26 December 2006

The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Tea Cozy

Last week a friend gave me a tea cozy. It wasn't so much a Christmas present as something she picked up when she saw it, knowing that I've had trouble finding one that wasn't in the shape of a little lamb or in some, um, busy floral print.

This thing is amazing. I have quite warm tea three hours after it was brewed. It works so well, in fact, that the handle becomes almost unbearably hot, especially for the first hour or so.

This post exists mostly as an excuse for the title.

20 December 2006

What I learned from Carl Sagan

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Carl Sagan. There is a memorial blogathon going on. See his son's blog, Nick Sagan, for many more links.

I first encountered Carl Sagan from the TV series Cosmos. I convinced my mom to get me the book for it, which I read repeatedly. Of course I loved the astronomy in it. Though I never once considered a career in astronomy, I have photos from the Hubble on my walls, and belong to The Planetary Society, which Sagan helped found.

But the two things that really remain in my mind about Cosmos have to do with the ancient world. First, I learned that the ancient Greeks were pretty cool. Most computer science people will know the name Eratosthenes from a method for finding primes. I know him as the first guy to measure the circumference of the earth. I learned how easily learning can be lost.

Second, I learned about the horrible death of Hypatia of Alexandria at the hands of fanatics, and I learned Sagan's opinion on such things. Suddenly I had the start, at least, of a framework for my own nebulous skepticism about religion. A more systematic skepticism would have to wait for me to grow up and read a lot more, but Sagan pointed me in the right direction.

At the end of Contact, just before the credits, the word "For Carl" appear. That can still choke me up a bit. I should dig up my copy of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark...

12 December 2006

Filtering the Online

I recently added to new feeds to my RSS reader. Sometimes I add a site only to remove it a week or two later. These two will stay.

The first is for Cartoon Brew, a dual effort. I found it when searching for some information on modernism in 50s era cartoons, and found one of the site author's books, Cartoon Modern (linked to from the Brew page itself).

The second is the appallingly named No Fat Clips!!!, which has comments in English and Italian on very short pieces (films, commercials, etc.), including the very recent and — what? charming? sweet?!And The Red Man Went Green. Just watch it (other formats here).

11 December 2006

The Lunacy of the Lunate Sigma: A Rant

I was very excited last week to get the OCT edition of Hesiod — a requirement for a class I might actually get to take. My shocked, initial joy at finding a legible text in a new OCT, and decked out with a beefy apparatus, was dampened when I noticed a serious pet-peeve of mine — the silly lunate sigma.

For those who don't know Greek, the lowercase letter sigma (sounds "s") comes in two forms, one used at the end of a word, one used everywehere else, like σῖτος sitos "(food made from) grain" (cf. parasite). The lunate sigma, an ancient form of the letter, looks like a lowercase "c", ϲῖτοϲ.

For reasons I cannot fathom, it has become fashionable to use the lunate sigma in modern editions of Greek works. What is so bizarre about this that the lunate form is a zombie. In any modern text of, say, Homer, the font used is based on the habits of the Late Byzantine scholars from whom Western Europe reacquainteded itself with ancient Greek learning. The lunate sigma is alien to those hands. If we really must enforce sigma to a single form, there's much better precedent for using the non-final shape everywhere (see Thompson's A Handbook of Greek and Latin Palaeography for the evidence).

Another problem with the lunate sigma is that, as an intruder, it rarely plays well with other letters in a face. I've seen one book (I think the current "Teach Yourself" for classical Greek) that appears to have had the lunate form crammed in without any kerning information. It looks just terrible. OCT has done a better job with the lowercase form, but the uppercase form looks like it's delirious from a wasting disease. The best lunate sigma I've ever seen seems to have been designed with the rest of the font, and appears in H. van Thiel's Scholia D on Homer.

Now, I would be happy to see lunate sigmas in an apparatus. In fact, I would applaud it. But I cannot figure out why it's ending up in the main body of texts. It isn't more historically accurate, or is so only in a wildly eccentric way. It often looks awful. Greek offers a vast array of difficulties for beginners, so simplifying sigma isn't going to help anything at all. Finally, it is an active impediment to reading for people experienced with Greek. Unless they've never seen a word before, people don't actually phonate words when reading an alphabet. After years of experience "the" goes straight into your brain as "the." The shape of the word counts, so ruining my familiar εἰς and σῖτος to favor εἰϲ and ϲῖτοϲ is just annoying.

And don't get me started on adscript iota.