Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dead Mouse in the Wall

One of the hazards of living in a big old house way out in the country is mice. Almost every June, I get a dead mouse in the wall. You can smell it. I could say it reeks, but that would be an understatement. Fortunately I can always burn incense to cover the odor. Inside of a week, the smell will be gone.

Oddly enough, I never catch any mice in mousetraps in the summertime— that happens into the fall, when it gets cold out. No, in June they just die inside the walls.

Older ThinkPad Kaput

Don't worry. My regular, everyday IBM ThinkPad— the one with Linux on it, the one I use to do everything but fry eggs— is fine. What went belly-up this morning was my older ThinkPad, an old thick sturdy obsolescent thing which has long since been demoted to a glorified typewriter. Well, that, plus it has on it some audio and video editing software the likes of which is not yet available for Linux.

Anyhow, the screen on the older ThinkPad this morning is nothing but a striated whitish-grey. Except for the screen, it still seems to work. But that's a mighty big "except." Oh well. I have backups of most of the data on zip disks, and I can still work from the DOS command line with my eyes closed, so it should be no problem to salvage the few newer documents.

I got that older ThinkPad six years ago, just before I moved over here to Iowa. Ah, to think of those bygone days of Windows 98 and Netscape 4.5! HotBot, Webcrawler, GoTo, Excite Search. Personal homepages on Xoom, NetTaxi, AcmeCity, NBCi. Sites with logos of animated flaming letters. Sites designed with nary a thought for style, unreadable sites with oversized lavender letters on a lime-green background. Blink tags. Gopherspace. MultiProxy. DejaNews. The Internet is a far different world today: I think time on the Internet proceeds by dog years.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

I Love Lucy

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

A couple of years ago, there was a piece on TV about the original TV talk show, from way back into the late forties. Turns out it was still on TV, some TV station out in New York City— had been on the air all these years, with its original host— and it had now been "dug up," like some kind of prehistoric fossil.

Last night I had a dream along similar lines, which had me laughing so hard, I couldn't get back to sleep again for the rest of the night. In this dream, I was watching a TV interview. A young nineties type guy is interviewing two old duffers, the producer and director of the I Love Lucy show— which, incredibly, had actually remained part of the network lineup all these years, only it had sunk into total obscurity.

These two old white-haired duffers sit there— one wearing a French beret, the other with big, heavy, old dark-framed horse glasses— trying to look arty, but they only succeed in looking completely out of touch. And this young nineties fellow is interviewing them...

—"Now, tell me... It's been many, many years, in fact it's been well over a generation now, since Ricky Ricardo has appeared on your show. How have you dealt with this?"

The two old men shift, as if caught off guard.

"Well... actually we haven't gotten around to dealing with it yet... We've been planning, one of these years... "

"You know, we've wracked our brains, trying to figure out a way to deal with that one. We know many of the viewers would be heartbroken."

"We've hoped, we've sort of hoped that many of them haven't really noticed yet..."

"We had toyed with the idea, you know— many, many years back, early on, there was that classic episode where Ricky Ricardo was kidnapped by those green women from Venus. We had played with the idea of doing a remake of that episode, as an explanation of why he was gone. But then we thought— well, no, TV viewers today are much better educated about astronomy, it would never work."

—"And what about Lucy? You know, it's also been many, many years since Lucy has appeared on the show."

At this, the two old men glance at each other, sour and sheepish, chagrined, as if they had hoped to get away without having to deal with this question.

"Well... for a long time there, we got along using those life-size cardboard cutouts..."

"Promotional photos mounted on cardboard, you know."

"But then somehow those cardboard cutouts got misplaced. I don't know, we looked everywhere, we couldn't find them."

"There was a problem, we couldn't take another photo and blow it up to life size and mount it, there was a problem over copyrights."

"I tell you, we've tried everything to track down the owners of those copyrights. We've even placed classified ads in the paper, asking the owner of those copyrights to meet us for lunch."

"But so far, we've just sat there at the restaurant, alone. For whatever reason, nobody has shown up."

The interviewer—"Well, has it ever occurred to you that perhaps nobody has shown up, because you yourselves are the owners of the copyrights?"

The old men look startled. "Well, now I wonder if that isn't a possibility!"

"We'll have to talk to our lawyers about that one!"

—"And what about Fred and Ethel?"

At this, the two men brighten up.

"Fred and Ethel appeared on the show, until they died."

The two old men look considerably pleased with themselves at this reply, as if, you can't get us on that one!

The interviewer runs his hand through his hair. "But how have you managed to keep doing the show all these years, with all the characters gone?"

"Well, for several years there it was a real challenge..."

"We came up with some very innovative camera angles..."

"But then, after a few false starts, we came up with what we feel is the solution. And it's worked out quite well..."

"You see, now we have a group of young people on the show. They're getting together— it's as if they have been eyewitnesses to the events of the episode— they're getting together, and they're sitting there and talking it over. They're sitting there and it's like, 'Let's rap!'"

"We feel it's worked out quite well."

"We hoped this move would attract more viewers from the younger set."

"It's also made it easier and more economical to do shows that would otherwise have been much harder to do— such as that one episode where Lucy got those tattoos..."

"Or that episode last season, where Godzilla was attacking the city!"

—"Now, how is it, I notice, looking at the network schedule, that your show airs at three in the morning..."

"Well, yes, that was a compromise..."

"Would you believe, at one point there the network actually wanted to cancel the show! But we managed at last to convince them, that with a show with the long history and tradition of ours, ratings could not be the only consideration..."

And then I woke up.


Monday, June 27, 2005

Burnham's Laws

Back almost 20 years ago, I used to have posted on my refrigerator an intriguing little list called "Burnham's Laws," brainchild of James Burnham:
  1. Everybody knows everything.
  2. Who says A must say B.
  3. Just as good, isn't.
  4. You cannot invest in retrospect.
  5. Wherever there is prohibition there's a bootlegger.
  6. In every project there's a Schlamm.
  7. You can't divorce yourself.
  8. Every member must pay his dues.
  9. No excuse, sir.
  10. If there's no alternative, there's no problem.
Burnham was a senior editor at National Review, and I hate to admit I'm old enough that I remember reading him— if I remember correctly, he was a Trotskyite-turned-conservative. His books The Managerial Revolution (1941) and The Suicide of the West (1964) are still worth a read. George Orwell based his threefold division of the world into Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, in 1984, on Burnham's analysis in The Managerial Revolution.


Saturday, June 25, 2005

You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Chinas

Ordinarily when Thunderbird routes spam into the junk bucket, I ignore it. But just now, one piece of spam managed to elude my filter, and in the midst of the usual spam semi-nonsense, I happened to notice this gem of a line:

"Dyslexics of the world, untie!"

Dreams of Keys

For years, somebody has been keeping a "dream journal." Of nothing but dreams about keys. House keys, car keys, computer keys, musical keys. Tons and tons of weird dreams about keys.

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Friday, June 24, 2005


Today is my birthday— 49 years old. Yes, at 4:49 AM on June 24, 1956 I was born at the old Madison General Hospital, in Madison, Wisconsin. It was back in the days of tailfins and Elvis: whoever would've guessed that 49 years later I would be sitting here in my own home at the keyboard of a computer, publishing the news into cyberspace? ("What, no flying car?")

One of the benefits of working a job like mine, where I don't have to punch any timeclock, is that I've contrived to arrange my schedule this week so that I get today off. May just sit around, may head out somewhere, we'll have to see.

A few notable birthdays from years past:

9th birthday (1965):  My cousins came to visit for a few days. I got a wooden chess set for my birthday. Then I came down with the mumps, dammit!

18th birthday (1974):  I was working on a homemade mah-jongg set. I found that being 18, and an adult, felt very different— well, for about six hours, anyway.

19th birthday (1975):  I was working on a set of tiles for the Quintuple Arcana (in my own Hermetic language, called Mna Jondir-Pantho Zinisa), a board game I was inventing which was like no game you've ever heard of before.

23rd birthday (1979):  Living in an apartment on Langdon Street in Madison, and coasting through the summer on what I'd earned the year before as a teaching assistant in the math department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Went down to the Parthenon on State Street for a gyros sandwich, then went out to the theater to see a movie.

28th birthday (1984):  Living out in Washington State, up in the Cascade Mountains. Took a few days of vacation to go up to Seattle. The Pike Place Market. Dinner in a Bolivian restaurant, good food but very slow service.

32nd birthday (1988):  Living in Durham, North Carolina, a student at Duke University. Living that summer off proceeds from the sale of my nigh-complete collection of Fantastic Four comics. I took the day off and drove up to Richmond, Virginia.

33rd birthday (1989):  Spending the summer studying for my prelims in the fall. My birthday was the only day all summer, besides the Fourth of July, that I didn't spend 12 to 14 hours a day studying: went down to Chapel Hill and wandered Franklin Street for the day.

38th birthday (1994):  Living in Mendota, Illinois. Some of my parishioners threw a birthday party for me.

40th birthday (1996):  A horrible summer. By unforeseen circumstances that would be considered too implausible if they occurred in a work of fiction, I found myself trapped, working in a warehouse, saving and scheming for my infamous midlife-crisis 2000-mile cross-continent Escape to Seattle later that summer.

41st birthday (1997):  Back in the same warehouse, and in the midst of my "latter turning." Utterly crushed down by life, I could now in a strange new way "see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower."

43rd birthday (1999):  Packing to move to Iowa. This was also the summer I finally got home Internet access.

49th birthday (2005):  And here I am, blesséd to be here. Still have a few loose ends to pull together for this Sunday, and for the upcoming Eitzen Lions Fourth of July event. But not today...


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Theological Quiz

So I took the quiz, and it sez...

Karl Barth
You scored as Neo orthodox. You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Roman Catholic




Reformed Evangelical


Classical Liberal




Modern Liberal




What's your theological worldview?
created with

Yeah, that came out exactly as I would've predicted: Karl Barth and neo-orthodoxy at the top of the list, followed by Pietism (actually, more à la the older German mystical pietism than anything Wesleyan); with fundamentalism and theological liberalism in a distant last place.

(h/t Little Miss Attila)


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Playing Cards

Last night I was sorting through my playing card collection, which I haven't touched in ages. Well, starting to sort through it... these pictures barely scratch the surface:

card decks
Fig. 1  Some older card decks, all of them red and most of them pinochle.

spotter cards
Fig. 2  "International Aircraft Silhouettes" spotter cards. "This special pack of spotter playing cards has been prepared to assist you in learning the characteristics of United Nations and Enemy Aircraft." Original World War II vintage, not a modern reprint.

forcolar cards
Fig. 3  Forcolar cards, ©1947. "Here we present, in line with the 600-year-old evolution of the playing card, the latest, most practical and easiest reading card in the world." Spades are black, clubs green, hearts red, and diamonds yellow, with indices in all four corners. Forcolar cards were obviously only a passing fad, but I see them turning up fairly often in second-hand shops.

some'r'set cards
Fig. 4  Some'r'set cards. Publisher: Andy's Place, Minden, Nebr. No, these are not Rook cards, and they are not fraction cards! Rather, these cards are based more or less on dominoes. I have quite a number of Some'r'set decks, of differing composition and design— several of them from Nebraska, one (which actually seems to be older) made by Parker Brothers, and one (evidently the oldest of all) by the Some'r'set Card Co., Chicago.

spanish cards
Fig. 5  Uncut sheet of Spanish playing cards. On the back: "Banque Commerciale du Maroc." I got these at a place where I used to work: we would get pallets of role playing games in, with these sheets in between the layers on the pallet.


Monday, June 20, 2005

Childhood's Meme

Caltechgirl tells me I'm it in the childhood meme: what are five things I miss from childhood?

(1) Not having to work for a living. Food, clothing, shelter, and toys were simply provided. I didn't have to worry about bills, I didn't have to worry about what needs to be done tomorrow and next week. At worst I had to mow the lawn. You hear about people who win the state lottery, and they say they're going to keep working at their same old job. Ha! Look, much as I love my work, if I ever won the lottery, I would (a) buy a Hummer, and (b) retire.

(2) The summertime. Three months of hot weather— when I was young, I loved temperatures up in the 90s. Three months when I was free to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted; or do nothing at all, if I pleased. I remember during the summer I often had no idea what calendar date it was— it was just, "Oh, this is mid-June." Out to the fields west of town, on foot or by bike. Sitting at an old cast-iron manual typewriter, and painstakingly typing up science-fiction stories. Playing with other kids in the neighborhood. Going down to Rowan Crick.

(3) The life of a vanished Triassic era. People didn't lock the door at night. We got our groceries at Milo's neighborhood grocery store, where you could buy candy for a penny a piece. Color TV was just coming in, and like most people we knew, we still had a black and white TV. Gilligan's Island. The Beverly Hillbillies. Green Acres. Star Trek. Oh, and music: the Beatles were just invading our shores, and I remember watching them on The Ed Sullivan Show. I remember watching Neil Armstrong live from the surface of the Moon. I remember a culture which had not yet been torn asunder and polarized. I remember when comic books cost only 12¢: Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four...

(4) Discovering things for the first time. I learned the basic moves in chess at age three, and then at age nine I learned some of the odd points like castling, and capturing a pawn en passant: I remember vaguely assuming that there must be a large and almost endless collection of such odd exceptional rules in chess (there aren't, as I was rather disappointed to learn). I remember learning card games, pinochle and canasta and schafskopf and whatnot: again, learning them from a vast storehouse of games I'd never heard of before. Try finding me a game now that I haven't already heard of. I remember discovering Mark Twain, and reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; and staying up most of the night reading Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki. I remember the glory and the joy of first learning algebra, and of sharing Plato's wonder at tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron.

(5) Things you know that just ain't so. When I was a kid, I simply knew that if you cut yourself on glass, you would go floating up to the ceiling. I supposedly knew of several such incidents. A thief had broken into a gas station nearby us, and cut himself on the plate glass window breaking in. When the owner arrived to open up the station in the morning, he found the thief floating on the ceiling. A friend of my Dad's, a pastor in Madison, had forgotten the keys to his church and had tried to break the glass by the door to get in. A parishioner arrived some time later, to find the pastor floating on the ceiling. I have no idea where I ever got this notion, but I had a number of such peculiar misconceptions when I was a kid.

There were also aspects of my childhood that I do not miss. I brought away from my grade school years a perfect white-hot hatred of school bullies, and of anyone big or small who walks, talks, and quacks like a school bully. To this day, only fear of God and the law prevents me from dealing with bullies as they so richly deserve— that is to say, bludgeoning them with a good stout length of steel pipe, until they are flattened out of all recognition, like roadkill.

I somehow succeeded, much moreso than most people, in carrying some features of childhood forward into my adult years. I spent most of my life up through age 35 as a perpetual student, and never really held a long-term job until I was past 40. There is a way to perpetually see all things as if for the first time, but since our left-brain Cartesian culture will give you no help on mysticism, you'll have to learn it on your own. And I would maintain to this day that our younger misconceptions may well be of epistemological import: see Walker Percy on metaphor as mistake.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Da Capo al Fine

I was over at someone's place for dinner after church today, and I happened to overhear a five-year-old's version of a well-known song:
"roe, a deer, a deer, a deer,
  far, a long long way to go,
  me, a name I call myself,
  far, a long long way to go..."
Repeat over and over and over again, until your head explodes...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Happy Golden Anniversary!

Today is my folks' 50th wedding anniversary. We went out to the restaurant to celebrate. In fact, we went out to the restaurant twice, yesterday and today.

Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom & Dad!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Fourth of July, Part 2

Fourth of July, Part 2
...Beware the sound of wooden teeth clacking in the dark!

(Movie poster artwork, courtesy of my brother Steven)


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Duck and Pheasant Glasses

duck and pheasant glasses
The windowsill above my kitchen sink, looking south across lawn and cornfields. Corn bins in the distance. On the windowsill, assorted glasses of I'd guess 1950s and 1960s vintage. Ducks and pheasants on the side, printed in reds and greens and blacks and whites. Yellows on some glasses instead of white. Ducks and pheasants taking to the air, with hunter and hunting dog in the distance.

duck and pheasant glasses
The smallest size glass, I remember drinking from in the kitchen of my grandparents' farmhouse when I was a kid. The other glasses I've picked up here and there over the years: in antique shops I often run across various styles of duck and pheasant glasses.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Don't Loose You Head!

Time was, nobody saw as many dead bodies as a reporter on the crime beat, and nobody saw as many misspelled words as an English teacher. But nowadays, thanks to the Internet, anyone can get to read just as many misspellings and mangled usages as any English teacher.

For instance, before I got on the Internet, I don't believe I had ever in my life seen the word lose misspelled as loose: "We knew we were going to loose the game."

I just don't get it. I mean, to my eye, loose doesn't look like "looze." It doesn't even remotely look like "looze"; it looks like "looss," and to me it could never look like anything but "looss."

Then there's the use of you as a possessive— that is, you in place of your: "What is you name?" Or "Don't loose you head!"

Once again, I simply do not get it. Many a time down through the years, I've encountered written confusion between your and you're. But never in my life out here in meatspace— indeed, never in my life until I got on the Internet— had I ever seen you used in place of your.

There are many of these Common Internet Misspellings— misspellings that I see often on the Internet, but seldom if ever saw back in the pre-WWW era.

For instance, definately is a Common Internet Misspelling (CIM) for definitely.

And formally known as is a CIM for formerly known as.

Just as midas well is a CIM for might as well.

Just as doggy-dog world is a CIM for dog-eat-dog world.

And just as choldren, childern, and even choldern are CIMs for children. (Though I do sometimes hear people pronounce children as "chohldren." Just as I often hear people say "melk" for milk.)

I tend to be "usage first" when it comes to matters of grammar— note, "usage first," not "usage, the only arbiter"— you know, ain't, split infinitives, that sort of thing. But on matters of spelling, I tend to be much more sticky. I think it's no coincidence that just in recent years— just since the Internet became popular— I've begun to run across "Internet-like" misspellings frequently— not just once in a while, but frequently— not only on websites, but also on product labels and on professionally printed, publicly posted signs.

And whether on a website or in everyday life, I do draw the line at the likes of "southmore" for sophomore, and (no, I'm not making this one up) "southball" for softball.


Monday, June 13, 2005

To Light Saber, or Not to Light Saber?

Recently I was mentioning this cool, better-even-than-Harry-Potter magic wand that I got. And I wrapped it up by saying, "Now, where can I get a good light saber?"

Caltechgirl and Grand Moff Trojan were mentioning where I might find a light saber. I looked around and found several outfits online. And now I'm fighting temptation.

I'm trying to convince myself that no, I'm not really going to buy a light saber from Park Sabers. And that no, I'm not really trying to decide between the Shadow and the Arc-Wave.

With a blue blade, mind you.

We've all heard the jokes about how dad ends up playing with the toys that were ostensibly bought for the kids. Well, being single and without offspring, I don't even have that excuse. I simply buy toys for myself. Once I lose the battle with temptation. Once I overcome that little voice within me that says, "Paul, what in the world are you going to do with a light saber?!"

I don't really want to get a light saber, do I? (They look so cool.) A Shadow or an Arc-Wave? (I could go out in my back yard and fight battles.) With a blue blade. (Definitely blue...)

Resist... must resist the temptation...

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Language of My Own

When I was 13 years old, in eighth grade, I started constructing my own language. We're not talking a short word list or a few limited pieces of jargon, we're talking an entire functioning language. With its own grammar, its own vocabulary, its own idioms, and its own meanings which are often hard to translate into English. I kept on working on this language for years. I'm still working on it today, 35 years later.

