Ontboezemingen by Gabriël

Last week I posted a book to Project Gutenberg that I had talked about earlier (“Haddockisms“): Ontboezemingen by Gabriël, Carel van Nievelt’s pseudonym. Van Nievelt was a writer of fantasy and travel stories. Oddly enough he does appear from time to time in translated collections, but he has almost been forgotten in the Netherlands. Only his stories about Dutch India (what is now Indonesia) have recently been reprinted in their original language.

His fame declined during his lifetime. As Metamorfoze, the digitization project of the Dutch national library, writes:

[…] Van Nievelt was not popular with the Tachtigers [a literary movement that made l’art pour l’art, Branko]. They thought him old-fashioned, pathetic and sentimental.

[But] in his productive years he was a well-read author, and literary historians and critics paid much attention to his work: “The novelist Van Nievelt is Somebody,” a reviewer wrote in De Gids in 1884. But after that his fame faded quickly, and oblivion remained.

Snatch! Thanks to Project Gutenberg his name lives on a little longer. Ontboezemingen (Confidences) is Van Nievelt’s first book, and it contains a number of short stories and one farcical play. There are a number of stories about his travels to and time in India, and three love-letters (he continuously calls young women “nonnas”, the Italian for “grannies”). The play appears to be referenced earlier, when he describes how he got so bored at sea that he wrote a play, and he and his friends performed it, to pass the time.

With the help of countless volunteers I have transcribed the two song fragments in the book into Lilypond format, which means you can turn them into anything you want: Project Gutenberg has PDF and MIDI files of both songs. According to Van Nievelt the songs are supposed to be local, Indonesian compositions, but that is doubtful, as they follow Western chord progressions. The second tune (Gamelan) sounds supiciously like the first few notes of the theme tune to Dallas, by the way.

Question: copyright on text adventure walkthroughs

I am getting lazier every day; I have done absolutely nothing to find the answer to the following question (the sixth in a series) myself.

6. Can there be a copyright on a text adventure walkthrough?

(And: who owns this walkthrough?)

First, some definitions. A text adventure is a type of video game. Specifically, it is a type that is known as an adventure game: you replay a story that the programmer has come up with. You give the computer instructions, and in response the story unfolds. Typically, the instructions you give aid in the solving of puzzles. For instance, the computer has just told or shown you that you are in a room with a locked door, and in order to get on with the game you need to figure out how to unlock the door. Maybe there’s a key in the plant pot?

Text adventures are adventures in which these instructions are given by typing in English commands at a prompt. Typically the dialogue between the player and the computer goes as follows:

COMPUTER: You are in a room with a door to the North. There is a plant pot here.


COMPUTER: The door is locked.


COMPUTER: With what?


COMPUTER: You don't have the key.


COMPUTER: What do you know? Somebody has left a key here! (Transfering key to player)


COMPUTER: The door is now open.

As you can see, the language employed by the player is pretty terse. This is partially to save time, but also partially because the so-called parsers that text adventure programmers use to “understand” the player, regardless of how rich and complex they are, still only cover a tiny sub-set of all possible English sentences, even if you limit this sub-set to one that is useful for the game at hand.

Now, a definition of the term walkthrough: a list of commands (in order) needed to solve the entire game.

Finally, you may need to know that there are linear and non-linear games: the former allow for only one possible path through the puzzle tree. Non-linear games on the other hand can be solved in different ways. (To return to the example: perhaps you can break the door open with a crow bar that just happened to be in your knap-sack.)

The above, by the way, is not a hypothetical question. If you strip away everything but the domain name in the URL of this entry, and press Enter, you will soon find yourself at a website that publishes walkthroughs for text adventures. If I were to find walkthroughs on the web without a license, would I be allowed to publish them here? And what if I found one with a license; would I be able to get the ‘author’ prosecuted for copyfraud?

Earlier questions

  1. Why does a work published after the death of an author receive a copyright? (answer)
  2. How can SNTE (the firm that maintains and exploits the Eiffel tower) claim a copyright on the image of the illuminated Eiffel tower when the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas has had a very similar lighted Eiffel tower since two years before?
  3. What rights does Microsoft base it’s licenses for protocols on?
    (2+3 as yet unanswered)
  4. Is it possible to create a public domain image based on copyrighted sources? (as yet unanswered)
  5. Who owns the copyright on an interview; the interviewer, the interviewee, or both? (partially answered)

Your rights

I came across this text on an official website of the European Union, near its homepage:

Your rights to live and move around in the EU have recently been improved.

I think I am going to be sick.

Where my home wiki fails as an organizer

I have been using the simplests of wikis, Usemod, as a business organizer on my laptop. For every day in the near future I make a link. I link to days from other days, and from month pages, and to month pages from year pages.

The great advantage of the wiki as opposed to proprietary software is that it is fully free-form. I am not limited to the things the makers of commercial organizers want me to do, but instead I can enter new items just by clothing the link text in double square bracket, [[like so]]. This example would create a new page called “Like so.” It’s like building an office by burrowing into a mountain, creating new storage rooms and offices as you go.

But I stumbled upon a very real problem which is that it is much harder to make meaningful todo-lists in a simple wiki like this. A todo list really should always live at the current day; my best method so far is to copy unresolved todos to the current day. Yes, a simple solution would be to keep todo lists separate from the day pages, but 1) that is counter-intuitive, and 2) it still leaves little space for notes and sub-todos if your todo list is limited to the list format.

Todos are living things that sometimes branch into sub-projects (for instance if you underestimated the amount of work involved), sometimes need to be closed when they are not finished (for instance when their blocking more important todos from ever getting done), sometimes need to be re-opened again, sometimes need to have costs attached (when your customer wants an itemized list of expenses) and so on. There are relations between todos that are not always clear beforehand, but that still need to be formalized once they become clear.

Illustration: mock-up of what my current electronic diary looks like.

The current strategy of compounding todos makes all my day pages look busier every time. Also, I don’t prioritize todos much, so that the ‘mathom’ todos (the ones I keep pushing to the future and that aren’t very important to begin with) start to outnumber the important todos. And as a result, I have in the past year forgotten to do some of these important todos in time.

I know this because strictly as a diary the wiki is unparalleled. I can make little stories of what happened on each day, and in this way create a history of my company that allows for much more exposition than a simple paper diary could.

A solution for the diary-meets-agenda problem would be to use more powerful software. For instance, if I used MediaWiki, I could save each todo as its own page, and then attach categories to it that would indicate its priority, status, deadline, starting date, cost attached, et cetera. I could then find all Top Priority jobs on the Top Priority category page, or all jobs that still need to be billed on the appropriate category page, and so on.

Even better would be if database wikis like the slow moving OpenRecord would come along (check out the cool video of what it can do! — start at “3. Editing”), so that I could actually build a relational database the way you build a wiki: by hacking out the tables and relations as if the substance were living rock.

N.B. My back-up strategy for this type of diary includes sucking out the pages in HTML format using wget. The problem with that is that the wiki makes new pages where wget asks for an as yet unfollowed link? Also this takes ages if you forget to tell wget to not bother with all the history pages. My wget recipe for this job so far is: ” –restrict-file-names=windows -E -k -R action=”. “–restrict-file-names=windows” makes sure the filenames don’t have strange characters in them, so that I can view the file on multiple OSes, which is important for a back-up in case you need to restore to a different OS. “-E”: add “.html” to the file names; on lesser OSes this will make the files “clickable,” i.e. it will cause the OS to open the file in a web browser once its icon or name has been (double) clicked. “-k” convert internal links so that they work locally; so far that hasn’t been of much use, because it doesn’t add “.html” to these links, as required per -E. “-R action=”: do not store pages where the URL contains the string “action=”; this filters out things like history pages.)

N.B. 2 There is a much simpler way in which the wiki organizer breaks down, and that is that I have to enter the template for each day by hand. Again, using a more sophisticated wiki would solve this, and it’s not really a problem I am much bothered with: it takes fifteen minutes each week to do this by hand.

The goal of copyright law is to stimulate creation

Copyright law is based on the wisdom that “you cannot compete with free”. If an author creates a work, and others give that work to readers for free, the author is likely to have a hard time making money with the work.

(Or so the theory goes. There are many authors who do exactly that; they give free access to their works and rely on secondary means to generate income — think rock bands that sell access to their concerts after an audience has been formed by free access to their works. But that aside.)

This informal rule describes what economists call “market failure”: the market reaches an undesirable result in the distribution of goods or services, as perceived by the public. Politicians fear that this market failure will drive potential authors away from producing creative works.

Where the free market fails to improve society, the government must intervene. For instance, in the case of a natural distaster that disrupts the distribution of goods (market failure), many governments step in and give gratis food to those who claim to need it.

