Glad it's over

Well, today is the last day of 2005 (at least in my time zone), and I'm glad this year is over. It wasn't a horrible year, just sort of an uneventful one, especially compared to what is coming up. The upcoming year will bring challenges and new experiences, which is what I've wanted for a while. I felt like I was slipping into a rut, but I don't forsee much more slippage for a while, if ever again. Well, it's hard to say that, but the freshness of doing the part-time media gig will keep me stimulated for a long time.


Empty storehouse

I've been taping Star Trek: The Next Generation since the summer because I had no interest in it when it first came out in the 80's and 90's. At this point, I think I've seen most of the episodes, but I've realized that I have a problem: I didn't pace myself. During the holidays, they're not broadcasting any shows, and since I've seen everything on the tapes, the video storehouse is empty, so there's really not much decent TV to watch.

I was so excited that I had so many TNG episodes taped, I stayed up very late to watch them almost every night. As I was going through sleep deprivation, I kept telling myself to be careful, because if I kept watching so many at a time, one day I would have nothing left. And the day has arrived.

It's sort of like spending too much money: you know you should budget, but then you're tempted to spend a lot of money at once, and then when the time comes when you need money for a rainy day, you don't have much left. The same can be said about groceries before a snowstorm: you know you should pile some up because you'll be stuck when the snow comes.

But there's also another problem: I neglected Deep Space Nine because I thought I wouldn't like it, and then when I decided to give it a try and tape those episodes along with TNG, I'd only acquired a few by the time the holiday programming rolled around. If only I would have given DS9 a try even a month before! Then I would have those episodes to enjoy during the holiday season.

So now I'm without both, and soon I won't be able to stay up late anymore because I'll have to start driving a distance to the radio gig, which means early mornings and early bedtimes. It's an entertainment crisis!

Oh yeah, the new year will also bring a programming change:

"[Next] Generation" starts January 8 on G4; it will continue to run on Spike TV as well with time-period restrictions keeping the programs from running in the same daypart. Spike TV will continue to run other "Trek" spinoffs including "Deep Space 9." "Trek" will begin on G4 in the second quarter.

So now my taping schedule will be more complex. Oh, such problems of we who live in comfort!


simple Mandarin audio sites

Speaking of Mandarin, I found a couple of sites with audio files:

Basic phrases and vocabulary and Simple and compound tones.

ee ba ba

In an ESL class I teach, we were talking about shopping at an outlet mall in a Chicago suburb, and when the class ended, I heard someone say "ee ba ba" in Mandarin.

Lately I've been concentrating harder on what the heck Mandarin speakers are saying, because otherwise, I'd be wasting my language-listening time. After all, what's the point of listening to a language I've studied even briefly if I'm not going to try to understand what people are saying? I can use the skimpy knowledge I have and try to make sense out of a sliver of "blah blah blah" among the crazy tones. I even do it with Spanish--eavesdrop on conversations that I don't totally understand.

I thought for a moment, and then used the context to make an educated guess: they were probably talking about the expressway I-88, since "ba ba" is "8 8", and we had already talked about the outlet mall in English. So I asked them, and I was right! "Ee ba ba" was I-88.

The last time this type of deduction occurred was this past weekend, when someone said "cha ei" (I don't remember exactly the second word, my Mandarin is so lame) while standing near some eggs. I guessed "tea eggs" and I was right, which surprised the egg-talkers.

Sometimes I use Japanese to try to understand Mandarin. Such as the time we were talking about the word "gifted" in class. Someone asked another student in Mandarin what it meant, and a student said "tien sai" which is similar to the Japanese "tensai" which means "genius" more than "gifted." (However, at this point, I wonder if that's the only meaning. Perhaps it could mean "gifted" in certain contexts.) Anyway, I told the students, "no, it's not that meaning" and everyone was shocked because I had understood what they were talking about.

So, I guess I've discovered another way to surprise people. Which means if I study more Mandarin words, I'll be able to understand and scare even more people until they start to assume I can decifer whatever they say.


Online Gaelic lessons

Okay, here's something obscure which people should know about nevertheless: Gaelic Lessons On-line, which proclaims "B' fheàrr Gàidhlig briste na Beurla cliste. (Better broken Gaelic than polished English)"

Jordan at Macvaysia said, "There are fourteen Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) lessons and eleven Scottish Gaelic (Gaidhlig) ones, along with several readings in each dialect."

He's possibly the only person I've heard of who's studied it. And I guess he has the motivation to do it, since that's his ancestry.

A cool site that would be useful for Gaelic fans everywhere.


International holidays

I have had an international holiday weekend. First, I went to a Christmas Eve party where I was surrounded by several Chinese Mandarin speakers and lots of tasty homemade Chinese food. I think it's time I resumed the study of Chinese. It would come in handy to at least laugh at the jokes with everyone else, or at least know which food item they're talking about.

Then on Christmas, I went to a service where Luke 2:10-11 (But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord") was read in the following languages:


For a language fan like me, it was exciting and worthy of nerdy appreciation. And some people sang in Chinese, Thai, and Swahili, so it added a special dimension to the multilingual celebration.

After that, I went to a Christmas party to eat delicious and artery-busting Scandanavian food (Swedish pancakes, sausage, cheese, cakes, fruit soup) among European-decent people and Asians, most of whom stayed away from the food. Their loss.

Finally, I ended the day with the first night of Chanukah (Hanukkah). The best food to eat on Chanukah are latkes, which are potato pancakes. The key is to have good homemade latkes, and I think I've eaten the best throughout the years (a German recipe), so I've been satisfied.

The only way to reverse the international weekend is to make sure that I exercise all that wonderful food off so that I don't have to make any weight-related New Year's resolutions.


Jesus and Chanukah

It's interesting that Christmas and Chanukah (or Hanukkah--who knows what the correct transliteration is) are on the same day. Actually, it won't be Chanukah until the sun sets. But the two holidays will intersect sometime today.

Without going into a lot of detail, there's a lot of paranoia going around about the whole "Merry Christmas" issue among people I know, on both sides of the "aisle". So I'm going to show the world that Chanukah is mentioned in the New Testament. What's ironic is that Christmas is not a Biblical holiday, though the birth of Jesus, of course, is mentioned in the Bible (even though the birth was probably in the fall instead of the winter).

And Jesus was around when Chanukah (the Feast of Dedication) was happening (horrors! to some Jewish people who don't believe he was Jewish).

From John 10:22-30 (New Living Translation):

It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah. He was at the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon's Colonnade. The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly."

Jesus replied, "I have already told you, and you don't believe me. The proof is what I do in the name of my Father. But you don't believe me because you are not part of my flock. My sheep recognize my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. So no one can take them from me. The Father and I are one."

John 10:22-23 in the Amplified (which tries to take all words and meanings into consideration, thus the brackets are theirs): "After this the Feast of Dedication [of the reconsecration of the temple] was taking place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in Solomon's Porch in the temple area."

And finally, the New International Version (NIV) of the same: "Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade."


Snow in Bethlehem

I was going to do a smart-aleck post about the fact that we see a lot of manger scenes with snow, but since Bethlehem is in the Middle East, and it doesn't snow there, why should we put up with the inaccuracies?

But then I found an article about snow in the Middle East from a few years ago, and even found an image of Bethlehem covered with snow.

I wanted to post the Bethlehem image here, but I'm afraid the site will be mad because they don't want their images shared publically without purchase. So please see the proof yourself.

So the image posted here shows Jerusalem in snow, from the BBC.



I'm feeling quite hyper because the new year is going to be different (in a good way). I got a cool behind-the-scenes gig at a radio station, and I'm very excited! Which means that I fulfilled a New Year's resolution, just in the nick of time.

I made a few resolutions this year and may not have fulfilled all of them, but at least satisfied the most important one: to find an interesting job. Working in radio will definitely be interesting.

Which makes me wonder if I should change my sig name again. And/or get my hair cut (my hair is shoulder length right now). There's a lot to look forward to.


Another brain

I'm becoming overwhelmed by the brain power online. I discovered a very smart guy via Language Hat: Joel at Far Outliers. He has a lot of info and insights over there about the world, and he seems like a really international guy. Check out more about him at his profile:

I've been an exception, an outlier, a foreigner, a barbarian and a contrarian for most of my life. Been referred to and sometimes even addressed as 'foreigner' for many years of my life: gaijin in Japanese neighborhoods, ngabchay in a Micronesian village, bumewe in a New Guinea village, waiguoren (or its local equivalent) in China, even haole in Hawai`i. (Romania is a longer story.)

I don't know if I should be scared or awed of all the virtual braininess that's emerging out there.


Orny in Chicago

I just found out that Orny Adams is going to come to Chicago, but we'll have to wait a while. He's coming in October of next year. Anything can happen by then. Actually, I don't want to think too much about it--it's too far away, and a *lot* can happen. Let's hope we're all still around. Yikes. Seems scary. So distant.

Anyway, he'll be in Orland Park, which is a suburb that's not very close to the city, but hopefully I'll still have a functioning car by then.

House of bread

It didn't hit me until much later, even though I studied Hebrew when I was growing up: Bethlehem is "beit lechem" (בית לחם), which means "house of bread." And then I read this: "Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty..."

Coincidence? He was born in Bethlehem, the "house of bread," and then made that statement. I'm sure there are more bread references in the Bible, but I'm sort of too lazy to find them or think too deeply about it.


Holiday cheer

I don't know who created it, but there's a funny seasonal greeting floating around out there that should not offend anyone:

From us (the "Wishor") to you (hereinafter called the "Wishee"), please accept without obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, politically correct, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all and a financially successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year [2005], but with due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures or sects, and having regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform or dietary preference of the Wishee.

And then there's a list of seven terms that completes the legalese, including:

Any references in this greeting to "the Lord", "Father Christmas", "Our Saviour", or any other festive figures, whether actual or fictitious, dead or alive, shall not imply any endorsement by or from them in respect of this greeting, and all proprietary rights in any referenced third party names and images are hereby acknowledged.

Just trying to contribute to the holiday cheer amidst all the madness.


"Nationally known"

I was listening to an interview recently, and the interviewee was introduced as "Nationally known author and speaker...". I don't like to post names of people I don't particularly respect, but in this case, I totally forgot who that "nationally known" person was.

Which helps support my main point: often, "nationally known" does not mean what it is meant to be. If someone truly is "nationally known," then many of us would know who the person is. Even if we haven't read their "bestselling" books or haven't attended their "nationally known" seminars, we would at least recognize their first or last name, or we would know what they do, at least vaguely. As in, "He's that guy who gives car advice," or "She's that goofy baker."

That would be funny if some "nationally known" person was at a well-publicized function, introduced as such, and no one knew who the heck they were.


Separate them!

I was at the Christkindlmarket at the Daley Plaza downtown and saw a booth that was advertising "Glassornaments" from Germany. Note how it's one word. Germans like to string numerous adjectives and nouns together (unlike us English speakers, who know how to keep words separate) so that one word can take up an entire line in a newspaper. So I guess they thought that "glass ornaments" should be a compound word as well.

Well, folks, study your English! We're not as compound-happy as you are!


About the name

Some people might be wondering what happened to my signature name. The new one is actually a name I use at a couple of message boards, so it's not like I had to think hard about it.

There are a couple reasons why I changed: I was sick of the old name, and since I haven't published any fiction yet, it's sort of dumb to use it at this point, but it's also because people coming here from my offline life might be confused, since they know me by my married name.

If things start to develop in the coming year, I might have to start using my first name, which would not be a big deal, except for the fact that I see this blog as an enjoyable endeavor, not just an extension of my work. Some blogs are set up to enhance people's professional pursuits, but I keep this blog going because I love language and want to write about it (among other stuff, which is just as enjoyable).

So there's work writing/translating/editing/whatever, fiction writing (which may never see the light of day), and blog writing. It's nice to have an alternative space to exist in.


German dictionaries and advent

Stop the presses! Someone sent me a link to what may be the best online German dictionary from TU Chemnitz (Technische Universität Chemnitz).

There's also a link to the Wortschatz Project, another dictionary that's helpful if you can decifer all that German.

And of course, they haven't forgotten the popular LEO online German dictionary, which also includes a link to an online English etymology dictionary (which I'm sure a lot of people already know about).

There's even a link to American English pronunciation, which would be helpful for the non-native English speakers out there who want an alternative to the online British English that seems to be quite popular and well-funded.

And there's another treat: an advent calendar. If you're not satisfied with that, you can get another advent calendar through LEO, which is a creation of Technische Universität München. (By the way, LEO means "Link Everything Online.")

So bookmark all these links and enjoy! I really need to get back to studying German, now that the Japanese test has passed. My German is very lame right now.


Deaver survives

Last night I went to see John Deaver in A Christmas Story at the Steel Beam Theater (which is in St. Charles, one of my favorite towns in Chicagoland). He plays Ralph, the narrator, who spends the entire show talking and talking and talking (which makes me wonder if the playright was too lazy to try showing more than telling so much).

So John had to memorize thousands of words--well over 6000. It's as if he had to recite an entire book. I don't know how he was able to do that, and I let him know that I was impressed. This was his reply:

My greatest fear is that someday thirty years from now I'll be a senile old fart sitting in the nursing home. Someone will play the song 'Here Comes Santa Claus' on the radio, I'll launch into my lines from 'A Christmas Story' and they won't be able to get me to stop until I have recited all 6,260 words. Of course, since there won't be anyone to provide the rest of the dialog, I probably won't be able to proceed unless someone feeds me my cues. I'll freeze up and go catatonic while waiting for Flick and Schwartz to say their lines.

Well, at least he survived and was able to remain funny.

When the grass is greener

It's funny: when I don't have much downtime, I want to write (fiction), but when I *do* have time, I don't want to start writing. Once I get started, it's great, but it's hard to get into that mode. I think it's because there's no one out there waiting for it. So if I don't write, the only person who will be disappointed is me. And what's the big deal? I can do something else that will make up for that disappointment.

I still think that writing fiction without any hopes of anyone in the Publishing Industrial Complex (PIC) looking at it is like writing in a vacuum, echoing in a cave, clapping with one hand. I might have a contact, but it's not like they've asked for my stuff. So that means that I have to make it as perfect as possible to get rejected.

It shouldn't matter, but it does. And now that Nanowrimo is over, there's no deadline to meet. Actually, I often create my own deadlines and goals which are good motivators, but they're not public things. So it's like, "I'm going on this trek, and I don't know if I'm going to get back, but have a nice day."


It's true!

Snopes has confirmed that the cool Christmas lights display is true. (I first saw the video via Mad Minerva.)

Carson Williams, the homeowner, is a really smart and talented guy. Not only did he synchronize thousands of lights to music, but he also created a short-range FM broadcast so that the neighbors would not be bothered by the noise. So you're in your car, you see the cool display, and a sign tells you to tune into the "station" to hear the music. That's quite a feat!

Unfortunately, because of all the media and online hype, he's had to shut the display down because there was an accident and too much traffic in front of his house.

The story also has another weird and ironic and tragic (for those who care) twist: the band who created the music, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, is on tour, and a couple of days ago when they were in Cincinnati (south of where Williams is from), many people could not show up because of the weather.

So can you imagine being in Ohio, seeing the video and the TV coverage, going to his house to check out the display, purchasing tickets to a concert, and then not being able to get there? I'm sure the people who couldn't make it were devastated.


Pocky decoded?

A while ago, I talked about how much I like Men's Pocky and Milk Tea. I went to a Japanese store yesterday and was able to find the Men's Pocky, but the brand of Milk Tea that I like wasn't there. Could it be gone forever?

As I was trying not to be too disappointed about the disappearance of my favorite Milk Tea, it occurred to me that the word "Pocky" could be a reference to the giongo/gitaigo word "pokipoki," which means "The sound or appearance of many long, thin objects being bent."

At least it still tastes good, even though I'm not a man.


Funny guy!

Orny Adams is hilarious--I saw him in Comedian. They didn't show much of his stand-up routine, and even though it was funny, I found the way he *is* is funny. He's self-deprecating and shares his misery and struggles, but how he says everything is laugh-causing, not pitiful or annoying.

You can get a glimpse of his interesting thoughts at his Notebook. Here are a couple of examples:

People tell me I need to live in the moment. Well the moment sucks. So I’m living in the future. The future has hope. The moment is overrated. Sometimes I live in the past. Because I don’t realize how good the moment was at that time. But later I do and so… I’m living in the moment- just a later.

I don’t like commercials that use a real chicken to sell chicken. I don’t need to see the before to enjoy the after. The before makes me sick, the after makes me full. I don’t even like the site of uncooked chicken. A raw egg makes me sick. But a cooked egg makes me happy.

He ends up developing those ideas for his shows. Actually, he spends several hours writing and seems to work hard. It must be very difficult to write well enough to make people laugh for an hour, or even five minutes.


Anno domini

Someone asked me what A.D. means and when it began. Here's what Wikipedia says:

Anno Domini (Latin: "In the Year of the Lord"), or more completely Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi ("In the Year of Our Lord Jesus Christ"), commonly abbreviated AD or A.D., is the designation used to number years in the dominant Christian Era in the world today.

...The Anno Domini system was developed by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus (a Scythian) in Rome in 525, as an outcome of his work on calculating the date of Easter.

...Almost all Biblical scholars believe that Dionysius was incorrect in his calculation, and that the date claimed for Jesus' birth was between 8 BC and 4 BC. The latest bound for the birth of Christ is the death of Herod the Great which occurred in 4 BC.

In case you're wondering, I have no idea what "bound" means in that context. It must be a typo at the Wikipedia site.


Termium plus

When Language Hat mentioned my post about Le grand dictionnaire, Arrogant Polyglot, "a Translator and a francophile fanatique," offered a link to another helpful online French dictionary: Termium Plus. You can get definitions of phrases, not just words, which is quite helpful for translating texts. Or you can get synonyms.

AP added:

And while we're on the subject of French, I should also mention another powerful online tool. It's an online grammar and spellchecker for speakers of French (native or not). The tool, www.lepatron.ca, is a writing assistant rather than a corrector. Rather than correcting grammar and spelling errors automatically, it flags mistakes thereby allowing the user to introduce their own changes.

As I'm not a "francophile fanatique" like he is, I don't need that site, but it's still very cool in case you want to write correct emails and other French text.


May be premature but...

Something good might be in my future, but I'm not sure yet. But I'll mention it anyway, even though it might be premature. I joined an ESL organization and was telling someone about a writing class that I created and all the research I had to do, since no resources existed at the time (though there are a few now), and she suggested I submit a proposal for their conference. So after I square away Japanese studying and sleep, I'm going to go for it.

If I manage to impress them, I might be doing something cool in the spring, and I'll provide more details if it happens. If nothing develops, then I'll go back to my normal, uneventful life. Well, it's not uneventful, but it's not PR-worthy at the moment.



I stumbled upon an entertaining (and apparently popular) blog, Veiled Conceit, "A glimpse into that haven of superficial, pretentious, pseudo-aristocratic vanity: The NY Times' Wedding & Celebration Announcements."

I don't like to read a lot of swearing or vulgarity, so other than that aspect of it, it's funny and fresh. The guy checks out wedding announcements of successful people and then offers commentary on the pictures and the content.

Like the one about the Nobel Prize winner: "Don't you think it's time to stop milking this 'Nobel Prize,' Joe? I mean, you didn't even win the full prize, since you had to share it with two other people."

He also offers harsh commentary of famous people, such as Jerry Seinfeld's wife and her ex-husband (a marriage that hardly made it past the honeymoon). This is part of what he accused her of:

1. Marry rich guy (Nederlander).
2. Use Reebok Club membership he bought you to meet guys at gym.
3. See Jerry Seinfeld and realize he's waaaay richer than your current beau.
4. "Seal the deal" with Seinfeld and hitch your wagon to his gravy train.
5. "Nederlander who?"

He even writes haiku to accompany a photo of a doctor and lawyer: "Their faces so bright/Necks of mock-turtle and 'V'/Mildly Attractive."

There's not much to know about the blogger, as his FAQ shows, but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets discovered and ends up writing a book or column, or for a successful show or something that will most likely take him deeper into New York society or even to L.A.



I can barely think straight. I've just spewed 50,000 words of make-believe in one month. Now I've got the more serious stuff to take care of.

Depeche Mode's typo

I saw the Depeche Mode show yesterday, and I highly recommend it.

But if you're going and are able to read the scrolling text on one of the stage decorations (or whatever they're called), check out the typo. I was facing the left part of the stage, so I was able to read the flashing words and phrases that accompanied the lyrics that they were singing.

However and unfortunately, I thought I would remember the phrase with the typo, so I did not write it down or punch it into my cell phone or even make a call to record it somewhere, but there is definitely a typo: they use it's, as in the contraction of "it is" instead of the posessive "its". I think the phrase refers to a "beast" (that is within us? ie, our dark side?) and the phrase includes the beast's something, so they have to use "its". I looked over some of the lyrics from the setlist, but couldn't find any phrase like that.

Whatever. The important thing to know is that they definitely had a typo, which is a common misspelling of the posessive "its". No tragedy, just something that language nerds may notice.


Online French dictionary

Wow, those folks in Quebec really know how to put together a dictionary. Usually I use Word Reference to look up French (and Spanish) words, but wow, I think Le grand dictionnaire might be better.

You can look up French definitions, meanings between French and English (which I need), and between French and Latin (which somebody out there must need). Sometimes if you look up a word, they will give you categories to choose from so that you can get a more appropriate and specific meaning, and they can also give you several synonyms.

So it's very helpful and it's five years old, which l’Office québécois de la langue française is really excited about. And of course, you can also get other useful French-related info there.



I have to highlight another big-time brainy, talented person who I suspect is not human: Cory Doctorow. This is just a fraction of what he's doing:

European Affairs Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)...very active in promoting the BBC's Creative Archive project to the UK government...visiting lecturer at Yale University Engineering, a fellow at Stanhope Centre in London, a Contributing Writer to Wired Magazine and a columnist for Popular Science and Make Magazines...on the committee for the O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference and...advisor to Ludicorp, Inc and Musicbrainz...co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing...co-founded the open source P2P technology company OpenCola...

He's also published a lot of short stories, novels, articles, and non-fiction books. How does he do all that? I need to download whatever he's had. Or get at least a drop of that magic elixir he must be imbibing. The Internet really provides plenty of opportunities to get a glimpse of people's intelligence and creativity.


Another smart one

Wow, smart people are popping up all over. Mad Minerva, an excellent blog, has created a satire site.

This might not sound like a big deal, but consider this: she's a graduate (doctorate?) student at Harvard, her blog has informative and interesting posts (and she posts a few per day), she has a social life, she does big-time research for her dissertation, she reads a lot of non-academic texts, and she is writing satires on the side. That's in addition to all the stuff I *don't* know about.

Either she's not sleeping or she's a high-energy dynamo. If she ever makes it as a prof, I want to be on her email list.


Quiz answers

Here are the answers for the Thanksgiving quiz:

1. False - It was in the early 1620's.

2. False - It was three days.

3. True. See the turkey post.

4. False - They only brought chests and boxes.

5. True - They ended up in Massachusetts because they couldn't get to Virginia.

6. False - Many were poor farmers with little education.

7. True.

8. True - Buckles weren't popular until the 17th century.

9. True - They were Puritans who separated from the Church of England.

10. False.


Thanksgiving quiz

Here are ten statements about Thanksgiving--true or false?

1. The first Thanksgiving feast was in the late 17th century.

2. The feast was two days.

3. They did not eat turkey.

4. The Pilgrims brought furniture with them.

5. They wanted to go to Virginia, not Massachusetts.

6. Many were highly educated.

7. Some Pilgrims lived in the Netherlands before going to America.

8. They did not wear buckles.

9. The Pilgrims were separatists.

10. They ate cranberries at the first feast.

Click here for answers. The statements are based on information at the History Channel and a Plymouth site.


