Archive of articles classified as' "language"

Back home

One art


I just like this poem by Elizabeth Bishop and I am parking it here so I do not lose it. What a contradiction!

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, psychotherapist the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Filed in language No Comments

Making an effort


Gostaria, infertility por favor, click voce tem, Nova Zelandia.

Some of my co-travellers comment: if you speak in Spanish they will understand. Simple and slow English should do it. You are missing the point! Trying to use another language is fun and people tend to appreciate the effort. I have got discounts or an extra smile just because ‘eu estoi tentando’.

I know, I am butchering Portuguese but, hey, I am having a good time.

Foi ótimo te conhocer. Prazer. Quanto custa?

I would like to come back after studying the language for a while. I could be dangerous!

Written in Salvador’s Sofitel

Filed in geocoded, language, travel No Comments

Lost in translation


As a traveller in a foreign country I need all the help that I can get, look particularly referring to customs and to ‘how things work’TM. Now, hospital when someone offers me enlightenment on dealing with taxis, much better.

Taxi enlightment

Taxi instructions over the baggage conveyor at Vitoria airport, Espirito Santo, Brazil.

Filed in language, travel No Comments

Wording is everything


Compare this:

You say it best when you say nothing at all — Lyrics of popular song by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz.

to this:

You better shut the f**k up — Overhead in the street.

QED (Quod erat demonstrandum).

Filed in language No Comments

Where do I fit in Waitangi day?


Yesterday was Waitangi day, glands New Zealand’s national day. It commemorates the treaty that ‘created modern New Zealand’. Where do I fit in this day as a non-Maori, hospital non-European person? Considering the demographic shifts, it is hard for me to see a bicultural commemoration is embracing a more modern multicultural country. So, where is the day for celebrating ‘modern-modern New Zealand’?

Filed in language, new zealand, politics No Comments

Basic Portuguese


I am planning a short trip to Brazil later this year, adiposity so one of my ‘resolutions’ is to learn basic Portuguese.

I bought a couple of books to help me on this:

Both of them have the same problem for me, the pronunciation guide is for English speakers, which means that I have to think of the phonetics in English and then take it in my head to Spanish before getting the pronunciation. For example, the word ‘quanto’ is presented as ‘kwahntoo’, which I then interpret as ‘cuantu’.

Looking for a good, simple site and free site for learning the language I stumbled upon Sonia Portuguese: worth a look.

Filed in books, language, travel No Comments



Albahaca is the Spanish word for basil, search which was borrowed from Arabic together with a large number of other words. I have discussed before when is the start of summer in the Southern hemisphere: if the first of December or the twenty something of December (solstice). Both of them are arbitrary dates.

I propose another — even more arbitrary — starting date: the first time of the year when one eats fresh albahaca. Last Sunday (25th November) I had a potato salad with chopped albahaca: sublime and mouth watering.

Interestingly enough, basil (scientific name Ocimum basilicum) derives from Latin basilicum and Greek basilikon meaning royal or king. Related words and names: basilica (the buildings), basilisk (the creature), basilic (the vein), pesto (basil is the main ingredient of one of the foremost contributions to civilization).

Statement: any garden worth its salt must have albahaca planted in a sunny corner.

This is an extended version of my post in Spanish.

Filed in gardening, language No Comments

After a month with no posts


I am coming back to my always unpredictable posting pattern. Well, hair I have written nine posts in Spanish at Tren de Carga, illness but they treat other topics that do not quite fit in this blog.

Maybe I am trying to tackle the issue pointed by Khoi Vinh: by posting short posts with quick, short term benefits one is avoiding writing long-haul pieces, which have an unknown pay off in what appears o be a distant future. This time I went for finishing two confidential reports and submitting a paper for publication. I discovered that I have material for about three or four more papers; it is just a matter of putting the time and finishing things. Or, as The now habit puts it, it is a matter of starting, starting and keep starting.

I have also been following a large number of design news through Monoscope and linked sites. It is a nice change and it helps to think from a diferent point of view: it adds perspective. Sort of coming back to the quote often attributed to Marshall McLuhan:

‘We don’t know who it was that discovered water, but we’re pretty sure that it wasn’t a fish.’

Coming back to writing in Spanish, it is fraught with danger of living in the past. I realised that I have been emphasising writing ‘old memories’ because it is what I remember the most in Spanish. That is certainly a route to stagnation. Thus, I am switching now to cover more recent —as in today’s — events and see how do they fit with the rest of the blog.

Thinking about contrasts

Today: Weather was great today in Christchurch. Went to downtown, had a trip in tram (some months ago I bought a year pass), went to the beach, mowed the lawn, went for a ride in scooter, had an excellent meal, visited a friend that just had a baby.

Yesterday: started at 5:45 am, took a taxi to the airport, my flight was cancelled. There was no point on flying later and arriving after my meeting. Wasted $35 on taxis and endured 2 hours of phone conference. They are so hard to follow!

Overall a good week.

Filed in language, miscellanea, productivity No Comments

Tren de carga


One of the issues of living immersed in another language and culture is the slow — or not so slow — deterioration of the command of the original language. There is not enough practice, discount not enough interaction to keep it healthy and alive. To avoid this, gonorrhea I will be writing some posts in Spanish (hopefully) with a friend of mine.

Because this is an experiment, and quite different from the contents of this site it will be under a different name: Tren de Carga (Freight train). The name originates from a verse by Chilean poet David Turkeltaub, which says ‘vienes tarde otra vez, como tren de carga’ (you are late again, like a freight train). I am not sure why, but this verse has been stuck in my head for many years and this is the first time I have found a use for it.

Filed in language, web, writing No Comments

Armchair comparative linguistics


After playing for a little while, view
I managed to connect my Macbook Pro to the internet using my mobile phone via bluetooth. I have a small Samsung ZV10 and my service provider is Vodafone New Zealand. The steps are quite simple:

  • Click the bluetooth icon in the topbar and select ‘setup bluetooth device…’.
  • Check that the phone is running bluetooth and that is discoverable (Under settings, practitioner
  • Select mobile phone in the list of available devices.
  • The computer will search and—we hope—find your mobile phone.
  • The computer will generate a numeric passkey that has to be keyed in and accepted in the phone.
  • Select ‘Access the Internet with your phone’s data connection’ in the next menu.
  • The settings to connect to Vodafone in New Zealand are:
    • username: vodafone.
    • password: vodafone.
    • GPRS CID string: *99#
    • Modem script: Vodafone VC701SI

This explanation is based on the excellent—and illustrated—version by Pukupi.

After using the Macbook Pro for a few more weeks, this
I have been settling on my final software selection:

  • Quicksilver: which is a great launcher and keeps learning about my preferences. Additional plugins installed:, help dictionary, firefox and iphoto.
  • Office: well, I do exchange a lot of documents with colleagues and friends that use the Windows version. In general works quite well, although compatibility is not perfect. My main issues have been spreadsheets containing lots of VBA or embedded Activex controls and compressed graphics in PowerPoint, which show that puzzling ‘QuickTime and a TIFF/JPEG decompressor are required to view this picture’ message. In addition, Microsoft has not released a Universal binary for Office, and will not do it until they have the next version available, whenever that is.
  • Thunderbird: after trying and Entourage, my experience was disappointment with how unreliable was (missing emails and crappy IMAP support) and found Entourage too big and clunky.
  • Firefox and Camino: Firefox is a great browser, but it feels a bit un-Macintosh. Camino uses the same engine, but with a nicer interface. I like the ability of closing the tabs just next to their names (a la Safari). However, it does not have (yet) incremental search, which is something that I love in Firefox (PS 2006-06-29. It is possible to have a close button in the tabs of Firefox through the use of the Tab X add-on. PS 2006-06-30. Bob Cantoni points out ‘to close Firefox tabs, just middle-click on the tab to close it; i.e., click the scroll wheel’).
  • R: a great cross-platform (and free) statistical software. I do most exploratory analysis using it, and only go to SAS, using Parallels (see below), when strictly necessary for working with other people.
  • Parallels: allows running windows and I currently use it only to run SAS. It still feels a bit slow, but for writing and prototyping SAS code is good enough. I bought the pre-release copy at US$50.
  • Copywrite: I normally become very easily distracted when using a word processor to write. All the options, fonts and formats become a real nightmare. Enter Copywrite, which is a simple writer’s editor. It allows only basic formatting, so it is very good for the first couple of drafts.
  • Devonthink: after reading Merlin Mann’s comment on 43 folders, I decided to give it a try. I am quite tempted to use it in a continuous basis. It is a good brain dump, where I can put all odds and ends that I normally loose. The current version still has some bugs and missing features, like that the full screen editor works only for plain text and that changing the colours of text may have effects on other parts of the program. Anyway, searching and connecting notes seems to work quite well. I still think that Copywrite’s full screen editor is much better and less distractive. PS 2006-06-30: I have decided to wait until the next version before buying Devonthink: still too buggy for my taste.
  • Writeroom: I just started testing this great full screen writing system. Just write there, no need to save. If I want something a bit more complex, I can type using Markdown and convert it to HTML using Humane.Text service. PS 2006-06-30. Jers Novel Writer is another writing program that supports full screen mode and that deserves a try.
  • TeXShop a highly polished LaTeX distribution, that I am using for writing lectures notes for STAT220 (Biometry I).

Sharing printers in a mixed network

I can not remember another time when I have been using so many computers in such a regular basis. My main work machine is Mastropiero1 (Macbook Pro 15”), although there is an exception for simulation work, where I use Nutcracker (a.k.a. Black Box, a generic 3GHz, Windows XP machine, which just happens not to be beige). In addition, at home I also use Happy Meal2, a Power PC Mac Mini that acts as back up and has the printer connected. Last—and certainly least—I keep Beige Box (a generic 1GHz Windows XP machine) still functional at home, just in case we need some extra simulation capability when time is not an issue.

Last weekend, we bought another cheap windows laptop for Plus Tree, our consulting arm. It is a Compaq Presario V2000, temporarily named Lucrezia Borgia3.

Given that the printer is attached to Happy Meal and that we some times need to access it from either Mastropiero or Lucrezia Borgia using wi-fi, we:

  • Shared the printer (using System Preferences, Sharing), which works for any Mac computer in the network, including Mastropiero.
  • Allowed access from Windows machines—like Lucrezia Borgia—installing Bonjour for Windows, which has a handy ‘Bonjour Printer Wizard’. Use the Wizard and the printer is now available to Windows too. Piece of cake!

Incidentally, after using the Compaq laptop for a while, I can say that it feels as warm as the Macbook Pro on the top surface. The exception is the part above the function keys in the MBP, which is bloody hot.

P.S. 2006-06-30. Welcome to 43 folders’ readers. Five hundred visits in two days; not bad for a small sidebar link.

1 Homage to the (in)famous composer so many times presented by Les Luthiers (and English article in Wikipedia).

2 Its volume is actually a bit smaller than a MacDonald’s Happy Meal box.

3 Obvious reference to this Renaissance woman.

It has been a log time without writing about research. New country, click new city, unhealthy new job. In addition, thumb
consulting and professional service. Last but not least, family and friends come first: the end result is very little time to blog and even less for writing about research.

So, what am I doing at the moment? Simple, trying to figure out areas where I am not hitting diminishing returns too quickly. For example, estimating two hundred variance components is too rich, if we can do the job with ten. The practical return from all the additional works tends to zero: we are not making much of a difference. So, what’s the point? Yes, I can publish that, but who cares?

From a practical point of view, the real issue for me is on what is affecting competitiveness in a big way. Forestry is a long term endeavour, and the longer the rotation the higher the risk. From that point of view, extending rotation because radiata pine wood quality is not good enough borders on the stupid. Doh, of course is crappy wood; answers:

  1. Use something else or is there life beyond radiata pine?
  2. Select and breed for trees that have decent (I do not mean good) quality.

So, what are my current obsessions?

  • Profitable shorter rotations. What are the limiting factors (hint: crappy wood quality, small size pieces and scale of the operations) to make this happen?.
  • Very early selection of adequate trees. Notice emphasis: selection does not to be perfect to be useful. Adequate selections at age two is much better than good selections at age ten years.
  • Why do trees grow the way they do in wood properties? Why do trees choose different strategies that have such dramatic differences in wood quality?
  • Rapid turn-over breeding strategies. Are we still taking fifteen years for a breeding cycle? It is 2006! Can’t we do any better?

There is an obvious quantitative void in my obsessions, I know. But I am going back to attempting to understand some basic processes before I embark in more number cruncing. Despite of this, I am also interested (but not obsessed) in the following problems:

  • Simulation of breeding strategies. I have a project working on this topic starting in October this year.
  • Mate allocation and population structure. Trying to show that we can get rid of sublines and other artificial groupings when using sensible mating policies.
  • Large scale genetic evaluation: how simple is simple enough? My way to help having frequent genetic evaluations.

What else? I am involved in a couple of three projects with students, dealing with wood quality, breeding or both. I have a new Ph.D. student starting in August on the interaction of economics and breeding. Ah, I almost forgot: there is a large number of lectures coming my way, better look busy…

I ordered a 20” monitor from Dell New Zealand. The price was good (NZD 749), stomach
so I just took the plunge. After over two weeks of waiting I sent them an email and—given that I did not get a reply—gave them a phone call.