Mna Vanant Fnidis Dhalathlo mna Sthiloth
The language— which is called Hermetic, or in Hermetic itself, mna Vanantha— rapidly took on a life of its own. I'd heard of "international" languages like Esperanto or Volapük, but those first few years I was working on my own language, as far as I knew I was the only person in the world who had ever constructed his own language for no practical reason at all, just out of sheer love of the language itself as it emerged and grew.

Then when I was a sophomore or junior in high school, my English teacher tipped me off about Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. I immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Tolkien: he was the first person I ever heard of who had done with constructed languages what I was doing with them. Though by then, Hermetic was too far along to be influenced by Tolkien.

The Hermetic noun has three numbers: singular, dual, and plural. Ten noun cases: nominative, accusative, equative, genitive, dative, illative, locative, instrumental, interrogative, and vocative. The Hermetic verb has two persons, two modes, three tenses, eight moods, and five aspects, to say nothing of specially inflected forms for use in subordinate clauses.

Mna Dhalathlw'Adis Sitavisa cai Tistrya
Ai, gaimoz it dhalvanov mna pano vagov avnav icvaolis?! (English translate: "What the deuce is a person supposed to do with all this, anyway?!") Well, at age 17 I wrote a book in my language, entitled Mna Sipri Cilama ("The Celestial Labors"). By this time I was also working out the Hermetic people and their culture, and this book was the apocalyptic scripture of Hermetic Dualism, which is in some ways a take on gnosticism, although here it was the evil sun-god, Rotas, who was trying to free the world from multiplicity and return it to the undivided unity of the primordial point. While it was the good moon-god, Dhalbembu, who was struggling to preserve the "myriad-faceted jewel" of this tangled world in all its diversity. Think the Silmarillion, only worse.

Mna Cathis mna Sthiloth
To read and comprehend Mna Sipri Cilama in the original, you need to understand more than just Hermetic vocabulary and grammar. You need to fathom the nuances of Hermetic— the finely shaded inward "feel" of the language, of terms and idioms and concepts which defy translation. How can I convey the meaning of Hermetic terms such as dhnamo and athlo? Each denotes awesome power, and yet dhnamo is the power of lightning, of the sword stroke, of main and might. While athlo is the power of the unforeseen chess gambit, of architectural form, of perfect balance, of the craftsman's master touch. To the Hermetic mind, it is obvious that the sun is dhnama, while the moon is athla.

I was speaking, reading, writing, and thinking in a language of my own. You want to hear how Hermetic sounds? Here's an MP3 of me reading aloud from chapter 25 of Mna Sipri Cilama.

Mna Dhalbembu Thalis Pirisa Zvirol
Try to grasp how alien Hermetic is, not just outwardly but inwardly. Not only had I constructed a language of my own, but in a sense I had become a one-man folk. Here I was, 17 years old, living in a small town in southern Wisconsin, and spontaneously inhabiting a thought-world purner as alien and as remote as the culture of the ancient Maya.

Yet at the same time I remained a committed and quite traditional Presbyterian. Hey, no problem: by this time I was reading things like Tolkien's essay on "subcreation." I totally grokked what Tolkien was up to; because, from before I ever even heard of Tolkien, I'd been doing the same thing myself.

But like I say, I was inhabiting a world of my own. A world which was (and is) an important part of who I am. But a world which, by its nature, I was unable to share with anyone. That can be very lonely. In the late 1970s I was in correspondence, for a time, with a couple of people out there in "fandom" who had created their own languages. And down through the years, I heard odd rumors here and there. But until just over two years ago, I thought that we language-makers must be an exceedingly rare and almost unheard-of phenomenon.

Then I stumbled across the website of Sally Caves, an English professor who had begun creating her own language, Teonaht, when she was only nine years old. And through her site I found all sorts of other sites of people who had their own "constructed languages" or "conlangs." I thought to myself, Ai, gaimoz il yothov dhalvanof vagi ridalcary'avn'ist? ("What the deuce are all these websites about, anyway?") I contacted Sally, and she introduced me to the conlang community out there on the Internet.

Turns out that constructing a language of your own is uncommon, but hardly unheard of. There are hundreds of us out there. Some people nowadays do it because of Tolkien, or because they heard of "conlanging" and wanted to try it out for themselves. But there are a good number of us conlangers— like Sally Caves or myself— who simply started making up a language of our own spontaneously, often in childhood, for no practical reason, in endless detail, and with no idea that anyone else before us had ever blazed this trail. It's like being driven. It becomes an obsession. It's almost like glossolalia on a slow burn.

The other day I turned on the radio, and the AM stations were drowned out by the loud crashing static of summer thunderstorms. The first thought that came into my mind— I kid you not— was, O chimo pronthisol cijal! Rough English translate: "Listen to the echo of distant thundering!"

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Dah-Da-Da-DAH! Dah-Da-Da-DAH!!!

