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Odd Lots

The War on “Moist”

I have heard the angry voices (particularly God’s and Stephen King’s–or maybe it was just Stephen King’s) raised against the spreading curse of words that end in -ly, with particular emphasis on dastardly constructs like “only” and “early.” Today, for the first time, I’ve seen lexical blood spilled on a new front, against the horror of the word people are said to revile above all others…


Well. I’m a cultured individual, long steeped in the ways of the world, and no stranger to the pleasures of the mind and the senses. I have tasted anchovies. I have drunk sweet wine. I have read Barry Malzberg. I have danced the Invisible Horse Dance with my nieces and nephews. I have cocked an ear to what was either interstellar noise or leaky capacitors. I have gazed upon the jade sculpture on my tall bookcase until I became…well, you know what I became. I signed up once to pet a naked mole rat, but the line was too long and we had to go home. Genuine WTF moments have gotten thin in this, the seventh decade of my life. But the war on “moist” caught me up short.

I thought it was the primary virtue of cakes. If not, well, what do you call a cake that isn’t dry? Wet? Damp? Sodden? Moldy? (HuffPo takes on this crucial question with elan.)

I see that this is nothing new. The war on “moist” began a long time ago, at least as long ago as 2009. I missed it somehow. The Colorado Springs Gazette did not run the story under a 500-point rendering of “WAR!” Nobody mentioned it on Slashdot, nor Ars Technica, which posts on lots of things it knows nothing about. The war on hated words was highlighted in the New Yorker in 2012, and while there was a long line leading to the word gallows (with “phlegm” and “fecund” fidgeting while waiting their turn) the word eye-to-eye with the Lord High Executioner was “moist.” Men who use the word “moist” are undateable. There is even a Facebook group called “I HATE the word MOIST!” (Well, that certainly nails it.)

So what’s the deal?

The question came up recently on the Facebook wall of a writer friend of mine. A woman whom I don’t know explained: “Just imagine your 65-year-old mother reading it aloud as she reaches a pivotal sex scene in a romance novel. Enough said.”

Enough indeed, especially if you knew my mother, who would be 88 this year if she were still with us. She spent a considerable chunk of her life keeping parts of her house from becoming a little too moist with spilled milk, dog vomit, and thrown cream-of-mushroom mushrooms, which are moist squared. I’m guessing she didn’t have to read sex scenes aloud to be moist-averse. Small children and dogs were plenty.

My view? This has already gone too far. The word “moist” has not been seen in actual use in several months, though many have spoken passionately about it. Alas, its parents “most” and “mist” have unearthed a suicide note. We bludgeoned it, we drew and quartered it, we broke it on Little Orphan Annie’s code wheel, and we mopped up the gore with a towelette. We will not have “moist” to push around anymore. Who will be next? Who? Who?

The New Yorker says: “Slacks.”

I’m in.

Whosever Language This Is

This doesn’t happen too often, but today it stopped me cold: I was writing a paragraph from Ten Gentle Opportunities and couldn’t decide which of two usages was the right one. When there are two ways to say something, I generally have an intuitive sense for which is the more correct way, based on what I’ve read as much as what I’ve learned of proper grammar. This is one of the benefits of reading much and broadly.

Today I got stuck between two usages that both felt a little wrong, and both almost precisely the same measure of right. Here’s the sentence in question, done the way I learned it way back in the Precambrian:

Carolyn stabbed the End Call button, and rose to go fetch her intern, or whosever intern he was.

It sounded a little off. The other way also sounded a little off:

Carolyn stabbed the End Call button, and rose to go fetch her intern, or whoever’s intern he was.

My (moldy) style books all say “whosever” but I hear “whoever’s” a lot more in recent writing. I think what we’re seeing here is a usage at the tipping point. In a few more years, “whosever” will become an archaism, and people will look at you funny when you say it.

Is this good or not? I don’t know. Language evolves; sound and sense and all that. About the only thing I’m certain of is that I’m old. But I knew that.

