FRBR, Lojban, and culling my book collection

Day 94: This is Home.As a prerequisite for moving this spring (due to impending renovations by the new owners of our apartment building), my husband and I have been culling our book collection. The process of getting rid of books has, strangely enough, gotten me thinking a lot about Lojban, FRBR (the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records), and an endearingly dorky t-shirt I picked up in Library and Information Science grad school (which reads I love Works Expressions Manifestations Items Books.)

Earlier this year I discovered Lojban, and was quickly taken with its methods for disambiguating language, particularly written language which can't benefit from intonation. In contrast to blunt instruments used for some degree of disambiguation on-line (emoticons, "j/k", "LOL", etc.), Lojban has an elaborate system of attitudinal and emotional indicators. A sentence like "there's a meeting" can be given entirely different shades, depending on the emotional marker. A'o indicates despair, aucu'i indicates indifference, i'e indicates approval, etc.

In the Lojbanic spirit, I began to consider the following: when I decide to keep a "book", and check it into LibraryThing (yes, I'll confess to checking in my own books to my own library catalog), what is it that I want to keep? And I thought of FRBR. My dorky t-shirt may dismiss each level of FRBR, and settle on simply loving "books", but given the many ways we use the word colloquially, it's quite ambiguous. There are examples for each of the FRBR "group 1 entities", where we've kept books primarily on those grounds:


Many of the books we've kept are purely for the sake of the Work (a "distinct intellectual or artistic creation.") The information contained in Atlasi dialektologjik i gjuhës shqipe is useful, and we want to have access to it. If there were Manifestations available that were reasonably easy to use, and didn't require us hauling around a bound collection of paper, we would probably have gotten rid of it. As it stands, that's exactly what happened with our mass-market sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. In the last few months, we both acquired Kindles. Realizing that A) we'd probably prefer to read those Works on the Kindle, and B) there is a Kindle (or Kindle-compatible) Manifestation of all those Works, we decided to get rid of books we'd previously been intending to keep.


Literature translated into languages other than English makes up the bulk of the books we've kept because of the Expression ("the specific intellectual or artistic form that a work takes each time it is ‘realized'".) We got rid of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but kept Harry Potter dhe guri filozofal (Albanian). Спутник Љубов (Macedonian) is going to fare better than Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart if we run low on boxes. We've kept one English-translated Expression of a Work we can read in the original (this collection of poems by Anna Akhmatova) simply because the translation is awful; sometimes a failed Expression makes for an interesting Expression.


There aren't many books that we've kept because of the Manifestation. One of the only examples that comes to mind is Древненовгородский диалект. While PDFs identical to the book are available on-line, there's still something nice about flipping through the paper copy.


IB EnglishMost of the books that we haven't kept because of the Work itself are still on our shelves because of the Item ("a single exemplar of a manifestation. The entity defined as item is a concrete entity"). These are Items with sentimental value, ranging from birthday gifts to tattered companions from high school IB English. Many of the books that we're keeping because of the Work also have value as Items, due to some fond memory of their acquisition (like the massively heavy book we found at the bookstore of Vilnius University, after my husband snuck me past the security guard, and we lugged around all day through streets filled with Scots in kilts in town for some big soccer game that night, past a street fair with some guys dressed as Native Americans and "playing" South American pan flute music, and it was worth it because the content was so cool).

FRBR meets Kindle

As we've been phasing out paper copies of mass-market fiction in favor of reading on the Kindle, I started considering FRBR in the context of e-books, which seem to pose some non-trivial challenges for the model. I read e-books on my phone on the bus ride to work, and on my Kindle before bed and on weekends, but I have to download the files to each device separately. If I flash a new ROM on my phone, DRM restrictions don't allow me to use the files that are already on my phone's SD card-- I have to re-download those same files for the Kindle app to work. Have I then read two different Items on my phone, before and after I flash the new ROM? Typeface and page layout don't differentiate Expressions, but they should matter for Manifestations (think large print edition); if I decide to increase the text size on my Kindle, am I reading a new Manifestation even though it's the same Item?

