Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Small Web

The internet has gotten pretty small over the past decade. There used to be crazy little corners (in a fun way, not in an InfoWars way) and fan sites and all sorts of different forums and things.

Now it feels like the entirety of the internet is a handful of major social media sites, Google-owned stuff (hey, even I'm using Blogger), Wikipedia, eBay, and Amazon.

So, to combat this feeling, I'm going to collect a list (old-school links!) of sites that I think are neat and continue that "Big Internet" feeling of yesteryear. As I find new ones, I will simply add them to this page.

Now, I'm not very hip to the jive anymore. Never was, really. So, this list is going to suck for a while. Bear with me. Feel free to tell me about new ones. I would say you could email me, but your emails will probably be caught by the spam filter and never seen, so I suggest contacting me on Twitter (@angienk).

Brutalist Coloring Book - Use virtual crayons (available in all the colors needed) to color pictures of brutalist architecture.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fining Stores When Someone Steals Their Shopping Carts?

So, I just read this article: Georgia City Wants to Penalize Stores When Their Carts are Stolen and I have a lot of thoughts on this. And a story.

I was going to write a Twitter thread, but then I realized it might be more than a handful of tweets and I have a blog. So, you're welcome.

Shopping carts aren't really cheap for stores. They cost a lot to buy, their wheels go wonky on a regular basis and have to be fixed, they take up a lot of storage space, and workers have to take the time (money) to go around and round them up many times every single day. I should know, as pushing carts was a big part of my job for years.

Stores do not want to lose their carts. Some stores, like Aldi, have a locking system so that you have to pay a quarter to get a cart and you get the quarter back when you return it. I haven't worked at Aldi, so I don't know for certain, but I'm sure that system doesn't work out too well all the time - I imagine the locks breaking (or being damaged by would-be thieves) and not returning quarters, customers being unhappy. Heck, that's part of the reason why I don't like shopping at Aldi (mostly it's because their produce is always rotten, but there's a slew of reasons). So, the quarter-lock system isn't ideal. Most stores don't have much of a system for preventing cart theft, beyond cameras at the entrances.

The proposed bill "encourag[es] stores to offer cash returns in exchange for returned carts," which supposedly "would create jobs in the community. 'If it's $1 to return a cart, or even fifty cents to return a cart, there are people who would get those carts and turn them in for the money.'"
Uh, no. Unless it works like the Aldi locks, all this would do is create "jobs" in as much as people will claim they found a lost cart, when they actually just found it in the cart corral in the parking lot so they can get a dollar. That's theft, BTW. And the proposed dollar amounts wouldn't work with the Aldi locks because very few people carry around $1 or $0.50 coins.

The store I worked at was probably the most-frequented grocery store in the county. We were jam-packed every Sunday afternoon (want to know a secret? Go grocery shopping Sunday morning, when everyone is at church. The store is dead and cashiers are still in a good mood.) and the for entire two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, nearly every cart was in constant use. We had tons of carts. Hundreds. Two entrances, both with large vestibules, could be filled up with carts and we still had more left over. The extra carts were stored outside, right along the front wall. Throughout the entire day, there was always at least one person (often 2 or 3) outside, pushing the carts from the 4 corrals in the parking lot to the vestibules. Being paid $9/hour or more. On particularly cold days, that person couldn't be sent out for a long time, so more people had to be scheduled so there was a regular rotation. One particularly hot days, the store had to provide bottled water as well. Just to handle the carts. Think about how much it costs to hire someone. Think about the fact that most people willing to work in a grocery store pushing carts are teenagers who are generally unreliable and don't last long. I hope you're getting an idea of how much money this store spent just to handle carts. I don't know the exact number, but it's high.

It was a 24-hour store, but at night, the carts were moved outside (always under constant camera surveillance) so the vestibule floors could be cleaned. That store had been at that location for a very long time, and cart theft was a regular thing, but generally only involved someone who lived nearby (either in a building or a tent) and walked to the store walking off with the cart their groceries were in rather than carry the unreliable plastic bags to their home. A small trickle of lost carts. Some were retrieved, most weren't. Every few months, the store bought a dozen more to replace the lost ones. Expensive, but not crippling. And not much the store could do to prevent it without driving away customers who were never going to steal a cart.

