Last week I watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

I thought it was delightful -- albeit that uniquely Coen Brothers type of "delightful" that involves some truly horrifying and disquieting stuff happening at various points over a two-hour period.

One of the things I really loved about it was its format: it's an anthology movie, made up of six stories, each running around 15-30 minutes.

I wrote a blog post years ago titled Form and Function where I discussed how the Internet could, hopefully, eliminate some of the rigid page-count and running-time requirements we're used to in print media and on TV. Buster Scruggs doesn't do that itself -- it's a two-hour movie -- but it's a roadmap for how a TV series could do that.

I saw reports, on the film's release, that it was originally planned as an episodic series. That's not actually the case; Josh Rottenberg asked the Coens about that story in an LA Times interview and Joel said it was always intended as a movie. But the rumor about it being a TV series is believable. You could certainly watch the movie that way, switch it off at the end of each story and come back and watch the next one some other time -- the only thing stopping you is that boy, some of those segments are grim, and the Coens have wisely arranged them so that the nastiest stories are followed by something with a little more levity.

There's no reason you couldn't make a TV series where each episode resembled one of Buster Scruggs's stories -- do a fifteen-minute episode, do a thirty-minute episode, do whatever length the story calls for. Traditional TV requires that your story be told in a half-hour or an hour, minus commercials, but there's no such restriction to online streaming (and even basic cable has been tooling around with episodes that have some variation in their lengths, like Noah Hawley's Legion or Fargo -- say, there's another one that comes right back to Ethan and Joel).

Mostly I see this resulting in longer episodes -- maybe a show goes a full hour instead of forty-five minutes, or a full half-hour instead of twenty-two. But why not shorter? Why not fifteen minutes? Why not fifteen minutes one episode and thirty the next?

The new Twilight Zone series would be perfect for a format like that, but I suspect they'll be keeping it around the half-hour mark. Still, it feels like somebody is bound to start playing with the scripted TV format with episodes of wildly varying lengths, and the recent resurgence of anthology-style shows seems like a good place to do it.

I don't play many new games anymore. I played Spider-Man because it came with my PS4, but since I finished it I've switched to something a couple years older: Final Fantasy 15.

I haven't been playing it long, just...*looks at save file*...Jesus, twelve hours? Anyway, I'm on Chapter 3. And so far I'm really enjoying it.

I dig the setting. Final Fantasy has been doing this "let's juxtapose fantasy with a quasi-modern world" routine since 7, and it's a lot more fully-realized here than it was then. Still not perfect -- city planning does not work that way, guys; you don't pass the limits of a major city and immediately find yourself off in a big empty desert with only an occasional gas station; the transition tends to be more gradual than that -- but still, the dissonance is a lot less glaring than FF7's transition from Midgar to a big empty overworld.

Actually, to a large extent, the dissonance is what I like about it. Taking things that shouldn't go together and then mooshing them together. This is a game that starts off with...well, I can't seem to get the intro to embed (I suspect a music rights thing), but if you haven't seen it, check it out on YouTube.

As I was saying: This is a game that starts out with a barrage of fantasy tropes -- the king in his castle saying farewell to his son, who's leaving to marry a princess to secure peace with the Empire -- and then cuts to the party pushing a broken-down car while Stand By Me plays. It is instantly one of my favorite video game openings ever.

The game doesn't retain quite that level of quality throughout. But even where it falls short, I like it, at least so far. I like ambitious failures. Here's how Brent described it:

As long as you keep the "FF15 has been in development for 10 years" fact firmly in mind the whole exercise is interesting from a how-do-you-make-something-mostly-complete-out-of-this aspect.

Did you notice the one part of the game where there was supposed to be a rad as fuck boss but they only got as far as modeling and not rigging the rad as fuck boss so they had you go and take a look at how rad as fuck the boss's model is and everybody comments on how rad as fuck the model looks and then you get a cutscene explaining why you don't need to actually fight the rad as fuck boss and then you just fuck off?

Not gonna lie, I love stuff like that. It's like the best kind of soup, the "if you've got it, just toss it in the pot" kind.

I love stuff like that too.

And you know what else is overambitious about this game? Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy 15.

Kingsglaive is a movie that occurs before and during the first chapter of FF15. It fleshes out some major plot points -- in a way that's, frankly, kind of ill-conceived, because there's at least one major scene in FF15 that lacks some pretty important context if you haven't seen the movie.

Spoilers for Kingsglaive and the ending of the first chapter of Final Fantasy 15 follow.

At the end of the first chapter of FF15, the kingdom of Lucis falls. And in the game, you don't really have a lot of context about just what the hell is going on. You've never seen the Emperor or General Glauca before, and you're given little context for who they are. Clearly the big spiky guy stabbing the king is a bad guy, but...you're given no other information on who he is or what his deal is, except that the peace agreement was a ruse and Niflheim has sacked Insomnia.