Googling around, I came across an analysis of the situation, "How Many Books Dance on the Head of an e-Pin?":

[T]hat may be where we’re headed — toward a world that can’t presume items or manifestations, but only list expressions of works. Or perhaps we should evacuate some of the detail from “manifestation” in order to provide an appropriate silence on the issues involved.

I think there's some intuitive weight behind treating the Expression as the core form of a "book". I don't usually think twice about paying for different Expressions of a Work, except in cases where the new intellectual contribution is minor or not of interest to me, such as a new introduction. But I can't deny feeling some qualms buying a Kindle book when I already own a paper copy because my gut says "it's the same thing", even though my MLS says otherwise.

Sulking VityaStill, I think something useful would be lost by eliminating granularity beyond the Expression. A scanned PDF from a printed Manifestation and a Kindle Manifestation with the very same text differ, at the very least, in the fact that the PDF will have page numbers if they weren't cut off by the scanner, and the Kindle will not-- at least, not until a future software update, which can't come soon enough. Perhaps FRBR should adapt to cope with the fact that typography is malleable in many e-book formats, and changes in typography (and whatever takes the place of "pages") shouldn't affect the Manifestation. The Item, too, has value as an independent entity; my Item (file) of a PDF Manifestation can become corrupted, and I can see the desirability of being able to identify that corrupted file specifically. "Evacuating detail" from Manifestation to Expression isn't enough.

At least for now, e-books are staying out of my LibraryThing, saving me from having to consider what level of abstraction I'd be cataloging. U'inai* I've got no shortage of printed Items to sort through and pack up in the next month and a half-- 2,450 of them, and counting.

* Lojban emotive marker for weariness.


Please, please, please, please

Translation Party (which takes an English phrase, translates it into Japanese, then back into English, then back into Japanese until an equilibrium is reached) had its 15 minutes of fame some months ago, but only today did the thought occur to apply it to excerpts from my husband's dissertation.

Regrettably, the following sentence won't ever achieve equilibrium:

The precise chronology of the expansion of Ottoman control over the areas under discussion in this study varies; in particular it may be noted that the establishment of Ottoman control over central Albania was delayed by some decades by the local resistance movement of Skanderbeg (see Schmitt 2009 for a recent and comprehensive treatment).

Every time you run it through, it yields a slightly different bizarre final result before it gives up:

We Skanderbeg Schmidt, DC, rather than Tashi that I have to respect the Albanians (you Uiruosuman itself is being paid to the discussion of the empire of the benefits of heart region 2009 Please change the rules to another Pavilion must have been established is) his many decades, please visit the pits to the pits please could slow down the comprehensive treatment of the resistance potential, please local time, I Please refer to the Ottoman Empire should be used.

Itadakemasen response Ottoman rule, doctors, overarching goal of the Albanian Skanderbeg decades Schmidt refractory to please, please see the rewards of appreciation. In this paper, (range), please describe the specific end, the exact time, 2009 Tasaosuman Imperial Regional Center will be established. To extend the rules to please be delayed.

In this paper, the Ottoman 2009 Ottoman Albanian Skanderbeg (Schmitt, proposed space in the heart of comprehensive treatment for most), please correct control sequences to skip resistance and local control can be established. I need to please please please please refer to delay debate to give can call the change.

In 2009, the center of resistance in general, Skanderbeg Schmidt, Albania, Jinari response, if necessary, asking for decades is believed to please please see your local post . To change the precision of control can be said to extend a particular area of the Ottoman Empire. Treatment (time), he said. We are said to have spread to establish the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

In this paper, in 2009, many decades, Albania, subject to control in order to change the correct time. See under debate, resistance to develop a comprehensive treatment of the Ottoman Empire (a Rurushumittoosuman Skanderbeg in the heart of delaying the presentation of the empire built-in) so please please please please please.

