BLOG 2008

Star Dreck

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People have often waxed amusing about some of the less plausible bits of the Star Trek universe. Such as why does every alien race seem to speak English. How can they communicate instantaneously over vast distances and what the heck is sub-space where radios work at a million times the speed of light? Why would a weapon have a setting for overload? What fly-by-night weapon supplier designs these things?

Forget the phasers, whatever they are, why do the computers of the future smoke and fizzle and explode when they crash? What are the Bill Gates of the next millennium up to that that would happen? Surely Vista will be debugged by then.

Then there’s the weird protocol where you send your captain and his top lieutenants down to strange planets on dangerous missions. What in the other-world are the chief engineer and head surgeon doing in these shore parties? Isn’t that what the expendable members of the crew are for? You know, characters you’ve never seen before who will likely not survive the episode.

On a related note, why do we know most of the repeating character’s first names (James Kirk, Montgomery Scott, Leonard McCoy, Pavel Chekov) except for Sulu? And how does a Japanese man have the name Sulu to begin with when there is no L or equivalent sound in Japanese?

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We don’t know Mr. Spock’s first name either, but that was supposedly because humans couldn’t pronounce it. Fine, but could there even be a half human, half Vulcan Mr. Spock? How could beings from alien worlds be genetically com­patible so as to begat children? Seems pretty unlikely. I also wonder, if this is a ship from a united world of tomorrow, where are all the Chinese and Indians since they’re about 1/3 of the world’s population?

Of course the answers to all these questions are obvious. It’s a TV show. You put the main characters in the thick of the action because they wouldn’t be the main characters otherwise. Aliens speak English because the viewing public doesn’t speak Klingon or Vulcan. Communication is instantan­eous over many light-years because the show only lasts an hour, minus com­mercial breaks. TV reality is unreal and real reality rarely makes good TV.

This is how we allow them to time travel and solve problems with totally made-up pseudo-technological gobble­degook. You know, how reversing the phase shift of anti­matter flow solves every glitch. This does lead me to one last mystery, where do they get anti-matter for their engines and what does it cost?

The Casual Sportsman

Lions Fans Rejoice, the Curse is Over!

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As every football fan knows, the Detroit Lions did what many thought impossible, losing every game of the season. Adding insult to injury in the year the organization celebrated their 75th anniversary.

So 50 years of futility goes on, and on. Some say it’s the curse of Bobby Layne who was traded to Pittsburgh 50 years ago and said the Lions wouldn’t win another championship in... 50 years. How about that.

So, take heart, Lions fans every­where. Fifty years is up and so the curse is over. We have nowhere to go but up. It can’t get any worse, can it? I can hardly wait until next year. For this year, some Lions jokes from The Curse of Bobby Layne.

The Bribe of Frankincense

myrrh

As the story goes the Magi brought to Bethlehem gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Now, gold is still pretty popular for gift giving and getting, but the other two seem to have gone out of style. I mean, I’ve never been given, or even seen, frankincense or myrrh. Still, have you ever wondered what on Earth these two substances are?

frankincense (frānk′ ən səns) noun  An aromatic gum resin obtained from trees of the genus Bowellia, used as an incense.

myrrh (mər) noun  An aromatic gum resin obtained from trees and shrubs of the genus Commiphora, used in per­fume and incense.

So basically the Magi were bringing gifts of Glade and Chanel No. 5. Which I imagine were needed as they was living in a stable at the time. Which means we’ve solved some of the mystery of what and why. But it does leave one thing unan­swered, what’s with that strange spelling… myrrh?

Latin for Big Cheese

czar

Czar, Tsar, Tzar, (zär) noun. Russian autocrat, king.

Czar comes from the Latin, Caesar. Notice how we pronounce it, see-zar. Just drop the first bit and you get Czar. The Germans also used Caesar to get Kaiser which, if I’m not mistaken, this is actually closer to the way the Romans would have said it.

Gravity Makes Things Rise

straw

It’s said that hot air rises. It’s not the heat doing it. Put an ice cube in a glass of tepid water. Which rises, the warm water or the cold ice? It’s the denser warm water pulled down by gravity that displaces the ice up. The temperature isn’t moving it, it’s density and gravity.

