Monday, November 30, 2015

Strict library rules in 14th Century

Ave Maria College was established [in Paris] by John of Hubant for six students aged between eight and sixteen (plus six beneficiarii who could be up to twenty years old). Perhaps on account of the immaturity of many of the boys, the rules for the library prescribed a particularly rigorous regime of weekly inspection. Every Saturday the officer of the week was to go through all the books, chained and unchained, with the next week's officer, pointing out any damage; the master and the chaplain were also to inspect them. If any volume was lost or damaged and the culprit identifiable, he was to be flogged; if his identity was unascertainable, then all the boys would be beaten; their parents were to be responsible for making good any loss.
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. 42

Law as a means to grace

"Thirteently, my brethren, and in parenthesis, the law itself must be regarded as a means of grace," the minister was saying, in the voice of one delighting to pursue an argument.

The sermon was in English on account of the assize. The judges were present with their armed attendants, the halberts glittered in a corner by the door, and the seats were thronged beyond custom with the array of lawyers. The text was in Romans 5th and 13th—the minister a skilled hand; and the whole of that able churchful—from Argyle, and my Lords Elchies and Kilkerran, down to the halbertmen that came in their attendance—was sunk with gathered brows in a profound critical attention.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 16

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book blurb: my daughter fell off her chair

I was very familiar with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I read it when I ws a youngish man as had everybody I knew on the block, because it was a huge book. I had enjoyed it enormously, laughed and appreciated it, and then subsequently—almost more satisfyingly—I bought it for my daughter, when she was about thirteen or fourteen. If you ever wanted to put something on a cover of Hitchhiker’s Guide, not that anybody should pay particular attention to me and my daughter, you could put “my daughter fell off her chair,” because she did . . . there was a bang behind me and I turned round in a slight panic thinking something terrible had happened. In fact what had happened was that she’d literally fallen off her chair laughing. The other thing which was very appealing and nice about that particular experience was that she found the book so beautiful, funny and kind of funky that she read me almost all of it in order for me to share it. And it was just such a treat to watch her face and see her reading enormous chunks.
Bill Nighy, in Robbie Stamp, "Interview with Bill Nighy—Slartibartfast," Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005), Kindle loc. 3449

Do bears sniff in the woods?

It’s very easy for the bears to find garbage because they have what many scientists believe is the most sensitive nose in the world. Their sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhound’s and 2,100 times better than a human’s.
Kim DeLozier & Carolyn Jourdan, Bear in the Back Seat 1: Adventures of a Wildlife Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2013) 

Library, liberty, liberalism, liberal arts

And in English-speaking lands, the visual rather than aural similarity between the words library, liberty, liberalism, and liberal arts has been one of the most ideologically potent results that can be imagined of a completely false etymology. I speak as a regular user of the online and alliteratively entitled Library of Liberty.
Edith Hall, "Adventures in Ancient Greek and Roman Libraries," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 15

[The root of "library"] is liber, the ancient term for the skin, bark, or rind of plants. It was used to designate the thin rind of the ancient Egyptian papyrus, and eventually, much as the term for tree trunk  caudex  was adopted in the word for a codex, the bark itself, the liber (with a short "i") became the book.
Id. at 13. (Another liber, with a long "i", meant free.)

Blah November, and a happy birthday to Louisia May Alcott

"November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year," said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.

"That's the reason I was born in it," observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

"If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month," said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything, even November.
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1868), ch. 15.

Alcott was born Nov. 29, 1832. See short bios at National Women's History Museum and Orchard House (a house museum preserving the Alcott family home).

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pre-law, 1751, Scotland

"It' my opinion to be called an advocate."

"That's but a weary trade, Davie," says Alan, "and rather a blagyard one forby. Ye would be better in a king's coat than that."

"And no doubt that would be the way to have us meet, cried I. "But as you'll be in King Lewie's coat, and I'll be in King Geordie's, we'll have a daintie meeting of it."

"There's some sense in that," he admitted.

