Friday, February 27, 2015

OCTOTHORPE  This word is beginning to appear in a few dictionaries, but still seems mostly to be a jargon term of the North American telephone business for the handset symbol #. Octothorpe is just one of a plethora of names for the symbol.  In the US it’s often called the pound  key, because it has long been used to mark numbers related to weight, or for similar reasons the number sign, which is one of its internationally agreed names.  Elsewhere it is commonly called hash, a term dating from the 1970s that may have been a popular misunderstanding of hatch.  Many humorous or slangy terms have also been recorded, none of them with wide circulation:  tic-tac-toe, gate, crunch, and many others.  In 1989, one of the international standards bodies settled on square as the official name, seemingly on the grounds that most languages had an equivalent in its vocabulary, so it could be easily translated.  As a result, the British Post Office, then responsible for telecommunications, settled on square and it is still used publicly by its successor organisation, British Telecom (BT).  With all these terms about, inventing a new one, especially such an odd-ball one as octothorpe, would seem to serve no practical purpose.  The evidence suggests that it was originally a jokey term among engineers at Bell Labs in the USA.  In the early 1960s, the Labs were working on ways to interface telephones to computers and invented what is now called touch-tone dialing.  This needed two additional special keys on handsets, both of which have since become standard.  One of these is the * symbol, usually known as the asterisk but which Bell Labs decided to call the star key.  The other was the # symbol.  The word has appeared in many forms, including octothorn, octalthorp, octothorp, and octatherpas well as octothorpe.  There are at least five stories circulating about its source.  Nobody is in any doubt about the first part, which is obviously enough from the Latin (or Greek) word for eight, as in octagon for an eight-sided figure, because of the eight points on the symbol.  It’s the second half that puzzles the experts.  The American Heritage Dictionary says that it comes from the family name of James Edward Oglethorpe, the eighteenth-century English philanthropist who secured a charter for the colony of Georgia in 1732 as a refuge for debtors.  This is very unlikely as Mr. Oglethorpe’s name is hardly a household word these days (at least, outside Georgia).  A second story says it’s a whimsical creation based on the idea that the symbol looks like a village surrounded by eight fields.  Thorp is the Old Norse word for a village, which appears in many English place names, such as Scunthorpe or Cleethorpes, though it’s not known in North America.  This is possible, though perhaps a little stretched.  A third story is documented, since Ralph Carlsen of Bell Laboratories wrote a memorandum about it just before his retirement in 1995.  He records that in the early 1960s a Bell Labs engineer, Don Macpherson, went to instruct their first client, the Mayo Clinic, in the use of a new telephone system.  He felt the need for a fresh and unambiguous name for the # symbol.  He was apparently at that time active in a group that was trying to get the Olympic medals of the athlete Jim Thorpe returned from Sweden, so he decided to add thorpe to the end.  (Jim Thorpe, a native American who has been described as the greatest athlete of the twentieth century, had won two medals at the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, but had been disqualified because he was found to have accepted money for playing baseball three years earlier, so making him a professional.  His medals were finally returned in 1983.)  In 2006 Douglas A Kerr documented his memories of the genesis of the term.  Though the background facts about the development of the telephone system and the need for the new symbols match those of other sources, his story about the creation of the term is quite different.  He says that it was a joke term, originally octatherp, invented by two friends, John C Schaak and Herbert T Uthlaut, who deliberately included the th sound that would be difficult for speakers of some languages to say.  Mr Kerr says that he and the others quietly introduced it into various documents until it caught on.

In our current digital age, the hashtag identifies movements, events, happenings, brands—topics of all kinds.  The “#” was a way to create clear, super-specific search term.  The pound symbol had already pervaded other corners of the web.  Internet Relay Chat (IRC) used the pound sign to represent chat rooms, or conversation “channels”; another social network called Jaiku also had them.  For most people, pound symbols looked strange and new.  A subset of true believers stood by the sign, and one twitter user called it a “hash tag,” hash being the British name for the sign.  Eventually, “hash tag” became “hashtag.”  The “#” didn’t always have this meaning, though.  It’s had a few different lives.  Whether called hash, pound, number sign, lumberyard—the symbol traces back to Ancient Rome.  Its story starts with the Latin term Libra Pondo, meaning “pound in weight.”  This was abbreviated to lb, which we still use.  When lb became standard, it was often drawn with a little bar across the tops of both letters (), just to show that the l and the b were connected.  As scribes started writing this sign faster and faster, lb began to morph.  Chris Messina chose to use this symbol for collating Twitter searches in 2007 because he wanted a sign that could be input from a low-tech cell phone.  He had two options:  octothorpe or asterisk.  He chose the former.  And that is how the pound sign (or number sign, or hash mark, or octothorpe) came into ubiquity on billboards, promotional materials,  protest signs, and in your annoying friend’s conversations.  In the world outside of Twitter, though, it is still “the number sign.”  It has a lot of other uses, too.  In chess, it represents a move that results in checkmate.  In proofreading, it means a space should be inserted.  On Swedish maps, it represents a lumber yard.  Listen to Episode 145:  Octothorpe b ROMAN on December 16, 2014 at  16:29  Thank you, Muse reader! 

