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“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly”*…

 

Pelican

The first Pelican title

 

It was a university course for the price of a packet of cigarettes: Pelican Books! Maybe the blend wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying the addictive nature of the range!

Pulp Librarian looks back at the autodidact’s library of choice: “Pelican Books.”

* Sir Francis Bacon

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As we double-down on democratization, we might send chronically-correct birthday greetings to Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; he was born on this date in 1707.  A naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopédiste, Buffon formulated a crude theory of evolution, and was the first to suggest that the earth might be older than suggested by the Bible: in 1778 he proposed that the Earth was hot at its creation and, judging from the rate of its cooling, calculated its age to be 75,000 years, with life emerging some 40,000 years ago.

In 1739 Buffon was appointed keeper of the Jardin du Roi, a post he occupied until his death. There he worked on the comprehensive work on natural history for which he is remembered, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. He began in 1749, and it dominated the rest of his life.  It would eventually run to 44 volumes, covering quadrupeds, birds, reptiles and minerals.  As Ernst Mayr remarked, “truly, Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century.”

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Written by LW

September 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“What goes up must come down”*…

 

population

 

For most of human history, the world’s population grew so slowly that for most people alive, it would have felt static. Between the year 1 and 1700, the human population went from about 200 million to about 600 million; by 1800, it had barely hit one billion. Then, the population exploded, first in the United Kingdom and the United States, next in much of the rest of Europe, and eventually in Asia. By the late 1920s, it had hit two billion. It reached three billion around 1960 and then four billion around 1975. It has nearly doubled since then. There are now some 7.6 billion people living on the planet.

Just as much of the world has come to see rapid population growth as normal and expected, the trends are shifting again, this time into reverse. Most parts of the world are witnessing sharp and sudden contractions in either birthrates or absolute population. The only thing preventing the population in many countries from shrinking more quickly is that death rates are also falling, because people everywhere are living longer. These oscillations are not easy for any society to manage…

Demographic decline– the end of capitalism as we know it?  “The Population Bust.”

See also: “UN world population report predicts slowing growth rate, 10.9 billion peak by 2100” (source of the image above) and The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in a Post-Crisis World, by Ruchir Sharma.

* Isaac Newton

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As we ponder population, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that the first issue of Scientific American was published.  Founded as a weekly by painter and inventor Rufus M. Porter, as a four-page weekly newspaper, its early emphasis was on a broad range of inventions ranging from perpetual motion machines, through an 1860 device for buoying vessels (created by Abraham Lincoln), to the universal joint which now can be found in nearly every automobile manufactured.  It became the somewhat more substantial monthly publication that we know and love when,in 1948, three partners (publisher Gerard Piel, editor Dennis Flanagan, and general manager Donald H. Miller, Jr) who were planning on starting a new popular science magazine, to be called The Sciences, purchased the assets of the then century-old Scientific American instead and put its name on the designs they had created for their new magazine.

Scientific_American_-_Series_1_-_Volume_001_-_Issue_01.pdf

The first issue of Scientific American

 

“History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another.”*…

 

The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1836 (oil on canvas)

Thomas Cole: “The Course of Empire: Destruction” (1836)

 

Your correspondent is headed to the steamy Southeast for his annual communion with surf, sand, and delicacies of the deep-fried variety.  Regular service will resume on or around August 26.  By way of hopping into hiatus on a high note…

The conviction that Trump is single-handedly tipping the United States into a crisis worthy of the Roman Empire at its most decadent has been a staple of jeremiads ever since his election, but fretting whether it is the fate of the United States in the twenty-first century to ape Rome by subsiding into terminal decay did not begin with his presidency. A year before Trump’s election, the distinguished Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye was already glancing nervously over his shoulder at the vanished empire of the Caesars: “Rome rotted from within when people lost confidence in their culture and institutions, elites battled for control, corruption increased and the economy failed to grow adequately.” Doom-laden prophecies such as these, of decline and fall, are the somber counterpoint to the optimism of the American Dream.

