November 24, 2011

Some Forum round up



The bottom pendant does in fact date from my childhood in Japan. The characters are supposed to say something like happiness† and long life but I always wonder if really they say something like Public Restroom This Way or I Am an Apple Dumpling.

I once saw a picture of a girl’s side, upon which she’d had several large Chinese characters tattooed–I believe she said they were some sort of blessing for happiness/nirvana/etc. Except then someone commented, “Um, actually, that says ‘I am a picnic table.'” 

Well . . . one does want to know the attitude of the person who did the translating toward the person with the tattoos. . . .

            Now this is also a true story, because I was there.  I was helping an older adult friend go back to college—she was attending summer school to get her MA.  We’d unloaded her into her dorm room and had gone to the cafeteria for food.  She was wearing a brown and white dress with big shiny gold characters all over it.  They were stylised but they were still clearly characters and therefore presumably readable.   Some years before my friend had spent several weeks in Hong Kong, where she had bought the fabric for this dress and had it made up for her.  (This is DECADES ago, when much of the Far East was a cheap option even for non-wealthy people.)  She was very fond of it and wore it a lot.  We were behind two Oriental women who were talking to each other in what I assume was some kind of Chinese (Japanese is the only Eastern language I ever recognise).   One of them glanced casually at us . . . and then did a double-take and started staring at my friend’s dress.  She nudged her friend, and her friend looked.  They gave the impression of two people trying to keep a grip for a few seconds and then went off into whoops of laugher.  Apparently the big gold characters were fertility symbols—and not particularly tactful ones at that.

            My friend was horrified.  She was a proper old-fashioned lady and the idea that she had unknowingly . . . !!!!! made her want the earth to open and swallow her up.  The thing that she kept getting stuck on was that not only had whoever it was sold her the fabric (and she wouldn’t have been going anywhere that hadn’t been extensively vetted by the local Western proper-lady mafia) but that the extremely proper tailor had accepted it and made it up without the faintest flicker of an eyelash. 


I must say, that is an excellent Secret Agent Pose photo with your coat. 

Sorry about that.  I was trying to get a black coat to stand out against a muddled and badly lit background.

            And apologies for BELATED thanks for all the forum Happy Birthdays.*  I’ve just been answering rather too many not-yet-answered cards and well-wishings and emails and things because . . . my sense of time is BENT, you know?  I totally believe in the space-time continuum and the way that everybody’s sense of time is individual.**  Some are more individual than others.  I also received an email today whose subject line was ‘belated happy birthday’.  Belated?  What?  Belated doesn’t even start till about January . . . which I wish I could belate a little more.  Fiona gave me the album from the concert I kept missing*** for my birthday . . . and one of the tracks on it is called Too Late for Shadows.  Nooooooooooo. . . . .†


. . .  it makes me feel somehow slightly better to know that other people forget things occasionally… My defense is that my mind is all filled up with how to do my profession, and there is no room left over for anything else. It’s probably not true but it sounds good. 

Snicker snicker snicker snicker.  My mind is definitely filled up with how to do my profession . . . but people tend to back away slowly when I say this, at least as soon as they find out what my profession is.††  


Also, I wanted to mention how much I’ve appreciated the recent running commentary on math and popular science books; I know I have a huge blind spot in math particularly, and I want to appreciate it better. Perhaps one of these pre-vetted books will help. 

I’m a little startled at how much I’m suddenly enjoying my recent clodhopping collisions with maths and science.  It’s like now over forty years after I graduated from high school the scars of the experience have finally faded.  I know that what appeals to me is the sense of another language, of another world—although speaking of clodhopping, the best bit about modern physics is that so much of it is about not having a clue†††—but this begs the question of why I’m suddenly engaging with this now when this was true over forty years ago too‡ and I’m afraid the chief answer is that I was mostly very very badly taught.  When you’re naturally reasonably good at something—as I was at reading and writing‡‡—you can probably figure out how to teach yourself.  I could, and can, not teach myself maths and science.

            Because I remember only too acutely being a maths and hard science phobic, I have to say that none of the books I’ve mentioned here are going to convert you unless you’re ready to be converted.  But I would say the friendliest are the Bryson SHORT HISTORY and the two Ian Stewart oddity-collections, CABINET OF MATHEMATICAL CURIOSITIES and HOARD OF MATHEMATICAL TREASURES.  The latter are (diabolically) real maths all right, but they’re light-hearted even when there’s serious purpose folded into them—and you don’t have to be able to do any of the problems, the answers are all at the back!  And they’re all SHORT!  You can read one before bed and it doesn’t hurt at all!‡‡‡ And how can you resist a book that begins with a retread of the old I-always-lie conundrum concerning the starship Indefensible and Captain Quirk and Mr Crock?

            The ‘easier’ Hawking, BRIEFER HISTORY, is, in fact, comprehensible, which was not an issue I had with the first one§, but it’s pretty dense.  Fascinating, occasionally infuriating§§, but I don’t recommend it for bathtub reading.  And Devlin’s THE LANGUAGE OF MATHEMATICS is very appealing for his enthusiasm for his subject, but I need to put my head in a bucket of ice water about once every fifteen minutes to keep my brain from overheating.  I’m still not good at ANY of this.


The problem is that Blah Blah Blah has a smaller frelling hard drive. I want more memory than god. That’s the plan.

Er…do you mean memory or do you mean storage? I’m assuming that you mean storage, if you’re talking about the hard drive. And what Ownedbycats says . . .  is what I also wondered if it would be worth your considering, ie having an external plug-in hard drive . . .  as well as a bigger internal one. OK, you would have to remember to take it with you and they’re usually about the size of a trade paperback, but it could be useful and a less-expensive way of increasing your filing space? Or maybe I’m just going over something Raphael has already equipped you with. 

I tend to depend blindly on what Raphael and Gabriel tell me, and they do not seem to me to want to sell me stuff I don’t need.  But I think I mean memory.  I have several fairly gigantic programmes on my computer(s)—the whacking gigantic-est of which is this monster professional homeopathic thingummy plus the several million book library that goes with it.  Plus Finale, the music composing software, which is a whole lot bigger than I need because it’s full of midi file stuff that I don’t want and won’t use but which I can’t bin, plus frelling Microsoft Office, of course—and the OED—and some more reference stuff that is probably by now available on line for a subscription, but given my broadband I’d rather have them on the computer.  And a few bell ringing programmes and . . .

            Raphael told me a while ago—I think when Finale went on—that the laptop was beginning to have moving-around-and-doing-things problems.  That’s when he stuffed in what more memory it would hold.  Which is now also full.  I’ve already got my photos on too many bits of external memory—I do still need a better answer for storage, presumably some kind of external hard drive.  This has been on the list for a while.  But it’s not going to happen now until I get SHADOWS turned in. . . . 

* * *

 * Most of which, strangely, were pink.  

** It has to be true.  I read it in Stephen Hawking.  Of course he was kind of talking about event horizons where your feet would have a different sense of time than your head, and you’d blow up anyway, but never mind. 

*** Whimper. 

† And a pair of PINK hand knit socks.  I don’t understand why you people are all so obsessed with pink. 

†† Or it may have something to do with the way my eyeballs turn red and my teeth grow long and pointy when they say oh?, and ask if I’ve ever written a real book. 

††† And how about that faster-than-light neutrino then. 

‡ Even if physics didn’t have different clues forty years ago 

‡‡ Although I could tell you stories about this too.  My eighth grade English teacher wanted to fail me to make my writing ‘freer’.  Um.  This would not have had this effect.^ 

^ Eighth grade was not a good year.  That was also the year of my first algebra teacher, whom I’ve already told you about, who said that I was the dumbest child she’d ever taught and I’d never get it. 

‡‡‡ They are also in nice lightweight trade-paper editions so you can read them in the bath. 

§ But I was also still in my phobic phase when it was published. 

§§ Humour does not seem to come easily to Mr Hawking, or Mr Mlodinaw in this company.


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