Jonathan Crowe

Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

American Snakes

While reading Sean P. Graham’s American Snakes (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), I suddenly realized that most of the snake books in my library are now at least a generation old. That’s a function of my buying most of them in a burst of enthusiasm around 20 years ago. It was easy for me to assume that I’d read everything there was to read at the subject, at least at the level at which I was capable of reading (any further, and I’d have to take a degree in the subject). But herpetology has not stood still in the ensuing decades: there have been new studies, and new discoveries—and new people doing it. Graham, an assistant professor at Sul Ross State University in Texas, is very much a member of a new generation of herpetologists, and American Snakes very much reflects that fact.

Telescope Wars

A class-action antitrust lawsuit has been filed against telescope companies Celestron and Sky-Watcher, alleging price-fixing by their parent company, Synta, with its ostensible competitor, Ningbo Sunny, which owns Meade. Together Synta and Ningbo Sunny sell 80 percent of all telescopes in the United States, and the suit alleges that the companies agreed to avoid competing with each other, leaving one or the other company alone in a given market segment; see the court filing. None of the claims has been proven in court. Meade has already lost a lawsuit alleging price fixing and collusion brought by competitor Orion Telescopes, in which Orion was awarded more than $50 million in damages; Meade filed for bankruptcy. This new lawsuit draws on court documents from the Orion case.

An Analysis of Fountain Pen Ink Reviews

Adam Santone did a quantitative analysis of 15,000 customer reviews of 500 fountain pen inks sold on the Goulet Pen Company website. Those reviews rated inks by characteristics like drying time, flow, shading and water resistance, and Adam collated those ratings into useful comparative tables. There are some artifacts here and there—I don’t think Iroshizuku Syo-ro is supposed to be water-resistant—and different bottle sizes of the same ink have different entries, because reviews are by the SKU, but this will really help inform my ink buying in the future. [r/fountainpens]

Ghibli Week

Ghibli Week was Polygon’s week-long (25-30 May) look at Studio Ghibli, its relationship with Disney, and (of course) its movies, predicated by those movies finally becoming available digitally and via streaming services, making them more accessible than they’ve ever been. A lot of interesting, focused articles on the themes, influences and behind-the-scenes activities of these films.

Goober, 2004-2020

Our oldest cat, Goober, died at noon today. He’d been suffering from kidney failure for some time, and this week things took a turn for the worse: he stopped eating and drinking, and was close to the end on multiple fronts. So we took him to the vet and had done what needed doing.

Here are some things you should know about Goober:

He was a big cat. When we first saw him at the Arnprior animal shelter on 28 July 2004, he was larger than the other kittens in the room. There were a lot of other kittens in the room, dozens of them, and they were passing infections back and forth. Goober—then called Mervyn—seemed a little bigger, a little older, and possibly a little harder for the shelter to place; also maybe a little healthier, a little more robust, but we’ll get into that later.

Instances of Head-Switching

Book cover: Instances of Head-SwitchingMy review of Teresa Milbrodt’s new short-story collection, Instances of Head-Switching (Shade Mountain Press, 2020) is now online at Strange Horizons. This is my first review for Strange Horizons, which incidentally is running its annual fund drive this month. They acknowledge that trying to raise funds at a time like this is a hell of an ask, but it’s donations that keep their lights on and pay their contributors (like me), so if you’re able and inclined, please check out their Kickstarter.

Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

The Possible Origins of My Surname

My family history is patchy, especially on the Crowe side. The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland identifies two regional loci of the Crowe surname: one in an axis from Norfolk to London, the other apparently emanating from the Isle of Man and found in nearby Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham and Northumbria. I believe my great-great-grandfather came to Canada from London, so I’m probably from the Norfolk-to-London group. The Dictionary says that surname derives from “Middle English crou, crowe ‘crow’ (Old English crāwe), denoting someone with dark hair or a dark complexion, or perhaps a raucous individual.” The Manx surname is said to derive from “Mac Conchrada ‘son of Cú-chrada’, a personal name meaning ‘hound of destruction’”—which sounds just a bit too badass to be true.

About the iOS Family Sharing Bug

On Friday Jennifer discovered that she could no longer run Facebook on her iPhone; the app gave an error message telling her that “This app is no longer shared with you.” This bug appears to be widespread if not ragingly common; the working theory (given the error message) is that a bug in Family Sharing is to blame. Deleting and reinstalling the misbehaving app solves the problem, but as AppleInsider points out, that might lose you your data: offloading the app (under Settings > General > iPhone Storage), rather than deleting it, is the better option. Update: TechCrunch reports that Apple has fixed the bug.

