Writing

Gone, Gone, Baby it’s All Gone

Off the keyboard of RE

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on June 21, 2015

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Did you ever spend a few hours typing up an email reply or a message on the net, hit the SUBMIT button and have the post disappear into the ether, lost forever in the sea of digibits floating around the internet?  Or go to open up a file you were working on saved on your own computer, but when you try to open it up, you get a "FILE CORRUPT" error message?

Or, God Forbid, one day you try to turn on your laptop, only to get the Blue Screen of Death?

blue-screen

Just losing one email you spent a lot of time writing is pretty frustrating.  It's a lot worse when you lose your entire hard drive, but usually in that case you can bring it over to the local Computer Renaissance and the geeks can extract the data off of it.  It's usually still intact, just the drive motor gave out or the computer motherboard quit etc.

Still, it's a sinking feeling if you don't have that Magical Wand called BACKUP.

Now, take this feeling and imagine you run a website where you have spent 1000s of hours over 3 years writing, and not just you writing for it either.  Dozens of other people also writing and contributing to the data stored on your website.  Then one day you awaken, and you find your website is down, and you don't have a backup.

IT'S GONE, GONE, BABY IT'S ALL GONE.  IT'S OVER FOR ME AND IT'S OVER FOR YOU.

http://outlookexpresshelp.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/outlook-express-help8.jpg Now, similar to bringing your hard drive in for the Geek Squad to extract your data, Web Hosts have a thing called "Tech Support".  These Pros From Dover most of the time can fix up your site and recover your data.

Not always though, and sometimes the backup copies they have don't work either, or the backup copy is stored on the same server as your original live version and the whole server goes down, not just your website if you are on a shared server, which most Blogs except the very biggest like Zero Hedge are on.

Such was the case with the most recent crash of the Diner, besides internal problems we were having with the WordPress Blog, a couple of sticks of RAM went bad on the server, the MySQL which controls all the databases got screwed up, and the Diner and some other nonsense in French got jumbled together, all in all a major CLUSTERFUCK.

By day 3 of the CRASH I was giving up all Hopium that the Diner would ever be recovered.  3 years and thousands of hours of work, all GONE in the blink of an eye!

At the height of the crash, I wrote the following message on the Diner "Beta" Forum, a Forum on Create-a-Forum I created in a prior Diner Crash:

On Losing the Diner
« on: June 04, 2015, 05:46:24 am »

It is Thursday Morning June 4, 2015, 2AM AK Time.

As of right now, all the material on the Doomstead Diner, thousands of pages put up by myself and other Diners is currently lost and inaccessible on the web.

There is apparently now a problem with MySQL on our server host  the Code Jockeys are working to fix, and hopefully they will succeed.

Doomer Support took a backup copy of the Diner yesterday, so hopefully the material will all be retrieved at some future date on some server.

However, I have always known this is all time limited, and really about nobody goes back and looks at archives in a Blog anyhow.  What you write on a Blog only lasts a few days to a month before nobody ever reads it again.

So if it all is gone for good, so be it.  Some people read the stuff when it was fresh and first came off my keyboard.  That is good enough.

In terms of keeping the Doomstead Diner going, I will give it a week or so, and if the Code Jockeys at ASO and Doomer Support cannot resurect the Diner, then I will simply start over, first here and then with a Blogspot or free WP Blog, and point the DoomsteadDiner.net and DoomsteadDiner.com that way.

I'm not going to quit writing about collapse on the net until I croak.  I'm not going to quit ranting either, and at least last I checked Diner Soundcoud was still running.  If/When it collapses, I'll find other free cloud storage for mp3s and drop them on there.

Today's project will be setting up a new Doomstead Diner Beta Blog on Blogspot or WordPress.  I won't switch the URL pointer to that for at least a week or so.  I think Doomer Support and the Code Jockeys at ASO will get this fixed here, so I'm not going to prematurely jump the gun and flip the switch over on the URL yet.

No matter what occurs here, the Doomstead Diner has been a Great Adventure for me over these last few years, and I do know that what I wrote reached many people.  That is good enough.  The internet will not last forever, probably not more than another 20 years IMHO.  About Nobody goes back to read the old stuff anyhow.  What I wrote, what I thought does exist somewhere, and will for all eternity.  It cannot be destroyed, it cannot be hacked.

Tomorrow is another day I will carry on here, and spend my day chatting with support to fix the Diner.  I am not worried about this though one way or the other.  I will keep writing and ranting no matter what until I Buy My Ticket to the Great BeyondTM.

RE

As Philosophical and Stiff Upper Lip as I was trying to be with that post, I was really feeling quite devastated at the time.  The Diner was supposed to be my LEGACY.

legacy

noun leg·a·cy \ˈle-gə-sē\

: something  that is received from someone who has died

: something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past

Although I am quite aware of the truth that few people will go back and read my old articles after I Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM, it's my hope that at least a few will, and also that the Diner Community and the SUN Project will continue onward as well for a while longer too.

I also know that what is up on the internet is not going to be up for reading forever also.  The Energy requirements to keep it running, the personal technology of laptops for everyone to be able to access it, and the poor economics of it eventually will take it offline.  I'd give it maybe 20 more years of general accessibility, although the main servers and cached information may remain on Google servers longer than that, accessible to a few Illuminati.  Even that though eventually will go down, maybe 50 years for that.

Not a real long time in the grand scheme of things, matched up against some text written on paper or papyrus, there's still some Legacy material floating around now that goes back around 4000 years for that stuff.  The oldest known writing comes on the Dispilio Stone Tablet and dates back around 7000 years.

http://www.ancient-origins.net/sites/default/files/field/image/distilio-tablet.jpg

If you go to the area of Cave Wall Paintings as conveyors of Legacy Information, the oldest ones of those go back around 40,000 years

Cave paintings are paintings found on cave walls and ceilings, and especially those of prehistoric origin, which date back to some 40,000 years ago in both Asia and Europe. The exact purpose of the Paleolithic cave paintings is not known. Evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas since the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation. They are also often located in areas of caves that are not easily accessible. Some theories hold that cave paintings may have been a way of communicating with others, while other theories ascribe a religious or ceremonial purpose to them. The paintings are remarkably similar around the world, with animals being common subjects that give the most impressive images. Humans mainly appear as images of hands, mostly hand stencils made by blowing pigment on a hand held to the wall.

The earliest known cave paintings/drawings of animals are at least 35,000 years old, at Maros on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, according to datings announced in 2014. Previously it was believed that the earliest paintings were in Europe.[1] The earliest figurative paintings in Europe date back to the Aurignacian period, approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago, and are found in the Chauvet Cave in France, and in the Coliboaia Cave in Romania.[2] The earliest non-figurative rock art dates back to approximately 40,000 years ago, the date given both to a disk in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain and a hand stencil in Sulawesi. There are similar later paintings in Africa, Australia and South America, continuing until recent times in some places, though there is a worldwide tendency for open air rock art to succeed paintings deep in caves.

"AltamiraBison" by Rameessos

The oldest known Sculpture is around the same age as the Cave Wall art, at around 40,000 years also.

Venus of Hohle Fels

So in comparison to the artists who who did those Paintings and Sculpture, even a 50 year Legacy is pretty small potatoes, if you can even manage that.

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/cavalry_charge_1905_4616.jpgSmall potatoes or not though, now that I got the Diner BACK, thanks to Tech Support at ASO and Doomer Support of the Database Cavalry From California TM, I'm on a Mission From God to make the Diner as resilient as I can, and try to make sure it stays up on the web until the Internet Goes Dark TM.

The first part of the plan I hatched with my good friend Doomer Support.  He has already done two major Stick Saves of the Diner, we had another problem back in 2013 on my old server which he was able to fix, and that's when I moved over to join him at ASO.

Both of us upgraded our separate hosting packages to Virtual Private Servers, or VPS.  We're both taking backups of the sites we host on each other's server, and creating an automated backup system between the two servers.  So if any website on the server crashes, or even if the whole fucking server crashes, we still have working copies of up to date material dropped on the databases.  This is pretty close to BULLETPROOF as far as backup is concerned.

However, in terms of making the material LAST for the full 50 years maybe possible here, this isn't the only problem you have.  The other problem is MONEY.

This server space isn't all that expensive in the grand scheme of things (I spend more money on Beer in a month than on my Hosting package), but obviously once I am DEAD I won't be paying the bills on the server.  So I did go ahead and pay up a full year in advance on the hosting Package, and 5 years in advance on the URL registration, but that still only gets 5 years if I cough up 4 more years advance payment, which now is getting into a significant sum of money.  Still just 5 years though, not 50.

Now, assuming the Diner Community hangs together here, maybe they will continue to pay Diner Bills in order to keep it running, that would be GREAT! Image result for sunny smiley

Still unlikely  they will keep paying the bills for the next 50 years though. 🙁

The only chance to keep all the material up until the Internet Goes Dark TM is to get the Diner up onto FREE Internet Blog space on the WordPress website, where nobody has bills to pay on it.

In order to do this, I created the new DoomsteadDinerBeta blog.  The actual address of Diner Beta is

https://doomsteaddinerbeta.wordpress.com/

also accessible until 2021 at doomsteaddiner.com. The actual current address of the LIVE Diner is doomsteaddiner.net.

To create this Beta version, I used a fresh version of WP without all the Plugins and Widgets myself and others have installed here on the main Diner.  Such plugins can cause havoc with your database if you don't keep them all updated, along with updates to WP itself, so Beta gets nothing but the bare bones of a WP site, with a stock theme as well.

To transfer the database, I'm not doing a wholesale copy and trying to import it over there (not even sure you can do that, I don't see a utility for it on WP and I don't have access to their cPanel either), I am going article by article and just pasting over the HTML.  I'm also not copying EVERY article on the Diner, just those written by Native Diners, not the Cross Posted articles from other Blogs.  If those folks want to try to create a Legacy Blog, they can do that themselves.  As it is, just copying Native Diner articles is a long and tedious process, I'm only about halfway through it now, up to July of 2013 or so after several days and numerous hours at this task, which is cutting into my writing and ranting time. 🙁  However, it's important to me to have this backup copy up on the web, so I am slogging my way through it.

As far as the Diner Forum  here is concerned, there is a whole lot more material in the SMF database than on the WP Blog database for the Blog, and the Diner Beta Forum works the same, but it doesn't have any of the data from this one in it, and I doubt it ever will.  I also don't see any means of importing databases to Create-a-Forum, and copy/pasting all the posts here over there is out of the question.  So the current Forum is likely to be lost when the main Diner goes down for good. The material MAY be cached on Google servers though, they have spiders crawling through the database all the time.

I have tons of other material up on the web I am going to try and move to free space over time, like all the Rants and Interviews currently up on Diner Soundcloud, which also has a yearly fee for the Pro Package.  I will update on that when I get to it, but the priority right now is the main Diner Blog, which will probably take another week or two to get finished in transfer.

Diner TV is already up on Free You Tube space, so that needs no changes to stay up as long as Google does, which is until the Internet Goes Dark TM.

Beyond all that are the Yahoo Groups like Reverse Engineering I ran over the years.  This material is on free space, the problem is these were all Restricted Groups for Members Only.  So if you don't have a User ID & Password, you can't read the material in the database.  You can't change the group setting to Public anymore either.  I'm still trying to work out a reasonable automated means of capturing that material to make it public in Blog form.  If I can't do that, I will make a User Name and Password anyone can use to go read there.

So, all in all, if I can finish the Diner Archiving Project TM before I Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM, I should be about the most resilient Doomer on the net, with multiple backups and cyber-redundancy.