Odd Lots

  • Not posting often here, but I’m ok. Working hard on several things, chief of which is getting my office and Carol’s exchanged, outfitted, and fully functional. This involves furniture, wiring, lighting, and sorting an immense quantity of glarble. I hope to return to regular in-depth posting soon.
  • I have a new favorite cheese: cave-aged gruyere, which can be had sometimes at King Soopers, and is lucious with a good dry red wine. Get the oldest cheese you can find, as young gruyere tastes nothing like old gruyere. A year is as young as I buy.
  • The asteroid that whacked the dinosaurs must have thrown an immense amount of material into space. How much rock might have made the journey, and how far far did it go? Here’s a good quick take on the topic. It would take a million years or more to get to Gliese 581, but suitably rugged bacterial spores might have survived, and made the origin of life on planets there unnecessary. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • A book I’m not bullish on: Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which describes how the cause of cholera (infected water) was proven by the persistent John Snow through charting of cholera deaths upon a map of London neighborhood water pumps. Why? The book does not include the actual ghost map named in the title. (So what else is missing or wrong?) Whatever editor let that past should be fired and spend the rest of his/her days stuffing toddler clothes in racks at Wal Mart.
  • Could the TRS-80 Mod 100 possibly be 30 years old? Yes indeedy, and it was ubiquitous among tech journalists when I was at PC Tech Journal in ’85-86. Its keycaps made a distinctive sound, and sitting in a significant press conference back then was like sitting under a tin roof in a rainstorm. I yearned for one myself (the keyboard was wonderful for such a small device) but didn’t pull the trigger because the machine did so little other than keystroke capture.
  • Toward the end of my tenure at Xerox I saw the Sunrise, which was a more ambitious take on the “lapslab” concept. My department was considering writing an app for it, so I had a loaner for awhile. Even better keyboard than the TRS 100, cassette data storage, modem…but the 3-line display was harder to read. Xerox private-labeled the hardware from another company, and basically killed it with a $1500 price point. (There was a flashier version that cost…$2500!) Xerox abandoned the market in 1984, after sinking what rumor held to be an obscene amount of money into it.
  • One machine I did consider was the Exidy Sorcerer, which also had a good keyboard and didn’t cost $3000. Lack of software made me spend the $3000 anyway, on a huge honking S100 system running a 1 MHz 8080.
  • One of the big issues between Amazon and the Big Six is an explosion of co-op fees, which according to some reports have increased by 30 times since 2011. The whole “co-op” business has always smelled gamey to me, but it had a purpose in the B&M bookselling world. How it fits into online ebook retailing is less clear, and in my view starts leaning perilously in the direction of bribery.
  • Most of us think that reading is in decline. Gallup poll results suggest otherwise. Nor are today’s books worse than those of 40+ years ago. This quote is significant: “The bad [books] of yesteryear have gone out of print while the bad ones of today are alive and being sold in supermarkets.”
  • I’m still watching the ASUS Tranformer Prime (their botch of its GPS support has kept me away for the time being) but the Prime has a little (as in cheaper) brother now, and it looks like a decent machine in its own right. Here’s Engadget’s detailed review of theTransformer Pad TF-300.
  • Here’s another wonderful gallery from Dark Roasted Blend, this time of high-speed photos of liquids. Some of it is photoshopped, but it’s all startling. (Thanks to Ernie Marek for the link.)
  • Santorini is smouldering again. Yes, the volcano that may have made the Minoans extinct and launched the legend of Atlantis (or at least put an older legend on the map) is getting restless. Like the Greeks need that right now.
  • Eating meat allowed our hominid ancestors to reproduce more quickly, by accelerating infant brain growth and thus shortening the breastfeeding period. (Breastfeeding naturally inhibits ovulation.) This on top of several other issues.
  • From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: Beatboxing , which is vocal generation of sounds like drums and synthesized sound effects. I heard of this in an interesting way: There’s a slightly silly commercial for the Honda Pilot that involves a Pilot full of bored tweens beatboxing the rhythm of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” and by chance we had captioning turned on. When the kids started making noises, the captioning read, “Beatboxing.”
  • Pete Albrecht sends a link to a map color-coding US gas prices by county. The very abrupt differences between states suggests that gas prices are more a question of state and local taxes than regional differences in demand.
  • It was inevitable: A 3D printer that prints chocolate novelties. Now we need a 3D printer that prints spice-cake Easter lambs with ears that stay on.

