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Comment: Re:Do It, it worked in AZ (Score 1) 878

by Venner (#49340711) Attached to: Gen Con Threatens To Leave Indianapolis Over Religious Freedom Bill

I fall rather squarely into the prescriptivist class of grammarians (as opposed to the extreme corpus linguists who seem to feel that language is entirely fluid and dynamic and should be bound by no rules whatsoever), but find it perfectly acceptable to use the third-person plural forms for persons of indeterminate gender or identity. While it has often been taught that using the 3rd person plurals in that way is incorrect, there are a number of pragmatic and historical reasons why it isn't so. A couple:

1.) It is readily understood by native speakers; we've been doing it that way for a very long time! Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Bernard Shaw, George Eliot, Elizabeth Bowen, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, all have used 'them' as an indeterminate singular pronoun.

2.) It fulfills a need. Using 'he' causes an assumption, as does using 'she.' Some authors choose to alternate between the two, but that is just confusing. Saying 'he or she' and 'his or her' every time is far too wordy and cumbersome. Considering that English only has a neuter third-person plural, 'they' is a perfectly good stand-in. (Heck, the Germans use 'sie,' 'sie,' and 'Sie' (her, they, You) without any issues. Aside from some fun and intentional linguistic wordplay, ambiguity is resolved through context.)

Comment: Patent Grammar Too (Score 5, Informative) 425

by Venner (#48971537) Attached to: One Man's Quest To Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake

Yep. I work in patents, where a small incorrect use of grammar or terms of art can mean losing millions of dollars. The classic case in point:

Patent A:
"A vehicle comprising 3 wheels and a motor."

Patent B:
"A vehicle consisting of 3 wheels and a motor."

Assuming it is 1700 or something and no prior-art exists,

Patent A can go on to claim 4-wheeled motorized vehicles (since a 4-wheeled vehicle does after all have 3 wheels), 3-wheeled vehicles with shark fins, whatever. "Comprising" is open-end and interpreted as "it has at least this," or as you say, "including."

Patent B is strictly limited to 3 wheels and a motor, no more and no less. If a competitor uses 4 wheels, or adds shark fins, or two motors, then it isn't covered by the patent. "Consisting of" is a closed phrase interpreted as "having exactly."

The incorrect grammar "comprised of" would be an ambiguity, and as such, interpreted in the strictest way -- limiting as in Patent B.

It may seem worrisome that scientists and engineers of all people -- some of the absolute worst butchers of language and grammar out there! -- are the ones who become patent agents or patent attorneys, but all-in-all, the ones who do so tend to be some of the smartest folks I've met. You need to be well-rounded to do the job.

Comment: External TBC (Score 1) 201

by Venner (#46911009) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Which VHS Player To Buy?

>> To avoid frame dropping, you need an external TBC (different from the TBC in the VCR) acting as a frame sync.


Let me add for the person asking the question that I found an external TBC extremely useful back when I was transferring family movies from VHS. Even though I used a nice SVHS unit with an internal TBC, some of the worst older tapes still had lots of dropping out, tearing, and sync issues that magically all but disappeared when I fed the signal through the external TBC. Perhaps you don't need it in your case, but I definitely did.

Here's an in informative thread where someone asked about the need for an external TBC. Be sure to look at the images in post #7.

If I have a VCR with TBC, why is a separate unit needed anyway?

Comment: William Faulkner Meets Clark Gable (Score 1) 796

by Venner (#45843241) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Are the Books Everyone Should Read?

I'm a huge fan of classic film, and one of my favorite anecdotes is a conversation related by director Howard Hawks between William Faulkner and Clark Gable in the director's car as he invited both men along on a hunting trip.

Despite being famous in their respective fields, the two men had never met each other. Moreover, Faulkner didn't watch movies and Gable didn't read. As the conversation in the car went on, it got on to the topic of literature. After listening a while, Gable asked Faulkner the best authors to seek out if one wanted to be well read.

Faulkner responded, "Oh, Thomas Man, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and myself of course."

  "Oh," ask Gable, "do you write Mr. Faulkner?"

"Why yes, Mr. Gable," replied Faulkner. "And what do you do?"

Comment: Right on Target (Score 1) 450

by Venner (#42268195) Attached to: North Korea's Satellite Is Out of Control

I love how the yellow line on the satellite-tracker here crosses within a few yards of my house on full zoom.

Having a satellite crash into my home would not make my day. Having a North Korean satellite crash into my home would not make the North Koreans' day, once Washington got involved. Hopefully it'll just splash down into the ocean or burn up on reentry.

Comment: Also vote for a Lamy (Score 1) 712

by Venner (#41838301) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: The Search For the Ultimate Engineer's Pen

Parent makes a good recommendation. I own several Parker Vectors and Lamy Safaris -- both can be had metal, which is more durable than the plastic variety -- with fine and x-fine nibs, and they are great, inexpensive* fountain pens. Ink is cheap and plentiful on eBay, or you can use a converter and a bottle of just about any make/color that pleases you. I like a lot of Noodler's Ink; I keep one pen especially for their super-intense stains-like-the-dickens Baystate Blue. Great for signing documents.

One thing I have always loved about fountain pens is that by changing the angle of the nib -- even turning it 180 -- you can change the size of your writing. Great for sub/super-scripts.

The only downside is that I always feel a bit guilty when someone asks to borrow my fountain pen and they turn out to be a southpaw. Lefties may get ink on their hands if they're not used to such things.

*you won't have a heart attack if you lose it or lend it out and don't get it back.