One day, either a manager coming in for his shift in the morning, or whoever was tasked with bringing the carts back inside discovered that a bunch of carts were gone. The next day, more were gone. Then more the third day. For almost a week, a couple guys with a truck were pulling up in front of the store and loading as many carts as they could into their truck and driving off with them. Presumably to break them down and sell the metal.

This was shortly before Thanksgiving. There were, fortunately for us, two other stores in the area owned by the same company from which we could borrow carts until we could buy more. But those stores couldn't spare many, being close to Thanksgiving and all, so we had very, very few carts for the number of people shopping. No one was happy. I guarantee that the store lost money because people who were planning on doing their Thanksgiving shopping took one look at the empty vestibule, turned around, and drove the half-mile down the street to the competing store.

From what I heard, our store lost money that month. The most popular grocery store in the area lost money in November because of stolen carts. And they still didn't find it economically reasonable to put locks on the carts.

Stores do not want their carts to be stolen. They try to find a good balance between preventing theft and deterring customers. They do not need the government stepping in telling them it's their fault if people steal their carts and abandon them. There are enough places out there without a decent grocery store, we don't need policies to deter them from opening up.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Will the Visual Artists Rights Act Prevent Cities from Removing Offensive Artwork?

I've been published!

We law review staff editors are required to write two short articles as well as our long comment. A handful of the short articles get selected for publication, and mine was one of those.

It was published here yesterday. In it, I discuss the Visual Artists Rights Act, the trouble it might cause for communities that want to remove offensive artwork, and how it's probably not that big of a deal after all.

It's fairly short, so please go check it out!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Why I Hate Proprietary Technology

I like books. I like authors. I want to give them money, when I have some to spare. But, with the direction technology has been going, actually paying for books is becoming more difficult than simply stealing them.

Today, Amazon is giving away two free audio books and 30 free days of Audible (why do we have to pay $15/month for Audible when we're already paying for the books themselves??) to anyone who signs up for Audible. "Great!" I thought, "I'll be able to at least listen to part of Stephen Fry's recording of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!"

So I signed up for Audible, found two audio books I wanted and purchased them with credit. Having a stupidly slow internet connection (Thanks, Verizon!), I wanted to actually download these books rather then streaming them from the cloud. So, I click on the "download" button next to the first book in my library. It opens a new page with lots and lots of different places I can download my book to. I want to just download it as an MP3 to my perfectly normal Windows 10 computer. That option is the very last one on a long page. It says I have to install Program 1 (names have been changed for simplicity's sake - the three programs involved have extremely similar names). This is not unexpected, as I know Amazon is highly proprietary, and I have thrice downloaded Kindle for my PC (it always stops working after a couple months for some reason. I have completely given up on Kindle as a result).

I click on the link to download Program 1. That takes me to a page saying I first have to download Program 2, then download Program 1. Well, that's fucking stupid, but OK. I really want to listen to this legitimately-obtained audiobook. I download Program 2 with no issues. After Program 2 is installed, it gives me several options for how to listen to my audiobook: via Program 1, via Windows Media Player, or via iTunes. I haven't used iTunes in over 5 years (it was impossible to use, so I will never touch it again), but I use Windows Media Player for music all the time. So I chose that option.

Then, thinking that maybe I don't need Program 1 after all, I again attempted to download the book. Nope. The download button still takes me to that huge page with all the download options. The last option listed at the bottom of the screen still tells me I need to install Program 1. OK, so I need Program 1 to download, but I can listen to it on something else. Fine, whatever. Unlike my last computer, I have tons of disk space on this computer for a pointless program. It's fine.

So I download and install Program 1. Program 1 then says it has an update. Great, let's just get that out of the way now. It works briefly on its update, then an error pops up saying that Program 1 is trying to close something in an unusual way (whatever that means) and the update is cancelled. Fine. I probably don't need that update anyway.

Back to the library page to click the download button again. Shit. No, it's still taking me to the giant page. The very bottom of the page where the most perfectly normal and average way one might want to download an audio file is listed still says I need to install Program 1. Well, fuck. I did that. It's installed. What the hell do I do now? There's a FAQ, but no troubleshooting guide that I can find.

Oh, the FAQ keeps talking about a free app specifically for Windows 10 that I can get through the Windows Store. Let's call it Program 3. Well, as I said, I have tons and tons of disk space on this computer. Let's go download a third redundant computer program.

Mind you, it has now been about a half hour of work to download these two books and all I have accomplished is downloading two useless programs onto my computer and signing into my Amazon account four times. If I wanted to download these books illegally, I would already have had a 20-minute head start on downloading them, at least. But I persevere. After all, I am a law student studying IP. I want to do things the right way, if possible.

If possible. If not possible, downloading pirated copies is not beyond me.

I open the Windows Store app and search for Program 3. Easily found, thank God, as Audible couldn't just give me a link to it, since it has to be downloaded through the Windows Store. God forbid you have the ability to download this free app anywhere else, right? Program 3, thankfully, does not take long to download and install. Oh joy, I have to sign in to Amazon for a fifth time this morning. Great. Not surprising, but certainly irritating. Also thankfully, once I sign in to Program 3, the books I have purchased automatically show up, with a download option. Programs 1 and 2 seemed entirely disconnected from my Amazon account, despite my signing in. This one is integrated with my account in a logical way. I click to download the first book.

A box pops up. "Streaming is also available! Would you like to turn on streaming?"

FUCK NO. What do you think I've been going through all this trouble for? Why would I download this fucking program if I was just going to stream the damn books? I have three fucking browsers that can do that just fine.

Anyway, I am now in the process of downloading the books, which, thanks to Verizon, will take a few hours.

I used to work at a used book store. We sold audio books. They were on CD and cassette tape. You went to the store, found one you wanted, bought it, then you could just play it on anything that can play CD or cassette. That's it. No downloading special programs. No jumping through hoops to figure out why those programs won't work. No clogging up bandwidth. No monthly fees. Just a fucking physical object and a machine to play it on.

I also remember when buying a computer program meant you could use it forever. Now they're all licensed yearly, for the same price per year that used to get you the program forever. It's all a fucking scam by companies desperate to reduce pirating. But they don't seem to understand that they are driving us to pirating. I definitely prefer to do things the "right" way. But it's a hell of a lot harder than doing it the illegal way. Sometimes, it's simply a choice between pirating or not having it at all. Not because of the price, but because the software the company requires you to use to listen to your audio books doesn't work. If I didn't have Windows 10, I would have to stream these books because Programs 1 and 2 don't work. If my husband also has to do something on the internet, thanks to Verizon's shitty, shitty internet, I couldn't listen to the books. And there is no reason for that except Amazon's paranoia about pirating.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Education v. Training

 [UPDATE: Just read this comic instead:]

I write this today primarily as a public announcement of my intention to curtail my computer use and increase my book usage. I may begin using this blog to share my thoughts about things I am reading and thus encourage myself to focus not just on taking in the information from the books I am reading, but to engage with the writing and develop critical thinking skills.

By most measures, I am a well educated person: two Associates degrees, a Bachelors degree, and almost halfway through a J.D. I've been in school for approximately 24 years now, starting at age 5.

Yet, I increasingly feel like I have had nothing more than a sporadic and meagre education. I also feel more and more like any education I have actually received has been of my own doing and not through anything required at any school I went to. My years of schooling have, for the most part, been mere training, not education.

What is the difference between training and education?

To me, the difference lies in which skills are being emphasized. Training involves practical skills. How to sit still, how to listen, how to follow directions, how to get along with others, how to tie your shoes, how to line up and calmly walk out the door when the fire alarm goes off, how to read, how to do basic math, how to draw so there isn't a gap between the ground and the sky, how to fill out scantrons, how to take standardized tests, how to do simple science experiments, how to write checks, how to not get pregnant,  how to fill out job applications, how to fill out FAFSA forms, how to figure out what the professor wants you to say so you get higher grades, how to write an essay, how to use computer programs, how to deal with bureaucracies. Most of these things are very important to know generally. Some of them simply make teachers' or school administrators' or government officials' lives easier and have no value in and of themselves.

