The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Month: December, 2013

Protip: On “cnidaria” pronunciation

Pacific Sea Nettles, a scyphozoa, one of the four groups of Cnidaria (Image: Wikipedia)

If ever, when on the discussion of jellyfish, and the discussion moves to the topic of “cnidaria” and its related “cnidocyte,” the explosive cell mechanism by which they sting, containing the sub-cellular organelle called “cnidocyst,” and one is ever tempted to pronounce the “C” in the word;


Cnidaria –  /naɪˈdɛəriə/ (nai-DEH-uh-RI-uh)

Cnidocyte – /’naɪdoʊsaɪt/ (NAI-doh-site)

Cnidocyst – /’naɪdoʊsɪst/ (NAI-doh-sist)

Just sayin’.

Sir Terry Pratchett: On My First Job

Sir Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite, if not the favourite, authors out there. I admire the ways he twists and form word innovations, creating novel ideas with very mundane things we have, turning them unexpected. For example, he once wrote this in his book:

“The study of invisible writings was a new discipline made available by the discovery of the bi-dimensional nature of Library-Space. The thaumic mathematics are complex, but boil down to the fact that all books, everywhere, affect all other books. This is obvious: books inspire other books written in the future, and cite books written in the past. But the General Theory of L-Space suggest that, in that case, the contents of books as yet unwritten can be deduced from books now in existence.” (Lords and Ladies, Terry Pratchett)

One of the quotes from his series that inspired me to write and create more unwritten books for the future. Other quotes from him from the same book:

“Technically, a cat locked in a box may be alive or it may be dead. You never know until you look. In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.”

“The shortest unit of time in the multiverse is the New York Second, defined as the period of time between the traffic lights turning green and the cab behind you honking.”

A friend of mine created a Tumblr peppered with liberal amounts of Pratchett quotes.

But Pratchett recently wrote about his first job as a journalist at the Huffington Post. A friend (the Pratchett quote blog one) shared it with me, though pointing out that fundamentally we’re different in that he saw journalism as a means to being a writer, while I wanted to be a journalist, with the possibility of ending up as a writer eventually. Either way, it all means nothing until I actually start on this path. Here’s what he wrote.

On My First Job

My education began in the library, where I read every book I could get my hands on. Before long, I wanted to be–among other things–a writer. I read books about it, and I learned that the chance of making a living writing novels was remote. But I also learned that if I got a job on a newspaper they’d have to pay me every week.

Immediately I wrote to the Bucks Free Press, the weekly local, without which a sizable part of South Bucks would not be able to be properly born, married, buried, sentenced in court, informed, or feted as the grower of the funniest pumpkin in the fruit and vegetable show.

It was 1965, and I had been told that journalism was very, very difficult to get into. Nevertheless I sent my careful letter to Arthur Church, the Editor. I informed him that I hoped to leave school with three A-levels the following year and asked if there was any possibility there would be a vacancy on the paper. This letter contained some nascent journalism, being accurate without being entirely true. I wasn’t confident I would get the A-levels. I hoped I would. I also hoped to be the first man on the moon.

Arthur’s reply said in essence, “I don’t know about next year, but I have an opening right now.” And almost before I knew it, I had a job prospect.

There was a minor problem. I hadn’t told Mum and Dad about my application, and they were currently away on holiday. They’d left me on my own as I was 17 and perfectly capable of looking after myself, so long as the baked beans lasted and the dirty laundry basket didn’t overflow. When they came back, I sat them down and told them I had been offered a job on the paper. Thankfully they were happy. My father took the view that his son would not have to spend his time looking at the underside of cars in a greasy garage, and my mother calculated that I would be the editor of The Times in 10 years.

The following Monday, I went to school minus my uniform, and notified them that I was not attending any more, thank you very much. Then I departed through the entrance that only teachers and visitors were allowed to use. I went up the road to the editorial offices and to a life of putting words together in their proper order.

