Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I noticed on my trip to Scotland how many more non-Scots are living and working in Edinburgh as well as travelling to St Andrews. So, too, the number of Americans going to the university has also increased since I was a student. I (an American studying in Scotland) have become less-rare in the intervening years, and I don't know if that is a bad or good thing. On the one hand, having Americans living abroad only be good for them -- Americans being in the double position of being rather provincial-minded as well as knowing they belong to a superpower nation -- since there is so much that being a 'stupid foreigner' can do for one's humility and worldliness. Of course, the coarse sounds of some American accents does make for a jarring break back to reality as one walks through a throng of people.

Waiting for flight

Lounge in Edinburgh Airport. The airport has grown a lot in the past 10 years. I recall when I just came the first time to Edinburgh 15 years ago, when there was only one small terminal that had only a few gates. The parking was only a surface, and we actually walked into the terminal from the outside. Now, there is a BIG terminal, a multi-story carpark, and also an international arrivals area where -- presumably -- one might actually be subject to a customs check (as opposed to merely choosing to call if there was something to declare). Concomitant with this expansion is an apparent expansion in use as well. In 1995 -- when I started university -- the airport would have been rightly classified as 'sleepy'. In the many times I used it, I was rarely to encounter a busy terminal building, except save for when therew was construction going on. Now? Wow! There mgith need to be another expansion, especially if these crowds continue. Okay, the snapshots in my mind are several years apart, but in an ever-increasingly mobile Europe (and Scotland - what with its rich history of explorers and adventurers - is likely only to become more mobile) will only be increased in its desirability as a place to see beautiful sights of nature and history, further increasing the immigration rate here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In London

and not only did I see a colleague at Paddington station, but I also went to Greenwich and saw the grounds (very lovely) and eat some curry before getting a few pints into me. Now to sleep.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cycled a LOT today in getting packed

I leave in the morning for the UK, but - because I purchased a new hiking backpack that I left at a friend's house - needed to pack first. This meant that I had to bike over to my friend's house with some laundry (since someone's going to be taking care of the cabin whilst I'm gone), then cycle into town to get some last-minute gifts, cycle back to my friend's place to move laundry into the dryer, cycle to the forest to bring back items for packing, cycle to the hardware store to pick up some rope (to tie down my backpack's straps), then cycle back to the forest. Finally - since I would be leaving my bike with the Great Lakes Cycle and Fitness for a tune-up and putting on an extra mud guard - cycling out to Great Lakes Cycle and Fitness.

In total (based on the way I cycled, cutting through neighborhoods along paths that a car couldn't take), I cycled 33 km (20.5 miles). Phew! No wonder I was had the shakes afterwards (and that wasn't the end - I had to finish cleaning up the inside of the cabin).

Now that I'm done, I'm ready to get to sleep for a bit.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Prodigal Tongue

Just finishing up the book The Prodigal Tongue by Mark Abley. It is a really good read, put together along themes built around the author's travels around the world. Indeed, the book is kind of put together like a travel memoir, with each chapter not only based in a place, but also based around a concept of the changing nature of the English language.

He travels not only the "English-speaking" world, but also large swaths of the geography of the English language itself, starting with dictionaries and the creation of new words, the amazing vibrancy of "Asian English" (i.e., English spoken in Singapore), the infusion of English into other languages, the "special case" of Japan, the interplay of English and EspaƱol in Los Angeles, the influence of rap and R&B on US and world English, possible future trends in English, the impact of cyberspace on English communication, and finally the "usability" of English. In all, it's quite a heavy-hitting trek through the world of spoken (and written) English of the early 2000s (and even then, only a small part of it).

Some interesting things that he writes come up as truisms to me, especially when I recall those days when I was in highschool in Taiwan and traveled to other countries in Southeast Asia. Listening to the clipped tones of spoken English - complete with borrowed words and grammar - brought those sounds vividly to my mind as I read thinks like this:
"Your mouth is your tiger" - so says a Malay proverb. Given the sheer number of people in the region and the tigerish leap of their economies, it's possible that far in the future, Standard English will reflect an Asian norm rather than an Anglo-American one. Think of how syllables are stressed. In Britain, Australia and North America, variations in verbal stress are crucial to how people speak - the rythm of songs and poems depends on it. To a Western ear, the result sounds oddly percussive. That doesn't mean wrong.

The absence of word-ending consonants can also disconcert. One day in Singapore I overheard a young man talking on his handphone to a past, present or future girlfriend. "You want me to repect you?" he asked. Except that it sounded closer to "Ya wa'me ta respe'ya?" In the unlikely event that an American were to ask "Got or not?" a Singaporean would probably hear "Gawd er nawd?" But an American listening to a Singaporean might hear "Gah'ah'nah?" If this sounds peculiar today, it may seem natural to our grandchildren. Beauty is in the ear of the listener.
Having grown up for part of my childhood in Japan, having Japanese family members, and having studied Japanese in school, the chapter on English in Japan (Chapter 5: "Hippu Hangu") held more than a few topics that confirmed many of the things that I had remembered, as well as gave me a new insight into the Japan that had developed since I left it. For example, in order to discuss some of the psychological setting in which Japanese finds itself - in a world replete with English - Abley needed to first describe the condition of the grammar:
For all the complications and elaborations of its script, spoken Japanese can be extremely concise. Pronouns are usually implied, not stated. Take the following brief exchange: "Did you go to the movie with Kazuki?" "Yes, I went." In Japanese, this might be rendered as "Kazuki to eiga e itta no?" "Un, itta yo." A literal translation would read: "Kazuki with movie to went that?" "Yes, went, final particle." Apart from its role as a name, kazuki can signify "pleasant peace" or, when written with different kanji, "shining one." Words look unseasy on their own. Conttext is everything.

All of which begins to explain why the Japanese can appear so opaque to outsiders. "Eloquence is not one of the virtues people have been encouraged to cultivate," Masayoshi Shibatani writes in his book The Languages of Japan. "In fact, persuasion of others by means of linguistic skills is largely discouraged as direct confrontation in general is avoided ... It is the person's ability to arrive at an intended conclusion rather than the persuader's logical presentation that is evaluated. Thus, one who does not get the point by merely hearing hints is considered a dull person." From Periclean Athens to Hide Park Corner, the European tradition of rhetoric has aimed at convincing a listener by force of logic and argument. Japan's tradition is one that cherishes nuance and tolerates ambiguity, inviting a listener to come up with an implied meaning. If a man says that a woman is kirei, is he praising her beauty, her purity or her cleanlisness - or some combination of those attributes?


Foreigners who strive to master Japanese are often baffled by its remarkable system of keigo, or polite speech. Its rules place vocabulary at the mercy of social context. "Will X come to Osaka tomorrow?" seems a simple question. But depending on the setting, the speaker, the person being addressed and the person being asked about, it could be posed in more than twenty ways. Identity in Japan is fluid, open-ended, almost shockingly changeable. A male teacher might call himself watakushi (I, formally), boku (I, informally), ore (I, intimately or vulgarly), otosan (I as a father, talking to my children), sensei (I as a teacher, talking to my class), ojisan (I as an uncle, talking to other children) or niisan (I as an older brother).
With regard to the (apparently) still-popular trend of using random English on Japanese items of clothing (kind of like how Westerners like to use random Chinese and Japanese on clothing and tattoos), Abley shares this piece of insight:
... Once you start reading other people's clothing, it's hard to stop. Hard for me, anyway. A young blood in the station sported a T-shirt with the slogan The Sea Roars a Lullaby. Another T-shirt mysteriously declared: Happy Endless Bivis. ... For decades, sentences like these went by the name Japlish; but .. another name has recently come to the fore: Engrish. Websites are devoted to it. Engrish, like Japlish, cna refer to gnarled gobbets of language from all across East Asia. ... Why do they make such blunders anyway?

There are, as it happens, three good reasons. The main one is that English often functions simply as a design element in Japanese products. The words are not intended to carry any precise meaning - or rather, the meaning they're out to convey is that the product in question is hip, cool, ultranew. If you're manufacturing a T-shirt, the sea may as well roar a lullaby as murmer a pandemonium. A second reason is that in matters of grammer and phonetics, as well as vocabulary and social context, the differences between English and Japanese are huge. ... And third, some apparently inexplicable errors can be traced back to mistranslation. Why would a Japanese package of coffee have the name Ease Your Bosoms? The answer, almost certainly, is an inept rendering of the English phrase "Take a load off your chest."

There are many more interesting chapters and insights, but I'm not going to type them out here. (After all, I have to finish the book!) But if you are interested in learning about the breadth of the usage of English in today's world, then check out this book.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Cottage in the late afternoon

Cottage in the late afternoon
Originally uploaded by umlud
Sometimes I stop and realize that I now live in a 80-acre piece of land with 50-odd acres of forest, and much of the remaining 30-odd acres being water. I don't know if it's because I tend to live inside my own head so often, and that the simple action of going outside is - strangely - not something that I am presently prone to do very often.

However, when I do go outside, I'm struck again and again by how amazing it is to live in Saginaw Forest. (I'm also struck again and again by mosquitoes, but that's a different issue all together.) The other day, I as I was mowing part of the lawn in front of the cabin, I turned around and looked up the lawn and saw an amazing little tableau: the cabin beyond a short expanse of grass, overhung and surrounded by trees. Since I wasn't mowing the entire lawn (just three paths to the water), tall flowering grasses were waving in the wind like short green wheat, their height masking the gravel road. In fact, if it wasn't for the mowing of the lawn (which I do mostly to give people a 'pathway' along which to walk so they don't trample through the entire area), the vista would have been a more naturalistic one with (somewhat) tall grasses carpeting the small rise.

This last Friday I was so taken by the scenery - sunny late afternoon with little wind - that I took one of the boats out on the lake. Very nice, indeed, and an activity that I'll have to do again during this summer, but with an eye out for where future biological monitoring of aquatic insect emergences might be conducted -- I saw several dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, and water-striders during my boat ride. Furthermore, the type of near-shore habitat is different between the west bank and the east bank -- the east bank has more cattails than the west bank and (obviously) gets more light in the late afternoon than the forested western shore.

I'm thinking that I'll have to design some sort of floating sampler that can be tethered in different parts of the lake for night-time sampling. I know that I won't be able to have a good sampling of odonates, hemipterans, and aquatic coleopterans, but I'll likely get a good sampling of the aquatic trichopteran, ephemeropterans, plecopterans, and (of course) dipterans. (And if I can figure out how to make a good sampling device to be deployed on the lake, I should be able to minimize the number of terrestrial taxa I collect.)

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Two damselfies

Two damselfies
Originally uploaded by umlud
Boating on Third Sister Lake and saw lots of aquatic insects. Here, at the east end of the lake, where many water lilies are, one can see dragonflies, damselflies, and other insects (luckily not too many mosquitoes).

Friday, June 05, 2009

Ruben at Angelo's

The next in my recurring posts of the Reubens of Ann Arbor: Angelo's.

After going to several of the restaurants and brasseries (since they technically aren't cafes) in Ann Arbor, I've noticed that many of them serve reubens - a favorite sandwich of mine. Therefore, I've decided that - as a semi-recurring event - I'll review the various reubens one can find around the city. Reubens will be reviewed based on presentation, taste, messiness, and cost, each rated on a 4-star scale. (Cost: $ < 5.99, $$ = 6-7.99, $$$ = 8-9.99, $$$$ = 10+)

I like Angelo's, it's a diner-type restaurant that is the lone remnant of a bunch of small eateries near the medical campus; the others having sold their property (or had the property sold out from under them) to the University in an ever-expanding "gobbling up" of the properties between the central and medical campuses. In some ways, Angelo's has it made now, since it is the only non-university eating establishment that is near the medical campus (excluding a Jimmy John's located about a block away from Angelo's), and on any given lunch hour, they are filled beyond capacity.

Normally, I eat there for breakfast, which is almost always tasty and quite filling. (They tend to over-do their potatoes a bit, but if you dont' mind the slight taste of burned carbs, then everything else is good.) The best part of the breakfast is that the bread you get (and it's quite sizeable) is made in-house, and is quite tasty.

