Saturday, April 30, 2011


I just taught my daughter the difference between negating the verb in a French sentence and negating the object.

The example I used was that if you want to say I see something, you'd say "Je vois quelque chose", and to say "I don't see something", it'd be "Je ne vois pas quelque chose". But you could also say "I see nothing", which would be "Je ne vois rien". "I didn't see something" and "I saw nothing" essentially mean the same thing (okay, not exactly) but the sentence structure is different. You use that leading ne both times, but in one you use pas to negate the verb, while in the other you use a 'negative form' of the pronoun object. I saw an interesting article once about how it really changes the mood of the sentence when you go from changing the verb to changing the object. Didn't entirely understand it, but it was interesting. True in English, too, of course.

And the weird part is, I understand it, and she didn't.

Friday, April 29, 2011


My wife thinks we should get an iPad so that I'm not bored while in France at that family's home. I think that while it would be pleasant to have such a device, after the trip, either a) the device would sit unused, or the laptop would sit unused, or the laptop or the device would get glommed onto by the daughteroid. I don't like those ideas.

I'm also not fond of the idea that the iPad seems to exist to Make! Things! Fun! No kidding, the Apple web site says that with the iPad, checking your mail is Fun! I tend to have a more sober view of life. I like applications that do things for me -- give me insights I didn't have, help me think about things in a new way. Apps like Angry Birds strike me as silly. Have I played PC games? Yes, and liked it. But do I want to spend several hundred bucks so that I can do it on a new platform -- one that, by the way, doesn't have a real keyboard or mouse? (Though, of course, you can buy one).

But if anyone knows of an actual useful application on an iPad -- something that extracts keywords from articles, something that analyzes new articles, does effective speech to text, something -- hell, I don't know, helps me mow the damn lawn better -- I'd like to know about it. Something useful. If the word 'fun' appears in the description -- I'm likely not interested. Ditto "enjoyable". For five hundred bucks, it's got to make my life better. Fun? I can handle that on my own. Better.

Otherwise, iPad? iPooed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Well, it's beginning to work, just a tiny little bit. We had the second half hour session today, and I was able to ask some very simple questions. Syntax almost correct, concepts gotten. Je cherche la sortie de bagage pour Air France vol vingt deux. (I don't actually think that sortie de bagage is right for 'baggage claim', but I'll go with it.)

This is almost fun.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I just had my first French language session with the woman who runs the FrenchETC web site, over Skype. I was floored -- it was fantastic. It's exactly what I've been looking for, all this time. I'm delighted.

And she said my French isn't bad!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I entirely agree with this.

Found at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Monday, April 25, 2011


From an email I got from Toyota regarding their customer survey (which is something I was going to do till I saw how incredibobbly long it was):

We have received your request. Please beware that the unsubscribe process may take up to ten (10) business days to complete. If you receive additional e-mails within the 10-business-day period, your request is still being processed

I'd say they need to beware their proofreaders, myself. Though I always like when people put things like "ten (10)". Helps me understand. Because I thought ten meant, you know, 625.3, or something.



Which side?

If women dress as they wish, and are assaulted, whose fault is it? This side, that side, or both sides? I'm thinking both. These folks seem to disagree.

Found on an article about Slutwalk: Toronto


I have never been any sort of pickup artist, so perhaps I am not the right person to evaluate this. But I think it's a marvelous pickup line. Found here.

"My buddies over there said that I wouldn't be able to start a conversation with the most beautiful girl in the bar.
Wanna buy some drinks with some of their money?"

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Tough weekend.

Spent about 30 hours with inlaws, all of whom were fine, but oh, the food! Mass quantities. They never seem to get it -- for me, sometimes, just a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk is a filling meal. Honest. (Though, okay, the cannolli were good.)

Part of that time, was shown and played with an iPad. Suddenly, this is beginning to look....not entirely out of the question.

And on Saturday, I went to another French immersion class. If the first had been that tough -- and this was supposed to be at the same level as the first -- I'd never have signed up for a second. As it is, I don't know that I'll sign up for a third. At least, not till my ability to speak and comprehend spoken French improves. Radically.

Did get a note from my Swiss correspondent, though. That was pretty neat.

Bookshelf Porn

When I saw this picture, I literally sighed and said Nice.

Found here.

Le Bureau

From Bug.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Useful Phrases

From an exercise in Passe Compose tense:

Aujourd'hui je pars, parce qu'hier j'ai appris que mon mari me trompait.