What’s commonly called suction is not any kind force of attraction. Air pressure on the liquid pushes it up. A vacuum can’t create a force of any kind. Think about it, a vacuum is an area with nothing in it. How is a force created if there’s nothing there to create it? You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, especially if the turnip doesn’t exist.

There is a limit to how far up a tube you can push a liquid this way, about 34 feet. At that point the weight of the liquid in the straw is too great for the air pressure to push any higher no matter how much suction you have on the upper end. That’s how a barometer works, air pressure pushes mercury up a tube with a vacuum at the top. Low air pressure pushes it less high than high air pressure. Ever hear a meterol­ogist talk about inches of mercury? That’s what they’re referring to.

In fact, if you had a straw that extended all the way out of earth’s atmosphere into the vacuum of space you couldn’t get liquid up the straw any higher. And that’s a whole lot of vacuum, a universe of suction. Maybe you could turn this Straw To Space into a curiosity, a tourist attraction. That’s a different type of highly unscientific attraction though. How much drawing power that would have is hard to determine.

The Nutty Notion of Peanut Allergies on the Rise

peanut

Perhaps you’ve heard the rate of peanut allergies is growing. Maybe it was even reported on the news. Yet, when you know the report’s basis, you get a different picture altogether. That’s because they’re not medical exams, but non-medical surveys of parents.

These surveys found the percentage of parents who believe their children have food allergies increased over the past decade. Five times more parents report their children have food aller­gies than actually do when tested. The rate of parent-perceived food hyper­sensitivity (54%) is much, much higher than assessed cases (1.2%).

For 2005 the Center for Disease Control reported 2.5 million deaths in the U.S., of which 11 people died from a food allergy, with the number from peanuts unknown. Do the math and you can see peanut allergy-related deaths are extremely rare.

Peanut allergies are not increasing, though the discrepancy between perceived and actual food allergies is. Meaning the true increase is in parental peanut paranoia.

Happy Masked Extortion Day

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Happy Halloween and all that rot. It’s a holiday celebrating… what exactly? Ghouls, ghosts and things that go bump in the night. It’s fun, but essentially meaning­less to most of us. Still, there is a couple things that leave me scratching my scalp.

Kids prowling darkened streets clamoring for candy with the magic words “trick or treat.” Any other night of the year showing up at someone’s front door in a mask demanding goodies or else would be looked at with an unkindly eye. What this boils down to is a festival of extortion for sweetmeats.

Now then, what’s with the costumes folks wear nowadays? What’s so scary about a fairy princess, a bunny rabbit or a Spongebob Squarepants? When did it become a masquerade party? Stranger than that, some people sup­pose it’s clever dressing up as non-beings like dirty laundry, a potted plant or somesuch. Huh? Where are all the witches, spectres and ghastly undead that should be wandering the Earth on All Hallows Eve?

Infrequently Answered Questions

Rat Race Against Time

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Q: Is it true time is money? I don’t get paid by anyone for most of my time.

A: Yes, time is money. This is obvious to any wage-earner being paid by the hour. And when paying a repairman by the hour, painfully obvious. Though we always say time is money, being equal means we could put it the other way round, money is time. (You don’t need to be a math major to see if a=b then b=a.) So, what’s the difference, you ask? Think of it like this, you work to get money, but if you had money you wouldn’t need to work. Money buys you leisure time, or retirement.

We tend to think about what some­thing costs in dollars and not in time. People don’t like wasting time, but they don’t mind wasting money even though the saying says wasting money is wasting time. Every dollar wasted today is a dollar less for retirement.

Think we aren’t wasting buttloads of money every day? A 16oz bottle of drinking water for a buck equates to eight dollars a gallon. For water, for crying out loud. A daily four dollar fancy coffee costs almost a thousand dollars a year. Fast food lunch, $6; home-made lunch, $1. Hey, they don’t call us consumers for nothing. We’re living a Will Rogers gag line…

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”

Calendar Changes for Better and Worse

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Happy New and Leap Year. The calendar is going to be a bit different this year with that extra day tacked on the end of February. Not a big deal really, unlike the way it’s been tampered with in the past.

For instance Julius and Augustus Caesar each named a month after themselves, immodestly enough. Name your very own month, now THAT’s power. Your face on money, the populace shouting, “Hail!” and rendering things unto you all about. That sort of thing could really go to your head, if being a living god wasn’t ego boosting enough. They even forced these months into summer when the weather was nice and sunny. That’s why December, which means tenth-month in Latin, is the 12th month these days.

