Today’s Topic: Norwegian Snow

It snows in Norway, a lot. At least that’s the impression you get from the film Happy Happy, a “black comedy” about two families living across a very white snow-covered path from each other. My dad’s father, Ingmar Pederson, emigrated here from Norway. Sadly, I don’t know where he lived there or what family may be left in the “old country.” His wife, Ida, my grandmother, was second generation Norwegian.
I didn’t know my Norwegian grandfather. He died while I was still very young. Still I remember him because of a great picture my parents have of him, or rather of his bowling team. Very formal, straight faces, pressed long-sleeved shirts, and thin dark ties. I guess bowling was a serious vocation back then rather than yet another reason to drink beer in copious amounts.
When Ida married Ingmar, she lost her US citizenship. That’s the way it worked back in the 1920s. Ingmar had not been naturalized yet, so after they wed, they both had to through the process. Maybe I should let the Republicans know about this former practice. It might give them new ideas for immigration reform.
Speaking of bowling and Norwegians, apparently the Norwegian posters and video cassettes of the cult classic film The Big Lebowski carry the words “anbefales av norsk bowling forbund” (recommended by the Norwegian Bowling Association). I didn’t know they had a bowling association. They also have a great many more “bowlinghallers” than I would have imagined, including one seemingly north of the Arctic Circle (see below).
From the look of this map, all the Swedes have to trek over the mountains to Norway if they want to throw a few lines.
I seemed to have gotten off the Norwegian snow topic. The country lies at the same latitude as Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia, yet has a “warmer” climate because of the Gulf Stream passing by. Still, it snows there. And if you watch Happy Happy, you’ll see it snows all the time (sort of like the Seattle-based TV show The Killing, where it rains absolutely every day). Maybe they should call it a “white comedy” instead.

Today’s Topic: Snapplause

It’s serendipitous, perhaps, that just a few days after blogging about how Merriam-Webster adds new words to the dictionary, I run across a word I had not seen before: snapplause. (Okay, so I lead a sheltered life.) I was reading an article in Time Magazine about change.org, the website where anyone can start a petition to effect social change. This particular article related to a petition to encourage Florida to prosecute George Zimmerman, the admitted killer of Trayvon Martin. The article noted that when the change.org staff learned of the success of one of their petitions, they celebrated with a round of snapplause.
Snapplause does appear in the Urban Dictionary, defined as “when an audience snaps rather than claps to applaud a performance or person. Generally used in coffee shops or poetry readings.” As it turns out, there is a SnapPlausechannel (no recent activity) on YouTube, someone named @snapplausein Budapest on Twitter, and a snapplause t-shirt available for $27.10.
Out of curiosity, I googled “strange forms of applause.” One “answer” that came up, appropriately enough on www.strangequestions.com, was an article titled “Why do we clap our hands?” According to this piece, applause (hand clapping) and snapplause both go back to the Romans. Apparently, the Romans also liked to wave the flaps of their togas, stomp their feet, and pound fists on tables. Those guys know how to party, it seems. I wonder what the sound of 50,000-plus in the Colosseummust have been like as they snapplauded the usual carnage below. Maybe something like the middle part of this video showing people creating the sound of rain and thunder with just their bodies, only much louder and blood-thirstier. I wonder as well if the Romans did variations of finger snapping.
The “Why do we clap our hands?” article also notes that the 16th-century French invented something called the “claque,” a group of professional clappers hired to work at dramatic performances. That sounds very much like an early version of the laugh track. Sigh. I always thought better of the French. This might be one thing to change once I get my version of the Mr. Peabody‘s WABAC (“wayback”) machine working. 

