fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: E. L. Doctorow wrote Ragtime (among other novels), which was also adopted into a reasonably interesting musical. Theodore Bikel was an actor, musician, and philanthropist. I was privileged to see his one man show about Shalom Aleichem. And I own a few of his recordings of Jewish music. I realize he was 91, but I really thought he was immortal. His work is.

My Report to the World: The Story of Jan Karski: On Monday night, I went to a workshop staged reading of a new play (written by Clark Young and Derek Goldman and starring David Strathairn. I was slightly familiar with Jan Karski, whose story came out in the movie Shoah. The short version is that he was a courier for the Polish underground during World War II, escaped from a Nazi prison, and was later smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto and the Izbica Nazi transit camp. He then went to the London and to Washington to report on what he had seen, with, essentially, no effect.

It’s an interesting and dramatic story, but was obviously still a work in progress, so was a bit choppy at times. Strathairn was a very effective performer and the (limited) staging worked well, for the most part. I do have issues with one of the things I often have issues with, namely the failure to address the complicity of many Polish people with the persecution of the Jews. (I had this same problem with the museum exhibits at Auschwitz, by the way.) The most dramatic (and appalling) moment involved Karski’s meeting with Felix Frankfurter, who just outright refused to believe him. Grr.

There was a discussion afterwards with Strathairn, Goldman (who directed the play, in addition to co-writing it), and a senior curator from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have to admit to not having found any of the conversation particularly memorable, but that is probably because it was late for me. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this play develops in the future. And I should probably actually read Karski’s book.

Weather Whine: It’s a bit better now, but it was bloody hot on Monday and Tuesday. When I got off the metro on Monday night (after having walked from Sidney Harmon Hall to Metro Center and waited for the Orange Line home, in addition to the metro ride itself), I was a bit dehydrated. And I really thought I might collapse on the (short) walk home. Fortunately, I didn’t. But as soon as I got inside, I set the air conditioning to stun and drank 3 glasses of water. Can we fast forward to October?

Favorite Slang of the Year: I am reading Alexandra Fuller’s Scribbling the Cat, which has a lot of Southern African slang terms in the conversations she recounts. I absolutely love the use of the term "Henry the Fourth" for HIV infection. (I do not, of course, love the prevalence of HIV in Zambia and Zimbabwe, where life expectancy is down to about the mid-30’s.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: First, a few celebrity obituaries to note. Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine were actors. Ronnie Biggs was a train robber. Al Goldstein was a pornographer. Janet Dailey was a romance writer.

There are two I want to note in a little more detail. Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK-47, the most widely proliferated firearm of all time. He appears to have died of natural causes.

Charles M. Vest was the president of MIT a bit after my time. He is notable for having actually listened and acted on the data re: discrimination against women faculty members.

A Brief Rant re: Coffee: Coffee is a magical substance, when treated properly. Being treated properly does not include being grown in bulk in unsuitable climates. Or being burned by overroasting. Most of all, treating coffee properly does not include adding flavoring agents to it. Coffee IS a flavor and should, therefore, not come in flavors.

A Brief Rant re: Winter Storms: Winter storms do not have names. I don't care if you think they should, but they don't and you do not have the right to change this.

A Brief Rant re: Midwestern Vowel Deficiency: Actually, this may be sheer ignorance, not the lack of distinguishing vowel sounds amongst people from the vast middle of the country, but it annoys the hell out of me. When you have the bare bones of an idea and you are elaborating on it, you are flEshing it out. FlUshing things out refers to exposing them, as in sendng the dogs after the grouses you are hunting, which is quite a different metaphor. (Interestingly, someone else at work was complaining about the same thing just last week.)

A Brief Rant re: Brief Rants: Frankly, life is pretty good when my grievances are about people abusing coffee, storm names, and vowels in metaphors.
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Rosh Hashanah made this a quiet week, so I can finish catching up. This is all the odds and ends I have been saving up, including several mini-rants. Well, everything except the longer entries I have been planning on the subjects of politics, dating, and social networking.

5773: If it isn't obvious, I wish a happy, healthy and prosperous year to all. I may even manage to mail out cards this weekend.

Storytelling: I was part of A Sampler of Stories at Friendship Heights Village Center on Wednesday night. I had fun telling a personal story, about what I really learned in 6 years of ballet classes. There were two other personal stories and three folk tales, making for an interesting mix. Where else can you hear about Beowulf and the minor traumas of suburban childhood in the same evening.

