Tuesday, August 31, 2010


From the French for Beginners forum:

My question:
I note that Google Translate renders "I was happy" as J'ai été heureux.

I break that down into "I have been happy" -- but I wonder why they use été, which I understand as ''summer''.

Is this an error on GT's part, or am I incorrect?

And the rapid resonse:

été, the verb, is the past participle of être. Un été, the noun, is summer. French has more than one past tense, so google translator picked one, the passé composé.

This mountain may be higher than I thought.


It is a beautifully cool day. Very humid, according to the weather folks, but as I sit here in the dining room, looking over to where the cat is sitting in the window, it's quite pleasant. In about an hour, I'll be outside, finishing the mowing which has been slowly creeping up on me. I have been startled by how quickly the grass has grown, this August. This is the month when the weather is supposed to be hot, and the grass dormant; instead, the weather's been, for the most part, decent, and the grass has partied like it's late spring.

I had someone refer to me as a Type A person, the other day. I was surprised by that. They were talking about how often I should check my blood sugar reading; they said that once a day was enough; when I said that I did it four or five times a day, they made that response. Now, as it happens, I don't have a lot of respect for the medical abilities of the person who said that (she's a nurse practicitioner, which is fine, but my sense is that she knows what she's seen, but doesn't really know the underlying physiology all that well), and now, with that Type A observation, I think that perhaps her sociological abilities could use some burnishing, too.

An article in the Economist spoke at some length about the economic doldrums that are affecting the United States. I don't have any respect for the people who say that 'clearly, the stimulus didn't work' because things are not back to normal; though I don't have a lot of theoretical underpinnings, it seems pretty obvious to me that the depth of this recession would take a long time to shake off. I think of it like the old analogy about turning around one of those big oil tankers. A lot of energy goes into just stopping the darn thing. The article mentions that the skills of people who are out of work may not be the skills that are needed now. That analogy works pretty well for education, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Stray Thoughts

I saw a comment in a blog this evening to the effect that Obama shouldn't be counted out; that he is a learner. I am not planning on counting him out, but I do wish he'd do something about these Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin manic acolytes. I know, I was one of the people urging him to fight back during the campaign, and he insisted on taking the high road (at least, so far as I can see), and it worked. We didn't get the President we deserve (which is to say, a hack); we got a great one. He has good instincts. But when I see riffraff like that having a public gathering at the Lincoln Memorial.... I think it's just not right.

Why does it bother me that our summer guest has changed her Facebook status to in a relationship? Is it because I don't want her to change from the person we knew so briefly? Yeah. Probably. A little is that I think she's too young (even though there are kids here who are like that at that age, and apparently it's pretty common there). I do think she could get hurt, and though I have no responsibility for her, I worry a little bit about that. But mostly it's just that I don't want her to change.

My wife says that I am now in the habit of going to the gym, because I've gone every day for a week. I told her that if I missed one day, just one day, I'd be more likely to miss two, maybe three.... and if I missed two, then it'd likely be a week. I know me. And I really don't like going. Okay, its not terrible. I do twenty minutes on the elliptical, and twenty on the treadmill; when I'm done, I'm slightly out of breath. Or I do one of them, and the weights. I don't push myself. And maybe thats part of it: the lurking feeling that I should.

I really want to do some French studying. I feel better when I've learned a little more....even when it hits me just how big a challenge this is, to go from not knowing it at all, to basic fluency, in ten months, by myself.

My G

I just came across this picture on a web site advertising the new My Generation show.
I know nothing about the show, other than the name....so let me guess.

Back Row: The normal kid, the hip teacher, the geek, the babe, the pretty girl, the jock, the other jock?
Front Row: The edgy kid, the other edgy kid?

That about right?


Our summer guest just posted on Facebook that she's 'in a relationship'. I'm surprised to find that this amazes me. But she's not even 15! She's just a kid! I think.... remembering the pictures I've seen of her friends, several of whom are clearly good friends with the people of the other gender in their pictures. But still....

And it's not even my daughter!


I used Round Trip Translator to format a note to our XG's mother about the new school year.

For part of it, I wrote "I hope that she is successful, and that she enjoys it. " RTT formatted that into French, and then translated it back into English:"I hope it is successful, and she loves him." At least now, I can see how " J'espère qu'elle est réussie, et qu'elle l'aime." got made into those words, and how they really are okay to use. I think.

But I'm also thinking I won't send something that could be translated as "I hope...she loves him." Just in case.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Sometimes, learning a new language can be really boring. Even when it's things that you know that you want to know - and know fluently, without hesitation, my inner voice reminds me -- they can be less than fun.

Take vingt-et-un, for example. It's French for twenty-one, but for me, it's French for perhaps we can just skip this number. I have difficulty with lesser numbers -- even zero, aka zéro, pronounced something like ZAYghrow, can be intimidating -- but if I take it slowly, I can do it. Some words are so close to the Spanish - onze, douze, treize, quatorze and quinze sound a lot like once, doce, trece, catorce,quince - that I can rattle them off. Seize (16) puzzles me, but I can frequently remember it if I think of the Spanish (Diez-y-seis). I slow down for the next few -- let's see -- dix-sept, dix-huit, dix-neuf. And finally Vingt. Mount Twenty, at last!

And then I'm staring at the next little step, and I'm stunned. Vingt-et-un. Veh-E-oon. Or possibly VANteyon. Past that, the ride smooths out -- the 'et' gets dropped, and you're into vingt-un, vingt-douze, vingt-trois. No problem. But 21....

Ah, skip it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


When my daughter was very young, I would lie to her.

Not maliciously, of course. For example, she would ask if we could go to Disneyland some day, or live on a farm, or build a big house, and I would say yes. Privately, I would think, to at least some of them, Probably not, but it was my belief that she wasn't asking as an adult, or even a grown child would ask, so that they could make plans, count on things. She was asking the way that a young child might ask if Santa was real, or if unicorns were real. She wanted something to believe in, and I would go along with it. My wife felt that it was wrong, and that you shouldn't lie, even with good intentions. Over time, I stopped -- mostly because she got old enough so that she asked reasonable questions -- and she remembered the answers.

She's been saying how one program that we record is really, really good. I told her that I'd watched one of them, and wasn't that impressed. Tonight, looking for something to watch, she said that we should watch one of them, and so we did. Halfway through, she went back upstairs, saying that she'd already seen it, but that we should watch it. I asked if it got any better, and it was instantly obvious that the question dismayed her, made her unhappy.

So after we watch the whole thing, I made a point to stop by her room and say I can see why you like it.

And I left it at that.


I've several times seen that many people think that Obama signed TARP, whereas it was actually Bush. I suppose it causes them a bit of cognitive dissonance when they find out that the guy they liked did something they didn't like. It's much more comfortable for them to believe that Obama did it.

To me, it's got to start with Was TARP a good idea? Some of the folks who think Obama did it would say no; that a better idea would have been to reduce taxes further. I've yet to see any suggestion as to how this would have been a good thing, but since my copy of Funny Times just arrived today, perhaps it's in there. I think that it was a good idea, though there were serious problems with its execution. Same thing for the bank bailouts. It would have been nice had they been able to do that without enriching the slimeball greedheads, I mean, professional bankers, running that show. But it had to be done. I suppose that those opposed to TARP didn't like that idea either.

I will occasionally see people saying that it would have been better just to transfer the money directly to them, either via a check or a reduction in taxes. If that had resulted in job creation, I might have agreed with them. Precious few people can say that they can create a job, though.

People such as Palin and Beck are busily saying that things would have been better, sooner, had their recommendations been followed. Were it not for the fact that we'd have wanted to move somewhere else, quickly, so as to avoid the economic train wreck, it would almost have been worth letting them try.

It wasn't done elegantly or clearly, but it was a good thing. Now let's just see the Democrats try to get that message out in a believable manner to people who are still hurting.

Beat It


I mentioned a while ago that my daughter had arranged to meet a kid she knew from karate at a bowling alley. It was as close to a 'date' as she's had, and we were a little nervous about it. Just recently, my wife told me that on my daughter's Facebook page (which she has access to but I do not; my daughter feels that having one parent friend her is weird, but having both is untenable (doesn't she think we talk to each other? I wondered, when my wife told me this)), there were some posts by the kid saying, in summary, why haven't you responded to my text messages? To which my daughter replied I was at band camp; I didn't have my phone. This, again, made us just a tad nervous. A boy? Contacting my daughter?

So I was intrigued by this, which I found on a New York Times blog site article about kids and dating:

I laid down some ground rules. I told (our son) that he may have a “girlfriend” if he chooses and that he may select anyone he likes. That until we meet her, and until I speak with her parents, he is not allowed to meet her anywhere, though she is always welcome to visit with him in our living room, with her parents’ permission. That he must have express permission to meet her outside our home (before making plans with her), and that I would strongly prefer that he meet her in a group setting.

That sounds just like us, and makes me think that perhaps we're not totally Amish in the way we think about these things. Though, reading the readers' comments, perhaps we are.

Voting Suggestion

From here, where there are several more....

Friday, August 27, 2010

Online Research

And this is why the Internet is wonderful.

Your Driveway Is Mine!

An appeals court out west says that it's okay for the government to attach a GPS tracker to your car if its parked on the driveway, because you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy there. It's out in the open, after all.

The people who do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such a case would be the people with electric gates and guarded access to their property. The gates and guards extend the area where they can say this is mine. Your driveway? Feh. Lets just see what you've got in that glovebox.....

"You left place A, at this time, you went to place B, you took this street -- that information can be gleaned in a variety of ways," said David Rivkin, a former Justice Department attorney. "It can be old surveillance, by tailing you unbeknownst to you; it could be a GPS."He says that a person cannot automatically expect privacy just because something is on private property. "You have to take measures -- to build a fence, to put the car in the garage" or post a no-trespassing sign, he said. "If you don't do that, you're not going to get the privacy."


This is one of my favorite wallpaper images.

I have a software package that rotates my desktop wallpaper through several dozen images I've found over the years. Occasionally, I'll select one manually, though; if I do, odds are that it'll be this one. It's the girl who was our exchange student this past summer, on the deck of the ferry that's taking her out to Liberty Island. Not sure if its the memory of having her here, or what she said when she got there, or the smile, but there's something about it that attracts me.

I just like it.

Feline Movement

Cat was just lurking around the kitchen, keeping a wary eye on her two or three cat toys, when a bird called from outside. Immediately, she leapt up to the ledge, stared intently at the closest tree, and - began to lick herself.

Cats are truly ADD animals.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Apparently, the WikiLeaks people have posted a ton of classified information about the Afghanistan war. Anyone can go to their site and download it.

The military says that if any of their people do that, that's a transfer of classified information over an unsecure network, which they regard as a crime, and they will punish anyone who does it.



Well, I was in a foul mood this morning -- burned the sausage, set off the smoke alarm, found out that the new smoke alarms don't have a reset button, didn't have any coffee, discovered again that the english muffins we buy are pretty poor, all of that -- but now I just watched two hours of Doctor Who, including The Pandorica Opens, and now I feel better. Course, I still have to do the weekly shopping, which means making a list with which to do the shopping, and I really ought to go to the gym, much as I don't want to, and oh, yes, there's mowing to be done, and let's not forget French study -- but still. I'm in a better mood now. Just in case you wondered.


From The Onion:

Smart, Qualified People Behind the Scenes Keeping America Safe: 'We Don't Exist'


My mother used to subscribe to the large print Reader's Digest. It's been decades, I suspect, since you could count on that magazine to have anything useful, but it can be pleasant reading for days when you don't want to think. The large print version, which she got, contains an unholy amount of ads for urinary incontinence devices, glaucoma tests, and diabetic neuropathy treatments. That kind of crap is exactly why I didn't join AARP when they offered me their magazine, about ten years ago. Perhaps some day I'll find such things interesting - look, Martha, an adult diaper in camo! - but not soon. The current issue has a picture of a baby on the cover. The baby is staring, goggle-eyed, as kids will, and wearing a pair of 3-D glasses. If I ever think such things are funny -- shoot me. Right then, right away. Just shoot me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I suppose this is one way to handle the TSA.


In our house, we like hanging things on the walls. Not for us the cool, austere elegance of a single perfectly placed black and white image of the Arc De Triomphe at sunset, or one of the flaring brilliance of the Alps at high noon. We hang all kinds of things. In the den we have a topographic map of the high plains (we picked it up at a map store in San Francisco during our honeymoon). In the kitchen we have a poster from Chez Panisse, two whiteboards, two calendars, and a corkboard. In the hall is a barometer. In our bedroom, a photograph of San Francisco Bay, a poster from American Rivers, and a drawing that our daughter made when she was about six. Lots more. It's not cluttered, exactly. We just have a lot of stuff.

But the thing I just hung downstairs -- and I'm hoping the weight doesn't yank those picture hooks out of the drywall; no bracing behind them, and I didn't want to go find wall anchors, a decision I may come to regret -- is something special.

Back when EDS was alive, and doing things, we had a program of support for Robert Ballard. He's the guy who headed the team that found the Titanic. To commemorate the program and the find, a poster was made, showing the sunken ship in ghostly waters, and a few words.

When the people who disassembled EDS into HP had their way with the floor where I used to work and where my wife still does, they tossed a lot of the pictures that were on the walls. One of them was this one. My wife retrieved it -- for the memory, not only of the Titanic but of EDS -- and she brought it home. I found it leaning against a wall in the den, tonight. And I thought That deserves to go up.

And now, it is.


This lack of comments keeps up, I'm going to rename this blog to the Cricket Relief Society.


I told my wife that she got a letter from the Akloo, which puzzled her until she picked it up. Oh, the ACLU, she said. It's got a survey, I offered helpfully.

She started reading through it. After a moment, she laughed. Could these people write anything that's more biased, or more clearly indicates what they believe the RIGHT answer is? she wondered. She shredded the letter.

It's not that I'm opposed to the ACLU. What I'm opposed to is arrogance (we alone know what's right!) and assumptions that I'm pretty dumb. Which that letter manifested, boldly.


This ad was done by the same people who did the Old Spice Man one. Creative folks!

The Daily Show's Women

This is several months old. I liked its message a lot.


Several weeks ago, I mentioned the experience of my family and a girl who'd gotten kicked out of her house, though she was 17. She did get back in the house a few days later. No idea what she did for lodging in the interim.

The girl was the only person from color guard (actually, she was out of it by then, but still) to come to my daughter's karate qualification event for her first belt upgrade. It meant a lot to my daughter, and we thought it was pretty nice of the kid to make the effort. We got the feeling that she was on good behavior for us, but heck, no problem there. Our daughter later told us that the kid is bipolar, which might have been the source of some of what lead to her being kicked out. Or not.

Two days ago, my daughter got a text message from the girl, to the effect that she was just about to give birth. I was startled by that -- I know, kids text incessantly, but in the delivery room? We didn't hear anything after that, though apparently it went okay. This morning, I mentioned that to my wife, who said that she'd heard that the father was - this fifty year old guy.

That is a kid with a seriously messed up life. And because I liked her when we met her, I feel really sorry for her.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wind Taker Unplugged


This is a repost from Good Magazine.

Cleveland residents: Don't care about sorting the recycling? Don't think it's your secret anymore. The city is rolling out new bins that will actually track whether people are recycling. Each bin is tagged with a radio frequency identification chip that lets trash collectors monitor how often it's taken to the curb. If the recycling bin isn't getting out very often, a "trash supervisor" can then check the contents of the trash bin to make sure it isn't stuffed with recyclables. If it is, there's a $100 fine.

A pilot program using 15,000 of these bins began in 2007. Now the city is expanding the program, adding 25,000 more each year. Is it creepy to think that a city employee might go through your trash? Maybe. But it will be good for the environment and for Cleveland's struggling finances. Hauling a ton of trash to the landfill costs the city $26. A ton of recycling earns the city $30.

Waste containers that squeal on you? I don't particularly like that idea.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Wife: Got an email forwarded that went on for two pages about all of the bad things that will happen when the tax cuts expire, like if you own a business worth more than a million dollars, and you have stocks, you're going to have to pay more on taxes.

Me: Did you congratulate whomever forwarded it on having so much money that this is going to be a consideration for them?

Wife: No, I said that one of the things thats going to happen is health care reform that will let me buy insurance even with an existing medical condition, not to mention buy it for my adult daughter if she can't get it right away.

Me: They'd probably be against that, too. If you believe any of that, you believe all of it....and no proof will matter.

During the election, there was a web site where Obama people specifically addressed lies and distortions. Would that something like that existed now. On either side of a Great Question. Put it out there, in black and white, clearly, with proof. And then move on. Like the old joke about the guy telling jokes in prison, just refer to 'Item 27', or whatever, on the site, when someone brings up an issue again.

I'm really an optimist, aren't I?


Years ago, there was a phrase used to describe people who just lived their lives and didn't get involved with the great moments of their time. That phrase was The Silent Majority, and it describes me pretty well. I get pleased or irritated by things that I see happen on the public stage, but I don't do anything as a result. Oh, I may point the occasional comment here, and I might send a cash donation if I'm particularly engaged by an issue, but that's about it.

A few months ago, I noted the experience I had dealing with the US Capitol Police on a hot day. Basically, I felt as if I were being treated as some street punk, without worth. Objectively, it probably wasn't all that nasty, but at the time, I was irate. Even now, I get mildly irritated by that memory. While our guest was here, we visited the island on which the Statute of Liberty resides -- and had to go through airport-type security to do it. More if you actually wanted to go into the monument. Yesterday, I noted the decision on the part of security people for the Supreme Court to bar entry into the building from the front doors (they're now used for exit only). Like many other people, I know why they're doing it, but still: I was irritated by it. That I've never gone into the Supreme Court's building, and had no desire to, was immaterial. Part of what I could do as a citizen had been taken away by anonymous security officials. Today, I read an article wherein a fellow from Pennsylvania had written angry emails back in May to a Kentucky Senator who, after complaining that he was being kept from watching a key basketball game, voted against the extension of unemployment benefits. He wrote several times. The office of the Senator forwarded that and other notes to the US Capitol Police, who decided that this was a threat, and the man was arrested.

I know that these incidents I've mentioned are reasonable responses to a scary world. I know that terrorists and fanatics are a much greater threat to our way of life than the people making security decisions. But somehow, in my gut, I'm beginning to feel as if the security people are the problem. I know that its because they're the ones doing things every day that affect me, while the terrorists and fanatics -- for all that their actions are much, much more destructive -- don't have that much of an effect. I begin to wonder where it will stop, and my hunch it, it won't, until someone powerful makes it stop. Even then, it would just take one act of violence -- even a potential act, possibly just in the 'angry mutterings over a beer' stage -- to cause those security decisions to be codified further, and made more restrictive. It would take a bold person to say 'We're not going to lock the doors, windows, frisk the attendees, take the cameras, as a result of this. We're not going to live afraid.' I don't see any such person on the horizon. In a way, that's good -- I've never trusted the 'man on horseback' style of politics. But in another, it's not, because it means that change won't come from without; it must come from within. Us. Me. And that means not only getting involved, but staying involved. There's no way to get involve while still being uninvolved. I'm not sure that I'm up to that level of activity, especially given that I believe it won't have any effect. I'm just one of the masses, after all. The Silent Majority.

So I give money, and write polite emails, and I hope it makes a difference. At least, I think to myself, at least I did that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I'm sitting at the kitchen table, drinking some coffee that's left over from the batch I made this morning, and munching on one of the chocolate pepper cookies I made a few days ago. It reminds me of a story that Douglas Adams likes to tell.

He was taking a train somewhere, and arrived early enough so that he had some time to kill. He went into a coffee shop, bought a cup of coffee, some cookies in a packet, and a newspaper. He put them down on an empty table and went to get something. When he returned, a man was sitting on the other side of the table. Adams thought nothing of it. A moment later, the man casually reached out, opened the packet, and took a cookie. Adams said that being British, he had no idea how to respond, so he ignored it. After a moment, he took a cookie. The man glanced at him, but then looked away. So there they sat, him reading his paper, drinking coffee, and each working through the packet of cookies. When the packet was empty, the other man left. Adams still had no idea what had just happened, but it was time for his train, so he tossed his trash into a bin, grabbed the sections of the paper -- and there, under the last section, was his packet of cookies, unopened.

Who Asks?

Years ago - decades ago - I worked as a contractor for a major health care insurance company. While there, I learned an interesting piece of information. If the company denied a claim, you could complain to a member of Congress, or similar functionary. The company hated that kind of attention, and would immediately send you a check ''while the matter was under review". Months later, they would let you know if they thought they overpaid. Quietly. It matters who asks.

I was therefore mildly pleased, when reading Phillip Kennicott's strong article in today's Washington Post on the barring of entry via the front doors of the Supreme Court - security concerns, doncha know - to find that not all of the Court agreed (Breyer and Ginsberg were against the idea). And now there's a single Representative who's going to try to have a bill passed urging them to rethink that decision, on the reasonable grounds that you can't have all security decisions made by security people (who never met a lock they thought should be open). You've got to consider the society, too.

Will it have an effect? Almost certainly not. It's just one voice in the House, one article in the paper, a couple of dissenters on the Court.


It matters, who asks. And it matters, who speaks out.

From the article:

The loss to the citizens of the United States is enormous. We are becoming a nation of moles, timorous creatures who scurry through side and subterranean entrances. Soon, we will lose our basic architectural literacy. The emotional experience of entering a grand space has been reduced to a single feeling: impatience in the august presence of the magnetometer.

Perfectly Clear

Chrysler Turbo Encabulator from Ibrahim Nergiz on Vimeo.

2 Vids

Piano Stairs from Ibrahim Nergiz on Vimeo.

The World's Deepest Bin from Ibrahim Nergiz on Vimeo.

It's Just Water, Right?


"Don't tell me that the sky's the limit. There are footprints on the moon."

Found here.


It's possible that this isn't true. It is, after all, a comic.

It's certainly true that this is an example of the technique where you propose something that no reasonable person could possibly be against, and then use that implied agreement broadly. However, since I agree with the conclusion, I feel that it's okay in this case. Does that make me the equivilent of Glenn Beck?

Found here.


Why is it that when my daughter has a sleepover with several other girls, I'm the one who's dragging the next day?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Want to Buy a House?

It's a nice one.

Secret Browser

If you start CALC under XP, then go into Help/Help Topics, there's a little icon up on the title bar, all the way on the left of the bar. Click on that and you get a 'Jump to URL' option -- which starts a browser that's buried inside the Help function. Who knew?

Sick Transit

Ever wonder what the subway might look like if the NRA had its way?


There's biking, there's extreme biking.... and then there's this.

I know which I prefer.

My Head Hurts

Along with the conversational French phrases, I'm trying to pick up a little understanding of why the phrases are structured as they are. Right now, I'm reading in English Grammar for Students of French (which appears to be intended for people who want to compare the grammars) about Avoir and Être. The thing about Avoir and Être is, you can use them to create compound tenses, so that not everything you say comes out as present tense. Okay, this is goodness. Tell me how it works.

"When the auxiliary verb is avoir, the past participle agrees with the direct object, if the direct object comes before the verb in the sentence... If there is no direct object or if the direct object comes after the verb, there is no agreement and the past participate remains in its masculine singular form."

Oy. And little French kids learn this?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh, And...

Daughter was in a snarky mood tonight, so we decided a) to go out to Starbucks and b) to do so, alone.

While we were there, the daughter called to say that since several girls will be sleeping over at the house tomorrow, it would be good to pick up a bunch of ice cream.


Thursday, August 19, 2010


Just came across this phrase in an article about improving organizations:

Environment counts, and a healthy setting helps people transform problems into solutions.

Is that true? I'd like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.

Driving Ambitions

That would be my daughter, who expresses a lack of concern that a girl she's known since they were in preschool together just got her driver's license -- and at the same time is keenly aware that a) in Pennsylvania, you have to have held a learner's permit for six months before you can get a license, and b) the six months is up in September. Unfortunately for her, we're keenly aware that PennDOT recommends that the learner have accumulated about fifty hours of driving practice prior to taking the test, and she's at, oh, about fourteen hours.

This is why, despite serious reservations, I let her drive home from color guard practice last night -- she did okay -- and why I'm thinking about letting her drive in to practice this morning, in the fog. Like any parent, I don't want to do this. But when I think of the possibility that she might get her licence without ever having driven in any adverse weather -- well, it becomes a little easier. The other kid was actually able to have the experience of driving in snow and heavy rain, which my daughter hasn't had, yet, and driving on a busy highway - mine has driven on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is actually pretty placid, and on a local state highway, which is just a little more turbulent. I'm thinking that we need to go onto a busier highway -- and that I'll need to get a quick hit of tranquilizer before. I actually have taken a tranquilizer for stress just once, when I was working and under a lot of pressure. I was dismayed to find that the initial reaction was to feel even more jittery. I complained to the doctor, and she said, laughing, Well, sure, the FIRST one will do that. She was startled to find that I'd pitched the rest.

So maybe, before she drives in adverse weather, I'll just get drunk.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Every couple of days, I've taken a stack of about fifteen or twenty cards from the packet of one thousand French terms that I bought last week. Each one has the French word and the part of speech - noun, adjective - on the front, and the English translation(s) on the back. What they don't have is a guide to the pronunciation of the word. For that, I'd been using Google Translate, which is good but has a flaw in that the pronunciation sometimes appears to have been system-generated. For example, if you give it 'hat', and the system returns 'chapeau', the word might sound normal, or it might sound flat, without any inflections. I know that in French the trailing syllable, absent any cedilles or inflection marks, is pitched higher than the rest of the word; in a sentence, it's the last syllable of the last word. It's not terribly important that I get it exactly right. Still, there are some words where you think Is that really how it's supposed to sound?

Which is why I'm glad that I found Forvo: All The Words In The World. Pronounced. Forvo is a cooperative database of words and phrases in multiple languages, each pronounced by an actual person. The location of the person saying the word or phrase is given, so that you can see if chapeau is pronounced differently in, say, northern France than in the Burgundy region. (Which it might be: SHAHPOO vs SHAHPOH). They're available in MP3 format, so that you can download them. And it's free.

I like it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I haven't been posting much lately, and, as the saying goes, the dwindling number of people who actually look at this site may not even have noticed. But in case they have, I apologise.

Its simply that I am really, really hyped about the possibility of going to France next year (I know, college kids, hell, high school kids, do it all the time... but for me, it's a big deal), and I want to be able to speak the language when I get there. So, I've been spending about three hours a day, going through stack of vocabulary cards, and reading a book on conversational French. I think that when I finally get to the point where I can actually say useful things, however minimal, I won't be quite so freaked out, but that point is, by my guess, about three months away. I mean, I could probably say some simple things now, and certainly I recognize about a hundred words, which I couldn't do two weeks ago, but I need to be a lot further along, be able to say the things that get you through the normal day. I mean, I'm already thinking If we go, and if we go to those people's house, what do I say when we've just rung the doorbell and someone answered? Je m'appelle Bill; que est-ce le maison d'mes amis? Which I didn't look up, so it's likely spelled wrong. But what else? Gee, you have a pretty house. Ah...something something un belle maison. Okay, I'm done here, I'm just going to sit and nod a lot. NO. I won't be able to carry on a graceful conversation, but I WILL be able to do more than that.

So I've been practicing, and therefore not reading too much, and therefore not thinking about stuff. And so not writing. I will, I promise. I want to. I want to read that economics book, and I want to read some of the other eight or so that're waiting to be read. And if I see things on the web on occasion, or the paper, I'll write about them, because I do like doing that. (I really do. I wish I had people to talk with about stuff. My wife has many sterling qualities, but one that I really cherish is that I can talk with her about anything, and she will talk with me about them. Not just listen politely, but actually talk. One of my great failings is that I have never been able to cultivate that kind of thing with anyone else. I don't know why. Got a hunch, but....)

