John Mark Ockerbloom has outlined an exciting concept and system for dynamically incorporating a user’s local library resources into Wikipedia articles.

Everybody's Libraries

I’ve heard the lament in more than one library discussion over the years.  “People aren’t coming to our library like they should,” librarians have told me.  “We’ve got a rich collection, and we’ve expended lots of resources on an online presence, but lots of our patrons just go to Google and Wikipedia without checking to see what we have.”  The pattern of quick online information-finding using search engines and Wikipedia is well-known enough that it has its own acronym: GWR, for Google -> Wikipedia -> References.  (David White gives a good description of that pattern in the linked article.)

Some people I’ve talked to think we should break this pattern.  With the right search tool or marketing plan, some say, we can get patrons to start with us first, instead of Google or Wikipedia.  This idea seems to me both futile and beside the point.  Between them, Google and…

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Some good commentary on the difficulties of both historical fiction and history writing.

A. Roy King

I was struck by this quotation from Howard Zinn in The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, by James Alexander Thom:

Historical fiction and nonfiction are both abstractions from a complex world of infinite fact. Both can tell the truth; both can lie. The “lies” (that is, distortions, omissions, exaggerations) in historical fiction may have two advantages over the “lies” (that is, omissions, exaggerations, distortions) in nonfiction. First, that they are at least entertaining. Second, that they do not make the same claim of being truthful.

The fact that historical fiction is more entertaining can also make it more dangerous  because it is more seductive, enveloping the lie in a sweeter package than nonfiction. Bad historical fiction may wrap a false idea (that blacks are inferior, that war is good) in an attractive story and thus make it more dangerous.

Thom, who is a great American historical novelist known for his careful research and accuracy, also quotes Washington Irving as saying, “I am always at a loss…

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Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece? (via A. Roy King)

I’ve seen these photos before, claiming to show archaeologists digging up skeletons of giants. A. Roy King shows how some of the best-known photos were faked.

Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece? [Updated 22 May 2010] I was intrigued recently when someone sent me a series of photos purporting to show the skeletons of giant humans excavated at archaeological sites. Here is an example to the right. However, some quick Internet research revealed that these photos are all doctored. You can see all the photos at About.com — here is an explanation and analysis by urban-legends specialist David Emery: "Giants in Greece — Analysis." The photo s … Read More

via A. Roy King

‘Snowflake Method’ Offers Innovative Method for Writing a Novel (via A. Roy King)

A. Roy King wrote up a good summary of Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” for fiction writing:

'Snowflake Method' Offers Innovative Method for Writing a Novel On his Advanced Fiction Writing web site, physicist and fiction author Randy Ingermanson offers an exciting method for developing a novel, called the 'Snowflake Method,' which he describes in detail on his page, "How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method." Since encountering the Snowflake Method, I've been using it on my current fiction project, and I find that it's interesting and fun and is helping me to focus in on the story in a marvelous wa … Read More

via A. Roy King

Open-Source Crime-Solving

Porting this post over from Socialtext:

I was struck by this article on the BBC:

Amateur sleuths keep cold cases alive

It struck me that this is another application of the open-source model — Internet technology can possibly be used in crime investigations to bring many dedicated minds to bear on problems that can’t be solved by the efforts of a few professional investigators.

AB — originally posted 23 April 2007

Comments on Rhetorical Intimidation

Porting this post over from Socialtext:

I wrote up some comments this morning on my Reluctant Guru blog about the way people use rhetorical intimidation to gain the upper hand in disputes.

Some of the phrases I commented on are “pure and simple,” “just plain wrong” and “pseudo-science.”

Here’s what I wrote — I will use this space here to write updates:

“Pure and simple” — As in, “This is theft, pure and simple.” This is sometimes used to add artificial certainty to an assertion, to make things seem black-and white.

“Just plain wrong” — Used in similar ways to “pure and simple” to impose an oversimplified certainty to your own side in an argument.

“There is no dispute that ….” — Followed sometimes by a statistic, sometimes simply by the speaker’s opinion. My immediate urge when I hear this is to respond with, “I hereby dispute you.”

“Nonsense” — Used to describe someone else’s idea and to position your own as superior.

“Utter” — This one occurred to me just now, as it is sometimes used with a word like “nonsense” or “hogwash” to make the other person’s idea sound even more unreliable.

“Pseudo-science” — Used to describe an area of inquiry that conflicts with your own deeply-held opinions. A celebrity not long ago used this term to disparage psychiatry. It is often used to describe any investigation into the paranormal, and is sometimes used by partisans on either side of the evolution-intelligent design debate to describe one another’s models.

“Ideology” or “belief system” — Used to describe someone else’s values or way of thinking. Seems to me that using these terms places a slightly negative spin on the other person’s position — as if my own way of thinking is truly objective, whereas the other person’s is tainted by extremism. I guess a good test might be to ask, Am I willing to describe my own way of thinking as an ideology or belief system?

AB — originally posted 22 March 2007