11 December 2010

Post 240

You know that song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas?" It's an upbeat song, right? And it gets a little rowdy about halfway through with the carolers demanding figgy pudding and saying they won't leave until they get some--this is a song meant to be shouted as much as sung and is usually delivered by people who are giddy with Christmas spirit, right? That's just the nature of the song.

Isn't this common knowledge? I think so.


I stumbled upon this a few days ago, and my wife and I listened to it until "we won't go until we get some" and just couldn't take it any more.

27 November 2010

Post 239

So, it's officially Christmastime. The passing of Thanksgiving lifted my wife's moratorium on Christmas music, so I'm listening to lots of it now. I don't know what happened to me last year, but it was the first year since halfway through high school that I wasn't offended by Christmas music being played ridiculously early, and this year I found myself turning on holiday jingles whenever I was driving somewhere without my wife. It's good to wait till after Thanksgiving, though: since there are only, like, 30 or 40 really good Christmas songs in existence, I'd probably get sick of it by mid-December if I listened to it non-stop.

Anyway, the point of this post is to once again demonstrate the awesome breadth of the internet's reach. When I was very young, we got a Christmas basket from a family in the ward, and one of the things in it was a tape of really random Christmas songs. I remember several of them (one called "Santa Got a Cold on Christmas Eve," one with a refrain that began, "We are Santa's reindeer / We've learned to sing this year," one sung in a weird accent about how the kids go nuts at Christmas, a version of "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas" that ended with a burglar coming in a Santa suit...), but my favorite of all of them was a song by Mel Blanc. I remember it was by Mel Blank because my eldest brother had to explain to me who Mel Blanc was when he told me who sang the song.

I loved that song as a kid, and the inventions of Google and YouTube have made me try every year to find it online. This year, I finally did (thanks to Google, not to YouTube). I can't embed it here, so just click on this link to listen. (NOTE: my wife wasn't terribly impressed; I think it'll probably appeal to you a lot more if you're, say, 7 years old.)

Merry Christmas!

15 November 2010

Post 238

So, there's a new Muppet movie coming out in about a year. It's being filmed right now. I like the Muppets, so I'm naturally inclined to be curious for the film and to hope that it isn't terrible, but I'm actually really, really excited for it.

Why, you ask? Because of the guy co-writing and guest starring in it: Jason Segel.

If you don't know who Jason Segel is, or if you do know who he is but can't quite imagine him being involved with the Muppets (or any PG comedy), I advise you to click here and watch a pretty awesome video (because I had no idea he did any sort of puppetry).

05 November 2010

Post 237

[NOTE: this post is lengthy because I'm writing it for mostly cathartic reasons. If you want to learn some interesting stuff without finding out how I myself found this stuff, just hop down to the very bottom of the post and read my findings. Otherwise, get comfy: you're gonna be here a while!]

Years ago--probably more than a decade ago--ya know, back when I was in high school--my Sunday school teacher (who had previously been my bishop) was in the habit of writing a quote on the board before class started each week. One week, it was a quote from Goethe. I don't recall how my Sunday school teacher rendered the quote, but I've always thought it was "Choose well, for your choice is brief yet endless."

I like that. I think it's very fine. Stirring, poignant. Recently I've been thinking about it a lot, and I decided that I wanted to know what the actual quote was and where it came from.

The most common rendering of the quote it, "Choose well; your choice is brief, and yet endless," though it can be found with just "yet" and just "and" and even with "but" instead of either. It appears on many, many quote pages, usually attributed to Goethe but never any of his works. I Googled and Googled and Googled trying to figure out where it came from, hoping that I could find the original German and figure out whether the double conjunction was a vital part of the quote or just the most famous translation.

Usually, if something can be found on the internet, I can find it through Google in no more than a few searches and a couple of minutes, but it took me, like, two hours to find the information I'm about to share with you, and I hope that by collecting my findings here on my blog I can aid future researchers with their quest.

The first thing I discovered is that Masons love this little line, and the reason they love it is that it came from a poem Goethe wrote about Masons (Goethe was one himself). But none of the sites about Masons and Masonry said anything about the original poem except that it was translated into English by Thomas Carlyle, and it's Carlyle's English translation that they always talked about.

Carlyle's translation (entitled "The Mason Lodge") is where the quote comes from. I looked at a few different pages that had the full poem, but they all gave Carlyle's version without any mention as to what he translated it from. But then--a breakthrough.

I found a website that had English versions of three Goethe poems about Masonry: "The Mason Lodge" translated by Carlyle, "A Symbol" translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring, and "Song Of Fellowship" also translated by Bowring. The important thing, though, is that the website says that Carlyle's "The Mason Lodge" and Bowring's "A Symbol" "are both translations of the same original, written in 1827, but so different that they even have different titles!" (source link).

"A ha!" I thought. "I'll just compare the line in the two different poems and see which I like better!"

Not that easy: Carlyle's "Choose well; your choice is / Brief and yet endless" corresponds to Bowring's "To do what is best, Unceasing endeavour!"

Somebody cheated!

I got this far in my quest in a few searches and a couple of minutes, but the puzzle I found here propelled me through my desperate search for the next few hours.

I still don't know where Carlyle's translation was published, but I found (courtesy of Google Books) a book by Bowring called The Poems of Goethe Translated in the Original Metres. I found "A Symbol" in there and found a footnote that said, "This fine poem is given by Goethe amongst a small collection of what he calls Loge (Lodge), meaning thereby Masonic pieces."

Because Bowring was interested in maintaining "the original metres," I thought that perhaps his title for the poem would resemble the original title more closely than Carlyle's, so I used a few different online translators to translate "symbol" into German, and they all gave me "zeichen."

I looked and looked for something by Goethe that had "Zeichen" or "Loge" in its title, and I found nothing except a book called Wielands Andenken in der Loge Amalia, which I could find no machine-searchable version of. I looked to see if BYU's library had a copy, and they do--on microfiche.

