Urbana IL to Crawfordsville IN on a Folding Bike

Last week I took a break from pushing pixels to have a life, and that life included a trip to Philadelphia. My departure station was Crawfordsville, IN. Since it was a nice day and winds were favorable, I rode the whole 80 miles on my Brompton folding bike, which I’d planned to take to Philly with me anyway. I’d really been neglecting the Brompton this Summer, as my back prefers recumbents. But it’s still a sweet bike, and with frequent breaks for back stretches, I made it without damaging myself.

My route, according to Strava (which used up all my high speed bandwidth for this billing cycle).

My route, according to Strava (which used up all my high speed bandwidth for this billing cycle).

First back-stretch stop, just north-east of Urbana IL.

First back-stretch stop, just north-east of Urbana IL.

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My Car-Free Life

Another Pecha Kucha talk I did (here’s the other one). Slides and text after the fold.

Continue reading My Car-Free Life

Choose your favorite Behemoth

Some Behemoth designs-in-progress, head only.

Behemoth 1

Behemoth 2

Behemoth 3

Behemoth 4

Like Leviathan, Behemoth is kosher, so I infer he/she/it is a cloven-hooved cud-chewer.

Cute Cat Video

Sometimes you just have to make a cute cat video. This one stars my cat Bruno, and doubles as a music video for my friend Bliss Blood.

Four Freedoms of Free Culture

In my endless attempt to explain what’s wrong with Creative Commons’ “non-commercial” and “no derivatives” restrictions, I came across this 2005 article by Benjamin Mako Hill:

Free Software’s fundamental document is Richard Stallman’s Free Software Definitions (FSD) [3]. At its core, the FSD lists four freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose;
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs;
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor;
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits;

…For the CC founders and many of CC’s advocates, FOSS’s success is a source of inspiration. However, despite CC’s stated desire to learn from and build upon the example of the free software movement, CC sets no defined limits and promises no freedoms, no rights, and no fixed qualities. Free software’s success is built upon an ethical position. CC sets no such standard.

This has led to a proliferation of harmful and incompatible CC-NC and CC-ND licensed works, mistakenly labeled “Free.” Mako Hill points out that while Creative Commons pursued its goal of “Balance, compromise, and moderation,” it failed to define or defend any core freedoms. Indeed, there seems to be no concern about what the “Free” in Free Culture means. To most it means, “slightly less restrictive than modern copyright.” Even so, most CC licenses are more restrictive than pre-1970’s copyright (because modern copyright’s extended terms and more draconian punishments for infringements still apply).

Fortunately the Four Freedoms of Free Software easily apply to Culture:

  1. the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it
  2. the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
  3. the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
  4. the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works

That’s not so hard, is it?

Ironically I was arguing with Richard Stallman last month about the Free Software Foundation‘s use of -ND licenses on its cultural works. A film they sponsored, Patent Absurdity, has “no derivatives” restrictions even though it could be greatly improved by editing, and clips could be highly beneficial in other works. Freedom #4 FAIL. Even the FSF fails to apply the Four Freedoms to Culture!

Software IS Culture. Many in the Free Software Movement draw a false distinction between “utility” and “aesthetics,” claiming software is useful and culture is just pretty or entertaining. But you never know how a cultural work might prove useful to someone else down the line. If you treat it as non-useful, and restrict it to prevent other uses, then of course it won’t be useful – you’ve restricted its utility through an unFree license.

The Free Software community needs to learn that Software is Culture. The Free Culture community needs to learn that Free is Free.

FREE. CULTURE. It’s not so hard.

Addendum: I consider Richard Stallman a friend. I argue with him, without thinking less of him. I’m grateful he’s his stubborn self. I just happen to not agree with him about restrictive licenses on cultural works.

The World Wide Web, Circa 1995

Sita returns to the IFC Film Center, this weekend and next

Another chance to see Sita Sings the Blues on the big screen in New York!

Nothing compares to a real cinema: a big dark room, quality projection, and your fellow human beings who briefly transform from strangers into a community as they experience art together.

The Limits of Attribution

I’ve updated the pedigree charts I posted a few days back.

Although I use an attribution copyleft license (CC-BY-SA), I recognize that expecting attribution for every re-use is a bit unrealistic. Sure, it’s reasonable for the first few generations: most people can name their mother and father, and many can name all 4 grandparents. But expecting them to name all 8 great-grandparents is a little much. Who knows the names of all 16 of their great-great-grandparents, or all 32 great-great-great-grandparents? And so on.

click for larger image

click for larger image

Likewise, I expect people to cite Sita as a source in the first few generations of remixes. I don’t think I need to legally coerce people to name me as the source author, any more than legal coercion is needed for most people to name their parents. Or grandparents; a remixed remix can still cite this source. But a remixed remix of a remixed remix? How much “Sita” is even left at that point?

click for larger version

click for larger version

Sure, I’d like to be credited in works containing 1/144th dilutions of Sita, but is that reasonable?

Here the analogy between memes and genes weakens, because memes don’t recombine sexually like genes do. Making Sita’s “memeology” match the biological pedigree chart was awkward; cultural works can have many more than two “parents” for every “child.” I had to omit many of Sita’s other “parents,” like 2-D animation (cut-out animation, Flash, computer science, Fleischer Bros., Eduard Muybridge, etc.), to make the charts match. With all those “parents” mixing willy-nilly into all those “children,” dilution of attribution could happen in even fewer generations.

Take this still from Sita Sings the Blues:

click for larger image

click for larger image

It’s a collage made up of more than 15 disparate elements. Just the pattern in the background is comprised of 3 different traditional textile print designs. The border with the little feet and om symbols is obviously made up of many other elements, combined long before it ever reached my eyes. The tree comes from a reproduction I scanned from a book (lost in the Great Bedbug Infestation of 2008, so I couldn’t find it even if I wanted to); it comes from a painting, which may have been almost identical to many other paintings of its time, depending on whether it was produced in a big workshop. Surely it borrowed techniques from earlier paintings, which were based on earlier paintings….And that’s not even addressing the bits that make up Valmiki and Sita in the foreground, which were taken from more sources than I can recall.

I did “paint” the peacock feather by my own hand, so that’s “original.” Except the idea comes from dozens of paintings of Valmiki transcribing the Ramayana, and calling a peacock feather “original” because it wasn’t collaged in from another image, is just stupid.

My point is, even though attribution is important, it has its limits, which hopefully you can see in the illustrations above.

Frunch: The Free Culture Lunch #8

This Friday, January 22, 2 pm, Soy & Sake @ 47 7th Ave S (at Commerce St) in New York’s West Village. Open to anyone who is into Free Culture, Free Software, Free Speech, Intellectual Freedom, anti-censorship, etc.

We do this every week now! And it’s more fun than the other kind of “frunch“.

An ideal hate mail

OK, this isn’t exactly hate mail – in fact it’s kind of adorable in its sincere incoherence. (I still get entertaining hate mail from time to time, but don’t publish it because I know the writers just want attention. This, however, is so perfect I couldn’t resist.) Vijaybhan writes:

Sister naina ji
Namsaty
what ever culture you r fowling I don’t No. but Sri Ram and SITA ji is
your last hope to protect our culture and you are doing against it.
Hindu people are very much liberal and open mind but this kind of act
will make them to think like Islamic fundamentalist.
one thing you can do that why are you not make good movie only based
on SITA ji character with all spiritual cultural based theism..
getting popularity with shortcut rout is very essay, but it is very
heard make yourself as good person…
As you are also basically part of Almighty (Atama), this is my request
to not do such thing because hell and haven is with in the world not
out side of this..
so being a good INDIAN girl don’t spoil image of Ideal for All women hood
this humble request to you
MAY ALMIGHTY ILLUMINATE YOUR INTELLECT TO RIGHTEOUS WAY

The writer has a point – I’m really not a good Indian girl.

What is the opposite of “property”?

Comments welcome.

Reasons not to travel

Never before in my life have I been offered so many opportunities to travel. Flights paid for, hotels covered, welcomed as a special guest in fabulous locations all over the world. I am grateful, and honored.

Unfortunately, I can’t stand it and I need to stop.

It’s baffling. I’ve always wanted to travel like this. All my friends are jealous. My past self is jealous. What’s wrong with me?

My circadian clock, for one. It doesn’t re-set easily. Actually that’s not something wrong with it; it’s supposed to work that way. But it’s not compatible with modern international air travel.

Also: my immune system. I frequently get sick when I travel. Maybe it’s the proximity to all those new germs – airplanes are like flying petri dishes. Maybe it’s the stress: cramped seats, endless lines, a thousand humiliating little cuts going through airport security, ticketing, etc. It could just be that jetlag and its attendant sleep deprivation make me susceptible to more diseases.

I also get sick mentally. I bring along many tools and aids to preserve my mental health, but they only go so far in the face of constant stress. Sleep deprivation is unfortunately a trigger for depression, as is physical illness. For a few days these are manageable, but as time wears on, my mind weakens. Last year in Australia, I was unable to sleep one entire night, even with sleeping pills, and started hallucinating. The next day I spontaneously burst into tears a few times. It was interesting, certainly, but not fun. Simple things aid my recovery: my own bed, friends, familiar faces and places, and of course my loving and loyal cat. I have none of these when I travel.

