Saturday, February 28, 2009

Carnival Bonanza!!!

It's a great day for carnivals -- come check out some of the best work by other bloggers in your area of interest!

First off, for skeptical parents, there's the new installment of the once-a-month Skeptical Parent Crossing!!! I'll be hosting next month's installment of that carnival at Rational Moms, so I hope you'll contribute your best posts on the topic! Submit them here

Then there's a brand-new Humanist Symposium including an interesting piece on creativity and whether it comes from the brain (or from somewhere else, woooo...), among other thought-provoking articles. And don't miss the latest Carnival of the Liberals and Carnival of the Godless!!!

For the exmo community, you may have noticed that on Main Street Plaza I've been posting a weekly reading list of interesting posts called Sunday in Outer Blogness. This is one of the bonuses you get when you join Outer Blogness -- I subscribe to your blog, and when you post something interesting on the topic I've chosen for the week's episode, I link your post into our community discussion.

Now, if you're new here, and you're asking "Wait, how do I join Outer Blogness?" and/or "But... it seems like no new blogs have been added to Outer Blogness for, like, six months!" here's the deal: Blogrolling has (yet again) announced that they're almost done with their upgrade and that I really will be able to update Outer Blogness on "March 2", which -- translated out of Blogrolling-speak -- means "at some indefinite point in the future." But I shouldn't be too cynical! I think they probably really will have it back online sometime soon. (And, yes, I'll pay the fee to get the ad-free version.) When it happens, I'll do a major cleanup (check for dead links, add all the new folks, here and at MSP). If you're not on the list and you'd like to be, just leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

a million English verb tenses and moods, illustrated!

I guessed right that comparing different languages would be a popular topic!! Last week's post on Which languages are easy to learn, and why isn't my #1 post in total hits (that would be topless on the beach), but it has led to some exceptionally interesting and varied discussion in the comments.

That discussion inspired me to think about the astonishing number of tenses and moods in English. I made a big chart of them, and I composed a short dialog that uses every one of them! Strongly. I tried to make sure that for each sentence in the dialog, it wouldn't be improved by using a different tense and/or mood. And now I will share my amazing tense/mood illustrating dialog with you! And prizes for anyone who can find a sense/mood construction that I missed! (It's possible I missed some of the subjunctive ones...)

Apologies in advance for the subject of the dialog -- I just came up with sentences for some of the more obscure tenses and then just fit the rest of the dialog around them. My first attempt was a dispute between two programmers over the status of a database application project, but it was too esoteric and too negative.

A Tense Party

Wendy: Don't waste your time on throwing that post-game party for Bob. It will be a flaming disaster, and you'll have spent all that effort for nothing.
Janice: But I want to do it -- I like throwing parties! Why would it be a disaster?
Wendy: For one thing, the way you've scheduled it, the guys will have been playing football for three hours, so they'll be dirty and hardly interested in staying to sample your subtle delicacies.
Janice: Not even to taste my blue-ribbon soufflé? I'm about to unveil an exciting new version, with an even better secret ingredient! Better than that last one....
Wendy: That's the other thing. You don't know how to make soufflé.
Janice: I do know how to make a souffle, or at least I did know how while taking that course last year. I used to make the most amazing desserts, and I'd still be practicing my skills regularly if I weren't so busy with my calling.
Wendy: Be that as it may, Bob doesn't like your soufflé.
Janice: But he was raving about it at church last week!
Wendy: He wouldn't have been saying all those nice things about it if you hadn't been standing right there. In fact, he'd told me earlier that very day that your fallen soufflé had made him gag.
Janice: What?
Wendy: I would have told you, but he has said so many mean things behind your back that I hardly bother anymore. I asked that he leave me out of it, but let's just say he seems to think ladies find his antics charming. I should have told him off.
Janice: I had been waiting for a prince at one point, but I guess I've lowered my expectations.
Wendy: I used to be waiting for my prince to come, too, but choosing to have more realistic expectations doesn't mean being a doormat.
Janice: I know I've got to be less of a doormat with him, and I've made some progress. I'm going to have a talk with him.
Wendy: I was about to agree with you until that last bit -- unless your talk will be about kicking his sorry butt to the curb. You'd be happier if you were to somehow stop loving him. I guess I should give up on that posibility.


What do you think? Did I succeed? :D


And for more liguistics fun, don't forget my earlier post Grammar Police: Rules are meant to be, like, broken.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Big Date!

