Rare book room of delights

Rndwar Via Friend Feed:

“The Rare Book Room site has been constructed as an educational site intended to allow the visitor to examine and read some of the great books of the world. Over the last decade, a company called “Octavo” digitally photographed some of the world’s great books from some of the greatest libraries. These books were photographed at very high resolution (in some cases at over 200 megabytes per page). This site contains all of the books (about 400) that have been digitized to date. These range over a wide variety of topics and rarity. The books are presented so that the viewer can examine all the pages in medium to medium-high resolution.” You can search by category, author or library.

The picture shown here is from Poissons, ecrevisses et crabes, de diverses couleurs et figures extraordinaires, by Louis Renard. “In 100 plates containing 460 brilliantly colored engravings that represent a dazzling multitude of fishes, along with crustaceans, grasshoppers, a dugong, and a mermaid, Louis Renard’s Fishes, crayfishes and crabs, of diverse coloration and extraordinary form displays the most fantastic evocation of exotic aquatic life ever produced.”

Other books included are Shakespeare’s quartos and folios from various libraries; issues of Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac and his major work Experiments and Observations on Electricity; books of hours; works by Galileo and Copernicus; and The Choix des plus belles fleurs by Redouté, also very pretty.

Contribute to the Essence climate project

Some news that might stop some grumbling about climate policies (though I am not holding my breath):

ESSENCE is the world’s first global climate collective intelligence event — designed to bring together scientists, industrialists, campaigners and policy makers, and the emerging set of web-based sensemaking tools, to pool and deepen our understanding of the issues and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. The event is due to start online in January 2009, culminating in a conference at the UK National e-Science Institute in Edinburgh, in April 2009.

From the website: "The aim [of the ESSENCE project] is to develop a comprehensive, distilled, visual map of the issues, evidence, arguments and options facing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, that will be available for all to explore and enrich across the web. The project is founded on principles of openness, transparency, and discovery; with no preconceptions about the conclusions that will emerge from the event. If you are scientist, industrialist, campaigner, policy maker, tool maker — or someone with other ideas and resources to contribute — and are interested in learning more about and participating in ESSENCE, please get in touch."

Even if the associated critics, vested-interests, anti-science people, oil barons, conspiracy theorists, and assorted willfully ignorant types choose to ignore this invitation, at least they won't be able to say they weren't consulted, or that scientists and climate policy professionals don't want to hear from them. On second thoughts, they might – "there's none so blind as those that just like to sit back and criticize", to paraphrase. 

[Thanks to Simon Buckingham Shum for the information.]

Sunday Salon: The Black Path, by Asa Larsson

TSSbadge3 If you like Scandinavian crime fiction, and in the main I do, you can be pretty sure you are in for a treat when a book from this notably introspective region has the title THE BLACK PATH. This novel is indeed superb: it is the third in the series featuring lawyer Rebecka Martinsson.
At the start of the book, Rebecka is again traumatised (as she was at the start of the second) by the climactic events of the previous novel. She is in a much worse state this time, being hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic for some months, then having to undertake outpatient therapy, then deciding to resign from her job in a major Stockholm law firm (partly, but not only, because she despairs of her boss, Mans, ever showing any interest in her). She takes a job as a prosecutor specialising in financial crime in Kiruna, the village where she was bought up and the main location of the previous two novels. Here, Rebecka can work in solitude to her heart's content, blanking out her sad childhood, her empty present life, and living in the only place where she feels at home – her grandmother's house (which she owns), sharing what little companionship she needs with her neighbour, the charming old Sivving, and his dog. Read the rest of my review here.

By the end of the novel, I was moved and exhausted. The author plans to write three more books in this series. The first (SUN STORM/THE SAVAGE ALTAR) won the Swedish Crime Writers' Association prize for best debut novel. The second (THE BLOOD SPILT) was Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2004. THE BLACK PATH is an even better book than the previous two, and is no doubt due to win its own accolades.

More Scandinavian crime fiction authors and reviews at Euro Crime.


Pinning one’s hamster to the mast

Why do we blog (and other important questions)? So asks Martin Fenner at Nature Network, and although the questions are intended for bloggers (scientists or people in science-related professions, in the main) on Nature Network, I thought I'd answer Martin's questions over here. Henry got in first, with his usual inventive answer, while the rest of us were still dithering over whether to do it, when, etc. Henry's post starts: "Unafraid as I am to pin my hamster to the mast in a sudden crisis, I shall splench my mainwairing to the thistledown and gladiate hencewithstanding." In my characterstically more prosaic (OK, boring) style, here's my stab.

1. What is your blog about?

Mainly books, but anything, really.

2. What will you never write about?

I will never ask anyone to give me money via this blog (or anywhere else, probably).

3. Have you ever considered leaving science?

I already did.

4. What would you do instead?

Mooch about in some sphere related to editing or reading or writing.

