Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet influenced my passion for languages. I first saw it on television as a movie special when I was in my early teens. Professor Morbius was a philologist in a genre whose common characters are physicists, chemists, astronomers, and engineers, all in the plural. Morbius unlocked the language of the Krell, and doubled his intelligence with one of their machines. Psychology was the other underutilized science that drove the plot of Forbidden Planet to its conclusion. The “id” is called an archaic idea, long since abandoned, but the construct does explain the action, as surely as the other technobabble describes the ship’s hull, engines, navigation, and weaponry. As interesting as it is, I never had the drive for studying psychology that I have for words, their meanings, origins, and uses. 
Blade and blood share a root meaning.
Many of the "bl" words do.

When Mom bought the house a new dictionary, 
I spent hours reading etymologies. 

 My mother’s family was Hungarian. Although English was the official language of our home, Hungarian was impossible to avoid. My brother and I were encouraged to take foreign language classes in school as soon as they were offered. He started with French in the third grade. I had to wait until the seventh to begin German. At that same time, when telephoning my friend, John, I learned to get through to his mother in Ukrainian: "Mazhu ya hovoriti do Vanya?" And to listen for the reply, just in case, "Yo ho ne ma doma." (He is not at home.) Over the years of junior and senior high school, I spent hours just browsing the foreign language stacks in main branch of the Cleveland Public Library. It was a moment for me when I read the title Szep Uj Vilag and understood the meaning: Pretty [Brave] New World, itself another reference to The Tempest.
Decrypting the language of the Krell
At Lansing Community College in 1990, I had two classes in conversational Japanese for business before going to work for Kawasaki. The writing was not as much of a challenge for me because when I was about 12 I found a book at my neighborhood branch library on Chinese characters. In it, an American boy whose father is an engineer, learns from an Old Master how to write about 20 characters. Around that time, I began collecting Berlitz and other guides for tourists. 
The Monster of the Id
Fifteen years later, I was a campus safety patrol officer while majoring in criminal justice at Washtenaw Community College. Once a month, on Sunday night, one of our classrooms was used by a Persian Poetry Group. They were ethnic Iranians from Detroit and Grand Rapids who met to discuss world affairs. The building had to be cleared and locked by 11:00 PM. I began with “Welcome,” “Good evening,” and “How are you?” and after a few months, I was up to “It is getting late, is it not?” One of them asked me if I was Turkish. “No,” I replied. “Why do you ask?” “Because,” he said, “you speak Farsi with a Turkish accent.” Not bad.
Oh, brave new world
that has such creatures in it!
Here in Austin, I found myself waiting at the bus stop several mornings a week with neighbors who looked almost Oriental and spoke something that sounded almost Arabic. I inquired politely. They were Uzbeks. No problem: the Austin City Library has books for tourists on the languages of central Asia. 
The IQ Test
My first computer language was Fortran. I followed it with Basic. Lansing Community College had an IBM 5100 that was programmable in APL. The school library had book about computer languages; by 1976, there were over a hundred. Ten years later, I was setting type with TeX/LaTeX, the foundation of SGML. I met a computer literacy requirement for my bachelor’s with a class in Java. When I moved to Austin, I took a community class in Ruby.

As for the movie, it has held up well over time. With The Tempest for its model, the plot was tried and true. The writing and acting were competent. The special effects were innovative. In fact, live action shooting took only a couple of months and the artwork required another eighteen. The high-quality workmanship continues to deliver value.


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