Happy Christmas

I wish all readers of Petrona a very happy Christmas and holiday season.

Happy birthday to our favourite librarian

Books_cake_thumbA roll of drums for B. I.'s fave, "the greatest librarian in the Galaxy" [Books, Inq. the Epilogue], who "truly makes the Internet a more human place" [Petrona]. Also for Dave.

Many thanks to Dave Lull, without whose efforts and generosity this interview wouldn’t have taken place."[2 Blowhards] on "Websurfer magnifique and thinking-guy extraordinaire Dave L."

From When Falls the Coliseum: "Thus I have a deep appreciation for the art of reference. But times have changed. Since the advent of the internet I no longer have to nag and be a nuisance at my local library. The thrill of tracking down an elusive tidbit is all but gone. Almost everything I ever wanted to know is available with the stroking of a few strategic keywords.  When it is not? No worries. There is always Dave Lull — a jewel.

Jodie Lane: "The magnitude of Dave Lull’s presence on the net is awe-inspiring. It’s true. Dave is the real force behind the blogosphere. Sadly, I do not know the man, but I find him absolutely fascinating. He is the super-hero of the internet. Everywhere I read — Dave has already been there. Corrected, amended, and moved on down the lonely information super-highway."

Scott Stein: "apparently, the entire blogosphere owes all of its content to Dave Lull."

Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence: "I still get the question: “Who is this Dave Lull guy?” As Pascal said of God (no blasphemy intended) Dave is the circle whose center is everywhere in the blogosphere and whose circumference is nowhere. He is a blogless unmoved mover. He is the lubricant that greases the machinery of half the online universe worth reading. He is copy editor, auxiliary conscience and friend. He is, in short, the OWL – Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian."

Susan Balee: "Thank you Dave Lull, you are indispensable."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Warm thanks to Dave Lull for tracking reviews".

OWL's Friend Feed room, Librarian's Place (a collection of articles found by Dave, and occasionally his friends) is free for all to join and comment on these articles. (An earlier archive is here.)

Or see Seth's blog

Many more acknowledgements of contributions by Dave Lull can be seen here

Welcome to Haikugirl

Dotonbori_small A friend and colleague is leaving work today to move to Japan to teach English — because she loves Japan and Japanese culture. She has a blog, Haikugirl, where she’ll be writing about her experiences, so do check it out. Apart from reading some Haikus and observing the inability of MySpace, WordPress, my RSS reader et al. to cope with Kanji and other characters, I learnt something about 3 March:

"In Japan, today is known as  ‘Hinamatsuri‘ (雛祭り) (Doll’s Festival), or ‘Girl’s Day’.  It is also sometimes known as ‘Momo no sekku’ (Peach Festival) because of the peach blossom season. On this day, families in Japan pray for happiness and success for the girls in their family, and also to ward off evil spirits." I think we need something like this in the West: we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but as my daughters have more than once pointed out, we don’t have Children’s Day (or Teen’s Day, even, if we are thinking of warding off evil spirits. Not that any teens I know personally would need such a prayer.).

Take off your running shoes

Via Jenny Davidson of Light Reading, I read that Dina Rabinovitch has died. The last post Dina wrote on her blog was entitled Things you don’t predict…..

You can go to Dina’s Justgiving page here, and donate to the fund for the expansion of a cancer research team at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, and/or buy a copy of her book Take off your party dress, proceeds to the appeal. Dina has raised £73,632 of a target £100,000.

My sympathies to Dina’s family and friends at this sad time.

Happy birthday, Debra!



Happy birthday, Frank


Happy birthday to my very good friend, Frank

enjoy your day, and many more like them.


Scene: A dark room in the British Library. Books, ancient manuscripts, line the walls from pit to arched vaults high above. Oak tables are spaced around the floor. At one, sits a man with a beard, clutching his head in his hands. He looks up.

FRANK (for it is he): "What ho, omnipresent Wisconsin librarian!"

Another man with a beard is approaching.

DAVE (yes, "that" Dave): "What news from the Inquirer, Oh Editor?" (sits down)

FRANK: Well, funny you should mention that, we have just failed the Rupert Murdoch intellectual content test.

DAVE: You mean the same Rupert Murdoch who’s just bought your newspaper? Surely some mistake, ed?

FRANK: No, old friend, no mistake — we have scored 19.8 on the polysyllabic word to picture quotient, whereas the Murdoch standard is 8.2. And, to add injury to insult, the book review section is going to be replaced by a weekly cartoon strip because we can’t review enough books to fill the vacuum. Even that Petrona has let me down, she can’t read the books quickly enough to review them…..She’s locked herself away in a nunnery to try to catch up.

