I'm Chris Walsh, a 2L at Harvard Law in the CyberOne class, working on the materials for Week 11, "Open Access". I'm also a Student Fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center doing research on legal and policy aspects of human genetic engineering. I'm also working on the Internet Accessibility Project to write a short pamphlet explaining the basics of browsing to people who have never touched a computer so they can get online using public terminals and become capable of finding further information to help them increase their tech-savvy.
- Biotech Law and Bioethics
- Intellectual property (reform)
- Free culture and open access
- Machinima / gaming / RPGs
- reading / writing fiction
- neuroscience/genetics/cognitive science background
- amateur machinimist
- basic coding skillz (!l337)
- HLS 2L, with accompanying resources and legal research skills
- Worked for Creative Commons as a legal intern this past summer, in the Science Commons division.
- Lots of casual and academic discussions about the science and philosophy of minds
Ongoing Course Journal
Wiki is a great tool for organizing information â even using its hypertext nature for personal organization is useful, and its ability to grow on its usersâ desire for creativity is a marvelous thing. The one weakness of wikis that I have observed is that it is very difficult to organize people with a tool that needs to be actively checked for updates. The email feature tries to harness a more passive mode of obtaining updates, but I donât think it is common to sign up for email updates on wiki pages. I, for one, am concerned about being flooded with emails, and in other cases in giving out my email address.
Iâm also a little bit concerned about vandals editing wikis. For a wiki that wants to be open, it seems that only obscurity or dedicated patrols can protect against this activity, or more subtle forms of corruption like commercially-motivated editing.
A couple of days later: A lot of the discussion on wikis seems to revolve around the anonymity of contribution. That's not something I've experienced in the wikis I've used, because they've all been tools for groups of people who already know each other. I think I will go find a wiki that interests me but is run by people I don't know so I can have the purely 'cyber' experience of interacting with people solely through a shared wiki.
I thought Scratch was both useful and elegant â I very much liked how deep information about types and nested statements were retained in the graphical representation. I had three issues that I think can be resolved. The first is that I didnât see Boolean âor,â âand,â and ânotâ functions, which would have been useful (I used nested if-else functions instead.) The second is that I would have very much enjoyed the ability to define new blocks, in scratch language or in another language. I thought they could be displayed in a âcustomâ or âuserâ panel, and defined just like sprites but with code that runs on the calling sprite when they are called. A lot of the value of programming languages is the ability to create ever more abstract functions for ease of coding, and I think people could accomplish more and develop a better grasp of the value of coding if this feature were available. The third and least important issue is that using the mouse can become onerous â it would be great to have an ability to write scratchspeak in text and translate it into blocks. I donât know how much demand there will be for that, but I would appreciate it because I find the keyboard friendlier than the mouse, which is slower and often hurts my wrist after prolonged use.
In any event, having graphics, motion, collision detection, and âagencyâ (the identities of sprites) pre-programmed into the system was very valuable in making a game, and I think the language is learnable by anyone with the motivation. In fact, some of the features that I felt were missing could be pitched as a reason to learn a traditional language.
- nesson here: Chris, i'm having trouble playing your game. once i've entered my choices at the outset the map disaggregates in a way that seems not intended. am i doing something wrong?
- Response: It's cycling between three different maps - the second one is more chaotic than the first, which is displayed during the selection process, that's all. Keep playing and you'll go through all three maps.
To be honest, my first impression of Second Life was that it was a glorified chat engine with unreasonable system requirements. The experience of being a tourist in the world, though, showed me a few significant differences. The first and one of the most important, in all seriousness, is that it's pretty. When I log in again, my purpose will be to wander around ooh-ing and ah-ing at the sites. One of the great things about this is that the developers just had to make a tool for people to show off their creations in order to create a growing world that would attract others. It's a radical model for a game, but it's long been a feature of games that I've sought out. My first encounter with a moddable game was in middle school (Dark Reign, by Activision), and that lone feature would have been enough to cement that game as the best I'd played up to that point. Ever since I've considered the adaptability and openness of a game to be very important when I buy it, since users will generate tons of great content if the barriers to doing so are low. Neverwinter Nights was a big success as far as this goes. Online games, though, haven't held much interest for me. For anti-cheating reasons, flexibility has often been very limited, and I see online socialization mostly as an alternative to real life socialization, rather than a supplement, so I haven't spent the time to develop online relationships that would make the online games worthwhile. Second Life I suppose appeals to people's creativity and their wish to socialize, which makes it special. I'll be very happy to see competition in the market to give people better tools to create with!
