Proposition: Latvian is the best modern language to learn to gain an instinctive knowledge of Latin grammar and speech habits

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I think I've touched on this subject here a bit before, but I would like to lay it out in a bit more detail for readers to comment on and tell me if the proposition is right or wrong. The similarity between Latvian and Latin that I'm proposing here is akin to that between English and French, two languages from different branches of the Indo-European language family but with a very similar word order and style (albeit with some great differences). English and Bulgarian might be another good example.

First a comment on the Romance languages: the Romance languages have a vocabulary composed mostly of words that can be traced back to Latin, but besides verb usage and vocabulary they really don't feel that much like Latin at all:

- Latin is pronounced exactly as it is written while Romance languages always vary to a certain extent. Even Spanish for all its simplicity isn't as simple as 'c sounds like k in kilogram, the end', and let's not even start with French.

- Latin has no articles.

- Romance languages, with the exception of Romanian, do not use cases except in the personal pronouns.

- Romance languages do not have nearly as flexible a word order as Latin.

So what about Latvian? I don't have the time today for a long post on the subject, but there are a few aspects that really resemble Latin.

- Cases and articles are the obvious one. Latin has about six or seven cases, and so does Latvian. Neither of them have articles. Okay, but so do a lot of other languages. What else?

- Spelling, pronunciation and stress. Latvian spelling is nearly identical to its pronunciation (the letter o is the most notable exception), but stress is also almost always regular. Latin stress is also easy to predict. This also is shared by a lot of other languages. Why Latvian? Here's why:

Vowel length. And more importantly, the fact that vowel length plays a role in declension, just like Latin.

Why is this important? Because spoken Latin, to be honest, very often sounds extremely awkward. Vowel length in spoken Latin is usually either ignored or overemphasized to the point of absurdity. With the former the listener has a hard time telling what the speaker is trying to say (was that nominative or ablative?), with the latter you tend to cringe hearing it, knowing that there's no way an ancient Roman ever sounded that awkward.

A table of declension for a few nouns in both languages should demonstrate this a bit. First Latvian:

1st decl. 2nd decl. 3rd decl.
Sing. Plur. Sing. Plur. Sing. Plur.
Nom. vīrs vīri skapis skapji tirgus tirgi
Gen. vīra vīru skapja skapju tirgus tirgu
Dat. vīram vīriem skapim skapjiem tirgum tirgiem
Acc. vīru vīrus skapi skapjus tirgu tirgus
Ins. vīru vīriem skapi skapjiem tirgu tirgiem
Loc. vīrā vīros skapī skapjos tirgū tirgos
Voc. vīr vīri skapi skapji tirgu tirgi

Then Latin.

Nominative dominus –us dominī –ī
Vocative domine –e dominī –ī
Accusative dominum –um dominōs –ōs
Genitive dominī –ī dominōrum –ōrum
Dative dominō –ō dominīs –īs
Ablative dominō –ō dominīs –īs

Nominative bellum –um bella –a
Vocative bellum –um bella –a
Accusative bellum –um bella –a
Genitive bellī –ī bellōrum –ōrum
Dative bellō –ō bellīs –īs
Ablative bellō –ō bellīs –īs

What is interesting is that Latvian's nearest relative, Lithuanian, does not offer the same thing. Lithuanian has an irregular stress (or rather, a stress that apparently is actually regular but based on some very complex patterns), and its locative case is -oje (Amerika - Amerikoje) -e (Kaunas - Kaune), -uose and some other similar forms. But a long vowel at the end, grammatically necessary to denote case but unstressed? That's Latin, and that's Latvian. That is, with Latvian you are constantly learning the difference between vowel length and stress, and how to avoid mixing up the two. Far too often students tend to put them together, stressing long vowels or lengthening stressed vowels.

If I were to recommend two modern languages to aid in one's understanding of Latin, I would recommend Italian and Latvian. The former for vocabulary, the latter for stress, vowel length, case usage and underlying Indo-European feel.

Final note: Slavic languages are not my area of specialty, and I believe there are some like Slovak with a regular stress and different vowel lengths. If anyone believes one of them to be more apt in gaining an instinctive knowledge of Latin grammar and pronunciation (stress and vowel length), let me know. As the title states, this is a proposition and not a conclusion.


Link roundup for 29 May 2011 - high speed trains in Norway, the morning commute and depression, another movie translated into Sambahsa...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Time to get rid of a few tabs I've had up for a week or so that I haven't found the desire to write a full post about. The first one is:

this article in Norwegian from today on high-speed rail linking Norway, Sweden and Denmark. It seems Norway wants to see a train that goes at 330 kph, but Sweden is not interested in one over 250. The argument behind the faster train is that it would not be possible to get to Copenhagen within 3 hours, and 3 hours is thought to be a magic number - under 3 hours and people will prefer to use the train, over 3 hours and they tend to remain in favour of flying. The train between Oslo and Stockholm might end up going 330 kph within Norway, then slowing down to 250 kph after entering Sweden since the tracks will be incapable of maintaining the higher speed. The Norwegian side seems to be surprised that Sweden is not interested in anything over 250 kph, and maybe a more informed reader can tell us why this is.

Another film has been translated into Sambahsa. It's called Kaydara and is about an hour long, seems to be heavily based on The Matrix, and to see the subtitles in Sambahsa you have to choose Serbian since only previously approved languages can be selected. The movie already has subtitles in Croatian so the Sambahsa subtitles won't keep any Serbs from watching and enjoying the movie. I was supposed to watch it by now but it's longer than I thought (I guessed about 25 minutes) and now my time is limited due to working full time.

Your commute is killing you - an article on the link between long commutes and depression, obesity, etc.

Die Burger - an article on the Afrikaans newspaper and how its success. Its motto is Lees die Burger en praat saam.

A statement by Frank L. Culbertson (commander of the International Space Station for a time) to a Congress subcommittee where he defends the role of the ISS and the research done there.


Yes, Vesta is technically an asteroid but...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

One of my small goals is a more widespread awareness of how varied asteroids can be. In general we seem to understand quite well how terrestrial planets work as they tend to be somewhat similar in size to our own, as well as gas giants and stars - red/yellow/blue/white, dwarf/giant, that sort of thing. Visualizing the most massive stars is a bit beyond us, but besides that we tend to do a fairly good job. Asteroids though...maybe not so much. The one realization that doesn't seem to have taken place yet is that they can vary from tiny clumps of rock to small worlds, and the difference between the two can be phenomenal.

That's why the wording in this article today on the recently announced OSIRIS-Rex mission to asteroid 1999 RQ36 bugged me a bit. The mission will be a sample return, and the article compares it to Dawn by saying:

The OSIRIS-Rex mission is not NASA's first mission to an asteroid, but it will be the first U.S. probe to retrieve samples and return them to Earth...NASA's Dawn probe, meanwhile, is nearing the asteroid Vesta — the second-largest space rock in the asteroid belt. Dawn will orbit Vesta for many months, then head off to visit Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system. But the NEAR and Dawn missions are only visiting asteroids. OSIRIS-Rex will bring pieces back home.
Hm. See, the article mentions two things: Vesta is the second-largest space rock in the asteroid belt, and that Dawn is only orbiting it while OSIRIS-Rex is doing something more impressive. It seems to give the impression that while Dawn is visiting a very large rock, OSIRIS-Rex is visiting some other rock and will be doing something even more impressive. In reality it is doing something that can only be accomplished thanks to its target having next to no surface gravity of its own, because 1999 RQ36 really is just a large rock while Vesta is more aptly described as a protoplanet.

