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January 1, 2014

A bad year for our annual Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten list

It’s been a disappointing year for those of us who enjoy Top Ten Top Ten lists. Last year I found an arguable ten or so for my Top Ten top Ten Top Ten list.

This year, my Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten lists contains only four:

Then there were some sites that seemed promising but can’t count in a list as rigorous as this. I have my standards, people!

Not only is this a disaster for this year’s list, it calls into question our progress toward the dream: a Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten list. But I have hope. We can do this!

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November 27, 2013

Pronouns were a mistake that we can fix

I think half the questions I ask a certain set of people are of the sort “Wait, which ‘he’?” or “Sheila or Marg?” All pronouns do is introduce ambiguity, error, and irked moods. We’d be better off without them, by which I mean without pronouns.

Worse, in some languages pronouns force us to make decisions about the gender of inanimate objects and even of abstractions. How does that help? Why don’t we also pretend that every object has a race, an eye color, and a favorite fruit? Assigning everything hit points would actually make more sense.

There are two arguments in favor of pronouns. First, some people’s names are long. Might I suggest that if we got rid of pronouns, people would soon start taking shorter names? Or we’d come up with a convention to shorten the names in unambiguous ways. Perhaps “y” would be appended to the first syllable, as in “First Lady Michy said to President Oby, “Bary, I think you ought to meet with ex-Governor Schwarzy,” all without any implied disrespect.

Second, plural pronouns can be useful when the group doesn’t have a known name or an obvious common descriptor. For example, “Two men, a woman, and a cockerspaniel drove up to an off-duty waiter and a former action movie star, and said ‘Hey, why don’t you get in our car?,” which they did.” The ‘they’ in that sentence does some useful work. I will allow it.

First person plural is an interesting challenge. I think I would allow “we” only for an indefinite group, as in the title of this post. Otherwise, instead use the name or descriptor of the group you have in mind. Think about how clarifying it would be to actually have to specify who you’re pretending to speak for?

I will allow the use of the first person singular since it is less ambiguous than using your own name: “Give that to David” isn’t helpful when I’m in a room with David Winer, David Cameron, and Michelangelo’s Statue of David. Second person singular pronouns should not be allowed, however, since there can be ambiguity about whom one is addressing. Second person plural I will allow on the same grounds as third person plural. Plus, by disallowing the second person singular, I have solved the ambiguity caused by using the exact same frigging word for second person singular and plural. What were we thinking?

Y’all are welcome.

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November 3, 2013

This mnemonic does not mnemon

I fall forward far more often than I fall back.

I can’t remember the last time I sprang forward or sprang back.

Worst. Mnemonic. Ever.

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September 29, 2013

Fake spoilers to tweet during Breaking Bad

Here’s a sequence of fake spoilers you can tweet during tonight’s Breaking Bad finale.

There are IMPLIED SPOILERS in this if you haven’t seen the series. E.g., if you don’t know what happens to Gus, read no further. Mainly, though, it implies who is alive when the finale begins.

First, just a palette cleanser:

First time viewer! Can someone catch me up? #BreakingBad

Then:

The New Mexico landscape is so beautiful, forbidding. But why is Pisa leaning in the background? Foreshadowing? #BreakingBad
I don’t remember Jesse having a hook for a hand? Did I miss an episode????? #BreakingBad
Surprise! I really did not see that Paula Deen cameo coming! #BreakingBad
Hahahaha. First time Saul ever wins a case and it turns out to be a case of TNT! Boom! #BreakingBad
Don’t eat it, Huell. Don’t eat it. DON’T EAT IT!!!!!!! #BreakingBad
I told you not to eat it :( #BreakingBad
OMG. NPH is great in EVERYTHING #BreakingBad
One thing you have to say about the Neo-Nazis: they sing ABBA beautifully. #BreakingBad
Gus is alive??? I don’t think I’m buying this “bionic face” device #BreakingBad
Todd meet the new sheriff in town: Chuck Freaking Norris! Yeah!! #roundhouse! #BreakingBad
But if Skyler’s outfit is made from cloth from Krypton and is indestructible, how did she sew it? #BreakingBad
I looove Robin Williams, but was this really the right time for zany improv? #BreakingBad
Really? Wouldn’t the constant stream of water from the car wash have put out the Hell Mouth? #BreakingBad
Well, he died as he lived. In his tighty whiteys. #BreakingBad

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September 16, 2013

Breaking Bad SPOILER (not really)

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September 10, 2013

The Internet Must Go

I wouldn’t have thought that Net Neutrality would be a particular rich vein for humor. But I was wrong. The Internet Must Die is a Colbert-style satire, with many of the heroes of the Open Internet in it.

