Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

3 September, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: The Conclusion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Although this little project will probably never reach a completely finished state, I’m aiming to wrap up talking about it in this post – at least for now.

After a bit of back and forth, I decided to keep a category for General Works, and forego Applied Sciences, based on an educated guess as to what sort of books I might end up owning one day. That leaves me with the following top-level:

  1. General Works
  2. Formal Sciences
  3. Natural Sciences
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Philosophy
  6. Religion
  7. History
  8. Language
  9. Literature
  10. Arts

Although some of these aren’t very applicable to my current collection, I want it robust enough for future growth. Now comes the hard part – sensible subcategories. For the sciences, it actually wasn’t all that hard – Wikipedia has good lists of the various branches of science, look at Natural science for example, so I simply copied them over.

Although I ended up with ten top-level categories, this will not be a decimal system. The top-level will be identified by number, but after that the categories are identified by letter. Add an initial marker for non-fiction, and the final code will end up looking something like N-7CE-J.

I won’t go through every single category here, it would take too much space, but let’s look at Religion and History. I’ve attempted to find a balance between topics big enough to stand on their own, and topics that can be grouped roughly according to geography.

5. Religion 6. History
  1. Religious Studies
  2. Abrahamic Religions
    1. Judaism
    2. Christianity
    3. Islam
  3. Indian Religions
    1. Hinduism
    2. Buddhism
    3. Jainism
    4. Sikhism
  4. European Religions
    1. Greek Mythology
    2. Roman Mythology
    3. Celtic Mythology
    4. Norse Mythology
    5. Sami Religion
  5. African Religions
  6. Middle-Eastern Religions
    1. Mesopotamian Religion
    2. Egyptian Religion
    3. Zoroastrianism
  7. Asian Religions
    1. East-Asian Religions
      1. Taoism
      2. Confucianism
      3. Shinto
  8. Oceanic Religions
    1. Australian Religion
  9. American Religions
    1. North-American Religions
    2. Mesoamerican Religions
    3. South-American Religions
  10. New Religious Movements
  1. Historiography
  2. Archaeology and Pre-History
  3. Ancient History
  4. Eurasian History
    1. European History
    2. Asian History
    3. Middle-Eastern History
  5. African History
    1. North-African History
  6. Oceanic History
  7. American History
    1. North-American History
    2. Mesoamerican History
    3. South-American History
  8. Biographies

You can see the general idea, I think. For Religion there are a couple of categories encompassing some of the biggest currently active religions, and then geographic categories to encompass religions that aren’t universal in scope and to a greater degree limited to a single area.

In History, Eurasia is collapsed into a single super-category, to account for books that span the whole of it, and then subdivided for more specificity. That’s the general idea behind the whole system, of course, I can always subdivide a category further to get a more specific category. Hierarchy ftw, as they say. I have made no effort whatsoever to maintain equality in the hierarchy across top-level categories, because there are limits even to my madness. With the geographical division, I have tried to find the balance between purely geographical and cultural groupings – it is no accident that the Middle-East and North Africa end up next to each other on the shelf.

And this is how it goes, basically. Literature will also be divided geographically, I think, with a general literary theory category on top. Languages will be divided among major language families, and then subdivided as their genealogy goes. For the Arts, I turn again to Wikipedia for neat subdivisions – the Norwegian Wikipedia had a curious list which I quite liked, so it has both painting, music and architecture, as well as comics, cooking and role-playing games beneath it.

Like I said, this won’t ever be done, there’s always room for more subdivision and precision and clarification, but I think I am approaching something that’s usable. There are still some top-level categories to flesh out, and I want to work it all into a notation that will allow me to sort my book database accurately in the same order as they appear on the shelves – even the fiction – but I am getting there.

But for now, I’ll shut up about it.

30 August, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: But I Try

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

OK, so let’s look at top-level categories. You’ll remember the MDS from last time, but let me line it up with some other systems as well, just to get an idea of the variation.

