Tuesday, 2017 June 20, 23:06 — cartoons

And so it reiterates

In the last couple of years I’ve looked at thousands of webcomics. Sometimes I wish I’d kept a list of those whose first page has a caption like “((and) so) it begins.”

Saturday, 2017 June 3, 21:28 — sciences

how (some) fireflies do it

Fireflies in Borneo have a wonderfully simple and distributed way of synchronizing their blinks.

If I had the skill I’d make a screensaver of it. A couple of ways to play with the concept:

I wouldn’t expect all bugs to have exactly the same period, but how much variation is tolerable? What if there are two populations, indistinguishable except that their periods differ irrationally?

What if each bug has a different hue, and responds only to others that are near on the color wheel (perhaps only in one direction)? Might a stable cycle result, rather than synchrony of all?

Saturday, 2017 May 27, 17:30 — heraldry, language, prose

less than fifty years later

I’ve read Heinlein’s Red Planet three times, starting at age seven or eight, and each time found that I soon forgot most of the plot. One thing that stuck with me was that the school’s new head signaled his evil by ordering the boys to paint their space-helmets a uniform brown, in place of the zebra stripes and other fanciful personalizations; I think that helped trigger my early interest in heraldry!

Another random bit that stuck with me is the place-name Charax, which I took to be a crude approximation to the Martian name, said to be very hard for humans to pronounce with its “triple gutturals”. Today I learned that Charax was a Roman camp in Crimea.

Tuesday, 2017 May 23, 16:19 — cinema, language

questions of emphasis

In Sherlock episode “The Lying Detective”, the phrase serial killer is uttered many times, always stressing the first word – as if the second were a given, even when (for the speakers) any killings are hypothetical. That impaired my enjoyment of a generally well-written episode.

I’ve noticed the phenomenon before: when a phrase becomes a fixed lexeme, many people, perhaps most, are deaf to its components. For my ex, the phrase beef jerky was in such perfect union that she often said “turkey beef-jerky”. Not Always Right has occasional tales of restaurant workers and customers for whom the title “bacon lettuce & tomato sandwich” does not imply the presence of bacon.

Tuesday, 2017 April 11, 20:55 — blogdom

you can talk to me now

When I changed the site to HTTPS but didn’t change a corresponding setting in WordPress, comments were broken. Should be working now.

Friday, 2017 March 17, 21:31 — language

a sort of conlang

I’m re-reading Strugatsky‘s Hard to Be a God. (I read it thirty-odd years ago and forgot nearly everything.) This is a newer translation, by Olena Bormashenko. At one point the protagonist eavesdrops on conspirators, who say:

“The chonted will shlake, and they’ll unbiggedly shump the margays with a hollow blackery. That’s twenty long heapers already. It’d be marky to knork the motleners. But the heapers are bedegging redderly. This is how we’ll heaten the rasten. That’s our struntle.”

“That’s tooky jelly.”

“This is our struntle. Denooting with us isn’t rastenly for your grawpers. It’s revided?”

Though I know only a few words of Russian, I would like to see the original of this passage!

Monday, 2017 February 20, 12:02 — language

the death of English, part MMXVII


Like much of the news that ekes its way out of the totalitarian state, the murder is equal parts scary, sad, and vaguely comical.

I don’t think I had seen this extension of eke before.

Once upon a time, eke meant ‘also’; a relic of that sense is the word nickname, from an eke-name. (The transfer of the n from the article to the root was, I guess, favored by the alliteration.)

The phrase eke out a living meant ‘to supplement a fixed stipend’, as in The village priest eked out his meager living (i.e., the pay he got as priest) by making and selling strawberry jam. I guess that sense went away when the noun living itself got a broader sense; if your ‘living’ is your whole income, however obtained, you don’t add to it.

So eke out (a living, or anything else) came to mean ‘obtain with difficulty’.

Information or water can be said to ‘find’ a way out of its container, but it seems a bit much to suggest that it does so with effort.

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