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Armidale

It's been nearly four weeks since I farewelled my friends and left Armidale, which somehow seems both very recent and very distant. Before I left, I'd planned to post some of my favourite photos of the town, but in the press of events didn't manage to. And after, I found it difficult to decide which in fact were my favourites! But here are some that I like.
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Boeing E75, VH-JLW

This a Boeing (Stearman) Model 75, built in 1941 for use as a primary trainer for the US Army Air Forces. After a postwar career in the US as a cropduster, it was registered in Australia as VH-JLW and is now operated by Fleet Adventures, based at Armidale Regional Airport. And last Friday, as a surprise, and very touching, farewell present from my friends (aided and abetted by my partner), I flew in it!
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In two weeks from today I'll be leaving Armidale for good, and heading back to Melbourne, my hometown. It's mostly for excellent personal reasons, but in part it's also because of the usual early-career academic story of precarious employment. My colleagues at the University of New England have supported me as much they could, but work is drying up and it's clear that any kind of secure position is, at best, a long way off. In addition, with a faculty restructure and as a casual, access to research support is increasingly limited (unfortunately, I had to give up my KCL fellowship). So, after 5 years it's time to leave.

Not that there's a job waiting for me down south, but there are five or six times as many universities in Melbourne as there are in Armidale, so that must help my chances! In the short term I'll have to readjust to life as an independent historian again. I will continue to research and to write, including as part of the Heritage of the Air project, and attend conferences when I can (starting with the International Society for First World War Studies conference in Melbourne, as it happens). Airminded will likely see more activity than it has in the past few years, too.

I will miss my friends here in Armidale. But there's a lot to look forward to in Melbourne!

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Disburse contiguum against yet the most squamous bulwark

With war comes confusion, and with confusion comes a need for clarity. So it was with simple, determined messages like this that the National Office of Information kept the undersieged civilians of Britain in a robust frame of mind during the teething pains of the Second World War.

The language may be arcane, but the message is plain: disburse contiguum against yet the most squamous bulwark. Firm and reassuringly steadfast, it is a call to action that still resonates today, during times of national pandæmonium. Will Self has a tattoo of this poster on his tongue.

Source: National Office of Importance.

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A tweet from William J. Turkel alerted me to the possibility of using 18th century-style fonts in LaTeX. The most noticeable difference from modern typesetting is the long s, but there are different ligatures too. There are a number of ways to do it but the easiest way is with the inbuilt Kepler Fonts package. (The Fell Types are far prettier, but look difficult, or at least tedious, to install. Font management is one of LaTeX's biggest weaknesses.) Just insert the following in your preamble and you're done:

\usepackage[fullveryoldstyle]{kpfonts}

Well, almost. This simply replaces every s with a long s, which is not right. Most importantly, long s is generally not used at the end of a word, so you need to replace these with 's='. Here's what the first paragraph of my thesis looks like when done this way:

I wish I'd known about this before submitting it.

Today, I was reading an account of the Cambridge Scientists' Anti-War Group in Gary Werskey, The Visible College (London: Allen Lane, 1978). On p. 230 I came across the following passage:

The Association of Scientific Workers strongly endorsed their work,48 as did J. B. S. Haldane.

I turned to the endnotes to check the reference, and found the following:

48. B. Holman, 'Anti-gas Research', Scientific Worker, vol. 10 (April 1937), pp. 150-52.

I don't think I actually need this, but I'm tempted to track it down just to see what the B stands for!

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I've just noticed this odd condition for the use of the Imperial War Museum's collections website:

Links to our website may only be included in other websites with our prior written permission.

Source: http, followed by a colon, then two forward slashes, then www, a dot, iwmcollections, another dot, org, a third dot, uk, another forward slash, and then terms, one last dot, and finally php.

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I've got an article in the current (November 2008) issue of Fortean Times (named, of course, after Charles Fort). It's not at all airminded, it's not really historical either -- it has more to do with my shady astrophysicist past. It's about the famous Betty and Barney Hill abduction incident in New Hampshire in 1961 -- that's alien abduction, supposedly. In a hypnosis session a couple years later, Betty recalled being shown a star map on board her abductor's craft, supposedly of nearby space. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a schoolteacher named Marjorie Fish used the latest astronomical data in a prodigious effort to match the map to real stars near the Sun. And eventually she found a good match, which has been touted by some ufologists as scientific proof of the reality of alien visitation, possibly from Zeta Reticuli.

Except that nobody ever checked Fish's model against new astronomical data gathered over the last three decades, in particular the parallax observations made by the Hipparcos satellite in the early 1990s. When you do this, the Fish interpretation falls to pieces! Using her own assumptions and the new data, six of the fifteen stars chosen by Fish must be excluded, which is no match at all. And that's what my article is about. So I think this makes me, officially, a dirty debunker. Or maybe a noisy negativist.

I have an erratum: a footnote I added late in the editing process didn't make it through. It should have come after the word 'collapse' in the fifth sentence in the last column on page 51:

Since writing the above, I have been made aware of an unpublished and thorough analysis of the Fish interpretation by Charles Huffer of MUFON, which also uses Hipparcos data to reach conclusions similar to mine.

Anyway, I promise there will be some aeroplaney stuff soon :)