March 25, 2011

Baidu and Intellectual Property

Posted in Books and movies, China at 11:29 am by changisme

Today, I read a blog post by Han Han regarding intellectual property rights in China, specifically attacking Baidu‘s free sharing of published books. The gist of the argument is that Baidu is profiting on the free sharing among other people’s products and authors’ income is substandard already, we shouldn’t be so cruel to our fellow man (as Zhangfei puts it). This made me think of several things.

I remember the first time I saw the Chinese translation of Wikipedia, the subtitle caught my eye. In English subtitle is “The Free Encyclopedia”. Presumably, it means both free as in free of cost and free flow of information. The Chinese translation only capitalize on the free flow of information part but not the free of cost part. It’s not to say Wikipedia costs anything in China, but it points out the possible distinction between free of cost and free of other barriers, which in the Chinese language are two different words. Han Han says that free flow of information on the internet should be advocated, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t cost the consumer anything.

When Google was being squeezed out of the Chinese market, the public harped on the fact that Google scanned Chinese books and showed online the tables of contents without authors’ permission even though they paid a small sum of money up front. Somehow, either by the manipulation of Baidu or nationalism, the public ignored the fact that Baidu showed entire books without paying anything. Baidu claims that this is the information age, free information flow should be available to everyone. On the other hand, they are making the big bucks on it. All this reminds me of the recent controversy over Huffington’s Post being sold to AOL, on which the founder Arianna Huffington gained $315 Million while insisting the journalist bloggers should not be paid. Are these two events similar in nature?

To a certain extent, they both exhibit the symptom that I would like to think of as the Edison Symptom. Thomas Edison profited greatly on the creative endeavors of many other scientists who worked for him. In our case, the corporation takes matters to a further extreme, they don’t pay anything due to the sheer willingness of the creators of information.

It is to be said, however, Baidu, Huffington Post and Edison’s leadership effort are results of creativity themselves, so it may be hard to claim that they don’t deserve some compensation for their work and opportunism. However, since we all agree creativity is to be propagated rather than simply protected, how we craft policies should depend more on the consequences than fairness. In this particular case, by allowing free access to all creative contents, do we protect the rights of people and encourage more creative work?

From a theoretical point of view, I have trouble deciding either way, but simply observing what has happened during the information age, I incline to say that free flow of information encourages more creative work. In China, what really hurt artistic expression was, and still is, censorship, not mainlythe fact that artists don’t get paid enough. (They probably don’t, but that’s besides the point.) As the internet flourished, which I personally observed since the early ’90′s, online literature filled in a lot of the gaps published literature cannot imagine to step in.

This is not to say, however, the rights of creators are protected. The result of which, is people do not write professionally, in turn hinders the quality of their work. In other words, Chinese literature is two steps forward, one step back. Is that really the best we could do? I think not. I did not mention the difference between the Huffington Post and Baidu: Baidu is a monopoly and HP not. If Baidu doesn’t want to pay anything to its creative slaves, it doesn’t have to. This is further aggregated by the owner Li’s power over the judiciary system. One may argue that Huffington Post doesn’t seem to have any incentive to pay its original journalists either, but recent events show that some bloggers have left, like Mayhill Fowler, and occasionally Huffington Post does bankroll some journalism. In other words, it’s more worried than a tycoon like Baidu.

The internet and aggregate website has the illusion of all create and all consume, with everyone on the level playing field. In fact, small number of individuals do gain disproportionally more than others, but in most cases, everyone does gain due to the increase in overall production. This is just like any other capitalist structure.

I don’t pretend to have a clear understanding of the whole mechanism, and I still debates in my own mind, whether an anti-trust case against Baidu could improve the problem.

—————————–

I haven’t been blogging since I graduated last week because I feel I should talk about my feeling towards it. The fact of the matter is, I’m still in vacation mode and really don’t have a lot of feeling about it other than “Gosh, I finally don’t need to plug in that crooked little thumb drive anymore.” I will write more about it later when anything does come to me.

January 5, 2011

Watching the Fountain

Posted in Books and movies, Uncategorized at 9:53 pm by changisme

The Fountain is one of those movies that attempts to explore deep philosophical meaning of life but failing miserably. The story has three plot lines, one each from the past, present, and future – about men in pursuit of eternity with their love. A conquistador in Mayan country searches for the tree of life to free his captive queen; a medical researcher, working with various trees, looks for a cure that will save his dying wife; a space traveler, traveling with an aged tree encapsulated within a bubble, moves toward a dying star that’s wrapped in a nebula; he seeks eternity with his love. The plot line could also be seen as linear from the past to the future and the protagonist is reincarnated. Either way, he represents mankind in my point of view.

For the past plot line, conquistadors, seriously? Among all the cheesy heroic stories like Andromeda or St. Georges, you pick conquistadors and the queen? Way to kill the mood.

The present plot line, the scientist is desperately trying to revive his wife. The whole movie is supposed to be surreal so I won’t hammer on the fact that the hospital and research lab look like dim spooky castles and the lighting makes everyone look like they are in purgatory. The movie talked about the tree of knowledge vs. the tree of life. It got me confused, is the scientist looking for the tree of knowledge or the tree of life? He’s obviously looking for immortality, which is really tree of life, but he’s a scientist, so he’s looking for tree of knowledge. I though it’s a trade off. I also just don’t really like the idea that scientists are like… conquistadors.