I WILL NOT LOSE THE DINER!  Image result for sunny smiley

I will not live forever, but the Diner will LIVE until the INTERNET GOES DARK TM.

My LEGACY as an internet writer and forum moderator for a Quarter Century will not disappear the day I Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM.

LONG LIVE THE DOOMSTEAD DINER

Distraction, Surveillance, Peak Oil and the End of the Internet

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on August 1, 2014

 What happens to our computers when there’s little to nothing left to power them with? (photo © Americanspirit)

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights table inside the Diner

With this article, the Diner introduces a new  Cross Posting Blogger, Allan Stromfeldt Christensen from the blog From Filmers to Farmers.A former filmmaker now turned farmer (as the title of his blog suggests), Allan has been concerned with the issues of Technology and Peak Oil for a long time, but just recently relented in his quest to divorce himself from the Techno Age to begin his blog, basically as a promotional means to get the more traditional Book Writing thing going.He sent me one of his blogs to cross post, and after looking through his fairly new website his perspectives are ones often discussed on the Diner, so I will catch up here on the blogs chronologically, which begin in August of 2014.Allan has actually appeared on the Diner before, in a photograph taken at the Age of Limits conference in 2013, which one of the Diners also attended.  He’s the guy on the left with the Pencil in his ear.

IMG_20130523_212744

Allan should be available inside the Diner to discuss his perspectives and experiences thusfar as we move down the Collapse Highway. -RE

Let me be upfront about one thing: I don’t particularly want to be writing this blog. But as I am an unpublished writer completing his first book in this early twenty-first century of ours, for what should be obvious reasons, I am.

Why don’t I particularly want to be writing this blog?

For one, I’m not a very big fan of the Internet, and beginning in mid-2008 had spent more than five years (mostly) not using it – nor computers in general. To be more specific, I did still use computers at libraries to access their catalogues, after three years I did very sparingly start using email again, and after the fourth year I did occasionally ask a few people to look up various pieces of information for me online. (To be more specific, I wrote the first draft of my manuscript by hand, edited on top of that with a red pen to complete the second draft, typed that out on a circa-1930s Remington typewriter, then had an ever helpful cousin of mine transcribe that over to a computer for me.)

Secondly, when I say I “mostly” didn’t use the Internet, I’m fully aware how intertwined our lives are with the online world and the virtual impossibility of completely separating oneself from it. In this flush-happy modern world of ours, I have no doubt that the chlorine in the drinking water used to make my bodily “waste” go away was purchased, ordered, and delivered by services dependent on the Internet, and that the lever on the toilet might as well have been an “enter” button (or better yet, an “out of sight, out of mind” button).

Nonetheless, my abstention was significant enough to note, but upon moving to a new city in late-2013, where I knew no one, I of course couldn’t go about repeatedly asking my new housemates to give me a hand with various online activities – buying a used desk, chair, bookshelves, etc. So after a five and a half year hiatus I acquiesced, and since November 2013 I’ve been back online. (Note to prospective publishers interested in contacting me about writing a cutesy My 280 Weeks Without the Internet book – forget about it.)

In hindsight, and particularly in regards to writing the manuscript for From Filmers to Farmers, I can now see that abstaining from the Internet is the best thing I could have done those six or so years ago. I’ll digress.

Although I suppose that largely abstaining from the Internet for five and a half years is something someone would do for either highly ideological reasons or to perhaps secure a fat advance from a New York City book publisher (again, please don’t contact me), the rather anti-climactic reason for why I began my hiatus was little more than the result of a gut feeling. I suppose I was always irked by the fossil fuels I had to burn through in order to do a bit of online reading, my contribution to the destruction of the ecosphere in order to mine the rare earth elements necessary for the construction of my computer (partaken on my behalf by multinational corporations), as well as the amount of Asian coolies I used by proxy in order to assemble my computer’s components and all the others that made the network possible. So sure, although that stuff and more often went through my head, it wasn’t as if some moral epiphany had suddenly washed over me. Instead, having given up filmmaking – and so film and video cameras – a few years earlier, it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do in the natural progression of things.

