Fan of Full Fathom Five? Be sure to check it out at its new home!

Monday, September 29, 2008

HM Revenue & Customs Research

The Useful information for researchers related to HM Revenue and Customs site at the Merseyside Maritime Museum is easily overlooked, since it's not part of the archives and library section where the rest of the research guides are located. Part of the Seized! exhibit section, it contains information guides with details on records, a brief history of smuggling in Britain, and pointers for genealogists. There's even an extensive book list for further reading on the topics of customs and excise and smuggling--including a citation to a book for children. The site also links to a wide range of websites in the fields of archives and heritage, government (local and international), education, and even endangered species and animal welfare, proving it a useful starting point for research in any of the many fields touched by the history of illicit imports.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Unclogging the Houston Ship Channel

Today's Morning Edition on NPR has an excellent story, "Coast Guard Unclogs Houston Ship Channel" by Noah Adams that tells you what happens when the channel to the tenth busiest port in the world loses its channel markers, and how they were replaced to restore shipping within three days. The story is rich with the sounds of the Channel, and the voices of those who became very important to the global economy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

All the Best Rubbish

I picked up Ivor Noel Hume's All the Best Rubbish because I had enjoyed his Martin's Hundred, and simply because it was on top of the pile.

That was weeks ago. Much of it has stayed with me, especially his subtle wit which made me laugh out loud on pre-dawn bus commutes. His brief history of museums and collecting in England set them into the context of seafaring exploration and trade in a way which made me appreciate the extent to which Anglo-American museum history is maritime history.

But the words that I hope I will carry with me always are on page 83:

Any of us who tampers with the remains of the past has a moral responsibility to it...

What makes this book such an indispensable partner is the fact that it tells us why.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Following bluefin

I first became interested in bluefin tuna through reading Trevor Corson's Zen of fish : the story of sushi from Samurai to supermarket (which is now out in paperback as The Story of sushi). After hearing Richard Ellis on NPR's Talk of the Nation, I'm eager to read his new book, Tuna : a love story.

The NPR story, broadcast on Sept. 5, 2008, is available as a podcast, and is well worth a listen; a little over a half-hour, the discussion includes developments from recent research, and fascinating details about the life of an amazing creature.

While you're listening, you can also watch a bluefin from the comfort of your own computer via the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Outer Bay Cam, which is accompanied by an excellent spotting guide to help identify the animals you're seeing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Talk like a pirate day

It's an annual event and quite a cultural phenomenon: Sept. 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. It was all started by Dave Barry, with his Miami Herald column from Sept. 8, 2002.

Wired has takent the opportunity to post A Reality Check - 9 Pirate Myths Examined with useful links embedded in the text, including one to an article from Slate, published June 5, 2007, that examines the origins of what we think of as pirate-speech. Both articles argue strongly that we're really celebrating Talk Like Robert Newton Day.

Want to really talk like a pirate? Of course, pirates today probably speak like everyone else does, only possibly more strongly. (I would rather not find out for sure.) But Christopher Bonanos, the author of the Slate article, provides instructions for speaking like a historic pirate:

...onboard speech was most likely underclass British sailor with extra curse words, augmented with a polyglot slang of French, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch picked up around the trade routes

Cheers, bon chance, and good [expletive deleted] celebrations!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Arctic chills

I have been eagerly following the current wave of Arctic exploration, and clicked over to the Arctic Chronicles, the new USGS blog by Jessica Robertson, with anticipation. It wasn't the image of ice to port that gave me goosebumps, nor the thrill of following along on an expedition in a way unthought of in Lady Franklin's day; it was the name of the ship: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

Captain Healy's thrilling story will give anyone chills. The son of a former slave, I first learned about him through Maria Brooks' film, The Odyssey of Captain Healy. His story is exciting in ways that would ring falsely in fiction, and now the U.S.'s newest and most technologically advanced icebreaker is proudly carrying his name on a voyage of exploration.

Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Avoid Huge Ships takes third

John Trimmer's How to Avoid Huge Ships finished a close third in the Bookseller's online poll to find the oddest book title of the last thirty years, taking a respectable 10% of the vote. The winner with 13% was Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, followed by People Who Don't Know They're Dead with 11%.

Conceived as a way to avoid boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Tittle of the Year was first awarded by The Diagram Group in 1978 to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. How to Avoid Huge Ships won the prize in 1992, just before American Bottom Archaeology took it in 1993.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Leap seconds

The U.S. Naval Observatory has posted a survey to gather information in advance of the International Telecommunications Union Radiocommunications Sector's consideration of a proposal to discontinue the periodic addition of leap seconds to Coordinated Universal Time. Probably of more interest to the maritime professions than the museum crowd, it is worth a look--the more technically minded can find a link there to the .pdf of the Memorandum and white paper from Assistant Secretary of Defense John G. Grimes (from Sept. 3, 2008).

The more general reader may wish to follow the other link at the top of the page to the USNO's leap seconds page. Scientific and historical, this page links to other fascinating resources such as excellent descriptions of different systems of time.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Where no water bear has gone before

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are fascinating creatures. They are little studied, but very successful--they live on land, in fresh water, and in the sea. They are amazingly hardy creatures, able to survive incredibly harsh environments, and have become the first known animal able to survive the vacuum of outer space.

Details are in the coverage of the press release in Science Daily, which has a link to the article in Current Biology. If you have access to a microscope, you can go find water bears--see the Goldstein Lab at UNC Chapel Hill's website on tardigrades to learn how. You may fall under their spell--they're absolutely adorable, and as enchanting as any magical creature--they can survive for years without water, even traveling on the wind, can be freeze-dried, and come back to life in minutes when rehydrated.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Museum Associations

The American Association of Museums (in the U.S.) has released new Standards Regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art (approved July, 2008). This is just one publication on a useful website; it's a shame that much of the information there is hidden behind a member login, since membership in AAM is far beyond the resources of the majority of museums in the U.S.

This is where the Small Museum Association comes in. Their website even features a Classifieds section, and their list of members is wonderful--you can limit by type of museum with a handy pop-down list.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Maritime Flickr

The maritime treasure on Flickr is breathtaking. Beyond the beauty of the images shared by contemporary photographers (one of my favorites is OneEighteen) are the historic images being uploaded to Flickr in droves. The image that accompanies this post is from The Smithsonian Institution's photostream. Of course, not all of it is maritime, but the institutional users are taking their Flickr presence very seriously, with thorough captions, topical sets for easy browsing, and tags that allow easy searching & retrieval of their images.

I also like checking out who the institution's contacts are (go to their Profile, then scroll down). (The Brooklyn Museum's behind the scenes sets are fascinating.) If you check out the Library of Congress' Flickr site, be prepared to search by tags, because they have over 4000 images in only two sets, so browsing by set may take a while--a fun while, but a while.

The true maritime treasure on Flickr? Here you go:

Use the "people" search to find more!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bookstart Day

Booktrust in the U.K. has announced the theme for National Bookstart Day 2008: Pirates Ahoy!

I find this fascinating. Their slogan, "gifting free books to babies," makes me imagine a ship full of babies preparing to repel boarders.

So arm yourself with a book and get involved! Their website has information for libraries, parents, booksellers--in the U.K. and abroad. An article at also has details on planned activities, including those at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.