Amusement Park: January 2011 Archives

My editor and I recently played a Google-your-own-name type of game. But unlike regular vanity Googling, the game requires you to type only your real first name (no surnames) into the Google search box and wait for a drop-down list to appear with Google’s suggestions of frequently searched for phrases or names that have to do with that particular name. And since I have, like, no life, I also played. My editor of course is SO famous; her surname coupled with her name appears as the very first option. I had no such great expectations.

My own name, a horrible, utterly despicable affair which I have yet to forgive my parents for (and which I have riled against before a bit over here), is not, thank goodness, bestowed on many other people. If only my parents had changed the spelling of my name slightly, it would have spared me an endless amount of embarrassment, and of a lifetime supply of letters and – more recently – e-mails, erroneously addressing me as “Mister”.

Not to mention the lengthy speeches I was forced to give when I lived in the States, while explaining to people how to correctly pronounce it and trying to convince the Yanks that no, it does NOT in fact rhyme with ‘bagel’ (despite my own rotund shape and my body’s uncanny resemblance to an actual bagel). Adding one measly letter to my name and changing another would have altered my name into the far more palatable and globally pronounceable ‘Rachel’.

But moan aside… (for the moment): So I also decided to give the Google Name Game a go, wondering what on earth I would encounter, but not really expecting anything interesting when I typed in my awful first name.

Only to be met with this:

Google Name Game.JPG


The “Ragel State Machine” led me to another site where I made the astonishing discovery that I have an actual namesake! Okay, so it’s not exactly a person (and really, I’m relieved about this – no one else should be saddled with a name this awful), but it is a computer program/software development tool!! Which is commonly used! And which was created by a rather handsome, surprisingly ungeeky-looking (bio pics don’t lie!) AND tremendously clever (he has a Ph.D in Computer Science) Canadian guy named Adrian Thurston.

At the risk of seeming downright insane, I immediately e-mailed him to find out why on EARTH he chose the name ‘Ragel’ for it. Told him that it’s my first name and asked him if it’s an acronym for anything? Not wanting to be mistakenly ‘mistered’ by such a dashing male speciman, I told him that I am indeed a girl. And then I cheekily suggested that maybe he had met ANOTHER living girl burdened with this name, and perhaps he had fallen madly in love with her and THAT’s how and why he decided to name his Magnum Opus after her?

I then asked whether he pronounces his version as if it rhymes with ‘bagel’ and then I gave him a quick primer on the horrid Afrikaans pronunciation of mine:  I'm not sure if you're familiar with Afrikaans, but it is quite a guttural language, so the "g" in my name basically sounds like a cat coughing up an enormous hairball. So if you want to say my name in Afrikaans, simply go: Rah-*andthenmakesound likeacatcoughingupanastyhairball*-el, with the 'el' sounding ‘flat’ like the "ill" in Will and not like the “ill” in kill.”

I never in a million years expected to hear back from him (or anyone else, for that matter), so imagine my total astonishment and delight when I received an e-mail back from the man HIMSELF less than 24 hours later!

Here’s what he wrote: “I've heard from people with the last name Ragel (Me: He HAS? Well, I suppose it could have been worse then. I could’ve been Ragel Ragel…), but never anyone with the first name Ragel. (Me again: Tell me about it, buddy.) When I named it the Internet was a much smaller place. All I found in my searches was some Arabic text using the word.”(And me AGAIN: Go figure. Arabic is one of the few other languages in which speakers constantly sound as if they’re coughing up hairballs.)

Then he wrote: “I picked it by putting the R and L of regular languages around my nickname Age. I haven't had any romantic encounters with anyone named Ragel! Or Colm! (Me: At first I didn’t get the Colm joke, until consulting his bio again and seeing that Colm is the name of the “new source transformation system” that he is working on.)

So then I simply HAD to e-mail him back. You know. To stal… I mean… THANK him, for so graciously taking the time to write to me. I asked his permission to please blog about it and then asked for clarification on his pronunciation of Ragel and, since I do not speak much ‘computer’, what exactly the Ragel program does?

A few hours later, my inbox lit up with this response:

“Hey Ragel (still seems weird writing that),

I started out thinking I would pronounce it like bagel (how Canadians say it at least)” (Me: Yes, those Canucks do have some rather strange pronunciations, such as saying aboot instead of about, and punctuating the end of every sentence with an ‘eh?’, whether they’re asking a question or not. But it’s utterly charming when you hear Canadians speaking alood like that eh.)

Okay, back to Adrian’s reply: “That's roughly ray-gul. But that never stuck. Now I say rah-gul. A lot of people still pronounce it ray-gul though.

“Naming and choosing a pronunciation for programs is generally a task that's full of confusion. Us programmers are not the most social bunch, so you can go a long while never having to say your program out loud!

Aboslutely, feel free to blog about this!


And then, while I was still bouncing around with joy aboot his e-mails, I received ANOTHER one from him, asking me on a virtual date.

Okay, just kidding! It was a real date, not a virtu… Okay! Joke! But he really DID e-mail me again soon after, to explain the intricate workings of my namesake in language that someone as dense as I am can actually grasp. Unlike most awesomely clever people who usually aren’t very good teachers, Adrian managed it really well, because after I had mentioned to him in my first e-mail that I’m a writer, he compared it to a tool that I use and can therefore relate to in order to explain it to me: “Ragel, in layman’s terms… is basically a software development tool for producing parsers.

“When you read and comprehend text, you need to parse it using the rules of the language. You look at the string of letters and punctuation and decide on its syntax. Once you’ve got the syntax nailed down, you can decide on the semantics. Computers need to do the same thing when they exchange text over the internet, or via files. Information is transmitted and stored in strings and must be parsed.

Then he explained how Ragel takes rules about a language as input and produces a program that parses. “One can always write programs that parse by hand, but Ragel simplifies menial tasks and provides an abstraction that people seem to like.” (Me: Modest he is, when he says ‘seem to like’. My research has revealed that PLENTY of people like Ragel the parsing program very, very much!)

Now, if only Ragel the unfortunately named human girl can be nearly as useful as her computer program namesake!


is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)


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