Intellectual Property Stupidity

So, I recently modified two existing software tools a bit and connected them together with a shell script to make a tool to extract individual TrueType fonts (.TTF files) from a TrueType font collection (.TTC file).

And the Property Rights Über Alles crowd immediately took offense, because this is a tool for “piracy.” Purportedly, simply because I am extracting files from what amounts to an archive I am creating an unauthorized derivative work, in violation of the copyright on the fonts.

I say bullshit. The fonts were in TrueType format before my extractor operates on them, and they are in TrueType format after it does. All that changes is what was a single file becomes multiple individual files. That’s it.

Really, now: If this “violates” the “terms of the license,” then you can’t even install software (including fonts) legally in the first place. Because how do installers work? By extracting files from archives, that’s how!

On top of that, just how are glyphs rendered? By reading the information in font files, copying it into memory, and doubtless in many cases normalizing it into a standard form in the case of software that supports multiple font file formats. That, too, is the dreaded and forbidden act of extraction. Worse yet, it is followed by the modification of the extracted data, producing an unauthorized derivative work (according to the property rights über alles crowd)!

It gets worse: the internal coordinate system in font files has nothing to do with the coordinate system on a screen or a printed page. Multiple scaling (multiplication) and offset (addition) steps must be performed in order to render text at the desired size and place. And if you print the text, or render it into a PDF, yet more transformations are performed on that raw data. And I haven’t even gotten into all the transformations that must happen if you send your text to a printer.

The biggest difference really is, the files from my extractor linger indefinitely on the filesystem, instead of being fleeting data in main memory somewhere. Even that’s not completely unique to my case, however: PDF documents contain stored fonts in a persistent and transformed form.

PDF documents must contain font data, in order to serve their intended purpose of being “softcopy hardcopy” that remains true to their intended format everywhere they go. If they didn’t have embedded fonts, they would fail in this purpose on any computer that didn’t have the needed fonts present. The fonts in PDF documents are transformed both to save on space, and to limit the utility of the embedded fonts for piracy.

As in the case of PDF documents, my extracted font files shouldn’t matter, and I doubt it does. Unless I distribute the extracted fonts (and I don’t plan to), they are private, internal data used by a few applications on my computer, nothing more.

That so many people are apparently incapable of seeing this just points to how divorced from reality the status quo has gotten when it comes to property rights.

Nonideological Pragmatists, Revisited

About a year ago, I made a post which claimed that many of the voters labeled “moderates” do not in fact have any strong ideological commitment to moderation or any other political principle. They are what I labeled nonideological pragmatists, willing to entertain ideas from across the political spectrum, provided they are presented in a convincing way.

Today, I ran across a Twitter thread by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez which anecdotally illustrates this point.

Why Gardening Is Not for Me

There’s basically two kinds of plants you can grow: annuals and perennials.

Annuals come up fast but require a lot of tending during the growing season. But the growing season is also the outdoor recreation season, and I’d much rather be communing with native plants someplace wild than stuck at home trying to repeatedly assert control over a tiny plot of urban land. Yard work sucks.

Perennials are not nearly so high-maintenance, but they are slow to settle in. I, by contrast, just don’t settle in. It’s never happened in my life, and given that I’m well into my fifties, that means the odds are it’s never going to happen.

I tried to settle in to the home I am sitting in right now, but it didn’t work: I had overlooked how ageist and cultish the high tech world would become, and how much this would adversely impact my employabality in it. And if I can’t have a high-paying, high-tech job, it’s very hard to justify the expense of living in a region as costly as the Seattle metro area.

So this year I’m leaving. The year my native cacti in the window boxes are finally going to put on a huge bloom. The year my thimbleberries (after years of getting settled in) have flower buds on them. The year the dewberries finally flowered (female flowers, we’ll see if there’s a nearby male and I get fruit). The serviceberry is still a little thing, a decade or more from looking settled in.

Someone else is going to enjoy the results of the work I did. Not me. Or, someone else won’t appreciate all those “weird plants” that are not the ornamentals everyone else grows, rip them out, and replace them. Either way, I am going to get little benefit for the work I did.

It would be nice if my life were more compatible with gardening, but it’s just not.

Alder Flowers

Sitka Alder (Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata).

Some my find this title surprising. Alder trees have flowers?

To a botanist, a flower is anything that produces seeds and fruit (in the case of plants like alders with separate male and female flowers, the pollen-producing flowers also count, of course). There is no requirement that they be showy.

