January 28, 2018

The sands

Simple line from Foucault's Pendulum:

... you, too, are trying to leave footprints on the sands of time

I can't get out of my head the idea that (unrelated to the story?) you could alter the laws of physics and leave your mark not on human history but on the universe. Contributing to the human race is no longer the goal. Those ambitions can only create something to be forgotten in a dozen or hundred or thousand years. Altering the "sands of time" alters the page and not the text.

But then taking the full quote from FP, that grandiose tangent may not be far off. The idea of stepping-outside-of-the-system, and the system re-asserting itself, may be the intent.

But redemption from what, old Rocambole? You knew better than to try to become a protagonist! You have been punished, and with your own arts. You mocked the creators of illusion, and now--as you see--you write using the alibi of a machine, telling yourself you are a spectator because you read yourself on the screen as if the words belonged to another, but you have fallen into the trap: you, too, are trying to leave footprints on the sands of time. You have dared to change the text of the romance of the world, and the romance of the world has taken you instead into its coils and involved you in its plot, a plot not of your making.
posted by sstrader at 11:17 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 3, 2017


Research notes:

  • Kalevala - Epic poem of the Karelian people; an area that spans Finland and Russia. Originally from an oral history sung in 5/4 (1-2 2-2 3-2 4 5, example recording here). Made up of 50 songs (Finnish: runot). Many may be of Estonian origin. First published in two volumes of 32 songs/12,078 verses as The Old Kalevala, then revised and appended to be 50 songs/22,795 verses as The Kalevala (i.e. The New Kalevala).
  • Elias Lönnrot - Gathered and transcribed the Kalevala verses from dozens of singers. Made 11 trips from 1828 to 1836 in the central part of Finland and the neighboring part of Russia (i.e. Karelia).
  • Language - The language family, simplified: Uralic (root) > Hungarian, Finnic > Estonian, Finnish, Karelian. Unrelated to Indo-European languages. Karelian is sometimes considered a dialect of Finnish.
  • Amazon search - translators: Keith Bosley, John Martin Crawford, Eino Friberg, W. F. Kirby, and Francis Peabody Magoun Jr. In the list of books, Bosley, Crawford, and Friberg are the most positively reviewed.
  • I was hoping for a bilingual edition - XKCD - Board index > Numberologics, Alchemy, Linguinomics, and other Academiology > Language/Linguistics - Kalevala: no bilingual editions?: John Martin Crawford is the best [translation] I've seen but not bilinqual, side-by-side publishing of the Finnish original and the (rather literal) 1907 Kriby translation: Kalevala, bilingual edition. The side-by-side edition is a self-published hardback based on the Kirby translation.
  • From Ian M. Slater's review on October 17, 2004 at the Magoun edition on Amazon - Very much worth reading in its entirety for a comparison of editions. two early complete versions in verse, that by Crawford (nineteenth-century, from a German translation; available on-line), and the 1907 W.F. Kirby translation, directly from Finnish; Magoun's translation (1963) filled a need for a more literal treatment, with more supporting information; two translations of the "New Kalevala" into English verse, by Eino Friberg (1988) and Keith Bosley (1989), which many will find more appealing; for those who want both the story and all of the details, but either don't care about, or don't care for, such things as meter and rhyme, Magoun's translation remains a first choice

It seems that Bosley is artful but with few references and Magoun is dry with many. I went with the Magoun. I really wanted to get the a translation of the Eddas too, but that's just too much ancient mythology for now.

posted by sstrader at 10:43 AM in Language & Literature , Religion | tagged finland | permalink

March 6, 2016

The city

The conceit of China Mielville's The City and The City has grown on me since I'd read and was mesmerized by it nearly five years ago. In its magic realist drama, sister cities and their inhabitants share a weird, parallel-space relationship that is both unreal and metaphorical.

I'm not sure where I first heard of Italo Calvino, but he had often registered on my radar like Borges or Eco. Finally, mimicking the mass order of Kafka May of last year after my Prague trip, I ordered a three-box set of Calvino containing: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Invisible Cities, and The Baron in the Trees. Invisible Cities presents dozens of one-to-three page descriptions of cities that could only exist as metaphor. Highly poetic invocations of unreal living conditions that more clearly represent society than any realist literature might.

I have just started reading China Mieville's second Bas-Lag book, The Scar. Early on, we're introduced to a mile-square ocean city made of all manner of joined boats. Alleys are rope bridges connecting skiffs and freighters; suburban neighborhoods are carved from successive living quarters; harbors are built by absence. Such organic growth is fascinating.

This weekend we walked the beltline. It passes through many neighborhoods I know, and yet I was often disoriented. Crossing a different path completely changes the experience. Whenever I visit an Atlanta neighborhood I've never been in, I like to imagine that I don't know what city it is. It makes me view Atlanta with unbiased eyes and avoid assumptions. The beltline experience was similar.

posted by sstrader at 9:43 PM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

August 23, 2015

The children of Infinite Jest

Listening to dialog from the movie The End of the Tour (which we will probably go see tonight), spoken by David Foster Wallace:

So look, as the internet grows in the next 10, 15 years, and virtual reality pornography becomes a reality ... we're gonna have to develop some real machinery inside our guts to turn off pure, unalloyed pleasure or I don't know about you, I'm gonna have to leave the planet. ... 'Cause the technology is just gonna get better and better and it's gonna get easier and easier and more and more convenient and more and more pleasurable to sit alone with images on a screen given to us by people who do not love us but want our money and that's fine in low doses but if it's the basic main staple of your diet you're gonna die.

Taken from the On The Media interview that Brooke Gladstone had with David Lipsky 'We've Sort of Become Friends': The Original Tapes from David Foster Wallace's '96 Book Tour (transcript here).

This fear is examined and realized in Peter Watts' book Echopraxia in several forms: biological sex has become non-existent, relationships are created by altering each others' personalities to be more compatible, a large percentage of the human population lives only hooked in to a virtual world, etc. He suggests that our basic desire to eliminate pain will inevitably lead us to become not-human. Our toolmaking will destroy us. DFW worried in a similar manner concerning drug addiction and pleasure-seeking. The idea of a rat continually pressing a button for pleasure until it dies is unnerving. When I had written about Echopraxia, I recognized the connection to works by several other SF writers but hadn't considered how deeply these themes are encoded in Infinite Jest until I heard the quote above.

posted by sstrader at 3:48 PM in Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace, posthuman | permalink

March 22, 2015

Posthuman dystopia

I'd recently read Blindsight by Peter Watts after my Kindle recommended it and the content of the reviews suggested I would like it (correct and correct). It's a posthuman sci-fi novel about a small group of enhanced humans sent on a decades-long journey to investigate an alien presence at the outer regions of the solar system. Throughout, there's a sense that humanity has reached a dead end. As people with means alter themselves with enhanced abilities--man/machine interfaces, multiple consciousnesses in one person, neuro-physical updates--un-altered "baselines", without the ability to keep up against an advanced society, hook their brains up to a virtual world called Heaven. Once in, they abandon any emotional bond to those they left behind. One particularly odd aspect of the novel is that vampires exist as an extinct offshoot of humans. They have been resurrected and though there is a detente of sorts, they are so far advanced in intelligence and ability that even the most enhanced humans are like children. To trump even this level of insignificance, the aliens the crew encounter are orders of magnitude more adept than even vampires.

I've since started the sequel titled Echopraxia (which means "the involuntary repetition or imitation of another person's actions"). I'm 50-or-so pages in, but the grimness is the same. The action takes place on Earth where a group of hive mind Bicamerals push the boundaries of invention but cannot explain how they achieve it. It's another example of humans becoming so far from equal that there is no longer a single humanity. Non-Bicamerals are as threatened by them as baselines by the transhumans. Similar fears have been echoed in Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl (and his even more stunning and depressing short stories Pump Six), Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief trilogy, and even somewhat in Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy. Notably, Watts is a marine biologist, Rajaniemi a mathematician and programmable DNA entrepreneur, and Atwood a developer of remote robotics.

Contrast these with Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End (read at the same time as Oryx and Crake). Though he deals only slightly with posthumanism, he shows the tension of modern, augmenting technology. Rainbows End has all of the aspects of a dystopian warning--aggressive emergent AI, near 100% surveillance state monitoring, the physical destruction of all books in order to digitize--yet he somehow offers an optimistic message in the end. Ever the singularitanist. Or maybe the realist. Still, sci-fi is not about what will happen; it is simply plotting a straight line with a few of the data points we currently have. Sometimes it's a warning, sometimes a hope.

posted by sstrader at 10:21 AM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature , Science & Technology | tagged posthuman | permalink

November 22, 2014

Poetry and apocalypse

A few weeks back when the movie Ouija was being advertised, I became curious where the word came from. Apparently, ouija (which I grew up pronouncing as wee-gee for some reason and can't not say it like that) has the improbable etymology of either ancient Egyptian for "good luck" or a combination of French "yes" and German "yes".

While scanning the Wikipedia article, I saw that the poet James Merrill wrote a three-part epic apocalyptic poem, generated from ouija board seances, called The Changing Light at Sandover. The three books, published in 1976, 1978, and 1980, span 560 pages. They were published together with a short coda in 1982 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award the next year. My last attempt at long difficult reading, Joyce's Ulysses, failed, but I had to get this. I have not yet started.

Somewhere I saw Sandover compared to T. S. Eliot's apocalyptic 1922 poem The Waste Land so I ordered the Michael North edited version when I ordered Sandover. I've so far read this short, barely 15-page poem three times and have started picking through the 300 pages of reference material including Baudelaire, James Frazier, Aldous Huxley, and Herman Hesse. Dedicated to Ezra Pound, it reads like infinitely more accessible Pound. I've read a few sections out loud and felt that added much. One connection that bubbled up while taking in Eliot's bleak imagery was Godspeed You! Black Emperor's album F# A# Infinity. I listened to this back in July 2010 and may need to revisit.

File under synchrony: since purchasing The Waste Land, I've been barraged by random references to Eliot and Pound.

posted by sstrader at 10:41 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 5, 2014

Roman Jakobson's functions of language

Intrigued by the concept of phatic expressions: messages whose only purpose is to confirm the channel is working. The canonical example is when we walk by someone and say "what's up?" No information beyond mutual acknowledgement is communicated. There is a related, nuanced concept called backchannel that represents speaker/listener confirmation. When one person is monologuing, the listener is seldom completely silent. To confirm that the messages are being received (and understood), the listener will nod or punctuate with "yes" or "go on". It's almost impolite not to make such statements, and this ties back into the idea of the phatic as "social grooming".

Moving one level up from phatic, we can see how such statements fit in communication as a whole via Jakobson's functions of language. The framework for these functions are the elements of communication:

Roma jakobson theory.png
By Artist2426 - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Different functions of language will emphasize the different elements in the diagram above. Phatic emphasizes the channel. Here's the diagram amended with Jakobson's functions:

Daniel Chandler's Semiotics for Beginners has a good table mapping the element, function, and an example for each. Modified here:

Element Function Use Example
context referential imparting information It's raining.
sender expressive expressing feelings or attitudes It's bloody pissing down again!
receiver conative influencing behaviour Wait here till it stops raining!
channel phatic establishing or maintaining social relationships Nasty weather again, isn't it?
code metalingual referring to the nature of the interaction (e.g. genre) This is the weather forecast.
message poetic foregrounding textual features It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.
posted by sstrader at 10:36 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 22, 2014

Nowhere Men phantom issues

[ updated 19 Jan 2016 ]

Random coincidnece: speaking with Matt about comic book recommendations, I looked up Nowhere Man and found the article I Feel Like I'm Waiting For Something That's Never Going To Happen: Eric Stephenson On The Return Of 'Nowhere Men' over at Comics Alliance reporting that issue 7 comes out tomorrow, with the remaining run of 12 issues total following. New artist and a reference to another work by writer Eric Stephenson titled They're Not Like Us. Interesting.

[ updated 28 Apr 2014 ]

Nowhere Men, Canceled!? asked a day ago on Reddit. Curiosity is in the air, but not much information beyond The release information was entirely recalled and there's been like no word at all as far as I know. That explains all the "not available" issues I found. The thread Eric Stephenson and Nowhere Men? from a month ago has less optimistic comments: Fuck I just came back from my comic book Shop. They told me that shit got cancelled. ... I think issue 6 is the very last. Not promising.

Trying to catch up on when the Nowhere Men comic series is going to start up again. After six issues they went on hiatus back in October of last year with no hint of when it will resume. Several sites are now, inexplicably, posting a #10 for pre-order, and Archonia has issues 7 through 10 listed with titles, yet also marked as "discontinued". Titles of the first six don't seem to appear anywhere in print, but they're available on the Image site:

  2. There are fates worse than death.
  3. Some disasters are bigger than others.
  4. Everybody's on the run.
  5. Dead to the world.
  6. Thinking the unthinkable.
  7. NOWHERE MEN #7 - Meet Monica Strange. Also found listed as "not available" but with cover image via Google search on TFAW
  8. NOWHERE MEN #8 - Life's what you make it. TFAW
  9. NOWHERE MEN #9 (MR) - The world is changing. TFAW.
  10. NOWHERE MEN #10 (MR) - From despair to where? TFAW

So, maybe these new ones got posted early? Or leaked? No Wikipedia page. No further info on Comic Book DB or Comic Book Series Wiki.

posted by sstrader at 11:55 PM in Art , Language & Literature | tagged comic books | permalink

The social anxiety

Reading Anxiety of influence: how Facebook and Twitter are reshaping the novel. It discusses both Dave Eggers' new novel The Circle, which I have not yet read, and Jennifer Egan's old novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I read back in 2013. Both deal with how people use and will use social technology. Eggers' is set in the future; Egan's spans past and future, with its future chapters chilling and incisive. I don't want to live there, but to a certain degree I already do and we all will. There's a particularly honest passage quoted about 2/3s down the Anxiety article. One character stops a face-to-face conversation so that she can continue it via text messages. To her, they are more direct and expressive. I understand that.

For no particular reason that I can recall, I had been recalling scenes from M. T. Anderson's Feed, which I read back in 2009. The Circle seems to have similar themes painting social media as golden handcuffs. And group these with Scott Westerfeld's Extras, which I read back in 2008. In that, social media, as in The Circle, becomes a shareable currency. Becomes the only currency. This is a unique anxiety that possibly didn't exist during other connection explosions. Postal. Telegraph. Wireless. Were we terrified of immediacy back then? Or is our current situation simply a higher energy state that risks so much more?

posted by sstrader at 5:07 PM in Internet , Language & Literature | permalink

December 7, 2013

New comic books discovered in Denver in October

[ updated 20 Dec 2013 ]

Best-of lists:

[ updated 12 Dec 2013 ]

Forgot about Morning Glories, also acquired from MHC. I got the first anthology in hardback (simply because that's all they had) and then ordered the second from Amazon. Fun-ish, but I won't be going any further with it. The art was very average and the story was very Lost with equally scarce payoff. Obvious now how I forgot this one.

When I went to visit Lisa while she was working at a trade show in Denver, I decided to visit Mile High Comics. I'd purchased from them on-line over the past several years and had time while she worked during the day to make a pilgrimage. To the rental car! I mapped a route to the first listing and dove into east Denver traffic. The night before, we'd found that there was a location just a couple of miles from the hotel. In my rush to head out, I instead mapped one that was off in some warehouse district. Further, but fortuitous:


Kid, meet candy store; candy store, kid.

After a few back-and-forths along the new release wall--and many Internet searches for descriptions of interesting titles--I found several new-to-me series to start. I generally collect a small number of titles. Most are limited story-lines that end after a couple of years, so purchases only occur every few months. I really had no reference point on what to get, since I don't do super-heroes. Here's what I found:

East of West - Alternate history America where some mystical asteroid hits the center of the country in the 1800s and forces a split into several distinct countries. The site of the impact starts a new religion, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse appear (and re-appear) to do what they do. Death is in love with one of the princesses of China's territory and their rocky love story is the primary thread. The story lines are intriguing. The art, covers, and issue structure are beautiful. This is why creators should get full control of their work. Image Comics.

Mara - Future world where sports have been subsumed by governments as a, sort of, military replacement. The military still exists but, like Rollerball, sports diverts the public's attentions and children train like they're in the IDF. Six issues total. Unique pacing and concepts. Another Image Comics title.

Rocket Girl - Cheesy, glossy, high-action story about a time-traveling teen chick cop who wears a rocket pack and goes to 1985 in order to stop a corporation from altering the future. Took a chance on issue #1 and I'll probably stay with it. Silly fun with hints of later surprises. They started with a Kickstarter campaign. Neat. Yes, Image Comics.

Thumbprint - three-issue horror from Joe Hill. Good comic, but not my cup of tea. IDW comics.

