Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Two interesting things to write about today:
--- Two recently-discovered asteroids have flown by us at a very close distance of 51,000 km and 14,400 km. Because these asteroids always sneak up on us, NASA's near-Earth flyby page never gives a good indication of what is actually going to happen in the next few weeks: for all we know there could be another asteroid on its way and due to fly by (or hit) in a week.
These two are interesting because one actually could have caused a bit of damage. That one (2012 KP24) is 21 metres in diameter, the other (2012 KT42) is just 5 and would have burned up in the atmosphere. Here's what would happen with the larger one if you were a single kilometre away:
Atmospheric Entry: The projectile begins to breakup at an altitude of 54000 meters
The projectile bursts into a cloud of fragments at an altitude of 20200 meters
The residual velocity of the projectile fragments after the burst is 10.4 km/s
The energy of the airburst is 1.32 x 10^15 Joules = 0.32 x 100 MegaTons.
No crater is formed, although large fragments may strike the surface.
The air blast will arrive approximately 1.02 minutes after impact.
Peak Overpressure: 294 Pa = 0.00294 bars = 0.0417 psi
Max wind velocity: 0.692 m/s = 1.55 mph
Sound Intensity: 49 dB (Easily Heard)
Considering the tiny to nonexistent damage such an asteroid would cause, let's hope there's another one on its way right this moment, and that we discover it a week before it hits us.
--- The second part of the title is this post, a quick (based on one hour) but unbiased evaluation of Benny Lewis's Chinese (Mandarin) language skills after a few months: three months in Taiwan plus about a month and a half of traveling in mainland China. He had never learned an Asian language before (did learn some Hungarian though so not just Indo-European) but is a skilled/motivated language learner, so how much a person of his type can learn in this period of time is interesting to watch. The verdict: "a good B1". The post also has this interesting point:
If you look at his progress for someone who was in a full immersion program for three months and partly worked in English while studying (blog writing in his case) it is overall very impressive though. I would say it if he hadn’t been blogging in English while studying and had a few more grammar lessons with a good teacher he might have made it to spoken B2 level. To further progress he would need to start to focus more on Chinese characters though.
The point is interesting because there was not just a lot of blogging but also a lot of debate, such as here, here and here, much of which had a good amount of participation by Benny during his time in Taiwan. With a subject like this (aiming to learn a language like Chinese in three months) there's naturally a lot of debate, and the thing about debate is that it's very hard to ignore if you are the subject or someone in a thread is directly referencing you.
Ideally you would either do one of two things during a mission like this: 1) completely ignore all online debate (make that a hard and fast rule, no breaking it whatsoever) or 2) debate online in the language you are learning. 2) does depend on your level, but if you are a bit of a forum addict there are good ways to get your fix of debate - this site in Norwegian for example shows how easy it can be to debate about the same topics you might enjoy, but in another language, and any language of a given size will have places like these.
With Chinese this is naturally not really possible during the first month or two if you are starting from zero (so only rule 1) will apply), but for a lot of other languages you can get this fix right away.