“The Amen Break” – Music Sampling and Copy Right Law

Like a few other writers that chose to discuss the videos for this week, I did a bit of a double take when I saw how long they were, but not for the reason one might think. For me, copy right law had always been a clear black and white issue: if you use it, you should pay for it. That changed, however, when I viewed it through the lens of music sampling.

As a music consumer of the 21st century, I’ve heard of music sampling before and have encountered various examples of it numerous times through listening to the radio and albums. What did come as a surprise to me, as seen in “The Amen Break” video, was the extensive use of sampling music outside of the typical producer’s studio. In this clip, the creator explains that the break, taken from the song ‘Amen Brother’ by The Winston’s, has been used not only in hip hop songs like ‘Straight Out of Compton’, but also in commercials used to sell cars. I have to admit, after about 10 minutes of this being explained over and over again, I was getting pretty bored. So artists sample songs, so what? It wasn’t until the very last clips of the video that I started to understand. In these closing scenes, the creator discusses digital sampling in light of today’s copy right laws. In his opinion, artists are no longer free to appropriate pieces in the same way that they used to, that ‘free reign’ over music is no longer possible. In this sort of environment, creativity is stifled for the sake of capital gain. While this video gave a rather negative light copy right laws, the second, and even longer, video in this weeks material gave a mixed bag of results.

Unlike the first video, I felt that the second video, “Copyright Criminals”, did a much better job displaying both sides of the sampling and copyright law issue. One of the arguments that stuck out the most for me in favor of loosening copyright laws was the imagery of sampling as an instrument. While some in the video argued that this example was invalid and even cheap, the example of a photographer capturing something like a painter would seemed to blur the lines in my mind between what was original and could be claimed as your own, one of the main arguments being made in my opinion. However, after viewing the video, I would have to say that the complete lack of recognition for the artists being sampled is unethical and disrespectful to the very music artists attempt to pay tribute to. As one DJ said, “When I’m sampling I get all these legendary musicians in my band”. If you have such a privilege, why wouldn’t you want to honor them? In my mind, it doesn’t take away from the performing artist to place in their credits where they are taking a few of their ideas from. Much like writing an essay, creating music doesn’t come entirely within ourselves, and when we use information or talents that are not our own, we need to give the doer credit.

Wikipedia: Reputable or Reprimandable?

Analyzing the Reliability of Wikipedia

In seeking to test the credibility and reliability of Wikipedia as a valid and accurate research source, I chose a topic that I am well-versed in: the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Divided into the sections below are my thoughts on the history, discussion, and references encompassed on Wikipedia’s page of this topic.

History of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Did Wikipedia Get it Right? 

Initially upon my first overview of the history section of the conflict, I was impressed overall with the coverage given to the historical events.  In many ways, this conflict is complicated in nature and definition, with many various ideas circulating among the academic community as to a concise definition of the conflict. The one provided on the wiki page is very clear in my opinion and does not confuse the reader by inundating them with terms and events that are not central to understanding the heart of the issue. While I am sure many scholars or students of Middle Eastern history and/or politics would see the simplified definition as un-inclusive and understated, I believe that for the purposes of Wikipedia the article did a great job. When I think of Wikipedia, I view it as a source of initial resort, the first page that readers go to in order to gain general knowledge on a subject, not for an academic analysis. For that reason, I think it would be a disadvantage to Wikipedia and to its general audience of users to have definitions and explanations more in line with the general academic public. Most readers are trying to get the gist of things, not write a dissertation on the subjects they search through Wikipedia. Having said this, I felt that the history of the issues surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict were lacking in that human rights was for the most part, kept out of the discussion, and the introduction ended with the year 2010, rather than 2012, the current year of when I viewed the page. While both are seemingly minor details, the fact that this conflict is one that is still ongoing demands that articles discussing it be kept up to date.

Discussion of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: What Wikipedia Had to Say 

Again, I felt that the range of topics covered by the Wikipedia article on this subject far exceeded my expectations for the site. Included below is an image taken from the webpage depicting the issues covered within the conflict:

Table of Contents: Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Prior to viewing this page, I had a number of key events in my mind that I felt must be included on a discussion of the conflict. I was impressed to find that a majority of these were included on the wiki page. In addition to this, I really enjoyed that the page also included polling data on the desirability of a two-state solution from the view point of both Israeli’s and Palestinian’s over a number of years. During my time studying the conflict, I had gained extensive knowledge of the two-state solution, as well as the average number of proponents on both sides, but I had never seen the data compiled together. This, I felt, was very advantageous as well as easy to comprehend for those you did not have much background on the issue. I also enjoyed that they included a few maps related to the settlement issues, allowing readers with little knowledge on the region to have some idea of what was being discussed.


 In addition to this inclusion, the wiki page also discussed the current issues surrounding the conflict, most of which centered around the Israeli government and the violence of the Palestinians. If I had anything to harshly critique it would be these areas. As far as the Israeli government was concerned, the page introduced terms and offices specific to Israel that, unless the reader was well-educated on the subject, would not understand. Also, the majority of the discussion of violence in the conflict was biased, implying and even explicitly stating that the Palestinians attacked Israel unprovoked, not even going into the numerous accounts of Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli government officials. Another aspect of the conflict that I felt was not handled well was the treatment of Palestinian refugees. To start with, the wiki page confined the discussion of refugees to those forced out of the country only in 1948. In addition to this, the page failed to cite the root cause for the existence of these refugees, namely the Israeli government and their illegal acquisition of Palestinian homes. The article in this section, for myself at least, felt too biased to be considered academic value. This being said, I would reiterate that I view these pages as simply starting points for academic research, rather than the final stop. If a student or reader would continue to do more research after this article, they could clearly see the issues that I have pointed out and factor that into their work. Given this idea, I would not discredit this wiki page, or even Wikipedia, as a source of good information on the web.

Sources for the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Did Wikipedia Get it Right?

This was one of the areas where I was most impressed with the wiki page. The list of references in this article reaches over 200 sources, many of which I had heard before or read myself, giving me a sense of confidence in the article I had read. This is one aspect that I really like about Wikipedia and that even makes it a viable source of information for me. While it is true that anyone with a computer or access to the internet can go in and change the information on a page or add new things to it, it is not done without reference to their source (or, if it happens to be included without it, Wikipedia is quick to notify the reader to that fact). This really places the power of determining accuracy in the hands of the reader. While many complain that Wikipedia is not accurate and that it deceives students and readers into believing information that isn’t true, I would be quick to turn the accusation around on them. As a researcher or true academic, it is your job to determine the validity of the sources that you read, whether they come from Wikipedia or from an academic journal.

“Which Came First? Using Technology to Answer Historical Questions”

“Neither camera, nor lens, nor film determine the quality of pictures; it is the visual perception of the man behind the mechanism which brings them to life. Art contains the allied ideas of making and begetting, of being master of one’s craft and able to create. Without these properties no art exists and no photographic art can come into being.” — Helmut Gernsheim, 1942

In the readings for this week, Errol Morris discusses his investigatory journey into the famous set of photos of the Crimean War, entitled “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”. Initially in his argument, Morris states that the ON photo (the photo in which the cannons are placed on the road) came first, and that the OFF photo (the photo in which the cannons are on the sides of the road) came second, counter to the argument posed by Susan Sontag. In his quest to discover whose analysis is the correct one, Morris enlists the help of various scholars, as well as relying on technological advances since the 19th century date of the photos. Below are a few image results from Morris’s final scholarly tool, in which he enlists the help of technology to scan the photographs, focusing specifically on the movements of the rocks in each:

The rocks analyzed from the OFF photo

The rocks analyzed from the ON photo

A visual analysis on the OFF and ON rocks

In a debate that has been ongoing, from my understanding, for a majority of the 20th century among historians of the Crimean War, Morris is able to definitively say which image came first by studying the rocks in the image, rather than the character of the photographer. Not only does this show a shift in the analytical response to this debate (turning to technology rather than mere speculation), but it also shows a shift in reasoning behind answering the debate at all. As Morris points out throughout his three part response, Susan Sontag and other historians had cited Roger Fenton’s motivation for moving the cannonballs into the picture as cowardly and motivated by the intention to deceive. While Morris in the end proves Sontag and others correct in their ordering of the photographs, he disproves them on a point that I feel is more central to their argument. They ordered the pictures based on a false perception of Fenton, namely that he was trying to get a rise out of his audience. In the end, Morris uses something that no one cared about or thought to investigate (the placement of the rocks) to determine the true order of the photographs.