Today I am leaving, because yesterday I learned that my husband was cheating on me.

Hmm...should I point that out to my wife? Just as a linguistic exercise?


From Least I Could Do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I'm here. I'm not even swamped with French, at the moment (though god knows I could be, with two new French books arrived yesterday, and a new learning tool about to be up with real-time actual no-kidding French conversations, and some material that I want to read but its so hard, it makes my teeth hurt - yes, even the fake ones).

I'm just in sloth mode. I think I'm a little nervous about some things that are objectively minor, but....

So that's where I am.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


From the ever-delightful Jesus And Mo.


This is really strange.

I am in no significant way competent in French. Can barely read it, can barely write it, and can speak it only with pausing and effort. Me tawk gud wun dey. And yet, I'm getting tired of practicing the language. I want to speak it, however badly. Actually talk with someone. Move off the frickin' dime.

Even given that I fear this next Immersion class (this coming Saturday), because I really don't like looking stupid, I want to just do it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mange! (2)

This appears to be the video from which the still picture I showed earlier came. (As I'm thinking about France, I find myself stopping and thinking how in the WORLD would you translate that into French?)

Its short and interesting.

Urban Planning

I wouldn't say that I'm fascinated by the topic, but it intrigues me. How do you make a block, a neighborhood, a city work? How do you respond when people and events don't evolve the way that you thought they would, think they should? How do you know what to do first when everything feels as if it needs to be done first?

One fellow with interesting ideas on the topic, one who's proven the worth of them by making millions implementing them, is Greg OConnell, a lumbering ex-New York City detective with a lot of insight, drive, and gumption. This article, from the New York Times, is worth reading.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Ingenuity...from Microsoft. Wow.

Gimme Credit

We're pretty consistent in how much we charge on our main credit card each month. What with using it to automatically pay certain bills, we can predict about 80% of what the bill will be. But when you're about to use the card to pay for three round trip tickets to France, you know it's going to set off the credit card company's alarms. So I did the smart and reasonable thing. I called the card issuer and told them. Big charge tomorrow. About how much, they asked,and I told them. Okay, no problem, they replied. We made a note on your account.

This morning, I made the first charge - about two thirds of what I told them to expect. No problem. Then I went to charge the second one. Rejected. What? Did it again. Rejected, again. Called them, and got a nasal-voiced person saying Even though you called, our system automatically blocks your account if there is an unusual charge. The first charge was an unusual charge. We have to ask you these questions now.... So I said the heck with it, I'll use a different card. And while I'm doing that, I'll sign onto their web site, see whats going. We're sorry, we are having difficulty accessing your account. Yeah, I bet you are. So I called again. Oh, yes, when your account is blocked, we block access to the web site, too. Security, you understand.

They can't stop drug smugglers moving tons of illicit cash here, there, and everywhere; they can't catch Bernie Madoff before he bankrupts hundreds of people, but me? Got me cold.

Really makes me glad that I did the smart and reasonable thing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Apparently, in France (and elsewhere), it's possible to buy an EMLA patch to numb a section of your skin -- say, where an injection's going to be given. But here?

Ah, AMA, you have much to answer for. And I know this is at the head of your list....



Middle school teachers use some really lame examples in their homework materials. I wonder why that is?

(Bet it has something to do with teaching this damn class again, and the kids don't care....)

Saturday, April 16, 2011


A nod to the fact that next Saturday, I'll be in another French Immersion Class, and will, therefore, be fearing and shaking for most of the coming week. Because much as I want to speak the damn language, I do not want to somewhat speak the language. Nor do I care to be reminded how and when to use a versus á, or to work through the damned Passé Composé. (Which isn't actually all that hard, but people who teach French are seriously anal about it.)

Last night, they held this year's Color Guard Banquet. Its a generally fun event, except for the apparently mandatory Weeping of the Seniors as they each give a little speech --I love you guys!!!! -- one girl was up there for about ten minutes, and about six of them were entirely or partially crying, or the the definitely mandatory Speech by The Coach, wherein she says that the year was phenomenal, she cannot believe how much you progressed, and for those of you just entering the program, you're going to have to work very, very hard to get even half as good. I'm sure that motivates them to no end. There was a nice little fillip this time where she said that she gets almost no support, financial or organizational, from the school district - a certain amount of bitterness seeping out at that point. They did ask one guy, who's the general handyman -- drives the truck, sets things up, moves things around -- to give a speech, which is unusual. He was pretty good -- particularly when he said that nobody will say this, but school grades are really more important than color guard. Which is the line the director gives every year when she's pitching the program to the oh-my-god-they're-so-tiny young girls thinking about it. Only I think he actually meant it. So I imagine we won't be hearing from him, next time around. Which is the year when my daughter will be one of the weeping seniors -- my daughter? A high school senior? When the hell did that happen?

