A few days ago a friend mentioned she’d picked up a book by Elisabeth Russell Taylor, based on her introduction to a book by Elizabeth Taylor (not thatElizabeth Taylor). (I’ve been reading some Elizabeth Taylor recently myself, and would recommend Angel (1957) and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (1971).)
I had a vague memory of seeing a book by Elisabeth Russell Taylor once, and was curious to know more about her. I did what I always do: I looked her up on Wikipedia.
She had no Wikipedia entry. So I created one: Elisabeth Russell Taylor. I spent about an hour on it late one night, pasting in a partial bibliography, setting up the infobox, putting in a reference to her Guardian obit but not citing it, and adding some categories and the authority control template. (It looked like this when I was done.)
I woke up the next morning to several notifications from Wikipedia. Someone had unpublished the page and made it a draft, saying it wasn’t ready for publication! Someone else undid that and made it live again! I thanked him. That night I made some edits, added some citations, and it’s a decent stub now. The difficulty in getting it started was much less than I’d feared: see the article creation and deletion section of Wikipedia’s entry on gender bias on Wikipedia for more.
Here’s an odd thing: there used to be a page about Elisabeth Russell Taylor, but it was deleted when everything created by a sock puppet account was wiped. The history log for the page shows that it was created and reviewed in January 2021 and then deleted in November. I can’t figure out how to get to the previous version, but there’s this strange archived version on another site. It was a decent entry! I don’t know about the account that made it, but this particular entry was a solid beginning and was an unfortunate side effect of the mass deletion. I referred to it when making my own updates.
From Protocol for a Kidnapping (1971) by Ross Thomas under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck, at the start of chapter four:
Amfred Killingsworth had been managing editor of the Chicago Post only six months in 1957 before Who’s Who got around to sending him a form letter that contained a request for a brief life history along with the usual hard sell pitch to buy the 1958 edition at a sizable discount.
Killingsworth ordered a dozen copies and then used four 8½” × 11” sheets, single-spaced, to tell all about himself and the high points of his life, beginning with the American Legion oratory prize of five dollars that he won in 1932 when he was eleven in Miss Nadine Cooper’s 6-A class at Horace Mann school in Omaha. I know because he gave me his own draft to boil down to three pages.
“Four pages is just a shade too long, don’t you think?” he asked in that deep butterscotch voice of his that made “please pass the salt” sound even better than the first line in Moby Dick.
“I don’t know,” I said, rolling a sheet of paper into my typewriter, “you’ve led a rather fulsome life.”
I’m not sure why I bothered to play my word games with Killingsworth because all he’d said was, “Yes,” nodded his big, square, blond head in thoughtful agreement, and added, “I guess that’s the right word for it.” Then he’d started to leave, but turned back to say, “By the way, if you can’t boil me down to three pages, Phil, three and a half will do just fine.”
From The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition, 5.250 (“Good usage versus common usage”):
fulsome, adj. This word does not preferably mean “very full” but “too much, excessive to the point of being repulsive.” Traditionally, a “fulsome speech” is one that is so overpacked with thanks or hyperbole as to sound insincere. The word’s slipshod use arises most often in the cliché fulsome praise, which can suggest the opposite of what the writer probably intends.
I’m continuing to listen to the old-time radio show Suspense, “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills.” It’s one of the best anthology shows from back then, with top-notch writing, acting and production from people who knew how to make great radio drama. Why listen to yet another podcast of two people chatting about not much when there’s all that great old radio available on the Internet Archive? Start with the 1942 episodes and work your way forward. (Or try The Jack Benny Program, an absolute comedy masterpiece.)
The episode gets off to a quick start—Suspense was always efficient—with Moorehead’s character narrating that she is going to kill her husband, then doing so. His hands make scratching sounds as he claws for survival as he dies. Hearing similar sounds later makes her faint—and the sounds really are screechy, annoying to the listener, too.
About half way through she attends a chamber music performance of “The Thirteenth Sound,” a (fictional, I presume) composition by Julián Carrillo, who I didn’t know but was a real composer who invented a microtonal system by that name. There’s a realistically awkward introduction explaining that the musicians aren’t out of tune, it’s supposed to sound that way. Admirers of microtonal music will grimace ruefully. The music makes her faint again.
I won’t give away the ending, but it involves sound (and of course she is punished for her evil deeds, as always happened on Suspense, usually with a nice twist).
