Sunday Jul 12, 2009

Ten Thousand Days

In The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi writes:

No matter how many opponents you beat, as long as you do anything in contravention of training, it cannot be the true path. ... 

This is something that requires thorough examination, with a thousand days of practice for training and ten thousand days of practice for refinement.


Friday Mar 28, 2008

Experimenting with New Ink

Experimenting with New Ink

Once, when I was 7 or 8, I received two lessons from a master Persian calligrapher, a Mr. Foradi, in Tehran.

Mr. Foradi used to be on contract at my fathers' advertising and design firm. In the first lesson, he taught me how to hold the pen, how to ink its tip, and how to cushion the thin calligraphy paper. He then asked me to write, 100 times in a neat row: "A Man's Virtue is Far Better than His Post and Wealth"—a piece from a 1000 year old Persian poem.

  ادب مرد به ز دولت اوست. 

It is hard to find expert Persian calligraphers and the right equipment and training in the U.S. 

My father bought me the Persian calligraphy pen shown in this photo from The Persian Calligraphy Institute in Tehran, Iran, in August of 2006. 

I used the pen and the special ink, which my father had also purchased for me, to write "Traditional Music" on a piece of printer paper. (I should say here that I didn't think much of Persian traditional music when I first arrived in the U.S. as a teenager. Now, I have learned to appreciate enough of its subtleties to enjoy it.) 

Once, when I was 7 or 8, I received two lessons from a master Persian calligrapher, a Mr. Foradi, in Tehran. Mr. Foradi used to be on contract at my fathers' advertising and design firm. In the first lesson, he taught me how to hold the pen, how to cushion the paper and asked me to write, 100 times, that "A Man's Virtue is Far Better than His Post"—a piece from a 1000 year old Persian poem.

 

Thursday May 17, 2007

Labels, The Internet and The Musician

 

Internet, as a giant copy and distribution machine, may and should continue to afford artists with greater autonomy well into the future. Reports of musicians' success in using this copy-and-distribution tool continue to pour in.

For example, Wall Street Journal's John Jurgensen writes about how musicians use the Internet to promote their work ("Singers Bypass Lables for Prime-Time Exposure," May 17, 2007, WSJ, B1). The report focuses on the case of singer and musician Ingrid Michaelson, "a 26-year-old Staten Island native who ... was discovered on MySpace by a management company that specializes in finding little-known acts and placing their works in soundtracks for TV shows, commercials, movies and videogames."

Many shows will only pay unsigned artists about $1,000 for the use of their music on TV, while artists on major labels might garner more than $30,000. Since she has been signed to Secret Road [Music Services, not a label], Ms. Michaelson has been paid up to $15,000 each time her music has been featured on a show or commercial, according to someone familiar with the deals. Secret Road says its cut of Ms. Michaelson's income is in keeping with industry standards of between 15% and 20%.

TV, of course, has become an increasingly powerful force for driving music sales. Apart from "American Idol" and "Saturday Night Live," possibly the most coveted TV slots for musicians are on "Grey's Anatomy," which has helped make songs like "How to Save a Life" by the Fray into top sellers on iTunes. A finale spot on "Grey's" is considered a particularly plum slot. Last year, the finale allowed Scottish band Snow Patrol to break through to a broad audience and played a role in making its featured song, "Chasing Cars," a hit.

Because Ms. Michaelson doesn't have a record-label contract, she stands to make substantially more from online sales of her music. For each 99-cent sale on iTunes, Ms. Michaelson grosses 63 cents, compared with perhaps 10 or 15 cents that typical major-label artists receives via their label. So far she has sold about 60,000 copies of her songs on iTunes and other digital stores. Ms. Michaelson is pouring most of her profits into pressing her own CDs and T-shirts, hiring a marketing company to produce promotional podcasts and setting up distribution for her CDS.

The fact that much good music today is discovered on the Internet before it ever makes it to the labels demonstrates that the labels need to reconsider their full "supply chain" and continue to review their policies and rules governing the protection and distribution of cultural content they come to license ("for a limited time").

On the same day as the report above, The Wall Street Journal also reported a significant move away from DRM which indicates the labels are recognizing the role of the Internet as a means to build networks of fans for artists through low-cost copy-and-distribution of content:

EMI Group PLC, the world's third-largest recorded-music company by sales (and the fourth-largest in the U.S. market) announced yesterday it would license its catalog to Amazon's DRM-free service. The three other major music companies haven't said publicly whether they expect to play ball with Amazon, but people close to all three companies said they don't expect to license content to Amazon in the near future. That means consumers shopping for downloads on Amazon will be able to buy tracks from EMI artists like Norah Jones and Coldplay, but are unlikely to be able to find music by most other major artists, including, for instance, each of the top-10 selling albums last week. Another complication: Apple's iTunes is moving toward offering music without copy protection, and also plans to release EMI's catalog in that format.

Much of the early use of DRM technologies has focused on limiting the power of digital copy and distribution of content.

Wednesday May 16, 2007

Zoorkhaneh--The Traditional Persian Gymnasium

Amir Hossein Mahmoudi has shared some very interesting photographs from a zoorkhaneh---a traditional Persian gymnasium that mixes culture, music and poetry with ancient sportsmanship.

Wednesday Mar 28, 2007

Norouz Slideshow

Palo Alto Weekly photographer, Marjan Sadoughi, has put together a slide show of local Persian New Year (Norouz) celebrations.

Saturday Jan 20, 2007

Little Canadian Comedy on the Prairie


Zarqa Nawaz

U.S. TV broadcasters continue to debate the desirability of Zarqa Nawaz' Little Mosque on the Prairie before showing it to their American audience. 

In the meantime, you can find torrents for Little Mosque here. To load these torrents, consider Azureus which has a great Java torrent client fit for various platforms.

Last time I checked, the "swarms" for these torrents were quite large, composed of several hundreds. Most peers were complete and sharing, and download rates were very high. So, the whole thing can probably be down-loaded in less than 1 hour, perhaps in 1/2 an hour if the number of peers continue to be large.

I've included YouTube renditions of the first episode below. Apparently, this first episode of Nawaz' little sitcom has become the most watched Canadian sitcom episode ever. The ads are mixed in. (The second and third episodes seem to have been broadcast in Canada but cannot yet be found on YouTube.) 

InsideCBC.Com, the official blog of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation covers the show. CBS carries an interview with Ms. Nawaz.

 


Monday Dec 18, 2006

Securing Property Rights

In cultured societies1, the state secures personal property against wanton takeover. Such protection encourages personal investment in productive social activity.

In a sense, private property becomes, and indeed is, sacred.

Nowhere is this more clear than the severe, albeit varying punishment vetted against thieves in various cultures and societies throughout history.

For example, consider the law in the U.S. that called for the execution of a man who stole the horse of another. Presumably, stealing a horse could be tantamount to stealing another's livelihood if not his or her life. As another example, if some score of  conditions hold, a thief of a personal property might lose a limb--starting with a piece of a finger--according to the sharia law. One of those score of hard-to-meet conditions that must exist for this particular law to apply involves a lack of a survival need to steal. So, the punishment may apply to a Wall Street magnet who has provenly and intentionally stolen from an old lady's pension or some orphans' trust, wrecking their lives as a consequence, but will not apply to a hungry beggar who takes an apple. 

Furthermore, and beyond the proofs in stipulated punishments, we have the proof in taboos against taking what belongs to others. These taboos run deep. For example, consider the emphasis, in both Jewish and Islamic law, regarding payment of debt as a religious obligation. Most reasonable people experience the relevant acculturation and live by these taboos and commendations.

Without the protection of private property, no one can be expected to give of his own or contribute anything for she or he will receive nothing of worth in return. There would be no incentive to contribute anything of worth without the protection of private property and rights in what is of worth. The history of the artificial beliefs in the sanctity of communal property extending to all things worth owning makes it quite clear that when incentives of private ownership disappear, people stop contributing willingly.

However, all protection of private and personal "property" has come at a price. States levy taxes on assets presumably to compensate themselves for cost of securing the conditions for ownership of such assets. The owners pay taxes and return something to the society that harbored their ownership rights. There are similar limits in other cases.

While IP and copyrights have been treated by some as private property, the protections granted to them had a different purpose. It was not an eternal protection but simply a safeguard for a limited time in order to grant the creative forces some security so that they may achieve and earn a return on the novelty they had created. Indefinite or long-term protection would create other problems such as slow propagation of novel ideas and innovations, not to mention the cost of enforcing such "rights." However, there were limits imposed on the duration of such protection in order to return the ideas to the mix of the community that had helped foster them. 

Lawrence Lessig has written enough about this topic, and today, in The Wall Street Journal, we read how sums are invested for the very protection of copyrights. ("Copyright Tool Will Scan Web for Violations," WSJ, December 18, 2006, Page B1.)

When a society pays more for securing what only needs limited protection, it increases its cumulative transaction costs at a time when better, lower-cost, alternatives exist for safeguarding what needs protecting. (This forumla also holds with aggressive wars as a means to provide "security" or with dubious prisons and gulags as a means to provide "justice." These techniques remind us of the analogy of a hammer used to kill a fly. Indeed, they are far worse.)

To the extent creative commons get a chance to grow beyond a certain threshold, we are in a position to see a more free culture. Cultural production means creating new cultural products against and upon what history has handed to us. To the extent that history can be frozen in a particular era by some few owners of its cultural products, we stand to suffer because we lose our flexibility as a cultured community to respond to the changes that go on around us.

Notes

1. The phrase "cultured societies" reads like an oxymoron. No society can exist in the long run without a culture to sustain it. Perhaps, I should have said in "Sustainable societies". Then again, we aree dealing with a bit of a tautology here. Without culture a society cannot be sustained, and no society is sustainable without culture.

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