October 2023
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Notes: Copyright

I once participated in a debate about copyright issues, taking the position that copyright is an illegitimate concept. I prepared the following notes prior to the debate.

Opening Points

  • Historically founded on governmental systems of control
  • Enforcement requires the interference in an otherwise free market
  • Utilitarian arguments supporting copyright need to meet a burden of proof
  • People have been creating works of art since forever, no reason to think that they will suddenly stop now
  • Incentives of copyright don’t work, because money doesn’t guarantee creative quality
  • The enforcement in protecting an intangible causes tangible harm (jail, extradition, home invasion, confiscation, restricted freedoms)
  • Copying and duplication are not equivalent to theft, stealing, piracy (sinking of ships), or infringement (derivative knock-offs and rip-offs)
  • English language has no word for “theft through the act of duplication/copying”, but does have a word for things that don’t replicate — “dead”.
  • Obscurity is a bigger threat to most artists than unrestricted copying


  • def copyright: the right of an artist/creator to prevent other people from using their own (physical) property to duplicate the artist’s work. Is a right of monopoly, not of property.
  • No need for property rights in information, because knowledge is non-rivalrous
  • Influences
    • Moral rights of the author who created the work
    • Economic rights of the benefactor who paid for a copy to be made
    • Physical property rights of the individual owning a copy
    • Soverign’s right to censor and regulate the distribution/printing industry


  • Manual copying. System of control over scribes
  • Stationer’s Company in 1557. (censorship: prevent heretical publications)
  • Statute of Anne 1710. (broader focus: protect the reading public, continued production of literature, advancement and spread of education, pragmatic right to (re-)print, balance between authors, booksellers, and public)


Counter-examples, The world without

  • (from Boldin and Levine) fashion, food recipe and appearance, automobile sculptural design, furniture, magic tricks, hairdos, open source software, database, tattoos, jokes, fireworks, game rules, perfume scents, mutual fund composition


Countering Pro-IP arguments

  • Argument by Creation. Creation is not a source of ownership, only a source of wealth. You own the work, because you already owned the inputs. Creation involves the re-arrangement of physical property. In contrast, homesteading (appropriation) is about first one to emborder and use.
  • Argument by Scarcity. Good ideas may be scarce (rare) but they are not rivalrous (exclusivity of use).
  • Argument by Ability. We can treat works as property, but so what? We could also treat humans as property and choose not to. Also, treating intangible patterns as property contaminates physical property law, it opens the temptation to move from “fair use” to “fair trespass”.
  • Argument by Limitation. All property rights get limited anyway (I can’t shoot my bullet at your body). But the limitation on the shooter is based on sanctity of the target’s property. It’s the action (trigger pull) that’s limited, not the property (gun could be borrowed). Actions employ scarce means (property), actions are limited because of property rights.
  • Argument by Balance. We should balance innovation and IP vs. free speech. YouTube has 29hrs of video each minute, I’m not willing to give that up for 20 hrs of big budget film each year. Should we have to find just the right amount of stifling that will promote production!! Intervention in the market (short term monopoly grant) is clearly non-libertarian. The public benefits are unproven, so the burden of proof lies with the proponent of IP.
  • Argument by Authority. The Constitution authorizes it, but doesn’t obligate it (wasn’t actually enacted until a year after ratification). Stated purpose “to promote progress of science and the arts” still without evidence. I also don’t care about the back-room deals of politicians 200 years ago. Even the Founders knew it wasn’t a natural right, but a government grant. Other things authorized by the constitution are terrible (slavery, taxes, eminent domain, etc).
  • Argument by Moderation of Liberty. Liberty is not our only value. rephrase: we need rights not only in scarce resources, but also others. But the enforcement requires physical force against physical property, causing real, measurable harm. What if we were to restrict intellectual property enforcement to the ‘intangible realm’.
  • Argument by Contract. Yes people can enter into copyright restrictions via contract, but that wouldn’t be adopted at large, it wouldn’t bind 3rd parties, it only follows on first sale, existing version would set damages too high (millions) driving customers away (preferencing them toward pirate goods, setting damages too low and customers would ignore it or collection would be too expensive, the hassle of tracking infringement is cost prohibitive and invasive of customer privacy, there is no low cost mechanism of tracking/propagating ownership.
  • Argument by Due Income. The labor theory of value is bunk, and profit is an unnatural temporary aberration in the free market, it attracts competition. You don’t own the value of what you produce, only it’s physical integrity. The value is market-based and exists only in the minds of others.
  • Argument by Utilitarian Maximization.
    • Methodological problem: value is ordinal, not cardinal. (von Mises) Value is not a substance, thing, or measurable quantity, it appears only in choice among ends. Utilitarianism mistakenly wants to add up all values and shift them around. Moral Problem
    • Moral problem: It is unethical to take from the rich and give to the poor, even if the total valuation indicates global good.
    • Evidence problem: proposal for government intervention requires proof of global benefit
  • Argument by Misplaced Question. How would artists get paid? Counter-ask, who would pick the cotton? The question is not an argument, and the artist’s lack of a business model/plan is not my problem. The customer owns his money until parting with it, the creator/artist has no ownership claim over future uncertain revenue.
  • Argument by Accusation. You’re a freeloader that wants everything for free. First, that’s not necessarily true (c.f. benefactor model). Second, the benefit of a free market is abundance at low prices.
  • Argument by Complicity. But you’ve benefited from copyright! First, I benefited against my will. Second, my status as a forced hypocrite doesn’t invalidate stance against IP. Copyright lawyers (and cancer doctors) exist because of bad things.
  • Argument by Plagiarism. What if I published your work under my name? That’s a case of fraud or plagiarism, not an infringement on copyright.
  • Argument by Language. It’s my idea, I own it. She’s my wife, I own her.
  • Argument by Industrial Need. Industries that use IP are profitable and it’s essential for their business. So also is crime essential for the profit of the mafia. The correlation of profit with copyright is not necessarily causative, many industries are profitable without IP law (c.f. Bolrin and Levine). Perhaps they need IP to survive, because they are at a competitive disadvantage (skewed market protects big players).


