Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Geek humor

Or nerd humor.

I got a birthday card from the College of natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Houston, where I got my MS in mathematics. On the front, under a portrait of Newton, it says, "If the sun is the center of the universe, and ... " Next, under a photo of Einstein, it says, "If e=mc (squared), then ..." Next, under a photo of Hubble*, it says, "We hypothesize that ..." On the back, against a background of a deep-sky photo showing lots of galaxies, it says, "Your birthday will be a big bang!!!"

* Shoulda been Hawking.

And now give it up for ...

When did "give it up for" replace "let's have a big hand for"? It seems to have happened only a few years ago, and the switch seems to have happened quickly and completely. "Give it up for" strikes me as a very odd expression, although I'll admit that "a big hand for" is odd, too.

Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. That often happens.

Some day, no one will fully appreciate the clever title of that wonderful old comedy Western, A Big Hand for the Little Lady.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My father in "his" synagogue


He's annoyed that they mentioned his age. I think I'd be proud of it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

David's Definitions for October 2008


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

Earthquakes don't happen at the surface of the Earth. They originate inside the Earth, often at very great depths, for instance where two of the immense slabs of rock called tectonic plates suddenly slide against each other, or one slips a bit further under another. The place on the Earth's surface directly above the deep point where an earthquake originates is called its epicenter, from the Greek word epi, which means upon. It's not necessarily the point on the surface where the effects of the earthquake are most strongly felt; it's just the point vertically above the real center of the quake. You'll often hear epicenter misused to mean a more intense sort of center. Years ago, I heard a preacher refer to Boulder as the epicenter of various kinds of behavior he disapproved of. That would have been clever if he'd been implying that the behavior was demonic and its real center was somewhere inside the Earth, but I'm sure he was just misusing the word and trying to impress upon us that Boulder was, like, you know, really, really the center of that bad stuff, man.

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Editorializing meteorologists and store music

I like cool, drizzly weather. That's not the PC attitude in Colorado. When someone praises the heat and sunshine, and I grump that I don't like heat and sunshine and prefer cool and drizzly days, Coloradans look at me like I'm crazy and edge away, except for the ones who take me aside furtively and, after looking quickly from side to side, whisper, "Me, too!"

Oh, and except for the ones who say, "You should be living in Seattle." To which I usually reply, "I'd hate to live in Seattle. I should be living in Vancouver." That also gets odd stares, but maybe that's because they think I mean Vancouver, Washington.

This is why I get annoyed when the local TV weather forecasters editorialize about the weather, moaning on the rare occasions when it's going to be cool and drizzly and crowing if, as usual in the summer, it's going to be a sun-drenched furnace. They could praise the weather I like and act upset about heat and sunlight, but that would annoy other viewers, probably most other viewers. Or they could play it safe and just tell us what they expect the next few days to be like, along with the standard overdone graphics behind them to explain why they expect that.

It's the same thing with background music in stores. It tends to be noise I hate, and that makes me want to rush through my shopping list and get the hell out of the place. They could play great opera recordings, and I'd wander through the store in a happy daze, buying lots of stuff I don't need, but some other shoppers would be running for the entrances with their hands over their ears. How about not playing music at all? That's the only choice that's sure not to offend anyone.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Sarah Palin cult of personality

I'm seeing amazement expressed online that the GOP has built a cult of personality around this embarrassing nonentity. Despite the advance word that she's really smart, she turns out to be a vapid airhead, and yet the GOP has succeeded in creating that COP around her anyway.

Why should this surprise anyone? They did the same thing with Little Georgie, another emptyheaded buffoon. Both Dubya and Palin have forceful personalities and boorish, outtamyway self-assurance. That seems to be all that's required. It was clear during the RNC that the intention was to build such a cult around McCain, but Palin proved to be better material.

It's not just that the GOP is good at building such cults. It's that they need them. On some emotional level, they want the world to be populated by brutish serfs ruled over by semidivine monarchs. (Floating off to the side are the brilliant conservative commentators and bloggers, the only ones who really understand everything.) They need and want someone to worship, or at least to tell everyone else to worship.

I assume they think that all Americans share their sick need. We'll find out in November if they're right.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who's a pro?

And while we're at it, what's unprofessional?

About a year ago on this blog I whined about seeing myself referred to online as a minor pro. At least I was called a pro. In the genre world, a pro is someone who has published, well, professionally - i.e., in a recognized magazine or has had a book published by a recognized publisher. It doesn't mean someone who supports himself by his writing. That is, professional isn't opposed to amateur but to aspiring (or, more cruelly, wannabe).

Is there a minimum qualification for being considered a pro? There doesn't seem to be. Even one short story in a small but recognized (don't ask me to pin that usage down) magazine makes one a pro. At science fiction conventions and such places, I often encounter young writers who have published one or two stories and who have about them a kind of self-assurance and pro aura that I still don't have.

I suspect that's self-fulfilling. That is, if they project that aura, they're treated as up-and-coming major writers, and some of them eventually become major pros. Is it the quality of their writing? Is it the aura? Damned if I know. I envy such people even as I find myself annoyed by them. Can one learn to do what they do, or does it have to be innate in one's personality? Could I take lessons and end up projecting the same self-image? And would I then become a major pro, or would people wonder who that pompous ass over there is?

By contrast, in the business world, the words professional and unprofessional refer explicitly to appearance and impression. For example, people going for a job interview are advised not to dress too casually (shorts, tank top, dirty hair). They must be professional, which refers to how they dress and how they speak and even what they have on their MySpace page. That is to say, robots get jobs, while individuals do not. Robots are professional; individuals are unprofessional. So the poorly paid guy processing papers and wearing slacks and a dress shirt and wingtips and contemplating suicide is a professional. The highly paid techie a few cubicles away who's wearing shorts and a torn t-shirt and has dirty hair and is overweight and whistles while he works and is churning out brilliant software that will redefine our world is unprofessional. In other words, in the business world, professional isn't really a word at all. Like respect, it's a rhetorical club that means whatever the speaker needs it to mean in order to impose his will.

Then there's business casual, a supremely silly term used to describe a type of clothing that bears as much resemblance to being casual as the military posture At Ease does to actually being at ease.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Doctor effulges, David indulges

Okay, this was an odd psychological reaction.

I went to the doctor today for my annual physical, which came about 1 1/2 years after my last annual physical. Everything was super duper. The few things I was a bit concerned about turned out to be nothing. The numbers are great. The results of the probing and poking are excellent. My doctor proclaimed himself very happy. I felt very happy.

Then I went home and, instead of continuing the good diet habits that led to these good results, I pigged out. This evening, instead of exercising or writing as I had planned, I had too much alcohol and obsessively e-mailed queries to agents.

This is weird. And yet, except for the beginnings of a headache, I feel rather good.

On second thought, it's not weird. It's a combination of relief and letdown. There's a lot of nasty medical stuff in my family, from the inconvenient (enlarged prostate, arthritis), to the scary (heart disease), to the deadly (cancer). So every time I go to the doctor for an examination, I can't help but fear that my moral superiority to my forebears will turn to have been overridden by some nasty gene or other, and the doctor will frown and mutter "Uh, oh" and tell me to make an appointment with a cardiologist or oncologist.

So far, the moral superiority is winning out.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

That great Western tradition of small government!

David Gregory just referred to that on MSNBC. He said it's the tradition McCain shares with such Republican icons as Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan (who was from Iowa, right?).

Yeah, right. The American West, where I've lived for almost 40 years, this land where men are men and horses are surprisingly rare, was built on government handouts and continues to depend on them for survival - from cavalry outposts and virtually free grazing on public lands and virtually free rights of way for the railroads to today's interstate highways and water projects. I don't feel like looking it up, so I'll just assert (because I'm pretty sure it's true) that Westerners receive more government support of various kinds per capita than people in any other region of the country.

I guess we're just better at posturing than those other people.

Yee haw.