Nerdy site

The typical/average person would probably put me in the "nerdy/weird" category because I'm interested in ideas, language, thinking, reading, writing, observing, and basically doing things that aren't on a predictable track. But I was very surprised when a computer science student who's way smarter than I was at that age, or any age, asked me what a "differential equation" is. He said he had some downtime, and figured since I work on the same floor as extremely smart professors and grad students in an engineering department that I, too, understand science. I admitted my ignorance and he had no problem with that, but it made me curious just what it is.

What I found was an excellent site created by probably one of the smartest people in our generation, who hasn't merely jumped on the computer or data bandwagon, but was one of the early birds to that whole dominating phenomenon (or reality, since they're running the world at this point). 

The site is called My Physics Lab, and I assume anyone who studies that discipline knows it, because the computer student already knew about it when I told him that I found a decent explanation of differential equation there.

The creator of the site is Erik Neumann, who "was fortunate to get involved in the Macintosh software industry early on." He then describes an impressive resume of working in all kinds of computer stuff (my purposely non-technical word). Then, he "relearned calculus by doing all the problems in [his] old college text book and took further math classes at the University of Washington." He created the "website as a way to practice what [he] was learning," and he continues "to work on physics simulations, with several new ones in development." 

HUH? I'm still trying to figure out how to do basic things, like caulking a bathtub or avoiding bread. Meanwhile, Erik is creating *physics simulations* for the fun of it. Actually, you should check them out on the homepage...when you click on them they move/animate (for people like me, who just like sparkles and baubles). Or if you want the "explanations," you can look at the scientific/technical information. There's so much to describe, I took some screenshots because it's so incredible that this guy has done all this, in addition to his super-cerebral career/work, in addition to whatever else is going on in his life.

billiards animation
Billiards animation screenshot

billiards explanation
Billiards explanation and other nerdy info
I'm so simple-minded that it didn't occur to me to try to create a gif to represent his creations, and I'm so tired from reading science that I don't even want to try at this point.

Anyway, way to go, Erik, and remember us commoners on the prairie out here.


I just learned about "meta"

I'm late to the party, but I just found out what "meta" means. I was at a writing group, and the other people kept saying "That's so meta," or described something as "meta." I had to ask them what they meant because I only knew "meta" as a prefix or adjective, or within the context of computer stuff, such as "metadata" or "meta tag," or "metaphysics," etc. 

They said, almost in chorus, that meta is "self-referential." I had to ask them again because it sounded so abstract, and was surprised that people would use such a concept in casual conversation. "It means 'self-referential'," they repeated with annoyance, as if it's no big deal that such a word exists, or they couldn't believe I didn't know the word.

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the concept because people throw the word around without being precise or perhaps correct (like when a business "disrupts" an industry but not really, strictly speaking, which I'll discuss in a future post). 

In a "meta" discussion on Reddit, someone quoted an article with a prediction that's come true 30 years later, which I also found quoted in a decade-plus-old column in the New York Times
In an article in The New Republic of Sept. 5, 1988, titled "Meta Musings," David Justice, then editor for pronunciation and etymology at Merriam-Webster, was quoted as saying, "Meta is currently the fashionable prefix." The writer, Noam Cohen, added: "He predicts that, like retro -- whose use solely as a prefix is so, well, retro -- meta could become independent from other words, as in, 'Wow, this sentence is so meta.' If so, you heard it from me first."
I used to often watch old Hollywood movies on TV, and I noticed that a number of them took place in Hollywood. The most obvious is Singin' in the Rain. So now that I've learned what "meta" means, I know I have one word to describe them, a better shorthand than saying, "So many old Hollywood movies were stories about Hollywood and the movie business." Now I can just say those movies are "meta."

My prediction is that the word will no longer just mean "self-referential" but become something else that initially relates to the original meaning (or what purists now see as "evolved" because the word has already changed), or eventually mean something more diluted, such as what's become of "awesome," or something totally unrelated, like what's happened to "nice."


Madrelingua or lingua madre? (Italian translation)

As I referenced in my last post, I found a linguistic blog, or what the the Corriere della Sera newspaper calls "forum," about the Italian language. I discovered it while I was trying to find out what the difference between "madrelingua" and "lingua madre" was. Here's my attempt at translating the explanation:
Madrelingua or lingua madre?
Last February 21, International Mother Language Day was celebrated throughout the world. It was established by Unesco in 1999 to commemorate a revolt that occurred in 1952 in Bangladesh, where many Bangladeshi students were killed in the capital, Dhaka, while protesting for their right to speak their native language, Bengali. 
Many newspapers confused madrelingua and lingua madre, using them as if they were synonyms, though they have two completely different meanings. Madrelingua is "a language that is learned first (Devoto Oli), "a language learned or spoken from parents or ancestors" (Treccani), "language of the native country, learned from birth" (Garzanti); not to be confused with lingua madre "parent of a language family" (Devoto-Oli), "what others are derived from, considered related to them" (Treccani), "a language that developed from another language" (Garzanti). Now here's a question: what is the madrelingua of those journalists?
All the best [many ways to translate this word] 
Ivana Palomba


International Mother Language Day

On the way to trying to figure out if "mother tongue/language" in Italian was "madrelingua" or "lingua madre," I found a post at the Scioglilingua forum/blog (which hasn't been updated for a while probably because linguist Giorgio De Rienza passed away) that said "Lo scorso 21 febbraio รจ stata celebrata in tutto il mondo la giornata internazionale della madrelingua." [Last February 21 international mother language day was celebrated throughout the world.]

I had no idea such a day existed. The United Nations is the source of the day, and Wikipedia offers a thorough explanation
The date corresponds to the day in 1952 when students from the University of Dhaka, Jagannath College and Dhaka Medical College, demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali as one of the two national languages of East Pakistan, were brutally shot dead by police (then under Pakistan government) near the Dhaka High Court in the capital of present-day Bangladesh. 
Luckily, the Corriere della Sera newspaper hasn't deleted the blog/forum (I see it as a blog, but they categorize it as "forum"), so I'm going to go back to attempt to translate the post that explains the difference between those two words.