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December, 2023:

New Public Domain Items for 2024

Every year on January 1, a whole lot of things enter the public domain. For the year 2024, anything published in 1928 suddenly belongs to everybody. There’s a substantial but not exhaustive list here on Google Docs. If (like me) you’re a fan of Tom Swift, Tom Swift and His Talking Pictures will now be free of charge and (soon) up on Project Gutenberg. In the long tail of the original series, only one Tom Swift novel was published per year. In 2025 we’ll get Tom Swift and His House on Wheels (1929) in which Tom basically invents the RV. Remember that this is the original series, which some call Tom Swift, Sr. Tom Swift Jr. will still be a long time off, running as it did between 1954 and 1971.

The first three Hardy Boys mysteries went public last year. Three more were published in 1928: The Missing Chums, Hunting for Hidden Gold, and The Shore Road Mystery. Keep in mind that the older Hardy Boys books were updated in the 50s and 60s; those volumes are still under copyright. Nancy Drew didn’t debut until 1930 but be patient; 2026 will be here before you know it.

The House at Pooh Corner and Bambi, a Life in the Woods go public in 2024, as do The Giant Horse of Oz, The Threepenny Opera, Millions of Cats, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Thea Von Harbou’s The Rocket to the Moon—in German. (We’ll get it in English in 2026.) Fritz Lang made a film of it, entitled The Woman in the Moon, in 1929. That same snag applies to All Quiet on the Western Front, which was published in 1928—in German. We won’t get the English translation until 2025.

And those are only the things I recognized. Now, don’t think for a second I forgot that the cartoon Steamboat Willie enters the public domain in 2024. That’s just the film; the character is heavily trademarked by Disney, and I doubt Steamboat Willie’s new public domain status will do anybody any good.

The public domain is a complicated business. It varies by country, so something under copyright here in the US might not be under copyright in, say, New Zealand. Even in the US, there are a lot of details, and gotchas like the issue of copyright renewal of works published before 1963, and much else. A good, accessible long-form overview of US copyright with a focus on 2024 can be had on CopyrightLately.

That’s about all I have time for right now. Once the new year gets underway, Project Gutenberg and will have lots of new items to post. If you spot a good one, do let me know.

Christmas Daywander

Ok, Christmas Day was yesterday. This is a Christmas Daywander, not a Christmas Day Wander. I’m an editor. Such distinctions can matter. Sometimes.

As far as the radio stations are concerned, Christmas is over. Seems to me that after pushing Christmas since Halloween, suddenly it goes poof! and vanishes at 5PM on Christmas Day. I’m a 4-nation mongrel (Polish, German, Irish and (maybe; i have no solid proof) French. My mother was a child of Polish immigrants, and our home culture growing up was Polish.

In Polish culture, Christmas isn’t merely a day but a season, and not one that starts right after Halloween. The season runs from Christmas Vigil (vigilia) on Christmas Eve until The Epiphany on January 6. The Epiphany is also known as the Feast of the Magi, and commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. All our decorations remained in place until Epiphany. This was sometimes problematic if we had a live tree, as some live trees die sooner than others. Carol and I often have both a live tree and a pop-up artificial one. This year we got sick in the runup to Christmas, so we stuck with artificial. We put up a few wreaths (one of them using real pine branches) plus Carol’s childhood Nativity scene, and the Plasticville farm (including animals) that Carol’s family put under the tree when she was a kid. We also put a stuffed Grinch and Max on the bookshelves along with a few other things. The trains did not go up around the tree this year due to the long tail of the worst colds we’ve had in years.

This year, we’re having one of our traditional a nerd parties on January 6, so some of the decorations will be going back into their boxes a little early. But I’m fully prepared to play Christmas CDs until January 6th.

Most of you know that I’m a filker; that is, I write song parodies like “The Zero-G Polka,” which you can find in my book Odd Lots. Some days ago, after imbibing Christmas music for a week or two, the following couplet entered my mind as I sat in front of my shaving mirror, Norelco Triple-Header in hand:

I’m shaving all my white whiskers,
Just like the brown I used to grow…

Fear not, gang. I don’t intend to finish it.

A quick reminder here: I have a short Christmas story on the Kindle store called “The Camel’s Question” for 99c. It’s about the three camels that carried the Magi to Bethlehem—and met the Christ Child, who grants each camel a wish, including an answer to one’s difficult question. If you’re not all Christmased out yet, consider it. Light reading, hopeful, affirming, and all that stuff that I favor. No starships, sorry.

I’ve always boggled a little at an obscure Christmas carol you don’t hear much: “The Boar’s Head Carol.”  It’s from the 15th Century, and food was sometimes hard to come by back then. On the flipside, in English tradition it’s brought into the great hall on a gold or silver platter, amidst fanfare by trumpeters—so I suspect it wasn’t the poor who ate the damned thing. I held off mentioning it here until today, because today is the feast of St. Stephen, and there is a Scandinavian tradition linking the boar’s head with St. Stephen. I also wonder if Good King Wenceslas had a boar’s head in the oven while he was wandering around on December 26th helping random peasants keep from starving and/or freezing.

The question does arise: What parts of a severed pig’s head can you actually eat? Wikipedia doesn’t take up that issue, so I had to sniff around a little, though I didn’t have to sniff far. Thrillist has a long-form explanation, which is probably a lot more than you’d want to know. TL,DR: Meat is muscle, and pigs have muscular jaws. So the jowls are the part mostly eaten, though the author cites his father, who ate pig’s brains for breakfast. I can’t scoff too hard: Our Fry’s supermarket sells jars of pickled pigs’ feet. Given what pigs walk around in, I think I’d prefer the head.

What surprised me most is that people are still eating pig heads now in the 21st Century, including the ears. Go ahead: You eat a pig’s head. I’ll watch.

Ummm, no, I won’t.

So Carol and I are stretching Christmas out a little. after—and not before—the day itself. It will be a mostly restful season. We still have a couple of Christmas movies to watch, and another couple of bottles of Van Der Haute spiked eggnog to sip. Again, Carol and I (and Dash too!) send our best wishes to all of you this Christmas season. The Christmas corollary to my deeply held principle that friendship is the cornerstone of the human spirit is simply this: At the bottom of it all, we are the gifts we give to one another!

Spiking a Christmas Song

I was going to mess with an ancient Christmas song involving eating pig heads—surely you’ve heard of “The Boar’s Head Carol”—but that may have to wait for another day, ideally after everybody’s already had Christmas dinner.

No, this morning I want to write about something I learned just yesterday, about another Christmas song that Carol and I both like. We’ve never heard it on the radio, and we wouldn’t know about it at all if it weren’t on our very favorite Christmas CD: Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters (1978). The song is the medley “It’s Christmas Time/Sleep Well, Little Children.” It’s on none of our other numerous Christmas CDs, and my assumption has long been that Karen and Richard wrote it themselves, as it’s a little bit whimsical and in spots a little bit goofy.

I got curious yesterday and looked it up. The song was actually written by four men: Alan Bergman, Al Stillman, Victor Young, and Leon Klatzkin. It’s not new; in fact, it was first recorded in 1953. And when I read who first recorded it, I laughed out loud. It was Spike Jones!

Ok, I suspect young people will wonder who that is, and why his name made me laugh. Short form: Spike Jones (1911-1965) was the Weird Al Yankovic of the 1940s and 1950s. He took popular songs of other artists and recorded them in his own satirical style, with manic voices, gunshots, whistles, cowbells, hiccups, and other “special effects”. I came upon Spike Jones and His City Slickers when I was quite young; probably five or at most six. In that era my folks had a creaky old record player and a cabinet full of 78RPM records, including a few by Spike. His best known spoof song is probably “Cocktails for Two.” Note that the linked YouTube item is not a video of Spike and his band performing the song. It’s a sort of primordial music video, with Spike playing a bartender with many of the sound effects done by tipsy men at the bar. I’m sure sophisticates will roll their eyes, but when I was six I thought the song was hilarious.

So when I went looking for Spike’s version of “It’s Christmas Time” on YouTube, what I found is a cut from Spike’s Christmas album—and on this cut at least, Spike himself is notably absent. The song is played straight, with no silly sound effects, but rather a nice choir and lots of harmony. I imagine it’s Spike’s City Slickers band playing in the background. There’s a little bit of goofiness in some of the other cuts from that album, but for the most part it’s just Fifties Big Band vocals playing Christmas standards. Several are on YouTube; listen to a few if you’re interested.

I have to wonder what Spike thought of rock and roll, and what he might have done with it (or to it, more likely) had he not smoked himself to death at 53. He wasn’t a filker (like Bob Rivers of Twisted Christmas) and I wonder if he had imitators. If he did, I’ve never heard of them.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you for reading me in whatever form, and putting up with my occasional Spike Jones-ish metaphors like the Base Four Martians in my assembly language book. Have a fun Christmas, with good food, good wine, good friends, good music (even if it’s a little goofy in spots) and an occasional glance to the heavens, and a word of thanks to God, who gave us the ability to laugh and be silly as we make our way through His beautiful and extravagant creation!

Lazarus 3.0 Has Arrived!

For all you Pascal programmers among my readers: Lazarus 3.0 is out, and available for free download. Here’s the announcement. I’ve already installed it on Win10 and will install it on Linux when time becomes available. (I’m still struggling to write the trademark Jeff Duntemann mayhem-filled action climax of my current WIP: The Everything Machine, the first full-length drumlins novel.)

Delphi now costs over $1000. If I’m going to teach Pascal, I can’t use Delphi, love it though I may–and do. Lazarus is pretty much Delphi’s peer, though it doesn’t…quite…have the third-party component aftermarket that Delphi has. Doesn’t matter. The fundamental principles of OOP and event-driven programming are the same.

For newcomers: Lazarus is a superb IDE and drag-‘n-drop GUI builder conceived as a Delphi competitor, though open-source and thus free of charge. It uses FreePascal 3.2.2 as its compiler. FreePascal understands Delphi’s additions to the Pascal programming language, and will also compile ancient Turbo Pascal programs. FreePascal is part of the Lazarus package and is installed when you install Lazarus. I have fragments of a book on Lazarus that I will return to at some point. But if you know Delphi, well, there’s not a lot more to learn. You’ll feel right at home.

Go get it. I’ve done a lot of work in Lazarus. It’s mature. It works. It can create wonderful GUI apps. And it’s free. What more do you want?

The Parable of the White Tile

[Excerpted from my book, Odd Lots, 2021]

Centuries ago, during the Age of the Great Cathedrals, a mighty church was rising against the rolling green hills of a distant Christian land. The king of that country had retained the world’s greatest architects, masons, sculptors, and artists to build the church, which would be a task of many years, perhaps decades. The greatest of all the artists that the king had employed had come from far away, and made his home in the shadow of the church, knowing that he would be pouring most—and perhaps all—of the rest of his life into its completion.

He was an artist of a special skill, the creation of mosaics. With nothing but colored tiles he could paint scenes and landscapes so real, so luminous, that they seemed to have a life of their own, as though they were windows into the ineffable realms of Heaven itself. His task in the building of the church was a mosaic above the main altar, sixty feet high, depicting Mary, Queen of All Saints.

The mosaic would require tens of thousands of colored tiles. The Artist made each of the tiles himself, alone, by hand, at a small bench behind the main altar. Each tile was precisely what the mosaic required. Each one was shaped individually in the Artist’s hands, and no two were alike. His skill was great: No more than were needed were made, none were ruined, and none were thrown away. After the tiles had been colored and fired, the Artist took them up on the scaffold himself, and cemented each tile individually and precisely into its place in the great mosaic.

The Artist was the greatest that his craft had ever produced, and he had promised Jesus and Mary that this mosaic would be his masterwork. God saw how the Artist loved the tiles he had crafted, just as God loves all of His children, and in a special way God allowed the tiles lives according to their natures, and made them recognize the Artist as their master, because tiles have neither minds nor souls with which to recognize God. The Artist spoke to the tiles as he shaped them, fired them, painted them, and positioned them in the mosaic. As the years went on and the mosaic took shape, the tiles would speak to one another and to the Artist, who praised each of them for its part in the greater work that was unfolding. The tiles listened to the Artist, and they were happy.

