Archive | July, 2013

I’ve got a lot of time before I die

31 Jul

I tend to focus on time a lot. I think about how I should finish this MOOC as soon as I can. I should read this book ASAP. I should improve this language as much as I can in as short a time as possible. I recently wrote to my dad that “I feel the pressure of the hours rather than that of the years.”

You should understand that I’m not just rushing around willy-nilly because I was born after 1980, nor because of the influence of Facebook or television on my brain. Not at all. I am rushing around because I understand that investments pay off. Skills and knowledge don’t work exactly like money, but I think that the same general principle applies. With money, X dollars invested many years ago can be considerably larger than X, but if you’ve only invested that money recently it will hardly have grown at all. In a parallel fashion, the sooner I gain a skill, the more results I will see from the use of that skill over the course of my lifetime. For example, if I learn how the human body works at age 20, I can do half a century of medical research or medical work using that knowledge. Even if I don’t actively use that knowledge, merely having the awareness of such knowledge in my brain broadens my view and improves my life. However, if I study and I gain such knowledge at age 60, then I simple have less time to use it. That is how I often think about knowledge and skills: the sooner I get it, the more I will be able to use it.

And I think that it is right. Proper. Correct. But I shouldn’t think of everything that way. I shouldn’t think of single, isolated goals that way. I shouldn’t think of my leisure activities that way. I’ll dive into this a little bit deeper.

I have a list of life goals. It is a flexible list, and I regularly take items off it or add new items to it. One thing that has stayed on there for a long time is “run a marathon.” I only started to work toward that when I was in a pretty bad period of life in the autumn of 2011, and since then I have, on and off, been progressing toward that goal. Recently I’ve stopped running in order to focus on Portuguese, and I feel bad, because I know that my goal of running a marathon is getting farther away from me. But I shouldn’t feel bad. I have plenty of time to do it. Finishing a marathon will not have increasing returns over time: it isn’t a skill that will benefit me more if I do it in two weeks as opposed to in two decades. (with the possible exception of bragging rights, but I feel that my two half-marathons already give me enough of that).

I feel the same about all the literature and the history that I want to read. I’ve got over 1000 books on my to-read list on Goodreads. Some of those could be useful for jobs in the future, but a good part of them are also just there for my own pleasure. The history of Japan, classic literature from Russia, and the philosophy which piques my interest all falls into this category. I shouldn’t rush to do these things… and neither should you.

There are some things that should be rushed. I really should pay off my debts as soon as I possibly can, because those are the type of thing that will keep growing until I get rid of them. The longer I wait, the harder it will be. I do want to improve my language skills as quickly as possible, because then I will be able to use them more, effectively getting a greater return on investment. I should learn how to use excel. But we should be careful not to lump everything into the ‘urgent’ category. And even for things that might turn out to be careers, I don’t necessarily need to start those immediately. I need to remember that I’ve got many years left to do these things, and therefore I’ve got many hours left. A question on Quora about people who started after the mid-20s gives me a lot of hope. All those legends, all those succesful people who didn’t even start until they were older than I am. I think that is a good point to end on.


Does Spanish lack vocabulary?

26 Jul
2013-05-27 14.12.23

Streapers in Spain

This one isn’t an official Spanish word, and neither the RAE not Google Translate recognize it, but I’m gonna make an educated guess from the context that it describes women who take of their clothes.

I normally think that Spanish is a beautiful language that flows off the tongue smoothly. But why are there so many English words imported into Spanish? When I passed this poster on the street, I wondered “Doesn’t Spanish have a word for a stripper?” Apparently not, or at least not a word that portrays quite the same meaning. I feel bad for Spanish. Really. Do they have to import streapers from English? Why not just write bailadoras eroticas? Any ideas?

Transformational words that don’t exist in English

24 Jul
I came across an unusual word in Portuguese yesterday. Although I don’t recall how I encountered it, the word estadualizar showed up somewhere. This is a Portuguese word which means “become statal” according to WordReference. To become like a state doesn’t strike me as a very common concept to express, and I am not surprised that some of the other dictionaries and translation machines that I looked had had no entry for estadualizar. But I am most interested in how difficult it is to smoothly express the idea in English. To become like a state could be more or less said as “statify,” despite being somewhat awkward sounding and not officially existing in English.
Regardless, the concept of a specific of this category that doesn’t exist in English isn’t new. If my suspicion is correct, Portuguese and Spanish both have a type of word that ends with –zar that describes a change from one thing to another, similar to the English -ize in democratize, nationalize, and  heroize.
Roughly "informationalize the forces, win the informationalization struggle"

Roughly “informationalize the forces, win the informationalization struggle”

This is roughly matched in Chinese by –, with 信息化 being the prime example of a concept that is awkward to describe in English, if only because we don’t formally have a word for “informationization.” The concept is simple enough: more something more information-dense or introduce information into a system (information in this sense means information technology). Despite the concept being simple enough, English just doesn’t have one single word to describe that.

What other words do you know that describe a transformation but which don’t exist in English?


Restoring hope in human progress

22 Jul
This week in Science, 21st July 2013

This week in Science, 21st July 2013

Having studies China and political things in college, and having delved into economics and psychology on my own over the past couple of years, it is easy for me to get depressed if I think too much about human beings. It would not be challenging to come up with a long list of all the things that we do wrong. But there is still progress. That is a good thing to keep in mind. That is why I like these little updates from I Fucking Love Science about the latest frontiers that are being pushed back. Click for a bigger view.

Similarity and context

20 Jul

I’ve never studied any Norwegian, but that didn’t stop me from understanding some of it. During my trip to Oslo this Spring, two major things helped me to understand a decent amount of written Norwegian: the similarity to English, and the context. While Norwegian is officially a North Germanic language and English is a West Germanic language, there were enough similarities  in vocabulary to help me understand. The second thing that helped me to understand was context. For example, when I was in the Resistance Museum in Oslo, I knew that the whole museum was telling the story of how Nazi Germany invaded Norway and how Norwegian rebels fought back. Knowing that context, I was able to make sense of a lot of the displays, many of which didn’t have any English translation.

2013-04-06 10.46.04I have this picture of a bell to serve as an example of both the first and the second point. Both the context and the similarity to English nudge me to assume that it says like 900 year anniversary, May 14th 1950. The context here is a big giveaway: usually if you see 14 unknown word 1950, that unknown word is going to be a month. Aars for years and anniversary from jubileu are just guesses, because it seems similar to French’s ans and the English word jubilee. This is a major language learning and language using strategy that I’ve used while learning new languages: context and similarity. This is why Portuguese is so easy for me to learn, and it is also why I was able to read so much Catalan when I visited Tarragona. These strategies help me seem like a much more advanced language user than I really am.

Link Roundup

15 Jul

“Un poco de relax” counts as real Spanish?

15 Jul

2013-05-28 09.54.40Another word in Spanish that has come from English, relax is even in the RAE. I’m starting to understand why some Spaniards complain about the Anglicisation‎s in their language. I thought it only involved words like sandwich and marketing. Relax is the kind of thing that I would expect to see in a bilingual’s code-switching, not in a monolingual Spaniard’s speech or writing.