Imagine if this sort of calendar fiddling business was still being done by the lord high muckety­mucks of our time, say for instance by American Presidents. In that case, New Year’s would be on Georgeuary 1st. Groundhog day would fall on Billuary 2nd. Then we’d have another Georgeuary in which spring would spring. The first day of the next month would be Ronpril Fool’s day. After that come the flowers of Jimmay, grads and dads of Jerrune. Happy Fourth of Dickly, everyone.

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Way back when some French Revolutionaries dreamed up a decimal calendar to replace the current one. (They can also be credited with, or blamed for, the metric system.) Of course 365 days doesn’t exactly divide by 10 very neatly, but that sort of untidiness wouldn’t trouble folks who squelched dissent by removing the offending tongue, head and all. So the extra days were for one long New Year’s party. You’ve got to hand it to them for that, unless they’re handing you your head on a plate.

Forget all that. I’m satisfied with the calendar as it is. So happy New Year and all that this January 1st, 2008. And happy Leap Day this coming February 29th. I’ll see you in Thermador. If I can figure out when that is.

The Casual Sportsman

Best Bike Racer by a Long Shot

Merckx

Forget Lance Armstrong, Belgian Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx was the best bicycle racer by a wide margin. In 1969, Merckx, in his first Tour de France, pulled off perhaps the greatest feat in the sport’s history winning the yellow jersey, the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey, the sprinter’s green jersey and all three time trials. These days, it’s unthinkable to with both the green and mountain polka-dot jersey in the same tour.

In his career, Merckx won the Tour de France five times and won 35 stages:

1969 - Won Tour, King of Mountains jersey and green jersey
1970 - Won Tour, King of Mountains jersey and eight stage wins
1971 - Won Tour, won green jersey
1972 - Won Tour, won green jersey
1974 - Won Tour

In 1971, Merckx won 54 of 120 races. Between 1969 and 1973, he won 250 of 650 races. During his professional career, he won 445 of the 1,582 races he entered. That’s a lot of racing and an amazing win percentage. Nobody else has even come close. One thing I don’t get, what is with the spelling of his last name? Merckx?

Three Card Monte Math Which May Surprise You

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Let’s say you’re trying to pick one winning card out of three offered face down. You pick one. The dealer turns over one of the unpicked cards, a loser, and offers you the chance to switch your choice between the two remaining face down cards. Should you do it?

Most people would imagine a switch doesn’t matter, figuring the odds are 50-50 either way. It might surprise you to know if you switch you improve your chances of winning. Given this scenario, the answer is, yes, you should always switch.

Here’s why: From the start there are three possibilities, you either selected the winner, you selected one of the two losers, or you selected the other loser.

Scenario one: You selected the winner. The dealer turns over one of the two losers and asks you if you want to switch your choice. You switch your choice from the winner to a loser. You lose.


Scenario two: You selected the first of two losers. The dealer turns over the remaining loser and asks if you want to switch your choice. You switch your choice from the loser to the winner. You win.


Scenario three: You selected the second of two losers. The dealer turns over the remaining loser and asks if you want to switch your choice. You switch your choice from the loser to the winner. You win.


By switching you improve your odds of winning from one in three to two out of three. That’s because two out of three times the dealer in turning over a card has a constrained choice, he can only turn over a loser. Since two out of three times you chose a loser, the two remaining cards are a winner and a loser. Therefore, the dealer will turn over the loser and the unchosen, unturned card will be the winner two times out of three. Switch and you win.

Of course, no three-card monte street dealer will offer you that choice. I can’t calulate the odds on win­ning such a game. It’s a scam. The odds on getting a good deal on swamp land are… Well, you can guess.

Folk “Wisdom”

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Potatoes with skins are more nutritious than without. But not for the reason one might think. Potatoes cooked in their skins are better because the skin acts as a barrier to keep the goodies in the white bit from leaching out during cooking. Like most plant foods, the skin, shell, rind, husk, whatever, is a protective layer comprising the plant’s natural defense. This defense includes natural toxins to discourage bacteria and whatnot. This makes the skins the more dangerous part, though the levels are too low to harm you.

