Thursday, September 26, 2013

This Kilts Me


I just had an oh my god moment with French.

For weeks I have been working on understanding the use of the word EN in French.  Basically, it has two uses; one, as a preposition, used like the word in, and two as a pronoun.  This word gets used all over the place, and easily half the time, I don't understand what it brings to the sentence. Sometimes, I see it like this -- m'en -- and that, I really don't get. For example, I read once that Je m'en vais  means I'm going away. I knew that Je vais means I go, but the m'en -- that eluded me. I figured that the M came as a contraction of ME (yeah, but why is that even there?).  And as for the EN -- forget it.  No idea.

And then I discovered this page.  And I found this example on it:

and it CLICKED.  In French, some verbs have a SE in front of the verb, making it a 'reflexive verb'.  It means that the thing that's being done is being done to (or by) ME.  For example, if I laver something, I wash it.  If I se laver something, I'm washing myself. I actually say ME LAVER, which is the first person singular form of SE LAVER.

So okay.  That infinitive verb isn't just débarrasser, it's se débarrasser.   The SE is making the verb reflexive.  Debarrasser means 'to throw something out'.  SE Debarrasseer means that I'm the one who's going to do it. I'm throwing the something out. The reason that the M' is there is because it's a contraction of ME, which is the first-person-singular form of SE, which is part of the verb.

Yeah, okay, fine -- but what about that EN?  Why is that there?

Turns out that they're sticking an EN in there as a pronoun -- it's a reference to the thing that's getting thrown out. Instead of saying I'm going to throw out the old shoes,  they're saying I'm going to throw them out.   In the English word order, that would be I'm going to throw them out-- but in the French word order, its I'm going to them throw out. Just happens that they're sticking that EN right in the middle of the two-word verb... then adding a tense (changing SE to ME) and then contracting it (changing ME to M'') - all of which made me blind to what was actually happening in that sentence.

I would like to believe that they did not do this solely to confuse me. Still... Oh.  Oh, Mon, Dieu.  It freaking makes sense.

David Ash, of Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom, Head of Modern Languages at King Edward's School, creator of this slide --  I thank you.


Saw Agents of SHIELD tonight.  It should be called Agent Coulson, formerly dead,  hangs out with pretty people, some with accents, who like to look determined and talk techno-geek.  They have like totally amazing technology, really fit, buff people, they have the geeks' geek, and, to offset him, a chick geek.  The geeks' geek can't decide if his accent is Scottish or Australian.  They have the spunky outsider, and the macho insider.  The techology usually out-acts them.

But it's cool, because they have Agent Coulson. He makes the show worthwhile; the others... could be dropped off a heli-carrier.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I wish that blogger had a feature whereby I could have a post show up every X number of weeks saying man, I hate studying French.

Of course, once this mechanism became apparent, I'd have even fewer readers and responders than I do now!

Monday, September 23, 2013


A doctor finds out what it's like to be a scared parent, and is surprised.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Two substantially different pictures, depending on cropping.  The original was found on Barefoot In Paris,  here.


This article isn't about the United States....but it sure could be!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Non Pas Que

I was looking up a translation of the phrase non pas que, which means 'not that' (as in, not that I could do anything about it), and was intrigued to notice this ad on the page.  I didn't know that Target sold French phrases.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Un Autre Pays

Had an interesting conversation today with a woman who lives in Iran.  Kind of spooky, but interesting.  Tried to stay away from any political observations, though.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013


I learned today around 11AM that the kid who I'm supposed to mentor -- the one who got into eighth grade, much to my surprise -- called in sick.  The very first day we were supposed to meet, he's not there.

Later, when I started Skype, I noticed that he was there.  We didn't talk. 

What a great start to the year.  Put the whole day under a cloud.


I'm accustomed to occasionally getting requests to be a conversation partner from French people.  Usually, it's people in France, occasionally it's people in Canada.  But today, I got a request for English conversation from a person in Iran, and she doesn't speak French at all -- just Persian and English.  I have to admit, I'm intrigued -- even if, as I said to my wife, it means that the NSA will take a greater interest in me!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


We went out for coffee tonight, but instead of heading to a local town to have coffee in the Barnes and Noble, we went to a college that's right up the street, where they've recently opened a coffee shop in their library.  While we were there, I picked up a copy of The Economist, started leafing through it, and remembered again why I liked it so much.

So, what the hell - I resubscribed.  Should be fun.


My daughter broke her foot.  She has to wear a protective boot, or crutches, and for long walks, both.  Consequently, she can't wear her uniform, she can't do most physical training, she can't try out for a specialty group that she wanted,  she has to plan her trips to the bathroom, she has to figure out how to get into and out of buildings, and she has to watch out for crowds.

It's only for a month, but she hates it.

Friday, September 13, 2013


One of my minor ongoing tasks in French is to get comfortable with the word en. I look at en so much one friend said you really are too fixated on that, you know.   I can understand about 70% of the times that it's used, but every so often something zings right past me. 

This morning a French person thanked me in an email, saying Je t'en prie, which is a short form of Je te en prie. Based on my understanding, that's literally I you it pray, and is translated as I beg it of you, which in turn is generally translated as my pleasure or no problem, something like that.

