Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Notes from the archive

I'm in Archive City again (well, an Archive City), and settling into a routine. All I do is eat, and sleep, and write, and walk to and from the archive. It's not a vacation, but it is a break, and a welcome one.

It's funny: the city isn't cool and quiet, and yet I have an impression of things being cool and quiet because that's what an archive does for you.  Some thoughts about the experience:
  • There are campus tours going on, lots and lots of them, and it's fun to see the maybe-someday-students and sometimes their parents walking around and talking. They are chattering and hanging out in the sunshine as I go into the cool stone building where their voices echo when they go inside for a quick tour.  Soon, they're back outside, and it's quiet and cool again.
  • At one archive I've worked in, you're assigned a table, but here, you get to choose, and everybody seems to choose a spot and stick to it. I think it lessens the distractions, not that there are a lot in a room full of people reading.
  • This must be what it is like to be an athlete in training, not that I would know. You get up early, work on one task before the archive opens (writing); then you go to the room and read; then you come back to your room and resume writing.
And some thoughts about the process:
  •  For some folders, I've laid out the work plan and am supposed to be simply checking problem areas in the transcriptions from before as well as taking photographs of the manuscripts. (I have managed to turn off the bells & whistles and am no longer the fool with the noisy camera.)  But then I start to read the manuscript, and I just want to sit there and let those words unfold, with all the crossouts and inserts and everything. It's like hearing a more direct voice from the author with all the hesitations and choices.
  • Reading fluent, graceful English in the form not only of manuscripts but of items as small as a thank-you note is a pleasure. 
  • It also makes me realize just how much debased and trivial junk I read on the web every day--stuff that says nothing and yet it's there so I read it anyway. I think that's why the web is so addictive: a lot of the writing and many of the ideas are basically junk food, repeated endlessly as they cycle through their 24 hours of fame. You read and read, but it's never satisfying. 
  • Oh, author, why did you stop writing that story just when I was getting interested in it?  Why didn't you finish it? Maybe you found it boring or unpromising, but I didn't.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A happy brief post: trifecta!

  • SCOTUS upholds marriage equality!
  • SCOTUS upholds the ACA!
  • The CSA battle flag comes down in South Carolina and everywhere else!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wonders of Technology?: Kindle Page Numbers

Back in 2011, Amazon announced with great fanfare that it was including page numbers, real page numbers, in its Kindle books.  I was excited about it back then, too.

Has that promise come to fruition?

Sort of.   Of maybe 15 random Kindle books on my iPad, here's the breakdown:
  • 4 have actual page numbers corresponding to actual published books.
  • 4 more have "page numbers" corresponding to someone's Platonic conception of an edition that never existed.
  • 7 just have location numbers and that infuriating thing where they try to figure out my reading speed, as though you never jump back and forth in a text.
Some observations:
  • The public domain texts are least likely to have page numbers, real or imagined, as you'd expect. 
  • Newer trade books are more likely to have page numbers, but that's not a given.  
    • Jon Krakauer's Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town has real page numbers, as does David Shields and Shane Salerno's Salinger.
    •  Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's just-published The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland and Susan M. Schweik's older The Ugly Laws do not; they only have location markers. 

At least Amazon tells you whether there are real page numbers or not.  If you click on the "length" dropdown tab, it will say one of two things:
  • "Contains real page numbers based on the print edition, ISBN #whatever."  This will have the real page numbers.
  • "Based on the print edition, ISBN #whatever." This will not have the real page numbers.
There's an new and expensive book that would be really helpful for the upcoming research trip; it's long and weighs a ton, so I was thinking about the Kindle edition (still very expensive--over $60). Since the extremely expensive book is "based on the print edition" but without page numbers, I think I will pass on it.

But wouldn't you think that after four years, the publishers would have gotten the memo about readers wanting page numbers?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Time for a media fast

Here's the news cycle that the web encourages:

Say you find a story that for some reason interests you, like maybe the Rachel Dolezal story, to name a nonstressful example.

You read the first reports as they start to come in from feeder sites.  Then you go to the NY Times, WaPo, Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed or other actual news sources. You click on their links.

Then you go to HuffPo, Jezebel, Slate or other quasi-news aggregator sites. You notice that what's reported in all these various sites and that the sites conflict with each other. In the Dolezal story, for example, that would be all the variations on number of siblings and so on.

