Author: Deven Desai

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STAR WARS!! Mash up edition

I was able to maintain a self-imposed media blackout before seeing Episode VII (less TV watching and taking command of the remote to mute/switch if an ad came on helped) and then I was able to indulge in theories, musings, and overt obsessions with the Star Wars universe. As a childhood fan who went way too often to each of the original movies and watched each special about the making, and even thought the Christmas Special (hey I was a kid) was cool, because back then more Star Wars was good Star Wars, I was most happy to come across a longer piece about Episode IV over at Slate.

For those interested in mashups, derivative works, and other aspects of copyright, the article argues that Star Wars is post-modern because of the way Lucas borrowed technique and material from a huge range of film. The article covers much I knew but much I didn’t, especially some of the short film work that influenced Lucas. It notes Dune’s influence (a point I find is not made enough but then I read that book almost every year) as well as a host of other sources. It also has a great set of video and gif work to show how the opening words, washes, western themes, robots, and so much more came from work Lucas studied and openly noted as he created the world. The admissions such as:

To draft his finale, he did something unusual: He literally cut together shots from old films. “Every time there was a war movie on television, like The Bridges at Toko-Ri, I would watch it,” he later explained, “and if there was a dogfight sequence, I would videotape it. Then we would transfer that to 16mm film, and I’d just edit it according to my story of Star Wars.” Lucas started videotaping off his TV as early as 1973, and the effects team later used his edits as a guide. Ken Ralston, who worked on the movie’s special effects, explained, “We matched frame-to-frame the action on that as closely as we could.”

might be a copyright attorney’s dream statement to try and show infringement but then copyright folks will also know the counter arguments. All of which is to say, the article is a fun read, and for me, provides perspective on creation and copyright (and maybe the predictable lawsuit by Fox alleging Battlestar Galactica had 34 similar aspects to the movie). Oh and no spoilers for the new one that I recall.

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Books, because it’s the holidays part 2

Another book I read this year that may appeal to some is All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. It is by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. I encountered the ideas when I listened to Professor Dreyfus’s lectures (Phil 6 under the Berkeley course catalog) on the subject on iTunes U. I liked the earlier lectures but the later ones that build on the ideas and the book with Kelly are good too.

For those who recall BSG, the ideas of the course connect to the tensions between the Cylons and humanity. Moby Dick and Heidegger are trying to show a way to a time of what Dreyfus calls moods in the Greek sense. See that? Greeks. Like BSG but Dreyfus and Kelly are also offering a way to deal with the despair that David Foster Wallace felt and about which he wrote. There is much more to unpack in this work, and a blog post is not the place. I will let their Note to the Reader entice, repel, or bore you as you see fit:

THE WORLD DOESN’T MATTER to us the way it used to. The intense and meaningful lives of Homer’s Greeks, and the grand hierarchy of meaning that structured Dante’s medieval Christian world, both stand in stark contrast to our secular age. The world used to be, in its various forms, a world of sacred, shining things. The shining things now seem far away. This book is intended to bring them close once more. The issues motivating our story are philosophical and literary, and we come at them from our professional background in these disciplines. But All Things Shining is intended for a nonspecialist audience, and we hope it will speak to a wide range of people. Anyone who lives in the contemporary world has the background to read it, and anyone who hopes to enrich his or her life by experiencing it in the light of classic philosophical and literary works can hope to find something here. Anyone who wants to lure back the shining things, to uncover the wonder we were once capable of experiencing and to reveal a world that sometimes calls forth such a mood; anyone who is done with indecision and waiting, with expressionlessness and lostness and sadness and angst, and who is ready for whatever it is that comes next; anyone with hope instead of despair, or anyone with despair that they would like to leave behind, can find something worthwhile in the pages ahead. Or at least that is what we intend. Dreyfus, Hubert; Kelly, Sean Dorrance (2011-01-04). All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age . Free Press. Kindle Edition.

