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Viewing Blog: Weekend Stubble, Most Recent at Top
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A blog by an Associate Professor of creative nonfiction at Portland State University.
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1. We've Moved!

Weekend Stubble's finally getting a shave: a new website (including all my radio shows and links to over 100 of my articles) at literarydetective.com ....

...a new blog (complete with all the old Stubble posts) at literarydetective.blogspot.com ...

...and my twitter feed: twitter.com/thelitdetective .

Go forth and click!

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2. The Napoleon of Not a Clue

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the most incoherent book title of 1907!

This description certainly sounds promising:
Think they're joking about a detective love-story starring a delusional Napoleon reincarnation? Well, here's the frontispiece:

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3. Come to Think of It, My Scalp IS Tingling...

From Harper's, 1886:

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4. Tweet, Tweet

I'm now up on Twitter: twitter.com/thelitdetective

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5. Do We Get Jetpacks This Time?

A New Scientist Histories column from '05 noted that the last really huge volcanic eruption led to invention of the bicycle:

ON 5 April 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia began to grumble. A week later the volcano blew its top in a spectacular eruption that went on until July. It was the biggest eruption in recorded history, killing around 92,000 people and ejecting so much ash into the atmosphere that average global temperatures dipped by 3 °C. In the northern hemisphere 1816 became known as the year without a summer. New England had blizzards in July and crops failed. Europe was hit just as badly.

On holiday by Lake Geneva the 18-year-old Mary Shelley and her husband Percy were trapped in Lord Byron's house by constant rain. To divert his guests Byron suggested a competition to write a ghost story. The result was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Across the border in the German state of Baden the soaring price of oats prompted the 32-year-old Karl Drais to invent a replacement for the horse - the first bicycle....

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6. Greetings from 1896

There's no way to embed it here, alas, but the Times of London has video of the newly discovered 1896 film that appears to be Australia's first movie:

Patineur Grotesque shows a bearded man, dressed in a top hat and smoking a cigar, rollerskating in a park before a circle of onlookers. He stops and lifts his jacket to reveal a white hand print on the bottom of his trousers in a cheeky gesture to the camera."

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7. How To Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself

...is the most awesome title ever for a book, and Tin House Books now has Robert Paul Smith's long-lost 1958 masterpiece reissued complete with a praise from Lemony Snicket and an intro by yours truly.

TH editors got intrigued by it after I wrote a "Lost and Found" piece for them about the book for their "Off The Grid" issue a couple years ago:

I don't know about you, but I wasted all but about fifteen minutes of my childhood. Those fifteen minutes were spent on a beach in Cornwall busting a nodule of quartz out of a fist-sized chunk of flint; thirty years later, I still have it somewhere in my office, in an old coffee can. Everything else I made during those years—the swords nailed together from old pickets, the forest forts that defended nothing from nobody, the poorly assembled Revell model cars with Testor's paint smeared lazily on them, the Sherman tanks drawn in near-medieval 2D perspective—they're all pretty much gone now.

Come to think of it, I haven't used the piece of quartz for much either.

But if I want reminding of where the rest of that time went, I have this book. A step-by-step guide to grinding oyster shells against the front stoop for no reason, to turning buttons and string into buzzsaws that won't cut anything, and to making paper boomerangs that don't come back, How to Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself is about what you do when you're a kid and have neither money nor anyone paying much attention to you, and where your one guiding principle is that you avoid grown-ups and don't ask for help...

The Times calls it "definitely the wildest how-to manual I've seen this year" -- maybe because of, ahem, the sections on how to use a penknife and an icepick -- and Tin House now also has a terrific find up a Youtube: a ten minute interview with Robert and Elinor Smith by Edward R. Murrow.

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8. Chess for the Insane

What got me started this week on my whole Victorian board game kick -- or, I should say, my latest one -- was a passing mention in this ad of Hexagonia, put out by Jaques & Son of London:

(Jaques is still very much around, by the way.)

Hexagonia was, apparently, the first commercially manufactured hexagonal chess game. (At left is a modern version version from chessvariants.com.)

I haven't been able to find a picture of one of these Hexagonia sets yet, but there's an intriguing description of the game from Routledge's Every Boy's Annual for 1866:

And, of course, if you really want all-out polygonic war, there's always... three-player chess.

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9. War Without Tears

From Peter Parley's Annual for 1865: "peaceful combat, without the horrors of actual warfare." It's...