A simple graphical representation is probably the best way to explain this. 1999 RQ36 has a diameter of about 560 metres, Vesta 530 kilometres - 950 times greater. Ready? Here they are together. Vesta is black, 1999 RQ36 is red.

Can't see it? Let's zoom in a bit.

Can you see it there in red yet? Let's zoom in a bit more just to make sure.

There it is, a single pixel in diameter compared with the majesty of Vesta's 950.

In terms of walking time, to walk a distance equal to the circumference of 1999 RQ36 (about 1760 metres) it would take 21 minutes. To walk a distance equal to the circumference of Vesta (1650 km or so) - about six weeks if you walked eight hours a day. So yes, Dawn is 'just' orbiting Vesta (and then leaving and jaunting off to Ceres), but that's because Vesta isn't just any random chunk of rock.


Portuguese is now a working language of the World Meteorological Organization

Saturday, May 28, 2011

From a notice in Portuguese here: it seems that Portuguese has been deemed a working  language of the World Meteorological Organization. The organization's official languages are English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian, as can be seen on their page here. I'm not sure what sort of distinction there is supposed to be between an official and a working language (língua oficial vs. língua de trabalho), but being made a working language will mean sweet interpreting jobs:

Hiring for Portuguese interpreters will be paid by some Portuguese-speaking countries plus China and Switzerland. The announcement of Portuguese as a working language was made at the 16th Congress of the WMO in Geneva this Wednesday.

Vice President Divino Moura: "We gathered contributions from Angola, China (Macau), Brazil, Portugal and Switzerland itself, to contribute to a fund that would pay for example for Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the world and we need to start using it within the United Nations and agencies such as ours.


The moon's interior is wet. NASA chooses to send probe to asteroid instead of the moon.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Interesting timing for these two stories from today and yesterday. Let's start with the asteroid mission. Yesterday NASA announced that they had chosen a sample-return mission to an asteroid out of three contenders. The other two were a sample-return mission to the moon, and a probe to the surface of Venus.

I'm actually glad that they didn't go with the Venus surface probe in spite of the fact that it is the planet I want to see properly explored the most, and that is because I don't want to see a surface mission that ends in a matter of hours; I want to see a solar flyer that stays in the clouds for months or years. Only then will we fully be able to drive the point home that the cloudtops of Venus are located in the most earthlike zone in the entire Solar System. A surface mission would only reinforce the idea that Venus is just a hellish planet that cannot be explored or colonized, that it's either orbit the planet in the depths of space, or brave the hellish surface. There is a moderate middle, and that probe would not have helped to show it.

Now to the asteroid probe: the asteroid is an interesting one, known as 1999 RQ36. Having flown close by the Earth before it has been well 'imaged' (by radar) by the Arecibo Observatory, so we know that it looks like this.

Not bad resolution for an asteroid just 560 metres in diameter.

The mission (OSIRIS-Rex) will first orbit the asteroid for a full year before doing a partial touchdown to grab some soil and then bring it back to Earth. This will be necessary to fully understand it and plan out well exactly where the sampling should take place. Apparently not spending long enough in orbit was the problem with Japan's probe to Itokawa.

...One day after that comes this news about water below the surface of the moon. We all remember the excitement over the discovery of water on the moon in the top soil, created by the solar wind interacting with the soil to create H2O and HO (hydroxyl). However, this only showed these two molecules to be present on the surface and did not tell anything about what lies below. Well, it turns out that the moon is actually as wet at the Earth below the surface. For how this was determined you should read the article yourself as I would just be repeating it if I summarized it here. The keyword there is: lunar melt inclusion. That's how we know about the water below the surface.


Which foreign languages are learned in Korean (Seoul) high schools?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More numbers from an article here in Korean for those that like to keep track of which languages are being learned where.

The gist of the article is that Korean high schools concentrate "too much" on Japanese and Chinese in comparison with other languages. English is a given here so it doesn't even get included. There are a total of 222 high schools in Seoul, and out of those:

196 schools (88.3%) offer Japanese,
176 schools (79.3%) offer Chinese,

and after that it drops precipitously. After Japanese and Chinese we have:

French: 41 schools (18.5%)
German: 27 schools (12.2%)
Spanish: 6 schools (2.7%)

Arabic and Russian: zero!

So yes, other languages are definitely being neglected here. Spanish is probably the greatest example, but Russia is another one. Then again, the only large Russian city near Korea is Vladivostok and it has a reputation as an unsafe drug smuggler hangout, plus tickets there aren't cheap either. As a result, Koreans simply don't visit there. The place where they do have the strongest connection to is Sakhalin, which has a lot of ethnic Koreans and was also ruled by the Japanese for a while so it's an interesting place to visit (so I hear) for those interested in Japan's colonial history. Most of the government buildings in Korea were destroyed during the Korean War so there is not much to see, but Taiwan, Sakhalin etc. have a lot of them in good condition.

One also wonders how much Brazil has to grow before Portuguese gets any respect. It's now in seventh place and will be in fifth in a few years...but yeah, that probably won't change anything. The only change I see in Korea in the next while is maybe some more Spanish, and Vietnamese.


Canadian Liberals choose Bob Rae as interim leader

Not a big surprise - the Liberals have chosen Bob Rae to be the interim leader of the party. Technically this is supposed to mean that he is barred from seeking the permanent leadership later on, but I have some doubt about that. After all, it was decided on a whim and this is the same party that whisked Ignatieff in as leader too after the election in 2008. But taking them at their word for now, it would mean that 1) Marc Garneau isn't going to be interim leader (you can see him standing behind Rae in support too in the article) and 2) Marc Garneau can be the permanent leader after Rae is done.

In the meantime the Conservatives are about to submit their budget again and this time the opposition can do nothing about it. Like I said after the election, good job Canadian left.


Ottawa students create scale model of the Solar System

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Here's an article that turned up in my email somehow a day or two ago on a group of Ottawa students that decided to create a scale model of the Solar System.

To begin with, you start with the sun. Here is a picture of the junior high (middle school) students carrying it for comparison. So where are the rest of the planets according to this scale? Right here:

Neptune and Pluto are way down in the south. After that you can zoom in a bit to get an idea of the scale a bit further inward, showing Ouranos (my preferred appellation for Uranus) just outside the city. Saturn is near the edge, and after that everything is quite close. Jupiter is just a few blocks down the street, Mars is just outside the park, the other inner Solar System objects are inside it.

Ceres is dissed as always and doesn't make the cut even though the other dwarf planet Pluto does. When 2015 comes around and Dawn arrives everybody will be sorry they ignored it for so long.


