Unfortunate URLs

Unfortunate URLs for: Pen Island, Therapist Finder and Lumberjacks Exchange.

(Through mr. Weinberger.)

Rant on the use and misuse of Stickies and Announcements

If you have never used a web forum, you probably don’t know much about them, so here is a quick introduction. A web forum is a website or part of a website where people interested in its topic can start written discussions. Each discussion takes place in a topical forum, and each discussion is called a thread. Somebody starts a new thread, and if it is interesting enough, others will respond within the space of that new thread.

A forum is displayed as a webpage that contains a list of clickable thread titles. The list is sorted such that the thread that was most recently responded to is at the top, whereas less popular threads are further to the bottom, or even on a different page.

There is a way for thread authors to break this sort-order, by designating threads either as Sticky or as an Announcement. Even if two minutes ago you did not know yet what web forums are, you will probably already see what is wrong with Stickies and Announcements. I repeat: they are a way to break the sort-order of threads.

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Mushroom-cream sauce

Tonight I made a mushroom-cream sauce: cut up a lot of mushrooms (the non-hallucicogenic kind you hippies!) and bake them, add a bit of finely chopped onion and carrot, and add in some cream later, together with finely chopped paprika; let it simmer for a few minutes. Serve with schnitzel.

I also added a little paksoi (no idea what that is in English, but its Latin name is brassica campestris), just so that my guest would wonder what was in the food. Unfortunately, I overdid it. The idea was good, but now I ended up with a cream sauce to cure colds.


Jimmac has some useful tips for creating wallpapers (you know, those things on your computer desktop?).

Copyright law and the copyright law: the case Vermande vs. Bojkovski

In some respects Dutch copyright law is not as advanced as its American counterpart. For instance, in the US publications of the federal government are in the public domain. This is for example why people get to know so much about space: anyone can republish images that were originally published by NASA.

In the Netherlands, political parties have gotten no further than discussing whether perhaps public television broadcasts should be “freed”.

Dutch copyright law (English version in PDF after link) does make an exception though for “laws, decrees or ordinances issued by public authorities, or [for] judicial or administrative decisions”.

When Richard Stallman speaks of copyright law, he refers to it as an industry regulation. Copyright, he claims, is a balance between two public interests, and it was won so easily, because ordinary citizens did not have to give up anything; ordinary citizens typically did not own printing presses in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. By giving up the right to copy, they essentially gave up nothing. Copyright regulated practices in the publishing industry.

When people finally do find a use for an under-used right, they are going to want to use it. And as soon as they do, those on the other end of the bargain are going to cry foul. The last decade copyright law has expanded in the US and the EU in an almost obscene manner, demonstrating that it is the people that drew the short end.

An interesting demonstration of an under-utilized right, where a gate-keeper lashes out at anyone who wishes to utilize the right, is the case of Vermande vs. Bojkovski. In the 1990s, Pavle Bojkovski, a law student from Amsterdam, started a website called Wetten.nu, which published law texts. The site ceased to exist in 2001, three years after the decision in Vermande vs. Bojkovski, but can still be consulted in the Wayback Machine.

Thus far, the publication of laws, though officially not restricted by copyrights, had been a monopoly of the former state printer, SDU. That is, Dutch law only becomes valid after publication in a newspaper called Staatsblad (lit. paper of the state), which is published by a private company called SDU B.V. (B.V. = incorporated). There were (and are) other publishers of legal texts, such as Wolters Kluwer—I do not know whether they licensed their versions from SDU.

Anyway, citizens who wanted access to the text of the law had to go through a process that generated money for publishers. For instance, you went out and bought the Staatsblad, or you went to the public library and looked up some of Wolters Kluwer’s tomes. Somebody, somewhere had to be paid to deliver this information to you.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad system at the time. The people had no easy way of accessing documents anyway, other than buying printed copies or looking them up in the library. The internet, and especially the web, changed this of course.

Bojkovski made it possible to bypass the network of gatekeepers. You could go to his website, and all you needed to pay for was the transfer of bits. There was no premium to the content itself, for which you had already paid in the form of taxes.

Undoubtedly, it was this circumvention that raised the ire of SDU. Through one of its subsidiaries, Vermande, it sued Bojkovski. It claimed that Bojkovski had infringed copyrights, database right, and that he had acted against the Terms and Conditions under which Bojkovski had acquired the law texts from SDU.

In other words, this was going to be a walk-over for Bojkovski, because the law states that the text of the law is not copyrighted.

In reality, it was a close shave. That Bojkovski had copied the text from Vermande’s commentaries to the law, instead of from the Staatsblad, should have been immaterial. Nor should it have been important that SDU made a substantial investment collecting law texts and making them accessible.

