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Archive for October, 2009

math>english

I’ve seen menus with wording like this:  “Served with hash browns, toast or muffin.”

Does the ‘or’ get distributed to the hash browns or not?

In  mathematics, we have notation to solve this problem.  X*(Y+Z) means the X is multiplied separately by both Y and Z.  Whereas X*Y+Z means only Y gets multiplied by X.

In English, it’s not so clear.  Is it hash browns + (toast or muffin) or is it hash browns or toast or muffin?

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Flag allegiance

From the short story Politics in South of No North:

I always disliked pledging allegiance to the flag. It was so tedious and sillyass.  I always felt more like pledging allegiance to myself, but there we were and we stood up and ran through it.  Then, afterwards, the little pause, and everybody sitting down feeling as if they had been slightly molested.

I never did like saying the pledge, which shouldn’t be a surprise.  Slightly molested.  Yes, that’s a good way to describe how I felt.

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Freedom

We were returning to the dorm room after leaving a party.  It had been our first college party — one that was broken up by a team of cops in riot gear.

It was a beautiful Fall night.    2am and no one to answer to.  This is what we’d been waiting for.

We spontaneously started running through campus.  Oh, were we running.  Sprinting down hills and around trees.  Both of us smiling.  We didn’t say anything, but we knew why we were running.

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Small talk

I think we do things backwards.

Typically, when you first meet someone, you engage in small talk.  “What do you do?  Where do you live?  Do you have a family?  How old are your kids?”  Etc.  I hate those conversations. One person asks the questions, pretending they are really interested in the answer.  The other one answers the question, pretending they wouldn’t rather be somewhere else.

That’s because when you first meet someone, you don’t yet know if you will be interested in a friendship with them.  You are not invested enough in them to care where they live or if they have kids.*

After you find someone interesting, then you start to become interested in their personal life.  Who is this person who says these interesting things?

So it seems to me that these small talk questions should come later.

*when I say you I’m really talking about me, but I assume there are plenty of other people who feel the same way.  I could be wrong.  As Leo Rosten said “We see things as we are, not as they are.”

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