I don’t really know why problems that are so big for me are mere inconveniences to others. Maybe it’s alcohol: I don’t drink. I notice most other travelers do, some a lot. Alcohol probably helps smooth over all these pains I suffer acutely. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the taste of alcohol, and I get no pleasure from the effects. Same with pot. Believe me, I’ve tried. If they worked for me, I would use them.

There are lots of other things most people find desirable that I don’t: bars, amplified music, crowded events, loud parties, eating standing up, cars, babies, television. In the past I’ve believed I should enjoy these things, I’ve tried to enjoy them, I’ve wondered why I don’t; but eventually I accept that I simply don’t derive pleasure from them, and focus on what I do enjoy.

There is an up side to some of this. Plane travel is truly terrible for the environment, so avoiding it has some larger benefit. Some people avoid plane travel even if they enjoy it, for altruistic/environmental reasons. I’m sad to disappoint those who would like me to visit, but on the other hand I may be reducing net harm by saying no.

Here, then, is a list of reasons NOT to travel I composed in Yerevan, Armenia, while my throat was bleeding with an infection I still haven’t recovered from 12 days later.

Nina’s Top Ten Reasons Not To Travel

1. Bad for the environment.
2. Jetlag.
3. Airport security.
It’s horrible and out of control. Don’t make me recount my stories here.
4. Humiliation. In addition to airport security, there are also lines, lines and more lines; mishandled paperwork; passport control; visa applications; lost connections; being a number and $ amount rather than a person; etc.
5. Loneliness if you travel alone, excessive familiarity if you travel with a friend or loved one.
6. Can’t get any work done.
It’s ironic that the more people appreciate my work, the more they invite me on trips that ensure I can’t do it. Is my contribution to society greater if I stay at home and write/draw/create, or if I smile and shake hands in foreign countries? Some people can apparently work while they travel; they’re not me. I do think while I travel, and get new ideas. For example on my latest trip I got a lot of new, profound ideas on why maybe I shouldn’t travel again any time soon.
7. Expensive. Even if the flight and hotel are paid for, expenses rack up. Hotels charge through the nose for internet access. Things get lost or destroyed and need to be replaced: on this last trip, I lost my international outlet adaptor (about $30 to replace), and the laundry in Paris slashed up my Valmiki T-shirt (same). Food and drink must be acquired. Any trip “extras”, like tourist sites or side trips, must be paid for out of pocket.
8. Illnesses: get ’em, spread ’em. It’s bad enough that I get sick when I travel. It breaks my heart that I also become a germ vector, spreading assorted viruses to my generous hosts and new friends.
9. Hotels lose their lustre after a while. It’s nice to fantasize about fancy hotels as an escape from the drudgery of life’s daily responsibilities, but the reality can be disappointing. No matter how expensive or how many Michelin stars, hotels lack the comforts of home.
10. Experience the world through a haze of exhaustion, confusion and sleep deprivation. I read that people like to travel to “experience other cultures” and “learn about the world.” But how much am I learning about the world, when my perception is so compromised? Many “good” travelers see the world through alcohol. They may be having fun, but I question how much we’re really “learning about other cultures” in our altered states. That said, I have learned a lot when I’ve actually moved to new places. By moved I mean stayed in one place longer than a month, and settled down for a bit. Outside the US, I’ve lived in Veyrier, Switzerland and Trivandrum, India, and learned a heck of a lot in both places. But that’s very different from “taking a trip,” staying in a hotel, not having a home, not cooking, etc.

So there you have it. Will I still travel? Yes. Will I travel less often? I sure hope so.  I have traveled quite a lot already, on every continent except South America, so I needn’t fear I’m missing out or living my life in isolation. And I live in New York! The whole World comes through here. Hello, World! Please let me sleep in my own bed.

I’m baaaaack!

And sick as a dog! A dog on antibiotics, who is extremely happy to be home after 3 mostly sick weeks away. Thoughts on travel and the near future coming soon.

Sita airs again on Thirteeen! 11pm Saturday October 3

This just in from Richard Siegmeister of WNET:

Sita is airing this Saturday at 11 on New York’s Channel 13!

And just like the last time Sita aired on WNET, I’m out of the country (by October 3 I’ll be in Armenia). Hopefully they’ll air it again later, so I can enjoy a screening party in New York. Meanwhile, please tell your New York friends.

Sita screens in Paris Monday September 28!

At 8 or 8:30 pm! At a real cinema! I’ll post the cinema name and address as soon as the distributor sends it to me – soon – but if you’re in Paris tomorrow, please save the date and come by!

“Studio des Ursulines”
10, rue des Ursulines 75005 Paris
Metro Luxembourg
8:30pm

Merci a Christophe pour l’information!