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Books, because it’s the holidays

Books! As Dan Solove reminded me when I first started as a professor, “Read! FIND TIME TO READ!” Although this post is about fiction, and Dan was talking about research; Dan was correct in general. As I have written here before and told students, remember to read good writing. For lawyers, I suggest lean, tight writing. I have a love for Proust, Joyce, and Faulkner, but that style is not a good fit for law. Today I suggest Karen Blixen aka Isak Denison. The prose in Out of Africa is beautiful. Does the book reveal colonial biases and perhaps prejudices? Sure. is the writing clean and does she still identify parts of the human experience that go beyond race? I think so. You all can judge for yourself. For now I leave you with a passage that perhaps reaches me because of the western drought that may, with luck, relent:

But one year the long rains failed. It was, then, as if the Universe were turning away from you. It grew cooler, on some days it would be cold, but there was no sign of moisture in the atmosphere. Everything became drier and harder, and it was as if all force and gracefulness had withdrawn from the world. It was not bad weather or good weather, but a negation of all weather, as if it had been deferred sine die. A bleak wind, like a draught, ran over your head, all colour faded from all things; the smells went away from the fields and forests. This feeling of being in disgrace with the Great Powers pressed on you. To the South, the burnt plains lay black and waste, striped with grey and white ashes. Dinesen, Isak (2011-05-18). Out of Africa: and Shadows on the Grass (Vintage International) (p. 41). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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TV on your head! Smart tech development

The Glyph Headset which is a headset to watch TV, movies, or anything on a screen as if on a “65-inch TV in your living room does, or the huge screen in a theater” caught caught my eye because of the time it took to create and launch the product. As Wired explained, the company will have to explain that the device is not VR. It looks like noise canceling headphones paired with two eyepieces and so “looks silly, like you’re wearing a crappy Geordi La Forge costume.” It allows users’ with glasses to adjust for their prescription which pretty cool to me. The idea of directly projecting onto my retina bothers me, perhaps because I recall the whole era of screen burn. But the idea that a 360 degree view and sound offering is in the works is cool. That makes me think of Disneyland’s America the Beautiful Circlevision making a comeback. (Hey I can dream.) But all that is less interesting than this point in the Wired piece, “After years of development, a $1.5 million Kickstarter campaign, and lots of user testing, Avegant is getting ready to ship the Glyph this spring.”

I like the patience that went into this one. The author had seen versions of the idea two years ago. As Wired put it, “It was a mess of circuitry and plastic ties, like futuristic sunglasses someone might wear in a campy 1950s sci-fi flick. All Avegant had was concept art and a line about it looking like a pair of headphones.” And the piece noted that Avegant said it would ship one year ago, but opted to ditch the first version and go with the current one. It seems to me that getting out there with the idea, drumming up interest, and yet holding back long enough to get from 1950s camp to TNG cheese that works is a good sign. It bodes well for future offerings and is probably why the review called the Glyph “remarkably comfortable and usable,” and was positive about the way it worked with all the screens we use today. So if you want to try something as “weird” as “having a television on your face,” waiting to get it to work is quite smart. That way people may go with it; maybe because it is weird and works rather than being just plain weird which is often called stupid tech.

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Moped made in the USA

Mopeds! OK not really inspiring. But Wired’s recent piece on the Indigan Trail Roller has a cool back story. Daniel Kastner, the person behind the The Trail Roller, started his moped love early and in the 1990s started a business, 1997 Mopeds, to support moped enthusiasm. When the store fronts had to close, he kept the online business. Then he decided to build a moped — which may be “the only domestically produced moped ever.” The moped has “a frame designed and manufactured in conjunction with the Indigan moped collective in Kalamzoo.” I love this story, because it fits the sort of things that Gerard Magilocca and I saw in the 3D printing world. A small business found a way to build a niche product and sell it. Like the early kit car work in 3D printing, the moped folks send the frame and parts to consumers to assemble, which allows for sales while state and federal regulations are sorted. Kastner plans to offer more models too. If they keep up with this one, which costs $1,849 and goes about 220 miles on its two gallon tank, I may get one for my commute in Atlanta. If Kastner offers an electric motor, that would be even better.

