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.” . . .