Miskatonic University Press

Yellow Car again again

john.finnemore literature

Further to the Yellow Car in London Rules and Yellow Car in Joe Country there’s another Yellow Car in the new Slough House novel by Mick Herron, Bad Actors:

There was a game you could play, if you were into childish shit. Roddy wasn’t—a surefire way to tell a busy dude from a lightweight: no time for pissing about—but he’d heard the others at it, and what you did was, you saw a yellow car, and you mentioned it. End of. It beggared belief, what entertained the hard of thought.

One of the many things Herron is great at in this series is shifting from one character’s internal voice to another. The books are made up of sections done in free indirect speech, with one section from Shirley Dander’s point of view told in her style (probably angry), the next from Louisa Guy’s in her voice, and so on. The most funny are Roddy Ho’s sections, from one of which this quote is taken. He’s a great hacker but a complete loser otherwise, who in his internal monologue thinks of himself as a badass super-spy and refers to himself as the Rodmeister or HotRod or, one scene where he’s cosplaying Star Wars, HoBi-Wan Kenobi. Some of the funniest bits in the books are when we’ve been seeing things through the Rodster’s eyes and then suddenly switch to someone else’s point of view and see him through their eyes.

There’s one main character whose inner voice and mental states we never know: Jackson Lamb. He’s always putting on a show. A very times we see that it is a show, and we realize the strength of this revolting persona he’s built, and some of what it’s hiding, but we never get inside. We do know one thing, though: you don’t fuck with his joes.

Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone

bbc radio

Recently I discovered the BBC Radio 6 Music show Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone, hosted by Stuart Maconie. I’d heard him on Radio Four’s Round Britain Quiz for quite a while (fantastic quizzing there, with Val McDermid and the recently added Frankie Fanko, whom I saw on BBC TV’s Only Connect) but just this year poked around some more and found the show. I loved it from the first one I listened to. It’s described as “adventures in underground and experimental music,” which is what it is, a mix of old prog, new electronic, nonstandard jazz and much else; each week there’s a featured album, for which some history is given and from which several tracks are played.

I liked it so much I emailed in last month to say so. Tonight I was listening to the Experimental Explorations with Herbie Hancock show (29 May 2022) and was amazed and delighted to hear this in the listener emails section, a little over an hour in:

And William Denton, subject “New listener in Canada,” “I’ve heard you on RBQ” (that’s Round Britain Quiz, you don’t need to worry about that, that’s a very cerebral quiz on Radio Four which you should listen to, but hey, let’s not get detained by that right now), “I’ve been listening to you on that for quite a while but I’ve just started following Freak Zone. I like it enormously.” Ohh, this is the email we want! I hate those abusive emails we get. “I’ve enjoyed a few favourites, a few things I knew but hadn’t listened to in a while, and a whole lot of great stuff. I’ll be a regular from now on. Thank you. All best wishes from Toronto,” says Bill, but I was really taken by Bill’s little CV at the end of his email: “Librarian, artist and licensed private investigator.” Bill, you’ve got to tell us more about your working week, ‘cause that is a Sunday night ITV series waiting to happen, isn’t it? Anyway, thanks Bill.

He didn’t quote this, but I want to make sure it’s not overlooked: “Many thanks to you and BBC Radio for providing such great shows to the world.”


dashiell.hammett film joe.gores ross.thomas

Hammett the 1982 film directed by Wim Wenders, the adaptation of the 1975 novel by Joe Gores, is not nearly as good as the book. Gores was a private investigator turned writer, like Dashiell Hammett, and he knew Hammett and his work—both types—very well. They both knew San Francisco. The novel is one writer writing about another and his stories. The film is aimed at people that know The Maltese Falcon, especially John Huston’s 1941 adaptation with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Fair enough. It’s made by movie people. It’s certainly worth seeing by anyone with the slightest interest in any of this. But it’s not as good.

It does have several things going for it. One is Frederic Forrest as Hammett. He’s perfect. Another is the atmosphere: the costumes, sets and design are wonderful.

