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|Saturday, January 26th, 2013|
|My dissertation abstract, using only the thousand most common words in English
With thanks to dr_whom for the idea.
I looked at a group of beautiful written works by a great man who lived in the middle ages, on the other side of the world. I was hoping to find out whether he used the same writing plan in lots of different works of writing. I found out that sometimes he did
He would often put words like "Oh!" at the very beginning of his works. After the first line, I found words like "Oh!" much less often. This was true in both short and long works.
At the same time, he would often put words like "like" and "as", and words like "if", close to the ends of his short works. If you start at the beginning of a short work, you find words like "if" and "like" more and more often as you go towards the end. On the other hand, in long works, while you don't see words like "if" and "like" at the beginning, you don't see them more often in the end than in the middle
I also found that he uses some words more often in some kinds of writing, and other words more often in other kinds. One way this happens is that he uses words like "like" very often when writing about drinking parties, but not very often when writing about love. On the other hand, he uses words like "if" very often when writing about love, but not very often when writing about drinking parties. It turned out that if he used a kind of word often (or not often) in writing about love, he would also use that kind of word often (or not often) in writing about God. At the same time, if he used a word often (or not) when writing about drinking parties, he would also use that word often (or not) when writing about beautiful things. And so on.
Now you might ask, why should we care where someone puts words like "oh" or "like" in his writing? We care because this person, like many others, lived a long time ago and far away. Because of that, it can be hard for us to understand his art. When we see how this man (and others) usually wrote, we can learn about what the people who read his work as he wrote it were expecting to read. When he wrote something different from that, probably the person reading would be surprised. When we know that, we can read these works with some idea about what the man who wrote it meant us to feel as we read it.
So, at the end of my paper, I look at some of his works of writing, and use the things I learned to try to understand what he would have wanted us to think as we read each one.
|Thursday, August 9th, 2012|
|Ancient World History?
I'm trying to learn about Ancient World History in the next few weeks, in order to teach a class about it in the fall. I'm hoping to supplement the textbook with lots of exciting and interesting stuff, and to read broadly enough in the subject that I feel confident that I know a whole lot more than my 6th graders do :-)
So I'm looking for book recommendations. I don't need a graduate-level mastery in order to teach 6th grade, and I don't really have the time or energy to read massive monographs. What I'm looking for is compelling, substantive reads that shed light on pre-renaissance cultures around the world. And I should say: well-researched historical fiction is absolutely fair game; my class is a combination of English and History, and therefore intersections between history and literature are actively interesting.
I'm currently reading A History of the World in 100 Objects, which I think I first learned about over lj from yaleartificer. It's exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. It spins out museum artifacts into multi-stranded narratives that show how people's lives and attitudes have changed over the last 2 million years while identifying common threads and recurring themes.
Oh erudite friends' list, please tell me what I should read after I finish this book!
|Sunday, October 16th, 2011|
I've got 4 eggs in my refrigerator right now. Upon conclusion of today's tea party, I expect to have 1/2 an egg + 2 egg whites left over.
I wonder what on earth you're supposed to do with half an egg and 2 egg-whites.
|Friday, October 14th, 2011|
There's quite a lot of Karoke of broadway songs on youtube. Just type in the name of your song, and "karaoke".
My life has just been changed for the better.
|Thursday, April 21st, 2011|
|Vote in my dip contest!
Looking for interesting ideas for food to eat during Passover, now that that the matzoball soup and charoset are gone? Alternatively, looking for an excuse for a theme party over the weekend (with the bonus that your observant-ish Jewish friends will actually eat the food)?
Head over to the Matzah Dip
blog, make the submissions listed there, and invite your friends over to try them out. Having done the contest with my local friends this evening, I can personally attest to their deliciousness on matzah and their variety.
Winners and prizes will be announced on the evening April 26th, after the end of Passover.
|Monday, April 11th, 2011|
|Last call-- awesome stuff to eat on Matzah!