DAVE: And, indeed, what is going to happen to the libraries in all this MySpace Webspace? Tim Coates’s latest figures show that books are being sold off too quickly to scan them in for Web 2.0 —they will all disappear for ever. The vortex is approaching. We need help…… 

FRANK: My goodness, I thought you meant virtually, Dave, not literally…

….his voice is drowned out by loud sounds of crashing, singing and the wail of a banshee stage left. Enter a motley crew of people, CRIMEFIC READER carrying a tray of six goblets of strawberry flavour Angel Delight, MINX with purple hair and a large flagon of gin poking out of a voluminous handbag, SKINT with a cauldron of steaming cawl, PUNDY in kilt and bagpipes, MARIE wearing a long black cloak that is moving and heaving suspiciously in numerous places, DEBI with red hair and tunic streaming behind her, and SUSAN with a large yellow umbrella.

PUNDY: Is this it? Is this the Macmillan building? I’m going to force those bastards to read that book if it’s the last thing I do ….

CRIMEFIC: No, dear, we are just stopping here for a refill before making the final assault, remember? This is the building next door, so it’s a good place to plan our strategy.


SKINT: Marmite on toast anyone? Tastes great dipped into the cawl.

SUSAN: I think I’d prefer the Angel Delight, it’s — oh hello, kind sirs, are these seats taken?


MINX: Oooh lovely, just what I need to recover after that drive..

SKINT: You recover? I think we all need a few slices of nice toasted Hovis to calm down a bit after that 100 mph race you just treated us to, Minx..How am I going to recover my lost pembrokeshire news with your driving?

CRIMEFIC: Don’t forget the Angel Delight…

FRANK: Dear friends, welcome as you all are to join our humble repast, my learned friend and I would appreciate a little silence while we struggle with a looming catastrophe of immense proportions.

SUSAN: Oh you poor dears. Whatever is the matter?

DAVE: We need to rescue the Philly Inquirer’s book review section, and indeed the world’s libraries, from falling into the vortex of a Murdoch-induced MySpace evisceration.

FRANK: Yes, by my troth, we need a strategy to fill the gaping mouth of the ravening beast that is MySpace.

PUNDY: You should get deep and dirty down among the comments. That’s where the real sludge and slime are…

MARIE (hissing): Yesss indeed, the depths of the darkness….(teeth flash)

Loud clinking sound as MINX pours drinks for everyone

MINX: Never mind all that, let’s have a party… come on, Skint, un pas de deux sur la table, immediatement…

MINX and SKINT are on the table leaping about while PUNDY plays the bagpipes. FRANK and DAVE look bewildered. MARIE and DEBI seize large glasses of gin, a few little BATS falling out from under MARIE’S cloak while she is concentrating on not having her drink knocked over by MINX’s stilettos…CRIMEFIC clutches her Angel Delights, which are wobbling dangerously..

SUSAN: Look this just won’t do. We need to take some urgent action. Now what I always do when my template goes squiffy is to….. call in the DEBLOG!!!

ta da da music…

SUSAN opens and closes the umbrella a few times in quick succession. A piercing shriek emerges, closely followed by a blinding flash and smoke. When it clears, two women are standing there, with a young girl. The women are DEBRA and SIAN, the girl is REBECCA.

DEBRA: Well, this is a fine state of affairs, especially as I am very busy today with my puzzles and my BAFAB work….what is going on?

SIAN: Yes indeed, I am being distracted here by minor characters, I am in conversation with my Ichabot….and reprogramming my MacBook….what can be done to sort out this chaos?

REBECCA: And I need to do my homework, how can I with all this racket and with all these rather bizarre role models all over the place?

EVERYONE ELSE: We need to fill the void of MySpace! We need to save the Philly Inq! And the world’s libraries. What can we do?

DEBRA, SIAN and REBECCA, in unison: Well obviously, you lot all have your books with you, don’t you? Try them. Marie — you can help…

A flock of bats come flying out from under MARIE’s cloak. SUSAN rushes round pulling manuscripts out of PUNDY’s sporran, SKINT’s cauldron, MINX’s handbag, MARIE’s coffin-shaped suitcase, and she and DEBI hurl them at the black cloud whirling round the table. More and more books fly through the air, carried by the bats, to be sucked up by the darkness. More and more manuscript pages emerge — suddenly, a bang, the cloud is gone, MINX stands still on the table — her bag is ringing. She extracts a phone:

MINX: Hello? Oh, hello MD, what is it? (pause) Oh, oh really? That’s wonderful news…

At the same time, PUNDY’s sporran, SKINT’s cauldron and other sundry places start ringing. All answer phones and start shrieking..Frank shouts above the fray across to DAVE…

FRANK: Great news! The Philly and the world’s libraries are saved! Murdoch and Tim Coates have formed a new multinational conglomerate called THE NAVY OF PETRONAS and are going to publish Pundy’s, Minx’s, Skint’s, Marie’s and Debi’s complete works in their first business plan. And a few others of our blogging friends while they are about it. Susan is going to run the publishing arm of the company to keep all these loose types on the rails. You and I can go back to our intellectual pursuits leaving everything in Susan’s capable hands. The world’s libraries will stock 10 million copies each, and the Philly Inq. will serialise the lot. We are saved!

DAVE: Great news, old friend. But I tell you what, it is jolly rowdy in here. Any suggestions?

FRANK: Yes indeed, let us repair to a coffee house down the road where we will find some peace and quiet….and maybe a few books to read. You three look like welcome companions….

They depart, with SIAN, DEBRA and REBECCA, talking animatedly about the distraction of minor characters, leaving scenes of wild abandon behind them, over which I shall draw a veil.

(If you didn’t like the above, it is all Skint’s fault, with a dash of Pundy and no doubt egged on by that Minx. It was written while hiding round the corner during England v Portugal, currently in extra time.)

Place and community

Books, Inq.: Read ye, read ye …

I have just returned from an evening of mixed pleasure and pain: a concert at my daughter’s local primary school. The concert was in a good cause, for the British Heart Foundation, but there was a lot to endure for the three songs I saw and heard her sing as part of the choir.

During the gaps (i.e. other children’s solo performances of varying degrees of quality), my mind was free to wander — an enforced space where I could not read or do anything execpt sit and think. I thought about the connections I have made since beginning blogging: the very good friends I’ve made as well as the "acquaintances of ideas" I regularly meet on my trips brokered by Bloglines.

The concert was an enforced, and unusual, period of quiet after a week’s work and at the end of a Saturday spent doing the end-of-week domestic tasks and errands, admiring progress on the ongoing Colorado River project (let me tell you, this is a very, very long river indeed), and so on.

As I sat listening to the out-of tune soloists and the fumbling fingers of the pianists, adored by the parents concerned and politely tolerated by the rest of the audience, I reflected on how agonised I might have been had I been sitting in that seat six months ago. My thoughts would have been rushing round in my mind, worrying at things beyond my control. I reflected on a stress-management course I attended last summer, and what I learned there about slowing down, appreciating the small things, learning to accept and to be, in an attempt to control the restless escalation of various internal crises. How the perceptive psychologist there defined me as having "relaxation-induced anxiety", and how I’m working on that. (Honest!)

My young daughter rose with her fellow choristers for the final song. It was Lennon and McCartney’s "Let it Be":

"And when the broken-hearted people,
Living in the world agree,
there will be an answer,
Let it be."

The tears poured down my face at these simple words. Just let it be, I tell myself, let it be.

We walked home; Malcolm and the girls went upstairs to watch the latest episode of Planet Earth (featuring tonight, I am just told, the Colorado River). Downstairs alone, I switched on my computer for the first time today, and there is this wonderful, generous posting from Frank (Wilson), linking to my placeism post — not just generous but "getting it" in his usual economical, on-the-nail style; writing of the "connectiveness" and sense of community he has encountered by the unconventional means of blogging. Also, I have come home to an email from Dave (Lull), sending me some links on "slowing down", and writing in terms of the "hurry sickness". Here is someone else who really "gets it".

Yes, it is wonderful to have such friends, generous and intuitive. Thank you.

I feel Frank is completely right when he writes about the international community of bloggers: "And this connectiveness I think may turn out to have great power." For me as an individual, I feel the power. This is an extraordinary thing for me to admit: I could not have anticipated it back in December, and I am not the kind of person to "feel stuff" in this way 😉 . I have taken refuge in science and pragmatism in part, at least, because it is (in my mind) a safe refuge. I am an eldest child, living with an eldest child, in a serious and responsible environment we have created for our children. I believe in duty and stoicism, and am usually dutiful and stoical — or at least, as much as I can be. Yet I’m feeling this power. I can’t analyse it and have no idea where it will go on the large scale (like Frank, I feel that it is so powerful at the individual and small-group level that it must evolve into something on a larger scale). Perhaps the effects will be similar to the society-changing effect of mass introduction of TV. This new power, however arises from not only being a mass media like TV but by being an open, interactive system, controlled at the individual’s level; enabled by information technology, not a passive recipient of it. I sometimes wonder what Orwell would have made of it all.