Sunday, May 22, 2005

You Should Never Have Come to Naboo, Dooku!

I finally broke down and saw Revenge of the Sith last night. I manage to agree with both those who heap upon it viscious criticism and those who enjoyed it perfectly well.

The one reaction I had that I'm sure wasn't unique to me but which I haven't seen elsewhere yet was at the end when Yoda and Obi-Wan have decided Kenobi'll take baby Luke to Tatooine and keep an eye on him. After the way Hayden Christensen found his way to Endor on the DVD release of Return of the Jedi, Yoda's news for Obi-Wan that he's gonna teach him how to commune with the dead with a reference to his old friend or master or whatever and Obi-Wan's reaction of "Qui-Gon?" one thing seems inevitable: Liam Neeson showing up digitally in 1977 Tunisia in the next DVD release of the original film and having awkward conversations with Alec Guiness.


(The post title, incidentally, is taken from the Podhoretz review. Just try saying it out loud wthout laughing. ["without laughing" edited in next day. Shoulda been there before.])

Exploding Sentences, Overachieving Doppelgangers

[Update, 25 July 2006: Some of the doppelganger links have become obsolete over the past year. That kind of thing happens with the internet. Damn shame.]

I love this kind of stuff. It's the Johnny America page of unlikely search engine queries that led visitors to their web site. The phrases themselves are usually funny and the commentary about them often even more so. January 2005 is probably the funniest month's worth on the page, particularly the last paragraph. I always enjoyed it when Marc used to do this on Farm Accident Digest, though I haven't seen it yet on his new blog. The Johnny America stuff's even better.

I could only get this sort of amusement vicariously until now, though. Last week, evidently, someone found this page searching on "bolivian cuisine clumsy." And perhaps it is, in whatever poetic way cuisine can be clumsy. That person came to the wrong site looking for insight on the matter, however. I've eaten PBJs the last three days and Arby's today. I'm the last person in a position to criticize the gracefulness of Bolivia's cuisine.

In a related if more prosaic search-results vein, last week also saw a spike in the number of people searching in Google or Yahoo for "Steve Ely." The first few times that happened back in March and April, I was excited to think that people were actually searching for me. Eventually, though, I looked at the actual page of Google results itself.

It turns out I'm not at all the only Steve Ely on the web. While it now seems, amusingly, that I'm number one in the search results on Google for that name, several of my namesakes are more prominent, successful, and likely to be sought out. I had always felt as if mine were a nearly unique name, and to learn of these Others out there now makes me feel as if there are alternate versions of myself running around, as if I traveled back in time and started over several different times and now have multiple versions of me living variations of my life on parallel tracks. I have to imagine this wouldn't be my reaction if I were named Jason Smith and had grown up all my life knowing my name wasn't uncommon, let alone unique.

As much as I already feel like (c'mon, let's be honest, am) an underachiever, it's only underlined by the achievements of these Other Instances of Steve Ely.

One, for instance, is the Senior Vice President for Product Development of Equifax, which is apparently a global services provider of value-added information solutions with over $1.3 billion in revenue and 4,400 employees in 12 countries. I am not that Steve Ely. I know nothing of "The Equifax Way." He has over 26 years experience in technology, marketing, software development, and operations. This would have required me to have gotten started at age 3. I wish I were such a wunderkind. I am not.

Holy Crud! Er...no blasphemous pun intended. But here's a picture of another Steve Ely, and he's not only better-looking than I, he's also in better standing with God. He's Rev. Steve Ely. Sheesh. He's apparently a youth pastor running quite an active ministry. Not I.

I also, unfortunately enough, own neither a construction company building custom homes nor an original Yankees Stadium seat, bearing the signatures of both Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and valued at roughly $1500. Either of those would be pretty cool. Each of those seem to be a different Steve Ely from each other; each is certainly a different one from me.

I am neither the race operations manager at Watkins Glen nor the general manager for a fun park in California. Either seems like it'd be pretty nice work, though.

While I'm at it, I am also not a guitarist, shortstop, football coach, lightning survivor, or dentist.

Frankly, I feel kind of like Dave Gorman.

In addition to everything else, this demonstrates to me the futility of hoping to have a unique identity on the Web by using simply what I go by in real life, never running into others using it too. I'll bet Pejman Yousefzadeh never has this problem.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Ending Sentences with Prepositions

Through Ken Summers' post linking to the true Grover Hollywood story, I came upon This Life, which led me to La Cabrita Susanita and her post wherein she lists excuses she's used to justify not moving forward in a relationship.

Now, obviously, she can and will dump or reject guys--or just avoid advancing the relationship--for whatever reasons she wants, and as a skinny guy who's out of shape and likes some science fiction, I don't know that my view on the matter might mean much to her, but I do want to respond to one of the items she mentioned.

The third thing on her list was
  • ends sentences in prepositions and other forms of poor grammar
I like grammar. Many of my friends and coworkers would tell you I like it too much. And so I can appreciate her irritation at hearing the English language used badly. But I'm going to have to speak up in defense of the legitimacy of ending sentences with prepositions.

Numerous sources insist that the rule prohibiting it is essentially bogus. The most common origin offered for this "rule" seems to be, as Tina Blue puts it, that it was "devised by pedants who believed that English was inferior to Latin and should be improved by forcing it onto the Procrustean bed of Latin grammar." As she notes, though, "English is descended from an ancestral German dialect, not from Latin, and certain of the rules based on Latin grammar simply do not fit the structure of English."

Who's Tina Blue, you ask? I've no idea. I quote her because I think she phrased well and succinctly the points made in more detail by others. However, in another article, she does cite several impressive sources to back up her position. Rather than my doing injustice to or simply repeating what she said there, let me exhort you to read the whole thing.

Certainly it's often clumsy and inelegant to end a sentence with a preposition, but it can often be just as bad to contort the sentence in an effort to avoid it, and without a sound basis for a rule against it, there's no good reason to be especially bothered by it as bad grammar.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

NBC Goes Underground

As I'm listening to 3WK Radio, I heard a few minutes ago ads for something I hadn't heard ads for before on 3WK: the NBC Thursday night shows "Joey," "The Apprentice," and "ER." Following that was the site's traditional tag line, "3WK: Underground Radio."

Uh, maybe not quite so much anymore, huh? Not that the music on it is any less indie-rock, but how underground exactly are you still, when you're running ads for Must-See TV?

Terrific and Not Frightful

So in checking the spelling of the word while paying a compliment in my last post, I noticed that the first definition of three listed by Merriam-Webster Online for the word "terrific" is "very bad: frightful."

It's a completely understandable etymology, but, lest there be any confusion, when I call something terrific, I don't mean it's very bad. Just so we're clear on that.

Snow White Revisited

Michele Catalano shared with me this story she wrote, and I'm glad she did. I think it's pretty terrific.

I'm pretty wary of fiction in general by authors whose work I don't already know but especially that written by people I know as something other than fiction authors. I tend to expect to feel an obligation to like something for the sake of the author rather than the sake of the work.

Fortunately, that wasn't an issue here at all. This would have been a good story no matter who wrote it. Michele can just be glad it was she who did. It's clever, well-written, and enjoyable.

Neil Gaiman also has an innovative and intriguing (no surprise) take on the Snow White tale, "Snow, Glass, Apples," included in the Smoke & Mirrors collection and also performed as a voice play. As I noted to Michele, Gaiman's, Willingham's, and her take on Snow White are each rather different from each other, but someone who enjoys one is apt to enjoy each. I know I do.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

What Wednesdays Mean

Just so we're clear, the reference I made in the first sentence of the last post to the second Wednesday of the month being Fables day has to do simply with that being the day each month that new issues of that fantastic series come out.

Wednesday, of course, is the day when new issues of comics come out each week. For knowing which specific titles are arriving in stores in a given week, I find this page and this one to be extremely useful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fables Recommendation

It's the second Wednesday of the month, which means it's Fables day, always an exciting day for me.

I need to recommend for anyone who likes comics even at all, appreciates classic fairy tale characters even a little bit, and--importantly--has an at least slightly twisted sense of humor and story, the Vertigo comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham. I'm confident you'll enjoy the clever storytelling and original perspective Willingham brings to these traditional characters. I've gotten several of my otherwise non-comic-fan friends hooked on it, and I've been pushing it to Michele Catalano, a self-described "full fledged comic geek," and Emily Jones, who for all I know may have no interest at all.

The premise has all the old fairy tale characters driven out of their respective homelands by a common enemy, so far unnamed and known only as The Adversary, who has conquered all those lands, while our heroes have all taken refuge together in our world, principally Manhattan and a large rural estate in upstate New York.

Any character who could be the same from one fairy tale to another is the same person here, so Prince Charming is one guy who was married to each Snow White, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), and Cinderella and is just too much of a sleazeball to stay married to anyone. The Big Bad Wolf of the Three Pigs was the same as the one for Red Riding Hood and is here known in (usually) human form as Bigby Wolf, sufficiently reformed and covered under a general amnesty to serve as the somewhat shady sheriff in the expatriate community known as Fabletown. While Old King Cole is the official mayor of that community, Snow White, as deputy mayor, really runs things.

Profanity, nudity, and violence are employed from time to time, and Willingham makes damn clever use of Beauty & the Beast, Jack of the Tales, Boy Blue, Pinnochio, the 3 Pigs, the 3 Bears, the Jungle Book characters, Cinderella, Ichabod Crane, and a host of others that don't leap to mind right now. Lord of the Flies and Orwell's Animal Farm each serve as inspiration in one storyline.

For a general overview, I'm not altogether satisfied with even the site I linked above, but you may find any of the following relevant:

There's an article up on the DC Comics site from when the series first started. I think it's come a long way since then, both in terms of the story and the art.

Bill Willingham has a website on which there are forums of fans discussing the issues in depth. I learn a lot there about the allusions and obscure characters he works in. Used to be here. Now it's here.

The cover artist for the series, James Jean, has a website where you can view the covers for each of the issues. They often tend to be pretty impressive. Click on Coverwork, then Fables.

Also, if you go to buzzscope.com and search for Fables, it'll come up with previews that'll show you the first four pages of each of about half the issues.

It's up to issue 37 right now, and everything through, I think, 33 is collected in five trade paperbacks. The story in the first one feels to me mostly like exposition for Willingham to set up his little universe, so I think it's good but not great (though I've got friends who loved it). Markedly better in the 2nd (issues 6-10), and I feel like it really takes off around with issue 14. I don't think they're too expensive, they're available on Amazon, and, in fact, the first one I read I checked out of a library. So there's that.

If you're already familiar with this series, I can only imagine you love it as much as I do. If you're not yet, I strongly encourage you to check it out from the beginning and get caught up. I think you'll thank me.

Sketchblog

Of Course Arby's Serves Breakfast

In case anyone else mistakenly believes Arby's doesn't serve breakfast, as at least one of my coworkers believes, here is the menu.

Actual advice

From PennDOT's Driver & Vehicle Services Customer Call Center:

"The best times to contact the Call Center are while the phone lines are the least busy."

Saturday, May 07, 2005

What indeed is going on?

I agree with Patterico. About many things, but specifically that this is the weirdest blog I too have ever seen. And I love it.

(This post updated to improve upon the vitally important syntax.)

Updated again, 5 hours later:
This blog is also pretty damn weird. Unfortunately, that sort of weirdness feels really derivative of Eggagog, even if Warning has doesn't have the same kind of ongoing--well, not a narrative, certainly...characters? Running jokes? Themes? Still, fun. Perhaps the key is just to not read either within a week of the other.

Friday, May 06, 2005

More on Etymology: Ubiquity of Claims, Reliability of Explanations, and the Origin of Chairman

Damn, the list in that e-mail forward is a lot of places. A lot of people are really buying into it and trying to get the word out. Seriously. People eat it up. Here's another. And another. I'm not going to go on like that forever, but there are a couple of examples that warrant specific comment.

Why would you copy the whole thing, without even any criticisms or insights, into your little local newspaper and actually call it an editorial? He at least acknowledges he received it in an e-mail forward and that he isn't confident it can be trusted, but, leaving aside the question of how it even then makes a legitimate newspaper column, why do you present something you lack any reason to trust in a way that implies it's factual?

This guy has one answer for that question. [Dammit, that guy, I meant that question rhetorically.] He pastes the whole thing into a page on his site without comment other than this, appended to the end:
Gene’s CAUTION: Yeah, this is just another bit of creative writing (you really didn’t believe ALL these, did you?) that has been passed around via e-mails for who knows how long. But what the heck, a little silliness never hurt anyone…
Gene. C'mon. I like silliness. The Onion. Spamusement. Daily Dinosaur. And this, this, this, and this. But yes, if you look at the links in that first paragraph, a lot of them do appear to really believe those. So why propagate it? Let's not lead people to believe fiction to be fact if we can help it, OK?

Worse than Gene or the Benson County Farmer's Press is Coast Impressions, the Online Magazine of the Central Oregon Coast, Ruth Flanagan, Editor. On a professional-sounding and looking site, they've simply pasted the unaltered text, with no comments added whatsoever, and slapped a copyright on it, as if someone there wrote the thing. This is absurd. You can't copyright something on April 18 that on March 23 (by the URL) Richard Peterson acknowledged getting in e-mail forward.

I was going to each of the claims in that list in a separate post, probably linking to Word Detective a lot (who here presents a different origin for "chairman" than the thing about one chair in a house and everyone else eating sitting on the floor). After all, I find a lot more credible someone who actually puts his name on his work, especially with all the published book and the newspaper column (which he actually writes himself) than some unsourced piece that could have been written by anyone.

But further debunking by me on this looks unnecessary. Melanie and Mike Crowley have already taken care of it. Their backgrounds and their website, and their account itself, satisfy me enough to take their word for it.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Implausible Etymology: Bigwigs

Also in that phrase origin nonsense I mentioned earlier, there was this bizarre bread-related scenario:
As incredible as it sounds, men and women took baths only twice a year! (May and October) Women kept their hair covered, while men shaved their heads (because of lice and bugs) and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. The wigs couldn’t be washed, so to clean them they could carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term “big wig.” Today we often use the term “here comes the Big Wig” because someone appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.
I'd love to see some evidence for that one. Word Detective offers a less colorful and more plausible origin, mentioning nothing of baking wool wigs inside hollowed bread loaves to clean them and instead pointing out simply that when it was common for men to wear wigs, the richer ones wore bigger ones.

Dubious Etymology: Ps & Qs

Near the end of the etymological claims my friend forwarded me, is this:
At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint-and quart-sized containers. A bar maid’s job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in “pints” and who was drinking in “quarts,” hence the term “minding your ‘P’s and Q’s”.
While this is possible, it looks like it's just speculation. No one seems to sure. It and other possibilities are mentioned here, here, and here.

False Etymology, part 1: costing an arm & a leg

A friend forwarded me an e-mail account of some purported origins of some common idioms. The list of those claims can be found here. The first one on that list suggests
In George Washington’s days, there were no cameras. One’s image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are “limbs,” therefore painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression. “Okay, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.”
Not true. According to the Word Detective site, there is no specific record of who first came up with the phrase and under what specific circumstances, but it was perhaps popularized as recently as 1956 in Billie Holliday's autobiography. For details, see here and scroll down or use your browser to search for "nominal egg." Seriously.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Very Weird Compliment

This post (via Instapundit) struck me as well-written and commendably honest self-portrait of someone who's wasted his last two years slacking and underachieving, which is certainly something I can sympathize with. Empathize, even.

