Miskatonic University Press



After a year I’m back to reading the last eight Parker novels by Richard Stark (really Donald E. Westlake). Of all the first lines, the opening of Firebreak (2001) is one of the best:

When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.

There’s this great exchange at the end of the first section:

“I’m really sorry,” Lloyd said. “Some habits just die hard.”

“Some things die easier,” Parker told him.

Scholarly Communications and Metrics Librarian posting extended

code4lib libraries york

The Scholarly Communications and Metrics Librarian job posting at York University Libraries (which I mentioned in December) has been extended and the closing date is now 10 February 2023.

Robin Sloan fiddling


I happened to be looking at Robin Sloan’s site and saw a link to Perfect Edition, “which aims to provide a lean, fast-loading web e-book template with a kind of definitive sturdiness.” I love the message on his most recent commit.

Screenshot of Perfect Edition's GitHub repo
Screenshot of Perfect Edition's GitHub repo

“Just fiddling because it is so soothing to do so.”

It’s well worth following his RSS feed.

Ruby 3.2 problem with Jekyll

jekyll ruby

Late last year Ruby 3.2.0 was released. I bumped Conforguration to use this version and updated to it with two commands (the first to update rbenv with current information about Ruby versions):

$ ~/conforg/scripts/ruby-rbenv.sh
$ ~/conforg/scripts/ruby-install-personal.sh

Now I have Ruby 3.2.0 installed and it’s the default version. Good. But …

I use Jekyll to run this site, and the source is in my ~/web/ directory. I wanted to make sure it worked with the new Ruby version, so I began by updating Bundler and the required Ruby gems (third-party software packages).

$ cd ~/web/
$ bundle update --bundler

That worked. But then I ran this to build the site (actually, I ran make, because I have a Makefile to simplify things, but I won’t get into that):

$ bundle exec jekyll build
Configuration file: /home/wtd/web/_config.yml
            Source: /home/wtd/web
       Destination: /var/www/miskatonic/local/dynamic
 Incremental build: disabled. Enable with --incremental
  Liquid Exception: undefined method `tainted?' for "https://www.miskatonic.org":String in /home/wtd/web/_layouts/post.html
      Jekyll 4.2.0   Please append `--trace` to the `build` command
                     for any additional information or backtrace.
/home/wtd/.rbenv/versions/3.2.0/lib/ruby/gems/3.2.0/gems/liquid-4.0.3/lib/liquid/variable.rb:124:in `taint_check': undefined method `tainted?' for "https://www.miskatonic.org":String (NoMethodError)
  return unless obj.tainted?

It turns out that Liquid 4 is not compatible with Ruby 3.2. Liquid is the templating language Jekyll uses. Liquid is now at version 5, but there’s a small problem preventing Jekyll from using it, so Jekyll still uses version 4, yet version 4 doesn’t work with Ruby 3.2. Thus my error.

However, this isn’t a fatal problem (as you can tell because I am posting about it) because rbenv lets me specify a particular version of Ruby for a given project.

$ rbenv versions
* 3.2.0 (set by /home/wtd/.rbenv/version)
$ rbenv local
rbenv: no local version configured for this directory
$ rbenv local 3.1.1
$ rbenv local
$ cat .rbenv-version

Now I’m using Ruby 3.2 generally but 3.1.1 for this Jekyll project, and everything works.

Writing this out I see how complicated it all is, but static site generators like Jekyll are the simple way of making web sites! Everything about the web is vastly more complicated than it was way back when. Nevertheless, after nine years I’m still very happy I moved to Jekyll. It helps keep things about as simple as they can be.

Scholarly Communications and Metrics Librarian position at York University

code4lib libraries york

A new job posting just went up at York University Libraries for a Scholarly Communications and Metrics Literacy Librarian, who will be in the Open Scholarship and Digital Scholarship Infrastructure departments. Applications are due by 12 January 2023.

York University Libraries is seeking a two-year contractually-limited appointment (CLA) for a Scholarly Communications and Metrics Literacy Librarian to support library and institutional priorities around increasing research participation, maximizing the impact and diversity of York’s scholarly outputs, and supporting the research visibility needs of scholars at York University. The successful candidate will be directly responsible for co-developing, advancing, and supporting a range of services around scholarly communications, research impact, and metrics literacy. Working in coordination with colleagues in the departments of Open Scholarship and Digital Scholarship Infrastructure, the candidate will support programs designed to monitor York’s publications and attribution record in bibliometric data sources; coordinate disambiguation and publication profiling efforts at the university; provide guidance on the responsible use of metrics; and support individual researcher needs around research impact reporting. The candidate will also support research data management programs at York, in partnership with data librarians and scholarly communications librarians.

My Interviewing at York University Libraries page is a little out of date (setting aside the pandemic and that we’ve been doing interviews online), but is still good about York and the whole search process. I’m on the search committee and would rather not answer questions about it, but anyone can email the address in the posting, or I could recommend someone else to talk to.

I will say that we have designed the requirements to suit new librarians, and people can think broadly about all their experiences when describing how they meet them. Examples don’t need to come from lots of work experience in libraries—they can come from library school, or work, or other interests. If you’re looking for work and think you meet most of the requirements, consider applying! Make your case in your letter and we’ll give it serious attention. We will be inclusive and expansive in whom we consider.

I encourage applicants to use the self-identification form as appropriate.



Overheard today, from a woman talking on her phone on the other side of the street: “You need to email him now, Brent. We need the money for the law suit!”

Dinosaurs and humans


Did dinosaurs and humans coexist, as controversial Sask. textbook claims? We asked an expert. This CBC story is about recent events with the Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon, a fundamentalist evangelical school that uses the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. It sounds like an absolutely terrible school, as this earlier story shows. It’s Stockwell Day-type creationist nonsense.

The piece says:

The government opposition read from a biology textbook used at an independent Saskatchewan school that read, in part, “scientific evidence tends to support the idea that men and dinosaurs existed at the same time.”

A CBC radio host talked to a paleontologist, who gives good answers to a bunch of questions that don’t need asking.

But they both keep saying dinosaurs only existed in the past! Of course, we know what they mean, but one of the astounding things about dinosaurs is that they didn’t go extinct. They walk (and fly and swim) among us today! Humans and dinosaurs do coexist! We just call them “birds” now. It’s important to remember this, and that this understanding has only come about in the last few decades. Our knowledge of life tens and hundreds of millions of years ago continues to grow.

Quirks and Quarks

radio science

I doubt I’ll ever be interviewed on Quirks and Quarks, but I appeared on the special 29 October 2022 episode celebrating host Bob McDonald’s thirtieth anniversary on the show. About half an hour in, there’s a short clip of me saying how much I like the way Bob uses analogies to simplify and clarify what scientists say.

Quirks is excellent science journalism. I’ve been listening for decades and rarely miss a show. People all over the world can listen to the podcast. Anyone interested in science should try it if they don’t already follow it.

Libraries in Bottom Liner Blues

kc.constantine libraries

As I continued my rereading of all the Mario Balzic novels by K.C. Constantine, in the tenth book, Bottom Liner Blues, I came across something I’d forgotten until seeing it again: a long, long rant about copyright. It annoyed me when I first read it and it did again now. It starts on p. 142 and ends on p. 189. Forty-seven pages of a writer hectoring Balzic about how public libraries are ripping him off. Forty-seven pages of a bad argument from an angry writer who’s created an angry writer character to be his mouthpiece.

Cover of Bottom Liner Blues
Cover of Bottom Liner Blues

The writer character is Nick Myushkin, who appears here for the first time in the series. He’s written nine books. (Remember this is Constantine’s tenth.) Here’s a bit that explains his argument. Balzic, the police chief, has gone out to his house because he’s been shooting his gun in his back yard. Myushkin is dead broke and angry as hell.

“Then what’s your bitch with the libraries? I mean, if they buy your books, what’re you bitchin’ about? Sounds to me like they do the same thing I do, which you just said is okay with you. I buy the book, I read it, I give it to my wife, she reads it, she gives it to our daughters, so what do the libraries do that’s so different?”

“Hey, Balzic, next time you’re down the post office, you know? Turn around and look up at the words on top of the library. It says ‘Rocksburg Public Library.’ ‘Public,’ that’s the word. Man, that’s what changed everything. EVE-RY-THING! That place is supported by taxes. Taxes, get it?”

“So am I! So what? I’ve been supported by taxes all my life, since I got outta high school. I been a marine and I been a cop. Governments have been paying my way since I was eighteen. So what?”

“It ain’t just the fact that taxes pay for the libraries, man. It’s the way the taxes are collected, who pays ‘em and who doesn’t. It’s the fact that a place, a public place—remember the Fifth Amendment? ‘Nor shall private property be taken for PUBLIC use,’ remember that? When you finish readin’ the book, man, and you give it to your wife, and she gives it to your kids, the one thing that ain’t, the one thing that is not, is a public transaction supported by tax dollars—and I don’t care who pays you personally, so forget about where your salary comes from. But when it happens in a public library, man, that’s public use of private property without just compensation, think about it, really, man.”

Myushkin’s argument is about the Takings Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the last clause in this:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Balzic is always a good interlocutor, but he’s not prepared to argue intellectual property law or get into first-sale doctrine. I don’t know exactly what an American copyright librarian would say about all this, but I’m sure they would dismiss the argument on legal and moral grounds.

Libraries can lend the books they buy. Every country should have a Public Lending Right that gives a decent income stream to writers based on library circulation of their books, but whether or not they do, libraries can lend the books they buy.

This novel is by far the weakest of the series up to now. Regardless of the content of the forty-seven page argument, it bogs the novel down interminably. The anger about the Gulf War still hits, and Balzic and his wife figuring out how to live with each other now that his mother is dead is compelling, but in the end there is no resolution to the criminal matter that is one of the other main threads of the novel. It’s an angry novel by an angry writer who hasn’t turned his anger into successful fiction.

Billy and Rose: Forever Friends


Cover of Billy and Rose: Forever Friends
Cover of Billy and Rose: Forever Friends

There is a new book out illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (my mother), written by Amy Hest: Billy and Rose: Forever Friends (published by Candlewick). It’s available through all bookstores, in your neighbourhood (my preference) or online, and should appear in your local library soon. If not, ask.

It’s an early reader with four short stories, aimed at children aged six, plus or minus a year or two. This is the first of two books about Billy (a sheep) and Rose (a pig). The second will be out this time next year.

The illustrations are excellent.

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