what’s in a name?

I’ve become very fond of my moniker over the years. “snail” has been my self chosen nickname for over 20 years. Initially, it was online only in those days, these days I tend to wear it as my name everywhere and more folk know me face to face as snail than by my real name. I have occasionally considered changing my name officially however that would get a little expensive as I would need to get a bunch of legal documents changed including my mortgage contract. Perhaps I can revisit if I ever pay off my mortgage. The other issue with name changes, is that I would have to retain my surname as too many online forms require both a first name and a second. I think having a single name would simply create too many headaches for too many people.

One of the reasons I chose the moniker initially was to distinguish myself in online forums, such as usenet, by having a name that was unique and that others were unlikely to use. This was fine for many years, though these days it’s a different story. I’m generally finding it hard to get “snail” as a username on many systems. Sometimes, it’s because others have beaten me to it, occasionally there’s a 6 character minimum. I am reluctant however, to sign up to every system that comes along simply to preserve access to my preferred name. I have a few backups including vvsnail (some email) and snailx (twitter, wordpress). I have a personal domain, snail.ws, and even then I had to go through several domains before finding one with “snail” available.

With much thanks to a good friend, I do at least have a unique avatar which has proven useful for some folk who find me in other forums. Though it must be said that I have a lot less hair these days, nor do I dress entirely in black anymore. The glasses and coffee cup remain constant.

As to why I chose “snail” – when I first got online via electronic bulletin boards in 1984, I’d just read Lord of The Rings and chose the nickname, Gandalf the Grey. Needless to say, as many folk online in those days were ITish and into SF, it was a rather common nickname. A few years later, when I got to uni and discovered usenet, I decided to start again with a new name. I have a vague recollection from school days of doodling snails in the margins of my school exercise books. I doodled snails because they were easy and my drawing skills were, and remain, poor.

another day

This is a tricky time of year for me with sad anniversaries on Dec 31 (4 years) and Jan 8 (6 years – can’t believe it’s been 6 years) and I suspect that I hate Christmas too…which is doubly sad as I am a christian. I find no joy in the day. The last few weeks have been busier than usual, though for good reasons, but it has meant I didn’t quite get the downtime I needed. Consequently, I’ve needed to shut out the world a little longer than usual. Thanks to those that expressed concern; I take the time I need.

I need to rethink things somewhat to avoid going down a dead-end. For example, I’ve spent 6 years blocking out the Sydney Festival as dad died near the start of it. It’s always hard to look January in the face. I avoid all things festival-y though I used to go to lots of stuff…I remember enjoying the ACO at the $10 Proms (with dad and his partner if I recall correctly), not to mention the Taikoz drummers and other acts. Indeed, I got the news of dad’s passing just as I was about to bolt out, hoping to get a ticket at the door for some concert or other.

I need to work through this, as the festival is a bloody good thing; full of interesting pieces. Due to my reticience for the period, I’ve only discovered in recent days that one of my favourite composers will be in town, Philip Glass. The downside is that his big show has sold out. Oh well, hope remains for a better show, that being Dracula, the 1931 movie, with music performed live by Glass and the Kronos Quartet. Oh my, be still my beating heart. The only choice, though it’s not really a choice, is whether to see the 7.30pm session or the session at midnight. Will book my seat shortly.

While locking yourself away from the world is a good thing to do, it remains important to keep up with the world and somehow seek a way to find happy moments around sad times.

a day in the country

As I’m travelling a fair bit the next few weeks, I extended my weekend slightly and had Monday off. A mate and I went for a drive down the Hume to the township of Berrima. I’ve only been there once and that was a couple of years ago. For most of my life, I would hear tales of the delights of the Berrima Book Barn – a barn full of secondhand books, many treasures to be found. As a young bookworm, it sounded like Aladdin’s cave. Many years back, the folk that ran the barn, expanded into Sydney and now have a few shops under the name of Berkelouw, for indeed, it turns out that the barn in question was the wonderfully alliterative Berkelouw’s Berrima Book Barn.

Berrima - a view of the town
Berrima - a view of the town

We spent a lovely day meandering about, having got there for brekky around 10. I wandered through shops and even bought  a jar of Rhubarb & Ginger Jam from Mrs Oldbuck’s Pantry; they did a nice limoncello based jam too, with a nice kick in the aftertaste. Oh geez, I sound like an old fart. Anyways, in the afternoon, we finally made it to the barn. Much to my surprise, and no doubt to that of most folk who know me, I emerged with only 4 books, and kept it under $70 too. A valiant effort. Though there was a rather nice leatherbound edition of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet in the cabinet. It was a bit yum, though I think substantially overpriced at $300. There are much nicer books to be had for that sort of money. By nice, I’m referring to the container, as the content is good regardless. Then there was the lovely, leather bound set of Manning Clark’s “A History of Australia” – they were in really good nick, though an asking price of $1,850 put them firmly out of reach.