Education is less obviously practical. Education requires a logical step before one sees any usefulness in it. Education is inherently philosophical in nature. It is less about "how to" and more about "why to." Having an education will of course mean that one knows how to do something, because the practical skills often go along with the philosophical understanding. But mainly it is a different type of "how to": how to think critically, how to analyze, how analogize, how to contextualize.

Only the very basics of these higher-order skills are taught in American public schools.

Schools* teach classes that provide a basic groundwork of a liberal arts education - science, math, reading, language arts, social studies, foreign languages, art, and music (well, among those schools that still bother teaching art and music, anyway). But, as anyone who has spent time in a typical American classroom knows, before college, most of class time is spent either on busy work or on keeping a small number of students from disrupting the class. There is little time spent discussing what we have read, and the "discussion" is primarily based on facts, not analysis. Quizzes and tests mostly only tell the teacher whether a student has done the reading, and at most ask if the student understood the reading. They never ask whether the student can analyze, contextualize, critique, or analogize the writing. "Did you do what you were told to do?" and "Do you have basic reading comprehension skills?" should be questions teachers stop having to ask after elementary school, if students are receiving an education and not just training.

And yet these questions continue to be the most important ones teachers want answers to up through college! The required "liberal arts" courses at many colleges are little more than a continuation of high school classes with fewer disruptive students, but larger class sizes. Read this, regurgitate its facts, maybe do some simple analysis or analogy, move on to the next thing. Only a couple of people participate, the rest are mere warm bodies in seats, assuming they bother showing up for class. The tests are easy and primarily fact-based or repeat the simple analysis already done in class (thus only answering the questions "were you in class?" and "did you pay attention in class?") so that grading can be uniform. It is not until the upper-level courses, when one has chosen a specialty, that one begins getting an education in that topic. But even then, the emphasis is often on simple analogy and basic critique and is never cross-disciplinary. For those majoring in something "practical," (i.e., there's a job title in the name of the major) the upper level classes focus almost entirely on practical skills.

So, most of us either essentially go without an education or we have to teach ourselves.

I have been somewhat trying to give myself an education, simply by reading a lot of various books. I have a theory that a focus on reading primary sources (and good translations of primary sources) can increase critical thinking skills, simply because the material isn't being analyzed for the reader as in a secondary source. Unfortunately, since starting law school,** I have had less time to read non-legal primary sources.

I have, however, maintained plenty of time for Twitter and video games.

A simple solution reveals itself.

*When I say "schools" I am talking only about American public schools, and am mostly generalizing from my own personal experience. I have no clue whatsoever what private schools teach. That is an entirely different world than the one I am familiar with.

** Law school is, at its heart, a trade school. The purpose of going to law school is to learn how to do a specific job. However, the professors have to write all these academic articles and like to believe that law school is not a trade school, but an academic pursuit. Thus, strangely, law school provides something of an education, though only in law. Tests are heavily focused on analysis and are frequently open-book after the first year. Meanwhile, law school fails at being a trade school because it provides little training in the practical skills needed to be a lawyer. It's a strange world we live in.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Betsy DeVos at UB

Over the weekend, students at my school, The University of Baltimore, found out that the commencement speaker for Fall 2017 is going to be Betsy DeVos. Many students are livid. The emails that have been going around have been civil and level-headed for the most part, but clearly, the SGA is not happy about this decision. The university's president made this decision without consulting with any students.
I am very happy to see President Schmoke's response to the outcry. It is honestly not how I expected  this controversy to work out, but it is heartening to see.
Below, I have included screenshots of all relevant communications that I have received thus far and will continue to update as I receive further communications.
Tomorrow and Wednesday there will be gatherings on campus to discuss the issue. Today, there are two "walk outs," one at noon (as I write this) and one at 6:15pm. I hope to attend as many of these meetings as possible and will report anything interesting that I observe.

