Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Timor mortis conturbat me

It was time to renew my driver's license. Luckily, I didn't have to retake the written test; just had to look into the black box and read line 5. So with a faded portrait of Jesse White looking on (there's something extra-imperial about the fact that it was faded), the woman behind the counter rattled through her questions, checking off my answers with looping flicks of her pen.

"Has your license been suspended or canceled in this state or any other state."


"Do you have a condition that could cause you to lose consciousness."


"Do you want to be an organ donor."

I felt a rush of fear. This question.

* * * * *

I remember the first time it caught me off guard. I was getting my license for the first time; since these things are scheduled by your birthday, it would have been almost exactly twelve years ago. I didn't know that this person, this interchangeable processor in the basement of the county courthouse, would want to know what should be done with my body after I died. "Do you want to be an organ donor." My dad was with me, and I looked over at him. He shook his head and quietly said "No." I was relieved and unsettled. But the interchangeable processor didn't judge; she had moved on to the next question. It was over except for the lingering sense that I had somehow been weak; somehow faithless.

The question has been asked at least twice since then, and I've always been caught off guard. I've always said no and felt like a jerk. A cowardly, relieved jerk.

* * * * *


I felt like an idiot. A thoughtless, careless idiot.

The woman behind the counter looked me in the eye for the first time. "By saying yes, you acknowledge your agreement to donate your organs. Your next of kin has no authority to alter this decision. Do you agree?"

"Yes." I wanted to turn around, but I was too ashamed to make the train stop. My wife isn't comfortable with me changing our phone service to a different provider. And I just gave her rights regarding the disposition of my body over to the state of Illinois.


* * * * *

I don't like my new picture as well as I liked the old one. I wasn't ready when they snapped the photo. My mouth is smiling, but my eyes haven't caught on yet. (Those weak, misshapen eyes. Who's gonna want 'em?) I guess I was ready enough. I'm just going to have to go with it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What is this a list of?

Earth-identical gravity and atmosphere on other planets
one ecosystem for a whole planet
human-alien cross-breeding without scientific intervention
flaming explosions and sound in a vacuum
light-speed travel
space storms
sexy sexy aliens

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In this Moment, I’m the Anti-Jacobs

When you want to open a new document in Word 2007, you have to tell it whether you want a new document or a new blog post. I wanted to find out how to circumvent that time-wasting step (I never want to create a new blog post in Word). Googling did not give me a solution. The only posts I found were about how cool it is that you can post to your blog from Word. Er . . . okay. I guess you can use an iron to make grilled cheese, too, but isn't it kind of messy? I couldn't resist trying it out, so this is my first post published

<Word crash>

<Error reporting/>

<Document recovery/>

</Word crash>

from Word. Funny, Firefox tends not to crash in the middle of posts like that.

Alan Jacobs would ask why you want to use a program with all the overhead and complications of MS Word to write a blog post, which is essentially pure text. I mean, you can throw in some italics or bold, but it's just as easy to do that in Blogger if you really need to. Word can do things like small caps, but do those make it through all right to the web? I guess we'll see. Update: Nope.

By the way, Ctrl+N takes you directly to a new document, without asking if you want to blog. Save those precious seconds. Spend them blogging on trivialities.

Why O Why Did I Ever Leave My Home?

I spent a good chunk of my free time over the last couple weeks re-re-re-learning some basic chords on the guitar so that I could perform at my church's variety show night. Mrs. Chaka and I sang Green Pastures. I did a solo performance of One (inspired by the Johnny Cash version, but my octave of choice was more like Bono's).

Since I was getting my callouses back, I played around with a song that regularly gets stuck in my head: I Sang Dixie, by Dwight Yoakam. It belongs to a subgenre of country songs that I like to call "Why O Why Did I Ever Leave the South?" See also, Detroit City, Smoky Mountain Memories, perhaps even I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow belongs in this category ("I left my home . . . I'm bound to ride that northern railroad").

Laments about having left the North are, on the other hand, conspicuously nonexistent. Is no one sad to have left the North? Can Northerners not sing? Did they just not leave the North? Do they thing about things like Purple Rain instead?

Well, when I sing Man of Constant Sorrow, I sub in "Minnesota" as "the place where I was borned and raised." (It bugs me that Dylan didn't. Colorado? What does that have to do with anything?)