Also: Carpet Croquet!

(From the Boston Almanac for the Year 1871)

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10. The Return of Dr. Viper and Reverend Bruiser

Robert Darnton has a great post over at NYRB on precursors to blogging:

Blog-like messaging can be found in many times and places long before the Internet. Here, for example, is a recent post on The Superficial:

RadarOnline reports “traditional marriage” crusader and former Miss California Carrie Prejean is living in sin with her fiancé Kyle Boller of the St. Louis Rams where they’re no doubt eating shellfish. BURN THEM!

And here is a typical entry from Le Gazetier cuirassé ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France (1771):

Mlle. Romans is soon to marry M. de Croismare, Governor of the Ecole Militaire, who will use six aides de camp to take his place in performing the conjugal service.

...To appreciate the importance of a pre-modern blog, consult a database such as Eighteenth Century Collections Online and download a newspaper from eighteenth-century London. It will have no headlines, no bylines, no clear distinction between news and ads, and no spatial articulation in the dense columns of type, aside from one crucial ingredient: the paragraph. Paragraphs were self-sufficient units of news. They had no connection with one another, because writers and readers had no concept of a news “story” as a narrative that would run for more than a few dozen words. News came in bite-sized bits, often “advices” of a sober nature—the arrival of a ship, the birth of an heir to a noble title—until the 1770s, when they became juicy. Pre-modern scandal sheets appeared, exploiting the recent discovery about the magnetic pull of news toward names. As editors of the Morning Postand the Morning Herald, two men of the cloth, the Reverend Henry Bate (known as “the Reverend Bruiser”) and the Reverend William Jackson (known as “Dr. Viper”) packed their paragraphs with gossip about the great, and this new kind of news sold like hotcakes. Much of it came from a bountiful source: the coffee house.

Without some good eye-straining time at a monitor or a microform reader, it's hard to appreciate just how different newspapers once were. Even for many years after Viper and Bruiser, front pages remained a wilderness of indistinguishable shipping news, assorted and sundry royal doings, notices that fine bolts of linen were to be had at so-and-so's shop, and the occasional really excellent carriage wreck. Feature writing and star reporters had their rise with the New York Sun and the Herald, while the look of modern papers came from Pulitzer's New York World: illustrations, human interest, compelling stories with big heds on page 1. And tabloids and Fox-mongering more or less evolved -- or devolved, I guess -- from Hearst's Journal and the National Police Gazette.

So maybe the comparison is not entirely a fanciful one:

(Via Gawker)
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11. The Underground Scene

(Thames Tunnel as it appeared on Friday, via Flickr.)

Oh, how I wish I was in London this weekend...

From the Times Archive Blog:

I've been fantastically lucky today to be able to go on a walk through the Brunels' tunnel under the Thames, from Rotherhithe to Wapping and back, under the expert guidance of Robert Hulse, director of the Brunel Museum. The tunnel has been carrying trains under the Thames since 1869, but was closed three years ago during extension work on the East London line. This weekend they've taken a break to allow the public in as pedestrians for the first time in 145 years.... This Times report from just after it opened records the first sub-terranean, or sub-Thamesian mugging, and finishes, charmingly, with the news that

We are given to understand, that after a certain hour of the night the tunnel is infested with loose women.

From their blog, here's how a "grand fancy fair" there was announced on March 27, 1850:

Presumably this weekend's event was rather heavier on the anorak and lighter on the crinoline, but no less amazing. Here are the first pedestrians entering the Thames Tunnel in 145 years:

(via Londonist)

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12. Lip Oulipo

For those who haven't checked out BBC Radio 4, here's a particularly peculiar pleasure: Just a Minute, which is constrained writing brought to life. Contestants are given a subject which they must discuss for a full minute without repeating a single word that has been previously used. Some of the segments have been turned into film shorts, including the one above...

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13. Victorian Photoshop

Check out the slideshow of Victorian photo-collage over at Slate....

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14. Amazon Gets Up A Creek

Last year I noted in Slate that Amazon's been having it both ways for a while on state sales taxes -- not paying any where they were not due, and not paying any even where they were due:

Amazon.com has spent a decade opposing the enforcement of online taxes so that its noncollection of sales tax creates a powerful pricing incentive over bricks-and-mortar competitors. Why buy a MacBook Air in Boston, after all, when online you'll save nearly 90 bucks in Massachusetts sales tax? But there have long been warnings that consumers just might get ruinously addicted to the tax-free ride Amazon and others appeared to be giving them—and that states might just get, well, ruined.

