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Re: [NeroWolfe] Digital Nero Wolfe?

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  • a@avenarius.sk
    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
    Message 1 of 7 , Feb 10, 2008
      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
      encoding, UTF-8.

      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
      > story.

      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
      at http://avenarius.sk/forum/viewtopic.php?t=497
      to generate some discussion now or in years to come.]


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