It wasn’t until I was about two years into my hiatus (which, for all I knew, was going to last my whole life) that I got a strong confirmation for what I was doing. This came courtesy of what I think is not only the best book that has been written about the Internet, but the best book that can be written about the Internet. That would be Nicolas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I won’t give a summation here, but I will point out that the book provides ample scientific evidence of how the Internet hampers our minds from thinking very creatively or deeply, and that multitasking is much more of a hindrance than a benefit to our thought processes and productivity.

Although I didn’t expect it to be so blatant, Carr’s conclusions became readily obvious to me in the final half a year of my hiatus when I increasingly asked other people to open various webpages for me. And not only did I continue to access library catalogues, but I also began to heavily peruse the catalogues of online booksellers. As my usage increased I noticed my ability to concentrate on my research and note-taking significantly deteriorating, and I went from being able to sit down for hours at a time at the library to repeatedly “needing” to get up and log onto a computer, only to end up tapping away at the refresh button on my email account with repeated fruitless clicks. Not only that, but all this occurred even though I was readily aware that virtually nobody ever emailed me except for a few seed saving organizations I had joined and/or volunteered with, as well as various unsolicited organizations that repeatedly sent me what I presume were targeted emails with offers of various pills and other concoctions that promised to increase the size of my “member” (to this day I’m still not sure how the Internet and all its devious algorithms deciphered that well-kept secret of mine – curses that darn NSA!)

Anyway, having now jumped back onto the Internet bandwagon full-force (minus online video), my ability to sit down and concentrate on the research for my manuscript has been decimated. At best my work output is somewhere between a third and a half of what it used to be, and not simply because I spend a half to two-thirds less time at my work and in front of a computer instead; while I used to be able to read a book for hours on end, a half an hour is now an accomplishment for me. Similarly, when I’m sitting down at work the productivity just isn’t there anymore, more and more of my time being spent twirling my pen between my fingers and daydreaming about nothing of importance, probably deep down anticipating when I’m going to give in and let myself get up and log onto a computer again. And for what, you may ask? To log into my email account and find out that no one has emailed me; to discover that my website has had no new visitors since I last checked; and to perhaps visit one of the two news portals I peruse and read a few fairly interesting articles on energy supplies and/or about the latest tit-for-tat resource war shenanigans between those nations vying for the remaining dregs in this early peak oil era of ours.

In fact, this very website you’re on is the product of the distraction I’m talking about. While it’s hard to deny that the kind of book that I, an unknown writer, am writing in this modern era pretty much requires a website for promotional reasons, I also can’t deny that the construction of the site provided ample fodder for me to feed into my newfound Internet reliance (unless addiction isn’t too strong of a word). I spent about a month on and off building it, which included teaching myself how to code HTML and CSS, as well as how to manipulate (but mostly just copy and paste) JavaScript, PHP and Ajax that other people had coded. (I did this on a loaner as I don’t own a computer and haven’t bought one since I purchased a brand new Apple G4 back in 2000, and which was disposed of years ago.) When I then tried to take myself away from coding my site in order to work on the prep work for my last draft, I found my mind repeatedly unable to concentrate very well, it probably having gotten too used to the hyper-stimulated environment of clicking and jumping between links and pages on the Internet (again, see The Shallows).

That’s one of my two main gripes with the Internet. The other, contrary to what gets bandied about in fashionable circles today, has nothing to do with net neutrality or the whole Snowden/NSA brouhaha. For what concerns me is the longevity of the Internet, and what its demise portends for a civilization that without it, for one, would barely have any idea what to do with its own feces.

