About the header …

My attempts to avoid any graphical design on this blog went out the window last night when I fired up the scanner and started playing historical preservationist by running a stack of old family photos through the machine.

I came across an awesome horizontal panorama shot of Cotuit Bay taken around the turn of the century before the summer folks trashed the place and the village was a working port. This shot was taken, I assume, from the current site of Conrad Geyser’s organic garden looking east towards Osterville’s Grand Island (now some of the world’s most expensive real estate known as Oyster Harbors). The wharves and docks in the foreground are just stubs in the mud today, the old sloops and skiffs are long gone. Today this is a crowded mess of plastic boats and McMansions.

I live about 500 feet away. Here is a shot of my great uncle Thomas Fisher, a MIT civil engineer who I named my youngest son, Fisher, after. He’s sitting on what looks like an early version of the Cotuit Skiff. This shot was taken on the same beach as the panorama in the header graphic. right about where the “O” in “.com” is.

Over the years all the photo albums have been divvied up and spread to the winds. I’m issuing a challenge to all siblings and relatives that if they give me their old photos I’ll give them back a DVD stuffed with ALL of the the collection. One well meaning person, to my horror, has been trimming old photos to fit into frames. ARRRGGGGH! This stuff is priceless, at least to me and my family.

Captain Thomas Chatfield


Captain Thomas Chatfield

Originally uploaded by dchurbuck.

At home in Cotuit, here is the man in all his glory. According to the handwritten note on the back of the picture, this was taken in 1910, twelve years before his death.

I’ve scanned and uploaded a good number of photos into my Flickr account. Now the project moves onto the second phase of correcting the scanned war letters. When that is done I will need to decide how to treat the letters vis a vis the Reminiscences and whether to annotate the narrative with the details found in the epistolary account, or keep them separate and standalone.

Then I’ll move everything to Blurb, mock up the book itself, import the high res scans and finish the facsimile portion of the project before moving onto the primary research with the ship’s logs to determine the path of his voyages. That research will lead me to a Google Map tour, more contextual research (I want to learn more about the Gold Rush and Civil War is particular, having studied the whale fishery extensively in college.)

Then, when all the contextual research is finished, time to think about the book and getting it published. This is a very rewarding project personally and the antidote to a career obsessed with internet marketing.

There is a “Chatfield” photo set on my Flickr account to be found here.

The War Letters of Captain Thomas Chatfield

I just scanned the letters by Captain Thomas Chatfield, written between 1863 and 1865 while he was stationed on the Gulf coast of Florida as an Acting Master in the U.S. Navy. Most of these letters were written to his wife, Florentine (Handy) and some to his daughter Mildred (Millie).

The PDF is 6 megabytes is size. And can be downloaded here. 

I need to clean up the RTF file and convert the file into live text. I take back what I said about the scanner earlier, I just saved myself three months of work!

The end of the Chatfield Manuscript is posted

I’ve come to the end of the transcription process with very mixed emotions, but now I have another long road ahead of me in transcribing Chatfield’s letters to his wife Florentine during the Civil War years.

Anyway, the entire reminiscences are now done and I’ll post a word document for anyone who wants to read it in one take rather than skip from one web page to the next.

I can’t wait to start the primary research project. I’ll seek out his original ship’s logs from the Massachusetts at the Kendall Whaling Museum and thus be better able to cross-correlate the place names during the Pacific whaling fishery sections. A lot of the place names are misspelled or lost to time, so there is a lot of work to go before this can be put into accurate historical context.

The huge shame is that these reminiscences only cover his life to the age of 34. After that, little is known. At least there is nothing like this written record.

“You are all familiar with the life I have led during the last forty years, so I will not allude to it. The writing of the story has been a labor of love, and I have had much pleasure in doing it. Old memories have crowded upon me, and I have found it difficult to avoid making tedious by recording minor incidents common to all seafaring men.

“With all my love, I am your father ….

“AD 1905”

Chatfield — Part Eleven — The Cleaning of the Honeysuckle

Captain Chatfield proves himself to be a good housekeeper when assigned to the filthy plague ship Honeysuckle, docked in Tampa. The war is over, the defeated Confederacy is getting back on its feet, and it is fitting Captain Chat gets the job of mucking out the bilges and whitewashing the decks.

So begins the final section (I think).

