Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What happened to classical music in everyday life?

The role of classical music in American society has changed since 1960. In the thirties, forties, and fifties, music had been a part of everyday life for Americans, many of whom played instruments or sang together as amateurs. Today, classical music has become peripheral and irrelevant to mainstream life. It is regarded as an incomprehensible art that must be performed perfectly or not at all. Even in recent years, the number of American instrumentalists has dropped markedly. In 1992, some 7.8 million Americans played instruments, but that number shrank to 3.7 million—less than half—by 2002, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.
Blair Tindall, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music (New York: Grove Press, 2005) p. 306.

I tried digging up those NEA numbers and found:
So where did Tindall get the numbers showing such a sharp decline? Could her figures relate only to playing classical music, counting oboe in a wind quintet but not mandolin in a bluegrass band?

One other source:
In 2010, 18,078,000 American adults (7.9%) played an instrument in the last year.
2 or more times a week: 7,435,000 (3.3%)
once a week: 2,095,000 (.9%)
2 or 3 times a month: 1,959,000 (.9%)
once a month: 1,211,000 (.5%)
Statistical Abstract of the United States 2011, Table 1240, Adult Participation in Selected Leisure Activities, By Frequency: 2010 (citing GfK Mediamark Research & Intelligence, LLC, New York, NY, Top-line Reports (copyright)).

While I'm not sure about the numbers, I do find Tindall's overall point quite plausible. The piano in the parlor is not the staple it once was, and we don't find bands and choirs in every town, union, and fraternal organization. On the other hand, if I ask the people in my band, there's music going on all over: some of them are in two or three groups, or more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Birth of the commercial lending library

At exactly the same moment as Manchester's free public library opened, the dominant commercial lending library in England was raising itself to "leviathan" status. Charles Edward Mudie had begun as a newsagent in Bloomsbury’s Southampton Row, with a small section of books on display. Students, then as now, would browse and not buy. It is a peculiarity of the retail book trade. Supermarkets such as Tesco’s and Vons do not install armchairs (as do Barnes and Noble in the United States, and Waterstone’s in the UK) where uncertain customers can open a can of beans, to see if it is to their taste, decide “no,” and leave having bought nothing.

Mudie drew the obvious conclusion and prudently put his book stock behind the counter and charged borrowing fees. With the embourgeoisement of west central London, his clientele expanded well beyond the student population. . . . Unlike the free libraries, he had not the slightest prejudice against new fiction. It was in fact his main line of goods.
John Sutherland, "Literature and the Library in the Nineteenth Century," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 133

Monday, December 28, 2015

A fine specimen of manly beauty

He was tall; but you only perceived it when he was standing by the side of others, for the great breadth of his shoulders and chest made him appear but little above the middle height. His chest was as deep as it was wide; his arm like that of Hercules; and his hand "the fist of a tar—every hair a rope-yarn." With all this he had one of the pleasantest smiles I ever saw. His cheeks were of a handsome brown; his teeth brilliantly white; and his hair, of a raven black, waved in loose curls all over his head, and fine, open forehead; and his eyes he might have sold to a duchess at the price of diamonds, for their brilliancy. As for their color, they were like the Irishman's pig, which would not stay to be counted, every change of position and light seemed to give them a new hue; but their prevailing color was black, or nearly so. Take him with his well-varnished black tarpaulin stuck upon the back of his head; his long locks coming down almost into his eyes; his white duck trowsers and shirt; blue jacket; and black kerchief, tied loosely round his neck; and he was a fine specimen of manly beauty.
Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast (1840), ch. XIII

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Education for a Highland rebel

"A man kens little till he's driven a spreagh of neat cattle (say) ten miles through a throng lowland country and the black soldiers maybe at his tail. It's there that I learned a great part of my penetration. And ye need nae tell me: it's better than war; which is the next best, however, though generally rather a bauchle of a business. Now the Gregara have had grand have had grand practice."

"No doubt that's a branch of education that was left out with me," said I.

"And I can see the marks of it upon ye constantly," said Alan. "But that's the strange thing about you folk of the college learning: ye're ignorat, and ye cannae see 't. Wae's me for my Greek and Hebrew; but, man, I ken that I dinnae ken them—there's the differ of it. Now here's you. Ye lie on your wame a bittie in the bield of this wood, and ye tell me that ye've cuist off these Frasers and Macgregors. Why? Because I couldnae see them, says you. Ye blockhead, that's their livelihood."
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 11

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Heavy eyelids

My eyelids suddenly got very heavy very fast. Don’t you find it hard to keep them open when that happens? And also, why bother?
Spencer Quinn, To Fetch a Thief: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (New York: Atria Paperback, Simon & Schuster, 2011), p. 16

Radar won the war

Scientists who worked on radar often quipped that radar won the war, whereas the atomic bomb merely ended it.
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 65

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas dinner at the Marches'

There never was such a Christmas dinner as they had that day. The fat turkey ws a sight to behold, when Hannah sent him up, stuffed, browned, and decorated. So was the plum pudding, which melted in one's mouth, likewise the jellies, in which Amy reveled like a fly in the honeypot. Everything turned out well, which was a mercy, Hannah said, "for my mind was that flustered, Mum, that it's a merrycle I didn't roast the pudding, and stuff the turkey with raisins, let alone bilin' of it in a cloth."
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1869), ch. 22

Christmas before the mast

Thursday, Dec. 25th. This day was Christmas, but it brought us no holiday. The only change was that we had a "plum duff" for dinner, and the crew quarrelled with the steward because he did not give us our usual allowance of molasses to eat with it. He thought the plums would be a substitute for the molasses, but we were not to be cheated out of our rights in this way.
Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast (1840), ch. VIII

Friday, December 25th. This day was Christmas; and as it rained all day long, and there were no hides to take in, and nothing especial to do, the captain gave us a holiday, (the first we had had since leaving Boston,) and plum duff for dinner. The Russian brig, following the Old Style, had celebrated their Christmas eleven days before; when they had a grand blow-out and (as our men said) drank, int he forecastle, a barrel of gin, ate up a bag of tallow, and made a soup of the skin.
Id., ch. XXVI

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Multiplying pigs

Pigs are the most prolific large mammal in North America. In some ways, they're like a big, ugly rabbit, capable of having two litters a year. Research indicates that we need to remove about helf of the wild hogs every year to keep the population levels under control. If not, their numbers grow in a hurry. 
Kim DeLozier & Carolyn Jourdan, Bear in the Back Seat II: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2014)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Read the parenthetical remarks or don't

This is me. All abridging remarks and other comments will be in this fancy italic type so you'll know. 
. . . My intrusion here is because of the way Morgenstern uses parentheses. . . .  
Either Morgenstern meant them seriously or he didn't Or maybe he meant some of them seriously and some others he didn't. But he never said which were the seriously ones. Or maybe it was just the author's way of telling the reader stylistically that 'this isn't real; it never happened.' That's what I think, in spite of the fact that if you read back into Florinese history, it did happen. The facts, anyway; no one can say about the actual motivations. All I can suggest to you is, if the parentheses bug you, don't read them.
William Goldman, The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure (Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 2007), pp. 41-42 (first pub. 1973)

Lessons in reasoning and debate at Oxford

In the few fragments that remain of his own story, he records that he learned but three things in two years at Oxford. The first, on which he placed the greatest value, was that “Yea” might be turned into “Nay” and vice versa if a sufficient quantity of wordage was applied to the matter. The second was that in any argument, the victor is always right, and the third that though the pen is mightier than the sword, the sword speaks louder and stronger at any given moment.
Leonard Wibberley, The Mouse That Roared (Leonard Wibberly Books digital ed., 2015), p. 5 (orig. pub. 1955 as "The Wrath of Grapes"). (The passage is about Roger Fenwick, who founded the Duchy of Grand Fenwick in 1370.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Collective book buying in 18th Century

