fact, outlive their creator.
Because artworks are inherently free and autonomous (in the sense that they exist independently of their creators), when we apply copyright law to an artwork we are imposing a socially-constructed system of ownership onto it. The artificiality of this system is being made more clear by the Internet. For one, it is beginning to challenge and redefine our previous conceptions of what it means to possess an artwork. Text, images, music and movies can be downloaded and shared endlessly by everyone in this new digital age. It's theoretically possible that a digital copy of an artwork could be shared until it is in everyone's possession.
For example, an individual can physically own the original canvas of Van Gogh's Starry Night. They can hang it on their living room wall where no one can see it. Or they can lend it to a gallery where some of the lucky people who are in the same geographical area can see it on display. In the 20th century, we developed color printing processes that made it so someone could take a photograph of Starry Night and publish it in a book; this made it so that a person thousands of miles away from the physical painting could go to a library and look at it. And now we live in this incredible era where, thanks to the Internet, I can put a picture of it right here on my personal blog for you:
Anyone who comes to this web page can look at it. Anyone can conceivably click on the picture and download it to their own hard drive. After downloading it, anyone can put this picture up on their own blog---or they can even print it out and put it on their own living room wall. And they can transform Starry Night, turning it into a mosaic or a necklace or acrylic nails or a chair, etc. etc. etc. Maybe some people might find these transformations kitschy, but I find them marvelous. I see tremendous value in transformative creativity and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we dismiss it as derivative or as a corruption of the original.
If anyone could view Starry Night through the Internet and if anyone can possess it by downloading it to their hard drive, then who really owns it? Is it Van Gogh, even though he isn't alive any more? Is it the New York Museum of Modern Art, who actually owns the physical painting? Or does Starry Night belong to everyone who has a digital copy sitting on their hard drive right at this moment? When you begin to think about it this way, it's easy to see how the Internet is making the traditional conception of ownership much more fuzzy, indefinable, and problematic.
Can we really put a price tag on the value of an idea or artwork?
Ideas and artworks are also inherently free in a financial sense because their market value can never come close to reflecting their actual social value. It's not that intellectual properties aren't worthwhile. (On the contrary, they are tremendously valuable.) It's not that intellectual properties can't or shouldn't be bought or sold. (Because they can---and perhaps they should.)
Rather, I'm arguing that ideas and artwork transcend market values because their true social value is unquantifiable. It's impossible to know what an idea or artwork is worth because the influence of one idea or one artwork can ripple throughout society so subtly that it's virtually undetectable or untraceable. For that reason, it is impossible to quantify the worth of ideas or artworks because they are essentially priceless. Even "bad" ideas, for example, can be tremendously valuable because they can be the vehicle through which we discover a better ideas. (Einstein's theory of relativity was only made possible by Newton's short-sighted or limited conceptions of physics, after all.) Therefore, it's a somewhat futile task to try to assign a market value to an artwork because it can never reflect its actual worth.
On a more practical level, the Internet has directly challenged our ability to put a price on ideas or artwork. Using bit-torrent sites and peer-to-peer exchanges, anyone can conceivably download nearly every book, audiobook, song, or movie that exists in digital form without paying a single cent for them. When a person downloads a pirated copy of an artwork, they are not directly hurting the artist the way a shoplifter directly hurts a store by reducing its inventory. Unlike the stolen item from the store, the file still exists for others who want to buy it (or pirate it).
Rather, piracy hurts an artist by reducing the chances that record labels and movie studios will risk investing in their creative projects in the future. The initial investment required to produce the artwork was made in the past. Because the production costs have already been spent, these costs will not be affected by consumer purchases in the present. However, the initial investment will not be recouped if people don't buy the music or movie. And if the investment is not recouped, then production companies will not continue to finance that artist's future creative projects. So, piracy is a different kind of theft altogether because it's potentially stealing from the future: the future production of worthwhile ideas. But, yes, I did use that word "potential" on purpose.
I'm still not done with this blog series yet. Stay tuned to my future blog entry when I hope to trace the intellectual history of our contemporary ideas of ownership and copyright law---and how it may actually have its roots in imperialism (and racism).
August 25th, 2011
I've been working on my latest copyright law blog entry for a long time, but it's still not quite ready yet. For now, here's a video of a fascinating discussion about copyright law by CGP Grey:
And also an article discussing how some major pop artists are embracing copyright infringement rather than fighting it: Blink 182 Rewards Tune-Stealing YouTube Users With Music Video Role.
And a blog entry from Seth's Blog about copyright law: When Ideas Become Powerful. (Thanks to Ammon for the link!)