Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A translation mystery, solved I think

There's an oddity in Louise and Aylmer Maude's translation of Anna Karenina that has puzzled me for some time. The passage in question is Part I, chapter 16, third paragraph, about Vronsky falling in love with Kitty in Moscow. Most translators  have something like this:  (from Constance Garnett's translation)
 "In Moscow, he had for the first time felt, after his luxurious and coarse life in Petersburg..." etc.

A newer translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhinsky is similar.."In Moscow, after the luxurious and coarse life of Petersburg, he had" and so on.

And Google Translate renders it like this:
In Moscow, the first time he experienced after a luxurious and coarse Petersburg life, the beauty of intimacy with a charming and innocent girl who fell in love. (Not bad!!!)

But then we come to Louise and Aylmer Maud's translation:
 "In Moscow, after this luxurious course of Petersburg life, he experienced" etc.

A Russian interepreter hearing the English homonyms "coarse" and "course" might conceivably confuse them, but here we're talking about a translation from Russian into English.  Is there a Russian homograph (word with same spelling, different meaning, like "bark") or  heteronym (word that has common spelling but different meaning and pronunciation, e.g  invalid and invalid) that could account for this gaffe? My Russian speaking friends said no, and having no further ideas, I tucked it away in my big store of things to wonder about.

Then last week I stumbled upon Jeffrey Trachtenberg's article Translating Tolstoy in the Wall Street Journal, about the translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I decided to send Trachtenberg a note about this little conundrum, and he graciously responded by directing me to David Remnick's fascinating 2005 New Yorker article "The Translation Wars" which discusses more generally the challenges of translating Russian, the famous feud between Nabokov and Wilson, and some of the translators (including Pevear and Vohlokinsky) and their translations. One detail in particular, about Constance Garnett's production line methods, grabbed my attention: She hired a secretary, who read the Russian text to her aloud; Garnett would dictate back in English.

Eureka, this is precisely the kind of method that could twist "coarse" into "course."  And although this was about Garnett and her secretary (who got the passage right), it is not implausible that the Maudes might have engaged in the same kind of mischief. I can think of no other explanation.

p.s. - in Russian, in case someone might have a better explanation, the passage looks like this:

В Москве в первый раз он испытал, после роскошной и грубой
петербургской жизни, прелесть сближения со светскою милою и невинною
девушкой, которая полюбила

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Non-librarians speak up for libraries; launch of ReadKiddoRead

Radical patron provides a summary of recent advocacy for libraries by non-librarians, including this bit:

Nov 6 Author James Patterson advocates for libraries at a national conference for school librarians. “It’s time for librarians to start making a lot more noise,” Patterson told the packed crowd. “School libraries are not a luxury, they are a necessity.”
Additionally, Patterson and a team of publishing consultants launch a new literacy website, ReadKiddoRead that beats library sites hands-down for content, discoverability and advocacy messaging.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More on snakes: Man caught red-handed trying to steal Giant Anaconda

This week is Geography Awareness Week!

National Geographic's MyWonderfulWorld  celebrates Geography Awareness Week,  a prelude to next month's more comprehensive National Awareness Month. Geography Awareness Week was  established by Presidential Proclamation in 1987. This year, to kick it off, "National Geographic invited all 100 U.S. Senators to draw a map of their home state from memory and to label at least three important places. Here's the gallery of maps from the brave Senators who took the challenge.The maps reveal home-state pride, personal history, and even some geographic humor."  So far, only 11 Senators have risen to the challenge...the rest were perhaps intimidated by Al Franken's performance at the Minnesota State Fair...

Monday, November 16, 2009

More on the smell of books

I've blogged previously about this ingenious spray for Kindle and other hand-held devices, but for those who want to know more about the research that lies behind household items like these, here's the abstract of a recent paper that appeared in Analytical Chemistry

Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books
Matija Strli*†, Jacob Thomas‡, Tanja Trafela§, Linda Csfalvayov†, Irena Kralj Cigi§, Jana Kolar and May Cassar†
Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London, Gower Street (Torrington Place site), London, United Kingdom WCIE 6BT, Tate, Millbank, London, United Kingdom SW1P 4RG, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, University of Ljubljana, Akereva 5, Ljubljana, Slovenia SI-1000, and Morana RTD d.o.o., Oslica 1b, Ivanna Gorica, Slovenia SI-1295
Anal. Chem., 2009, 81 (20), pp 8617–8622
DOI: 10.1021/ac9016049
Publication Date (Web): September 17, 2009
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

We successfully transferred and applied -omics concepts to the study of material degradation, in particular historic paper. The main volatile degradation products of paper, constituting the particular “smell of old books”, were determined using headspace analysis after a 24 h predegradation procedure. Using supervised and unsupervised methods of multivariate data analysis, we were able to quantitatively correlate volatile degradation products with properties important for the preservation of historic paper: rosin, lignin and carbonyl group content, degree of polymerization of cellulose, and paper acidity. On the basis of volatile degradic footprinting, we identified degradation markers for rosin and lignin in paper and investigated their effect on degradation. Apart from the known volatile paper degradation products acetic acid and furfural, we also put forward a number of other compounds of potential interest, most notably lipid peroxidation products. The nondestructive approach can be used for rapid identification of degraded historic objects on the basis of the volatile degradation products emitted by degrading paper.


