Thursday, September 29, 2016

Interesting words: Pareidolia

Definition:  Pareidolia is the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer. The adjectival form is pareidolic.

Pronunciation:  Rhymes with pair eye do lee uh

Origin: From ancient Greek: Para (alongside) + eidolon (image).

Why use it?  What a wonderful word to have!  This is a very common thing for people to do, much more common than we acknowledge. People see patterns, even in random data.  Psychologists have shown this by generating random sequences of digits and showing them to people - who then find patterns.  But we also do this in the "real world" with all sorts of vague stuff.

Examples:
Some people think that dreams have deep meaning while others think that the interpretation of dreams is pareidolia.  
or
On a summer afternoon it is pleasant to lie on the grass, gaze at the clouds and engage in pareidolia

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book review: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Year published: 2008
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: A+
Review:

Anathem is a novel by Neal Stephenson.

It is almost impossible to summarize Anathem - it's 930 pages, plus an extensive glossary, three appendices, and a web page full of acknowledgments and sources. So, what can I say about the novel?

I think Anathem is a great novel, but you may hate it.

It's a novel of ideas - very intensely so. It's science fiction, and it's a variant of a particular genre of science fiction called alternate history. But usually, in alternate history, a particular event is changed, and the author guesses as to how history would change - the South wins the Civil war, Adolf Hitler is stillborn, that sort of thing. You can recognize the names of people and places. In Anathem, this is not the case - although a lot of the characters are analogues of ancient Greeks. You can see Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and others, but not by those names, and there is no place called Greece.

Anathem, in fact, is almost an alternate history of philosophy novel.

One way to look at it, one that the author might have been playing with, is, "Suppose that the 'dark ages' came immediately after the classical Greek period" because, while there are analogues of the ancient Greeks, there are none of the Romans, and none of the Romans; there's no Jesus or Mohammed.

In Anathem, there are monasteries, called 'maths', that are quite similar to what we think of as monasteries - but the residents called 'avout' are not religious monks as we would think of them, they are mathematicians and philosophers. There's a long history to the planet "Arbre", detailed a bit in a chronology at the beginning of the book, including several 'sacks' where the secular power attacks the maths..

Of course, even a Neal Stephenson novel can't be just about ideas - there are characters and there is a plot. The protagonist is Fraa Erasmus - a young avout. During the course of the novel he falls in love, becomes a hero, loses some friends, makes some other friends, and grows up a lot. The plot is complex, and I won't spoil the novel for you by detailing it. But a writer of Stephenson's skill could tell this tale in many fewer pages. What he seems most into is the ideas behind the world, and the re-creation of the alternate history. As Anathem unfolds, he also shows interest in what constraints nature might place on the nature of intelligent beings.

If all of the above sounds like your cup of tea, then you will probably love Anathem. If not, not. I don't imagine many people will feel neutral about it.

About the author: Neal Stephenson is a writer of science fiction novels and other things. He was born in Maryland in 1959 and lives in Seattle. Exactly what genre he writes in is open to debate, but his books tend to feature highly abstract ideas and can include a lot of math and philosophy.

Book review: Stardust by Robert B. Parker

Year published: 1990
Date I finished: September 21, 2016
Genre:  Mystery
Rating: A-

Review:  This is the 17th in the Spenser series. In this one, Spenser is hired to protect TV star Jilly Joyce.  Joyce is beautiful and good at acting, but she is a nasty person, a nymphomaniac, a drunk, a cocaine addict and a self-entitled jerk.

But that doesn't mean someone should kill her.

Spenser enlists his usual helpers: Martin Quirk, Susan Silverman and Hawk.  But he's in a new world, not just of TV but of lost childhoods, abused children, delusional behavior and more.  As usual, Spenser keeps asking questions and annoying people - who sometimes respond with violence.

And, as usual, Parker uses the novel to muse on themes greater than those in the typical mystery, including the nature of need, the effects of abuse and so on.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Book review: Crimson Joy by Robert B. Parker

Date finished: September 13, 2016
Year published: 1988
Genre: Mystery
Rating:  A

Review: I really like the Spenser series and am now reading them in order.

In Crimson Joy Spenser is contacted by Lt. Martin Quirk of the Boston Police.  A serial killer is on the loose in Boston.  He leaves a red rose at each murder site. And it is possible that the killer is a police officer. The crime is quickly solved when a police officer confesses.  But, while everyone else is congratulating themselves on their good work, Quirk, Belson, Spenser and Hawk believe that the confession is false.

They are proven right. 

Then the tension is raced when Spenser's inamorata Susan Silverman gets a red rose.

One of the best in this series; there's not only a lot of tension, but the relationship between Spenser and Susan develops in interesting ways.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A quotation for banned books week: Heinrich Heine on burning books

 It's banned books week (Sept 25-Oct 1) so here is a quote about burning books.

The quotation:

Where they begin by burning books, they will end by burning people.
Who said it? Heinrich Heine  (1797-1856).

Source:  Almansor: A Tragedy (1823)

Thoughts on the quote: The original is in German: Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen and I don't speak German.  Wikiquote gives several alternate translations, but I forget where I read the exact one I have above.

In any translation, it speaks to the problem of the slippery slope of destroying freedom, step by step. The same sort of people who want to take away your right to read will, eventually, want to take away your right to breathe. Because the danger of reading is that it leads to thinking; but people will persist in thinking, even without books (books just make it a bit easier!)

So, celebrate banned books week by buying and reading some books, especially banned books.  It's not just your right to read. It's your right to breathe.

More about the author: Heine was (per Wikipedia) a German poet, journalist, essayist and literary critic. Many of his books were banned in Germany due to their satirical attacks on Germany's rulers. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Book review: Feynman's Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow

Year published: 2003
Date I finished reading: May 10, 2015
Genre: Memoir
Rating: A

Review:  In 1981, Leonard Mlodinow got his PhD in physics from Berkeley. His dissertation was so good that he landed a dream job - a fellowship at Caltech, with no duties or obligations. He didn't have to teach (but could if he wanted) and he could study whatever he liked.

He arrives.

In the office next to him is Murray Gell-Mann. Down the hall is Richard Feynman - these are the two most important American physicists of the post World War II era. Also on the hall is John Schwarz, who would do more than anyone else to develop string theory - which dominates physics nowadays. Leonard Mlodinow is not at all sure he belongs; he takes his troubles down the hall to Richard Feynman. This is the story of what happens next.

At the time, Feynman was already dying from cancer; he's famously cantankerous and iconoclastic. As Mlodinow puts it, Richard Feynman has many of the positive and negative aspects of a child - a grown up, and extraordinarily brilliant child, to be sure, but a child nonetheless. He does what he wants, whether it is rude or not - and is known for walking out in the middle of a talk if he is bored with it. Murray Gell-Mann is his peer, his friend, his rival, and his nemesis. Gell-Mann, best known as a physicist, is also a linguist and an expert on birds; he knows all about antiquities; he knows all about almost everything, and isn't the least bit shy about telling people what he knows.

But what Leonard Mlodinow learns from Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann is not so much physics - at least, any physics he learns is only alluded to in this book - as how to live a life worth living; how to follow his own star. He winds up, in the end, leaving Caltech and leaving physics - he became a professional writer, both of popular science books and of screenplays for Star Trek.

The subtitle of this Feynman's Rainbow is A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life. And that's what this little book is. In the story that gave rise to the title, Mlodinow comes upon Feynman looking intently at a rainbow. In the conversation that follows, we learn that it was Rene Descartes who first analyzed the rainbow. Feynman asks Mlodinow what he thinks Descartes' inspiration was. Mlodinow says:

"I suppose ... the realization that the problem could be analyzed by considering a single drop, and the geometry of the situation"
 
Richard Feynman: "You're overlooking a key feature of the phenomenon".

Leonard Mlodinow: "OK, I give up. What would you say inspired his theory?"

Richard Feynman: "I would say his inspiration was that he thought rainbows were beautiful".


That's Richard Feynman at his best; Mlodinow learned a lot from him, and, if you're like me, you'll learn a lot from this book.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Interesting words: Eat, drink, have, take: What we do with consumables


What verbs do we use for stuff that we put in our mouth and swallow?

We eat food, we drink liquid.  That seems straightforward enough.  But ... maybe not.  On Quora, someone asked whether we eat or drink honey.  Neil Higham gave an interesting answer (you can read it here) mentioning that if you use a utensil to get it to your mouth, you eat it.We eat soup from a bowl. But we drink soup from a mug because you use a spoon with a bowl but not with a mug. 

But ... not quite complete.  Because the verb we would use for "honey" (or other things) depends on both why we consumed it and what we consumed it with.

If you consumed a spoonful of honey because of a sore throat, you would probably say that you "took" the honey; we certainly say this about medicine, whether it is liquid or solid.  "I took some NyQuil"  "I took some aspirin" - not "I drank some NyQuil" or "I ate some aspirin".

But, usually, we don't consume honey on its own, we put it on or in things and the verb we use depends on whether the main ingredient is liquid or solid:  "I drank some tea with honey" but "I ate some bread and honey".

Then there's "have", the most general verb of all. 

What are you reading? Sept 24, 2016

Here is what I am reading this week.  Use the comments to tell us what you are reading.

Books 

  • Volume 10 of A History of Western Philosophy: The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre by W. T. Jones.  I haven't read the first 9 volumes; I found this one in a used book store.  But I like Jones approach and he makes things reasonably clear, although it's hard to write clearly about philosophy.  I may pick up the other volumes when I can.  Now on page 56. (2 pages read this week).
  • Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning.  A very good bio of a remarkable ruler, but I wish there were more maps (I often wish this!) and the descriptions of battles could be more detailed.  p. 328 (47 pages read this week).
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 106 (28 pages read this week).
  • Perdido Street Station  by China Mievelle.  High level science fiction. This one is a bit on hold.  Page 22.
  • Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum by Lee Wilkinson.  Takes a cognitive behavioral approach.  Not my favorite approach, but it summarizes the method well.  16% through (no page numbers on my Kindle). 
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 32 (7 pages read).
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  This is a really good survey, I think. Gottlieb writes very clearly and uses analogy and humor to help. page 85 (76 pages read this week).
  • I finished Playmates by Robert B. Parker. I have not reviewed it here yet. 
  • Powder Burn by Carl Hiaasen. Drugs and crime in Florida, with lots of humor as usual with Hiaasen.  22% done.

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Interesting words: Mensch

Definition: "man", or, in these modern times,  perhaps "person" (Yiddish developed at times when sexual equality was not the norm, to put it mildly). This is (I think) how it can be used in spoken Yiddish, that is, when you are conversing entirely in Yiddish.

But, in Yinglish, I have never heard it this way. In Yinglish, a "mensch" is a thoroughly decent, wonderful person.  A mensch is moral, good, kind and charitable. You need not be smart or wise or even learned to be a mensch.

The Jews have enormous respect for learning, but even greater respect for these qualities. There is even a saying "saloons can't corrupt good men, and synagogues can't reform bad ones".

Pronunciation: Rhymes, more or less, with bench, but the final sound is more sibilant)/

Origin:  Mensch is Yiddish.

Why use it?  In his wonderful book The Joys of Yiddish Leo Rosten says "Yiddish is like every other language, only more so".  Mensch, as used, is a "more so" word. It also has not exact equivalent.  A mensch need not be a hero, nor strong, nor smart.  It's more than "decent".  It's ... mensch.

Examples: "Raoul Wallenberg was a mensch".  

"I only hope that my child grows up to be a mensch" or (to a child or possibly a spouse) "Be a mensch!" (which would mean, "do the right thing!".


 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interesting words: Fissiparous

Definition: Fissiparous is an adjective meaning "tending to break into parts".  In biology, it means reproducing by splitting.

Pronunciation:  fi-ˈsi-p(ə-)rəs

Origin: Fissiparous comes from Latin: fissus the past participle of findere "to split" and parus "bearing" (as in producing).

Why use it?  Another single word that has no exact synonym.

Examples:  In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson's embrace of civil rights highlighted fissiparous tendencies in the Democratic party.  Today, however, it is the Republicans who have nominated a fissiparous candidate.
 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Interesting word: Morbific

Definition:  Morbific is an adjective meaning "causing disease".

Pronunciation: More   beh fick

Origin: From Latin morbus - sick

Why use it? There really isn't another word with the same meaning as morbific. Pathogenic is similar, but implies a pathogen; morbific does not.

Examples.  I found a few examples, but I prefer some new ones that are more general, e.g.

Although poverty does not directly cause disease, it is associated with many morbific conditions.

Medical care in earlier days not only  rarely cured people, it was often morbific.
 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Great quotations: Moms Mabley on nostalgia

The quotation:  
The good old days. I was there. Where was they?

Who said it?  Moms Mabley

Source: Goodreads

Thoughts on the quote:  Certainly an African American living from the end of the 19th century well past the midpoint of the 20th saw major improvements. But the quotation doesn't just apply to Moms Mabley's own life - I think it applies much more generally. Whenever people hark back to some 'golden age' it is good to recall these words of Moms. It is easy to forget the bad parts of the "good old days", especially if you weren't in one of the groups for which they were really really bad. You know - Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Jews, Italians, Irish and so on .... and, of course, women. But even for others - the good old days had their problems.
  Here are some things that made life better during Moms Mabley's lifetime
  • Penicillin was discovered in 1928 and saved millions of lives
  • Radio, motion pictures and television transformed entertainment
  • The car and the airplane changed transportation.
  • The crossword puzzle started perplexing people
  • Frozen foods made vegetables available all year
  • Zoom lenses made big differences in photography.
  • Ballpoint pens made it easier to make mistakes (but harder to correct them than with a pencil)
  • Computers began, and the very early beginnings of the internet, as well.
  • The slinky and silly putty and the Frisbee made for fun times
  • Oral contraceptives changed sex forever
  • In 1894 the average life expectancy was 42.5 for White men, 44.6 for White women, 32.5 for other men, and 35.0 for other women. By the time Moms Mabley died, these numbers were 67.9, 75.5, 61.0 and 69.0, respectively.

  So, when people start talking about the good old tells, quote Moms.
The good old days. I was there. Where was they?
Sources:

About the author:  Jackie "Moms" Mabley,  nee Loretta May Aiken, was an African American comedienne, born on March 19, 1894 in Brevard, NC. Moms Mabley worked in vaudeville, and later in TV, as a standup, and in film. She died on May 23, 1975, in White Plains NY.  Moms Mabley got her stage name from a former boyfriend, saying "he took so much from me, I took my name from him".

Moms made over 20 recordings, appeared in 7 films and 9 stage productions.  She tackled issues such
as racism, social justice, and so on long before they were popular, and yet, she must have made them funny, because audiences loved her, and she appeared in mainstream venues such as the Ed Sullivan Show.  She was married and had several children, but also had female lovers.

Interesting words: Anodyne

Definition: Anodyne is an adjective meaning "not likely to cause offense to anyone".  Less commonly, it is used as a noun to mean "something that relieves pain" (per Merriam Webster online). The second sense could relate to either physical pain or emotional pain.

Pronunciation:  An o  dine

Origin: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, anodyne comes from medieval Latin anodynus "relieving pain" and Greek anodynus "free from pain".
 
Why use it? The first meaning is quite similar to "inoffensive" but it has both a sort of sarcastic edge to it and also a more positive sense in that something anodyne should be soothing (which relates to the second meaning).  The second meaning relates to both emotional and physical pain, although most people would probably use "analgesic" or "pain reliever" for purely physical pain. (Do not walk into a drug store and ask where they keep the anodynes!)

Examples: "Paintings in hotel rooms tend to be so anodyne as to be immediately forgettable".

"Elevator music was originally thought to be anodyne, but it actually offends many people".

Monday, September 19, 2016

Interesting word: Inamorata

What should adults call the people they love in romantic ways?

If they are married, there's husband, wife or (for the gender equal) spouse.  Husband and wife are actually a bit contentious since the roots of the former are related to ownership and the latter are from an Old English word meaning "woman".  "Owner and woman"?  Oy.  So, spouse.

But if they are not married?

Boyfriend and girlfriend seem silly for adults.
Partner sounds like a business thing.
Lover is OK, but ... it could be a one night thing; it doesn't connote a long-term relationship. I like

Inamorata and inamorato (for female and male, respectively)

Definition: These words mean "woman/man with whom one is in love".  That's just right.

Origin: According to the ever-useful Online Etymology Dictionary, inamorata and inamorato come from the Latin where it is the past participle of innamorare - meaning "to fall in love".  

Why use it? I think these two words: Inamorato and inamorata have tons of uses! I think they are just very good words for a common relationship.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Interesting words: Epigone

Definition: According to Wiktionary, epigone has two meanings:
  1. A follower or disciple
  2. An  undistinguished or inferior imitator
I have seen it used only in the second sense and I don't see the purpose of the first: Disciple does the job.  Also, some other dictionaries only give the second sense.


Pronuciation: e-pə-ˌgōn

Origin: The Online Etymology Dictionary says epigone comes from Greek epigonoi ( ἐπίγονοι) with the prefix epi- (close in time) combining with -gonos (offspring).  Wiktionary adds to the picture with a route through Latin epigoni and then French épigones.

Why use it?  Such a lot of meaning in one word! And, it's useful.

Examples:  In an age of genius, Isaac Newton had many epigones but few equals.

Where I read it: I read this word in Modernity and its Discontents by Steven Smith (link goes to my review).  I also read it in China Mieville's Perdido Street Station where he has this line:
In another twist to the myth, his Head of Department, the ageless and loathsome Vermishank, was not a plodding epigone but an exceptional bio-thaumaturge.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

What are you reading: September 17, 2016

Books 

  • Volume 10 of A History of Western Philosophy: The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre by W. T. Jones.  I haven't read the first 9 volumes; I found this one in a used book store.  But I like Jones approach and he makes things clear.  I may pick up the other volumes when I can.  Now on page 54.
  • Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning.  A very good bio of a remarkable ruler, but I wish there were more maps (I often wish this!) and the descriptions of battles could be more detailed.  p. 281.
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 78.
  • I finished Google Blogger for Dummies by Susan Gunelius.  All about Google Blogger!  I like it. But I'm still learning. Full review is here: http://peterfsblogs.blogspot.com/2016/09/book-review-google-blogger-for-dummies.html.
  • I also finished Modernity and its Discontents  by Steven B. Smith.  It's a good discussion of a variety of philosophers and authors, but it could use more cohesiveness. Full review is here: http://peterfsblogs.blogspot.com/2016/09/book-review-modernity-and-its.html
  • Perdido Street Station  by China Mievelle.  High level science fiction. This one is a bit on hold.  Page 22.
  • Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum by Lee Wilkinson.  Takes a cognitive behavioral approach.  Not my favorite approach, but it summarizes the method well.  16% through (no page numbers on my Kindle). 
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 25.
  • The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb.  A history of philosophy from its Thales to the Renaissance.  I just started but so far, so good. page 9.
  • Playmates by Robert B. Parker.  Another in the Spenser series. p. 53.

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book review: Modernity and its discontents by Steven Smith

Year published: 2016
Date I finished the book: September 16, 2016
Genre: History, philosophy
Rating:  B-

Review:  Dr. Smith is clearly an intelligent and very well-read man and an expert on what he talks about. However, this reads more like a collection of essays than a book. Nearly all of the book (except for a short introduction and a very short conclusion) consists of chapters about individual thinkers, from Machiavelli to Hegel, from Rousseau to Saul Bellow. Each chapter is fine; well written, informative and so on.

But, until we read the conclusion, it's not really clear what Smith's point is. Nor is it clear why he chose the writers that he did. Some are obvious: Machiavelli, Kant, Hobbes. But why Saul Bellow? Why and entire chapter on The Leopard?

Interesting words: Exigent

Definition:  Exigent is an adjective with two related meanings:  1. Requiring immediate attention and 2. Having or making urgent demands.   

Pronunciation: Ex eh jent

Origin: According to the online etymology dictionary, exigent comes from Latin exigentem which is the present participle of exigere which means "to demand or drive out".

Why use it?  Isn't it nicer than ASAP?

Examples:  In the law, exigent circumstances can be a reason not to need a warrant, so the word is often used there.  Otherwise, most of the examples I have found come from theology.  But ... it could be used more widely.  I think using words like exigent is important.  But not exigent.

Sources:  Wordnik.