 


A court yesterday heard arguments about whether the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules [pdf] should be permitted to stand. Harold Feld does his usual superlative job of explaining in depth.

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August 23, 2013

Game of Thrones, Season 4 Episode1 [NO SPOILERS]

Valyrian steel spun sparks from the iron shield emblazoned with a red sun pierced by a golden spear. Rhaegar Targaryan pivoted left with the blow, causing the sword to rebound to the earth. Victarion felt his wrists twist with the strain, which only caused him to grasp the mighty two-handed sword more firmly.

As he pulled the tip from the loam it had pierced, the keen-edged weapon shed soil the way his wife had shed tears the day Tommen Baratheon, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, had thrown their daughter Janna into the Karhold where she vanished beneath the waves without having time to scream for help or mercy. On that day a silence had descended between Victarion and his wife, broken only by the most necessary of exchanges.

His memories must have slowed him, for Rhaegar was now upon him, his double-bladed battle axe carving Victarion’s arm from his elbow as cleanly as a butcher preparing a lamb for his lord’s name day. The blood pulsed red-black from what remained of his limb. “Send a white raven to my wife Doreah,” he said with what breath remained.

“This I shall do,” Rhaegar promised as Victarion slumped to the ground. “But first I must ask you…”

“Be quick, for I shall not be quick for long.”

“I’ll do my best. But I’m just wondering why you have a shield emblazoned with a red sun and a golden spear.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because, unless I’m very much mistaken, you are a Greyjoy, and the Greyjoy sigil is a golden kraken upon a black field.”

“That can’t be right. I’m definitely a Greyjoy,” said Victarion. “But I’m pretty sure the Greyjoy sigil is that sun and spear rigamarole. I remember thinking it looks like someone eating a pancake with a chopstick.”

“No, that’s House Martell. I’m right about this. Trust me.”

“Really? I bought it from Petyr Baelish. I definitely told him I was a Greyjoy.”

A crooked smile passed over Rhaegar’s face. Victarion shrugged, sending waves of pain down his frayed arm.

“Ok, if you’re so smart,” said the dying warrior, “which is your sigil, Targaryan?”

Rhaegar did not have to think before responding to the challenge. “Three black dogs on a dark yellow background. Our motto is ‘Cut us and you will cry.’”

“Hah! That’s the Cleagne sigil. And the motto belongs to the House Seaworth,.”

“No, I’m pretty sure Targaryan is the three dogs. And I never even heard of the House Seaworth.”

“Oh, it’s a real thing, alright. You don’t hear about Seaworth because it’s ruled by a landed knight, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Brightening, Victarion asked, “You know what they call that guy, Ser Davos Seaworth?”

“I have no idea.”

“The Onion Knight,” said Victarion before Rhaegar had even finished. “Wow, you really don’t know your houses!”

“You’re one to talk,” Rhaegar replied, idly kicking at Victarion’s severed arm. “Your entire backstory doesn’t make any sense.”

“The hell it doesn’t!”

“Alright then,” Rhaegar challenged the fallen knight. “Tommen Baratheon isn’t Lord Paramount of the Westerlands. Lord Paramount of the Westerlands is another name for Tywin Lannister, and Tommen Baratheon isn’t even a Lannister at all. He’s a Baratheon.”

“I thought a Baratheon was just a name, not a clan thing.”

Rhaegar burst out laughing. “Really? Really?? You thought Tommen Baratheon might be a Lannister.”

“Baratheon could be his middle name,” Victarion replied testily. “Tommen Baratheon Lannister. It could be!”

“We don’t have middle names!”

“Oh yeah? How about Tyrian Lannister the Imp?”

“What are you talking about, Victarion? ‘The Imp’ is an epithet, not a middle name.”

