Sundries

SUNDRIES: An eighteenth century newsletter

N 4 - November 5, 2005

TECH TALK: cheap, powerful OCR inter text GOOGLE: Print gets going inter text FROM JIM'S SHELVES: Two on the Revolution inter textSTAPLES: Lemons

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TECH TALK: Cheap powerful OCR

We've discussed OCR tools here before and it's still true, that if money were no object, I'd snap up Abby Finereader. But, money objecting, it's nice to find an OCR tool that, though not perfect for our 18th century purposes, is more than serviceable, and cheap (under $100). This would be Transym OCR (TOCR), from transym.com.

First, its disadvantages:

  • It can't input PDF's directly (so you have to output them as images, using the full Acrobat or one of the image-output tools out there like Konvertor.)
  • It only saves in text format (so you have to tweak fonts to get columns and such to look right)
  • it pretty much ignores images (forget integrating them automatically into OCR'ed output)

I also couldn't get it to straighten a crooked page, but the company tells me that it should, so that may require further inquiry.

On the good side:

  • It's mostly accurate, even with some older fonts
  • It DOES reproduce the original formatting pretty well in preview (but once you save it, again, it's text, so you have to work out what font and size will redisplay it properly)
  • It allows batch processing (pretty fast batch processing, too)
  • It handles at least English and French (I didn't try other languages)

For those of us whose main interest in OCR is being able to convert masses of old print into searchable text, this is more than fine. Yes, there's an extra step or two compared to Finereader, but at a quarter of the price, that's probably bearable for many.

I can't say how it handles long 's' , Germanic characters and other quirks from our era. But the good news is you can download a trial version that lets you process about one hundred pages, so maybe others can try these out.

Overall, for a budget tool with a lot of punch, it looks like a find.



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GOOGLE: Print gets going

Some probably already saw this week's news item:

Google set to display books - Google Inc.'s Internet-leading search engine on Thursday will begin serving up the entire contents of books and government documents that aren't entangled in a copyright battle over how much material can be scanned and indexed from five major libraries.

That's right, Google has indeed taken its first few steps towards putting up an American Gallica. So how's it work?

Not as intuitively as Gallica, that's for sure. For now, the existing Google Print (print.google.com) which allows you to do limited searches (like Amazon) on copyrighted books is also the interface for viewing the completely free works. Which can, to say the least, be confusing. Personally, I've found the best way to narrow the searches to the latter is to use the Advanced Search and choose a pre-1920 date range. Using this I've found some fun stuff, like a French version of Linguet's Memoirs of the Bastille with a different set of notes from the one I know, a reference buried in Burke's speeches to an obscure French figure and the same Archives of the Bastille (in French) that exist on Gallica (but aren't searchable, whereas they are here.)

Once you've found these works, though, the big glitch is navigating through them. Unlike either Gallica or Making of America, Google Print has no way (so far) to go to a specific page. And scrolling through the pages is really a chore. Nor is there any way to download an entire work.

How much of this is growing pains and how much just plain how the thing is going to work, I can't say. For now, I'd say the best use of it is to locate specific references. This can even be useful when the full work is available elsewhere if, as with the Archives of the Bastille, the other version isn't in searchable text format. At the least, you can locate the reference on Google and then browse around it on the other site.

Meanwhile, if you want to PAY to see books, there's this effort:

Want 'War and Peace' Online? How About 20 Pages at a Time? ....In a race to become the iTunes of the publishing world, Amazon.com and Google are both developing systems to allow consumers to purchase online access to any page, section or chapter of a book.

Stay tuned....

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FROM JIM'S SHELVES: Two on the Revolution

Having picked up various books on our period over the last few years, I've finally gotten to reading a few. Currently, I'm on the second work I've read by Claude Manceron: Their Gracious Pleasure 1782-1785.

For those who don't know Manceron, he began as a novelist but got seduced by the historical research he was doing for his creative work (imagine such a thing...). HIs books reflect his experience in building stories by showing us various figures close up as human beings in very specific situations, with the major historical roles many of these people will play still a distant echo up ahead. He has a lively, witty style and distinct point of view that is beautifully captured (or partly created?) by Nancy Amphoux, his translator. The whole structure of each book is free-wheeling, almost casual, yet carefully organized to show how events were building and personalities were emerging. Each book is packed with notes and references, yet reads more gracefully than many novels.