And then there are the bit parts and cameos: Sylvia Sidney, Royal Dano, Sam Fuller and best of all Elisha Cook Jr., who was Wilmer the gunsel in 1941.

This is Hammett introducing his librarian neighbour Kit Conger (played by Marilu Henner) to Eli the taxi driver, played by Cook.

Elisha Cook, Frederic Forrest and Marilu Henner
Elisha Cook, Frederic Forrest and Marilu Henner

Hammett: Kid, this is Eli, the last of the IWW organizers.

Conger: Are you really a Wobbly?

Eli: No, that’s just Hammett talking. What I am now is sort of an anarchist, with syndicalist tendencies.

Ross Thomas was one of the writers, and I bet he wrote that. Thomas has a non-speaking cameo as one of the rich men Hammett confronts at the end, in a scene with excellent cinematography.

Frederic Forrest and Ross Thomas
Frederic Forrest and Ross Thomas

It was nice to see David Fechheimer, another San Francisco PI, in the credits. He became a PI because of Hammett, but he stayed in the job and didn’t become a crime writer.

Still from the credits of the film
Still from the credits of the film

Article retraction

code4lib publications

I have retracted “On Two Proposed Metrics of Electronic Resource Use” (Code4Lib Journal 52, September 2021). I asked of the editors:

I request that the article be retracted. My use of personally identifiable information led to comments at the journal and a complaint to my employer (York University). To assist with the resolution of the matter I am voluntarily withdrawing the article.

I thank the editorial committee of C4LJ for its prompt attention to this.

Gores, Hammett and Keeler

joe.gores dashiell.hammett harry.stephen.keeler quotes ross.thomas

I was surprised to find Harry Stephen Keeler mentioned in the Joe Gores novel Hammett (1975), in chapter 27, where Dashiell Hammett (private detective turned writer, but now back on a case) is questioning a young woman:

When she had fled Capone’s Harlem Inn in Stickney, she had hidden in Chicago’s Chinatown for several weeks, until her cash had run out. Then she had gotten a job as a domestic in a rooming house on North State Street. She held it for over two years.

“Mrs. Rotariu was very nice. She called me Crystal and let me call her Anna even though I merely worked for her. The house was owned by a famous author named Keller or something—”

“Harry Stephen Keeler?”

“You know of him?” she exclaimed.

“I’ve read some of his stuff.” Hammett’s voice was flat, and a tense, wary look had entered his eyes.

(The look is not because of the mention of Keeler, but because Hammett has a sense where her story is leading.)

Hammett is set in 1928. Hammett’s second published short story, “Immortality,” was in the November 1922 issue of 10 Story Book, which Keeler edited from 1919 to 1940—so Keeler sent Hammett his second paycheque as a writer! Did Gores know this? Why did he mention Keeler? It’s an obscure reference to make.

Here is the full text of “Immortality.”

I know little of science or art or finance or adventure. I have never written anything except brief and infrequent letters to my sister in Sacramento. My name, were it not painted on the windows of my shop, would be unknown to even the Polish family that lives and has many children across the street. Yet I shall live in the memories of men when those names are on every one’s lips now are forgotten, and when the events of today are dim. I do not know whether I shall be remembered as a great wit, a dreamer of strange dreams, a great thinker, or a philosopher; but I do know that I, Oscar Blichy, the grocer, shall be an immortal. I have saved nearly seventeen thousand dollars from the profits of my shop during the last twenty years. I shall add to this amount as much as I can until the day of my death, and then it is to go to the writer of the best biography of me!

Ballantine paperback cover
Ballantine paperback cover

I found the Hammett-Keeler connection in volume 40 (December 2002) of Keeler News, the publication of the Harry Stephen Keeler Society (of which I am a proud member). I don’t know if the Hammett mention has been noted, so I’ll tell Richard Polt, who runs the Society. Perhaps a Keeler devotee knows enough about his life to say whether he really did own a boarding house. (There is no full biography of Keeler; I suggest this as potential dissertation topic.)

