Monthly Archives: August 2008

My First Book: Above Cedar Creek

There's one nice thing about nobody reading my blog: I can post things without much fear of anyone reading. And judging. Obscurity is a confidence builder of sorts. So, I'll point out something that's been right and written under your nose. The chances that you, unlikely reader, are going to notice it are small. That gives me false confidence. Good enough.

I want to write a book. I want to write three -- or at least two-and-a-half because one feels more like a short story -- and they're all memoirs. That makes me really apprehensive. I'm 27. I've done nothing of note in 27 years, so it feels presumptuous to think about writing about me and my experiences. But I'm nagged by the idea, and I have a huge ego hidden inside me.

The three books go like this: (1) about working at Ingersoll Scout Reservation, a Boy Scout summer camp in midwest nowhere, titled Above Cedar Creek; (2) about my spring in the Mojave Desert in 2005, plus the trip to and from, titled Mojave Road in the Sky; (3) about my trip to India in Winter 2005/2006, titled Train Cancellation Party.

I put a few thousand words into Train Cancellation Party back in spring 2006, but it began to feel goofy and condescending. Then I went to Europe for a few months. I have barely touched it since then. It's close to my heart. It's radioactive. If I touch it, it might blow up. I'm afraid of it. I'm going to cut it off at the knees and make it a short story, or maybe fictionalize it.

I've been working on Above Cedar Creek more intently over the past two months. In June, I clenched my fists and decided that it was time to stop thinking about writing a book and start writing a book. I heard that's how books get finished. Over the weekend, I passed the 20,000 word mark. I have no idea if this is a lot to a "real" writer. It's a hell of a lot of words to me, especially since they're about one of my least favorite subjects: me.

Here's the punchline. You could have been reading every single word that I've written. Let me pull back the curtain: Above Cedar Creek, in progress. Several times a week, I sit down for 30 minutes and try to write a book. It's embryonic now. Each of the 30 minutes sessions has been a forced sprint, something to hack my athletic sensibilities to beat my apprehension of writing. For me to sit down and write a chapter is difficult because I worry about the beginning and the end and how much, etc. I worry about some expectations that aren't my own. I get wound up about the the full text before a single paragraph is written. Blasting for 30 minutes gets me past that fear. It's go, go, go, no time to worry about anything. I don't stop and edit anything except spelling errors; I hate those. Editing will come later.

In about three hours, I'm boarding a plane to Calgary, and I'm taking a few printed pages of the book with me, double spaced, ready to be smeared in red ink. I've done some very light editing on the "Liberating Chuck" chapter, but otherwise, it's a few pieces of stream-of-consciousness linked together.

I'm making apologies already. I hate that. What I mean to say is: I wrote, now it's time to unwrite and rewrite. It's not perfect, but I'll make it perfect. Eventually. I prefer editing to writing. I find it's much more comfortable to arrange... and rearrange... and manipulate... and modify... and identify cracks... and repair them. I'm looking forward to putting down the first 80,000 or 100,000 words and then taking a hammer to all of them.

So, here are the first three chapters of Above Cedar Creek, in order of completeness, not necessarily in order they'll be in the full piece. When completed, this will detail my time as a Boy Scout camp counselor and what I learned. Maybe it will be like Desert Solitaire, without the chainsawed billboards, or Walden, without the pompousness of Thoreau. I'm looking forward to the end of it, to see how it goes.

  1. "Liberating Chuck"
  2. "Friday Night MC"
  3. "Captain's Skyline Trail"

So, that's that. I'm writing my first book. You can see it. That's scary. If you read it, drop a note. I don't expect much in the way of style or content yet, but if you've embarked on a similar journey, I'd be interested to hear how you made it through without incinerating yourself or the manuscript.

By the way: The title, Above Cedar Creek, is related to the flooding of 1993 -- and other years, such as 1998 -- where it's all you can do at camp to stay above Cedar Creek. This title beat out Mosquitos, Raccoons, and Other Things That Still Cause Me to Wake Up Sweating Ten Years Later.