Shirley Hazzard quotes  “Poetry has been the longest pleasure of my life.”  "They say it takes three to make a joke--one to tell it--one to understand it, and one to miss it."

Maria Salmon Mitchell (1818-1889) was born in Massachusetts and was one of nine brothers and sisters.  Her family were Quakers and believed in education, and offering the same equality to men and women.  Maria’s father built his own school, were Maria attended and also became a teaching assistant.  Out of school, he also taught her how to use a telescope and at age twelve and a half, she helped him calculate the exact timing of annular eclipse.  When she was 17 she opened a school of her own, but it closed a year later when she took a job as a librarian of Nantucket’s Athenuem Library.  At the same time her father was hired as cashier of the Pacific Bank, which came with accommodation.  He built an observatory on his roof and installed a four inch telescope with which he performed observations for the US Coast Guard.  Maria helped her father with those measurements and it was during one observation session that she discovered a comet.  She tracked its movements over the course of a few days and her father wrote to Professor William Bond at the Harvard University about his daughter’s discovery.  Bond made the King of Denmark aware of the discovery, since the King had pledged to offer gold medals to each discoverer of a telescopic comet.  Before Maria, the only women to have discovered a comet was Caroline Herschel and her astronomical fame rose dramatically after the discovery of the “Miss Mitchell’s comet” in 1847 (known today as C/1847 T1).  Maria continued working as a librarian and later became the first professional woman astronomer in the United States, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences voting her the first women member in 1848.  Her work enabled her to travel in Europe and on her return she was presented with a new telescope bought with money collected by women for the first women astronomer of the United States.  She used it to study sunspots and other astronomical events, and discovered that sunspots are whirling vertical cavities and not, as previously thought, clouds.  In 1865 she became professor of astronomy at Vassar College, the first person (male or female) appointed to the faculty.  She was also named as Director of the Vassar College Observatory, where she was permitted to use the 12 inch telescope, the third largest in the US at the time.  Read more and link to information on other female astronomers at

Mark Your Calendars!  Read Across America Day is March 2, 2015
Oh, the Places You'll Go when you read!  March 2, 2015 is the National Education Association's Read Across America Day and this year, the book is the Seuss classic, Oh, The Places You'll Go.  To make your event Seussational, go to Plan a Reading Event for Read Across America for tips and ideas to plan your own event.  Thank you, Muse reader! 

Oh The Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss read by John Lithgow  7:19

U.S. regulators on February 26, 2015 approved the strictest-ever rules on Internet providers, who in turn pledged to battle the new restrictions in the courts and Congress, saying they would discourage investment and stifle innovation.  The rules, which will go into effect in coming weeks, are expected to face legal challenges from multiple parties such as wireless, cable and other broadband companies and trade groups that represent them.  Experts expect the industry to seek a stay of the rules, first at the FCC and then in courts, though the chances for success of such an appeal is unclear.  The new regulations come after a year of jostling between cable and telecom companies and net neutrality advocates, which included web startups.  It culminated in the FCC receiving a record 4 million comments and a call from President Barack Obama to adopt the strongest rules possible.  The agency's new policy, approved as expected along party lines, reclassifies broadband, both fixed and mobile, as a more heavily regulated "telecommunications service," more like a traditional telephone service.  In the past, broadband was classified as a more lightly regulated "information service," which factored into a federal court's rejection of the FCC's previous set of rules in January 2014.  The shift gives the FCC more authority to police various types of deals between providers such as Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) and content companies such as Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) to ensure they are just and reasonable for consumers and competitors.  Internet providers will be banned from blocking or slowing any traffic and from striking deals with content companies, known as paid prioritization, for smoother delivery of traffic to consumers.  The FCC also expands its oversight power to so-called interconnection deals, in which content companies pay broadband providers to connect with their networks.  Republican FCC commissioners, who see the new rules as a government power grab, delivered lengthy dissents.  Their colleagues in Congress hope to counter the new rules with legislation.  Alina Selyukh  Issue 1262  February 27, 2015  On this date in 1922, a challenge to the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, allowing women the right to vote, was rebuffed by the Supreme Court of the United States in Leser v. Garnett.   On this date in 1951, the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution, limiting Presidents to two terms, was ratified.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It all started because busy road warrior Natalie Monaco didn’t have time to make her bed.  “I’m a really neat person, and it would bother me,” said the Dublin, Ohio woman who worked in sales.  “I thought, there’s got to be a product that would keep the covers in place so I could sleep better at night, so I would wake up in the morning and didn’t have to completely remake the bed.”  Out of those frustrations came the Covermade Comforter System, Monaco’s patented bedding line that is sold by home retailer Brookstone as well as on the Covermade website.  Very simply put, the Covermade product is a comforter with an elastic band near the bottom.  The band loops under the mattress, keeping the comforter in place.  Monaco’s story has become more common in the bedding industry over the past decade, said Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association.  “We’re very dynamic industry and we’re always looking for new product innovations that will appeal to consumers,” Trainer said.  “Bed accessories are really proliferating quickly.  Even though Monaco’s path from initial frustrations to sleekly packaged product is becoming commonplace, her road was filled with its own irritations and obstacles — and it took from 2009 to today to complete.  I kept buying all sorts of elastic and then would pin them to my comforter.”  The pins would rip the comforter, however.  Rather than letting the matter drop, Monaco simply decided that her invention needed sturdier construction.  “I really didn’t know how to go from A to Z,” she said.  “I didn’t even know who to talk to.  So I started calling anyone who could help me make a sample, and I would go in and out of dry cleaners and tailor shops and ask if they had a seamstress.  A lot of them would say I was crazy or say they didn’t do that kind of thing.  “Then I went to Whetstone library and found books on product development and patenting, and I got somewhat obsessed with it.  I learned how to locate manufacturers.”  Finally, she found a seamstress who worked on wedding dresses and was accustomed to dealing with different materials in one garment.  Armed with a sleek, professionally made prototype, Monaco began making phone calls to find a manufacturer, finally finding one in 2010.  For the next two years, Monaco and her manufacturer worked together, tweaking the product.   Tim Feran

Pore over vs. pour over  The phrase meaning to study carefully is pore over.  It comes from a little-used sense of the verb pore—namely, to meditate deeply.  In modern writing, this sense of pore rarely appears outside this phrase.  Pour over is of course a meaningful phrase in its own right, but it has nothing to do with studying.  It’s what you do, for example, with milk to a bowl of cereal.

The Order of Knights of Pythias is an international, non-sectarian fraternal order, established in 1864 in Washington, DC, by Justus H. Rathbone and was the first fraternal order to be chartered by an Act of Congress.  Domains of the Order exist in most states and provinces, and subordinate lodges are located in many cities and towns across the United States and Canada.   The Pythian Castle in Toledo, Ohio has a Romanesque sandstone exterior, and interior features that include several balconies, sweeping staircases, a large auditorium, a grand ballroom, and more than 30,000 square feet of floor space.  The Pythian sits as a monument to a series of unfortunate events, an architectural treasure in a city rife for redevelopment, landlocked and with a large tax liability.  The building’s been vacant since the 1970s.   Former owner Ed Emery, a Sylvania man who has made several unsuccessful bids for public office, got the Pythian recognized as a landmark by the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, when he owned it.  Mr. Emery was the last owner who kept it at least partially occupied on a regular basis.  He operated a 1970s-era youth center from it, with activities ranging from a rock opera to discussions about art, politics, and business.  There were classes in philosophy, meditation, and French cooking.  A music store, an art studio, and an antiques shop were among the offerings.

Alcove is an architectural term for a recess in a room, usually screened off by pillars, balustrades or drapery.  In geography and geology, alcove is used for a wind-eroded depression in the side of a cliff of a homogenous rock type, famous from sandstones of the Colorado Plateau like the Navajo Sandstone.

A cove is a small type of bay or coastal inlet.  Coves usually have narrow, restricted entrances, are often circular or oval, and are often situated within a larger bay.  Small, narrow, sheltered bays, inlets, creeks, or recesses in a coast are often considered coves.  Colloquially, the term can be used to describe a sheltered bay.  An example of a cove is Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, England.  West of it a second cove, Stair Hole, is forming.

