Saturday, November 23, 2013

Words, politics, memorization

I dislike most memorization, although my love of words makes vocabulary an exception. However, when I'm learning a foreign language, I resist learning a lot of grammar rules, especially those that make no sense to me.

One small example is the gender of nouns in languages such as German and Spanish. Not only is it entirely illogical (a bridge shouldn't have gender), it also offends my anti-sexist politics.

So, imagine my thoughts when, on my umpteenth walk through one section of Mérida, I finally noticed these two storefronts, less than 50 yards apart, with competing gender for the same noun (Click the image to enlarge):

I had a rapid series of thoughts:

First, I looked two and three times and simply wondered

  • "WTF?"
  • "What does that word mean, anyway?"
  • "What does my dictionary say about that word?"
  • "Next time, I have to bring my camera!"

Next, I was amused and annoyed: "They're just doing that to intentionally confuse non-Spanish speakers like me!"

Next: "Well, what do you know? Maybe gender of nouns is becoming less important even in Spanish! Maybe there's hope!"

When I got to the dictionary, I found both el huerto and la huerta (garden) listed!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Mexico's "Space Trail" (Nov. 2013)

At White Sands National Monument

At Spaceport America

Link to more photos.

I found this tour in the Caltech/JPL retiree newsletter. I wanted to see White Sands, and Spaceport America, and perhaps the Very Large Array. On the other hand, the tour also included Roswell's International UFO Museum, which I did not want to visit! As I told friends, I would have substituted a Los Alamos or Sandia Labs tour (but I don't think those places even offer tours).

My usual vacation is more toward nature and wildlife or exploring new cities, but this 6-day tour went well. The weather was a bit cool at times, but good overall. (I never opened my umbrella.) The sights were mostly worthwhile. There were 15 people in our group, plus the guide and driver. Twelve women and three men -- not what I would have guessed. Only two of us were from JPL. The bus was much larger than we needed, so we all had lots of space. As usual when I'm on a meals-included tour, I ate too much and exercised too little, gaining weight of course.

I was a bit disappointed that we couldn't see more of the insides of the two buildings at Spaceport America, but, on the other hand, once those are open for tours (if ever), they probably won't allow people to drive on the "spaceway" as we did.

It was also a shame that we couldn't go to the Trinity Site, only to the marker on the highway miles away. But the actual site is only open twice a year.

I was surprised to learn how much work Goddard had done in New Mexico, and I was generally impressed with the several missile- and space-related museums we visited. Even for someone not particularly into these things, the displays of missiles and bombs are certainly eye-catching.