This week, I went to Oxford Comics to pick up new issues of East of West, Saga (discovered several months ago, perfect), and Rocket Girl. On impulse I picked up all six issues of Nowhere Men. Densly detailed images and extra-story content such as book excerpts, magazine interviews, and advertisements, tell the story of a quartet of science geniuses who change the world with their inventions and in-fighting. As creative as East of West and as recommended. Image Comics.

posted by sstrader at 11:06 AM in Art , Language & Literature | tagged comic books | permalink

August 26, 2013

The comic book series Saga

I've been picking through graphic novels/collections over the past few years. There's been a range of quality--as with any art--but with a rare few classics. Y introduced me to Brian K. Vaughan's writing and it was one of the stronger serialized works I'd come across. I finally decided to check out his other works and got the two volumes x 6-issues-each of the Saga series. This was the most frequently recommended. I've read through the 12 issues three times now and am just shocked at both the creativity in its settings and humanity in its characters. Much more than Y, Saga shocks with nearly surreal scenes that become, ultimately, realistic and thoughtful.

Looking forward to the next issues. #13 was just published this month.

posted by sstrader at 11:42 PM in Art , Language & Literature | tagged comic books | permalink

May 20, 2013

John McPhee on writing

The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once. For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something--anything--out in front of me. Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something--anythings--as a first draft. With that, you have achieved a sort of nucleus. Then as you work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye. Edit it again--top to bottom. The chances are that about now you'll be seeing something that you are sort of eager for others to see. And all that takes time.What I have left out is the interstitial time. You finish that first awful blurting, and then you put the thing aside. You get in your car and drive home. On the way, your mind is still knitting at the words. You think of a better way to say something, a good phrase to correct a certain problem. Without the drafted version--if it did not exist--you obviously would not be thinking of things that would improve it. In short, you may be actually writing only two or three hours a day, but your mind, in one way or another, is working on it twenty-four hours a day--yes, while you sleep--but only if some sort of draft or earlier version already exists. Until it exists, writing has not really begun.
posted by sstrader at 11:53 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 13, 2013

A Visit from the Goon Squad; Jennifer Egan

"Older people are more resistant to . . ." She seemed to falter.

"Being bought?"

Lulu smiled. "See, that's what we call a disingenuous metaphor," she said. "DMs look like descriptions, but they're really judgments. I mean, is a person who sells oranges being bought? Is the person who repairs appliances selling out?"

"No, because what they do is up front," Alex said, aware that he was condescending. "It's out in the open."

"And, see, those metaphors--'up front' and 'out in the open'--are part of a system we call atavistic purism. AP implies the existence of an ethically perfect state,which not only doesn't exist and never existed, but it's usually used to shore up the prejudices of whoever's making the judgments."

"So," he said. "You think there's nothing inherently wrong with believing in something--or saying you do--for money?"

"'Inherently wrong,'" she said. "Gosh, that's a great example of calcified morality. I have to remember that for my old modern ethics teacher, Mr. Bastie; he collects them. Look," she said, straightening her spine and flicking her rather grave (despite the friendly antics of her face) gray eyes at Alex, "if I believe, I believe. Who are you to judge my reasons?"

"Because if your reasons are cash, that's not belief. It's bullshit."

Lulu grimaced. Another thing about her generation: no one swore. Alex had actually heard teenagers say things like "shucks" and "golly," without apparent irony. "This is something we see a lot," Lulu mused, studying Alex. "Ethical ambivalence--we call it EA--in the face of a strong marketing action."

Continue reading "A Visit from the Goon Squad; Jennifer Egan"
posted by sstrader at 9:36 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

November 28, 2012

The Fractal Prince; Hannu Rajaniemi

I'd read Rajaniemi's first book in this series, The Quantum Thief, a little over a year ago and have been anxious for the follow-up. Where the first riffed on themes of presence as identity--common in posthuman lit--this worked through story as identity, modeling it's chapters after those stories in The Arabian Nights. This has the same fire hose of information as the first but with a different character: the primary setting is Earth gone desert and infested by nanotechnology that can both steal your mind (through stories) and subvert your body to destructive growth. Perhaps more moody than the first?

It's an effort not to be irritated by a book that demands multiple readings and earns them.

Continue reading "The Fractal Prince; Hannu Rajaniemi"
posted by sstrader at 12:11 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged finland, posthuman | permalink

November 11, 2012

Three books on atheism

A month ago, I decided to get caught up with My People's sacred texts: Harris' The End of Faith from 2005, Dawkins' The God Delusion from 2008, and Hitchens' God is Not Great from 2009. It was helpful to read them in order as both Dawkins and Hitchens refer to earlier events and writings.

I didn't expect to learn too much, not out of arrogance but more that I swim in those waters so much that I thought I'd already been exposed to most of the ideas. There were, unsurprisingly, surprises. Harris opened with a scathing and convincing denouncement of politeness towards Islam. I dismiss it as just another religion as silly as the next, but he pointed out that religion in western society has been neutered by knowledge. The totalitarian violence that was possible in Medieval Europe is long gone, but there's no doubt that Catholics and many American Protestants would impose their ideas violently if they could. In the Middle East, Islam can. His concerns were echoed by the other writers. Dawkins was a delightful read and he is a very clear writer. It was like being lectured by Mr. Rogers! I was, however, most sympathetic with Hitchens' book, maybe because of his mix of world-wide travel stories, an encompassing understanding of religious and political history, and his barely suppressed anger at the primitivism that persists. Dawkins gets angry at religion as child abuse (indoctrinating them when they can't fight back), but Hitchens is just angry and how they've held back society as a whole.

Continue reading "Three books on atheism"
posted by sstrader at 2:15 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

August 15, 2012

Three recent books

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. Had this on my bookshelf for a while, and I'm not sure why I put off reading it. Like The Pale King, there were chapters I wanted to send to others because they were just that well written. And the names. My god, the names: Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, Candy Mandible, Mindy Metalman, and of course Norman Bombardini (who plans on eating enough to eventually encompass all space in the universe (and who makes a grotesquely noble effort towards that goal)). Every few chapters could be studied as a Bach-like invention in writing styles and challenges, few being, for all the virtuosity, too challenging. Its inventiveness will have you smiling throughout.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. A year or so ago I'd read and loved his more recent novel Rainbows End, set in a remarkably believable near future. This was set in a future far distant, tens of thousands of years from now. The key conceit--of the many that are truly unique--is that species intelligence and natural laws can change across different zones in the galaxy. Higher level zones allow FTL travel; the highest contain intelligences comparable to gods. The book starts with a short prologue narrating the events--with the right mix of tech and tech-babble--of a high-level intelligence's take-over of an archaeological dig. The outcome, we're told in the first few pages, will destroy several species and last for centuries to come. Needless, there is a grandiosity to the drama.

vN by Madeline Ashby. In this now (50%) but have no idea why I downloaded it to my Kindle! [ updated 22 Mar 2015] Aha. It was based on a recommendation by Kameron Hurley. I must've heard a recommendation somewhere. Probably io9 again, although their last few months of recommendations have been poor. It's a cheap romp around a future where vNs (i.e. John von Neumann), built by an Xtian millenarian cult to look after those "left behind", struggle integrating with society. An unlikely premise but entertaining all the same.

Continue reading "Three recent books"
posted by sstrader at 7:41 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace, io9 | permalink

May 29, 2012

Battle Angel Alita


I pieced together all of the Battle Angel Alita issues after an io9 thread discussed them favorably. There's also an anime adaptation and a proposed live action version that's been abandoned by James Cameron. To piece together the full run, I had to hop between Amazon and B&N. Used books can sometimes appear for ridiculous prices and although I didn't have to shell out too much, issue 7 was kinda crazily overpriced. I'm reading 6 right now, so we'll see whether 7 is actually that much better.

Mysterious past. Unexplained skills. Oppressive society. The story's a little silly at times, but it's overall a nice diversion.

posted by sstrader at 7:47 PM in Art , Cinema , Language & Literature | tagged anime, io9 | permalink

April 26, 2012

April 9, 2012

Robot apocalypse - two poems by New Orleans poets

At last year's Crescent City Classic, or the year before's, I'd seen a guy on the street writing commissioned poetry on the subject of your choice. I couldn't think of a topic until later in the evening, and he was gone by the time we returned. "Robot apocalypse" simply had to be realized in verse, so I was thrilled when we found a poet at around midnight last Friday while wandering around Frenchmen Street. At the time, he was busy writing wedding vows for a groom whose bachelor party was in full swing. I gave him the title and we bar hopped until he was finished.

Between bars, we saw another poet selling her wares. I had initially wanted to come up with a different theme but eventually realized that getting two different takes on the robot apocalypse would be ideal. So I did. His is colorful and liberating; hers is more wistful but still violent. He composed in a notepad first then typed it; she created as she typed (and so x-ed out in several locations).

robot-apocalypse.heth heth


Their mechanical arms
raising to the sky, in glory...
amongst the beeping of orange and blue lights
Yellow globes of color
as they communicate with a with a grey horizon-
the walls of the city scape covered
with dried concrete blood.

Their mechanical arms
indistinguishable from,
mechanical feet...
cranes meant to lift
motorized machine parts
swinging wide
covered in gore
under iron file skys

they are finally free.

poetry corner
a horror filled night

robot-apocalypse.beatrice beatrice

Robot Apocalypses

Human skin
was a diety to them.
Elusive and tender.
They could never get
the shimmer and give
just right.
Despite having hearts
steel strong as super heroes,
hands that could crumble
mountains over oceans,
making islands
like human hands might sprinkle
feta on salad,
long after
the last man died
they still pined for the salt
the meandering grooves
that collected earth and stories
in warm soft hands
to be carried

xo Beatrice Bywater 4-6-12

posted by sstrader at 8:39 PM in Language & Literature , Where was I? | tagged new orleans | permalink

February 8, 2012

1Q84, Haruki Murakami

Not the most highly praised Murakami, but it appeared on my Amazon wish list and I'm not sure how (but I am sure that it's something I would've put on there after reading about it). 900+ pages, a very dry style, but (at ~400 in during the first week) I'm drawn to its magic realism. Comprised originally of three books when published in Japan, the story hops between two narrators as their discrete lives are revealed to be joined (spoiler! (as if you didn't see it coming)). As clumsy as some descriptions are, others are sublime. And that's part of what keeps me interested.

Continue reading "1Q84, Haruki Murakami"
posted by sstrader at 8:30 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

January 28, 2012

Four sci-fi novels

Another batch recommended by io9.

Ship Breakers is the first YA novel from Bacigallupi. It's in the same dystopia as Windup Girl and his collection of short stories. It was an engaging read but didn't captivate me intellectually as Windup Girl did (and as, say, the ideas in the YA Uglies books did). Quick, grim, and solid though.

Ready Player One presents another dystopian future with the world's poor finding refuge in a virtual world. The character relationships are at times a little cartoony, but the book is as much a vehicle for 80s pop-culture as for its plot of David v. Goliath. I missed maybe 1/2 the references, but it was still a ripping good yarn.

After the Apocalypse felt like late-era Southern Gothic almost. Moody and directionless and more depressing about the future than the previous two novels because of that directionlessness. The author really handles pacing and descriptions just perfectly. Well done overall. Her first (?) novel, China Mountain Zhang, will probably be on the next stack of books to read.

Embassytown was as virtuosic, both in writing and ideas, as the first Mieville I'd read: The City & The City. He owes much to Lem's alien environments in Eden or Fiasco, and Embassytown shares to some extent Lem's idea that different species may simply be unable to communicate. A fully realized and very distant future.

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posted by sstrader at 3:12 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9, ya fiction | permalink

September 28, 2011

Currently reading

Picked up this set while browsing B&N. Pulpy, fun story that deals with a post-nuclear terrorist world and is centered around one of the few untouched cities--London--which is now a megalopolis called The Metrozone. The terrorists who took down the world were non-specific religious armogeddonists. When the US is mentioned it's described as a xenophobic and thinly veiled theocracy, so nothing much has changed. The main character is a Russian physicist/badass whose exploits are far less believable than even pulp should allow. Still, enjoyable enough to keep me through the set.

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posted by sstrader at 2:01 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

August 30, 2011

Four sci-fi novels

Continuing my run of reading new sci-fi on the Kindle. Insert some insight about medium and message here. All were pulled, again, from io9 bookclub recommendations and there's been some stunning writing. The first time I've read all of these authors.

The City & The City by China Mieville. Mieville's prose hit me immediately: short, noir sentences mixed with inner dialog that reads like a puzzle. Detective on the case of a dead girl must extend his investigation into the antagonistic sister-city. Dashiell Hammett turns magic realism. Once into it, just pages before the Big Reveal was made I started to suspect it, with well-timed intent of the author. I had at first felt it came too early but then became completely wrapped in the brilliant conceit. Though he couldn't deliver an ending to match the earlier promise, I want to buy this book and loan it out to friends (ah, there's the sad insight about medium--the publisher blocks lending for this publication).

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. From the skilled prose of Mieville to the more quotidian of Vinge. Rainbows End (intentional non-possessive) is in the group of novels like Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it) where an observer from our time adapts to a strange future. This approach lends itself to the intriguing conversion that happens by the end of the novel: resistance to the change in cultural values eventually becomes understanding and appreciation of those values. The more interesting aspect of the story is the technology: ubiquitous wearable network access includes contacts that repaint the world with virtual presences and instantaneous, pop-up knowledge. Names and biographies are easily accessible; video games are played IRL; non-local communication has lost most of its non-locality. Entertaining.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross. This and the Atwood are the two where I'd heard of the highly praised author yet had never read their work. Title is from rule 34 of the Rules of the Internet: "There is porn of it. No exceptions." and following an SVU-type police department in future-Scotland that investigates grisly, meme-based crimes. Stross's future is more expressively realized than Vinge's more dry telling. One oddly common sub-theme is the potential accidental manifestation of an AI in the global network. Different from Vinge's approach--but the same as one suggested in a Cory Doctorow short story--the AI in Rule 34 may have come from the arms race of spammers creating more and more human-appearing presences to fool people. The novel switches between different characters, and keeps you off-kilter throughout (and long after).

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. End-of-the-world downer-lit. This reminded me of Martin Amis's short story "The Immortals" from his collection Einstein's Monsters. In both, one of the last humans on Earth examines the causes of our extinction. In Oryx and Crake, it is from consumerist genetic engineering. Just the thought of the monstrosity that was created to produce "meat" for Chicken Nubbins (TM) fast food is icky enough. Rule 34 level depravity is rampant and believable and the how-did-we-get-here shock is somewhat Stranger in a Strange Land (haven't read it). Where Vinge provides the formula for optimism--he's a singularity proponent so it comes naturally--Atwood slippery slopes us into something both unfathomably bleak and sadly of human nature. Her creative spinning was well done even though I felt Vinge's vision that life will be different-but-OK holds a more realistic truth. Still, anti-futures aren't meant to be realism but simply warnings, and this was valid.

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posted by sstrader at 7:07 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9 | permalink

July 19, 2011

The Quantum Thief; Hannu Rajaniemi

Highly recommended heist/detective novel dressed in post-human scifi garb. Our hero gets busted out of a dilemma prison by a warrior from the Oort cloud in order to retrieve a valuable object that a previous version of him had hidden on one of the walking cities on Mars where people use life time as currency before they are harvested by the Resurrection Men to become Quiets, human/machine hybrids that sustain the city and terraform the planet. Not for the technologically squeamish. This was a completely show-don't-tell novel that, despite the maelstrom of undefined terms, provided thrilling action next to thoughtful drama. Another great recommendation from the io9 book club. Moving on to The City and The City next.

See the Wikipedia entry for more details plus keep their articles on characters and terms used for a reference while reading. [ updated 22 Mar 2015 ] The terms page has been deleted, but has thoughtfully been archived by Karan Gill here.

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posted by sstrader at 12:23 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged finland, io9, posthuman, the windup girl | permalink

June 11, 2011

The Last Western; Thomas S. Klise

I found this book based on a recommendation during the Infinite Summer book club almost two years ago. This is why you should buy books even if you don't plan on reading them immediately: they provide options when your queue's empty. Around 50 pages in. I like the prose style but am suspecting I may have gotten myself into a Jesus allegory. I picked up a hefty used hardback stamped "Newport News Public Library System, West Avenue Branch, West Avenue and 30th Street." I haven't read it during my commute yet, but I already miss my Kindle.

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posted by sstrader at 1:27 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

May 26, 2011

The Three Musketeers; Alexander Dumas

I really enjoyed the two 70s films adapted from this book. They had a sense of fun throughout and yet they didn't seem simply thrown together for laughs. The book has much of the same, silly attitude. I'm around 1/2 through now. The first third contained the first 1973 movie and so far the material for the second 1975 movie has only been hinted at.