Do you even see the general again? I don't know. He kinda gets incinerated at the end of Kingsglaive, but maybe he gets better. I don't know for sure, but...it kinda looks like the game shows a scary-looking dude murdering the protagonist's father, never explains who he is, and then maybe he never appears again? That's...not great storytelling. That makes Kingsglaive less an ancillary cross-media spinoff and more an essential part of the story that is neither included with the game nor explained by it.

But I'm underselling just how baffling the entire endeavor is.

Because shunting a major, game-changing event off into a spinoff movie isn't the weirdest thing about it. It isn't even the weirdest thing about that scene.

Because the climax of Kingsglaive -- the betrayal at the signing ceremony, the fall of Lucis -- is intercut with Nyx and Lunafreya fighting a giant monster. And not just any giant monster.

Giant Purple Octopus

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy 15
© 2016 Square Enix

That's Ultros. From Final Fantasy 6. This guy.

ULTROS: Mwa ha ha! Let's see if Maria can shrug THIS off!

Final Fantasy 3
© 1993 Square Enix
Screencap courtesy of Blastinus at Let's Play Archive

The movie cuts back and forth between the fall of Lucis -- guards being stabbed, bombs dropping on the city, the Emperor pulling a gun on the King -- and the octopus who tried to drop a 4-ton weight on an opera.

It is insanely, spectacularly wrong, and it is absolutely hands-down my favorite scene in the movie.

How did this happen? What was the thought process here? "Newcomers to Final Fantasy will just see a generic monster. But longtime fans will be wracked with the giggles!"

Obviously Final Fantasy is self-referential as all hell, and some of that was to be expected. But there's a pretty big difference between, say, playing the main Final Fantasy theme as background music early in the movie, and introducing Ultros during the climax.

But there's also something quintessentially Final Fantasy about it. This series is chock-full of sudden and inexplicable tonal shifts. I've talked about this before, back in my Final Fantasy 7 and Iconic Images post in 2011: FF7 goes from Barret's somber battle to the death with Dyne straight to chocobo racing. Bombs dropping while the heroes fight a tonally-inappropriate Easter egg? Just like the games!

And something that weird and singular saves the movie from being boring.

Because Kingsglaive is boring. It's very pretty; as a two-hour tech demo, it definitely demos the tech. But the characters are thinly-sketched, the villains' motivations and the plot twists don't make a whole lot of sense, and the climax feels like a Godzilla movie without the fun or the charm. It feels like the movie is focused entirely on showing really cool locations, monsters, and fights. It does that. But not much else.

In its own way, the Ultros fight is one more of those striking juxtapositions I like so much. Final Fantasy 15 starts out with high fantasy tropes and then immediately swerves into being a road trip movie. And Kingsglaive intercuts the serious and the silly. It doesn't really work, exactly, but I still love it.

There's an old Simpsons line where Marge tells Homer she doesn't hate him for failing, she loves him for trying. Whatever FF15's faults -- and I'm sure I'll find more of them as I get farther in the game -- they seem to be the result of overambition. And you know what? That's a good kind of failure. An interesting kind. Square Enix tried some things nobody else had ever done here. In some cases, at least, it turns out that there's a good reason nobody else has done those things. But if you're going to mess up, at least find a new and interesting and, perhaps, spectacular way to do it.

Last week, the Hollywood Reporter Hollywood reported on a $179 million ruling against Fox for underpaying the creators and stars of Bones.

There's a lot of typical self-dealing stuff here -- Fox the studio selling the show to Fox the TV network, insisting it was for a fair market value, but being unable to produce evidence that it actually did due diligence in determining what a fair market value was. But on top of that there are some more egregious examples of fraud. In one instance, when Fox sold the streaming rights to Hulu, which it owns a 30% stake in, the same executive signed the contract as both seller and buyer.

And here's one particularly jaw-dropping grift:

During the show’s run, Bones' profit participants were continually rebuffed in their attempts to argue for more money. [Executive producers Barry] Josephson and [Kathy] Reichs signed releases barring them from challenging license fees for the fifth and sixth seasons upon Fox's word that unless everyone signed these releases, Bones would be canceled. According to [21st Century Fox president Peter] Rice, though, Fox already had committed contractually to keep the show on the air and knew that [stars David] Boreanaz and [Emily] Deschanel would never sign such a release. Nevertheless, Fox kept up the impression the stars would sign, even going so far as to include blank signature spaces for the actors in the releases sent to the producers.

Studios do this sort of Hollywood accounting all the time. And they get away with it, because most creators -- actors, directors, producers, etc. -- choose not to sue. Most don't have the money, and of the ones who do, many don't want to run the risk of pissing off the studios.

This suit was decided in a private arbitration court, so it doesn't set any legal precedent. But it does show everybody that the talent can sue the studio and win -- and I expect that will mean more suits like this.

