Author: Deven Desai


The Government Can’t Propagandize?

I just read that the EPA was recently called out for using a “social media campaign encouraging voters to weigh in on a controversial proposal [that] amounted to ‘covert propaganda’ and ‘grassroots lobbying’ that federal agencies cannot legally conduct, according to a total 26-page report released on Monday by Congress’s Government Accountability Office.” Huh? I am out of my depth of knowledge here and am calling on our own Ron Collins to help, but I am wondering what exactly this rule is and what it means. It seems to me that using social media to reach people is a good thing for an agency. It seems to me that any agency will have its bias and should probably try to limit that voice. Yet if I get the gist, the EPA or any agency is not allowed to urge folks to contact federal and state legislators. I say that because according to the Christian Science Monitor the social media activity had links to “links to educational information, as well as deadlines and how-to guides on submitting comments to the public record” but the EPA spokeswoman made it a point to say “At no point did EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature.”

So if an agency shares details about rules, policy, and science that is OK but suggesting that people voice their views pro or con is a problem? To be clear an EPA official blogged and shared that he was a beer drinker and surfer and supported the rule because of pollution concerns and linked to Surfrider which advocates about water policy. I can see how that is an issue. My question is more about the possible rule against encouraging folks to act. I may be missing something here. I hope I am.


China, the Internet, and Sovereignty

China’s World Internet Conference is, according to its organizers, about:

“An Interconnected World Shared and Governed by All—Building a Cyberspace Community of Shared Destiny”. This year’s Conference will further facilitate strategic-level discussions on global Internet governance, cyber security, the Internet industry as the engine of economic growth and social development, technological innovation and philosophy of the Internet. It is expected that 1200 leading figures from governments, international organizations, enterprises, science & technology communities, and civil societies all around the world will participate the Conference.

As the Economist points out, “The grand title is misleading: the gathering will not celebrate the joys of a borderless internet but promote “internet sovereignty”, a web made up of sovereign fiefs, gagged by official censors. Political leaders attending are from such bastions of freedom as Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.”

One of the great things about being at GA Tech is the community of scholars from a wide range of backgrounds. This year colleagues in Public Policy hired Milton Mueller, a leader in telecommunication and Internet policy. I have known his work for some time, but it has been great getting to hang out and talk with Milton. Not surprising, but Milton has a take on the idea of sovereignty and the Internet. I can’t share it, as it is in the works. But as a teaser, keep your eye out for it.

As a general matter, it seems to me that sovereignty will be a keyword in coming Internet governance debates across all sectors. Whether the term works from a political science perspective or others should be interesting. Thinking of jurisdiction, privacy, surveillance, telecommunication, cyberwar, and intellectual property, I can see sovereignty being asserted, perverted, and converted to serve a range of interests. Revisiting the core international relations theories to be clear about what sovereignty is and should be seems a good project for a law scholar or student as these areas evolve.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.