Friday, June 27, 2003
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
- So you had Mr. Rogers growing up? I had Mr Rogers, and I had Mr. Dressup.
- You had Shel Silverstein, but I had Shel and Dennis Lee. My favourite Dennis Lee poem, "Bratty Brother", doesn't seem to be online according to Google, but this one will do.
- I sang Alouette and I's the B'y, as well as Short'nin Bread and Yankee Doodle.
- You had Peter, Paul and Mary, I had records by Sharon, Lois and Bram
- You had Maurice Sendak, but I read Where the Wild Things Are and also Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang by Mordecai Richler.
- You had Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read all her books plus all the Anne of Green Gables books by LM Montgomery.
- You had Richard Scarry (e.g. my favourite) but I had A Prairie Boy's Winter by William Kurelek.
- You had Judy Blume and Madeleine L'Engle and Beverly Cleary. I read those authors plus Gordon Korman, Ann Blades (Mary of Mile 18) and Farley Mowat.
More ways to know if you're Canadian.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
The English language teams with homophones. Although orally the same (yew cant here a difference), these pears of words halve discreet spellings. These duel-purpose words are a valuable cash of subtle variations to say exactly watt wee mien. Why should we mints words, or make English moor baron, when we can yews thee most precise whirred ware we knead it?
Many homophones are plane, route words from Old English. However, many more currant words are baste on foreign words or holey imported from other languages. Sum were originally alternate spellings witch became unique words over the aegis. Each word adze to the weighs wee can chews to express ourselves, and aides inn specificity. On the other hand, if you altar the spelling of a word so that it is now spelled the same as an existing word, the reader loses valuable clews and mite confuse its meaning.
Has this become a dyer problem, a sine of undo ignorants, or is it just a faze? It's hard to gage. I sea a grater incidents of these airs online, for instants on message boreds, web sights and in electronic male. It's knot a meer laps in spelling skills, though poor spelling may be the corps caws. Our dependents on spell checkers works four most spelling issues and even helps with use of capitol letters and the mane points of grammar butt we mussed learn homophone spelling ourselves.
I've even scene college graduates spell homophones wrong with offal frequency, which doesn't seam to bowed well four are complaisant English educators. The thyme is passed for patients. We knead to insure students are taut these words in the coarse of there English lessens, starting with grayed won. It's callus and crewel to leave the student to the booze of rued critics, embarrassed buy miner problems.
If eye may bee sew bowled, ide like to ask, pleas he'd yore spelling when you ewes homophones. You will urn my gratitude at leased. I weight with baited breath.
This essay contains 100 misused homophones. Inspired by Marilyn Bogusch Pryle's article, with reference to an online list of homophones.
- I'm sure most people know what 'to peek' means -- to look furtively, to peer through a crack or a hole. "He peeked curiously through the shades." Thankfully, I rarely see "this really peeked my interest" -- and if I do see that I assume it's simply a spelling mistake or typo, not an indicator of sloppy English thinking.
- We also usually know what 'peak' means as a noun. As a verb, it is related: it means to reach a maximum. So why isn't it right to say that "the interpersonal drama peaked your interest"? Because the verb 'peaked' doesn't take an object. This sentence would be complete as "The interpersonal drama peaked." Or to be clearer, "In issue 37, the interpersonal drama peaked." Got it? It's the subject of the sentence that reaches its peak, not the object. The phrase "peaked my interest" tacks an object onto a verb that doesn't take an object and is meaningless. Worse, it causes confusion. As a reader, I can't tell if your interest was aroused and may have grown after issue 37, or if your interest was at a maximum in issue 37 and declined thereafter. It's an important difference.
- The word we need here is "pique". It means to prick, to arouse, to excite (among other things). This verb takes a subject, the "interpersonal drama" for example, which is pricking, arousing, exciting something. What is the interpersonal drama piquing? It's piquing one's interest -- the object of the verb. So the correct sentence is "The interpersonal drama really piqued my interest." Sadly, this meaning seems to only be used in the context of interest or curiousity. I did look around and find that one's prospects can be piqued by a change in the situation, and one's career can be piqued by a trip abroad.
