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New York Review of Books on Eighteenth Century Collections Online

March 19th, 2010 by Chris Strauber

Aberdeen Magazine, 1761

The New York Review of Books has a fascinating article comparing blogs to 18th-century newspaper articles and pamphlets, commenting that they have similar tendencies to be brief, context-free, inflammatory…and often scandalous. Darnton suggests taking a look at a London newspaper from the 18th century in Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Conveniently, Tufts subscribes, so I’m happy to provide an example.

Topics in the Aberdeen magazine for the year 1761

  • essay On the frailty and fatality of passions
  • essay On the character of the Reverend Doctor Stephen Hales
  • a letter to the editor with advice for the new magazine
  • a short history of addresses
  • a summary of a speech given to the New York General Assembly
  • a letter to the publisher
  • excerpts from a biography of Phillip II of Macedonia

This is completely random, and most of it is actually blog-post-length. I’m intrigued by the similarities, and by the idea that perhaps our tastes and attention spans haven’t changed as much as we sometimes think.

Ebook news roundup

February 5th, 2010 by Chris Strauber

Apple’s new iPad will include an ebook store, iBooks, with reader software pre-installed. The device is larger than an iPod but smaller than a standard laptop, and can handle web pages, color graphics and video. Apple has done distribution deals with the world’s largest book publishers, and a number of academic publishers have contracted with Scrollmotion to create interactive textbooks for the new device. Interestingly, unlike Amazon, Apple will be using the industry-standard EPUB format for its files, which at least theoretically would make them more easily shareable with other devices. No word, however, on whether Apple will add copy protection to the files, which seems depressingly likely.

As expected, the Apple announcement completely overshadows the raft of new ebook devices announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. Photo gallery from CNET.

The most recent deadline for comments on the Google Books settlement has passed. Almost everyone who complained about the first settlement deal complained about the revised deal on the same grounds, including the Department of Justice. Critics say the deal still gives Google unprecedented control of orphaned works (those out of print and of uncertain ownership), and uses a legal settlement to significantly change copyright law. Many authors and their representatives also feel the deal should not assume consent from authors unless they object. The next hearing is scheduled for February 18th.

Cleopatra's Pylon and Google's Greek

December 18th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

According to the Associated Press, Egyptian archaeologists have excavated a huge pylon thought to be from the entrance of the Temple of Isis in Alexandria. Actually, dredged would probably be a better word, as much of the ancient city is now beneath the harbor of the modern city. The temple was part of the palace complex of Cleopatra.
More from Tisch on underwater archaeology.

Google Transliteration
Google Labs has a tool, Google Transliteration, to make it easier to write in non-Roman alphabets online and using several of its services. You can type what the word sounds like in English and have it automatically transliterated into Unicode versions of Greek (alas, modern only), Sanskrit, Arabic, Hindi, Persian, Russian, and about a dozen other languages. You can also install a version for Windows on your machine. Early experiments are πάντα καλά.

Cormac McCarthy's typewriter and Jane Austen's Twitter account

December 7th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter was sold at auction last week for $254,500, according to the New York Times. A friend bought McCarthy a new one, the same style of Olivetti, for less than $20.

McCarthy’s works at Tisch.

Sarah Milstein at O’Reilly Radar comments on the speed of mail delivery in 18th century London, sometimes as much as six times a day. Which from a certain perspective makes Jane Austen’s letters more like email or even Twitter posts in immediacy and level of detail. Or at least allows one to make the comparison

Housekeeping note

November 30th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

image of Soviet hammer and sickle Over the long holiday weekend the blog’s comments were found by large numbers of Russian personal services providers. While I figure out how to handle this long-term I have turned off commenting on posts. Please feel free to email me or use the instant messaging box, and I’ll post comments indirectly.

How To Find An Article

November 23rd, 2009 by Chris Strauber

One of the traditional forms of newspaper article is the news report based on a new research study. The newspaper summarizes the science for its readers, but what if you decide you want to follow up and read the original report? Tufts likely has access to whatever journal the article was published in. But the process of moving from point A to point B can be challenging.

Take this story from Science News, which reports that babies as young as two to five *days* old cry in the cadence of their native language. The basic process goes something like this: First, figure out the name and date of the journal article, Then, look up the title of the journal in the library catalog, Next, let the catalog point you in the direction of the database (or, gasp, the physical location) the article lives in, Finally, read and enjoy. This sounds worse than it is. And for those who remember, it’s a lot better than it was ten years ago.

