Miskatonic University Press

Advice from Skeleton Island

literature quotes

Today I reread The Secret of Skeleton Island (by Robert Arthur), the sixth in the great series of YA detective stories involving The Three Investigators. They are the classic triumvirate of youthful boy detectives: the pudgy smart one (Jupiter Jones, “First Investigator”), the athletic one (Pete Crenshaw, “Second Investigator”), and the quieter booky one (Bob Andrews, “Records and Research”). I loved the series as a boy and I like to go back and reread one every now and then.

Here’s a tip: once you’ve read the first two or three to get the feel of the series, look for ones by William Arden, which was a pseudonym of Dennis Lynds, a very fine crime writer. He put things into his entries in the series that grown-up readers will notice and appreciate.

The Secret of Skeleton Island (pb)
The Secret of Skeleton Island (pb)

The first chapter is exciting: the boys fly from California to the east coast of the United States to join a film shoot (where Pete Crenshaw’s father is working) and investigate some mysterious circumstances at the suggestion of Alfred Hitchcock. They are picked up at the airport by someone who knows who they are, so they think it’s all right, but then he drives them to to a boat and takes them to an island—but not the island they were expecting to go to the next day—and abandons them there. They are stranded on a small island in the Atlantic, at night, in a storm! That’s a heck of a first chapter.

There are two nice pieces of wisdom in the book.

“One kid can generally tell when another kid is sneaky” [said Jupiter].

“Adults don’t like to listen to kids when their minds are made up,” Bob observed.

Very true.

The Secret of Skeleton Island (hc)
The Secret of Skeleton Island (hc)

The cover of the paperback, at the top, is by Stephen Marchesi, and I don’t know who did the cover of the hardcover edition, just above. That’s Jupiter in front, then Pete, then Bob (the booky one, wearing glasses and a sweater vest) in the back.

Papers and inks


I use fountain pens. I’m going to start posting about that, but first I’m going to examine paper. Fountain pen users take a great interest in paper, because the ink can easily smear, feather or bleed through to the other side.

Notebooks seem to be the choice of many—most?—people who take more than the usual amount of interest in what they write on every day. At web sites like The Pen Addict and The Well-Appointed Desk there are lots of reviews of notebooks from Moleskine, Baron Fig, Field Notes, Rhodia and others.

I don’t use notebooks. I have no place for them in my set of tools. I use:

  • A Filofax.
  • Sketchbooks for sketching and commonplace books.
  • Small Rhodia pads of paper (perforated for easy tearing) for quick notes.
  • 8.5 x 11 inch (letter-size) paper, for all my usual writing.

When I’m working on a project, I use a file folder to keep notes, not a notebook, so I want proper writing paper. I live in Canada, so that means 8.5 x 11 inch.


I decided to test out various weights of paper and find one I liked and could put into regular use. It needed to feel good in hand and not bleed ink through to the other side. I grabbed a few sheets of stuff we use at work, then tested some stationery I had at home. It seemed like 120 gsm (32 pound) was the heaviest mass-production letter paper I could buy, so I got two types of that.

On each sheet I wrote something with a TWSBI Diamond 580 with an extra-fine (EF) nib inked with J. Herbin Perle Noire (a beautiful black), a Lamy Safari with an EF nib inked with J. Herbin’s Poussière de Lune (burgundy), a glass dip pen with Diamine Blue-Black and a Faber-Castell pencil (9B—very soft) I also used a small watercolour brush to put on some J. Herbin Rouge Opéra ink (darkish red).


The most important thing about paper is its weight, called the grammage. In North America the weight is usually given in pounds: 20 pounds is the usual weight for the paper you’ll find in a printer, but if you’re getting good watercolour paper (like something from Canson, my preferred source) it’ll be around 140 pounds. This is all calculated from “basis weight” and different sizes of paper and can be confusing, like most things involving Americans and imperial units (e.g. the Mars Climate Orbiter).

As you’d expect, the metric system has made this all very sensible: it uses grams per meter squared (g/m²) or gsm. Even Americans will talk about paper weight using this unit, because (as far as I know) the best writing paper comes from outside the US, and that’s how it’s labelled.


If Rhodia made a pad of letter-size paper I certainly would have tried it, but they quite rightly use A4, so that’s out.

EarthChoice Office Paper, 75 gsm

EarthChoice Office Paper, made by Domtar, is what we usually have on hand where I work.

It feels like normal paper, until you’ve handled heavier stuff, after which it seems very flimsy. On the front it looks all right, but ink really bleeds through. The ink on the glass pen really feathered.

Front: EarthChoice

Back: EarthChoice

Paperline, 75 gsm

This Paperline stuff was another type we had at work. It’s very similar to the EarthChoice Office Paper, but felt a little more finished. The glass dip pen didn’t feather.

Front: Paperline

Back: Paperline

Unknown, about 90 gsm

I had some personal stationery at home that was 25% cotton and had a bit of tooth to it. I estimate it was 24 pounds, or 90 gsm. It’s very nice, but it bleeds a bit.

Front: Unknown

Back: Unknown

First Choice ColorPrint (by Domtar), 120 gsm

Here I got into heavy paper, and as soon as I tried First Choice ColorPrint (made by Domtar), at 32 pounds, I knew I had the weight I wanted. This stuff is designed for colour printing and is extremely white and very, very smooth. It feels very heavy in the hand, and no ink bleeds through.

I got this at Staples. The web site says it’s about $17 for 500 sheets.

Front: First Choice

Back: First Choice

Classic Linen (by Neenah), 118 gsm

This is Classic Natural White (which is creamy) in Neenah’s Classic Linen line at “text” weight. “Linen” refers to the finish, which has a bit of texture, like the cloth. You can see it in the pencil if you look closely. This paper also feels nice and heavy, and no ink bleeds through.

I got this at Print City, in downtown Toronto by Bloor and Avenue. I use them for any printing I need done. Highly recommended. I went in and said what I was after and they sold me 500 sheets of this for $50. That’s not cheap, but it’s what this kind of paper costs. They don’t sell this kind of thing at Staples, and I might have been able to get it cheaper at Amazon, but I don’t shop there.

Front: Neenah

Back: Neenah


I’m using the Neenah linen paper now, and will stick with it for a while, then may go back to the First Choice. Both have the weight I like, and now it’s a matter of seeing how I like the finish and the way they feel.

If you’re doing serious writing on letter or A4 paper, don’t use the flimsy stuff you find in your printer at work. Go get some heavy paper at 120 gsm. As soon as you hold it in your hand, you’ll know you’re ready for real writing. This is paper.

Barnett Newman's Library

art libraries

This is a beautiful book: Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, by Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, published in 2004 by Yale University Press. (Wikipedia defines a catalogue raisonné to be “a comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known artworks by an artist either in a particular medium or all media.” That’s what this book is: it’s a big, heavy, gorgeous edition listing everything Newman ever painted or drew (that he didn’t destroy), with colour photos and all sorts of details about everything.)

Onement I, courtesy Wikipedia
Onement I, courtesy Wikipedia

Barnett Newman is one of my favourite artists, and recently I’ve been enjoying reading about him for Listening to Art: the next three issues are all Newman paintings.

I was very happy to find that the catalogue raisonné includes a listing of books in Newman’s library—and then I was even happier when I discovered that a more accurate list is available on the Barnett Newman Foundation’s web site: The Artist’s Library.

These are the categories they’ve used to organize the books and other items:

  • Art and Architecture
  • Automobiles and Automobile Repair
  • Banking and Finance
  • Biography and Autobiography
  • Biology and the Natural Sciences
  • Birds (Ornithology)
  • Botany
  • Catalogues and Advertisements
  • Drama
  • Ethnology, Anthropology, Archeology and Sociology
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • History
  • Horse Racing and Betting
  • How-To
  • Language
  • Law
  • Literature
  • Media and Technology
  • Miscellaneous
  • New York
  • Periodicals
  • Philosophy
  • Photography
  • Physics and Astronomy
  • Poets, Poetry, and Verse
  • Politics
  • Programs and Menus
  • Psychology
  • Religion and the Religious Life
  • Science and Mathematics
  • Travel and Tourism

These are not standard subject headings any library would use, but they suit Barnett Newman very well (among other things, he spent a few years trying to make a living at the track), and that’s the most important thing. A catalogue should help you understand the library’s creator.

See also:



King Crimson performing David Bowie’s “Heroes” has been in heavy rotation recently. Robert Fripp, sitting at the side of the stage, looks happy. He played on the original almost forty years ago.

Listening to Art 01.03


Listening to Art 01.03, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhône (1888) recorded on the “Mystical Landscapes” tour while at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, on 29 December 2016, is now out.

The next issue, on 01 July, will be van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), recorded at its home at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It’s interesting to compare them.

I adjusted the levels in the recordings and the audio sounds better now. If you have any problems with the podcast feed or the audio files, please let me know.

Listening to Art

john.cage marcel.duchamp listening.to.art podcasts

I’ve started a new project: Listening to Art. Twice a month I will post field recordings of visual art.

The first two issues are up:

The next two issues (01.03 on 13 June and 01.04 on 01 July) are devoted to related paintings by Vincent van Gogh. Issues 01.05–01.08 will be of works by the same artist and will appear in July and August.

The issues are available as podcast feeds as medium-quality MP3s or high quality FLAC files. I’ve tested them in different platforms with different podcast aggregators, and they should work everywhere, but if not, please let me know.

I conceived the project last year and started making the field recordings last summer, but wasn’t sure how to manage and release it until listening to 25 Minutes of Silence gave me the idea of doing things one by one in podcast form. For that I thank Joey Clift.

Jamming at Philip Glass's

philip.glass podcasts privacy

I’m a regular listener to Intercepted, a podcast from The Intercept. (See the Wikipedia page about it for some background.) In the latest episode, There’s Something About Jared, there’s an unexpected mention of Philip Glass:

Jeremy Scahill: This week, my friend, Leo Heiblum, is visiting New York. Leo is originally from Mexico, and he is an incredible musician and composer. He and I got to know each other several years ago when Leo was working with the actor Gael García Bernal on a documentary film about a undocumented immigrant who makes a journey through Central America and ends up in the United States, and then is found dead in the Arizona desert. That film was called “Who is Dayani Cristal?” It’s a great film. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. Well, Leo did the score and the music for that excellent film. And then this other musical artist, singer/composer Tenzin Choegyal, who is a Tibetan living in exile — they met each other just the other night. And then they came into our studio to perform together, and — well, I’ll just shut up, and I’ll let them introduce themselves and the song that they’re gonna share with us.

Leo Heiblum: My name is Leo Heiblum, and I’m from Mexico City — “Chilango” from Mexico.

Tenzin Choegyal: I’m Tenzin Choegyal, a Tibetan in exile and now living in Australia.

Leo Heiblum: I am staying at Philip Glass’ house here in New York, which is where I usually stay, and that’s a great place to meet friends and musicians. And I was just there with my instrument and playing the tabla, and Tenzin came, and we just started jamming. And now we’re playing together.

I imagine that if one ever stays at Philip Glass’s house that is exactly the kind of thing that happens.

The whole episode is worth listening to, but if you just want to get to their performance of The Partisan (made famous, at least to me, by Leonard Cohen), then jump to about 20 minutes in.


climate.change talks

I was at Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium, 2017 on 13–14 May. I’ll be posting more about it soon, but here is the audio and text of the five-minute talk I gave: “GHG.EARTH.” I was delighted to be there. My thanks to Rory Litwin, Madeleine Charney and Casey Davis Kaufman for organizing it.


I have five minutes.

Before I start: this talk is CC-BY; it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Near NYU.
Near NYU.

5: Introduction

Minute five. Introduction.

Hello. I’m William Denton, a librarian at York University in Toronto, Canada. I’m going to talk about GHG.EARTH. GHG is for “greenhouse gases” and EARTH is for “earth.”