  • What natural rights have an expiration date?
  • Through what mechanism do we establish the cutoff time?
  • Should we treat non-rivalrous as we treat rivalrous ones?
  • How does my act of making a copy/duplicate destroy/infringe/trespass your use of your copy/property?
  • What am I stealing when I make a copy/duplicate?
  • Is it possible for a society without government to have copyright law? How would it originate?
  • Can you cite one study that demonstrates a net benefit to copyright. (costs clear: administration, legal fees, liberty) Papers showing an increase in the applications/use are not convincing, as many would apply for a license to steal.
  • The same government that outlaws monopoly (antitrust law) also authorizes them? How to resolve the inconsistency?
  • Can you enforce copyright without committing aggression against physical beings/goods?
  • Physical property employs boundaries (locks, fences) to indicate theft, what about stories+songs?
  • Supposing that I wanted to divest my work of copyright, how would that happen? Currently no way to do it, the Berne Convention prohibits the US from revising copyright to permit it.

My New Ergodox

I’m writing this post using my new Ergodox keyboard, and having a hell of a time adapting to the lack of a slant between the rows of the keys! For example, I continue to hit the “x” key when I intend to hit “k”. I have also re-positioned some of the control keys, such as backspace (which now gets hit by either pinky knuckle), control (which used to be mapped to caps-lock on a conventional keyboard), and enter. I also noticed that my thumb naturally rests between the [space] and F1 keys. Overall, my hands feel vey splayed-out. Not just as a result of resting my thumb on a far-away [space] key, but also because the distance to keys has changed. The change in slant between rows has altered the positions of keys further away, such as the numbers and symbols.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the assembly process, which took all day, the final result, and the layout that I’ve programmed. Typing will definitely take some getting-used to, and the cherry mx-blue make very loud clicky sounds.

Assembled Ergodox


Layer 0


Layer 1


Promised Properties

Three weeks ago I started a new project that uses nodejs and which forced me to learn some asynchronous programming. I couldn’t quite manage to adapt.

