Thursday, September 28, 2006

Picking Over Pilots

Thursday, September 28, 2006
09:58 PM

Picking Over Pilots: "

Let's take a moment today to think about the shifting status of the pilot episode on American television -- a worthy topic in the midst of the rolling out of a battery of new television shows across the various networks.

In the past, the pilot served very specific functions within the behind-the-scenes decision-making at the networks. We might think of the pilot as functioning in television the way that a character sheet functions in comics or animation: it seeks to define the core characters and central premise of the series but it also does so by pushing them into their most extreme versions. The characters in pilots are often over-defined to the point of being reduced to stereotypes as the producers try to show who these people are, how they relate to each other, and what functions they serve in terms of the plot.

Compounding this problem is the degree to which performers have not yet fully jelled with their characters -- in many cases, they may have just received news that they were assigned these roles and been rushed into production on short notice. They are trying desperately to prove they can act so they can hold onto these parts. In the past, it was not at all unusual to recast key roles after the pilot was shot and before the series reached the air. In any case, we know that character on television is generated as much by choices made by the performer on set as they take up the roles as written and make them their own and typically it takes a few episode for the rough edges to give way to more fully human characters. (Of course, the opposite can also happen and a compelling character in the pilot can be smoothed out or compromised through the production process.)

Radical shifts in the conception of the series may occur after the pilot has been shot (see, for example, the case of classic Star Trek where Spock was a highly emotional character in the pilot and Number One, a character cut after the pilot, represented the voice of cold rationality). The pilot was almost never a particularly strong episode from the point of view of the audience but producers and network executives knew how to read pilots, or thought they did, and used them as tools to make decisions about the show's fate. It would not be rare for the pilot to get shuffled into rotation later in the run of the series (again, Star Trek is the classic example here where the original pilot got reframed and turned into a two part episode -- a flashback -- later in the run of the series). There was a clear separation between the pilot and the first episode.

And all of this took place behind closed doors. Network executives saw lots of pilots; they knew more or less which ones turned into good shows down the line and they knew what were the symptomatic rough spots experienced by most pilots. They might be anxious about innovation and shut down shows which took them in new directions; many of those shows are more likely to be embraced by at least cult audiences than network executives, but for most series, they knew what they were looking at when they saw a pilot.


(Via Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins.)

Omakase Links: sexy taco, space gun, deli flesh.

used to live in oaklaqnd

Omakase Links: sexy taco, space gun, deli flesh.: "Xeni Jardin:

* a map of East Oakland with locations, menus, and truck-art photos from the hood's finest mobile taco delivery portals. Here is the fellow behind it. (thanks, Benjamin Frost)

* Hundreds of photos of deli meats: Link (thanks, Scott).

* Beginning October 6, the Lucky JuJu Pinball Museum in Alameda, California will host 'X-Ray Photography of Toys and Other Interesting Things,' an exhibit of work by
by NY-based science photographer Ted Kinsman. Link.

* Index of every US president who's ever appeared on the animated TV series The Simpsons: Link (Thanks, Emily Gordon).

* Photos from the Rocketbelt Convention at Niagara Falls: Bill 'Beam Jockey' Higgins says, 'I attended the Rocketbelt Convention in Niagara Falls, New York, home of Bell Aerospace where the Rocket Belt was invented. Retired RB pilots and engineers were mingling with people building the new generation of belts and other personal rocket devices. There was a demo flight on the street outside the Niagara Aerospace Museum.' Link.

* Hand-stitched 'Just Married' iPod cases: Link (thanks, Emily Sessions).

* Cute, colorful, crocheted bombs with burning fuse, crafted by a girl in Berlin: Link (thanks, Noortje).

* Gruesome landmine awareness campaign on ketchup packets in New Zealand: Link (thanks, FoodMonkeyMike).

* Art teacher loses job after fifth-grade students see nude sculpture during field trip to Texas museum: Link (thanks, Sagebrush Gardener).

* Haircuts by children: Link (thanks, Cory Silverberg).

* What do Jabba the Hutt and John the Baptist have in common? 'Star Wars Shortened.' Link to video. (Thanks, Jason Wishnow).

Previous installments of BoingBoing Omakase Links:

- Arabic smokes, Norway bimbo, Danish BB ringtone

- Post-holiday bluesnixer roundup

Reader comment: regarding the art teacher who was fired for exposing 5th grade students to nude sculpture at a Texas art museum, BB reader Gregory Fischer says,

thanks for the post. I followed the links to the Frisco, Texas independent school district website. if anyone cares to comment directly to the board, here is the contact info for the director of communications:

Shana McKay-Wortham

FISD Director of Communications


Phone: (469) 633-6060

Fax: (469) 633-6050

also note that the school motto is 'Never be anything less than everything you can be.’ glad to see irony is alive and well.

Chris Cantwell writes,

I saw your post on BoingBoing regarding Sydney McGee, who was fired for taking her students to the Dallas Museum of Art. I've written this letter to the principal (and the FISD) and am sending it to all the major publications in the Dallas area as well. I grew up in Plano, next door to Frisco, and this story really upsets me.

Read Christopher's letter, and a response from the school district, after the jump.

Principal Nancy Lawson

Wilma Fisher Elementary School

2500 Old Orchard Dr.

Frisco, TX 75034

Dear Principal Lawson:

I?ve recently come upon the news that the Frisco County School Board has voted to not renew Sydney McGee?s teaching contract with the school, after twenty-eight years of exemplary teaching service to the community. This news has appalled me, and has caused me great disappointment in the Frisco community, the school district, Fisher Elementary, and you as the appointed leader of that school. It has also caused me great sadness for both Sydney McGee, whose work has apparently gone unnoticed and will now be tarnished with this dismissal, and her students, whose art education will now suffer from your and the school board?s ignorant censorship.

