Previous month:
November 2012
Next month:
January 2013

December 2012

Anti-Semantic: As Bad a Typo As It Gets

"According to US website TMZ, Mila Kunis has allegedly been targeted by a Ukrainian politician in an anti-Semantic rant." (Yahoo Screen and dozens of other websites and blogs posted this item uncorrected, including "anti-Semantic," which should be enshrined as Typo of the Year in the Anti-Semantic Hall of Shame. Bonnie Britt of the Bay Area Editors' Forum caught this typo and shared it with us and the forum listserv.)

Plato, Frank Zappa, and The Mothers of Invention

This is the first time I have ever seen Plato and Frank Zappa cited in the same article:

Necessity is the mother of invention
Meaning: Difficult situations inspire ingenious solutions. Origin: The author of this proverbial saying isn't known. It is sometimes ascribed to Plato, but no version of it can be found (by me at least) in his works. It was known in England by the 16th century, although at that point it must have been known to very few as it was then documented in its Latin form rather than in English. Many well-known proverbs appeared first in Latin and were transcribed into English by Erasmus and others, often as training texts for Latin scholars.

William Horman, the headmaster of Winchester and Eton, included the Latin form "Mater artium necessitas" inVulgaria, a book of aphorisms for the boys of the schools to learn by heart, which he published in 1519.

Roger Ascham came close to an English version of the phrase in his manual on how to use a longbow, which is by the way the first book ever written about archery, Toxophilus, 1545:

"Necessitie, the inuentour of all goodnesse."

George Chapman also had a "close but no cigar" moment with his tragic play The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, 1608:

"The great Mother, Of all productions (grave Necessity)."

The earliest actual usage of "necessity is the mother of invention" that I can find in print is in Richard Franck's Northern Memoirs, calculated for the meridian of Scotland. Originals of this text are difficult to locate, but it was republished in 1821, with a foreword by Sir Walter Scott. The frontispiece of the reprint states that the original was "writ in the year 1658." It contains this:

"Art imitates Nature, and Necessity is the Mother of Invention."

1658 seems the best date we have as the birth of the phrase in English.

Frank Zappa gave this phrase an extra lease on life when he chose the name of his inventive jazz/rock band in 1964—The Mothers of Invention. His use of "mothers" clearly had a ribald meaning that Erasmus wouldn't have approved of, but Zappa did at least keep the expression from dropping into "granny phrase" obscurity.
See More Phrases

Car Alarm: Your All-Purpose Security System

Put your car keys beside your bed at night. If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get in your house, just press the panic button for your car. The alarm will go on, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the car battery dies.

Next time you come home for the night and you start to put your keys away, think of this: It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation. Test it. It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key fob chain. It works if you park in your driveway or garage.

If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break into your house, odds are the bad guy won't stick around. After a few seconds, the neighbors will be looking out their windows to see who is out there, and sure enough, the criminal won't want that. And remember to carry your keys while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there. This is something that should really be shared with everyone.

Would also be useful for any emergency, such as a heart attack, where you can't reach a phone. My Mom has suggested to my Dad that he carry his car keys with him in case he falls outside and she doesn't hear him. He can activate the car alarm and then she'll know there's a problem.

(anonymous Internet posting)

California Coastal Commission Visits Devil's Slide Tunnels

Members and staff of the California Coastal Commission, accompanied by several local residents, visited the Devil's Slide tunnels construction project December 13. The tunnels are due to open this winter. Forest Mitch Southbound TunnelForest and Mitch Reid in the southbound tunnel
Forest and faux rock at portal entranceForest and faux rock at north portal (Mitch Reid photo)  Leaving Southbound Portal
Southbound tunnel portal (Mitch Reid photo)
South Portals November 2012
South portals, November 2012 (Mitch Reid photo)
Forest Mitch Reid John LynchForest and Mitch Reid with John Lynch (right) inside the southbound tunnel
Peoples Tunnel Bridge facing NorthBridge over Shamrock Ranch (John Maybury photo)
South San Francisco-20121213-00068Inside the southbound tunnel (John Maybury photo)
South San Francisco-20121213-00069 2Caltrans workers and California Coastal Commissioners in safety gear at the north portal (John Maybury photo)
South San Francisco-20121213-00072
Bridge over Shamrock Ranch, with Linda Mar in the distance (John Maybury photo)

John at North Portal
Juan "Fogzilla" Mayburrito at the north portal (Mitch Reid photo)