The Transit of Venus: From archive to wall in 25 steps

In 2012, I observed the Transit of Venus at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia. The APS was around for an earlier Transit, specifically the one in 1769, when they set up three temporary viewing sites and formed a committee, headed by astronomer, clockmaker, and craftsman, David Rittenhouse, to record this significant event. Those scientific observations, including an incredibly beautiful scientific drawing, were published in APS’s first volume: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Happily, you can find that volume in its entirety here:

If the above embed won’t load, try this direct link here.

You can NOT, however, see the image I remembered and wanted- if you scroll down to just below page 27 in the Google scan, you can see a tiny fragment of the corner, some lines, and just make out “Reduced to this Scale by” … that’s it. The paper was folded- it fits into the volume folded up, and then the reader is supposed to unfold it to see the full image. Scanners aren’t good at unfolding.

Fragment of the Transit of Venus document from 1769 showing that the drawing is folded up and not completely scanned
Well that’s… part of it. Source:
Fragment of the Transit of Venus document from 1769
1/36 of the whole thing or so. Source:

So, I like Philadelphia, I had good memories of observing the Transit in 2012, and I wanted a copy of the drawing on my wall. I knew the document existed, but how to get a good copy of it? The best version I could find was on the New York Time’s website, here.

Scan of the Transit of Venus, 1769, badly creased

But it’s a small image that doesn’t scale well, and the folds are very obvious.

The good news is I could go to the source. The APS continues to thrive and is “open to all researchers who demonstrate a need to use the unique resources under its care.” (APS)

So, here we go! Here’s how I was able to obtain a massive, couch-sized print of the Transit of Venus, as observed by David Rittenhouse and other members of the American Philosophical Society in 1769, in 25 steps:

  1. Decide you want this
  2. Contact the American Philosophical Society using the information available here:
  3. Wait
  4. Contact APS again, politely
  5. Live your life
  6. Hear from the APS hooray! and find out from intrepid Reference Archivist, Earle E. Spamer, that they don’t exactly have a high-density digital image- the New York Times image came from a digitized 4X5 transparency, and the plate they have is both too big and too delicate to scan. The good news is they can re-scan the 4X5, would that work?
  7. Email back, yes, definitely! Register online to use the American Philosophical Society Library (i.e. pay for the requested document copy) and send APS confirmation that it’s done, thank them and say something like “Please let me know if you need any additional information and/or what my next steps should be.”
  8. Wait. Live your life.
  9. Success! You now have the digital file through Aeon, and thanks to your (stubbornness) patience, they are waiving the cost.
  10. Exult in the beauty of scientific inquiry and observation. Feel grateful for the people who are curious, who share, and who like to preserve things.
  11. Speaking of which, make a backup. Make two.
  12. Meet up with your incredibly talented conservation photographer friend who is available for interesting work.
  13. Hours of editing (thank you Mae Belle) result in an edited TIFF and two JPEGs with the layers flattened.
  14. Make backups of the edited files.
  15. Go to Staples to use their large format printer: oops your gigantic file crashes their computer.
  16. Back to your computer, reload the USB stick with only the JPEG, not the TIFF
  17. Back to Staples, print file on Paper/HP Universal Bond Paper 20lb 36×48 / Standard / Large Format Print (Precut Size) / Color / Simplex
  18. Home, center couch against far wall of apartment
  19. Find center of the couch, line up with the center of the print
  20. Find height you want
  21. Find two binder clips and two thumbtacks
  22. Put thumbtacks in
  23. Attach binder clips
  24. Hang
  25. Ah 🙂

Earle E. Spamer was an enormous help throughout this process- being a reference archivist is not an easy job, and this request in particular had some unexpected twists and turns-

I’m especially grateful for his willingness to scan the document at an incredibly high resolution- large scans like this take time and might not even work, so it’s much appreciated.

Laura Webb holding the final print of the enlarged Transit of Venus scan from 1769

Authors have written about recipes connecting generations- making something your grandmother has made, for example. I feel the same way about observing scientific phenomena- the transit of Venus, the Perseids, Leonids, Geminids; it means something to observe a phenomenon that has caught the attention of people hundreds of years ago and will go on for thousands more. By taking time and observing it, you’re immediately connected with a world-wide community of curious adventurers- past and present.

And there can be surprises along the way! Reading through the digitized Transactions, I noticed that their (men-only, sadly) members are listed alphabetically- is there a Webb among them? Yes 🙂 And he’s from Lancaster- the same city my grandparents are from….

Page from the Transactions first Volume, showing a James Webb as member

Persistence, curiosity, and stars- some of my favorite things-

2017 in numbers

Speaker tags for Laura Webb at DjangoCon, Strangeloop, and ELAConf
2017, speaking

2017 in numbers:


PyCon: Volunteered
DjangoCon: Spoke
!!con: Contributed a lego set
Barcamp: Volunteered
ELAconf: Spoke
Strangeloop: Spoke


Philadelphia Museum of Art: Organizer
LadyHacks: Organizer


Books read (estimate)
Not as many as I would like- 2018 will include a lot more reading


Linux laptop. I love it. Clean and fast!


