"A sort of lovely tension"

“It’s fantastically exciting to discover something that’s been lost all this time, but I do think it is also worth simultaneously holding the thought that actually, the only reason these fragments have survived is because at some point, someone thought the manuscripts in which they appeared were not valuable as anything other than waste. There’s a sort of lovely tension in that, I think.”

Source: Fragment of lost 12th-century epic poem found in another book’s binding | Books | The Guardian

Note: One of the interesting curiosities of history is that most paper has survived by accident. And for all the benefits that digitizing old manuscripts has brought us, there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned hands-on examination of the artifact.

Is plain text best?

CJ Chilvers gently disputes the claim of text files as the best future-proof archival medium.

There’s no magic file format. Most are likely to last long enough for you to convert to something else if need be. It’s more important to find the constraint that works for you…

I wouldn’t worry too much about your archive, though. Nothing digital is of archival quality. There hasn’t been enough time to test any format or storage method.

One of the peculiarities of archival research is that most paper has survived by accident. That’s how durable paper can be. Nowadays, archivists know exactly how to store paper; they know the temperature, humidity, pressure, etc. needed to preserve books, documents, etc. so it can last for a hundred or more years.

But digital media? Forget it. That whole area of preservation is constantly in flux and few archival standards have emerged – apart from maybe PDF-A – to ensure that even this web site will last for the next 20 years. Storage media, file formats, shifting standards, popular uptake: they all play a part.

I agree with Chilvers: old email, PDFs, and Word files work just fine for me, and for most people as well. I also count Evernote, which I’ve been using for 10+ years. Using rich text format (RTF) to capture formatting, bulleted and numbered lists, and images makes note-taking and note-making a more pleasurable and useful process.

Very few things will last forever. If they can last long enough to be of use to us, then that’s long enough.

Ostentatio genitalium

Ostentatio genitalium (the display of the genitals) refers to disparate traditions in Renaissance visual culture of attributing formal, thematic, and theological significance to the penis of Jesus. That these images seem to have been created in good faith, with pious intentions, mystifies art historians, and many refuse to recognize the category as noteworthy or distinct from the nudity of angels and putti. Yet, as examples accrue, the conspicuous attention lent to Christ’s phallus cannot escape even the most disinterested gaze.

Source: Ostentatio Genitalium in Renaissance Art – The Public Domain Review

Rediscovered a great Evernote keyboard combo that v10 recently added back in: press Ctrl+Alt+v to create a new note from the clipboard.

Whenever I read a sentence that begins “Don’t get me wrong…” I want to scream and mark through it with a thick Sharpie. PLEASE add this phrase to your exclusion dictionary! Replace it with “Although” or – better! – don’t use it at all! If your writing is good enough, I won’t misunderstand you.

Oscar Levant

Good overview of Oscar Levant, one of those minor performers of a Time Gone By who appealed to what the writer calls the “midcult” audience of the ‘40s and ‘50s, but who was capable of much more had manic-depression not wrecked his life.

A pianist who idolized his friend George Gershwin, Levant played second and third leads in movies and became a radio “personality” that boosted his concert career while freezing him in the public mind as a wisecracking cynic.

Later on, he became known less for his musicianship and more for his cutting wit, which he turned more and more on himself.

I remember reading a couple of his memoirs, which were straightforwardly written but not memorable. One detail stuck with me: Levant playing piano in New Orleans at a site below sea level. The humidity slowed the keys’ action so much they rose up slowly instead of snapping back.

Levant’s self-deprecating quotes in the article are chilling, particularly this one: “It’s not what you are, but what you don’t become that hurts.”

YouTube has lots of videos of Levant on panel and interview shows of the ‘50s. Here’s something a little quieter, that ends rather sadly:

Some days, my banjo lesson feels like I’m playing music. Other days (like this morning), it feels like I’m doing math and my mind won’t settle down.