The phone call was plagued with noise, troche echo and stuttering sound. That together with the forced pseudo American accent gave away that there was something suspicious about the call centre. Just to confirm my suspicions I asked ‘where is your call centre located?’ Answer: Malaysia.

According to customer service, a courier did go to my office, nobody was there so he left a card. This would be the first time that a courier notice disappears from my post, because I never found any card. I then asked them to deliver it tomorrow, but Dell could not because it was too little time in advance. I said that I could contact the courier and pick it up myself. Well, customer service did not have a phone number—or even the name of the company—delivering the monitor. Hardly surprising if I was dealing with someone in Malaysia. They could not provide me with a delivery time for next week either, so I was supposed to patiently wait the whole day (between 9am and 5pm) for the courier. It sucks and I am seriously thinking about asking for a refund.

After my phone call I finally received an email from my first contact with customer service:

We apologize for the delay in delivery and attention. Kindly advise if you have not received the order.

Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Once again thank you for your feedback and it is indeed a great pleasure serving you.

Have a pleasant day!

How about ‘canned answer’ to describe their reply? It sucks3.

P.S. 2006-07-21: I received a couple of phone calls from Dell, again with an incredibly bad sound quality. Customer service informed me that they have been again a day ago delivering the screen and that nobody was there to receive it. I asked her to read the delivery address: the street was correct, but with the wrong number.

P.S. 2006-07-22: I received an email from Dell in reply to one of my complaints:

I sincerely apologized for the experience that you had been through. Proper coaching has been done on the agent for further improvement.

and later

I had asked one of my senior agents to contact you in regards to the re-delivery of the order. Apparently, the order has went futile and thus, we need to re-arrange another delivery for you.

Yes, my order has went futile.

P.S. 2006-07-24. Still waiting. I have left two messages in the 0800 number I was given to contact the ‘senior agent’, because nobody answered the phone.

I am not alone in my trouble: a search for ‘Dell customer service problem’ returns about 2.8 million hits in Yahoo and 19.9 million hits in Google.

P.S. 2006-07-30. Dell sent the order to the University Warehouse rather than the School of Forestry. Of course nobody knew about me in the warehouse, so the order was rejected. Finally Dell gave me the name and phone number of the courier, who informed me that they sent the monitor back to Dell. I then called back Dell to cancel my order. Now, I am just waiting to get my money back in my credit card. One month lost due to Dell NZ.

P.S. 2006-08-01. I received a call from Dell, saying that they would credit my card after I returned the monitor. I patiently explained that it was physically impossible to return something that I have never received. Are these guys smoking pot?

P.S. 2006-08-02. Another call from ‘someone organising the refund but not working for Dell’ (how can that be?) that wanted to confirm the address of delivery and if I knew a ‘Paul’ who could have received the monitor. No Pauls and I want my money back immediately.

Better I continue listening to Neon Meate Dream of A Octafish. by Captain Beefheart. It makes a lot more sense than Dell.

P.S. 2006-08-06. Today my internet banking statement showed that Dell credited back my card. In summary, I lent the cost of the monitor to Dell for one month (on top of my time writing emails and calling them on the phone) interest free. Result: I will never buy a Dell product (or recommend them) for the rest of my life.

I started working with a Spanish speaker Ph.D. student. One of the topics of conversation is the (always long) list of things that do not make sense in English if taken in a literal way. For example:

  • To have a heart condition: everyone has a condition (good or bad).
  • It is a quality product: good or bad?
  • You have an accent: doh, page
    you too.
  • He has an attitude: everyone has one.
  • So on and so forth, page
    you get the idea.

Of course any language has a fair share of inconsistencies, case
strange turns of phrase or grammatical weirdness. Some classic Spanish cultural issues:

  • One takes a decision instead of making one, as if there is a limited set of decisions available (for which I am not responsible).
  • The use of reflexive as in ‘el vaso se cayó’ (the glass fell by itself). So, it is the glass’s fault not mine for dropping it.

The latter example puts the locus of control on the object not the person, so there is an issue of personal responsibility (or lack of it). This used to be a big difference, but English is catching up if not through language but via the legal system. Think of ‘tort law’ and ‘frivolous lawsuits’.

Just another day in language’s terra nulla.

Filed in language No Comments