Monthly Archives: August 2011

Culture

Played a bit of “name that tune” with my roommate, who proved to have far more extensive and up-to-date knowledge of American pop culture than I do despite having spent the past two years living in a rural Moroccan village.

Boricane

Apart from a 10-second power outage (just long enough to reset the clocks and reboot the computers), the hurricane has been a total letdown. My roommates and I started to feel stir-crazy by late morning, so we went out and spent an hour or two playing tennis and juggling in the storm. Apart from the puddles and lack of a proper tennis ball, this wasn’t especially challenging; gusts made a lot of noise but I doubt we ever felt more than 20 MPH.

Better safe than sorry, I guess, but the MBTA shutdown and hyperbolic forecasts forced me to cancel auditions, so after finally arranging times that everyone could make, I now get to do it again just as classes are starting.

I wonder if the meteorologists deliberately give us the 80th percentile prediction for these storms … or maybe they’re just subconsciously biased toward the most exciting possibility.

EDIT: Lost power for about 30 minutes, despite total lack of actual storm conditions or even drizzle.

Darija

My two new roommates for this year met in the Peace Corps in Morocco, and both speak Darija, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. This morning I woke up to find a message on the kitchen whiteboard with words like “3akra” and “b7al”,

It turns out that Darija is almost never written in Arabic script, which is reserved for Classical Arabic. Darija was until recently a purely oral language, and the written language (for those who could write) was French.

Rising literacy means that many more Moroccans today can read and write, but the language they write is French, which is still a foreign language to most. Thus, a compromise was born, and a conventional phonetic transliteration of Darija into Roman characters (with French pronunciation) arose.

There was a problem, though: there are 4 common sounds in Darija that are unlike anything in French. These could be represented by diacritics, as is common when adding new sounds to Roman, but the biggest reason to write down Darija is for texting, and accent marks are at best annoying to type on a cell phone keypad.

So the lower-middle-class teenagers of Morocco thought up a crafty solution: they use the numbers 3, 5, 7, and 9, which happen to marginally resemble Arabic letters for these sounds, as letters in their texts. It seems to have become something of a standard orthography, something that both of my roommates picked up in their time there.

Now it’s on my fridge in Boston.

Dear Comcast, part 2

Thank you for resolving your internal screwup that put my bill in an invalid state. In the future, it would be nice if you could do this without disabling my access for 24 hours without any warning, on a day when I’m at work until 3 AM and then off to a funeral the next morning … which I missed, in part because I couldn’t look up detailed directions, and wound up wandering around the wrong cemetery for 20 minutes. (It would also be nice if the re-registration process, made available after those 24 hours, worked on the first or second try.)

Can you imagine if the electric company cut off power to the building for 24 hours every time they tried to resolve a paperwork error (surprise!)?

Sincerely,
Ben Schwartz

P.S. You’re ruining my uptime.

Timeshift

I need more magnet time. The latest incarnation of my experiment is unavoidably finicky, with enough independent failure modes that the probability that all the pieces work right on any given day is less than favorable. On Sunday, for example, a pinhole leak in a plastic membrane allowed an air bubble to form underneath my ultrasound power transducer, interrupting the beampath and halting the experiment.

The scanners aren’t available during the workday, so I’ve been running the experiment on weekends. Now that’s beginning to seem like not enough scan time … so it’s 1:30 AM, and I’m trying to keep myself awake so that by Wednesday I can reasonably run an experiment until 2 AM if I have to.

Double header

This weekend I reserved the MRI scanner for Saturday and Sunday. That might not seem like an improvement … but at least this way I shouldn’t have to be in the basement of the hospital ’til the wee hours of the morning.

Climb

At the gym today the weight room was jammed, but the climbing gym was open, so I tried some “rock” climbing. I spent maybe half an hour trying to climb a route labeled “B+” … a nonstandard designator that apparently means “still too easy to call it a real route”.

I did get it eventually, in the most ungraceful brute-force manner possible. I have a new appreciation for rock climbing as a logic puzzle; the club leader guy did the same route with no apparent effort or real use of strength, just by passing through the right sequence of positions.

Marathon

For the sake of statistical validity, I just ran the most elaborate version of my experiment, and also a corresponding control, 10 times in a row. It’s 1 AM now, and after 11 hours I am finally finally done.

Edit: All for naught. The focal plane must have been off by 2 millimeters or something. The data is of no use.

Legs

As I biked through the Harvard Square crosswalk this afternoon I passed a pretty girl standing on the sidewalk. She was chatting with her friends, and wearing a white pleated skirt that showed off her legs, the left shapely and fair in a purple flip-flop sandal, the right polished and gleaming in exposed titanium, its strength and precision evident at a glance.

Well Ended

I saw the Shakespeare on the Common production of All’s Well that Ends Well today. As per usual, it was well delivered and thoughtfully staged, although like most of Shakespeare the plot would be distinctly troubling today.

The set features a rotating ring, a gigantic Lazy Susan that surrounds the center stage. I was struck, being in the first row, how almost perfectly quiet it was, and wondered what sort of drive motors could possibly turn a 30-foot ring without the faintest hum or whirr.

Then at the opening of the second act the ring started spinning, the central doors opened … and I glimpsed a black-dressed girl holding tight to the set with both hands and pushing the ring along with her legs.