Nov 12

Odds and ends

A quotation from John Ruskin from an article on the 40th anniversary of Civilisation:

“Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last.”

Aug 08

The portrait of a doomed man.

Another argument for casting your net widely is that you learn about new and fascinating things that rarely pop up in daily conversation, especially in our cloistered workaday lives. Today by way of a diary entry by Samuel Pepys, the ‘Eikon Basilike’ (full text), the “Royal Portrait”, a purported autobiography by King Charles I published after his regicide following the English Civil War.

I am not so old, as to be weary of life; nor (I hope) so bad, as to be either afraid to die, or ashamed to live: true, I am so afflicted, as might make Me sometime even desire to die; if I did not consider, That it is the greatest glory of a Christians life to die daily, in conquering by a lively faith, and patient hopes of a better life, those partiall and quotidian deaths, which kill us (as it were) by piece-meales, and make us overlive our owne fates; while We are deprived of health, honour, liberty, power, credit, safety, or estate; and those other comforts of dearest relations, which are as the life of our lives.

Though, as a KING, I think My self to live in nothing temporall so much, as in the love and goodwill of My People; for which, as I have suffered many deaths, so I hope I am not in that point as yet wholly dead: notwithstanding, My Enemies have used all the poyson of falsity and violence of hostility to destroy, first the love and Loyalty, which is in My Subjects; and then all that content of life in Me, which from these I chiefly enjoyed.

Indeed, they have left Me but little of life, and only the husk and shell (as it were) which their further malice and cruelty can take from Me; having bereaved Me of all those worldly comforts, for which life it self seems desirable to men.

Sep 06

For the last 3500 years.

HatshepsutThis past weekend, Jody and I went to see the Hatshepsut exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. It’s called: Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. Apparently, Hatshepsut (Say that five times fast) was regent for her son, but she later upgraded to full pharaoh. This was around 1500 BC, which is really only about 140 human generations ago. The older I get, the more a millenium seems rather short.

The exhibit was pretty interesting, although I found myself thinking more about “culture” and “history” as a business rather than enjoying the priceless antiquities. The exhibit was incredibly crowded. The tickets were around $15 a piece mainly for the privilege of admiring baubles looted from the crypts of long-since departed Egyptians. Most of the non-statuary exhibits were comprised of jewelry and amulets worn by the dead, although there were also many small containers used to store eye makeup and various balms. Things any normal, respectable Egyptian would need for their one-way trip to the afterlife. The commonplace nature of most of the stuff was striking. Human beings have not changed at all in 3500 years. For example, there was whip handle (kinda like this) given to some overseer with an inscription of praise for a job well done. It reminded me of the plastic plaudits most large corporations award in lieu of bonuses: “This whip handle awarded to Amon, the Harvest Manager of Senemut, for bringing in the barley harvest under budget and ahead of schedule.” Something about this is depressing, although I think the Egyptians had a really boring culture judging from the stuff they left behind. Much like the Babylonians, most of their residue is rather uninspiring, with the exception of the pyramids, sculpture, and palaces. Did the Egyptians have a Plato or a Socrates? Maybe they did and that’s the kind of stuff that was destroyed when those idiots razed the Library of Alexandria.

One of the other things I really enjoyed was a game set in a small wooden box meant to be buried with its owner, obviously a lover of games. It reminded me of how we buried my grandmother with a deck of playing cards when she died, because playing games like Shanghai Rummy and Hand and Foot was one of the things she loved doing most with her friends and family.

If you have a chance, spend some a little while gawking at these old dead and their junk. It will make you glad that you’re still alive in your little place and time.

Jul 06

Trend spotting: Circa 1997

Entrepreneur Magazine posted an interesting article by Faith Popcorn about spotting widespread consumer trends. Read the list below and decide for yourself how accurate trend-spotters have been over the past ten years. It is strange to think that you’re just caught up in the zeitgeist of an era, rather than directing your own reason for being.

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Jun 06

The Comforting Words of the Long Since Dead

Meditations (Modern Library Classics)I’ve been rereading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the archetypical philosopher-king and Roman Caesar. Meditations is a diary-like accounting of Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts and ideas. You can almost imagine him encamped with his legions on the Danube, writing down his thoughts and examining his life. The original title is closer in meaning to “notes to himself” rather than what most modern people think of when they hear the word “meditation”. It is a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking read. The personal, thoughtful writing style gives you a real sense of the man, who lived and died more than two thousand years ago. A student of the Stoic school, Marcus Aurelius reflects on life and death and often about how to endure and accept what we cannot change. Here are a few quotations:

  • Let it be your constant method to look into the design of people’s actions, and see what they would be at, as often as it is practicable; and to make this custom the more significant, practice it first upon yourself.
  • Anger cannot be dishonest.
  • Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.
  • Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.
  • We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.

