2002 Notebook

The Language of the Future

While reading the first three novels of Rudy Rucker's *ware series, I took special note of his neologisms: "bopper", "stuzzy", "uvvy", et cetera. Rucker has a distinctive idiom for coining new words, but somehow they feel artificial. Why didn't Rucker's future English give me the sense of temporal dislocation that I find in Greg Bear's Queen of Angels?

The answer lies in what each author changes. Rucker's changes are all simple additions to English's dictionary; he adds new nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. While Bear adds new words also, he does one thing that Rucker doesn't: he makes a small but important change to the language's grammar. You can read Rucker without once stopping to reread a sentence, trying to figure out what it means. Not so with Queen of Angels.

This got me thinking about the rates of change of different elements of a language. I'd expect interjections to change the fastest (how many people still say "groovy"?), followed closely by nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. The next group, changing much more slowly, comprises pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and articles. Finally, the grammar of the language is subject to change, although it might do so faster than some slow-changing parts of speech (conjunctions, for example).

Idea: do the rates of change of different parts of a language obey a power law?


The Next Big Pet

Of all the animal species that humanity has domesticated, none rivals cats and dogs as pets. Which species will do so in the future? Will it too be a mammal?


Heart-stopping Logic

If abortion is wrong because it stops a beating heart, then aren't heart transplant operations wrong too?


Bigger than Jesus

John Lennon was castigated after he claimed the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. But I wonder... by "bigger" did he mean more popular, or simply larger? It seems reasonable that well-fed 20th century Liverpudlians would be taller than the average Hebraic man of two millennia ago. I sure don't recall any Biblical descriptions of Jesus' stature, and if he'd been tall you'd think the Gospels would've mentioned an important fact like that.


Terms of Youth

If a fetus really is an unborn child, then why does refering to a child as a "born fetus" sound absurd?

Conversely, you never hear expecting parents excitedly announcing "We have an unborn child!". No, what you hear is "We're expecting a baby.". This is an unconscious acknowledgment that a fetus is not a baby; it's what becomes a baby. Calling a fetus a child is agendaspeak.


Bumper Sticker Ideas

These days, it seems that about half of the ideas for these notes come from bumper stickers I see while bicycling around town. The latest:

Evolution: It's Not Just a Good Idea


Everyone's talking about copyright, but who's doing anything about it?

Because of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, nothing in the USA is going to enter the public domain for the next twenty years. That includes not just Mickey Mouse cartoons, but also classic literature. There's been a lot of talk about this situation, but very few people have done anything about it.

I propose that we act. Here's the plan.

  1. Get a group of volunteers. This is going to take literally thousands of people, so we'll have to cast a very wide net. (Then again, the Web is extremely wide.)

  2. Once a year, choose a book that was due to enter the public domain, but was prevented from doing so by the SBCTEA.

  3. Each member of the group reads the book and writes a review. Each review should highlight a different short passage from the book. This passage, which is excerpted in the review, should be converted to DocBook format. This in turn will be embedded in custom XML that defines links to other reviews.

  4. The reviews will be posted to the Web.

The last piece of the puzzle is a simple program that follows the XML links, downloading and assembling passages from the text into one DocBook document. The result: fair use, DocBook, XML, and civic-minded people create a publicly accessible version of a text held hostage by the entertainment industry.

I propose we start with F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby, which was due to enter the public domain in 2003. Anyone want to read some classic literature and do civic good with me?


Reviewing Architecture

It's easy to review a toaster: buy one, use it for a while, then analyze its strengths and weaknesses. How can one possibly do the same for architecture? Unless you can afford to travel to the site, all you have to go on are floor plans, pictures, and (if you're lucky) a 3D walkthrough. That might be enough to reveal obvious problems, but others can only be discovered by on-site experience. Even if you can afford to travel to the site, how long will you be allowed to spend there? A few hours, maybe a day or two? That might be enough to form a preliminary critical judgment, but how can it guarantee that all problems have been uncovered? In short: how can we take architecture reviews seriously?

Is it any wonder that contemporary architecture does not satisfy human needs?


Ending War

Assume that United States is an oligopoly. Could we then prevent war by making it unprofitable to corporations? We could, say, enact a law nationalizing the military-industrial complex when war begins. Any profits would be channeled into social programs. That would make war unpalatable to the powers that be.

Of course, if we really lived in an oligopoly, no one would seriously consider such a proposal.


A Science Fiction Reading Tip

Years ago, while reading James P. Hogan's Code of the Lifemaker, I had an epiphany. Aside from the science fiction trappings, the tale was a simple story of colonial exploitation. South America became another world, and the natives were based on silicon instead of carbon, but these made no difference to the story.

Since then, whenever I read a story with aliens, I ask myself how they represent a human moiety. It's an enlightening exercise with such fictional worlds as David Brin's Uplift universe and that of Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep.


Last updated 22 October 2002
All contents ©2002 Mark L. Irons

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