First, an email from the Student Government Association on 9/8 (highlighting in all screenshots not in original):

President Schmoke issued a statement on the morning of 9/11, which I received in an email at 11:45am:

The Student Bar Association replied to President Schmoke's statement on 9/11 at 11:19am:

The Vice President of Student Affairs, on 9/11 at 11:36am:

UPDATE: 9/11 3:15pm: The Baltimore Sun has picked up the story. The Real News were broadcasting live from the noon protest and will likely be broadcasting the 6:15 protest live as well.
UPDATE: 9/11 7:28pm: I attended most of the afternoon protest. I recorded video of many of the speakers and hope to have those uploaded soon. The main themes of many of the speakers were 1) their dislike for DeVos's policies and opinions and their belief that she would not represent the views and interests of the graduating students, and 2) frustration and anger that the students had no say whatsoever in the process of choosing a commencement speaker.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Con. Law II - Day One

This semester is going to be fucking awesome.

Con. Law II (which at UB is entirely about the First Amendment) is the class I have been waiting over a year to be able to take. And if last year's Con. Law I course and today's class are any indication, Professor Closius will be the best person I could hope for to teach this class.

He was literally getting in students' faces and yelling "fuck you!"

Just to make a point, of course.

We had a nice discussion about why "fucking" is considered offensive but "freaking" isn't. We listened to some oldies. We talked about hate speech. (Yes, I was the only one who said we shouldn't limit it.) We talked about pornography. And, y'know, we talked about levels of scrutiny and all that dry legal stuff from last semester, too.

One thing Closius said I don't quite agree with. I get his point, but I wouldn't have made nearly as broad a statement as he did. He said that today, everyone is a First Amendment liberal.


The example he gave was the song linked above, "Rhapsody in the Rain" by Lou Christie. (It's an excellent song. I grew up hearing it on the radio and if you don't like it, fuck you.) If you don't feel like listening to it and aren't familiar with it, it's a late-60s teen love ballad about two unmarried youths fucking in the protagonist's car. Not in so many words, mind you, but that is very clearly what the song is about.

Closius polled the class, asking if any of us found the subject matter of the song to be offensive. Of course, no one did. He then told us about the reaction to the song back in 1966 and how very very few radio stations would dare play it because it was scandalous. He then claimed that no one would find that song offensive nowadays.

Um, yes, there are plenty of people in the US who would find that song offensive today, many of whom were born well after the song was released. Try polling some rural evangelicals rather than urban law students and see what sort of unanimity you end up with.

So that example is bunk, but let's focus on something other than sex for a minute (it's only one minute, it won't kill you).

Let's look at Milo Yiannopoulos's book. I seem to remember a lot of angry people saying it shouldn't be published. Some were merely advocating boycotting the book or the publishing company. Others would prefer that such things be banned entirely in our country. Are they First Amendment liberals? Seems no different to me than calling for a song to be banned from the radio (worse, actually, since radio is passive consumption, whereas reading a book requires active participation with said book).

Let's look at flag burners. I distinctly remember people among my Facebook friends saying that one shouldn't be allowed to do that (most of them were actually saying that it is currently illegal to burn the flag, an inaccuracy with which they vehemently agreed). I distinctly remember a couple of my Facebook friends saying that anyone who does that should be shot, that if they saw someone burning the flag, they personally would shoot that person. Are they First Amendment liberals? Fuck no, that's about as illiberal as you can get.

The problem with making absolute statements is that a single counterexample refutes the whole thing. That's why we're taught in law school to couch statements with words like "maybe," "probably," etc. Even a seemingly-obvious statement like "every person is human" isn't really right all the time, because many see their cats and dogs as "people," myself included. Words are squishy things, which makes law difficult and nuanced.

Closius is known for hyperbole, and he is right that, as a general culture, we are a lot more liberal on free speech issues now than we were in the 60s (probably, anyway. If you've got some poll numbers from the 60s, please send me a link). However, his bold claim that everyone is a First Amendment liberal is, unfortunately, incorrect. Plenty of people in this country seek to censor what they find offensive, some seek to kill over it. Let's not go around applying the word "liberal" to those people.