January 29, 2011

Mal à français

Don’t ask why this occurred to me.

1 un
2 deux
3 trois
4 quatre
5 cinq
6 six
7 sept
8 huit
9 neuf
10 dix
11 onze
12 douze
13 treize
14 quatorze
15 quinze
16 seize
17 dix-sept
18 dix-huit
19 dix-neuf
20 vingt
21 vingt-et-un
22 vingt-et-deux

30 trente
40 quarante
50 cinquante
60 soixante
70 sept-multiplié-à-dix
80 orange
90 neuf (context-sensitive)
100 mille

January 28, 2011

Per ardua ad astra

25 years ago today: I was sitting in Mr. Gaito’s physics class at Park Ridge High School when the PA came on and the principal announced that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded. We sat dumbstruck. Mr. Gaito went to his office in the back of the lab, brought out a radio that had been ripped out of the dashboard of a car, wired it to a power outlet, and tuned in the news.

The next morning, I made a black armband and wore it over a white button-down shirt. When Mr. Taylor, my former math teacher, passed me in the hallway, he looked at me and gestured toward the armband and said, “Good.” A moment of connection in the aftermath of tragedy.

January 25, 2011

Canis Lazarus

I dreamed last night that I was at either a veterinarian or a pet store and, apparently for food, they gave me a leftover dead dog. It was small, curled up about the size of a doughnut, and very slender, like a cross between a whippet and a ferret. Long body, long snout. And it was fairly stiff. At home, I boiled it, or maybe microwaved it, and then held it in my hands, uncurled and limp and somewhat larger—maybe more than a foot long—and I looked at it and thought, I can’t harm this. I can’t make it into food. And as I held it and examined it, it slowly came to life. And then it was a healthy and happy little spindly black dog, quite sprightly, zipping around the house and enjoying our company.

I was happy for the dog, but I wondered (a) whether and how we were going to fit it into our household routine and (b) what kind of other mistakes this veterinarian/store was making.

January 16, 2011

The phantom elite

A.O. Scott, responding to a Neal Gabler essay on “The end of cultural elitism”:

The virtue of Mr. Gabler’s essay is that it gives energetic and eloquent voice to a pervasive ideological fantasy. None of the “commissars” and “imperialists” in his tableau of cultural dictatorship are named, and that is for the simple reason they are imaginary creatures. I don’t mean like straw men erected for purposes of debate, but instead like ogres and dragons invented to scare children. But belief in these monsters is remarkably widespread, in part because they answer the need for scapegoats, and no one is easier to blame these days than “elitists” of various kinds.

Ignoring their instructions thus becomes a heroic assertion of liberty, a way of striking out against illegitimate and arrogant authority. But who are we kidding? There is very little in cultural life that is easier than ignoring what critics have to say, and for more than 200 years normal Americans have been doing just that. And critics, for the most part, have accepted that, since virtually none of us is actually motivated by the urge to tell other people what to do. [...]

There is a cultural elite, in America, which tries its utmost to manipulate the habits and tastes of consumers. It consists of the corporations who sell nearly everything with the possible exception of classical music and conceptual arts, and while its methods include some of the publicity-driven hype that finds its way into newspapers, magazines and other traditional media, its main tool is not criticism but marketing.

And an especially effective marketing ploy has always been the direct appeal, over the heads of supposed experts and fuddy-duds, to the consumer. Make-believe elites—which is to say independent voices in the public sphere, whatever the terms of their employment or the shape of their sensibilities—disrupt the perfect union of buyer and seller. No pesky commissars prodding and scolding, just a bunch of people doing what they want, which coincidentally happens to be what the companies with the biggest advertising budgets want them to do. No argument, no debate, no chance of wiggling through something you don’t like or staring at something you don’t understand. Freedom!

January 14, 2011

And this is why we have “filters”

Roger Ebert observed:

Gov. Palin needs better advice before she issues statements. Every copy editor would have flagged “blood libel.”

Before the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and Sarah Palin’s response to criticism over violence-baiting political imagery, I wasn’t aware of the term “blood libel,” let alone its Jewish significance—but if I had come across it while reviewing a statement for release, I would have cocked my head at the phrase, since it’s an unusual and rather specific construction. I would have looked it up.

A propensity for gaffes like that is a sign of either confused thinking or incaution, both of which we really, really need to avoid in our leaders. Palin’s apparent lack of advisers who would correct it indicates that this confusion or incaution is endemic to her organization, which is an even more dire statement about her political potential.

December 22, 2010

Your TV buying advice, please

Hey, experts in stuff! I’m shopping for a TV and hereby solicit your advice. I’m thinking of finally replacing my eleven-year-old 27″ Sony Trinitron with something modern and flat and HD. Been Googling up a storm. I’ve pretty well narrowed my criteria to: 50″, 1080p, and under $900. Not particularly interested in 3D, and my living room is too unevenly lit for a projector. My current top candidate, the Samsung PN50C550, is a plasma screen that gets high marks.

