I’ve been in that apartment! In February 2008 I went to a meeting hosted by the Internet Archive about planning the Open Library. I was out in San Francisco for two days. The first was the meeting, at the Presidio where the Archive then was.
That was the day I saw Aaron Swartz, though I never talked to him. He committed suicide just under five years later. I did talk to Brewster Kahle, who happily is still with the Archive and still pushing the limits of access to knowledge. Here’s a blurry photo with Swartz on the left and Kahle on the right:
The room was full of leading library technologists of the time, generally from the Code4Lib world. I was out of my depth and don’t remember contributing anything, but I was damned glad to be there. It was a mind-blowing day (not just the ideas floating around, but seeing the IA’s servers, for example) and then a memorable evening after.
The next day Don Herron generously gave me a solo Dashiell Hammett tour. He knows Arney and when we got near he called to see if we could come up to see the apartment. We could. I went into Dashiell Hammett’s apartment! This was Sam Spade’s place!
And that was just one part of the tour. Herron knows Hammett’s San Francisco like the back of his hand, and he showed me where various stories had been set, where Miles Archer was shot, and many other places, as well as covering a lot of city history. He does an incredible job, and if you’re ever in San Francisco, I highly recommend the tour. Read some Hammett beforehand if you haven’t, but even if you’re not a great fan, it’s a perfect combination of guide and subjects that makes a great introduction to the city.
What a city. I packed in hours more walking that day, including City Lights and later drinks at the Top of the Mark. Those two days in San Francisco was the best short trip I’ve ever had.
This summer I discovered Desert Island Discworld, a podcast where the host interviews a guest about a favourite book from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. If you like Pratchett, I highly recommend it. There are other Pratchett podcasts out there, and I tried three but dropped them. They were too talky and rambling. This one is informed, interesting, concise and thoughtful.
Each episode is about an hour long. For the first half, the host talks to the guest about their life and work. Most come from comics or role playing games or comedy. They’re all good, and they have a lot of insight into stories and what makes them work. I learned a lot from these bits: for example, in episode 1.4, where game designer Grant Howitt talks about Witches Abroad, I was introduced to one-page role-playing games. He designed Sexy Battle Wizards, where characters have three traits: sexy, battle and wizard. Genius. Another game designer, Hannah Nicklin, in episode 2.6 on I Shall Wear Midnight, was also particularly good.
In the second half, they get into the book in question: how it works, why it works, what’s good, what’s not so good, how it fits in with the other books, and so on. This is far beyond merely recapping the story and quoting favourite lines (though of course there’s some of that, because some lines are so good). Every episode has given me new things to think about.
There’s a new episode just out for Monstrous Regiment, which I’m reading right now, so I’m holding off until tomorrow when I’m done. This is one of the first Discworld books I read, as it happens, and one of the best. I liked it back then and I like it even more now that I’m rereading them all in order and I know where it fits in the big structure. If I remember right, when I first read it I’d never read any of the Watch books, so I didn’t know about Sam Vimes and the others of the Watch who have small roles here. He’s a duke now, and on a diplomatic mission to solve a problem about two small warring countries.
Late in the book the hero(ine) Polly and her squad have been captured by the enemy. People from Ankh-Morpork (a distant city-state) come into their cell: soldiers and a few very well-dressed officers, led by Lord Rust, who’s in charge of the military mission. If you’ve read the novels in order, you’ve met Rust before. And you don’t like him. The others aren’t introduced. But then:
Polly was watching the officers. They looked nervous …
… except for the one at the back. She’d thought all the guards had gone and, while this man was dressed like a guard—dressed, that is, like a badly dressed guard—he wasn’t acting like one. He was leaning against the wall by the door, smoking half a cigar, and grinning. He looked like a man enjoying a show.
Behind the officers, the man with the cigar winked a Polly. His uniform was very old-fashioned—an ancient helmet, a breastplate, some slightly rusted chain mail, and big boots. He wore it like a workman wears his overalls. Unlike the braid and brilliance in front of her, the only statement his clothes made was that he didn’t intend to get hurt.
