Failing in Love

I read Daniel Silverstone’s recent blog entry and misread the phrase, "So what’s the use of falling in love?" as "So what’s the use of failing in love?"

In theory (and in theory, theory and practice are the same) copyright extends to expression but not to ideas. This is useful line to draw but (a) comes with a constantly revised list of exceptions and clarifications and (b) merely makes the difference between idea and expression (more) contested.

In any case, the distinction is a problematic one. I’ve always been intrigued by the way that similar, even identical, forms of expression can convey radically different ideas. I’m interested in deriving works through minimal, even programmatic, modifications that convey very different ideas — things that are unambiguously on the wrong side of copyright but perhaps shouldn’t be.

Which brings be back to failing in love…

One little regex and I’ve applied this same mistake to Elvis Presley’s I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You and created a new work I’m calling I Can’t Help Failing in Love With You:

Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can’t help failing in love with you
Shall I stay
Would it be a sin
If I can’t help failing in love with you

Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling so it goes
Some things are meant to be
Take my hand, take my whole life too
For I can’t help failing in love with you

Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling so it goes
Some things are meant to be
Take my hand, take my whole life too
For I can’t help failing in love with you
For I can’t help failing in love with you

I think it’s fantastic how a series of one letter changes, in my estimation at least, turns a love song into the quasi-suicidal lament of a man begging for death.

Elvis and Co.’s lawyers know where to find me.

Don’t Take My Whiskey Away From Me

In Don’t Take My Whiskey Away From Me, Wynonie Harris sings:

Baby don’t take my whiskey ‘way from me.
Baby don’t take my whiskey ‘way from me.
You can help yourself to my last dollar,
If you touch my jug, you’re gonna hear me holler!
Don’t take my whiskey ‘way from me.

Not so long ago, I remember listening to this song and laughing at how ridiculous and the lyrics were. That was before someone started taking my whiskey away from me.

I suspect that someone drank some of my favorite Scotch while I was away on some recent travels. This made me feel like feel a little bit like hollering.

Security Through Filth

My friend had a nice stereo in an older car. When asked why he wasn’t worried about his car being broken into (or even why he often didn’t bother to lock his cars’ doors) he told me about his security system which he swore was more powerful than any car alarm: filth.

Basically, by covering the interior of his car in garbage, and by stubbornly refusing to wash the exterior, his car looked so dirty that prowlers assumed that there was no way that the car contained anything of value.

He’s clearly onto something. I suspect it might even be more than a good rationalization for not cleaning ones car.

No Irony Intended But…

Most irony goes unnoticed. Many people don’t really know what irony is.

I think troublemakers could use this fact to spread confusion by prefixing normal statements with, "I don’t mean to be ironic when I say this." Because irony is often non-apparent, people would spend a lot of energy and thought trying to find irony in places that it didn’t exist (or at least wasn’t intended).

I think it could also work, only slightly less well, with the classic, "no pun intended." Of course, in my case, troublemakers would say this only when there actually was no pun — intended or otherwise.

What Sort of Traveler Are You?

Ubuntu has gotten some flack for some controversial sexualized artwork.

For whatever comfort company brings, I saw a fun picture on Microsoft’s website for their Streets and Trips software. That man’s hand is not on the gear shifter and his attractive friend seems to really enjoy traveling.

What sort of traveler are you?

In answer to their question: Clearly, not the right sort of traveler. I guess that’s the point.

Just Say “Oosah”

I think many people take the United States, or the idea of being from the United States, way too seriously. I think people in the United States (and the US government in particular) are particularly bad about this.

I also find it annoying that’s it’s difficult to concisely and non-awkwardly describe the United States by name. "America" is right out; America is just tad larger (nearly too continents in fact) than the US. "The states" is too vague and "the United States" or "the United States of America" is just too long (not to mention that other countries, like Mexico, are also "the United States"). "The USA" is hard to say and it pronounced differently in most Latin languages than in English.

USA is a perfectly pronounceable acronym and I think it’s crazy that we insist on reading the letters out. I think everyone should start pronouncing "USA" and calling the country "oosah" (with the u as in in food or Ubuntu). It’s citizens would be Usaites or Usians or something similar.

I think this would give the world a concise and unambiguous name for the United States and at the same time make it harder for people to take the country seriously.

Do Snakes Have Legs?

Recently, I found out about a book called Do Snakes Have Legs? by Bert Cunningham (1937). I’ve been looking for a copy but haven’t found been able to find one yet. It seems that the book is on axial bifurcations in serpents which slightly disappoints me. So far, most books with fun names like this, like the Encyclopaedia of Medical Ignorance, have been something other than what their catchy titles imply to me. I suspect Cunningham takes longer to answer the question about snakes’ legs than I would.

I think it would be fun to do an art project where I make a series of nice books — leather or cloth bound — that answer seemingly obvious questions. My books will be straight and to the point and will give simple answers to the simple questions posed in their titles.

They will have title pages and publishing information, perhaps even a rambling introduction, but when it comes time to answer the question, they will not be evasive. In my answer to Cunningham’s book, the first and only chapter will be one word long: "No."

I suspect that my books will be either very short or have many blank pages.

Launchpadpad vs. Launchpad Launchpad

With Rosetta out the door (and evidently quite popular), Canonical has quietly launched a piece of system called Launchpad.

I spent much of the Ubuntu conference in Mataró, where there was much chatter about the imminent release of launchpad, slightly amused by conversations about the mechanics of "launching Launchpad."

It centered around an interesting question that is either a matter of philosophy or engineering depending on how one looks at it:

How the hell does one launch a launchpad?

Tribute to the Seiko Messagewatch

Much of my favorite literature (like George Perec, and more recently Eunoia by Christian Bök) is written within rigid limits. I was thinking about this when I was reflecting on the text messages my friend and I used to send to each others’ Seiko Messagewatches. The Messagewatch was a pager in the size and shape of a watch that enjoyed a little boom in popularity in the nineties. Here’s a picture:


Seiko saw where things were going with mobile phones and, sadly, decided not to fix a number of Y2K bugs in the Messagewatch system. The service was discontinued on December 31, 1999.

Messagewatches could receive messages — very simple and very short ones. The pagers had simple watch displays so they could only show messages if they would fit and used characters that could be displayed on screen. I remember how difficult it was trying to think of phrasings that could get a given point across while still fitting within the Messagewatch’s limitations.

Because the watch had a two-line display, words would be split automatically as they are in this following example which gives you an idea for the medium messagers were working in:


I remember receiving the message "hey there ace" on multiple occasions. It’s a less than completely ideal phrase because its impossible to display with splitting "there." Ideally, messages would also be structured with spaces in such a way that words would not be split between the lines.

Feeling nostalgic, I thought a good way to honor the memory of the Messagewatch would be with a poem about it. That said, I thought I could both play to my own artistic sensibilities (the "writing within rigid limits shtick") while appropriately memorializing the watch by writing poetry that could be displayed, without words broken between lines, on the display of a Seiko Messagewatch.

That said, there are pretty serious restrictions working in the "Seiko Messagewatch poetry" genre. The executive summary is that:

  • No words can contain letters that cannot be drawn unambiguously in upper or lower case without diagonals (i.e., no M, W, X, Z, V, or K);
  • No stanza can be longer than 16 characters long (including spaces);
  • No single word can be over 8 characters long;
  • No series of words can be such that they need to split a word over the line-gap between the 8-9th and characters;

The poem I have created tries to capture my feelings about the Seiko Messagewatch, a technology that was not without warts and limitations but that taken from us all early: the only real Y2K tragedy loss I experienced personally.

Without further ado, my Tribute to the Seiko Message Watch:

/copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-sundials_persist.png /copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-eternal_cycles.png /copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-unfair_gods.png /copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-lazy_coders.png /copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-youth_departs.png /copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-absence_is_felt.png /copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-great_n_nobel.png /copyrighteous/images/msgwatch-letter_hourlog.png

Are Aspellers A-List Spellers?

I wrote a book-length research piece on collaboration and I still can’t spell collaboration correct on a consistent basis (I misspelled it in this sentence the first time through). Part of the reason is that I always use a spell-checker. The other part is because my spell checker (GNU Aspell) is really good. No matter how much I mangle a word, Aspell almost always manages to suggest the correct replacement and it’s usually the first option. The end result is that it’s more effort to learn to spell the word correctly than it is to correct it each time.

If my spell checker was less good and I was forced to read through the entire list options or, god forbid, type in the correct spelling by hand, I would know how to spell more words. I think that the lack of improvement in a users’ spelling ability over time may be one useful metric in evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of a spell-checking software.

I think my complete stagnation in the swamp of bad-spelling is a testament to Aspell’s greatness.