Another obvious difference between SL and chat programs is the world structure - avatars have familiar interpersonal relationships (most users are polite enough to back up when they stumble into another avatar's personal space) and users experience media in SL synchronously, something that wouldn't be hard to implement in a 'spaceless' chat client but which I haven't seen before. Somehow it really is nice to have a 'dude' in the world to identify with. The experience would be less satisfying if it were first-person, though I'm not sure why. Maybe the avatar lets me imagine that the world is more real, because it's real for 'him.'
One thing I would have liked in class or as part of the tour is a little tutorial on how to make things - I failed to make a simple top hat out of two cylinders because I couldn't find the button to link objects. I'm sure I can find a tutorial online somewhere, but at least a link to a tutorial would have been nice, since creating things is at the core of the SL experience.
Notes on Connectivity and Complexity
The discussion of emergent complexity from a few apparently simple rules is one that's very familiar to me from developmental neurobiology and also from a project I did engineering bacteria to signal to one another to create a pattern in their dish. In those cases, the organization is substantially accomplished by controlling entities that direct others by releasing various chemicals. Even if those entities started out just like the others, some small number randomly assume a sort of command role to organize the system. For a completely egalitarian experience, I think the famous "Life" simulations or Professor Whitman Richards's "Anigraf" concept are most familiar. Anigrafs are basically entities of pure information that can be used to represent anything from neurons to animals to, I suppose, nations or cultures depending on your level of abstraction. The power of anigrafs is in creating complex behaviors with simple rules, for example a simple 'circuit' of anigrafs that creates an alternating pattern corresponding to the muscle movements of various creatures' walking or running.
Exciting idea: In a poorly-connected network, one long connection can halve the maximum network distance, more than halving the average distance!
Aggregators are the key, I think. I would never check a hundred blogs that update once a month, but if I can check all of them with one action, then I'm interested. I'm still not clear whether there's a difference between a blog and any page that keeps archives when it's updated with new content, unless there's some 'personal voice' aspect. I guess there's some sense that the content in a blog post is completely new, as opposed to the gradual change of, say, a wiki page.
In any event, regardless of terminology, I'm excited about the democratization of voices reflected in systems like technorati for seeing what everyone with a blog is saying about any given topic.
I've never really been interested in podcasts - I much prefer text. Text is much easier to search, skim, and multitask with ('pausing' is passive). The one exception is if I want to use my eyes for something else, like painting or resting, but I find I generally just tune audio out. On the other hand, I think audio is a very important accompaniment for moving images, when my goal as viewer is to be fully engaged. As someone who isn't especially moved by audio, the podcasting project should be interesting.
IP First Class
My big thought of the week is another 'duh' obvious thought on one level: we live in a democracy. The people are sovereign. The court of public opinion is ultimately in charge. In theory. But none of this is really true, partially by design to protect minorities. My perspective on the course is changing to viewing it as a prelude to the use of new modes of communication in enabling people to govern themselves e.g. by changing their Constitution.
IP Second Class
I have a new big thought of the week (I guess it's a good week): If the monopolists are taking advantage of the fact that fair use law is vague and unreliable, why don't we generate some caselaw? The copyleft community has artists, and it has fair users and potential infringers. Let's all sue each other and/or get sued! (That definitely sounds like advice a lawyer would give.)
Since I released my podcast on legalized suicide and end-of-life decisions, the grandmother of one of my friends died as the result of a do not resuscitate instruction she left. She was a great example of someone who was ready to die and whose relatives were brave enough to accept her instructions. It's actually helped me to empathize a lot with those who are opposed to assisted suicide, something that is as usual, blaringly obvious in retrospect. These people are opposed to death. They _miss_ their relatives, just as I would. No one is going to convince people not to miss their loved ones and that's not what I want to do, either. No conclusions yet, it's just another factor to consider when making the argument, even though it's not something the sides disagree on or need to resolve directly.