The reuben ($8.99, and comes with a pickle and the option of adding a side of coleslaw or fries) there is quite good: good corned beef, tasty saurkraut, and not too much thousand island dressing. There is only one small problem with the bread. They use their own bread, which I normally feel is very tasty. Indeed, the texture, weight, and absorbability of the bread is really top-notch. However, it wasn't until it was matched with the reuben that I realized that it was just a little sweet, which is - for me - a little odd, and threw off the taste of the whole sandwich.

Presentation: ****
Taste: **
Messiness: **
Cost: $$$

Thursday, June 04, 2009

New Hampshire will allow same-sex marriage, too!

And then there was one... New Hampshire's same-sex marriage law will start in January 2010. This means that only one New England state that doesn't allow same-sex marriage: Rhode Island. If (or when) RI does allow same-sex marriage, then this historically (and politically) important region of the country will be the only region in which same-sex marriage is legal. (True, Iowa allows same-sex marriages, too, but Iowa doesn't the entire Midwest make.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Why English is so difficult to learn...

This is from Greater Things.

We polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
A farm can produce produce.
The dump was so full it had to refuse refuse.
The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
The present is a good time to present the present to the President.
At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
The dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance for the invalid was invalid.
The bandage was wound around the wound.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
After a number of Novocaine injections, my jaw got number.
I shed a tear when I saw the tear in my clothes.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.
There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple or pine in pineapple. And while no one knows what is in a hotdog, you can be pretty sure it isn't canine. English muffins were not invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.
We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't plural of booth, beeth?  One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, two meese? Is cheese the plural of choose? One mouse, 2 mice. One louse, 2 lice.  One house, 2 hice? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Why do people recite at a play, and play at a recital?  Ship by truck or car and send cargo by ship?  Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as heck one day and cold as heck another?
If a house burns up, it burns down.  You fill in a form by filling it out and an alarm clock goes off by going on.  You get in and out of a car, yet you get on and off a bus.  When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?
English is a weird language ... it doesn't know if it is coming or going!!!
War never determines who's right.  War only determines who's left. 

Going a little further, turkeys aren't from Turkey and buffaloes aren't found in Buffalo (except maybe at the zoo). Why is the plural of bison "bison", but buffalo has a plural form? Why doesn't a near miss actually mean a hit? Why is insane the opposite of sane and indecent the opposite of decent; but inflammable is the same as flammable?

Ahh, so many conundrums with the English language... So little time.

Short rant

From what I know of the U.S. Constitution, international treaties that the US signs on to become the law of the land. To wit, Article 6:
All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
With that being said, let us look at international treaties that we have signed regarding the use (or non-use) of torture by us (and other signatories):

The Third Geneva Convention (of 1949) which deals with the conduct of handling prisoners of war states (Part 3, Section 1):
"No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion"

The Fourth Geneva Convention (also of 1949) deals with the handling of civilians and non-combatants and states (Part 1, Section1):
...combatants who are hors de combat (out of the fight) due to wounds, detention, or any other cause shall in all circumstances be treated humanely
And goes on to list torture as one of the things that are not allowed to be done to them.

Also, the United States signed the UN Convention Against Torture.

Since the Geneva Conventions and the UNCAT are both international treaties that we (the US) signed on to (and haven't removed ourselves from), then we are constitutionally bound to uphold them, and to investigate and prosecute people who break these "supreme Laws of the Land".

... right?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Ride in to work

... on my new bike. Really nice handling. The 8-speed is running off of a 14-tooth in the back, meaning that the climb up the hill leaving the forest is not a piece of cake (especially with 10 kg of laundry) on the lowest gear, but is not that bad. However, going downhill on Liberty is like flying... Of course, I still don't really know how fast I'm going, and if I'm going faster than the speed limit, but I'm assuming (perhaps falsely) that if the cars are passing me, then I'm not speeding (egregiously). Of course, the drivers could be speeding past me because they don't want to be passed by a bike...

The nice thing about the current set-up is that, what with the smooth shifting of this Alfine, I'm able to accelerate very quickly from a standstill by consistenly shifting up as I accelerate (I actually outpaced a car who's driver didn't know we were racing).