Saturday, July 27, 2013

ELM (part 1) - English, Literature, and Musings

For most of my adult life, I had worked in a technical field.  And I was fortunate to team with men and women from all parts of the world.   In such an environment, the art of communicating well  - whether work, home, play - is a good thing.  

And communicating in English  - especially those who learned English as a Second Language (ESL) - that encompasses many things ...

The grammar thing ...

For one of my jobs, I had tested software.  Much of that entailed reading reports, most written by software engineers, who had documented problems and explained their resolutions in the current software releases.  We were to design the tests and execute them to verify the fixes to the satisfaction of the Quality Assurance team.

That was how it was supposed to work.  In reality, before we could design the test, I had to get these problem reports, written in English, translated into English.   

I considered myself an intelligent person (born in the USA), but reading these reports - it might as well have been written in Mongolian.  Frankly, many times, I did not know what they were babbling about.  And though they would never admit it, engineers (even native speakers of the language) often don't know how to write ... at least write very well.

Then this equation hit me ...

poor English skills = loss of productivity = lost profits

(But that is fodder for another story.)

For the non-native speakers, we had cut them some slack.  And the foreign nationals and immigrants I have known are remarkable people.  They had a mastery of more than one language, which many of us natives (myself included) don't have.  And English is considered among the top 10 hardest languages to learn - Top 10 Languages that are Hardest and Most Difficult to Learn | OMG Top Tens List

But  ESL speakers faced more issues other than mastery of English grammar, such as ...

The cultural thing ...

I recall one of my co-workers, a very intelligent woman, who immigrated from Vietnam.  She confessed that when us natives were bantering about - in particular about things common in American culture (old movies, vintage TV shows, iconic characters), she did not know what we were talking about and felt left out.  I was glad she spoke up and we tried to explain what we were talking about so she would feel included.

And even if those ESL speakers who have a proper grasp of English grammar and the vocabulary, there is ...

The idiom thing ...

American idioms can be daunting for non-native speakers. 

One example was while I was working with an engineer from Eastern Europe.  We were communicating with remote personnel via a radio net  to coordinate a test.  The man's voice on the speaker said though the crackling static  - 

"You are breaking up."

My co-worker looked at me, most astonished.  She asked, 

"What does he mean 'we are breaking up?'"

Certainly, Scotty was not beaming us up to the Enterprise (another cultural reference).

Grammar, Literature, Idioms.  

This inspired me to start of another series - English, Literature, and  Musings ... ELM for short.  

First up, 

The English Language Thing ...

Below is a summary of the history of the English language in ten short lessons, in ten minutes:

And in closing, it's been said -

"Language is the dress of thought."

And Lord willing, we will continue these thoughts in future posts ...


Articles on literature:

Best First Lines of Novels |

The Best 100 Opening Lines From Books - Life - Stylist Magazine

The 10 best closing lines of books – in pictures | Books | The Observer

50 Best Literary Insults - Entertainment - ShortList Magazine

The 50 Best Literary Put-Downs - Books - Stylist Magazine


Photo from:

Wikipedia -  Shakespeare

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Science 101 (part 3) - From Galileo to Apollo 11 Insignia

Man on the Moon - July 20, 1969

July 20th marks another anniversary of the moon landing of Apollo 11.  Neil Armstrong took the first steps and said these words while a large part of the world was watching -

Much has been written and recorded about his epic event.  And for the greatest moments, check out: Apollo 11: First Men on the Moon | The Greatest Moments in Flight |

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
The Saturn V carrying Apollo 11, the first crewed mission to the Moon, soared into space 

Almost a year ago, August 25, 2012, Neil Armstrong passed away, "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."  (reference:  Neil Armstrong Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story -   The video below is a "Blue and Beautiful" tribute.

Physics and Engineering for Apollo 11

It was a remarkable achievement of science and engineering as well as piloting skill and will power to take on this great leap of human exploration.

How did this all work? Here is abglimpse that explains some of the physics involved - How Hard Is It to Land on the Moon? New Space Game Gravitates Towards Space Physics « Mad Science

The physics of Galileo and beyond ...

Much of the moon shot was made possible by understanding the laws of physics.  And Galileo was a pioneer in modeling the effects of gravity on masses.  In the1500s, Aristotle's description of nature had reigned for 2000 years.  But Galileo challenged this model with his hypotheses - all objects fall (with no air resistance) fall at the same rate.

Such is seen below as this experiment carried out on the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

And Galileo wins!

For fun, try this game:  Wolfram Demonstrations Project: Galileo's Experiment at the Leaning Tower of Pisa

On the moon - practically speaking - there is no air resistance.  Here during  the Apollo 15 mission, Commander David Scott drops a feather and hammer.

Bazinga!    Galileo wins, again!

Galileo has been attributed to the assertion of the Equivalence Principle that says the inertial mass is proportional to the gravitational mass.

So we have an example of two experiments that corroborate the Equivalence Principle from the Tower of Pisa and the moon. (reference:  Millersville University - Experiment of the Month - Inertial and Gravitational Mass)

What's next?

STEP into the Future ...

A more sensitive experiment is taking shape in the STEP program:  The Satellite Test of the Equivalence Principle (STEP).

Wikipedia - Spacetime Curvature

The proposed science experiment in space boasts an accuracy in measurement of 1 part in 10 to the18th power - that is, 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000.  When or if this satellite launches, we will have an opportunity to gather more data. (reference:  STEP – The Satellite Test Of the Equivalence Principle (PDF) )

With this small STEP, will three be a charm and Galileo wins, again?

You betcha.


Previous posts on this subject:

Roger Bacon - a scientist ahead of his time (2009)

October Sky 2010 (2010)

Touching the Face of God ... (2011)

For want of a thermistor the Moon was lost .... 41 years ago (2011)

AI (part 1) - American Ingenuity (2012)

AI (part 2) - How Curiosity got our groove back (2012)


Previous posts in this series:

Science 101 (part 1) - Vernal Equinox  (2013)

Science 101 (part 2) - The Sound of Music? (2013)


Photo from:  Wikipedia - Apollo 11 Insignia; Spacetime curvature

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pray4America (part 9) - America, the Beautiful - 1893 to 2013

Pikes Peak/Wikipedia

Recently, I visited Colorado Springs.  It was planned a few months ago, but as fate would have it, I came after the terrible fires in the region - more specifically the torching of Black Forest. [reference: span style="color: orange;"Colorado Black Forest fire burn scar | Earth | EarthSky] 

Pikes Peak - 2013

Below is a picture I took outside my motel in southwest Colorado Springs, looking toward Pikes Peak, about a week after the fires were under control - June 23, 2013.  And you can see the effects of the air pollution in this shot.  It has an eerie beauty from the effects of the disaster.

smithsk - southwest Colorado Springs
Talking with some guests and hotel workers, this chain had taken in many of the evacuees from the fires.  And I noticed in the parking lot a car from a national insurance company, who undoubtedly will be very busy processing claims.  

On the way home, I drove by the edge of Black Forest and experienced a sample of the devastation, as seen in this shot.  As you can see, this is one of the 500 houses that did not make it.

smithsk - Black Forest house, no more
But I noticed a spirit of gratitude for the efforts of the fire fighters, rescuers, and countless others that came to  the aid of the fire victims.  This is one of the hand made "Thank You" signs I spotted displayed in the fire damaged regions.

smithsk - Thank You from Black Forest
Even in this tragedy, so many expressed a spirit of gratitude, especially for those that went into harm's way to protect lives and  property . 

Pikes Peak - 1893

As the Fourth of July nears, this same region had inspired a teacher - 120 years ago.  Katharine Lee Bates wrote a poem, which was first published for the Fourth of July edition of the Congregationalist  in 1895.  The poem was set to music by Samuel A. Ward and published in 1910 under the title - America, the Beautiful. [reference:  America The Beautiful]

America, the Beautiful/wikipedia

And here is a beautiful rendition of it, with images throughout the land as well as American history:

The vista from the Pikes Peak, which inspired this song that almost became our national anthem, now looks over the scars left by the fires in Black Forest.  Yet beyond the physical scars, there rose from the ashes a spirit of thankfulness and gratitude.  And such is express in this prayer of Habakkuk that takes us to the high places - even above Pikes Peak.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19  (NIV)

This Fourth of July and the rest of the year, may we live above our circumstances and cultivate a beauty, not only in our land, but most important in our spirit.  

And may God, rich in grace and mercy, heal the scars in our land and our hearts as we continue to ...

Pray for America! 


 Previous posts on this topic:


Previous posts in this series:

Pray4America (part 1) - National Day of Prayer (2012)

Pray4America (part 2) - FDR's prayer on D-Day (2012)

Pray4America (part 3) - FDR's Flag Day prayer - June 14, 1942 (2012)

Pray4America (part 4) - It's a Wonderful Life, America (2012)

Pray4America (part 5) - United we stand? (2012)

Pray4America (part 6) - Christmas in Iran 1980 (2012)

Pray4American (part 7) - For such a time as this (2013)


and from smithsk, yours truly :)