And so they have always been.  At various points in American history, various reasons have been advanced to explain why the United States is bound to join the Roman Empire in oblivion…

Tom Holland compares and contrasts (very engagingly) the late history of the Roman Empire with that of the U.S., and (very amusingly) second-century Emperor Commodus with Donald Trump; he concludes:

History serves as only the blindest and most stumbling guide to the future. America is not Rome. Donald Trump is not Commodus. There is nothing written into the DNA of a superpower that says that it must inevitably decline and fall. This is not an argument for complacency; it is an argument against despair. Americans have been worrying about the future of their republic for centuries now. There is every prospect that they will be worrying about it for centuries more.

Enjoy the essay in full: “America Is Not Rome. It Just Thinks It Is.

* Max Beerbohm

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As we recognize that this doesn’t actually mean that we can breathe any easier, we might send fantastically far-sighted birthday greetings to Hugo Gernsback, a Luxemborgian-American inventor, broadcast pioneer, writer, and publisher; he was born on this date in 1884.

Gernsback held 80 patents at the time of his death; he founded radio station WRNY, was involved in the first television broadcasts, and is considered a pioneer in amateur radio.  But it was as a writer and publisher that he probably left his most lasting mark:  In 1926, as owner/publisher of the magazine Modern Electrics, he filled a blank spot in his publication by dashing off the first chapter of a series called “Ralph 124C 41+.” The twelve installments of “Ralph” were filled with inventions unknown in 1926, including “television” (Gernsback is credited with introducing the word), fluorescent lighting, juke boxes, solar energy, television, microfilm, vending machines, and the device we now call radar.

The “Ralph” series was an astounding success with readers; and later that year Gernsback founded the first magazine devoted to science fiction, Amazing Stories.  Believing that the perfect sci-fi story is “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science,” he coined the term “science fiction.”

Gernsback was a “careful” businessman, who was tight with the fees that he paid his writers– so tight that H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as “Hugo the Rat.”

Still, his contributions to the genre as publisher were so significant that, along with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called “The Father of Science Fiction”; in his honor, the annual Science Fiction Achievement awards are called the “Hugos.”

(Coincidentally, today is also the birthday– in 1906– of Philo T. Farnsworth, the man who actually did invent television… and was thus the inspiration for the name “Philco.”)

Gernsback, wearing one of his inventions, TV Glasses

source

 

Written by LW

August 16, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Sopping, and with no sign of stopping, either- then a breather. Warm again, storm again- what is the norm, again? It’s fine, it’s not, it’s suddenly hot: Boom, crash, lightning flash!”*…

 

Farmers Alamanac

 

Americans are highly dependent on weather forecasts. Today, most of us rely on modern technology for predictions about the weather—forecasts based on readings of countless measuring tools, fed into computer models, then analyzed and broadcast or sent straight to our smartphones. But I had other tools of weather prediction, small enough to fit in my backpack: two farmers almanacs. They’ve been around hundreds of years, since before the Civil War, and have survived the advent of modern technology.

Almanacs occupy a special place in the history of weather prediction. In the 1700s and 1800s, scores of publishers printed almanacs, and they were trusted widely enough as a source that Abraham Lincoln once won a murder trial using an almanac as evidence. Today, though, there are easier, more modern, and more scientific—simply, better—ways to tell the weather. Yet The Old Farmer’s Almanac, founded in 1792, is among the longest-running continuously published periodicals in the United States. The Farmers’ Almanac, which began publishing in 1818, is not far behind it. Which led me to wonder: Who still reads farmers almanacs?

As it turns out, a lot of people. The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s editors say it prints and distributes around 3 million copies a year, selling them at retail locations across the U.S. and in Canada. Its parent company, Yankee Publishing Inc., which also publishes Yankee and New Hampshire magazines, and several forms of Almanac-adjacent products like calendars and versions for kids, is profitable, according to its editors. In October, The Old Farmer’s Almanac topped the Boston Globe’s regional bestseller list in paperback nonfiction…

Modern media is a mess and weather prediction remains a crap shoot, but the only kind of publication that combines both—almanacs—are not only surviving, but thriving in the 21st century: “The Surprising Success of America’s Oldest Living Magazine.”

* The Old Farmer’s Almanac

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As we turn the page, we might send cultivated birthday greetings to Sir Joseph Paxton; he was born on this date in 1803.  In 1826, Paxton, a young gardener, began work as Head Gardener to William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, possessor of one of England’s premier gardens on his estate, Chatsworth.

