s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: January 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

F is for . . .

One cold winter day, my then 5- or 6-year -old brother said exactly the following:

"It's the F-word cold!"

"Trevor!" my mother exclaimed. (Even if you're not saying the actual F-word, you really shouldn't even be referring to it, at that age.)

"What?" he innocently replied.

"We don't say that word."

"What word?"

"The F-word."



"Is that what you meant by 'the F-word'?"

"Yeah. It's freezing cold!"

"Oh. Just say 'freezing,' honey."


(One suspects that he had heard the phrase "the F-word" somewhere, and had wrongly surmised that it could stand in for any F-word.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cat. & Reference: In which the librarian uses her powers for good

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jenn sent me an email asking for help tracking down a reference for a Russian journal article. (Jenn was a fellow student in my MLS program and is nothing if not a kindred spirit. We used to sit in the back of our advanced cataloging class and ask questions about cataloging materials in Elvish*.)

She sent me the reference because I'd offered to help her out the last time she'd been stumped on a Russian article. In that instance, the citation itself had been relatively straightforward, but it had come from a supplemental volume for a serial and all of the libraries which carried the serial staunchly maintained that they had no such supplement for that year. As far as I know, we never tracked down the article. This time, I was determined to do better.

Russian transliteration is a tricky thing. If you do a phonetic transcription, you end up leaving letters out or transcribing them inconsistently, but if you try to transliterate each letter individually, you can end up with a lot of phonetic redundancy and other oddities. And even when people can agree on a transliteration philosophy, they don't necessarily agree on an actual system. So I wasn't terribly surprised when Jenn gave me a couple of different variations on the same title:

Izvestija Obsch. Liub. IEst. Antrop. i Etnogr., Moskva

Izvestija Imp. Obsch. Ljub. Jest., Antro., i Etnogr., Moskva.

I was also pretty sure that neither one would correspond with ALA-LC† transcription, which is what I would need in order to search for the record in an online catalog‡. So it was a matter of starting with the current citations, recreating the original Russian from those, then turning that into the "industry standard" transliterated form and searching for matches in a union catalog§.

Problem #1: The citation is abbreviated.

I'm pretty confident that I can re-Cyrilicize what I've got to work with, but I sort of need the rest of the word if I'm going to do any keyword searches.

Problem #2: Russian word endings vary according to the prepositions that precede them.

This means that not only do I have to reconstruct the lemma (= dictionary form) of the word, but then I have to decline it in the proper case. This is enough of a task if you know the proper case, but I'm just guessing, here, since I don't really know if this is going to be The Journal of Science or The Journal about Science and it actually makes a difference in terms of word endings. And, again, I can't do a keyword search if I don't have the correct word.

I could still guess about some of it, though. "Antro." and "Etnogr." were pretty obvious cognates for "anthropology" and "ethnography," so I just had to double check the Russian spellings for those in an online dictionary. I did have a bit of trouble when I insisted on spelling "anthropology" the French way (or, rather, this way). It still looks wrong to me. ("Anthropo-logy". Can that possibly be right?)

"Izvestija" (or rather "известия"), means "journals" or "reports" or "bulletins," which seemed like a promising start for a serial title. I had no idea what "Obsch." (oбщ.) meant but it was sounding vaguely familiar. "Obsches—" . . . "obschest—" "obschestvo," perhaps?
Happy day! "Obschestvo" (общество) means "society" or "association." ("The Journal of the Society of . . . " is pretty much the most generic way you could possibly start a periodical title, but at least I was on the right track.)

I tried doing some searches on "известия" and "общество," but I didn't get much back. Then I tried declining "общество" (because this is, after all, The Journal of the Society of Blah Blah Blah, so "society" has to be in the genetive case). Still no luck.

I really had no idea what "Liub." or "IEst." could be, so I decided to skip ahead to "Antrop." and "Etnogr." (Actually, I recognized that "Ljub." could be the beginning of "Liubov" (любовь), meaning "love," but since it could also be the beginning of related words like "to love" or "beloved," I couldn't really narrow it down.) I guessed that "Antrop." and "Etnogr." would also be in the genitive case ("The Journal of the Society of Something Something Anthropology and Ethnography").

I did a transliterated keyword search on those words in the catalog, but I still came up empty handed. Then I decided to do a general Google search on the Cyrillic forms of those words and after a few tries — success! — I found a match on a page from a Russian library website. At this point, I had the entire unabbreviated title, so I was able to learn that "Liub." and "IEst." were short for "Liubitelei" (любителей) and "estestvoznaniia" (естествознания) or "lovers of natural history."

Having the entire title at hand, I returned once more to the catalog to search for it, but once more failed to find a match. At this point, I had to consider the possibility that perhaps there simply weren't any matches for this title in WorldCat. From my internet search, I knew that at least one library in Russia owned the title, but since WorldCat is the main engine for long-distance inter-library loans, it was unlikely that Jenn's library would be able to request a copy if I couldn't find a WorldCat library to furnish it.

All but despairing, I was about to email Jenn with my results, both good and bad, when an vague idea started to form in my mind. Since taking my current position, I've had a chance to learn a lot more about serials cataloging, but I can still be tripped up by relatively simple things. However, I was slowly remembering a strange practice in serials cataloging where you take a title like "Annual Report of the Association of Bibliophiles" and move "Association of Bibliophiles" to the author area, leaving only "Annual Report" in the title. (This also means that you get about a bazillion catalog records for serials called "annual report," or "proceedings," or "collected papers.")

If this pattern had been followed with my mystery Russian record, then the title was probably as simple as "Journals," with all the rest of the information in the author field (and with "общество" back in the nominative case, again). With only this last chance before I gave up, entirely, I re-entered my search terms into WorldCat, this time splitting them between the title and author and . . . Bingo! I found this match which showed holdings in five American research libraries. I sent the information on to Jenn, who promptely replied "Woah. I'd give you a hug if you were here."

No trouble, ma'am. I was in the area and I'm just glad I could be of service.

*Just to be clear, that's

ask questions about cataloging [materials in Elvish]


ask questions [about cataloging materials] in Elvish

because there's nerdy and then there's nerdy . . .

†American Library Association / Library of Congress

‡Although modern computers are usually capable of supporting Cyrillic characters, most library catalogs don't include them in catalog records, even though they could be automatically generated from the transliterated characters, in theory.

§A union catalog is a catalog which combines the holdings of several libraries. WorldCat is the largest such catalog in the world. Other examples include catalogs shared by several campuses of the same state college, or catalogs shared by multiple branches of the same county library system.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Book of Mormon in 11 verses: A statistical svithe

The following is the Book of Mormon condensed to eleven verses, as determined by the number of times each verse has been cited in General Conference since 1942. (I was originally planning on doing the top ten, but then there was a tie at 10th place.)

1 Nephi 3:7

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

2 Nephi 2:25

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

2 Nephi 31:20

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

Mosiah 3:19

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Mosiah 18:9

9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

Alma 41:10

Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.

3 Nephi 27:27

And know ye that ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.

Moroni 7:47

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Moroni 10:4-5

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Moroni 10:32

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Daily(ish) Database: scriptures.byu.edu

What it is: scriptures.byu.edu is an interactive compilation of all the scriptures that have been cited in General Conference talks from 1942 through the present day.

How to use it: I prefer to do scripture study by topic or theme rather than chronologically, so this database provides a nice way of navigating between more loosely related topics that won't necessarily be cross referenced in the Topical Guide. I can start with a scripture I really like, find General Conference talks which touch on the same topic, and find the other scriptures cited in that talk. Or I can start with a talk I really like and have easy access to the original context of all the scriptures cited.

Another cool feature is the ability to limit your search by speaker, so you can see only the talks and scriptures cited by your favorite (or least favorite) GA.

Lastly, it's just kind of fun to look at the statistical distribution of the cited scriptures as a measure of which topics and doctrines are considered most important. (E.g., Matthew is the most commonly cited gospel, Ether 12:6 has been cited 29 times since 1942, and the Song of Solomon hasn't been quoted in General Conference since 1979.)

Pros and cons: I'd like to be able to see a few more types of limits available, such as limiting by a year or a range of years. Also, I don't see myself ever making much use of the full text of the earlier General Conference talks. (It seems like they tend to be pulled out only for arguments on points of justifiably obscure doctrine.) These are, however, fairly minor quibbles when it comes to such a slick database.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Have you ever noticed how many missionary terms sound really dirty out of context? “Hump day,” “threesome” . . . (Shoot, even “missionary” . . .)

Monday, January 07, 2008

And the prize for the most egregious use of the word “literally” in last Sunday's democratic debates goes to . . .

Bill Richardson, for the line “Entrenched interests are literally stealing our children's future.”

No, Governor Richardson, outside of a sci-fi story, you cannot literally steal someone’s future.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Daily Database: Course Offerings for Less Commonly Taught Languages

I was talking with Ambrosia the other day when she mentioned that every time she talks to me, she learns about a cool new database or web resource. It occurred to me that I really am aware of a surprising number of such resources, or of unique ways of searching old ones, so I thought I’d share some of them with the masses.

What it is: The University of Minnesota’s
LCTL Course Offerings database is a list of courses offered in over 300 languages at over 2,000 North American universities. (For purposes of this list, a “less commonly taught language” is anything besides modern English, French, German, or Spanish.)

How to use it: I’ve used the database to answer a Board question about how many North American universities offer Arabic, to find distance education courses in Swedish, and to feel smug that BYU is one of only 9 American universities to offer modern Welsh.

You could also use the database to find all of the course offerings at a particular institution, to narrow down grad school choices by the languages offered, or to look for study abroad programs which offer a specific language.

Pros and cons: This database relies on submissions and updates from the institutes that offer these courses, which means that the links and information about current course offerings are frequently out of date. However, I haven’t found any other database which contains this information, and I’ve used it on everything from grant proposals to just browsing and daydreaming.