Hammett went on to be one of the greatest of all crime writers, and Keeler one of the strangest. I like them both.

And I like Joe Gores, another great crime writer (in fact a PI turned writer) and this is a crackerjack book. I’m rereading all his stuff and enjoying it enormously. Next I’ll rewatch the Wenders-Coppola 1982 film adaptation, co-written by Ross Thomas.

Mary John's Coffee Shop

alc archives toronto

I was looking through some 1943 issues of the Canadian Review of Music and Art and came across this page of ads in the April issue, volume one number three:

Have you ever strolled “down in the village”—Toronto’s own Greenwich Village—intentionally or—just casually?

There you shall find a group of some thirty little shops offering anything from originally designed jewellery, new conceptions in wearing apparel, photographic art, paintings, and a distinctive variety of objets d’art and bric-a-brac—from ceramics to wood and wrought-iron novelties. Just through curiosity, go “down in the village” some day for lunch, tea or dinner, and eat at “Mary John’s Coffee Shop,” founded by the pioneer of the village—the late Mrs. Abbie Gray Jensen—or at “Martha’s”—the only Viennese Restaurant in Toronto. The change in menu and atmosphere will delight you.

And then, browse around into the typically and quaint [sic] little shops—so different to anything you have ever seen.

(Whoever proofread the ads should have added a hyphen between “charcoal” and “broiled” in the Mary John’s ad.)

I’d never heard of this village, or Mary John’s, but John Lorinc’s article Looking back at Mary Johns, an artists’ haven in mid-century Toronto (Toronto Star, 19 July 2015) explains all about it in one of his typically excellent pieces on Toronto and its history.

The inn opened in the 1920s across from Hester How Public School and the Elizabeth St. playground, which sat on the site of the new wing of the Hospital for Sick Children.

A great source for detailed maps of older Toronto are the Goad’s fire atlases. Here I’ve picked out details from 1924, Plate 15 and 1924, Plate 12 to show the north and south sides of Gerrard St. West and Elizabeth St. Unfortunately Gerrard is the dividing line between two maps so you can’t see both sides of the street at once (at least, not without some digital editing, which I didn’t attempt).

Goad's map of Gerrard St, north side
Goad's map of Gerrard St, north side
Goad's map of Gerrard St, south side
Goad's map of Gerrard St, south side

We see 79 Gerrard St. West at the south-east corner of Gerrard and Elizabeth, across from the playground. That’s Mary John’s.

OpenStreetMap centred on Elizabeth and Gerrard shows what the area looks like now. Almost every house is gone. The northeast corner of the intersection is a large parking lot, but east of it, across the small street, is Jimmy’s Coffee in an original building. The southeast has a big office tower.

Map of the area as it is now
Map of the area as it is now

Lorinc continues:

The restaurant, which had adjoining dining rooms and tables packed closely together, catered to hospital and office workers, as well as local residents. [Daughter of the owners Lynda] Franklin, now a 71-year-old retired high school teacher, recalls typing out the menus on carbon paper. Her parents served hearty dishes like Salisbury steak, shepherd’s pie and charcoal blackened chicken, as well as salad, mashed potatoes and that staple of Anglo-Saxon cuisine, peas and carrots. Desserts included pie, ice cream and homemade butter tarts that, Franklin says with a chuckle, “were known throughout the land.”

Charcoal-broiled chicken indeed!

When she was growing up, Franklin’s friends included the children of some of the Village artists (and Mary Johns regulars), such as Judy Pocock, whose mother, Nancy Meek Pocock, was a well-known metal artist and peace activist.

For more details I looked in the 1943 City Directory to see who was listed. (See the Toronto Public Library’s Digital Toronto City Directories list for more.) On the north side of the street, across from Mary John’s, there’s Nancy Meek at 92 (she’s also in the ad above), in the same building as Mrs. Helarion E. Adams, “aura reader.”

City directory for Gerrard St. West, north side
City directory for Gerrard St. West, north side

And on the south side at 73–75 is Perry Hardy (“Percy” in the directory, but “Perry” in the ad above), who does “Particular Portraits for Particular People.” And Mary John’s Coffee Shop is at 79, along with Mrs. Helen Pope, “tea cup reader.”