Let me be quick to point out that when I say “demise” I don’t refer to some imminent coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun or an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) unleashed by some rogue nation, both of which could theoretically cripple electronic infrastructures in an instant and usher entire societies into utter chaos virtually overnight. No. What I’m talking about is the slow and comparatively uneventful demise of the Internet due to peaking supplies of oil, other forms of energy, and the rare earth elements required for construction of the computers and the rest of the paraphernalia that makes up the Internet. In other words, not an overnight crash, but the decades-long slip into the up-and-coming dark ages.

As put in one of author John Michael Greer’s excellent peak oil books, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered,

To suggest that the Internet will turn out to be, not the wave of the future, but a relatively short-lived phenomenon on the crest of the age of cheap abundant energy, is to risk running headlong into the logic of abundance… It’s essential not to get caught up in thinking of how many advantages the Internet might provide to a post-abundance world, because the advantages conferred by the Internet in no way mean that it must continue to exist. The fact that something provides an advantage does not guarantee that it is economically viable.

So while issues of online privacy and access may at best offer a passing interest to me, what really concerns me is how our uber-dependent society is going to manage without its ever-present www intravenous (or to be more specific, without cheap energy). How many businesses are you aware of that would still be able to function, or even know how to function, without the Internet? How about their suppliers? The transportation system which they rely on? It ends up being not much of a joke to wonder how long our porcelain goddesses would continue to woosh away, regardless of them not having a direct connection to the digital realm.

Falling through the looking glass (photo © Rangizzz, adapted by ASC)

Not exactly a topic du jour amongst polite company, how many of us are talking about this? Does Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State address any of this? No. Does Mr. Snowden? Not that I’ve read. Does The New York Times, The Toronto Star, The Melbourne Age? Fat chance of that. Even read through eco-oriented magazines and some peak oil writings and it’s not uncommon to come across pronouncements of the Internet as harbinger of a post-carbon era where a world of diverse local communities is bound together through the deliverance of ones and zeroes. I’m not sure if I should then call it a sad fact or not, but I suppose it should come as no surprise that pretty much all of what’s been written about the Internet’s demise exists, of all places, on the Internet.

Conscious of the fact that most of us seem to be giddily sleepwalking over the edge like a mob of true believers, I see no good reason why I should (re)create too much of a dependency on the Internet, it probably being a good idea to ween oneself and one’s community away from it as much as feasible. What kind of a timeline am I talking about here? Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea, but I certainly don’t expect the Internet as we know it to be around for the duration of my lifetime. (That being said, I think it’s fair to say that when the Internet does start to go down, for various reasons it’ll be rural areas that lose their connections first.)

But in the meantime, should we not be concerned with the recent NSA leaks and such? Well, sure, I’ve read 1984. And yes, the surveillance state will probably get significantly more uncomfortable for many of us before its existence is significantly threatened by the diminishing returns of a post peak oil world. But nonetheless, from what I can tell there’s absolutely nothing revelationary that the recent NSA leaks have pointed out (either because you’ve already read books by James Bamford and such, or you simply applied common sense), while the repeated libertarian cries for digital rights amount to what are basically little more than shrill cries of fossil fuelled privilege, the demands all the more delusional when we consider the Internet’s inherent bias towards surveillance. (Erroneous talk of technological neutrality is fodder for another blog post, along with another about our ever-ridiculous technological optimism. But those parts of the manuscript need to be elaborated upon before they can be copied and pasted to this blog.)

I’ll never forget that day I first read about the NSA leaks, a friend of mine later that evening whipping out his cellphone and showing me the PRISM logo, followed by some unpleasant words about being spied upon. Concluding our conversation, my friend then turned to his fiancé and said, “come on honey, let’s go set up your new media box” (a device with which to watch digital content on a television set). Frankly, I don’t think I could sum up my feelings more clearly than by quoting from one of the greatest books of this early twenty-first century, Andrew Nikiforuk’s The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude: “The people on fossil fuels [are] perhaps the most narcissistic and bankrupt cohort in the history of the species.”