This was sitting on my Kindle as part of the Gutenberg cache I'd loaded up in preparation for our Thailand trip. I was re-reminded of it from a reddit thread about book recommendations and someone brought up The Count of Monte Christo specifically and Dumas in general.

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posted by sstrader at 12:06 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

May 13, 2011

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch; Philip K. Dick

Of his books, I'd previously only read, and greatly enjoyed, The Man in the High Castle. Movie adaptations were plenty: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers (only recently), Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. Yet to watch The Adjustment Bureau. Three Stigmata had a wealth of wonderful ideas that got derailed, at times, with clumsy dialog. It took a few chapters to get used to the dated quality of some of the conversations similar to what I felt with The Demolished Man from 1953, Three Stigmata coming 11 years later. The sheer number of "golly!"s and "nuts to you!" were odd, but the writing for some of the conversations was just bad. Ignoring that, you have to admire the prescience of the subject matter: the population spending the majority of their free time in a virtual world, paying for virtual accessories. PKD lays on top of this the concept of Christian transubstantiation and an Inception-like uncertainty about "real" reality.

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posted by sstrader at 5:08 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged philip k. dick | permalink

May 7, 2011

God's War: Kameron Hurley

Sci-fi. An amoral, ex-assassin works with her team to track down a missing off-world visitor. Their world remembers vaguely when its first settlers came millennia ago. For almost as long, two countries have been involved in a war of religious differences. The fauna consist mostly of bugs and bugs are a component of everything: vehicles are run based on some organic combinations of swarms of bugs, messages are sent via documents composed of masses of tiny bugs shifting like e-ink, radio is transmitted via swarms. And there is magic of a sort: individuals born with the ability to manipulate nearby insects or born with the ability to "shift" into other animal forms. Social norms fluctuate with odd gender roles across the different nationalities. Much of the background of this future is given in passing, which is nice.

Recommended by Kelly over at io9 where they always have good suggestions (got The Windup Girl based on their reading club).

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posted by sstrader at 3:03 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9 | permalink

April 14, 2011

The Pale King; David Foster Wallace

Opening sentence:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb's-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in the morning breeze like a mother's soft hand on your cheek.

Opening sentence of Infinite Jest:

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.

I would love to purchase chapter 19 and send it to many friends. It manifests every political/social/philosophical discussion we've ever had. I just finished the kernel of the book--chapter 22, pages 154 through 252. A daunting, directed bildungsroman. Overall a less flagrantly bleak worldview and more bleakly hopeful. I have yet to go back and map all of the characters I've met at various ages and when I've met them. This should have been done, casually and without too much effort, from the start. There are many.

I received the book, pre-ordered, the Friday before NYC whereas it officially comes out tomorrow on tax day.

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posted by sstrader at 10:40 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace | permalink

March 30, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer; Seth Grahame-Smith

Last read before The Pale King comes in (The following items have been shipped to you by Amazon.com: The Pale King ...).

A weird combination of historically informative and trashy. The story unexpectedly illustrated the great uncertainties involved in very iconic events that are otherwise often shorthanded with certainties. The major player that was slavery shares time with economics and territorial expansion. And vampires. My only frustration was the same I have with any historical novel: their made up bits feel too much like history. When Lincoln reminisced of his youthful experiences, was that drawn from actual documents or simply true-to-character? Either way, a fun read.

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posted by sstrader at 10:58 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

March 20, 2011

Little Brother; Cory Doctorow

Started this to burn time until DFW's The Pale King arrives in the next few weeks. But with my new job being on the Marta line, I'm burning through books much more quickly and this grabbed my interest more fervently than I'd anticipated.

The plot is about a teenager in San Francisco who uses his technical savvy to defeat the various tracking mechanisms around school and throughout the city. His skills become more vital after a terrorist attack hits the city and DHS starts disappearing anyone they deem suspicious. It's set only slightly in the future, with all of the tech possible if not widely used. His exploits are often annotated detailed descriptions and keywords the reader should use to google for more details. All very anarchist manifesto-y, but it's directed towards teens to make them more surveillance-state aware and filled with good tech and privacy rights history.

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posted by sstrader at 7:31 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

Sense and Sensibility; Jane Austen

The characters were at time excruciatingly self-absorbed, idle, aristocrats, but once past that, I started to appreciate the author's observations. It's a fascinating look into the history of English society in the early 1800s, written by a 19-year-old. Looking forward to watching the Ang Lee movie and eventually moving on to her sophomore work: P&P.

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posted by sstrader at 7:19 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

February 23, 2011

The Hunger Games trilogy; Suzanne Collins

I've enjoyed several other YA dystopian novels over the past few years. The four Uglies books got me started in 2008 and that led to Feed not long after. Both have stayed with me, and have much to be recommended for. Oddly, Feed had the weaker writing but the more resonant, and bleak, message w/r/t technology.

After a couple of days, I'm nearly finished with The Hunger Games. It's difficult to put down and really does deserve all of the attention it's getting. Despite the grim premise (teens fight to the death as retribution for their geographic regions' past rebellions against the Capitol) this is very teen-friendly and thoughtful.

IO9 just posted an article on the rise of dystopian YA novels titled What would it take for grownups to love dystopian fiction as much as teenagers?. The examination of the history of such works manifests this wry comment:

A lot of people credit Star Wars with destroying New Wave Science Fiction, which means you can add the lapse in dystopian stories to the list of things to blame George Lucas for.

Amen. The author asks why the young are latching on to dystopian stories and adults aren't, pointing out that teenagers often feel thrown into a bizarro world, but: Most of us still have the feeling that things are badly wrong with the world, and that powerful people are able to walk all over the rest of us. If you're a progressive, you probably blame big corporations. If you're a conservative, you probably blame big government.

The article also points to the New Yorker piece from June 2010 Fresh Hell: What's behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers? I tend to agree with the author's assessment of Uglies and Hunger Games: they're less warnings of impending doom than descriptions of specific anguish. Feed--however--was very much warning.

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posted by sstrader at 12:30 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged io9, ya fiction | permalink

February 9, 2011

His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman

lyra + will

I planned on reading these during the Thailand flights, but didn't start until the LA-to-Atl leg home. Ever since I saw The Golden Compass movie, I've had these book on my list. The Kindle purchase for Thailand + the fact that they're relatively inexpensive ebooks pushed them to the top of my list. Still plan on purchasing those beautiful, 10th anniversary hardback editions though.

I finished the last book two days ago and have had the standard sadness after losing characters you spend an extended time with. The story has its quizzical metaphors which don't lend themselves to obvious parsing, and so stay in your head. It's also confusing as, potentially, young adult literature yet with some mature and grotesque scenes. I suspect, as the author has explained, that young adults are better equipped to consume such complexities than they are normally credited.

I read daily and have been largely consumed by the story and by our heroes Lyra and Will. The carving made on the Botanic Garden bench is particularly sweet. I'll miss them and although I'm tempted to get the short stories that he's written with characters from the books, I just don't think the mood will be matched. The trilogy was complete, and that's enough. Not sure what to read now that I'm on an end-of-story downer.

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posted by sstrader at 11:57 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged religion, ya fiction | permalink

December 4, 2010

November 25, 2010

Science and imagination

Listening to a Material World podcast on the UK government's budget for science research over the next four years. Threatening to be one of the more boring of their podcasts, it had a couple of interesting parenthetical facts. In support of the belief that imaginative freedom pushes science forward, one guest pointed out that properties of graphene were discovered during such moments of scientific goofing off. This was pointed out because two Manchester scientists received the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for these experiments. Another, equally fascinating, discovery was during directed research but in an area that could be dismissed as frivilous. I can find any sources on this, but according to the podcast a linguist was given 7,500 pounds to study an endangered language in the Solomon Islands. During their research, they discovered a new language structure believed to not be possible. This new information is now being looked at by linguists and neurologists in order to determine what the innate structures of language are and how they are mapped in the brain.

posted by sstrader at 10:52 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 20, 2010

Zero History; William Gibson

First thoughts: not sure if I'm enjoying his elliptical sentences (and paragraphs) anymore. And his focus on fashion minutiae comes across as aristocratic putrefaction. Or maybe incisiveness? I enjoy revisiting these characters (viz. Hollis Henry and Hubertus Bigend) though.

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posted by sstrader at 12:43 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

The Girl Who Played with Fire; Stieg Larsson

More action than the first. Larsson continues his odd stylistic sallies into dray, page-long descriptions. Dragon Tattoo had a lengthy list of the specs on Salander's new PC (ca 2002). Played with Fire has the furniture acquired from her trip to IKEA. LC sent me this article from Apartment Therapy with the passage in question+pics of her IKEA swag. The comments were fun. Also noticed that every character seemed oversexed in the first half of this book. Am I missing some theme? Last ~150 pages were riveting action/suspense. I'd seen the movie but there was much added here.

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posted by sstrader at 12:28 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

September 30, 2010

The Chaos Scenario - Bob Garfield; The Age of Spiritual Machines - Ray Kurzweil

Read these to take a break in between the first and the second Stieg Larsson books. With The Chaos Scenario, one of your two two favorite hosts of On The Media riffs on the various disruptive aspects the internet will have on media, business, and, ultimately, society as a whole. There were many questions and few answers but rather cautionary tales. If you like his discursive style on OTM, you'll enjoy his very conversational writing style.

Kurzweil's book presents a conundrum: how to objectively approach a 10-year-old book that attempts to predict the world 10 years into the future (and much further)? Additional: how to give fair judgment when the author emphasizes their credentials yet over-estimates potential accomplishments within those credentialed areas? This was an impulse purchase after reading it referenced with praise in several discussion threads. Although many ideas were interesting, I came away disliking his inelegant, artless writing style and generally dry structure. In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed the predictions and explications of bioengineering in Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future, even though I disagreed with his conclusions.

[ update 30 Nov 2010 ]

Ray Kurzweil's Slippery Futurism from IEEE Spectrum [ via Slashdot ] gives a drubbing to predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines, examining both the difficulties in separating what had been common knowledge 10 years ago from what seems prescient now, and the difficulties in getting Kurzweil to admit when he was, obviously, wrong. The inexplicable crowing that Kurzweil does in the book regarding his past business successes seems more explicable now.

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posted by sstrader at 9:47 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged fukuyama, posthuman | permalink

August 22, 2010

July 31, 2010

Let Me In; John Ajvide Lindqvist

We saw the film when it came through maybe a year or so ago (?) and I then recommended it to a co-worker. He almost immediately went out and purchased the book and recommended that to me. Both are strong works in their own way and, though abbreviated, the movie stayed very true to the book. The American version is rewriting many major aspects of the story.

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posted by sstrader at 2:49 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

June 8, 2010

Review of Wikipedia books

Decided to search for reviews of the Wikipedia/Pediapress books. Learned that this is actually an old feature that has been made available to people without Wikipedia accounts. I'm logged in 90% of the time, so I have no idea why I didn't know of it. I also learned that there is some weird tech-hatred for the feature.

TechCrunch posted a non-descript, press release review on May 6th which garnered snarky comments such as Great, I really wanted a way to pay for Wikipedia content. Gizmodo, less charitably, on May 7th: when you've got to the point in your life where printing pages off from Wikipedia seems like a good idea...you need to be banned from society. Mashable, also on the 6th, gave a more thoughtful review, pointing out that [c]ontent can be customized around any topic or topics the user desires. The ability to curate content is one of the hallmarks of the latest wave of digital creativity. Mashable's readers, arguably more DIY friendly than pop-tech sites, were generally interested in the possibilities.

Compare these to the first comment from a (relatively) non-tech friend when I described the feature: "What a great idea for gifts!" Wikipedia is still a contentious concept, subject to snobbery ("you mean anyone can edit it?!") and divisionism ("liberal bias!"), so any project associated with it will inevitably get skewered with the same attacks. A coworker grudgingly admitted Pediapress books might be useful for non-controversial articles. Just how much of human knowledge is that controversial?! Have we come to believe that every subject is abortion or global warming? Though not without its problems, the value and rarity of much of Wikipedia's content compared with other internet resources is often underappreciated. Where would Google's first page of search results be without Wikipedia?

posted by sstrader at 1:43 PM in Language & Literature | tagged pediapress | permalink

May 26, 2010

Printed books from Wikipedia, hands on

Two weeks ago I discovered that Wikipedia added a book-printing feature based on articles of your choosing. I selected and arranged several dozen articles discussing Russian composers of the early 1800s through the mid-to-late 1900s. One week later, flaws and all, they're now valued additions to my home library. Based on the quick delivery, quality of the finished product, and the giddy power of printing your own books, I plan on ordering more in the future. Some links:

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posted by sstrader at 11:35 PM in Language & Literature | tagged ebooks, pediapress | permalink

May 20, 2010

The Chaos Scenario; Bob Garfield

This just won an Independent Publisher Book Award gold medal for current events. If you listen to On the Media (and you should), you'll notice that this book reads exactly like BG speaks. Very casual, idiomatic, fragment-heavy. Not a criticism, just a comment.

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posted by sstrader at 11:46 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

May 13, 2010

Russian Composers, printed books from Wikipedia

This week I discovered that Wikipedia recently added a feature that allows you to collect and arrange articles and have them printed and bound. The interface is basic so it's feature-poor but easy to use. An excellent start! After my attempt at a short test book on Indo-European languages grew to 400+ pages, I abandoned it and created one on Russian composers. That quickly grew to an unmanageable test size too, so I split it up into three shorter books and ordered them all. No, that does not make any sense.

  1. Russian Composers, Part 1: The Five
  2. Russian Composers, Part 2: The Romantics
  3. Russian Composers, Part 3: The Moderns
  4. Russian Composers, Addendum
Russian Composers, Part 1: The Five Russian Composers, Part 2: The Romantics Russian Composers, Part 3: The Moderns Russian Composers, Addendum

~250 pages each for ~$15 each. Once created, you can select a cover image from those scraped out of the contained Wikipedia articles and choose from a fixed set of color schemes. Even with a simple list of composers, I labored over the article selection and finally committed. I'm sure I'm going to get them (in a few days!) and realize I've missed someone important. Ah well, then's when I print up an appendix! And unless they look like total carp, I'm already planning a part 4 for contemporary composers. I just hope none of the articles were grabbed for printing right after they were vandalized. As entertaining as it was to learn that Vincent Persichetti was a werewolf slayer, I wouldn't want that in print.

[ updated 18 Jun 2010 ]

Finished the books and finally put together the Addendum!

posted by sstrader at 5:06 PM in Language & Literature | tagged pediapress | permalink

April 20, 2010

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood; Peter Biskind

Borrowed from Matt and ~1/2 way through. Making me want to watch and re-watch every one of those early 70s movies and convincing me that, without exception, every director at the time was an unmitigated asshole. Also a good argument that art is best created in conflict.

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posted by sstrader at 11:32 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

March 18, 2010

Fiction and life

I have a deep mistrust of people who don't read fiction, but I usually can't justify that mistrust. It feels a little smug. I usually extend that to those who only watch movies for cheap entertainment, finding more moody cinema to be inscrutable. This morning on NPR, a british writer (Sebastian Faulks) expressed the justification quite well when reading in the voice of a Mary Sue character--a lover of fiction--from his recent novel (A Week in December):

But surely [fiction] is just the opposite [of escapism], said Gabriel. Books explain the real world. They bring you close to it in a way that you could never imagine in the course of the day. People never explain to you exactly what they think and feel and how their thoughts and feelings work, do they? They don't have time or the right words. But thats what books do. It's as though your daily life is a film in the cinema. It can be fun looking at those pictures. ... But if you want to know what lies behind the flat screen, you have to read a book. That explains it all.

The omniscient narrator or overly personal narrator found in books give us insight into others' worlds and our own.

Pump Six, from a book of short stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, describes a similar moment of "what is the value of art". In an Idiocracy future, Americans spend time working at jobs they can barely understand as society literally crumbles around them; they have become too intellectually deficient to understand how to maintain the civil engineering infrastructure. In their off time, they screw and take drugs. You could argue that life's value comes from our enjoyment of our leisure time, but taken to this extreme all insight has been lost. This is the life of those who abandon books.

It may sound a smug conceit, but rather than a prediction it's a warning.

posted by sstrader at 8:18 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 15, 2010

The Windup Girl; Paolo Bacigalupi

Heard about this via the io9 book club and so purchased the hardback of it and his short story collection Pump Six. TWG has been praised by Time Magazine as one of the top ten books of fiction for 2009 and by the American Library Association as the best SciFi of 2009. Halfway into the story thus far and it feels very of-a-time with Naomi Klein's and Michael Pollan's ideas, along with (in a more minor fashion) Fukuyama's somewhat older book Our Posthuman Future.

Other links:

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posted by sstrader at 1:09 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged fukuyama, io9, posthuman, the windup girl | permalink

February 9, 2010

The ending of Stanislaw Lem's Fiasco

No spoilers, just some links to discussion pages on Fiasco:

There's a wealth of Lem criticism out there that I hadn't suspected existed.

posted by sstrader at 11:52 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

January 13, 2010

Three Stanislaw Lem novels

While speaking with a Russian co-worker about Tarkovsky's Solaris, we moved on to discussing Lem's novels. I'd read a few in high school, but only really remember The Cyberiad (which was adapted into an opera in 1970). Picked up these three and hope to eventually find a non-movie-branded copy of Solaris.

The Futurological Congress was a quick read and a darkly satiric anti-future taking society's dependence on mood-altering drugs to an absurd extreme. I'm halfway through Fiasco, a late work of his. It contains rhapsodic creativity along with somewhat hard science. Where The Futurological Congress has the rambling absurdity of The Cyberiad, Fiasco is more like Tarkovsky's moody Solaris.

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posted by sstrader at 2:12 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

December 16, 2009

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy; Lawrence Lessig

Just started this over the weekend. Quick read. Not as satisfying as I'd hoped. I'm reminded of some of the themes in The Recording Angel--specifically when Lessig talks about Sousa's warning that albums and player pianos are ruining the culture of amateur creative musicianship. These two books would be paired well in a reading list.

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posted by sstrader at 9:20 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

Outliers; Malcolm Gladwell

Read a few weeks back. In short: an argument against blaming the victim presented as an argument against congratulating those who are successful, often backed by direct quotes from those successful individuals. Gladwell's books are always a lesson that life is more subtle and varied than those beliefs that many declare to be basic "common sense."

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posted by sstrader at 9:11 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

September 17, 2009

Art and grammar

I noticed something recently while writing music at the piano. The section I was working on contained two independent lines separated between the hands, but at one point the harmonies generated became noticeably thin and the two lines were no longer distinct. It was obvious that the problem was a few successive parallel octaves (parallel perfect intervals diminish the sense of separate voices) so I reworked the section to eliminate the error but keep the intended mood. I recognized the error because of how it sounded, and even understood how to fix it by reworking the melodies and listening, but understanding the process involved a working knowledge of the grammar of music.

The High was recently showing Monet's Waterlillies. Currently, they're showing works of Leonardo Da Vinci. For major shows, they will display a large-scale poster covering the front of their main building and facing Peachtree Street. The Monet was a section of a Waterlillies painting with an overall right-pointing triangular layout (c.f. the Classical design style that often uses the more stable hypotenuse-base triangle). The Da Vinci poster consists of a section of a terracotta relief sculpture that contains a reclining angel (clipped section below).


The figure suggests a syncopation of geometric shapes fitted elegantly and embellished with slight, Renaissance curves. You can immediately see the artist's thoughts as he blocked out the design.

Both instances show how an understanding of the grammar of the arts helps the viewer both to understand the mechanics of communication and to recognize the cause of flawed communication.

posted by sstrader at 11:10 PM in Art , Language & Literature , Music | permalink

September 2, 2009

The Last Western by Thomas S. Klise

Recommended by Maria Bustillos on the Infinite Summer blog as a novel similar to Infinite Jest. In the blog comments, one of the author's daughters posted a reply. Reviews over at Amazon are few yet positive. Out of print, but found a copy at AbeBooks via BookFinder. Not sure what to expect.

posted by sstrader at 10:48 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 11, 2009


Something I've seen over the last six months to a year (it may be older): using "this" as a one word reply agreeing to a previous comment in a thread. E.g. "It's not that C++ is a complex language, it's simply that programmers tend to fail more spectacularly when using it." Followed by: "This." (Often with an up arrow ^ reemphasizing the direction of the this). Maybe an abbrev. of "this is what I mean" or "this is what I'm talking about" or perhaps just "this is the real issue." It usually follows a very long post and so makes an exaggerated point in its brevity of how well the previous post has encapsulated the heart of the discussion.

[ updated 23 Dec 2009 ]

Over the past couple of months, there's been a backlash of anti-brevity. Here's one humorous example of this-hatred:

posted by sstrader at 11:23 PM in Internet , Language & Literature | permalink

June 23, 2009

Infinite Jest; David Foster Wallace

Decided on Friday to join Infinite Summer for the next three months and re-read Infinite Jest. I had read it once before beginning in October 2002. This was in the middle of the three-year vow to get back to reading and read at least one book a month. I'll assume for many subsequent months, those books were read in parallel. I hessitated to join the, now large, online reading group for all the reasons others had: intimidated, afraid of commitment, etc. At 55 pages in, I have no regrets and am somewhat obsessed with the book. Much easier the second time through.

Some links of note:

Misc.: Taking advice from someone's Twitpiced book to use two bookmarks: one for the story proper and one for the footnotes. Many west-coasters were having a difficult time finding a copy! There's some new edition out, but it's not so new that IS could be pegged as a (decidedly weird) publicity stunt. I have no idea where I got my copy in 2002; it's from a UK division of Little, Brown, and Co. called Abacus. Every blurb on the cover is from a different British publication.

[ updated 14 August 2009 ]

Found an obit over at IFC. Contains links to many of DFW's writings available online.

Continue reading "Infinite Jest; David Foster Wallace"
posted by sstrader at 12:52 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace | permalink

April 26, 2009

Spook Country; William Gibson

Picked up for the flight to NOLA. Best part so far: the concept of locative art where the viewer must wear VR specs to see guerilla 3D installations in public places (e.g. a life-sized whale floating through a mall atrium).

Continue reading "Spook Country; William Gibson"
posted by sstrader at 4:09 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

February 16, 2009

Feed; M. T. Anderson

Quick read. Made me very depressed. It's sort of a 1984/BNW for young adults (although, we all read those as young adults, so the genre label is a little unfair). Many of the scenes are as bleak as those two anti-futures, with a more relevant, timely grimness. The future is defined by a combination of corporations taking over American schooling ('cause state-supported education is so Nazi) and the near ubiquity of brain implants providing internal internet, chat, entertainment, and pushed, personalized advertisements. Once knowledge is always available and without effort, learning is abandoned. There are many scenes where the female protagonist wonders why culture appears shallow and moronic only to her. This attitude doesn't need to be set in the future to ring so true.

To me, the technological possibilities--even when presented as such a destructive force--were fascinating. Late in the novel our heroine marvels sadly that, when she doesn't try to hide her preferences, the corporations' product-recommendation algorithms actually did work better than her own choices. Something we think we want can give us what we want and yet still be destructive.

I liked the Uglies series better but only because it wasn't nearly as depressing.

Continue reading "Feed; M. T. Anderson"
posted by sstrader at 10:45 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged ya fiction | permalink

February 12, 2009

Talking Heads, "Seen and Not Seen"

He would see faces in movies, on T.V., in magazines, and in books...
He thought that some of these faces might be right for him....
And through the years, by keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his mind....
Or somewhere in the back of his mind....
That he might, by force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal....
The change would be very subtle....
It might take ten years or so....
Gradually his face would change its shape....
A more hooked nose...
Wider, thinner lips....
Beady eyes....
A larger forehead.

He imagined that this was an ability he shared with most other people....
They had also molded their faces according to some ideal....
Maybe they imagined that their new face would better suit their personality....
Or maybe they imagined that their personality would be forced to change to fit the new appearance....
This is why first impressions are often correct...
Although some people might have made mistakes....
They may have arrived at an appearance that bears no relationship to them....
They may have picked an ideal appearance based on some childish whim, or momentary impulse....
Some may have gotten half-way there, and then changed their minds.

He wonders if he too might have made a similar mistake.

posted by sstrader at 2:00 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

January 11, 2009

Charismatic megafauna

I'd first encountered this phrase in a short piece in Lingua Franca--the excellent yet long-defuct 'zine covering academia--but could never find it in my back-issues. Last week, some online article used the phrase and prompted me to search: Google search got me to the Wikipedia entry which prompted me to research and find the article's author Paul Kedrosky's blog and ultimately to the article in a Lingua Franca archive. Bonus: the archive has several years of LF online.

(Charismatic megafauna is the term used for the cute endangered species. People care about saving those critters, yet scoff at the economic expenditures of saving the more stinky/creepy/ugly ones. There's a similar response to wilderness preservation. I've heard denouncements of ANWR protection on the grounds that it's mostly barren-ish tundra (even though it's not). There's cute land and ugly land too.)

posted by sstrader at 4:13 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

December 28, 2008

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century; Alex Ross

~150 pages in. So far a very approachable review of 20th century music. Predominantly on the "classical" side, but with many stories on how different styles and different classifications have interbred. I think I recommend it to anyone interested, but I also have noticed that many of the refs in the book have been refiring my music history class synapses. YMMV. He's got streaming excerpts on his web page, but while reading I seldom stop to take advantage. Accessible knowledge is sometimes an inconvenient interruption.

Continue reading "The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century; Alex Ross"
posted by sstrader at 3:05 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

November 29, 2008


Daniel L. Everett just released his book, Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, describing his work with the Piraha people of Brazil. Back in August 2004, I'd read about his work as reported in a New Scientist article. The Freethinker just published a short writeup of his story [ via Reddit ] along with a a portion of Everett speaking on a BBC special. BBC has a handful of articles dating back to the 2004 story. Language Log, too, has commented on the Piraha language over the years.

(Small gripe: One of the linguists on Language Log complained about the state of the Piraha Wikipedia article, vocally refused to link to it, and yet didn't take any time to clean it up. Where will the public more likely go to learn: from your specialized blog or Wikipedia? The Wikipedia entry is now quite detailed and shows a history of battled edits. Crowdsourcing 1, academic isolationists 0.)

The Guardian just published a lengthy article covering, first, Everett's loss of faith (he'd originally gone to convert them to Christianity) in the face of the Piraha's general contentedness and disinterest in the spiritual. Much is made of this, and Everett discusses both his conversion to Christianity and his loss of faith in the audio above. The Piraha were almost cruelly dismissive of his belief system. Do tell? In the audio excerpt, Everett recounts how he converted to Christianity after his stepmother committed suicide. The Piraha laughed at the story, telling him How stupid! Pirahas don't kill themselves! (I've always felt there should be special punishment for the coercively arrogant who would wrestle a people's beliefs away from them. Missionaries are, simply, some of the lowest scum of a compassionate society. It's human nature to try to dominate others; but it's one of the more distasteful aspects when it attempts to destroy another's culture.)

Second, the article discusses Everett's notable assertion that the Piraha breaks rules of Chomsky's universal grammar (lacking recursion and ideas of numbers and colors that Chomsky believes are basic parts of a human "language organ"). This assertion is less interesting than the extremes of mental representations that the language and people display. The examples show how wonderfully diverse people of the world are: the Piraha have no history beyond their daily memories, they cannot understand the numeric difference in two groups of objects (a pile of four sticks is no different than a pile of five sticks), they have no government, they have no art or literature. Sortof redefines what a culture is, and that's always nice to encounter so shocking an example of variety in human cultures.

The New Yorker has a more conversational account of Everett and the Piraha, including some very funny stories of Everett and the author's interactions with the tribe. They encounter repeated examples of the villagers' complete disinterest with any culture but their own and any events beyond what was happening in the present. "Crooked head" is the tribe's term for any language that is not Pirahã, and it is a clear pejorative. The Pirahã consider all forms of human discourse other than their own to be laughably inferior, and they are unique among Amazonian peoples in remaining monolingual. An entire society of ultra-nationalists. The history of the decades of failed attempts to fully understand the language shows how different it is from other languages--even if it doesn't challenge Chomsky's ideas. The heart of the article:

Inspired by Sapir's cultural approach to language, [Everett] hypothesized that the tribe embodies a living-in-the-present ethos so powerful that it has affected every aspect of the people's lives. Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions--and thus do not use color terms, quantifiers, numbers, or myths.
posted by sstrader at 7:10 PM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

November 19, 2008

The Demolished Man; Alfred Bester

Very 50s crime drama set in 2300 or thereabouts. Halfway in and it's so far a good read.

Continue reading "The Demolished Man; Alfred Bester"
posted by sstrader at 11:49 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

Bad Monkeys: A Novel (P.S.); Matt Ruff

Quick read. Entertaining but can't really recommend it. Good, light reading for the beach (too late) or a flight (none planned).

Continue reading "Bad Monkeys: A Novel (P.S.); Matt Ruff"
posted by sstrader at 11:38 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

September 16, 2008

August 14, 2008

Burning Chrome and Virtual Light

After reading Mona Lisa Overdrive I started searching for some more Gibson in hardback or oversized paperback to no avail. Amazon had few choices and results from the otherwise wonderful BookFinder would seldom specify whether the edition was trade paperback or mass-market. Blargh. So, I went to the Book Nook in Decatur for the first time in years. Alas, they only had the cheap-yet-expensive mass-market paperbacks:


(Rewatched Donnie Darko the other night; been paging through Watchmen as images from next year's movie are released; read Borges' "The Aleph" after looking up the word from its references in Mona Lisa Overdrive)

Burning Chrome had some very average sci-fi--where I assume Gibson was finding his way--along with iconic early cyberpunk. "Johnny Mnemonic," "New Rose Hotel," "The Winter Market," and "Burning Chrome" stand out. "Johnny Mnemonic" was difficult to read only because I kept visualizing that gay movie with Keanu Reeves, but then much of the imagery in cyberpunk novels would look idiotic on screen (I'm flying in cyberspace!!!). "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" could easily have been an inspiration for Strange Days.

I'm just finishing Virtual Light. Once I got to the reveal with the augmented reality goggles, I was immediately reminded of an article I'd read years ago (maybe "Lab Rat: Virtual light" from Red Herring, 18 April 2001?). You wear the glasses and they tag objects with information. Think of the neat little Wikipedia icons that you can display in Google Maps but live and floating over your field of vision.

posted by sstrader at 1:33 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 3, 2008

Where was I?

In Destin last weekend. Left Friday morning and returned Monday morning. Relaxing, but I got burned the first day out on the beach :(. There were eight of us in a dee-luxe house, so there was a lot of stayin' in and drinkin' and eatin' and gabbin' and watchin' goofy DVDs. Minor drama when I went walking one night and came back two hours later with a rented scooter, but scooters are fun so it was a win. Until Monday morning when it ran out of gas on Lisa & I on our way to fill up and return it. Another :(.

Detox during the week whilst I finished various reads. I wanted some funcrazy cyberpunk for vacationing, so I picked up Mona Lisa Overdrive for the beach and read most of it on the drive back. I had gone to Kroger on Thursday beforehand because I'd been wanting try out its DVD rental kiosk. I flipped through the movies, saw Cloverfield was already checked out (!), and realized that that's the movie that needed to be taken. I must find it! Planning to find another Kroger, instead I just went to B&N, bought a copy, and realized I needed to pick up a beach book. They only had MLO in mass market paperback, and I'm struggling now to find the other Gibson novels I don't have in either hardback or oversized paperback. Oddly difficult. Cloverfield was a win and FEAKED EVERYONE'S SHIT OUT during the subway scene. I pass-ed out-eth so Lisa & I watched it again when we got home.

On our return to the ATL, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Eighth Season graphic novels (#s 1 and 2) and the last book of Y: The Last Man were waiting for me. Hoo. Ray. The Buffy stories were fun and it was great seeing the wild changes that have occured; probably would've been difficult with a TV budget. The artwork had two problems: body proportions and likenesses. Most of the time, people's heads were absurdly too large for their bodies. Not Peanuts-large, but large all the same. Skilled artists otherwise, so I can't explain it. Getting the likeness right is always a pitfall of adaptations. They were close-enough. The painted covers had them perfect. I powered through Y the morning before work on Tuesday. Had started the night before and got hooked while trying to avoid work. Ultimately Yorick's five year trip was the enjoyable part of the story with this final episode simply capping things off. The whole series was a way to offer riffs on sexual politics (and reversals) and sexual identity. The defining scenes at the end were when 355 lectures Yorick, worried that he alone would not be a good father-figure to a son, that mothers are more responsible for molding men than fathers. Later, an aged Yorick lectures one of his 22-year-old clones that it was Dr. Mann's asshole father that pushed her to be a great scientist. You gotta find a balance. The scene with Ampersand made me very sad.