Now I have to pull together the story I am telling at Better Said Than Done at the end of the month.

Work rant, part 1: If you send out an email to six people asking what their availability is for a meeting on Wednesday or Thursday, you should not then schedule the meeting for Tuesday.

Work rant, part 2: The correct time to close restrooms for cleaning is not during lunch hours or during peak departure times.

Work rant, part 3: When I rule the world, all documents sent for re-review will have all changes (including deletions) clearly marked. If they are sent as Word documents, one can often find this via "track changes," but that is not the case for PDF files.

Work rant, part 4: Why is it that any acronym I don't already know is the one that is missing from the acronym list?

Work rant, part 5: We've been getting new computers with Windows 7 on them. What child thought having a default font size of 8 points was a good idea? I had to change the font size in Outlook in 3 separate places to make my mail readable. And changing the overall display resolution required rebooting. I have things more or less functional now, but this was a waste of my time. (The thing that is not fixable is specific to our set-up. It now takes two steps to log-in, instead of just one. I reserve the right to gripe.)

One of my co-workers, listening to me kvetching about my disdain for Microsoft, said, "this tells me you don't want to learn new things." Uh, no, I love to learn new things, but I want to choose which things I learn. And spending time learning where they moved 28 separate buttons on an application takes away time I could spend learning to read hieroglyphics, which would be infinitely more amusing.

Work rant, part 6: We had a potluck brunch Thursday to "celebrate" our one year anniversary in our new digs. Aside from that hardly being an event to celebrate (small, noisy space and a bad commute for pretty much everyone), this was announced on Wednesday around lunch time. I managed to run into Whole Foods and buy mini-muffins, but with adequate notice, I would have made my famous mixed berry muffins. When I rule the world, all potluck events will have a minimum of one week notice.

Work non-rant: My promotion finally came through.

One final note on work: We got an announcement about a new program for charitable contributions. It included the information that United Way contributions had ceased in February. Maybe I should look at my pay stubs more closely, since I hadn't noticed that.

Why I want to retire: Aside from all the work ranting, the real reasons I want to retire sooner rather than later are: a) the horribleness of commuting to the Land that Transit Forgot, b) the events that I miss because they conflict with work (e.g. a two day symposium on Yiddish radio at the Library of Congress earlier this month), and c) the annoyingness of administrivia, especially this time of year when I am waiting for my badge and CAC renewal paperwork to get done and I have to deal with semi-annual and annual report inputs, in addition to the usual monthly and (two separate) weekly reports.

Celebrity death watch: Hal David wrote pop songs. Raindrops keep falling on his grave. Reverend Sun Myung Moon married his followers off to one another in exchange for having them sell flowers. Actually, until his recent death, I don't think I'd heard anything about Moonies in over a decade.

Note to myself: If I weren't interested in learning things, would I have scrawled the following in the margins of a planner page?
Language
Class
+ Dance
+ Everything Else

Odd ingredients: I was eating lentil-couscous soup for lunch yesterday and noticed that the ingredients list included "pineapple (dried)". Why?

Don't interpret this dream: I had a dream in which I was about to board a flight to Russia and realized I had forgotten to get a visa.

Trivia for the week: There was an interesting article in the Washington Post the other day about race and American Sign Language. Apparently, there is actually such a thing as Black ASL. I suppose it isn't surprising that there would be ethnic "dialects" to ASL, but I admit it's something I had never thought about before.

Baseball: There's always next year for the Red Sox. But the Nationals are in the post-season. I attempted to get NLDS tickets, but ended up waiting in their electronic virtual ticketing line for several minutes only to get a "this game is sold out" message. Sigh. (I could have tried for tickets to games that might not be played, but that isn't really my sort of thing. I hope to have the opportunity to try again for the NLCS and the World Series.)
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I am, as usual, busy and behind. This is the general catch-up entry and will have a few teasers for things I have yet to write about.

Three Day Walk: In a fit of madness, I decided I could actually be somewhat prepared if I just delayed a couple of months. So, instead of cancelling, I just switched to the Philadelphia walk, which is in early October. You still have an opportunity to donate to help me reach the fundraising goal. (Note that the totals shown by this widget are not necessarily accurate.)

