Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Today is Blog Day (2005)!

August 31st is , and it will probably be Blog Day again for several years. Nir Ofir thought this up, but now it's a movement. Nir suggests we celebrate Blog day by pointing to five new interesting blogs. This is a great way for the bloggers of the world to heave a collective sigh of relief (thank goodness we don't have to be Original today), and share some of our favorite oddities with you. So here goes:

  1. Here's the 91-year-old blogger's Tomato Garden Journal.
  2. Buy something to hide your valuables in, in a hotel room. Doesn't quite look worksafe, but it is.
  3. "Fair Trade" coffee claims to be made in places where the coffee-bush owners and workers are paid relatively well. Learn all about it.
  4. Awesome Musical Crossovers and Comparisons by the creator of PDQ Bach, check out his radio program.
  5. The comic strip that's unique in more ways than any other (engrossing, too): It's: Sluggy Freelance, by Pete Abrams. (Use the drop-down list on that page to read it from the beginning.) And here's a cast of characters.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Crawling a Red Light:

Our town is choked with road construction projects, a maze of detours and pitted roads. My wife says the general effect is that “You can’t get here from there.” This morning around 6 a.m. I turned onto one of the worst roads, where the surface has been stripped away before resurfacing. There’s a bumpy sublayer plus humps that were not removed, pits, raised manhole covers and traps. The driver just ahead of me went verrry slowly, trying to concentrate (I'm sure) on the surface and not wipe out his handsome vehicle.

We approached a place where there are two lights, synchronized, about 200 feet apart. He went carefully through the first one as it turned yellow. I hot-pinked it to stay with him. Then I looked up at the next light (now red of course), and I had a thought: the guy in front of me was concentrating on the road so carefully that he was going to go right through that light!

And he did. This is not what you call “Running a red light”; he was only going ten miles per hour. He went through this T intersection, oblivious to the cars that had the right of way on his left. There was no mishap, and I’m sure he took very good care of his car.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I'm getting the wrong message?

I try to post six times a week. While on vacation I hardly posted at all, yet I got almost the usual number of hits per day. Readers, what kind of message are you sending me?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Read (Heard) any good books lately?

Seth Godin is fascinated by audio books. (You can hear a book he wrote at He calls audible books "So linear, so multi-taskable. Precisely the opposite of a book." I've heard a lot of books myself, and the differences between reading and hearing a book fascinate me. (There are even a few books I've done both ways, and each way had its advantages.) I think Godin's "opposite" is too extreme. The word “complementary” comes to mind, because - as with foreign movies - these two ways of enjoying a book are often good for each other.

Here are some of the contrasts:

  1. When listening, you really have to concentrate. If you're not concentrating, you may never know if you miss a few key words. If you fall asleep while reading, it's much easier to back up.
  2. When listening, you proceed at the author's pace. When reading, you can slow down and speed up (or even page-turn when the suspense gets too great). I hate the way Dick Frances drives me with suspense and would always rather read his books. But for some books, going with the author's dawdle or rush is a great experience. When I read Richard Ford's Independence Day, I enjoyed it, but I really didn't 'get' it. Hearing it, and concentrating on the whole thing at the author's pace, I "read" it much better.
  3. When you read, you get to do all the imagining yourself. When you listen, the narrator is an actor - sometimes a great actor who gives you a lot you would never have thought of yourself. For example, Barbara Rosenblatt gives a superb reading of the Bridget Jones Diary books. If you liked reading them, you may still love hearing them; these might be the greatest two performances ever of an audio book. Another audio book where the reader adds a great deal to the experience is All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki, read spectacularly by Anna Fields.
  4. Audio fiction is usually "voiced" even if the narrator does nothing special. That is, every speaking character gets a separate sounding voice and a bit of appropriate personality. In a book with a lot of characters, or with characters that are hard to keep straight, this can be a boon. If you're good at imagining voices and characters on your own when you read, I congratulate you; I'm not very good at that, and I appreciate the narrator's assistance. Anthony Powell's twelve volume novel, Dance to the Music of Time has around a hundred main characters that flit in and out of the books; the reader of the unabridged tapes keeps them amazingly distinct.
  5. When you read, it's much easier to jump back and forth in the book. You often have to do that for nonfiction, but in a mystery you might keep going back to page thirty where something important obviously happened that gradually makes sense later.
  6. Our audio and reading memories work differently, so what we recall from these two methods will differ.
  7. You can mark up a book while reading, for all sorts of reasons. It's a lot harder to mark up an audio book.
  8. I said you have to concentrate on audio; Seth Godin says you can multi-task. We're both right up to a point. You can sit and read, or you can wash dishes, walk, drive, rake, clean and listen. But your other task needs to be a lightweight task.
  9. I almost always read a book just the way the author wrote it, but it's a very special pleasure to hear the author narrate his or her own work. A great example is Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. Listening to him read it, I realized I would have no idea how to get to the essence of it on my own. You also get something special listening to Richard Ford narrate his work. You can hear him here.

If I've just whetted your appetite for audio books, check out your local library; they may have lots of good choices.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A good way to enjoy a good foreign movie:

I think the right way to see a good foreign movie (in a language you don't understand) is to see it three times:

  1. With subtitles, to hear the real actor's voices and emotions.
  2. Dubbed, to figure out what's really going on.
  3. With subtitles, to hear the real actor's voices and emotions while knowing what's really going on.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Perhaps it would be best not to click on this link to, where Oxford English Dictionary experts have answered fun questions about language. It's a lot easier to stop eating peanuts than to stop browsing their website.

You'll learn what's special about 'dreamt' here. And here are eleven English words borrowed from other languages that have 'q' not followed by 'u'. And here's the female equivalent of misogynist. And ... go away don't bother me, I'm reading about "bimonthly".

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Things for looking up:

During my vacation I walked past a U.S. Consulate office. A car was just parking at the curb in front. I noticed two odd objects leaning against a wall. Each consisted of a large mirror (about a foot square) attached to a broom handle at a wide angle. A man picked one up, and I was curious to see what he would do with it. He held the mirror near the ground at the back of the car that had just parked, obviously checking for any suspicious object that might be attached to its underside. Suddenly I had a great urge to walk quickly away.

On my way back I again passed the U.S. Consulate office. An insert in my right shoe had gotten painfully out of position and I needed a place to sit down, take the shoe off and adjust the insert. Large circular planters outside the consulate looked like a good place to sit, but I think if I had removed my shoe there, I would have been tackled.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The painful future of movies:

I recently realized that movies - both the comedy and drama varieties - are now doomed to become less and less realistic. How many movies are you willing to watch in which the actors talk into their cellphones most of the time?

Monday, August 15, 2005

A familiar story:

This will be a familiar story to anyone who has worked with large American companies in the last 25 years.

We stayed many times before at the Hyatt Regency in Jerusalem. We are here again, but now it is just "The Regency." We were curious how the loss of the "Hyatt" designation would affect the quality of the hotel. I have only noticed subtle differences.

I asked a regular (who stays at the hotel often on business) what changes he had noticed. "The biggest change," he said, "is that they fired all the middle managers."

Well we know how flattening the hierarchy can have very little in the way of bad effects on a large organization...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

You are here, on an unnamed street:

So we're using driving instructions that a friend helpfully extracted for us from Israel's map-directions website. Part of the instructions look like this:
Turn sharp left onto khaniti, 1.09 km.
Turn right onto unnamed street, 40 meters
Turn right onto khaniti, 500 meters
Turn right onto unnamed street, 40 meters ...

Someone, looking at these instructions, said "Still a few holes in the data base." But it turns out something almost sensible is going on. Some segments of traffic circles are "unnamed streets".

Monday, August 08, 2005

Decency in reading:

Rep. Jonsemil Barkentof of Arkantexas introduced a bill today to apply
sensible standards of decency to all printed material. "Let's get this
law passed," he says, "and then let's see what we can do about all those

The new law would require all printed matter to avoid prurient and
indecent words according to local community standards. Authors,
book-owners and publishers would be fined $500,000 for a first offense,
and also forced to erase all the offending words from every available
copy. Asked whether digital words should be counted as printed material,
Rep. Barkentof said "We'll get to that next.!" Experts estimate that a
typical local library might have be fined upwards of $680 million as
soon as the law passes.

