robertogreco + mobydick   12

Novels Are Made of Words: Moby-Dick, Emotion, and Abridgment
"Paul Valéry tells the story: The painter Edgar Degas was backhanded-bragging to his friend Stéphane Mallarmé about the poems that he, Degas, had been trying to write. He knew they weren’t great, he said, “But I’ve got lots of ideas—too many ideas.” “But my dear Degas,” the poet replied, “poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made of words.”

Paintings, for that matter, are not made of pretty ballerinas or landscapes: they’re made of paint.

Which brings us to Syuzhet, Matthew Jockers’s new program that analyzes the words of a novel for their emotional value and graphs the sentimental shape of the book. Dan Piepenbring has explained it all here and here on the Daily, with links to the original postings and the various outcries, some of them in the comments, that have blown up around Jockers.

Many people apparently find Jockers’s research the latest assault of technocratic digitocracy on the citadel of deep humanistic feelings, but that’s not how I see it. What the graphs reveal about potboiler narrative structure versus high-literary arcs, for instance—Dan Brown’s higher average positivity than James Joyce’s, and his more regular cycle of highs and lows to force the reader through the book—is insightful, useful, and great.

In some ways, it’s hard for me to even see what the fuss is about. “It’s not that it’s wrong,” one commenter writes. “It’s just that it’s an extremely poor substitute for reading, enjoying, and discussing literature.” But who said anything about a substitute? Does this commenter not notice that the discussions of the graphs rest on having read the books and seeing how the graphs shed light on them? Another: “Okay, fuck this guy for comparing Dan Brown to James Joyce.” Well, how else can you say Joyce is better and Brown is worse? That’s what’s known as a comparison. Or do you think Joyce can’t take it?

Freak-outs aside, there are substantive rebuttals, too. What seems to be the most rigorous objection is from SUNY professor and fellow digital-humanities scholar Annie Swafford, who points out some failures in the algorithm. “I am extremely happy today” and “There is no happiness left in me,” for example, read as equally positive. And:

Longer sentences may be given greater positivity or negativity than their contents warrant, merely because they have greater number of positive or negative words. For instance, “I am extremely happy!” would have a lower positivity ranking than “Well, I’m not really happy; today, I spilled my delicious, glorious coffee on my favorite shirt and it will never be clean again.”

But let’s actually compare “Well, I’m not really happy; today, I spilled my delicious, glorious coffee on my favorite shirt and it will never be clean again” to “I’m sad.” The positivity or negativity might be the same, assuming there could be some kind of galvanometer or something attached to the emotional nodes of our brain to measure the “pure” “objective” “quantity” of positivity. But the first of those sentences is more emotional—maybe not more positive, but more expressive, more histrionic. Ranking it higher than “I’m sad” or even “I am very happy” makes a certain kind of sense.

“There is no happiness left in me” and “I am all sadness from now on” are the same seven words to a logician or a hypothetical emotiomometer, but not to a novelist or a reader. Everyone in advertising and political wordsmithing knows that people absorb the content of a statement much more than the valence: to say that something “is not horrific and apocalyptic” is a downer, despite the “not.” Or consider: “Gone for eternity is the delight that once filled my heart to overflowing—the sparkle of sun on the fresh morning dew of new experience, soft envelopments of a lover’s thighs, empyrean intellectual bliss, everything that used to give my life its alpenglow of hope and wonder—never again!” and “I’m depressed.” An algorithm that rates the first piece of writing off-the-charts positive is a more useful quantification of the words than one that would rate the emotional value of the two as the same.

Some years back, Orion Books produced a book called Moby-Dick in Half the Time, in a line of Compact Editions “sympathetically edited” to “retain all the elements of the originals: the plot, the characters, the social, historical and local backgrounds and the author’s language and style.” I have nothing against abridgments—I’ve abridged books myself—but I felt that what makes Melville Melville, in particular, is digression, texture, and weirdness. If you only have time to read half the book, which half the time is more worth spending? What elements of the original do we want to abridge for?

Moby-Dick in Half the Time seemed like it would lose something more essential than would Anna Karenina in Half the Time or Vanity Fair in Half the Time or Orion’s other offerings. I decided to find out. So I compiled every chapter, word, and punctuation mark that Orion’s abridger cut from Melville’s original Moby-Dick; or The Whale, and published the result, with its inevitable title, as a book of its own: a lost work by Herman Melville called ; or The Whale.

Half the Time keeps the plot arc of Ahab’s quest, of course, but ; or The Whale arguably turns out closer to the emotional ups and downs of Melville’s novel—and that tells us something about how Melville writes. His linguistic excess erupts at moments of emotional intensity; those moments of intensity, trimmed as excess from Half the Time, are what make up the other semibook. Chapter sixty-two, for example, consists of a single word, “hapless”—the only word Orion’s abridger cut from the chapter, trimming a 105-word sentence to 104, for some reason. That’s a pretty good sentiment analysis of Melville’s chapter as a whole. Reading ; or The Whale is a bit like watching a DVD skip ahead on fast forward, and it gets at something real about Melville’s masterpiece. About the emotion in the words.

So I would defend the automated approach to novelistic sentiment on different grounds than Piepenbring’s. I take plot as seriously as he does, as opposed to valorizing only the style or ineffable poetry of a novel; I also see Béla Tarr movies or early Nicholson Baker novels as having plots, too, just not eventful ones. Jockers’s program is called Syuzhet because of the Russian Formalist distinction between fabula, what happens in chronological order in a story, and syuzhet, the order of things in the telling (diverging from the fabula in flashbacks, for instance, or when information is withheld from the reader). It’s not easy to say how “plot” arises out of the interplay between the two. But having minimal fabula is not the same as having little or no plot.

In any case, fabula is not what Syuzhet is about. Piepenbring summarizes: “algorithms assign every word in a novel a positive or negative emotional value, and in compiling these values [Jockers is] able to graph the shifts in a story’s narrative. A lot of negative words mean something bad is happening, a lot of positive words mean something good is happening.” This may or may not be true, but novels are not made of things that happen, they are made of words. Again: “When we track ‘positive sentiment,’ we do mean, I think, that things are good for the protagonist or the narrator.” Not necessarily, but we do mean—tautologically—that things are good for the reader in the warm afternoon sunshine of the book’s positive language.

Great writers, along with everything else they are doing, stage a readerly experience and lead their readers through it from first word on first page to last. Mapping out what those paths might look like is as worthy a critical approach as any."
paulvaléry  edgardegas  writing  novels  mobydick  mattherjocker  2015  digital  words  language  hermanmelville  reading  howwewrite  automation  emotions  algorithms  narrative  nicholsonbaker  bélatarr  moby-dick 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Austin Kleon — Morris Berman, Why America Failed: The Roots of...
"Picked this up off a tip from @mattthomas​ — it’s a “post-mortem” of our nation, the third in a trilogy about the Decline of the American Empire (part one is The Twilight of American Culture, which I’m reading now, and part two is Dark Ages America). It’s a bleak portrait, one which I’m not sure a lot of people want to read about around the holidays, but for some perverse reason, I found it very enjoyable and oddly comforting — in the first book, Berman says “I’ll do my best not to entertain you,” but he fails.

The big idea here is that the dominate mode of America is a kind of “technohustling”—America is a “hustling” culture (“American English contains more than two hundred nouns and verbs referring to a swindle”) that believes in endless technological progress (“technology is not neutral”) and it’s left us with a hollowed-out nation —economically, spiritually, emotionally — in which a few have much and many have very little.

Berman points to a long “anti-hustler” tradition of people such as the Transcendentalists, Herman Melville (he sees Moby-Dick as maybe the greatest book about America), and Lewis Mumford, that culminates with Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech he delivered in 1979, which Berman regards as the tradition’s “last stand.” Here’s Carter:
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

Berman sees very little that the individual can do to escape the “American Nightmare,” other than flee (he went to Mexico) or pursue what he calls the “monastic option” (which he explores in detail in the first book): “resisting the dominant culture and trying to do something meaningful with your life as opposed to living the mass dream.”

Made up a good reading list of books I’ve wanted to check out for a while:

• Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
• A General Theory of Love
• Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America
• E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
• Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization"

[See also: "How America's 'Culture of Hustling' Is Dark and Empty: Results-obsessed perspectives overlook meaning — and leave little room for creativity, pleasure, or accepting the importance of sadness."
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/how-americas-culture-of-hustling-is-dark-and-empty/278601/ ]
morrisberman  consumerism  jimmycarter  austinkleon  2016  2014  toread  hustle  hustling  hermanmelville  moby-dick  transcendentalism  us  culture  society  self-indulgence  consumption  materialism  technohustling  monasticism  cv  efschumacher  leismumford  barbaraehrenreich  toqueville  meaning  meaningmaking  sadness  emptiness  results  creativity  pleasure  leisurearts  artleisure  mobydick 
december 2016 by robertogreco
a16z Podcast: The Meaning of Emoji 💚 🍴 🗿 – Andreessen Horowitz
"This podcast is all about emoji. But it’s really about how innovation really comes about — through the tension between standards vs. proprietary moves; the politics of time and place; and the economics of creativity, from making to funding … Beginning with a project on Kickstarter to crowd-translate Moby Dick entirely into emoji to getting dumplings into emoji form and ending with the Library of Congress and an “emoji-con”. So joining us for this conversation are former VP of Data at Kickstarter Fred Benenson (and the 👨 behind ‘Emoji Dick’) and former New York Times reporter and current Unicode emoji subcommittee member Jennifer 8. Lee (one of the 👩 behind the dumpling emoji).

So yes, this podcast is all about emoji. But it’s also about where emoji fits in the taxonomy of social communication — from emoticons to stickers — and why this matters, from making emotions machine-readable to being able to add “limbic” visual expression to our world of text. If emoji is a (very limited) language, what tradeoffs do we make for fewer degrees of freedom and greater ambiguity? How exactly does one then translate emoji (let alone translate something into emoji)? How do emoji work, both technically underneath the hood and in the (committee meeting) room where it happens? And finally, what happens as emoji becomes a means of personalized expression?

This a16z Podcast is all about emoji. We only wish it could be in emoji!"
emoji  open  openstandards  proprietarystandards  communication  translation  fredbenenson  jennifer8.lee  sonalchokshi  emopjidick  mobydick  unicode  apple  google  microsoft  android  twitter  meaning  standardization  technology  ambiguity  emoticons  text  reading  images  symbols  accessibility  selfies  stickers  chat  messaging  universality  uncannyvalley  snapchat  facebook  identity  race  moby-dick 
august 2016 by robertogreco
*: how to write literary criticism
"1

In the summer of 1926, Marina Tsvetaeva corresponded with Rainer Maria Rilke. In December 1926, Rilke died. In 1929, Tsvetaeva wrote: "I don't feel like writing an article about Rilke." She wrote:

An article about Rilke is all the more useless because he didn't write articles about others, and didn't read ones about himself . . . To reveal essence is impossible, approaching from the outside. Essence is only revealed by essence, from within--inward--not investigation, but absorption. Mutual absorption. Allow the thing to absorb you and--thereby--absorb it. As one river flows into another. The point where the waters merge--but it isn't ever a point because--the meeting of the waters--is a meeting without parting, for the Rhine--takes the Main into itself, as the Main does the Rhine. And only the Main knows the truth of the Rhine (its own truth, Mainian, just as the Moselle--knows the Mosellian; the whole truth of the Rhine--of Rilke--is not given to us to know). Like a hand in a hand, yes, but even more: like a river in a river.

Absorbing, I am absorbed.


2

In 1952, C.L.R. James was interned on Ellis Island as an illegal immigrant and political subversive. There he wrote a study of the American classic Moby-Dick. In the final chapter of the book, he shifts from a discussion of Melville to an account of his detention on the island, describing his illness there, the treatment of the prisoners, and the structures by which both prisoners and security officers were entrapped, much like the men aboard the Pequod. He included his record of prison life in the study on Melville because, he wrote, "the book as written is part of my experience. It is also a claim before the American people, the best claim I can put forward, that my desire to be a citizen is not a selfish nor a frivolous one."

James sent a copy of the manuscript to every member of Congress, asking for $1 in return to put toward his legal costs. His efforts to gain citizenship failed; he was deported in 1953.

"I believe my total experience should be told," he wrote."
2016  literarycriticism  criticim  absorption  clrjames  marinatsvetaeva  sofiasamatar  rainermariarilke  mobydick  hermanmelville  essence  experience  moby-dick 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Your Mistake was a Vital Connection | samplereality
"This summer I attended the first annual Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship (ILiADS) at Hamilton College. It was an inspiring conference, highlighting the importance of collaborative faculty/student digital work at small liberal arts colleges. My own school, Davidson College, had a team at ILiADS (Professor Suzanne Churchill, Instructional Technologist Kristen Eshleman, and undergraduate Andrew Rikard, working on a digital project about the modernist poet Mina Loy). Meanwhile I was at the institute to deliver the keynote address on the final day. Here is the text of my keynote, called “Your Mistake was a Vital Connection: Oblique Strategies for the Digital Humanities.”"
marksample  digitalhumanities  obliquestrtegies  2015  mobydick  bots  moby-dick 
december 2015 by robertogreco
The Moby-Dick variations — The Message — Medium
"That’s interesting, but here’s the one that blows my mind: If we were to burn all extant copies of Moby-Dick and then rewrite the story from memory… 33% of respondents told me that would be the same novel!

