Category Comment Magazine

Prime Directives

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Amid the tumult of the ongoing, not-particularly-seasonal upheavals of the Arab Spring, a little press release last month caused quite a stir among certain quarters of the Western media and the meme-amplifying online world: a planned $1.5 billion development, backed by the king of Jordan, to build a Star Trek theme park at Aqaba on the Red Sea coast.

It’s the sort of story we love to pass along. Eccentric ruler of small nation tied to zany development ploy. Even better, Abdullah II is a noted Trekkie (perhaps even to the extent of insisting that the proper name is Trekker) who once, during his princely days, finagled a non-speaking appearance on an episode of the TV series Star Trek: Voyager. You can watch it on YouTube, his royal highness’s four seconds of futuristic fame, as he stands aglow in the jumpsuit-unitard-uniform of a Starfleet ensign.

Astonishment, Excitement, Embarrassment, Etc.

Bethany L. King/flickr

It is, I think you will agree, the rather rare headline that contains a total of eleven exclamation marks. Nonetheless, there it was, on the editorial page of the April 5 New York Times: “OMG!!! OED!!! LOL!!!!!“—a lighthearted, unsigned opinion celebrating the addition of a pair of Internet- and text-message-boosted Three-Letter Initialisms1 into the greatest TLI of them all: the Oxford English Dictionary.

There were a lot of similar headlines that week, conveying much the same news: that the OED had announced, as they do from time to time, a set of new and revised definitions—part of their lexicographers’ never-ending task of making sure the flagship dictionary of the English language remains up to date. Hence, this month, the new inclusion of fnarr-fnarr, singledom, banh mi, smack-talking, stonewash, tinfoil hat, behavioral economics, wassup, biker, runathon, happy camper, Second Coming, rumble-de-thumps (along with dozens of other R-words), and as a headliner, OMG: “colloq. (freq. in the language of electronic communications) . . . Expressing astonishment, excitement, embarrassment, etc.: ‘oh my God!'”

Man/Woman/Boy/Girl

Explore the full photo grid lightables.net (enter user name manwomanboygirl).

Is there anything more tiresome, and yet oddly compelling, than the sub-sub-genre of blogging wherein one’s pedestrian but repeatable creative efforts in a given category are laid out, day after day, as a great cumulative achievement of artistry and time management? See, for instance: A Photo a Day. A Drawing a Day. A Heart a Day. A Song a Day. A Dog a Day. A Startup a Day. A Collection a Day. Et cetera.

Citation Needed

wikipedia

This year marks the tenth birthday of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that anyone (with a computer, an Internet connection, and nothing better to do) can edit. Quite often I fit those categories to a T, but the sad truth is that in my years of wikiresearching, wikiquoting, and wikiforwarding article links to unsuspecting friends, I have only one edit to my name (or rather, my IP address). It’s not that I haven’t found mistakes, or inconsistencies, or editorial potholes: rather, it’s that those are part of what I’ve come to love Wikipedia—all ten years and 3.5 million entries of it—for.

The joys and perils of overlapping reading

cc Shutterhacks/flickr

There are many reasons why I was never able to finish reading Crime and Punishment—the type was a bit on the small side, the names and the chapters were a little too long, the plot reminded me of a bad experience I had in high school—but, in hindsight, I’d say the blame falls heaviest at the feet of two men. I am speaking, of course, of Gandhi and Hitler.

Allow me to explain.

How not to do your physics homework

covilha/flickr

Foucault’s pendulum has fallen. On April 6, the steel cable snapped and sent it crashing onto the polished floor of the Musée des Artes et Metiers in Paris. The 28 kilogram brass weight ended its 159-year career—the dented bob is, a museum spokesperson affirmed, beyond repair—doing what it was meant to do: obeying the law of gravity. I have to admit I shed a tear (or at least the idea of a tear) for the fallen bit of scientific history, not because I’d visited the pendulum myself, or even read the 1988 Umberto Eco novel which takes its title and climax from the now-not-swinging orb. I have my own tangled history with pendulums—one stretching back, depending how you count it, decades, even centuries. It’s quite a bit of weight to bear, but a tale worth telling.

My charango

Bolivian Charango

wikipedia

A few months ago, around my thirty-fourth birthday, I decided what I really needed was a smaller guitar. A man reaches a certain age, I guess, and after spending most of my life figuring out tunes on a classical guitar, I figured I’d gotten as good at “Wayfaring Stranger” as I was going to get. I thought something smaller might enliven the mix.

There aren’t really any standard guitars more diminutive than my Yamaha classical—I toyed with the idea of a Martin 000-series like Woody Guthrie painted up and played (“This Machine Kills Fascists“). But I realized that my desire to tweak Guthrie’s proto-punk motto into something more comfortably charitable (“This Machine Loves Fascists”? Wait, that doesn’t sound right) would probably make the 000 a not-quite-satisfying axe. Besides, other musical cultures—and more importantly, more-fun-to-say instrument names—beckoned.

Subtleties

Still from Fellini’s (1963). Not the movie I’ve been talking about, but you get the idea.

One Friday night in the early 1990s, my family rented an old black-and-white foreign film for our weekend’s entertainment. I don’t recall the movie’s title, let alone what any of us thought of it when we viewed it, but I remember very clearly a bit of promotional copy on the front of the VHS cassette’s cardboard slipcase, in the space usually reserved for Siskel and Ebert’s thumbs: NOW WITH YELLOW SUBTITLES!

You had me at ‘hello’

Telephone Booths

image cc Richard Stowey/flickr

A few days ago I followed a link to Omniglot, a treasure-trove of comparative linguistics for laymen and the lovers of global alphabets, of which I am both. The page I landed on was titled Translations of Hello in many languages and featured a giant three-column table offering standard greetings in 182 languages, scrolling from goeie dag (Afrikaans) all the way to sanibonani (Zulu). Perusing this chart brought two questions to my mind. First, why do I have a link to Kanye West’s blog on my browser’s toolbar, but not one for Omniglot? And second, wait, a three-column chart? For along with “Language” and “Hello” there was the distinct-yet-apparently-essential column labelled “Hello (on phone).”

Grace between the cushions:A love letter to my college couch

During my last two years of college, I lived with two roommates, and
we furnished our rooms pretty much exclusively with things we found in
the trash. We were none of us poor, but we were all quite cheap, and
for two years running the luck of the draw had placed us in our
dormitory’s “garbage entryway,” a dingy, be-dumpstered archway where
the garbage and castoffs of our entire 800-resident undergraduate house
was left pending weekly pickup.