The key ancestor [of the subscription library] is what contemporaries knew as the “book club” (or occasionally “book society” or even “reading society”). Quite unlike the term’s modern use, describing either a vehicle for those who wish to discuss what they have read (as in the Richard and Judy Book Club, linked to a recently popular television program) or, in a very different context, a commercial publisher’s device for persuading people to buy books they may not really want (as in the Reader’s Digest Book Club of fond memory), the Georgian book club was, like its eventual progeny the subscription library, fundamentally proprietorial—which is to say that it was a circle of individuals who contributed their own hard-earned cash so as to be able to choose and buy certain books collectively.
David Allan, "'The Advantages of Literature': The Subscription Library in Georgian Britain," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), pp. 86-87

People as tourist attractions

He [Nick] enjoyed moving through experiences, traveling without having to go anywhere. Other people and their lives were countries he visited. So far, Olivia's main attraction, her local color, was the way she was always subtly touching him. The other excellent thing about her, of course, was her easy access to drugs.
Carol Anshaw, Carry the One (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 6

"Oh, my aunts really want it," he [Matt, the groom] said. "I couldn't say no to them." Carmen could see these women gathering, clutching their Instamatics, tears already pooling int he corners of their eyes, tourists on an emotional safari, eager to bag a bride. 
Id., p. 7

Good lawyers revise drafts

With computers it is easy to write and correct and then rewrite. . . . Be like the best lawyers who do draft after draft until the whole piece is tickety-boo.
David Ross, Legal Writing, 1 Original Law Review 85, 102 (2005)

Monday, December 21, 2015

What? Scotland isn't Scotland?

"They are all the sons of Alpin, from whom, I think, our country has its name."

"What country is that?" I asked.

"My country and yours," said she.

"This is my day for discovering I think," said I, "for I always thought the name of it was Scotland."

"Scotland is the name of what you call Ireland," she replied. "But the old ancient true name of this place that we have our footsoles on, and that our bones are made of, will be Alban. It was Alban they called it when our forefathers will be fighting for it against Rome and Alexander; and it is called so still in your own tongue that you forget."

"Troth," said I, "and that I never learned!" For I lacked heart to take her up about the Macedonian.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 10

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bell Labs' lab notebooks

Every new member of the technical staff was given a stock of hardcover lab notebooks that were bound in cloth and leather and filled with two hundred lined pages. In most offices, recalls Walter Brown, an experimental physicist who worked under Shockley, there was a notebook table, ". . . intended to hold a notebook for recording details of experiments and their results [as well as] ideas and plans for the future. Results or ideas that one thought were potentially valuable were witnessed and signed by another engineer for documentation of the timing of the idea." The scientists were not permitted to rip out pages. Nor were they encouraged to attach loose sheets of paper into the notebook. "No erasures," says Brown. "Lines through mistakes—initialed by who drew the lines." Also, the notebooks were issued with registered numbers that were matched to each scientist and were tracked by supervisors and Labs attorneys. There was to be no confusion bout who did what. The notebooks were proof for gaining a patent.
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 57

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why have a pump for the bathtub?

I could hear a faint 'splosh, splosh' and the water evacuated the boat via one of our many outlets. After only a minute or so the tone of the pump changed and Geoff waved at the switch again. 'That's it, the pipe's empty. Turn it off, can you?'

'Do we have to go through this every time we want to empty the bath?' I looked at the now silent pump. 'Why can't we just pull the plug and let it drain away? This rigmarole is going to take bloody ages.'

'Marie,' Geoff looked at me with a slight frown. 'The bottom of the bath is well below the water level. If you've found a way to make water run uphill please let me know, because we can negate all the laws of physics and make a great deal of money.'
I stuck my tongue out at him. 'Nobody likes a smart-arse, you know.' I went to put the shopping away.
Marie Browne, Narrow Margins (Mid-Glamorgan: Accent Press, 2009),  p. 154

The impossible might not be

Working on the bottom of the deep ocean wasn't impossible, it was only considered impossible, and that was the distinction Tommy [Thompson] had learned: Other people labeled things impossible not because they couldn't be done, but because no one was doing them.
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (New York: Grove Publishing, 1998), Kindle loc. 3625