- What if you really do mean to say that your interest reached a maximum? Just make your interest the subject of the sentence. For example, you could say "My interest peaked when the interpersonal drama intensified in issue 37." Just remember that implies the maximum, that after issue 37 your interest declined. That's because 'peaked' also means to dwindle away. If you mean that your interest began to grow after issue 37, then you must use 'pique'.
- Another interesting meaning of 'piqued' is annoyed. When a person is 'piqued', we can tell what the word means in this context because the subject is a person, not a quality which can increase or decline or be aroused. But you'd better not say "I was piqued by the interpersonal drama in issue 37" unless you mean that it annoyed you.
This matters to me because English (or any other language, for that matter) is full of subtlety. "Pique" implies either aroused or annoyed, and "peak" (as a verb) means maximized, and the language is richer for having all these meanings. We can communicate with each other more effectively if we understand and make use of these subtleties. Language is already ambiguous enough without choosing the wrong spelling.
Definitions taken from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
Update: With sophisticated understanding of word meaning, we can have fun. The article about a man's career piqued by a visit to the Spice Islands is a cute pun because it makes me think of 'piquant' which means 'spicy'. A poem with the title "Piqued" could have three meanings. Is the poem about somebody who is annoyed? Or is it about somebody who is aroused? Without either a subject or an object in the title, the meaning is left ambiguous. Perhaps it's even a homonymic reference to 'peaked' as well, since the poem says "I was once a strong man... the clock has kept on ticking, ticking | and, I cannot stall the decline of me." Well that's a good example of somebody who has peaked. Whether or not the author intended all meanings in the title I can enjoy the wordplay. Or look at this quilt, which uses peaked points (a specific technique in quilting which creates triangles like peaks) but the quilt is named "Piqued", a reference perhaps to emotions either inspired by or having inspired this quilt. And this work is just beautiful -- I've never seen a poetic work that was created simply by highlight certain meanings from two words a dictionary and using those two words together in a bittersweetly ambiguous phrase.
Saturday, June 21, 2003
But I think my growing sympathy for the left grows largely from my belief that the right right now poses a greater threat to freedom than the left. Since I discovered my libertarianism, I've always justified my votes for Republicans on the grounds that I thought there was less chance of a worst-case Republican scenario coming to fruition than a worst-case Democrat scenario. That is, I thought there was a greater likelihood that our economy would degenerate into European socialism than that we'd become a police state, or an almost-theocracy. I still don't think the latter has much chance of happening, but the former certainly does, if it hasn't started to already.He may be right, but I'm not sure there's a whole lot of evidence for that. I at least am not hearing anything from the Democratic party these days. So it's easy to see concrete actions by Republicans or Republican-directed offices and see the limitations on freedom, then a combination of wishful thinking and criticism from Democrats leads one to feel that Democrats don't limit freedom as much.
On much of the rest I agree -- the Patriot act is scary, an increasing number of crimes are being federalized, etc, and I don't like any of that.
