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Old saying:
Wednesday, May 12, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

A transformer blew out this morning, somewhere out in the office park around the Lab. I was sitting in a nice conference room on the second floor, watching someone give a talk projected from his laptop, and suddenly all the normal lights went off and the emergency lights in the room (battery-powered) came on and all the laptops beeped as they went from wall-power to their own batteries. A couple of seconds later the normal lights out in the hall came back on (the building's backup generators came up), but the lights in the room stayed off (backup power is selective).

So for the next couple of hours we sat around in the room (it was nice and dim and cool at first, but eventually started to get stuffy) and continued our meeting in the dark, looking at people's laptop screens. The cafeteria people even brought lunch up (it was one of them important catered meetings) and we ate by the light coming in from the hall. A little later the emergency lights in the room went off (batteries exhausted).

A few minutes ago the fans started up in the ceiling, and when I went over and turned the switches (someone had cautiously turned them off), we had light again.

So now we're back to lights and projectors and being able to see, which is pretty boring in contrast.

Another notable spam subject-line generator has appeared on the scene:

Subject: i dont deserve this attitude switchgear
Subject: yeah... right.... Ill beleive that when I see it loquacity
Subject: please dont be upset.. reserpine
Subject: mockingbird skin
Subject: get e d u c a t e d ...waterhouse
Subject: dont lie! i know you love me baby levine

That last one would make a good title for a novel or a Broadway show or something. "I Know You Love Me, Baby Levine!"

McDonalds trademarks the phrase "I am Asian".

I would like to remind everyone again that I wrote awhile back:

I will venture to guess that our understanding of what a "gene" is will turn out to be pretty primitive, and that there will be a lot more things going on in the sequence than just those 30K "genes".

And then I would like to note this interesting piece.

"These initial findings suggested that quite a lot of the genome was performing some kind of regulatory or structural role - doing something important other than coding for proteins," said Haussler.

From Jessamyn:

The Nike Fun Police campaign is a summer program featuring "influencers" who search the areas where young people are active. The Nike Fun Police "influencers" then issue playful citations for those who are wearing competitive brands.

At least they're "playful" citations during this phase of the project.

And also from Jessamyn, an article about the green origins of May Day, which I really want to read if I ever stop being in meetings.

Oh, and the Curvature of the Earth is Overwhelmed by Local Noise weblog hereby apologizes for having failed to properly acknowledge the recent holiday.

Monday, May 10, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

A reader writes:

The pencils, the licorice . . . you and Nicholson Baker, both!

Clearly I haven't read enough Nicholson Baker; readers are invited to submit supporting (or contradictory) evidence.

From bookslut, an interview with Madeleine L'Engle. Sounds like an interesting lady! I loved "A Wrinkle in Time" as a kid, liked its various sequels a little later, and was iffier about some of her other fiction quite a few years later. I suspected at one point that she was a Fundie Christian or something, but this interview lays that suspicion to rest. Apparently someone's making a movie out of "A Wrinkle in Time"; this interview has a great (if sad) quote from L'Engle on the subject.

Also from bookslut, a wonderful story about a recent book-signing in New York City by Anton Chekov.

(And in the Small World Dept, when I mentioned this story at lunch, Ed at the other end of the table was able to verify it firsthand, since he knows the individuals involved. Very cool.)

From somewhere I forget, the world's flags given letter grades. Very, very funny. Here's the author explaining one of the (many) features that can cost a flag points:

Colonial Nonsense: Used for countries that have the flags of their colonial masters as a part of their flag. The colonial master in question is nearly always the UK, but that's just because French territories all use the French flag, and US external territories all use something the local military commander has created using Microsoft Frontpage.

We knew (but hadn't thought about it in awhile) that Cafe Press does books now. We've just noticed that other people do books also. This strikes me as a place where the future is approaching at high speed. (I really ought to try these things out, as it looks like fun. And holding a physical book with my name on it again would be very nifty.)

abuddha's memes has updated!

Songs about weblogs! (Ref "filk".)

And finally Rebecca points to Bruce Schneier on The economics of trying to steal an election. (I haven't been reading Crypto-gram lately; I really ought to.)

Whining update: just as everyone was going off to bed, the little daughter's iPod Mini dropped (very loudly) a couple of feet from the bed to the wood floor, and it now seems to be completely zorched: it'll reset, but it won't go into Disk Mode, and all it will do after resetting is display the dreaded folder and exclamation mark symbol. It won't talk to the iBook sufficiently for the iBook to notice it and be willing to write new stuff to the hard drive. So it looks like another hardware problem, sigh.