I say the ride appeared tax-free: In fact, there is tax due on some online sales. Amazon and other online retailers have benefited from the lack of an enforcement mechanism. States have started taking notice, and when New York state recently attempted to fix this situation, Amazon.com took them to court—and got shellacked. The company, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Eileen Branstein ruled last month, did "not come close" to showing that the state was wrong to demand that these taxes be collected. With millions in desperately needed uncollected revenue from online retailers at stake for the state, Amazon.com hasn't said yet whether it will appeal.

You wouldn't expect a financially ruined state like California to leave that kind of money laying on the table -- and now they're not. From Friday's Tech Flash:

Things are heating up for Amazon.com on the sales tax front again. The California Senate just passed a bill that would require online retailers like Amazon to collect sales tax on web purchases. According to reports, the measure was part of a $5 billion budget package making its way through the California legislature. Virginia, Colorado and Illinois are also considering sales tax bills targeting online retailers.

Amazon's been able to fight this off for years, but the stakes -- and the state budget gaps -- are getting much higher now.

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15. Twitter Finds Its Destiny

Tweets of... lines from Harry Stephen Keeler!

A recent sample:

Till, of course, Old Man Death accepts him--in the magazine called "The Grave."

(Hat tip to Ed!)

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16. Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!

The Austin bookstore BookPeople has been hosting "literary day camps" for kids....

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17. Bad Luck

I find this Wikipedia category weirdly fascinating: List of Las Vegas Casinos That Never Opened.

A sample:

Themed after the doomed luxury liner RMS Titanic, this resort was to have been modeled after the ship and would have been 400 feet (120 m) long with 1,200 rooms, standing across the street from the Sahara Hotel and Casino. The project was rejected by the Las Vegas City Council.

World Trade Center
To have been located at 925 East Desert Inn Road, Las Vegas.

Leonard Shoen, co-founder of U-Haul truck rental, purchased the property of what had been the Chaparral Hotel & Casino in 1996, renovating it into the World Trade Center Hotel. A gaming license was applied for, but when it was discovered that two of Mr. Shoen's closest partners were convicted felons, the application was denied in 1998. He withdrew his application, and later died in a car crash in 1999 that was ruled a suicide. Cards and gaming chips were produced for the World Trade Center Casino, but were never used.[3] The property has since been demolished and is now vacant. The old World Trade Center Casino site is now a parking lot, part of the Sands convention center annex.

World Wrestling Federation
A casino resort themed after the World Wrestling Federation was proposed for a property near Interstate Highway 15 across from Mandalay Bay. The project never went past the proposal stage. WWE also proposed to open on the property best known as the Debbie Reynolds Hotel and Casino, but now known as the Royal Resort Hotel and Casino.

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18. Free Dreadfuls

Terrific news in last Sunday's Times of London:

MORE than 65,000 19th-century works of fiction from the British Library’s collection are to be made available for free downloads by the public from this spring....Many of the downmarket books known as “penny dreadfuls” will also be made available to the public, including Black Bess by Edward Viles and The Dark Woman by J M Rymer. Altogether, 35%-40% of the library’s 19th-century printed books — now all digitised — are inaccessible in other public libraries and are difficult to find in second-hand or internet bookshops.

Penny dreadfuls and dime novels verged were basically disposable literature, so they can be absurdly difficult and sometimes outright impossible to track down -- this is a wonderful development.

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19. Run Faster For the Exits

Hard on the heels of last week's ominous report by the Financial Times, more at Borders: their CEO bolted on Tuesday, corporate HQ announced layoffs on Thursday.

Oh, and in between those two events... the iPad announcement.

I'd say the $499 base model pretty well (and pretty deliberately) plunges a dagger into the heart of Amazon's $489 Kindle DX, whose monochrome screen and DRM now make it look like the worst deal since... well, since whatever e-reader Borders was working on.

And now that has knocked Amazon off balance enough that it almost immediately capitulated today to a pushback on pricing by Macmillan -- though not before reminding Kindle owners once again that their Seattle overlords can peevishly yank content off their devices.

Interesting times, etc.

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20. It Cannot Grow Old!

A great find over at Boing Boing, with a writeup on the history of this infinitely expandable project ...

Ah, where's Hari Seldon when you need him?