Anyway, when I saw that Je t'en prie in the email, I thought that I'd look again for some examples of the use of en, and in particular, en prie.  I found several on the BAB.LA site.  I must say, running my eye down the English translations, it's sort of..... creepy. Not so much on their own, but read in series, as if they were all in one paragraph.  Which may be why Babla notes "These sentences come from external sources and may not be accurate. is not responsible for their content."

Je t'en prie, juge-le avec compassion et mansuétude.
I pray you, judge him with compassion and understanding.

Je t'en prie, que ça arrive vite, pendant que j'en ai la force.
Please let it happen fast while I have the strength.

Je t'en prie, ne prive pas les enfants de leur mère.
Oh, please, don't deprive the kids of their mother.

Ma puce, je t'en prie, ne repars pas.
Baby... please don't go away anymore.

Je t'en prie, je ne veux pas mourir.
Please, Tony, I don't want to die.

T'inflige pas ça, je t'en prie.
Come on, don't do this to yourself.

Fais ça pour moi, je t'en prie.
Will you do that for me, sweetie?

Je t'en prie, papa, décroche!
Please answer, Daddy, answer.

Je t'en prie, Akin, rétablis -toi vite!
Please, Akin, get well soon.

Oh, mon Dieu, je t'en prie.
Oh, God, I beg you, please.

Parle-moi, je t'en prie.
Please -- Please talk to me.

Steve, je t'en prie.
Steve, baby, no, please.

Pas un mot, je t'en prie.
Not a word, please.

Ricardo, je t'en prie.
Please, Riccardo.

Je t'en prie, Frère.
Please, brother?

Je t'en prie!
Please don't go.

Je t'en prie?
Please, Tony?

Je t'en prie.
Please, Mac!

Je t'en prie!
Please, Lou!

Je t'en prie.
Oh, please.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Republican One?

Actually, of course, that's not really fair.  A government isn't responsible for covering any and all medical bills.  But the ones that are life-threatening, and can't be covered by the person involved?  Gotta do that.  Even if the person's a conservative, libertarian, or rastafarian.  Fair's fair.

Found here.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Odd Image

When I saw this image, I thought I know that -- its....its...   And I can't place it.   I want to say that it's something like the results from a geographic tracker - something that looks at earthquake tremors -- but I'm not sure.  Any ideas?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Barack's Goals

From Time Magazine - 

3 Things Obama Must Accomplish In Tonight’s Syria Speech


The President must now sell an intervention to the American people that he did not want to launch unilaterally. He is likely to evoke the moral outrage of gassing children, even though he has made clear that his military goal is not to stop the loss of life in the Syrian civil war. He must implore Congress for a swift vote, even as he has signed off on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to hold off on action in that chamber until the Russian offer can be explored. He will again ask for Congress to approve the strike, even though he maintains that he does not need the permission of Congress to strike.

And this -

For more two weeks, the Obama administration has briefed congressional lawmakers in both open and classified settings on what the intelligence community believes happened on August 21, when the Assad regime allegedly killed more than 1,400 in a sarin gas attack. But very little of that information has been made public to the American people, who remember the intelligence failures before the Iraq war. The White House maintains that for those who have received the classified briefing, the intelligence is incontrovertible. 

Yup. Sure.  Give us the mushroom approach.  Always worked before.....

Owned by the Dishwasher

Today, we were owned by the dishwasher.

It's a Samsung, about 18 months old.  Our primary criterion for getting it was that our old dishwasher - which worked well enough - was noisy; you couldn't hold a telephone conversation in the kitchen while it was running.  Each of us had had the experience of stopping the dishwasher to have a telephone conversation, and discovering it still stopped only when we went to it, wondering why it hadn't finished yet.

So the new one had to be quiet.  Outside of that, we really didn't care.  Had a gentle cycle for crystal? We don't have all that much crystal and china, but, sure, that's nice.  Delay wash? Well, heck, don't they all?  (Answer: no.) The upper rack could be raised and lowered, so that large things could go in either location?  Okay, that's nice.

Which I suspect is when the people from Samsung chuckled.  Because they knew. 

To raise or lower the rack, you press in on two handles, one on either side of the rack.  About two weeks ago, my wife said that one of the handles was not working, and as a result, she couldn't raise the rack.  Of course, I immediately thought duct tape, but being the reasonable person that I like to pretend I am, I looked into it.  Ten bucks for the part.  Ten bucks for the shipping.  It arrived, and my wife promptly installed it.  Snapped right into place.  Aha, we said, gloating, no service charge!

We really shouldn't have done that.

A few weeks before, my wife had noted that one of the six plastic tabs that hold those handles in place had broken off.  The handle was still firmly attached though, so we thought nothing of it.  After we ordered the new part, she said maybe we should replace that other one, some day.  After all, that tab came off. Yeah. Some day.

