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the only diaphragm approved by god
march 1, 2003
We had a storm Monday night, it went on for hours, ice rattling against the skylight. I woke up Tuesday, fed the cats, got the coffee going, then looked out the French door into our backyard garden. I don't know what I expected to see, maybe some dampness still on the patio, but in fact the entire yard was buried in white.
Later, after Mary was up, we stood side by side on the landing leading to the second floor, looking out that window at the front of our home.
Our driveway was a solid sheet of ice, gray and gleaming like the belly of a fish. There were absolutely no tire treads whatsoever on the street that passes our front yard.
That was fine with us, we weren't planning on going out anyway, but then it occurred to us the storm might delay the shipment of Mary's new computer from Dell. Sure enough, on the UPS tracking site, it read, SHIPMENT RESCHLD February 25, WEATHER OR NATURAL DISASTER. Instead of arriving by the end of this past week, the delivery was now pushed back to next Monday or Tuesday.
Mary made a disappointed face.
But early Wednesday evening, we were both upstairs, me in my study, working on a new site structure for SENTENCE, Mary sewing some curtains in her study, when I heard her say, "It's here! It's here!"
She was already halfway down the stairs by the time it registered on me what she was talking about.
We opened the front door, letting in the freezing cold air that always smells so much cleaner, cats backing off, the UPS guy grinning, wheeling the first of three boxes into our foyer.
Upstairs, we opened the CPU box first, me sliding my hands between the protective styrofoam braces on either side, and the cardboard walls of the carton, pulling the tower out, tendons flexing, like delivering birth.
The cats went wild with the empty cartons, and the cardboard configurations inside, tails whipping left, right in excitement at how much there was to destroy.
There's always that moment when you turn on something expensive and unfathomable, when you fear it's not going to work, but the welcoming screen came up right away. Huge sigh of relief.
Since Mary works with graphics quite a bit, I insisted she buy Dell's UltraSharp flat screen display. We got the 18.1 inch model, all of it viewable space. The resolution is amazing. We looked at some jpg files, and it was like looking at film, that same fine grain reproduction.
She's got 512 RAM now, running at 3.02 GHz, with a 120 gigabyte hard drive and a read/write DVD and CD drive.
Friday we had someone from Comcast come out to hook Mary's computer up to broadband cable (I'm still canoeing along on 56k dial-up).
The speed is amazing. We looked at the Flash movie Mary made in tribute to her mom, located on her site here, and even though the file is huge, it loaded immediately, images and music staying in perfect sync. After that, we found a movie preview site on apple.com and watched a bunch of movie trailers together. It was a fun evening.
I studied too many languages in school.
I had French in grade school, Spanish and Latin in high school, German in college.
I could have stuck with one language through the years, in which case I no doubt would have mastered it, but by trying so many, I wound up remembering none. About all I know how to say in all four languages now is "Yes".
So when I happened to notice a link on Google for Language Tools, I was intrigued.
I tried a similar automatic translating software on Alta Vista a year or so ago, Babel Fish. The results weren't that good. They reminded me of one of the first automatic translating programs that had been developed a couple of decades ago. I forget its name, but it was supposed to be able to translate from English into Russian, and Russian into English. It actually worked pretty well on simple statements, but then someone thought to put in an idiomatic phrase, in this case, "out of sight, out of mind", translate it into Russian, then use the same software to translate the translation back into English. It retranslated as, "invisible madman".
That was quite a few years ago though, so I decided to give the new Google software a chance, using the same methodology of translating an English passage into another language, then translating it back into English.
The test text I chose is the opening paragraph of my short story The Rape, which is reproduced below:
I started with German. Here's the translation:
And here's the retranslation:
I had to go back to the original text to figure out what "flickering hips, after a Mrs." corresponded to. It's "the hips' flare forming a woman's behind." Turning "flare" into "flickering" was somewhat excusable, but where the hell did "Mrs." come from? I looked at the German text, and of course realized that in the original English to German translation the German software had translated "woman" as "Frau", which is correct, but then in retranslating, it had chosen another meaning of "Frau", the title "Mrs." That's also correct, but of course it scrambles the meaning of the passage.
Here's the same text in French:
That comes out as:
Here "flare of the hips" comes out as "rocket of the hips". French may be the language of love, but "soft and deprived cavities", I submit, does not hold a candle guttering in a lover's hand to "soft, private hollows".
The last language I tested was Spanish:
And retranslated into English:
Here "flare" came out as "blaze". "Bent back" wound up being "dubbings behind", but even more absurdly, "the iris of God" became "the diaphragm of God". (It took me a moment to realize the software apparently meant "diaphragm" in the sense of limiting the aperture of a lens, and there is in fact, with cameras, an "iris diaphragm", so the word selection did kind of make sense, even though that sense mangled the sense of my sentence; when I first read the retranslation the meaning I associated with "diaphragm" was as a birth control device, which made me think how incredibly powerful "diaphragm of God" would be as an advertising slogan. "The only diaphragm approved by God." Can you imagine how popular that particular diaphragm would be? Manufacturers of competitive diaphragms would be jumping out the windows of their corner offices. I mean, you'd have someone like Michael Jordan be the official spokesperson for, say, Stalwart Diaphragms, and everybody at Stalwart would be chortling at getting him as their endorser, all these middle-aged men gleefully calling each other 'Dude', rubbing their palms together, expressing mock sympathy for how the honchos at Steadfast Diaphragms were going to react once they heard about the signing, then all of a sudden, following Jordan's quick dribble up to the camera, his grin, his sincere endorsement, there follows this commercial for fucking Steadfast Diaphragms, just scrolling white text on a black background: "I created everything in Heaven and on Earth, and the only diaphragm I approve of is Steadfast Diaphragm. - Fucking God." (The commercial of course wouldn't actually end, "Fucking God", it would just end, "God", but that would be the adjective endlessly affixed to the noun at the next meeting of Stalwart Diaphragms.) Then I thought about the phrase some more: "diaphragm of God." The "of" started to bother me. It suggested God used a diaphragm. We've been talking over the years more and more about maybe God being female, rather than male, but even if this is true, why would God need a diaphragm? Wouldn't that be, like, the ultimate "all dressed up and no place to go" scenario? But who knows? Maybe the God of our universe is a teenage girl. That would certainly explain some of the wild colors discovered by the Hubble telescope).