Archive for December, 2014
It’s been a while since I’ve run an issue of New Scientist through Haiku Detector. Since I’m far behind on holidailies, here are some of the unintentional haiku in their collection issue, A Better You. There were 40 haiku all up, many of which were bylines or captions. Many others were rather underwhelming as haiku, but here are the at-least-passably-whelming ones. First, some about getting smart:
We kick off with the
most important organ in
your body: your brain.
These brain areas
are very active when you
play an instrument.
Then you have to have
the motivation to do
something about it.
Now some about what not to eat:
As a result, health
bodies are gearing up for
a “war on sugar”.
Its conclusion: there
is “no evidence” that food
can be addictive.
Is it simply that
too much sugar equals too
recent research casts doubt on
Headlines have appeared
questioning the benefits
of eating less salt.
The last one on that topic echoes Hank Green’s thoughts on picking the right addiction:
Assuming you will
have some vices, the trick is
to choose them wisely.
Some about growing old gracefully:
Some think the effect
is simply about having
a long way to fall.
What you need is a
bit of excitement along
the way. Take some risks.
What on earth was he
doing differently? What was
cushioning the blow?
one of the most important
Learning like a child
is easy if you know how,
says David Robson
Whatever you want
to learn, it’s never too late
to charge those grey cells.
He recently took
up Chinese, and has no plans
to stop after that.
Some under the heading ‘Get physical’:
They just haven’t been
very good at telling us
what they’ve discovered.
Could exercise be
a killer lying in wait
for the unwary?
Pain may return on
finishing the exercise,
or the next morning.
So if exercise
is so beneficial, why
won’t people take it?
“I’m sorry,” he says
when I ask about the noise.
“I’m on a treadmill.”
and some recipes for success:
It seems that anger
can make us impetuous,
selfish and risk-prone.
itself is not enough to
screen out distractions.
Instead of nuking
your friendly bacteria
you should nurture them.
Their wounds were slower
to heal, and they also caught
more throat infections.
One theory is that
CMV plays a key role
in immune ageing.
And good vagal tone
improves emotional and
In conclusion, a haiku from me:
I hope these will lead
if not to better haiku,
to a better you.
A few days ago I posted about the song Le ours et le hirondelle by Jérémie Kisling, and encouraged French learners to try correcting its grammar by adding in all the necessary contractions. I hope some of you tried it. Here is my corrected version. Is it the same as yours? If not, which one of us is wrong, or are both versions valid?
si sûre d’elle.
Quand je la vois, l’homme des cavernes
trébuche sur sa propre ombre
et tout mes plans s’effritent.
Parfois, je l’épouse en rêve.
Du bout des doigts
Mais quand mes mains sont proches des siennes,
mes mains d’ours,
j’ai l’allure d’une baleine,
d’une baleine d’eau douce.
fin des jours,
au creux de ses bras,
je veux faire l’amour.
Oui, je veux l’amour.
J’ai le blues quand elle n’est pas là.
Qu’il est beau le temps des premiers emois!
Mais quand mes mains sont proches des siennes,
mes mains d’ours,
j’ai l’allure d’une baleine,
d’une baleine d’eau douce.
Viens viens, suis moi
Dans l’eau douce,
et ne t’effraie pas
si je t’éclabousse.
« ne t’en fais pas.
Je t’aime comme ça »
I’ll post another song to learn from soon (my own life is a bit unpredictable right now, so I can’t promise you a schedule) but in the mean time, here’s one just for fun:
When Europeans colonised New Zealand, they brought not only mammals to drive many of the native birds to extinction, but also their religion to exterminate the native theodiversity. This began with Reverend Samuel Marsden on Christmas Day 1814, and there is a Christmas carol about it called Te Harinui. Since it just turned Christmas day about an hour ago in New Zealand, here‘s a recording of Te Harinui I just made.
It’s sung by the voice Vicki from my robot choir (an app I wrote to make my Mac sing using the built-in speech synthesis.) It has a couple of little glitches, and I couldn’t get it to pronounce the Māori words exactly right, but otherwise, I think this is the best Vicki has ever sounded. Usually I switch to Victoria because Vicki’s singing sounds weird. I made a couple of tweaks to the time allocated to consonants, and I think they helped. I used the music in the New Zealand Folk Song page, with a few small changes to the ‘glad tidings’ line to make it sound more like how I remember it.
You can see the effect of widespread hemispherism in the fact that the song opens by saying it isn’t snowy, as if being snowy were the default state and any deviation from it must be called out.
Now, I must get some good Christmas sleep.
In May 2014 I passed my DALF C1 French exam. Of course, that makes me eminently qualified to teach. I intended to spend a bit more time on a lesson plan, but for the sake of holidailies I’m just going to dive right in. I’ve always found songs to be a good way to learn French. After listening to them enough times, I have a library of grammatically-correct (or at least idiomatically accepted) sentences and properly-pronounced words in my head which I can check whenever I need to remind myself how a particular rule works or what the gender of a given noun is. So here is the first of a series of songs to learn French to.
Each one will have a song, a note on what you can learn from the song, and usually an exercise, the answers to which I’ll put up in a later post. These lessons will assume you already know the basics of French, and can look up vocabulary yourself, but just need practice or ways to remember things. I’ll tend to link to other sites rather than explaining everything in detail. If you have any questions about the grammar or the meaning of the songs, though, feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll answer in the comments and maybe in a later post.
The following, Le ours et la hirondelle, from the album Le ours by Jérémie Kisling, is not a good song to add to that library of grammatically-correct sentences, though it’s a good one for remembering the genders of nouns. I’d recommend buying the album, not just because it is good, but also because it contains another song I’ll be blogging about later.
It is, however, a good song to learn from. To quote Carrie Dahlby, what’s wrong with this song? Here are the lyrics, in case you missed some when listening.
Elle me hydrate,
si sûre de elle.
Quand je la vois, le homme de les cavernes
qui me habite
trébuche sur la ombre de lui-même
et tout mes plans se effritent.
Parfois, je la
épouse en rêve.
De le bout de les doigts,
je la enlève.
Mais quand mes mains sont proches de les siennes,
mes mains de ours,
je ai la allure de une baleine,
de une baleine de eau douce.
Jusque à la
fin de les jours,
à le creux de ses bras
je veux faire le amour.
Oui, je veux le amour.
Je ai le blues quand elle ne est pas là.
Que il est beau, le temps de les premiers émois!
Mais quand mes mains sont proches de les siennes,
mes mains de ours,
je ai la allure de une baleine,
de une baleine de eau douce.
Viens viens, suis moi
dans la eau douce,
et ne te effraie pas
si je te éclabousse.
« ne te en fais pas
Je te aime comme ça »
Have you figured out what it is yet? If you have, go ahead and write a corrected version of it for practice, and subscribe to this blog if you want to see when I post my version to compare. Otherwise, read on.
Essentially, the protagonist is a bear, and speaks like one. It’s like a French version of lolcat, which would probably be called mdrours. One big problem in bear French is that it does not have any obligatory elision. That’s when the unstressed vowel at the end of a word such as le, la, de, me, je or jusque is removed because the next word begins with a vowel. For example, you can say:
Le calembour et la colombe en rondelles
(though I don’t know why you would; it means ‘the pun and the sliced dove’, and is not a good example of either.) because the words calembour and colombe start with consonants. But you can’t say:
*Le ours et la hirondelle
(the bear and the swallow) because ours starts with a vowel, and hirondelle starts with an h muet (a silent h that French-speakers don’t even pretend to pronounce, as opposed to the h aspiré, which still isn’t pronounced but is nonetheless treated like a consonant for the purposes of elision.) So you have to say:
L’ours et l’hirondelle
You have to be careful with this, though; when a word starts with h, check a dictionary to see if it’s an h muet or an h aspiré. In the latter case, you shouldn’t do the elision. If you think you know which is which, see if you can do this exercise.
Now, as much as it might seem useless to remember the words of a grammatically incorrect song, the lack of elision does actually give learners an advantage: you could hear l’ours and l’ombre many times and still not necessarily know the genders of those nouns, unless you happen to remember lyrics where the gender is clear from other parts of the sentence. But with this song, you can tell from *le ours, *la ombre that ours is masculine and ombre is feminine. I think if it weren’t for this song, I wouldn’t know the gender of ombre.
Bear French is also missing other contractions, such as des for de les, du for de le, au and aux for à le and à les respectively. There’s a great list of all these elisions and contractions over at about.com, so I won’t try to repeat that. For example, you can say:
Mais quand mes mains sont proches de tes veines…
(Though I’d be a little afraid of you if you did, since it means, ‘but when my hands are close to your veins’) because there is no contraction for de tes. Similarly, you could say:
Mais quand ma main est proche de la sienne…
(‘but when my hand is close to hers/his’) because there is no contraction of de la. But you can’t say:
*Mais quand mes mains sont proches de les siennes…
(‘but when my hands are close to hers/his’) because *de les is not allowed; it changes to des. You have to say:
Mais quand mes mains sont proches des siennes…
All of these contractions are obligatory; you should never use *de les or *à le when the le and les would be definite articles (as they always are in this song.) You will see de le, de les, à le, etc. when le and les are object pronouns, and in rare cases you can use these for names of people which start with the definite article, but none of those things are in this song.
Another thing that’s weird in this song is this line:
…trébuche sur la ombre de lui-même…
Even if we elide *la ombre to l’ombre, it still translates to ‘trips over the shadow of himself’ which I think sounds as awkward in French as it does in English. What we really want to say is ‘trips over his own shadow’, which in French is:
…trébuche sur sa propre ombre…
So we end up not even needing the elision. Now, what if we just wanted to say, ‘trips over his shadow’? If you wanted to speak like a bear, you’d probably say it like this:
…*trébuche sur sa ombre…
But you’re not a bear, are you? There are two vowels with only a space between them in sa ombre, which is called a hiatus. The reason for elision above is that French speakers, like die-hard Da Vinci’s Notebook fans, do not like hiatus. There are even some adjectives with special forms for avoiding hiatus. When it comes to possessive pronouns such as sa, ma, and ta, to avoid hiatus they switch to the masculine possessive even if the noun is feminine, like ombre is. So that would be:
…trébuche sur son ombre…
You can’t tell the gender of ombre from this phrase any more than you could from l’ombre. It’s just as well you now know a song that mentions *la ombre, so you will always be able to remember the gender of the word ombre.
Vindicate the well-educated bears of the world: go through the lyrics of Le ours et la hirondelle and fix all the problems you can find. I’ll post my fixed version in a few days and we can compare. For extra credit, figure out a way to sing the new version, or add some more words so that it can be sung to the original tune. For fun rather than credit, turn the original song into a series of lolcat-like memes featuring bears.
Tomorrow is the first day of winter. What do you consider the perfect winter day?
Well. Once again somebody has forgotten about the ‘worldwide’ part of the worldwide web. The first day of winter depends on the region. For example, this time last year I was heading to Norrköping, Sweden, where it was still warm enough even a week later to be officially autumn. This time in 2011 I was in Geneva, where according to the canton’s official chestnut tree, it was already spring. But those are edge cases. There’s also approximately an entire hemisphere where it’s summer. An entire hemisphere, without which Earth would be quite a bit smaller than Venus.
I can’t speak for that entire hemisphere, but I did grow up in New Zealand, where summer officially started on December 1. Even when people remember that the Southern Hemisphere exists, they often forget about New Zealand. I also can’t speak for New Zealanders who don’t celebrate Christmas in some way, and so must fend off assumptions of Christmas as well as assumptions of that Christmas being white. I do celebrate Christmas, and I’m going to tell you what that’s like in New Zealand.
Sometimes we have barbecues. Sometimes we go to the beach. Because that’s the logical thing to do in the summer. We usually eat pavlova and ice cream, because that’s pretty much always a logical thing to do. Strawberries are in season and go with pavlova, so we eat them too.