Paxton settled into his job and became the Duke’s right-hand man for projects on the estate.  Paxton noticed the need of a conservatory, so designed and built one: The Great Conservatory at Chatsworth.  Paxton took advantage of the then-recent introduction of the sheet glass method into Britain by Chance Brothers to construct what was, at the time, the largest glass structure in England.  It was lit with twelve thousand lamps when Queen Victoria was driven through it in 1842, and she noted in her diary: “It is the most stupendous and extraordinary creation imaginable.”

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So, when Prince Albert hatched plans for The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations– or the Great Exhibition, as it was more familiarly known– to be held in 1851, Paxton was recruited to design its central building: The Crystal Palace.

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Paxton was knighted, and went on to cultivate the Cavendish banana, the most consumed banana in the Western world, and to serve as a Member of Parliament.

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“Here too it’s masquerade”*…

 

fake_and_real_guacamole

Left: Fake guacamole. Right: Real Guacamole

 

If you have noticed the guacamole at a taco spot looking and tasting a little more watery than your standard runny, but still rich taqueria guacamole, it’s because it probably never had any avocado in it, to begin with.

What I’m about to share may shock you and may also shake the very foundation for your love of tacos. It may even violate that sacred trust that we all have painstakingly built with our favorite neighborhood taquero, but it must be disclosed. There is a fake guacamole that has very quietly sauced our tacos for who knows how long now. It is a confusingly neon-green, avocado-less crime against taco humanity that no taquero will ever proudly admit to committing…

As avocado prices rise, some Mexican cooks are making a substitution: “Fake Guacamole is Here. The Secret Taquerias Don’t Want You to Know About and How to Spot It.”

* Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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As we aspire to the authentic, we might send brightly-tinted birthday greetings to George Baxter; he was born on this date in 1804.  An artist and printer, he invented the first commercially-viable color printing process.

Color printing had been pioneered centuries earlier in China; but while the techniques spread, they were never capable of printing at a cost low enough to satisfy any but the very wealthiest patrons.  Baxter solved that problem, patented his process, then licensed it broadly.  As measure of how widely color was adopted, it’s estimated the Baxter himself created over 20 million color prints in his lifetime.

220px-George_Baxter_from_family_photograph source

 

Written by LW

July 31, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I subscribe to the Fiona Apple school of titles: I wanted people to know exactly what they were getting into”*…

 

sub-titles

 

How many words can you fit in a subtitle? For a slew of modern books, the answer seems to be as many as possible. Just look at Julie Holland’s “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy,” Erin McHugh’s “Political Suicide: Missteps, Peccadilloes, Bad Calls, Backroom Hijinx, Sordid Pasts, Rotten Breaks, and Just Plain Dumb Mistakes in the Annals of American Politics” and Ryan Grim’s “We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement.”

Blame a one-word culprit: search. Todd Stocke, senior vice president and editorial director at Sourcebooks, said that subtitle length and content have a lot to do with finding readers through online searches. “It used to be that you could solve merchandising communication on the cover by adding a tagline, blurb or bulleted list,” he said. But now, publishers “pack the keywords and search terms into the subtitle field because in theory that’ll help the book surface more easily.”…

The whole story at “Book subtitles are getting ridiculously long. What is going on?

* W. Kamau Bell

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As we search for optimization, we might spare a thought for Lois Duncan Steinmetz– better known by her pen name, Lois Duncan– she died on this date in 2016.  A journalist, poet, and novelist, she is probably best remembered as a pioneering author of young adult novels, dubbed the “queen of teen thrillers.” (Indeed, in 2014 she was awarded the Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America, alongside James Ellroy.)

220px-Lois_Duncan_Steinmetz_in_a_field_of_daisies_in_Taos,_New_Mexico_(crop) source

We might also send puffing birthday greetings to Wilbert Vere Awdry; he was born on this date in 1911.  Better known as “Reverend W. Awdry,” he was a train enthusiast and children’s author, who married his passions to create Thomas the Tank Engine (the central figure in Awdry’s Railway Series, and the star of a long-running animated children’s show).

220px-The_Rev._W._Awdry source

 

“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.

Sir_Tim_Berners-Lee_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

November 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

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