Archive for ‘words’

2016/09/05

A slightly unique post

So apparently I come here every three or four months, to complain about things (often AI hype; omg don’t get me started on the latest “Watson” ad campaign owch).

Today I’m going to complain about this common English-prescriptivist notion, which I randomly encountered recently on a page that I won’t bother linking to because it was just like so many others, that it’s Very Bad Usage, and even Incorrect, to use adverbs of degree or comparison with the word “unique”. You can’t, this notion says, say “very unique” or “more unique”, for instance.

This is because, the notion says, uniqueness is an all-or-nothing concept; something is either unique or it isn’t, so there aren’t degrees or meaningful comparatives.

And this is just wrong.

Every physical object is unique, if you look hard enough, as is every situation. There has never been a bottle of hair shampoo with exactly this many molecules in it and a label exactly this many hundredths of degrees askew. There has never been an evening with exactly this number of fireflies in all of the yards for ten miles all around.

Even an electron, which is about as close as we get in this physics to something that’s exactly the same as a bunch of other things (all other electrons), has a unique position (and/or momentum and/or combination of the two).  If you want to be all quantum and deny that an electron has a single definite position, you’ll still grant that it has some sort of probability-function over a set of space-time coordinates, and that that function is different from the function corresponding to all other electrons.

So if everything is unique, why is the word “unique” useful? Exactly because some things are more unique than others: unique in more ways, or unique in more important ways. This tract house here is unique because although it’s identical to its neighbors in most ways, no other house in the county has an inverted horseshoe with Mickey Mouse’s face on it (a souvenir of Disneythingie) over the door. But compared to the house on the corner, which sits on top of a fifty-foot tower and can be reached only by a long spiral staircase, and which inside contains only one large room, which the inhabitants variably divide into sections as the mood strikes them, using bedsheets suspended on hooks from the ceiling, the tract house isn’t really unique at all.  The tower house, being very unique, is much more unique than the Disney-horseshoe one.

And that makes perfect sense.

So away with this simplistic “you can’t say ‘very unique’ or ‘more unique'” rule; it’s silly. The terms have perfectly reasonable meanings, which they communicate clearly to any competent speaker.  I don’t know where this idea started, and I’m insufficiently motivated to look it up, but I suspect that it’s one of those ways of showing that you’re a certain sort of card-carrying language maven, like the bit about not splitting infinitives.

Which isn’t to say that there are never better alternatives. If you really want to talk about general statistical properties, “more unusual” or “very unusual” might be better. Hauling out the bigger gun of “unique” is best done when you want to say that there isn’t anywhere a thing that’s the same as this one in the relevant sense, rather than just saying that things like that are comparatively rare.  And so “really amazingly unique” is best reserved when you really want to say that, in a particularly important and relevant sense, that the thing has properties (really, and amazingly) that nothing else has; not just that it’s sort of odd.

Thus ends the meta-prescriptivist lecture o’ the day (week? month?).  :)

 

 

 

 

 

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2016/02/04

Story straight

My personal websites, davidchess dot com and all, which are hosted somewhere in like England by friends-of-friends who stopped billing me in maybe 2010, seem to be down currently; but I have located a local copy, and have been looking nostalgically through it at random. Here is a piece of microfiction from March 2008 that I had entirely forgotten…

“So you know what you’re going to say?”

Chervais looked down at the squat form, sitting behind the piled shapes that served for a desk, sucking at a damp cigar.

“I was thinking I could just tell the truth.”

There was an explosion from somewhere outside, and the gondola rocked sickeningly for a moment. Chervais imagined the view outside, the gondola suspended like a parasite from the vast flock of harnessed geese, the bulbous airplanes that flew by now and then in slow irrational dogfights, the oddly glowing ground over which they passed, trees in the shape of nightmare reaching toward the starless sky.

The other grabbed at the desk automatically, and looked up.

“First, no one would believe you,” he stubbed the cigar on some component of the desk, which grudgingly caught fire, “and second, it’s not allowed.”

“I don’t think you have any way to enforce that.”

The big bloodshot eye rolled in its socket. “That’s a dangerous thing to assume.”

Chervais sighed and looked down at his hand, colorless and insubstantial. “All right,” he said, “first I became aware of myself floating upward, then I turned and saw my body lying on the bed.”

The other just nodded, the eye staring.

“Then there was this intense light, and I found myself moving toward it –”

“The calmness,” the other cut in.

“Right, right, there was this great feeling of calm, and I was moving up this tunnel toward the light, and there was this ethereal music and a great feeling of,” he made a sound, involuntarily, with his mouth, “of love, and a gentle voice, telling me I had to return.”

The squat cyclops grunted. “Ya still got some work to do on attitude, but I like that ‘ethereal’. Keep it up.”

Somewhere outside there was another explosion, as a cargo helicopter full of cheese plummeted from the sky.

2016/01/31

Nothing happens when you’re offended; except when it does

I’m afraid I’m going to be political again; comes of hanging out in social media too much in a U.S. election season.

The other day on the Face Book, someone posted some version of this:

along with a little essay about political correctness, and how trigger warnings are censorship, and how kids these days are so thin-skinned that no one can say anything anymore, and so on.