Yes, alder trees bear fruit as well as flowers! To a botanist, a fruit is anything that surrounds a seed. It doesn’t have to be fleshy, juicy, or edible. The tiny, dry wings that surround alder seeds are as much a fruit an apple or an orange.

The photograph above shows clusters of both male (large, dangling catkins) and female (the smaller, erect catkins at top) flowers. Those male catkins released clouds of yellow pollen when I gently brushed them.

The alder pictured above was not taken on Bainbridge Island and is not the Red Alder (Alnus rubra) so common on the Island. It is a Sitka Alder (Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata). I took that photo in the Olympic Mountains.

The Sitka Alder is much smaller than the Red Alder, typically being only a large shrub or small tree, making it far easier to find flowers in easy shooting range. Sitka Alders have glossier leaves, which are sharper-toothed than the Red Alder’s. The Sitka Alder’s leaves are not curled under slightly at their edges like the Red Alder’s are. The Sitka Alder is mostly a mountain tree, while the Red Alder is a common lowland species. One of the favored habitats of the Sitka Alder is avalanche slides; for this reason it is sometimes called the Slide Alder.

If all that leaves you a little confused, fear not! That particular Sitka Alder happened to be growing in the altitude range where the two species overlap, right next to a Red Alder sapling. I snapped a picture showing the two side by side (Sitka on the left, Red on the right).

Sitka Alder on the left, Red Alder on the right.


No Surprise

In the least surprising news development since the Sun rose at the forecast time this morning, it turns out that Alexa and Siri are, in fact, home eavesdropping devices.

George Orwell was an optimist. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, everyone had a telescreen in their home because the government forced them to. In today’s USA, people agree to it because advertisers have convinced them it’s personally convenient.

Wild Cherries

The wild cherries on the Island are finishing their annual spring bloom. We have two kinds.

An atypically small Mazzard Cherry (Prunus avium) tree.

Mazzard Cherry (Prunus avium) flowering branch.

Our most common wild cherry is the Mazzard Cherry, Prunus avium. It was introduced from Europe, and is basically the wild ancestor of the cultivated Bing cherry. Our situation is actually the reverse of this, however; the ancestors of our wild Mazzard Cherries were introduced as cultivated cherries, and began growing in our woods when birds ate those cherries and scattered their seeds.

The large fruit and smaller tree size of cultivated cherries are recessive characteristics, so their progeny quickly reverted to the dominant wild form for the species. Although smaller and not quite so sweet as Bing Cherries, the Mazzard Cherry’s fruit is completely edible. The trick is finding any that are within easy picking reach; the usual large size of this tree means most of its fruit is accessible only by birds.


Bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) tree.

Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata) flowering branch.

The native Bitter Cherry, Prunus emarginata, is also found growing wild here. While not quite so common as its introduced cousin, there is still no shortage of them on the island. It is well-named; as author Arthur Lee Jacobson notes, its fruit is “bitter enough to make one grimace in agony.”

It turns out that birds have a very different sense of taste than mammals do, and happen to find this cherry’s fruit completely palatable. It is thus likely that their bitter flavor evolved as a way to discourage consumption by mammals. Birds, being able to fly, are likely to do a better job of spreading seeds widely than mammals are.

In addition to having fruit that is basically inedible to humans, the Bitter Cherry is in all respects (size of overall tree, leaves, fruit, and flowers) smaller than the Mazzard Cherry. The Bitter Cherry’s flowers tend to open a week or two later, right as the Mazzard Cherry is finishing its bloom.

The Bitter Cherry also tends to have a trunk and branches that are slender for a tree of its size (the Mazzard Cherry’s appearance is much stouter). The Mazzard Cherry is the showier of the two when in bloom, thanks to its larger flowers.

The Danger of a Centrist Democrat

(Yes, this means you, Biden and Buttigieg.)

The danger lies in the reality that capitalism is failing more and more people, and that no centrist is capable of squarely addressing this fact. The latter is for the simple reason that doing so will require a degree of confrontation with capitalists that no centrist is likely to possess the personal constitution for. Just for openers, it will endanger said centrist’s access to the campaign cash that he or she needs.

A centrist is capable of winning the election. All that takes is the correct amount of the correct sort of propaganda, and (thanks to the capitalist class) any centrist can reasonably expect to be rolling in the campaign cash necessary to procure the needed propagandists for that exercise. (It would amount to a snow job, of course, but since when have snow jobs stopped politicians from winning?)

The problems start after the hypothetical centrist Democrat wins. The economy is only going to get worse (there will be a recession; recessions always happen sooner or later). And it doesn’t even take a recession for a centrist’s tone deafness to hurt him: witness what happened to Marcon (now polling below 30% in public support) in France.

In France, that’s not necessarily a big tragedy. That nation has a multi-party political system, and parties on the left seem to be successfully capitalizing on Marcon’s deficiency of class consciousness. Then you have the energy in the streets, and a long and time-honored tradition of a populace being willing (and sufficiently organized) to exercise it.

In the USA, it’s rather different. The centrist will be president under the Democratic Party label, and will taint the rest of that party with his stench. There are no viable third parties. There is no viable radical movement with a history of semi-regularly making its presence in the streets known.

There is only a Republican Party that has discovered how compatible fascism and the bourgeois state can really be. And odds are the next fascist to lead the Republicans will be significantly more competent than the current one. (The odds have to be such, given how low on the competency curve their current standard-bearer ranks.)

And all the above is assuming the centrist will win in 2020 in the first place. That’s hardly a given, particularly if the candidate simply runs on not being Donald Trump and nothing more.

None of this is to say that a liberal or left democrat is guaranteed victory, or that the concerns of non-leftist voters can be ignored. For example, there is a real pitfall in pushing for Medicare for all in a way that immediately abolishes private insurance, because it will alienate many economically privileged voters who might otherwise vote Democratic to get Trump out of office.

It’s just that this street runs both ways: you can’t ignore the concerns of the less-affluent voters, the ones who have lost out big in recent decades, either. At least, you can’t ignore those concerns unless pandering to wealth is more important to you than preserving the future of a free society.

Biden Looks Like a Horrible Candidate

If his 3-minute campaign kickoff video is any indication, Biden looks like a disaster in the making. I am serious. Just consider:

  1. He’s apparently trying to run as the Not Trump candidate. There is no other message in that video. None.
  2. Hillary ran as the Not Trump candidate—and lost to Trump.
  3. A variety of Italians ran as the Not Berlusconi candidate when Berlusconi was PM—and lost.
  4. A variety of Venezuelans ran as the Not Chávez candidate—and lost.
  5. An opposition victory only happened in Venezuela when the opposition ran as something more than just the Not the Current Guy in Power candidate.
  6. By then it was too late; opposition control of congress did not matter because Venezuela was already a dictatorship.
  7. The opposition never managed to win an election on their own in Italy; the E.U. forced Berlusconi out by threatening to not bail out Italy’s debts unless he resigned.

Be very careful, Democrats: this is not a test, and the consequences of getting this one wrong could be truly dire.

Update: I’ve taken a look at his campaign web site, and it’s better than his kickoff speech led me to believe it was (it’s not nearly so Trump-obsessed, and it mentions stuff about “rebuilding the middle class”). Yes, the latter isn’t terribly class-conscious, but dream on: you never were going to get that from Mr. Establishment in the first place. At least he’s putting forth positive reasons to vote for him. The question is, can he stay on that message, or will he continue to be Trump-obsessed in his speeches to the point of distracting from it?

Odds Favor Impeachment

Things started trending that way when it became clear that while the Mueller Report showed no smoking gun on illegal collusion with Russia, it did show multiple smoking guns on obstruction of justice, or attempted obstruction of justice. Now that Trump is refusing to honor Congress’ lawful requests for information (including but not limited to Trump’s tax returns), there are even more grounds for impeachment being created.

More voices are now calling for impeachment, including an increasing number of voices on the center and (anti-Trump) right who were previously hesitant to do so. Interestingly, Bernie Sanders is (at the time of writing this) still hesitant. That’s because he fears it will be an exercise in futility that distracts the Democrats from being more than an anti-Trump party.

On the exercise in futility part, yes. It is all but certain that the GOP majority in the Senate will refuse to convict; to the loyal fascist, Il Duce can by definition do no wrong. On the distraction part, maybe. It should be possible for Democrats to walk and chew gum at the same time. But it’s a valid worry, since the Democrats do definitely need to be more than just the anti-Trump party.

I am compelled to reiterate (I mentioned it in passing above) that impeachment and conviction are two entirely different things, and odds do not favor conviction and removal from office by the Senate.

Attention Supreme Court Justices

Attention liberal justices worried about Trump.

Attention conservative justices who don’t want to see the Second Amendment eviscerated.

My earlier prediction here is looking increasingly correct. Your choice in the upcoming matter of Trump’s executive order is if you really want to set an extremely dangerous precedent, one likely to turn the USA into a full dictatorship in a decade or less, or not. Please rule accordingly.