Law As Code
I think the law as code concept diverges the most from reality at the level of assigning values to the variables. That is, the law provides more or less deterministic guidance in many cases that are nonetheless difficult because the inputs are difficult to determine.
Another Thought on Second Life
Second Life is just too bulky when all you want to do is talk! I'm not convinced the eye candy is worth the cost in accessibility (I can't use it from my laptop!). I want a second life / AIM (or IRC, or the Question Tool, or a specialized client) gateway, so that in second life you can go near a chat room node and communicate with people using a text client.
Empathy and Multiplayer Video Games
It occurred to me today, during the discussion of the proposition 1 project, that a great way to express empathy in video game form is to engage people to play both sides of the conflict, so they can identify with one side or another and switch affiliations easily. Of course, this phenomenon is weak when gameplay is unrelated to the principles at stake (as it usually is: CounterStrike isn't trying to get you to empathize with terrorists, for example).
I Love the Question Tool
The main reason I'm often quiet in class is because I want to hear what other people have to say, so I won't speak up unless I really think it's important. (I'm also shy, so if I think someone else will make the point, I'll let them). The question tool lets me speak without crowding out anyone else's opportunity, which is great (and answer without preempting others).
At the end of the last class I'm left with three projects I'd really like to do something with. The one I'm going to flesh out as my final project is human augmentation, for two major reasons. First, I can identify three distinct opposing 'personalities' I feel I can empathize with (and the dynamic of multiple opponents lets me use the 'most reasonable person in the room' strategy we discussed in class. Second, I have a vision for expressing it in a medium I'm excited about. The other two finalists are an attempt to bring scientists and religious people into closer dialogue by explaining a common misconception I see there, which I think is empathetic also but less sophisticated or less likely to be seen by my audience, and my legalized suicide project, which I think fits many themes of the course but which I'm less excited about putting into machinima form, so I'm willing to leave it in podcast form for now.
- Restoration of Congressional Office of Technological Assessment
- Fair Use clarification/broadening
- Genetic Engineering - guide for the uneasy
- The case for genetically modified foods
- right to die - assisted suicide implementation proposal - state level?
- tests for political candidates measuring awareness of current events, knowledge of law and economics, generic problem solving - digest information for voters so they have something to go on other than 'likeability' of candidates - make tests public afterwards - how to structure testing agency and avoid matters of opinion? economics contentious?
Conclusion: I've decided to go with the GM foods issue because it's the most personally interesting to me, and I'm most likely to continue it beyond the scope of the class. Also, given the short prep time, I'm not sure of what to do with the last two options. As for the first, I actually forgot about that possibility until just now when I looked back over my list. Anyway, the problem with the GM food issue is that I'm not sure what the concrete goal would be. Possibly I'll figure that out after more research.
Fifteen Minutes later: Okay, I'm psyched about the OTA project, and I don't mind having spent all that time researching GM foods because it's interesting anyway. Possibly I'll cut the project down to something at the state-level, if Mass. doesn't have an OTA-equivalent, but the Congress really needs it so why not aim high?
Things to Accomplish:
- raise awareness (nebulous)
- fundraising for organizations
- phone calls to congress
- engage the opposing viewpoint constructively
Update: Prof. Nesson doesn't like the OTA project. New brainstorming list after his input:
- EULAs shouldn't be universally valid (click-through agreements)
- The Movies software should grant creators at least a noncommercial license to use the content (currently they just don't enforce their rights)
- In genetic engineering, we keep hitting an argument that any life is better than never having been born - I don't agree. Is this just opinion? How to persuade...
- reconcile science/religion divide - misunderstanding about hostility to belief in concepts that cannot be proven versus
- empathic argument against empathic argument - if you're not convinced, I win :)
- Yoda caused the downfall of the Jedi by adhering to outmoded, fearful methods of combatting the dark side - link to empathic argument