I posted a comment disagreeing, and got (and this is very unusual for me) two different people that I like and respect texting me privately in the Face Book (which I always forget is even a thing) expressing surprise at my opinion.

I’ve been thinking about how to write down my thoughts on these subjects for some time, but without actually doing it. So I thought maybe I’d start with just the basic message of the video clip itself: that when you’re offended, it doesn’t mean anything, and nothing happens.

To first order, I agree with this. The mere fact that I’m offended by something doesn’t in itself mean anything.

But depending on why I’m offended, it may be a sign of something that is meaningful.

The implication of “when you’re offended, nothing happens”, and a thing that the comic up there says more or less right out, is that if someone’s offended, they should just suck it up, sit down, and shut up about it.

But that’s wrong. Words mean things. Words build things up, and wear things down. Structural oppression exists, and words are part of the structure. Sitting down and shutting up does not help us get to a more just society.

If enough people are offended by casual references to some stereotypical negative property of some oppressed group, and refuse to sit down and shut up, and other people stop making those references as often, a little bit of the structure of that oppression has been lifted.

If I’m offended because some comedian punches down for laughs, and I give that comedian poor reviews and recommend that people avoid him, maybe he, or his colleagues, will look for laughs somewhere else.

Or if I’m offended because people are no longer deferring to me because I belong to some privileged group, or because structural oppression that favors me is being questioned, and I complain about that, I both tend to look like an idiot, and to shed light on the privilege and oppression that I’m upset about losing, and even that helps us along toward justice.

If I’m offended because someone said “shit” instead of “poo”, well, probably I should sit down and shut up about it.  :)

So it depends. But also it matters.

Because sometimes, even often, people take offense because of the way they are impacted by injustices in society.

And that’s not nothing.

Maybe sometime in the future: Trigger Warnings, Why the Kids are Alright, and so on.

2015/11/07

The dreams of my cellphone

So my cellphone of course has predictive input, as cellphones do, where it guesses three words that you might be planning to type, and displays them so you can choose one if you want (or just keep typing otherwise).

And one fun thing is that even if you haven’t typed anything yet, it will still predict what you might be going to type, because why not.  And once you choose a word it will suggest the three words that you might want next, and so on.

So you can drive the predictive model forwards without input, by just (for instance) picking the first suggested word repeatedly, until say you get into a loop.  And at the moment if you do that with my phone, you get this:

If the user to be in touch and I am going on the way I am going on the way I am going.

and then it loops I am going on the way I am going on the way I am going.

And if you choose the second, middle, one over and over you get:

I am not sure if you have any questions or concerns please please please please please.

in which it is notable that the second suggestion after “please” is “please”.  :)

Repeatedly choosing the third one gives this:

The first week and then the following file and then the following file.

and then the following file and then the following file.

Choosing the first then second then third, then first then second then third:

If you want me to be in the future of the day and I have to be able and willing I would like the one that you have any further information please do you have a good time and I will send the money and the rest and relaxation and then delete it immediately by return mail to you by the way you could send you the best time for the first one is in a few minutes ago and he said he will have to do you have a good time and I will send the money and the rest.

A still more complex pattern, one-one-two I think it was, produced this still more substantial chunk of text:

If the reader is not the named recipient only for use by others or forwarding of any action taken in reliance upon the contents to anyone else who might be a great day of school and the other day I can do to get a new email address is the best of my life is a good day for me know what you are hereby notified with the site and the rest is fine with the following link if I can get the chance of the individual sender and destroy all electronic mail message by mistake please immediately by return to me know what I can get the chance of the individual sender.

You are hereby notified!

I don’t know if any of the prediction there is learned from my own writing, although it doesn’t seem likely.  I don’t write about named recipients much, or in fact at all.  So most likely it has been trained on some standard body of text (including some legalese!) and either it doesn’t change that with experience, or my own writing patterns (I don’t write all that much on the phone after all) haven’t provided it with enough information to change the model substantially.

The rest is fine!

2015/11/04

Demographic substitution does not preserve truth

When I was in kid-school, a Social Studies teacher pointed out to us that there was no entry in the index of our textbook for “Women’s history” or “Women” in general.

I flipped through it and raised my hand, and said that hey, there was nothing for “Men’s history” or “Men”, either!

This is because I was a smug little shit who didn’t have the first clue how the world actually works.

(I like to think that this is a bit less true now.)

The teacher more or less adored me just because I was smart and (usually) well-behaved, and rather than giving me the smack-down I really needed, she (I vaguely recall) just said something like “It’s not the same thing”.

Which is entirely correct.

It’s easy to see why we might expect statements about one group to have the same status (truth, objectionability, etc.) as the same statements applied to another group.  In many contexts, there is basic fairness involved.  “Women should be able to participate in government” and “Men should be able to participate in government” are both true.  “Men should not be jerks” and also “Women should not be jerks”.  Or simple fact: “Most white people have toes”, and “Most people of color have toes”.

On the other hand, a few moments of thought reveals lots of statements for which this doesn’t work.  “Most pregnant people are women” is true; but “Most pregnant people are men” is false.  “Until comparatively recently, the law considered women to be essentially property” is true; but “Until comparatively recently, the law considered men to be essentially property” is false.  “Western society grants extensive privilege to white men per se” is pretty clearly true, but “Western society grants extensive privilege to disabled women per se” is implausible at best.

So far these examples are all of “ought” statements that survive under demographic substitution, and some “is” statements that don’t.  But in any plausible morality, situated “ought” statements are implied by “is” statements about their situation; their context.

A very strong case could be made, for instance, that “Western society grants extensive privilege to white men per se”, and “Mainstream study of history has been from a heavily male-oriented perspective” are both true, and that as a result “It is unfortunate that there is no entry about women in the index of this history textbook” can be true, while “It is unfortunate that there is no entry about men in the index of this history textbook” is silly (because, as I vaguely recall my Social Studies teacher pointing out, the whole book is about that).

More significantly (and I imagine more controversially, although perhaps not among y’all weblog readers), there are sets of “is” statements that don’t survive demographic substitution, from which we can conclude that for instance “Women, people of color, and LGBTQ people have a legitimate need for safe spaces that exclude those not in the relevant group” is true, whereas “Men, white people, and straight people have a legitimate need for safe spaces that exclude those not in the relevant group” is not. Or in shorter words, Women’s Rights and Black Power are not necessarily in the same moral categories as Men’s Rights and White Power.

And I am happy to have written that down, because I’ve had the argument rattling around inchoate in my head for some years.

Now there are a significant number of people posting things on the Internet who would claim that that the concluding sentence, that Women’s Rights and Black Power are not necessarily in the same moral categories as Men’s Rights and White Power, is just obviously false, and unfair, and sexist / racist, and so on. Some of them are, I imagine, smug little shits who don’t have the first clue how the world actually works; some others are just doing a good imitation.  To avoid the argument that we would use to get to the conclusion, they would either deny some of the initial “is” statements (denying that there is currently structural oppression of women or people of color, for instance), or deny in one way or the other that those statements imply the conclusion.

Or, perhaps more commonly, they would just repeat that the concluding sentence is sexist / racist, because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, because fairness, and so on.  Because, that is, demographic substitution ought to preserve the truth of “ought” statements, and saying that it doesn’t is sexist / racist / etc.

What finally pushed me over the edge to write this down was some Twitter discussion of this rather baffling story on the often-odious “Breitbart” site, by the often-odious Milo somebody.  It’s still not clear to me what the intent of the story is, aside from a general suspicion that it’s supposed to be humorous in some way (I do like the part where someone asks what direction they’re driving, and someone else looks at the GPS and says “up”; that’s funny!).  But at least some of the Milo supporters in the Twitter thread that I foolishly walked into, thought that it was obviously a parody of feminist claims that various aspects of technology are gendered against women.

The argument would be, I guess, something like “I have written this piece claiming that an aspect of technology is anti-male, and the piece is silly; therefore other pieces, claiming that other aspects of techhnology are anti-female, are also silly.”  Or, perhaps more charitably, “See how silly this claim that a technology is anti-male is; claims that technologies are anti-female are similar to it, and are just as silly!”.

And this brought to mind some sort of claim like “It’s silly to analyze technology for signs of structural oppression of women, because it’s silly to analyze technology for signs of structural oppression of men, and demographic substitution preserves silliness!”.

But (whatever other additional things might or might not be going on in the case), demographic substitution doesn’t preserve silliness.  Or various other properties.

So there we are!

2015/02/03

A footnote in Kaufmann’s translation of “I and Thou”

I was struck just now to find, tucked away at the end of a footnote discussing the technical details of one of the many tricky bits of translation in Buber’s “I and Thou”, this paragraph from Kaufmann:

The main problem with this kind of writing is that those who take it seriously are led to devote their attention to what might be meant, and the question is rarely asked whether what is meant is true, or what grounds there might be for either believing or disputing it.

It is easy to read this as a sort of jarring Philistinism, as though Kaufmann is wondering wistfully (or grumpily) why Buber has to use all of these coinages and poetic turns of phrase, all of these images and metaphors, rather than laying out his argument clearly, in simple and common words, perhaps as a set of bulleted lists (maybe a PowerPoint deck!), so that one could analyze it logically and decide whether or not it’s likely to be true.

Which seems like a hysterically inappropriate thing to think, given that what Buber is doing here is laying out a particular way of thinking about the nature of reality and each individual’s relationship to God (or equivalent). A deeply personal way of seeing the world, that he invites the reader to consider, and (implicitly) to adopt or not according to taste.

This isn’t really a thing that admits of being true or false, or of being expressed in plain and simple words (or at least of words where “what is meant” is immediately evident without special attention being paid to the question).

For me at least, Buber is saying, “think of the things we do as divided into two kinds: the I-It and the I-You; then think of…”. This is in the imperative, and doesn’t admit of being true or false (or likely or unlikely).

And surely Kaufmann, being the translator of the silly thing, realizes this.

I see only three plausible theories here so far: that Kaufmann is just pulling our leg in this paragraph (which would be wonderful); that there is an entirely different way of understanding Buber under which the paragraph makes more sense (I would be very curious what that way is); and that Kaufmann really does fail to understand the material as anything more than muzzily-expressed truth-claims that, if only more concretely written down, one could study objectively in the lab (this seems both the most obvious, and in some way the least plausible, explanation).

