Saturday, December 25, 2010

Etymology of "Christmas"

It's interesting that the earliest record of the use of the term Christ Mass comes more than a millenium after the putative birth of Jesus.
"The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. Hence, Xmas is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas."
According to the "On-line Etymology Dictionary" Christ Mass was first written as one word around the mid-14th century (1300's).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the company of kittens/cats

To my utter delight, tiny Alice has taken to spending her days with me in my study, cuddling up while I work on the computer.

The four kittens -- Tippecanoe, Tyler Two, Eli and Samantha -- born earlier in the spring, having grown up together are more oriented towards each other than they are to snuggling with the humans (not that they never do it).  Little Alice, separated from her siblings does play with the older kitties, but is strongly oriented towards me in a very companionable way.  She reminds me very strongly both in looks and temperament of my Cricket cat, who was my companion for twenty-one years . Hope Alice has as long and healthy a life as Cricket did.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

life lessons from computer solitaire

This morning, as I often do while waiting for all my programs to load first thing in the morning, I play some games of solitaire, rather than just sit there and stare at the screen. Suddenly I was struck by the idea that there were important life lessons to be learned from computer solitaire.
  • Some days you lose more than you win, but you can always start over and the next game may be a winner.
  • When you reach a dead end, its best to stop fruitlessly trying the same thing over and over, and start afresh.
  • Sometimes the end isn't the end -- you just have to be willing to give up some of what you've already gained, take a few steps backward and head in a different direction.  You'll lose points that way, but you will accomplish your goal. 
It occurs to me that the last one applies to the current political scene.  Principles are important, and we shouldn't give up on them. As much as it goes against principle, maybe it is the right thing to make concessions in one area (temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich) and lose some points, in order to advance a larger agenda - tax cuts for the middle and working classes.

Of course one more important lesson from solitaire is:
  • Sometimes, when you've taken some steps backward, and tried a new direction, you still end up losing. Then its time to dust oneself off and start anew.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Things I wish I'd known three months ago

We made the decision to buy a new manufactured house to put on our property in late August or early September. The existing house, also a manufactured double-wide, was installed (incorrectly) thirty-one years ago, and to make a long story somewhat shorter is simply falling apart in a way that is not reasonable to repair.  Moreover, the way it was installed (big raw hole dug in the ground and house plopped down in it), makes it impossible to put another manufactured home on the same site.

So we spent some time walking around the property and decided on a good location for to put a new house and armed with the dimensions of that space started shopping around.

Two things I wish we'd known then that we know now is: One, our electrical utility American Electric Power/Kentucky Power has a 100 foot right-of-way around their overhead high power transmission lines (50 feet on either side of the center line), and so even though the lines are more than 30 feet above the valley running from mountain top to mountain top, the power company's right away takes a huge slice out of one end of our property -- the end where we wanted to put the new house.  After a couple of weeks of uncertainty we ultimately found a new place to locate the house, but had we known about the power company's right of way before we started we might have chosen a smaller, or at least differently configured house. The second thing I wish I'd known was that the costs of financing the loan (origination fees, title searches, points, etc.) would be more than $9000 above the cost of the house itself; that knowledge definitely would have lead to choosing a smaller, less expensive house.

By the time we'd learned both these things the house we had decided on had already been ordered, and although we were not legally bound to purchase it, we felt moral and ethical obligations, plus, by this time we really liked the house we'd chosen.

Those are the two biggies, but there are many, many smaller things I wish I'd known.  I wish I'd known that everything always takes longer than everyone says they will, and that once winter weather sets in all bets are off on the timing of construction activity. Of course we thought, three months ago, that we'd be in our new house before Thanksgiving. That was before the power company right-of-way debacle.

I wish I'd been given a complete and clearly detailed list of all the various tasks that would have to be done, that indicated for each item whether this was something we had to hire workers/contractors ourselves and pay for ourselves or something for which the home seller was responsible. I learned that "oh we'll help you take care of that" means that we're really responsible, and that all the seller is providing is names and phone numbers. But most of all I wish I'd known that just because the manufactured housing company recommends workers (like electricians) doesn't mean that they actually know what they are doing -- we failed electrical inspection the first time around, so more delays. We learned that when people focus too much on trying to "save you money" they can make stupid and costly mistakes.

I wish I'd known about all the different types of inspections, and that you had to pay the inspectors; and I wish that I had known which inspectors were perfunctory and which picky about details. I wish I'd known the level of detail you are suppose to know about your septic system  -- and the artistic skill required to draw the map free hand -- before trying to get health department approval.

I wish some one had spelled out for me the exact time sequence that things have to be done in -- I'm still not clear about the necessary order for electrical hook up and septic hook-up, and just hope that the timing comes out right.
I wish I'd known how small a load 4 tons of gravel really was, and how far (not very) it would go. I would have opted for a larger load.

I've been thinking that someone, maybe me, should write down all the things to expect; but then I wonder how generalizable to others situations are the things I've learned?