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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Girl on a whaleship

Some time ago, I had the privilege of helping with a wonderful website project that was accomplished by the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society.  In their archives they have a first-hand account of a whaling voyage as seen and written about by a young girl, and this was the focus of their interactive exhibit..

The site was selected as a 2014 'reader's favorite' in the annual round-up of web sites cataloged by the Scout Report service at University of Wisconsin

Whaling History: Laura Jernegan, Girl on a Whaleship

It’s not hard to see why this whale of a tale was the third most shared resource by our readers. This well crafted site provides a window into the life of a young girl on a whaling ship in the 1800s. One of our favorite aspects of the site is the option to read Laura’s journal in her original handwriting, allowing readers to watch her penmanship develop and steady as her journey progressed over the years. Educators and students will also love to explore the map, artifacts, and ship features in order to get a better sense of what life must have been like for this young girl, who affectionately signs off each journal entry with, “Good by for today.”

In October 1868, 6 year old Laura Jernegan from Edgartown, Massachusetts set out on a three year whaling voyage with her family and the ship's crew to the whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean. Her story lives on today via her fabulous journal which has been digitized and placed online here, courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum. The site's interface includes a "Magic Lens," an innovative tool that allows readers to see typed text superimposed over Laura's handwriting by mousing over the section of interest. First-time visitors should click on Laura's Story to learn about her life story via photographs, journal entries and what happened to her after her return. The Map of Whaling is a great way to to learn about Laura's journey, major ocean currents, migration patterns, and other major whaling routes. For folks with an interest in visual culture, the Artifacts area contains dozens of items that one would have found on a whaling ship, including a small water cask, serving mallets, waif flags, and several sextants.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Amazon rejigs its offerings

Repricing reigns, along with revamping and new offerings.

(Reuters) - Inc ramped up its push into hardware on Wednesday with the debut of six new or upgraded devices, including a high-end $199 e-reader called the Kindle Voyage and its cheapest-ever touch-screen tablet.
The No. 1 U.S. online retailer also revamped its basic Kindle e-reader to include a touch screen. It will cost $79, about 15 percent more than the current basic model.
Other new devices unveiled on Wednesday are a $99 Kindle Fire HD tablet, which includes a smaller, six-inch screen as well as a tablet designed for kids that starts at $149. Amazon also upgraded its 7-inch and 8.9 inch Fire tablets.
All the upgraded and new devices start shipping in October.
The expanding Kindle lineup underscores Chief Executive Jeff Bezos' commitment to developing devices as a way to retain users and bolster its core business of retail and shopping.
This year alone, Amazon has launched a set-top box, a grocery ordering wand and a Fire smart phone, which debuted in July to lackluster reviews.
Amazon, which entered the hardware sector with the 2007 launch of the Kindle, has adopted a strategy of selling the devices at cost, and it profits when users buy content or goods.
It has been investing heavily in content, inking a deal this year to stream some HBO shows including "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" to members of its Prime subscription program.
"The vast majority of people are still using the tablets," David Limp, vice president of devices for Amazon, said during a briefing with reporters in New York.
Executives touted the Kindle Voyage as the thinnest device Amazon has ever made. The company hopes heavy readers might adopt the device, which more closely mimic a paper book.
The $79 Kindle is crucial to attract new users, particularly in markets like ChinaJapan andGermany, where e-readers are starting to gain traction, executives said.

(Writing by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Ken Wills)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dreaming of garnets

A recent acquisition for the Rare Books Collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, is a gorgeously hand-bound poem by Alfred Tennyson.

The binding is blue-green goatskin, embossed with a floral design and inset with five garnets and eight turquoise cabochons. Jeweled or "treasure" bindings have a long history, monarchs and monasteries commissioning bindings adorned with gold, silver, gems, and enamel-work, sometimes with carved ivory panels.  Naturally, because they were so hugely expensive, there are very few examples around.  So this is a wonderful acquisition.

This particular volume of A Dream of Fair Women was created by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, a leading firm of craftsmen binders that was founded in London in 1901.  Probably the pinnacle of their work was a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that was so extravagant that it was known as "the Great Omar."  As well as gold tooling, it was embellished with 1050 jewels.

Who knows what it would be worth today?  At the time it was created, Sangorski put it on the market, first by sending to New York in the hope of a better price than it would fetch in London. Stalled by Customs, it was sent back again, and finally sold at less than its intrinsic cost to an American customer.  So back to New York it sailed ... on the doomed Titanic.

Watch the strange story of the cursed Great Oman here:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Teenager inspires

Among all the stories of countries spying on each other and on their own citizens, plus dirtier than usual electioneering in New Zealand, comes an inspiring story  of a New Zealand teenager.

Like many teens, Matt Wilson fills in free time with sport, music, mates and homework - but unlike most, he has also led a $115,000 aid mission to a Pacific island.
The Masterton 17-year-old built an extension to a Niuean hospital to make a difference, get real- world training, gain friendships and - maybe best of all - do something cool with his dad.
Matt's father, Wairarapa police sergeant Garry Wilson, was the inspiration behind the year 13 Rathkeale College student's unusual school holiday project.
Having seen too many troubled teens lacking goals and parental input, Wilson set Matt a challenge. After research they settled on an extension to an aged-care facility at Niue's Foou hospital.
The hospital was rebuilt after a 2004 cyclone, but there was one thing missing, Matt said - space.
"There were eight elderly in four rooms and a little walkway in front where they just sat . . . now they get to move around, get on with their lives, meet with their families and eat at a table instead of always in their beds."
Matt's innovative design includes a five-unit day-bed wing which can be converted into a multipurpose room, a landscaped garden and a services block based around a modified shipping container complete with kitchenette, laundry and toilet.
It was prefabricated in Masterton and shipped to Niue for assembly during a July working bee by Matt, five Rathkeale friends and a group of adults, including his father.
Beforehand, Matt pitched his project far and wide during 15 months, eventually raising around $80,000 from more than 40 companies and individuals, as well as Niuean government input of $35,000.
"I'm really proud of what he's achieved," Garry said. "It was reliant on him stepping up to the plate and he did that, and beyond."
Matt said a special moment was incorporating a round, grey boulder from the Ruamahanga River, which runs past his school and home, into a white, Niuean stone wall bordering the new structure. The name Ruamahana ("warm haven") was chosen for the new facility to echo the river's name, which Matt, of Ngai Tahu descent, translates as "the joining of two".
A Niue government representative hailed Ruamahana as a "new-forged bond" between Niue and Wairarapa.
It wasn't all work. Matt said Niue, population 1500, was "pretty wicked" and described swims with metre-long sea snakes, bombs off seaside cliffs and a village seafood cookoff with dancing and a "massive big feast".
His dad's participation meant a lot. "It was something we did together."
He is now applying for Victoria University's architecture degree course.

I was intrigued to see the Niuean on the far right wearing a Cook Islands t-short.  Polynesians still voyage the Pacific!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today's Drabble

NINE SECONDS by Joan Curry

3 am and brandy warmed her belly. Lights winked across the water lapping at the piles under the bridge. She flung her arms wide, giggling: “iconic Titanic!” And then, “look out world, here I come!”

An urgent rush, and the explosive release into light. She blinked, bawled. Hands wrapped her in towels, faces loomed. Later, pigtails with red ribbons, the squeak of chalk on blackboard and sandwiches, hopscotch. Yay, London! The VW combi. 

She found Dermott, wicked smile, enchanting accent. Gorgeous Dermott, bloody Dermott and that skanky slut – how could this be … 

Nine seconds later black water enveloped her. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tupaia's lorikeet

To my surprise, today I received an envelope from Valerie in Australia, containing a print-out of an item that had been shown on ABC news over there.  The post-it attached read, "Joan, Perhaps this might be of interest. We met on Pacific Pearl in July 2011 -- mostly in the coffee shop."

How thoughtful of her, because the item certainly was of interest. In my biography of Tupaia, the extraordinary Tahitian (originally from Raiatea) who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour, I related an anecdote about the bird that Tupaia captured at Botany Bay in February 1770, and kept as a pet. Weakened by severe scurvy, Tupaia died in Batavia (Jakarta) late that same year, but Joseph Banks looked after the bird, giving it to collector Marmaduke Tunstall after he arrived in London.  It was a story I also told in my lecture on Tupaia and Captain Cook on the cruise ship, and evidently Valerie remembered.

Well, the painting I showed of Tupaia's bird was the one at the top of this post.  Stilted in pose -- as was usual with natural history paintings then -- it is very brightly colored.

It was painted by Peter Brown, a natural history artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, and was the author of New Illustrations of Zoology, which includes this painting, the earliest published illustration of an Australian bird. The painting is dated November 3, 1774.

Well, according to the ABC news item that Valerie sent me, there is another painting of Tupaia's bird. It created by Moses Griffith in 1772, and is estimated to be the first painting of an Australian bird. It has recently been acquired by the National Library of Australia.  I have no idea what they paid for it, but according to the Sotheby's catalogue  $150,000-$200,000 was confidently expected.

It is certainly a beautiful painting, more graceful than the highly colored Peter Brown version -- but is it the same bird?  If so, why is it so much more drab?

The catalogue gives an excellent explanation. Tupaia, it seems, collected his pet when it was at the junior, perhaps even nestling stage, and so when Griffith painted it in 1772, the lorikeet was still in juvenile plumage. By the time Brown got around to it, two years had passed, and the bird was flaunting full adult colors.

The bird was stuffed after it died, and was put on show for years, finishing up in the Great North Museum, Hancock.  But whether it is still there is impossible to tell, as no one could find a trace of it when I asked.  Maybe it molted away -- but at least two beautiful paintings remain.


Note: The Peter Brown painting is also an illustration in the prizewinning Random House NZ edition of the biography (Tupaia, the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator) but not in the largely unadorned US Praeger version (Tupaia, Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator). It is not in the digital version, either, that edition being text-only.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Strange Story of the Drabble

The word "drabble" was first found in a compendium of Monty Python humor called Monty Python's Big Red Book (which, though a play on the notorious Little Red Book, was actually blue).  In the Python book a game is described in which four players sit around a fire drinking brandy, and the first one to write a novel wins.  And the game was called DRABBLE.

For some strange reason the idea was taken up by science fiction fandom, notably the Birmingham University's science fiction club. The problem, as Dave Langford describes in "A Very Short Anthology," was to choose the length of the novel, which obviously had to be rather short. So a host of SF fans and writers put their imaginations to work.

The great British SF writer, Brian Aldiss proposed a set length of 50 words, which led to a newspaper competition, which in its turn, led to 33,000 entries, all of which Aldiss was forced to read.  One of the entrants was an unnamed member of the Royal Family, who not only was obviously a fan of Monty Python, the Goons, and so forth, but was unable to count to fifty.

A length of 8 words was then proposed, and the definitive version came along very soon, penned by Colin Greenland. "Aliens disguised as typewriters? I never heard such..."

One hundred words became the standard, though there is some argument about hyphenated words and whether the count should include the title or not.  Because of its origins, the 100-word story (and it is supposed to be a coherent anecdote, not simply playing with words) is usually in the SF or horror genre.  Shaggy dog stories are also very popular.

Then came the Drabble Project, where exactly one hundred drabbles were published in a book that cost one hundred shillings, and the profits were given to charity. It contained drabbles by famous writers like Terry Pratchett, and a wonderful example of the genre by James Steel.

More Dumb Monsters, by James Steel

The monster climbed. Fighter aircraft, dwarfed by its massive bulk, fired missile after missile into the scaly armour of the beast's hide. Roars shattered the windows of the city and reverberated far into the hills beyond. Artillery lined up in the streets below, ready to deliver their crushing firepower against the foe. High-pitched screams of terror, barely heard between the roar of collapsing buildings, announced the creature's hostage to be still alive.

The creature paused and brought a huge scaly hand towards its mouth.

"I've got the specimen," it said. "Beam me out of here and level the place."

The Drabble Project page will tell you how to buy the book, and its two successors.

