NASA mulling over three missions for $650 million grant - either to Venus, the Moon, or an asteroid

Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is a tough decision. NASA will be giving out a $650 million grant to an upcoming mission and has narrowed the field to three proposals - either a probe to the surface of Venus, a probe that would bring back some material from a permanently dark crater on the Moon, or one that would bring back samples from a primitive asteroid.

Personally I prefer the Venus surface mission, but from a long-term point of view missions to the Moon are probably more helpful since whatever helps us to establish a foothold there will be good for us as a whole, including using it as a stepping stone to other parts of the Solar System. This chart shows just how much - delta v from Earth to LEO is 9.3 - 10 km/s, whereas from the Moon to lunar orbit is a mere 1.6 km/s, and after that is achieved then the rest of the Solar System is pretty easy. That much of a difference in delta v means that a craft can either use a much smaller rocket and less fuel (lower cost), or use the same sized rocket but achieve a much greater velocity, or some combination of the two. The Moon would be a nice launching point for low-budget basic probes that would fly by certain targets that otherwise would be too expensive for a mission launched from Earth - a tiny probe launched to fly by an asteroid as it approached the Earth-Moon system, a tiny probe launched toward an object in the asteroid belt for a cheap flyby.


Comparison of French and Romanian vocabulary

The French Wikipedia has an interesting chart here comparing vocabulary between French and Romanian, some of which is nearly identical but also with a number of interesting half-cognates, similar to German sterben (die), half-cognate with English starve. In other words, examples of semantic change.

The word apă is particularly interesting, as though it is technically cognate with Latin aqua it more resembles the Lithuanian upė (river) and Persian âb (آب, water) even in its modern form.

French (English)
Romanian Pronunciation French word with same origin
pays (country)
ţară ['tsa.rə] terre (earth)
terre (earth)
pământ [pə'mɨnt] pavé (pavement, latin pavimentum)
ciel (sky)
cer [ʧer] ciel
eau (water)
apă ['a.pə] eau (latin aqua)
feu (fire)
foc [fok] feu
homme (human being) om [om] homme
homme (person)
bărbat [bər'bat] barbu (bearded man)
femme (woman)
femeie [fe'] (ie : diphtongue) féminin, femelle
mou (soft)
moale ['mǒa.le] (oa : diphtongue) mou (latin mollis, -e)
manger (eat)
a mânca [a.mɨn'ka] manger
boire (drink)
a bea [a'běa] (ea : diphtongue) boire
mer (sea)
mare ['] mer
petit (small)
mic [mik] mie (crumb)
nuit (night)
noapte ['nǒap.te] (oa : diphtongue) nuit
jour (day)
zi [zi] -di (lundi, mardi, etc. - latin dies)
front (front)
frunte ['frun.te] front
tempe (temple - anatomy)
 tâmplă['tɨm.plə] tempe

temple (temple)
templu ['tem.plu] temple
menuisier (joiner)
tâmplar [tɨm'plar] templier (templar)


This week's laziest analysis on the situation in Iran

...can be read here. The article begins with the opening sentence "Smug Twitter activists are wrong to think they are liberating Iran", and goes downhill from there. First a quick demonstration on where the article's logic fails, and then a comment on the role Twitter is playing in the situation in Iran now.

First, we have a rushed conclusion right from the start:

So far it has been six and a half months since the elections in Iran, and thus far Ahmadinejad has managed to hold on to power. But we all know who else managed to hold on to power at the 6.5-month mark: the Shah. The first demonstrations against him began in January 1978, and six months later in July the strikes that paralyzed the economy had yet to happen. Consensus at the time was that the Shah had held on to power.

Skip down a bit in the article and we find this:

...the point here being that Twitter and other social media are more beneficial for the government than protesters. But if this was true, then governments of this nature would encourage their use. They would leave the internet unblocked, monitor online traffic and simply sweep in and scoop up their targets like fish caught in a treacherous net or birds trapped in a snare when the time for them to be arrested and detained falls upon them. But no, the government in Iran does whatever it can to prevent access to the internet whenever the day for a planned protest approaches.

Twitter serves a different function in a country like Iran than in a typical western democracy, which may be the misunderstanding upon which this op-ed was based. In a normal country it is easy enough to use Twitter or Facebook to arrange a meeting, whether political or not. In Iran though there is no benefit to protesters in using Twitter to arrange everything in the short term since it effectively broadcasts their plans to the world, and thus more low-tech methods have to be used. At the same time, however, Twitter is still useful for huge planned protests, those that take a week or two to plan and will have enough momentum of their own to fight against government thugs. And the other use for Twitter is also as a broadcasting tool: as a method of simply getting attention it's only as effective as any other method, and usually a link on a site like Reddit or Digg will attract much more traffic anyway. But Twitter's use in giving up to the minute information is unparalleled, and this use can be seen in live reactions to speeches or events, and general reporting on the ground as long as it comes from a trusted source and not simply a purveyor in rumours.

Oh, and Twitter is also very good at keeping the mainstream media in line. When the protests first happened after the election there was a huge storm on Twitter using the #CNNFail hashtag as at the time CNN was spending most of its time talking about switching to digital tv and other trivial information, while all the real information was to be found on Twitter, blogs and in Persian.

One more article to share today: here's what happens to the best pupils in Iran, especially those that are at all political.


Radio Netherlands: Khamenei's jet has been checked in case he needs to flee the country

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

That's the story here from Radio Netherlands, which was then distributed to a wider audience both through Twitter and Huffington Post. Balaratin also has a link here, from which we can learn a little Persian at the same time.

One thing about Persian is that since it's written from right to left but the genitive and adjectives usually are formed in the opposite way they are in English (e.g. My friend's dog's house is house-of-dog-of-friend-of-I), when you write the English equivalent underneath it's often already intelligible. Coup failure for example is failure of coup, Khamenei's private jet is jet-of-private-of-Khamenei, and Huffington Post news agency is news agency of Huffington Post.