And never mind the problems within a digital world, what about the problems outside of the digital world? Do you have any idea of the hassle and interrogation one gets crossing an international border when customs finds out that you don’t own a cellphone? (Hello Australia and the US!)

In summation, what should be the real story of importance here is not privacy rights or equal access to the Internet’s transmission lines, but what – if anything – our preparation for the Internet’s demise will be.

Update 01/01/2015: So as to not give the impression that I’m some computer-coding whiz kid, I’ll point out that at the end of 2014 I did spend another month on-and-off fiddling around with the website, as well as figuring out how to build a site for mobile phones (which I somewhat did). Although I still don’t own a computer and did all the coding on a friend’s netbook and on library computers, I do now own a cellphone. That is, a friend gave me his spare iPhone 4 so that I could build the mobile site. But that being said, I don’t have a SIM card, and so no mobile number either.

Clan of the Copyright Bear

Off the Keyboard of RE

Note from RE:  This article was originally written during the Napster File Sharing prosecutions in around 2005 or so.  I’m featuring it again here in “honor”  of Apple’s recent “victory” over Samsung in the Smart Phone/Table Copyright War.

Discuss this article inside the Diner
Sometimes, because we are so immersed in the values, social system and laws of the late stage industrial society in which we live, it is difficult to see how some of the concepts we think are immutably set in concrete really are not that way at all. The concept of intellectual property and ownership of ideas is one of those cases. The issue of Musical Ownership and Copyright provides an excellent test case for the validity of some of our current concepts. Music, because it does not have substance, is particularly easy to reproduce. This makes it a very difficult thing to “own”, and to have “rights” to. Technology of course has made this easier, but this has been the case since the dawn of time.

Lets say I am a tribal flute player in post-Neanderthal France, and go to the annual gathering of tribes at the Summer Meeting to play my latest tune. I worked all through the cold days of winter in the cave composing this masterpiece. It is such a moving love song that the birthrate in the spring for my tribe is huge 🙂 We are talking a Double Platinum Chart Topper on the Cro-Magnon Billboard. All the flute players from all the other tribes come to the Summer Meeting, and the teenyboppers squeal when I arrive in camp toting my flute. Of course since writing has not yet developed the other flute players can’t buy the sheet music from me, and it is darn tough to cut a CD out of rock. The teenyboppers will have to come to my campfire to hear the tune also, a major league benefit. (… and this one time, at band camp…:-)

Reaching back into our human history, all music was heard, learned and played by ear live, and in fact people who learn this way generally have what we call today “perfect pitch”. Anyhow, the outcome of my performance is that now all the other flute players can play my masterpiece. There is no way for me to “charge” them for this knowledge. I could charge them to come listen to me around my campfire, but I could not charge them for every time they played their flute after that, or for teaching it to other flute players. Of course, in a tribal society, I would have huge status from this, and most likely I would get quite a bit of tribute, particularly from the teeny boppers. Modern day Rock Stars have long capitalized on this particular phenomenon as well. However, its not obligated, because there is no way to do so. Even if I exclude people who don’t pay to hear my flute performance, they will eventually learn it from the people who did pay. This is why traditionally, musicians earned their money through performance, which is effectively manual rather than intellectual labor.

On the other hand, lets say I am a first class spear point maker. While my friend the flute player is composing his masterpiece, I am toiling away making 10 razor sharp double edged press-flaked obsidian blades a day, a totally revolutionary technique. With 50 blades I can trade for a goat at the Summer Meeting. 200 blades will buy me a nice new wife. 500 blades will buy an even nicer horse 🙂 Spear Points, unlike Music, have substance. They can be traded for other things of substance.

Like the composer, however, I do have something about my blades that can be copied. Other blade makers will figure out my cool double edge technique. Before you know it, the market will be flooded with double edge press-flaked blades. At next year’s Summer Meeting, it might take a whole winter of point making just to buy a goat. I’ll really have to save up for a couple of winters if I want to buy another wife. I’ll really need the wives if I want to buy a horse, because I’m going to have to teach a slew of my kids point making to have enough spear points to trade for one of those. Of course, if I was real smart, I would have kept my special press-flaking technique a secret, and only teach it to my kids, who I will have a ton of because I bought so many wives 🙂

The idea of copyright on music is a relatively modern one, as is the idea of patenting an invention. Both of these ideas have stimulated modern creativity and invention, because they make it extremely profitable to have an idea. It is even very profitable to steal other people’s ideas, change them enough to make them look like yours, and corner the market. Just ask Bill Gates.

In the world of academia, traditionally no one “owned” an idea. You publish your work to further the total knowledge of human kind. Other academics then use your ideas to create new ideas of their own. Knowledge expands exponentially because of the free exchange and use of ideas. However, in recent years academics have become jealous of engineers and industrialists who patent ideas and become rich, while they are pulling down a professor’s salary. You now have people patenting things like parts of the Human Genome, which clearly they did not invent, just elucidated first. Does this further human knowledge? I hardly think so. It just enriches those who get there first and legally binds up the ideas.
While the concept of ownership of ideas has been good for our society in some ways, in others it is not so good. It devalues individual work of the manual kind, because you can be paid many times over for having one good idea. It limits the free flow and use of information. Finally, it creates an incredibly tangled legal concept that is extremely hard to enforce. So in addition to outrageously wealthy “owners” of ideas like Bill Gates, you have some extremely well-to-do patent lawyers.

What goes around, comes around. The ability to “sell” idea oriented stuff like literature and music worked very well when the means of producing printed material or plastic discs required large industrial style production facilities for the printing of books or the pressing of record albums. However, because of technology, as in the days of the Cro-Magnon when stories were passed on orally and music was played and listened to live by individuals, protecting and charging for these ideas has become impractical and unenforceable, for the most part. On the large scale, the ownership concept can still be enforced against a service like Napster, but it can’t stop the millions of individuals burning CDs, or establishing their own small Napster-like trading systems on the web.

As a person who values thought and ideas, and who has quite a few of my own, I certainly try to protect my material so that it retains its value. But I recognize also that because of the nature of technology and communication systems in the modern era, it is quite possible for people to copy things I conceive of. My curret project is particularly hard to copy in its full form, because it has many aspects which only I can personally provide, at least at the bargain basement price I provide them. The database software is custom designed for every individual bizness. Most people don’t know how to REALLY use Access, so I have to teach that. Many people don’t have quite the information set I have worked up over 20 years, and certainly they don’t have them in searchable MPEG digital video form. Few people have the time, ability or inclination to do graphic layout and write promotional material for their small biz, and paying professionals who do this for a living is costly. Few people give bang up motivational seminars. I protect my ideas not by using the legal system, but by providing so many things that copying it becomes at best impractical, and in many ways impossible.

Certainly musicians should be paid for their compositions. Choreographers should be paid for their choreography. Inventors should be paid for their inventions. Writers should be paid for their writings. But how many times should they be paid? Once you put your ideas out there, you need some other means than the legal system to protect you from copying. Evolution of technology has made this concept simply impractical to apply.

Note:
In the intervening years since I first wrote this article, Digital Copyright Protection schemes and limiting the capabilities of computers to do digital copying has successfully maintained the system a while longer, although to be sure particularly in the Music and Film industry “pirating” of material remains a major problem for this bizness model. All to the good there, “Pirates” and “Hackers” are serving an important goal in removing the profit from extractive corporations which use the desire people have to be “entertained” as a means to tax them on that aspect of the Human psyche.

Also in the intervening years here, my opinion that people should be “paid” for anything they do has changed, since I no longer believe in using money at all. Whatever it is you do, from playing Love Songs on your Flute to making Press Flaked Obsidian blades should be freely given to others and all should be encouraged to give as much as they can to their community. Your generosity should be rewarded, not your greed.

RE

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