Sunday, August 23

American English

Today's Futility Closet quotes an Americanized Hamlet by writer Albert Edward Wilson, guessing that "it might be from the 1930s". I decided to have a look...

In the 1 Sep 1945 Adelaide (Australia) The Mail is a piece — apparently from a reader — titled Uncle Samlet:

   So Hollywood is to film "Hamlet" up to date with Cary Grant playing the Gloomy Dane as a modern man, and speaking to a 1945 script (writes "Jacques").
   Some years ago Sir Barry Jackson produced a Hamlet, who wore plus-fours, and smoked cigars, but Shakespeare's script wasn't altered. Sir Herbert Tree gave the Prince of Denmark a beard, a score of women (including Bernhardt) played the part, but this screen version will strike a new note. Can you imagine the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy in modern American? Something like this, maybe:—

"To quit or not to quit: that's what I'm up against.
Ought I to stick the darn thing out,
Let old man Fortune make a monkey out of me,
Or take a crack against this gang of twerps
And swipe the lot of them..."
   And so on.

Very similar to the start of the A.E. Wilson version so one might suspect that it was taken from him. By the way, the Cary Grant (Hitchcock) version of Hamlet was not to be. I wonder how the soliloquy was handled in Irving Fiske's (1941) Hamlet in Modern English? At any rate, the very idea of an Americanized Hamlet occurs much earlier. Here's a 1917 version in the Richmond Guardian:

   An authority estimates that in about 20 years the American language will be unintelligible to English ears. Then we shall, doubtless, hear the latest American representative of Hamlet delivering the famous speech something like this:—

To quit or not to quit — that's what I'm up against
Is it the cheese to sit still in the game,
And take whatever's coming to you yet,
Or to put up a rough-house 'gainst a bunch of troubles
Till they are down and out?
Who'd stand for all the hardest kind of luck,
The frozen face, the main guy's jollying,
The fly cop's club, the handling of a lemon
When any old time he can chase himself
Into the boneyard?

Say what?

Friday, August 21

Trust, but verify

The phrase is generally attributed to (president) Ronald Reagan by way of a Russian proverb. Reagan may well have popularized the expression (in English) but it appears in print somewhat earlier; for example, translated from a "Khrushchevian motto" in the Jan/Feb 1966 issue of Problems of Communism. I'm going to suggest prior usage much further back in time, albeit significantly out of context. The following quotation negates the 'trust' part, but doesn't that make more sense?

"The secret of success in the practical study of facts is to observe carefully and patiently; to take nothing on trust, but verify the truth of every appearance; to test the accuracy of every impression, and bring each inference to the trial of fact without daring to make any generalisation."

[The Lancet: To the medical student. London, 13 Sep 1879]

Thursday, August 6

The refund

The 3 TB hard drive on my late-2012 iMac failed in September 2014, nine months past the one-year Apple warranty included with the computer's purchase. It cost me over $400 (Canadian) to have it replaced. I was a little pissed at the time because hard drives ordered directly from manufacturers are generally guaranteed for five years, so this seemed like a drive manufacturing defect for which I was made to pay because I purchased it through a third party.

Fast-forward another nine months: Apple officially recognizes a problem with those drives and initiates a replacement program. Since I already had my drive replaced, I was offered a full refund on the aforementioned expense instead. Great! I phoned Apple and they mailed me a check. Or at least they said they did. After five weeks, I informed them of not having received it. One of my options was to have that check cancelled and have the funds transferred electronically instead. I decided to try this. I phoned Apple with my banking details and, after an initial mixup over the so-called transit number, found the money in my bank account on July 30. Great!

Then, yesterday, I received a check in the mail for those same funds, initiated on the same day as my wire transfer — July 30 — so this was not the check mailed a month earlier.

Of course I had no intention of cashing the check but I thought it would be a courtesy to let them know of it, since the check's creation at the same time that the funds were being wired electronically pointed to an obscure failing of Apple's refund procedure. I provided the check date, number, and the reference numbers that were on the printout that accompanied the check. The slightly snarky email response was: "I can confirm that we successfully canceled the check, so we appreciate your assistance in discarding it, and not attempting to cash it." There seemed to be no recognition that the check they had cancelled was (presumably) the older check and not this newly generated one! Wow.

