Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Wikipedia is practically the coolest thing ever, and I stumbled across this page while perusing the site earlier. It was quite diverting trying to figure out all of the ambiguous sentences, and to see what sort of constructs people can, well, construct with language. Even foreign languages can make crazy sentences, such as "Fit fit fits fit ski?", which means "Which foot fits which ski?" (in Glasgow patter, a Scottish dialect).

Coming across sites such as these, and noticing how enjoyable I find them, really makes me regret some of the courses I took in college. I was just lamenting this evening that I majored in accounting, when clearly a linguistics major would have been much more interesting to me.

A List of Subjects I Wish I Had Studied Further:
1) Linguistics/English
2) Economics
3) Physics and chemistry
4) Computer science
5) Philosophy
6) Latin

However, all is not lost: I am still able to satisfy most of my intellectual curiousities relatively easily (thanks, internet!). My daily blog reading addresses four of those items. Computer science and Latin are not terribly prevalent in my daily life, but I hope to remedy that. I want to switch my computer from Windows to a Linux operating system, which will require substantial computer programming learning. Also, Abbie has kindly offered to tutor me in Latin after I finish my exams. So, despite my foolish college days, my intellectual pursuits are still incredibly rich.

I read an article recently that speculated that the polymath is disappearing from society these days, and I think that that is true. There is just so much information to learn about a single subject in order to be considered an expert that it seems nigh impossible. When calculus and medicine were first being developed, it was probably the work of a week or two to learn everything there was to know about them! Now, I have been reading about applying statistical methods to risk evaluation for several years, and I am still an actuarial neophyte. However, because information is so easily disseminated these days, I am able at least to be informed in many, many areas. One hundred years ago, I would have had to spend all my hours cooped up in a library to achieve that. Although, since libraries are my favorite places, perhaps that would not be so bad...

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I hope you all enjoyed National Punctuation Day! It would be a much more diverting world if more people celebrated this holiday. Perhaps I should write to Claire McCaskill to see if she can get us another day off of work for it...

This homage to the semicolon is especially enjoyable:

“Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.”
Lewis Thomas, “Notes on Punctuation,”
The Medusa and the Snail 1979

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Great Hunt

This is the second book in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The twelfth book in the series is coming out in a month or two, so I am refreshing my mem with my fourth or fifth re-read of this series. Now, I have read quite a bit of fantasy in my time, and I must say that this is my favorite overall fantasy series.

I can only think of three fantasy series off the top of my head that have been excellent over the course of more than five books (Death Gate Cycle, Harry Potter, and this), and The Wheel of Time is definitely my favorite. The character development, long-term story arc intricacy, world-building, action scenes, all are excellent.

One of Jordan's most impressive skills is his ability to hint at the future, sometimes seven or eight books in advance. There is a lot of prophecy in this series, and some prophecies that cropped up in this book still haven't been completely fulfilled as of book 11. Sometimes I wonder, though, how much of it was actually planned, and how much of it was Jordan just spouting off stuff in these early books, and then sort of molding future books to fit these foreshadowings. Either way, he does it so well that I am impressed.

Indeed, the lack of foreshadowing is one thing that really annoyed me about the Harry Potter books. True, Rowling had stuff about Voldemort and Harry sharing blood, etc., that lasted the course of the series. An example of poor foreshadowing (although "foreshadow" is not really the word I want here. Perhaps "world-building" is better? Or maybe just "foresight on Rowling's part") is that the last book, The Deathly Hallows, focuses on some spectacularly powerful objects that are never once alluded to throughout the rest of the series, even though Harry owns one of them.

Back to the subject at hand. Since there are nine more books for me to consume, some of my readers may become bored with the incessant fantasy. To reward them for their diligent reading, however, I will start a new feature wherein I discuss a non-fantasy book that I have consumed in the last year or two. So, look forward to that, dedicated readers!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

This novel by G. K. Chesterton was excellent. I decided to read it because somebody notable said that it is the "most thrilling book" he ever read. I don't think it was the most thrilling ever, but "delightfully adventurous" would not be inappropriate.

