Monday, January 31, 2011


Since the concept has come up, in one form or another, in nearly all of my classes this semester, I thought it might be fun to explore the notion of tautology, or, as I might define it, redundant or circular reasoning or description.

In rhetoric (persuasion, argument), the concept is important for understanding faulty logic. One popular aphorism  goes: "Tautology is anything that is tautological." There we define by using the very thing which we are defining; this is the essence of logical tautology. An everyday example might be something like:
Peacelight is the best blog on the internet because there is no blog better than it.
The very definition of "best," according to Merriam-Webster, is "excelling all others;" thus, we are simply re-defining "best" ("no blog better") in the second part of the sentence, but proving nothing.

Credit: xkcd. (click to enlarge)

Delightfully, tautology does not end there. It extends, for instance, into the style of language and writing, as redundancy is one of its components. Consider the sentence:
Well-priced websites for personal and small business use were first introduced to the Huntingdon Valley area by ABC Innovations.
See any problems? The phrase "first introduced" is redundant; "introduced," by definition, means that this must be the "first" time it has appeared. The word "first," therefore, could be cut. This is the sort of thing my senior English teacher in high school, Mr. Moxey, would often emphasize. He would also talk about pleonasms: phrases which implicitly include unnecessary parts. Things like:
rising up
close proximity
end result
rough estimate
past experience
After all, can anything rise down? Does the result ever not come at the end? When was the last time you based a decision off of a future experience?

Tautology also shows up during translation. Rice pilaf, for instance, is redundant; pilaf means rice in the original Turkish (rice rice). Chai tea (tea tea, from Hindi), Sahara Desert (desert desert, from Arabic), and cheese quesadilla (cheese cheese-thing, from Spanish) are all similarly amusing.

 Last, but not least, we have acronyms. Ever hear anyone say "ATM machine?" How about "ISBN number," "PIN number," or "UPC code?" Wanna guess what M, N, N, and C stand for in those, respectively? "Please RSVP" is a sneaky one, as RSVP stands for the French "répondez s'il vous plaît," meaning "reply please," which makes "please RSVP" roughly "please reply please." Many examples center around technology, including:
LCD display
LAN network
POST test
VGA adapter 
In summary, this article is what it is. Any opinions I expressed within it are merely my opinions. And now, I would ask that any and all tautological jokes be posted below. Not that you can post them above.

Favorite Pastime

Engaging in cross examination is like pitching a baseball. Not that I have extensive experience with the latter, but, from what I understand, the two can indeed be compared.

In baseball, the pitcher has much to consider. Firstly, does he throw a pitch, or try and get the ball to one of the infielders in an attempted pickoff of a leading runner? While rare, such a decision is often important and requires thinking ahead and, for lack of a better phrase, outside the box.

Such is the case for the examining attorney. Should he wait until it is time to throw questions at the opposing witness, or, before doing so, should he interrupt the efforts of the direct examiner with objections? These, in some ways, are like pickoffs; they are attempts to stop the other team from getting where they wanted to go. If done successfully, these objections can prevent witnesses from giving certain testimony, touching on certain subjects, or, if you will, reaching the necessary bases.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TMT Headlines

Yesterday, the Tufts Daily featured an article all about Tufts Mock Trial.

The first page of the article, with a picture of a few members of the team.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Morality and Logic

As I am currently taking two philosophy courses, one international relations course, and one sociology course, I sometimes feel that I am really taking one, long, four-part class. In every reading, logic, morality, and critical thinking are brought up time and time again, in making rational choices, selecting words carefully, weighing the impacts of international decisions, or anticipating the reactions of society to those decisions. It's wonderful how it all interacts.

Would you execute the man?
That said, here is a dilemma that could have come from any of my textbooks. It happens to show up (paraphrased) in international relations:

A soldier is about to shoot (execute) three men, for he saw someone with their physical features commit murder. You reason, therefore, that two (if not all three) of these men are innocent. You protest, and the soldier hands you a pistol. "Shoot one of them, then," he says, "And the others can go free. I'm going to teach you that we can't be soft on crime."

What can you do? I suppose you could try and kill the soldier, but he has a much bigger gun than the one he handed you. Really, you are deciding between killing one man and saving two, or killing no men and condemning all three.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Just Chillin'

"Rational Choice" let out a surprisingly early on the first day, so I've just been chillin' in the dorm. Literally.

The view outside my window.

The temperature outside my window.
Nothing like a cool breeze to get you moving in the morning.

Anecdote: At one point in my overall journey back to school, I was in a car traveling to the Philadelphia International Airport with my good friend Eppie. While our immediate destinations were both the airport, or longer-term goals were somewhat distinct. One of us was headed for Disney World. Can you guess which one? (Hint: Scroll up)

Bring More Pages!

In the acclaimed 1993 hit CD-ROM game Myst, players were tasked with retrieving missing pages from either a Blue or Red book. As pages were added to either book, the audiovisual messages of the brothers trapped inside each became clearer. Each brother urged the player to bring more pages to complete his book, and not to trust his devious sibling. The game's ending was dependent upon the choices the player made in selecting whom to trust.

The books containing Sirrus and Achenar from Myst.
I intentionally do not link to the game's Wikipedia article, considering it has too many spoilers about the game's secrets and storyline. I highly suggest trying the game, and now I desire to play it - or, since I know how it ends, perhaps its sequels: Riven, Exile, Uru, Revelation, and End of Ages. I believe my household is currently in possession of at least two of those titles.

Until I return home to procure them, however, I will have to settle for the amusements I have with me at school - namely, classes. Never to fear; even the most challenging Philosophy courses can be tackled, page by page. The only question is, which notebook?

Team "Language, Thought, & Culture" or team "Rational Choice?"
I'm not really sure what more need be said, "and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written." - Atrus, Myst

Sunday, January 23, 2011

LTC: Language, Thought, & Culture

So, you're probably wondering, what is this LTC class all about? Okay, you probably weren't wondering that...but now you are. And that's because I used language to shape your thoughts!

Maybe that's not the strongest example, but the idea we're examining is essentially that: can the words we use (or have available to use) shape the way we experience and interact with the world? There may not be an easy answer to the question, but here are a few cool aspects of language to think about when trying to understand the types of questions we'll be addressing. These ideas are based on "Does Your Language Shape How You Think? By Guy Deutscher."

Remembering word gender, however, is impossible.
Word Gender
The English language doesn't do much with word gender. If you've got a table, it's a table. Refer to it with the gender-neutral pronoun "it," and you're good to go. But in many other languages, every noun is either "he" or "she," forcing speakers to think about gender more often in everyday speech. In fact, a Spanish speaker, for example, would be unable to tell you, "I was hanging out with my friend last night" without letting slip whether the friend was a girl or a boy; "amiga" or "amigo." In English, we can avoid mentioning it. A subtly, to be sure - but an important one? And what of inanimate it important whether a violin is masculine (Spanish) or feminine (German)? Would it change how the instrument was perceived - as being powerful or delicate, bold or elegant?

At least you can't get turned around with these.
Spacial Relations
In many modern languages, directions can be given with relation to the speaker: "Walk forward, turn left, my dorm is the third door on the right." But in some other languages, these relative directions do not exist; one must exclusively use cardinal directions: "Walk Eastward, turn North, my dorm is the third door to the East." This changes this quite a bit; these speakers are forced, from a young age, to be always aware of where North is, giving them an almost super-human sense of direction. What's more, they may actually perceive (or at least pay attention to) reality differently. Place them, for example, between two long tables, on each of which are placed identical objects. When facing either table, the objects are in the same order, left to right. For people with different sense of direction, these tables are not ordered the same at all; one has the first object Southward, the other Northward...something to which we rarely pay attention. Could this change the way people remember locations or events? What about the sense of the importance of self...for speakers of Guugu Yimithirr, pointing to one's self is actually nothing of the sort; it's pointing through one's self to the cardinal direction happening to lie behind.

Colors (or more accurately, Spectrums)
Seriously, "orange?"

Consider the color "orange" - isn't it really just a shade of red? Consider that some languages separate colors differently. In some African languages, there is no distinction between green and vocabulary, that is. Of course, any human can see the same colors, but if we classify them differently, do we pay attention to different differences? If we had more words to distinguish, for instance, different shades of "blue," might we start to "see," or observe, differences previously ignored? If we stopped using "orange" and just dealt in shades of red and yellow (a notion of which I am a fan), might we begin to give less value to that which is the exact shade of red currently exalted as orange? Already, there are people who split the color spectrum differently in our language...ever have anyone call it "red" when it's clearly "pink," or "blue" when you know it's  "navy?" It all depends on which words are in your everyday vocabulary...or your language.

He's watching you.
In the language Matses of Peru, sentences are structured such that you cannot merely state facts, but must include the way in which you came about the knowledge. Any sentence unavoidably contains the differentiation between a fact observed, assumed, relayed from another person, etc. You could not say "Ben is in the room," you would essentially be choosing between "Last time I saw him, Ben was in the room," or "Ben told me that he would be in the room." But you couldn't be certain, since you are not in the room. If one were raised to speak in this way, might he not have a new perception of truth? Of certainty? Of reliability? And think of the implications for the legal system...we'd have to rewrite the hearsay laws!

Ask the tralfamadorians.
In Chinese, one needn't think about time when speaking. Whereas in English, one must say "I wrote the Blog post," "I am writing the Blog post," or "I have written the Blog post," this is not necessary; the same verb can be used for all three. Do speakers of the language, therefore, pay less attention to sequence of events? Or, at the very least, are they concentrating less on the timing and more on the substance of events?

The list goes on, and the point is not necessarily that language constrains or changes that which its speakers can think, but perhaps that language affects what its speakers tend to think about most. As more exotic examples, clever situations, and fascinating possibilities arise, you will find them here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

That Week Went By Quickly

I just returned from my first day of classes, or should I say my first week; I have but a single recitation on Fridays, so my weekend is essentially in effect (forgiving, of course, tonight's Mock Trial).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brown and Blue, and Sometimes Gray

The thud jolted me awake. We had landed, abruptly, on the snowy black runway of Logan International.

