Carl Banks' Blog

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Nonfiction Book Title Rules

Nonfiction is one of the most popular genres of books sold today. It's also the genre with the absolute least amount of imagination when it comes to book titles. In fact, all nonfiction titles follow five basic rules.

Rule 1: All nonfiction books must have both a title and subtitle.

There are no exceptions to this rule. All nonfiction, every single book ever published, adheres to this rule.

Rule 2: The title will be in one of these three forms:

  1. <single_proper_noun_or_name>

  2. <optional_definite_article> <option_proper_noun> <noun> <preposition> the <noun_phrase>

  3. <adjective> <plural_or_collective_noun>

Rule 3: The subtitle will be in one of these five forms:

  1. A <adjective> Look at the World of <noun> in <optional location>

  2. The Story/Untold Story/Tragedy/Triumph/Defeat/Victory/Lessons of the <optional_proper_noun> <noun> in <optional_location>

  3. How the <proper_noun> Expedition/Voyage/Incident/Experiment/War <optional_prepositional_phrase> Changed the World/Ended Slavery/Is Destroying America

  4. A Journey into <abstract_place>

  5. The Day/Night/Hour <something_bad_happened>

Rule 4: Only the subtitle is allowed to identify the book's contents.

The title alone should never, ever be sufficient to allow someone to guess what the book is about. Preferrably, the title shouldn't have anything to do with the contents except in the most abstract, metaphorical sense.

Rule 5: The word "secret" may appear anywhere in the title or subtitle even if it violates Rules 2 and 3.

That's it: these five rules are sufficient to cover the title of all nonfiction books ever published. Let's take a look at some examples of valid titles.

  • Great Bass: A Comprehensive Look at the World of Fly-Fishing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
  • Dark Valleys: The Untold Story of the Fall of the Amazon Hunter
  • Men of the Tundra: How the Chadwick Expedition Changed the World
  • The Pendregoth Scandal: A Journey into the Secret Dark Mind of Barry Goodfellow
  • Frozen Blankets: The Night the Cold Came to Okruk
  • Bronze Rain: Lessons of the Ambush in Chicketaw Valley
  • Broken Eggshells: How the War of America's Youth on our Police Force is Destroying America
  • Thomas Jefferson: A Journey into the Secret Life of the Slaves at Monticello
  • Secret Sailors of the Silent Service: How the Bluefin Voyage Changed the World
Tags: lack_of_imagination, nonfiction_titles
Last Edited: 15 July 2010, 2:35 AM
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Photographs of Me

Professional Photograph:

High School Yearbook Picture:

A Candid Photograph:

Another Candid Photograph:

Photograph of the MTS Machine and me:
(Interesting note: The photographer of this picture, Regina
Kauffman, was on the crew of the EC9 spyplane that emergency
landed in China.)

Photograph from my Football Days:

Photograph of me in the Virginia Tech Flight Simulation Lab:

My Brother Victor and me in Tempe, Arizona:

My Mom and me in Nogales, Mexico:

Me standing with the SR-71 in Tuscon, Arizona:

South Park caricature:

Professional Photograph with some interesting image processing:

Photograph from my days as a Calvin Klein model:

On a boat on Lake Waconia:

In a restaurant next to Mom:

A more up-to-date South Park caricature:

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New Blog

I've had a web presence since 1995.

In those 15 years, many things about the World Wide Web have changed tremendously, but one thing has remained the same: my web pages have been almost entirely static. Except for a few minor cgi-bin applications (including the Oracle of Notre Dame in a previous form), all my web content was edited on my desktop, uploaded, and served as-is.

Well, I've finally jumped on the dynamic content bandwagon. Welcome to my new blog. Like any respectable web app, it stores content in a database and retrieves it upon request.

So what pushed me over? Well, it's mostly a matter of the right technologies coming together and getting support from inexpensive web hosts. Until recently (last few years), most inexpensive web hosts only supported dynamic content with PHP (which I will never touch) and cgi-bin scripts. CGI is terrible for anything more than trivial apps. But lately web hosts are supporting a wider variety of web frameworks (largely due to the success of Ruby on Rails, I think).

