The search for intelligent life might be more fruitful if we started looking more closely at other animals right here on Earth. The progress of artificial intelligence in computers might also be surpassed by breeding a few hyper-intelligent pets someday. Some zoo animals are already playing around with iPads, so maybe we'll have some super smart cyborgs... In any case, here are just a few examples of projects that are studying how smart our fellow vertebrates might be.
People with pets sometimes go a bit overboard when it comes to spoiling their animals. There's nothing really wrong with that, but non-pet people might question how the treatment of animals can trump the treatment of people. Here are just a few pet-related stories to ponder.
A few folks sent over the following story of how Disney is being sued for copyright infringement. Seems a bit ironic, given just how strict Disney has been over the years in enforcing its copyright and being at the forefront of efforts to expand copyright law -- even as it tend to build some of its greatest works by copying works in the public domain. In this case, a design company produced a graphic that consists of drawings of dozens of dogs, each with a little signature under their names:
Disney then introduced a teen fashion line called "D-Signed." However, some noticed that one of the t-shirts had a design quite reminiscent of the original dog artwork.
Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't see where those particular images were directly copied from the original. As fun as it would be to catch Disney in a clear copyright violation, the dogs on the t-shirt don't appear to be the same. And, we're always told that there's an "idea/expression" dichotomy in copyright law, which is supposed to mean that you only protect the specific and defined expression -- not the general idea. So I'm just not sure I see how this is infringing, even if the idea was taken from their poster. Obviously I can understand the creators' frustration, but that hardly means there's a legal claim. Update: On closer inspection, as pointed out in the comments with a handy illustration, it turns out the copying was more direct than we thought.
Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, and there's been some speculation that humans and dogs have co-evolved to some extent. So it would be nice to understand our domesticated friends a bit better, and technology could help us out. We've seen products like Bowlingual for translating dog barks into human languages, and here are just a few more interesting links on human-dog relationships.
People love their pets, but sometimes pet behavior is hard to understand. Sure, there are technologies like Bowlingual and Meowlingual to help us understand cats and dogs, but automated translations are notoriously imperfect. So here are just a few interesting links on studying domesticated animals.
In the latest example of questionable taser use, a man walking his two dogs off-leash at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was tased in the back by a park ranger, who was apparently trying to make an example of him. The problem was that the guy, Gary Hesterberg, was walking the dogs at Rancho Corral de Tierra, which used to be an off-leash walking area until it was just recently incorporated into the National Park. When the park ranger confronted Hesterberg and asked for his identification, for reasons unknown, Hesterberg gave her a fake name, and then tried repeatedly to leave. Finally, when he started to walk away, the ranger shot him in the back... because she was trying to "educate residents of the rule." Then, he was arrested "on suspicion of failing to obey a lawful order, having dogs off-leash and knowingly providing false information."
It seems that the use of a taser in this situation was excessive and unwarranted. The guy wasn't threatening the ranger in any way, and even if he had lied about his name (not that lying should be a reason to tase someone), the ranger wouldn't have known that at the time, since Hesterberg only gave his real name to the authorities after he got tased. Did the ranger accomplish her goal of "educating" visitors of the park rules? Yes, if educating means "scaring into submission." As Eric Cartman would say, "Respect my authoritah!"
The more we study animals, the more we find out about their impressive cognitive abilities. And as we learn more about how other animal brains work, we might learn more about how our own minds think. Or perhaps someone will just figure out how to train parrots to pass CAPTCHA tests. In any case, here are a few interesting examples of animal intelligence.
I have to admit that I was pretty sure I've written about this case before, but in searching through the archives, I can't find it. So, here's the quick summary of Comins v. VanVoorhis. Christopher Comins, a wealthy Florida businessman, found out about some dogs running around some cows in a field owned by a business associate. Comins, apparently believing the dogs were wolves, went to the field (with permission of the owner) with some guns and shot the two dogs over and over again. Originally, he claimed self-defense, but after the following video appeared on YouTube showing the whole incident, that story didn't quite hold:
The story made the national press. It was also picked up on many blogs, including this blog post by University of Florida student Matthew Frederick VanVoorhis. VanVoorhis' description of the events is certainly "almost novelistic," as the CitMedia link above suggests. As such it does assume a few things, such as emotions, and may not be perfectly accurate in the timeline. But does it rise to the level of defamation? That seems extraordinarily unlikely, at best, but Comins chose to sue him for defamation. Seeing as the story was covered widely by the media, and there's a video of the events in question, you might think that it's a bit strange to sue a random blogger who very few people read. Perhaps he really is "the easiest target," as some suggest. If anything, it had all the hallmarks of a SLAPP suit, especially since VanVoorhis' post also questioned Cumin's connections to politically powerful figures, and how that might impact any lawsuit concerning the shootings.
Either way, despite the video, Comins ended up being acquitted of the shooting, with the judge claiming that shooting a couple dogs at extremely close range was not torturing an animal. As the link in this paragraph notes, it seems like that's the kind of question a jury should answer, rather than a judge.
As for VanVoorhis, it turns out that the case against him was also shot down, but on specific procedural grounds. Basically, under Florida law, you have to provide specific notice before suing for defamation. VanVoorhis insists no such notification was given. Cumins insists that it was but there was a procedural mistake in letting the court know. Either way, the court granted summary judgment, solely on that issue, rather than discussing any of the free speech issues.
VanVoorhis, represented by Randazza Legal Group (whose cases we seem to write about a lot around here...), followed up by pushing for sanctions, claiming that Comins' lawyer falsely told the court that VanVoorhis had been notified under the law. That motion was denied, though apparently the court called it "a very, very close call."
Comins... in response, appears to have simply filed a new defamation lawsuit against VanVoorhis, using statements from the blog that VanVoorhis set up to cover stories related to the lawsuit itself. I have no idea if the statements in question are actually libelous (though, the bar for defaming a public person, like Comins, is substantially higher than someone else). But, either way, I do question the wisdom of suing yet again, especially suing someone to whom he already lost a lawsuit. It certainly feels like just another attempt to effectively retry the same lawsuit, which still has the feel of a SLAPP. It's just that Comins and his lawyer found different quotes to use.
Of course, every time Comins takes action like this, it just brings the original video and the original story back into the spotlight. I can't see how that helps his image at all. One of the things in defamation cases is that you're supposed to try to take actions to minimize the damages. Suing yet again doesn't seem likely to do that.
from the this-is-not-how-things-are-supposed-to-work dept
You may have heard the recent story about Julie Bass, a woman in Oak Park, Michigan, who was facing 93 days in jail... for daring to plant a nice vegetable garden in her front yard. Apparently, the city has a rule that says you can have "decorative planting" in your front yard, but some city officials deemed that the vegetable garden was not decorative. The specific law, of course, is vague. It says: "all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass or ground cover or shrubbery or other suitable live plant material." The problem is in the word "suitable." Many folks, including Bass, believe vegetables are suitable. The city disagrees, and was threatening her with 93 days in jail for not removing the garden.
On Friday, the charges were apparently dismissed. While most reports suggested that officials dropped the case, Bass's own blog claims that a judge dismissed them, though the details were hazy (at best). But, here's where it gets ridiculous. First, the dismissal was "without prejudice," so the charges can be brought again. But... even more crazy is that now the city is going after her for not having licenses for her two dogs, an issue that was brought up earlier, and which she quickly fixed.
As lots of people are saying, it appears that the city is just being vindictive to Bass.
This is why broadly worded laws scare me. This is why the broadly worded definition of what counts as an "infringing site" in PROTECT IP scares me. This is why the vagueness of S.978, the felony streaming bill, scares me. They can easily be abused to put people in jail just for embedding videos. What the Julie Bass story shows is that when law enforcement feels vindictive, there's no law they won't try to twist against people. And we shouldn't be handing law enforcement more ammo by giving them vaguely worded laws that potentially make huge segments of the population into felons.
Jail time for veggie gardens is nothing if they can put you away for embedding a video on your website.
People sometimes have a strange fascination with huge bugs -- whether it's for "biggest cockroach" contests or giant (mechanical) spiders (see also: Jon Peters). There are also a whole lot of dog lovers... so we've put these two tastes together with a couple random links about both. Maybe it's not quite as good together as peanut butter and chocolate, but there's no accounting for taste. Enjoy!