Huffington Post, by the way, has been a bit preachy and boring of late. Headlines such as Biden should resign, stop talking about Balloon Boy and talk about issues instead (while having link after link devoted to models slipping on the catwalk, somebody's fashion no-no or a nipple slip), and often some outright inaccurate headlines (Abu Dhabi refuses to bail out Dubai!! when the story it linked to was more along the lines of Abu Dhabi considering Dubai bailout method and amount).


Little girl talking in Jamaican Patois / Creole with subtitles

Here's a video from October, a nice find for anyone interested in auxlangs and creoles:

It's especially good because 1) it has subtitles (not quite complete, but close enough) and 2) it's completely natural and spontaneous. Nothing is more natural and spontaneous than the language spoken by an excited child.

The Jamaican Creole test Wikipedia is a good place to try to find some of the words she's saying. "Pan di" (on the, to the) can be seen here:

...Panama pan di soutwes; Kasta Riika, Nikaragua, Guatimaala, Andyuuras, an Beliiz pan di wes; di Grieta Antiliiz (Kyuuba, Jumieka, di Daminikan Ripoblik an Puoto Riiko pan di naat an di Lesa Antiliiz pan di iis.

The front page of the same test Wikipedia is here.


New Horizons now halfway to Pluto

As of today, New Horizons is now more than halfway to terms of distance, that is. The amount of time since launch (1440 days) is still well below the number of days we still have to wait before it flies by (1928). To see exactly where the probe is now, see this page. Here are two images from there:

New Horizons is exciting in a Voyager-style discovery sort of sense, as we haven't launched a probe out to such a distance since 1977, but Dawn is in my opinion a more exciting mission, as it will not only be arriving at both Vesta and Ceres before New Horizons makes its way to Pluto (July 2011 and February 2015), but these two destinations are completely new and also close enough to Earth that they may be good locations for human colonization. Actually, 24 Themis might be even better (also here en français). Given the recent discovery of the creation of water on the Moon and the fact that there is no reason the same process shouldn't occur on asteroids as well, the more we know about these locations the better.

Dawn's location can be seen here. At the moment it's still circling the Sun at a position quite close to Mars, but is just about ready to break away and make its way towards Vesta. Since the approach to Vesta is so slow the mission overview also notes that optical navigation will begin 3 months before arrival, with more and more accurate images leading to a more precise approach, and hopefully around then (one year from now) we will see some published images as well.


Na'vi language page on Wikipedia avoids English

See, the page was never really in any danger as the language is being discussed in far too many secondary sources for its notability to be questioned.


A page in German on the language was recently created, and it has now been nominated for deletion there. So far the consensus there too seems to be that the article should be kept. There doesn't seem to be any precedent on the German Wikipedia either for bundling fictional languages in with their creator or work as is often the case with characters, as we have a separate page on Klingon and Elvish. It may be that languages simply have too much information bundled with them to be confined to a few paragraphs in other related articles.

In the meantime, I'm happy to share this link reporting that Avatar has only dropped a total of 3% compared to its opening weekend. Apparently any drop under 50% over an opening weekend is considered to be a positive sign for a film. Now might be a good time to point and laugh at this article (among a few others) that predicted Avatar might just be the biggest flop in film history. And along with the huge continued popularity of the film we are also continuing to see a continuation in the Avatar-themed science articles as well, such as this one from today. Apparently the gravity on Pandora is 80% that of Earth, which is what I assumed it would be after watching the movie.

Read more... overview on astronomy milestones for 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 has an overview here of what 2009 has brought us in astronomy that is worth reading as a recap of just how much happened this year. Of the nine milestones given there the most important are probably #6, #4, and #1, namely all the space telescopes launched this year (Kepler, Herschel, Planck, and WISE), the discovery of the first rocky planet in another solar system, and of course the discovery of water on the Moon, both in the soil all over the surface (though in much stronger concentrations as one moves towards the poles) and water ice hidden in the permanently shadowed craters right at the poles.

2010 may will turn out to be a momentous year before it is even half over: if we are lucky then Kepler will announce the discovery of the first Earth-like planets (around a red dwarf or other small star) at the American Astronomical Meeting in early January, and WISE may even discover a brown dwarf nearer to our own sun than Alpha Centauri. WISE is just about ready to pop off the cover and begin its first observations one month later, and since WISE does not require three observations to confirm a discovery as Kepler does it may announce the discovery of something interesting very soon...along with thousands of asteroids as well that we have never been fortunate enough to notice without its help.


28 December 2009: Barack Obama's speech on protests in Iran in English and Persian

Barack Obama condemned the recent violence in Iran today, as can be seen in this video:

I've also broken the speech down sentence by sentence with its equivalent in Persian. The transcript in English can be seen here, and Persian here.

In the meantime, authorities in Iran are trying to prevent funerals of slain protesters from taking place by holding the bodies. *rolls eyes*


Russia Today (RT) begins broadcasting in Spanish

This is pretty big news - Russia Today has begun broadcasting in Spanish, its third language after English and Arabic. According to that article they have a total of 200 Spanish-speaking staff. You can see the live stream of their Spanish news here.

For an article in Spanish on the same news, see here.

Edit: someone has just edited the page on the Spanish Wikipedia on Rusia Hoy which includes the following video showing the very first minutes of their broadcasts in Spanish. The anchor looks pretty happy with his new job.


How many cities did the protests yesterday (Ashura) take place in?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Answer: at least 21.

