Monday, November 24, 2014

A call-number surprise

I was browsing in the library and noticed Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier. I still have it in paperback from undergrad days.

And then, just two books away on the library shelf: Ted Allen, et al., Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Did someone stash it for further browsing, as library patrons sometimes do when they’d rather not borrow a book? No.

Let’s review our Library of Congress Classification Titles:

B: Philosophy. Psychology. Religion.

BJ: Ethics.

BJ1518-1697: Individual ethics. Character. Virtue. Including practical and applied ethics, conduct of life, vices, success, ethics for children.
Castiglione’s call number: BJ1604 .C43 1967. Allen, et al.: BJ1601 .Q44 2004.

A related post
Know Your Library of Congress Classification Title (Fun, really)

The past, for sale

[Click for a larger view.]

For sale: a letter of transit, used only once. Also a piano, restored. And many other pieces of film history. The New York Times has an article about a Bonham’s auction.

Word processing, c. 1987

In Fall 1986 and for a semester or two thereafter, I taught first-year college composition, “freshman comp,” with word processing. I was the first person in my English Department to do so. My enthusiasm waned when I saw no evidence that word processing made for significant improvement in students’ writing. If anything, it seemed to offer a too-easily-taken shortcut to a finished essay, without the large-scale rethinking and revising that might best take place on paper, with the aid of arrows, asterisks, staples, and tape.

In April 1987 I wrote up some thoughts to share with colleagues about freshman comp and word processing. Here’s an excerpt, with a word or two changed:

Computers are no quick solution to the problems of our freshman comp students. A computer cannot tell a student that a thesis is too general or that an essay lacks specific details and is illogical. A computer cannot spot punctuation errors (programs that claim to do so, such as Sensible Grammar, in reality find mere typos, like a space before a comma). There are word-processing programs that can catch some spelling errors, but they cannot tell when “to” should be “too.” The claims made for computers as thinking machines are enormous, but real intelligence can lie only in the hands on the keyboard. God knows we have all read inane, jargon-ridden, stultifying prose produced with the slickest of word processing programs. My claim is more modest: a computer — used intelligently — makes life easier.
Twenty-seven years later, I think that these observations still hold. Nothing can yet replace writerly scrutiny of grammar and spelling. I still see no evidence that word processing has made for better writing. And it amuses me to realize that while many an English Department still houses a “computer lab” (a classroom filled with the hum of machines), the prospect of writing in a word processor has come to feel faintly quaint. With so many minimalist apps available, the work of composition can happen in distraction-free environments far more congenial than Microsoft Word. And anyway, writing is not word processing. Margins, fonts, and pagination are matters of document design, not writing. I design documents all the time, but I cannot recall when I last wrote in a word processor.

Related reading
“Don’t be a brute” (Writing ≠ word processing)
Grammarly, WhiteSmoke (Unreliable witnesses)
On “On the New Literacy” (“I’m not persuaded”)
Writing by hand (“A draft is a draft”)
Sandeep Krishnamurthy, A Demonstration of the Futility of Using Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar Check

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ace Combs; or, Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

[Life, June 6, 1955.]

It’s sad to see a once-great brand sink into crappy cheapness. I know that Ace combs are no longer made of hard rubber. But I’d at least expect a plastic Ace to comb hair without raking and scraping the scalp. No such luck.

I bought an Ace yesterday and tossed it after one use. That’s how bad it was. If, however, tiny ridges and “burrs” are your thing, today’s Ace is what you’re looking for. Ouch.

I still own a hard-rubber Ace, many years old. That, friends, is a comb.

[No, you may not borrow my comb.]

Some cookies

Elaine made some cookies.

[Oatmeal-raisin is the official cookie of the Musical Assumptions/Orange Crate Art blog cartel.]

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reacting to technology

From Chris Dixon, via Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction, Douglas Adams’s rules describing reactions to technology:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2.Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
I‘m not so sure. I’m fine with the scroll wheel (1995) and the Toyota Prius (1997). I have no interest in, say, TiVo (1999), but it’s no more against the natural order of things than recording with a VCR.

Google Glass (2013) though is against the natural order of things, for people of all ages. It just is.

Mark Trail interjections

[“Whooa!” Mark Trail, November 11, 2014.]

[“Whoa!” Mark Trail, November 21, 2014.]

I do not yet understand the grammar of Mark Trail’s interjections. Is whooa reserved for interior monologue? For underwater use? For moments when one’s own life is in danger, and not some bear’s? For use when one is at least partly clothed? Clearly, more study is needed. Whooa!

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[I think it unlikely that whooa is what Van Dyke Parks calls a misprink.]

Thursday, November 20, 2014


The television was on for “warmth.” Hamilton Burger was speaking to Lieutenant Tragg: “It’s an anonymous hipster. See if you can trace the call.”

I misheard what I misheard. But then there’s this shining moment. Perhaps the tipster was a hipster after all.

Related reading
All misheard posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mich wundert, das ich so frelich bin.

From Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (1977), the first of three volumes recounting the writer’s 1933–1934 walk across Europe. As Leigh Fermor prepares to leave Vienna, he hears a story about the Holy Roman Emperor Maxmilian I:

Someone was describing how he used to escape from the business of the Empire now and then by retiring to a remote castle in the Tyrolese or Styrian forests. Scorning muskets and crossbows and armed only with a long spear, he would set out for days after stag and wild boar. It was during one of these holidays that he composed a four-line poem, and inscribed it with chalk, or in lampblack, on the walls of the castle cellar. It was still there, the speaker said.
Whoever tells the story writes out the poem, “with the old Austrian spelling painstakingly intact”:
Leb, waiss nit wie lang,
Und stürb, waiss nit wann
Muess fahren, waiss nit wohin
Mich wundert, das ich so frelich bin.
Leigh Fermor’s translation:
Live, don’t know how long,
And die, don’t know when;
Must go, don’t know where;
I am astonished I am so cheerful.
These lines remind me of a sentence from Guillaume Apollinaire: “la beauté de la vie passe la douleur de mourir.” And of lines from Frank O’Hara: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.” All wonderful, compact philosophies of life.

Related posts
“Footpads and knaves” : From A Time of Gifts : Leigh Fermor’s Brueghel : Leigh Fermor’s eye : One word from A Time of Gifts

[The poem exists in several versions and is also attributed to the theologian Martinus von Biberach. The Apollinaire sentence is from the calligram “La cravate et la montre” (The Tie and the Watch). The O‘Hara lines are from “In Memory of My Feelings.” Relineated, they appear on O’Hara’s grave marker.]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ivory Tower to air on CNN

The CNN film Ivory Tower (dir. Andrew Rossi, 2014) airs on CNN this Thursday, November 20, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

A related post
The gold standard, haircuts, and everyone else (On the future of college)