But a lot of the time we have a big roast dinner with turkey, chicken, ham, or lamb. Most of the time we listen to wintery songs about Christmas, forever dreaming of a white Christmas that will never come. Often we sing winter songs such as Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland, which make no mention of Christmas whatsoever. Like people in the Northern Hemisphere, we sing them thinking they are Christmas songs, so thoroughly indoctrinated with Northist culture that we don’t realise there’s anything illogical about it. We do not sing the winter songs in winter, unless we’re having a mid-winter Christmas party. We have mid-winter Christmas parties because we’ve been repeatedly told that Christmas is a winter event, so in an attempt to have a ‘real’ one, we’ll sometimes have one in June.
Outside, pohutukawa and feijoa trees bloom red on green, sometimes turning our roads and driveways red with fallen stamens. Inside, we decorate with plastic holly and mistletoe, and Christmas cards of snowy driveways. Sometimes we spray fake snow on our windows. Some of us cover our entire sweaty bodies in what I hope is the thinnest red, faux-warm fabric we can find, and ask little kids to sit on our laps and tell us what they want for Christmas. Oh yes, Santa Claus: he lives at the North Pole, of course. Because Christmas belongs to the North. There isn’t even land at the North Pole. Well, we’ll see who’s jolly when we burn all that coal he gave us and cause the Arctic ice sheets to melt.
I’ve lived in the Northern Hemisphere for almost ten years now, and I’ve never seen anyone have a midsummer Christmas party, or hang up plastic pohutukawa. When I went out in the snow and warmed my hands on mulled wine at my first Christmas market, I didn’t think about how strange it was to have Christmas in winter, the way people from the Northern Hemisphere say it is when they first experience or even think about Christmas in summer. I thought about how much more Christmasy it seemed. How it finally seemed like a real Christmas, like in the movies, on the internet, on TV, in songs, in books, in even my own mind. About how I’d been subtly led to believe that my own Christmases were abnormal. And finally, as a boring overprivileged white middle class whatever, I understood what it was like to be marginalised and not even realise it.
My Christmases were never abnormal. Just outnumbered. Isn’t it about time people in the Northern Hemisphere started hanging up pohutukawa? Isn’t it time they dreamed of a red Christmas? Isn’t it about time we looked at them funny and remarked on how strange it must be to have cold weather in December? Isn’t it about time we reminded people to at least think before wishing someone a happy winter? The next time somebody complains that the shops have their Christmas decorations up before it’s even cold outside, or feels the need to to include snow even in a Christmas song set on an asteroid, send them this ‘Christmas song’ and ask how they’d like hearing it on radios and in shops throughout the Christmas season:
Today I visited my friend Grace, who mentioned being scheduled to write for an international writing blog but not having any ideas. I also needed an idea for my holidailies post for the day, so I got out my Story Cubes, she rolled them, and we both wrote a story about the following pictures:
Footprint. Globe. Lightbulb. ID card. Abacus. Flower. Turtle. Cane. Falling star.
Grace posted her story within about half an hour of rolling the cubes. I spent a little more time on mine later in the evening, but not a lot. Here it is:
After the theme parks were set up, they protected my first footprint in a large magnifying cube, so tourists on all sides could look at it in detail. Nothing but the size of the boot marked it as mine; at the time of first landing, the soil and thick atmosphere were known to be toxic to us, so bare feet were not safe.
It’s different now, of course. People live and work here, and it looks for all the world like… all the world. The higher gravity attracts star athletes doing strength training and thrillseekers looking for acceleration. They start out crawling and propping themselves up with sticks, but after a few months they’re walking as normal, and back at home they can almost fly. They win all the sports competitions they can, then as they begin to weaken, they act as superheroes and make enough money to retire. That’s the dream, anyway. The trip back out of the gravity well is much more expensive than the trip in, so many who came hoping for a giant leap out of poverty spend their lives working in the theme parks hoping to earn enough to get home, their spirits crushed as much as their bodies are.
I’m stuck here too now, without valid identity to fly home on. They wanted to make me a hero, but I wanted to make myself one. I wanted to keep doing the science we’d started with that first small step. Wanted to take more samples of the air and soil before they lunaformed it. So I had a scent gland transplant and went incognito, got a job as a field technician. We fought hard to keep one small section of ground near the equator pristine, and even that has a crust from reactions with our safer atmosphere. I captured three canisters of air on the first landing, and I had to steal one of them from my own lab to continue studying it.
The first thing I found was a shape barely recognisable as a fossil. A faint impression of spikes radiating from a point. Months more digging revealed objects so bizarre that we may never be sure what they were.
There is one thing I am sure of: mine were not the first footprints on Earth.
This news reminded me that I intended to post about the differences between couchette cars (Liegewagen/Voiture-couchettes) and sleeping cars (Schlafwagen/Voiture-lits) on overnight trains in Europe. I searched for information about the difference before I took my first overnight train, and wasn’t too satisfied with the descriptions I found, so I went with the slightly-more-expensive sleeping car to be sure I’d be comfortable.
A couple of months ago, due to lack of available sleeping places, I took a couchette for the first time, from Vienna to Rome, and then took a sleeping place on the way back. I took some notes on the differences. Both trains were catered by newrest, as were other night trains I’d taken around Europe (between Vienna and Zürich or Amsterdam.)
There’s not a lot of space in a cabin on an overnight train, so there are many things cleverly tucked away which you might not notice unless someone else in the cabin is more experienced than you. I probably missed a lot of things.
Secret washbasin, usually hidden under part of a table or inside a little cabinet (where there is also a mirror.) Fold-out table, no real seats, but sitting on the bed is comfortable as long as the bunk immediately above is folded away. On the trip from Rome to Vienna there was a little cubbyhole (with a door, but I’m not sure if it locked) for each bed, next to the washing cabinet.
Small table, no washbasin, but the seats are normal, comfortable seats until the seat backs are folded away to convert them into beds.
Thin newrest slippers (which I now have a collection of at home), a facecloth, 3M earplugs, a small container of potable water which I think is intended for tooth brushing. On other routes, there has also been a bottle of drinking water, a bottle of sparkling wine (which I mistook for sparkling water on my first trip, and tried to drink with breakfast), and something small to eat (a small packet of pretzels, or a tube of fruit compote) in the cabin on my arrival. On the trip from Rome to Vienna, the attendant asked if I wanted a fruit salad, and when I said yes, brought it back in a small glass bowl along with a bottle of drinking water, a bottle of sangria, and a packet of party cracker mix. In general there’s some kind of snack and something mildly alcoholic to put you to sleep.
A bottle of water.
Whether couchette or sleeper, the more people can theoretically fit into the cabin you booked, the cheaper it will be. There can be up to three bunks on each side of the cabin, some of which will stay folded away if the cabin is not full. If you’re lucky, you can get a cabin to yourself even if you booked a four- or six-person cabin.
Mattress with sheet on it (already tucked in etc.) duvet and fairly normal-sized pillow. Pretty comfortable to sleep on, though due to the movement and noise of the train I still wake up a few times during the night. On one train to Amsterdam, I barely slept due to the noise; I think I was at the end of a car or of the train, which might make a difference to the noise or movement.
Lightly-padded bench-type seats that convert into narrow beds, with a sheet (which you have to unfold and spread out yourself after converting the seat to a bed) a blanket, and tiny pillow just big enough to fit a head on. The benches are soft enough to be comfortable seats, but not really soft enough for sleeping, unless you’re used to sleeping on fairly hard surfaces; I could sleep quite well, but when I woke up during the night I always found parts of my body still asleep. What’s more, couchettes are a bit narrower than beds, so probably wouldn’t be suitable for people who have enough natural padding to make up for this.
In both kinds of accommodation, breakfast is brought to you in the morning, a certain amount of time before the stop you’re getting off at; if you’re sharing a room with someone who’s getting off before you, chances are you’ll wake up when they get their breakfast. If I recall correctly, you can get free refills on the tea and coffee if you can be bothered getting the attendant to come back.
You get a menu to fill out in the evening where you can choose 6 items (more for €1 each) from a list that includes tea, coffee, orange juice (in a carton so you can save it for later if you want), two pieces of bread, yoghurt, and various cold meats, cheeses and spreads. Unfortunately I lost the photo I took of the menu. I usually get a hot drink, bread, yoghurt, and three things to put on the bread. The ‘two pieces of bread’ option is a bit of a mystery bag which sometimes gets you slices of bread and sometimes rolls; I recall getting a croissant on one train, but I can’t remember whether that was a separate option.
White rolls with butter and jam, and a choice of tea or coffee.
Overall, the couchette car is just comfortable enough (it’s not going to be your best night’s sleep in any case, but it’ll do, if you’re the kind of person who can sleep on trains) and you wouldn’t notice anything wrong with it if you’d never tried a sleeper car. The sleeper car has a lot of nice luxurious touches, though, and I will continue to use them when I can.
If you have other experiences with couchettes or sleeper cars in Europe or elsewhere, please share them in the comments so we can compare.
Perhaps I will not post something interesting every day for the rest of the month, but I should at least try.
Today I watched this video from the Virtual Linguistics Campus:
After that, I intended to analyse some sentences myself, but I got sidetracked thinking of simple ways to make diagrams like the ones in the video. It looks like there are apps and LaTeX packages to do something like it, but just for fun, I modified the AppleScript I wrote for diagramming monduckens to turn text like this:
Clause(Adverb(Perhaps) NP(Noun(you)) VP(Auxiliary(will) Adverb(never) Verb(find) NP(Determiner(a) Noun(job)) PP(Preposition(as) NP(Determiner(a) Noun(linguist))))) Clause(Conjunction(but) Noun(you) VP(Auxiliary(should) Adverbial(at least) Verb(try)))
into a tree like this in OmniGraffle:
Note that I am not sure if this is strictly correct (I think the adverbial ‘at least’ could have been broken into words, and the conjunction perhaps shouldn’t have been included in the second clause) but it’s how it is in the video. Redone with only rectangles (which is an option when running the script) and using the exact same Tree nester script the monducken diagrams did, this can then be turned into a rather oversized and misaligned version of the sentence with rectangles around the constituents:
I didn’t have a lot of time, so it’s pretty crude as yet, but it would be fairly simple to adjust the settings of the shapes to be more like what’s in the video. I’m posting it now in order to continue with Holidailies.
While we’re on the subject of grammar, The Doubleclicks have just covered a Tom Lehrer song about adverbs. I get this song in my head every single time I answer a ‘how’ question with an L-Y adverb, so I am very happy about the cover.
I felt a bit bad about having to truncate the full-length instrumental that Colleen and Joseph made for JoCo Day is Wunnerful, so, having already taught my robot choir the main melody, I decided to record my own cover of Christmastime is Wunnerful. I was toying with the idea of making it a mashup with Jonathan Coulton’s other Christmas classic, Chiron Beta Prime (since the source tracks for that are available), when I realised that even without modification, Christmastime is Wunnerful is quite amusing to listen to while watching Tom Ellsworth‘s music video for Chiron Beta Prime. So I decided to edit that video (with Tom’s permission) to match my cover. Here is the result:
For comparison, here’s the original Chiron Beta Prime video. I didn’t have to change very much, really:
I had to pretty much abandon the ‘daily’ part of Holidailies because ended up flyng to New Zealand, which in itself takes more than a day without internet. But here’s some more holiday for you.
The voices I used were, in order of appearance:
Adult human male: Alex
Standard robots: Zarvox
Festive holiday figure robots for the purposes of augmenting human morale and productivity: Trinoids
Adult human female: Victoria
Human male emulation for the purposes of undetectable redaction: Ralph
Juvenile human: Junior
I also used the bells and ‘Message redacted’ tracks from Chiron Beta Prime, and the ‘Machines’ track from The Future Soon.