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LitHub brings this quiz involving recognizing quotations from 100 works. Their headline describes them as “the 100 most famous passages in literature”. OK. Many of them no doubt are, but the definition of famous may have to wander about a little for this to be really so across the entire one hundred. Each no doubt is famous in its own line.

Printing Impressions brings us a comprehensive story about printing on wood. In the past this has been an expensive process, involving high set-up costs, including normally the engraving of a gravure cylinder. Furthermore the gravure system limited the pattern repeat to the diameter of the gravure roll. Digital printing frees us from these restrictions and also enables us to print 3-dimensional patterning. By reducing the set-up cost so much, digital printing allows for the production of very short runs, almost customized printing.

The Economist recently ran a story about the use of engineered timber in construction. By laminating different types of wood together you can create a material with incredible strength. So strong that we now see that it can be used to construct multi-storey buildings. The proposed River Beech Tower in Chicago will, at 228 metres (about 748 feet), be the world’s tallest wooden building. The current record, a mere 85 metres, is held by the Mjøstårnet building in Norway (below).

The manufacture of two of our most common building materials, steel and concrete, generate around 8% of the world’s anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions. But when trees grow they take carbon out of the atmosphere, locking it up in their wood. Wood construction keeps that carbon there. Engineered timber with its different layers can be designed to meet the requirements of specific components and it will have fire resistance engineered in. Clearly this material which is prefabricated into larger units in the factory could also be printed to give it any appearance we want — chose your wallpaper pattern before your walls are constructed.

Here’s Michael Ramage of the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge talking about the idea:

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At the other end of the telescope I was struck by another story from The Economist, telling us about The Baltimore Wood Project. The wood used in the nineteenth century building boom in Baltimore was old-growth, and is thus stronger and better-looking than our current wood-farmed product. Great to be able to reuse a lot of it.

In a quantum leap down this alternative-approaches rabbit hole The Economist, ever alert to 3-D printing developments, tells us this week about Alt-Steak™, a 3-D printed plant-based meat. Here’s the story from Foodnavigator. The originator, Redefine Meat, worked with “leading butchers, chefs and food technologists — as well as leveraging ‘close collaboration’ with flavors expert Givaudin — to digitally map more than 70 sensorial parameters into its Alt Steak product. These include the texture, juiciness, fat distribution and mouthfeel of ‘premium beef cuts’.” Apparently the Alt-Steak will be road-tested in “high-end restaurants” later this year. Can’t wait to test those sensorial parameters. Goodbye methane!


Today is the deadline for signing up for the 20th February virtual Trivia Night, part of the ABA’s Winter Institute. The $5 entry fee goes to benefit Binc, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. You’ll need Zoom to participate and the organizers will assign you to team.

Sign up here.

To mark Burns’ night here’s a game from The Scottish Book Trust, via Shelf Awareness for Readers.

I’m always saying nobody outside America calls him Rabbie, but I guess I’m hereby proved wrong!

The Wine Society advises us that RLS called wine “bottled poetry”. They provide a few literary wine references. No doubt you can come up with others.

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”
Paulo CoelhoBrida

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast

“Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil, and its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter evening when fatigue makes the warm current be felt at once in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage-numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs of wine wearies me.”
Marguerite YourcenarMemoirs of Hadrian

“The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing (Riant, priant, friant.), celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine.”
François RabelaisGargantua & Pantagruel

“I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his.”
Evelyn WaughBrideshead Revisited

‘A Drinking Song’
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
W.B. Yeats

“. . . There’s wisdom in wine, goddam it!’ I yelled. ‘Have a shot!’”
Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I often wondered what Hippocrene was — though clearly not enough to look it up: it would appear that the dull brain perplexes and retards in this context too. (It’s actually a spring on Mount Helicon, sacred apparently to the muses.)

O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.

As far as I can discover Hippocrene doesn’t actually bubble forth in the form of red wine as Keats seems to imply.

If you want to get in on this book/wine, wine/book thing, maybe you (if female) could join the Book & Wine Club. They say they have groups in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Portland, Raleigh, and Toronto. I would imagine their activities are a bit restricted just now though.

We’ve been down this road before. The Guardian reports on the mistakes on a new British £2 coin commemorating the 75th anniversary of H. G. Wells’ death.

The top hat on the invisible man isn’t supported by Wells’ words. He is described as wearing “a wide brimmed hat”. The space ships in The War of the Worlds are referred to as tripods: last time I looked a tripod had three legs not four. The designer of the coin, Chris Costello, responds “The characters in War of the Worlds have been depicted many times, and I wanted to create something original and contemporary. My design takes inspiration from a variety of machines featured in the book – including tripods and the handling machines which have five jointed legs and multiple appendages. The final design combines multiple stories into one stylized and unified composition that is emblematic of all of H.G. Well’s [sic] work and fits the unique canvas of a coin.” OK?

In the picture of the coins above you can’t see the inspiring quotation around the edge of the coin, “Good books are warehouses of ideas”, but apparently Wells never wrote it. He did in an early work, Select Conversations With an Uncle (Now Extinct) and Two Other Reminiscences, have a character who said, ironically, “Good books are the warehouses of ideals”, which was where he wanted them to stay. Just because googling QuoteFancy, QuoteMaster, etc. tells you that H. G. Wells said “Good books are warehouses of ideas” doesn’t unfortunately make it true.

A similar Royal Mint mess-up arose over the Jane Austen £10 note, which was printed with the quote, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” – a line spoken not by Austen but by her character Caroline Bingley, a book-hater who was also being ironic. At least in that case they did quote the inappropriate line correctly. You’d think these guys would learn that it might be a good idea to consult some expert on matters other than die stamping.

“Too marvelous for words”. Here Ruby Keeler and Lee Dixon take a new approach to literary composition. From the film Ready, Willing and Able.

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Strange line of legs flapping in the background like out-of-control keys.

For the past couple of months I’ve been seeing these initials — and reading them as RLS — as if they referred to Robert Louis Stevenson. In fact the Royal Society of Literature is celebrating itself.

They’ve been at it for 200 years, with, it seems to me, a fairly low profile. The Society was founded in 1820, by King George IV, to “reward literary merit and excite literary talent”. They seem to be trying to generate a bit of excitement late in their year of celebration.

The Bookseller has a substantial report on events marking their anniversary.

Here from a couple of years back is what the Society themselves describe as a trailer:

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The Society is dependent on charity and patronage but does offer memberships to the public at £60 a year. They publish an annual journal The Royal Society of Literature Review. I believe the recent flurry of attention late in their bicentenary year is the result of their recently appointing a largish number of Fellows, though the real reason may be as simple as their having achieved a more successful publicity operation.

Am I being a disloyal subject of Her Britannic Majesty if I confess that to me RLS is a lot more interesting than RSL? Not too many authors are known by initials only — HD is the only one who comes to mind. (Amazingly Wikipedia has a page of authors who are known by initials — but they mean initials in place of given names). I suspect RLS gets the initial-only treatment because otherwise, and I must confess he is more generally known this way, as Robert Louis Stevenson, he becomes a bit of a mouthful. The list shows me that R. L. Stine shares these initials: maybe teenage boys refer to him as RLS too? JFK was of course an author, but his initialization no doubt occurred for other reasons.

In the office we used to be referred to by initials. I suppose this was because our “literary output” — memos — would be signed by initials only. (OK; that is a little circular.) RJH is maybe a bit more intimate than Mr Hollick, while not as presumptuous as Richard. The school/college form of address of surname only was of course available but this form tended to be reserved for interaction with authors/academics.

Here’s a box for you to open on Boxing Day. This quiz seems almost impossible to me — I obviously don’t live in the right literary world — but good luck with The Guardian‘s Can You Crack It? Bumper Book Quiz of 2020.

For those for whom December 26th isn’t actually called Boxing Day, maybe a small explanation is in order. It’ll have to be small as nobody seems to know how the term originated. We used to be told it was the day you’d take your Christmas gift haul to show off to your neighbors — a pretty awful idea which thankfully never happened. The Oxford English Dictionary, which we would tend to trust above most sources, says it is “The first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box”, which sounds reasonable, though I never knew anyone, on either end of such a transaction, who behaved thus. The OED‘s earliest quote mentioning Boxing Day is from 1833, narrowly pipping the granddaddy of Christmas, Charles Dickens, to the post: he first got it out in Pickwick Papers in 1837.

But of course the OED definition means that today isn’t actually Boxing Day at all — we’d need to wait till Monday this year. Confusion reigns, as I’m told that the UK government has decreed that various places (e.g. Cambridge) will go into Tier Four lockdown at the end of Boxing Day. What’s a social animal to do? Of course I suppose it is possible that Saturday is really a week-day in the world of utterly unconfused lawmakers.

It never occurred to me till David Crotty pointed it out at The Scholarly Kitchen that by answering these are-you-sure-you’re-not-a-robot site-access questions, I’ve been working at training computers in Artificial Intelligence. Not sure that I really mind this though. If by identifying all the pictures containing traffic lights I am making Google’s self-driving cars a bit safer, that should give me a nice warm feeling. What I’ve never done, and now wonder about, is what’d happen if I intentionally misidentified the images? Would I still get access to the site: or would they really conclude I was in fact a robot and refuse to admit me? Do they catch many?

Here’s a sardonic comment by Stevie Martin (NB: not Steve):

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Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, a collection of nine stories originally published in science fiction magazines in the 1940s and 1950, was published in book form in December 1950 by Gnome Press, which went out of business in 1962.

Famously Asimov propounds ethical rules for robots:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

Subsequently Asimov added a fourth rule which he called the zeroth rule, because it preceded all the others:

A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

It’s comforting to think that future robots will be guided by such rules, isn’t it? But how come autonomous vehicles have managed to run people over? Something seems to be slipping past the Asimov rules. Train harder please.