While generally speaking I didn’t have too much of an investment mentally in this argument as compared to a historian on the Crimean War, I did think it was interesting that it was technology in the end that allowed the true order of the photos to be determined. We have talked a lot in this course so far about the pros and cons of the web and moving historical things onto the internet. For me, this is one of the reasons why I think, overall, digitizing data is beneficial to the world of academia. Had these photos been lost, or only kept to a specific part of the population, its a great possibility that no certain answer would have been found. In addition, the use of the software program to analyze the rocks is another technological advancement that aided heavily in determining the order of the photographs, an advancement that would not have otherwise been possible if not for the use of digitized data.

Scavenger Hunt: Making the Most of Searching

For this week’s exercise, we were assigned the following three pieces of information to search for on the Internet:

  1. An op-ed on a labor dispute involving public school teachers from before 1970
  2. The first documented use of solar power in the United States
  3. The best resource for the history of California ballot initiatives, including voting data

To say the very least, this assignment definitely put my searching skills to the test, and even resulted in changing the way in which I search for material. Below is the journey of how I attempted to find those items, and the tools that helped me achieve success (or at least extremely close second guesses).

Image taken from http://marketingmatters.dexone.com


Exhibit One: Labor Disputes involving Public School Teachers, circa 1970

While I normally would have gone straight to Google, my go to search engine in times of need, this exercise stretched me to think more…outside the box. Putting on my detective hat for a few minutes, I thought about what other sources available to me online would help me get closer to finding the answer. Realizing that this information, as an op-ed, would be in a newspaper or magazine, I chose to go straight to ProQuest, specifically the historical newspaper database we had used in class earlier this week. Once I had pulled that page up, I used a few various keywords to limit my search, including: labor, dispute, public, and teacher. ProQuest came up with a long list of articles and newspapers that held a few of those keywords that I had selected, but i quickly found out that they didn’t fit the time specified in the assignment or the placement in the newspaper itself, specifically opposite the editorial page. After perusing the site a bit more, I found the ‘sort results by’ box, where I could narrow down my search results by a number of different characteristics. So, I narrowed down the timeframe, blocking out articles published before 1970, as well as the type of document that would be displayed, including editorial and commentary. After plugging these requirements into my new search, I quickly came up with a number of articles that fit what I was looking for, one of which is displayed here. Overall, once I changed the way in which I approached searching the item, this topic became one of the easiest to find.

Exhibit Two: First Documented Solar Power Use in the U.S.

In contrast, this item was much harder to find than the first, and to be honest, I’m still not sure I have the right answer (although I’m sure I’ll figure out the right answer tomorrow). Again, I tried to use the process of reasoning to figure out which techniques would be the most useful in helping me find this gem of a search subject. At first, I thought through what types of webpages or sites would hold the information I wanted. After thinking for a few moments, I figured environmental sites would be one of the first that I should check. While I had initially thought of government sites, specifically the Department of Energy or even NASA, I wasn’t sure that wouldn’t just lead to more deadends than it would unturn. So, with that in mind I searched Google not using the keywords of solar energy and documented uses, but I searched for webpages that had the history of enviornmental science of the United States. I had a number of results come up, some more scholarly than others. After browsing through a few of the 105 million results Google came up with, I decided to try the webpage from the University of Radford, conventiently the first page that was listed. Once I got to the main page, I re-evaluated the data that I needed to find, namely solar power in the United States and the earliest documented use. On the main page, there was a timeline at the top of the page, as well as a ‘special features’ side tab that broke down the site into various categories. Instead of going decade by decade, I decided to use the special features tab first, clicking on ‘fuel of the future’ as my first avenue of searching. While I thought this would include various types of powering of vehicles and devices, I quickly found that this was not the case. Rather, the page focused on the use of ethanol as fuel. Having used up that option, and not seeing any of the other categories as relevant, I chose to go through the timeline by decade, starting with the latest available. After searching through a number of decades, I finally found my answer: Baltimore inventor Clarence Kemp, also known as the “father of solar energy in the U.S”, patented the first Climax Solar Water Heater in 1891. While this was definitely not the method I would have preferred to have used to find my answer, it worked well and was relatively efficient, more so in my opinion than it would have been had I simply typed the search words into Google.

