April, 2006

  • The Old New Thing

    German adjectives really aren't that hard; they just look that way

    • 19 Comments

    I may have scared a bunch of people with that chart of German adjective endings, but as several commenters noted, native speakers don't refer to the charts; they just say what comes naturally. (Well, except for Leo Petr, who claims that native Russian speakers actually study these charts in grade school.) Commenter Helga Waage noted that one quickly sees patterns in the charts that make them much easier to digest. And that's true. But I taught myself the German adjective endings a completely different way. If you're a student of German, you might find this helpful. If you're not, then you probably just want to skip the rest of this entry.

    As a side note, you have to make sure you put the columns in the right order. In many textbooks, the columns are ordered as "masculine, feminine, neuter, plural", but this fails to highlight the strong similarity between the masculine and neuter genders. From a grammatical standpoint, German neuter nouns are "90% masculine, 10% feminine"; therefore, it's more natural to put the neuter column between the masculine and feminine columns. I therefore prefer the order "masculine, neuter, feminine, plural", which as it so happens appears to be the order that Germans themselves use.

    I'm going to do away with the terms "strong", "weak", and "mixed". Instead, I'm going to reduce it to the question "How much work does the adjective have to do?" which breaks down into two inflections. In my mind, I don't have terms for these two inflections, but for the purpose of this discussion I'll call them "hardworking" and "lazy".

    We start with the lazy inflection, which is used when the definite article or a word that has the same ending as the definite article is present. The lazy inflection is simple: In the singular of the nominative and accusative cases (the "easy cases"), the ending is "-e". In the plural and in the genitive and dative cases (the "hard cases"), the ending is "-en".

    M N F   P
    Nom   -e   -en
    Acc -en
    Dat -en
    Gen

    There is only one exception to this general rule, which I highlighted in the table above. But even that exception is natural, because the masculine gender is the only one whose articles change between the nominative and the accusative, from "der" to "den" and "ein" to "einen", so you're already used to sticking an extra "-en" in the masculine accusative singular.

    (By the way, I call the nominative and accusative the "easy" cases since most textbooks teach them them within the first few weeks, which means that you've quickly become familiar with them and treat them as old friends. On the other hand, the dative and genitive are not usually introduced until second year, thereby making them "hard" due to their relative unfamiliarity.)

    The hardworking inflection is even easier than the lazy inflection. You use the hardworking inflection when there is no word that has the same ending as the definite article. In this case, the adjective must step up and take the ending itself. (I've included the definite article in the chart for reference.)

    M N F P
    Nom
    der
    -er
    das
    -es
    die
    -e
    die
    -e
    Acc
    den
    -en
    das
    -es
    die
    -e
    die
    -e
    Dat
    dem
    -em
    dem
    -em
    der
    -er
    den
    -en
    Gen    
    der
    -er
    der
    -er

    Hey, wait, I left two boxes blank. What's going on here?

    Well, because in those two cases, even if there is nothing else to carry the ending of the definite article, the noun itself gets modified by adding "-s". For example, the genitive of the neuter noun "Wasser" (water) is "Wassers" (of water). The word that carries the ending of the definite article is the noun itself! That's why I leave the boxes blank: The scenario never occurs in German.

    It is those empty boxes, however, that always trip me up. When it comes time to decide what ending to put on the adjective, and I'm in one of those two boxes, the word with the ending of the definite article hasn't appeared yet so I think I'm in the "hardworking" case. And then when I get around to saying the "-s" at the end of "Wassers", I realize, "Oh, crap, there's that indicator. I should have used the lazy form." But it's too late, I already said the adjective with the wrong ending. I could go back and fix it, but that would interrupt the flow of the conversation, so I usually decide to let it slide and take the hit of sounding stupid. (Or, more precisely, sounding more stupid.) If you listen carefully, you may notice me pause for a fraction of a second just as I reach the "-s" and the realization dawns on me that I messed up again.

    If you compare my charts to the official charts with strong, weak and mixed inflections, you'll see that my "lazy" inflection matches the weak inflection exactly, and my "hardworking" inflection matches the "strong" inflection except for those empty boxes. (Because, under my rules, those empty boxes are lazy.) The mixed inflection matches the "lazy" inflection except in three places, which I count as "hardworking" because the indefinite article "ein" does not take an ending in exactly those three places.

    Anyway, so there's how I remember my German adjective endings. Mind you, I don't work through the details of these rules each time I have to decide on an ending. I just have to make the simple note of whether the definite article ending has already appeared (or in the case I always forget: will soon appear). If not, then I put it on the adjective.

  • The Old New Thing

    Spamming the event log doesn't make things any better

    • 19 Comments

    A common suggestion is that if a problem is detected which the system automatically recovered from but which an administrator might be interested in knowing about, then an event log entry should be created. Be careful, however, not to abuse the event log in the process.

    If the problem is not security-related and it can occur, say, more than a few times a day, then generating an event log entry may do more harm than good. The event log has a maximum log size (default 512KB on Windows XP), and when the log fills, older log entries are discarded to make room. If you generate a lot of events, you can end up filling the event log with your events, pushing out all the other events that the administrator might have been more interested in. Even worse, the administrator may have disabled automatically discarding old event log entries, in which case the system will generate error messages once the event log fills.

    Network administrators make it a habit to go through the event logs of the machines on their network looking for unusual activity. If you fill the event log with chatter, this makes it harder for them to spot the real problems.

  • The Old New Thing

    What seventh-grade students want to be when they grow up

    • 19 Comments

    Another episode in the sporadic series on the wisdom of seventh graders: The topic this time is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The students really enjoyed this topic because, as one young man put it, "I could write a book about myself!" Here are what some students had to say. Spelling mistakes are intact, but ellipses are editorial. (I have provided tooltips to assist non-native English speakers. Actually, even native English speakers may have trouble with some of the spelling errors...)

    • The best job in the world would be a dog consultant.
    • I also watch the history channel because you can never know too much about history.
    • My talent would be having good mojo.
    • In science I am achieving an easy A, and hardly giving it my all.
    • I like to blow up stuff.
    • Couciling teens is a low stress job, and you get paid a lot of money.
    • I am very interested in rockets and their purpltion sistims.
    • Also my dad does not believe I will be able to become a dentist so my goal is to prove him wrong and become a dentist.
    • I want to be a arcetecture.
    • Theories can turn into farts by proving it.
    • I've been called short and weird, but no one has ever called me chicken. In fact, if I were a chicken every chicken would call me "backa" or "cluck-chirp".
    • (From a male student) Also another reason good pay is important is because if I get married and have kids... I want to buy them nice things. For example, a wedding ring, dress, food... an alarm system...
    • There is no better job then getting paid to argue.
    • (About being a doctor) You get to help them by saving their life or getting a lego out of their throat and are rewarded with joy.
    • I would slide down the helicopter ropes and bust in to save the day.
    • Creating is creativity.
    • There is now whining or crying in 5th grade.
    • I have went to every Huskie home game in the past 5 years.
    • I wanted to be a writer, but writing this paper makes me think I shouldn't.
    • I will understand that no matter the child, the punishment will fit the crime. No student will be left behind.
    • I have the natural ability to become frustrated.
    • I will have a sufficient retirement if I don't go bankrupt.
    • (About being an architect) Make everything extremely simple... architects have to deal with the puenie minded construction worker around them.
    • My ways of teaching will make life and school a lot easier, I will clearly write my name on the whiteboard, in purple ink and I will have a neon green poster board with the rules written on it.

    Bonus misspellings: omocinal, nurcher, pation, mussuse.

    (And I thought I didn't have to say this, but apparently I do: These are just the funny-bad sentences. There were of course plenty of well-written essays, but they're not as funny.)

    Bonus explanation: In the previous series of essays on humanity's greatest invention or discovery, one of the responses was "marrying a princess". I had to ask my friend for an explanation of that one. "Well, one student decided to ignore the assigned topic and instead wrote a fairy tale about a beautiful princess who gets married."

  • The Old New Thing

    Doing the best we can until time travel has been perfected

    • 64 Comments

    Mistakes were made.

    Mistakes such as having Windows NT put Notepad in a different location from Windows 3.1. (Though I'm sure they had their reasons.) Mistakes such as having a TCS_VERTICAL when there is already a CCS_VERT style. Mistakes such as having listview state images be one-biased, whereas treeview state images are zero-biased.

    But what's done is done. The mistakes are out there. You can't go back and fix them—at least not until time travel has been perfected—or you'll break code that was relying on the mistakes. (And believe me, there's a lot of code that relies on mistakes.) You'll just have to do the best you can with the situation as it is.

    Often, when I discuss a compatibility problem, people will respond with "That's your own damn fault. If you had done XYZ, then you wouldn't have gotten into this mess." Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't, but that doesn't make any progress towards solving the problem and therefore isn't very constructive. I sure hope these people never become lifeguards.

    "Help me, I'm drowning!"

    "Are you wearing a life preserver?"

    "No."

    "Well, if you had worn a life preserver, then you wouldn't be drowning. It's your own damn fault."

    When faced with a problem, you first need to understand the problem, then you set about exploring solutions to the problem. Looking for someone to blame doesn't solve the problem. I'm not saying that one should never assign blame, just that doing so doesn't actually solve anybody's problem. (If you want to blame somebody, do it at the bug post-mortem. Then you can study the conditions that led to the mistake, assign blame, if you're looking for a scapegoat, and take steps to prevent a future mistake of the same sort from occurring. As a lifeguard, you first rescue the drowning person, and then you lecture them for not wearing a life preserver.)

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