s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: June 2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cat. & Reference: All in a Day's Work

Things I cataloged today:

A textbook for English speakers learning to read and write classical Chinese prose.

A two volume set of books on the history of roads in Spain.

A book about an Ancient Roman silver drinking vessel with homoerotic bas-relief decorations and the scandal that ensued when it was acquired for the British Museum. (I'm pretty much scandalized.)

A book on the Ethiopic book of Enoch (which I had never heard of because I'm apparently not up on the pseudoepigrapha).

A book about an later iron age cemetary and a post-Roman cemetary located near what is now Bristol, England.

A book on reindeer herders in the Kola Peninsula of northern Russia. (Reindeer! Sweden!)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

LibraryThing, I think I love you

I’ve been aware of the existence of LibraryThing for over a year, but I only got around to cataloging my own library a few weeks ago. It was so much fun that I cataloged the libraries of four other friends within the next two weeks.

In addition to allowing you to organize and sort your personal collection, LibraryThing provides a wide array of statistics, based on the catalogs of its individual members.

You can see how many people own a book and how many books are more popular. You can even see the usernames of all 17,542 members who own a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (/Philosopher’s) Stone, if you really want to. One clever thing that LT does is allow its users to combine different editions of a book into a single “work,” which tidies up the statistics for books which have been published many times. (A disadvantage of this system is that all translations are grouped together with their original language editions. I’d kind of like to see info on just the people who own Harri Potter a Maen yr Athronydd – the Welsh version of the 1st Harry Potter book – but I haven’t figured out how to do that.)

Like Amazon, LT offers suggestions on an individual book bases. However, I think that LT’s book suggestions are superior to Amazon’s. For one thing, Amazon only has information about books you bought through them – if you acquired the book before Amazon came into existence, or from another source, they don’t know about it. Another issue is that Amazon is in the business of selling books, so they’re not going to recommend a title that’s out of print, even if it was very popular in the past. Lastly, LT takes into account statistical obscurity when making its recommendations. (If this wasn’t the case, LT would just recommend out a list of bestsellers for every book entered.) Every time a new Harry Potter book comes out, Amazon recommends it in addition to almost every book I purchase from the site. (Of course, I don’t know if this is due to a statistical issue or if they’re just trying to move copies of Harry Potter.)

The “similar libraries” feature is by far my favorite statistical toy. This feature looks at your entire library and finds other users with the most similar libraries. Again, it takes library size and book obscurity into account, which means that someone with a very small library who also owns Supposition Error will rank as more similar to me than someone with a large library who also Jane Eyre.

As I started cataloging my books, it was interesting to see the clusters of similar libraries that appeared. Not many people own Jim Krause’s graphic design reference Color Index, but many of those who do also own his Layout Index and Idea Index. (They have separate ISBNs, but they’re also available as a boxed set.) A lot of people who have Jim Krause’s books also have Stop Stealing Sheep, and the most similar book to Stop Stealing Sheep is The Elements of Typographic Style, which I also own. The Art of Looking Sideways is another popular book with the graphic design / typography crowd. (Speaking of which: Thmazing, if Lady Steed doesn’t have that last book, I think she’d like it.)

Another cluster of people own library-science related books like The Organization of Information, Reference and Information Services and Essential Cataloguing. (These were actually required textbooks for my classes here at GSLIS, so some of the other people who own them are not just fellow librarians, but classmates of mine here at the U of I.)

I started out by cataloging the books I have with me in Illinois, which include all the books and textbooks I’ve bought here, as well as books I brought with me from Utah. (This latter group mostly includes dictionaries and other reference books.) After adding just these books, Melyngoch showed up on my “similar libraries” list; we have a number of linguistics books in common, as well as some other books.

Another LT feature is the “author cloud.” It’s a list of all the authors represented in your library, the more books you own by a given author, the larger their name appears.

When I looked at my author cloud, I realized that a lot of my favorite authors weren’t represented, either because I didn’t have their books with me in Illinois or because I’ve only checked out their books from the library.

I decided to add books I’ve read but don’t own (or don’t have with me) starting with what I’ve recorded in my
book diary, and then just adding any books I remember reading.

This had the effect of making my author cloud a more representative record of my actual favorite authors, including Kurt Vonnegut, Salman Rushdie, and Douglas Adams. Unfortunately, this also had the effect of bumping Melyngoch off my “similar libraries” list.

Statistically speaking, this isn’t surprising. For all that she and I having in common, I haven’t read much Adrienne Rich or Marianne Moore, and I don’t own a single copy of Beowulf (let alone five).

