if:book: ephemera

I’m bored and tired this Monday morning, but still I flick through my blog feeds; I found this: [if:book: ephemera] from the Institute for the Future of the Book.

It’s an interesting idea: that the inconsequential, unconsidered, printed matter of the day gives ‘the future’ (the people, that is) insight into how normal lives were led. Does it? And if it does, does that mean that it’s a good idea to collect modern ephemera? (oh, incidentally: I have read in old books the word ‘ephemera’ treated as singular in number, so maybe I mean: ‘should ephemeras be collected?’…) I think I am, at heart, something of a hoarder of things — words, pictures, stories, whatever — that seem in danger of otherwise going unrecorded; I must think that there’s some value in these things…

I’m not convinced that we can actually choose what records are left for the future, however. Much extant documentation from the past was never set aside for preservation; much that was set has disappeared without trace (well, obviously not totally without trace: we know a certain library might have existed, but not what stories its books held). Isn’t this what Claudius (well, Mister Graves, anyway) said in the preface to I, Claudius? That it’d be better to leave his memoirs lying on a table somewhere, and leave their preservation to chance, than to entomb them under stone and law?

But maybe we can choose, a bit, or at least make it easier for things to survive (by not destroying them!). Leaving aside the question of why it’s worth doing, I wonder about how. They say that the internet, and computer-based documentation in general, is making the printed record of modern times sparser and maybe less meaningful than that of other times (the eighteenth century, for example). In the post I’ve linked above they ask “what provisions are we making for our own mass memory?” Some people say that computers should be used to solve the problem of things existing only on computers, which seems a little contradictory to me, but (being the geek I am) I also at times think this. So I write programs that help me order things and decide what not to keep.

Oh, then I get confused and wonder why I ever bother keeping a blog…


Turning Over an Old Leaf

So here I am, back in the office, and bored again.

I have spent the morning trawling the Arts Full Text database; from the ‘Notebooks’ category, to ‘Reading and Books’, and thence to things about binding, I’ve been remembering that thrill of quiet, sparse, precise, personal times in libraries, with books and a notebook. Nicholson Baker wrote about transcribing to commonplaces (which is pretty much what I see this blog to be). Then an essay about reading aloud caught my attention, and I wondered where my final, aborted, art school woodwork project would be now, had I ever finished it. It was going to be a lectern, not large, but heavy, and built with old wood and all treenailed joints (even the dovetails were pinned through; I can’t remember why). A thing to own only if one never wished to move house again, I think.

In reading these writings about reading, and they were mostly a half dozen pages or so, I missed a thing from books: pages. I like turning pages, strange as that may sound: each page turned is a milestone (or, really, more like a yard-stone, if such a thing has ever existed; maybe in Huysmans’ journeys to the grog cabinet in Là-Bas they did), and forms some sort of ‘meta-rest’ — a pause in reading never intended by the author, but imposed by the printer; a gap resolved only from the book-ness of the text. On a screen there is no such thing — try reading a Project Gutenberg text on-screen, and you quickly get disoriented by the endless down, the ‘single page’ that has turned a book, a codex, into a perverse scroll that is longer than any that ever kept at Alexandria. I’ve heard that some of these so-called eBooks solve this problem by necessitating some sort of swiping gesture along the device’s margin to turn the page, but I doubt it’s the same. I love turning to a long-shut page in an old book and feeling the binding adjust and fold and present the folio, the sewing showing sometimes, and the hollow back opening smoothly. Running one’s finger down the fold, to confirm that this is where I’m reading, that though there may be much past and much to come, this page is now. (Of course, these remarks rarely hold true for a perfect-bound book: but maybe some people get satisfaction from breaking the backs of these wretched modern bricks, or in not being able to open them properly. I don’t know.)

Now it’s lunchtime, and I’m going to walk through the rain to find some lunch somewhere. With luck, a place in which reading will fit. I’m reading a novel by William Gibson at the moment, so maybe the rotten ‘mall’ will do, as at least there I’ll be out of the rain (and out of the office; I’m not particularly enamored with this place at the moment, and am thinking of quitting).

One speed: slow?

Another gap in posts for this blog; sorry. (Not that there’s anyone reading this to say sorry to, but as they say: meh.) It’s not that I haven’t been writing lately, I have, but in places that the web doesn’t reach; I’ve been enjoying that.

But it’s four-thirty on a Thursday afternoon and I’m at work. Thus, I have a) no inclination to do any work; b) a whole host of other things that I would rather be doing; and c) some stupid compulsion to remain here until five o’clock. The latter is probably due to the boss still being here.

Oh, no he’s not, he’s just left. See ya.

(This post was going to be about singlespeed bicycles, esperanto, and how good it is to not write on the web, but that can all wait. Apologies for the remaining pointlessness.)

Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Urban Adventure in Rotterdam

Not that I’m bored today at work or anything, as you can see: not posting for a month, then here I am warbling on about urban exploration! But then I would really rather be out charting the course of a drain, or sketching the rust scars on a strange unknowable lump of concrete, then sitting here at my desk being a good little IBM sysadmin.

Which I’m not, by the way. I’m not a very good sysadmin: I get annoyed, and wish there were more scope in I.T. for letting things get old and ignored. But there isn’t. You can’t just leave a programme and expect it to develop some mysterious patina (which word, incidentally, means only that green of copper, and Age in general; strictly speaking, of course) that will evoke some imagined, fictional, past time. They just don’t change. They’re boring.

Reading the above website, and I wish now to have

  1. time;
  2. a camera;
  3. my website hosted on an old box under the stairs;
  4. a city with more scope for UE; and
  5. the appropriate bag.

Oddly enough.

Blog Action Day

Bloggers unite. Today is blog action day, when we write about ‘the environment’ in order to ‘save it’. Oh yeah.

Tom Worthington calls for less emails; but I concur with Paul Kingsnorth, and say: smash your computer and lock on to the nearest airport check-in counter!

(I might say that, but I’m more inclined to sit in the shade under a tree, sewing my shirt and knowing the touch of the wind. Bring on the prelude!)

That on which the coding rests

Just to intersperse this stream of codeish posts with something a little more real

I rode part of the way to work today, and then put my bicycle on the bus for the remainder of the journey. (An odd feeling, looking through the bus’ windscreen and seeing my little bike all alone out there, bobbing up and down in the rush hour traffic; but I trust in these new yellow bike racks. Incidently, one of the recommendations from the Assembly’s inquiry into Action Buses was that passengers with bikes should travel for free — the argument being that putting the bike on the rack takes time, and so in order to keep the bus on schedule the putting of your card in the slot should be done away with. Hear hear!) Then at lunch time (oh, that sweet half of an hour!) I went and sat under one of my usual trees and sewed a button back on to a shirt. I’d planned to bring the real shirt that I’m actually sewing at the moment (completely by hand, I might add; no machine at all) but at the last minute thought this button would do. It wasn’t nearly enough: days like this were made for lounging under trees, enjoying the incrediblely beautiful calls of the birds above, and picking away at some little embroidery or other. Being quiet and being present, and certainly not locking one’s self up in an air-conditioned high-rise.

Bring on the recession, I must concur with Mr. Monbiot! Because (and I must appologise for the cliché) the Really Important Things have got nothing whatsoever to do with Economic Growth! But what I do, all this coding, is (it seems) very dependent upon this Growth, and so now I am sad…