Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Farewell

Last post of the year, and I find myself wondering what to say.  Posting three or more times a week year round means that I have to date already said quite a lot.

I expect that the default tone of most "Year End" retrospectives will be the same: How Many Important People have Died.

Which I consider nonsense.

Back in my practice days I used to opine that medicine was one of the few professions with a zero percent success rate.  If you follow them long enough each and every patient of yours is going to die.  Of course that is a bit silly, and the real measure of success is whether they lived long, productive and comfortable lives.  But it is nevertheless true, a 100% death rate is the human condition.

But what about the list on Facebook of 130 Celebrities that Died in 2016?

This just means that we have in recent decades created "Celebs" at a much increased rate. 

Consider an analogy.  When excavating a Roman site you will find very few coins from the 1st through 3rd centuries.  When you do they are generally hefty, well worn and have a substantial percentage of honest metal in them.  But when you are unearthing levels from the 300's you find coins galore.  The economy of the Late Empire was continually teetering on the edge of collapse and mints churned out measly little coins with no intrinsic value.  It took a handful of them to buy something that in an earlier day would have been had for a single coin.  When one of these devalued coins was dropped into the muddy street it was not worth picking up.

Now I don't mean that the "Celebs" that have died in the last year were all low value light weights.  We all have our favorites, and I consider for instance Alan Rickman to be a solid gold aureus.  And I consider a few others to be at least denarii with decent silver content.  But the definition of what is a famous person has become rather arbitrary.  A popular culture voracious for something shiny and trivial to talk about has minted them by the bucket load.

I suppose that in the golden age of film there were a enormous number of actors and actresses playing bit parts in famous movies.  They went on to live lives either in or out of the entertainment industry, and then passed away.  Perhaps their local paper might make note of their bit part in The Wizard of Oz but pre-internet, pre-Imdb nobody else would take notice.

We probably are seeing a rise in the deaths in the Musical sub category.  Rock and Roll and the various genres that followed generated a big cohort of slightly famous people.  They appear to be dying a bit younger than average citizens.  But certain "occupational hazards" of the chemical sort probably curtail the life expectancy of modern era musicians just as booze and chain smoking made elderly Blues stars uncommon.

And as to the recent tendency for people to become famous just for being....famous?  I harbor no ill will towards Kardashian Nation but if newspapers still exist when that bunch starts to pass away there are entire Sunday editions already pre-written.

I don't intend to be insensitive to those who have had a personal loss this year past. In particular a loss that is unexpected and/or of a young person is a bitter thing.  But as years inevitably come to an end so too shall all of us.  I lost my father this year.  But his was a long life, a good life.  He was one of those well worn coins with heft and inherent value, not one of the lesser and lighter strikes from a gaudy mint that runs 24/7.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


We are in that curious stretch between Christmas and New Years. Holidays pop up at irregular intervals, dishes and serving plates seldom seen emerge from storage, a few wadded up remnants of wrapping paper hide in corners and under furniture.

It is all rather Higgledy-Piggledy.

I like the phrase.  It first shows up in the 1590s and has a logical origin, the disarray typical of pigs.

Duplication words with altered initial consonants are more common than you might expect. Probably for the excellent if simplistic reason that they are fun both to hear and to speak.

Hanky-Panky, and Hocus-Pocus are a couple more that are well known.  But a quick stroll down Etymology Lane turns up so many more.  Many date from the 1600s when this particular vein of linguistic ore seems to have been most productive.

Some I already knew:

Hodge-Podge, Hurly-Burley, Hub-Bub, Helter-Skelter, Jibber-Jabber and Topsy-Turvy.  Topsy-Turvey fittingly exists in 31 variants!

Other words I did not know, and sadly will have difficulty fitting into any forseeable conversations:

Kim-Kam, Crawly-Mawly, Mingle-Mangle and Hab-Nab.  Flim-Flam I of course knew, but Crinkle-Crankle, Gibble-Gabble, Hiccup-Suickup were new to me.

Most of these are from a single wondrous source Edward Moor's "Suffolk Words and Phrases" (London, 1823).  Moor in turn quotes from an earlier work,  John Ray's "Collection of English Words Not Generally Used" (1768).

Higgledy-Piggledy and all its sound alikes are said to be "conceited rhyming words" all said to "signify any confusion or mixture".

Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas, Mr. Bill

We had a good Christmas.  All the family was under the roof at least for a while.  There was a toddler to chase.  Surprisingly there were two cute puppies although I did not get to keep either one.  Thoughtful presents were exchanged but the old cliche is really true for us...having the family and "associates" around was the real treasure.

Oh, but Bill the Squirrel did well with the gifts.

Here he is in his Santa Hat.  

This year he got to add:

A Tuxedo!  And, because fur is a good but not perfect cover up...

Friday, December 23, 2016

Strictly speaking, I'm not Naughty

Was Calvin and Hobbes the greatest comic strip ever?  It would be an interesting question to debate, but given the decline of newspapers in recent times I would say that it would at a minimum have a strong claim to being the last of the Great Comic Strips.

Calvin was a marvelous creation, conceived by genius.  

The issue of whether he was Naughty or Nice is indeed problematic, you would have to see the world from his perspective....something that not many could manage.

The above got me thinking about the meaning, not of Christmas, but of the word "Naughty".

I was wondering, and frankly hoping that it somehow tied in with the word "Nautical", thereby cementing the reputation of tattooed sailors swaggering around the sketchy districts of port towns being, well, naughty.  But that's not where the word comes from.

Naughty comes from the word naught, a still occasionally used word for "nothing".  It traces its origins deep into the muddle of Old English and High German.  The word has connotations that to the modern mind are jarring.  Those who had nothing were naughty. It was only a short jump to the opinion that they had nothing because they had bad habits...naughty behaviour as we would put it today, but without the modern winking appreciation of minor foibles.  This sense of being disobedient, especially as children, only turns up in the 1600s.

The term Nice is another interesting study in word play.  In the late 13th century it meant in Old French "foolish, stupid, senseless".  It traces back to the Latin nescius which combines "ne" indicating not, and "scire" a word that means "to know" and which also gives us "science".

As a word Nice has come up in the world a great deal.  from stupid it morphed to fussy, a meaning still preserved in the term "niceties" which denotes an excessive attention to detail.
Perhaps because being attentive to small details is universally appreciated "nice" has steadily accumulated ever more favorable connotations.

So as 2016 winds down which List am I on?  Oh, the Nice one for sure. 

I have certainly been foolish and stupid on occasion in the year that has been.  But I am far from being a person who has nothing.  I have friends, family, good health and resources sufficient for my modest needs.  

I doubt that real life incarnations of Calvin would have the patience to read this far down into a posting on etymology but if some desperate kid is trying very hard indeed to influence the decision maker at the North Pole, please, take freely what you need from the above instruction manual.  Some would say that doing so without giving credit would be naughty but I beg to differ.  It would very nice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Santa gets Tech Support

My oldest son is still very good friends with a guy he has known since they literally were both in diapers.  They have had many adventures over the years, adventures that have had a certain flair due to their collectively peculiar sense of humor.

Even as grown ups.

They created a silly board game that extols the virtues of unrestrained capitalism.  "The Game of Moral Bankruptcy" as they have dubbed it.  As a game playing experience it is fun, perhaps because it is always played with appropriate beverages in hand.

Their home made game set up was rather crude, so for Christmas this year "Santa" has come up with a more polished version.  It helps that some of The Helpers now have access to design software, 3D printing and a laser engraver.....

My end of this rather fun project was to design game tokens and dice with custom logos.  The dodecahedron die was particularly tricky to do in Solidworks.  Here it is being printed.

And here are some finished products.  I consider this to still be prototype level work, obviously some of the materials I tried work better visually than others.

The 12 sided die.  Notice the smoking cigarette, fighter jet and beaker logos.  Adjacent are a couple of game play markers.  One is from Big Box Stores.  The other is supposed to represent a giant drop of oil from Grand Olde Petroleum.  I may add a dab of black paint to that one.

Another view of two game pieces to show up a third color option.  The capsule is from Bright Side Pharmaceuticals.

A six sided die.  This one came off the printer on a larger scale than I thought I had put into the design specs.  I might redo it or just leave it.  It is a one inch square "Clown Dice".  Note also the Lockhart Defence game piece and an eight sided die.

With the tokens and dice complete the next step was the game board.  I have access to a really swell laser engraver and am got a bit of "Elf" help with the design software.  Time to fire up the laser.

The final result was good, but not perfect.  But it should serve its purpose well enough, and if the lads ever decide to go into commercial production I have learned a few tricks to improve the next version.  The dice for instance might not roll completely "true" due to the differing weights of the various faces, as some logos cut out more material.

