Thursday, January 21, 2010

Self-referential is NOT self-reverential: a tale of migration

The Joshua Fit sure acts like it's on hiatus, so let's make it official. I was going to use the past-exonerative tense in writing this but the bottom line is: I feel I'm one blog over my limit for reasonable maintenance.

I'm blogging and doing other Web 2.0+ stuff with my students and they have to come first. (Otherwise, what's the point of whining about the sorry state of education? If you get my drift.) The Other Two-Fifths seems to have legs, so that blog will be my default posting area for pretty much everything else. You'll see topics at TOTF that might appear off-theme in that space, by its original charter. On a positive note, this may reveal a more unified & consistent ProfGeo over time. No guarantees, though! I will also continue reading/commenting in the usual spots (e.g. blogs listed in the "I frequent" section at TOTF).

Thanks to those who checked in here. Please visit:

The Other Two-Fifths

Friday, January 1, 2010

OK, one resolution I can make and keep

Compliments of the Season to you, and many more!

So I have a small collection of news outlet typos and odd juxtapositions, and this year I pledge to share them with you. By "typos" I mean spelling, grammar, or usage errors; by "odd juxtapositions" I mean items that really shouldn't be placed next to each other on page or screen. In the print world, this can be something like a Macy's underwear ad on the same page with an article about invasive search procedures at airports. (Why are those models smiling?) On the Web it can be more extreme, because stories and ads tend to rotate often, with little or no human supervision. This can cause a picture of boxers (the dogs, not the underwear) in a Humane Society story to appear next to an offer to find "your perfect match" via an online dating site.

Usually such occurrences appear on the outlet's home page, which is to me a greater offense than appearing on an internal page which may get fewer viewings. Although no stranger to typos myself, I think it's worth noting when a bunch of writers, readers, and editors can't keep on top of this. Or when an intern who pulls an extra shift on a holiday is left to his or her own devices and decides to have a little fun. Sooo...

To start the New Year off right, at the top of this post is an example from the home page of the L.A. Times of January 1, 2010. My comment to the Times: Sorry, folks, but that doesn't look like Sully at all!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Redeem those gift cards! Get that rebate!

It sounds odd, but this is actually a widespread form of procrastination — just ask the airlines and other marketers who save billions of dollars annually from gift certificates that expire unredeemed.

Are you a victim of your own resource slack? As defined by psychologists Gal Zauberman and John G. Lynch, Jr., resource slack is "perceived surplus of a given resource available to complete a focal task without causing failure to achieve goals associated with competing uses of the same resource." They study two of our most obvious resources-- time and money-- and their discussion of time slack is the more interesting. Money is the more consistently fungible resource-- to most of us money is money now and in the future, and we are able to handle this psychologically. We can borrow from the future or save for the future, and even if some of us are better at this than others (or have better access to credit, to use their example) we can get our heads around it.

Apparently we defer tasks to the future because we believe (rightly or wrongly) that the fungibility of time as a resource differs in the short run and the long run. Present time (today's calendar) is not, in our minds, the same as future time (next month's calendar). We have, or believe we have, less slack in the immediate future than in the distant future. The request for a meeting this week is an imposition. The request for a meeting next month is not a problem.

We have two things to consider. One is, are we correct in this belief about time? The other is, what effect does our acting on this belief have? For now, I will leave the first question unexamined and give an example to suggest an answer to the second. (This should prove something all by itself!)

One effect of our time-belief is the amusing type of procrastination, the type that makes us wait for that "just right" occasion to use gift cards, gift certificates, etc. This type of procrastination may also lead us to assume we'll have more time later to fill out that rebate form, address the envelope, and drop it in the snail mail. [I should note here that California, ahead as usual, has protected us from gift certificate expiration. Once it's issued by the restaurant or store, it's good as long as the business exists.]

MORAL: Use it or lose it, unless you're talking about a gift certificate in California.

BTW, the top-of-post pullquote is from this NY Times story, which has another angle on the whole thing:

Carpe Diem? Maybe Tomorrow
Published: December 28, 2009

For once, social scientists have discovered a flaw in the human psyche that will not be tedious to correct. You may not even need a support group. You could try on your own by starting with this simple New Year’s resolution: Have fun ... now!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sometimes, a blog is just a blog but it could be a Sniglet

I am the kind of person who scans the "Friends of the Library" donation/discard rack at local library branches. The "Friends" usually recognize me on sight, even if I'm not a member of their branch's club of snowy-topped book lovers. A quarter here, a couple of bucks there, and pretty soon they don't care if you've paid annual dues. Like any good bartender, they know you'll be back. They chat you up about the readability (or not) of John Fowles-- say, ProfGeo, have you started in on that copy of Mantissa yet?-- and point out esoterica that they are sure will never sell to anyone else, like Million Miles Away, a DVD by the stupendous frenetic uke player Jake Shimabukuro, which I would've paid retail for but don't tell them.

One person's esoterica is another person's collectible. I discovered this in the early days of the San Diego Comic-Con, when a friend dragged my young behind to the El Cortez Hotel -- which was actually a hotel at the time-- for that signal event. Awash in comics culture, I took in as many presentations as I could, and tried not to overbuy. A highlight was an early version (slide show) by Scott Shaw! [punctuation deliberate] on what he labeled esoteric comics and later called oddball comics (q.v.) probably because it's easier to explain without a slide show.

An esoteric comic, as it turned out, was any item or series that Scott found unusual and personally interesting, which eliminated your usual "mainstream" superhero adventure featuring Superman, Spider-Man, and so on. He never apologized (good move) but he did explain his choices with ribald panache, which made for a hilarious time. You haven't lived until you've heard Scott discuss in depth the possible innuendos contained in Manuel Pacifico, Tuna Fisherman, or Herbie (aka the "Fat Fury"). I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to discover why someone felt the need to publish a one-off called "It's Fun to Stay Alive!"

The sad thing about Scott's popularity was that the dealers on the convention floor caught on. They decided that there was a niche for "esoteric comics." There was no life or spirit in this, as they just dug out their low sellers, tripled the price, and slapped an "esoteric" label on them. I don't think the ploy worked on most of us. Let's just say I already had my copy of Joe Simon's Prez: First Teen President #1 as well as the origin issue of the blaxploitation Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (typical exclamation: "Sweet sister!") and Howie Post's entire Anthro series, so I wasn't in their target market.

Nowadays, inspired by Scott and my own sense of nostalgia, I remain on the hunt for the unusual literary item. This brings me to today's piece involving an early, pre-Web usage of the term blog.

Those of a certain age may recall a Reagan-era satire on HBO called Not Necessarily the News. Let's just say that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert weren't the first to skewer the powers-that-be with news-based satire. NNTN wasn't the first either, but I can't speak from personal experience about That Was the Week That Was so I have to just let it go. Anyway, among NNTN's regular features was "Sniglets™," a creation of Rich Hall. A sniglet was defined as "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should." The feature proved popular enough to generate a series of amusing illustrated paperbacks compiled/authored by Hall.

So I see one of these on the old library sale rack a couple of days ago: Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe (1986). It does not ring a bell at all, so I assume I missed it on its first publication. (I was on active duty in the military and quite possibly overseas.) I am standing in the library foyer, thumbing through Unexplained Sniglets, and under B there it is in all caps: BLOG.


BLOG? Knock me over with a feather.

Yes. Rich Hall defined it in 1986 as "n. Overly generous deposits of fish food floating at the top of an aquarium." Now, I am floored as well as amused. I think, "Yeah, he wasn't so far off, was he?" I contribute 50 cents to the library fund and go on my way with my new treasure. I take it home and reread the entry. I realize that nobody, not even Rich Hall, remembers this. It's a Joshua Fit for sure.