During this period, Albania decades Yes, the rules Skanderbeg and debate the Ottoman Empire, precise treatment, in certain regions when Schmidt, in this paper, Center for the Ottoman Empire (the local rules of the Empire State and their extension gradually many) that has been established, please please please refer to 2009.

Albania, local time Skanderbeg, Schmidt, today's report, the purpose of treatment (if necessary, can grant an extension of the work area of the Ottoman Empire Shock Naka.) Ottoman Empire was established 10 years Comprehensive strict rules please please please please refer to the year 2009, he said.


Android fleece hat

Android hatLast week was miserably cold in Chicago, so over the weekend I set about making a winter hat. I had some bright green fleece lying around, so it turned into an Android head. From start to finish, it didn't take more than an hour and a half.

What you need

  • Bright green fleece (amount depends on your head size, should be less than a yard)
  • A very small amount of white fleece (one strip about 12" wide and 1/2" high, and two small circles for eyes)
  • Optional: enough contrasting fabric to cut two 6" x 5" pieces for the outside of the ear flaps
  • Bright green thread
  • White thread


  • Measure the circumference of your head, and add 3 inches; this will be the length of the hat band.
  • One of four Android panelsDivide the hat band measurement by 4, then add 1; this will be the width of each triangle.
  • Example: My head measures 23", so my hat band needs to be 26" long. 26" / 4 = 6.5" + 1 = 7.5", so each triangle will be 7.5" wide.

Cutting the pieces

  • Cut a strip of green fleece 6" tall, and as long as your hat band measurement.
  • Cut 4 green fleece triangles that are 7" tall, with the width you've calculated above
  • Cut 4 U-shaped pieces of green fleece, 1" wide and 3" tall, for the antennae.
  • Cut 4 U-shaped pieces of green fleece, 5" wide and 6" tall, for the ear flaps (optional)
  • Cut 2 strips of green fleece, 1.5" wide and 10" long, for the chin ties (optional)
  • Cut 2 U-shaped pieces of contrasting fabric, 5" wide and 6" tall, for the outside of the ear flaps (even more optional)
  • Cut two small (1/2" diameter) circles of white fleece
  • Cut one 1/2" strip of white fleece, about 12" long (or shorter, if you want a smaller mouth)

Straight lineNote: I cut the triangles with rounded edges (see above), which gave the hat little points on each side. To avoid giving the Android a nose, I had to fix it after sewing the front pieces together by sewing a straight line, instead of along the edge (see right). If I did it again, I'd cut it with straight edges.

Sewing the pieces

  • Take two antenna pieces and pin them, right-side together. Stitch all the way around the U, keeping the bottom open. Repeat for the other antenna.
  • Attaching an antennaTurn the antennae inside out.
  • Take two triangles (#1 and #2) and pin one edge, right-side together. Stitch along that edge.
  • Take a third triangle, and pin one edge, right-side together, to the free edge of triangle #1.
  • Pin one of the antennae 2" from the top, so that the majority of the antenna is on the inside with the right sides of the fabric (see right).
  • Attaching Android eyesStitch the edge of triangles #1 and #3 together, attaching the antenna between the two.
  • Repeat, stitching triangles #2 and #4 together, attaching the second antenna between.
  • Pin and sew the eye-circles to the right sides of triangles #3 and #4, about 2" below the antennae.
  • Pin triangles #3 and #4, right-side together, and stitch them.
  • Fold the hat band in half lengthwise, wrong-side together, so the band is 3" wide.
  • Fold the hat band in half width-wise, right-side together, and stitch the ends together to form a circle.
  • Pin the right side of the hat band to the right side of the hat body, so the seam in the hat band aligns with the seam in the back of the hat body, and stitch all the way around to attach them.