At least I'm succeeding at this

Well, I've passed 32k, and will most likely be at 35k tomorrow for Nanowrimo. Why does this matter? Because there are other things I've pursued that haven't worked out, so if anything is going to be a bright spot this year, it will be this.

Not that life doesn't have bright spots, but it seems like I've seen examples of L.I.F.--Life Isn't Fair--in my life and other people's lives lately. I'm not saying that I don't have a good life, but Nanowrimo is an opportunity where you can write to reach a goal, and the 50k goal is all that matters.


Online Multilingual Bible

This is very cool! It's a multilingual Bible--you can look up a verse in four different languages at the same time! Check out the Unbound Bible.

It's unfortunate, though, that there's no Japanese, and there's only one version of Portuguese. It would be nice to have access to more modern Portuguese. But we can't have everything--I should be grateful for all the hard work they did to put it together, and all the time it took. Serious linguistic nerdiness abounds over there.

(Thanks to the Honorable Language Hat)

Where I'm headed

Here's an idea of what I have to deal with before I take the Japanese Proficiency Test (a bit of advice from an excellent study guide):

APPENDIX 2: Grammar structures that have appeared more than three times on the 2kyuu test:

kara to itte, arinagara, no sei de, okagede, ni taishite, o megutte, dake atte

…tokorode, sae, ireba, uchi ni, to itte, you ni, tame ni, kara to itte, ni kanshite wa, wake ni wa ikenai, toshitara, dakara to itte, ni hanshite, no sei ka

toshite, kara ni wa, wake, …zu ni (eg. shirazu ni), nagara mo, …mo…nara,…mo…da

toshite mo, dokoro ka, nai koto ni wa, koto ni wa, dake atte, toshite mo

You should also know mono vs. koto vs. wake (and all their various forms like kotonara vs. mononara, koto vs. koto da, etc) cold.

It looks goofy, but it's serious. I've already studied some today, and my mind is in knots from all the sample sentences.



I was reading through a bunch of bios, and their smugness and self-conscious, self-congratulatory style was too much too handle in one sitting.

How do people have the energy to write like that?


I just reached the halfway mark for Nanowrimo. Writing 50k in a month is hard. There are times when I'm in the zone and other times when I hit a wall. I've definitely learned a lot from this experience and am developing a good story idea, probably one of the better ones I've had (which doesn't mean it's well-written--it's just a bunch of haphazard scenes that are adding up to a good story concept, which I'll have to, of course, rewrite and develop better). And it looks like it's a Chick Lit type of story. I'm not a Chick Lit type, but for some reason I end up writing about such characters' desires and struggles.

Now I'll sleep until I face another day of translating and writing and studying.


Smart guy

I should have a series entitled "Smart People" because there are a lot of them out there. Like Tim Harford. He's a British economist and excellent writer. That guy's brain must be bubbling all the time, and what spills out in his book and elsewhere is both informative and entertaining. I don't know how people achieve that balance.

Here's an example:

The other day I was hurrying to lunch on somebody else’s expense account at a very nice Washington restaurant, The Oval Room. I began to fret that clad in my weathered racing green leather coat, I had as much chance of talking my way into the White House across the street as getting past the maitre’d without a jacket and tie.

Summoning up indignation in advance, I angrily asked myself why anyone would turn away the guest of a paying customer. Scruffs pay the bill the same as anyone else, so isn’t the dress code of jacket and tie commercial suicide?

Actually, the smart restaurateur, armed with the swift feedback of market forces, does what governments tend to find rather difficult: balance the competing interests of different people. Some people will pay to eat a meal surrounded by the smart set. Other people will pay to eat a meal without having to dress up. The restaurateur gets to decide whose wishes count - the snobs or the slobs.

He then proceeds to discuss economics, and I can hardly tell he is. I read an excerpt of his book, and the economic explanations were interesting and virtually painless there, too.



John Kass, who's a brave columnist for the Chicago Tribune, needs translation help:

I need your expertise in translating three frightening wordlike sounds uttered by Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday..."Djez-djez-djez!"

What? Is it some ancient curse? Something like "Rosebud"? Or is it merely the sound of a broken record?

...Some of you know that I speak at least two languages: English and Soutside. I'm also quite fluent in several Soutsidian dialects, including Bridgeport, Stickney and a smattering of Homer Township. But never have I heard anyone say, "Djez-djez-djez!" in anger.

...So please, wise and learned readers, you must translate. Send your translations to me. One of you may have the Daley Rosetta Stone. Please advise.

Well, I can't help him. But if you can, feel free to contact him. You don't need to speak Soutside--he speaks standard English very well.


Industrial yuppies

Yesterday I described Burbania, and here's another term that can go with it: Industrial Yuppies. These are the people who live in areas that used to have factories and warehouses when cities were the focus of industry. After the factories closed or moved abroad or elsewhere and the warehouses shrank or were shifted, the carcasses of those industrial buildings remained for several years until real estate developers had the slick idea to convert them to lofts, where the upwardly mobile moved.

Those people who dwell in those revitalized neighborhoods are experiencing urban life through scrubbed industrial eyes. They don't live in the obvious neighborhoods, which have existed and morphed throughout the years; they are in the new land, on the edge, where the future remains.



Here's something that people don't tend to talk about: Burbania. It's a geographical term. You've probably heard of "suburbia," which refers to the suburbs that surround cities, and of course there's the term "urban," which refers to the city.

But Burbania refers to the areas within a city where they are creating condominiums and townhomes out of existing warehouses, factories, and other industrial buildings that are no longer used for those purposes, or eager developers are building those dwellings from scratch within those former industrial zones.

In these types of neighborhoods, there aren't many, or any, stores or cafes or places to go--the people who live there have to drive their cars (or most frequently SUV's) out of their area to do or consume anything. It's as if they are creating a gritty, industrial version of the antiseptic suburbs they grew up in--they want to live in the city, but it doesn't occur to them that that they have the opportunity to walk places, which is something they probably didn't grow up doing in their suburban sprawl.

So instead of moving to neighborhoods that were intended to be that way, they buy into the urban dream to be able to tell their fearful, suburbanite friends that they live in The City, and Everything is Okay.


How to get freelance work

Even though I'm not all that excited about working at home all the time, I know that I can get even more work from companies, organizations, and/or individuals who need help. I've been working in a variety of non-salaried situations for over a decade (both at home and in-house), and I'm sure I can do that for the rest of my life. Businesses need help, but they don't want to shell out a lot of dough for benefits and they don't always have consistent work that would justify hiring someone full-time.

So if you want to find freelance work, I want to offer you some tips. I'll probably have more tips, but I might lack some brain cells today due to dream-pursuing, computer overload, and socializing.

1) When you meet someone from any type of business or organization, ask them if they need any help. You have nothing to lose by doing this. One time, before a class I was taking began, I was talking to someone who had a very interesting job in an interesting organization. I asked her if they needed any extra help there, and she said no. That's it. I didn't risk anything by doing that, and she wasn't turned off that I asked. However, another time, I was talking to someone who was complaining about all the work their company had, and I asked her if they needed any help, and she said yes. So I got the overflow and consistent paychecks. If someone says no, someone else will say yes. Guaranteed.

2) Look around you to see what businesses--big and small--need that you can offer. For instance, I know some pretty successful immigrants who can't write English that well, so I can ask them if they need me to either proofread or edit or write things for them, or even tutor them. I have something they need that they don't have.

3) Call places. This has worked for me, and again, you're going to hear "no," but eventually you'll get at least one "yes." One time I was looking for teaching work, and I opened up the Yellow Pages in the phone book and started to call every language school. Eventually I found someone who needed a teacher because another one just left. It is not scary, and you don't have to be fake or hyper or anything. Just be polite, and don't worry if they don't need someone. Just keep trying because sometimes timing can be on your side.

4) Tell people what you do. I don't mean that you should sell yourself and be pushy or obnoxious, but just let people know what you can do. And don't limit it to people who are just in your profession because you never know who they know.

5) If you're working in a situation where there are other freelancers, let them know what you are able to do, even if you're not using that skill in that environment. And then, when they go somewhere else, they will contact you to let you know about the new opportunity or will have the supervisor or workplace contact you.

