fatal exception

a blog about sundry things

Archive for January 2010

Religious indoctrination of children

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Broadly, I agree with Richard Dawkins’s assertion that religious indoctrination of children is problematic, although I balk at referring to it as “child abuse,” simply because it is such a loaded term, and should be reserved for its current context. I strongly believe that youth have the right to be brought up in a way that allows them to draw their own inferences about the world and choose their own faith, rather than choosing their parents’ beliefs by default. Religious decisions are not to be taken lightly, and introducing children to weighty religious concepts before they are ready cannot always be healthy for them. An average five-year-old is far from able to weigh the benefits of a religious school of thought themselves, and parental indoctrination does not encourage independent thought. Rather, children should be taught how to be moral, kind and decent citizens, and should be allowed to arrive at their own religious conclusions when they are old enough to do so.

I think that it is utterly disgusting for parents to be allowed to teach their children that visiting doctors is bad, or that the world was created in six days, or that cultural minorities deserve fewer rights than the majority.

I must admit that my beliefs about religious indoctrination are personally motivated; a particular family member to whom I was once rather close was deeply indoctrinated by her fundamentalist parents, and this indoctrination has provoked my estrangement from her. I was ordered not to “undermine” their teachings, and my fear of doing so has caused me to withdraw sharply from that branch of the family. When I see fundamentalist parents assert their “right” to shove backward, intolerant beliefs down innocent children’s throats, I cannot help becoming infuriated.

Written by Finn

January 24, 2010 at 1:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Geeky video time!

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A pair of geeky videos I came across on Youtube a few nights ago.

Apparently this guy made an electronic music piece using only sound effects from Windows.

Crazy Windows Error! (I find this hilarious, for some reason. But then again, I may be a bit disgruntled because my poor used Mac decided to fail on me a while back, and I’m exiled to PC-land for now.)

Written by Finn

January 23, 2010 at 8:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Intellectual property, ‘theft’ and industry

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(This is a series of thoughts I’ve been having about intellectual property in the digital realm, the open-source movement and the ethics surrounding these issues. I’ve crossposted this from another, older blog.)

I continually come across comment and forum threads online where some well-meaning person is going on about how people are ‘stealing’ music (or films, or fonts, or books, or whatever) via file sharing. Copying and redistributing is not theft in the old-fashioned sense. No-one is physically losing anything; people are sharing. It may be against the terms of someone’s particular distribution licence, but it isn’t theft. For example, in a comment thread on a typography site I occasionally visit, the site admin told someone requesting a particular font (which turned out to be an expensive commercial typeface) that downloading a commercial typeface via file sharing was like stealing an expensive Porsche. This is disingenuous, because a font file (or a music file, or a PDF of a book) is a digital copy. A Porsche is a physical object. If someone broke into someone’s garage and made off with their car, the original owner is definitely deprived of something. When someone copies an MP3 that they bought from iTunes and uploads it to share with their friends, Apple still have the file on their servers for other people to buy and download.

I have some specific complaints about the type industry in particular. I dislike the classist attitude that a lot of people in the type industry have towards distribution of fonts. The Porsche example I gave above is a perfect example of it. ‘Start saving up!’ they say. ‘You’re demanding the typographical equivalent of Armani and Gucci for free, or for low prices.’ The problem with this argument is that they are defending the existence of overpriced, luxury goods that are marketed towards the rich, and favour conspicuous consumption over practicality. ‘Oh, you’re POOR. You can’t afford our stuff, so FUCK YOU.’ One poster on the same thread in which the Porsche example came from even said that free fonts ‘devalue the font industry’, because people will expect all fonts to be free! (This is part of why I don’t really want to become a professional graphic designer as a long-term career; I find the industry rather snobbish in ways that really get under my skin.)

The music industry uses the Armani/Gucci arguments less, because distributors tend to charge far less for individual songs and albums than the type industry charges for individual typefaces (let alone ‘families’ of different variants of a single typeface, like bold, light and italic). The same talk about ‘stealing’ files is thrown about as though there is a valid comparison between ‘stealing’ an MP3 file and stealing $NUM money from someone’s wallet. Again, you are not breaking into Madonna’s house and stealing CDs from her, or stealing the servers on which Apple store iTunes download files. Someone who never buys music in the first place isn’t costing the artist anything; it’s just the same as if someone simply chose not to listen to the music in the first place. There are other people who do occasionally download music from file-sharing sites and applications who do end up supporting the artist financially. People may not buy albums, but they will go to shows or buy merchandise. There are still others who may initially download a song, but will buy it at a later time. I fall into this later category; I initially downloaded several songs via file-sharing networks, and ended up buying them from iTunes at a later date to show my support for the artists.

But then again, I have weird ideas about intellectual property as a concept; I think that it needs a serious overhaul, because the current system is an impediment to creativity and favours large interests over smaller ones. I tend to lean towards the idea that information and creativity should be seen as a public resource. (This isn’t to say that it’s moral to claim that someone else’s work is your own creation; of course it’s not, but the current attitudes towards ownership of ideas are deeply flawed.) I tend to think that copyright should be focussed on protecting the artist from having others claiming their work as their own, rather than distribution of information with attribution. I say this as someone who does create information to be distributed, and would like to have a book published at some point.

Philosophically, I support open source efforts, but I think that some FOSS developers need to change their focus from specialist uses of open-source technologies to the needs of average users. Part of the reason why people continue to download Photoshop and MS Office from file-sharing networks is that the open-source competitors, like The Gimp and OpenOffice.org, are not designed for the same audiences that Photoshop and MS Office target. To me, The Gimp is not designed for graphic designers in mind. Its interface is clunky, it runs slowly and it feels as though it’s made for people who don’t specialise in graphic work, but just need to work on art once in a while. Some people have a great time with it, but I definitely don’t. I may be a bit biased because I’ve used Photoshop for almost nine years, but The Gimp has a long way to go before it can become a competitive alternative to Photoshop. The same applies to OpenOffice.org; while it does work adequately, it runs slowly, is not aesthetically attractive, and cannot support some commonly used typographical formats, like OpenType. OpenType fonts are common, and none of them appear in OpenOffice.org’s menus.

A similar thing happens with operating systems: Windows and Mac OS X have more intuitive user interfaces than Linux distributions have, even Ubuntu. Although Ubuntu is more visually intuitive than other Linux distributions, there is still a greater need to understand terminal commands than for Windows or the Mac. I’m a highly visual person, and don’t do well typing commands into a terminal. I think that people respond more to aesthetic considerations than some would like to think, and the open-source movement needs to take this into account. In order to have a worthy competitor to the ‘free’-market-focussed, ‘if you can’t afford our industry-standard stuff, FUCK YOU’ elements in tech, there needs to be momentum from people who are focussed on aspects of creativity that are less centred on programming and coding.

Written by Finn

January 23, 2010 at 8:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized