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Journal of No. 118

July 24th, 2016

The Language Wars, by Henry Hitchings @ 10:31 am

Subtitle: A History of Proper English

The book was not really what I expected, although I'm not sure what I expected. I guess I hoped for more war -- placing authorities against each other on the nitpicky rules of grammar we all love and/or hate. Instead, it was more of a history of how people have formalized the English language, from early grammars to modern linguistics. A strong undercurrent is the prescriptivist bent of 'grammarians' and the descriptivist bent of linguists.
I think I hoped for more amusing little tidbits, and although they are there, it is like one of those disappointing pours of breakfast cereal that you got as a kid, where you mourned that there weren't more dehydrated marshmallows among the cat kibble. Perhaps because it was a slower slog to get through the book, I've forgotten most of the tidbits already. One that did stick was the idea that, after the Civil War, where one side had been associated with 'the Union', the use of that phrase for the country as a whole fell out of fashion. The constitution speaks of forming a more perfect union, and a state of the union address. In the post-war period, we began to speak of the US as a nation. Perhaps related to this, around 1900 the government printing office (IIRC) made a declaration to standardize that "the United States" was a singular noun.

July 12th, 2016

Alaska Cruise 2016 @ 07:33 pm

All the photos (250)

The 86 best photos (in quasi-reverse chronological order)

We were on the Norwegian Jewel, going in and out of Seattle, with Dr. Pookie's twin and her family. Just as an aside, we found the ship experience not as nice as our previous big-ship cruises on Celebrity and the ill-fated Costa Concordia. I don't know if it was a difference between American and European-based cruises, or Norwegian vs these other lines, but particularly the food was a let-down this time. On the previous ships, there were set dining-times in the main dining room, and one would be seated with other parties. A few of the nights were formal, requiring jacket and tie, but generally dressing up to some extent was expected. If you couldn't handle this, you could always hit the buffet in your speedos. Dinners would be 5 course affairs with a sommelier - every day a different menu. On Jewel, there were no set mealtimes, and only the French restaurant and the rear dining hall required collared shirts at dinner. 3 course meals. No sommelier. The restaurants had largely the same menu each night, though a few items cycled through. There was also a lot more nickel and diming. There were 'specialty' restaurants that cost extra money -- we had a package that got us 4 visits to these -- but even then, certain menu items (lobster, etc.) had an additional surcharge. The specialty restaurants were all pretty good, but on the whole, the food was a disappointment in comparison to our other experiences. Everything else about the ship and cruise was A-Okay and much more like the others.

So anyway...Collapse )

July 1st, 2016

A new earth to destroy in Risk Legacy @ 04:17 pm

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A few years back, Smaug invited me to a Risk: Legacy campaign, and now I got a chance to return the favor. He and I were joined by Chun and Dr. Pookie for the first game. Dr. Pookie took her role seriously in replacing Andy, who couldn't make it. Not only would she role-play the enclave of the bear, but she would role-play Andy role-playing the Enclave of the Bear. We all have some doubts about the accuracy of the portrayal, but anyway.

Chun got beaten up first, as Smaug captured his HQ, but Chun came back nicely, and soon spread like a rash through the New World. Dr. Pookie solidified control of Africa. Smaug took Europe, and I had Australia and east Asia. I punched into Smaug's HQ, and on the next turn, punched across to Chun's, winning the game. So I have a good track record on the first game of the campaign -- 2-0.

I founded the major city of Lemuria in Madagascar. And IIRC, there are also the cities of Blood Diamond in S. Africa, Hobbiton in Great Britain, and Chuntopia in the US.

June 29th, 2016

Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan @ 05:23 pm


Similar to Leviathan Wakes, the last book I read, Altered Carbon is a mash-up of noir detective and science fiction. This one is more cyberpunk flavored, which already has a strong noir background (a formula I followed in making my own Cyber/Cthulhu/noir mashup in Eldritch Chrome). Morgan gets a lot of the feel of traditional noir right, unfortunately including the increasingly convoluted plot that gets fake-resolved and then rescrambled more and more unconvincingly. There's also a slight overseasoning of gun-and-combat fetishization for my tastes. But on the whole good stuff -- good enough to win the PKD award, anyway. It'll be interesting to see what Netflix makes of it, since they've announced a 10 episode series.

May 30th, 2016

Leviathan Wakes, by 'James S A Corey' @ 07:30 pm

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Leviathan Wakes is the first in the Expanse series, which recently became a Syfy series. A pleasant blend of sf and detective noir. A few plot elements lacked in verisimilitude, but a pretty fun ride.

May 15th, 2016

Mexico City Photos resurrected @ 08:07 pm

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here they be

Dr. Pookie's photos, including lots of food pics, are here.

International Businessman of Mystery @ 07:42 am

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This time, Munich.

I think the most German thing I saw was on the flight out of LAX. As we board, a gentleman comes down the aisle, stops a row or two behind me and says to the guy in the window seat, "You are in the Wrong seat." A straightforward declarative sentence. I can imagine an American saying 'you are in my seat' but much more likely some awkward verbal prologue.

Anyway, my coworker and I had some time to sightsee on Monday, so we visited the Asamkirche, City Hall (and its animated clock), climbed the 299 steps at the Old Peter church, the Frauenkirche, and on into the English Garden.

But I think the highlight was the royal Wittelsbach Residence (home to the kings of Bavaria) and its treasury of crown jewels and other treasures.

One night, a client took us out for a tour of the Allianz Arena, ending with a fine dinner up at the skybox level.

All the photos.

May 14th, 2016

A Brief History of Creation: Science and Search for the Origin of Life, by Mesler & Cleaves @ 04:27 pm

This book traces the history of the idea of the origin of life from the Greeks to modern ideas of the Miller-Urey experiments and RNA-world and so on.

Most interesting to me, perhaps, was the fact that the concept of spontaneous generation was taken as a given for such a long time... and like so many things taken for granted in the West (geocentrism, say) support for it in the Bible was attested to. Everyone know that if you leave a pile of grain around, mice are just going to spring out of it. It was a sign of God's ongoing generative influence. And so Pasteur's work caused a sea-change in apologetics. Lots of good details, but since most of this was read on international flights, I'm in no position to go into much detail. Pretty good book, though.

May 7th, 2016

"Now is the time for all good men* to come to the aid of the party" @ 07:07 am

About a hundred years ago (and long afterwards) this was a stock phrase used to teach typing. We're now seeing how well Republicans adhere to it. It certainly still has some power.

We have Rick Perry endorsing 'a cancer'.

And Rand Paul endorsing “A Delusional Narcissist And An Orange-Faced Windbag

*This was written before women could vote, so I guess they could, I dunno, bake cookies or something.

May 2nd, 2016

Blindness, by Jose Saramago (feat. Blow-Up by Antonioni) @ 04:37 pm

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Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature a couple years after Blindness was published. A mysterious infectious ailment causes people to go blind. The book focuses on this first group of afflicted people, who are first interned in an asylum, as more and more blind people join them in their new community. Saramago considers himself a pessimist, so things go south pretty rapidly. The strong prey on the weak, the men on the women, and so on and so forth. A few glimpses of human beings behaving humanely glimmer here and there to relieve the awfulness.

Saramago is also something a verbal sadist: none of the characters is named, he eschews quotation marks, and tends to go on long comma splices of dialogue that can be hard to follow. Not too fond of paragraph breaks either -- many's the time you face two unbroken columns of text on the pages. This is particularly bad because I tend to have a mental memory of where on the page I left off -- but not if there are no little typographical details for memory to seize on. These idiosyncrasies may be literary, or they may just be irritating. I tend toward the latter. I didn't care for the ending, and the whole is kind of like a gruesome novelization of a Twilight Zone episode. I don't mean this to demean a Nobel laureate, but to raise up Twilight Zone as also shining a light on ugly aspects of humanity through speculative fiction.

Saw Blow-Up recently. Certainly a great time capsule of authentic Austin Powers-y swinging 1960s London, but I'm not sure I liked it. I guess Antonioni was doing something right if I can't tell for certain whether I was bored or not. It helps that models take off their clothes from time to time. But the most interesting detail was seeing the cameo by the Yardbirds, filmed during the brief period when both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were part of the lineup.

Journal of No. 118