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Welcome to the personal website of Andrew Turnbull. This outpost features tons of stupefying and trivial things pertaining to various and diverse interests of mine. Chances are, if there's something I know about or like that doesn't much other representation on the 'net...there's a bit of it here.

The front page updates every week. And it is just a static page.

16 April 2018

[Lillian H. Smith Branch, Toronto Public Library]

Remember what I said about going to Toronto a few weeks ago? I wasn't there for idle reasons.

I am an MLIS student (in case you didn't already know), and in March my Children's Literature class made tracks for YYZ to view the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library.

[Lillian H. Smith Branch, Toronto Public Library]

The Lillian H. Smith branch is located in between U of T and Chinatown, and opened in 1995. It's a very aesthetically-appealing structure: Each level is wrapped around a cylindrical atrium and linked by a spiral staircase. This also wasn't the first time I had visited: I had stepped into this library on a whim last December, when I was wandering the city waiting for an evening train and had hours to burn. (The two pictures above were actually taken during that prior visit, since the shadows and crowds were more coöperative that day.)

[Horn book ca. 1700] [Aesopus moralisatus ca. 1300]

The Osborne Collection contains some extremely old books. Among the crown jewels of the collection are an instructional hornbook from the 18th century, and the oldest book of them all: A Latin copy of Aesopus moralisatus (Aesop's Morals) inscribed on vellum and dating to the 14th century. (Yes, it's 700 years old.) I think of the distant past as being a dystopic era where young people were denied childhoods and ushered into "adult" responsibilities, abusive labour conditions, etc. at a premature age...but it's heartening to see that children's books existed in some form or another even in the bleak times of yesteryear.

The other interesting take-aways from these materials are the symbols and archaisms they contain. As a case in point, the hornbook is inscribed with an English alphabet containing 24 letters: J did not become distinct from I, nor U from V, until the mid-1700s. (The onetime-interchangability of U and V also explains why W is called "double U" yet consists of two Vs linked together.)

The 14th-century book makes judicious use of litterae notabiliores (notable or enlarged letters) and pilcrow symbols (¶). The pilcrow (or paragraph symbol, or Latin alinea) just might be my favourite typographical symbol: It's familiar, yet mysterious. It's distinctive. And, it used to have much greater significance than it does now.

On manuscripts of the late middle ages, ¶ was used to indicate new trains of thought in much the same way that paragraph breaks or indents are used today. It also had a squat profile in those days (resembling a C more than a P), and was often inked in bright colours to provide contrast with the surrounding text.

This is the case for Aesopus moralisatus: The left margin of each page is punctuated by squat red pilcrows galore. Due to the consistent and regular structure of the fables, the quantity and positioning of these symbols seldom varies: Two pilcrows appear in line with the last two lines of each tale; at the point where the moral appears, no doubt.

[Aesopus moralisatus ca. 1300]

With one exception, that is. On one anomalous page of the volume, two fables appear inscribed with four pilcrows apiece. What could be the significance of this? If I could read Latin, I'd know.

[Compendium 1505]

¶ Pilcrows also appear in the second-oldest book in the Osborne collection; a work titled Compendium octo partiu oronum set in Latin blackletter and printed in 1505. By this point the symbol was typeset and had gained an elongated stem, largely taking on its present-day appearance.

By 1505, however, pilcrows were on their way out of books. According to Keith Houston (author of the book Shady Characters), the symbol became obsolete due to a confluence of circumstances following the advent of printing presses in the 15th century. Typefounders were reluctant to cast pilcrows in type because doing so stepped on the turf of the rubricator, whose profession consisted of adding pilcrows to books by hand. Rubricators were unable to keep up with the vast quantity of books that printing presses produced. Readers then got used to books with blank indents where the pilcrows were supposed to be...and the indents were just as useful as indicators as the symbols themselves had been. So endeth the tale of ¶, banished from the body of texts and relegated to specialized roles in legal citations and proofreading for centuries to come.

[Word 2]

Banished until 1991, that is, when Microsoft Word 2 for Windows appeared with the incriminating symbol on its toolbar. Clicking the ¶ button restores the very symbols to documents that the printing presses had banished 450 years earlier. So there you go!

More about this seminal collection of historical children's literature:

And, more links about those perplexing pilcrows:

9 April 2018

[Stop Spokes signs]

Stop spokes?

1 April 2018

This is not an April Fool's joke.

[London sewer grate]

I have a habit of looking down as I walk. Yes, I know there's nothing remarkable about your step and look where you're going is a lesson most of us have committed to memory since we were two...but sometimes there is something remarkable about the things you see down there.

Take iron storm sewer grates: They have variations, they're typically emblazoned with the year in which they were cast, and they provide clues as to when their vicinity was developed. This grate is dated 1972, and it's also located in front of the building I happen to live in: The entire block was probably a cow pasture until then.

[Toronto sewer grate]

Toronto has some surprisingly-old grates underfoot. This one is located near the corner of Huron and Cecil streets (roughly in between U of T and Chinatown), and hails from 1889. The ornate "TBW" monogram was the symbol of the Toronto Board of Works, the ancestor of what's known as Works and Emergency Services today. Also worth noting is that the letter "F" is missing from the lettering...which must have been a flaw in the mold.

I'm also apparently not the only person who pays attention to these.

Feeling disoriented? Here's the site map that used to be on the front page.

All older posts have been split off to a quarterly archive page.

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