Just.... it's gonna be a little sparse for a bit. But hey, does anyone want to know the word for intersection in French? Notebook? Ticket? I can do that. No, really, I'm here all week.

Tech Is Good

Monday, August 16, 2010


Last night, one of the smoke detectors started to chirp quietly. Oh, hell, do we have any batteries?

But changing the battery didn't do any good, so my wife looked more closely at the unit. To our surprise, there was a comment that the smoke detector should be changed every ten years. Right next to the manufacture date: 1999. What? Really? Well, heck.... But okay. So, what kind? Because, if you go to Lowes or Home Depot, there's about fifty different kinds. Big, small, round, square, hyperdimensional.... What I want is to get one that'll just fit right into the existing bracket, use the existing plug -- so that I don't have to pay an electrician to come out and rewire them. Uh, good luck with that. Packaging for smoke detectors doesn't, as I recall, allow you to easily compare them, let alone answer if they have the kind of bracket that you have now. That's not their problem.

And then there's the question of what features they ought to have. I'd have said 'well, detecting smoke would be a good start'. Yes, but what else? Heat? Carbon Monoxide? Ionization? Overdrafts on your checking account? Perps in the neighborhood? Should they be the kind that you test with a button, or with a flashlight? What about the battery backup -- how can you be sure that the battery is easy to replace? One of our detectors has to be completely unscrewed; the other two have a slide-out compartment - one of which makes it obvious which way the battery goes in, and one of which does not. And what about lights? Two of them have a red light if they're working; one has a light that's green if it's working, and red if the battery is low. Or if it wants a muffin -- I'm not sure.

Do a web search for "picking a smoke detector". Much opinion. Many comments about smoke detectors are very important. Objective comparisons? Not so many.

" Consumer Reports Latest Tests of Carbon-Monoxide and Smoke Alarms Found That Being Safe Is Far Too Complicated"

Hey, would having a fire be that big a deal?


Multiple Interesting Articles, that is - in the Sunday Post.

One, for example -- relative to whether one should have the right to carry a concealed weapon, does it matter if you knew the person whom you shot at after they broke into your home, and then lied about knowing them? In this case, a fellow fought off an intruder from his rural Maryland home. The intruder attempted to seize a shotgun that the fellow had, but was unsuccessful. The fellow then requested and received a permit to carry a concealed weapon as a result of that break-in, because he appeared to be in imminent danger. That sort-of makes sense to me. Rural, break-in -- yeah, okay. When he recently attempted to renew the permit, though, it was denied on the grounds that he was no longer in apparent danger. So, was that a correct decision? I think it was. Unsurprisingly, the usual suspects disagree. The fellow says that you don't have to prove need to get a driver's license, so why should you have to prove a need to get a gun permit. I think he's a little unclear on the concept of licenses, n'est pas?

Oh, and that intruder that the fellow didn't recognize? His son-in-law. As to whether it matters that he did know the intruder -- I can't see how, other than, perhaps, making him appear willing to pick and choose when he tells the truth.

Another was the On Leadership opinion piece concerning the forcing-out of the HP CEO. It poses this sterling question: "In forcing out successful chief executive Mark Hurd, did Hewlett-Packard directors overreact to what, given his overall compensation, appears to be a modest abuse of his expense account?" I read that to my wife, who was rendered speechless. Apparently, the concept is that when you break company rules, the offense should be offset by how much money you have. Sounds fairly Republican to me -- I can see John Bohner et al signing right up for it.

And an article about a marvelous new bakery which has opened up in a small Cape Cod town left me, once again, glum about the area in which I live. We're a backwater, no doubt about it. There are deeper backwaters in the area, but still... reminds me of our XG's reaction when we offered her some croissants from the local store. Talk about dismay.....

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I feel like baking something tomorrow. Something moderately complex -- ie, not cookies, not a cake. Kolaches? Any thoughts?

Both Ta and Da

This is a special day. Today, our daughter went out on a date.

It was a quiet one, being dropped off at the bowling alley, as was her date by his parent. He's a) a straight A student (bright enough to compress his ninth and tenth years in school into one), b) an Eagle Scout, and c) an American-style karate black belt (which is where they met).

His mother, his father told us, was absolutely petrified at the thought of her son going on a date. So were we, we assured him. But it's just bowling. They're just friends. And he gave us a thought. They told their son that he can't learn to drive until he's a senior. School work must be his focus. Our daughter is hot to get her drivers license. Oh, yeah? Any grades lower than a B in one marking period, you're not driving for the entire next marking period. That should help focus, I should think.

Still.... first date. Hmmm.....


There are times when I surprise myself at the conservatism of my views. And there are times when I surprise myself by the immaturity of my views. Both were in evidence this morning.

At church, they asked for money to send to Pakistan to aid in recovery from floods, which have, apparently, been devastating. It's a noble goal. Yet my first reaction was to think "Okay, first show me what your own government is doing about it, and then we'll see about donating some funds". My wife objected, saying that this was hardly a charitable response, and I said that I'd feel a lot more charitable if I wasn't convinced that we weren't being taken for suckers by the government there (and neighboring places). "Prove to me that the money will go to aid, and not a third to the government, a third to the Taliban, and a third to aid....and I'll think about it", I said. I pulled those percentages out of thin air, but I do believe that any aid we give those countries results in a) enriching the Taliban, and b) contributing to our international image as Uncle Sap, with a minimal amount going to helping people -- who, by the way, don't ever say thanks. Neither do their leaders, as rule. I do hear them say 'Send more money', though.

This morning, I noticed our XG on Facebook. She'd just posted a comment, and I checked the 'like' button. Almost immediately, she disappeared from FB. Yesterday, when my daughter IM'd her, mentioning that I said hi, she almost immediately disappeared, too. So, I muse, is she trying to evade us? And if so, why? Which I realize is typical high-school-crush logic. I'm amazed that I can still have that sensation. It's like, years ago, when I really wanted this person I know to like me, and was dismayed by the gradual realization that for her, I was just a casual acquaintance, nothing more. Apparently, I can still have that sort of reaction. Who'd have guessed? (Other than anyone who knows me, that is!)

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Home Again.

The first thing I did was to try to connect to the home network. Which it did, just fine. And then I fired up NetStumbler, and it saw our network, just fine (as well as one or two others). So, it's the router, after all.

Ha, indeed.


Getting ready to have supper, then -- in theory -- we'll be heading for home. What with this and that, likely it won't happen as quickly as I hope.

Totally didn't get the router working, blinking lights to the contrary. Found that I had a copy of NetStumbler on the laptop; it can detect other networks, but not this one. So I think that makes it a good bet that the router's bad.

Went to a bookstore today and found treasure: a box of 1000 flash cards, with an English word or phrase on one side, French equivalent on the other. I'll want to put pronunciation on some of them, but I'm delighted. I've already gone through about twenty of them, memorizing the words. Very glad to have found it.

