From my diary

2014 has certainly started with a bang!  Here I am, on the Friday of the first week back, and it seems as if I was never on holiday!

The two monochrome microfilm-PDF’s of the unpublished history by the 13th century Arabic Christian writer al-Makin, from the Bibliothèque Nationale Français are now on my hard disk.  Obtaining them cost over 200 euros, which I grudge greatly.  On the other hand I do like the BNF’s new website and system of ordering online!  This works very well.  Now if only we could get colour pictures of manuscripts at a reasonable price!!

The microfilms are at least clear and easily readable, which is more than the last ones obtained from the BnF were.

A week or two back Amazon (US) sent me a gift card.  This allowed me to buy the new translation of the patrialogical texts on Constantinople, about which I wrote a while back.  It was on the door mat this evening when I arrived home.  It’s a useful item to have, that’s for sure, although fairly elementary.  One thing that I did not like: all footnotes are at the end.  I had forgotten how annoying that is.

I’ve also signed up for the 5th British Patristics conference, to be held at Kings College London on 3-5th September, 2014.  I have attended two of these conferences, and they were both superior to the international patristics conference in Oxford.  The reason for this is that the time allowed for papers is longer, and so the papers contain more.

On a personal note, I’ve decided to make another effort to see the Northern Lights this year.


The March 2009 Bloodsucker award winner — the Bibliothèque Nationale Français

In early January I ordered images from the Bibliothèque Nationale Français of a manuscript of the unpublished 13th century Arabic Christian historian, al-Makin.  Today I received a CDROM containing two PDF’s.   The PDF’s were simply scans of a low-grade black-and-white microfilm, of about the same quality as a Google books scan.  One was 40Mb, the other 10Mb.  Together they totalled 640 images.  I also received my credit card bill; these two files cost me $400.

My feelings may be imagined.  At such prices, obtaining several manuscripts is impossible.  And… for that obscene price, could they not have photographed the things in colour?  The black and white images, of course, don’t scale.  The rubrics are lost in the text.  Quite how I print these things I do not know.

Oh yes.  Want a copy?  Well, they sent me a legal notice saying I can’t give you one.  You have to pay them again, if you want to see them.  These, remember, are publicly owned manuscripts!

This is disgusting.  So, with all these reasons in m ind, I award the Bibliothèque Nationale Français the second Bloodsucker award

I will award it, ad hoc, to institutions in receipt of state funding which in order to make money violate their primary directive; to make books available and promote learning.

Well done, chaps.  May you all rot in the hell reserved for those who knowingly obstruct the progress of learning.

My previous award was to the John Rylands Library in 2008, also for making it impossibly expensive to obtain a usable copy of a manuscript of al-Makin.

Postscript: I have now discovered that the photographs are of two-page spreads.  Most of the images have a large black band down the centre of the opening, wide enough to obscure the text on the inner margins.  Guess what?  Being black on white, this means that the ends of the words are all unreadable.  And this, for $400.  I have been forced to write back and point this out.  I may have to involve VISA, to recover money for substandard merchandise.  What’s the betting that they simply try to get me to pay yet more money?

UPDATE 6th March 2009: No reply from the BNF.  I’ve now written again and threatened (politely) to go to VISA for a refund.