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May 31, 2003
A lovely photo of BOB
Posted by Teresa at 11:25 AM *

It’s from Cassiopeia, the magazine of the Canadian Astronomical Society/Socie9te9 Canadienne d’Astronomie (CASCA).

BOB is short for “Big Orange Balloon”, a.k.a. “1/3-scale model multi-tethered helium-filled aerostat”. It’s part of the design & testing phase of the Canadian Large Adaptive Reflector (LAR) Project, which in turn is part of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project.

Radio Astronomy Heavy Breathing Alert:
Over the past several years an international initiative has been underway to develop the technology required to construct a giant radio telescope array with collecting area of one million square metres—100 times the collecting area of the Very Large Array. The Square Kilometre Array will have spatial resolution of millarcseconds, a field of view of a square degree, and the ability to simultaneously image large portions of the Universe in both solid angle and redshift. With such an increase in capability over current instrumentation, the cold universe will be revealed—from before the dawn of galaxies up to the present day—and provide an instrument for addressing some of the most compelling questions in modern astrophysics. It will be possible to trace the origins of structure, measure the conditions of the pre-galactic universe through the era of reionization, and trace the interstellar medium of galaxies and the intergalactic medium through the subsequent cosmic evolution of galaxies and large-scale structure.
The LAR Project is a clever piece of design. The Canadians are aiming for a low-cost large-diameter radio wave reflector, made out of lightweight steel panels that will be mounted on a relatively simple structure sitting directly on ground. That’s as opposed to reflectors like the Very Large Array’s dishes, ponderously and capital-intensively pivoting on their single-stemmed mounts.
The focus platform will be a lightweight tethered structure held up at the proper height by a great big helium balloon; thus BOB, the balloon’s prototype. Here’s a large clear illustration of the proposed design.

Sweet clarity
Posted by Teresa at 11:02 AM *

I finally got new glasses. Progressive trifocal lenses have to be one of the greatest achievements of modern civilization.

May 28, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 06:54 PM *

The 74th annual Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee has come and gone. Allow me to direct your attention to #16 on the Round Two Wordlist.

Repealing Godwin’s Law
Posted by Teresa at 04:57 PM *

If this story is accurate, we’re going to have to repeal Godwin’s Law. It’s from an Australian paper, the Courier-Mail:

US plans death camp 26may03

THE US has floated plans to turn Guantanamo Bay into a death camp, with its own death row and execution chamber. Prisoners would be tried, convicted and executed without leaving its boundaries, without a jury and without right of appeal, The Mail on Sunday newspaper reported yesterday.

The plans were revealed by Major-General Geoffrey Miller, who is in charge of 680 suspects from 43 countries, including two Australians. The suspects have been held at Camp Delta on Cuba without charge for 18 months.

General Miller said building a death row was one plan. Another was to have a permanent jail, with possibly an execution chamber.

The Mail on Sunday reported the move is seen as logical by the US, which has been attacked worldwide for breaching the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war since it established the camp at a naval base to hold alleged terrorists from Afghanistan.

But it has horrified human rights groups and lawyers representing detainees. They see it as the clearest indication America has no intention of falling in line with internationally recognised justice.

The US has already said detainees would be tried by tribunals, without juries or appeals to a higher court. Detainees will be allowed only US lawyers.

British activist Stephen Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, said: “The US is kicking and screaming against any pressure to conform with British or any other kind of international justice.”

American law professor Jonathan Turley, who has led US civil rights group protests against the military tribunals planned to hear cases at Guantanamo Bay, said: “It is not surprising the authorities are building a death row because they have said they plan to try capital cases before these tribunals. This camp was created to execute people. The administration has no interest in long-term prison sentences for people it regards as hard-core terrorists.”

Britain admitted it had been kept in the dark about the plans. A Downing St spokesman said: “The US Government is well aware of the British Government’s position on the death penalty.”
Cowboy Khalil, from whom I got this, concurrently points out this story in The Guardian:
Red Cross denied access to PoWs May 25, 2003

The United States is illegally holding thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war and other captives without access to human rights officials at compounds close to Baghdad airport, The Observer has learnt.

There have also been reports of a mutiny last week by prisoners at an airport compound, in protest against conditions. The uprising was ‘dealt with’ by the Americans, according to a US military source.

The International Committee of the Red Cross so far has been denied access to what the organisation believes could be as many as 3,000 prisoners held in searing heat. All other requests to inspect conditions under which prisoners are being held have been met with silence or been turned down. …

Unlike the Afghans in Cuba, there is no doubt about the status of these captives, whether PoWs or civilians arrested for looting or other crimes under military occupation: all have the right, under the laws of war, to be visited and documented by the International Red Cross. ‘There is no argument about the situation with regard to the Iraqi armed forces and even the Fedayeen Saddam,’ said the ICRC’s spokeswoman in Baghdad, Nada Doumani.

‘They are prisoners of war because they have been captured during a clear conflict between two states. If they served in the armed forces or in a militia with distinctive clothing which came under the chain of command of one of the warring states, they are protected under article 143 of the Geneva Convention.’ …

Civilians held, she said, have similar rights because they have been detained by an occupying power, which the ICRC insists the Americans to be, even if they do not use those words of themselves. ‘Civilian prisoners under a military occupation have the right to be visited and documented,’ she said, ‘and for their next-of-kin to be informed.’
I have two things to say. First: If we genuinely care about the well-being of our military personnel overseas, we have to stop flouting the Geneva Convention. The traditional way to get the other side to stop mistreating your guys who’re held prisoner is to mistreat their guys in turn. This is hard on prisoners from both sides. Best to just not go there.