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Centralizers: Uber vs the Others (Lyft, Didi Kuaidi, Ola, and GrabTaxi)

Uber is looking to raise more than $2 billion; Lyft, Didi Kuaidi, Ola, and GrabTaxi have formed a global alliance to counter Uber. Where or where is the disruptive scrappy tech savior? Answer: It existed briefly and the next phase is with us. In The New Steam: On Digitization, Decentralization, and Disruption I argued that [T]his era of disruption and decentralization will likely pass and new winners, who will look much like firms of old, will emerge, if they have not already.” I was building on the ideas Gerard Magliocca and I explored in our work on 3D printing. Although some technologies have helped decentralize production and distribution, to think that centralized players would all go away or new ones not emerge is a mistake. I was focused on safety, stability, liability and insights from Douglass North.

As I said in the paper:

Douglass North captures a paradox that goes with transaction costs. Greater specialization, division of labor, and a large market increase transaction costs, because the shift to impersonal transactions demands higher costs to: 1) measure the valuable dimensions of a good or service; 2) protect individual property rights; 3) enforce agreements; and 4) integrate the dispersed knowledge of society.26 Standardized weights and measures, effective laws and enforcement, and institutions and organizations that integrate knowledge emerge, but the “dramatic increase in the overall costs of transacting” is “more than offset by dramatic decreases in production costs.” Digitization forces us to revisit these issues.

Uber’s success and the response of the other players raises another point. Although I think that society will favor centralized players in the long run, because that allows for some regulation; the process of centralization may also occur for simpler reasons. When one big player starts to break away from the pack, the rest may co-operate or consolidate to keep pace. There may be one winer or a handful. Either way, as Seattle now allows Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize and calls for more regulation continue, the former disruptors will be seen as the new centralized power and treated as such. The reasons offered for that treatment are what draw my interest and where legal theory has and will see some action.

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BEER (and Brands)!! IPA, SOUR, Coors, Miller, STELLA!!!

It seemed quaint several few years ago, when someone wanted a pumpkin brew for Halloween and asked my help in finding it. Pumpkin. How novel. But craft brewing is no longer novel. According to Fortune, “Craft beer volume represented just 1% of the overall beer industry in 1994 but stands at over 11% today.” Nonetheless, the recent merger action in beer makes the craft beer industry a bit nervous.

A key issue seems to be that the merger may cut off access to craft beers, because AB InBev has been buying up distributors. The fear is that at bars and retailers one would only have access to “Bud and Miller.” As Spencer Waller and I wrote, in Brands, Competition, and the Law, branding allows businesses “to move beyond price, product, place, and position and create the idea that a consumer should buy a branded good or service at a higher price than the consumer might otherwise pay.” As Susan Strasser has explained historically, national manufacturers used branding to overcome the “strong loyalties [customers had] to the people with whom they did business, which might surpass their interest in nationally advertised products that they had not yet tried.” At the same time, local retailers knew that national goods cut into their profits and often refused to carry these new goods. Which brings us to today and some questions about beer and brands and the law. Would changing the alcohol system help or hurt?

If consumers could buy directly from alcohol makers, would that blunt the force of a beer mega-merger? For that matter, what are the main markets for craft beers? Do distributors sell say a Georgia beer only within Georgia or a radius of the brewery? Would a craft beer maker even want a world without the three tier system? Wine seems to do OK with direct sales and distribution, so I am thinking beer and even craft spirits may like that option. But I don’t know.

Also it seems that the issue is not just about price. People may want to pay more for the craft beer but can’t get it. That seems to be an incorrect outcome. I am not a deregulate everything and wonders will flow person, but I think that this industry may be heading to much more flat organization and less regulation.

