Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
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Ichthys

Daily Notebook

Popular topics on this page:
OMAX microscope LED controller rework
An ancient Hebrew popular song?
Being a Christian is not all about me
Christians are forbidden to despise or hate people
Textual scholarship and misheard song lyrics
Not everything in 1970s music was terribly important

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2022
February
25

Ukraine

Pray for peace in Ukraine.

About the war I will say only two things: (1) an invasion and complete takeover of Ukraine is not a proportionate response to whatever military threat Putin feels from its participation in NATO; (2) much of the Russian populace appears to agree with me about that.



Is it over, this time, maybe?

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Our latest and greatest COVID wave wasn't particularly deadly, partly because the virus itself has mutated into a less serious disease, and partly because of widespread vaccination. Now the mask recommendations are being lifted, and normal life may be about to resume.

We've been through this before. My thought? Don't stop fighting a fire that is 98% out.



We survived an Internet outage

At 9:30 a.m. on the 22nd, Internet service to the house suddenly went out, along with the land-line telephone, which is nowadays VoIP. A little more than three days later, it was restored. In between, we made do with Internet connections through our cell phones and, at one end of the house, a WiFi connection generously shared by a kind neighbor.

The culprit was a bent coaxial cable. When cables were buried after the driveway work in December, one of them had a sharp bend in it, which apparently gradually got worse because of the weight of a rock on top of it, and eventually short-circuited.

The cable was shortened and spliced today, and all is well.

Now to deal with the work that piled up while we didn't have a good Internet connection. In particular, I didn't work out a good way to use cell-phone Internet at the same time as our LAN, so I put off doing everything that required both at the same time.



And we survived Truist Bank conversion

This week was also the last step in merging SunTrust Bank with BB&T to make Truist Bank (not, in my opinion, an inspired name; people misread it as "Trust" and I have heard at least one person dub it "Triscuit").

The main thing this meant for me was that I had to rework several accounts in Quicken and dispose of duplicate downloaded transactions as well as, surprisingly, some strangely altered starting balances (on accounts that already existed at the beginning of this Quicken file).

There is one substantial disappointment. Direct Connect, a.k.a. PC Banking, is no longer offered. To pay bills electronically, I have to go to the bank's web site and enter the payments, then remember to enter them into Quicken as a separate operation. Previously, I could set up payments in Quicken itself. There are conflicting statements as to whether this service will be offered again soon; I hope so; without it, Truist isn't competitive.

2022
February
20

Christians are not allowed to hate or despise people

Fellow Christians:

The other day I posted about how being a Christian is not about our personal selfish goals or even our personal rights. Today I want to add something.

We Christians are flatly not allowed to despise or hate other people.

At times we must strongly oppose erroneous ideas or evil actions. But we are not allowed to hate people. “Love your enemies,” said Jesus. Does anyone still listen? And most people who disagree with us do not see themselves as our enemies unless we provoke them to it. Let’s not do that.

In recent years a lot of Christians have mistaken their political opinions for teachings of Christ. I have political opinions myself. They are mostly on the conservative side. But I hold them as opinions, not dogmas, and am well aware that some of my brothers and sisters in Christ disagree with them. I know sincere Christians who are sincere socialists. I think they are mistaken about some points of economics, but they are my brothers. And they may know things I don’t about economic conditions affecting people I’m not so familiar with.

It is much easier to understand and follow political movements than to understand and follow Christ. That’s how a lot of people get sidetracked. Because of its emphasis on personal responsibility, Christianity does, in my opinion, have some important points of contact with American conservatism. But it is not the same thing as American conservatism.

Starstruck loyalty to a politician is something we must avoid. People debate whether it is right to “vote for the lesser of two evils” but I think that is the only way we ever vote! If one candidate is slightly more godly than the other, that does not make him God’s anointed. And it certainly does not justify lowering moral standards even slightly in order to “help the right side win.”

We may sometimes support someone strongly enough to work in a campaign, but we need to do it in the spirit of “this candidate is better,” not “the other candidate is unspeakably evil.” We must not be tricked into approving of what is bad on the ground that the alternative is worse. Politicians should always feel that our support of them is hanging by a thread, that we always want them to be better than they are.

This will be controversial, but I think the phrase “culture war” has misled people and needs to be retired. Yes, there is a struggle between godliness and ungodliness going on all the time in all of human culture. And yes, I say very loudly that we need to influence our culture for good. “Be salt and light,” as Jesus expressed it. But He never portrayed it as a war on people, as a reason to view some of them as enemies.

