Wayne Burkett's Weblog

This isn't really about Apple's factories in China, but it's about Apple's factories in China
08:20PM CST June 13, 2006 | Add a comment

Two things in the first few paragraphs of this Wired article on Apple's Chinese factories are worth complaining about:

  1. According to the report (paraphrased here by Macworld UK), Foxconn's giant Longhua plant employs 200,000 workers, who work 15-hour days but are paid just $50 a month -- miserable even by China's standards.

    Printing hourly wage numbers like this is nearly meaningless. Kahney does better than most -- he at least assures us that $50 a month is miserable -- but this number is clearly designed to provoke surprise. The problem: I have no idea what the actual value of $50 is in China. Do you? Leahy seems to be asking me to judge the merits of that wage based on my own experiences with the cost of living in the United States. That's retarded. This ranks alongside chain emails that wax nostalgic about the price of something-or-other in the good old days without taking inflation into account. What do these people think money is?

  2. Workers at [other] factories earn more -- about $100 a month -- but are not housed by the company. The paper says rent and living costs eat up about half the worker's salaries."

    This is another failure of context. I think I'm supposed to be appalled at the low standards in developing nations, but simple math and a few minutes of apartment hunting will reveal that the minimum wage in the United States won't get you as far as covering half of your rent and living costs. (This doesn't, of course, have any bearing on the Goodness/Badness of the typical Chinese work environment; I'm merely pointing out that I think Kahney's words fail to have the intended effect.)

The Value of Ideas
03:25PM CST April 04, 2006 | Add a comment

I've just finished reading Kinsella's Against Intellectual Property. I strongly encourage anyone interested in the subject to read it. What strikes me is that most of the people I ask about copyright-related matters are willing to accept arguments for IP that they'd reject as absurd wrt to physical property.

Kinsella covers a number of important points -- the consequences of the scarcity justification for property rights, discussed further at Right to Create, deserve more attention in this debate -- but I'm more interested in his claim that one has rights only to protection of the integrity of one's property, not it's value.

Most, I've found, accept Thomas Jefferson's argument that the use, reproduction, or exploitation of another's idea in no way diminishes the integrity of the idea. That is to say, when I use your idea, I take nothing away from the idea itself. This is, in my experience, an uncontroversial position.

Instead, defenses of intellectual property laws focus on the effect such use has on the market value of the idea. Creative works, it is argued, derive their economic value from copyright and would therefore decrease in worth without the protection of a government-issued monopoly. Is this fact adequate justification for copyright law?

It's instructive that this argument is rejected prima facie wrt to physical property. If competition, opinion, or any other legalized force reduces the market value of your fishing boat, you have no grounds for redress, provided that action in no way violates the integrity of your property. If I wage a campaign to convince kids that toy cars are boring, toy car manufacturers have no reasonable claim to damages caused by my reduction of the value of their property. It is, in fact, the integrity of physical property that is protected from harm by law. Events that merely reduce your property's value are outside of its scope.

The same is nearly true regarding IP. The same amount of protection from critcism -- i.e., none -- is provided to creative works. Authors have no right to be free from negative reviews. It's tempting to believe we've stumbled on a sort of equity of ideas. But it's important to realize that it is not a right to the protection of your property's value that is violated when I trespass on your land. In fact, one can easily imagine a scenario in which the trespass results in a net increase in the value of your property. I might staple $100 bills to your trees, for example. Your right to protection from any such act is secured, despite incidental personal benefit. In other words, our property rights are independent of economic considerations.

It's of course true that a consideration of damages may enter into proceedings regarding restitution for damages and that the same would be true wrt economic damages resulting from IP violations, but that says nothing about the justification for the right itself. The answer to the question, "Why does the abused party deserve restitution?" is not simply "Because his property lost value." It's the violation of a more fundamental right that raises the question in the first place.