City directory for Gerrard St. West, south side
City directory for Gerrard St. West, south side

There’s more about the village in Nicole Baute’s Our lost Greenwich Village (Toronto Star, 26 December 2008), Rick McGinnis’s Vanished Bohemia: Remembering Gerrard Village and the Golden Age of the Coffee House (14 October 2009) and in John Lorinc’s chapter “Before Yorkville” in The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood (edited by John Lorinc, Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg and Tatum Taylor; published by Coach House Books, 2015) (which I own but have neglected reading; I will remedy that soon).

Mary John’s ran ads regularly in the Canadian Review of Music and Art. Here’s another one from issue number six, October 1942.

Godfrey Ridout was 24 at the time. Adelmo Melecci and Eileen Law both deserve Wikipedia entries. Randolph Macdonald and Ridout were both members of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, as I am now.

Yellow Car again

john.finnemore literature

Further to the Yellow Car in London Rules, there’s a Yellow Car in the next book in Mick Herron’s Slough House series, Joe Country (2019).

Traffic shunted forwards, and came to a halt again. The lane heading back to London was moving freely, if with wariness; the snow was drawing black lines on the road where tyres had cut through it. It occurred to River that the lanes up ahead, the far side of the spilled load, might be inches thick by now. But we’ll plough that furrow when we come to it.

“Yellow car,” said Shirley.


But she didn’t explain.

And the snow kept falling.

Alfred Stieglitz hurts his finger and goes to emergency

art listening.to.art podcasts quotes

From episode 536 of The Modern Art Notes Podcast, with Barbara Bloemink interviewed about Florine Stettheimer, about whom she has written a biography: Florine Stettheimer: A Biography.

A very funny story—the reason I found Stettheimer—is, my professors all wanted me to work on Homer or Eakins for my PhD, and I was reading a letter from O’Keeffe because I was determined to work on a woman. The letter was about how her husband, Stieglitz, hurt his finger pulling on his underwear after taking a bath in the bathroom. She wanted him to just put a popsicle stick and a tape on it and go to Lake George with her, but he insisted on going to the emergency room, and after several hours of just sitting there, they finally found a doctor, who put a popsicle stick and a tape on it. She wrote to this woman, Florine Stettheimer, “Aren’t men ridiculous?” So I went to find who Florine Stettheimer was.

Stettheimer’s works are the subject of two issues of Listening to Art: volume four number nine, Picnic at Bedford Hills and volume four number ten, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp. Georgia O’Keeffe is featured in volume two number seven, Black Door with Red.



The other day I was in a Mark’s (formerly Mark’s Work Wearhouse) getting some new winter boots. I picked up a few other things, including socks. Here’s one pair.

Aggressor socks
Aggressor socks

The brand name is Aggressor. It’s a house brand. Several departments worth of people at Mark’s came up with the Aggressor name, tested it, got it approved, designed logos, marketed it, and are now selling it across the country.

My Chambers dictionary (thirteenth edition) defines aggressor: “the person who or force which attacks first.”

My new socks are comfortable and warm. They stayed up on my calf and did not fall down to my ankles, and were very pleasant to wear on a cold Toronto February day. Socks are meant to be comfortable and warm. Socks do not attack first. Socks do not attack at all.

Other Aggressor offerings include “Aggressor Women’s 8 Inch Steel Toe Steel Plate Work Boots.” Steel toe, steel plate. Aggressive? Not in and of themselves. That would be up to the wearer. Defensive, definitely. Safe, absolutely.

Aggressor boots
Aggressor boots

There are also “Aggressor Men’s Cowhide Winter Work Mittens” in cream white. Mittens are not aggressive. Stranglers use gloves. (Black gloves, not cream white.) They do not use mittens.

Aggressor mittens
Aggressor mittens

Finally there is the “Aggressor Dickie.”

Aggressor dickie
Aggressor dickie

Aggressor Dickie.

