The Map that Changed the World:

I read this
book

because I had enjoyed The
Professor and the Madman,
, by the same author, about two of the people who
produced the Oxford English Dictionary.

My judgement that they would be similar books was correct, but
I didn’t enjoy the history of the invention of stratigraphy as
much as the history of the OED. Maybe because I understand
dictionaries better than I do stratigraphy, or maybe because Simon
Winchester explains them better.

Certainly more pictures would have helped. If you’ve read
about geology, you’ve seen the pictures of layers of rock with
different fossils in the different layers, but some pictures of
what William Smith actually saw in the coal mines and canal excavations would have
helped me imagine what he was actually doing.

I guess this book irritated me the same way (although in lesser
degree) that Soul
of a new machine
did. There’s a writer who’s honestly trying
to describe someone who feels passionately about something that
doesn’t even interest most people in the writer’s world, and it
ends up sounding a bit condescending even though I’m sure that’s
not intended.

That being said, there is a lot of detail in here about the
relationship between the economics of late 18th to early 19th
century England, and why that produced the science of geology as
we know it, even with all the religious opposition to scientific
investigation of the history of the earth. It was because digging canals and
coal mines was the exciting technology of the time that people who
were excited about such things got to see and study the different layers.


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Sweater Quest

my year of knitting dangerously

I was disappointed in this
book.
I expected to be guided by an expert knitter through
the maze of possible information sources on patterns and yarns and
other knitting resources.

I got really mad when I read the denouement (Lana is what she’s
nicknamed the sweater for the year she spends knitting the
incredibly complex pattern):

Once Lana is bone dry, I strip off the machine-made cardigan I
have on and prepare for my first moments wearing her. It’s here
that I expect to feel rapture, when I can get away with ending
this story with a “Wearing Mary Tudor: priceless” line. Damn
the cliché. Here’s the kicker: my sweater, which cost hundreds
of both dollars and hours, doesn’t fit.

The sleeves are a good six inches too short. I can’t close
the front over my ample bust. My linebacker shoulders stretch
the collar too wide.

I can understand about the bust. I have an ample bust myself,
and I frequently find blouses that fit well in every other
dimension, but pucker when buttoned over the chest. It’s
usually not a problem with knit garments, but stranded knitting
(where two colors are used at once, and the unused color is
carried across the stitches of the other color) isn’t as
stretchy as other kinds of knitting, so I can easily imagine a
sweater planned perfectly for all the other dimensions not
buttoning over the chest.

I don’t have linebacker shoulders, so things that fit
otherwise are usually ok in the shoulders, but I can imagine it
being hard to get a given shape sweater to fit particularly
large shoulders.

But six inches of error in the sleeves is just wrong. The
sleeves in this pattern are knit down from the armholes, so if
they turn out to be six inches too short, you unravel the cuff
and knit some more pattern. Or if that’s too much work, you
make the cuffs 6 inches longer. It isn’t very much work
compared with all the other things she’s done for this book.

That being said, I did find out about Alice
Starmore
, who is a very impressive designer. I’ve since
read both Aran
Knitting (from the library – it’s out of print) and Alice
Starmore’s book of Fair Isle Knitting
(from Amazon –
knitting patterns take longer than the library loans you a book
for). I’ve reorganized my knitting needles and yarn stash, and
am working on a fair isle design incorporating a serpent for a
sofa pillow.

So my advice is to skip the middleman and read the knitting
books instead of the piece of hack writing about knitters and
knitting books by someone who isn’t really much of a knitter.
But it’s a fast read and does have some information about online
knitting resources that you might not find as easily in google.

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The Heretic

In general, having the world’s dominant language as your first
language is an advantage, but it does mean that you don’t
necessarily hear about writers in other languages who write books
you might be interested in.

In the case of Miguel Delibes, I never heard of him until I
read his obituary.
It said, “Known for his humble nature, his empathy for the poor
and a lifelong commitment to rural Spain and its traditions, he
wrote of sheepherders, cheese-makers, blacksmiths and hunters. His
characters are complex, often reflecting the cultural and
political struggles that followed the Spanish Civil War.”

This sounded like an author I would enjoy, and it also said,
“The last novel Mr. Delibes wrote before he was operated on for
colon cancer in 1998 — “El Hereje” (“The Heretic”) — is the one
he wanted to be remembered by…” so I took that one out of the
library.

It took me a while to get into it — at least in translation
the writing is a bit dry, and there are long lists of characters
who are mentioned by name before they’re described. But really,
if you wonder what life in Spain was like in the sixteenth
century, or what would cause you to become a Lutheran when you’d always been a
Catholic, I’ve never read anything remotely as good as this.

