Monday, March 31, 2008

David's Definitions for May 2008

Toe the Line

(Will appear in the May 2008 issue of Community News)

To toe the line is to fall in line with a group and to follow its rules and customs. Linguists think it originated in the 19th Century, from athletes putting their toe to the line at the beginning of a race. In some old books, the phrase toe the mark is also used, with the same meaning as toe the line. Another suggested origin is from navies having sailors line up with their toes at the line formed by one of the deck planks. Tour guides at the House of Commons in London claim that the expression comes from two straight lines drawn on opposite sides of the room. They tell tourists that, back when gentlemen wore swords, when parliamentary discussions got too heated, the Speaker would shout, "Toe the line!" The Members would have to stand behind the two lines, which were deliberately painted more than a sword's length apart, so that the only blood drawn would be rhetorical. It's a great story, but the present House of Commons was built after World War Two, the older one having been damaged in the air raids, and old paintings of Parliamentary meetings from the days when men did wear swords don't show those lines, so that tale is probably untrue. You'll often see this phrase misspelled as tow the line, which is incorrect and makes no sense. Perhaps people think of barges being towed, but then the phrase would refer to a heavy burden, not to falling in line.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Insatiable

There was a vampire movie on the Sci-Fi Channel last night called The Insatiable. It was made a couple of years ago, but I hadn't heard of it before.

I read the plot summary, hoping it would turn out to be an unauthorized movie version of my vampire novel, Insatiable, in the hopes that I could pull a Harlan Ellison and sue for some huge amount, or more likely some very moderate amount.

I didn't really expect there to be a connection, and there isn't. The title is a coincidence. For that matter, Insatiable wasn't my title for the book; the editor chose it.

So there goes my mansion in Vancouver!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dissolving in Solutions

When I was a lad, by cracky, well maybe a bit oldish to be strictly called a lad but never mind that, I was a member of the awesome, godlike clan of techies known as computer programmers because we programmed computers by writing computer programs, and people bowed down to us in the street and threw money at our feet and sacrificed virgin goats to us and beautiful women threw themselves at us, panting. Slight exaggeration; the goats probably weren't virgins.

Then some of us became programmer analysts. For a while, I was even a Senior Analyst. Lord of the World! (For a certain very limited definition of lord. And world.)

Still later, some became (software) engineers, and some became developers, and some became architects. That's all silly enough, but title inflation is common in all professions. Even the profession I'm now ensconced in, technical writing, isn't immune. Some tech writers are information developers. Are there also documentation engineers? Senior, junior, mid-level documentation engineers? Senior enterprise documentation architectural engineer? I wouldn't be surprised, but don't tell me, cause I don't wanna know.

So job title inflation is to be expected. What I didn't expect was product title inflation, although I should have. Computer programs became applications. Some of them grew into suites. Some effloresced into enterprise suites. (Enterprise. That's another one. Don't get me started.)

But even that wasn't enough. Nooooo. The marketeers had to pretend to earn their excessive pay. So they came up with solution. Now any bunch of code, no matter how buggy, how infuriatingly uncommented and clunkily architected (Yes! That's a word, in the solutions biz!), is now a solution. Because it solves your problems, you see! Isn't that brilliant? Doesn't it give you shivers? Doesn't it just make you want to puke?

Back during the days of the Apollo Project, marketeers picked up the term systems and started applying it to all sorts of commercial products. Instead of buying blinds for your windows, you bought a blinds systems. But even that wasn't enough. Noooooo. Now they've picked up on solution. I've seen window blinds advertised as window blind solutions.

In a way, it's appropriate, because, as the title of this post points out, in addition to being something that solves a problem, a solution can also refer to the dissolution of something that was previously solid. Such as brain cells. Remember: Every time someone uses the word solution to you in this marketeering fashion, some of your brain cells will dissolve. So do what those poor, virgin goats couldn't do: run away.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Google Easter hits ramping up

Google hits on this blog and my Web site with "Easter" in the search string have been getting more frequent over the last few days. This morning, there was one with the search string: "Do Jews celebrate Easter?"


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Might of the Meteorologist

It bugs me when TV weathermen say things like, "We'll try to keep the snow away on Wednesday." Or, "We kept the rain away, and now we'll see about getting those temperatures up for tomorrow." Nature isn't in control, they are! The mighty meteorologist is standing guard!

It also bugs me when they talk about a front "working its way" instead of moving. "This big cold, wet system is working its way over Utah now, heading in our direction." It may be moving, sliding, meandering, but it's not working.

Oh, but now I understand: fronts and systems have to work their way because they have to fight against the defenses erected by the TV weathermen. All that stands between us and inclement weather is the Might of the Meteoroligist!

Monday, March 17, 2008

I was saved from wolves by Obama supporters

I was driving along a dark, rutted, two-lane road in the wilderness a couple of nights ago when all four tires blew out simultaneously. Of course, I stopped and got out, filled with despair, to survey the damage. My flashlight revealed that the road was covered with nails!

Then I heard wolves howling! A pack of them was circling, preparing to rush me and tear me limb from limb!

Just at that moment, another car pulled up, ingeniously avoiding the nails. Five men jumped out. While one held the wolves at bay, snarling horribly at them, the other four swept the nails off the road and replaced my tires with spares they had brought with them. I was saved!

They refused to accept payment. "If you want to thank us," the four said together, "just vote for Obama!"

"What about you?" I asked the fourth man, the brave fellow who had faced down the wolves.

"I'm an Edwards guy," he said, a note of sadness in his voice. "But -- " he shrugged " -- you know."

"I hear you, brother," I said.

Then we all drove away.

I'll always wonder if those wolves were intelligent enough to scatter those nails, or if it was done by Hillary Clinton. I guess we'll never know.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Why machine translation doesn't work

And why competent human translators should still be used, as illustrated by this e-mail:

Good time of day. You are disturbed by the charitable company Redd Cross of Slovenia. We have the business offer for you. We can offer to you of earnings, thus your salary will make from 1000$ to 2000$ per one month, at an incomplete working day. Your earnings can be and higher. The more and forces you will give time, the there will be your salary more. If it is interesting to you, you write on the address of e-mail of our agent: he will contact you within 24 hours and will throw off to you all details, and will answer you on all your questions.

Thank you for attention Redd Cross of Slovenia!

Possibly this was done by a human being mechanically using a two-language dictionary, but the problem is the same.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Letter to Hillary Clinton

We sent this tonight, via the form on her campaign's Web site. I sort of think it would have been improved if I'd had a Harrumph! or two in there.

Senator Clinton:

We are two lifelong Democrats, both in our sixties, white, and middleclass. We were staunch supporters of your husband throughout his presidency. When talk first began about you possibly running for president some day, we assumed we would support you, as well.

In 2004, we supported John Edwards, and we supported him this time until he suspended his campaign. By that point, we had begun to prefer Barack Obama as our second choice, but we both still felt that we would be happy to give you our money and our votes if you were to win the nomination. We no longer feel that way.

What has made the difference? Not policies but the tenor of your campaign. We have become disgusted with its nastiness and your whining and the vile and undisguised racism of some of your campaign functionaries. We're not alone in this reaction. Friends of ours who are also staunch Democrats have told us that they will never vote for you and that if you win the nomination, they'll either not vote at all or will vote for a third-party candidate.

Since we live in Colorado, which you have apparently written off as an unimportant "boutique state," perhaps this doesn't matter to you. If you're also a staunch Democrat, it should. If Senator Obama is the candidate, our party has a good chance of carrying this state and others in the Rocky Mountain West. As president, he would represent all races and regions of the country. Apparently, you don't aspire to do that.

Tonight, we will be donating money to the Obama campaign. We intend to donate more to his campaign in the future.

David and Leonore Dvorkin
Denver, Colorado

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Overblownment: Movie Review

Overblownment, a movie starring Keira Slightly, a bunch of other folks, and with a special appearance at the end by Vanessa Redgrave playing ancient, losing-her-brain Briony.

This is a painfully bad chick flick with sophomoric artistic pretensions. Mysteriously, it won oodles of awards and respectful reviews - I suspect by reviewers who were afraid to admit that this emperor has no clothes or, even worse, couldn't tell. The flick is fraught, I tell you, fraught. With what? With great ghastly gobs of fraughtness. It's silly and empty and shallow and hollow and uses time jumps and camera trickery and serious stares by the actors to try to bully us into thinking that it's deep and meaningful and significant.

The story starts in 1935, in a country house filled with characters who act and speak and have names like Hollywood parodies of English country-house characters. Thirteen-year-old aspiring writer Briony Tallis, for reasons that make absolutely no sense, falsely accuses stout young Robbie Turner, son of the groundskeeper, of rape, thus breaking the heart of Briony's breastless older sister, Cecilia, who loves Robbie and is loved by him in turn. Sob! Oh, and also allowing the real rapist -- whose identity is obvious to everyone in the audience but not to any of the pretty dimwits on the screen -- to escape with a sleazy smirky smile. Hint: He's the only young male character present who has a moustache. He's also the most convincing actor.

Robbie is taken away to jail, and is saved a few years later by the fortunate invasion of Poland by Germany, when he's given the choice of staying in jail or joining the Army. Since the war will be over in no time and the boys will be home by Christmas, the Army is obviously the better choice.

Oops! Robbie ends up with a few hundred thousand other desperate men on the beach at Dunkirk, is evacuated home to England, gets back together with Cecilia, and, except for occasional bouts of murderous rage because of PTSD, spends the rest of his life happily with her, gamboling in the surf in sight of the frightfully famous white cliffs of Dover. And yes, there is a moment where voices sing "There'll be blue birds over etc." How fucking manipulative can you get?

But, wait! He didn't make it home! He died of septicemia during the night before he would have been evacuated! And Cecilia died when a German bomb hit a water main and the underground station in which she was sheltering from the blitz was flooded! All of the other stuff was just an invention in a novel titled Atonement, written by the ancient, losing-her-brain Briony! Which we learn when we jump suddenly to the present and see Briony being interviewed for a TV show and explaining everything to us! Oh, God, that's soooooo artistic! You can weep and feel waves of vicarious romance and think you're experiencing an elevated moment of awful artistic artistry, all at the same time!

Here's what would have improved this movie: If only the script had been written by a reincarnation of P. G. Wodehouse! Then it would have been a delightful tale of comic confusion, with witty dialog and amusing coincidences and cleverly silly characters. And the guy and the girl would have gotten each other at the end for real.

Alternatively, during the war scenes, they could have shown us stuff getting blowed up real good. Including the script.

This movie sucks. It sucks with a suckitude so mighty that it puts black holes to shame. Rating: Minus 52 stars.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Unidentifiable Doohickeys

Like most people, we have a drawer in our kitchen that holds things, stuff, doohickeys. This evening, Leonore held one of those up and asked me if I knew what it was. It looked vaguely familiar but that was the best I could do, so I agreed that we should throw it away.

Leonore: "Good. We don't need any more unidentifiable doohickeys."

Me: "So exactly how many unidentifiable doohickeys do we need?"

Now I'm wondering if anyone has studied this question. Is there an algorithm one can use to determine exactly how many unidentifiable doohickeys one needs?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sent Partial Off

To the agent who wants an exclusive.

After the long wait and no response to my prompting e-mail, I just didn't feel I could keep waiting for the agent who had a partial already.

We move on! To ... somewhere.