Category Archives: General Education

Story of Human Language – great introductory audio course on linguistics

As part of doing a PhD in Computational Linguistics, I need to understand both computers and linguistics. I am fine with computers, but linguistics is not my strong point. Unfortunately, many of the linguistics books and resources are quite dry.

So, I was really happy to discover an audio course Story of Human Language from The Teaching Company taught by John McWhorter. It is quite long a covers a lot of material, but – apart from some overly long parts on universal language – it is really interesting and Professor McWhorter is a great presenter.

I actually had a chance to listen to both an audio version of the course and to see some of it on DVD. Personally, I prefer just audio for several reason.

Firstly, I can listen to the course on my MP3 player when I am walking or doing chores. Video version requires allocating dedicated time, which for such a long course would be difficult.

Secondly, I actually found visual part of the presentation quite boring – for the most part professor is just standing behind the lectern and talks from his notes. In fact, I found the visual part distracted me from the really great and expressive rhetorics.

There was a number of great section in the course, but I found the one explaining language structure of Arabic and Chinese particularly interesting. He talked about Arabic first and I was all keen to learn that language. Then, he switched over to Chinese and I found it even more fascinating. And then, there were comparisons of languages and his cat. This has to be heard to be believed.

The course is obviously available for purchase, but it is also found in quite a few libraries. If you do borrow it from the library, try requesting all volumes at once. I only requested one volume and it was quite annoying to then have to wait a long time for the rest of the course arrive. This is another way I knew for myself that the course was enjoyable, as I had plenty of other audio material to listen to otherwise.

Is the Internet good, bad or bits of everything? – Weinberger/Keen debates

Two books, two views – no agreement, but certainly a lot of sparks. Is the Internet full of junk and by killing off the conventional media we are loosing all our good information sources? That is a point of view of Andrew Keen, author of the book Cult of the Amateur. On the other hand Weinberger, with his own book Everything is Miscellaneous, agrees that there is a lot of bad stuff on the Internet, but argues that there is a lot of good stuff too. More importantly, new mechanisms are being developed that would allow us to find good stuff faster and ignore bad stuff easier. In fact the Internet may make good stuff easier to find than currently possible outside of the internet.

Both authors have argued their points separately and against other people. But now they have squared-off against each other and the sparks are flying. The full text of one of such debates has been published by the Wall Street Journal. Earlier, they also argued at the Supernova conference and the video recording of that debate has been published.

For myself, Weinberger’s argument makes much more sense. I don’t really care about sports, popular music or so called ‘Entertainment’ industry, so most of the content produced by the off-Internet media is of no value to me and often is actually annoying. On the other hand, Internet allows me to track and participate more fully in topics that are actually of interest to me, my work and my research.

Still, even with my alliances so clear, it was fascinating and educational to read and watch both debates. They certainly make you think.

(Update: August 17)

David Weinberger has written a great and  very well thought out follow-up article on the issue. I agree with it completely and just wish I could argue the topics as well as he does.

Tasting Tamarinds

I have tried Tamarind before as an ingredient in dishes, but I have never actually seen the real fruit. I wasn’t even sure it was edible uncooked. So, when I saw it sold in the shop, I had to try it. It turned out to be a very educational experience. The fruit is layered with multiple inedible seeds covered by sweet and sour pulp, inside a little cage in the hard-shell pod. The fruit variety I have is from Thailand, so it is more sweet than sour.

Following are the pictures of the closed pod, the pod half peeled and the seeds left over.

Apart from eating Tamarinds out of the box, it is possible to make a drink with them. I might try that next.