However, people who don't relate quite so much to that are apt to be, instead of sympathetic and impressed with the artful summary, contemptuous of the writer's poor character.

Such is the case with one commenter there, coincidentally named Steve, who said, " Young man, you are just as spoiled and indulgent as you think you are."

In other words, "You have excellently conveyed to me what a real jerk you are." Umm...the post a success, then? The comment a compliment hidden inside an insult?

Iceland! ...There's the allure, and then there's Fischer...

I'm enthralled with Iceland. I want to know the history and the literature, I want to learn the language, and I definitely want to go there. I want to spend some time there, explore the place, and really experience it.

I think a lot of it has to do with the combination of culture and civilization with rugged isolation. I have a lot of sympathy, at least geographically, for the attitude expressed by the man on the poles Arthur meets in Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless:
'A beach house,' he said, 'doesn't even have to be on the beach. Though the best ones are. We all like to congregate,' he went on, 'at boundary conditions.'

'Where land meets water. Where earth meets air. Where body meets mind. Where space meets time. We like to be on one side, and look at the other.'

I yearn to go to islands--not (principally) the ones in the Carribean and Hawaii and such, but the semi-obscure ones, such as the Isle of Wight, the Galapogos, Easter Island, and the Falkland Islands. Iceland is foremost among all these. With the cold comes warmth (hot springs, geothermal engergy, all that). With the remoteness there is also civilization and culture--though I don't know how I'd cope with the cuisine, at least while sober. (Incidentally, I'm starting on The Sagas of the Icelanders [Half.com has it cheaper] and am enthused--intrigued verging on fascinated.)

So I was disappointed when I read this editorial from the Washington Post [try bugmenot for the login problem], entitled the Shame of Iceland [try here if the Post archives their copy or something], which gives a bit of an idea of what a vile person Fischer is and discusses the Post's disapproval of Iceland's gift of citizenship to him, rescuing him from extradition to the U.S. to be tried for violating economic sanctions against Yugoslavia in 1992.

It's an editorial I immediately agreed with and still have a lot of sympathy for, but I can also see the side of the more supportive view in this blog post, wherein it's essentially argued that, reprehensible though he may be, Fischer probably didn't bring all that much benefit or wealth to Slobodan Milosevic, so how desperately does he need to be punished? Also supportive of Icelandic citizenship for Fischer is Charles Krauthammer, who in the April 26 issue of Time magazine says,
Bobby Fischer is back in Iceland, and that is as it should be. Fischer put Iceland on the map for the first time since the Vikings happened by. And Iceland put Fischer on the map, providing the venue for his greatest triumph, the 1972 world chess championship. That was before he fell off a psychic cliff.

Krauthammer also calls Iceland, "the only place that appreciates his genius enough to take pity on his madness," which I find wonderfully put but to which I think it's worth adding, "and to overlook the sanctions he violated."

Meanwhile, a more complex picture of the Icelandic people's view of Fischer's new citizenship can be found here. It's highly worth reading.

A related point in that last-mentioned article I find interesting and somewhat off-putting is the apparent contradiction between the remark by Illugi Gunnarsson, political adviser to former Prime Minister David Oddsson, that "In my opinion, the statements are wrong, but in a free society people have the right to express their opinions" (certainly true) and the law referenced in the later quote, "Public racism is not allowed in Iceland. A man was recently convicted of writing racist comments about blacks." Other Icelanders should no more be prosecuted for bigoted remarks than should Fischer. I'm not advocating racism at all, but you can't outlaw speech just because it's wrong, wretched, and contemptible and still, by Gunnarsson's principle above, call yours a fully free society.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What past two weeks?

It's funny how fast you can go from a new blogger to some guy who used to have a blog for a couple of minutes. I'd like to blame Deadwood and Arrested Development for being such freaking awesome shows and Netflix and and my colleague Walker for making them so easy to get and watch on DVD, but the truth is I'm just lazy.