September 25, 2013

Is It On or Off?

Airbag On or Off?You may be one of those who happens to have on your vehicle's dashboard the interesting configuration shown in the image on the right. If you are, this blog entry is a public service to you explaining how to use it.
  1. If you want the airbag to be on and the off light is on, insert your ignition key into the slot and turn left to the on position. The off light will go off.
  2. If you want the airbag to be on and off is off, do nothing. The airbag is already on.
  3. If you want the airbag off and off is on, do nothing. The airbag is already off.
  4. If you want the airbag to be off and off is off, insert your ignition key into the slot and turn it from on to off. Off will come on indicating that the airbag is off.
See? It's simple. When off is on then the airbag is off. You have to turn it on to make the off go off. When the off is off, then the airbag is on. You have to turn it off to make the off go on.

I thought this mechanism was so clever, it inspired me to do a little steampunk graphic using a tool called Gimp. (Here, let me Google that for you: gimp.)

Here's the image:

Notice that the off is on, indicating something is off. What odd mechanisms have you seen?

August 17, 2013

Eff That Noise

One of the more interesting words in English language is this one. This article will not use that word simply because I have an aversion to using it in general, but especially in a public forum. Instead, I will use the word Frack. It loses some of the strength of the invective, but if you do the translation, you'll get the general idea of where I'm going. Do the translation everywhere you see the word Frack.

This article is not so much about the word, because the Wikipedia article to which I pointed you already has a very fascinating write-up. This article is more about a grammatical nuance that profanity seems to bring to English. I noticed it while I was trying to think of a motto for myself. (Hey, I was out walking and was bored out of my mind. What else was I supposed to be thinking about?) Anyway, the motto I decided I liked best was Frack the Obstacles. (But transposed inappropriately, as mentioned.)  I was going to ask a friend of mine to translate this into Latin for me. But as I thought it through, I realized that the translation was very important and had to convey the rancor of the vituperation. I wondered first if there was the vulgar equivalent in Latin, then I wondered how he would conjugate it.

To explain why that is important, I need to back up a little further to the reason why the motto appeals to me. It starts with myself and a different friend pulling into a parking space. A small tree overhung the space and my truck was really too large to fit there. However, heedless, I pulled forward all the way into the spot. The limbs of the tree screeched against the side of my truck. A mass of leaves pressed against the windshield. My friend laughed and said, “Frack that tree.”

That's how I felt as I was walking and thinking about mottoes. Frack that tree. Frack whatever is trying to stop me. I'm going where I'm going to go, and nothing is going to stop me.

Back to conjugation. There is concept in English that allows for a sentence fragment if the subject is understood. For example, if I say, “Go to hell,” the subject You is understood. If I were to translate that into another language, I would use the conjugation that implies You. For example, ¡Vas al diablo!

Unfortunately Frack is not so easy to translate. Frack that tree does not carry the same meaning as You frack that tree. The sentence Frack you! does not seem to be as effective as You frack you! (Although it is quite effective when transposed to Go frack yourself! It just seems to have a subtly different meaning.) There is one famous line in history that has a similar meaning and phrasing. Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead! I think the understood subject Everybody would work just as well. Everybody damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead! But again, that doesn't translate with frack that tree. I also wondered if the subject is understood to be self referencing. That is, I frack that tree. While closer, I am pretty sure it simply isn't true. That's not what I would mean if I said it.

The truth is that the tree is irrelevant or worse. By saying, frack that tree, I'm saying that the value of the tree is of no consequence to me. I'm saying that the tree's wishes are of no consequence to me. In fact, I hold the tree in such high contempt that I will make a conscious effort to frustrate that tree's efforts to inhibit me – even if going around or making a small adjustment would be easier for me. It holds more malice than the statement, I don't give a frack about that tree.

This leads me to the conclusion that there is a sentence structure that is allowable in English even though it has no subject. The subject is not understood. The subject is non-existent. Furthermore, it may be that the only time that this is true is when we use the verb form of Frack.

That said, there are two types of feedback I would like from the thousands of people who don't read this blog. The first would be from grammar wonks. What do you think of my conclusion? Does this warrant another exception in the English language? The second from students of Latin. Is there a translation that carries the full connotation behind phrases like Damn the torpedoes and Frack the Obstacles?

It turns out that the linked Wikipedia article shows that this is a misquotation of the quote on record. Read it for yourself and see. The original quote could have the understood subject of you as it is a direct order from the admiral.

