Saturday, April 19, 2008

Time Enough At Last?

If I'm going to write about literature, libraries, bibliographies, it is obligatory to begin with some specific mentions.
  • Time Again At Last, episode8, season 1 of the Twilight Zone, aired on 20 November 1959. Always remembered, this dramatic depiction courses through the streambeds of my life in a particularly haunting manner. A man who wants to do nothing but read, at last given all the time in the world, in the end is deprived, by the shattering of his glasses. Who could not forgive you for downloading this in any manner possible?
  • Johann Gotthelf Fischer von Waldheim. (Link to article in German) Steven Jay Gould wrote a piece about him. I named my third son, Thomas Gotthelf Fisher after him. In brief, as Steven J. Gould relates in one of his columns in Natural History, he built up a medical school at Moscow University, the entire library---and every one of his personal books except one---were burned when Napoleon entered Moscow. His appeal to scientists around the world netted a 20,000 volume library in, if I recall correctly, a year or two. In my isolation in Chuuk Lagoon I was brought to tears by the story. What is my personal interest in this story? Briefly, almost all of my books, scientific specimens, instruments, and whatsoever, were lost in Chuuk, to Typhoon and Fire. Most of it will never be replaced. Who cares?
  • Libraries have been a personal bugaboo of mine, for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I remember almost always being late to return library books. I never received my University diploma, partly because over $1,500.00 in libary fines stood over my head. I had, you see, two faculty library cards in my wallet and I had been lax in returning the books I had checked out as a work study library researcher for these two professors.
  • I have recently been attempting to recover the literature for my MS Thesis research, begun in 1984 (24 years ago!). Most of it was lost in Chuuk. Who knows where it all went. I have been living in a purgatory of sorts, a well trained and competent library researcher, with no access to books.
In 2008, one can happily report, it is becoming easier and easier to access literature on the Internet. There are problems, however. The yield per unit of effort is abysmal, even still. And despite much good literature now being available free online, as pdf files, most of it is not. One's interests are necessarily forced by what is available to him.

Yet, in an endeavor such as mine---retrieval of specific important historical papers---the gates are all too often closed. Jstor tries to own the world---can't we attempt to bring a class action suit against Jstor when they attempt to charge 32.00 or maybe more for a paper that the publisher has available free on line? And to charge 52.00 for a paper written by a scientist who has been dead for 100 years? Gads!

So I am gathering together the references, getting what I can off the Inet, and trying to find other ways, perhaps through a friend. If I am fortunate enough to visit the North American continent this summer, perhaps I'll be able to do some diligent literature searches.

For now, I have started experimenting with various ways of handling references for bibtex, the bibliography component of LaTeX, the markup/typesetting macro language I am using for virtually all of my writing. I will forego the discussion of LaTeX. See the TeX User's Group site.

I have been experimenting with the following (not in order):
  1. a number of utility programs for manipulating bibtex citation data bases.
  2. gbib
  3. kbib
  4. kbibtex
  5. Jabref
  6. Referencer
  7. Emacs bibtex mode
  8. Pybliographer
  9. cb2Bib
I have been amazed at the outcome of these experiments; but as yet I have not been able to get my head around the best of them. They do more than I could have ever imagined, and I'm not sure how.

In future posts I will review mainly for the following:
  1. kbibtex,
  2. JabRef
  3. cb2Bib, and
  4. Emacs BibTeX mode.
Referencer is also interesting, but the file format is not as easily compatible. I will continue to experiment with it, but as it stands, it is not a serious contender.

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