But I was told that would be fine.  In a game about corrupt capitalism loaded dice fit in perfectly.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Not the Commemorative Merch she was expecting....

Seen at the local consignment/on-line auction house.  I suppose this has been kicking around since the 1990s.  I don't have any personal animosity towards Mrs. Clinton and did not vote for her opponent.  So I present this only as a poignant, non political "Ozymandius" moment.  

History is fickle.  It is not ours to Command.

Final sale price: $3.00.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Soul Translation

Like many communities ours has a local journal that started out covering the "Arts" scene but now provides a more varied bill of fare.  They are good folks and have done nice write ups on my school robotics projects over the years.

Of course over time they have become a little less "Alternative" and a bit more....corporate? So it is nice to see the occasional item appearing in their pages that hearkens back to their granola-crystals-new age origins.

The casual viewer of this ad is probably expecting that it involves some kind of "psychic reading" and pep talk, perhaps involving tarot cards.  And they would be correct. 

But if you enjoy the meaning of words, and have the bad habit of thinking about things differently, so many other possibilities reveal themselves.  Without I should mention, the need for tarot cards.

This advertisement really should be for SOUL INTERPRETATION, as TRANSLATION is an entirely different thing.  Meanings get scrambled over time, and if a word is misused for long enough it wanders away from its origins.

Translation starts with the Latin "trans" meaning across or beyond.  "Translationem" was to carry across, to remove, or to transport.  In the mid 14th century this had via Old French become "translacion" which specifically referenced the then popular practice of moving the bones and other relics of Saints from one place to another.  Oh, the main soul of the Saint stayed put, up in Heaven, but some aspect of it moved right along with the shin bones and locks of hair.  That was after all the main point of trucking the remains off to your cathedral.  The word also became associated with the copying of manuscripts. One assumes that the link there was that in both cases monks were involved.

So if you want to be a real stickler on the point, what is being promoted above is a service by which Souls can be moved about.  I think overall this would be a bad idea.  I mean, Gandhi was a swell guy and to have him still around would in these unsettled times be good for Humanity. But would you want to vacate your own premises to make room for him?  

If we leave off the highly problematic notion of moving souls from one person to another there would still seem to be a niche market.  Could you for instance move the soul of a beloved pet to a new location?  I think many people basically do this.  If for instance you have over the years had eight or nine dachshunds and have trained them all the same way, you would in large measure be getting the same pet again and again.  

Most of us hope that when our days are complete that our soul, or some continuation of our selves, will live on.  There are assorted theories on this process.  Reincarnation, Heaven, Purgatory, The Singularity.

But where would we end up?

I will leave to the more theologically versed the entrance criteria for the Destinations traditionally featuring cumulus clouds and harps, or alternatively brimstone and a thermostat with a single rather uncomfortable setting.  I am not particularly interested by the prospect of waking up in some elaborate computer simulation or sitting about for millennia in the equivalent of a Department of Karmic Vehicles waiting room.

So what's left?

The concept of a human soul side stepping into a slightly less prestigious neighborhood was most memorably explored by Don Marquis and his inimitable alter ego Archy the Cockroach. Seeing life literally from the underside of things Archy was at once a noble and comic figure enduring the indignity of having the soul of a verse libre poet occupying a small scuttling corporeal state.  

You could do worse, but my guess is that those who read the tarot cards for a living are mindful of getting a good tip and would probably tell you that in the next life you get to be a Princess or a Ninja.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Industrial Tinker Bell

I can't help it, I am just a good sport about so many things.  So when one of my instructors at Tech School asked if I could help in a presentation on industrial safety gear I said sure.  I did ask if there was any chance I might be set on fire, making clear that if the safety equipment was appropriate to the situation I did not regard that as a complete deal breaker.

There were silly things to put on.

But the real fun part was trying out something called a "fall harness".  It is the sort of thing you wear when working up high so that if you slip you will, while having a lot of bruises and such, still be alive to complain about them.   

Naturally you don't put on an outfit like this without having a chance to try it out, so I was hauled about six feet in the air with the big yellow winch system you see in the top of the photo. I was at this point being encouraged to strike a "Super Man" pose but instead I remembered a long ago talk with an acquaintance who had done a lot of community theater and was describing a rig like this.

So here is my best Tinker Bell imitation.  Enjoy, Internet.  Enjoy.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Bright Darkness in the Checkout aisle

I have mentioned recently that my Better Half has long suffered my bemusement in retail establishments.  I'm sorry, I can't help it.  I consider myself a Roving Correspondent trying to make sense of a world that so often seems incomprehensible.  

I think all sources of information should be pondered.  So in the checkout line at our local super market I always stop to read the headlines of the "tabloids".  

Publications such as The National Enquirer are a fascinating window into a Universe where the trials and tribulations of roughly 100 individuals are laid bare for us week after week.  Most of these citizens of Tabloidia go by their first names only, or in the case of the aristocracy, by mere fragments of their names.  Brad.  Jen.  Sometimes their names are amalgamated into fascinating new hybrid forms.  Bennifer is one I recall from a few years back.

We are expected to care about these attractive demigods.  To celebrate their loves, to agonize over their weight gain.  I think we are supposed to view the very public Betrayals and Crises that they endure and feel as if our own lives are somehow just a little better.

Or something.

So imagine my surprise when I toted my bag of groceries up and discovered that the lot of them, Elvis, Babs Streisand, Bat Boy, the entire cast of Friends....had been banished.  Off you go into the obscurity that your real contributions to society probably warrant.  The tabloid rack was still there.  But it held.....this.

You can still see the names of the publications.  National Enquirer, OK!, Star, along with a few "Women's Magazines" that to be fair are one sixteenth of a notch higher in literary quality. But what is actually for sale here are, as it says up top.... "Adult Coloring Books".

I can think of many possible explanations for what I am seeing here.  Most likely these are in fact coloring books for children.  Sloppy errors in labeling are too common in stores.  You would think that I would have just picked one up and peeked inside.  But I did not do so.

Because I was afraid of what I might find.

Now this is a family market in a reasonably wholesome community, so I am pretty sure the content would not be the sort of thing you would stumble into if you were to Google up "Fantasy Land".

It might be worse than that.

Have literacy standards fallen so far that Celeb News written at a fourth grade level has become as incomprehesible as Sanskrit?

Of late there has been a bit of grumbling about so called "fake news", tantalizing stuff that is cranked out as click bait and as shiny objects to divert, distract and mislead.  Have we as a society lost faith not only in the traditional outlets for  "Real News" but also in the long established purveyors of "Fake News", the supermarket tabloids?

Has the world become such a frightening place that the recent campus nonsense of offering students "Safe Spaces" with blankets, cookies and coloring books has escaped the mostly harmless  Cloud Cucoo Land of delayed collegiate adolescence and is becoming generalized?

Enquiring Minds don't really want to know.
Well one day later the sign was changed.  These are coloring books for kids.  So there is no cause for concern, right?

Or is there...?

Friday, December 9, 2016

Unclear on the Potential Consequences.....

When I saw this the first thing I thought about was how petting zoos usually have lots of goats. And that there is a special breed of goats called "fainting goats" that keel over every time they hear a loud noise.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Broaching the Subject

Metal working and Latin.  I continue to be surprised by odd little connections between the ancient world and the machine shop.  I really should not be, we create words in proportion to the importance of objects and activities in our lives.  And the working of metal was at least as important back then as it is today.

Our latest project involves "broaching".  In simplistic terms this is cutting a precise slot on the inside surface of a hollow tube of metal.  If - unlikely I suspect - you are curious, this is to seat a keyway, a precisely sized bit of metal that can mate two seperate parts together.  Think of a wheel and and axle for instance.

This is a broach.

You use a gigantic machine called an arbor press to ram this through the metal, each little tooth taking off a slightly larger bit of steel.  It amuses me that this huge machine sits next to the door that leads into the nanotech lab....where they work with things smaller than a human hair!

Broach is one of those words that teased at me for a few days until I gave in and looked it up.

Walking it back we have:

Old French (12th century) broche, a pointed tool or awl.  Also a spit for roasting
Vulgar Latin broccca, a pointed tool, with the related word broccus, projecting or pointing.
Deeper down it may come from a barbaric Gaulish word, as in the Gaelic brog, meaning awl.

When excavating at Vindolanda I have had the fun, once or twice, of unearthing a brooch. Very similar sounding word.  And of course it is an off shoot (13th century, Old French) of broach that means "long needle".  This actually refers to a feature we seldom actually find in Roman brooches, the bronze needle on the back of them.  The brooch was used to pin together layers of clothing and what is usually left after centuries in the ground is the more robust decorative front parts, not the functional "needle". 

