Sunday, March 31, 2002

Time-Binding in the 21st Century

In this article from the SF Gate web site, Anu Garg discusses the enormous amount of data currently available throught Internet Archive, and the enormous difficulties the site has trying to make the data available in a useful manner.

Taming The Data / The Internet Archive searches for a way to turn a morass into a resource

Eggs and Teggnology

Just in time for Easter comes this playful article about technology, oology and words, from Anu Garg, wordsmith and curator of the A.Word.A.Day site.

Eggs and Computers / The connection between technology and oology

Bertrand Russell on Thought

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death....Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.
--Bertrand Russell, 1872-1970

Sunday, March 24, 2002

More 9-11 and language changes

Six months after the events of September 11, the effects continue to show up in the language of high school and college students.
In Times of Terror, Teens Talk the Talk (

Saturday, March 23, 2002


First, we had "True Air", then we had "True Light". Now, we have "True Sound".CDTAUDIO Premium Car Audio Sound Systems

Wednesday, March 20, 2002


"The radio is nothing but a conduit through which pre-fabricated din can flow into our homes. And this din goes far deeper, of course, than the eardrums. It penetrates the mind, filling it with a babble of distractions, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis, but usually create a craving for daily or even hourly emotional enemas."
--Aldous Huxley, On Silence, 1946.

Monday, March 18, 2002

The Ultimate in Word Magic

The principles and formulations of general semantics encourage us to remember that "the word is not the thing" and to maintain an awareness of our habit of abstracting meaning from words which by themselves carry no meaning. The story below describes a person for whom words have apparently taken on meanings that none of us can quite imagine. And I suspect he does not know he has abstracted anything.
The Words 'New Jersey' Put Texas City Man Behind Bars

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Checking Facts

If you read this page, you have some kind of Internet access. If you have Internet access, you probably have e-mail. If you have e-mail, you have undoubtedly received one or more (or dozens) of e-mails from well-intended friends containing a warning of some kind, about a dangerous file on your system, an unexpected attack in a mall parking lot, etc etc. I strongly hope that you have discovered some method for determining the relative validity of these warnings, and know to ignore most of them. If not, you might want to surf over to one of the following sites to learn more.

The first will take you to a reply by the Houston Chronicle to a letter from a reader about an alarming article allegedly published in the Chronicle, which she had learned about via an e-mail warning from a friend. This reply does a good job of describing the nature of an Internet hoax.

The subsequent links will take you to sites that operate solely to investigate and debunk Internet hoaxes, virus warnings and urban legends. Bookmark these sites so you can check your facts before sending out a needless alarm to everyone you know.
Houston Chronicle--On the Edge - January 9, 2000
Hoax Busters - the BIG LIST of Internet Hoaxes
The AFU & Urban Legends Archive
Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Maps and Words

General semantics formulations can turn up in the most unexpected places.
Rose Is Rose

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Fact (1) is Not Fact (2)

The site linked to below, entitled "Useless Facts", uses the term fairly loosely. More importantly for my definition of fact, every item lists a source, but every item I checked listed the same source: "N/A"! Why bother showing the "source" if they don't actually know it?
Useless Facts, Strange Facts, Weird Facts, Bizarre Facts, Interesting Facts!

Monday, March 11, 2002


Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.
-Samuel Johnson, lexicographer (1709-1784)

Sunday, March 10, 2002

On the Subject of Authorship

John Biguenet, author of the short-story collection, "The Torturer's Apprentice and the upcoming novel Oyster, from an interview in the Chicago Tribune--

One of our difficulties in fiction--and this extends the argument to the novel as well--is that from the inception of the Western novel in the middle of the 18th Century, one of its tasks was to communicate information. If we read Hemingway, we were reading about places we didn't know, and this was actually a very efficient means of learning about bullfights or about the experience of the first World War. But by 1960, that function had been usurped by various media. Radio began to do it. Large-scale, mass, non-fiction magazines went forth with that as well. And certainly with the introduction of television, there were much more immediate ways to communicate information to large audiences. I don't think fiction has figured out yet how to craft a narrative whose primary purpose is not communication of information.

We tend to vest authority in the non-fiction writer because of the expertise and research that he or she has brought to the project. In the case of earlier novelists, like Mark Twain for example, we all know how he acquired his expertise in the lore of the river, the piloting of steamships. So when we turn to a great novel of the river like ["The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"], we're all aware of his authority to speak about the information that's conveyed in that novel.

But no fiction writers today, with the exception of best-selling writers like John Grisham and the law, or Tom Clancy and military technology, have an acknowledged authority in the information they convey.

In that sense most fiction writers today write without any authority that their audience is willing to acknowledge. I think we see the first glimpse of that with the rise of minimalist fiction in the '80s and late '70s, when the writer basically says the only authority I have is over the self, and so all I can do is create--whether it's a first-person or a third-person--narratives about my own experience, because there my authority can't be questioned. But the effect of that is to admit I have no authority to speak about the world, and that means there are many subjects that have gone unexplored in the last 20 or 30 years in our fiction.