Archive for April 10th, 2011
I was thinking about the relative merits of the electronic flashcards for my Spanish class: those I made via Anki versus those supplied via the textbook “Supersite”. The latter are pre-made, let you go through with Spanish prompts or English prompts, and pronounce clearly each Spanish word, for you to mimic.
The automatic audio is quite good, no doubt, and I in fact continue to use those cards for first learning and occasional review. But against that the Anki approach has what to my mind is an insurmountable advantage: the management and scheduling of the cards I see.
Every morning I spend 20 minutes or so going through the Anki cards of the day. These are a mix of new vocabulary, difficult vocabulary, and vocabulary due for review. I don’t have to think about it, I don’t have to schedule it—I just have to go through the cards each day and click one of Again, Hard, Good, Easy after I see the answer. That’s it. Based on my response, the cards are automatically scheduled for their next appearance: this same session, tomorrow, or some later day—those that are easiest I now won’t see for 3 months or so.
And it automatically presents each card twice, once with the Spanish as the prompt, once with the English, and it schedules separately the two directions (so that an easy Spanish to English will not be seen so soon as a difficult English to Spanish).
This management and scheduling capability is infinitely superior to the Supersite—there I would have to schedule myself, and the groups of cards would mix difficult and easy vocabulary, etc.
Still: the Supersite offers audio—but, if I wanted to do the work, I could add audio to the Anki deck.
This story is, unfortunately, horrible. David Cloud reports in the LA Times:
Nearly three miles above the rugged hills of central Afghanistan, American eyes silently tracked two SUVs and a pickup truck as they snaked down a dirt road in the pre-dawn darkness.
The vehicles, packed with people, were 3 1/2 miles from a dozen U.S. special operations soldiers, who had been dropped into the area hours earlier to root out insurgents. The convoy was closing in on them.
At 6:15 a.m., just before the sun crested the mountains, the convoy halted.
“We have 18 pax [passengers] dismounted and spreading out at this time,” an Air Force pilot said from a cramped control room at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, 7,000 miles away. He was flying a Predator drone remotely using a joystick, watching its live video transmissions from the Afghan sky and radioing his crew and the unit on the ground.
The Afghans unfolded what looked like blankets and kneeled. “They’re praying. They are praying,” said the Predator’s camera operator, seated near the pilot.
By now, the Predator crew was sure that the men were Taliban. “This is definitely it, this is their force,” the cameraman said. “Praying? I mean, seriously, that’s what they do.”
“They’re gonna do something nefarious,” the crew’s intelligence coordinator chimed in.
At 6:22 a.m., the drone pilot radioed an update: “All … are finishing up praying and rallying up near all three vehicles at this time.”
The camera operator watched the men climb back into the vehicles.
“Oh, sweet target,” he said.
None of those Afghans was an insurgent. They were men, women and children going about their business, unaware that a unit of U.S. soldiers was just a few miles away, and that teams of U.S. military pilots, camera operators and video screeners had taken them for a group of Taliban fighters.
The Americans were using some of the most sophisticated tools in the history of war, technological marvels of surveillance and intelligence gathering that allowed them to see into once-inaccessible corners of the battlefield. But the high-tech wizardry would fail in its most elemental purpose: to tell the difference between friend and foe.
This is the story of that episode. It is based on hundreds of pages of previously unreleased military documents, including transcripts of cockpit and radio conversations obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the results of two Pentagon investigations and interviews with the officers involved as well as Afghans who were on the ground that day.
The Afghan travelers had set out early on the cold morning of Feb. 21, 2010, from three mountain villages in southern Daikundi province, a remote central region 200 miles southwest of Kabul.
More than two dozen people were wedged into the three vehicles. Many were Hazaras, an ethnic minority that for years has been treated harshly by the Taliban. They included shopkeepers going for supplies, students returning to school, people seeking medical treatment and families with children off to visit relatives. There were several women and as many as four children younger than 6.
They had agreed to meet before dawn for the long drive to Highway 1, the country’s main paved road. From there, some planned to go north to Kabul while others were headed south. To reach the highway, they had to drive through Oruzgan province, an insurgent stronghold.
“We traveled together, so that if one vehicle broke down the others would help,” said Sayed Qudratullah, 30, who was bound for Kabul in hope of obtaining a license to open a pharmacy.
Another passenger, Nasim, an auto mechanic who like many Afghans uses one name, said that he was going to buy tools and parts.
“We weren’t worried when we set out. We were a little scared of the Taliban, but not of government forces,” he said referring to the Afghan national army and its U.S. allies. “Why would they attack us?”
American aircraft began tracking the vehicles at 5 a.m. . .
I mentioned earlier the 9-day summer course at UCSD (note that in the upper-right corner at the link, you can choose to view the page in English or in Esperanto).