Any word in circulation this long will naturally pick up some side meanings.  When discusing a pointed tool it is not surprising that an Old French version brochier has a rather pornographic meaning.  But we also get the sense of "broaching" a cask or keg,  by hammering a pointed tap into it.  This derivation also gives us the fairly common useage of "broaching a subject", that is to open it up for conversation.

We also get brocade, a Spanish origin word for fancy cloth with projecting nubbins.

And brochure, a multi paged document that in times past was stitched together.

And for those who take a dim view of Wall Street, consider the origins of the word broker.  It also comes down to us from the original broach.  By the mid 14th century it designated a "commercial agent" with overtones of "agent in a sordid business".  This sense spins through various Anglo-French interpretations off of the "broaching a cask" meaning, with a bit of the side meaning of "pimp or procurer".  

I would like to think that the financial services industry of the modern age is focused on providing us with more than watered down vino and doxies best looked at only in dim tavern lighting,  but evidence to the contrary is not hard to find.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gold, Frankencense, Myrrh. And Salt.

My wife usually regrets taking me into any retail establishment.

Recently we went into the local Hallmark store to get a few cards. This entails careful shopping on her part.  And wandering about wide eyed and marveling on my part.  When I found myself standing in front of the line up of Hallmark Christmas ornaments I was spellbound.  So much, so very much to see.

Where to begin.  Well, just let your eyes wander across that display for a few seconds.

Yep.  It's a Death Star tree topper.  No more Star or Angel to remember Christ's birth.  Lets just put up this emblem of tyranny and planetary genocide.  It has a remote control that lets you cue the "Imperial March" music.  Also to start up a light show.  

Not exactly Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.  But we have more to see.

Of course it is Easter, not Christmas, when we celebrate Christ dying and arising from the Dead.  I hope, I really, really hope that this "Rick Grimes, Walking Dead" ornament is not still hanging around on clearance sale by then.  Hallmark seems pretty efficient with respect to moving old stock out.  They probably have a huge cavern storage facility somewhere to store all the things that don't sell very well.  Please, let this be one of them.

These photos were snapped with my phone, and I sometimes sense the puzzled eyes of salesclerks directed my way.  So sorry, "The Alien Queen" is a bit blurred both photographically and thematically here.  Again, really hoping this does not carry over until Easter.  Just think of the eggs.....

But to get about as bizzare as I think is possible in this Time-Space continuum I had to get a couple of shots of an ornament that does not appear in the wide shot up top. C'mon in close, the sales lady is busy ringing up my wife's purchases...

What the....?  

This is listed in the Hallmark catalog as Star Trek (tm) "The Man Trap" Kirk and Salt Monster Ornament with Sound. 

I don't think I can imagine, and my imagination is pretty darned good, something with less connection to Christmas.  So I guess we will simply have to appreciate this peculiar cultural artifact on its own merits.  This references one of the very earliest of Trek episodes, when the "creatures" were rather crudely fashioned, and when William Shatner had yet to develop the subtle nuances that have since come to characterize him as perhaps the most sensitive and accomplished actor of the modern era.

Here is a screen shot from the original 1966 episode.  Did Hallmark capture the moment properly?

Oh my.  They appear to have out Shatnered Shatner himself!

I shall hide nothing from you.  I am a terrible Christmas shopper.  Most of this is my fault and I make few apologies.  But when the themes of Christmas have gotten this peculiar I feel as if my distracted and inefficient shopping efforts really should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Things that circle outside the light...

On our front porch we usually keep a little Fall Tableau up until it starts to look "Christmasy" and it is time for those decorations.  Nothing elaborate.  A pumpkin, a few gourds, some corn. The odd purple things are a plant that I am too lazy to identify properly so I call it "Alien Cabbage".  They stay viable quite late in the season, no doubt having been bred hardy on the dark, radioactive plantoid of their origin.

With my wife out of town for a few days I was given discretion with respect to when the Fall Tableau got taken out to the compost bin.  The other day I looked down and saw that I was Too Late.

I don't know what kind of critter crept up in the dark and gnawed a hole in the pumpkin.  So many generations, such a gulf of time that separates us from our cave dwelling predecessors.

But still there are hungry things that circle just outside the light, just beyond our doorstep....