Vimes. He winks and gives her a thumbs up. If Vimes is on her side, you know it’s going to end well.
Thirty years ago, in November 1990, I’d been working at the Reader’s Den Bookstore for six months. It was across from Philosopher’s Walk, north side of Bloor west of Avenue. It’s not there any more. It went bankrupt in February 1993 in the recession—Christmas sales were dismal, I remember, though I was too inexperienced to see the inevitable—and the location has been an egg restaurant for quite a while now. I’ve never been in. Who knows, maybe with the pandemic it’s gone bankrupt too.
Some time in 1991, probably, I was given responsibility for handling buying from academic and small presses. The manager did trade frontlist (the biggest portfolio), the assistant manager did paperbacks (second biggest), and I ended up handling the rest. A few times a year reps would come by with catalogues and help meg pick out what the store would get in: two of this, one of this, eight of that, etc. The reps really knew the books, and they knew what the store sold, and their advice was excellent. It was a good gig.
One of the academic reps—I think he handled a bunch of smaller American university presses—was a man named Michael Romano. I remember one late afternoon he came by to go through the upcoming season of titles, and then he asked if I wanted to join him for dinner at the Swiss Chalet down the street.
I think I expressed some hesitation at the idea of Swiss Chalet, but he said they did a good chicken. I said okay. Besides, I barely had any money, and this was a free dinner. Looking back now, I realize he’d been out on the road for days or weeks—he’d do this at least three times a year, maybe covering all of eastern Canada—and he’d probably been to several stores in Toronto and had more to do tomorrow; the day was done, he was tired, and he’d enjoy some company at table before he went back to his hotel room. Being a travelling sales rep is a lonely job no matter what industry you’re in.
Over dinner he mentioned that he’d ghost-written The Nero Wolfe Cookbook. I didn’t know what to make of this. I’d never read any of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries (even though we sold quite a few in the bookstore; the paperback reprints did well), and had the outrageously presumptuous and jejune opinion that because I’d never read any of them they couldn’t be any good. My logic was: I’ve read many good series of classic mysteries; therefore if I haven’t read a series of classic mysteries it can’t be good. Of course this is nonsense. “Pfui,” Wolfe would say.
Twenty-five years later I realized my mistake and I began to read the Nero Wolfe mysteries. My reading diary shows I read 21 in 2016 and 17 in 2017. That was all library books. As P.G. Wodehouse says, “[Stout] passes the supreme test of being rereadable” and I’m enjoying working my way through them again, this time buying them from Sellers and Newel. I know I’ll reread them again.
Because of this rereading, and the frequent mentions of what Wolfe and Archie Goodwin eat, I thought about Michael Romano and The Nero Wolfe Cookbook. I got a copy from a used bookstore out west.
The book is wonderful. There are hundreds of recipes, all mentioned in the Wolfe books, with representative quotes. For example, there’s this quote from Death of a Doxy, followed immediately by recipes for the four dishes.
Business is taboo at the dinner table, but crime and criminals aren’t, and the Rosenberg case hogged the conversation all through the anchovy fritters, partridge in casserole with no olives in the sauce, cucumber mousse, and Creole curds and cream.
(Creole curds and cream has you “allow the sour milk to clabber in a 5-quart crock” so I won’t be trying that.)
The book’s first recipe (in the first chapter, “Breakfast in the Old Brownstone”) is for eggs au buerre noir, which are eaten several times in the books. Here it is:
6 tablespoons butter
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon dry sherry
Preheat the broiler. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in each of the 2 shirred egg dishes and add the eggs, yolks unbroken, 2 to a dish. Cook over medium heat for 1 or 2 minutes until the egg white is set. Spoon the butter over the eggs. Put the dishes under the hot broiler for another minute until the eggs have filmed over. Remove from the oven and let stand in a warm place. In a skillet melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When white waxy particles have settled to the bottom pour the clear liquid off into a bowl. Return the clarified butter to the pan and continue to cook until it has turned a deep golden brown. Watch it carefully to be sure the butter does not burn. Add the sherry and stir until blended. Pour the butter sauce over the eggs and serve immediately. (Serves 2.)
I think it changed in a later edition, however. This post at Flame Noir Candle Co. has a slightly different recipe that I think comes from the paperback. Compare my version:
Remove from the oven and let stand in a warm place. In a skillet melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When white waxy particles have settled to the bottom pour the clear liquid off into a bowl. Return the clarified butter to the pan …
Remove them from the oven and let them stand in a warm place. Next, you will want to clarify the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. To clarify, heat the butter up in a skillet at medium-low temperature until the butter has melted and you notice a white foam forming at the top. The clarification process separates the water and dairy that has turned into foam from the pure butter fat, so you’ll want to skim the white foam off of the top of the butter and discard it in order to clarify the butter. Next, pour the butter into a small bowl. This will leave any additional white particles that may have floated to the bottom in the skillet. Wipe the pan out, and then return the clarified butter to the pan.
That’s much clearer: it explains that you’re clarifying butter and has lots of detail about how to do it. My version has you pouring melted butter into a bowl and then straight back into the pan. This morning I did a first test by just baking an egg in the oven in a ramekin with some butter and milk, which I’d never done before. Very nice! I’ll do the sauce next time.
All the other recipes I looked at seem fine, however. There are many I won’t make because I don’t eat mammals, but even if I did I wouldn’t make squirrel stew (which calls for “3 squirrels, skinned and cleaned” and begins “cut the squirrels into serving pieces”) or my own headcheese (“1 calf’s head; 1 pair pig’s feet,” “ask the butcher to clean the calf’s head and remove the brain and tongue”).
There are lots of recipes for fish, on the other hand, some nice desserts, salads with tasty dressings, basics like biscuits, a chicken fricassee I’ll try, and many more. The recipes I won’t make are still worth reading just to imagine what a meal with Nero Wolfe would be like, and when I read a Wolfe story and see a mention of a meal I can look up how it was made.
It’ll be quite a while before I can have a dinner party and serve these new recipes. Wolfe likes company at dinner, and he enjoys good conversation. Michael Romano did too, I now understand. Until that’s possible again, at least we have the books.
Following up on David Partridge photograph from a couple of weeks ago: I emailed the British Library’s Reference Enquiry Team with my request for the mention of him in the Daily Telegraph and got a quick response with all of page 12 from Tuesday 01 June 1971. It was the editorial and letters page, with a daily diary called “London Day by Day” with the byline “Peterborough” (also the name of the column for many years, apparently) which is where Mr. Partridge is mentioned.
(See how the crop marks on my copy of the photo turned into the smaller version used.)
A casual conversation last Christmas at Ellingham Mill, Suffolk, which was derelict when bought by Lucy Halford, the industrial designer, and her husband, the artist, Chester Williams, will result in a five-man exhibition of paintings and sculptures there from Monday.
André Dzierzynski, the artist who had decorated the mill, had suggested that the Williamses should hold their first joint exhibition in London. Mrs. Williams went one better, putting forward the idea of a larger exhibition at the mill, to run concurrently with the Aldeburgh Festival.
Aldeburgh, whose festival opens on Friday, is 25 miles away. The five artists are David Partridge and John Piper, in my pictures, Elena Gaputyte, André Dzierzynski and Chester Williams.
So now we know about a small group show that was a tiny bit of Mr. Partridge’s life. He deserves a biography and a full catalogue raisonné.
This month I got books on two of my favourite bands: Hawkwind and Rush.
Having been a male Canadian science fiction- and fantasy-reading teenager in the early ’80s, loving Rush can be taken for granted. I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about Hawkwind, but it would have been through their connection with Michael Moorcock. In university I picked up a double LP best-of, I think The Hawkwind Collection, which was a great introduction. I didn’t know anyone else who liked Hawkwind, and when I played them some, that usually didn’t change their opinion, but the fact Lemmy had been kicked out of the band, which led him to form Motörhead, gave it some notability, if not credibility.
Canadian rock historian and critic Martin Popoff just released his second of three detailed books about Rush: Limelight: Rush in the ’80s, which follows Anthem: Rush in the ’70s. They’re thorough and very well documented, with lengthy quotes from the band members and others, covering all aspects of the history of the band, how they wrote the songs, their changing instrumentation and approach, and much else. The personalities of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart all come across well, including the familiar dynamic of Geddy and Alex as the ones that are out in public while Neil is off on his own.
This is Hawkwind in all their scuzzy, interstellar glory, the underground’s biggest band promoting their new single – less than a year later, and with a million copies of it sold, they’ll be headlining Wembley. It tends to be forgotten just how big this band of west London renegades were in the 1970s, playing to audiences of thousands wherever they went. They’re misremembered now, and were often misrepresented at the time, but as I discovered when writing a book about them, Hawkwind’s story amounts to an alternative narrative for 70s music culture – very different to the one that’s lazily trotted out by scene historians….
With their mood of anarchic possibility, Hawkwind gigs were a breeding ground for young punks everywhere, those “dedicated teenagers” coming of age and striking out on their own. John Lydon was a regular presence at their gigs in the early 70s, and was taken under Calvert’s wing at the height of Sex Pistols mania, with the self-proclaimed antichrist attending the singer’s wedding reception. Coming out of the same Ladbroke Grove milieu, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash had grown up in Hawkwind’s world, while Brian James and Captain Sensible of the Damned were also fans.
I was delighted to see this poster in the Hawkwind book: Rush opened for Hawkwind in Kansas City, KC on 18 October 1974! Hawkwind were touring for Hall of the Mountain Grill (it was on this tour that they had their equipment impounded by the IRS for an unpaid tax bill from their previous tour). Rush was on their first American tour, supporting all kinds of acts, with Neil Peart having just replaced first drummer John Rutsey—this was before Fly By Night. Popoff mentions the connection in Anthem: “Following the band’s dates with Kiss, plus assorted shows with the likes of Hawkwind and T. Rex, Rush did a clutch of Ontario dates with Scottish hard rockers Nazareth—a band that would take them across Canada the following year.”
I always feel obliged to mention indexes in reviews of nonfiction. Popoff’s books don’t have them, but they should. Banks’s Hawkwind book does have an index, with one entry for Rush (the poster was not indexed), in a footnote in the chapter “New Worlds and Dangerous Vision: Hawkwind as the Ultimate Science Fiction Band:”
Bands including Van Der Graaf Generator, Genesis, Ramases, Black Sabbath and Rush also leaned in an SF direction, while the pop charts featured such songs as the Carpenters’ Klaatu cover ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ and Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip’s ‘I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper,’ the latter inspired by Star Wars and perhaps the best known song from the late 70s sci-fi disco boom (risqué lyrics include ‘Take me, make me feel the Force’—plus a reference to 1977’s other big SF film: ‘What my body needs is close encounters three’).
Popoff gives a chapter to each Rush album from the eighties, and I’m enjoying listening to each one as I read the chapter about it. It’s a perfect match. I’m looking forward to working through Hawkwind’s catalogue when I get to the Banks book.
I think I’ve had it for over 30 years but never read it. Time to give it a try. If I thought I’d want to reread it, I’d keep it. If I didn’t, I’d deaccession it. I’m trimming my collection.
There’s an introduction by Gerald Suster in my edition. It begins:
The book you have bought is unique in English literature. Its blend of horror, fantasy, science fiction, mind expansion and spiritual dread, was called “a classic of the first water” by H.P. Lovecraft, this century’s greatest American weird fiction writer. Yet, as Lovecraft admitted, its imaginative power is sadly impaired by bad writing.
