Peppy Ballads from Ludwig

Software designer Matthias W├╝llenweber has already given us Fritz (G), the chess software that beat world champion Vladimir Kramnik 4:2. 

Now comes Ludwig (G), a program that composes entire songs on its own.  W├╝llenweber stuffed Ludwig full of thousands of facts about harmony and theory from publications down through the ages.  Now, all you need to do is enter a few adjectives (Type: "Rock Hymn"; mood "Sad"), and Ludwig, named after you-know-who, will compose an entire song for you.  You can hear some examples in this radio interview (G).  To my ears, sounds just like Elton John.  If you need lyrics, go here.

Update from Bouphonia

Once in a very long while, I stumble across a blog that’s so well-written and original that I feel compelled to browse through its archives. 

The latest example is Bouphonia, (the name is explained here) an anonymous effort by someone who seems to have a natural-science background and writes crisp, amusing prose.  Every Friday is Nudibranch blogging day, plus a review of environmentally-friendly innovation from around the planet.  Lots of lefty politics, but with value added (i.e., cleverly done, not just bitching).

Here’s an interesting post about San Francisco’s 2005 decision to begin doing what most European stores have done for years — charging shoppers for plastic bags (thus giving everyone an incentive to use cloth).  Europeans may find this hard to fathom, but this policy is controversial in the United States, a land in which bring-your-own-bag is still regarded as faintly Communistical, and in which even the smallest routine purchase will be lovingly swaddled in unnecessary paper and plastic. 

Bouphonia’s post begins:

I wanted to say a couple of things about San Francisco’s proposal to charge consumers 17 cents for shopping bags.

It’s provoking the usual hysterical outbursts from right-wing scaremongers, who see the plan as the End of Civilization…but those people are stupid or corrupt, and their bad-faith arguments are not worth addressing. However, there are some rational concerns about the proposal.

Right-wing scaremongers, scarified by a left-wing whipmonger!  What follows this introduction is intelligent discussion of this proposal by someone who knows what she’s talking about.  A pleasure to see on the Internets.  So hats off to Bouphonia — il miglior fabbro.  I’ll add it to my blogroll the next time I get around to revising it (probably around mid-2009).

Pearl-Diving Still Legal

In Germany, most of the articles in the Feuilleton (arts & culture) sections of major newspapers are not posted on the newspapers’ websites, for reasons I’ve never really understood.  This means if you want to read reviews of books and movies from major German newspapers online, you’re pretty much out of luck.

That’s why the website Perlentaucher (G) ("pearl-diver") is so useful — it collects and indexes short summaries of the major-paper book reviews, so you can get an idea what the papers are saying about various new books and films.  Call it a culture aggregator.  Perlentaucher then sells its abstracts to online book-sellers such as buecher.de.  Two major German newspapers sued Perlentaucher a few years ago, claiming that the website was appropriating their intellectual property without compensation.  Perlentaucher, for its part, claimed it had a right to quote and summarize already-printed material, and then do what it wished with the end result. 

Perlentaucher won about a year ago in the District Court of Frankfurt, and the newspapers appealed.  Now, early today, the higher court (the Frankfurt Regional Court) has also announced a verdict for Perlentaucher (G).  The newspapers are going to appeal, so the story is — ludicrously enough — not yet over.  Yet the interim judgment would seem to reassure bloggers that they can quote or summarize printed matter without fearing a lawsuit.

I heard an interview with DeutschlandRadio Kultur this morning with the editor of the feuilleton of the Frankfurter Rundschau.  Her newspaper’s actually grateful for the extra publicity Perlentaucher brings to its culture pages, so it’s not a part of the lawsuit.  She noted that most of the people who write for the Feuilleton are freelancers who maintain some rights to their work, so the legal situation’s a bit more complex.

However, the moderator asked her a good question: why don’t the newspapers and perlentaucher get together and simply arrange some sort of equitable agreement about the rights to use the abstracts?  Aren’t the newspapers behaving here like the music industry — desperately fighting a futile rear-guard action to stop a new medium, instead of thinking of innovative ways to profit from it?  The Rundschau woman was sympathetic to this argument, but noted that relations between the print and the internet camps are apparently so rocky now that there’s no chance of a settlement.  (You’d be amazed how much doesn’t get done in Germany because people in key positions decide they can’t stand each other, but that’s another story).

So the legal battle goes on.  But in the meantime, Perlentaucher will keep finding those pearls for us.  I wish them the best of luck in their continuing legal odyssey…