Help me reach my goal for the Susan G. Komen Philadelphia 3-Day


Celebrity Death Watch: There is lots to report in this category. Let’s start with Ernest Borgnine, who deserves a mention for his role in the classic movie Marty, a lovely little piece about an ordinary man finding happiness despite people around him. While I am on actors, there was Sherman Helmesley, who, in addition to his television roles, starred in the Broadway musical Purlie. Then there was Chad Everett. I watched Medical Center in the early 1970’s largely because of a crush on him.

Moving on to other categories of fame, Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, fulfilling the dreams many of us had. She also became an effective voice for women in science and technology. She was definitely one of my heroines.

Speaking of effectiveness brings me to Stephen Covey, who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I actually took the 7 Habits class when my (then) boss did, on the grounds that it is a good idea to know what your management is being taught so you can be effective at subverting it.

Finally, I want to mention Donald Sobol. He is probably most famous for the Encyclopedia Brown series of children’s mysteries. But I remember him primarily for the “two-minute mystery” puzzles that appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazines. Those provide a good example of the distinction between a pure puzzle and a full-up mystery novel, with character development. They aren't very satisfying reading, bt they are good exercises in mental development.

Other deaths (more conceptual): Weekly Highlights is ceasing publication. I always looked forward to reading this when I was in elementary school.

Matt Groening has stopped his Life in Hell comic strip. He is responsible for my most embarrassing celebrity encounter. Back when I lived in Venice, California, I would go to an occasional cocktail party at a local bookstore. At one party, I was looking at Life in Hell postcards and told a bearded man standing nearby how much I liked the strip. He replied, “Thanks, I draw it,” at which point I turned into a simpering idiot. He was gracious enough to not only autograph a book for me, but to also draw a cartoon in the inside front cover.

NOAA’s latest budget kills the Aquarius Reef Base, the only deep undersea base we have. I understand the budget realities, but I am deeply disappointed, especially as they are blaming increases in weather satellite costs for this.

Work annoyance of the month: They have rewickered the front door to our suite so that it closes by itself. However, it does so very very slowly. When nobody is at the front desk, whoever opened the door has to wait for it to close, which is a waste of time. I suppose that if this is the worst annoyance I’ve had at work all month, I am not doing too badly. (Or, more likely, I am just used to all the other annoyance.)

Weather words: While I was in Cincinnati, a massive line of thunderstorms and wind struck the D.C. area. This was officially referred to as a “derecho.” I am convinced that there is a special office of meteorology that creates words like this to make the rest of us feel dumb whenever there is some natural disaster that we might have referred to in ordinary English.

Speaking of words: Maybe it is just among the people I work with, but it seems like the expression “a couple three” has entirely supplanted “a few.” Please point it out to me should that abomination ever seep into my speech.

Awkward language: A news headline referred to homeless men being found “stabbed with notes.” I have, admittedly, gotten paper cuts from time to time, but I suspect that they were probably stabbed with more conventional sharp objects and notes were left with their bodies.

Fun with language: An advertisement from the DC Jewish Community Center for a Tu B’Av event referred to this Jewish celebration of love as “Valenstein.”

Unintentional fun with language: One of my colleagues had a slip of the tongue on the way out of the office last night and referred to the “HIV lane” on the highway. My immediate thought was that must be the truck lane on the Ukimwi Road. (“Ukimwi” is a Swahili word for AIDS. The reference is to the contribution of improved roads, along with the tendency of truckers to frequent prostitutes, in the spread of the disease in Africa in the 1980’s.)

Things I have yet to write about: I still need to write up the NPL con. I also need to do a big entertainment wrap-up as I saw six shows at the Capital Fringe, two other shows, and two movies. I’ve been planning for a while to write about dating. And I am going away this weekend so will have that to write about.
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1) If there are more than, say, five people in a meeting, it is a good idea to go around the room and have them introduce themselves. This is particularly true if the meeting is a telecon and some of the folks on the other end are off screen.

2) Speaking of which, a conference held using video techniques is a video "telecon." It is not a "telecom."

3) Filling in more details on an outline is "fleshing it out." The term "flushing something out" refers to bringing it out into the open, as in a dog chasing game for hunters to shoot at.
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1) I should have mentioned that I also went to see the exhibit of Madeline Albright's pins in the Smithsonian Castle on Sunday, since it was closing that day. The story is that she used her choice of jewelry to send subtle (or not so subtle) messages to people she was meeting with. As someone who wears pins a lot, I was interested in seeing where my taste and hers overlapped. I generally like funkier, less traditional ones than she does.