All but one. At a particular place within the mosaic was a white tile. The tile knew the tiles all around it, but no more than that, because a tile within a mosaic cannot see the picture of which it is a part. The white tile looked to its neighbor tiles, and realized that all of them were made of gold. The white tile was large, and its angles were irregular. All of the surrounding tiles were smaller than the white tile, and of compact and regular shapes. Where the golden tiles had neat corners, the white tile had sharp spikes. This made the white tile unhappy.

One day, as the Artist was positioning new tiles into their places in the mosaic, he heard the white tile calling out to him: “Master! Master! Why am I so strange and ugly?”

The Artist heard the white tile, and stepped down a few rungs on the scaffold to where the white tile was, so that he could speak to it: “You are not strange and ugly, my child. You are precisely what I needed you to be.”

The white tile was not convinced. “But all the tiles around me are made of beautiful gold! I have no color at all!”

The Artist shook his head, and smiled. “White is the greatest of all colors, dear one, because it contains all other colors. Every color of the rainbow lies within you.”

The white tile was still not happy. “But I am huge and gross, and have no shape. All of my angles are sharp, and nothing about me is regular. I am nothing but a jagged, ugly, spiky white blotch. Why, master? Why?

The Artist leaned forward toward the tile. As his eyes grew closer to the mosaic, he reminded himself that he could see the tiles the way they could not see themselves, and that he could understand their places in the heavenly image in a way that none of them could ever understand. So it was with great tenderness that he reached out a fingertip, and gently touched the white tile while he replied:

“Because, my dear child, you are the dazzle at the center of Our Lady’s golden crown.”

Tree vs. Tree at Christmas

It occurred to me years ago that the ancient Christmas carol “The Holly and the Ivy” really has nothing to do with ivy, even though ivy is mentioned side by side with holly in the title and the refrain. It’s almost as though something was left out of the lyrics:

“The holly and the ivy, when they are both full-grown,”

Ok, I give. When the holly and the ivy are both full grown, then what? The holly has the berries, the blossoms, the thorns, and in the full version, the bark. Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown. The ivy has…nothing.

I haven’t thought about that silly little issue in a lot of years, until KBAQ played a song this morning called ”Ivy, Chief of Trees, It Is,” by British composer Sarah Cattley (with a little help from Yoda, there might be.) You can find a very nice performance here with great harmony. Lyrics are here. The Latin “veni coronaberis” means “Come and be crowned.”

So here we are: Two Christmas carols about trees that wear the crown. Will there be civil war in the woods? A duel? A fistfight?

Wait. Hold on. Something weird is going on here: Holly is a tree. Ivy is ground cover, or at best something crawling up the sides of elite college buildings. A little snooping on Wikipedia yielded a clue: An older carol that may have been originally penned in Middle English, called “The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly.” The lyrics in modern English are these:

Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a-cold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,
Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.
Nay, ivy, nay, etc

Ivy hath chapped fingers, she caught them from the cold,
So might they all have, aye, that with ivy hold.
Nay, ivy, nay, etc

Holly hath berries red as any rose,
The forester, the hunter, keep them from the does.
Nay, ivy, nay, etc

Ivy hath berries black as any sloe;
There come the owl and eat him as she go.
Nay, ivy, nay, etc

Holly hath birds a fair full flock,
The nightingale, the popinjay, the gentle laverock.
Nay, ivy, nay, etc

Good ivy, what birds hast thou?
None but the owlet that cries how, how.
Nay, ivy, nay, etc

(A quick query shows that “laverock” is what they called the lark in Chaucer’s era.)

Wikipedia suggests that holly and ivy are emblematic of the male and female principles. So it’s not a fight over a crown; it’s the battle of the sexes, with the deck severely stacked against women. I also wonder if “The Holly and the Ivy” as we sing it today was sanitized back in the 19th Century, leaving out the verses that slander poor ivy: Holly stands inside, warm by the fire; ivy is left outside to freeze, and so on. If such sanitizing was ever done, I see no mention of it online. So the mystery remains.

I’m looking around for interesting Christmas-related topics and will post the best here. So stay tuned.