This government intervention, although doing good on the whole, typically has negative side-effects. In the example of the disaster area, the government’s actions undermine the livelihoods of local producers who are just as stricken as their potential buyers, and whose chances of survival are largely dependent on there being a market in the first place. Since food is free in this situation, the local producers of food go bankrupt.

So when a government battles market-failure, it must make very sure that the negative side-effects are worth it. For instance, it is not the government’s task to ensure certain business models survive. If a local producer in a disaster area cannot compete with the free food handed out, that’s just tough luck. The government has to weigh two bads against each other, and choose the least among them. And although it would be nice of such a government to also support the local producers, for instance through the means of subsidies, it is by no means morally required to do so.

In the case of creative works, governments try to combat market failure by censorship; people and organisations other than the authors of those works are forbidden to copy those works. The right to copy belongs to the authors.

It is obvious that censorship is a bad thing, and it is only one of the many bad side-effects of copyright law. Nevertheless, most current governments feel that the potential good of copyright outweighs the very real negatives.

The reasoning behind the desire to combat market failure in the creative arena by introducing copyright law seems to be as follows:

  • It is good to have works that the public can disseminate.
  • In order to stimulate the creation of works, the authors should be given a chance to recoup their investments.
  • In order for authors to recoup their investments, they should be able to publish their works in exchange for money/goods/services.
  • At this point market failure occurs.
  • In order to combat market failure, we make it illegal for the public to disseminate the works…
  • … unless they have bought the authors’ permission to do so.

Another aspect of copyrights is that they often can be traded entirely. It is not uncommon in some areas of the creative world that publishers buy all or most of the copyrights, or negotiate extremely far-reaching licenses.

There is a myth surrounding copyright that say that authors deserve to earn their livelihoods with their works. Note that this is not how copyright law works. Copyrights give an author the means to try and monetize their works, but this right does not guarantee that every author will make a living of producing works; and it is definitely not the meaning behind the law to have copyrights act as a generator of social welfare. The authors get their copyrights, but they themselves have to make sure these copyrights then turn into money.

The reality is that very few authors who write for money actually earn their livelihoods through their copyrights. The reasons for this are a result of how the markets work, and are manifold and outside the scope of this article. Suffice it say that buyers also have a say in the market, and are willing to invest only a certain amount of money in the creation of works. Also, many third-parties are involved in the production of works that also need to be recompensed.

In the above the terms “author,” “reader,” “writing,” and “publisher” are used as generic terms; they may for instance also refer to composers and record labels.

[heavily simplified schema of \"How Copyright Works\"]

SVG source file

Also read (Dutch)
– “Rapport Auteursrecht en Informatiemaatschappij | 24-02-2004″
– “Auteursrecht: economische lust of last?” (2003)

Walking along the Zuidas

Originally I wanted to hike the Amsterdamse Bos yesterday, but I left home late, and I feared I might not get out before dark. So instead I decided to walk towards the Amstelpark. There and back again taking the scenic route is a little over ten kilometers. You can walk this route through the green belt that divides the ever nearer growing cities of Amstermdam and Amstelveen. This belt is purposely kept open so that animals such as lizards, birds, and small mammals can still move around Amsterdam. Yesterday I chose a different route though, staying close to the highway for most of my walk.

This is the Zuidas (lit. South Axis), the belt of recent high-rises hugging the Southern part of the Amsterdam ringway. Lots of banks here, law firms, convention centers, and the World Trade Center.

Intermezzo: the Southern exit of the Amstelpark.

A menorah in a wall near the RAI convention center. I don’t know whether there was actually something there that the owners decided to rescue from the cold steel of the wrecking ball, or whether the wrecking crew decided to have a lark.

Same building.

For the faraway princess

Now we will never meet again;
The world shouldered itself between us.
Sometimes at night we both look out the window,
But different stars we see in different times.

Your land is so far removed from mine:
From light to farthest darkness—that I
Travelling restlessly on wings of desire,
Would greet you with my dying breath.

But if it is true that the strongest desire
Is carried to the farthest star by great dreams:
Then I will come,
Then I will come, every night.

Voor de verre prinses, J.J. Slauerhoff (1898 – 1936), literal translation by me. You can improve the translation in the comments if you like.

Question Copyright: what’s the purpose?

Question Copyright (dot org) asked a number of people in Chicago (on what looks like a university campus) what the purpose of copyright is. The film takes a little under 11 minutes and is titled “Interviews, Chicago 2006.” The answers varied somewhat.

Charlie’s lists

Plus a not-a-list: the true cost of your next mobile phone.