“‘The Imp’ is at the end. That puts ‘Lannister’ in the middle. In the middle, middle name.”

“By the Old Gods, you are an idiot. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Because you know my logic’s right.”

“You are so wrong. And even if you were right about the name — which you’re not — Tommen Baratheon is like eight years old. He wasn’t even born when your daughter Janna drowned.”

“I was pretty sure it was him.”

“I’m pretty sure not. And another thing, Janna wasn’t your daughter. She was actually the sister of Mace Tyrell, who grew up and married Ser Jon Fossoway.”

“Ah, to learn that she survived the waves and lived to the age of ripeness eases my passing. Thank you, sir.”

“You’re not listening. Jenna wasn’t your daughter. Couldn’t have been. She wasn’t killed by a boy who wasn’t even born yet. And the sea that you say she drowned in — Karhold — is actually a castle. It’s not even particularly close to water. And, sorry to break this to you, but Doreah isn’t your wife. She was just a handmaiden to Daenerys Targaryen.”

“The hot one with white hair and dark eyebrows?” Victarion said, perking up.

“Hey, she’s my relative, so don’t get all creepy on me. But, yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, Doreah was just a minor character who bedded Viserys, the guy with the white hair and dark eyebrows. Talk about creepy guys!”

“You got that right.”

“So, Doreah: not your wife. Right?”

“Fine. But I’ve got one for you,” Victarion said, his strength fleeing him like his blood seeping into the patient earth.

“What is it?”

“Fun fact: Rhaegar Targaryan was killed in Robert’s Rebellion before this whole series began.”

“No way!”

“Way.”

“Then who am I?”

“How the hell should I know? Why don’t you do what everyone else does? Keep a tab open to Google.”

With that, the might Victarion’s spirit fled. And then the hot one with the white hair and dark eyebrows strode firmly, proudly, nakedly, into her bath.

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August 11, 2013

Summer questions

Hummingbirds come to our capacious feeder, sip for a few seconds, and then leave. But why would they ever leave? Do they have something better to do?

If I set a trigger so that every time a hummingbird lands on our feeder, it plays a sound, can I then use that sound to assemble a hummingbird army? I’ll let you know.

Geese are monogamous, but can they be seduced? What would it take? I’m thinking snails would just be an insult. It’d probably take a flamingo.

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July 19, 2013

Reflections on a majestic eagle

We are on vacation at the lake house I share with my brother and sister. A bald eagle has made its home here. This morning I spotted it high in a pine tree, watching for prey. As I looked at it, it looked down at me. Our eyes caught. In that moment, I felt myself migrate into its body, and it migrate into mine. With my newly keened vision I could see myself from on high, and I realized that no one gets away with wearing a plaid shirt with plaid shorts, and at last I understood why the animals all laugh at me.


It is estimated by the the well-known scientist, Dr. Passive Voice Anonymous, that bald eagles are successful at catching prey only one in eighteen strikes. In short, from bald eagles we learn the important lesson that even they are not very good at what they do, and that a human with a rifle or even a baseball bat would be far better at being an eagle.


Benjamin Franklin, the only president of the United States who was never president [source], proposed that the turkey be the symbol of America. Thomas Jefferson objected however, arguing that “the sign and symbol of a nation so dedicated to ideals of human nature should not itself be delicious.” The two great men met to discuss the matter at a legendary dinner in the Priors Alehouse on Broad Street in Philadelphia, and emerged with a document that declared the bald eagle to be “sufficiently stringy, albeit with a certain gamyness not unpleasant to the tooth” to serve as the new nation’s symbol.

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July 1, 2013

Repeal the Internet: The MadLibs version

Here’s the MadLibs version of the Robert Samuelson paragraph about repealing the Internet. Have fun!

If I could, I would repeal                . It is the       adj          marvel of the age, but it is not — as most people imagine — a symbol of progress. Just the opposite. We would be better off without it. I grant its astonishing capabilities:        trivial example        ,      trivial example          ,     wrong example          , and much more. But the                ’s benefits are relatively modest compared with previous transformative technologies, and it brings with it a terrifying danger:                . Amid the controversy over leaks from the National Security Agency, this looms as an even bigger downside.

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