Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Good ol' Russia. Our mutual hatred of the terr'ists and our interest in the oil (having it, using it) make us fast friends, even - especially? - when we curtail democratic freedoms. Over the weekend, Russian police used anti-terrorism exercises to harass an academic conference on Finno-Ugric languages, such as the one spoken by the embittered and oppressed Mari people of south-central Russia. The Mari tongue is related to Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian, so it made sense for scholars of that language family to hold their international conference in the Mari capital, Joskar-Ola. But since the Mari are agitating for more autonomy, they got Putinized:
In one of the police exercises, the officers practiced removing a bomb from the location of the congress - the large stage of the Mari National Theatre. In another exercise they defused a dummy explosive in a Lada parked on the highway, and in another, they caught a terrorist after a shooting incident. In the imaginary situation, a sniper was removed from the building where the guests of the congress were housed.
Given these ham-fisted but effective measures, "
an atmosphere of fear prevailed at the congress," and only half the scholars expected to attend did so. This harassment is the latest episode in a longer history of animosity between Russians and the Mari. According to the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat, "the latest wave of oppressive measures began last year when members of the Mari openly opposed the pro-Kremlin Presidential candidate Leonid Markelov, a supporter of hard-line nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. When Markelov won, the Mari began suffering reprisals in the form of intimidation, job losses, and beatings." The European Parliament denounced this oppression, and of course Russia denies that it's even occurring. Sounds familiar...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Ahh: Vacation

It ain't a month off like those damn Europeans with their seaside resorts and socialized medicine, but it is my vacation: I'm off with the family to Minnesota's North Shore for some hiking and reading and sleeping and whatnot. See you all when I get back!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Dear Old Macalester

My alma mater getting more buzz than Paris Hilton. Or, probably, your crummy school. Newsweek:
Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn.
The 1,900-student campus in the middle of a vibrant metropolis has become a key recipient of the growing number of Harvard, Yale and Princeton applicants who are rejected for no other reason than that those schools don't have space for all the A-plus applicants. Macalester has one faculty member for every 11 students and an emphasis on international affairs, symbolized by one of its most famous alumni, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The college has six language residences: Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. It offers the intimacy of the archetypal small-town campus—in the middle of the Twin Cities. Applications have increased 60 percent since 1995.
More on Mac's brag page.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Paying a Lot for Gas?

You can always go to a cheap-gas country like Venezuela or Nigeria. See this comparison of gas prices around the world.

Marshmallow Olympics?

What the hell is going on with Turino 2006's mascots, Neve and Gliz?

Gibsonian Worlds

I've posted already about how effing smart William Gibson, the sci-fi writer, is. This news article from CNet only goes to prove that more than anyone else in the last twenty years, he's predicted our now. The current large-scale virus (actually, worm) attacks on various big business' Windows computer systems, it seems, may be related to international organized digital-crime syndicates:
The outbreak has a financial motive, according to Sophos, an antivirus company based in Abingdon, England. "Organized criminal gangs are behind attacks like these, and their motive is to make money. Owning a large network of compromised computers is a valuable asset to these criminals," said Graham Cluley, the senior technology consultant at Sophos... A botnet of about 5,500 "zombies," or compromised computers, typically costs spammers, phishers or other crooks about $350 a week, security company Symantec has said.
I fully expect to be followed by ringing phones at some point later today. (See "Art I Like (#2 in an Occasional Series): William Gibson" here.)

Finland: More Snow, More Equality

I blogged this over at After School Snack already, but I can't stop thinking about it: an article on "Why can't we Americans be more like Finland?" Go to A.S.S. for my response. (A teaser tidbit from the article's author: "Finns are enormously proud of their egalitarian tradition. They are the only country in Europe that has never had a king or a homegrown aristocracy." I dunno if that's true, but it's interesting anyhow...)

As I contemplated the comparison between Finland and the U.S., I came across a report in a Finnish-American newspaper that the Finnish expatriate parliament has recommended that Finland expand the right to emigrate back to Finland and take up citizenship there
. Presently, Finland allows the children of emigrants to obtain dual citizenship there the paliament recommends that grandchildren of emigrants also be allowed to obtain Finnish citizenship and to move back. See "Thousands to regain their Finnish citizenship" here. Hmm: Was grandpa's trip west just an experiment for the family? Keitele sounds better every day...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ceci n'est-ce pas un pigeon mort.

Saturday evening, after trading the baby off to Shannon for her bedtime nursing, I glanced through the kitchen window and saw an odd lump on the backyard sidewalk. Going outside to investigate, it turned out to be a very dead pigeon, lying there with its neck visibly broken and a big dead-bird eye looking up at me. I was too creeped out and disgusted to do anything about it, so I went back inside for a few minutes.