Melvil Decimal System Universal Decimal Classification Library of Congress Classification Bliss bibliographic classification
  1. General Works and Information Sciences
  2. Philosophy and Psychology
  3. Religion
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Language
  6. Mathematics and Science
  7. Applied Sciences and Technology
  8. Arts and Leisure
  9. Literature
  10. Biography and History
  1. Science and Knowledge. Organization. Computer Science. Information. Documentation. Librarianship. Institutions. Publications
  2. Philosophy. Psychology
  3. Religion. Theology
  4. Social Sciences
  5. empty
  6. Mathematics. Natural Sciences
  7. Applied Sciences. Medicine, Technology
  8. The Arts. Recreation. Entertainment. Sport
  9. Language, Linguistics, Literature
  10. Geography, Biography, History
A – General Works
B – Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion
C – Auxiliary Sciences of History
D – General and Old World History
E – History of America
F – History of the United States and British, Dutch, French, and Latin America
G – Geography, Anthropology, and Recreation
H – Social Sciences
J – Political Science
K – Law
L – Education
M – Music
N – Fine Arts
P – Language and Literature
Q – Science
R – Medicine
S – Agriculture
T – Technology
U – Military Science
V – Naval Science
Z – Bibliography, Library Science, and General Information Resources
2/9 – Generalia, Phenomena, Knowledge, Information science & technology
A/AL – Philosophy & Logic
AM/AX – Mathematics, Probability, Statistics
AY/B – General science, Physics
C – Chemistry
D – Astronomy and earth sciences
DG/DY – Earth sciences
E/GQ – Biological sciences
GR/GZ – Applied biological sciences: agriculture and ecology
H – Physical Anthropology, Human biology, Health sciences
I – Psychology & Psychiatry
J – Education
K – Society (includes Social sciences, sociology & social anthropology)
L/O – History (including area studies, travel and topography, and biography)
LA – Archaeology
P – Religion, Occult, Morals and ethics
Q – Social welfare & Criminology
R – Politics & Public administration
S – Law
T – Economics & Management of economic enterprises
U/V – Technology and useful arts (including household management and services)
W – The Arts
WV/WX – Music
X/Y – Language and literature
ZA/ZW – Museology

It all adds up to quite the mouthful. And they’ve got some pretty different notations, too – I don’t know what’s going on with Bliss. To get way ahead of myself, I think maybe using the alphabet is a good idea, just for the extra room it gives you to expand – although the UDC has left a whole number unused by collapsing subjects into others. Combining language and literature certainly isn’t for me. So what do they all have in common, then? Can I draw out some main topics?

  • Philosophy
    • Grouped with Psychology (or Logic, in Bliss)
  • Religion
    • Grouped with Philosophy in LoC
  • Social Sciences
  • Language
    • Frequently combined with Literature, but screw that!
  • Literature
  • Mathematics
    • Generally grouped with Science, specifically Natural Sciences
  • Arts and Recreation
  • History and Biography
  • Geography
  • And they all have some sort of General Stuff-category

Some of them divide sciences and history further on the top-level, but my instinct is to go as broad as I can for the top-level, and go for greater granularity later. I’m actually tempted to go for just a Science top-level – Wikipedia organises its articles into Formal, Physical, Life, Social and Applied Sciences, and that seems like a good subdivision of a big field to me. Of course, I immediately get into trouble, as Linguistics should then be a Social Science, but I want Language on the top-level. Dangit.

OK, let me compare these pulled out with my own tentative categories, then.

General Works
Social Sciences
Natural Sciences
Arts and Recreation
History and Biography


I actually quite like this boiled-down list. Let me redo my list a bit, and see if I get a top-level I can work with, and throw in some of the rest as sub-levels just to see how it’d work.

  1. General Works
  2. Formal Sciences
    • Mathematics
  3. Natural Sciences
    • Geography
  4. Social Sciences
    • Politics
    • Education
  5. Philosophy
  6. Religion
  7. Language
  8. Literature
  9. Art
    • Food
    • Music
  10. History
    • Biography

That even shook out to ten! I’m not sure if I should be happy about that; if I go with these as top-level, I’ll obviously use numbers, and leave myself no room to expand. And I’ve surely overlooked something. And what are General Works, really? Like, encyclopaedias and stuff? Do they even sell print versions of those to private consumers any more? It seems like a good category to have, you know, “stuff”, but I don’t know that I’d really use it. Maybe I should have some sort of Applied Sciences instead – though it’s not like I’ll use that much either. I think this set-up will pretty much work for my current books, though… I think I’m on to something here.