But I also realize I need to do a little homework. Is this really the first usage, as I hope? Hm, not quite. Google it up, shall we? Blogger founder Evan Williams describes earlier usage in this 2007 blog post:

You should be aware that Blog was originally devised by British fans in the 1950s. There were two versions. A Liverpool fan named Peter Hamilton came up with the recipe for Blog Mark I, which consisted of "a brandy and egg flip base, to which was added black currant puree, Alka Seltzer, and Beechan's Powder. It effervesced." A second, simplified version (Blog Mark II) was produced by hotel barmen at the first Kettering Eastercon (1955) and consisted of "a half-pint of cider and a measure of rum." Anybody know what `egg flip' and `Beecham's Powder' are? (Quoted material taken from p.168 of A WEALTH OF FABLE, by Harry Warner, Jr.)

Williams also includes a 1973 usage, also involving conventioneers and alcohol. So 1986's sniglet wasn't quite the first, but it was way before the Web and it does seem to fill a gap in the history.

That darned Internet. It can prove you right or prove you wrong.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

There's a place for talent like this

"Something like this was bound to happen."
     --Aaron McLear, press secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

As educators universally bemoan the dearth of students' writing skills, I say there's hope. As long as gubernatorial staffers can produce work like this, we don't have to close the doors on the country and declare the great American experiment over.

Did Schwarzenegger drop 4-letter bomb in veto?
Phillip Matier,Andrew Ross, Chronicle Columnists
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
(10-27) 19:19 PDT SACRAMENTO -- Did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office use a coded veto message to send the f-bomb to Tom Ammiano, soon after the San Francisco assemblyman made news by telling the governor to "kiss my gay ass"?

Schwarzenegger's people say no. But the X-rated evidence is hard to miss in a message that Schwarzenegger sent to explain why he was vetoing an Ammiano bill dealing with financing for the Port of San Francisco.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keep surfing, there's hope for you

"You can exercise your mind by using the Internet, but it depends on how it's used," he explained. "If you get hooked on gambling or eBay shopping, that may not be positive."

Web Surf to Save Your Aging Brain

Interactivity can help keep older people alert, study suggests

MONDAY, Oct. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Surfing the Internet just might be a way to preserve your mental skills as you age.

Researchers found that older adults who started browsing the Web experienced improved brain function after only a few days.

"You can teach an old brain new technology tricks," said Dr. Gary Small, a psychiatry professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of iBrain. With people who had little Internet experience, "we found that after just a week of practice, there was a much greater extent of activity particularly in the areas of the brain that make decisions, the thinking brain -- which makes sense because, when you're searching online, you're making a lot of decisions," he said. "It's interactive."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Someday we'll find it, the Rubble connection

I've been following this Bay Area murder tale with a bizarre Hanna-Barbera twist since I first heard about it a few months ago. I like the Flintstones as much as anyone, or so I thought. But I'm a bit of a purist, my admiration peaking with 1966's The Man Called Flintstone. The Flintstones Kids might as well be Shemp, if you get my drift, and the 1990s live-action films just couldn't be saved, even by Goodman and Moranis.

Sure, I got my Flintstones placemats from Denny's (this was some years before the racial discrimination lawsuits and no, I haven't been back) and I still have my Fred Flintstone wristwatch (q.v.), which was the only good thing to come out of the films.

But there are limits. I wouldn't kill for Bamm-Bamm. Someone did, though, and now there's an update that is growing more amazing by the day:

Courthouse arrests in S.F.
It was a scene of pandemonium that played out in San Francisco court on Tuesday.

In a packed courtroom at the preliminary hearing for Charles "Cheese" Heard -- accused of murdering a man for his flashy, gem-encrusted pendant of the "Flintstones" character of Bamm-Bamm -- several reputed gang members stood up in unison.

They did so at the behest of the defense attorney as the prosecution was questioning its star witness in the case. The witness was about to be asked whether she recognized the man who killed Richard Barrett, 29, in November...