Monday, March 21, 2016

Good eats in Paradise...

Good eats in Paradise...  First thing this morning, my lovely bride made bacon and eggs, with pan-fried potatoes and onions to accompany it.  World-class eats, those were: fresh eggs from Macey's (our local grocery chain) just four days out of the chicken, Dailey's applewood-smoked bacon, and Idaho potatoes from just up the road.  Yum!

But then wait, there's more!  We stopped to pick up sandwiches at Logan's Heroes, and they were terrific as always.  Fresh torpedo rolls, top-notch meats, friendly service, and all the right condiments and veggies.  Dang those sandwiches are good!  And of course I washed it down with a big glass of Rosehill Dairy milk.

Now I'm practically comatose, but I'm going to go back out to my shed to do some more work.  I'm trying to finish up the four-wheeled trailer project I started last fall...

“My passion was my weak spot.”

“My passion was my weak spot.”  That's the title of this interesting piece by Jacques Mattheij.  There's much in here that I agree with, and that I might offer as advice to an aspiring technologist myself.  There's one part, though, that I strongly disagree with.  That's Jacques' advice to never work for free in return for the promise of a future (paying) job.

My reason for disagreeing is quite straightforward: agreeing to work for free in exchange for future paid work was the key to my entrance into the technology workforce.  Back in the early '80s, on the tail end of a couple of less-than-successful businesses, I needed a job.  I very badly wanted to work with microprocessors (whether that meant hardware or software I didn't much care).  I knew that I could do the work, as I had been doing it for six or seven years at that point – as a hobby, as a consultant (where credentials matter less), and in my own businesses.

The biggest challenge for me at that time was that I completely lacked the credentials to be employed as an engineer.  I had no college degree.  There was no open source movement back then, and no Internet, so there was no obvious way to use the peer recognition I had to help get a job.  For instance, most potential employers had never heard of Gary Kildall or MP/M, and the code with my name on it was proprietary.

I needed a way to prove myself to a potential employer.  I decided to offer my free services to such a company (Xscribe) for a limited time, with the understanding that after 90 days they'd either boot me out or hire me.  I also made it clear that I'd be looking elsewhere while I worked there for free.  I figured that if they weren't convinced of my skills after 90 days, they never would be.  As things turned out, they made me a (great!) offer less than a month after I started.  I never had trouble getting a job after that, as I then possessed a credential of sorts: a referenceable, verifiable track record.

So I'll disagree with Jacques on that point: sometimes working for free is a good idea...

My, what interesting rocks...

My, what interesting rocks ... Curiosity is looking at now.  On Mars!  What do you suppose those tiny little pits are?  And are my eyes correctly telling me that every one of those pits has a tiny little pebble in it?

More rain and snow for Paradise...

More rain and snow for Paradise...  That's what's in our forecast for tonight through Wednesday.  It's hard to believe at the moment, as we have wall-to-wall blue sky and there's no snow on the ground.  Our soil is saturated, though – mud season is in full swing here.  You can easily tell that by the grit on our kitchen floor – the inevitable result of letting dogs with hairy feet (field spaniels) go outside :)

We're planning to make a few modifications to our house this year.  Those include a “mud room” outside the current front door, and a rear patio that opens onto the enclosed yard our dogs normally play in.  We're planning a dog washing station on that patio: a place with a hose and a sprayer, where we can easily wash the dirt and mud off their feet in mud season.  The gluey substance known as “Paradise mud” is almost impossible to remove without the assistance of high-pressure water.  The dogs won't appreciate this, but we will!

Will English “destroy” all other languages?

Will English “destroy” all other languages?  The trend is certainly in that direction, and there is much hand-wringing and anguish in certain parts of academia (and other places, too). The language generally employed to describe this phenomenon is that other languages are being driven to extinction by the spread of English, and that predisposes people to think it's bad.  “Extinction” is bad, isn't it?  Always?

I'm not so sure, whether we're discussing critters, plants, or languages.  I'd have no problem with the extinction of mosquitoes (and my wife would be ecstatic!).  Similarly, if burdock were to disappear forever, I'd shed no tears.  Should I be anxious about the impending extinction of Naukan Yupik?

I'm not ready to out-and-out endorse the notion of making English the universal language of mankind.  I'm well aware that as a native English speaker, such an outcome would be oh-so-convenient for me.  As a veteran world traveler, though, I'm also very well aware of just how much friction the absence of a universal language for mankind introduces into any interaction between people who don't share a common language.  From locating a bathroom to ordering a meal to conducting some business, everything is harder if you and the person you're dealing with don't speak the same language.  Fluently.  Easily.  Natively.

I should note that I have a family reason for opposing the obliteration of non-English languages.  My sister has a business that's predicated on the idea of teaching English to people for whom it would be a second language.  The universal adoption of English would obliterate her business.  I've not talked with her about this, but somehow I doubt she'd be in favor of this outcome :)

I haven't made up my mind about this.  It's certainly true that language differences are an important part of the cultural differences that add a lot of interest to our world.  There are tradeoffs.  Most people talking about this topic tend toward overblown rhetoric mourning the disappearance of languages.  But is the disappearance of language X intrinsically “tragic”?  That's where I depart from the conventional line of thought, because I don't think so.  I'd like to hear what the adoption of English means for the welfare of the people in the affected population.  For example, if a young woman growing up in (say) eastern Siberia spoke English (natively) instead of the traditional local language spoken by 200 people – how much easier will it be for her to become a doctor?  A welder?  A programmer?  I know the answer – it will be enormously easier, for the simple reason that she can read and understand the texts that are widely available, not to mention what's on the Internet.  That's the tradeoff I'm interested in exploring: if the price of losing a language forever is X, what's the benefit?  And is it worth it?  I'd like to see a more sober weighing of the costs and benefits.  I'm no expert in this area, but in terms of what's visible to me, the benefits of a universal language outweigh the costs, and not by a small margin.

What do you think?