How to sue a corporation

Recently a friend of a friend asked to be put in touch with me, saying:

I’ve been trying to think of ways to raise money so I can purchase land, and I thought of your friend from (highschool?) who sued a few large corporations on his own.

I’m thinking about filing a lawsuit against large herbicide/pesticide companies (Monsanto)… I would use the settlement funds to reclaim land, and restore ecosystems.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been approached by people who wanted to sue a corporation just like I did. Therefore I wrote a long, detailed reply, and I am publishing it here so that everyone hankering to sue a corporation can “benefit” from my experience. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer (yet) and this is not legal advice.

With no further ado:

Nelson’s guide to suing a corporation

Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths


Seeing Like A State: Why Strategy Games Make Us Think and Behave Like Brutal Psychopaths

Now that I think about it, I can be pretty thoughtless and cruel to my units in strategy games. Sometimes I will take care of my units’ lives, name them, and mourn their deaths, but other times I will simply use them as disposable cannon fodder. In real life, I am a Quaker, and it is disturbing to think that perhaps being placed in charge of a country can have a similar effect on your psychology as being placed in charge of units in strategy games.

An end, and a beginning

So sorry it’s over
So sorry it’s over
There’s so much more that I wanted and
There’s so much more that I needed and
Time keeps moving on and on and on
Soon we’ll all be gone

– Blink-182, “Man Overboard”

“Bands are like marriages. Or maybe only good ones are. Who knows why a good one works, let alone why it stops working.”

A couple weeks ago I resigned from the internet startup that I founded and moved to Atlanta to work on, OpenHatch. (It may give you a sense of how complex and awkward this was when I tell you that Karen was hired as an intern and is still working at the company.) All that the interwebs need to know about this is that “I left to pursue other opportunities.” If you want to know more about why I resigned, I can tell you the story over a drink sometime, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why it reached the point where I had to resign. I’m reminded of a scene from Spook Country by William Gibson, when Garreth asks Hollis Henry why her band The Curfew broke up. Hollis says “Bands are like marriages. Or maybe only good ones are. Who knows why a good one works, let alone why it stops working.” I suppose you could say the same thing about startups.

Today is demo day, the day when the product OpenHatch has been building all summer is revealed to the press and potential investors. I have been invited by OpenHatch to attend, and I will be doing so, even though this is something of a bittersweet experience. If a startup is like a marriage, then this is like attending my ex’s wedding. I’m still on good terms with everyone involved, and I’m happy for them and I want them to be successful, but I can’t help but wish that I were the one getting married. Nevertheless, the launch of OpenHatch is something I put a lot of time and energy into, and I want to see how it turns out.

I will be liveblogging/tweeting/denting about the event as it happens, you can follow my updates here and on Identica.

UPDATE: I lied, I’m just going to live update my microblog, blogging is so 20th century.

Naming scheme for computers

I’ve decided on a naming scheme for my computers for the immediate future: monstrous and highly dangerous women.

My Macbook Pro which was recently stolen (more on that later) was named Sveethot, which is “Sweetheart” when spoken with a thick German accent, as the Jägermonsters do in Girl Genius. I imagined Sveethot as a female Jägermonster, which implies a predilection for hand-to-hand combat and a great deal of raw “processing power”, where by processing I mean the ability to dice you up into little pieces and serve you for dinner.

I am currently borrowing an IBM Thinkpad laptop from Prerna (whom I cannot thank enough for her generosity), and after backing up her data I wiped it and installed Ubuntu on it. A newly installed computer needs a name, and I decided on Terminatrix. This is in part a homage to my old old Dell desktop, which had a model number beginning with a “T”, something like a T-1000. This also reveals that I am really interested in seeing Summer Glau in the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and in seeing Terminator:Salvation, even though I expect to be rather disappointed by both of them. Surely thinking of Summer Glau and deadly robots when I look at my laptop can’t be a bad thing! Terminatrix brings to mind a machine that keeps going and going despite whatever punishment you might deal out to it, and I hope that this laptop will be similarly indestructible so that it will always continue to work when Prerna (or her friends) need it.

Really I just like the combination of attraction and fear that these names imply. I love computers, but they are fickle creatures that can arbitrarily destroy you whenever they feel like it. Treat them with the respect they deserve.

