Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Farewell to the Otts

The Ott family, Elizabeth's sister Kim and her husband Paul, and sons Andrew, Josh, and Matthew left for China this week. We spent some time with them before they left. Here are some pictures from those times. More pictures:

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Meaning of Christian Freedom vs. Objectivism

[The names have been changed to protect the innocent.] Marsha Now, who is more irrational: the person who believes in a God who they cannot see, or the atheist who is offended by a God they do not believe in?" 1:29pm Susan at 1:37pm March 16 Who says atheists are offended? Tim at 1:48pm March 16 An (adult) person who believes in a God that they have no real reason to believe in is, in my opinion, more irrational than the atheist who reacts defensively to actual persecution by so-called followers of God. I don't believe that there are very many atheists who are offended by God without having a reason for it. Insensitive statements (or, in this case, assumptive questions) do not help atheists to differentiate a loving God from some of his well-meaning, but uncaring followers. Susan at 1:52pm March 16 Well put Tim. Abby at 1:56pm March 16 Listen to Christopher Hitchens. I'd say he's beyond offended! Abby at 2:07pm March 16 Didn't see your comment, Tim. Yes, very well put. I just watched a debate with Hitchens. Does any one know why he hates religion? What happened to sour him so much? Is it more than he just doesn't want to be accountable to anyone? Arthur at 2:14pm March 16 throughout history, atheists have persecuted christians more than christians(and those christians were perhaps not true christians). Russian communists or German Nazis, they where self-declared atheists, and they persecuted thousands if not millions of christians physically, not verbally. Are Christians persecuting atheists by not agreeing with them? When did christians really persecute atheists? If Atheists are not offended by God, then why do they continue to fight him. I don't stress myself over what Buddhists claim is god or that sort of thing, because it isn't true. But atheists are very p/o'd over the fact that christians believe in God. I think it is persecution to not be able to have dual viewpoints presented in education concerning the origin of life. Why is it illegal for a teacher to pray with a student on the campus? these are true examples, and i could show many more. I think the atheist who fights against God like a kid who fights imaginary indians. Arthur at 2:22pm March 16 *than christians have persecuted atheists Tim at 2:26pm March 16 Arthur, misrepresenting someone else's point of view is, in my book, persecution. No, it's not the Spanish Inquisition, but it sure makes people feel like you don't care what their actual hang-ups are, you just want them to conform to your dogma. From the Wikipedia page on Christopher Hitchens under Antitheism: "His main argument is that the concept of God or Supreme Being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom." It would seem that this man likes to misrepresent Christianity. Or, perhaps, in his entire experience of Christians, he has never noticed any who are observably "free" in the sense of Galatians. I think the best way to counter this kind of misrepresentation is to be innocent of the criticism, not to respond in kind. Does my belief in God boil down to a mere set of restrictive rules? If so, then he is right about me. Abby at 2:33pm March 16 Thanks, Tim! Isn't it grand that our "set of rules" are so amazingly freeing?!! Arthur at 2:38pm March 16 Well if God destroys individual freedom, explain communism and fascism, and other dictatorial governments based on un-Biblical principals and bent on destroying Christianity;whereas the U.S., found on biblical principles as much as people will deny it, has the most freedoms enjoyed by its citizens not subjects. You say we misrepresent others viewpoints? Well who said Christians have a mere set of restrictive rules? I feel more free than any drug addict, who didn't need to be governed by "restrictive rules"; and is now a slave to some narcotic. I feel more free than most non-christians, knowing that if I die i would be in a better place, and am therefore free of fear to die. Some are scared of his cause it causes cancer or that causes it gives you such a deadly disease, but I can be free from fear through becoming a Christian. I think it completely bizarre that someone could be so blind as to believe Christians are totalitarian. true Christians are anything but that. Arthur at 2:40pm March 16 Yes [Abby], i agree these rules make us free. So many people think they are free by not following them, but they are stuck in slavery. Tim at 2:51pm March 16 Arthur, I'm really glad I'm already a Christian, because if I weren't nothing you have said would make me want to be one. It's possible to see marriage as a set of restrictive rules. We even recite and promise to keep these rules in our wedding vows. But marriage is meant to be a relationship, not a set of rules. The "rules" describe what the relationship looks like when it is done properly: it does not proscribe that by following the rules, you will have done it right. The difference is in motivation: I am faithful to my wife because I love her. I put her needs higher in my priorities than my own because I *need* her needs to be met more than mine. There are very good reasons why a truly free Christian doesn't lie, steal, or cheat that have nothing to do with a list of 10 rules: he has come to share in God's view of the truth; God's view of justice; God's view of fidelity. Because of the relationship, those things are more important to him than the apparent rewards of sin. Arthur at 3:02pm March 16 I couldn't' agree more, it's love to Jesus Christ that should make us desire to do his will, not a set of ten commandments; although they are some good morals if you want to follow them. Tim at 3:30pm March 16 It's also Jesus' love in us for others that should cause us to want to understand where they're coming from in order to be better able to help them along in their search for what is True. Trying to convince an atheist that atheists are worse than Christians, or that the horrors committed by Christians aren't so bad when compared to this or that group (which you lump them into) only serves to justify yourself and perpetuate the argument. "Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."~2 Tim 2:23-26 Which will free captives from Satan's trap: humiliation or humility?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Google Friend Connect

