Wednesday, March 26, 2008

how to program the unit

For optimal function place the unit within the range of earthly temperature. Unit controls provide multidimensional functionality for your convenience, depending on Mode. Modes are as follows:

  • Automatic. Pre-program this Mode to cause the unit to automatically not do what you have specified due to pre-programming error on your part.
  • Manual. Program (do not pre-program!) this Mode to cause the unit to not do what you have specified in "real time" due to programming error on your part.
  • Manuel. Program (or pre-program) this Mode to make the unit not do what you have specified in the future (manana). (Update using tilde Mode where available.) Do not intermingle or otherwise mingle with programming in Manual Mode or Automatic Mode.
  • Vibrate/dishwasher. Use this mode to provide sensual delight at inopportune moments such as when Rev. Teabag visits. Vibrates by default, unless another default was specified when in Automatic Mode, or default was disabled when in Manual Mode, in which case the no-default default action as specified by the no-default default action menu item, is initiated. The default no-default default action is to wash the dishes.
  • Plagiarism detection. Vibrate, emit gong sound (ed.: check for existence of name of sound emitted by struck gong) or wash dishes, depending on default setting, if reference to Rev. Teabag is detected to be plagiarized.
Failure to specify Mode prior to programming will initiate "Modeless" Mode in which results are not guaranteed.

Batteries are not included with the unit. Obtain and insert batteries upon arrival of the unit. Replace batteries before suboptimal performance of the unit manifests in the physical realm. Replacement batteries are unavailable unless otherwise specified. Replace only with batteries approved by the Dept. of Usuriously Overpriced Replacement Parts. Use of non-approved, disapproved or unapproved batteries will void the warrantee unless otherwise specified.

Replacement of flange, flywheel, gasket or rotational cog interface will likewise void the warrantee of the unit unless the warrantee has been voided already for other reasons in which case the result is moot. See The Warrantee of the Unit, Sections 1.1 through 27.12 and Section 27.16 "Cases in which actions that would normally void warrantee are moot".

Do not lose the unit. Loss of unit reduces functionality and is not covered in the warranty. If unit is lost proceed as follows: 1. Find the unit. 2. Do not re-lose the unit.

Warning: Contents of the unit may be hot! In cases in which the unit has contents, which may be hot. Applies only to certain models except where otherwise specified in which case, applies to all models.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

in times of peace...

Cartoon by Grant E. Hamilton, circa 1900, from The American Past by Roger Butterfield, p. 290. Click on the image to see a larger version.

my arabic book sucks

Course materials for learning Arabic are apparently famously awful and doubtless contribute to the perception that it's a difficult language. Put another way, it's a difficult language made even more difficult by lousy course materials. There are enough examples of this awfulness to fill a separate blog, which time creating however would be better spent studying the language. Here is one example though.

Here's the word for "feminine", introduced on p. 7 of the textbook Al-Kitaab fii Ta'allum al-'Arabiyya. It's pronounced more or less, "muwa'nnath". It reads right-to-left. The sperm-shaped thing above the first loop (letter m) is a damma indicating the short vowel "u", thus "mu". The little slashes are fatHa indicating the short vowel "a" thus "wa", and "na". The single dot and the triple dots are part of their respective letters taa and thaa. The backwards 2 is a hamza which is a glottal stop, like a little coughy "eh" sound. The little w is a shadda which means you hold the consonant underneath (in this case the n) a double beat.
All well and good. This is a "fully vowelled" word which is how kids and foreigners first learn to read. Actual normal writing however dispenses with the short vowel markings because adults don't need them anymore thus, once introduced, the book presents the unvowelled form in the next para, as part of the weaning process:

Now the helpful sperm thingy (damma) and the two slashes (fatHa) are gone. The dots remain because they are part of the letters. I'm not sure why the backwards 2 hamza remains but the little w shadda is gone. I guess the shadda is considered part of vowelization but the hamza isn't. Okay, you're the textbook.

Just be consistent, is all I ask.

But what's this! Next paragraph:

Now, the sperm guy is back (the damma, short vowel for "u"), but the slashes aren't back (the fatHa, short vowel for "a"). And the shadda is back! Er, now...what the heck is the pattern here? What are they trying to demonstrate?

But wait, there's more! Turn the page and:

A variant of the second version, with no short vowel markings (sperm and slashes gone), and with the shadda back again!

I know, I'll look in the glossary in the back! And find this.

Hmm. This time the damma is missing, the first fatHa is missing, but the second one is there!

Five variations. This is indeed "hard" because there's no pattern--but it's not the language's fault.

Here's a pedagogical principle to try that's so nutty, it just might work: present words in a particular way and stick to it. If there's a reason to change the presentation, say so, then stick with the change.

Friday, March 14, 2008

the fastest way to learn a language

RosettaStone's TV ads claim it's the "fastest way to learn a language". Last year the Peabody library got a multi-language license allowing members to use RosettaStone at home, for free. This was so successful among library patrons that RosettaStone wised up and backed out of the deal, so it's no longer available. While it was I had a chance to try it out and as far as I got, it seemed excellent. Level 1 of Arabic costs $209.

The claim of being the "fastest" though, is absurd. Putting "fast" and "learning a language" in the same sentence is preposterous. "Efficient", maybe. A woman in one of the TV testimonials claimed to learn more in a couple of weeks using RosettaStone than "months of formal classes". She must have been sleeping through her classes. Anyway it's not a race, and there cannot be a hurry. You can only retain new information at a certain rate. Marketing to Americans though, the emphasis has to be on go-go-go. And it's funny, you never hear a word of another language, in their ads. People don't want to hear that, they just want to know that it's fast.

I don't think RosettaStone even has a textbook, nor does it include any training in writing a non-western script like Arabic, or composing sentences. Different people learn in different ways. I don't like being tied to the computer, and do better with a textbook and an iPod. Creating playlists of vocabulary, setting the iPod to repeat, and going for a walk suits me.