I just couldn’t square that response with the others. You’re telling me that if I change the adjectives, it’s not the same novel, but if I open a blank Word document and start typing from memory, it is?

Upon consideration, what I get from these responses is an intuition of faithfulness. Translation is assumed to be faithful, whereas the substitution of adjectives is clearly a game. Likewise, when we rewrite the book from memory, we are assumed to be doing so faithfully, to the best of our paltry ability (“I… can’t remember the whaling chapters. I never actually read them. I’m sorry. I’M SORRY!”), whereas if we change the ending, we are clearly inflicting something on the story.

Faithfulness to what, though?

I think Shaenon K. Garrity has the answer.

I think we, as readers, are able to sense the shape of a particular Branch Library of Babel built around a particular story, with its particular set of images and themes. Even though this Branch Library is an abstract thing, to say the least, I think we, as readers, can trace its perimeter with surprising accuracy. Collectively—and maybe only collectively—we can determine which elements a work of fiction depends on, and which it doesn’t.

It makes me think of that indirect sort of astronomy, in which we infer the existence of an exoplanet by looking closely at a wobbling star. I think we are seeing a little wobble when we learn that adding a sex scene is less of an injury to Moby-Dick’s Moby-Dick-ness than changing the ending. Moby-Dick’s ending obviously matters, a lot. There are other stories for which the ending might feel arbitrary, even superfluous, but for which an added sex scene would be transformative indeed. (Winnie the Pooh, perhaps?)

This isn’t just intellectual play. I mean, it’s mostly intellectual play. But, having written and revised and published a novel myself, this question of where it begins and ends has become more concrete, particularly now that the book has been translated into about twenty languages. Usually, foreign publishers send over two or three copies. I look at these other editions…

…and realize that, somehow, these two statements are simultaneously true:

1. This is the same novel.
2, Every single word has been changed.

Likewise: In the earliest draft of Penumbra, there was this whole weird thing about Matthias Corvinus, the Raven King, a real-life historical figure. He and his lost library (!) were at the core of that story, yet they are nowhere in the published novel. Was that variation, printed on cheap paper and shared with early readers, not actually Penumbra? Where is the Raven King now?

Writing a novel, it is possible to become aware of yourself as an explorer in a new Branch Library of Babel, one built not around Moby-Dick but instead some other story—the one you’re writing. In this awareness, you are not so much composing as spelunking: feeling your way toward the one particular incarnation of the story that you will carry back into the light, into the world, into bookstores and libraries.

The other variations remain behind, but—I really believe this, and I think my little survey backs it up—readers can still sense them. When we read a novel, we enjoy not only a particular text but somehow the suggestion of a whole Branch Library. Sometimes, if a novel is successful, that becomes a place where others want to go exploring: with translation and adaptation, by remixing and rebooting. All of these undertakings constitute a return journey, and there are always more variations waiting in the Branch Library.

To my translators, I ought to say: “Suit up. Bring a sandwich. Carry a taser. The Raven King is in there somewhere.”

Back in Garrity’s original Branch Library of Babel, though, the real question is this: If you search and search… will you ever find Emoji Dick?"
robinsloan  literature  philosophy  translation  language  books  shaenongarrity  borges  2014  mobydick  libraryofbabelspelunking  variations  bookstores  libraries  moby-dick 
may 2014 by robertogreco
The Merger of Academia and Art House: Harvard Filmmakers’ Messy World - NYTimes.com
"TUCKED within the syllabus for a class that the filmmaker and anthropologist Lucien Castaing-Taylor teaches at Harvard is a rhetorical question that sums up his view of nonfiction film: “If life is messy and unpredictable, and documentary is a reflection of life, should it not be digressive and open-ended too?”

Straddling academia and the art house, Mr. Castaing-Taylor and his associates and students at the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard have been responsible for some of the most daring and significant documentaries of recent years, works that…challenge the conventions of both ethnographic film and documentary in general.

