Miskatonic University Press

Michele Dougherty on not caring what other people think

radio quotes

Michele Dougherty (leader of the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons) was interviewed on The Life Scientific by Jim Al-Khalili, and there’s a nice exchange at the end:

Dougherty: It’s to do with confidence, and that you only build up over time. But what I’ve found, after I turned fifty—I don’t really care what anyone thinks: if I think it’s the right path, I do it anyway.

Al-Khalili: All of us over fifty feel like that.

Dougherty: It’s great, isn’t it? It’s great! I just wish I could have been like that in my twenties, but what the hell.

Politics in the Library

libraries code4lib york

Last month I read Sam Popowich’s post Gramsci and Library Neutrality, where he said he’d been “interviewed along with University of Alberta School of Library and Information Studies professor Michael McNally on the CJSR radio show Shout for Libraries.” I started following CJSR, and they must have broadcast the show a couple of days ago because it showed up on SoundCloud. I recommend it to anyone interested in libraries and politics (bearing in mind that if you don’t like it when people recommend reading Marx and Gramsci then the interview will rub you the wrong way).

Sam digs into Gramsci in his blog post:

We began by discussing the age-old question of library neutrality. Neither Michael nor I support the idea of library neutrality and, while I have met rank-and-file librarians who hold this position, I find it mostly part of the discourse and value system of library administrators. When Michael and I were asked why we think the idea of library neutrality continues to be so strongly held, we mentioned things like reification of social relations and hegemony. But the question made me start wanting to dig a little deeper into this: why has library neutrality continued to be a bone of contention ever since at least the 1970s debates around social responsibility and professionalism, if not before.

In the show Sam says this issue and others can come to a head when there’s a labour problem happening. Things get real. I can tell you that’s my experience where I work. I’m one of two librarian union stewards in the York University Faculty Association (Patti Ryan is the other), and we’ve been dealing with a variety of issues over the last few years. We haven’t had any trouble with “neutrality,” but other things have come up, and they’ve moved from being theoretical issues discussed in the abstract to being real things discussed in real terms because they are problems that need to be solved, and there is a framework—the collective agreement—we can use to do that.

Moss on a tree—not a metaphor.
Moss on a tree—not a metaphor.

At the end of the interview, Sam recommends reading Gramsci’s Notebooks and The Myth of the Neutral Professional. Michael McNally recommends In Solidarity: Academic Librarian Labour Activism and Union Participation in Canada, edited by Jennifer Dekker and my colleague Mary Kandiuk, which I think every Canadian academic librarian should have a look at, as well as any others interested in academic librarianship and labour issues.

Trudeau Major


The closing of Nathan Greenfield’s review of Allen Mills’ Citizen Trudeau, 1944–1965: An Intellectual Biography in the Times Literary Supplement (23 & 30 December 2016):

In other words, Trudeau argued that Canada’s natural bounty and persons should be managed for the benefit of those persons who were Canadian, with the management being in the hands of the elected representatives in Parliament who were imbued with “unintellectual pragmatism.” This last is Mills’ phrase, which does not mean ignorance, but rather sums up the political imaginary of of what is surely the last political mind in the British and American constitutional systems of whom an intellectual biography can be written.

Recent Emacs changes

code4lib emacs

I’ve tweaked my Emacs setup a few times recently.

First, I changed how Org bullets look. I use the org-bullets package—it’s very nice—and had it showing bullets and circles of various sizes for the different heading levels, but a few weeks ago something broke for a little while and I wasn’t seeing any bullets on any headings. Do you know, it looked nice. Very simple and clean. When the problem was fixed I tried it for real, but I need some kind of visual indicator of where I am, so I changed the bullets for the top three headings and use nothing for the fourth. This is what Org looks like for me now:

Org bullets.
Org bullets.

The top heading is “⊢,” which is a turnstile or RIGHT TACK in Unicode.

It flows nicely as an outline:

Org bullets outline.
Org bullets outline.

Second, I started using Projectile. It’s very nice for working on projects and bouncing around files in one project, and it does a great job of understanding what a project is. C-c p p lets me switch to a project (usually something under version control, but it doesn’t have to be), and then C-c p f finds a file in that project or C-c p b bounces to an open buffer from that project.

Third, I started using Ivy, Swiper and Counsel for command completion and browsing search results. For some reason I had to run M-x package-refresh and M-x package-install RET ivy to get Ivy to go in; perhaps that’s a transient problem. Aside from that it was all seamless and it’s giving me great improvements on searching for words (with C-s), using ag to search files, searching the Unicode table to find a particular character, and so on. It’ll take me a while to learn everything it can do, but out of the box it’s an improvement right away.