2) My district has a particularly nasty Congressional race this time out. What makes it especially annoying is that we used to be represented by Tom Davis, a moderate Republican, who retired because he felt increasingly unwelcome within the Virginia Republican party. Gerry Connolly (a Democrat) won the office two years ago. As far as I can tell, he's done okay with it. I don't particularly like the man (and, yes, I've met him since he came down to my polling place the last couple of elections) but will vote for him given what an extreme right wingnut is running against him. (Where does the Virginia republican party get these people? We have an attorney general who wasted money redesigning award medals to cover up the breast of the goddess depicted on the state seal. And Keith Fimian, the candidate in question, who wants to ban not only abortion but contraception. Not that he has a chance in hell of that, but it reflects an attitude.)

But what bothers me is the campaign literature I've gotten. The Democratic Party of Virginia has sent me at least one and often two or three flyers a day - all of them with Keith Fimian's name and a summary of some of his more repellant positions on them. For a change of pace, they sometimes send out some about his various failed business enterprises. The kicker is that none of this campaign literature has Gerry Connolly's name on it!
If you know your candidate is so poorly liked that you feel you can't mention him, perhaps you should have looked for someone else to run?

3) One of my pet language peeves surfaced again yesterday. "To flush something out" comes from a hunting term and has to do with using the dogs to get the birds to fly up so you can shoot them. That is, you are creating a stimulus that gets that something out of hiding. If what you want to do is fill in the blanks in an outline, you want to flesh thing out.
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Because I was hosting a story swap last night, I spent much of the day going through the scraps of paper that seem to accumulate on my dining room table and, alas, the floor of the study nook. I was trying to be good and actually handle them, instead of just tossing them in the box of shame to deal with later.

So here are some odds and ends from things I scribbled down for some reason or other.

1) I have no idea why I wrote down the word "perissodactyla." I just looked it up and it refers to odd-toed ungulates, e.g. horses and rhinoceroses and quaggas. Was there something in the news about them roughly a year ago July?

2) I also have no idea why I wrote "Bellhorn 2004" in my planner a few weeks ago. Yes, Mark Bellhorn played for the Red Sox starting in that year, but I can't imagine why I was thinking about him. (He was an interesting player - led the league in strikeouts that year, but became a real hero in the World Series.)

3) I have become a big fan of Christoph Niemann's Abstract City blog in the NY Times. His August 3rd visual diary of a flight from NY to Berlin via London is brilliant.

4) I missed seeing Red Green talk in Frederick a couple of weeks ago, but I was amused that he also made an appearance at a hardware store in Bethesda, where he autographed rolls of duct tape.

5) Most of the strange, unexplained numbers in my planner are phone numbers. Some are not. I am fairly sure I wrote down 16,000,000,000 because one of my colleagues could not figure out how many zeros there were in billion.

6) I was reviewing a document (having to do with an international joint project) recently that included a requirement to "repatriate data." I understood what it meant, but I found the usage to be a bit odd. On the other hand, I'm not sure I could think of a better way to say that the country that provided the sensor should get the data from that sensor.

7) I have completely lost control of my calendar. (Admittedly, that assumes that I ever had control of it). Does anybody know why I have blocked off the weekend of April 8-10 next year?

8) Speaking of the absurdity of my calendar, I need to find a weekend in November to go up to New York so I can see The Language Archive at Roundabout and The Scottsboro Boys. The former is about a subject (saving dying languages) I'm interested in. The latter is a Kander and Ebb musical with John Cullum.

9) Here is a language related link - the OED in limerick form. That the "O" stands for "Omnificent", not "Oxford" does not lessen the charm.

10) Moose can get arthritis. I have no idea why I think that is interesting, but I do.

11) I am not sure whether the credit card lightbulb is absurdly brilliant or merely absurd. It would probably need to produce more lumens than it does to be absurdly brilliant.

12) Lori Berenson is back in jail, the Peruvian government having bowed to public opinion. I'm okay with that, but her son is apparently with her for the remaining five years of her sentence. I admit that I don't really know how Peruvian prisons work, but what about the boy going to school?

13) I had this rather amusing conversation with Alaska Air (abbreviated AS below) this week:

Me: I'd like to make a partner reservation on Air France.

AS: Where would you like to go?

Me: I'd like to do an open jaw. I want to fly from Washington Dulles into Bamako, Mali and return from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

AS: Are those both in France?

I explained that, er, no, they are both in Africa. (And, yes, I got the tickets on the dates I wanted and am well on the way to making my land arrangements. I am actually going to Timbuktu, which is something I have wanted to do my entire life!)