I’ll ask my biggest question up front: When’s the best time to shop for a big TV? I’m not in a crazy rush. Anyone out there have any real data about price fluctuations? And would you shop in person or order online? I’ve seen some good deals on Amazon: no tax, free shipping. I’m not sure any brick-and-mortar retailer would bring the price down enough to compensate for that.

So I’ve been reading about plasma and LCD TVs.

Plasma televisions used to have a reputation for burn-in problems—persistent ghost images caused by leaving stationary bright features on the screen for a long time—but the word on the street is that they’ve gotten better in recent years and it’s not really an issue for average use. You need to avoid, say, leaving a video game or sports ticker on screen all day, but current plasma TVs have built-in features that can reduce the overall risk of burn-in, and we don’t regularly use the TV for many hours on end.

I’ve considered LCD sets. There are three variations, it seems:

  • non-LED, which is backlit with fluorescent elements
  • edge-lit LED, with power-efficient light-emitting diodes hidden behind the frame that shine inward and are diffused behind the LCD panel
  • full LED, which would seem to be a more robust means of illumination, putting the light elements directly behind the LCD.

Any TV set that claims to be “LED” is just an LCD that uses LEDs for lighting. Some full LED sets have “local dimming,” which ostensibly allows the dark areas in a picture to be especially dark. (Plasma sets seem to have an advantage there.)

My experience looking at TVs in stores echoes the professional reviews I’ve seen: LCD sets look great from straight in front, but they don’t look as good from off to the side; the color or brightness can shift. This is a major consideration for us, since our living room TV is viewed from a pretty wide range of angles. Plasma sets look great from all angles. I’ve heard that some high-end LCD sets can rival that, but I’m not shopping in that price range, as far as I know.

Any other thoughts or buying advice? Alternate model suggestions? (Also thought about the LG 50PK550 and Panasonic TC-P50S2.) Experience with either kind of TV?

November 5, 2010

English 10, Math 3

Or: “Forget it, he’s rolling.”

Keith Olbermann reportedly donated to political campaigns in violation of NBC News ethics policy. The network has suspended him indefinitely, as is proper if this accusation is true—I love Olbermann, but rules are rules.

But I have to cock my head at paragraph 2 in msnbc’s own news article:

The announcement came in a one-sentence statement from msnbc TV President Phil Griffin: “I became aware of Keith’s political contributions late last night. Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay.”

Um. Yeah, uh. Hey…there’s—there’s—you know what, never mind.

October 25, 2010

Human resources

“Human Resources” is an insidious term that enables managers and administrators to regard workers as a commodity—removable, replaceable, transferrable—like bushels of coal, instead of as sentient beings. It encourages the business, as an entity unto itself, to regard employees as cells in the business organism: useful, but not to be worried over when they are expended.

The “HR” department used to be called “Personnel,” recognizing the persons. Or “Staffing,” the activity the department carries out. Or “Hiring.”

I hear managers say, “The project needs more resources,” meaning people, not office supplies. “We need to budget for another resource.” You’re talking about a thinking, feeling person who provides attention for your tasks. Have more respect than to commoditize the living humans who work for you.

“We reduced our headcount.” “We implemented a reduction in force.” “We downsized.” These mean that you cut off people’s income. If you did it to improve the bottom line for your company, keep in mind that you have pulled the bottom line out from under the people whose jobs you ended.

September 5, 2010

Twoth fairy

Hot on the heels of our previous visit from the Tooth Fairy, Kels’s other two loose teeth came out over the last couple of days. For a double-dose of remuneration, I wrapped four quarters in a dollar bill, packaged up with silver embroidery floss.

Photo: a tiny gift package, four quarters wrapped in a dollar bill

September 1, 2010

Apple event

New stuff from Apple today. There’s reportedly a live video stream, but I’m following the liveblog at Engadget.

New $49 iPod shuffle—and they’ve restored the buttons. A return to the money-clip design, just large enough for the button pad. Looks the way it should. 2 GB.

New iPod nano: Small, square multitouch screen! It’s almost all screen. Wow. And it’s a money-clip design, too. $149 for 8 gigs, $179 for 16 gigs.

But it looks like there’s no more camera, which means…

New iPod touch with Retina display. Well, we saw this coming. The new case design isn’t like the iPhone 4, but is slimmer than the previous touch.

Including a rear camera with HD video.

Yeah, I want one now.

Even if it still doesn’t have a GPS, dang it. That would be awfully useful.

iTunes 10 is a new update, including Ping, an iTunes-centered social network. Friending, following, liking, status updates, reviews, artist and concert info.

And hello, it’s on the iPhone and iPod touch as well. Hell yes.

And Jee-hoshaphat, the new AppleTV is somewhat smaller than the previous model.

Includes YouTube videos, Flickr and mobileMe photos, and Netflix streaming. ABC and Fox are on board for TV episode rental ($0.99 for HD video), so far.

AirPlay (formerly AirTunes) lets you stream audio, video, or photos to the AppleTV from an iPad with two taps on your screen, or from a computer with iTunes. Wonder if it’ll also be on the iPhone/iPod touch.

New AppleTV: 99 bucks.

All these photos are hijacked from Engadget’s excellent-as-usual liveblog, which has much more detail and many more pictures.