Friday, September 30, 2005

For Nick

My Super Mario 64 sleep shirt was on the top of the pile earlier this week so it's been on my back a couple of nights. It's a nice coincidence that I found this at about the same time. I haven't listened to the music or looked at the trailer so I can't vouch for the contents.

It does remind me of Mario mania in our house some years ago, particularly when Nick invented a dance to go with the Mario theme.

Super Mario! The Opera

What if, on a crowded street, you look up and see something appear that should not, given what we know, be there. You either shake your head and dismiss it, or you accept that there is much more to the world than we think. Perhaps it really is a doorway to another place. If you choose to go inside you may find many unexpected things....
-Mario creator, Shigeru Miyamoto

The Mario Opera by Jonathan Mann - "An Opera based on the Super Mario Bros."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Glossary of Technical Theatre Terms

For Julia: This site calls itself the Biggest Theatre Glossary on the Web. - Glossary of Technical Theatre Terms

In addition to a word search, it has a category search grouping definitions in the following categories:
    Lighting - Beginners
    Lighting - Advanced
    Lighting - All

    The Theatre Building
    Forms of Theatre
    Stage Management
    Beginners Terms

    Scenic / Stage Design
    Theatre Jobs

    Themed Entertainment

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A ride to Rahway in 1842

Here is a letter from Hannah Wolf, step-sister to Sarah Lefman, my great- great-grandmother. It's probably a draft of something she mailed to her father who was away from home at the time, hence the absence of capital letters and punctuation (which make it look something like a posting in livejournal).
Hannah Wolf
New-York June 28th 1842

A Ride to Rahway

we rode down to the Jersey City ferry and went in the steamboat, then on the cars to Rahway. We went through Newark, Elizabethtown and several other places. Rahway is a very pleasant village; we walked to upper Rahway and went to see Mrs. Phelps' school; it is a large building; she had a great many scholars; I heard them play upon the piano, and they sang some very pretty songs we then went to the Mansion house and waited for the cars. I saw at Mr. Thompson's, a number of Shells in a glass case, some large and hansome [sic] and a case of stuffed birds of all kinds, and some very pretty butterflies. The cars came and I left the pleasant village of Rahway for New-York. The cars go very fast; they don't give you time to view as you pass. I am fond of riding in them. We arrived safe at New-York; we then took the stage and rode home through Broadway and saw a great many hansome things.

My great-grandfather told the following story about a mid-winter attempt at the Hudson crossing. His "best girl" was named after Sarah, called Annie, and later to be my great-grandmother.
Some years previously [to 1857 - so this would be very soon after his arrival in New York] I lived in the boarding house of Mrs. F., 54 Barclay street, and my best girl was in Bloomfield street, Hoboken. She was sitting in her father's parlor on a fine winter evening waiting for me to take her to the firemen's ball, where I had been rash enough to invite her. Not minding the warning of my friends, I started in my "swallow tail" on regulation time, by the Chancellor Livingston [a ferry across the Hudson], but did not get far before we were stuck fast in masses of ice. The wheels [of the steamboat] absolutely refused to turn: with our assistance some of the deck hands finally allowed themselves to be lowered by ropes, with lanterns in one hand and shovels in the other, to remove the obstruction from the blades of our paddles. By heroic efforts they finally succeeded so as to be able to more. We effected a landing at Hoboken about midnight, and I met a reception from my lady as cold as the ice was in the river. We arrived at the ball in time for supper and the champagne soon revivied our spirits; but I will never forget the worry of that long evening.

A steam ferry (this one from Toronto)

Another old sidewheeler ferry

Main Street, Rahway (1920s)

Jersey City cars (1920s)

Trolley in Springfield, NJ, ca. 1915

A New Jersey trolley, 1900 or a bit later

Monday, September 26, 2005

“Now do puppies!” pleaded Vishnu. “And kitties!”

I was going to post about something else and then a headline caught my eye:

'Intelligent design' rule faces court test
Washington — A rule instructing high school biology teachers to tell students that "intelligent design" is a viable scientific alternative to evolution faces its first challenge in a federal court today.

The suit was brought by 11 parents in the Pennsylvania town of Dover who charge the school board is attempting to promote a religion, Christianity, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The suit has made Dover — a town 100 miles west of Philadelphia with five elementary schools, one intermediate school and one high school — the scene of the first courtroom battle of the new century in a national struggle over whether alternatives to evolution should be forced into high school texts.

So what about intelligent design?

Intelligent design is not science, it has no testable hypotheses, no proposed methodologies, no research data. It is derived from its own claims. Its philosophical arguments have been rejected by the science community."

--Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science

Here's a link to a nice long article with lots of reasons for discarding the idea:

Intelligent Design


A 2005 national survey by the Harris polling agency found that 54% say they do not believe humans evolved from earlier species, while 64% believe that human beings were created directly by God.

To deny that God has the power to create living things using natural selection is to assert something unknowable. It is also inconsistent with the belief in an omnipotent Creator. There is no inconsistency in believing in God the Creator of the universe and in natural selection. Natural selection could have been designed by God. Or, natural selection could have occurred even if God did not exist. Thus, the first of several fallacies committed by ID defenders is the false dilemma.