How dare the board fire a woman for taking her students on a field trip to a museum, which is, inherently itself, a place of education and forum for celebration of human culture and history. Do you realize how ludicrous this is? How dare these people tell themselves and the community they supposedly serve that they know better than museum curators, scientists, artists, and others whose vocations hold a much higher standard and understanding of the human being as Pupil and Student. What they have done is an insult to the educational community of this country, which already has enough problems as it is.

Our students are severely behind in their reading and mathematics skills when compared to the rest of the world?s children. Why would we in addition steal from them an equally important awareness of art and culture? It seems that if the board had its way we would soon be ?educating? our students in sound proof black boxes, children solitarily confined from one another and all people, unable to see their hands in front of their faces because they?re kept in the dark, for fear of them seeing something that may challenge their minds, or better yet, their parents?. In practicing this kind of ?education,? our children?s minds will indeed turn into these boxes. Empty. Silent. Void. Due to the actions of the parents, the board, and you, it seems that your minds have already become such places.

You and other fear-mongering people wrongfully in power are advocating and breeding a new generation of Americans that will in effect go against the very ideals this country was founded on: liberty, happiness, the ability to express one?s self freely, and the freedom to learn. Knowledge is power, but you are using your power to squelch the young?s ability to gain it. For knowledge?s sake, and for the sake of the future of this country, I implore you and others to put aside this naïve reactionary fundamentalist prism through which everything seems to be filtered, dissected and ultimately destroyed. It is only hurting the children you claim to be protecting. This is the same type of prism that radical Islamist terrorists use to facilitate their equally distorted doctrines.

Finally, shame on you, Nancy Lawson. Shame on you for allowing the dismissal of a teacher who is clearly an outstanding example of what a teacher should be. Shame on you for not coming to her defense, for her sake, and for the sake of the children at your elementary school. And if it is true that you initially suggested she take her students to the museum, than shame on you for being a façade of a person, and standing alongside those with the power in order to protect yourself. That would make you a textbook example of a coward.

You have completely failed in your job as principal, educator, and leader. Shame on you.


Christopher Cantwell

Venice, CA

Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, Class of ?00

Here's the response Christoper received via email.

From: Shana McKay-Wortham []

To: Christopher Cantwell

Date: Thu Sep 28, 2006 01:15:32 PM PDT

Subject: Re: In Regards to Sydney McGree

In case you want more information.

A school district is at an extreme disadvantage in the area of personnel matters due to issues of employee privacy and ethical considerations.

However, since an employee of the district has chosen to express her concerns publicly in a hearing and in the media since that time, it seems fair that a school district can at least point to facts that were stated in that public hearing. Much has been misrepresented.

This is not about a field trip to an art museum. The timing of circumstances has allowed the teacher to wave that banner and it has played well in the media. FISD is a strong supporter of the arts and the Dallas Museum of Arts - our art program is rich and award-winning.

At issue here are performance concerns and the ability of a supervisor to address these concerns. As early as May 2005 the principal verbally brought to the attention of the teacher that there were some areas for improvement. She suggested at that time that a field trip experience might be a way to strengthen the art program and the Dallas Museum of Art was discussed as a viable option - it was not mandated as has been reported.

During the spring of the next school year, 2005-2006, when the teacher began planning the field trip, the principal suggested that the field trip be delayed until the next school year because she was concerned that the planning process was not sufficient.

When the teacher received her evaluation conference, which was in mid May and after the field trip, some issues of concern, unrelated to the field trip, were discussed and the teacher stated that she didn't think it was fair to evaluate her on expectations that had not been clearly communicated to her in writing. The principal did then document the performance areas that needed to be addressed - at the teacher’s request - but the documentation was not brought on by the field trip; the field trip was not a catalyst for anything or the final straw to get her in 'hot water.' She was never told there would not be a next year for her or that she was not ‘Frisco material’ as has been reported. No teachers’ job status would be jeopardized based on students’ incidental viewing of nude art.

After the memo was provided as requested, the teacher did file a grievance and also asked to be transferred if there was an opening in the district. The transfer was denied because the central administration felt that if you allow a teacher to transfer after a supervisor has given them guidelines for improvement then you have weakened a supervisor's ability to address performance issues by essentially giving the teacher an 'escape hatch' to avoid meeting the expectations of the supervisor.

What is getting lost here is that this is not about a field trip, censorship, or a parent complaint. It is not about age, tenure or salary level as has also been suggested in the media. This is about a school administrator working to help an employee improve her job performance and to improve the educational experience of students. Even someone who has taught for a long time can still have opportunity for professional development. Teachers were never directed to ‘ostracize’ her as has been reported and she was never directed to not discuss her ‘plight.’

As an aside, the Star Award that is being mentioned in the context of the teacher being an award-winning teacher or Star Award Teacher of the Year 2004 is a recognition that took place periodically in the local paper because a local business wanted to sponsor the monthly ad to show support for teachers in the community - someone from each campus was usually represented. There was no set way employees were chosen at each campus for this ad. Some campuses went by tenure for inclusion, others selected based on something that had occurred that month. Teachers were recognized, as were volunteers, custodians, receptionists, others. FISD does not conduct the Teacher of the Year program.
At this time, the teacher has been placed on administrative leave with pay. The Administration and the Board felt that this was the best action for all concerned. A recommendation for the non-renewal of her contract will be forthcoming from the superintendent.


(Via Boing Boing.)

Playing volleyball across US-Mexico fence

Thursday, September 28, 2006
09:51 PM
That;s why we need a fence

Playing volleyball across US-Mexico fence: "Mark Frauenfelder:
Joshua Bearman wrote a story for LA Weekly about a game of 'border volleyball,' in which players on either side of a two-story fence separating the US and Mexico hit a ball back and forth.

All this activity finally brings down the hammer of the border patrol, and a jeep shows up to separate us. The officer is friendly but firm. He’s just come on shift and has no idea we’ve been playing volleyball over the fence for the past hour.


