Notice: I Did Not Authorize “Libertas Institute Colorado” To Reproduce my Content

This morning a user on Twitter asked me if I was involved with LibertasColorado.org, the “Libertas Institute Colorado.” I was horrified to learn that the web site had stolen the last two years’ worth of my blog posts and was reproducing them in full. I did not authorize this reproduction of my content. (The site was also pulling in other content without permission.) After I notified the person to whom the web site is registered, he pulled down the page.

The same Twitter user said she received a late-night robocall on behalf of Libertarian candidate Gaylon Kent, and she thought that the robocall may have been associated with Libertas Institute Colorado.

I do not know if the robocall was associated with the same organization that stole my intellectual property, or if the robocaller is totally unrelated and merely used a similar-sounding name.

Gaylon Kent says he did not authorize the robocalls. See also the 9News story on the matter. I contacted 9News, and reporters there were not sure who originated the robocalls. I have not obtained or heard any audio recording of the robocalls. [See below.]

Obviously I had nothing to do with the robocalls; prior to this morning, I had never heard of Gaylon Kent or of Libertas Institute Colorado or any like-named group. (I probably saw Kent’s name on my ballot, but I paid no attention to it.)

All in all, this has been a frustrating morning, first to have to deal with the theft of my intellectual property, and then to be associated with a dubious campaign effort (even if by accident) of which I had no knowledge.

October 20 Update: I just realized that 9News includes the audio of the call in question. It ends, “This message brought to you by the Libertas Institute.”

Gage Skidmore on Photography, Creative Commons, and Rand Paul

Image: Gage Skidmore
Image: Gage Skidmore

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Gage Skidmore, a semi-professional photographer from Arizona. —Ari Armstrong

Armstrong: According to your Facebook bio, you started out as a photographer in 2009, when you documented Rand Paul’s Senate run. Your work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, Wired, and Reason. Do you work as a full-time photographer now, or is that a part-time occupation? Do you mean to make photography your long-term career? What is the scope of your photographic work presently?

Skidmore: I started doing political photography with Paul when I was sixteen years old. I had been involved in the liberty movement since the end of 2007 when his father ran for the 2008 presidency, but I didn’t get involved with his campaign as a photographer until 2011 when he ran for President again.

I’ve never seen photography as a job; I have always seen it as a hobby, something that I do on the side for personal enjoyment or just to make a little money. Recently I’ve done some freelance work for various candidates for office in Arizona, where I live now, and for other organizations like the Western Center for Journalism, as well as Reason magazine, which ran a cover image of mine of Gary Johnson for its 2012 election issue.

I really am not sure where my photography will take me, but I’m always looking to continue my photography adventure as long as I find it to be something that is worthwhile to share with people, and is still fun for me as well.

Armstrong: Every time I need an image of a libertarian or conservative politician or intellectual, I find that the best image is almost always one of yours. Then I discovered that you’ve also photographed celebrities such as Tom Cruise at ComicCon. What prompted you to start releasing so many of your photographs through Flickr under the Creative Commons license?

Skidmore: The scope of my work involves for the most part two things that I enjoy the most—politics and pop culture conventions.

I originally bought my first professional camera for the purpose of going to the San Diego ComicCon in 2009, because I wanted to take somewhat professional photos for the purpose of releasing them under the Creative Commons license, and also because I wanted to see my photos used to illustrate celebrities on Wikipedia on pages where photos didn’t exist.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing my work used in a positive way, and especially enjoy when I’m actually credited for taking the photo. And as far as Flickr goes, I think that is just the most mainstream photography website at the moment, besides Facebook (which isn’t known for its photo quality). But I would really hope for Flickr to make some changes to its business model that would allow its content creators to gain the ability to make money by selling prints, or something of that nature, in the same way that YouTube rewards its content creators for providing content there.

Armstrong: I’ve released a few CC images (my best is of Christopher Hitchens), but nowhere near as many as you’ve released. I find the CC community interesting; I feel grateful, as a blogger, that I have access to so many great images, and I feel a sense of responsibility to contribute my own CC images when I can. What are your thoughts on the Creative Commons?