When Shannon came down about half an hour later, I told her to look outside and, when she exclaimed, told her what it was. We talked for a about five minutes about the oddness of it and about the time we discovered three dead squirrels in our yard a few winters ago, and then I steeled myself for the corpse disposal and went back outside.

The bird was gone. Totally gone. A few stray feathers were still marking the sidewalk, and there were a few more on the lawn, but the dead creature was totally gone. I waited for the Hitchcock music to start, but it didn't.

Business Books Stink

Barbara Ehrenreich dissects current business books. She no likey:
Consider the fact that, to judge from the blurbs on the backs of these books, they have won the endorsement of numerous actual C.E.O.'s of prominent companies. Maybe the books tell us what these fellows want their underlings to believe. Be more like mice, for example. Or -- and this is the truly scary possibility -- maybe the principles embody what the C.E.O.'s themselves believe, and it is in fact the delusional, the immoral and the verbally challenged who are running the show.
(Thanks to Matt at After School Snack for the find.)

Sights Seen

While waiting for the bus just after seven this morning, I watched a neighbor mow her lawn in her pajamas.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Frontrunning for the 2014 Winter Games

Around the Rings, an independent Olympics-news service, has just released rankings of the seven cities which are competing for the 2014 Winter Games. Salzburg, Austria, and PyeongChang, South Korea, lead the rest of the pack, which is clustered much further back. The rankings gauge each city based on criteria such as organizing-committee operations, regional accommodations, and quality existing winter-sports venues.

Microsoft - All Genius, All the Time

David Pogue over at the Times reports that "the next version of Microsoft Windows, due at the end of 2006, is no longer named after a sheep. Instead of going by Longhorn, as it has been unofficially known, the real name will be Windows Vista." He mentions, jokingly, one wag's suggestion that the name stands for "viruses, infections, spyware, trojans and adware," but he does not note that the name is already in use by another computer app, the WebCT Vista courseware system. Nice research, Microsoft!

Microsoft may already be reaping the karmic returns for stealing another product's name: "Windows Vista (code-named Longhorn) is still nearly a year and a half away, and Microsoft has only just released the very first beta version, but guess what? Somebody's already written the first virus for it." Or maybe not.

World Cup Skiing: 100 Days Away

We're just 100 days away from the start of the distance World Cup cross country skiing season: on November 19-20, Beitostølen (Norway) will host four events: women's 10k and men's 15k classic-style races on the 19th and men's and women's relays on the 20th. It should be a good opportunity to see who trained well all summer long and who might be on form for the Olympics, which open in 83 days later in Torino, on February 10 (182 days from today!).

(The sprint racing season opens almost a month earlier than the Beitostølen races with men's and women's individual and team sprints in Düsseldorf on October 22-23.)

Yah, Dat's Graate

Up nort, in da U.P., we have a distinctive way of talking, which is apparently called "Yooper" after the name for the natives and/or inhabitants of the Upper Peninsula. Yooper is an easy-to-mock, easy-to-understand dialect of English, and comes in for a good examination by Prof. Richard W. Bailey, an English professor at da U a M in Ann Arbor. Prof. Bailey discovers, among other interesting facts, that the term "Yooper" is younger than I am:
The earliest published use discovered by the Dictionary of American Regional English dates to August 5, 1979. On that day, the Escanaba Daily Press published a contest to name the folks who live in the UP. Sixty-five candidate names were proposed, including Pastian, Skeeter-Eater, Michupper and Bush Turkey.
Nominated by Brett Crawford of Bark River: Yooper. It won.
Prof. Bailey also offers a few samples of the dialect:
Holywha 'Yooper Expletive,' pank 'to pack snow down', and tarts 'tings you trow at a tartboard'.
I still say "Holywha" all the time, and just last week my wife made fun of me for saying I'd "panked" something down. Oh well. Dese trolls jus don't know how ta speak.

(Tanks, Mom, for da link.)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Growing up in the permanently depressed, tourism-dependent Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I'm always interested in reading about how other rural, out-of-the-way places try to survive, if not thrive. This piece from Helsingin Sanomat is thus an interesting look at the problems of Finnish Lapland.

Lapin lääni province is a rural hinterland that struggles to keep pace with the tech-driven economic growth of southern and urban Finland. Planners there are trying to catch up by going in two directions at once. First, they're playing the tech card with a big animation studio - and with those long winter nights, there's plenty of time to sit at the editing console. Second, they're also playing the tourism card, specifically with the "development of adventure travel packages that are marketed around the world." Even here, though, an in typical Finnish fashion, they're tying in technology: "a camera system is being developed for snowmobile trails which would give the travellers a video to remember their trip by."

It'd be great for the U.P. - or even parts of it, like the western tip - to do something similar, differentiating itself from other places in the Midwest where there are lots of trees, snow, and deer and few people. Adventure travel or recreation would be a natural fit (no pun intended).

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Abolish the Alphabet!

Or at least improve it, for crissakes. This is what happens when font designers go bad:
A: "This looks like two different people designed these letterforms and they weren’t talking to each other. Both the upper and lower case are quite wonderful, but as a pair? What were they thinking?"

C: "Too obviously a pair! This is just lazy design, imho. A curve, and a smaller curve. What’s with that? Put some effort into it!"

L: "What.the fuck.is that? Surely no worse letterforms exist than these two duds—I mean c’mon … two lines and a line? Who designed this, some old fart completely worn out and bereft of ideas? The design rationale must’ve been one helluva snow job. The capital L has that gaping, awkward open space, and the lower case … it’s a line! and it looks like a cap I or a 1 fer god’s sake. How did this get passed?! I’m glad I don’t have any of these in my name."

U: "I have nothing good to say about this lazy piece of rocking shit. Both of them. Probably designed by whoever did the C."

Z: "And last, but certainly not least, the Z, with a final flourish, a sword slash (I know!), a signature of completion. The Z has exhuberance and balance … alas, with the lower case z, the alphabet goes out with a bang and a whimper."

Friday, August 05, 2005

International Math

All Julia, All the Time

Partly because Shannon needed a day off and partly because I've wanted to do something like this for a while, today I took the day off and took care of Julia from the end of her morning nursing until the start of her bedtime nursing - today, 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. I gotta say, it was a blast. We twice went on walks to the park, ventured downtown - on the bus! - for lunch with friends, had a very big and satisfying dinner, and met a woman whose "grandbaby" is named Unique. Quite the day!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Etymology: The Last Refuge of the Trivial

Knowing this esoterica makes me happy:
"Chivy," which is also spelled "chivvy," became established in our language in the early 20th century and at first meant "to harass or chase." Early usage examples are of people chivying a chicken around to catch it and of a person chivying around food that is frying. The word itself is from the British noun of the same spelling meaning "chase" or "hunt." The noun is believed to be derived from "Chevy Chase" — a term for "chase" or "confusion" that is taken from the name of a ballad describing the 1388 battle of Otterburn between the Scottish and English. (A "chase" in this context is an unenclosed tract of land in England that is used as a game preserve.)
From the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Condescending Note to My Fellow Pedestrians

Marquette Avenue is not Nicollet, it's true. Still, that's no reason to dress like this.

1. Mr. Hip-Hopster
Any street cred (does anyone still say "cred"?) you've gained with the gold-framed MC Hammer glasses and the extra-long cigarillo, you've also lost by dramatically adjusting your belt in public. Let's start treating our belts like our underwear: never adjust them anywhere outside your domicile unless you know no one else can see you. Unfortunately, I could.

2. Mr. No Service
Arrested Development called; they need you back on the set. Bring the cut-off jean shorts and the retro duffel bag. No need to put on your shirt yet. Let those flabby pecs gleam!

3. Ms. Coolness
I like the tinted J-Lo wraparounds. The swishy-floaty clamdigger-type pants, the ones that look kinda like a skirt but turn out not to be? I'm still ambivalent. I know that means a lot to you. What's not so good, though, is that you have your shirt tucked into your underwear. You're welcome.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Logo Away, Please!

One of the many reasons I loathe television and refuse to watch virtually everything on it is the presence of those horrible little translucent logos at the bottom of the screen. It turns out that these logos aren't just annoying reminders of the fact that You Are Always Watching a Commercial, but they're bad design, too:
The technical term is DOG, for digital on-screen (or originated) graphics, and we’ve all seen them: touting the next program in the line-up when you’ve barely begun watching something else, your eye jumps from the main action as the marginal encroachment of the logo — referred to in certain circles as an “obnoxicon” — performs its little dance, which, frankly, is anything but marginal. (Here is the US, some of these logo dances have begun to include sound, producing a horrifying little moment of audio confusion that even John Cage would be hard pressed to enjoy.) Plasma screen TV manufacturers warn consumers of warranty limitations in the event of “screen burn” — literally, an unfortunate casualty wherein the logo becomes permamently "burned" into the screen as a consequence of the TV being left on the same station for too long.

Sadly, the profusion of animated logos seems unlikely to abate any time soon. They might as well go ahead and implant the logo right on your brain.