Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cruise photos

We're really on a blogging roll here, aren't we? :)

My coworkers have been hounding me for months to see some pictures from the cruise we took last May. I took more than 1,300 photos, so this weekend I went through and picked out a hundred or two and threw them up on my Web site. There are no captions. What you see is what you get, literally :) . But if you want to take a look, here they are:


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Books, Reading, Purple Roses and Free Association

Reading my bro's very interesting forays into the written word remind me of when I actually had time to read real books. Now, in between diapers, feeding, playing and burping that is increasingly rare.

Yes, Evelyn is doing just fine. She is continuing to grow, is now eating solids (well, mush anyway) and can 'tripod'. Is that in the OED? It means she can sit up as long she supports herself with one hand. She can't crawl yet, but has developed rolling over and over to a fine art and has been known to cross the room in such a fashion. Being with her is such a joy, and coming home to play with her is by far the highlight of the day.

But back to the point, reading has taken a back seat for a while but back before it did I prepared a list of favorite books (I think this is when my bro was incommunicado for a few weeks). Anyway, here is my list of favorite books that I have read in the last few years. I would say that I enjoyed them, except that it would be hard to say that reading the first book on the list was enjoyable. It was an amazing emotional experience, but enjoyable???

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
2. Lamb by Christopher Moore subtitle: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
3. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory MacGuire (yes, his Wicked is more famous, but this, is treatment of the Cinderella story, is much better)
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clark
5. The Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Peters

However, now that reading is in the backseat for a while we have taken to watching movies, which can be done while burping the little one, or while she is falling asleep on your shoulder (did I mention that she is cute when she is asleep and that sometimes she has the most wonderful little snores?) The other night we were watching the Purple Rose of Cairo, a Woody Allen film from when he still made good movies. In the film Mia Farrow plays a put upon housewife in the 1930's who retreats to the local movie theatre to forget her troubles. One day, much to her surprise (and ours) one of the characters walks off the screen and into her life. Chaos ensues.

All of which leads to the first question of this entry:

If you could bring any character from any movie off the screen and into real life who would it be and why?

And, in a bit of free association, this question reminds me of another question, asked by Terri Gross of someone I can't remember. I think it is the best interview question I have ever heard:

What is it that surprises you most about the person you have become?

And by the way, both of these questions are way too personal for me to answer.


Scottish Burr

burr -noun  3. any pronunciation popularly considered rough or nonurban. ( Unabridged (v 1.0.1))

Continuing my life's recent detour down the Street of Nonfiction Books About Language (which I think is about to come to an end), I've been reading David Crystal's The Stories of English . Note the plural in the title. Crystal's point is that there isn't a single "proper" English, with all other variants being mongrels, but rather that there are many Englishes, that they are all peers, and that they all make up a tapestry that is the true "stories of English."

I just finished Crystal's section on the origin of the Scottish dialect of English. As I'm sure you know, Scottish English is unintelligible to other English speakers. I've always understood that this is because Scots are a contrary and obstinate people who derive satisfaction from being difficult. I sincerely apologize to any Scots readers I have (though I don't think I have any), but this is a widely held opinion -- I've even heard it from English people. A few years ago there was a movie in Scottish English that had subtitles -- in English -- making it the first English-language movie to have English-language subtitles. One English person I met even told me that Scottish English was "barbaric."

So Crystal's book has been an eye-opener for me: The Scottish dialect of English actually dates back to the Norman Conquest, and the flood of English-speaking refugees who were driven into Scotland. Gaelic was spoken in Scotland at the time, but in some way that isn't entirely clear English came to supplant Gaelic as the language of the Scots. But this was English as it was spoken before the Normans -- what we today call Old English.

As time went on, the English spoken in England was changed by the influence of the French-speaking Normans, but the Scots didn't have much reason to keep up with these changes: The English spent 300 years waging war to subjugate the Scots, and you can see how it would be perfectly understandable for a Scottish person to look upon "England English" as hateful. Maybe even barbaric :) . So Scottish English went its own way, but remained English nonetheless.