Comment: Re:Translation (Score 4, Interesting) 866

by Venner (#41683257) Attached to: Parent Questions Mandatory High School Chemistry

Similarly, when I was in my high school physics class, there were some things we did our "Physics Olympics" competition that wouldn't fly today. This was only 15 years ago, but in a small, rural, midwestern town.

Just offhand, I remember building a Rube-Goldberg machine comprising (among other things) a very sharp hatchet, a butane torch, and a large mercury thermometer.

Another project had a goal of flinging a tennis ball the farthest; my partner's father worked in a metal shop / foundry and we built a compressed air cannon involving 1/4" steel pipe and some rather impressive pressures.

While we were talking about gears, pulleys, etc, I assembled a rudimentary cranked Gatling gun - about 12 inches tall, out of Technic lego, copper tubing, spring steel, etc -- that could fling BBs a distance of around 30 feet.

However, even then we could see the changes coming. While I was in school, the new school board decided that students who took both wood and metal shop were no longer allowed to make crossbows. It was a tradition going back at least 40 years; some of the kids with good artistic skills carved beautiful stocks. Of course, there aren't even wood or metal shop classes now.

All of my teachers have since retired and there's a completely new administration now. Last year a student was suspended for having a kitchen knife - in her car - which she had brought to cut a birthday cake. The school board backed down from an outright expulsion. Sad, stupid times.

Comment: Zone of Control (Score 1) 718

by Venner (#41379219) Attached to: Why Aircraft Carriers Still Rule the Oceans

I wish I could find the reference, but an article I read not too long ago noted that a single fully-deployed modern nuclear-powered supercarrier (including logistcal support like AWACS, etc) stationed in the middle of the US eastern seaboard had an effective zone of control that stretched from Halifax to Havana. That's just impressive, and a good reason the navies would like to keep them around as a symbol of power.

Battleships became obsolete because they were designed only for surface-to-surface combat and bombardment, and were vulnerable from above (and below). I suspect aircraft carriers are more adaptable; among other things, nascent computer-guided railguns (large and small) will probably help against future incoming ballistic dangers.

Comment: Yikes (Score 3, Insightful) 145

by Venner (#40916949) Attached to: Starbucks Partners With Square

Am I the only one whose first knee-jerk thought was, "Wow, that's great! And from now on, I use nothing but cash!"

What's wrong with a simple asymmetric encryption system keyed to a particular cellphone, to be activated at checkout?

GPS-revealing apps already weird me out -- along with peoples' obliviousness to personal safety and/or security -- but automatically promulgating your name and photo to the store you enter quite exceeds creepy. At least this service is optional...for now.

Comment: Adjective Building (Score 4, Informative) 301

by Venner (#39880925) Attached to: B&N Pulls Linux Format Magazine Over Feature On 'Hacking'

First known use of PREDOMINATELY: 1594

Even if its used predominantly in America, it's a good bet predominately didn't originate here.
"To predominate" is a verb, "predominant" is an adjective. At some point in time, someone built an adjective off of the verb.

My favorite bit of vestigial English preserved in the colonies -- especially in the midwest -- is "gotten."
And it's not a colloquialism; it's used in formal American English.
"What have you gotten?" (obtained) vs. "What have you got?" (possession)

(There's actually another Americanism in a sentence above. We typically say "off of" while the British say simply "off.")

Comment: Re:Love Mornings (Score 1) 185

by Venner (#39568765) Attached to: What is your most productive time of day?

I have a peculiar temperament when it comes to sleep. I can't nap, for example - and I mean ever. My mother has told me that from the time she brought me home from the hospital, I slept completely though the night and never, ever took a nap during the day. (I also think that's why she never tried for another child -- she'd had it too good with me!)

I've tried (and failed) to nap occasionally over my 30 odd years; even once when I was up for 57 hours and dead-on-my-feet tired, I couldn't fall asleep until it was after dark.

On the other hand, I don't seem to experience jet-lag. I've changed -3 to +7 timezones on numerous occasions and my body slides lock-step into the new schedule within one day. Interesting tradeoff. Extended travel can be gruesome if you can't even doze, but the schedule-adaptability is nice.

My sleep patterns seem to fly in the face of those recent biphasic sleep articles floating around. I theorize that I just have a particularly light-sensitive pituitary / circadian rhythm -- I certainly need full-on darkness to rest well and bright light is as energizing as coffee -- but that's just guesswork.

Comment: Love Mornings (Score 4, Insightful) 185

by Venner (#39423677) Attached to: What is your most productive time of day?

I kind of love those days I start early - say, 5am - for some project, and by the time 9am or so rolls around, I realize I've accomplished more than twice as much as I typically do in a whole day.

My favorite part of the day is the stillness in the hour before dawn. I'm an early-morning person stuck in a morning-hater's world; I'd do my own thing, but it places me entirely out of synch with friends and family. (What really ends up happening is that I burn the candle at both ends. Blech.)

Comment: Internet vs. Web (Score 1) 92

by Venner (#39263367) Attached to: 20th Anniversary of Michelangelo Virus Scare

>>Dial-up internet? 20 years ago? 1992?

I can speak for the Cleveland Free-net having free, public, dial-up internet access as of 1989. (I used it occasionally in 1991-92.) Several local BBSes also had internet gateways, which might be a dedicated ISDN line to a university computer center or even just a periodic uplink.

Are you inadvertently blending the Internet with the World Wide Web? The two terms have basically merged in common parlance, if not for the tech community. Prior to Mosaic's release at the end of '92 / beginning of '93, the hypertext web wasn't particularly popular yet, and was dwarfed by protocols like gopher and ftp. (Boy did that quickly change!)

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.