About two weeks ago, we noticed that the dishwasher seemed....louder than before.  Not all the time, just occasionally.  Usually it seemed to coincide when water was being pumped in or drained out. After a while, we decided that we should have it looked at.  So today, a serviceman showed up.  I started the dishwasher.  He nodded and opened the door.  Nodded again.  One of those tabs snapped off, he said. Sounds like it fell into the pump.  That sound is the plastic tab getting ground up.  Huh.  How much to fix it?  One hundred sixty four dollars.  Ouch.  Can we live with it?  Sure.  But you should know that the impeller on the pump is also plastic.  So every time it's grinding down that tab, it's getting ground down, too.  And  a new pump costs three hundred dollars.

We had him open it up, pull the tab from the pump, seal it up.

Never mock the gods of service.  Today, they, through their minion, our dishwasher, owned us. 

Reading PDFs

I hate reading PDFs on a display screen.  Hate it.  I end up printing the damn thing, reading it once, and (usually) tossing it. Right now I'm trying to read a document created by one of those designers I mentioned.  Its on the order of 64 pages, so I really don't want to print it.  But......

Seems to me I saw a paper once on that problem, a few years ago.  But it was in PDF format, so I never read the whole thing.


It's easy to mock designers.  I would bet most people (not me, of course) think of design as something that gets tacked on the product after it's built.  And if perchance they do get involved before construction, the designer is the person who ignores practical matters to ask questions like well, yes - do people want fire that can be fitted nasally?

But every so often, I come across designers whose work makes my jaw drop.  Like Alexis Morin. Magdalena Rosendahl.  Marco Peter.  And their associates

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Friday, September 06, 2013


I'm not saying these are the coolest cops around, but....

I Love This Image

Found here.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


The nice part about studying French on my own is that I can occasionally take a day off without feeling like oh no I have to finish this before the next time I have a class.  I like that.  It helps me dial back the compulsion to study.  I know that I will have to start classes again at some point, but right now I think that will be after the year of trying to learn to comprehend quickly spoken French.  Which started three weeks ago.


After reading that article on neural nets, which appeared on the NY Times site, I sighed and did the math.  Again.

Unlimited access to and the NYTimes smartphone apps.$3.75/week

Unlimited access to and the NYTimes tablet apps.$5.00/week

Unlimited access to and the NYTimes tablet and smartphone apps.$8.75/week


Tablet without smartphone sounds good.  So - Five bucks a week.  Fifty-two weeks a year.  $260 a year.

Nahhhh.......but I wish I could talk myself into it.

(Numbers found here. )


If you want to get my attention, just mention that whatever you're talking about involves the use of neural nets.  Sets me right to tingling.  I don't even understand neural nets any more -- decades ago, I sort-of did -- but still, any mention of them being put to amazing uses delights and enthralls me.

Like Texas Hold 'Em.


I am betting most people here are willing for the US to attack Syria so long as there is no chance that any of our own people will be injured. 

And, oh yes, Syria is one of those countries that likes to send out suicide bombers.  But that shouldn't stop our righteous resolve, right?

Why is it always (okay, usually)  us?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Monday, September 02, 2013


I have a habit.  When I can't do something, it's impossible - can't be done.  When I can, it's easy - anyone can do it.

I just translated this, and got all but four words:

Il y avait beaucoup de scènes dans une cuisine, où l’on  buvait du café, fumait et discutait ferme, puis une autre avec Sandrine qui posait nue pour Gérard dans son atelier à la campagne, un concerto de Bach en fond sonore et ensuite celle où Mathilde retrouvait Philippe au bar d’un hôtel chic – cigarettes, champagne et conversation -, puis une nouvelle où Matthieu dansait avec Sylvie dans une boîte à la sono assourdissante, l’entraînait aux toilettes, lui faisait l’amour contre un lavabo et citait Montaigne quand il fut obligé de s’interrompre parce que quelqu’un s’escrimait sur la porte : « Il faut toujours avoir ses bottes aux pieds, prêt à partir » ; la séquence suivante, les deux tourtereaux étaient assis sur le trottoir devant la boîte de nuit, et discutaient en fumant….

Yes, that's one sentence.  And I got it. Well, most of it. So, of course - it's easy.

But, okay....I'm pleased. Even if I did learn, afterwards, that short sentences don't mean easy words.  Voila:

Incessantes, les causeries.  Des mots, des mots et encore des mots.  Mes problèmes, ses problèmes, tes problèmes, leurs problèmes, et de toute façon "la vie n'a pas de sens"... Au bout d'une heure environ, je n'ai plus été en mesure de lutter contre de décalage horaire. Je me suis endormi comme une masse dans mon fauteuil.  Lorsque je me suis réveillé en sursaut, Mathilde et Philippe s'envoyaient  des flûtes de champagne tout en tirant sur leurs cigarettes et en.... J'avais une impression de déjà-vu.

And that's about an hours worth of what the heck does THIS mean?, right there.


It's creepy, in a way....but fascinating.

From the bright folks at USC's Computational Learning and Motor Control Lab....

(That's - for some reason, that hyperlink doesn't always work!)

Sunday, September 01, 2013


Learned this morning that a person I know is up against a hard deadline to turn in a paper about a school event she'd taken during the summer.  Wish I could help.  That kind of situation is no fun at all....