s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: February 2008

Friday, February 29, 2008

П is for Понятно

When I was in Russian 101, we had class five days a week: four days with Dr. Lundberg, our professor, and one day with his graduate TA.

We liked our professor fine (he's still one of my all-time favorite professors at BYU), but sometimes we felt more comfortable asking our TA questions because she was closer to our age and a fellow student. Also, Dr. Lundberg tried to conduct class entirely in Russian as much as possible (albeit with a lot of miming and gesturing to help us out) and our TA was willing to talk to us in English.

One day one of us asked her: "What does the word 'Понятно' [Ponyatne] mean? Dr. Lundberg says it a lot when he's giving us an in-class assignment and we don't know what it means, so we just kind of smile and nod."

"Wait—Dr. Lundberg has been saying 'Понятно?' and you've been nodding your heads without understanding what he's saying?"

"Um, yeah."

She laughed. "'Понятно?' means 'Do you understand?'"


(And, thereafter, we did.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I say, old chap

I watched a TV movie over the weekend which featured a bunch of evil guys chasing some good guys. (And possibly a talking car.) Anyway, you could tell that one of the evil guys was extra evil, because he had an English accent, and it made me think about the markedness of English accents in American television and film. In my observation, English accents can signify (or amplify the signals) that a character is any of the following:

1. Evil
2. Brainy
3. Sexy

There are also a number of reality TV show hosts who would not have their jobs, I'm convinced, if it were not for their English accents. (Since I assume they are not meant to be evil and reality TV show chatter is hardly brainy, I suppose we're going for "sexy," here.)

On the flip side, it's interesting to think about what the lack of an English accent signifies, namely, on TV shows where a character is played by a British actor, but has an American accent. I guess it wouldn't make sense for Battlestar Galactica's Apollo to have a British accent when his dad and brother don't, nor do Chuck's aunts on Pushing Daisies, but there's no reason that Dr. Gregory House couldn't be British. Except that, for American audiences, British accents are marked, so it would distract from the character, I think. With Hugh Laurie doing an American accent, we're free to concentrate on other aspects of his character (and he was free to mock Chase for his accent).

Of course, Americans are equally stereotyped on British TV, where an American accent generally signals someone who is rich, ignorant, or vulgar. I guess turnabout is fair play.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Another infraction

The other morning I had NPR on and was listening to someone being interviewed about some war, when I caught another misuse of the word "literally." Alas, I can't remember who it was or what, exactly, they said. But the context was something like this:

"Turkish troops are literally playing with fire in northern Iraq . . ."

This would be a standard overstatement of the situation except that, ironically*, things wouldn't be so bad if the statement were literal. (There would probably be a lot fewer casualties if they really were just playing with fire.)

*According to someone (Elmore Leonard, perhaps?), you should never use the adverb "ironically," because if a situation you describe is truly ironic, your readers will be able to pick that up without being told so. So, in calling someone out for breaking one rule of style, I may be breaking another one. Ironically.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

R is for Resistor

One February when I was maybe 6 or 7, my mom and I went to Radio Shack. We approached a clerk and my mom said "Tell him what you want."

"I need a resistor," I said. (Only I may have said it "rethithtor," since my lisp wasn't corrected until I was in 3rd grade.)

"OK," he said, "What kind?"

"It doesn't matter."

He glanced at my mother and then patiently explained that they had many different types of resistors and it did matter which one I used.

"No, it doesn't," I insisted.

Looking a little pained that he had to deal with two such uninformed females, he again insisted that it did.

"Why don't you tell him what you need it for," my mom suggested.

After I explained, he agreed that it actually didn't matter what kind of resistor I got, so he'd show me where the cheapest ones were.

On Valentine's Day, my dad came home to find a card with two resistors bent into a heart and taped to the front. Inside it read "I can't resist you."

(My dad had been teaching me about electronic circuits, so I wanted to make him an electricity-themed valentine. Also, I meant to post this on Valentine's Day, but last week was crazy busy. Also also, I keep trying to write blog posts about my dad, but they end up being about other people, instead.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cat. & Reference: Serials vs. Monographs, part II

In our second-to-last episode, I discussed the differences between serials and monographs, mostly from a publishing standpoint. However, there are some types of publications which fall in between the two extremes, and could theoretically be approached either way.

A monographic series is a collection of books which are entirely self-contained, but which are all published by the same publisher (often a university press) and which all share the same general theme. (The Harvard East Asian Monographs series is one such example.)

Usually these books have the name of the series to which they belong somewhere on the cover or spine, and often they include a volume number. Sometimes they usually include a title page for the series, in addition to the normal title page, and they may include a list of all other volumes in the series at the end of the book. Otherwise, they look just like regular books.

So, are these cataloged as a series or as individual monographs? Well, the phrase "monographic series" kind of gives it away, but it's worth examining why it's preferable to catalog them as monographs.

Last time, I talked about monographs vs. seriels in terms of how they're published. Another way of looking at the difference is what I think of as "horizontal" vs. "vertical" similarity. Think of a bunch of books or magazines in a row. Monographs will be mostly self-contained, so I visualize them as being separated from each other by vertical lines. Serials, on the other hand, have a lot of similarities from issue to issue, such as title and subject matter.

For example, I have a subscription to Newsweek. If you look at any one issue by itself, it doesn't seem very cohesive. There are columns and articles on a range of topics and letters about articles that aren't even in that issue of the magazine. However, if you look at multiple issues, patterns start to appear: The same columns appear every week, as well as articles on the same topics, not to mention the fact that every issue bears the same name. I visualize all of these magazine issues as being connected horizontally, across issues.

I could, in theory, catalog each issue separately and assign separate subject headings, etc., to each issue. However, each issue would have virtually the same title as every other one, and they would all have the same subject assigned (Current events).

With the books in the monographic series, on the other hand, each issue has a separate title, author, and is on a separate specific topic. Since they all share a general theme, you could, in theory, make one record for all of them, but the subject access would be very general and a lot of other specific access points, such as title and author, would also be lost. (E.g., the books "A history of the early Korean kingdom of Paekche" and "Public spheres, private lives in modern Japan" would both be entered under "Harvard East Asian Monographs" and with the subject heading "East Asia," instead of the more specific subject headings of "Paekche (kingdom) -- History" and "Central-local government relations -- Japan -- History," respectively.) As I mentioned, there is some indication on each volume that it's part of a series, but the volumes are much more individually self-contained than they are similar to each other.

Homework: Find a book at home that you think can be cataloged either on its own or as part of a larger set and make an argument for which way you think it should be cataloged.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Chocolate, cars, commas, and self-criticism

I am giving up Mormon blogs for Lent. This is not to say that I am giving up reading all blogs by Mormons, rather, I am giving up reading the major Mormon group blogs, such as ZD, FMH, T&S, Exponent II, etc. (Happily, everything I miss will be recorded, so I can gorge myself in the archives, come Easter.)