Archive for the 'history' Category

On alma maters (matri? almae matres? HELP)

January 14, 2008

Flickr: cassetteject

(Note: I originally was going to post this on Scrapple Spring Rolls, but got so tied up in the language issues that I thought it might fit here.)

I graduated 6 months ago. (More than that, actually, but let’s go with the figure of 6.)So why does my school have no official record of this? Still? Now, this is less alarming than it seems, first because I have an official diploma in hand, and second because they have NO record of ANY class of 2007 graduates– no alumni or alumnae can log into their alumni page. (A rephrasing: No alumnus or alumna log into his or her page, if the lucky graduate received a degree this May.)
So, y’know, it’s not my problem and all I have to do is call them every so often and nag them about actually entering these folks’ names into their database. I now wonder if this is common, or if my alma mater is not, perhaps, as “with it” as other matres/maters. (Matrixes?!? AGH)

(Full disclosure: Latin declensions, cases, plurals and all that just confuse the bejeesus out of me. I relied heavily on Doc Durden’s Guide To Good Grammar to make this post. No wonder everyone just says “alum”–but to me, that sounds like a chemical.)

Do You Speak American?

June 5, 2007

After finding PBS’s web site for Do You Speak American? I intended to have a long post on this topic, but I’ve been browsing through the material for days and have still found no end to it.

It looks as if there was a documentary broadcast on TV back in 2005, and the producers organized all their notes and chucked them up on the ‘net. This is how journalism should be done. It is an amazing wealth of knowledge and I wish I’d known about it before. Dorks like me could spend months on a site like this.

There is too much to go into in much depth, but the site contains essays and research papers from linguists on everything from the “decline” of English to detailed analyses of American dialects. (I was especially fascinated by the section on the Lumbee, a group of 40,000 Native Americans in Robeson County, NC who use words like “mommuck” and “ellick” and are still struggling for official formal recognition from the US federal government.)  You can also read about human perception of computerized voices (high-end BMW drivers, apparently, prefer their cars to “speak” like males) and how Buffy the Vampire Slayer relates to slang. There are quizzes (What is “blue sky” and where is it played?), videos, audio clips, and a “verb conjugation machine,” where you can create verb sequences like “glide, glode, glidden” just for the fun of it.

This is really an amazing collection of information. Enjoy!

“People have been texting long before we have.”

April 18, 2007

A search for information tonight about stenography/closed captioning machines led me to a passing interest in shorthand. I never knew there were so many systems of shorthand. Eric Lee’s page, here, has an overview of some of the available systems. I’m kind of intrigued by Teeline, and there are quite a few books available on Amazon teaching the Teeline system, but what a Herculean effort it would be to wrap my mind around these squiggles!

What I would like to draw your attention to, however, is about halfway down the page: “Alphabetic Shorthand Systems.”

My friend was looking over my shoulder and saw the shorthand sentence for “The book is new and I can get it for you,” namely, “. bk s nu & i k gt i f u.” She exclaimed, “Look, that says ‘u’! People have been texting long before we have!”

She’s right. Our generation is not the first to contribute to the decline of language, hooray!

Why America is never going to meet Kyoto

March 5, 2007

Over the weekend, Bush finally laid out his plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I say finally because the report was due over a year ago. His plan is, unsurprisingly, pretty wimpy–but there are a few more plans on the table, one by McCain and Lieberman, and one by Bernard Sanders (the socialist, who, by the way, sounds like a fascinating guy) and Barbara Boxer.

This whole debacle is interesting, says a professor of mine, because we already have the technology we need to cut our greenhouse emissions to Kyoto targets or lower. This professor (let’s call him S), who’s teaching a seminar on global climate change, compares our situation now to the space race and moon landing in the 1950’s and ’60’s. Back then, we decided we wanted to go to the moon, but we had no idea how to get there. We had to develop the technology to get someone into space, and then we had to put it into practice.

Gore’s movie (which had its flaws, I’ll grant) made it perfectly clear that if we simply stepped up use of technology we already have, we could curb our emissions. Investing in clean power plants (though hydro, wind, and nuclear all have their drawbacks), more hybrid cars, more fuel-efficient cars, and so on, would be more than enough to clean up this country, CO2-wise. The one other significant factor–though I can’t find the graph anywhere online–was, I believe, advances in efficiency in homes and offices, along the lines of replacing incandescents with CFLs, installing energy-efficient appliances, weatherproofing walls and windows with insulation and double-paned glass, etc.–things you can do today! (Seriously. Go buy a CFL right now, will you?)

But I digress. The point is, unlike the space race, we already have the technology, says Prof. S. He also points out that his wife, who is from China, was shocked to see so few scientists appearing on American television. In China, she says, scientists are on the tube for something or other almost every day. Prof. S. said he told her “it’s not the America I grew up with.”

We can learn from the space race era. Why do you think there were scientists on American television in the ’50’s and ’60’s? Why do you think we were able to get a guy on the moon just eleven years after getting the first ever American satellite into orbit?


We were terrified that the “dirty Russkies” were going to get there first and do something terrible to us.

Nuclear test. Things that go boom are cool scary. Public domain image, from Wikipedia

There’s no way to “compete” against the planet itself. Not only that, but I don’t believe our culture thinks it’s appropriate to compete against other countries the way we competed against the USSR. We don’t compete–not outwardly. We “cooperate.” (No, actually, we say we’re going to cooperate and then sit around with our thumbs up our asses for decades. Hello, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Sure, there are studies published all the time about how our science students are lagging behind pretty much everyone else, but where’s the widespread panic we need to kick us into action?

Speaking hypothetically and completely off-the-wall fantastically here: If Iran developed a device that, I don’t know, fanned all the CO2 over the Atlantic to New York City, and turned each CO2 molecule into a microscopic spy camera, and, oh, throw in something to do with nukes for good measure, you can bet we’d be all over the Kyoto protocol in an instant.

Until then, we’re probably screwed.

Oh, and by the way? Recently this blog has been mostly about a) street art and b) environmental concerns (or as we cynical activists like to say, “tree-hugging hippie shit”). I promise the next post is going to shake things up a little.