Now, a plane to catch to Calgary...

Punjabi Alphabet: Vowels

This is a companion post to a previous post that lists the consonants of the Punjabi alphabet. Or, in other words, now I can finally provide some closure to being able to read Punjabi. (Making sense of what I read, of course, is a totally different problem.) The first three letters of the alphabet -- ੳ, ਅ, and ੲ -- are not used by themselves. Each serves as a foundation on which independent vowels are formed. Vowels take two forms: (1) independent vowels, which stand alone or can be used as the first letter in a word, are formed by adding a vowel sign to one of the three bases; and (2) dependent vowels, which are formed by adding a vowel sign to a consonant (in the second case, the vowel can not be the first letter of the word).

Dependent Vowels

Vowel sign Transliteration Name Joined with ਮ
(invisible) a ਮੁਕਤਾ muk-tā
ā ਕਾੱਨਾ kaṃ-nā ਮਾ
ਿ i ਸਿਹਾਰੀ si-hā-rī ਮਿ
ī ਬਿਹਾਰੀ bi-hā-rī ਮੀ
u ਔਂਕੜ auṃ-kaṛ ਮੁ
ū ਦੁਲੈਂਕੜੇ du-laiṃ-ka-ṛe ਮੂ
e ਲਾਂਵ lāṃv ਮੇ
ai ਦੁਲਾਂਵਾਂ du-lāṃ-vāṃ ਮੈ
o ਹੋੜਾ ho-ṛā ਮੋ
au ਕਨੌੜਾ ka-nau-ṛā ਮੌ

Independent Vowels

Base + Vowel Sign Independent Vowel Transliteration
ੳ + ੁ u
ੳ + ੂ ū
ੳ + ੋ o
ਅ + (invisible) a
ਅ + ਾ ā
ਅ + ੈ ai
ਅ + ੌ au
ੲ + ਿ i
ੲ + ੀ ī
ੲ + ੇ e

100 Most Commonly Used Hindi Words

OK. I've trudged through the 100 most common Hindi words and incorporated suggestions and corrections. Now, I've posted the changes to the online list. Have a look: most commonly used Hindi words. If you would like to help me develop it, please let me know. The list comes from the Hindi Google Group, and I am modifying it to fit my aims. Good luck, and have fun.

Hindi: Errata, Words 1 to 100

In the course of stumbling through the top 100 most commonly used words in Hindi, I got some helpful advice regarding my mistakes and omissions. Now it's time to finally put that advice into play and update the first ten posts of ten words each...

1 to 10

8. अपने ap-ne (adjective) ours (plural form of अपना)

11 to 20

11. होता ho-taa (verb) happening - singular masculine imperfective aspect of होना

14. हुए hu-e (verb) becoming - plural masculine perfective aspect of होना

19. रहा ra-haa (auxiliary verb) masculine singular form of continuous aspect auxiliary verb

21 to 30

25. अपनी ap-nii (adjective) her own; hers - feminine form of अपना

26. होती ho-tii (verb) happening - singular feminine imperfective aspect of होना

31 to 40

32. रहे ra-he (auxiliary verb) masculine plural form of continuous aspect auxiliary verb

35. रही ra-hii (auxiliary verb) feminine singular form of continuous aspect auxiliary verb

36. होने ho-ne (verb) oblique infinitive form of होना

38. हुई hu-ii (verb) becoming - singular feminine perfective aspect of होना

41 to 50


51 to 60

51. गये ga-ye (verb) plural perfective aspect of जाना, to go

53. आदि a-di (noun) et cetera

58. उन्होंने un-hon-ne (pronoun) oblique case of they

61 to 70

65. उनकी un-kii (adjective) theirs; his - formal

71 to 80


81 to 90


91 to 100

92. उनका un-a-kaa (adjective) theirs; his - formal

96. इसका is-a-kaa (adjective) his - informal

Vinay, Pradeep, thank you again for all of your help.

