Jul 05

Go fish

Yikes! A man fishing in the Catawba River near Mount Holly, NC caught a piranha last week. And not a little one, either — this piranha weighed 1 pound 4 ounces, and bit the man’s pocketknife hard enough to leave marks on the blade.
I say “Yikes!” because I have gone swimming in the Catawba River.
Well, technically, I swam in Lake Wylie, but it amounts to the same thing. Lake Wylie is a South Carolina reservoir that was created by damming the Catawba. And Lake Wylie is downstream from where the piranha was caught.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a panic attack now.
UPDATE: In her comment, my mother relays the news that the fish wasn’t a piranha after all.

Jul 01

The five seasons

Raleigh Little Theatre‘s Cantey Awards ceremony was held last night, bringing down the curtain on the 2006-2007 season. I have now been volunteering at RLT for five complete seasons. I’ve written here about a few of the plays that I worked on during that time, but many of them didn’t get a mention. So what have I actually been doing with the last five years of my life? Here’s the complete list:
Once Upon a Mattress: Light board
A Streetcar Named Desire: Light board
Cinderella: Actor
The Dance on Widow’s Row: Sound
Production coordinator (lights & sound, main stage)
Dames at Sea: Props
Schoolhouse Rock Live: Follow spot
Cinderella: Actor
Honk!: Sound
Smokey Joe’s Cafe: Wireless microphones
Production coordinator (lights)
Pump Boys & Dinettes: Light crew chief, light board, follow spot
You Can’t Take It With You: Props
Cinderella: Actor
Divas!: Follow spot
Catfish Moon: Light crew chief
Carousel: Actor
Production coordinator (lights)
The Spitfire Grill: Assistant stage manager (ASM)
Cinderella: Actor
Wit: ASM
Divas!: Follow spot
James & the Giant Peach: Video projector
Candide: Actor
Production coordinator (lights)
Honky Tonk Angels: ASM
Cinderella: Actor
House of Blue Leaves: ASM and actor
Merlin and the Cave of Dreams: Light board
Garden of the Wild: Stage manager
That list doesn’t include shows on which I worked in a one-day-only capacity: set construction work call, strike, light hang and focus, or ushering. (For example, I didn’t officially work on The Full Monty last month — but I ushered at one performance, and I came to strike and helped dismantle the set. And of course I recruited the light crew chief for that show.)
And here’s what I’ve already signed up to do in the new season:
Production coordinator (lights)
The Battle of Shallowford: ASM
At first, I intended to explain each of those job titles here. But each one really deserves a blog post of its own.
UPDATE: My commitments for the new season are:
Production coordinator (lights)
The Battle of Shallowford: Actor
I didn’t expect to be cast in Shallowford, but I was. More on that later.

Jun 12

The plural of dwarf

In her new blog, Ruth asks, “Is it really spelled dwarfs? That just doesn’t sound/look right to me.” This seems like a simple question, and I thought I knew the answer. But when I searched the Web for confirmation, I found that this simple question opens a 55-gallon drum of worms.
The short answer is that “dwarfs” was the plural form of “dwarf”, until J.R.R. Tolkien came along. He didn’t like it, and in The Hobbit, he used “dwarves” instead. The Hobbit and its sequel, The Lord of the Rings, were so popular and influential that Tolkien’s preferred plural was imprinted in the minds of his readers, and was almost universally adopted by the fantasy fiction authors who came after him. (One notable exception is C.S. Lewis, who used “dwarfs” in his Chronicles of Narnia.) As a result, “dwarfs” looks odd and even wrong to many people today.
Of course that’s an oversimplification. As Mark Liberman points out in his Language Log essay, both plural forms existed in the early 19th century. Also, the word “dwarf” occurs outside of fairy tales and fantasy; in astronomy, it’s used to describe certains types of stars, such as a white dwarf. And, of course, it’s used in medicine to describe a disorder in which the patient does not grow to full adult stature. In these scientific contexts, the dominant plural form is still “dwarfs”.
But there’s another context in which we have all encountered the word “dwarfs”, and it’s the one that Ruth alluded to in her blog. It’s the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature. By one of those amazing coincidences that frequently crop up in popular culture, Snow White and The Hobbit were both unveiled in the same year: 1937. The dates are so close together (September 21 for The Hobbit, December 21 for Snow White) that it’s clear that neither work was influenced by the other. Snow White was in production for three years, and Tolkien began developing the story that became The Hobbit sometime in the late 1920s.
Disney’s dwarfs do look a lot like Tolkien’s dwarves, and both groups enjoy mining the earth for gems and precious metals. But the similarities pretty much end there. Tolkien’s dwarves, especially as described in the Lord of the Rings books, are grim, ale-guzzling, axe-wielding warriors. Disney’s dwarfs are happy and carefree, whistling while they work. Is one of these depictions more authentic than the other? What does the word “dwarf” even mean in the context of fantasy and folklore? I’ll tackle that question in another post.

Jun 05

We come in peace . . . ZAP!

According to this Science@NASA article, the MESSENGER probe will fly past the planet Venus today on its way to Mercury. As part of the flyby, MESSENGER will fire a laser at Venus. When MESSENGER reaches Mercury in 2011, it will shoot its laser at that planet too.
Is this really a good idea? How are the inhabitants of these planets going to react to unprovoked laser attacks by a probe from Earth? I hope this doesn’t set off an interplanetary war. At least we’re not attacking Mars yet — although the Martians are probably rather annoyed at us anyway, because of . . . well, just watch this video and you’ll understand why.

