Delightful oddity

Part of my job is to put together a daily worldwide e-newsletter. So a few days before the start of a new month, I create a folder for that month that contains the blank word documents that will become the drafts of the newsletter. They all say the day of the week and date at the top, like this: Monday, April 2, 2012.

When I create them, the quickest way I’ve found to work is to take a previous month’s day (any day will do), and delete the irrelevant stuff, change the date, and re-save into the appropriate folder. Then, I go back into the doc and change the date but not the day, so I create all the Mondays for the month, then all the Tuesdays, and so on.

Here’s a delightful little oddity that I’ve discovered: the dates are oddly cyclical. The final Monday of the month links strangely to the first Tuesday; the final Tuesday links oddly to the first Wednesday, and so on. Occasionally the trend is broken (usually when the month has 31 days).

I’ll show you what I mean.

Taking April as an example, the last Monday in April is the 30. The first Tuesday in April is the 3. The last Tuesday in April is the 24th. The first Wednesday in April is the 4th. The final Wednesday in April is the 25th. The first Thursday is the 5th. The final Thursday in April is the 26th. The first Friday in April is the 6th. Obviously, once you see the pattern in the first day, it’s going to work out all week (barring a 31st month in which case one day won’t work), because the days number chronologically for the first week and the last week (as is to be expected). What’s interesting is that it works out nicely at all. Also, the last days of the month starts either 21 or 28 days after the first days (meaning, there is only one first Monday and only one last Monday) so the number is always advanced one “ones place” and two “tens places” or two less than 30 (that is, 30 + the original number – 2). Also, it’s a handy way of knowing what days of the week the end of the month works out to (in case you ever need to work it out in your head). If it’s Wednesday the 4th, you can think to yourself, “ok, the last Wednesday will be 4 + 30 – 2=32, doesn’t work, ok, it must be advance two tens, one one (25).” I don’t know why I imagine that’s easier to remember than any other system, but I like that there are these little rules.

Basically, I just like how it works out. I like making these blank documents to fill up later, because it gives me a little bit of joy to see it working out.

And sometimes Y

For the past month or so I’ve been increasingly bothered by the sometimes-vowel “Y.” And consequently, I’ve been bothering my husband about it. Specifically, I’ve wondered when is Y considered a vowel, and when is it not? And why? Shouldn’t it always be one or the other or always both?

I finally looked it up on Wikipedia. The reference link appears at bottom.

It turns out, there is a reason that no one cares to answer this. It’s a complex reason. Here follows my understanding of the Wikipedia-provided information. Note: to keep things “simple,” I’m only going to explain as it applies to English.

So, as you know, we have vowels and consonants. Further, in our spoken language, we have phonetic vowel and consonant sounds. The phonetic sound of a vowel is one in which the airway tract does not close, or there is no build-up of pressure. Contrast the way you say “aaah” and the way you say “shhh.” In the “aaah” noise, there is no build-up of pressure anywhere along the vocal tract (instead you just sort of push out the sound from your lungs). When you make the “shhh” sound, there is constriction or closure at some point on the vocal tract (when you make the noise, try to focus on your airway in your throat – you may feel the tightening). As you have probably figured out, the “shhh” noise is an example of a consonant. I’ll discuss consonants as they relate to vowels, but I’m not going to get too deeply into them.

That is one half of the definition of a vowel – the phonetic half.

The other half is the phonological definition. I’m taking phonological to mean, in this case, the sound system of English – that is, the system used to create syllables and meanings imparted therein. Phonetics is the means we use to mechanically produce these noises (I’m ignoring sign language; I apologize). So, phonology is the system of sounds that create words and the way we use those sounds, and phonetics is the sounds themselves.

Phonologically, vowels form the “peak” of a syllable. Consonants form the onsets and codas (for languages that have them).

As you may have already begun to deduce, sometimes the phonetic and phonological definitions clash. Wikipedia uses as examples the approximants [j] (y-sound, like in “yet”) and [w] (like in “wet”). An approximant is, most basically, a sound that is partway between a sound that produces a “turbulent airstream” (consonants) and a sound that creates no turbulence (vowels). I love that phrasing – turbulent airstream. Anyway, a [j]* is not exactly as effortless for us to produce as a regular vowel noise, but it is pretty close; it’s also not quite like a hard consonant noise. And, in the above example of [w], when you say “wet” out loud, you’re also not exactly producing a turbulent airstream until you get to the “t” glottal stop. Since they have minimal turbulence, they are like vowels (phonetics); however, since they appear at the beginning of a syllable, they are placed as consonants (phonology).

So the answer is that “Y” is an approximant – it sounds like a vowel but behaves like a consonant. My next question, I suppose, should be, why don’t we declare the vowels to be A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y and W? A question for a later date.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vowel

* note that when letters or marks are in brackets in phonetics, it’s a sound, not a letter as you and I might know it.

Do Strong Women Have to be Victims to be Likable?

I don’t have fully formed thoughts around this yet. But when I find my mind wandering on this topic, three movies/books stand out to me.

  • Gone with the Wind
  • Hunger Games (the trilogy)
  • Millennium Trilogy (you know; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et al.)

All three feature strong-willed female leads who are unethical (as the situation often demands). You could probably write a thesis on this. I’m not going to do that. Probably. Despite doing unlikable things, we like these characters. I don’t think we would if they had not been victimized.

Scarlett O’Hara is an underhanded, greedy, vain young woman. She is cruel to Melanie. She constantly tries to steal Ashley. She does whatever it takes to get Tara back. In the context of the novel, however, she’s a riches-to-rags-to-riches Southern Belle, and that “to-rags” part of the equation, where Sherman decimates the south, gives her the justification she needs to be all those things and be likable. Well, she’s still kind of unlikeable, but we get on her side.

Katniss Everdeen is probably the least ethically ambiguous character of the lot. We can be pretty sure that if she wasn’t a participant in the Hunger Games, she wouldn’t kill people. She has the capacity, but it’s very likely she would never get so instigated that she would lead a massive rebellion without being made a participant. In the book, however, the character isn’t particularly likeable until she survives (sorry, spoiler – but you already figured that much out). She’s kind of gray and stern – we wouldn’t care one way or another about her if she wasn’t involved in the games.

Lisbeth Salander is easily the least likeable character of the three. At a young age, she tries to kill her father. She is violent; she lies. She is a sociopath. But because she’s been a victim her whole life, we cheer for her.

You can argue that without the victimization, there wouldn’t be a novel for these characters. Their stories could be summed up: “They were born. Some things happened; nothing remarkable. They eventually aged and died.” But I suppose the question then becomes, why is a story about a strong woman inherently uninteresting? Or is it? COUNTER ARGUMENT: Madam Bovary. Emma Bovary isn’t very likable. She’s not victimized so much as trapped by a loveless marriage (yes, I know that’s pretty crappy, but it’s not quite up to par with the other novels presented here). I think there’s more to think about right here.

Do we need women to be victimized in order to feel comfortable liking a strong female character? If Lisbeth Salander was the way she was (exacting revenge on men who devalue women), without watching her father beat her mother and all the subsequent abuse, would we be comfortable with her? Would we think of her as anything other than a bitch? What about Scarlett? Katniss would be completely unremarkable if she wasn’t a victim. Is the underlying message that a woman can be strong only if she has a stand-out reactionary reason for it? And if she isn’t reacting to something, she may be boring or just a nasty person?

I haven’t gotten this all sorted out quite yet in my mind. I’m not sure what the masculine corollary is. It doesn’t seem like a man needs to have hardship to be both strong and likeable. If he experiences hardship, he just becomes tragic which evokes our sympathy more than anything. Like James Bond before the movie with Daniel Craig – he’s a bastard but everyone loves him. After Daniel Craig we find out he loved and lost and now he’s just a man struggling bravely to not get hurt again (by being a bastard). I haven’t read any of the 007 books, btw. I don’t know where women like Daisy Buchanan and Tess d’Urberville – who are neither strong nor particularly likable and ethical – fit in.

Reactions? Arguments for and against?

Mommy Brain – it’s just an excuse

Edited: Updated with link to a study by the APA about how brain size INCREASES in new mothers. That follows here: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/10/mommy-brain.aspx. Brain size increases in the areas linked to behavior and motivation. A very small study, but take note.

First, a confession – I have used the excuse “mommy brain” because I forgot something or did something inexplicably boneheaded.

However, I vow to stop. It’s a stupid excuse. It doesn’t exactly portray women and mothers in a positive light, and the last thing we need is something else that devalues us.

For those of you not in the know, “mommy brain” is an alleged phenomenon that occurs once a woman becomes pregnant. She becomes more forgetful and sort of dreamy. I remember reading somewhere once that some organization did a study on the so-called “mommy brain” phenomenon, and they found absolutely no evidence of changes in the brain of pregnant women or new mothers. Please excuse my lack of details; I read it quite some time ago. I’m sure you can run a Google search on it, if you feel so inclined.

