Archive for December, 2005

Resolutions for 2006

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

I tried this last year, and it seemed to turn out okay, so here I go again.

1. Keep trying to lose a few pounds.

2. Be more sociable. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m anti-social, but I can understand why some people might think so.

3. Make more non-lawyer friends. Maybe then I’d be more willing to socialize.

4. Write more law-related posts here, like I used to. Not that I want BTQ to be only a law-blog, but I do want more law posts than I’m writing these days.

5. Finish the screenplay Fitz and I have started.

6. Read more books than I did in 2005.

7. See a good movie in the theater. The only movie I saw in the theater during 2005 was Meet the Fokkers, and I’d like to improve on that next year. For those of you new to BTQ, I don’t go to movies by myself, and as for going with others, well, see #2. I actually did break down during the summer and decided to go see one of the big films. I bought a ticket and a Coke and settled into my seat with a distinct sense of unease at being there by myself. It felt really weird. The previews started running, and I was coming to grips with it, and then – pop! – the soundtrack reel or whatever broke, and everything was silent. After a while, the management announced it was irrevocably broken, cancelled the show, and refunded our money. I took it as a sign.

Satellite Killed the Radio Star

Sunday, December 18th, 2005

I’m not invested in the success of radio host Howard Stern’s move to Sirius satellite radio, but I am invested in avoiding annoyance. And a recent peeve has been this silly move, apparently led by the AP, to call plain-old, non-satellite radio “terrestrial radio.” This needs to stop.

I understand the concept of retronyms, but we have to have some reason behind them. “Black-and-white television” and “rotary telephone” are great examples, because we weren’t forced to come up with these names until the new inventions (color tv and touch-tone phones) achieved such widespread popularity that they became the norm. The best retronyms aren’t just clever names for still-common items that now have a more advanced counterpart (like “hard copy”). The best retronyms arise when it’s no longer necessary to use the modifier for the new device’s name. For example, when you say “television,” people assume you mean “color television,” which is why we need the term “black-and-white television” if you’re referring to the old style.

Naturally, this kind of usage shifts over time. In 1965, you would have needed to explicitly draw the distinction between black-and-white and color tv. But not in 1945. I don’t think we’re at the point where enough people listen to satellite radio need a term for non-satellite radio. To me, it feels like calling my car a “gas-engine automobile” because a few people are driving hydrogen cars. I don’t know where the tipping point is, but until we get there, I’m still just driving a “car.” If we really want to rush to the future and retronym everything, I might as well start calling my car a “terrestrial auto,” because I’m sure one day we’ll all have hover cars.

Aside from it being too soon to stop calling radio “radio,” we have much better terms available for stories (like the Stern one) that absolutely have to draw the distinction. Why not “broadcast radio,” the way we differentiate broadcast from cable television? We don’t call CNN “satellite news” and NBC “terrestrial news,” do we? And using the term “broadcast radio” would make even more sense than using “broadcast television,” because those channels are available on most cable packages (I don’t have rabbit ears on my tv), and people who have always had cable don’t draw the broadcast/cable distinction anyway. (Aside: this list of retronyms includes “terrestrial television,” but I have yet to hear an actual human use that term, and would laugh at anyone who did.)

If “broadcast radio” doesn’t move you, why not “FM” or “AM”? Sirius and XM, the satellite radio companies, don’t use those bands, so there would be no confusion. The news story could read “Stern moves from FM to satellite” — would anybody fail to understand that?

One day, way off in the future, it may seem ridiculousy antiquated to think of the necessity to be within broadcast range of a radio station’s tower. It might seem as weird as party line telephones do today. But when historians talk about these earth-bound, staticy times, I certainly hope they don’t refer to it as “terrestrial radio,” when such better terms are available. Yes, sometimes we need retronyms. But let’s not make it harder than it has to be, people.

A Request for the Oenophiles

Monday, December 12th, 2005

I know I have some wine-drinkers reading this, and I need their help. I want to get a gift for some acquaintances, and I’m thinking about giving a bottle of wine. Here’s the thing: I don’t want to spend a lot of money. Maybe I’m cheap, maybe I don’t know them that well, whatever. But I’m thinking I want to spend in the $10-$15 range, and certainly not over $20. At that price, I know I’m not going to get the greatest grapes ever squeezed, but I know I can get something better than Sideshow Bob’s Foot Wine (a reference to last night’s “Simpsons”). I’m also somewhat concerned that I might be asked to join the recipients for a drink, so it needs to be something I can stand. I’m not a big wine drinker. I don’t know the terminology. I do know that I tend to prefer whites to reds, but can drink red wine if it’s not too heavy or overpowering. I want something that’s easy to drink. Not too fruity, not too bitter, not too dry (I’ve had wines so dry they made me thirsty before, and that seems to defeat the purpose of drinking). It needs to be something I can pick up at a decent wine store, so nothing too obscure. However much this request might horrify the wine snobs out there, I appreciate your help.

On Blogging, On Writing

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

There’s an interesting set of posts up at Begging to Differ, the second-best blog with the word “begging” in the title. In order: first, second, third. The posts offer some insight into the general blog malaise that’s apparently contagious.

My problem (this time) is less about time to blog than it is something to blog about. As Steve mentioned in the first post, it’s hard to blog well about politics, and as Hei Lun mentioned in the second post, most of the current political topics are boring and/or depressing. Because of my job, I’m reluctant to post about some topics, including a lot of legal topics. And, I don’t want BTQ to become just a diary all about my personal life; I do want some readers, after all.

Scheherazade has a nice post up about writing, and why she writes. It reminded me of an essay in the “Oxford American” a few issues back. The author (I apologize for not remembering her name) discusses the questions she always gets at book fairs and readings of her work: “How do you write?” The questioners usually say they want to be writers, and want to know the secret: typewriter or longhand? morning or night? tea or coffee? What they think is that if they put themselves in the published author’s shoes, the words will come. It’s as if the hard part is deciding between Word and WordPerfect.

For the author of the “OA” essay, and I think for Sherry as well, writing isn’t about how they do it; it’s that they have to do it. It’s something they couldn’t turn off if they wanted. Sherry, like Longfellow before her, is supporting herself as a teacher while she writes. I’m sure that’s better than working at the Custom House.

I’m not sure I would say that writing is a complusion for me, and the mere equivocation in that statement probably means it isn’t. In one respect, I’m lucky, because I write non-stop for my day job, and I really like the medium. I’d prefer an academic position, but it’s not as bad as it could be. So I get most of my writing fix during the day. I find myself composing a lot, thinking in my head about what I’d like to write. But my fingers don’t itch to put it to paper. I’ve never kept a diary or journal, and I don’t have some hidden personal blog no one knows about. (To clarify, I have a couple of other domains, but I don’t post there; I’m just place-holding.) Other than work product and emails, what you see here is pretty much my total writing output.

So maybe I’m not a “writer” in the sense that I must write. But before I started blogging, I wrote lengthy emails to my friends that look like proto-blog-posts. And I would sure hate to give up this outlet. I enjoy writing here for its own sake, regardless of readership — although the feedback is always nice. There are times that blogging feels like a chore, but more often I really enjoy doing it.

Lately, I wish I had been doing more of it. I have annoyed all my friends seeking something to blog about. It reminds me of how Stephen King answers his most frequently asked questions, where he gets his ideas. In some of his work, King has described his mind as a sieve, and horror is what sticks when everything else falls out. I think my sieve has sprung a leak. Nothing’s sticking.