14) The Wall Street Journal had an interesting obituary on July 16th of the traditional mariner / navigator, Tau Pilau. Unfortunately, I can't find the article on-line.

By the way, the story swap went well, despite a phone problem meaning I had to go downstairs to let people in. (The buzzer system is tied to the phone, which hangs up after about 3 seconds.) Ten people is not a huge number, but is just about what is comfortable in my living room. There was a good mix of traditional stories and personal stories. I told "Why I'm Not a Millionaire" which went over well. One person left his backpack behind and I had to make a quick call for him to return for it. I only just now realized that another person left a tupperware behind and I'll have to see what she wants me to do about returning it.
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I spent much of the week in Los Angeles at the annual Space Systems Risk Management Symposium. Because of how my company does travel booking, I had to do some manipulation to get reasonable flights, which means I ended up flying out Tuesday morning.

I went to take out the trash on my way out - and saw a bunch of junk spread on the floor of the trash room. It took a second for me to realize that part of that junk was a sleeping person. I threw my trash in the chute and left a message on the management office's answering machine. Normally, I'd have called the police, but I was running late and didn't want to risk missing my flight.

The flight out was fine (especially as I was upgraded) but there were strong headwinds so we got in about 45 minutes late. I made it to the afternoon tutorial I was signed up for on time, but it also strikes me that travel planning would be a really good example to use to explain probabilistic risk analysis and decision theory to people. We have a good idea of the on-time percentages for flights. And I'd contend we can come up with a reasonable idea of the consequences of various degrees of lateness, depending on what one's reason for travel is. The sort of people I deal with tend to travel a lot, so this is an analogy they should be able to relate to.

Anyway, the tutorial was about 45 minutes of useful material, buried in 4 hours of material. It was not well-structured and I was sure that it was going to be completely valueless, but the last section redeemed things. It reminded me of the importance of including examples all throughout a presentation, instead of starting with hours of theory.

The rest of the conference was somewhat mixed. My goal at conferences is to find a few gems a day, so it was a success in that respect. It also meant that I've reached my mandatory continuous learning hours for the year, which is also useful. However, I continued to be irritated by people who had poor microphone skills (hint: if you plan to walk around during your presentation, use the wireless lapel mike, instead of just wandering aimlessly away from the podium) and distressed by the abuse of apostrophes on briefing charts. When I rule the world, there will be retraining camps for people who use apostrophes for plurals and who have not learned that "its" is the correct possessive. I had time for a couple of other meetings (brainstorming with one person about an issue that I think will be important in the future and trying to do some replanning with one of my henchmen on the project he's working on).

The timing of the trip worked out nicely as this month started on a Thursday, so the first Wednesday was followed by the second Thursday. That meant I could go to Long Beach Storytellers on Wednesday night and Community Storytellers on Thursday night. Both were very enjoyable and I saw several people I haven't seen in ages. I told the new story I've been working on at Long Beach and concluded that Gafni the Gonif works as a name, but the ending isn't there yet. A particular highlight of last night at Community Storytellers was hearing Leonard sing his Passover song ("Sweet Whitefish and Pike" to the tune of "Sweet Betsy from Pike"), followed by his playing a new waltz with accompaniment by Dan on bass.

I flew back way too early this morning. I did get upgraded again, so I'm 2 for 2 as far as United's Unlimited Domestic Upgrades policy goes. Now I am home and rushing around to do things before flying to Boston tomorrow morning. I am also trying to decide whether I have enough energy to go over to the Library of Congress for tonight's Music and the Brain lecture. Sleep? What's that?
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Last night when I was driving home from the dentist (and a stop for grocery shopping on the way), I noticed one house that had very elaborate holiday decorations up. It reminded me that every year we would drive around to look at people's Christmas lights. There was one house that always went all out. When those people moved, the people who moved in did nothing. If I remember it correctly, they pretended they were Jewish, even though they weren't. One of the ironies of this whole thing is that I think we usually did this drive-around when Mom picked us up from Hebrew school.

Not particularly seasonal, but thinking of being in the car with my mother driving reminds me of a silly little thing she used to do on the rare occasions when she'd drive us to school. See, my elementary school and junior high is right by the water and there is a sharp turn on the road there. So she'd always call out, "I'm going to drive into the water, I'm going to drive into the water." And we'd tell her to do it. Many years later when I lived at Venice Beach, she came out to visit. We'd gone out to dinner somewhere and I drove around the Marina and called out, "I'm going to drive into the water."