No good.

I Googled the web for anything that talked about Carlyle and Goethe or Bowring and Goethe; I searched for websites that had side-by-side English and German versions of Goethe's poems; I searched Wikipedia for the quote; I perused Goethe's and Carlyle's Wikipedia pages--couldn't find a thing.

I actually gave up after a while. I decided that there was no way I was going to find the original poem and decided that I would just compare the number of pages Google came up with when I searched for the quote with various conjunctions, with and without quotation marks, appending Carlyle -Goethe and -Carlyle Goethe to see who was most often given credit for the quote--all this just to know what the most common version of the quote was and who the author is most commonly supposed to be.

I learned a funny thing about Google search results a couple years ago in a class I was taking: when you search for something, and Google tells you it's come up with, say, "about 21,900 results," if you go to the bottom of the page and hop over to the very last page of results, you often find that Google only actually found, like, 153 results (those numbers come from a quick search of "brief and yet endless" [with quotation marks]). I kept this in mind as I tried to figure out which version of the quote produced the most pages, and that's why magic happened.

On the very last page of a search for the quote and Goethe and Carlyle, I found a page in German. I can't read German, but I understood well enough the phrase "Goethe und Carlyle" and I recognized a new word: Symbolum.

Symbolum??? That's not German--that's Latin!

Ah, mais bein sur! This is the 1820s we're talking about--of course the title's going to be in Latin!

I Googled Goethe Symbolum and found a Wikipedia page called "Symbolum." This page only exists in German Wikipedia, but I glanced over it and--hallelujah!--the poem was there. I had Google translate the page, and then I looked at the poem and found my line: "Missed practice not to / The forces of good!"


But at least now I had the title of the original poem. Early on in my searching, I had found a website that had the poems of Goethe in both German and English, but it had been useless to me because it had the poems organized alphabetically by German title, and they didn't have a poem called Zeichen or Loge. Now, knowing that the poem is actually called "Symbolum," I Googled my way back to that site and found the poem in both German and English.

The end of my quest, you think? Wrong: it had Carlyle's translation!


I kept looking, but all the sites I found used either Carlyle's or Bowring's translation, so I gave up on that. I went back to the German Wikipedia page for "Symbolum" and found the line I was looking for and then hopped over to Babylon online translation and translated the words one at a time.

This, of course, gave me something that was no better (even a little worse) than Google Translation's version.

In a fit of futility, I copy-pasted the entire phrase into Babylon, and that's when I finally found what I was looking for: "Do not fail to exercise the forces of good."

So Carlyle and Bowring were both cheating: neither one of them came anywhere near what the original German said!

At least now I know....

So here are the lessons learned:

1) Babylon online translation is amazing. To be able to identify and translate an imperative phrase is very impressive to me (that is assuming, of course, that it actually is an imperative phrase; I don't know German, so I really can't say for sure, but the translation sounds very convincing).

2) Perhaps everything I could ever want to know is on the internet, but sometimes it's very hard to find.

3) [and this is the important one:] "Choose well; your choice is brief and yet endless" is 100% Carlyle! It may have been inspired by Goethe, but it doesn't even approximate anything Goethe wrote, so it probably ought to be attributed to Carlyle instead. (Even though I still have no idea where Carlyle published his translation, his version is so consistent from one website to the next that there's no real reason to doubt the double conjunction.)

22 October 2010

Post 236

It's been more than two years since my review of Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, so I feel like it's probably okay that I just read another modern work of fiction. I mean, certainly lots and lots of young men have served honorable, full-time missions in the time it took me to get around to it, so the overall good that's been add to the world since August 2008 will hopefully counteract whatever badness I'll bring into it by reviewing another novel.

Anyway. Enough pretending that reading fiction is a sin. On with the review!

Hugh Laurie. I know him mostly because of his role as the titular character in House. I remember one of my roommates went on a House kick, so I saw it from time to time. Honestly, hospitals make me queasy, so I didn't watch much, but I occasionally got a lot of enjoyment out of Laurie's performance and the character he portrayed. I really did. And then I remember one time when one of my roommates was channel surfing and I was riding his wave and we came across Stuart Little 2, and we saw Hugh Laurie playing a caring family man. It was jarring. We sat in a stupor for a while, watching this man talking sans gravel sans scruff sans sarcasm sans bitterness and doing it so well. And then, ya know, we realized we were watching drivel and changed the channel, but it was a magical moment for me.

The biggest surprise was when he won an award for his performance as House and got up to give a speech.

He's British! He's totally British!

I was shocked, and my roommates laughed at my ignorance.

And then just a week or so ago, I looked Hugh Laurie up on Wikipedia and was again shocked: the article started by calling him "an English actor, voice artist, comedian, writer, musician and director."

Wait, what?? English--check. Actor--check. Musician--check (he occasionally played piano on House; he's very good). Writer, director, voice artist--didn't know that, but no surprises. These are all things I can swallow. But comedian? Hugh Laurie is a comedian? House! Is a comedian? Unthinkable.

But I YouTubed Hugh Laurie comedy and, yes, he's a comedian. In fact, I think he's hilarious. In fact, if you care to take a three-minute-and-two-second detour and laugh a whole bunch, I beg you to click here.

Did you watch it? Did you laugh? Perhaps British humor isn't your thing; that's okay, I guess.

Anyway, after discovering that Hugh Laurie is funny, I learned that he is the author of one novel: The Gun Seller. So I had to give it a try. I looked it up on the Provo library website, saw that they had it and that it was not checked out, so I picked it up.

The first chapter was a brilliant mix of action and hilarity, and I giggled audibly throughout it (if you don't believe me, just ask my wife, who was trying to study at the time). I liked the second chapter even more because it was more funny and less action packed than the first.