This reporter asked the Rep. for a list of words likely to be ruled
offensive. Remarkably almost all of them have appeared in this newspaper
regularly. We would list those words here, but the newspaper seems to
have adopted a new policy today...

I'm being ridiculous of course, but not as ridiculous as I'd like.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Newbies burning calories from exercise:

Suppose you've just taken up a new form of moderate exercise, and you're dismayed at how few calories your exercise seems to burn. Perhaps you looked up the calorie count on the internet, or perhaps your exercycle or treadmill is giving you the bad news. Well, think about this:

  1. Calculate how many calories your exercise will burn in an entire year and divide by (I think the magic number is) 3,500. That's how many extra pounds you might weigh in a year without the exercise.
  2. Common sense says that when you take up a new form of exercise, you burn more than the charts say. You're not used to it; your whole body is struggling to do the new thing; you're moving inefficiently in a hundred subtle ways. And in addition, you may be kick-starting your general metabolism to run a little faster.

I will be posting sporadically for awhile. Please check out my blogroll links!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Just an ordinary bathroom scale:

I've been programming computers that an indirect customer buys from a nearby vendor. Recently the vendor sent a maintenance guy here with a bathroom scale. I escorted him to our lab, where he placed one of their machines on the scale and weighed it. Then he drove back to his office. I've never seen a computer weighed on a bathroom scale before! I was puzzled. After all, they could have asked me (or anyone who works here) to bring a scale from home, weigh the computer, and email the results.

It turns out that another prospective customer had asked the vendor, “How much does that model computer of yours weigh, anyhow?” Sending someone to our place with a scale was the easiest way for the vendor to answer the question. The vendor couldn't ask us to help because it was HIS problem, not ours. It's real interesting that the vendor didn't have the answer in the first place...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Quotes collected by somebody named Alex:

Somebody named Alex made a page of quotes, mostly quoting people we've never heard of. Lots of nice offbeat stuff there, somewhat geeky; such as:

  • "You cannnot prove anything by example. You cannot prove anything by example. Let me repeat myself a third time: nothing can be proven by example. Let me give you an example..."
  • "The only way to do numerical analysis is to get a calculator and sit in a corner."
  • "Particles are what particle detectors detect."
  • "How can you be hungry? I just ate an hour ago!"

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hollywood Death Spiral:

A "hollywood economist" article in Slate discusses real financial figures driving the current movie business. The writer has seen financial figures normally kept secret by the big studios that in some ways contradict "common knowledge" about the industry. The whole article is worth a read. But I'd like to repeat its most stunning point:
In 1948, the studios earned all their revenue from the movie-going audience.
In 1980, the studios earned 55% of their revenue from the movie-going audience.
Today, the studios earn 15% all their revenue from the movie-going audience. Almost all the rest is from DVDs. Obviously, the delay between a movie release in the theaters and on DVD will shorten, hence the author's use of the phrase, "Hollywood Death Spiral."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Quality Learning Time: During an Emergency!

During my radio broadcasts I read ads and public announcements aloud. The syntax and grammar tend to be poor. That's more important than you might think, because bad grammar and punctuation trap the announcer into making mistakes on the air. Occasionally there are bigger errors, like telling the listeners to come to 95 Smith Road for an event in an unnamed town. Most of these ads come from agents who write them for the companies that are actually advertising. I suspect the writers haven't majored in English, but I wish they would; I'd be happy if they majored in proofreading.

I corrected five run-on sentences in an ad I read today, but that's not important now. The ad contained this fascinating sentence:
"Remember, even in emergencies, young children can learn to dial 911."

As I see it, the writer envisioned a scenario like this. The house is on fire and a beam has fallen on my arm pinning me to the floor, so I call out, "Little Jimmy, at last it's time to teach you how to use the telephone!"

Or perhaps the writer meant, "Remember, a young child can learn to dial 911 and be prepared for emergencies."

[Please read aloud now:] Maybe I'm nitpicking and in August you can check out our website for further instructions but all, that trappy writing is getting to me and remember that only you can start forest fires. By a concerned company on the air.