Re: [NeroWolfe] Digital Nero Wolfe?
- The following message whose copy is forwarded to this list is very long
and at times technical but deals with Nero Wolfe and Rex Stout throughout.
Hope it can be of some interest the members of this list. AA
as you know, Wolfe and Archie used to call Cramer "The Man About the Chair"
when they wanted to escape others' notice; I think I'll be calling you
"The Person With the Scanner", as I can't even be sure of your gender! ;-)))
On Tuesday, 29th January 2008 at 20:21:02 (GMT -0500 EST), you wrote:
> Yes, I was aware of the torrent, it contains most of the files
> (unproofed) available on eMule, in Sony reader format, which
> consists of unformatted text. As a reader of his books - in printed
> book format - you should be aware that RS used italics, not only
> for the name of newspapers or the text of some messages, but also
> in order to emphasise the meaning or intonation of words within
> dialogue. Any removal of this formatting is, one may say,
> a deliberate distorsion, a betrayal of his work.
In this, you're absolutely right. I hate it when formatting,
indicating the writer's emphasis, is removed in a digital version
of a text. Such a text can no longer be considered a proper version
of the work in question and should be corrected, or discarded entirely.
On the other hand, it's very well possible to preserve emphasis
in plain-text files, too! We see that in plain-text email
discussions; emphasis can be achieved like *this* or like _this_.
A cruder, but still acceptable way of converting italics to plain
text is THIS, yet I never employ it, as *this* and _this_ may later on
be converted to formatted text automatically, while THIS cannot --
at least not as easily and not unambiguously. (Because there may
very well be some *legitimate* passages in the original text that
the writer composed in ALL CAPS.)
> You may notice that the files uploaded do use an unified format
> (font, size, etc). If I missed that on any of them, please let me
> know and I'll fix it.
Nope, they don't. For an example, see a screenshot here:
However, as far as webpages go, I'd consider it a faulty practice
trying to set a specific font and font size for one's readers.
The best practice for webpages seems to be to specify no more
than the *variety* of font to be used, if that at all; for example,
one might want to specify a serif font (such as Georgia, without
naming Georgia) rather than a non-serif font (such as Arial,
without naming Arial). However, many web designers prefer not
trying to specify even the serif and non-serif font variety...
In contrast, your files demanded specific fonts (in the above
instance, Book Antiqua and Georgia, respectively). Of course,
there may be many readers whose computers lack these specific fonts,
so how the texts would look on their computers would be uncertain.
And, there may be a lot more readers who may have the fonts installed,
but simply don't enjoy reading texts in these particular fonts. I for
one believe Georgia is the ideal font for reading texts on a PC, as this
is a font specifically developed for the PC environment -- but other
readers may have other preferences. That's why Web usability experts
advise webpage authors not to require specific fonts to be used
for the display of texts.
>> There are a few details that might need fixing. For example,
>> in _Fer-de-Lance_, I notice that the apostrophe sign (') is displayed
>> correctly towards the beginning of the text, while it is shown
>> as an empty box towards the end.
> I re-checked 'Fer-de-lance'; I didn't find that occurence you mentioned.
It's definitely there... For example, in the paragraph towards the end:
"No, you. Don't quibble. You killed him."
... only the final quotation mark is correctly displayed, while the
introductory quotation mark and the apostrophe in "Don't" are displayed
as empty boxes (when viewed in Opera 9.25). This is not Opera's fault.
Rather, your file is inconsistent in using both curly and non-curly
quotation marks and apostrophes. However, these are totally different
characters in the computer environment, even though both the curly
and the non-curly quotation marks serve the same ultimate purpose.
See an overview of this and related HTML formatting here:
Whenever your file uses curly (= formatted) quotation marks or apostrophes
instead of non-curly (= unformatted) quotation marks or apostrophes,
these are displayed as empty boxes in my browser. Again, it's not the
browser's fault, but it's because your files lack the specification
of an encoding in the pages' headers.
If you want the curly (= formatted) quotation marks and apostrophes
to be displyed correctly for all viewers of your webpages, you must
manually insert the following line in the header of every HTML page:
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">
An even better, absolutely universal and fool-proof solution would be
inserting the following line in the header of every HTML page:
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
Both encondings -- the Western, older ISO-8859-1 encoding, and the
new, universal, world-wide UTF-8 encoding -- are capable of handling
curly quotation marks and apostrophes. However, only UTF-8 would
be capable of also handling Slavic diacritic letters properly; and,
if I'm not mistaken, there might well be a few Slavic names or phrases
included in the Corpus. In fact, I'm certain that Marko Vukcic's name,
when written properly in Montenegrin/Serbian, contains diacritic signs
over at least one of the C letters, and that these diacritic C letters
would fail to get displayed correctly in anything other than UTF-8.
On the other hand, due to Fritz and the many culinary terms in the Corpus,
the proper display of all French diacritic letters is an absolute
necessity, and this can only be achieved by specifying ISO-8859-1
or UTF-8 in the headers of all webpages. Taking into account *both*
Fritz and Marko, the proper solution would definitely be the universal
However, for UTF-8 it's not enough simply to insert the line:
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
in the header of every page, but also the entire page (file) must be
converted into UTF-8. This is a trite affair and can be accomplished
simply by opening the file in a reliable plain-text (!) editor, such
as www.editplus.com , and re-saving it in UTF-8. So, it might take
something like a minute or two to convert the entire Corpus into
UTF-8; however, such procedure would definitely be recommended
for anyone who is serious about digitizing *any* literature
in the 21st century. All other encondings other than UTF-8
are simply no longer viewed as ideal in this day and age. :-)
Plus, if you're so strict about preserving all passages emphasized
by original writers, another fine similar distinction is that
of ensuring that hyphens are not used instead of dashes. And,
in your files, they are -- Wolfe, as a pedant par excellence,
would definitely frown upon that. ;-) The difference between
a hyphen and a dash is that dashes are at least twice as long as
hyphens (for examples, again see http://avenarius.sk/punct.htm ).
Now, if you want to make sure that dashes are displayed correctly
on webpages, you first need to make sure, *throughout* the files,
that dashes, rather than hyphens, are used everywhere where they are
appropriate. And this is a chore that can take many hours if you have
lots of text to process, as the chore cannot be reliably automated
following the scanning of a book. On the other hand, ensuring the
proper and unified display of dashes is an absolute must for anyone
who'd like to engage in professional digitization. (To make the matters
worse, there are two kinds of dashes: n-dash and m-dash, the former
surrounded by spaces and the latter not; the former preferred by
British publishers and the latter by American ones.) Again, dashes
may be emulated even in plain-text files, as you can see me doing
in this email message. My dashes in emails look like this: --
as opposed to simple hyphens: -.
Now, in order for the dashes also to get *displayed* on a webpage,
you either need to use the code description for a dash: – OR
you again need to specify either the ISO-8859-1 or the UTF-8 enconding
in the header of every webpage. Since files with the – look ugly
in the source code, making potential future edits of the files less
transparent, it would definitely be recommended to insert the ISO-8859-1
or UTF-8 specification into the header of every page. And, once again
the UTF-8 solution would be preferable, as it comprehensively deals
with all such formatting worries once and for all.
Unless the ISO-8859-1 or UTF-8 specification is inserted in the header
of every webpage, any real dashes (as opposed to hyphens!) within
the texts are likely to be displayed as empty boxes for many viewers
of the webpages -- a re-occurrence and variation of the quotation
marks and apostrophes issue examined above.
Anyway... as promised, when I'll be launching a chronological re-read
of the Corpus soon, I'll be reading it in electronic versions *only*,
despite already having all paper volumes at my disposal, and I'll
be correcting each and every typo or typographical inaccuracy
as I go along. I can't promise I'll notice and correct each
and every error; but that will be my goal.
> The only images I included in the books were those of the pencil
> arrangements in 'The Zero Clue', where they are essential to the
It's probably true that drawings do not play an important part
in any Rex Stout story. I for one can't think of any other story
apart from 'The Zero Clue' where pictures would be essential...
In fact, maybe you could even enjoy 'The Zero Clue' without
the drawings... See, we don't primarily read Nero Wolfe
for the mystery angle, do we? ;-)
Compare that to the famous Sherlock Holmes story:
Any digital version of this story that would fail to incorporate
the (many!) pictures within the story would be woefully inadequate!
I suppose the same is true for many Ellery Queen or Agatha Christie
stories that hinge on the exact time and location of the murders
(the Orient Express comes to mind!). :-)
>> See, the problem with online piracy is that pirates are terribly
>> unfair in what content they choose to pirate. They mostly only
>> choose to pirate the *popular* content.
> The above statement reminded me of a Radio Erevan joke: 'Question:
> Is it true that academician Kozlov was being given a car as a gift?
> Answer: It's true, with some corrections: It's not academician
> Kozlov but academician Alexandrov, it wasn't a car but a bike,
> and it wasn't given as a gift but stolen from him.'
> We are not talking about 'piracy' as there is no financial reward
> in it (without touching the touchy subject of 'word hijacking' - the
> deliberate distorsion of the meaning of a word for a specific gain),
> the people are not 'pirates' but file sharers, and the term 'unfair'
> is not suitable to the subject - scanning and proofing a book with
> the intention to share it is a work of love which is, in my personal
> opinion, more worthy than milking the dead for pecuniary purposes,
> and would be unfair to expect somebody to buy a book that doesn't
> interest him, and to scan, proof and upload it in the uncertain hope
> that somebody, somewhere, sometime, would like to download and read it.
Well, I used to think similarly, too, but then the big brouhaha started:
It's not just that I received a letter, both in electronic and paper
form, from across the ocean from a New York attorney, but a lot
of genuine, ordinary fellow Nero Wolfe fans got very angry with me
and hurled abuse at me. I, too, thought of what I wanted to do as
a labour of love -- I'd have nothing to gain by it, only many hours
of monotonous work to lose -- still I was abused by fellow Wolfe
fans as a pirate, virtually a criminal, etc. Just read the feedback
samples on the above webpage. If ordinary fellow Wolfe fans can be
so vitriolic, you can imagine what a Rex Stout *book publisher* will
think of your "labour of love". If you're familiar with Jim Rock's
diction (publisher of Rex Stout's autobiography by John McAleer and
various fascinating Rex Stout miscellanea), you'll recognize which
of the feedback samples is his. Although we used to correspond
in a friendly fashion regularly, also apart from mailing lists,
prior to the 2002 uproar, he hasn't replied to a single message
of mine, on-list or private, ever since.
So, don't expect anyone to thank you. Instead, expect abuse and lots
of trouble -- especially from those fellow Wolfe fans whose bookcases
are well-stocked with all Nero Wolfe volumes (some of them in multiple
editions), or if they aren't, they (living in America) simply need to
visit any public library to borrow them, or require them via inter-
library loan. These fellow Wolfe fans seem incapable of understanding,
emotionally, what it feels like for someone to struggle for over 15
years before they are able to read (not own, simply to *read*) every
Nero Wolfe story. That's how long it took *me* to read all Nero Wolfe
stories; I purchased the first Wolfe volume in Vienna back in 1989
right after the Iron Curtain fell, and I was donated the final Rex
Stout paperback I was still missing in 2006 by a Nero Wolfe fan
from overseas. If it hadn't been for the Internet and generous
fellow Wolfe fans around the world, mostly from the US but also
from places as unexpected as Taiwan (!), I'm sure I'd still be
desperately searching for many Wolfe texts today.
But, you can't really explain the sense and feeling of *hunger*
to someone who regularly sits down to a table overflowing with
delicious food, can you? Either they can feel other folks' hunger
and sympathize with them and do their best to help them, or they
cannot. It's fine and well for those sitting at the full tables
to moralize, condemn and abuse those who lack the privilege,
for using questionable means to obtain the missing food...
but condemnation and persecution won't effectively help those
who are hungry. I must think of the Italian classic movie
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_Thieves here; perhaps
someone could produce a digital remake of the movie,
titled _Online Literature/Music/Movie Thieves_? ;-)))
As to the words "pirate, piracy", let's logomachize for a bit
as Wolfe and Archie used to do. When you look at a dictionary
definition of the word "piracy":
... the definitions no. 2 & 3 definitely seem to apply:
"2. The unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted or patented material
3. The operation of an unlicensed, illegal radio or television station."
To "radio or televison station", one might add "or web site"
without distorting the intent of the definition.
Would you contend that "word hijacking" has already reached the realm
of our dictionaries? The above definition is from "The American
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition",
2007 & 2000.
Now, let's see... I'll get hold of the dictionary Nero Wolfe burned
in Chapter 1 of _Gambit_, "Webster's Third New International
Dictionary, Unabridged" (1961), to see how it defines "piracy"
on page 1723 (oh my, heaving this dictionary off the bookshelf
is certainly good for toning your muscles):
"3: an act resembling piracy; *esp*: an unauthorized appropriation
and reproduction or another's production, invention, or conception
esp. in infringement of a copyright"
Of course, Nero Wolfe burned the dictionary, so presumably Rex Stout
despised the definitions contained therein, but nevertheless this
definition is highly interesting.
In 1961, they still defined piracy as "appropriation and [!] reproduction"
of someone else's work. In 2007, the definition has shifted to: "use or [!]
reproduction" of someone else's work.
There's a world of difference between AND and OR, isn't there? ;-)
Because according to the 1961 definition of "piracy", it would be
difficult to claim that what you are doing is piracy. You are not
*appropriating* anyone else's work, right?
Based on the 2007 definition of the same term, you *are* a pirate,
as you definitely *are* reproducing (electronically) someone else's
Etymologically, the word "pirate" is derived from Old Greek and
is related to the Old Greek words "attempt / fear / trial / fare".
Considering the letter I received from the New York attorney,
I'd say that the 4 Old Greek roots are still very much relevant
in the 21st century! ;-)))
Let's leave it at that for now. ;-) Maybe our dictionaries have
never been thoroughly reliable; maybe they provide good *guidance*
for us language users, but you ultimately always need to rely on your
common sense, your own judgment when putting words to specific use.
> All the titles I put on the website were available on P2P in MSWord
> DOC format. There was a fair amount of hits, but also there were
> days and weeks when no one seemed to be interested in NW. I can't
> afford to keep the computer broadcasting P2P non-stop, I have
> groceries to buy and rent to pay.
As to specific illicit distribution modes, there is something else
and new apart from P2P (BitTorrent, eMule) and the "old-fashioned"
webpages. I mean what is termed "one-click hosting", a huge hit
in the last couple of years or so: Rapidshare.com and the like.
I still claim what I said in my previous message: piracy is no
viable, long-term solution. My hope is that the Rex Stout Estate will
make the necessary arrangements to allow *all* of Rex Stout's works,
not only the most popular ones, to be purchasable, for a reasonable
price, in a digital edition -- "The Complete Digital Works of Rex
Stout". I trust and hope that this will happen sooner than in 2046
(or whatever the official copyright expiration date is); we may
all be dead and buried by 2046. And especially: Rex Stout and his
creations may be completely forgotten by 2046. Who can be sure
that they won't?
> website[s are shut down] only as a result of a complaint
Yes. It's a perpetual hide-and-seek game. On the one hand,
you cannot promote your work, because as soon as the word spreads
around, it will cause your work to vanish and be deleted. On the other
hand, if you don't promote your work, no one even knows it exists,
and in that sense you performed your work in vain, as it cannot serve
its intended purpose. (Here, getting people to read Rex Stout.)
Of course, the two instances above are extremes; there are various
stages in-between the two extremes. I'm afraid this shadowy grey zone
is destinted to remain the eternal habitat of all "digital pirates". :-|
> As far as I am concerned, sexual psychotics and abnormal obsessions
> are not my field of interest, but as a professional you may need
> to read that book. 'How Like a God' is available on Amazon from
> $25 + international shipping (available).
I'll be happy to read _How Like a God_ and all the other Rex Stout
books, even non-mystery ones. It won't be a sacrifice on my part;
it will be a pleasure. I do intend to write a scholarly treatise
examining Rex Stout as a writer, not solely as the Nero Wolfe creator;
so, for me it will be unavoidable to read everything Rex Stout
ever publihed (and more). I find this to be a pleasurable chore.
On the other hand, literary scholars shouldn't be confused with book
collectors. If I were supposed to buy every Rex Stout non-Wolfe book
at $25 + international shipping (often more expensive than the book
itself), I'd go bankrupt soon. Just for your information, I live in
a country where I buy a full-menu lunch for about $1.25. So, a single
copy of _How Like a God_ would equal to 20 full-menu lunches for me
(disregarding the expensive international shipping!). Would any
American reader buy a Rex Stout book if its price were equal
to that of 20+ full-menu lunches? A book collector, yes;
a literary scholar or ordinary reader, definitely not.
So, this is no solution. Scholars are not required to purchase the
books they intend to examine and *promote* through their research.
Books, or to be more precise: *texts* should be made available
for scholars, and in the 21st century, it would be perfectly sufficient
for scholarly purposes to make them available *digitally*. If such
a digital edition were reasonably priced, even a literary scholar
might *purchase* it, instead of expecting it to be made available
for him or her for free. For your information, international
inter-library loan in my country is either dysfunctional
or so expensive (not to mention inefficient, with you having
to wait for *weeks or months* for a volume to arrive) that borrowing
a book via international inter-library loan is frequently as
expensive as buying a new regular book. Again, you can't expect
literary scholars to purchase (or borrow at the price of a purchase)
every single book they are required to examine; that's what libraries
were founded for, for heaven's sake. And, if libraries don't work,
as continental European libraries definitely don't work regarding
Rex Stout, *digitization* should come to the scholars' aid
in the 21st century.
