Literary Clock


I am scientist hunting for variants in our genome that cause rare diseases and an avid reader in my spare time. In this project I hoped to use the tools from work in genetics on literature; to improve my understanding of them and hopefully find some good books to read.

I started in November 2016, hoping to make a physical clock as a Christmas present. Around half a year later I managed to track down the final minutes, the closer to completion the harder the missing minutes are to find. Quotes covering the bitter watches of the night are very rare.

As for the physical clock, I looked to use a Raspberry Pi and an E Ink screen (inspired by this autocomplete poetry installation). However I could not find an E Ink screen I was happy with, so this is on hold for a couple of years for the technology to improve. Instead I made this website and I used the Raspberry Pi to make a twitter bot for @literaryclock to share my efforts with everyone.

To make a literary clock, we need at least 1440 quotes to cover every minute of the day. When collecting these quotes I used several methods; crowdsourcing, reading through my personal library, the Project Gutenberg collection and other online amassments of books. To search through books for times, I found different collections of books, converted them to machine readable files and use distributed computing to read through all of them to find the times.

The following posts will describe my efforts to make a literary clock. From the less technical crowdsourcing, to using Python and Spark for dealing with up to 50,000 books at a time.

I will also detail how I made this website and twitter bot, having pieced them together from several different tutorials, to have a constantly ticking clock. Hopefully these will prove beneficial to anyone else trying out a bespoke project. This has been very much a labour of love in my spare time, so there may be a few errors out there, if you spot any please do contact me.

Otherwise I hope you find these posts helpful and the clock entertaining. Happy reading, in more ways than one!

Next: Crowdsourcing