Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Anagram film wins award

(in other words, flaw winds a grammarian)

An eight-minute film about anagrams has won the American Documentary P.O.V. Short Film Award at this year's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto. Its title, ARS MAGNA (Latin for Great Art) is an anagram of the word ANAGRAMS.

It features two of the world's best anagrammers, Anu Garg and Cory Calhoun. As someone long fascinated by this form of word play, I first wrote about them nine years ago.

I praised Cory, who was then a 22-year-old student at Western Washington University, for having composed what I thought (and still think) was the world's best anagram, based on Hamlet's famous soliloquy:

Original phrase (Shakespeare). :
To be or not to be, that is the question, whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

"Believe it or not," Cory told me by email in 1999, "I created that anagram phrase without any aid from a computer program. I started by arranging all the letters in a more or less alphabetical order, then thought of several Shakespeare-related words. I created a list, then (as I often do with anagrams) let the letters 'speak to me', as to what word would go around the mainly Shakespearian words.

"All along, I tried to yield a phrase that made a direct comment about the play itself. Often, and much to my fright, I'll look at words and phrases and almost instantaneously come up with an anagram of it. For example, I once saw the word Spectrum on a car, and Crumpets sprang to mind."

Today Cory, now 31 and living in Seattle, is a man of many talents and interests. He describes himself as an anagrammatist, puzzlesmith, designer, writer and artist. He says on his website:

"I'm currently living in West Seattle with my gorgeous wife Miriam. We're both arts majors; my day job is chef at the Essential Baking Company; hers is HR operations at Tommy Bahama. That is, until A) I get a publishing deal, B) she gets a gig in either nutrition or music, or C) both.

"I’ve got eclectic tastes and embrace my inner geek. I make crossword puzzles and anagrams ...belt out karaoke with the gang, scrutinize and revel in the latest 'Lost' theories, and rock out to the odd TMBG track."

Anu Garg, the India-born Wordsmith who founded the global newsletter A Word A Day, has long been intrigued by the magic of anagrams. "They never lie," he quipped several years ago.

Researching the web in 1999, I discovered to my surprise that the letters spelling ANAGRAM GENIUS could be shuffled to show that his NAME IS ANU GARG. That was confusing, as William Tunstall-Pedoe, a clever Cambridge (UK) software developer and entrepreneur, runs a commercial website called Anagram Genius, and markets software with that name.

Anu also lives in Seattle, with his wife and daughter. In addition to composing his daily newsletter, he writes books about words, and designed and runs the Internet Anagram Server,

Tap in your name (or anyone else's) and in a flash you'll see myriad anagrams using those same letters.

Anagrams have provided amusement for many centuries, and in numerous languages. Thousands of clever anagrams in English are listed on hundreds of websites. Here are a few favorites:

Elvis = Lives

Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one

New York Times = Monkeys write

Dormitory = Dirty Room

Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler

The Detectives = Detect Thieves

Schoolmaster = The Classroom

Presbyterian = Best In Prayer

A Decimal Point = I'm a Dot in Place

The Countryside = No City Dust Here

Listen = Silent

A Telephone Girl = Repeating "Hello"

The Morse Code = Here Come Dots

And here's a classsic anagram composed years ago by Steve Krakowski, that has just become topical again: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Neil A. Armstrong = A thin man ran; makes a large stride; left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!

"Ars Magna" starring Anu, Cory and his lovely wife Miriam, was produced earlier this year as an entry in the International Documentary Challenge.

One hundred and twenty-two film makers from sixteen countries set out to make a documentary in five days. "Ars Magna" is travelling on the festival circuit and will be screened at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle on July 10.

To view it now, click HERE

DISCLOSURE. The author of this article is Anu Garg's copy editor.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Citizen Reporters in World War I

Harry Lamin, a British soldier who endured the horrors of life in the trenches of the Western Front in World War I, was one of the world's first citizen reporters. His homely despatches are now being posted on the internet, exactly 90 years after he wrote them.

His letters to his family, posted one at a time, read like a serial cliffhanger, causing thousands of present-day internet surfers worldwide to worry about his welfare. 'Where is he?" one frantic viewer wrote a few days ago. 'What's happened? I need the next letter! Is he dead? Is he alive? It's been 8 days and no word from him!'

