Musings & Family Lore...

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Gina's Note
The Matrix
Flipping the Bird
The 7 Day Week
Michael's XML Tirade

Gina's Note

Sam and Eva Kemp raised very young sons, Dick and Jon, on their farm north of Fort Collins, Colorado in Weld County. The nearest town was Ault.

When they moved to Fort Collins for a better school, John McClure moved to the farm and farmed for "Dad" (Sam). Sam had a hybred strain of popcorn (Kempkorn) that got the family through rough times. McClure later purchased the farm, and the last Gina heard (1970's?) the McClures were still there.

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The story of Gilgamesh is set in the kingdom of Uruk (in Mesopotamia). It begins with the goddess Aruru creating a completely wild man.

She "pinched off a piece of clay, cast it out into open country. She created a primitive man, Enkidu ... offspring of silence ... shaggy with hair ... luxuriant like grain. He knew neither people nor country ... he eats vegetation ...".

The locals are terrified of this untamed warrior who runs with the gazelles. It is especially troubling that Enkidu keeps freeing wild animals from the hunter's snares! Gilgamesh contracts the whore Shamhat to seduce Enkidu. Once seduced, Enkidu can no longer run with the gazelles. The wild animals now flee from him.

"Enkidu had been diminished ... yet he had acquired judgement, had become wiser ... he listened to what the harlot said 'You have become profound Enkidu, you have become like a god. Why should you roam open country with wild beasts?' ". She entices Enkidu to return to Uruk with her, where he and Gilgamesh become inseparable companions. Enkidu never recovers his direct relation with the land and its wild inhabitants.

The parallels with Adam, Eve, and the expulsion from the garden are a little hard to ignore. The tale of Gilgamesh is translated from cuniform tablets unearthed at various sites in what is now Iraq. Ancient stuff from one of the first agricultural, settled, cultures. Chewing over questions like "What is a hero?" "Why are the gods crazy?" and "What does it mean to come out of the wild to till and irrigate and live in the city?"

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The Matrix

Now I may spill some beans (if this movie could be said to have any) so read on at your own discression:

I was expecting minimal theme, plot, character development, etc. - just enough to support the special effects. I was not disappointed. I thought the acting was rather good (pleasant surprise). The cyberpunk premise is about as realistic as The Wizard of Oz... but since I took it at the same level of entertainment as that series of books - it was a great ride! And to give it it's due - the photography and effects really were first rate.

Within the unreality of a virtual future, morphing, men-in-black style bad guys and such - they managed to make the virtual real. And share cynical humor with the audience (I've been a sucker for that since "The Avengers" TV show). "Hang on Dorothy, Kansas is about to go bye-bye".

The funny thing was - next morning I found myself musing about the elements behind the movie. Ancient elements. Golems run amok (intelligent machines being the modern golem). The comming of the messiah. Humanity's out of control self destructive nature (byte the fruit of the tree of knowledge - go ahead - it'll make you a god).

One part nagged at my poor abused brain till it finally surfaced. See - these folks are living in a virtual world - their bodies are laying around somewhere with probes stuck in 'em and most of humanity is completely lost in the dream. Our heros have (of course) awoken from this virtual reality, and go back in to rescue others. The thing is that in this state your mind is really in the virtual world. You get killed there or the connection with your body gets snapped, you die. Took me untill the next day to remember the astral travel literature and the dangers of snapping the "silver thread". So even in this detail the techno dark dream expresses old intuitions, in high tech clothes.

So if you are looking for realism or plot or something - don't waste your time. Want some dark techno humor? Some light reminders of the ghosts of the human soul? Very good acting, given the material they're working with... and really enjoyable eye candy? Don't miss it!

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Flipping the Bird

I'm not sure where this originated, it came to me by e-mail. Not sure how accurate it is, but here it is anyway:

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore be incapable of fighting in the future.

This famous weapon was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew").

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, "See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!"

Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to alabiodental fricative 'F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter.

It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird".

And yew thought yew knew everything!

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The 7 Day Week

Next to the day, the week is the most important calendric unit in our life. And yet, there is no astronomical significance to the week. Nothing cosmic happens in the heavens in seven days.* How, then, did the week come to assume such importance?

The first thing to understand is that a week is not necessarily seven days. In pre-literate societies weeks of 4 to 10 days were observed; those weeks were typically the interval from one market day to the next. Four to 10 days gave farmers enough time to accumulate and transport goods to sell. (The one week that was almost always avoided was the 7-day week -- it was considered unlucky!) The 7-day week was introduced in Rome (where ides, nones, and calends were the vogue) in the first century A.D. by Persian astrology fanatics, not by Christians or Jews. The idea was that there would be a day for the five known planets, plus the sun and the moon, making seven; this was an ancient West Asian idea. However, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in the time of Constantine (c. 325 A.D.), the familiar Hebrew-Christian week of 7 days, beginning on Sunday, became conflated with the pagan week and took its place in the Julian calendar. Thereafter, it seemed to Christians that the week Rome now observed was seamless with the 7-day week of the Bible -- even though its pagan roots were obvious in the names of the days: Saturn's day, Sun's day, Moon's day. The other days take their equally pagan names in English from a detour into Norse mythology: Tiw's day, Woden's day, Thor's day, and Fria's day.

The amazing thing is that today the 7-day week, which is widely viewed as being Judeo-Christian, even Bible-based, holds sway for civil purposes over the entire world, including countries where Judaism and Christianity are anathema. Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Africans, Japanese, and a hundred others sit down at the U.N. to the tune of a 7-day week, in perfect peace (at least calendrically!). So dear is this succession of 7 days that when the calendar changed from Julian to Gregorian the week was preserved, though not the days of the month: in 1752, in England, Sept. 14 followed Sept. 2 -- but Thursday followed Wednesday, as always. Eleven days disappeared from the calendar -- but not from the week!

*Yes, it's true that the average time from, say, half-moon to full moon is 7.383 days, but this is less than 12% closer to 7 than to 8. (Possibly mindful of this, the Romans had an 8-day week.) In any case, the exact moment of half or full moon is hard to judge. The moon determines the month, not the week (the very word "month" has been related to "moon" for thousands of years; in Sanskrit they are the same.)
- Vincent Mallette

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XML Tirade - May '99

OK - I can't stand it - This is for the geeks and webheads among us...

For those blessed to be "out of the loop", HTML is the code name for the computer language used to create web pages on the Internet. You are looking at a product of HTML right now. XML is a new buzzword that is getting a ridiculous amount of hype as the "next generation" of HTML. It isn't.

<Tirade> This XML hype is a pile of hooey!

First off - XML is not a language. It is a specification about how to make specialized languages for data transfer. Everybody who wants to transfer data with XML has to form a committee to design their own semi-private language. Is anybody excited yet?

Get a clue geeks! This is smoke and mirrors! According to one of it's designers, XML leaves the "hard part" to other folks, i.e. deciding what the data specifications actually are... and in the same article (Scientific American May 1999) he says that "Battalions of programmers will be needed" to make this sucker work. At least he's honest.

So the part that XML requires but does not define is the meat and potatoes of transferring data. I can't tell you how many hours I've played middleman between various managers in a company trying to get them to agree on data definitions such as "what is an invoice date?"... Dilbert is an accurate picture of corporate America today (clueless)... especially about how their own businesses work... and this is what XML requires but does not specify.

Again - for the geeks among us - XML is just a beautification of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange)... for that I am thankful. It will be a heck of a lot easier to integrate into web based exchanges. But all the hype is ridiculous. It is like the 1500/1 P/E ratios on web stocks - heck - there is no P/E ratio on a lot of web stocks because there has never been any E!

Anyway - XLM is a heck of a lot better than EDI... but the hype is more appropriate for selling used cars, running for president, or for the IPO of a "dot com". </Tirade>

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