Not long ago, I noticed a new gadget on some of my friends' blogs. It was a "Followers" box on the side bar. This feature allowed anyone with a Google Account to "Follow" a blog. Following a blog did a few things:
  • If the following was "Public", it allowed the follower's picture to be displayed in the gadget, which was linked to the follower's profile.
  • It added the blog to the "Reading List" in the follower's Blogger Dashboard.
  • It automatically added a subscription the blog in the follower's Google Reader.
Well, these things seemed like pluses to me for all involved, so I went ahead and added the "Followers" gadget to my blogs (in the Layout section of your Blogger settings, if you're interested) and started following all of my friends' blogs (they don't need to have the gadget installed--you can simply add them to your following list on Blogger's Dashboard). More recently, I noticed a change in this gadget. It seems that Google decided to convert this gadget into a Google Friend Connect gadget. Here's what it looks like before and after:
The first thing i noticed was that now it was bigger--and as a result mine looked so very empty. My only followers in this screen shot are myself and my mother: it's both so sad and so endearing. Thanks for your support, Mom! You can sign in to Friend Connect using either your Google/Blogger account, or another account, such as AIM, Yahoo, or even OpenID: Friend Connect will automatically import your list of friends/buddies/people you follow from the network that you use to sign in. You can also add accounts from certain other networks to make them visible as well. As you can see in the above image, the selection of networks isn't all that great yet, but I imagine eventually they'll have support for the likes of Facebook and Myspace, as well as MSN (Live). Currently, I imagine, Facebook wants this to fail in its infancy, because they want to be the only social hub in town and would rather this be a Facebook widget, but I think if it catches on, they'll be forced to come around. Within the Friend Connect box you can look at other followers, their profiles, links, and blogs, as well as what other blogs they're following. The whole idea of Friend Connect is that if another user is your friend on a social network that you (and that other friend) tell Friend Connect about, they show up as your friend in Friend Connect. Below, you can see that my mom and sister are also following this blog, and since they are on my Google Talk list, Friend Connect recognizes them as my friends.
When you click on someone's image, you can view their information, and have the option to add them as a friend directly through Friend Connect.
After signing in to Friend Connect, you can click on Settings. From the settings page, you can add more networks and manage the friends you've made directly through Friend Connect. You can also manage your profile, and import data from your networks, if desired. One very useful feature is an option at the bottom (which you must enable manually on a site-by-site basis) to "Publish your activities to other sites you have joined". Now, I'm not exactly sure how this works, because I haven't been able to test it but I think what it does is the following:
  • If I have this feature enabled on a blog, and I post a comment on that blog, the comment would show up on my Orkut profile (or whatever other social networks I'm on that support Friend Connect). I don't have an Orkut profile, so I can't be sure that's how it works, but that seems to be the gist.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Kindle Controversy: It's All About DRM In The End