Unfortunately, the European Union passed a directive that grants so-called database rights that do just that: make it illegal to republish information that was collected in a database.

The judge in Vermande vs. Bojkovski intimated that he was inclined to find for Vermande (+ English abstract), except that the Dutch government had at the time not yet been able to decide how to turn the E.U. directive into national law. The judge was not going to second-guess the government, and so he decided the case solely on the copyright issues. Bojkovski won.

Commentaries at the time not only sided with the judge’s narrow interpretation of database law, but also predicted that it was impossible for the government to draft a database law that would excluded state publications.

The Dutch government has done just that, though; according to Bernt Hugenholtz (linked before):

The case eventually led to the adoption in the Database Act of a provision (Article 8(1) ) that rules out government ownership of database rights in respect of laws, decrees, ordinances, as well as court and administrative decisions. The provision is supposedly based on the catch-all provision of Article 13 of the Directive, that leaves ‘laws on […] access to public documents’ intact.

Restricting a citizen’s access to the texts of the laws by which he is governed sounds like the stuff that science-fiction stories are made of, but without an enterprising law-student who was willing to take a stand, that might very well have become practice in the Netherlands.

Ig Nobel Prizes of 2005

This years Ig Nobel prizes have been awarded in the following categories to the following people for the following reasons:

– Agricultural history, to James Watson, for the study into “The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley’s Exploding Trousers”.

– Physics: John Mainstone and the late Thomas Parnell for dripping tar at a rate of one drip per nine years (experiment still ongoing).

– Medicine: Gregg Miller for inventing artificial testicles for castrated dogs.

– Literature: the collective Nigerian scam spammers, for their entire Å“uvre.

– Peace: Claire Rind and Peter Simmons for monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie “Star Wars.”

– Economics: Gauri Nanda for inventing an alarm clock that hides from its owner.

– Chemistry: Edward Cussler and Brian Gettelfinger for determining experimentally whether people swim faster in syrup or water.

– Biology: Benjamin Smith and others for catalogueing 131 smells of stressed out frogs. (Presumably the new Axe commercial has Kermit running from miss Piggy.)

– Nutrition: Yoshiro Nakamats for taking photos of all his meals of the past 34 years (experiment still on-going).

– Fluid Dynamics: Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow and Jozsef Gal for calculating the pressures that build in a penguin while defacating.

On reviews

There is this great film database that invites visitors to leave reviews, but on their terms and using their interface. There are also several book databases that invite you, again, to review books at their site ([1], [2], [3], and [4], for example), but with similar problems, and with the added complication that the conscientious reviewer (that would be me) needs to keep track of what he posted where, and make sure he posted it everywhere (assuming that not one of the sites claim an exclusive license).

So I decided to start posting my reviews here. Advantages as I see them:

  • I can license the reviews the way I want to.
  • I can edit a review if I like.
  • I can prevent a review from being edited if I like.
  • I am no longer restrained by silly rules such as IMDB’s “ten lines minimum” (for any given definition of “line”).

This blog’s software may not be eminently suited for handling reviews, but as it happens it is a damn sight better than the aforementioned “specialized” sites, and what I don’t like I can change. (In all honesty, I am sorta chummy with the developers of at least two of those sites, so I could probably help change things over there too.)

Now if only Technorati allowed one to search for a movie title with the tag “review”. Does it?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

I downloaded this new series of people being forced to give up smoking, and how each of them is coming to terms with that. Battlestar Galactica (the new series) gets many things wrong, but it also gets many things right, and in the end that’s what counts.

There are a lot of movies and series that try and tie in to my childhood memories of Good TV. All of them try and recreate the feel of the old show; Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, tries to create the feel that somebody who watched the show as a child, but since has grown up, would like. That means things have seriously changed. But they have changed for the good: if you liked rebellious Starbuck as a young boy, you’ll love Starbuck now you’re a grown man.

Score: 7/10.

(This review is based on the miniseries, the first season, and the first four episodes of the second season.)

Call for volunteer amateur translators

Ik ben op zoek naar mensen die voor een experimentje een of twee alinea’s willen vertalen uit The Tell-Tale Heart van Edgar Allan Poe. Ik wil zien of meerdere mensen die aan een vertaling werken een consistente stijl kunnen opleveren. Maak je niet druk over taalfouten of literair niveau; dat zijn dingen van later zorg. Als je me vijf minuutjes van je tijd gunt, ben ik je zeer dankbaar.

Zie hier.

The coolest cigarette brand

Click here!