Book: Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow

Cover of Doctorow’s book

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age
by Cory Doctorow
published by McSweeney’s, San Francisco

Before I discuss the book, I’d like to say that there was NO WAY Doctorow could have predicted the current coronavirus pandemic, and so the advice early in the book about how you shouldn’t be making a living off recordings of your performances, but should really be touring and making money on live shows was well intentioned. There is more on offer, so don’t stop at that point!

Cory Doctorow’s book extols the virtues of the unregulated distribution system known as the Internet, and advises that we should LET GO of the idea of having our creations protected by copyright and adapt.

His views are practical, but I rolled my eyes a few times while reading a physical copy of his book, which was professionally edited, published by a real publisher, and printed on paper by a printing company that got paid. Full disclosure: my bias here is that I LOVE HIS PUBLISHER, I have been buying things they publish for years, and I WANT THEM TO EXIST. Their existence requires some concessions to the models of business which he is critiquing.

He isn’t saying that traditional content publishing & distribution businesses are BAD for all purposes (except in a few places), he is saying that there are more options now, and we have the Internet to thank for that. And that is true, and is good. This is the core and highlight of the book’s themes.

The catch is that digitized creative work has been deeply devalued, and many people just take what they want without paying creators. Doctorow warns creators that making a living isn’t easy regardless (honest and a fair, gentle warning!), and then paints a sunny picture of the tech environment – if people love you, they’ll find ways of getting money to you, and you should make that easy for them to do!

He devotes lots of page space to the futility of preventing unauthorized copying. I’d feel better about it if I didn’t think my friends were getting ripped off. (I am NOT happy that some dude in Germany was burning CDs of a friend’s band’s new album and selling the CDs to pocket the money himself. That is not cool – my friend and his band had to spend a lot of time/effort/music-love/money to record that album. How many fans who want to support him are getting their money diverted away to this random dude?) I get that we are living in a sort of take-what-you-want age, and I personally mock friends who ‘rip’ content they can easily afford to buy. They are NOT supporting creators. Excuses about not wanting to support the corporate players in the industry ring hollow: these pals don’t need the stuff, but they are taking it anyway (like consuming dessert, but refusing to pay for it because the cafe is part of a corporate chain). Industries employ people and can be useful in promoting and distributing creative work – a writer whose indie publisher failed to promote him insisted that a corporate marketing department REALLY IS a useful service, and he wished he had access to one.

The arguments structured as:
– I can’t do what some of the big corporate tools do by myself
– I insist on using big web corp’s tools for my own purposes
– so this creates obligations on big web corp to fulfill more of my needs, rather than the needs of their paying business customers, and restrictions on me on this corporate tool are oppression….I just don’t see it. I preferred the old argument about how, if you didn’t like a tool, you could build a better one. (I’m an OLD geek.) If we aren’t willing to build a tool, the situation we find ourselves in is: someone else’s house, someone else’s rules. I believe we should regulate the hell out of public resources to ensure they are democratic and access is universally provided for the public benefit; we should let corporate-funded platforms serve corporate purposes – even if they build a big membership which we wish was more publicly accessible. If a popular corporate platform has many users, it does not automatically become a public utility – there has to be some trade off for that to be fair.

This is a thoughtful book, which draws different conclusions than I draw about what corporate stuff is useful for, but which has some fine asides about licensing revenue for content creators. I admire Doctorow’s optimism about technology, and his desire for things to be better for creators.

Book: Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel, by Martha Wells

Cover of Martha Wells’ new novel, Network Effect

Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel
by Martha Wells
published by Tor

Yes, Martha Wells has published the fifth book in the Murderbot Diaries, and she hit the word count to be a full-length novel while doing so, which is a big WIN for all of us Murderbot fans! More Murderbot to love!

First: if you haven’t read all four of the novellas, you really must do so: not only because they are awesome, but because they are part of one story, and you need to read those to understand the characters and events that appear here.

Okay: the novel is fantastic. It is fun! It combines the heavy action, emotional angst, sincere affection for certain humans, profane internal monologue, gender-neutral grammar, and inter-robot-friendship you have come to know and love. Adventure! Drama! Alien artifacts! Wells’ writing continues to be delightful, concise, and fantastic. The greater page length delivers more of the same joy the novellas did, in the same style.

This book made my day. Murderbot fans can rejoice in this novel, and look forward to more.

Humanity: Fun in the Mail with Postcrossing

I have been a lifelong fan of “the mail.” I send and receive heaps of mail, and handwritten letters were my primary way of staying close to friends and relatives who are many hours away by plane. I’ve also have/had fantastic pen friends, with whom I’ve had friendships spanning more than 30 years.

I love sending heartfelt messages, and I love receiving them; the same with friendly notes.

Now that my grandparents (who were VERY dedicated correspondents) are gone, I’ve looked to other friends for the satisfaction of good mail. I have a couple fantastic, active pen pals. I also have some well-intentioned friends who thought they would make good pen friends. Despite their excellent intentions, and the way they wax poetic about the idea of written correspondence, they do not DO it. I’ve spent years encouraging them, but the effort has been one- sided: I write to them regularly, they thank me via text or phone for all the notes, but they don’t write back: it isn’t really important to them.

The solution to this is to only write letters to people who also write letters. Shocking, I know! 😀

My main source of postal joy and positivity in the past few years is Postcrossing. This project run by two fun people in Portugal, is a brilliant database/club. You sign up, get five addresses, and send them postcards. (Postcards are MUCH easier for people to finish than letters!) Once your postcards reach their destinations, the recipients register their arrival; your address is then given to a participant so they can send you a card; plus, you can request another address to send to. This is FAIR: you only get a card when you have successfully sent a card. (Intentions are irrelevant!) Gradually, as more of your cards reach recipients, you are allowed to send more. You control the pace, as you get to choose when to request another address.

Postcards connecting the world – Postcrossing

A postcard exchange project that invites everyone to send and receive postcards from random places in the world. For free!

I joined in early 2017, and have sent and received more than 700 postcards. I now have quite a lovely collection of them, and go out of my way to keep a good supply on a wide range of subjects for sending. It doesn’t take long, and it is FUN! I highly recommend it for mail lovers who want to both send AND receive mail; people who enjoy surprises; people who want to have an excuse to buy more postcards; and people who like to encourage random strangers far away.

P.S. Having a new card collection helped me let go of my last, tiny crumbs of resentment about a friend who unwittingly destroyed my postcard collection from friends in college. It was taped to the wall, and I asked for help to gather them while moving out. Rather than removing the tape (which he had watched me do), he stuck them all together, so each was taped with strong adhesive to the face of the next one. It was unsalvageable (even with steam, even with time), and the images AND notes from friends and loved ones had to get tossed out. So: fresh start!

P.P.S. Those friends I got as pen pals in 1984 from the International Pen Pal organization were GREAT – I met three of them, and am still dear friends with one of them (and saw her again last fall). I believe this link leads to their successor organization:

International Pen Friends (IPF) – Snailmail Penfriends – Penfriends From All Over The World – Penfriend Club

Have you ever considered that the greatest friend you may ever have could be someone you have never met, living in a country you have never visited? International Pen Friends has over 300.000 members in 192 countries and we can provide you with new friends in your own age group from most countries around the world.

P.P.P.S. No, Letter Writers Alliance has ended as a project. I have one great pen pal from them (whom I’ve met!), and would recommend them if they were still active!

Design: Pandemic-themed Design By Distance at SFMCD

Speaking of the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design (, they have a virtual exhibit on the theme of designs to create distance or separation to prevent the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Yes, creative people are already trying to work out how to make the world work during a time of highly contagious ailments, and they are raising interesting questions and proposing some pretty (and wild, and uncomfortable, and practical, and edgy) solutions. Some of these are intended as humor or commentary more than as design, but they round out the range of speculative thinking nicely.

Design by Distance

June 2-December 31, 2020 Design by Distance showcases how designers from around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through the development of objects, garments, accessories, and space planning. Curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of c2-curatorsquared, Design by Distance highlights

There is a lot to think about here.

I like these cone-of-silence-like barriers for dining in groups:

Gernigon – Curatorsquared Virtual Views

Christophe Gernigon plex’eat, 2020 Stating that all the solutions he’d seen to date to insure safe dining had looked to him like prisons, French designer Christophe Gernigon created what he thinks of as a kind of a bell, an elegant form made from bent plexi, sized and configured to prevent claustrophobia, and to avoid interfering with pendant lamps, ubiquitous in dining spaces.

As an introvert, I also like these beach cubicles. While my enjoyment of them conceptually feels anti-social (which is supposed to be a bad thing in ordinary times), these DO appeal. I want to be outside! I want other people to keep their distance! These cubicles could help achieve this in crowded / popular locations, to a point.

Menasci – Curatorsquared Virtual Views

Umberto Menasci SafeBeach, 2020 Lexan Perhaps his early legal training instigated Umberto Menasci’s current project, SafeBeach, enabling sun worshipers to enjoy beaches while respecting the new practices regarding social distancing. A grid of outdoor rooms, open to the sky, made of Lexan, allows for two lounge chairs, and one large umbrella, and a small table in each unit.

Afterward: We are in the adaptive phase of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, now that we have realized there is no immediate solution and we will need to change how we live. I’ll be remarking on other things like this, but at some point, once we HAVE adaptated, these environments will seem normal, and future people will look back on this and wonder why I made a fuss over THESE, rather than all of the shared/high-contact/crowded places of the past…

Design: Face Mask Design Competition

Why just wear a paper mask or bandana to protect your community from the spread of COVID-19 when you can get creative? The San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design sponsored a protective face mask competition: the winners are at the top, but the gallery with all of the entries is FUN, so I recommend that.

