Thursday, 26 March 2009

Fahrenheit 451

I love books. I may be in the slow readers' club, but I love books. I may also be a Web 2.0 whore-fiend, but I always prefer to read from something tangible. You would never catch me with a Kindle.

A few things have happened this week which have really riled me.

Annoyance #1:

Having moved abroad I am now making a lot more use of libraries for my reading material. I love owning books, and my academic book collecting is becoming something of a 'problem', but as I know I have to return home sometime with the same number of suitcases as I came with, I can't buy too many ... or any. I'm applying the same principle to novels, but the only problem is that my library is a University one, which means I run the risk of getting out a novel which is required reading for someone's course. Cue the annoyance.

Some might say that checking out a book by a well-known Canadian author in a Canadian university was asking for it, but really! Every page was covered in different coloured pen, pointless underlining of pretty much every word that wasn't "and" or "the". Scribbled notes down the margin about the great importance of a particular line. I gave up after about 4 pages as it was just too distracting and, frankly, upsetting.

This isn't a comment about Canadian students, it's ALL students, or at least a large percentage of them. Every book I've ever checked out of a university library - bar the most obscure publications that only I would be interested in - has been annotated to some degree. There are a few reasons why this might be:

1) the student lacks the ability to parse information and take notes (or just can't be bothered)
2) the student thinks they might be doing other students a favour (never mind that other students have different research questions and may be looking for different things, but now can't get past the inane scrawlings)
3) the student has no respect for other people's property
4) the student is clearly a twat

The defacing of a book, especially one that is not yours, upsets me. This action tells me that, whilst you are happy to use a public resource for your own gain, you are now going to ruin that enjoyment for anyone else that might want to read it after you. It's extraordinarily selfish.

There are exceptions. Required reading for a course that you have bought with your own money, and is, for example, a mass-produced Penguin copy, is fair game for your notes and underlinings. This is your own property, bought for a specific purpose (i.e. to pass English A-level) and so it makes sense to use it for the purpose for which it was acquired, but you wouldn't do it with a first edition.

I am on the fence about Joe Orton's antics. Whilst I agree that his defacing of public library books as a comment on the poor quality of most reading literature at a Leicester an Islington Public Library had an artistic point, who was he to decide what was and was not good quality? Phyllis Hambledon isn't my idea of a good read, but many people's first steps towards more meaningful literature might begin with the 'less sophisticated', or simply enjoyed for its own sake. Not all books have to be great works of art.

Anyway, this made me mad, and I had to return the book.

Annoyance #2

Everyone knows I am craft fiend, and can't get enough of trying new techniques and making new things. However, I draw the line at cutting up books. I have seen quite a few tutorials for making secret 'hidden' boxes by cutting a well into the pages of a book (this one, for example, or this one for an alternative use). This wouldn't be so bad, but the books being used are invariably old hardbacks, with character, and with a lot more life left in them. They are never new mass-produced paperbacks. To me it is criminal to destroy these books for the sake of creating something that might be a little bit useful, or pretty, but ultimately is a dreadful waste.

Annoyance #3

I was never one for watching/reading the news a great deal. 'Teh interwebs' have changed that in me, by making it all so much more accessible. I accidentally beat the bandwagon jumping on Twitter by signing up ages ago for fun and frolics on the Birmingham emergent game, and have kept it up ever since. Now it is becoming more prolific there are lots of interesting people to follow and tonnes of interesting news items cross your path. It's a miracle I ever do any work really.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. Recently, Neil Gaiman posted a link on his Twitter feed to this article. I was utterly shocked. I realise it's primarily in the US, but ridiculousness like this has a habit of catching on in Britain, and there will be inevitable knock-on effects, even without similar legislation.

Essentially all children's books printed before 1985 can't be sold or bartered (unless considered to be collectors' items, cue a massive hike in selling price!). This is due to the lead in the printing ink (in the text, not just the illustrations). This means that public libraries and charity shops across the country are having to ditch their stock (landfill, burning, etc) as it is prohibitively expensive to have each one checked for safe levels of lead content.

I had seen that there had been outcries prior to this regarding the CPSIA legislation (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008) due to its impact on cottage-industry toy manufacturers, but nothing about books. I imagine that the worst hit will be those books that are too young to be collectors' items, but old enough to be included in the ban. I find it incredible that the terrible consequences of this law on all sectors wasn't fully appreciated as it was being passed. Fingers crossed the rally being planned actually has some impact!

Ok, rant over. I know, you get it, I love books, but these things have made me fume this week, and that is not something I do lightly.


Thursday, 12 March 2009

7 things...

My brother is evil, and has tagged me in a meme. But, I love procrastination so here goes:


1) Unlike my brother's seemingly amazing athletic ability, I achieved the worst time in the year for the 1500m when I was 15. I took an incredible 32 minutes.

2) On my first weekend in Rome I accidentally drunkenly stalked Harrison Ford, then stood back and watched whilst my friend Sophie shook his hand saying "it's fucking great to meet you, I'm a real archaeologist" (*cringe*). I thought every weekend would be like that, but I never saw another famous person for the two years I was there.

3) Continuing on the 'star' theme, I (and my brother) once met Zammo from Grange Hill in the queue to go down a mineshaft whilst on holiday in Yorkshire in the mid 80s. I think he was with his parents and a bit embarrassed. I have photographic evidence.