He tells us that a daredevil launched himself across the border in a cannon a while back, but that ours was, in fact, the first-ever game of international border volleyball.

‘And it worked over that tall fence?’

‘Yup,’ we say. ‘We’re up for one more round if you want to play.’

‘No, man,’ the officer says. ‘I’m on duty.’



(Via Boing Boing.)

Finger length tied to athleticism

Thursday, September 28, 2006
09:48 PM
I prefer to judge people by their bumpee heads

Finger length tied to athleticism: "David Pescovitz:
A new study suggests that the length ratio between women's second and fourth fingers is a good indicator of their sports ability. Researcher Tim Spector of St. Thomas' Hospital in London and his colleagues analyzed hand X-rays from more than 600 female twins who also provided information on their sports abilities. They report their results in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. From The Independent:

The finding adds to evidence that the ratio between the two fingers - not the length itself but their length relative to each other - is associated with a number of different personality traits, which include sexuality, fertility, intelligence, aggressiveness and musical ability. The difference is believed to be linked to the level of the male hormone testosterone, to which the foetus is exposed in the womb. Scientists have suggested that the higher the level of testosterone, the more masculine the resulting foetus is likely to be, with its associated traits of strength, fertility and mathematical ability.



(Via Boing Boing.)

Zombie Rights March Protested by Pirates

Thursday, September 28, 2006
09:45 PM

Zombie Rights March Protested by Pirates: "Xeni Jardin:

Shannou says,

Here's a flickr set of pictures documenting the zombie rights march to Austin's City Hall last Friday. The zombies' signs in the march included badly spelled slogans such as 'Mairage = 1 Zombie + 1 Zombie', 'More Binifits for Zombie Vets in Our Necronomoconomy', 'Brains...The Other White Meat', 'We're here, we're dead, get used to it!' and 'Zombies Was People Too.' The zombies, shouting 'What do we want? Brains! When do we want them? Brains!' was unhindered by a group of pirates protesting the undead's demands for their rights.

Link. You know, when I was in Seattle last week ( self-important clearing of throat ) visiting the Allen Institute for Brain Science and researching this story, I couldn't help but wonder -- what would zombies do with that open-access, 3D, digital atlas of brains? Plan dinner parties, perhaps.


(Via Boing Boing.)

HOWTO poach salmon in your dishwasher

Thursday, September 28, 2006
09:42 PM
yeah right

HOWTO poach salmon in your dishwasher: "David Pescovitz:
It reminds me a little of Seinfeld's Kramer prepping food in his shower, but Wine X Magazine has a recipe for poaching salmon in your dishwasher. This odd HOWTO was written by Bob Blumer, author of the book Surreal Gourmet. From the recipe:


1 Place fish packets on the top rack.

2 Add dirty dishes and lemon-scented soap. This optional step is not recommended for novices. However, as long as the salmon's tightly sealed in its aluminum foil packet, it won't absorb any soapy taste or smell.

3 Set dishwasher to the 'normal' cycle. Modern dishwashers have 'economy' and 'cool dry' settings, which are undesirable since they conserve heat. However, on the other end of the spectrum, the 'pots and pans' setting tends to overcook the fish.

4 Run salmon through the entire wash-and-dry cycle -- approximately 50 minutes for most models.

5 When cycle's complete, take salmon out, discard foil, place one fillet on each plate and spoon a generous serving of dill sauce on top.



(Via Boing Boing.)

Severed heads freak out burglars

Thursday, September 28, 2006
09:06 PM
and I have the heart of a child, just like the one on Stephen King's desk

Severed heads freak out burglars: "David Pescovitz:
When I was in college, my friend Jason kept a fake human skull and a ventriloquist dummy in the window of his ground floor apartment. He told me that the items would deter superstitious burglars. Maybe Jason was onto something. In Vienna last week, burglars fled from the basement of an apartment building after stumbling upon eight mummified human heads that a dentist who lived in the building kept in a chest for 'research.' From Reuters:

'The burglars were looking for loot when they discovered the heads,' said a spokeswoman for Austrian police. 'From what it looks like, they just left them lying and bolted away.'

Austrian authorities said they were investigating whether there had been a breach of the regulations for storing research materials.



(Via Boing Boing.)

Article on classic toy designer John McNett

Thursday, September 28, 2006
09:19 PM
mmmmm toys

Article on classic toy designer John McNett: "Mark Frauenfelder:
Scott and Brian say:

Today the Mego Museum is featuring a great article on John and Linda McNett, a couple who met while working as toy designers at Mego Corp in the mid 1970's. In addition to working on many great Mego products such as 2XL -- One of the first interactive electronic toys, the Micronauts, and World's Greatest Super Heroes, John worked on Etch-a-Sketch, Magna Doodle, and designed the look of the Colecovision system and Coleco's minitabletop arcade games like Pac Man and Frogger. It's a cool insight into the orgins of our favorite toys written by Ben Holcomb, author of the forthcoming book World's Greatest Toys.


(Via Boing Boing.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

$1,200 keyboard proves people have too much money

Saturday, September 23, 2006
11:04 PM

$1,200 keyboard proves people have too much money: "

steel keyboard

Got some extra cash sitting around? Need a new keyboard? You're in luck. This stainless steel keyboard comes with an integrated trackball and will lower the balance in your checking account by a solid $1,200. If you're wondering what kinds of amazing features are in this thing to make it worth $1,200, join the club. Well, let's see… the trackball is removable for easy cleaning. That's gotta be worth something, right? And did I mention it's stainless steel? That's really all I can see as for features. It's nice looking, I guess. Go ahead moneybags, you know you want it.

Stealth Computers, via Gizmodo


(Via SCI FI Tech Blog.)

