Merrie Old England seems to be the World HQ of the ghost story as a literary form, but it also seems to be one place where ghosts hang out, for some reason. You would think they’d pick someplace maybe warmer, like San Diego or Rome. But no, loyalists that they are, they stay in the misty, murky, rainy British Isles. Just in time for Halloween, three new books on ghosts are out. Jonathan Barnes, in The Thunderer, aka The London Times reviews them and comments on the works. Each goes at the matter of ‘ghostiness’ from a different perspective. One is a history of the ghost story as a genre in literature, and the British have certainly excelled there. Another is a kind of sociological-economic-psychological analysis of “ghost seeing” as a phenomenon and the last a gathering of about one hundred testimonies of ghostly experiences, drawn from the long, long parade of candidates. Well, you pays your money, as the saying goes:
Yes, there was a time when it seemed, or was made to seem, that full-throated Artificial Reality was just about to break with tsunami-like force and “change everything”. It’s amazing how that chant comes up, over and over. You would think that marketers would invent something else, but I guess it works, because they keep using it. The public has a, shall we say, brief attention span and almost no memory, so, we keep getting everything changed. Anyway, the link below goes to a good story on the Technology Review blog, which surveys the situation and tries to come up with a set of resons for the gap between propaganda and delivering a useful product. Hint: it’s a lot harder to do than the enthusiasts let on, or even knew about. Some of the comments are interesting as well.
OK, I admit that this topic is not something directly relevant for me, since I don’t own one of the gadgets described and have no intention of changing that status. For a number of reasons, I have just decided to sit the phone wars out, and the pad wars too. But, for our readers, and for many other people, the situation is a lot more acute and personal. In brief, the matter is this: at what point, physically considered, is a communications/data device too small to be useful? Some are of the opinion that anything much below the size of the Ipad is a dead end. Mr. Jobs is of that persuasion, and he is on record as being quite scathing about the smaller format machines and their dinkiness, when compared to the well-neigh perfect, Vetruvian proportions of his company’s product. But, then again, he makes them. Others are in the 7 inch camp. A machine about 7 by 4, 4.5 is not only doable, but sellable. A raft of these 7 inchers is already on the scene or to be expected in the next shipment, and Apple has taken a “forward posture” in trying to dismiss most of them as junk. But, it all depends on what you want the thing to do, and if you have considered your needs carefully, maybe one of the new guys will do what you want done just fine, at a lot less cost than springing for the Apple. Of course many users don’t consider any such thing, but just want the latest gizmo. Once the “OOOh, AAAh, period is over, they may allow themselves some second thoughts. You will find the pros and cons thoroughly hashed out in a good article in Babbage, which is the technology section of The Economist‘s online “presence”. The author writes from the perspective of one who is on the road a lot and needs a useful device that isn’t too heavy or bulky.
Well, our neighbors to the north are surprising folks, sometimes. While cities down here are seeing their newspapers close up shop or transmogrify into something else, Toronto still has not one, not two but three, count ‘em, three daily newspapers: The National Post, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Naturally, each appeals to a different readership and naturally they are rivals. So, in the digital age, what does the publisher of the Globe and Mail do to edge out the competiton and secure readers? Why, he bets the farm on new, super dooper, high speed color print equipment, obviously. The new editions look very, very nice. They feature color, lots of it, on every page and the sheet has been redesigned in a somewhat smaller format and on much nicer paper. Newsprint is out and I guess the printers won’t be able to make those little paper hats that the press crews wear in the movie, just as the Heroic Editor or the Maverick Reporter runs in to yell :”Stop the presses!!!”. Unless, of course, the new paper stock lends itself to hat making, but I doubt it, since it’s more like that glossy magazine material, which absorbs color much better. I’m not sure “absorbs” is the correct technical term, but you know what I mean. It’s a big step for the G&M and some are saying it’s a fatal mistake. But, I don’t know. Canadians seem more reasonable about things and somehow, more intelligent. Their politics don’t have the opera bouffa tone that makes ours so laughable, and they actully seem to read and think about things. So, a smart, printed newspaper with lots of eye appeal could be a winner. Maybe it’s the cold weather. People in the industry will be watching.
Thatâ€™s what I said too, including the question mark. But it is the name of a story on the Technology Review site, in the somewhat weirdly named section called Mimâ€™s Bits. No, I donâ€™t know either. But, the piece is rather interesting. A bunch of scientists in Italy, in Trento, up in the northeast came up with the idea of a liquid journal, that is, one in which the traditional structure of the scientific serial publication is abolished. People put contributions onto a web site, and then other people gather from them whatever items of interest they want to and group them into their own collections. In this format, traditional peer review gets the heave-ho. For the Trientiner scientists, peer review is irretrievably shot. There is too much material to review fairly and the competition for resources is so fierce that anonymous reviewers can no longer be entrusted with the power to accept or reject manuscripts. Too much â€œblack chamberâ€ stuff, too much log-rolling of friends and score-settling with rivals. No go, say the Italians. Put it all up and let the community decide whatâ€™s good and not, and prove this by re-arranging the materials to suit themselves in new formats. The guys have a point. Peer review has been looked at critically in these lines before. And, the physics/comp sci sector has been nicely served by arXiv, the digital repository for materials in physics and comp sci without the Universe’s losing energy or anything. Biomedicine has been slower to change, and more willing to hang on to the validation rituals associated with the manuscript submission process, including peer review. At any rate the Trento group has come up with software which allows the formation of such liquid journals, if you or a bunch of buddies want to set up your own publication.
Serious academic work, scholarship in other words, has developed an elaborate system of documenting the sources on which assertions are based. In the print era, references were listed in footnotes, and more recently in end notes. And the references were supposed to be so accurate that subsequent researcher could locate your source and check your facts or interpretations. In the electronic era, the practice continues, but the reliability of the references is in serious queston. Link rot and footnote flight are the jocose descriptors applied to this phenomenon. In brief, many links, when selected, don’t go the source. They don’t go anywhere. This problem has been known for some time, but some recent analyses imply that matters are getting worse. Web site re-organization and server failure are some major causes. Once materials are moved around, pointers to the content may not have been altered properly and so fail to connect. There is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the problem.
It seems that the current addressing scheme which determines what IP numbers will be assigned to which users is coming close to the saturation point. IPv6, or the sixth version of the Internet Protocol, will be implemented soon, and that should have plenty of space, the wizards say. But they said that back in the Seventies, too. Anyway, it’s nice to know that somebody is watching this stuff so that you and I don’t have to worry about it.
In October, 1915 a German firing squad executed an Englishwoman, a nurse, named Edith Cavell. The charge on which she was convicted was that of treason. How she could be guilty of treason when she was not German was a little difficult to explain, but the authorities didn’t bother. The German army had over run most of Belgium in the first weeks of the 1914-18 war, and Edith Cavell was the nurse in charge of a school for nurses set up there on the Nightingale model. The once rapid advance of German troops had stalled and the bloody stalemate of the rest of the war was unfolding. People who were swept up in events had to reconcile themselves to harsh rules about conduct in a war zone. Nurse Cavell got into trouble because she aided Allied, mostly English, soldiers who had been separated from their units to get across the Dutch border into neutral territory. Technically speaking this was a no-no, and any occupying regime would have looked at the events rather severely. But, who shoots nurses, especially those famed for caring with equal diligence for wounded or ill soldiers of either side? In one of the most tone-deaf actions of the war, the court-martial found her guilty and she was shot. At once, she was transformed by the efficient British propaganda machine into the poster child of German brutality. Recruiting posters went up, yelling WILL YOU AVENGE NURSE CAVELL? The whole business ignited a fire storm of anti-German feeling, but the Germans, rather clueless and left-footed about propaganda and the media, couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. She was definitely working against German interests, in a war zone, while hostitlies were underway. Any number of punishment options were open: imprisonment, house-arrest, exile or even making her work in a German hospital. But they chose to shoot her.
The unfortunate Edith is the subject of a new book which tells her rather sad story from its beginning in a crabbed and miserly vicar’s house to the stake. Becoming a nurse in the 1900s meant undergoing a life of rigor and deprivation that came down to work, work, and more work. No outside life, high demands for technical skill, absurdly intrusive monitoring of personal conduct to prevent “loose” behavior, no little danger of infection from desperately ill patients, and unceasing labor. Nurses today have more personal freedom, but the rest of the job description seems to fit just fine.
Edith CavellBy Diana Souhami (Quercus 394pp Â£25)
There is a good review and a photo of the rather pleasant looking Nurse Cavell here:
After several false starts, the electronic book biz seems to be taking off, at least in one market. But the reception offered to e-versions of textbooks by the people who count, namely, students has been much less enthusiastic. In fact, it’s been downright cool, in some places at least. It’s not entirely clear why this should be so. It’s certainly not any shyness about using technology. This generation of students has grown up with gadgets all over the place. There seems to be a mix of reasons. Some like the “always on” reliability of the book, without the need to fuss over batteries or cords or wireless or whatnot. Others are more reverential in attitude, feeling that serious learning has to come from textbooks, since gadgetry is associated with Facebook, email, texting and distractions. The textbook market is still a disgraceful example of piracy at the expense of students. And some alternatives to help them get hold of texts at better prices are being pushed, such as renting books for one course. Sell-back programs have been in place for a while now, and different variations on that are being tried too. I think one big factor is that e-reader formats are too small to be useful for textbooks, so far anyway. Reading a mystery or a romance novel on a Kindle or Nook is one thing. Trying to follow the steps in protein synthesis or the complete conjugation of an irregular veb in Pashtu is something else. And readers still don’t do color very well, or at all. That’s not really necessary. I went to school with books that didn’t have color illustrations, but people have grown used to it, and when properly deployed, it can be an effective pedagogical aid.
Today is the day when the “miracle” antibiotic was discovered in a laboratory at Rutgers University. It was the start of a new era in disease treatment, and the first target was the top scourge itself, tuberculosis. In the Nineteenth century, TB was the great killer, with cholera coming in a close second. Cholera came in waves, but TB, like the poor in the Gospel, was always with you . The composer Chopin and cowboy gun slinger and dentist Doc Holliday were among the millions of victims. TB declined as living condition got better in the crowded cities, but it was always around and dealling with it was a national concern. A whole industry of sanatoria grew up, to provide places of rest in the country, the mountains, the desert, wherever. Rest, good food, sunshine were all thought to help cure, or at least delay, the illness, but there was no effective medical treatment. Until, that is, October 19, 1943. A very, very good scientist named Albert Schatz working in the lab of Dr. Selman A. Wachsman had been working full bore for several months and on that day, it payed off. It was a tremendous boon to humanity, but it led to a very nasty dispute between Wachsman, who took full credit, and Schatz, who felt Wachsman had worked him over and denied his part in the discovery. There was a lot of bad feeling and even a lawsuit, which led to a settlement acknowledging Schatz’s role. TB responded very well to streptomicin and medicine went from a posture of near impotence to one of supreme cockiness, in the conviction that TB and most of the other infectious diseases were under control, or could even be eradicated. But, somebody forgot basic science in all this euphoria, and antibiotics were handed out all over, for everything. Organisms developed immunity, and now, there are many drug-resistant strains of many bugs of medical importance. In some ways we are back to the situation of the 1930s.