2015.05 minutiae

  • It's a common observation that what strikes one generation as dazzling technology is taken for granted by the next — e.g., Kids These Days are no more impressed by machines that allow them to post their thoughts to a global audience than they are by flush toilets.  What I haven't heard too many people talk about is the way you can similarly imprint upon and take for granted technological developments that turn out to be flashes in the pan.  For instance: when I was a little kid, I took for granted that the basic unit of breakfast food was the bowl of cereal, the basic unit of lunch food was the sandwich, and the basic unit of dinner food was the TV dinner.  Seriously — when I was five years old, the idea that aluminum-tray TV dinners would soon disappear would have seemed no more likely than that sandwiches would.

  • It feels kind of weird to me that we don't have laser knives yet.  Cutting a crusty loaf of bread with a serrated knife seems so primitive, especially when it doesn't work particularly well.

  • One thing about living in town, even a relatively small town like mine, is that you do get a fair amount of city noise.  For instance, one night at 1 a.m. I heard a guy out on Solano Avenue bellow, "SHIT! FUCK! LET IT GO!"  I guess he was having an argument, but maybe Quentin Tarantino is filming a remake of Frozen.

  • You know, I used to teach all sorts of tricks to quickly determine whether a number is prime or not, but, like… that should just be a button on every calculator.

  • Dear ice cream truck:  First, I appreciate that for once you weren't playing "Silent Night" — I guess that doesn't get added to the rotation until September.  But, y'know, before going with "The Yellow Rose of Texas", you might have wanted to look into some songs without multiple references to "darkies".

  • People talk a lot about gendered pronouns — including me — but it seems to me that the English language's handling of number is also in need of reform.  Consider the delightful phrase someone used to describe the movie The Turin Horse: "an hour of watching people eat a potato".  Interpreted literally, that means that multiple people were all nibbling away at the same potato, which is not what was intended.  There were two people, and two potatoes.  But it's easy to see why the writer phrased the description this way, because "watching people eat potatoes" leaves open the possibility that each person was eating multiple potatoes.  There are ways to cut down the ambiguity, but they come at the expense of elegance: "watching people eat one potato apiece" is clunky and stresses the wrong thing.  It seems to me that there are a number of different questions that come into play when figuring out how to write up a particular scenario:

    • How many actors are there? One, several, or an unknown number?

    • How many objects are being acted upon? One, several, or an unknown number?

    • Are the objects particular, known items (calling for a definite article), or not (calling for an indefinite article)?

    • If there are (or could be) multiple actors, are they acting collectively or separately?

    • If there are (or could be) multiple actors acting separately, is each one acting upon one object, several objects, or an unknown number of objects?

    For instance, in the case at hand, there are multiple actors and multiple objects, the actors are acting separately, and each is acting upon one object.  There should be a way to efficiently encode this information.  Consider the following — and I'm not actually proposing these exact strings of letters, but I need something to illustrate the point:

    • Actor: one person, several persones, an unknown number of personex; in this case, persones

    • Object: one potato, several potatoes, an unknown number of potatoex; in this case, potatoes

    • Article: th- for definite objects, an- for indefinite ones; in this case, an-

    • Action: collectively acting upon -o potatoes, separately acting upon -a- potatoes; in this case, -a-

    • Distribution: -m for one potato each, -s for multiple potatoes each, -x for an unknown number of potatoes each; in this case, -m

    That gives us "watching persones eat anam potatoes".  Again, I obviously don't expect this or anything like it to catch on, but I do think that if you were constructing a language from the ground up, you would want these specifications to be included in it.

  • I went to the store to get some conditioner and I saw that one recommended brand offered three varieties: one was almond, another was lemongrass, and the last was mint and echinacea.  I had heard the word "echinacea", but I didn't know what it was and certainly didn't know what it smelled like.  When I got home I looked it up on Google Images and saw that apparently it's a pink flower.  I still don't know what it smells like, because there is no Google Scratch-N-Sniff.

  • Addendum: after writing the above, I checked to see whether Google had ever done the above as an April Fools' joke.  It had, in 2013.  But that actually would be very useful!

  • David Letterman closed out his final show by bringing on the Foo Fighters to play what he has often said is his favorite song, "Everlong".  That song came out when David Letterman was 50.  I would love to think that my favorite song is one I haven't heard yet.

  • Confession of a guy who murdered his daughter because she had been having headaches: "I took a gun and shot her in the head and now she is migraine free and floating in the clouds on a sunny afternoon,her long beautiful brown hair flowing in the breeze,a true angel."  Wow, guns are awesome!  I did not know that was how they worked.

  • Sign shop owner:  "Okay, what do you want the sign to say?"

    Gas station owner:  "'Please pay cashier before pumping gas.'"

    Sign shop owner:  "Whoa, whoa, whoa!  You sure you want all that?  I mean, that's gonna be at least four fonts."

comment on
reply via
this site
return to the
Calendar page