Marten Toonder died

Dutch is the language of clay and rain and boorishness and flat-bottomed boats floating along majestic canals. Many authors have tried to inject the language with words that described their disdain for this swamp behind the beaches of the North Sea and its inhabitants, but only the inventions of a few survived in the language of today. Marten Toonder was one of those authors.

Toonder managed to breathe an atmosphere of professionalism into the Dutch comic strip scene. His studio became the breeding ground for talent such as Hans G. Kresse, Lo Hartog van Banda, Dick Matena, Fred Julsing, The Tjong King and others. His own strips were recognized as high literature; such that in my high-school, the only comic strip allowed during “Dutch” was Toonder’s Tom Puss.

(Via Reinder.)

Invention #2: the multi-alarm alarm clock

Abstract: an electric alarm clock with several alarm pre-sets instead of just the one.

I have different sleep-wake patterns. When I have to go to my part-time job or to a customer, I need to wake up before 8. When I can stay at home to work, I usually wake up an hour later. During the weekends, I generally do not need to wake up, but often I don’t want to sleep in too late.

My travel alarm clock is one of the old fashioned kind: with dials. It is easy to operate, because you just turn the knob until the red hand points at the time you want to wake up.

But my electric alarm clock is different; first you have to press the hour button, and watch the hours crawl by. This can get so tedious, that sometimes I even forget to release the button and have to go another 24 hrs. Then you go through the same routine with the minutes button.

With a mixed, but repeating wake-sleep pattern, it would be handy if this alarm clock had three or four buttons that I could assign each its own wake-up time. That way, I need to set these times only once.

Scratch that: I am fixing bad interface design with more interface. It would be better if the time setting interface of my electric alarm clock would be as good and simple as that of my travel alarm clock. Or better yet, it would be better if I could try out the interface before I buy, so that I won’t keep buying the same crap just because it looks nice. Which is not going to happen. Where is the real friction in the whole waking-me-up-on-time pattern?

Invention #1: the pay-me-to-talk-to-me phone

Abstract: if somebody calls me, they get a warning there is an extra charge of 1 euro per minute that I will switch off during the conversation, except under special circumstances. This should solve the problem of people trying to sell me something over the phone.

Early this morning somebody called me on my landline. I did not answer, because it is usually some rude salesman from Asia who forgets to check the time in Europe. As it turned out (after checking my answering service) it was my roommate.

Lately, uses of my landline have been limited to a few: it enables my ADSL, it is a back-up for if ADSL fails, and it is a cheap method for outbound calls. And it lets vermin salesdroids call me. I would, as many people I know have done before me, cancel it completely, but somehow that seems a great waste of resources. And really, I would be happy with the few uses I get out of it, if the phone weren’t at the same time a source of problems to me. I really hate talking to insurance-selling scum. I don’t mind people trying to sell me something; I mind the way they approach me as if they aren’t.

Now the phone system has got a feature that e-mail doesn’t; it can relay charges. So my idea is this: let my phone company implement a service where if people call me, they get a message that says this call will be 1 euro per minute on top of the regular charge. Except, that I can cancel that extra charge during the call, and probably will. I on the other hand get a message telling me which button to press to cancel the extra charge.

OK, come to think of it; this is a bad idea. Because if it is going to be successful, only legitimate callers will be hurt in the end. And if it is not going to be successful, there is no point in having this service.

Any ideas on how to extend this so that only bad-faith callers will be hurt from the beginning?

Master and Margarita

Here’s one for the atheists: two atheists are sitting in a Moscow park, discussing the poem one wrote dissing Jesus. Then the devil walks up to them and says: “Pardon my interruption, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation…”

Thus starts Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece Master and Margarita, a searing celebration of the individual. Seeing as he wrote this during the warm fuzzy rule of one Joe Stalin, it is probably not surprising that Bulgakov kept this work well-hidden, so that he became one of the few Russian authors of those days who actually died of natural causes.

Project Gutenberg Europe, based in Serbia and Montenegro (Life+50 copyright regime), has recently released the Russian text of this book, together with the famous works of many other famous authors.

You can see the entire list of fresh Life+50 etexts linked from Project Gutenberg European Union. Remember kids, downloading may be bad. On the other hand, listening to copyright extremists leads to impotence and hair loss. Your choice.

(Tidbit from the Wikipedia article on the book: “Bulgakov’s old flat, in which parts of the novel are set, since 1980s has become a target for Moscow-based Satanist groups, as well as of Bulgakov’s fans, and defaced with various kinds of graffitti. The building’s residents, in an attempt to deter these groups, are currently attempting to turn the flat into a museum of Bulgakov’s life and works. Unfortunately, they are having trouble contacting the flat’s anonymous owner.”)

Mo’ Mac editors

Reinders ship, nay, fleet has come in.

So here’s an update on my text editor situation (as fishing that info from the comments sections of old posts would be too painful).

My number 1 is still Mi. Yes, the author still does not support the English version fully (I have no idea what that means though–apart from a couple of akward-seeming translations the English version works just fine).

The Mac comes shipped with Pico. I would have preferred Nano for purely ideological reasons, but hey, gift horse and all that.

Places 3 through 5 are taken by the terrific trio of Subetha Edit, Taco and Text Wrangler. Hey, buttons don’t come bigger and shinier than that.

ESA studying Kliper coöperation

The European Space Agency (ESA) reports that it is looking at means to transport people to and from the International Space Station after the end-of-flight of the US Space Shuttle around 2010. A most promising candidate for this job is the Russion Kliper in the opinion of Frank de Winne, a Belgian astronaut working for ESA.