"An advocate, then, it'll have to be," I continued, "and I think it a more suitable trade for a gentleman that was three times disarmed."
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 12

Library is greater than the sum of its parts

The selection or deselection of books for inclusion in a library’s collection was already acknowledged by historians in antiquity to have been a charged political issue. . . .

The social and political role of the ancient library, however, was not just a matter of whose written versions of history, reality, and experience were made available to the grateful public. Of far more lasting significance, it seems to me, is the actual concept of the library as an institution where the whole resource constitutes something infinitely greater than the sum of the parts.
Edith Hall, "Adventures in Ancient Greek and Roman Libraries," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 10

the ancient experiment in the creation of collections of texts that could even attempt to include everything that had ever been written in the history of the world changed our mental landscape forever, and so did the idea that the entire memory of the human race was vulnerable to complete erasure.
Id. at 11. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tidy book piles versus a chaotic mess

Whereas in the Romanesque images, reflecting the monastic culture of  slow ruminative reading, a glimpse of a few volumes in a chest or cupboard was sufficient to evoke appropriate engagement, in later centuries, with changing patterns of book use, the volumes were shown to be available on shelves or desks. Though chests and storerooms were still current, it was the "open-shelf ready-reference" aspect of the facilities that was generally stressed. We must leave for another occasion consideration of the thorny issue of whether neatly stacked closed books, or a chaos of open ones better conveyed the idea of knowledge—if the former might evoke systematic study and orderly learning, the latter could suggest an inspired frenzy of literary labor.
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. 54

Savage young people

Young folk in a company are like to savage animals: they fall upon or scorn a stranger without civility, or I may say, humanity; and I am sure, if I had been among baboons, they would have shown me quite as much of both.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 8

Meanings of "the library"

“The library,” we find, “means” many things over time and throughout these essays. It is a collection of books, a center for scholarship, a universal memory, a maze or labyrinth, a repository of hidden or occulted knowledge, a sanctum, an archive for stories, a fortress, a space of transcendence, a focus of wealth and display, a vehicle of spirituality, an emblem of wisdom and learning, a mind or brain, an ordainer of the universe, a mausoleum, a time machine, a temple, a utopia, a gathering place, an antidote to fanaticism, a silent repository of countless unread books, a place for the pursuit of truth. A concept that has inspired many metaphors, the library as an idea has appealed to the human imagination throughout the ages and continues to do so today.
Alice Crawford, "Introduction," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. xvi

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turing finds American manners peculiar

These Americans have various peculiarities in conversation which catch the ear somehow. Whenever you thank them for anything, they say ‘You’re welcome’. I rather liked it at first, thinking I was welcome, but now I find it comes back like a ball thrown against a wall, and become positively apprehensive.
Alan Turing, quoted in Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma, Centenary Ed. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2012), p. 123

Blumenbach's racial taxonomy

Among those influenced [by Linnaeus] was the German medical scientist Johann Blumenbach, who in 1776 published the widely read and tellingly titled On the Natural Varieties of Mankind.

Although Blumenbach avoided the moralistic terms embraced by Linnaeus, he offered the first explanation for the presumed superiority of the white race. . . . Blumenbach's rank ordering is a classic instance of a scientific error leading to a moral wrong. We have yet to escape fully the habits of thought rooted in the flawed assumption that deep cultural traits can be predicted by superficial physiological traits—the shape of a nos, ehte pigmentation of the skin, the texture of hair.

Blumenbach's racial taxonomy differed from the Linnaean taxonomy in its presentation of five rather than four races, making the Pacific Islanders a race separate from Linnaeus's Asiaticus.
Kenneth Prewitt, What is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2013), ch. 2

Blumenbach's arbitrary distinctions took something that is biologically real (phenotypic variation) and made something that is biologically suspect (five races). A folk taxonomy became a biological fact. In the eighteenth century in some parts of the world, the Americas included, this biological fact became a political fact.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Linnaeus's racial taxonomy

In elaborating his racial classification, Linnaeus departed from his botanical expertise and turned anthropological, even amaeurishly psychological. He told his readers that temperament and character systematically vary from one race group to the next. This essentialism—the idea that there are characteristics that any member of a given race must possess—imprinted public consciousness in ways we still struggle to overcome. Race, more or less as we know it today, entered the scientific canon as a fact of nature.