At first, my feelings about the gun seller were very much the same as my feelings about Alcatraz, to wit:

The novel is in 1st person, and [very often], Alcatraz stops telling the story and goes off on random tangents. I, being the sort of person who would rather read a well-written essay than any book-length fiction, enjoyed these so thoroughly that, rather than seeming to get in the way of the story, I felt the story detracted from the tangents! I mentioned above that I occasionally found myself suffering through the story at times, but that was only because I wished Al would stop telling me his stupid story and go back to the good stuff.

Tom Lang (the main character and narrator in The Gun Seller) did the same sort of thing, but I enjoyed his tangents far more than Al's because the tangents are about real life things. I learned about guns and aerial tactics and diplomats--and lots of things not related to war. For example (though I'm a bit embarrassed to say this outright), one of my favorite parts was the book's one illicit sex scene ('cuz what's a Bond-genre book without a sex scene, right?). The scene itself was, I dunno, two or three three sentences that were nothing like explicit (Jack Weyland wrote a more explicit sex scene in his book-length-punch-for-LDS-family-services-masquerading-as-a-novel Megan, which I read in high school because it was a Christmas present). The reason I liked that part of The Gun Seller was that it caused Tom Lang to fill a double-page spread with some really down-to-earth thoughts about sex, which I really enjoyed (not least of all because of their stark contrast with the typical action hero's I'm-here, you're-here, we-may-as-well attitude on the subject).

So it's hard for me to recommend this novel as a novel. This is the first military-intrigue novel I've ever read, and I must say that I won't be picking up any Tom Clancy anytime soon because I really didn't enjoy it that much. Frankly, the ending came and I was like, "What? That's it? We defeated the bad guy, so now that story's over?" And also, in the second half of the book (it's divided into parts 1 and 2) Hugh Lorrie started cheating a bit by leaving out details to heighten the suspense (e.g. "'What do you want?' [I say, and then] I turn back to the window and listen to Barnes for a while, and when he's finished I take a deep breath, hoping desperately and not caring at all, both at the same time. 'When?' I say." pg 315-6). Maybe that's a convention in thrillers, but I don't like feeling left out of the loop. So I don't like the genre, and most of Part 2 is straight-up thriller with humorous descriptions and metaphors and sidenotes tossed in for flavor.

Another difficulty was the dialect. Mostly, I kept pace with the Britishisms okay, but sometimes they threw me. Usually just little things--like it took me almost a full chapter to figure out that "braces" means "suspenders"--so that wasn't too bad, but occasionally he'd say something that was totally incomprehensible to me, like this beaut from page 278:

'Twelve years in a sherry cask,' I said cheerfully, 'stuck out on a Highland hillside, waiting for its big moment - and then bang, doesn't even get to touch the sides. Who'd be a single malt whiskey?'

I had to read that one twice silently and then twice aloud to my wife before I could make any sense of it. Now, it seems glitteringly clear to me and I'm half afraid you'll laugh at me for not getting it. There were others that stymied me, but this one was easiest to find just now.

I suppose that, in regards to the British dialect, I should warn you that the F-bomb (such a terror here in the US that was have a name for it) is not used sparingly in this book. It flits around in GunSeller dialog like "Oh my heck" at a Spanish Fork young women's camp in the 90s. So, yeah--now you know.

I can't recommend Hugh Laurie's style enough; this book really was a joy to read. He's clever and fun almost all of the time (e.g. "When he got there, he sat down very slowly. Either because he was haemorrhoidal, or because there was a chance that I might do something dangerous. I smiled, to show him that he was haemorrhoidal." pg 266) and surprisingly poignant and touching here and there (right up there with the sex scene was one part where he talked about life's hard times, which was so good that I typed myself up a copy). For those reasons, I can't recommend this book highly enough. But the story itself is--I dunno--really, really interesting and exciting and fun and clever and smart, so if that's what you look for in a book, this is a good one, but I'da much rather just read a collection of essays by Hugh Laurie than this.

I guess I'm just boring.

The plot really was very good. There was action and there was romantic interest and there were several times when I inhaled sharply at the end of the chapter and turned my wide eyes to my wife and said, "The plot thickens!" (Unfortunately, I read the book silently to myself, so she didn't really understand what I meant. Cruel of me, really.) For that reason, I really did enjoy Part 1 a good deal more than Part 2 because Part 1 was more lighthearted and less military than Part 2.

The end of part one was where the action really started. Most of Part 1 was just witty writing diluted by all too much plot and character development (for me, I mean; you'd probably like it, if you're into that sort of thing), but then page 171 came around and turned me on my head.

"What?" I said aloud (my wife was at work at that moment, so I said this to an empty living room). "Wait, what?" and I had to get up and walk around, even though I was in the middle of the chapter. After the surprise had worn away, I sat back down to continue reading.

Little did I know that page 171 was nothing compared to page 172!

It really is a good book. I've tried to sprinkle some quotes in here and there to give you a taste, but I've left out my favorite parts so that, if you do decide to read the book, you won't have the best quips ruined. If you'd like, you can read a sample chapter online here. It's the first chapter, so it's a reasonable place to start; just remember that I said that I liked the first chapter, but "I liked the second chapter even more because it was more funny and less action packed than the first."

So in conclusion, let me just say that, if you like military-intrigue novels, this is a pretty good one, I think; if you like British humor, this is an excellent choice; if you like clever, thoughtful, witty, insightful writing, this is really top notch. It isn't my favorite novel, but I don't know that I've ever enjoyed reading a book more than I enjoyed this one--not since becoming an adult, at least (it really is hard for any book to compete with the thrill I got out of reading Marvin K Mooney Will You Please Go Now? as a child).

17 October 2010

Post 235

In response to what's going on over in Thutopia right now:

My relationship with money has always been a bad one. Not to say that I'm a hoarder or a gambler or a thief or a con artist or anything like that; me and money, we just don't get along so well. It's never been a reality for me. Even as a kid, it was just too theoretical a construct for me to grasp.

