Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 26th, 2022

People are acting as if they don’t notice that climate change is well underway

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The above chart (click to enlarge) appeared in a post by Kevin Drum. “MSA” means “Metropolitan Statistical Area,” which includes most of the suburbs that surround a city — that is, it is roughly equivalent to “Greater” (as in “Greater Phoenix” or “Greater Victoria” or the like: not just the city proper but the settled hangers-on).

Take look at the top six — and note that two of those are in Florida, including Miami, which already experiences sunny-day flooding. Are the people moving there unaware that climate change is here and accelerating? 

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 5:25 pm

Pacemaker 6-week checkup

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I updated the pacemaker post with what the six-week check-up produced. You can read the full report in the section added to the end of the post at the link, but three things I thought important:

  1. Expected battery life is now 12 years. (At that point, a new pacemaker will replace the one I have now.)
  2. The Wife commented today that, since the pacemaker’s been installed, she’s noticed that I seem to have lost a dullness of edge that I had gradually developed. It’s as though the pacemaker’s operation has sharpened my cognitive processes, so that my responses are quicker and more on target. It took a while to notice the difference, but it’s definite.
  3. They gave me a remote monitor — a passive recipient of data from my pacemaker, which the monitor will ping each night then transmit the data to the pacemaker clinic for review. They’ll then let me know if I should ever need to come in for adjustments to the pacemaker programming. (The monitor only receives data from my pacemaker; it cannot transmit data to the pacemaker.)

I post this information about my pacemaker adventure for those who might be considering such a thing or know someone who’s been through it.

Of course, this visit and the monitor were free: I live in Canada, which like other advanced nations includes healthcare as a government service. Parking, however, was not free, so this visit (and bringing home the monitor) cost $3.50 in parking fees.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 2:41 pm

Past Lives of the Paragraph

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When I read Richard Hughes Gibson’s essay on the paragraph, I immediately misremembered a quotation from Winston Churchill’s My Early Life, 1874-1904. That passage in my memory was as follows:

[B]y being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell — a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great — was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing — namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. . . Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British paragraph — which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.

The actual quotation has “sentence” in place of “paragraph,” but in the context of Gibson’s essay, “paragraph” slid neatly into place. (His comment that clever boys could “learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat” first brought to mind Samuel Johnson’s famous dictum, “Greek, sir, is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can” and then also a comment from Eva T.H. Brann, one of my tutors at St. John’s, to the effect that students in general think the amount of Latin they already know is sufficient, but however much Greek they know, they want to know more.)

But let us now turn to the paragraph. Gibson writes:

[I]t is a little remarkable that the treatises on rhetoric were so slow in coming to note the organic significance of the paragraph: that the theory of the teachers was so many years behind the practice of the writers.

Edwin Herbert Lewis, A History of the English Paragraph (1894)

[T]here is no such thing as a paragraph. That is, there is no item in an outline, no branch of a tree, no unit of discourse that consistently corresponds to a block of text delimited by a blank line or an indentation.

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style (2015)

What is a paragraph? Consult a writing guide, and you will receive an answer like this: “A paragraph is a group of sentences that develops one central idea.” However solid such a definition appears on the page, it quickly melts in the heat of live instruction, as any writing teacher will tell you. Faced with the task of assembling their own paragraphs, students find nearly every word in the formula problematic. How many sentences belong in the “group?” Somewhere along the way, many were taught that five or six will do. But then out there in the world, they have seen (or heard rumors of) bulkier and slimmer specimens, some spilling over pages, some consisting of a single sentence. And how does one go about “developing” a central idea? Is there a magic number of subpoints or citations? Most problematic of all is the notion of the main “idea” itself. What qualifies? Facts? Propositions? Your ideas? Someone else’s?

In his 1928 English Prose Style, the poet and art critic Herbert Read argued that there’s no point in fussing about the “vague” notion of a central “idea” anyway, since it “will be found of little application to the paragraphs we find in literature,” a claim that Read illustrates with unruly precedents from Thomas Babington Macaulay, John Milton, and D.H. Lawrence, among others. What Read clarifies is not only that single-minded definitions buckle under even minimal stress. Taking up his nearly century-old book, one recognizes a peculiar tradition in which one textbook after another, one generation after another, has promoted a blueprint for paragraph construction conspicuously at odds with the prose of the most highly acclaimed stylists of the English language.

What gives? The tension reflects the paragraph’s curious history as a punctuation mark and unit of thought. In fact, my opening question—what is a paragraph?—only gets more complicated as we gaze further and further into the past, as the paragraph gradually dwindles to a thin line in the margins. This backstory explains why it is so hard to say what exactly a paragraph is and, in turn, why we struggle now to legislate its parameters. But this isn’t an entirely despairing story: To recall the paragraph’s past lives is also to consider how previous generations have put their thoughts in order and to gain thereby a vantage to reconsider our own writing practices.

The trouble begins with the ancient Greeks. Their scribes—and later their Roman imitators—laid out documents in columns on papyrus bookrolls (a.k.a. scrolls) using a method known as scriptio continua in which words are written without spaces in between. The classicist William Johnson has memorably likened the effect to “a tight phalanx of clear, distinct letters, each marching one after the other to form an impression of continuous flow.” But scriptio continua poses an obvious challenge: The reader must sort the marching characters into meaningful words and sentences. Unsurprisingly, scribes and readers over the centuries invented marking systems to aid the reader’s labors of understanding and, equally important, vivid articulation—reading being very much an oral performance in antiquity.

The first such mark—in use from the fourth-century BCE on—was a plain horizontal stroke drawn in the margin alongside or perhaps slightly intruding between lines of the text. This paragraphos (literally, “written beside”) has been called “the first punctuation mark,” though it likely wouldn’t pass muster with modern grade school teachers because it didn’t have a consistent grammatical or rhetorical function. It signified simply that a transition of some kind would take place in the neighboring line—perhaps the beginning of a new sentence or stanza, perhaps a change of speaker in a drama or Platonic dialogue. Typophile Keith Houston has rightly called the paragraphos a “crude instrument.” Its pliability, though, made it eminently useful.

As a mark of change, the paragraphos was a familiar device in the scribal arsenal—along with techniques such as outdenting, enlarging letters, and leaving empty space— for identifying subsections of texts, including those that conform to our sense of paragraph-scale. However, and here we run into our first bump in the narrative, classicists and biblical scholars have debated whether to call these chunks “paragraphs,” at least in the modern sense. First of all, save for a few hints otherwise, these marks cannot be attributed to the authors of the documents; they represent a later (perhaps centuries-later) reader’s or scribe’s interpretation of a given document’s structure (which sometimes varies between copies). More importantly, classical rhetoric had no concept of “the paragraph” as “a generic unit of discourse,” as the rhetorician Jeanne Fahnestock has observed. To be sure, ancient rhetoricians were formidable scholars, and left behind an enormous body of useful counsel about language (poetic and prosaic), argumentation, and education, among other matters. But their principal charge was the training of orators, and though some teachers encouraged writing exercises to that end, none taught the skill of assembling a series of written blocks of text, each designed to unfold ideas, themes, subjects, incidents, etc. Antiquity, in short, provided the terminology from which the paragraph derives but no edicts to govern its production.

The medievals gradually disbanded the scriptio continua phalanx. First its field was taken. In the late Roman Empire, the bookroll was displaced by the new stack-and-flip writing technology, the codex (what we usually mean by “book” now), which had been adopted early on by Christian communities and was better suited to northern lands where papyrus was hard to come by but animal skins weren’t. The codex introduced the page—a new surface, framing device, and interface whose possibilities scribes and artists of the High Middle Ages would consciously exploit. But the more immediate threat to scriptio continua was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 8:54 am

Grooming Dept Pasión and the wonderful iKon stainless-steel open-comb

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Pasión is a remarkable shaving soap, and not just for the fragrance (Pear, Ginger, Tuberose, Narcissus, Hay, Honey, Amber, Leather, Patchouli, Musks). The soap is Grooming Dept’s Kairos formula but with lamb tallow instead of beef tallow and including emu oil. The lather that result, using my (pre-Vulfix) Simpson Persian Jar 2 Super, was every bit as good as promied.

iKon’s stainless steel open comb, sold now with a B1 coating, is exceptionally comfortable with no sacrifice of efficiency. Three passes produced perfect smoothness.

A splash of Speick aftershave, augmented with two squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, and I’m ready for the (very hot) day.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s No. 10: “a mild, sweet combination of Gunpowder and Jasmine greens and Keemun and Ceylon black teas.” I gather that the unconventional idea of blending green and black teas was John Murchie’s own invention.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 8:22 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

How a mechanical watch works, with interactive illustrations

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An excellent explanation of an ingenious and highly evolved complex of memes.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 6:20 am

When failure is free

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From Mindset, by Carol Dweck:

Ty Cobb argued that being a pitcher helped Ruth develop his hitting. Why would being a pitcher help his batting? “He could experiment at the plate,” Cobb said. “No one cares much if a pitcher strikes out or looks bad at bat, so Ruth could take that big swing. If he missed, it didn’t matter. . . . As time went on, he learned more and more about how to control that big swing and put the wood on the ball. By the time he became a fulltime outfielder, he was ready.”

Failure was free, so he could do as much as he wanted. When a resource is free, a smart person finds a way to exploit it — a resourceful person looks at all free things as potential resources.

Update: I realize that I apply a version of this principle when I start learning something new: I simply try various things without striving for “perfection” or even “good,” but more in the spirit of “see what happens when I do that.” I take these early efforts as “play” and thus no penalty and no way to fail, since the point of the activity is the play, and if I am playing at it, I am by definition succeeding at what I am trying to do — which, basically, is to get enough experience to develop through experience 1) my ability at the activity and 2) my judgment (based on experience) of the relative quality of what I accomplish.

Aiming immediately to achieve high quality is not a good idea because that goal creates an obstacle to just trying things to see what happens. Since experience is an excellent teacher, the idea is to have a lot of experience quickly, to try many things in a short time, observing carefully what happens and apply to each new attempt what was learned from the previous efforts.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 5:58 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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