But Apple has been very good to us about our hardware problems so far. Last time they sent the box quite fast, and they repaired the iBook quite fast, and when it came back not only did it have working video, but it was also running "Panther", the update to OS X that I had been putting off buying. (Apparently that's necessary for the new motherboard in some odd way, but still it was nice.) Hopefully all will go smoothly with whatever we have to do to get this Mini working again. (And hopefully Apple will still make some small profit despite it all.)

Saturday, May 8, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

I've had two ancient memories float up, reminding me of how many different things I've thought over the years that I haven't thought recently.

I was sharpening a pencil for the little boy today. I hardly ever use pencils anymore myself, can't remember the last time I actually used one, but I used to use them all the time, for school because we were supposed to, and for myself because I hadn't realized how pencil fades, or because I didn't care.

But anyway as I was sharpening this pencil, or actually as I was carrying it over to sharpen it (which is part of the sharpening, after all, broadly construed) I idly pulled on the end of it, the eraser end, and the eraser end, the metal cylinder that holds the eraser to the pencil, made a little click under my fingers, and I remembered.

I used to do that all the time, pull on the metal eraser cylinder on pencils to see if they clicked. The good ones, good for this purpose anyway, would click distinctly and every time, click when you pulled them outward, and click again when you pushed the eraser in. Not a click loud enough to hear, not that I remember, but a click very distinct to the touch. On the good ones, anyway.

And I hadn't thought of that in years.

Then the second memory happened when I bought a box of Good 'n' Plenty at the grocery (remembering that they're licorice also, and shouldn't be neglected in my studies of licorice), and eating a few on the way home I caught one of them the short way between my front teeth so that they (the teeth) cut a groove around the small axis of the Good 'n' Plenty cylinder, and suddenly there was this memory of being little (or at least littler), and doing that, and having some familiar habit involving certain ways of eating Good 'n' Plenty, and letting the outer sugar coating dissolve in my mouth and then shaping the licorice cylinder in certain ways with my teeth.

And I hadn't thought of that in years, either.

Odd to imagine that sometime back there in the past, on an ordinary day, I clicked a pencil eraser out and back in, like I had a thousand times before, and then I didn't do that again for years. And sometime back there in the past, I ate a Good 'n' Plenty in the usual way, the way I'd eaten hundreds before. But then I didn't do it again for years.

You'll be interested to hear that in our time poll from the other day, the "Nine" answer is currently outpolling the "Eleven" answer by exactly three to one (27 to 9, to be specific). So thrice as many people think that moving a future meeting "forward" means moving it earlier, toward the past.

Which makes no sense at all to me ("forwards" means the direction that time-travellers go when they go "backwards in time"?), but makes perfect sense to Ian, and apparently to some majority of Everyone. M says that the "eleven" answer really makes more sense, but common usage supports the "nine" answer. And this reader gives us the linguistic analysis:

This is the kind of question that comes up in teaching all the time. I don't use the word "forward" or "backward" in terms of time because it's ambiguous--there's no right or wrong.

First, forward in this sentence is ambiguous since it could refer to space (forward on a timeline or clock) and hence later in time or forward in terms of moving the meeting forward in time, that is earlier in time.

You will note even the thrice blessed American Heritage Dictionary is not too clear:


But I have a philological advantage; I know Old English, and I know that forward here is used in partitive concord, which means in this case forward is used to refer to the front part of the thing; the thing before.

I'll walk you through the mental contortions I go through, placing your query in a conversational context.

"Let's move Monday's 10 AM meeting forward an hour. "

OK--forward; that's front-wards, like moving front-ward in a line, as if moving from position 2 to position 1, at the front. He's talking about time. So front-ward in time, in the order of events, hence before. So he means ahead in time, so he means let's move Monday's 10 AM meeting an hour ahead in time, that means the meeting is now an hour earlier than it was.

The meeting is at 9 am.


If people think "forwards" means front-wards, as for instance on a clock, moving the meeting forwards an hour means the hands move in a clock-wise direction from nine to ten, or the numbers on a digital clock tick over forwards, from a ten to an eleven.

The meeting is at eleven.

This is not resolvable--hence when I hear the phrase used (usually in committee meetings) I stop and establish the specific hour concerned.

So there we are. Good to have cleared that up! *8)


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