The book is about Syme, a new detective in Scotland Yard, who inadvertently becomes entangled in an international group of anarchists. His discoveries and attempts to foil the anarchists comprise the story. The point of the book, as it seems to me, is that we've got to undergo rough times to test our convictions before we can be sure of them or have any sort of moral authority. (Another reader of this book states that the message is that God lets bad things happen because they remind us of the importance of good things, which I can also see.) There are many twists throughout, but by about a third of the way through, I was able to predict most future twists. However, this didn't really detract from the story.

One thing that I realized while reading this is that, regardless of any ambitions I might have, I will never be a spectacular novelist because I can't create dialogue nearly as well as this guy. Dialogue seems like it must be about the hardest part of writing a book, and this one was full of diverting turns of phrase.

As I read the beginning of the book, I had all these ideas for a post analyzing the book's use of anarchy, and about how I dislike the lines about government and order being the source of all our prosperity, but they aren't really relevant after finishing the book. The "anarchy" merely symbolizes sin and evil, and it doesn't really make sense anymore to bash Chesterton's political views over this book, or even the misguided idea that the police force knows best and must be powerful enough to save us from ourselves.

One final note: the book closes on a fancy-dress ball, which is also something that appears in the Jeeves books on occasion. These sound like pretty fun times, so whither the fancy-dressing? We should have more of them (perhaps a theme for one's annual summer party...?)!

Monday, September 07, 2009


This classic by Carlo Collodi was not actually all that good. It's been quite some time since I saw the Disney movie of the same name, but my impression was that the titular character just unluckily got into scrapes mostly through fate. Therefore, I was unprepared for the unceasing foolishness of Pinocchio in this book. He essentially makes the same mistake (acting for instant gratification) about 20 times in a row. I think this book could have been cut in half and been just as good.

Interestingly, this book initially was only half its current length. It ended with Pinocchio being hanged to death because he crossed a band of robber-assassins. This was evidently too macabre for that age's youth, and instead of just having Pinocchio gnaw through the rope and learn his lesson upon escaping, Collodi wrote 20 more chapters to lighten the mood.

Another thing I found surprising is that, despite what Disney says, the talking cricket only speaks about three paragraphs and is only in two scenes. In fact, the clever Pinocchio becomes irate shortly after meeting the cricket and crushes him with a mallet.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


This book by Christopher Paolini was published when he was only 19. It is the first in a fantasy series, and it was pretty entertaining. This book did not have the shortcomings from which Shadowmarch suffered. It was rife with action and adventure, and its final battle was pretty well done. I definitely intend to consume the rest of the series at some point.

The book starts off with Eragon, a simple country boy (some might say a cock-eyed optimist) who gets mixed up in the high-stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue when he finds a dragon egg. When the dragon hatches and Eragon becomes one of the fabled dragon riders, he gains all sorts of new abilities, such as augmented strength and the ability to use magic. Of course, the powers that be do not want him running around loose with a dragon, so conflict soon erupts.

A few (very minor) things about this book really irked me. 1) Frequently during swordfights, sparks erupt when the duelists clash. In reality (even fantasy generally follows our world's physics), this would not happen too often. First of all, the swords are not generally made with flint in them, and secondly, since they are so smooth and finely polished, sparks are even less likely. I'm not saying sparks will never appear, but for it to happen during every heated conflict is a bit much. 2) Eragon is trained in swordfighting by Brom, who has been a warrior for decades. By the midpoint of the novel, though, Eragon is able to disarm Brom. Even if he did nothing but study swordplay for several months, there is no way this could happen. 3) Hopefully this won't be too much of a spoiler, but Eragon gets a scar on his back at some point in the book during a skirmish in which several people die, and he complains about being "disfigured". Lame.


Since this blog is essentially about books now, this is not too much of a digression. However, this made me a little sad: