“We are probably in orbit, but it’s not the orbit that we thought it was”

The first amateur launched orbital space craft, the Cosmos-1, appears to be lost. The Cosmos-1 is/was a solar sail powered craft, the first of its kind to enter space, and built by The Planetary Society. Launching space-craft has been a government monopoly more or less until last year, when private space faring took off with the launch of Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne. Cosmos-1 was launched using a Russian ICBM.

Manybooks.net soliciting authors

Manybooks.net, my favorite supplier of Project Gutenberg etexts, is now soliciting authors to add to its catalogue.

Did Van Persie rape a lawyer?

Dutch football star Robin van Persie was arrested yesterday on charges of rape. His lawyer, Bram Moscowitz, is convinced Van Persie is innocent. During a TV interview, Moscowitz said he was not allowed to give details about the victim, but said that her profession made her an unreliable witness. What strange profession must that be!

G8 cancel debts of 18 countries, more to follow

The eight richest countries in the world have decided to write-off the billions in debt owed to them by eighteen of the poorest countries in the world, with nine more countries being a candidate for the same treatment.

This is great news. Every year, the well-meaning citizens of the world donate money to relief aid, but their contributions unfortunately amount to little. When Bob Geldof organised Live Aid in 1985, the campaign managed to collect ca. 250 million US$. However, the 18 poor countries of today together pay 1 billion US$ a year in interest alone. However well-meaning and useful relief aid is, it is not helping countries to help themselves.

I do feel a little bit guilty though: when everybody was giving money to help the Tsunami victims, I decided to give money to the debt relief campaign. Unfortunately, I could not find an organisation to give money to, and forgot.

Proofreading “Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers”

[About Confucius]

His qualifications as an arbiter were not, however, limited to his powers of persuasion–he could shoot an arrow farther and hurl a spear with more accuracy than any man he ever met. Very naturally there are a great number of folklore stories concerning his prowess, some of which make him out a sort of combination Saint George and William Tell, with the added kingly graces of Alfred the Great. Omitting the incredible, we are willing to believe that this man had a giant’s strength, but was great enough not to use it like a giant.

We are willing to believe that when attacked by robbers, he engaged them in conversation and that, seated on the grass, he convinced them they were in a bad business. Also, he did not later hang them, as did our old friend Julius Cæsar under like conditions.

Copying allowed

Promotional campaigns sometimes offer you a free gimmick if you buy enough of the product within a prescribed time frame: “Buy 20 packs of coffee within the month, send in the coupons (or copies) plus 50 dollar to cover shipping and handling costs, and win a free cardiac arrythmia meter”. The “or copies” statement I have always found fascinating. Is this unique to the Netherlands and based on some arcane law? Or is it a marketing gimmick; as long as people feel they can send in 20 copies, they will keep buying the product?

(The actual word used is “natekenen”, which means “copy by hand”.)

And what kind of license is this?

GDBook 0.1, a free text to image converter

I hacked together a small text to image converter for converting ebooks. Some devices that can be used as ebook readers will only display images (PSP, Juice Box). Although theoretically it is possible to write real ebook reading software for these devices, for now my GDBook program might help.

GDBook 0.1 is written in PHP, and intended to be run from the command line. It will save image files to your local file system. It does not take arguments: you need to edit the program file to change the settings.

Yes, that’s rather barbaric, but since I do not own a Juice Box or a PSP, I am not likely to develop this program further. GDBook is GPLed, so please take on its development if you like.

[1st page of a Stephen Leacock satire] [Second page of the Leacock story]

Things that I think GDBook does better than the competition:

  • No JPEG
  • Regular line endings (broken at word boundaries)

Things that JPEGBook does better:

  • Slick interface
  • Page numbers
  • Image backgrounds


GDLib comes standard with the MS Windows binaries for PHP, but is not installed. The GDLib web site explains how to install it. Keep in mind that the extension name in the php.ini file should be the same as in your extensions directory: on my system the two differed.