Giving my father equal time, my favorite seasonal memory of him had to do with his theory about the weather. He insisted that cold and snow were a Soviet plot. See, the Russians had these giant air blowers installed in Siberia ...

I was also reminded of my dad when I was reading some of Leo Rosten's "H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N" stories the other night. In particular, one story involves a new student who writes well, but can't distinguish between the "s" and "sh" sounds and always uses the "s". Kaplan mocks this student for being a Litvak. (Rosten was a Galitzianer, which is why I can dismiss his books on Yiddish as having no scholarly validity. Why, yes, my family roots are in Vilna and Kovno, at least on my father's side.)

Anyway, I didn't really realize my father spoke with an accent until I was in college. He just spoke the way he did. And he didn't have trouble with "s" sounds in English. I suppose he can't have had trouble in Yiddish, either, since he was fine with words like "shlemiel" and "shmendrick" and "shmegege." But he got the "s" and "sh" sounds confused in Hebrew. He used only one of those and, oddly, I can't remember which one he used. I remember noticing this especially when he led the seder every Pesach and thinking it was a sort of speech defect. After reading that story, I wonder if this was just how things were said during his youth in Kovno.

On another minor linguistic note, my father's favorite word was probably "capisce?" (Which is pronounced roughly ka-peesh.) Even though I knew perfectly well that he was fluent in Italian, I was probably close to 30 before I realized that this was Italian for "do you understand?" and not a Yiddish word.
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There are past tense verbs in the English language. Or, at least, there were. Some of them were used as adjectives. (I am sure there must be a grammatical term for this, but I can't think of it, nor have I found any helpful website on the subject.)

Hence, there used to be things like "whipped cream" and "iced tea." Apparently, this is a rather old-fashioned concept since I keep seeing menus offering things like "old-fashion ice tea."

This is sloppy English and will be cause for public humiliation when I rule the world.
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1) I went shopping after work. I need new shoes. What I was hoping to find was a simple pair of black slingback pumps. Apparently, I need to go shopping via time machine. (I did try on a few pairs of other shoes without success. I am. alas, too practical to try on purple silk shoes or leopard print pumps, no matter how lovely they may be. Steve Madden makes shoes I think are attractive but they don't fit my feet.)

2) In other shopping news, I did see a jacket I liked. However, I did not like it $600 worth. This whole fiscal responsibility thing may be coming back into fashion, I hear. I also saw an absolutely gorgeous formal dress and didn't even try it on since I can't think of any occasion I would have to wear it for which I couldn't wear any of the other formal dresses I own.

In my youth, I did better at manufacturing occasions.

3) I am offended by people cursing loudly on public transit. The words don't bother me personally, but one really ought not to cuss in public places.
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South African English: I have probably mentioned my fascination with variant English vocabularies here before and none is quite so fascinating as South African English. My favorite term is "robot" (meaning a traffic light) since I was so completely baffled by a set of directions in Pretoria which told me to turn at the robot. Most other oddities are Afrikaans words that have crept into English, e.g. "braai" (meaning "barbecue" and a word you can't go more than about 48 hours in South Africa without hearing).

I'm in the middle of reading one of Arthur Goldstuck's books on South African urban legends and ran across two terms which were new to me. The first was "smalls," apparently to refer to classified ads. The other reference was to a commercial being "flighted" on television. Obviously, that means "aired," but it strikes me as a strange usage and possibly a translation back from Afrikaans.

Printing Error of the Week: Ryan Zimmerman (and, possibly other Nationals players) were seen at a game a few days ago wearing jerseys that read "Natinals" on the front. The company that makes the jerseys apologized. I suppose it wouldn't occur to a baseball player to proofread his uniform.

Movies: I saw Duplicity over the weekend. I liked it, though I thought a few plot points were improbable at best. I was particularly pleased with a love scene in which one gets to see that Clive Owens has chest hair. Yes, I am shallow.

Another Baseball Item: Every Major League Baseball team but one is selling single game tickets for their entire season by now. That one is the New York Mets. I'd really like to go up and see their new ballpark this summer, so I wish they would at least tell me when tickets will be on sale.