Web zen: tiki zen

Saturday, September 23, 2006
10:53 PM
My mother in law was trapped in the tikitiki room once - remind me to tell that story sometime

Web zen: tiki zen: "Xeni Jardin:

how to build a tiki bar

tiki bar tv

don tiki

tiki farm



vegas vic's

kahiki fireplace

Web Zen Home, Store (Thanks Frank!)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Flickr hits 0.25 billion photos

Saturday, September 23, 2006
10:45 PM
like I said this digi photo stuff might get huge

Flickr hits 0.25 billion photos: "Cory Doctorow:
Kullin sez, 'Seven months ago, Flickr reached 100 million photos. Today it reached a quarter of a billion.'


(Thanks, Kullin!)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Documentary about people who speak Klingon

Saturday, September 23, 2006
10:42 PM
oops I've always misquoted it as Large Bags of Mostly Water

Documentary about people who speak Klingon: "David Pescovitz:
Fortean Times posted an interview with Alexandre Philippe and David Marchiori, respectively the director and producer of Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water, a new documentary about the Klingon Language Institute. The film explores the line between reality and fiction through profiles of the likes of Louise Witty, who, according to the film's Web site, 'becomes fascinated with the language from her interest in Star Trek boots (and then fabricates and sells them), to a paintball fanatic who shouts his strategic commands in Klingon. From the interview:

 Exclusive Fedcon Earthlings-1

FT: The film, as you say, doesn’t take the easy route of poking fun at what some ‘normal’ folks might consider to be weird behaviour, even when it borders on the absurd…

(AP:) Truthfully, of course, some of the film is funny; but Klingon speakers would see that too - they’re definitely in on the joke, and that’s what makes it great. But there’s a difference between finding this weird and laughing at what they do and dismissing their activities. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it’s absurd. But that’s precisely the type of subculture that makes our world so endlessly fascinating. In this era of globalisation, I think it’s great that people try to assert their identity by embracing such communities. And what I’m personally particularly proud of is that I was there to create a lasting document proving the existence and the worth of this unique linguistic phenomenon...

DM: Everyone we met during the filming process, and all the Klingons we have met since, are virtually the same - gentle, intelligent people. Many of them are genuine Trek fans and this is their way of exploiting their love of the franchise. Many are linguists and language experts; in some cases Klingon is the sixth or seventh language they speak. And many of them are in it for the social aspects. I will say that while KLI members for the most part don’t indulge in dressing the Klingon way, they do take on a different persona when in Klingon mode. The large groups of people who like to dress as Klingons really take on different personalities while in the role. They act boisterous and aggressive... but when they change back, all is normal.



(Via Boing Boing.)

Fake half-suit for videoconferencing

Saturday, September 23, 2006
10:37 PM
recommended for bob

Fake half-suit for videoconferencing: "Mark Frauenfelder:
Slobs who work at home can look their best for videoconferences with the Businessbib, a pullover half-suit that has a built in shirt and tie.

Businessbibs are hand-made from recycled materials and are supposed to be sturdy and stylish. Priced between $135-150, they can be ordered online.


(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wedding procession led by flower girl in Vader helmet

Friday, September 22, 2006
08:35 PM
family fun

Wedding procession led by flower girl in Vader helmet: "Cory Doctorow:

Bill celebrated his wedding last weeked in two unusual ways. First, the procession was led by a little girl in a Darth Vader helmet while a 'hipster-country' version of the Imperial March played. Then Bill caught hidden-camera footage of his nogoodnik brother planting a camera in his nuptial suite as part of an elaborate 'Shivaree' prank, and posted it on the Internet in revenge.

About Shivaree, Wikipedia sez, 'In the American Midwest, along the Missouri River in Nebraska and Missouri, the term takes on the meaning of playfully kidnapping the bride, curiously similar to some Central Asian traditions.'

Link to Vader flower-girl post, Link to practical joke post

(Thanks, Bill)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Classic horror mag covers

Saturday, September 16, 2006
09:16 PM
I just love these

Classic horror mag covers: "Cory Doctorow:

The Warren Magazine collection (warning, obnxious Flash audio ahoy!) features years of covers of classic horror magazines CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA -- gory horror-sploitation imagery gone wild!


(via MeFi)


(Via Boing Boing.)

To creep you out for the rest...

Saturday, September 16, 2006
09:48 PM
heh heh

To creep you out for the rest...: "

To creep you out for the rest of the day, Drawn! links to Michael Paulus's skeletons of Peanuts characters and other cartoon characters. Just in case the accidental flipping past Celebrity Fear Factor with G. Gordon Liddy in a bathing suit didn't creep you out enough last night.


(Via blog.)

Web Zen: pirate zen (with David Byrne bonus)

Saturday, September 16, 2006
09:06 PM

Web Zen: pirate zen (with David Byrne bonus): "Xeni Jardin:

talk like a pirate day

british hq

pirate executions

cannon game

draw the pirate

you are a pirate

pirate clubhouse

five things...

another cannon game



yo ho ho! pirate zen 2005

yo ho ho! pirate zen 2004

yo ho ho! pirate zen 2003

plus for a limited time... David Byrne's 'Pirates.' (this will disappear on 09.20.06)

Image: The Jobby Roger, an excellent sticker for pirates who use Macs. If you attach one to yours, your computer will look like this, and you will look like this.

Web Zen Home, Store (Thanks Frank!)

Reader comment:

Aija says,

Here is a pattern for pirate arrrrr!gyle handknit socks (pic link, pdf chart)
Paul Saunders says,

As you may know, International Talk like a Pirate Day is coming up on September 19. In honor of this important holiday, LoadingReadyRun has created a vintage classroom film reel to instruct the less nautically inclined among us in proper pirate speech. Video link.

Bill Newcomb says,

The movie that Paul Saunders linked to gets one thing dead wrong:
'avast' has a specific meaning, viz. to cease, stop, or stay. Thus,
the phrase 'Avast, ye scurvy dogs' means something a lot more like
'Nobody move, nobody get hurt' than 'What up, homes'. Perhaps this
will be the year that we can avast the misuse of 'avast'.