Those who know about alcohol making and selling, I am all ears. Until then I may have a beer and think on this one.

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3D Printing Helps Yale Student Create Beer Bottle Pipe Organ?

Apparently, a Yale student has used 3D printing to create a beer bottle keyboard. Blowing across the top of a bottle to create sounds it not new. This student created a keyboard “of 12 beer bottles, which are set up in 2 rows, one consisting of 7 bottles and the other 5.” But when tried the get compressed air to make the same sound as a human mouth, the outcome failed. He needed a way to mimic a mouth. He “took several pictures of himself blowing air into the bottles. He then used SolidWorks to model the opening for each ‘mouthpiece’. Once modeled he used an Stratasys Objet 30Pro 3D printer to print out 12 of these nozzle attachments. The problem was solved!” Cool idea, difficult problem, yet now able to solve on your own: this 3D moment is fun example of the way the technology is opening up more creation and shifting the ability not only to design a solution but make one at a local or individual level.

I wonder how many cool new things will emerge in six to twelve months from now after all 3D printers for the holidays gifts are opened and played with. We’ll see. Whether these inventors will also file more patents on things like this students mouthpiece will also be interesting. For now, I’m happy to see fun, odd stuff being created.

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CIV!!! Or How Simulations May Help Government and Personal Choices

Could Civilization and the SIMs be part of a better informed future? I loved Civilization and played way too many hours of it in college. Turns out that the Colombian government has developed “computer games which are designed to teach pre-teenagers to make sensible choices about everything from nutrition to gang membership.” I wonder whether running a simulation of choices and outcomes over and over would shape behaviors or teach other gaming instincts. For example, most people might find that if they follow certain paths they end up in safe, but relatively happy middle class life and retirement. Heck, the game, Life, was a truly random version of what growing up is (then again maybe everything is so stochastic that Life is correct to rely on the spin of a wheel to see whether one is a doctor or teacher or has kids). Still, a game that reinforced the experience of putting money away now, not having it to play with, but having savings in retirement, i.e., the tradeoffs were more palpable, might sensitize people to choices. I never played SIMs, only Sim City, but if SIMs lets you smoke, take drugs, drink too much, have unsafe sex, etc. and gain near term rewards but then find that the long-term payoffs were poor, that would be interesting. Of course, some outcomes might be you’re a superstar who dies early or worse ends up on a horrid reality show. And, many may say “I was a wild child, had a blast, and ended up on T.V.? Cool!”

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Walmart versus Apple aka Revenue versus Profit

Which business would you want to be? The Economist Espresso reports that Walmart takes “about 65 seconds to collect $1m in revenue,” but Apple needs “very nearly three minutes.” Looks like Walmart is where the money is. And it is, but when it comes to profit, “Apple, with its high margins, is fastest in the profit stakes: chalking up $1m takes it less than 13 minutes and 20 seconds, whereas Walmart needs more than half an hour.” Looking at the chart, Apple and Google have good profit margins but banks like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs do even better (all above 20%). Coke (17.4) and Pepsi (10.4) are quite good too. So how much does the law affect these sectors and which the best to be in? Hard to tell.

No matter what, any regulation be it about disclosures about practices or nutrition or oversight or safety or labor or where a good is made or liability for property rights or ability to weather an economic downturn, can shape a sector. Given the high profits in some of these sectors, you will see some arguing that they are getting away with too much and others saying that any regulation will kill the sector. Both positions are likely incorrect. That said, watching where new money, new offices (for old and new ventures), and start ups go may tell us something about where people believe they can do well.

One thing I am thinking about is how much state-by-state regulations and barriers to labor mobility influence business decisions. Although work on intellectual capital and noncompetes is quite strong that lower restrictions help business overall, alleged protection of voting systems and other entry barriers matter too. Someone may have studied this point. If so, please share. But my guess is that a company that has trouble getting people (and I mean U.S. citizens) to their headquarters won’t be happy about that cost.