Sunday, November 26, 2006


Sir, I Have a Complaint


The Paper Chase

450 GB stored on one sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper?

Sounds like April 1st arrived early this year. Still, it's good geeky fun watching bloggers debate the idea....

(Intriguingly, the original Arab News article does give contact information for the fellow -- check out the end of the article.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Dead Plagiarists Society

I've a piece on googling plagiarism among 19th century writers on Slate this week.

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing it was seeing the extraordinary fecundity of language, simply by typing perfectly ordinary sentences in Google Book Search (or even just regular Google) and finding zero results -- or a mere googlewhack of one hit.

A sentence like this one, for example.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Slated For Destruction

I'm reading at Powell's tomorrow night for the book Presidential Doodles.

Among the outtakes I'll have with me is a September 26 1918 editorial by the Clearfield Progress (PA) exhorting children and shopkeepers to doodle on slates instead of paper -- the better to save bleach and india ink to Macgyver them into, um, bombs or something. Go ahead and laugh, but Bulgaria surrendered to the Allies just days later.

Coincidence? I think not!

This reminds me of a surreal war-drive poster I used to pass every day when I lived in Iowa City; by happy coincidence it hung in the window of an antique store across from John's Grocery:

To quote one cooking explosives authority... BAM!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Blackboard Jungle

"It turns out the sound waves associated with primate warning cries, particularly chimpanzee warning cries, are remarkably similar in appearance to the aversive, middle frequency sound waves produced by fingernails on a chalkboard..."

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Period Piece

The new issue of Fine Books & Collections notes Heidi Neilson's Typography of the Period, which magnifies and examines 26 different examples of the humble punctuation mark.

Sold for $25, it's being issued in an edition of 100 copies.


Oh You Beautiful Doll... (Not!)

A neat find while cruising some ABAA search results: the Heritage Book Shop has the full text of a bunch of previously unpublished letters by F Scott Fitzgerald, written from Princeton to his childhood friend Elizabeth Clarkson.

Here's one, dated September 26th 1913, from the Heritage's catalogue:

Dear Elizabeth:

Nunc Sum Studens. (Latin.) I am now a Princetonian. Its great. I’m crazy about it. Today we had the rushes. The Sophs mass in a body in front of the gym and the Freshmen try to rush their way in. You can imagine it. Four hundred Freshmen, among them yours truly, against 380 Sophs. Everything was ruined shirts, jerseys, shoes, socks, trou, hats ect. were strewn over the battle-field. I was completely done up. I was in the front row and a soph and I almost killed each other. I am a mass of bruises from head to foot. When we got in we elected a class President, Vice Pres. and sec. When we came out again the sophs. tried to bust our line. We beat H----- out of them. Then we paraded around the campus, yelling “whoop it up for seventeen,” which is a wonderful song. Then we cheered and sang. Zip!!! This is some place. I have a big piece of some soph’s shirt. Somebody has a big piece of my jersey. (Lord only knows who.) Tonight is the cannon rush so if you never hear from me again you’ll know I died a freshman. (gentle pathos.) The “horsing” (or hazing) is going on now. Its very foolish. Freshies have to carry their cap in their mouths and by the way our uniforms are some class (not)

[Here, Fitzgerald has drawn a humorous image of himself as a Freshman in uniform].

(Picture of me in my Freshman uniform)

Black cap --->Black jersey --->Cordoroy [sic] Trou --->Black socks --->Black shoes --->

The Sophs. make you tell a funny story and then won’t laugh but tell you to finish. Then they tell you to dig for the point. (N.B. You dig) This morning I gave a temperance lecture on the bidding of about fifty of them. Then I had to sing the death noticies out of the “N. Y. Times” to the tune of “Oh you beautiful doll.[”] I could fill up a lot of writing paper telling you about the place. It is wonderful. (Change of tone) (this is the part you musn’t read to your roomate) Well, Elizabeth, needless to say I am still your humble and devoted. Nanny Jackson and I are trying to fix up a sceme [sic] to bring you and Kitty down to a game. How the plan will work I dont know, I am crazy to see you and sure hope you enjoy “Miss Hartridge’s school for goils” my two weeks I promised is up but I am going to extend it until Christmas. If you hear any news from home write it to

Your freshman friend
Francis Scott Fitzgerald

I'm particularly fond of the notion of Fitzgerald singing out Times obits to "Oh You Beautiful Doll." Owning the evidence, though, will set you back 30 grand.

Also, take careful note: it appears Fitzgerald scooped Wayne and Garth on "Not!" by about eight decades. So whenever someone says that, they are quoting a great American novelist.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Duck and Hardcover

An Oklahoma City candidate for state superintendent is examining the ability of textbooks at stopping bullets:

Crozier believes students could use the reading material while running away from an attacker. "The reason we are doing this experiment is because there was a kid in Fort Gibson who was shot in the back but the bullet did not penetrate his textbook." Using an assault rifle and various pistols, Crozier and his colleagues shot several textbooks in this home made video.
(Hat tip to Bookfinder)

Noted without irony in the story:

When asked about Crozier's idea the current state superintendent, Sandy Garrett, said she has implemented a statewide anonymous safety hotline for schools. In addition, every school is required to have a safe school committee and a state issued safe school handbook.

No yet word on the ballistics results for that handbook.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Nul Points

The Telegraph reviews Tim Moore's latest book, Nul Points, a clever variation upon the old and honorable subject of Failure:

His latest wheeze is equally bizarre and, on the face of it, pointless: to track down and interview the 14 Eurovision acts who, since the voting system changed in 1975, received no points at all from any of the national juries. 'Nul points', he points out, has become such a widely accepted term for humiliating public failure that it even has an entry in the OED....

None the less, things look up when he goes to meet Jahn Teigen, the Norwegian Iggy Pop lookalike who was the first nulpointer back in 1978. Teigen, whose splay-legged leap at the end of his performance is seared into the memories of millions, is one of those boundlessly optimistic extroverts some of us would travel hundreds of miles to avoid, but Moore has fun with him, describing him as a 'chain-smoking serial gesticulator' and 'Norway's overlord of prog rock'... Finn Kalvik, Norway's second nonscorer in 1981, is found sunning himself on a Thai beach, and it slowly dawns on Moore that he's there primarily because it's not Norway: the humiliation rankles still.

Unfortunately, there's no US edition, and despite the fact that you really don't need to know anything about Eurovision to appreciate the basic idea of the book, I suspect that it won't get picked up over here. His previous book Do Not Pass Go -- also fascinating, funny, and without a US publisher -- was the subject of my first article for The Believer, and it's well worth picking up as a quite reasonably priced import copy on Amazon.

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