Sunday, March 22, 2009

Umlaut. Trema. Interpunct.

Today I was reading this article by Malcolm Gladwell, published in The New Yorker, in which I saw the word reexamine typed out like reëxamine. Among English speakers, perhaps because there are so few words in English with the "two dot" accent, this accent is commonly misunderstood as a (German) umlaut:

The word umlaut is the name of a type of sound shift in spoken language (phonological umlaut) and of the diacritic mark used to represent it orthographically.... The phonological phenomenon of umlaut occurs in English (man ~ men; full ~ fill; goose ~ geese)... but English orthography does not write the sound shift using the umlaut diacritic. Instead, a different letter is used. Link.

So, if English were German, instead if writing man and men, we'd put an umlaut over the a—män—to represent the different vowel sound, men.

However, in the above example, the accent in reëxamine is not an umlaut, but a diaeresis, or trema. (As I understand it, the trema is typographically smaller than the umlaut, although I have yet to find a source to verify that since its origin is Scandinavian and English ASCII unfairly lumps umlauts and tremas into one keystroke.) The trema is different from an umlaut in that it signifies that the accented vowel should be pronounced separately from the letter preceding it, e.g., naïve, or Emily Brontë. This is why my daughter's name is not spelled Zoey, but Zoë. They are pronounced the same, but without a trema, Zoe would rhyme with toe, not Joey.

Anyway, when I saw "reëxamine" in a mainstream article, I immediately wondered if it were correct, or simply a house style mandated by a haughty Fifth Avenue editor. A Google search returned this wonderful gem, wherein I learned about the interpunct.
22 Jun 2006, 12:44 PM | Archaic Punctuation

I saw this spelling of reexamine in the New Yorker this year. I want to say to the editor, for real, dude? You are spelling reexamine with an umlaut? It's like: Oh. My. Gawd.

Isn't this just an example of pretentiousness gone waaaay too far?

The New Yorker actually mandates this usage in their style guide, along with such wonders as "The New Yorker mandates that authors must coöperate to reëducate our readership." As well as zoölogy, coördination, and so forth. They also point out that the umlaut is no umlaut in this usage but is rather a diaeresis.

The correct punctuation mark to use when breaking up things in this way is the interpunct, or punt volat. It's used in Catalan to distinguish between the standard doble ela 'll' and the ela geminada l·l. This is exactly the same purpose,— to prevent letters from coalescing into a phoneme;— such as these common cases of double letters that could, possibly, be interpreted as a long vowel sound, if read by a space alien who had never read the New Yorker, and was not yet very familiar with English: “Ree-cha-mee-nay, what is that?”

The interpunct reads and flows better, it is not a distraction, people are used to it, and it does not bring the sentence to a screeching halt as it desperately calls attention to itself. Use it well. On the Mac, opt-shift-9 summons the interpunct.

"We, the punctuative literate, ask that the board re·examine its mandate that authors should have to co·operate in re·educating their readership." Link.

I prefer the interpunct to the trema, although I disagree that the interpunct is "correct" English usage. To my knowledge, it's still only used in Catalan for the meaning he posits here. So the author's argument doesn't hold, in my view—even an interpunct would "bring the sentence to a screeching halt as it desperately calls attention to itself."

And besides, no matter how much I love trash-collecting robots from the 28th century, there's not a damned chance in hell my daughter's name will ever be Zo·e.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

+15.6 (∆ -0.4)

Yesterday, I sort of binged. I had a huge carb load—for lunch, a white flower tortilla with refried beans, cheese, and multigrain pilaf and, for dinner, Chesseburger Mac & Cheese Hamburger Helper. Usually, I would never have Hamburger Helper but my wife had a hankering, so what's a guy to do? Besides, my "eating less" isn't regulated by what I eat, just by how much I eat. I still squeaked under my daily calorie quota, but barely.

Last night and this morning, though, I felt awful. Though I'd had enough sleep, I still felt as if I'd been out drinking the night before. White flour, I thought. Could I be having a white flour hangover? White flour affects my wife to such a degree that if she eats a huge plate of white flour pasta, she has been known to fall asleep at the table. Maybe the same was happening to me?

In any event, the massive carb load got me worried, if only because my weight tends to spike about two days after I have a huge amount of food. So today, as an antidote to my bingeing yesterday, I kicked ass at the gym (524 calories!!! Woo hoo!) and had a very very light lunch.

But it's the lunch itself that really gave me pause:

  • Honey Wheat Bread, 2 slices—180 calories
  • Salame, 4 slices—100 calories
  • Light Mayo, 1 tablespoon—35 calories
  • Yellow Mustard, 2 teaspoons—7 calories
  • Tomato slices, 1/3 of a whole—12 calories
  • Red Leaf Lettuce, 1/2 cup—2 calories
  • Red Bell Pepper, 1 cup—29 calories
  • Soy milk, 1 serving—80 calories

Total calories: 424

I look at that kind of meal, and I think, Holy shit. Seriously? What have I turned into?? Two months ago, that same sandwich would have had twice as much meat, thick slices of cheddar, a bowl of soup on the side, and chips, nearly double the current calorie load. However, not only is the above meal completely nutritious, I found it totally filling, too. The bell pepper is my crunchy substitute for chips, and turns out to be far more flavorful. I know my eating habits have irrevocably changed when I'm making these kinds of conscious choices... and enjoying them. Two months ago, if you'd have told me I'd be full on only 424 calories of lunch, without chips, I flat out would not have believed you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Piracy is a Hydra

I went to a workshop on copyright the other night. It was extremely informative, but even the lawyer giving the lecture acknowledged that something major needed to be done to address the current situation of massive pirated downloads. Having worked as counsel for Tower Records, she represented them in that famous lawsuit against Napster because Napster had been dumb enough to specify in their business plan, "We're going to put companies like Tower Records out of business." Well, Napster went under, but then so did Tower Records. Ironically, Napster was reincarnated under a subscription-based model.

One attendee mentioned The Pirate Bay, which is an anti-copyright organization run out of Stockholm, Sweden. The Pirate Bay hosts a server indexing all BitTorrent files currently available, which means that if you go to their web site, you can find an "index" link to any film, movie, or song they have. When you use BitTorrent on that index link, it finds all the people who have a small fraction of that song on their computers and assembles all those parts into a complete file for you to watch or listen to. This is called, "hyperdistribution". As an American, by using BitTorrent, you have almost certainly infringed the copyright of the artists and their producers... but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from doing it. The Pirate Bay has gotten a lot of heat from the MPAA and record companies, and their offices were even raided by Swedish police in 2006. After that raid, however, The Pirate Bay was up and running again only three days later.

A few months ago, I discovered a site that goes a step farther— You don't even need BitTorrent to use this site. All you do is go to their site, type in the movie you want to see, and find the file that works the best for you. Invariably, these files are made from illegal camcorders in movie theatres, so you can see films still in general release. The quality is not always high, but if you're willing to sacrifice quality, then you can see practically any movie you want, for free, as long as you have access to the internet. Even though stopped working quite suddenly (due to someone complaining, no doubt), was started up not long thereafter.

A Whois lookup on returned this:

Name: Private Protection Co.LTD
Organization: Private Protection Co.LTD.
Address: NO.1111 Chaoyang Road, Beijing
City: Beijing
Province/state: BJ
Country: CN
Postal Code: 100000

Administrative Contact:
Name: Private Protection Co.LTD. Zhuhai Branch
Organization: Private Protection Co.LTD.
Address: NO.1 Meihua Road
City: Zhuhai
Province/state: GD
Country: CN
Postal Code: 519000

Dispute Contact:
Address: 6B XIHAI Building, No.221 Renmin E Road, Xiangzhou District,
City: Zhuhai
Province/state: GD
Country: CN
Postal Code: 519000
Phone: +86.756-2281763
Nameserver Information:

As expected, is based in China, one of the largest violators of copyright. In doing research for my movie business plan, I learned China permits only 20 foreign movies to be shown annually in their country. If the tables were turned, and the best movies were always made in China, and the American government said I could only see 20 foreign movies per year—of which only a fraction were Chinese—I'm sure that I, too, would be a pirate without any ethical reservations. Since China is still under the yolk of communism, an ideology which divorces the individual from private property, I'm unsurprised when I hear Chinese citizens (proudly) call their country, "The nation of fake."

