The word calamity makes me smile (and now I know why)

Words are spe­cial things to me, and when I was a small­er geek and would try to fig­ure out the mean­ing of unknown words, I would often form a men­tal image of a word’s mean­ing based on, often times, anoth­er word it sound­ed like (regard­less of whether the two words actu­al­ly had any­thing to do with each oth­er). Some­times, I’d actu­al­ly use con­text to help deci­pher the mean­ing of the mys­tery word, but that would­n’t always lead me to the right answer.

From time to time, I’d be unable to shed this first impres­sion of a word, which would stick with me even after I would learn the word’s actu­al mean­ing. I’d have these false images some­times pop into my mind when I’d hear the word itself used else­where, even know­ing full well what it real­ly means.

So when I found myself, in more recent years, find­ing the word calami­ty to be, of all things, bizarrely amus­ing, I began to seri­ous­ly ques­tion how this could be. It’s not like I find calami­ties them­selves fun­ny. And the word is not one I hear used much on a day-to-day basis, and it cer­tain­ly isn’t one used to describe things that are sup­posed to be fun­ny. It’s not near­ly as well-used as its syn­onyms cat­a­stro­phe, dis­as­ter, or even tragedy. So why would I find it dif­fi­cult to sup­press a smirk when hear­ing or read­ing about some­thing that some­one described as calamitous?

Here’s what tru­ly brought my strange rela­tion­ship with the word to a head: I used to work for a com­pa­ny with pret­ty strong ties to the Philip­pines, so when the rather dead­ly Typhoon Ondoy (a.k.a. Ket­sana) rolled through the coun­try dur­ing my time employed there, the storm, and its effects, were more than just the head­line or two that they may have been to most Amer­i­cans. Read­ing pret­ty exten­sive­ly about the storm, both through news reports and first­hand accounts from many of our cus­tomers, I noticed, a hand­ful of times, many pinoys using calami­ty to describe what had hap­pened there. To what we owe their word choice is not some­thing I under­stand or am real­ly con­cerned with, actu­al­ly. More impor­tant was the invol­un­tary smirk­ing effect the word had on me.

That I could find myself amused by some­thing so strange, in the face of tales and pho­tos of death and destruc­tion, was some­thing I found unset­tling, so I lat­er thought hard about where this feel­ing like­ly came from. I can’t quite remem­ber how I made the con­nec­tion, but it even­tu­al­ly hit me.

That cute lit­tle guy to the right is Calami­ty Coy­ote, a char­ac­ter from the early-90s ani­mat­ed tele­vi­sion series Tiny Toon Adven­tures, a show that may not have made as last­ing an impres­sion on me as oth­ers from the era did, but is one I def­i­nite­ly remem­ber watch­ing. (I remem­ber the theme song very well, for what that’s worth.) Calami­ty is also a rel­a­tive of Wile E. Coy­ote, or something.

Lack­ing any oth­er con­text to explain to my single-digit-aged self the mean­ing of the word calami­ty, I must have assumed that it meant… well, some­thing fun­ny! Because, you know, the show was made up of fun­ny char­ac­ters doing fun­ny things, so this unknown word must mean some­thing funny.

It makes per­fect sense to me, and feels like the expla­na­tion, the true cre­ation myth I’ve been look­ing for. I can’t imag­ine where else a younger Everett would have come across that word, and it’s not one I’ve seen enough times in the inter­ven­ing years, mak­ing this one of those wrong def­i­n­i­tions I still just can’t forget.

Do you have any words that have a spe­cial mean­ing to you, one that’s com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than what the word real­ly means? Or per­haps that even tick­le your fun­ny bone in an equal­ly irra­tional way? (I real­ly do want to know.)

How Windows ate my EXIF data (and how I mostly fixed it)

The background

As we’ve already estab­lished, I love to take pho­tos, and I have a strong bias toward dig­i­tal. While I received my first dig­i­tal cam­era (the afore­men­tioned Game Boy Cam­era) on my birth­day in 2000, it was­n’t until the fol­low­ing sum­mer that I got my first “real” digi­cam, a Nikon Coolpix 775.

From there, the flood of dig­i­tal pho­tos began. Ini­tial­ly, I just dumped every pho­to into a sin­gle fold­er on my shiny, new, gonna-help-me-do-well-in-college-this-fall lap­top, and let their sequen­tial file­names (DSCN0001.JPG, 0002, etc.) do the “sort­ing.”

This worked for a while, until it became clear that hav­ing all of my pho­tos in one fold­er was poor for both orga­ni­za­tion and per­for­mance, so I start­ed orga­niz­ing my pho­tos using dat­ed sub­fold­ers (e.g. photos/2001/2001 – 08-12/). This was all the orga­ni­za­tion I did for my pho­tos, and was also how  I viewed them, up until I began using pho­to man­ag­ing soft­ware (first Picasa on Win­dows, lat­er F‑Spot under Ubuntu).

The problem

While these apps excel at tak­ing pho­tos and turn­ing them into a well-organized stream based on date tak­en, I noticed that a small hand­ful of pho­tos were out-of-place in the time­line.1

After spend­ing some time puz­zled by this, it occurred to me that:

  1. none of these pho­tos had EXIF data
  2. all of these were tak­en in 2001
  3. all of these had been tak­en in “por­trait” mode (when you turn the cam­era side­ways), as opposed to “land­scape”

In an exam­ple of clear­ly mis­guid­ed, youth­ful indis­cre­tion, I had man­u­al­ly rotat­ed these pho­tos — remem­ber, cam­eras did­n’t have ori­en­ta­tion sen­sors back then — using Win­dows Pic­ture & Fax View­er (Win­dows ME/XP’s default), and it ate my pho­tos’ EXIF data! From then on, I start­ed using the cam­er­a’s built-in rotate functionality.