Friday, December 18, 2015

Solace in star gazing

He loved this--lying on top of the camper, looking through his very old Nikon binoculars, . . . He could watch the lazy way he did when he first noticed stars, before he saw them up close through a Newtonian reflector, or read them by their radio waves, before he knew their chemical composition, the weight and age of their gases, the rate at which they were burning themselves up--back when they still held a blinks mystery.
He read the heavens like a worn page  of a favorite book. He picked out constellations of the summer northern sky--Scorpius, Hercules with it's brilliant star Vega, the harder-to-find  Corona Borealis. Arcturus, a showman star, burning it's heart out. And even though he  knew better, knew that what he saw was still roiling and burning and exploding  and being born, also dying an icy death, he could still calm himself by  doing this sort of casual, Boy Scout survey, finding  everything superficially in  place.
Carol Anshaw, Carry the One (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), pp. 75-76

Why bats can't handle extreme climates

Though among the most numerous of mammals, bats are restricted to moderate conditions and habitats—remaining nocturnal to avoid the heat and migrating or hibernating en masse to avoid the cold. To thrive in colder climates, bats would need better insulation, but that in turn would require a better way to stay cool in flight.
Thor Hanson, Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle (New York: Basic Books, 2011), p. 114

Have a good lie handy

Some part we ran, some trotted, and the rest walked at a vengeance of a pace. Twice, while we were at top speed, we ran against country-folk; but though we plumped into the first from round a corner, Alan was as ready as a loaded musket.

"Has ye seen my horse?" he gasped.

"Na, man, I haenae seen nae the horse the day," replied the countryman.

And Alan spared the time to explain to him that we were travelling "ride and tie"; that our charger had escaped, and it was feared he had gone home to Linton. Not only that, but he expended some breath (of which he had not very much left) to curse his own misfortune and my stupidity which was said to be its cause.

"Them that cannae tell the truth," he observed to myself as we went on again, "Should be aye mindful to leave an honest, handy lee behind them. If folk dinnae ken what ye're doing, Davie, they're terrible taken up with it; but if they think they ken, they care nae mair for it than what I do for pease porridge."
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 13

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Enlightenment views of reading

Not all philosophers rejoiced in the growing access to books. Far from advocating universal literacy, Voltaire insisted that peasants should till the soil. But the most progressive thinkers, notably Condorcet and his friend Thomas Jefferson, identified Enlightenment with the diffusion of books and understood the printed word as the most powerful force for the liberation of humanity.
Robert Darnton, "From Printing Shop to Bookshelves: How Books Began the Journey to Enlightenment Libraries," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 92

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Scruffy old dog explores the riverbank

Herbert finally took an interest in proceedings, hauling himself out of his already stinking pit and spending a good half hour pottering up and down the riverbank sniffing and exploring. Herbert, as I have stated before, is old. He smells and dribbles and when [we] introduce [him] to friends and visitors the first question they always ask when they see him is 'what exactly is that?' but however old and stinky he is, we have had him a fair while and he is part of the family . . . .

Usually, he will rouse himself for one of only two reasons. One: food in; and two: food out. With these two important things taken care of, he usually flops over in whatever comfortable place he can get away with (we don't allow him on either the sofa or the beds,you can't get the smell out for weeks) and within seconds starts to snore. It was nice to see him obviously enjoying himself.
Marie Browne, Narrow Margins (Mid-Glamorgan: Accent Press, 2009),  p. 137

Sometimes it's good not to have a sharp sense of smell

Luckily, considering my line of work, I have a poor sense of smell, so the processing was more bearable for me than for the others.
Dr. Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson, Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), p.149. (I decided not to quote the part that explains what they were working on. Just imagine what a forensic anthropologist gets called in on.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A writer's best readers

To this day [my wife] Nily is my first reader. When she finds something in a draft that is wrong she says: That just doesn't work. Cross it out. Sit down and write it again. Or: We've heard that before. You've already written it somewhere. No need to repeat yourself. But when she likes something, she looks up from the page and gives me a certain look, and the room gets bigger. And when something sad comes off, she says, that passage makes me cry. Or if it's something funny, she bursts into peals of laughter. After her, my daughters and my son read it: they all have sharp eyes and a good ear. After a while, a few friends will read what I have written, and then the readers, and after them come the literary experts, the scholars, the critics, and the firing squads. But by then I'm not there anymore.
Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness (Nicholas de Lange trans., 2003), pp. 519-20

Hard work on a delicate writing project

Barry spent the next two weeks working twelve- to sixteen-hour days, trying to unravel and recast the technical language of the original concept paper into a project game plan. Then together, Tommy, Barry, and Bob dissected every sentence, searching for nuance. The words had to inform but not reveal too much, be clear but not condescending, emphasize technology but not mire in the technical, express confidence but not certainty, sound adventurous but not swashbuckling, make the project seem challenging but not impossible.
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (New York: Grove Publishing, 1998), Kindle loc. 3553

Snow days are OK

Winter is somewhat early this year. The chill is sporadic, as temperatures zoom up and down, but we’ve had snow flurries twice—well ahead of normal. The Atlanta newspaper trumpets on page one the threats of snow and ice: this southern city has little snow removal equipment, the roads are treacherously built in sinuous twists over the hills, and many of the drivers don’t know how to drive on snow. Having lived in Minnesota, I have seen life continue routinely through heavy snows, temperatures below zero, even blizzards. I am tempted to laugh at Atlanta’s panic, but in truth I think the southern approach is better: most Americans work too hard, never taking time to think about the meanings and values inherent (or missing) in their lives. If a light snow in an ill-equipped city forces us to stay at home once in a while so that we can ponder our lives, so much the better. Especially in the so-called professions, the practitioners work so obsessively that they have no time to reflect upon what they profess. What faith, what assumptions, what responsibilities, what values and deeper meanings do they see in their work?
Albert Howard Carter III, First Cut: A Season in the Anatomy Lab (New York: Picador USA, 1997), p. 295.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Not a fan of launderettes

I had forgotten everything that bugged me about launderettes when I was at college, but even as I walked through the door, the memories started to come flooding back: the smell, the decrepit decoration (or lack of it), the ripped seating and the cheap plastic patio chairs resplendent in their differing shades of nicotine white and fingerprint grey, each complete with a set of wobbly legs that threaten to tip you to the grimy floor at the least provocation.
Marie Browne, Narrow Margins (Mid-Glamorgan: Accent Press, 2009),  p. 123

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The brilliant technology of the book

Technological innovation is frequently accompanied by excitable rhetoric and totally false prophecy. So it was with printing in the fifteenth century. . . .
. . .

The book survives because it is an object of technological genius, refined through two millennia since the Romans decided that there must be a better way of storing information than on scrolls of papyrus.
Andrew Pettegree, "The Renaissance Library and the Challenge of Print," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), pp. 86-87

Friday, December 11, 2015

Atomic age, information age

Though nuclear arms and communications were often perceived as distinct phenomena—one was military, the other was civilian; one was deadly, the other benign—it was becoming increasingly difficult to separate the atomic age from the Information Age. Indeed, at the military's request, Bell Labs and Western Electric also began designing and building a string of remote radar installations in the frozen wastes north of the Arctic circle . . . .
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 161

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Conditions for invention

We usually imagine that invention occurs in a flash, with a eureka moment that leads a lone inventor toward a startling epiphany. In truth, large leaps forward in technology rarely have a precise point of origin. At the start, forces that precede an invention merely begin to align, often imperceptibly, as a group of people and ideas converge, until over the course of months or years (or decades) they gain clarity and momentum and the help of additional ideas and actors. Luck seems to matter, and so does timing, for it tends to be the case that the right answers, the right people, the right place—perhaps all three—require a serendipitous encounter with the right problem. And then—sometimes—a leap. Only in retrospect do such leaps look obvious. 
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 51

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The weather is foul in Antarctica

"It really looks as if there must have been a large surplus of bad weather left over after all the land had been formed at the Creation, a surplus that appears to have been dumped down in this small area of Antarctica."

Belgrave Ninnis (1912), quoted in Gabrielle Walker, Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013), p. 75

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Something to count on, wherever you travel

The only certainty is that wherever I choose to plant my feet, they grow toenails.
Steven G. Kellman, "Life in the Margins: From Brooklyn to Bulgaria," The American Scholar, Summer 2002, 109, 118

Printing, hand-copying: who cares? Just deliver the texts!

the invention of printing did not immediately destroy the manuscript trade. On the contrary, the two modes of book production coexisted happily for at least two generations.

What scholars and collectors wanted was texts. It was the huge demand for texts that had helped fuel the search for a new means of mechanical reproduction. The traditional purchasers of manuscripts were among the greatest enthusiasts for the new experimental printed books. . . . [M]ost fifteenth-century purchasers were not so particular: the collected manuscripts and printed items indifferently, and often bound them together int he same volume.
Andrew Pettegree, "The Renaissance Library and the Challenge of Print," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 74

Monday, December 7, 2015

Color coding people

If treatment of Jews provides an early instance of religiously sanctioned and state-imposed racial classification, color-coded classification—the form in which we are interested—comes later, with the Atlantic slave trade and European colonization of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Prior to the slave trade and colonization there is little evidence of color prejudice in Europe.
Kenneth Prewitt, What is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2013), ch. 2

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Bibliophile's nightmare, and a lesson in estate planning

Gian Vincenzo Pinelli, of Padua, in northern Italy, was one of the great book collectors of the sixteenth century. As he approached the end of his life in 1601 he made plans for his magnificent library to become a permanent monument to his taste and erudition. The ten thousand volumes he had accumulated were to be transported to his family home near Naples, where a library was to be constructed on the family estate for the public to share, and admire, his majestic books. Such aspirations were not unusual in the sixteenth-century scholarly world. But the actual fate of his collection provides a cautionary tale of the dangers facing any scholar seeking to build a legacy. First of all the Venetian government intervened to remove certain manuscripts they regarded as politically sensitive. A servant stole some of the books. The collection was eventually loaded onto three ships for transportation through the Adriatic, but one was intercepted by pirates. When they discovered the cases of freight contained nothing but books they threw several overboard. The abandoned ship was washed ashore and plundered by local fishermen. Of the thirty-three cases of books left on board the authorities could recover only twenty-two. The valuable volumes taken by the locals were dismembered and used to mend boats or provide primitive window coverings. The stiff parchment pages of the most valuable manuscripts, which included a phenomenal and world famous collection of Greek texts, proved to be excellent draught excluders. 

Barely had the remains of the collection made its way to Naples when Pinelli's nephew died. The idea of a permanent collection died with him. After prolonged litigation the collection was purchased at auction by Cardinal Borromeo for his new library in Milan (the Biblioteca Ambrosiana). Borromeo's agents now made a careful selection for the long journey back to northern Italy, discarding those damaged by water or rodents, and books of less interest to their new owner.
Andrew Pettegree, "The Renaissance Library and the Challenge of Print," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 72

Lots of workplaces could use more SWANs

Frink thought the young man fit his formula for new engineers—SWAN, he called it: Smart, Willing to work hard, Ambitious, Nice to work with. 
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (New York, Grove Press: 1998), Kindle loc. 2209.

(Don Frink was the head of the Equipment Development Section of Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. The young man was Tommy Thompson.)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Dunkirk evacuation was horribly dangerous

Seventeen ships sunk or knocked out of action. That was the Luftwaffe's score this June 1. All day the human residue—the hollow-eyed survivors, the pale wounded on stretchers, the ragged bundles that turned out to be bodies—were landed on the quays of Dover, Ramsgate, and other southeast coast towns. The effect was predictable on the men whose ships happened to be in port.

At Folkestone the crew of the railway steamer Malines were especially shaken by the ordeal of the Prague. The two vessels belonged to the same line, and there was a close association between the crews. Some of the Malines's men were already survivors of a ship sunk at Rotterdam, and Malines herself had been heavily bombed there. After two hard trips to Dunkirk she was now at Folkestone waiting for coal, when nerves began to crack. . . .

Malines was ordered to Dunkirk again on the evening of June 1, but with the crew on the edge of revolt, her captain refused to go. He was supported by the masters of two other steamers also at Folkestone, the Islae of Man packets Ben-My-Chree and Tynwald. They too refused to go, and when the local naval commander sent a written inquiry asking whether Ben-My-Chree would sail, her skipper simply wrote back, "I beg to state that after our experience in Dunkirk yesterday, my answer is 'No.'"
Walter Lord, The Miracle of Dunkirk (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2012), pp. 222-23  (copyright 1982) 

Friday, December 4, 2015

If you can't help with the engine, just go lie down

Geoff was in (he claimed) the final stages of getting the new inverter installed so he went back to the engine room.

. . .

[After an hour] 'How's it going?' I asked the soles of his feet. The opposite end stopped swearing for long enough to tell me exactly how it was going in full and colourful detail. 'O...K," I backed off, 'I'm going to read in bed, do you want anything before I go?' I'd like to believe that what he said was, 'No thank you, darling, thanks for enquiring, you go and have a bit of a lie-down, you deserve it' but I don't think it was. I went for that 'bit of a lie-down' anyway.
Marie Browne, Narrow Margins (Mid-Glamorgan: Accent Press, 2009),  p. 61

Live long enough, you'll get creaky joints

She also lacked osteoarthritic lipping, the buildup of jagged ridges of bony material along the edges of vertebrae and other joint surfaces. As we age, we all tend to develop some degree of osteoarthritic lipping; it's sort of the skeleton's version of the mineral deposits that gradually clog a house's water lines. Osteoarthritic lipping is a major contributor to the aching joints that plague the elderly. Whenever I show slides of severe osteoarthritic lipping, someone always asks if there's any way to prevent it. "Of course there is!" I exclaim. "Die young!"
Dr. Bill Bass & Jon Jefferson, Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), p.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Steinbeck ♥ Montana—but also the sea

If Montana had a seacoast, or if I could live away from the sea, I would instantly move there and petition for admission. Of all the states it is my favorite and my love.
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America  (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 159 (orig. published 1962)

Ingenuity to get out of tough spots

It is a great source of pride to me that over the years I have come up with some bizarre and ingenious ways to get us out of 'situations'. I am also very proud of my useful ability to ignore all indications that it is usually one of my 'great' ideas that gets us into these 'situations' in the first place.
Marie Browne, Narrow Margins (Mid-Glamorgan: Accent Press, 2009),  p. 3

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What should a gentleman teach his son?

"But what was your father that he could not learn you to draw the sword! It is most ungentle; I have not heard the match of that in anyone."

"It is most misconvenient at least," said I; "and I think my father (honest man!) must have been wool-gathering to learn me Latin in the place of it."
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 10

Simultaneous projects to maximize learning

He [Tommy Thompson] decided to extend the research projects Glower had assigned him during the tutorials [in college] and pursue at all times seven to fourteen projects, idea sparks that through research he could fan to see if they caught fire. Some would be long term, thirty years perhaps; others he might conclude in two weeks. Some required his attention for a day each week, while he spent no more than four hours a month on others. As he completed one project, he would take on another, always keeping the number between seen and fourteen, and he resolved that no matter what he was doing where he was working, how much time he had to spend on other things, he would keep these projects alive to broaden his understanding of science, marketing, technology, business, human behavior, all of the disciplines that come together to make an idea work.
Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea (New York: Grove Press, 1998), Kindle loc. 1530.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The state draws boundaries

The state is a boundary-drawing project—creating territorial boundaries, of course, but also demographic boundaries.
Kenneth Prewitt, What is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2013), ch. 2

Medieval library values today?

Collecting, preserving, and using the right texts in the right way—which often meant slowly and contemplatively—was far more valuable than just accumulating different titles . . . . That is a lesson which—in a society obsessed with making ever vaster quantities of information instantly available, yet permitting less and less time in which to digest it—we could usefully relearn today.
Richard Gameson, "The Image of the Medieval Library," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 56