Because this was server code that ties together other web services and my own database, many of the helper functions ended up having multiple asychronous steps. The lack of return values strongly pressured me to nest long chains of anonymous functions. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they style also encouraged inlining the details of each step, which made identifying and factoring out common code, all the more difficult. Because of the nesting it was far easier to factor out steps near the end of the chain instead of those in the middle. Compared to conventional synchronous programming, this callback model felt like programming inside out. So I went looking for other options. I watched a video on promises, by the implementors of the Promises/A+ spec and q module.

They pointed out 3 important deficiencies of the async callback model, all of which were contributing to my difficulties:

  1. Syntactical nesting pyramid of doom.
  2. Lack of a callstack when reporting errors.
  3. Lack of return values, who would receive them without a callstack?

The convention synchronous programming model has three ways of returning results (return value, throw error, and side-effects), and the async callback model abandons the two most important ones! Thankfully, promises gave them back to me. I spent a day rewriting all the broken async callback code that I had written, and it’s taken about a week to really grow comfortable with the new style.

Yet, some conveniences are still lacking. The promise chain does not hold temporary values such analogous to having stack-local variables in a multi-step function. We currently achieve the same effect through closures in anonymous functions, as shown in an example at q’s github repo.

function authenticate() {
    return getUsername()
    .then(function (username) {
        return getUser(username);
    // chained because we will not need the user name in the next event
    .then(function (user) {
        return getPassword(user)
        // nested because we need both user and password next
        .then(function (password) {
            if (user.passwordHash !== hash(password)) {
                throw new Error("Can't authenticate");

But if promises promote code flattening as an strong benefit, then we ought to support something like stack storage. I propose the addition of two functions:

Take the return value of the current promise as a property with the given name on the current promise and return the current promise.
pget(name1, name2, …)
Retrieve the properties with the given names on the current promise and return them as an array-fulfilled promise, or a single value-fulfilled promise when only one name is given.

All the other promise functions (e.g. then) shall copy the defined properties along the chain. Using promise properties, we can flatten that example code.

function authenticate() {
    return getUsername()
      .then(function (password) {
          // grab the user property from the promise
          if (this.user.passwordHash != hash(password)) {
              throw new Error("Can't authenticate");

Notice that inorder to provide both the attribute that was pput on the promise, I also had to change the target reference of the this pointer, so that it points to the promise rather than the global object. I am not sure whether others shall find making that change acceptable or not. If not we can modify the existing chain operations so that they pass the promise in explicitly. So the then function would become pthen. In that case the example would read something like the following.

function authenticate() {
    return getUsername()
      .pthen(function (promise, password) {
          // grab the user property from the promise
          if (promise.user.passwordHash != hash(password)) {
              throw new Error("Can't authenticate");

If we want to keep ourselves restricted to only the proposed pput and pget, we’ll just have to do a little extra storage and retrieval work.

function authenticate() {
    return getUsername()
      .pget('user', 'password')
      .spread(function (user, password) {
          // grab the user property from the promise
          if (obj.user.passwordHash != hash(obj.password)) {
              throw new Error("Can't authenticate");

OpenHardware Keyboarding

Looks like some individuals have had nearly the same thoughts as I have on the state of keyboards. The progress looks good.

Key64 has some good prototype hardware. The keyboard is short on keys and compensates by having layers bound to modifier keys, which appear mostly on the thumbs! Recall that I wanted to make the thumbs work harder in my post on the configurable keybord.


Another fellow has taken inspiration from Key64 to create Ergodox. His site contains PCB and 3D printing files so I could theoretically create a keyboard myself.



Finally, KeMice has an indiegogo campaign to create a lightweight, portable split keyboard with the right side acting as the mouse. If only they’d gotten the layer feature via meta-keys, I’d be contributing.

Notes: International Students for Liberty Conference, Matt Zwolinski, How to Talk About Liberty Without Sounding Like a Jerk

Matt runs the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog. He started off with An Argument:

premise: Libertarianism is True
observation: most people don’t belive that.
conclude: They are either wrong and evil, or they have never heard of it.
given people have heard of it.
conclude: Most people are wrong. They either don’t know (stupid) or don’t care (evil).
therefore: We don’t have to listen to them.

