Read comics by Winston Rowntree

I am bored. I must have been bored before, because I remember either putting an ad in the paper or responding to one looking for a collaborator in making comics—to help alleviate the boredom, see? I had just moved to Amsterdam, and was still living in my brother’s way-too-expensive (for my means) apartment—this is somewhere in the year 2000. This guy wanted to meet me at a bar called De Balie on the Leydse Square, which we did. And he wanted to draw in the style of Dave McKean. I think it was Dave McKean—when I looked it up it was all gloomy. Later I remembered Dave Gibson, who can also draw gloomy but not that… Sorry, boring you now? :-)

Anyway. I went home and racked my brain a lot, and came up with a bunch of scripts which in hind-sight are best described as Rhaa Lovely style. Dark, over the top absurdist, comic. Then I forgot about the whole thing. Then I stumbled upon the guy’s phone number and remembered, but could not find the scripts. Then I found the scripts but lost the phone number. And now I’ve lost both.

From what I remember: one strip had a man taking his dog out for a walk out every day, but since the man had lost the use of his legs, his butler had to wheel him around. Turns out, the man had been dead for a while. Why is he still carted around the park every day? I doesn’t say. The strip ends with the dog performing an elaborate ballet.

Another one: two teenage lovers sitting atop a hill, holding hands, enjoying each other’s company. But the hill is slippery, and one of them starts to slide downwards. The other tries to stop him/her, but instead gets caught in the increasingly steeper slide. Turns out, they were sitting atop the arcs of a giant M, and are now gliding towards the middle. Where a meat-grinding device waits for them to turn them into hamburgers. I forgot how this one ended.

What I just wanted to say: when I ran into Winston Rowntree’s excellent (excellent!) comics, they reminded me of something. And after thinking about it a little they reminded me of comics I once wanted to write, except his are in colour. Sometimes he is a bit wordy for my taste; a joke in a comic should not rely too much on words, unless your name is Greg and you’re working on Achille Talon. But I digress—what are you still doing here? Go read! And while you’re at it, read his other stuff too. I especially liked Captian Estar Goes to Heaven.

Snowy Easter 2008

I was on my way for a walk to the Amsterdamse Bos, when I thought “curses”, and turned around. The dreariness had gotten to me. Still got some photos though.

The bicycle tunnel at the court house:

easter2008-01.jpg

Melting water brought out the colour on one side of this plane:

easter2008-02.jpg

A dying daffodil in the snow. (Not shown here: the snow.) Same patch as last year.

easter2008-03.jpg

Super-sanity

A hard sci-fi writer who puts an above-average amount of sci in his fi—I guess that’s what hard sci-fi means—asks his readers to help him explore the world of Multiple Personality Disorder by suggesting hard sci for him to read. One of them points him towards … Batman (“Boff!”, “Crunch!”). How about a mind, a consciousness, a personality that’s geared differently to every different situation? Would such a person be insane, or supersane? The Joker’s shrink thinks she may have stumbled upon the answer:

Batman:
Well, you’ll pardon me for saying so, but your techniques don’t seem to have had much effect on the Joker.

Dr. Adams (Joker’s therapist):
The Joker’s a special case. Some of us feel he may be beyond treatment. In fact, we’re not even sure if he can be properly defined as insane. His latest claim is that he’s possessed by Baron Ghede, the Voodoo loa. We’re beginning to think it may be a neurological disorder, similar to Tourette’s syndrome. It’s quite possible we may actually be looking at some kind of super-sanity here. A brilliant new modification of human perception. More suited to urban life at the end of the twentieth century.

Batman:
Tell that to his victims.

Dr. Adams:
Unlike you and I, the Joker seems to have no control over the sensory information he’s receiving from the outside world. He can only cope with the chaotic barrage of input by going with the flow. That’s why some days he’s a mischievous clown, others a psychopathic killer. He has no real personality. He creates himself each day. He sees himself as the Lord of Misrule, and the world as a theatre of the absurd.