The Presidential Libraries Act and the Establishment of Presidential Libraries by Wendy R. Ginsberg, Erika K. Lunder, and Daniel J. Richardson  February 6, 2015  Congressional Research Service 7-5700 R41513  The Presidential Libraries Act (P.L. 84-373; 69 Stat. 695), as originally enacted in 1955, sought to create a system of government “preservation and administration … of papers and other historical materials of any President or former President of the United States.”  Pursuant to the law, the General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) Administrator could, among other actions, accept … the papers and other historical materials of any President or former President of the United States, or of any other official or former official of the Government, and other papers relating to and contemporary with any President or former President of the United States. (P.L. 84-373).  Amid concerns about growing costs of the libraries, the act was substantially amended in 1986 (P.L. 99-323; 100 Stat. 495) to “shift the burden of on-going building operations costs of future libraries from the taxpayer to endowment funds.”  Through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the federal government currently operates and maintains 13 presidential libraries, and is currently engaging with representatives seeking to construct a presidential library for President Barack Obama.  Find the 33-page report at

Who Can Save the Grand Canyon? by David Roberts  Smithsonian Magazine March 2015   When Teddy Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument, in 1908, he famously said:  “Leave it as it is.  You cannot improve on it.  The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”  The Escalade commercial development, covering hundreds of acres on Navajo Reservation land, is arguably the most intrusive development ever proposed for the Grand Canyon—a $500 million to $1.1 billion recreation and transport facility featuring a 1.4-mile tramway equipped with eight-passenger gondolas that would carry as many as 10,000 people a day down to the river confluence, with new roads, hotels, gift shops, restaurants and other attractions.  The developer—Confluence Partners LLC, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based investment group whose members’ ventures include real estate, resorts and theme parks—says construction of the Escalade could begin as early as this year.  Little known to the public at large, this massive commercial undertaking has become so controversial that the debate about building the Escalade is itself a confluence, a turbulent coming-together of powerful forces that promise to shape America’s most iconic natural wonder for generations.  On one side are investors, local business people and some Native Americans, who are interested in the profits and jobs from building the facilities and running them, and then there is a handful of what might be called libertarian-minded supporters, who like the idea of enabling a large number of people to enjoy the great canyon’s very heart, a stunningly beautiful and remote site long inaccessible to the masses.  On the other side are national park officials, environmental advocates, park visitors and Native Americans, who would prefer that the site remain as is.  That the Escalade’s legality is still in doubt—most likely a matter for the courts—only adds to the turmoil.  The project has divided the Navajo Nation, and also ignited opposition from members of other tribes.  Wilson and Yellowhorse are principals in a grass-roots movement called Save the Confluence, but they are keenly aware that other Navajos are all in favor of the proposed development.  For their part, Confluence Partners says it has “uncovered no evidence of any sacred sites within the project boundaries or that would be negatively impacted by the project.”  And the confluence, it turns out, is not the only point of contention.  Twenty-five air miles to the southwest, another group of entrepreneurs is planning a mammoth expansion of the tiny gateway community of Tusayan, just outside the limits of Grand Canyon National Park.  The Phoenix-based Stilo Development Group USA—a branch of an Italian investment company that has bought up thousands of acres in the area—proposes building 2,200 new homes (including affordable housing), as well as hotels, restaurants, a shopping center, an “entertainment pavilion” based on Native American themes, a spa, a water slide and a dude ranch.  Construction could begin within two to three years, says Tusayan mayor Greg Bryan, depending on when access might be granted by the U.S. Forest Service.  Environmentalists, including the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Trust, oppose the Tusayan project, in the works for more than two decades.  “Conservation groups deplore the ‘Disneyfication’ of the Grand Canyon,” says David Nimkin, Southwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.  The greatest threat the Tusayan development poses to the vast wilderness of the Grand Canyon, some critics say, could be the diminishing of the South Rim aquifer, which would cause springs and oases far below the rim to dry up significantly.

Denmark's largest digital photo album with nearly two million images is available to the general public as of Feb. 20, 2015.  Danes will have access to the online database at, which includes 1,841,254  documents such as photos, diaries, letters, and sound and video recordings.  Since the late 1980s, all items from the country's more than 550 archives have been recorded electronically.  The Association of Local Archives estimates that Danish archives contain some 50 million images and more than 100 kilometres of shelves with original documents.  Every month, 25,000 new photos will be added to the database.  Lucie Rychla  

The 12th Knight News Challenge, on libraries:  “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?”  Link to names of the 22 winner (with recipients awarded a share of $3 million for their ideas) and brief descriptions of their projects at  See also  Issue 1261  February 25, 2015  
On this date in 1919, Oregon placed a one cent per U.S. gallon tax on gasoline, becoming the first U.S. state to levy a gasoline tax.  
On this date in 1951, the first Pan American Games were held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Lipari Islands, often called the Aeolian Islands (as the domain of Aeolus, god of the winds), are a volcanic archipelago visible from Sicily's eastern Tyrrhenian coast, easily accessible by ferry or hydrofoil from Milazzo and also Messina.  The principal islands are Lipari, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi, Stromboli, Panarea and Vulcano.  The volcanoes on Stromboli and appropriately-named Vulcano erupt fairly frequently; Filicudi, Alicudi and Salina are without volcanic activity in historical memory.  Over the ages, the history of the Lipari Islands mirrors that of Sicily and nearby Calabria.  Settled in Neolithic times, the islands were formally and extensively colonized by the Greeks in 575 BC (BCE), though far earlier traces of the civilization of the Mycenaeans have been found here.  The islands were much contested by the Romans in their conquest of Sicily.  Salina, named for its salt mines, is the second-largest of the islands, and also the greenest, with extensive viticulture.  Salina was the setting of the Massimo Troisi film Il Postino.  Stromboli is closer to the Calabrian coast than it is to Sicily, and was the setting for a famous movie, the eponymous Stromboli of Roberto Rosselini.

What's a diving bell? by Charles W. Bryant  Since man has walked the Earth, it seems like we've been fascinated with two things we weren't built to do -- fly like birds and swim like fish.  We've all seen grainy black and white footage of some of the early flying machines, most of which involved mimicking the flight of birds by attaching wings to a human in some fashion.  What doesn't exist so readily are images of our early attempts to become fishlike. This is mostly due to the lack of availability of underwater filming techniques at the time.  But we do have some record of our quest for going underwater and staying there for prolonged periods.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about man's desire to spend time under the sea way back in the 4th century B.C.  The first real innovation to the diving bell came when Frenchman Denis Papin figured out how to get fresh air into them in 1689.  The next obstacle was to figure out how to get pressurized air into the bell, something Englishman Edmund Halley did just a year later.  English scientist John Smeaton invented the diving air pump in 1788.  Smeaton also was one of the first to make the bells square, calling them "diving chests."  Other improvements over the years included adding electric lighting inside, thick convex lenses as windows, and increasing the interior space so that as many as 12 men could descend at a time.  Find four-page article with pictures at

Beskuit, known as "rusks" in English, is made from dough, broken or cut into chunks or slices after baking, and then slowly dried in an oven.  It is usually briefly dipped into a warm drink such as coffee, tea, or rooibos tea before being eaten.  Find recipes at  See also South African Rusks recipe from Julie at

Rooibos, meaning "red bush"; scientific name Aspalathus linearis) is a broom-like member of the legume family of plants growing in South Africa.  The leaves are used to make a herbal tea called rooibos or bush tea (especially in Southern Africa) or sometimes red tea (especially in England).  The product has been popular in Southern Africa for generations and is now consumed in many countries.  It is sometimes spelled rooibosch in accordance with the old Dutch etymology.

The rules concerning the use of apostrophes in written English are very simple:
1.  They are used to denote a missing letter or letters, for example:  I can't instead of I cannot
2.  They are used to denote possession, for example:  the dog's bone

The apostrophe is almost never used in modern Spanish.  Its use is limited to words of foreign origin (usually names) and, very rarely, poetry or poetic literature.  Here are some examples of uses of the apostrophe for words or names of foreign origin:  (1)  Me siento vieja.  Pero, c'est la vie.  I feel old.  But such is life.  (2)  Un jack-o'-lantern es una calabaza tallada a mano, asociada a la festividad de Halloween.  A jack-o'-lantern is a pumpkin carved by hand and associated with Halloween festivities.  (3)  Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor es una cantante nacida en Dublín, Irlanda.  Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor is a singer born in Dublin, Ireland.  The apostrophe can occasionally be found in centuries-old poetry or literature as a way of showing that letters have been omitted.  Such use is very rarely found in modern writing, and then only for literary effect.  One exception in modern usage is the slang spellings of m'ijo and m'ija for mi hijo and mi hija ("my son" and "my daughter," respectively).  Such a spelling should not be used in formal writing.  Gerald Erichsen

Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821–1867) was a French poet who also produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe.  His most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the 19th century.  Baudelaire's highly original style of prose-poetry influenced a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé among many others.  He is credited with coining the term "modernity" (modernité) to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience.  Read more and see pictures at

TELEGRAMMATIC/TELEGRAPHIC  Come home quick.  Hamster ill.  Vet worried.  Love Mum.  This is the kind of language people used to use when sending a telegram.  You had to pay for every word, you see, so people left out all the little words, and just put the important ones in.  People don’t send telegrams much now, but the style is still sometimes used in writing where you have to ‘pay by the word’ (for instance, when you send an ad to a newspaper), and of course we often see sentences with parts left out in texting and tweeting.  The words at the top of this entry are telegrammatic speech, not telegrammatic writing.  Who would ever speak remotely like this?  The answer is:  young children in the early stages of learning sentence structure.  The term telegraphic speech was coined by Roger Brown and Colin Fraser in "The Acquisition of Syntax" (Verbal Behavior and Learning:  Problems and Processes, ed. by C. Cofer and B. Musgrave, 1963).  Lee Earle "James" Ellroy (born March 4, 1948) is an American crime fiction writer and essayist.  Ellroy has become known for a telegrammatic prose style in his most recent work, wherein he frequently omits connecting words and uses only short, staccato sentences, and in particular for the novels The Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1990), White Jazz (1992), American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001), and Blood's a Rover (2009).

Physicist and author Freeman Dyson:  “Let me tell you the story of how I discovered Turing, which was in 1941,” he says.  “I was just browsing in the library in Cambridge.  I hit that 1936 paper.  I never heard of this guy Turing, but I saw that paper and immediately I said this is something absolutely great.  Computable numbers, that was something that was obviously great.”  “But it never occurred to me that it would have any practical importance.”  Oh yes, “On Computable Numbers, With An Application to the Entscheidungsproblem,” had practical importance, for it was arguably the founding document of the computer age.
 Turing — that would be Alan Turing (1912-1954) — did as much as anyone to create the digital revolution that continues to erupt around us.  In reality, Turing’s greatest breakthrough wasn’t mechanical, but theoretical — that 1936 paper that Dyson was talking about.  “On Computable Numbers,” written in England, was published in the proceedings of the London Mathematical Society after Turing arrived at Princeton, where he would spend two academic years earning a Ph.D.  Amid the paper’s thicket of equations and mathematical theories lay a powerful idea:  that it would be possible to build a machine that could compute anything that a human could compute.  Turing was addressing a question of logic, but in the process he clearly described a real machine that someone could build, one that would use 0s and 1s for computation.  “He invented the idea of software, essentially,” Dyson says.  “It’s software that’s really the important invention.  We had computers before. They were mechanical devices.  What we never had before was software.

Follow-up to Feb. 18, 2015 ice stories:  Niagara Falls is ice-covered, but Lake Erie keeps flowing underneath.  Even with bitter cold, winds and waves have reduced the amount of solid ice on the Great Lakes.

Oscars 2015:  the full list of winners and nominees  Issue 1260  February 23, 2015  On this date in 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrived secretly in Washington, D.C., after the thwarting of an alleged assassination plot in Baltimore, Maryland.  On this date in 1886, Charles Martin Hall produced the first samples of man-made aluminum, after several years of intensive work.  He was assisted in this project by his older sister Julia Brainerd Hall.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Librarians are surrounded by books.  A love of literature runs in their blood, their very DNA.  So what do librarians read when they are off-duty and not helping the public find books?  AbeBooks visited three branches of the Greater Victoria Public Library in Victoria, BC, Canada, (where we are located) and posed that very question to 10 librarians. Sarah, Children & Family Literacy Librarian, is reading Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.   Lara, Senior Librarian, Collections Services, is reading 2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajama's by Marie-Helene Bertino.   Audrey, Senior Librarian, Cataloguing, is reading the Needed Killing Series by Bill Fitts.   Richard, Librarian, Cataloguing, is reading Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix.   Olivia, District Coordinator, Saanich & Peninsula, is reading Being Mortal:  Medicine and what Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.   Devon, Children & Family Literacy Librarian, is reading Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige.   Tracy, Coordinator, Children & Teen Services, is reading World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters.   Stephen, Adult Services Librarian, is reading So Anyway by John Cleese.   Maureen, Chief Executive Officer, is reading Family Furnishings:  Selected Stories 1995-2014 by Alice Munro.   Katie, Children & Family Literacy Librarian, is reading Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.  Find information about the  books at

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts means "Don't trust your enemies."  It is an allusion to the story of the wooden horse of Troy, used by the Greeks to trick their way into the city. recorded in Virgil's Aeneid, Book 2, 19 BC:  "Do not trust the horse, Trojans.  Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts."  Of course that English version is a translation.  Another translation, by John Dryden, has "Trust not their presents, nor admit the horse."  The same thought was also recorded by Sophocles (496 - 406 BC), in Ajax:  Nought from the Greeks towards me hath sped well.  So now I find that ancient proverb true,  Foes' gifts are no gifts: profit bring they none.  The Classics are no longer widely taught or read, so this phrase is now little used, although it was resurrected in a sideways reference during a 1990s copyright dispute.   There was considerable discussion then, in Internet chat rooms etc., regarding the company Compuserve, which owned the copyright to the GIF image format, and their possible intentions to restrict its use.  Some people feared that they might be taken to law by Compuserve if they received and viewed GIF images without permission.  The phrase "beware of geeks bearing gifs" was coined to sum that up.

Quotes from The Devil, a Jack Taylor novel by Ken Bruen   "Beware of geeks bearing gifts."  "I was frustrated by the new automatic candle routine, Vegas without the showgirls.  I'm a dinosaur, I know, way past my sell-by date, but is it too much to ask for the old gig of tapers, actually lighting the candle and being connected?   It was my version of comfort food.  Candle soup for the soul, if you will."

Vint Cerf, a "father of the internet", says he is worried that all the images and documents we have been saving on computers will eventually be lost.  Currently a Google vice-president, he believes this could occur as hardware and software become obsolete.  He fears that future generations will have little or no record of the 21st Century as we enter what he describes as a "digital Dark Age".  Vint Cerf is promoting an idea to preserve every piece of software and hardware so that it never becomes obsolete - just like what happens in a museum - but in digital form, in servers in the cloud.  If his idea works, the memories we hold so dear could be accessible for generations to come.  "The solution is to take an X-ray snapshot of the content and the application and the operating system together, with a description of the machine that it runs on, and preserve that for long periods of time.  And that digital snapshot will recreate the past in the future."  Pallab Ghosh  Link to interview with Vint Cerf at

Tommy John surgery (TJS), known in medical practice as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, is a surgical graft procedure in which the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.  The procedure is common among collegiate and professional athletes in several sports, most notably baseball.  The procedure was first performed in 1974 by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, then a Los Angeles Dodgers team physician who served as a special advisor to the team until his death in 2014.  It is named after the first baseball player to undergo the surgery, major league pitcher Tommy John, whose 288 career victories ranks seventh all time among left-handed pitchers.  The initial operation, John's successful post-surgery career, and the relationship between the two men is the subject of a 2013 ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts documentary.

Who is the mystery author in this interview?   Q.  I'm seeing you called "the Pope of Galway" and "the Godfather of Irish crime fiction."  Who pinned these on you?  A.  I have no idea, but what it does is make me feel old, very.  But you know, I'm also being called "Bukowski on crystal meth," the Prince of Darkness, and my favorite, an "intellectual guttersnipe"—a sideswipe at my PhD in metaphysics.  Q.  Your detective, Jack Taylor, must be the best-read detective in the history of fiction.  I think yours are the first crime novels I've ever read that quote Yeats, Nietzsche, and Ruskin—among numerous others.  But is it true that there were no books in your house when you were growing up and your father said he didn't want you to be a writer?  A.  The only book in our home was the Bible.  My parents forbade books.  They thought I needed help because I wanted to be a writer!  My father believed a real man didn't read, and my parents hoped I'd get some sense and find a job in insurance.  Q.  Much of what Jack reads is crime fiction.  What crime fiction did you read when you were young?  Were there any specific influences?  A.  I got the gift of a library card when I was ten and found a discarded box in the library.  They let me keep it and, oh, phew, what a treasure!  All the Black Mask editions, Gold Medal books, all the pulps.  So my influences then and now are American.  They formed me as a writer and still do.  Heresy in Ireland—where I'm supposed to worship Joyce, Beckett, and the other suspects.  Find name of the author at

On Feb. 18, 2015 Random House Children’s Books said it would publish on July 28 a rediscovered manuscript by the late Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, titled “What Pet Should I Get?”  The   manuscript of “What Pet Should I Get?” was initially found in Mr. Geisel’s home in La Jolla, Calif., in a box with assorted text and sketches soon after he died in 1991 by his widow Audrey Geisel.  Ms. Geisel rediscovered the box while she was cleaning out his office in 2013 with Claudia Prescott, described as Mr. Geisel’s “longtime secretary and friend.”  Ms. Geisel then contacted Random House by phone.  The rediscovered box included the full text and illustrations for “What Pet Should I Get?” together with enough material for two other books.  Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg

The Great Lakes ice cover continues to grow as winter weather slams the country. Lake Erie had 98% ice cover on Feb. 18, 2015 according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.  Lake Erie usually gets an extensive ice coverage because of how shallow the lake is, according to George Leshkevich with the Great Lakes Coastwatch.  He says Erie isn't the only lake experiencing the deep freeze.  The Great Lakes as a whole experienced 85.4% ice cover as of Feb. 18, Leshkevich says.

The water that flows over Niagara Falls has not come to an icy halt - despite what you might have heard on the news or read on the Internet.  It's a news story that seems to make the rounds every year or two, but it's false.  If Niagara Falls did actually freeze over, the one person who would certainly hear about it is Tony Baldinelli, a senior manager with the Niagara Parks Commission, who is in charge of their communications and routinely puts out media releases about items that are of interest to members of the public.  "People are seeing these magnificent, beautiful images of the falls in the winter time with the tremendous amount of ice that is created and some are left with the impression that it has frozen over, but in fact it is not," said Baldinelli.  Before 1964, each winter ice floating in from Lake Erie would create ice jams along the Niagara River that seriously hampered power diversions and damaged shoreline installations and bridges.  Since 1964, potential ice damage has been controlled by the installation of an “Ice Boom” at the source of the river.  The 2.7 km (1.7 mile) long boom is made of floating 30-foot long steel pontoons and is placed between Fort Erie and the city of Buffalo to hold the ice back.  It’s hard to imagine anything could stop the gigantic rush of water over the Falls, yet records show it happened once.  For 30 long, silent hours in March 1848, the river ceased its flow.  High winds set the ice fields of Lake Erie in motion and millions of tons of ice became lodged at the source of the river, blocking the channel completely.  Local inhabitants, accustomed to the sound of the river, heard an eerie silence and those who were brave enough, walked or rode horses over the exposed basin.  The self-made dam held the water back until a shift allowed the pent-up weight of water to break through to its accustomed route.  This has been prevented from happening again since 1964 by the annual installation of an “Ice Boom” at the source of the river.  Tony Ricciuto  

Many East Asian cultures use zodiac animals to symbolize each New Year and predict a person's fortunes.  But which animal represents 2015 is up for debate.  You may have seen goat, sheep or ram as the English translation for this year's animal according to the Chinese zodiac — yang, in Mandarin.  All of them are correct, says Lala Zuo, a Chinese language and culture professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.  Some Chinese words are vague and not as specific as English words, so yang could refer to a goat, sheep or even a ram.  But in ancient times, Zuo says, that Chinese character meant goat.  "I think goat is more commonly seen by people in China, both in the north and south," she says.  Not in Korea, though, according to Sang-Seok Yoon, a Korean language instructor at the University of Iowa.  "China is big and there are many different types of one animal, but Korea is small and the most prototypical image of yang for Korean people is sheep," he says.  The correct way to describe this Vietnamese New Year is the year of the goat — or mùi in Vietnamese, according to James Lap, who teaches the language at Columbia University.  "In Vietnam, there is no sheep or ram at all because the weather is so hot," Lap says.  Some cultures go beyond the goat-sheep divide and assign one of five elements borrowed from Chinese astrology and even a gender to a zodiac animal.  All of these characteristics can, supposedly, predict what's to come in the New Year.  In Tibetan culture, this is the year of the female wood sheep, according to Tsering Shakya, who teaches Tibetan literature at the University of British Columbia.  "A female year tends to be much more sort of peaceful than say male," he says.  The Mongolian zodiac also forecasts a peaceful new year under the blue female sheep.  Issue 1259  February 20, 2015  On this date in 1816, Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville premiered at the Teatro Argentina in Rome.  On this date in 1962, while aboard Friendship 7, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, making three orbits in four hours, 55 minutes.