Last night was Dark Knightus Interruptus. Ten-or-so minutes in and the Great Atlanta Storm of August 2nd 2008 hit. It directed its greatest force at the powerlines that fed to the Midtown Landmark Cinema. Specifically to the theater that was showing The Dark Knight at 7:00 PM. BLAST! Sad tweets here, here, and here. We gave it 20 minutes, then headed back to Pint and Plate where the drinks were flowing, the sliders were ... sliding, and power flowed through the tubes like Coca-Cola!

posted by sstrader at 11:22 AM in Cinema , Language & Literature , Where was I? | tagged comic books | permalink

July 9, 2008

Hangul and accents

Hangul is a written script for the Korean language. It was created around 1444 CE in order to overcome the complexity and ambiguity resulting from using the Chinese Hanzi script. Hangul allows the writer to represent the Korean language phonetically--part of each letter is a simplified illustration of how the sound should be formed in the mouth--and so has been described by computational linguist Geoffrey Sampson as one of the great intellectual achievements of humankind.

For the hundreds of years since its introduction, Hangul has battled the supremacy of the tradition driven by scholars and priests of using the Chinese script. Today, in South Korea, writing consists of a mix of Hangul, hanja (the Korean name for Hanzi), and Latin loan words. The Chinese script has slowly lessened in importance. During this transition, the script has also moved from primarily phonemic to a mix of phonemic and morphologic, that is: from sound-centric to sound- and word-centric. Although it seems odd for the users of a script to choose ambiguity over phonological precision, the benefit is that sounds that change across regional accents and dialects become less important within the script itself.

This is a benefit in English and other languages that use the Latin alphabet. Although spelling may not match pronunciation, words do not change spelling across regions. "Yard" in Boston (/jɔːd/) is still spelled "yard" and not "yaughd" like "caught" (/kɔːt/) and certainly not like "cough" (/kɔːf/). If we wanted phonetic precision, we'd use IPA or some other equivalent system.

posted by sstrader at 2:15 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

July 1, 2008

June 27, 2008

Schroedenberging (definition)

v. intr. 1. erroneously referencing Schroedinger's cat or the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or both within unrelated domains, 2. combining the two into a hybrid that expresses neither: The rattle in my car is like Schroedinger's Cat as soon as a mechanic looks for it.

posted by sstrader at 11:51 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

June 6, 2008

e-dundancy (definition)

n. Using one medium to prepare the recipient for a message via another medium. E.g. Calling someone to tell them you're sending them an email, IMing that you will be calling, etc.

posted by sstrader at 7:15 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 28, 2008

May 26, 2008

Two graphic novels

Finished reading the Ghost in the Shell GN and Palestine by Joe Sacco.

Ghost in the Shell


GitS was well-drawn if a bit dense at times. In contrast to the spare clarity of the Star Wars Manga (unfairly compared with Chaykin's Marvel version), GitS's pages are crowded with imagery, image styles, and meta-textual references. Although arguably appropriate for seminal cyberpunk, when paired with the alienating foreigness of face faults it feels uneven. It may require a re-read. I was also swimming in an effort to discern what parts made it to the movie, what made it to Stand Alone Complex, and what made it to 2nd GIG. That was an unnecessary exercise on my part, and only added to the chaos since references had no thematic or temporal organization.

Palestine had a similar flaw with frequent "meta" comments from the author examining his impulse to examine the Palestinian's occupation. Although the stories were fascinating, his over-examination of self was nothing more that increased self-absorbtion. Still, it's shocking to see what those people go through and are put through. The capacity for man to inflict suffering on his fellow man, etc. Palestine looks like, I'm sorry, a German prison camp.

posted by sstrader at 11:10 AM in Language & Literature | tagged comic books, ghost in the shell | permalink

May 22, 2008

Books, movies

Lisa and I were bemoaning the great novels out there that haven't been made into movies. People bitch and bitch about themovienotbeingasgoodasthebook, but that's always been a dead arguement for me. A movie is different from the book. Period. Anyway, I think I started with how great Chabon's books would be on film or maybe she brought up the McCarthy she's read and wanted to see.

There are a surplus of good-to-great directors out there, a surplus of actors, and a surplus of script writers, so these fictions should be rich territory to mine for film. The sad truth is that the system hinders development when it should be facilitating it. Production companies buy the rights and sit on them. Executives haggle over scripts and dumb down rewrites. Directors demand expensive techniques. Studios demand blockbusters. What we need is some sort of low-budget, Playhouse 90 sort of system. That series showed weekly live and filmed dramas often adapted from books, each running 90 minutes. George Clooney did something similar in 2000 with a live broadcast of Fail Safe.

This would be a wonderful series to revive, but it'd probably end up on HBO or some other cable channel we don't subscribe to.

[ updated 24 May 2008, Chabon's birthday ]

Just heard Garrison Keillor talk about Chabon on the writer's almanac and decided to read a little about him. Surprise, the Coen's are adapting The Yiddish Policemen's Union for film.

posted by sstrader at 12:54 PM in Cinema , Language & Literature | permalink

May 7, 2008

April 20, 2008

Uglies, Pretties, Specials (Boxed Set); Scott Westerfeld

I'd heard about this set from Boing Boing and was intrigued but wanted to avoid it for the idiot reason that it felt too much like buying an Oprah book: the heavy weight of a Boing Boing recommendation makes it more "marketing" than "recommending." Anyway, I picked up the boxed set during the recent Amazon sci-fi sale (along with complete Space: 1999 DVDs, complete Aeon Flux series, and two experimental films by Shozin Fukui) and just finished the first book, Uglies. It's teen fiction, but I've been completely engrossed with the characters, story, and ideas contained. Anti-future where everyone gets extreme plastic surgery at 16 to make them super-super-model beautiful. Our very much flawed female protagonist is drawn into a resistance group. Reluctantly, at first, then heroically. The clever concepts make up for the limited, teen-directed vocabulary and short (< 5-page) chapters. You'll burn through it quickly because of both this and it's compelling drama.

Continue reading "Uglies, Pretties, Specials (Boxed Set); Scott Westerfeld"
posted by sstrader at 4:06 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | tagged ya fiction | permalink

April 7, 2008


Swearing is the bodily functions of language. Though vulgar, it can confer a familiarity to the listener.

posted by sstrader at 8:58 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 5, 2008

Genius idea

Coworker went to Japan recently and got a local to guide and translate for free. The local did it so that they could practice their (already perfect) English. Coworker gets a free guide/translator, local gets exposure to idioms and accent. Win, meet win.

As soon as she told me about this, I had the genius idea to create a web site connecting travellers to language students. What a wonderful project! Imagine that you're going to Stockholm and all you have to do is browse for someone available in that time period to hang out with you a few hours a day and help you around the city.

More genius ideas...

posted by sstrader at 6:25 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 1, 2008

Irreligion; John Allen Paulos

I'd read his books on innumeracy and thought that this would be a nice, quick entry into the recent atheist-lit. He used to have a fun column on ABC's web site. Check out his (slightly ill-formatted) web site for more fun facts.

Continue reading "Irreligion; John Allen Paulos"
posted by sstrader at 10:31 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

March 22, 2008

Wikipedia: size doesn't matter

Pullum over at Language Log gives a more cogent dismissal of word count metrics in Wikipedia articles than I could express. He's responding to a snotty put-down of Wikipedia by of all people a professor of media studies, citing the comparative word counts of Klingon and Latin language entries (imperfectly counted, no less) as proof of Wikipedia's worthlessness. The counter-argument? First, when an encyclopedia isn't bound by paper, articles of lesser importance (however that is determined) no longer need to be edited for size. As I've often argued when people say that boring blogs are somehow useless (ahem), the internet you don't approve of can easily be ignored without diminishing the experience. Second, if an important article is too small, where're the fucking specialists interested enough to add content and help millions of others understand their specialty? If you don't have enough passion on your specialty to communicate it to others, maybe that's a more useful metric of the importance of a subject.

posted by sstrader at 3:02 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 29, 2008

29 Feb

This free day reminds me of the infamous 11 missing days from Pynchon's Mason & Dixon (OK, he didn't invent the 11missingdays but he put his own little twist on it). During the Julian-to-Gregorian switch in England, September 2nd 1752 was followed by September 14th. During this period, one of the novel's characters got lost alone in some alternate dimension England, waiting to catch up to the rest of the England that had already jumped ahead.

Oddly, the calendar switch happened across a wide span of time throughout the world. It's amazing history books get any dates right.

With 29 Feb, instead of losing time (something many of 1700s England railed against, superstitiously) all of us have this added day scrunched in between our days. I'm not sure how Pynchon would dramatize this. I can understand the filling-in-of the missing time with a cold, missing space, but how would you represent the freeby that comes with the leap year?

posted by sstrader at 5:21 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 20, 2008

Sherlock footnotes

Many Britons think that Gandhi and Churchill were fictional and that Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur were not. Ignoring the gee-they're-as-dumb-as-us aspect, I was reminded of the Sherlock scholars' concept of "the game". I had encountered the game before I knew what it was, and was pleasantly baffled. When I got the new Leslie S. Klinger editions, I was entertained by the footnotes that puzzled over dramatic gaffes in the text (e.g. "How could Holmes have missed that clue? Surely Watson was remembering wrong when he wrote of these events..."). "Why are they being silly" was quickly replaced by "hey, this is kinda neat!"

I wonder if this exists in other scholarship.

posted by sstrader at 4:49 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 18, 2008

Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure; Michael Chabon

A mix of Scheherazade (with its story begetting story begetting story format) and adventure yarn, Chabon provides a short, swift tale of virtuoso prose and enlightening history, but never too heavy. You don't have to turn to trash to turn off your brain and enjoy an adventure. (read several months back...)

Continue reading "Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure; Michael Chabon"
posted by sstrader at 10:46 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

January 25, 2008

albatar (definition)

n. An avatar you create that accumulates bad karma and/or associations, but that is indelibly linked to you and so unavoidable

[Origin: 2008; overheard from a friend who had just learned about avatars but was not familiar with the word]

posted by sstrader at 8:00 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

December 1, 2007

Quote from GitS:2ndGIG

When the masses come across information they agree with, the immediately internalize it.
posted by sstrader at 7:45 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 6, 2007

Quote from GitS:SAC

People entrust their memories to external devices because they want to set down solid physical proof that can distinguish them as unique individuals.
posted by sstrader at 8:37 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 1, 2007


Hearing an excerpt from The Who's Tommy last week, I wondered if there were any stories that transformed the hero myth for female heros. I'm sure feminist studies has tackled this many times over, but it's new to me. I suspected that the whole framework would need to change (and not just replace Mr's with Ms's), but I couldn't imagine how that change would be manifest. From A Historical Overview Of Heroes In Contemporary Works Of Fantasy Literature:

Although Joseph Campbell's book and many other works of mainstream literature have assumed that the hero is almost always male and that women play a part in heroism as either the goddess or the temptress archetype,9 the development of "heroic fantasy" in Weird Tales (and other pulp magazines) challenged many of those out-dated notions. In fact, C. L. Moore introduced the first female hero less than two years after Conan with "Jirel of Joiry," in a 1934 issue of Weird Tales. Six other highly colorful, romantic tales followed, firmly establishing the archetype of the female hero. Today, many other women writers, like Ursula Le Guin, Katherine Kurtz, Jane Gaskell, Janet Morris, Tanith Lee, and C.J. Cherryh, have been attracted to heroic fiction, and have created heroines that easily rival their male counterparts. Jean Auel's Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear (1980) and Sharon Green's Jalav (1985) represent two of the more popular characters, while Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon is memorable for its revisionist portraits of the women of Camelot.

Somewhat of a narrow overview.

The Wikipedia entry for Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces echoes the accusation of sexism: Pearson and Pope (1981) claim that Campbell's model discounts the possibility of female heroes: "The great works on the hero--such as Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces...all begin with the assumption that the hero is male" (p. vii). The Pearson and Pope referenced are Carol Pearson and Katherine Pope in their book The Female Hero in American and British Literature. That seems to hit the nail on the head with this description: A female-oriented version of Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces which chronicles the archetypal patterns of the female quest in literature; references to an immense variety of canonical and non-canonical texts -- very rich and enjoyable. And this lone review from Amazon: Thought provoking study of personal growth potential using female literary protagonists as examples. Similar to style of heroic studies by Joseph Campbell. Bit academic, but well worth effort to read and digest. Was used as a text in local college lit. class at my suggestion. Interesting as a very personal read OR as study of contemporary literature, provoking lively discussion.

The introduction to a book called The Sound of a Silver Horn, by Dr. Kathleen Noble, is available online, ending with this somewhat declamatory quote: I am convinced we need a female hero myth that teaches us to claim, not suppress, the power of our femininity and to perceive ourselves as the heroes of our own lives and the authors of our own stories. The difference here is that Dr. Noble views the female hero as an example of expansion of self but not so much an expansion of society. This is described by Campbell as a return to the ordinary world after the hero has transcended himself, and a subsequent bestowing of new knowledge to society. Another quote from here: [E]ach quester who wins her way through to the portal of transformation must discard some part of herself in order to create a larger self and give birth to her own possibilities.

posted by sstrader at 4:23 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 28, 2007

Pervert Lust Spy

Years ago when I was working customer service, a friend--Steve Baker--had bought this paperback used. He described its publishing history as that of a group of books that were naively titillating (like "racy" photos from the 1920s) and printed without copyright or publisher information. The first page was the first page. The story was the most hilarious thing I had every read. It exists with only one hit on Google as a bare-bones entry at Amazon.com.

One hit, that is, until now.

posted by sstrader at 9:13 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 23, 2007

Bacos (definition)

The cool kids have decided we need a new word (bacn) that's so web 2.0 you're sure to hate it in a week. I, however, will begin hating it now by mocking the impulse that it takes to fabricate such a useless word and, non-ironically, invent my own word: bacos (n.) an idea that sounds good at first but once examined is revealed as contrived and unnecessary.

posted by sstrader at 9:20 AM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

July 19, 2007


Oberon/Auberon, the King of Fairies from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, is related to the character Alberich, lit. elf king from elbe and reix (Old Frankish?), from Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen, based on Norse mythology. Probably also related to the character in Schubert's song "Der Erlkoenig" (Ger.), erl being a mistranslation from the Dutch eller or elver.

posted by sstrader at 7:57 AM in Language & Literature | tagged ring cycle | permalink

July 13, 2007


So, I come across "discursive" in a Lingua Franca article and it's used in a manner that makes me question my internal dictionary ("leading to a logical explanation"), so I natuerlich look it up:

  1. passing aimlessly from one subject to another; digressive; rambling.
  2. proceeding by reasoning or argument rather than intuition.

Holy fuck I love this word. It's its own antonym. (Although some might consider it an abomination...)

posted by sstrader at 5:32 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

June 16, 2007

Hapax legomenon

Awesome word. How is it that I've never heard of this before? A hapax legomenon (ἅπαξ λεγόμενον) is a word that occurs only once in a corpus (a book, an author's works, a written language, etc.). An example from Wikipedia:

Autoguos (αυτογυος), an ancient Greek word for a sort of plough, is found once (and exclusively) in Hesiod, the precise meaning remaining obscure.

That entry also points to nonce word. A nonce word is made up on the spot and probably won't be used again (think "debigulator" from The Simpsons). I only knew of "nonce" from a wacky British show called Brass Eye. They had a fake documentary in 2001 (hilarious transcript here) mocking the overblown fear of pedophiles at the time. Nonce is a British term for pedophile. A sample of the wackiness:

KATE THORNTON (Broadcaster/Journalist) : We even have footage that would be too alarming to show you of a little boy being interfered with by a penis shaped sound wave generated by an online paedophile.

SYD RAPSON (MP Labour) : We believe that paedophiles are using an area of the internet the size of Ireland and through this they can control keyboards.

RICHARD BLACKWOOD (comedian/musician) : Online paedophiles can actually make your keyboard release toxic vapours that make you suggestible. (sniffs keyboard) You know I must say I actually feel more suggestible and that's just from one sniff.

Heh-heh. An area of the internet the size of Ireland. That still makes me laugh. Phil Collins got spoofed into being interviewed for the show and later tried to sue them.

posted by sstrader at 11:48 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 23, 2007

Quick studies

A quick dive into Quick Studies, a collection of articles from the defunct-yet-wonderful magazine Lingua Franca, and I'm immediately reminded of why it was so good. The first article I read is called "The Candidate" and was written by the head of a university's hiring committee that was directed by the dean to hire a minority. All names were changed. The second article is called "The Candidate's Story" and was written by a black assistant-professor who was surprised to find his interview published in Lingua Franca. Hilarity ensues.

posted by sstrader at 6:36 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 17, 2007


The story of the 20-plus students dead in Virginia dominates the news, but the barrage of Iraqi civilians that died (or even just the 60 Iraqi students killed a month ago) are all but ignored. Bush visited the school and yet he hadn't attended any funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq. Reddit recently had a lengthy discussion on the injustice of the word-count of Wikipedia articles dedicated to styles of light-saber fighting compared to those dedicated to Shakespeare. I was in a similar discussion a while back comparing Wikipedia word counts for The Matrix movies and matrices in mathematics. Noam Chomsky compared the line inches of news stories on the massacres in East Timor with lesser events and found unfortunately expected results. A whole cottage industry could-be-and-probably-has-been created on the discrepancies between representation of like subjects.