Concert, Gorillaz


Hair length, inches


Days meditated in a row


Job that I quit


Job that I started


Ice-skating lessons. More to come 🙂

Image showing how many days meditated in a row. The only one left is the 365 badge
Current Headspace run streak- meditation and coffee contributed a lot to the list above
Laura Webb standing in front of the Pike Place Starbucks store with an espresso
What would my 2017 be without coffee! My first trip to Seattle included the Pike Place Starbucks and a delicious espresso.

I find myself at a bit of a loss for words- 2017 was an unexpected year in a lot of ways. Throughout it all though, people around me were kind, interesting, encouraging, inspiring, challenging, and funny 🙂 thank you and here’s to 2018!

Latin phrases for iPod, iPad, et cetera

Raphael's "School of Athens" 1511
Raphael’s “School of Athens,” 1511

This started pre-iPhone. I was training for the Philadelphia Marathon and my first iPod wasn’t keeping up (I do still have it though). Apple had just come out with a new version of the iPod Nano, and as I was building my order, I noticed something interesting- an offer for free engraving of my purchase.

This is a service Apple still offers for iPads and iPods, here. With Glowforge, you can do it yourself. There are rumors that Apple will begin offering Watch engraving as a free service in the future, and there are third party companies that will happily engrave your iPhone, Mac, and more:

On Apple’s site, the free engraving perk is presented as a way to personalize a gift you’ll be giving to someone else. “I can never repay you, but here’s a start” says one iPad in their example roundup.

But, what if you’re buying something for yourself? I like the idea of personalizing something that you’ve worked hard for and will use every day. I used to name all my major tech purchases after major exhibitions, as a way to commemorate and pay homage to a lot of hard work. For example, I have a laptop named Van Gogh.

So, what to engrave? Latin has a lot of similarities to code. It’s alternately blunt and subtle. The personalities of author, translator, coder, and student invariably come through, as there are often multiple ways to say something, and even more ways to interpret it. Like Fortran, it’s an old language, but also one that’s all around us: alias, alibi, bona fide, veto, et cetera. Latin is often succinct, sometimes tongue-in-cheek (I especially liked the self-referential lines, like “Multum in parvo,” “Much in a small space), and individualizes your device. I also liked finding phrases that might refer to what one is reading, and/or musical tastes, and phrases that were encouraging and acknowledged hard work.

So, here’s the list I made:

Latin Translation Attribution/notes
Aude sapere Dare to be wise
Cave ab homine unius libri Beware the man of one book
Citius Altius Fortius Faster, higher, stronger Modern Olympics motto
De gustibus non est disputandum There’s no accounting for taste
Decies repetita placebit Though ten times repeated, it will continue to please Horace
Deus ex machina God out of a machine
Dimidium facti qui coepit habet He who makes a start has half the work done Horace, Epistles, Book I, Ep. 2
Docendo discimus We learn by teaching Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, Book I, letter 7, section 8
Dulce et utile A sweet and useful (thing) Horace, Ars Poetica
Dulcius ex asperis Sweeter after difficulties Scottish clan Fergusson’s motto
Dum spiro spero While I breathe, I hope Attributed to Theocritus and Cicero
Fac et spera Do and hope Scottish clan Matheson’s motto
Fac fortia et patere Do brave deeds and endure Motto of Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, Australia
Factis ut credam facis Deeds, then I may believe you- trust actions, not words
Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo Gently in manner, firm in action Acquaviva, Industriae ad curandos animae morbos
Fortitudine vincimus By endurance we conquer Shackelton’s motto
Humani nihil alienum Nothing human is foreign to me Terentius Afer, Heauton Timorumenos
Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need Cicero
Imperare sibi maximum imperium est To rule yourself is the ultimate power Seneca
In nocte consilium The night brings counsel
In spe In hope
Labor omnia vincit Hard work conqures all Virgil, Georgics
Lex malla, lex nulla A bad law is no law St. Thomas Aquinas
Loquitur (loq.) He/she speaks
Male parta male dilabuntur What has been wrongly gained is wrongly lost. (Ill-gotten gains seldom prosper.) Cicero, Philippics, 2.66
Multum in parvo Much in a small space
Musica delenit bestiam feram Music soothes the savage beast
Otium sine litteris mors est Leisure without literature is death Seneca, Letters to Lucilius
Per angusta ad augusta Through difficulties to honors
Post proelia praemia After the battles, the prizes
Res ipsa loquitur The thing itself speaks- tort law Cicero, Pro Tito Annio Milone ad iudicem oratio
Res mihi suppetit I have abundance to say
Ubi spiritus est cantus est Where there is spirit there is song
Ubicumque homo est, ibi beneficio locus est Wherever there is man, there is a place for kindness Seneca
Veritatem Dilexi I delight in the truth Bryn Mawr College motto

The above is my list, culled from multiple books and sites over the years. If you’ve read through this and are still looking for your best Latin phrase, I recommend: List of Latin phrases (Full), Wikipedia

And for even MORE bon mots take a look at: WikiQuote’s Latin Proverbs and The Quotations Page