Theft and retrieval

A posting about my life, though there will be incidental music (Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations) and a linguistics book (Julie Tetel Andresen & Phillip M. Carter, Languages in the World, 2016).

The story starts with the music, piped during the night from my laptop computer (a MacBook Pro 15.4 from 2010) in the front of the house to my bedroom in the back. Around 2 a.m. yesterday, I came partially to consciousness, feeling the beginning of an old man’s need to take a middle-of-the-night leak but enjoying the Gould Goldberg in a semi-conscious state — when the music cut out. This sometimes just happens, for reasons I can’t discern, so wasn’t alarmed but dozed for a while, then did the bathroom thing and stumbled into the front of the house to check out the computer’s settings.

And discovered that the laptop was gone. Vanished, which would explain why the music had died. Everything unplugged, the scraps of notes on top of the laptop put aside on a chair, but nothing else disturbed in any way. Creepy.

This is Act 1, The Theft Discovered.

On the incidental music in the overture to Act 1. From Wikipedia:

(#1) You can listen to the complete 1955 recording here

The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a work written for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. First published in 1741, the work is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form. The Variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been the first performer.

Act 2, The Investigation. After an initial moment of stunned disbelief, in which I searched around the house for the laptop, as if it had wandered off aimlessly on its own, and a much longer period of panic, in which I realized that someone had been in my house about 20 feet from where I was sleeping, I called 911 to report the theft and, while waiting for the police to arrive,  looked around to see how the thief had come in and out.

I discovered that the door from the front patio to the study had been left unlocked, that someone had left an empty paper coffee by this door on the patio, and that the door to the patio from the street was ajar. So the thief’s path was clear. What wasn’t clear was what brought them onto the patio in the first place; had they been casing the place for some time? Scary thought.

The police officer in charge, James Morace, arrived (with a supervisory officer in tow) and took me over the story. The theft occurred at about 2:10 a.m., and it was quick and slick. They asked about regular visitors to my house. There are three, and I described them in general terms, but without names, and vouched for them.

(Note. Anyone with any observational skills whatsoever who visits my house can figure out that I’m gay, and my relationships with the police have never been good — some have been openly antagonistic to me — but I make no attempt to conceal that I’m queer, so I just forged ahead. One of my regular visitors is a woman and a friend of many years, so they weren’t interested in her. I accounted for the other two by describing their occupations and my long acquaintance with them, but concealed the fact that one is black and one Mexican, which almost surely would have made the (very white Anglo) cops ask for their names. It’s just a fact of life that to people in authority, minorities are almost always suspect; my black and Mexican friends have plenty of unpleasant stories to match mine about lgbt-folk dealing with authorities.)

Officer Morance made notes on the facts, asked me to find the serial number of the laptop and send it to him by e-mail (which I did an hour ir so later), but they weren’t encouraging about getting my baby back. Even with tracking software in place (which my daughter Elizabeth helped me activate later in the morning from my iPad), the thieves would probably just wipe the machine clear without logging in: their interest would be in the machine, probably for its resale value, and not my software and files.

It took me a while — the theft was seriously jangling — to realize that if the thieves had any sense they’d understand that a 7-year-old laptop, even one with hefty hardware upgrades, has almost no resale value. I had in fact just assembled some money to replace the old machine with a newer one, which now became an urgent goal (Elizabeth discovered that the local Apple store had  iMacs and Mac Minis in stock, and I was inclined to the former; in any case, I no longer have need of a laptop, since I essentially never move the machine around).

I limped along with the exceedingly constrained resources of my iPad (which was crippled in various ways by the latest iOS upgrade), but I did at least have e-mail (though not much else).

Act 3, The Retrieval. Kim Darnell arrived and helped me to get Facebook to work on my iPad, and so I was able to get a FB message, just before 10 a.m., from a woman at SkinSpirit (on the other side of the parking area in back of my condo complex), who had found my laptop and a package, just tossed into the bushes by her company.

The package was news to me, but it was key, since it had my name and address on it. Also since it provided a backstory for the theft. The package — yes, a copy of Languages in the World (from Wiley Blackwell), delivered by UPS after I’d gone to bed — was out there by the street, and apparently the thief (or thieves), walking down the street after the bars closed at 2 a.m., saw it there and decided to steal it (though they eventually realized it was just a useless goddam book), looked in my front windows and saw there was a computer inside, tried the first door they could find, and there you were.

Presumably they then realized that the laptop was no more valuable than the book, and just tossed the haul.

But the book led the nice woman at SkinSpirit immediately to me, no need to call the police or anything. (I e-mailed the police with the retrieval story.)

So: thank you, Julie and Phillip, for your excellent dual-purpose book: a wonderful adventure in language, culture, and society, and also a nifty tracking device.

All of this should explain why I never got around to posting anything yesterday.

The bookLanguages in the World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language, 2016:

(#2) By Julie Tetel Andresen (Duke Univ.) and Phillip M. Carter (Florida International University)

From the back cover:

Including detailed linguistic analysis of an array of languages, coupled with sociological, historical, and biological insight, Languages in the World provides a uniquely interdisciplinary account of the evolution of language over the past 200,000 years. Tetel Andresen and Carter expertly illustrate the reciprocal nature of the relationship between language and society by balancing detailed discussion of the structure and distribution of specific languages with engaging personal and political narratives. Exercises and questions for further discussion are included at the end of each chapter and a companion website features sound files and a host of additional supplementary material.

From the role of Sanskrit in philology to a detailed analysis of the effects of globalization on world language, this innovative new book will be an essential tool for anyone interested in better understanding how language has evolved and where it is going.

A wonderfully rich book. Every so often, Phillip posts on Facebook about courses he’s teaching at FIU that use this book, and gets lots of comments from people saying (I paraphrase) “Me, me, I want to take this course!”

I’ve taught from an antecedent textbook enterprise, also focused on combining structural sketches of particular languages (from all over the world) with accounts of how languages fit into the social lives and cultures of their speakers:

Timothy Shopen (ed.), Languages and Their Speakers; Languages and Their Status, both Winthrop Publishers, 1979, reprinted by Univ. of Pa. Press, 1987.

I used the volumes as texts in an undergraduate introduction to syntax course, at Stanford and at Ohio State, with (I think) some success. For that purpose, the language sketches in the Shopen volumes had to be supplemented by material on syntactic typology and syntactic theory (which I created on my own).

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