Geography game

Somebody sent me a link to a very cool geography game that I'm horrible at, though it sounds simple: just drag a bunch of countries onto a world map.

What makes it difficult is that the world map is just a gray blob, so you have to know exactly where each country goes, and all you have to go on is the shape of the country and the "country code top-level domain" (ccTLD).

You can get hints, and if you're wrong (which I usually am), it will show you where the country goes. Needless to say, I needed a lot of help :)

By the way, I had no idea what a ccTLD was, and it sounds quite nerdy and technical, though necessary:

A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is an Internet top-level domain generally used or reserved for a country or a dependent territory.

ccTLD identifiers are two letters long, and all two-letter top-level domains are ccTLDs. Creation and delegation of ccTLDs is performed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), and with certain exceptions noted below corresponds to the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country codes maintained by the ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency.


Before Baldwin died

This is weird: I was looking for biographical information about James Baldwin, and found a short one that was written before he died. He died in 1987, but the website folks haven't put anything in past tense.

First of all, the title just says "James Baldwin 1924 – ". Note that there is no end date; there is nothing after the dash.

And in the last paragraph, it's the present perfect tense that implies he's still alive (was still alive) when it was written:

Since his return to the United States Baldwin has accepted this role with some reluctance, stating that he can speak only for himself. Yet he has participated in two published conversations loosely conducted about the topic of race...


Multilingual teen

Ok, I'm very impressed. Tonight I met a friend's brother who is only 18, but speaks German, English, French, Dutch, and Hebrew totally fluently, and is currently studying Italian on his own. That's in addition to other stuff he does, including going to high school.

What is the word for someone who is fluent in five languages (and probably six, since I'm sure he'll ace Italian in no time)? If two languages is bilingual and three languages is trilingual, then is multilingual the only word for someone who's fluent in so many languages?

Bottom line: he's a lucky guy!


Period piece

I often hear the phrase "period piece" on home designing shows. When we hear it, we assume fancy-looking 19th century furniture, but really, what does it mean? I looked it up, and it's described as "A piece of furniture, etc dating from, and in the distinctive style of, a certain historical period."

Isn't *every* part of history a "certain" historical period? Right now we're in the 21st century, so couldn't a 20th century piece be considered "period"? Or even a piece of furniture created yesterday?

I'm may be persnickety about it, but if you really think about it, it's an undefined phrase that has emerged with certain assumptions.


Great advice

I told someone that sometimes we have to endure bad situations to keep our foot in the door, and they told me this:

A foot in a snake pit is a foot nowhere.

That's great advice, and an excellent quote.


Today is under construction

Somebody sent me this picture of a Japanese sign--it's an odd translation that actually has a philosophical message. So maybe the translator is an aspiring poet :)


Understood chav

I was watching tonight's Inspector Lynley episode, and heard one of the characters talk about "chavs". Sometimes I don't understand the slang they use, but I understood what a chav was because I found out about it a while ago. So I guess my language "research" helps in understanding TV programs. Which is important for Entertainment Enjoyment.

But there is some sad news: I didn't know that Series 6 started last week, so I missed the first episode, and have to make due with the remaining few episodes of the series. Which means that I have to somehow find a way to move on in life with an incomplete appreciation of Inspector Lynley's greatness. But I'll get over such a tragedy :)


Monk mistake

I used to like Monk, but I think it's quite lame now, so I occasionally watch it, and if I miss an episode, I don't care. I happened to see it tonight and it wasn't much better than it's been. They've made that show quite annoying, focusing more on Monk's mental problems than actual mysteries. The problem is the departure of his original assistant, even though she was difficult. There are other causes too, I'm sure, but since I don't work in L.A., I have no insider info :) But one thing is quite clear: they're certainly doing a lot of marketing and gimmicks to make up for what the show lacks.

Anyway, I noticed a mistake they made that had to do with English grammar, and something that Monk would've caught. But the show's writers and whoever else looks out for inconsistencies didn't bother to make sure that his character acted accordingly. Monk was in a bar, wasting time as usual, and he met a con man. Here's an approximation of the conversation he had with the con man:

Con Man: I'll bet that I can tell you where you got your shoes.
Monk: Ok.
Con Man: On your feet.
[Monk hands over the money because he lost the bet.]

Okay, if the writers had been paying attention, they'd realize that Monk would've pointed out the grammatical mistake that the con man made. He said "got your shoes." That implies where Monk "acquired" them. If the guy chose to be grammatically correct in order to make the scam work, he wouldn't have used "got" because Monk's feet didn't acquire or give them to Monk. The feet are simply wearing the shoes. So maybe the con man should've said "have."