There is also much hypocrisy and deceit in a movement that does not refer to God in published documents as the intelligent designer, but opens its public presentations with a Christian prayer and doesn't hesitate to refer to God when alternatives such as aliens as the designers are brought up.* Dembski puts it this way:

Intelligent design is a modest position theologically and philosophically. It attributes the complexity and diversity of life to intelligence, but does not identify that intelligence with the God of any religious faith or philosophical system. The task for the Christian who accepts intelligent design is therefore to formulate a theology of nature and creation that makes sense of intelligent design in light of one’s Christian faith.*

In other words, you Christians know who the intelligent designer is even though we don't mention Him by name!

To teach ID properly would be to demonstrate to the students that nothing of scientific interest follows after one posits an external agent to explain something. To say the eye was designed by God or an alien race is to say: Stop, go no further in trying to understand this. Students might be taught that ID is just the kind of theory that some philosophers and theologians find interesting but since it doesn't lead to any deeper understanding of biological mechanisms, doesn't lead to new discoveries or research ventures, and doesn't have any practical scientific applications, it is left to those in other fields to pursue. A good biology teacher ought to be able to explain why ID, even if true, is of little scientific interest in about 15 or 20 minutes. That should leave plenty of time for them to instruct their students in science.

It has it's humorous side:

Have you seen Intelligent Design in the New Yorker? It's a wonderful parody. Best line: “Now do puppies!” pleaded Vishnu. “And kitties!”

Sunday, September 25, 2005

How doth the little busy bee

The British Library now offers a digital version of Lewis Carroll’s original ‘Alice’ manuscript. The site says: "Alice’s Adventures Under Ground by Lewis Carroll (mathematician and pioneer photographer Charles Dodgson) is one of the most famous of British Library’s treasures. It is Carroll’s hand-written version of the work later published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

Seeing notice of this immediately brought to mind one of the "improving" poems that Carroll parodies, the one that begins "How doth the little busy bee." It's title is "Against Idleness And Mischief" and it's by Isaac Watts, included in a collection published in 1715 entitled Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of CHILDREN (London: M. Lawrence). Here's the poem:
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthy play,
Let my first years be passed
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

In my youth and middle age these sentiments and their expression in these bouncy quatrains were wholly alien. I saw in them sentimentality and hypocracy. They were for me mindless and complacent expressions of an uncaring ascendancy. I had no patience for them. I saw them as transparent and cynical manipulation.

Among poets it was easy to lump Tennyson and even Kipling into this Victorian closet to be contempuously dismissed.

But now that I've advanced beyond middle age I've learned to love Tennyson and appreciate Kipling. Having developed a mild passion for British thought in the eighteenth century, I now try to imagine the impetus behind the goal of giving good account for every day in books or work or healthy play. It seems now that it might be one of the beginnings of a revolutionary change from passive acceptance of hierarchy and place, to a new, fresh sense that life was susceptible to improvement; one could better oneself and the world could be made a better place.

These thoughts brought back to mind the writings of some 19th-century relatives: Sarah Thorne and Hannah Wolf. A very few pages came down to me from them, none with any explanation. I'll write about them in another post.

For now, here is Carroll's parody of Watt's 'How doth:'

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spread his claws,
And welcome little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

And here a link to The Poems in Alice in Wonderland, by Florence Milner (published in 'Bookman', 1903.

And finally, the busy bee in life,

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tom Tomorrow and the party faithful

I haven't done a pointer to Crooked Timber or Cliopatria in a while. They're both group blogs, both academically oriented; despite that both are readable, entertaining, and quite often somewhat profound.

Cases in point:

1. Latte Ordoliberals, a thoughtful post in CT on the German elections turning on the question of Germany's economic standing in the world as a welfare state. This post has 70 comments, some of them as good as the post itself.

2. Save Us From The Vegans on Cliopatria. This post reads in full:

You almost have to live here to appreciate DeKalb County, Georgia. Our representative in Congress is Cynthia McKinney. Our former sheriff was convicted of having planned the execution of his elected successor. Our county executive faces rape charges. But I feel safer because the Homeland Security Division of the DeKalb County Police Department has been keeping tabs on aggressive vegans. Eugene Volokh and the ACLU are on their case.

3. A trillion dollar war on CT. Another provocative CT post, this time with 37 comments of which quite a few are excellent. If nothing else, read two items to which commenters link: (1) "This Modern World" by Tom Tomorrow (Full page view here.) (2) One of the commenters expands the costing beyond the United States to (a) Iraq and (b) the rest of the world. He also mentions the "medical and supplemental pension costs to US veterans – a few $ billions a year. Not a big deal in the total, but politically important as the Bush Administration apparently doesn’t propose to fund these costs but to shift them on to the returning Tommy Atkinses." The "Tommy Atkins" reference is to the Kipling poem which is a most-typical barrack-room ballad from that too-frequently under-rated writer.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Commuting events

I suffered two flat tires yesterday on my home-bound commute. The first one was easily fixed. The tire had lost air during the day and I replaced it with a spare that I carry before I set off on my ride. Then that replacement tube expired about a third of the way into my ride. I don't carry a second spare tube and so had to first find the hole in one tube or the other, then repair with patch and latex glue that I carry. Finding the hole proved to be the difficult part. I was reduced, in the end, to segregating sections of tube (by folding it in on itself) while pumping. The weather was cooperative, dry and not overly hot, and the neighborhood (between Shaw and Howard Univ) not too scary; though the repair took 20 minutes or so I didn't lose my composure very much and only worried that B would be worrying.

Caption: Getting the patch on the tube is easy enough, but I've learned the hard way that you have to be patient about the latex glue: you must rough up the tube, then apply the glue -- not too much, not too little -- then wait, wait, wait, until it's practically dry then you can press the patch onto the glue spot. (It's also important that the area of glue match the area of patch pretty closely.)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Where am I?

I'm fond of idiosyncrasies: organic, sometimes chaotic growths that seem to have no rhyme nor reason. I encounter them fairly frequently in some of the bureaucratic policies and arbitrary rules that govern the way we do things here at work. I particularly appreciate architectural oddities and especially ones involving what librarians call "signage."

Here's what stirs this little thought: Tuesday I was signed up to attend a training session in our Adams Building. The room number was given as G-42. The easiest way to get there from my office is via a tunnel that takes one to the bottom floor of Adams. Unfortunately, the Adams elevators don't show a floor "G" or Ground. The buttons are labeled (from bottom to top): C, B, 1, 2, 3, 4. It turns out that Adams floor B (basement) is also G (ground). The doors on that level are labeled G though the elevator says B.

Adams has other such perplexities. Though that bank of elevators tops out at 4, the building actually has a 5th floor, a kind of penthouse that is smaller than the rest of the building. You can only get to it via the bank of elevators on the east side of the building; not the west side, which is the side from which you access Adams from the other two buildings.

My own building, Madison, doesn't have very confusing floor numbering, but it is inconsistent with the others. Where the bottom of Adams is its cellar, the bottom of Madison is its sub-basement. And where Adams combines basement and ground floor together, Madison has a basement above the sub-basement, then its ground floor. And where Adams has its ground floor at street level, Madison has its street level at its first floor (at least for its main entrance).

When I worked in publishing many years ago, I arranged to have a scholar's desk in our Jefferson Building (then called the main building). These desks were in the stacks. You can't get them any more. I felt like quite an insider, particularly because quite a bit of arcane knowledge was needed to locate the desk and the stack areas around it. Jefferson has two main floors plus cellar, basement, and attic. Most of its stairways and elevators only take you from cellar to second floor. The stack elevators are much more interesting. They are labeled with the main floors plus the deck floors, the areas of where books are shelved. The number of decks is bizarre: Deck 1 is on top and the lowest deck, Deck 49, is at the bottom. Above Deck 1 is a smaller attic deck area with stack levels that are identified by letters and go the opposite way: starting with A on the lowest level and going up to C. The elevator numbers show all these plus the regular floor numbers so the sequence is C, 49, 48, 47, B, 46, 45, 44, 1, 43, 42, etc. Very interesting. No?

Here is a link to a short history of the buildings and some shots of the three buildings. The photo captions are the ones that appear in the history.
‘Suitable Apartments’, The Library’s Buildings and Spaces, 1800-2000, BY JOHN Y. COLE. April 2000.

The Thomas Jefferson Building shortly after opening; construction engineer Bernard R. Green (1843-1914) played a major role in the construction of the Jefferson Building from 1888 until its completion in 1897 — even designing its bookstacks — then served as superintendent of the Library building and grounds until his death.

Construction on the extension of the Jefferson Building’s east side, from 1933.

Workers look out at the Jefferson Building from a floor of the James Madison Memorial Building, under construction in 1974. The building was dedicated in 1980.

We've expanded beyond the three original buildings and now have a Taylor Street Annex, for the Division of the Blind and Physically Handicapped, a warehouse at Landover, a motion picture film preservation lab at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio, a huge and ever growing offsite storage facility at Ft. Meade, and a new film, video, and sound recording center being constructed in Culpeper, VA.

Here's are a few "fascinating facts" from the LC web sites: "The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 130 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 29 million books and other printed materials, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, 5 million music items and 58 million manuscripts."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I'm composing this rapidly during my lunch break.

I've gotten a third the way through the third volume of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Each of the three is near a thousand pages long so it's an achievement to have persevered, and also a pleasure. There are fantastical action plots of the dime-novel sort, or as Stephenson calls such action-stories: picaroon romances. But there are also long passages of intellectual history, partly imagined history, but mostly out of real life.

The themes include the firm founding of the scientific method and the use of inventions, such as telescope and microscope, to further science. Paired with this, an exploration of what men of the Enlightenment saw as superstition and enslavement to the ideas of magic and of miracles. Their enemies were both clerics and alchemists.

The themes also include the evolution of commerce, industry, and particularly finance. There's much about the invention of financial instruments, like the bill of exchange and paper money, which have no intrinsic value and whose worth is based on trust. This is marvelous: how value becomes attached to expectations -- not just of payment in goods or precious metals, but expectations of financial gain -- and how value is determined not just by the amount of expected gain, but also by the amount of risk of things going wrong: misplaced trust, wars and other unforeseen eruptions, acts of piracy, in general, contingencies that might arise. Neither the amount of future gain nor the associated risk could be estimated accurately and it became the objective of many men to use news, intelligence, and such mechanisms as law enforcement, the courts, and insurance to help compensate for dread of the unknown.

At the point I've reached, Sophie, the Electress of Hanover, and Caroline, future Queen of England and present Princess in Hanover, are discussing a new usage: "currency" denoting money rather than the action of water flowing in a stream. It's 1814 and England's Tories are trying to prevent the House of Hanover from inheriting the English Throne. England, as had Holland, Genoa, and Venice beforehand, is a nation whose strength rests on the faith that people place in its currency. Lacking the gold and silver mines of Spain and the great natural resources of France, England has learned to create money out of trust -- trust (the balancing of anticipated risks and rewards) that wealthy Spaniards and Frenchmen place in England by committing their money to English bankers. Now Louis XIV is plotting with some of these Tories to undermine this trust by calling into question the worth of English currency, and at the moment it looks like he (and they) will succeed, enabling the Stuart "Pretender" -- a French pawn -- to be awarded the English Throne.

This web site gives a good overview of the history of the period and describes it's coinage.

This is the front and back of Queen Anne's guinea, the coin being discussed by Sophie and Caroline as "currency".

Here's the Oxford English Dictionary on the word "currency" (extracts):

1. The fact or condition of flowing, flow; course; a current, stream.
1657 HOWELL Londinop. 18 To preserve the currency of the stream. 1698 TYSON in Phil. Trans. XX. 135 To shew the Currency of their Canalis here. 1758 BINNELL Descr. Thames 11 The Currency runs..with such Force, as to render the Navigation thereof imperfect.

2. The course (of time); the time during which anything is current.
1726 AYLIFFE Parergon 196 The Currency of Time to establish a Custom, ought to be with a Continuando from the beginning to the end of the Term.

3. Of money: The fact or quality of being current or passing from man to man as a medium of exchange; circulation.
1699 LOCKE 2nd Reply to Bp. of Worcester (R.), 'Tis the receiving of them by others, their very passing, that gives them their authority and currency. 1722 Lond. Gaz. No. 6078/2 All such of the said Bills..lose their Currency. 1729 POPE Dunc. I. 23 note, The papers of Drapier against the currency of Wood's copper coin in Ireland.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A little mystery

The body is a more often than not a mystery. It might be more accurate to say the body which is myself is frequently difficult for me to understand. Neither statement profound except that it's kind of a miracle that we can seem to observe ourselves from a vantage outside ourselves.
That's a long introduction to a prosaic topic. Sports coaches and my own dad used to say "you've got to put your heart into it." For the coaches, "it" was football most frequently and sometimes basketball. I never heard it from my track coaches. For my dad, "it" was household chores, particularly cleaning up after dinner and most specifically the job of sweeping the 18 square feet of linoleum flooring in our tiny kitchen.

Neither coaches nor dad made much impact on my attitude at the time. I see things differently now. An epiphany when I was struggling to succeed as a head log bucker one summer in a northern California saw mill: I didn't see how I could do the job well. The mill wright who was also foreman told me yes I could. I changed my attitude and did the job well.

When I learned to practice Zen, I also learned that everything in life is work. I spent time at the Green Gulch farm of San Francisco Zen Center and for me this talk on Zen work, given at the farm, rings true.

The speaker says work is our life and our joy: "Every task requires a different kind of effort and we need to discover the kind of effort that is appropriate. And we need always to reflect on our attitude and to see how we are doing. Complaining a lot or feeling like we're working too hard or joylessly are signs that we're forgetting to own our work." It still sounds like my father telling me to put my heart into the after-dinner cleanup routine, but that doesn't make it wrong. As the speaker also says, work is form of meditation and it can produce a wider awareness and sense of release.

I once had this sense of awareness and release on a hill I've climbed a thousand times and more. I thought I was taking it as fast as I could. Another biker demonstrated that it could be taken much faster (breezing by me). I sped up and, yes, I could indeed open my heart and do it much faster.

I went through this process a couple of weeks ago. For many days, pretty much constantly since returning from summer vacation, I was feeling old and decrepit on bike. Weak and achy. Slow. Then there came a time when, unaccountably, my spirits rose and I rushed home just about as fast as I ever have. There's always some luck involved in doing a fast commute. Traffic was light, the weather was warm and not humid, the west breeze was gentle. Traffic lights were green. But there was also this little mystery: My muscles had rebuilt but I was still thinking of myself as old and decrepit. Something (what?) turned my attitude; cleared the way so I could put my heart into the work of riding.