Three years ago, Bill Lamin, now 59, an information technology teacher living in Cornwall, England, read a bundle of letters his grandfather, Private Harry Lamin, had written from the western front in 1917-18. He sorted them into chronological order, and just one year ago began posting them as a blog. which has attracted more than a million hits.

Bill rightly says, 'What has been produced is a moving and poignant account of an ordinary man's experiences in an extraordinary situation. I have edited nothing. The spellings and grammar are exactly as Harry wrote them.'

Harry was conscripted in 1917, at the age of 30, and served with the York and Lancashire Regiment. He survived historic and bloody battles including Messines Ridge and Passchendaele, , which are still remembered for the appalling loss of lives of soldiers fighting on both sides.

'It is a rum job waiting for the time to go over the top - and without any rum too,' Harry commented in one letter. On June 11, 1917, he wrote to his brother Jack about the battle of Messines Ridge.

'We have had another terrible time this week the men here say it was worst than the Somme advance last July. We lost a lot of men but we got where we were asked to take. It was awful I am alright got buried and knocked about but quite well now and hope to remain so.

'We were praised by the general and all, everybody said we had done well, quite a success. I will tell you more when I see you.'

Today, hundreds of thousands of web surfers are anxiously waiting to learn whether Harry was wounded or killed in the closing stages of the war, when he was stationed in Italy.

Grandson Bill is keeping that secret, letting readers share the anxiety the family must have suffered while awaiting another letter from Harry... or a fateful telegram from the War Office.

On a happier note, here's a letter Captain Charles S. Normington, a 24-year-old American World War I soldier, wrote from Paris to his parents on Armistice Day, 11 November, 1918. His daughter, Lois Haugner, of Appleton, Wisconsin., recently posted it on the internet.

Dear Folks:

Arrived here last night, and was on the street today when the armistice with Germany was signed. Anyone who was not here can never be told, or imagine, the happiness of the people here.
They cheereed and cried and laughed and then started all over again.

Immediately a parade was started on the Rue De Italiennes and has been going on ever since. In the parade were hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the U.S., England, Canada, France, Australia, Italy and the colonies.

Each soldier had his arms full of French girls, some crying, others laughing, each girl had to kiss every soldier before she would let him pass.

When those early citizen reporters Harry Lamin and Charles Normington wrote to their folks 90 years ago, they could not have imagined their letters would be read by countless netizens around the world in 2008.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Niagara Falls on Deck

Mild-mannered Bostonian Jeff Deck crossed the United States unmolested, blithely correcting hundreds of typos displayed in public places , but as soon as he crossed the Canadian border last week he was threatened by "two very large, chain-bedecked men," who told him: "Keep walking, or we’ll fix it so you can’t walk anymore.”

"This sounded like a persuasive argument, so Benjamin and I kept walking," Jeff reported in his whimsical blog on 9 May. " I decided that the whole town [Niagara Falls, Ontario] could go to hell, for all I cared.

"In our first three encounters, we’d been rebuffed, threatened, and condescended to, and from here on I would feel no obligation to point out mistakes to those who had wrought them."

Instead, he contented himself with photographing numerous typos he found in Niagara Falls, and displaying them in his popular blog.

Calming down, the 28-year-old crusader wrote: "My indignation died down when we made our way out of the wretched tourist area and to the Falls themselves. They seemed a bit smaller than they had looked to me the last time I visited, but then again, I’d been around twelve or thirteen at the time."

Before crossing the border, Jeff amended a sign in a fruit store in Erie, Pennsylvania, offering MACINTOSH apples for sale. He changed the spelling to McIntosh.
"We’re not talking about one of the computing products put out by my much-loathed nemesis, after all, so an a is unwelcome," he said.

He's right, of course. McIntosh Red apples were named in honor of a Scottish immigrant's son who discovered seeds of a marvelous new apple in Canada more than 200 years ago. His name was John McIntosh, and today his apples are one of the world's favorites. You can read about him in Wikipedia:

There's an interesting link between McIntosh apples (the fruit) and Mac Apples (the computer), explained by TAM, The Apple Museum:

Steve Jobs came up with the name in early 1976. At the time, he was often visiting and working on a small farm friends of his owned. It was a hippie commune where Steve spent a few months of the year.

When he returned from one of those stays, he told Steve Wozniak about his idea. Jobs probably was working on apple plantages. Or he just wanted their startup to be in front of Atari in the phone book. Or it was a tribute to Apple Records, the music label of the Beatles.

Well, perhaps the computer should have been labelled the Apple Mc!