Next week, the kiddo starts band camp. Which means, two days a week, she works for six hours; three days a week, she works for nine, if not more. She'll be exhausted.

Snow Globes

Yet another threat to the US Airline System.

At what point do we say screw it and just stay home? (Yeah, I know the answer to that.)

And hey, you don't like public airlines, there's always these guys....)

Gregory Peck

For me, Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch. I know he's had many other rolls, but Attitcus is it -- calm, thoughtful, sober, even a little stolid. A very comforting presence.

It was therefore quite a shock, last night, when my MIL put in a DVD of Peck playing what appears to be Ernest Hemingway - writer, traveler, soldier, and drunk. He did a magnificent job.

I may never look at Atticus quite the same way again.


While looking at email via the browser interface, came across this cheery note from Verizon about their New! Improved! Superwonderful! browser interface:

Please note: Due to new technology, a change or update to your Verizon user ID may be required

Nothing like making the user change because you changed. Idiots.


Yesterday, my wife and daughter went out with her mother, leaving me at the house with my laptop, talking to the net through the router we'd put in last year. Not two minutes later, my laptop lost the connection to the router, and we haven't been able to get it back. Turns out its really hard to figure out is it the router/is it the laptop when you have only the one of each to test with. We've tentatively concluded that its the router, because we can 'see' other networks with the laptop. Most have a red X through the network name. which I think means 'weak signal'; one doesn't. (The Help function is so....minimal.)

Once or twice, we've gotten the laptop to see our network with a just-barely-there signal (and this, three feet from the router antenna), but then the signal's disappeared. The router sits there, blinking happily, and certainly looks as it its working.

What we can't figure out is how it failed (assuming. of course, that it did). There's a faint possibility that somehow, signing off the browser, my daughter shut down something else, too, but we've cold started the laptop, the router, and the desktop, and nada. Since my MIL's home has everything running through the modem -- tv, phone, internet -- we're reluctant to cold-start that, too (though that'd be the obvious thing to try).

We're at a loss. Quite frustrating.
Update: I have NetStumbler on the laptop. It can see two 'red x' networks plus one 'not red x' network in the area. It cannot see our network. So, I'm thinking, that routers not getting squat out. Bad hardware, bad antenna, something like that...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Soggy Friday

Another road trip today. Once again, an overnighter. Not as long as the one earlier this week, but to compensate, the accomodations will be spartan (at least, by our plush lifestyle). Bring books. Bring laptop.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I don't think of John Cleese routinely. Yet within five minutes I came across this and then this.

What are the odds?


While we were on our last road trip, we found a Czech bakery that had very, very nice kolaches. I, of course, thought I can make these....can't I?

Stay tuned. And if you see a nice recipe for Bavarian Cream, let me know.


Just found the FFixer (formerly Facebook Fixer) Greasemokey app for Firefox. Delightful.

And, reading God's Spy, by Jorge Gomez-Jurado. Translated, not original. Now I see why I really ought to speak another language. How about that, a reason other than so that I can talk with my temp daughter's family.


Nothing like falling asleep to a sunny sky and being abruptly awakened by thunder and the sound of rain slashing across the windows.


It's Not A Delight when you schedule a session with the dentist, thinking this is it, this is when they finally put the damn device in and I'm done with it, only to find that Oh no, this is just to redo what we did the last time, because the lab screwed up, you see. Even if I wasn't in an intense funk at the moment, so much so that I've lost any desire to study French, and almost even to read, this would be ungood.

Definitely NAD.


Seen on a local car:

Resist Often
Obey Rarely

Monday, August 09, 2010


Here's a straightforward explanation of some basic home networking terms. At least, I thought it was straightforward.


And Nothing Happened


I find this strangely interesting. Then again, my degree, lo, these many years ago, was in economics.


"Hurd's resignation "substantially increases the company's operational risk and will create a period of uncertainty; therefore, we believe it is appropriate to reflect this risk in a lower valuation multiple afforded the company," said Susquehanna analyst Jeffrey Fidacaro, who cuts H-P's price target to $50 from $58."

I'm not a defender of HP, but that kind of behavior on the part of analysts strikes me as seriously irresponsible.

And thoroughly typical.

Only a Matter of Time

Schrodinger's Tat

Now this is totally cool. Okay, I admit: I had to read the description before I got it, but once I did, I was delighted.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


According to an article in today's Washington Post, phone calls are a dying breed. Now, if you don't text, you're history.

Not that phone calls are completely dead -- but they're frequently supplanted by text messages. Sometimes the text messages are simply a check-in ("Can I call you?"). Sometimes they're a supplement ("Snding U email now"). And sometimes, they're all you're gonna get, baby.

The reasons are interesting.

Some people don't want to talk to you. They're just doing a data dump. Don't need to hear your voice. (I haven't done that. But I have called people in a way that the call went directly to their voice mail, bypassing the need to actually talk to them.)

Some people simply don't want to interrupt you. Text messages don't demand an immediate response. (I know, tell that to a parent whose child texts incessantly.)

Some people don't want to have to respond immediately. Text messages will wait. The article points out that this concept is essentially the same as an answering machine -- you return the calls you want, when you want.

Some people want the control that texting gives you -- choose your words, choose your time to send.

Some people simply don't like the confrontational method of phone calls -- in their minds, the caller is demanding that you stop what you're doing and pay attention to them. Something to that, I think. How often do we get mad when we hear keying in the background as we're talking to someone?

And some simply don't want to expend the psychic energy to talk.

Good thing this is in text - otherwise, nobody might see it.


Things like this fascinate me.

And the elegant design doesn't hurt, either.

Da Bomb

Pigeon Neuroscience

I know, two words that you don't often see together. And yet today, I saw them twice. What are the odds?

One was an article talking about how pigeons can be trained to get the classic Monty Hall question right -- even when humans cannot. That's one that I still can't get. I just accept that it's right, and remember that when the situation comes up. If it ever does, and I ever need it.

The other was an article from Psychology Today about a con trick called The Pigeon Drop, wherein, basically, your innate desire to be helpful, coupled with your innate desire to come out ahead in a trade, work to your serious disadvantage. I wish I could say that I'll remember this when the situation comes up, but I bet I wouldn't. Which makes me a classic pigeon, I guess.

Say Yes to Kno

Kno? Yes.

There's A Fee For That

An article in today's Times talks about airline fees - how airlines are basically charging for everything they can, and then some (one airline has a fee that you can pay to protect yourself again having to pay other fees, if they arise). The thrust of the article is about how unfair it is for the airlines to nickel and dime flyers, especially given that they charge, say, $50 for something that it costs them $10 to do.

Two things occurred to me.

The first is that this might be akin to when the hospital charges you ten dollars for a bandaid. They do it because a) they can, b)sometimes they don't actually know what a bandaid costs (first in/first out, ouchless, the ones with the clown face?), and c) this lets them charge a little less for other things, so that they can say that at their hospital, an MRI is $749, not $1000 at Hospitals R'Us.