27 August, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: Classification Redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

About six months ago, I complained about my dissatisfaction with the Dewey Decimal System as an organisational tool. I bitched and moaned about its nonsensical hierarchy, and generally expressed a desire for something that made a bit more sense for organising my shelves.

While I’ve managed to keep quiet about it since, the dissatisfaction remains, simmering away out of sight, and bubbling up every now and then – usually when I look at my shelves. Now we’re in August, the start of a new semester, and with it comes a whole bunch of new non-fiction books. This is when the dissatisfaction boils over.

Proper classification systems are a lot of work and a lot of planning and a lot of careful considerations. That’s why there are professional librarians who do it, and why the people who own the big systems charge a good deal of money for licensing them. I have, reluctantly, conceded that a system of organising my own shelves does not need to be universal in scope. If I trim it to the bone, it really only needs to cover the books I own – though I do want it to be open enough to accommodate topics which I currently do not own any books in. So, forging ahead in ignorance, without any classification experience or qualifications, I am trying to make myself a system I can live with. This post will be partly what I have done already, and partly me doing it on the fly; let’s see where I end up.

I started with making little digital cards, with book titles on them – one for each non-fiction book I own. I then started sorting them into piles based on the broadest categories I could think of. This resulted in seven clear categories – History, Religion, Literature, Education, Philosophy, Language and Food (I own a single cook book).

Some of these probably shouldn’t be top-level. I’m looking at you, Food. There are some books left over which I have not quite decided where to put – do my books on comics go with literature, or should there be an art-category, or should comics finally get to be their own thing? The Communist Manifesto doesn’t feel like it belongs in History, should I have a category for economics, or maybe politics? Should The Federalist Papers and the US constitution, in that case, go into that bag, or should there be one for law? Do Michael Moore’s political satire go in with politics, or does it belong with the other humorous non-fiction I own? I guess I did put the satirical literary history in with the rest of literature. And what about my two quote collections?

Say I do add Politics and Art. Let me compare my categories to the tags I have used for these books on LibraryThing. I’ll line up the top twenty tags that describe contents with my proposed categories.

religion (44)
history (36)
ancient (18)
Christianity (18)
classic (16)
mythology (16)
epic (15)
literature (13)
Greece (12)
linguistics (11)
language (9)
Rome (8)
America (7)
Bible (7)
Antiquity (6)
English (6)
humour (6)
American (5)
biography (5)
empires (5)

Several of these tags aren’t really all that useful on their own – that’s the beauty of tags, they can work together to paint a more complex picture than a single subject label can. That’s also what makes them less than ideal for shelving systems. Books tagged Greece or Rome or America could easily be literature, religion or history, with no way of telling from that one tag itself. Tags like Christianity and mythology obviously belong as a subset of Religion. After talking the matter over with a friend, I also grouped biographies under History. The politics tag didn’t make the list, but it has five books associated with it, while art only has one.

I think it would be a good idea to look at how other systems do it – even if I am trying to tailor-make something for my own collection, there’s no reason to struggle to reinvent the wheel. Melvil Dewey’s top-level goes something like this:

  1. General Works and Information Sciences
  2. Philosophy and Psychology
  3. Religion
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Language
  6. Mathematics and Science
  7. Applied Sciences and Technology
  8. Arts and Leisure
  9. Literature
  10. Biography and History

Education would go under Social Sciences in this system, as would Politics and, indeed, economics. Food would go under Applied Sciences and Technology, which admittedly makes cooking sound pretty bad-ass, but I’m not quite sure about that particular delegation.

This isn’t a project that will be finished in this post. I think I need to look up some other classification systems, and compare more top-levels, before I hash out which ones I think make sense, but I want to do as much of the process as possible in public, so that others can let me know when I’ve done something dumb.  I think I’ll pause here for now, and go do some reading.

15 March, 2012

I Am Not a Theologian: Literally

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As I sit down to write this, I feel very keenly my lack of learning. I am going to try to say something useful based on opinions that may not be as fully founded as I think they are, and I feel I should admit that up front, so as to defuse my potentially grievous errors before they crop up. Despite these misgivings though, I am going to share some of my half-arsed musings on the divine and internet-assembled philosophy, and hope I manage to convey my point despite my limitations.

I read an article today which said that only 1 in 4 Norwegian Christian leaders interpret the Bible literally. This was presented as if it were some kind of shocking fact, which I suppose it is – I was a bit shocked that the number was that high.

The article did not differentiate based on denomination, it spanned both state church Lutherans and free church pentecostals and probably some other communities as well. I’m from a Lutheran background myself, so I don’t really know too much about what is taught in other denominations, but the idea of taking the creation story literally seems so alien to me. It is the sort of fundamentalism I hear of in the news from the US, thinking those opinions would never be held here. Yet, one in four leaders do hold them! I don’t get it.

I especially don’t get the argument given in the article, that you should read the Bible literally to protect you faith. The man interviewed gives the example of Swedes who lose their faith when confronted with evolution; to avoid this result, one must apparently cling to the literal truth of Genesis. What? How does that make any sense? Only if you do take Genesis literally does science and evolution become a problem. If you assume, reasonably, that the point of the story is not to give a literal account but to convey an underlying truth, there is no conflict.  Why cannot evolution be the literal means of creation?

When it comes to the creation story in particular you encounter problems when taking it literally, because there’s actually two creation stories, right next to each other in Genesis. And they don’t agree. One says there was only water before creation, the other that there was a desolate wasteland. Both cannot be literal truth – another argument for reading them as metaphors, in my opinion.

It must be hard to be a fundamentalist. I certainly don’t understand how it can be maintained. I also don’t understand why fundamentalists get to call themselves the conservatives – Fundamentalism is fairly recent idea. The Catholic church has certainly always held that Scripture is not the sole authority of Faith, but always tempered with the tradition of the Church. QI informed me that the Church of England was quite positive towards Darwin’s theories when he first made them, as they had long tried to encourage a metaphorical reading – but less positive about the harsh and loveless existence implied in survival of the fittest.

As for my own church tradition, Luther did insist on Scripture as the sole authority – but was far from being a fundamentalist. He assigned the various books of the Bible – which is not one book, no matter how many times we claim it is – varying degrees of authority depending on their subject. Only that which pointed towards the essential truth of the loving Christ was considered truly true.

And just to have an aside regarding the main character himself: Jesus, of course, is famous for never speaking in metaphors …

I don’t think much of the Bible was meant to be taken as a literal, historical account. Even the Gospels are less concerned with the sequence of actual events and more with the point they’re trying to convey. History as a discipline or genre didn’t really exist then as it does today, and it is futile to impose our views of academic texts on writings which were never intended to be read that way.

When it comes to the pointless opposition between evolution and creationism, I always return to this quote by St. Augustine, which I’ll use to round off this rambling. I don’t agree with everything Augustine said, not by far, but in this case he’s hit the bullseye:

In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said, “I send you the Holy Spirit so that he might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon.” The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature.

Contra Felicem Manichaeum

9 February, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: Damn It, Dewey!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As you might have noticed, I am a big fan of books – both in the abstract and as the physical object. I am also a big fan of systems and organisation. This might not be readily apparent to anyone peeking at my floors, but in my bookshelves order reigns supreme. I am also an avid LibraryThing user, which lets me keep a catalogue of my books which approaches a library standard. This helps me organise them, and with tags I can have all subjects well described.

That’s an organisation of ideas, though. Tags can tell me what a book is about, in general, but they are not very well suited to shelving. For that bastion of order, I need to use something else. Currently, my shelves are separated into three sections – once by format, then by content. Comics are separated from the prose books, which are in turn divided into fiction and non-fiction. Actually, since Understanding Comics is in the non-fiction section, I suppose it is more accurate to say that my shelves are divided into fiction and non-fiction, and fiction further subdivided by format.

Fiction is easy; it’s shelved alphabetically by author. Non-fiction is where it gets complicated. Shelving by author doesn’t really satisfy me there – I want books grouped by general topic, in an orderly fashion, by a real system. Enter the Dewey Decimal Classification. No, Dewey is too copyrighted for thorough discussion, let’s talk about the Melvil Decimal System instead. They’re both based on the work of Melvil Dewey, who I imagine felt some of the same desires I do for orderly shelves. I’m sure you have at least passing familiarity with his concept.  I’m no librarian; I have no training in library science or in classification, which I imagine is a lot more work, requiring a lot more patience, than it would seem on the surface. LibraryThing draws data about my books from libraries, however, so most of them have already been placed neatly into order in the DDC – whose numbers translate easily into MDS – by qualified professionals.

The problem is that Dewey’s system sucks. It doesn’t make any sense. The logic behind it is obscure, and the attitudes it codifies are out-dated and extremely ethnocentric. Let’s just look at the 2-range: Religion. These are the divisions Melvil thought necessary for books concerning religion:

  • 20 – Religion
  • 21 – Natural Theology; Secularism
  • 22 – Bible
  • 23 – Doctrinal Theology
  • 24 – Devotional; Practical
  • 25 – Pastoral Theology
  • 26 –  Church; Institutions; Work
  • 27 –  Christian History
  • 28 –  Christian Churches and Sects
  • 29 –  Non-Christian Religions

That’s not Christianity, that’s Religion. A whole big lot about Christianity, and a single section set aside for the rest of the world’s religions. No good. I am also not wild about the way the Bible is classed alongside books about Christianity, while The Homeric Hymns end up in the Literature section rather than with the rest of Greek mythology. It makes little sense to me.

Another problem area is the 4-range, Language. There are a couple of sections set aside for general linguistics, and then English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek get their own sections, with the rest shoved into 49 – Other Languages. Norwegian is filed under German, while the equally Germanic English gets its own section. Latin has a section of its own, while three other Romance languages get one as well. It makes no sense, at least not today. Presumably, it made sense to Dewey.

I really want a more logical system I can use. I suppose it technically doesn’t even need to be robust enough for a public library. I have made some small attempts at making something logical, but it is no easy task – no wonder Librarians go to school for this kind of thing. I had some high hopes for the Open Shelves Classification, but that ended up not really going anywhere, so here I sit still.

It is a bit silly, I suppose. The MDS works, sort of, and the books are all in the shelf. I suppose I could just put them in willy nilly, based on what feels right at the time, but every fiber of me objects to such a chaotic approach. I’m sure there are smart people out there working on classification systems. The DDC is aggressively copyrighted, and its flaws well known, so alternatives are desired by people who are not me. Guess I’ll just have to wait, though I’m going to whine about it. I’m not a librarian, you see. I’m no good at being patient.

2 February, 2012

I Am Not a Computer Guy: Technicalities

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

So far, the image of me presented here has been one of a hopeless Luddite, and I feel I should try to shake that off ever so slightly. I am actually kind of a fan of technology. I think gadgets are cool, like bow ties. Liking technology isn’t the same as knowing technology, a distinction I think I ought to make right away; I am only computer savvy when compared to my parents. On the Izzard technology spectrum, I am much closer to joy than to fear, though I do occasionally consult manuals. Sure, my desktop computer is currently not actually working, but I’m sure that wasn’t really my fault!

As a kid, I experimented a bit, learning very basic html, which I suppose has stayed with me. I’ve kept that up, and learned equally basic css, but never enough to be really good at it. I’m the kind of guy who knows just enough to be dangerous – I know how to go in and change things until it’s all messed up.

I’ve gotten better at balancing on that edge, though. With sufficient instructions, I’ve managed to make this blog look more or less how I want it, even though it required some messing about in code to do it. I managed to get the blockquote, seen in use in the previous post, to look good, at any rate. For the most part, though, I was happy to let the theme and WordPress do most of the work for me.

WordPress has changed a bit since the last time I tried blogging, gotten quite a bit more advanced. There’s all sorts of nifty new features I want to play with – like the whole widget set-up. So much simpler than fiddling about in codes. The standard set is fairly simple, but I think there are plenty of plugins providing extra functionality, and I am greatly looking forwards to experimenting with them and I have just become the Luddite lurching parodically into the present again, haven’t I?

Well, never mind. I still find the whole thing cool. I bet there are loads of interesting features I haven’t even found yet, and good uses for the ones I have found which I haven’t figured out yet. Even if I do share Patrick Rothfuss’s vague disappointment in the Omega button.

Beyond the world of websites, I am, as I said, fond of gadgets. My enthusiasm for my new phone a few posts back should prove that. I don’t have an iPad or some other kind of tablet, but it is mainly because I cannot justify the expense compared to the need. I already have a phone and a laptop, and unless they both break at the same time, I doubt I’ll get a tablet. Unless I win one. But give me a gadget, and I will find it cool.

So there, I am not opposed to technology. Not all of it anyway. I have techno joy. Now, if I could just find a twitter widget that filtered out replies, I would be all set.

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