Passover's coming right up. It's not that I'm incapable of coming up with a bunch of dip/spread submissions on my own, but I feel certain that the collective ingenuity of the body politic has not yet been exhausted.
So if you have any ideas for a dip or spread, which satisfies the passover kashrut requirements and would make matzah taste delicious, head over here
and post the recipe. And when we've collected up a list, you too can try them all out next week and vote on the best one.
|Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011|
|Matzah Dip Contest
In the last week or so, I've noticed that the upcoming Passover has gotten close enough to start planning for. I like to take Passover as a culinary challenge, an opportunity to get out of the comfort zone of foods I make all the time and get creative. In that spirit, I'd like to proclaim a contest.
One staple of my Passover experience has always been the "matzah with dip" snack. Charoset, of course, is the traditional dip to eat with matzah. I love charoset dearly, and the fact that I don't eat it most of the year makes it special, but after a few days even charoset starts to get monotonous. So I'm calling for submissions. Head over to the contest blog at http://matzahdip.blogspot.com
, and post a recipe for a passover-kosher dip to be eaten on matzah (the dip should also be vegetarian, because I'm the one running the contest so I can impose my own arbitrary requirements on the proceedings). Come Passover (April 19th-25th), I'll make every dip recommended, invite some local friends over to sample them with matzah, and post our collective reviews on the blog, along with votes for which dip is the best. Suitable first, second, and third place prizes will be awarded on the basis of originality, deliciousness, and replicability by an amateur cook with a job, a social life, and a bunch of other dips to make in the course of eight days.
If you want to participate and don't happen to live near me, don't let that stop you! You can join in the fun: make the dips posted yourself, host a gathering or eight during Passover, and record your accumulated votes and any comments over at http://matzahdip.blogspot.com
, in the space provided If you know other people who'd like to submit a recipe or participate in the cooking/tasting/voting, point them in this direction.
|Sunday, January 9th, 2011|
Lightning Strikes the Tree
The oak tree stands still
Grown outwards from a stable seed
Deep from the earth, up to the heavens
Its way is not to journey, but to know
To be itself, forever, immutable.
The lightning flashes
Glorious and brief
Its being is its change
The lightning meets the oak tree
But they cannot both exist together.
The lightning stops, and the great tree falls.
Not bad for 10 minutes on a prompt. The fact that writing poetry makes me so happy when I'm forced to write it makes me think I should put myself in situations where that happens more often.
|Wednesday, March 17th, 2010|
I've been starting to keep a journal of things I'm reading, with reviews for each one. This turns out to be really fun, partly because I enjoy writing the reviews and partly because it's satisfying to see the books accumulate (and I have been reading more in the last semester or so that I had been for years before that, I think, which is really nice). As I was looking over the list, it struck me that 6 of the 7 books I've written up have female protagonists. I think of female protagonists as being somewhat unusual for genre fiction, so I found this pretty surprising, especially given the subgenre breakdown of the 6: 1 military sf, 1 distopian young adult adventure sf, one alternate history, 1 paranormal family-deconstruction, and 2 classic fantasy.
In other news, the first run of the Rome RPG was over the weekend. It was lots of fun, and my first foray into GMing a tabletop failed to collapse horribly. I'm considering writing up accounts of what happened in each session and posting them here under a cut, but I think I don't want my players reading my perspective on what happened, and it seems rude to filter them out and then talk about it behind their backs :-)
|Thursday, February 4th, 2010|
|My current obsession
I've found no shortage of ways to fill my free hours since moving to DC, including but not limited to: cooking, chamber music, Gilbert & Sullivan, Princess Tutu, bridge, Kill Dr. Lucky LARP, Aaron Sorkin shows, HBO's Rome, and, of course, underlying all of the above, awesome friends. But my current obsession is a tabletop RPG campaign I'm hoping to start running at the beginning of March. The PCs are a special projects team assigned to the Roman governor of the province of Judea in about 60 CE. I'm taking some liberties with the timeline and adding a little bit of magic (demon summoning!) but the straight history is supplying no shortage of inspiration.
The political situation in Judea is awesomely complicated. The province is governed by a Procurator, who answers to the Governor of Syria but is appointed centrally from Rome. He shares power with the pseudo-hereditary Jewish King (a descendent of Herod), who has strong ethnic ties to the Jewish people but a close personal relationship with the imperial family (he was raised in the household of the emperor Claudius, who was close friends with his father). Interestingly, the procurator (a non-Jew) is married to King Agrippa's sister. Meanwhile, the high priests of the temple are forces to be reckoned with, except that they keep on getting replaced every couple of years or so (I think by the Jewish king), and the Sanhedrin, a council with responsibility for determining Jewish ritual practice, is riven by splits between the Pharisees and the Sadducees that encompass both questions of assimilation and questions of interpretation of scripture. The early Christians are struggling with whether or not they're still Jews, the Essenes reject the legitimacy of the priesthood outright, and the various Zealot groups are plotting to oust the Romans by force.
Enter our intrepid heroes, who are trying to keep the peace, uphold law and justice, and further Roman interests in the area, in addition to their presumed personal objectives. History has set the stage for intrigue and moral dilemmas, which are two of my very favorite things...
I've devised a mechanical system for the game which I hope will satisfy some of my enduring quibbles with other systems I've played with. Obviously this part is not my strong suit, and the only reason I've got the chutzpah to design my own system is that I don't expect it to be used very much. This game should involve very little combat, which helps a lot (I don't like combat, so that works out nicely). The two things I need mechanics for, then, are (1) to introduce enough randomness that PCs don't feel as though the game is entirely deterministic; and (2) to simulate those aspects of a character that the player can't or doesn't want to simulate. The randomness is built around a 2d6 core. I chose this so as to get something like a normal distribution of results, which I think conforms to real life better than most dice systems I've seen do. One of the things about doing something in real life is that usually you've got a pretty good idea of what you can expect to happen. Things might go unexpectedly good or badly, and they might occasionally go really well or really badly, but for the most part there's a most likely outcome in the middle of the range of possible outcomes. When this sort of distribution isn't simulated in games, I tend to find it unrealistic and contrived, and I'm annoyed. The other nice thing about 2d6 is that familiarity with Catan builds in some good intuitions about the probability of different outcomes.
I'm letting players allocate themselves some ability to skew the results/interpretation of rolls by distributing points in a variety of specific skills, as well as three core areas: charisma, perception, and luck. I'm hoping that these areas are equally compelling (I'm planning that they'll come up equally often in this game), and they give players an opportunity to give their characters specific mechanical strengths that correspond to their personalities. Combat ability is a skill, by the way--I was serious about low combat.
I've got elishabenabuyah as a consultant on ancient near eastern magic systems, which has generated fun for the whole family. Magic is also a skill, which means that, aside from lists of magic things one can hope to accomplish and favors one might be expected to give the demon in exchange, it's covered under the general mechanical rules. But I'm pleased at the opportunity to integrate roleplaying into magic use (since magic amounts to a negotiation with a magical being), and I think the introduction of magic into the setting has the potential to make the setting richer and more interesting as well as providing useful mechanical assistance (such as allowing people to communicate efficiently between Judea and Rome).
In summary, Squee!
|Sunday, November 29th, 2009|
|A screed about screeds about Twilight
I had the fortune--which has proved a mixed blessing-- of having read the "Twilight" books early. I read the first one at the recommendation of an [anonymity preserved] friend whose literary taste I've always respected. She bought me the book, actually, heralding it as "the next Harry Potter", somehow omitting any warnings about how it was in every conceivable respect beneath contempt. And I quite enjoyed them. I didn't think they were great literature. I was perfectly conscious of the pressure of the hefty genre conventions operative in creating what is unabashedly a wish-fulfillment fantasy of mutually all-absorbing devotion for a certain demographic of lonely, bookish teenaged girl. But for all that I found the love story genuinely stirring and the broader cast of characters charming, and I enjoyed the little literary references and clever worldbuilding nuggets. It was literary candy--very sweet, quickly consumed, and with no pretentions to great nutritional content.
