Papers of Florence Nightingale Now Digitized Using Handwritten Text Recognition Technology

8 December 2017

From No Shelf Required:

Medical Services and Warfare, 1850-1927, the latest primary source collection from Adam Matthew Digital, has transformed access to the personal and professional writings of Florence Nightingale with exclusive Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR). The HTR technology allows these handwritten papers to be fully searchable for the first time.

. . . .

Along with the Nightingale Papers, thousands of digitized documents from prestigious archives will give students and scholars first-hand knowledge of the development of medical practice as influenced by the wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Presented across military, scientific, professional, and personal perspectives, key developments including X-rays, plastic surgery, artificial limbs and sanitation are explored, with a focus on rehabilitation, nursing and the psychological toll of war.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Astronauts Get Writer’s Block, Too

8 December 2017

From The New Yorker:

Not quite two years ago, I received a call from what appeared to be a Houston area code. When I answered, I discovered that the caller was not in Texas, nine hundred or so miles from my home in Knoxville, but rather two hundred and fifty miles above me, orbiting Earth. The astronaut Scott Kelly was calling from the International Space Station; he had read my book about the end of the Space Shuttle era, and he wanted to talk about his own attempts to portray the personal and emotional meanings of spaceflight in a journal he was keeping during his mission. We talked a long time that day—about Russian literature, our shared love of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff,” what the inside of a spacesuit smells like, and the food on the I.S.S.

. . . .

By that point, in December, 2015, Kelly had been living aboard the I.S.S. for close to nine months. A former Navy pilot and a veteran of three previous spaceflights, he was flying a mission distinct from any attempted by NASA before—a full year in space. Before humans can hope to reach a far-off destination such as Mars, scientists must first understand the effects of long-term spaceflight on the body and mind.

. . . .

In the months following that first call, Kelly told me more about his life in space—the frustration of fixing the same air purifier over and over again, the pleasures and challenges of working with crewmates from seven countries, the satisfaction of completing a difficult spacewalk, the unexpected pride of bringing a crop of zinnias back from the brink of death, the dread when an emergency call about his daughter reached the station. He also told me surprising details about his life before joining nasa, including his lifelong struggles with what he now believes was undiagnosed attention-deficit disorder.

Once Kelly returned to Earth, in March, 2016, we began working together on his memoir, “Endurance.” We spoke again shortly after its release, this past October.

M.L.D.: In the book, you write a lot about your difficulty paying attention in school. Compared with other subjects, was writing hard for you?

S.K.: Absolutely. All schoolwork was hard for me, but writing was impossible. I just didn’t have the ability to stay focussed enough to get through even a short piece of writing.

Do you remember ever enjoying writing?

No. I only remember it being a struggle.

What kind of writing did you have to do once you got to college?

I took only the minimum required English courses—two semesters of freshman English.

It was around that time that you read “The Right Stuff.”

That’s right. Reading that book gave me the motivation to become a pilot and an astronaut. I changed schools and changed my major to engineering. Learning that material was hard for me with my attention issues, but I still don’t think I could have written even a simple paper.

What kind of training in writing did you get in your career?

As a test pilot, a great deal. A big part of being a test pilot is writing a very detailed technical report on the data from each test flight—evaluations of the airplane’s flying qualities, recommendations for improvements. The hardest part of test-pilot school is not the flying but the writing.

. . . .

Since “Endurance” was released, I’ve heard you say that writing it has been the hardest thing you’ve ever done. That always gets a big laugh, because people know the other things you’ve accomplished—things like spending a year in space, commanding the Space Shuttle, and landing the F-14 Tomcat on an aircraft carrier. But I suspect you’re being at least partially serious.

There are different kinds of hard. It’s not the hard of landing an airplane on an aircraft carrier. It’s not the hard of doing a spacewalk. But writing a book is the type of project that takes a persistent focus over a long period of time, a lot of energy, a lot of work. I’m not joking when I say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was pretty damn hard.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

N.Y. Times Scales Back Free Articles to Get More Subscribers

2 December 2017

From Bloomberg:

The New York Times, seeking to amass more paid subscriptions in an era of non-stop, must-read headlines, is halving the number of articles available for free each month.

