Miskatonic University Press

PIs and libraries

libraries pi

A quote from David Fechheimer, found in Sleuthing in San Francisco by Diane Manuel (Stanford Magazine, July–August 2000):

“He’s smart, fun, intellectual, well-educated and eccentric,” says David Fechheimer, a prominent San Francisco sleuth. “I’ve always felt that the people best prepared to be private investigators are former graduate students, who know how to use the library. He also has a balanced family life, which is unusual in the detective business. He’s found that it’s possible to make a good living doing serious work that’s also fun.”

Former grad students, sure. But librarians know even more.

Teambuilding in the Time of Covid-19: A Zoom Play

conferences covid.19 libraries theatre york

I mentioned before that I gave a short talk at LACUNY Institute 2020/2021. A large group of my colleagues at York University Libraries were also part of the program, but they did something much bigger, a really wonderful piece of performance librarianship: Teambuilding in the time of COVID-19: A Zoom Play.

In a strange and scary time, exiled from their place of work, a group of (relative) strangers turn a wellbeing exercise into so much more.  Picture this: a threat invisible to the naked eye empties out an entire 60, 000-person campus; the library locks its door with an hour’s notice; and the people who like to help are sent home indefinitely.  How are they, the library people, going to survive, thrive and help the faculty and students now dispersed to the four corners of the world?  This short play will tell you how.

The pandemic shut down the old ways of communicating, BUT library services still had to be available. The professional and para-professional staff in the library overcame personal, technical and other challenges to build a new team that would serve its public.  BUT team building requires communication and trust. How was trust in the new team built in an online environment known for its comical awkwardness? The limitations of Zoom were turned into a strength: week by week, turn by turn, everyone got to speak and truly listen to their team members.  The common launching off point was a carefully selected video on skills building, library services, accessibility and diversity.  Video by video, varied insights meant that team members were visible to each other as fellow humans and co-workers! A team was born.  Learn what each player in this team did to make it come alive. Come by and watch:  Teambuilding in the Time of COVID: A Play

The full script is up, as is the video:

It’s exactly the kind of thing I like to see, and they did a wonderful job. My congratulations to them all.

Remember him? Well, he died


Last summer I grabbed a screenshot of this weird advertisement that appeared in some app or other.

Strange ad
Strange ad

“Remember Him? Well, He Died.”

I never investigated this. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t want to know.

Remember him? Well, he died.

Media collections librarian job open at York University

code4lib york

York University Libraries is looking for a media collections librarian.

York University Libraries seeks a dynamic and innovative individual with strong leadership potential to advance its portfolio in media collections: film, sound recordings, audiovisual recordings and photography, both digital and analogue. This person will support the teaching, learning and research needs of all our users. This continuing appointment position is open to those with any mix of direct experience or expertise with media content and its development, preservation, licensing and analysis.

The department listed as I write is incorrect: it’s not Open Scholarship, it’s Content Development and Analysis, which is where I work.

I’m the chair of the search committee, so I can’t give any off the record advice or insight the way I usually do, but Interviewing at York University Libraries still generally holds true. I guess there’s a chance that something might happen in person, but it seems more likely to be online, so the course of the day will be different. We’re planning on doing some other things a little differently, to make the process more inclusive, and when it’s over I’ll report back on that.

One thing I can say is: If you have a library degree and experience managing a media collection, then please consider applying! We are happy to take anything into consideration about someone’s career path or personal circumstances so far. Notice too that the posting requires some experience but in many places talks about “ability” or “promise” to do something, so for example if someone hasn’t had a chance to teach or do research consultations yet that doesn’t count them out.

If you’d like to talk to one of my colleagues who’s not on the search committee and can tell you more about the library and the work, email me at work and I’ll pass it on to someone.

The position is open because of the retirement of the great Rob van der Bliek, who will be much missed. If you’re a Monk fan, check out The Thelonious Monk Reader, a wonderful collection he edited.

Some Nero Wolfe links

anthony.powell rex.stout ross.thomas

Some good recent Nero Wolfe things to check out:

Iverson’s in great form on the podcast, and his essay and Bordwell’s are both insightful and delightful.