5. What do you think science blogging will be like in 5 years?

More scientists will be doing it, maybe as part of an integrated lab page or personal page. I am not sure if blogging about research output will increase that much, but some more scientists than now will probably be using blogs to post preliminary progress reports and so on. I think the biggest growth will be among those using blogs to showcase their work and career.

6. What is the most extraordinary thing that happened to you because of blogging?

I got work (some even paid), and I made some very good friends. Also, I sometimes get to meet authors of books I love reading.

7. Did you write a blog post or comment you later regretted?

Yes. I've learnt quickly that I don't like to blog about my personal circumstances or those of my family and friends. I tend to stick to thoughts rather than feelings, it is safer.

8. When did you first learn about science blogging?

Through discovering (and being shown how to use) RSS.

9. What do your colleagues at work say about your blogging?

They either ignore it (most of them); or they acknowledge it and are either vaguely positive or vaguely negative about it. Two people (only, out of several hundred colleagues) engage me in conversation about what I post on my personal blog. One (other) person told me that he values a particular regular feature I write on one of my work blogs. One treasures these little gems.

10. An additional question, or maybe challenge, is to write a blog entry which takes the form of a poem about your work. I can't do that, but I did once write a play arising from my blog, called Petronarati.

11. Another additional question is "how the heck do you have time to blog and do your research at the same time?" I don't do research, but I do work, commute and have a general stab at running a domestic establishment. After taking that out of the daily equation, I have about an hour, or maybe two, left. So I prioritise. For three years, I've spent a good deal of that "free" time blogging and reading or commenting on blogs. I could do other things, like "do good", or read, or watch TV, or listen to the radio etc, or have a social life, or be a roving axe-murderer, but I don't do much of any of that. (Some categories I don't do at all.) But I'm wondering now whether to wind blogging up, having gone through a euphoric phase when I began back in 2005, which transitioned to a general appreciation of it and the connections I made, through to it becoming a bit of a chore. Now I've discovered Friend Feed, I might just stop blogging in its favour – though at the moment, the Friend Feed "rooms" I know about are heavily science-focused, there are not very many readers of fiction on there, and I like a balance. (We do have a great crime fiction room, though, which could do with a few more members.)

Carl Djerassi talks about Four Jews on Parnassus

Professor Carl Djerassi will be giving a talk at the London Review Bookshop on Tuesday (18 November). Tickets are available online or by phone (number on LRB website) – advance booking only. Professor Djerassi will be talking about his new book Four Jews on Parnassus – a Conversation, which is a biography of Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adrono, Gershom Scholem and Arnold Schonberg, written as a debate between the four on Jewish identity, the making of history and the desire for immortality. The author is a novelist, playwright and emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University, perhaps most famous scientifically for being the first to synthesize an oral contraceptive. He's a colourful character: I've been involved in publishing many of his less formal scientific articles and reviews of his books over the years. Perhaps the article by him that sticks most in my mind is a Commentary opining "As a first step towards a new form of male contraception – sperm cryopreservation, vasectomy and eventual artificial insemination – the military services should begin a large-scale sperm cryopreservation programme" – Download Djerassi's article if you are intrigued!

Carl Djerassi's 'science in fiction' website.

Carl Djerassi's Stanford University page.

London Review Bookshop.

The good, the bad and the British

Via London Underground blog on a new poll asking for 50 traits that make the British unique: “There’s nothing much in the top 10 to feel particularly proud about”. The top 10 are: talking about the weather, great at queueing, sarcasm, watching soaps, getting drunk, a love of bargains, a love of curtain twitching, stiff upper lip, love of all television and moaning. Depressing, isn’t it? What happened to fair play, cricket, Elgar, Shakespeare, Monty Python, roses, green and pleasant hills, tolerance, irony and scones? Maybe next time. I was quite glad to read “laughing at ourselves” featured fairly highly, as that is certainly true. Not so glad, but true, is “inability to complain”. How many times a day do I wish I could complain effectively, not least about my commuting experiences?

One thing that apparently is not wonderful is the House of Lords, according to the horse’s mouth (one of them). “It is amazing how otherwise well-informed commentators fall for “isn’t the House of Lords wonderful” complacency.  David Seymour, former political editor of the Mirror Group, should surely know better”, writes Lord Tyler. He continues, “The truth is that far from being the wise legislature of experience and expertise that Mr Seymour celebrates we are in danger of becoming an elderly debating society of ex-experts.”

Good news and bad news. Bad news first: via Jonathan Eisen, there is a company in Singapore erroneously claiming to have produced a genetic test (which you have to pay for, natch) to detect the innate ability of your children. But there is good news, for Bletchley Park (via the Great Beyond). English Heritage will pay for urgent repairs to the buildings of this code-breakers’ wartime home, and more may be forthcoming  for the rest of the repairs that will be needed over the next three years. An excellent monument to another aspect of the uniqueness of being British.