Starting Friday, most non-subscribers will only be able to read five articles rather than 10 before they’re asked to start paying. It’s the first change to the paywall in five years. A basic Times subscription, with unlimited access to the website and all news apps, is $15 every four weeks.

Scoops on the Trump administration’s scandals and sexual-harassment allegations in Hollywood have already contributed to a surge in Times subscriptions, which jumped 60 percent in September from a year earlier to 2.5 million. With demand for journalism “at an all-time high,” the Times decided this was the right moment to experiment with giving away less online content for free.

. . . .

[E]nticing casual readers to open their wallets raises a tricky question: Just how many free articles do you let them sample before requiring them to sign up?

The decision comes with trade-offs. By reducing the number of free articles, the Times will likely see a drop in traffic at the website, which could hurt ad revenue.

Levien said that tightening the Times’ paywall would have a “modest impact” on its digital advertising business, which increased 11 percent last quarter from a year earlier. The increase failed to offset the continued decline in print ad sales, which fell 20 percent.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

We Take Responsibility for the Content

22 November 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

In Brussels today (November 21), International Publishers Association (IPA) chief Michiel Kolman participated in the annual lecture event of the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment, or STOA.

. . . .

Kolman’s position in this diverse set of voices was as the day’s central representative of book and scholarly publishing, surrounded as the industry is by data-leveraging technology conglomerates.

. . . .

Asking the rhetorical question, “What is the purpose of publishers in this new world?” what Kolman told them was that “Publishers have an important role to play in stopping the spread of misinformation and fake news.”

His thesis was that formal publishing protocols must stand on prescribed, formalized, mutually agreed procedures in order to ensure quality control.

“We [in book publishing] acquire content,” he said, “and in the past 20 years we have increasingly moved it to platforms online, much like a tech company. Speaking from my experience as a science publisher at Elsevier, we can guarantee that the material we produce adheres to the international standards of scholarship. It has been edited, peer-reviewed, and validated.

“In the process it has been revised and revised again to further improve the quality. Most importantly, it is carefully curated so that it remains accessible–and citable–in the future. In other words, we take responsibility for the content we produce.”

. . . .

Nor, however, did he assert that book publishing is without its occasional missteps. “Even after strict peer review,” he said, “the occasional article will slip through and is published while it should not have been. Luckily there are strict procedures in place to deal with these articles, e.g. through a corrigendum or erratum.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

“We take responsibility for the content.” PG wonders how much that is actually worth. It certainly doesn’t cost these publishers a lot of money.

Science and Technical journals are certainly the most profitable part of the publishing world.

The journals pay nothing for their content. Indeed, a respected science journal will receive far more submissions from academics eager to build or maintain their reputation than the journal can publish. Many journals require a submission fee to accompany a prospective journal article. Some journals may require both a submission fee and a printing fee for accepted articles.

Additionally, the academic journal will not pay any royalties to the author and will generally require that the author assign all of his/her copyright interest in the article to the journal for no compensation.

The expertise necessary to adequately review a journal article would be very expensive if the journal had to pay market rates for peer review of the articles it prints.

However, the more prestigious the journal, the more likely that highly-educated professors will provide peer review services at either no charge or an a nominal charge.

Being a peer reviewer for a well-known journal is a credential-burnishing activity by itself. Peer reviewers will have an expectation that when they submit their own papers for publication with the journal that their unpaid services will carry significant weight in the journal’s decision about whether to accept their own papers for publication.

So, you’re looking at a business with no content acquisition costs, free or almost free third-party editorial assistance. If a publication fee is required of the author, the publisher may significantly reduce its printing costs as well. If the publication sells most copies in electronic form on a subscription basis, the printer’s bill will be even lower.

Oh, and as far as selling the journals, once a publication develops even a modest reputation, major academic libraries will feel obligated to purchase the journal. As implied above, electronic subscriptions will essentially require the libraries to pay for each publication over and over again each year.

PG is not terribly impressed when these very wealthy publishing conglomerates “Take Responsibility for the Content.” That high-sounding sentiment is simply a relatively inexpensive cost of staying in a highly rewarding business.