See also The Wolfe Pack, which I joined recently (and note Iverson’s differences with them). And Iverson’s written about Charles Willeford, Donald E. Westlake, Ross Thomas, Eric Ambler and Anthony Powell.

Second vaccination shot

covid.19 literature

I got my second vaccination shot today, this time with the Pfizer-BioNTech. The doctor who gave me the injection asked if I was allergic to PEG, which I’d never heard of. It appears I’m not. After all the familiar questions and the brief review about mixing the Oxford-Astra Zeneca with this, she asked if I had any questions.

“No,” I said. “I’m just very happy to be here.”

“So am I.”

In the waiting room I got out Virtual Light by William Gibson. I was up to chapter twenty-nine, which includes this (in tight third person on Berry Rydell, who fell asleep in the back of an RV):

He’d been dreaming about Mrs. Armbruster’s class, fifth grade at Oliver North Elementary. They were about to be let out because LearningNet said there was too much Kansas City flu around to keep the kids in Virginia and Tennessee in school that week. they were all wearing these molded white paper masks the nurses had left on their seats that morning. Mrs. Armbruster had just explained the meaning of the word pandemic. Poppy Markoff, who sat next to him and already had tits out to here, had told Mrs. Armbruster that her daddy said the KC flu could kill you in the time it took to walk out to the bus. Mrs. Armbruster, wearing her own mask, the micropore kind from the drugstore, started in about the word panic, tying that in to pandemic because of the root, but that was where Rydell woke up.

He sat up. He had a headache and the start of a cold. Kansas City flu. Maybe Mokola fever.

“Don’t panic,” he said, under his breath.

Virtual Light was published in 1993.

Today in 2021, because I gave up on Twitter, I use a free and open source anonymizing browser to route my traffic through a series of encrypting and decrypting servers so I can maintain my anonymity while I check on what William Gibson says there as @greatdismal. I can do this on a powerful handheld computer that runs an operating system made by one of the biggest and most privacy-invading corporations in the world, while wearing a mask to protect me from a global pandemic, while the western side of my country is coming out from under a climate change-provoked record-breaking heat wave that shows us what day-to-day life will be like in a few decades.

Julian Opie soundtracking his shows

art john.cage listening.to.art

A Brush with … Julian Opie is a good episode of The Art Newspaper’s “A Brush with” podcast. I knew nothing about Julian Opie before, but enjoyed browsing his web site and hope to see a show one day.

There’s some talk about what Opie listens to when he’s working. He likes spa music, nature sounds, that sort of thing … Ben Luke, the interviewer, helpfully mentions ambient music, Brian Eno and John Cage.

Opie then talks about some music he’s made to be played at his shows:

I’ve made some soundtracks, and I played them in a museum show I made in Tokyo last year. One was a computer program that my clever assistant came up with that translates the sound of a blackbird into a piano note. I’m not the first person to do such a thing, but what maybe hasn’t generally been done quite so much before is to make an algorithm from that. We took the various tweets of the blackbird, looked at that as a set of algorithms, took the notes, and turned that into piano sounds and ran it as a constant random algorithm that plays throughout the time that you’re in the exhibition. Part of my reason for doing that was that I noticed when I went to look at the museum that everyone was going around clicking their camera at the exhibition (not mine, the previous one) and it made this constant sound: kssh kssh, kssh-k-kssh. Plus the click of high-heeled shoes, and I thought, that’s kind of interesting, but it’s not very much to do with me. I didn’t control that. I’d rather write my own soundtrack, so I did that with the blackbirds. And I did some more, and I may well be, you’ll see, if you come and see this exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, whether I am thinking of maybe doing something similar here in order to animate the spaces here, and to give a sense of atmosphere, which music can do like nothing else. But it won’t be a piece of music, it’ll be something more like some kind of an algorithm that will play constantly and be evocative.

It’s striking that he was aware of and attentive to the sounds people were making in the exhibit (at least, cameras and heels), but thought, “It’s not very much to do with me. I didn’t control that.” So he made his own soundtrack, imposing his own music on the space and the visitors.