(Via Boing Boing.)

Hail Eris, the newly-named dwarf planet

Saturday, September 16, 2006
09:04 PM
we need some newish gpds

Hail Eris, the newly-named dwarf planet: "David Pescovitz:
The dwarf planet UB313, a distant object that fueled the fire of what the definition of a planet should be, has now been officially named Eris by its discoverer, Caltech astronomer Michael Brown. It's an appropriate name because Eris, according to Greek mythology, was the goddess of discord. (As Robert Anton Wilson fans and fringe culture explorers know, the worship of Eris is the chaotic cornerstone of Discordianism, 'a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion.') From the Los Angeles Times (artist's concept from NASA/JPL-Caltech):

 Centers Jpl Images Content 157846Main Eris-Browse
Not everyone is happy with the choice. Robert Mitchell, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, said it seemed 'a little silly' to give a permanent name based on a controversy that will blow over in time.

Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, said you can't please everyone.

If 'the IAU named Mars today, there would be all kinds of politically correct arguments' over naming a planet after the god of war, Friedman said.

The IAU also took Brown's suggestion for the name of Eris' tiny moon, Dysnomia. In Greek mythology, Dysnomia is Eris' daughter, the goddess of lawlessness.

Link to LA Times, Link to NASA coverage


(Via Boing Boing.)

Amazon Unbox to customers: Eat shit and die

Saturday, September 16, 2006
09:01 PM
wow what an advance

Amazon Unbox to customers: Eat shit and die: "Cory Doctorow:

Amazon's new video-on-demand store may sound like a good idea, but once you take a look at the 'agreement' you enter into by giving them your money, that changes. The Amazon terms-of-service are among the worst I've ever seen, a document through which you surrender your rights to privacy, integrity of your personal data, and control over your computer, in exchange for a chance to pay near-retail cost to watch Police Academy n-1. As Ben Franklin might have said: They that can give up general purpose computers for the sake of a little eye candy deserve neither computers nor eye candy.

I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. A lot. I won't ever be buying one of these movies. Amazon has a great and well-deserved reputation for amazing customer service. The rare occasions where I've gotten a lemon or ordered the wrong product from Amazon, I've been treated like royalty, with Amazon making every possible accommodation to help me out. Their Look Inside feature and the used goods marketplaces are a tremendous boon to me.

The difference between Amazon and Amazon Unbox is like night and day. When you sign onto Unbox, you sign away all the amazing customer rights that Amazon itself is so careful to protect. Amazon Unbox takes away your privacy and every conceivable consumer right you have, and then tells you that the goods you buy from them don't belong to you, and they can take them away from you at any time, or change the deal you get from them without any appeal by you.

Amazon Unbox's user agreement isn't just galling for its evilness -- it's also commercially suicidal. No sane person will agree to this. Amazon Unbox user agreement is only a couple femtometers more dignified than being traded to another inmate for a couple packs of cigarettes.

Click below for a blow-by-blow analysis of the crummy deal you get from Amazon Unbox:

Section 3: 'The Software may operate on your Authorized Device continuously for a variety of reasons, including the management of your Digital Content.'

What this means is that there's no way to switch off the Amazon Unbox software. Once you install it, it does what other programs that remote-control your PC against you do: stays resident and refuses to budge. It might phone home, it might check and re-check your licenses. Who knows? This is a cop that you're installing on your machine, and you're the perp. Its job is to watch everything you do and keep you in line.

Section 3a: 'The Software automatically checks for upgrades, but the Software will not automatically upgrade without your consent, except as provided herein. If you do not consent to an upgrade that we make subject to your consent, the Digital Content may no longer be viewed on your Authorized Device. You must keep the Software on your Authorized Device current in order to continue to use the Service. We may automatically upgrade the Software when we believe such upgrade is appropriate to comply with law, enforce this Agreement, or protect the rights, safety or property of Amazon, our content providers, users, or others.'

The software you're agreeing to install today isn't the software you're going to have to run. Tomorrow, the day after, next week, and ten years from now, we plan to be forcing you into ever-tighter nooses. You don't have to install the updates, but if you don't, kiss the movies we sold you goodbye. We're going to update the software any time Hollywood tells us to, in order to protect their 'safety.' You might be used to disabling the DRM on your DVD player (Amazon even sells region-free players that come pre-hacked!), but forget about doing the same thing for your Amazon Unbox property: if someone figures out how to add a feature to your Unbox player, we will promptly confiscate that feature.

I once attended a DRM negotiation where an MPAA vice-president said, 'Watching a show that's being received in one room while you're sitting in another room has value, and if it has value, we should be able to charge money for it.' Siva Vaidhyanathan calls this the 'if value, then right' theory -- if something has value, someone must have a right to sell it. So while you might be accustomed to extracting unexpected value from your old media -- ripping a CD to play it on your iPod, copying a cartoon and sticking it on your fridge, taking your books with you when you move overseas -- forget about it from now on.

Every conceivable source of value for DRM digital movies is now potentially for sale. I've heard proposals for 'discounted' movies that you can't fast-forward ('discounted' in the sense that products you buy with a store loyalty card are 'discounted' -- they raise the price unless you use the card). Prepare for the future where every button on your remote has a price-tag on it.

Section 3b: Amazon respects your privacy, and the Software will not access computer files or other information on your computer that are not used by or otherwise related to the Service. Among other things, the Software will provide Amazon with information related to the Digital Content on your Authorized Device and your use of it and information regarding your Authorized Device and its interaction with the Service. This information will enable Amazon to manage rights associated with the Digital Content, allow Amazon to help you use the Service more effectively and otherwise help Amazon to enhance and improve the Service. For example, the Software may provide Amazon with information about the Digital Content from the Service on your Authorized Device, whether it has been deleted and whether it has been viewed. The Software may also provide Amazon with information about your Authorized Device's operating system, software, amount of available disk space and Internet connectivity, such as whether your computer or other device is available online. This information will, among other things, help us deliver Digital Content to you more efficiently and effectively. The Software may also provide Amazon with information about the transfer of Digital Content to portable devices to help us ensure compliance with our rules concerning portable devices.