Step 1 can be surprisingly hard. Frequently the news report says only something like “according to a new report by researchers from the Polynesian Institute of Cytotechnology”. Your best option in this case is to find another news story with more details–if one newspaper picked it up, dozens will also have done so.

Taking our Science News story:

Only days after birth, babies have a bawl with language. Newborn babies cry in melodic patterns that they have heard in adults’ conversations—even while in the womb, say medical anthropologist Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany, and her colleagues. By 2 to 5 days of age, infants’ cries bear the tuneful signature of their parents’ native tongue, a sign that language learning has already commenced, the researchers report in a paper published online November 5 in Current Biology.”

That seems straightforward: published online, November 5th. Except, not so much. My attempts to find this online were met with a series of links back to the article I was starting from. So, first principles.

1) Look up “Current Biology” by title in the library catalog. I suggest this because the catalog has the most comprehensive list of the tens of thousands of journal/magazine/newspaper titles we subscribe to, and because attempts to guess which database any given article is in are hit or miss, especially outside one’s specialty.

Catalog search example; click to enlarge

2) Follow the links in the catalog to figure out what we have and where it is.

Catalog search results; click to enlarge

We have Current Biology in electronic form from 1991 to the present in our ScienceDirect database, and from 1998 to 2003 in print form at the Health Sciences library.

Current Biology catalog record; click to enlarge

3) Do a reasonable search using the details at hand.

We have the name of one of the researchers, Kathleen Wermke, which is a distinctive enough name to make a good combination. So, search for “babies language Wermke”.

Science Direct Search; click to enlarge

4) Read and enjoy. Normally you’ll want to look for the HTML or PDF label. For some reason publishers think there are lots of things you’d like to do on a journal article’s page other than, you know, read the article. Sometimes you have to dig for the full text link. This is dumb, but mysterious to me are the ways of publishers.

article found; click to enlarge

This basic process works for all searches where you have citation information for what you want. Journal of Roman Studies? Transactions of the American Philosophical Society? Same process.

Revised Google Books settlement

November 16th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

Google and publishers submitted a revised settlement agreement to the court on Friday which addresses some of the concerns expressed about the previous agreement. The best coverage, as usual, is on Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land. The Open Book Alliance, which includes Amazon and Microsoft as well as some library associations, opposed the previous settlement. It also opposes this, referring to it as “sleight of hand“–a quote which has been recopied so many times in news stories this weekend that I almost didn’t include the link here out of sheer disgust. I recommend a look at Google’s summary of new developments.

The major news for scholarly purposes is that this version of the agreement includes only American, British, Canadian, and Australian publishers. This sidesteps problems raised by the EU, Germany, and other countries with different copyright arrangements. It also makes the resulting collection of books less useful for scholarly purposes.

Much of what I want has been published in the English-speaking world, but much of it has not, and the ability to wander across something from (say) the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences is part of what makes a comprehensive digital collection valuable to me. Dan Clancy, engineering director of the project for Google, “estimates”: that at least 50% of any given university library collection would be excluded.

On the other hand, I should arguably be happy that the new deal feels much less like an existential threat to libraries. I’m not, precisely, because I think it would replicate the situation we currently have, where the freely available tools appear to be comprehensive to users but actually aren’t. I frequently talk to students using Google Scholar who are not aware that we subscribe to much of what publishers there offer to let you pay for. Complexity is job security for me, but I’d much rather have services which are self-explanatory.

Free ebooks from University of Chicago Press

November 9th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

The University of Chicago Press has begun a monthly ebook giveaway. This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a major university press experimenting with both a new format and with using free ebooks as publicity. Oxford University Press and others have found that making it easy to search and browse an ebook increases sales; Cory Doctorow, a sci-fi novelist, actually posts freely distributable copies of his books online and finds it increases sales (Ebooks: Neither E Nor Books).

This month’s givewaway item is Censorinus’ Birthday Book. I’m also happy to promote the work of Holt Parker, one of my professors at the University of Cincinnati. His choice of projects has always been first-rate and slightly off-beat. The download is quick and painless, and a nice introduction to Adobe’s Digital Editions software, which was the first ebook reader software I ever saw which was pretty enough to make me want to spend time in it.