Unfortunately, I don't expect it will cause the studios to change their behavior. One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, John Berlinski, says, "What we have exposed in this case is going to profoundly change the way Hollywood does business for many years to come." I'm more inclined to agree with arbitrator Peter Lichtman's more cynical opinion:

Slamming the company with a punishment that includes $128 million in punitive damages -- or five times the amount of compensatory damages -- Lichtman points out that the award is 0.6 percent of 21st Century Fox's stipulated net worth.

He muses whether it's really enough.

"In fact, one could question whether a five to one ratio given Fox's financial condition and lack of contrition serves to deter the wrongful conduct at issue here, or whether it will be considered part of the cost of doing business," writes the arbitrator.

I think he's right. This won't make the studios stop ripping off the talent; it will merely mean that the studios will continue ripping off the talent while pricing in the risk of the occasional lawsuit.

Meanwhile, there's another Hollywood accounting lawsuit I've been keeping one eye on: Century of Progress Productions v. Vivendi S.A. et al, more popularly known as the Spinal Tap suit.

In 2016, Harry Shearer sued Vivendi over profits on merchandise and music sales from This Is Spinal Tap. From the filing:

... according to Vivendi, the four creators’ share of total worldwide merchandising income between 1984 and 2006 was $81 (eighty-one) dollars. Between 1989 and 2006 total income from music sales was $98 (ninety-eight) dollars. Over the past two years, Vivendi has failed to provide accounting statements at all.

The other three creators, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Rob Reiner, have since joined the suit. There don't appear to be any updates since August 2018, but the litigation is still ongoing.

Century of Progress could be the suit that finally sets some legal precedents regarding Hollywood accounting. Other artists who have filed suits like this have either wound up in private arbitration, as in the Bones case, or agreed to settle. This is different. Shearer, Guest, McKean, and Reiner don't want to settle. They don't need the money. They're in it to set a legal precedent to make it harder for studios to rip off their artists.

I look forward to hearing more from that case.

I don't much care for Apple's phone ecosystem or Google's.

I've got an old Nexus 5, and it's running LineageOS, an alternative version of Android that doesn't include proprietary Google code. Wherever possible, I use open-source software from F-Droid; where I still need the occasional proprietary app, I use Amazon's app store or Yalp Store, a program which can pull binaries from the Play Store without requiring the Play Store to be installed.

It works pretty well, for the most part, but my phone's showing its age. It doesn't support LineageOS 15, and the regular updates to 14 have slowed to monthly security patches. On top of that, I recently had an issue with the power button and had to take it in for repairs.

But I don't want to get a new Android phone. The reason I fixed my Nexus 5 instead of replacing it is that there are some alternatives coming later this year that are neither Android nor iOS, and I want to wait and see what happens with those.

Before I go any farther, I'm going to get into a note about nomenclature.

There's an operating system that most people call Linux. More precisely, it uses a kernel called Linux and a collection of userland programs called GNU. The makers of GNU ask that people call the operating system GNU/Linux; here are a few links that explain their reasoning:

GNU founder Richard Stallman's reasons for calling the OS "GNU/Linux" are primarily ideological, but there is a practical reason to call it that, too: Google has released two operating systems that use the Linux kernel but not the GNU userland. Those operating systems are Android and ChromeOS.

So if I say "a Linux phone," that includes Android. But if I say "a GNU/Linux phone," I'm explicitly talking about a phone that doesn't run Android.

With that explanation out of the way, I want to talk about GNU/Linux phones.

The most mature GNU/Linux phone OS is Sailfish, a descendant of Nokia and Intel's now-defunct MeeGo developed by a Finnish company called Jolla. I've looked into Sailfish OS, but its device support is very limited, and the OS has proprietary components. Given that I'm trying to get away from proprietary software as much as I can, I don't see Sailfish as an improvement over LineageOS.

There's also Ubuntu Touch. While Ubuntu parent Canonical is no longer developing Ubuntu Touch, a community called UBports has continued development.

I tried Ubuntu Touch on my Nexus 5 back in 2017. I was impressed by how mature it was and how much I could do with it -- but I couldn't get it to work with Sprint service. I posted a help request on the forums; nobody ever responded. It's been some time and it's possible that whatever issue I was having does not exist in the current version -- but I'm not in a hurry to try again.

I did recently buy a OnePlus One which I'm testing UT out on, and it's really coming along. There are definitely some pain points (the keyboard is terrible), but if I had to use it as a daily driver, I could. Provided I could get it to work with my wireless network.

Course, if I want Ubuntu Touch to get better, that's something I can help out with myself. It's an open-source project, and I'm a computer programmer. I can contribute code myself, and the only thing stopping me from doing it is sitting down and taking the time to do it. I gotta figure at least some of the keyboard design problems are things I could figure out how to fix.

But there are other alternatives besides Ubuntu Touch, too.

postmarketOS is a phone OS based on Alpine Linux and Plasma Mobile. It looks promising, but it's still in alpha; a Nexus 5 running postmarketOS can make phone calls, but the audio doesn't work.

But perhaps most interestingly, there are phones coming out later this year that will run GNU/Linux distros out of the box.

The Purism Librem 5 is an upcoming GNU/Linux phone focused on free/open-source software, privacy, and security; it's built on PureOS, which uses the GNOME desktop environment, but also plans to support Plasma and Ubuntu Touch. It's currently scheduled for release in Q3 2019, though it's been delayed twice already, so that date could slip again.

The biggest barrier is the price. Freedom, as they say, isn't free; the Librem 5 doesn't have the most impressive specs, but it costs $650 for a preorder and will cost $700 after launch. And I'm sure not going to preorder a phone with an untested operating system before any of the reviews are in.

While I greatly appreciate what Purism is doing, $700 is a lot to ask.

That's why I'm more interested in the PinePhone, another forthcoming GNU/Linux phone (this one based on Plasma) expected to sell for $150.

For that price, I don't expect a high-end phone. PINE64 makes low-end single-board computers; think Raspberry Pi -- so I expect this will be pretty close to a Raspberry Pi with a screen attached to it. And for $150, I don't expect it to be a particularly good screen.

But for that price, it's sure tempting to try it out; I'm not expecting a great phone, but I'd be very impressed if it's even an adequate phone. I'll be keeping an eye on this one.

There are a few other entrants here. Necunos Solutions has a mobile device coming that's based on GNU/Linux and Plasma Mobile -- but I wouldn't call it a phone, because it doesn't have a cellular modem. At 1200 euros, it seems more like an expensive boondoggle than a real contender -- but every open-source project helps upstream, and at minimum, the Necunos Mobile should contribute some useful code that other projects can use.

There's also last year's Gemini, an oldschool-style clamshell phone with a full hardware keyboard that's designed for Android but also supports a GNU/Linux dualboot. That said, it looks like it's still pretty early days for GNU/Linux support, and Xfce and LXQT sure don't look like desktops I want to use with a touchscreen.

Ultimately, I think this is a pretty exciting time. With the Librem 5 and the PinePhone hopefully coming this year, UBports getting better all the time, and postmarketOS, er, approaching the point where you should be able to make a phone call and hear the person on the other end, I'm hoping this may be the year that GNU/Linux becomes usable as a daily driver. Not for end users; it's certainly not going to be as fully-featured or easy-to-use as desktop Linux has become (my grandpa uses Linux Mint). But for the sort of power users who were running GNU/Linux on their desktop 15 or 20 years ago. Guys like me.

Fingers crossed. Especially for the PinePhone. Hope my Nexus 5 holds out until then.

I made it to my mid-thirties without ever reading a Stephen King book.

It wasn't some kind of hipster thing; I wasn't consciously avoiding him because he's popular. And it wasn't that I don't generally read horror novels, either, because of course he's got plenty of output in other genres. No, I just never got around to it, even though I've enjoyed movie adaptations of his work for years.

I read On Writing a year or two back, and a few months back I picked up the first three Dark Tower books at Bookmans and I've been working through those. And you know what? I think this guy's pretty good.

He's certainly got a gift for storytelling. And for words. And symbolism, and character, and he's got a real sense for how to juxtapose images in interesting ways. I've never read Ready Player One, or seen the movie, but from what I've read about it I have the impression that Ernest Cline was trying to mix together familiar iconography in the kind of evocative way that King does in Dark Tower, but simply doesn't have King's chops.

But more than anything, I think the reason King's so damn appealing and resonates with so many people is that it's so obvious he's having fun.

Mark Evanier told a story about Harlan Ellison shouting, "I have just written the greatest fuckin' sentence I have ever written!" before running out his front door and dancing naked on his front porch. Evanier mused that this was why Ellison's writing was so good: because he was the sort of person who was so enthusiastic about what he was writing that he'd dance naked on his front porch, and because that enthusiasm was clear in the final product.

I'm not aware of Stephen King ever dancing naked on his front porch. But he's got the same kind of enthusiasm for his work that Ellison did, and it's infectious.

The first three Dark Tower books are all I've got. I finished those and I'm going to take a break from the series before I pick up the rest. I've got plenty else to read -- I just started Good Omens, and I'm also chest-deep into a Valiant Comics bundle, which I'll probably have a lot to say about when I get to the end of it. But I'm glad I finally took the time to read some King. The guy's good, and his popularity is well-earned.

Well would you look at that: I've managed a blog post every day for a 5-day week. Even if two of those were written in January.

I don't know what the future may bring, but I'm going to try and do this more often.

I don't know if blogging is a constructive use of my time, but at least it's an enjoyable one. I spend too much time doing shit I don't enjoy.