Kenneth Prewitt, What is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2013), ch. 2


Bernie came out [of the gas station], and I didn't spot Slim Jims or bacon bits, just a big bottle of water. That meant he still wasn't hungry, what with our little session at Max's Memphis Ribs . . . and maybe I wasn't hungry, either, but snacks often happened when we were gassing up. Snacks taste better when you're hungry, but do they ever actually taste bad? I ask you.
Spencer Quinn, Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (New York: Atria, 2009), p. 212. (Chet, the narrator, is a dog, by the way.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

High-speed forensic anthropology?

State troopers met us at the airport and drove us east to Benton, the town of about 1,000 people that serves as the county seat of Polk County. We took a two-lane blacktop south from Benton. As the highway patrol cruisers careened around the winding road at 80 miles an hour, it occurred to me that there might soon be a few more casualties before the sun set. I cleared my throat and said to the trooper at the wheel, "You know, these folks are already dead; they're not going to get any deader if we slow down a little bit." He didn't take the hint, and we continued to rocket along.
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. 55

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Race" in censuses

The actual term race itself is not common; it is found in only thirteen censuses around the world—eleven of them former slaveholding countries.
Kenneth Prewitt, What is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2013), ch. 2

Edinburgh lawyer, 1751

I'm a lawyer, ye see: fond of my books and my bottle, a good plea, a well-drawn deed, a crack in the Parliament House with other lawyer bodies, and perhaps a turn at the golf on a Saturday at e'en. Where do ye come in with your Hieland plaids and claymores?"
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 2

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Humans can be fooled by humans; dogs are onto 'em

She said things like "I don't believe in fate." and "How could I ever let Dylan suck me back into . . ." I remembered Dylan: pretty boy, jailbird, loser. He couldn't have sucked me into anything, not on his best day. The truth was that humans didn't turn out to be the bet judges of other humans. We, meaning me and my kind, were much better. Once in a while they tricked us; some humans got up to a lot of trickery, strangely like foxes, but usually we were on to that type from sniff one.
Spencer Quinn, Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (New York: Atria, 2009), p. 287.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Boy sees girl

It chanced the girl turned suddenly about, so that I saw her face for the first time. There is no greater wonder than the way the face of a young woman fits in a man's mind, and stays there, and he could never tell you why; it just seems it was the thing he wanted.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Catriona (1892), pt. I, ch. 1

Friday, November 20, 2015

Paper is very important to humans

"But I'm sure you keep records."
"Oh yes, records, of course." The man moved to a computer,hit some keys. "Here we go." A printer made some machine sounds, very unpleasant to my ears. The man handed Bernie a sheet of paper. Paper was very important to human beings: They spent a lot of their time messing around with it. The appeal was lost on me.
Spencer Quinn, Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery (New York: Atria, 2009), p. 215. (Chet, the narrator, is a dog, by the way.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Not really identical identical

Although identical twins can't be distinguished from one another by their DNA, they can be told apart by their teeth.
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. 40

Who's the S.O.B. in this work group?

"It was probably one if the greatest research teams ever pulled together on a problem," Walger Brattain would later say. When he first reviewed the list of who would be working with silicon and germanium in the new solid-state group with Shockley at Murray Hill . . . Brattain read it over twice. There isn't an S.O.B. in the group, he thought to himself, pleased with the prospect of joining in. Then after a minute he had a second thought: Maybe I'm the S.O.B. in the group.

Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 87

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Senses, human and canine

We are visual animals. There's barely a challenge for second, either: audition is part of nearly every experience we have. Olfaction and touch might duke it out for third, and taste runs a distant fifth. Not that each of these isn't important to us on any particular occasion. . . . Still, on most occasions we first direct our gaze to a new scene or object. If we notice something unusual or unexpected on the sleeve of our jacket, we turn to examine it with our eyes. Vision would have to really fail to provide any information before we decide to learn about it by inhaling it closely or taking a bold lick.
The order of operations is turned upside-down for dogs. Snout beats eyes and mouth beats ears. Given the olfactory acuity of dogs, it makes sense that vision plays and accessory role. When a dog turns his head toward you, it is not so much to look at you with his eyes; rather, it is to get his nose to look at you . . . .
. . .
One might well ask what a dog would even need eyes for. They can navigate and find food with their remarkable noses. Anything that needs closer examination goes right in the mouth. And the can identify each other through that sensory apparatus squished between their mouth and nose, the vomeronasal organ. As it turns out, they have at least two critical uses of their eyes: to complement their other senses and to see us. The natural history of the dog eye, seen in the story of their forebears, wolves, explains the context in which their vision evolved. It is a happy and transformative side effect that this has made them good watchers of human beings. 
Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (New York: Scribner: 2009), pp. 122-23.

Employees' IP at Bell Labs

During their first few days in New York, the new "members of the technical staff"—MTSs, as they were called—learned their way around West Street. They were summoned to listen to speeches . . . . But mostly they met with their supervisors . . . to try and hash out what kind of work they would be doing. At one point during the first few days the freshmen were asked to sell the rights to their future patents, whatever these might be; their research, wherever it took them, was to benefit Bell Labs and phone subscribers. None of the young men refused. And in exchange for their signatures, each was given a crisp one-dollar bill.
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p.  40

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hearst's dual motives

Hearst was genuinely outraged by Spain's ruthless treatment of its Cuban colony, where hundreds of thousands of Cubans were herded into detention camps to starve and die. He sought justice as well as profits. There's an ongoing argument over which of those motives screws up reporting the most.
Brooke Gladstone, The Influencing Machine (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2011), p. xiv

Breeds and behavior

Breed matters: A dog that stares down invisible prey or slowly stalks other dogs may be presenting very good "eye" behavior for a herder. So too with the dog who is aggrieved when one person leaves the room or who nips at everyone's heels as they wander down the hallway. Freezing at movement in the bushes slows down your walk, but it is very good pointing behavior. . . . Give your dog a context to play out his innate tendencies—and indulge him a little staring at the bushes now and then.
Alexandra Horowitz, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know (New York: Scribner: 2009), p. 275

Monday, November 16, 2015

First love dazzles

Once, when I raptured in a violet glow given off by the Queen of the World, my father asked me why, and I thought he was crazy not to see. Of course I know now she was a mouse-haired, freckle-nosed, scabby-kneed little girl with a voice like a bat and the loving kindness of a gila monster, but then she lighted up the landscape and me.
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America  (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 158 (orig. published 1962)

Procrastination is part of the human condition

Procrastination is fundamental, like eating: when we look ahead to the future, we know we will have plenty of tasks that we won't be able to finish, just as we know we must eat. That is simply how life works. As [George] Ainslie explains, the number of things we might do is potentially infinite. "It is literally impossible not to put off most of what you actually can do." Ainslie suggests that procrastination problems are simply part of the human condition: "Why conspicuous temptations can be identified and subjected to personal rules, a preference for deferring effort, discomfort, or boredom can never be entirely controlled. It is as fundamental as the shape of time, and could well be called the basic impulse."
Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (New York: Public Affairs, 2012), p. 166 (citing George Ainslie, "Procrastination: The Basic Impulse," paper presented at the CUNY Workshop, New York (July 9, 2008), p. 9)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bad news, over and over again

The common thread running through our professional world is disease, and many of our conversations inevitably converge on "bad news." They may begin with an initial diagnosis, but those diseases can become catastrophic or just sputter along in a continuous decline until death. We doctors must be there every step of the way. Bad news thus occurs not just once but over and over again.
Pauline W. Chen, Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), ch.8

