Thursday, October 22, 2015

The New Yorker Archive Stinks

That's a bold statement. "The New Yorker Archive Stinks." Sadly, to this researcher, it's true. For ninety years The New Yorker has brought us some of America's best magazine writing, from folks like: Roald Dahl, Roger Angell, James Thurber, Ken Auletta, Rachel Caron, E.B. White, A.J. Liebling, Pauline Kael, J.D. Salinger, Calvin Trillin, and a string of illustrious "Johns" (Updike, Cheever, Hersey, Lahr, McPhee, O'Hara).

So why am I saying the archive stinks? Because its search function is a rudimentary folly of little use to serious researchers. To wit: you can enter only a single search line, like a single name. You cannot use dates. You cannot use additional terms on that line. I'll show you what I mean.

Let's do a search for one of my favorite authors, Roger Angell, whose take on the machinations of baseball are legendary. My mission: to find the first story he ever published in the magazine.


So I type his name into the search bar. The function defaults to This Issue, and you can see that Angell had no pieces in the December 28, 1963 edition.

I have to now click the red Complete Archive box to see all entries for Mr. Angell.


Ah! Even though Results show 0 of 0, if you look in the red Complete Archive box you'll see that there are actually 828 hits. That's a lot. What next? I'll click the red box again and see what happens.


 Yikers! Eighty-three pages of hits. Hi-Yikers. Are they listed by date published? No such luck. Sorted by "Relevance", whatever that is supposed to mean.

Let's try narrowing the search. I enter "Roger Angell, baseball." Not a single hit. "Roger Angell, Yankees." Still nothing. That stinks.

So if I really want to read Roger's first piece I'm going to have to start ploughing through those 69 dozen listings until I reach it. Not fun. All right, here goes.

Gee, on page 9 there is a 1961 article. But I know he started writing in the Forties, so on I plough. Ah. One from 1949 on page 11. Ooh. Page 12, 1946. Ha! On web page 71 there is one from October 1944. Eureka? I'd better keep going, just in case. All done. Scanned all 83 pages of Roger Angell hits and it appears that October 7, 1944 is the winner - the first piece of his published in The New Yorker. This effort took over 20 minutes. And, alas, it turns out to be wrong.

A quick check on Wikipedia tells me that his first New Yorker story actually appeared in March 1944. Huh? It's true. I checked March 1944 in the archive. There, on page 53 of the March 18, 1944 issue is a story called "Three Ladies in the Morning," by Cpl. Roger Angell.


 Once upon a time, before The New Yorker "improved" its Archive a couple of years ago, a researcher could search by title, author, and within a date range. That's the kind of digital archive that we most often encounter. For reasons known but to Harold Ross, the new iteration of access to the past is clunky to the point of being nearly useless (unless you're willing to devote gobs of precious time to conduct searches of The New Yorker).

So what do we want from The New Yorker Archive? Mainly an Advanced Search function that includes title, author, subject, and date range. It cannot be done now, but the ability to search the cartoons (by artist, date, and subject) for which the magazine is famous would be a nice bonus feature.

I've complained to the magazine about the current iteration of search several times. Last week I sent an email to their customer service folks (turns out they're based in Australia) and all they basically did was thank me for contacting them. Maybe if enough people write in asking The New Yorker to rejig its search function to make Finding Stuff a whole lot more useful, they'll actually do it. Give it a shot. Try going here to lodge your appeal:  NYRcustserv@cdsfulfillment.com

 Wish us luck.

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog.
Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On The Road To Persia

Curiosity is a curious thing. When I write historical articles I like have a really good sense of the place where the action happens. Thank goodness there are numerous tools to help me satisfy this curiosity. One of the best is good 'ol Google Earth.

While working on a piece about U.S. efforts to supply Russia with arms and materiel during World War II, through the so-called "Persian Corridor"  I came across a photograph of Army convoys traversing a switchback in the Zagros Mountains on the way from ports on the Persian Gulf to Tehran, Iran's capital.

If 


My curiosity piqued, I wondered where this place is - or was. The caption says the switchback was twenty-five miles north of Andimeshk, an army division point for both the road and rail routes.

Opening Google Earth, I flew off to Iran to look for the town in question. It turns out to be nearly due north of the Persian Gulf ports, about a third of the way to Tehran. Using the Path Tool, I followed the highway for 25 miles.


If the caption was right, the switchback should be somewhere near the end of the red line. Time to zoom in and follow the road with the cursor.

I drove and drove and drove, kilometer after kilometer. And found nothing. So I started further south, about 15 miles from town. Realizing that 70 years have passed since the switchback was used, and that the road's right-of-way could have changed dramatically, I slowed down to about an inch a minute.

Hold on. What's that? But it's only 20 miles from Andimeshk. Still, could this be my quarry?


It's a little hard to see, but at the Highway 37 marker a road diverges to the left, goes a couple hundred meters, makes a sharp turn to the right, goes several hundred meters more, makes another sharp turn to the left . . . and so on until it reaches the top. I compared the Google Earth image to the photo of the switchback, and everything lined up. Hooray!


As you can see, the new highway just makes a beeline over the same topography. As you can also see, this place was where the U.S. Army drove its heavily laden trucks back and forth across that same hill to get to their destination.

Happy Trails!

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog. 

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Word Frequency In The New York Times

The New York Times has introduced a new feature that lets you check how many times a specific word or phrase has been used in the paper since a way back in 1851. Go here to check it out: http://chronicle.nytlabs.com.

It brings up a graph showing the frequency of your query. I was curious about The Times's use of the word "fraught", which seemed to be in a great many articles of late. So I typed "fraught" into the search and the output looked thus:


The results surprised me a bit. The year 2011 has the most uses by far, and will likely continue to outpace 2014.

Now, if I wanted to know which articles "fraught" appeared in I can click on the red dot there on the upper right. That brings up a list (with links) of 609 stories in which the word was used.


Useful and fun. Try it yourself. 'Til next time . . .

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog. 

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Naval Academy Yearbooks

What did Samuel David Dealey do when he was a student at the U.S. Naval Academy in the late 1920's? Not much, it turns out. I know this because there is a digital collection of Annapolis yearbooks available online. Here is the link to the Nimitz Library Digital Collection. The actual yearbooks are hosted over on the Internet Archive.

The best way to access the yearbooks is through the Nimitz link. All issues from the first one, in 1894, through 1970 are available.

So what about our fellow, Sam Dealey? I wanted to find out more about this guy for an article I was writing for a military history magazine. Sam went on to be one of the ace submariner skippers of World War II, and one of the most decorated serviceman in American history. What was he like at Annapolis?

He graduated in 1930, and each graduate was given a write-up by his friends that sort of encapsulated how they viewed him and his personality.

Go the the landing page (link above) and then look for Browse All in the upper left. A list with all the yearbooks loads. Scroll down to 1930 and click on that. When the 1930 page opens click on the link next to the cover photo. This opens the book in the Internet Archive. Type Samuel Dealey (or whoever or whatever) into the search box and click Go and wait. In Sam's case, six bookmarks popup - only one of which is relevant to our project, his class listing on page 198.
 

Over there on the left is our guy. The listing includes his nicknames (only "Sam" stuck) and the activities he was involved in during his four years at the Academy. This information helped give me a broader picture of who Sam Dealey was. It was worth the effort.

The Nimitz Library has a wide range of archival collections available to researchers, and more and more are being digitized. I'd like to thank Dr. Jennifer Bryan, Head of Special Collections for helping me find this stuff.

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog. 

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Using Photoshop to Improve PDF Image Files



Ever had a scan of a document that you can’t read because it’s either too light or too dark? I get that all the time in my research of military sources. It’s a real pain.

But wait! There may be a solution (or semi-solution, anyway). Photoshop to the rescue!

For a long time I’d wondered if a PDF can be opened in Photoshop with an eye on improving the image quality. Recently I had the opportunity to try it on some files of WWII submarine war patrol reports, and it worked pretty well.



Little background: When a U.S. submarine went out on a combat patrol in WWII the captain was responsible for turning in a detailed, day-by-day account of the voyage (which was often 6-8 weeks long). If he attacked an enemy ship he had to note all sorts of details, including the serial numbers of the torpedoes and how good the food was. A typical patrol report ran 40-60 pages. By the end of the war there were nearly 1600 of these on file. In the 1970’s the Navy began to microfilm this pile of paper, and they didn’t always do a very good job, resulting in page images that were dark or light and hence, sometimes nearly unreadable. Now all the microfilmed reports are available on line at: http://hnsa.org/doc/subreports.htm.
The PDF file I was working with, the five patrols made by USS Harder (SS257), was 325 pages long. That’s a big file, in terms of page quantity. And I only needed to improve four or five of those pages.

Here’s the technique:

Open the PDF in Photoshop. Up comes a window showing a thumbnail image of each page, with page numbers below the image.



Choose the pages you want to fix by clicking on the thumbnail. You can open as many as you want; just hold down the shift key and click. Click OK and the pages will load. The file bar will string each of the image names in descending order.

Click on the page you want to fix and it will open in the Photoshop window.
The screen shot shows a page that is almost too light to read legibly

How to fix (or at least improve - the easiest way is to go to IMAGE>ADJUSTMENTS>LEVELS. 

A window with three sliders will open. Black level is on the left, White on the right, Gray in the center. Make sure the “Preview” box is checked. Now, slide the sliders around and watch the changes to the document. Fiddle until you can’t get a better result. Click OK.
Image too dark? Same technique.

Caveat: you can almost always improve a page image, but it’s rare that you’ll be able make it look like it just came off the typewriter.

You can now crop the image, if you need to.

Then save the file under a different name (you can’t save a manipulated page back into your original PDF).

Here is the improved version:


Typically, I print these guys out because I like having hardcopy to read from when I’m writing my article (in this case for World War II magazine). But you can just as well read them off the screen.

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog. 
Disclaimer: The descriptions of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finding The Value Of The 1872 Dollar Today

At some point in your research/writing activities it’s quite likely you found yourself needing to know how money has appreciated over the past century or more. Here’s one example I was tangling with recently:

Away back in 1872 a pair of Kentucky cousins managed to swindle $600,000 from some of the smartest, wiliest financial men of New York and San Francisco. The pair got off scot-free. And  virtually none of the loot was ever recovered.

So how much is $600,000 worth today?

To find out all I have to do is go to a really useful website called MeasuringWorth. It was founded by a pair of professors back in 2006 with the mission of making reliable data available to the public about value comparison over time.

To try out one of their calculators, from the home page click Relative Values– US $ from the left-hand column.

This brings up a page that will “Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount – 1774 to Present.”

In the window on the right all you have to do is fill in your parameters. In my case, the Initial Year is 1872 and the Initial Amount is $600,000. Because of the way the calculator is set up, set the Desired Year for last year or the year before.

Now click CALCULATE.  

The answer is not exactly simple or clear cut. MeasuringWorth gives you nine different values.

At the top of the page it says “In 2012 the relative value of $600,000 from 1872 ranges from $10,400,000 to $1,170,000,000.” That’s quite a range!

Below that is a box that says “A simple Purchasing Power Calculator would say the relative value is $11.6 million.”

What’s the best number to choose?

Reading through the definitions of the various value categories is helpful. But for folks like me, who are not well grounded in economics, it’s seriously confusing.

It’s easy enough to pick the $1.17 billion number—a sensational eye-opener worthy of Bernie Madoff. But I think a conservative value is more realistic and better serves my purpose. So for my book about the Kentucky cousins’ $600,000 swindle I chose $11.6 million, because it relates most closely to the “real price” and the “historic standard of living value.” And by anybody’s standard (except maybe the “Top 1%’s”) eleven million dollars is a lot of money.

MeasuringWorth.com also calculates other currencies, including the British pound sterling, the Australian pound and dollar, and China and Japan.

There is also a conversion calculator from dollars to pounds. How much was one British pound worth in dollars in 1890? Answer: $4.86. 

The Internet is full of sites offering these sorts of data conversions and analysis. And that’s what Finding Stuff is all about.

Happy New Year!

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog. 

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

JPASS A Boon To Researchers

Regular readers of these columns will recall my complaints about really useful research sites which make you sign up for a year’s subscription even though you only need to make a few visits over the course of a week or two.
One of my favorite archival sites is the Times of London. And as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, this past summer they began to offer the Web Pack. First of all, it was cheap—$3 a week. And secondly, and most importantly to a periodic user, you can sign up for as little as one month —$12. A bargain for the right to search three centuries of history.

Which brings us to JSTOR.
 
JSTOR is a not-for-profit shared digital library created in 1995 to help university and college libraries free space on their shelves, save costs, and provide greater levels of access to more content than ever before. By digitizing content to high standards and supporting its long-term preservation, JSTOR aims to expand access to scholarly content around the world and to preserve it for future generations.

JSTOR currently includes more than 2,000 academic journals, dating back to the first volume ever published, along with thousands of monographs and other materials relevant for education. They have digitized more than 50 million pages and continue to digitize approximately 3 million pages a year. 


Though designed mainly for institutions, JSTOR has recognized that independent researchers would benefit from access to these vast databases. That’s why they created JPASS—a tool for folks like us that lets us browse or search over 7 million articles in 1500 journals on hundreds of subjects for as little as $19.50 month.

JPASS enables subscribers to read an unlimited number of articles in what they call the JPASS COLLECTION, and to download up to 10 of those a month (PDF).

I’ve been doing research on Presbyterian missionaries in Asia during the World War II period. And so I was pleased to find a variety of Presbyterian Historical Society publications available on JSTOR.



I chose the Journal of Presbyterian History (1997-2009), and typed Philippines missionaries into the search box.



There were 789 results, so I scrolled down through them until I found one that seemed to fit what I was looking for (it’s not shown on the image, but it’s called “The Presbyterian Mission on Hainan Island Under the Japanese, 1937-1941.”



Not needing to print the PDF, I just read through the article on the screen.



Overall the user interface on JSTOR/JPASS is pretty clean and intuitive, but it will take some effort to master it.

It’s great that a resource like JSTOR is now available to the hoi polloi. I hope that other databases that restrict public access realize they are missing out on a great revenue generator that also happens to be a great public service.

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog.

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.