The second is that if people focused on the overall cost, they'd be more content. Costs me $750 to fly to West Shipoo, but the fees are $150 in addition? Think of it as 'the flight will cost $900'- or even $1000. Don't focus on the smaller things, because a) it's going to drive you crazy, and b) it's going to drive you crazy. Now, I know that it's easy for me to say that -- I don't fly much, so it's like me offering advice about the best way to get through childbirth. Plus, most people who fly are going for the least expensive alternative. But there's least expensive, and then there's least expensive. It's why, thinking about the cost of this possible flight to France, we aren't looking at first class (sacre bleu!) and we're not looking at Economy. The latter's where all the fees will show up (Toilet Paper? Dollar a sheet, in advance). The former's where the airline is going to try to make another ten percent on the cost of the ticket. We're going to look at what will give us the experience we want, and pay that. And if we decide 'that's too much'-- then we just won't go.

The fee for reading this post is 50 cents.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


I just finished the first pass of chapter three in the French Without The Fuss book. It was a tough one, with a lot of vocabulary and unusual sentence structures. I made myself go through all of the exercises, and I got most of them right. The next pass is going to be to reread the material again to pick up things that I blew past first time, or didn't really understand. And I found how to made most of the French accent marks in WinWord, which helps me 'feel' as if I have the words. (I'd do it here, but the method is apparently different in a browser than in Word. ) All of this is good for knowledge and comprehension, though just for reading and writing. (Actually, more the former than the latter. I can read a phrase in French and translate it to English, but I can't really take the same English phrase and translate it to French. At least, not yet.)

I'm a little concerned about being able to say the words correctly,though, and as for understanding them when they're spoken by a native -- well. I may have to see if the French teacher is available for private lessons, just to work on both of those. Simple conversation to correct my more egregious mispronuncations. There are actually two French teachers that I know; one is much friendlier, but is an American who speaks French, while the other, who is a bit cold, is a native of France. We'll see. I figure that I can go another two or three months before this is something I need to address.

I was going to bake a cake yesterday but time got away from me. Perhaps tomorrow?

Mental Notes

We've spent a lot of money this summer, and there's a possibility that we're going to do it next summer, too, so I'm trying to conserve money. I've found in the past that the only way to do that is to pare things down -- have less magazine subscriptions, do without things that I don't really need. It's slow, but does work.

Consequently, I won't be buying Mental Notes. But not for lack of desiring it. It's excellent.


I really dislike it when things like this, complete with illustrations, turn out to be 'concepts' and not actuality.


...and this is why.

How Pathetic

So the CEO of HP, who wanted to do bold, amazing things, is out -- not because of sexual harrassment, of which he was accused, but because a review of his expense reports during that analysis showed that he was misusing HP's money in conjunction with a personal liason with an HP contractor -- and for quite some time, too.

Good to know that their corporate governance systems are applied so thoroughly. Or ought I to say: eventually.

Bye-Bye Bipartisanship


Friday, August 06, 2010


This, I Know.

61 is a prime number. Quite prime. Trust me on this.


I was incarcerated in a prison -- a very large, sprawling operation with multiple floors, multiple wings. It was more of a dormitory than a classic prison, with linoleum and cinder block rather than steel bars and harsh lights. I lived in a big room that housed perhaps thirty men. Everything in the room had to be laid out and arranged with precision - the beds had to be made just so; the things hanging in the closet had to have all of the hangers facing to the left, colors had to be in order. It was a larger, meaner version of the big bays that were just coming into use in Air Force basic training when I was there forty years ago. The on-site equivalent of that organization's Drill Instructor was a burly guard known for his petty cruelties. He would allow the inmates to watch a football game on the television, for example, but when the game was almost over, if it was a close, exciting game, he would snap off the set, smiling. Occasionally, he would then casually insert the earphone of a portable radio and listen to the final moments. He would not tell anyone the results.

I was being released. It wasn't the end of my sentence; something had happened, like a DNA test or exculpatory evidence, that was freeing me. The word came as we were finishing up some kind of group activity. I immediately left the group and went back to the room where we lived, quickly gathering my few possessions, then went down to the administrative center. Twice, on my way, a strolling guard intercepted me, angrily; seeing my pass, reluctantly let me go by. In the administrative center, while one of the secretaries was finishing paperwork, I spoke quietly with another, a large, stolid woman who had never been gratuitously mean to me. As they were handing me the release documents, the warden came to the door of his office. He told me to come into his office. Want to give you something to remember us by, he said, affably. As the door closed, I saw the men holding the billy clubs.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dr. What

So, outside of having the keys to the Tardis, and getting to hang around with some truly remarkable women, what makes a Time Lord so special?

I haven't watched all that much, but only once have I seen the Doctor do something personally remarkable -- tossing one person into a black hole, binding another with chains forged in a neutron star, locking a third into stasis. All very snappy. And once he whipped up an omelet that was truly amazing - learned how in eighteenth century France. Or perhaps earlier. And he played a mean game of football; quite wonderful. Other than those-- he shows up, a dire eventuality occurs, he whips out the sonic screwdriver, occasionally makes snappy remarks, gets some degree of angry/whimsical/impatient, and, then, essentially things happen around him.

According to The Beeb:The Doctor, in his eleventh incarnation, is an excited explorer of the universe, with a keen intelligence that means he often notices what everyone else has missed. He can turn in a moment from being interested in the largest of things to being fascinated by the tiniest of things. But his excitement sometimes results in him tripping over himself and walking into things. He enjoys anything that's different and interesting, and as always he has a powerful sense of right and wrong and a determination to do what's right. He gets on well with children. He prefers to call Amy 'Pond'. His dress sense might be a bit... odd. But he knows that bowties are cool.

Okay, fine. He's bright, he likes bow-ties, and he's seen a lot. But what does he actually do? What keen insights does he show, what amazing suprahuman capabilities does he manifest? Does he motivate, discover solutions, direct? What?

What's so all-fired great about having a Time Lord around? Could any bright person do it?

I do love the current and immediately preceding Doctors, you understand. Wouldn't give them up. Though I like Tennant best, the current fellow, Matt Smith, is dandy, too. Love them both. I'm just... curious.

What makes a Time Lord special?

Oh, Doctor?


I've never known anyone whom I was sure was a lesbian. There were two women that I used to work with whom I thought might be, but somehow the topic never quite came up. (My reason for thinking one might be was the classic: she was cute, but never said a word about dating anyone.) It took me a long time before I thought y'know, this whole gay marriage thing, who's hurt by it? And the answer I came up with was, nobody. So, go for it. Mazel tov.

My daughter had taped a program of lesbian comedians (it used to be 'comediennes', but I guess we don't say that any more). She really liked it -- said their routines were outstanding. The bits where they just talked about themselves, not so much, but the routines, really funny. So, last night, I finally watched it. Oddly, my reaction was the reverse -- most of their humor, I thought meh. Kind of funny, but not knee-slapping. One woman said that at airports, they only give you one pass through their scanners before they do a pat-down. Women are always patted down by women (big smile). I always tape pennies all over my body! Another talked about being Canadian, and their attitude toward the United States, which is always leading them into war, just like taking a dog somewhere it really doesn't want to go. Good Canada! C'mon! Wanna go to war? Huh? C'mon, I'll give you a chew toy! She paused. We're not stupid, you know. Just... easily led. Another said My mother's trying to get me to wear lipstick. Just for the color, she says. As distinct from what, the nutrition value? And one woman did a routine about the Bible, saying Leviticus, you know, it says that man shall not lay with man. But it doesn't say anything about woman shall not lay with woman. Which I figure means, even back then, guys liked to watch two chicks go at it. But other than that, not so much.