My first day, I saw a dead body, and discovered that my new job was much more interesting than Maths. I also discovered that it is possible to go on throwing up long after you’ve run out of things to throw up.

Later that week–with my father in attendance because I was a minor–I was officially apprenticed to Arthur Church. My indenture was signed. More or less, the newspaper owned me; I was untrained and therefore a liability, my wages perceptible through a microscope.

My journalistic career unfolded with a certain routine. On Friday the newspaper came out. To some extent, this made it an easy day, although, of course there was always a court somewhere that needed the presence of a journalist. Actually they didn’t. Justice was dispensed more or less satisfactorily whether we were there or not. Nevertheless Justice has to be seen to be done, and therefore a stalwart from the Bucks Free Press had to sit there in his Jeep jacket and write it all down in impeccable Pitman’s shorthand.

For me, though, it was a time to scurry around, clearing and filing the spikes and generally cleaning up the place. The spikes, for those born after the era of hot metal printing, were just that, metal spikes on their own little wooden bases beside every desk. They were a kind of waste paper basket with a restore facility. Any piece of copy that the news editor had decided was not going to be used was stuck on a spike for possible retrieval in case breaking news changed things. They became the repository for everything from bits of information that might be useful later all the way up to quite a lot of your blood if your laconic stab led you to get the spike through that little web of skin between your thumb and index finger. And in any case, they all had to be filed first thing on Friday morning.

My next task was to write the week’s episode of what would in the fullness of time be published as my first novel, The Carpet People, still happily in print in the UK and shortly to receive its US debut, 42 years later. It became my job because I was the newest recruit and nobody else wanted to do Uncle Jim’s Corner. This children’s column was to include a story and birthday greetings to those children whose parents had the foresight to let Uncle Jim know about the happy occasion.

We also had to put in our time dealing with the news, such as it was, of High Wycombe itself, in the eyes of Arthur Church the center of the universe. He had been brought up there and cared about the area with a quiet passion. So much so that when the Apollo missions produced their first astonishing photographs of the moon, Arthur had to be ordered by high command give them front page placement–even over his cherished local headlines! He eventually consoled himself with the reflection, “Well, the moon does shine on High Wycombe, after all.”

Arthur instilled journalistic ethics into me, while George Topley, the chief reporter, gently taught me that sometimes they were not enough. They were good men. I am grateful to have met them, even if in those salad days I might have occasionally thought that they were cantankerous dinosaurs, especially as, nearly half a century after, I now realize that cantankerous dinosaurs have their place.


Simple witty animal comics

I wish there were a simpler way to reblog things from Tumblr on Wordspace, but for now, I’ll just have to manually put pictures and stuff up.

Amongst the comics out there, it is usually the simpler ones that I appreciate the most, usually with a simple line of text. Those that require just a little bit of thinking: the comic artist puts in a little effort, just as the readers do.

A friend shared a Tumblr belonging to Liz Climo, an animator for The Simpsons. But where The Simpsons rely on in-your-face humour, Climo’s Tumblr relies on subtle wit revolving around animals, usually something to do with the physical properties of the animals themselves.

Here are some of my favourites:

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Speaking fake English, or any other fake language

What qualifies the English language to sound “English” enough? Very often, people in the English-speaking world have impressions of what foreign languages sound like. Chinese (excluding stereotypical “ching-chong” variants) sounds like “Xie shi hao ni jing ling ping dao” to many English speakers, replete with its tonality, French has its velar R’s and lots of Z’s and nasalities, “Le beton est un plus morraise il a son telle fusontique des mon,” Italian has its inflections on certain syllables, and so forth.

What about fake English? Were a foreigner to make fun of what English sounds like to them, how would they reconstruct it?

Turns out faking a language at least requires the basic knowledge of morphemic and phonetic structure of that language. Why do people in the least go “ching-chong” when talking about Chinese and rattle their throats and noses trying to speak fake French? It’s because that they know these languages feature these consonant and vowel relationships.

Knowing the phonetic map is only one part of speaking a fake language, the other, to make the fake language sound convincing, is knowing how they fit together to form words.

The video above speaks fake Chinese, and as a Chinese speaker, I find it very far off, simply because he does not understand the tonal system of Chinese, nor can he reproduce certain syllables.

The video below shows a somewhat convincing fake English, as it imagines what English would sound like to foreign person who does not speak the language.

Any English speaker would realise that in that clip, it actually uses a lot of real English words, but for the most part is unintelligible, yet it still sounds distinctively English. I feel that the writers of the script relied too much on real words and simply garbling the rest, when they could have pushed the boundaries further of words they can change up using English phonomorphemic rules to create a convincing and clear fake English conversation.

I wrote previously that we can extract semantic meaning from nonsense words, through parallel sounds and morphemes attached to them. Likewise, for fake English, to sound most convincing, we need to preserve morphemes, because for some reason, English morphemes are very English to any English speaker. So much so that we attach them to foreign words when we attempt to Anglicise them. For example, we can say a person “kamikaze’d” or that perhaps something could be “taco-licious”. What that means exactly, I’m not sure, but we often use English affixes to bring foreign words to make them fit into our language.

Likewise, if we were to create nonsensical, fake English conversation, we must preserve these affixes, for they give words their purposes. For example, we use “-tion” to turn something into a process, such as “crown” to “coronation,” “investigate” to “investigation.” If I used a word like “hakilimation,” chance are, a competent English speaker can probably draw inferences that the root word would be “hakilimate.” If I said a person is “taffing,” the root verb is probably “to taff.”

Here’s my attempt at speaking fake English, using the rules I have highlighted. I think if someone weren’t paying close attention and heard this in the background, it could pass for real English. Also included are fake Chinese and Japanese, that, in my opinion, sound a lot more legit than those without knowledge of how the language is structured.

Here’s an example of a Microsoft ad that uses fake Chinese convincingly. Granted, a lot of the words are slurred, given its more conversational nature, but to those who know the language, some actual Chinese can be teased out from that blur of words.

Three lunar years later

Three lunar years ago, I shot myself into the air, through space, and landed on the other side of the planet. There, three Lunar New Years missed. Will I miss the next one too? With an adventuring spirit, I thrust myself into the unknown.

Having left home, it seems I have cut myself adrift, with very little means to go back. I am still floating, rotating, and have yet to gain enough gravitas and inertia to propel myself anywhere. How can I go back home in this state?

There will be no triumphant return, only stony silence and static white noise.

I have been dreaming dreams of various places back home, it seems almost uncanny; unnerving. I don’t know what to do.

In the mean time, I remain in stasis, as my life support slowly flickers lower.


Umbrella innovation

Looking at the umbrella, when was the last time any real innovation has been done to it? You open it, and it shields you from the rain; it’s about as innovative as sliced bread. It seems as though it is a product that can be improved no further. But the Japanese has come up with an innovation to make it better:

After using an umbrella, folding it up, one usually has a wet umbrella that might get one’s own bag or pants wet holding it close. Japanese product design firm H Concept has unveiled the: UnBRELLA, an inverted umbrella. Closing the umbrella by inverting it, only the dry part is exposed. The umbrella even stands on its own when not in use!

From Spoon & Tamago,

“It’s been nearly 10 years in the making since I originally conceived the idea,” revealed Hiroshi Kajimoto, the industrial designer who spent roughly a decade improving the umbrella. “I’ve finally created the UnBRELLA – an upside down umbrella truly required upside down thinking.”

The question is, will people be willing to pay for innovation? The new umbrella – slated to go on sale February 2014 – costs 9450 yen (about $95).

The question is: will it withstand the crazy winds of New York City? If the winds blow hard enough and it inverts, is it considered broken?