I have decided that I definitely will attend, but not this summer: I am fearful about awakening my Esperanto while I am still trying to get my Spanish to jell. But by summer of 2012, I should (a) have completed my three semesters of Spanish (¡Adelante! Uno, Dos, y Tres), and (b) have enough time to brush up my Esperanto before the course begins—especially with all the on-line learning assistance now available.
Hope to see you there. (In fairness, I should mention that Esperanto is a lot of fun, as languages go, and quite interesting in many aspects—and, of course, learning Esperanto facilitates the learning of subsequent languages:
Four primary schools in Britain, with some 230 pupils, are currently following a course in “propaedeutic Esperanto”—that is, instruction in Esperanto to raise language awareness and accelerate subsequent learning of foreign languages—under the supervision of the University of Manchester. Studies have been conducted in New Zealand, United States, Germany, Italy and Australia. The results of these studies were favorable and demonstrated that studying Esperanto before another foreign language expedites the acquisition of the other, natural, language. This appears to be because learning subsequent foreign languages is easier than learning one’s first foreign language, while the use of a grammatically simple and culturally flexible auxiliary language like Esperanto lessens the first-language learning hurdle. In one study, a group of European secondary school students studied Esperanto for one year, then French for three years, and ended up with a significantly better command of French than a control group, who studied French for all four years. Similar results have been found for other combinations of native and second languages, as well as for arrangements in which the course of study was reduced to two years, of which six months is spent learning Esperanto.
This suggests that if you (or someone you know) is thinking about foreign-language study, they might well want to learn Esperanto now to lay a foundation for subsequent language acquisition.
Extremely interesting analysis, which begins:
The Washington Post this morning published a lengthy article detailing the fortune — and now the trouble — generated for its parent company, The Washington Post Co., as a result of its acquisition of Kaplan Higher Ed. While The Post continues to lose money, Kaplan — particularly its sprawling network of for-profit “universities” which the company began building in 2000 — generates huge profits for the company, profits on which the Post Co. depends almost completely for its sustainability.
Indeed, the newspaper has become little more than a side vanity project for the Post Co. and the Graham family which continues to dominate it; it is now, at its core, in the business of profiting off of lower-income students who pay for diplomas, often obtained via online classes. “The fate of The Post Co. has become inextricably linked with that of Kaplan, where revenue climbed to $2.9 billion in 2010, 61 percent of The Post Co.’s total,” the article detailed; “the company is more dependent than ever on a single business,’ [CEO Donald] Graham wrote in last year’s annual report, adding that the newspaper had never accounted for as large a share of overall company revenue as Kaplan does today.”
The article is largely devoted to recounting the corruption and abuses which pervade the for-profit education industry in general and Kaplan in particular (saddling poor people with debt in exchange for nothing of real value). But what I found most notable is how dependent is this industry — including The Washington Post Co. — on staying in the good graces of the Federal Government. Because these schools target low-income students, the vast majority of their income is derived from federal loans. Because there have been so many deceptive practices and defaults, the Federal Government has become much more aggressive about regulating these schools and now play a vital role in determining which ones can thrive and which ones fail.
Put another way, the company that owns The Washington Post is almost entirely at the mercy of the Federal Government and the Obama administration — the entities which its newspaper ostensibly checks and holds accountable. “By the end of 2010, more than 90 percent of revenue at Kaplan’s biggest division and nearly a third of The Post Co.’s revenue overall came from the U.S. government.” The Post Co.’s reliance on the Federal Government extends beyond the source of its revenue; because the industry is so heavily regulated, any animosity from the Government could single-handedly doom the Post Co.’s business — a reality of which they are well aware: . . .
Read the whole thing: it explains a lot.
Via Ed Brayton, who provides the Facebook link (worth clicking):
Homosexuality is found in over 450 species. Homophobia is found in only one. Which one seems unnatural now?
This little collection of ideas might include some helpful to Liberal Arts majors who are just entering the world of work.
Libraries—free, well-stocked, well-run public libraries—are, I think, essential for a free people. And libraries are under siege: things change. This NPR article by Lynn Neary discusses the trends:
A lot of attention has been focused on the way bookstores and publishing companies are managing the e-book revolution. The role of libraries has often been overlooked. But when HarperCollins Publishing Co. recently announced a new policy that would limit the number of times its e-books can be borrowed, it sparked a larger conversation about the future of libraries in the digital age.
These days, you don’t have to go anywhere near a library to check out an e-book. You can download one to your digital device in a matter of seconds. And there’s no more pesky overdue notices — the e-book simply disappears from your device when your time is up.
“The fact is that with a digital item, if you give it to somebody you still have it. It doesn’t have to come back,” says Eli Neiburger, the director for IT and production at the Ann Arbor District library in Michigan.
