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.

fetish; words.

Words and books and texture. Something of a fetish have I. While I have decided against the OED for now (finding a place to live seems preferable for the moment), I have occasionally indulged, in recent weeks, in my passion for nice books. I have at last, embarked on a proper reading of The Sandman in a lovely faux leather, hardcover edition (made possible by Amazon’s large discount). I am part way through and have found pleasure reading such a nice tale in such a nice edition. To be followed by Watchmen. Both Sandman and Watchmen are things I should have read long, long ago. My lack of reading was not for wont of availability; afterall I knew folk who were buying the individual comics of Sandman as they appeared. Oh well, I am reading it now and I read other things then.

Then there are the words themselves. I have found, though have yet to purchase, a full copy of “A Dictionary of the English Language” edited by Samuel Johnson. It is admittedly, on CDROM, and ultimately I would like a physical copy one day. Also on CDROM from the same publisher is “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” by Copernicus. Just recently, I dipped into one of my favourite blogs, which I’ve not read in a while, to find discussion of a new book by OUP entitled “The Oxford History of English Lexicography” by AP Cowrie. A mighty work on the history of English. From the points raised and quoted in Hat’s initial comments, it sounds fantastic. And delightful. And intriguing. Though at US$350 I think it’s an unlikely purchase for now. Perhaps when the exchange rate improves or Amazon heavily discounts. While it is cheaper from UK sources, as often seems the case at the moment, it is not sufficiently cheaper.


I have discovered that I am a little out of touch with my old home in Newtown. Not very out of touch but at least a month. For a month ago, Berkelouw opened premises in a side street, sort of like a barn, with a reasonable selection of new and a tidy collection of old. It feels like a nice space. To whit, I have made my first purchase, A Dictionary of Austral English by Morris. This was first published in 1898 and this is the second impression dated 1972. This is a re-issue of the 1898 edition and the work is interesting in that it came about via a request from the folk responsible for the OED for words from this neck of the woods. So many words were gathered that Morris put in some extra work and published it as this standalone, prior to the publication (by a few decades) of the full OED. It was with amusement then, that I read the opening sentence of its introduction:

“About a generation ago Mr Matthew Arnold twitted our nation with the fact that “the journeyman work of literature” was much better done in France – the books of reference, the biographical dictionaries, and the translations from the classics.”

So wrote Edward E. Morris on 23 February, 1897.

this n that

Been a hectic few weeks, just realised I have yet to post a best of filmfest list, organising trips and generally working hard…honest. It was with some concern I read recently of helicopters being required for a snail muster; that is until I realised there are some rather large ancestors in the closet. I’ve recently finished Gingerich’s “The Book That Nobody Read” and thought it was pretty good, will try and will write a paragraph or two eventually. Similarly I have a post in my head on why I don’t feel at home on facebook, admittedly this is from one of the ideas for my 2.0 paper…should I ever get round to writing it. One of the fascinating things about the Gingerich book is that reveals a sense of how libraries and academics can interact. More on that in another post. The Bob Carr book is going well and I’ve started “People of the Book”. Just arrived are a few more books from Amazon including a couple on libraries and library history…well ok, of the 5 that probably sums up 4 of them.

in search of essence

A long, long time ago, I posted elsewhere about the launch of the online edition of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. I’ve used it little since but have been reminded of late, just what a wonderful resource it is to have freely available online. There are entries for example, on Ida Leeson, the first female Mitchell Librarian. I nearly bought her biography this evening and may acquire it yet. Then of course, there’s David Mitchell himself, William Ifould, and a whole batch of other librarians. I admit, as a New South Welshman, that I do seem to have a bit of bias toward my home state. I daresay I’ll need to rectify this in order to write a paper of national interest. The question I am currently exploring, though not restricting myself to, is the nature of libraries in our recent history, why do they exist and for what benefit were they created ? There is much to be gleaned from the work of others, with several Australian Library History forums, full of interesting papers and various other publications. The bigger question of course, is whether I can find my niche, so to speak, and not simply repeat, or even regurgitate. Even if I can’t find my own patch, it is proving a treat to read the history of my profession. That alone is sufficient grounds for continuing. Reading here and reading there, who knows what paths my mind might follow or what papers will result.

words at home

While noting that the leather Shorter is even cheaper at the moment (now 40% off),  it was nice to read Michael Duffy’s piece on the continuing project devoted to the Dictionary of Sydney. The City Historian, Shirley Fitzgerald, decided after consultation, that such a project should be done digitally, rather than solely in book format. It started in digital format, has seed funding and support from various folk, and is gathering steam. While recognising the need for expert opinion, they are also keen to encourage Sydneysiders to contribute…perhaps I can squeeze in my old man‘s efforts, particularly his thesis on public housing [pdf, 7.5Mb]. As part of the Dictionary’s plans, the Sydney journal has been launched, “…a peer reviewed journal of historical writing about Sydney…”. Somehow I suspect, this is one dictionary I’ll struggle to get in leather, although given the history of parts of Sydney, I’d best be careful in what I wish for.