Gropius Groupies

I checked out the Walter Gropius House in Lincoln, MA yesterday. Gropius was the founder of Bauhaus, and his first U.S. home was model of effective use of space, materials, and design. You can read all about Bauhaus, Gropius, and the house elsewhere, so I won’t go into details here.
Unique about the tour were the visitors themselves. I kept quite for the tour, but some of the other tourists had a little battle of wits between themselves and the tour guide. In a way, it was the perfect representation of New England stereotypes. We had the high-art housewife, just back from New York where she picked up a wonderful art book about so-and-so. She was quick to come up with general answers to the guide’s “does anyone know why…” questions, but she was always outdone by the young, nerdy (in the negative sense) design enthusiast who seemed rather obsessed with materials. “What kind of plaster? What is that surface made of? Where exactly was the television?” Finally, we had the New England middle-age man, concerned with the weather, the heating system, the flat roof, and always with a noticeable, but not heavy Boston accent.
At first, the uninhabited house seemed staged and sterile, everything in it’s right place. As the other tourists began to define themselves through questions, they became the ones who were staged – stereotypical, yet completely authentic.

Leiden Bound

I received the good news today that I have been accepted to BU’s study abroad program at Leiden University in The Netherlands. This means I’ll be closing out my law school studies next spring in the land of tulips, wooden shoes, and windmills (and lets not forget the drugs and prostitution too).

File Sharing Review

File sharing issues have seen a lot of developments recently. Last week, the RIAA unveiled software that instant messages users to let them know they are infringing. This followed shortly after a California District Court found that the popular file-sharing program Morpheus did not contributorily infringe the copyright of the works it was helping to distribute.
The motion picture and recording industries were thus having trouble going after the networks, so the RIAA went after the users instead (it all happened too fast to be an “either/or” situation of course). In nearly the same week that the DC District Court ruled that Verizon must give up the names of file sharers to the RIAA, the RIAA settled a case against four infringing university students for thousands of dollars each. Meanwhile, some RIAA members are still trying to milk an old cat; they’re suing Napster’s investors.
Finally, the NY Times reports that the record labels are developing weapons of mass destruction to infect and destroy infringing works on users computers.
File sharing is obviously a problem for the music industry, and they’ve made a strong case that it directly damages sales. Personally, I think the labels need to rethink the way they distribute, price, and even select music. (We’re finally starting to see forward bound steps in this area.) Ultimately, I’ll always be willing to pay for music if it’s good and if it’s reasonably priced. File sharing has probably not influenced how much music I buy, though it has had an effect on what music I buy (easier to find new / original music). The biggest factor effecting my buying habits has nothing to do with the music industry: my income.

Google Goes Dynamic

According to Google followers over at Webmaster World (including a Google employee going under the name of “GoogleGuy”), Google is perfecting their technology to better crawl and index dynamic web sites. Dynamic pages are valuable tools for anyone using a database to create web pages. Law School Discussion, for example, creates dynamic discussion threads that, until recently, were not being picked up by Google at all. (Actually Law School Discussion doesn’t use a database, but creates dynamic pages based on external files of each post, but the principle is the same.)
This is an important development in finding information on the web. The best ideas and the simplest explanations are never found in “FAQ” documents or the official “User Guide”. (How many troubleshooting documents have asked, “Is the device plugged in?” Not helpful at all.) Rather, answers are discovered through search, and the most valuable information tends to be that which is discussed informally – at a bar or on an internet message board. (Imagine if Google could index late-night bar conversations…)
By indexing dynamic sites, Google is opening doors to endless quantities of rich, valuable content. There’s still much room for improvement; Google indexes the threads of Law School Discussion, but not the individual posts (where the real content lives), but at least they’re moving forward.

Unintentional License Plate Scam

In February, London began charging drivers £5 per day to drive into the center of the city. What I find so fascinating about this is that it is enforced by photographing cars’ license plates at every entry point to the payment zone. The driver can pay the fee online before or soon after the drive. Nick Aster discussed this thoroughly (with links) on Beyond Brilliance.
The problem with the photographic system is that you can always just fake your license-plate number to avoid the fee (and pass it on to someone else). This is exactly what happened to an innocent driver who was unfortunate enough to have his plate number randomly reproduced on a stolen car. (No doubt the plate faker was merely trying to prevent the police from noticing his stolen car, but this had the added benefit of avoiding the congestion fee.) Our innocent protagonist argued with the police to no avail, and eventually solved the problem himself by driving around the area where the offending driver had been photographed, slashing the tires of the offending car, and again calling the police. (full article)
Question: Did he still have to pay the £5 fee for driving into the city that day?

Revenge of the Telemarketee

Mark Eckenwiler explains how he sued a telemarketer in small claims in the District of Columbia and received a $500 settlement. The article is very well written, taking the reader step by step through the story and legal process.
I got my own revenge on a telemarketer today. We had a call this morning that got us (my roommate and I) brainstorming about funny things to do to telemarketers. The next one called about an hour later, asking for another roommate. We said, “yes, just a minute” and then proceeded to make plunging noises in the toilet while holding the phone in close proximity. Trust me, it was much funnier than it sounds.
Apparently I missed the deadline to sign up for the new Massachusetts “no call” list, which is updated quarterly. The FTC list has not yet gone into effect, and though I’ve also signed up on Direct Marketing Association’s voluntary list, I’m still getting several calls a day. The latest trend is for the phone to ring just once or twice, as early as 7am.