Pi-hole reinstall


This is my Raspberry Pi Zero W hanging from the USB cable that powers it. It runs Pi-hole, which blocks ads and trackers for every device on my home network.

My Raspberry Pi Zero W
My Raspberry Pi Zero W

I run uBlock Origin in my browsers (and NoScript and Cookie AutoDelete and so on), but the power of Pi-hole is that it blocks things at the network level: whatever is requesting an ad or sending information you’d rather it didn’t, this will block it, from applications down to the operating system. The change on phones is most noticeable: the CBC News app runs ads, but at home I never see them (and they can’t track me). I don’t play any games with built-in ads, but I bet the effect on them is wonderful.

Pi-hole runs silently, magically and reliably, but it’s nontrivial to set up. It worked for over two years without any trouble, but a couple of days ago I noticed I was seeing ads in the CBC News app: something was wrong!

I logged in and ran pihole -up (to update) and some other things, but there was some kind of networking problem, and the machine couldn’t resolve any hostnames. pihole -r (to repair) said this:

[✗] Retrieval of supported OS list failed. dig failed with return code 10.
    Unable to determine if the detected OS (Raspbian 10) is supported
    Possible causes for this include:
      - Firewall blocking certain DNS lookups from Pi-hole device
      - ns1.pi-hole.net being blocked (required to obtain TXT record from versions.pi-hole.net containing supported operating systems)
      - Other internet connectivity issues


    If you wish to attempt to continue anyway, you can try one of the following commands to skip this check:

    e.g: If you are seeing this message on a fresh install, you can run:
           curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | PIHOLE_SKIP_OS_CHECK=true sudo -E bash

         If you are seeing this message after having run pihole -up:
           PIHOLE_SKIP_OS_CHECK=true sudo -E pihole -r
         (In this case, your previous run of pihole -up will have already updated the local repository)

    It is possible that the installation will still fail at this stage due to an unsupported configuration.
    If that is the case, you can feel free to ask the community on Discourse with the Community Help category:

I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. The Pi’s name server was still working, so my laptop and phone could still connect to the internet without any trouble, which was great. (The Pi has a static IP and my router is configured so that when devices connect with DHCP they use it for DNS. I didn’t need to do anything about this for this reinstall, but it is necessary on a first install.) Confusingly, the Pi itself couldn’t. Also, the little green light was flashing, which it had never done before.

The easiest thing to do was reinstall a fresh system on the Pi. Maybe the little microSD card had a problem—it had been working for two years solid, after all. I picked up a 32 gig SanDisk Extreme from Canada Computers and got to work.

The first thing was to put the Raspberry Pi OS on the microSD card. The Raspberry Pi Imager makes this easy … once you get it to work. Following the “Download for Ubuntu for x86” (I’m running Ubuntu and it detected that) lets me download a .deb file, but there are no instructions about what to do with it. This is a stopper for many people. I happen to know I need to run dpkg --install at the command line to install it, but then this happened:

$ sudo dpkg --install imager_1.7.1_amd64.deb
(Reading database ... 510890 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack imager_1.7.1_amd64.deb ...
Unpacking rpi-imager (1.7.1) over (1.7.1) ...
dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of rpi-imager:
 rpi-imager depends on qml-module-qtquick2; however:
  Package qml-module-qtquick2 is not installed.
 rpi-imager depends on qml-module-qtquick-controls2; however:
  Package qml-module-qtquick-controls2 is not installed.
 rpi-imager depends on qml-module-qtquick-layouts; however:
  Package qml-module-qtquick-layouts is not installed.
 rpi-imager depends on qml-module-qtquick-templates2; however:
  Package qml-module-qtquick-templates2 is not installed.
 rpi-imager depends on qml-module-qtquick-window2; however:
  Package qml-module-qtquick-window2 is not installed.
 rpi-imager depends on qml-module-qtgraphicaleffects; however:
  Package qml-module-qtgraphicaleffects is not installed.

dpkg: error processing package rpi-imager (--install):
 dependency problems - leaving unconfigured
Processing triggers for gnome-menus (3.36.0-1ubuntu1) ...
Processing triggers for desktop-file-utils (0.24-1ubuntu3) ...
Processing triggers for mime-support (3.64ubuntu1) ...
Processing triggers for hicolor-icon-theme (0.17-2) ...
Errors were encountered while processing:

There’s nothing on the Pi page about dependencies. This is a stopper for more people.