If you boil potatoes in their skins they’ll be more nutritious, but not if you cut them up first. You should always bake potatoes in their jackets because, well, they just don’t work without them as they fall apart. Which makes it something akin to cooking beans on a grill. I suppose you might manage it somehow, but the results likely won’t satisfy.

What Toppers Tell Us

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Wizards wore cone hats, or so goes the cliche. Conical hats don’t seem fashionable nowadays, if they ever were. Then again, headgear in general, other than baseball caps and stocking caps, have pretty much gone the way of monocles, spats and white gloves. Sorry, Mr. Peanut.

Sporting a cone atop your bean makes you magical, somehow or other. Witches wore them, right? Either that or it makes you a dunce. At any rate it’s rather a peculiar fashion statement. The statement being “I’m magical, or an idiot.”

Some hats are associated with a calling or profession. There’s a couple other throwback bits of haberdashery which are rather odd-looking in my view. Chef hats and mortarboards. I suppose we can blame the French for the first, which at least serves the purpose of keeping the cook’s hair out of the food.

As to mortarboards as worn by college folk, how festooning your noggin with a square plate is supposed to make you look brainy is a mystery. If that look weren’t goofy enough, what about that tassel dangling over the edge. Whether on shoes or on stripper’s pasties, tassels are just silly-looking on anything other than drapery or flags. Even then.

Infrequently Answered Questions

We Go to the Tape…

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Q: Why do people call that ugly, gray tape “duck tape”? They aren’t taping up ducks with it. Shouldn’t it rightly be called “duct tape”?

A: Actually, no. This tape is not intended to be used on duct work, and really shouldn’t be. It’s rightly called duck tape because it’s supposed to be waterproof. You know, sheds water like off a duck’s back. I believe it was developed by 3M for the military around World War II. That’s where the name comes from.

Proper duct tape is silvery, metallic and quite different. Why duck tape is an ugly gray I couldn’t say. Maybe it’s camouflage, battleship gray. So the enemy, and maybe the crew, couldn’t tell the ship was held together with tape.

Add To Your Fauxcabulary

zzyzzyzee

zzyzzyzee (zĭz′-ə zē) noun. One of a series of letter zees indicating snoring in a cartoon.

Admittedly, you won’t find this word in a standard dictionary, or a non-standard one either. I made it up out of thin air as it were. For no good reason other than to coin the last word listed in an English language diction­ary. Why not? Somebody has to do it. Not that I expect it will ever make it into standard usage. But a guy can dream. And dreaming and zzyzzyzees just rather go together.

By the by, outside the US they say zed and not zee for the 26th letter of the alphabet, so it would be a zzyzzyzed.

Infrequently Answered Questions

The Name’s Chuck, Wood Chuck

woodchuck

Q: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A: That depends on the size and strength of the woodchuck and what species of wood the woodchuck would chuck. Also, what the heck chucking wood would entail exactly. Like tossing a caber as Scotsmen would do in Highland games or what? While a big, burly MacGregor would chuck wood this way I would suspect a woodchuck wouldn’t or couldn’t.

On the other hand, how many pecks of wood would Woody Woodpecker peck if Woody Woodpecker would peck pecks of wood?

Infrequently Answered Questions

Call It Land and It’s Not Dirt Cheap

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Q: What’s the most under-rated thing ever?

A: I’d have to say dirt. People hate it. They don’t want it in the house, on their clothes or in their food. Some­thing next to worthless is called dirt cheap. Someone next to worthless is considered lower than the dirt beneath your feet. Being a rat is bad enough, being a dirty rat is worse.

Where would we be without dirt? Farmers couldn’t farm without it. Your yard would be nothing but rocks and astroturf. After all, grass doesn’t grow on trees. Dirt makes the world go round, in fact dirt makes the world. We should all drink a toast to dirt. Here’s mud in your eye.

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Have a Power Plant in the Garage? Dense Plasma Focus Fusion

There’s a lot of talk about alternative energy these days. Much of alterative energy is solar energy in some form. Photovoltaics entail direct conversion; hydro and wind are indirect via the weather; biofuels from plants by way of photo­synthesis.