Second: My god, deathcamps. Shall we start admitting the possibility that these people are every bit as bad as they seem? If they have moral agency, which they do, it’s possible for them to be not just greedy, deluded, and incompetent, but evil.

We tend to shy away from that thought, in part because it’s so embarrassingly lurid-sounding; but being lurid and distasteful has never been enough to keep bad things from happening.

The other reason we shy away is because if they really are that bad, we’re in for some hard, ugly times before this is over.

(from ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose, via Frog n’ Blog)

Posted by Teresa at 12:31 AM *

Jane! Help! In the tree right outside my door, a bird is singing louder than I’ve ever heard a bird sing before, one song after another. It sounds like a blackbird or a mockingbird — all whoops and trills and mad lyricism — and it’s singing nonstop at top volume, in Brooklyn, in the middle of the night. Patrick say it’s like finding yourself in an Arabian Nights story.

The neighbors from across the street were also drawn out to try to get a look at it, only they had the good sense to bring a big flashlight. I eventually spotted it moving, up there amidst the maple leaves, and turned the beam on it.

It’s pale gray on the underside, with a very long narrow squarish tail that has a little notch in the middle of its end. There may be a pinstripe of darker coloration down the middle of the tail and some right at the end, as though it has flicked the end of its tail in graphite dust, and it might have had a thin dark line between its eye and beak. It’s long-bodied, elegant really; and I think it’s smaller than a mockingbird. I might be wrong on the size. It might be a mocker. Oh, and it’s got a default sort of beak. And from some angles it looks like it may have a tuft on top of its head like a jay. But it’s definitely not some kind of jay, not even a mutant albino one. Too small, and it’s got the wrong beak.

Could you please ask David what it is? And if he knows, could you also ask him what it’s up to? I’ve never heard a bird sing grand opera like this before — not at night, at any rate.

Jane has the answer:
T—here’s the definitive from David:
“It sounds like a mockingbird. They have individual and large repertoires. Is it repeating things around three times typically? This is a key. Singing all night near a light during breeding season is typical mockingbird behavior. If it persists and is keeping you up at night, shoot the bird, break the light, chop the tree down (probably wouldn’t work, other perches available), or let the season pass.”
So speaks The Master.
So it was a mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, which was what I thought when I first heard it; only I didn’t believe it, because I didn’t think we got mockingbirds up here. I’ve always thought of them as a southern species. I was also confused by only being able to see it from below. They’re easier to spot in profile, and have a distinctive white flash on the backs of their wings.

I’ve known from mockingbirds ever since I was a kid in Arizona, where my Granny taught me that if you whistle back at them in imitation, they’ll get het up and swear at you in mockingbirdese. I hadn’t previously encountered their habit of singing all night when they’re in search of a lady friend. Maybe the birds in Arizona had less trouble finding each other.

Here’s a recording of one, though his repertoire is only about half to a third as long as the guy in our tree.

I have to say that when one is singing in a low tree, in a street that’s wall-to-wall Brooklyn row houses on both sides, it can be remarkably loud. It wasn’t the loudest sound I’ve ever heard a bird make. That honor goes to the time a cat and a seagull got into a fight over a piece of fish on the windowsill of our Cape Cod B&B in the middle of the night. But it was enough to make one then another then another of my neighbors wander out into the street to see what was making all that racket.

My favorite was the guy who stood there with his hands in his pockets, listening while the bird cycled through its repertoire several times, then said “Dat bird sings like a car alarm.”

Oh, too bad: One thing still puzzled me: Why would a bird be putting on a mating display this late in the season? I got my answer this afternoon, when I spotted a dead fledgling on the sidewalk under the maple tree.

That kind of display I have seen before. When we were living on Staten Island, the local crow community had a fledgling go down in my neighbor’s yard when it was right on the edge of being able to fly. The crows staged an avian Black Hawk Down, keeping up an earsplitting racket for days to drive off the neighborhood cats and possums. They meant it, too; my neighbor couldn’t go in or out her back door until the downed crow was gone from her yard.

May 27, 2003
The preserved skeleton of an argument
Posted by Teresa at 08:14 AM *

I found the perfectly preserved and articulated skeleton of an argument in a comments thread on Kuro5hin. The site’s indented-outline comments format, with its highlighted message headers, had transformed a plain comments-thread index into an anatomical diagram of the typical online argument.

Its perfection could only be spoiled by knowing what it’s about, or reading the actual messages. I will go so far as to say that the message in the opening salvo is, “The supernatural nature of humanity can be easily demonstrated with empirical evidence.”