Looking at my own blog entries, I see that word count does not translate to a metric of importance. Certainly I've cared enough to take the time to write about my recent purchase of the Prokofiev Piano Sonatas and the idiot history contained in that 300 movie, but those were random interests that hit while I was near the computer. And neither were censored beforehand for being too personal or too involved to research fully (who has time for research these days?!?). But then, my blog is hardly the ideal model for misapplying metrics.

I also think about Schneier's constant warnings on misapplying security (More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good we are at evaluating risk.) This is sort of the reverse of a counting error. In certain situations, we respond to a false perception of how many or how much. In others, we may force a commonality to compare.

posted by sstrader at 8:54 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 1, 2007

Truer words

And so, of course, I impulse ordered Hoffer's The True Believer along with the Lingua Franca compilation. That magazine was the equivalent to People or Us for university news and is a subscription I would still have today if it hadn't folded in 2001. I'll probably have to kill this evening combing through my back issues.

posted by sstrader at 6:16 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

March 31, 2007

Eric Hoffer

Got a recommendation from a co-worker to read Hoffer's The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Just reading the quotes from it and it sounds fascinating.

posted by sstrader at 11:41 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 20, 2007

February 13, 2007

Web browsers and language

I'm continually amazed at how forgiving web browsers are in allowing access to malformed information. HTML can contain unclosed elements or a mix of valid and invalid elements and attributes yet browsers will still display the page for the most part correct. This puts web browsers further from programming language interpreters and closer to natural language interpreters. For programming languages, as soon as any syntactic error is encountered, the program and remaining commands are abandoned. An interpreter can't degrade gracefully from division-by-zero or adding two numbers using the smiley-face character. In contrast, natural languages and its users are adept at eliding semantic and syntactic gaffes without completely abandoning the message. I can "don't want no ketchup" or ask "how many bottle should I buy?" and still be understood. For the most part.

posted by sstrader at 6:17 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 8, 2007

boolshit (definition)

adj. -tier, -tiest

  1. code that performs a conditional test for true or false in order to set a Boolean value: if (isActive == true) {doProcessing = true} else if (isActive == false) {doProcessing = false}, cf. doProcessing = isActive
  2. a programmer who writes such code
  3. what you say under your breath when you encounter boolshit code in anticipation of the subsequent gaffes you will have to deal with and debug
posted by sstrader at 9:35 AM in Language & Literature , Programming | permalink

February 7, 2007

January 30, 2007

January 16, 2007

Subtle, but different

A many-months-old analysis of the unfortunate political abuse of the translation of Ahmadinejad's statement against Israel is getting passed around. What appears to be a more studied and precise translation is: The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. What gets passed around by war-mongers (pleasantly called "hawks") is: The regime occupying Jerusalem must be wiped off the map. Slightly different, huh?

(Jonathan Steele's analysis has a nice overview of the difficulties, but I would have liked to have seen the source material with transliterations. Language Log has several references to the Iranian president, but unfortunately nothing on this.)

posted by sstrader at 8:34 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

January 11, 2007

H. Lee

Got this from the wife: Reclusive 'Mockingbird' author attends show. How great that Harper Lee is still alive and visiting kids. (I'm sure she's particularly happy about still being alive.) That book's really stayed with me since I finished it. I know it's stupid to recommend a classic--it's a classic, duh--but I am. What brings an author to write only one (or only one notable) book? What are some other examples in the arts?

posted by sstrader at 3:43 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

December 29, 2006

To Kill a Mockingbird; Harper Lee

Picked this up in the airport on the way to NYC and am now just finishing it. It's as great as you would expect.

Continue reading "To Kill a Mockingbird; Harper Lee"
posted by sstrader at 1:50 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

September 10, 2006

John Henry Days; Whitehead, Colson

I was introduced to Whitehead through a short story from Harper's a year or so ago. This novel came mildly recommended by others.

Continue reading "John Henry Days; Whitehead, Colson"
posted by sstrader at 8:18 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest; Burn, Stephen

A quick read (< 100 pages) with some notable insight into IJ. He points out mythological references, storyline intersections, and major themes. I would've liked to have seen a concise character outline to match the 11-page timeline of major events he provides in an appendix.

One problem with analyzing maximalist novel (Burn calls them encyclopedia novels) is that the abundance of detail offers itself up to the adoption of many different templates of intent. Still, some are stronger (and more intent-full) than others. A couple of Burn's ideas felt too fine-grained but most were a welcome insight, and he presented his reasoning with the transparent honesty of dead-ends and alternate possibilities.

It's been several years since I had read IJ, but this analysis helped bring back and organize the story as a whole.

Continue reading "David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest; Burn, Stephen"
posted by sstrader at 10:26 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

September 9, 2006


As Frank Miller interleaves genius with idiocy (re the embarrasingly inept concept Holy Terror, Batman), Moore is unflinching in transgressively original art. I don't really have an interest in erotic fiction (too distracting), but I think I need to purchase this just to see what Alan Moore has done with the themes. He's a master of repurposing.

Someone had recently posted on the Batman v. Usama story that Miller promised earlier this year, and I could hardly believe it. I've done the cursory search and it doesn't appear to be a joke. Despite all of the bloody-jawed fights and shapely women in his work, I would have never accused Miller of being simple or simplistic in his approach to story or character. With his only defense of this continued raping of the Dark Knight storyline being something along the lines of "Cptn. America punched Hitler," I have to re-evaluate his sanity.

posted by sstrader at 11:56 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 8, 2006

Genesis; Anderson, Poul

Read this over the past few days. I had wanted a quick read, and this was one of those books sitting on the shelf for years after an impulse, discount purchase. I quickly got hooked on the epic story spanning millions of years in the future, although the affected scifi lingo felt overrefined and cringe-worthy. "Well-nigh" and "yonder" aren't words that generally come up in conversation. The ideas however were interesting, and the story presented a likely distant future of human consciousness merged with machines. Throughout, there was a dread of inevitability. Overall a ripping good yarn.

Continue reading "Genesis; Anderson, Poul"
posted by sstrader at 6:02 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

August 17, 2006


This is demoralizing.

Here's Lech Walesa on Grass's honorary Gdansk citizenship:

Who will talk to him here now or invite him? I am happy we never met, that I never had to shake his hand. I lost my father in the war and Grass was in the SS.

- from Reuters

posted by sstrader at 3:02 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

July 13, 2006

June 29, 2006

I meant to do that

Go read about Geoffrey K. Pullam's experience on Talk of the Nation. It's sad but true (a caller mentioned hearing a student say "OMG" instead of "oh, my god", and everyone other than me thought that was fascinating) not everyone...). This is how snobbery goes so horribly wrong. One man's split infinitive, etc. Has it come to the point that even intellectual snobbery is suspect?!? Think of all of the Baby Geniuses and Mozart Children (TM)!

ToTN is an enjoyable and enjoyably informed show and yet it attracts snobs of the sort than get their cause for snobbery wrong. Is there any hope for this world?!?

posted by sstrader at 1:18 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 17, 2006

Short rant on "what you're supposed to like"

Overheard from an interview with a Catholic priest (paraphrased): "And don't try to tell me that The Da Vinci Code will at least get people interested in religion and the history of religion. People who read that won't be picking up [insert definitive tome on church history], they'll be picking up another Dan Brown book."

This is the same problem I had with "pops" versions of classical pieces. They don't introduce new listeners to the style and certainly don't act as a stepping stone to understanding how to listen to different styles of music. Ubiquitous music has created music wallpaper; converting classical music to wallpaper does not mean that you've brought it to the masses. If the masses wanted classical music, it wouldn't need to be bastardized.

This is similar-but-different from Scott Spiegelberg's defense of classical neophytes. Exposing a different style to others who are, or may be, interested is always a noble effort. Watering down or mutating the style--whether it's art or music or theater--and saying that it represents the original is just bad form.

I think that this is where much of the conflict occurs. Priests are getting pelted with questions based on an inane theory that an uneducated public falls for, despite the fact that the theory is present in a work of fiction. You can't blame the priests (or anyone interested in history for that matter) for being frustrated. And when someone says Unsteady volume = Most annoying thing about classical music, they're asking classical music to be something it's not. It's sort of like wanting to look at Rembrandt painting's only if they have red in them. Sure, some do, but does that request have anything to do with looking at art? The volume "problem" could be solved by listening to some Baroque music--which the listener would then allow to drop into the background and they might as well just be listening to white noise. Is that really introducing them to the music? The art "problem" could be solved by simply purchasing some crap corporate art, designed as decoration, that fits a color scheme.

Ultimately, Art is larger than one person's opinion; and yet it can't be all things to all people. Those who want to restrict Art will invariably yell "relativists!" and "postmodernists!" when confronted by a more encompassing definition. Conversely, those who try to open all Art to all people will invariably yell "elitist!" when confronted with a more narrow definition. Conveniently, I'll put myself on the side that fits best whatever my current argument is. I'm a postmodern elitist.

posted by sstrader at 12:38 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 23, 2006

'Madding' is an adjective? Really?!?

Our favorite linguistetitians, the purveyors of Language Log, have produced a book (announced on the 17th, but I've been notoriously behind-the-times). Far from the Madding Gerund will be available the beginning of March and is sure to pleeze (the cover depicts, gratuitously, an acorn). Although I generally think of LL as a singular "they," they are in this instance the contributors Mark Liberman and Geoffrey K. Pullum, and contents are pulled from the best of Language Log. Now you may ask, "why pay for the book when I can get the blog for free?" I have no answer, but 22 bucks ain't too bad for, at the very least, a veritable Strunk and White on the infelicities of Dan Brown's offenses.

As has been said by wiser than me: Go forth unto your bookstore, and choose wisely. Word.

posted by sstrader at 12:05 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 21, 2006


Expletives are useful for their function as manifestations of the boundaries of language. Although it's usually blamed on a paucity of vocabulary, cursing will never diminish to zero as vocabulary extends. Smash William F. Buckley's foot with a sledgehammer and his first verbal expression won't be G-rated. Wait a few days and he will have time to form a more expressive anecdote about the event, but language is a poor medium for a real-time articulation of anguish. There are times when what we're feeling inside has no appropriate surrogate when mediated to the outside.

The often quoted remark writing about music is like dancing about architecture touches on a similar limit. Although it's somewhat overly didactic, it does illustrate assumptions we have about language. We forget that language is only a mediator for our subjective experiences. A great deal of those experiences that we communicate are trivially equivalent when transferred by language (e.g. "daytime" or "pencil box"), so we can forget the limits of it as a transfer system. Some possess varying degrees of differences in meaning ("beautiful music" or "poor selection"). Because music is also a symbol system of a completely different domain, music criticism involves people using one language to discuss the quality of "speech" in another language. Translation errors are inevitable, and that's what the quote was pointing out.

On the other hand, our primary means of communication is language, so criticizing the limits of language as absurd is a little unfair. No one would seriously use an art form to communicate quotidian concepts. You wouldn't make a shopping list with dance. You just wouldn't. Language--as opposed to music, art, or dance--can be more precise in representing the physical world and so becomes the lingua franca to discuss anything that resides in the physical world (such as music, art, or dance). The limits are accepted simply because there's not a better choice.

posted by sstrader at 1:51 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 19, 2006

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam; Aslan, Reza

Finally getting around to reading this. I just received it after a rash of impulse-purchases (mostly CDs). The opening caught my attention as he describes his chance meeting with missionaries in the post-9/11 Middle East. He wonders how to respond to such spiritual profiteers when, also post-9/11, Franklin Graham calls Islam an evil and wicked religion, Ann Coulter encourages countries to kill Muslim leaders and convert [their people] to Christianity, and a past president of the SBC calls Muhammad a demon-possessed pedophile. With these unfortunate examples, he introduces what he calls a clash of monotheisms in contrast to the less-precise class of civilizations.

Continue reading "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam; Aslan, Reza"
posted by sstrader at 8:05 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

April 12, 2006

How We Are Hungry; Eggers, Dave

Finished this a couple of days ago (very slow in updating lately).

The stories have a narrow and somewhat monotonous tonal range. There are good moments (it's unimportant that we can look behind the stories and see where the author has travelled) presented with a tell-all honesty that at its best is rewarding enough, even though there are few of those moments. A quick and satisfying read.

Continue reading "How We Are Hungry; Eggers, Dave"
posted by sstrader at 8:33 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

March 22, 2006

Shallow lit

I recently heard someone praise Robert Heinlein's novels, specifically The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, as IIRC really deep during a tangent in a Libertarian rant in which he--get this--praised the President. You know the type. I loved reading Heinlein growing up; partly for the sexual content so desparately needed by the junior high school sci-fi reader, and partly for an expansive palette--considering the genre--that includes political and social commentary along with neat-o technical stuff. At the same time or earlier I was reading Frank Herbert and knew well who had the more incisive eye. Where Heinlein had one simple axe to grind, Herbert wrote as a student of history who could see tendencies and cycles without dogma.

This memory, and the Heinlein comment, dovetailed for me into the recent clarification presented by Mark Liberman on Language Log about the casual liguistic dogma that that ur-dogmatist, Ayn Rand, had put forth in Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand, loved by all Libertarians, stated (albeit through one of her characters) that the phrase "to make money," as if it were create-able as opposed to transfer-able, only exists in American english. In a later Language Log post, Paul Kay continues illuminating the absurdity of Rand's linguistic offense.

I'd read both authors with enjoyment and some passion, yet it pains me now to hear that people actually still cling to those narrow ideas. Grown people. I'm overstating the limits of both authors from these simple examples and art is always a simplification (from V for Vendetta: Politicians lie to hide the truth, artists tell lies to reveal it.), yet flaws in those simplifications can still flaw the art. Too often, big ideas are more cunning than insightful.

posted by sstrader at 5:31 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

March 14, 2006

Sounds right to me

Language Log's recent entry on Engrish reports on an exegesis of a borderline offensive Chinese menu (Benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk) and correctly chastises the borderline tasteless practice of dialect humor.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a Vietnamese coworker recently. He was struggling over the excessive amount of dental fricatives ("th"s) in speech and writing. He was reading a document lousy with "the"s and was struggling over the constant need to pronounce this unpronounceable and non-Vietnamese consonant ("Start THE server with THE settings found in THE config file...") in his head. We talked about how the sound is often elided in conversation and I tried to get him to skip the sound and just keep the voiceless part, sort of, but I ended up adopting his confusion by repeating it so much. It does sound weird. He traded me a nasal N sound (palatal nasal?) in Vietnamese for my English TH, so I think he's getting the better end of the deal. Oh, and their tonal shifts aren't that easy either.

posted by sstrader at 2:27 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

March 5, 2006

The list

British librarians come clean on what books are a must read. The Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (you mean there's another MLA?!?) have thusly spoke, yet I'm left a little wanting. The Lord of the Rings is #3. 1984 is #4. All good, but so highly ranked? I'm not so sure. I can't speak of their #1--To Kill a Mockingbird--because I haven't read it (resisting the urge to say "it was a great movie though!"). And the bible at #2? I've read many sections of it (not just browsed, actually read), and have heard other lit-heads place it similarly high, yet I still don't see the literary merit. It's a monument of literary history but not a monument of skill. I may be prejudiced.

So the modern is amply represented--Life of Pi, A Clockwork Orange--but it still feels such an odd list. Gone With the Wind? Again, I haven't read it, but I've heard only mediocre opinions on it. Same with Gibran's The Prophet. What's up with that?

And so, I must publicly ask a librarian a very public question: what do you think of this list? And is any canon acceptable ... ignoring Harold Bloom's opinion? Maybe it just runs afoul in the same manner than any list might. And the inclusion of Wuthering Heights?!? Nice, but is it really the #16 must read?

posted by sstrader at 12:18 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 9, 2006


Finally reading up on the "lost world" discovered in Papua New Guinea. One point, that I'm sure the language blogs will be discussing, is the relationship of this discovery to the large number of languages in that country. I think I first read about this in Guns, Germs, and Steel where the author was contrasting the disparate tribes and languages in New Guinea with the relative homogeneity of China. New Guinea's landscape is dense and mountainous and therefore difficult to traverse. Societies formed and seldom mixed because of this, and it promoted the development of distinct groups and cultures. In areas where there are no people, there are probably many more lost worlds to be found.

posted by sstrader at 12:00 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

January 18, 2006

The Arabian Nights

Impulse buy from a weekend viewing of a couple of Sinbad movies.

Continue reading "The Arabian Nights"
posted by sstrader at 12:44 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

January 16, 2006

Schopenhauer's will

Quoted in The Recording Angel:

Therefore, if we refer the concept of force to that of will, we have in fact referred something more unknown to something infinitely better known, indeed to the one thing really known to us immediately and completely; and we have very greatly extended our knowledge.


Spinoza says that if a stone projected through the air had consciousness, it would imagine it was flying of its own will. I add merely that the stone would be right.

Evan Eisenberg, the author, replies shortly after:

Why are we moved at the sight of a fountain, at the water's yearning rise and dying fall? ... The fountain moves us not because it reminds us of how we sometimes feel, but because we know just how it feels.
posted by sstrader at 11:34 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

January 5, 2006

Fallacies new and old

(fragment of a post from last month that got lost in the shuffle...)

I was all ready to write about the dispeptic logic of how New Concepts are driving our current culture when I read a Language Log post (with a nice addendum) taking apart an extremely lazy Joel Splosky article in which he brings up the In-My-Day argument.

My argument is in contrast to the LL article. I too-often read from a new technology pundit that, for instance, hypertext is changing how we consider the world or that search engines are making us lazy readers. In effect, new technology is so different from what we are used to that it is changing us into something different. Variations on the hypertext concept is what I hear mostly, so it became the model of my internal argument. One premise in particular (to risk erecting a straw man) has bothered me: HTML links change text from a static domain to a more spatial one. All knowledge gets immediately linked to other knowledge and makes it more visceral. Well, yeah, but what about footnotes? Or indicies? Didn't they, and the TOCs as they were created in the ~1400s [?] create these links and create them as a model for Tim Berners-Lee and probably as a model of how we internalize text? Or perhaps they were a result of how we as humans internalize ideas.

posted by sstrader at 11:40 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

December 27, 2005

December 26, 2005

Post Christmas chi

Two from Language Hat: first, the long history of X-mas (dating back to the 1500s), and second, the difficult pragmatics of the New Testament (wherein a rearranging of commas and quotes presents distinct possibilities for interpretation). Both subjects are coincident with the subject of the Bart Ehrman book that found its way to my wish list. As always, the comments are as important as the article itself.

posted by sstrader at 10:30 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

Today's comments

THE SHARED JARGON OF SF. concerning the unique aspects of science fiction literature.

posted by sstrader at 10:23 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

December 2, 2005

Allowing chaos

One of my cube neighbors, a new-ish employee, said that he didn't want to keep his desk clean because he did not yet have a clear understanding of the product he's working on. I understood what he meant, and I think it's important. Only after he understands the system can he organize his environment to fit that system. My note-taking process begins on a small stack of paper-to-be-recycled, white side up, sitting in front of my keyboard. I scribble notes and drawings and UML diagrams as needed. From there, if they're valuable and not just scribbles, I move them to my development wiki in the appropriate location and HTML-ify them with wiki links and external links. Eventually, I may add further notes, link other articles to them, or move them into a more appropriate location as I get a better understanding of the domain...

Continue reading "Allowing chaos"
posted by sstrader at 6:54 PM in Language & Literature , Programming | permalink

November 25, 2005

Today's reading list

  • The Wilson-Plame-Novak-Rove Blame Game [ via FactCheck.org ]
  • Painfully detailed and dispassionate timeline of what-happened-and-when. Worth several readings.

  • So I says to myself, "Self, what's up with these Googlecounts?"
  • Whilst researching a snowclone, Benjamin Zimmer points out some interesting inconsistencies with Google searches when used to research statistics of language use. For example: the search count for "A" should be equal to the sum of the search counts for "A" "B" and "A" -"B". Instead, the numbers are wildly different. The first search can return thousands more results than the sum of the other two.

  • Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse [via Wikipedia ]
  • I recently had heard several comments suggesting that America did not torture its prisoners. Some people apparently still believe that. With Bush and Cheney double-speaking their way around questions on the military's policy, was I missing something? I don't think so. Major General Antonio Taguba's report from April 2004 states that we committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law. It also states that 60% of the Abu Ghraib prisoners were not a threat (a point I noted back in June 2004). Why is this forgotten?

posted by sstrader at 12:45 PM in Language & Literature , Politics , Today's reading list | permalink

November 12, 2005

Book numbers

To me, Amazon's SIPs always seemed linguistically interesting but demotically useless. Reading languagehat's passing along of the concept of using SIPs as book summaries, I decided to try it on a book that has increased in value since I'd read it: Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. I'm still ambivalent about their usefulness.

However, while revisiting them, I found that Amazon has added--I believe relatively recently--two additional metrics. Along with SIPs, entries have CAPs: capitalized phrases. To these, a Concordance and Text Stats have been added. The Concordance contains the 100 most frequently used words using that recently popular technique of varying font size with importance. The Text Stats contains measures of relative complexity, readability, and various counts and "fun stats." According to Amazon's measurements, Cryptonomicon is easy to read and not all that complex, but you get over 50,000 words per dollar! This is ideal for anyone who has obsessively checked the text stats of their writing in MS Word.

posted by sstrader at 10:53 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

November 9, 2005

Clause trophy

A week or so ago, Sound & Fury returned to the music blogging scene (furiously) with an entry that contained amazingly long sentences on the verge of un-understandability (89 words). I loved it. I had written an entry on it. Then I deleted the entry because my praise and rambling was directionless, even though what drew me to it (although much draws me to the S&F blog, as it acts the counter-weight to the permissive newness and, as he likes to label it, postmodernism of modern aesthetics and those ideas that I both champion and challenge) was the artful and almost impenetrable overlong sentences. Who likes those run-on tight-rope walks of grammatical daring? I do. Almost as much as hyphens.

Anyway, one of my other favorite blogs-who-serve-to-take-me-to-school is of course Language Log. I had apparently missed their (singular "they") post on the sad demise of embedded clauses in our presidents' speeches only to catch up when Trent Reznor is referenced.

And I realize the appreciation, or at least my appreciation, may have come in part from that of David Foster Wallace's writing (ignoring whether I was drawn to it from appreciation or whether I'm drawn back from learned appreciation). Although who doesn't love a good discussion of semantic complexity?

posted by sstrader at 10:33 PM in Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace | permalink

October 26, 2005

Connected roots

Lady Crumpet's recent rant re the New York Times and J.M. reminded me of a Language Log exegesis from earlier this week examining the syntax of the source materials.

If Miller was unaware that there was a campaign to discredit Joe Wilson, then how would she be able to think one way or the other about whether she was a target of a campaign of which she was not aware? There are Zen koans that are easier to decipher.

Well, I never said they found any answers, they just expounded on some of the non-answers.

posted by sstrader at 10:01 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 20, 2005

The Scientist, The Madman, The Thief and Their Lightbulb : The Search for Free Energy

An (even-handed) history of the quest for free energy: energy that doesn't consume matter and doesn't produce waste. Much of the hope rides on electricity and magnetism and the research is as old as our modern study of electromagnetism.

[The theories] are not creating any new energy. The systems are doing at least one of two things: they have either found--as in the case of some cold fusion cells--a new way of accessing chemical, nuclear or other forms of energy locked up in the system's components parts; the other possibility is that they are getting their energy from the 'zero-point fluctuations of the vacuum'. This zero-point energy is the 'background' or 'ether' energy of the universe, and is also called vacuum energy, or the 'quantum fluctuations of the vacuum'.

So the hope is that we can tap into the larger machinery of the Earth and the universe itself and convert its fundamental processes into useful energy. There are many quack-y stories in here but some fascinating all the same. I was astounded that even in the earliest days of fossil fuel use, many scientists were warning that we shouldn't become dependent on it. In 1900, Nikola Tesla says:

In some countries, as in Great Britain, the hurtful effects of this squandering of fuel are beginning to be felt. The price of coal is constantly rising, and the poor are made to suffer more and more. Though we are still far from the dreaded 'exhaustion of the coal fields', ... it is our duty to coming generations to leave this store of energy intact for them, or at least not to touch it until we shall have perfected processes for burning coal more efficiently. Those who are to come after us will need fuel more than we do.
Continue reading "The Scientist, The Madman, The Thief and Their Lightbulb : The Search for Free Energy"
posted by sstrader at 10:34 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

October 9, 2005

wartuning (definition)

v. intr. To scan the FM frequencies from 88.1 through 89.5 in heavy traffic in order to find another driver with an FM transmitter connected to an MP3 player. See also wardriving.

posted by sstrader at 12:27 PM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature | permalink

October 2, 2005

The Seven Friend

A story by my niece, written around a year ago, which was the result of an impulse expressed upon returning home from school and declared simply as "I need to write a story":

Continue reading "The Seven Friend"
posted by sstrader at 12:33 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 30, 2005

Brown Friday

For some fun, I've been reading through Language Log's various posts skewering Dan Brown, in which Brown is described as one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature (with numerous examples). The criticisms seem ultimately to question how such pulply trash had become the most widely read book in the English-speaking world (...at least four people [in the world] have not read it. I just wish one of them was me). Some of the quotes from the book are classic.

posted by sstrader at 8:08 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 25, 2005

Languages, cliches, and my favorite swear word

I once had a co-worker tell me that Arabic was the perfect language because it was impossible to state something ambiguously. He's a Muslim, so the bias was obvious and offensive in its arrogance--the same goes for any Catholics boasting about Latin or Jews about Hebrew (closely related to Arabic, so wrestle with that one). When I challenged him on the absurdity of any language being this-er than that or more something than whatever, he huffed that he "has travelled all over the world" and therefore had more experience than me.

Needless to say, I lost most of my respect for him. I'm not a language wiz, but jackassed statements such as that push my buttons.

Continue reading "Languages, cliches, and my favorite swear word"
posted by sstrader at 5:20 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 17, 2005

Slang and reverse dictionary

Two items of fun from languagehat:

First, an interview with J.L. Lighter of UT on slang and his work on the much-anticipated final volumes of his "Historical Dictionary of American Slang" [ via languagehat -> Wordorigins -> Oxford University Press ]. And who doesn't love slang? It's the most ut. Interesting facts: no one knows the origin of "yankee," "dixie," or "jazz" (how can we not know the origin of such recent words?). "Spondulix" is slang for money (man, I'm using that one the first chance I get). No one ever uses the phrase "twenty-three skidoo" anymore, but everyone recognizes it (what's up with that?). In the 1600s and 1700s, "occupy" was a euphemism for sex (such ribaldry). Slang is interesting because it illustrates the slippery, changeability of language. These words are under the radar of standard English, so their origins and lives are more organic and volatile.

Second, a a reverse dictionary search [ via languagehat -> MonkeyFilter ]. This is one of those man-what-a-cool-tool things that will probably/unfortunately get lost in my bookmarks and forgotten for its infrequent need. Then again, I daily hit the dictionary and thesaurus for one reason or another. This might become an equally frequented site.

posted by sstrader at 2:41 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 7, 2005

Djew know what I'm saying?

A few days ago, languagehat dropped an article on the recent debates about changing the Chinese characters for "Jew." The current characters could have pejorative connotations (from the original transliteration by Christian missionaries). The commentary, still going strong today, has been fascinating and has had the breadth of contribution and considered opinions that you'll see in many of the languagehat discussions. The "Jew" issue brings up not only the complexities of Chinese writing in relation to speech, but also the historic influence and questions (true or false) of veiled racism. Good stuff.

posted by sstrader at 2:11 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 9, 2005

Everything Is Illuminated; Foer, Jonathan Safran

How did I hear about this book? I'm not sure, but a KQED interview of the author reminded of it back in April and I ordered it not long after. Many sections consist of a sort of dialect writing, with a Ukrainian narrator writing in thesaurus-laden English (as he explains: Like you know, I am not first rate with English. In Russian my ideas are asserted abnormally well, but my second tongue is not so premium. I undertaked to input the things you counseled me to, and I fatigued the thesaurus you presented me, as you counseled me to, when my words appeared too petite, or not befitting). I thought it would get old, but it quickly dropped into the background, and now--at least in my head--I'm calling everything "premium."

Anxious to see the movie [IMDB] with Elijah Wood and written by Liev Schreiber.

Continue reading "Everything Is Illuminated; Foer, Jonathan Safran"
posted by sstrader at 9:44 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

July 24, 2005

Radio On: A Listener's Diary; Vowell, Sarah

I've been picking through this whilst finishing up the Sherlock Holmes collection (see "Sarah Vowell, NPR, and Coldplay" and "Publishing and tuning out"). It's grown on me in a minor way--she's alternately honest and opinionated, although others might reverse just where those labels would be placed. She's the type of rock snob that appreciates only street-wise sincerety and a clear lineage to rock's roots. I agree with her on many points (e.g. the hate-inducing and insipid Grateful Dead) but I'm staunchly anti-originalist when it comes to rock. I feel that the quicker the tyranny of the blues is overthrown, the better. She likes Sonic Youth and Courtney Love (agreed), but hates Stereolab (huh?). I guess difference are good.

And many scarey/familiar observations on conservative idiocy (e.g. Rush's absolutist rants based on lies, or Dole's plea to "ignore the details" of a very detail-laden tax package that benefits the rich) that could be observed unchanged today.

Continue reading "Radio On: A Listener's Diary; Vowell, Sarah"
posted by sstrader at 5:57 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

July 12, 2005

Pseudolanguage and its discontents

A lessthaninteresting /. thread recently discussed the banality of corporate speak--yeah, I know, it's like pointing out that Charlie Brown said "good grief" in today's strip--but the interesting part was a poster's link to a George Orwell essay titled "Politics and the English Language". Like Chomsky, Orwell is a linguist with a passion for its role in politics. The advice in "Politics" is, simply, to simplify your language and think about what you're saying. Fewer words are generally better and dead metaphors reveal a lack of thought. These rules are easy to understand but difficult to adhere to, so it's always good to re-read good writers as they tear apart bad language.

Continue reading "Pseudolanguage and its discontents"
posted by sstrader at 12:16 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

July 4, 2005

Mental representations

A recent Cornell study moves further towards a weakening of the computational model of the mind. My most in-depth study of this subject was from May 2003 while reading Stephen W. Horst's Symbols, Computation, and Intentionality. The book was published in 1996 and in it he criticized the computational model. I'm certainly not in the scene, but I really didn't think that the computational model had that strong a following anymore.

Anyway, the Cornell methods reminded me of some recent observations of my own behaviour. In their study, students were given the name of an object and had to point to it from a pair of images. Sometimes the non-correct object would have a name that sounded distinct from the correct object; sometimes the names would sound similar. The study found that students took a measurably longer time to point to the correct object when the names sounded similar ('candle' and 'candy' were more difficult to differentiate than 'candle' and 'jacket'). Over the past several months, I've noticed an odd pattern in how I mistype letters on the keyboard. While my mistypes will often be from swapped letters ('teh'), there are a considerable number of occations when I'll mistype similar looking letters. So, I'd type 'q' for 'g' or 'p' for 'b'. The mistakes involve different fingers and/or different hands and so have nothing to do with the mechanics of typing.

This is all very unscientific (how many times do I mistype unrelated, non-similar keys?), but interesting w/r/t the Cornell study. The arbitrary linguistic label for an object can affect our visual recognition of that object, just as the arbitrary visual representation of a letter/sound can affect our recognition of it. Equally interesting: the Cornell study may support similar linguistic games used in the analysis of dreams.

The author of the study is Michael J. Spivey. I swear I've heard that name before but can't find the reference right now.

Continue reading "Mental representations"
posted by sstrader at 12:27 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

June 1, 2005

Pynchon misc

Language hat has begun Mason & Dixon, so has had a few entries of interest (and will probably continue to) for Pynchon fans. First, an odd examination into some of the more obscure words in the book. An interesting discussion followed in the comments, along with a tangential link to Zak Smith's illustrations for every page of Gravity's Rainbow. Today, he points to a Bookforum article regarding the release of GR in 1974.

Even reading about Pynchon can be a daunting task. Phew.

posted by sstrader at 12:46 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 29, 2005


I keep going back to this essay [via language hat] examining the possible grammatic structure of the sentence "fuck you." Good stuff. More baffling than funny unless you're a language geek.

posted by sstrader at 12:55 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 1, 2005

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories

Beautiful two-volume hardback edition of Conan Doyle's [Wikipedia] short stories of Sherlock Holmes [Wikipedia] edited by Leslie S. Klinger. A third volume from the same editor containing the four novels is coming out later this year. There is some discussion on Amazon that the binding quality and content is somewhat below what editor William Stuart Baring-Gould offered in his edition. The arguments seemed more of a dispute over originality than over flawed research, so it shouldn't affect my enjoyment.

