Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August heat

Feels much warmer inside than it did when I walked home tonight. Maybe it's just one of those things. This will go down as a weird summer.

Been watching the first season of Mr. Robot. Some parts are missing because of library DVD issues, but what's come through is interesting. It's kind of funny. The hero is a mess: a compulsive drug user and general misfit who hallucinates the TV audience. But the main villain, however slick he seems at first, always manages to be even more of a mess. You just can't get good evil help these days. 

Of course the revelation of who the title character is doesn't surprise. I can't imagine it's supposed to. They telegraph that punch every chance they get. Still feels absolutely right for Christian Slater, though.

Monday, August 13, 2018


Without getting into the politics of any particular plan, when I was a wee one cursive handwriting was still part of the core curriculum, so it was something they were teaching us in school. It's not a bad thing to learn. It gives you a chance to think about what makes particular letters themselves, rather than something else? What can you take away and what do you need to keep?

Of course results aren't guaranteed. Actually producing good-looking cursive letters? Not something I can be relied on to do. I mean, sometimes, but it takes concentration.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


I come home tonight. It's dark outside. It's dark inside. There are overhead lights in the stairwell, of course, and sometimes we use them and sometimes we don't. Nobody has turned them on tonight.

But there's a sliver of light as one of my downstairs neighbors has her door ajar. I pass by the door and go up the stairs. At the top there's a swirl of shadow within the shadow. The neighbor's cat, small with a white belly.

The cat trots back down the stairs. Crossing between the dark red space—red because of the exit signs—and the more brightly lit spot.

It was a nice sight to come home to, to pass through.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The key to comedy is

Not too long ago I woke up and saw that my clock radio said that it was 12 noon. Not that it was actually twelve noon, but somehow


the time on the clock was way ahead of what it should have been. Like, I normally keep it running a little fast anyway, but not several hours fast. How this happened is something of a mystery. If it had lost power one way or another then I would think the display time would be slow, not fast. Did I get up in the middle of the night and work mischief against myself? Actually that would explain a lot.

Anyway, I've fixed it since then. The date is way off, but always has been and it doesn't seem to affect anything.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

How to say it

No better example can be found than the controversial subject of how many words the Eskimo have for "snow." A Google search for "Eskimo snow words" yields more than 10,000 hits. Deriding this as an example of bad science run amok has become somewhat of a game among linguists. A leading academic in his book The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax stated unequivocally that the Inuit people of Alaska do not have many words for snow, and in fact have only about a dozen basic ones. The debunkers rely on this count to show that the Inuit snow words are neither prolific nor special. This stance feeds into a more general agenda of asserting that all languages are equal and equally interesting to science.

Proponents of this view became so intent on debunking it that they spawned a new term―"snow clones"―to mock all such statements that "The so-and-so people have x number of words for y." Entire Web pages are devoted to listing such mock Eskimo snow words that have imaginary meanings like "snow mixed with husky shit" or "snow burger." Even Steven Pinker took up the issue in his book The Language Instinct, stating: "Contrary to popular belief, the Eskimos do not have more words for snow than English. They do not have four hundred words for snow, as it has been claimed in print, or one hundred, or forty-eight, or even nine. One dictionary puts the figure at two. Counting generously, experts can come up with about a dozen, but by such standards English would not be far behind, with snow, sleet, slush, blizzard, avalanche, hail, hardpack, powder, flurry, dusting, and a coinage of Boston's meteorologist Bruce Schwoegler, snizzling."

Sadly, the snow-cloners have missed the point. They have grossly underestimated the number of words by relying on very limited modern accounts and thinking that just because the number was inflated in the past by people who should have known better, the true count must be unimpressively low. As we will see, the number of snow/ice/wind/weather terms in some Arctic languages is impressively vast, rich, and complex. Furthermore, they have missed the forest for the trees, failing to see the importance of how words encode knowledge. Beyond the sheer numbers of words for natural phenomena like snow and ice, these languages demonstrate the complex ways in which words package information efficiently. 
 The preceding passage is from K. David Harrison's The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World's Most Endangered Languages. Harrison is a linguist who puts his money where his mouth is. And if his writings contain a trace of J. Peterman-style cosmopolitan bragging, there's also a passionate insight into the speakers of endangered languages.

Some Arctic languages do indeed have a large number of snow-related words. It's natural that we outsiders don't really appreciate the nuances between these, although we could try harder. People such as the Yupik are better equipped to see changes small and large reflected in the kind of precipitation that falls in their homelands.

And that's the thing. Languages aren't just collections of words. They're methods of interacting with the surrounding environment and making sense of it. There's not one that's equally good for all circumstances.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Pining for...

Wildlife isn't necessarily what Europe is known for, and especially Northern Europe. But it's there if you look for it. All those gulls and guillemots rising into the air must be a pretty wild sight when you're there.

Friday, August 3, 2018

It's the circle of life

Six people wake up floating in the middle of a gory crime scene. They are naked, newborn in adult bodies.

This makes more sense when you consider that all six are clones, the skeleton crew of an interstellar colony ship whose flight path would far outstrip any individual life. And they've been chosen as the crew because they have criminal records back on Earth, laboring for their freedom in a process with deep historical echoes. The ship's artificial intelligence has been crippled, along with its gravity. They are all missing 25 years.

The above is the premise of Mur Lafferty's novel Six Wakes. Some of the assumptions therein are challenged as the book goes on. It's clever and sneaky that way.

It's also old-fashioned, in what I'd say is a good way. Lafferty doesn't bend over backwards to be immersive about her world. The plot is strange enough, the characters are vivid. The world has changed in the centuries between our time and theirs, but this comes out at its own pace. In other respects, Lafferty appears satisfied to let you imagine things are like the present or recent past. That keeps her from getting bogged down in excessive detail.

There are recent influences. In an afterword Lafferty cites the video game FTL: Faster Than Light. Also the TV series Orphan Black and Lost, the latter for its core gimmick of running extensive flashbacks at an inflection point for the character depicted in them. The prose, though, is of older craftsmanship.