Monday, July 13

It's bigger than we thought

Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog (for Slate) this morning had me in a wee bit of a tizzy. One might have expected better. Plait's contention that the very preliminary New Horizons Pluto diameter of 2370 ±20 km somehow betters the previous estimate — which he thought was 2368 ±20 km — is just silly and (likely because a few of his readers said so) he has since done a couple of updates to soften the headline.

It gets worse. It is true that there was — and continues to be — a lot of confusion about Pluto's diameter. I don't know who first thought to add the ±20 to the 2368 km but a number of current online planetary sources had it. However, the 2368 almost certainly comes from an article about the variation of methane abundance in Pluto's atmosphere. The authors suggest:

For the sake (and amusement) of making predictions, we "guess" here a radius of 1184 km, based on our considerations on its likely lower (1180 km) and upper (1188 km) limits.

So their estimate is actually 2368 ±8 km! In his second update Plait says: "Emily Lakdawalla in the article linked in the first update says that the new measurements reduce the uncertainty quite a bit, and I'm inclined to agree." Really? Why would Lakdawalla suggest this? Last year Emily Lakdawalla authored an article titled When will we know which is bigger, Pluto or Eris? In it, Lakdawalla quotes Alan Stern (principal investigator of the New Horizons mission) saying that "we already know the radius to ± 20 kilometers", to which she explains (in brackets) that "they know the diameter to ± 40 kilometers". Wow!

Wednesday, July 8

Strength in numbers

For many years now I have been an admirer of the mechanics of swallowwort growth. If two or more of the spindly stalks are sufficiently close together, they will (on contact) braid themselves into a more sturdy (rope-like) superstalk. The additional strength of this structure allows the plants to reach higher, before weight (eventually) arches them over. If under a tree, that extra push may be all that is needed to reach a lower branch. The vine (Cynanchum rossicum) is invasive in North America and there is plenty of it in the local (private) cemetery. A relative of American milkweed, the thickets created by the plant have given it the moniker dog-strangling vine.

Friday, June 26


Spin is my first acquaintance with a Jos Bergmans creation, realized here in exotic woods by Brian Menold. Bergmans' polycube constructions are for me a natural progression from my old standby, Stewart Coffin's Convolution, and its subsequent improvement, Involute. Spin is a pleasure to take apart and put back together.

Monday, June 15

Japanese tree lilac

At this time of the year, my walks to and from the park are distracted by these two mature Japanese tree lilacs — Syringa reticulata — in bloom. The pervasive fragrance of the showy flowers is to me quite pleasant, an opinion not apparently shared by everyone. One person described it as vaguely fishy but — as another commenter there pointed out — it is musky, not muskie.

Sunday, June 14

Free ride

Today was Metrolinx's appreciation day for the Bloor and Weston communities putting up with the rail service construction's inconveniences. In spite of a steady rain, the event seemed well attended. I picked up my free round-trip ticket and went up to the downtown platform where I watched a full up train come and leave without me. I then proceeded to the airport platform for what turned out to be more of the same. One might have expected a small ramp up of services (considering the freebie) but I guess appreciation only goes so far. Standing in a crowded passenger vehicle for an hour is not my idea of a worthwhile venture. I left the platform, availed myself of a free hot dog, and sauntered home.

Sunday, June 7

Weston Station

A couple more pictures of the new Union Pearson Express train. Above, a train in Weston Station — headed downtown (the top of the CN tower is visible above the front of the train). The station is far from ready. I had to dodge workers to get to the platform — and the new footbridge across Lawrence Avenue West was still closed! Below, a train has left the station going to the airport — about to enter the tunnel that allows Weston's King and Church streets not to be interrupted by the UP service. John Street was a third major Weston thoroughfare (roughly where the train is in the photo). It being too close to the Lawrence rail overpass, the railroad section of John had to be sacrificed to the tunnel approach's downslope. In lieu of the road, residents have been promised a footbridge.

Saturday, June 6

UP and away

The Union Pearson Express trains started their passengers-accepted runs this morning. My first photo shows a three-parter shortly after it had left Weston station (one of only two stops: a 7-minute walk from my home) on its 25-minute ride from the airport to downtown Toronto. The outrageously high fares are mitigated somewhat if one buys a transit debit card for one's payments. My second photo, a few minutes later, shows a two-parter from Toronto about to arrive into Weston station: