Friday, January 25, 2008

CAPS LOCK and Crocodiles

Today, I read on the internet webtubes a webpage suggesting that I remap my CAPS LOCK key to ctrl. I never use CAPS LOCK, and I use ctrl all the time, so it seemed like a good idea. There are two problems. One is in retraining myself to use this key that I'm always dancing around. The other problem is that the caps lock key still turns on and off when I tap it.

Also, I was thinking today that I'm not really in a research mood, I didn't really feal like doing science today. I decided that I would rather be a crocodile. I'd be a totally awesome crocodile. I would take a lot of naps, to conserve energy. I'd really only have to eat, like, one goat per month. I could manage that. I would also never eat people, because that would be mean. I would, though, go to crowded beaches, and people would run around and scream. There would be some people who would save the rest from me, and feel like heroes. They wouldn't know that I'm a just a friendly crocodile.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

An admittedly terrible joke about hobos

Q. What is that hobo wearing around his neck?
A. A railroad tie.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Mr Shear and the Dumpster

While at community college, I took Differential Equations with Mr Shear. As he would write equations up on the chalkboard, coming to one that was particularly useful or profound, he would laugh through his nose with delight. I suppose he once worked as an engineer or physicist for the U. S. Army at their labs in Aberdeen; then, instead of retiring, he became a professor. He was a good professor. Mr Shear was quite old.

Mr Shear wrote on the chalkboard with a brass chalk holder, so that he wouldn't get chalk dust on his fingers. He posted his home phone number in the syllabus, with the note: "Call me if you have any questions about the homework. Do not call after 9 PM. I go to bed early because I am an old man.". One time, we had a take-home test, and when we got to class to turn it in, Mr Shear asked who had called him at 1 AM. He wasn't mad so much as amused.

One time, Mr Shear was lecturing, when some student made the mistake of asking him what logarithms are. Mr Shear gave the sort of prepared speech that all the old engineers have, about how we used to do everything using slide rules and tables of logarithms are quite useful when that's all you have.

"In fact," he continued, "during the Great Depression, there was a sort of Civilian Conservation Corps for mathematicians, except, instead of building parks and bridges and so on that didn't really need building, they worked out tables of logarithms to an unnecessary precision. These otherwise out-of-work mathematicians labored for years, calculating logarithms by hand. They filled volumes and volumes with these tables of logarithms. And do you know where these books are now?"

"No, where are they?" we asked.

"In the dumpster. We have calculators now!" He laughed through his nose, and went back to lecturing on the method of undetermined coefficients.

Friday, January 4, 2008


One of my favorite words is "passel".  I'd probably heard it before, but I first really noticed it when watching the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds", in which Inara Serra suggests to the grizzled yet charming Captain Malcolm Reynolds that he mights have "hundreds of fat children", to which he replies, "Could you imagine that? Me with a whole passel of critters underfoot?". Mal is the man.

Some time after hearing the word, Mom sent me an email, saying that I had a passel of mail at home for me to pick up the next time I came to visit. I was having a particularly stressful week, so I mumbled compulsively, "passel of mail passel of mail passel of mail...". It's got an excellent rhythm, the phrase "passel of mail".

"Passel" is an excellent word. It is a corruption of the word parcel, but doesn't quite mean parcel, it more refers to a collection of an undetermined number of people or things. It means what it sounds like, so you can freely pepper your conversations with the word "passel", and people will respond not with confusion, but with intrigue. Most experts agree that using the word "passel" brings more mirth than speaking obscenities.

Here are some webpages which use the word "passel":
Passel O' Possums
Peachpit: Apple announces a passel of new products
A passel of reasons to be glad you're a Tucsonian
Bad Astronomy: Another Passel of Creationist Lies (Note: Dr. Phil Plait does not like Creationists AT ALL. Poor Dr. Plait.)
Star Wars Databank: Argente Passel
Michael Bay Promises a Passel of New and Unique 'Bots for Transformers 2
c|net: Adobe Hires a Passel of Brainiacs Web Design and Development