Tag Archives: the internet

The World Book Encyclopedia in Braille

One of my memories from my time at the Royal School for the Blind (Wavertree in Liverpool), is of reading articles from the braille edition of The World Book Encyclopedia. It was in the school boardroomm and was wholly separate from the books which stood, shelf after shelf in the library.

I well remember being fascinated by articles on a variety of subjects, including one on ghosts.

At the time of my attendance at Wavertree School, there was no internet, consequently the only way in which those who, like me, where unable to read print could access the world of printed literature, was via cassette tape, talking books, having books read aloud by a physically present person and, of course braille. The internet came along much later.

To me being able to access an encyclopedia unaided was a truly wonderful thing and I spent many happy hours looking through the braille World Book.

I remember the encyclopedia being extremely bulky, however it was only on coming across this webpage yesterday that I was reminded of the bulk of that vast tome:

“Only one encyclopedia was ever produced in braille. It was the World Book Encyclopedia, transcribed and embossed by the American Printing House for the Blind in about 1962. The main encyclopedia comprised 144 thick volumes, and was placed at many schools for the blind and some other institutions. Each annual supplement was about 5 volumes long, and only one or two were done. The project required massive amounts of federal funds, and it taught us all how bulky braille could be.
(See https://lbphwiki.aadl.org/braille_encyclopedias_and_dictionaries).

Of course few (perhaps no) visually impaired individuals would have possessed the funds, or indeed the space, to enable them to own their own edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, and I suspect that it was wholly confined to schools for the blind and other such institutions. I did nonetheless dream of owning my own World Book Encyclopedia in braille.

Today of course its easy to access a multiplicity of free reference sources online, including The Oxford Dictionary. I do, however still feel a sense of nostalgia for the days of braille encyclopedias, indeed I still possess the Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (all 16 volumes) in braille. Many of the entries are dated, but I am reluctant to consign it to the great reference scrap heap.

The Limitations of Blogging for Poets and Authors

Yesterday evening, I fell into a very enjoyable conversation with a lady, during the course of which I mentioned that I compose poetry. She was kind enough to express an interest in my work, consequently I provided her with my business card, which contains my website’s address.

On being asked by the lady where she should start, I mentioned my poem “My Old Clock I Wind”. Having done so, I fell to considering how easy and/or difficult it would be for someone accessing my website to find a particular poem.

my blog, kmorrispoet.com, does have a search facility and, on returning home I searched for “My Old Clock I Wind” and reblogged the poem in order to make it easier for my acquaintance to read it.

My search took some 10-20 seconds (well it seemed to do so, although I wasn’t counting)! This incident did, however cause me to consider the limitations of blogging as a means of promoting my work.

In this age of social media, smartphones and other high tech devices enabling people to access information online it is, in my view essential to have a presence on the internet. Having a website/blog enables you to reach readers who would (in the absence of your blog/website) be unaware of your existence, let alone the fact that you write poetry, short stories etc. Having an online presence also allows you to easily share links to your published works (if any) with your online readership.

However, many blogs (including my own) have a very high number of posts, which means that (even with a search facility) its often difficult to find a given article, poem, short story etc. Of course one can (and should) use both tags and categories to enable your readership to find what they are seeking as easily as is possible. One can also create pages (for example a page on a book you have written, or one containing links to reviews of your books). However, having done all this, a blog still has its limitations.

The blogging community is a place full (on the whole) of friendly and helpful people. However, for those who do not blog, accessing a WordPress (or other blogging site) can be bewildering. Indeed I have found that a number of people who have become acquainted with my work through having met me face-to-face (and who have expressed pleasure on reading it), rarely (sometimes never) access blogs. They feel more comfortable with a paperback or an ebook and lack any significant desire to engage online either by reading, commenting or liking blog posts.

I know of people who have visited my blog (they have told me that they have done so and enjoyed reading my work), yet many of these have not followed my site. I (as with many other bloggers) do have a facility to subscribe by email as well as via the WordPress reader. The email facility is particularly good for those who do not have a WordPress site and/or Gravatar. However few people (at least in the case of my own site) subscribe by email, meaning that the overwhelming majority of my (online) readership is composed of fellow WordPress users.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the WordPress community is a helpful and friendly place. However, if one wishes to promote one’s work its extremely important to use a variety of means (not just blogging) Such other means include readings, chatting to interested strangers, and (if you can aford to do so) giving away the odd copy of your books.

As always, I would be interested to hear the views of my readers.


We are a nation of scrollers not readers, and tech billionaires are to blame

An article in The Guardian’s opinion section argues that we (in the UK) are a nation of scrollers rather than readers, and that the blame for this lies at the door of the tech billionaires, (see https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/08/nation-scrollers-readers-read-netflix-twitter-books-mark-zuckerberg).

Its very easy to blame others for one’s own shortcomings methinks . . .

Online Distractions

Yesterday evening (Sunday 26 November), found me contentedly sitting on the sofa in my living room, reading a recently purchased braille edition of Robert Frost’s “North of Boston”, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3026/3026-h/3026-h.htm. On turning to the final poem in “North of Boston”, which is entitled “Good Hours” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/good-hours, I came across the word profanation.

Being wholly unfamiliar with the word I was keen to ascertain its meaning. I had, however turned off my computer (quite deliberately as I wished to spend the remainder of Sunday evening reading, undisturbed by technology). I do not own a braille dictionary (they are, to my knowledge no longer produced as blind users can access online dictionaries), consequently the only way in which I would have been able to find the definition of profanation would have been by turning on my computer or looking up the word using the search engine on my mobile phone, (both devices are equipped with screen readers which convert text into speech and braille).

To cut a long story short, due to my unwillingness to succumb to the demon of technology, I left my curiosity unsatisfied until this evening (Monday 27 November).

I spend much of my life engaging with technology. My job entails the use of a computer Monday through to Friday, while my poetry is written using a laptop. Consequently I relish time away from electronic gadgetry, hence my disinclination to engage with technology yesterday evening.

I do, of course recognise the value of online reference books. Language is constantly evolving and it is not always convenient to lug a heavy dictionary around with one. However, when writing it is easy to go to one of the many online dictionaries, only to get caught up with online distractions such as webmail, social media etc. Had I the choice, I would not go online while writing but would rely on a good old-fashioned paper dictionary. However given the absence of braille dictionaries (as explained above) I have no option other than to use the internet. I will, however continue to avoid the temptation to go online during my leisure time, while reading for pleasure. We all, in my view benefit when we take a break from the World Wide Web and technology more generally.

Incidentally, for anyone interested in ascertaining the meaning of profanation, Merriam-Webster defines it as follows:
“the act or an instance of profaning”, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/profanation

Set a fly to catch a spider

Diving deep I hold my breath.
Who knows what will creep
Out from this rock
(I am beyond shock),
For this is the World Wide Web where spiders wait
And find too late
That the juicy fly
They hoped to entangle is … I

The Great Wall of China

Those who control
And patrol
Are accepted
(not rejected),
For they prevent disorder
By protecting the cyber border.

Who needs Mill
When you can shop
As you will.
And the chop does fall
On those who look beyond the Chinese wall.

On BBC Radio 4’s “The World Tonight”, which was broadcast on Thursday 3 August, an interviewer asked a number of Chinese people what they thought of their country’s heavily restricted internet. (In China Twitter, Facebook and Google are banned and government approved channels are utilised by those wishing to go online). A few chinese do bypass blocking by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNS) and other similar services, however the majority of the Chinese population search for information and interact online using the approved (government) channels.
None of those interviewed criticised censorship. Indeed one interviewee went so far as to say that he approved of it, as the government needs to prevent disorder.
The interviews took place in a public park, which cause me to wonder whether all those being interviewed would have been quite so supportive of the Chinese Wall had the questioning taken place in private.
While I have visited China, I did not go online while there so have no experience of the great cyber wall surrounding that country.