I'm not enough of an obsessive nerd to write the show, but maybe there's a Monk fan out there who's going to point it out. I'm just a Grammar Watcher :)


Scary stuff

Someone sent me a link to a blog that discussed some very nerdy endeavors, including a search engine that can "take advantage of the structure and nuances of natural language."

But I found something seemingly nerdier when I followed a link to a Parallel Grammar Project:

The Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG) ParGram project is a collaborative effort involving researchers in industrial and academic institutions around the world. The aim of the project is to produce wide coverage grammars for a wide variety of languages (see participating sites below). These are written collaboratively within the linguistic framework of LFG and with a commonly-agreed-upon set of grammatical features.

Ok, if anyone thinks I'm a linguist, then the fact that I don't know what those people are talking about should prove that I'm just a simple-minded language lover. Even the diagram is baffling, and even sort of scary.

But this might be scarier:

In case you're wondering, here's an explanation:

XLE consists of cutting-edge algorithms for parsing and generating Lexical Functional Grammars (LFGs) along with a rich graphical user interface for writing and debugging such grammars...One of the main goals of the XLE is to parse and generate with LFGs efficiently. This is difficult because the LFG formalism, like most unification-based grammar formalisms, is NP complete. This means that in the worst case the time that it takes to parse or generate with an LFG can be exponential in the length of the input. However, natural languages are mostly context-free equivalent, and one should be able to parse them in mostly cubic time. XLE is designed to automatically take advantage of context-freeness in the grammar of a natural language so that it typically parses in cubic time and generates in linear time. This lets grammar writers write grammars in an expressive formalism without necessarily sacrificing performance.

Ok, I don't know what they're talking about. Which means that the folks who've developed that technology are very smart. And scary.


Great show

I saw Rush last night in Chicago, and it was an excellent show. I got a perfect view from the lawn, which I highly recommend. But the seats I got for the Depeche Mode show I went to a couple of years ago were even better. Also, the crowd at the Rush show was full of many American guys, and the Depeche Mode show was full of many Eastern Europeans.

I guess the best seating situation I ever got was at a U2 show--I was literally up front, so close to the band I could see everything they were doing, facial expressions, etc. Actually, there were no seats in that front section--I was with a relatively small group of people who were standing in that front section, surrounded by a stage that wrapped around us, where Bono walked out and sang to the thousands of other people in that stadium.


Suburban blues

I'm going to see my favorite band Rush tomorrow, so I'm posting the lyrics from their song Subdivisions, which is about life in the suburbs. I like to listen to it when I'm driving through the outlying areas of Chicagoland, far away from the city. The lyrics speak for themselves, no need to analyze or explain them.

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone

In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights...


When you don't notice

Sometimes languages blend and I don't even notice. We'd been speaking Japanese in class, and afterwards, I spoke to someone in English about a story we'd read. Then someone else started speaking Japanese with the teacher about a trip they'd taken, and I was asking them questions about it. Then I realized that I hadn't noticed that we were moving between languages. That's when you know you're not delineating languages or words, just going for the meaning instead.

I've had it happen when I've translated as well. I've seen different languages on something, and I'm supposed to translate one language, but since I sometimes understand another language that's printed nearby, I start reading that one instead of the one I'm supposed to translate. Like today: I was reading a warning in Portuguese and was proceeding to translate it, when I realized I was supposed to translate the French. All I know is that I understand the meaning, and that's what matters.


Steamed crap

Once again, there's some weird English in China. I saw a piece in the Sun-Times (which is really an AP story that's appeared throughout the country) about some badly translated menu items:

Trying to make Chinese cuisine and beverages sound more appealing, the Beijing Tourism Bureau has released a list with 2,753 proposed names to replace some menu entries, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Cited are ''virgin chicken'' (a young chicken dish) or ''burnt lion's head'' (Chinese-style pork meatballs). Also lost in translation: ''steamed crap'' (steamed carp).

What's odd and seemingly arrogant is that the government news outfit said, "These translations either scare or embarrass foreign customers and may cause misunderstanding.'' I don't think foreigners would be embarrassed by what they read--it's the people who wrote those translations who should be embarrassed--they didn't even bother to check their terms with a dictionary or anyone who's knowledgeable in English.


Quiz creation

A while ago, I created an American culture quiz based on questions that non-Americans asked me. Today I showed a non-American the quiz, and they suggested I create another one, or add questions to the current one. So if you have any questions you'd like answered, please let me know here, or you can also email me (the contact info is in my profile).