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Archive for May, 2003

Badgers are interesting too!

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

America is cool because we have raccoons (alternatively, racoons – this word, originally Powhatan Algonquian, has also been Englished as Rahaugcums, Raugroughcums, arocoune, Arathkone, Aroughcun, Rarowcun).

We also have Maine Coon Cats, who apparently take their name from the raccoon. The first recorded mention of the breed in cat literature is of one named “Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines” – an unwieldy name but Maine Coons are unwieldy cats.

I’m convinced that my street-born cat Jonah is a Maine Coon. He’s got all the characteristics! But the breeders – the same top-hatted, moustache-twirling eugenicists who are breeding the Maine Coons’ God-given polydactyly out of them – say you can only tell by pedigree. Here’s Jonah at ease, sleepy, and showing off his big paw in a normal-sized hand.

Anyways, America and my cat are assuredly great, but what I meant to say is that I’ve always wanted to see a badger. Here’s a story about a badger gettin’ bizzo in Worcestershire.

Texas is interesting!

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

Fifty of their Democratic state legislators are in hiding in a Holiday Inn in Arkansas.

Liber bibulus legis, yeoman’s service

Monday, May 12th, 2003

Lucky day – I found a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary in a “free” pile this morning.

It was written by Henry Campbell Black, M.A. – “Author of Treatises on Judgements, Tax Titles, Intoxicating Liquors, Bankruptcy, Mortgages, Constitutional Law, Interpretation of Laws, Rescission and Cancellation of Contracts, Etc.”

Looks like a pretty fun guy except for all the law stuff!

Looking up “villein”, I came across “villein service” – the service due to a feudal lord by his peasants, more or less. This called to mind the phrase “yeoman service”, which isn’t in Black’s. However, it is used in Ulysses, in the cliché-ridden “Eumaeus” chapter – on their way to the cabstand here and talking about Parnell, I guess, here.

The attentive reader will no doubt also recall that Hamlet uses this phrase in one of his breezily superior, wonderfully queeny remarks – but he uses it with a difference, as “yeoman’s service”.

It seems slightly strange for Shakespeare to have that apostrophe-ess on yeoman – being addicted to legal terminology as he was, he might have intended “yeoman service” to contrast with “villein service”. If he were creating the phrase strictly analogously, he would probably want to use yeoman attributively, as is done with villein service. It’d be fun to check through the quartos and the folio and see whether any of them lacks the apostrophe-ess here…

BTW, another fun dictionary, by a chap named E. Cobham Brewer, has an entry on this too. Unfortunately he doesn’t provide any quotations earlier than the 19th century, so it’s still not clear that the “reference is to the yeomen of the Free Companies” as he claims…


Thursday, May 8th, 2003

This interesting, too-short article about newly-discovered most-ancient-ever writing in China (or what looks like it), finally jogged my memory for a word I’d been trying to remember in connection with a post of ezrakilty’s.

Id est, plastromancy, the Shang dynasty practice of using cracks in heated turtle shells for divination.

Here is a pretty comprehensive list of types of divination. These are the sorts of words people just make up from Latin and Greek roots – many of them, including plastromancy, don’t even make it into the OED!

Which makes me wonder – is there another word for this turtle-shell divination? I thought I had successfully looked up the word before, in a book, but if plastromancy is the one I’m trying to remember then this can’t have happened. All I can think of is “tortugamancy”, which is funny but wrong.

Poor Man’s Tech

Thursday, May 8th, 2003

One of the best things about my job is the current lack of budget for any technology. At least five of the desktop machines I administer are scavenged from the Law School’s scrap heap – nasty old HP Vectras which are barely capable of running Windows 2000. It’s wonderful to turn these old machines, which more fussy folk have discarded, into functional workstations.

Two weeks ago I rescued a box of seven or so old hard drives from a dumpster here. They were old 6 GB Quantum Fireball drives – from way back when that was a big drive – and I’ve since pressed four of them into service to get other scrapheap machines running.

This morning I was setting up a second machine in Charley Nesson’s office. Of the two kinds of dumpster drives I had, I only had the worse ones left – and when I turned the machine on in its little echo-chamber under the desk, it was Loud! I looked inside again, and saw that the drive was making the entire chassis resonate. So I looked around – found a napkin on his desk, tore off four thin strips, rolled them into thin cylindrical strips, and remounted the hard drive using them as poor man’s dampers around the screws. The machine is palpably quieter now.

This sort of thing gives me a genuine thrill. I love reusing stuff – resurrecting garbage-can technology for another couple painful, shuddering years of service. Less waste, less cost. When I’m working on this sort of thing, an Argentine phrase, which my email pal there taught me in 1996, often comes into my head – “Lo atamos con alambre.”

Salam Pax returns

Wednesday, May 7th, 2003

They are like that in most of the cases, they sit looking a bit bored watching the looting. Sometimes, if it is not too troublesome, they will go check on what is happening if you jump in front of their tanks shouting “Ali Baba, Ali Baba!!”. Cute, isn’t it? We have found common ground in the stories of 1001 nights. Everybody knows the story of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, but not everybody speaks English. So if you are lucky the Americans will come to check what Ali Baba is doing, sometimes they care sometimes they don’t.

Cynical Prediction

Wednesday, May 7th, 2003

Salon has a brief article about a proposed bill (translation, and lots of flaming, on slashdot) which would require the government of Argentina to use free software at the provincial and national level. I’d link to the salon article but it’s “premium content”. It is an OK article, not great, but it concerns an issue which I’ve been following with some interest for a couple years. And now I want to make a public prediction: Microsoft is finna donate a whole buttload of their software, and probably some machines as well, to Argentina sometime soon. Most likely to their schools. “Get ’em while they’re young!”

I don’t really want to get into advocacy about the issue right now – other people have already done a good job with it, and really my comparative advantage lies in sciolistic divagations about etymology. But, Steve Martin’s brother’s advice in “The Jerk” seems to apply here – my best attempt at Argentinification would be “

Plant Lore Lesson

Friday, May 2nd, 2003

Diane has told me (just like she did last spring!) that those trees aren’t dogwoods – they’re Bradford Pears. Here’s the flower and a not-so-great picture of the tree.

There are purple azaleas out in full force around here too.

Morning Moment

Thursday, May 1st, 2003

The rain this morning smelled wonderful.

My walk to work takes me directly under a dogwood tree. This morning, raindrops were knocking some individual petals off of it, and they were drifting down – sparse, slow, gentle disks of bright white – all around me. A beautiful moment which my thoughts have been returning to all day.