Obviously in life there are a lot of things you have to do that aren't enjoyable. Paying bills, buying groceries, cleaning up dogshit -- and wouldn't you know it, it's tax season.

But I spend too much time doing things I don't enjoy and don't have to do. For example, I spend way too much time talking to fools and trolls in comments sections.

Yeah, I've discussed this before. See also Somewhere Productive.

I like Techdirt. I like Ars Technica. I like most of the people who post there; they're smart and insightful. But the folks who aren't smart or insightful sure can drag a conversation down.

So I'm going to try, once again, to spend less time talking to them and more time blogging.

What to post about? That's the rub. Gotta prime the pump, find something to get me started. Sometimes I'll start in on something like the Spider-Man game and find I've got two posts out of it. Sometimes I'll try and force it and...wind up with a navel-gazing, blogging-about-blogging post like this one. I don't like these posts very much, but I guess they can't all be winners.

Besides blogging? I'd like to start writing books again. I've got at least three more Old Tom stories bouncing around my noggin, as well as ideas for a series about a programmer who gains psychic powers from an alien brain parasite, a law firm that deals in the supernatural (hopefully something that feels original and not too similar to the late Batton Lash's Supernatural Law), a take on the Narnia-style "children transported to a fantasy world" genre where the kids come back as traumatized adults...plus I'm about halfway through a book-length version of my Tempin' Ain't Easy blog post from 2012, but I may have to start that over, because after awhile it became clear that the format doesn't fit a book as well as it fit a blog post.

What else? Well, there are certainly some interesting open-source projects out there, and I sometimes think hey, I could help out by contributing to this. Something for me to think about.

At any rate, we'll see how long I can keep up my blogging streak. I've got at least two more that are just about ready to go for next week.

I have more things to say about Spider-Man for the PS4!

I saw an ad the other day for a comic book adaptation of the game. It had a logo that said "Marvel Gamerverse".

Now, I assume this is just an umbrella label that Marvel is going to stick all its game-related comics under, and doesn't actually imply that there are going to be other games that take place in the same universe as Spider-Man (aside from the inevitable sequel, of course).

But it got me thinking: what's Spider-Man 2 going to look like, and what would it look like if there were other, non-Spider-Man games in the same series?

My first question is, what's Spider-Man 2's map going to look like? The best thing about the first game is swinging around a fairly realistic version of Manhattan. It's not perfect, of course, and it gets less accurate the farther you get from midtown, but as somebody who's only been to New York once I was impressed by the verisimilitude. "Oh, that's Radio City Music Hall; that means Rockefeller Center is over this way."

How to expand on that? Should Spider-Man 2 include some of the outer boroughs? I'm not sure there's quite as much demand for swinging around Brooklyn and Queens, but I could dig it.

Otherwise, or in addition, they could also expand Manhattan, work on making it even more accurate than it already is. I suppose there'd be some cognitive dissonance there -- wait, this is supposed to be the same location as the first game; why is the map so different? -- but, ultimately, it's video games and you suspend your disbelief.

Alternately, the new game could take a cue from the upcoming Spider-Man: Far from Home and put Spidey down in some other city. But given the dangling plot threads left at the end of the previous game, I don't expect that to happen; I expect the sequel will still be based in New York.

Another thought I had: what other superheroes would function in a game like this?

The most obvious answer is Daredevil. He's another street-level Marvel superhero who gets around by leaping across rooftops. He'd be a natural fit, and the game could also find a way to work some compelling courtroom drama into the out-of-costume sequences. Plus, some creative design choices could do some really cool shit with DD's heightened senses. (One of the most memorable moments in Spider-Man was when I heard a voice over my shoulder and it startled me. You wouldn't be able to make a Daredevil game that required the player to have a surround sound system or play the game with headphones, but you could certainly design the sound so that it would benefit from those things, where available.)

But you know who I'd really like to see in a Spider-Man-esque game? Black Panther.

BP is another character with a relatively modest super-power set, who can run up buildings and leap across rooftops. He'd be perfect. And as cool as Manhattan is in Spider-Man, a game set in Wakanda would provide an opportunity for more creative city design. Where Spider-Man benefits from a realistic recreation of a real-life city (with some Marvel Comics embellishments like Avengers Tower and the Sanctum Sanctorum), game designers would have the freedom to design Birnin Zana however they want (much like Gotham City in the Arkham games). Picture a Golden City as big and detailed as Spider-Man's Manhattan -- yeah, that's a game I want to play.

I posted the other day about how much I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But it wasn't the only Spider-Man adaptation that I've thoroughly enjoyed over the past couple of months. You know what else is great? Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4.

But you know, as much as I loved it, it's got its weaknesses, and there's one in particular I'm thinking of; a weakness it shares with the Batman: Arkham series whose formula it copies.

And that weakness is this: Batman and Spider-Man have two of the best rogues galleries in comics. So why do you spend so much of the game beating up on generic thugs?

The generic enemies in the Arkham series fall along the lines of "thug", "thug in clown mask", "thug in Two-Face mask", that kind of thing. What's the difference between a Joker thug and a Two-Face thug? Not a hell of a lot.

Spider-Man does a little bit better. It's got its share of generic thugs, but the Demons and the Sable mercs are more memorable, and they have their own weapons and attack patterns that the other mobs don't share.

But I'd still like to see a little more color among the low-level enemies in the game. I'm not saying get rid of the street thugs entirely; Batman and Spider-Man are street-level heroes, and fighting ordinary thugs is definitely in their wheelhouse. But maybe increase the ratio of colorful costumed supervillains to generic muggers.

And here's my thought: they should copy the Nemesis system from Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor/Shadow of War.

I'm not saying copy it entirely. Like I said, Spider-Man's already got a fantastic stable of villains; he doesn't need a game built around pursuing new ones created at random.

But what I'm thinking is, those sidequests where you fight through a warehouse full of Kingpin thugs or whatever? Put some kind of randomized supervillain sub-boss at the end of those.

I'm also picturing the late, lamented MMORPG City of Heroes as a template. CoH let you choose a basis for your powers -- technological gadgets, scientific experimentation, genetic mutation, the usual superhero origin stuff -- and a power set related to that. It also had an extremely versatile character creation tool.

So I'm thinking, populate a Spider-Man game with minor supervillains whose names, costumes, powers, and origin stories are randomly pieced together from a set of stock supervillain tropes.

Silas Skinner was a lab assistant at Oscorp, until a lab accident caused his skin to begin growing out of control. When Mr. Negative offered him a chance at revenge on Norman Osborn, he joined the Demons. With the help of stolen unstable-molecule tech, he is now able to control his skin-stretching power, and runs the Upper-West Side as Epidermis Rex!

Dawn Dwyer was a ticket-taker at the Central Park Zoo, until she was badly injured in a stampede caused by Kraven the Hunter. In exchange for her loyalty, Wilson Fisk outfitted her with a mechanical suit that compensates for her injuries and grants her enhanced strength and speed. Now, she leads an animal-themed gang of enforcers as Bear Dawn!

Pointagar Stickagon is an Inhuman who owns a pointy stick. He terrorizes Midtown as Pointy Stick!

Back in December, Bryan Cantrill wrote a pretty good article titled Open source confronts its midlife crisis. He discusses a particular problem that's started cropping up over the past year or so: companies deciding that free software/open source licenses are unfair, and modifying them so that they're no longer free/open-source.

It's the same old problem we've been seeing since the start of the Free Software movement: how can you make a profit giving your software away for free? How can you stay in business if somebody else can just take your software and resell it without giving you a cut?

There's a growing trend toward answering that question with "Change the license so they can't do that."

One particular example is the inaccurately-named Commons Clause, which is a clause you can attach to some other license; here it is in its entirety:

"Commons Clause" License Condition v1.0

The Software is provided to you by the Licensor under the License, as defined below, subject to the following condition.

Without limiting other conditions in the License, the grant of rights under the License will not include, and the License does not grant to you, the right to Sell the Software.

For purposes of the foregoing, “Sell” means practicing any or all of the rights granted to you under the License to provide to third parties, for a fee or other consideration (including without limitation fees for hosting or consulting/ support services related to the Software), a product or service whose value derives, entirely or substantially, from the functionality of the Software. Any license notice or attribution required by the License must also include this Commons Clause License Condition notice.

The Free Software Foundation has added the Commons Clause to its license list under "Nonfree Software Licenses". In its update notes, the FSF explained the move:

We added the Commons Clause to our list of nonfree licenses. Not a stand-alone license in and of itself, it is meant to be added to an existing free license to prevent using the work commercially, rendering the work nonfree. It's particularly nasty given that the name, and the fact that it is attached to pre-existing free licenses, may make it seem as if the work is still free software.

Cantrill called out other nonfree licenses too, including Confluent's Community License. Confluent's Jay Kreps objected:

We actually aren’t trying to "co-opt" the community or open source terminology. We tried really hard both in the license and in the blog post to be honest and upfront. Whether you like Confluent's license or not, you have to agree it is exceptionally permissive and the software has a pretty great community of users. How do you describe a license that lets you run, modify, fork, and redistribute the code and do virtually anything other than offer a competing SaaS offering of the product?

I describe it as "Not open source."

"Open source" is not a generic term. It doesn't just mean that you can look at a program's source code. It's a term of art, subject to the Open Source Definition. And the definition includes section 6:

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure "a competing SaaS offering" counts as a field of endeavor.

Bruce Perens, who wrote the OSD, explains more in a blog post titled When Licenses Discriminate. It's a relatively short post, so I'm going to quote it in its entirety:

A long time ago, well-meaning people at the University of California, Berkeley created a license for their SPICE electronic simulation software that prohibited use by the Police of South Africa. This was, of course, during Apartheid.