The next big information industry

The wash of information has risen so near to flood stage that Jeong Kim, the most recent president of Bell Labs, has suggested that the future of communications will be defined by an industry yet to be created—not the kind of business that simply delivers or searches out information, but one that manages the tide of information so that it doesn't drown us. At least in the communications industry, the greatest innovative challenge on the horizon Kim says, is "to organize information in a way that allows you to live the way you want to live, to take time off with your kids without fear you're going to miss out on something."
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 343

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Everyone has an accent, some more than one

Shifting among accents isn’t a sign of a fragmented self, but only of a well-traveled one.
Geoffrey Nunberg, “The Real Thing,” in The Years of Talking Dangerously (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009), p. 99
 When I hear someone described as having no accent, I think of those pinkish Crayola crayons we used to have that were labeled "flesh." 
Id.  p. 100.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Publishing the false result

John Maynard Smith, a renowned evolutionary biologist, once pithily summarized this approach: "Statistics is the science that lets you do twenty experiments a year and publish one false result in Nature." 
Samuel Arbesman, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date (New York: Current, Penguin USA, 2012), ch. 8

Obvious plagiarism

It always startles me anew—though I have nabbed dozens of plagiarists—to realize that the student cheater is amazed at my powers of discernment, my uncanny ability to detect a difference in quality between his or her own work and, for example, Proust's.
Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members: A Novel (New York: Doubleday, 2014), p.80

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What's the matter with Micawber?

"Among friends, sir!" repeated Mr. Micawber; and all he had reserved came breaking out of him. "Good heavens, it is principally because I AM among friends that my state of mind is what it is. What is the matter, gentlemen? What is NOT the matter? Villainy is the matter; baseness is the matter; deception, fraud, conspiracy, are the matter; and the name of the whole atrocious mass is—HEEP!"
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850), ch. 49

Steinbeck glimpses a black man's different life

One winter dusk when the sidewalks were iced I stood in my window looking out and saw a tipsy woman come out of the bar, slip on the ice, and fall flat. She tried to struggle up but slipped and fell again and lay there screaming maudlinly. At that moment the Negro who worked for me came around the corner, saw the woman, and instantly  crossed the street, keeping as far from her as possible.

When he came in I said, "I saw you duck. Why didn't you give that woman a hand?"

"Well, sir, she's drunk, and I'm Negro. If I touched her she could easily scream rape, and then it's a crowd, and who believes me?"

"It took quick thinking to duck that fast."

"Oh, no sir!" he said. "I've been practicing to be a Negro a long time."
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America  (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 267 (orig. published 1962)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Vowell: skepticism is patriotic!

The true American patriot is by definition skeptical of the government.
Sarah Vowell, The Partly Cloudy Patriot (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 158

The first time

The first time a man goes into battle is strangely like the first time a man makes love to a woman. The anticipation is overpowering; the ignorance is obstructive; the fear of disgrace is consuming; and survival is triumphant.
General Omar Bradley, quoted in David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), ch. 20 (Kindle location 12681)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My, how the Monterey Peninsula has changed

In my flurry of nostalgic spite, I have done the Monterey Peninsula a disservice. It is a beautiful place, clean, well run, and progressive. The beaches are clean where once they festered with fish guts and flies. The canneries which once put up a sickening stench are gone, their places filled with restaurants, antique shops, and the like. They fish for tourists now, not pilchards, and that species they are not likely to wipe out. And Carmel, begun by starveling writers and unwanted painters, is now a community of the well-to-do and the retired. If Carmel's founders should return, they could not afford to live there, but it wouldn't go that far. They would be instantly picked up as suspicious characters and deported over the city line.
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America  (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 205 (orig. published 1962)

Monday, November 9, 2015

A vision for Bell Labs

From the start, Jewett and Arnold seemed to agree that at West Street there could be an indistinctness about goals. Who could know in advance exactly what practical applications Arnold's men would devise? Moreover, which of these ideas would ultimately move from the research department into the development department and then mass production at Western Electric? At the same time, they were clear about larger goals. The Bell Labs employees would be investigating anything remotely related to human communications, whether it be conducted through wires or radio or recorded sound or visual images. . . . An industrial lab [Frank Jewett] said, "is merely an organization of intelligent men, presumably of creative capacity, specially trained in a knowledge of the things and methods of science, and provided with the facilities and wherewithal to study and develop the particular industry with which they are associated."
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 32

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Face-to-face customer service still

Almost any banking or financial service a person could want is readily available by phone or over the Internet. Highly competitive companies have put huge resources and the most sophisticated technology into marketing these efficient and convenient electronically based services. Why then are there still branch banks on every main street and in every mall in America? Because some customers, in some situations, cannot meet their needs without them. One size does not fit all, for banking customers or taxpayers. 
Charles O. Rossotti, Many Unhappy Returns: One Man's Quest to Turn Around the Most Unpopular Organization in America (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2005), p. 136

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The value of a good lunch buddy

[S]ome lawyers in the patent department at Bell Labs decided to study whether there was an organizing principle that could explain why certain individuals at the Labs were more productive than others. They discerned only one common thread: Workers with the most patents often shared lunch or breakfast with a Bell Labs electrical engineer named Harry any quiet. It wasn't the case that Nyquist gave them specific ideas. Rather, as one scientist recalled, "he drew people out, got them thinking." More than anything, Nyquist asked good questions.
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 135

Friday, November 6, 2015

Vowell sees her own hypocricies

My small life in the surface world is a contradictory,  hypocritical mess in which I scowl through newspaper articles about the abuses of the timber industry while sitting in my maple chair next to my maple bookcase. Isn't that how most of us live in this country?
Sarah Vowell, The Partly Cloudy Patriot (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 138

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thanks, coffeehouses!

I would also like to acknowledge the many coffeehouses whose rich coffee and cute barista girls inspired my numerous hours writing stories. Note: If any of the following businesses are interested in the corporate sponsorship of a writer, give me a call. Thanks to: Starbucks on Church and Market, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Ocean Park, Le Grande Orange on 40th and Campbell, and Peet's Coffee on Market. I've bought plenty of coffee; now it's time for you to buy a book!
Tania Katan, My One-Night Stand with Cancer (2005) (acknowledgements section).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why shouldn't academic writing show passion?

Passion and commitment are stylistic qualities that academic writers often praise in other people's writing but suppress in their own. Most academics would describe themselves as passionate, committed researchers; they love what they do and undertake their work with a strong sense of personal engagement. Many actively desire to make a difference in the world . . . . Yet these same researchers have typically been trained, either implicitly or explicitly to strip all emotion from their academic writing. What would happen if they allowed even a modicum of the passion they feel to color their prose?
Helen Sword, Stylish Academic Writing (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2012),  ch. 14

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

College students hunger (not just for Doritos, apparently)

There is an intense hunger among today's students, my travels in the last few years have shown me, for what college ought to be providing but is not: for a larger sense of purpose and direction; for an experience at school that speaks to them as human beings, not bundles of aptitudes; for guidance in addressing the important questions of life; for simple permission to think about these things and a vocabulary with which to do so.
William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (New York: Free Press, 2014), p. 73

Committed to snazzy military fashion

Gleaming with polished brass and leather, he scorned the new battle dressed. "I don't mind dying for my country," [Major Angus McCorquodale] declared, "but I'm not going to die dressed like a third-rate chauffer."
Walter Lord, The Miracle of Dunkirk (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2012), p. 200 (copyright 1982)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Nerdy even for nerdy Sarah Vowell

The political e-mail group might be the all-time nerdiest thing I've been involved in, and I say that as a person who had been involved in public radio and marching band.
Sarah Vowell, The Partly Cloudy Patriot (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 88

Scent of a resident

I learned that exhaustion leaves its own olfactory imprint. The white coats of residents who had been up through the night had an acrid, stale odor—the smell of dirtied polyester, sweat-stained cotton, and human flesh trapped too long away from sunlight and normal circadian rhythms. I could recognize my exhausted colleagues with my eyes closed.
Pauline W. Chen, Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), ch. 8