Charlotte North Carolina Spanish newspapers Que Pasa and Mi Gente to combine as Que Pasa-Mi Gente

Read about it here. The comments section isn't worth getting into as it's just bickering over immigration. Planned circulation for the new newspaper is 25,000, and free distribution will take place at 500 locations. Total staff working at the newspaper: 12.


Article on Lithuanian spelling of Polish names in Lithuania results in a surprisingly large number of comments

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An article here from the Economist last week on a court case in Lithuania regarding spelling Polish names there has ignited a bit of a firestorm of debate in the comments section below. The issue is whether Polish Lithuanians can spell their names using Polish orthography or not, and the court has ruled that they have to use Lithuanian norms.

Lithuanian and Latvian are a bit unusual here though, as declination cannot be properly done without a Lithuanian or Latvian ending. Without that you don't know whether the genitive is -o or -os or -ės or anything else, so both these countries have more of a practical reason for insisting that names are converted to their norms. A good rule of thumb is to look at their Wikipedia and see how proper names are treated there. Pages like Baraks Obama and Als Gors show that you can't just leave proper names as spelled in their original languages.

Such debates are an inevitable result of closeness between two countries: not only historical ties, but the fact that both countries use the Latin alphabet. Move all the way over to the US or Canada and diacritics simply get thrown out the window because nobody uses them in English and wouldn't know how to input them even if they wanted to. Nobody gets diacritics there, end of story. Well, maybe á ó é í ú ñ à ç etc. (Spanish and French) from time to time, certainly not å ø æ and the rest.


NPR on Univision's growth from a small TV station in San Antonio to a multi-million viewer network

Two links worth checking out for those interested in Spanish media within the United States: this article from NPR, and this link with the transcript for the attached interview. The most interesting part of the story is Univision's plans for the future: they plan in 2012 to launch a 24/7 news channel in Spanish, à la CNN. With the presidential election that year it will be perfect timing, and so I doubt they are just throwing a number around.


Italian now tied for #1 in number of translations

Monday, May 23, 2011

I haven't written about translation numbers for a while, and though most of the rankings are the same we now have a new language tied for #1 with Spanish:

Of course, by the time you get to around 880+ translated talks a ranking becomes meaningless; each of these languages has enough translated talks that you could watch three of them a day and it would still take you a year to get through them. The languages at 800 and above are now:


and Romanian is just nine shy of 800. Bulgarian is as always the most impressive here considering its relative size, and Romanian is doing quite well too.


New poll on Indo-European branches

I've put up a new poll, a rather simple one on which branches of the Indo-European family you are most interested in. It allows for multiple answers, and I've also included "overall IE and PIE reconstruction" as an answer since it's possible to be interested in studying the relationship between all IE languages without necessarily being interested in any one, two or more branches in particular. So far the poll is set for seven days but I may extend it if there are less then 100 votes by the end.


European Commission's report on languages used on the internet in Europe

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Here's a pdf of a recent study by the European Commission that users will definitely find interesting, on which languages users in Europe use online. The entire report is 125 pages. Here are some of the parts I find the most interesting:

- Because the report was based on interviews with internet users, in countries like the Netherlands and Sweden it was more or less a sample of the entire population, but in places like Bulgaria where internet penetration is lower it was a different sample - people with internet access there are not necessarily representative samples of the rest of the population.

- 48% of users read English online, 29% actually wrote in it. As always, lurkers and passive users are more common.

- 9 out of 10 users said they always visited websites in their own language if they could. 53% said that an English-only page would be acceptable if they couldn't use it in their own language.

- Malta was the most willing (97%) to read sites in English if they couldn't be found in Maltese, no surprise at all considering how hard it is to find Maltese content online.

- Latvians and Bulgarians used the internet the most frequently, with 69% of internet users using the internet several times a day. Least frequent were Italian users at 33%.

- 44% of those in the EU only use their own language online. In the UK this is 85% (no surprise), and in Malta it's 7%. Hungary is interesting at 48%.

- Other languages used online (languages used as an L2, so mother tongue usage not included here): English 48%, French 6%, German 6%, Spanish 4%, Italian 2%, Russian 2%...

- Of these languages, the one that respondents said they used 'all the time' the most is a bit surprising: Swedish at 24%. This is most certainly due to respondents from Denmark (since Norway's not included). Edit: forgot about Finland, where Swedish is also an official language. After that is Spanish at 21% (probably due to Portugal). The L2 that people said they used the least ('occasionally') is Polish - 73% of those who claimed to use Polish said that. Meanwhile, 'all the time' for Polish was 12%.

The other languages by country part is the most interesting. For example, the country that uses Spanish as an L2 the most is....Portugal at 14%. Spain is a bit weird because 12% report using Spanish as a non-mother tongue. Technically true, but not helpful in knowing what the top three other languages used by Spanish speakers are. Kind of the same for Luxembourg where French and German are included as foreign languages, even though they are official languages there and used all the time. Besides this, the country that uses German as a foreign language the most is unsurprising: Netherlands at 29%.

I still haven't looked over the entire report bit in the meantime, here's the part mentioning L2 usage online for various countries.

Edit: expanding a bit on my preliminary reading:

- The activities that people carry out in an L2 is particularly interesting. The category most often referenced was getting information and reading the news, an activity that doesn't require a particularly high level of skill. The most interesting though is the activity least frequently carried out in an L2: banking. Acquiring passive information in another language in an L2 is one thing, managing your money is something else. 74% said they never banked in an L2. Also keep in mind that since German and French are counted as foreign languages in Luxembourg for this survey (they shouldn't), 'never' should be even higher than this. People in Luxembourg surely don't bank in Spanish or Portuguese, for example.

Later on in the report it shows the amount of banking done in other languages by country, and this backs up the suspicion that Luxembourg has biased the numbers a bit. Malta comes first though, with 47% saying they banked in another language all the time and 15% frequently. For Luxembourg it's 23% all the time and 23% frequently. After that are Cyprus and Latvia, and after that every single country has at least a 60% 'never' response rate to banking in another language. The countries that never bank in a foreign language the most: Romania (80%), Denmark (80%), Finland (82%), France (82%), Germany (81%).


Iranian students in the US and the National Iranian-American Council happy today after student visa fix

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I got this in my email today, a welcome bit of news whereby Iranian students in the US now can get multiple-entry visas instead of the previous single entry. What that meant before was that if you were an Iranian student in the US and a family member died, it was either 1) miss the funeral or 2) go to the funeral and lose your student visa. I know better than most how much it sucks when you can't do X or Y because of a silly visa restriction - my first encounter with that was in Estonia in 1998 when Canadians were given a shorter visa than others over a silly visa spat at the time between the two countries, and that was just the beginning. Pretty much any other long-term expat will also have a tale or two of woe. And by the way, that's also pretty much the easiest way to get into a conversation with one of them. Don't ask how it was living in Country X, ask what the visa process was like. Then just sit back and enjoy the long story you're about to hear told.