Odd Lots

  • I’m still alive, and still remodeling. Designing two more Elfa buildouts, in fact, before the Container Store’s annual Elfa sale times out on January 31. Getting migraines from craning my neck during ladder work, too, which has made me disinclined to be perky in this space. It won’t be forever; the painting was finished today, finally. But it will be February before the carpeting’s in.
  • From the Words I Didn’t Know Until Yesterday Department: plectrum, an implement used to pluck the strings of a stringed instrument such as a guitar or harpsichord. Among the many forms of plectra are guitar picks and harpsichord jacks.
  • Here’s an intriguing list of major solar flare events, beginning with the Carrington Event in 1859. Is it just me, or has the Sun done a lot of quieting down in the last 100-odd years?
  • Why Megaupload? Those guys had four percent of all Internet traffic worldwide, all of it Linux distros and Project Gutenberg mirrors. Yeah, that’s it. Yeah.
  • On the other hand, there are a lot of people who were using Megaupload as a cloud server for their own files. And you wonder why I like local storage.
  • As I take a break from remodeling to try and get my head around various current IP topics, it occurs to me that the well-covered Megaupload bust is Streisanding the hell out of the bitlocker concept itself. People who had never heard of bitlockers (alias “one-click hosting”) or indexes like FilesTube are doubtless adding lots of new bookmarks today.
  • That swoopy one-piece telephone with the dial on the bottom that you used to see in a lot of spy movies and TV shows? The Ericophon.
  • Nancy Frier has found a niche printing firm that can actually print from then original plates used in Alox kites, and so new kites using the original Alox designs may well live again. More as it happens.
  • This dream is such a common phenomenon that the dream itself must have a name. What is it? (I’ve had it now and then for probably thirty years.)
  • Is there a utility that will search a Web page or pages for a list of search terms every X minutes / days / weeks ?

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Freedom matters, and in honor of Independence Day here’s an eye-opening report on the “state of freedom” in the fifty American states. I knew a lot of this from my research nine years ago, when Carol and I decided to leave Arizona, but it’s nice to see it all in one free (in the other sense) document.
  • From the Words I Didn’t Know Until Yesterday Department: draisine, a human-powered device for moving over railroad rails. This is evidently a European term; over here these are called handcars or inspection speeders or rail cycles or a number of other things. Definitely note the hot-pink draisine-built-for-two on the Wikipedia page. (Thanks to Aki Peltonen for dropping the word to me.)
  • Although I’m sure that everyone in the civilized galaxy has seen the cartoon, I wasn’t aware that “thagomizer” is now paleobiological jargon. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Here’s a list of somebody’s picks as the ten best hard SF books of all time. I agree with about 50% of the picks, though Robinson’s Mars trilogy was so slow and padded-out that I could barely finish it. (I have not yet read the Egan book cited.) I sense as well that Somebody Doesn’t Like Heinlein’s Politics. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Despite a 500-fold increase in cell phone use in the last 20 years, malignant brain tumor diagnosis is down in that timeframe. This interests me, as three people I knew died of brain tumors (the largest cancer cluster in my circle of acquaintance) and it makes me wonder. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • I had just a couple of comic books back in the early Sixties, and one of the most intriguing was an extra-long number from DC called Secret Origins that had the backstory for five or six of the most famous DC superheroes. Oddly, what I remember most clearly was the backstory for Green Lantern, especially the little blue guys on the Planet Without Consonants and (most intriguing of all) a power ring with a flaw that prevented it from working against anything yellow. Trouble is, if you remove the flaw, the ring loses its power completely. Now that’s cool–alas, in what may be the canonical Green Lantern for Dummies page, the yellow gotcha isn’t stated clearly and I wonder if it was just abandoned back in the 1960s.
  • Forgot to aggregate this back in January: One of the most bizarre articles I’ve ever read on any major site in recent years. This totally, completely, utterly certain guy is angry at other guys for being totally, completely, and utterly certain–and that about something totally, completely, and utterly trivial. My take: We “know” nothing at all with certainty, and the more certain you are that you’re right, the more certain the rest of us should be that you’re wrong. Nyah-nyah!
  • And another Odd Lot that has lain around for some time: Polish troops trained a young bear to carry ammo during the Battle of Monte Cassino. My father was at that battle, working a radio station on the back of a truck, but he never mentioned seeing the bear. The bear is said to never have dropped any munitions, which I’m sure was a good thing for the bear, and possibly my father as well.
  • Here’s a bogglingly weird Dickensian artifact that I’d never heard of before: A key gun. It’s a gun built into the key to a (large) prison cell lock. I’m sure if it had worked better I would have seen it before now.