Monday, September 19, 2005

• change d'avis

Just back from an event-filled weekend. B and I drove to Westchester County to attend a reunion celebrating the 45th anniversary of high school graduation. I'll blog about that when my head clears. We also welcomed a visitor from out of town and attended the a picnic buffet that our little community puts on each year. It seemed this morning, on returning to work, that I was returning from three or four days off, not just the usual Sat & Sun. At the buffet ('party in the park'), a neighbor said he'd recently been to his 30th high school reunion as was struck by how little people changed -- not appearance but attitude, temperment, personality; particulary he was struck by how they could maintain grudges over the decades. I told him my experience at my 45th was more positive and heart-warming. The subject of changing of minds led me to think about an article I'd recently read. This post is about the subject of that article.

Much of the good stuff in my life has come to me via friends and people (like my wife) to whom I'm related.

Back in the '70's a friend got me to join her to go hear the Dalai Lama speak. The venue was DAR's Constitution Hall, not your usual New Age auditorium. She knew about the water lilies that you'd pass by as you approached the hall from the west, so that's the way we came. He was intelligent, humane, undogmatic. The lilies were quietly bold, coming open in the twighlight. I don't know what intellectual rationale there may be for the lotus symbol in Buddhism, but, then and there, it made emotional, aesthetic sense.

This returns to mind because of a recent artilce in the New York Sun quoting the Dalia Lama on the subject of science and, implicitly, intelligent design. Here's a citation and some extracts:

Science Without Borders
September 14, 2005

In a 1987 lecture on "The Burden of Skepticism," the astronomer Carl Sagan opined:

*In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.*

Tenzin Gyatso [is] the 14th Dalai Lama, who at the age of 6 was enthroned as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama, in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Born to a peasant family in a small village called Takster in northeastern Tibet, the Dalai Lama ended up in an exile that brought him in contact with many of the world's leading scientists.

He talks about his youthful encounters with science, especially his meetings with some of the world's leading scientists, including physicists Carl von Weizsacker and David Bohm, and the philosopher of science Karl Popper. From these encounters, as well as his Buddhist studies, the Dalai Lama found a way to harmonize science and religion, even while recognizing (and respecting) their differences. Both science and Buddhism, he points out, share a strong empirical basis: "Buddhism must accept the facts - whether found by science or found by contemplative insights. If, when we investigate something, we find there is reason and proof for it, we must acknowledge that as reality - even if it is in contradiction with a literal scriptural explanation that has held sway for many centuries or with a deeply held opinion or view."

Instead of filtering scientific findings through the sieve of his religion, the Dalai Lama approaches science with humility and openness. "As my comprehension of science has grown, it has gradually become evident to me that, insofar as understanding the physical world is concerned, there are many areas of traditional Buddhist thought where our explanations and theories are rudimentary when compared with those of modern science." This book is "not an attempt to unite science and spirituality," he explains, "but an effort to explore two important human disciplines for the purpose of developing a more holistic and integrated way of understanding the world."

Friday, September 16, 2005

Cataloging system as library brain

I'm cross-posting this from the intranet blog at work. I made the connection between the news item and certain contributions to intellectual history made by Leibniz because I'm still reading Neal Stephenson's huge Baroque Cycle and there's lots about Leibniz in the three volumes of it. What follows is the post from the library weblog:

An Oregon public station recently broadcast a news piece about a library that closed for three days to install a new catalog system. See Busy Library System Closed For Three Days. The short item says the catalog system is, essentially, the library's brain.

The analogy of catalog and brain brings to mind Gottfried Leibniz, one of the first men of science to suppose the mind to be a functional part of the brain and not a separate, though immaterial entity. Since he was also one of the first men to create a calculating computer and to develop a programming language based on binary arithmetic, it's quite possible he made the association between the biological operations of the brain and the mechanical operations of the computer. And further, since he was one of the first to attempt the use of numbers to encode knowledge in a universal classification scheme, he might be said to have prepared the way for the digital library controlled by relational database.

Since he was a librarian and a cataloger at that, he certainly was capable of visualizing a catalog system as a library's brain. Though I don't believe he wrote anything to that effect, it's interesting to speculate that he might be the great- great- great-grandfather of today's systems librarians.

{This image shows the library that Leibniz ran in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. Source.}
Leibniz's catalog used author as main-entry. At pretty much the same time, as general archivist of the principality of Brunswick-Lunenburg, he designed a subject-based classification scheme for legal documents.

{The first image shows the Leibniz computer. The second shows Leibniz's system of binary arithmetic which might have been used to program the step-reckoner. Source.}

Although he's not too well known for these efforts to solve cataloging problems, he's very well known as one of the originators of the modern computer. In the early 1670's he made plans for one of the first mechanical calculators, a proto-computer which he called a step-reckoner.

{I think this depicts the numeric basis for Leibniz's universal classification scheme, which he called an alphabet of human thought. I'm not sure about this because the source of the diagram is a web page in German and other sources concerning the sceme are somewhat vague. Source.}
Leibniz's alphabet of human thought was an attempt he made to work out a universal classification scheme for all knowledge, a kind of prototype for online research resources supported by relational databases. He did not finish this work and did not begin the attempt to apply it however.