Here’s what Grant Morrison [the author of this dialogue; bc] said about it:
“The idea of Joker’s “super-sanity” haunted me for years and eventually developed into my theories of multiple personality complexes as the next stage in human consciousness development.”

(John Henning quoting Adherents.com at Peter Watt’s blog.)

My first plagiarism

I’ve been plagiarized! Yes, I know. What happened is that Expactica, a website for expats…

Wait, I first have to explain to you what expats are, in case you need to have this explained to you. Expats are people that move to another country. But they are not emigrants. As the name implies, they frame their new position in terms of the original country; the name they give themselves is openly hostile to the new culture. Why would the Dutch put up with such people? Well, I don’t know. “Emigrants” are from all walks of life, and continuously get heaps of shit poured down their collars for not “integrating” fast enough. “Expats” on the other hand are actually hostile to the Netherlands, get nothing but praise, and are usually white Anglo-Saxon butt-corkers.

Oops! I almost suggested that racism comes into play here, though of course as everybody knows there is no racism in the Netherlands. Look at Geert Wilders — not directly, you’ll go blind. As once Andrew Rilstone so eloquently put in between his regular bouts of nut-job Christianism, where I can no longer find it, condemning religions is just a way of being a racist without going to jail for it. Muslims are brown people. You want to slag off brown people? Slag off Islam. But racism is a form of extremism, and if you claim that Dutch politician Wilders, the most vocal critic of Islam in the Netherlands, is an extremist, you go to jail. Ipso facto, there is no racism in the Netherlands.

So where were we? Ah yes, plagiarism. I co-blog at 24 Oranges, a site that provides news about the Netherlands in English. So does the excellent Dutchnews.nl, and so does Expatica.com. A moderator at the Expatica forums copied one of my articles wholesale (link to original, link to copy). That’s copyright infringement, that is. But I don’t care so much about that. Obviously the person who copied it liked my article enough to copy it, and to copy it verbatim at that. And it’s only free publicity for me, right? Wrong.

For some reason, my name did not appear in the copy. If you look closely though, you’ll see what appears to be an honest mistake. There is a source statement, but it accidentally links to a third party that has nothing to do with publishing the story. The Expatica moderator obviously wasn’t trying to get credit for something she had not written. She merely misattributed the story.

A friend said about plagiarism: “Why worry about this instance? You could be plagiarized a thousand times without ever finding out about it.” But I did find out about it, and this is my worry: that people who discover both stories (which is not hard, as accidentally Googling for a phrase unique to my story will show you both) may think that I am the plagiarist. It’s not so much that I must be known as the original author, but rather that I could do without a bad reputation. People don’t look further than the web; what evidence can I present that I am the original author? What happens if further websites plagiarize me: would that be only further evidence that I am a plagiarist? (“Look, he stole from more than one website.”)

So I wrote to Expactica, and asked them to put things right. Guys, I sort of wrote, please correct the source statement. And now we’re more than a week further, and no response. Not even a nyeh nyeh, we’re not going to do it. I know they got my message, because I used their online form (the only way to get into contact with them).

The next step would be to take legal action. First, an official DMCA like complaint, either to Expatica themselves or to their upstream host. Then, a lawsuit. And you know what? That’s just too much work, and a little bit in just too expensive. The courts in this country will only give you real damages, and not even that. So, a couple of hundreds euros and lots of lost time in, and all I would have gotten was lousy justice. So I won’t take further action, and just hope my reputation will remain unscathed. (I rather guess it will.)

What have we learned here:

  • Expatica.com may not be the most reliable of parties. Don’t buy their stuff! Boo! Hiss!
  • I can easily go off the main track for rants that have little to do with the matter at hand.
  • I have too much time on my hands.
  • Any or none of the above.

Donna Wentworth had an interesting opinion about plagiarism that may be more robust in these networked times than just “it’s bad.”

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.

PLAYER: OPEN DOOR

COMPUTER: The door is locked.

PLAYER: UNLOCK DOOR

COMPUTER: With what?

PLAYER: KEY

COMPUTER: You don't have the key.

PLAYER: SEARCH POT

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

PLAYER: UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY THEN OPEN DOOR

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.