Airfare: As I may have mentioned, I bought a ticket to Lima for under $250 for later this year. Today, I bought a ticket for a quick excursion to Fort Lauderdale in June. That cost just about $200. Don't even try to figure out the logic. (And, no, it would not have been cheaper to fly into Miami. In fact, the fares to Miami were all around $350.)
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Eastern Cities Compared: In my comparison of NY and DC, I forgot to mention that ads in the NY subway system are for financial counseling or drug treatment, while ads in the DC metro tend to be for fighter jets.

Rationalization for Levitation: I had promised myself that if I finished in the top half in the crossword tournament, I would give myself permission to spend huge amounts of money for a weightless flight. I have, indeed, gotten out the plastic and booked this. In the process of doing so, I came up with an even more absurd rationalization. See, I had been looking into going to the North Pole as a 50th birthday present to myself. The dates didn't work, alas. The flight, while absurdly expensive, is still only about a quarter of the price of going to the Pole. So I am saving money.

Public Crafting: I have been known to work on my nalbinding in public. When somebody asks me what I am knitting, I usually say something like, "I'm working on slipper socks. But this isn't knitting." They inevitably say, "oh, of course. It's crocheting." And I have to explain that it isn't crocheting either and tell them all about how nalbinding is what the Vikings did because they didn't know how to knit. For the record, knitting involves two or more sticklike needles (sometimes joined together by a cable, as in circulars). Crocheting involves a hook. If somebody is using what looks like a tapestry needles, they are probably doing something else. (Tatting needles are generally longer and thinner, by the way.)

Food Network: Since I don't have cable, I don't watch the Food Network often. However, that does not seem to stop them from stalking me. First, there was the Dinner Impossible banquet at the ACPT. Then I learned that Nongkran Daks was on Throwdown with Bobby Flay last night. Who is Nongkran Das, you might ask? Just the owner / chef of Thai Basil in Chantilly - where I had eaten lunch on Tuesday. (It's the best restaurant reasonably near my company's Chantilly offices, so I go there regularly during the rare occasions when I have to visit the mothership. I usually get the kra pow.)

Pangram: A pangram is a sentence that contains all of the letters of the alphabet. The one Americans tend to find most familiar is "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." A fair number of people will recognize "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs." Apparently, the British favor a different pangram since a recent BBC item calling for people to send in samples of their handwriting used "How quickly daft jumping zebras vex."

I also have a note I jotted down about white-nose syndrome killing bats in northeastern caves, but I don't remember what I intended to say about that. Except for it being bad, of course.

At some point, I will get around to writing about The Amazing Race and about tonight's "Music and the Brain" lecture.
fauxklore: (Default)
I do still intend to write about the Mendelssohn bicentennial event (which was also part of the "Music and the Brain" series), but I want to have an early night, so it will have to wait. In the meantime, here's a linguistic tidbit from my work world.

At a meeting today my (government) boss said, "X said we're not going to peanut butter it." Meaning that the money would not be spread evenly over a bunch of programs.

I have no idea why peanut butter is assumed to spread more evenly than anything else. However, I was amused when a few minutes later (still on the same subject), he said, "X doesn't want to salami slice it."

I had never quite realized the equivalence of peanut butter and salami before.

Squirrels!

Jan. 21st, 2009 06:18 am
fauxklore: (Default)
Today is squirrel appreciation day. In honor of the holiday, I will refrain from referring to dubious ideas as "squirrely" today.
fauxklore: (Default)
In case any of you were not aware of this, today is Thesaurus Day.

I hope it's happy, blissful, blithe, cheerful, chirpy, convivial, ecstatic, elated, gay, gleeful, jolly, joyful, joyous, jubilant, merry, mirthful, pleasant, sparkling, etc.
fauxklore: (Default)
There was another "Music and the Brain" lecture tonight at the Library of Congress. I am really enjoying this series and tonight's talk was no exception. (I am also enjoying getting to know other regular attendees, but that is a separate subject for another time.)

The speaker was Aniruddh Patel of the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego and his topic was "The Music of Language and the Language of Music." His talk focused on two aspects of the similarity between music and language - rhythm and syntax - and discussed experiments related to each.

The rhythm work had to do with whether or not the rhythm of a given composer's music reflects the rhythm of his (or her) native language. Dr. Patel played two samples of music and asked the audience which one sounded English and which was French. Surprisingly, this was easy. Then he discussed one unsuccessful theory before getting to more recent research. The issue has to do with how to measure rhythm in language and the successful approach focused on the regularity of the length of vowel sounds. He discussed a metric called "normalized pairwise variability index" or NVPI, which measures how much short and long vowel sounds are in adjacent syllables. For music, the NVPI would have to do with the actual rhythm. That is, if a piece alternated quarter notes and whole notes, it would have a much higher NVPI than a piece consisting entirely of quarter notes. It turns out that English has a significantly higher NVPI than French. They analyzed music by several English composers and several French composers and, sure enough, the music by English composers had a higher NVPI. The difference in the music was less than in the language, but was still pretty obvious.

