Sayonara, 2001

So my review for 2001 the year is the same as for 2001: A Space Odyssey. It went on too long, it was hard to follow and you could only enjoy it if you were really, really stoned.

— comedian Lewis Black, on The Daily Show

I’m glad it’s over

I spent a lot of 2001 watching things explode spectacularly: not just the World Trade Center and the Middle East, but also the company for which I work, a relationship, my savings, and my temper, which has been sorely tested this year. I have been plagued by scatterbrains who lead their lives the way drunks drive, two-faced back-stabbing management types whose only concern is for their own skin, motherless grifters, ill-mannered louts and fuckwits who’ve decided to take advantage of my general good-naturedness.

C’mon, Joey, I’m sure you’re thinking at this point, tell us what you really feel.

Better days

Part of my disappointment with the way things turned out this year is that during the previous two years, I was having the time of my life. I was where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do and enjoying every moment. In that span of time, I had:

  • Travelled far. I flew to the Philippines twice to see family, Japan once to wish Anne (one of my oldest and dearest friends) a happy birthday, and Europe once, where I spent New Years’ 2000 in a Czech castle (and met someone cute, too). In a six-month span, I was playing accordion for pirate radio on the roof of an RV in the middle of the desert at Burning Man, making a surprise appearance at the Windows on the World (the last time I was at the WTC) for my friend George’s 30th birthday, staggering drunk through the cobbled streets of Prague, learning how to snowboard on the slopes at Whistler and leading an impromptu parade of Slashdot geeks with CmdrTaco and Hemos down Broadway with the accordion. The company sent me to New York to make connections at LinuxWorld Expo, DefCon in Las Vegas to hand out software I’d written with my friend and co-worker Chris, and San Francisco twice to check out the new office. Then there were the visits to see the “um friend” — New York twice (once for ten very fun, very silly days) and DC once, to see the Dalai Lama speak (among other things).
  • Valiantly led brave attempts to rescue cute girls from their loser boyfriends. Sure, all but one flopped, but I had fun. Great, silly, worthy-of-blogging fun. Even the less-than-ideal moments — the times when I should’ve asked someone out and didn’t, the one and only time I ever slugged a guy over a woman, and that one time my date ended up in the fetal position screaming (it wasn’t my fault, I swear) — they were still adventures.
  • Returned to playing music. Prior to 1999, I hadn’t tocuhed a musical instrument for about five years. Suddenly, I dusted off my synthesizers and was playing again. My friends Krista, Rachel, Karl and I formed a quirkly little improvisational band called Lion, and we played at Karl’s mom’s book lauch, a number of club gigs and even did the “soundtrack” for a fringe rock-climbing/dance piece under a bridge.
  • Started playing the accordion. William Gibson may have been referring to technology when he wrote “the street finds its own uses for things”, but it could have easily applied to my accordion. Playing that little squeezebox has led to more adventures, opportunities and drinks than I can mention here. I’ve had job offers (programming jobs, that is), magazine interviews, appearances on CNN, MSNBC and MuchMusic, free alcohol and met new people, all thanks to one of the world’s most-maligned instruments. Keith Richards may have benefited more from his guitar, but I’m pretty grateful for what the accordion’s done for me.
  • Did interesting work. In 1999, I was running a small consulting company with my friend Adam Smith. I spent the first half of that year learning a helluva lot about Windows programming and the second half learning a helluva lot about Python and writing CGI apps while working on a commercial website. I also had the opportunity to teach introductory programming to Adam’s students, where I learned a lot and met some great people, too. In 2000, I started out at the company I work for now, where I got to play a key part in the software’s design, was the only programmer to be part of the dog-and-pony show for the venture capitalists, co-wrote and promoted one of the very few applications the company has released so far, got promoted and transferred to the San Francisco office.
  • Met new friends and got re-acquainted with some old ones. I couldn’t have had all those good times without them. Thanks, guys!


