December 2013 Archives

Doesn't That Impress You?

I have spent a fair amount of time over the years advising newcomers to Second Life. The big three questions are, of course, "So what do you do here?" "How do I make money?" and "Where can I do the sex?" but not far behind is often the question of where one can go to meet people. Often I ask them what their interests are, and advise them to seek out related activities, where they may well find like-minded people and a community to join.

Meanwhile, over in Real Life, I've had no social life to speak of. It occurred to me that perhaps, just perhaps, that advice might have some applicability in this more mundane world. So, with a fair amount of apprehension, I RSVPed for a ukulele meetup.

Which was promptly cancelled, the landlord of the space they used having decided that he'd rather not host a bunch of ukulele players after all. But they found a new space in time for the next one, two weeks later, which was this past Friday night. And... well, it turned out to be a lot of fun! The skill levels varied widely, both on the ukulele and singing fronts, and the atmosphere was unconditionally supportive. I'll definitely be back.

I'd found myself in a quandary, the day before, trying to figure out what music to bring with me. I knew this installment was billed as being holiday-centric, but Chanukah is so last month, and nobody wants to hear "I Had a Little Dreidel" any more than I'd want to play it. I considered my minor-key version of Jingle Bells, but my friend Chris's reaction via IM—"A Jingle dirge!"—had me feeling apprehensive about that idea. (To me, it's equal parts heartwarming and funny, but that's the musical background I come from...)

I was in the shower, running a bit late, when it hit me that I could do my favorite new Christmas song of the year. Which was also a Christmas song I was kinda "meh" about last year. Except that it's not really the same song.

I should back up.

Last year, my favorite Portland-based geek-folk group consisting of two sisters, The Doubleclicks, released a Christmas EP, titled Christmas Ain't About Me. The title track was cute, but forgettable.

During the ensuing months, they took it into the shop. The lyrics stayed; the melody was entirely changed. Pathos was added. And the real-life older sister took over the vocals. It was completely transformative, and the result is my favorite track on their newest album, Lasers and Feelings.

So after showering, while getting dressed, I spent about ten minutes quickly downloading and printing the lyrics, running to my Casio keyboard to figure out the chords, verifying them on the uke, and scribbling them down. And then off to the City I went. And... it didn't suck. I mean, there was a hiccup at the beginning when I was working out what register to sing in, I was gender-swapping the pronouns on the fly and bobbled one, and it turned out I'd transcribed one chord change two words early, but the audience was forgiving. A couple of people asked me where it was from, and one ended up downloading it from iTunes on the spot. So that was good.

Here's the thing: minor flubs or not, that public performance was the first time I'd ever played the song the whole way through, and I stuck the landing. I don't think I could have managed that a year ago. (Or would have even considered attempting it.)

Anyway. Here's the song:

Also, here's the Doubleclicks version. Needless to say, it's way better.

L.A. Face with the Oakland Booty

Y'know, I never set out to compile a page with nothing but links related to "Baby Got Back." And yet here we are!

The Internet Archive informs me that I started linking to versions of the song on my Links page no later than October 2005. (Its previous snapshot was in March of that year, and that version doesn't have any.) At the time, it included translations into Latin, Greek, Malay, and "Jane Austen," a Christian parody, and Jonathan Coulton's folk version. But time marches on. By May 2006, I'd added another parody and five more covers, and it's only snowballed from there. Today I finally decided it was past time I spun the whole thing off from my main page'o'links. (And then I checked them all, and replaced a bunch of dead links with updated ones.)

The upshot is, here's the link if you're interested in translations, covers, parodies, and mashups of "Baby Got Back," or if you're just morbidly curious.

(I would particularly recommend the Gilbert-and-Sullivan style cover and "Lady Has Bustle," but then I have a weakness for steampunk. And the oral history at the end is good readin',)

Ten Books

So apparently there's a meme going around about listing ten books that changed your life. Confining ourselves to works in English, and with the understanding that these aren't meant to be the top ten...

  1. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

    Well, this is a given. The first non-picture book I fell in love with. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, Alcott's vision of a highly functional one (in which the father is conveniently never around), in which independence and love are both givens, was no doubt a world I wanted to get lost in. This book is also the reason why I will always have a warm place in my heart for Transcendentalism.

  2. Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, by Shel Silverstein

    I wrote humorous things for as long as I can remember, but you could probably see a sharp distinction between Before I Read Uncle Shelby and After I Read Uncle Shelby. This book is a litmus test to determine if somebody has a warped sense of humor. If you find it hysterically funny, welcome to the club, and have some George Carlin CDs.

  3. The collected "On Language" columns of William Safire

    So a few years ago, I read The Lexicographer's Dilemma, by Jack Lynch. And while there's a lot in there to like, I was put off by the way he unjustly blasted those he saw as dictating the way language ought to be. In particular, he directed a fair amount of venom toward William Safire, in a way which made me wonder whether he'd actually read any of Safire's works. As Mark Twain once observed, "It would have been much more decorous to keep silent and let persons talk who have read [him]."

    I have read Safire. The man who named one of his books In Love with Norma Loquendi (that being a reference to language being what the people make of it) was not a hidebound prescriptivist who found language change to be an abomination. Quite the contrary. To read Safire's columns is to read somebody engaged in the grand multigenerational symposium on English As She Is Spoke. It's to read somebody who acknowledges that the "Language Slobs" and the "Language Snobs" both have a place in the grand scheme of things.

    Yes, he certainly had strongly expressed opinions about language usage, and sometimes those opinions were dead wrong. We were free to form our own opinions; Safire just provided a model for the process. It was a formative experience for me.

  4. The Writing Life, by James J. Kilpatrick

    Another language columnist (who, like Safire, was an outspoken conservative on the political front). One thing I like about his book is that the section dealing with specific word usages is called "My Crotchets and Your Crotchets," foregrounding his points that (a) these are all matters of passionately held opinion, no more, and (b) these are all matters of passionately held opinion, no less.

    But more than that, his book is a master class on writing at the sentence level. And what I like the most is that it addresses something ignored—or perhaps just taken for granted—by the writers of almost every other usage guide: the importance of cadence.

    My relationship with language is very much an auditory one; what my words say is important, but so is how the words sound. (For instance, from the standpoint of meaning, I might have been better off writing "what one's words" in that last sentence, but just try reading that out loud.) In Kilpatrick, I found a kindred spirit.

  5. Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

    There's the language stuff (including what is essentially the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), but the big revelation for me was the subjectivity of... well, everything. If everybody believes that Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia, and all the records reflect that, then, practically speaking, it's so.

    Whether that's what Orwell had in mind is likely another story. Doesn't matter.

  6. Rejoice O Youth! by Avigdor Miller

    A comprehensive exposition of Rabbi Miller's outlook on Life, the Universe, and Everything, in the form of a conversation using the Socratic method. He had a tendency to have the fictional student accept that things were proven when they actually weren't, but then I have that problem with Plato as well. It's a remarkably coherent outlook on the world, and it definitely made an impact on me. Even if I no longer buy a lot of it.

  7. Genesis and the Big Bang, by Gerald Schroeder

    When science and the Torah appear to come into conflict, Miller's approach is to explain why scientists don't know what they're talking about on the subject. (He makes considerable use of the Flood.) By contrast, Schroeder's thesis is that there's no contradiction, and that the Big Bang (and its attendant age of the universe in billions of years) is entirely consistent with the Torah's creation narrative (and its dating of less than 6,000 years).

    One thing he cites is Nachmanides's interpretation of Genesis 1:2, which comes about as close as somebody could have gotten to describing the Big Bang, given the limitations of writing in the 13th Century. (What killed me is that I'd seen that passage a couple of months before, and had realized that he was clearly describing the entire contents of the universe squeezed into an infinitesimal speck of energy... but I somehow failed to take the last step in realizing that that's what the Big Bang theory is.)

    For awhile, I tried to maintain belief in Miller's worldview and Schroeder's worldview simultaneously, but even then, I had a feeling that it was going to be impossible, and that Schroeder would win. I was right.

  8. Challenge, edited by Carmell and Domb, and Encounter, edited by Schimmel and Carmel

    Like Schroeder (himself a nuclear physicist), the members of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists are concerned with the overlap between Torah and science, presenting a number of viewpoints on how one sphere might or might not inform the other, and how seeming contradictions might be resolved. The books are a bit dated (the former is from 1976), but they're still good stuff, and—once again—provide a model for how one might thoughtfully approach such issues.

  9. The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

    Okay, yes, this is a Christian work. I disagree with some of Lewis's premises, but that doesn't mean that these letters—from an experienced demon to his nephew, explaining both the ways of tempting humans to evil, and the tactics of the Enemy in Heaven—aren't both enlightening and utterly brilliant. It's my favorite Lewis work, and I'm including all of Narnia in that.

  10. The collected essays of Robert Fulghum

    Bringing things full circle, as far as I'm concerned Fulghum is a Transcendentalist. He just happens to have been born about 150 years late.

People That Are Going To Hell

Have another second-rate ukulele cover of a first-rate song:

Except for the part about it lasting for eternity, this is an accurate portrayal of my own views on the subject. Which is the #1 reason why, even though I listen to the services of the First Church of Boston (Unitarian Universalist) via the Internet most Sundays, there's no chance of my actually entering the UU fold. I rather like the Unitarian everybody-has-their-own-relationship-with-the-Divine strain, but the Universalist nobody-goes-to-hell bit is anathema. I want justice.

As for my performance... honestly, I'm not thrilled with this take. I'm especially not thrilled at the fact that I kept looking down toward a printout of the lyrics and chords. I tried a few more takes afterward in an attempt to fix that, but they didn't turn out any better. Otherwise, it's be nice if I were better at strumming and singing at the same time, but oh well. Rome wasn't burned in a day.

(Here's the original version by the Vandals.)

My Family's Recipe For Latkes

Okay, so I'm failing Holidailies so far. And my sister has actually been updating every day, so I can't even take solace in the fact that I'm not the only total slacker.

And I confess I forgot until right this moment that the Holidailies website offers writing prompts. Okay, let's see what we've got...

"2013-12-03: Share your favorite holiday recipe."

Oh, well, that's easy.

Potato Latkes

1 box potato pancake mix
2 eggs

Follow the directions on the box of potato pancake mix.

(They will go approximately as follows: Beat eggs with a fork. Add 2 cups of water. Stir in potato pancake mix. Let sit for a few minutes. Scoop out by the spoonful and fry on both sides until golden brown.)

Makes about 20 latkes. Nom with glee.

You might think that this is a cheap copout. And, well, it is and it isn't. This really is my favorite latke recipe; I prefer it to latkes made the hard way, by grating potatoes and whatnot.

The first time I spent a Chanukah in Israel, some years ago, I searched up and down trying to find latke mix, only to find that nobody had even heard of the stuff. For one thing, in Israel, potato latkes play second fiddle to deep-fried doughnuts (sufganyot). For another, even among those who eat potato latkes, mixes are unheard of. (Or were. I suppose that might have changed in the past couple decades.) And, lo, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. And then the eating of latkes that were made with love and a great deal more effort, but still weren't the same.

But latkes made with latke mix... crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside... mmm.

Really, the only problem with this recipe is that I'm lazy, and it's too much trouble (and too many latkes) for one person. Which explains why the last time I made latkes was when I was in a relationship and had somebody to share them with.

That was nice, that was.


I was planning to write an entry tonight, but I have spent more than an hour wrestling with the Obamacare website—a site so badly designed that it could provide fodder for several senior theses cataloging its flaws—finally hitting a screen where it hangs indefinitely. And now I'm just tired and cranky.

Well, even more tired and cranky than I was when I started. I admit I had a head start.

I wonder if any of the Bronze plans cover being tired and cranky? Perhaps I'll find out if I'm ever able to get that far...


It's the first day of Holidailies 2013!

(Or possibly the second, but as far as I'm concerned, the day doesn't end until I go to sleep. So.)

My name is Shmuel. This journal has sporadically been around since the start of 1999, though in recent years it's been dormant in every month except December. (And hasn't been all that active even then.) There's also an American Idol section, which is active during the finals (and often the semifinals) of that show.

Otherwise, my day-to-day online content these days is to be found on Twitter. I tend to be selective about Facebook friending, and virtually all my posts there are automatic crossposts from Twitter anyway, so there's no reason to seek me out there. My Tumblr and LiveJournal accounts are used only to follow other Tumblr and LiveJournal accounts, and I don't check either all that often these days.

Let's see, what else do you need to know? I'm a freelance copyeditor. The "freelance" bit is not entirely by choice. Alas, the degree to which I am good at copyediting is rivaled only by the degree to which I am terrible at finding new work.

I live in Jersey City, New Jersey. I ended up not voting in this year's mayoral election because I watched one of the debates, wherein one of the candidates waxed rhapsodic about his vision for Jersey City taking its place as one of America's great cities in its own right, rather than just being a dormitory for New Yorkers... and I realized that, in this regard, I am part of the problem. I don't really care about Jersey City except insofar as it's a more affordable suburb of New York City. I decided it'd be better to leave decisions about the city's leadership in the hands of those who feel invested in the place.

That said, it's not a bad place. I can see the Empire State Building and Freedom Tower—"One World Trade Center," if you must—from my apartment, and I can get to Manhattan quickly and easily. It's almost enough to be justify my claims of living in the New York City Metropolitan Area! And there's room in my apartment for all my dictionaries and style guides, which is nice. Still, I can't imagine I won't move back across the Hudson someday, when I can afford to.

Oh, and you can expect some more ukulele videos this month.

And I suppose that's enough rambling to get by on tonight. Stay tuned. Maybe I'll actually write something interesting by the end of the month. It could happen!

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2012 is the previous archive.

December 2014 is the next archive.

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