Amazon's Kindle 2 has a new feature that's caused a bit of a commotion: it can read to you out loud. Upon learning this, the Authors Guild and publishing companies demanded that Amazon disable this feature on their books. Amazon has said that they will comply with the request, but maintains that what they are enabling is perfectly legal, and that they're only disabling it in order to be nice. Wil Wheaton recently posted on his blog his thoughts on the text-to-speech controversy from an author's perspective. Wil's point is that a computer converting text to speech isn't realistically going to compete with a person performing a reading (even in the future), and therefore it's in an author's best interest to not oppose the value-added feature that the Kindle provides for e-books. It's a purely pragmatic take on the discussion, but there are links there to a larger discussion, mostly coming from a legal perspective as well. The crux of the matter is that when you buy an audio book, you are paying for a copy of a performance of a work, and when you buy a text book you are paying for a copy of the work, not a performance, but that the whole point of having that copy is generate as many private, transient performances as you want (either in your head or out loud) by reading it. Even if reading silently doesn't count, the right to read aloud is still undeniable. Using a machine to read it, therefore, does not violate the copyright. The value added by an audio book over a text version is that, in addition to containing the creativity of the author embedded in the text, it also provides a rendition of the book by a skilled performer. Machine generated audio does not add any creative input, though it may add convenience, but convenience that used to be provided by a person and is now provided by technology is called "progress", not "copyright infringement". If Amazon were providing a service whereby they would read books to you, they would be selling a performance based on a copyrighted work, which would violate the author's copyright. They're not doing this though. What they're doing is selling a performer. This performer is owned by the people who want e-books read to them, therefore the reading of the book occurs completely within the control and ownership of the consumer, and is not fundamentally different from the other way the Kindle interprets the data that constitutes an e-book: displaying the words. If copyright were being violated in this situation (which it's not), it would be the consumer who initiated the text-to-speech event and owns the device and was therefore guilty, not the seller of the technology (which has significant non-infringing uses) that enabled it to happen. An audio book can be captured to text with software, just as a voice recording can be made from a text copy of a book. If a human does either one of these for private consumption, it is not a violation of copyright. The problem that the Author's Guild has is that they can (currently) charge more for an audio book than an e-book, and they don't want e-books to become a replacement product for audio books, thus lowering the demand for audio books. They see that text-to-speech, while not terribly impressive at the moment, will only get better as time passes and the technology is developed, and they don't want there to be a precedent stating that people are allowed to use machines to create an audio version of a book for their own use without the authors' permission. The copyright issue gets a little more complicated with digitally-delivered goods that have no physical component. If you buy a book, or a CD, or a piece of string with knots on it at irregular intervals, you can sell that physical object, and the copyright holder has no right to control the transfer of his work once he's sold it to you. This is known as the first-sale doctrine. The first-sale doctrine, however, does not apply to licensing. When you buy an e-book with your Kindle, Amazon doesn't transfer any goods to you. They don't, at least not technically, "sell" you anything. They "license" it to you, granting you the contractual right to maintain a digital copy, and use it only according to the rights specifically granted you by that license, but no more. Amazon has been granted the right to grant its customers these rights, but you don't have the right to grant them to anyone else, even if you try to transfer them to another person like you would an old book. If you owned a physical embodiment of the work, you could sell it as a used copy or give it to the person sitting next to you on a plane when you were done with it without permission of the author. With non-physical goods, there is no "sale" per se, only the granting of a license, and license terms can stipulate that they allow certain uses and forbid others. They can, for example, forbid iTunes music from being used as a ring-tone unless you paid for it again (this actually happened, until the public backlash caused a PR problem for Apple and they re-negotiated with the record companies). They can also, just as easily, forbid you from processing the digital copy of the book licensed to you in any way except to display it as text on a screen. The question of whether or not the particular license granted to Amazon's Kindle customers permits or disallows the use of text-to-speech software is therefore not the point, since if they really wanted to, publishers could refuse to license e-book sales through Amazon until Amazon was willing to change the terms imposed on readers to their liking. Therefore I think this all boils down to the issue of the marketing of purely digital goods. As consumers, we need to make sure that licenses are broad enough to guarantee that the usage rights that we reasonably expect to have with a physical copy are not curtailed simply to perpetuate the outdated revenue streams that the publishing companies currently rely on. The best way to ensure this is to refuse to buy digital goods with DRM. DRM allows the content producers to be the judge, jury, and executioners in the question of what we get to do with the digital goods we paid for. Without DRM, it is the courts, not the content controllers, that get to decide whether or not it is fair use for me to have a machine read me my book, or to rip a CD into MP3 format, or trigger the playing of a song clip on a phone such that it occurs simultaneous to an incoming call. This is as it should be. It shouldn't be DRM that stops me from breaking copyright law, it should be the fact that it would be illegal to do so. The fact that consumers have abused the freedom that comes with DRM-free media does not make me any more inclined to become the customer of a company which will abuse DRM to prevent me from doing legal things, and treat me like a criminal in the process. Rejecting DRM is, in my humble opinion, the best way for consumers to make sure that licensing a digital download grants consumers the same rights as would the sale of physical media. DRM is, at best, a rental model, and should be viewed as such by those who think they are making purchases.