2001 wasn’t as my friend Mike Korditsch would call it, “a complete clinic.” Some of the moments I enjoyed most:

  • Getting to miss a brutal winter by hiding out in San Francisco. I lived in San Francisco from December 28th, 1999 to April 1st, 2001 (my stay in the city by the Bay was supposed to last at least a year, but was cut short when the company decided to close down the San Francisco office). While it was freezing in Toronto, it was an unusually warm and sunny winter where I was. I spent my weekdays in the nicest office space I’ve ever worked in and biked to Golden Gate Park and the Bay on weekends. I lived rent-free since I “babysat” the corporate apartment, a bright sunny townhouse right by Alamo Square Park. I made many new friends during my short stay and even backed up an improv jazz band’s weekly jam sessions in the Mission.
  • My trip to L.A. Shortly after New Year’s 2001, I flew down to L.A. to do my first-ever keynote for the company at DJ Union, a conference for hip-hop DJs and people in the urban music business. I even brought my cheering section (my then-girlfriend, Erica) along for the trip. My presentation went over really well, and Erica and I were invited to an exclusive party at the Key Club on Sunset. We had a great time and the club, and we had a silly time afterwards, trying on all the clothing at the Hustler store.
  • The O’Reilly P2P Conference.The company had just released an alpha version of its software and we were the darlings of the conference. The world’s coolest computer book publisher, Tim O’Reilly, introduced me to the press scrum and invited me to play some songs for the closing keynote. The company threw an amazing party at the office, and many the bright lights of the software world — Clay Shirky, the Mojo Nation crew, David Stutz from Microsoft, Rael “Meerkat” Dornfest, Mark Miller and Marc Steigler (the E programming language), Wes Felter, and Bob Young from Red Hat — all came. I serenaded Tim O’Reilly’s incredibly cute daughter (too bad she’s a little too young for your ‘umble accordionist). I also met tav and the rest of the ESPiansgreat guys!
  • Being welcomed back by my friends in Toronto. The heartbreak of being dumped and being re-relocated would’ve been much worse if it weren’t for the support of my friends. Thanks, guys.
  • The incident at the Matador. One summer night, I went to the Matador, Toronto’s best and most notorious speakeasy. I met someone cute there, and we just talked for hours about all kinds of things, including music, particularly Nirvana. We had been talking about how Kurt Cobain had proposed to Courtney Love; he told her “I’m worth six million dollars. Marry me, bitch.” I took a chance at one point and paraphrased the king of grunge: “I’m cute and I have an accordion. Kiss me, bitch.” She obliged. I walked her to a cab and gave her my card through the window, to which she replied “I’ll call, David.” David?! It turned out that in my bootleg alcohol-fueled stupour, I’d given her the wrong business card. It was my boss’ card from his old company; I just happened to have it in my wallet at the time. Easy come, easy go.
  • DefCon 9. Yes, it wasn’t as exciting as Defcon 8 in 2000, but I still had fun.
  • The Lola Launch Party. I think I’ll let these pictures tell the story.
  • Aidan William deVilla-Choi. On September 10th, my sister gave birth to this cute little fella with the zen-like nature. He’s a charmer, and he gets it from his godfather, who just happens to be me.
  • Babbo! It’s been a trying year for my friend George as well. First, the company lays him off — a couple of months before his wedding. It’s completely unfair — he was our best business development guy, and he played a major role in making it a player in the P2P world. He’s now living in a very expensive place in a down economy when September 11 happens. Job opportunities dry up, and just before his birthday, a work deal falls through. He was going to cancel the dinner reservations he’d made for him, his wife and me at Babbo since it was such an expensive place. I decided that to try and balance the scales a little and sent him an e-mail message: I hear it’s hard to get reservations at Babbo and that the food’s really good. I’ll buy dinner as your birthday present. And none of that cheap stuff, either — it’s the tasting menu with the wine all the way, baby! It was a crazy and impulsive thing to do, but it was also the right thing to do. It was also one of the most delicious and fun dinners I’ve ever had.
  • The new guys at the company. I was one of the few original people who didn’t get laid off during the company’s great implosion in July. Through the fall, the company hired new people, and to my surprise, these new folks settled in nicely and even gelled into a pretty solid team. I do miss the original bunch, but I’m also glad that this new group of programmers are the people they are. See you guys at work on Wednesday.

