Call for volunteer amateur translators

Ik ben op zoek naar mensen die voor een experimentje een of twee alinea’s willen vertalen uit The Tell-Tale Heart van Edgar Allan Poe. Ik wil zien of meerdere mensen die aan een vertaling werken een consistente stijl kunnen opleveren. Maak je niet druk over taalfouten of literair niveau; dat zijn dingen van later zorg. Als je me vijf minuutjes van je tijd gunt, ben ik je zeer dankbaar.

Zie hier.

Accelerando author contemplates giving book to Project Gutenberg

[Cover of the p-version of Accelerando]

When Charles Stross decided to give away the ebook version of his recent novel Accelerando for free, using a Creative Commons license, he did it in the hope of stimulating the sales of the p-book. By releasing a free download, he can get a wider readership which–if the book is good–will create better word of mouth. But now Stross is thinking of taking things a step further: if Accelerando would ever drop out of print, he may donate the copyrights to the work to Project Gutenberg.

This is exceedingly cool, although not entirely altruistic either. In an interview with The Alien Online he says: “I don’t want to see my literary estate die with me. So I’m currently considering ways of ensuring that when there’s no longer any income to be made from them, my copyrights will go somewhere like Project Gutenberg where they can be made available for free. Hopefully this is a long time off, though…”

(First published at Teleread.)

Public domain out loud

Public domain books + volunteer readers + podcast = Librivox. Starting this week, Librivox tries to bring people together who will each record a chapter of a well-known book, which will then be distributed over the internet. Or, in their words: “LibriVox is an open source audio-literary attempt to harness the power of the many to record and disseminate, in podcast form, books from the public domain.”

The book that the organizers chose this week is Joseph Conrad‘s The Secret Agent. The recordings will in turn be placed in the public domain, and should end up at the Internet Archive.

Akma once successfully organised a similar project as a one-off where Larry Lessig’s book Free Culture was read out loud.

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.

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.”)

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

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.

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.