For the full visual effect, you’ll have to look at it on Kuro5hin, but I can at least give you the Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern version of it:
Yes it is different. by tkatchev
[The supernatural nature of humanity can be easily demonstrated with empirical evidence.]
Don’t be fatuous by CaptainSuperBoy
Really? by tkatchev
Certainly by CaptainSuperBoy
Really? by tkatchev
arguing from definitions by pin0cchio
No by CaptainSuperBoy
Really? by tkatchev
You’re stupid. by Kax
I may be stupid. by tkatchev
Are you sure? by Kax
Quite. by tkatchev
contradiction in terms. by delmoi
No. by tkatchev
Empirical evidence… by reklaw
Exactly right. by tkatchev
Not quite … by gumbo
What? by tkatchev
Ah, ok by gumbo
Learn some logic. by tkatchev
My logic is just fine thanks by gumbo
So, by your logic… by tkatchev
Solipsist! by Code Wright
Precisely my point by gumbo
Lord ghod, do you even know how to read? by tkatchev
Again … by gumbo
Wait a minute by pyramid termite
I don’t think we disagree here by gumbo
Let’s get down to earth here. by tkatchev
Justice cannot be fair by xL
btw by gumbo
Go on then… by DrH0ffm4n
You’re retarded. by tkatchev
You have already… by tang gnat
I call bullshit by CodeWright
Have you deduced this by DrH0ffm4n
I know it by CodeWright
Arse by DrH0ffm4n
Perhaps you miss the point by CodeWright
Yes I did by DrH0ffm4n
Re: by tkatchev
IHBT by DrH0ffm4n
Re: by tkatchev
Cos the bible tells me so by pnadeau
Universally? by synaesthesia
Please die. by tkatchev
What is your opinion of Peter Singer? -NT by CaptainSuperBoy
I don’t have one. by tkatchev
I repeat by synaesthesia
Lord ghod… by tkatchev
The fact that you think… by synaesthesia
Then you are uneducated by CaptainSuperBoy
Pardon me. by tkatchev
As a person who believes … by pyramid termite
WHBT by DrH0ffm4n
OK, now that you mention it. by tkatchev
Devils Advocate by CENGEL3
Re: by tkatchev
I should think… by CodeWright
People can just be wrong … by Cheetah
Determinism by DrH0ffm4n
OK. by tkatchev
Actually by DrH0ffm4n
guh? by delmoi
Scuse me? by DrH0ffm4n

I’d swear that—aside from its having been on a different subject, with different participants, in a different venue, with completely different messages posted—I’ve been in that argument. They’re arguing about OtherKin, if you’re interested: A very strange subject, but merely strange; whereas that skeletonized argument illuminates a great and terrible truth.

May 24, 2003
Interesting misinformation
Posted by Teresa at 12:35 PM *

They call themselves Back Yard Publisher, but I prefer the page’s title tag: Publishing Your Manuescript. Their motto is good, too: Remember! There’s A Publisher in You’re Own Back Yard.

Most of their page is given over to explaining hitherto-unknown Alternate Facts about book design, typography, and printing. For instance:
In gravure printing the letters are etched into a plate (usually Copper), then ink is forced into the letters, scraped from the area around the letters and paper is forced onto the ink at extremely high pressure. The ink is then transferred to the paper. This is what the song “In Your Easter Bonnet” is all about.
You know— “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, / You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade …” Bet you never suspected. BYP’s biggest contribution to our understanding of movable lead type is the Alternate Fact that lead was wholly inadequate to the task:
Letter press printing is the original method of transferring ink to paper which was the predominant method of printing until the last thirty to fifty years. In this method ink is rolled on the face of the type, then a piece of paper is pressed into the wet ink and transferred to the paper. Obviously the method worked very well, although the pressure necessary to transfer the ink to the paper created many problems by smashing the soft lead type and making it useless. Letter press is seldom used today.
And no wonder. This unfortunate property of lead type also affected typography:
Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in 1440 and every since that time there has been a struggle between topographers, the people who design the type and the printers or use it.

Typographers have been concerned with how the type appeared on the page and how easily it could be read. …

Printers, on the other hand, have had to deal with a different set of problems, one of the biggest was the smashing and destruction of their precious type. This was especially true when one line of type extended beyond the normal ends of the rows of type. To prevent this destruction of the type the printer simply put some of the spacing he would normally have at the end of the lines between the words (called word spacing) or between the letters (called letter spacing) thus, solving his problem. When this happened we then had a justified page.

This is the only reason there ever was a justified page; …
Which makes the carefully justified lettering in some medieval manuscripts a complete mystery.
In a recent unofficial survey of the best sellers in a local book store it was observed that some of the best sellers are still justified where others are not.
That was a remarkably unofficial survey. With the exception of plays, poetry, and the Whole Earth Catalog, I can’t think of any bestsellers that have been set rag-right. One strongly suspects that what he was looking at was dialogue. And a return to his original theme:
Many books have been written on the use of type so it will not be discussed here. The important things one should know about type is that there are two basic styles of type. One is known as serif; the other as san-serif. A serif type is the style used throughout this book. The small lines under the letters, slashes on the “S” etc. are the serifs. There were probably added to the basic letter style by the typographer to prevent smashing the type in the days of letter press printing.
I hadn’t known the Romans used letterpress. If you’re a type designer and are drinking coffee while you read this, pause now and swallow.
As a general rule if you want to have a book that is easy to read use 12 pt. type with 1 d line spacing. Smaller type with less spacing will make a smaller book that will be harder to read and more then 1 d line spacing does not significantly improve the readability.
I’ll give him this much: He’s right about spacing in excess of line-and-a-half not improving readability.


Many people go their entire lives without ever giving much thought to the interior design of books, and aren’t any less happy for it. Book design is inside-baseball stuff. If you’re a reader, it does affect your life—a well-designed book is much easier and pleasanter to read—but it’s not something you’re supposed to have to think about. If you do, it’s probably because something’s gone wrong.

One consequence of desktop publishing and the spread of DIY self-publishing is that amateurs are having to figure out the mysteries of frontmatter and type design. My advice would be to find a professionally published book that looks like what you had in mind, and do whatever it does. You can leave out the quotes from the reviewers. What you should not do, under any circumstances, is take Back Yard Publisher’s advice on anything. Title pages, for instance:
The title page is the first page of information it contains all of the publishing information about your book. It will contain: Title of book
Copyright information
ISBN Number
Edition Number
I’ll bet he means which printing this is.
Publisher information
Library of Congress information
Where it can be purchased
Price of book
Wrong. First, these days the title page is most often the third page, preceded by the (if hardcover) half-title or (if paperback) front sales page, and the panel (other-books-by) page, and followed on recto by its fraternal twin the copyright page. Some other arrangements are possible, though they’re best undertaken under proper rabbinical supervision.