Blurb – Digital Book Binder

BlurbThanks to Jim Forbes who caught the debut of this company at Demo back in February, I downloaded the client for Blurb: “Start to finish publishing software simple & smart enough to make you an author.”

Jim made the recommendation as I finish The Reminiscences of Captain Thomas Chatfield that I consider packing it in book form. When my father took the original manuscript and had it bound at a copy shop in the 1980s, the result was fairly dull, boring, and probably relatively expensive to produce in anything resembling a multiple edition. I started the transcription project for the simple reason that getting the manuscript into a digital format would free it from the physical confines (blah..blah..blah) and give me the opportunity to make infinite copies at the press of a print button. I had been toying with taking the final Word.doc and turning it into a PDF file, but as I wrote I realized that I also need to deal with the hand-drawn maps of wrecked Arctic whalers and Florida Civil War sites. Then, if I’m going to get serious about those maps, why not import some more maps, say a Google Earth mashup of the Captain’s voyages, photos of him as a young and an old man, photos of whaling ships. Well you get the picture. This project has only just started and I need to start thinking about the final output.

This is where Blurb comes in. Granted the thing is in beta — what new web business model doesn’t launch in beta thanks to Google? But I downloaded the client software last night, block saved the entire text file — all 69-single-spaced pages — and pasted into a book template. Damn near brought my Lenovo Thinkpad X41 to its knees, but after ten minutes I had a handsome looking, three column, horizontal form factor coffee table book. Without any pictures. I may be jumping the gun — I do have twenty-odd pages to complete (and then I have a ton of Civil War letters to transcribe — but it felt very good to see the fruits of three months of lonely-guy-hotel typing turn into something a heck of a lot nicer than a vinyl bound Kinko’s copy.

The client is slooww, but think of it as a Quark-lite program that flows the copy across the columns, offers image insertion, different formats, and even cover design. When it is all done you submit the book file to Blurb, which will print a single copy for around $30 for a one to forty page hardcover to as high as $80 for a 301 to 400 page book. That’s expensive, but if you think about it, not too bad. Multiple copy runs can knock ten percent off the price. If I were to consider printing ten copies to give to my children, nieces, nephews, and the village library, I’d be looking at roughly a $350 price tag. Steep, but not really if the quality is high, which it appears to be from the site’s pictures.

This price insures that Blurb will not be a threat to Vantage Press (the vanity publisher that failed authors use to get their stuff in print at all costs), nor will it be for casual users. I will play with it some more to determine the layout flexibility. So far it seems too restrictive, it doesn’t import Word files (that is coming in a future version), but judging from the example photos, the quality seems high.

You can sell your books through the Blurb site, so, all things being equal, this is essentially the CafePress of book publishing.

Cool. I think I have a goal now — to finish, get the illustrations and maps together, and run off a copy, adjust it, and then make a larger order for gifts.

What I am reading (read) — In the Heart of the Sea

I picked up Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea at the bookstore at Logan Airport and finished it before landing in Chicago. Excellent book which tells the story of the whaling ship Essex, which in the 1820s was rammed by a whale some 2000 miles west of the South American coast, sank, and then subjected its crews to a horrific open-sea voyage of 93 days.

Cannibalism was involved. People in the 19th century liked cannibalism in their tabloids the way American’s today like Angelina and Britney and Whitney.

This tale inspired Melville to write Moby Dick, and was the most lurid tale in America in the first half of the 19th century. Philbrick is an excellent writer and historian. I think I enjoyed his descriptions of Nantucket more than the sea story itself. I worked on Nantucket for six years (summers, as a deckhand on the ferry) and while its fishy history has always been in the back of my mind, I had no idea about the social dynamics of the island, the strength of the women who ran the local economy while the men were off on their two to three year voyages, and the immense wealth accumulated by the Quakers.

Nantucket in the 19th and 18th centuries was the Silicon Valley of its day. Ship owners like Obed Macy and the Howlands of New Bedford were the venture capitalists of their time, seeking at least a 25% profit on their ventures — ventures which personified the meaning of risk. The crews and their captains were among the best traveled, culturally aware men of their time, discovering new islands in the south Pacific, as they chased the dwindling whales around the world, up into the Arctic.

Philbrick has me all fired up to turn Chatfield into a book.