The thing is, though, they were trying. They weren't effortlessly funny, but they were trying, working at it -- and that impressed me. That showed guts. And I liked quite a lot when they were just talking - about themselves, their families, their approaches to humor. It made them real. So overall, I was glad to see the show. It was good. Okay, a little, I wondered Why is my only daughter recommending a show of lesbian humor to me? Is she trying to tell me something?

I'm still very much of the mode that if I did meet a lesbian, I'd want to treat them as just a little bit odd, though. Wow, are you a lesbian? Do you guys, like, have a secret handshake or something? An ID card? Say something lesbian!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I Have It

I don't know if this is a good thing, or just a way of manifesting my occasional anal properties, but -

I was just quite delighted when I realized that the reason that the book said We have some Euros translated to On a des Euros instead of Nous avons des Euros was that they were saying One has, which is a colloquial way of saying We have.

Took me fifteen minutes, but I figured it out. I like that.

...You're My Only Hope, Got It?


Not much French today -- going into the "city" for a bit. In the meantime --


I've been dipping into one of the Donna Leon Guido Brunetti novels. They're almost always a good read. She mentions, again, how it's virtually impossible to get anything done 'officially' in Italy -- you have to grease palms, you have to know the right palms to grease -- and, more than that, how the Mafia is closely integrated into most of the country's functions. If they don't like something that a bright young cop is doing, or a fervent judge, they can arrange for the cop or the judge to be transferred somewhere far away. No need for bullets; transfers happen all the time. When I come across comments like that, I think boy, thats really sad to have to live like that. I'd like to believe that someone can make it work, but apparently, in Italy, that's not the case. There's always someone, somewhere who can speed things up if they want to, and can just as easily - perhaps more - slow it down, or stop it entirely.

I think I'm glad that sort of thing doesn't happen here. Then I read about the Republicans who are invoking an old Senate rule that stops debate on amendments after two-thirty in the afternoon, essentially cutting the work day in half. And I think It doesn't, huh?


Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Over the past three days, I've probably spent twelve hours reading French Without The Fuss, which, as the title indicates, is a non-rigorous approach to learning the French language.

I'm not focusing too much on syntax, punctuation, and the like. For example, I know that there's a French symbol like this - Ç - which means either 'make a hard C soft', or the reverse; I don't recall. When I encounter things like that, I read them, but I don't scurry to my notes and write them down. Okay, some I do - but not most. Instead, I'm focusing on pronunciation, on getting the general tone of the words right. Like any beginning student, I'm mystified by some things, such as why marche and marchent sound the same -- perhaps, to the finely tuned ear, they don't (for example, one of my vocabulary notes, for the word ensemble, notes that the trailing L is only lightly murmured at the end of the word). I try to get them right because now is when I'm learning the reflexes that will make other words sound right, or not, just as when in English you can't pronounce a word, but you have a clue based on what it looks like. That's what I'm working on.

And it is work. I'd promised myself I'd spend from 30 - 60 minutes a day, doing this, but I never stop at 60. Part is, it takes me so long -- I read the first chapter five times before I felt that I had wrung all of the material out of it that I could get. And part is, I am eager to get to the fun stuff, actually making sentences, and I won't be able to do that unless I lock down this initial stuff. I can actually do it, a little, now, but it's very, very basic -- J'habite a Pennsylvanie, Elle est une etudiante (did I get the spelling right? Don't know). I want to be able to converse.

Course, when I listen to the audio part of the book, I think holy hell. Speak slowly, you guys. And then I think: they are speaking slowly!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Plug Me In

This kind of stuff excites me. I just think Wow.

Morning Tags

From Wapsi Square, a consistently intriguing strip that's well worth the time to read.

Learning French

I've been pinging in multiple places as part of my effort to get a basic smattering of French, reading phrases with what I desperately hope is a good French accent (I told my daughter that trying to repeat that classic accent is like listening to water gurgling over rocks, then trying to make that same sound with your tongue). I look at web pages written in French, read Facebook posts (just learned there that 'de quoi' apparently means the same as 'pourquoi', for example), and, of course, submit many phrases to Google Translate (which rattles some phrases off like a bullet train). I even dreamed about speaking French, last night -- amazing how fluent I was.

As part of that melange approach, I came across a site called French Word A Day, which is somewhat more than just the bare vocabulary site that its name implies. It's actually pretty good.

Sib Sub

The other night, our XG posted on Facebook that she was in a bad mood.

This morning, she said that she was in a good mood.

Just below it, and therefore occuring before her post, her brother said "I think she's stoned."

Aren't siblings wonderful?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Saying It

Just spent the last twenty minutes trying to pronounce Être correctly. Discovered it's a lot easier without my denture. Unfortunately, that's not really an ongoing option...

EH-truh. EH-truh. With a slight gargle.

Move It

Yesterday, my wife heard an article on NPR about people who get money from insurance companies as payouts, and the insurance company offers to hold the money in an interest bearing account. People usually say yes. Today, I read an article in the Washington Post about a woman who got such a notice from an insurance company after the death of her son, and she said yes, too. Then she realized that this substantial sum was under the control of the insurance company, which a) gave her one percent per year, while earning about four and a half percent on it, and b) did not insure the account. FDIC didn't either.

We looked at each other. Isn't the account with the payout from my mother's life insurance that kind of arrangement?

We just closed that account and transferred the money to an insured one at our bank.

Recursive Humor


A little chaotic -- my wife's sister, niece, and mother came for Sunday brunch. I knew my wife was freaking out a bit when I saw her vacuuming at 8 in the morning, but when I saw the china on the table... Oh, and it turns out that teasing about vacuuming in such conditions is not that good an idea.

I exchanged notes with the mother of the ex-guest (I'm going to have to come up with a better way of referring to her) about the possibility of visiting with her family in France next summer. (She sends notes in broken English; I send notes in Google-Translated French. Though I'm working on it...) Prior to this, I'd never have considered making such a trip. I don't really want to see Paris (if for no other reason than that I don't want to get into discussions about Did you see.... oh, you really missed something great!). But the town where they live? Yeah, I think so. There's lots of pretty scenery there, and I hear the people are friendly.

Perhaps I'll keep Google Translate on the toolbar for a while yet.

I was thinking about extravagance the other day. I'm not exactly sure what got me into it. I know that though I'm very conservative with money, I can think about spending it in amazing ways. The bedroom extension. The utility room addition. The lap pool (inside a covered addition, of course). All of these have drifted through my mind, and I like to think about having them. Spending the tens of thousands of dollars to make them happen, not so much. Not nearly so much.