The &

Now we get to abbreviation. I never knew the ampersand & was coined by Marcus Tullius Tiro as the Latin word ‘et‘. My favourite abbreviation is snafu (situation normal, all f***** up) or fubar (f***** up beyond all recognition).

It’s different from initialism which is like USA and NCAA where you say the letters. I wonder if FTW and LOL and IMHO are abbreviations…

There are quite a few Abd al- entries, such as Abd al-Aziz, Abd al-Ghani, Abd al-Hafiz. In Malaysia where I’m from, it is normally spelt Abdul. I guess things are spelt differently in different countries.

Earnst Abbe the lens dude, to Grace Abbot, champion of children everywhere

Thank Ernst Abbe for my glasses!

Ernst Abbe was a physicist who figured out stuff about lenses, and made advancement in the optical field.  He even had a formula named after him – the Abbe sine condition, “one of the requirements that a lens must be met if it is to form a sharp image, free of blurring or distortion caused by coma and spherical abberation.”

That is pretty impressive. It’s like the tagine from ‘The Big Bang Theory’. We take so many things for granted. Short sightedness and other sight related conditions are so easily correct Ed nowadays, with not a thought about how they came to be.

A friend’s 6 year old son has been prescribed glasses, and I found out that this trend very fashionable in class now.  When I was younger, being called ‘four eyes’ for wearing corrective lenses was common. And I thought my world had ended when I found out that I was going to be one of their ‘tribe’! Horror! How was I going to be found attractive? No boys will like me with my four eyes!

A series of entries about abbots and abbeys and places called Abbesville and such like were skimmed. I picked out interesting bits but they aren’t work writing about.

Now Berenice Abbot, a lady who was born just before the turn of the century in 1898 became well known for preserving Atget’s photographic work and then for documenting New York with photographs. She was an arty person, learning how to draw, do sculptures and such like. Later on, she used camera to try and capture scientific things like magnets and motion. I wonder whether she ever encountered any kooks who may have wanted her to take pictures of aura.

Abbot and Costello
This smells a bit fishy…

I sort of thought she might be the one who took the famous guys having lunch on the scaffolding picture, but it doesn’t look like it.

Abbot and Costello (where Abbot was the straight man to Costello’s buffoon) were famous in the entertainment industry in the early to mid 1900’s.  The pictures of the two are always in black and white, much like Charlie Chaplin.  Their personal lives (like a lot of celebrities) aren’t as shiny and happy as they appear on screen.  Abbot had epilepsy, and turned to drink to cope.  Costello was sick with rheumatic fever (which apparently almost killed him a few times), and lost his son in a tragic drowning accident in the family’s swimming pool.

Grace Abbot was a formidable woman who also lived around the same time. She was very passionate about child labour, helping to secure a law limiting child labour in the Keating-Owen act of 1916 which was then overturned by the Supreme Court. She did however managed to put in a child-labour clause on all war goods contract between the federal government and private industries. What a cunning move, especially after what must have been quite a crushing defeat. I think there’s a lesson in that, at least for me.

The travelling Abauzit and the rulling `Abbās’s

Firmin Abauzit was a French scholar who wrote the French translation of the New Testament and traveled all around Europe, meeting Pierre Bayle and Isaac Newton.

His life on the run began when he was quite young, about 10, when the Edict of Nantes (where Huguenots, or French Protestants were protected and tolerated in a largely Catholic nation) was revoked.  His mother organised his escape to Geneva, where he got really good at languages, physics and theology. He traveled extensively, met all sorts of interesting people including royalty such as King William III who offered him  PR in England (without having to fill all the annoying VISA and immigration forms), whom he politely declined.

He traipsed around everywhere, and even turned down the offer of professorship of philosophy at University of Geneva (who wouldn’t accept the opportunity to be called Dr Phil?!) and instead decided to settle in Geneva and become a librarian. Which gave him plenty of time to write a lot.

Sounds like his life would make good fodder for a movie or something.

Next we have the d’ Abbadie brothers, Antoine-Thomson and Arnaud-Michel who went in joint adventures and expeditions to Ethiopia and Brazil, learning about geography and archeology and all that Indiana Jones thing around the 1800s. It must have been very interesting in their household, French dad and Irish mum, and the brothers love of shared subject that allowed them to also share lives in this way.

Antoine appears to have a larger entry in Wikipedia than his sibling, and I wonder if that is because he’s more famous, or because the people writing the entries just hadn’t realised they are related and to make sure that both entries are similar in content and style. Hmm.

