Last updated September 27, 2000

Stories I often tell that struck me as worth writing down.

If your favorite story of mine isn't here, remind me. (If you're Elizabeth, tell me how it goes, too.)
If I got it wrong, correct me.

Sometimes the universe provides irresistable straight lines:

Odd things, heard or read:

From the New Ways to Come Out to your Coworkers department: During a rather silly awards ceremony, one of those MCs who likes to tease people who come to the mike gets more than expected...

(Long exchange about hometowns, education, etc. deleted.)
MC: "Married or single?"
Me: "Single."
MC: "So, are you in the market?"
Me: "No."
MC: "Well, that certainly sounded definitive... not interested? Why not?"
Me: "Long-term boyfriend."
MC: (pause, blinks) "Oh. Um, how long?"
Me: (not saying "about six inches, how about you?", or even "that's rather a personal question, don't you think?" because they didn't occur to me) "A little under ten years." (audience cheers)
MC: "Wow... what's the secret of your success? I've been married several times and my longest has only been eight."
Me: "Well, I guess my first secret is not being you."
MC: (drops mike)

From a document I'm reviewing:

"Possible methods to map this data [high frequency errors and root causes] involve fishbone analysis."

Which I quoted, adding the note:

"Entrail analysis is generally more accurate, although admittedly messier and more expensive. I've also gotten good results from runestones."

A coworker replied:

"There is a mathematical function known as a Poisson distribution. Perhaps that is what the writer had in mind."

In response to the following:

my pilot thinks you and i are having dinner at christophers at 6:30. (and paulo) does your head (or your pilot) think the same thing?

Came the following:

My pilot doesn't think at all (as far as I can tell), but my head (upon looking at my pilot's data) thinks the same thing.

Well, it thinks something analogous, at least. It's a tricky problem, actually -- the proposition "you and I are having dinner" could be said to mean one thing when you say it ("Dave and Robin are having dinner") and a different thing when I say it ("Robin and Dave are having dinner"). But possibly those are really the same thing, since they describe the same event -- it's not like "my brother and I are having dinner" which could be true of me and false of you or vice-versa. On the other hand, the connotations are different... the propositions "X and Y are having dinner", "Y and X are having dinner", "X is having dinner with Y", and "Y is having dinner with X" seem to reflect subtly different assumptions about the relative importance of X and Y to the speaker (at least at the time of utterance). So in some sense they don't *mean* the same thing, though they describe the same state of the world, because they describe (or at least reflect) a different state of the observer. On a third hand (or is that fourth?), our respective usages of "you and I" might simply reflect the fact that both of us have embedded the superficial grammatical rule that "I" comes last in structures of that sort, in which case we might both have the same thought and (coincidentally) be expressing it the same way, by means of the two transpositions reversing each other. Or we might both be expressing the internalized belief that the other has contextual primacy -- that is, we might both have the belief "you are more important in the phrase 'you and I are having dinner' than I am", or more properly (avoiding the use-mention problem), "the thing 'you' refers to in the phrase 'you and I are having dinner' is more important in the context of that phrase than the thing 'I' refers to." Which simply compounds the problem of reference.

As I say, it's a tricky problem.

In any case, I'll see you at Christopher's at 6:30.

The Hebrew name of God is written as a tetragrammaton of yud-hey-vuv-hey, four vowel-less letters generally transliterated into English as YHVH and variously rendered as "Jove," "Jehovah," "Yahweh," etc.

I rather sympathize with God in this respect... nobody ever got my name right either when I was growing up, and for the same reason. I was a Cuban student in an Orthodox Yeshiva, and nobody quite knew what to do with "Policar". Rendered into Hebrew without diacritic marks it becomes pay-lamed-kuf-resh, or FLKR.

In third grade I won a contest, and they announced to an auditorium full of students that "Dovid Felker" had won. Everyone (including me) looked around muttering "Who? Never heard of him. Who is this guy? I thought the contest was just for students?" and so forth, until someone finally twigged.

Luckilly, nobody has ever tried to worship me under any of my variant names, so the effects are relatively mild.

At a previous job, my boss and I would often comment that one argument or another was fundamentally pilpul. In response to a coworker's request for a translation came:

"Pilpul" refers to the classic Hebrew legal tradition of interpreting the Bible to answer legislative questions. This involves elaborate and somewhat surreal argumentation from various rabbis... along the lines of:

My first community service project in college was renovating a recently closed juvenile detention facility for use as a battered women's shelter. Due to the vastly different architectural assumptions of these two institutions, much existing construction was slated for disposal.

First we knocked a 200-pound metal door off its hinges and tossed it in the yard (BOOM!), then I tackled the thick metal supporting trim, riveted to a cement doorframe. Screwdriver in one hand, crowbar in another, hammer in... well, I'm not sure where the hammer was, actually... I tapped, banged, and pried until the crowbar was firmly seated between trim and doorframe, then grasped the other end firmly and pulled.
   Nothing happened.

Braced against the wall with my other hand, took a deep breath and heaved.
   No effect.

Planted my right foot against the wall and heaved.
   Nothing. Well, the trim may have giggled a bit, but I wouldn't swear to it.

Gripped the bar with both hands... planted both feet against the wall... straightened out. Well, tried to. The crowbar, trim, and I quickly reached a stable state. The question was which would give out first -- me or the trim? Minutes pass; I growl and heave, wondering.

Something smacks me hard on the back of the head. Huh? What? My back's against a wall... huh? The door trim is intact, but... across the room? With a piece of metal stuck in it. Huh? Man, my head hurts. Stand up, dazed... how did I end up across the room? There's a piece of metal in my hand... crowbar? No, too small.

Looks just like the piece of metal embedded in the trim, though.

Whirr... whirr... click. It's half a crowbar. Half in my hand. Half in the trim. The crowbar broke.

Huh? The crowbar broke? That's not supposed to happen.

Wander up to the lady running the show, still a bit befuddled. "Where can I get another one of these?" I ask her, holding up my hand, still keeping the grip of death around half a crowbar. "Hardware store around the corner," she replies, unfazed.

Wander up to the guy at the hardware store. "I need another one of these." From him, I get an odd look. "Aisle 4."

Sure enough, aisle 4 is full of crowbars. I bought a new one. But... I dunno... they all look kinda flimsy now, don't you think?

Anyway, I never did take down that trim. For all I know, it's still there to this day, telling all its fellow architectural elements about the day it broke some stupid freshman's crowbar...