Skidmore: I can understand people’s reasoning about wanting to tightly control their content, especially if that is how they make their living, primarily by selling photos. I’ve never gotten that serious about it, to the point where I need to sell a photo to eat the next day. I’m not pursuing photography as a college student, either, so I basically see the Creative Commons as a way to release my photos for public consumption, and have them used in the most wide ranging way possible. I have gotten some criticism for this, but I think with the expansion of literally everyone having a cell phone camera, and the fact that someone can easily go to the store and buy a semi-professional camera, the world of photography is constantly changing. These changes will likely have a detrimental effect on the professional photography business as a whole. Depending on one’s perspective, this may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing, but I tend not to consume myself with that type of stuff.

Armstrong: Which shot or shots of yours do you find particularly interesting, or which have a fun backstory?

Skidmore: I had a hard time thinking about a good photo back story, but I thought about when I first started doing political photography and documenting some of the early campaign events with Rand Paul. One of the first events I went to was a Tea Party event in Hawesville, Kentucky. I can vividly remember arriving at the event, and standing out in the cold November or December climate in front of this towering court house. Back then, the Tea Party was really at its peak, but standing among the crowd was Dr. Paul himself, then just a small town ophthalmologist. There was no other media, no other person taking any photos, at least semi-professionally, and hardly anyone even bothered to introduce themselves to Rand except every now and then between speakers at the event. This was actually also the first time I got to shake Rand’s hand, and his campaign handler at the time introduced us to each other.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a true grassroots movement of liberty-minded individuals who have come to embrace this one time small town doctor as one of the serious contenders for President of the United States. I am so glad to have been able to participate in some way when he first came on the scene, and am especially grateful for the kindness he has shown to me over the years, especially in the beginning when I was just some teenage fan following him around and taking photos.

Armstrong: If someone wanted to hire you to photograph an event, would you be open to that? If so, what’s the best way to reach you, and what sort of processes and costs should a client expect?

Skidmore: If someone would like to hire me for an event, I absolutely would be open to doing so, and the best way to reach me is through email, which I’ve made publicly available on pretty much all my personal websites. I like to make things as easy as possible for potential clients, so they name a price, and I’ll usually accept it, as long as it’s within reason.

On Blogging and the Information Explosion

Image: Opte Project
Image: Opte Project

What’s the point of creating Rational Beacon as another aggregator of news and views? In times past, the problem for readers was the paucity of information; today it is the hyperabundance of information. A chart illustrating “The Explosion of Digital Data” fundamentally altered my thinking about producing and consuming information in the digital age; see also “The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information.” In a world of hyperabundant information, writers can help readers by essentializing and condensing information and by filtering information. My hope is that Rational Beacon will effectively serve those functions for select readers. In brief, I spend a lot of time reading news and opinions so that you can spend a short amount of time doing so.

My Creative Commons Images

I have used Wikimedia Commons many, many times to find free-use imagery. It’s amazing what you can find there. Now it contains some of my photos as well. I didn’t realize how easy it was to upload images to this source until a friend pointed that out.

So far I’ve uploaded several photos taken recently in New York: the Vanderbilt statue, the Freedom Tower, and the skyline by night from atop the Empire State Building (featuring the Bank of America Tower and the Chrysler Building).

Previously I’ve used Google’s Picasa to share Creative Commons photos. In my photo stream there, you can find images of Tea Party events, several Colorado politicians and activists, and more. Check it out!

In Which I Defend My Right to Use “Free Colorado”

I have been using the trademark “Free Colorado” for many years, and I here assert my right to keep on using it.

Unfortunately, another group has called itself “Free Colorado,” and that group claims to be “a non-profit organization registered in the State of Colorado.” (I was not able to find a record of the group on the Secretary of State’s web page.)

This group could not possibly have failed to notice that I have registered “FreeColorado.com” or that I call my site “Free Colorado.”

Unfortunately, this other group lists no contact information on its web page, FreeColorado.net. And a “whois” search of that domain lists only Proxy, LLC of Arizona as the contact information.

I have nothing against this other group (other than it using my name), but I wish it had picked some other name, or at least asked me first if I’d sell them or give them the rights to call their group “Free Colorado.” At this point, I request that the group select some other name.

At this point, I want to clarify that I have nothing to do with this organization, and it has nothing to do with me (besides using my name without my permission).

Getting the Cling of Word Press

I’m thrilled that I switched to Word Press (installed on the server I use) to run my web page. It’s truly remarkable software. I would recommend it, and nothing else, to those starting a new blog. It is such a different online world from when I started “blogging” in 1998! (It wasn’t actually “blogging” back then, because the term hadn’t yet been invented, assuming Wikipedia correctly reviews the matter.)