Known bug: when a paragraph ends in a wide line, some of the text may spill over the border and even off the page.

The text that is used in the current configuration is The War Sacrifices of Mr. Spugg (also as readable HTML version) by Stephen Leacock. Worth reading even if you have no need for the program.

Mattel’s megacheap e-book reader

Mattel, known mostly for the Barbie doll, and for the aggresive way in which it tries to “protect” its “trademark”, brought out an MP3/video player called the Juicebox.

Perhaps it did not catch on, because several US chain stores slashed its price from upwards of 60 dollar to just over 10 dollar.

Which made me wonder: could this machine perhaps be used as an ebook reader? The screen is 50% larger (in pixels) than that of my Palm Pilot and the price is a tenth of that same Palm Pilot. I have always felt that ebook readers should be around the 25 euro mark, because otherwise even prolific readers would be paying more for the medium than for the message.

(I can imagine a subscription scheme in which one would pay 50 euro for the first year, but get, say, a bunch of good, new books thrown in for free. A bit like the initial Ebookwise model, where you would pay 100 US$ for the reader device, and get 20 US$ worth of books free.)

Brian Pipa used JPEGbook to convert a text to sequentially numbered JPEGs, which then can be read on the Juicebox. More on the Teleread blog and at Brian’s.

Photo: Brian Pipa

The only pity so far seems to be that JPEGbook will not anti-alias the letters; the JPEG compression seems to produce pretty hefty artifacts, and of course one is limited in the font size that is usable.

It seems the Juicebox uses lots of standard components, which would imply it could be hacked to run a real reader program. The makers of the Juicebox, Hongkong based Emsoft, also produce ebook reader software, which may or may not be compatible.

Why I voted No

For some reason, a lot of the foreign press and a lot of the Dutch politicians had their answer ready as to why the majority of the Dutch voters voted against the treaty for the constitution of the E.U., although hardly* any of them had actually bothered to ask those same voters.

That does not bode well for the future of the E.U.

If our politicians want to shape the E.U. in such a way that it becomes a people’s union, and if the press wants to play a role in that, a smidgeon of honesty might be desirable.

I had many reasons for voting against this treaty. For one thing, it wasn’t good enough. Too little change for the better, and concessions on points that do not really matter anyway. I was (and am) afraid that if we had said Yes, this would have been it for the next ten, twenty, fifty years.

For another, I don’t like being told we can order any car we want, as long as its black. Ford can tell me that, because I can take my money and go to another car manufacturer. Not so with politics. If I need to make a choice, it must be a real choice. The Dutch government has been painting the No vote as one of anarchy, of chaos, of terrorism, of idiocy. If they really, truly believe that, then why ask us for our opinions?

Third, this “constitution” did not deserve that name. A constitution is a list of the very basic premises upon which a people form a political union. Ignoring for a minute the question of whether the E.U. should be more than a market: a book of 450 pages is not a small list. The “constitition” of the E.U. was a wish-list such as a child might present Santa. “Who likes strawberry ice-cream,” the E.U. asked of its citizens, expecting to hear only mindless “me”s.

And finally, yes I did want to punish certain politicians. This Europe is squarely opposed to software patents, yet for some reason the council of ministers pushed their will through, often against the explicit wishes of their local parliaments.

I looked up the treaty to see if anything would change in the procedure for voting in E.U. directives, and in particular in the role of the Council of Ministers. Hardly anything would have changed.

In short: we can do better than this.

*) A positive exception being BBC Online, with excellent coverage. For one thing, they asked real voters about why they voted what.

RIAA’s pet peeves

RIAA hates little baby ducks,
old pick-up trucks,
a slow moving train, and rain.

RIAA hates little country streams,
sleep without dreams,
Sunday school in May, and hay.

And RIAA hates you too.

(By Tom T. Hall and Clint, through Francis, through BoingBoing.)