On Monday I was really dreading going to my French class. I waited until the very last second before the bell to go to the classroom. It was natural to arrive a little later for that class anyway because it was the class right after the period when I had seminary, which was in a different building.

When I arrived at French class, Tanya was already there of course. Her seat was right next to mine. As soon as she saw me she gave me this huge smile and said "Hi Jared." I just glared at her and turned the other way as I took my seat. Read the rest of the story ->

Friday, February 20, 2009

What languages are "easy to learn"? and why?

"Hmm, they've changed the menu," said my husband the other day, as we were preparing to order at one of our favorite local restaurants.

After a second, we discovered that, no, in fact they hadn't changed anything -- it was just that they'd given us the real menu (in German) for the first time, instead of the special English or French menu. The hostess was new, and we'd actually managed to get through the opening info (four for dinner; no, we don't have a reservation) without saying "What? Sorry, we don't speak German -- English or French, please." So we'd passed for people who speak German!

Then -- to live up to the expectation placed on us -- we ordered in German and spoke to the waitress only in German all evening! And I don't mean just pointing at items on the menu (though that helped). We used whole sentences. Relevant sentences, even.

After a year and a half living in a German-speaking country, finally being able to order in a restaurant is a pretty pathetic milestone. And note that this doesn't mean I can carry on a normal conversation in German, it just means that ordering in a restaurant is a pretty standard and structured type of dialog that is covered extensively in my "Teach Yourself German" recordings. (Actually, I wish I knew how to say "I'd like the same thing as that guy" -- it would really help out when ordering at cafeteria-style places...)

But I'm learning new words every day. As predicted, as soon as I learned of the existence of the word "Entschuldigung" I started hearing it everywhere. And the same thing keeps happening with other words. Every day I make a little more progress at deciphering the newspapers and billboards. It shouldn't be so hard, right?

Whenever it's time to make small-talk in a professional or business context, this topic (learning German) is golden!! Everybody has an opinion on High German vs. Swiss German or on the Swiss version of High German (which people think is the same as how people speak in Germany, but *haha* it isn't!). I always end up giving some variant of my usual story about how it's hard to get any exercise in German since everybody immediately switches to English as soon as they notice that I don't speak much German. I can count on one hand the few times people have insisted on continuing to speak to me in German after it became clear that I was stumbling over the simplest things. (Actually on one finger, now that I think about it.) And on that one occasion, I was surprised by how much I really did understand. But it's like with physical exercise -- it's easier to go out waking if you need to in order to get somewhere, but if you have to get out of your easy chair and force yourself onto the treadmill, too often you think "I'm tired, I'm busy, I'll do it tomorrow." Then there's the added complication that everybody's speaking in Swiss German but everything is written in High German, and they're not the same, and I don't understand either one of them.

"Well, German is a very hard language to learn," remarked one Swiss German guy at a business-social I was attending. Is it? I think he was just being nice, giving me an excuse for my pathetic level of progress. Learning German shouldn't be so hard for an English-speaker -- the two languages are related! The real problem is just that the call of reading blogs is so much stronger than my desire to listen to "Teach Yourself German" recordings. On the other hand, languages do vary in difficulty, and German has its drawbacks.

Here's my list of "what's wrong with German as a foreign language":

Too many verb forms (per verb) to memorize, and especially too many irregulars. And if that weren't bad enough, the nouns have different forms too, and they have three genders. For most words, the genders are distributed pretty randomly, and, notably, they don't align with the French genders of the same words. (What's with the neuter "das bier"? Everybody knows beer is feminine! "la bière," aah, perfect!) Continuing in the tradition of Mark Twain, I should now make fun of the word order in the sentence (all the verbs at the end...?), but at least the word order seems pretty consistent once you've learned a short list of amusing rules about it. Not like the forms of the word "the": If you say "der X", then X must be masculine... unless we're in the dative case, then saying "der X" means that X is feminine. Becuase the whole genders-and-cases thing wasn't challenging enough on it's own, they've decided to make your brain play Twister.

On the other hand, the common wisdom says that with English, it's easy to learn enough to get by, and then -- on top of that -- you can keep learning more and improving indefinitely. This may well be true. Unlike many languages, English words really don't have a lot of grammatical forms to memorize. Instead, English does a lot with helping words. A surprising thing I've found when comparing languages is that English has more verb tenses than the average language, but forms them in regular ways using helping words. As a fun little exercise, try and explain the different nuances expressed by the following:

  1. I waited.

  2. I've waited.

  3. I'd waited.

  4. I was waiting.

  5. I used to wait.

  6. I used to be waiting.

  7. I've been waiting.

  8. I'd been waiting.

Then tell me if there are any other standard past forms I've missed...