Fountain Pen Nib Size Charts

Fountain pen nibs come in fine, medium and other sizes, but there’s no standard definition for those terms. A Japanese nib is usually a size finer than its European equivalent, for example, but there are exceptions all over the place. There are guides to a nib’s tipping size—the actual writing surface, measured in tenths of a millimetre—from Pen Chalet and Nibs.com, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole story. According to Pen Chalet, a TWSBI medium nib has the same tipping size as a Pilot medium, but my TWSBI Eco writes much thicker than my Pilot Metropolitan. The TWSBI nib might be wetter, and the ink might be too. And at the moment my Eco is loaded with a quick-drying ink that feathers a little on good paper. So it seems that there are other factors at play. I’ll figure them out as I go.

Garter Snakes Prefer the Company of Their Friends

Eastern Garter Snakes, Shawville QC, April 2018.A recent study exploring social behaviour in Eastern Garter Snakes (Thamnophis s. sirtalis) found that snakes “actively seek social interaction, prefer to remain with larger aggregates, and associate nonrandomly with specific individuals or groups.” In other words, they had preferences as to who they hung out with. “The snakes’ social networks were perturbed twice a day by ‘shuffling’ their locations. Despite these disturbances, the snakes eventually re-formed their preferred social environment.” This isn’t the first time snakes’ social preferences have been documented. And it’s no surprise to me that garter snakes also exhibit this sort of behaviour: I’ve observed that captive garter snakes do much better when kept in groups, and they aggregate all the time in the wild. [Science]

John Scalzi’s Interdependency Novels in One Chart

Graph: Number of Times the Word ‘Fuck‘ (or a Variant Thereof) Was Used in John Scalzi’s Interdependency Novels

Those of you who’ve read this series—The Last Emperox came out this week, in case you missed it—know exactly what I’m referring to here. I mean, we could break it down by character, but really, what would be the point in that?

Using Fountain Pens When You’re Left Handed

Ana Reinert’s Fountain Pen Guide for the Left-handed Writer and Goulet Pens’s Fountain Pens for Lefties set out some of the challenges faced by left-handed fountain pen users like me. Mostly the challenges involve having to push the nib across the page rather than pull it, and smudging your writing with your hand before the ink has time to dry. For my part I’ve had trouble with fine nibs scratching the page, and with smudging ink (particularly on Clairefontaine Triomphe pads; I suspect I’ll have the same trouble with Rhodia, but I haven’t broken into my stash of that stuff yet). Options include avoiding flex and stub nibs and using fast-drying inks. And some pens just work better: the medium-nib Pilot Metropolitan I use right now is the best pen I’ve ever written with.

Taking Facebook Quizzes Is a Bad Idea

From January, but all the more relevant now that more people are at home, bored and wasting time on social media: Why taking Facebook quizzes are a bad idea. The quizzes ask questions—like the name of your first pet, the city of your birth or the month of your birth—that are often used as security questions for bank accounts. No single quiz asks for enough information to do it, but you might be giving criminals enough information across multiple quizzes to hack your account. After all, you don’t know who’s behind these quizzes, but they know who you are—because you’re using your Facebook account!

Star Maps Reviewed

New book review! I review the third edition of Nick Kanas’s Star Maps: History, Artistry, and Cartography (Springer Praxis, 2019) in the March 2020 issue of Calafia, the journal of the California Map Society. The issue is now available for download (PDF), as are earlier issues of Calafia.

Update: The review is now available at The Map Room.

Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple BooksBookshop

The Elements of Cat Vacuuming


Vacuuming a cat requires only one thing: a cat with zero fucks to give. A cat that stands their ground when other cats scatter to the wind. A cat that cannot be yelled at to get down from there. A cat that ignores what he chooses to ignore. A cat that stands athwart. A cat like that will not run when the vacuum cleaner comes out. A cat like that will sit there and dare you to vacuum them. And then not care if you do. Because running away and giving a damn is just too much work. (Also, they might actually enjoy it, but would prefer it if you didn’t tell anyone.)

Goober has always been a cat you could vacuum. That’s because Goober is serene in his own domain: he is only afraid if he gets outside, or is moved into a new home, or goes to the vet. I’m sad to report that he is now in decline: he’s lost a lot of weight and is looking shakier all the time. He turns 16 this month, and we’re not sure how much longer we’ll have him. But he’ll still gouge your knees if you don’t pick him up, and grab your plate away from you if he wants your food—and yes, he won’t budge if you bring out the vacuum.

He’d probably still punch a dog, if a dog were available for him to punch.

Page 2 of 15

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén