Miskatonic University Press

Framework 750


Framework Radio has reached episode 750! It’s an incredible radio show and podcast. Host and producer Patrick McGinley has been running it since 2002, and the sound and music he’s collected and edited over the years has become a remarkable body of work.

Framework 750 screenshot
Framework 750 screenshot

“Framework is a show consecrated to field-recording, and its use in composition. Field-recording, phonography, the art of sound-hunting; open your ears and listen!”

Listen to a couple of recent episodes (preferable with headphones), and if it’s at all your kind of thing, subscribe and listen every week. (Then consider supporting it.)

Compose key


I’m probably years behind everyone else on this, but I just learned about the compose key.

I’d always wondered how other people who used the Latin alphabet—French-speakers in Canada, even—were able to write accented characters like à or é, not to mention people further abroad who needed the Icelandic þ or Turkish Ş. European keyboards have different keys on them, but did people with American keyboards always copy and paste from somewhere else? In Emacs I use the Ivy, Swiper and Counsel package that lets me use counsel-unicode-char (bound to C-c 8) to search for any Unicode character, and C-x 8 RET is a built-in command that does the same. But I don’t want to copy characters from a temporary Emacs buffer into a web browser.

Happily, on Unix systems it’s easy to get this going. On my Ubuntu machine, Gnome-tweaks lets me set up a compose key. I made it [Right-Alt], which I never use. Now I can hit [Right-Alt] o c to get © and similar combinations to get many other combined characters.

I am now able to use proper em—and en!—dashes in my emails, and when I put in footnotes with URLs I can use ¹ and ² instead of bulky old [1] and [2].

CBC Radio's Nero Wolfe series

radio rex.stout

Ever since I started reading Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries I’ve wanted to hear the 1982 CBC Radio series of hour-long dramatizations starring Mavor Moore as Wolfe and Don Francks as Archie Goodwin. (Moore, I should add, was a member of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto.)

Mavor Moore and Don Francks
Mavor Moore and Don Francks

The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe from the 1950s is at the Internet Archive but even though it stars Sydney Greenstreet I don’t like the approach they took with the scripts (which were all new stories done in half an hour). There are no episodes of the CBC series there so I’d give up hope of hearing it.

Then I discovered that the whole series was uploaded to YouTube! Here’s the first episode: Disguise for Murder. The rest are easily findable, either in the sidebar or by searching for “cbc nero wolfe.”

I wanted to download them all, and for the sake of future me I’ll document what I did, with youtube-dl to download and then ffmpeg to convert to MP3 (with a tip from Stack Overflow; I find ffmpeg cryptic). There’s probably a better way, but this works.

$ youtube-dl --extract-audio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDCWWH1yYmQ
$ ffmpeg -i "Nero Wolfe CBC - Disguise for Murder - January 16, 1982-ZDCWWH1yYmQ.m4a" -q:a 0 -map a "01 Disguise for Murder.mp3"

I did this for all thirteen, then edited the metdata with EasyTag.

RMS back at the FSF

code4lib emacs

I became an associate member of the Free Software Foundation about six years ago and gave it a monthly donation to support its work. It was founded by Richard Stallman (known as RMS), who among other achievements created Emacs in the 1970s. I use it every day.

In September 2019 RMS made offensive comments connected to Jeffrey Epstein and donations to MIT (see MIT scientist resigns over emails discussing academic linked to Epstein in the Guardian for some details). Like many others, I told the FSF I would stop my donations if RMS didn’t leave. I got a quick response—the same day the whole thing happened, I think—saying he was gone. Good. I continued my donations. I understood people were working to improve the environment at the FSF, but didn’t know any details.

On Sunday at the Libre Planet 2021 conference there was a surprise announcement from RMS that he was back on the FSF board. (“No LibrePlanet organizers (staff or volunteer), speakers, award winners, exhibitors, or sponsors were made aware of Richard Stallman’s announcement until it was public,” tweeted @fsf.) I was amazed and appalled. It’s unbelievable the board did this and, once it was done, that the FSF handled it so badly.

I emailed the FSF to cancel my monthly donation immediately. I haven’t heard back yet. I imagine the poor staff are overwhelmed. Even if RMS is kicked off yet again, the only way I might possibly one day support the FSF is if its governance is completely overhauled.

Today I signed the open letter demanding the entire FSF board resign. I see some people I know on the list, and I hope others will join.

Tomorrow I’ll start donating to the Software Freedom Conservancy.

Best radio comedies


The five best, imhoe:

I need to go back and revisit The Goon Show (BBC 1951–1960) to compare. Other suggestions welcome.

GNU Terry Prachett


Six years since Terry Pratchett died. GNU Terry Pratchett is still in the headers for all requests to this web site.

