Archive for July, 2009

AP Photo/Jim Prisching

AP Photo/Jim Prisching

Thursday’s perfect game by White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle was the 18th in modern baseball history, with an amazing 9th-inning catch by outfielder Dewayne Wise to preserve the historic game. It called to mind a piece I wrote for WMUB’s old “Words and Meanings” series a few years ago. Obviously the first paragraph could use a little updating, but you get the drift..

“Baseball season is in full swing and so far, at least as of the time this is being recorded, we haven’t seen a perfect game. Well, we can always hope, but until we do I’d like to explore that term perfect in today’s Words and Meanings, and ask what it means to you.

My American Heritage dictionary gives perfect as one meaning of flawless; that is, “being entirely without flaw or im-perfection.” Well, OK, a perfect game could easily be described as flawless — no mistakes. However, these two words don’t always carry the same emotional content. Let’s try again, this time by approaching the verb form perfect. Here, American Heritages gives us “to bring to perfection or completion.”

Aha. Now we’re on the trail. Here we have an active verb — to “bring to.” The adjective perfect, you see, is formed from two Latin roots — the verb facio/facere, ‘to make,’ as in manu-facture, originally to “make by hand,” now meaning almost the opposite, combined with the prefix per-, which gave Latin verbs the sense of ‘entirely, thoroughly, completely.’

So, while their dictionary definitions resemble each other, there’s a real difference between flawless and perfect. Flawless implies an ideal original, not marred in any way; but perfect can carry with it the sense of something originally flawed having become purified through conscious action. A jewel, or a beauty, can be flawless — but its perfection has to have been there from the beginning. But most of us have to struggle toward perfection with rather more humble beginnings, and probably won’t ever quite get there. Not many pitchers pitch ever get that perfect game, and the ones that do work mighty hard at it.

So I’m going to draw one moral from this discussion — and then I’m going to turn it on its head. The first moral is easy: don’t assume that one word means the same as another. In fact, they never do. Language is a great natural system and the DNA, if you will, of each word is different. But don’t count on the dictionary or thesaurus always to tell you that. DNA is, after all, rather extraordinarily complex.

If that seems too grim, then take comfort from my second moral, which is almost the reverse of the first. In this little ramble I’ve actually committed before your very ears a horrible linguistic blunder that goes by the name of the etymological fallacy. We can use etymology, or the history of words, to tell us where words come from. Flawless is part of the good old English word hoard, of ancient origin. Perfect is, as we’ve seen, more-or-less a borrowing from Latin in the long run.

But most speakers of those words won’t know that and often use the words interchangeably. Does that matter? Yes, in a profound way, it does, because language is in the final analysis a mutually-agreed-upon set of symbols and significations. If we all agree that they’re the same, then they are. Not only that, you could even make a counter case, which I did not, from theology, which uses “perfect” to describe entities which have not been per-fected, but are perfect from eternity.

Still, those who love language and the play of words like to know where our words come from and what auras they still give off. If you’re like me, flawless will always have an aura of iciness and stillness, and perfect seethes with restlessness, tension and hard work. Just like a perfect game.”

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Vocus = spam


David B (photo by bwjones) is not a spammer

Lately I’ve been trying to close out the email account I used at WMUB Public Radio (Miami University). Since my name and address was printed in various media guides, I got a lot of interview and book pitches, etc. For most of these I just click on an “Unsubscribe” link. The best are those that just automatically do that. The worst (in ascending order of turpitude) are those that:

  • Require you do do a few more clicks
  • Make you unsubscribe, then come back and resubscribe with a new address when ALL I WANT TO DO IS CHANGE MY FREAKIN’ EMAIL ADDRESS
  • Tell you the changes will take effect in 10 days (What th’… ?)
  • Tell you to call a phone number, with extensions, during business hours
  • Have no way to unsubscribe
  • Use fraudulent unsubscribe links
  • Have anything to do with Vocus

It began when I tried to unsubscribe from a couple of especially annoying and egregious promotional pitches. I began to notice that instead of reducing my inbox clutter, I was getting more and more of this junk from Vocus. Obviously the unsubscribe request was simply triggering more spam.

Here’s more on this rotten bunch from ‘word of mouth marketer’ David Binkowski’s blog in 2007. His last post was in March 2009 so I don’t know if his blog is still active. Wish I had seen this earlier.

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CreepyPalmPreAdCount me among those who find the current crop of Palm Pre ads with Tamara Hope to be seriously missing the mark. The 3rd one, ‘Reincarnation,’ is especially . . . well, creepy.

I don’t have a Pre and don’t plan to get one, though I liked the Treo 650 I used for several years. So I don’t read the Palm blogs, but after seeing the ad I Googled “stupid Palm Pre ad” and discovered I’m not alone (one rarely is in cyberspace these days).

The techie contingent seems to object that the ads don’t show all the cool features of the Pre. I don’t have a problem with soft or image ads if they’re cleverly done. But this one leaves me . . . well, creeped out.

By the way, phooey on Apple for disabling iTunes for the Pre. Not good.

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Reflected Best Self

CPOS-LogoI’m enrolled at a program called Back to Business at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business. Last week we studied an assessment tool called Reflected Best Self, which is copyrighted by the University of Michigan. I’ve never used it but it looked to be an interesting way to address the performance review dilemma.

Frankly, everyone hates performance reviews. We always remember the negatives, no matter how much positive there is. Yet we know that people are more likely to change with positive direction. This method looks like an interesting attempt to make that work.

