More Espresso Art

Via Jamie, an interview with an amazing espresso artist. As I’ve wondered before, it would be interesting to know if anyone has ever attempted to protect their copyright in espresso art. On further reflection, I think espresso art should meet the “fixed in a tangible medium” requirement, at least as much as ice sculptures which also tend to lose their form over time. I assume ice sculptures can be protected, although could not find an example in a quick search. I suspect the copyright office would accept a photograph as “identifying material” for the purposes of a registration deposit on a cup of espresso, as in the case of sculptural works.

Be sure to check out the embedded video — it eliminates any concern that the espresso art photographs might have been digitally enhanced.

Grimmelmann and Kozinski on “Law”

I recently came across two old and unrelated writings about law, both of which are worth reading, especially for people with strong opinions but no formal training.

The first is this piece, entitled Seven Ways in Which Code Equals Law (And One in Which It Does Not), by recently-appointed New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann and EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. Several observations are particularly appropriate for the slashdot crowd (and, to a lesser extent, certain members of the Debian community and others who grew up on a diet of BASIC, Pascal, and then C and later perl). I especially like this bit about “hacking the law”:

Some people, seeing this connection, and remembering the values of good code, try to improve the legal system by treating it as a computer. People come to me with ideas for hacking the law. “The government says that cryptography is a weapon,” they say, “but the Bill of Rights says we have the right to bear arms. So that means we have a Constitutional right to use cryptography.”

But the legal system isn’t a computer. If you can’t convince a judge that what you’re proposing is consistent with the values underlying a law, your argument will go nowhere. People go to jail every year because they think they’ve found a way to hack the Sixteenth Amendment. “The income tax is illegal,” they say, or, “The income tax is voluntary, see, it says so right here,” and then they get convicted of tax evasion and sent to jail. We did convince several judges about the Constitutional dimension of cryptography, but the claim started from the values of the First Amendment, not a mechanical reading of its words.

It’s a category mistake to treat the legal system as just another architecture with its own specialized language. Code and law are different ways of regulating; they have different textures. All of those people who are required to make the legal system work leave their mark on its outcomes: they make a certain amount of drift and discretion almost inevitable. Code doesn’t have such a limit: it can make perfectly hard-nosed bright-line rules and hold everyone in the world to them. Code is capable of a kind of regulatory clarity and intensity that law can only state, never really achieve.

I don’t entirely agree with the other article, entitled What I Ate For Breakfast and Other Mysteries of Judicial Decision Making by outspoken Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski (unofficial site maintained by Aaron Swartz, wikipedia entry). For example, I think critical legal studies has resulted in some interesting insights, some of which actually have practical applciation. Still, Judge Kozinski makes an important point about the numerous factors that act as a check on discretion in judicial decisionmaking:

It is popular in some circles to suppose that judicial decision making can be explained largely by frivolous factors, perhaps for example the relationship between what judges eat and what they decide. Answering questions about such relationships is quite simple – it is like being asked to write a scholarly essay on the snakes of Ireland: There are none.

But as far back as I can remember in law school, the notion was advanced with some vigor that judicial decision making is a farce. Under this theory, what judges do is glance at a case and decide who should win – and they do this on the basis of their digestion (or how they slept the night before or some other variety of personal factors). If the judge has a good breakfast and a good night’s sleep, he might feel lenient and jolly, and sympathize with the downtrodden. If he had indigestion or a bad night’s sleep, he might be a grouch and take it out on the litigants. Of course, even judges can’t make both sides lose; I know, I’ve tried. So a grouchy mood, the theory went, is likely to cause the judge to take it out on the litigant he least identifies with, usually the guy who got run over by the railroad or is being foreclosed on by the bank. This theory immodestly called itself Legal Realism.

Just to prove that even the silliest idea can be pursued to its illogical conclusion, Legal Realism spawned Critical Legal Studies. As I understand this so-called theory, the notion is that because legal rules don’t mean much anyway, and judges can reach any result they wish by invoking the right incantation, they should engraft their own political philosophy onto the decision-making process and use their power to change the way our society works. So, if you accept that what a judge has for breakfast affects his decisions that day, judges should be encouraged to have a consistent diet so their decisions will consistently favor one set of litigants over the other.

I am here to tell you that this is all horse manure. And, like all horse manure, it contains little seeds of truth from which tiny birds can take intellectual nourishment. The little truths are these: Under our law judges do in fact have considerable discretion in certain of their decisions: making findings of fact, interpreting language in the Constitution, statutes and regulations; determining whether officials of the executive branch have abused their discretion; and, fashioning remedies for violations of the law, including fairly sweeping powers to grant injunctive relief. The larger reality, however, is that judges exercise their powers subject to very significant constraints. They simply can’t do anything they well please.

Finally, I will link, but not embed, this video of the Anna Nicole Smith court order, for an entirely different perspective on the legal process. You almost don’t really want to have to see this stuff.

Skiing Dream

I dreamt that I brought my laptop on a downhill ski trip. Before putting on my skis, I booted up and used my EV-DO connection to get online. I spent the rest of the day blogging about skiing, but never actually got to ski. Can anyone explain what this dream could possibly mean?

MBTA and Blogger Complaints

Does it do any good to complain about mass transit in the blogosphere? According to Universal Hub, the answer seems to be “no”:

The reporter also, indirectly, gets an answer to Paul Levy’s question about what T officials do with complaints posted daily on Boston-area blogs: Not a hell of a lot (then again, that’s hardly a policy change at the T):

When asked to comment on the blog, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo responded: “While blogs come and go, people will always be able to present comments and concerns directly to the T’s Customer Support Services.”

Oh, really? Let’s rewrite that statement a bit:

“While MBTA flacks come and go, people will always be able to have their comments and concerns ignored by the T’s Customer Support Services.”

I’ve had two successive days of bad luck. Yesterday, I arrived early for the 8am train (from Needham Heights). The LED sign announced the train was about twenty minutes late. Half an hour later, still no train. Finally, what was apparently the 8:23am train arrived about ten minutes late. That train, crowded on an ordinary day, was of course at double capacity and thus resembled one of those 1980’s “Aren’t you glad you used Dial? Don’t you wish everybody did?” commercials. The train stood motionless for about five minutes at each stop with no announcements as to what was going on. Finally, I arrived at work about an hour later than I expected.

Today’s train was a bit late and had no lights in any of the cars. A conductor informed me that yesterday’s delay was due to a locomotive that failed over the weekend but that the T had neglected to fix or replace it. According to the conductor, “they don’t want to pay overtime.” (He also mentioned that all of these service improvements were courtesy of the recent fare hikes.)

Patenting “Life”

Via Patently-O: Point, counterpoint. Discuss.

(Note that Michael Crichton has not done much in recent years to establish his own credibility.)

Google Observations

Changes are afoot at Google. A couple of weeks ago Google announced that it is refining its algorithms to minimize the impact of “Google Bombs.” (It’s curious that they made a big announcement rather than just doing it covertly, but perhaps this way they get to control how the news is framed.) Apparently, link text will be weighted less heavily in determining relevance to search terms. Presumably this means the page content will get more weight — ultimately there are only a few parameters that can serve as inputs in PageRank.

A couple of weeks ago, I adopted the name Substantially Similar for this blog. I was looking for something clever and suggestive of the focus of this blog, but not overly clever or too narrowly focused. (I leave it to my readers to tell me if it works.) As a test case for Google’s new algorithm, this seems to be proof positive:

Substantially Similar Web Search

I am fairly certain no one has created a link to me yet with the link text “substantially similar,” yet I’m already the top result.

Another change I noticed is the substitution of third-party descriptions of URLs instead of excerpt text. I don’t know if this is a new development or not, but it’s an interesting departure from what I’ve seen before:

Google Excerpt Text

That last link above is my old law school outline site — and the text “not fancy, but tons of outlines” doesn’t appear anywhere on the page itself. Instead, it is a description of the site from a couple of outline “portal” pages.

Cully “Resigns”

I’ve written twice before about Charles “Cully” Stimson, the Pentagon official who urged corporate clients to boycott law firms representing Guantánamo detainees pro bono. The latest, via the legal tabloid, is that Cully has resigned over his remarks, a fitting end to the episode.

Weather Methodology

Can someone explain weather methodology?

Yesterday’s forecast:

Predicted Weather

This morning’s forecast:

This Morning’s Prediction

Actual conditions:

Actual Weather

Apparently, they don’t teach Cromwell’s Rule in meteorology school. (HT to Steve, a statistics major in college, for the reference.)

A CLI Weblog theme

Via rajbot, this amazing CLI-themed WordPress blog. I wish I had that kind of time on my hands.