There are many combustion fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas) in the earth. These energy sources aren’t free, it takes energy to extract, refine, and transport them. They’re bulky and dirty. Fission reactors generate radio­active waste. Still, they represent very dense sources of energy.

Alternatives are pretty diffuse. You need a lot of windmills or a lot of solar panels to generate electricity. Plus you can’t always rely on the wind blowing or the sun shining. Actually the sun always shines but those pesky clouds some­times get in the way. At night the earth itself gets in the way. There are only so many rivers to dam for hydro. I could go on, but the point is all the known and currently used energy sources have downsides in one form or another.

It’d be great if we could find a concentrated alternative alternative energy source. Perhaps they have. To be specific, dense plasma focus fusion. There are a few different approaches to this. One which seems to show promise is that of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc. I could try to explain it, but I’m no plasmacist, or whatever it would be.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics

Video: How a Plasma Focus Works

There are several advantages to LPP’s method: clean, small, safe, cheap. The fuel is plentiful, non-radioactive hydrogen and boron. There’s no radioactive waste, the main byproduct is helium. The process generates no particulates, smoke, or any of that. Their method generates electricity directly rather than by producing heat to generate steam so there’s no need for large, expensive turbines. A generation station will fit in a two-car garage. As it runs on controlled pulses there can be no runaway thermonuclear reaction.

plasma2

These clean, small, safe power plants can be located close to end users. A factory or skyscraper can house its own power source. Power grids would become smaller and easier to operate. On top of all that, electrical generation cost is projected to be about a tenth or less of that from combustion fuels.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, right now it is because they haven’t made it work yet. But it’s all based on established electrical and plasma science, not untested theories. How close are they? Check out the links and judge for yourself.

Oops, That’s Funny

contretemps

contretemps (kŏn′ trə-tŏn) noun, An inopportune or embarrassing occur­ance, a mishap.

In other words, the description of half of all sit-com humor and slapstick as well as 90% of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Can you say pratfall, crotch-hit, Freudian slip, or fart? How about Oops!? Of course, as Mel Brooks tells us, when it happens to you it’s tragedy. When it happens to someone else it’s comedy.

Like a Circular Mohawk

tonsure

tonsure (tŏn′ shür) noun 1. The act of shaving the top or crown of the head, especially as a preliminary to becom­ing a priest or monk. 2. The part of a monk’s head so shaven.

How the voluntary bald spot caught on is something of a mystery to me. Can’t imagine it was to look cool or stylish, those things being eschewed by ascetics. Maybe it was supposed to make you look old and wise, when looking old and wise was a good thing. Then again, could have been a sort-of hair halo or something.

Whatever it was intended for, it seems to have gone out of style even for monks.

Dangerous Hot Air

There is a great deal of mis­un­der­standing about how global warming really works. It’s a highly complex and confusing phenomenon which the great unwashed like myself have a hard time dealing with. The problem is the common mistake of confusing the role of CO2 with that of the similar-sounding C.O. TUBE. Here’s how it really works in a nutshell.

The sun blows on the Earth with what is called the solar wind. Normally this is not a problem because we can all use the warmth and energy. However, because of industrial­ization due to out-of-control capitalism, humans have inadvertently overdeveloped a sort-of virtual tube made of congealed air pollution coated with Alar on the far side of the planet. This is the Cosmic Orifice, or “C.O. Tube.”

MGW

This C.O. Tube collects the growing consensus of man­made greenhouse gasses and combines them with second­hand smoke which shoot out through this tube into space. This creates a kind of rocket propul­sion pushing the Earth closer to the sun and hence creates the global warming we’ve all heard about. This melts the polar ice cap, flooding Antarctica and giving us sunburn and skin cancer to boot.

The greatest danger, denied by irresponsible scientists and under-reported by the media, is as the Earth’s orbit grows closer to the sun we will eventually collide with Venus. This will mean the end of reality as we know it and put the kibosh on all progressive plans for a corn-fed, smoke-free future. (You may not believe it, but I polled my friends and nine of ten agreed. It is therefor 90% certain to be true. Or at least 90% true or maybe true 90% of the time.)

What can we do about this? Frankly, I don’t know. All the same, the petroleum-tobacco complex is doing absolutely nothing to rectify the situation, all the while raking in billions in profits, mainly from oblivious, chain-smoking SUV drivers. Sad, but true.