So, far from being barbaric, it seems Scottish English is actually the first great branching of the English language, which goodness knows has seen its share of branching since. Scottish English is a noble language with a very long and distinguished heritage -- just as distinguished as "England English." And Scottish English has produced great literature dating back to at least the 1400's. The Scots should be proud to speak it. And I suspect they are.

I still can't understand them, though.


Monday, November 27, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Christmas was always a big event while I was growing up. We would decorate the inside of the house. I have early memories of Dad stringing the outside of the house with big colored lights (this being prior to the invention of small Christmas lights). Of course, we always had a well decorated tree and, being Catholic, even an Advent wreath from time to time.

However, more than 20 years of being on my own and away from family had its effect. I would decorate only sporadically. From time to time in my 30s I wouldn't even put up a tree. I guess I thought that Christmas was a family holiday, and with no family of my own and being removed from my family or origin I increasingly never bothered.

Then along came Linda. To say that Christmas is a big deal in my wife's family is to be guilty of a tremendous understatement. It is not exagerrating too much to say that Linda's job is not complete until every corner of the house has some kind of decoration in or on it. She has, I kid you not, a dozen boxes of Christmas decorations in the basement, each labeled by room. In addition to garland, wall hangings, cards, candleholders, two creches, decorations above every doorway and snowpeople and/or santas on every shelf, Christmas nightlights, a full box of Christmas movies and music, we also have Christmas plates and glasses, Christmas towels and, yes, Christmas tree salt and pepper shakers.

I hate to admit it, but its kind of nice.



A lot of times when I'm stuck at a traffic light -- which is, like, a hundred times a day anymore -- I pass the time by watching the people in the car behind me in my rearview mirror. I call it "rearviewing." I try to be surreptitious, turning my head a little and then looking out of the corner of my eye at the mirror. It's interesting what you see sometimes, watching people who are in public but, being insulated by a big solid car, may think of themselves as in private. I've seen my share of nose-pickers, and the happy ones who bop and sing along with music I can't hear, and when there's more than one person in the car, sometimes a little drama gets played out.

Yesterday I was rearviewing while in a line of stopped traffic. The driver behind me was an attractive young woman with dark hair and olive skin, but I couldn't figure out what she was doing. Her head was still, turned to the side, a little elevated... and then suddenly I got it! She was rearviewing the car behind her !

Which made me wonder something I had never wondered before:

What are the people in the car ahead of me doing?


Sunday, November 26, 2006


This truck is parked around the block from me:

Duck truck

Is it just me, or is anyone else, when they look at this, reminded of a mother duck sitting on a nestful of eggs? Any day now I expect to see this truck cruising slowly down the street, followed by a line of cute little trucklings.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Not your grandmother's dictionary: The final installment

I'm sure everyone is getting tired of my posts about the Oxford English Dictionary's  Word of the Day, so I'll make this the final installment. But, today, I couldn't resist.

I wonder if the people who decide on the Word of the Day are trying to make the OED seem relevant, even hip, because today's Word of the Day is...

...are you ready for this?


I kid you not: "Esp. of a woman, often with reference to the buttocks: sexually attractive, sexy; shapely." One of the citations is from Snoop Doggy Dog. Snoop, cited in the OED. You can't get much more inclusive than that. Another citation is a quote from Slate  magazine: "I still think she's bootknockingly bootylicious." I wonder if the next edition of the OED will include "bootknockingly," too.

I love it. :)


Thursday, November 23, 2006


Sign in front of a church:

Don't complain about washing the dishes.

It means you had something to eat.



Wednesday, November 22, 2006

So I have strong opinions. Sue me.

I always say (whenever anyone tries to talk with me about music, which only ever happens once, per person) that there are no good music genres or bad music genres. There is only good music and bad music. And to further support my position, I give you the latest CD from My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade . This CD demonstrates that punk can be grand, inspiring, and thrilling. In spades. If you haven't guessed that I love it, I do.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Not your grandmother's dictionary, but Grandma would probably approve

Another reason I love the Oxford English Dictionary :  Yesterday's Word of the Day was s'more. Yes, s'more. As in, "A dessert or snack consisting of toasted marshmallows and chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers, typically served outdoors, with the marshmallows toasted over coals or a campfire. Chiefly in pl. " 

I was tickled by "typically served outdoors, with the marshmallows toasted over coals or a campfire," and charmed by "Chiefly in pl. " You can just see the editors at the OED hunched over this word, their brows furrowed with serious and ponderous thought. There are three citations, the first from 1934.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Silent but Deadly

I'm not talking about farts. I'm talking about words about farts.

One of my beagle mailing lists recently had a lengthy discussion on dog farts. I only mention this because it means I read the phrase "silent but deadly" a few dozen times in the span of a couple of days, and I would like to point out that "silent but deadly" is a hackneyed cliche. Now, I have nothing against hackneyed cliches. There are lots of them. In fact, I'm pretty sure "hackneyed cliche" is a hackneyed cliche. What bothers me are hackneyed cliches that people use with zest, as though they don't realize they are hackneyed cliches. I'll give you an example: Some clerk or other will ask me for my name, and I'll say "Smith," and the clerk will lower his voice, glance slyly left and right, say "Yes, but what's your real name," and then smile idiotically, proud of his originality and cleverness. I am always tempted to respond with something like, "You know, that still manages to strike me as original and clever, no matter how often I hear it, which is about once a month." But I don't, because I'm usually depending on this clerk to take care of my dry cleaning or bake me a pizza or something, and I don't want to piss him off any more than absolutely necessary, so I have a different comeback*.

"Silent but deadly" is pretty much the same. Everyone who uses it seems to think he or she is being witty and pithy. As I read the dozens of "silent but deadlies" on that mailing list, I could just picture each typist finishing the phrase with a little trill on the keyboard and thinking, "Boy, aren't I witty and pithy!"

No, you are not. You are stale and banal.

Given that farts are an important part of life, I think we need a new phrase to replace "silent but deadly," recognizing that this one just isn't funny anymore. How about a "ninja wind"? A "stealth nuke"? A "sarin under the radar"? A "quiet grenade"? A "woppin' without warnin'" (this is the redneck version)?

If you have any suggestions, please, please let me know.

* So, Greg (you ask), what is your comeback when people ask you if your name is really Smith? This:

Me: Do you know why the name "Smith" is so common?

Clerk: No, why?

Me (archly): Survival of the fittest.

And, believe it or not, about a quarter of the time the clerks don't get it, and just state blankly, seeming to say, "Who are you, and why am I talking to you?"

The fittest, indeed.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Not your grandmother's dictionary

No one can accuse the Oxford English Dictionary of being stuffy. The OED Word of the Day today is "gazillion."


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blast From the Past

Blast From the PastThis was my Halloween costume this year. (I suppose I should mention that this is the first time I've ever dressed for Halloween in my entire adult life.) When people asked what I was, I told them "A blast from the past." Try to avoid looking at my face. I am so not photogenic. If there was a contest for world's least photogenic person and I didn't win, I'd say the voting was rigged.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but that's a slide rule in my pocket, and the shoes are authentic Kalso Earth shoes. I wish I'd had one of those Peace symbol necklaces, but that didn't occur to me until it was too late to do anything about it. And a couple of people pointed out that the glasses were wrong, and yes, I knew that, and I would have liked to have big glasses with plastic rims, but, you know, I need these glasses so I can, like, see.

I have something sad to tell you about this "costume," and also something happy: The sad thing is that I am old enough to have worn this outfit when it was in style. The happy news is that I did not. It seems that even before I knew Judi, I had a modicum of good taste. And I have something else to tell you: Polyester is miserably hot. It looks lightweight, but really it's like wearing saran wrap, except it's a little stiffer and you can't see through it.

My "costume" was well received at work. Although when Angie, the young lady of perhaps twenty-two who sits at the station behind mine in our four-person cube, came in, she said, "What's that in your pocket? No, wait! I know! Let me think.... It's a slide rule! I've heard about them. I've never seen one before, but I've heard of them."

I was tempted to take out my slide rule and give her a rap on the head, for disrepecting her elders and making them feel old. I used a slide rule when I was in college. It was right on the cusp of the transition from slide rules to handheld calculators, and a few of the more affluent students owned calculators, but most of us still used slide rules. The university even had a policy forbidding professors from requiring a greater degree of precision in test answers than could be provided by a slide rule.