Here is the truth: priorities shift when you start growing people inside your body. Additionally, your brain is probably taxed, just as your whole body is, when you begin nourishing a little person or two. It’s really hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And lest we forget, newborns don’t allow for much sleep. One of the first things that gets de-prioritized is holding everything in your brain simultaneously. I write more notes to myself now. Another thing that gets de-prioritized is multi-tasking. Let’s face it – you were never that good at it, anyway. Much better to execute task A then task B rather than try to mingle them and ending up fixing both later.

Interestingly, I’m much better at some things now that I’ve dropped the “mommy brain” excuse. As mentioned above, I write more notes to myself; I actually forget less than I did before, because I write things down now. I complete four or five tasks excellently every day rather than 10 or 12 shoddily. I am more productive overall. When I had resigned myself to the “mommy brain” excuse, I had no motivation to improve. It’s mommy brain! Can’t be helped! Once I determined to refuse that excuse, I had the freedom to improve. I still screw up now and again, but it’s because I’m human, not because I’ve become a poorer human by having children. On the whole, I am improving incrementally daily.

Let’s close by circling back to something I mentioned in the beginning. I think that the stereotypical slightly batty mother who wears “mom jeans” and is kind of clueless is – like all stereotypes – incredibly damaging. I’ve also not yet met this stereotypical mother. There’s no way to categorize all mothers, just like there’s no way to categorize all women or all men. I do know that I’ve met a lot of wonderfully strong women who are mothers, who are stylish and put-together, smart and well-educated, quick with a quip and comfort equally. Let us not be devalued or degraded by going along with this daft notion that we are somehow slower or dumber for having grown the next generation.

Daylight Saving Time

Every time that I look at the clock in my car (which I have yet to adjust to daylight saving time), I am utterly shocked that we all do this, twice a year, every year. All of us except Hawaii and most of Arizona. It’s surprising to me that so many countries internationally do it, too.

We are all apparently ok with getting up and doing everything an hour earlier. I don’t think anyone really questions it. It’s like a secret pact we have. I understand it was valuable at one point, but I can’t imagine that with LEDs, CFLs, and computers/TVs left on all night that we save energy by getting up an hour earlier. It’s not the lost sleep that bothers me; it’s the utter ridiculousness of it all. It would be very difficult to adequately explain to aliens.

It’s like an episode of Punk’d, but with the United States Naval Observatory.

Styx

I’ve discussed this with my husband and he agrees.

If I worked really hard at it – like, quit my job and dedicated myself to it 24/7 – probably the very best I could ever sound as a singer is like the lead singer of Styx. Or a later Axl Rose.

Inexplicably, the babies seem to like my singing. Clearly, they have terrible taste in music.

Granite Boulder

If you ever need a way to waste 20 minutes and you don’t really want to get up or anything, try to remember the name of the paint on your living room wall.

We painted when we moved in, in 2008. We tore down a wall in 2011 and now find ourselves in need of touch-ups. Massive, massive touch-ups.

Here’s the text conversation we had about it:

Bob: Do you remember the name of the gray paint?

Me: It was stream pebble or river rock or something like that. (editor: it most certainly was not)

Bob: It wasn’t granite?

Me: Definitely not. Is it Behr?

Bob: Yes. Ancient Stone? Satin or eggshell?

Me: No, it definitely had something to do with a river or stream. Eggshell I’d think. We don’t have a can in the basement?

Bob: Would you look on behr.com? They have an interactive thing. I couldn’t find it.

Me: I’m looking now.

Bob: Granite Boulder. It’s Behr Premium Plus. And we have a gallon. I’m an idiot.

Me: Me too. I was 100% sure granite wasn’t in the name.

Bob: I bought some. I got Dark Granite.

Me: We can use it for something. Or return it.

Bob: You can return paint?

Me: Not sure.

paint swatch
Granite Boulder is the top color

I think what I like so much about our conversations is how confident we can both be and yet be utterly wrong at the same time. It gives me hope in our ability to bluff our way through raising kids.

And now you’ve effectively wasted 20 minutes. Congratulations.

Mensa

I have a Mensa puzzle calendar. It was a Christmas present, as these things generally are. I really like it. But here’s my problem: if I can solve the problem I suspect it’s too easy. If I can’t solve it, I feel like it’s real Mensa-quality (but then I feel dumb for not being able to solve it).

Mensa calendar
Hmmm...if I was able to solve it, it couldn't have been a very good puzzle...

The trick with the above puzzle was to find the one for schooner. Double letters! “It’s not a schooner, it’s a sailboat.” Granted, the puzzle gave a hint that was a double letter…but I didn’t compute that at 7:15 this morning.