Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Another Roadside Turnoff

One of the clever features of LibraryThing is the Unsuggester: it identifies books significantly less present than one would expect in the catalogs of owners of the "seed" book. It is explained in more detail on the LibraryThing blog entry for November 12, 2006. Apparently people are now searching for the "ultimately evil book out there that will generate the ideal library. Not The Bridges of Madison County, but like that." It appears that "Who moved my cheese?" is a leading contender.

I was told years ago the "Another Roadside Attraction" was "really you [me];" I've never been able to read more than a few pages, I think it really is not me and that person was wrong. Unfortunately for the Unsuggester, it does appear in my catalog, so all my other books, almost all of which I like and all of which I like more than "Another Roadside Attraction", will not get my "support" in the calculation of its nemesis list. Maybe I'll delete it.

I plugged it into the Unsuggester. It may not be the ultimately evil book for everyone, but people who don't own it (or don't admit to owning it, which is what I am going to do) could well be choosing books of interest to me.
479 members (1,119 more popular); 2 reviews; average rating 3.85 stars. Members with the book have have a total of 243,536 books in their libraries

So what might these 479 members be expected to have among their 243,536 books but don't? The top of the list is dominated by (Christian) religious books; Robbins may be Godless (I don't have any idea, I can't read his book!) but it is his tone, not his Godlessness that turns me off. Actually, the whole list is pretty full of what seems to be books about religion. Clearly his fans are not theologically inclined, or the theologically-inclined don't read him.

On the other hand, the only non-fiction are two books on the Ruby programming language and its web framework Rails, and two books on knitting.

So what kind of fiction attracts others but not Robbins-readers? Tamora Pierce (seven titles), Meg Cabot (three), Nora Roberts and Mercedes Lackey (two each), and a dozen others that look to be mainly magic/fantasy, too. I dunno, maybe I should give Robbins another try.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006



Note: I began this entry on Thanksgiving Day, and quickly realized that it was so out of the spirit of the day that it should not be published. That was then, now is now (28 November), and Windows still proposes to install IE7 each time I reboot, my spam-deletion chores seem endless, and my ISP was still block-listed for relaying spam last time I checked. Oh, but I haven't added mention of Acrobat Reader proposing to install updates it just finished installing! Yes, I let it download and install the same updates three times in a row just to be sure.

I suppose that, inveterate procrastinator, I am expected to be thankful for some help wasting my time. But that is not what procrastination is about: I want to be the one to decide to defer the pleasure of completing a task, and especially I want to decide what I do instead of completing said task. I really do not appreciate:

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Friday, November 17, 2006


Socializing in a New Crowd

There are days when I forget to be purposeful, to make (or look at) a "todo" list. It is not spontaneity or improvisation; I just sit down in front of the computer and start browsing. Yesterday was such a day.

One of my "tracking" strategies is to select a link or two I've saved at del.icio.us that are both interesting to me and saved by a small number of other people. Then I look at what else they have saved to see if it interests me (in which case I save it, too). If the "fit" is really good, and they are reasonably active, I add them to my "watch list" to occasionally check what they've added. I've been hoping del-icio-us would add programmed ways to find people with overlapping interests more easily, but it doesn't seem to be happening; it doesn't even seem possible to program myself with the limited functions of their API. Maybe someday.

Yesterday I was happy to find someone who had located a whole lot of resources on the French language: dictionaries, translation information, and so on. I would have liked to say "thank you" and "good work!", but that is something del-icio-us does not really encourage: very, very few people indicate a way to contact them (I don't) and there is no "drop-box" or commenting or messaging system to serve the purpose. The only way I have found is to save something with a "for:username" tag and leave some sort of message in the "notes" for the link; I don't know whether anybody ever looks at their "links for you" in-box, and no one to whom I've offered a link has replied.

Later on, I read about another new "social listing" system. It seems too good to be true! It is called LibraryThing.com and enables one to catalogue one's books. It takes a lot of the work out of cataloguing by interfaces with Amazon, Library of Congress, and over fifty other catalogues: enter an ISBN, LC number, author, title, whatever you have and it searches for a matching entry. If a match (or several) turn up, you just click to confirm; if not, you can enter the information manually. Other sites have done that before (it seems, although I never found them), but here there are tagging, commenting, reviewing and other possibilities for socializing, too.

Now the really good part: facilitating finding other people with similar interests. It does what I want(ed) del-icio-us to do! It sorts through the libraries of other users and finds the people who have the same books you do (not all, of course, but overlaps) and calculates the ranking taking into account rarety (or banality) of the books-in-common.

The weighting makes a difference. I have only entered 177 books so far, yet there is someone else who has thirty of the same ones! However, he has catalogued over 6000 titles (yes, I'm impressed--that's three/week for forty years!) so his chances of overlapping anybody's collection is higher than average. Furthermore, the books of mine that match are mostly fairly "popular" titles. Switching to the "weighted" list, twenty-four others rank above the aforementioned person, some with only three or four matches. And the list evolves as I add titles. I'm really enjoying this!