Sound is used very effectively in this episode, and the avant-garde music is a surprising touch.
Here’s another example of something I noticed ending up in the newsletter of a literary society devoted to a writer I like, in this case the Anthony Powell Society. Back in August 2020 in Donna Summer and the Dance I reported on something I’d heard on BBC Radio Four’s Great Lives. I also mentioned it on the mailing list for the society. Guy Robinson noticed that, dug into the matter some more, and wrote it up for Newsletter 87 (Summer 2022):
During lockdown I was struggling psychologically somewhat—as we all were—and like many others sought succour from the AP List. Imagine my delight when in September 2020 I spotted a post from William Denton highlighting Dance as an inspiration for Donna Summer’s I Remember Yesterday album from 1977 and therefore with her greatest hit ‘I Feel Love’. At last—my dream of a link between AP and 70’s disco had been established! Obviously, this required investigation in more detail.
Checking my records I see the first Keeler novels I read were Sing-Sing Nights (1928), The Amazing Web (1930) and The Marceau Case (1936). They got me hooked, and I think any would work as a good first Keeler if you want to sample his unique œuvre. For me, I think it’s time to do some rereading …
Is there an interface for automated systems to access comics and metadata?
Yes. You can get comics through the JSON interface, at URLs like https://xkcd.com/info.0.json (current comic) and https://xkcd.com/614/info.0.json (comic #614).
It also says:
xkcd.com updates without fail every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
It’s always seemed so to me, but I felt like checking.
First, let’s get the data. Friday’s comic was number 2799, and we can fetch the JSON data for it with curl and format it with jq:
jq is built for picking information out of JSON, like so:
Better yet, we can format it as CSV:
The comics are numbered from 1–2799 without break, so we can fetch them with a looping shell script that gets each JSON file, picks out the data, and appends it to a file:
(The echo parameters show the number of the file being downloaded in a tidy way.)
When that’s done, we can fire up R. (Of course, we could have got the data in R, but a shell script is faster and easier for me.) Load in the tidyverse packages, then read the data and turn the raw date information stored into something more useful:
I don’t use day_of_year but I’ll leave it in there just in case.
The first 44 comics are dated 2006-01-01, but we’ll ignore that. Try a quick chart (the image is a link that will show the image on its own, probably much larger):
Looks very regular overall, with a few odd weeks here and there. Let’s tweak a few things:
The days of the week aren’t plotting nicely, so we need to make the week start on Monday. Then fiddle a few more options to make a more finished chart.
At a glance it’s easy to see that (setting aside early 2006) Munroe overwhelmingly does post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There have been four weeks where he also posted on Tuesday and Thursday. It looks like there have been a number of weeks where he posted Wednesday’s comic on Tuesday. Maybe that’s a time zone thing. How many weeks have there been where he didn’t post three comics?
Look at all those weeks numbered 01 or 53: those are partials at the beginning or end of a year. Ignore them. (To be sure about the counts, I should handle these weeks specially and sum across the entire week containing 01 January, but I can’t be bothered right now, so I’ll just ignore them. By eye it looks right.)
So it happened once each in 2006, 2012, 2016 and 2018. That’s dedication!
(I could have used the R package xkcd to make the charts look like an xkcd comic, but it requires installing a special font, and I couldn’t be bothered to do that either.)
Many thanks to Randall Munroe for providing the JSON files as well as his great comic.