OuttaSight is a lightweight Windows desktop utility that hides running application windows to un-clutter the desktop, quickly hide private work, or secure your applications while you’re away from your computer. Read all about it at MakeUseOf Very handy!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Venomous snakes

You're probably not obsessively interested in venomous snakes and animals, but I am, and was delighted to discover - in connection with my daughter's travels to South America - the Armed Forces Pest Management Board (AFPMB)Living Hazards Database. Wow!!! Includes a "venomous animals by country" list.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Psychedelic baseball, 1970

A charming and hilarious animation about psychedelic pitcher Dock Ellis...(boingboing)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Boing Boing on craziness

How excellent that the widely-read Boing Boing is not only promoting Richard Hofstaedter's must-read essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" but even quoting one of my favorite passages, the one about the scientific pedantry of the true believer's language and "the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows." That, mercifully, is one thing that people of other faiths normally don't bore us with, e.g exactly how their respective prophets worked their miracles.

Little Professor and bookless libraries

The Little Professor concludes that books in a library are a good thing.

Spreadsheet fiction

If you've ever been asked for a spreadsheet of all the short stories that have appeared in BASS (Best American Short Stories) 1978-2008, Jake has already obliged . More about best American short stories by the numbers at The Millions. And if your interest is New Yorker Fiction 2003-2008 by the numbers, there's a spreadsheet for that too, courtesy of Frank. See also analysis at The Millions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reverse image search engine

Sometimes you might like to know more about the origin of an image you've found on the web - or you might like to know if others are using images that you've uploaded, or if there are variations on a particular image, like Munch's scream.  TinEye is a reverse image search engine, and claims to be "the first image search engine on the web to use image identification technology rather than keywords, metadata or watermarks."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wikimedia bookshelf project

Several strategies have been examined for improving the quality of Wikipedia. One is the vetting of user-contributed articles by qualified editors, a procedure explored by the German language wikipedia. Another is to make editing easier, and therefore more attractive to readers who may have something to contribute but are put off by the labor or technical difficulty of editing a page. Of course, that will encourage contributions from vandals and scholars alike, so the the new Wikimedia Bookshelf Project will employ a dual strategy; to simplify the editing process, but also attract more high-value Wikipedia editors through a focused public outreach program.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tom Peters on the future

Tom Peters's long piece on the Future of Reading provides a tidy summary of the issues, and suggests that "As the book changes form, the library must champion its own power base—readers [as distinct from its brand, which as been books]. But Peters so dilutes the meaning of reading that I wonder if it makes any sense to speak of it as a unique activity: The boundaries and varieties of reading experiences continue to expand and evolve. For example, perhaps the way gamers interact with highly structured, complex games qualifies as a new form of reading. It is more meaningful and accurate to state that these power players are reading the game rather than merely playing it.

The article concludes with a rousing call for a Reader Bill of Rights: Because readers are the power base of libraries (as well as of bookstores and other organizations), we also can serve them well by articulating and advocating for their needs, desires, and interests. Authors, publishers, aggregators, and distributors are not the enemies of readers and libraries, but nature abhors a vacuum. If readers don't assert their rights in the dawning e-reading era, someone else will snatch up those rights. To that end, I suggest that libraries and library associations develop, promulgate, and defend a Reader Bill of Rights for the Digital Era.  A "Reader Bill of Rights" doesn't strike me as a matter of great urgency, or something that libraries need to focus on; it seems more like a contrived ending to Peter's otherwise perceptive and interesting article, but more appropriate for an LJ cover story. A more logical conclusion points in the direction of obsolescence for libraries, but no  reason to stop providing services as long as people find them useful.

Lbrary bypass to reach St. Jerome in his pajamas

John Esposito writes: I live 100 yards from a campus of the University of California, but cannot get remote access to the UC digital collection at any price. This situation won’t last; the pressure of a knowledge economy, coupled with the incentives of enterprise, will bring the riches of the world of information to my study. My PayPal account is ready.

Esposito comments on Motoko Rich's recent NYT piece about ebooks and libraries which he says "raises the question of how publishers will come to terms with the possibility that the sale (or lease) of one copy of a book will lead to multiple readers of that copy." One answer is that epublishers will wish to bypass libraries altogether and reach their endusers  - the "St. Jeromes in pajamas" - directly. But Esposito puts a library-positive spin on it: "A bypass strategy is a prudent means to find other ways to derive revenue from publications without imposing a further tax on a library’s strained materials budget."