There are quite a few web sites about Reflected Best Self. Here’s one from Michigan.

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49OldHundred-OComeI’m no expert on this topic, but I fond this post from a member of the Fasola Discussions list to be very moving. (Fasola refers to the syllables Fa, Sol, La, three of the four syllables used by Sacred Harp singers — find out more at Fasola.org). The question that arose was whether lifelong singing keeps the mind alert.

I did a sort of vigil with my mom the night she died (from cumulative side effects of advanced Alzheimer’s).  She was a lifelong member of the Disciples of Christ, and a minister’s wife, and of course had known all their hymns.  And so had I, being their kid.  So I got out my bayan (a Russian chromatic button accordion, which she wouldn’t have known from Adam’s off ox, even when she had her mental faculties) and played through the old hymn book I found in the dresser of her nursing home room.  It was mostly later 19th century hymns, some gospel songs — The old rugged cross, Sweet hour of prayer, Let the lower lights be burning — that genre, anyway.  And I did a few more “oldies” that weren’t in the hymn book — like Whispering hope, In the garden, and Help somebody today — since I knew she used to like them.

The bayan sounds pretty much like the reed organs of her youth; and she was moving her mouth with at least some of the words of nearly every song I played.  She probably hadn’t recognized any visitor for six months before that, and could no longer move her major limbs. And she was in the final phase of a Do Not Resuscitate order (advance medical directive) that she had requested and signed, years before. But at some deep level, she still clearly knew one old hymn from another. I played hymns off and on from about 9:30 PM to 12:30 AM, before I called it a night. And the nurses woke me up at 5 AM to tell me she had stopped breathing.

If anybody’s into the Daniel Gawthrop number, “Sing me to Heaven,” it was that sort of experience.

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Sync Mac with BlackBerry?

PocketMacThemeLonger than usual post:

I’ve just spent an irritating 48 hours trying to figure out how to sync my Calendar and Contacts/Address Book data between my Mac and my BlackBerry. When I was on the Miami University BES server, I used Entourage to do this. But Cincinnati Bell’s advice was to use PocketMac to sync my Apple iCal and Address Book data to the BB.

I found PocketMac to be of no use on my current Mac, an older iBook G3 running 10.4.11. I installed and Uninstalled it several times, following BlackBerry’s advice to the letter, but I never got it to open right. And it seems to have corrupted my .Mac settings to boot. Judging from a Google search, I’m not alone in this frustration.

Why would Apple and RIM push such a piece of junk forward? I suppose Apple has no interest in helping a competitor to its iPhone. But why wouldn’t RIM do better helping out a non-negligible base of Mac-loving BlackBerry users?

I finally found the solution, thanks to one frustrated poster on BB’s message board: scrap the Apple programs and use Google Calendar and Contacts. Just:

  • save the data from both iCal and Address Book
  • set up the corresponding Google Calendar and Google Contacts
  • upload your data
  • add Google Sync to your BlackBerry
  • do initial syncs (takes a while)

I ran into one problem with Google Contacts. I’d forgotten that I had previously set it up long ago. It added my new uploads, most of which were duplicates of existing names. I could see their existence via the record count but they didn’t appear on screen. Google Sync worked fine for my Calendar but Contacts crashed. I signed out, Quit Firefox and opened Safari. Safari showed the duplicates, so I selected and Deleted them all. Problem solved.

Another irritant: PocketMac is “free” on the PocketMac site — but they charge a fee for downloads! It’s truly free on the RIM/Blackberry site, though. PocketMac does have a semi-cool Mac-like theme for a couple of bucks extra if you download (above).

I may forget about iCal and Address Book. I could Export the Google data and import it back to the Apple apps, but that may be more trouble than it’s worth.

I may cross-post this on the Help Desk blog.

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Seneca Rocks

senecarocksWhen we returned from our Shenanadoah/Luray trip we took a new route for us, taking U.S. 33 west (technically, north) from Harrisonburg, VA to I-79 south of Clarksburg, WV. It’s 2-lane most of the way, with several steep grades and lots of twists. But it was very little traveled (at least on a Wednesday) and passes through some beautiful areas, including Seneca Rocks. I’d never seen them before but they’re apparently well-known to rock climbers.

We didn’t stop since we had such a long trip that day. Even from the road, they’re striking.

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IMG_0818More from our trip to Shenandoah/Skyline Drive: we saw at least two bears foraging on the side of the road — one cub on Skyline (shown here), and another larger one on US 211 near Luray. I’d been there several times, but had never seen bears before.

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From Anu Garg’s daily A Word a Day newsletter (though it’s not on his web site:

I’ve been alerted to an event that will take place later this week [today], something that happens once and only once over the course of history. Shortly after noon on July 8, comes the moment that can be called 12:34:56 7/8/9…

It’s not exactly true that this sequence of time/date happens only once. If you follow the day/month/year convention, you can observe the same sequence next month, on August 7.

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Dark Hollow Falls

IMG_0806We’ve just returned from a short trip to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley/Skyline Drive area. One of the popular hikes is Dark Hollow Falls at mile 50.7 — popular because it’s near a big campground, and it has the shortest walk of all the falls on Skyline Drive, though the trail is a little steep. Since we were there on a Monday, the crowds weren’t too bad. The upper falls were impressive, and we thought the lower stretch (shown here) reminded us of the paintings of the 19th-century Hudson River School artists.

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