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So common, that granted is what the paperclip inevitably has to be taken for. Whatever others may say, if you have an iPhone you’ll know that paperclips were invented in order to clean the fluff out of the charging port of your phone. Digital demons may be shocked to find out that paperclips are also used for joining sheets of paper together, a task in which they have successfully resisted stout competition from the stapler.

The first patent for a bent wire paper clip was awarded in the United States to Samuel B. Fay, in 1867, though his clip was really intended to fix labels to bits of cloth. This, along with fifty other early designs patented before 1899 is not considered directly ancestral of what it is that now comes into one’s mind when the word paperclip is uttered.

This is the Gem, a design which was in fact never patented. It got its name from The Gem Manufacturing Company in England who first made it. Later Cushman & Denison of 179 Ninth Avenue, New York trademarked the name in USA. Wikipedia tells us that the Swedish word for a paperclip is still “gem”, an assertion backed up by Google Translate.

The website Early Office Museum has an exhaustive account of this surprisingly fecund topic, including a gallery of lots of different types above and beyond the familiar Gem. Many of these will elicit cries of recognition. Disappointingly to me Treasury Tags, remembered from the file folders we used to construct in Cambridge, are not included in the list. No doubt the purist would hold them to represent a whole different category of fasteners.

The seriousness with which paperclip historians approach their work may be seen in this video.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this blog post in order to view it in your browser.

I suppose, now that they don’t expect to print the thing ever again, the size of The Oxford English Dictionary no longer matters. If it’s a word in English, anywhere, let’s just stick it in there. They are now soliciting information about regional word usages. Here’s your chance at immortality by getting official respect for that weird word from your childhood which is always being mocked by your friends.

BookRiot brings the Guardian story. You can submit your words at this link.

This brief post by Daniel Kernell, author of Colours and Colour Vision: An Introductory Survey, at the Cambridge University Press blog Fifteen Eighty Four gives a nice introduction to color vision. As Kernell himself is “color blind” he has a special relationship to his subject. He explains, in so far as this is possible, the differences in color perception between a trichromat and a dichromat. (Link via Publishing Cambridge.)

The mechanics of color vision are pretty well understood: rods and cones, and then neurons sorting it all out in the brain. The hard problem is working out how the neurons arrange for us to “see” the things in our brain. The old idea of perception as some kind of tiny homunculus sitting inside our heads watching a sort of unfolding movie, has obviously got to be nonsense. But coming up with a reasonable alternative is tough, leading philosophers of mind into equally crazy convolutions.

Cutting the Gordian knot, Kevin O’Regan* theorizes that color vision, all vision, results from our interacting with the scene being viewed. We feel the scene’s reality by sampling it: we scrutinize this bit and then that bit. O’Regan compares the process to the way in which your hand recognizes a penknife while it remains invisible in your pocket. It’s a bit like the kid’s game of touch bag where you get to identify objects by feeling them inside a bag. By feeling various bits of an object you are able to reconstruct the idea of the whole. But if the object is just laid on your hand you are unable to tell what it is. Similarly, when we see, we don’t have any sort of photographic representation inside our brain. In fact, the overall clarity of photos misrepresents what we actually see: our eyes are in fact relatively course-grained for most of their coverage. Our belief that what we see is really what we see as a sharp image results not from our having a clear image of the whole, but from our confidence that by moving the focus of  our eyes we can establish the details of any part of the scene. In other words by knowing we can sharpen up any bit of the scene whenever we want, we make the assumption (and adjustment) that every bit of the view is crystal clear, even though brief introspection of the visual evidence of what you are looking at will easily demonstrate that what we are seeing is actually a little central area of clarity surrounded by a large extent of vagueness. O’Regan’s theory takes the task of perception out of the brain and turns it into an interaction between the brain and the object being viewed.

O’Regan’s sensorimotor approach seems to me to get past many of the barriers which have prevented us from coming up with a good theory of vision/perception/consciouness.

* J. Kevin O’Regan: Why Red Doesn’t Sound Like a Bell: Understanding the Feel of Consciousness, 2011

Shelf Awareness shows us this photo from Books A Plenty in Tauranga, New Zealand.

Need one say more? Luckily, not.


