Sleeping Beauties

Kieran Healy posted last year about “sleeping beauties” in philosophy—papers that went several years before receiving any citations but that ended up accumulating many. This pattern is unusual, as most papers receive a good amount of citations immediately and continue to do so (or the opposite). I think literary studies and history is less paper-driven than philosophy, and I would encourage everyone to read this for more context on citations in the humanities.

Upstream Color

What Happens Let me first attempt to explain the plot of Upstream Color, Shane Carruth’s second film. An entrepreneur has discovered that the worms who live in a certain orchid’s root matter have psychogenic properties. In particular, if ingested they induce a hypnotic state in which the subject is amenable to all suggestion. Teens are used for pharmacological testing, in apparent violation of many FDA regulations. The drug is manufactured first in pill form and distributed by the entrepreneur (referred to in the credits merely as “Thief”) in a night club, though the film does not reveal any flunitrazepam-like use.

Rhem 4

About five years ago, I swore that I would finish Rhem 4 without hints. Though I haven’t been trying the whole time, I worked on it quite hard over the last week or so. I failed, yes. I’m going to take this opportunity to brag about what I solved without hints and complain about the two puzzles that I didn’t. First, the complaining, as suits my nature. After finishing the game, I read through some reviews, walkthroughs, etc.

One Hundred Topics (1700-1922)

Since I wrote my last set of directions for creating a topic-browser from the “Genre-specific wordcounts for 178,381 volumes from the HathiTrust Digital Library”, Andrew Goldstone updated his dfrtopics package to make it easier to use for this purpose. I haven’t completely rewritten the post, though where his instructions conflict with mine (using R instead of dropping into perl for ligature substitution, for example), his solution is both more elegant and more technically reliable.

Creating a Topic Browser of HathiTrust Data

The “Word Frequencies in English-Language Literature, 1700-1922” data set from the HathiTrust digital library was released last month. (See Ted Underwood’s post for more detail.) It contains word-frequency lists of texts from the digitized HathiTrust collection published between 1700-1922 that are divided into fiction, poetry, and drama. (A description of the method used to classify the documents can be found here.) There are many approaches to exploring this data. What I’m going to describe is building a topic browser of a model created with LDA.


Who doesn’t like an inferred apocalypse?* Maybe you remember the theory of The Sopranos’s ending that proposed Tony, Carmela, children, onion rings, and Members Only all were evaporated by a nuclear bomb that Tony had inadvertently helped smuggle into the country. In Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, there’s a seemingly absurd sub-plot involving a cartel attempting to steal a nuclear bomb with the aid of a drug-dealing nuclear supervisor. The plot fails because he trips and severs an artery after the tequila bottle he’s carrying shatters on the pavement.

Jobs of the MLA

The Current Situation Around last year at this time, I became interested in what the archived editions of the MLA Job Information List could tell us about how the profession has changed over time. The MLA provided page-scans of all the JILs going back to 1965, and Jim Ridolfo used commercial OCR software to make them searchable. Once the documents were searchable, finding the first occurrence of various key words and graphing their frequency over time became feasible.

James Risen's Pay Any Price

There’s a line in R. A. Lafferty’s “The Primary Education of the Camiroi” about personality and politics: “Can you imagine a person so sick that he would actually desire to hold high office for any great period of time?” A familiar observation, I think, and one that came to mind as I was reading James Risen’s Pay Any Price. The Camiroi of Lafferty’s story have a comically rigorous educational system and govern themselves by lottery (for short intervals).


It takes me a while to get to the latest films nowadays. I thus missed out on a lot of the excitement generated by Snowpiercer. The lively premise is that an ever-running train circumnavigates a world frozen by atmospheric particulates. These were dispersed into the sky to mitigate global warming. Consequences were not anticipated, and apparently all other life has become extinct.1 The train was built by an excellent man, a man of vision.

Moving to Hugo

Inspired by (or directly ripping off, depending on how you want to phrase it) Kieran Healy’s post about migrating to Hugo, I have decided to do the same. Like Healy, I was frustrated with the build times of Octopress, and a somewhat inconvenient wine spill had made recovering my Octopress installation a little bit more difficult than it was worth. I have essentially used Healy’s modifications to the Hyde theme, with a few small tweaks here and there.