As to my purchases, they were an interesting bunch. I have, for some years, been collecting the Penguin wine guides. I like their style, the language used and the down to earth sense of engagement. I’m particularly fond of Huon Hooke’s contributions, not to mention Mark Shield; these days, the annual tome is authored by Nick Stock who seems well suited to continuing the tradition. On my first visit to the Barn, the first book I found was one of the few remaining omissions from my set. So too, this time and I now have the 1995-96 volume. I think this means I need only find one or two volumes to complete the set.The numbering has been rather erratic over the years, which does not help, but I now have these years:


It wasn’t published in 2008. The 1991 edition makes reference to a 1990 edition which I don’t have and there is a 1993-94 edition. The 2005|2006 edition was published in 2005 and the 2007 edition was published in 2006 so there’s no gap there.

My second find was also interesting and fits another area of my interests, and that is the history of language and dictionaries. Side by side on the shelf, were copies of the 1945 and 1966 editions of “The Australian Language” by Sidney J Baker. I was somewhat fortunate a year or two back, to pick up a reprint of “A Dictionary of Austral English” by Morris and as Baker builds on his work, this was a nice continuation. Moreso however, due to a minor controversy, or rather that a work was referred to as being minor, the 1945 edition had additional interest. Acoording to clipped newspaper articles, that someone had placed inside the front cover, a paragraph was to be censored as it referred to the Weekly Bulletin as a “minor weekly” – this upset a few folk though I think the context was clear. So it was decided, according to the clipping, that the reference would be deleted from all unsold copies of the book. This copy was one of the uncensored versions, and the 1966 edition had a differently worded version of the same paragraph. So I grabbed the 1945 edition and left behind the 1966 edition; though I wouldn’t mind tracking down a censored version of the 1945 edition so I could have them sit side by side.

update: As I was adding my new acquisitions to my bookcase, I discovered that I have a paperback reprint of the 1966 edition of The Australian Language. In other words, it was just as well I didn’t buy it today. Yet another reminder that I need to get all my books catalogued into a portable list, if only to avoid potential duplication further down the track.

The remaining two books covered yet another of my interests, that being the history of libraries. The first is entitled “Early Public Libraries: A History of Public Libraries in Great Britain Before 1850” by Thomas Kelly. This looks intriguing and traces the history of public libraries in the UK and the blurb notes that the first public library in Great Britain was established in 1425. The reason this book covers the period prior to 1850, is that was the year that saw the passing of the first Public Libraries Act. The second book is “Australian Libraries” by John Balnaves. This book, published in 1966 purports to be a brief history (90 pages) of libraries in Australia and the author himself acknowledges such.

a note in time

Via a note on Teleread, I came across freely available versions of Rudy Rucker’s Ware Tetralogy, all downloadable in nice formats. I own the first two in print (both of which have received the Philip K. Dick award) though I’ve only read the first and it was very good. While you can get the titles from Rucker’s own site, I’m really liking the site I did download them from, manybooks.net. It pulls in freely available works from a variety of sources and makes them available for download. The bit I really like is that there is a dropdown menu on the book’s page from which you can choose your preferred format. There are lots of formats supported including .mobi (good for kindles, though it supports the native kindle format too), epub, html, plain text – all up there are 25 formats available. Select the one you want and hit download. Even better, it remembers your selection as you go on to download more and more books.

Consequently I have downloaded lots with a mix of science fiction, literature, history and even an Australian Dictionary, Austral English by Edward Ellis Morris. This one was a nice score as I also have it in print, having happened upon it in Berkelouw’s secondhand section in Newtown. Though it’s over 100 years old, it does at least mean I have an Australian English dictionary on my kindle to balance the US dictionary it came with. I’d be tempted to delete the US one but it’s nice having a more recent dictionary at hand. Other curiosities include a short story by Frederik Pohl, “The Tunnel Under The World” which I read many years ago, and was then reminded of a few years back upon seeing Dark City. There’s even a couple of tracts published by the Society for Pure English, some members of which were involved in the development of the first edition of the OED. I actually own a few of the tracts in print too, having found them in a massive bookshop, in a town of bookshops in Wales, called Hay-on-Wye – which I think has more bookshops per capita, than any other town in the world. The first booktown; I will return one day…preferably with a large, empty suitcase…or two.