But it pays off (socially) to listen to those that disagree with you. Disagreement is reasonable and we still desire to reach the truth.
— empirical issues are complex and difficult (ex: minimum wage law, or ObamaCare)
— beliefs subject to psychological bias in analysis (ex: motivated reasoning, non-objectivity)
— moral values are plural and conflicting

Language of Politics, Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations.
People have different weights on the following spectra:
1. Care/Harm
2. Fairness/Cheating
3. Liberty/Oppression
4. Loyalty/Betrayal
6. Sanctity/Degradation
— liberals value 1,2,3 highly
— conservatives use all 6, but differ in nuances (ex: fairness in outcome vs effort). 4,5,6 can override 1,2,3.
— libertarians focus almost exclusively on 3 [Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians]. So they have THE TRUTH, and NEVER have to worry about moral conflict. They ask “who owns the trolley?”, and bring out the property rights. To others this looks like they’ve lost focus (not everything is a nail) or an appreciation of life’s complexity.

Arnold Kling’s The Three Languages of Politics.
1. Oppressor/Oppressed (the liberal’s focus)
2. Barbarism/Civilization (the conservative’s focus)
3. Coercion/Freedom (the libertarian’s focus)

To persuade others, libertarians need to be multi-lingual.
– A person doesn’t communicate well if they only speak in their own language. Others won’t hear you, you won’t hear them. “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
– If only see coercion/liberty then you will fail to appreciate other moral values. Oppression, fairness, care, loyalty aren’t mistakes. They aren’t reducible to the ONE TRUE VALUE (coercion). “There are no solutions, only trade-offs”

Consider the sweatshop debate.
Libertarian: It’s OK as long as it’s not coercive.
Option 1: Government determination of wages/safety is coercive.
Option 2: Government interference will harm those it tries to help.
The second option is more persuasive. Also more philosophically sound. It’s far from obvious that coercion is absolutely bad. How confident is the libertarian that “coercion == bad” is correct, and their debate opponent is mistaken?

1. It’s complicated. Be forgiving.
2. Conversation is not conversion (that takes many conversations over time).
3. Look for areas of common ground, and build on them. Find areas with lots of overlap. (good heuristic).

Notes: International Students for Liberty Conference, David Friedman, Problem of National Defense

Defense without Government

- government bad at doing things, esp complex things (ex: legal systems)
  am willing to accept government solution when alternative is worse
- court and police aren't complicated enough to require government
- define National Defense as invasion defense from a neighbor nation
- define Public Good as that where the producer cannot control who gets it (ex: radio broadcast)
  often economical to privately produce when combined with public bad (ex: advertisement)
  - can't guarantee that a free market produces it
  - but must propose a funding model. imperfect, but better than government

- founders of the constitution had a good idea with 2nd amendment, mentions militia
  - prob1: Oliver Cromwell proved that a small professional army beats larger unorganized amateur army
  - prob2: A large professional army can perform a coup de etat
  - soln: combine a small professional army with a large unorganized militia
  - we can take that solution and modernize it

- Rudyard Kipling: anarchist poem, story Army of a Dream
  - piggy-back off national pastime, popular sport that include mock wargames
  - result: everyone is trained in combat as a side-effect
  - it's social and voluntary
  - ex: David himself participates in the Society of Historical Anachronism
  - modernize: paintball, already proven popular and profitable
    can be encouraged with nationalistic pride

- now we have a large body of amateurs, only need the small cadre of professionals
  - what about the PR advantage of an Apr 15th parade where
    Apple, Google, etc. fly drones/jets in shape of logo or do acrobatics

- Some stories that David won't write http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Miscellaneous/story_ideas.htm
  - in battle of govt vs. market, david's trying to find atypical alternatives: cultural, open source
  - problem with funding the small professional cadre
  - possible solution: taxicabs have 1$billion non-repeat customers
  - can encourage cultural factors: war bonds, weapons donation
  - example: Larry Niven, Oath of Fealty, the private organization that plays the role of government will receive some nationalistic loyalty
  - example: Cloak of Anarchy (it's actually an anti-anarchy story)
  - example: The Ungoverned, Vernor Vinge, assumes state is poorer and backwards compared to anarchy
             Mexico (invader) doesn't think to go around when someone defends
             Mexico: What slime you are to use nukes against us!
             Private Security: What do you mean us? He's not a customer of ours!
  - No current wealthy developed country is worth invading
    - if rich, no profit in it
    - if poor, can't afford to