Amazon says it respects your privacy, but this clause tells the real story. Click 'I agree' and you've just signed away permission for Amazon to wiretap all of your viewing habits, and to search your entire hard drive continuously and report back on all the software you've installed. The entertainment industry can produce a blacklist of legal software that it just doesn't care for -- say, software that lets you take screenshots, or screen-movies -- and refuse to allow your movies to run if you've installed it. In other words, this clause lets Hollywood specify how you must configure your PC.

Section 3c. Removal of Software. If you uninstall or otherwise remove the Software, your ability to view all Digital Content you have downloaded to the Authorized Device will immediately and automatically terminate and we reserve the right to delete all Digital Content from that Authorized Device without notice to you.

Surprise! If you delete our software, we delete your movies! Imagine if selling your old DVD player gave Jack Valenti permission to come over to your house and take away all your DVDs, too.

Section 4: The Service allows you to (i) pay a fee to view Digital Content for a limited specified period of time ('Rental Digital Content'), and (ii) pay a fee to view Digital Content a repeated number of times ('Purchased Digital Content'). As used herein, (i) 'Residence' shall mean a private, residential dwelling unit or a private individual office unit, but excluding hotel rooms, motel rooms, hospital patient rooms, restaurants, bars, prisons, barracks, drilling rigs and all other structures, institutions or places of transient or work-related residence as well as places, areas, structures, rooms or offices which are common areas or open to the public or to occupiers of separate Residences or for which an admission fee is charged; (ii) 'Permitted Non-Residential Use' shall mean the private viewing by one or more persons on a video monitor (desktop, television monitor, laptop, hand-held device or otherwise) in a Non-Residential Venue; provided, however, that any such viewing for which an access fee or other admission charge is imposed (other than any fee related only to access such Non-Residential Venue for other general purposes) or any such viewing that is on a monitor provided by such Non-Residential Venue (or by a third party under any agreement or arrangement with such Non-Residential Venue) for display of programming in a common area shall not constitute a 'Permitted Non-Residential Use'; and (iii) 'Non-Residential Venue' shall mean any place, area, structure or room other than a Residence.

Remember when you used to watch DVDs in the break-room at work, or in the common room at school? Remember when you used to bring movies for your kid to watch on the hospital set after she had her tonsils out? Forget about it. These movies can only be watched where and when we say. This might be 'Purchased digital content,' but don't ever mistake it for your property. Like feudal times: lords get to own property, and everything we serfs have belongs to the lord.

Section 4a. Rental Digital Content. Upon your payment of the rental fee, Amazon grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to view, use and privately display in your Residence or for Permitted Non-Residential Use, the Rental Digital Content purchased by you, by way of one (1) non-portable Authorized Device (e.g., a laptop or desktop computer) connected to the Service over the Internet as specified on the detail pages of the Rental Digital Content or other help or informational pages of the Service at the time of your payment. Unless otherwise designated on a detail page for Rental Digital Content, the license for Rental Digital Content is limited in its term and duration to thirty (30) days from your payment of the rental fee or twenty-four (24) hours from the time you start viewing the Rental Digital Content, whichever is sooner. The Software may automatically delete Rental Digital Content that is beyond its limited license term from your Authorized Device, and you consent to such automatic deletion. You may not copy or move Rental Digital Content from their originally stored location(s) on your Authorized Device. There can only be 1 (one) account for the Service on an Authorized Device.

So this is just like renting a movie from Blockbuster, except that while you can give your Blockbuster movies to your boyfriend to watch after you're done with them, these movies are only for you. Oh, and they cost more. Oh, and you have to pay for the bandwidth to transfer them to your home. Oh, and you have to wait for them to download. Oh, and you have to let them invade your privacy.

Section 4b. Purchased Digital Content. Upon your payment of the license fee, Amazon grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to retain a permanent copy of Purchased Digital Content and to view, use, and privately display the Purchased Digital Content in your Residence or for Permitted Non-Residential Use as specified on the detail pages of the Purchased Digital Content or other help or informational pages of the Service at the time of your payment. You may exercise these rights on up to 2 (two) non-portable Authorized Devices (e.g. laptop or desktop computers) and two (2) portable Authorized Devices as specifically designated by Amazon from time to time. There can only be 1 (one) account for the Service on an Authorized Device. You may make a back-up copy of Purchased Digital Content on removable media (e.g. recordable DVD) or on an external hard drive in the same format as the original downloaded file to play on your permitted Authorized Devices. Any back-up copy of the Purchased Digital Content on a DVD will not be playable on a traditional DVD player, but only on a permitted Authorized Device.

You can purchase our 'digital content,' but that doesn't mean you own it. You can't sell it, give it to your kid's school, or donate it to a homeless shelter. Also, you can only play it on two portable players, and only the models we approve. And if you buy an approved portable player, we can later nullify your investment by canceling that device's permission to play your movies.

Section 4c. Downloading and Risk of Loss. It is your responsibility to download Digital Content promptly after purchase. If you are unable to complete a download after having reviewed our online help resources, please contact Amazon customer service. You bear all risk of loss for completing the download of Digital Content after purchase, once we have made such content available to you (in Your Media Library or otherwise), and for any loss of Digital Content you have downloaded, including any loss due to a file corruption or a computer or hard drive crash. Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available in your Media Library for download to a second of your Authorized Devices (or re-download to the first Authorized Device you designate for the content), but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions and for other reasons and Amazon will not be liable to you if content becomes unavailable for further download.