$ curl -I https://www.miskatonic.org/
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2021 22:17:54 GMT
Server: Apache
Last-Modified: Thu, 11 Mar 2021 01:39:28 GMT
ETag: "935a-5bd38dab6331c"
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Content-Length: 37722
Strict-Transport-Security: max-age=10886400; includeSubDomains; preload
X-Clacks-Overhead: GNU Terry Pratchett
X-Frame-Options: DENY
Content-Type: text/html

James Atlee Phillips

literature wikipedia

I was reading The Death Bird Contract, one of the Joe Gall spy novels by Philip Atlee, and discovered that the author, whose real name was James Atlee Phillips, had no Wikipedia entry, so I created James Atlee Phillips. I cite a New York Times obit that a little research reveals has mistakes.

I didn’t finish the book. Compared to Donald Hamilton’s excellent Matt Helm series it was racist, lurid and overwrought.

Among other pages I created I see Joan Bodger is doing well, and David Partridge better, but the one that turned out the best is for the great New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels.

Sonic Pi Vexations

erik.satie music sonic.pi

I’ve released an album on Bandcamp: Sonic Pi Vexations. It’s Erik Satie’s Vexations performed on Sonic Pi. Name your own price.

Album cover
Album cover

The music is CC BY and the included code is GPL v3.

Vexation After Vexation

code4lib erik.satie staplr

STAPLR is running a new composition: “Vexation After Vexation,” an interpretation of Erik Satie’s mysterious solo piano work Vexations. You can listen to STAPLR on the site or right here:

I ran “Library Silences” for months and months—it seemed appropriate—but now it’s time for something different. (York University Libraries Ambiences are always available for home listening.)

Photo from Wikipedia
Photo from Wikipedia

The score of Vexations fits on one page, but instructions say (translated from French), “In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” The piece was ignored until John Cage took it, and the suggestion about 840 repetitions, seriously and organized a performance in 1963 where it was actually played 840 times. (This has been done many times since. In 2010 during Nuit Blanche I watched a performance downtown for quite a while. It was beautiful. If you want to hear it yourself by a real pianist, I recommend buying Stephane Ginsburgh’s 42 Vexations (1893) and making a playlist where the one track is played twenty times.)

One of many Nuit Blanche pianists
One of many Nuit Blanche pianists

In this STAPLR composition, one one-minute iteration of Vexations is played for each minute of help given at any desk at York University Libraries that day. It keeps a running counter of how many more minutes it should play. Let’s say that at 0900 someone checks their email and answers a quick research question that takes them five minutes. They enter that into our reference statistics system, where STAPLR sees it and counts 5. It starts to play five iterations. One minute later, the counter is at 4. One minute later, the counter goes down to 3, but there’s another question in the system, this time a virtual chat that took 10 minutes to answer, so the counter goes up to 13. After one iteration it goes down to 12, then 11, then up again if there’s another question. If the counter reaches 0 it will wait and start back up when there’s another question answered.

STAPLR screenshot
STAPLR screenshot

This is how it began this morning:

[2021-02-23 07:57:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (0 mins)
[2021-02-23 07:58:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (0 mins)
[2021-02-23 07:59:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {"AskUs"=>{"1"=>[3]}} (3 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:00:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (2 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:01:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {"AskUs"=>{"1"=>[3]}} (4 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:02:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (3 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:03:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (2 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:04:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (1 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:05:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {"AskUs"=>{"1"=>[3]}} (3 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:06:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (2 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:07:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (1 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:08:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (0 mins)
[2021-02-23 08:09:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {} (0 mins)

Close to 1000 it really got going:

[2021-02-23 09:53:40] Vexation After Vexation 1.0: {"Osgoode"=>{"4"=>[40]}} (40 mins)

That ran down for 13 minutes then more activity came in and it’s been going ever since. I’m curious to see when it stops. (The server reboots around 0600, but it could run all night.)

Vexations has a bass theme played in the left hand and two sections (the second a slight variation of the first) played by the right hand accompanied by the bass theme on the left. It’s usually played thus: bass theme alone, theme A, bass theme alone, theme B, repeat. There are 13 quarter-notes in each section, so setting the speed to 52 bpm makes it work out at exactly one minute per repetition. This is faster than it’s normally played, but it still works well.

“Vexation After Vexation” doesn’t tell you how busy the desks at York University Libraries are right now, the way other STAPLR sonifications do, but I think it perfectly combines Satie and STAPLR. I’m looking forward to listening to it through to the end of April, at least.

Press play, turn the volume low, and let it go in the background through your day as a piece of aural furniture.

Take Note


I learned this week that my favourite stationery store in Toronto, Take Note, opened up an online store. I placed an order for a Lamy Safari (the 2021 special edition coloured “terra red,” with a broad nib) and a bottle of J. Herbin Corail des Tropiques ink (see the review at the Well Appointed Desk). They’re fairly close, but I didn’t twig to that until I got them.

The pen and ink were hand-delivered the next day! That’s only for people that live within a certain distance, but they’ll ship anywhere, so if you need pens, ink, pencils or paper, I recommend them.

I make a sheet for each ink I have so I can see what it looks like on paper with various pens. Here’s the one for this ink, with a writing sample (I always use whatever book I’m reading) made with the new pen.

Pen, ink and ink swatch
Pen, ink and ink swatch

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