Here’s the description of the moment of becoming a
Lutheran:

One day in April, while Antón was blaring out an
ardent screech from the top of the little pedestal despite the
stubborn silence fo the surrounding fields, Pedro Cazalla
brutally, with no preparation whatsoever, told Cipriano there
was no purgatory. Even though he was seated, Salcedo reacted to
Cazalla’s harshness with a strange weakness in the knees and a
vertigo in the pit of his stomach. The priest looked carefully
at him out of the corner ofhis eye, waiting for his reaction.
He saw Cipriano turn pale, as he did the day they saw the frog,
and then try to straighten his legs in the tight space of the
hunting blind. Finally he muttered: “Th…this I cannot accept,
Pedro. It’s part of my childhood faith.”

They were inside the blind, sitting on hte bench, one next to
the other. Cazalla with his loaded shotgun between his legs,
both oblivious to the partridge. Cazalla spoke sweetly,
shrugging his shoulders: “It’s very hard, Cipriano, I understand
that, but we must be coherent within our faith. If we observe
the commandments, there is nothing for which we are not forgiven
thanks to Christ’s Passion.”

Salcedo looked as if he were going to burst into tears, such
was his desolation: “You are right, father,” he said at last,
“but with that revelation, you leave me forsaken.”

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The Eustace Diamonds

As I remember it, when I read the Trollope Parliamentary novels in
college, I thought this was the weak one, and I don’t see any reason
to change my mind.

Lizzie Eustace is an example of a character who is on the surface
normal, but ends up being self-destructive. But she’s not anything
like as interesting as the one in “He knew he was right”.

And of course it suffers by having almost nothing to do with all
the characters Trollope has set up in the other novels that we want to
hear more about.

There are also other novels where the course of a lawsuit is
followed more interestingly.

One character whom you would expect to be better examined is
Mr. Camperdown, the family lawyer who pushes the Eustace’s to recover
the diamonds from Lizzie. He seems just as monomaniacal as Lizzie,
with far less excuse.

He Knew He was Right, Anthony Trollope

Watched the BBC adaptation, so downloaded the gutenberg edition.

It’s ok, but I think I’ll read more George Elliot before going on
another Trollope binge. I read Daniel Deronda after seeing the movie
of that, and it was more interesting.


Update, March 24, 2005: I changed my mind. Trollope is really brilliant in his own way. So
I’m rereading the Parliamentary novels. More anon.

Phineas Finn experiences performance anxiety

I’m rereading Trollope’s Parliamentary novels, which I read and
liked in college and may have reread some when the Masterpiece Theater
version starring Susan Hampshire was coming out in the 80’s, but
I certainly haven’t looked at them since. I really think Trollope is
underrated as a characterizer of bizarre people who manage to look
completely ordinary. But Phineas Finn is a fairly conventional
bildungsroman.

So far, I especially like the part when he finally gets up his
nerve to make his maiden speech in Parliament. The whole book is at
the Electronic
Text Center, University of Virginia Library
, and the chapter this
happens in is The
First Speech
, but since it’s tedious reading if you don’t know the
characters, here’s the performance anxiety part:


Phineas was determined to speak, and to speak on this evening if he could catch
the Speaker’s eye. Again the scene before him was going round before him; again things became dim, and again he felt his blood beating hard at his heart. But things were not so bad with him as they had been before, because he had nothing to remember. He hardly knew, indeed, what he intended to say. He had an idea that he was desirous of joining in earnest support of the measure, with a vehement protest against the injustice which had been done to the people in general, and to Mr Bunce in particular. He had firmly resolved that no fear of losing favour with the Government should induce him to hold his tongue as to the Buncean cruelties. Sooner than do so he would certainly “go among them” at the Banner office.

He started up, wildly, when Mr Palliser had completed his speech; but the Speaker’s eye, not unnaturally, had travelled to the other side of the House, and there was a Tory of the old school upon his legs — Mr Western, the member for East Barsetshire, one of the gallant few who dared to vote against Sir Robert Peel’s bill for repealing the Corn Laws in 1846, Mr Western spoke with a slow, ponderous, unimpressive, but very audible voice, for some twenty minutes, disdaining to make reference to Mr Turnbull and his politics, but pleading against any Reform, with all the old arguments. Phineas did not hear a word that he said — did not attempt to hear. He was keen in his resolution to make another attempt at the Speaker’s eye, and at the present moment was thinking of that, and of that only. He did not even give himself a moment’s reflection as to what his own speech should be. He would dash at it and take his chance, resolved that at least he would not fail in courage. Twice he was on his legs before Mr Western had finished his slow harangue, and twice he was compelled to reseat himself — thinking that he had subjected himself to ridicule. At last the member for East Barset sat down, and Phineas was conscious that he had lost a moment or two in presenting himself again to the Speaker.