So I've watched in bafflement and considerable horror as the mass of educated opinion --including most of my friends-- have closed in on these books in what I can only describe as a vampiric feeding frenzy. It's one thing to read a book and not to like it. But for one thing, most of them /haven't/ read the books. The authority for the denunciations is rooted in the consensus of the blogosphere, ornamented by short passages quoted without context, and, occasionally, the movies (which I haven't seen and can't comment upon, but can hardly be taken as a real authority regarding the books). And for another thing, the general mood transcends "not liking" by many orders of magnitude. I'm pretty sure I've heard more conversation devoted to mocking Twilight in the last few months than I've heard devoted to any single book my friends have actually read--conceivably more than all of them put together. And the charges against the book are amorphous and shifting--actual data subordinate to a more primal and passionate hatred. The protracted collective glee taken in trashing Twilight has become a passion in its own right. It feeds on itself, leaving the original source material far behind.
I admit to enjoying mockery less than many of my friends in general. But I really think there's something unseemly about this. It reminds me of nothing so much as a group of middle schoolers on the lunch yard who take turns beating on a pre-designated and approved safe target in order to assure themselves of how much cooler they are by comparison. It's a behavior that I don't like to see in people I love dearly and respect highly--and I'd like to think I'd feel that way even if I weren't presently cast in the role of the guy who hovers invisibly behind the crowd, scared to stand up for the loser lest he get beaten up too.
Yes, I know Twilight is apparently vastly popular...somewhere else. I'm sure there are thronging masses of teenaged girls who love it. A lot of the Twilight bashing is supposed to be directed at this squealing majority. But it's hard to take the embattled minority status of Twilight detractors seriously when their own entire demographic stands solidly opposed to it. And it's not as though these Twilight chicks are forcing Twilight down everyone else's throat. I haven't heard anyone speak a word in favor of Twilight in months (not counting commercials). If we wanted to, we could just ignore the whole phenomenon along with the many other products floating around that are marketed to other sorts of people. Obsessing about it instead is a choice.
And of course, mixed amidst the contempt, there's some genuine socially conscious worry about these girls, how they'll be damaged by Twilight. Because it's a thrilling love story in which the male lead's superpowers lead him to take the active role in protecting his more passive human girlfriend (a travesty unparallelled in well-regarded literature?) Or perhaps it's because the depth of their obsession with one another seems to suggest that ideally love abnegates the need for personal space (can you still call it stalking when it's mutual, openly acknowledged and welcome, and modulated by ongoing checking that the other party doesn't find it stifling?) Or are people just fundamentally freaked out by the premise of a vampire romance-- a romance in which one party has to constantly control a primal urge to do violence to the other, however infallibly disciplined he might be about it?
There are some potentially reasonable concerns here, though I personally think they've been blown way out of proportion. In fact I make no attempt to deny that one could in theory have a reasonable discussion about Twilight's shortcomings on a variety of fronts. Never mind that most candy fiction, and a lot of serious genre fiction, would falter under the lense of serious social analysis (Harry Potter next, anyone?). But if that's the goal, we'll get nowhere if people don't first quiet down the generalized anti-Twilight hysteria, and then read the books themselves with a genuine attempt at an open mind. Who knows? If you're going to devote so much attention to Twilight, you might as well give yourself the chance to find things to enjoy as well as things to take issue with. Or if instead you find (as I do) that you've grown sick to death of the mention of the word "Twilight", we might be pleasantly suprised by how quickly and easily it could drop beneath our notice.
But either way, put down the pitchforks. It's not just that they're so six months ago. They're unworthy of you.
P.S. I've been sitting on this for awhile, hoping it would blow over. I'm sorry if the result of all the simmering is that the eventual exposition should be rant-like. I have no particular wish to call anyone out, and wouldn't have done so except that the whole thing is really driving me nuts. Inasmuch as I give offense, I can only hope for your forgiveness.
|Wednesday, November 18th, 2009|
|naqaa part II
I caught a naqaa in the wild!