Second, most of that information belongs on the copyright page, not the title page. The price, and where it can be purchased (unless by that they mean the publisher’s address, or possibly the name of the distributor), belong on neither.

BYP never even mentions the existence of the copyright page. That’s bad. It’s the finickiest page in the book, and it shares with the title page the distinction of having legal requirements attached to its design. One doesn’t want to get that wrong.
The Preface is placed on the third right hand page of the book. It is usually a short synopsis of the book. This is where your best pitch for buying the book is placed over the cover pitch.
It’s possible for a preface to start on the fifth page of frontmatter; but if it’s a short synopsis of the book plus a sales pitch, it’s flap copy or front sales copy, and belongs on the cover flaps of a hardcover or the first frontmatter page of a paperback.
A Table of contents is normally used in a nonfiction book. It is normally not used in a book of fiction; however, chapter titles are sometimes used in fiction books. The table of contents should always start on a right hand page.
The presence of a ToC in fiction is entirely up to the author; and a ToC can fall on a left-hand page if that’s where you need to put it.
Note: Many times it is easier to generate the table of contents after the last page of the book rather then at its normal position in the front of the book.
Say what?
Generating it in the front of the book will normally change the page count and make it incorrect.
We already know BYP doesn’t know squat about book design, but if we needed a smoking gun, this would be it.

Have you ever noticed that in many books, the frontmatter page numbers are Roman numerals, and the numbering re-starts with Arabic numerals in the main text? That’s to allow the frontmatter to expand and contract without affecting the main-sequence page numbers. Back before the days of electronic pasteup, repagination was a major issue. It’s still an issue if your book has a table of contents, a list of illustrations, or an index.

Why does frontmatter expand and contract? A lot of reasons. Authors remember things at the last minute. The map slated to be shot down to fit on one page proves illegible at that size, and has to be given a quarter-turn and made into a two-page spread. The table of contents is too long for its allotted page. The fulsome introduction never arrives. You know. Stuff. And sometimes, when the text come back from the typesetter a few pages too short or too long to make its divisible-by-sixteen page length, you can make it right without repaginating the main text by squeezing or padding the frontmatter. It’s very useful that way.

If you know anything about frontmatter design, you know that. And if you think it’s necessary to throw your ToC into the back of the book to avoid repagination, you don’t even know basic word processing.
Chapters always start on a Right Hand (Odd Number) page. There is no reason for this other then TRADITION.
Title pages go on right-hand pages because otherwise your book or pamphlet starts with a blank page, which is ineffectual, and disturbs the readers. Chapter titles are a variety of title page, and so tend to start on right-hand pages. However, you’re allowed to put them on a left-hand page if you want to do it that way, or even to “run in” your chapters, starting a new one on the same page where the previous chapter ended.

But you knew that, right? You’ve read a book or three. Doubtless, somewhere along the line, you’ve noticed the variable behavior of chapter starts. What dazzles me is the idea that someone who’s undertaken to explain book design has failed to notice it.

May 22, 2003
Posted by Teresa at 12:29 AM *

Not everyone is going to thank me for this, but: Chocosphere, selling goodies from 21 different world-class chocolatiers via the web.

[Recipe Index]

May 21, 2003
Hanging out in someone else’s argument
Posted by Teresa at 10:31 PM *

It started with an insight-challenged article called Start the Presses in PC Magazine, which began:

Have you ever dreamed of publishing your novel, poetry, or memoir? The process can be daunting, but we have good news: Self-publishing has gained respectability in the past few years (we don’t say vanity publishing any more) and is cheaper than ever, thanks to online services.
Does that make you want to start throwing crockery? It does me. In a little click-through box to the side of the article was the first sentence of the first response to it: “The assumptions in the article are breathtakingly ignorant.” The comment was from RealityChuck, who is really Chuck Rothman. Here’s his opening paragraph:
The assumptions in the article are breathtakingly ignorant. No, they don’t say “vanity press” any more—but neither does Vantage Press, and that doesn’t keep them from being a vanity press. Of course, they don’t use the term; it would scare people away.
You may imagine the conversation got lively after that.

Jim Macdonald mentioned the discussion to me, and once there, I couldn’t resist joining in. If anyone’s interested, the thread starts here. My posts are nos. 32, 38, 40, 43, 46, and 51 in the thread. Keep an eye out for Chuck Rothman and Jim Macdonald, who both make a lot of good points.

May 14, 2003
Happy bits
Posted by Teresa at 12:47 PM *

You guys have been sending me fun stuff. I very nearly think you’re trying to cheer me up.

Start with one that has no link. I wish you could see it. Christina Schulman sent me a little Revell 1:64 die cast replica of a Honda Civic, which she’d carefully painted white and replaced in its packaging. With it came a note which said “With deepest sympathies.”

Thank you, Christina. (*sniff*) It’s beautiful.

Next, from Patrick, who I think got it from Incoming Signals: highly desirable stuffies shaped like giant microbes.

From Anna Genoese, news of the invention of an inflatable church (which I’ve also seen at Gadgets for God).

From Feorag NicBhride, further patriotic religious tat: a set of four patriotic Amerikanski angels, sold on eBay. At first I thought they were wearing little crowns of thorns, which would make them even more iconographically muddled, but now I think they’re little circlets stuck with stars, in an injudicious shade of brown felt.

From Kip Williams, a news story: 20,000 Brains Taken Without Consent.

Andrew Phillips sends me three geekbits: The cool Radiant Primes website, some racy humor for grammarians, and a comic strip sequence in six installments that may appeal to librarians.

From Loren MacGregor, Lord of the Peeps: The Lord of the Ring enacted by marshmallow bunnies. History became legend, legend became myth, movies became Peeps; and some things are, which should have been lost and forgotten.

From Beth Meacham, the George W. Bush jack-in-the-box. I understand Cheney, Fleischer, Rumsfeld, and Rove all keep one of these in their offices, for use as needed.

That site where Beth found this is pretty dubious all round; see also its Dog Bless America and Musical Patriotic Santa offerings.

And finally, dizzyingly, from Dave Trowbridge: The “Precious Moments” Chapel in Branson, Missouri, as photographed during their vacation by Ken and Dawn Ellis (who seem like awfully nice people). The pictures start about two-thirds of the way down their page. Sam Butcher, the artist who invented “Precious Moments”, has been clearing new ground in religious iconography. Being sold into slavery by your brothers has never looked so cute.

Some of the images have me stumped. I can’t for the life of me figure out which part of the Bible they’re illustrating. This one would have had me stumped too, if I hadn’t seen it identified elsewhere as the Crucifixion. The trick is that what Butcher has painted are the reaction shots. The main event is taking place just off-screen to the right, which spares us the sight of a cute big-eyed Precious Moments critter dying in agony.

The Ellis’s site is the best one I’ve found, but if you want to see more about the PMChapel, here are some photos from other visitors’ websites 1 that may give you a better idea of the overall plan of the place. Also, the “Precious Moments” Chapel’s own website, with a brief photographic tour. Also, an energetically bitchy description of a trip to the Precious Moments Chapel by a guy who went there with his elderly mother. Also, Roadside America’s report on the site.

Thank you; thank you all.

May 13, 2003
Excellent good news
Posted by Teresa at 11:57 PM *

Victoria Caplan, a librarian in Hong Kong, has pointed me to an article in the Boston Globe about the unofficial salvage operation that saved much of the holdings of Iraq’s National Library.

I am very happy. I want to quote the whole article. I must not. Go read it.

I believe it was all the way back in the 80s that I decided that if NYC were ever overrun with mobs of looters, the place I’d want to be is the front steps of Low Library at Columbia University, prepared if necessary to lay down my life for the holdings.

It’s not the books and other materials, the merely physical instantiations of the Word; it’s the silencing of the innumerable voices and memories the collection represents. I’ve worked as a researcher in the stacks at Low. I have some sense of how much more is in there than is dreamt of in all the card catalogues and descriptive bibliographies (not to mention the ninth-floor ghost that lurks right around where Chambers’ Cyclopaedia is shelved; but I digress).

And now the news comes that some portion of the Baghdad holdings were spared! It’s a wonderful thing. I am perfectly certain that future generations will feel the same.

May 12, 2003
A strange sense of humor
Posted by Teresa at 10:14 PM *

Today Patrick received from Lydy the new limited-edition Richard Thompson EP Tracks, which isn’t available anywhere in NYC. Says Thompson’s website:

***29 APRIL, 2003***

“Tracks,” a limited edition 5-song EP of new and live music from folk/rock pioneer Richard Thompson, will be available nationally at a number of independent retail coalitions and chains a week before the release of his new studio album ‘The Old Kit Bag.’ 40,000 copies of the EP, which includes one song from ‘The Old Kit Bag,’ two live recordings of songs from Thompson’s ‘Semi-Detached Mock Tudor’ album, and two never-before-released tracks, will be available in late April. The complete track listing is:
1) I’ll Tag Along (from ‘The Old Kit Bag’)
2) Bathsheba Smiles (from ‘Semi-Detached Mock Tudor (live)’ )
3) Hard on Me (from ‘Semi-Detached Mock Tudor (live)’ )
4) Worldes Blis Ne Last (a traditional arrangement by Richard Thompson from ‘1000 Years of Popular Music,’ Thompson’s acclaimed live show in which he performs historic songs from the last millennium of music.)
5) Don’t Stop the Music (George Jones’ cover from ‘1000 Years of Popular Music’)
The pertinent point is that if you’re a maniacal Richard Thompson fan (wave, Moshe; Patrick, take a bow) (okay, and me too), the last two tracks are the only ones you won’t already have. Naturally, this means you’ll walk barefoot over broken glass to get them; so it’s a good thing that Lydy was in a position to obtain copies in a less painful fashion.

1000 Years of Popular Music has been one of Thompson’s projects. It has has spawned a series of small shows at the Getty Museum in LA and Joe’s Pub in NYC, where Thompson’s performed a decently representative sampling of said 1000 years, accompanied by his own guitar, percussionist Michael Jerome, and the intermittent assistance of Judith Owen, who makes a better Dido than he does. The three of them faking a full-scale Gilbert & Sullivan orchestration is impressive.

I’ve seen one of these shows, but he varies the playlist from one performance to another, so I hadn’t heard “Worldes Blis Ne Last”, and wasn’t previously familiar with it from any other context. The EP arrived. Patrick unwrapped it and put on the last two tracks. I fell over, laughing helplessly.

If you’re familiar with Richard Thompson’s songwriting, you know he makes Warren Zevon sound like an incurable optimist: absolutely top-notch misery. His own description of the usual plot of his average song is “Boy meets girl; blood everywhere.” And if you’re familiar with medieval lyrics, you know that one of the basic tropes is “The joy and pleasure of this life is fleeting, illusory, and slated for permanent disappearance on Tuesday next.”