4) I am in the slow readers' club.

5) Despite being in the slow readers' club, I have some VERY IMPORTANT* academic publications which appear on Amazon: here and here, and a chapter in here. I never tire of googling myself.

*The only people who have ever cited me, however, are my friends... for a joke.

6) I can roll my tongue (in both senses), can only just cross my eyes, can only raise my left eyebrow, not my right, and cannot wiggle my ears. I fear this has stunted my development in many areas of my life.

7) I am never happier than when watching shit on tv. By shit I mean most sci-fi and primetime dramas, not reality tv and daytime soaps. I could be lying though, eating is also top. Ok, I am never happier than when watching shit on tv, whilst feeding my face with fajitas.


In order to share the meme misery, I shall now tag some more people (*evil cackle*), though I fully expect them to ignore it, as I should have.


Monday, 9 March 2009

Adventures in Baking

Since my last disasters in cooking, I've been a little reluctant to step out of familiar territory. Recently, however, I've been getting up the nerve to try again. The price of food here has meant that I've been quite keen to do some home-cooked versions of the staples.

We started out with the Darwin fishcake, but have since moved onto muffins and cookies aplenty. These have mostly worked, with a few exceptions, mostly due to our odd oven. Because the element is at the bottom, everything burns underneath. I've been advised to put in an extra baking tray underneath to disperse the heat, but things are still going black :(

What I was particularly keen to try, though, was bread baking. I tried my first loaf on Saturday but things went a little wrong. We were having a housewarming party and we took on a little too much with the preparation. As a result the bread was still rising when the first guests arrived. Quite a few cocktails intervened and I forgot to bake it, and didn't return to it until lunchtime the next day. I thought I'd still give it a go, but we ended up with a rather flat loaf that absolutely reeked of white wine (not what I wanted with my hangover)! We reluctantly binned it and I worked out the many and varied reasons why the loaf had done this. Accidentally leaving it to rise on the oven heat outlet was probably not my best idea. Anyway, my second attempt yesterday seemed to actually work. It was a wholemeal oaty bread, and it didn't fully rise, but was still pretty tasty (if a bit dense). I have plans to do it better next time.

We also found some Hobnobs in Auntie Crae's for the alarming price of $4.13 and so I searched out a recipe. They're still cooling downstairs but I've already taste-tested them. They just need a thin covering of chocolate and they'll be complete. So much for my diet...


Thursday, 5 March 2009

What do you call someone who collects maps?

... a nerd.

Or so says WikiAnswers. I was trying to find out what the official name for a map collector is and this is all I came up with. Cartophily, which is what I'd assumed, is actually the term for someone who collects cigarette cards. Perhaps a cartographile?

Anyway, you'll notice I've had a quick redesign. I'd got a bit bored of the pink, and I decided that my slight obsession with historic maps deserved an outlet, albeit a very small one.

Liam and I have been attempting to make our mark on the rented house we're in, and so have been on the look out for good posters. We've done pretty well, with a blow up of an old 1930s Newfoundland stamp showing codfish. This is the real thing, but you can just about make out our poster in the previous post, behind my hat.

And we've also sourced a couple of prints of historic maps. There's this one of the fishing banks in the 17th century:

As well as the Icelandic Skálholt map from 1570, which shows Britain, Iceland, Greenland, Baffin Island/Labrador and Newfoundland.

I got very excited, however, after chatting to the folks at the Map Library at MUN, as they directed me to this fabulous site of theirs, which has loads of historic scanned maps of the area available to download free! This is where I filched the map for my header.

Now, if only I had a printer...


Recent Projects

Last night I finished two items I'd been working on. This has never happened before so I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement... then I realised how tragically sad I've become. Moving here, being quite poor due to a short term contract, and not knowing huge numbers of people (yet) has meant that most nights are spent knitting or crocheting furiously whilst Liam reads a book - especially as we don't have cable tv (i.e. we have a telly but no reception, Liam is very pleased with this situation).

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of the recent projects I've finished since being here.

First was Liam's "Simon Cowl", quickly knitted in 3x3 rib on a 5mm circular needle in Paton's Soy Wool Stripes. I had to line it with some fleece I obtained from an old scarf from Value Village (a charity shop superstore for UK readers) as it was a bit itchy and also for extra warmth in adverse weather conditions. I think the stripes worked out pretty well (and he wears it most days, so it can't be that bad!).

Second was a hat for me. I'm bored of wearing my tweed peaked cap (especially as I keep hitting Liam in the face with it when I want to give him a peck on the cheek), and I often have my hair up which causes problems with other hats I own. So, I made the Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret by Natalie Larson (a free Ravelry download). I used smaller needles due to my notorious pin head, but it's still a bit big. It'll do for now though...

My favourite so far though is the crochet Sidesaddle Cluster Pullover from the Loop-d-Loop Crochet book. I really like that I now know how to crochet matching buttons using plastic curtain rings.

I have another project that is 90% done, which is my Cabled jumper that I started over Christmas. This is another free pattern. Typically I didn't have the right needles so did it on smaller ones, but this had led to the nightmare scenario that I have now RUN OUT OF WOOL! Gah! This is despite changing the arms to make them narrower. I can't seem to find anything remotely similar here so have tasked a friend back in Brum to find me some to post. Fingers crossed. If she can't find me some I may have to unravel it and start again on bigger needles. I might cry if that happens...