He held his ground, however, though he saw that he had various rivals for the right of speech. He held his ground, and was instantly aware that he had gained his point. There was a slight pause, and as some other urgent member did not reseat himself, Phineas heard the president of that august assembly call upon himself to address the House. The thing was now to be done. There he was with the House of Commons at his feet — a crowded House, bound to be his auditors as long as he should think fit to address them, and reporters by tens and twenties in the gallery ready and eager to let the country know what the young member for Loughshane would say in this his maiden speech.

Phineas Finn had sundry gifts, a powerful and pleasant voice, which he had learned to modulate, a handsome presence, and a certain natural mixture of modesty and self-reliance, which would certainly protect him from the faults of arrogance and pomposity, and which, perhaps, might carry him through the perils of his new position. And he had also the great advantage of friends in the House who were anxious that he should do well. But he had not that gift of slow blood which on the former occasion would have enabled him to remember his prepared speech, and which would now have placed all his own resources within his own reach. He began with the expression of an opinion that every true reformer ought to accept Mr Mildmay’s bill, even if it were accepted only as an instalment — but before he had got through these sentences, he became painfully conscious that he was repeating his own words.

He was cheered almost from the outset, and yet he knew as he went on that he was failing. He had certain arguments at his fingers’ ends — points with which he was, in truth, so familiar that he need hardly have troubled himself to arrange them for special use — and he forgot even these. He found that he was going on with one platitude after another as to the benefit of reform, in a manner that would have shamed him six or seven years ago at a debating club.

He pressed on, fearing that words would fail him altogether if he paused — but he did in truth speak very much too fast, knocking his words together so that no reporter could properly catch them. But he had nothing to say for the bill except what hundreds had said before, and hundreds would say again. Still he was cheered, and still he went on; and as he became more and more conscious of his failure there grew upon him the idea — the dangerous hope, that he might still save himself from ignominy by the eloquence of his invective against the police.

He tried it, and succeeded thoroughly in making the House understand that he was very angry — but he succeeded in nothing else. He could not catch the words to express the thoughts of his mind. He could not explain his idea that the people out of the House had as much right to express their opinion in favour of the ballot as members in the House had to express theirs against it; and that animosity had been shown to the people by the authorities because they had so expressed their opinion. Then he attempted to tell the story of Mr Bunce in a light and airy way, failed, and sat down in the middle of it. Again he was cheered by all around him — cheered as a new member is usually cheered — and in the midst of the cheer would have blown out his brains had there been a pistol there ready for such an operation.

That hour with him was very bad. He did not know how to get up and go away, or how to keep his place. For some time he sat with his hat off, forgetful of his privilege of wearing it, and then put it on hurriedly, as though the fact of his not wearing it must have been observed by everybody. At last, at about two, the debate was adjourned, and then as he was slowly leaving the House, thinking how he might creep away without companionship, Mr Monk took him by the arm.


Trollope doesn’t state it that way, but I think everything he says
bears out my theory about freezing in public performances — that it
happens when the performer is more concerned with how people will
think about him than with what he has to say.

Finally cataloging the books

As part of the de-messification of the upstairs, when I put away my
books, I catalog them. This is something everybody with a librarian
bone in their body thinks about, and then doesn’t do.

However, now that we have technology, someone has made it easy. Tellico is a program that
lets you catalog any kind of collection, but for books, all you have
ot do is enter the ISBN, and it searches the web and fills in all the
information Amazon or somebody has for the book. So to catalog one
book, in general you enter the ISBN, click “search”, and then click
“add entry”. If for some reason the ISBN printed in the book doesn’t
match the ISBN in the databases (which it didn’t for “Horse Heaven” by
Jane Smiley), or the book is old enough to not have an ISBN printed in
it, you can of course enter information in the conventional way, or
search on the title.

This is still just a novelty, since only the books that were
cluttering up the computer desk and most of the ones that were
cluttering up the bedside table have been entered yet. You can see
the current catalog at mybooks.html.

But it should eventually be a major contribution to the
de-messification, since my theory is that instead of buying more
bookcases or throwing out lots of books, I should put books that I
want to keep but don’t expect to read in boxes, and I’ll be able to
enter the box ID into the catalog.

I’m actually reading most out-of-copyright stuff on the PDA instead
of in hardcopy, so having the dead tree version clutter up my shelves
is a nuisance. But if the PDA were to die in the middle of one that I
have a hard copy of, I’d be seriously annoyed.

Tellico has interfaces for lots of kinds of collections, such as
videos and stamps and wine. I’m looking forward to doing the CD’s. I
understand that all you do is put the CD into you computer, and it
gets all the information straight off the CD.