Next: The resolutions!


Hello, World!

I just did a quick check of my Internet service provider’s web server logs, and it looks as though I’m getting a large number of new visitors. Welcome, everyone! Just leave your shoes at the door and c’mon in. If you’re coming here for the first time, here are some parts of that you might want to check out…

The obligatory biographical information is on the home page of this site, and the explanation as to why I do the accordion thing is here.

Stories in this blog: There’s the one about the con man who swindled our house twice (see Breach of Security and The Con Man from Another World!), a piece about a spammer who wanted help from a time traveller, a couple of stories about the many offices I’ve worked in this year, and my rant about copyright.

It looks as though I have a lot of accordion gigs coming up in the new year. Here are some photos from my last really big gig.

Upcoming stories: I’ve been working on some goodies, including:

I’d like to thank Blogger for making weblogging so easy, The Ricebowl Journals for letting me join their club, Cory Doctorow for pointing a lot of people to this weblog and you, for actually reading all this stuff.

Once again, welcome, and happy reading!


Holiday Reading

Yup, I’ve been delinquent with the postings, but that’s because I’ve been taking care of a few things that I’ve been letting slide for far too long. More stuff this weekend, I promise — a whole mess of New Year’s stories, and some New Year’s Resolutions to boot!

In the meantime, may I recommend:

Small Stories. Derek Kirk (a.k.a. Gim Ji-Hoon) makes such wonderfully woe-filled cartoons. Taste the Korean Gen-X angst. Ai-goo! Ai-goo!*

* Ai-goo is a Korean cry of lamentation.

What I’ve been up to. I’ll do the writeup later, but in the meantime, enjoy these photos that my housemate Paul took. Crazed co-workers looking for loose women, Japanese exchange students hanging out at the house all night, accordion gigs, and celebrating Christmas when you don’t celebrate Christmas — all photographed and put online for your pleasure.

Other Asians’ weblogs. I’m now part of The Ricebowl Journals. Your tiger blogging style is no match for my dragon blogging style!

Sitting one row ahead of the shoe-bomber. The December 24th entry in acme’s blog on the use perl site is a first-hand account of what happened with the shoe-bomber on American Airlines flight 66.

Logrolling. Claire Berlinski knows how to write. The first line in the body of her e-mail to me reads:

I’m a big fan of yours. Really, I am.

Hey, Claire, Merci beaucoup!

She’s asked me, as a loyal reader of The Adventures of AccordionGuy in the 21st Century, to check out her roman à clef (I think that’s the correct term — it’s not a roman policier since it’s really about spies, not detectives), Loose Lips. It’s a novel about a young CIA recruit, her experiences at “The Farm” (their training facility) and sexual intrigue at “The Company”. Loose Lips has already been published in France — en Français, of course — and Claire’s publishing the English version as an e-book to test the response. She’s made the first chapter available for free online; the rest of the book is available for a mere $5.95. I found the first chapter intriguing, but then again, I’m a sucker for a good espionage yarn.

Speaking of France, here’s my most favourite 24-hour restaurant in the world. I also like this place, even though it’s touristy as hell.

Special message to Paul: foie gras is pronounced “fwah grah”, not “foy grass”. It’s French for goose-liver pate, and you missed out by not trying it. (Our neighbours gave us some aas a Christmas present. If only they’d given us some sauternes to go with it.) Paul, check out this little guide to French cuisine.