(Our plesance heir is all vane glory, / This fals warld is bot transitory, / The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle; / Timor mortis conturbat me.)

The reason I was laughing so hard is that “Worldes Blis Ne Last” is the most god-awfully miserable specimen of that trope I’ve ever run into, and lord knows I’ve seen more than a few of them. That is, it’s the perfect Richard Thompson medieval lyric:
Worldes blis ne last no throwe, hit wit ant wend a-wey a-non;
The lengur that hich hit i-knowe
The lasse hic finde pris ther-on,
for al hit is imeynd syd kare,
mid sorewe ant wid uuel fare,
ant at the laste pouere ant bare
hit let mon, wen hit ginnet a-gon.
al the blisse this here ant there
bi-louketh at hende wop ant Mon.
Roughly, that’s “This world’s bliss doesn’t endure; it up and goes away. The longer I’m acquainted with it, the less I value it, since it’s all mixed up with care, sorrow, and misfortune. And at the end, when it’s getting gone, it leaves man poor and bare. All the happiness — this here, that there — comes to weeping and moaning at the end.”

There’s more to it than he sings. You can find the whole thing here, including all the god-awfully miserable verses he doesn’t sing. Just watch out for their marginal glosses. They translate “wop ant Mon” as “lamentations”, which is simply earless of them.

Okay, here’s the story
Posted by Teresa at 06:36 PM *

Larry Brennan spotted the story on Channel 7’s Eyewitness News:

Routine Traffic Stop In Brooklyn Turns Into Shootout (Park Slope-WABC, May 12, 2003) — Monday morning in Brooklyn, a routine traffic stop turned into a shoot-out between a suspect and police.
(Click here for photos, and here for the whole story on video.)
At noon, the suspect’s vehicle was still wedged underneath a pickup truck in front of a police car.

This incident started around 10:00 a.m. This was supposed to be a routine traffic stop and it did not end up that way. According to witnesses, police and the suspect fired several bullets. Crime scene investigators are now taking a close look at the bullets in the middle of the street.

This all happened in Park Slope near Eighth Avenue and Carroll Street.
No. That’s where it started.
Cops tried to pull over an Oldsmobile Cutlass because of a traffic violation. But the driver pulled away, and according to witnesses, led the police on an eight minute, high-speed chase up and down the streets of Park Slope. Cops said they had the driver stop at Sackett Street and Fourth Avenue.
Note: Sacket just off Fourth Avenue is where my car was parked the other night when it got totalled.
Luis Vega, Witness: “The guy in the car was shooting at the cops then all of a sudden I ducked down and the cops thought I was one of the guys. The police dog tried to bite me. Then they noticed that the guy was in the car and trying to shoot. Then, the guy just took off.”

Mike Simieri, Witness: “They just started shooting and the driver took off. Miraculously, he got the car off and drove away.”

Before that happened, the chase continued with the driver bouncing his Cutlass off of a few parked cars before ramming it into the back of a pickup truck.
He got stopped at Sackett, then made it two more blocks to Carroll.
Police arrested the suspect.
No kidding.
Investigators have not released a name of the person arrested, nor do they have a reason why he just took off. The car he was driving appeared to have a photocopied license plate. It was a paper license plate.
I’d say that what we have here is a willful evildoer.

I have just enough prudence to not want to say exactly how far that crime scene is from my building, and in which direction, but it’s far too close for comfort. I’ve been hearing sirens outside for the last hour. Unusually for me, I don’t feel like investigating.

By the way, if you look at the fifth and last photo in the sequence, what you see behind the damaged car is two sides of a chain-link fence surrounding a vacant lot. The photographer is standing on Fourth Avenue. The street that runs at right angles along the other side of the fence is Sackett. If you were tall and my car was still where I left it, you’d be able to see it from here. (I really am gettting over it. Just not yet.)

These are the people in your neighborhood
Posted by Teresa at 10:54 AM *

We could hear a dopplering choir of sirens moving around our neighborhood earlier this morning, but we couldn’t tell what was up. Then, when Patrick left to go to work, he found he couldn’t get through to the subway station.

Down at the foot of our block there’s a double police line, a pileup of at least five smashed-up cars, and an interesting collection of emergency personnel and their attendant vehicles. It’s a mess. It’s worse than the time Fourth Avenue flooded. I’d say it’s the most excitement we’ve had on that block since the time a few years back when the police busted in on a reported terrorist bomb factory and found that the bombs were armed. (Now, that was a truly weird day. They evacuated everyone to within a couple of buildings of us, and all day long I could track how things were going on my block by consulting AP and Reuters.)

I’m not seeing this story on the news yet, but Patrick talked to a news cameraman, and I talked to one of my neighbors who happened to be driving along Fourth Avenue when the Wild Hunt came by. Apparently there was an extended high-speed chase that looped and wound back and forth through this area of Brooklyn. That’s what my neighbor saw; he said you could see it coming up Fourth Ave. from six blocks away. I gather he parked and got inside. Anyway, the chase ended in a massive multi-car pileup at the foot of our quiet little street.

My neighbor said he heard more about it from a friend of his that works with the towing company that cut one of the participants out of a smashed car. His friend told him to go back out and check his own car for damage; there’d been shots fired, some of them to take out the tires of the fleeing vehicle, so I guess that either some of the shots went wild, or not all of them were aimed at tires. Another one of my neighbors, one of the old Italian ladies who’s lived in this immediate neighborhood all her life, said one of her cronies had told her there’d been shots fired on Fifth Avenue as well.

I’ve got New York 1 running as I type this, but so far they haven’t mentioned the story. I figure that if I don’t hear about it through the normal news media, I can wait and catch it on TLC or Discovery Channel’s compilation, “When Animals Attack America’s Dumbest Criminals on Film During High Speed Car Chases Involving the World’s Worst Drivers.”

May 10, 2003
May 09, 2003
Everybody wants to get into the act
Posted by Teresa at 01:06 PM *

Via the always interesting Apothecary’s Drawer comes the appalling Customized Classics:

Welcome to Customized Classics!

Custom paperback editions of classic novels starring YOU! We offer the largest selection of customized books where YOU and your friends and family enter the story. Whether you’re looking for the perfect birthday gift or a thoughtful present for the holidays, you’ve come to the right place!

How does it work? Simply go to the book you wish to customize, click the “Customize and buy” button, and a list of the changes that can be made for that book will displayed. Type in your choices, go through the secure credit card payment page and you’re done! In a few weeks a personalized, professionally produced paperback will arrive at your door!

Currently we offer several Sherlock Holmes titles, Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, and The Jungle Book, with more on the way. …
They aren’t very imaginative. You only get to replace the names of a few assigned characters—Holmes, Watson, Romeo, Juliet, Alice, and Mowgli—and you can’t change their gender. Their only foray into creativity goes like this:
Romeo and Juliet

Starring YOU as Romeo or Juliet and a special someone as your true love

Now also available in a “happy ending” edition!

Play the part of the famous lovers with this customized version of the classic Shakespearean drama. Relive the thrill of classic lines with you in them:
“Oh Brad, Brad. Wherefore art thou Brad?” “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Helen is the sun.”
Two words: iambic pentameter.
What’s more, if you choose the Happy Ending Version a new scene is added with a twist — the lovers live happily ever after! A short scene is added after Act V Scene III. It turns out the apothecary’s poison didn’t work and Romeo survives, and Juliet’s stabbing of herself merely made her pass out. (With sincere apologies to William Shakespeare!)
The happy ending comes in two versions, Classic—

[Romeo and Juliet awaken, rubbing their eyes]

Romeo What uncommon commotion stirs these folk? Ah, blessed apothecary, whose potion miss’d its mark!
Juliet And perhaps ‘twas the keenness of mine love that hath dulled the dagger’s blade.
Romeo What sayest thou we hasten to Verona?
Juliet Come, prince, love, husband, shining angel! Let’s leave this cold sepulchre for Verona’s warm embrace.
[Exeunt Romeo and Juliet hand in hand]
and Irreverent:


[Romeo and Juliet awaken, rubbing their eyes]

Romeo What the heck was that big scene all about?
Juliet Who knows? I just passed out for a second and everybody’s losing it. Luckily the dagger wasn’t sharp.
Romeo And the apothecary screwed up big-time! What do you say we head home?
Juliet Sounds like a plan, my medieval man!
[Exeunt Romeo and Juliet hand in hand]
Look for more Customized Classics titles, coming soon to an Internet near you: Robin Hood, Tarzan, and Moby Dick (not to be confused with Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville).

(And why I’m even bothering to be snotty about a single title, given the magnitude of the overall target, is more than I can say.)

English Toolbox
Posted by Teresa at 10:37 AM *

I don’t doubt David Appleyard’s English Toolbox is useful if you’re an ESL student, but anyone else who’s tussling with the language might want to take a look. It’s not infallible, but it’s clear and well organized, and it’s been boiled down to just the stuff you need, like the names (with examples) of all the parts of speech, or the difference between forbear and forebear or assure, ensure, and insure.

May 08, 2003
Make your own Golem
Posted by Teresa at 06:03 PM *

As Janna said, the best how-to sites surface when you least expect them. I’m not even going to ask what she was looking for when she found a site on How to Create a Golem in the comfort of your own home.

It’s all very practical. Here’s a bit from the site’s FAQ:
What happens if I do something wrong?

Theory suggests that if something goes wrong during the initial creation process of the golem you will need to restart the process from the very beginning. It should have no immediate adverse effects.

If something goes wrong after the golem has been created, and the golem begins destroying the village, it is possible to destroy it:
If you created the golem by writing EMETH on it’s forehead, erase the first E, causing it to read METH or “death”.

If you created it by placing the name of God in its mouth, remove the parchment.

If you recited the words of creation: “if one wants to return [the golem] to the dust, one should [recite the sequence in] the opposite order” —Eleazor of Worms

I’ve followed all of the directions correctly but it still won’t work. What did I do wrong?

Golem creation is generally reserved for those learned wise men, like Rabbis or Zaddiks, who have dedicated their life to God and the Torah. Those Rabbis who have been attributed with golem creation are considered to be very holy and spiritual. If you can’t successfully create the golem, either you have made a slight mistake in pronounciation or you have not achieved the proper state of holiness.

Will the golem kill me?

This is entirely within the realm of possibility. Golems seem more uncontrollable the longer they have been in existence. Thus, the longer you use the golem, the more likely it will rampage.

Can my golem be tried as an adult?

Contact your local authorities for the laws concerning golems. You may be considered liable for any destruction of property caused by the golem should you lose control of it at any point.
If any of you try this, let me know how it works. (via Janna Silverstein)

Posted by Teresa at 09:34 AM *

This spring’s tornadoes have been the worst in years, with about three dozen deaths so far, along with the usual wrecked buildings and uprooted trees. Still, I find this photo oddly beautiful, as photos of approaching tornadoes sometimes are, with their still-untouched peaceful foregrounds glowing with that yellowy-green pre-storm light, against a slate-blue and unimaginably violent sky. Here’s another from a while back. And a third , and fourth. And here’s a whole page of them, looking like they were painted by Grant Wood or John Steuart Curry.

(Don’t fancy that? Okay, how about a tornado in the style of John Millais? No? A Turner, then?)

May 07, 2003
Salaam Pax is back
Posted by Teresa at 09:35 PM *

From his weblog, Where Is Raed?:

Today while going thru Karada street I saw a sign saying “Send and receive e-mail. Affordable prices” I am checking out the place tomorrow. If the price really is affordable I might be able to update the blog every week or two. Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your “imminent liberation” anymore.
I don’t always agree with Salaam Pax, but I like him. When he kvetches, he sounds just like my friends.

Later: On second thought, what I’ll say is that Where Is Raed? is back. The tone is different. That’s something that can happen to real writers, so maybe it’s still the same Salaam Pax. For now I’m content to keep reading and let the texts accumulate.

May 03, 2003
Which Springer-Verlag Graduate Text in Mathematics are you?
Posted by Teresa at 08:12 PM *

Thank you, but Making Light already took the test for determining your place in the afterlife according to Dante’s Divine Comedy, which in my opinion just automates and regularizes what everyone does when they read it anyway. I hope but do not presume that the test results were accurate, and therefore won’t report them.

But never mind that. What I actually want to recommend to your attention is the shorter and weirder Springer-Verlag GTM Test:
You are lost in a forest. What do you do?

— Navigate your way to safety using the sun as a compass.
— Keep wandering—you’ll find your way out eventually!
— Sit and wait for a search party to find you.
— I’m not lost in a forest, I’m sitting at my computer.

It insists that I’m Saunders Mac Lane’s Categories for the Working Mathematician. It’s wrong. I’m Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and I’m sitting here at my computer.

Old Man falls off mountain
Posted by Teresa at 07:01 PM *

New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain rock formation, visible on the New Hampshire quarter and just about everything else made in the state (except for stuff decorated with pine trees, maple leaves, or moose), fell off its mountain today. No rockface is forever, especially in an area with weather as unchancy as Franconia Notch; but still, it’s a loss.

According to our exclusive New Hampshire news source, the spring thaw could have had something to do with it, but so could a violent thunderstorm last night. When the cloud cover finally lifted around 4:30 this afternoon, the famous profile was gone. As reported by Reuters:
The 40-foot-high profile, formed of five granite ledges in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in a process that started some 200 million years ago, was reported missing by a trail crew working near the town of Franconia on Saturday morning.

Amy Cyrs was a member of the crew. She said she had been working on the trail and looked up, and stopped in her tracks when she saw the face had vanished.

“It’s a strange and unreal feeling that something that has been there all your life is gone,” she said.

Police had not determined a cause, but said natural forces most likely pulled the face down. They did not know exactly when it had fallen from its mountainside perch 1,200 feet up on Cannon Mountain.

The “Old Man” adorns the New Hampshire emblem, its quarter coin and countless signs, souvenirs and visitor brochures …
The Old Man of the Mountain is survived by a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, certain famous remarks by Daniel Webster, a very weird Cab Calloway/Betty Boop cartoon, and innumerable snapshots and postcards.

Can anyone help?
Posted by Patrick at 10:26 AM *

This is Patrick, not Teresa, and this is a plea to the Lazy Web. Making Light is suffering from two glitches:

(1) In all the browsers we can easily check on this Saturday morning, Teresa’s date headers have lost all their formatting; they’re merely coming up in the given browser’s standard serif font. It should be 11px Georgia (deprecating to your standard serif font if you haven’t got Georgia), inside a 1px rule box. I’ve looked at Teresa’s CSS stylesheet, MT template, and source code until my eyes spin, and I can’t for the life of me see what might be causing this.

(2) In Safari (beta 2), Making Light’s sidebar refuses to show, at least here in this household. See above: stylesheet, templates, eyes spinning.

If any of Making Light’s technically savvy readers would like to take a guess as to what’s causing either of these, we would both be in your debt. Along with viewing the raw source, you may also want to look at Teresa’s CSS style sheet and, if you know anything about Movable Type, her Movable Type front page template. (You may have to do a View Source on that one, since your browser will probably try to render it.)

UPDATE: Various problems fixed, thanks to several very kind readers, most particularly Erik V. Olson.

May 02, 2003
Mega-cool Honda ad
Posted by Teresa at 02:38 PM *

You can see the video here or (longer access time) here. It’s in the same vein as the 1987 high-geek-value short, The Way Things Go, which TechServe over on 23rd Street used to run on a continuous loop in their waiting area.

If you’re not familiar with the genre, it consists of a series of mechanical devices setting each other off in sequence, with great subtlety, variety, and inventiveness. IMO, the Honda ad is even better than The Way Things Go. It’s all done with Honda parts, starting with a rolling transmission ball bearing that sets off 84 other pieces of equipment. It ends by activating an assembled Honda’s electronic door locks—and the rear window, closing, alters the car’s balance just enough to roll it down off a ramp and onto the floor.

Watch for the tipped-over can of oil that simultaneously alters the balance and friction of a device, and the rig that’s set in motion by sound waves. Oh, and the traveling electric fan. Lovely stuff. (via Moshe Feder)

May 01, 2003
Nice baby, nice baby…
Posted by Teresa at 06:09 PM *

Kip, Cathy, your new daughter is beautiful—but I hope you’re clear on the fact that that child is going to try to take over the world, once she gets to be a little older.

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