I’m currently watching ‘Mozart in the Jungle‘, a comedy series about classical music, sex and drugs set in the New York PhilharmonHear the Hair!ic Orchestra which revolves around the lives of an oboist and her relationship with the conductor, Maestro Rodrigo, a passionate, crazy, delightful character. So this next entry about Claudio Abbado, born in Milan in 1933 to a long line of Milanese musicians caught my fancy. I’m finding the entries about geographic places and other mundane stuff very dry so it’s nice to get to something that’s more interesting.

He learned piano, composing and conducting at a young age and eventually became the principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

I was in a choir when I was in lower secondary school. I wasn’t a great alto but because there weren’t many of us ‘in-betweeners’, I got to go for competitions and such like. My music teacher was from Australia, a lady with short mousey blond hair who could play Chatanooga Choo Choo and anything else on the piano on a whim. It was beautiful singing in harmony. You truly felt like a part of something beautiful, something bigger, as if you were a note in the floating magical music sheet of life.

How wonderful to be part of an orchestra where this is a daily experience. The closest I have come to this feeling is when my project team is cracking it, and we are all working as one. Not quite as harmonic, but it still feels great nonetheless.

While he was music director at La Scala in Milan, Abbado also made Opera a more more accessible experience for ‘normal’ people.

Claudio Abbado

So far I have read about people who made an impact in the world, and on society. It makes me think more about my life, and how I want to leave it.

Now we look at `Abbāses (or `Abbāses?) as in many dudes named `Abbās’. This guy `Abbās I was a viceroy in Egypt. Sounds like a king or emperor or someone with a lot of power. He lived from 1813 —1854 and was quite the rebellious one, rejecting Western influence such as military schools and factories, as well as the Suez Canal that was proposed by the French. Apparently he also curbed government spending which meant that the poor suffered less. What a contradictory man.

It also sounds like it must have been a cloak and daggery type of setting because ‘this man of secretive nature who lived in isolation in his Palace in Banhā and was eventually strangled by two of his servants.

`Abbās II the last viceroy (khedive) apparently flip flopped on supporting the British, and that didn’t end well. Not a hugely interesting life according to EB.Abbās of Persia

The next `Abbās I entry is from Persia, or Iran, and was a Shah for about 41 years from 1588 to 1629, and was also called `Abbās the Great. Now this is an interesting chap. While EB gave a brief outline of his life, a quick jaunt over to Wikipedia gave a much deeper story about this ruler of the middle east, who was surrounded by courtroom intrigue and warfare with neighbouring kingdoms.

He was facing threats from two fronts: the Ottomans and the Uzbeks. To do that, he signed a treaty with Ottoman and then created a standing army (which I understood to be a ‘permanent’ army, not a part-timey one such as before when they would conscript men from the surrounding villages and tribal cavalries.

Through brilliant strategies and tactical operations, and sheer persistence, `Abbās was able to expel the Uzbeks and then the Ottomans. After that came a period of peace which brought about development of beautiful structures within the city and surrounding areas, encouraging trade and tolerance to other religions.

While the country seemed to be flourishing, suspicions, murders and intrigue would see him murdering and blinding his sons and members of his own family.  Another cloak and daggery story.

Abacus, the counting device and my newest insult, the Abalone

Abacus, is a calculating device was very commonly in use around Europe in the Middle ages, as well as Arab and Asia. There are a lot of mental math tuition centres in Malaysia, claiming to teach young children the skill for doing mental arithmetic at speed using imaginary abacus once they have mastered the process with hours and hours of practice.

I was eager to get to Abalone, which was described in AJ Jacob’s The Know-It-All book as having 5 a**holes, more elegantly described as ” five to nine holes remain open to serve as outlets for the snail’s waste products.”  I now have a new insult whenever I come across anyone being particularly ‘butt-munch-ey’ as being an Abalone.  Is that appetizing??

It is a Chinese delicacy, one which I have never acquired the taste of along with sea cucumber, jellyfish and tripe.  They come in cans, and can be acquired fresh in fancy restaurants.  It looks awful – like some face sucking alien thing.  I really don’t know how the people of yore decided that it would be the kind of food fit for an emperor.

From AbE the rebel to the first mention of Malaysia in EB ver 2010

Ivar Aasen

Aaron ben Elijah (or AbE as I call him) was born in 1328… I cannot even fathom how long ago that was, and lived during the Ottoman Empire in Nicomedia, and defended the Karaite belief that rejects the teachings of the Talmud – a collection of doctrines and laws which is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism.

Now this next guy, Ivar Aasen who lived about 500 years after AbE, is known for officially creating one of the two Norwegian dialects, the Nynorsk! He studied lots and published grammar and dictionary, receiving a grant from the Norwegian parliament so that he never had to do any manual labour, and could focus exclusively on his linguistic pursuits.

Now the Abacá plant puts mention of Malaysia on page 6 of the 2010 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica! This very useful plant is used to make marine ‘cordage’ due to its ‘exceptional strength, flexibility, buoyancy and resistance to damage in salt water’.  The Dutch began cultivating this in North Borneo (now Sabah, part of Malaysia)  in 1930, though the plant originated from Philippines.

Abaca fiber drying in abaca farm, Costa Rica (wikipedia)

Aaaaaah… Aachen to Aaron

  • Aabenraa (or Åbenrå) – city in Denmark
  • Aachen – northwestern city in Germany
  • Aakjær, Jeppe – Danish poet and novelist
  • Aalen – another city in Germany
  • Aalsmeer – municipality southwest of Amsterdam
  • Aalst – Flemish municipality northwest of Brussels

Aalto, Hugo Alvar Henrik.  Now this Finnish character who was born in 1898 and lived until 1976 in Helsinki was an architect, a painter, sculptor and furniture designer.  His personal style is lively and inventive, and his earlier sketches were drawn free-hand, without use of T-square and triangle and resulted in some impressive buildings that are regarded as ‘romantic and regional’.

  • Aarau – capital of Aargau canton, northern Switzerland.
  • Aardvark (meaning ‘earth pig’ in Afrikaans) – the first animal in the encyclopedia with a double A spelling, who, was originally classified along with other anteaters, sloths and armadillos but for the weird ‘permanent teeth traversed by tubules that radiate from a central pulp cavity’.

Interestingly, Aardvark was also a social media search engine founded by two ex-Googlers (Max Ventilla and Nathan Stoll), which was acquired by Google for $50m in Feb 2010 only to kill it in Sept 2011.  That’s a lot of money…

  • Aardwolf – this hyena looking animal not only shares the prefix ‘aard’ with our earth pig above, but also the diet – termites.  It looks like ‘aard’ means ‘Earth’ in Afrikaans

Side note, I think I’m going to skip some entries from now on especially geographical ones (and as mentioned above – there are a lot of Scandinavian and Nordic places which begins with ‘Aa’, and only focus on the more interesting entries.

I saw the Ten Commandments when I was young, and remembered the parting of the sea by Moses (did they step on all the corals as they walked through?) with Charlton Heston playing the lead character, and John Carradine playing his brother Aaron.  While Moses was up in Mount Sinai, Aaron fashioned the golden calf that was worshipped by the people.  I can’t remember much more, except that I thought it was so cool that one can part waters that way.  Just like how Bruce Almighty did it in the movie.

A cappella, and Chinese pinyin A’s

Second word in the Encyclopedia after a-ak (ancient East Asian music) which describes singing without musical accompaniment.  The next seven entries beginning with ‘A-‘ isn’t entirely memorable such as

  • A-ch’eng (city located southeast of Harbin),
  • A-erh-chin Mountains (situated in the southern Singiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China),
  • A-Ku-Ta (founder of Chin dynasty),
  • A-kuei (famous general during the Ch’ing dynasty),
  • A-mdo (one of the three areas in central Asia inhabited by tibetans),
  • A-Pao-Chi (leader of the Mongol speaking Khitan tribes from the northwest border of China)
  • A-p’i-ta-mo chü-she lun (Buddhist compendium)

Ah, a posteriori knowledge is derived from experience.  I guess that’s what wisdom is, perhaps years and years of experience built up in many individuals.  In contrast, a priori knowledge is independent from all particular experiences – such as mathematical knowledge.  This was discussed by Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason within the section entitled the Transcendental Aesthetic which was “devoted to the inquiry of the a priori conditions of human sensibility, i.e. faculty by which humans intuit objects.”

On a very long flight from Malaysia recently, I watched Lucy, a movie where drug mule Scarlett Johansson acquired sort of super powers when she absorbed the drugs and sort of transcends humanity that was apparently an attempt to flesh out Kant’s idea.  While I enjoy action movies (Black Widow is pretty deadly), and Scarlett Johansson is definitely a pretty sexy deadly character in this one as well, the ideas were a bit far fetched.  I mean, would expanding the usage of your brain capacity turn you into God?

It was too much even for me.  But I think its attempts to explain this concept via a hot actress with lots of blood and gore may have got more theatrical value than any intellectual merit.