E-books, says Neiburger, are really digital files, but libraries and publishers are still trying to deal with them as if they are just like print books. In other words, they’re trying to do business the way they have always done business
“Part of the models we’ve seen so far are still trying to force 20th century business models onto digital content,” Neiburger says. “And any digital native says, ‘You mean I have to wait to download an e-book? What sense does that make?’ And they’re off to the Kindle store to spend $3.99 or $4.99 or $9.99 to get that same book.”
In the current climate, libraries worry they’ll become obsolete. Publishers are afraid they won’t be able to make any money. That’s why HarperCollins came up with a new e-book policy that says an e-book can be checked out 26 times, after which it has to be repurchased. Leslie Hulse, a senior vice president at HarperCollins, says publishers have to place some limitations on the way libraries lend e-books.
Chicago Public Library patron Anna Sykes talks with a librarian about the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a title available on one of nine new Rocket e-books. Providing e-books is just one of many services that libraries are trying out in an attempt to stay relevant in the Kindle age.
“I think the tension is, at the extreme, we could be making a book available to one national library on a simultaneous access model in perpetuity,” says Hulse. “And what that would mean is everyone in the country could check out that book for free at any time, and that’s not a commercially viable solution.”
HarperCollins may have raised the ire of librarians around the country with their new e-book policy, but Christopher Platt, director of collections and circulation at the New York Public Library, says the move has also stimulated a more public discussion about the future of libraries and e-books.
“The HarperCollins limit isn’t going to stick,” he argues.”It’s going to develop into something new. And Harper, to its credit, is engaged with libraries to see what would work.” . . .
Very interesting. Take a look:
The video is from an NPR article by John Kalish that delves further into hacking e-book readers, which begins:
What if you could buy a tablet with a slightly smaller screen than the iPad for half the price or even less? Hackers have been turning e-book readers into tablets for cheap Internet on the go.
In fact, San Francisco hacker Mitch Altman doesn’t read e-books on his Kindle at all. He only uses its Web browser to access maps and restaurant listings when he’s traveling.
The Amazon Kindle has 3G data connectivity so that readers can download e-books anywhere there is cell service. As many Kindle owners know, the device can connect to Google and Wikipedia to look up things mentioned in e-books, too. That connectivity is all the opportunity hackers need to turn an e-book reader into a tablet.
“This is something that is starting to get around in geek and hacker circles, and it’s a relatively cheap way to have Internet anywhere you go,” Altman says.When Altman says it’s cheap, he’s referring to the fact that the 3G Kindle costs a mere $190 and there is no charge for the 3G Internet. Of course, there’s a trade-off here: the Kindle doesn’t have a touch screen, so you have to use scrolling buttons to navigate around the screen, which Altman has found cumbersome. But for $60 more, he could’ve gotten the Nook Color. . .
This is a good idea. I’m starting today to save my vegetable trimmings…
The Applied Research Center recently embarked on a broad survey of the food system, to map out the race, gender and class of workers along the supply chain. Our findings, detailed in the new report “The Color of Food,” were sadly not surprising. Download report here.
- People of color typically make less than whites working in the food chain. Half of white food workers earn $25,024 a year, while workers of color make $5,675 less than that. This wage gap plays out in all four sectors of the food system, with largest income divides occurring in the food processing and distribution sectors. Women working in the food chain draw further penalties in wages, especially women of color. For every dollar a white male worker earns, women of color earn almost half of that.
- Few people of color hold management positions in the food system. Whites dominate high-wage professional and management occupations; three out of every four managers in the food system are white. Almost half of white men working in the food chain were employed as managers, while less than 10 percent of workers of color held comparable positions.
- People of color are concentrated in low-wage jobs in the food chain. According to the 2008 Census, people of color make up 34.6 percent of the population (that percentage is expected to rise as 2010 Census data becomes available). But workers of color are represented at a level almost one and a half times that in sectors of the food chain. For instance, 50 percent of food production workers are people of color. This includes farm workers, 65 percent of whom are Latino.
The above is from an interesting article. Chronic pain is the pits—I had a friend whose back plagued him—and meditation is certainly worth a try: fewer side-effects than drugs. The article, by Adam Cole, begins:
Now researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have found you don’t have to be a lifelong Buddhist monk to pull it off. Novices were able to tame pain after just a few training sessions.
Sounds a bit mystical, we know, but researchers using a special type of brain imaging were also able to see changes in the brain activity of newbies. Their conclusion? “A little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” Fadel Zeidan, a neuroscientist and the study’s lead author, tells Shots. That finding’s a first, Zeidan says.
In the study, a small group of healthy medical students attended four 20-minute training sessions on “mindfulness meditation” — a technique adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist form of meditation called samatha. It’s all about acknowledging and letting go of distraction.
“You are trying to sustain attention in the present moment — everything is momentary so you don’t need to react,” Zeidan explains. “What that does healthwise is it reduces the stress response. The feeling of pain is a very blatant distraction.”