Some other stuff, before I return to my copyrant

I’ll continue talking about copyright and the entertainment industry in my next update. Promise.

The Randroid Who Stole Christmas

It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration.

That’s the closing line of Leonard Peikoff’s essay, Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial, courtesy of the Ayn Rand site.

Phrase of the Day

“Grated Umbrella Handle”: this is what my co-worker Mike Skeet’s wife calls Kraft Parmesan Cheese.

The site that goes up to eleven

Guitar Geek. No, I’m not a guitar player, but I’ve always had a little bit of guitar envy. This site documents the equipment setups of various rock guitarists and bassists with beautiful diagrams. See what monster rocker Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath, baby!) used in 1971 and see what’s he’s using today. See the rig of the man who died Rock’s silliest death and the rig of the man who died Rock’s most Hemingway-like death (What? Hemingway was killed by his wife?).

The site’s collection is far from complete — for example, there’s no coverage of any members of my favourite cock-rock archetype band AC/DC (members…cock-rock…heh) — but it’s growing by the day, and you can suggest guitarists and bassists for inclusion in the list.

Did I mention how lovely the diagrams were? Pictured below is an example — the charmingly Zen-like rig of Joey Santiago, the other Filipino rock and roller named Joey, formerly of The Pixies

Choose Your Own Adventure

Alter Ego. A very intriguing game where you start as a baby and make choices throughout your life that affect it until you’ve lived out your allotted span. Why does that sound so familiar?

If you like “choose your own adventure” games but find Alter Ego too existential crisis-inducing, may I suggest Choose Your Own Hemingway Adventure by the Ernest Hemingway Denigration Society or the really twisted game called Brad, the Game?


The popular belief is that Muslim Law decrees that all you need to do to divorce your wife is to say “I divorce you” three times (Question 4 on this page says it’s not true and that you only have to say it once, as long as you’re doing so in a rational frame of mind). Singapore authorities have reversed their decision allowing men to send their wives divorce messages using SMS (text messaging on cell phones).

Here’s the sound file for the Homer Simpson quote from which I got the title for this story.

They hijacked my smelly old couch and flew it straight into the Kremlin!

Moscow is trying to expel the Salvation Army, claiming that they are a paramilitary group out to destroy the Russian state.


Death to Disney, part 2

“Hey, Accordion Boy,” you might say at this point, “in your last posting, you were trying to drive home a point about fair use and just went on about copyright instead!”

To which I would reply, “For starters, that’s Accordion Man, bucko, and you can’t talk about fair use without first defining copyright.”

In my last posting, I said that the idea behind copyright was to promote creativity by granting creators exclusive rights over their work. This control would grant creators the right to control the distribution of their work and to earn fair profit for their creativity by giving them a mechanism for charging a fee (called a royalty) for its use.

The problem with absolute copyright is that it’s too restrictive to be practical. You’d have to ask for the creator’s permission every time you wanted to use his or her work, no matter what (and if they did grant you permission, it would be their right to charge you a royalty fee). If you were writing a book report and wanted to quote passages from that book, you’d have to get permission from the author (and perhaps pay the author a fee). If you wanted to tape a television show that you’d otherwise miss, you would have to contact the studio that owned the show to see if it was okay with them (and perhaps pay them a fee). If you wanted to hum a tune by your favourite recording artist, you’d have to get the permission of the record company (and knowing record companies, you most certainly would have to pay them a fee).

Fair Use

The antitode to this ridiculous restrictiveness is the doctrine of fair use. Fair use is one of the exceptions to copyright, granting the public limited rights to the use of works without the permission of the copyright holder under certain circumstances. The idea behind fair use is to provide people the freedom to use and enjoy the works of creators while still honouring the intent of copyright.

The Legal Definition

Fair use is a fuzzy area of copyright law that’s open to interpretation. Rather than providing some hard-and-fast rules by which one can determine whether the use of a copyrighted work is fair use or not, section 107 of U.S. Copyright law defines four factors that determine when the use of copyrighted work can be considered fair use (the boldface stuff in quotes is from the actual legal doc itself, the indented stuff is mine):

“The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes”

The use of a copyrighted work is more likely to be considered fair use if:

  • it is being used for educational or non-profit purposes rather than for-profit purposes.
  • it is more than a just a copy of the original — say, an alteration or enhancement.
  • it is being used for a pupose different from the original
  • it is being used for a different audience

“The nature of the copyrighted work”

The use of a copyrighted work is more likely to be considered fair use if:

  • it is already published. A unpublished work has not yet been seen by the public, and may be considered private property — using it may be interpreted as theft.
  • it is out of print
  • if the work is factual rather than artistic (since facts belong to no one)

“The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole”

The use of a copyrighted work is more likely to be considered fair use if:

  • you use a small fraction of work rather than a significant portion of it
  • the portion of the work you use is not the “meat” or “essence” — that is, its use does not adversely affect the creator’s ability to earn fair profit for his/her effort

“The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work”

The use of a copyrighted work is more likely to be considered fair use if:

  • your work differs from the original
  • your work is aimed at a different audience
  • your work contains some of your own original material

The Real World

As I mentioned earlier, the four factors in determining what is fair use are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules and regulations. They are open to legal interpretation. Here are some cases of the fair use of copyrighted works:

Take a good look at these examples. Some of them may not apply in the future, if certain industry groups have their way.

Hillary, You Ignorant Slut

No, not Hillary Clinton. I’m referring to Hillary Rosen, president of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). According to their site, the RIAA is “the trade group that represents the companies and people making creative works in the recording industry”. In my none-too-humble opinion, this is a half-truth.

In July 2000, the U.S. Government held a Senate Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on downloading and file trading chaired by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. Mr. Hatch is both angel and devil, being a man who understands technology, music industry and fair use as well as being the principal architect behind the odious Digital Millenium Copyright Act (a subject for another essay). Hatch is also a recording artist whose songs have broken the top 10 on the Christian charts (not that it would take much, but that’s beside the point). At the hearing, he participated in a most telling exchange about fair use with Ms. Rosen. I hereby invoke fair use by quoting the following passage from’s story on the hearing:

”Can I make a copy of a CD that I buy and put it into a car?” asked Hatch. When Rosen hemmed and hawed, Hatch muttered, ”The answer is yes.”

”Is it fair use to give the copy to my wife for her car?” Hatch continued. ”Is it fair use for me to rip a CD? Is it fair use if (a computer network) decides for efficiency reasons that one copy is sufficient to serve for storage, instead of keeping 200 separate copies, is that fair use?”

”None of these is fair use,” Rosen eventually replied. She argued that musicians’ willingness to ”tolerate” people making copies was an instance of ”no good deed goes unpunished.”

It would seem that the bad record industry execs are going unpunished.

Next: The technological angle.


Death to Disney, part 1

Of course, Walt himself is already dead. I’m referring to Disney, the corporation.

I was reading a story in Wired News today, sent there by a link on bOING bOING, a particularly good news blog to which I sometimes provide information and which sometimes links to this ‘umble accordionist’s blog. Being a programmer in the peer-to-peer software world, where issues of copyright and fair use are always close by, this one particular quote jumped out at me. Forgive the extra-large type, but I really want to drive a point home.

“There is no right to fair use…Fair use is a defense against infringement.”

This outright lie was spoken by Preston Padden, who holds the position of Head of Government Relations for the Disney Corporation. I had to make sure I read it right because what he said sounded like insane ranting. He’s declared that the right to fair use — a right that we as people who enjoy creations such as books, music and movies most certainly have — does not exist. Almost as shocking is the fact that an entertainment company needs a deparment devoted solely to maintaining relations witht the government. Goofy (I’m referring to the character named Goofy, not Bush 43) probably has more pull with Congress than Canada, Mexico and the entire European Union combined.

