2011-05-27

"Very Short Introductions" from Oxford University Press

Someone (Einstein?) once said, "We know more and more about less and less, until we know everything about nothing." Living in Israel, I have a constant fear of becoming one of these people, as I have no opportunity to get exposed to sufficiently variegated intellectual topics through books in bookstores here, especially in Hebrew. This is in sharp contrast to Japan, where are are many series of books known as "shinsho" on various topics by their respective experts in a concise and plain language at an affordable price. Once a month I check the websites of the major Japanese publishers of these series, add those new books that interest me to my wishlist, and buy and read about 20 during my annual visit to Japan. Unfortunately, Japan is rather lagging behind in ebook publishing and its support of EPUB, which is the de facto universal format for ebooks in the rest of the world.

I always wished there were similar books in English, which are far more accessible than Japanese books to someone who lives outside Japan. To my great joy, I stumbled rather recently upon Very Short Introductions from Oxford University Press, a series of shinsho-like books in English on various intellectual disciplines by their respective authorities. I have also found that many of them are available as ebooks. This week I bought several ebooks of this highly successful series. It did not take me a long time to find to my dismay that they use digital rights (some say "restrictions" mockingly) management protection, which means that I can only read them with Adobe Digital Editions. But I soon found a way to remove it; I use this method solely in order to read them with a more comfortable lightweight devise, and not in order to copy and forward them to others. I have already added about 120 out of the available 300 books of this series to my wishlist. I hope I will be able to read a few of them every month, mainly while I am on my way to my work place and back home.

Reading ebooks with a notebook computer is not always so comfortable. This is another reason that has made me buy an ebook reader. Having examined and compared various candidates, I have come to a conclusion to buy PocketBook IQ, as it seems to support more languages, including Hebrew and Japanese, and more ebook formats, including PDF and EPUB, than any other ebook reader that I have found.

2011-05-20

How to manage the flow and stock of information on the web

We netizens are inundated with an ever increasing flow of information, whether academic or not, on the web. Among about 2,000 websites stored as bookmarks in my browser of choice Firefox I check about 100, most of which are broadcasts, newspapers and magazines, almost on a daily basis. Naturally, I do not visit all of them manually. I am very sorry that there still remain so many netizens and webmasters who have neither heard of web feeds; they are wasting and causing visitors to waste their precious time by manually checking updates. My favorite feed aggregator used to be my favorite mailer Thunderbird, but rather recently I switched to a Firefox extention called Brief and am very satisfied with it, though it is rather slow.

I am also sorry for those netizens who use Internet Explorer as their default browser not because of conscious choice but out of ignorance of better browsers. Firefox has been my favorite browser for many years, partly because it has a number of highly useful extensions that supplement the functionality of Firefox. Another favorite Firefox extension of mine is Read It Later; I use it when I do not want to save certain webpages as bookmarks or externally permanently but want to save them for later reading. When I want to store certain webpages permanently, I used another truly amazing extension called Zotero; it is not only for storing webpages but a versatile bibliography manager.

Unfortunately, the most valuable academic information available on the web, academic journals and articles published there online, costs money. Fortunately, the university where I work subscribe to many of the journals I check regularly. Even more fortunately, I have recently found a way to access these journals from home, using a service called Athens; ours is still one of the few universities that use this amazing service. You can check whether your institution already uses it on its list of users by country. Since it is a service started in the United Kingdom, there are many institutions that use it there; to my surprise, there are no academic institutions in Japan and there are few in the United States that use this service. If you are among the lucky ones whose institutions are Athens-powered, you will appreciate the library of your respective institution for its decision to offer this service.

2011-05-13

Print, online and electronic dictionaries

Since I was a child, I have always loved dictionaries and benefited from them than from any other kind of books. Although I have no (senseless) hobby of collecting anything for the sake of collection, including dictionaries, quite a few dictionaries of various languages have been accumulated in my private library. For lack of space and for other professional reasons I keep only those dictionaries that I consider worthy of space here. The following is a list of (print) dictionaries I love and consult most frequently in five languages I use actively:

  • Hebrew
    • Choueka, Y. (ed.). 1997. רב-מילים המילון השלם. Tel Aviv: Center for Educational Technology.
    • Alcalay, R. (ed.). 1990. The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary. Tel Aviv: Massada.
    • Doniach, N. & Kahane, A. (eds.). 1996. The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Rosenthal, R. 2005. מילון הסלנג המקיף. Jerusalem: Keter.
    • Rosenthal, R. 2007. הלקסיקון של החיים: שפות במרחב הישראלי. Jerusalem: Keter.
  • Yiddish
    • Weinreich, U. 1968. Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary. New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
    • Niborski, Y. & Vaisbrot, B. (eds.). 2002. Dictionnaire yiddish-français. Paris: Bibliothèque Medem.
    • Niborski, Y. 1999. װערטערבוך פֿון לשון-קודש-שטאַמיקע װערטער אין ייִדיש. Paris: Bibliothèque Medem.
  • Esperanto
    • Duc Goninaz, M. (ed.). 2005. Plena ilustrita vortaro de Esperanto 2005. Paris: Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda.
    • Konisi, G. (ed.). 2006. Esperanto-Japana Vortaro. Tokyo: Japana Esperanto-Instituto.
    • Miyamoto, M. (ed.). 1998. Vortaro Japana-Esperanta. Tokyo: Japana Esperanto-Instituto.
    • Benson, P. J. 1995. Comprehensive English-Esperanto Dictionary. El Cerrito, CA: Esperanto League for North America.
  • Japanese
    • Matsumura, A. (ed.). 2006. Daijirin. Tokyo: Sanseido.
    • Shinchosha (ed.). 2007. Shincho nihongo kanji jiten. Tokyo: Shinchosha.
  • English
    • Takebayashi, S. et al. (eds.). 2005. Kenkyusha Luminous English-Japanese Dictionary. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
    • Kojima, Y. et al. (eds.). 2005. Kenkyusha Luminous Japanese-English Dictionary. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
    • Ichikawa, S. et al. (eds.). 1995. The Kenkyusha Dictionary of English Collocations. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.
    • Soanes, C. & Stevenson, A. (eds.). 2005. Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Since there were no online and electronic dictionaries when I started using dictionaries, I still rely heavily on print dictionaries. I have nether even given a serious thought to the possibility of using online and electronic dictionaries until I have decided rather recently to start working at a public library. Perhaps no public library has all the above-mentioned print dictionaries on open shelves. And of course, I cannot shlep all of them every time I go to a public library. So I have made a rather extensive survey of available online dictionaries. Here is a list of online dictionaries I will probably use in these five languages (for Yiddish I have found no good online dictionary). Unfortunately, the best ones requires subscription fees (they are marked with an asterisk):

Online dictionaries have one disadvantage: I cannot use them if I do not have an Internet connection, which is quite ubiquitous these days but is not always available everywhere. So I have searched and tried a number of electronic dictionaries, and have purchased Babylon. Its greatest advantage is that it is multilingual; in the single user interface I can check words in English, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian, German, French, Italian, Spanish, etc. Unfortunately, it does not have sufficiently good modules for Yiddish and Esperanto, but it has become one of the dictionaries I use most frequently now (on weekdays). It is not the cheapest dictionary, but I recommend it to anyone who is a polyglot in major languages.