I’m an entrepreneur now!

I have received funding to build a startup this summer with my friends Asheesh Laroia and Raphael Krut-Landau, who I know from our work together with Students for Free Culture. The funding is from [UPDATE: whoops our funder is currently secret, can’t tell the internet who it is yet].

We will be moving to Atlanta for the summer as part of their startup accelerator program starting May 18th, so if you are in Atlanta or know people there, please drop me a line, and maybe we can hang out :)

The startup will be closely related to free culture issues, specifically free / open source software. I don’t want to say too much publicly about the startup until our company is ready for the attention and makes some official announcements, but if you want to know more feel free to contact me privately and I can tell you about it. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: OK, you know what, for my loyal readers I’ll drop another hint. The startup is loosely based on this idea I posted about a few years ago, although it has evolved a lot since then. Once again, talk to me privately for more details.

I accidentally cross-posted my entire LJ archive to Livejournal

My apologies to everyone who is following me on Livejournal! I re-imported my entire Livejournal archive into my blog but I accidentally left my LJ cross-posting plugin turned on, so it got into an infinite loop where I would import a post, and then it would get cross-posted, and then imported again… This meant that duplicates of my old posts dominated everyone’s friends pages. I went back using Xjournal and manually deleted all of the duplicate posts from Livejournal, so everything should be back to normal.

The good news is that all of the old LJ comments have been imported with threading this time, thanks to the new Livejournal importer in the unstable “trunk” version of WordPress :) Huge thanks to Beau for writing the importer, it worked perfectly.

I’m leaving Livejournal: what should I take with me?

I’m moving my blog from LiveJournal to my new personal website at, following in the steps of Nick. The rumors about LiveJournal being in danger of shutting down certainly triggered this move, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, to have more control over my own data.

I would like my loyal LJ readers to follow me to my new site, and to achieve that I’d like to make sure that my new blog has all of the features of LiveJournal that my readers find important. Why do you use LiveJournal? What makes it a good experience for you? What features of LiveJournal do you think are useful, and distinguish it from other blogging sites? I have already added a number of features to my blog that LiveJournal has:

  • Threaded commenting – This is included by default in WordPress 2.7 but not all WordPress themes have been updated to use it yet. You also have to turn it on in Settings->Discussion->Other Comment Settings->Enable threaded (nested) comments, it isn’t on by default.
  • Reply notifications by e-mail – Below the comment field is a checkbox labeled “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail”. If you check that box, you’ll get an e-mail when someone replies to your comment (if you’ve filled out the e-mail field). I’m using the Subscribe to Comments plugin.
  • Not having to enter identifying info every time – I’ve enabled OpenID using this plugin, so all you have to do is enter in your LiveJournal URL in the website field and it will accept your comment. No need to fill in your name and e-mail each time.

What else should I do? Please let me know in the comments.

Microblogging: worthwhile, or a horrible mistake?

Do any of you microblog? Do any of you have a Twitter account, or use any similar service like Jaiku, Pownce, Plurk, or Identica? I’ve been microblogging for about 6 months, as you might have noticed since I’ve got my Identica syndicated to Facebook using the excellent openmicroblogging Facebook app (source code here), but I’m still not sure whether it is a worthwhile endeavor or a colossal waste of time. (If “Twitter” is the magic word for you, I now syndicate my Identica on Twitter as well so you can follow me there.)

On the plus side, it takes much less time to *finish* a micro-post or tweet than to finish a serious blog post, and therefore I am able to do it much more often. Posting interesting, relevant stuff to my blog on a regular basis takes conscious effort, discipline and willpower. Posting something interesting in 140 characters can be tricky but easy to complete and therefore more immediately rewarding. Ultimately, writing enough interesting tweets to match the length of a real blog post takes as much if not more effort, but like most mere mortals I often have difficulty finishing what I start, and finishing and releasing stuff frequently seems superior to letting stuff stew in my brain until the Great American blog post emerges.

Also, microblogging can replace some of the functions of social bookmarking (which doesn’t seem to have really caught on the way microblogging has), namely sharing links with my friends and spreading memes (mwahahahaha). I am still extremely excited about the next generation open source / decentralized version of Ma.gnolia, Ma.gnolia 2, but I am not desperate enough to use any of the current social bookmarking services while I wait… the network effects are just too limited. (I like open source service Connotea for instance, but it doesn’t actually let you friend people or anything… it’s missing the “social” part of social bookmarking!) Given the existence of microblogging, I now mostly want to use social bookmarking services to build a public online searchable database of articles that interest me… a reference trail, rather than a way to alert friends to what is currently interesting to me.
On the minus side, deep analysis is impossible in microblogging, and it is difficult to have thoughtful discussions with a 140 character word limit. At best you can reference thoughtful discussions occurring elsewhere, or respond with pithy one-liners that summarize your positions. Summaries can frequently be hilarious (brevity is the soul of wit) and to the point, often people add words without adding meaning/substance. But there are still fundamental limits to what can be said on a microblog, and therefore I think it would be sad if microblogging took away too much time/effort from real blogs such as this one.

Additionally, there are a limit to how many useful links you can include in 140 characters, and it can be difficult/impossible to include pretty pictures or videos in microblogs without the help of external services. As long as you are happy with following links that may not be a problem, but something is lost I think when you can no longer bundle all of the media together in one cohesive page.

No doubt there are other pros and cons that I haven’t thought of. What do you think?

UPDATE: The Identica badge at won’t work in Livejournal because LJ bans scripting languages like Javascript from LJ posts. Phooey. The Twitter badge does work, however.

Making panoramic photos with Hugin

I am in love with this panorama photo-stitching program called Hugin. Perhaps it is because it is open source and cross-platform. Perhaps it is because of the adorable logo, which is a person hugging a panoramic photo. But most likely it is because it makes really beautiful panoramic photos for me with almost no effort on my part. All I did was take a few pictures by spinning around in one place, feed those photos into Hugin, and ta-da!

panorama A

panorama B

Aren’t they pretty? Why don’t you download Hugin too and give it a try?

I’ve decided to vote for Barack Obama

These last several weeks have been very difficult for me.

I voted Libertarian in 2004, I consider myself to be a libertarian with a small “L”, and I generally support the positions of the Libertarian party. The World’s Smallest Political Quiz pegs me as a left-leaning libertarian. I met Michael Badnarik personally (the picture of me meeting him somehow found its way onto Wikipedia) and after talking with him I found him to be a genuine, principled person, albeit a bit old and clueless about free culture / technology policy and similar issues that are very important to me. While I did not consider his political acumen to be amazing, and I didn’t think he would have a chance to win even in a fair election (as opposed to one rigged against 3rd parties), I respected his principles and passion for the cause.

I generally disagree with the Democratic Party and its platform, I do not trust it to preserve my civil liberties or to do anything good with free culture issues and IP / tech policy, and I frequently find myself in conflict with the nanny state. Why the @#$% can’t I buy raw, unpasteurized almonds or raw cheese? As an amateur pyrotechnician I’ve seen my friends persecuted+prosecuted by the police despite strictly following safety procedures and doing their very best to follow the letter of the (unreasonable) law. The war on drugs, the war on filesharing, the war on moisture in our airports (and of course actual war) have all continued under a Democratically controlled Congress and I do not expect the Democrats to make any positive changes in any of these areas. I oppose big government and its intrusion into my private life, and I hold the Democrats responsible for a great deal of it.

This election, however, I had to make my decision based on the candidates, rather than the general philosophies of their parties. While I do not agree with many of Obama’s positions, and in fact disagree violently with some of them, I have come to believe that he is the candidate best prepared to lead our country for the next four years. This is sad, because I also do not trust him to keep his word or protect my civil liberties after his FISA vote. However, after researching this year’s Libertarian Party candidate, Bob Barr, I do not think he is good for the Libertarian Party, I do not trust him or believe him to be a sincere libertarian, and I do not think he would be a good president even if he had a chance of being elected. Despite my serious misgivings about Obama, there are many things I like about Obama as a person, Obama as a President, and Obama’s policy positions that allow me to cast a vote for him in good conscience, to vote FOR him rather than against the other guy (which is not something I would ever want to do).

I intend to follow up this post with details about my feelings on Obama and why I decided not to vote for Libertarian candidate Bob Barr.