But, ugh, I still had a bunch of old, messed up pho­tos. For­tu­nate­ly, I was­n’t total­ly in the dark about these pho­tos’ chronol­o­gy, as I knew the cor­rect dates that these pho­tos were tak­en, thanks to the sur­round­ing sequen­tial pho­tos still hav­ing their EXIF data.

The solution

For the last few years, I let these few pho­tos just be, annoyed that they would always show up in the wrong places. So today, I final­ly did some­thing about this: I gave them new EXIF data using the best infor­ma­tion I had at my disposal.

While I did­n’t know the pre­cise time tak­en, I did have dates for these pho­tos, so I fig­ured giv­ing them EXIF with the right date and wrong time was bet­ter than no date at all. I accom­plished this using a pair of Lin­ux pro­grams: jhead and touch. Here’s how:

First, I cre­at­ed an EXIF tag for a giv­en pho­to using jhead:

$ jhead -mkexif DSCN1282.JPG

Then, I touched the file (in Unix‑y par­lance, change the file’s “mod­i­fied” time­stamp) to mid­night (00:00:00) on the appro­pri­ate date (e.g. August 122001):

$ touch -t 200108120000.00 DSCN1228.JPG

Final­ly, I used jhead to change the file’s EXIF time­stamp to the newly-fixed mod­i­fied date:

$ jhead -dsft DSCN1282.JPG

Hav­ing re-added the prob­lem images to my F‑Spot library, the pho­tos now appear more-or-less in the place they should. They’re now good enough that I’ll nev­er again have to see those pho­tos mixed in with the wrong year!

  1. I know what you’re think­ing: that there were times when I for­got to set the date on my cam­era. Nope. No way. I nev­er for­get to set the date on my cam­era, because mak­ing sure my pho­tos have the cor­rect date and time is some­thing that I’m a bit obses­sive about, and the first thing I do after charg­ing my cam­er­a’s bat­tery is always check the date.

Corporate logos, visual puns and the juvenile brain that just didn’t get it

When I was young, I just did­n’t get it.

See, I was locat­ed square­ly in Piaget’s pre-operational stage of devel­op­ment, and some­thing fun­ny seems to hap­pen there: you’re only able to take things at face val­ue, miss­ing out on sub­tle­ty, double-meanings, sar­casm… and all that good stuff that isn’t stat­ed blunt­ly. Once you’re a ful­ly cog­nizant indi­vid­ual, you can appre­ci­ate all of that.

As a teen, or per­haps slight­ly ear­li­er, I was sud­den­ly able to see these sorts of things for what they real­ly were. Well, most things. But for a cer­tain class of things that I first expe­ri­enced dur­ing my pre-op stage, I con­tin­ued hav­ing trou­ble see­ing them for what they tru­ly rep­re­sent­ed. Here’s an example:

the classic Burger King logoWhen I was grow­ing up, this was the Burg­er King logo. (I also walked uphill to school in the South Flori­da snow, both ways. Kids these days.) It’s pret­ty sim­ple, right? The words rep­re­sent­ed the meat, between a cou­ple of buns. To whom was that not abun­dant­ly clear that the logo is a burger?

To me.

I did­n’t real­ize that until I was a bit old­er (high school, maybe), at which point it just hit me. It was not for lack of expo­sure; I had been eat­ing at Burg­er King prac­ti­cal­ly since birth. I had a birth­day par­ty there in ele­men­tary school. I was in the god­damn Burg­er King Kids Club!

The fact that I was exposed to this logo so ear­ly in life is pre­cise­ly why I took it for grant­ed. I missed the visu­al pun; as far as I was con­cerned, the logo looked the way it did because that was just what the Burg­er King logo looked like. I sim­ply could­n’t imag­ine it any oth­er way, or hav­ing any oth­er pur­pose than telling peo­ple who see it on the side of a build­ing that they’re look­ing at a Burg­er King location.

I had no such dif­fi­cul­ty with the stupid-simple McDon­ald’s arch­es. It’s just a big “M.”

old-school Milwaukee Brewers logoHere’s anoth­er exam­ple of a logo I did­n’t ful­ly under­stand or appre­ci­ate. For the record, I was­n’t a Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers fan, but at the age of four or five (and thanks to a friend’s father) I found myself with a huge col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary base­ball cards. Again, until I was much old­er, all I saw in this logo was a styl­ized base­ball and glove… which to a child, seems a per­fect­ly appro­pri­ate logo for a base­ball team. And your aver­age sports-team logo is on the lit­er­al side.

I believe it was at some point in col­lege that I noticed the sub­tle let­ter­ing in the Brew­ers’ logo. What a bril­liant design!

There’s a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent class of logos that are more sub­tle, with some­thing inten­tion­al­ly hid­den with­in. You don’t need to be a young­ster to miss it.

These tend to be great:

the Goodwill logothe FedEx logoAmazon.com logo

The FedEx logo is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed, its pun mas­ter­ful­ly sub­tle. It only occurred to me it a few years ago, while dri­ving to work one day. I was behind a FedEx truck. Then it hit me. (Thank you, I will be here all week.)

As for the Good­will logo, this blog com­ment made me see the light, or rather, the huge “g” in neg­a­tive space. I had always just seen it as a face.

The day I real­ized that the Ama­zon logo was­n’t mean to be a smirk was the day I saw the A -> Z.

Can you think of any oth­er good examples?