Later, another young lady -- this one a Production Manager -- who had also never seen a slide rule asked me to show her how to use it. I tried to teach her to do multiplication, but she spent about ten seconds at it and then gave up, saying "It's too hard! I'll just use a calculator." Youngsters. They have no intellectual stamina. :)

The two questions I heard most often were, "Did you get that out of the back of your closet?" Answer: No. See above. And, "Where did you buy that?" Answer: On eBay, of course. Where else would you find a polyester leisure suit? In the right size, no less. I got the slide rule and the Kalso shoes from the same place. When I was in high school, by the way, there was one teacher who wore Kalso shoes, and we thought he was the coolest.

One last story to tell: The day after Halloween, Wednesday, I had to teach a class to some assembly operators. So I went out to the factory floor the day before, Halloween day, in my "costume" of course, to make sure all the operators had and knew their network login ids and passwords, and that all the passwords worked. I always do this before I teach this class. Well, on Wednesday morning I taught the class, and when I was done one of the students said, "You're a really good teacher!"

"Thank you," I said.

"Yeah," she went on, "when you came out to the line yesterday and we saw that slide rule in your pocket, we all though you'd be so dull you'd put us to sleep."

Thanks, lady.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Way too early

Yesterday, on November 2nd here in southern Vermont we woke up to snow. Yes, it was only a dusting and for the most part it was gone by noon. Winter is coming.

On a happier note, at almost six months Evelyn is coming along nicely. Her two recent discoveries are her tongue, which she has taken to sticking out with much more deliberation. (I'll leave you to wonder what that means)and her knees. Last night she spent a good fifteen minutes just running her little hands over her little kneecaps. What it must be like to really look at them for the first time.



Recently, I had an e-mail exchange with someone whose name is the same as an acronym. That got me to wondering what my name would stand for, if it was an acronym. The first thing that came to into my head, which I included in that e-mail exchange, was:
How fun that you have an acronym for a name! I wonder if G.R.E.G. stands for anything. Green Reptile Empowerment Group? Green reptiles of the world, unite! Your time has come! :)
As so often happens in life, this train of thought collided with another that I've been having lately:

Florida is blanketed by a patchwork of governmental entities called "water management districts." I don't know if they have these were you live, but here in Florida we have to face the fact that 200 years ago, this was mostly swamp, and it would revert to swamp pretty quickly -- and then what would happen to our property values? -- if someone didn't keep clearing debris from the drainage canals and such. That "someone" are the water management districts.

My local water management district is a sponsor for my public radio station, and their spots always end by announcing their web site, which is, "double-you double-you double-you dot {blah} {blah} {blah} double-you em dee dot gov".

Note the "Double-you em dee" before the "dot gov". Water Management District.... Every time I hear it, it strikes me as a little incongruous and even unsettling that the seemingly benign governmental agency that's supposed to dredge the local canals has the same acronym as "Weapons of Mass Destruction." Is there something they're not telling us? Is there a nuclear weapons program being conducted out of the district's equipment barn? Are they researching the conversion of canal muck into sarin gas? Sometimes a threat can come from the direction where you least expect it.

Getting back to G.R.E.G., how about the Geek Reactionary Engineering Guild? It would be made up of people who, for example, get Doom to run on an IBM AT PC and are insanely pleased with themselves when they do. There would be lots of secret handshakes and code words.

Is your name an acronym? If not, can you make one up? Leave it in the comments, or post on your own blog and leave me a link.

On a more somber note, B.J. would have been seventeen years old today. I miss her.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Borg are among us...

...and they're multiplying.

More and more often, I see someone shopping... eating... walking the dog... getting money from the ATM... even speaking with me (and that's the freakiest) -- someone who was once entirely human, but now is only pretending to be normal and apparently believes I will fail to notice that he has a cyborg appendage permanently attached to one ear!

Come on, people! You don't need to be wearing your Bluetooth earpiece when you're not on your phone! Especially when you're talking to me! Does anyone besides me find this distracting, and even bizarre?


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