The future plot line is even worse. It looks as if the guy reached nirvana of some sort, but he’s completely enslaved by his lust for the life goo oozing out of the tree of life. Eventually, he seems to return to nature. Is it trying to say that human immortality is achieved regardless of whether or not you accept death? Or is it trying to say that through the search for life with men’s sinful means, true life is found?

I have no idea. No matter how these three plot lines are interpreted, the characters are not at all relatable.

He also look very unhappy. From my own life and life of others around me, I feel people are most unhappy when we can’t find our place in the social network we reside, whether we think of it as the small circle of friends and family or the larger society. Some of us spend a lot of time in school studying how the world works, but what we learn is so remote from our persons, that it doesn’t really tell us how we should be part of it. It’s as if the camera has to shift its focus from far far away over a big big world to the small pair of shoes on our feet, it makes us motion sick.

There’s so much more that make people unhappy than our mortality. We have to first learn how to live, before we learn how to die.

November 30, 2010

Romulan interview

Posted in Books and movies at 9:49 pm by changisme

These few days I’ve been feeling angsty and bad tempered, so I drew a comic to make myself feel busier and better.

Rakal

 

October 29, 2010

Reading Cryoburn, the new Vorkosigan book

Posted in Books and movies at 5:39 pm by changisme

I finished the new Vorkosigan book Cryoburn, and just want to note down what I feel about it at this point, because my opinion changes as time goes on.

The plot: good twists and turns for its length, a little bit rushed, but satisfying in general. Things never really happen the way you expect them to, except for the very end, which is a little rushed.

The characters: familiar characters are not dynamic, they hardly underwent any changes or gave any new revelations. Is this because Miles is no longer looking for dates? Bujold should know better than assuming a 30+ year-old family man is completely stable. Is this intentional? it’s true that the narratives of this novel is especially remote from Miles himself. Even though all books in the series had been in third person, but the voice used to be closer to Miles. Whereas this one, the reference to Miles had been mostly in “m’lord”, supposedly from Roic’s stand point. Or sometimes from the new kid Jin’s point of view. Is this an intentional distance introduced by Bujold because she feels Miles is fading away from her life? I don’t know… The other familiar characters were not well advanced either, like Mark, Kareen, Roic (maybe a little bit), Raven, all had their personalities, but rather one sided. There were tons of new characters, mostly because the setting is new, Kibou-daini, not any of the familiar “home”-world from the previous books. These characters are just entering the scene, so there’s not development to be said. I like the character development of some of her shorter works, where fewer characters are crammed in.

Social commentary: The novel acknowledges the existence of social problems such as health-care, polarization, and the incompetence of some NGO’s. However, the work is too short to do these matters justice. I don’t know whether to say it’s a failure, because it probably serves well for the setting of the story, but it’s definitely a bit simplified. It’s not as interesting as some of the political struggles took place in Barrayar.

Culture setting: The planet this story takes place is in a east-asian-predominantly-Japanese environment. It’s reflected in people’s names and food. There are no other cultural references. It might be right because it’s afterall a fusion and futuristic setting. I don’t really know how I feel about it other than feeling it’s a bit … extra but still not too bad or too over the top.

The language:  very humourous just as her previous works. Very nice conversations, a little too obvious when it’s trying to explain something to the reader things about power struggles or conspiracies. There might be ways to make it a little more subtle, but I’m no writer, so I might just be overly judgmental. There are also times when the book is trying to get new readers caught up on the previous going-ons of the Vorkosigan world, but I think it’s there, but only enough to remind people who already knew about it. That might be Bujold’s intention in the first place.

Overall, I’m not too happy with the character’s growth, or lack of it, but I still laugh out loud when I read her writing.

October 5, 2010

Seeing the Hot House (a stage reading)

Posted in Books and movies at 8:56 am by changisme

We went to a stage reading for herald pinter’s Hot house, and it surprised us in quite a few ways. First of all, the actors did such a good job given that it’s an unpaid reading job and they only rehearsed for an afternoon. There were more than eight long monologues (probably more than 5 pages), and they roamed through them as if they’ve memorized them. Their British accents were also great, maybe except for the guy who played Lamb, a little rusty.

Secondly, the play is so unlike Pinter’s other plays we’ve seen or read. It has a very linear story line, even though full of hilarious madness, it wasn’t as post modern and weird as the others.

Finally, and probably it shouldn’t be a surprise, is that this work is buried and so unknown. Even Pinter himself didn’t really like it. It’s such a good play! Great dialogues.

I do feel that the play might be a little long for its story arch. I didn’t find it bothersome, because the dia/monologues are so cheeky, so it was quite enjoyable, but I could easily see a more delicately arranged version with some more compact progression.

The story is about the staff of an institution of some sort, how they struggle with each other and with the patients. It’s a tragicomedy, with laughter throughout but everybody (almost everybody) dies at the end. I like it because the more sane someone appears at the beginning, the more insane you realize they are at the end. It’s a complete satire on the institutional system.

I would really love to see this in production. It wouldn’t need that much prop, but lots of memorization!