July 9, 2013

Chocolate - The Movie

Is Chocolate a great movie? It's hard to say. Perhaps it is best to judge it as “best-in-class”. The class being kick-ass, Thai-fighter, martial-arts movies.

The movie is produced in Thailand so nearly everyone speaks Thai. Some Japanese and even some English shows up in the script, but very little. The version I watched was subtitled in English. If you have never watched a movie with subtitles, I encourage you to try this one. You will learn that they do not get in the way, and reading them becomes nearly invisible after a while.  With a high-action flick like this one, even getting frustrated with the subtitles doesn't detract from the real reason you're watching it: the fight scenes.

Zen Fights Bruce Lee Style
The film centers around a young, autistic girl who is able to mimic the martial arts styles she sees on TV. This was a first for me and a very cool concept. Some reviews say the script is nothing spectacular. I would temper that by saying it is enjoyable. It is definitely better than the typical Hong Kong, dojo revenge flick script. I was fascinated by it. It carries the viewer well between fight scenes.

One of the first battle scenes takes place in a room filled with ice vaguely reminiscent of The Big Boss. To complete the homage, Zen (the main character) fights using Bruce Lee's boxing style. Throughout the movie, she adopts and integrates various other fighting styles, including Jackie Chan's. It's fun to watch her style improve as the fights get more intense.  And, believe me, it gets intense.

So, even if you don't like the script, the action is great fun. Zen reminded me of River Tam of Firefly and Serenity, only with more action. Perhaps she is what I wanted to see in River. Who knows? I can only say, “Don't listen to me. (Not that anyone does.) Just watched it.”

Maybe swing back by afterward and whisper your thoughts in the stone giant's ear...or carve them in his leg if you prefer.

(Did he say TIE Fighter?)

June 21, 2013

Tired Incredible Plot Devices

Several movies and television shows that are considered to be great have implemented some tired old plot devices that break the movie's threshold of credibility. Perhaps first, I should explain what I mean by threshold of credibility.

Every show establishes for the viewer some understanding of how it's world works.  If we are watching a scene in space, we understand that the forces of gravity work differently than the way they work on earth.  If we are watching the far past, we know that cars should not be present, etc.  This threshold of credibility reaches into the psychology of individuals, physical interaction with the universe, acceptance of supernatural presence, etc.  When a show violates its own establishment of this understanding, then it has crossed the threshold of credibility. This happens in most movies and many TV shows I have seen. It is a moment when the observant viewer says to himself, "What the heck?" That moment when 30 seconds of the story line is lost because the viewer is suddenly back in the present world trying to map the event back below the threshold of credibility.

This pondering is not so much about everyone of those events. Some are forgivable. Rather, it is about those that happen over and over again. There are two that bug me.

Close Range Gun Face Off
Two battling opponents end a major scuffle each pointing a loaded gun at the other.  If either one pulls the trigger, the opponent is clearly dead.  The moment is presented as if each is afraid to move for fear of killing himself. It is meant to create tension.  Often, it leads to the protagonist being tied up and put into the belly of the whale.
Script Writers: Will you please stop doing this? If we are to believe our protagonist and antagonist are ready to kill each other, this is not how to do it. The action of pulling the trigger happens so fast that the other will not have time to react. The one who is most ready to kill (usually the antagonist) will pull the trigger first. This is not a hostage situation. I could buy a moments hesitation, but one of them will die. Sadly, however, you writers are too lame to come up with a better plot device. Please try. We viewers are tired of seeing this one.

Last Minute Catch From Free Fall
Someone is falling under normal gravity. A few feet before they hit the ground either they are caught by a flying superhero, or they catch themselves in some feet of heroics. The moment is meant to have us fear for the fate of the character we are presumed to love. It is meant to provide that breath-holding nick-of-time rescue.
Script Writers: How many times do you need to read movie reviews before you get it? It is not the fall that kills you, it is the sudden stop at the end. It does not matter if that sudden stop is provided by the street or the arms of a superhero or the rung of a ladder.  The substance the falling individual hits must have some elasticity. Will you please take that into consideration and have your heroes work within the bounds of that reality, or change the reality in some way that makes what you are doing believable?

I know nobody hears this, especially film makers. But, at least now it has been said. If anyone cares to whisper his own favorite overused violation of the threshold of credibility, know that the stone giant is listening.