Years later, Apartheid ended. The Police of South Africa now included Blacks and Whites with the same duties and powers. And they were still prohibited from using Berkeley SPICE. Getting the University of California to change the license, so that the software could be carried in Debian as "Free Software", was impossible at the time.

I took this example (among others) and wrote into the Open Source Definition (then the Debian Free Software Guidelines) that licenses could not discriminate against persons or groups, or against fields of endeavor.

This implements a major principle of Free Software. Freedom means Freedom for Everyone, not Freedom For People I Approve Of. Even when those folks abuse the freedom of others.

Someone recently created a license that discriminates against companies that have contracts with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Ironically, this is called "Moral Programming" or "Moral Licensing". I have to object to it on moral grounds.

I don't approve of the recent conduct of ICE under the direction of Donald Trump and his gang. Far, far from it. I am happy to say so, to participate in protests, and most importantly, I will not vote Republican in upcoming elections.

But if you insist on denying them the right to run your software in your license, please be careful not to call it Open Source or Free Software. Because your license will not comply with the Open Source Definition or the Four Freedoms of the Free Software Foundation. Which protect Freedom for everyone.

There's another license that's been getting some attention lately: MongoDB's Server Side Public License. It's based on the GNU Affero General Public License (which in turn is based on the GNU General Public License), but it makes a significant change. Here's Section 13 of the Affero GPL:

13. Remote Network Interaction; Use with the GNU General Public License.

Notwithstanding any other provision of this License, if you modify the Program, your modified version must prominently offer all users interacting with it remotely through a computer network (if your version supports such interaction) an opportunity to receive the Corresponding Source of your version by providing access to the Corresponding Source from a network server at no charge, through some standard or customary means of facilitating copying of software. This Corresponding Source shall include the Corresponding Source for any work covered by version 3 of the GNU General Public License that is incorporated pursuant to the following paragraph.

Notwithstanding any other provision of this License, you have permission to link or combine any covered work with a work licensed under version 3 of the GNU General Public License into a single combined work, and to convey the resulting work. The terms of this License will continue to apply to the part which is the covered work, but the work with which it is combined will remain governed by version 3 of the GNU General Public License.

Here's the modified version in the SSPL:

13. Offering the Program as a Service.

If you make the functionality of the Program or a modified version available to third parties as a service, you must make the Service Source Code available via network download to everyone at no charge, under the terms of this License. Making the functionality of the Program or modified version available to third parties as a service includes, without limitation, enabling third parties to interact with the functionality of the Program or modified version remotely through a computer network, offering a service the value of which entirely or primarily derives from the value of the Program or modified version, or offering a service that accomplishes for users the primary purpose of the Program or modified version.

"Service Source Code" means the Corresponding Source for the Program or the modified version, and the Corresponding Source for all programs that you use to make the Program or modified version available as a service, including, without limitation, management software, user interfaces, application program interfaces, automation software, monitoring software, backup software, storage software and hosting software, all such that a user could run an instance of the service using the Service Source Code you make available.

That's some pretty dry legalese, but if you've made it this far, I suppose you're interested in reading about technical differences in free software licenses. So here goes:

If you take a program that's licensed under the Affero GPL, modify it, and make that modified version available to run over a network, you have to license your modified version under the Affero GPL.

Whereas under the SSPL, if you use MongoDB as part of a service package you offer to third parties, you have to release the entire package under the SSPL.

While MongoDB is couching this in the language of the GPL and copyleft, its goal seems more inline with the Commons Clause. It doesn't actually expect anyone to use MongoDB as part of a package and then release the entire software stack under the SSPL; it expects the terms of the SSPL to be so onerous that companies just pay MongoDB to license the software without the SSPL.

What's the point of all this?

It gets back to that earlier question: how do you make money on software you give away for free?

One of the traditional answers to that question has been that you charge for support. That was the idea behind MongoDB: they'd give the software away for free, but charge for support.

That may have been a viable business strategy a decade ago, but the market has changed. More and more companies are choosing not to run their own servers on-site, but instead to use Amazon Web Services. And that disrupts the traditional "pay for service" model -- because now companies are using MongoDB, and they're paying for service, but they're not paying MongoDB for service, they're paying Amazon for it.

Clearly the bean-counters at MongoDB saw this as a problem, and so they wrote a license that they hoped would force Amazon to pay them to continue using their software.

It didn't work. Amazon responded by creating a competing database format called DocumentDB. As soon as Amazon announced the project, MongoDB's stock dropped nearly 15 points. Whoops.

Meanwhile, neither the Free Software Foundation nor the Open Source Initiative has reached an official verdict yet on whether the SSPL is a free/open-source license, but it's under review, and Bruce Perens has his doubts.

First of all, he notes that it almost certainly violates the FSF's copyright on the AGPL; just because it's a license that allows redistribution of modified versions of software doesn't mean that it allows redistribution of modified versions of the text of the license.

The issue of the license text being infringing of FSF's copyright needs to be addressed. I doubt FSF is going to give permission for this use of their text. There is a possible 17 USC 102(b) argument, but most sources (Nimmer, Adams) disagree, and I don't know of any case law. This might require a full rewrite, and IMO OSI would face a risk of being a contributory infringer simply by hosting a copy of the current text on their site. The legal ambiguity of that might be sufficient reason for rejection.

And in the same post, he suggests it might violate sections 6 and 9 of the OSD. I've already quoted #6; here's the text of #9:

9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software

The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.

And here's what Perens has to say about the SSPL:

I am most concerned with the second paragraph of section 13, and its conflict with OSD #9 and #6. The definition of how those pieces are coupled needs to be tighter. Management software, backup software, etc. may be used as part of the offering of a service, but they don't create a derivative work, nor are they combined into the same program. So, we get a restriction on works that are simply aggregated together (#9) or a restriction on use of the program if the data is backed up using a non-Open-Source backup program (#6).

In a later post, and with deep apologies, Perens backs off the Section 9 claims and states that the SSPL violates the spirit of Section 9, but not the letter.

The OSD terms were not written for software-as-a-service. OSD #9 very clearly states

The license must not place restrictions on other software that is *distributed* along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs *distributed on the same medium* must be open-source software.

Since software-as-a-service software is not distributed, OSD #9 doesn't apply. Sorry. The document was written for another time and I could not predict today's conditions.

Regardless, even if it doesn't violate #9, it would nonetheless appear to violate #6. At any rate, Red Hat and its community version, Fedora, think so; they've rejected the SSPL and will be removing MongoDB from their software repositories. The Debian maintainers don't even think a strict analysis of the Debian Free Software Guidelines is necessary; it clearly violates the spirit of the DFSG, and that's good enough for exclusion from Debian.

Here's the thing: a change in license can kill a project. XFree86 was a much more essential package than MongoDB, and its owners made a much more minor change to its license. But that was enough to completely destroy the project. A previous version, with the old license, was forked as X.Org, and within a matter of months every Linux and BSD release had switched.

MongoDB is well along that path. The company has since introduced SSPL v2 in the hopes that it will prove more acceptable than v1, but MongoDB itself is still published under v1.

Maybe v2 will prove more acceptable. Maybe MongoDB won't end up like XFree86 and it'll end up like, say, KDE instead -- a project which initially used a nonfree license but then switched to a free license and continues to be widely used. Those are MongoDB's options: make your license acceptable to the free/open-source community, or fade into irrelevance as everybody switches to a fork. Time will tell which path MongoDB ultimately takes -- and what impact that has on the rest of this new crop of projects trying to pass off proprietary licenses as free ones.

I finally got around to seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

...actually, I saw it like a month ago, and that's when I wrote this post. But then I got some kind of flu or something and I'm only now just getting around to posting it. But hey, now it's timely, because it is now Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Anyway:

I finally got around to seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. And it blew me away.

Mothra on Brontoforumus described it as the best comic-book movie he'd ever seen. When I read that comment, I assumed he meant the best movie based on a comic. Now that I've seen it, I'm thinking he must have meant the movie that best translated the medium of comics onto the screen.

I'm inclined to agree. It does some really cool shit with comic-style layouts (like the new DuckTales opening titles, if they were two hours long). Where movies like Persepolis and Sin City are straight off the page, Spider-Verse adapts the page itself. In a funny way, I think the movie makes a good defense of Ang Lee's Hulk -- because you can watch Spider-Verse and see that this is what Lee was trying to do with those splitscreen tricks. He couldn't quite stick the landing, but I've always thought it was a fascinating approach -- and Spider-Verse takes those ideas and makes them work.

Plus, after 35 years of "Biff! Pow! Comics aren't just for kids anymore!" headlines, it's nice to see a movie that's finally unselfconscious enough to put sound effects up on the screen.

And the plot -- somehow, a movie that's packed with heroes, villains, and parallel dimensions manages to feel lean and tight. I think part of that is that the script (by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman) knows who to focus on (Miles > Peter > Gwen > the rest; Kingpin > Prowler > Doc Ock > the rest). It also trusts the audience: not only do Lord and Rothman trust that they don't need to explain who Doc Ock is; they trust that the very idea of a bunch of different versions of Spider-Man from parallel universes is a fit premise for a kids' movie.

They're right.

I took my seven-year-old nephew to see it. He didn't have any problem understanding the many-worlds premise. Granted, it's not the first time he's seen a superhero multiverse; both the 2003 and 2012 versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles teamed up with the 1987 versions at one time or another. But the point is, this is a kids' movie that treats kids like they're smart.