Nov 05

Who’s your daddy?

Do you know where your surname comes from? Usually surnames are derived in a few standard ways, and up until a couple hundred years ago they were not fixed as they are today in our modern era of bureaucratic record-keeping.

Occupation surnames Before we had surnames, you might have been known by what you did in the community, like “Robert Stockbroker”.

  1. Baker – the guy who makes the bread
  2. Cooper – the barrel maker
  3. Wright – one who makes something
  4. Kellogg – literally, the guy who kills the hogs
  5. Smith – the blacksmith, foreign equivalents for the same name: Schmidt (German, Danish), Ferraro (Italian)

Patronymics, using your father’s name as your surname This was popular in western europe until surnames became fixed, which is why it is popular today in western culture.

  1. England: father’s name + son. Jackson, Jefferson, for example.
  2. Scotland: Mac + father’s name. MacDonald, McCarthy, for example.
  3. Spain: father’s name + ez. Hernandez, Rodriguez, for example.
  4. French: illegitimate children were often given the surname form Fitz + father’s name. Fitzgerald, or Fitzpatrick, for example.

Toponymics, or place names Most people have surnames based on where their ancestors came from. This is actually the type of surname I have since at least one of my ancestors probably came from a place named Sybaris (destroyed by their neighbors) hence my surname, Sivori, or “one from Sybaris”. Other examples include:

  1. Woods – from the woods
  2. Heath – someone who lives out on the moores.
  3. Thorpe – the guy from town

Descriptive surnames Let’s say you have red hair. In the old days, you may have had the last name of Reid, Ross, Rossi, Roth, Rousseau, Russell, etc. all of which describe you as being red or having red hair. Other examples include:

  1. Grant – a tall man
  2. Armstrong – a guy with strong arms
  3. Brown – a guy with brown hair

Jun 05

The ‘Great War’

What do we really ever know about history? What do we know about what’s happening today? How should we act when we have no way of knowing the ripples each action causes?

Winston Churchill, 1936:

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Mar 05

The ‘Me’ Generation: Adultolescents

Almost everyone I know and work with is an “adultolescent” as defined in the book, “Mediated: The Hidden Effects of Media on People, Places, and Things”, myself included. That is one of the issues I’m having with working for a video game company. I feel like I’m ready to work and spend time around mature adults. The problem is I just don’t know any. Maybe they don’t even exist. I’m getting to a point where I’m tired of living in grown-up-kid land where everyone floats around aimlessly dreaming, but not doing anything. You may ask, what is an adult anyway? I guess in my mind it is someone serious and committed to their own life, not busy avoiding life and protecting their child egos at all costs to the point of serious self-deception and fantasy. Again, this is coming from someone who hides out in books and video games, as much as I hate to acknowledge that. I guess I’m expressing a serious doubt about my own way of life. Anyway, here is an interesting article on that and what it means to be “mediated”, which is this guy’s diagnosis on our culture:

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Oct 04

Je suis malade complètement malade

I have the flu, lagrippe, influenza. No one calls it the grippe anymore, which got me to thinking about other diseases that now go by different names.

  1. Mormal = Gangrene
  2. Morphew = Scurvy blisters on the body
  3. Ague = Any intermittent fever characterised by periods of chills, fevers and sweats.
  4. Bad blood = Syphilis
  5. Croup = Any obstructive condition of the larynx or trachea, characterised by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult breathing. It occurs chiefly in infants and children. Laryngitis, diphtheria, or strep throat.
  6. Dropsy = Abnormal swelling of the body or part of the body due to the build-up of clear watery fluid. Edema (swelling), often caused by kidney or heart disease.
  7. Pleurisy = Inflammation of the pleura, the membranous sac lining the chest cavity. Symptoms are chills, fever, dry cough, and pain in the affected side. Any pain in the chest area with each breath.
  8. St Vitus Dance = Chorea. Ceaseless occurrence of rapid complex jerking movements performed involuntary.
  9. Trench mouth = Painful ulcers found along gum line, Caused by poor nutrition and poor hygiene.

I feel better already.

May 04

Discovery of the Library at Alexandria

Via BoingBoing, the Library at Alexandria has been uncovered! This is really exciting, although I doubt any of the missing books will be uncovered. I heard once that the Alexandrians would confiscate any books from visitors to the city to make copies of them for their own library. Piracy has a storied history! The Library at Alexandria was one of the earliest attempts to compile the complete knowledge and science of mankind.

Carl Sagan had good section about it in his book, Cosmos. I found that complete passage here.