Documentary, as practiced in this country today, is a largely informational genre, driven by causes or personalities. The ethnographic film, traditionally the province of anthropologists investigating the cultures of others, is in some ways even more rigid, charged with analyzing data and advancing arguments. In both cases the emphasis is on content over form…"
fluc  form  content  openendedness  unpredictability  messiness  filmmaking  video  gopro  jacobribicoff  ernstkarel  dzigavertov  kino-eye  mobydick  edg  srg  glvo  cinema  libbiedincohn  jpsniadecki  vérénaparavel  ilisabarbash  sweetgrass  jeanrouch  robertgardner  filmstudycenter  documentaries  storytelling  life  depicitonoflife  narrative  2012  luciencastaing-taylor  harvard  anthropology  ethnography  documentary  film  sensoryethnographylab  moby-dick 
september 2012 by robertogreco
Robin Rendle · Call Me Interactivity
"We are all tempted by inter­ac­tiv­ity; video & audio snip­pets, data charts that can be flicked and pushed, let­ters that can be popped & pinched. But how many of these fea­tures enhance the rela­tion­ship between reader and writer? Due to the con­straints I men­tioned pre­vi­ously, we most likely won’t recog­nise the dig­i­tal book in a decade. This is because they won’t be built in the same way, they won’t be writ­ten in the same way & they won’t be funded & pub­lished in the same way either. These prob­lems, some eco­nomic, some tech­ni­cal, will force us to con­sider alter­na­tive meth­ods of think­ing about con­tent, space, sto­ry­telling & time.

The line that bor­ders pixel & paper has been crossed, bound­aries have been bro­ken, but the hori­zon swells with oppor­tu­nity. And so these uncharted, dig­i­tal spaces demand not only new types of think­ing, pub­lish­ing and design, but also a new form of sto­ry­telling, new kinds of heroes and mon­sters, new worlds to explore…"
technology  mobydick  leonwiedeltier  oliverreichenstein  craigmod  content  flexibility  control  mandybrown  design  ebooks  digitalpublishing  publishing  interactivity  interactive  2012  future  books  robinrendle  epub3  html  html5  moby-dick  from delicious
august 2012 by robertogreco
Whaling Songs | HiLobrow
"Imagine, if you will, a Venn Diagram composed of the following sets: Coders. Musicians. Marine Biologists. Paul Winter. Leonard Nimoy. Your high school English teacher. And Ishmael.

The sole resident of the intersecting set would be, of course, a whale.

Or perhaps the whale’s trace, in the form of a song."
whales  whale.fm  animals  biology  nature  science  sound  marinebiology  whalesongs  leonardnimoy  paulwinter  mobydick  zooniverse  crowdsourcing  venndiagrams  moby-dick  from delicious
december 2011 by robertogreco
Frank Chimero’s Blog [On reading]
"I suppose what I’m saying is that the best art we make acts as a lens through which we see the world. It helps us make sense of things, feel empathized with. Reading, specifically, gives us words to describe the things we feel through the more able minds and hands of those that we read. We use art to understand things, and as a shorthand for experience, to create a space, describe it’s edges, and give it a face. Experiencing art is how we comprehend things and make ourselves aware to what was before only small and invisible. I suppose not reading is a bit like cutting off your thumbs: you’ll never be able to grasp anything."
reading  meaning  meaningmaking  art  understanding  peoplesmarterthanus  sensemaking  description  mobydick  lonesomedove  frankchimero  2011  moby-dick  from delicious
july 2011 by robertogreco
The Triumph of Roberto Bolaño - The New York Review of Books
"Like Borges—whom he loved and from whom he learned much—Bolaño was attracted to the idea of literature that could speak to the Americas.[2] He introduced a Spanish edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and elsewhere suggested that The Savage Detectives had been his stab at an adventure tale in the spirit of Twain. He hinted at another model worth thinking about: Melville, tackling the overwhelming subject of evil in Moby-Dick. Writing a brief note on a book by the Mexican reporter Sergio González Rodríguez, Bolaño sounded a similar theme. In 2002, González Rodríguez published his reportage on hundreds of unsolved murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez, just south of the Texas border. The murders had begun to accelerate in the early 1990s, in tandem with the drug trade and a proliferation of new assembly plants for exports."
robertobolaño  borges  2666  literature  chile  autodidacts  selfeducated  nomads  poetry  marktwain  hermanmelville  mobydick  reviews  books  moby-dick 
december 2008 by robertogreco

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