11.29.2007

Kirtle and Kittel?

Kirtle apparently means "tunic." Is it related to "kittel"? Merriam-Webster online tells me that it comes from the Old English cyrtel. I don't know where kittel comes from, or how one would spell it in English (or any other language), but it sounds vaguely Yiddishy to me, so maybe they are related. (It sounds Yiddishy to me mostly because I think that root would mean something like "kill" or possibly something as specific as "chop off the head" in Hebrew. KTL? I think it just means kill but I always associate that root with chopping off of heads.)

What? Have I been spending time at Freerice.com? Why would you think that?

I am at about 47 now, but only recently so. (I could easily slip back to 46 or 44.) That's only because I've been going much more slowly and carefully, though. A friend of mine broke through to 49, which is quite impressive.

11.27.2007

Don't click here if you have work to finish.

Well, not there, exactly, but here, on freerice.com. It works on the same principle as those sites that promise to cure breast cancer, etc. (Do you remember those? I think from the late 1990s?) You click, they charge advertisers per page view (and more per click-through), and the proceeds, minus overhead, buy rice for poor people.

But that's not what's fun about it. No. What's fun about it is that you get to test your vocabulary skills. You get harder words in response to correct answers and easier words in response to incorrect answers. Sort of like the new, computer-based GRE. (Or so I hear. I've never taken it.) You also get a score between 1 and 50. Apparently it's very, very difficult to get above a 48. The difficulty of words is constantly revised depending on how many people define them correctly.

If you like big words, and like trying to figure out what words mean based on their presumptive roots, and are highly competitive--like I am--then this can keep you busy for hours on end. Not that I've spent hours on it today. Not at all. There is no time limit, so you can go back to it as time allows. You feel sort of noble for using your down time at work to improve your vocabulary and help feed the poor.

I got as high as 44, but am now hovering around 40. I definitely used some sort of intelligent guessing on many of the words, mostly based on some clearly related word that I was more familiar with. I am constantly surprised by how many strange words I've picked up over the year from reading old English translations of Tanach [the Bible]. Most of these words I know from reading. God only knows where I learned was a cuspidor was, but I somehow do. (Little House on the Prairie, perhaps? I think that's how I knew what eider was.) I got ambuscade right only because I guessed that it was related to the word "ambush." You can't be too picky, though. Does periphrasis really mean "circumlocution"? I chose circumlocution because periphrasis sounds too much like peripatetic to not mean something like "walking around," which I only know from History 10a in college, when we had to read some Aristotle. A "bodega" is most certainly not a "wineshop," but that was clearly the correct choice. [Ha! I just looked it up, and it is a wineshop! It's just that everyone I know uses it like the third definition here, like the American equivalent of the Israeli makolet. People also call such stores "delis" here in New York, which threw me at first.]

The definitions from which you get to choose are quite expansive/blurry, so you have just pick the best and go with it, even if you know that they aren't exactly the same thing. This also helps me get things right that I otherwise would not. You don't have to use the words in a sentence, for example, which would be much more difficult.

Another thing I noticed, which I also noticed when I took the SAT, is that I tend to have a very immediate feeling that a word is either a "good word" or a "bad word." I have a sense that a word expresses something negative or something positive much more often than I can correctly define it, and also much more quickly than I can define it, even for words with which I am pretty familiar.

I think I can raise my score a few points if I slow down rather than clicking through quickly. I was trained to take standardized tests as quickly as possible and then go back to work on the hard parts, so it's hard for me to take the time to stop and think when I'm not immediately sure. Also, I'm used to trying to outsmart the test-makers, so if something seems too obvious to be the right answer, I choose something else. Sometimes test-makers aren't trying to trick test-takers, and sometimes they are.

I've given away 1560 grains of rice so far.

Ahem...and now, back to work!

11.26.2007

A cause I could get behind: Staying in bed longer during the winter to conserve energy.

Here ("The Big Sleep," NYT, 11/25/07). It's hard to imagine an economy where you could basically work really hard for five months to produce everything you would need except salt and iron, and then spend the other seven months of the year sleeping and playing cards. Even vacation doesn't feel so much like vacation these days, since it becomes so busy with errands and home improvement projects.

But to accept the life described in this op-ed, you'd have to accept a life with five months of working much, much harder than I ever have, and seven months of monotony. Also, in general, a life with a much narrower range of experiences. I'm thinking in terms of food--you would eat just what you grew or your neighbors grew, travel (no money economy = no travel, I think), and leisure (no taking out books from the public library). These are all things that I take for granted and would be very sad without, even if it meant that I could spend seven months of the year sleeping.

11.20.2007

Sad

This made me very sad, as well as somewhat infuriated.