2022
February
17

Textual scholarship and misheard song lyrics

[Revised twice.]

On Facebook, my colleague Dan Everett and some other linguists were talking about how people misheard the lyrics of the Beatles' "I want to hold your hand." Recall that the song contains the lines:

And when I touch you, I feel happy inside
It's such a feeling that my love
I can't hide
I can't hide
I can't hide

One person insisted that "I can't hide" was "I get had," and many heard it as "I get high."

In the 1960s you couldn't look up lyrics on line. So the problem was just like what a classical scholar faces when manuscripts of an ancient work disagree.

The scholar needs to know the language well enough. "My love I can't hide" is a complete sentence, but its poetic sentence structure is probably beyond some people's grasp of English.

"I get had" and "I get high" both lose that sentence structure (no longer connect to "my love").

There is a different sentence structure that is compatible with all 3 readings of the last three words. "My love" could be taken as a vocative (a person being spoken to): "My love, (I tell you) it's such a feeling that..."

So we actually have a grand total of 4 readings:

(1) "It's such a feeling that I can't hide my love." (Complete sentence, poetic word order.)

(2) "It's such a feeling that I can't hide." (Separating "my love" as vocative, person addressed. So why do you want to run and hide? If you mean hide the feeling, you left out "it.")

(3) "It's such a feeling that I get high." (Vocative again. Two problems. "Get high" was not a common phrase in 1963, when the song came out. And getting high is not the effect of a feeling, it is a feeling.)

(4) "It's such a feeling that I get had." Neither I nor Dr. Everett can figure out what this might mean.

So (1) wins. It makes the most sense and gives the poet the most credit for saying something coherent.

And in fact we can confirm that it is correct.

What about the principle of lectio difficilior, the principle that a rare word is more likely to be misheard as a common word than the other way around? I would argue that this only kicks in when you have two completely plausible readings. In this case, we have only one that preserves the sentence structure. But overuse of lectio difficilior may be what goes on in some people's heads when they creatively mis-hear song lyrics, especially if they don't have much confidence in their mastery of poetic language. They may think anything that is totally clear to them isn't sophisticated enough.

2022
February
16

Still Life with Roses, by Melody

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Melody made some art today, taking this picture with her LG smartphone. The bowls were handmade by her sister, Crystal Holman, ceramicist.

2022
February
15

Is the war almost over, or are we just between battles?

Picture

We've almost survived the fifth wave of COVID. What's striking is that although the number of detected cases in Georgia was the highest yet, the number of deaths was not. People who have had three vaccine shots (as I have) are reportedly 97 times less likely to die of COVID than unvaccinated people. We still can get the virus, but it shows up more like a cold.

Will we have more waves? Probably. How will we respond? I don't know.

2022
February
13

Tree

Picture

Outside an office building in Watkinsville. iPhone photo.

2022
February
11

Being a Christian is not all about me

[Posted earlier on Facebook.]

When we Christians share our faith, we quite properly tell people about Jesus. But there's something even more basic that we need to let people know, as groundwork, to head off a whole set of misunderstandings.

The key point: It's not all about me. I am not the center of my universe.

I don't pray and meditate to achieve my personal goals. I want to find out what is actually wise and good, and seek those things.

Of course I can't hide the fact that I live by a moral code, but I am not here to show people how good I am. I am well aware that I am not good enough. I am seeking good that is outside myself.

I am not here to pile up karma points or engage in virtue-signaling. I don't believe in karma, I believe in mercy.

When I make a minor sacrifice for someone else, it's not to prove anything to them or to myself. It's because it's a good thing to do.

My morality does not revolve around "my rights." I have rights under the law, of course, because that's how laws work, and I advocate fair laws, but my own rights are not what I'm focused on. Being good to others, and finding what is genuinely good for myself, is my focus.

I need to think more about how to convey this to a secular audience. Sincere adherents of quite a few other religions and secular philosophies would agree with it. But many of the voices that we hear on social media would not.

2022
February
9

Java is free again

You may be getting Java update notices saying that the license is changing to prohibit commercial use. Or you may have switched to OpenJDK a while back.

Good news: Genuine Oracle JDK is free again. (I thank Erik Benner for this information.)

But it is not the version you'll get through updates. Instead, uninstall Java and install the version here (be sure to choose the tab for your operating system).

If you installed OpenJDK, which did not have an installer, then you will need to delete its folder under C:\Program Files\Java, and also remove references to it from the system environment variables. Basically, undo the steps described at this link.



Not everything in 1970s music was terribly important

[Revised.]

I've been coming across (not watching) YouTube videos and other web sites that point out one development after another in 1970s rock music and claim that every development was very important.

Let's get some perspective. Because of the way the mass media worked in the early 1970s, it was not uncommon to get enormous audiences for things that weren't all that good. Thus, not everything that got a huge audience was actually a major development.

I've mentioned something related to this in connection with TV already. Back when most people had only two or three TV channels, and one or two radio stations, any musician that gained prominence would have, briefly, a very large market share. A musician was either very famous or almost unknown.

[Addendum:] Remember also that "top songs" were those that sold well to a non-expert audience — not songs judged good or great by experts — and many of the records and tapes were bought by people who had never heard the whole song very well before making the purchase. AM radio was often overheard in settings where you couldn't give it your full attention, and the audio fidelity was poor, and it was easy to like part of a song without realizing there was another part you didn't like so well. An example is "The Piña Colada Song," about which I'll write more later. The middle part of that song is romantic — the whole thing, creepy.

In the late 1970s, FM radio and cable TV proliferated, people listened to tapes in their cars, and everyone had a lot more choices. I know there was a lot of creativity in the early 1970s, but I don't think popularity in the early 1970s can be compared directly against popularity later. It was a different environment.

2022
February
6

An ancient Hebrew popular song?

While reading the 23rd chapter of Isaiah today, I noticed that it quotes what is apparently a popular song. Here are verses 15 and 16:

In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:

“Take a harp;
  go about the city,
  O forgotten prostitute!
Make sweet melody;
  sing many songs,
  that you may be remembered.”

I haven't done any research on this, but a friend who is a biblical scholar tells me I'm not the first to believe it's a popular song. One can almost imagine someone in Nashville singing about what happens to a prostitute when she gets too old. It has a twang to it.

What I did do is look at the Hebrew, and I was mildly surprised. Here's the song (from Mechon-Mamre.org) (at least if your browser can display Hebrew):

קְחִי כִנּוֹר סֹבִּי עִיר
זוֹנָה נִשְׁכָּחָה
הֵיטִיבִי נַגֵּן הַרְבִּי-שִׁיר
לְמַעַן תִּזָּכֵרִי

Here's a transcription into our alphabet (in a style close to that of SBL, not the opinions about Hebrew phonology that I expressed here five years ago):

qĕḥî kinnôr sōbî ʿîr
zônâ niškāḥâ
hêṭîbî naggen harbî šîr
lĕmaʿan tizzākērî

To my ear, this is distinctly more like a modern song than ancient Hebrew poetry normally is (even the Psalms). There is very tight structural parallelism, a near (not perfect) match in number of syllables from one couplet to the next, and even a rhyme.

2022
February
5

OMAX microscope electronic re-engineering

Picture

A friend's OMAX microscope, similar but not identical to the one in the picture, stopped working when the wrong power supply was connected to it. (That is, the illuminator stopped working; obviously the optics weren't affected.) This is apparently a common problem, as this microscope requires 5 volts (uncommon) and isn't protected against incorrect voltage and polarity.

Other discussions of how to fix it are here and here.

Like the author of those posts, I decided that rather than fix the original, damaged circuitry, I would completely re-engineer it to be tolerant of a wide variety of power supplies. In place of the original switching regulator, which was small and lightweight but electrically fragile, I came up with this circuit, which might be a 1980s throwback but really does the job:

Picture

It tolerates power supplies up to 35 V, although voltages over 12 V will send it into thermal shutdown after just a few minutes of operation. It is protected against reverse polarity. It even works if you supply it AC (under 25 V or so), though it might flicker. And my circuit board is much bulkier than the original one, though it still fits. Here you see the new circuit board, and then (closer up) the much smaller original one:

Picture

Picture



Farewell to an Athens landmark, or maybe two

The Athens, Georgia, Holiday Inn will not reopen after the pandemic; it is going to be torn down. Newspaper coverage here. I stayed there with my family in 1967 when we were thinking of moving to Athens and in 1973 when we were actually moving here, and in between, in 1971 on a Valwood basketball trip. Built around 1965, it was the only good hotel in downtown Athens at the time, as best I remember. Now it is greatly outnumbered by newer hotels both higher and lower on the price scale, all around it.

Picture
Photographed 2022 March 27. Demolition started in early April.

We may also be about to lose Georgia Square Mall (vintage 1981), which is nearly defunct but still open. A redevelopment plan has been proposed, but I have not heard whether it will go forward. Malls are a good example of overfitting — they are ideal for one thing but can't be used for anything else. When you no longer need that thing, they are useless.

2022
February
1

School overcrowding in Valdosta, 1971-72

[Revised.]

Fifty years ago today was one of the events I am most thankful for in my youth. I was just over halfway through tenth grade, and my longsuffering mother arranged for me to transfer back to Valwood School (where I had been for ninth grade) from Valdosta High School (VHS), which was in an overcrowded and troubled state.

Some of what I know about how to run educational programs — knowledge I have put to good use as an educator — came from seeing how things can go wrong. With that in mind, I want to describe my bad experience at VHS.

As best I understand it, Valdosta held off desegregating its schools until the last moment, and then dealt with the high school by abolishing the traditionally black school altogether, putting all ninth-graders on its campus, and putting all tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-graders on the Valdosta High School campus. This resulted in a very strong football team (which was voted national champion) but also a very overcrowded school building, and the overcrowding disproportionately impacted tenth-graders. For example, as a tenth-grader, I had one third of a small locker, which I didn't use because I could rarely get to it, while as far as I know, eleventh- and twelfth-graders had lockers of the normal kind.

I have great respect for old friends who had a better experience at Valdosta High School. I can only say that several things came together to make that school give me its worst. I was there at exactly the wrong time and wrong grade level. The shock wave from combining two schools was, at the time, squeezing exactly the class I was in. It had been a better school a year earlier. And one year later, the overcrowding was relieved by a new building.

And I must emphasize that the students were congenial. That was the best thing about VHS. The large size of the school, and the way people had been thrown together suddenly, meant that no specific group could dominate the school. People mixed freely.

What were the classes like? I was in a superb mathematics class — one of the best-taught courses I've ever encountered anywhere — but it was an eleventh-grade course. On the tenth-grade level, I had world history and Latin courses that were serviceable, a chemistry course with a good teacher but no lab, and a conspicuously weak English course. It was team-taught by two young teachers handling 60 to 65 students in a large classroom. The content was what I would call seventh-grade level — hardly any literary classics, mostly short stories, with tests, not on how to interpret the stories or how they were constructed, but on the names of characters, and even their dogs and cats. These were all "4-level" courses, for the top academic stratum of the school; there were of course lower-powered 3, 2, and 1-level courses for people who might not be college-bound.

A lot of people's view of the school was so skewed by football fandom that they didn't see, and scolded me if I tried to mention, any of the school's weaknesses. It had apparently been a much better school a short time earlier, and still was in the parts not so affected by overcrowding.

VHS struck me as remarkably bureaucratic and authoritarian, as if the administration viewed all the students as adversaries. Which may be true — they may have had a racial powderkeg about to explode, and I think they were using football mania to keep it from exploding. Not being a big sports fan, I was an immediate misfit.

That football team, by the way, had not lost a single game in six years. The town took this as the mark of true excellence. I felt it was a bit unsporting or even suspicious. Of course, one wasn't allowed to say so.

On my final day, I had to go through a withdrawal process that involved getting all of my teachers to sign paperwork, one by one. This involved some nearly impossible rushing around during class changes, through crowds so thick that one could not get from point to point in the time available. And during it all, I came down with the worst headache I've ever had, and I had to go home sick. I had been having these headaches with some regularity, and today Melody suggested something I never thought about — that it might have been some chemical contaminant in the school building. At the time I thought it was stress.

On the morning of February 1, I turned up at Valwood, went through enrollment quickly in the school office, and went to classes. I was glad to be back in an English class more focused on great literature. In chemistry class, which had the same textbook, I was given extra time to do the labs that I had missed at VHS. Latin and world history were much the same as at VHS, which was fine with me. The mathematics class was lower-powered, but it served its purpose. And I never had any more headaches. I have never had more than a mild headache for fifty years now.

[Addendum:] In talking about this with old friends, I've realized that many people were less distressed by the sad state of VHS because they already considered themselves firmly part of the school and viewed the overcrowding as a brief crisis that the school would ride out. I had no prior commitment to VHS and had no confidence that the new building would open on time or that the school would be well run when it did. The super-overcrowded VHS was the only VHS I had ever seen.


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