May 29


Several years ago, I wrote about a week in which my children passed several important milestones in their growing-up process. This time, we have two such events in one day. Today is Ruth’s twenty-first birthday, so she is now fully recognized as an adult by the laws of the land, even where the purchase of intoxicating spirits is concerned. And Ben is attending high school for the very last time; his final final exam is today. It’s all over but the graduating, baby!

May 23


I went to my dentist yesterday morning for some repair work; a bit of enamel had flaked away from the edge of an onlay that was installed a few months ago. In the afternoon, I visited my optometrist for my annual eye exam (no major change in my vision since last year). And yesterday evening, I got a haircut.
It wasn’t until later that I realized something. Yesterday was probably the first time in my life that I’ve sat in a dentist’s chair, an optometrist’s chair, and a barber chair in the space of a single day. And I’ll probably never do it again.

May 22

A long time ago

James Lileks reminds us that Star Wars premiered thirty years ago this week. If you saw that movie in a theater, you are old.
UPDATE: Argh. The Star Tribune site forces you to log in before allowing you to read that article. Use BugMeNot to bypass registration if you don’t want to create an account.

May 18

My accent

I wrote a couple of years ago about my bland, generic American accent. It seems to defy all attempts at classification; people who listen to me talk and then guess where I grew up virtually never get it right. So I couldn’t pass up an online quiz titled “What American accent do you have?” Here is the result I got:

What American accent do you have?

Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.

The Inland North
The Midland
The South
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

The Northeast? That’s just bizarre. I never lived there or even visited that region for more than a few days, and neither have my parents. Notice also that the quiz gives me only a middling grade for being Southern, even though I have lived my entire life in the South. Either this quiz is highly inaccurate, or I am just weird.

May 15

Name change

Metablogging (writing about your blog in your blog) is usually boring. But the name of this blog has changed, and I probably should explain why — even if that means I have to metablog a bit.
I’ve retired the Logopolis title. It didn’t really mean anything, and it wasn’t memorable or easy to spell. In addition, I want to make the blog less anonymous. The domain name is my name, and so is the address used in the “E-mail me” link. Why should the blog title be different? Consequently, as of May 12, the title is Pat Berry dot net. It’s just simpler that way.

May 07

The Horseshoe

Bob’s tale of escaping from The Towers to a much better room in the Horseshoe reminds me of my own experience a few years earlier. Ironically, I tried to get into the Towers, and later strove to get out of the Horseshoe.

When I was accepted at USC in the summer of 1978, I listed The Towers as my first-choice dorm on my housing application. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I was an idiot. I hadn’t actually visited The Towers and had no idea of how squalid they were. I picked them solely on the basis of their central location. Fortunately for me, there were no open slots in The Towers. In fact, there were no open slots in any dorm, and for a while it looked as if I wouldn’t be able to go to USC.

But a couple of weeks before classes were scheduled to start, I received a letter telling me that a housing slot had become available, and of course I took it without quibbling about which dorm it was in. Purely by chance, I ended up in the Horseshoe.

Specifically, I was in a room on the second floor of Legare, the building next door to Pinckney (where Bob would end up living a few years later). But Bob’s Horseshoe wasn’t the same as mine. In 1978, the dorms on the Shoe were better than the Towers, but they were shabby and in need of renovation.

My suite in Legare housed three people, including me. It consisted of one bedroom for two people (which I shared with George), another bedroom for one (occupied by Bubba), and a common room. The common room had three built-in desk/bookshelf units with chairs, a washbasin, and some empty floor space that Bubba filled with a sofa and a stereo set. No other furniture was provided. There was no kitchen, no bathroom (we had to go downstairs for that), and no air conditioning. Heat was provided by a radiator located against the front wall of the common room, as far from the bedrooms as possible.

Despite these flaws, my Horseshoe suite might have been an OK place to live. Bubba was an excellent roomate, very friendly and easygoing. But George was the opposite: unpleasant, disagreeable, and drunk most of the time. I was stuck sharing a room with him. (Why couldn’t the housing gods have put Bubba in the same room with me, and George in a room by himself?)

I gritted my teeth and put up with the situation for my first year at USC, but when it came time to apply for housing assignments for the following year, I was determined to move. I checked out the other dorms to see what the possibilities were. By this point, I knew to avoid The Towers. The men’s dorm called Preston was also not an option. If anything, it was worse than The Towers. There was actually a T-shirt that said “In Preston, no one can hear you scream . . .”

Bates West was one of the newest dorms on campus. It was located on the periphery of the campus, but I no longer cared about central location. The rooms were actually suites for four people: two double-occupancy bedrooms with desks, a full bathroom, a furnished common room, and a small but fully-functional kitchen. The building was a 14-story high-rise with elevators, central heat and air conditioning, a trash chute, and a laundromat in the basement. What more could you ask for?

I didn’t have to camp out like Bob did, but I requested and received a reassignment to Bates West. I lived there for the next three years, leaving only when, in my senior year, I obtained rent-free living quarters near the center of campus. (But that’s another story.)

The year after I left the Horseshoe, the university closed Legare and Pinckney, gutted them, and rebuilt the interiors. The renovated Horseshoe dorms were similar to Bates West internally, except that each four-person suite had four private bedrooms. Each suite had a balcony, too. So I can certainly understand why Bob was as eager to get into the Horseshoe as I had been to get out. His timing was much better than mine.