Basically, I don't strive to find work because I just naturally talk to people or contact places to let them know what I can do and how I can help them. Believe me, once people know that you can do something well, they will keep using you and/or will let others know about you. Then you'll eventually have to turn the spiggot off.


No big deal

Pajama Guy mentioned my Nanowrimo pursuit, and it's really no big deal. The big deal is getting a novel published. That's why I encourage anyone who's ever thought of writing fiction to do Nanowrimo. It's still not too late to start.

If I ever get published, I can't wait to encourage and help people write--I feel like I'm learning a lot by pursuing this. The goals I had five years ago are different now, and I've become a lot more honest.

Later, after operating in the non-blog, non-fiction writing language-related world, I want to post a few tips for getting freelance work, since people have asked me about that on- and off-line.


Thank you Sony

Sometimes, nerdiness can make you feel weird. And sometimes it pays off. My interest in accents and language and other cultures led to a generous move by Sony. This is what happened:

The remote that controls both the VCR and television has never worked properly, and instead of sending it back to Sony and demanding a new one, I've called to ask them what to do. They've given me tips, which temporarily fixed it, but then it wouldn't work. I got another brand remote that worked consistently, but then one day, when I was setting the VCR to tape Startrek (which I've been overdosing on) that one didn't work either! It was a taping crisis! Startrek: TNG was going to be on in the afternoon, but I had to leave my place in the morning, and I needed to set the VCR, and the only way to do that was through a remote! Time was running out, and if I just let the VCR tape, it wouldn't get all three episodes of TNG! A major crisis in bad-weather Chicago!

So I called Sony to see if they could help me, and let them know that their products have gone down in quality, since my TV is a decade old, and it works fine, but the dumb remote has never worked consistently. The guy who talked to me had a very slight accent, as if he was from an Asian background. He sounded American and had a non-Asian name, but I bet he spoke an Asian language at home. I was guessing Chinese, but I didn't want to ask him, in case I was wrong and/or he'd be weirded out.

I told him I've lived in Japan, so I know what their quality and work ethic are like, that I wish the products were still made there, etc. When I mentioned Japan, he thought that was cool. But I could tell he wasn't a Japanese chap, so I took a chance, and just asked him if he was Asian. He asked me how I knew, and I said I'd been to Asia, I knew Asian people, blah blah. Then I asked him if he spoke another language, and he said Chinese. I knew it, and told him that I had a feeling he did.

It turns out he immigrated from Hong Kong when he was eight, so I said, "So you speak Cantonese," and he was surprised that I knew that. Basic knowledge, it seems, but not for a typical American, I guess. We talked about that and Asia and other stuff. Overall, he was impressed. I didn't mean to impress him, I was just being my nerdy self.

Well, the remote still didn't work, so he hooked me up with a higher level customer service rep, and I got another remote. For free, outside the warranty period. I called Sony back to tell them to thank the guy who originally helped me, and regretted not getting his email address. So maybe he'll find this post on the Internet and see that I still appreciate what he did.

Nerdiness helped, without me knowing it would. I was just being myself, and someone appreciated it.

So thank you Sony and the guy who gave me a break!


Not so bad

Earlier this year, I said that even though I might be a fiction failure, I got a gig helping someone with a non-fiction book. Well, it's fall now, which means it's been released.

I'm mentioning it here because I'm in the acknowledgements (my non-fiction, work name). Hopefully, the other person who wants my help with a book will contact me sometime, at least within this century. Until then, I'll happily continue with Nanowrimo, successfully working towards a goal before resuming the typical fiction dread.


What language is this?

Watch this hilarious video! You will crack up! The interviewer is laughing, but the topic must be very serious because the audience is completely silent, and a woman is wiping tears from her eyes.

What language is this, and what are they talking about it? (And did the interviewer keep his job?)

Update: It's Flemish and fake.


Thanks to Languagehat's suggestions, I've slightly modified the American Culture Quiz: the question and explanation for #6, and the explanation for #9.

Of course, it's difficult to make generalizations about cultures. These questions were created in response to non-Americans' questions, and I tried to make the quiz simple yet informative, and offer answers that reflect the most appropriate things to do.

If anyone else has any comments or questions, feel free to do so via email or here in the comments section. I'm going to create 10 more questions for a Part 2 quiz.


American Culture Quiz posted

I have created an American Culture Quiz, based on questions that non-Americans have asked me. I am working on Part 2 of the quiz, so if you have any questions about American culture, or know anyone who does, please let me know. My email address is in my profile, or you can post a comment here.

And if you are American and would like the world to know certain things about our culture, I can include that, too.


Win and lose?

I think I'm going to "win" Nanowrimo because it's all about quantity, not quality, but I'm not sure I'm going to "win" the Japanese Language Proficiency Test I'm taking in a month--yikes! One month! There's still a lot to learn, and I haven't taken any type of test since 1999, and haven't taken the Japanese Proficiency Test since 1993 (level 3). I'm taking level 2 this year, and I'll be lucky if I get half of those questions right. All that kanji and difficult vocabulary and grammar questions will be staring at me, wanting answers. I might let them down!

But I'm not worried--if I don't pass this year, I'll try again next year. This year could be considered a trial run. But it would be nice to get that sparkling certificate in the mail.


Oldest Japanese firm from Korea

I was at Languagehat, and a commenter provided a couple of interesting links.

One is a U.S. Trademark History Timeline, which starts from a cave drawing.

The other is a list of the world’s oldest family companies, "a compilation of the world’s 100 oldest continuously family-owned firms—all firms that can indisputably claim to have outlasted governments, nations, cities and certainly once-mighty corporations. All of the listed companies are at least 225 years old; four have lasted in the same family for more than a millennium."

The oldest is the Japanese temple-builder Kongo Gumi, founded in 578! There's no 1 in front of that number--it's a three-digit year!

Actually, the Kongo family is originally from Korea: "Prince Shotoku brought Kongo family members to Japan from Korea more than 1,400 years ago to build the Buddhist Shitennoji Temple, which still stands."

And in they're in their 40th generation! Imagine the parties they get invited to--serious old money going on there.


She said it

I was thinking today about lame writing advice, and the most typical is, "A writer writes." No, really? I didn't know that. People will usually say that as a smug response to, "I want to be a writer," or, "How can I become a writer?" They usually hand out a big pronouncement such as, "Well, you know, a writer writes," or, "First of all, remember that a writer writes." Obviously.

I read the same statement at Jennifer Weiner's site, where she said, "Here's a line that bears repeating: a writer writes." Luckily, she had a lot more to say and it wasn't the usual, "Be disciplined. Read a lot. Write a lot. Believe in yourself." Her advice is more specific than that.

She also said what I've been thinking for a while: it's not enough to just write and write and then consider yourself a writer just because you're writing. I think that getting published or getting paid to write is confirmation that someone is a writer. She stated it plainly:

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears, has it really fallen? If a writer writes poems and short stories and novels, but nobody ever reads them, is she really a writer? Nope. If you want to be a writer, you've got to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (not to mention evil reader reviews on amazon.com). You've got to put your stuff out there for the world to see, and fall in love with, or revile. In short, you've got to get published.

Actually, I've never read any of her books, and I'm not really interested in them, even though her writing style seems really good. Obviously I'm in the minority, since she's a bestselling author. She also seems to work really hard and cares about her readers, which is great. I'm sure I'm not the only person who'd love to achieve what she has, whether in writing or something else. She's found an enthusiastic audience for her work and she's been rewarded well for it. And, most importantly, she loves what she does and can make a living from it.


I was there

Another perk of having your own business is being able to go to events during the day, such as the White Sox Parade and Rally. I'm one of the unpictured dots off the right edge of the picture. This shot is looking north on LaSalle street, and I was standing on Wacker (the east-west street in front of the Chicago river), between LaSalle and Clark, which is east. So, my tiny image didn't make it in the picture, or any other one. However, as the team was getting on their buses to go home, a cameraman on a bus pointed his [video?] camera at me and some other people who were lucky enough to get a spot on an elevated city concrete planter, so maybe I'll turn up somewhere.