1. Tehran - تهران
2. Yazd - یزد
3. Hamedan - همدان
4. Sari - ساری
5. Rasht - رشت
6. Tabriz - تبریز
7. Ilam - ایلام
8. Esfahan - اصفهان
9. Ahvaz - اهواز
10. Ardabil - اردبیل
11. Arak - اراک
12. Urmia - ارومیه
13. Qazvin - قزوین
14. Qom - قم
15. Karaj - کرج
16. Kerman - کرمان
17. Kermanshah - کرمانشاه
18. Yasuj - یاسوج
19. Mashhad - مشهد
20. Bandar-Abbas - بندرعباس
21. Zanjan - زنجان

Further detail on which parts of these cities the protests took place in can be seen here, though you have to join the group to see its content, plus it's all written in Persian.


27 December 2009: German Wikipedia reaches one million articles

One million!

German is the second Wikipedia after English to reach one million articles, and that's even in spite of a fairly silly deletionist policy that causes characters like Anakin Skywalker to be relegated to a few paragraphs on a massive page that attempts to list all the characters in Star Wars.

Ah, but that's just the way the German Wikipedia treats fantasy characters, you say? If that's so then why does Wolverine have his own page? Or Merlin, or Grendel? Shouldn't those be "figures from X-men", "figures from Arthurian mythology" and "Figures from Beowulf"? No, it's a silly policy when one has to hunt down pages to all fit in a single gigantic article like that when other Wikipedias give these characters their own pages and thus don't have to worry about who belongs where. Either the character is notable and gets its own page, or not.

Nevertheless, congratulations on the one million. Up next will certainly be French (now at 893,000).


Calendar in Korea devoted to helping out street cats sells 500 copies in 10 days

Good news for street cats in Korea. The author of worked with the Korean Cat Protection Society (한국고양이보호협회) to make a 2010 calendar featuring pictures of cats for the low low price of 9000 won ($7.70 US), and 500 copies sold out within ten days (from 15 to 25 December). What makes this calendar special though is that it doesn't feature pictures of well-groomed house cats but rather pictures of cats actually taken on the streets of Korea, so some of them are cute but others have obviously been living a pretty tough life.

All the photographs can be seen at the link but here are two quick examples. First two cute kittens living on the street together:

And an adult cat not too happy about having his picture taken.

All the proceeds go to charity so that's about $3700 minus expenses (including delivery)...perhaps $2500 that went straight to street cats in Korea. Even without buying in bulk dry cat food can be purchased for 17000 won for 7 kg, so at bulk rates this might work out to two tonnes of dry cat food, and with an average of 85 grams per day needed for a cat that works out to enough money to feed 65 cats for a year. Looks like they'll need to double the print size to 1000 copies next year.


27 December 2009 (6 Dey 1388): Ashura, and more protests in Iran

It's late here in Korea so I won't be able to sift through news in Persian to find anything that English media isn't covering, but here are some links to get started on what has happened today, one of the largest protests since June.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Lede

#Iranelection hashtag on Twitter

Basiji headquarters on fire:

National Iranian-American Council's blog

Here's another video of what happened when some basiji attempted to round up protesters and take them away in a van.


Paghman Gardens in Kabul 40 years ago compared with today (2007)

Today by chance I happened to come across an interesting set of two pictures that you can see here, of an area in Kabul called Paghman Gardens. One shows the location 40 years ago, and the photo on the right shows its current state (its current state is more or less nonexistent). Pictures like those are good to submit to sites like Reddit so I did so, and lo and behold it went straight to the top:

Not only does a submission to the top of Reddit result in somewhere close to 100,000 hits, but it also drew the attention of the person who actually took the photograph, and along with that the resulting discussion about Afghanistan then and now meant that today was a good day on the internet for historical awareness of Afghanistan.

The picture is a similar theme to this group of pictures I gathered in April from Iran before the Islamic Revolution. A common response to these pictures is often the "oh, but those are just the richest people in the country and the government then was oppressive too", which is true, but the pictures are of regular Iranians, not the government of Iran. In other words, if the Islamic Republic were to disappear one day the people of Iran would not rush to demand a new government of the same type be put in its place (after all, they elected a secularist way back in the 1950s), while in another country with people that are more conservative at heart that might be the case.

The Afghanistan picture is also accurate, since along with the destruction of Paghman Gardens came the destruction of much of the rest of the country as well. A picture of Manhattan in the 1970s followed by a picture of a run-down area today would be inaccurate of course since New York is doing just fine, but pictures of a previously prosperous Detroit compared to its current state do not stretch the truth. After all, whole sections of the city are being given up on and are beginning to turn into grassland again. One example can be seen in this video from earlier in the year.


Na'vi language article proposed for deletion on Wikipedia

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Heh. See the discussion here. The page is obviously not going to be deleted but this is a good example of what happens when the letter of the law is followed (i.e. the argument that one movie = one source and therefore not notable, plus the fact that there is as of yet only one fluent speaker) and not the spirit. Of course, there are also dozens of articles in the mainstream media on the language itself so there is no way the article is going to be deleted, but be sure to watch that page as the discussion unfolds.


Moldova may replace "Moldovan" in constitution with Romanian

An article here is from early December, about how we may eventually see a change to a part of the constitution of Moldova that declares its official language to be "Moldovan", which is just a name for Romanian that was referred to with a separate name for political reasons. The part of the constitution that refers to language is article 13, and is as follows:

(1) Limba de stat a Republicii Moldova este limba moldoveneasca, functionind pe baza grafiei latine.
(1) The national language of the Republic of Moldova is Moldovan, and its writing is based on the Latin alphabet.

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Read more... translation stats for December 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009 translation stats are a bit like those on Wikipedia as it's fun to watch languages compete with each other (though of course there really isn't any official interlinguistic competition) for translation dominance. I wrote a post last month on how Bulgarian has just about the highest number of translations on (only surpassed by Portuguese and Spanish), and it's still in third place. Here's a screen shot for posterity of the current stats, and the change over the past six weeks for each language. Note that this screenshot just shows the languages with the most translated speeches, and that there are many others with just a few so if your language doesn't show up on this list is doesn't mean that there aren't any translated speeches on the site.

Here's the change over the past six weeks:

Arabic: 176 --> 206 (+30)
Bulgarian: 231 --> 295 (+64)
Chinese (both traditional and simplified): 226 --> 289 (+63)
Croatian: 25 --> 30 (+5)
Czech: 21 --> 28 (+7)
Dutch: 33 --> 47 (+14)
French: 147 --> 191 (+44)
German: 88 --> 121 (+33)
Greek: 74 --> 79 (+5)
Hebrew: 87 --> 105 (+18)
Hungarian: 66 --> 88 (+22)
Indonesian: ? --> 30 (new on list)
Italian: 101 --> 140 (+39)
Japanese: 152 --> 186 (+34)
Korean: 115 --> 150 (+35)
Persian: 68 --> 74 (+6)
Polish: 84 --> 123 (+39)
Portuguese (Brazil + Portugal): 262 --> 333 (+71)
Romanian: 109 --> 138 (+29)
Russian: 118 --> 131 (+13)
Spanish: 342 --> 418 (+76)
Swedish: 25 --> 35 (+10)
Turkish: 85 --> 108 (+23)
Ukrainian: 22 --> dropped off list

Or organized by most recent activity, we get this order:

Spanish: 342 --> 418 (+76)
Portuguese (Brazil + Portugal): 262 --> 333 (+71)
Bulgarian: 231 --> 295 (+64)
Chinese (both traditional and simplified): 226 --> 289 (+63)
French: 147 --> 191 (+44)
Italian: 101 --> 140 (+39)
Polish: 84 --> 123 (+39)
Korean: 115 --> 150 (+35)
Japanese: 152 --> 186 (+34)
German: 88 --> 121 (+33)
Arabic: 176 --> 206 (+30)
Romanian: 109 --> 138 (+29)
Turkish: 85 --> 108 (+23)
Hungarian: 66 --> 88 (+22)
Hebrew: 87 --> 105 (+18)
Dutch: 33 --> 47 (+14)
Russian: 118 --> 131 (+13)
Swedish: 25 --> 35 (+10)
Czech: 21 --> 28 (+7)
Persian: 68 --> 74 (+6)
Greek: 74 --> 79 (+5)
Croatian: 25 --> 30 (+5)

Indonesian: ? --> 30 (new on list)
Ukrainian: 22 --> dropped off list

All the languages there in the high 30s are therefore those in which even information addicts can watch a daily video without having to stray from their native tongue.


Update on Spanish becoming compulsory in Brazilian high schools starting this coming year

Here's a quick update in Portuguese on Brazil's implementation of a law that requires all high schools to teach Spanish this coming year. The idea is a good one as Brazilians already have a fantastic passive understanding of Spanish, and it doesn't take much work to turn it into a very valuable skill. It may seem a bit odd to some to have people learning a language so similar to their mother tongue, but there really is a big difference between simply passively understanding a language and using it correctly. I have a fairly good passive understanding of Romanian for example, but can't even properly write or speak a single sentence in the language.

Here's most of the article.

The president of the National Council of Secretaries of Education, Yvelise Freitas de Souza Arco-Verde, said this Friday that the compulsory teaching of Spanish in high schools will enable an amplification of the cultural aspects of the students and would promote cultural integration among the peoples of Latin America.

According to Law 11.161/2005, the public school system is required to implement the teaching of Spanish in all high schools beginning the coming year.

Quote: "We have 11 states that border on Spanish-speaking countries, and this integration will facilitate a better relationship with them."

 According to the president of the organization, some states are doing a better job carrying out the law than others. She pointed out that the support of the Ministry of Education is needed for teacher training and the creation of textbooks aimed at teaching the Spanish language.


WISE just about ready to begin its mission

Here's a quick update from the WISE telescope - it's just about ready to pop off its lens cap (will happen on 29 December), after which it will begin a series of tests before beginning its primary mission. Everything else is functioning normally, so with luck it may only be a few months from now (perhaps as soon as March?) when we may begin finding the first brown dwarf stars in our vicinity, if they exist. Theoretically they should because less massive objects are always more common than more massive ones, and brown dwarfs are much less massive than red dwarfs, and red dwarfs are the most common stars in the universe. A brown dwarf isn't technically a star, but it's close - they are called sub-stellar objects as they don't have nuclear fusion in their cores, but they can still be pretty massive with masses somewhere around 20 to 50, and maybe up to 75 or 80 times the mass of Jupiter (though their size is almost always the same as Jupiter). It's anyone's guess what sort of planets or moons a lone brown dwarf might have.

One other related article from ten days back might be of interest - the Hubble Space Telescope made an interesting discovery recently of a very small asteroid. What makes the discovery interesting is that it wasn't just a nearby asteroid directly imaged by the telescope but rather one located way out in the Kuiper Belt, and it was detected in the same way that we detect a lot of extrasolar planets now, by noticing the telltale drop in light as an object passes in front of a star.


Why auxlangers should support (and maybe learn a bit of) the Na'vi language

First a bit of background if you don't know what an auxlanger is: an auxlanger is a proponent and/or user of one or more international auxiliary languages, languages that have been constructed in order to be easy to learn and used by people of differing linguistic backgrounds as a common second language. Basically the role that English and a number of other languages hold at the moment (Indonesian, Bislama, Tok Pisin, Hebrew and many others serve this role as well) but much easier to learn. The most famous of these auxlangs is Esperanto, but there are many others such as Ido, Interlingua, Occidental, Lingua Franca Nova, Sambahsa, and others.