Movies from Amazon don't come with the same rights as DVDs from Amazon -- DVDs can be sold, given away, and watched on any player. You don't have to give up your privacy or control over your property to watch a DVD.

If Amazon sells you a DVD but it never arrives in the mail, Amazon gives you a full refund. But if you buy an Unbox movie and your download fails, Amazon has no obligation to get you that flick. Naturally, replacing your Unbox movies costs nothing, while shipping you a replacement DVD costs quite a lot.

Section 5: From time to time, Amazon will automatically deliver promotional video content (e.g., movie trailers, celebrity interviews, reviews, etc.) to your Authorized Device. Amazon may automatically delete such promotional video content from your Authorized Device without notice to you.

We will put commercials on your computer without your permission. But you can't keep the good ones.

Section 6: Except for the rights explicitly granted to you in this Agreement, all right, title and interest in the Service and Digital Content are reserved and retained by Amazon and its licensors, and Amazon and its licensors do not transfer any right, title or interest in the Digital Content to you. You do not acquire any ownership rights in the Digital Content as a result of downloading Digital Content.

We call it 'purchased content,' but you don't own it.

Section 7: The Services are available only to customers located in the United States. If you are outside of the United States, you may not use the Services and you may not transfer Digital Content outside the United States. As used herein, 'United States' refers to the 48 contiguous United States, the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii.

If you move, or if you travel, we'll take your movies away.

Section 8: 8. All rentals and sales of Digital Content are final when you click the 'Buy Now' button.

It's a 'Sale' but you haven't bought it -- you've only licensed it.

Section 9a: a. If you violate any of the terms or conditions of this Agreement or otherwise abuse the Service, your license to Rental Digital Content and Purchased Digital Content will immediately terminate and Amazon may, in its discretion, immediately revoke your access to the Service without notice to you and without refund of any fees. In such event, you must delete all copies of Digital Content that you have downloaded, and Amazon shall have the right to automatically delete all Digital Content on your Authorized Device without notice to you.

If we think you've done something naughty, we can take away all the movies you've bought, without appeal. Better not do anything we think is naughty. What do we consider naughty? We're not telling.

Section c. If Amazon changes any part of the Service or modifies license terms applicable to Rental Digital Content or Purchased Digital Content, which it may do in its sole discretion, you acknowledge that you may not be able to access, view, or use Digital Content in the same manner as prior to such changes, and you agree that Amazon shall have no liability to you in such case.

We can change the terms of this deal at any time. Today you can play it on two portable players -- maybe it'll be zero tomorrow. Today you can only watch these movies in the US, tomorrow, maybe only west of the Mississippi.

Section d: Amazon reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the service at any time without notice to you, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such rights.

Even if you're not doing something naughty, we can take away the movies we 'sold' you.


(Thanks, Xeni!)

Update: Jacob sez, 'All purchases in Unbox are 1-click, and there's no way to turn off that 'feature.' A friend of mine accidently purchased a season of 'Stacked' through one mis-directed click. Not only does this cost him money, according to Amazon it also bounds him to their usage agreement. I emailed Amazon specifically about disabling 1-click for this reason, and they very explicitly told me that there's no way to turn 1-click off for Unbox. Considering their high prices, limited selection, required software and restrictive DRM, I wouldn't be surprised if half of their sales so far have been due to stray clicking. No word yet on how Amazon handles refunds for this case, although I've recently asked them that as well.'

Update 2 (next day): Jacob sez, 'My friend got an update from Amazon. Looks like they decided to refund his money. Here's the email he got from Amazon today.'

Hello from

Thank you for contacting us about the problem you encountered with
Stacked Season 2. As a standard policy, Amazon Unbox videos are not
returnable after they have been downloaded and viewed.

After researching your account I have confirmed that you have already
been refunded for this video. This refund should go through within the
next 2 to 6 business days and will appear as a credit on your next
credit card billing statement.

Again, I apologize for the difficulty you had with this video and
thank you for shopping at


(Via Boing Boing.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Global overweight now outnumber global malnourished

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
05:07 PM
hmmm - wellll!

Global overweight now outnumber global malnourished: "Cory Doctorow:
There are more 'overweight' people than undernourished people on Earth, according to last Sunday's opening keynote at the Congress on Obesity in Sydney, Australia:

Zimmet, an expert on diabetes at Monash University in Australia, said that overweight people now outnumber the undernourished. The World Health Organization's estimates agree: globally, there are one billion overweight adults, and 300 million of them are obese; in contrast, about 800 million do not have enough to eat. Today obesity is a problem mainly in rich countries, but the WHO estimates that by 2010 the developing world will have more than caught up.


(Thanks, Blake!)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Modern traffic-sign Tarot deck

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
05:04 PM
a little less mystical than I would expect

Modern traffic-sign Tarot deck: "Xeni Jardin:

John Coulthart, whose past design hijinks include the 'Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases,' has created this delightfully modern Tarot deck: Link. (thanks, Jeff VanderMeer)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Macworld: Mac 911: iWeb to go

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
08:23 AM

Macworld: Mac 911: iWeb to go: "

September 08, 2006 02:24 pm
Mac 911 Weblog
iWeb to go
By Christopher Breen

Reader W L Cheung would li"

(Via .)

John Hodgman's hobo mosaic

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
01:13 AM
nicely done but very un-hobo

John Hodgman's hobo mosaic: "Mark Frauenfelder:

Last year, I wrote about John Hodgman's wonderful song about 700 fanciful hobo names, such as 'Bazino Bazino, The Kid Whose Hair Is On Fire,' 'Extra-Skin Dave,' and 'Ol' Barb Stab-You-Quick.' I invited cartoonists to draw the 700 hoboes, and they eagerly took up the challenge, starting a Flickr group. On Tuesday, the artists announced that there is now at least one drawing per hobo! (They are going to continue drawing new versions of the hoboes.)