Actually, I couldn't make it to the parade because I had to teach in the morning in the suburbs (ironically, since I'm more often downtown), so I high-tailed it back downtown and made it to the rally in time to be squashed in by thousands of polite and happy Sox fans. If anything has shown me that Chicagoans can be nice, it was that rally. I was surprised that people behaved decently and no one bothered me.

You may think I'm a big Sox fan, but I'm not (a big fan, that is). I'm not even really a sports fan. But there's something about seeing the home team win that offers an opportunity to live vicariously through others' accomplishments, especially when L.I.F. (Life Isn't Fair), and we have to deal with our own defeats.


When working at home is good

I've said before that I'm not all that excited about working at home. But at least I don't have to deal with office politics.

Go to this site: there are a lot of awful, complicated office nightmares, for which the site gives advice. I've dealt with challenging work environments, but never that bad.



Light reading

I'm one of those people who reads a few books at the same time, in addition to online articles and sites. I've been working my way through Principles of Japanese Discourse, which covers Japanese rhetoric and structure.

It teaches you how to break down Japanese texts (i.e., they're not into topic sentences like we are and don't write in a linear style) so that you can understand what the heck they're saying. You may be able to understand individual words, but when they're strung together it can be confusing, especially when an essay takes a surprise turn, such as when someone is writing about doing the laundry and switches to an observation of the human condition, then goes back to describing the way suds swirl around the tank.

I highly recommend it, if you're in the mood for a heady book that undergrads and grad students would use as a part of their Japanese academic studies. It's not the kind of book that you can read through in one sitting, unlike some of the grammar-light books that are out there.

Actually, whenever I read a section of the book, I'm ready to dissect a university library or wander around a campus to instigate complex conversations.


Fly cutely!

Mad Minerva (an excellent blog) had a link to the cutest, or even the *only* cute plane in the galaxy: the Hello Kitty Jet. It flies between Taiwan in Japan, which is why the site is in multi-stroked Chinese and you can hear a high-pitched woman saying something cute, I'm sure.

But I think the Japanese Hello Kitty Jet site is even cuter--their cuteness standards are higher, after all, and they're probably the target customers for this very cute airline. Even the site's functions are cute--you can turn off the music by tapping the pink bow.

It's almost inspiring enough to change the color scheme of this blog back to pink (an experiment which lasted a few hours).


Nanowrimo is coming

Nanowrimo is happening again this year, and I might do it. I participated in 2002 and 2004 and managed to cross the finish line both times.

What's enjoyable about it is that there's no room for editing--you just write and write and write until you reach 50,000 words.

I'm sure published novelists or MFA candidates cringe at the thought of writing thousands of words in a month, but it's the time to not take yourself seriously. There's no need to worry if what you're writing is worthy enough for the PIC (Publishing Industrial Complex) or interesting enough for readers. You can write whatever you want as fast as you want to.

Last year I had a feeling of accomplishment when I finished that frivolous piece, which wasn't the same as finishing a draft or rewrite of a seriously-pursued novel that no one cares about. Usually, when things work out creatively it's satisfying, but this is both a quantitative and semi-qualitative pursuit where the only goal is to finish. And you're not alone, either.


Sox and Shangri-la

Well, the Chicago White Sox played a good game and won, and this time, I didn't see the game alone--I went to a friend's house and watched it on a big-screen tv.

And here are a couple of pictures of Shangri-la to celebrate the Sox victory--someone from China sent me the pics.


Brent's accent

I was watching Threshold, which doesn't seem like the best series, because it's just about people being taken over by aliens, and only a couple of characters seem to have an interesting chemistry: Arthur, who's a linguist (!) and seems to be an intelligent character, and Lucas.

As I was half-watching the show (since it lost my interest), I listened to Brent Spiner's accent, and wondered if he's talking like that for the character he plays or because he's from Houston, Texas. I wonder what his true accent is. I've heard him in an interview before, but I forgot what he sounded like. On the show, he has a very slight twang.

Whenever I see actors on TV or in movies, I really pity aspiring actors who haven't made it. I'm so glad I don't want to be an actor--writing is enough of a pipe dream, and there are other disappointments I've had that hardly seem to be as devastating as the pursuit of acting.

An article about Spiner says that "Like many other aspiring thespians, Spiner had dues to pay in the form of taking a job as a cab driver before launching his career off-Broadway."

But despite that hardship, he developed a nice career, but ironically "Spiner claims no particular love for science fiction and was not a big fan of the original Star Trek. He says he mainly took the job because he didn't think the new series would last and because he needed to pay a few bills...the bulk of his fame comes from being Data..."

On Startrek: TNG he doesn't have a Texas accent, and really has no discernable accent at all--it's quite flat, as if he's from Nebraska.



I was invited to a wake and a funeral earlier this week. I couldn't go to the wake, but I made it to the funeral, and couldn't help but wonder what "wake" means. It's hard to find decent information about it online, and I suspect there's a lot of misinformation out there, since it's sort of a weird word to use for a corpse lying in an open casket for mourners to view.

I found an article about false etymology on the Internet, which mentions this false explanation of "wake":

"Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey," proclaims the Internet message. "The combination would sometimes knock people out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a 'wake.'

The author, Richard Lederer, says that the correct meaning is this: "'Wake descends from the Middle English 'wakien,' 'to be awake,' and is cognate with the Latin 'vigil.' 'Wake' simply means, traditionally at least, that someone stays awake all night at the side of the casket on the night before the funeral."

A dictionary says:

an annual English parish festival formerly held in commemoration of the church's patron saint...the festivities originally connected with the wake of an English parish church...a watch held over the body of a dead person prior to burial and sometimes accompanied by festivity

I don't know if the following explanation is true, but supposedly it's part of a 19th century Scottish custom:

For several days the body was "Waked" - Members of the family, numbering 2 to 10 people, usually the young and unmarried, would watch over the body around-the-clock., to keep the spirit from falling to the Devil. Curtains or blinds were drawn until after the funeral.

Family and friends of the deceased would come and pay their last respects. Readings were made from the Bible, along with the singing of hymns, and conversing in low hushed tones. Neighbors would help by bringing extra chairs for the watchers or extra peat to help heat the house throughout the "Dead Days."

I guess if I were a historian or had access to some academic types who specialize in British history or etymology, I'd ask them, but this is the best I can do. I wonder what the real story is, if there is one.


Not just for kids

I've been working on a draft of a novel and am not exactly the most psyched person about how the story has turned out. I don't want it to be a blabber piece, where the character just talks and whines and tells us about every detail of their frustrated life, as if it's a diary entry. I think Bridget Jones has set the tone for a lot of books, and I don't want to write one of those, even though some of them have become very popular and the authors are enjoying generous advances and rewards for their hard labor.

So I did a search on "how to write a story" and came up with thousands of options. Usually fiction writing advice is vague or too complicated to be practical. It's as if the writer is lonely and wants us to join them in their garbled thinking because no one else is there.

But the advice at this site is really helpful. The site is for kids, but that's great for people like me who want clear answers instead of puffed-up words written by a self-smitten writer who's out to impress. It seems that the non-fiction world, especially business writing, has plenty of people who try their best to communicate clearly in a straightforward way, but in the fiction world, being like that is uncool or unattainable.

Here's a sampling of some of that kids site's storytelling advice:

"To keep the story interesting, the more times your hero tries and fails, the better."

This is what they say about conflict and the central problem that your character has. You have to ask:

"What is your main character's problem?
Is the problem big enough so that it will take a whole story to solve it?
Do other characters help create the problem?
Does the setting influence the problem?
What steps does your hero take to try and fail to solve the problem?"

About resolution:

"It's best if the story's hero solves the problem on his or her own...It's great if one of the hero's faults turns out to be a strength that leads to the resolution of the story."

Questions to ask about the resolution:

"How does your main character finally solve the problem?
If possible, can they solve it using their own strength or wits?"

And a general question:

"Think about a story you like.  What makes it good?  Can you identify the main character, the setting, the problem and the resolution?"

So I went through all the questions and points, and realized that I have a lot of tweaking to do. Even though I realized the lameness of what I wrote, it didn't bum me out because I have found a way to effectively evaluate what I've written instead of being more confused.


