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Some Notes About Footnotes

Why are footnotes generally composed of compound keys instead of being primary keys themselves? I’ve noticed that in most books I read that contain footnotes, the footnote renumbering restarts with each chapter. That means in order to uniquely identify a footnote you need to know the chapter and the note number. Wouldn’t it be easier to just to number them incrementally throughout the whole book?1

I’ve been thinking about this because I noticed this is exactly what happens in Richard Rhodes’s Dark Sun. The footnotes are not renumbered between chapters but just continue on. I love this and can’t understand why this isn’t standard behavior in the footnoting industry.

Another thing I’ve noticed about footnotes is that often times, they are the most interesting part of the book. It is for this reason that I follow every footnote and try not to miss them. I think of a footnote as the author pausing in his storytelling to lean over to me, hand to the side of his mouth, and whispering something like, “Joe himself told me this story after drinking an entire bottle of vodka2.”

This begs the question: what makes a footnote a footnote? Why is such interesting material relegated to a smaller font, often at the back of the book? Clearly it was worth including in the book, or the editor would have suggested cutting it.

You don’t see footnotes much in fiction. Isaac Asimov made good use of them in Murder at the ABA. I understand David Foster Wallace did something similar in Infinite Jest3.

When footnotes aren’t offering a specific citation, they are often much more informal than the main text. Some of Will Durant’s funniest lines in his Story of Civilization come in the footnotes.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that a footnote that simply reads, “ibid” could save some confusion by changing “ibid” to “ditto.” It would save the trouble of having to lookup what “ibid” means. I can’t always remember that the Latin word ibidem means “in the same place4.”

E-books have made it much easier to navigate footnotes. When reading a paper book, I am forced to use two bookmarks5, one to keep my place in the text, and one to keep my place in the footnotes. But with e-books, I can just tap on the footnote and have a little popup appear so that I can read it.

Footnotes are a crap-shoot when it comes to an audio book. Some readers will read the footnotes, others don’t. I don’t know where the decision is made, but I wish it was more consistent one way or the other.

When footnotes come at the bottom of the page they are called footnotes. When they come at the end of the book, they are called endnotes. They are are one of the few things I can think of that are identical in meaning, but are called different things based on where they are located.

Do “footnotes” even make sense in an e-book, or do we need a new term? E-note, maybe6?


  1. Maybe there is concern about footnotes numbered into the thousands, but I don’t see how that can be a problem from a technical standpoint.
  2. In audiobooks, I often wish the narrator would read the footnotes in a mock-whisper. Instead, they tend to just say, “Footnote,” followed by whatever the footnote is
  3. I seem to recall that A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers did this as well.
  4. I had to look this up just now to remind myself what this means
  5. Business cards
  6. Way back in January 2008, I wrote about footnotes. I’m getting repetitive in my middle age.

Field Notes 2021 Work Station Calendar

Two weeks ago, I lamented how I missed ordering the 2021 Field Notes work station calendar, until it was too late, and they were all gone. Over on Facebook, my friend Kevin pointed out that a Canadian stationary store, Noteworthy, had them in stock. I ordered one immediately (I was sure I’d be too late), and the calendar arrived today.

My 2021 Field Notes work station calendar

I can now rest easy. I am set for an entire year (well, 363 days at this point.)

A Quiet Day by the Fire

It was cold here today, the temperature down into the 20s when I woke up this morning. So I built up a fire in the fireplace, and planned to spend my day sitting in close proximity to the fire, reading, and not doing much else. To that end, I was mostly successful.

I finished reading Simon Winchester’s new book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World. A good book, as I find just about all of Winchester’s books to be. The book rekindled my yearning for wide-open spaces. A passage on suburbs, which could describe the area in which I live just south of Washington, D.C., highlights the artifice which, like a poorly fitting show rubbing away at a heel, bothers me more and more.

In the suburbs beyond the urban limits, the degradation of the land has been more insidious, its demoted status often cunningly disguised. Such land as appears to exist is mostly artifice, a simulacrum of countryside, the greenest of its expanses available at great expense to the golfer or more ironically to the members of what for the past two centuries have been called country clubs. These last are institutions placed well beyond the real country they seek to resemble and offer a reminder—for a considerable annual fee—of the rural dreamland that some old-timers recall went before.

Meanwhile, I kept warm in my suburban home by my neat fireplace, with wood I avoided chopping myself (I enjoy chopping wood but there is no practical way for me to do it here) and every now and then, paused to dream of wide-open spaces.

Next up, for those curious, is Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace’s book, Creativity, Inc., about which I have heard many good things. Winchester’s Land had me leaning toward something by or about John Muir, but I don’t have the heart for that at the moment.

Movienite.txt

In an effort to watch movies I’ve never seen, and to avoid making decisions, I wrote myself a little script the other day called movienite I grabbed a list of 600+ movies under the TCM Channel on HBO Max. I randomized1 the list and created 2 text files: movienite.txt and watched.txt.

I wrote a little command-line script (hat tip that to that decades-old, but reliable sed command) that shows me the first line of the movienite.txt file: the next movie to watch. Since it is very unlikely that I will watch a movie every night, I wrote a second script that that moves the first line of the movienite.txt file to the end of the watched.txt file.

The first movie that popped up (and, yes, I did watch it) was a Charles Bronson film called 10 to Midnight, a police thriller which was pretty terrible writing, and pretty bad acting, but that made it that much more fun to watch. Wilfred Brimley was in the film as well.

I like the randomness of it. It’s once less decision to make. I joked with Kelly that it’s like the old Saturday Night Movie in the 1970s: you get what you get, that’s it.

If you are curious, here are the next 9 movies that I’ll be watching at some point. I did peek at the first ten, but I haven’t looked at the list after that, and I don’t plan to. I like the element of surprise too much.

  • Hobson’s Choice
  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
  • The Kid
  • Modern Times
  • The Man with the Golden Arm
  • How to Be a Player
  • Cheyenne Autumn
  • Swordfish
  1. It’s pseudorandom in that sequels aren’t picked before the previous film has been watched. So movienite won’t put Superman II before Superman: The Movie.

BREAKING NEWS: Disturbance in Christmas Village

I’ve got a busy day today, but I didn’t want to break my streak of posting every day. So here’s some breaking news. There has been a disturbance in our Christmas Village that I noted when I woke up this morning. Fortunately, there were no casualties. The NTSB is on-scene investigating. This story is evolving.

Footage of the disturbance in Christmas Village

For the record, I suspect the Little Man, who was last seen attempting to fly this plane after dinner last night. The Dairy Queen escaped unscathed.

Tim Conway’s Elephant Story

I know that this is a classic episode of The Carol Burnett Show, and it has floated around the Internet for some time now. But every now and then, when I feel the need for a laugh, something to really revitalize my mood, I’ll turn to a video like this, and it is incredible how well it works for me. They say laughter is the best medicine, and in my book, this video and Tim Conway’s genius (and Vicky Lawrence’s one-liner at the end) prove this adage true. If you are in need of a laugh, well, you’re welcome.

Long Time, No Write

I can’t recall the last time I went more than 2 months without posting something here on the blog. I’ll try not to let that happen again.

Things have been busy: busy with work; busy with kids distance-learning; busy with a couple of kids in school classroom learning; busy with life in general.

The busy days have even impacted my reading. For the first time in several years, I am not going to reach my reading goal for the year. I set a goal of 110 books this year. At present I’ve read 88 with two more likely to be complete before the year is out, for an even 90. Part of the reason is this general busyness. Part of it is the long books I’ve taken on this year. Six of the books I’ve read this year have been over 1,000 pages:

  • The Dark Tower by Stephen King (1,050 pages)
  • The Reformation by Will Durant (1,025 pages)
  • Truman by David McCullough (1,120 pages)
  • Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro (1,167 pages)
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1,007 pages)
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (1,088 pages)

The two remaining books (Oathbringer and Rhythm of War, both by Sanderson) are each over 1,100 pages. That’s totals around 8,700 pages in just 7 books! Which, you know, takes time.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop in and say that I am alive and well, and plan on getting back to some sort of regular posting schedule here, and to apologize for being away for so long.

Thanks for sticking around!

R.I.P. Carl Reiner

I learned this afternoon that Carl Reiner died yesterday at age 98. I read several Reiner’s books over the years, including I Remember Me and I Just Remembered. The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Reiner created, was one of my favorite TV shows, despite its originally airing a decade before I was born. The episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee featuring Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks is one of my favorites.

Rest in peace, Carl Reiner.

1,000 Hours of Audiobooks in 2019

Given all of the reading that I keep track of, one thing I haven’t managed to track is how many hours of audiobooks I actually listen to in a given year. The Audible app shows only the last 5 months worth of listening metrics, and several days ago, I found myself wondering how much it might be. Today, I found out, thanks to an email from Audible. It turns out that through yesterday, I’ve listened to 936 hours of audiobooks this year.

This turns out to be about 2-1/2 hours each day on average. But the number is a bit understated for a few reasons. First, given that it has to be through yesterday, it doesn’t count today or tomorrow, which, based on the last several days, will add another 10 hours to that figure. So we have 946 hours.

Then, too, it has been a long time since I have listened to any book at normal speed. Indeed, listening to a book a normal speed makes the narrator sound drugged. I typically listen at 1.5x normal speed, with some books (depending on the narrator) at 1.75x normal speed. Call it an average of 1.6x for the year. In that case, in my 946 hours of audiobook listening this year, I’ve listened to 1,514 hours worth of audiobooks. That’s an average of 4.1 hours/day compressed down to 2-1/2 hours a day thanks to the faster listening speed.

I am currently reading (listening to) Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-Earth by Ian Nathan. I expect to finish this book tomorrow, and that will give me 114 books read this year. Of those, the vast majority, 105, are audiobooks.

I’m often chagrined thinking about how much more I might have read if I’d embraced audiobooks sooner. I friend of mine has been using Audible since the late 1990s, while I only got started with Audible in 2013. Indeed, I am on the record claiming I could never listen to an audiobook–which just goes to illustrate the folly of being closed-minded.

Some of the time I spent listening to books this year did not go into completing a book. I give up on quite a few books each year, and if I give up on a book, it doesn’t make it to my list of books I’ve read. I’ve never kept track of the books I give up on so I don’t know how many or how often it happens. I’m considering keeping track in 2020.

I’ll have more to say on the books I read this year later in the week, after the year is over. I plan on posting a list of my 12 favorite books of the year, as well as a separate post on the 10 best books I read this decade. Stay-tuned.

16 Books (and Counting)

Earlier this month, I finished reading my 100th book for the year. It is the second year in a row that I have read at least 100 books. Last year, I read 130, and I don’t think that record will fall this year. However, yesterday, I set a new reading record for myself: I finished my 16th book in a single month.

Last year, there were two occasions on which I read 15 books in a month, October and November. So far, this November, I have read 16 book. I will likely complete one more book before the month is out, but it is unlikely I will finish the book that I started to read yesterday before the end of the month: Don Quixote.

The last two pages of my reading journal contains a chart and some tables where I keep these stats. I am looking forward to inking in the final number for November on Sunday morning. (The photo was from late October before I finished the month. The count in the October 2019 box is 13 books.)

The last two pages of my reading journal.

Looking at those pages gives me some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I note that the last month in which I read nothing was January 2015, and the last month I read fewer than 5 books was September 2017. Last year I hit double-digits in 8 out of 12 months. This year it’s half that so far.

I think the chart also demonstrates I am something of an optimist. It captures my months reading stats through 2045. In 2045 I’ll be 73 years old, which still seems like a long way of. All told, the chart covers 50 years of reading. Next year will mark 25 full years that I’ve been keeping my list/journal. It will also be the year that I surpass a total of 1,000 books read since starting my list in 1996.

25 Years and Counting

25 years ago today, I started my first job out of college. I’d graduated about three months earlier, and spent the summer after my graduation continuing to work in the dorm cafeteria office, where I did some computer work. Meanwhile, I looked for full-time job.

I graduated with a degree in political science and journalism, and really had no idea what I wanted to do for full time work. I was good with computers, having grown up learning to tame them, and when a job came up with a company looking for computer people to work at the corporate “helpdesk”, I applied. I was eventually called for an interview. That interview lasted all day. Then, nothing for several weeks.

Eventually, I got a call offering me a job. It came with a salary, and benefits, and I was really excited about it. I took it. My first day was on October 17, 1994.

Fast forward a quarter century. Today, I am still working for the same company. My role has changed over the years, as has my location (in 2002, I relocated from California to Virginia), but I still work for the same department as I did when I first started, although it has gone through a number of name changes in the 25 intervening years.

When I tell people I’ve been with the same company for 25 years, the response I get is a nearly universal, ” That’s unheard of these days.” All I can say is that I wouldn’t really know, never having worked anywhere else since graduating. I will say that longevity is fairly common where I work. In fact, I am not even in the top 100 in terms of longevity. Indeed, even within my own department, I am 16th overall in terms of how long I have been with the company.

My kids asked me this morning if I liked working there, given that I have been there so long. I smiled, and nodded, and said, “Yeah, I guess I do.” When I first started, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first year. Everyone else seemed so much smarter than me. Now, they still all seem smarter than me, but they tolerate me, and I’ve got to admit, I think I’ve finally warmed to the place.

I’ve always been the slow, but steady type, after all.

Books I’m Looking Forward to in October

October may be a rare month for boys* but it looks to be a great month for books. I don’t know why, but there are a ton of books that I am looking forward to reading coming out in October. Here are some of them:

  • Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson (October 8)
  • Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews (October 15)
  • Edison by Edmund Morris (October 22)
  • The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski (October 22)
    Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré (October 22)
  • Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography by David S. Reynolds (October 29)
  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Full cast audiobook starring Meryl Streep) (October 29)
  • Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child (October 29)

These are just books coming out in October, above and beyond the books I have queued up to read soon. Having recently gone through my worst reading drought in nearly two years (I read only 5 books in August, my lowest since January 2018), it is an embarras de richesse to have so many books to look forward to.

*A reference to Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.