Bits

“Cuddling is, of course, the gateway sex drug, so, I suppose you could say that I was actually having the beginnings of thoughts about getting nasty in Cinderella’s Castle.”

David Thomas at http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/4/8

“While some folks distract themselves toting iPods of shitty music around like colostomy bags, others prefer to remain focused on a cardboard canvas with a modest fan brush.”

Anonymous at http://www.rotten.com/library/bio/artists/bob-ross/

“”Joy is contagious,” he said, peering into the microscope.”

A 2005 Lyttle Lytton contestant at http://adamcadre.ac/05lyttle.html.

Did Google “steal” the moon?

Copyright maximalists use silly terminology like “copyright protects the content of intellectual property owners against theft by pirates“. Works are works, not content, and cannot be stolen, because they can effortly and almost freely be duplicated. They are not owned by copyright owners, but by the public, which loans the works to the publishers (most of the time). A work is not protected by copyright, since copyright generally makes sure that only a limited amount of dissemination can be applied to a work, whereas full protection also requires the unhindered ability to rip, mix, and burn a work.

Anyway, this issue is well-understood, and the only really disconcerting thing about it is that regular folks, and even copyfighters, unthinkingly use the same words when talking about copyright that the sort of scum that tries to criminalize regular folks use.

I said that works cannot be stolen, but that is not quite true. Theft means that I take something away so that you can no longer use it. Copyright law would be theft if it weren’t introduced by the state, because copyright law makes it so that you can no longer freely use works. If anything copyright related comes close to being theft, it is making false claims about copyright status. Visible copyright claims have become No Tresspassing signs, barring people from access even where they have a right to access.

Google made a small celebratory parody on their excellent Google Maps service; Google Moon celebrates the first manned moon-landing by providing a photo map of the Sea of Tranquility.

[Screenshot of a fragment of the Google Moon interface]

The interesting bit is the copyright notice that Google super-imposes on the image: “Copyright 2005 Google – Imagery copyright 2005 NASA”. NASA is a part of the USA government, and according to the copyright laws of that same government, governmentally produced works are in the public domain. In other words, nothing is “copyright NASA”–the photos Google uses are owned by the entire planet; not just by NASA and not just by Google.

Also interesting is how Google super-imposes the copyright notice over the image text, implying that Google is also a copyright holder of these photos. The thing Google probably claims copyright over are the page lay-out, the software, possibly the interface (if that can be copyrighted). And probably Google was not being evil (although they have not been trying very hard to not be evil lately), but rather it was listening to its lawyers who said “better safe than sorry”.

When I started this blog, I had a couple of goals with it. One of them was to let me explore the intricacies of copyright by writing about them. I feel that I have not learned much yet, but one thing I am pretty certain about; misrepresenting copyright status is almost always a bad thing. When people want to build upon a work, but are turned off by the possibility of infringement that is suggested by a falsely placed copyright notice, or by a badly written license, or by the lack of mention of an author to contact, it means creativity is blocked by copyright.

I stumble upon this from time to time when trying to find books for Project Gutenberg. Since I am in the Netherlands, I need to make sure that a book is in the public domain before I send it to PG. In my case that means finding out the date the author died, but with obscure authors that is rarely straightforward.

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.

Armstrong finances drug tests

Lance Armstrong sponsors UCI drug testing, said UCI chairman Hein Verbruggen in an interview with Dutch sports TV show Studio Sport today. The interview was part of a long look at the legend Lance Armstrong has become during his lifetime.

Verbruggen revealed this in an attempt to bolster Armstrong’s reputation (this shows he’s committed to fighting doping), although his opponents could of course read something else in this (he’s buying negative test results).

Although Armstrong is the most doping-tested bicycle racer of the past eight years, no-one has ever found a shred of evidence that he is taking performance enhancing drugs (he was once tested positive, but that was the result of taking a skin cream against saddle sores). Yet allegations, especially by trash-rag Le Monde (and “namesake” Greg Lemond) have been haunting him for years.

Armstrong has also helped fund drug testing in the past.

Book On CD

Looking for more info on a couple of authors whose anthology of Dutch poetry and prose I want to send Project Gutenberg-wards, I stumbled on a website called Boek Op CD (Dutch, Book On CD). Its proprietors scan in donated books, turn them into PDF (and where possible perform an OCR run), burn the results on CD and sell those CDs, usually for around 10 euro per copy. Looks like PG has some interesting commercial competition, at least in the Netherlands. So far, they have a small but interesting catalogue. They use the Bookeye planetary scanner, and (just like Distributed Proofreaders) their OCR software of choice is Abbyy Finereader.

If there is anybody who has actually bought such a disk, I would be interested to know (for purposes too nefarious to mention) if the quality of the scans really is as low as the sample book suggests.

(Er, obviously they use Bookeye, as that is their own product. The use of Mambo for both sites seemed to suggest as much. :-))

Interested in finding out more about this project, I turned to Google and nic.nl. As it turns out, the company is run by Rob Camerlink as a side project to his Easy Data company, and based on a similar British project for genealogists called The Archive CD Books Project. There is an interview with Rob Camerlink in Dagblad van het Noorden (Dutch).