With that development I began considering to implement my own dynamic content in Python. There are now tons of libraries one can leverage to take care of the gory details (and that's all I wanted—which is why I didn't go with a framework like Django). I found CherryPy to be especially helpful to take care of all the HTTP aspects, while not being overly formulaic to use. The major libraries that came together for my blog are:

  • CherryPy manages the HTTP aspects
  • Mako manages the HTML templating
  • Docutils converts user input to HTML
  • SQLAlchemy manages the database
  • Elixir set up the SQLAlchemy's ORM classes

I threw together a couple small apps with CherryPy and SQLAlchemy, and then decided I was ready to try for a blog, and here it is.

Tags: blog, cherrypy, python, sqlalchemy, wsgi
Last Edited: 4 July 2010, 3:44 AM
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List of Facebook Apps I've blocked


August 6, 2010

Facebook added an application kill switch, which I invoked, so now all applications are blocked. Yay.

Here is a list of Facebook apps I've blocked. With one minor exception, my policy is not to allow any third-party Facebook apps.

Even though I use Facebook sparingly (it's mostly there just in case people want to find me), I find Facebook apps irritating enough to stomp out and brag about it. Besides being annoying information vomit, they are often also security risks (they can phish information from your Facebook profile if you allow them).

The first 20 or so apps on this list I blocked before even having used them; when I first signed up I browsed through the most popular apps and blocked them all. I take great pride in having blocked SuperPoke without ever having been SuperPoked.

Here's the list:

  • Causes
  • MyCalendar
  • Birthday Calendar
  • Abrazos
  • IQ Test
  • Agenda de cumpleaños
  • Pittsburgh Steelers Fans
  • Top Friends
  • Collect Hearts
  • Pieces of Flair
  • Birthday Cards
  • SuperPoke!
  • (lil) Green Patch
  • Pass a Drink
  • Slide FunSpace
  • Texas HoldEm Poker
  • Hugged
  • Circle of Friends
  • RockYou live
  • Pink Ribbon
  • We're Related
  • Music
  • Pillow Fight
  • Food Fling!
  • Which TV Mom are You?
  • What is the theme song of ur life???
  • Which celebrity should you marry?
  • Name Generators
  • livingSocial
  • Yearbook
  • How Well Do You Know Me?
  • Growing up in Oakmont, Pa.
  • Send Your Friends Terrible Towels!
  • Pittsburgh Steelers Swag
  • Send Your Friends hugs!
Tags: apps, blocked, facebook
Last Edited: 17 October 2009, 11:55 AM
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An Open Letter to all Job Recruiters

Dear the five or so job recruiters per day who try to contact me:

First of all, I would like to thank you for your interest. It is comforting to know that I always have options. However, several aspects of you methodology have been a source of irritation to me, so I thought I'd write this letter to make you aware of this.

  1. Please do not cold call me. I realize that calling the victim, er, prospective employee is the modus operandi of some of you, and that's perfectly fine. But, there a little problem here. You see, the resume I have up on has a contact preference set to "Email." And when that didn't work, I decided to put a line at the very top, right in the objective, that says "ATTN Recruiters: please contact me by email only, not telephone." But that didn't work either. I may have to remove my phone number altogether (which I don't want to do, because I would like someone I've communicated with to be able to refer to it to get my number).

    You see, it's really annoying to get 2 or 3 calls a day while at work, oftentimes when I'm at a meeting. Which brings me to my next annoyance....

  2. Ok, you've decided to cold call me. Why in God's Holy Name would you call me during work hours? Isn't that the worst time imaginable? "Hell-lo, Meester Bonks, my nay-yam is Hajib, er, Michael, I-ee om calleeng you on behoff of a large tech-no-loj-ee-cal firm. Do you have twoo meenutes to speek with me?" Um, yeah, sure Hajib, I'm sure my coworkers won't suspect anything if I shout my preferred job locations into a phone for the benefit of a guy in India with a bad connection. Which brings me to my third annoyance....

  3. Don't use non-native English speakers to recruit. You've outsourced your call center, your software division, your manufacturing, your accounting department, and so on. Fine, you gotta roll with the times. But if there's one thing you don't want to outsource to non-native speakers, under any circumstances, it's recruiting. Let's take a look at my thought process to figure out why. "Hell-lo, Meester Bonks, my ney-yam is Okmed, er, Matt...." Hmm, some Indian guy is calling me about a job. I'm not too familiar with the firm he's mentioning. I wonder if I should consider working for it? Well, let's see, what do I know about this company so far? Number one: They outsource jobs to Asia. Yeah, great first impression there, what American wouldn't want to work for a company that has a history of shipping jobs overseas?

    To be honest, I don't personally care about this so much; from a purely economic perspective it makes sense to outsource. And I am the sort that wouldn't exactly be crushed by unemployment. In fact, I'd probably volunteer if there were upcoming layoffs. But, a recruiter does have to talk about more varied things than a customer service rep. I don't mind talking to Hajib over a billing issue, but over a potential job is a little much.

  4. If you're not going to read my resume, please don't act like you did. All too often I get emails like this: "Greetings Carl, I have personally reviewed your resume and I believe you would be an excellent fit for this job opportunity. If you have an MSEE and 7+ years experience working with PLC, please respond with an updated resume in Word format." Um, dude? You just claimed in the very previous sentence that you reviewed my resume. I shouldn't have to tell you that I don't have an MSEE nor 7 years experience in anything.

    If you're going to send out mass emails based on keywords, fine, but don't be a pretentious fool by claiming you read my resume.

  5. Give me details about the job. My rule of thumb is that I don't respond to any recruiter who's failed to supply at least three things: a brief job description, a job location, and a description of the firm. This should be a common sense thing for a recruiter to provide. I get emails like this all the time: "We are looking for an experienced Python developer. Please call me if you are interested." Um, how the hell would I know if I'm interested or not? All I have to go on is Python developer. That's not a brief job decription. What kind of Python developer? What software domain? There's nothing about a job location or firm.

    Even a bit of information might pique my interest; for instance, I'd probably respond to this solicitation: "A medium-size aeronautical firm in Northern California that is looking for an experienced Python developer to write user-friendly interfaces for numerical simulations." Conversely, the tiny bit of information might be enough to rule out the offer, saving everyone's time. When recruiters don't volunteer this information, I assume they have something to hide and ignore it.

  6. Emailing me a tenth time isn't going to get me to alter my decision to have ignored you the previous nine times. If I don't respond, it's because I wasn't interested. Sometimes if a person is polite and emails me back for an answer, yes or no, I'll write them back to say no. But mostly these repeated messages are just spam.

  7. There's a reason that, although I live in Cincinnati, Cincinnati isn't listed among my preferred locations on my Monster resume. Hint: It's because I don't want to work in Cincinnati.

I think you for reading this, and I would encourage you to pass this on to any of your friends to that all may be enlightened.

Yours truly,

Carl Banks

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The Apostrophe Rule

The Apostrophe Rule is a rule I made up while advising someone on an Internet forum what to do about his wife who would always talk his ear off. I've been told many times how clever the rule is, so I thought I'd share it with the whole world.

The husband in question here didn't want to shut his wife down completely, I guess because he thought gossiping was the highlight of her day, or something. Anyway I gave him this rule which is designed merely to set boundaries about who she can talk about, and it's pretty clever. Here is the rule as the husband would dictate it to his wife:

You may not gossip about anyone you need an apostrophe to name.

If you think about it for a moment, it's clear how and why it works, but I'll give some examples anyway. First of all, people who are on first name basis with both spouses are acceptable, since they can be named with their actual name, no apostrophe needed. Any relative or friend of the wife would be acceptable; she could name them as "my sister", "my mom", "my best friend", "my coworker", "my dentist", etc. However, the rule kicks in once she starts getting to "my sister's friend", "my coworker's niece", "my mom's psychiatrist", "Dawn's hairdresser", etc. Those people need apostrophes to be named, so she is not allowed to talk about them.

This rule has two benefits. It limits the number of people available for the wife to gossip about, ostensibly reducing the overall time she'll be able to spend gossiping. Also it helps limit the gossip to be about people that the husband is less uninterested in.

As far as I know, I am the first person to come up with this rule. I've had a lot of people follow-up with praise for this rule whenever I post it. They will write, "Wow, that's a really good rule." I've even had women say they would respect men who instituted it. It seems that a lot of people like rule.

The Apostrophe Rule is slightly related to an observation I made about urban legends, which I'll call the Apostrophe Theorem even though it isn't a theorem and isn't even always true, for that matter. It's just cool to call things theorems. It goes like this:

Whenever someone claims a dubious, urban-legend type story really happened to someone they need an apostrophe to name, it isn't true.

Point is, stuff you hear from the grapevine, even short grapevines, isn't trustworthy, which is why gossip about your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate is so inane. What's the point of listening to all that when it's probably not even true? Some people have an instinctual filter to that causes untrustworthy information to bore us; others don't. That's why we need the Apostrophe Rule.

Tags: apostrophe, apostrophe_rule, apostrophe_theorem, gossip, wife
Last Edited: 18 January 2009, 1:17 PM
easy wrote: quite easy to circumvent. instead of "my sister's friend" just say "friend of my sister." "niece of my coworker." "psychiatrist of my mom." it's awkward English, but clearly understandable.
Carl Banks wrote: easy: If you're thinking about circumventing the rule, you're missing the point. This rule is about one spouse communicating boundaries to the other. It's not a challenge to see if they can circumvent it.

Why did the movie The Matrix suck so bad?

I just got done watching a very good, highly entertaining movie, V for Vendetta, on FX. It was created by the Wachowski brothers, who made another movie I thought was excellent, Bound, but are most well-known for the Matrix Trilogy.

V for Vendetta and Bound were such good movies, it makes me wonder, why did The Matrix suck so bad?

I know exactly why I didn't like The Matrix; I just wonder why the Wachowski brothers did it. In V for Vendetta they took existing idea—totalitarianism, vigilanteism, revolution, and vengeance—and made a movie about them, but without the pretension of being the first ones to ever present those ideas. It's not as if no one has ever sat down and thought about whether vigilanteism is ever justified, and the movie didn't make itself out to be the first to ever ponder these ideas.

The Matrix, however, did. The Wachowski brothers presented this idea that the world we live in is just an illusion, as if they were the first people to ever ponder that idea. Well, no they weren't: the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about this idea only around 2500 years ago in his Allegory of the Cave. And, to make matters worse, the movie fails miserably to convince me that the world could be an illusion. I'm apparently expected to believe that if you get shot in the Matrix, your body will be riddled with bullet wounds in the real world, and nonsense like that. The movie tries to be like, "This could really happen," but the silly inconsistencies, stupid plot devices, and bad thermodynamics destroy that. It tries to be plausible, but it just isn't.

Cinematographically it's not even close to being as well done as V for Vendetta or Bound. All it really has going for it is special effects (which are not as technologically advanced as they appear) and little in-jokes (oooh Neo is an anagram of One, that is so cool).

In short, it sucked.

I just wonder how the Wachowski brothers did so poorly with it, when they did so well on other movies.

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MRI of my Brain

Yes, this image is really an MRI scan of my brain.

The story behind this image begins in 2005, when I began to experience minor but irritating dizzy spells. After some otolaryngologists were unable to diagnose the problem (I had no hearing loss so it didn't appear to be Ménière's Disease), I was recommended to a neural specialist who ran an MRI on me as a precautionary measure. They were looking for multiple sclerosis. Fortunately my brain scan was normal, and as a side effect I got this cool image that shows my brain in all its glory.

By the way, I still don't know what caused my dizzy spells, but after I went through some physical therapy the spells became much less severe and frequent but I still get them once in awhile. I think it's safest for me to assume I have a minor case of Ménière's Disease so I try to avoid getting water in my ears.

Tags: MRI, brain, menieres_disease
Last Edited: 17 August 2008, 4:00 PM
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Why I think the cost of manned space flight is justified

There is a lot of controversy over whether the money we spend on manned space flight is worth it, with many opponents of it claiming that that money would be better spent on social programs or other things.

Those in favor of funding space flight most often tout the scientific benefits of the space program as its justification. Problem is, it's a weak argument. From a short-sighted economic standpoint, the science potential doesn't justify the cost of human space flight, by any reasonable definition (especially since a very big chunk of that science can be accomplished remotely via robots). Some would even say unmanned space flight doesn't justify the cost.

Of course, one can always argue that this is more than an economic issue (which is valid but lost on a lot of people), or that the science will ultimately pay dividends long term, even if we don't live to see it. But it would be missing out on a much better argument:

The most immediate and tangible benefit of the space program is not science, but engineering.

There's an old riddle that goes something like this: What's the difference between science and engineering? Science costs money, engineering makes money.

Well, in the space program that isn't true.

Unlike science, engineering is very much goal oriented. Generally, that goal is to make money. And, in the process of engineering so that we can make money, we learn a lot about how to make things better (i.e., safer, more efficient, more reliable, etc.).

But the thing is, when you're trying to make money, there's only so much risk you're willing to take, and therefore, there are only so many goals you're willing to aim for. But, when you decide to put humans into space at a cost, you create engineering goals that never could have been created simply from people seeking to make a profit. And, in striving to meet those goals, we learn things we wouldn't learn otherwise.

To me, the engineering benefits justify the money we spend on space flight. I think we should spend more.

I'm not just talking about the Tempurpedic mattress, either. Thanks to the space program, airplane and cars are safer and more fuel efficient. Computers are faster. Many products are cheaper.

And what about all those homeless people we should be feeding instead? The engineering advances we make to achieve space flight could make it more feasible to feed those homeless people. (Not saying it has or will, but could.)

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My new conlang (constructed language): Bowtudgelean

As many of my friends and family are aware, I am currently writing a video game, The Ditty of Carmeana, an action-adventure title set in the fictional Kingdom of Bowtudgel. Also as many people know, I am very interested in linguistics. Therefore, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to create a new language for my fictional kingdom. The (in progress) result is Bowtudgelean.

Here's a summary of some of the aspects of the languages.

Nouns and Adjectives

Nouns in Bowtudgelean are inflected for number and state. Number is familiar to English speakers: a noun can be singular or plural. State—also called definiteness—is the distinction between something specific (usually signaled in English by the definite article "the") and something not. State is not an aspect of grammar in Indo-European languages (the family that includes English, French, Latin, Russian, Greek, and many others), but it is in Semitic languages such as Arabic. Bowtudgelean is like Arabic in this respect: adjectives agree with nouns in state. However, Bowtudgelean takes state to the extreme: it has ten different states.

Briefly, here the states and their usages:

  • 1st person: Is or includes the speaker or writer.
  • 2nd person: Is or includes the listener or reader.
  • Nominal: A name.
  • Referred: Something just referred to.
  • Indicated: Something indicated by a limiting adjective, prepositonal phrase, or relative clause.
  • Local: Something near the speaker.
  • Remote: Something away from the speaker.
  • Past: Something that occured in the past.
  • Future: Something that will occur in the future.
  • Indefinite: Nothing in particular.

Here's an example of the declension of the adjective gæðu ("whole").

State Singular Plural
1st Person gæðunupi  
2nd Person gæðuken  
Nominal gæðuzdek  
Referred gæðun gæðuni
Indicated gæðut gæðuti
Local gæðutaj gæðutajev
Remote gæðubel gæðubelev
Past gæðulabo gæðulabov
Future gæðumex gæðumexev
Indefinite gæðuha gæðuhay

An interesting effect of this aspect of grammar is that there are technically no personal pronouns. The word that is used to translate English "I" () is actually the 1st Person singular state of the demonstrative pronoun.

Besides number and state, I'm leaning towards adding a gender distinction to nouns as well.


There is one notable disctinction nouns are not inflected for: case. Bowtudgelean neither uses cases nor word order to determine a noun or pronoun's role in the sentence. Instead, Bowtudgelean prefixes a noun or pronoun with a particle, called a marker, to determine the role. What makes these markers different from case endings is that they are part of the verb, not part of the noun.

Any given action involves a certain set of participants. In Indo-European languages, the participants fill fixed grammatical slots, regardless of the verb. One of those slots is called the subject, another called the direct object, a third is called the indirect object. In Bowtudgelean, there is no such framework to fit participants into. A participant for a particular verb exists only for that verb; a different verb has a different set of participants. The participants a verb has make sense for it; for some verbs it makes sense to have different participants than the subject-object system would supply English. A few verbs have as many as five participants, and some verbs (for example, ŋejreð "it is raining") have none at all.

Let's consider an example: æð, which can be translated as "come" or "go". Whereas come and go are intransitive in English, in Bowtudgelean æð has three different participants. There is the person going, which is marked by the particle ho. There is the place being moved away from, indictated by the marker tamæ. And there is the place being moved to, indicated by nuð. Here is an example sentence:

Ho voŋ æðga tamæ ðæln nuð patexpejen.
"He went from the house to the store."

(Key: voŋ = "he,she,it,him,her", -ga = past tense. Also, notice the referred state ending -n on the nouns.)

In Bowtudgelean, the set of markers used for a given verb (the signature) are not predictable and must be learned, though sometimes they do follow patterns. The most notable is the za-epu- signature used mostly by verbs of manipulation, where a person (marked by za) physically manipulates an object (marked by epu). But in general there are a lot of irregularities in these patterns.

One little side note is that there are a few verbs that have no stem at all; only markers. Naturally, the verbs that mean "to be" are among them (there are two variants: i-linum- and i-nui-). Another is ak-gwa-has-, which means "to say" (ak marks the speaker, gwa the listener, and has the words being spoken).


Unfortunately, there are only two sounds that exist in Bowtudgelean but not in English, and they're very rare. (They are the velar fricatives: the sounds of German ch in ach, or of the letter gamma in Greek.) I didn't plan for it; I wanted to have at least one common foreign sound. I had written a word generator to generate random words, and tuned it until it got words that looked like I wanted. Unfortunately, the velar fricatives hardly ever come up.

However, there are plenty of consonant clusters that are not found in English, so it's not all bad.

Here's a quick, and approximate, pronounciation guide. The alphabet is phonemic: meaning that letters correspond exactly to sounds (thanks, King Hengou II!)

Letter Pronounciation
a like the a in father
æ like the a in cat
e like the a in lame
i like the i in machine
o like the o in home
u like the u in dilute
x like the sh in shape
j like the s in measure
ð like the th in those
þ like the th in thin
ŋ like the ng in sing
c like the ch in German ach or Greek gamma
g like the g in go (always hard)

The letters b, d, p, t, k, l, w, f, v, s, z, y, w, m, n, h are all pronounced as in English.

Babel Text

One of the rites of passage when inventing a conlang is to translate the story of the Tower of Babel. Here's mine, presented (for now) without further comment.

Ðeŋa za ŋome gæðuzdek epu kalðira mogaþa, buzolka-za epu taþihay mogaþay.

Pema lagærigara ar dora xke koyra, æðga ho surka nuð ŋezbey komu jdot Xinaræt, te ruhi surka nomarga lir voŋ.

Ak surka gwa surka hazg: "Umijnotram ar sæz mogi hoxtæhay, te jguxki-ak epu surka mæsæ pomoha." Za surka lelþoŋa tor hoxtæhay mogi zilæmuha, te tor danurjbyosa mogi ritbazuha.

Þilabo hazg: "Æðmi-ho, ajderam ar sæz mogi axa dæŋu sæz, te mogi newgasiha iðæ jbyæt xpavoŋ komu enra, te þid u sæz guŋærdo. Jraŋ lojozapen epu sæz jalkapu zdomæ.

Ho Jbago æðga nuð moðbel natox ar voŋ ala lux axt te newgasit peŋat ajde-mogi ar stizen.

Þilabo ak Jbago hazg: "Mip þyaþ, pema i surka linum dora ðeyxera osuhæha ðenolka-za epu kalðira mogaþa, za surka þkæðne deþaga epu modlabo, ŋab kowæwtæ ŋætunzæ tojpen þalpe za surka deþa mod peŋa ŋab surka fkersteb þalpe deþa-epu za surka.

"Sajbiðæn æðram ho sæz nuð mika te komu voŋ æhalnæram za sæz epu kalðirt xpasurka, punebe xpodusonpen ruhi kowæwtæ lir mod peŋa has ak æwtæpiz."

Amusa za Jbago lojozaga epu surka æðolka-ho tamæ voŋ nuð zbalkap zdomæ, te lakipæ ajdega ar surka mogi axen.

Ŋab modlabo zæneyoŋa þalpe simoke ar voŋ lux Babel, kaj komu voŋ za Jbago æhalnæga epu ðenjda xpa ŋome osuhæzdek. Igusen tejdæn ædkolka-tamæ nuð zbalkap zdomæ, za voŋ lojoza epu surka.

Final Note

Bowtudgelean is the Anglicized name of the language. Bæwtujdelix is the language's own name for itself.

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