Ear flaps

Adding the chin strings

  • If you want to add ear flaps, pin two of the fleece ear flap pieces, and one chin strap together (see right), and stitch around the U, leaving the top open.
  • If you want to have a contrasting fabric for the outside of the ear flaps (I used some scraps of Android fabric from another project), put the contrasting fabric between the two pieces of fleece, and stitch.
  • Turn the stitched ear flaps inside-out. If you're using a contrasting fabric, it should be facing out.
  • Stitch the top of the ear flaps to the inner seam connecting the hat band and the body of the hat, positioned to line up with the ears. (On my hat, the ear flaps start 3" on either side of the back seam.)


Android ear flapsDay 24: Happy Android Hat

The Google Android Robot has been shared by Google using the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License, and this tutorial is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Feel free to repost or modify it (as long as you credit me) or sell the resulting hats if you'd like.


In memoriam: Rick Peterson

Rick Peterson at Project Bamboo Workshop 4I was deeply saddened to get word that Rick Peterson, CTO of Washington & Lee University, passed away yesterday evening after a long and difficult battle with brain cancer. Rick (right, with Dick Kuettner at Bamboo Workshop 4) was an indefatigable supporter of improving scholarship and teaching through the judicious use of technology, and was one of the strongest representatives of small liberal arts colleges at the Project Bamboo workshops where I met him. Since 2008, I've worked with him and his college friend/German professor Kent Hooper, of the University of Puget Sound, on a bibliographic listing of secondary sources related to Ernst Barlach.

To this day, Kent describes himself as the "worst case scenario faculty member" for digital humanities, though now that's hardly fair, thanks to Rick's influence. Kent knew the basics of word processing software, e-mail, and web browsing (though I had to introduce him to browser tabs), and was planning on publishing his bibliography-- which represents over 20 years of work-- as a set of printed tome. But Rick dissuaded Kent, convincing him that for this resource to last and reach as many people as possible, TEI was the route to take.

Project Bamboo took on Kent's bibliography as a demonstrator project, and I worked with Rick and Kent for over a year to generate XSLT for the bibliographic sub-listings, with the help of Jacob Jett from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rick always knew when to chime in with helpful technical suggestions or a reality check. But he wouldn't settle for "just good enough"-- we had a pre-generated HTML version of the bibliography posted on-line, but in such a format, all the files would need to be re-created and replaced every time Kent added a new resource to the bibliography. We had talked about dynamically generating the pages using Cocoon's XSLT processing, but development stalled.

The last time I spoke with him over the phone, in September 2010, he asked about "Barlach 2.0" again. It's not quite live yet, but I finished the work this fall and put together a screencast of dynamically-generated Barlach listings running on Ubuntu in mid-December. I'm grateful he had a chance to see it.

Pete and HoopsRick didn't let others' indecision stand in the way of making progress towards a good cause. Between Bamboo workshops 4 and 5 (April - June 2009), he independently hired a developer from San Francisco, brought him out to Virginia, and in three weeks had him do a mockup of the "Bamboo Exchange"-- a "Craigslist" for digital humanities. To me, it was one of the most striking demonstrations in the entire Bamboo process of how much "cyberinfrastructure" a single person can build in a short time if they stop hand-wringing, acknowledge that what they build will change, and just jump in and do something that people can respond to and build on. Even though the "Bamboo Exchange" thread was dropped from the final Bamboo Technology Proposal, the same idea re-emerged as a possible direction for a National Collaboration for Digital Humanities grant put together by small liberal arts colleges. It's a development I'd love to see-- the aspect of Bamboo that Rick so believed in, that he believed (I think rightly) could make such a difference for small liberal arts colleges' abilities to undertake projects that require specialized expertise for a short period of time-- finally coming to fruition.

Nothing I've said here comes close to conveying the essence of Rick Peterson. His friendship with Kent was what college students dream of their relationship being with their closest friends, 30 years down the road, but it's something so few achieve. He had a smile and a sincere kind word for everyone, even those of us with no particular status or influence. He was the kind of person to insist on taking a grad student out to a nice meal, and talking to them as an equal. Rick was passionate about his job, but it was his compassion and enormous heart that really set him apart. He was a force for good, both on the professional and the human level, and I will miss his light.



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