The Naming of Cats (or Tags)

If you have any sort of online tag – email address, forum or gameworld tag, whatever – that uses all or part of your real name, I’m laughing at you right now.

Let me put that statement into context. Confucius, when asked what he would do if he were appointed governor of a state, would respond that one of his first actions would be to “rectify the names.” Unsurprisingly, the common response to this answer was often along the lines of “Is that a joke?” Confucius’s idea, though, is that a name is not just a collection of sounds we use to indicate something, but that a name refers to what a thing really is.

Consider, when asked for my name, I don’t just say “My name’s Richard,” but “I’m Richard.” “Richard,” I am saying, is not just a convenient tag, “Richard” is what I am. “I am Richard.” In my particular case, the collection of sounds “r-ih-ch-ar-d” does not really have any meaning apart from me. “R-ih-ch-a-r-d” indicates no idea or object other than me. Other names, of course, have multiple meanings, usually fairly obvious. “Faith” not only indicates the girl, called “Faith,” but also an attribute her parents presumably hoped she would have.

On a broader scale, and likely what Confucius had in mind, is the name as propaganda. What we call a thing can affect what it is, or at least how we perceive it. The United States is often referred to as a democracy, so many believe that the US is a democracy (it isn’t and never was, but that’s a whole other blog post). One can look to George Orwell for extreme examples of this concept – 1984‘s Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth, for instance. Alternatively, A.A. Milne explained the topic near the beginning of Winnie-the-Pooh: “Well, when Edward Bear said that he would like an exciting name all to himself, Christopher Robin said at once, without stopping to think, that he was Winnie-the-Pooh. And he was.” (emphasis mine).

Moving back to a personal level, we generally aren’t able to choose our own names. Furthermore, we are named as soon as we are born, so our names aren’t necessarily accurate, though we may grown into them, so to speak. One neat thing about online environments is that we are able to name ourselves.

We designate who we are.

What an amazing opportunity! The ability to tell a group of people how we think of ourselves. Surely, this is a task to be undertaken with much consideration. After all, if a name determines who we are, then we ought to consider this task very carefully. For this blog, I chose the tag “Oll Korrect” because, first, it resembles the “given name – family name” setup I am used to, so it indicates the value I place on tradition. Furthermore, it is one explanation I have seen for the origin of the abbreviation “OK,” the joke being that neither character is correct. The fact that I created the blog for a class makes the joke all the funnier, so one can see I appreciate humor as well.

Now, some people are attached to their names, so I can see why they may want to maintain that indicator online. However, it also appears to waste a valuable opportunity to define oneself. As Edward Bear became Winnie-the-Pooh, so I, at least online, become Oll Korrect. A new identity for a new environment, almost as though I were to change my name and move accross the globe, except I can maintain both my online and offline identities.

If this sounds techno-utopian, do consider that I’m aware that the internet is not necessarily any prettier than the “real-world,” and in fact can be just as ugly. Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that one’s online identity is completely dissociated with its real-world counterpart. Rather, an avatar is a reflection of its creator, or perhaps a role, like a voluntary schizophrenia.…

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No Girls Allowed!

At first glance, it would seem reasonable that, because internet users are anonymous (or at least as anonymous as they choose to be), racism and sexism would be practically nonexistant on the internet. In fact, I’ve heard several people refer to online environments such as message boards, chatrooms, and computer games as near-perfect meritocracies.

In reality, this is not the case. First, racism and sexism are not unknown on the internet. The KKK can set up a website just as easily as anyone else, and racist or sexist attitudes may simply be less visible on message boards because users are not aware of other users’ race or gender. For a mildly amusing account of the “Boys Only” attitude of many gamers, see this article by Whitney Butts.

Even without the old standby segregators like race and gender, there’s no reason to assume that other factors won’t simply take their place. Almost any community of decent size will have smaller cliques of people who can be more or less hostile to other cliques. In a basic form, one can be judged online based on username, avatar image, signature, spelling and grammar, and, of course, the ever-popular religious or political views. If you’re ever bored, go to a discussion board with a definite political bias (say, the neoconservative Free Republic), and post something diametrical to the majority opinion to see how long it takes to get banned. For an amusing discussion of Free Republic’s forum, see this board at ALIPAC’s (anti-illegal immigration group) forum.…

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Comcast vs. BitTorrent

According to the Associated Press, Comcast inteferes with users uploading online content via BitTorrent and similar applications, allegedly to save bandwidth for its other customers, though some suspect the move is related to the piracy such applications are often used for.

Now, I have no problem with taking action against piracy or conserving bandwidth, but Comcast’s move also affects people who use BitTorrent for legitimate purposes. It is plainly unfair to punish the innocent along with the guilty, and defeats the purpose of law to violate one person’s rights to punish the guilty. Remember, the guilty party is a criminal for violating someone else’s rights, and the purpose of law is to preserve rights for everyone (of course, Comcast should leave law enforcement to the justice system, assuming their motivation here is anti-piracy).

As a parting thought on this topic, no lesser man than Abraham once wrestled with the justice of harming the innocent along with the guilty:

“What if there are at least ten [innocent men in Sodom]?”

“For the sake of those ten,” [the Lord] replied, “I will not destroy it.”

(Gen. 19:32b)…

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Authors and Writers

What’s an author? Someone who writes a book, right?

Well, according to Michel Foucault, it’s not quite that simple. While one could define an author as “someone who writes,” as I understand Foucault’s argument an author is also a person created, in a sense, by his work rather than the other way around. “Shakespeare,” for example, is both a proper name indicating a specific person, but also has a meaning intimately connected with his work. The meaning of “Shakespeare” would change significantly for society if, say, we learned that it was actually Bacon who wrote the plays traditionally attributed to the Bard.

The argument is interesting, but unfortunately I can’t really speak of it except in general terms.…

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Yesterday Never Knew

I present to you, my reader (yes, I’m pretty sure it’s “reader,” singular), the modern system of economics, as proposed by those in favor of music piracy:

1: Artist produces something

2: Artist gives said something away for free

3: ????

4: PROFIT!

Actually, this system has been thought through more than that chart. According to this article from the Illinois Business Law Journal, this story from the New York Times, and a number of other places, step three is “Artist gives concerts and sells merchandise.” At first, I thought this sounded fair enough, but then I realized that step three is a non sequiter. It isn’t related to the original product.

Admitedly, this system of “make a record, give it away, make money some other way” works for most bands, but not all. When a musician sets out to make a record, he is apt to do his best work if he can focus purely on that. I submit as evidence to that effect The Beatles, who wrote and recorded what I personally consider their best work after giving up touring altogether. Without having to worry about performing live, they were free to do whatever the heck they wanted in the studio, with results like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. Songs like “A Day in the Life,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and the White Album’s perennial fan-unfavorite “Revolution 9” are all impossible to perform live, but that’s okay because the band was able to just sell the recording of the songs and still make money.

Ultimately, this model makes about as much senseĀ  as asking the artist to give free concerts and then make money on recordings. Yes, it can work for most bands, but not all, and really, why not just pay someone for the work they do? Someone makes a record, customer pays for the record. Someone gives a concert, customer pays for the concert. Fair compensation for services rendered… how novel.…

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We Hope You Will Enjoy the Show… In One Piece

“[iTunes has shown that] the natural unit of the album is the track.”

This is a quote (more or less direct) from David Weinberg, and I was reminded of it while reading Chris Anderson’s article “The Long Tail” in Wired magazine, when he discusses the online music industry, since he appears to assume a similar viewpoint to what Weinberg stated explicitly.

Put briefly, they are both wrong. The natural unit of the album is the album, and the track relates to the album as a chapter relates to a book.

Now, I’ll concede that there are a number of “albums” for which Weinberg’s statement would hold true. Compilation albums come to mind, and there are many records and CDs whose tracks have nothing in common with each other besides the date of their recording. Really, though, I’m hesitant to refer to these as albums at all, because the term “album” refers to a collection of songs and there is no reason to collect a bunch of songs together unless there is some significant relationship between them. For instance, the tracks of an album may all further a common story (as on Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Startdust and the Spiders from Mars), theme (such as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon), or even just a style (such as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). However, there is no term that I’m aware of for thrown-together compilations of music, so I must refer to them as albums.

What Weinberg and others I’ve spoken to on the topic of iTunes and online music stores (or, more commonly, piracy) don’t seem to appreciate is that a talented artist is able to make the most of his medium. The Beatles generally get credit for figuring this out regarding the LP. Put simply, if a band is going to have a bunch of songs collected together on a single disc, shouldn’t the songs relate to each other somehow? So, following Paul McCartney’s idea, the band put together Sgt. Pepper, and other bands followed their lead and took the concept further.

Sgt. Pepper uses a very loose concept, but the album does work best when listened to as a single unit. Simon & Garfunkel employed a similar idea on Bookends, on which every song relates to friendship and nostalgia – some more so than others, admitedly, but again there is a definite effect created by listening to the album as it was intended that is lost when the tracks are split up. A few years later, The Who released Tommy, in which every song tells the next part in the titular hero’s story. Tommy is likely the best example for my argument, because it quite simply does not work when split up or rearranged. One may as well split up the chapters of Babbitt or The Scarlet Letter. It just does not function as a work of art anymore.…

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Fleurs du Riens

For a long time, I’ve considered it a point of pride that I’m relatively lo-tech. Part of that is only seldom using Wikipedia, and certainly never bothering to edit a page (well, besides once adding two words to the French version of the Beatles page). So it was with a sense of adventure that I set out this evening to find a Wikipedia page for the express purpose of making a substantial edit to it.

Now, consider this task for a moment. On one hand, Wikipedia has over 2 million articles, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find one that could use some tidying up. Indeed, I found several that suffered from spelling or grammatical errors, and fixed a couple of them. However, also consider that Wikipedia has about as many users as my last Computer Science project had syntax errors. With so many others working on this undertaking, finding an article in need of substantial editing – and one that I’m able to substantially edit – is nearly impossible. Ultimately, I settled on the entry for Les Fleurs du Mal. Not that I was able to add a whole lot, but I did specify exactly which of the work’s poems were banned.

Truly, I can only stand in awe of my amazing ability to be mildly usefull.…

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Group Journalism

Quick question: who is going to produce a better news story, a single random person or a whole bunch of random people?

One can replace “news story” with almost anything, but the basic question is the essence of a democratic system of everything versus a more authoritarian system. I bring this up because I’ve recently been reading about crowdsourcing and Assignment Zero in particular. The general idea of rounding up a bunch of random dudes off the street to write a news story is, I believe, absurd on the face of it, but AZ had a little credibility because there were editors and organizers.

My main problem with the concept is that I fail to see the problem it’s supposed to solve. A specially trained journalist should be able to outwrite a mass of people who may or may not have any such training, and a group of people can be just as biased as a single person.…

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