Only Yesterday

Way back in 1977 when I was in college, my history class was assigned a book by F.L. Allen titled Only Yesterday. It surprised me; I was expecting a dry, scholastic work devoid of flavor or writing skill.
But I was wrong. This “textbook”, in paperback for ninety five cents plus tax (how much did you pay for your textbooks? My most expensive one was ten bucks) was written as if it were a high quality magazine article. I was impressed.
It sat on my bookshelf for almost half a century until the Covid pandemic struck, and reminders were everywhere of the last pandemic a century earlier.
I had referenced this book since I got on the internet when some ignoramus spewed some nonsense about the “roaring twenties”, which my grandmother, an eighteen year old new mother in 1921 said only roared for the rich. The book agrees with Grandma, although weakly.
But I began to see similarities to our twenties, the 2020s, and figured that this book would be of interest to everyone in this decade.
There’s a mention somewhere in the book about time repeating itself, but never exactly. Some things were very similar to now, some were the exact opposite. In the last ’20s the Republican president took the Democrat’s job, in our ’20s the Democrat took the Republican’s job.
Rather than a right wing mob storming the capitol, in the 20th century Bolsheviks bombed the stock market on Wall Street in New York. Alcohol prohibition began in the 1920s, cannabis prohibition ended in Illinois in 2020. In 1920, Women gained the right to vote. In 2022 they lost the right to have an abortion.
Like our decade, theirs started at the end of wartime. Like their decade, ours followed a quarter century of technical innovation. Like our decade, the nation was very divided a hundred years ago.
So I decided to put it on my book web site.
I found an HTML copy on the University of Virginia’s website quite a while ago and decided to get the text from there. Its book is a file per chapter, so I copied the text into a text editor, and then went to format it.
I had a real good start, to chapter four, I think, and something just didn’t look right and I couldn’t figure out what, so I looked for other copies. One was at the Australian Gutenberg, and apparently my memory was at once better and worse than I remembered it was; the two didn’t exactly match. I put the project away for a while; I like to get things as close to perfect as I possibly can.
Then looking for something completely different, there sat Mr. Cleese himself in the person of a PDF file scanned from a Houghton-Mifflin 1957 copy by the Kansas City Library. That book was a hell of a lot fancier than my paperback copy, and than the Gutenberg and VU copies.
I had a lot more work ahead of me, loading the PDF into GIMP as an image per page. Saving about four hundred images would take a while, so I thought I’d try something I was sure wouldn’t work, trying to OCR the PDF directly.
My OCR program was included with a scanner a quarter of a century ago, and I wasn’t sure if they even had PDFs then but was certain that the ancient OCR wouldn’t read a new PDF file. Apparently they did have PDFs back then, because it actually worked, seemingly against all logic. And it worked better and with more accuracy than I’ve ever seen it do before.
And I discovered the invisible hyphen. I’d never seen, or even heard of one before. It’s a hyphen that is invisible in an HTML page unless it falls at the right side of the page, when it becomes visible. But you can’t copy and paste it in Notepad, as when pasted it becomes a normal hyphen.
This was a problem formatting the book, because in Notepad there was a hyphen, but “school-board” became “schoolboard” in HTML.
But this thing could be very useful! Someone should write a program that had a word database and would put one between syllables. It would be great for HTML full justification! I left in many of the useful ones, at least after I started understanding what was happening; I’d deleted a lot and wasn’t going to start over from scratch again!
I wish I had more information about it. What is its real name? Its ASCII value? Does anyone have any links to information about it?
Anyway, I decided to make my HTML copy as fancy as the PDF from the hardcover book, including foreign characters and drop caps. In two ways it’s fancier. You can’t click a link on paper. Another way was making the “th” in dates superscript as is common today.
For drop caps, I used the same kludge I used in the HTML version of Random Scribblings, an image of the character. I’ve been doing hacks and kludges since I was a teenager in the ‘60s, when I was unable to afford a multi-hundred dollar guitar fuzzbox from a music store, so I made one out of a broken transistor radio. This doesn’t count the meaningless gizmos I made in 6th grade, like the Dufus Detector that would light up when it was pointed at a dufus.
I decided that when a movie or book title showed up in the text, I would link movies to movies in the Internet Archive, and books from Gutenberg, but there was a roadblock with the movies. I copied the URL from the browser’s bar, but on testing it led to some stupid page about their stupid policies. Stupid. And they want me to donate! I donate to Wikipedia because I use it almost daily and Jimmy Wales isn’t an idiot like the morons who run the Internet Archive.
Gutenberg was far more intelligent, and I noticed that they’ve improved their search capabilities, although they’re still really weak. I should be able to enter a title and get that one book, if found, instead of every book with any book in the book you’re looking for’s title.
I later found some mentioned movies on YouTube, who encourages you to share.
The links are all black, because you just don’t see colored texts in any book except a magazine or a child’s book. The table of contents is the exception.
I see no point to linking the magazines that still exist. None are much like they were a century ago. At any rate, I’m not done with editing. When I’m satisfied with it, it will be at
If anyone has any information about the weird hyphen, or links to any unlinked books, or direct links to any mentioned movie (most are in the public domain, all made before 1927 are public domain), please let me know.

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