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language – Rob Brogan

March 4, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Little pieces

I’m riding a train this morning to work. Not the subway but an actual train from Philadelphia to NYC. It brings back potent nostalgia for Barcelona.‬

When I was a teacher I would take a regional train from BCN to Molins del Rei. I didn’t mind the commute, in fact I got excited every time I got on the train. I got excited because I was SO new that I could feel myself getting better every class I taught.‬

I also loved the small amount of money. I can’t remember but I think it was about €60. I got paid daily, in cash. The day that it was enough to cover rent that month, felt like such an accomplishment: one more month I could make it as an immigrant.

Aside:
In the United States right now that can be a heavy word, immigrant, but to clarify my circumstance: I moved to Barcelona with two suitcases of clothes, a good amount of savings and a plan to support myself teaching English. I used my savings, taught English, but was unable to secure a visa. So, being undocumented really limited my travel. I couldn’t hop around Europe as I hoped, but Catalunya was enough for me. I also couldn’t go back to the USA until I was comfortable with the possibility I’d be barred from coming back to my new home in Barcelona.

When I filled my envelope under the mattress markered with RENT, the rest was mine. Each day I went to work was another 40 to 60 euros for cheap beer, jamón serrano, galletas Principe, wine, subway tickets, pay-as-you-go cell phone “top ups.” They had ATM style kiosks around shopping centers where you type in your phone number, insert the cash, and then your available balance on the phone gets updated. Wow.

So, each time I got on a train I would look out the window and soak up the sequence of quotidian landscapes. I didn’t know how long I would be there. Each day was an exciting step and I just wanted to keep going.


I can’t help comparing this feeling to present day. Now I ride a train and feel that nostalgia, but rarely look forward to work. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the daily reward and the Pavlovian effect has worn off. I definitely need work to pay the bills, but it’s no longer a day-to-day survival. I also don’t feel that daily progression that I did with being a new teacher. Now I work with a big company that only dares take incremental steps toward some undefined goal of “generate more money/customers.” Most employees aren’t needed for a specific day like a teacher is required each day for a class to happen. My work is spread out over the course of weeks, months, and then I don’t see a final result sometimes for a year.

There isn’t an inherent negative to taking the long view. In fact sometimes it is most valuable. [The Long Now Foundation] I also recall feeling a little lost in Barcelona, taking life in little pieces, with no idea how they added up to a big piece or what the next big piece should be. I’m sitting here on the train again, no longer at a loss for the big pieces, but missing the delight of the little ones.

Perhaps writing is one way to get them. Actually writing this very message feels like mixing the pallet of big and little, but to get meta about it, the act of writing is small in itself. I like that.


January 3, 2017Comments are off for this post.

Time Travel

“In mere Time, all things follow one another, and in mere Space all things are side by side; it is accordingly only by the combination of Time and Space that the representation of coexistence arises.” Schopenhauer, 1813

December 14, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Rilke

A friend sent me this book with the note that it's one of his favorites and still picks it up again once in a while. That last part is most impressive to me, since I never read anything twice – there's too many books in the world! I could immediately see why this one might be so re-readable.

I won't give much background – descriptions and summaries you can find online – but I think I first heard of Rilke from the podcast Entitled Opinions. He was some German poet that left a lasting mark on his era, but I didn't know much more than that. I know it's sad, but I never pick up books of poetry. I guess I don't know how to read it. Maybe it's because poetry is work, and unless you sit and think and feel for a few days with the words in your mind, it never goes deeper than the surface. A story however will do the work for me, and I have a character to follow down deeper into some other experience. I would completely recommend this book to anyone that feels the same about poetry. This is Rilke's only novel, and it holds my hand (somewhat) to where I need to go – as novels do – but along the way I can get an idea of some of the beautiful poetry out there that I'm missing.

Here's my favorite paragraph so far. The only context that you need is that there's a bit of fog in Paris.

“What such a small moon can achieve. There are days when everything about one is luminous, light, scarcely defined in the bright air, and nonetheless distinct. Even the nearest of things have the shades of distance upon them; they are remote, merely sketched in rather than bodied forth; and all things that do indeed partake of the distance—the river, the bridges, the long streets and the prodigal squares—have absorbed the distance within themselves and are painted on to it as upon silk. Who can say what a slight green vehicle on the Pont Neuf might be at such times, or some red bursting forth, or even a mere poster on the fire wall of a pearly-grey group of buildings. Everything is simplified, rendered into a few exact, bright planes like the face in a portrait by Manet. And nothing is of slight importance or irrelevance. The booksellers along the Quai open up their stalls, and the fresh or faded yellow of the books, the violet brown of the bindings, the more commanding green of an album: all of it is just right and has its worth and is a part of the whole and adds up into a fullness where nothing is lacking.”

Rilke

March 25, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Observations

An observation and its moment are equally unique. Language is a time capsule for observations.

I’ve felt very awake in my awareness of new observations. Most preciously, I heard feedback about who I am at work. My advisor shared with me a collection of peer observations.

I am always ready to defend my idea of myself. Seeing how rare it is to have considered observations about myself from those I respect, I forced my guard down. I listened.

Later the same week, I happened upon a composer. I heard an inspiration and felt again nostalgia of the unknown. Ryuichi Sakamoto somehow introduces me to the past and carries a limp trail of the future with each phrase.

Each musical sentence is brief. I can imagine each bit standing alone in conclusion. Yet each turn is a natural extension. Most valuable to me: the space between is where my mind wanders.

Putting my observation into language is slowing down the experience. Music and reading and watching are all conversations. The spaces in the moment you craft is where the exchange between the observer and the moment happens. The music, book, video, pastoral view will not respond to me. But the following moment will be different after the space between allows me to wander.

His solo piano feels like Eric Satie, which in a direct way, inspires me to play piano again. The nostalgia is for being in Japan, and the many parts of my life when I watched a touching movie or show from Japan. These descriptions are failing my visceral mash of memory.

Finally picking up a book has added another feature of inspiration to my week. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a self-evident title. I don’t expect to be enthralled with an academic book. I’m absorbed in it, and I no longer believe it’s “academic.” It’s a fascinating treatise on cutting the fat. Say what you say, while respecting the reader.

I’m certain that all of the above reads awkwardly. I’m doing things differently.

I’m trying short sentences. I’m trying to say everything. I think the idea of a short sentence is not to force it to a certain length,
but to remove every bit until you can remove no more.

Like a beginner, I see myself mimicking the author's style. I'll soon find room for his advice and my voice in the same sentence.

What you don’t know about writing is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to grasp.
Try to discern the shape of what you don’t know and why you don’t know it,
Whenever you get a glimpse of your ignorance.
Don’t fear it or be embarrassed by it.
Acknowledge it.
What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too.
Verlyn Klinkenborg (more excerpts)

I’ll leave you here. It feels good to be inspired again.
It’s amazing to have three inspirations at once!

December 2, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Most interesting (recent) read

I haven't posted here much, and that's basically because I'm lazy. I'm still here, though!

Quickly now, I'd like to share an article that - in my opinion - has a lot of meat, and all of it is interesting, if you're a designer.

Chinese Mobile App UI Trends

By Dan Grover

Some highlights include:
Chinese culture doesn't make a big deal of meeting strangers nearby through social apps.
CAPTCHA utilized on login screens (not just signup flows).
People really do use QR codes!
Moments – Just scroll to this part. I really dig the philosophy.

September 27, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Japan: Day 1

Writing from: Shimokitazawa

"Wow."

I know that's not the most profound statement, but it's probably the most appropriate.

Some context

I've wanted to go to Japan since at least my teen years, but until recently it was a vague goal of mine — I'll be there some day. With a new job in New York and a couple of interested friends (Chris and David), I was finally able to save for and plan a two-week trip to Japan.

First night

I'm going to skip the beginning. Suffice it to say that it took a while to find currency and then transport to our hotel for the first night. Oh yeah, and I'm not even counting the first night in Japan... that was just bizarre channel surfing and passing out at 4am.