The timing is good, too. It gives me an occupation so I don't think about Ségolène Royal's nomination as the French Socialist Party's presidential candidate: one of those things I can't change, but wish I could. Like someone said about Dubya, she wants to be president, not do president (cheerleader, not leader); this I do believe.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006



A while back (Oct 2) I noticed this icon on somebody's web site. I was intrigued, and visited the link. It seems to me to be a lighter, easier, and less risky way than FOAF to indicate one's relationship to other people. I've finally gotten around to doing something about it: I added some tags to some of the links in the sidebar of this blog.

While I was at it, I removed (commented out, actually-- I never discard anything) the Alexa popularity counter (which was meaningless), and I changed my del.icio.us display, since I really have an awful lot of tags accumulated.

The "edit the template" system blogger provides for updating links and such is pretty dissuasive; I realize that I am "looking a gift horse in the mouth" (I don't have to pay to blog here) but I wonder whether bloggers here bother updating their link rolls.

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Word of the day: piétaille

Meandering through Wikipedia articles in French this morning hoping to satisfy my curiosity about the history of the system of higher education (which is apparently unique, but that is another topic) and its relationship to the socio-economic system, I encountered a word I didn't know: piétaille, those who go on foot. I looked for a translation to English in a Larousse dictionary, but found none. I looked for a definition in French in a big, old two-volume Larousse, but found none. Why not, I wonder? Does the Académie Française have a web site where I might check whether this is a "real" word? Oh, they do! They provide an online dictionary in collaboration with ATILF (of which I had not known), the "Analyse et traitement informatique de la langue française." Unfortunately, it is not yet "complete" : a query for all words of the category "n. f." (feminine nouns) returns a list of 8162, the last of which is
(8162)*ONGLETTE n. f. XVIe siècle. Diminutif d'ongle.
Petit burin utilisé par les graveurs. Une onglette en fer de lance.

I'll have to come back and check again when they have done the "p". I hope they won't make me Attendre 107 ans !

I looked in Mediadico, online and found confirmation of what I had surmised from the context of its usage, and even translation to English:
[pejorative] infantry, those who go on foot, rank and file.
This designation, used in the context of the composition of feudal armies and the relationship to the "noblesse" distinguishes the noble cavalry from those too poor to own a horse and all the necessary accessories. What progress we have made in modern Western societies: now warriors don't have to buy their own tanks and planes to take to battle.

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Friday, November 10, 2006


How Many?

Thanks to Linternaute I discovered a really interesting service: Fourmilab, using images provided by LivingEarth and NASA, and atmospheric observations provided by UW-Madison, enables one to request images of the earth (or the moon) from various vantage points. For example (the one they give on the "Custom Request" page), "Earth from Moon: current cloud cover" :
Earth from Moon: current cloud cover

Now, from what I've read it seems that what is actually provided is not really the view from the satellite, but a view constructed from a stock of images (Living Earth, NASA Visible Earth, topographic maps) from the point of view of the current position of the satellite. The cloud cover and water vapor views are "real" however, inasmuch as they use observations that are updated several times each day. The NASA images are updated monthly (at least) to get snow cover right.

The view computed for 200 km above my head (47N 7E
Living Earth Image NASA Visible Earth Image
Current view from 200km above 47N 7ECurrent view from 200km above 47N 7E

Better and better -- one can choose the view from a particular satellite. An example they give is "the current view from one of the satellites in the Iridium constellation". There is a list of satellites from which to choose. I have no idea which satellite is in an interesting position. Shall I try them, one after the other? How many are up there? Hundreds!

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Arm Reliquary

Arm Reliquary
Originally uploaded by duckedape2.
This "arm" is about 50-60cm tall. Visible through the rock crystal pane are Charlemagne's arm bones (ulna and radius) wrapped in a parchment cerificate of their authenticity. This is one of the treasures in the Treasury of the Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) Cathedral.