Friday, June 20, 2003
One time, a group of us were standing around in the atrium of ArsDigita HQ, and Philip was holding court. (As you may know, Philip is a talented public speaker with an exceptional ability to entertain an audience.) This time, Philip was describing how cool it would be to have a koi pond suspended from the ceiling of the atrium, so you could see the fish swimming from beneath and from all sides. Brian Stein replied, "You know what would be even better? A solid-gold trash can, burning cash 24/7." I don't think we would have laughed so long and hard if Brian had not struck a chord.To be honest, I don't think I directly experienced those particular good ol' days. Working at Microsoft in 1996-1999 was fine, but it was also in this period that the famous "shrimp vs. weenies" phrase was in common use (possibly originated by Mike Murray in 1993-94, ref). Then joining a startup in 2000, just as the boom was crashing down, getting a minimal amount of VC funding in the nick of time a year later, there's obviously not a lot of money to throw around in those circumstances. I've travelled around the world on computer industry business but stayed in a Hilton or equivalent luxury hotel only once, and flown first-class only once (on Microsoft's tab, due to somebody else's reservation, and I hear he got in trouble for providing our group with first-class reservations). Still, I'm not complaining, it's a fun business and a lucky way to see a few far-flung places even without daily shrimp cocktails.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
The web is a medium young readers can manage. Young people don't read newspapers; chances are they don't even know how. But they know how to play with computers. (Possibly this is the only thing they do know. Or almost the only.)The other assertion that made me snort in disgust was that "The tycoon who founds America's next great newspaper will help save the computer industry too." David justifies this statement because he believes the next great American Web newspaper will require so much more computing power and storage space that it will drive consumers to upgrade their computers. As if.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
- The Protato was invented in New Delhi by Indian scientists working for the government.
- It was created by inserting one gene from the amaranth plant, another native American plant.
- This food might be given poor children as part of the government's free midday meal program for schoolchildren.
- It contains substantially more lysine. A lack of lysine can affect brain development.
- Biochemist Govindarajan Padmanaban... hopes Western-based environmental groups and charities will not demonise the project in the same way as they did AstraZeneca's golden rice. "I think it would be morally indefensible to oppose it." (GENET)
- "Padmanaban who as director of India's prestigious Indian Institute of Science had signed a secret deal with Monsanto which even his fellow scientists of the Institute knew nothing about. ... genetically engineered potatoes will in fact create malnutrition because they will deny to vulnerable children the other nutrients available in grain amaranth and not available in potato. ... India is nutritionally better off without the pseudo solution to hunger offered by Datta & Padmanaban and the biotech lobby." (Hartmut Meyer on GENET)
- Greenpeace: "Years were spent in a lab trying to lever protein into potatoes, while cheap, protein-rich pulses grow abundantly all over India" (via Guardian. Devinder Sharma said the same thing: "What this country needs is pulses. They contain 20%-26% proteins..." [So what if cheap, protein-rich pulses grow all over India? They are either not cheap enough, not protein-rich enough, or not well-enough distributed, or else there wouldn't be a malnutrition problem.]
- Sharma again: "[India] is saddled with over 50 million tones of wheat and rice whereas some 320 million people go to bed empty stomach". [And the relevance is... ? How is this an argument against a protein-enriched potato?]
- Guardian: "New Delhi ... is also believed to have one eye on the £116bn global potato market." [That seems like a good thing to me. Why shouldn't India export potatos on the world market? That trade will benefit both India and the purchasers of the protato and may eventually pay for its development.]
- Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign ... says the team's goal is far more worthy than, say, creating crops resistant to a company's own weedkiller. "If you're going to use GM at all, use it for this," she says. "India's problem is that we're vegetarian, so pulses and legumes are the main protein source, but they're in short supply and expensive. The potato is good because it's cheap." (GENET).
- "since regular potatoes have very low protein, 30% more is still very low protein. 30% per cent more of not much is still not much." (Metafilter)
We've already tried various "natural" schemes to get extra protein to malnourished children. "None of the various schemes to provide such [protein-enhanced with peanut flour] bread to malnourished children since the 1960s has survived." (GENET).
Next point seems to be that this GM food is unnatural and constitutes a change -- and according to the precautionary principal change is always bad. Don't forget, the potato is not itself indigenous to India, or for that matter, Europe. It came from America. That importation caused a much larger change in agriculture, diet and the environment than the importation of a foreign gene into the potato genome.
Is 30% more than not much still not much? The potato arrived in Ireland a few hundred years ago and became popular in time to feed a growing and impoverished Irish population. Irish families subsisted on the outcome of their hand-tilled potato fields and nearly nothing else. While this wasn't a very balanced diet it did allow survival. Potatos with even a little extra protein and amino acids ought to be even better as a subsistence diet for the extremely poor.