Maybe you check out the comments to see if any insiders have information.  Maybe you even click on the listicle aggregators ("Five things to know about Rachel Dolezal," "What Twitter thinks of Rachel Dolezal," etc.) that are basically automated collections of what people no better informed and far more angry, hostile, and profane than yourself think of the issue.

Maybe you read the long, thoughtful opinion pieces, or at least skim them. 

If you're on Facebook, people have stories and opinions. Lots of opinions.

If you're on Twitter, people have opinions and outrage.  Lots of outrage.

As new revelations come out, you read those, too, because whether it's fracking or Rachel Dolezal or some other story, you want to see how it ends.

Before you know it, you've sunk way too much time in following a story that isn't worth that kind of time and attention.

It's not that you should barricade yourself away from the news or refuse to have conversations about it.  But you realize that you should have spent your time instead on something worthwhile where your attention could make a difference.

It's like the information is rat food in a Skinner box, and you are the rat, pressing the bar for more. The food pellets, though, are composed of anger, outrage, and stress.

So here are five things I intend to do the next time I start scurrying down this particular web rabbit hole. 

1)  Go outside and run my hands over the lavender, which is in bloom, so my hands will smell like lavender as I type.
2)  Pick some weeds out of the garden.
3) Stand up and read something.
4) Turn off the wifi or use Freedom.
5) Log the time I'm wasting, with RescueTime or something else, or stop going on Facebook.

Maybe this is a media diet rather than a fast, but it's a start.

*Edited to add: I don't mean to be ungrateful about Facebook--it does let me connect with friends and family members--but a break sounds like a good idea.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

We should not say his name

We should not say his name.

We should not read his manifesto.

We should not listen to the thousands of words being wasted on trying to decide whether he was mentally ill or hated religion.

We know why he did it: racism.

We know how he did it: abusing the trust of a welcoming congregation to spread hatred, violence, and death.

We know what he would like: publicity.

We should not give it to him.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Random bullets of mid-June

New and improved with categories!
  • Travel. Has this happened to you?  When I see "seats assigned at check-in" on an itinerary for a flight, I assume that it means "fooled you, you sucker! We're going to bump you from the flight"--because they do. Am I the only person this happens to, or have you gotten bumped if you didn't have an assigned seat?
  • Work Progress.  I'll be turning in the Laocoon manuscript for copyediting and production this weekend, and it should be out next year.  Hooray! 
  • Work Progress. Now to get at the overdue piece for another project.  Flavia wrote recently about the whole phenomenon of writing for companion volumes, and while I agree about their proliferation, I just signed on to do another one, after I turned one down earlier in the year. These do get cited, so they are indeed useful. 
  • Cats. One of my cats hates doors being closed (don't they all?), and so if she sees a partially closed door, she will rear up on her hind feet, put her front legs together, and launch herself at the door until it opens. This is a dog behavior, sort of like huskies stiffening their front legs and launching themselves downward to break through the ice or a coyote pouncing on a mouse. I don't know where she got it from.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Thoughts on traveling here and there

When I came back into the U. S. recently from another country, the airport was crowded, with insufficient signage so I didn't know where to go.

Here was the surprising part: the customs people were pleasant. "Have a nice day," they said, and "welcome back!"

So were the TSA screeners.  We were all stressed out, since everyone had connecting flights and the lines were long and slow in a cramped, hot space.   I put my stuff in the 4 bins (laptop separate from iPad, don't forget, unless it's one of the airports where they yell at you to put them together) and put my hands above my head in the scanner booth, as directed.  When I got out, the woman who told me to go ahead pointed to my Fitbit and said, "I want to get one of those with a watch in it."

"Me, too," I said. "This is an older one."

It wasn't so much what she said as that she was making a human connection after all that stress. I noticed that the other screeners were doing similar things--just saying something mildly human and noncommittal.

I had seen one of the male TSA agents joking with a bevy of slender, pretty young blonde women waiting to go through, but that's how 40-ish men usually behave around young things.  But no: the agents seemed to pay some pleasant attention to several people, even those of us who aren't slender 20-year-olds, instead of barking at us about what we were doing wrong. 

Is this some new training that TSA is doing? If so, please continue it.


I'll be heading out for a research trip in a few weeks, and while I'm grateful for the opportunity, I would just like to stay home for a while.

Would I go if I could get the materials online? Probably, yes, because there's nothing like an archive.

But when they invent a 3D virtual reality archive in my subject area, I certainly want to try it out.