1995: En glad gutt

I haven’t read many of the Norwegian classics.  I’m pretty sure I’ve never read anything by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (his name translates to Bear Star Bear Son — like wow) before.

This book, called perhaps “A Jolly Lad”, is a slender volume on young love across the class barriers, as well as a society getting progressively more modern.  It’s quite funny and touching.

And since it’s from 1860, it has some interesting swear words,like “hvalpung”,  which can only mean “whale’s scrotum”. 

I think.

The illustrations are kinda eh, though:

Rating: Peasantific!

1995: Sataniske vers

My sister used to work for a book publisher, so she got tons of free books.  The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was probably one of them, which explains why I’ve got it.

It’s better than I expected.  It’s written in a very late-80s coke-fuelled wide-eye manic way, with one tableaux after another.  Quite entertaining, but some of it drags.

The book hasn’t aged well.  For instance, the magic realism.  When all the people in the hospital turned into creatures from fables, it just made me start rolling my eyes.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to read while you’re rolling your eyes?

But it’s not bad.  Bits of it are very inventive and exciting, even if the post-modern excoticism wears you down a bit.  It’s funny, though.

Rating: Pomolicios

1995: Till Damaskus/Ett drömspel

I couldn’t remember buying this, and it turns out that I didn’t.  It was forgotten by somebody at my apt, and he’s since gone onto become a theater instructor.  How appropriate, since this is a collection of two plays by August Strindberg.

I probably get a more abstract impression of the plays than originally intended.  I mean, they’re full of madness and symbolism (it’s Strindberg!), but the Oldee Timey Swedish Grammar (from 1898) combined with the general christianey drift of the plot makes my  brain not quite grasp what’s going on all the time.

But the plays are definitely powerful.  And quite amusing in places.

Det är synd om människorna!

Rating: Symbolicious.

1995: The Woman in the Dunes

Continuing the stooory of 1995, for some reason or other I had bought this book by Kobo (The Meat) Abé.  Probably because it was on sale.  Which also explains why I didn’t read it.

It turns out to be a fantastically written punch in the stomach.  It’s a sandy, moist and claustrophobic horror show.  And I kinda loathed it.

Well, that’s putting it too strongly.  I liked bits of it, but…

There you go: It’s great, but I didn’t enjoy it.

I do enjoy the way some bookstores put the date they bought the book onto the price tags, though:

So the bookstore got the book in June 1988.

And I apparently bought it in 1995, on sale.  And then I read it 18 years later.

Rating: Loathalicious.

1995: Forsøk i kjærlighet

I hadn’t kept up with the 1995 project in a while, so I pounced on Essays in Love: A Novel by Alain de Botton yesterday.

It’s a somewhat unusual novel.  As it says on the cover, it’s sort of an essay collection, and it’s sort of a novel.  So very avantey.  But not really.

It’s a love story, but the protagonist tends to overthink things.  It’s quite amusing.

But I just couldn’t get past this bit in the opening section.

Our hero is calculating the chance that he and The Love Of His Life were to sit in neighbouring seats on the plain from Paris, given that a) only this woman is TLOHS and b) they both were to take planes from Paris to London that day.  Fine.

But the numbers are somewhat odd.  And it doesn’t help that the Norwegian translator is mixing up decimal commas and decimal points, either. 

The chance of sitting next to each other, given that they take the same plane, is said to be either one in “162,245” or “162,(245)” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), which doesn’t seem all that unlikely to be correct.  (There are 192 seats on the plane.)

But then we get to the bit where there are six planes, so we should multiply the chance by 36?  And we should end up with a change of one in “5 840.81”? 

What? 

And what’s up with all the decimals, anyway?  Grr!  Pretend precision is Pet Peeve Number 241.456!

So while reading half the book, half my brain was kinda going through the maths while the other half was reading the book.  And I really don’t have half my brain to spare.  I can’t spare even a tenth.

Finally I went to An Online Retailer and looked at the English version of the book:

There all the numbers are totally different!  AAARGH!

But they look more sensible there, at least.

Did the Norwegian translator just throw down some random numbers on the page, or did de Botton fix this in later printings?  Could someone check an early (1993) copy of this book in English?
  
With that out of the way, I could finally pay more attention to the rest of the book, which made me notice stuff like the thing above.  It’s supposed to be an illusion, but the longer arrow is 3mm longer than the short one.

I’m totally open to the idea that de Botton would do something like that on purpose just to annoy us nerds, and if so, I applaud him.

Rating: Baitalicious.

Books, Emacs, and ISBN APIs

I have the worst memory.

But even so, I pretty much manage to remember what books I’ve read.  If I’ve read Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, I remember that.

The problem is with the less (how to put it?) good books.

I read a lot of crap.  Crap that I like, but it’s crap.  Book after book of entertaining, but not really essential books.

For instance, I’m now reading No Cooperation from the Cat by Marian Babson.  It’s amusing, quite decently written and is a pleasant read.  It’s ostensibly a mystery novel, but people mainly stand around talking wittily to each other while they cuddle cats.  And then somebody’s going to die or something, I’m guessing.  The suspense!
 
She has previously written books like The Company of Cats, To Catch a Cat, The Cat Next Door and Even Yuppies Die.

I have absolutely no idea whether I’ve read those books or not, but if I haven’t, I want to.  And there’s the problem.

My books are kinda organised on the shelves, so I can pretty much find any book if I look at four separate locations where a book is likely to be.  Unless I’ve recently read it.  Then there’s no hope, because it’ll be in the “just-read” stacks.

So I thought: Perhaps I should just enter all the Marian Babson books into a database of sorts, and then just buy all the ones I haven’t read in one fell swoop.  I like fell swoops.

And then I thought that that sounded kinda boring, so perhaps it would be an idea to have a bar-code scanner, and enter the ISBNs that way.

But then I needed to look up the ISBNs via some API, so that I could see that the book is look-up-able.

Strapped-on Keypad

And then I thought that I might as well just scan all the books.  But then I needed to have a routine going where I would scan newly bought books to.

You can see where this is going.

I wrote an Emacs ISBN interface and book database thingie: Bookiez, and a bought a wireless barcode scanner, so that I don’t have to bring the books to the computer to enter them into the database.

I also set up the computer so that the data from the scanner goes directly to Emacs so that I don’t have to futz around.  I can just grab the scanner, point it at a book, and then it’s registered, without me having to start the right program or put focus into the correct window.

The Cyborg

Bookiez looks up the ISBNs via the APIs from Google Books, OpenLibrary, ISBNDB and LibraryThing.  (Phew.)  They all seem to have vaguely differing ISBN coverage, and the data quality is also…  varying.

Anyway, after scanning about a K of books, I’m really impressed with the Datalogic Gryphon D120 Barcode Scanner (aka. Datalogic Quickscan M2130).

The wireless range is fantastic (more than 20 meters), and the user interface is perfect.  When I scan something successfully, it beeps immediately, and when it transmits to the base station, it beeps, too.  So there’s never any doubt whether the scan was successful or not.  It does require you to hold it in a certain angle when scanning, but overall I think it’s a great device.  Nine thumbs up!

Not all books have ISBN barcodes, so I have to enter those by hand.  So I gaffa-taped a wireless keypad to my right thigh.  I can enter numpad stuff by touch-typing, and it makes a fashion-forward statement, as you can see.

The main annoyance when scanning is really the network latency when looking up the ISBN codes.  I’m looking at you, OpenLibrary.  But I’ve scanned half my books in a handful of hours, so it’s not too bad.

So now I can order some more Marion Babson books.  I don’t think I over-engineered this one at all.