At work someone sent in a question, but with no contact information so we coudn’t reply. They sent a link to this record and asked, “Can I abbreviate the title?” The title is:
The new and complete life of our blessed Lord, and Saviour, Jesus Christ that great example, as well as saviour of mankind. Containing a More Complete, Authentic, Ample, Accurate, Instructive, Universal, and Full Account (freed from Popish Superstition, and other Errors) than was ever before Published, of all the Real Facts, relating to the Exemplary Life, Meritorious Sufferings, and Triumphant Death of Our Glorious Redeemer, Who took upon himself our Sinful Nature, Was Crucified for our Sins, Rose Again for our Justification, Ascended into Heaven, and now Sitteth at the Right-Hand of God, making Intercession for Us; Particularly his Incarnation, Nativity, Genealogy, Baptism, Preservation, Circumcision, Presentation, Early Transactions, Divine Mission, Fasting, Ministry, Temptation, Doctrines, Calling and Appointment of the Apostles, Miracles, Parables, Travels, Humility, Charity, Patience, Meekness, Sufferings, Transfiguration, Passion, Institution of the Sacraments; Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection, Appearance, and Ascension, &c. &c. &c. To which is Added, A New, Complete, and Authentic History of the Lives, Transactions, Sufferings, and Deaths, of his Holy Apostles, Evangelists, Disciples, And other Eminent Persons and Primitive Christians, who first Propagated the Christian Religion, and to cruel Persecutors laid down their Lives in the Glorious Cause of Jesus Christ; particularly St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Andrew, St. James the Great, St. Philip, St. Bartholomew, St. Thomas, St. James the Less, St. Simon, St. Jude, St. Matthias, St. Barnabas, St. Stephen, Timothy, Silas, Mary Magdalene, Mary Sister of Lazarus, Mary of Cleophas, Mary of Salome, Trophimus, Tychicus, Tertius, Linus, Onesiphorus, Stephanus, Phebe, Sosipater, Clement, Ananias, Nicolas, Nicodemus, Joseph, Philemon, Priscilla, Titus, &c. Also, A New, Useful, and Interesting Account of the Life of the Messiah’s great Forerunner John the Baptist; And likewise the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Together with A Faithful Account of the Successors of the Apostles, for Three Hundred Years after the Crucifixion, in the five great Apostolical Churches. Comprehending, The Whole Doctrine of Christianity, the Evidences fairly stated upon which it is founded, and the Manner of its Establishment in different Parts of the World. - Including a Complete Defence of Christianity, containing Plain and Satisfactory Answers to all the Objections made against our Holy Religion, by Jews, Turks, Atheists, Deists, Infidels, and Free-Thinkers of the present Age, who are a Disgrace to Human Nature, and strive to level Mankind with the Brute Creation; whereby the Religion of the great Redeemer of Mankind is proved to be Genuine and truly Divine. The Whole Interspersed with Practical Improvements, and Useful Remarks, Familiarly Adapted to every Capacity, and designed to Promote, in every Christian, the necessary Practice of Faith and Repentance, as the only appointed Means whereby God can be Reconciled with Man. This Complete Work being the Result of long Study and Experience, and not a hasty Performance, has been regularly digested and collected, not only from the Evangelists, Epistles, &c. but also from Josephus, the most judicious Ecclesiastical Historians, and other Books as well as Manuscripts (ancient and modern) of Undoubted Authority. It will therefore comprise a great Variety of the most Important, Valuable, and Curious Matter relating to the Life and Death of our Blessed Saviour and his Apostles, &c. not to be found in any other Work of the Kind whatever. By Paul Wright, D. D. Vicar of Oakley, &c. in Essex, late of Pembroke-Hall, Cambridge; And Author of the Christian’s New and Complete British Family Bible;-of the New and Complete Edition of Fox’s Original Book of Martyrs;-And of The New Edition of the Whole Book of Common Prayer, with Notes, and other necessary Illustrations;-All of which respective Works are universally approved of in every Respect, by the Public in general, who have perused the Numbers already published. Embellished with the most elegant, valuable, and numerous set of large copper-plate prints ever published in a work of this kind; finely engraved from the original Drawings of Hamilton, Chalmers, West, Samuel Wale, Esq. &c. by those ingenious and celebrated Artists, Messrs. Pollard, Rennoldson, Taylor, Tookey, Smith, Page, Granger, Morris, Royce, Golder, Collier, Parker, and Other Eminent Masters.
The title page (published around 1790) is fantastic:
Yes, the title can be shortened. The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) has rule 14.97, “Older titles and very long titles,” which says in part:
Titles of works published in the eighteenth century or earlier may retain their original punctuation, spelling, and capitalization (except for whole words in capital letters, which should be given an initial capital only). Very long titles may be shortened in a bibliography or a note; indicate such omissions by the use of bracketed ellipses.
I might shorten the title (and slightly reformat and correct the bib record) to:
The New and Complete Life of Our Blessed Lord, and Saviour, Jesus Christ: That Great Example, as well as Saviour of Mankind. Containing a More Complete, Authentic, Ample, Accurate, Instructive, Universal, and Full Account […] It Will Therefore Comprise a Great Variety of the Most Important, Valuable, and Curious Matter Relating to the Life and Death of Our Blessed Saviour and His Apostles, &c. Not to Be Found in Any Other Work of the Kind Whatever.