Thursday, October 29, 2009

Employment Contracts - Read. Think. Then Sign. Maybe.

This is one of those times I'm very glad to be self-employed with a little sole proprietorship - instead of being toward the end of a conventionally 'successful' career with the government or some corporate employer.

I ran into this blog post a few minutes ago:

The gist of the post is in its lead paragraph:
"Both employers and employees may be surprised to find that employee created blog posts, YouTube, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook profiles, and even tweets may be owned by companies. ... Why is this? Employees sign employment contracts that may indicate that all intellectual property created during employment may be owned by the company, let's dive into what you should know:...."
(Jeremiah Owyang, Web Strategy)
Kudos to the blogger, for knowing what he doesn't know:
"...I'm not a lawyer, so I've asked one to comment on this topic...."
(Jeremiah Owyang, Web Strategy)
Even so, I wouldn't take this post as the final word on the subject of employees, contracts, intellectual property, and the whims of corporate legal departments.

I do think it would be very prudent for anyone who has signed a contract to take a good, hard look at it - and see if they've signed away their rights to all intellectual property they produce while employed - on the clock, or not.

Me? I'm safe. The last contract I signed is almost thirty years old now, with an entity that no longer exists. Almost my entire 'professional' career in writing and marketing was as an hourly wage-earner - with no contract. No complaints there.

I know that American culture assumes that contracts are some sort of guarantee. Let's look at it this way:
  • If I'm doing my job and my employer is being reasonable: we're both satisfied, and don't need a contract
  • If one or the other of us isn't satisfied, a contract could get in the way of sorting out the problems
  • If the employer is ethically challenged, some twerp in one of the departments can't pay the legal muscle it would take to win in court
So, contracts are (arguably) somewhere on a continuum between unnecessary and harmful.

I know that there are good reasons for drawing up contracts - and I approve of the idea of defining exactly what a working relationship is. On the other hand, I'm willing to see the up side of a 'you pay me until I'm not getting the job done' relationships, too.

I'm starting a discussion thread on employee contracts and intellectual property, over on BlogCatalog. (Posting on Company Time? What's the Worst that could Happen?) I hope some good insights come up there.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:
A tip of the hat to Twitter_Tips, on Twitter, for the heads-up on that post.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Knew "Coconut Crab" Would be so Hot?

It's enough to drive a blogger to distraction.

About a month ago, I posted a micro-review about's writeup on coconut crabs. ("The Coconut Crab: No, It's Not From a Science Fiction Movie" (September 25, 2009))

Then, I moved on to the next task of the day.

I enjoyed putting that post together more than most: the monster land arthropod looks like something out of a better-than-average science fiction movie, and it's quite real.

But I didn't expect that post to be particularly popular. I'm fascinated by arthropods with branchiostegal lungs that allow them to scuttle on land - and up trees: but I've long since learned that my interests and those of about 999 out of a thousand people don't have all that much in common, when you get beyond basics like grilled steaks and the opposite sex.

So, I was surprised when that coconut crab post kept showing up near the top in my daily logs.

Then today, so far, it's accounted for over 75% of my traffic. Total. All eleven blogs and three websites. (Shameless self-promotion: A Small World of Websites™)

The 'extra' hits are all, or nearly all, from Google. Why? I have no idea, although there seems to have been a serious spike in the last hour or so. My blog post is in the top 10 (9th place), so there must be something that's driving interest in coconut crabs today. This afternoon.

My guess is that there's some television program that mentioned the things.

Traffic Spikes, Research, and Common Sense

Whatever's driving this spike, I'm glad it's happening: and won't spend more time wondering about why it happened.

My business is a sole proprietorship, with me as owner, manager, writer, research department, janitor, and anything else that needs to get done. Knowing what drove this spike would be nice - but beyond filing what I've found away with the rest of what I've noticed about traffic, I don't have the resources to find an answer to that question.

Besides, the answer probably wouldn't help me. Aside from concentrating more on 'cool' subjects than I might otherwise, I plan to keep writing posts for that blog, Apathetic Lemming of the North, the way I have for the last couple of years. In that blog, I focus excursively on topics I'd be following anyway, like:
  • Martian speleology
  • Interior design
  • City planning
  • Visions of the future
  • Cute and funny animals
  • Artificial intelligence
  • The weirder end of high fashion
  • Cosmology
  • Architecture
  • Anything else that looks interesting

I've used this quote fairly often:

"There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person."
G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (1905), The Quotations Page

And, from Tennyson's Ulysses:

"...this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.....

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