The last time I had looked out the window, we had been surrounded by a sky of white. The time before, a pale blue filled the air, the sun shimmering from just out of sight. Here it was dark, but white at the same time. The sky was paradoxically dull and bright, like the snow on the ground, piled high by plows and refrozen since its earlier debut. Everywhere, things were shades of gray: black pavement, white snow, and gray skies.

Gray, the in-between color. The color opposing opposites, blending day and night, coming and going, arrival and departure. Gray, indeed, was the mood of the landing. I had returned to Massachusetts, but was I ending my winter vacation, or rather beginning my second trip away from home? Had I returned home, or left it?

It was a time of transition, too; between Philadelphia and Boston, between computer work and school work, high school friends and university friends. But that moment was no more a transition than the entire day, the entire year, or my entire post-secondary experience. I was in a great period of transition.

I am in a great period of transition.

I'm beginning a new type of semester. "Spring" Semester they call it. Makes you think of green grass and chirping birds. Tell that to the thermometers. But at the end, there will be spring. The grass will start to grow. I won't be starting.

In times of transition, many things may not be as simple as black and white, but some things are still certain. For one, I'm back.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Do uShuffle?

While everyone else is scrambling over new and improved iTouch and iPod 4G, I'm more than satisfied with my  new  powder-blue iPod Shuffle. It's standing in for my iPod Classic 5G (which someone reading this will insist should be called the iPod Video), which, although it boasts a superior 30 GB of storage space, is often left unused. With a phone, wallet, keys, and who knows what else to carry around, I simply don't have pocket space for a bulky iPod.

Yes, it's really that small.
The fact is, when I'm listening to music alone, it's classical music, and I'm using it to study. If I wanted to listen to fun music, I'd be doing so with friends. It's called an iPod, after all; it's a very individual device. So what better type to have than one that weighs less than half an ounce (literally), and just plays a continuous loop of classical music? Sure, there's no screen, but that's okay; I don't care which piece of music is playing. Thanks to the screen-less-ness, the battery (at least according to Apple) lasts 15 hours, which sounds perfect to me.

So let's examine the device in a little more depth. It's really pretty cool.

iPod Shuffle 4G in five colors
The fourth generation Shuffle was released in September of 2010 in five colors (pink, blue, green, yellow, silver) and one storage capacity: 2 GB. The entire device weighs next to nothing (0.44 ounces) and measures roughly one square inch and one centimeter in depth. There are seven different buttons on the device; the face has two volume controls (+/-), two song selection controls (next/previous), and one play/pause button. The top features a VoiceOver button and a three-setting power slider.

Holding down play/pause "locks" the button controls, so that accidentally pressing them has no effect. Tapping the VoiceOver button announces the current song's name and artist in an automated voice, while double tapping announces battery status, and holding the button reads playlist options. The power options include off, play songs (in order), and play shuffled.

The 4G reverts to the 2G style, but better.
For input/output, the iPod has merely a single audio port, which connects both the headphones and the USB adapter (for charging and data transfer). On the back of the device is an aluminum clip and the Apple logo. The formatted capacity is roughly 1.84 GB (about 250 songs or 20 hours of music). Considering the battery is going to die before the playlist loops, I'm content.

So go ahead, iTouch/iPhone owners. Flaunt your app-filled, touch-screen, double-digit-gigabyte-capacity devices. My Apple product doesn't have a backlight to adjust, screen to scratch, or a hard drive to break. It's just pure music, as a music player should be.

And now, announcing the 2011 colors for Apple iPhone: Sour-Grapes Purple and Envy Green...

Hats Off to Tufts Startups

I knew from the beginning that it would be a real turn-off to use this Blog to self-promote my comprehensive computer repair and web design services, so I have yet to post on the topic. I do not, however, feel that the same modesty need be applied in discussing other people. It is from that logic that I now begin to kvell on behalf of the early successes and growth of BeaBug's Hats, started by my dear friend and fellow Tufts freshman, MayaBea.

Ever wonder what Tufts kids do in their free time? The answers are endless, but one surprisingly popular response is "run a business." Graphic design, dorm-brewed coffee, and, sure enough, crocheted hats can all be requested from Jumbos across campus. In the spirit of the effort not to focus on my extensive website portfolio or raving testimonials, let's talk about the hats. Or, rather, let's show them off:

Photo credit: MayaBea (BeaBug) of

Photo credit: MayaBea (BeaBug) of

Photo credit: MayaBea (BeaBug) of
That's right folks, those hats and many more are organically student-made, locally crocheted head-wear. The newest designs come with pom-poms, ear flaps, flowers, and more. (Want to see more? Shop around)

So whether your a prospective freshman wondering if Tufts students have awesome, creative, and marketable skills and hobbies, a Jumbo who has his or her own business to be proud of (or can be proud of his/her friend's), or anyone of any age who needs a hat, now you know.

Run a small business? Know someone who does? Comment below! We'd love to check out your stuff!