Lovecraft thought it was badly written?! Cripes, that’s reason enough not to even try. But the Wikipedia entry on the book quotes Terry Pratchett saying it was “the Big Bang in my private universe as a science fiction and fantasy reader and, later, writer.” That’s certainly reason to try.
I read the first couple of chapters, then looked towards the end.
Another, a troubled, memory came to me—of the Formless Thing that had haunted the shores of the Sea of Sleep. The guardian of that silent, echoless place. These, and other, details, I remembered, and knew, without doubt that I was looking out upon that same sea. With the assurance, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of surprise, and joy, and shaken expectancy, conceiving it possible that I was about to see my Love, again. Intently, I gazed around; but could catch no sight of her. At that, for a little, I felt hopeless. Fervently, I prayed, and ever peered, anxiously…. How still was the sea!
Down, far beneath me, I could see the many trails of changeful fire, that had drawn my attention, formerly. Vaguely, I wondered what caused them; also, I remembered that I had intended to ask my dear One about them, as well as many other matters—and I had been forced to leave her, before the half that I had wished to say, was said.
I should have read it when I was young. I can imagine how this kind of story caught Pratchett when he was young, but it just doesn’t grab me any more. I’m not even going to read it once. (If you want to, the full text is in the Gutenberg Project.)
This summer I checked on eBay to see if anything by artist David Partridge was for sale. I was surprised to see a photograph from the Universal Pictorial Press and Agency (an independent news photograph agency) for sale from a vendor in Iceland (!) who I guess had bought (some of?) the Daily Telegraph photo archive. It was taken in September 1965, just before he turned 46.
Here’s the back, which was stamped a few times. It looks like the Daily Telegraph used the photo in a story in June 1971. I don’t have access to digitized archives from back then, but I’ll see if I can find someone who does.
I wanted to turn a table of date ranges into a chart, and I figured out a way to do it that seems worth noting in case it’s of use. I’m doing this with R in Org mode, but the only Org-specific thing is how the data is ingested—it could just as easily come from as CSV file or a spreadsheet.
Let’s say in Org I have a table of date ranges associated with a name. The date could represent when someone did something, or was somewhere, or when a type of event happened, whatever. The way I have it set up, the date ranges are MMM DD–MMM DD, separated with an en dash. (It may seem silly to use an en dash, but they are correct for connecting date ranges, so it’s not silly, it’s pedantic.) We’ll turn that into something more general.
| name | range | year |
| A | Jul 16–Aug 18 | 2020 |
| B | Jul 16–Aug 01 | 2020 |
| B | Aug 13–Aug 22 | 2020 |
| B | Sep 03–Sep 07 | 2020 |
| A | Sep 01–Oct 02 | 2020 |
| C | Aug 04–Aug 12 | 2020 |
| C | Aug 19–Oct 02 | 2020 |
| A | Jun 28–Jul 16 | 2019 |
| B | Jun 28–Jul 03 | 2019 |
| A | Jul 10–Jul 16 | 2019 |
| B | Aug 08–Aug 30 | 2019 |
| C | Aug 22–Aug 28 | 2019 |
| C | Sep 01–Oct 12 | 2019 |
| A | Aug 08–Aug 13 | 2019 |
Now I start the R source blocks. First is always the setup, which I’ll only run once per session.
#+begin_src R :session R:days :results silent
The next block has a pipeline that reads the data from the table (thank you, Org) and splits the date ranges on the en dash so it can make two new columns with properly formatted dates for the start and end. The separate command comes from tidyr. If the original data looked like this, it wouldn’t be necessary to munge it, but I’m dealing with what I have.