Today’s Topic: Cold Blood

One animal we have in great abundance here in Key West is the gecko. Most of you know the Geico gecko. The ones here look pretty much like him, except they don’t walk on their back legs or speak with a British accent. There are supposedly over 1,500 species of geckos. Their name comes from variants of the Malaysian word that imitates the sound they make. These lizards don’t have eyelids and can shoot poop to deter their enemies (works for me). They can “stick” to almost any smooth surface, including ceilings, due some think to the van der Waals force. Apparently, they have something like Velcro on their footpads that grabs on to the molecules of whatever they happen to be standing on.
All very interesting but what really got me thinking about them was watching one little green guy sitting on top of our fence basking in sunlight. All he needed was a trashy novel and an ice-cold Bud to complete the picture. In reality, he was just warming up. Geckos are cold-blooded. Not too long ago on one cool evening, I found one floating in our compound’s pool trying to figure out where he was, how he got there, and how he might get out. I slide my hand underneath him and raised him up. He grabbed onto my index finger for dear life. When I brought him over to the side of the pool and laid my hand on the bricks to let him go, he was so not interested. He liked the warmth of my finger and was intent on filching my life source until I persuaded him, gently, to move on.
All reptiles, insects, arachnids (spiders), amphibians, and fish are cold-blooded. In other words, their body temperature (thermophysiology – there’s a great word) is the same as their surrounding environment. They don’t maintain a constant temperature like warm-blooded animals do. So why cold-blooded? The advantage, it turns out, is they need much less energy (read food) to live since they don’t have to burn it to keep themselves warm. So they can survive longer on less, assuming of course that they don’t get caught in a sudden Alberta clipper. There’s a new diet fad in here somewhere. There’s just that pesky thermoregulationissue in human’s to work out. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.

Today’s Topic: Hyphenate

Another Word of the Day: Hyphenate. Normally, hyphenate refers to an act of putting a small dash between syllables to break up a word. Apparently it is a noun as well, denoting a person who does more than one thing, as in producer-director (so everyone is a hyphenate in other words), or who admits to a schizophrenic national identity, as in Irish-American. Apparently, in the latter sense, it was not a friendly term originally, as it referred to “a resident or citizen of the US whose recent foreign national origin caused others to question his or her patriotic loyalties” with or without justification. There are many such hyphenates: Irish-Americanor German-Americanor Italian-Americanor Iranian-Americanor the really rare Norwegian-American. Apparently John Ashcroft and Michelle Bachman are Norwegian-Americans. I’m renouncing my heritage immediately. But then Marilyn Monroe is too. Okay, not.

Today’s Topic: Loquaciosity

One of the many things I get in my email (this one by choice) is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. Today’s word is “loquacious,” which in plain English means full of excessive talk, wordy or given to fluent or excessive talk, garrulous (another WOD candidate).
According to the email, the word loquacious comes from that Latin “loqui” or “to speak.” This is also responsible for words like colloquial, eloquent, soliloquy, and ventriloquism. Prolific little guy, isn’t he?
So when you google “loquacious people,” you get a very interesting mix of responses. One instructs you on how to make loquacious people go away. Another describes how to deal with an incessant talker. I’m getting the feeling that being called loquacious is not a compliment. Another provides true personal stories, chat, and advice from people who admit to being “verbose, loquacious, periphrastic, grandiloquent, and just plain wordy.”
I have deemed such people to have the quality of “loquaciosity,” a word not in the dictionary at present but that may be at some point in the future. This makes me wonder how words do get into the dictionary. Merriam-Webster has an explanation, of course, which is quite loquacious in itself. The short description is this:
  1. Editors “scour” a cross-section of published material looking for “new words [so they know every word in their dictionary and can pick out strangers?], new usages of existing words, variant spellings, and inflected forms [that’s inflected, not infected, and means other words based on another word – as in run, ran, runs, running where run is the original word – okay I still don’t get it].” Anything they find goes into a citation file.
  2. Then the editors review the citation files. Any word that collects enough citations to be considered “widely used” gets in. To be specific, to be included “a word must be used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time.”
Since this blog entry probably marks the debut of “loquaciosity,” it will definitely be a considerable period of time before it gets that official stamp of dictionary approval. I’m rooting for it, though. Join the fight if you like. Spread the word (oh that was just too easy!).

Today’s Topic: The Ghost Ship

CNN published a story today on the US Coast Guard sinking a Japanese fishing trawler that had been drifting since the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The “ghost ship” was floating off the coast of Alaska more than a year after the disaster sent it on its lonely journey. This, for some not-so-unexplainable reason, reminds me of the little chemical-dispensing float that meanders around our compound’s swimming pool. At least with the float, I know it moves as it does because the pool system that circulates, cleans, and heats the water creates deliberate currents in the pool.
So what giant “pool cleaning” system got this hapless unnamed vessel from Japan to Alaska? If you look at the image below from Wikipedia, it’s perfectly obvious how the little trawler came to Alaska. The North Pacific current carried it across the greatest stretch of water and then it apparently took the Alaska exit and “went thataway.”
This illustration is actually of something called the North Pacific Gyre, a circular water flow created by the Kuroshio, North Pacific, California, and North Equatorial ocean currents. There are five major ocean gyres (shown below in another Wikipedia image).
For anyone who hasn’t read William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” a gyre in general is a circular or spiral form. Think of that little vortex that sometimes appears as the water drains out of your bathtub (for those of you who still have and/or use bathtubs). In the ocean, it’s simply a circular flow of currents.
The “convergence zone” shown in the North Pacific Gyre illustration above plays host to one of humankind’s greatest achievements: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex. According to Wikipedia, it “is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped in the North Pacific Gyre. It sounds and is horrendous in nature. What is not the least bit surprising is that someone has a plan to recycle (and monetize) the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Ah, entrepreneurialism – what would we do without it? At least this one seems progressive.

Today’s Topic: Imagination (or Lack Thereof)

I saw the film The Hunger Games last night. If you’re not familiar with it, it was made from the first book of the wildly popular Suzanne Collins trilogy that includes Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Here are some of the critic blurbs about the film:
  • “We have a winner!” Rolling Stone
  • “Hit’s the bulls-eye!” San Jose Mercury News
  • “The Hunger Games delivers!” New York Daily News
  • “Pulse-Surgingly Tense!” The Telegram (UK)
Pulse-surgingly? My reaction to the two hour and twenty-two minute blockbuster: REALLY BIG YAWN. The director and writers managed to take an imaginative, suspenseful, character-rich novel and turn it into the film equivalent of the original Cream of Wheat—flat, tasteless, colorless, imparting an urge to gag after too many spoonfuls.
It makes me wonder how anyone working in an industry that supposedly depends on creativity and imagination can be so lacking in both qualities. But I guess I’m being idealistic – how else to explain wonders of the cinema like Daredeviland Elektra.
So what is imagination, anyway? The simple definition is “the faculty of imagining, the ability of forming images and sensations when they are not perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses.” Films should, as Daniel Nettle describes it, “draw the audience into the imaginative world of someone.” Einsteinsupposedly once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He also said, “The monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” So maybe that’s what Gary Ross had in mind when he directed The Hunger Games. Think of all those great ideas that will be coming out of what people think about while being monotonized by this film. (Hey, if The Telegramcan make up words, so can I.) With any luck, some of those imaginings may turn into films that are indeed pulse-surgingly tense. Hope springs eternal.

Today’s Topic: Infinity

I’ve been reading Janna Levin’s book How the Universe Got Its Spots (subtitled A Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space), her semi-autobiographical exploration of “Is the universe infinite or just really big?” Before she gets into the astrophysics, she discusses the idea of infinity in mathematics, describing the mind-warping notion of how, among other things, there are infinite subsets of infinite sets of numbers. For example, the natural numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) have a subset of even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). If you lined them up and counted up, both sets of numbers would stretch to infinity, that is, they would never end. So the set of even numbers, supposedly only half as large as the set of natural numbers, is actually the same size: infinite. In fact, as Georg Cantor puts it, there are many infinite sets of different sizes, something he called “cardinalities.” (I need more coffee.)
Infinity, as Wikipedia notes, is something without any limit. The infinity symbol () is basically a Mobius strip like the one shown below.
A Mobius strip is described as a surface “with only one side and only one boundary component.” (I really need more coffee.) (For the musical equivalent of this, check out the Mobius Band, which has released CDs with titles like “The Loving Sounds of Static.”) Maybe this explanation from Wikipedia (which refers to the illustration above) will help:
A Möbius strip made with a piece of paper and tape. If an ant were to crawl along the length of this strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed the entire length of the strip (on both sides of the original paper) without ever crossing an edge.
So in other words, you could go around this strip forever and never get to the other side. (I don’t think coffee is going to help.) A chicken might appreciate this. At least then, people would stop asking it that stupid question.  

