Tag Archives: journals

A sea of error


Still sifting the library, knee deep in small children and the hideously-accumulated errors of the catalogue.  No doubt I am adding yet another set of inconsistencies and typos.

The errors pursued me into the picayune literary magazine which is in editing, and throve exceedingly.  So preoccupied did I become with formatting (but how did that paragraph get condensed?) that I mislaid an apostrophe.  Oh the shame.  And now it is too late, I see yet another formatting error.  Luckily the infants will not know that a specific word was meant to be bolded.  Stop fussing, stupid:  time for the blind man on a galloping horse to be invoked.

The penguins have got me


An early start re-drafting a poem for the solstice, which turned out to be more ambiguous and ironic that I would initially have expected.

Then a return to Christmas ritual: buying for others the books you would like one day to read yourself.  Once home I was disconcerted to find this, which I absolutely did not notice when I was in the shop:

1 the penguinsPenguin have obviously got my number.

Later I sustained an academic interview (good grief) about the snowflakes.  Don’t ask.

2 goon on pilgrimagesThen some duteous behaviour ameliorated by Chaucer being read aloud, in which the words are retained as written but given a modern pronunciation to help non-specialists.  It works quite well, certainly preferable to a ‘translation’ or modern paraphrase.  The changed pronunciation occasionally wrecks the rhyme or metre, but most of Chaucer’s phrase-making survives intact (‘…the smyler with the knyf under the cloke …’  ‘In goon the speres full sadly in arrest…’  ‘… and shame it is if a preest take kepe, A shiten shepherd and a clene sheep’…).  Chaucer isn’t my favourite poet but it is good to revisit him.  So far I’m only three-fourths through the Knight’s Tale, struggling to find a cultural lens  that will allow me to feel any sympathy with Palamon or Arcite.

And a mention for the pleasures of periodicals.  The Siberian Times is offering articles about schools closing for temperatures below minus 45°C, the interpretation of criminal tattoos, and not running over tigers.  Meanwhile the BMJ offers research papers on whether horror films actually curdle the blood, and detection of the Christmas spirit using fMRI, with a view to correcting deficiencies in this area.  I like the BMJ’s Christmas editions (a former favourite paper was a longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons).  The papers are open access (if the links work).

Bouncing through the neutrophils


A random chain of events led me to the article, which is well above my head.

Pericytes (contractile perivascular cells found on the abluminal surface of capillaries and post-capillary venules) interact with endothelial cells and contribute to vascular homeostasis.  At inflammatory sites, neutrophils migrate along pericytes interdigitated in the vessel wall, exiting through gaps between neighboring pericytes. 

 I read on, bouncing from known word to known word and attempting to retain a sense of the argument.

After a while an odd sense of familiarity grew, and I realized I was using the same reading technique as if tackling large lumps of Milton or unfamiliar bits of Shakespeare.  Not only that, I recalled using this same technique when reading my first adult novels – tackling the dense vocabulary of Jane Eyre when I was six, for example, which offers vassalage, heterogeneous, capacity, propensities, noxious, indignation, sanguine, complacently, cordiality, prone, scapegoat in a single paragraph in chapter 1. I remember hurdling detail with my eyes on the narrative, and discovering that most of the words came quietly into focus behind me.

It still works.  Like Mr Shaw, let us stimulate the phagocytes.

Article Neutrophils at work was in the July issue of Nature Immunology – authors Nauseef and Borregaard.



Following my snide remarks about academic illiteracy in the previous post, I was delighted to find this today on the BBC news website, with one of their journalists erroneously transcribing an interviewee, one Dr. Dahl.  The context is an article about deciphering Proto-Elamite script, which has apparently defied our best minds for many years.

He admits to being “bitten” by this challenge. “It’s an unknown, unchartered territory of human history,” he says.

No surprise that a journalist (or spelling checker) doesn’t notice the difference between a charter and a chart.  However, pure joy that the item continues:

Dr Dahl suspects he might have part of the answer. He’s discovered that the original texts seem to contain many mistakes – and this makes it extremely tricky for anyone trying to find consistent patterns.

He believes this was not just a case of the scribes having a bad day at the office. There seems to have been an unusual absence of scholarship, with no evidence of any lists of symbols or learning exercises for scribes to preserve the accuracy of the writing.

This first case of educational underinvestment proved fatal for the writing system, which was corrupted and then completely disappeared after only a couple of hundred years. “It’s an early example of a technology being lost,” he says.

“The lack of a scholarly tradition meant that a lot of mistakes were made and the writing system may eventually have become useless.”

I’m amused to see that the error has now been amended – there must be many alert people in Tunbridge Wells.


Was it a record, like seven elephants in a mini?


Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to join  a tour of the libraries of the British Museum.  I’m still recovering from the impact of visiting seven libraries and an archive in one day – something of a record even for a library freak.   Our itinerary allowed us about 45 minutes per library, so this is the merest sketch, with apologies to the librarians if I have got things wrong.

The absence of one library looms over the building – the British Library, departed to St. Pancras, and its premises turned into an exhibition gallery and shop and coffee shops and circulation space.  It looks wonderful and gives a spacious feel to the museum at this level – but how sad to know that the extraordinary Round Reading Room has gone forever more.

The libraries we visited are the ones which belong to and support the work of the major departments of the British Museum.  Each developed at the whim or need of individual curators over the last two centuries, so they just grew like Topsy.  They are managed independently by their own departments, but have a few features in common:  they are world-class collections in their own right; they are totally understaffed; and they all play second fiddle to THE COLLECTION (when Museum staff use this phrase you can hear the capitals).

The librarians are attempting to make their catalogues available online, so you can browse some of them to see the range and depth of the books and journals they hold.  There are few electronic resources which would cover their fields, so books and print journals are still dominant here.

Otherwise, how different can you get… One department has an orderly purpose-built library room above stairs, belied by the labyrinthine stacks in the bowels below.

Another is in a gracious hall of marble columns and mahogany, but squeezed into an impossibly small area behind THE COLLECTION.

A third is distributed through corridors and curators’ offices:

and a fourth is housed on three separate sites including one buried among the grimy back blocks of the museum site. (I was totally lost among the corridors, doors, stairs, pathways, ramps…)

Yet another occupies a beautiful galleried hall, ruined by particularly vile strip lighting, and deprived of natural light for several years in order to exclude the dust and noise of the building site outside, and in which hoovering is a problem for lack of power points (couldn’t get a photo, light too dim for my phone).

Idiosyncracies flourish.  I didn’t ask about the giant banana as I felt it would spoil it for me if I did.

The library collections are fantastic.  We had permission to take photos, but I’m not sure if this included the actual books, so the only example I will show is this early catalogue of part of THE COLLECTION.   A  reader could be lost for years if they were let loose here (that means me). How about  Bronze Ornaments of the Palace Gates of Balawat?  Or Engravings of Persepolis Cylinder Seals & Inscriptions?  Or what about Andean Art at Dumbarton Oaks?

I spent the day boggling.  And I am boggled yet.

American Scientist 100 (3) 226-233


Eberhard W.G. and Wcislo, W.T. : Plenty of room at the bottom?

From p.227:  “In some species of spiders and mites, the relatively large brain takes up so much room that it overflows into the legs, giving new meaning to the phrase ‘thinking on your feet’.”

This journal is always good value, though for a non-scientist (or presumably for a narrowly-educated specialist) it’s like doing an intellectual assault course.  Having just rejigged my brain eight times to deal with articles on data mining, computer modelling, safety in engineering, archaeology/palaeontology of dog domestication and human evolution, zinc microrockets, neural activity for remembering and daydreaming, Herschel and the infrared, and the development of the central nervous system in very small animals, I think that I too might need some extra brain in my legs.

(They are very generous with full text articles for back issues.  If you want to find out more about nematode brains, go to http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/past.aspx  )