Weird Old Book Finder

From today’s Recomendo newsletter:

Weird Old Book Finder

Clive Thompson created this search tool for weird old books in an attempt to rewild our attention. It only finds books one at a time and in the public domain, which you can download. I found this 1901 copy of Studies of Trees in Winter, which is actually a book I came across in a Berkeley library years ago and have been searching for. I also discovered this — definitely weird — rare manuscript titled The Complex Vision by poet/philosopher John Cowper Powys. I love tools like these that help me break free from the same old internet loop. — Claudia Dawson

Today’s Pome was too good not to share:


Your dress waving in the wind.
is the only flag I love.

Garous Abdolmalekian
trans. Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh (2020)

Career Advice to My Younger Self

  1. Imaginative experiment 1: Think back to when you were 7 or 8 years old. You’re at a dinner surrounded by parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Someone asks you, “What will you be when you grow up?” Answer as if you were that 7-year-old. What’s the reaction of your family around the table? Laughter? Teasing? Disbelief? Scoffing? What’s your reaction to what your 7-year-old self said? Whose reaction is most important to you? Source: The Ultimate Anti-Career Guide
  2. Imaginative experiment 2: You’re at your retirement party. Your colleagues are celebrating your life and career. What are they celebrating you for? Were you a great manager? A visionary? A great teacher? A skilled navigator of the bureaucracy? What footprint did you leave behind in their lives?
  3. Where do you want to work? Use LinkedIn to find contacts there and invite someone out for a coffee meeting. Don’t talk about yourself: ask about their work, what interests them about it, what keeps them there, etc. Make friends, don’t network. Schedule 3 or 4 coffee meetings a month, let people know you’re out there and you’re interested. Source: Ask the Headhunter, and a few other places.
  4. In my 20s-40s, I switched jobs every four years, it seemed. By that time, I’d figured out the job, was bored, and wanted to be tested and challenged elsewhere. Think in terms of job adventures. Don’t hone a set of skills so specialized and local that they make you the perfect employee at your current job. When you start a new job, start looking for the next job. Maybe apply for jobs via LinkedIn to see if the marketplace values your current skillset.
  5. Don’t worry too much about this mythical thing called “a career.” Look after the little things, like doing work you find valuable and worthwhile. The career will look after itself.

Etaoin Shrdlu

Etaoin Shrdlu is a somewhat infamous phrase among language enthusiasts. It is pronounced “eh-tay-oh-in shird-loo” and is believed to be the twelve most common letters in English, in order of most frequently used to least frequently used. The expression came about from linotype typesetting machines. Were one to run a finger down the first and then second left-hand vertical banks of six keys on a linotype machine, it would produce the words etaoin shrdlu. Linotype machines were sometimes tested in this manner. Once in a while, a careless linotype machine operator would fail to throw his test lines away, and that phrase would mysteriously show up in published material. The full sequence is etaoin shrdlu cmfgyp wbvkxj qz.


North Carolina’s Health and Human Services + LabCorp have “launched a pilot program to provide 35,000 no-cost, at-home COVID-19 collection kits for North Carolinians who may face difficulties traveling to testing sites.”

"We have so little time for the mending we must do"

My heart was broken recently and I keep the pieces on the back step in a bucket. A heart can mend but unlike the liver it cannot regenerate. A heart mends but the break line is always visible. Humans are not axolotels; axolotels grow new limbs. A broken heart will mend in time, but one of the contradictions of being human is that we have so little time for the mending we must do. It takes years to know anything, years to achieve anything, years to learn how to love, years to learn how to let love go when it has worn out, years to find that loneliness is the name for the intense secret you can’t share. Years to share what you can share. Years to be hurt. Years to heal.

Jeannette Winterson

Airbnb outsourced a shoddy background check on my account using only two pieces of data – my name and birthdate. This simple and lazy check found four arrest records scattered throughout the US (one to a man of a different race, and two others where the middle name was never given – only an initial). This was enough to trip Airbnb’s algorithms. So, despite my history as a good customer with excellent reviews from our hosts, they deactivated my account 7 days before our leave date. I filed disputes. We pivoted and booked a place with VRBO using my wife’s account. Amazon and Google could just as easily flip a switch and cut me off from services I use and depend on, with no way to dispute or appeal the action. I’m caught in a web I willingly walked into.