Your turn: What are your favorite words?
 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Book review: God Save the Child by Robert B. Parker

Date finished: July 1, 2016
Year published: 1974
Genre: Mystery
Rating:  B

Review: This is the second in the Spenser series, which I am reading in order.  I reviewed the first on, The Godwulf Manuscript here.  In God Save the Child Parker introduces us to Susan Silverman. Since I am re-reading the series, I know that this will be a long term relationship, running through the whole series; it will also be a complex relationship.  One thing I like about the Spenser series is that Susan is such a complex character: Too often, in older mysteries, women are not fully developed.

God Save the Child involves the hunt for a missing 15 year old boy. At first, it appears that the boy has been kidnapped, but it later becomes unclear whether he has run away on purpose, and is living with a bodybuilder whom he idolizes.

As often in the series, Parker uses the plot to muse about deeper things such as the nature of love, the role of parents and so on.



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book review: The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker

Date finished: June 19, 2016
Year published: 1973
Genre: Mystery
Rating:  B+

Review: This is the very first in the long and wonderful Spenser series. I've decided to reread the lot, in order.

In this one, Spenser is hired to find a missing manuscript that was stolen from a college library. But that leads to investigations of drug selling, left wing cults, crazed professors ... and a few murders.

There are many pleasures to the Spenser series.  First, I like Parker's style of mystery: There is one plot, there are no huge conspiracies, no multi-generational sagas.  Bad guys do bad things.  Spenser finds them, usually after some violence, some humor and so on.

Another pleasure is Spenser himself.  Yes, he's big and he's strong and he's tough.  But he quotes poetry, he cooks, he listens to music, he's knowledgeable about many things.  He's interesting.

But one pleasure of reading them in order is that we are gradually introduced to a series of interesting characters.  In The Godwulf Manuscript none are yet in evidence. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Interesting words: Nudnik

Definition:  A nudnik is a pest. When a child asks, 100 times an hour "are we there yet?" the child is being a nudnik. But nudnik is usually used for adults who constantly bother you with questions or demands. Do not confuse nudnik with patzer, which is someone who gives unwanted advice. Also do not confuse nudnik with noodzhe (or noodge) which is someone who tries to give you a little push, but might do it only once. Nor is a nudnik a kvetch - that's someone who complains all the time.

Pronunciation: Rhymes with "would Nick?"

Origin: Nudnik comes from Yiddish

Why use it? Because, as Leo Rosten said: "Yiddish is like every other language, only more so". Nudnik is just a great word for a particular kind of nagging pest.

Examples: There is a joke (of course!)  A guy is traveling on a train with no drinks available. The woman across the aisle says, over and over and over and over, "Oy! Am I thirsty!"  When the train comes to a stop, the guy dashes out of train, races to buy some water, rushes back in and gives it to her.

"Thank you" she says.  "You're welcome".  And he sits down hoping for some quiet but ....
"Oy! Was I thirsty!"

Sources:  The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten

Your turn:  Should I define more Yiddish words?
 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Interesting words: Affect and effect

This has long been one of my favorite pairs of words, because both are verbs and nouns and their meanings are related, but not identical.  I recently subscribed to The Word Blog and saw this pair and it reminded me to write about them.  But this post is my own.

  • Affect as a verb means "to have an effect on" or to do something to. 
  • Affect as a noun means "an emotion".
  • Effect as a verb means to bring about or accomplish; to do something.
  • Effect as a noun means something that is produced by a cause. 
and we also have  the adjectival forms
  • Affective meaning "emotional"
  • Effective meaning "producing the [intendend] purpose"
Which leads to some fun possible sentences!

His affect affected me and its effect was affective: I was upset; but his intent was to make up - his affect was not effective. 

Book review: Google Blogger for Dummies

Date finished: September 12, 2016
Year published: 2009
Genre: Nonfiction, how to
Rating:  B

Review: Like most of the "for dummies" books, this is a good introduction to the series.  The prose is clear and well-written. It's pretty well organized.  It got me up and running with my blog. But it hasn't been updated since 2009 (a long time in this field) and some of the information is quite dated.

Interesting words: Orotund

Definition: Orotund is an adjective with two quite different meanings. When it describes a person's voice it means having a full, strong sound.  When it describes a speech it means pompous or bombastic.