It’s a funny world. :)

2015/02/02

#snow

The snow falls undeterred
Onto freshly-shoveled ground
Ancient Snow with its newborn flakes
Covers everything.

snow

Tags: ,
2014/12/01

Not sure if that counts…

2014 NaNoWriMo winnerI declared victory on National Novel Generating Month 2014 tonight, it being the end of November; I only got around to a few of the features I’d thought about, but hey, it meets the requirements! I think.

On a whim I also entered it as a National Novel Writing Month novel, although I’m not entirely certain that it counts. Here is the summary page of all my NaNoWriMo novels (I had to enter all but last year’s incomplete attempt from scratch; carrying over data is hard!).

So here is my official Wri/GenMo 2014 novel “Gazanduwo U“, for some reason on Google Drive (I should make it a txt file on davidchess.com as usual, but that requires remembering how), and (more importantly) the very awful source code. Which takes all the mystery (if any) out of it, but there you are.

2014/11/16

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep

A long time ago, and I just remembered it recently for some reason, when I used the Opera browser for awhile, there was this lovely odd thing.

For some reason (and I’m sure that I did it somehow by accident, but I never did figure out how) whenever I had the focus on a text input box (or something like that), it would offer me a default value to fill in, and that default value was:

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

And that made me smile every time I saw it.

I kept it as an enigma at the time, and never looked up the phrase, or the part of the Opera documentation that would have told me how it got there.

I still haven’t done the latter :) but it turns out that the phrase is from Cold Mountain. No, not the film, or even the novel; the poems of Han Shan.

I’ve been wanting to go to that Eastern cliff,
To the present–for innumerable years.

So yesterday I came and climbed up through the vines,
But halfway there, I was hampered by mist and wind.

The path was narrow–with my clothes it was hard to advance;
The moss was sticky–my shoes could not go on.

So I stay at the base of this red cinnamon tree,
Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

I will attempt to resist talking about what it might be “about”. :)

That particular text seems to be poem number 295, in a translation copyright 1990 by one Robert G. Henricks; I found it today on Google Books.

It looks like we know nothing of Han Shan besides what is in the poems; in fact “Han Shan” is likely not his name at all, apparently it is just the words “Cold Mountain”.

I love the thought of the unknown hermit-poet’s words coming down through the long years, and somehow ending up embedded in my Web browser.

2014/07/29

Sulsul!

The Sims 2First the Urgent Thing! If you are a (Windows-using) Sims 2 fan and you don’t have absolutely all of the expansion packs, you can install EA’s “Origin” client and go to “My Account” or whatever and then “Redeem Code” or whatever, and enter (holding your nose) “I-LOVE-THE-SIMS” to get the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever added to your list of downloadable things, and then you can download it.

Free! But This Month Only! Which is almost over!

Thanks to the reader who posted this information over on the About page, which we’d sort of forgotten we had. It sounds like some kind of scam, but apparently it is For Real, as evidenced by an official EA page saying it and all.

Some less-than-wonderful things:

  • Nothing for the Mac (all the Mac Sims 2 stuff was done by Aspyr, and doesn’t seem to be under any active curation),
  • EA are doing this because they are basically withdrawing and unsupporting all Sims 2 stuff, because they want to chug heartlessly ahead with Sims 3 and Sims 4, the meanies; and
  • The version of the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever that you can get for free comes with the SecuRom DRM, installed also for free. This does not actually bother me much, but I can imagine it bothering other persons.

But anyway! Go and get it right now! If you want to!

It is likely that the person who posted the news to us found us in the first place because of our ancient obsession with Sims 2 storytelling, which apparently occupied lots of our time in like 2005 and 2006.

Having now gotten All of the Sims 2 Expansion Packs, and them having installed correctly onto the laptop here, I thought I would actually find the old Neighborhood One save files, and see if they would actually work.

It turned out that there was something very promising-looking already right here on the laptop, probably copied over from the previous laptop or something. I made yet another copy, from the Sims 2 directory into the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever directory, and fired up the game, and there was Neighborhood One! As of some time or other in the past, anyway (see below).

Neighborhood One

(Click through for a description of the neighborhood per the image.)

I zoomed around the overhead view, and loaded up the Test House in Build Mode just to make sure that worked. Then I actually went into Joan and Peran‘s house, remembering vaguely that since there’s just the two of them, it might be a simple family to run for a bit to make sure it actually works.

I’d forgotten Joan is pregnant!

And then I very very vaguely remembered seeing Joan deliver a baby in that house, which if true would mean that there’s a more recent copy of the neighborhood save files somewhere. Yow! I might accidentally fork reality!

Places where such a newer old copy of Neighborhood One might be would include:

  • The hard-drive from the prior laptop, which can’t be powered up while in the prior laptop anymore (the prior laptop having a broken power-thing), but which is readable via a clever SATA-to-USB device. It turns out not to have anything that looks like the Neighborhood One save files on it, though, that I could find.
  • The old desktop computer in the playroom. It hasn’t worked for some time, and when the hard drive is removed and hooked up to the SATA-to-USB device, it doesn’t come to life. If Dad were around he could probably talk me through opening up the hard drive case and carefully giving the platter a little spin and then closing it up again; which he always said would fix at least half of all broken hard drives. I suppose I might find a YouTube video or something showing how to do that someday, but not today!
  • An old Seagate Free Agent external USB drive that we “backed up” some of the stuff on that old computer onto. When wired up, it just makes an unpromising ticking noise, and doesn’t present any data either. Someday maybe I will take that out of its case, attach it to the SATA-to-USB device, etc. But not today…
  • This 3TB Western Digital “MyCloud” (gag what a name) that I had entirely forgotten we had on the network here, and which contains a backup of tons of stuff that was on the old playroom machine, including a “The Sims 2” directory, but unfortunately the directory is empty, boo.

So that didn’t work out. Maybe this copy of the save files is in fact the most recent. Or not!

Not sure yet what I’m going to do about it; so far I’ve just been playing an EA-supplied character (Julien Cooke) in an EA-supplied neighborhood (ummm something Green something or something) to work on my Sims 2 skills a little. I don’t want to actually run this Neighborhood One yet until I’m satisfied that I won’t find a newer one sometime and be all disturbed by the forking (which one would be Canon???).

But one thing I could do without danger of reality forks is to post a few of the stories that are sitting in the save files as pictures, but that have never been posted! Joan and Peran moving out of Rooms to Let, for instance, and into this very fancy house that I built them:

Joan and Peran's House -- the Library

It is a very dreamy house (the upstairs is like solid library ooohhh), and it looks to me like the story of their moving out and into it (and Joan becoming pregnant) has never been told.

So I might do that!

But probably don’t hold your breath. :)

Just in case…

2014/07/26

More bingewatching

I went and fixed the spelling of “Numb3rs”, which I had written as (the more properly-133t) “Numb3rz”, and added Dollhouse to the list of ones that I want to pay attention while I watch.

Also just watched another Numb3rs, and it was so awful that I want to rant. :) It was actually light on the “ridiculous modeling” aspects, because the Fancy Math(tm) was mostly used only to do things you wouldn’t actually need much fancy math for.

But!

First, the whole premise of why things were Very Serious was that a body was found of a person who had had Avian Flu, and although Avian Flu isn’t really contagious between people, the flu in this particular person might have mutated into a very contagious form, even though it has never done that before in the entire world, and we have no actual evidence that it has in this case, so we might be in danger of a rapidly spreading endemic flu outbreak! Uh oh!

Second, and even more infuriating, the especially-nerdy-professor character, who dresses badly and is familiar with all world literature and science and doesn’t use contractions and always speaks as though he were writing a journal paper, misuses “begs the question” to mean “raises the question”, just like a semi-literate Web comment-writer. Arrrrgghh!

Further update:

House: Not watching this very much anymore since I realized that every episode has exactly the same plot.

Leverage: a fun little show about this good-guy insurance investigator who loses his job because the insurance company is evil, and gathers a bunch of quirky criminals to help him pull a con to get revenge and set things right, and then decides that that was so much fun that he’ll set up a company to do that to other bad guys who are otherwise untouchable. I actually forget why I haven’t been watching those recently; I’ll have to add it back to the rotation! (See also our alternate-universe review of this back in Passive Gaming.)

2014/07/18

Signs

Train Sign nicely vandalizedDid you know that the various advertising signs in (for instance) Metro-North commuter train cars are just thin cardboard things, at least some of which are blank on the back, which are sort of slid insecurely into little tabs in insecure metal frames?

So that for instance it’s entirely possible to:

  • Slip a particularly repulsive one out of its frame and lay it down to one side where the occupants will no longer be subjected to it (at which some of said occupants might potentially express amused gratitude), and even to
  • Slip one that is say urging people to gamble out of its frame, turn it around to the blank side, and slip it back in, and then draw say an abstract smiley face on it.

Of course one probably shouldn’t do these things, because the train line probably has regulations about interfering with the advertising of our Corporate Masters, and one wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the CorpCops…

Villagers

The shooting-down of flight MH17 was horrible; people should stop doing this kind of thing. I blame it on sociopathic assholes who are willing to cause innumerable deaths for the sake of power; but probably I do this at least partly to find an easy target to blame, so I don’t have to think too hard about what it says about humanity in general, including me. So we won’t think about that now.

But we will think about why, when talking about the people living near where the plane went down, NPR this morning referred to them as “villagers” from a nearby “village”.

(See our earlier essay, Who’s the Chief of the BBC?)

It seemed odd to me. In my youth I lived near the Village of Spring Valley, but I would not have thought of the people who lived there as “villagers”.

The Wikipedia page on “Village (United States)” does not contain the string “villager”.

The page on “Village” in general contains “villager” twice: the contexts are:

Malay and Indonesian villagers practice the culture of helping one another as a community

Most Russian rural residents are involved in agricultural work, and it is very common for villagers to produce their own food.

So villagers can be Malay, Indonesian, or Russian (if rural).

The obvious Google search suggests that “villager” is usually the name of a local newspaper.

A quick search on the BBC suggests that villagers can be:

  • In early 20th Century England,
  • In India (and mostly illiterate),
  • In China (and being hit by a flood),
  • In a hamlet in Devon, England (coping with storms),
  • On Komodo Island (killed by a local dragon),
  • Somewhere in England (I guess), saving a shop.

The two English ones:

Hallsands villager Jonathan Hale said: “Until the storms we had no idea of the policy of no intervention.”

Reg Moule is in the studio taking your gardening questions plus we find out about a shop in the county that was saved by a villager and is now thriving

If we try CNN, we find that villagers are:

  • In Africa (shunning a relief worker who survived Ebola),
  • In “a tiny district” in Nepal (falling prey to organ traffickers),
  • In Iraq (saving a contractor from ISIS),
  • In Nigeria (fighting off Boko Haram).

which are all a bit Other, but maybe CNN just talks about foreigners alot.

Hm, maybe USA Today? There we have just a few villagers:

  • In Indonesia in an earthquake,
  • In Belgium in the 1990s, building a small memorial to some Tuskegee Airmen,
  • In France in WWII, speaking broken English to some American soldiers,
  • Nelson Mandela, in South African in his youth,
  • In Africa, saving a Navy Seal,
  • In Central China, buying a baby,
  • In New Mexica, being a Latino using evil magic,
  • and so on in foreign countries.

It may be telling here that even the USA Today site has mostly foreign villagers, and the one that is in the US is Latino, and so Other.

Not enough to draw any definite conclusions from, but I get the general impression that “villager” is, for the mainstream West, another word used when Othering people, like those living near where airplanes are shot down in foreign countries…

2014/05/11

Blurbs and Synopses

Tully

When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.

Levels

In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.

VOZ

The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.

2014/02/09

Who Else

Who else
On this train,
I wonder,
Is also awake?

Who else is looking
Beyond the obvious
With inner eyes,
Searching for souls.

There should be a token,
A badge or a pin,
That we could wear,
We awake ones.

Do not fear me,
It would say,
And I will not
Fear you.

We can let our eyes
Meet, and smile
We can talk
Like old friends

In this sea of unknowing
We can be together
For a moment
In safety.

Maybe, if we had these pins,
For our lapels
We would find
Everyone wearing one

And finally
We would meet

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2013/12/10

If you do something, dye something

I have this little “skin tag” on my neck, which sometimes my fingers play determinedly with, and if they do this enough it becomes Irritated, and sometimes even Bleeds and things (WTMI, I know, but anyway), so to prevent this I sometimes put a, you know, “band-aid” on it in order to prevent myself from playing with it (see this entire subfield of philosophy).

So today I wanted one of those “band-aids” for that purpose, and The New Employer made it really easy. And this brought to mind the following little bit of snark, which while somewhat snarky and mean-spirited and all, I can’t resist posting…

Old IBM: Non-emergency first-aid supplies are available from the on-site RN during regular business hours, once you have management approval and have filled out the right form. Your department will be charged $27.50, plus $11.92 per individual supply item.

New IBM: As a cost-cutting measure, the on-site RN is available only on alternate Thursdays from 1:11 PM to 1:27 PM. The forms are no longer available. There is still a box of non-emergency first-aid supplies in the building, but everyone who knows where it is has been laid off.

Google: Around the corner from each Espresso machine (i.e. five per floor) is a shiny metal self-service cabinet full of non-emergency organic free-range vegan first-aid supplies, never tested on animals. On the door of each cabinet are internal telephone numbers and URLs (automatically verified for correctness daily by a cluster of [redacted] servers located in [redacted] and [redacted]), in case you think your situation might be not entirely non-emergency, or if you just want to chat. Googlers may access the supplies inside at will, 24/7. Non-Googler access requires a Google+ account.

Ha ha ha! I am here all week.

Oh, oh, also!

In the Subway there are all these Signs, and some of them say:

If you see something, say something.

which is pretty amusing if you think about it literally (because everyone with their eyes open would be constantly saying things, and if they made the reasonable assumption that the two “somethings” are supposed to co-refer, they would be saying like “a person, a person, a person, a door, a sign saying ‘if you see something, say something’…”), and also calls to the idle mind all sorts of variants.

For instance

If you smell something, tell something.

which isn’t quite right, and then immediately after

If you smell someone, tell someone.

which is really just juvenile, what was I thinking?

Continuing with the senses,

If you hear something, fear something.

which I can imagine becoming extremely popular with DHS (see also the U.S. Department of Fear).

If you taste something, baste something.

I suppose. And then, one with more selfish and more Buddhist versions:

If you feel something, heal something.

If you feel someone, heal someone.

I like that last one.

In rereading this I realize that I haven’t really analyzed the form correctly; “see” and “say” don’t rhyme, they, you know, do something else. That other thing. Which seems to be harder to do.

If you touch someone, teach someone.

Maybe. Hm.

If you buy something, be something!

Oooooh, deep!

2013/11/22

Amanda Fscking Palmer!

(That title’s sort of a joke, in that she has used “Amanda Fucking Palmer” as a sort of branding thing, and “fsck” is an old nerdphemism for “fuck” so “Amanda Fscking Palmer” is arguably a cute title for something about her appearing before a buncha nerds. Also it keeps me from having the F-word (“fuck”) in the title of a weblog post, which might be nice because who knows how ol’ WordPress reacts if you do that?)

I don’t want to just constantly gloat about how amazing my new workplace is, but just this once… :)

Amanda Palmer and some guy

So as I’ve probably mentioned before here and/or on the Face Book and/or elsewhere, I think Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls and general musicness, not to mention a great TED talk) is awesome in all various ways, and I’d thought wistfully that it’d be great to see her live someday if I weren’t so lazy.

And then there was this poster at work saying that she and some guy were going to be appearing, right down the hall in the talk room.

Today.

Right after lunch.

That first picture up there is them doing a sound-check, which those of us who got there early to get good seats got to see, because they arrived late. :)

Palmer an' Gaiman

These picture are all awful, because it was dim and I was just using my iPad rather than something more camera-like.

That is her husband, Neil Gaiman, who is apparently a well-known Doctor Who impersonator writer in his own right, and was I think reciting a poem, while she laughed and looked appreciative from the piano bench.

Ukulele!

And there she is probably singing the Ukulele Anthem, which is just marvelous on YouTube, and actually had me tearing up a bit near the end in person. Such energy and goodness…

(Not to mention boots and coat; I want them!)

So anyway she sang some things, and Doctor Who read some things, and the two of them sang one (very creepy) thing together (he says that he doesn’t sing, but she makes him do it), and then they sat down like talk show guests and answered some questions from the host, and a few from the audience, and then it was over, except for those of us who hung around forming lines of fanboys and fangirls to get our Gaiman books and Palmer CDs signed, and even…

Amanda Fucking Palmer, and some dork

… get our pictures taken with her. :)

I mean, you can sort of see from her eyes there that she is doing this because this random dorky fan she doesn’t know at Google has sort of attacked her with his iPad, and she is thinking about how she and Neil have to get over to Town Hall for their performance tonight, and do they have all the instruments packed and stuff, but still.

Swoon…

They were both warm and patient with the lines of adoring fans. And I really do know who Neil Gaiman is, more or less, and while a million years ago I read some comic of his and didn’t like it and haven’t read anything to speak of by him since, I do now have a copy of Neverwhere on the iPad.

But mostly now I’ve seen Amanda Fucking Palmer live. :)

2013/11/13

The buzzing of distant bees

Is there evil in Heaven? And is there free will?

I know it doesn’t really make sense to spend too much time wondering about the details of fictional universes (“if Peter and his friends could only fly when they were having happy thoughts, why did Tinkerbell, who was after all the source of the pixie-dust that let them fly, seem to have no trouble flying even when she was upset?”), but I am somehow fond of these questions at the moment.
Heaven, the flowchart
It’s a subject that I don’t remember coming up in the average Internet discussion of (Judeo-Christian) religion, and it seems to me like a real quandary.

Seems likely that there is free will in Heaven (otherwise why give it to us on Earth?), and seems unlikely that there is evil (it being Heaven and all); and yet if God can make a place where there is no evil even though there is free will, why didn’t he do that on Earth?

(I started to wonder about this after hearing a couple of different theist types talk about their ideas of Heaven on NPR or something: the Jewish one said that there must be a wonderfully just afterlife because he strongly believes that the universe is just, whereas the evidence he has suggests that life isn’t just, so there must be some really very just stuff after life to make up for it; and the Christian one says that Heaven is a place where we all get whatever we truly want, and we all have learned to live together in harmony. Ha ha funny people, I thought, and also thought the “well if God can make it happen in Heaven, what’s his excuse for not doing so on Earth?” thought that we consider here.)

(Ooh, here they are! The Rabbi and the pastor; so you can judge for yourself how badly I’m misreporting their statements above.)

The usual answer to the Problem of Evil, that is comes about as a direct and inevitable result of imperfect beings with free will, seems to sort of evaporate if (as seems hard to avoid) Heaven is a place where imperfect beings have free will, and yet there is no evil there. So evil can’t really be the inevitable result of free will. So the Problem of Evil, it would seem, remains.

I did have a rather detailed discussion of this with my Jehovah’s Witness friend back in the day. He (and therefore I assume the JWs in general) have a pretty complete and interesting (if maybe sort of creepy) picture of life after the umm Big Thing, where (in the case of the JWs) the 400,000 special people or whatever it is go to live with God in Heaven or something, and all the other good people live on Earth under their direct governance more or less.

He said that yes in that world people would still have free will, and that in fact they would be able to do evil. They wouldn’t do it very much, because they would be good people living in a great environment, but it would still happen, and in that case God (i.e. Jehovah) would look into their hearts, and between the time they made a really bad decision and became evil and the time they were able to actually do anything bad as a result, He would stop them, in a very final way.

Since the JWs don’t believe in Hell, and think that all the stuff about burning and fire and stuff in the Bible is just a way of talking about ceasing to exist altogether, what happens to you if you freely chose evil after the Big Thing happens is that you just cease to exist.

Pretty weird, I thought!

And this got me thinking of a story set in that world, which I’ve never gotten around to writing, but which I think I will try to set down a general idea of here.

And in the meantime, you can ask your local rabbi or pastor or Judeo-Christian friend whether there is free will in Heaven, and whether there is evil there. I wonder if that is a hard question…

“I cannot follow the Elders anymore,” he’d said, that night, as they walked back from the orchards where they had been picking the perfect fruits that Jehovah provided for them in this perfect Earth.

“Jeremiah,” she’d exclaimed, “what can you mean, you cannot follow them? How could anyone do anything but follow them? We know that they are the appointed ones of Jehovah, that they have only our welfare at heart, that they are good and wise men. You cannot doubt, when you have seen Jehovah and His Son moving about on the Earth with your own eyes.”

“I have.” They were walking close together, hands brushing each other now and then, innocently, like brother and sister. “And I do not doubt that the Elders are those chosen of Jehovah. But…”

“But what? What is it that you can doubt?”

He’d taken a deep breath. He looked, she remembered thinking, like someone who was not quite sure of what he was saying, and speaking as much to convince himself as to convince her.

“I do not doubt the facts. The Elders are the chosen of Jehovah, and they do truly intend the best for me. But I doubt, no, I reject, their authority over me.”

“What can you mean by that, Jeremiah? Jehovah is the source of all authority, of all rightness, and He has given them their authority! It cannot be doubted, or rejected.”

“But I do reject it,” he’d said, his voice louder but still with an undercurrent of uncertainty, “I reject it as I am free to do, using the free will that Jehovah has given me. It is my right!”

She’d stopped, and taken his hands, looking very seriously into his face. The others walking in the same direction continued along, and were soon out of any danger of hearing.

“This is blasphemy,” she’d said, “this is not the use we are supposed to make of the freedom that has been given us. Can you truly do this? Do you truly, of your own free will, reject the authority of Jehovah?”

She had meant it rhetorically, really, or so she told herself afterward, saying it only so that he would say no, of course not, not that. But his face said that he took the question very seriously, and was considering it, somewhere deep inside. When he spoke again, the uncertainty was gone from his voice.

“Yes, Sarah. Yes, I d–“.

And before he’d finished that last word, her head was filled by a strange sound, like the buzzing of distant bees, and her hands were empty. And Jeremiah was gone, forever.

So now, in her bed at night, she lies curled tensely after her prayers, telling herself, telling Jehovah who can see into her very heart, that she does accept His goodness and His authority, that she is His true daughter, and that she would never reject Him.

And she cries until sleep comes.

Something like that, anyway…

2013/11/07

some additional words

So I woke up with some Upper Respiratory invasion on Saturday morning, and didn’t feel pretty much normal until yesterday sometime. That was no particular fun!

It did allow me to determine firsthand that, while the New Employer do as a general rule like team members to interact in person, if you need to work from home for three days because of an invasion of replicators, it is No Problem.

Also, they do Working From Home, like everything else remotely technical, very very well. Really very well. Remarkably. Quite.

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2013/10/29

Shining like the shone

Here’s something that you’d think that I, as a native speaker of English, would know, but that I apparently don’t, and sitting here on the speeding 7:40 express without the iPad’s cellular service turned on, I can’t just look up.

What’s the past tense of “shine”?

Well, “shined” is a word (nu?), and all it can be is that, so that must be it.

On the other hand, during the sportsball news on the radio this morning the announcer person said that some particular player really “shone” in the game last night, and that only sounded slightly wrong. And thinking about it, saying that he really shined would also have sounded slightly wrong!

Maybe “shone” is actually correct there; it sounds right in, say, “polished them until they shone”. The perceived slight wrongness might be from the similarity to “shown”, which is always a past participle-thing (show, showed, shown; shine, shone, shone?).

But if “shone” is correct there, what is “shined” for? Thinking about examples, my tentative theory is that the intransitive “shine” goes shine, shone, shone (polished it until it shone, had shone like gold for centuries), whereas the transitive (and more quotidian) “shine” goes shine, shined, shined, not getting “shone” even in the participle-thing (I shined my shoes yesterday, by the time I arrived he had finished shining his pate).

Which among other things produces the amusing “shined them until they shone”, which actually sounds about right.

This suggests a few things if true. For instance, that English is definitely a weird language. Also, since it’s hard for me to imagine I’ve never noticed this before, also that one of the many rewards of age and dotage is that you get to rediscover all sort of amusing things all over again. :)

Updates now that I am online again: Here is someone saying basically the same thing that I do above, and here is someone saying oh wait now it’s more complicated than that (with lots of comments offering further viewpoints and complications).

So there we are!

2013/09/23

Truths

(Found in a drawer I was cleaning out; from context, I’m guessing written in around 1985.)

1. In 1836, a book called Society Life was published in London.
2. Somewhere, the doctor is or is not examining a patient.
3. We live in very uncertain times.

I am at a cocktail party. The cocktails are quite good, if heavy on the lemon. The wives are clustered around the piano, singing tunes that they think they remember from younger days; perhaps some of them do. In the kitchen there is a woman without any clothes, being casually examined by most of the single men, and not a few of the husbands. She smiles engagingly.

I ask Camille, whose watch (an expensive foreign brand) is always accurate, what time it is.

“Ten forty-two,” she says.

1. Salt
2. The signs of the zodiac are twelve: The Dasher, the Dancer, the Prancer, the Fox, Kafka, the Swan, the Lion. But I am rambling.
3. In times of uncertainty, truth will be seen to come from far places, at great expense (at least one week’s pay for the average citizen).

My ship sails at midnight. I do not know the time; Camille is nowhere to be seen. I wander in the fog. There may be a dock nearby, because of the foghorns. I associate foghorns with illness, because of something I think happened to me as a youth. I fear I will miss my ship; if only I could remember the name, the dock, the time, Camille’s address.

I grope in the fog for truth, and grasp a scrap of newspaper blowing in the wind. I decide it will do.

(I suspect I’d been reading alot of Barthelme…)