29 December 2010

That's a nice way of puting it

After a jetliner ended its flight more than 600 feet beyond the end of a snowy runway at the Jackson, Wyo., airport today (nobody was hurt), American Airlines spokesman explained what happened: The plane "had a long rollout," he said.

22 October 2010

Fired for sound bites

Have we become so dependent on sound bites that we're incapable of listening to anything in context? It seems like it.

The most recent example, of course, is this week's firing of Juan Williams by NPR. Out of context, yeah, his fears about riding on planes with those in "Muslim garb" are indeed offensive, and his feelings were awkwardly stated. But in context, it's clear that Williams wasn't advocating religious profiling or suggesting discriminatory public policies. The personal feelings he expressed weren't rational ones, but they were human. The appearance is that NPR was looking for an excuse to fire and Williams and found one.

Williams' sacking isn't all that much different than the U.S. administration's firing of Ag employee Shirley Sherrod last summer. Yes, she admitted to what appeared to be a discriminatory episode, but the context was one deploring just that kind of thinking.

We live in an era where leaders, celebrities and even we regular folk are encouraged to be candid and honest, yet we pounce on people based on out-of-context remarks. (Another victim: Christine O'Donnell. There's no doubt she's unqualified to become a U.S. senator. And she may be loony — just not as loony as the out-of-context clips might indicate.) If we want openness, that's counterproductive.

It's time to start listening more carefully.

15 July 2010

There's a reason we have hyphens

One of the unfortunate trends in modern written English is avoiding the use of hyphens. Why unfortunate? Used properly, especially in compound modifiers, they can eliminate ambiguity such as that present in the dominant headline on this week's cover of Time magazine.

The headline: The Only Child Myth. What is that supposed to mean? That there's only one child myth? That's the way I read it when I first saw it.

Much improved would have been this: The Only-Child Myth. That's clear, and that's what the author meant.

05 March 2010

Christian symbolism abounds in final season of Lost

When ABC used da Vinci's famous painting of the Last Supper as a model for a publicity photo for Season 6 of Lost, fans should have expected that Christian symbolism would be a part of the show's final season. And indeed that has been the case — although, perhaps, it's Christian symbolism being used in a reverse way, having a Christ figure that becomes a symbol of evil rather than of goodness. But as can be expected with Lost, it's too soon to tell: What looks evil may turn out to be good, although more likely we'll end up with a tale of moral complexity.

Much has been written, on Lostpedia and elsewhere, about the use of Christian symbolism in Lost (although certainly not exclusively, as much of the show appears to be rooted in Egyptian mythology). Many of the characters have Biblical names — Jacob, Benjamin, John and James are just a few — and there's even a Christian, the father of a main character, a Shephard, a possible allusion to the Good Shepherd. There are frequent allusions and even outright mention of Bible verses (one episode was titled "The 23rd Psalm"), many of the characters have been identified as Christian and can be seen praying in flashbacks, and one former main character was a Catholic priest. None of this is extraordinary; those Biblical names are fairly common in our culture, as are Christian-like themes of sacrifice and redemption. But Lost is one of the most carefully crafted shows ever shown on American TV and is full of rich symbolism and more than a whiff of spirituality, so any reference to Christianity is more likely intentional than not.

Interestingly, the show appears to be headed toward equating evil with the Christ character, John Locke. The evidence that Locke is a Christ character goes beyond his portrayal in the position of Jesus in the "Lost Supper" photo:

  • Locke once was dead, but he has now been resurrected.

  • The "new Locke" (sometimes referred to by fans as the Man in Black) seems to have, or at least claims to have, extraordinary powers, and his possibly now-scarred body is apparently incapable of being killed.

  • The invasion of the smoke monster (another form of the Locke character) into the temple was vaguely reminiscent of the Biblical account of Jesus cleansing the temple of those who had made it a den of thieves.

  • Locke (the former Locke, that is) has always been one of the most spiritual people on the island and has often seemed to be in touch with some sort of a higher power.

Another example of Christian symbolism can be seen in the character of Sayid. In the first episode of this season, he was "baptized." Just as in Christianity a person is immersed in water as a symbol of death to self and the beginning of a new life in Christ, so was Sayid fully immersed in the temple pool during the first episode this season. And now, it appears, after dying underwater, that he has a new life as a follower of the Christ character Locke.

But the symbolism is neither complete nor consistent. Sayid, too, has been resurrected. And in one striking scene in "Sundown," the most recent episode, Locke tells Sayid that Locke can give him anything he wants — very similar to the New Testament account of the devil tempting Jesus by promising Jesus anything a person might want. Could this be a hint that the reincarnated Locke is actually a Satan character, a Jesus wannabe? Perhaps. But as with all things Lost, it's hard to tell anything for sure at first.

(Photo copyright ABC and used under fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law.)

04 February 2010

Nigerian scammers don't give up easily

It's surprising that people fall for these e-mail scams, but apparently they do. Some of the e-mail headers suggest the following one came out of Nigeria, but I'm not sure. In any case, it came from an sbcglobal.net address. Real persons' names and addresses have been replaced by xs and hash marks; my e-mails are in italics.

The bait:

I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, I came down here to Wales,United Kingdom for a short vacation unfortunately i was mugged at the park of the hotel where i stayed,all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily for me i still have my passports with me. I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and my flight leaves in less than 3hrs from now but am having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let me leave until i settle the bills, I'm freaked out at the moment.

#### N. ##th Street

The above name and address were of a real person, someone I've never met, although it appears likely that the person's whose name was being used had my business e-mail address for legitimate reasons. I decided to find out what else he has to say:

I can't get $1,300 right away. Would $500 be of help?

Could you fax me a copy of your passport so I know you are who you say you are?

I didn't really expect to get a copy of a passport, but we'll see:

Glad you replied back, I still need help, I have nothing left on me right now and I am lucky to have my life and passports with me it would have been worst if they had made away with me passports.

Well all I need now is just $1,300 you can have it wired to my name via Western Union i'll have to show my passport as ID to pick it up here and i promise to pay you back as soon as I get back home. Here's my info below:

London W10 4AH, United Kingdom

As soon as it has been done, kindly get back to me with the confirmation number. Let me know if you are heading to the WU outlet now???

This time, the address was of a recording studio in London, and the e-mail came from a yahoo.com address. Anyway, he didn't say anything about faxing me his passport, so I'll try again.

Would you be able to fax me a copy of your passport? I want to make sure you are who you say you are. Thanks!

This time, the scammer answers my query:

my passport was with the hotel manager right now am at the public liberty talking to you.So you can call the hotel manager on the line +############# his name James smith

Well, there's a clue. I didn't call the number, but I did find out that the prefix used is most likely a cell phone number, not the number of a hotel. And several scam-busting sites reported that that particular prefix is often used by Nigerian e-mail scams. Before I had waited long, I got this:

Please ignore an e-mail requesting money to me! I have been hacked, and I'm working with SBC to resolve. Sorry for the worry and concern! I am at home and well!


#### N. ##th Street

Well, I'm glad he got his sbcglobal.net e-mail address back under his own control. I thought this might be the end of it, but no. Another letter came from the yahoo.com address.

Am waiting for the confirmation from western union because my flight leaves in 1 hour 30min time i will surely refund your money once i get back home.

My response:

I'm not sure you have enough time to catch the plane. You need to be at the airport about two hours in advance.

About 15 minutes later, another response:

Once the hotel bill is sort out i will be leaving to the airport.that is why you have to wired the money now so i can pickup the money here.

He doesn't give up, that's for sure. Maybe if he were to put that kind of effort into making a legitimate living ...

Let's see how he answers my next question:

I still need to make sure you are who you say you are. I'm more than happy to send you the money if I know you're legitimate. Could you please tell me where I know you from? Thanks!

No surprise, but he ignores the question:

Just want to know if you have wired the money.

I respond:

No, I've withdrawn money from the bank and am all ready to send it. I just need to make sure you're legitimate. Where do I know you from?

And that was all I heard from him.

27 January 2010

The iPad: What is it?

There's quite a discussion going on at the Crave blog over just what the new iPad is: Is it a computer, or is it something else?

Well, of course it's a computer. But so is my hopelessly outdated cell phone, which lets me do little more than make calls and maintain a basic calendar but still has more computing power than the computers aboard the first manned spacecraft. When they ask whether the iPad is a computer, what they're really asking is if it's a portable substitute for a desktop computer with all the flexibility that such as device has.

My conclusion: No, it's not a portable desktop. It's more akin to a netbook except that its form factor is that of a tablet rather than of a small, foldable laptop computer.

Although the iPad undoubtedly is cool-looking and has some neat features — the thinness, low weight and 10-hour battery life are incredible — I can't say that I'm all impressed by what Apple is offering. I have a Linux netbook that I recently purchased, and there's plenty that it will do that the iPad won't, such as:

  • Connect to USB devices including external drives and flash memory gizmos.
  • Easily connect to my digital camera via USB (or by inserting its memory card) and manage its photos.
  • Run Skype or its competitors using a built-in webcam.
  • Display web sites that use Flash, and that's a lot of them.
  • Run more than one application at a time. If I'm writing a document and need to look something up on the Net, I can do so while still keeping the document open.
  • Basically do anything that a desktop computer will do, although a bit slower.
  • Let me freely change software and even the operating systems.
All that, and it cost me less than $300.

Despite the limitations of the iPad, I expect it will sell well. The coolness factor will be a big selling point, and with an optional external keyboard it is easily capable of performing office tasks.

And as to what label the iPad and the soon-to-come imitators should be called: My vote is for netpad.