Using Copyright to Quash Criticism

zillow-mcmansion-effElectronic Frontier Foundation

Kate Wagner runs an architecture criticism blog called McMansion Hell, where she posts pictures and opinions of examples of what she considers poor design. Mostly she criticizes big houses that are meant to appeal buyers’ vanities. A company called the Zillow Group sent her a cease and desist order saying the pictures she was using were protected by copyright and couldn’t be used. She did what most people would do when threatened by the lawyers of a big corporation. She shut down her blog.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. The Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF) got wind of it and stepped in to defend Ms Wagner against the specious order. They sent a couple of strongly worded letters to Zillow’s lawyers and let them know they weren’t going to get away with their bullying.

EFF staff attorney Daniel Nazer said, “Our client has no obligation to, and thus will not, comply with Zillow’s demands. Zillow’s legal threats are not supported and plainly seek to interfere with protected speech.”

Zillow quickly changed its tune, claiming that they never had any intention of interfering with Ms Wagner’s freedom of expression. They just thought they were protecting the copyright of the owners of the images she was taking from Zillow’s website. The EFF let them know that they were wrong.

EFF’s response called Zillow’s legal complaints “baseless” and its allegations “unfounded and unsupportable” as it laid out a variety of legal arguments for why McMansion Hell and Wagner were not bound by Zillow’s terms of use and why her use of photographs sourced from Zillow are indeed protected by fair use.

The McMansion Hell blog is back up and running and Ms Wagner is breathing easily again. Chalk up another one for the EFF, those heroes who defend our freedoms.

via Zillow drops complaint against ‘McMansion Hell’ blog after backlash over copyright claim – GeekWire


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Mirostaw – World Meteorological Organization

Cloud of the Day – Volutus

Volutus, from the Latin volutus, which means rolled, is a species of cloud (yes, they actually come in species, and genera too) that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently added to the latest edition if its venerable cloud atlas (2017.) It’s described as

a long, horizontal, tube-shaped cloud mass, often appearing to roll about a horizontal axis. It usually occurs as a single line and seldom extends from horizon to horizon.

This species is usually found in the stratocumulus genera, and more rarely in the altocumulus genera. In either case, volutus is rare.

The more observant among you might notice a resemblance to a previous Green Comet Cloud of the Day: Roll cloud. You would be right. It’s the same cloud, only now the WMO has officially included it in the cloud atlas, and given it a Latin name in keeping with the rest of the clouds. The atlas has to have a consistent naming regimen if it’s to be useful for scientific research.


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NASA Image and Video Library

You might be aware of the website dedicated to the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD.) You can visit the site and see another great picture every day. Some people even set things up so their computer’s desktop image is the APOD changing daily. It’s a NASA website and just one of the ways that organization shares its discoveries with the public. Today I’m going to direct you to another one called the NASA Image and Video Library. They have brought together about sixty of their media archives into one source. Here’s an article on about the library.

Here are some samples of the images available. They link to the much larger originals. These images are Public Domain.

Let’s start with a spacewalk.

Next the aurora on Jupiter.

The mystery of Saturn.

Here’s one you might recognize: the Helix nebula.

Finally, a bit of space dust.

Happy rummaging.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment Tops Two Thousand Logo

At the combined downloads of Green Comet and Parasite Puppeteers have surpassed two thousand. To be exact, today they added up to 2,001., which I have previously posted about, has been my most reliable outlet. It hasn’t accounted for the most downloads — that would be the Green Comet website itself. It’s not even the most productive external outlet — that would be BitTorrent Bundles. But it is the steadiest and most dependable outside of this website. While BitTorrent Bundles and other places have had big surges early on, they have tailed off to nearly nothing quite quickly. just seems to keep chugging along.

So, that’s another milestone for me and for my books. And it’s another chance for me to shine a light on It’s also another chance for you to go there and see for yourself. Green Comet and Parasite Puppeteers aren’t the only books there. If you dig around you’ll find plenty of others that are at least as good. I’ve even reviewed a few of them here. You should go over there and download some of them. If you like them you can go back and tell the authors. You can even give them a bit of money to reward their generosity, if you feel like it. That’s the beauty of They’re freeing books, and giving us a chance to thank the authors at the same time.

A pretty good example of how to share.


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Twenty-Five Thousand Downloads

Photo credit - Winston Wong

Photo credit – Winston Wong

We have reached the 25,000 download mark. I think that’s a nice round number with a definite flavor of seriousness. Thank you everyone who has downloaded Green Comet and its extensions, and a special thanks to everyone who has recommended the novel to a new reader.

The trilogy is very near completion. I’m working on the ending of the first draft of the third novel, which should be done within the next few weeks. This level of interest is just the kind of encouragement I need.

Thanks again, everyone.


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Epicene They

Grammar of the Day – Epicene They

Some style guides are beginning to accept the epicene they. We’ll find out who, but first some groundwork. Epicene, in this case, means gender-free. English is a language with gender in its grammar. He-she, his-her, for example. This leads to clumsy or biased language. All the he/she, his/her, s/he, hir awkwardness has been unable to successfully replace the pretense that “he” can stand in for a gender-neutral pronoun. It is the third person singular pronoun that is a problem. We have the binary pronouns he and she for gender-specific third person singular application, and they for non-specific plural. But there is no gender-neutral singular pronoun for the job if the third person’s gender is unspecified.

English used to have a solution for the problem: the singular they. Beginning in the 14th century and continuing for 500 years, English speakers used “they” for the indefinite third person singular pronoun. Until this day it has continued in common speech and everyone knows what you mean when you use it. But in the 19th century linguists and grammarians took issue with it because they is plural. They decreed that we should use he, or even one.

Merriam Webster Dictionary – One common bugbear of the grammatical nitpicker is the singular they. For those who haven’t kept up, the complaint is this: the use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun (as in, “Ask each of the students what they want for lunch.”) is ungrammatical because they is a plural pronoun.

Oxford Dictionary – It happens when they, them, their, and themselves refer back to subjects that are grammatically singular.

“They” is making a comeback, and none too soon. It has been the correct choice in the case of indeterminate gender. “Does everyone have their life jacket?” Everyone is singular grammatically, and their is plural, but this usage is considered correct. Now it’s becoming more acceptable to use it to avoid assigning gender. “Do they have their lifejacket?” They and their are both ostensibly plural, but the subject is obviously singular. This usage, once frowned upon as ungrammatical and a sign of a lack of education, is returning to its proper and useful place. The result is a singular, non-binary they.

I’m glad because I made a conscious decision to use they this way when I began writing Green Comet.

This article on the Copyediting website discusses the Associated Press style guide moving toward accepting the singular, gender-neutral, third person they. The epicene they.

This Los Angeles Times article discussed the rise of the epicene they.


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