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21. Run for the Exits

Also not getting much press yet: Financial Times reported on Wednesday that small vendors are retaining counsel to make sure they get paid by Borders.

Four years ago in the Village Voice -- pause for irony -- I noted that musclebound chains could be in deep trouble if they didn't get on board with electronic and on-demand technologies that would slowly render their credit-on-return Xanadus into a massive liability.

Guess what?:

The average time it took for Borders to pay back suppliers spiked over 40% to 97.9 days in the year ended 31 October, from 69.4 days in the prior year period... As of 31 October, the company had USD 215m available under its USD 1.125bn revolver, based on inventory and credit card receivables. According to the credit agreement backing the Bank of America-led loan due 2011, a 1.1x fixed charge ratio kicks in if the retailer’s borrowings exceed 90% of the maximum amount permitted. Borders would not currently be in compliance with the fixed charge ratio if it were tested, SEC filings show...

Battle of the e-readers aside, Border’s faces an even greater threat from loss of in-store shoppers to internet retailers, particularly Amazon, and was forced to shut its 200-store Waldenbooks chain last year. For 3Q09 ended 31 October, Border’s revenues were USD 602.5m versus USD 693m in the comparable period.
Bear in mind, by the way, that the comparable period in '08 was when the economy was already in an absolute pants-wetting freefall.

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22. Alt Weakly (Pt 2)

Still weirdly overlooked by most of the press, Business Week is now headlining this: Village Voice Affiliate May Face Forced Bankruptcy in Ad Fight.

VVM's executive ed, not surprisingly, denounces it all as a "false, inaccurate smear" -- namely, by pointing out that while New Times and SF Weekly are affiliated entities to VVM, they are not the same. And -- wouldn't you know -- it appears there's nothing in the pockets of New Times and the Weekly but lint and Chuck E Cheese tokens.

Got no money -- see!

As long as SFBG's lawyers slept through all their law school lectures on Vicarious Liability, I'm sure this strategy will work just great.

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23. Alt Weakly

For some reason this hasn't attracted much notice nationally, but this last week the San Francisco Bay Guardian won a whopping $21 million dollar judgment against Village Voice Media for monopolistic practices by VVM-owned SF Weekly. But because VVM was apparently too cocky to post bond before the case, now the Bay Guardian can start seizing VVM assets from pretty much anywhere it likes in the 16-paper chain.

It's already grabbed SF Weekly's delivery vehicles...

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24. Zut alors!

Another week, another headache for the Chunnel. It's amusing to recall that at one time, proposals for a Channel Tunnel were attacked by British nationalists as inviting certain destruction by a French invasion.

Check out this rabble-rousing novel from 1882 that I once came across:

Behold the horrors of the invasion!:

John Smith's first experience of an invader was not a pleasant one. Accustomed to live quietly in a little street just running off the Strand, and there to sell butter and bacon and eggs in sufficient quantity to maintain himself and small family, he had certainly never looked forward to a time when a French sergeant and four infantry privates would be billetted upon him, and would choose his upstairs parlour as their sleeping and living room.... he saw their filthy mess utensils on his light Brussels carpet, and his piano turned into a sort of cupboard for preserved soups, while a silk-covered couch that had been his pride was made into a bed for the sergeant, and some of his chimney ornaments were flung out of the window as being in the way... Screamed at by the sergeant because the domino-box, which he had produced to order, was a small one, and wholly beneath the dignity of a French soldier, and ordered to fetch wine instead of stout, and to put a good dinner on the table, he hastened to obey...

It is true he saw his plate and knives go to fill the haversacks of his invaders, and was obliged to let them take the contents of his till. But after all his was not a specially hard case; it must be confessed he deserved more. For John Smith had contributed as much as anybody, or more than some people, to the very state of things which he now deplored.

He it was who had seconded a resolution at Exeter Hall against a proposed large increase of the English navy.

He it was who had taken shares in the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel...

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25. If It's Too Loud...

NPR has a terrific piece this week on the Loudness War -- as mourned/explained by this YouTube video:

As a drummer, hearing every part of the kit and every single beat rammed to the front of mixes is as depressing as... I don't know, probably as depressing as Auto-Tune abuse is to singers. Anyway, NPR has Bob Ludwig on hand to explain -- he's mastered pretty much every classic album you've heard of, ever -- and the historical context of 45s makes this an especially fascinating look at the phenomenon.

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