4AD in the Early 90s

I used to be a 4AD fan and kept a discography going back in the 80s.  Or 90s, I guess. 

I also used to buy lots of British music papers.

Rooting through the basement storage here today, I found a cache of snipped 4AD-related articles and reviews that I had apparently collected back then, but had never done anything with.  So I thought I’d just scan them and assemble them into PDFs.

The scans should probably be cropped for easier reading, so I was thinking about writing an Emacs-based image cropping mode.  But then I thought “eh”, and wrote this teensy little library that just queries you for file names, and then uses the Gimp to do the cropping.

Gimp supports opening several files “remotely” (i.e., without starting a new instance for every image), so this turned out to be a workable way to, er, work.

The time period turned out to be 1989 to 1993, which isn’t the prime period for 4AD by any stretch of the imagination.  Half the articles are about Lush, I think.  I mean, I love Lush, but, you know.

So there you go.  Enjoy the fabulous early-90s British music journalism.

I should fold these into the general database, but that would mean getting the C++ program I wrote in 1989 to compile now, and that’s not…  fun…

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.

Boom

I’ve just seen what may be the best movie ever.  Boom, with a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, with Elizabeth Taylor and Whatisface playing the leads.

I mean, just look at it.

Look at it!

Pet Peeve #942: Amazon Packaging

If you order a book or two from Amazon, they know how to pack them. If you order more than that, they just throw everything into a thin cardboard box, and if the books are heavy, they then sometimes throw that box into a mail bag.

Exhibit A:

Thin cardboard boxes with heavy books inside isn’t a very good idea.

Look at all the packing material used. That’s like … four? plastic balloon-ey things. That all burst the moment they were put into the box.

So I should have learned my lesson by now: Never order more than two books at a time from Amazon.

Alternatively, Amazon could learn how to back books into boxes. I think they should know how by now.

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.