For those who would like to learn about the period before the Revolution, but don't care to struggle through anything like a textbook, the books in this series (Age of the French Revolution) might be just the thing.

Before that I read another book translated from French, this with the plain vanilla title of The French Revolution, originally compiled by Georges Pernoud and Sabine Flaissier. This English language edition appeared in 1960 and appears to be out of print, though it's readily (and cheaply) available on Abebooks.

The title suggests a kind of plodding textbook, but the work in fact consists almost exclusively of eye witness accounts from every side of most (not all) of the important events in the Revolution. This is history up close and personal: a man defending himself against the charge that he paraded the Princess of Lamballe's genitals around on a pike; a member of the Convention, accompanying the royal family back from Varennes, convinced that one of the princesses has the hots for him; a mother hiding (from the Revolutionaries) under straw feeling her beloved little boy die of smallpox in her arms; Marie-Antoinette forced to squat behind a half-partition with a gendarme watching as she "answers nature's calls"; Robespierre struggling to staunch the blood from his shattered jaw as he sits up all night, waiting to be guillotined the very next day.

If these examples seem raw and shocking, well, much of what happened in this period was, and this book tells it to you in the words of those who were there, famous or obscure. Better books of the sort may have appeared since, but, if you want this stretch of history from a deeply human perspective, this small paperback - a short 300 some pages - will certainly do the job.


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STAPLES: Lemons

I doubt lemons are one of the first things that come to mind when people think of the 18th century. Yet their importance in France at least can be deduced from the fact that beverage vendors - who sold a variety of drinks - were known as "limonadiers" (lemonade vendors). Still, I was surprised to see one upper class prisoner in the Bastille especially attentive to the fixings for lemonade, or that just after Louis XVI was separated from his family they brought him some bread and a decanter of lemonade for his breakfast (the only time I've seen it listed as a breakfast food.)

Today, as it happens, I've run into three lemon-related bits from our era, each about as different as they could be:

1. In "Their Gracious Pleasure", Manceron (in Nancy Amphoux's translation) describes De Grasse at Les Saintes looking over at the English ships and seeing Admiral Rodney, like him, in full dress uniform, but in a chair, crippled with rheumatism - and about to drink lemonade.

"He's sucking lemons!", says De Grasse, "May he soon be sucking sea water!" On Rodney's side of the water, "a sixteen-year old middy was bringing him a glass of lemon juice, and stirred the sugar in with his sword!
'Boy, come now boy! You can do that among middies, but not to your admiral! For shame! Drink that slop yourself and send me the steward and some proper utensils!'
Case shot was sweeping the decks. It's too hot, there's too much smoke to wait for the steward. Am I going to die with a parched throat? Admiral Rodney snaps his fingers. A lemon is brought, he cuts it himself and squeezes it into his open mouth.

Now there's a man who liked his lemons....

2. Neimetz, in Sejour de Paris, warns travelers against going out when Paris is foggy and cold. But, he says, if you simply must go out, "Take a little zest of orange, as they call it, or of lemon, etc., to ward off nausea."

3 For a most unexpected use of lemons, we turn to Casanova. (Fair warning - this is strong even for him):

"Now it's my turn," said Astridi, "but I don't want you infringing on the rights of my auditor [her boyfriend who 'treats her like a boy']. Come visit the landscape, so you know which way to go. Take this."
"What do you want me to do with half a lemon?"
"I want you to make sure that the place is pure and that you can visit it without danger."
"Is this a sure method?"
"Infallible, because if the way wasn't safe, I couldn't stand the burning."

Talk about your home remedies....

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End quote

Do not expect an account of my travels: there has been such a prodigious proliferation of that type of book in recent years.... I know one author who journeyed five leagues and celebrated the fact in verse and prose.

Robespierre, June 2, 1783
Trans, Nancy Amphoux

FROM CHEZ JIM BOOKS Three works on eighteenth century subjects:

For some sample 18th century vegetarian recipes, click here.




copyright 2006 Jim Chevallier.
When using brief extracts from this site, please credit properly and provide a link back to this site.
(NOTE: Most translations, except where otherwise noted, are by Jim Chevallier and are copyrighted as such.)
Please do not reproduce extended pieces (recipes, translated pieces, etc.) without prior permission.


 


Questions? Comments? Corrections? Write: jimchev@chezjim.com

Chez Jim


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