Feel like writing a drabble? The trick is to write a draft without worrying too much about length. The real writing exercise is the editing of that draft.  Take out unnecessary words.  If all else fails, take out whole sentences. The aim is to make your writing crisp and economical.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Published on September 4th, 2014 | by Booknotes

New Zealand guest of honour in Taiwan

Open hearts, Open minds, Open books
發現紐西蘭 樂讀新世界
Ngākau aotea, Ngākau māhorahora, Pukapuka wherawhera
New Zealand is to be the Guest of Honour at the 2015 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE 15), and is taking advantage of the opportunity to promote the country in as many ways as possible. The Guest of Honour Programme, managed by the Publishers Association of New Zealand, will have a Visiting Author programme, a Cultural Programme, a substantial publisher presence (both trade and educational publishers selling rights to NZ material) and other yet-to-be announced elements.

The initial selection for the Visiting Author Programme for TIBE 2015 (which is held in February) is highlighted by Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton and Dame Joy Cowley. Joining them are Gavin Bishop, Jenny Bornholdt, Paul Cleave, Joan Druett, Witi Ihimaera, Heather McAllister, Mark Sommerset, Judith White and Sarah Wilkins. Other writers and/or illustrators will be added to the programme. The programme is funded by Creative New Zealand and is in partnership with the Taipei Book Fair Foundation.

The criteria for the initial invitation is that an author must have a book available in the Taiwanese market at the time of TIBE 2015 and a Taiwanese publisher must support the author’s visit with co-operative events. The authors will be involved in a series events at the NZ Pavilion in the fair exhibition hall and in other venues in conjunction with their Taiwanese publishers.

The Cultural Programme is headed by the popular Te Puia kapa haka group from Te Puia in Rotorua. They will perform daily at the TIBE and other venues, while a traditional Māori carver, with help from members of the group, will carve from a large log of Taiwanese wood.
Kevin Chapman, Project Director for NZ Guest of Honour says: “The Visiting Author Programme and the Cultural Programme are the cornerstone of the Guest of Honour project. We are pleased to have such a diverse group of successful and talented authors and performers to showcase New Zealand at TIBE 2015.”

Paoping Huang, Director of TBFF says: “We look forward to welcoming the New Zealand writers, illustrators and performers to TIBE 2015.  The Visiting Author Programme will introduce new writers to Taiwanese readers, and welcome back some old friends.”
TIBE opens on Wednesday 11th February 2015 and closes on Monday 16th February. TIBE 2014 attracted almost half a million visitors and 648 publisher exhibitors from around the world. TBFF will offer free entry for students for the 2015 event.

The Guest of Honour Programme at TIBE 2015 is supported by Creative NZ, Education NZ, The Publishers Association of NZ, NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Franklin expedition ship discovered


Sir John Franklin led the two ships and 129 men in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic.

The expedition's disappearance shortly after became one of the great mysteries of the age of Victorian exploration.

After more than 160 years of searching to understand the fate of English explorer Sir John Franklin’s fabled arctic voyage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a Canadian team has located one of Franklin’s historic ships and solved one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries, informs Parks Canada.

Expedition sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, clearly show the wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Today's drabble

Today's drabble comes from Sallyann Sack, who also belongs to the Martha's Vineyard writers' group, but says she is "only a summer person."  It has been enormous fun, she says; the people are so warm and friendly (I can vouch for that, too), She returns home to New York soon, and hopes to find a similar group of writers, who maybe will get hooked into this drabble-writing fashion. And I assume that she is not the Sallyann of her story?


Bad Timing

Hot new singer Tony Bennett came to town. Members of The Cleveland Press Teen Board, including Sallyann, interviewed him. The telephone rang that night. It was Bennett’s manager. Tony wanted her to “do the town” with him.  As she excitedly asked parental permission, her father erupted from his chair. Grabbing the telephone, he bellowed his outrage. “She’s only sixteen. Find someone your own age, you cradle snatcher!”  Mortified and furious, Sallyann stormed to her room.

Twenty-five years later, in a Waldorf Astoria elevator, Sallyann again came face to face with Bennett. 

“Hello! Remember me?”

“Do you still want a date?”