"When she walks, she quivers like a reed upon a naqaa"
Three comments are in order:
1. Clearly the folks who contended that "extended gibbous piece of sand" referred to a bank of sand rather than a grain were correct. Go you!
2. This line is more interesting than it looks because by Arabic poetic convention a reed on a sand-dune is a way to describe an ideal woman's figure--i.e. big around the hips, slender on top. Obviously medieval Arabic women didn't have legs, since...um, maybe you couldn't tell because they were wearing long skirts all the time? Seriously, it's now occurring to me that even very explicit sexual poetry in Arabic doesn't talk about legs. I should look into that.
3. Thanks to the lively discussion of a couple weeks ago, I recognized this word when I saw it in context, without needing to recourse to the dictionary. Thanks, everyone!
P.S. This morning I figured out what I was doing wrong with the last instance of naqaa I posted about, which I knew clearly couldn't have anything to do with sand. Accounting for an acceptable poetic elision, it refers to a kind of wine.
|Sunday, November 15th, 2009|
|in memory of Albert
[As some of you know, a couple of months ago my friend Albert passed away at the age of 73. Albert was one of my oldest friends, one of the first people after my parents that I ever loved. He came to represent the best parts of my childhood, and I feel as though I've lost a part of my childhood with him. I was asked to deliver remarks at his memorial service yesterday, and I'm posting the text of those remarks here. Partly it's as a record for myself, and partly it's because he was an extraordinary person and I want to tell you all about him.]
There was something remarkable about Albert, something you could feel when he came into a room. You could feel it in the way his big hands would reach out to grasp yours in greeting. You could see it in the improbable repertoire of whimsical expressions that danced across his face. You could hear it in the way he’d say something outrageous that somehow made you feel warm inside. He knew everyone in that room—or if he didn’t, he wanted to. He wanted to hear their stories, and he was always ready with a good story in exchange. He wanted to introduce them to each other, and figure out what people and what interests they had in common. It wasn’t just that he was friendly and charismatic, although he was both. His way with people was a manifestation of something that ran deeply in him—something precious and very rare.
Albert was a person who knew what was important to him, and he was devoted to it. He didn’t bother with things that were unimportant to him. He didn’t worry about being late, or about getting lost, or about learning how to cook. He didn’t strive for worldly success—I think he thought it wasn’t worth the compromises it demanded of him. And he didn’t strive for virtue, at least not in the abstract. He was a good person because he had a big heart and generous impulses—he didn’t need to work at it.
What he strove for was happiness. It sounds like an obvious thing, when you say it—you could get anyone to agree that happiness is important. But although people may say they value happiness, they frequently don’t act like it. Albert, on the other hand, took happiness seriously and valued it highly--perhaps because, while goodness came easily to him, happiness did not. He waged an ongoing struggle against depression, claiming a life of joy and fulfillment as an act of deliberate will. Albert actively sought to be happy. And he sought actively to bring happiness to others.
Albert was not a snob where happiness was concerned—he sought out pleasures of many kinds, and he relished them. But I think that there were two sorts of joy that he sought and prized above all others.
The first was a joy derived from beauty. Albert took a passionate delight in experiencing beautiful things, and in creating them. His love of music I need hardly mention—the vigor with which he played, the zeal with which he grumbled when the music flagged and crowed when it soared. But his quest for beauty, and his skill in creating it, was not limited to music. He and his siblings transformed their family home on Lake George over many years of loving labor: collecting, carpenting, renovating, furnishing, finishing, and always tinkering. Every room is a work of art—even the bathrooms. The house stands witness to the breadth and the keenness of his aesthetic vision, and to the sundry skills that enabled him to execute it.