So how did the researchers gauge the effect? They administered a very distracting bit of pain: A small, thermal stimulator heated to 120 degrees was applied to the back of each volunteer’s right calf. The subjects reported both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain. If pain were music, intensity would be volume. Unpleasantness would have more of an emotional component, kind of like how much you love or hate a song.
After meditation training, the subjects reported . . .
Netflix’s offerings of Watch Instantly movies changes frequently, but Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar has a list of 75 titles he recommends. His list begins:
Films – Animation
Ponyo: A wonderful coming-of-age story that my two older children absolutely love.
The Iron Giant: This is my all-around favorite animated movie of all time.
Up: If the first five minutes of this Pixar movie doesn’t tear you up, you haven’t experienced deep love yet.
Films – Comedy
Bill Hicks Live: Bill Hicks is my favorite stand-up comedian of all. This provides four vintage stand-up sets from him.
Chicago: A comedy-musical-drama that won the Best Picture Oscar several years ago.
Duck Soup: This is, in my opinion, the vintage black and white comedy.
Fargo: Extremely dark humor all throughout this film.
Groundhog Day: One classic debate I’ve had with my wife is figuring out how many years pass during this film. . .
Interesting article, and if indeed being bilingual boosts “brain power” (whatever that is, it sounds good), then the logical approach is to learn the easiest possible second language: Esperanto. And learning Esperanto, as has been shown in multiple studies, facilitates learning additional languages. At any rate, the article (4-minute podcast at the link) by Gretchen Kuda-Kroen of NPR begins:
In an interconnected world, speaking more than one language is becoming increasingly common. Approximately one-fifth of Americans speak a non-English language at home, and globally, as many as two-thirds of children are brought up bilingual.
Research suggests that the growing numbers of bilingual speakers may have an advantage that goes beyond communication: It turns out that being bilingual is also good for your brain.
Judy and Paul Szentkiralyi both grew up bilingual in the U.S., speaking Hungarian with their families and English with their peers. When they first started dating, they spoke English with each other.
But they knew they wanted to raise their children speaking both languages, so when things turned serious they did something unusual — they decided to switch to Hungarian.
Today, Hungarian is the primary language the Szentkiralyis use at home. Their two daughters — Hannah, 14, and Julia, 8 — speak both languages fluently, and without any accent. But they both heard only Hungarian from mom and dad until the age of 3 or 4, when they started school.
“When she did go to preschool that accent was very thick – she counted like Vun, two, tree,” said Judy Szentkiralyi, recalling Hanna’s early experience with English. “And by the time four or five months went by, it was totally gone.”
The Szentkiralyis say that most people were supportive, but not everyone. Paul recounts an uncomfortable confrontation Judy once had in the local grocery store.”I remember one time you came home and you said this one lady was like, ‘When is she going to learn English?’ And it was like, ‘Well, when she goes to school she’ll learn English,’” he said.“People would often say, ‘Well, won’t they get confused?” added Judy. “And I would have to explain, ‘Well, no, it wasn’t confusing for us.’”
The idea that children exposed to two languages from birth become confused or that they fall behind monolingual children is a common misconception, says Janet Werker, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who studies language acquisition in bilingual babies.
“Growing up bilingual is just as natural as growing up monolingual,” said Werker, whose own research indicates babies of bilingual mothers can distinguish between languages even hours after birth. . .
Continue reading. I’ve read that, in raising a child in a bilingual household, it helps if one parent always speaks one language and the other always speaks the other—the child then naturally engages the one language or the other in speaking to the appropriate parent.
Years ago I read Foreign Languages in the Elementary School, by Theodore Andersson. Quite interesting. At the time, the foreign language most often taught in the elementary schools was Polish, due to strong Polish communities in some cities. He also mentioned some excellent elementary-school programs in German—Cleveland had one such, as I recall—that were discontinued because of anti-German feeling during WWI: “We’ll show them! We’ll become more ignorant, and that will teach them a lesson they’ll not forget!”
One suggestion he made was to start in kindergarten or pre-school, with an hour or so each day when someone would come to the classroom and interact with the children only in a foreign language—so far as the children knew, this person did not speak English. Kids would quickly learn how one talks to that person. And he suggested a different person for each day of the week, so the kids would grow up acquainted with (and able to hear and make the sounds of) several languages. As I recall, he included French, German, Spanish, Chinese (or Japanese), and Arabic, to provide a broad language bundle. I would, of course, suggest Esperanto, since the kids would quickly and easily pick that up.
And if you want to pick up Esperanto yourself, check out the 9-day summer course at UCSD (note that in the upper-right corner at the link, you can choose to view the page in English or in Esperanto). With a foundation of a little self-study, you can make enormous gains—San Francisco State used to run a summer Esperanto course (a week? 2 weeks? I don’t recall), which I took twice, and once with The Eldest.