- Moral arguments are inadequately convincing
  - Hume's ought from is problem
  - don't have to win, the range of differences is not all that much
  - often can't agree on hypotheticals anyway
  - ex: Orwell's review of Hayek and Road to Serfdom and Zilliakis The Mirror of the Past
        he misunderstand market power
  - David's chosen consequentialism because the economics and reason easier to explain

- What about the warlord problem
  - the accumulated wealth of the richest family (Walton's) could pay for only a couple days of today's government

- David would advocate gradual change, to establish alternatives (ex: voucher education)
- Anarchy doesn't require uniform culture
  - donations for common defense can come in many forms: spying, information, reporting, bonds, equipment
  - Cadre is interacting with the culture
    - conferences on the latest weapons tech, training classes, etc..
  - might be able to use gift economics (ex: open source)
    - businesses employs basic research scientist as a cultural resource (informant)
    - status motivation
- Mechanism of outrage is not all that good
  - ex: in South Africa, Americans never upset about Black on Black Nigerian Civil War
- Future Imperfect,
  - we are really rich today, even the undeveloped is 10x more wealthy than historical norm

  - Future Imperfect
  - Orwell's critique of Road to Serfdom
  - Cloak of Anarchy
  - The Ungoverned
  - Oath of Fealty

The Chording Keyboard

In the past I wanted to have a keyboard, split between both hands, with keys in rows shaped according to how my fingers are able to move. It seems that, as far as recording human speech is concerned, syllable-based chording keyboards, as used by stenographers, are more efficient. I’m not fully convinced that it would work for programming, because of the dependence on individual characters. However, I do lament that the experiment wasn’t performed. Looper OS points out the beginnings of that experiment in Englebart’s Violin.


First trip to Nicaragua

Due to unreasonably heavy traffic in Los Angeles (before the sun came up!) and a slow, cautious driver (my mother), we arrived at the airport after the designated check-in cutoff. I blame the government for subsidizing the car culture and for erecting a “security” barrier. So, upon arrival to the byzantine LAX, we immediately had to queue into a short line of 7 people that took an hour of wait before we could re-book another flight at exorbitant price. Of course, the new schedule meant that we would have an overnight layover at Miami. I found the new schedule especially frustrating, because our previous flight from Miami to Nicaragua left only 20 minutes after our new flight landed. But 20 minutes is not enough time to pick up a checked bag from the carousel, which lies outside the “security” barrier, and re-enter the airport. As we exited our plane, I chatted on the phone with another member of the party, as they boarded the originally scheduled flight to Nicaragua. We were both in the airport, only a couple terminals distant, and yet government made us impossibly far apart! For its security barrier cost more than the 7 minutes it would have taken to walk between terminals, incurring an overnight layover in Miami.

Fortunately our compatriot travelers were kind enough to stay in a hotel in Managua and wait for us to arrive around lunchtime the next day. My broken schedule notwithstanding, the others were also tired of dealing with the hassle of airport travel, and simply didn’t wish to follow that up with a long drive through the countryside at night. Not to mention that the furniture at our final destination, the Cacao Farm and Eco-Resort, had not yet been fully assembled.

When we arrived in Managua, a guy with our names on a card met us after disembarking the plane, he took our bags to be screened while we waited in nice chairs and had sandwiches and water with our fellow travelers that arrived the day before. Compared to the horror of customs screening when entering the USSA (as a citizen no less!) makes my home country feel uncivilized, paranoid, and backwards. In Managua, I felt like a guest rather than national chattel.

The car trip to the Cacao Farm and Eco-Resort had many rural sights: cows, chickens, pigs (all pretty scrawny by hormone-pumped USSA standards). Folks by the roadside holding up carcasses for sale to the cars passing by. The road had light, and highly diverse traffic, including buses, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, and pedestrians. The green countryside featured rolling hills, blue skies, a large lake. Combined with the temperature in the 80s and high humidity, I felt a glowing, restful, and scenic warmth. Again, in stark contrast to bland concrete, oppressive traffic, noisy bustling of cities the USSA. In Nicaragua, road travel does not induce any feelings of rage.