Soon after switching to Word Press, I got deluged with spam comments. So I turned on moderation. (Others I know installed Disqus to handle comments, but I dislike adding anything that requires users to set up yet another account.)

So now I get “only” a handful of spam comments each day. Still, it’s a little odd, given that I moderate all comments and don’t find it remarkably difficult to weed out the spam.

I must wonder who it is presenting these comments for my moderation. Consider the following:

You actually make it seem really easy along with your presentation however I in finding this matter to be really one thing that I feel I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m having a look ahead to your subsequent publish, I will attempt to get the cling of it!

I’m afraid I don’t quite get the cling of what these spammers hope to accomplish. But perhaps I need merely look ahead to the spammers’ subsequent comment. Will it be submitted to this very post?

New Blog Domain with WordPress Setup

I’m changing my blog again.

I’ve used Google’s Blogger for my blogging since 2008. In 2010, Blogger stopped posting content to independently hosted domains, which is why I switched my blog to blog.ariarmstrong.com (hosted by Google).

But I haven’t been terribly happy with that. Because Blogger generates sloppy code, it doesn’t play well with Facebook (specifically, FB doesn’t properly pull in the image or lead text), and that is increasingly a problem. Also, I just don’t like the “blog-dot” URL.

I’ve used WordPress over at The Objective Standard, and I’ve really liked it. And I very much like hosting my own material on a server that I pay independently.

For anybody getting going with a blog, I now strongly recommend using WordPress installed on your server. In my view, this is far better than going with Blogger or with WordPress’s own hosting service. And, if anything, using installed WP is the easiest option if your hosting service already provides an install option.

For now, I’m just going to leave all my older stuff up where it now resides. I might slowly integrate it into the new WP blog. For now, my archives exist in four places:

I thought about again splitting the blog into two locations (AriArmstrong.com and FreeColorado.com) but ultimately I decided that it’s much easier to have everything in one place, where I can control everything from a single interface.

I started my web page in late 1998, before the term “blog” had even been coined (if Wiki is to be believed on the matter). Back then, I hand-coded everything under the guidance of HTML for Dummies. I’ve struggled to figure out what to do with my blog, but now I think I finally have it where I want it. And with WordPress, I’m confident I’m using the best modern software to handle the job.

Did somebody call me an old dog?

October 5, 2012 Update: I have started the process of migrating all my archival material to this web page. I am dating that material according to its original publication date. Thus, everything dated prior to this post was migrated on or after October 4, 2012.

Why Can’t Blogger and Facebook Play Nicely?

Blogger usually works great. Facebook usually works great. So why can’t Blogger and Facebook play together nicely?The problem is that, if inside Facebook I link to a post of mine managed by Blogger, Facebook does not pick up the lead paragraph of the post (which obviously is what I want). Instead, Facebook picks up my bio line, which is completely unrelated to the contents of the post.

Others have told me that the problem arises from Blogger’s non-standard formatting. Regardless, I imagine that the whiz kids either at Blogger or at Facebook easily could fix the problem, if they’d attempt to do so.

Alternately, perhaps there’s something simple that I could do to fix the problem — though I’ve tried a variety of strategies, all without success. If somebody has a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.

Otherwise, I may have to undergo the serious hassle of switching over to Word Press.

[January 24, 2013 update: Obviously this post now appears on a WordPress site; I moved it here from the old site.]

A Comment on Comments

I moderate comments. I do so to block spam and craziness. Do I discourage some possibly interesting comments by moderating? Perhaps. But to me the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Note that I do not necessarily agree with any comment that I let through. I allow comments that I consider to be interesting and civil. Often I reply to comments with which I disagree, but not always.

Today an anonymous poster complained that I have blocked multiple comments from him. (I’ll say “him” though I don’t know the gender.) In order to save everybody’s time, am happy to explain some reasons I block comments.

