The Weatherman

Today, my daughter and I hauled off to the University of Maryland, College Park, for a Storm Watchers presentation. The NOAA meteorologist making the presentation grew up in Southern Maine—Biddeford, to be exact.

Mmmm, I wonder how many meteorologists are from Maine. It’s hard to grow up there and not be interested in weather. With no exaggeration, weather changes about every 15 minutes in the summer, from clear skies to breezy and cloudy skies to tree-ripping thunderstorms. Upways in Northern Maine, rapid winter temperature shifts are common. I’ve seen 45-degree Celsius shifts (that’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit) from plus five to minus 40 in less than 12 hours. That’s no exaggeration. 

My daughter and I enjoyed the program, although we ducked out a bit early for a long walk cross campus against bitter blowing wind to downtown College Park. The campus town is my old stomping ground. My wife and I lived there for about four years before my daughter was born (we conceived her there). Yesterday, I told my wife that I would move back in a second. I had forgotten how much I like the busy little downtown area and adjacent campus. My basement home office is stifling. I crave change. I told Annie, with College Park nearby, I’d spend about zero time in the home office. I would work from the downtown’s cavernous Starbucks. OK, maybe only a few days a week.

Going on campus yesterday stirred up quite a bit of conflict within. I’ve never been wholly satisfied working exactly the way I do. For example, philosophically I don’t really believe in rules governing intellectual property usage; ironic, because I abide by those rules. I am deeply troubled that current copyright and IP rules slowly strangle free speech and flow of free information. I see these “stops” on information as contrary to human nature and also the academic culture of research and information sharing. For example, exactly what does DRM have to do with free information exchange?

At what point does information control lead to fascism? Americans live with increasing rules about how they listen to music or watch TV shows. Under the guise of fighting terrorists, government information censorship increases.

Yesterday, Thomas Hawk ripped (no pun intended) DRM music owners with his post, “iTunes, One Billion Suckers Served.” Writes Thomas:

I think Apple’s DRM is awful and represents a major step back for us all. I think those that are investing in iTune digital libraries are suckers. You are basically betting that Apple’s proprietary DRM laced format will be the standard for the rest of your life…Personally I want nothing to do with it. I still collect my digital music the old fashioned way, I rip it straight from CDs to crystal clear high bit rate DRM free mp3s.

I’m guilty of buying from iTunes, although right now I purchase no-DRM content on principle. I do rent rights-protected content from Napster and Yahoo music services and movies from Vongo. I like the convenience and the opportunity to sample new music. If I really, really want the music, CD would be my purchase route, assuming the disc contains no Draconian DRM scheme.

Anyway, I find the academic environment stimulating and worry about copyright and IP cultural conflict. Funny, I’d love to write books for a living (anyone know a good literary agent?). I wonder what my attitude would be if people used my writings without authorization? To be honest (and this response means no call from that good literary agent), I wouldn’t much care. Greedy I’m not. There are reasonable limits to making money on creative works. My gripe is that current limits are unreasonable, and they put unreasonable limits on usage.

I didn’t hear this meteorologist speak about information limits. Just the opposite, I observed. He wanted to disseminate information and save people’s lives. He works at the NOAA radar operation near Dulles Airport. That information is widely disseminated. It’s not like NOAA distributes DRM-protected radar feeds. Those feeds tremendously benefit local government and businesses, some of which freely take information with one hand and restrict it with the other. 🙁

I snapped the Stop sign for no particular reason, in College Park today. Somehow it resonates with the latter half of this post. Composition sucks though, but so does DRM.