English has a few strikes against it for newbies, though. For one thing, the spelling is completely insane. I used to think that all languages have wildly irregular spelling, but, in fact, no. Try explaining a "spelling bee" to a Brazilian. In Brazil, it wouldn't make sense to try to compete over who can guess a word's spelling because in Portuguese, words are spelled exactly as they sound. French is also a big offender in the crazy spelling department ("beaux" = "bô"???), but I think even French is more regular in terms of limiting the number of ways a given phonetic syllable can possibly be spelled. And it's not just the common, little words in English that have bizarro spelling. When reading the word "apostrophe," could you guess the pronunciation if you didn't happen to speek English (or Greek)? In English, not only are archaic forms preserved in the amber of spelling rules, but multitudes of foreign words are welcomed in without being wholly assimilated.

So, how do your language experiences stack up?

Monday, February 16, 2009

A warm October day down by the Provo River

On Saturday the weather was strangely warm for late October. It was like Summer again all of the sudden. I had nothing to do, so I called up Sam and Joe's house. Joe was home all by himself because Sam was at football practice and his parents had decided to go with him in order to show their support and then maybe go out do a little shopping afterwards. Joe was just sitting around reading or something, so he said he didn't mind if I wanted to come over.

We fixed ourselves some lunch, and after lunch -- since it was such a nice day -- we decided to go for a walk along the Provo River. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How do you think God made this Earth with just one woman?

An intriguing question, posed by one of the teens on this news segment (via Chino Blanco):

The teen in question answers: "He can't; He can't make this whole big Earth with just one woman."

And how can this whole big Earth exist without God?

If the answer "it can't" seems self-evident, then this definitely makes for an interesting follow-up question... ;^)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A church gets put to good use

Ah, decadent Europe!

Here I am standing in the science section of a bookstore (in Maastricht, in the Netherlands during my past holiday vacation). Doesn't look like a typical bookstore, you say? Well, they've gotta do something with all those empty old stone churches they have lying around...

My MiL reports there's another one in town that was converted into a café.

(I was reminded of this when Too Many Tribbles posted about a church being turned into a home -- and it turns out she had an earlier post about this bookstore-church!)

Monday, February 09, 2009

And where did he serve his mission?

Sam was pretty lucky that his cousin Joe had come to live with him. The three of us were all in the same math class together, which meant that Sam got free help with his math homework every night while I only got help when they invited me over. I couldn't figure out how Joe could derive all those trig identities so easily. I mean, I could follow Joe's answers when he showed me, and so could Sam, more or less, but how the answers came to him in the first place was like some kind of miracle.

Chewing on my pencil and listening to Joe, I started wishing I had inherited some of the math talent my older brother Rex had gotten. He was a real whiz at math! He would be helping me with my homework himself if he weren't off at grad school.

We were finishing up the last few problems when Sam's mom called upstairs to us. "Sam! Is your friend Jared going to stay for dinner?"

"How 'bout it?" asked Sam.

"Okay," I replied.

"Okay, Mom," Sam yelled back downstairs.

"I just have to call my mom and tell her what time to pick me up," I said.

"Oh, yeah, I was going to ask you about that," said Sam. "How come you didn't drive today?"

"Oh, I'm being punished. I've lost my car privileges."

"What'd you do?" asked Joe, laughing.

Read the rest of the story ->

Comments & Spam Policy

I don't think I've ever explained my comments and spam policy here at Lfab. Now may be a good time, since I got an interesting spam comment on yesterday's post.

The cardinal rule is to make sure that your comment is relevant to the post at hand. I don't appreciate it if you come in on some generic search term (like "atheism" or topless beach -- I get a lot of spam on that one, mostly ads for viagra and Russian ladies who want to date you), and then copy/paste verbatim exactly the same thing you've posted to a hundred other blogs using the same query word. If you've arrived on a generic query, please feel free to leave a comment, linking back to your own site/article if you like (even if you're selling something on your site), as long as it's clear from your comment that you read the post at hand and you're responding to it or responding to other comments on the post. If your comment contributes to the discussion, then relevant links are fine. (Highly non-relevant and/or phishing links are obviously a no-no, though.)

