Dusting off the OpenBook WordPress Plugin. There will be Code.

This morning I dusted off my OpenBook WordPress plugin. WordPress sensibly suppresses old plugins from its search directory, so I had to manually install it from its website. WordPress warns that the plugin has not been updated in over two years and may have compatibility issues. I was fully expecting it to break, if not during the installation then during the book search or preview function. To my surprise, everything worked fine!

Some of you will remember that during my days in library school I programmed the OpenBook plugin to insert rich book data from Open Library into WordPress posts/pages. The plugin got a bit of attention. I wrote an article in Code4Lib. I was asked to write another for NISO (pdf). I did some presentations at library conferences. I got commissioned to create a similar plugin for BookNet Canada; it is still available. OpenBook even got a favourable mention in the Guardian newspaper during the Google Books controversy. 

OpenBook went through a few significant upgrades. Templates allowed users to customize the look. COinS were added for integration with third-party applications like Zotero. OpenURL resolver allowed libraries to point webpages directly to entries in their online catalogues. I’m still proud of it. I had plenty of new ideas. Alas, code projects are never finished, merely abandoned.

Today, I am invested in publishing my After Reading web series. I am not announcing the resurrection of OpenBook. The web series will, however, use technical diagrams and code, to illustrate important bookish concepts. For example, a couple years ago I had an idea for a cloud-based web service that could pull book data from multiple sources. I was excited about this use of distributed data. Today that concept has a name, distributed ledger, that could be applied to book records. I will not be developing that technology in this series, but you can count on at least one major code project. There will be code.

The After Reading series will be posting book reviews, so I figured what the heck, dust off OpenBook. Maybe a small refresh will make it active in the WordPress search directory again. 

 

“Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. My Alter-Hymnal and “Musica Universalis.”


I once sought truth in text. Reading the Word of God is central to growing up in the Reformed Church. My father read the Bible to the family after each meal. At school children memorized the books of the Bible and many of its passages. Two sermons on Sundays plus weekday youth groups and catechism classes, we became biblical scholars. I can still quote the Bible but it is no longer my source of truth.

The Song of Solomon is the most beautiful book in the Bible. Verse one names it “the song of songs.” It is love poetry, a woman’s expression of physical desire for her lover, and then his for her. The church had a strained relationship with the book. It was rarely read. As children we tittered about the mildly erotic imagery. The woman’s breasts are compared to twin fawns. I think the church struggled with the fact that the book was more song than text, resisting literal interpretation. It never mentions God. We were advised that the book is an allegory for Christ’s relationship with the church. Of course.

The church also celebrated with song, the approved ones in the Psalter Hymnal. The songs remain with me. I still love singing Abide with Me, How Great Thou Art, and O Come all Ye Faithful. Atheist though I am, I imagine Amazing Grace being sung at my funeral. Of course I also have a list of atheist “hymns,” Scare Away the Dark by Passenger, Dust in the Wind by Kansas, and We’re Here for a Good Time Not a Long Time by Trooper. Call this second list my Alter Hymnal.

I once sought truth in text but now I follow a kind of music. The complexity of life cannot be captured in words. The signal of truth seems to me more like music. “Musica universalis” means universal music, an ancient philosophical idea about the movement of celestial bodies, more to do with mathematics than literal music. Today scientists are able to record radio waves leftover from the Big Bang. Artist-technologist Honor Harger tracks them as a sort of music of the cosmos. I think of music as a metaphor for truth, better than text at describing the complex dance of life and love on Earth.

I Grew Up in a Print Shop

I was born on Inkerman Street in St. Thomas Ontario, a fitting street name for a printer’s son. In the seventies my father acquired a Gestetner 480 duplicating machine to print church bulletins. As other printers modernized my father picked up their old presses for a song. He had to tear open a wall to bring in an elephantine poster press. That one never saw a job; it was later carved up and sold for scrap metal.

In exchange for work, my father bought me an old but solid Underwood typewriter with a three-foot carriage, designed for typing sideways on legal and other over-sized paper. I started a neighbourhood newspaper, selling ads for a dime, and printing on a ditto machine.

My favourite machine was a tabletop letterpress used for printing wedding invitations. I made words with my hands, assembling lead type into a metal form, packed into place with spacers and wooden blocks and wedged tight. The form was clamped onto the upper jaw of the press. Wedding stock was placed on the lower jaw and secured by guide pins. The press was hand cranked. In one deft motion, rollers would get pulled over the ink plate and type, closing the jaws so the inked type pressed upon the paper. You did not want to pull too hard for fear of smudging the ink or wrecking the type.

The printing industry was challenged by the digital revolution of the eighties. My brother developed the shop into a full-time competitive operation, upgrading to a desk-sized Comp 1 typesetter and a Multilith 1250 offset press. Family and friends worked late hours, printing, collating, cutting and binding. For a time we kept up but a complete and expensive digital overhaul was required. The shop closed.

I grew up in the print shop, literally. While it lived, it operated out of our family home, next to my basement bedroom. At night it was my my job to clean the darkroom and presses. I could never wash the ink completely from hands and nails. Lead type and ink caused me no harm, except for imprinting my soul with a love of letters. I became an avid reader. I delivered newspapers. I imagined a career as a journalist or author. Instead I underwent a digital overhaul myself, making a living in the computer industry. Code is made of text; I suppose I am still a maker of words.

The elephant is a symbol of memory. One strand in this series will be memoir, my stories.

Welcome to the first post in my After Reading series, an exploration of ideas about books, the internet, and machine life. Above is my illustration of an elephant. I sketched the elephant as a symbol of memory. One strand in the telling of this series will be memoir, my stories. Jumbo was a famous elephant whose life ended in my hometown of St. Thomas, Ontario. A life-sized statue of Jumbo has been erected there. The elephant is also used as a brand by the Evernote software I use to keep notes today. It spans the range of time for me. The elephant also symbolizes intelligence and wisdom. Its image is used by religious and political groups. The “elephant in the room” is an expression of important and unspoken truths. The series will make its way through all these subjects. Welcome.