Rewiring My Brain: Escucha y Repita

Despite five years of German and two years of French in middle school and high school, I retained none of it. I think I am not a “language person,” and I have often envied friends who seem to acquire languages like adding an extra car just because they can. Nevertheless, it’s been on my radar for years to learn Spanish. It is California; we are practically a bi-lingual state. I decided 2019 was the year to give it the full welly. I discovered ways to learn and not to learn, I started exercising parts of my brain that I didn’t know where there, and learned all about el hombre con seis dodos. Español, aquí voy!

Duolingo language app
The Duolingo free language app

How Not to Learn Spanish

This started three years ago when my daughter showed me the free Duolingo app, which purports to teach you a language five minutes a day. Since I enjoy a challenge, most of my focus has been to keep my streak going. (200 days in a row as of today). I have learned a decent amount of vocabulary, particularly about chicken with rice, fish burgers, and wine.

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The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis

Greensleeves illustration
Greensleeves illustration by Walter Crane. Based on a theme written by ??

This may not seem like a holiday-themed post, but in the theater of mad decorating that took place at our house last week, listening to Christmas carols led to all sorts of topics. One of my favorite carols popped into the mix: “What Child is This?” played by Vince Guaraldi on The Charlie Brown Christmas CD.  Naturally, the song led to a discussion of “Greensleeves” which naturally led to… anyone? anyone? Henry the Eighth… which naturally reminded of something I recently learned about syphilis.

The Earworm Virus of “Greensleeves”

The lyrics to “What Child is This?” were written as a poem by William Chatterton Dix, who mused on what the magi might have said besides, “Where the Holiday Inn?”  Dix was an English insurance company manager whose near death illness invoked a spark of divine inspiration so intense that he began writing poems like “The Manger Throne.”  At some point, when a hymnal was later created in 1865, his poem was set to the ‘borrowed’ tune from “Greensleeves.”

The little ballad, played by strolling bards at Renaissance festivals and the more famous pick-up lute quartets, had been around for nearly three centuries. The song has long been attributed to Henry, and the legend goes that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn as she was rejecting his advances. Continue reading “The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis”

The Earth’s Wobble is Veering

 

Globe
The earth, minding its own business, while secretly wobbling on its axis. Photo by kajmeister.

It doesn’t take much to get me going down a rabbit hole for facts. I’m on the hunt now, I’m on the trail. Harper’s published a factoid in their current issue’s Index which said:

Distance, in feet, by which the Earth’s axis of spin has shifted since 1899: 34
Estimated percentage of that shift that is due to climate change: 40
Harper’s Index, Dec 2018

Thirty-four feet? Really? How do they know that?  I do understand that climate change is occurring, however I also like to understand the facts behind statements. How do they know it’s due to climate change?

Start With the Wobble

First, we have to visualize the earth spinning on an axis and having a wobble.

The Wobble Dance
Dance “The Wobble”

No, not that kind of Wobble.

Start with the earth. It leans. What does lean mean? It is a matter of perspective. For example, many of us have been brought up to believe that north is up:

World Map, north at top
Standard world map from geology.com.

But, in fact, there’s no reason to view the world that way. People who happen to be standing in Antarctica don’t stand on their heads. From their point of view, the world map would look like this:

World Map, south at top
World Map, southern orientation. From Manywaystoseetheworld.com

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To Freeze or Not To Freeze

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
–Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”

With election trauma behind me and turkey recipes in front of me, I needed a little nudge in writing today’s entry, and my friendly neighborhood bloggers suggested Daily Word Prompts of chemical and freeze. Put them together and voila! today’s topic: cryonics.

Alcor cryonics
Cryonics seems to involve lots of ducts, pipes, and ladders. Alcor.org marketing photo.

Get Your Batsh*t Crazy Freezing Definitions Straight

First off, learn the distinction between cryonics, cryogenics, suspended animation. Cryonics is the science of freezing bodies with the hopes of future re-animation, after medical technologies have advanced to reverse aging or cure whatever ailed the body. Cryogenics is the branch of physics dealing with low temperatures. Suspended animation is inducing a cessation of body functions, perhaps through a low metabolic state, that preserves the body over an extended period of time. Suspended animation has been successfully extended to mice for a few hours, but not on anything as big as sheep or pigs, so unless you squeak, this is not a viable option yet.

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How Many Things Do I Really Need to Do Today?

Has the artificial intelligence singularity already hit? If you’re familiar with the Terminator series, that’s where computer intelligence develops to a point where algorithms are able to learn and improve, which leads to A.I. self-awareness, which leads A.I. to determine that it’s more useful than its human creators. Ergo, humans are unnecessary, and the manifestation of computing power turns into Arnold with the sunglasses, Hasta La Vista, Baby!

Arnold The Terminator
Arnold says complete your five tasks today, please! Google photo of The Terminator.

Maybe we’re already there. There is a raging (interesting) debate between philosophical technology camps about when or if the singularity will occur. In the abstract, perhaps it’s forty years away. In reality, though, aren’t we already shaping our lives around technology rather than the other way around?  My wife likes to joke that we have to “give our lives up to the googles.” But, seriously, haven’t we tacitly agreed to let those little devices run things?

To Do Lists That Don’t Make Us More Productive

I like a good To Do list, although I’m often over-ambitious and put more things on it than I can complete. After I stopped punching the corporate clock, I wanted a program to help me keep track of the projects I want to do at home. I fell in love with ToDoist, but recently the romance has soured.

One of the features of ToDoist is that you define how many things you want to accomplish each day, and it tells you Congratulations when you completed them. Action items are now a game. Hit all the targets, and you win! Or, get a notification, if you don’t. You have only two hours left to complete your five tasks. If you don’t update for a few days or go on vacation, you get a depressingly long Overdue list.

Suppose I have a day where I do One Big Thing that eclipses all others? I still get dinged for not doing four more, and then I lose my “streak” of days which affects whether I’m rated as an Expert or Apprentice. So I find myself doing things like, after the fact, adding “Grocery Store” or “Go to Mailbox” as a task.  I wonder whether this is really adding to my “personal productivity,” and, by the way, when did people need to run themselves like a business, anyway? Continue reading “How Many Things Do I Really Need to Do Today?”