I ran this:

sudo apt install qml-module-qtquick2 qml-module-qtquick-controls2 qml-module-qtquick-layouts \
  qml-module-qtquick-templates2 qml-module-qtquick-window2 qml-module-qtgraphicaleffects

That worked, but there was some kind of error and the system suggested I run this:

sudo apt --fix-broken install

That worried me, because every time I’ve seen that before there’s been a major problem, but this time it worked and all was well. Phew. Looking at the GitHub repo for the imager, next time I’d run this first to install all the build dependencies (some of which I already have installed, but not everyone would) and avoid any problems:

sudo apt install --no-install-recommends build-essential devscripts debhelper cmake \
  git libarchive-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev qtbase5-dev qtbase5-dev-tools \
  qtdeclarative5-dev libqt5svg5-dev qttools5-dev libssl-dev \
  qml-module-qtquick2 qml-module-qtquick-controls2 qml-module-qtquick-layouts \
  qml-module-qtquick-templates2 qml-module-qtquick-window2 qml-module-qtgraphicaleffects

All of that is a lot of work to do just to get the Raspberry Pi OS image installer working, and there’s no help about it on the site. Ideally I guess there would be an Ubuntu package that would handle everything, but that would mean packages for other Linux distros, and that’s work. I’ll submit a bug report with some suggestions about documentation.

Once I could use the image installer I was very impressed. It’s great.

Pi OS image installer writing to the microSD card
Pi OS image installer writing to the microSD card

It saw that I had the microSD card plugged in, and let me choose which operating system I wanted to put on it (it would do the downloading for me). And it let me do some basic system configuration! I put in the wifi information, enabled sshd and set up a password for the user pi (the only user on the system). With all that in place I just unplugged the Pi, took out the old card, put in the new one, plugged it back in, waited a bit … and I could ssh in! No more trouble hooking it up to a monitor and using a wireless keyboard to configure. This is a major improvement, and I congratulate and thank everyone that worked on it.

Now I could configure my account. (This is not necessary to get Pi-hole working, but I do this on all my systems.) To set up the en_CA.UTF-8 locale, there was an extra step: I needed to uncomment that line from /etc/locale.gen before I could run sudo locale-gen en_CA.UTF-8; sudo update-locale LANG=en_CA.UTF-8 to generate the files. Then I put in all my dot files with Conforguration.

Next was installing Pi-hole. The controversial way is this:

curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash

I trust Pi-hole, so I ran it, but then this happened:

E: Failed to fetch http://raspbian.raspberrypi.org/raspbian/pool/main/s/sqlite3/sqlite3_3.34.1-3_armhf.deb
Cannot initiate the connection to raspbian.raspberrypi.org:80 (2a00:1098:0:80:1000:75:0:3). - connect (101: Network is unreachable)

Cripes, I thought, what’s going on? I’ve got a fresh install here and there’s some sort of networking problem where it can’t connect to a site that is definitely up and working. I ran sudo apt install sqlite3 and that worked without trouble, which was good. I thought I’d try the other installation method:

cd /tmp/
wget -O basic-install.sh https://install.pi-hole.net
sudo bash basic-install.sh

That worked perfectly. Why, when the first attempt didn’t? Who knows. Another one of those fiddly problems that can be confusing. I accepted all the defaults, and when it was done reset the admin password:

pihole -a -p "My fancy new admin password"

Because my network has the Pi-hole as my name server, once it was working everything was back to where it had been (except that I was still seeing some ads on my phone, so I rebooted it and then they went away).

Pi-hole dashboard
Pi-hole dashboard

Now I’m back to an ad-free home network.

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