The ability for companies to brazenly violate copyright reminds me of the Hydra from Ancient Greek mythology. Hercules' Second Labor was to kill the Hydra, but "upon cutting off each of its heads, he found two grew back, an expression of the hopelessness of such a struggle". In this case, the MPAA, music companies, and the world's police are Hercules, and the Hydra is both the Pirates and the consumers who use BitTorrent. Try as they might, authorities can't seem to kill hyperdistribution. Shut down Napster? Here's BitTorrent. Shut down The Pirate Bay? They're up three days later. Shut down They switch domains. Sue consumers? You get a consumer backlash.

Why does piracy continue to flourish despite the continued assault from authorities? Because piracy at its core isn't a legal or technical matter, and thus cannot be solved with legal or technical tools. Piracy is in its essence a social problem only catalyzed by an unenforceable (and thus unrealistic) legal code and an astonishingly efficient delivery system. Rampant piracy is really just a symptom of users who want to consume content, and who aren't particularly interested in the hassle of paying for it. Sure, if it's easier to find content and pay for it than to download it over BitTorrent, they'll pay (thus the success of iTunes). But here's the bitter pill nobody wants to swallow: if a user goes out of their way to watch a pirated copy, they probably weren't a paying customer to begin with. Far from being a curse, users who watch pirated shows and movies and listen to pirated songs possess one unique benefit—a user who watches or listens to a pirated copy might like it enough to buy it on CD or DVD and/or recommend it to others... which is impossible if they never even watched or listened to it.

Sites like and with its own media viewer show how the entertainment industry is evolving to come to viewers. Instead of not showing content online and "forcing" viewers into downloading episodes illegally, they're creating user-friendly parameters to make it easier for people to get the content they want, whenever they want it. The theory goes something like, if they're going to dally about with a mistress, at least we want to control who and where that mistress is... because we can make money off of that.

Lawrence Lessig makes an excellent point about copyright. The way the law is currently set up makes it too hard for providers to let users share, remix or use content. In an internet digital culture where sharing is the norm, copyright law is so restrictive that it's now stifling creativity. That's why I've become a fan of the Lessig's Creative Commons License.

My friend Nik said it best when talking about the pervasiveness of spam: "As long as you have a backwater country that doesn't crack down on spammers, you're always going to have spam. The only way to really fight spam is to manage it." Maybe one day, every country in the world will indeed have a police authority able and willing to protect the rights of every content producer around the world. I fear, though, that such a day will be long after my children have already grown up... and during that time, our culture will have since become accustomed to violating copyright as the norm.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

+16 (∆ -0.8)

I've been having a friendly banter with my friend Austin who's also on a weight loss program of his own called "Pounds & Inches". To be honest, I haven't read the manual he sent me about it (yet), so I can't legitimately comment on it. It seems to be working for him and I'm always a strong advocate for doing whatever works for you.

Nevertheless, I remain skeptical whenever I hear of a sudden weight loss (17.5 lbs) in such a short amount of time (less than 2 weeks). As I understand it, a sharp weight loss—though instantly and enormously gratifying—is a shortcut to long-term weight loss and statistically not sustainable, i.e., without realistic expectations, people stop seeing results fast enough and tend to relapse into their old eating and sedentary lifestyle.

In my opinion, baby steps work better. Small, nearly imperceptible changes to eating and exercise stand a better long-term chance of becoming permanent because you have time to adopt them into your life. For example, when I first went to the gym, it was only twice a week for 15 minutes. Now I go 6-7 days every week, for an hour or more. Had you told me back in January that I would end up wanting to go to the gym for as much and as long as I do now, not only would I not have believed you, but I'd have only focussed on the down sides: ...but that's so much time "wasted" at the gym... and I'll probably be so tired all the time from going so much... and what do I think about when I'm on the treadmill for an hour? and so on and so on. Instead, I limited my goals to something simple which I knew I could handle. And sometime after that, I raised the bar a little, and then a little more...