Caltechgirl notes that, over the course of this summer, the BBC will be providing all nine of Beethoven's symphonies for free and legal download.

Hurry up, five of the symphonies are available online right now. Symphonies 1 and 3 will be up through Monday June 13, and Symphonies 2, 4, and 5 will be available through Tuesday June 14.

Now if only I hadn't gone and ordered all nine symphonies on CD from Amazon, just a few months ago...

Comment Spam

Well, I've just passed a threshold of sorts. My blog just received its first piece of comment spam. This morning in my e-mail inbox I found that someone known as "Digital Camera" just placed the following comment on a post of mine about Christmas Shopping, from way back in December: "You can't find a better bargain finder than this good luck with christmas shopping. Bargain Finder" [link omitted].

Of course, that comment ain't there no more. Bwahahahahaha!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Chunk It!

I once knew this fellow whose name was Chuck. And he refused to take his own name in vain.

Where you and I would say, "Chuck it!"... Chuck would instead say "Chunk it!" He would not say "Chuck it!", because "chuck" wasn't just any old word, "Chuck" was his name.

He wasn't demonstrative about it, he never explained himself, and you might know him a long time before you ever caught onto this little quirk of his. Then, in conversation, it would just quietly slip out. He simply could not or would not use the word "chuck" as a verb or common noun. He always said "chunk" instead.

I didn't know quite what to make of this. I mean, I had known since early childhood that the word pall (as in funeral pall, or as in A gloomy pall hung over the crowd) was a homonym for my first name. And growing up on Sam Loyd rebuses in The Human Interest Library, I was well aware that P + [Picture of an Awl] was a rebus for my name— I think I identified with this one more than anything else.

As I grew older, I became aware that another homonym of my name was pawl, "a lever which engages with a ratchet wheel so as to permit movement in one direction only."

Hell, I even ran across one wag who contrasted Norman Vincent Peale with my sainted namesake from Tarsus, thus: "Paul appealed, but Peale appalls."

And through all of this, I never had the slightest trouble using the words "pall," or "pawl," or "awl," or even "appall," simply because my name is Paul.

So what was it with Chuck, and "chunk it!"? Have you ever known any folks who had a hard time using words that sounded like their own name?


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Encrypted Anonymized Websurfing

If, like me, you're known to be paranoid, or maybe just slightly geekish, here's something that may interest you: a way of surfing the Web in encrypted anonymity. Actually, there are two such methods I've used: the JAP proxy, from Dresden University of Technology over in Germany; and the Tor proxy, which is now hosted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Without getting too deeply into the technicalities, or the differences between JAP and Tor, the idea is that you install their software on your system— free software, and open source, so you know what's in it. This software enables you to set up an encrypted connection with the first in a chain of computers out there. Your websurfing runs, encrypted, through a chain of at least three computers in between you and the website; and it is anonymous since any website out there will only see the IP address of the computer farthest from you in the chain.

In fact, under JAP not even the administrators of the chain are able to tell which packets of data belong to which users. There are several JAP chains available, though most of the up to 1500 users you'll find on JAP use the default connection.

Tor relies on "onion routing," which means that a separate layer of encryption is peeled away at each computer in the chain; there are over 100 nodes in the Tor network, and you will automatically shift every now and then to a new chain of three computers, with each node in the chain knowing the location of only the computer right before it and the computer right after it. Thus your location will be unknown, and practically untraceable, to someone several links "down-chain."

JAP is easier to set up, I've set it up on both Windows and Linux systems. It needs a newer version of Java to run; under Linux, I just download a .jar file, and run it from my menu or command line as follows:

java -jar /usr/java/lib/ext/JAP.jar

(or whatever the path to your .jar file is.) Under Windows, you might get it working this way; or there's a special Windows download available on the JAP proxy website. Try the big 12-meg download first, and only install from it what you don't already have. Install it, click on the JAP icon, and the proxy will come up in a little window. (Under XP you may get an initial error message; known bug, ignore it.) The use of JAP is fairly intuitive: just click on "Anonymity On," and within seconds you'll be connected. (Trust me, you want to leave "Forwarder" alone.)

Oh, one other thing, to use your browser with JAP you need to go into your browser's preferences, General | Connection (in Firefox) or Network | Proxy servers (in Opera) or Tools | Internet Options | Connections | LAN Settings | Advanced (in Internet Explorer, I think) and set your HTTP and HTTPS/SSL connections to run through port 4001. JAP only supports regular (HTTP) and secure (HTTPS) websurfing, so you don't need to bother with FTP or other protocols.

As for Tor, I understand it also has a Windows download now available, but I've never used it. Under Linux, I just download the source code and compile it. Tor works in conjunction with another piece of free open source software called Privoxy. (Privoxy also functions very nicely in its own right as an ad banner and popup blocker.) Download and install Privoxy, and add the following line to the Privoxy config file:

forward-socks4a / localhost:9050 .