The Academy of American Poets has a free program for teachers called “Teach this Poem” which involves sending out a weekly poem with materials to help in class discussion. These often include music extracts or pictures around which discussion can focus. Their efforts have been recognized by The National Book Foundation who have awarded them their annual Innovations in Reading Prize. There are 27,000 teachers subscribed to “Teach this Poem”. Publishing Perspectives sends the news. Previous winners of the Prize have included Barbershop Books.

As an example, this link will take you to the materials they sent out about “Binsey Poplars” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew—
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc únselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

This fascinating YouTube video from Verge Science was drawn to our attention by David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen. If you don’t see a video below, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

We’ve probably none of us ever given much thought to the eye chart which we so often get to look at. It was designed in 1862 by Herman Snellen. The typeface is a bit odd when you think about it: Snellen designed the letters on a 5 x 5 grid, having started out with similar sized abstract symbols, and their size is based upon properties of the eye, nothing random. A recent book about the eye chart by Bill Germano (also author of Getting it Published) will doubtless teach you more.

Via the SHARP listserv, Nicholas Weir-Williams sends us this link to a BBC quiz program, “The Unbelievable Truth”: Episode 1, Series 20, The Unbelievable Truth – BBC Radio 4. The point of the program is to detect the five truthful statements made by contestants in their largely nonsensical presentations on various subjects. This edition of the program features one section on Books. It’s the third part of the program, and falls about fifteen minutes in. I think it’s quite useful to listen to the sections on Police and Submarines in order to get the hang of things. Following Books we have Spiders.

No paradox in the fact that the Paradoxography website will tell you all (probably more than) you want to know about this strange genre of classical literature devoted to the description of weird and wonderful things. As the site says the genre of paradoxography is “a sort of ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ of the Graeco–Roman world”

Book Towns: Forty Five Paradises of the Printed Word by Alex Johnson has been published by Frances Lincoln. Atlas Obscura brings a piece about it. The towns covered in the book are:

  1. Ascona, Switzerland
  2. Bécherel, Brittany, France
  3. Bellprat, Catalonia
  4. Borrby, Sweden
  5. Bowral, NSW, Australia
  6. Bredevoort, Netherlands
  7. Clunes, Victoria, Australia
  8. Cuisery, Burgundy, France
  9. Damme, Belgium
  10. Featherston, New Zealand
  11. Fjaerland, Norway
  12. Fontenoy-la-Joûte, Lorraine, France
  13. Gold Cities, Grass Valley, California
  14. Hay-on-Wye, Wales
  15. Hobart, New York
  16. La Charité-sur-Loire, Nièvre, France
  17. Langenberg & Katlenburg, Germany
  18. Lillehammer, Norway
  19. Montereggio, Italy
  20. Montmorillon, Aquitaine, France
  21. Montolieu, Aude, France
  22. Obidos, Portugal
  23. Paju, South Korea
  24. Redu, Belgium
  25. Richmond, South Africa
  26. St. Pierre-de-Clages, Switzerland
  27. Sedbergh, England
  28. Selfoss, Iceland
  29. Sidney, British Columbia, Canada
  30. Stillwater & Twin Cities, Minnesota
  31. Sysmä, Finland
  32. Torup, Denmark
  33. Tvedestrand, Norway
  34. Unrena, Spain
  35. Wigtown, Scotland
  36. Wünsdorf, Germany
  37. Bhilar, Maharashtra, India
  38. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  39. College Street, Kolkata, India
  40. Jimbocho, Tokyo, Japan

Not sure where the other five went, though there are a couple of double entries. There’s a International Book Towns website: one’s idea that there’d be one book town per nation seems to be wishful thinking. Willingness to pay the fee may be the main criterion!  Wikipedia has an overlapping listing. One way or another bibliophilic voyagers have their work cut out for them.

See also Book towns

At this Tweet, watch this Cap A turn into a 3-D letter after it’s been drawn and shaded on a  2-dimensional pad of paper with ruler and pencil alone.

According to the responses it seems that some people are unable to see the 3-D effect. Is this another of these duck/rabbit perception things? The first time I watched this, as the the page was rotated, it gradually changed under my gaze from a flat shaded drawing to the 3-D object. This 3-D version is now all that I can see, and I find I’m seeing it earlier and earlier in the video. I can’t get back to the flat shaded drawing after perceiving it as 3-D.

I thought I’d try drawing it myself. Couldn’t get it to work at all. I’ve given up for the time being. I wonder if it’s maybe just an effect of the computer screen. I was hoping, if the effect wasn’t there on the actual drawing, to discover whether it would show up on a photo.