Odd Lots

  • I may be the last person to aggregate this, but if you haven’t seen it yet, consider: The Sun being eclipsed simultaneously by the Moon…and the ISS! Thanks to Bill Higgins for pointing it out. (Talk about having to set up a shot!!!)
  • And for further astronomical boggle-fodder, consider this: A ten-year-old girl discovered a supernova a few days ago, and is the youngest person ever to do so.
  • Here’s a site listing a great many 19th Century and early 20th Century studio photographers, many with addresses and sometimes timeframes. All but one of the studios I’ve seen on old family photos I’ve scanned (circa 1880-1910) are listed. How useful this might be is hard to tell, but if you’re currently doing genealogical research it’s worth a bookmark.
  • RF Cafe has a nice table of dielectric constants, useful if you’re winding coils on odd scraps and not commercial forms or cores.
  • The same research yielded this short discussion of how good PVC piping is for RF use. Quick form: Most plastics are better, but they don’t make polystyrene pipe. They don’t even make polystyrene vitamin bottles anymore. (Fortunately, I still have a few in the scrap box.)
  • From my old friend Dennis Harris comes a pointer to, which has short MP3 clips of 18,351 TV theme songs and all their variations. Elmer the Elephant is missing, but damn near everything else is there, from Supercar to The Ugliest Girl in Town .
  • Last week while we were in Chicago, my nephew Brian showed me Google Sky Map on his Android smartphone. Basically (assuming your phone “knows where it is” and when) you can hold your phone up against the sky, and it will show you what stars and planets lie in that direction, even in broad daylight. Aim the camera at your feet, and you’ll see what’s on the other side of the planet, swinging toward rising or circling the opposite pole. Way cool.
  • From the Words I Haven’t Heard In A Long Time Department: bric-a-brac , a collective term for odd items of low value. I realized, digging through a box in the garage, that I must hold one of the world’s largest reserves of bric-a-brac. Damn. I shoulda invested in rare earths.
  • Related to the above: Rubrique-a-Brac , a long-running cartoon strip by French cartoonist Gotlib. His 1971 Taume 2 collection of strips is the funniest book in French I ever read without knowing French. (I do have a French-English dictionary, which helps, but the art largely speaks for itself.)
  • As if the Nazgul weren’t enough: We’ve gotten word that there was once a giant stork that preyed on the Flores Island hobbits.