I only had a miniature (pocket) tripod and available light, and there were tour groups coming through constantly, so I did the best I could to stand very still while I shot this picture.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006


New Stele in Town

We have a new stele in our town, to commemorate its roots in the history of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire. I didn't realize that "stele" (pronounced "stē'lē") was the English for "stèle", although English is my mother tongue. Two of the inscriptions are in Latin, another in German, and one in French (says the same thing as in German I am quite sure); my Latin is rusty (I too rarely use it), but here is what I think they sayPhoto of stele from across the street

The town which is called Hagenowe was founded in our fair country by Fredericus. Frederic the First, Roman Emperor and Duke of Swabia and Alsatia.
† 1190
This was Frederick Barbarossa, who was Duke 1147-1152 and Holy Roman Emperor 1155-1190
Alsace, among all his patrimony the most cherished. Frederic the Second, Roman Emperor and Duke of Swabia and Alsatia
† 1250
HRE 1220-1250; Duke of Swabia -- as Frederick VII of Hohenstaufen-- 1212-1216
1143 Founding of the St. Georges Church by Frederic the ...One-Eyed?
Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, born 1090, became duke in 1105, died in 1147.
1212-1220, Preferred château (Imperial Residence) of Frederic the Second
same as above

"One-Eyed Fred". Is that what he is called in English? I don't think I have a book in English that would say. In French history books, he is called "le Borgne" and on the stele, "le Monoculaire" : is that really "nicer"? Perhaps because "borgne" is often used in a pejorative sense they thought it better to reformulate. Or did they just do a "modern" translation, without checking to see what he is generally called in French? Very odd.

Can I look it up on Wikipedia and trust what I find? They have articles on him in four languages.

=> In English, no mention of his one-eyed-ness (monocularity--which isn't even a word!). The stele was made in Italy; perhaps the Italians decided to translate "il monocolo" into French...

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I Am Trying to be Amused

My cat just came in and meowed hello (as he often does). When he did, he dropped the mouse he had caught. Unfortunately, this one wasn't dead. He is now trying to re-catch it, in the dining room.

I hope he didn't bring it in alive in the wrong belief I would want to play with it, too. I hope he doesn't do this ever again. And I hope he catchs it, or at least chases it back out of the house (even just into the basement would be a good start) very soon.

9:14 He just walked by with it in his mouth, took it into the kitchen, and dropped it...to play some more! I hear it squeeking. I think it is under the stove. This could go on for a while.

9:24 I've gone to see what is going on, and to close the kitchen door if the mouse is still alive: sequester it with the cat. The cat is enthusiastically eating his catfood (he doesn't eat the mice he catches, but catching them seems to give him an appetite). Where is the mouse? Why isn't he keeping an eye on it?

9:25 Oh. It seems to be in agony, breathing but not capable of running any more, in the kitchen sink! I pick up the cat, put him on the edge of the sink, and ask him to please remove his mouse. He hesitates, picks it up, and moves it to the floor, where he drops it on its back. I hope it won't agonize too long. And I won't prolong this account.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Horrible Hallowe'en Prank

Halloween Declared Dead In France

according to Forbes.

I heard the same thing on French television last evening (Hallowe'en). They had sent a crew to film in a toy store (Toys R Them, I think) where a merchandising manager showed the much smaller section dedicated to Hallowe'en merchandise this year, down to about a fifth what it was five years ago.

I suspect we are just experiencing a post-novelty peak period. When Hallowe'en was "launched" in France a few years ago, it did have major commercial backing and those commercial efforts were not without commercial ambitions. Since it was "new", nobody already had costumes and decorations, so the potential was great. The situation was somewhat analogous to introduction of new technology, like CDs: nobody had any, they had vinyl LPs or cassettes, so initially they bought lots to (re-)constitute their music library. A few years later, they were only buying CDs at "cruising" rates and the record companies started blaming Internet downloads for their missed sales targets!

Now that French kids have costumes -- they don't need new ones every year, and they can use them for Mardi Gras, too -- sales are down. Not everyone welcomes trickortreators, but they just say "no", they don't put razor blades in apples or drugs in candy. Nursery schools and private day-care centers organize costume parties. Every night-club around (at least in this area) had a Hallowe'en party; why not, All Saints Day is a holiday so partiers can sleep late (or all day after they come home from church).

To estimate how much candy to buy (so I wouldn't have to dash out to a store at 19:30 to re-stock, as I did a few years ago) I figured "about the same as last year", which I didn't note but recollect to have been about thirty trickortreators. According to my log, I received thirty-four in twelve groups. I did not take photos, but trust me, the costumes and make-up were as good or better than in past years.

The translation of "trick or treat" is problematic. "Des bonbons ou un sort" ("Candy or a spell") is perhaps the one I find most acceptable. A variant which I really, really dislike is perhaps merely a mistake by some who heard "bonbons ou un sort" and just got the last word wrong by a consonant, is "des bonbons ou la mort!" ("candy or die!"). Now I'm wondering about the differences between evil spells, curses, hexes and jinxes.

I went out early the next morning with my camera to record any soaped windows, tipped-over outhouses, TP-ed yards, and various remnants of decorations. Also the posters for the parties in the discos and night-clubs. It was quiet (and cold). I passed people on their way to church. I did not see any soaped windows; I didn't even see candy wrappers littering the sidewalks. But there had been pranksters active during the night, and their prank was most unpleasant: all the posters for disco parties had been covered by posters for "Le Pen vite!". The spectre of nationalism lurks, and won't die.

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