Why It’s America and Not Columbia

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Columbus didn’t discover the New World. At least not in his own mind as he thought he had landed on some outlying islands and peninsulas of Asia.

America was named after explorer Amerigo Vespucci, or rather the Latin­ized version of his name, Americus. Funny thing was, this was never done formally. There was no system for naming continents as nobody thought there were any unknown continents which needed naming.

Mapmakers and printers attached the name America on their latest works showing the New World. These maps were best sellers and widely copied so the name just stuck by default.

Rather appropriate South America is named after Vespucci as he figured out it was a large new land mass and not an island or peninsula. He did so because of the outflow of fresh water into the ocean from the Orinoco River which could only be from a large watershed.

Why they used the first name and not the last, I don’t know. If they had, I’d be living in the USV, United States of Vespuccia.

Fruity Propaganda

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An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Which might mean an apple at every meal will repel Dr. House’s entire staff. If everyone in the country ate apples every day we wouldn’t have any doctors at all! Then where would we be? Can an apple write a prescrip­tion or take out your appendix? Where do apples send these doctors away to?

What fruit keeps interns at bay? Will pineapples stop nurses in their tracks? Do chiropractors fear bananas or cumquats more? What I’d most like to know, what fruit will ward off a coroner? Lastly, what would happen if a doctor ate an apple?

Infrequently Answered Questions

Starts With Two

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Q: Why is there no channel one on broad­cast TV? Why does it start at two?

A: For the answer we must go back in the mists of ancient history before cable TV, before color TV, before UHF TV, when everything was analog and TVs were the size of a jukebox and packed with glowing vacuum tubes. In other words before most of us were born.

At first there was a channel one. Then UHF came along and they needed a place on the dial to switch the TV’s receiver to UHF which had its own separate knob. They wedged that into the channel one spot and whatever was there before moved up the VHF dial to another number. In many cases this was NBC going from channel one to four.

On TV sets these days there are no separate dials for UHF and VHF, or dials with fine tuning rings around them at all. With our push-button remotely controlled modern TVs we really don’t know we change from one spectrum to the other past channel 13. On cable there’s no difference at all. And with DTV we can get several signals on the same frequency if the broadcaster compresses the signal. So you can have channels 2.1 and 2.2 and 2.3.

All the same there still won’t be a channel 1, or 1.1 or 1.2…

Ova, Not Eggs, Although…

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Sergei Federov and Anna Kornikova were the hot sports couple once upon a time. I don’t mention this because I’m a gossip hound or so much interested in celebrity news. I bring it up to point out something interesting about the last names, if this sort of thing interests.

It’s the “ov” ending of Federov and the “ova” ending of Kornikova. If Sergei were a girl his/her last name would be Federova and if Anna were a guy she/he would be Kornikov. It’s a weird Russian thing where the last name has a masculine and feminine version. I don’t know of any other folks who do this.

Check it out for yourself. There are no Russian NHL players with the “ova” ending and the women tennis stars have it. Well the Russian ones with that sort of name, at any rate.

Infrequently Answered Questions

Inflate Away!

inflateaway

Q: Why does the Government encourage inflation?

A: They believe they can inflate our way out of debt. That is, repay loans with currency worth less than the currency borrowed. While this seems to work in theory, does it work in practice? The US saw double-digit inflation through­out the 1970s yet we were deeper in debt by decade’s end. Maybe we did it wrong, or maybe the theory is wrong.

Inflation results from increasing the ratio of currency supply to production. In our fiat money, fractional reserve banking system the currency supply increases by increasing lending, which is to say increasing debt. So the theory is you can get out of debt through inflation which you get by increasing debt. Or more succinctly, you reduce debt by increasing debt. Seems to be a disconnect there.

Maybe inflating away debt doesn’t work so well in theory after all. Or as Yogi Berra is supposed to have said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

Be Be Irregular

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Language doesn’t always make sense. Especially the way some people use it. What I’m really referring to, though, is some rules of grammar that don’t seem to add anything to help understanding. Specifically the way the noun changes the verb. Take for instance…

I am, you are, he is, they are.

Am, is and are all mean the same thing really, to be. Why three words meaning the same thing? If we change to past tense…

I was, you were, he was, they were.

Now there’s only two forms of the verb. One for I and he, another for you and they. Then again, if we have a different verb…

I run, you run, he runs, they run.

In this case I, you and they go together and he has another form. Where’s the consistency in all this? The topper is when we go to past tense…

I ran, you ran, he ran, they ran.

It’s the same for everybody! Which means you really don’t need a differ­ent verb for different nouns, the noun differentiates itself by itself. Of course, it could be worse. We could have gender as other languages do which change the article as well. In English this might be something like…

The children are, da boy is, la girl be.

What a mess that is. It adds nothing as far as I can tell. I’m pretty sure we can tell a girl is feminine without the feminine lead-in or verb after the fact. What’s the point?

Infrequently Answered Questions

You Don’t Want to Know

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Q: Why is ignorance bliss? Are stupid people all that happy?

A: Couple things, wise can mean two different things, and the quote you refer to is rarely cited in full.

wise (wīz) adj. 1.having wisdom. 2. knowing, informed.

With both meanings in mind, here is the full quote:

“Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”
From Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College by Thomas Gray

If you use definition 1 it’s saying ”Where it’s folly to have wisdom…” On the other hand, definition 2 means something else altogether, “Where it’s folly to be informed…” It’s the second meaning Gray is using. What we have is the literary version of plausible deniability. Or possibly something in the way Jack Nicholson is often imi­tated for saying, “You can’t handle the truth!”

You can also see that having the full quote, rather than the usual truncated, “ignorance is bliss”, makes a big difference as well. I rather imagine the Sir Thomas would agree with Dean Wormer from Animal House, “Son, fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.”

There Used to be Rubber Coated Houses

latex

Latex paint is the house paint of choice for most folks now-a-days. Latex is rubber. So, are we covering our walls with colored rubber? Not really. If you notice, on some cans of paint it says, “acrylic latex.” Acrylic is plastic. Latex paint is actually synthetic rubber paint.

The first latex paints were real latex, rubber. But you’ll have a hard time finding any real rubber paint these days. In fact, you’ll have a hard time finding much of anything around the house that is real rubber rather than a synthetic. Maybe the only actual rubber is the eraser on the end of your pencil. Which would be apt because that’s where the term rubber comes from. An eraser erases by rubbing away the graphite on the paper. Hence an eraser was called a rubber and the word eventually came to apply to the latex material itself.

Infrequently Answered Questions

Without the Gory Details

cat

Q: They say there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Is there much demand for skinned cats? How many ways are there to skin them?

A: What with the anti-fur crowd and Peta these days, demand for skinned cats is at an all-time low. Which should mean a lot more cats, and there are. But only house cats as big cats, wild cats are sadly on the decline. Some house cats are skinned after they die and stuffed in the practice of taxidermy. The real question, to me anyway, is not how many ways are there to do it, but why.

War News is Hell

press

Strained relations between the military and the press are nothing new. Just consider this quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman during the Civil War:

“I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast.”

Said Just the Way It Sounds

quixotic

quixotic (kwĭk sä′ tək) adj. Caught up in the romance of noble deeds or unob­tainable ideals; romantic without regard to practicality.

This is an eponym after Don Quixote, the man of La Mancha who was prone “To dream the impossible dream. To fight the unbeatable foe” as the lyrics go. Quixote is pronounced kee-HOE-tay but we don’t say kee-HOE-tik for quixotic. Must be an Anglicizing of the Spanish original.

The story of Don Quixote is also where we get the phrase “tilting at windmills” which means the same thing as quixotic. Tilting in this instance means jousting, thrusting with a lance and not leaning or tipping. Hey, look it up for yourself.

Cleopatra Was Not African

cleo

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra? Don’t scoff, it isn’t a far-fetched bit of casting.

There seems to be a tendency now-a-days to imagine Cleopatra was exotic-looking, a bronzed beauty of sorts. I presume in a belief this is historically accurate, her being Egyptian, African. This, however, is historically inaccurate.

Cleopatra was part of the Ptolemy dynasty which took the throne of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great who had conquered it. The Ptolemys were not Egyptian, they were Greek and pretty much stayed Greek through familial intermarriage. Even going so far as to marry brother and sister in the mistaken belief that this was an Egyptian tradition. Just trying to go native, but never so far as to become Egyptian in bloodlines.

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