Update: Found another link with some sensible commentary: "The nutritional value of potato proteins is high because its amino acid composition is balanced, containing the right amounts of lysine and methionine. It is not clear that the increased essential amino acid content is the result of the increased protein content or not."
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Like all cockeyed social notions, the plain English movement invites us to look around and see who's going to make a profit from it. A paranoid observer might think to detect a massive conspiracy. And here's how it goes: First we start providing the schools with lots of taxpayers' money to support research into quaint and curious innovations in teaching children how to read. This results in some extraordinary gimmick, and a very profitable one, not only for some professionals of education who are paid to cook it up but especially for that massive educational-industrial complex that makes and sells at high prices books and flash cards and sets of gadgets to go with every new fad. These people, of course, would like to see as many new fads as possible, because each one makes all the old stuff obsolete. What the gimmick is, is not important; for a while, and in some schools still, it was the weird notion that reading would be better taught without reference to the sounds of letters but rather through identifying whole words as symbols of something. The latest gimmick seems to be speed reading, which will make it possible, at a stiff price, to read a complete gothic romance in three minutes and forty seconds, thus ensuring a steady market for gothic romances. A well-trained keypunch operator could go through sixteen of them on her lunch hour, provided of course that she ate something like a sandwich or a slice of pizza. Speed reading does require the use of at least one hand.
Let the gimmick be whatever it is. Think of your own, if you need an example, something like printing vowels in different colors or providing new and tricky shapes for certain letters. These, of course, have been done, so you’ll have to stretch a bit; and, when you do come up with something that seems unspeakably zany, keep your mouth shut. If you mention it in public, it won't be long before someone offers to fund it. It's best to avoid offering the occasion for sin. But enough. Let's say we have a gimmick.
Now we experiment, being careful to use methods and controls that would make a first-year chemistry student blush and stating the problems and the expected results (those we call "outcomes") in the silliest possible jargon. Don't worry, we'll "prove" the efficacy of our gimmick (remember the new math?). As a result, or outcome, although we'd rather not use that word in the singular, more and more students in the public schools will read less and less.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that this means that our gimmick has failed. Pay attention. This means that the gimmick has succeeded. Remember, we have taken the role of dentists handing out lollipops to ensure that there will be no falling off of customers. Now that things are worse than ever, we view with alarm the "reading problem" in the schools. It's time for a new round of grants, projects, experimental proposals, expensive consultants, packets of materials, instruction booklets, sets of visual aids, more teachers, carpeted classrooms, air conditioning, just about anything you can imagine. It's all good for the education business, and if it seems to have been exaggerated, just you go footing around yourself and find anybody anywhere who proposes that we can teach reading (or anything else) better by spending less money.
The problem is not only researchers doing silly studies with negative results. The real problem is that any zany reading-improvement scheme is likely to work initially. The teachers who pick up a new scheme are the most likely to be dedicated, caring teachers who want to find a way to make their students read better. The extra attention from the teacher is likely to improve the students reading skills. The student is likely to be aware that something unusual is going on and may try harder. At least, the student will benefit from a temporary increase in attention because something new, wierd, different is being tried.
This extends to other learning of course (math, writing, history or whatever) and beyond. Zany schemes arise frequently in software management to improve software quality or programmer productivity. After discussing "Extreme Programming. one day, Ekr suggested "Butthole Programming". A practitioner of Butthole Programming (BP) may only write code when one thumb is shoved up his butthole. BP improves code quality because with only one hand on the keyboard, the BP practitioner can't write as much code. As we know, more code means more bugs. Therefore, BP means less bugs.
I wish I could recall where I read recently that many productivity studies in many industries suffer from the problem that the productivity increase is often the result of the study being done, not the new technique. Workers who are in the midst of being studied while performing a new technique just tend to do better overall, unless the new technique is truly a bad idea.
Friday, June 06, 2003
I've been thinking about Corey lately because I just finished reading "Losing The Race" by John McWhorter. This book discusses the black American cultural distrust or emotional distance from reading books and enjoying intellectual activity and achievement. Black kids apparently may get teased for "acting white" if they enjoy books or intellectual pursuits. It's a well-written book that focuses on reasoned arguments, and I enjoyed it. In this entry, I'm not so much making a comment on the book as riffing off the thoughts it triggered.
"Losing the Race" made me wonder how much different Corey's experience would have been had he grown up in the US, instead of Canada. He was adopted by white parents (who had two of their own kids, plus three other adopted kids of various shades) who clearly valued education, but what would have happened had he been immersed in American black youth culture? I'd like to think he would have excelled anyway. He was motivated (which I wasn't during those years, at least not motivated enough to actually work to get A+ grades since I was getting A grades without trying). He was proud of his intellectual achievement, and perhaps a little jealous of his status. As an interloper, an outsider, a loser who yet constantly threatened his previously undisputed top-of-the-class position, I suspect Corey didn't like me. That's too bad, because I always kind of liked him, and wish I knew what he's doing now. I thought we might have something in common that I didn't find in any other kid in my class -- certainly not my best friend, Jenny. Although Jenny was terrific and I needed her social skills advice desperately, in our graduation speeches (we each wrote a speech about a classmate) she claimed she liked me even though I read encyclopias. That wasn't true, by the way -- I merely consulted encyclopedias, and browsed them from time to time. Heh.
That school had caring and dedicated white teachers, both male and female. There was one main teacher for each of the four grades. I remember Mrs. Rose Marigold, the fifth-grade teacher, pink and fluffy-haired and maternal. Mr. Wilson was the sixth-grade teacher who was wierd and threatening, but he took us all on a riverside night-time hike and mass sleepover associated with reading Tom Sawyer, which was way cool. I remember the music teacher, who was an erratic and shrill disciplinarian but truly loved music and dragged the entire school through a full musical production every year. The eight-grade teacher Mr. Siddall was the coolest because he treated the eighth graders almost as adults, or so we felt, which combined with being the oldest in the school, meant that eighth-graders ruled. There were a few other teachers but remember this was a very small school. Despite that, we had a fair number of activities: basketball and volleyball teams which competed against other local schools, an arts publication that I wrote a couple stories for and drew a couple pictures for, and the yearly musicals. There was a bare idea of both remedial and enrichment classes in this school, I can recall once or twice going to talk to somebody who was supposed to provide enrichment services for our school as well as several others but it was really rather useless. The only student in my class who was involved in notably enriching activities was Corey. In eighth grade he took ninth-grade math to get a leg up on high school the following year. We both however competed in the province-wide yearly math contests for top math students, where I probably did better than him.
Many things changed the following year when we all got bussed to the township high school. Now there were over a thousand students in grades nine through "OAC" year (equivalent to a thirteenth grade, a now-defunct extra year of high school unique to Ontario -- stands for Ontario Academic Credit and supposedly prepares students for university). Now my poor social skills really crippled me, because the students in the smaller school had truly been kind and tolerant. Maybe the class was just too small for anybody to tolerate actual meanness. In high school however, with many more students, particularly thirteen-year olds in the throes of teenage crises, anxious to establish their roles in a much bigger social environment, I experienced real cruelty. (Wilma and the Jehovah's Witness did not come to high school. Wilma had to quit school altogether due to her Mennonite church rules.) Corey did not, I believe, experience cruelty (although nor did he perpetrate it).
Interestingly, both Corey and I were relatively short yet capable basketball players, at least capable enough to make the school teams. We both had no fear, dribbling the ball right under the tall guards and getting bruises as those kids came down from the rebound with their elbows out and into our faces. We both continued to get high grades, although Corey now savvily downplayed this. He made his way into the truly popular crowd. I made friends with Nathan (where are you, Nathan?) who was as geeky and excluded as me but shared a love of science fiction. I also made friends among a group of serious Christians who found me, again, odd (atheist) yet acceptable, and they even gave up on trying to convert me. I guess I benefitted from some of the high moral standards inculcated in these exceedingly Christian student group members, although I recall their high moral standards and spirit of acceptance didn't extend to gays. We knew one likely homosexual teen from another high school -- one of these extremely Christian kids declared he wouldn't let that homo into his house and another was sure his parents wouldn't either. So real social exclusion was for geeks, like me, despite the cachet of making the basketball team, and gays.
I was the only girl in the computer science class in grade ten, moreover I was taking it a year early. The teacher was a gentle intelligent Indian (from India, not native). He bemusedly recognized that I was the best programmer in the class by far, getting me involved in programming competitions and extracurricular projects. He also recognized that as the only girl in the class I was a serious distraction, when I finished the hour's work in the first 20 minutes and then hung around chatting with whoever else wasn't programming. "Lisa, why don't you let the guys get back to work?" I guess when there are no other females around at all, and when the popular kids aren't there to see you do it, it's OK to talk to the geek girl. I had my first taste of socio-sexual power in grade ten, when I was fifteen. OK, so "socio-sexual power" is vastly overstating it. I got the second-highest score in the year's math competition in the entire county. The awards ceremony was an evening affair with dinner in Waterloo. I was sick and tired of being "the geek" but didn't know how to break out of the pigeonhole I found myself in, so I considered not going. Instead, my mom advised me to wear a low-necked top and short skirt. I remember exactly how the top and skirt looked because that evening I received the first positive attention ever -- from seventeen year old boys, no less! It was just me and a couple guys having a mature conversation, with them appearing interested in what I was saying and showing approval in their smiles and genial tones, but this was entirely new for me -- the first time that attention was paid by boys to me at the same time that other girls (even geekier!) were present. The popular girls and boys had been flirting for years, but not me. This evening clearly made a big impression on me -- for the next few years I still achieved high grades in school, but now I also cultivated short skirts (previously non-existent in my wardrobe which consisted mostly of corduroy pants) and low-necked or tight shirts. This didn't change my popularity at my high school but it worked somewhat with people who didn't have pre-conceived notions of me.
Back to Corey. Although I now never interacted with him, and we probably didn't have many classes together, it was impossible to ignore him. In grade twelve he ran for student body president. His campaign was supported by many and it was really clever. He was still the only black student in the entire grade, and at times the only black kid in school. In this nearly uniformly white atmosphere, he appropriated the slogans of black civil rights activists: huge dramatic posters with "Black is Back" and "Black Power" were strung in our hallways and cafeteria. I believe most high school students had no awareness of the symbology behind these slogans. It was simply a campaign to remind everybody that Corey was the obvious, best candidate for the job, so obviously it didn't need to be stated explicitly -- and as a reminder that he was cooler than anybody, since coolness was the real winning characteristic in high school elections. When the election finally came, it was no contest -- he won handily.
So what am I saying? I guess I'm saying a certain level of discrimination is normal. Kids just do it to certain other kids. I minded at the time, I don't now. I found more of "my own kind" eventually, in youth orchestra, then in university. It's one of the challenges we might have to face. What Corey did with his high school life was good - whatever challenges he faced, though they weren't the same ones I faced, I know all teens find the teen years difficult. He succeeded in school and on the basketball team, developed leadership skills and went on to university. In the meantime he wasn't cruel, at least not to me. What you start with matters, and so does what you're given, but what you do with your life matters so much more.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
After a bit of search, Comments on Lessig's blog point to many, many other commercial spaces banning photography:
- Fry's Electronics
- Lenox Square in Atlanta and other unnamed malls
- a camera store(!)
- Toys R Us
- "any mom & pop fish or vegetable market in San Francisco's Chinatown"
- Crate and Barrel
- Apple retail stores
- Giant Foods Grocery
- In N Out burger
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