Today’s Topic: Cake

We celebrated the birthdays of our two Maine coon cats, VeuDeu and Pazuzu, yesterday. Their actual birthdays are in January and March, but it’s become tradition for April 1 to be our pet’s birthday celebration and has been for a long line of animals now. To celebrate, we always get a “lard cake,” put a candle on it, and take a picture of the cats staring at it like the entire concoction just fell from outer space (sometimes a natural pose, sometimes a bit coerced). Our lard cake is not the real one, just a birthday cake from Publix with the frosting which, when eaten, approximates the “lardening of the arteries” brought on, one would think, by actual lard.
According to Foodtimeline.com, the actual word “cake” goes back to the thirteenth century. It is derived from the Old Norse word “kaka.” Hmmm. Anyway, the idea of “cakes” goes more back to the ancient Romans, who ate flat rounds of bread sweetened with honey and sometimes with fruit and nuts added (fruitcakeanyone? anyone? anyone?). They were occasionally served on birthdays. Some give credit to the ancient Greeks, however, for the idea of putting candles on a birthday cake. Supposedly, they thought the smoke they created would carry their prayers to the gods. I wondered if anyone wished for a black Mercedes G Class back then.
People can get wacky with cakes. Witness the World’s Weirdest Cakes. They can also get artistic. Cakes can be very large or very small. They can even be made of Legos. They can be very expensive or very inexpensive.
Our cake this year happened to be Key Lime flavored Pepperidge Farm out of the grocery store freezer. Fausto’s has a shocking lack of lard cake. The cats didn’t seem to mind. They still stared at it as if it fell from outer space.

Today’s Topic: Blood Pressure

My wife decided recently to buy a blood pressure monitor, one of those simple ones that wraps around your wrist and then does its thing. It’s pretty cool actually—whirring, inflating, deflating, and presenting (and keeping a 99-day log of) your most vital signs. Trying it out made me wonder, of course, about the whole idea of blood pressure. It’s an integral part of our physical beings and social culture, as in “Don’t get your blood pressure up!” or “Don’t blow a gasket!” or “One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills!”
That last quote is from Harvey Earl Wilson, a newspaper columnist known for his syndicated column New York Post column “It Happened Last Night” and later “Last Night with Earl Wilson.” He wrote two supposedly controversial books, The Show Business Nobody Knowsand Sinatra—an Unauthorized Biography. Here’s Earl at his typewriter.
(Retrieved from AllPosters.com, March 29, 2012.)
He looks calm and collected, doesn’t he? Definitely not mountain climbing over molehills at this moment.
So, blood pressure. Diastolic. Systolic. High. Low. What’s it all about (Alfie)? It seems simple, really. Your heat contracts (systolic) and pushes blood out. Your heart relaxes (diastolic) and sucks blood in, sort of like a turkey baster except you’d be basting turkey at 75 times or so per minute for, oh let’s say 75 years for symmetry, which adds up to 75 times 1440 times 365 (leaving out Leap Year) times 75 for a grand total of just under 3 billion heartbeats. This would be more, of course, for those who watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or go to Justin Bieber concerts.
Over that life span, the heart will pump over two billion gallons of blood at a rate of a gallon every five beats. Yikes. Fortunately, the medical experts say that hearts do not wear out like a car engine or coffee makers do. So all we have to worry about is atherosclerosis, infection, or injury. Phew. That’s good to hear. Now I can relax and give my heart a break by letting it slow down a bit. Okay, not.