It got me thinking, though. What exactly has been my experience with weight loss? Haven't I also lost a ton of weight in the first few weeks? What's my average weight loss per week? At Day 50, my average weekly weight loss was 2.45 lbs. That seemed like a lot, but maybe there was more than one pattern at work... so I plotted out my weight loss since January 19:

If you look carefully, there are two trends on this chart—the first goes from January 19th to February 9th, where I lose a lot of weight in only 3 weeks. The next trend is everything after that. Here's how the two trends break down:

Time Span1/19-2/92/10-3/12
Starting Weight+33.5+21.6
Ending Weight+20.0+16.0
Total Weight Loss-13.5-5.60
Average Loss/Day-0.64-0.19
Average Loss/Week-4.50-1.31

It's typical in the early stage of any new eating program to drop a lot of water weight, so an initial weight loss of 4.5 lbs / week was expected. Though sometimes frustrating, the comparatively "slow" weight loss of 1.31 lbs/week starting on February 10 is exactly the rate I want to maintain until August... because by August, all my new eating and exercise habits will have forever become solidified as part of my new lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day 50: ∆ -17.5

I've been eating less and working out for 50 days now, and here are the numbers:

Total Days: 50
Total Weeks: 7.14
Starting Weight: +33.5 lbs
Total Weight Loss: -17.5 lbs
Current Weight: +16 lbs
% Complete Toward Goal Weight: 52.23%
Average Loss/Week: 2.45 lbs

My goal was at least one pound weight loss per week on average, so I'm doing much better than I expected. The best part in this whole endeavor is that I'm not doing anything complicated—I'm just counting calories.

Rock on! August 21st, here I come!!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

+16.8 (∆ -1.4)

My gym had a poster listing all the things you should do to improve your chances at losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle. As I went down the list, I made a mental checklist of the things I already do or don't do, and I was happy to see I already knew about, or was already doing, many of these things:

  • Veggies and fruit are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they're low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure.
  • Unrefined whole grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight. (Didn't know whole grain foods made you feel more full, or even that they help lower your cholesterol.)
  • Eat fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing Omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring) may help you lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease. (I knew fish was good for you because of Omega-3, but I didn't know about the twice a week thing. )
  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without any added saturated or trans fat.
  • Select fat-free, 1 percent fat, and low-fat dairy products. (It took me almost 10 years to completely wean myself off cow milk.)
  • Cut back on food containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet. (Fast food = bad.)
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300mg of cholesterol each day. (I knew cholesterol was generally bad, but I didn't know about the 300mg limit. See below.)
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars. (Sodas are evil. Remember that guy in Supersize Me who drank 32 oz tubs of soda and got diabetes? In our house, we drink only one soda—diet A&W root beer—and it takes us weeks to go through a single 12 pack.)
  • Choose and perpare foods will little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. (I've always heard about using less salt, but never knew about the 2300mg limit. See below.)
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. (Used to drink a huge amount of alcohol, but when you live in a city designed around the automobile, you find yourself drinking less than the city-dwellers. And since I'm eating less, a six pack of Newcastle can sit in our fridge for weeks simply because I don't want to expend any calories on a beer.)

The advice on cholesterol intake got me thinking. Thanks to my swanky iPhone app, I can easily check my daily and weekly cholesterol intake to see how well I've been doing so far. Up to now, I haven't been focusing on eating well, just eating less. So, out of simple curiosity, how well am I really eating?

They recommend consuming no more than 300mg of cholesterol every day and, thankfully, my weekly averages for cholesterol intake weren't that bad:

1/19: 147mg
1/26: 244mg
2/2: 281mg
2/9: 198mg
2/16: 336mg
2/23: 293mg

The one week I did go over, 2/16, is because I had pizza twice in one week.

As for sodium, I was shocked to see all my weekly averages well above the recommended 2300mg mark:

1/19: 3106mg
1/26: 3827mg
2/2: 3476mg
2/9: 4312mg
2/16: 3508mg
2/23: 3567mg

So now I'll be watching the sodium and cholesterol categories more carefully, and especially sodium. Who knew I had so much salt in my food? Instead of chips for lunch, I'll try cutting up bell peppers for that sweet crunchy goodness I'm so attached to.

Monday, March 02, 2009

+18.2 (∆ -0.8)

Since I'm almost halfway through my weight loss, I felt it was time to talk a little more about my milestones from the past.

About a week ago, I had the opportunity to go back and get my exact weight measurements from the last four years. It was rather enlightening because it showed me I had had a skewed impression of how much weight I had gained, and when. I was shocked to find, for instance, that I was at only +8 four years ago, although I had been convinced my weight hadn't dipped below +16/+17 since the turn of the millenium.

Here are the numbers:


So my major next mileposts to cross are +16, +15, and +8. I'm pretty sure I'm only a couple of weeks away from +16, but when I get below +8, I'll feel an enormous sense of accomplishment since I got to +8 from +16 by using a specific diet program.