This is a web site. But do not look at it right now! Please get ready to look at it. Open a tab in a browser (Chrome or Firefox, any device), type in GHG.EARTH, but don’t hit Enter yet. Do not hit Enter! Wait until minute four.

Some background. I’ve been working on sonifications, turning data into sound. Climate change research produces a lot of data, especially time series, and it’s interesting and useful to turn that into sound or music. Sonifying atmospheric carbon dioxide you hear the yearly fluctuations as the northern hemisphere takes in carbon in the summer and releases it in the winter. And you hear the rise, year after year, of the greenhouse gases we are adding to the atmosphere. Sonifying long time series of climate data makes very clear the sudden changes we have caused since industrialization.

GHG.EARTH, however, just does one thing. It plays yesterday. It turns yesterday’s CO2 measurement into sound.

4: Performance

Minute four. Now we’re going to perform it.

Get ready: when I say “now,” hit Enter. You’ll see a number and you’ll hear a sound. At the end of the minute I’ll count down to five, then please close the tab. Everybody ready? Now!

[At the end of the minute, count down: five, four, three, two, one, STOP.]

Thank you for the performance.

3: The Number

Minute three. The number.

The number is yesterday’s CO2 reading, in parts per million (ppm), taken at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observatory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This is where the famous Keeling Curve is from. A script scrapes the data every day from its web site. Follow the details link for the code and everything else.

The usual estimate is that before the Industrial Revolution CO2 was at 280 ppm. We’re over 400 now, and it won’t go back under in our lifetimes.

IPCC models make predictions about how much CO2 will be in the air depending on different actions we take. In the best-case scenario emissions peak very soon, then decline, and by about 2070 we’re actually removing CO2 from the air. In that case in 2100 we’ll be at about 420 ppm.

In the worst-case scenario, by 2100 we’re at 936 ppm, which would mean unprecedented global catastrophe.

So far we have consistently been beyond the worst-case scenario. There is no indication that will change.

2: The Sound

Minute two. The sound.

This is a composition. The score is: “Play the tone (Hz) equal to the atmospheric CO2 concentration (ppm).” There is no end specified. There is no arrangement or instrument specified. Anyone can play this for as long as they want, however they want, wherever they want. Like we just did.

A piano has just over seven octaves, with pitches from 27.5 Hz to almost 4200 Hz. All current and historical CO2 readings map to a pitch somewhere in that range. 440 ppm, for example, is A above middle C, “concert pitch”—what an orchestra plays when it tunes up.

280, the pre-industrial number, is a C#, the black key above middle C in the fourth octave of the piano.

410, where we are now, is a little higher, just below G#.

420, best case, is just over G#, still in the same octave.

936 is an octave up, into the fifth octave, at A#5. That is incredibly, dangerously high.

It’s hard to hear the day-to-day changes in GHG.EARTH because it’s microtonal. I’ve never been able to remember yesterday well enough to distinguish it from today, but I keep trying.

1: One Octave to Live In

Minute one. One octave to live in.

Doubling the frequency makes a pitch go up one octave. 440 is A in the fourth octave and 880 is A in the fifth octave. The musical scale is a geometric progression. It’s exponential.

An arithmetic progression is linear: it changes by the same amount every time. Annual CO2 concentration is almost arithmetic. It actually grows slightly differently every year, 2 or 3 ppm, but close enough.

The two numbers, the musical and the atmospheric, are literally working on different scales.

That means we only have one octave to live in. That fourth octave on the piano, from middle C up to B, that’s where we have to stay.

Pre-industrial we were at C#. Now we’re getting close to G#. All of human existence has been in just a few piano keys above middle C. We need to stay there. We definitely do not want to get into the next octave, which starts at about 525.

But that’s long term. GHG.EARTH is there to tell us what CO2 concentration sounds like right now. Play it in the background, quietly, and after a while it will fade out of your attention. You’ll start thinking about other things, but then it will come back—sharply. You’ll remember what it means, and you’ll remember the situation we are in.

Thank you.

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