Exhibit Three: History of California Ballot Initiative  

Next to the solar power search, this was one of the hardest to find. Again, I used the logic of thinking through what my search topic was essentially. After determining that a site holding historical data and articles would be the best choice, I decided to use JSTOR. A site composed of journals, I searched through the site by looking at all of the listed journals and periodicals alphabetically. Once I had found the journals focused specifically on California, I used the search tool to look within these journals for the information I needed, specifically ballot initiatives. making sure to include the voter data information by inserting ‘+’ before it. By limiting my search, I narrowed down my search field from 215 entries to 74, finding the most comprehensive article at #44, titled “Constituency Preferences: California Ballot Propositions, 1974-1990”. Out of all of the potential journals and articles that were listed, I chose this specific one due mainly to the expanse of time that was covered concerning the topic (which I felt would give me a better overall feel of any trends in data).

Overall, I have enjoyed this exercise the most out of the ones that have been done so far in this course (granted, its only week three) because of the way it forced me to think outside of the box. Normally, I would have gone straight to Google to find all of these things, and would have been left frustrated or satisfied with the wrong answers. I’m excited to take this new way of thinking and searching to my other classes, especially those focused on historical research.

Database Exploration: A Library for the Digital Age

For the lecture topic of this week (“Digitization, Searching, and Finding”), ‘learning’ truly turned into ‘doing’ through utilizing and critiquing the online database  , an historical newspaper database. The following is my take on the experience of searching through such an online resource.

Image taken from http://c810354.r54.cf2.rackcdn.com

The Good: Insights & Advantages 

Overall, I loved the layout of the site, as well as the east in using the various tools and options. The first useful tool of the site, the main search bar, worked in much the same way that the Google search bar functions. To test out the uses of the site, I chose to use the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict as a search basis. When I started to type this into the search bar, I was met almost instantly with a wide variety of options to choose from. One of the advantages to this was the ability of getting to see options generated for me by the site, options that I may not have thought to search of on my own. Another advantage in the search aspects of the database was the ability to use the advanced search and to preview what each search result was about. Within the advanced search option, I was able to organize the search results by a variety of different criteria, including date and publisher.

The Bad: Frustrations 

Through the course of searching through this website, I didn’t come across much that left me frustrated. One function of the site that left me a little baffled and confused was the ‘obituary’ section. Not having any previous experience with the site, I assumed that this functioned in much the same way as the obituaries of a physical newspaper. To test this out, I typed in the names of a few famous deceased figures. For the three names that I used however, nothing of the sort came up. While this may be due to the fact that I was using the feature incorrectly, the feature overall doesn’t seem to offer anything more than the regular search features. Another frustration that I had with this database was the inability to search for pictures within the newspaper listings. For my topic specifically, searching for photos can encompass a large portion of research. Not being able to view specific photos would definitely be a drawback in a potential research effort that relied on a physical element, such as photography.

And The Ugly: Disadvantages 

Again, I enjoyed using the database for my specific research. The majority of the tools were very practical and easy to use. However, one of the main disadvantages I found was in the language tool used by the database. Through this tools, readers and researchers can view a number of publications in a variety of different languages. Naturally, researching a topic that centers around a foreign country involves the viewing of documents in that country’s native language. Mostly out of curiosity, I decided to view the search results my topic came up with in Arabic, a language central to the region and one that I’ve been studying for a few years. I was disappointed to find that the translation was not complete, with words still displayed in Arabic rather than English. In light of the reading for this week, I would have expected the database to manually go over these translation pages, if not for the amusement of native english speakers, but for the benefit of viewers who do not use English as their first language.

“Complex Information Processing”: Comments and Critiques from a Baffled Blogger

(Taken from: http://www.teenwritersbloc.com/2011/01/28/caelas-reflection-semester/blog-first-semester-image/)

Dream File: A 1960’s Vision of the Future 

As a former English major, I’m no stranger to writing and the headaches that come with it. Outlines that you write and rewrite, only to lose in a maze of papers (if you happen to be the typical unorganized writer like me), or working though piles of unnumbered drafts that are near impossible to tell apart. In T.H. Nelson’s informative article, “A File Structure for The Complex, The Changing and the Indeterminate”, Nelson explains ideas central to melding the worlds of writers and information technology, listed below:

  1. Information Structure (Zippered Lists)
  2. FIle Structure (Evolutionary List File – E.L.F)
  3. File Language (PRIDE)

Through the incorporation of these three elements, Nelson dictates their many uses and benefits from the standpoint of writers as well as the philosophical implications behind them.

Information Structure: Trailhiker’s Guide to the Internet  

In Nelson’s discussion of the information structure, he mentions Vannevar Bush’s work, As We May Think, as a premise for his explanation of the automatic filing system. While I had read the Bush article previously for this class, Nelson displays the information in a way that makes the material more manageable.

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

Having clearly laid out Bush’s relevant ideas on the information system and briefly addressed the lack of development at the time of his writing, Nelson addresses the next main issue, manuscript handling. According to Nelson, three false theories exist concerning the writing process:

  • Writing is a matter of inspiration
  • Writing is done sitting
  • if the outline is good, the writing will be good

As a writer myself, I found myself agreeing with many of the points that Nelson raised. Whether its prose, poetry, or research writing, authors don’t rely solely on inspiration, nor do classic pieces of literature get composed sitting hulled up in Starbucks. While I agree with many of the points raised by Nelson, I did not see how they fit into his overall theme of transforming physical writing into more than a computerized task. In the general scheme of his discussion, this point felt a bit out of place.

Elements of the ELF: No, not that kind of elf…

It was this section perhaps more than the rest of Nelson’s writing that I felt was explained the most fluidly. What initially struck me as a very technically-loaded topic was broken down in a way that even I could understand (which is quite the feat given my lack of technical prowess). According to Nelson’s explination, the ELF can be broken down into three basic elements:

  1. Entries (discrete unit of info designed by the user)
  2. Lists (ordered set of entries designated by the user)
  3. Links (connector, designed by the user, between two particular entries contained in different lists)

While Nelson’s  elaboration of these terms was very useful in understanding the basics of the ELF, his discussion of the basic benefits of the system were what grabbed my attention as a writer the most.

Indeed, computer programming with an on-line display and the ELF would have a number of advantages. Instructions might be interleaved indefinitely without resorting to tiny writings. Moreover, the programmer could keep up work on several variant approaches and versions at the same time, and easily document their overall features, their relations to one another and their corresponding parts. Adding a load-and-go compiler would create a self-documenting prgramming scratchpad.

Prior to reading this section, I was paying attention to the reading mostly out of an academic drive (gotta finish that homework!). With this laundry list of uses and benefits, however, Nelson had me hooked. Being able to work on multiple related projects, various drafts and versions, and having access to all of those documents at once in a cohesive and organized way is pretty much the dream of an OCD writer like myself. Having the added benefit of storing all of these documents online in a digital copy is also an added benefit that I don’t believe Nelson stressed too much, but one that I can’t overlook. Finally, I felt that this reading assignment related to me in a way that was easy to understand and, even better, kept me scrolling through page after page out of fascination, not demand.

PRIDE: An ELF’s Best Friend

In this last section, Nelson wraps up his discussion on information processing by expanding upon the file language that corresponds with the ELF system just described, named PRIDE. Designed to facilitate the use of an ELF, the PRIDE system was not actually set in place at the time of Nelson’s writing. The primary function of PRIDE within the ELF system would be handling files and manuscripts (discussed in the previous sections) as well as ordering and documenting files. This section, similar to the ELF discussion, was very accessible to me as a reader and related to issues and concerns that I myself have faced in using online systems to aid my writing and editing.

For a CRT these include quick lookup schemes, preferably with moving menus and means for readily changing the hierarchy of lookup structure; as well as visual cueing and mnemonic formats, including cursor maneuvers, overlays and animated wipes and other transitions.

Overall, what made this article in particular one of the more mentally stimulating and enjoyable to read was the relation that I could see to the topics at hand in my own life and my own experiences. While the thousands of technical terms may never make complete sense to me, I enjoyed getting to make sense of a few things in the sea of information technology thus far and look forward to posting more gripping and technically complex blog posts in the future.