Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vocab #2

This week, I have found as many new English words as I did Serbian words during my last week in Belgrade.    I am both impressed and depressed by this fact.  I feel like a push button made out of Play-Doh.  It is amazing how much  I can learn when I really focus my attention on new things that would normally just zip right by me.

Here are the words:


Ad hoc (adj./adv.)- for the current, specific instance/purpose and none other (I had heard this many times, but never stopped to figure out exactly what it meant.)
Carapace- a protective, shell-like covering likened to that of a turtle
Efface- to rub out, erase
Helot- a serf or slave
Commissariat- the department of an army charged with supplying provisions
Feral- wild, undomesticated; Of or relating to death, mournful
Ptarmigan- a kind of mountain grouse with feathered feet
Perfidy- treachery, betrayal, deliberate breach of trust
Copse- a thicket of small trees
Acrid- sharp, irritating; bitterly pungent
Obverse- front, facing the observer
Bole- stem, trunk
Ague- a malarial fever, accompanied by chills and aching joints (I mostly just didn't know how to pronounce this one.  It's "ay-gyoo", I think.)
Caparison- a decorative covering for a horse, for its saddle or harness
Ebullient- bubbling with excitement
Cuirass- a combination of a breastplate and backplate, traditionally leather
Massif- a large mountain mass; a compact group of mountains
Specious- superficially pleasing; deceptively attractive
Escheat- the returning of unclaimed property to the state
Inured- accustomed to; weathered; hardened through tough experience
Stele- an upright stone marker, monument; an ancient burial stone
Portico- a structure consisting of a roof supported by columns, like a porch or balcony
Lurid- gruesome, horrible, revolting; extremely intense
Acerbic- sour; harsh or severe

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Google v. China continues


Google 'sister' launches in China

BBC NEWS

Tolkien's Epic: The Lord of the Rings

I recently finished reading The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien, arguably the best piece of epic fantasy ever penned by mortal man.  I was first introduced to Tolkien years ago by my father; he would read portions of The Hobbit to us kids and I think that he assumed we understood far more than we ever did.  I attempted to read the series for myself in middle school.  This meant that I skipped most of the story and continued to not understand most of everything else.

When I finally made the decision to devote significant effort toward reading good books, I felt that The Lord of the Rings was a reasonable place to start--especially since I had by then seen Peter Jackson's films and knew that I would be able to follow the story.  This time through, I found that I have a special fondness for these tales because of the time I have spent studying ancient history and because of my love of foreign languages and cultures.

During my short time as an Ancient Near-Eastern Studies major, I read several histories of the ancient world since Alexander the Great.  Tolkien attempted to produce an entire mythology of the western world.  I am impressed by the kind of information that he created to weave together the histories of all his fanciful creatures.  These books are not just good stories about the will of good to conquer evil against all odds, but a short glimpse of an entire world that only exists in imagination.

Further, Tolkien was a philologist.  He understood the power of language and the connections that an individual's or a people's speech have with their culture and values.  I have always been fascinated by cultures other than my own, and I know that all of us can learn a lot about truth by looking at the world through the perspectives of other people--and the more different the view, the better.

This image is an artist's representation of character interactions in the Lord of the Rings films.  The horizontal axis is time.  The vertical grouping of the lines indicates which characters are together at a given time.  I am including this here simply because I think this chart is amazing.

*Cropped image.  Original image obtained from xkcd.com.

I will conclude this post with a short list of a few words that I learned from the last few chapters of the final book:
  • tryst- an appointment to meet, especially in secret.
  • to quail- to lose courage in the face of danger; to succumb to fear.
  • wain- a large, open farm wagon
  • smial- the hobbit name for their holes (this one is just for fun).

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Papers

Good News!
I finally found a presumably secure way to upload some of my writing for school to this site.  I have placed links to these papers in the right column under PAPERS.

Please take a look at these papers if you have not read them already.  Is the formatting okay, or what do you suggest would make them easier to read?

Stories

I came across this quote recently.  It was attributed to Mary Piper, though I do not know who that is.  I am thinking about making this the theme of my blog.  In any case, the sentiments put forth here are what drive my desire to share my experiences.

 "Good stories have the power to save us...the best resource against the world's stupidity, meanness, and despair is the telling the truth with all its ambiguity and complexity.  We all make a difference by simply sharing our own stories with real people in real times and places...quilted together, these stories will shelter us all."

What thoughts do you have about this idea?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Art


You Saw What in ‘Avatar’? Pass Those Glasses!

by Dave Itzkoff

This article is about the movie "Avatar" and about how different interest groups are protesting the movie because of "its message (as they see it), its morals (as they interpret them) and its philosophy (assuming it has one)."  

Itzkoff reflects an aspect of art that I have been thinking about recently.  I remember that during English classes in high school--as a general rule, I have avoided English classes since then--our teachers would often make comments beginning with, "This author is trying to say..." or "It is clear that this author means to...".  I wondered then--and since--how we can know for sure what an author or the creator of any piece of art (including music, paintings, film, etc.) really means to say without actually talking to them about it.

I began to consider what we could learn if we were able to interview Dickens, Mozart, or Monet and ask them exactly what message they were trying to get across to their audience.  Would it make the art better?  I think that much of the beauty of art is actually lost when we try to assign one particular meaning.

When I was studying film, we took time to discuss all the elements that go into forming a single shot.  These can include subtleties in production design, musical score, camera angle, costume design, etc. and even small subtleties can change the entire feel of the film.  I was told that good film directors make all of these minute decisions intentionally.  I am admittedly not a good film director, but I have found that whenever I attempt to create some form of art (a short film, a drawing, a song, or a blog post for that matter), I generally stumble across something good inadvertently much more often than I am able to actually produce something according to a master plan.

I believe that the value of any form of art is the ability to help us to better understand ourselves as well as that part of the universe that cannot be explained by reason alone.  Artists create something that has meaning to them because of the way that it resonates either with their subconscious or with some ethereal truth.  As we receive the art (read the book, watch the film), it takes on certain meaning for us depending on how it then resonates with our subconscious.  In this way, one story or a single picture can convey unlimited messages to different individuals, especially when individuals come from different backgrounds.  Perhaps one way of seeking for truth may involve an analysis of similar meanings that are conveyed to people of different times and cultures.  Examples of this may include Carl Jung's analysis of archetypes.

Are there any artists out there that can corroborate my ponderings, or else provide further insight in a different direction?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Elder and Sister Jeppson

Kira and I had the exceptional opportunity today to take her parents into the Missionary Training Center in Provo.  Both David and Jeanne seemed excited to finally embark on their next adventure, for which they have been actively preparing for the past few months.  The last several hectic days seemed far away as we pulled up the to MTC.  It was a calm, beautiful day accented by a soft, warm rain.

We are all very proud of mom and dad Jeppson for their decision to accept the call to serve as full-time missionaries in the Russia, Rostov-na-Donu mission.  They have been preparing for this mission their entire lives, devoting much of their time and effort to serving others, and they are a great example to their children and grandchildren.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Faith v. Reason, and PRI

I only heard the first five minutes of this program on NPR, but it seemed interesting and relevant.  To the Best of Our Knowledge did a segment called Religion in a Secular Age, which discusses some of the historical struggles and ties between faith and reason (known to the Greeks as mythos and logos).

I am firmly of the opinion that knowledge is best obtained through a healthy marriage of these two elements, but what do you think?

If anyone has time to go back and listen to this program, do you have any feedback or comments?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Vocab #1

I learned three new words this week:

Capricious:  flighty, erratic; ant.: consistent

Prescient:  possessing foreknowledge, foresight; successfully able to predict future events

Acquiesce (not sure how to pronounce this one):  to assent or comply silently or without protest.

Are these commonly known words for most of you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bird-brained


Crow makes tool to fish for grubs

Footage courtesy of Russell Gray/University of Auckland


This is another interesting video from BBC.  I hope you enjoy it.  The "similar videos" at the end of this one are pretty interesting too.

Haircuts

Today is a good day to talk about haircuts--which can apparently be fairly difficult to give to fair-haired boys and men.

Allow me to explain my hypothesis by starting with a little bit of history.  When I was a child, my dad gave my brother and I buzz cuts whenever our hair started to get in our eyes.  When I was in third grade, I no longer liked my hair to stick out, so I let my hair grow out longer.  This meant that my hair was always in my eyes.  Finally, as I prepared for high school, I found the hairstyle that was right for me.

I like to have the sides of my hair shaved with an electric trimmer, using a number 2 guard.  The top can be trimmed using scissors and a comb, just longer than the sides.  The hardest part--presumably--is the fading from the 2 guard on the sides to the slightly longer hair on top.

I once gave this kind of haircut to a roommate who had wavy, somewhat curly hair.  Because of the natural curl, it did not matter too much whether every hair was even.  My hair, on the other hand, is extremely straight; long hairs, or longer sections of hair stick out on my head like tiny, sore thumbs.

I used to pay 13 dollars for a haircut from semi-professionals at licensed salons.  I am fairly particular and was rarely satisfied by these haircuts, so now I pay 4 dollars for a haircut from beauty students in Lindon--and I am only slightly less unsatisfied because I still have 9 dollars left over for lunch.  I will occasionally receive a really good haircut, but usually there is something that I have to go home and fix on my own.

But yesterday was the worst.  I came in with hat hair, which is not abnormal.  The problem is that 20 minutes later, I left with hat hair.  I was amazed at first that the girl was able to cut my hair evenly without even getting it wet so that it would stand up straight.  After washing my hair, I found that she did not cut it straight at all.  I wish I would have taken a picture to show you.  It's okay though.  I cut it some on my own this morning and my brother will finish the back for me tomorrow night.  This is just the part of the process that I have learned to get used to.

I will finish with a quote from Cory Matthews of Boy Meets World:
"When I get a hair cut, it looks terrible for like… the first six weeks. All of a sudden it looks terrific for like… a day. Then it’s time for another haircut. It’s what I like to call The Haircut Cycle of Shame."*
If you have any better suggestions, please let me know.

*Image from www.dreamagic.com

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Words

This week, I received my GRE scores.  I hope that taking the test during finals week had an adverse effect.  I definitely think that I can do better.

I understand that many people choose to take aptitude tests--such as the SAT, GRE, or LSAT--multiple times in order to get used to the test style and ensure that they perform their best.  I took the ACT twice, myself.  And if the people in charge of admissions to MPP programs put much weight on GRE scores, I may definitely have to take this one a few more times.

I scored okay on the quantitative reasoning section, and I understandably did not do as well as I would have liked on the writing section--I had written over six final papers for classes during that week--but I was surprised how difficult the verbal section was for me.

I love to learn new words.  Many times during lectures about advertising or economics, I will hear a word that I do not know.  I always make it a point to write down and look up new words.  I have not always been this way, however, and it may be too little too late.

I only barely started to read for entertainment (about the same time that I took to writing for entertainment).  Also, it has only been a few years since I started admitting to myself and others that I do not know something.  I decided that the opportunity to learn something new to me was more important than a temporary shot to my pride.

I have one more semester before I am done with my undergraduate program.  I hope that is enough time to learn enough new words to get me into a good program.  I also hope that GRE scores are not as important as other assets that I may have.