But more even than beauty, Albert sought happiness through other people. He loved people immoderately and without reserve. He had many friends, and he continued making new ones until the end of his life. He shared his music with them, and hosted them in his beautiful house on Lake George. I can’t imagine how much energy it takes to care so much about so many people. But he did care about them—he cared about them all, and he made sure they knew it. You could hear it in the tone of his voice when he made yet another outrageous crack about your love life. You could feel it, in the grip of his hands. He rejoiced in his friends, and his joy was contagious. It lit up the room when he walked in the door.
The way Albert died was a tribute to the way he lived. He spent the last months of his life ensconced in style— and in as much comfort as medically possible— under Denise’s care, practically holding court as an unending stream of friends and family crowded around to tell him in thousands of different ways how much they loved him. As he lay dying, his hospice room was crowded by people who took turns holding his hands and playing music in the hope that some part of him might hear it. In all of this, he was simply reaping what he sowed. A life like Albert’s is surely its own reward.
In the last few weeks, I have come to appreciate how inimitable Albert is, how altogether irreplaceable. And I’m glad of it—it makes it so much easier to remember him, to hold all the memories together in my head because, really, who else would have said or done something like that? When I think of him now, I think of a line by the poet Horace, which translates “Mingle a little folly with your wisdom.” I remember the time Albert ran out the battery in his motorboat because he stayed out too long admiring the moonlight on the lake. I remember trying desperately to get someplace on time, and failing utterly because Albert was so interested in the conversation he was having that I couldn’t tear him away. I am overwhelmingly grateful, for the privilege of having known this man whose little follies attest to his great wisdom. Albert was a person who knew what was important. Remembering him, he will remind me.
|Thursday, October 15th, 2009|
|How much do you want to bet
That the translation I want for the Arabic word "naqaa" isn't /really/ "an extended gibbous piece of sand"?
Seriously, though. How could a word possibly mean that? How would you use it in a sentence?
|Wednesday, September 30th, 2009|
|in case you ever wake up in the middle of the night wondering...
why, when it's a major plot point in Pride and Prejudice that Mr. Collins must inherit Mr. Bennett's lands (rather than Mr. Bennett's wife and daughters) because he's the closest relation through an entirely male line of descent...
...they nonetheless have different /last names/...
...you may be interested to know that the predominant explanation on the internet is that one of their ancestors must have changed his name to match that of a third party, as was apparently common at that time, upon inheriting significant property from said third party. Presumably whichever of their ancestors inherited a lot of money from a Mr. Bennett or Mr. Collins did not do so via an entail of the "heirs male" formula.
Whew. Glad to have that sorted out.
|Monday, September 28th, 2009|
|Lewis Carroll said it best, I guess:
"It's long," said the Knight, "but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it--either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else--"
"Or else what?" said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.
"Or else it doesn't, you know."
|Monday, May 25th, 2009|
|Monday, January 12th, 2009|
|Sunday, January 11th, 2009|
|Collaborative Crafts Blog (or: Here there be gryphons)
As some of you know, I've been looking to start up a collaborative arts and crafts blog at http://craftsblog.wordpress.com
where people living in different places can share their creative efforts with others (as well as ask questions and issue complaints to a sympathetic audience).
Pastwatcher and I have posted a few entries over the last couple of months--between two-sided embroidery experiments, heat-proof crocheting, and the Green Gryphon tapestry that has been absorbing most of our crafty-attention, we've been having a lot of fun. Also, via my sister, evidence of truly extraordinary feats of origami may be forthcoming. If any of this stuff piques your interest, come check it out!
Now that we've got a foothold, we're looking to expand the community. If you think you might be interested in posting, email me (or comment) and I'll send you an invite. I'm also looking for someone willing and able to make an lj feed for it, so that those of you interested in seeing (hopefully interesting) crafty things can do so with ease and comfort.
|Friday, January 9th, 2009|
|Funny old world...
I spent awhile this evening trying to find my Harvard GPA by various methods, without success (searching for a copy of a transcript among the mess that is my records; trying to look at my grades on fas and post...). What finally worked? Calling up my Princeton application from the Princeton website.