birds

When we moved into our current apartment, C noticed that there was a birdhouse out on our balcony; and soon, that there were sparrows flying around it, and going in and out. Yesterday, I saw one of them sitting at the entrance, and a small beak sticking out.

This morning, C got up before me and opened the glass door. I noticed that there was a lot of bird noise coming from outside, so I looked out, and saw a much larger number of sparrows flying around than I had seen before, between the birdhouse, the railing, and the nearby tree. They didn't often stay in sight, but it looked as if some of them were smaller than the others. So I think there have been nestlings, and now they've learned to fly. The loud vocalizations seem as if they might be a way for the parents and offspring to keep track of each other.

wonders

Not long ago, we visited our local friends for a picnic lunch (carefully sitting at two different tables a few yards apart). They mentioned that firefly season was coming on. So this evening, a bit before sundown, we drove to Lawrence Nature Park, about three-quarters of a mile from us, which they had told us about. Initially we sat on a bench on a wide cleared path; then we spotted flashes in among the trees, and followed a narrower path to stand in their shade.

There were huge numbers of fireflies, though not really countable, because they didn't stay on long enough. Occasionally one flew close enough so we could see the outline of its wings and body. And they were amazingly bright, able to be seen many yards away. I had never before been in a location that had fireflies, and now I've seen them for real.

vocabulary

More on reading Cuvier's La regne animal: In more than one place, I've encountered French words whose use there does not seem to be what the dictionary translations I've checked would suggest, let alone what the obvious English equivalents would be.

distribuer: This appears on the title page, as part of the subtitle: distribué d'après son organisation. But "distributed after" [or according to or following] "its organization" doesn't convey an obvious meaning. After encountering the word a few more times, I figured out that it meant "distributed [among the various taxa]" and could be translated in this context as "classified." The animal kingdom classified according to its organization seems like a pretty straightforward theme for a book on zoology.

méthode: The obvious translation is "method." But Cuvier refers to it as a specific branch of logic, whereas in ordinary English usage logic itself is a "method." And he contrasts méthode with syllogisme as another branch of logic, whereas I might be more inclined to say that the syllogism is a specific method. It seemed as if Cuvier meant something more specific, but I was perplexed as to what. I decided to use "methodology" and go on. Eventually, though, I noticed that he used méthode to refer, not only to a procedure for classifying animals, but also to a system of taxa that was the product of such a procedure; I realized that the English word "taxonomy" has exactly the same two meanings, as a process and as a result; and I went back and noticed that Cuvier said that the study of natural history gave practice in méthode exactly as the study of geometry gave practice in syllogisme—and classic natural history is focused precisely on taxonomy. So I went back through and reviewed the passages where I had put "methodology" and found that in all of them, substituting "taxonomy" made perfect sense.

(Incidentally, I've said for many years that the difference between Plato and Aristotle as philosophers was reflected partly in Plato's emphasis on geometry, and Aristotle's on biology as branches of science and as models for their theories of knowledge. Cuvier seems like a good Aristotelian in this book.)

the unveiling

Steve Jackson Games has just announced the playtest of my new book for them, GURPS Furries, and invited interested participants to submit applications. Woot!

This is the book that follows on from GURPS Template Toolkit 2: Races. In fact, my original proposal for it included a chapter on how to create racial templates, which got promoted to a book in its own right. Now I'm going back and completing the original project, which I've been thinking about for years and years.

parsing

I've been making my way through Cuvier's La regne animal, one of the very first books on comparative anatomy and its implications for taxonomy, in the original, as there doesn't seem to be a really trustworthy English translation. Having gotten through the premise and into the introduction, I ran into a real poser of a sentence:

Mais il s'en faut de beaucoup qu'elle la puisse toujours.

This comes after a sentence saying that natural history occasionally uses the rigorous methods of the physical sciences, and I could figure out that en (="of that") referred back to that sentence. So I got as far as Mais il s'en faut de beaucoup = "But it lacks [se faut] of that much." But what was the following clause saying?

I guessed, and was able to check, that puisse was a subjunctive form of pouvoir = "to be able." So that led me to looking up an explanation of the subjunctive, which my courses in French hadn't really taught me, and which is a tricky form in any language that has it. And I found that it's used often to describe something that is unlikely to happen, or that is wished for but not expected. If the thing actually happened, the indicative would be used.

So okay, I said, let's change it to the indicative: elle la peut toujours = "it can always [do] it." And then the subjunctive seems to be "[that] it could always [do] it." The "it" [la] seems to refer back to en and thus to the previous sentence again. And at that point it came together for me that "que" was a subordinating conjunction in this case, and thus that the whole clause was part of the syntax of the preceding clause. Literally, "But it lacks of that much that it could always do it." Turning that into idiomatic English, I come up with "But it falls far short of always being able to do so," which seems to make sense in that context, as contrasting with the previous sentence: Sometimes it does X/But it can't always do X.

Whew! But I feel as if I'm partly getting my French back and partly gaining a better feel for its syntactic peculiarities.

it's official

The public library here in Lawrence has partially reopened, so yesterday I went to their Web site and signed up for a library card, and at noon today I called them and got help with establishing a login to their site. Then C had an errand at the FedEx downtown, which is only a couple of blocks from them, so I went down and picked up my card. Now I feel as if I'm really a citizen of Lawrence. I have an appointment for a Kansas ID in mid-July, but it's library privileges that mean the most to me personally!

what do they teach in the schools these days?

So my sister put together a cover of "Africa" by her orchestra, as a project for the California shutdown, and sent C and me a link, which we really enjoyed. But I was trying to puzzle out what the theme of the song was, and I decided to take a glance at TVTropes and see if they offered any hints. I didn't find much, but my eye was caught by their comment that saying that "Kilimanjaro rising like Olympus" was a really inept metaphor, because it was saying that a mountain was like a mountain.

Olympus, of course, is not just a mountain. It's the home of the Greek gods. So the song is saying that a mountain in Africa is a home of the divine. I still haven't figured out the song, but I got that much right away.

I don't expect TVTropes to be entirely reliable; it's a wiki. But not knowing that much Greek mythology is pathetic.

serendipity

Earlier this week, C spotted something online about 28 May being "burger day" in Lawrence. We didn't actually manage to go out that day, but we went out today at dinnertime.

We had used Google Maps to check out burger places in the city, and found that it had a BurgerIM. We had one of those back in Riverside, and liked them, particularly their burgers made with ground lamb; we were pleased to discover one here, and to see that it also had ground lamb as an option. So we drove down there, planning to get takeout.

But while I was waiting to have someone take my order, I had a view of the kitchen staff—and one of the three workers was walking around without a mask on. I went out and told C, and we agreed not to eat there—and she asked me to go in and let them know, which I did.

On the way there, we had passed another place we were interested in, Runza. So we went back there.

A runza, it seems, is a kind of German sandwich, bread stuffed with ground meat, onion, and cabbage—and in this case, at least, with a generous amount of pepper. We both thought they were really tasty, so this counts as a happy though unplanned discovery. Their French fries and onion rings weren't as good—too much salt for our taste—but aside from the salt they were decent. But the sandwiches are worth going back for. I had never heard of this particular product out in California; the closest I had come was cheesesteaks, which I can't eat now because the cheese is too high in fat.

kitchen tricks

In recent months I've adopted two different practices in cooking that seem to produce better results than I used to get. These may not be arcane or little-known methods; they may just be things I was slow to figure out. But I'm happy with the results.

* Our old Dutch oven, which I discarded just before we moved because the nonstick coating was a wreck, had a tight-fitting glass lid, which happened to be a perfect fit to our new stainless steel skillet as well. So I kept it. Keeping things covered while they cook shortens the cooking time by keeping the heat in. With meat, in particularly, it also keeps the moisture in, so it stays moist and tender while it cooks.

* We acquired a digital meat thermometer last year, which I had used for the occasional roast. But now I'm finding that using it in stovetop cooking lets me gauge when meat is done, avoiding underdone meat and lessening problems with overdone.

furniture

Well, now the floor lamp is assembled, and I have two LEDs in it, with light output 3200 lumens (about the equivalent of 200 watts incandescent). They flicker on the low setting but light up steadily on the high setting. I was able to get it into the corner space framed by the electronics stand and the drafting table that serves as C's desk, and it lights up the living room quite well.

The new cat carrier is assembled, and I've dumped the old one, whose handle tended to pull out of the top of the carrier.

And the nightstand is assembled and is at the head of the bed on C's side, with a box of facial tissues and a coaster. No doubt it will acquire more stuff.

I also put together a new desk chair, a week or two ago, but my desk won't arrive till sometime in June.

We still need at least three sets of bookshelves and a loveseat. I've been having trouble finding shelves that meet my needs; our old shelves were 36" wide, and I assumed that that would be a really easy size to find, but it seems to be rare now . . .