17 November 2017

From The Oxford English Dictionary:


Compare sonnettomaniac n.

. . . .

Great enthusiasm for sonnets; extreme fondness for the sonnet as a literary form.

. . . .

1821   New Monthly Mag. 1 644 on record as a specific for the sonnettomania.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

What George Orwell Wrote About the Dangers of Nationalism

16 November 2017

From The Literary Hub:

George Orwell begins his essay “Notes on Nationalism” by admitting that nationalism is not really the right word, but something of an approximate term for what he means to be discussing. He explains:

By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly—and this is much more important—I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.

Elsewhere he describes nationalism more simply as “the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”

. . . .

“[T]he emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation. . . . It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.”

Within this framework, Orwell lists three “principal characteristics of nationalist thought”:

1. “Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.” His special mission is to prove that his chosen nation is in all respects better than its rivals. Therefore, even to the outer limits of plausibility, any question may be traced back to this central issue. No detail is indifferent, no fact is neutral.

2. “Instability.” The content of the nationalist’s belief, and even the object of his devotion, is liable to change as circumstances do. “What remains constant in the nationalist is his own state of mind”—the relentless, reductive, uncompromising fervor. The point is to keep oneself always in a frenzied state concerning vicarious contests of honor, whether indulging in spasms of rage over perceived insults or in sadistic ecstasies celebrating some new triumph. It is the single-minded intensity that matters, not the ostensible cause.

3. “Indifference to Reality.” Nationalists achieve by instinct the kind of doublethink that the denizens of Airstrip One cultivated by conscious effort: “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right.” His fundamental belief, he feels sure, must be true; therefore, the facts will have to be made to fit it.

. . . .

Orwell wrote:

We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgment have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting [forward] a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends. . . One notices this in the case of people one disagrees with, such as Fascists or pacifists, but in fact everyone is the same, at least everyone who has definite opinions. Everyone is dishonest, and everyone is utterly heartless toward people who are outside the immediate range of his own interests and sympathies. What is most striking of all is the way sympathy can be turned on or off like a tap according to political expediency. . . . I am not thinking of lying for political ends, but of actual changes in subjective feeling. But is there no one who has both firm opinions and a balanced outlook? Actually there are plenty, but they are powerless. All power is in the hands of paranoiacs.

. . . .

Orwell analyzed the nationalist’s motives: “What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him.” Since both sides are, as a rule, equally “uninterested in what happens in the real world,” the outcome of such disputes “is always entirely inconclusive,” and “each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory.”

“Facts are selected or suppressed in order to make a case; if need be, the necessary facts are simply invented or, contrariwise, erased.”

. . . .

What worried Orwell most was that individual people—perhaps even millions of them—might come to draw their sense of integrity from the willing submission to shifting dogmas, rather than respect for the truth or the demands of one’s own conscience. They may then cease to recognize that such things as fabricating evidence and slandering your opponents were despicable—or even simply dishonest. He found the thought “frightening . . . because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests that Orwell’s nationalism is a widespread phenomenon not limited to citizens of twentieth-century nation-states. The grouping of people into classes, interest groups, etc., and convincing them of group superiority or group persecution is an evergreen phenomenon both ancient and modern.

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War records Pericles’ Funeral Oration praising the uniqueness of the city of Athens, its citizens, soldiers and form of government in comparison to their enemies, the Lacedaemonians.

Athens and Athenians are inherently distinct, different than any other city-state or group of people. The imperfections or faults of an individual Athenian will be more than offset by the importance of the group to which he belongs. It is honorable and virtuous to fight for such a cause and destroy the enemies who oppose it.

The same techniques were used to emphasize the differences between the Aryans and the Untermenschen in 1930’s Germany.

In twenty-first century America (and perhaps elsewhere) the term, “Othering” has arisen to describe the classification of an individual or group as “not one of us” and, thus, deserving of scorn and reproach. Additionally, groups and genders are classified and divided by their “Privilege” with privileged individuals deemed proper subjects for formal and informal discriminatory treatment.


Seamus Heaney’s biographer races to see poet’s faxes before they fade

15 November 2017

From The Guardian:

A race is on to track down faxes sent by Seamus Heaney before they fade. The outdated technology was the preferred form of communication for the late Nobel laureate and will be a vital source for Fintan O’Toole, who has just been signed up to write an authorised biography of the Irish poet.

“My one terror is that his favourite communication mode was the fax, and faxes fade. So I’m going to have to find out who has faxes from him, and read them quickly. At the end, [Heaney’s publisher] Faber had a fax machine that was kept just for Seamus,” said O’Toole.

. . . .

He added that another challenge would be to avoid portraying him as a saint: “I’ve talked to the family and they don’t want a hagiography – it would be a bad book. Because he had an extraordinary warmth, and was so loved, it distracts from the fact that the poems are actually quite dark. And that didn’t come from nowhere. He was a psychologically complex person. The challenge of the book will be to do justice to the darkness as well.”

Faber & Faber, which will publish the biography, said that a launch date had not yet been scheduled, and that O’Toole would be “engaging in years of original research, interlacing archive, oral and literary work, and correspondence” in its writing.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG peeped into his office closet (which is even more creatively arranged than his office proper (or improper)) and discovered that he did, indeed, still have a fax machine. While he doubts the fax machine is worth much, perhaps PG has rare and valuable antiquities he has squirreled away in the closet and forgotten, gaining value as fast as they gather dust.


22 October 2017
Comments Off on go-harvest

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

go-harvest, n.

. . . .

 The period of the year between harvest and the beginning of winter; late autumn (also) the weather within this period.

. . . .

1735  True Method treating Light Hazely Ground Buchan  i. 7 If the Owner of such Fields be not provided of Dung in the Go-Harvest, he may lay it on before Oat-Seed.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Jann Wenner and His Biographer Have a Falling Out

19 October 2017

From The New York Times:

Jann Wenner and his biographer are no longer on speaking terms.

If things had gone according to Mr. Wenner’s plan, the two of them would be appearing together at parties, talks and other promotional events timed to the publication on Tuesday of the 547-page tome from Alfred A. Knopf.

Instead, Mr. Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine, is distancing himself as much as possible from Joe Hagan, the writer who spent four years chronicling Mr. Wenner’s life.

The reason is simple: Mr. Wenner doesn’t like the book.

“I gave Joe time and access in the hope he would write a nuanced portrait about my life and the culture Rolling Stone chronicled,” Mr. Wenner said on Tuesday, in his first public statement about the book. “Rock and roll set me and my generation free musically, socially and politically. My hope was that this book would provide a record for future generations of that extraordinary time. Instead, he produced something deeply flawed and tawdry, rather than substantial.”

Mr. Hagan said there was no reason Mr. Wenner should have been surprised by the book’s contents. “It was all on the table — there’s nothing he didn’t know,” the writer said. “He’s used to having control, and that’s a difficult thing.”

. . . .

Mr. Wenner read “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine.” Rather than triumphant, he felt betrayed, according to eight people close to Mr. Wenner.

. . . .

The project began in 2013 in bucolic Tivoli, N.Y., where Mr. Hagan lives and Mr. Wenner has a home. They ran into each other and bonded over their children. Mr. Hagan, then a staff writer at New York magazine who has interviewed Karl Rove and Hillary Clinton, found himself intrigued.

“Your little inner Tom Wolfe is activated,” he said.

Some time later, Mr. Wenner picked Mr. Hagan up in a Porsche, the satellite radio tuned to a station playing 1950s-vintage oldies. Over lunch Mr. Wenner proposed an idea: Would Mr. Hagan write his biography?

“Immediately, I was just really scared,” Mr. Hagan said. “A lot of people walked the plank on his pirate ship.”

Two previous attempts at an authorized Wenner biography had come to nothing. In 2003, Mr. Wenner enlisted Lewis MacAdams, a longtime friend and former Rolling Stone contributor, only to pull out after reading a few hundred pages. (Knopf, which had initially bought Mr. MacAdams’s book, said the stalled deal was canceled in 2014.)  In 2011, a similar arrangement with the Rolling Stone writer and author Rich Cohen made it to the proposal phase — Spiegel & Grau offered a reported $1 million — before Mr. Wenner revoked his cooperation.

To test Mr. Wenner’s willingness to handle unflattering information about himself, Mr. Hagan said he gathered anecdotes, including from the 1990 book “Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History” by Robert Draper, which was said to be banned in the magazine’s offices, and ran them by his prospective subject.

“He became incredibly agitated,” Mr. Hagan said. “I came out of that meeting very disenchanted.” Mr. Wenner also indicated that he would like to have some veto power over coverage of his sexual history.

. . . .

After Labor Day, Mr. Hagan sent Mr. Wenner an early copy of the book. “I hope you like it,” Mr. Hagan wrote in a brief note. “It’s a true story.”

Mr. Wenner did not like it.

In short order, Knopf informed Mr. Hagan that he would no longer take part in the 92nd Street Y discussion; he would be replaced by the filmmaker Alex Gibney, who was making a documentary about Rolling Stone for HBO. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where Mr. Wenner remains chairman of the foundation that oversees inductions (and was inducted himself in 2004), canceled on Mr. Hagan, too.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Selflessness Under Pressure

18 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘My children are safe while others are threatened.” That anguished thought gave Belgian heiress Suzanne Spaak the determination to risk everything to protect Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Paris from deportation to, and probable death in, concentration camps. Although absolute numbers are hard to come by, author and playwright Anne Nelson estimates in her immersive chronicle, “Suzanne’s Children,” that Spaak and her Resistance colleagues may have helped save hundreds of young Jewish lives.

At first glance, Spaak’s pampered early life contains little that would suggest her later capacity for selfless courage. The beautiful daughter of a prominent Belgian financier, she had harbored idealistic tendencies as a child, but chose status when she married into a distinguished Belgian political family.

. . . .

By 1939, however, the real picture had darkened considerably. Angered by her husband’s self-centeredness and caddish infidelities, yet fearing the scandal a divorce would cause, a distraught Suzanne consented to share him in an awkward ménage à trois with his mistress—a woman who had once been her best friend and who would, after Suzanne’s death, become Claude’s second wife. Suzanne was further unnerved by the increasing likelihood of a coming war with Nazi Germany. Even her budding involvement with left-wing political groups seemed futile as the Nazi machine closed in on Jewish immigrant friends trying to escape Europe. With little solace to be found from either her personal life or the world around her, she suffered a breakdown.

. . . .

[W]ith the fall of France and the start of the Nazi occupation, Suzanne gained new purpose. “What can I do?” became her constant refrain as she became ever more active in an ever-larger number of Resistance groups, working with Jews, Catholics and Protestants as well as communists, Soviet agents and followers of Free France’s leader, Charles de Gaulle.

Counting on her innocent demeanor and chic style to avoid suspicion, Spaak routinely acted as courier, concealing in her bodice or girdle a delivery of identity documents or leaflets warning Jews of the next Nazi round-up. Her upper-crust position apparently also deflected doubts as she employed Jewish refugees as “servants” on their way to finding safe passage out of Europe. She contributed her own money to the cause and called upon her wealthy acquaintances for additional funding. She herself provided temporary shelter to Jewish children en route to their new homes.

. . . .

Suzanne, a lapsed Catholic, would take the train to a small town and, while taking confession at the local church, would matter-of-factly ask the priest if he knew families that might take in endangered children. Most audacious of all was her role coordinating an elaborate operation known as “le kidnapping.” Sixty-three Jewish children whose parents had already been deported or disappeared were rescued from the barely survivable orphanages where they were being kept in advance of their own transport to Nazi death camps.

That rescue took place in February 1943. Over the next several months the Gestapo hunted her, interrogating and imprisoning her siblings, in-laws, and children, before finally arresting her that November. Suzanne revealed little; during her months in solitary confinement in Fresnes prison—described by Ms. Nelson as a “factory of despair”—she remained noble to the end. To keep herself busy, she unraveled the threads of her blanket and used toothpicks to knit a tie for her son; for her daughter, she created a doll from strands of her hair. Yet on August 12, 1944, amid the pandemonium just before the liberation of Paris, Spaak was taken to the prison courtyard and executed. In 1985, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, honored her as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Here’s a link to Suzanne’s Children

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