You could say that the real source of the Southerner-in-exile laments is the economically driven migration of workers from the rural South to industrial Northern cities (that theme is pretty blatant in Detroit City). But if that's the case, we should find similar genres of music for other migrations: Are there African American blues songs about longing for the South? Mexican songs about the harsh life in los EE. UU.? Traditional Native American chants about the joys of homey Siberia?

Well, are there? You tell me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Four Spiritual Laws in the Ancient Church

HT: Kouya Chronicle. I do not demean the first law. It is true. God does love you and has a wonderful plan for your life. His definition of wonderful may differ from yours.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Me and Hats

An accurate description of my predicament, from a Lileks screed:

"I love the era of fine hats, but I know I would have looked like someone in a Munchkin production of The Maltese Falcon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

AT&T Technical Support: We Support You, Technically

Call center guidelines:

Assume the caller is an idiot
Assume that the caller's problem isn't AT&T's problem
Look for the quickest way to tell the caller that it isn't AT&T's problem
Empathy implies liability--try to get the caller to empathize with you
The magic words "I do apologize for the inconvenience" make everything okay

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taking a Guess at Nyungwe

David Ker posted the first five verses of John in Nyungwe and asked if his readers could figure out any of the words. Here are the verses and my notes:

1 Pakutoma akhali fala ndipo falalo likhali pabodzi na Mulungu. Ndipo iye akhali Mulungu. 2 Iye pakutoma akhali na Mulungu. 3 Bzinthu bzentse bzidalengedwa na iye, tsono palibe ciri-centse cidalengedwa mwakusaya iye. 4 Mwa iye mukhana moyo. Ndipo moyoyo ukhali ceza ca wanthu. 5 Ceza cikhabvunika mumdima. Mdima ulibe kucikunda.

Some nouns are easy: Mulungu is “God,” ndipo translates logos (whether it specifically means word, message, reality, etc., I don’t know for certain). Mdima seems to be “darkness,” ceza is “light,” wanthu would be “people,” and moyo “life.” None of these appear to have case endings. I guess the reduplication of –yo in verse 4 is something other than case.

I would guess that pa- is a prefix/preposition corresponding to “in.” Kutoma would then equal “the beginning.” I guess that bodzi is also a morpheme (“in bodzi with God”). The prefix/preposition mu- also overlaps with English “in.” Na seems to correspond to “with.” Ca also looks like a preposition, relating “light” to “people.” Perhaps “for”?

I don’t see an article.

Iye and –khali are doing a good bit of work, which suggests that they mainly convey grammar rather than semantics. I’m going to guess that iye is a pronoun (“he”) and the –khali words are forms of “to be.” Akhali goes with words of the class containing ndipo (masculine?) and ukhali with words of the class containing ceza and mdima (feminine?).

I notice possible morphemes bzi-nthu, bz(i)-entse, c(i)-entse, and wa-nthu. Could –nthu (or a chunk of it) mark the plural?

Bzi- appears with both nouns and verbs. Bzinthu bzentse should correspond to “all things” and bzidalengedwa to “were created/came to be.” Bzi- alternates with ci- on the verb for coming to be (dalengedwa). Do bzi- and ci- mark semantic classes?

While I’m on verbs, cikhabvunika must be “shines/has shined” and kucikunda “overcomes/has overcome.” Both have the ci-. If the translation preserves the distinction in tense between these two words, the reduplicated ku- in kucikunda looks like a tense marker. But there ought to be a pronoun in that clause with the antecedent ceza, so maybe ku- is a pronominal prefix.

Ulibe ought to be the negation in the last clause. There’s a palibe in verse 3 that could negate things coming to be apart from him.

That’s probably as close as I can get. I’m particularly intrigued by the bzi-/ci- alternation. And the fala words stumped me. Here’s my gloss:

In-beginning was fala word falalo was in-bodzi with God. Word he was God. 2 He in-beginning was with God. 3 Bzi-things bzi-all bzi-came-to-be with him, but not ciri-ci-all ci-came-to-be apart-from him. 4 Mwa him in-himself life. Word life was light for people. 5 Light ci-shines in-darkness. Darkness does-not it-overcome.