Pronunciation: Ohr, ,uh, tund.  Rhymes with more, uh, gunned.

Origin: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, orotund comes from Latin Ore Rotundo meaning "with round mouth".

Why use it?  I like the first use much more than the second; we already have words like bombastic. But no one word has all the meanings of orotund as applied to a voice.

Examples: Most of the examples I could find online were of the second meaning of the word, but it's easy to come up with good uses of the first:

His orotund voice masked the vapidity of his views
or

While his orotund voice got him some auditions, his utter lack of acting ability doomed his career. 



Sunday, September 11, 2016

Geography quiz: Where is New York City?

OK, for a change of pace, here's a bit of geography trivia turned into a one question quiz.

If you go due east from New York City, what major European capital do you come closest to?

Here are some choices:

A) London
B) Amsterdam
C) Paris
D) Madrid

answer below

Book review: The Devils of Cardona by Matthew Carr

Date finished: August 22, 2016
Year published: 2016
Genre: Mystery, historical fiction
Rating: B+

Review:  It is 1584 and Fernando Mendoza, a magistrate in Spain, is sent to Aragon to investigate the murder of a priest. He winds up digging into a complicated nest of intrigue in which nothing is what it seems and everyone is being scapegoated by someone else.  The Inquisition is in full force; the Moriscos (Moors who accepted Baptism) are being persecuted and prosecuted; the murdered priest was a bad man; there is suspicion of what would now be known as terrorist activity; one of the main characters is a lesbian who has to desperately hide it.. 


Strong characters, good writing and a plot that keeps moving are all good things and I like novels where I learn something. The only flaw is that, at times, I got lost in the complications of the plot.


About the author: Matthew Carr is a writer and journalist. He has previously written several history books (including Blood and Faith which is about  the same period as Devils of Cardona) and a memoir. Devils of Cardona is his first novel.

Source: http://thenewpress.com/authors/matthew-carr

Saturday, September 10, 2016

What are you reading? Sept 10, 2016

Books 

  • Volume 10 of A History of Western Philosophy: The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre by W. T. Jones.  I haven't read the first 9 volumes; I found this one in a used book store.  But I like Jones approach and he makes things clear.  I may pick up the other volumes when I can.  Now on page 49.
  • I finished The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.  Good new fashioned space opera.  That is, all the wonders of space opera plus interesting aliens, well developed characters (some of them female!).  Lots of fun. I wrote a review.
  • Frederick the Great: King of Prussia by Tim Blanning.  A very good bio of a remarkable ruler, but I wish there were more maps (I often wish this!) and the descriptions of battles could be more detailed.  p. 235.
  • Tips on Cardplay by Mike Lawrence.  Lawrence is one of the best bridge writers alive.  Play is the worst part of my game.  This book also includes some tips on defense. p. 73.
  • Google Blogger for Dummies by Susan Gunelius.  All about Google Blogger!  I like it. But I'm still learning. p. 243.
  • Modernity and its Discontents  by Steven B. Smith.  About the Enlightenment and counter Enlightenment and how to have the best of both.  About 42% through (on my Kindle, no page numbers).
  • Perdido Street Station  by China Mievelle.  High level science fiction. This one is a bit on hold.  Page 22.
  • Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum by Lee Wilkinson.  Takes a cognitive behavioral approach.  Not my favorite approach, but it summarizes the method well.  16% through (no page numbers on my Kindle). 
  • How to Reassess your Chess by Jeremy Silman.  A really good chess book. p 21.

Periodicals

Your turn

Use the comments to tell me what you are reading and what you think of it. 

A poem for 9-11

I was in 2 WTC when the plane hit.  I wrote a poem about it

When the Planes Flew into Towers

by

Peter Flom

When the planes first hit the towers
Tried to humble our great powers
I was there in those first hours
Running down the stairs.


When all the world was sympathetic
Bush was malign and pathetic
His response, crazed and frenetic
Did not catch me unawares.

When his popularity was soaring
How come so many were ignoring
All his puerile, childish roaring -
His taunts, his rage, his dares?

His stupid wars were bound to fail
We should have known from his first wail.
Bush really belongs in jail.
But ...... he's not. Who cares?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Book review: The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Genre: Science fiction
Rating: A
Year published: 2014
Date finished: July 1, 2015

This is a very good book. It is also a great book. I mean two different things.  A good book is well-written - the sentences are proper, the characters are interesting, the plot makes sense and so on. In The Girl with All the Gifts, MR Carey does all that. But a great book tells you something about what it means to be human. And The Girl with All the Gifts does that, too.

It is set in England, about 20 years after a plague has turned most humans into "hungries" - barely sentient animals who live only to eat. They'll eat any meat, but their favorite is human flesh.  Socieity has almost completely fallen apart. But the novel starts in a school, a small island of civilization.

The main characters (and memorable ones they are) are Sgt. Eddie Parks, a noncomissioned officer in what used to be the British army. Susan Caldwell, a scientist trying to figure out a way to reverse the plague, Helen Justineau, a teacher at the school, Private Kieran Gallagher and at the center, Melanie. A 10 year old. She is the girls with all the gifts.

An amazing work.

Warning: There are scenes of cannibalism and savagery. They are central to the book. They are disturbing.


M. R. (Mike) Carey is a British author; his previous work was mostly comics. 

 



Thursday, September 8, 2016

Interesting words: Edulcorate

Definition: Edulcorate is a verb meaning "to make something palatable or acceptable" (several dictionaries agree).

Pronunciation:  eh, dull, core, ate. 

Origin: I had to put this together from several dictionaries. Edulcorate used to mean "to remove the bitterness from" or "to remove the acid from", which is slightly different from "sweeten", yet the word comes from medieval Latin edulcarat which meant "sweeten" and some dictionaries list "sweeten" as one archaic use. It seems to have since dropped out of Latin; according to Google Translate, Latin for "sweeten" is condulcabit. In chemistry, edulcorate means to free from soluble impurities.

Why use it?  While edulcorate is a very rare word, I cannot think of a single word synonym and it's a very useful concept. 

Examples: I read this in the opening blurb to a story in a recent volume of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. I can't find any other uses. But I can think of plenty!

The president edulcorated the tax hike by promising more services.

Sources:  



 


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Great Quotations: Leibniz on music

The quotation:
Music is the pleasure that the human soul encounters from counting without knowing that it is counting. 

Who said it?   Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz

Source:  A letter to Christian Goldbach

Thoughts on the quote: People have many ideas about what music is.  It is not surprising that Leibniz, who was a mathematician, would emphasize the mathematical aspects of counting.  But, as a philosopher, he throws in the idea of the soul and also of doing something without knowing one is doing it.   The fact that Leibniz lived in the age when contrapuntal music (e.g. that of Johann Sebastian Bach) was at its height is not a coincidence. 




About the author: Leibniz  (1646-1714) was a polymathic genius who made huge contributions to mathematics (he and Newton invented calculus independently and pretty much simultaneously), philosophy (he was a radical optimist), computing (he invented several mechanical calculators), physics, probability theory, biology, medicine, geology and linguistics (he tried to invent a universal language), among other things.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Interesting words: Plangent

Definition: Plangent means "resounding loudly, especially with a plaintive sound, like a bell".  It has a mournful connotation. Plangent is an adjective; the noun form is plangency.

Pronunciation: Like the two words "plan" and "gent".

Origin: According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, "plangent" comes from Latin plangens meaning "to strike or beat".

Why use it?  Not only does plangent not seem to have any real single-word synonyms, but I think it can be used in many more figurative ways. Disaffected voters and their spokespeople often sound plangent in a figurative way, even when speaking in a normal tone of voice. And many slow-moving tragedies have a plangency -we can see them happening, but there is nothing we can do from a distance.

Examples: 
Plangent was used by Alice Walker in "By the light of my father's smile" in this passage:

She moans along with the woman who is singing -- wailing, really -- her hands gripping the steering wheel to the plangent cries of the singer and the sobbing of violins.

But plangent is also used more figuratively, in the Washington Post, Blake Gopnik used plangent to describe the artwork of Corregio and Barocci, and others have used it to describe various paintings, as well. (see the Wordnik site listed below, for many examples).

Sources:  In addition to those cited in the text: Wordnik