I brought a book to help me get through it. That was a good idea, though I got a little glum reading about how, basically, the French will never be your 'friend'; the most you can ever hope for is a polite cordiality, though, perhaps, after years, they might deign to consider you a friend -- which event you will note by the fact that they now feel free to criticize you, something they only do to close friends. And all that time you thought your French was, all things considered, not bad? While they were nodding and smiling - and telling you in fluent English that your French is really quite good - they were actually thinking This person, they are massacring the language, they should just stick to that mother tongue of theirs. Some of them, at least. Hoo, boy.

On the other hand, the food was good.

This week, I get to start being a hardnose with my mento, who is currently failing four subjects. I put the fear of god into him last week (which is actually something that I find difficult to do; beating up on a kid?) and this week, we start pushing intensively on two of the subjects -- two instead of four, because I can't do four; I'll be lucky to do two. So that should be fun.

Wonder if any of that banquet cake is left?

Friday, April 15, 2011


Further proof that I couldn't be a school teacher:

Walking down the hall to the guidance area, past where the discipline dean hangs out, I went past a girl sitting huddled over on the wait-here chair, crying. My heart went out to her. I know, all kinds of reasons why she may have earned whatever had her in that state, but still. I couldn't deal with it routinely.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Want to Come?

Lots of grandmothers bring their grandchild to the store with them.

Usually, though, not like this.


I am simultaneously tired of studying French and eager to actually be competent in it. I don't want to speak to anyone in it until I am, but I know thats the only way to get to that level of competency.



Things are in a state of flux.

For one, the crew that's been putting in sewer pipe across a local field is back today with their heavy equipment. Always a pleasure to hear that deep thrumming noise. These are the same people that would every so often do something that was so noisy, our house -- which is about half a mile away from their construction site - would vibrate from it.

For another, our insurance company said they're sending the payment for our totaled van. Actually, they say they sent it, but our bank doesn't seem to know about it yet. Somewhere in the interweb, our money is floating, floating. Lets hope it gets to us and not to someone with the same name who lives in Argentina.

For a third, we were informed today that the people who arrange the French exchange students had screwed up, and the girl we'd selected is not available -- more precisely, not available to us; apparently, she's slotted for Mananas, Virginia. I know: my first thought was then change where she's slotted for! But apparently that's just not done. They asked us if we'd like a different girl, who is actually pretty attractive except for two things -- one, she's been to the United States before, so we wouldn't get the pleasure of being her initial contact (not a big deal, but still....) and two, in her awkwardly worded introduction letter (she grades herself as the lowest level of English proficiency, and that seems to be right -- her English looks to be on the same level as my French), she talks about her hobbies, and mentions that she 'loves to make party'. We're not party people, and we wonder how she'd feel about being here for three weeks and not a single party to be had. (Actually, there might be one - my niece is having a graduation party, and we'd planned to take whatever kid we got). Still, would this kid be incredibly bored? We don't think she'd like that. We wouldn't like that.

I am, though, practicing for whomever we get: Le chat n'est pas autorisé à aller à l'extérieur.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Sometimes, I'm amazed at how stupid well known conservatives can be - people like Palin, Beck, and the like - and how presumably intelligent -- or at least not-stupid - people can still support them.

Sometimes, I think surely there must be liberals about whom the same could be said.

But lately, I think: I don't care. It's the conservative politicians who are trying to wrench this country back to 1950. I will take any number of liberal ideologues over that.

TSA: Tolerated Sexual Abuse

Oh, So THATS Why....

They certainly make a compelling case.


One of the sites that I really like to use with this French study deal is Forvo. It's designed so that people who actually speak a language -- usually, native speakers -- will pronounce and record words that have been requested. Over time, a pretty impressive corpus of words have been recorded. If I'm looking at a word, and not sure how to say it, odds are, Forvo will have it. I've even started recording words myself, though, as a rule, all of the easy English words are done -- many of those still waiting for pronunciation look like Welsh train station names, and not that easily said.