First, often I consider anonymous comments, particularly argumentative ones, to be somewhat cowardly. Why should I take you seriously if you won’t even give your name? Obviously I cannot know how many of some particular poster’s comments I have blocked when they are all marked “anonymous.” I think I’ve accidentally left an anonymous comment here or there, just because I’m used to my blog and various other services automatically inserting my name. Generally, though, I make sure to leave my name when I post comments on other people’s services. True, there are occasions in which leaving one’s name might put one in danger, but that’s not been the case with any anonymous comment I’ve ever received for my blog. Nevertheless, my default position is to post all anonymous comments, unless they suffer some other serious problem. (Many or most anonymous comments are spam, by the way.)

Second, I am extremely likely to block any comment that includes a gratuitously insulting personal attack against me.

Third, often I block comments that add nothing interesting to the discussion, particularly if they pertain to an old post. Comments like “Wow, that was really interesting” are of this sort.

Fourth, generally I block comments with rampant spelling and grammatical errors. If you can’t be bothered to subject your comment to minimum standards of editing, don’t expect me to post it.

Fifth, I am likely to block any comment that claims, as the anonymous comment of today did, that by blocking comments on my own web page, that somehow makes me the equivalent of a censor. Anonymous is perfectly free to post his asinine comments on his own web page, where the rest of us are perfectly free to ignore him. My property, my rules. Moderating comments is no more censorship than is stopping a drunk from breaking into my home to deliver a speech.

***

kazriko commented April 25, 2011 at 2:16 PM
Just out of curiosity, by anonymous do you mean entirely anonymous with no name whatsoever, or do you extend this to those who use a name, but not necessarily a real name?

I’ve been debating this particular point for awhile. When Blizzard started to require verified real names to post to their forums using the idea that said real names would force people to behave themselves, I argued that it isn’t the real names as much as the investment in their identities that mattered for civil discourse. I’ve used this name online for 12 years, so I’m rather attached to it.

Ari commented April 25, 2011 at 3:36 PM
That sounds basically right to me, kazriko. Usually I do post (non-spammy) anonymous comments, though often I consider them tainted by the anonymity. I have no interest in using pseudonyms, but I don’t have any particular problems with those who use them.

Stop National Debt commented April 27, 2011 at 12:00 PM
One question would be whether this would be considered spam, or on topic because I’m asking the question? :-) Its hard to find other ways to spread the word to small government bloggers when you don’t already have traffic than posting, and unfortunately I don’t see a more relevant recent posting to comment on with this:

“POLL REVEALS: Americans Are Still In Deep Denial About The Deficit” http://read.bi/h6QDGR If they realized how bad it is politicians would need to act. Non politics-junkies tune out numbers in the $trillions so we need to rephrase the issue:
The federal government will need >$1 million per household to pay its IOUs!
> $116 trillion =”official” debt plus money short for future social security, medicare, etc
Even its “official debt” of $14.2 trillion is $123,754 per household!
Details at http://StopNationalDebt.com with links to contact congress & complain.
Be among the first to join the new Facebook cause “Stop National Debt” : http://www.causes.com/causes/606425-stop-national-debt
since if you don’t spread the word, who will?

Ari commented April 27, 2011 at 12:05 PM
I do think, “Stop National Debt” guy, that there are much better ways to get your message out, including: Tweet, Facebook, comment on *relevant* posts. Here you’re just basically running an uncompensated advertisement for your group. While I have nothing against promoting one’s own articles and causes through comments, generally I think a comment should primarily serve to advance the discussion of the relevant site.

Stop National Debt commented April 27, 2011 at 7:57 PM
Yup, I agree it should advance the discussion of the relevant site in general. I was hunting for posts on libertarian leaning blogs that were related to the topic in order to comment. Your comment on “comments” just happen to bring to mind the idea of the self-referential question regarding spam or I would have passed on.

re: those other methods, I’ve posted hundreds of messages to relevant Facebook groups, tweeted a few hundred tweets at relevant people, etc, but it is difficult to figure out how to be heard above the noise when starting a new blog/cause.

I find it astonishing that libertarians aren’t more interested in using the issue to make more headway when the vast majority of the public has no idea how bad the situation with the debt and moreso unfunded liabilities is or politicians wouldn’t get away with inaction and libertarians would be listened to more seriously. Political news-junkies may already have run into figures like what I’m talking about, but most of the public hasn’t a clue and its a chance for us to wake them up and question why they are spending so much on government that its debt&unfunded liabilities amount to $>1 million per household based on US Treasury figures.