Let’s Face It: Community Gallery | MCD

On May 11, the Museum of Craft and Design launched Let’s Face It, an international mask design competition. We received 363 entries from 17 countries, with participants ranging from 4 years old and up. Thank you to everyone who participated.

News: Happy Loving Day!

Yes, inter-racial marriage used to be illegal in many parts of the USA. Until 1967. Which is SUPER RECENTLY.

Hooray for Loving v. Virginia!

Loving Day

Loving Day is an annual celebration held on June 12, the anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen U.S. states. In the United States, anti-miscegenation laws were U.S.

From the Wikipedia Article, above:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

-Mildred Loving, June 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia

News: Black Lives Matter (to more people, finally!), and Current Events Remain Current

I feel like I watch three genres of video now:
(1) videos of peaceful demonstrators out in public somewhere in the world (I like these!)
(2) police violently attacking peaceful demonstrators (these upset me), and
(3) police violently attacking journalists (these anger me).

(There is a subgenre of (2) that involves police violently attacking passersby and people standing on their own property while watching (1) or (2), but I haven’t made a habit of watching that content yet.)

There are THOUSANDS of films in these genres now, and so I’m only going to share a few links to solid compilations of those last two. The novel and interesting thing about the compilations I like best are (a) they are from overseas, from the UK Guardian, and (b) they are from a mainstream news organization! The US domestic press used to refer to peaceful protesters as “violent,” even while showing their own videos of people peacefully sitting on the ground being beaten by police, because it fit their narrative that the authorities are always inherently good. Now that everyone has phone cameras and can see with their own eyes, that approach is only working with people who want to believe that protesters are bad and deserve violence.

Category 2, from June 6, 2020:

Protests about police brutality are met with wave of police brutality across US

The nationwide anti-police brutality protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the US have been marked by widespread incidents of police violence, including punching, kicking, gassing, pepper-spraying and driving vehicles at often peaceful protesters in states across the country. The actions have left thousands of protesters in jail and injured many others, leaving some with life-threatening injuries.

The Guardian’s compilation a 260+ link compilation of police brutality videos within Twitter, which started on May 30, 2020. (The links are not all in chronological order, because: Twitter). It feels like calling this “criminal justice news” is ironic, considering the overt police riots (click the image of the tweet below):



One more, out of many I could have posted, for Category 3, from June 6, 2020:

Teargassed, beaten up, arrested: what freedom of the press looks like in the US right now

Caught in the middle of a scrum covering protests in Minneapolis on Saturday, photojournalist Ed Ou could feel his hands and face were wet. For a long time, he didn’t know if it was teargas, pepper spray, or blood – in the end, it turned out to be a combination of all three.

I’ve read notes from people who watch television, saying that the TV stations TRIED the “protestors bad, police good” line at first, but when no one was falling for it, actually started reporting the news. I don’t know if their own journalists had to be attacked for them to ‘get it,’ or if the scales suddenly fell from their eyes. But: what a remarkable turn of events.

News: more than I can process easily

I want to write briefly about the remarkable time we are living in.

I’ve been trying to process even more murders of black Americans by police on the news, events which have become all too common throughout my life. The era of cell phone videos changed this, but only to the point that we could bear witness to the horror more directly, and observe that the stories the police used to justify the killings never withstood scrutiny, even to the (surprised!) eyes of people who previously willed the news away with hazy implications of guilt, as if hazy implications justify spontaneous, extrajudicial executions.

As with US school shootings, it seemed that no amount of loss could make anything change. Each time, there would be hope that THIS would be the event that bent the arc of history toward justice. Each time, it seemed THIS would be the day when people stood up and said that we are NOT A COUNTRY that allows this to happen, and it would end. But each time wasn’t that time.

But now, unexpectedly, there seems to be… a sort of reckoning.

I’m afraid to get my hopes up that it will be that time. It could be! But I’m afraid to hope.

This reckoning arose not only over the original event, namely the recorded murder of a man named George Floyd who was suffocated by police kneeling on his neck, but grew dramatically over the outlandish assaults by police against people peacefully protesting against police brutality.

The police have been shooting journalists with rubber bullets. The police have been been arresting news crews on the air. The police have been tear gassing members of the clergy.

Individually they may have been thinking: police are never punished for brutality, even if the brutality is recorded, so this won’t matter. Collectively, they were surely also thinking this, because they were all choosing to behave the same way, and this is how structural racism works.

Yet…. this is playing out differently.

The automatic deference is gone.

Diplomatic complaints are being lodged over attacks on credentialed press from other nations.

Police officers are being fired for misconduct (which had previously just been deemed regular conduct).

British youth with ADORABLE British accents are having mass solidarity demonstrations, and hearing them chant, “Black Lives Matter!” so Britishly delighted me on every level, even before looking at the other solidarity demonstrations around the world.

I don’t know where this is going, but I know I want to bend it toward justice. I want us ALL to bend it toward justice.