Sunday Salon: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

The Brass Verdict is a superb novel. It is Michael Connelly’s nineteenth, displaying all the hallmarks of an author at the peak of his powers. I loved the book. If you’ve never read this author before, you could start with this title (it does not matter that characters in it have appeared in previous books), but you’ll probably then be compelled to seek out the entire back-catalogue.

One of the stars of Connelly’s books is Los Angeles; the town fits Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller and previous characters like a favourite old coat. Even though it is faded and has a few holes in the cloth, it’s the one you always choose to wear. The city is a presence that binds together the casts that enter and exit from the books; a presence that you know will be waiting for the next time.

Continue reading

Commenting on this blog just became easier

Typepad, the blogging platform of Petrona, has just updated its commenting forms, hooray. The comment form is now on the post page itself, so you don't have to click through interstitial pages to comment. The comment field itself is now at the top of the form, so you can make your comment first before inputting your name and address, and the anti-spam CAPTCHA window is immediately below the comment field, all on same page. I hope this will make commenting a more pleasant experience. There are also one or two other tweaks, eg a preview feature and a more intelligent message, so that you know your comment has been received – this should be helpful to people who end up making multiple comments because the system isn't very clear about whether the comment has "worked" or not.

I guess I will now receive no comments to this post, having written all that. It was nice while it lasted, though.

Hakan Nesser at Crimefest 2009

Hakan Nesser, the prizewinning winning author of the Swedish Inspector van Veeteren novels, will be attending Crimefest next year (14 – 17 May 2009). His first two books translated into English are Borkmann's Point and The Return, both highly enjoyable police procedurals, full of dry wit and social comment, as well as featuring a main character that I can only define as "out-of-date maverick", lovely! I haven't read his latest, The Mind's Eye, but clearly must before next year's festival. The fourth book of Nesser's to be translated, Woman with a Birthmark, will be published next year.

Crimefest is launching an online reading group. The first title to be discussed will be Jericho Point by glamorous but dangerous Meg Gardiner, toastmistress at next year's Gala Dinner. Meg has just started a new thriller series with the excellent The Dirty Secrets Club, "but her Evan Delaney books paved the way for her international success. They are as addictive as a class A-drug, but a lot more fun. The first 20 people to contact the Crimefest organizers with their postal address will receive a free copy of Jericho Point with details of how to sign up and participate in the online reading group."

Other authors attending the festival are Simon Brett, author of the Fethering series, the Mrs Pargeter novels and the Charles Paris detective series, and of various radio and television scripts; M.C. Beaton of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, who spoke amusingly at this year's Harrogate festival; Giles Brandreth, author of many books including crime novels featuring Oscar Wilde as the sleuth; and Andrew Taylor, twice winner of the Historical Dagger and shortlisted again this year for Bleeding Heart Square. And to celebrate 21 years of bookshop Murder One, its owner Maxim Jakubowski will be the festival's special guest.

There's also a competition. "You have until November 17 to come up with tagline for next year's Crimefest. For the 2006 Left Coast Crime we had 'For a bloody good time' as the tagline. This year it was 'a new international crime fiction convention'. For our second outing we are looking for something new–'simply the best' is too easy and not allowed–so if you can come up with something original (email suggestions here) we will reward the winner with a selection of prizes."

A civilized political interlude

You might be surprised to know that there has been, to date, no debate in the House of Commons about the financial crisis. On Monday of this week (3 November) the Lords had their first debate on the subject. Lord Taylor of Warwick summarizes the main points in this blog post, concluding "you do not have to be a prophet to make a profit. However, this recession is a time for fresh, creative thinking out of the box. We cannot have a financial system which allows a hedge fund boss to pay less income tax than his office cleaner. It is time for fresh thinking. Seek and Ye Shall fund."

The House of Lords is such a civilized place. Baroness Murphy writes her account of the debate on the Counter Terrorism bill on the same blog (Lords of the Blog). "One of the “noble and learned” Lord Lloyd of Berwick’s amendments was graciously accepted by the Minister, “noble and gallant” Lord (formerly Admiral) West, but a second one he resisted but suggested an alternative of his own. I listened very carefully but thought the arguments finely balanced. In the end I voted for Lord Lloyd’s amendment. The votes cast were equal, 130 on each side, which caused a great deal of consternation on the part of the Clerk who had clearly never encountered this before. The Blue procedure book was consulted and it emerged that the amendment could only prevail if a majority voted for it, so a tie  meant it was lost.  West is a listening Minister, he’s inclined to refer to himself as a simple sailor, but one can see how he became an admiral, he’s certainly steering his departmental ship in the Lords in admirable fashion."

And on the matter of the US election, of the many blogs and comments about it today, my favourite is author Nick Hornby's post, both for the story he tells about "Its been a long time coming", and for his list of UK newspaper headlines this morning (bear with it, it is worth reading to the bottom, and hence the Mail's take on world events.)