It's my view that a rational defense of copyright law as it exists today should include justification for the idea that the value of property deserves the same respect and protection as its integrity. At the very least, the burden is on supporters of IP to explain why they afford greater rights to those who would profit from ideas than to owners of tangible goods.

del.icio.us changes
04:25PM CST March 14, 2006 | Comments [33]

I've been using a Greasemonkey script on del.icio.us archive pages to separate posts with comments from those without, since merely knowing that some random user also bookmarked some URL is pretty much useless, as far as I can tell. I'd planned to throw it out in the wild after I made a few more changes, but it looks like the del.icio.us folks have released a new design that obviates that plan.

The new archive pages are much more useful. Interestingly, Greasemonkey scripts are the only code I'm happy to see break.

Addicting vs Addictive
03:21PM CST February 23, 2006 | Comments [3]

Does the non-word addicting have to appear on digg at least once a day or something?

Ain't that the truth? Well, sort of.

It might be that the only people doing more damage to common English than those using addicting where they mean addictive are those responding that addicting isn't even a word. No, wait, it's the people responding that addicting is a word and then claiming that the two are interchangeable. Does anyone use these words correctly?

For the record, addicting is in fact a word. A transitive verb, more precisely. These are verbs that require a direct object (like abuse, as in The Digg user physically abused the grammarian.) And we all seem to agree that addictive is a word. An adjective. Those are describy words. You remember those. Adjective != verb. Addictive != addicting. An interesting fact about dictionaries is that when two forms of a word are included, interchangeability is not implied.

When someone says "Sudoku is addicting," they almost certainly mean that a property of the game is that it causes addiction, and they should have described it as addictive. But it's not strictly improper; they might mean that the game is currently causing addiction in those who encounter it -- the subject's object is implicit in this case -- and we'd have something that's both grammatically correct and meaningful.

I'm off on this rant because this type of mistake sufficiently rebukes the oft-heard response to grammatical nit-picking: "c'mon, you know what I mean!" The simple truth is that, well, maybe not. Which of the two did our puzzle-lover intend to convey? That Sudoku is actively addicting those who play it, or that it has the property of causing addiction? These are different things. They mean different things. And if you don't tell me what you mean, or if the context leads me to believe you've made a common mistake, then I've just gotta' guess.

It's just like the saying says, you know? In the poker game of communication, ambiguity is the rake. It's the fuckin' rake.

A useful Gmail feature that turns out to be largely useless
03:01PM CST January 23, 2006 | Comments [3]

A personally beneficial result of the recent (and misguided) public handwringing over the way Gmail handles dots is my discovery that it also ignores everything after a '+' in the local part of your address. There are two useful applications of this feature:

  1. E-mail filtering. You could give different people different addresses and use Gmail's filtering tool to label them appropriately (or send them to their own box). For example, I might use wayneburkett+dionidium.com@gmail.com to track mail from visitors to this site.
  2. Spam tracking. I know, I thought, I'll give, say, wayneburkett+cingular@gmail.com to my wireless provider, along with similary constructed addresses to any other site that asks for my e-mail address, and then it'll be trivial to determine the origin of each piece of spam I receive.

This isn't exactly a original thought, which is demonstrated by the availability of numerous disposable email address services.

The bad news: a lot of web apps -- most? -- reject or mishandle e-mail addresses that contain a plus sign. Cingular rejects them. Bank of America's site rejects them. Flickr gets it right.

The worst offender is Ebay, which silently stripped the plus sign from my address and sent the change-of-email confirmation off to some non-existent inbox.

If one were the type to reference standards documents, one might point to RFC 2822. If one were so inclined.

04:23PM CST January 21, 2006 | Add a comment
So how is your Aristotle class?
Yeah, so, so far we're just talking about, you know, like Greek history, like Alexander the Great. I'm like, "yeah, soooo I don't really think he did much."
How not to handle customer forums
01:00AM CST January 19, 2006 | Add a comment

Throughout 2003 and early 2004 I spent a lot of time on the AT&T Wireless (now Cingular) customer forums. I was fairly active, according to my user profile, authoring 96 posts (and reading 3846 others), tallying 6289 page views, and logging 4406 minutes at the site.

But that's hard to tell today, because (I've just discovered) 72 of those 96 posts are missing -- deleted, I presume, by forum administrators.

The reason I suspect that the posts were deleted (and not simply lost due to technical error or incompetence) is that I originally stopped using the site in response to the removal of one of my posts. I had been searching for something I'd posted a few days earlier (back in 2004) and couldn't find the post, so I mailed customer service. Here's the relevant portion of their response:

Sorry that your post was removed. Unfortunately there were some inappropriate responses on it and they were in a manner in which we had no choice but to move the entire thread.

They hadn't removed my post, in other words, because of anything I'd said, but because they felt some of the replies were inappropriate. In response, they nuked the entire thread without contacting me and without any explanation at the place the thread had been. I thought that was pretty silly. I stopped using the site.

Which brings us to today. This DMCA-related post reminded me that we'd had some pretty interesting discussions about the DMCA (as it relates to wireless phones) on the customer forums back in 2003. I immediately found this post in which I'd assured a fellow customer that it wasn't illegal to unlock his phone. In that post, I linked to another post, in which, if memory serves, I became less and less convinced of my original assertion and an interesting discussion of the DMCA went on. That second, more interesting thread is now missing. I remember posting to other DMCA-related threads, too, but a current search for "dmca" at Cingular's site returns zero results.

Cingular has the right to remove posts (and they say as much in their posting guidelines). That much is obvious. And it's fair to say that a number of my posts were critical of the company's behavior. But Cingular also says that it "does not generally edit or monitor content posted by participants in its Customer Support Forums." That lacks truthiness.

So the result is that a lot of stuff that I (and others, I'm sure) said on those forums is now missing, which creates an inaccurate public record of the discussions that took place. My frustration is exacerbated by the frequency with which users refer to other threads that are now gone. No message exists explaining that a post has been removed. They're all 404, baby.

And I'm still a Cingular customer. In a contract. Yay!

11:06AM CST September 26, 2005 | Add a comment

So of course I'm excited about Serenity and of course I'd do just about anything to get tickets to an advance screening.

Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family -squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

Update: Nobody working for the theater had any idea what to tell us about the screening. The ticket-taker shrugged his shoulders nervously when presented with a copy of the e-mail I was told would confirm our registration, but let us in unbegrudgingly. Nobody from the theater or the marketing firm took my name or required proof of this blog for entrance, but I'm fulfilling my obligation -- to blog about the screening, that is -- anyway. Besides, I do want to say that, despite a few minor quibbles I haven't the tenacity to document here, the movie was fantastic. Also note that I saw it with a friend who was only passively aware of the show. He liked it, too, but I suspect you'll enjoy it more if you've got some of the backstory.

04:28AM CST June 22, 2005 | Comments [2]

DeliciousToDelicious is a user script for posting to anything that implements the del.icio.us API using the del.icio.us posting interface. I use it to sync the bookmarks I post to del.icio.us with a local copy of Scuttle. It could also be used to post to two del.icio.us accounts at once.

A lot of the code comes straight from DeliciousToBlog, but this script's a lot simpler because the del.icio.us API is much less complex than the metaWeblog API.

Incidentally, I'd only find DeliciousToBlog useful if it provided some way to append new links to an existing post (so that I could include all of the day's links in one post, a la Tom Coates), but I'm not sure I'll get around to adding that.

Greasemonkey M3U Generator
01:16PM CST June 07, 2005 | Comments [8]

I love this M3U generator bookmarklet that Andy Baio pointed to a couple days ago, but I'd like to know whether the page I'm viewing links to any MP3s before I click. Playlist is a Greasemonkey user script that does exactly what Hublog's bookmarklet does, but notifies the user that a playlist has been generated with an icon in the top right corner of any page linking to MP3s.

Here's what it looks like on Music for Robots.