Nonetheless, I was bothered by this event. I mean, how do I know we’re really friends if we don’t have statistically similar libraries? Maybe the last seven hears have just been a fluke . . .

The obvious solution, then, is to read a bunch of books from Melyngoch’s library so that I can add them to my own. Ideally, I’ll start with the more unusual ones, since that will have a greater statistical effect. (Melyngoch’s reaction on my explaining this scheme to her: “I love that you’ve found a way of quantifying our friendship, and now you’ve figured out how to mess with the statistics.”)

All this is by way of explaining why I was reading Shakespeare, Monty Python, and Renaissance Drama two weeks ago on my flight to Maine.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Learning Swedish, part 5 (the end of Morgan)

“Morgan”, sade hon, “i dag är det din dag att vara ärlig.”
(“Morgan,” she said, “Today it is your day to be honest.”)

“Vad betyder ärlig?” frågade Morgan.
(“What does honest mean?” asked Morgan.)

“Ärlig betyder att den som har slagit omkull apelsinjuicen berättar för mig vad han gjorde.
(“Honest means that whoever knocked over the apple juice says to me what he did.)

Han säger inte att någon annan gjorde det.”
(He doesn’t says that someone else did it.”)

“Okej, det var jag som slog omkull juicen”, sade Morgan. ”Är jag ärlig nu?”
(“OK, I knocked over the juice,” said Morgan. “Am I honest now?”)

“Ja”, sade mamma. “Du är ärlig nu, Morgan. Jag är stolt över dig.”
(“Yes,” said Mom. “You are honest now, Morgan. I’m proud of you.”)

Thus ends the article from the Friend, and the fact that it took me almost two months to translate just a few sentences does not bode well. (And in just a few weeks, Melyngoch – or should we say Brandgul – will be learning Swedish in the MTC and outstripping my meager knowledge of the language by leaps and bounds.)

Nevertheless, I will persevere. And now I have to decide what I’m going to read next. I could add to my foreign-language Harry Potter collection by acquiring Harry Potter och De Vises Sten. I could also go for a more authentic experience by finding some untranslated Astrid Lindgren, maybe Pippi Långstrump or Ronja rövardotter.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

F is for Father's Day

My paternal grandfather’s name was Dall. His father’s name was Leo. I never got to know Leo, because he died a few weeks after my dad was born. I do know a couple of stories about him, though.

When Dall was a little boy, Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in The Spirit of St. Louis. Later, the plane toured the United States (although I don’t know that Lindbergh toured with it). When the plane came to Salt Lake City, Leo took Dall to see it. When he saw it, Dall wanted to touch the wings of the plane. Leo wasn’t sure if this was allowed, but he held Dall up to touch the wings, anyway. Right after that, a policeman came around and got mad at him for letting his son touch the plane. “But it was too late, because we’d already done it,” my grandfather used to say, with a twinkle in his eye. (This story is sweet enough on its own, but it’s made better if you know that Dall grew up to be an airplane pilot and mechanic.)

The other story my grandfather used to tell was that when he was five years old, it was his job to milk the cow. He could get the pail out, put it under the cow (who was presumably mild-mannered), and milk her, but when he finished, the bucket would be too heavy to lift up to the shelf where it needed to go. So, when he finished milking the cow, Dall would go get his dad, who would put the pail of milk up on the shelf.

I like this story because it seems like a good metaphor for how God deals with us: He may give us tasks that He knows are impossible for us to accomplish, but He only asks us to do what we can, and then turn to Him for help with the rest.

Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The difference

The Chicago metropolitan area is home to around 10 million people.

The entire state of Maine has a population less than 1/8 that size.

Long about my fifth traffic jam driving home from O'Hare today, Maine was starting to sound like a pretty good idea.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Learning Swedish, part 4 (“Bork, bork, bork!”)

Scottro was kind enough to inform me that while “Bork, bork, bork!” is not standard Swedish, it’s a valid regional variant. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to determine the standard Swedish cognate (historical comparative linguistics training notwithstanding), which means I don’t know what The Swedish Chef is actually saying. I’ve narrowed the choices down to a few possibilities:

borg n. - castle (“Castle, castle, castle!”)

borr n. - drill; gimlet (“Drill, drill, drill!”)

bort adv. - away (“Away, away, away!”)

burk n. - pot; jar; tin; can (“Pot, pot, pot!”)

ork n. - strength (“Strength, strength, strength!”)

Pick your favorite.