After about 2.5hrs of driving along the countryside and dodging some obstacles (road rules are widely ignored and not strictly enforced) we arrived at the Farm. A crew of hardworking, and sweaty, lads were busy laying the brick walls of the new shower and toilet facilities. I later found out that our Farm’s construction work had saved the organizer and members in his team from toiling in a minerals mine, and they were quite happy to have the more pleasant labor of erecting small buildings in the open air of the jungle. I noticed that their daily labor acts as a continuous gym exercise, unlike the pale, flabby bodies of desk workers in the First (worst?) World.

That evening a shipment of 500 Cacao plants arrived and we assisted in their unloading through the heavy smell of fertilizer. We failed the race with diminishing natural light, but re-discovered the efficiency of bucket brigade in loading and unloading of crates and wheel barrows. Not having a kitchen of our own, we then re-convened at the neighbors for a meal of rice, beans, tortillas, and salad after a short break once we finished the labor. The bug population loves incandescent lighting and I found a black scorpion in the outhouse.

Throughout the trip weather was quite warm, but not overly hot (unless you happened to be exercising) with high humidity. I found the conditions during the day to be quite enjoyable because the moisture kept the dust down, alleviating my allergies. At night, however, it was a bit too cool for my tastes, and required a light blanket, which felt a little damp.

We took a sweaty excursion around the property in the company of a plantation expert, who pointed out what good soil we had, areas of drainage vs pooling water, the need for shady areas so that young Cacao plants have a chance to develop, etc. The resort has a nice, smallish mountain which possesses a fantastic view and would make an excellent place for a coffee shop or vacation house. There is also a stream burbling through which is already dammed in one place, with plans to provide for water storage that can be used later during the dry season.

The Farm also has a rooster, which crowed all night, and a cow that shat all over the front porch, creating a big mess. Animals do not make very good neighbors and so they shall be taken out to pasture and prevented from entering the resort with a barbed wire fence. The land for the resort contained too much wild brush for me to judge a good place for my plot of land. I decided that I’d feel much more drawing lines when given an overhead picture (akin to plane or satellite). Much to my reassurance, others felt that purchasing a quadcopter to obtain photos of the property would assist both sales and surveying. The resort does not yet have internet access, though Claro provides 2g along the main road. I’ve recently been researching the equipment necessary to provide wifi routing in the main plaza. I think a functional (though low-capacity) ~$300 router could be installed with a day’s labor, and $30 recurring service expense spread across 3 semi-permanent residents and 8 irregular visitors.

The travel back destroyed, the serenity I felt during the visit. Security entering the USSA was a huge hassle, and blatantly ineffective. For example, my mother had with her both a carry-on and a purse. The carry-on contained an unopened, still sealed, bottle of water. You know, the kind that they sell after passing through the hassle point. The bottle was so dangerous it threatened the entire country, and our security official literally tossed it a few feet into a regular trash can. When waiting at the terminal, my mother then found an opened, half-drunk bottle of water in her purse, that passed through the same checkpoint undiscovered! Queuing through the system of lines stressed my need for efficiency, the paperwork felt stupid and pointless, the questions hectored my patience, and the unwarranted invasions made me feel victimized. As a traveler, and chattel of the USSA, I don’t feel any safer for the pretense of security. I feel robbed and extorted, my right to free movement violated.

Idea: e-ink Poster

I’ve noticed that many companies are paying an enormous expense to have animated advertisements. They pay for huge billboard-sized signs bright enough to be seen during daylight. Previously, the hardware for this kind of thing was only affordable by sports arenas, which made money back on the investment with advertising to the captive game audience. But, it’s not just billboards, as restaurants now also put their menu up on large flat-screen televisions, despite the fact that the menu really doesn’t change very often. I guess they see the recurring cost of electricity for both the monitor and computer that drives them as less than reprinting of the menus.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a large e-ink display? They don’t require much power, don’t need to be lit, and most ads still don’t animate very much. Just put some image file on a usbstick, plug it into the e-ink poster, and run for a month or so on batteries (or solar power). Seems like this is far less costly, I’d expect the market to explode once someone manufactures such a poster.

Some Interesting Titles

I’m moving, and have decided to toss a number of printed papers. I record them here, in the insignificant chance that I might return to the topics covered.