One of the nice side effects is that I've established a bit of a correspondence with two of the French speakers -- one, a woman who lives in Switzerland, and is a student librarian, and the other, a man who lived in Paris but has just moved to Singapore as part of a job internship. I wouldn't say it's a tight friendship or anything like that, but it's pretty neat, nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I'm not one for pranks, but I thought this pretty funny. I especially thought that the last woman's reaction was classic.

Monday, April 11, 2011


When Reich is right, he's right.

"Why the Right-Wing Bullies Will Hold The Nation Hostage Again and Again

The Beeb

I really like the BBC Language Videos. Clear, with individually selectable subtitles in French and English, real-world language -- what's not to like?

(Though, okay, going to a British site to study French -- that does seem a little odd....)


I have occasionally said that I'd like an aquarium. I wouldn't have the energy to make and maintain something like this, but if someone wanted to do it for me....

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dr. Kinect

Surgeons at a Canadian hospital have found that it's possible to use the motion-tracking product Kinect to allow them to flip quickly between computer-based images while in the operating room, without the danger of contamination that touching a mouse or other interface might introduce. Elsewhere, it's been used in conjunction with robotic teleoperated surgery, to clearly and quickly mark out sections of the body where surgery is to be performed -- or blocked from access.

Pretty nifty....

Trix are for...

3 Minutes

3 Minutes from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

WiFi Painting

Lots of people know what WiFi is, but how many people know where it can be found? And, once found, where it peaks, where it eddies, what the effect of buildings and fields is? Who knows that?

These guys do. Fascinating.

The Fast Lane

Friday, April 08, 2011

Dinner, Ecole-Style

Chef and food blogger extraordinaire David Lebovitz tweeted this photo of a weekly lunch menu in a Paris public elementary school. While pizza and chocolate milk are on offer (but only on Wednesday), catering company Sogeres (France's equivalent of Sodexho or Aramark) has laid on such delights as fillet of salmon with a lemon sauce, thinly sliced organic endives, and lentil salad with hard-boiled egg. The four-course meals begin with salad or soup, include a cheese course, and end with a fruit selection on most days, although Thursday's dessert is a delicious-sounding dark chocolate mousse.

From Good.

Planes, Trains, and..

It appears that maybe my daughter is going to England as an exchange student in June. That trip would partially overlap our planned trip to France. She could go, come home, and two days later go back. Yeah, right. So -- what if I met her in England, took her with me to France? How hard could it be?

- fly from Washington to London
- take a cab into London and meet her; probably stay overnight in her hotel.
- go to London's St. Pancras station and take Eurostar to Gare du Nord in Paris
- take a train or taxi from Gare du Nord to Gare du Lyon, also in Paris
- take the TGV from Gare du Lyon down to Dijon.

Good god. I know, people jet about all the time, but me? I think going two hours to Philadelphia is a big deal. This -- it staggers my mind.


Read an interesting article in the Washington Post last week titled Managing Information and Morale in a Disaster.

It's a summary from a book by Erika James about leading in a crisis, and specifically about a woman, a US Coast Guard Reserve officer, who was thrown into the maelstorm when she was assigned the responsibility of leading the Joint Information Center, "the unit responsible for managing all communications associated with the" BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She was coordinating questions to and responses from agencies ranging from BP to NOAA to the Department of the Interior, with questions ranging from 'Where can I get a check cashed' to 'I heard this specific thing happened; did it? ' to 'I hate you and hope you all die'. Her staff was entirely Coast Guard, and they rotated into and out of the job every 30 to 60 days. With all of that, she showed that even in the middle of chaos, it's possible to put together a strong, responsive team, and to get the job done, effectively.

I'll almost certainly never need the knowledge, but it makes me want to read the book anyway. Because I dearly do love competence.


Sometimes I will put a couple of cat treats on a chair, in view of the cat. Usually, she will see me do it, walk over, leap up, and have at them. Sometimes, she will just look at me, giving off the What, you expect me to go get them? air. And sometimes, she'll follow me around after I've put them down, clearly looking for them. So I tap the chair, and she figures it out. With the attitude of You tried to escape, prey, but I FOUND you!


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

My Uterus, Inc

Now here's an interesting idea....incorporating your uterus. Really.

Can You See It?

Stealth Technology.

Not just for airplanes any more.

Alan Simpson

I've always kind of liked Alan Simpson, which I suspect means that I don't really know him, his attitudes, or his policies. As this article suggests....

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

"Whatever it takes to get the job done!"

From a lengthy LinkedIn series of comments about slogans popular at a place where I used to work.

Maintain an attitude of healthy discontent. Get all the liars in one room. Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. That’s red suspenders!. EDS will never do anything that is immoral, illegal or unethical. So if you see something that you think is illegal, immoral or unethical, you simply don't have all of the facts. There is a good business reason for everything that EDS does. We can't always tell you the reason but we have to trust our leaders. If you see a problem, then you own it. Work hard and EDS will take care of you. You see a snake, you kill it. You don't form a committee on snakes . Legendary Customer Satisfaction. "Where people make the difference". Ask for forgiveness, not permission. Bad news does not improve with age. Spend company money as if it were your own! Value and respect the individual. Strive to attract and retain the most outstanding people. Lead so the best love it. There are no problems; just opportunities. Leaders are not obligated to perpetuate foolishness. Just do what makes sense. At EDS, you can do anything you want, you just have to be willing to move!

It wasn't all good, and, in reading the comments, I recalled how much truly sucked -- death marches, for example, where people routinely worked all day, slept in their office, and returned to work; relying on the group's manager to decide if you should get time off, a raise, the chance to do something different; how 'opportunity' meant ' here is something I doubt you can do, but we need it done, so go run up against that wall until it breaks or you do ' -- but somehow, even the things that sucked, in a company where you really believed you were the best, were tolerable. As one commenter put it:

EDS was a fun place to work in the beginning, with (mostly) appreciative clients, and competent management.

Yeah. It was.

Nervous Laugh

Found at Media Bistro.

Ecoute et Repete!

Being Alone

I like being with a certain one or two people, but I like being alone, too. This sounds pretty good to me.

Monday, April 04, 2011


Find more videos like this on Firefighter Nation - Firefighter Social Network, Training & News

Found at FireFighterNation.


That last would be... Garage Door Openers.

You have to do two things to program the remote in a car to use a garage door opener. First, you have the car 'learn' the code that's used in the existing opener -- I guess that's because the newer ones have a 'rolling code' that algorithmically generated, rather than being dynamic. Second, you have to tell the opener to expect to hear an introductory communication from the vehicle, so that they can synch up on their codes.

To do the first, you hold the remote near the car's control, push both buttons at once, and wait for the light to blink. Okay, thats a little tricky -- it'd be better if the car could be pressed and would 'look' for, say, thirty seconds for a signal from the hand-held remote. Still, not impossible.

To do the second, you press the Learn button on the GDO, and it looks for the signal from the car. You have thirty seconds from when you push the button till you have to signal from the car. Couple of problems here.

First, the 'Learn' button is inside the casing that shields the light bulbs. Why can't that button be in an easily-accessible position? I'm sure the Official Position, harrumph, is that this would make it too easy to accidentally push. Oh, sure, I can easily see that. And Second, since you have to take that casing off, it stands to reason that the car can't be there -- unless you want to stand on the car to get to it. So you move the car out -- all the way out, because, hey, that doors going to be coming down, and you really don't want the car there. So you put it on the driveway. Then you press the but -- oh, look, you just closed the door. First time I tried to make this work, I think I took two years off the operating life of the opener, running the door up and down till the car remote finally worked. You guys ever hear of a Test Mode?

I know, problems of the idle rich.

Pour Jane

Found on 8Tracks.


They've started to post the resumes for the French kids coming here this summer. One sounds pretty good to me, except for one phrase -- she says that she likes to play multiple sports, and likes to "make party" -- which I assume is her attempt to say "likes to party". It makes us think really? Because there likely won't be any of that here - could that be a problem? I would bet she has no idea that what she says could be interpreted that way.

I'm reading a book on French culture and customs now. So far, of the things that the French don't understand and/or don't like about Americans, I've done three of them. Um... On the other hand, it says that - at least in big cities - it's unusual to be invited to a French person's home. I don't know this, but I get the impression from other things that I read that it isn't all that unusual -- and even less so in the country. So maybe I'm not quite the Ugly American yet.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Onion

News from a better world.

Anki Panky

Anki for studing French (or anything else where memorization is key) . C'est formidable.

Saw That?

Got a web site and everything..... and don't forget the whimsical smile.

Friday, April 01, 2011


Apparently, it's not just teen aged guys who are web-enabled idiots. Granted, mostly -- but not entirely.