bookmark_borderHallowe’en er skotsk, ikke amerikansk!

Evil turnip lantern
Originally uploaded by PhylB

En dansk netavis, som skal forblive unævnt, skrev forleden noget ævl om den “amerikanske højtid halloween”.

Hallowe’en stammer fra Skotland (og måske Irland), og selvom den nok er kommet til Danmark via USA, kunne man da godt være sig oprindelsen bevidst.

For det første staves ordet traditionelt med apostrof på denne side af Atlanten: Hallowe’en, ikke Halloween.

For det andet bruger man traditionelt roer og ikke græskar. Som Wikipedia skriver: “The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin.”

For det tredie kalder man det, børnene gør, guising, og ikke trick-or-treating. Wikipedia: “In Scotland and Ireland, Guising — children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins — is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. The practise of Guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911.”

Og er det gået op for danskerne, at der hører karamelæbler til Hallowe’en?

Til slut er her en oplæsning af Rabbie Burns’ Hallowe’en-digt (sproget er, naturligvis, scots):

bookmark_borderMoving the UK to CET/CEST

Crazy Timezones
Originally uploaded by tm-tm

The UK government’s recent idea to move the UK from GMT/BST to CET/CEST and the Scottish Government’s refusal to play along is quite interesting.

Let’s have a look at various locations in the UK and compare it with a city on the same longitude but further south, Málaga:

Equinox (23/09/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Glasgow 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Belfast 7:12 19:19 8:12 20:19
London 6:49 18:56 7:49 19:56
Málaga 7:07 19:13 8:07 20:13

Obviously there’s not much difference between any of these locations, and one might argue that CEST is a better time zone at this time of the year.

Summer solstice (21/06/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 4:20 22:17 5:20 23:17
Glasgow 4:33 22:04 5:33 23:04
Belfast 4:49 22:02 5:49 23:02
London 4:44 21:19 5:44 22:19
Málaga 6:00 20:38 7:00 21:38

At all of the UK locations, the sun rises at an impossibly early time, so either time zone is feasible in the morning. In the evening, either time zone is feasible in Scotland, but I can understand if people in London would rather have brighter evenings.

Winter solstice (22/12/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 9:00 15:30 10:00 16:30
Glasgow 8:48 15:43 9:48 16:43
Belfast 8:47 15:58 9:47 16:58
London 8:05 15:52 9:05 16:52
Málaga 7:28 17:04 8:28 18:04

This is the problematic time. In London, it’s probably not a big deal whether the sun rises at 9 instead of 8, and they would enjoy having daylight until 5pm (and this tendency is even more pronounced in Málaga). However, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, it would mean not seeing the sun till around 10am in the winter, which makes for very depressing mornings.

I must therefore support the Scottish Government’s stance on this – moving to a time zone further east makes good sense the further south you are, but north of 50°N it’s not a good idea (remember also that most of the UK is further west than London).

I probably believe so more strongly because of growing up in Denmark. In Denmark, schools normally start at 8am, not at 9am like in Scotland. The effect is therefore the same as if Scotland moved to CE(S)T. And I must say that I found going to school in the winter utterly depressing, and I was very happy to move to a country where people get up later in the morning.

bookmark_borderLending others your ebook

Many people tend to lend their friends and family their (paper) books – in this house we have many books that have been read by at least four different people.

However, ebooks are sadly not as flexible. If we look at the Kindle, the situation is as follows:

Firstly, you can register multiple Kindles to the same account: “Practically speaking you’re only going to want to share books with your family (or friends your trust completely). This is because you’ll be sharing an Amazon account, or giving them access to your own, with the ability to buy books. To share books you have to register multiple Kindles to the same Amazon account, up to six devices can be paired to an account at once. You can only pair a Kindle to one account at a time, so it’s probably too much hassle to run multiple accounts and switch back and forth.” In other words, it might be fine for Phyllis and me, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to add on kids who might start ordering books without checking the price, and you definitely wouldn’t want to share your account with your neighbour’s aunt (who might be fairly likely to borrow your paperback crime novel).

Secondly, you can sometimes lend it out once: “Eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle – Kindle books can also be read using our free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Not all books are lendable – it is up to the publisher or rights holder to determine which titles are eligible for lending. The lender will not be able to read the book during the loan period.” If only this applied to all books, and if you could do it five or six times rather than just once, this would be great, but as it stands, it’s a big step backwards compared to paper books.

Also, you can sell your paper book if you don’t want to keep it, but as far as I know, you cannot sell used ebooks on Amazon.

If the average ebook is going to be read by 1.5 reader on average rather than, say, 3.5 for paper books, the price is far too high. The price for a paperback book is perhaps £6, but you can sell it for £1 and share it with 2 friends, so the actual price per reader is only £1.67. If we assume that the ebook will only be read by one other person and cannot be sold afterwards, it should cost about £3.33 to make the cost of reading the same, but most ebooks are much dearer than that.