Deutsche Welle to cease broadcasts in Bulgarian, Romanian, Greek, Croatian, Macedonian, Polish...on the radio

Gah, this scared me for a moment. I thought for a second that Deutsche Welle was going to get rid of these languages online too, like BBC has done. Deutsche Welle's multilingual services are far superior to other national broadcasters and if they had done the same it would have been a huge shame. It turns out though that they are simply (wisely) cutting costs by choosing to focus on TV, online and mobile products. Whew.


YouTube has a German documentary on Kaliningrad / Königsberg

Friday, May 20, 2011

Well well, look what has recently been uploaded to YouTube!

It's a five-part (on YouTube that is) documentary on Kaliningrad, originally known as Königsberg. Unfortunately it has no English subtitles and is either in German or Russian with German subtitles - maybe some English here and there too, as I have yet to watch it. I found out about the video after visiting here for the first time in a while.

While still woefully uninformed on the region, I still imagine a solution to its isolation to be independence with a lot of Russian aid, with the end goal being a state within the EU that speaks Russian along with a certain amount of revived Prussian and maybe a smattering of German. If Russia were to agree on independence and a lot of funding for the new state, there is no reason why it wouldn't be an extremely Russia-friendly country through which Russian would become an official language of the EU for the first time. It would be a kind of Macau in the role it could play as a bridge between two large groups (Macau as a bridge between Portuguese countries and China, Kaliningrad/Königsberg as a bridge between Russia and the EU) and eventual visa-free travel to and from the EU would make it a prime destination for this. A German/French/Polish/etc. company that wants to expand into Russia would simply go there to set up a branch office and wouldn't have to worry about navigating Russian bureaucracy to do so.

Yes, I know that's not going to happen. It's another one of those "if I were king of the world" hypotheticals.


Exciting exoplanet news today: rogue planets and an Earth-hunting nanosatellite the size of a loaf of bread

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lots of exciting exoplanet news today. Let's start with the big story: it seems that space is absolutely filled with rogue planets, planets that don't orbit a star or have an extremely weak connection to one. In fact, the predicted number of these planets is actually twice the number of planets that orbit stars, which means hundreds of billions in the Milky Way alone - in other words, very very good news.

The estimate for the number of rogue planets was done through gravitational lensing, where a heavy body passes in front of a star and bends its light in a certain way, and the particularly short period of time means that the planets (ten of them were detected) have to be at least 10 AU away from the parent star...and the most important part of this is that Jupiter-mass planets aren't supposed to be common (or exist entirely?) at that distance. So it seems that rogue planets are the most likely explanation. On top of that, along with everywhere else in space the smaller the planet the more of them there should be, so planets our size will be even more common than the Jupiter-sized ones the team picked up.

I'm not all that surprised by the news however, as our knowledge of rogue planets thus far has been exactly zero, but their existence is certainly not even close to unlikely: all you need is a planet that has been knocked out of a star's orbit or developed on its own, certainly not the rarest event in the universe. Having more rogue planets than actual star-orbiting planets also means that in theory there should be a number of them in between us and Alpha Centauri, and heading in who knows what direction. Add to that the impending discovery of brown dwarf stars by WISE (and what the f*^& is taking them so long to announce anything?!) and our solar neighborhood is due to become a lot more interesting in the near future.

Finally, life on a rogue planet is certainly possible, and many papers have been written on this. A rogue planet would have an easy time retaining an atmosphere (no solar wind to blow it away) and if the planet remains warm for long enough then the planet's surface and oceanic conditions would be pretty mild. For a moon of a rogue planet of Jupiter's mass, there is also tidal heating to keep it warm.

And now the second article! See here. A nanosatellite the size of a loaf of bread is to be launched next year. It's called ExoPlanetSat and is being developed by MIT and Draper Laboratory, and as the name suggests it is used to detect exoplanets. There are two things that make this satellite interesting. One is that this tiny satellite is capable of locking onto a single star (as opposed to Kepler with 150,000 at a time) to detect exoplanets, with a precision capable of finding planets of our size. Being able to only focus on one star at a time is unavoidable with a satellite this small and cheap (more on that in a bit), but the advantage here is that ExoPlanetSat can observe stars that we consider to be potentially interesting.

Why is that important? Kepler shows us why. Because Kepler is capable of imaging 150,000 stars at a time, scientists chose a part of the galaxy that has a particularly large amount of them in its point of view, in preference to Alpha Centauri's solar neighborhood for example, because though Alpha Centauri is of particular interest to us it is not in an area (from our point of view) particularly populated with stars and would not help to give us the statistical data we need to make predictions about extrasolar planets.

ExoPlanetSat, on the other hand, can focus on any star its team wants, and the team is particularly interested in Alpha Centauri.

Finally, the cost. This is one of the most exciting parts of the project for me, as I have often written about the wish to see a single cheap mission that can be repeated over and over again at a lower cost each time. ExoPlanetSat is exactly this: the first one is to cost $5 million to build, but after that the cost will drop to $600,000.


Planetary radio this week: Dawn's approach to Vesta

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If you're interested in listening to a podcast for the next 30 minutes on my favourite subject over the past few months, here you are. I haven't listened to it yet but plan to later tonight, and see that Dawn's Marc Rayman is on the podcast too. There are actually a few other subjects in the podcast too so Dawn will probably take up about 15 minutes or so.

Current distance to Vesta: just 800,000 km, or Earth to the Moon X 2.


Tumblr now in Turkish / Tumblr'ın Türkçe desteği geldi

I don't use Tumblr but for those that do, now it's in Turkish. This is now the sixth language after English, German, French, Italian and Japanese. Notably absent: Spanish and Portuguese.


Portuguese to be taught at university in West Timor

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

West Timor, the part of Indonesia (and former Dutch colony). According to this article:
An Indonesian university, PGRI, will create a Portuguese language program in West Timor, announced the vice-rector Titus Bureni. "The main reason for beginning a Portuguese language course in our university is facilitating communicating with East Timor....East Timor and West Timor in Indonesia are located on the same archipelago and communication is important for a good relationship." PGRI is a higher-level institution dedicated to the teaching of sciences and training teachers, with locations in Cupang, West Timor, and Yogyakarta.


Eurovision 2012 to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan

Monday, May 16, 2011

Azerbaijan was the surprise winner of Eurovision 2011 yesterday, and as the winning country gets to host the next event it means that in a year's time we'll see it held in Baku, of all places. Azerbaijan is a country I write about quite a bit here, but for most the name Azerbaijan doesn't even register. It's one of those country names that most wouldn't even be sure is a real name or not (like the fictional Krakozhia from The Terminal), known fairly well by those involved in the oil industry and geopolitics, but few others.

Hosting Eurovision according to this article is worth somewhere from $100 to 600 million, which for a country of Azerbaijan's size is a fair amount. To make a quick comparison, the GDP of the United States is 316 times greater than Azerbaijan (used to be 2500 times greater, mind you), so an extra $400 million or so is like an extra $125 billion for the US. More important than that though is the opportunity to have the name Azerbaijan actually mean something besides the current "not sure if a real country name......" impression it gives to most now.

Nagorno-Karabakh: will Eurovision 2012 have an effect on this? Hopefully it will have a positive one. The war there in 1994 and the subsequent de facto but not de jure ownership of the region by Armenia is why those Armenian and Azerbaijani media sites one finds online all seem to be devoted to trashing the other side. "Why is Armenia/Azerbaijan so belligerent?" "Armenia/Azerbaijan makes real offer for peace that Armenia/Azerbaijan just ignores, like always!" "Armenian/Azerbaijani soldier shoots Armenian/Azerbaijani civilian!" etc. etc.

This war of words is not going to cool down over a year of course, but one would imagine that Azerbaijan would want to keep things as uncontroversial as possible over at least the next year, while the eyes of Europe are on it and people are beginning to acquire their first impressions of the country.

For two articles on the geopolitical implications of Eurovision in Azerbaijan, see here and here.

You can see the video of the team from Azerbaijan (Ell and Nikki) as they win in this video. Most definitely not my kind of music. I am glad to see Azerbaijan win though. It would be even more interesting to see Armenia or Georgia win the next round too.


How to cure insomnia (okay, how I did)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Globe and Mail has an article here today on sleep deprivation and its effect on society - basically that far too many adults believe that they don't need a full night's sleep in order to function and end up falling asleep at their jobs, making bad decisions, etc. etc. I was quite an insomniac until my mid-teens, but this went away after about a few months training myself to dream lucidly.

Most now know what lucid dreaming is but in case you don't, it is simply dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming, instead of dreaming under the impression that you're still awake, no matter how weird the dream may be. You're at home and a pack of rabid wolves begins breaking down the door and you're afraid even though it makes absolutely no sense that wolves would do such a thing, or you get on the bus and realize that you forgot your pants and are embarrassed even though there's absolutely no way you would make it to the bus stop without realizing that you have no pants, etc.

Moments like this are keys to lucid dreaming, as you can teach yourself to constantly check for events that don't make sense, upon which you become lucid within the dream. The dream continues as usual, but now you know that it's a dream and can do what you want. You may decide that you've had enough of the wolves and will now just ignore them, or you might decide that you don't care that you don't have any pants on the bus, or look around for a pair to put on, or may just jump out the window and begin flying (though sometimes staying in flight is a bit tough).

However, before getting to this point there is a preliminary step: writing down your dreams. This is because there is no sense in learning to dream lucidly if you still don't remember most of them, and the best way to remember them is to write them as soon as you wake up. Without doing so they will tend to vanish within just a few minutes of waking up, and if you do something unrelated to your dreams as soon as you get up (check your email, begin making breakfast...) then you'll almost certainly forget most of them.

So how did this cure my insomnia? Easy: it turned the dream world from a daily chore into a more complete world of its own that I began to look forward to entering every night, and instead of lying down and thinking "okay, now stay still and stop thinking and get X hours of sleep" I began to think about the recurring places in my dreams that I might explore in further detail that night, and that seems to have a preparatory effect in bringing your mind away from the physical world and towards the next. I can't guarantee that this will cure insomnia in others, but this is what worked for me. Mind you, I did not begin attempting to dream lucidly with this goal in mind (I never really minded being an insomniac), it was simply a side effect. It would be interesting to hear if anyone else has done the same thing.


Marc Garneau to run for interim leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This news is from yesterday, and I was ready to write about it the moment it happened but as it turned out Blogger was completely down, an outage that lasted until the next afternoon and made quite a bit of news as well. Now that it's over, I'm happy to participate in sharing the news. Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut and former head of the Canadian Space Agency (and MP for Westmount Ville-Marie), is the first Liberal so far to announce a bid for interim leadership of the party. Yay!

Technically the interim leader is not supposed to be the permanent leader (due to getting an unfair advantage for the real convention or some silly reason like that), but the Liberal Party seems to bend its rules whenever it wants so who knows what will happen if Garneau becomes the leader and a year or two later there is a convention to determine the permanent one. In the meantime, there has been a bit of a stir over the announcement and plenty of space jokes on Twitter, that you can read about here. As soon as the announcement happened people began coming up with negative slogans to use on him like "Marc Garneau: he's looked down on everyone in the past", "Garneau didn't come back to Earth for you", "Garneau hates Canada so much he left the planet to get away from it" and so on. Great fun.

In addition to the extra PR for space and science, I do also think that he would make a great leader. He's an engineer, was in the military, perfectly bilingual, lacks melodrama and is big on consensus, has no negative baggage, and managed to win his seat in spite of the huge flood of NDP support in the election this time around - a political battle scar that now makes him more than just a star candidate in an easy riding.

After his announcement his Twitter followers jumped from about 600 to over 2000. He also mentioned that he was ready for all the space jokes, which was part of the reason why there were so many.


Spaceref now has a comments section

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Heads up for those that don't visit the site very much: Spaceref is one of my favourite sites out there for space news as it is very simple, just straight out space news, scientific papers and opinions on a site with a very simple design. Up until recently (not sure how recently, but perhaps a week or two or three?) though it has never had a comments section so there has never really been a Spaceref community. Looking at it today though I see they now have one, and so I left my first comment there.


First image of Vesta taken by Dawn has arrived!

At long last! I must have written about two dozen posts on this subject alone, and finally we have a picture.

The first image of Vesta by Dawn was taken on the 3rd of this month, and it looks like this.

Just as expected, it's clearly the most brilliant object in the sky but still far from being anything close to what the Hubble Space Telescope has given us. But no fear, resolution will improve rapidly and we will be given the unique treat of an extremely slow approach. Other approaches to objects have been flybys, lasting anywhere from just a few hours to a few days. This one will happen over the next three months, and I'm going to enjoy every bit of it (and will probably post every time a new image comes in too).


Human civilization = chance, lots and lots of tinkering, and a bit of inspiration

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I was browsing a few forum threads the other day when I came across this quote from Robert Green Ingersoll:

Our civilization is not Christian. It does not come from the skies. It is not a result of “inspiration.” It is the child of invention, of discovery, of applied knowledge — that is to say, of science. When man becomes great and grand enough to admit that all have equal rights; when thought is untrammeled; when worship shall consist in doing useful things; when religion means the discharge of obligations to our fellow-men, then, and not until then, will the world be civilized.
The religious part aside, I have to disagree on what makes up civilization. Human societies are built mostly by chance and a ton of tinkering, and what we live in is by and large just the result of this...and we by and large are loath to change it. Consider the number 60. Why are there sixty seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour? Why, that's from the Babylonian number system, over 5000 years old. We haven't bothered to change that.

What about seven days in a week? Seven is an extremely awkward number to have for a workplace. Many complain that five days of work followed by just two days of rest is too much, but then again the only other real option is 4/3, which is already approaching a 50/50 split. Nine days would make much more sense: six days on and three days off per week, with multiplication and division much easier (it's not a prime number).

Ever notice that the Latin days of the month don't match up with their numbers? September = 7th month, October = 8th month. Why does February have 28 days? Because Augustus is no less great than Julius and his month needed 31 days too, so February got the shaft.

Why do people still believe that incentives are good for business even though the evidence shows that they have the opposite effect? Because 'common wisdom' doesn't agree, and the actual evidence just feels wrong.

Why doesn't English have a pronoun for both he and she? Because language is inherited and few are interested in actually looking at the inheritance itself and making a change or two. They would prefer to write out the awkward he or she every time.

Just about anything one can think of is a result of this - chance and a certain amount of tinkering, but very rarely does one find anything that is completely original. When something is completely original there is usually a great deal of opposition. Korean Hangul was created by a king (well, he gave the orders to his scribes to create it), but even he couldn't get people to use it as the common script during his lifetime and it wasn't until after WWII that it really became the one and only script used in both Koreas.

In the end, however, I'm glad that we have this resistance to change, as frustrating as it may be from time to time when trying to promote a new idea. If humans had a tendency to always go with the most efficient, sleek and original designs we would have a much harder time following our own history and languages, as change would just be far too rapid to accurately trace. It's nice to look at Proto-Indo-European and see many characteristics of modern languages even there, and to have candles in the house to light every once in a while even though their practical use in most cases has long since expired.

But perhaps the best thing about this stubbornness is that even it is open to change in some cases, and once such a change has taken place (hopefully a change for the better) it is liable to last for a long time. Those that understand this and are able to enact the change they want to see end up with a legacy. And then of course sometimes there's just a lot of luck where one taps into this without even realizing it: Wikipedia began kind of as a fluke, and now the idea of a world without it is unthinkable. Imagine going back to Encarta now -- it would never happen.


Dawn's distance to Vesta now measured in the thousands of km

...and my Google Alert for ceres space is sending back news articles galore.


That's now just 2.5 times the distance to the moon.

And remember, Dawn will be taking the first images in just a few days, less detailed than those we can get from Earth but still exciting, and it won't take long to surpass that. I recommend creating a Google Alert as well if you want to get the latest updates as soon as they come in.


Jack Layton on Tout le monde en parle after the election

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Now leader of the opposition Jack Layton made an appearance on Tout le monde en parle yesterday:

Since the majority of the NDP's seats now come from Quebec, we're going to hear a lot less Layton in English from now on. Quebec is notorious for quickly switching loyalties from one party to another, the most recent example being the ADQ. Official opposition one year, reduced to a rump party the next. The NDP has at least four years in its current position though, so they and all the other parties have a lot of time in which to plan their strategy for the next election.

They talk about Loi 101 / Bill 101 a fair amount, and you can read about the NDP's position here. Of course, the NDP does not have the power to threaten to bring down the government anymore so their political power is mostly relegated to public opinion (getting first dibs in Question Period is the opportunity to make nightly news), and committees.

  • 5 minutes in: Ruth Ellen Rousseau and other young candidates.
  • 9 minutes in: how much power they will have in a majority government. He sounds particularly vague here because there really isn't much they can do, and any other party in their place would be in the same situation.
  • 11:45: what will your first actions in parliament be? (here they talk about Loi 101)
  • 12:40: a bit more detail on how he intends to pursue an agenda in a majority parliament - present a bill (in this case on credit cards, interest rates and such things I think) and then appeal to the public in order to force the government to address the issue.

In the meantime, the Liberals are looking for an interim leader and there is still little interest in the position -- they're still in shock. I of course want to see Marc Garneau take the position. Whether he is Prime Minister material is uncertain, but being either the interim or permanent leader of the party can only be good for the discussion of Canada's role in space. He also carries no negative baggage at all, and the Conservatives would not be in any hurry to negatively define him as they did with Ignatieff, since 1) there will not be an election soon and 2) due to reason #1 any negative ads would certainly not resonate well with the public.


New Portuguese textbook in Macau marks the first Portuguese textbook after Macau's return to China

Monday, May 09, 2011

More Portuguese language news today...

The Portuguese Institute of the Orient (IPOR, O Instituto Português do Oriente) put the first of ten Portuguese textbooks on sale today that follow the Portuguese orthographic accord. The director Rui Rocha said that the new manual "was tested for over a year in the classroom", a procedure that will be adopted in the next school year for the second and third volumes. "Eleven years after the transfer of power from Portuguese to China, we believe it to be important to have manuals that are adapted to the reality found in Macau and the cultural reality of those the books are for - that is, to students of Chinese origin that make up 99% of our students." The old manuals date to 1995 and 1996, when Macau was still a Portuguese overseas territory.

The IPOR now has around 2,100 students learning Portuguese in the various courses it offers, many of which are linked to the government of Macau - the security forces, and the Centre for Legal and Judicial Training, for example. Students of tourism also often choose to learn Portuguese.

IPOR's site is more interesting than most, and has a video here called "eight reasons to learn Portuguese" (8 Razões para Aprender Português). It's in Cantonese so I can't understand it, but I can read the subtitles...except the martial arts guy, because I don't really understand his point. Translation below.

8 Razões para Aprender Português from Waaa! Studio on Vimeo.

Guy with book: Eu falo português (I speak Portuguese) - because because Portuguese is the 5th largest language in the world with 250 million users throughout the world.

Two girls exercising: Eu falo português - because Portuguese is the third largest European language, after English and Spanish.

Girl in white uniform: Eu falo português - because Portuguese is the language of the 5th-largest country in the world, Brazil, and Africa's 7th-largest country, Angola.

Guy with cellphone: Eu falo português - because Portuguese is an economic bridge between the People's Republic of China, Macau, the EU and the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries).

Kid with mom: Eu falo português - because Portuguese helps in learning other Latin (Romance) languages, like Spanish, French and Italian.

Martial arts guy: Eu falo português - because Portuguese is the official language of seven peaceful world countries. (or Portugal the 7th-most peaceful country? That doesn't make sense)

Couple eating tarts: Nós falamos português (we speak Portuguese) - because Portuguese, like Chinese, is an official language in Macau.

Dancing guys: Eu falo português - because Portuguese is an international language that extends over five continents.


Ruth Ellen Brosseau = not a scandal

Sunday, May 08, 2011

So it's been a few more days since the election and the NDP's new MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau has finally given her first interview. It's available on this page, and is almost entirely in English. However, she does give a demonstration of her French in the interview, and it's not too bad. If you want to hear the part where she speaks French it's near the end at about this point:

In a country like Canada (especially in the east) "I can't speak French" can mean anywhere from I don't speak a word of French to my French is only partially proficient. With other languages people tend to overrate themselves: I speak Chinese/Korean/Japanese often ends up meaning I can introduce myself and order a beer...unless of course you're ethnically Chinese/Korean/Japanese/etc. and then a partial proficiency is at least expected but very rarely appreciated.

The rest of the interview shows her to be nervous and still very new, and there is a lot of silence and many awkward pauses, but there's nothing there that one expects to be still an issue after a year or two. If she keeps her head down, works on her French and learns the rules of the game, there's no reason why she should still stand out. It's actually interesting that her election will result in one more French speaker than if a fluent French speaker had been elected, since that will be her first priority and within a few months or years she will fully enter the ranks of the fully bilingual.


Vote Compass / Boussole électorale results now online - see how political views vary by region in Canada

Saturday, May 07, 2011

This site apparently has been carrying out a nationwide survey asking Canadians what they believe about issues such as Canadian troops in Afghanistan, taxes, environment, and so on. The French edition is here, and is easy to understand so choose that if you are studying it. The maps really do make clear just how different Quebec is from the rest of the country, and with a few exceptions the maps almost look like they aren't even the same place. Take the question "there should be a tax on carbon" for example:

and "how much should the government spend on the army"?

but the maps aren't always like that. Sometimes there is an interesting correlation between Quebec and Alberta, especially when the question is about federal spending. This is the result for example of the question "the government should finance daycares instead of giving the money directly to parents".

So, what else there is interesting?


Twitter is now in Turkish and Russian, its eighth and ninth languages

Friday, May 06, 2011

Here's something I missed (also here and here) from about a week ago - Twitter is now in Turkish, its ninth language. The first language to be added on was Japanese, and after that also came Italian, Spanish, Korean, French, Russian, and German. For a site like Twitter that is easy to navigate languages like Japanese, Korean, Russian and Turkish are especially important, since they are fairly large with a relatively low English proficiency. In Western Europe many are capable of navigating sites as simple as Twitter without a translation in their own language, though of course one is always welcome.

Let's take a look at some of the last article:

A Turkish edition of Twitter, one of the most popular social websites in the world with 200 million users, has gone into service. An announcement on the site's blog said that Turkish and Russian had been added.

Oops, I guess it's Turkish and Russian then. Changing the title...

In a study carried out by the company ComScore, Turkey is in eighth place in terms of number of users per capita. In first place is the Netherlands with 26.8%, and Turkish is at 16.6%. The study estimates that there are 4 million Turkish users.

The total number of internet users in Turkey is about 35 million, so that seems about right.

Let's change my settings to Turkish for a second for a screenshot. Here we go.


Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the NDP's new Quebec MP who can't (yet) speak French

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Another political post today. Quebec voted overwhelmingly for the NDP in the election two days ago, and in the midst of this so-called orange wave (the NDP's traditional colour is orange) a number of people were elected that certainly would not have made it under different circumstances. The two new MPs that are getting the most attention are a guy who is just 19 years old (checks's Pierre-Luc Dussealt), now the youngest MP in Canada's history, and Ruth Ellen Brosseau. She is not only young (27), but also does not speak very much French, does not live in the district she now represents, was away in Las Vegas during much of the campaign season, and has yet to appear before the media. She is also being accused now of falsifying the nomination papers.

Now, assuming that everything blows over and she resurfaces and enters Parliament, it'll be up to her to learn French as fast as humanly possible. This will be interesting to watch as though Canada has a bilingual parliament, there are few situations where an MP is absolutely expected to know Canada's other official language fluently: 1) when you're running for Prime Minister, and 2) when you're in Quebec and have French as a mother tongue, or the opposite situation. The former happened with Preston Manning before when he was asked how he intended to be a national leader without knowing French (it's too bad he didn't know it because I love Preston Manning), and the latter most recently with Stephane Dion, who had a heavy French accent when he spoke English.

Brosseau is most certainly being prepped by party insiders right now and given a crash course in French, and assuming she reappears soon and is asked questions in French we'll be able to see how good it is now and compare it to later on. Apparently she is somewhat proficient:

When asked about his daughter's French proficiency, Marc replied, "The quality of (her) French is good. It's just if she wants to rise to the occasion, she speaks it, but let's just say it's not at a high proficiency level."

Sounds like my French.

Since there is now a majority government there is a lot of time before election season comes around again, and it'll be interesting to see which of the unexpected MPs actually have a knack for politics and grow with the job, and which clearly aren't cut out for it. I get the impression that Dussealt will turn out fine in spite of his young age. Something about a double name with a hyphenated -Luc on the end just feels right.


First Vesta photographs to be taken in just a few days

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


That's Vesta taken from the Hubble and the first photographs from Dawn won't be that detailed, but they'll still be pictures taken from just a million or so km away, and will rapidly increase in size.

Even though the mysterious orb is still too far away to reveal new features, it will be exciting to receive these first images. For most of the two centuries that Vesta has been studied, it has been little more than a pinpoint of light....Dawn will watch it grow from about five pixels across to 12. By June, the images should be comparable to the tantalizing views obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope. As the approach phase continues and the distance diminishes, the focus will grow still sharper and new details will appear in each subsequent set of pictures. During the approach phase, images will be released in periodic batches, with priority viewing for residents of Earth. The flow will be more frequent thereafter.


Marc Garneau wakes up an MP again

I mentioned this in yesterday's post, but I saw a few articles on this and it definitely deserves to be told in more detail. Yesterday night it looked like Marc Garneau (Canada's first astronaut, former head of the Canadian Space Agency and Liberal MP in Montreal) had lost his seat to the NDP. Not all the polls in the ridings had been counted, but at the time it looked like he had definitely lost...and then the seat was declared prematurely for  the NDP candidate Joanne Corbeil. In fact, he even gave a concession speech. Take a look at this long face:

Then he went to bed, and woke up an MP again, ahead by 600+ votes after the final results were in. What a relief.

It admittedly does suck to be Joanne Corbeil on a night like that, first hearing that she'd be going to Ottawa and then having that withdrawn. But the NDP certainly had its share of lucky breaks last night so they could stand to lose a bit here and there.

Also take a look at that second link: Marc Garneau said that he would consider running for leader of the party if the conditions were right. Whether he has party leadership in his blood or not is uncertain (not everybody is suited for it), but a surprise candidate like him could be interesting. The "just visiting" bit the Conservatives did on Ignatieff would of course not work, and now that they have a majority they are certainly not interested in negatively defining their opponents in the near future. If the Liberals simply just shuffle to Bob Rae as leader then we'll know that they haven't learned their lesson yet.

What's the lesson? Enjoy being in opposition, and stop looking for a silver bullet to get back into power. Bob Rae won't save the day, nor will any other leader for that matter, but going with a relative unknown would be a sign that they are going to concentrate on party building and making the most of being in opposition.


Duceppe salutes "Madame Ignatieff"

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Poor Giles Duceppe was a bit distracted yesterday after the Bloc's huge defeat and ended up paying his respects to "Madame Ignatieff". "What? I said Mister Ignatieff. Madame Ignatieff? Okay whatever, I salute Madame Ignatieff." *shrugs*

As Olivier noted yesterday, after all the polls have been counted Marc Garneau has managed to win re-election so that's a bit of consolation for me.


Good job, Canadian left

(that's sarcasm)

Watching the Canadian election results come in right now, and the Conservatives have now obtained a majority, with a huge (for them) showing for the NDP and massive losses for the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. The result is this: the NDP (the favourite party on sites like has amassed a humongous number of seats compared to all of their previous showings...but in a majority government this means nothing but noise. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals will be able to threaten to topple the government on bills of confidence, and the Canadian left has five years or so of Conservative bill after Conservative bill to look forward to.

The NDP achieved these gains at the crest of a surge of popularity, and if such a surge had happened to the Liberals they would have won about 200 seats this time around.

A definite possibility in the next few years is a uniting of the Liberals and the NDP (Liberal Democrats), but it's still far too early to say whether this would be possible. It would also leave a certain amount of space in the centre (fiscally prudent, socially liberal) that could easily be filled by a new party - red tories plus middle-of-the-road liberals.

And yes, it is very interesting. Unlike many of those that voted Liberal, I don't have a particular dislike for the ruling Conservatives, but I did think it was time for Harper to go after five years.

Still watching Westmount - Ville-Marie in Quebec to see if Marc Garneau (Canada's first astronaut and former president of the Canadian Space Agency) retains his seat, not that it matters a great deal now that the Liberals have been trounced, as he's now nowhere close to running Canada's space policy.


Memorandum of cooperation signed between University of Macau and Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities

A short article from here a few days ago. Oh, and in other news Canada is just about finished its election, and Bin Laden was killed yesterday.

The University of Macau and the Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities signed a memorandum of cooperation on Tuesday for the promulgation of the Portuguese language in Asia, in a ceremony that included the participation of minister Mariano Gago.

The memorandum was signed by rector Wei Zhao of the University of Macao and president António Rendas of the Council of Rectors of Portuguese Universities, who travelled to Macao with the minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education of the Portuguese government.

The memorandum aims at "cooperation in research in all areas, advancing the knowledge of the Portuguese language in Asia." The University of Macau aims to be the pivotal point between Chinese universities and universities from Portuguese-speaking countries.


Google Books to start publishing in Spanish?

Monday, May 02, 2011

That's the question presented by this article (in French), which says that Google Books plans to begin publishing in its second language after English, and speculates that it will be Spanish. Apparently Mark Nelson for Google was asked at a book fair in Buenos Aires whether Google planned to launch a Spanish version, to which he said that they would launch it in another language soon, but without saying which language it would be, and that his presence at the book fair was an indication that Spanish would be next.

On the other hand, in terms of copyright-free books online I believe French still far surpasses Spanish, as one can see in places like Wikisource, so I wouldn't be surprised if that was the next language instead.


Canadian election in two days, and...

Sunday, May 01, 2011

...this election is turning out to be far more interesting and less predictable than imagined in the beginning. The reason why is as follows:

That orange line there that suddenly shoots up about halfway through is the support for the NDP, Canada's traditional third party that always gets a few dozen seats but not a great deal of respect. The NDP is not too difficult to explain (neither are most of the other parties, mind you): they are pro-environment, unions, higher corporate taxes, and against operations in Afghanistan, corporations making immense profits if done at the expense of workers, jobs being shipped overseas, etc.

Their sudden popularity is hard to explain, but its origin is not: their support shot up in Quebec before anywhere else, and Quebec has a history of suddenly ditching parties it feels have done a lousy job, and giving a new party a chance.

I myself am pleased with the thought of the NDP winning more seats than before, but I wouldn't like to see them win too many. The reason is simple: as a smaller party, during an election they usually concentrate on a few key areas. The rest of the candidates thus end up running more or less in name only, and without any hope of winning a seat they are very often vastly underqualified. I would not like to see many of these candidates win seats, as not only would it result in underqualified people going to Ottawa to represent their ridings, but it could be bad for the NDP in the end too once they get into Parliament if a shoddy performance by them results in the NDP being taken less seriously than they would like.

So let's begin with my dream dream scenario given the current political reality, that is. It would look something like this:

Conservatives 125
Liberals 88
NDP 52
Bloc 42
Green 0 to 1

Such a scenario could happen, though the Conservatives and NDP are likely to end up with more than this.

To explain why this is a dream scenario, I must first explain why I want to see the Liberal Party do well (well = at least 10 more than the current 77 seats).

Reason 1 is easy: Marc Garneau. The Liberals will certainly not form a government this time, but if they do later on then Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut and former head of the Canadian Space Agency, would become Canada's Minister of Industry, Science and Technology. I want a former astronaut running Canada's space policy, plain and simple.

Reason 2 is Michael Ignatieff. During this election he has been the most media-accessible and least predictable leader, taking a huge number of questions and always speaking off the cuff. I do not enjoy stump speeches, and consider the ability to answer questions on the fly to be essential for a politician. The Liberal Party's policy is also quite good, a middle-of-the-road approach that keeps the corporate tax rate at a very competitive 18% instead of further lowering it.

One other reason for Ignatieff: he's an expat, like me, and if the party ends up doing badly under his leadership, it will show that the Conservatives' "just visiting" campaign has had an effect, even though he has been back for some six years now. If that happens, then fewer talented overseas Canadians will consider returning to run to serve the country in Parliament, as time overseas will be shown to be an issue that never gets cleared up, instead of a plus. Overseas Canadians, we don't need your talent or your insight - once you leave the country for a few years, you're not fully one of us anymore. This is the message they will receive.

There are a few other reasons, but these are the most important.

Back to the dream scenario: I'm not sure what would happen to the leadership of the Conservative Party under such a scenario, but I don't see the case being made for a majority government this time around.

The Liberals would certainly retain Ignatieff as a leader, and perhaps next time around he wouldn't need to answer questions about his patriotism. This campaign, if nothing else, has shown him to be anything but the stodgy intellectual he was portrayed as.

The NDP would gain more seats, but hopefully just in areas where they have candidates that deserve to go to Parliament. They would be able to continue to bolster their ranks, and in the next election they would become a truly national party, especially with all the seats in Quebec they are expected to win.

The Bloc Quebecois result is not really all that relevant to Quebec's future in Canada, since the popularity of the PQ (the provincial nationalist party) is the one that would decide this. The PQ's leader is distancing herself from the BQ already.

The Green Party: I'm a bit torn on this one. Elizabeth May has not been a good leader for the party, making silly decisions such as that to run in Central Nova last election, and that blog post on why Stephen Harper offended Catholics when he took a communion wafer and didn't eat it (who cares?). She also turned the party from its former "we appeal to both the right and the left" practical approach to a mostly entirely anti-Harper approach. I would like to see a Green Party without her (with David Chernuschenko or somebody else as leader), but if she fails to win a seat this time around they may fade from sight by next election. Then again, if she wins a seat then we'll be seeing a lot more of her, and I don't like the idea of that either. So I won't be entirely pleased or displeased with either result.

At least the election promises to be very, very interesting. During the final days we'll also get to see if the three-way attacks against the NDP has had any effect, plus whether their support will hold, or fade away as it usually does near the end. Also whether the "Jack Layton was at a massage parlor 15 years ago" story will have any effect. Since it's entirely irrelevant to a person's performance in politics I hope it doesn't, but what sways the votes of Canadians really does remain a mystery to me most of the time. Whatever happens, if the Liberals get at least 87 seats and Marc Garneau retains his (he might not), I'll be happy.


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