Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 5th, 2011

The main use of the new laptop

with 6 comments

I can see now that this new notebook will be INVALUABLE for my Spanish course: so many resources are now on-line (including homework assignments, exercises, dictionaries, verb conjugators, etc.) that working at the computer is essential—and la profesora told us to bring our notebook computers to class this Thursday so they could be “set up” (whatever that means). That was another stimulus to making the purchase, but now I see, having spent the afternoon and evening working at this, that it would not have been pleasant at all to have to stay in the study whenever I worked on Spanish exercises.

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2011 at 9:41 pm

Staub round cocotte vs. Le Creuset Dutch oven

leave a comment »

Staub wins hands down. Better construction, better design, better all round. The Wife and I did some comparing at Williams-Sonoma, which carries both.

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2011 at 7:05 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

with one comment

Sounds good:

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

by John Vaillant

A review by Nathan Weatherford

Tigers are cunning creatures, and the structure of John Vaillant‘s The Tiger does their craftiness credit. The subtitle reads "a true story of vengeance and survival," words chosen to immediately grab one’s attention, aided by the ragged, red claw marks scratched into the cover behind them. But, while visceral thrills abound throughout the book, what Vaillant is attempting proves much more elusive (and ultimately more compelling) than any mere story of bloody attacks.

The drama surrounding the titular tiger unfolded in the far east of Russia during the late 1990s, in and around the village of Primorye. At the beginning of the book, we’re introduced to Yuri Trush, area head of Inspection Tiger, a group charged with ensuring that these endangered animals are protected in the wild. He’s called upon to investigate a brutal mauling: Vladimir Markov, a hunter/poacher living in the wilderness, has been killed and completely dismembered by what could only be a tiger. Vaillant doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing these fiercely beautiful, frighteningly deadly creatures:

To properly appreciate such an animal, it is most instructive to start at the beginning: picture the grotesquely muscled head of a pit bull and then imagine how it might look if the pit bull weighed a quarter of a ton. Add to this fangs the length of a finger backed up by rows of slicing teeth capable of cutting through the heaviest bone. Consider then the claws: a hybrid of meat hook and stiletto that can attain four inches along the outer curve, a length comparable to the talons on a velociraptor.

This description comes along fairly early in the text, a calculated move that puts the proper fear in the reader and serves to make the rest of the story that much more involving.

Prior to reading the book, I assumed the plot would go as follows: scary tiger kills hunter; remaining hunters want vengeance, decide to track tiger, and kill it. An interesting story for its remote location, and not lacking in suspenseful moments, but a story containing nothing new that would distinguish it from any other predator/prey tale. However, Vaillant uses this particular tiger incident as a springboard to discuss everything from anthropology to psychology. I found his meditations on the relationship between tigers and the people of Primorye fascinating. There, tigers have enjoyed an almost god-like status for as long as humans have been in contact with them, and it’s generally accepted that if you harm a tiger, you’ve signed your own death warrant, for there’s no escaping such an absolute killer. One of the most chilling scenes in the book unfolds when Trush first arrives at Markov’s cabin to investigate the death scene and finds a snowy patch melted right next to his door (proof that the tiger had been lying in wait for Markov for quite some time, as temperatures are usually well below zero there). Markov’s tracks lead straight to this patch, almost as if the tiger was compelling him to meet his doom.

Vaillant also does a great job of establishing the internal conflict of the tiger poacher. To kill a tiger is not only a violation of national laws — it would be an easy decision were this the case, as the Russian government has enough trouble enforcing law in the wilderness of the far east, and tigers are extremely valuable on the black market (all told, a complete corpse can fetch around $50,000); for natives of Primorye, it goes against their core beliefs about the tiger’s mythic essence. Tigers and humans are supposed to avoid one another, to evince a mutual respect of each other’s powers and territories. Unfortunately, Primorye’s economy has been so bad for so long that, for many, it’s their only chance at hitting the jackpot and living above a bare subsistence level. When shooting a tiger, poachers shoot to kill, and must be prepared to face the consequences if and when they miss.

By the end of the book, Vaillant has successfully shown that, while tigers may not be as smart as humans in most ways, when it comes to stalking and killing prey, they’re still able to turn circumstances to their advantage quite easily (and with a conniving zeal bordering on the magical). It’s not hard to see why early humans developed such primal awe for these creatures that can literally ensnare even the most knowledgeable hunter in a perfect ambush, and this awe has passed down through countless generations. The Tiger is proof positive that it can still manifest itself today, even at a book’s remove.

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2011 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Books

Egyptian secret police doing what they do best

leave a comment »

And, after all, one of the benefits the US has realized in its support of Egypt is that Egypt is quite willing to imprison and torture the people the US sends to it. Our government just loved that it could have people tortured in a location less prone to investigation than, say, Guantánamo (though the US tortured people to death there, with no serious repercussions on the torturers, thanks in large part to Barack Obama’s generosity of spirit toward those who torture people).

Souad Mekhennet and Nicholas Kulish report their own direct experience of how the Egyptian government treats its people:

CAIRO — We had been detained by Egyptian authorities, handed over to the country’s dreaded Mukhabarat, the secret police, and interrogated. They left us all night in a cold room, on hard orange plastic stools, under fluorescent lights.

But our discomfort paled in comparison to the dull whacks and the screams of pain by Egyptian people that broke the stillness of the night. In one instance, between the cries of suffering, an officer said in Arabic, “You are talking to journalists? You are talking badly about your country?”

A voice, also in Arabic, answered: “You are committing a sin. You are committing a sin.”

We — Souad Mekhennet, Nicholas Kulish and a driver, who is not a journalist and was not involved in the demonstrations — were detained Thursday afternoon while driving into Cairo. We were stopped at a checkpoint and thus began a 24-hour journey through Egyptian detention, ending with — we were told by the soldiers who delivered us there — the secret police. When asked, they declined to identify themselves.

Captivity was terrible. We felt powerless — uncertain about where and how long we would be held. But the worst part had nothing to do with our treatment. It was seeing — and in particular hearing through the walls of this dreadful facility — the abuse of Egyptians at the hands of their own government.

For one day, we were trapped in the brutal maze where Egyptians are lost for months or even years. Our detainment threw into haunting relief the abuses of security services, the police, the secret police and the intelligence service, and explained why they were at the forefront of complaints made by the protesters.

Many journalists shared this experience, and many were kept in worse conditions — some suffering from injuries as well.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, over the period we were held there were 30 detentions of journalists, 26 assaults and 8 instances of equipment being seized. We saw a journalist with his head bandaged and others brought in with jackets thrown over their heads as they were led by armed men.

In the morning, we could hear the strained voice of a man with a French accent calling out in English: “Where am I? What is happening to me? Answer me. Answer me.”

This prompted us into action — pressing to be released with more urgency, and indeed fear, than before. A plainclothes officer who said his name was Marwan gestured to us. “Come to the door,” he said, “and look out.”

We saw more than 20 people, Westerners and Egyptians, blindfolded and handcuffed. The room had been empty when we arrived the evening before.

“We could be treating you a lot worse,” he said in a flat tone, the facts speaking for themselves. Marwan said Egyptians were being held in the thousands. During the night we heard them being beaten, screaming after every blow. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2011 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Mac going well

with 6 comments

I bought a Macbook Pro yesterday, 13" screen. It’s an enormous time sink right now, as I try to learn the ins and outs, but I’m pleased that I am untouched by buyer’s remorse. I’m actually quite happy with it, despite the occasional glitch.

Full disclosure: a week or so ago, I ordered that computer on-line, and after an hour or so cancelled the order. So I have wavered.

However, the temptation to have a computer that I can use in the living room chair, and the use I made of Macbooks on my trip (which showed that they work well for me: better than the Windows notebooks I had tried), finally moved me to actually go out to the Apple store and buy one.

But that’s why the late posting, and that’s why the light posting for a while: I’m learning two foreign languages: español and Macintosh.

(Despite all the demands, though, I did 30′ nonstop on the Nordic Track this morning. Smile)

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2011 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Daily life

Progress report re: español

leave a comment »

My Spanish learning is going well. I’m starting to realize the benefits of having learned Esperanto.

Let me tell you a story about Finland. The standard practice in Finland was (and still may be) that students take 3 years of German. As an experiment, they had one group of students (the experimental group) take a year of Esperanto, followed by 2 years of German with their Esperanto continuing to be used as the instructional language for a geography course.

Because they didn’t want students in the experimental group to be moving away before they completed the three years, they selected the experimental group from families that were more or less rooted in the community. Generally speaking, this meant that children of professional families (who they thought were more likely to move at some point in the next three years) were not included, though these children were on average more academically able (due to home environment, I presume).

The result: In the first year, after a few weeks, the students in the Esperanto class were chattering away on the playground in Esperanto, having fun with their “secret” language (and, of course, getting in lots of practice). Because Esperanto was specifically designed to be easy to learn (it was designed to be a universal second language), it’s … well, easy to learn: no irregular verbs, easy way to form new words using a system of affixes, and so on.

The students learning German did no playground conversations in German.

At the end of the three years, they found that the students with 1 year of Esperanto and 2 years of German were much more fluent in German and had better comprehension.

And it makes sense. The second foreign language is almost always easier to learn than the first: you know more what you’re doing, you know how to build your vocabulary, you understand that you might as well memorize the prepositions, you know if you’re trying to say something in the language not to get hung up by not knowing a word but to paraphrase, using words you do know, and so on. Moreover, the students who began with Esperanto had an extremely positive first-foreign-language experience so when they started a second foreign language they optimistic and ready to buckle down. (Did I mention that it was easy? And, of course, it’s fun to talk in front of your friends in a secret language. Smile )

The experiment was run by the United Nations (specifically, UNESCO, as I recall), which has an obvious interest in finding a common second language, given the billions they burn through printing everything 5 times over (in all the official language), paying the translators for that and also the simultaneous interpreters—and maintaining the technology to support that effort. It would obviously save enormous sums of money, not to mention time, if all the representatives were to learn Esperanto (designed for ease of learning) and use that as their common second language. (The fact that Esperanto is not native to any country is a benefit here: there would undoubtedly be strong political objections to using a language that would favor some particular country: English, French, German, Chinese, Russian—you can see the objections that would be raised. But Esperanto is neutral.)

Well, Esperanto was really my first foreign language: the first I learned well enough to speak. And now that I’m hitting my stride in Spanish, I see all the old tricks coming back to me. E.g., make your own flash cards (I use these Vis-Ed blank cards): You start learning the word simply from making the card. Then carry the cards with you and review them constantly.

I generally keep the card in three decks, held with rubber bands:

Green rubber band – I know these words pretty well. I review every 2-3 days. If I even hesitate over a word, much less get it wrong, it goes back to the yellow pack. If I have no idea, it goes directly into red pack.

Yellow rubber band – These words are still tricky, so I review them 3-4 times a day. Once I seem to know one cold, it moves to the green pack. If I get really stuck with one, it moves to the red pack.

Red rubber band – These are new or else problem words. I review these more or less constantly—like once or twice an hour. They move into the yellow pack as soon as I think I know them, and that usually doesn’t take long at that rate of review.

I’m following many of the suggestions in the wonderful book Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, by Kató Lomb:

KATÓ LOMB (1909–2003) was one of the great polyglots of the 20th century. A translator and one of the first simultaneous interpreters in the world, Lomb worked in 16 languages for state and business concerns in her native Hungary. She achieved further fame by writing books on languages, interpreting, and polyglots. Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, first published in 1970, is a collection of anecdotes and reflections on language learning. Because Dr. Lomb learned her languages as an adult, after getting a PhD in chemistry, the methods she used will thus be of particular interest to adult learners who want to master a foreign language.

I’m following many of her selections: watching movies in the target language, listening to audiobooks and the radio in the target language, using a dictionary that’s totally in the target language (rather than English-Target, Target-English, which keeps you thinking in English), reading magazines and newspapers in the target language, and so on. It’s a very interesting book even if you’re not yet learning another language.

I should also mention a very handy little piece of software for Windows (don’t know yet whether it’s available on the Mac, which indeed may not need it): Diacrit. It’s quite wonderful and supports a host of languages (including Esperanto, which is why I originally got it). UPDATE: Here’s how the Mac does it.

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2011 at 2:16 pm

Another French razor

with 4 comments

Another gift from The Wife, this Gerson razor with a horn handle carries what appears to be a Mühle head, using the design developed with Neil Jagger. Not sure, though. At any rate, it shaves quite well on a beard softened with Yardley shaving soap. A splash of Pashana, and I’m ready to go.

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2011 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: