Archive for January, 2009

woodenradioSandi Toksvig, moderator of the News Quiz, commenting on the selection of Johanna Sigurdardottir to be Iceland’s new Prime Minister:

“What can I say?  More Scandinavian lesbians in charge — it’s what the world wants.”


Have I said how much I love having access to BBC radio on my computer?

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I don’t have any student papers in yet, but this pie chart from GraphJam is seems mighty plausible [I am not responsible for the graph originator’s inability to spell “choice” properly!]:

song chart memes graph
more music charts

Of course, the creators of this graph completely forgot the soundtrack references, which should include “Dare Me”, by the Pointer Sisters. [I just looked at the video for the first time — never would have expected drag from them, but I think the zoot suits age better than their big (and I mean BIG) 80’s hair.]

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Locusts on Prozac
Are a no-no
Spiked serotonin
Tweaks their mojo
So they’re swarming
Oh, they’re swarming!

[cue the sound of whirring wings and relentless chewing]

Yes, researchers have found that high serotonin levels in locusts seem to trigger the change from the green Solitary form to the darker, ravenous Gregarious form.

Strangely, I feel no reason to apologize to the Moody Blues for the filking. But I will refrain from a chorus of “Getting to Gnaw You”…

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Sorry Brooke; the NY Times aren’t enamoured of that minivan you’ve been hawking…. [And honestly, you are able to be so much funnier with better material!]

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Your grass is glass

grassisglass So, we’ve had a touch of sleet overnight, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that people didn’t know have a clue about the inverse relationship between speed and maneuverability…

We’ll see whether the school decides to close before or after things freeze up again for the night.

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snowflake400Well, we are actually supposed to be getting some real snow soon, but that’s not my immediate point. I just got email from a student with the subject line of “Hi!”. Almost sent it right to the Junk folder, since short messages with trite titles from people I don’t know look a lot like viruses or spam to my jaded eyes.

But no, it was a request, made simply to my last name, to add please the student to a course I am teaching that is:

  • Already closed
  • Restricted to majors only
  • Has a waiting list

Short answer: no.  Longer answer: no, and here are some things to keep in mind, among them that course caps are real, faculty adhere to them whenever possible, and forgetting to use a professor’s title or honorific is NOT a good way to start a conversation [especially when you are asking them to violate multiple policies meant to protect everybody’s sanity].

On the bright side, I’ve recently learned that I will have a business meeting in Angry’s town during the summer. She is a delightful dinner companion, and I hope our schedules will allow a meal together.

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mockingbirdhedgewinter I remember back in graduate school reading rec.arts.comics and seeing bizzare tag lines [attributed to the adventures of someone named Marc Lynx, or somesuch] like:

“Wait a minute — those aren’t blender wounds!”

In more official graduate school reading there was the concept of ‘collocation’: words that tended to appear in the company of other words, and not in the company of others.  Researchers can use those patterns in stylistic analyses — last year I heard a fascinating paper about how some lawyers wanted opthalmologists to stop using certain words in their reports because they were becoming ‘code’ for detecting “signs of child abuse”.

Sometimes, though, it’s the unusual word patterns that are most telling.  I get a remarkable # of searches on this site having to do with the raising of chinchillas, even though I was simply joking at the time [and quoting someone else, at that!].

Here’s a fine sentence of that ilk, from today’s NY Times:

For forensic ornithologists, it just doesn’t get any better than this. [link]

Here’s an example of words that don’t go together, but have unfortunately been strung together by someone whose eagerness to sell a desk greatly exceeded his or her understanding of American furniture forms:

Tiger Oak Role Tope Desk In great Condition

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See Cranky’s blog for “The Curious Case of the Ass Burgers

Dr. Google is not qualified to diagnose a learning disability or neural wiring disorder.  Really.


I don’t get to meet my students for another week or so.  And until the middle of next week, I may not even know what I’m teaching, since enrollments aren’t final yet.  Whee!

…and if any of the students arrive smelling vaguely of strawberry Jolly Ranchers, I’ll know why.

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“The Mens”, as we often call them, have been in the attic again.  Having got the AC installed, the electric upgraded, and the insulation foamed in, the next steps are to get the walls and the floor into shape. That involves getting all the loose boards an old insulation out of the way, and in the process, we have found a few oddities:

  • Parts for a bentwood rocker
  • Remaining parts for the bed with the elaborately-carved headboard we found earlier
  • Part of, and instructions for, a small toy sailboat
  • An old barrel that might have been used for shipping ceramics or glass
  • Some much-gnawed bits of folded paper

The bits of paper, really, a letter from 1926, are in terrible condition. I’ll take a few pictures, jot down what I can, and then I think that’s the end of them. They seem to be from a single pad of paper, bound with blue glue on one side, roughly 6 inches tall, and probably not that wide.tatteredletter1

What makes them interesting to me is the sorts of words that appear.  Request words, maybe even pleading ones.  Words that hint at a secret someone might not want kept anymore. Wishes. Hopes. Almosts.

I’ll put the words I can read in separate paragraphs below, separated by dashes to mark the missing areas, one page per paragraph:

My dear B- – from – really – to tell – keep –

Nov. 23, 1926 – ju – ve – you – did wirt (?) me – ing when you – me adopting – ?stand altho – him the –

greatest wrong — the world by briging him – the world, illegally why st – for him?  Bud, you  – still love you, and would marry you, if only you will l – Of – then I will have to –

before – d – get married. This spring – him,  – im now. We can – for 4 or 5 yrs. No one will h – Then I am sure – take –

him to board – he is older – and not tell F – ours [might be “yours”]. Bud, if you care for me as you say you do, I hope, please for his and my sake help him and me he- – any even –

you – me to – up – He is our own flesh – blood – had many others – a – we – could never – thing – all have given – and sacrificed for him, my – my present and future, but – he is worth it.  I would – give my life –

you – for me, so please show – doing as I ask. I am going to – get next – ??i and Sun – but next, so I

to see – you t – will – the present – from you – I know – please – letter

I want – ne, then, – ye for – hear – I am – you – you – out. also, – how this – ose


I don’t know who “Bud” is, or what decision he made.  I don’t know the name of the woman [yes, I’m assuming, based on handwriting and statistics], or the adopted son.  I suppose I could do a search and figure out who was here in 1926, or who the family was…  Perhaps they are all in the graveyard out back.  Perhaps Bud stashed this note in the rafters of a house he was working on, because he didn’t want to deal with how complicated being with this woman might be.  Maybe he ‘stepped up’ and became a father, as my brother has?

I am likely never to know. But now the story of her devotion gets to transcend the crumbling paper, and we can honor her love, even if Bud could not.

Given the shreds of data, what do you think was going on?


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Odd sort of Narnia

snowrockaconitesWord and I have agreed that we are trapped in an odd sort of Narnia, where it seems to always be winter, but it never snows.

Granted, there was a dusting of the stuff this morning, but nothing in comparison to the gorgeous [and yes, sometimes inconvenient] swaths of deep white sparkle we are used to.  There should be some snow on the ground from November til March, with only a few interruptions to confuse the crocuses.  The continual blooming of the forsythia by the basement bulkhead is simultaneously amusing and offensive.

This rock, and some of the aconites, were transplanted to Elsinore.  The snow, however, did not pack well. ;-(

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