For syntax, the question was what the musical analog would be. Essentially, he used the "closeness" of chords (as in how near or far two chords are in the circle of 5ths) to describe how music would be jarring syntactically. The experiment involved having people do self-paced reading (clicking on a key to advance a phrase at a time) with a syntactically "difficult" phrase in the middle. They accompanied this with the playing of chords and measured the time that subjects took to advance the phrases. The idea was that, if the same part of the brain was involved in both types of syntax, the reaction to the jarring phrase (which is slower than to the other phrases) would be even further slowed when the jarring chord was played. Which did, indeed, happen. They looked at other aspects of changing the chord accompanying that phrase (e.g. switching from a piano chord to an organ chord) and found that had no effect. All of which they used to conclude that there is some sort of brain "interference" between syntax in language and musical syntax.

Dr. Patel did an excellent job of explaining this work to a highly varied audience and stimulated a lot of discussion among the crowd. I was also really impressed by how much he seems to enjoy his research.

Eventually, the LoC will put the lectures (which they record) up on their web site. So those of you not in the D.C. area can get to hear them too. But, if you are here (or will be), I highly recommend attending in person. Next up is Daniel Levitin on 18 November, who will also be signing his new book, The World in Six Songs: How the Brain Created Musical Nature.
fauxklore: (Default)
Tonight may have been the VP debate, but it was also opening night of the All Roads Film Festival at National Geographic. Given the choice between hearing a debate between two people who are perpetually infected with hoof-in-mouth syndrome and seeing a movie about two linguists documenting endangered languages ... not exactly a difficult choice for me.

"The Linguists" proved to be an excellent documentary, following David Harrison and Gregory Anderson through several field trips to document languages in Siberia, Arizona, tribal regions of India, and Bolivia. Things don't always go so smoothly. For example, some of the speakers are very elderly, so a couple of the first speakers of Chulym they try to interview are nearly deaf. Another incident involves a man who claims to speak Kallawaya but really only knows a few words. It's all handled with a great deal of warmth and humor.

I'll admit to some bias since endangered languages are one of my pet subjects, but I think the film has broader appeal. It's always worth seeing people who are passionate about their interests.

There was a Q&A after the film with two of the directors, one of the linguists, and one of the speakers of an endangered Native American language. They mentioned that the film will be shown on PBS next year. But don't wait - go and see it at a film festival or other screening if you have any interest in the subject.

One possible down side is that the footage of Bolivia has added to my already lengthy list of places I want to travel to.

By the way, I had dinner at Vapiano before the screening. This is a local outpost of a German chain of Italian semi-fast food. It was surprisingly decent with pasta cooked al dente (and the sauce cooked right in front of you). The gimmicky part is that you get your food at various stations (e.g. one for pasta, one for pizza, one for salads, plus a bar) and swipe a card they give you at the entrance which records the prices. You pay the total when you leave. All very high tech, but it was convenient for a quick supper of fusilli with pesto sauce. I'd go there (or another of their local branches) again.
fauxklore: (Default)
... and the hotel has a business center with free internet access.

The problem with driving down after work is that I didn't get much work done all afternoon because I was checking traffic.com every 10 minutes. I did, however, learn a new word. I was looking at data somebody sent me and he referred to certain satellites having been "passivated." I believe that most people would have called that "deactivated."

Checking the traffic proved to be useless, by the way, as by the time I left the traffic jams were not where it told me they'd be. Things eased up quite a bit after Fredericksburg and it took me about 3 hours and 15 minutes from Crystal City, which is not too bad. (Mapquest claims it should be 2.5 hours, but they never really account for the horror that is I-95 through Dale City.)

Dinner, which I had at an Italian restaurant chosen entirely by proximity to the close, featured a non-Colonial time warp. Let's just say that most of America has progressed past 1960's era red sauce, but this place (Sal's) had not.

The storytelling festival calendar poses numerous dilemmas, as I want to be in at least two of the tents at any given time. I will probably use my usual method of going to hear the people who I have heard the least (or, in at least two cases, never). But I can figure that out in the morning.

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