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Posts Tagged ‘printing

“Printing…is the preservative of all arts”*…

 

dunhuang-diamond-sutra-frontispiece

Frontispiece of the Dunhuang Diamond Sūtra

 

In 366, the itinerant monk Yuezun was wandering through the arid landscape [around the Western Chinese city of Dunhuang] when a fantastical sight appeared before him: a thousand buddhas, bathed in golden light. (Whether heat, exhaustion or the strange voice of the sands worked themselves on his imagination is anyone’s guess.) Awed by his vision, Yuezun took up hammer and chisel and carved a devotional space into a nearby cliff-face. It soon became a centre for religion and art: Dunhuang was situated at the confluence of two major Silk Road routes, and both departing and returning merchants made offerings. By the time the site fell into disuse in the 14th century, almost 500 temples had been carved from the cliff.

Among the hundreds of caves was a chamber that served as a storeroom for books. The Library Cave held more than 50,000 texts: religious tracts, business reports, calendars, dictionaries, government documents, shopping lists, and the oldest dated printed book in the world. A colophon at the end of the Dunhuang Diamond Sūtra scroll dates it to 868, nearly six centuries before the first Gutenberg Bible…

Learn more at: “The Oldest Printed Book in the World.”  Then page through the British Libraries digitization of its restoration.

* Isaiah Thomas (the 19th century publisher and author, not the basketball player)

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As we treasure tomes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1990 that  Tim Berners-Lee published a formal proposal for aa “Hypertext project” that he called the World Wide Web (though at the time he rendered it in one word: “WorldWideWeb”)… laying the foundation for a network that has become central to the information age– a network that, with its connected technologies, is believed by many to have sparked a revolution as fundamental and impactful as the revolution ignited by Gutenberg and moveable type.

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Written by LW

November 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion”*…

 

The ascent of the Prophet over the Ka’bah guided by Jibrā’īl and escorted by angels. (via the British Library)

The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan is a book lover’s fantasy: a bespoke manuscript, hand-painted and hand-written by the greatest artists and calligraphers of its day. The patchwork book is pieced together from a wide range of texts, from epic poetry to learned disquisitions on astrology, medicine, and the interpretation of dreams. It is a fifteenth-century library distilled into a single volume and a relic of another world. In a time before copyright, texts could be borrowed, copied, and recycled into something new. In a time before mass-scale printing, a book could be a deeply personal affair, curated exactly to its patron’s unique set of interests. In a time before the internet, a pocket-sized library was the best way to carry a world of knowledge everywhere you went.

The Miscellany’s patron was Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar Sultan ibn ‘Umar Shaykh, ruler of Shiraz and Isfahan and grandson of the world-famous conqueror Timur…

The remarkable story in full at “The ultimate bespoke manuscript“; browse the manuscript on the British Library’s Digital Viewer.

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we contemplate comprehensiveness, we might recall that not too long after this exercise in collecting everything relevant to a single reader, there was a seminal move to make a single thing available to many, many readers: on this date in 1484, William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England and was its first book publisher (see here and here), published his English translation of Aesop’s Fables.

The fable of the farmer and his sons from Caxton’s edition, 1484

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“Demography is destiny”*…

 

I think we can all benefit from knowing a little more about others who aren’t like us (or who are), no matter how small the tidbits. In the graphic below, select sex, age group, and race to see the demographics of others.

The percentages are based on estimates from the 2016 American Community Survey. Each grid represents 100 percent, and each cell represents a percentage point…

The always-illuminating Nathan Yau— Flowing Data– presents an interactive portrait of life in the U.S., sortable by age, gender, and ethnicity; check it out at “The Demographics of Others.”

* Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon, paraphrasing Heraclitus in The Real Majority: An Extraordinary Examination of the American Electorate (Often mis-attributed to Auguste Comte– who died before the word “demography” was first cited in print.)

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As we put ourselves in perspective, we might spare a thought for Aldus Pius Manutius (AKA Aldo Manuzio); he died on this date in 1515.  A Venetian humanist, scholar, and educator, he became a printer and publisher in his forties when he helped found the Aldine Press.  In the books he published, he introduced a standardized system of punctuation and use of the semicolon; he designed many fonts, and introduced italic type (which he named for Italy); and he popularized the libelli portatiles, or portable little (specifically) classic books: small-format volumes that could be easily carried and read anywhere.

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Written by LW

February 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish”*…

 

… and sometimes, it turns out, the reverse is true:

About 20 per cent of the United States population (60 million out of 300 million people) are non-native speakers of English. Speaking multiple languages has advantages – for example, you get to talk to people from different cultures. But being a non-native or second-language (L2) speaker also has its challenges. In addition to often feeling self-conscious about their accents, L2 speakers can be viewed by native speakers as less intelligent, and less trustworthy.

Thus it might come as a surprise that, in 1980, Henry Kissinger (the former US secretary of state and a non-native English speaker, originally from Germany) told Arianna Huffington (the Greek immigrant and entrepreneur/writer who would eventually start The Huffington Post) not to worry about [her] accent, ‘because you can never, in American public life, underestimate the advantages of complete and total incomprehensibility’…

We can think of the errors in non-native English as a noisier language model than a native-speaker model. Listeners expect more errors and are therefore more likely to think that L2 speakers mean something sensible when they say something implausible. But if a native speaker says something nonsensical, listeners are more likely to take them literally, because they know their language model has less noise. Kissinger was advising Huffington that, given her accent, listeners would likely give her the benefit of the doubt…

An MIT cognitive scientist explains “The unexpected benefits of getting lost in translation.”

* Euripides, The Bacchae

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As we filter signal from noise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1535 that The Bible, that is the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testament, faithfully translated into English— better known as the Coverdale Bible— came off the press in Antwerp.  Prepared by Myles Coverdale, it was the first complete Modern English translation of the Bible (not just the Old Testament or New Testament), and the first complete printed translation into English (using William Tyndale‘s New Testament work together with Coverdale’s own translations from the Latin Vulgate or German text).

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Written by LW

October 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting”*…

 

Between 2010 and 2014, archeologists digging in London’s financial district, on the site of a new British headquarters for Bloomberg, made an astonishing discovery—a collection of more than four hundred wooden tablets, preserved in the muck of an underground river. The tablets, postcard-sized sheets of fir, spruce, and larch, dated mainly from a couple of decades after the Roman conquest of Britain, in A.D. 43, straddling the period, in the reign of Nero, when Boudica’s rebellion very nearly got rid of the occupation altogether. Eighty of them carried legible texts—legible, that is, to Roger Tomlin, one of the world’s foremost experts in very old handwriting…

The pleasures– and purposes– of paleography: “How to decode an ancient Roman’s handwriting.”

* George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion

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As we put the curse in cursive, we might send terrifically-legible birthday greetings to Ottmar Mergenthaler; he was born on this date in 1854.  Known as “the second Gutenberg,” he invented the linotype machine– the first device that could easily and quickly set complete lines of type for use in printing presses. It so revolutionized the art of printing, that Thomas Edison called it “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

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Written by LW

May 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Brief murmurs only just almost never all known”*…

 

Q1: What is, traditionally, the principal unit of measurement for measuring floorspace in Taiwan? Taipei 101’s floorspace of 379,296 square meters converts to about 114,737 of the unit in question.

Q2: If you’re playing Magic: The Gathering, what slangy verb (synonymous with poke, zap, and Tim) might you use to signify dealing one hit point of damage to a target?

Q3: Analogies: Rosalind is to Ganymede as Éowyn is to Dernhelm as Fa Mulan is to whom?

Q4: What fictional wanderer, introduced in a 1933 book often read by Captain Kangaroo, lives with “his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins”?

Q5: What networking utility, first written for 4.2a BSD UNIX in 1983, sends echo request packets and reports on echo replies?

All is revealed in the 21st installment of James Callan‘s wonderful series of newsletters, “Five Questions, One Answer.”

* Samuel Beckett, “Ping.”

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As we sign up for the next pub quiz, we might spare a thought for John Baskerville, English printer and typefounder; he died on this date in 1775.  Among Baskerville’s publications in the British Museum’s collection are Aesop’s Fables (1761), the Bible (1763), and the works of Horace (1770).  And as for his fonts,  Baskerville’s creations (including the famous “Baskerville”) were so successful that his competitors resorted to claims that they damaged the eyes.

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Written by LW

January 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The more energy you put into trying to control your ideas and what you think about, the more your ideas end up controlling you”*…

 

‘Pope-Donkey’

Martin Luther’s theological battle with Catholicism and his verbal war against the Pope pioneered an attack technique that we would recognize as trolling.  Luther’s grotesque caricatures of the Pope were certainly in keeping with the sixteenth century polemics that were vulgar, slanderous, and coarse. But importantly, Luther’s attacks were facilitated by a new technology — printing with movable type:

In 1523 [Martin] Luther and [his ally Philip] Melanchthon collaborated on an illustrated anti-Roman pamphlet based on the alleged appearance of two monstrosities. One, dubbed the ‘pope-­donkey,’ was washed up on the banks of the Tiber river in Rome, and the other, called the ‘monk-calf,’ was born only a few miles from Wittenberg. The pope-donkey was pictured in front of the papal castle at Rome. It was a standing figure with a donkey’s head, a skin of fish scales, female breasts, a hoof and claw for feet, and the end of an elephant’s trunk for its right hand. The head of a dragon protruded from its rear. Luther deemed it a sign of God’s wrath against the papacy and warned that more omens would appear. Relying on a medieval treatise on the Antichrist, Melanchthon offered a similar reading in which, for example, the head protruding from the donkey’s rear signified the decline and demise of the papacy. …

Why would Luther and Melanchthon point such ugly fingers at the papacy and monasticism? First of all, because niceness was not a virtue in their day; and second, because, by 1523, they had been the butt of similar satire from their opponents. However, they also had more profound reasons, which went to the heart of the reformation. Luther was convinced that laity were being hoodwinked by the medieval church. … For Luther the pope-donkey and the monk­-calf symbolized the futility of trusting in a religious authority that sanc­tioned the pursuit of perfection as the right way to heaven. On the contrary, claimed Luther, a less demanding and more merciful Christianity would liberate people from anxiety about reaching heaven and redirect their concern toward others in place of themselves. Beginning in 1518, an astounding number of people agreed with Luther, left behind the religion of their ancestors, and rallied to his side.

“Rome, however, did not buckle, and what ensued from 1520 to 1525 was a war of words and images on a scale never previously imagined. The war was made possible by a new, cheaper, and faster technology — printing with movable type. Luther’s facility with words, combined with the artistic skill of Lucas Cranach and his journeymen in Wittenberg, fed a burgeoning printing industry that gave Luther a distinct advantage in the competition to sway religious opinion. In those five years, around sixty Catholic writers produced more than 200 pamphlets and books against Luther and other Protestant authors. Many of these were theological essays of good quality, but they were written in Latin and thus inaccessible for most laypeople. In contrast, Luther wrote in a lively German style that explained clearly and directly the changes he wanted to make and the theological basis for them. It was not a fair fight. Protestant pamphlets outnumbered Catholic publi­cations five to one; Luther alone published twice as many as all his Catholic opponents combined…

An excerpt from Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, by Scott H. Hendrix; via Delancey Place.

* Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

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As we refrain from feeding the trolls, we might that this date in 1582 was one of ten that simply didn’t happen in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland.  Those countries had introduced the Gregorian calendar.  While this was “October 10” in the rest of the world, those four countries, adopting Pope Gregory XIII’s innovation, skipped ten days– so that there, the date shifted from October 4 to October 15.  With the shift, the calendar was aligned with the equinoxes, and the lunar cycles used to establish the celebration of Easter.  Britain and its colonies resisted this Popish change, and used the Julian calendar for another century and a half, until September 2, 1752.

From a work published in 1582, the year of the calendar reform; days 5 to 14 October are omitted.

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Written by LW

October 7, 2016 at 1:01 am

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