One of the cartoonists, the very talented xadrian, created a photo mosaic of Hodgman using hundreds of the hobo drawings. Link (More about the 700 Hoboes project here, and the master list here)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Hummingbird hawkmoth video

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
01:14 AM

Hummingbird hawkmoth video: "Mark Frauenfelder:


Diane says: 'Caught your hawkmoth posting the other week. Want to see some video of one in action? We have these guys in our garden every summer -- Peter recently caught a bit of digital footage of one of them tanking up.' Link | Link to Diane's blog post.


(Via Boing Boing.)

Monday, September 4, 2006

151 'Empire Strikes Back' changes

Monday, September 04, 2006
10:35 PM
and we're counting

151 'Empire Strikes Back' changes: "Blog: It may not be common knowledge, but there are a lot of differences between the original 1980 release of 'The Empire Strikes Back'..."


Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin dead at 44

Monday, September 04, 2006
10:16 PM
truth is stranger than krikey

Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin dead at 44: "Xeni Jardin:
The eccentric Aussie naturalist and TV star died in a marine accident off the northeast coast of Australia today, at age 44. He is believed to have been killed when a stingray barb pieced his chest. Link (thank you to many who submitted)

Reader comment: Loren Coleman says,

Over at Cryptomundo, I've written a blog about how Steve Irwin has been
involved with cryptozoological pursuits: Link.

Simon Nielsen says,

Melbourne's newpaper 'The Age' has several stories on its front page detailing the highly unusual death of Steve Irwin. Steve was diving in far north Queensland off Port Douglas in the Great Barrier Reef. He was stabbed in the heart by the barb of a giant stingray - a freakish incident itself and unheard off. Stingrays are known as non-aggressive and docile creatures, curious of humans, often interacting with scuba divers and rarely prone to attack. Only two other deaths by stingray have ever been reported in the world. Had Steve been pierced in the leg or elsewhere - he would have survived. His death was unprecedented.

Andrew Fischer says,

A co-worker of mine who volunteers at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago
and majored in marine biology found this paper. Sadly I can't send
along the full document but it looks as though Mr. Irwin's type of
injury is extremely fatal though thankfully rare.

Medical Journal of Australia: Notable Cases
Survivor of a stingray injury to the heart
Beatrix F Weiss, Hugh D Wolfenden (MJA 2001; 175: 33-34)

Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Prince of Wales Hospital,
Sydney, NSW.

Injuries to the extremities from stingray barbs are not uncommon along
the Australian seaboard. Cardiac injuries from stingray barbs are
rare, even worldwide, and all but one have been fatal. We report a
survivor of a cardiac injury caused by a stingray barb. Penetration of
a body cavity by a stingray barb requires early surgical referral and

PMID: 11476200 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Scott says,

As you could imagine people have spent time creating they're own tribute videos for 'The Crocodile Hunter'. Here you will find all the latest videos updated from all the main video websites including Youtube, Google video and Myspace. Link


(Via Boing Boing.)

wpswi060820.gif 500×344 pixels

Monday, September 04, 2006
10:19 PM

wpswi060820.gif 500×344 pixels: ""

(Via .)

Sunday, September 3, 2006

George MacDonald

Sunday, September 03, 2006
10:47 PM

George MacDonald: "'Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.'


(Via Motivational Quotes of the Day.)

Damned funny Unix humor

Sunday, September 03, 2006
10:26 PM
heh heh
whaddya mean ya don't get it

Damned funny Unix humor: "Cory Doctorow:

This is geek humor at its finest. You probably won't get the joke unless you're a Unix weenie, though this might help.


(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Beachles: Noise mashup of Beatles and Beach Boys

Sunday, September 03, 2006
10:24 PM
ders still love dere

Beachles: Noise mashup of Beatles and Beach Boys: "Cory Doctorow:

The Beachles is a noise-album that mashes up the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds with the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I'm not a giant fan of noise, but there's some inspired stuff on this disc -- I'm very partial to track 10, 'Today, Rita.'


(Thanks, Phil!)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Classic cap-gun ad

Sunday, September 03, 2006
10:22 PM
I'm ordering 2

Classic cap-gun ad: "Cory Doctorow:
This Popular Science ad from March 1946 for a cap pistol still has the power to reach out across the decades and grab me -- the more I look at it, the more I want to get my own cap pistol made of 'strong lightweight aluminum.' The blatant sexism actually makes this somehow more compelling, a kind of assurance that this is a product produced by the kind of troglodytes who would produce a cap-pistol of such surpassing irresponsibility that it might be able to rupture and ear-drum or, just maybe, put out an eye.

Boy! It's Keen

$1.95 (Gun Only)

Box of 5 rolls caps 7 Boxes . . . $1.00




It's a real thriller. Yes! Looks and feels like the Automatic '45's' carried by our Army Officer . . . It's made of strong lightweight aluminum . . . with a plastic 'Pearl' handle. It's easy to reload. Any boy would gladly give his entire allowance for one of these.



(Via Boing Boing.)

Action figures of people fleeing from horror movie monsters

Sunday, September 03, 2006
10:14 PM

Action figures of people fleeing from horror movie monsters: "Cory Doctorow:

The 'Horrified B-Movie Victims Figure Set' is about as meta as an action-figure can go, without actually making action figures of action figures that play with little action figures based on other action figures. These critters are poised to flee from whatever havoc your real and terrifying action figs are wreaking, providing color and depth at playtime.


(via Wonderland)


(Via Boing Boing.)

Friday, September 1, 2006

Hobbit Due In 2007?

Friday, September 01, 2006
09:49 PM
c'est complete

Hobbit Due In 2007?: "
Fan Web site posted a rumor that The Hobbit, the proposed prequel to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, is on New Line Cinema's schedule for 2007."

(Via SCI FI Wire.)