Toby's rich

Toby Young, who The Sunday Times says is "famously short and bald," often is self-deprecating in his articles and in his entertaining book, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. He openly discusses his failures and feelings of inadequacy, which makes the rest of us feel like we're not alone.

So you'd think he's struggling to get by, even though he went to prestigious schools and his dad was a lord, which is odd because his dad claimed to be working for justice and for the common man, against the oppressive class system. It often amazes me that British people who are anti-snob end up becoming lords, so they end up participating in the system they supposedly despise. Weird and borderline hypocritical.

Anyway, Toby isn't doing as bad as he thinks or leads us to believe. The Times said: "The author Toby Young has clinched an £800,000 deal to turn his bestselling memoir into a Hollywood film that producers hope will be a male version of the Bridget Jones blockbuster...Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax films, is understood to be investing £50m in the film based on How to Lose Friends and Alienate People."

And Toby managed to add a typical comment: “Anyone who hasn’t met me and then sees the film will be very disappointed when they find out what I look like."

I don't think I'd want to see the film. The book is such a good read (except for the vulgar and "typical" guy bits). I wonder if all that money makes him feel more like a descendent of a lord instead of a struggling commoner in London.



Woo hoo! The Chicago White Sox just won! It was a great game--since the first inning, I had a feeling they would win! If only I had the moolah to go to the World Series.

Da Mayor of Da Windy City is a huge Sox fan since he's from Bridgeport, which is right near Cellular Field, so let's hope he puts off the corruption for a while and gives us all a break!


Chipotle is dangerous

I just went to Chipotle to get some guacamole and chips for my husband. Every time I pass one of those places, I wonder how fattening it is since Mexican food isn't known for being the most healthy food on the planet. I've never eaten any food from there because I don't know what I would be consuming. However, just in case I were to eat some in the future, I wanted to get some nutritional information from their site.

Their site is confusing and annoying. There's a small, "breathing" graphic that you're supposed to click, and if you don't like complicated, flashy graphics or can't process them, it would take too long to figure out where to get any nutritional information. They're so busy entertaining you that you may not even be able to get past the vague menu or cutsy presentation where some information is supposed to be buried.

So I continued my search, and found a Chipotle nutrition calculator that a smart college student created. He says:

The idea for the Chipotle Calculator came when Matt e-mailed Chipotle for the nutritional information on their burritos. They replied with a PDF sheet listing the nutritional information for the individual ingredients, but it was annoying to calculate what your burrito has manually.

Being lazy, in an odd reverse-lazy kind of way, Matt decided to write up the Chipotle Calculator to make it easy to find out how healthy his burrito was. He posted a link to the calculator on a few forums accross the net, and shared it with his friends. Before long the calculator page was getting 500+ Chipotle hungry visitors every day. Because of the success of the page Matt decided to go all out, getting the domain ChipotleFan.com and re-doing the site.

It's great how people start little projects online that grow into something big and useful, which makes the doing of it and the subsequent success even more gratifying.

What I learned from the calculator is that Chipotle is very caloric, fatty food that I should avoid, unless I want to limit my consumption to one bite. Which is amazing, considering the founder of that company looks fit and healthy. I wonder if he eats his own food anymore. After all, 90% of it is owned by McDonald's.


what O' means

I found out in the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation that the "O in Irish names is an anglicisation of 'ua', meaning grandson."

So in the name O'Leary, for instance, the "O" isn't a contraction of "of", as if someone is "of" the Leary family. I'm sure a lot of people have assumed that for years.

By the way, even if you've never heard the author, Lynne Truss, speak, you can still tell that she's British due to her spelling of "anglicization".

I'll have more to say about the book, but the Sox game is on and a videotaped Startrek episode is queued up.


Welcome Bernie

I got Bernard Goldberg's latest book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, which sort of reads like a blog, since the writing style is conversational and the book is a series of entries that don't have to be read in order. You can easily put it aside for a while and return to it without feeling any disruption because it's not an ongoing narrative that has to be understood in a certain kind of flow.

I checked out his site and saw this greeting, which he wrote in March 2005: "Hello friends - and welcome to my brand new website which is being launched on the very day that my old colleague Dan Rather is stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News...I'm entering a brave new world of the Internet."

He's been in the media for like 30 years and only entered the "brave new world of the Internet" this year? What's so "new" about it that he couldn't join it earlier?

His bio says that he "is widely seen as one of the most original writers and thinkers in broadcast journalism. He has covered stories all over the world for CBS News and won six Emmy awards for his work at that network," but he never made his way to the Internet?

It just goes to show that sometimes people in the print and broadcast media work backwards, because they've already made it--they have been able to participate in high-level communication for a while, unlike tons of other folks who aspire to participate in that scene, who have to find any vehicle they can to get their name and ideas out there. So the Internet is a natural choice, since an unknown can't just walk up to an editor's or producer's desk and say, "I'm talented--hire me."

So welcome, Bernie, and any other successful person for whom this is the Year of the Internet.



I was at Toby Young's site and saw this sentence in one of his reviews: "As a piece of drama, Playing With Fire is a little cack-handed."

Toby's British, so I figured it's a common phrase over there. I went to Michael Quinion's site, where he explained that the phrase is "certainly British. It’s only obscure, though, if you’re from somewhere else, since it’s a well-known British informal term for somebody who is inept or clumsy. By extension...it means somebody left-handed, who does everything 'backwards' and so looks clumsy or awkward. It first appeared in the middle of the nineteenth century."

Quinion, who "writes about international English from a British viewpoint" is one of those lucky people who's found something really enjoyable to do with his life, as his bio shows.


Japanese newspaper words

A while ago, I found a great ESL site with all kinds of English help for non-native speakers, and within it are lists of Japanese words that are frequently used in newspapers. The words are in kanji, hiragana, and katakana.

Below are some hiragana words, which are just a fraction of what's available there:

すっかり (sukkari) all; completely; thoroughly
ふさわしい (fusawashii) appropriate
あるいは (aruiwa) or; possibly
いわゆる (iwayuru) the so-called; so to speak
あらゆる (arayuru) all; every
とにかく (tonikaku) anyhow; at any rate; anyway; somehow or other; generally speaking; in any case
けたたましい (ketatamashii) piercing; shrill; noisy; loud; clamorous; wild
かっと (katto) flare up; flying into a rage
あくまで (akumade) to the end; to the last; stubbornly; persistently
もっぱら (moppara) wholly; solely; entirely
おおむね (omune) in general; mostly; roughly
しばしば (shibashiba) often; again and again; frequently
なるべく (narubeku) as much as possible
ぱっと (patto) suddenly; in a flash; rapidly; nimbly; alertly
ひたすら (hitasura) nothing but; earnestly; intently
じっくり (jikkuri) deliberately; carefully
たびたび (tabitabi) often; repeatedly; frequently
おもちゃ (omocha) toy
わざわざ (wazawaza) expressly; specially; doing something especially rather than incidentally
いきなり (ikinari) abruptly; suddenly; all of a sudden; without warning
ぎりぎり (girigiri) at the last moment; just barely
やられる (yarareru) to suffer damage; to be deceived
なぞる (nazoru) to trace (drawing); to follow
そもそも (somosomo) in the first place; to begin with
ぶつかる (butsukaru) to strike; to collide with
ゆったり (yuttari) (1) comfortable; easy; calm; (2) loose; spacious
ともかく (tomokaku) anyhow; anyway; somehow or other; generally speaking; in any case
いかなる (ikanaru) any kind of (with neg. verb)
いかにも (ikanimo) indeed; really; phrase meaning agreement
あらかじめ (arakajime) beforehand; in advance; previously
いよいよ (iyoiyo) more and more; all the more; increasingly; at last; beyond doubt


Picard's neck

I may have mentioned it before, but just in case: I've taken it upon myself to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation because during all those seasons it was on the air, I was not watching television at the time, I was in Asia, and I wasn't into sci-fi shows. I'd heard my friend rave about the show so much, I just had to see it, so now I'm taping it every day to see what I've been missing.

People think Captain Picard is the best, and I have to agree. He's smart, strong, diplomatic, talented, curious, skillful, interesting, productive, creative, intellectual, and has other qualities I can't think of right now.

