Mechanical

Drunkard's Walk

In computer science there is a search algorithm known as the drunkard's walk (known boringly but diplomatically as a "random walk"). It's a long story, but basically, imagine an infinite city where you can only head north, south, east and west. In an infinite amount of time, will a drunk leaving a bar and always heading in a random direction every block get back to his bar? Two or fewer dimensions, yes, the drunk will always return to his bar. In three or more dimensions, all bets are off.¹

The last drunkard's walk I took in real life was on the south bank of the River Thames. Not the Thames River. The River Thames. You've probably heard about the Mississippi River. You've probably heard about the Amazon River. You've probably not heard about the Thames River. You see, the Thames River is a river in Ontario, Canada. The "River Thames", however, flows through London. It is not the "Thames River".

I suspect this is a holdover from the year 1066, when William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy (for Americans: Normandy is in France), strolled into England, shot an arrow through the king's eye and moved into his flat, hoping no one would notice. That's why, even to this day, we refer to shooting an arrow through someone's eye as "the Battle of Hastings." Thus, France ruled England, French became the official language, and the English taught the French how to surrender. Today it's estimated that 40% of modern English is derived from the French language. That's why if you pronounce a polysyllabic word with a French accent, it's often the same word in French. For example, the word "imagination" in French is imagination, though presumably without the italics. This led to _sister_madly_ visiting France and trying to describe American jelly as full of "preservatives". Regrettably, the word she used was preservatif. This is the French word for "condom". Had she been referring to KY Jelly, everyone would have nodded like a savant and made passes at her.

Getting back to the "River Thames", the French have the habit of referring to the noun first and the adjectives just show up late to the party. You do not have a red car. You have a car red (la voiture rouge).² It takes English speakers a bit to get used to, but really, it makes sense. You hear the important information up front and the less important information gets skipped if the speaker is momentarily interrupted by, say, a guillotine.

Frankly, I've never quite understood the guillotine. In the 18th century France, the Enlightenment was more popular than Starbucks. Then the French decided the best way of spreading their enlightened principles was via the guillotine. For a while, it seemed like being French was synonymous with being guillotined. Prodded on by Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, a name sure to lead to fits of giggles today, the French "Reign of Terror" spread and beheadings became a popular spectator sport. They enlightenedly guillotined their King, they enlightenedly guillotined their probably innocent queen and, in a fit of real enlightenment, they finally, and ironically, guillotined Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre.

Regrettably, this little drunkard's walk is in three dimensions (as I'm moving forward in time), not two, so I won't be able to neatly wrap this up by returning us to the Thames (or discussions of search algorithms), but I'll leave you with this little tidbit: in the US, friends often ask if it's "too early" to order beer at lunchtime. In the UK, this is a silly question. If you want beer, drink beer. If you don't want beer, don't drink beer. I wanted beer, so I had it. Then I hopped on LJ after returning to my hotel room and hence this slight diversion from whatever else you were doing.

And what shall I do with my evening? Beer, I think. Perhaps upon the Thames.

1. And if you know anything about the math behind this, you know I did a hell of a lot of hand-waving. Shut up. My friends in music, photography, bookbinding, and many other areas simplify their explanations, too. Otherwise, I'd feel like an idiot when they try to explain things.

2. Unbeknownst to many Christians, the Sabbath is not on Sunday. It's Friday sundown to Saturday sundown (or simply Saturday to some). Sunday is what's actually known in Christianity as "The Lord's Day". The Catholic Church claims they transferred the solemnity of the Sabbath from the Sabbath to the Lord's Day and any Christian church whose worshipers rested on Sunday were implicitly acknowledging the authority of the Catholic Church. By the same token, I suppose that anyone who refuses to refer to the "River Tames" as the "Thames River" is still acknowledging that France rules England.
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OK, fixed now, but the spell checker tried to change that to Pretoria. Sometimes I wonder how my computer comes up with this stuff.

In other news, I tried to send a text message to a friend (who had also recently moved to London) reading "Dude, we live in London!" My phone "helpfully" tries to suggest not just how to spell words, but which words would best complete whatever sentence you're typing. The phone tried to write "Dude, we live in Texas!"

I almost threw my phone away at that point. Technology is creepy.
That's only awesome because it's not my phone. :) I would have blown it up, just to make sure the demons were properly exorcised.
I'm hoping to get some beer off the River Brent if all goes well. (Actually it's the Brent River).

There are some really nice riverside pubs in Isleworth-- which isn't far from Hayes. Have you been?
How weird! I heard the phone ring, but I didn't get to it in time. Did it ring and then make the modem sound, or did it not ring at all?

That sucks that I missed your call! We need to buy a new phone I think.

If you are free tomorrow, email me!
It's when you have writings like these that I can almost see you sucking on beer in my living room entertaining everyone. You have a great gift of storytelling.
Well, I think I've already done that a time or two :) Unfortunately, my writing is better than my speaking. I get to go back and edit!
Of course it's never too early to have beer, what kind of a civilised society doesn't allow you that privilege? There are pubs in or around Spittlefield that open very early (around 3am) especially for the purpose of a swift one before you go home serving the meat, veg & flower markets staff who start work at 3.30am. The fact that it can coincide with the end of someone else's night out is an added bonus!

I frequently got "looks" from my colleagues in San Francisco for ordering wine with lunch. For God's sake, it's lunchtime, I'm in a nice restaurant with a good wine list, I'd like a glass of wine.

I never thought about the naming convention, but you're right, all the rivers in the UK are "The River (insert name)". I've learned a new thing today, and for that, I thank you.
When I lived in NYC I used to drink wine with my boss at the lunch hour. He was Italian and NYC is NYC, but sometimes I think that the West Coast is more puritanical about alcohol.
Well, that's one mystery off my list. I always wondered why people from St. Louis say "Highway 99" instead of "99 Highway" like we do in Kansas City. They also butcher every French word they were given over there - I'm pretty sure they're the reason Versailles (a small town in Missouri) is pronounced with both Ls.
This is a great post. Here're some of the reasons why:

The (actual... sorry, actual) LOL:
You hear the important information[ed: itals] up front and the less important information[ed: itals] gets skipped if the speaker is momentarily interrupted by, say, a guillotine[ed: itals].

[Linguistics nerd mode]: Most Latinate/Romantic languages have this feature. I don't know German, but I would suspect that adjectives precede nouns in Germanic grammar, which is why that technique persisted in Anglais.[/LNM]

In the UK, this is a silly question. If you want beer, drink beer. If you don't want beer, don't drink beer. I wanted beer, so I had it.

Admittedly, the Brits are rampant alcoholics, but... they're obviously both functional and sensible about it, it seems. Either way, it makes me want to move to the UK or Europe. Strides in sustainability, vacation time, slow food movement, work/life balance, etc. Is the grass just greener? What are the downsides of UK life thus far.

I miss you. Come to Portland for Convergence. I'll try to arrange for some bookstore manager to give you le head or something.

No italicised remarks were actually hurt in the posting of this, despite how it may have been received on your end. Disclaimer: I don't speak Français.
I already have my ticket for Convergence, I just need to buy the plane ticket :) It will be great to see you again.

The downsides of the UK are that it's expensive, there are CCTV cameras everywhere, you're constantly monitored and the jokes about awful British cooking turn out to be optimistic. The food here is sometimes great but often lousy.

But for £5 you can hop on a plane to Paris. £12 will get you to Milan. All of Europe, at your doorstep.