I was a strange kid (and still am, I suppose, in many ways). I can remember being no more than 5 or 6 years old (judging by the house we were living in) and trying to wrap my head around the relativity of money because the older of my two sisters had tried to explain to me that, though $100 seemed like a lot of money to us kids, it wasn't a lot of money for our parents, who had to pay on a mortgage and pay bills and buy food for a family of 8. This notion of relativity really got to me and the realness of money started to fade. Consequently, I can remember being 8 or 9 or 10 and getting in an argument with my nearest-aged sibling because I maintained that money was nothing more than paper, that it had no value, that it wasn't real. I can also remember being about the same age and pressing my parents for answers about what money was for, why we had it, who made it up, how it worked, and isn't there a better way? I remember in my early and middle teens getting in arguments with my mom because (get this:) she wanted to give me an allowance! She had set up a merit system in which we kids would do our daily and weekly chores and mark a calendar to say which days we had done them, and then she would pay us at the end of every month according to how much we had done. The first few months, I refused the money, telling her that she needed it more than I did and that I was confident that she could put it to more productive use than I could, but she insisted that I take it. Finally, I got wise and did my chores but simply neglected to mark the calendar. I can distinctly remember her being irritated and telling me that she knew I did my chores and then giving me an allowance anyway. (Meanwhile, the other two kids at home were constantly saying things like, "I really did do my chores; I just forgot to mark the calendar!" to which my mom would respond, "Do you think I'd get paid if I forgot to fill out my time card?")

What a strange kid I was--what a strange man I've been! I just glanced over the posts on this blog under my "money" label, and my my my how quickly I've forgotten how passionately I bashed money less than three years ago. As a kid, I just didn't understand it; as a young adult, I actually hated it. Now, as I near my quarter-century mark, I feel something entirely different, which strangely enough hearkens back to something that predates the money-bashing posts of this blog.

The final few months of my mission sent me home thinking about money a lot. In my penultimate interview with my mission president, he told me to be a millionaire. That really caught me off guard. He was telling me how much potential he saw in me, how great he thought I could become, and then he said, "You could do anything--be anything. Be a millionaire, Elder Jepson. There's nothing wrong with financial success. Be a millionaire and give it all to the Church."

A few weeks before that, my companion and I had been teaching a lesson to a man named Mickey Traylor. He was telling us about the circumstances that caused him to move from Texas to a suburb of Boise, and it mostly had to do with the fact that he had been getting so caught up in his financial success that his relationship with his wife had started to suffer, so he called it quits and took her far away to a place where they could just relax and enjoy each other.

"Money'll change you," he said.

"Money wouldn't change me," my companion assured him.

"Only people who've never had money say that," Mickey said. "I used to say that, but then I got money, and it changed me."

At the time, I thought that conversation was the final nail in the coffin of my estimation of money, but then I had that interview with my mission president, and I got confused.

Then came the very last day of my mission. My zone leader arranged for a member to give me and a few other home-bound missionaries a ride to the mission office. This member was a very wealthy man, and his advice to me as a returning missionary was to go home and make as much money as possible. "The Lord can't use you if you're poor," he said.

That naturally offended me, but the rest of his conversation was even worse. He spent the drive telling us the way he had amassed his wealth, and it was unethical and perhaps illegal. I really didn't understand, but I'll try to explain: he said that right after he got married, he bought a little house. Before buying it, he got it appraised at well more than it was worth, and then got a loan for the amount of the appraisal. He then talked the seller into selling it for much less than the advertised price, used his enormous loan to buy the house, and used what was left from the loan to invest enough money that the interest paid for (or at least helped to pay for) his monthly mortgage payment. Once that house had paid itself off, he sold it and bought a bigger house in the same way, which he sold and bought an even bigger house. He finished by saying, "I now live in a two-million-dollar house that pays me to live in it."

This man, for whatever reason, could not go all the way to the mission office, so he dropped me and the other missionaries off at another man's house. Some other home-bound missionaries met us there, and then that man gave us a ride to the office. When I asked this second man what he did for a living, he said, "As little as possible," which did not impress me. When I asked him for more details (because he had a nice living situation for someone who was at home in his PJs halfway through a Wednesday morning), he said something like, "Basically, I convince people who have a lot of money that they should have meetings with other people who make a lot of money so that they can learn from each other how to make even more money, and then I convince them to pay me a lot of money to set the meeting up."

And thus my conflict began. My mission president had exhorted me to become a millionaire, yet the wealthy people I met didn't make me want to join them. Very early on in my mission, I had had dinner with an anesthesiologist and his family. They lived in an enormous brick house with lots of land, but the kids of the family didn't think they had anything. From their conversation, I gathered that each child (I think there were four of them) had their own private room and bathroom and that for Christmas they had each gotten their own ATV, yet they were completely dissatisfied and asked their parents over and over, "When are we going to move into that big house we looked at?" I had at the time an awful sort of lurking pride regarding my middle-class (arguably lower middle-class) upbringing, and I was disgusted by those children.

When I first moved to Provo, I quickly became overly fond of this quote by Brigham Young:

The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution, and be true. My greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.

I guess I mostly lacked faith in myself. I assumed that if I ever became wealthy I would subsequently become petty, greedy, snobbish, and unaffectionate.

I've changed now. I've recently come out of a phase in which I was seriously considering pursuing a career in law. I think my highest desire right now--and this is certainly resultant from my recent wedding--is to become an excellent breadwinner. I still don't aspire to wealth, but I do hope for some material comforts. I never hope to have an expensive car or a mansion on a hill or a private jet, and I hope that if I'm ever in a financial situation to see such things as viable options that I'll find a better use for my money.

After that interview with my mission president, I decided that perhaps the most admirable thing to be is a middle-class millionaire, and in the past couple years I've discovered that our nation has quite a few of those--in fact, all the best financial advice these days is to live poor so you can retire well. I struggle with that idea because my immediate response to such advice is always, "What's the point of having all that money if you don't do anything with it?" I don't hope to have a Ferrari, but I do hope to have good, reliable transportation. I don't hope for a mansion, but I want a house that holds out the rain. I'm quite fixed on the idea that my kids will share bedrooms and bathrooms, but I don't want to shove them into bed-sized closets when I tell them good-night.

I guess what I'm saying is that I do want money, but I want happiness more. If I ever have money, I hope to use it well.

Be a millionaire, Elder Jepson--just don't be stupid about it.

08 October 2010

Post 234

Go me! I feel so validated! It's great!

I'm going to graduate in April, which means I only get one more semester after this one to milk my undergraduate career for all it's worth. One thing I've kinda been regretting recently is that, despite earning an English minor, I have yet to take a single creative writing course. It's just one of those things that I always wanted to do but never made a priority, and now I'm pretty well out of time.

There are two levels of creative writing courses here at BYU: a 200-level survey course that introduces students to methods of writing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and then there are three different 300-level courses that specialize--one for fiction, one for nonfiction, one for poetry. It's the 300-level nonfiction course that I've always been interested in, but the 200-level introductory course always stood in my way, and there were always other classes that I felt were more important.

Well, registration is approaching once again--the last time it will for undergraduate Schmetterling. About a week ago, I was looking at classes, trying to figure out my final semester's schedule, and I whimsically pulled up the nonfiction class. It has two sections, one of which is taught by a teacher I've heard very good things about--especially in regards to this class. An English-major friend of mine, upon hearing that I was interested in creative nonfiction, told me that this professor "is the king, queen, and prince of creative nonfiction." I really want to take this class.

I glanced at the prerequisites just to make sure that it was impossible when I found a loophole: "ENGL 218R or instructor's consent." So I decided to try my luck by sending the professor an email asking him whether there was any chance I could get his consent.

His response:

Thanks for your interest in the class. I rarely make exceptions, but I'd gladly take a look at a sample of your writing to determine whether you can take the class without the prerequisite. Send me something?

The juxtaposition of 'rarely' and 'but' made me feel less than confident, but I had to try it--especially since he was willing to give me a chance. I dug through my computer files, looking for something worth banking on. I found nothing. And then I thought of my other blog, so I grabbed a story off of it, gave it a quick brush up, and sent it off to him.

Four days went by--which, really, that's pretty impressively prompt for a professor to read a 6 pages of stuff written by a student trying to work the system--but it was still nerve wracking. Frankly, I'd already resigned myself to never being able to take that class.


Today I got this email, which made me feel oh so very good about myself:

That's a fun piece to read. I like it. You have my permission to sign up for English 317R. I look forward to meeting you next semester...

Yay me!

07 October 2010

Post 233

Without a doubt, my absolutely least favorite word in the whole English language (at least as far as my vocabulary extends) is twelfth. L, F, and TH in rapid succession? Seriously gross. Who thought that was a good idea?

05 October 2010

Post 232

A few weeks back, my wife and I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. I was really interested to see what a movie with no cuts would look like. As it turns out, Rope isn't exactly that: aside from the cuts that Hitch did his best to hide, there are deliberate cuts about every 20 minutes for when (according to Wikipedia) the projectionist had to change reels in the theater. Regardless, it was the closest thing to a single-shot film that I had ever seen, and I enjoyed it.

As I watched the film, I came to a very interesting realization: I didn't really notice the lack of cuts. More interesting still was that I noticed the hidden cuts more than I noticed the deliberate ones, and it occurred to me that a far greater miracle than a single-shot film is the fact that normal, multi-shot films don't disorient moviegoers. Because you think about it, there's nothing in real life that remotely resembles a movie. In real life, we can only ever have one perspective. So a single-shot film (or a play, for that matter) is much more analogous to real life than any movie, yet we here in modern society generally take cuts in stride. It makes me wonder whether the audiences watching the first multi-shot films were caught off guard by them.

It's hard to judge the success of Hitchcock's effect. I was shocked that it was so unobtrusive: I was almost as blissfully unaware of the camera work in Rope as I am in any other movie. But that's what we American moviegoers generally value, right--an unobtrusive cameraman? So perhaps the affect was perfectly well wrought. But if there comes a point that an affect can be so well done that it goes unnoticed, really, what's the point? It's like this blasted a cappella craze that's been slowly building in the past decade, culminating (and hopefully ending) with Glee. Yasee, I don't understand the point of getting a bunch of talented singers together, tossing in a beatboxer, and having them do their best to sound like they've got a band--why don't you just get a band? I remember the good ole days when the only a cappella I knew was Rockappella doing the theme song for Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?--which I liked because they sounded like an a cappella group. Now a group of people get on stage and try to sound exactly like Journey and I'm like, "BOO! Get off the stage!" because if I wanna listen to Journey, I'm gonna grab one of my Journey CDs, not go see a cover band that doesn't have a single guitar, keyboard, or drum set in sight.

But I digress. The point is that it's hard to judge the success of an effect whose epitome is invisibility, and that's what the carefully choreographed camerawork in Rope was. I watched some stuff about the making of it, and I was blown away by the enormously complicated set--the whole thing certainly was a cinematic tour de force--but in the end, what have we gained? Absolutely nothing. So really, as awesome as the undertaking was, what's the point?

