Archive for November, 2009

Academic manners

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

The current LRB has a wonderful example of one style of academic review: the long essay outlining the book that ought to be written about the subject, concluded by a paragraph dismissing the work under review. But what a paragraph!

André Burguière does not want to admit this. For him Annales remains a cause to fight for. But his book will do the cause no good at all. It is written seemingly without any knowledge of the wider historiography. Lutz Raphael’s Die Erben von Bloch und Febvre, the best and most comprehensive account of the school, is mentioned in the bibliography, but there is no sign that Burguière has read it. Self-important, pompous, pretentious, solipsistic, often obscure, sometimes barely coherent, his book seems to address itself only to those in the know. The translation by Jane Marie Todd renders all these faults with exemplary accuracy.

Plugging Marek

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I had to call Marek Kohn the other day, because I was thinking about the Chief Rabbi’s eugenics, and this led me to reread A reason for everything. It really is good. The discussion of Bill Hamilton in particular is extremely subtle and penetrating. All of the faults and confusions are dissected: “for him the hospitals came to represent the inexorable modern menace that others see in immigrants or surveillance cameras”. At the same time, Kohn admires and understands the achievements, and sees all the ways in which Hamilton did in fact function emotionally and socially. This is how pop science ought to be written.

One dumb note

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I really like the idea of MS OneNote, and find it very useful for scribbling ideas into and recording interviews. It also has exemplary synchronisation. But it is a pig to use as a repository for web clips, unless you also use IE. There is a firefox clipper but it’s slow, ugly and obtrusive. There’s no quick easy way to tag what has been clipped or to get an overview, later, of subject lines. There is an API, but it demands that the programmer read and write long strings of XML to accomplish even the simplest tasks. So, while it would be perfectly possible for someone fluent in Javascript and XML to write firefox extension that clipped at usable speed, that person is not me, and certainly no one has done it. Really irritating. I don’t doubt that the people who work for microsoft find it quite easy to program extensions in C# or whatever. But even inside MS there aren’t many people doing it, and I suspect that it will quietly wither away because, although good software, it’s just too hard to extend. And any type of intelligent dustbin program has to talk easily to everything else on the machine. That’s half the point.

Evernote dumbed down

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

This is a quick note, really for the benefit of Google, to point out that Evernote, which is growing more and more popular, was in important respects much better in version 2, now neither sold nor supported, than in the various versions three that are now available on all sorts of platforms. In fact the software changed so much between the two versions, both in what it does and what it’s trying to do, that it’s best to think of them as almost entirely different. (more…)