June 30, 2004

Haiku by beaver

Castor the beaver proudly asserts, "I spit haikus like rappers spit rhymes."
The birch tree stands tall
Castor prepares for winter
Birch tree is splintered
Get acquainted with Castor at cede. Castor's haiku happens to be located in the comments to this entry, but Castor's full story is featured in the sidebar links.

June 28, 2004

Life of Pi: Adrift but not lost

A friend loaned me her copy of Life of Pi. A very enjoyable book! I'm not revealing anything more than the book cover when I say that Pi manages to survive following a shipwreck on a lifeboat he must share with a full-grown tiger. Strong threads of plausibility and the author's vivid language and imagination made the story work for me.

Life of PiI liked Pi's return-question, when he's being challenged about the truthfulness of his account: Which is the better story? Pi himself knows that his words are hard to fathom. He could bow to expectations, compose an alternate version, one that might sound more like what other people expect. But, he says:
The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make life a story?

June 24, 2004

Mystery moth

This is one heck of a moth. It's around four inches across (10 cm), maybe a little larger, and resting quietly outside my front doorway.
Mystery Moth
You just never know what to expect here in Florida. Some people lose their pet dogs to alligators living in those pretty little ponds behind their homes. Mostly, snakes won't bother you if you won't bother them. And the poisonous ones are in the minority. I think.

I do like the lizards. But they might eat moths.

June 23, 2004

Dear RIAA: Libraries are not landfills

I found this story via BoingBoing.
BoingBoing: As part of the antitrust settlement against the RIAA, the record labels are obliged to donate a large number of discs to public libraries. Rather than giving America's libraries decent music, the RIAA is dumping the worst deletes and cutouts in their warehouses...and blaming it all on a computer error:
MSNBC: The Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library was on track to take the lead in redundancies....Its crate of 2,647 CDs, due to arrive in the next couple weeks, was listed as containing 430 single-song discs — 16 percent of the total -- of Whitney Houston singing "The Star Spangled Banner" at the 1991 Super Bowl, according to Steve Cox, of the Iowa State Library.
The Shifted Librarian: 382 of our 1325 settlement CDs are "new"; all the rest are either cut-outs/remainders, or in the case of three titles, "promotional use only" CDs (either stamped with that slogan or with the barcode punched BEFORE the cd was shrinkwrapped). That means 71.2% of what they sent us is stuff currently sold in remainder bins.

June 22, 2004

Got wonga?

Cool OED Word of the Day: wonga is British slang that originated with the Romani as a word for coal or money.
2001 Arena Aug. 47 A means of flaunting your wealth that works on two levels: not only you can afford this, you've even got enough wonga left over to make it worth owning.

June 21, 2004

My little green teenager

My lovebird Zip is 13 years old today, making him a teenager. It's hard to believe I've had this little ball of feathers in my life for 13 years.

For the first few weeks, Zip and his brother Zap just huddled in the bottom of their cage in a little clump. Soon they discovered their hearty little lungs, and I've been living with squawks, squeaks, and chirps ever since.

Zap passed away at about eight years old, after some type of illness that lingered for several months. He was a sweet bird too, but he had a habit of picking his tail and neck feathers that made him more vulnerable to germs. On the other hand, not having a tail gave him some advantages over his brother. He could hang upside down from the top of the cage like a bat!

Zip was mostly a hands-off pet until the last time we moved, November of last year. Now, he just can't get enough head-scratching. Every morning he cuddles up to the front corner of his cage, looking cute and pathetic, and makes little rusty squeaks. This means that he wants his head scratched and his neck rubbed.

June 19, 2004

What future? I don't even wear a watch.

I just finished reading The Unfinished Revolution: How to Make Technology Work for Us--Instead of the Other Way Around. This one is for a class, so it's outside the range of my usual reading list. Basically it's a manifesto on how computers could be made easier to use by making them more "human-centric" -- fitting the computer system to the way people need to use them, instead of forcing people to learn how to work to fit the computer.

The author, Michael Dertouzos, was head of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, so his examples are filled with his own actual experiences using (guinea pigging?) experimental computer applications developed by colleagues. There's a flight-reservation system that operates on speech recognition technology instead of keyboard input, and a "meaning processor" that attempts to spider information as you use it and tag meaning on your behalf to create an ever-expanding index.

The ideas are interesting, but they seem too future-oriented to be of near-term interest to me. Somehow, the technologies required for his vision -- speech recognition, automation scripts, advanced information indexing ("Semantic Web"), easy and effortless collaboration across language and OS barriers -- all without hackers or virii wiping us all back to the Victorian era somewhere in the middle -- seem unlikely to spread to the average consumer and small business level anytime soon.

But "Good thought," as my high-school chemistry teacher always said when we had a decent, but wrong, answer.

These things take time. Personally, I'd just rather wait and see what happens. Guess that's why I'm not an Internet billionaire.

Fortunately, in a May 2001 Computerworld interview Dertouzos suggested a bit more clearly what we can do now as opposed to then:
Can you automate stuff people do that does not require intelligence, so you can relieve them of this work? Can you help your people work across space and time more effectively? Can you customize your systems to your people's individual needs?
Now that I might be able to work on.

June 16, 2004

What is a pet peeve, anyway?

Pet peeve: Just had to share a great page full of ways to combat junk mail, junk phone calls, etc. I detest spammers in all forms.

So if you were wondering about those Peeves and how they could possibly be anyone's pets -- the Word Detective can enlighten you.
A "peeve" is something that annoys or irritates you, and since irritation is a highly individual emotion, one's "peeve" mileage may vary from one's neighbor's.
  *   *   *   *   *
The precise derivation of "peevish" is uncertain, but it may be related to the Latin "perversus," meaning "reversed, perverse." The original meaning of "peevish" was simply "silly or foolish," but by about 1530 it had acquired the sense of "irritable, ill-tempered or fretful." Surprisingly, it then took several hundred years to develop "peeve" as the word for the irritating agent or action. "Pet peeve," meaning the one thing that annoys you more than anything else, first appeared around 1919. The "pet" (in the sense of "favorite") formulation probably owes its popularity and longevity to its mild perversity ("favorite annoyance" is a bit oxymoronic) as well as its snappy alliteration.
The Word Detective's site is fun to surf if you like words and sayings ... too bad my local newspaper doesn't carry this column. It looks like fun Sunday reading.

As for Peeves, the perverse poltergeist of Harry Potter fame -- he's aptly named based on the derivation above. There's a great little scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where Lupin turns the tables on Peeves by executing a quick zinger of a spell that turns Peeves's prank-in-progress onto Peeves himself. Too bad it didn't make the movie. It would only have taken 30 seconds of screen time. And it really takes one prankster -- even if somewhat reformed -- to so effectively take on another. It supports Lupin's character and history as Moony, and his practical approach to teaching Defense against the Dark Arts. And it's fun too. :-)

June 10, 2004

Read your brain quirky

People who read too many books get quirky.
from The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto
In a good way: We resist being categorized, analyzed, demographized, and otherwise turned into good little consumers and worker bees.

I consumed a light mystery on the way to the wedding this past weekend. Mangrove Squeeze is set in Key West, so it seemed appropriate to pass on to my sister for her honeymoon there. Not terribly deep, but amusing -- a run-down guest house, Russian mafia and T-shirt shops, two homeless fellows who live in a hot dog, and an arthritic dog... beach reading for sure.

June 08, 2004

Weekend Highlights!

Just got back in town, late last night.

The midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on Friday a.m. did not disappoint. The Marauder's Map and Buckbeak were probably the best special effects of the movie. I give a close third to the little seasonal Whomping Willow scenes just for their humor. (Anybody notice the owl tracks in the Owlery during the closing credits? Or the transforming human-dog tracks?)

I wasn't totally thrilled with the Patronus effect; I guess I wanted the final version to be a bit more similar to the way I had imagined it from the book. A lot of detail had to be left out, by necessity, to keep the movie manageable, but I think the director (Cuaron) did a good job keeping to the spirit of the story. Too bad they didn't keep the final Quidditch match, though, with Harry helping Gryffindor win the Cup.

The wedding went off well; my sister is happily married and off in the Keys enjoying the sun. Not getting sunburned, I hope.

June 02, 2004

Two days 'till Harry, three days 'till the wedding bells ring

My sister is getting married on Saturday -- so as a prelude to the big event, nine of us are going to a midnight showing of the new Harry Potter movie. Woo hoo! My sister, neatly organized engineer that she is, has prepared a neatly organized schedule for Friday and Saturday that starts with breakfast on Friday morning at 9:30. After a midnight movie? Hmmm.

I just finished re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for the umpteenth time. I'm trying to guess what will be cut to keep the movie a reasonable length (after all, this isn't LOTR). I think most of the Buckbeak's-trial subplot will be lost or shortened. Hermione guessing at Lupin's identity (with Snape's hints) may get shortened. And some of Ron and Hermione's arguments over Crookshanks and Scabbers.

And how about the two Quidditch games featured in the story? They're fun to read, but don't seem to advance the plot tremendously (other than Harry's opportunity to send a Patronus after Malfoy's fake Dementors). But emotionally, they do make a big difference in Harry's sense of accomplishment in the school year. I think maybe they'll stay, if only because Quidditch is a big part of the fun of the series. As is watching Malfoy get his just desserts.

June 01, 2004

Whatever happened to the perfectly good word "Frizzle"?

As seen in The Gallery of Regrettable Food 3.0 : one of Fibber McGee's favorites!

Thanks to FloridaGirl for pointing out this Web site.

Feeling bad about your score on a standardized test?

Don't -- read this instead.
...for those of you who believe in testing, school superintendents as a class are virtually the stupidest people to pass through a graduate college program, ranking fifty-one points below the elementary school teachers they normally "supervice," (on the Graduate Record Examination), and about eighty points below secondary-school teachers, while teachers themselves as an aggregate finish seventeenth of twenty occupational groups surveyed. The reader is of course at liberty to believe this happened accidentally, or that the moon is composed of blue, not green, cheese as is popularly believed. It's also possible to take this anomaly as conclusive evidence of the irrelevance of standardized testing. Your choice.
From The Underground History of American Education, Prologue, by John Taylor Gatto