And now, on to something more practical: not just words, but sentences.

Punjabi Alphabet


lettertransliteration of letter

name of lettertransliteration of letter name

  • Generally, h denotes aspiration.
  • For ਤ, ਥ, ਦ, and ਧ, t and d denote dental consonants, i.e., the tongue is placed behind the front teeth. ਟ, ਠ, ਡ, and ਢ, while and denote retroflex consonants, i.e., the tongue is placed further back in the mouth with its tip against the palate.
  • The first three letters, ੳ, ਅ, and ੲ, are not used on their own. They are used in combination with dependent vowels to form independent vowels, e.g., ਉ is u, ਆ is ā, and ਈ is ī, however by themselves they represent nothing.
  • Alphabetical order is left to right, down to the next row then left to right, etc.

Punjabi Alphabet















































































Words from Kelsey Ruger at BarcampHouston3

This comment wouldn't fit on Twitter, and I liked this note during his presentation:

Getting started w/ visual and creative thinking: encourage actual play and fun; create an open environment; start a school; practice, practice, practice; look beyond the obvious.

BarcampHouston3 is going well -- interesting, fun (aside from this morning's lockdown SAVE YOUR QUESTIONS FOR THE END presentation).

And now Ed Schipul is tearing up the stage, giving some good natured flack to those most deserving. More later.

Commonly used Hindi words #91 to 100: व्यक्ति, उनका, लिये, इसलिए, तीन, इसका, ऐसी, विशेष, बड़ी, अथवा

Words ranked number 91 to 100 in the list of most commonly used Hindi words (courtesy of Hindi Google Group and Resource Center for Indian Language Technology Solutions):

91. व्यक्ति vyak-ti (f. noun) a person; a particular person

92. उनका un-a-kā (adjective) theirs; his - formal

93. लिये li-ye (verb) took; received; accepted. This is the masculine plural, perfective aspect of लेना, "to take."

94. इसलिए is-a-li-e (adverb) so; therefore

95. तीन tīn (adjective) three

96. इसका is-a-kā (adjective) his - informal

97. ऐसी ai-sī (f. adjective) of this sort

98. विशेष vi-śheṣ (adjective) 1. particular, special, distinctive. 2. excellent.

99. बड़ी ba-ṛī (f. adjective) big, large; great

100. अथवा ath-a-vā (conjunction) or

The following resources were helpful for this set of words:

Now that I've made it to 100 -- except, of course, for the lingering blanks -- I am going to shift focus for some time. First, the spreadsheet of most common Hindi words needs to be completed; from 41 to 60, the definitions are included, but for the others I didn't include the information in the spreadsheet. Second, the previous posts need to have styles and errors fixed. Thanks to Pradeep and Vinay, I learned about things I was missing or had translated incorrectly. Now I will go back and fix the errors.

The next step is to put some of this new knowledge to use, to find sentences containing this set of 100 words and help to give them more context and meaning. The idea to start over and study Hindi from the most common words down originated from a video interview of Tim Ferriss that I watched some weeks ago. He attacked Japanese in the same way, first learning the words he was mostly likely to see -- a list of the most commonly used words in the language -- and building his knowledge around that. It made sense to me. Ultimately, it might not be the best way, for for self study, preparing myself for what I was most likely to see seems like a good idea. Now to go and apply the knowledge practically, then we'll see if this is right.

Commonly used Hindi words #81 to 90: दूसरे, हाथ, भाषा, मेरे, मैंने, तुम, बीच, वाली, बड़े, प्रति

Words ranked number 81 to 90 in the list of the most common Hindi words (courtesy of Hindi Google Group and Resource Center for Indian Language Technology Solutions):

81. दूसरे dū-sa-re (adverb) another; secondly

82. हाथ hāth (m. noun) hand (as in giving a hand)

83. भाषा bhā-ṣā (f. noun) language; speech

84. मेरे me-re (pl. adjective) my

85. मैंने maiṃ-ne (pronoun) I - This is the first person singular ergative case of मैं. ने denotes ergative case.

86. तुम tum (pronoun) you (informal)

87. बीच bīc (m. noun) middle. बीच के is the preposition between.

88. वाली vā-lī (f. suffix) 1. (added to noun) a person employed in the preceding noun. 2. (added to adjective) adds emphasis to preceding adjective. 3. (added to noun, adjective, or noun phrase) gives adjectival properties to preceding word. 4. (added to verb) gives agentive meaning to preceding verb. Feminine form of वाला. has a good explanation of how the word works.

89. बड़े ba-ɽe (pl. m. adjective) big, large; great; elder

90. प्रति pra-ti 1. (f. noun) copy of an original. 2. (f. noun) section, group (of a larger whole). 3. (prefix) again, back again, re-. 4. (preposition) towards, against, anti-. 5. (preposition) each, every; per. 6. (preposition) similar to.

Pradeep also says that रति is used on the cover of letters in place of to.

Tropical Storm Edouard

First, the National Hurricane Center is tracking Tropical Storm Edouard at

In my spare time -- since SAIC is contracted to NASA, and NASA called off work at Johnson Space Center after noon today and all day tomorrow -- I did a crude conversion of the Tropical Storm Edouard 3-day forecast from the site to Google Earth.

You should really check it out as a larger map.

Do you use Google Earth? Here's a Network Link .kmz file for the storm track: Tropical Storm Edouard.kmz. (Network File means that if you save it to your My Places, it will update as I update the info for it.)

I was curious how close the center of the storm was going to pass to my apartment. My apartment is the star on the map. As of 20:00 on 4 August, the storm track is predicted to pass about 7 km northeast of me (+/- all of the inaccuracies, so ~10km). We'll see what happens...

Commonly used Hindi words #71 to 80: इसी, देश, यदि, सभी, नाम, वर्ष, ऐसा, विकास, अपना, ऐसे

Pradeep had a good suggestion. He said -- and I'll paraphrase, to entertain myself -- that I'm a nut and a dope for worrying about individual words because they don't mean anything. In these top 100 words: he's right. Maybe if I was learning a list of, say, types of fruit or days of the week, slogging through individual words would make sense. In this case, going through the top 100 words, it really doesn't. For example, in English, I bet the word been is one of the top words, perhaps in the top 100. How would I explain the word been to someone? It's a form of to be, but it doesn't stand alone. You use it with other verbs -- say, has been -- to indicate progressive tense. What I'm getting at: for a beginner, that's all arcana. Ask a native speaker to explain something that he or she knows by heart, but has a tricky description, and you might not get such a great response. I had to look up that been was used in the progressive case. I just knew that we... well, that we use been, and I could make a sentence with it. There's Pradeep's suggestion for improvement: use sentences. It's a good idea.

Once I get to 100 words, I will change course and think about the context of the words, not just the words themselves. I think at 100 words, I should be able to tackle and find plenty of instances of the words here. That's the reason I started with the most common words: because there are more of them out there in the wild than the other words.

Words ranked number 71 to 80 in the list of the most commonly used Hindi words (courtesy of Hindi Google Group and Resource Center for Indian Language Technology Solutions):

71. इसी (is-ī) (adjective, singular oblique) this (emphatic)

72. देश deś (m. noun) 1. place, region. 2. country; nation.

73. यदि (ya-di) (conjunction) if; whether

74. सभी (sa-bhī) (adjective, pronoun) every single one; absolutely all

75. नाम (nām) (m. noun) name, title

76. वर्ष (varṣ) (m. noun) a year

77. ऐसा (ai-sā) (adjective - singular) of this sort

78. विकास (vi-kās) (m. noun) opening, expanding

79. अपना (ap-nā) (adjective) one's, one's own; his, her, my

80. ऐसे (ai-se) (adjective - plural) of this sort