Here’s what a search for “zotero” (C-s zotero) looked like while editing a this file a few minutes ago. The matches are highlighted on screen because I use the highlight package, but they’re also there for my choosing in the minibuffer at the bottom thanks to Swiper. It can also show me results from multiple files, and jumping to the line I want is easy.

'C-s zotero' in this buffer: nice results at bottom.
'C-s zotero' in this buffer: nice results at bottom.

Fourth, I’m using the zotxt extension in Firefox so Emacs can talk to Zotero with the zotxt package. Michael Behr wrote this up in A research workflow with Zotero and Org mode and I was very happy to see it, because it does just what I need: inserting citations from Zotero into Org buffers. I keep notes on papers I read, and this does the trick. I’ll go to org-ref (John Kitchin’s work with Org is remarkable) if I need to, but Zotero is my research management tool, and I want to talk to it directly, without exporting BibTeX files from it as a middle step.

The original ethical data scientists

libraries mathematics quotes

“I’m a huge fan of librarians—they are, in my opinion, the original ethical data scientists” says Cathy O’Neill after winning an award from the New York chapter of the Special Libraries Association for all of her work, including her blog mathbabe and book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (which I highly recommend).

Tidal: no better


Last year in February, after Rdio died, I wrote about how I’d moved to Tidal. I had a list of things I hoped Tidal would do. Almost a year later, it hasn’t done any of them. In fact I think some things have gotten worse.

My list was:

  • Goes social.
  • Lets me follow labels.
  • Remembers my listening history.
  • Integrates the app and the web client; being able to control what’s playing on the web version from the app is great when you have a cat on your lap.
  • Improves the tool tips on links so that when I hover over a song or album it gives full information.
  • Adds recommendations based on my listening.
  • Lets me personalize what it thinks I might like, by letting me plus and minus tracks it suggests.
  • Lets me add albums and playlists to queues.

None of those things are yet possible. Tidal is still pushing music on me that it should know I’m not interested in, and at the same time it’s making it hard for me to find new music by not even telling me when bands I’ve marked as favourites have a new album out. Plus, the listing of new releases mixes up actually new albums with recently new ones I’ve marked as favourites: if a new metal album came out three weeks ago and I flagged it, I don’t want to see it this week when I want to poke through the new metal releases.

Tidal’s added “movies” and shows, but I don’t care about any of them.

It doesn’t seem to have done anything to improve the Android client.

A good number of new(ish) albums aren’t available on Tidal. I don’t know if they’re available in Spotify or other streaming services, or what the licensing problems are, but I don’t have the sense Tidal is doing anything to improve the situation.

On top of all that, in the web client, if I’m in the middle of listening to some tracks and then add an album to the play queue, it doesn’t append the album to what’s already queued, it starts to play it after the current song is over. If the queue accumulates a bunch of stuff I don’t want to hear, if I tell Tidal to clear the queue it stops playing the song I’m listening to.

Searching in the Android client depends on how your order the search terms:

booker 204
booker 204
204 booker
204 booker

(“204” from Tex Book Tenor is absolutely smoking. Like I said in the previous post, which I took from my Rdio review: “Post bop that takes off like a rocket and swings hard, with blistering solos and tasty eights at the end. And recorded by Rudy Van Gelder!”)

On the good side, I like Tidal for the same three reasons I chose it:

  • It works in the browser, no proprietary binary required.
  • It’s CD quality. That’s worth extra money each month.
  • Artists get more royalties. That’s also worth the extra money.

I’m still prepared to spend $20 for access to all of that music, even with the current interface.

Still, I expect Tidal will get sold or go under. I don’t see how it can stay a going concern if it doesn’t improve. And as soon as something even a little bit better comes along, I’ll move without any regret. I’ll lose nothing.

Hearing Secret Harmonies

literature quotes

A quote from Hearing Secret Harmonies, the last in the magnificent A Dance to the Music of Time novel sequence by Anthony Powell.

She was, I thought, perhaps a little mad now. As one gets older, one gets increasingly used to encountering this development in friends and acquaintances; causing periods of self-examination in a similar connection.

Gauss and pizza


This is the most wonderful thing I learned this week (though I don’t truly understand it), from the Wikipedia article on Gauss’s Theorema Egregium (Remarkable Theorem) about the curvature of surfaces. “The theorem says that the Gaussian curvature of a surface does not change if one bends the surface without stretching it,” says the article, and then gives an example:

An application of the Theorema Egregium is seen in a common pizza-eating strategy: A slice of pizza can be seen as a surface with constant Gaussian curvature 0. Gently bending a slice must then roughly maintain this curvature (assuming the bend is roughly a local isometry). If one bends a slice horizontally along a radius, non-zero principal curvatures are created along the bend, dictating that the other principal curvature at these points must be zero. This creates rigidity in the direction perpendicular to the fold, an attribute desirable when eating pizza, as it holds its shape long enough to be consumed without a mess.

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