I can't believe that a parent would conspire to create a fake teenage boy on MySpace to spy on a 13-year-old neighborhood girl to see what the girl was saying about her child, and then withdraw the affection of the teenage boy. It's sick. Just sick. And cruel.

In pre-MySpace days, when I was seventeen, a boy I had met in real life suddenly withdrew his affection towards me, and I remember how traumatic it was. I remember feeling both worthless for not managing to hang onto his affection and intensely foolish for having believed in it in the first place. I would not want to relive those days for anything. I only got through them by writing bad poetry and filling pages of my journal. I only draw the comparison to underline my feelings that any adult who purposely puts an adolescent girl through this kind of hell is in a class with the worst kind of human being.

Update: Here is New York Times ("A Hoax Turned Fatal Draws Anger but No Charges") coverage of the story from November 28. And here is a November 29 post on Judith Warner's blog about the same tragic incident.

11.18.2007

Would you...?

Pay $999 for a complete record of your DNA that would show, among other things, your genetic ancestry and statistical likelihood of getting certain genetic diseases? Would you pay $50 for this information? Regardless of the price, would you even want it?

According to Googling Google, that option will be available starting tomorrow, from Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andme and the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

I won't say it's not tempting, but I don't think I would do it, even if it cost $50 (a not-trivial but affordable sum for me, unlike $999, which is both not-trivial and not affordable). I think it would probably cause more unnecessary worry than potential benefits. If I'm going to die from some dread genetic disease before I accomplish what I want to accomplish in life, I don't think I want to know that ahead of time. People tend to anticipate that things will be worse than they are when they actually experiencing those things. If I make it to the age of 80 or 90 in good health, I might do it then. (Although that might reveal things about my children's genetics that I wouldn't want to know.) That would be, in, oh, 2059-2069, by which point, I imagine this sort of thing would be much cheaper.

Nerdy men

Esther posted something about this letter at JDatersAnonymous already, but I just had to add: Nerds are hot. I may elaborate on why nerds (and their cousins, dorks and geeks) are attractive at some future time, but those three words should suffice for now. Some nerds, of course, are socially or emotionally inept, and that is not attractive, but for the ones who are not, hotness abounds.

P.S. While I am writing a silly post--silly because of course I would date someone who wasn't nerdy! I mean, I'm superficial but not that superficial--I want to add that I saw Larry King on the street a few months ago and Dustin Hoffman on the street last Sunday. Hoffman was, by far, the cooler of the two. I saw King walking in his poor posture kind of way, with a Ralph Lauren shopping bag, and instantly realized who it was. But Dustin Hoffman was wearing a navy jumpsuit--the kind maintenance men and plumbers wear--and signing autographs. My first thought was, "Why are all these people waiting for this old dude to sign something?" I mean, he could have been signing off work orders. A second later, I realized, "Hey, that's not just some old dude--that's Dustin Hoffman!" I think he looked older than I expected him to look because I last saw him in "Rain Man" (on DVD). (This has nothing at all to do with the hotness of nerdy men. It only belongs here in this post because famous-people-sightings, like the attractiveness of any particular kind of man, are not the sort of thing I normally devote blog real estate to.)

11.14.2007

Deadly amusement

This looks like it should be an article from The Onion, but it isn't. I feel like I shouldn't laugh because, after all, a cat is dead, but the image of cat lovers and bird lovers sitting across the room from each other at the trial is giggle-inducing.

Who do I side with? Both, in a way. I sympathize with bird lovers who don't want cats eating (or killing for amusement) birds, and I sympathize with cat lovers who don't want feral (or non-feral) cats shot. The solution? Adopt feral cats as pets, spay/neuter them, and keep them as indoor cats. The cat lovers and bird lovers should both find that satisfactory.

11.12.2007

Chodesh Kislev tov! !חדש כִסְלֵו טוב


Tonight is the third night of the Hebrew month of Kislev (
כִסְלֵו), and this is part 3 of an occasional series. It's shorter than some of the others, because, well, I didn't have as much material. Feel free to add to it in the comments!

Etymology

Biblical names
  • "the ninth month"
  • Called "Kislev" in Zechariah 7:1 and Nehemiah 1:1, respectively:
    א וַיְהִי בִּשְׁנַת אַרְבַּע, לְדָרְיָוֶשׁ הַמֶּלֶךְ; הָיָה דְבַר-ה' אֶל-זְכַרְיָה, בְּאַרְבָּעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ הַתְּשִׁעִי--בְּכִסְלֵו. 1 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Darius, that the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, even in Chislev.

    א דִּבְרֵי נְחֶמְיָה, בֶּן-חֲכַלְיָה: וַיְהִי בְחֹדֶשׁ-כִּסְלֵו שְׁנַת עֶשְׂרִים, וַאֲנִי הָיִיתִי בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה. 1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it came to pass in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the castle,

Holidays
  • 25th of Kislev to the 2nd of Tevet: the holiday of Hanukah
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the following correspond to the month of Kislev:
  • Letter: samech (ס)
  • Color: blue-violet
  • Zodiac sign: bow (the bow of the Maccabees)
  • Tribe: Benjamin (בִּנְיָמִין)
  • Sense: sleep (now this is one I can get behind! mmmm....sleep....Kislev is a very sleepy month, come to think of it)
  • Controlling organ/limb: belly

Today is also the day that some people observe Veterans' Day. Thank you to all of the veterans of the armed forces who sacrifice so much in their service to this country.

11.08.2007

"Extra Weight May Have Health Benefits"

You heard it here first (or second or third), folks. Here is another article about the same study. And finally, here it is in the New York Times. On my screen, it came up right under an ad decrying the "hidden carbs" that lurk in apples and ketchup.

I don't have much philosophizing to do on this topic at the moment. I do really like the way that the New York Times article ends:
“If you are in the pink and feeling well and getting a good amount of exercise and if your doctor is very happy with your lab values and other test results, then I am not sure there is any urgency to change your weight.”
Hear, hear! As someone who, except for a few chronic conditions (unrelated to my weight), and not at the moment because I haven't been exercising at all or eating well (at all) due to a combination of one or more of those chronic conditions and maybe some general laziness as well, has excellent lab values despite having a too-high BMI, I salute this sentiment. And I really, really want to get one of these chronic conditions under control so that I can start exercising again and eating better. (I generally only eat from the far ends of the food spectrum: 100% junk and a lot of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Well, lately I've been neglecting the whole grains/fruits/vegetables end of the spectrum a bit.)

11.06.2007

Hope and other positive things

Today seemed as good a day as any to go through some of my drafted posts and pluck out the nice short links to share with y'all. These, in reverse chronological order, are from today to, um, November 2005. Yeah, that's right. I am that person who never throws anything out, including drafted blog posts from two years ago.
  • This sort of thing gives me hope that we won't run out of energy and have to walk or bike everywhere 20 years from now. Cool cars! Also, I like the idea of having them all over the city for people to take and return. (They are doing this with bikes in Paris now.)
  • I thought that this Jerusalem Post article ("When the body turns on itself") was interesting. Some folks in Israel are doing promising work on autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, Graves' disease, pernicious anemia and others--things a lot of Ashkenazi Jews have) and cancer.
    Side note of interest: The main person they interviewed for the article, Dr. David Naor, has a company called "Maimonidex." God, I love those Jews! (It's a good thing, too, given how much time I spend with them.) I don't know exactly if or how I can explain why knowing that an Israeli immunologist started a company called Maimonidex makes me oh so happy to be Jewish, but it does. I got the same feeling walking into Mt. Sinai Hospital in August and seeing the sign that said "Beit Cholim" ["hospital" in Hebrew] in the entrance.
  • Ah, this brings back warm memories from high school and college [via thegameiam]! ASCII art! What could be more fun than that? Except that looking at these makes me a little bit sad, too, in a nostalgic sort of way, because that's the sort of thing that's never going to come back.
After what I wrote yesterday, I feel sort of bad writing this boring post, but the irrepressible urge I feel to get rid of some of those 100 drafts is currently overriding my desire to only post original, substantive, well-thought-out posts.

11.05.2007

Incessant barking

This is not some sort of self-deprecating comment about my own blog.

I just thought this was funny, especially in light of NaBloPoMo, wherein people post daily in November. In my experience, the quality of posting does not go up or remain static when people post daily. It goes down; the relationship between quality and quantity is inverse. If you want to create a daily writing exercise, do it in your own time. Don't clutter up my RSS feed. NaBloPoMo makes me take more people off of my blog reading list than anything else.

The exception to this inverse relationship rule is for truly wonderful writers, where the quality of their posts remains fairly uniform and I am delighted to have more of their writing to read. But for the average-quality blog writer, who has mostly okay posts with a few brilliant flashes of insight every once in awhile that keep me coming back, daily posting does not endear them to me.

In my ideal world, people would only post when they had something interesting to say or something controversial to discuss, and their posts would be clear, articulate, and literate. Sometimes even short! I realize that by posting today (and most other days that I post), I am negating my own ideal vision, although I do think that this blog has headed more in that direction as time goes on--better and less frequent writing. (I used to clutter it up with more irrelevant stuff.) Oh, well. Continue on...

P.S. What sort of bug would bite me twice on the inside of my elbow in November?! I've been wearing long sleeves--how did it even get to me?