First full day

David and I checked out of the Metropolitan Hotel Tokyo at noon, left our luggage in the lobby, and began wandering Ikebukuro — the neighborhood. We had a few hours before the apartment we rented would be ready, so we walked in no particular direction, in search of no particular thing, and discovering everything. Literally everything is interesting, stimulating, and new to me. It's so much that I don't know where to begin.

A palpable air of etiquette weighs over me in every circumstance. Oddly enough, my best reference is that of visiting my grandparents. They were the sweetest, kindest people, but you definitely knew to be very polite and respectful. It's the same in Japan. No one asks me to act a certain way, and there isn't even a hint of an admonishing glance when I may be less than polite, but know very well to be on my best behavior. Buying some snacks at a 7-11 is an awkward exchange of bowing my head excessively, presenting my money, receiving change as though it's a special gift, and saying ありがとう as I bow out.

For the first time in my life I am a distinct minority. It feels like the city is 99% ethnically Japanese. I notice one white person in a shop and she immediately stuck out. After using the bathroom and seeing myself in the mirror, I had this instant self judgement of "oh wow you are so white." I have never felt that before and I'm immensely grateful to Japan for giving me this context and experience. In Spain for a year I felt just like another person, and in Costa Rica during a few months I did feel different, but not extremely so. While it's clear that the physical differences are much more dramatic in this setting, I think the start cultural contrast is what heightens my awareness of this distinction. In other countries I've visited or lived, I knew the language (Spanish) and felt at least partially assimilated. Here, everything is different.

I think I've talked to all my friends about Japan before leaving and have heard plenty of their stories or stories of friends' trips... so I have difficulty giving credit when due. Someone told me that you might notice how some foreigners come to New York City and take pictures of seemingly every little thing, despite finding that a bit amusing, you'll soon be doing that yourself when you go to Japan. It's so true! I have heard that the Japanese don't particularly like it when you just walk around with your cellphone out the whole time, so I consciously keep it in my pocket, but sometimes I'll stop to capture unique advertising, street signs, or anything uniquely Japanese. I'll try to include a few examples below, but believe me, there's more of this on Path, Instagram, Twitter, etc etc...

Shimo

The AirBnB apartment that the three of us are splitting for our stint in Tokyo is located in the Shimokitazawa neighborhood. I posted some information about the area that I found during trip planning: here. The descriptions don't do it justice. We are in an amazing location! Describing it as "hip" is a start, and comparing it to Brooklyn's Williamsburg / hipster neighborhood is fair, but this place is a perfect concoction of cool. Everyone has different taste and values different types of space, but for me, this is perfection. It's dense, but extremely clean, relatively quiet (read: chill) for a bustling Saturday night, and heavily sprinkled with the salt and pepper of restaurants and shopping that I love; the first being distinctively Japanese, small, low-lit, and – by appearances – delicious, while the latter is eclectic, normal/high-priced (comparing to NYC), and heavily infused with American fashion. Most people are my age (I guess) but you see a few grannies shuffle by as well. I wish I had pictures of the area and I will try to take some when I go out tonight, but I am even more conscious of being a photo-snapping tourist when I'm in such a cool neighborhood.

In short, New York has been good "training wheels" for Japan, and as the metaphor suggest, easily pales in comparison. Yes, if you want diversity, New York is the best, but given that Japanese is 100% different for me, Tokyo easily wins my heart.

It reminds me of how I felt moving back home from Barcelona after a year: nothing compares to European cities, so I guess New York is the next best I can find in the USA. After living in NYC for a few years, it now feels like home and much more than a city-substitute, but Japan has awoken that sense of comfort, quality, and ease. I don't know why, but those are the words that come up when I think of how foreign cities make me feel. I think in some aspects they certainly do things "better" but I'm mystified how I can feel so comfortable in the unknown. I might take forever to deliberate a big purchase or make my next career move, but if a life abroad were offered to me, I'd have no qualms in packing it in and moving to wherever that may be. I have roots in New York now, so that wouldn't happen, but if I had a job, money for an apartment, and if Mary could come, then I could probably go anywhere. No problem.

Back to the trip, sorry.

Chris will arrive late tonight and join us at the apartment. I plan on finding some dinner around town, and maybe late night exploring if someone is willing to come out with me. Tomorrow should be full of wandering and maybe some specific sight-seeing.

If you're reading this and you know me (probably anyone reading this), I do have mobile wifi so you can reach me through iMessages, FaceTime, or snail mail - aka social media.

Cheers!
ε=ε=ε=ε=ε=ε=┌(; ̄◇ ̄)┘

May 25, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Recycle Meaning

"Ideas improve. The meaning of words plays a role in that improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress depends on it. It sticks close to an author’s phrasing, exploits his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one."
Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (Paris, 1967)

January 31, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Language Labels: Catalan

Using my dry erase table for Catalan labeling. Just for kicks.
Maybe I'll remember some new words.
Maybe I'll change the language each day/week?

catalan table

January 12, 2014Comments are off for this post.

A Linguistics Note

Litotes

Litotes is the use of a negated antonym to make an understatement or to emphatically affirm the positive.

Examples:
Well, he's not unattractive. (He is attractive.)
You won't not receive the package. (You'll receive the package.)

The word litotes is derived from the Greek word litos meaning “plain, small or meager.”

Posted because we all love finding a word for something we already know.

November 21, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Auto-punctuation and syntactic processing

Once in a while, when I might want to construct a clever piece of SMS text-art, I can be annoyed by the automatic placement of the period (full stop) after entering space two times. We must design for the most common use cases however, and on the whole, I do like this auto-fill logic. The little things are often what delight users the most.

Being too liberal with a well-intended shortcut or assumption can be a UX calamity, but I believe that with some additional linguistic information (and a fair amount of user testing), the double-tap auto-punctuation could be extended to questions with a fair amount of success.

Present functionality

Let’s keep in mind that at present, this feature applies a period any time the space button is hit twice in a row. It could interrupt a sentence, or easily mislabel a question or exclamation. It’s currently up to the user to add alternative punctuation before continuing, or to erase the auto-punctuation and correct it.

Proposed functionality

Imagine double-tapping the space bar and iOS would predictively produce proper punctuation — I couldn’t resist the alliteration. This would be informed with linguist programing about content (question words) and context (companion words that differentiate statement from question).

Do you know how to do this? versus You know how to do this.
Reason: Presence of auxiliary “do” in Do*know. Note that the statesman also has the word “do,” but only as an infinitive (to*).

English can be tricky with its question semantics, and this solution would require localized code for different input languages, unlike the global period insertion.

Limitations, Advantages

For English usage, the limitations are easily apparent. It may require too much precious processing to scan an entire string of text for this kind of semantic context. For some languages it might be pointless if an opening punctuation is used - such as the Spanish ¿?. It would be interesting to survey Spanish users to see how prevalent this convention is during SMS or other mobile communication. My hunch is that like many English vowels, these opening question marks are usually dropped for brevity.

Some languages lend themselves to very “easy” semantic processing; so much so that one might think “why aren't we doing this automatically?” To reference Spanish again (the only other language I feel qualified to write about), circumstance words are supposed to be spelled differently in the context of a question.

What/how is (she/he/it) like?
¿Cómo es?
What/how (she/he/it) is like.
Como es.
Interrogative circumstance words (what, where, etc.) have an accent, but do not in statements.

This is just a potential shortcut, and there are many question sentences without one of the “five Ws,” but it's an example of logic that can circumvent contextual rules. Some languages even have question words (Japanese and Mandarin come to mind), but they also tend to not use question marks as far as I know.

This is just a few minutes of brainstorming, but if done properly, it could pretty useful, couldn't it.

What do you think.
See what I did there.

October 6, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth’s marvels, beneath the dust of habit.
Salman Rushdie