Odd Lots

  • I’m still pretty sore from lingering shingles pain on my back, and a little grouchy in consequence, though I’m trying manfully not to show it. On the good news end, Carol is much better, and we both had cheese ravioli last night. I think it was the first meal worthy of the name that she’s had in almost two weeks.
  • Anger really does make you lose: Sony has condemned “No Pressure” and completely disassociated itself from 10:10.
  • From the Terms-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: milk float, a small delivery vehicle (often electric) used to deliver milk in urban England. Some photos here.
  • And another from that department: steamdevil, a small vortex of condensed water vapor rising into cold air from a warm body of water like a lake or a river. This is the time of year you tend to see them, and Spaceweather posted a nice example from Wisconsin.
  • I’ve always suspected that grains aren’t good for me, but here’s some analysis as to why. Your Body May Vary, but a lot of this sure sounds familiar. Note well the caution on soybeans, which give both Carol and me a lot of trouble.
  • Napa’s cool summer has winemakers biting their nails: They may lose much (and perhaps all) of their harvest if a freeze comes before the grapes mature, but if they can walk the tightrope to harvest without falling, this year’s late-harvest wines (my favorite kind) could be spectacular. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • The Colorado Springs marijuana industry has made the New York Times , and has injected new life into local newspapers. I like The Independent, our quirky little free paper (its offices are in an old church with interesting architecture) and every issue I flip through down at the Black Bear Coffeehouse has another page of MMD ads. The latest issue had a 48-page pull-out supplement, devoted entirely to You Know What. The world is clearly crazier than we can imagine.
  • Mars may have had not only oceans, but (c’mon, this is obvious!) also icebergs. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Australia is about to get its first native-born Roman Catholic saint: Sister Mary Helen MacKillop, who in 1870 got a child-abuser priest removed from his position. In retaliation, friends of the priest orchestrated her excommunication, but she was exonerated in 1872. She will be canonized later this month, and I’d say she now stands fair to become the patron saint of whistleblowers.

Odd Lots

  • The base for the Geiger-Muller tubes used in all of the early Cold War era Victoreen counters (including both tubes now on my bench) is called a standard Peewee 3-pin, JEDEC A3-1. Many thanks to Jonathan O’Neal for sending along this link to a detailed spec sheet (PDF) for one of the tubes. Now I can wire up the counter I’m building for initial tests.
  • A couple of people have suggested using a Leyden jar instead of ordinary capacitors to collect charge for my (supposedly) steampunk Geiger counter. I imagine that a Leyden jar would be more period, and it’s certainly a good excuse to build something that I saw in every single one of the kid books on electricity I read back in the early 60s. Not real portable, though.
  • There is indeed an organization that helps to keep Latin functional, 2000-odd years from its original coalescence as a major world language. No psychic powers points for guessing that the organization is…the Roman Catholic Church. (Thanks to Michael Covington for the link, which, I must say ahead of things, is in…Latin.)
  • And Finland just racked up a huge mess of cool points with me for being the only country in the world that broadcasts the news in Latin. (Thanks to Aki Peltonen for the link.)
  • Jim Furstenberg put me on to photos of a round dozen Victorian submarines. The site looks to be a marvelously engaging time-waster, er, experience broadener. (Have done much of both in recent hours.)
  • Google just announced its own URL shortener, which will do some reasonable screening against malware. I have avoided using URL shorteners for that reason until now.
  • Furthermore, the new Google URL shortener will generate a QR code for you if you tack a .qr onto the end of the shortened URL.
  • Amazon is creating an Android app store. Peculiar? Not if the next (or next after that) Kindle generation is more than just an ebook reader.
  • I’m proud to say that my good sister Gretchen long ago declared that she is raising free-range kids. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant (Carol and I have none of our own) until I read this. Bravo! Now, can we make zero-tolerance policies in schools a felony? (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • The other day I mentioned to Carol that, with “Drumlin Circus” taking on a certain steampunk flavor (it’s certainly nothing like “Drumlin Boiler”) I would probably have to buy a top hat. Her reply: “Um…you already have a top hat.” I looked on the high shelf in the closet, and shore ’nuff! I bought it for the 1999 Coriolis Millennium Christmas Party at the Biltmore Hotel in Scottsdale. I wore it exactly once, and then forgot about it. So what’s next? Spats? Or my seriously ahead-of-the-curve Chester A. Arthur facial hair?