Ratmepper from Hamelin

Driek van Wissen has become poet laureate of the Netherlands, but Reinder thinks he has a better candidate. If you would like to learn Dutch without actually learning Dutch, enjoy John O’Mill’s “The Ratmepper from Hamelin”, a re-telling of the famous Pied Piper tale.

Is this how Europe works?

European Union: internal market. For an internal market, trade-related laws need to be harmonized. Council of ministers agrees to proposals (called directives) by the civil service of the E.U., the European Commission, which member states then fold into their national laws. The E.U. and its directives exist by the grace of the member states; if the council of ministers would pass directives willy-nilly, the member states would refuse to pass new laws based on those directives.

Is this how Europe works?

The past year and a half I have been following (and at times participated in) the process of changing copyright and patent laws in the E.U.

The council of ministers would like to allow patents on computer programs. This would be a harmonization, because some countries allow patents on computer programs, and others do not. Of course, the council of ministers could have moved the other direction and explicitely outlawed patents on “pure software”; that also would be harmonization. It did not, and one can only guess to the reason why. If I were still a journalist, I would “follow the money”.

In the Netherlands, one of the E.U.’s member states, parliament tried to make work easy for themselves by agreeing to the position of the European Parliament, whatever that might be. The responsible minister in turned tried to make it easier for parliament, by declaring that the EP agreed with the EC, which was an outright lie. The EP was and is against patents on computer programs.

After the minister had voted for software patents in the council of ministers, parliament was alerted that the minister had lied to them. In a volatile coalition, this might be enough for the fall of the government, but that’s not the case now. If elections were held in the Netherlands today, the ruling parties would all lose seats.

Dutch parliament accepted a motion though that said the minister had to change his yes-vote into an abstention. The minister interpreted that as doing nothing, because he had already voted. Apparently, he had all run out of vote on this issue.

For some reason, though, the proposal of the E.C. had to be run by the council of ministers again, this time as a formality. That means that a lot of issues are placed on the agenda, and when the meeting is over and no-one has specifically objected (I presume), the issues are passed.

The opposition in Dutch parliament tried to get a motion passed that the minister had to actually request the issue be taken off the agenda, which means it could not be treated as a formality. The nays had it, because it was an individual vote count, and not enough of the yes-voters showed up.

Yesterday, the same vote was held, and the ayes had it. For now, the vote is stalled so that the EP can restart the entire process again.

What have I learned so far?

  • You cannot trust a politician (I already knew this, but it never hurts to repeat this fundamental truth)
  • The E.U. is broken:
    • it is run by ministers instead of countries; the ministers do not always represent the countries (and seem to be quite candid about it too)
    • its power extends beyond the internal market, affecting lives the way it should not

But also:

  • Lobbying helps.

This proposal would have passed over a year ago if it had not been for the tremendous efforts by the FFII and Vrijschrift.

I believe that the damage to the E.U. would have been horrific. Already, the damage is huge; by stalling the banning of pure software patents, the E.U. has kept itself from becoming a safe haven for honest, talented, hard-working programmers from over the world.

For my reading list

Still to read, because too busy:

(Well, what they earn is another matter, what they get is what’s being discussed. Through BoingBoing.)

Update 2007-09-13:

The second link is broken: the article now appears to reside here.

Kliper shown to general public in Paris?

The old Soviet press agency TASS announces that the Kliper space ship will be shown to the general public at Le Bourge space show in Paris, which will be held from June 13 – June 19.

The Kliper is a lifting body design, which means that it is shaped so that it won’t fall as fast as the “space bricks” that are generally used; instead it will sort of glide through the atmosphere. It is a reusable space ship designed to replace the Soyuz. It is much larger on the inside than the Soyuz and takes up to six passengers; presumably so that rich tourists can take orbital rides and even visit the space station.

Darts on broadband

For those with broadband connections wishing to watch the Masters of Darts, aim your Windows Media players at http://rtlztv.rtl.nl/rtlzbroad.

Darts showdown

Somebody forgot to tell the world that four of BDO’s heavy-weights and four of PDC’s are meeting this week, with of course a long-awaited showdown between Raymond van Barneveld and Phil “The Power” Taylor.

Thus far, the BDOs are leading two-nil, with their third player leading the third match. But the PDCs will be firing their BFG tomorrow.

My GIMP keyboard shortcuts

The keyboard shortcuts I have come to remember over four years of using The GIMP:

  • R – Rectangular Selection (M in Photoshop, for “Marquee Selection”)
  • Alt-I – Change to indexed mode
  • Alt-R – Change to RGB mode
  • Shift-B – Fill (B for “Bucket Fill”)
  • Shift-C – Crop
  • Shift-Control-I – Image Information
  • Ctrl-S – Save
  • Ctrl-2 – Copy selection to new image
  • F2 – Flatten image (this means reduce all layers to one, keeping only the visible pixels)

(Standard editing shortcuts like for Copy and Undo not listed, as I already knew them from other programs.)

The last two shortcuts were dynamically assigned: the GIMP lets you assign your own keyboard shortcuts, if you like.

GIMP and usability

The other day I installed GIMP 2.2 on a PC and was delighted to notice a couple of improvements to help ease image editing. The most noticeable of these was the improved file dialog. The GIMP now allows you to “remember” favourite directories by dragging them to a special area in the dialog window. If you keep all your photographs in D:\data\images\photos, you’ll get there in one click. Also, if you are working on a project, you can give yourself easy access to the project. Once the project is over, you remove the directory from the list.

Cut-out of GIMP Save As file dialog
The GIMP file dialog has a list of favourite directories to the left. Copyright 2004 The GIMP Documentation Team.

This is in fact an old feature from the Commodore Amiga. There, you could use the MOUNT command to create special drives anywhere on the file system. So hd0:data/images/photos would become the PHOTO: drive. The GIMP approach is even an improvement to this method, as it allows you to store favourite directories at the application level. On the Amiga, you could end up with dozens of “drives” system-wide, because there was no way to attach a mount to a specific application.

I congratulate the GIMP developers with this improvement, and hope that they’ll get more and more used to the idea that not everything has to be solved at the system or window manager level.

GIMP 2 got the large version number for all the internal improvements that its main architects wanted recognition for. However, GIMP 2.2 seems to have all the improvements that users will immediately notice. If you thought 2.0 was a bit of a let-down, and haven’t looked at 2.2 yet for exactly that reason, I would like to encourage you to download 2.2 after all. It still hasn’t got all the really important stuff, like 16 bit per pixel per channel colours and better management of indexed images, but it has a truck load of small usability improvements that you will enjoy, such as improved guides management, previews for most of the filters, a shortcut editor to manage your dynamic shortcuts, a toggle for Advanced options in dialogs, and much more.

Blink and you won’t miss it

Whenever I highlight a recently published Project Gutenberg book, I try and do so on its artistic merits.

For the naysayers though who feel that PG’s way of the plain text file is just plain wrong, and who think we should produce richly marked-up ebooks, savour this: Distributed Proofreaders project #6000 contains 6495 internal hyperlinks. Yes, you read that right, our volunteers have produced a tome with 6,495 distinct hyperlinks. Although I bet the The Journal of Sir Walter Scott is a valuable book for other reasons too.

According to my reckoning, DP now produces over 75% of its ebooks in both plain text and HTML formats.

Eiffel Tower copyrighted?

According to David-Michel Davies, SNTE is claiming copyrights on the illuminated Eiffel Tower. I guess if a company can have a right to a bunch of lights on a land-mark, a Parisian citizen can have a right to have an eyesore taken down.