On the other hand, my wife and I recently saw The Russian Ark courtesy of BYU's International Cinema. It actually was a single-shot, and the effect was inescapable because the main character was in first-person. It drove me crazy, but I'm not sure that was the film's fault. For one thing, we arrived about five minutes into it, and without cuts or scenes to reorient me, I was never able to get my feet on the ground. Also, for whatever reason, it was in really low resolution--like watching a low-res YouTube video in full-screen mode. I at first believed that that was a sacrifice that the director had made to be able to do 90-some-odd minutes of film in a single shot, but the Wikipedia article tells me that it was shot in high definition, so I don't know what happened there. Also, the subtitles were buggy: there were times when people were talking but there were no subtitles, and there were times when large crowds would just be hubbubbing and subtitles would come up that couldn't be clearly attributed to any one speaker. So it's really hard for me to give the movie a fair shake overall, but I think this affect was probably a lot better than Hitchcock's because it played a role in the film itself, and I think that's important. I'm all for artistic and experimental film making, but I feel like it has to be done to some end, and I don't consider "Let's see if anybody notices" or "Just because I can" are very good ends to work toward.

28 September 2010

Post 231

I was listening to a radio station that played "Nights in White Satin" and "Stairway to Heaven" in the same set. Shockingly, those weren't the only two songs they played.

This post is a waste of space....

22 September 2010

Post 230

It's commonly accepted in the linguistic community (at least in my narrow experience in that community) that all language changes but that spoken language changes much more quickly than written language and that writing has historically slowed down language change (at least in English; come to think of it, I know nothing about the history of other languages). Thanks to our standardized spelling system, this is easy to see: surprise is still spelled s-u-r even though few people pronounce that r anymore; special is still spelled c-i even though everyone I've ever heard say it has pronounced it sh; every is spelled as though it's still pronounced with three syllables; mission and related words--well, we've just come to accept s-i-o-n as an alternate spelling of "shun," ignoring entirely the fact that it was once pronounced as it is spelled. The list goes on. People often complain about how our language isn't very phonetic, but I think they fail to realize that we'd have to update our spellings of words at least once every generation to keep the phonetics up. Personally, I'm grateful for standardized spelling because it makes Google and other information-age technology work so well; sure, I think the language could have been standardized a little better (drop the a out of feather like Noah Webster suggested, spell corn and kernel the same way, etc.), but standardization is good in general (in this regard, at least).

(This, not surprisingly, is not at all what I intended to talk about. Welcome to my blog.)

ANYway, as I was listening to some songs on YouTube today, I had a spark of hypothesis that I'd like you to weigh in on. This is purely speculative, and I doubt it'll be possible to study this for at least another 40 or 50 years, but I wanna write this down so maybe some day someone will stumble across this and think, "Wow. That kid was on to something. Wish I knew more than just his nym." So here goes--

I enjoy reading comments on YouTube. They often get far removed from the subject of the video. Because I'm not on FaceBook or Twitter and because I'm in the class of people who punctuates text messages, YouTube threads are really my only exposure to typical online communication, and it fascinates me!

Today I realized that, in the modern world, written language is changing faster than spoken language, and I wonder if it will start affecting the way people speak. I mean, if I walk into a fast food joint, walk up to the counter, and say, "I can has cheeseburger?" that certainly wouldn't fall into the realm of normally accepted American English, but if I see a video on YouTube in which a guy walks into a fast food joint and orders a burger, I could leave a comment that says, "i can haz cheezeberger" and be totally appropriate.

Now, sure, I admit that quoting pop culture is nothing new, but the fact is that YouTube threads aren't always quoting lolcatz--in fact, most times people aren't quoting anything; they're just typing. Sometimes, I come across a comment that is totally unintelligible to me. (I don't have time to look for one right now; perhaps I should start collecting them.)

I'm not suggesting the change will happen very quickly--and I'm not even sure what the change will be. I mean, a lot of the change is solely visual (e.g. you are-->ur), so that can't really come through speaking, and I don't really hear people saying things like lol, etc. It's mostly grammatical, I guess. Subject-verb agreement is often ignored, and I think it's on purpose: I don't imagine the people who type things like "27 ppl is retarted" on a video with 27 dislikes on it would say such a thing out loud, but I certainly don't know that for sure.

Anyway. Gotta go.

03 September 2010

Post 229


So my blog has this problem for some reason that, whenever I try to embed a YouTube video, I only end up with the left half of the video frame, even when I choose the smallest frame size.

But take my word for it, this is pretty awesome.

(Also, my links are invisible in my current layout--another thorn in my side. So click on 'this is pretty awesome' even though it doesn't look much like a link.)

31 August 2010

Post 228

I noticed recently that my Firefox browser has a "private browsing" option in its tools menu. Not sure what that was, I consulted the Firefox help website and found this explanation:

{Open Quote}

History is used by the browser to enhance your experience on the Internet. When the browser remembers a website you previously visited or the username and password for your favorite web site, this information is considered your history.

However, there may be times when you do not want other users of your computer to see or access such information. For example, if a friend or family member shares your computer, you might prefer for them not to be able to see what websites you've visited or what files you've downloaded.

Firefox 3.5 and later provide "Private Browsing," which allows you to browse the Internet without Firefox saving any data about which sites and pages you have visited.

Note: Private Browsing prevents information from being recorded on your computer. It does not make you anonymous on the Internet.

{Close Quote}

Can anybody think of a reason that "you might prefer for [your family and friends] not to be able to see what websites you've visited or what files you've downloaded"--other than a hidden porn addiction, I mean. Near as I can tell, this is an option by the porn addicts for the porn addicts, and that makes me sad. The only other thing I can think of is, like, Christmas shopping, but unless you're making a mix CD for your teenaged love-crush, I don't know why you would need to hide your downloading history.

27 August 2010

Post 227

A cruel trick has been played on me, readers--too cruel, almost, for me to bear.

Where to begin?

I discovered recently a sanctuary to save my sanity from my oppressively mindless and menial occupation (chiasmic alliteration, anyone?). It's called Librivox, and it's fantastic. Theric once told me that one of the most charitable things I could do with myself is to contribute to Wikipedia and thus add to the mass of readily available knowledge that is now at mankind's fingertips, and I believed him, but should I ever find a spare day in my near future, I'd much rather record a story or two for Librivox and thus similarly add to mankind's memory. Librivox.org is a place where audio recordings of works that are in the public domain are available for free. The idea is that people volunteer as readers and editors and organizers and work toward the goal of getting everything that is in the public domain recorded and downloadable.

My job is, as I said, more than usually mindless lately, and I have therefore been reading (or rather listening to) a wide variety of worthwhile old time stories. In the past couple of weeks, I have listened to The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as several shorter Sherlock Holmes tales, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, several short stories by Poe and Twain (some were very funny, which is a tribute to both men, and some were not at all funny, which is a tribute to Poe but not Twain) and several other authors, some of whom I'd heard of and some of whom I hadn't. I must confess that I enjoyed most of what I listened to, most especially because they were things I never would have gotten around to reading for myself.

I had so much I wanted to tell you about these old works, but now I can't because I'm so upended by this nasty trick.

Those of you who remember this blog's heyday back in 2008 might also recall my attacks upon the world of fiction. Much of what I said was sensationalized to promote ongoing discussion and hatred, but all of what I said had some tinge of honesty to it and, though I've mellowed out a lot in recent days, I still feel as though I have no time that I can sacrifice to the golden calf of fiction (except for the occasional movie with my wife)--and if I ever do find time to sacrifice to it, I'd much rather spend the time carving my own calves than admiring the existent herds. But listening to these books has been different because I have been able to do so while doing all that is expected of me by my employer. I have been, I suppose, reading for pleasure's sake alone and (worse yet!) as nothing more than an escape from the drear of my bread winning.

The Schmetterling of 2008 would slap me with a furious antenna, I'm sure.

But that's precisely why the trick was so cruel. You see, yesterday and today I listened to The Man Who Was Thursday, which I had never heard of before a few days ago when a friend mentioned it in passing. I looked it up on Librivox and read the description. It sounded like an exciting and thrilling tale: a Scotland Yard man undercover among anarchists--what could be a better distraction from my humdrum life of find-and-replace?

(If you know the book, which I'm not really counting on, you might well be laughing at me now, and you have every right to.)

Yesterday, I got through a good chunk of the book, and it was everything I had hoped for. Some of it seemed contrived and hokey, but it was fun and engaging and unpredictable and curiously funny at times. As I listened, I downloaded a Gutenberg etext so I could copy excerpts to email myself, and I spent large parts of last night wondering how on earth the tale would end.

Today I listened to the last half, and it became inexplicably hard to pay attention to after a while. Then the inexplicability became perfectly clear: I was having trouble following because it was all falling apart. The plot vanished; the characters started fading away. An opaque sort of meaning distilled upon the lens, as it were, distorting the clarity of the story, and then the whole thing ended in an instant, absurdly arriving somewhere near (but not precisely at) the place where it began.

I felt robbed. Where is my denouement? I demand a denouement! I asked Wikipedia what had happened, but it only hinted, delighting in the secret it so politely kept for the book and impolitely kept from me. Dash it all, Chesterton, what has happened to this adventure?

I turned on Pandora and returned to my work, brooding. And then a dismal light dawned somewhere in the fog of my intellect and I beheld the grandest and cleverest but also cruelest and most elaborate trick that anyone ever pulled on me, and I'm not even sure who to blame for it.

In all my raging against the beast of Fiction, I never once concluded that it was incapable of enlightening its readers. Of a truth I intended to argue that it was perhaps better able to edify than nonfiction is, but its aim is so often to merely entertain, and that was the sin that led me to seek so intensely to crucify its advocates. In my mind, Fiction's great crime was not its inability to improve humanity (impotence is a disability and not a crime); no, the crime of Fiction was that it ignored its almost limitless potential and thus became a guilty bystander that observes crimes without punishing them. I hated fiction because it seemed to me an infinitely wealthy man who says, "Be thou warmed and filled" and yet gives nothing.

And then the trick. Just when I sit at the table and say, "Fine, my fair French Princess, I will eat cake. How I wish I had some bread because I'm starving here, but I will feast upon your well wishing. Bring me the feast of the multitude of nations, and I will be the man who dreams that he eats and awakes to an empty soul or dreams that he drinks and wakes up faint; only let me dream that I am filled and I will be satisfied till morning." I sit like Peter Branning with the lost boys, merely pretending to feast, starving and yet momentarily satisfied by the illusion. Herein lay the trick: in the midst of this absurd meal, I found the meat and potatoes I had often sought, the hearty meal I thought I was only pretending to eat. But cruel, cruel world--I wasn't paying attention! I thought, "Hum! This plate of phantasm is curiously tough to chew!" and swallowed it before I knew what it was!

So I'll never know how good a meal it was because I never intend to eat it again, but I daresay there was meat of some kind in there, and even if it was only a McNugget of thought, I wish I'd given it a bit more attention than what I did because I think it came from the breast of one of my favorite theological questions.

[P.S. Is it apparent that I've had hours and hours of literature fed to me through my ears? My words sound stilted to me even as I type them.]

21 August 2010

Post 226

I have solved a mystery, readers, and uncovered a heretofore unnoticed tragedy (at least by me).

As you might know, Billy Joel is by far my favorite musician (see my profile). I own more than half of his studio albums and have at various times had ambitions to own all of them (this desire only flags when I realize that I already have more than 9 hours of Billy Joel music, which is already far more than I am able to listen to on a very regular basis). Someday, I would love to publish an article (only on this blog, no doubt) reviewing all of his albums, giving each a nickname, and providing thoughts about each. Ya see, Billy Joel is--um--heck, I'll just make up a term--Billy Joel is what we connoisseurs call an Album Artist. I have heard in him several interviews say that he writes albums. He doesn't just write a bunch of songs and throw them all together to make an album; he decides what he wants an album to be, and then he writes songs to render the effect he was going for, so listening to any of his songs outside of the context of its album (he says) is unfair to the song. That's why, in this era of individually sold mp3s, I continue to buy entire albums on CD--so I can pop it in and listen to it straight through in the way that the artist intended. Doing so has made it obvious to me that he really does write albums, and that the songs do have a little something extra when surrounded by their siblings at home (as opposed to hanging out with friends at the Greatest Hits Club, I guess).

Anyway, this really has nothing to do with what I actually wanted to blog about (which is a good sign I'm getting back to the good old days of prolific blogging).

Billy Joel's song "The Entertainer" is one of those "Wo is me! I'm a world-famous rock star!" sorts of songs. These sorts of songs usually get on my nerves, and this one did initially, but the music is just so good and the lyrics are so well crafted that it won me over. Still, one line always confused me.

"The Entertainer" is on Streetlife Serenade, the album that came out after Piano Man, and one verse runs thus

I am the entertainer,
I come to do my show.
You've heard my latest record,
It's been on the radio.
Ah, it took me years to write it,
They were the best years of my life.
It was a beautiful song.
But it ran too long.
If you're gonna have a hit,
You gotta make it fit--
So they cut it down to 3:05.

This has always confused me. The only song this could possibly be talking about is "Piano Man," but a quickly glance at that song in Window Media Player shows it to run 5:38. What gives, Bill?

Well I've figured it out, readers, and I'm very sad about it. I have been nearly evangelical at times in sharing with people just how awesome Mr. Joel is. I proudly tell people that Billy Joel is by far my favorite artist, that he does, in my opinion, leave far in his proverbial dust all other bands, singer-song writers, artists, and musicians. My friends often say, "But [Shmetterling]--what does he sing besides 'Piano Man'?" to which I respond, "Wellletmetellya!" and I rattle off songs that I know they know (longesttime,riverofdreams,wedidn'tstartthefire, etcetcetc). I have often thought to myself how sad it is that they only know to associate one song with this great man--but now I feel differently.

Now I feel that it is downright tragic and a horrible injustice to music and humanity that they know even less than that!

Several months back, I was sifting through radio stations in the car and found one that was playing "Piano Man," so I sat back and sang along. And then--wait, what? Suddenly, I was on the wrong verse. Somehow, the song had gone straight from the bartender ("...but there's someplace that he'd rather be") to the rest of the crowd ("And the waitress is practicing politics...")--it skipped, like, two verses! And then it skipped another verse and went straight to the end!

What the heck?? Five and a half minutes from the greatest musician to ever step foot on the rock 'n' roll scene is not too much to expect of a radio station--especially in a world where "American Pie" is far from absent on the airwaves. I tell you, friends, if ever there was a sign of a cultural misappropriate of priorities, this was it!

Anyways, a couple of days ago, I was driving up State Street to pick my wife up from work, and the radio station I was tuned to started playing "Piano Man." It took me the first couple of bars to remember my duty to society, so by the time I looked at my watch, I was a few seconds late, but when the song ended, my best estimation is that it did, in fact, run just a little more than 3:05.


15 August 2010

Post 225

Okay, readers, help me out, here. Political discourse of any description usually gives me patriotic tingles up and down my spine, but I have no idea what to make of this video:

I admit that I'm really out of touch with current events, but can anyone answer these questions for me?

0:40 "You claim you have not heard us." - What does this mean? Has President Obama said, "I hear that people have said that they reject my vision for the country, but I haven't heard them, so oh well!"?
0:51 "You claim you have not seen us." - Is President Obama on the record as having said, "Tea parties? What tea parties?"
0:58 "...as President Wilson said, 'a leader's ears must ring with the voices of the people'" - What was President Wilson talking about? Also, do we look to Wilson as an advocate of the rights of "the People"? I know some not so savory things about the way the privacy of "the People" was flouted during his reign.
2:01 "That unfinished cause for which our soldiers willing go to battle" - ...is analogous to Gettysburg how?
2:44 Obama has "violated our Constitution" - how, precisely?
2:46 Obama has "confounded laws" - what does this mean?
2:50 Obama has "destroyed jobs" - how?
2:52 Obama has "perverted our economy" - what does this mean?
2:54 Obama has "curtailed free speech" - how?
2:56 Obama has "corrupted our currency" - what does this mean?
2:58 Obama has "weakened our national security" - how?
3:00 Obama has "endangered our sovereignty" - how?
3:05 "By compromising our nations cultural, legal, and economic institutions" - How has he done this? What is a "cultural institution"?
3:16 "Through generational theft you are robbing the unborn of opportunity." - Very poetic, but what does it mean?

Just a little confused. I myself am a little unsettled by how much money has been spent in recent days, but Mr. Obama is signing the bills that Congress puts in front of him, so let's not just blame him. I don't really mean to defend our president (I lack the political interest to do so), but I'm not a fan of rabble-rousing, and I think that's all this is.

02 August 2010

Post 224

"Stoned wallabies make crop circles" might sound like a headline from The Onion, but it's actually from BBC news.

Check it out.

22 July 2010

Post 222 (apologetically misordered)

So, I'd like to tell you I'm going to blog more faithfully these days, and I'd like to believe that myself, but we'll see what happens, I guess.

Just a little bit of poignant randomness to ripple your day:

12 June 2010

Post 223

Why haven't I posted in so long? Well....

06 April 2010

Post 221

It's snowing today here in Provo. Snow on April 6th! A friend texted me this morning to wish me a happy white Christmas. Hahahaha. White Christmas indeed! THAT, my friends, is good, clean, down-to-earth funny, right there. What a kidder.

My apologies to anyone who isn't a Mormon and doesn't get the joke.

17 March 2010

Post 220

If it weren't for holidays and YouTube, I would never post, it seems....