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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Who knows that Sir Henry Morton Stanley, coiner of the famous phrase above, had women in his party when he crossed Africa in 1877? Or that one of his bearers, Uledi, was a strong swimmer who saved many lives?
Such interesting and little-known facts abound in a new exhibition, Hidden Histories of Exploration, staged by the Royal Geographical Society, which is accompanied by a handsomely illustrated catalogue.

If you can't make the actual venue in London, trawling the associated website is a treat. (The link takes you directly to one of the many fascinating pages.) Paintings by unknown explorers as well as more famous names illustrate the informative text, including an amazing portfolio of Easter Island scenes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Historical thesaurus outdated already, but never mind, think positive

Just to show how quickly a dictionary can be (ever so slightly) outdated, a new word has arrived already.

And the Japanese coined it.

According to Bill Sakovich on his blog, Ampontan, he read on a mailing list for those interested in the intricacies of Japanese-English translation that the new verb, "to Obama," is becoming increasingly popular on the Kyoto University campus.

The contributor to that mailing list wrote, "It means something along the lines of to ignore anything that makes you likely to fail and surge on regardless, preferably chanting 'Yes we can, yes we can.'"

According to the Japanese University Teachers network in Kitakyushu, it means: "To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think, 'Yes we can, yes we can,' and proceed with optimism."

In a nutshell, it means, "Think positive."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An interesting research experience

Over August and September, Ron and I completed a lot of primary research at the British Library in London, a new building with many new and interesting features.

It is like a huge concourse, with winding stairs and mezzanine floors. (Actually, rather appropriate, considering that the Library is sited between two major railroad stations.) The foyer is huge, and has a visual impact that forces the visitor to look up, and up.

Everywhere people perch with their laptops, on steps, on benches, or at the many little tables scattered around. Many of them have paper coffee cups and portable lunches. They sit in silent groups, hunched over their keyboards.

Why? It takes a few moments to realize that the whole building has free Wi-Fi, as they call wireless internet access. To all appearances, the people are catching up on their email. The library perhaps hopes that they are scanning the much-touted digital library, instead.

Apart from a central glass column (surrounded by an empty moat, apparently) which is walled from within with shelves of large books, spines outward (how do the librarians inside the column know which book is which, I wonder?), the only books in sight are in the library shop.

It is a relief to an oldfashioned researcher to successfully apply for a library card, and go 'way upstairs to one of the unobtrusive reading rooms, progress through security, apply for reading material, and get down to some oldfashioned research.

Getting hold of documentary material is interesting, though. It is vital to know the shelfmark (having found it out by consulting many books on the subject until one is found that cites the shelfmark in a footnote), as the massive catalogue still needs work in that respect.

Documents and charts, I found, have just a 70-minute waiting time for delivery. Most books take forty-eight hours to arrive. Why? Because space is so limited, most have to be stored offsite. Images of that huge concourse do tend to haunt one while waiting ...

One also wonders if this is where the National Library of New Zealand is heading, the stated direction being digital, except that the plan includes providing expensive-to-maintain, taxpayer funded computers, so clients won't need to bring along their laptops.

Jim Traue, dogged campaigner for the retention of facilities for good oldfashioned research, has published a booklet of his various opinion pieces on the topic, A Library for the Nation or another Wellington tourist attraction? It is obtainable from the author at 16B Hadfield Terrace, Kelburn, Wellington 6012, price $5, p&p free.

So now we know how much she got

Sarah Palin discloses $1.25 million from Harpercollins.

In a disclosure form required under Alaska law, former governor Sarah Palin listed as income $1.25 million received from HarperCollins as a "retainer for book."

The report does not give the date she received the advance, but the disclosure (which includes a lot of other interesting details) covers the final seven months of her term as governor, from January 1, 2009, to July 26.

And the advance is exactly that, just a down payment on what is going to be a much more significant sum. Due, no doubt, to widespread curiosity about what this flamboyant woman is going to say next, Going Rogue is a bestseller already, though it doesn't hit the bookstores until November 17.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vast historical thesaurus unveiled after 40 years in the making

A forty-year project in the making, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is the first thesaurus to include the English vocabulary from the era of Old English to the present. Unsurprisingly, it has been hailed with applause, as a masterpiece worth waiting for.

Compiled the Department of English Language of the University of Glasgow, and edited by Christian Kay, Jane Roberts, Irene Wotherspoon and Michael Samuels, the dictionary helps you find synonyms of words no one might have heard or read for centuries.

* At 4448 pages and close to a million words, it is the largest thesaurus in the world

* It is the very first historical thesaurus, anywhere, ever

* Not only does it give the synonym, it also supplies the date of first recorded use -- and of the last recorded use if the word has become obsolete

* It provides a background for obscure Old English words

* A comprehensive index allows for cross-referencing

* It also includes a fold-out color chart, which shows you how the classification system works

Sunday, October 25, 2009

World's first phonebook brings $170K at auction

The world's first phone book has made history for the second time, having fetched $170,000 at auction. The twenty-page directory was published in November 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. It listed 391 subscribers in New Haven, Connecticut.

'Should you wish to speak to another subscriber you should commence the conversation by saying, "Hulloa!",' it instructed the novice chatter. To make it easier to be heard, the speaker should be sure to leave the "lower lip and jaw free." In a ruling I wish was adopted by cellphone companies with subscribers who think long train or bus journeys are a chance to catch up (loudly) with all their mates, the user was commanded never to "use the wire more than three minutes at a time, or more than twice an hour," without first "obtaining permission from the main office."

To see the lively bidding, watch this.