> If, instead of donating your NW collection, you put it on Ebay,
> you'd earn enough to buy the rest of RS's writings.
That's highly unlikely! You may not be aware of how much apart from
Nero Wolfe was published by Rex Stout. He only published his very
first Wolfe novel when he was almost 50 years old! :-o Since these
non-Wolfe writings are not popular, and most of them have been
out-of-print for decades, their eBay prices would be horrendous.
In contrast, my Nero Wolfe volumes, even though there are dozens
of it, are just reading copies, often ragged paperbacks.
So, nope... My entire, mostly paperback, collection of Nero Wolfe
volumes would maybe buy me a single copy of _How Like a God_, perhaps
one or two additional Rex Stout non-Wolfe books. Nothing more!
And, I definitely won't be selling anything that was given to me
as a gift. I received many of these Nero Wolfe volumes as gifts,
and I'm willing to pass them on as gifts. (Including the numerous
Rex Stout volumes I purchased for my own money, especially in the
pre-Internet era and while the now defunct paperback "Rex Stout
Library" edition at Bantam Books, left incomplete, was still alive
in the 1990s.) I do as I preach: when I say that electronic editions
are perfectly sufficient for scholarly needs, that applies to me
as well -- I don't need to possess anything except for the
electronic versions of Rex Stout's works.
> Then you may scan, proof and upload them for other people's use,
> and donate the books. And nearly everybody's happy!
Again, that would be the illegal route. :-| As I operate online
under my real name, anything I do must be 100% legal, no matter how
nonsensical the copyright laws may seem to be. So, my hope is that
the Rex Stout Estate will agree to publish the comprehensive collection
of "Complete Digital Works of Rex Stout" and put it up for online sale
at a reasonable price. That would be a 100% legal solution that
might not only make "nearly" everybody, but absolutely
everybody happy! :-)
On Friday, 8th February 2008 at 19:31:05 (GMT -0500 EST), you wrote:
> Note: forwarded message attached.
> It seems that you hadn't received my previous email so I am sending it again.
> Please confirm its receipt.
No need to worry, everything's fine! :-) I received your previous
message of 29th January, as you can see from the above, and thank you
very much for it! I'd been meaning to reply to it but couldn't get
around to doing so. I didn't think it contained a direct question from
you or an urgent concern that needed to be addressed immediately;
I take care to reply to such messages right away; if I was wrong in this
estimation, please excuse the oversight! I've been smothered by work;
for a year and a half now, I've been trying to emulate Wolfe and
Archie -- they're freelance detectives and I'm a freelance translator;
I now share many of Wolfe's concerns, such as which clients to reject
and which to accept; much of that is determined by income tax
concerns, so whenever I read in a Wolfe book now, "Wolfe wouldn't take
on another client now, as he's had enough income already for this year
/ would welcome another client, as our cash balance was rather low
at the moment" -- well, I can only smile because this definitely sounds
familiar and a lot more meaningful to me now. Unlike Wolfe, I don't
have an Archie to prod me to work; I hate earning money every bit as
much as Wolfe hated it (of course, Archie would say that Wolfe simply
hated to *work*); and I love my online quotations collection as much
as Wolfe loves his orchids -- but, my freelance activity hasn't been
as rewarding to me thus far (I've only just started) as to enable me
to devote sufficient amounts of time to my online literary concerns.
I should be so lucky if I were allowed to explore literature daily
between 9 to 11 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m.! That may come in later years,
should my freelance exploits not turn out to be failures. Funnily enough,
I do depart for lunch daily at 1:15 p.m., another quirk I share with
Wolfe -- and this has naturally come to be arranged like that, instead
of me trying to imitate Wolfe consciously. Obviously, I need to
*depart* for lunch instead of simply moving to the dining room,
due to there being no Fritz and no dining room in my apartment.
;-))) On the other hand, this gives me the opportunity to imitate
Wolfe's mirror image, Archie, and his love of walking down the
metropolitan streets; I absolutely love my daily 2x15 minute walks
for lunch and dinner purposes; I wouldn't trade those walks for
a Fritz and a dining room, as I'd intentionally keep them located
15 minutes of walk away from me, so that this most natural of all
forms of exercise is preserved for me! Throwing darts is not enough. 8-)
[PS: An edited verison of this message is posted
to the NW discussion group at YahooGroups and the Rex Stout forum
to generate some discussion now or in years to come.]
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