Tufts has the print version of this ebook if you’re inclined to compare and contrast. We also have Parker’s translation of the works of Olympia Morata, The Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic. More of Parker’s work are findable on Worldcat.

(via Ancient World Bloggers Group and an editor friend of mine)

Literary Twitter

October 15th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

Twitter logo
One of the conventional responses to Twitter is puzzlement. It’s in the news all the time now, influencing revolutions and political coverage and celebrity news. And, despite having had it explained to me several times it made no sense to me as a concept until I realized that it’s not actually a service or a social network, it’s a new form of publication that you can do almost anything with. With that in mind, here are two literary uses for Twitter: one recent, one which I’ve been following for a while.

Collaborative Publishing

Neil Gaiman and the BBC are collaboratively writing an audiobook using Twitter (via Found History). Gaiman wrote the first line on October 13th, and Twitter users are writing the rest, one line at a time. When they get to about a thousand tweets, it will become a script for a BBC audio recording. Description from BBC Audiobooks America.
Here’s the thing: it’s actually not bad. It’s a fairy tale/sci fi/fantasy story about a princess with a missing heart, and it’s also more or less in Gaiman’s style. If you follow the Twitter stream, the story runs in reverse chronological order, i.e., with the most recent thing on top. There are also periodic links to summaries of the story so far.
(Covered in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal)

Dark Epigrams

For about a year the New York Review of Books has been posting a series of very short pieces Félix Fénéon wrote for Le Matin in 1906, from their published edition, called Novels in Three Lines. I found out about this through one of my favorite book blogs, If: book (run by the Institute for the Future of the Book). Their coverage here. Fénéon’s style falls somewhere between epigram, Zen painting, and News of the Weird. Here’s the post which got me to start reading:
“In a café on Rue Fontaine, Vautour, Lenoir, and Atanis exchanged a few bullets regarding their wives, who were not present.” (novelsin3lines)

Tisch on Twitter

You can follow TischLibrary on Twitter. The library Twitter account is something we just started doing: at the moment it’s mostly news, and the occasional answer to a Frequently Asked Question. It’s moderated at the moment by the excellent Alex May with help from the Tisch Web Services team, of which group yours truly is a member.

Google Books: Department of Justice and ReCaptcha

September 21st, 2009 by Chris Strauber

Department of Justice Brief Filed on Google Books Settlement

Not surprisingly there has been a lot of activity around the Google Books settlement right around the deadlines for filing. The US Department of Justice filed a brief (PDF) (link via searchengineland) with the court on Friday. DOJ objects to the settlement as proposed on several grounds, while recognizing the cultural significance of what Google is working on. The objections are: 1) the scope and value of the settlement are public interests also, and may not be appropriately settled by a private lawsuit–really, Congress should be drafting legislation to do this, 2) the structure of the proposed Book Rights Registry may create a situation which makes it impossible for anyone else to compete in the new market, 3) not all of the interested parties may have been adequately notified of the settlement and possible changes to their rights, 4) it would be more appropriate for Google to have rights-holders opt in to the agreement rather than the current arrangement, which assumes consent. More detailed summaries at the New York Times and Search Engine Land.

Significantly, DOJ is not rejecting the deal outright, and is apparently working with the parties to modify the agreement. A hearing is scheduled for October 7th.

Improving OCR

As an example of how quickly things can change, while I was composing my book-length post on problems with optical character recognition, Google was buying a company which has been working on that problem in a really innovative way. Captchas are the odd squiggly text websites force you to log in with in order to screen out spam bots. ReCaptcha takes advantage of this common mechanism to proofread troublesome documents. Instead of one word, users are offered two. The first word is known to be correct, the second is one that was flagged as questionable from an online archive of texts. If you get the first one right your reading of the second one is likely to be right, too, and that data can be fed back to improve both the source text and the OCR software. The technology has already been used to improve the New York Times historical archive. Google announcement (via CNET). How ReCaptcha works.
I suspect it will be a while before Gothic typeface German or Ancient Greek will be prioritized, though since the ReCaptcha technology is designed to be installed on a variety of different websites there’s no reason, for example, specialized web communities like H-Net or Voice of the Shuttle couldn’t install it and let their expert users contribute their expertise.