Despite lip service paid in the mainstream media to there being public concern over the debt, I don’t think most of them realize its as bad as it is and libertarians are missing a golden opportunity to get attention. Libertarians wish people didn’t need to care about politics since the government should be an insignificant part of our lives. The problem is that we need to get people to care enough about politics to take time to understand our ideas in order to change the government. The way to get their attention is to point out how badly broken government finances are and how much the government spends per household (details on spending per household at http://StopNationalDebt.com )

Making the Google Jump

[January 28, 2013, Update: Obviously the contents of this post are out of date. I include it here for archival purposes; it originally appeared at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com.]

My internet publishing is undergoing a major change. As should be obvious, my blog is now at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/. (I am also posting quite a lot to Twitter @ariarmstrong, where I mention interesting links and offer brief commentary.)

Recently Google announced that its Blogger service will no longer support FTP publishing, meaning the service will no longer send material to a domain hosted elsewhere. Instead, to use Blogger, one must host the blog through Google. A Blogger user can use a “blogspot.com” blog, register a domain with Google and use it for a Google-hosted blog, or register a domain or subdomain elsewhere and set the DNS to Google (such that Google hosts the content). I’ve decided to go with the last option.

I also strongly considered abandoning Google altogether. Not only am I miffed that Google is shutting down its FTP service, but I’m still annoyed that Google shut down the blog of economist George Reisman. Nevertheless, as one of my friends pointed out, Blogger is a free service, so it’s a little hard to complain too stringently about it. If you really hate Blogger, don’t use it. That said, I do think it would be absolute foolishness to give Google control of one’s domain (if one cares about keeping content online). Because I own and control my subdomain, I can reclaim it and republish my content elsewhere if need be.

Blogger just works well. It’s extremely easy to use. I helped set up a friend with Word Press and quickly learned that that service, while okay, is a lot harder to operate. I seriously considered going back to hand coding my page (based on templates created in Dream Weaver). But then a single blog post would require updating at least four pages: the index, the individual post, the archives, and the feed. Major hassle. So I’ll stick with Blogger.

Here’s how I’m handling the change. I’m leaving all my existing content online at AriArmstrong.com and FreeColorado.com. I’m starting a new blog (this one) at http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/. Rather than run two different blogs, I will henceforth publish only this blog. (I’ll publish a few residual posts at FreeColorado.com and cross-post here.)

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to create a feed based on labels. My FreeColorado.com blog feeds into People’s Press Collective; now I will use the “PPC” label for all relevant content. The PPC-related political feed is this:
feed://blog.ariarmstrong.com/feeds/posts/default/-/PPC

(I may also use a generic “politics” label for national stuff.)

The general feed for all my content is this:
feed://blog.ariarmstrong.com/feeds/posts/default

Others might be confused as to how to direct a subdomain to Google. Here’s how I accomplished that. I checked in with my registrar and learned that I can create a subdomain there only if the DNS points to that registrar. Because I host my (other) content with Web Hosting Buzz (a great service, by the way), I had to submit a ticket to that company’s technical support team, asking to create the subdomain and direct its DNS settings to Google. Then I created a new blog at Google and switched its URL to the subdomain. It took me a while to figure out, but the process itself is very easy. (Things get more complicated if you want to move old content over to Google, which is one reason I didn’t go that route.)

I’ll slowly convert all my existing content at my two main pages to Dream Weaver files, such that I can easily edit the template and have it apply to all the files. (My wife tells me that all my old framed files are deprecated.) I’ll run the political feed from this blog (as well as my Twitter feed) on FreeColorado.com. I’ll turn AriArmstrong.com into my home page, with links to all the archival material as well as to my active projects. (I may run the blog feed there as well.)

This might be a good time to briefly summarize my history of web publishing. Back in late 1998 (before the term “blog” had been coined), I started publishing the “Colorado Freedom Report” at co-freedom.com. I quickly figured out that a hyphenated URL is a major pain, so within a few years I switched to FreeColorado.com. In late 2007, I started up AriArmstrong.com with the idea of making that my main blog, but then I realized that I didn’t want to let FreeColorado.com lapse, so I converted that to a blog to begin 2008. But now I’m finding that running two blogs is hard, given my activity on Twitter and my other projects.

So now this integrated blog in 2010 marks a new stage in my internet publishing. However, some things never change. What matters most is content, and, as always, my goal is to make the tech serve the ideas.