#+begin_src R :session R:days :results value :var raw_example_dates=example_table :colnames yes
example_dates <- raw_example_dates %>%
separate(col = "range", sep = "–", c("start", "end")) %>%
mutate(start = paste0(start, ", ", year), end = paste0(end, ", ", year)) %>%
mutate(start = mdy(start), end = mdy(end)) %>%
mutate(name = as.factor(name)) %>%
| name | start | end |
| A | 2020-07-16 | 2020-08-18 |
| B | 2020-07-16 | 2020-08-01 |
| B | 2020-08-13 | 2020-08-22 |
| B | 2020-09-03 | 2020-09-07 |
| A | 2020-09-01 | 2020-10-02 |
| C | 2020-08-04 | 2020-08-12 |
Now I have a data frame (actually a tibble) with start and end dates for each thing. If your data is kept in a more orderly way, you could start here.
Next I need to build a tibble that has one row for each day for each thing. The next block has this and some more stuff.
First, I set up tmp_dates, a tibble that has a throwaway row that is just there to set up the column types. There’s probably a better way to do this, but I didn’t see how.
Next, I use pmap_dfr from purrr to iterate over the rows in the data. What I’m doing I copied from Map over each row of a dataframe in R with purrr by Angelo Zehr, because I’m new to purrr, but thanks to Zehr’s example I got the hang of it.. Row by row (where each row becomes a one-row tibble called current), I build a new multi-row tibble (tmp_table) where one column is the name (repeated on each row) and the other is a sequence of dates, made using seq from the start date to end date. The new tibble has one row for each date in the date range. It adds this table (with bind_rows) to the tmp_dates table it’s building along the way, which ends up being the return value of the function.
After that, I throw away the row I don’t need any more, and I do a date trick I use when I’m comparing dates across years and want everything to line up year to year: I make a column for the year that will be used for identification, and then adjust all the years so they are in 2020. For example, “2019-08-01” is in year 2019 but is changed to “2020-08-01” so it’s simple to compare 2019 and 2020 to each other.
Finally, I find the minimum and maximum dates so I can set limits on what the charts show. My data is focused on spring–fall, so I don’t want to waste space showing January or December.
#+begin_src R :session R:stony :colnames yes
tmp_dates <- tibble(name = "X", date = as.Date("2020-01-01")) ## Set up so column types are set.
eg_dates <- example_dates %>%
current = tibble (...)
dates <- seq(current$start, current$end - days(1), by = "day")
tmp_table <- tibble(name = current$name, date = dates)
details <- bind_rows(tmp_dates, tmp_table)
eg_dates <- eg_dates %>%
filter(! name == "X") %>%
mutate(year = year(date), date = date - years(year - 2020))
min_x_date <- min(eg_dates$date)
max_x_date <- max(eg_dates$date)
| name | date | year |
| A | 2020-07-16 | 2020 |
| A | 2020-07-17 | 2020 |
| A | 2020-07-18 | 2020 |
| A | 2020-07-19 | 2020 |
| A | 2020-07-20 | 2020 |
| A | 2020-07-21 | 2020 |
Now I can make a chart. I’ll switch to syntax-highlighted R here.
geom_tile makes a nice viz, but geom_point could also be used, though you’d need to change fill to colour. With three names and two years using colours may not be necessary, but with more data, it helps. I set the y-axis to be as.character(year) so R doesn’t show 2019, 2019.25, 2019.5, 2019.75, 2020.
Finally, here’s a chart groups by years, comparing names within each year. Left alone the years ended up with 2019 at the top, which I didn’t like (in other charts it goes low up to high, so 2020 is at the top) so I had to reorder (by reversing) the factors. As always, there’s probably a better way to do this, but it works.
Speaking of podcasts, my friend and collaborator Ashley Williamson (with whom I did Theatre Science) is teaching an intro to Canadian theatre history at the University of Toronto, Mississauga this term. It’s all online. As a way to get background information to her students outside of class time, so there’s more time in class (done over Zoom or something similar) for discussion and questions and problems, she’s doing a podcast: Dr. Canadiana.
It’s made for her students, but will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the subject. The episodes are about twenty minutes, and there will be some special mini-episodes digging into detailed topics. Each one is well researched and covers a lot of ground but in a lively and engaging way—this is definitely not an academic reading a paper in a dull drone.