Reading, quietly

There is something exquisite in the act of sitting still in a comfortable place, reading, with a nice view. Writing sometimes, to note down the habits of passing sheep. And sometimes drinking, perhaps, once the sun has dropped to that point in the sky. But the important thing is the still small quiet that can be felt, occasionally. And the ability to see a bit of a distance. A good book helps, but isn’t really the point.

I now use curly quotation marks when proofreading

There are currently two things that are annoying me about Wikisource books. These are: the inclusion of hyperlinks (to be all 1990s about it, with using that word); and the usage of straight quotation marks.

Links I can forgive, or even actively enjoy, in non-fiction; but in fiction, they have no place. (So think I, anyway.) Especially when they link to a sodding dictionary term! I know how to look up a word I don’t know. Sigh.

The curly-vs-straight argument is an odd one. We only have straight ones thanks to typewriters (or their manufacturers, I guess) not wanting to have two sorts for each type of quotation mark. So why we persist I cannot say! No, I can say… it’s mostly to do with ease of typing, on common systems, I think. It’s annoying to type the opening and the closing glyphs, when there’s only one button on the keyboard. But really! That might hold sway where there’s no automatic system for handling these things, but we have those systems and they work admirably. And certainly, when it comes to typesetting books that are going to be read by (we hope) very many people, it’s worth putting a bit more effort in to make them look nice.

Because that’s what it’s about, ultimately: making the text beautiful! For how many hundreds of years have people been taking terrific care over making books look nice?! Let’s not give up on that.

I’m not really sure why I’m writing this, today. (Probably due to the glass of White Rabbit I’ve just here.) It’s that I’m firing with the zeal of the converted! I am, you see. I used to not care about quotes, and think they should be left straight — now, I stand on speakers’ corner and holler to confused passersby!

So, would that ye enjoy yr ebooks?! Then set them with loveliness!

Right… where’s that beer…

Melbourne and Mars, by Joseph Fraser

Melbourne and Mars, by Joseph Fraser.

You cannot go twenty miles in any direction without finding an electric fountain, free to the public, from which the accumulators of any travelling machine can be instantly recharged.

…indeed, we have no wilful lawbreakers anywhere.

We have no hunting of wild beasts; they have all been exterminated long ago. This extermination has extended to vermin and insect plagues, and even to some kinds of animalculæ. There is nothing that can bite, sting, or injure us in any way.

Where to work on ebooks? Wikisource vs GITenberg

Not enough photos are taken of the undersides of shop awnings.

This morning I’m at Parlapa, the lovely little caffe opposite the town hall. It’s a good place to be sat, with a slight hangover, with some nice small WordPress code to be working on, and of course with a coffee. The only down side is the fact that the City wifi almost reaches here, so I’ve got the most tantalising of faint signals and so keep trying to connect; I should give that up, and read a book.

I’m re-reading Tolstoy’s Dictaphone, which is a terrific book. But I’ve left it at home, un-terrifically, and so instead am reading Live and Let Live by Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Only read the first two pages so far so I’ve no idea what it’s about, and anyway keep getting distracted by typographical errors (so far, all resulting from the fact that Kobos don’t support small-caps. What a joke!).

Talking of small-caps, there’s movement at the GITenberg station, with a project underway to convert PG books to unicode and to use proper punctuation characters (for quotation marks and dashes, at least). The idea is to use Asciidoc, but there is no standard way to express small-caps. In fact, none of the popular lightweight markup languages seem to have small-caps; what an oversight!

So if I were with a more solid connection, I’d try to run the punctuation-fixing scripts against one of Mr Gissing’s works. Because there’s something nicer about working on books as stand-alone Git repositories, rather than in the mammoth universe of Wikisource and the WMF. A feeling that one is producing single editions, and perhaps a number of different formats for each — and is able to give each its due attention. The wikitext-as-source-format paradigm gets a bit tiring sometimes, because although the HTML output is great, and that makes for good ebooks (well, Kobo and its small-caps-ignorance aside), I’d really like to be able to produce printable (and thus bindable) output as well. Say, via LaTeX. And maybe Asciidoc is one way of doing that.

Really, the main thing that PG is missing (and GITenberg, although it’s probably easier to rectify there) is the ability to confer with the original source scans.


This is a project that I’ve wanted for years, and now it’s here:

Project GITenberg is a Free and Open, Collaborative, Trackable and Scriptable digital library. It leverages the power of the Git version control system and the collaborative potential of Github to make books more open.

40,000 Project Gutenberg books have been uploaded to GitHub, and can now be forked, fixed, and fed back to the world’s biggest library of public domain ebooks. Other alliteration is also possible.

I’ve just sent my first pull request, for a typo I found in Gissing’s The Paying Guest.

The only thing lacking now is the original scans of these books, so that the ebooks can be verified against the source.

Help archive Wikimedia Commons!

WikiTeam has released an update of the chronological archive of all Wikimedia Commons files, up to 2013. Now ~34 TB in total.

Just seed one or more of these torrents (typically 20-40 GB) and you’ll be like a brick in the Library of Alexandria (or something), doing your bit for permanent preservation of this massive archive.

From this post to wikimedia-l.