Don't forget to include that period at the end of the line. And since we're being cloak-and-dagger, you'll probably want to find section 1.5 in the Privoxy config file, and comment out the line "logfile logfile": this will prevent requests through Tor being logged to the Privoxy logfile on your hard drive.

Now run Privoxy, and run Tor. Being in Linux, I run each of them from the command line. You will get a message reading, "Tor has successfully opened a circuit. Looks like it's working." Now all you need do is configure your browser (see above) to run through port 8118; and you're ready to go. Tor working together with Privoxy will handle almost any protocol you throw at it, not just HTTP and HTTPS; I've even gotten my chat program operating through Tor by pointing it at

You might get Tor working without Privoxy, but warning! In that case, your requests for websites would be sent in the clear, unencrypted, which is probably not what you want.

One interesting feature of Tor is its ability to handle "hidden services," services of unknown physical location which can be reached out there in Onionspace. Yes, there is a small but growing number of websites whose URL ends in ".onion"; and they can be reached only via Tor. Especially worth checking out are Notes from the Underground and the new Torcasting blog; you can find more such sites listed on KIRA.

Generally speaking, JAP and Tor are reasonably fast, though slower than your regular Internet connection; however, expect Onionspace to crawl like molasses.

Either of these proxies will shield you quite effectively from your ISP, from casual snoopers out there, and from the sites you visit. (As long as you remember to also turn off javascript while going incognito— ahem, javascript can give away secrets! Once you're "cloaked," you might want to check yourself out here, before you go any further.) I understand Chinese dissidents and the like rely upon services like these, with good results.

(Other hints, besides disabling javascript... Disable Java in your browser (OK to have Java running on your system). And empty your browser cache, and delete all cookies, both before and after a session.)

Nonetheless, before anyone gets the idea of doing anything illegal, I'm sure the three-letter agencies could crack this level of encryption/anonymity like peanuts in the shell. Plus, part of the funding for Tor came from the US Navy; and JAP has already been compromised at least once by German court order. I'm just saying.

Anyhow, I'd say if JAP and Tor grab your interest, check them out. Standard disclaimer: I'm not an IT professional, I'm not even a real geek, I'm just a longtime computer hobbyist. I put a lot more trust in Joe & Jane Q. Public than I put in those who walk the corridors of power. And I think one of the great things about the Internet is that it empowers you and me, without so much as a by-your-leave to the "suits." Any questions, leave a comment, and I'll help if I can.


Monday, June 06, 2005

It's Two-Thousand-Five!

I often listen to the Cedar Rapids station (WMT 600) while I'm eating breakfast. There's one announcer on there who drives me nuts, because when he mentions the year 2005 he routinely says, "twenty-oh-five."

It's two-thousand-five, dammit! I am pleased to note that most people I hear, pronounce it as two-thousand-five. I repeat, the year 2005 is two-thousand-five.

"The year two-thousand-five" has a dignified ring to it; indeed, the ring of something great and grand. Whereas "twenty-oh-five" is paltry, thin, hollow, a year with the soul of a clerk.

It is my suspicion— unproven, but I think quite correct— that those who say "twenty-oh-five" hail disproportionately from the blue states. They are drawn in disproportionate numbers from those who approve of soulless modern concrete-slab architecture; those who like the new simplified and stripped-down design of our paper currency, which makes Ben Franklin look like a moronic deadeyes. They are those who prefer the style of church architecture from the early 1960s, with blond wood, with plenty of aluminum and clear plate glass, and with no steeple, like a community center and not a church. Show me someone who says "twenty-oh-five," and I'll show you a person who wants us to be resigned to living in the bleak, featureless, empty landscape of late, grey, sterile modernity.

Whereas "two-thousand-five" has to it the grand ring of empire; of thousands and millions and billions and vigintillions; of the starry host above and a glory that has no end. "Two-thousand-five" is in the same language as finials and cornices and Corinthian columns and domes and oculi and all that is great and dignified, from the architecture of ancient Rome to the old-fashioned $100 bill that looked like a $100 bill, dadgummit!

"Two-thousand-five" makes a man stand proud and tall with a strengthened spine, nerved and steeled for all the trying and ennobling Sturm und Drang that the new day may bring. While "twenty-oh-five" unstrings the bow, and prepares the milquetoast to submit to yet another day of nameless drone-work amidst the office cubicles of some faceless grey bureacracy.

It is no wonder that those who push the use of "twenty-oh-five," push the use of "twenty-oh-five." It is just one more way in which they pursue their agenda of making sure that we are all punched, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, and numbered. They will also support national identity cards with embedded RFID chips, and DRM built right into the Intel chip on your computer. They will support WI in place of Wisc. for Wisconsin, and CA in place of Calif. for California, as if we could all be reduced to some federally-mandated two-letter code. Whereas the tribe of "two-thousand-five" will stand tall to defend the liberty and dignity of man. You can hear the difference in the way they say the numbers.

I once got an e-mail from somebody who protested to me that "twenty-oh-five" is more logically consistent, "and I value logical consistency highly." I'll bet you do, twit: do you consult "logical consistency" on the best way to tie your shoelaces in the morning? My own view is that there is no necessary analogy between the usages of a new century and the nomenclature of a new millennium, as witness the fact that "nineteen-five" for 1905 is not ambiguous, while the year "twenty-five" (which I've actually heard from some people) is. Not that logical consistency carries the day— I maintain that (at least outside of mathematics and the physical sciences) perfect logical self-consistency is seldom a virtue, and is indeed often a serious vice.

You know, as in "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

By the time we reach the first year where the "twenty-something" usage will not be ambiguous, it will be the year 2010 and a decade of habit will have entrenched the "two-thousand-something" usage forever. It will be "two-thousand-ten," not "twenty-ten"; and then it will be "two-thousand-twenty" and "two-thousand-thirty" and "two-thousand-forty-five," in unbroken succession. In an unbroken succession handed down from times of old.

And it will be one minor step— one minor but real step— in reminding us of what our would-be overlords and their myrmidons would rather that we not be reminded of: namely, that we live in a world which is grand and great, and that the world does not end at the horizon.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Ebony Baboon

The Ebony Baboon is a dread night to smell,
A somewhat detectable habit as well.
With eyebrows upraised, but with no truth to tell,
They bid us cry uncle, who've bent down to fell.
And as they go forth, with a steamboat, on knee,
Like monks to their matins at Byzantium town,
It's tilting at windmills to say you and me
Could ever, on zebraback, cob Arthur's crown.

   —Spring 1977


Friday, June 03, 2005

The UnPost


Thursday, June 02, 2005

This Blog Is an Asterisk-Free Zone

It may have been going on in the blogosphere for some time, but it's only in the past few months that I've been noticing the practice of using asterisks in four-letter words, instead of spelling the word out. You know, instead of writing "shit," you write "sh*t." Or "sh**." Or "sh***," or "s***."

To which I say, bullshit!

I never noticed this in the blogosphere until just a few months ago. But since then, I've been noticing it on blogs all over the place. Which set me to wondering, is this some new trendy blogospheric fad, or something? Or am I just dense?

I must confess, I have a long-standing dislike of the "asterization" of four-letter words. If you're going to use the word, then spell it out, and if you can't bring yourself to spell it out, then don't use it. But please, can the asterisks! Either spell the word out in full, or don't use it at all!

I tend to go light on such vocabulary here on my blog, simply because people I'm already acquainted with out here in meatspace have a way of finding this blog, and their ideas of propriety are sometimes not mine. Still, even if I did (or occasionally do) use such language on this blog, it's not as if I'd be using any words that people around here haven't already heard me use face to face. It's just that writing persists, and writing can be accessed outside of any personal context. The joke I told at the last Lions meeting may come across quite differently if someone down the road from me stumbles across it in my blog by dint of Google.

Nonetheless, I've always gotten fairly peeved (or, if you will, "pissed off") at people who act like nervous nellies in the presence of plain, honest Anglo-Saxon. It smacks of bowdlerism, of Mr. Comstock and Mrs. Grundy. My thought is, I may be a conservative, but I'm sure as hell not that kind of a conservative! Twenty years ago, most conservative magazines were in the practice of spelling out four-letter words. I remember back in the fall of 1984, National Review ran a two-page article on the history of the F-word, with not an asterisk nor a euphemism in sight. Sad to say, that would never happen today: some time within the past ten or fifteen years, the asterisk crept into the pages of NR. (It seems to me perhaps the Weekly Standard set the trend on this one.) I can't guarantee you, off the top of my head, that even Commentary is asterisk-free these days.

And now, in recent months, I've been noticing those asterisks all over the place in blogs. Me, I think it's just plain silly. Not that I'm trying to tell anyone else how to run their own blog. But as for me, I hereby officially declare that Let the Finder Beware is an asterisk-free zone.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Lunch at 9:00 PM, and Bubblers

When I first moved to this corner of Iowa, I was blown away to discover that when people around here say "lunch," they mean a snack or light meal served at any hour of the day. Yes, in these parts you can eat lunch at 10:00 in the morning, or at 3:00 in the afternoon, or even at 9:00 in the evening.

This just blew me away. I mean, where I came from in southern Wisconsin, "lunch" was always the noon meal, eaten more or less during the noon hour. You know, three meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and supper? Or (slight variability here) some people might say breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or even breakfast, dinner, and supper. There was some wiggle room there, from one person to the next, on the meaning of the word "dinner."

But "lunch" was always the midday meal.

Until I came here to Iowa, and found that "lunch" was not tethered to any specific time of day. Is it just Iowa? Or is this use of the word "lunch" more widespread?

I mean, I know where I grew up over in Wisconsin, what you'd call a "drinking fountain," we always called a "bubbler." You know, get a drink of water from the bubbler? But over here in Iowa, when I call a drinking fountain a "bubbler," people look at me like I'm demented.

"Lunch." "Bubbler." I'd love to see a geographic atlas for the use of such words.