I became interested in Sherlock Holmes from the references to Moriarty [Wikipedia] and their confrontation at Reichenback Falls in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Then, last Sunday, Lisa and I lucked upon The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes [IMDB] and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution [IMDB]. Both well-done movies from 1970 and 1976 respectively. I'm overdue to read the source material for this famous literary character.

Continue reading "The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories"
posted by sstrader at 6:45 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

April 29, 2005

"Hey baby, wanna create a quadrilabial implosive?"

CHOMSKY: THE MOTION PICTURE [via language hat]. I really don't know what to say about this. It's baffling. I think it broke my brain with all of its references. I may have caught most of the grammar and lit references--along with a quote from Glass's opera Einstein on the Beach--but the rest I'll just have to accept as nonsense.

(Or maybe it needs a Cliff Notes.)

Continue reading ""Hey baby, wanna create a quadrilabial implosive?""
posted by sstrader at 6:14 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 21, 2005

Οξύρυγχος πάλιν

Hannibal over at Ars Technica seems to be in the know, and seems to know that the news of the recent papyrus breakthroughs is greatly exaggerated.

As an aside: I tried to update the Wikipedia entry with this new information and found out that my IP has been blocked!! Apparently, it somehow got on the SORBS list. Even though it could be a mistake, how embarassing. I scanned everything a few weeks ago (at the beginning of every month), but I guess it's time to scan the network machines again...

Continue reading "Οξύρυγχος πάλιν"
posted by sstrader at 11:31 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 18, 2005

More connections

Colson Whitehead provided the introduction to David Rees's Get Your War On [Amazon] (of mnftiu fame).

OK, so I just need a little extra time to catch up with the rest of you.

Continue reading "More connections"
posted by sstrader at 10:33 PM in Language & Literature | permalink


Jonathan Safran Foer on KQED's Forum recommending Colson Whitehead via Whitehead's entry in The Future Dictionary of America [Amazon]. Foer is the author of the often recommended book Everything Is Illuminated [Amazon] and more recently, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close [Amazon]. A few weeks back, I blogged a Whitehead short story that I had originally read from Harper's and eventually found online. Several months ago, Harper's had some humorous excerpts from The Future Dictionary of America in its Readings section.

I have some new authors to pick up.

Continue reading "Connections"
posted by sstrader at 1:56 PM in Language & Literature | permalink


Big news in the world of classical literature. A collection of 400,000 document fragments from the trash-heaps of an ancient town in central Egypt can finally be translated. All of the source languages are known (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian, and early Persian), but the papyri were unreadable from decay. Oxford University scientists have now used infra-red imaging to successfully reveal the text. Expect new material from Sophocles, Lucian, Euripides, Parthenios, Hesiod, and Archilochos. Holy crap.

Check out more info in Wikipedia's entry for the city of Oxyrhynchus (and marvel that it's already been updated with the news article).

And definitely spend a few hours or months combing through the wonderful resource of classical texts over at The Perseus Project. It was an invaluable complement to the Pharr book [Amazon] when I was learning (yet have now forgotten) Homeric Greek.

Continue reading "Οξύρυγχος"
posted by sstrader at 7:42 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 12, 2005


A comment made on WNYC by John Ashbery [Wikipedia], the Poet Laureate of New York, regarding poetry "slams" [Wikipedia]: They suffer from a lack of modulation. I've never been to a slam, but I can understand the argument that the expressive potential of a medium might narrow with a narrower set of parameters. The interviewer then suggested that even a flawed poetry experience should be praised for the interest it creates in the more accepted forms.

Continue reading "Slam"
posted by sstrader at 11:10 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

April 3, 2005

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

I bought a nice hardback of this years and years and years ago and have now dug it out of the stacks. I hope it's not too simplified an examination of communication systems. Windows developers grew up on Petzold's programming books going back to Windows 3.x. It's interesting to see those "academics" cross over into more readable fare (like Hackers and Painters author and Lisp guru Paul Graham [Wikipedia]).

Continue reading "Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software"
posted by sstrader at 2:10 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

March 29, 2005

March 26, 2005


Almost done picking through The Best American Essays of 2003. There are such gems in many of the essay. This from Francis Spufford's "The Habit:"

The words we learned exclusively from books are the ones we pronounce differently from everyone else. Or, if we force ourselves to say them the public way, secretly we believe the proper pronunciation is our own, deduced from the page and not corrected by hearing the word aloud until it was too late to alter its sound. The classic is "misled," said not as mis-led but as myzled--the past tense of a verb, "to misle," which somehow never comes up in the present tense. In fact, misled never misled me. One of mine is "grimace." You probably think it's pronounced grimuss, but I know differnt. It's grim-ace, to rhyme with face. I'm sorry, but on this point the entire English-speaking human race except me is wrong.

One of mine is "capacity," pronounced CAP-a-city. Learned very young from a sign on a school bus.

posted by sstrader at 1:31 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

March 16, 2005

Colson Whitehead's "Movie"

In the February 2005 issue of Harper's, the Readings section has the short story "Down In Front" by Colson Whitehead. The transcript at this site titles it "Movie." Either way, I've copied the content to my site. Stunning.

Continue reading "Colson Whitehead's "Movie""
posted by sstrader at 11:39 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

March 13, 2005

Gladwell in Atlanta

From Mason: Malcolm Gladwell is in town on Tuesday for a book signing. Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Border's; 3637 Peachtree Rd N.E, Atlanta, Georgia; 7:00 PM Talk and Book Signing.

I always want to go to these things, and yet always miss them. This will be no exception because of the Atlanta bloggers get together at Prince of Wales. Make up for it by buying his books.

Continue reading "Gladwell in Atlanta"
posted by sstrader at 10:05 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

February 3, 2005

The Best American Essays 2003

I've been collecting this series sporadically since 1996. The first was purchased while in a what-to-read-next malaise. I'm there again, so here's the recently-purchased 2003 essays to get me going. The selections are always artful and varied and, like listening to This American Life, always provide interest for topics I would otherwise deem uninteresting. It's nice to find those things that can surprise you.

Continue reading "The Best American Essays 2003"
posted by sstrader at 12:38 AM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

January 18, 2005

'historic' v. 'historical'

Small grammatical question resolved via Dictionary.com:

Usage Note: Historic and historical have different usages, though their senses overlap. Historic refers to what is important in history: the historic first voyage to the moon. It is also used of what is famous or interesting because of its association with persons or events in history: a historic house. Historical refers to whatever existed in the past, whether regarded as important or not: a minor historical character. Historical also refers to anything concerned with history or the study of the past: a historical novel; historical discoveries. While these distinctions are useful, these words are often used interchangeably, as in historic times or historical times.

Wait, maybe that should read small grammatic question. ... No, they're synonyms.

Continue reading "'historic' v. 'historical'"
posted by sstrader at 7:12 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

January 17, 2005

The Accursed Items

I heard J. Robert Lennon's prose piece "The Accursed Items" on the recent This American Life and greatfully was not the only person to appreciate it with the desire for a transcription...

Continue reading "The Accursed Items"
posted by sstrader at 1:18 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

January 16, 2005

The Merchant of Venice; Shakespeare, William

I had purchased Shakespeare's histories, comedies, and tragedies a few years back in these Everyman's Library editions. Prior to that I had, and possibly still have somewhere, a mishmash of used paperbacks of a dozen or so different plays. The Everyman's Library hardbacks are nearly perfect: they have good binding and paper, good size for reading, are inexpensive, and have excellent essays and commentary. Each play has a ten-or-so page essay covering the major themes from both high level structure and detailed, sentence level nuance. Just reading these introductory essays provides a lesson in history and etymology. The footnotes offered throughout each play serve as sufficient struts to understanding. My only complaint is that I sometimes forget a footnoted definition that was presented early on whose word is repeated later in the play--a glossary would help considerably. Thanks to the brother-in-law and his fiance, I have this wonderful Dictionary of Shakespeare to fill the gaps of my poor memory.

I had purchased these volumes back in 2002 before we went to visit Diane in Sun Vally, Idaho where she played Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. The commentary almost made me sound intelligent about the theater when we hung out with the other actors after the show. You too can sound intelligent with the Everyman's Library! Buy yours today.

Continue reading "The Merchant of Venice; Shakespeare, William"
posted by sstrader at 11:26 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

December 19, 2004

Cosmopolis; DeLillo, Don

None of his books has every really matched the evocotive wackiness of the first one I read of his, White Noise. This has been sitting in the queue with Underworld ... Underworld still has a dusty bookmark, months since place, where the wife abandoned it (though, she gave Cosmopolis high marks). I've chosen this 200+ page book (with slight pages) as a palette-cleanser after Cryptonomicon.

Continue reading "Cosmopolis; DeLillo, Don"
posted by sstrader at 1:33 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

December 13, 2004


Here's yet another online reference site: the Online Etymology Dictionary. If the "bar discussions" I've had with people are any measure, this has been needed for a long time. And as if the content weren't enough, the site is a model of layout and simplicity.

Continue reading "Etymology"
posted by sstrader at 1:50 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

November 14, 2004

What? No Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?

I'm always tempted to go back to sci-fi in my reading list. The closest I've gotten is a couple of the recent William Gibson [Wikipedia] novels a year ago--Idoru and Pattern Recognition [Amazon]--both were pretty good (and oddly similar). Also the Neal Stephenson novels Quicksilver [Amazon] and (currently) Cryptonomicon [Amazon]. Also good. But I've been tempted to branch out.

Maybe with Kim Stanley Robinson. His Mars Trilogy [Amazon] has been favorably blogged by both BoingBoing and just recently Musical Perceptions.

And what's a better book recommendation than random chance?

Continue reading "What? No Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?"
posted by sstrader at 7:51 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 24, 2004

Cryptonomicon; Stephenson, Neal

I had no clean segue from Fermat and the OED, so I decided just to go back to fiction. It will probably have some heady math-stuffs in it to tie it in with Fermat--and it'll be a good way to start my sabbatical (one week to go!).

Continue reading "Cryptonomicon; Stephenson, Neal"
posted by sstrader at 6:55 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

October 20, 2004

The Professor and the Madman; Winchester, Simon

A year or so ago, I had read and enjoyed Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. In it, he documents the life of the father of modern geology, the Englishman William Smith. Winchester told the drama of his story with engaging details and, perhaps, very British fastidiousness. This other book, The Professor and the Madman, seemed equally appropriate for his style of writing.

Pip pip.

Continue reading "The Professor and the Madman; Winchester, Simon"
posted by sstrader at 6:50 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

October 18, 2004

Review: Fermat's Enigma (4/5)

What an epic story. Andrew Wiles spent seven years creating a 200-page proof of Fermat's last theorem--plus an eighth, tense year fixing a hole in the proof--and within it all redefined math and number theory with several discoveries that would have been Earth-shattering if they were given just on their own. The math is beyond us all (trust me), yet author Simon Singh provides enough for our understanding, and enough drama to make modular forms and elliptic equations seem sexy.

Continue reading "Review: Fermat's Enigma (4/5)"
posted by sstrader at 10:29 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 13, 2004


[ Updated 16 October 2004, parts apparently lost during posting ]

Two odd occurrances regarding spam in the past few days--both related to grammar. But first, a grammarian's knock-knock joke (origins of which I cannot remember, but it cracks me up):

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Fuck who?
No, fuck "whom."
Continue reading "Spammar"
posted by sstrader at 12:35 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

October 9, 2004

Suicide in The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point examines how ideas are passed through society as epidemics. The author develops the simile using three rules: the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context. These three rules map to the carriers of the disease, the virulence of the disease, and the environment in which the disease spreads. Examined are such disparate ideas as the Hush Puppies clothing fad in the 1990s, the children's show Blue's Clues [IMDB], and New York City crime in the 1980s. All are presented with a different emphasis on his three rules. The book is fascinating and continues to be relevant.

Chapter 7 discusses sticky concepts (those that resonate and thrive throughout society) that are also detrimental or fatal. The section on suicide was interesting.

Continue reading "Suicide in The Tipping Point"
posted by sstrader at 2:31 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

Fermat's Enigma; Singh, Simon

Long ago, I picked up this book from a discount shelf at Borders knowing that I wouldn't read it immediately. It was one of many books that go into the queue as a recommendation to the future me. Good recommendation--thanks Scott-of-the-past.

Aaaand, the copy was signed by the author!

Continue reading "Fermat's Enigma; Singh, Simon"
posted by sstrader at 1:42 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

October 1, 2004

Split infinitives

A recent featured article on Wikipedia covered split infinitives [Wikipedia]. I ranted about those in a very prescriptivist manner a while back. The Wikipedia entry presents both sides, but their examples don't fully present the arguments against, and miss an argument for.

Continue reading "Split infinitives"
posted by sstrader at 11:37 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

September 30, 2004

The Tipping Point; Gladwell, Malcolm

This was recommended long ago by a trusted co-worker (post co-working), so I bought it immediately with the unintended intention for it to become a dust catcher. It has since haunted me on one of our book shelves. I know Malcolm Gladwell's writing from his many articles in The New Yorker.

Continue reading "The Tipping Point; Gladwell, Malcolm"
posted by sstrader at 9:27 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink

September 17, 2004

September 5, 2004

Verb tenses

I've been thinking about verb tenses recently (man, am I boring), how they are formed, and what they mean. I once had them down solid--they're not that difficult--but I always need a refresher when the auxiliaries are used. This entry clarifies tenses and adds some useful insights from my books on natural language processing--although IANALG (I am not a licensed grammarian).

Continue reading "Verb tenses"
posted by sstrader at 10:01 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 30, 2004

David Foster Wallace interview

Tonight at 7:00, WABE is broadcasting a David Foster Wallace interview recorded at City Arts & Lectures. The City Arts & Lectures shows are recorded at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Van Ness.

Continue reading "David Foster Wallace interview"
posted by sstrader at 11:11 AM in Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace | permalink

August 26, 2004

Parabola magazine

Lisa picked up the recent issue of Parabola. Parabola is a magazine that is published quarterly, and each issue contains essays covering a specific theme. The theme of the current issue is "The Seeker" and the essays examine, obviously, searching.

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posted by sstrader at 7:22 PM in Language & Literature | tagged catcher in the rye, coyote | permalink

August 25, 2004

Review: You Shall Know Our Velocity! (4/5)

I know that I say this after every book, or at least I say this after many books, many books that I remember reading, but I feel like I just have to say "wow" after reading this. There are such quotes that I'd like to give away. So many lyrical quotes where the writing is So There that I wish I'd have written or dog-eared them along the way so that I could give them now.

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posted by sstrader at 12:27 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 15, 2004

Book order

More books!

How We Are HungryDave Eggers$15.40
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's GuideStephen Burn$9.95
Oblivion: StoriesDavid Foster Wallace$17.65

The IJ reader's guide should be fun--it'll be nice to get a "hard" analysis that I was incapable of while reading. This site is a good resource for references and analysis too.

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posted by sstrader at 6:59 PM in Language & Literature | tagged david foster wallace | permalink

Eggers' third

I'm starting Eggers' second book and found that he just, on the 9th, published his third. How We Are Hungry is a collection of short stories. Not much information except that it's only available for pre-order on Amazon and it's already hit the sub-1000s sales rank.

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posted by sstrader at 2:51 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

August 14, 2004

June 24, 2004

June 7, 2004


I was just reading a short comment rant over at the sometimes interesting dive into mark that touches on the prescriptivist/descriptivist debate. The more you understand about linguistics the tougher it is to be a language snob.

Continue reading "Grammar"
posted by sstrader at 8:58 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 25, 2004

Review: The Man Without Content, Giorgio Agamben (3/5)

I picked up The Man Without Content in San Francisco on a whim. I had never heard of the author, but part of the blurb on the back got my attention:

In this book, [Agamben] considers the status of art in the modern era ... [H]e argues that the birth of modern aesthetics is the result of a series of schisms that are manifestations of the deeper, self-negating yet self-perpetuating movement of irony.

The contained collection of essays provided an inventive, scholarly analysis of the state of art and aesthetics in the present day.

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posted by sstrader at 9:28 PM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 23, 2004

May 14, 2004


Alienating by force a fragment of the past from its historical context, the quotation at once makes it lose its character of authentic testimony and invest it with an alienating power that constitutes its unmistakable aggressive force.

- Chapter 10, "The Melancholy Angel," from The Man Without Content (1994) by Giorgio Agamben

(review to come)

Continue reading "Disengage"
posted by sstrader at 1:07 AM in Language & Literature | permalink

May 9, 2004

Review: Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson (4/5)

I (finally) finished Quicksilver last week. Here's a review, and some additional links for reference:

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posted by sstrader at 4:57 PM in Language & Literature | permalink