However, despite this afternoon’s happy wanderings through archives of legally free books, I remain in something of a quandary. There’s an Australian book I want, that being Truth by Peter Temple, especially as it’s recently won the Miles Franklin. It is available via the Borders ebook store, however that’s in epub format, which my kindle doesn’t support (one of the kindle’s several shortcomings). According to Borders, they don’t support the kindle at this stage, though they do say that their epubs will run on many devices that support the epub format. This suggests that they’re using standard epub rather than DRM-heavy epub, but I don’t know for sure. If they’re using standard epub, that means I’d be able to convert it, via calibre, to the .mobi format which the Kindle recognises. However, I don’t want to spend $21 to find out either way. To that end, I have just sent Borders an email on the matter and will report back here as to their response.

In other news, there’s been a new development in the study of the works of Plato. Dr Jay Kennedy (Uni of Manchester) has been examining the original texts and eventually worked out that there was a code hidden within the text, based around musical scales known to Plato’s comtemporaries. Kennedy has set up a page on the topic including a link to the recently published article [PDF 155k].


I commented in my review of Howl that I had never read the poem, regarded as one of the great works of the 20th Century. With that said, several of my bookish friends have all commented likewise. It feels sort of odd (I really should change my name to “snail the odd” or “snail the odd one” hmmm) as it feels like part of my growing up environment, yet it was written before my birth (by more than a decade). It is ingrained in my psyche, or at least a few quoted morsels, in some respects like 80s music is, though that is probably a poor, if not insulting, comparison :-) The 80s were when I grew up, started to get to know the world on my own terms…somewhat. Though it wasn’t til the 90s (mid to late at that) that I really came into a sense of myself.

Howl was written in the 60s, my father’s era. The Beat generation has been talked about in the media my entire life, as one of the defining movements of the 20th Century. Ginsberg died in 1997, and I think I recall being aware of it at the time. I am 41, I am more than halfway through my allocated time of three score years and ten.

Howl predates me.

The events around Howl can only be an historical recreation for me. It is history though it informs the life I’ve led (a curiously placed typo as I initially typed “read” then changed to lead before realising I meant “led” – I need more coffee today) as folk I’ve known as I’ve grown up have been part of the history that Howl speaks to. That older generation passing things down. We are two generations past Howl now; there are people my age who have adult children only a few years younger than Ginsberg was when he wrote Howl.

Howl is easily found online, though I sense it’s a poem to be heard or spoken, rather than simply read. A performance piece.

oh what to do…

I have time on my hands…or rather I am procrastinating about other commitments. As per a recent realisation that it’s been a while since I visited the fair shores of NZ…I keep popping my nose online. A site I have visited upon occasion is that of DigitalNZ which strikes me as really cool. I came across initially as I think someone I used to know in other circles, is involved with this. It’s a site devoted to sharing and making available, the digital content of NZ. When last I wandered here, I think I came across a bunch of requests to digitise this or that.

This time round, I have happened upon their API stuff, or more specifically, they have an API and are welcoming folk to use it and share their creations. There’s a whole bunch of resources for developers, code samples, and useful widgets that folk have created. This reminds me of a plan I had to create a complicated widget for the NLA’s Trove…though that project never got beyond the basic search plugin (probably should host this somewhere other than the work server) I did for IE/Firefox. I really should revisit that as the NLA too have been encouraging folk to play.

I s’pose the problem for me is that I haven’t really done any raw coding in far too bloody long. What coding I do for work is very basic reworkings of existing perl templates. Nothing that you could call programming, or even hacking for that matter. Oh how times have changed; I used to be conversant in several languages and completed a major in computer science, old school geek was I…but then I choked, got scared…got frustrated spending days finding missing semi-colons in C, and generally burnt myself out. In some sense I s’pose, I ran away. I eventually came to my senses, and commenced a library degree to celebrate my 10th year of uni…back in the mid 90s. And I’ve never really looked back.

But every so often, I go ” but what about…”, and I know I miss the problem solving, I know I like scripting, I know the satisfaction of a working program. I know I miss coding. These are thoughts that have been swirling in my head for a few years and I still haven’t done much about it. I recently read an interview with Paul Hagon, and he too commented on the problem solving aspects. There’s a lot of fun stuff happening these days in libraries, and with coding, and doing stuff with the vast archives of online data that exist now.

I just need to work out what bit I really want to do and try and stick to it. I did have a plan at the start of the year to pick up python as part of a MARC project for work. That remains interesting and I need to pick it up again. Mostly I just want to rediscover the fun of coding that I remember.


It’s January and I feel odd. Somewhat myself. I still have one more anniversary to go yet I’m feeling optimistic. While I know January will always be a hard month for some, it’s not quite the agony for me of previous years. I remain unable to face the Sydney Festival and I plan to continue to minimise my engagement with the world outside. However, I read the summer section of the SMH today which I haven’t done in a long time and found it uplifting, as I remembered it to be. A small moment, but a happy one nonetheless.