Double-grepping to solve a crossword puzzle

puzzles unix

Puzzlebomb is a monthly puzzle page made by Katie Steckles and Paul Taylor. I recently subscribed and am enjoying having the sheet up on my fridge so I can work away at it.

There’s a “G _ P W _ R D” puzzle in the current issue: a crossword where some of the letters in the clues are missing, and you learn what they are by filling in the grid. As they put it, “Solve the clues to determine letters to write in the grids to fill in the gaps in the clues in order to put the answers in.”

It may be hard to understand it all without showing the grids, but here’s how I solved one (two) clues that had me a bit stuck. Once I thought about this way of solving I had to try it.

The clue is a word with a missing first letter:

x I T C H

And I know from the grid that the first letter of the clue is the first letter of the answer:

x _ A _ N

There are just a few options for the first word, but many more for the second. This shell script goes through all the words in /usr/share/dict/words, finds the ones that match the first pattern, picks out their first letters, then finds any words that match the second pattern.



grep -E -i "^..a.n$" $dict | while read -r word
    grep -E -i "^${init}itch$" $dict | while read -r clue
     	echo "Does $clue mean $word?"

With the options to grep, "^..a.n$" means “do a case-insensitive search for any word that is exactly five letters long where the third letter is A and the fifth is N.”

Does bitch mean Brain?
Does ditch mean Deann?
Does ditch mean Diann?
Does bitch mean brain?
Does bitch mean brawn?
Does ditch mean drain?
Does ditch mean drawn?
Does pitch mean plain?
Does pitch mean prawn?

There we are: DITCH and DRAIN. Solved!

(I used to do for word in $(grep foo $dict), but shellcop told me to do it with while read, so I’m trying that out.)

Analyzing the structure of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, Series 9

john.finnemore r radio

I said before that “John Finnemore is doing something incredible with the new series of John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.”

I don’t know how Finnemore’s going to end it, but I’m certain it’s going to be good. I think he’s doing something incredible here, and when it ends it will be not just some of his finest work but a radio series that will last forever.

It is. It’s one of the finest things I’ve ever heard on radio. If you haven’t heard it: go listen!

Structurally, it’s six half-hour episodes about an extended family, focusing on five members: mid-thirties parent Russ, his mother Deborah, her father Jerry, his mother Vanessa, and also Uncle Newt, who’s not really an uncle but has been attached to the family for decades. Each episode has scenes that go in reverse chronological order, and the first five episodes move back through the family from Russ to Newt. The sixth is different.

This structure (which really clicks into place with episode three) lets Finnemore tell the story of the family in a delightful way, where we hear unusual sayings or odd family customs long before (to us) we learn how they started. A lot of the show is about this familect. The structure (and how Finnemore chooses the scenes) also means there is no tragedy, because when we learn someone is dead, we know that in a few scenes they will be alive again. This doesn’t mean there is no sadness—there are some heartbreaking scenes—but we don’t follow someone’s life through to their death and then they’re gone, we see fragments of their lives that show how they are made up (sometimes unknowingly) of previous generations and how they in turn shape future generations.

The show doesn’t require repeated listenings, but it does deserve them. It’s not meant to be hard to put the pieces together, and it isn’t—Finnemore said on Twitter he didn’t mean it to be a puzzle—but there is a great pleasure that comes from realizing in a later episode what a small thing in an earlier episode actually meant. Many listeners made their own timelines to better appreciate all this. I did too, and put it all together into a spreadsheet. Then I wanted to see it visually, so I made some charts. Here’s one:

Scenes in time
Scenes in time

Listen to the six episodes first, then have a look at Analysing the Structure of John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme, Series 9 (PDF). It’s twelve pages long and includes a lot of code, but you can just look at the charts.

About the show and its structure:

Some background on a few things, none of which is necessary to know on first listening:

(UPDATED 18 June 2021 with the “Jawbone” point.)

Galleries index on Listening to Art


I’ve added a gallery index to Listening to Art, which makes it easy to listen to all the recordings made at a given gallery.

Volume nine number two was published today: New York City by Piet Mondrian, recorded at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, in Paris.

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