To effect this alphabet of human thought, Leibniz aimed to establish a numerical scheme: the characteristic numbers for all ideas. He wasn't the first to think of this, nor the first to give up without completing it. But he was probably the first who was capable of foreseeing a primitive precuror of modern-day computer databases. About this effort, he wrote:
There must be invented, I reflected, a kind of alphabet of human thoughts... Through the connection of its letters and the analysis of words which are composed out of them, everything else can be discovered and judged... It took strenuous reflection on my part, but I finally discovered the way.... Once the characteristic numbers are established for most concepts, mankind will then possess a new instrument which will enhance the capabilities of the mind to a far greater extent than optical instruments strengthen the eyes, and will supersede the microscope and telescope to the same extent that reason is superior to eyesight. Great as is the benefit which the magnetic needle has brought to sailors, far greater will be the benefits which this constellation will bring to all those who ply the seas of investigation and experiment. What further will come out of it, lies within the lap of destiny.

Some sources:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Cannibal

Click here for full-size version of this photo.
Mostly they called him The Cannibal, but here he is The King. I scanned this photo from a the center-fold of a British magazine, Cycle Sport; the issue of March 2002. Here's most of the accompanying text.
Stage One 'A'
Tour de France 1971

The King Parades Before His Subjects

Mulhouse, eastern France, just before the start of a mammouth day in the saddle for the riders of the 1971 Tour de France. The day consisted of three split stages and would take the peloton first to Basle in Switzerland, then to Freiburg in Germany and back to Mulhouse. Members of the Mars-Flandria team sit kerbside, snacking on their early-morning rations, and looking on like schoolboy fans as the master, Eddy Merckx, arrives for that day's lesson.

Riders in Photo: Left to Right

Marinus Wagtmans (Hol)
riding behind Merckx
Rini Wagtmans, christened 'Kuifje' (Tufty) by the Dutch fans, on account of the tuft of white he had down the middle of his curly brown hair, was one of the best descenders in the sport.

Eddy Merckx (Bel)
centre, riding
Instantly recognisable, Merckx is clad in the yellow jersey he had won in the previous day's prologue team time trial. He would go on to win this Tour, his third in a row, and take the green jersey too, but it would not be without a struggle. On the mountainous 11th stage to Orcieres-Merlette, in stifling heat, the mercurial Spaniard Luis Ocana did what he'd been threatening to do for some time and inflicted a crushing defeat on Merckx to take over the yellow jersey and lead the Tour by over eight minutes. Ocana crashed out in the Pyrenees and did not finish the Tour.

Edy Schutz (Lux)
seated fourth right
Champion of Luxembourg six times in succession between 1966 and 1971 and three times winner of his national tour, this was Edy Schutz's last season as a pro rider.

Roger De Vlaeminck (Bel)
seated third right
This picture was taken at the beginning of De Vlaeminck's rivalry with Eddy Merckx, a rivalry heightened by language differences. At the time the Flemish felt very strongly that they were being governed unfairly by the French-speaking Walloons. De Vlaeminck, one of the best ever Classic riders, was the Flemish people's champion, and some of the more extreme of them thought that the French-speaking Merckx was their enemy, especially as he had a Flemish name.
       All this is history; however, you can see by De Vlaeminck's face that he was never intimidated by Merckx, in fact in this picture he looks like he has just cracked a joke at his expense. Wagtmans seems to have found it funny, even if Merckx looks like he's trying to ignore it.
       The Tour de France was never to De Vlaeminck's liking, even if he could trouble Merckx in a one-week stage race. In fact he didn't even get to the end of this race and in future years did everything he could to avoid it.

Eric De Vlaeminck (Bel)
seated second right
A seven times world cyclo-cross champion, Eric De Vlaeminck was no slouch on the road either as the first three placings in Flesch Wallonne and Ghent-Wevelgem testify. In this Tour he was there largely to look after his younger brother, Roger, and he finished 61st.

Eric Leman (Bel)
seated, first right
Super-fast sprinter Leman, a three times winner of the Tour of Flanders, actually won this stage. He won two others in the 1971 race, at Armiens and Nevers, but like most sprinters he found the mountains difficult and finished 91st overall.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Taking it all in

In one of many articles on yesterday's match in the Ashes series, the Sydney Morning Herald reports what Australia's best player, Warne, said to England's hero, Pietersen, when he shook his hand. Warne ran up to Pietersen when he had finally bowled out after making 158 runs, thus becoming the leading run-scorer of the series. The SMH reporter quotes Pietersen:
"It was a special moment when Warney ran over to me when I walked off the field. He just said to me, 'Make sure you take this moment in, it's a special special moment, you've played a special special innings. Make sure you just savour this moment, take it all in and acknowledge everybody'."

Photo caption: Kevin Pietersen leaves the field after scoring 158 runs on the fifth day of the 5th Test. Photo: AP

Monday, September 12, 2005

They Did It!

Things looked bad in the morning when some of England's best batters fell to the superior bowling of Australia's Shane Warne, but England's lesser lights came through to save the match. In true cricketing style Warne congratulated Pietersen, the author of his team's defeat: "When Pietersen was finally dismissed, Warne ran over to him to shake his hand as he headed for the pavilion in the evening shadows." Here's what CNN reports:

England take Ashes after Oval draw

Monday, September 12, 2005; Posted: 1:50 p.m. EDT (17:50 GMT)

Photo caption: Pietersen's superb innings was the benchmark for England's Ashes win


LONDON, England -- Kevin Pietersen scored an outrageous maiden Test century at The Oval to seal England's first Ashes triumph for almost two decades.

Six runs ahead after the first innings and resuming their second on 34 for one, England recovered from a top-order collapse to bat out almost the entire day before being dismissed for 335.

The world champions, who had been hoping to set up a run chase in the final session, were left to face less than an over from Steve Harmison, getting to four without loss before accepting both the light and their historic defeat.

The South Africa-born Pietersen ...faced 187 balls and batted for four and three-quarter hours, helping to put on 60 for the sixth wicket with Paul Collingwood and 109 for the seventh with Ashley Giles.

In his last Test in England and one day short of his 36th birthday, Shane Warne produced a mammoth, exhausting performance to take six wickets for 124 to go with his six for 122 in the first innings, but did not get enough support from his team mates.

England last won the Ashes in 1986-87 - Australia winning a record eight series in a row since.

This photo shows some of Australia's outstanding fielding

Photo caption: Paul Collingwood and Pietersen put on 60 before Ponting takes a diving catch off Warne to dismiss Collingwood for 10.

Photo caption: Pietersen survives three dropped catches on the way to a massive 158 - England are in the hunt on 221-7 at tea.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

England: They could actually do it!

From the BBC:
Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
England set sights on Ashes glory
Fifth Test, The Oval, day four:
England 373 & 34-1 v Australia 367

This is Andrew Flintoff, England's best all-round player (bowler & batsman). About this photo the Beeb says: "Crowd hero Flintoff does it again, nipping one back to Simon Katich whose dismissal leaves Australia on 330-5."

This photo's caption on the BBC page: "The wickets continue to fall and Australia are 367 all out when Brett Lee is caught by Ashley Giles"

Library Thing

I've started using LibraryThing to keep track of the books I've read and wish to read. It replaces BooksWeLike and AllConsuming which I tried out but didn't like as much.

The OpenDirectoryProject has a current list of "collection managers" like LibraryThing, but doesn't list BooksWeLike or AllConsuming, so I guess they're in a different category. Here's the list:
  • - Keep track of your books in a customized library.
  • Delicious Library - Macintosh software to catalog, browse, and share books, movies, music, and video games.
  • Elf - Offers reminders via e-mail and RSS on library books that are checked out.
  • LibraryThing - Catalogs yours books online. Free for up to 200 titles.
  • Listal - A Web-based DVD, music, game and book collection manager.
  • Reader² - Keeps a list of books you read and/or recommend.

You can see part of my LibraryThing list in the Current Reading section of the right-hand column of this page. You'll find the book I'm reading (or books, if more than one), the one I just finished, and the one I think I'll read next. You can see my whole catalog on LibraryThing here. Click Title, Author, or Date in the column header to change the sort. Click the little catalog card icon on right to see LC bibliographic data and click the book cover image at left to see Amazon's entry. The icon of a person on right leads to "social data." It's a listing of the LibraryThing users who have put the book in their catalogs. You can click on the links to see the other books in their catalogs. (If you're a user at that point you can also add books to your catalog from their catalog if you wish.) Click the numbers that follow the words "display style" to see different forms of catalog entry. No. 3 is most like a library catalog record.

LibraryThing has its own blog and there's been lots of discussion of it in others' blogs, including Library Stuff, Findory, Early Modern Notes, and TransBlawg.

Stefan Hayden has an in depth review. Here are excerpts from his review:
LibraryThing is a great new app that let you catalog you’re books. It’s in early beta and although it needs a lot of feature as far as search, design, and usability it’s a stellar start to what could be the next great website. It’s so easy to bash sites for what they don’t have and so I’m gonna make an extra effort to highlight why it’s so great.

First, as a designer and developer, I was glowing when I saw the “One-step sign up / sign in”. This is such a usable sign up form that it almost made me cry. Simplicity at it’s best. After you sign in you can go to the Add Books tab and start searching for books. Search results are listed in a side iframe which allows for dynamic loading of results. Wonderful use of AJAX as if you are unhappy with your search you can edit what is already in the search box. Clicking any link will add the book to your library and if you make a mistake you can just X it out directly after you add it. It’s some nice work of javascript. Back on the Catalog page you can view all your books. On the right you can edit the book and add tags (yes tags!) and comments as well as view the Library of Congress Card Data. All the text is searchable through a little javascript find link on the top right. Other features include exporting a CSV format which works with excel and (still being worked on) importing your library from Delicious Library. The free account only lest you index up to 200 books. The best part is that the pro account is a one time fee of $10, which if you have more then 200 books is a very worth while investment.

[He goes into a whole bunch of drawbacks at this point, then concludes:] Wow this is really long. While I have been rather harsh to LibraryThing only my love for it could develop this much passion (which is the new way to market of course). When it’s all said and done the site is in beta and is being actively developed. While it is interesting that some elements are done beautifully and some are badly designed or even missing there is every reason to believe that they will be addressed and quickly.

Visit my Library at STHayden!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Getting a haircut

Despite my headline this is a story about Georges Simenon. I've had the same dentist and same hair cutter for 30 years. We're growing old together. I learned about both from fellow workers at CIS back in the mid 70's in Bethesda. I've stuck with them, happily, ever since. In the dentist's case, that's through three moves of office. In the hair cutter's, it's more like a dozen or half again more.

Think about it. Warren Beatty is a couple of years older than Pierre, the hair cutter, and five years older than me. He was in his mid-thirties when he played a roguish hair cutter in Shampoo and is 68 now.

Pierre, like the Beatty character in Shampoo, works in hair salons, not barber shops. Back in 1970 or so, Beth convinced me that hair dressers are much better than barbers and, in my experience, she's right.

Pierre is Swiss.

Today, waiting for my turn in his chair, he tells the guy behind the cash register that I look like Lance Armstrong. I say I wish I had a young celeb hanging on my arm as he does. I say it just to be companionable, I don't really mean it. Later, in the chair, I tell Pierre that he did well by the woman who was his previous customer. He says her hair is too thick; she should have let him cut it shorter, but he agrees that she looks good. He tells me she's in her mid-80's and has a new boy friend. A widow, she's buried four husbands. He also says she goes to Mass every day. I tell him my thoughts on high divorce rates: that people used to get out of marriages (good or bad) though the death of spouses, so that it used - at one time - to be pretty common for a woman to have had three or even four husbands. We also talk about the failed marriages that didn't dissolve in divorce, but in which both partners lived separate lives.

This reminds Pierre of a book, Simenon's The Cat (the link takes you to a NYT review. Click here to find the book in a library.) Pierre tells me the plot: an elderly couple's relationship has deteriorated into such hatred that they no longer speak to each other, but communicate using notes on little pieces of paper which they crumple and toss into each other's laps. They have split the kitchen into two functional areas because one fears the other will resort to poison. They each have pets - a cat and a bird - and one fingers the other as murderer when the bird dies. I checked for reviews and found one person who wrote of this tale: "The reader turns the pages in mounting horror, unable to do other than read on."

Pierre then tells me that he used to cut Simenon's hair. When he was young, 19 or so, he worked in a salon in the Palace Hotel in Lausanne.
A resident of Lausanne, Simenon would come for a cut every couple of weeks. Pierre says Simenon told him once that he had just finished a new book. He liked it so much, he said, that if all his other work disappeared, he would be satisfied to be the author of this one. The book is The Little Saint. A review article in the New York Times bears out what Pierre says. A review in the Saturday Review says: "THE LITTLE SAINT may be the most joyous novel Simenon has written...his story is lively, realistic, genial and magnetic."

I ask Pierre about the Maigret books because I've enjoyed them for years and own all the ones I could acquire in second-hand bookstores. He tells me Simenon told him how he wrote them: systematically, almost mechanically. He would find a subject, observing a man sitting on a bench in a park, he would imagine a life for him -- a wife who detests him for his drinking -- and would develop a plot around the marital conflict. The books are all almost exactly the same length. They all took almost exactly the same time to write. He would write the manuscripts and put them aside, finding publishers later, sometimes years later. Here's a list. (The author of this list gives a nice quote from T.S. Eliot: "I now prefer Claret to Burgundy and I prefer Inspector Maigret to Arsene Lupin". This was Eliot's response to the question "the two most important changes in his life?", in The Fiftieth Anniversary Report of the Harvard Class of 1910.) Lately, I've been watching Maigret in TV series as available on Netflix. (This link takes you to one of them.)>

Pierre also tells me how Simenon could embarrass him. Pierre came from a rural area and was, he says so unsophisticated that he was more like a 12 year old than a 19 year old. So when Simenon bragged about the many women he had, Pierre was thoroughly embarrassed. (Simenon liked to brag about his prowess with women; see here for example, where he's called a self-confessed sex-addict.)

(Simenon. Note nice haircut.) Pierre's story is that Simenon insisted that he have the right to approve two actors in any film or tv production made from his books. He didn't really want to select the actors, just wanted to have an excuse to rub shoulders with celebrities. Simenon once told Pierre about a trip to Brussels about the filming of a Maigret story. He told Pierre he insisted that he be able to smoke a pipe in the place where filming was done. Though this was strictly against the rules, they allowed him to smoke. He said he stayed in a first class hotel that had been built with money from the Vatican. And then he tells Pierre that he was having trouble getting to sleep in the Pope's hotel, as he called it, and about 11:30 or midnight, he made a call and two minutes later had a woman in his room Pierre says he and the nail girl turned bright red and hung their heads. It took him awhile before he could look straight at Simenon.

(This is The Palace Hotel) Pierre also told me what it was like when a Saudi Prince would descend on the Palace Hotel with his family and entourage. It's another story and I've done enough typing. In short, everything had to be arranged for the convenience of the Saudis, not at all an easy thing to accomplish, but at the end, he handed the hotel the equivalent of $300,000 to distribute among the staff as tips. The management shared it out as fairly as they could. Pierre doesn't remember how much he got.