Additionally, please do not copy/paste an entire multi-page article into the comments of my blog. If my post inspires you to write more than six or seven paragraphs of response, that's fantastic, but consider writing a response post on your own blog and linking to it.

Also, I generally don't delete trolling or other uncivil comments here (since I get so few, they're not a problem), but I do ask everyone here to keep your comments civil and respectful of other commenters. I'd like this to be a space where people from a variety of different viewpoints can have a constructive exchange of ideas, and that requires a little bit of basic courtesy.

Now I'm not going to delete the spam comment that inspired this since it was on a link-dump post, hence there's no discussion to derail. It starts with a highly original warning: just because Bible-based predictions of the second coming of Jesus have been wrong for 2000 years, that's no reason to doubt the Bible's awesome predictive powers. The Bible says there will be natural and man-made disasters, and there have been. See? Thanks Bible!

But seriously, if you choose to respond to our friendly neighborhood Armageddon-predictor, please remember the above rule about civility (as some regular commenters who already know the drill have done). Thanks!

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Wow, it seems like I haven't written anything about atheism lately. Too busy drawing illustrations, thinking of ways to draw more illustrations, typesetting, and writing about politics and Mormonism. I guess my blog is currently going through the constellation of Mormonism and Exmormonism. Fortunately, others out there are still on the job -- we've got two carnival's worth of lovable god-free thought on The Carnival of the Godless (War on Valentine's Day edition) and The Humanist Symposium!!! Also, a funny bonus piece shooting fish in a barrel snarking some poor fool's search for the remains of Noah's Ark.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Warning for "Orem High"

I'm afraid this next segment (Orem High, beginning this Tuesday!) is probably the section that most needs a disclaimer. I'll divide the warning into two parts: (1) the name, and (2) the sex.

the name

Why did I call this segment "Orem High"? I've never been there -- I've never even seen the building.

I called it "Orem High" because all of the segments of the novel Exmormon are about typical Mormon life experiences (like attending Youth Conference or going on a mission). This one is about attending high school in the heart of Mormondom, and I think the title "Orem High" evokes that.

At the same time, all of the various fun facts about Mormonism and place details in the book are real. So it would be a little odd -- after having Lynn pick up her BYU mail in the Cannon Center -- if these characters were attending a fictional high school, given that we all know they live in Orem. So I asked a guy from Orem which high school these kids would be attending (given where they live with respect to other stuff in Utah Valley), and he said it would be Orem High. So there you have it.

The one thing I'm most concerned about is that faithful Mormons who are current or former students there might google the name of their school and be annoyed to find a story in which one of the naughtier students throws a party involving, well, drinking and sex. If you, dear reader, are one of those people -- and you're annoyed right now -- then please leave a comment and we can discuss it. That said, I don't think I'm going out on a limb to suggest that there are teenagers all over who will throw questionable parties, even in Orem.

the sex

As with the other two sex scenes, I've been careful to include only as much detail as I think is necessary to understand the story. That may be too much for some, so if you're one of those people, just read the chapter titles and you can probably guess which one to skip. In some ways this sex scene may be more controversial than the others, in some ways it may be less, but since nobody complained about the other ones, I don't anticipate having any problems with this one.

So enjoy, and read responsibly! :D

cross-posted on Main Street Plaza.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Kids and the Internet!

My kids (ages 7 and 5) have a computer in their room that's hooked up to the Internet. And they're now capable of navigating around the Internet on their own -- on Wikipedia, Google image search, and YouTube.

On the one hand, I think it's amazingly cool that they can take the initiative when exploring subjects that interest them. For example, Nico is really interested in astronomy, and he found some cool videos that we had fun watching together, such as the song Poor Pluto (which we're now singing all the time at our house), and another great video that gives a fun and clear explanation of the history of why Pluto isn't a planet anymore. On the other hand, there's a lot of PG+ stuff on the Internet, including (as I talked about here on Rational Moms) a weird conspiracy theory movie that Nico found all on his own and thought was a real science movie.

My personal inclination is to continue to let them explore on their own, and just check on them periodically, take an interest in what they're interested in, and offer advice/instruction based on what they discover. I know the Mormons advise keeping any computer with the Internet in a "high traffic area" of the house. Well, we have a small enough apartment that their room actually is a high traffic area.

Any other parents out there have opinions on this, or stories of what you've done with your kids? Is it irresponsible to let such small kids explore the Internet? We're the first generation of parents to even deal with this question, and I'm not sure if there's any consensus on it...