While we’re on this topic, Danish public libraries have now started lending ebooks. As far as I can tell, it’s free for the library users, while it’ll cost the libraries DKK 18.50 (£2.18) every time somebody borrows a book. I’m not quite sure how it works in practice – will the ebook be automatically deleted from your Kindle after a fortnight?

bookmark_borderIs Chinese easier than Esperanto?

In Chinese, many concepts that we tend to have a single monolithic root word for in Western languages are expressed through more or less random compounds.

For instance, watermelon is ?? x? gu? “western gu?”, cucumber is ?? huáng gu? “yellow gu?”, pumpkin is ?? nán gu? “southern gu?”, papaya is ?? mù gu? “tree gu?”, wax gourd is ?? d?ng gu? “winter gu?”, sweet potato is ?? dì gu? “ground gu?”, and cantaloupe melon is ?? xi?ng gu? “perfume gu?”.

In the same way, wheat is ?? xi?o mài “little mài”, barley is ?? dà mài “big mài”, oats is ?? yàn mài “swallow mài”, rye is ?? h?i mài “black mài”, and quinoa is ?? lí mài “pigweed mài”.

I find it interesting to compare this with a constructed language such as Esperanto which has been created in order to be easy to learn, yet such compounds are generally shunned. For instance, wheat is “tritiko”, barley is “hordeo”, oats is “aveno”, rye is “sekalo”, and quinoa is “kvinoo”.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I personally find the Chinese compounds much easier to memorise than Esperanto’s root words. There’s also the advantage that even if you don’t know a specific compound, so long as you know the last part of it, you can make a qualified guess – a compound ending in ? mài is probably some kind of cereal.

I do appreciate that the choice of the first part of the compound places the language is a specific cultural context – English speakers would of course prefer to call watermelons “water gu?” rather than “western gu?”, which is rather meaningless here – but surely the compounds could be based on a wide variety of languages to alleviate this problem.

Of course Chinese is not in general easier than Esperanto. Apart from the fact that many other areas of learning Chinese are very hard, the compound building isn’t always perfect. For instance, Denmark is called ?? d?n mài “red mài” in Chinese – the characters have clearly been chosen due to their pronunciation rather than their meaning, but a learner might get terribly confused trying to figure out what this red cereal is and why it’s got a queen.

However, I think Esperanto would have been easier to learn if wheat, barley, oats, rye and quinoa had been called “majeto”, “majego”, “hirundmajo”, “nigromajo” and “amarantmajo” instead of the current unanalysable root words.


Making round pancakes
Originally uploaded by PhylB

Jeg bagte forleden æbleskiver med småpigerne.

Jeg havde regnet med, Anna nok ville prøve at vende dem, men jeg blev alligevel lidt overrasket, da Amaia (der fylder 2 den 11. januar) tog spisepinden ud af Annas hånd og fermt løftede en æbleskive fra panden over på tallerkenen!

Alle børnene kunne vældig godt li’ smagen af dem (min æbleskivepande havde forputtet sig, så det var et par år siden, de havde smagt dem sidst), men Marcel var nu mest optaget af, hvor meget han ville kunne sælge dem for i december inde i Glasgow, hvis han lavede sig en lille bod på gågaden…

bookmark_borderAre we living in 1848?

‘Writing of the European revolutions of 1848, for instance, one historian recently noted: “At the beginning of 1848 no one believed that revolution was imminent.”’ This is from an article in The Independent today, arguing that Western nations are now ripe for revolution.

I think it’s rather speculative, but as demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring spread around the world, the idea is not so fanciful as to allow us to ignore the possibility that something dramatic could be happening soon.

We might soon find that we live in interesting times.

bookmark_borderWild Swans

I just finished reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang (or rather, ?? Zh?ng Róng).

I’m sure most people read it when it came out in the 1990s, but it somehow slipped under my radar and I only discovered it now.

It’s basically a history of mainland China from 1909 to 1978, as seen through the eyes of three women: Jung Chang, her mother and her grandmother. (The title of the book is due to the Chinese word ? hóng “swan goose“, which forms part of two of their names.)

It’s a really good read, and although it’s of course not a proper, objective account of Chinese history, it nevertheless gives a very good feel for what happened there, especially during the Cultural Revolution.

The only caveat I’d add is that Chang’s father was a very highly placed Communist official before the Cultural Revolution, so I think her account of the years leading up to it is likely to be too positive compared to how ordinary Chinese people experienced those years.

It’s definitely worth reading, perhaps even more now than when it was published, given how dominant the PRC has become in the World since then.