Conlangs, on the other hand, are usually developed not specifically for practical usage but rather for fun, for fantasy worlds, for use among a select group, etc. Elvish is one example, Klingon is another. Since auxlangers are generally concerned with practical use there is usually not that much crossover between the two communities - auxlangers are generally more interested in using languages, conlangers with the languages themselves. But the newest conlang, Na'vi, is in an interesting and unique position that combines the two, and here's why.

Reason #1: it's new, and will probably end up with a large user base. Na'vi is completely new, the creator of the language is alive, and given that James Cameron intends to create two sequels to the Avatar movie (which is close to $400 million at the box office so far with no end in sight) it is guaranteed to maintain a level of novelty and popularity for at least the next decade. Klingon is also quite popular but the last Star Trek movie had nothing to do with the Klingon language, and nobody knows whether the next one will either. Klingon is also identified with just one race of many in the Star Trek universe, one that appeals to some more than others. As for Elvish, J.R.R. Tolkien passed away more than three decades ago and it's always more difficult to maintain a language when the creator is no longer with us to answer questions.

Less than a week after the release of the movie Avatar, the Na'vi language group on Facebook is rapidly approaching 500 members and a fairly busy forum for those learning the language has started. There is even a site where every existing bit of Na'vi dialogue has been uploaded (one example here). There is so much interest in the language, in fact, that one wonders if it won't be reverse engineered before its creator is able to publish a complete grammar on the language. At the moment the large group of people intending to learn the language is greedily gobbling up every piece of information they can find on it and are doing their best to learn it with the limited resources available.

Reason #2: almost completely free word order. If you've ever translated to or from two languages with a completely different word order you'll know how annoying it can be compared with languages that resemble each other. Take the following phrase in Japanese for example (it's from this song):

あなたの街では もう雪が降りる頃; 会えないもどかしさが 不安に変わる
Romaji: Anata no machi de wa mou yuki ga oriru koro; aenai modokashisa ga fuan ni kawaru

Okay, let's translate that into English. "Now it's around the time for snow to fall in your town (or in more natural English maybe something like "snow will probably be falling in your town soon"); the frustration of not being able to see (you) turns into anxiety."

(It's a song about two people being apart and the man slowly falling out of love with his girlfriend who still loves him from afar)

Okay, that wasn't too bad. But even easier than this would be a translation into Korean. Watch:

Anata (당신) no (의) machi (마을) de wa (에서) mou (벌써) yuki (눈) ga (이) oriru (올) koro (쯤); aenai (볼 수 없는) modokashisa (짜증) ga (이) fuan (불안) ni (으로) kawaru (바뀐다)

There it is, no need to change the word order whatsoever. This makes a translator's job many times easier.

Back to Na'vi: Na'vi has a near completely free word order. This is something I've never seen attempted in an auxlang before, but I've always wanted to see it in practice given how much time I've spent translating from Korean, Japanese or Turkish (all with SOV word order) to English. If we were in a theoretical future world where Na'vi was spoken as a second language, English speakers could translate documents from English into Na'vi using their preferred word order, and people in Japan could do the same thing using their preferred word order. Wikipedia has a number of good examples of Na'vi grammar. Here's the simplest one:

"I See you" (a greeting)
Since the word order is free, one could say Oel ngati kameie, Kameie ngati oel, Ngati oel kameie, or any other combination and the meaning wouldn't change. The -l after oe is the ergative case (i.e. it designates something that is going to perform a transitive verb on something else), and the -ti shows the accusative (the object that is having something done to it), so word order is irrelevant.

Reason #3: Na'vi will positively influence other constructed languages.  What better way to show that people from various linguistic backgrounds can communicate in a neutral second language than watching it happen with Na'vi? Watching dozens and dozens of people learn and use the language will provide a good current example of how this works. If someone criticizes the idea of an auxlang (Esperanto/Ido/etc.) a year or so from now, just show a video of a group of people speaking Na'vi, a language that wasn't even created to be an auxiliary language. And if it works for Na'vi then it certainly works for auxlangs.

Reason #4: Na'vi seems reasonably easy to learn.  Though conlangs aren't usually created with ease of learning in mind, it's actually pretty difficult to come up with a language as difficult as most natural languages are. Irregular plurals, weird verbs, messed up orthography, expressions that just don't sound right (you don't tell someone you like that "My desire to see you is very strong" even though it's grammatically correct), and everything else. From what we can tell so far, Na'vi seems to be quite a learnable language.

Reason #5: Na'vi is based on a world orbiting a gas giant in a solar system near ours. Humanity is just on the verge of discovering other Earth-like planets, and Earth-like moons around gas giants in other solar systems will soon follow. Avatar is based on a very real possibility, that of humanity making its way to other parts of the universe and the choices people will make then, and whatever helps us to begin thinking about such issues as soon as possible can only be a good thing. Space exploration is about progress, and a common language for humanity is also about progress, so the two go hand in hand quite well. Whether the language ends up acquiring a few dozen users or a few thousand, each one of them will be using a language that is based on a story that could very easily become reality quite soon.


Persian linguistic purity (Persian without Arabic loanwords)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Here's a new word I learned today - سـره گـرایی. Persian is a bit similar to languages like English in how it has borrowed so much terminology from another language (Arabic), whereas English has had a huge influence from French as well as Latin and Greek. For an example of English without these loanwords, see here.

I should be able to find out more about سـره گـرایی in a while, but in the meantime if anyone wants to enlighten me on exactly how it looks compared to regular Persian feel free to leave a comment below. I'm not sure whether it concentrates only on Persian without Arabic loanwords or whether it includes French and others as well. Technically a loanword from French or English would be more "pure" since those are Indo-European languages. One example here can be seen in the French loanword pédale (پدال), which is pedal in English. This comes from the Latin pedes for foot, and is also cognate with the modern Persian pâ (پا) for foot, so that's a loanword from a source that is already quite close to Persian.

For an example of how linguistic purism can actually work in real life, see this article from Wikipedia on Icelandic.


Merry Christmas

Here's a classic from 2006 with well-known Christmas songs played in a minor scale instead of major. They sound much better that way. Not evil, just deeper.

And part 2 from 2007:


Editorial in New York Times calling for airstrikes on Iran gets roundly trashed

I was thinking of doing the same myself, but the National Iranian-American Council and many others did such a good job that I don't need to anymore. Read here for their response and see the bottom of the post for a number of other responses to the tired and false dilemma that the only way to deal with "Iran" (i.e. the regime currently attempting to hang on to power and unable to stop the continuous protests from the people) is by using military airstrikes.

In other news, the central bank in Iran is planning to "invalidate" banknotes with graffiti on them by January 8th due to the large amount of bills with marg bar diktator and whatnot scribbled on them. Not sure how they plan to do this, since cash is used by individuals without the approval of a central bank, and usually banks simply destroy defaced bills and new bills are then printed in their place. Perhaps when there is direct interaction between a bank and an individual or business they could try to ignore the defaced notes, but besides this I don't see what the bank could do. Here's what a defaced bill looks like.


Avatar science fallout: grading the scientific realism of the movie

Here's a much more detailed post than most of the science-related articles one can find about Avatar, over which parts of the movie deserve an A grade for scientific accuracy and which parts are a little far-fetched. Overall the movie gets a fairly good grade.

On a related note, I've always found the titles of articles like this one to be a bit odd. That one is also about whether a moon like Pandora could truly exist, and the exact title is "Avatar's moon Pandora could be real, planet-hunters say". Now, if the article was about the existence of such a moon around a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri system then there would be no problem with using the word could, but the article is about moons of gas giants in general. Being cautious to a certain extent is usually a virtue in science, but in this case it's an overabundance of caution because it's not talking about moons that definitely have life but rather just moons similar to the size of Earth in the habitability zone of a star. Of course those exist. The first extrasolar planets we found were hot Jupiters because they were the easiest to find, when we refined our ability enough to discover planets around the size of Neptune we began discovering those too, and as soon as we were able to locate super-Earths, lo and behold, we discovered them too. We know of four gas giant planets from close up and each one of them has a large number of moons, and added to that there are about 250 billion stars in the Milky Way plus another 250 billion or so extra galaxies on top of that. So yes, these moons do exist.

So what would be a better title? I would go with "planet hunters confident a Pandora-like moon will be discovered within a few years" or "improved telescopes expected to yield discovery of Pandora-like moons in near future", something like that.


Quote of the day for 24 December 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Today's quote of the day comes from here and has to do with Iran, and this incident in particular where a crowd forcibly stopped the public execution of two people convicted of theft. So what happened after that? Well, the two people that were freed were recaptured a few hours later and those that aided them are now going to be punished. Here's where today's quote comes in.

The caveat at the beginning is very important though - if the will is there then governments can completely squelch out dissent, but this usually requires a virtual closing of all borders and a severing of relationships with all but a few countries (North Korea).

On a related note, here's a nice article from last year from BBC featuring an interview with the recently deceased Ayatollah Montazeri. "Welcome to your house", he greeted the reporters as they arrived at his residence.


What does Bulgarian sound like?

It sounds like this:

That's a quick video I uploaded from the mp3 available here at LibriVox.


Portuguese language update, December 2009: free Portuguese courses in Dubai, expansion of Portuguese courses at Macao Polytechnic Institute

Two links to share today on Portuguese:

If you're living in Dubai then this may be for you - free Portuguese language courses at Eton Institute at Dubai Knowledge Village. I don't know anything about Dubai but luckily Google does so I can show you the location:

View Larger Map

The second link is here, and is good news for Portuguese as the Macao Polytechnic Institute will now be offering a graduate program in Portuguese as well as the existing undergraduate programs. Macau is a pretty strategically valuable location for China due to its history with Portugal, and it's good to see that it is being made good use of. And yes, Google knows the location of the university too. It's close to the Doca dos Pescadores de Macau.

View Larger Map


Cia-Cia tribe members arrive in Seoul

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Here's a quick update to this post: the nine members of the Cia-Cia tribe that were invited to visit Seoul arrived a few days ago and are being shown around the country - see articles here, here and here for news and some photos of that.

The articles mention that Korea is interested in trying to get Hangul adopted by other languages as well that lack a written script, but a bit part of Cia-Cia adopting it as their written script is the novelty factor and the intense attention paid to them by the Korean government as a result, but if a large number of other languages adopted Hangul as well the novelty might decline and simply turn it into another script. Without the extra attention paid by the Korean government it might not be worth the effort.


Quote of the day for 23 December 2009

Here's something I've been meaning to do for a while: a quote of the day whenever someone says something better or more succinctly than I could. It's quote of the day but not necessarily a daily quote, so it won't necessarily be a daily feature.

Today's quote comes from here, and to read a related post of mine on the subject see here.

That's right, only $400 million to send a boat to Titan. In other words, you can send a boat all the way to Titan with just 8.2% of the yearly GDP of the tiny tiny country of Montenegro.


One more video from the funeral of Ayatollah Montazeri

I think this video from Qom is the best one of all for the day:

Meanwhile, pro-government supporters held a rally of their own the day after, with lots of extra room on the street to stretch out and relax.

See more pictures from that rally here.

Let's do a quick comparison, and remember that these photos have been approved and published by the government itself; in other words, these are the most impressive images they have. Here's the image from their rally yesterday showing the largest number of people in one place:

Wow, look at all those people. Lengthwise it's about thirty people side by side, and it stretches back a little ways too. Now let's compare that to the opposition gathering at the funeral the day before.

Edit: Balatarin right now has a post from a blog here in Persian on the same subject: the pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper Kayhan published an article on the "great surge" of people in Qom (article screenshot here). The "great surge" actually looked like this:

whereas the funeral the day before looked like this:


Globetrotter XL test tests your knowledge of geography

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Here's a test that's a lot of fun for those interesting in geography. It's actually pretty much exactly the same as a similar test that can be played on Facebook, except that this one is a bit bigger and has nice music as well. One problem with a test like this is that you always get top marks for the smallest countries since simply knowing where the country is located is enough to get almost a perfect score, whereas larger countries (Canada/United States/RUSSIA *argh*) are much harder. Long and thin countries too.

My score on the third try was 19578. I bet quite a few readers here can beat that..


Three more interesting side effects from the movie Avatar

Here are three other interesting side effects that a huge movie like Avatar will have on real life:

1) If a gas giant is discovered around Alpha Centauri A somewhere around the habitable zone (about AU 1.25 away) and later on we find out that it has a moon a few thousand km in diameter, that moon will almost without a doubt be named Pandora.

2) The discovery of any gas giant itself around Alpha Centauri A even before moons are discovered will be of great interest, since the logical next question will be whether this gas giant has any moons or not, and what size and what distance from the planet would be ideal for life. Even if the planet is outside of the habitable zone it's still possible that a moon with a thick atmosphere and/or an ocean could support life, so something even at Jupiter's distance would still spark everyone's imagination.

3) What if a gas giant is discovered in the habitable zone of the other star, Alpha Centauri B? That's not technically the same star featured in Avatar but it is quite close. A moon there perhaps might be given a related name, or the entire system might be endowed with Greek names as an interesting counterpart to the Roman names we use. A big gas giant similar to Jupiter might be named Zeus, or if it had rings and a low density it could be Cronus. Pandora is a minor character in Greek mythology so giving that name to a moon would actually be quite appropriate. As for planets and moons in our solar system that have Greek names, their near equivalents in the Alpha Centauri system could be given Roman names. A planet similar to Ouranos (Uranus) could be called Caelus.


Avatar conlang / auxlang fallout: another interview with Na'vi language creator Paul Frommer

Here's another interview with Paul Frommer (and some other actors from Avatar) on the Na'vi language, another precious resource for those attempting to figure out the grammar before an official grammar is published.

The Canadian magazine MacLeans also has an article today on the language, and how the movie has brought the idea of constructed languages back to the fore. It's very true, as the article says, that if the language had not been properly constructed there would have been a great deal of disappointment - I know I wouldn't have enjoyed the movie half as much if I knew that the supposed language they were speaking was just a haphazard mix of alien-sounding words. Star Wars gets a pass of course since that was back before a billion eyes were available on the internet to analyze each and every detail of a new movie, but from now on real languages seem to be a must.

Low-budget movies don't need to worry about this though, since there's always a conlang or conlang creator out there that can be used/worked with to create a language for a movie, and conlangs are almost always labours of love so just about anyone that has created one would be overjoyed at the prospect of actually being paid to make one and coach a group of actors on how to speak it.

So where do you go to get a language created for a movie you're currently making? Right here.


Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral yesterday

A few notes on the funeral yesterday:

The state-controlled Kayhan newspaper made the claim on the front page that there were 5000 people at the funeral. Heh. There were more than 5000 people in this one photograph alone (see more images here). A more accurate number seems to be from a few hundred thousand to close to a million. A few more good photos can be seen here.

Seven days after his death (when mourning usually takes place) also happens to be the same date as Ashura, where a protest was originally planned anyway, and a day that was quite instrumental in bringing down the Shah as well.

Here are two videos from yesterday, from The Lede.


Avatar science fallout: on whether moons around gas giant planets are more likely destinations for life than planets

I'm keeping track of science and space-related articles that deal with topics that were brought up in the movie Avatar, and here's the latest article (from The Register) dealing with the idea of moons around gas giant planets being capable of supporting life. Well, it claims that its authors prefer to think of Endor as the model for the article but the timing and the Avatar reference shows that it was thanks to the new movie that the article has been written now.

Edit: here's another article from today on the science in the movie.


Bulgarian prime minister Borisov decides referendum on Turkish language news on state television is a waste of time

Those weren't his exact words, but he has made the decision that supporting the decision to hold a referendum on whether to cancel Turkish language news broadcasts on Bulgarian state television is an issue with no benefit to him. Here are a few reasons: 1) Parliament can decide the issue itself, 2) It plays into the far right's hands too much, 3) The referendum has brought about quite a bit of international condemnation, 4) asking the majority to decide on the rights of a minority is asking for trouble. At least with parliament deciding on an issue like this there is a public voting record that anyone can see, whereas a referendum is anonymous.

Because of this he has likened it to a trap and is backing out. You can read about it in more detail in Turkish here or in English here...and also in Bulgarian here.


More Avatar science fallout: on the James Webb telescope and detecting Earth-like moons around gas giant planets

Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm keeping track of articles dealing with scientific concepts related to the recent release of Avatar, and another one here quotes Lisa Kaltenegger from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on how long it will take to discover and learn about these moons - she predicts that it will happen within this decade, which will certainly be the case. A big part of this will be thanks to the James Webb Telescope, but by the time it launches (2014) we should already know of a few dozen Earth-like planets.

The movie shows a number of other moons visible from time to time, so perhaps Pandora would be located in a region similar to that where Ganymede is. Tidal locking would mean that the planet would be visible in the sky the entire time over half of the moon, and the other half of the moon would never see it, but of course the sun would rise and set normally.

A video from October showing what it would be like to have rings around Earth gives a bit of an idea of what it would be like to have an immovable object in the sky that only varies by location instead of time of day.


Roger Cohen on doing nothing on Iran

Roger Cohen wrote another good op-ed two days ago that you can read here, about doing nothing with Iran (the best policy). The best part of the op-ed is the bit about just where the stick (as in, the stick present in a carrot-and-stick policy) would be in this policy. The answer is easy:

So would sanctions action from the so called “P5+1” — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. When I’m asked where the “stick” is in Iran, my response is the stick is Iranian society — the bubbling reformist pressure now rising up from Iran’s highly educated youth and brave women.
 In many other countries this sort of internal opposition simply doesn't exist in the first place, but it certainly does in Iran. The current government in Iran is seemingly attempting to walk a tightrope between two policies (trying to appease hardliners and opposition at the same time) that is pleasing none. The crackdown isn't nearly harsh enough for hardliners that would dearly love to see Mousavi and Karroubi arrested, and there's certainly no reason for the opposition to be pleased with a government that cuts off internet and media access at a moment's notice, and jails and beats people for no reason. Nobody has been happy for six months now and counting.

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral starts in a bit over three hours from now.


News on recently discovered super-Earth makes front page of Daily Kos

Daily Kos is in the midst of a huge debate over the health bill in the Senate right now, with about half seeming to line up on the kill the bill side with the other half on the it's pretty good, good enough for now and we'll talk about the public option later side. My opinion is that the bill is good enough to pass, and incremental change is still change. In the midst of this though they found time for a front page diary about the recently discovered super-Earth that seems to be a water world, and extrasolar planets in general.

Just two more weeks until Kepler announces its first discoveries.


Only 5% of Lithuanians in big cities don't know Russian

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Here's a link to an article on a fairly recent survey on how many people in the three largest cities in Lithuania (Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda) know Russian - only 5% don't. This compared with Uzbekistan where the number of those that know it has dropped to about 70%, and Estonia where it's around 68%. Latvia...there doesn't seem to be any exact numbers for Latvia, but Latvia has the largest Russian population per capita and so that would skew the numbers a bit anyway.


20 December: Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri just passed away today آیت الله منتظری درگذشت

The man that should have been Iran's Supreme Leader passed away today. He was 87 so no need for conspiracy theories about his death. Apparently there is a large crowd converging on his house as we speak.

Edit: the funeral will be tomorrow and Mousavi and Karroubi have issued a joint statement calling for a national day of mourning. Protests are happening today as a result, and a lot of videos have been uploaded here. Here's one.


Na'vi language group on Facebook

Three days ago after coming back from Avatar I noticed that Facebook didn't yet have a group for those who wanted to learn the language, so I created one, called Learn the Na'vi language. Three days later after zero publicity whatsoever it now has 54 members. There still is no official grammar for the language so right now it's more of an effort to decipher the grammar from all the examples that have been given so far than a place where one can just stop by and learn the language, but there's still quite a bit of good information there. I'm usually not all that interested in conlangs compared to auxlangs, but that's because each conlang almost always has such a small and ephemeral community that its long-term future is almost never assured, but with tens or hundreds of millions of people that will be watching Avatar, the long-term future of Na'vi seems to be assured so it's worth taking a look at.

I have been getting in a few discussions online since the release of the movie over whether those that like the movie will then make the transition into being more interested in concrete action like learning astronomy, writing one's member of Congress/Parliament for more funding, etc. I think the answer is yes.


What the close approach of 99942 Apophis to Earth in 2029 will look like

Here's a nice quick rendition of what it will look like to be on the surface of 99942 Apophis in 2029 as it grazes us. There is no chance of it hitting us, and at closest approach it will reach an amazing magnitude of 3.3, which is equivalent to stars that can barely be seen with the naked eye in an urban setting.


How far away is Alpha Centauri A from Earth?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another post related to Avatar today. The journey to Pandora was shown as taking six or seven years, which assumes a ship travelling at somewhere close to light speed (maybe 0.8 c) because don't forget there is also the acceleration when first starting and deceleration before arrival that needs to happen as well. But to truly know just how far away even the closest star to us is we'll have to use the only scale we can imagine: the planets in our Solar System and the farthest we have ever sent a probe. Let's use that to visualize the distance to our nearest stellar companion. Well, companions (there are three stars in the system). But Avatar is based on the largest star, Alpha Centauri A.

First we have an image showing 250 AU. The first dot there (none of these dots are to scale of course) is the Sun, then Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter (in red there, the first one away from the crowd), Saturn, Oranos (my preferred English name for Uranus), Neptune, then Pluto in yellow, and after that there is Haumea, Makemake, and Eris way out on its own. The grey line is the location of Voyager 2, which is thus far the farthest we've ever been able to send a craft out into space.

And now the journey to Alpha Centauri A begins. Don't use the scroll bar on the right! To fully appreciate the distance you have to keep scrolling down with the mouse.

And we are there!

Just joking, we're 8th of the way there. If we're lucky then the recently launched WISE will discover a brown dwarf at about twice or three times this distance. If not, then we'll have to go eight times this distance to reach our first interstellar object. Well, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri is about 0.17 light years closer, which is 10 750 AU or 43 times the first image. But in cosmic terms it's pretty much the same distance.

The good news is that Voyager wasn't sent out to be particularly fast, so it isn't a representative of what we are truly capable of. That is, we're not really trying because there's precious little to see beyond the Solar System. A craft using VASIMR (VASIMR isn't quite flight ready but in a few years it should be) would be able to achieve a velocity of over 100 km/s, which is about 17 days per AU. At that rate it would surpass Voyager 2 in about 4.5 years, not bad since it's taken Voyager 2 a total of 32 years so far to reach its current distance. But at that velocity it would still take 12,900 years or so to reach Alpha Centauri. Voyager 2 would take 72,000 years.


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