But has anyone noticed his neck? I haven't been able to find this topic online, and since I'm not a "trekkie" or obsessed Star Trek fan, I don't participate in nor care to read any message boards, so perhaps I'm not the first to discuss it.

What I've noticed is that in the first few episodes of the first season, his neck is pronounced; you can see the grooves and adam's apple clearly, and even some creases. But as the series progresses and thereafter, you can't see the details of his neck as much.

Maybe the creators of the show saw the tape and thought, "His neck isn't smooth. We need to do something about that."

So what did they do? Did they put more makeup on Patrick Stewart's neck, or change the lighting? With each show, I've tried to figure it out, but I can't. I compare his uniform to the others, but it looks the same.

These are important questions. Sure, people are suffering in natural disasters and there are wars and rumors of wars, but here in the semi-civilized world, the mystery of Picard's neck should be solved. I'm sure the answer is somewhere out there, and if I ever get to meet any of the Star Trek insiders, I'll ask them.


Mixed congee

When I was traveling around Asia, I often ate Mixed Congee, though I never ate it in Japan (it may not even exist there).

The Mixed Congee I just ate (created in Taiwan by Taisun) is made of water, glutinous rice, oats, green lentils, peas, peanuts, cereals (whatever that means), red beans, longans (don't know what those are), and sugar. It's hardly sweet, but it's sweet enough to make you feel like you're not eating anything too boringly nutritious. But it's healthy enough to turn a lot of Americans off.

In fact, I was the only non-Chinese person at the Chinese store in Chinatown, so a lot of people either looked at me or moved away. I've gone to other Asian stores--Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese--and even though I was the only non-Asian in those places, they didn't look at me amazed, like "Is she in the right place? Oh my gosh--maybe she's not! Should we tell her? No, let's just look at her."

So now when I tell non-Asians my favorite snack is Mixed Congee, I can offer them a can for them to try. If they dare.


Name dropping

I'm going to be vague about what I'm going to say because I don't want to indict any particular person, but point out an attitude that is either geographical or contemporary.

Recently, I heard someone give a talk and couldn't help but notice that they used every opportunity to drop names of successful and famous people they've met, know, or are going to know. Chicago isn't a wannabe type of place; it's down-to-earth to the point where only a small segment of the female populace cares about wearing the latest fashions or starving themselves to near-death. The person who was talking lives in LA, though I think they're not a native (as is the case with a lot of people out there).

Here's an example of what they said, with the specifics removed: "My relative was speaking at a family event, and well, my relative is a famous --- and, well, okay, I'll tell you: my relative is so-and-so."

Nobody cared about who the relative was enough to ask, but the speaker mentioned it anyway. And it just continued--at every turn, they mentioned projects they were working on, and inserted references to famous people they worked with or whose agents they "had" to contact, and even mentioned conversations they'd had with the insanely wealthy. As in, "I was talking with ---, who's the founder of ---" and they paused to see what our reaction was.

The first famous reference (the relative) seemed to impress some people, but after that, the audience just seemed to want to hear the speaker's journey, not their rich and famous laundry list.

Or maybe that's my perception, because that's how I felt. Still, I may be right because the audience didn't seem to audibly react to each reference with a gasp of, "Oh wow! We're simple-minded midwesterners, and you're a big-shot from LA who knows Everyone Who Matters! Please, let us touch you!"

After all those names were dropped, I managed to crawl out from under them to get enough air and wonder if the speaker is just a perpetually unsatisfied wannabe. They are successful--no doubt about that, but I would guess that they don't think they're successful enough, which is why they use The Names to Matter.

I know people in LA who don't drop names even though they've met famous and wealthy people, but is that name-dropping game an LA thing, or is it a product of our celebrity-obsessed culture?



Here's something you may not know about: 腹帯 (haraobi), which is described in odd English below:

From olden times in Japan, pregnant woman put a white cloth called "Haraobi" around the abdomen wishing for an easy delivery. It is quite useful to keep you balanced as well as warm. Nowadays, some people wear a maternity girdle instead of a Haraobi. But a Haraobi is easier to adjust to your size. Many Japanese visit shrines and pray a God for an easy delivery, and buy Haraobi there...After delivery, you can use your Haraobi again to regain your shape, and cut it in small pieces and use it for your baby's nappies. However, these days most people seem to be using handy disposable diapers.

Even though I lived in Japan, I'd never heard about it, and I bet a lot of other people have no idea what it is, either. There isn't much information about it in English, but you can read about it in Japanese. There's too much information to translate it here quickly, but maybe one of those online translation thingies would be decent enough.


Feast of Trumpets

Today is Rosh Hashanah, so downtown Chicago is pretty quiet. It's considered the Jewish New Year, but in Leviticus, it's called the Feast of Trumpets:

23 The LORD said to Moses, 24 "Say to the Israelites: 'On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. 25 Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.' "

That's all it says. There's no mention of a new year there. So why do people consider it a New Year? Here's an explanation:

The name "Rosh Hashana" literally means "Beginning of the Year." You may wonder how this can be, since it is called the first day of the seventh month! The reason is that the Jewish calendar is built on two cycles-the religious calendar beginning in the Spring, and the civil calendar beginning in the Fall. In the Torah, the months are never named but only numbered, beginning with the month of Nisan in the early Spring, which is the first month according to the religious calendar.

Since the source of the holiday is the Bible, I'm tempted to say "Happy Feast of Trumpets." But that will confuse people, and I wonder if they even know what any of this means.


Add the g!

It bugs me when Northerners don't add a "g" to the ends of words. Like "I'm doin' it," or "tryin' it," or "he's sayin' that..." or "the doorbell was ringin' but I didn't answer it."

It's not like people are in too much of a hurry to add the "g," they're just not being conscientious. (Or "bein' conscientious"? Maybe the missing g there is just a Southern thing).

What also seems to indicate a lack of attention is when people are talking about a past event, but they use present tense. Here's a hypothetical conversation between humans A and B:

A: I went to the store, and the lady says to me, "Is that all?" and I say, "Yeah."

B: Well I went to the gas station, and the guy's lookin' at me, like I'm crazy, because I don't have my credit card with me.

Hello! Use past tense! Sometimes people will describe an awful situation on a call-in radio talk show, and I can't help but keep track of how many times they're using the present tense to describe the past. Here's another fictitious example:

"I got home, and I walked in, and there's this guy standing there, holding a gun. It was scary. Luckily, I had my cell phone, so I call my husband and he runs in with a gun, and there's a big shoot-out, and then my husband says, 'I'm gonna kill you!' And then he kills the guy and there's blood everywhere."

You'd think that she wouldn't want to re-live such an awful experience, but by keeping it in present tense, she is. Keep it in the past, and we'll all be able to appreciate what you're saying (or sayin').

I wonder how this type of speech--the lack of a "g" and present tense for past--can be described. Is it from a lack of education and/or reading? Is it a regional thing, colloquial, or does it result from laziness?


Pete's novel

Pete Townshend has written a novel, and he's posting it on his blog, one chapter at a time.

Yes, I'm talking about the real Pete Townshend, from The Who.

He says at his blog: "What is well known is that I'm a rock star. You are not worthy etc. In fact you are worthy. And so am I. We deserve each other."

And the novel freebee isn't going to last forever: "Begins 24th September. This serial will run for 23 episodes, ending February 25th 2006."




I went out with someone I haven't seen for a while, and as we were walking to the restaurant, he said he'd checked out my site, and he'd enjoyed what he'd read. I assumed he was talking about this blog, but he meant my Metrofiction page.

I was shocked--someone had read what I wrote, and liked it? Wow. I hadn't asked him for any feedback, but he offered it to me, unsolicited. He even said it was funny, and he didn't know that I could write [so well?]. That surprised me even more, and I felt grateful.

It was just one person's opinion, but it made my day. It was interesting timing, too, because I discussed the Japanese word for "regret" in class earlier tonight, and I was thinking, "I regret a lot of things. I may even regret trying to write fiction."

But what timing--just when you think you're writing in a sealed bottle, someone comes along and takes off the cork.