Kliper news?

China View reports that the ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency have made a deal about development of future space craft, including the Kliper. However, in the statement by ESA and the statement by the Russian FSA no mention was made of Kliper.

Photos of the Netherlands in 1906

There is, now and again, and I must admit this, a certain stuffiness to the public domain texts I help save at Project Gutenberg. Luckily, we have started making illustrated HTML versions since recently, which helps alleviate the stuffiness.

And sometimes, the pictures alone are worth it. If you look past the fact that the photos portray the Dutch in full blast sentimentalist touristy view, the kick-ass portraits in Door Holland met pen en camera (choose the HTML,None version) make the ebook well worth checking out.

(Surgeon General’s health warning: hair dressers are advised not to follow the above link, lest they die laughing.)

Kliper space craft commences

With all the talk about suborbital space ships, it’s easy to forget that the Russians were thinking of building a Soyuz replacement, but lacked the money. Projected costs were around 300 million US$, IIRC, which is still said to be cheaper than a single space shuttle launch. (A Soyuz launch is rumoured to cost around 20 million US$, but only seats three–the Kliper can take six or seven people into orbit and beyond.)

Well, it seems that money has been found, and the building is underway. A press release from the Russian space agency has pictures. I did not realize this thing actually has a door!

The Kliper builders are not the only ones short of cash. Wired Magazine discusses how American builders of sub-orbital space planes and rockets have to angle for money, and how they look to filthy rich sugar daddies like Paul Allen and Richard Branson to hand it over. This got me thinking; in the Middle East, there are plenty of wealthy oil sheiks who have no idea what to do with their money. Why don’t they invest it in the Kliper? After the Space Shuttle has been phased out, the Kliper will for a time be the only ship capable of bringing people into orbit, so that would seem a sound investment. Also, it would give them a chance to build their own space port–Dubai is a fair bit closer to the equator than Kazakhstan.

VBDK: Cool clocks

Cool clocks made of found objects.

Via BoingBoing.

(Or perhaps I have understood this VBDK thing; should it only be NSFW?)

Oldie: poems of mass destruction

Apparently, this has been around for awhile, but I liked it, so will repeat it: after hearing that the White House cancelled a tea for poets, because some of them were going to (gasp! shock! horror!) protest the war in Iraq, Julia Alvarez wrote “The White House Has Disinvited the Poets”.

The White House has disinvited the poets
to a cultural tea in honor of poetry
after the Secret Service got wind of a plot
to fill Mrs. Bush’s ears with anti-war verse.
Were they afraid the poets might persuade
a sensitive girl who always loved to read,
a librarian who stocked the shelves with Poe
and Dickinson? Or was she herself afraid
to be swayed by the cooing doves, and live at odds
with the screaming hawks in her family?

(More at Culture Cat)

Fandom and cultural contamination

I wish I could say that I am not a fan; fans are people who are irrational when it comes to the object of their admiration. But I would be lying: I am a great fan of the works of Hergé, the creator of Tintin. I have at least half of the Tintin albums twice, sometimes even three times: some in the old Dutch translation, some French versions and two Spanish. I bought a collection of the complete Hergé. I have spent hundreds of euros on crappy biographies. I am a fan.

What I like so much about the man’s work is, of course, hard to say. The Tintin books are part of my consciousness. Sometimes I dream unwritten Tintin stories. Many pictures of the albums are like icons of the 20th century. With Franquin and the Goscinny/Uderzo team, Hergé was one of the pillars of the European humorous adventure comic in the last century. This may not mean much to people outside western Europe, but these comics were a part of growing up.

Tintin is also connected by many tendrils to the current main topic of this blog, copyright law. The strip started shortly after the ideas generated by the Berne convention had established themselves, and the author died shortly before digital copying became ubiquitous. After his death, Hergé’s widow Fanny married Nick Rodwell, as bereft as her of any talent but that of greed. Together they maximized the profits created by somebody else’s hard work, vigorously attacking anybody who used a Tintin drawing for whatever purpose.

There is a scene in The Calculus Affair where Captain Haddock tries to get rid of a piece of band-aid. It is stuck to his hand, and Haddock is waving furiously to rid himself of this meddlesome piece. He succeeds, but through a hilareous series of events the band-aid keeps coming back to him.

Art is like that too. What’s more, anything that is copyrighted is like that piece of band-aid. Once you have learned of its existence, and the idea it encapsulates, you cannot get rid of it.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), our minds are not DRMed computers. We do not always know which ideas are ours and which are those of others. I used to write comics with a bunch of guys in Nijmegen, the town of my alma mater. The process was not necessarily productive, but it was fun; we would sit around the table and keep spewing forth jokes and ideas, until we thought we had some useful ones. We would often hit a corny mood in which everything was funny and nothing was useful.

Then, the next day, one of us, appointed by the others, would sit down and write out a funny story we could sell. (Yes, it’s true, I have worked for the Evil Empire. What’s worse, I would do it again.)

Within days I would have forgotten who thought of what. It was not that the truly brilliant ideas did not originate in any one person, but because the others immediately started building on it, or used an idea as the starting point for a new line of thought, it was hard to identify afterwards who had thought of what.

And once an idea is out in the open, who is to stop it? You can call it plagiarism or infringement, I call it human nature. There is a fine line between what should be allowed and what not, but I trust most people know where to draw it. The law, unfortunately, has not caught up yet.

Distributed Proofreaders posts 5,000th ebook

Distributed Proofreaders has posted it’s 5,000th ebook to Project Gutenberg. The book, a Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, by John W. Cousin, was proofed for this special occassion by over 500 volunteers.

Distributed Proofreaders is a project that distributes the otherwise gargantuan task of correcting scanning and recognition errors in an OCR’ed text. The project has thousands of volunteers, of which many hundreds are active on any given day. It is currently the main supplier of etexts for Project Gutenberg.

The Tao of Error Messages

I came across somebody’s old blog entry that linked to the Haiku Error Messages page.

You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

–Cass Whittington

An oldie, but there cannot be too many haiku error messages.


Slouching towards Bedlam

If the bad weather is keeping you indoors, try and play Slouching towards Bedlam. It is an engrossing steam-punk text adventure set in a Victorian insane asylum where you have just been appointed doctor. But, are you that sane yourself …? Winner of the 2003 IF Competition.

Mike Melvill reaches space

Today, SpaceShipOne successfully reached the edge of space, making its pilot, South-Africa born American Mike Melvill, the first commercial astronaut. What’s more, SpaceShipOne is the first spaceship that took off horizontally, went to space and landed horizontally, not wasting any parts in the process (except, of course, fuel).