Time for the accordion player to drop a little science…


Copyright is the set of exclusive legal rights that creators are given over their works for a limited period of time. The idea behind copyright is to “promote science and the useful arts”. By protecting the works of people who create original works, copyright is supposed to provide a legal mechanism for them to be compensated for their efforts — after all, it stands to reason that creators who can make a living by creating would create more.

The rights of someone who holds the copyright on a work are:

  • the right to reproduce the work
  • the right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • the right to distribute copies of the work to the public by selling, renting or lending it
  • the right to perform the work in public
  • the right to display the work in public
  • the right to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

Copyright law applies to virtually every form of expression that can be “fixed” (as the lawyers like to put it) in a tangible medium that can contain that expression: paper, film, magnetic tape or disks, optical storage such as CDs or DVDs, or even merely in RAM. You see copyrighted works every day: they’re songs, books, software, and movies, to name a few. The copyright on a work lasts from the moment the work is finished and ends 70 years after the death of the creator of the work.

Copyright ideally belongs to the creator of the work, but it isn’t necessarily that way. A creator may hand copyright over to someone else in exchange for some kind of benefit. One example is my friend, Cory Doctorow, a science fiction author (and a good one, to boot). He owns the copyright to his stories, but he licenses that copyright to his publisher for the duration for as long as they publish his book. If he severs the relationship with his publisher, copyright reverts to him. By getting copyright on the book, the publisher collects the compensation (that is, the moolah, the filthy lucre, tha benjamins) that they are legally entitled to as the holder of the copyright, and they toss Cory his “vig” — that’s publisher talk for his slice of the pie. In return, Cory gets the resources of the publisher: editors, printing presses, distribution and publicity. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Some publishers do well by their authors, some don’t.

The publishers whom I believe do worst by their authors are the record companies. The music industry — an oligarchy since there are few enough “big players” to count on a single hand — are opportunistic profiteers who have turned copyright law into a means of fattening themselves. When an artist or band signs on with a record company, the company owns the copyright on their songs forever. It wasn’t always this way; it used to be that record companies could hold onto the copyright for their artists’ songs for 35 years, after which the artists could reclaim it. However, thanks to a change in copyright law in November 1999, the copyright a song published by a record company belongs to the company forever. Initiated by a congressional aide and scumbag Mitch Glazier and backed by the Record Industry Association of America, this bit of legal sophistry was conceald inside the rather innocuous-sounding Satellite Home Viewing Act of 1999. It redefined recorded music as “works for hire,” and as such, the legal creators of the works were the record companies. The artists, as far as the law was concerned, were reduced to hired hands.

This bit of legal trickery is, as we street accordion players like to say, complete horseshit. A plumber coming to fix your pipes is work for hire. An architect who builds a building for your company is doing work for hire. A photographer who works for a newspaper or magazine as part of reportage is doing work for hire. A composer who is commissioned to write a song or symphony for some event is doing work for hire.

However, an author who comes up with an idea for a book and then writes that book is not doing work for hire, nor was Ansel Adams when he was taking his black-and-white portraits, nor was the Godfather of Soul when he felt like a sex machine and set it to music.

Next time: I’ll cover fair use, and why they want to take this right away from you.

Recommended Reading

The U.S. Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics page. A good place to start.

The FCC’s page for the Satellite Home Viewing Act. See how recording artists lost their right to their own music.

The RIAA’s not done yet. True to form, they tried to sneak in more self-serving changes to copyright through some post 9/11 anti-terrorism bills. There’s nothing like profiting from the deaths of 6,000 innocent people, isn’t there?

Courtney Love Does the Math. The real pirates, she says, are the record companies. A piece so right-on that I could almost forgive her for killing Kurt (just kidding, Courtney).



Just a little busy right now. An update will appear tonight. In the meantime, for your reading pleasure, may I suggest this is your goldfish, speaking?